News: Unreal Engine 4 Fails to Impress on PS4

Unreal Engine 4 SLIDER

PS4: Making the Unreal slightly less Epic.

Unreal Engine 4 Demo Is Less Impressive On PS4

Last week it was revealed, much to the chagrin of Wii U owners, that Unreal Engine 4 would not grace their console. The GDC Unreal 4 demonstration on PS4 hardware provides a few clues as to why the decision regarding Nintendo’s hardware was made. When the original Elemental demo was unveiled, it was powered by an i7 CPU and powerful Nvidia GTX 680 GPU, and it wowed many with its extensive use of lighting, particle effects, and post-processing. With this benchmark in mind, many have expressed their dismay at the fact that the PS4 iteration of the Elemental demo, while retaining many of the core components of the original demo, has seemingly had to strip out much of the effects work which made Unreal 4 on the PC so distinctive.

Most noticeable is the fact that the dynamic global illumination lighting model has been removed and replaced with pre-baked global illumination [probably something along the lines of what was seen in Crysis 2], while the demo’s profligate particle effects have been pared-down into insignificance. Dynamic shadows also look to have been scaled-back, while both texture and geometry detail look to have been visibly decreased [yet still look quite comparable]. Finally, many post-processing effects have either been downgraded [depth of field] or junked altogether [object-based motion blur].

While Unreal 4’s first foray on the PS4 was a little underwhelming, it may not necessarily spell doom and gloom for Unreal projects on Sony’s new system. First and foremost Epic have demonstrated that the game engine they had running on a powerful consumer-grade PC is in fact scalable to more modest console hardware, while still looking visually comparable [if inferior]. Secondly, it is thought that developers have only possessed the final revision of PS4 dev-kits for a matter of weeks, and subsequent to Sony making the announcement that the PS4 would be shipping with 8GB instead of 4GB of GDDR5 RAM. This means that much of the work carried out on this iteration of the engine was likely done on incomplete hardware, targeting a memory-footprint that was half the size of the finalised hardware. Thirdly, it seems very probable that this is still reflective of a work-in-progress, and that more effects may be added back in over the coming months as more optimisation work is carried out.

By Nvidia’s reckoning the PS4 GPU only has roughly two third’s of the horsepower of a GTX 680, and so can probably never hope to properly match a fully optimised controlled environment tech-demo which is leveraging that considerable power. That said, the PS4 development environment will not be subject to all the OS overhead processing bloat that the PC has to shoulder, and so we may see the Unreal Engine 4 on PS4 bridge this gap somewhat over the coming months, and add much of the original effect work back in [even if they are lower-precision variants].

Feminist-liberal meme: equality should be enforced

“Hmmm… these numbers appear to indicate PATRIARCHY!”

Gender Survey; Or Why Mongoloids Should Not Be Allowed to Use Statistics

This week a survey into gender-pay within the game-development sector was carried out by Game Developer Magazine. Happily all game media publications have used this information in a responsible and substantiated fashion – is what one would like to say, were he not using such sentiments as a humourous opening to a story, owing to their extreme unlikelihood. Okay, so some publications may have freaked out just a little more than others, and misrepresented the industry in a way that was not entirely sustained by the facts.

What could have been food for thoughtful discussion, has once again been co-opted for some feel-good white-knight crusading against the evils of patriarchy. Eurogamer’s Jeffrey Matulef writes:

The figures, republished by The Border House, reveal that men make 29 per cent more per year than women as video game artists, 23.6 per cent more as game designers, 8.3 per cent more as producers, 65 per cent more as audio developers, 24.9 per cent more as QA testers, and 31 per cent more as business and legal professionals. Only in the field of programming do women make more by a scant 4.5 per cent, but this is likely attributed to these positions only consisting of four per cent women.

Equally depressing is how few women are even in development. Despite making up roughly half of our planet’s population, women only account for 16 per cent of video game artists, 11 per cent of game designers, 23 per cent producers, four per cent audio developers, seven per cent QA testers, and 18 per cent business and legal professionals.

One can at least hope that authors such as Matulef are ignorant of the proper use of statistics, as the alternative is that they are being deliberately misleading or blinkered. Case and point, how does one mention the disparity in pay between sexes and then follow it up with a breakdown of gender representation within the industry, and never connect the two? The number of women working in the industry is so tiny that they represent a far smaller stock from which management roles could potentially be filled, meaning that a higher number of males will fill management positions owing to the fact that there are simply not enough experienced women to go around. When just four percent of all programmers and engineers are female, how many women are even available for the average developer to employ? Moreover, with so few women in the industry, how many of them are working in the most lucrative studios which produce the big, frat-boy money earners, such as Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, and Grand Theft Auto?

