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Crossing the Steams 2.23.13: PS4 Thoughts and 3DMark
Posted by Marc Morrison on 02.23.2013



Welcome to another edition of Crossing the Steams. I was going to talk about Adera on this week's installment, but I'm going to postpone that till next week, when I can devote more time to it. This week might be a shorter general column, but I also look at the 3DMark software as well. This column is just going to talk a little about the basics of the new console announcement, PS4, and what it means to the PC gaming market. Let's begin:



Well, the announcement for the PS4 was an interesting thing to see. Several game were announced, some were shown, technical specs, controller pictures, but no actual shots of the console itself, likely saving it for E3 (as well as a price point). Here are a few big takeaways from the console, filtered through a PC gamer's eye:

1. The amount of system RAM, 8gb, is not exactly insignificant. My gaming computer has that, and it's not DDR5, it's DDR3. The amount of ram is over 7 times the amount of RAM in the PS3 (256mb vs. 8gb). That is a dramatic increase on the price, and the technical front. In the short term it may cause a shortage of RAM for PC builders but I expect it will even out. Give it a year or two, and PC's will be doubling that amount of ram, with some already having triple it.

2. They didn't announce any real CPU/Video card info, aside from naming vendors and architecture. Having an 8-core CPU is great, but it's a matter of degrees. Again, my CPU is already an 8-core processor, so it's meeting feature parity close to my 5-month old gaming PC. I haven't seen news on what the video card is comparable to, spec's wise, with regards to the Radeon line. I typically prefer Nvidia GPU's, but considering AMD owns ATi it makes sense for Sony to use both chips in the PS4. It'll be very interesting to see the amount of video memory the GPU is going to have in it.

3. Diablo 3 is coming to the PS4…and PS3? That should prove….interesting. The big question I had (I might have missed the answer) is whether or not it's going to have cross-play with the other consoles, or with the PC players. The 360 is a closed-system when it comes to online gaming, but Sony doesn't take that approach, as evidenced already with Portal 2 on the PS3. I wonder if they will allow PS4 players to play with PS3 and PC players at the same time? Also, how will updates come, if they do allow for multi-system online play? As well as the theorized expansion Blizzard has been working on? That was kind of TF2's downfall on the Xbox 360, the complete lack of updates, especially when tied to the community. Having direct console in D3 is something I'd love to see rolled back into the PC version, for all controllers. D3 isn't complex enough to use all the buttons on a controller. You're only ever using 7 buttons on a keyboard, the 6 skill keys and the health potion button, so it can easily work with a gamepad. Another lingering question is if you can transfer your character/items/stash to the PS3/PS4 versions from the PC, or vice versa, really.

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4. The Network/Gaikai stuff has me hesitant. If only because I don't think the network infrastructure, for the internet, is really in place. Today, instant streaming works, but not 100% of the time. If a network is promising to have instant games for you to try out, Netflix, video uploading, and online playing with people, I just really don't think Sony is capable of that. Modern PC's can do it, but only if they have blazing fast internet to keep up with everything. I'm just not a believer in this network idea, yet.

5. No real announcement on the storage medium. They said it would be a "Local storage HDD" which sounds like the same thing as before. While that might be fine, they either need much larger drives (for actual storage), or much fasters drives (like SSD's) in order to get the ball rolling. Ideally they might give you a 500gb spinning disk drive, but with support for SSD's and larger drives for the user to replace at his/her discretion. Again, they didn't really announce anything on this front, but given some of the ideas they banded about, a large drive sounds like it'll be required.

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Overall, the PS4 announcement will have some repercussions on the PC market, but only in the short term. PC's will rapidly eclipse the technical prowess of the system, with some on the market, already doing so. It'll be up to Sony to try and court developers/publishers to the system. Ultimately though, aside from first party stuff, most everything will hit the PC in one form or another. And that is still the best reason why the PC is the best system there is.

3DMark

This won't be a full review, simply because I can't accurately gauge how well it ran on my PC. Bench-marking software is always a fickle beast, geared towards the super obsessive nerd who is running some 3-way SLI setup, with some 12-core CPU as the entire computer is submerged in mineral oil to keep the heat down. I have a stock gaming laptop, an Asus G75 (Best Buy model), with a Intel i7-3630QM processor (2.4ghz), 8gb of ram, and a Nvidia GTX 660M video card. It's not the fastest machine on the planet, but for the price, and overall quality, it's pretty good.

When you boot up 3DMark, you're presented with three tests that you can run. These are "Ice Storm", "Cloud Gate" and "Fire Strike Extreme". Ice Storm is designed for lower-end machines, Cloud Gate for medium machines, and Fire Strike Extreme for high powered machines. FSE even goes a step further by having an "Extreme" option which turns on every setting on max. This brought my computer to a crawl.

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The Ice Storm test was the obvious best one. I was able to achieve 450 FPS easily. More than that, the demo itself looked cool. Kind of like a way more colorful version of a Star Fox game. Futuremark always does good work when it comes to creating impressive game demos, and even though this was the simplest test on a technical level, it was the most impressive on a conceptual/inventive level.

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The Cloud Gate test gave me some decent results. I got around 50 FPS for the two graphical tests. The physics test…was lower. I'll explain that in a second. This test just had ships jumping in from some Jump-Gate looking thing. Not that impressive, but I still had a solid experience.

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Fire Strike Extreme proved to be a bit too much for my laptop to handle. It involved a robot warrior walking along a path, then a fire warrior came up and they fought for a few. I averaged about 10 FPS with this particular test. The interesting thing Is that I actually got a higher physics score with FSE than I did with the Cloud Gate one. My FPS for FSE was around 25, but with Cloud Gate I was only doing about 20 FPS. I'm not sure why there was a discrepency there honestly. The "Extreme" option dropped my FPS from 10 to around 3. So…yeah, that's not great.

The big issue I think I have with 3DMark is that it still isn't great at telling you how those scores translate into real-world applications. It doesn't translate into games because Futuremark is creating their demos from scratch. It would be extremely useful if it said "Well, you can't run Fire Strike Extreme worth a damn, but you can still pull 60 FPS off Far Cry 3 at High Settings." There isn't any correlation between what the theoretical output of your CPU/GPU combos are, and how they can be applied to in-game scenarios. For this omission alone, I'd have to only recommend 3DMark to the true enthusiasts or people with serious computers on their hands.

However, for a 3DMark piece of software, it does do the job pretty well. I have their previous version 3DMark 11 and that…isn't great. I think it only has one type of testing environment, some type of island, going from underwater to a cave site to the top. Even on the lowest rung of the test I only got 25fps (total), which….isn't right. Even on a custom test where I set everything on the lowest possible setting, I only averaged about 27fps. So if pure numbers do mean something to you, then pick up 3DMark. Grab it for Steam if you can, it has some hilarious achievements associated with it.

Other Steam News

Next week sees the release of three new games on Steam. On the 26th is both BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2 and Brutal Legend. Bit Trip Runner 2 is hybrid runner/platforming/music game with the familiar Bit Trip graphics. Brutal Legends is the port of the console RTS/Action hybrid game featuring Jack Black. I question how well the controls will work in this version. On February 28th is Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army, gee, I wonder what this is about? If you guessed killing Nazi Zombies, you'd probably be right. Next week I shall look at Adera finally.





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