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Thứ Năm, 22 tháng 9, 2016

Blizzard is ditching the Battle.net name in favor of "Blizzard tech"

Battle.net is dead! Long live Battle.net!

Blizzard's online gaming service Battle.net debuted in 1996, a full seven years before Steam sprang to life. It was a very different era, dominated by independent online services with goofy names like Heat.net and Total Entertainment Network—an environment ripe for a platform with a macho, cool-sounding name. But 20 years later, things have changed. Blizzard has grown from a respected studio to an industry-topping behemoth, multiplayer is everywhere, and the Battle.net name doesn't ring the bell that it once did. So it's being phased out. 

“When we created Battle.net, the idea of including a tailored online-gaming service together with your game was more of a novel concept, so we put a lot of focus on explaining what the service was and how it worked, including giving it a distinct name,” Blizzard explained. “Over time, though, we’ve seen that there’s been occasional confusion and inefficiencies related to having two separate identities under which everything falls—Blizzard and Battle.net. Given that built-in multiplayer support is a well-understood concept and more of a normal expectation these days, there isn’t as much of a need to maintain a separate identity for what is essentially our networking technology.”

Practically speaking, nothing will change, and Battle.net technology “will continue to serve as the central nervous system for Blizzard games,” Blizzard said. But it will be referred to as Blizzard tech from here on, as is already the case with Blizzard Streaming and Blizzard Voice.   

The sentimentalist in me is a bit sad to see it go, but really, it's amazing this didn't happen years ago. Battle.net was an evocative name for a unique service two decades ago, but these days, with publisher-centric platforms like Steam, Origin, and Uplay dominating the landscape, it's really just a quaint reminder of how things used to be.  

Thứ Sáu, 16 tháng 9, 2016

Rise of the Tomb Raider: the first PS4 Pro vs PC graphics comparison

Head-to-head video highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the 4K console experience. 


Outside of Sony's first party wares present at last week's PlayStation Meeting, there was one third party title that stood apart as an impressive showcase for the fledgling PS4 Pro's 4K prowess - Crystal Dynamics' Rise of the Tomb Raider. Similar to its predecessor, there's an immense amount of scalability built into the engine and the core assets, meaning that the game really shines on a high-end PC with the settings and texture quality ramped up to the very high level. Indeed, there are actually insane-level presets available that actually push beyond this level. So, the real question is, just how much of the full-fat experience has Crystal's development partner Nixxes managed to cram into the PlayStation 4 Pro version?

Well, in many ways, Rise of the Tomb Raider highlights the strengths and weaknesses facing developers looking to work with Sony's new hardware. Tackling the negatives first, 60fps is - of course - off the table for a high-end title like this, with Rise of the Tomb Raider focusing on the console standard capped 30fps.

Secondly, a range of the game's higher-end presets are dialled back - inevitably, shadow quality takes a hit, while specular lighting quality appears to lack the revision made to the PC, resulting in some rougher edges to affected geometry. Meanwhile, the Flooded Archive level's escape sequence suggests that fire effects are reduced, which has an impact on the amount of dynamic light in the scene, and perhaps the level of heat haze too.

But the two most glaring differences come down to key limitations found in the PlayStation 4 Pro hardware itself - the fact that its GPU isn't capable of handling native 3840x2160 UHD resolution, along with the lack of a meaningful amount of additional memory. Developers have access to a number of upscaling strategies for PS4 Pro titles running in the 4K mode, and while Crystal Dynamics wouldn't be drawn on the technique used for this game, what's clear is that the overall presentation is somewhat soft, far more so than the Sony first-party titles we saw that are confirmed to be using the checkerboard upscaling.

                           Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration 4K PS4 Pro Footage

And secondly, it's equally clear that the PC version of Rise of the Tomb Raider's very high texture preset offers a significantly higher level of quality on the core artwork. Cherry-pick key scenes from the mere two minutes of 4K footage released by the developer and it looks like a night and day difference when stacked up against the fully enabled PC version. Even if you watch our comparison video at 1080p resolution rather than the native 4K, it definitely stands out.
Should you put an SSD in your PS4? Why a new hard drive could make a big performance difference. Should you put an SSD in your PS4?

On the one hand, this highlights a fundamental weakness with PlayStation 4 Pro. Even though developers have access to another 512MB of RAM (presumably swiped for the vast 3GB system reservation), it's not enough to accommodate the 4K texture options that developers are increasingly offering with their titles. So in the case of Rise of the Tomb Raider then, it's no surprise that the PS4 Pro version offers assets in line with the existing Xbox One game, equivalent to the high texture quality setting on the PC build. It's a definite limitation - especially as Project Scorpio from Microsoft seems set to feature 12GB of memory - but on the plus side, in terms of this title at least, the downgrade is only really an issue in cut-scenes.

We've not seen the same Rise of the Tomb Raider content played out at 1080p compared to the 4K offering here, so it'll be interesting to see how the developer's quality and unlocked performance modes stack up against what we've seen here. What's clear is that this is not a native 4K experience as such, but the existing media suggests that it does offer a tangible higher resolution upgrade over the same content seen on Xbox One - which looks great in full HD. Bearing in mind what we're seeing here is coming from a £349/$399 box, it's definitely an impressive showing bearing in mind the high calibre hardware required to get an equivalent native 4K experience on PC.