The lack of female employees within the industry may sound like a bad enough indictment on the face of it, but thinking along those lines is to fool one’s self into supposing that there is an equal degree of interest and commitment between the sexes in staking out a career in game development. Traditional game design has invariably favoured male gamers over their female counterparts, and while this is being somewhat rebalanced at present, it nonetheless means that more males have grown up with gaming as an integral aspect of their recreation than have women. Coupled with this is the fact that game development is a notoriously grueling, thankless, and uncertain form of employment – meaning that game development must be a real passion of an individual in order for them to persevere.

All of this discussion is probably moot however, as the most parsimonious answer is often the correct one. The strongest take-away message from this survey is that pay is very closely correlated to the number of years that a person has worked in the industry; so when one takes into account the fact that the industry has been more aware of gender-diversity in recent years, it is not difficult to imagine that through the act of being more deliberately inclusive in their hiring policies, the industry has created for itself an ostensible pay gap between younger female recruits and their older and more established male counterparts.

In typical fashion the game media have opted to jump on the bandwagon of feminism, while remaining doggedly blind to other factors such as experience, with the gender-gap of this legacy issue being impossible to address in the short term. Thus we are seeing a number of crude articles being written up where one generic male is thought to equal one generic female, and no one can quite understand why they cannot be interchanged like widgets. One grows awfully tired of having his pessimism repeatedly justified.

[Edit]: The Eurogamer article has since been updated to reflect this more sophisticated [and less alarmist] interpretation of the data, stealing one’s thunder somewhat. That said, bad initial journalism is still bad journalism nonetheless

Young Marie Antoinette

[Pictured]: Adam Orth suggesting to the internet-starved peasantry that they move to Manhattan.

Durango Always-On DRM Confirmed In Worst Possible Fashion

The week’s third news post was originally a toss-up between the closing of LucasArts and Square Enix’s ongoing managerial woes, but thankfully Microsoft Studios creative director, Adam Orth, jumped in with his own tie-breaker by apparently confirming the Xbox Durango’s always-on internet requirement, while heaping contempt upon anyone who fails to live in a major US city.

The following Twitter conversation took place between Adam Orth and Electronic Bioturd’s Manveer Heir:

[Orth]:Sorry, I don’t get the drama around having an “always on” console. Every device now is “always on”. That’s the world we live in. #dealwithit

[Heir]:Did you learn nothing from Diablo III or SimCity? You know some people’s internet goes out right? Deal with it is a shitty reason

[Orth]:Electricity goes out too.

[Orth]:Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not purchase a vacuum cleaner.

[Orth]:The mobile reception in the area I live in is spotty and unreliable. I will not buy a mobile phone.

[Orth]:I want every device to be “always on”.

[Heir]:You’ve lived in LA, SF, Seattle… very connected places. Try living in Janesville, WI or Blacksburg, VA

[Orth]:Why on earth would I live there?

If this is the prevailing mindset within Microsoft, then it is not difficult to see why the company is gurgling down the crapper. It is also rather easy to predict that Microsoft’s Durango console will be a dirty, big Zune [so to speak]. Orth’s reaction bares all the hallmarks of a Microsoft man who is genuinely perplexed and frustrated by the gaming community’s extreme negative reaction to the ‘always-on’ rumours thus far. But of all the false equivalences to make, likening a console to a vacuum cleaner? The comparison really does not work, as what Microsoft have done is more akin to developing a vacuum cleaner capable of taking your house’s entire power supply offline if it experiences any turbulence – though naturally no such thing exists, because it would be absurd. The Xbox Durango is a console which looks to be purposely designed to fail under certain circumstances. Is this what it will take for North America to return to the Playstation brand?

As an interesting postscript to this Twitter meltdown, a member of the NeoGaf community was able to track down a revealing comment by another developer with ties to the Microsoft family, going by the name Mr Lake [almost certainly Sam LakeThe Workshop’s Nikolai Mohilchock“, apparently]:

Given that legally I cannot confirm or deny if this information is true, nor can I comment on rumor or speculation, all I can say is be sure to pay your ISP bills. ;)

In another interesting postscript to this incident, Adam Orth now has his Twitter account locked-down so that his tweets cannot be viewed.

In one final postscript to this story [last one, promise!] sources have informed Kotaku that if players lose their internet connection for more than three minutes any game or app that is playing will cease to function.

The author of this article has lied to readers, in a super-final postscript-1B to this story Microsoft has publicly apologised for Orth’s Twitter outburst, saying:

We apologize for the inappropriate comments made by an employee on Twitter yesterday. This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views do not reflect the customer centric approach we take to our products or how we would communicate directly with our loyal customers. We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter.

