DecryptedDrive

CryTek May Go Bankrupt

Poor sales of the Xbox One Exclusive, Ryse, creates financial woes for CryTek.

In depth review of the Phillips Citiscape Downtown Denims

These stylish headphones cut no corners, and offer great sound at a reasonable price.

Valve's Steam Controller

A look at why the steam controller is unique, and why it has potential.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Kickstarter Project: InSomnia



Mono Studio has recently relaunched their kickstarter campaign for their third person, grim, dieselpunk RPG, InSomnia.

After searching for 400 years for a safe haven for humanity, the colossal spaceship lands on a distant planet. The player awakes from cryogenic sleep to find the ship 'semi-abandoned', in a state of disuse, and must piece together what has happened, as well as figure out how to survive.

Atmosphere is integral to the game, with dark ambient music playing as you explore the labyrinthine ship and the planet, creating a tense and suspenseful aesthetic.



The visuals add to the grim and moody atmosphere, with interesting and unique designs for characters, enemies, and the world itself. While the raw graphical fidelity of the game isn't jaw dropping, it's more than adequate.

The combat appeared simplistic and slow from the footage shown. Corridors are littered with conveniently chest high debris that you take cover behind and shoot from. However, it is important to note that this is still very early into development, and can be improved.



InSomnia also features sandbox elements; randomly generated missions and events. This may pad out the longevity of the title, but ultimately, I'd rather have missions designed by a person rather than an algorithm. Having said that, maybe they have figured out a way to make it work.

Another nice addition is the focus on cooperative gameplay.


The narrative is said to focus on humanity's mistakes, making vague references to current day events and people. After all, why would humanity leave on an exodus if all was well?

Mono studio appears to be a new developer, so there is a risk they could be biting off more than they can chew with InSomnia. They previously launched a kickstarter campaign late last year, but had to cancel due to a lack of focus and clarity. At the time of writing they have raised around $30,000 out of their goal of $70,000, with 22 days to go.

All in all, InSomnia is rather appealing from what they've shown so far. I like the art direction, and the focus on atmosphere and narrative. I just hope they polish the combat a lot more, and make use of the RPG elements.

Kickstarter Link.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Partially Working Prototype of Project Ara Shown Off at Google I/O

Tons of news has come out of Google I/O, but details of Project Ara, the modular smartphone, had seemed to be absent. However, in a smaller session Google's ATAP group gave a quick update about the state of the project, as well as a live demo.

The project is very clearly nowhere near ready for consumer release, but despite that, things are looking promising. The live demo failed, with the device having a graphical error displaying on the screen; a section of the Android lockscreen showing behind a section of the boot screen.

While it might not seem like much, it does suggest that the underlying technology is working fairly well, and all the parts are communicating.

A video of the demo can be seen below.




Top Five Google I/O Announcements

Google I/O 2014 has come and gone, with plenty of new things to be excited about. From a radical new design for their entire lineup of products, to one of the fruits of their 20% initiative, here are the top five Google I/O announcements.

Material Design

Material design represents a common philosophy that will be present across all of Google's products. It allows developers to specify an elevation value for each UI component, and have real time lighting and shadows run over it.

Additionally, a lot more animation is present, in order to make transitions smooth. Real world objects do not teleport from one place to another, and this is reflected in Google's new design language.

Perhaps more interesting were the hints that Matias Duarte, Vice President of design at Google, seemed to be dropping. In an interview with the Verge, Matias pondered "what if we could design for the materials of the future, instead of the materials of today", during which an animation of a shapeshifting screen was being shown. He then went on to say "...and that future is right around the corner".

All of the principles in Material Design would work perfectly with a screen like the one being shown off, and it suggests that Google wants to start preparing for that technology starting now.

Android TV

While previous attempts into this niche failed, Google is back. This time Android TV boasts a sleeker, more modern UI, with a renewed emphasis on content and gaming.

Content will make its way from the Google Play Store, as well as third parties such as Netflix.

