Digital Foundry's 2010: Part 2 • Page 2

Invert the polarities!

September

The month kicked off with the release of an open source alternative to PSJailbreak, entitled PSGroove. Initially a piracy-free alternative to getting homebrew games operating on the PlayStation 3, it was adapted literally within minutes of its release to produce the exact same functionality as the piracy-enabled PSJailbreak.

While the Jailbreak had - and still has - a limited shelf life owing to firmware upgrades from Sony, taking the hack into the open-source arena allowed pirates to work together on circumventing additional protection measures put into place by the platform holder. Debug updates were looted from Sony servers and incorporated into hacked releases, firmware 3.50 system flags were hex-edited back to 3.41 and the Jailbreak itself was further adapted to ensure compatibility with more games.

The Jailbreak could have been locked down in weeks had Sony shifted more quickly to the 3.50 encryption scheme used in Hot Pursuit and GT5, but instead it took around three months before Sony could fully resecure its system, and the PS3 still looks vulnerable to further attacks.

Xbox 360 owners finally got their hands on Bungie's latest wares, and we covered that off with an extensive Tech Analysis of Halo: Reach, covering the evolution of the Halo engine and its many and varied improvements over the Halo 3/ODST tech. With this article posted, work continued behind the scenes in getting the Bungie tech team on the record with us - the developer is well-known for discussing its methods at conventions like GDC and SIGGRAPH, but rarely talks tech with the press...

Sorting this out, plus negotiating the PR minefield would prove to be quite time-consuming! Just getting language signed off can take a lot of time. For example, we talk about specific rendering effects as being "cheap" - that is, inexpensive in terms of how long they take to generate. To a concerned PR, just that single word takes on a whole different meaning...

Epic Games' demo of its Unreal Engine tech operating on the iOS devices was a September highlight, with November's release of Infinity Blade surprising many with how far the developer had pushed the mobile GPU.

September also saw the release of the LittleBigPlanet 2 beta test. I respect and like the first game, but never developed a love for it. Running Digital Foundry is a six or seven day a week job. I get to play almost every game but only very rarely do I have the time to put in any serious hours beyond what the work requires. But playing the beta, it was obvious there was a big story to tell, so I enlisted the aid of LBP specialist David Coombes, who helped put together a superb level-makers' analysis of LBP2, and an equally cool LBP1 vs. LBP2 engine comparison that I hope provided a unique insight into the new game and the building tools Media Molecule has put so much time into.

Other Digital Foundry articles: Epic unleashed its playable UE3 tech demo for iOS devices, Epic Citadel - which would eventually become the impressive Infinity Blade. After confidently stating the Nintendo "DS2" would run with an NVIDIA chipset, only to discover months later that the GPU vendor was not involved in the final design, we uncovered a prototype 3DS dev board with Tegra 2 chipset, closing the book on that particular mystery. In other 3DS news, Capcom unveiled its Framework MT tech for the mobile platform. Finally, Digital Foundry stated its Case for PlayStation Move, showing five-year-old video footage of Sony's Richard Marks working with Natal-style tech. Plus we dissected an intriguing patent application for an external PS2 adaptor for PS3 that might perhaps bring full backwards compatibility back for all units...

Face-Offs: With the Q4 release madness starting to kick in, the volume of games worthy of a single-game Face-Off ramped up significantly. Our findings on Dead Rising 2 caused a stir, the furore surrounding Mafia II continued with the release of the final game, while Codemasters showed off some fierce PS3 optimisation work with F1 2010. Finally, Ubisoft handed in the well-crafted Tom Clancy's HAWX II.

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October

Crunch time. September is always a demanding month in the games biz, but it pales into insignificance compared to the editorial tsunami of October and November. A mammoth 75 per cent of all money spent on games occurs in Q4, so the release schedule bulges with a colossal range of new releases. Not only that, but publishers tend to save their best games for this period too, so the difficulty is in doing justice not just to the volume of releases but to the quality too.

Just keeping up with the Face-Offs was challenging enough. Konami did some good work with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - not much between the 360 and PS3 versions here, but an odd, somewhat illogical disc-swapping setup and marginally lower performance ensured a win for the Sony platform. We also judged that Vanquish was better played on PS3, though again there really wasn't much in it.

I switched into gaming advocacy mode to defend Platinum Games' superb release from accusations it could be finished in four hours by blogging about the nature of score attack titles and what Vanquish does to set it apart from the pack. This also included an insane time-lapse video of my entire run through the 360 version, proving that the four-hour claim was basically nonsense.

How best to prove that Vanquish can't be completed in four hours? How about a time-coded time-lapse video? We enjoy using screenshots and videos to back up the points we make.

We dissected the demo for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II and tackled developer feedback on the piece, where engineer Dmitry Andreev discussed our findings in depth. An interesting point that Andreev raised and something maybe we should highlight on our page is exactly how we carry out our measurements and comparisons. We use full RGB HDMI from both consoles, and typically capture in a fully lossless codec giving us what is effectively a full digital dump of the PS3 and 360's video outputs. You can measure analogue, but it just complicates the procedure, introduces the possibility of error. However, there is an argument that the HANA chip on the 360 is not accurately representing the actual make-up of the internal framebuffer - something we'll be looking at in the New Year.

Returning to October, we talked about Xbox 360 and PC implementations of the MLAA techniques kicked off by Sony's work with God of War III, highlighting new GPU (rather than SPU) revisions of the work - another generally well-received article on a topic important to matters of image quality. The team behind the work claim to have improved the tech still further, so expect an update on that early in the New Year too.

Other Digital Foundry articles: The release of Medal of Honor kicked off Sony's first real fightback against PSJailbreak, while the MOH: Frontline HD remake exclusive to PlayStation 3 turned out to be rather disappointing compared to the excellent work seen on the God of War Collection. TriOviz and Epic Games revealed a collaboration to bring computationally cheap 3D to Unreal Engine games, and we followed up last month's Dead Rising 2 Face-Off with an in-depth PC tech comparison.

Face-Offs: In addition to the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Vanquish Face-Offs, somehow there was also room in the schedule for coverage of Medal of Honor - alas delayed because the crucial multiplayer mode couldn't be tested with the debug review code we had. Xbox 360 got the nod there, as it did for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. The Fallout: New Vegas Face-Off proved to be a tricky one. There was no doubt that the Xbox 360 game had fewer issues with streaming, far superior anti-aliasing and of course, exclusive DLC content deals. However, the PS3 game had significantly superior artwork - which we discovered was down to the 360 game having substantially cut-down texture assets.

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