Notice how Microsoft do not do anything to debunk claims of always-on DRM? They will not value their customers until they are gone.

9 comments on “News: Unreal Engine 4 Fails to Impress on PS4”

  1. Taking Orth’s comments as real indication about the console’s DRM, then I think it’s safe to say that there’s a nice trend in this industry: A home console maker has a breakout success, then suddenly gets (more?) arrogant as all hell.

    It started with the SNES, leading to the N64. Nintendo refused to compromise in their dealings with Sony, leaving them with the N64 and last year’s storage medium.

    The PS2 into the PS3. Sony simply assumed they could sell their difficult to develop for Foreman Grill for as much as 600 dollars and everyone would just bend over and think happy thoughts about Final Fantasy.

    And now the 360 into the “Durango”… Though in MS’s defense, their customers are already bending over so who’s to say they won’t also let you pull their hair real hard while you’re bangin’ them for all their worth?

    In seriousness, I don’t see success for MS if they go this route. Not against a Sony who is no longer a year late and many dollars too high. They have some momentum from their userbase, some loyalty to tap into. But even the most bro of COD bros that I know get annoyed about shelling out 60 dollars a year (remember when it was 50?) just to play online, when I bring up the free alternatives.

  2. I’d like to try an indie RPG by small all-girl studio. Any suggestions?

  3. It is not surprising that Unreal 4 runs better on the high-end PCs of today, after all both the PS4 and Durango are closer to mid-range PCs. OS overhead was not a problem with the PS3 and the 360, however both next-gen consoles appear to be aiming for more background features(Social interactions for Sony and Microsoft’s suite of bullshit). The 8GB of RAM are nice, however it seems to me that the next-gen consoles will likely hit a CPU/GPU bottleneck before the entire 8GB of RAM can be used(as is the case with Shawn’s monstrous 32GB of RAM).

  4. @James: Firstly, if you give 8GB to devs, then I bet they find a way to use it [and it’s not particularly difficult to see how either]. Second, you probably shouldn’t look at this in terms of devs having to use a full 8GB – since I’m sure PS4’s feature packed OS + locally streaming content to the Vita represents an impost of >1GB of available RAM.

  5. I view the difference in aesthetics between Unreal Engine on PC and PS4 as nothing more than “slightly not as good.” It doesn’t disappoint me in the least to have graphics that look that those.

    Anyway, Microsoft is just entertaining the hell out of me. Thanks for that report, Julian. People get upset enough at always-online games. Having an entire console like that is just shooting themselves in the foot. The should change the name from Microsoft’s Durango to MS Suicide Note. I don’t take joy in others’ misfortune but if they continue on as they are, and then they fall completely out of the console market just like everyone is predicting, I will have myself a hearty laugh. Just because they could avoid it so EASILY!

  6. @Julian My main point was that the CPU/GPU will probably be what holds back the PS4, as opposed to the RAM(which held back both the PS3 and the 360). There is a misconception that some PC games require a massive amount of VRAM to play 1080p when bad programming is at fault. Battlefield 3 is a prime example, it is well known to make use of however much VRAM is available, without any performance increases. Adding RAM is easy and cheap, but having the power to utilize it is hard. I would not be surprised if the GPU was limited to only 2GB of the 8GB.

  7. @James: I do not dispute the fact that the PS4 RAM will never reach its fullest potential, but I do take issue with the insinuation that devs won’t be able to use the extra capacity and a good deal of its extra bandwidth, because I can imagine developers stuffing all sorts of junk in there.

    I think of it in much the same way as the PS3’s Cell processor; the Cell was never utilised to anything close to its full potential (outside of using PS3’s to create computing clusters), but devs have still had it running at (close to) full load (primarily to compensate for the PS3s weak GPU).

    I also think that you are thinking about the use of RAM under a soon-to-be outdated paradigm, as the PCs of today are mostly just running console ports and independent titles. What happens when developers look to increase by one standard magnitude the complexity of geometry, speed of world-streaming, and the number and resolution of textures. Also, if I am not mistaken, memory bandwidth can be gainfully utilised for effects work such as alpha textures.

    @Jahan: I will be absolutely thrilled to pieces if M$ keep to their Deathbox 720 plans, as they are effectively ceding all core and rural gamers to Sony, which in turn will allow core devs to focus their efforts on one primary console platform – and that will benefit all of us; both gamers and devs.

  8. Oh man, that “deal with it” statement is probably the worst way he could have chosen to deal with that situation. The man is truly an idiot.

    Still, I have never purchased a Microsoft console, and I do not intend to, even if this new one IS offline. I rather hope it isn’t though, just so that when it falls, Microsoft can be used as an example to other companies.

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