The OS will either come baked into TVs, or in the form of a micro console. Currently, Asus and RAZER are said to be planning consoles using the Tegra K1 from nVidia. This could make the boxes perfect candidates to stream PC games using nVidia's gamestream technology. This would present a very real threat to lower tier steam machines.

The Android TV can be controlled using your voice, a phone, or even a smartwatch.

ART

ART isn't the runtime Android needs, but the one it deserves. Boasting significant performance increases, as well as 64 bit support, it will help ensure Android users get a great experience even on lower end hardware.

Android Wear

Android Wear has been announced for a while, but only now are we really getting to understand how Google will be tackling the wearables niche. Ideally, the phone is a central hub where everything really happens, and wearables connect to this.

Notifications, music controls, and GoogleNow are all on your wrist, making train journeys that much easier. Your watch can even authenticate who you are, and the phone will not prompt you for a password when unlocking it.

The OS seems very simple and intuitive, with vertical swipes to switch between notifications, and horizontal swipes to either dismiss them, or get more details.

The backgrounds are contextual. It's not a huge feature, but one that helps give Android Wear that feeling of polish.

Cardboard

Cardboard isn't a competitor to Oculus Rift, but it is an interesting concept. It's made of cardboard that can be folded up to form a VR headset, into which you place your phone.  A downloadable app then gives you interesting capabilities with the headset.

It's not meant for gaming at all, it simply isn't fast, or sophisticated enough. But Cardboard does allow a new and interesting way to interact with your mobile device, like VR streetview.

Not much has been said on what this means for Google. It could suggest that the company is interested in VR, but that's just speculation at this point.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Everything you need to know about Android L


Yesterday, a few of Android L's features were announced. The update was surprisingly larger than what many had expected; a simple visual overhaul. Instead, a number of exciting new features were shown off. Here are the highlights.

Material Design

The visual refresh consists of one major design principle: treating UI materials as real objects and materials. This is achieved by specifying an elevation for each UI element, and then the OS can render the shadows over it or under it in real time.

What this also means is that everything is animated; "...in the real world nothing teleports from one place to another". Practically all touches result in a smooth animation at 60 frames per second. While it may seem like a minor addition, it really brings a large change in how the OS feels.



Additionally, Android L is a lot more colourful compared to previous iterations. This is further helped by Google creating a support library that can extract a colour from an image, similar to what was seen in SailFish OS, and applying it to the UI. It worked well for the gallery application. 

Other, more minor UI changes involved shapes replacing the traditional Android Home, Back, and Menu keys.

Lastly, Material Design is applicable to all of Google's software, and practically all form factors, be it tablets, laptops, phones, or wearables.

Notifications

Notifications have found their way onto the lockscreen, and they are now actionable. Opening the phone presents you with the most important notifications, and swiping down takes you to the notification shade, where you can see all of the notifications.

I'm not a huge fan of this, as it means seeing your notifications takes two steps, but it is probably the most practical way of doing things.

A new type of notification, called 'heads up notification' was also showcased. It pops up above whatever you may be doing, and you can ignore it, or act upon it. It's similar to what we have seen in iOS.

Personal Unlocking

Most users have their phone pattern protected, which adds security at the cost of time. 

Google has a new approach in an effort to streamline the process. It works with the phone trying to identify whether or not the user is close by. In the demo, the phone determined this because of the bluetooth connection to a smartwatch. 

If the user is nearby, the phone won't prompt the user to enter a pattern. It's a small feature, but suggests an interesting direction that Google is planning.

Performance

You may have heard of ART. Without getting technical, apps are usually stored in a half-compiled state, and something called Dalvik compiles them fully when an app is needed. ART keeps the app fully compiled at all times.

The real world ramifications of this involve snappier performance when opening and closing apps, as well as when switching between them.

Google has announced that ART will now be the default instead of Dalvik. Additional tweaks to ART include better garbage collection (memory management) in order to both decrease the frequency of stutters, as well as the length of each stutter.

Google then went on to show benchmarks comparing ART and Dalvik. The graphs showed a performance increase of 100%. The new runtime is also said to be completely 64 bit compatible.