We've previously been impressed with what we've seen of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4, and this higher resolution mode for PS4 Pro is looking good too. Factoring in the other Pro options promised by the developer, we can't wait to check it out once we get our hands on Sony's new hardware - so watch this space.

Thứ Hai, 5 tháng 9, 2016

Solitaire Strategy Guide

      The game of Solitaire, sometimes known as Patience, is one of the oldest known and most popular strategy card games of all time. Almost everyone in the world knows how to play this game! It is the original "bored" game played by millions of people unable to find other activities to attend to. However, after all these years it maintains its status as one of the most difficult and frustrating games to beat. But that's where we come in!
      The variation of Solitaire we'll be looking at is called Klondike. Most of you are probably familiar with this form of the game since it has been included as the default Solitaire offering on millions of computers worldwide. Wes Cherry is responsible for writing this widely-played program, but in a strange twist was never financially rewarded for his efforts (he didn't negotiate a royalty agreement). In the standard version of Klondike, unlike the Vegas version, one card at a time is turned over from the deck and a player is allowed to go through the deck as many times as they like. A player scores based on a point system that rewards cards being played to the Solitaire board (the various upcards and downcards dealt out to start the game) and to the Ace stacks a player makes during the course of play.

Nine Step Klondike Solitaire Strategy

      The Solitaire strategy chart shown below is our contribution to the game. It is meant to be read in order from top to bottom, logically because the higher the Solitaire strategy line is the more important the tip. When the guide is followed, precise Solitaire technique is displayed and optimum winning chances are presented. While digesting the chart to follow, be sure to have your favorite Solitaire program opened up and ready to experiment as you go.
ChessandPoker.com Solitaire Strategy Guide
For information on how to use the Solitaire strategy guide, see the explanation below.
1. Always play an Ace or Deuce wherever you can immediately.
2. Always make the play or transfer that frees (or allows a play that frees) a downcard, regardless of any other considerations.
3. When faced with a choice, always make the play or transfer that frees (or allows a play that frees) the downcard from the biggest pile of downcards.
4. Transfer cards from column to column only to allow a downcard to be freed or to make the columns smoother.
5. Don't clear a spot unless there's a King IMMEDIATELY waiting to occupy it.
6. Only play a King that will benefit the column(s) with the biggest pile of downcards, unless the play of another King will at least allow a transfer that frees a downcard.
7. Only build your Ace stacks (with anything other than an Ace or Deuce) when the play will:
  • Not interfere with your Next Card Protection
  • Allow a play or transfer that frees (or allows a play that frees) a downcard
  • Open up a space for a same-color card pile transfer that allows a downcard to be freed
  • Clear a spot for an IMMEDIATE waiting King (it cannot be to simply clear a spot)
8. Don't play or transfer a 5, 6, 7 or 8 anywhere unless at least one of these situations will apply after the play:
  • It is smooth with it's next highest even/odd partner in the column
  • It will allow a play or transfer that will IMMEDIATELY free a downcard
  • There have not been any other cards already played to the column
  • You have ABSOLUTELY no other choice to continue playing (this is not a good sign)
9. When you get to a point that you think all of your necessary cards are covered and you just can't get to them, IMMEDIATELY play any cards you can to their appropriate Ace stacks. You may have to rearrange existing piles to allow blocked cards freedom to be able to go to their Ace stack. Hopefully this will clear an existing pile up to the point that you can use an existing pile upcard to substitute for the necessary covered card.
      Most of the items, listed one through nine in the strategy chart, should be simple to follow for the seasoned Solitaire player. For example, strategy line one states to Always play an Ace or Deuce wherever you can immediately. Whenever and wherever you can, it is correct to immediately play an Ace to begin it's stack and to put a Deuce onto an Ace or Trey. This is something you already do without even thinking. If not, start!
      On line two (and also throughout the chart) I use the phrase "frees a downcard". The Solitaire board initially has seven upcards (face-up) on top of seven increasingly bigger stacks of downcards (face-down) for a total of 28 board cards (7 upcards, 21 downcards). When you free a downcard you are making a play or transfer that allows one of these downcards to be turned face-up, therefore putting it into play. As you can see in the Solitaire strategy guide on almost every strategy line, freeing downcards is one of the most important tools in solving the game. If you cannot do so on a consistent basis, your chances for success will be greatly decreased. Free those downcards at any cost!
      Line three also extends this logical concept with the addition that if faced with a choice you should free the downcard from the biggest pile of downcards possible. This should make sense to you immediately. If freeing downcards is so important, wouldn't it be your goal to dig into the pile that has the most of them if you can? It better be now! With these simple but highly effective strategy concepts, you now have an excellent grasp of the game and how to defeat it. But let's continue on to discover some of the finer points of this strategy guide that will help you defeat this increasingly not-so-difficult game for one and bring the win home.