Digital Foundry's 2010: Part 1 • Page 3

If I could turn back tech.

May

Few games released this year proved to be as divisive as Remedy's Alan Wake, and while many took issue with Ellie's 7/10 review, I found myself agreeing with her on every point when it came to putting together the Digital Foundry Tech Analysis. Wake surprised and delighted in technical terms, creating a look and feel that remains absolutely unique - but the lack of variety in the core tasks asked of the player made the appeal wear off very, very quickly if, like me, you weren't so enamoured with Remedy's storytelling.

More controversy kicked off when Red Dead Redemption came in for review and analysis. The Face-Off highlighted the resolution, performance and anti-aliasing differences, while the cutbacks in environmental foliage also seemed to go down like a cup of cold sick with the enthusiasts. I learned subsequent to the feature from an extremely reliable insider source that RDR's world was actually designed before a PS3 version was even on the slate, suggesting that memory allocation was a challenge.

May also proved to be a battle royale for racing fanatics with Black Rock's Split/Second and Bizarre Creations' Blur arriving almost simultaneously. Both were excellent titles, but alas neither of them proved to be a massive sales success. However, the development teams on both games were a mine of intriguing development information, with both eager to discuss their achievements in Digital Foundry's Blur and Split/Second tech interviews.

Performance analysis of Alan Wake combat, just one element of our extensive tech analysis published in May. We loved the tech but weren't quite so keen on the gameplay.

In what was starting to become a trend, the developers themselves were helping us out in negotiating the perilous PR minefield. One of my key aims with Digital Foundry is to be unique, original and distinctive, but the areas we cover often aren't understood by the PR guys, and it's all too easy just to say "no" to our sometimes-bizarre requests. When the game-makers themselves get involved, the penny usually drops that the resulting piece will be of value in promoting the game and more often than not we get the go-ahead.

On another note, May was also the first month where we got our hands on proper, actual Halo: Reach beta code, from which we put together our first Reach tech analysis. We do a fair bit of work on demo and beta code like this and in many cases, it's the first time we actually have hands-on access to the code. On the minus side, the more preview code we get, the better - even if it's provided on the proviso that we don't capture or analyse it. On the plus side, a public release makes it fair game for stuff like latency measurements, platform comparisons and performance analysis.

The Apple iPad finally dropped in the UK this month too, and I bought a base-level 16GB device for the purpose of the Digital Foundry vs. iPad piece, while David Perry demonstrated Gaikai running on iPad. As the months have passed, the iPad has proved to be invaluable as a toilet-based web-reader and my wife loves browsing Facebook with it, but the fact remains that the omission of Flash, not to mention an SD card slot, are enormous issues. Questions also remain over the device's 3D capabilities. The word is that Infinity Blade doesn't look as good or run as well as it does on iPhone 4 - perhaps because the exact same PowerVR GPU has to cope with so many more pixels than it does on the phone. The lack of webcam for Skype or "FaceTime" is also a big miss. Thankfully, because of the mystical aura of Apple I'll be able to sell it for a decent price next year while waiting for the revised version...

Other Digital Foundry articles: The PS3 Slim got cooler and greener with a die-shrunk 45nm RSX graphics chip, the FCC helpfully leaked first images of a 3DS dev kit, showing the screen configuration amongst other things, and a quick peek at the Alan Wake DVD revealed that game data accounted for only 2.5GB with 3.75GB allocated to the full-motion video sequences.

Face-Offs: In addition to the Red Dead Redemption and Blur Face-Offs, we also waded in with Round 25 of our multi-game roundups. This one was pretty epic, covering off GTA IV: Episodes from Liberty City (on all three platforms no less), Super Street Fighter IV, Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing, Superstars V8: Next Challenge, Dead to Rights: Retribution and Aliens vs. Predator. From this feature going forward, we added additional data to our features - surround sound formats supported, disc size, and installation detail. I'd had a couple of emails from people saying that this info would make a genuine difference to their purchasing decisions, so while it adds still further to what are extremely time-consuming features to put together, the data is now a standard part of all comparison features.

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June

The month of E3 always proves to be something of a traffic monster for all gaming websites, but ironically Digital Foundry's unique, non-event based coverage garnered more visitors than anything we sourced from the show. Our emulated high-definition renderings of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus was our most popular feature, showing that the hunger amongst the enthusiast community for these games is just incredible. With God of War Collection developer Bluepoint on the case, the final release should be stunning and I can't wait to see it. That piece also included our first performance analysis using native PS2 hardware, as the issue of SOTC performance was finally addressed.

There were two major stories for Digital Foundry at E3. First up, my personal highlight: Nintendo 3DS. Prior to the show I was contacted by a developer who revealed that NVIDIA were unconnected with the handheld, while I was sworn to secrecy on the identity of the new GPU vendor (though I did drop a hint or two).

Having had hands-on time with the unit, I was extremely impressed with Nintendo's work: the 3D works beautifully, and the initial demos suggested that the machine is capable of some seriously impressive visuals, albeit rendered at a rather low resolution. If there's one thing that could be better with 3DS, it's the size of the screen - it feels a bit on the tiny side, especially for movie viewing. But the 3D... boy, that really does make the difference.

Our HD emulated renderings of Shadow of the Colossus - and ICO - proved to be massive hit in June. It'll be interesting to see how Bluepoint's conversions compare when they arrive in 2011.

Secondly there was Kinect, which I covered in what turned out to be the first specialist press hands-on, staged in an LA bar immediately after the comedic, preposterous Project Natal Experience. I've yet to write my full thoughts on the sensor and the software, but overall I'm mostly impressed with the quality of games like Kinect Adventures and Dance Central. Even YourShape: Fitness Evolved proved to be considerably more impressive than I thought it would be and has proven to be a favourite with my wife. Sony is of course right to press home the many advantages of the PlayStation Move, but if the iPhone and iPod Touch have taught us anything it is that talented developers can overcome limitations in a specific design - and indeed can play to their strengths too.

Pre-E3, I was sitting on a ton of Project Natal information from a variety of development sources, and some of that made its way into the Kinect Tech Analysis, which explained how the sensor operates and the constraints developers had to work within. It is interesting how these constraints are gradually peeling back - Eurogamer's recent story on how Microsoft plans to quadruple depth resolution ties in with my own theory that the Kinect camera is actually a slightly enhanced version of the PrimeSense reference design rather than the cheapified, downgraded version that rumours - and indeed retailer information indicated it was.

Other Digital Foundry articles: A pair of excellent tech interviews this month. I spoke with ZZAP!64 legend, now studio head Gary Liddon and several of his Ruffian cohorts on Crackdown 2 and also had a chance to sit down with Move R&D mastermind Richard Marks to talk tech on PlayStation Move. Housemarque also revealed that the engine improvements that made 720p120 a reality would also translate into improved Super Stardust HD 2D performance in the form of true 1920x1080 resolution and improved resolution in 720p mode...

Face-Offs: Considering the scheduling insania surrounding E3, I'm surprised there was any time for this but Xbox 360 vs. PS3: Round 26 offered up comparisons of Split/Second: Velocity, Lost Planet 2, Backbreaker, Green Day: Rock Band, Skate 3 and Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands. To the non-committal golf claps of almost complete ambivalence, I also posted a piece on iPad Geometry Wars Touch and its Xbox 360 inspiration. Well, I enjoyed myself.

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Digital Foundry's look back at 2010 continues next Saturday.

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