The other area that received a boost was graphics. In a collaboration with GPU vendors, such as nVidia, Qualcomm, and ARM, Google has created an Android 'Extension Pack'. The technology includes tesselation, geometry and computer shaders, and ASTC texture compression.

A demo of Unreal Engine 4 was then shown off, running on the latest nVidia tegra platform, the K1. Needless to say, the demo looked great, and while it isn't as good as a PC or even a console, the differences are steadily being whittled down. 

Project Volta

Similar to other projects in the past, but this time Google is focused on improving battery life. A new tool, named Battery Historian, shows what was causing battery discharge at a certain time.

This is useful for developers to see what specific part of an app causes drainage, and is used by Google itself to improve battery life within the main system of Android. Additionally, a new API can help keep the radio, one of the more power hungry components of a device, inactive for longer.

The final tweak was a battery saver mode. It reduces CPU clockspeed, screen refresh rate, and more. The mode can be triggered manually or when battery hits a certain level.

All in all, Android L is a lot more than what most expected, and gives Android a well rounded update to keep interest in the platform.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Crytek may go bankrupt




Update: Crytek has denied the rumours regarding its financial state. 

"Regardless of what some media are reporting, mostly based on a recent article published by GameStar, the information in those reports and in the Gamestar article itself are rumours which Crytek deny. We continue to focus on the development and publishing of our upcoming titles Homefront: The Revolution, Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age, Arena of Fate, and Warface, as well as providing ongoing support for our CryEngine and its licensees.
We have received a lot of positive feedback during and after E3 from both gaming press and gamers, and would like to thank our loyal employees, fans and business partners for their continuous support"
However, that isn't to say that there is no issue. Avni Yerli had the following to say:

"When you are reading this, there is hope that Crytek has managed to avoid disaster. A new source of money, said Avni Yerli ‘Not all is good. Our transition to become a F2P-studio had been painful. But all that is now behind us"
Original story below.

Crytek, well known for its game / benchmarking tool, the Crysis series, is facing a lot of financial woes.

The adoption rate of Cryengine 3 has been very low. Additionally, poor sales of Ryse, the Xbox One exclusive, has lead to their current predicament. The game was, reportedly, far behind schedule, and required additional manpower to push it out in time.

While Avni Yerli, co-founder of Crytek, has said that a cash injection is imminent, due to a contract, many big name publishers are keeping an eye out for a bankruptcy, in order to purchase IP and gather new talent.

Reportedly, Wargaming is amongst the potential buyers. Wargamer primarily focuses on free to play multiplayer titles, such as World of Tanks, which could mean huge changes to Crytek if a purchase occurs.

Whatever the case, if Crytek manages to avoid bankruptcy, they still must innovate in order to keep afloat.

Original Source: DSOgaming


Nine Inch Nexus Tablet to be Made by HTC




First reported by Android Police, HTC is rumoured to be manufacturing a Nexus tablet, codenamed Volantis. 

With a 1440P, 8.9 inch screen (281PPI), along with a 64 bit variant of the Tegra K1 from nVidia, the device is boasting an impressive spec list. Other noteworthy features include 2GB of RAM, an 8MP OIS camera, aluminium construction, as well as stereo front facing speakers.


The design looks like a cross between a Nexus 5 and an iPad Mini; much wider than the Nexus 7. It's also thinner, with a thickness of just 0.31" compared to 0.34" for the Nexus 7.

All in all, a solid package, taking the best of HTC and putting it in a tablet form factor. However, the timing of the news is odd, with plenty of rumour circulating that suggest the end of the Nexus program, said to be replaced by Android Silver.

Furthermore, the image doesn't show any front facing speakers, which is worrying for the credibility of this rumour.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Hello Games "Not talking about an Xbox One version of No Man's Sky"




One of the more well received titles of E3 2014, No Man's Sky, is now confirmed to only be focusing on PS4 and PC versions of the game.

In a discussion with OXM, a developer stated "We are currently not talking about an Xbox One version of No Man's Sky, only that No Man's Sky will make its console debut on the PS4."

The keyword here is "currently". While No Man's Sky may not initially come over to the Xbox One, it could very well happen later down the line. It is not uncommon, especially for a smaller indie studio, to plan their games for one or two platforms before expanding.


Furthermore, Chris Charla, Director of ID @ Xbox, a self-publishing program for independent developers, has shown interest in the title, stating that he is "super psyched" for the game.

No Man's Sky was shown off at E3 2014, and was one of the more notable showcases. Presenting huge, procedurally generated worlds, the player could explore the galaxy in his ship, and visit various diverse planets and ecosystems.

Two of the key elements that made it appealing are that, firstly, it had a very old school, vibrant sci fi vibe. Secondly, the seamlessness between being on the ground and exploring a planet, then suddenly engaging in a huge dog fight in space was extremely slick.




Microsoft Blunder Confirms Surface Pro Mini




Nestled within the guide for the Surface Pro 3 were numerous mentions of the Surface Mini, specifically with regard to the pen, which suggests that pen input for the Mini is pretty much a given.

Posted originally on twitter by Paul Thurrott, the guide made mention of the Surface Mini, stating "Before you use your Surface Pen for the first time, you'll need to install the AAAA battery. You'll pair your new pen with Surface Mini a little later during setup."

The online PDF has since been amended, removing all mention of "Mini" and simply leaving "Surface".

The blunder suggests that the Mini may have been planned to be announced at around the same time as the Pro 3. Something made Microsoft change the decision; perhaps they felt the market simply wasn't ready for a Mini, or that it may indirectly challenge the notion of the Surface Pro 3 as a dual device.


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Why Third-Party "Partnerships" can be bad.

Exclusives make consoles sell. It's the reason why Xbox even got a foothold in the first place, and why Nintendo's Wii U is still here. First party exclusives allow a system to show off what it can really do. It allows the Developer to show off just how good and immersive games can get. The Last of Us, was a great exclusive. Halo 4 was a great exclusive. Mario Galaxy was a great exclusive. The list goes on.

Sometimes these exclusives, like the ones above, are from first party studios. Sometimes third party developers, or indie studios produce them, such as Transistor on the PS4 and PC.

However, there is a growing trend of third party developers producing "deals" and "partnerships" with one platform over another, deliberately making the game have more content on one system, or limiting the game to one system altogether.

Recent examples of this could include Watch Dogs getting exclusive content on the PS4. Also, Titanfall, and potentially Fallout 4 only being available on the Xbox One.

While it's understandable that smaller developers would limit their ambitions to a few platforms for reasons such as a lack of funding, or time, examples like the above have the resources to bring the game to all platforms.

This leads on to my main point. These games could have come to all platforms, bolstering their sales, and allowing gamers of all platforms play. However, agreements from Microsoft or Sony limit their success, and it's forcing customers to have to buy multiple consoles just to be able to play a few more games.

Of course, we need exclusives. If all exclusives died, we would have three consoles. You could argue that the lack of exclusives may push Sony or Nintendo to innovate on the hardware front, but ultimately, many people may simply opt for the cheapest console that could run all games, without caring much for other features.

What we don't need are games being limited to one platform when they really should be available on all.

Shatter-proof Screens are a Reality



Phones these days are pretty well built and hard to break. The only real weakness has always been the screen. While it may be scratch proof, it is easily smashed from a drop onto the pavement.

However, that heart-in-mouth moment can be averted, thanks to scientists at the University of Akron. In a recently published scientific paper they have demonstrated how a transparent layer of electrodes on a polymer surface could be extremely tough, flexible yet withstand peeling and bending tests.

This could replace conventional touchscreen technology, and also allow truly flexible touchscreen displays. Currently, coatings of idium tin oxide are used for the touch sensitive component of the screen, which is brittle and more likely to shatter. It is also increasingly costly.

For this reason there is a drive to find a replacement technology. The new film provides greater conductivity, as well as the ability to retain its shape after numerous bending tests. If commercially viable, the technology may find its way into smartphones.