Dispelling the myth of DirectX 12

There are lots of articles out there detailing the merits of the new DirectX, but I think they all evoke expectations for the end-user that will never materialize.

The biggest aspect is that DX12 is “more efficient”, and so free performance. Being compatible with older hardware means that the same engine on the same hardware will run better, especially lowering load on the CPU side. All this leading up to the myth that DX12 will extend the life cycle of current hardware.

My opinion is that the opposite will happen: DX12 are a way to push again to buy new videocards and new CPUs. As it always happened.

A couple of days ago Eurogamer published an article about the first somewhat relevant DX12 benchmark:
http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-2015-ashes-of-the-singularity-dx12-benchmark-tested

The most important aspect is how on a fast CPU and a Nvidia card, DX12 is SLOWER than ancient DX11 technology. This is already the proof, just one case that means nothing beside showing that it can actually happen: DX12 isn’t a sure improvement. It could as well push things backward instead of forward. It’s not unambiguously “better”.

Here’s what I wrote about what might have happened (the beginning is an answer to someone claiming Nvidia DX12 drivers aren’t optimized yet):

Part 1: if we are at the bottom level, the activity of the driver isn’t very different from what DX11 does. If we are talking at a very basic level on DX12, it means dealing with basic instructions that DX11 already perfected. So there isn’t something intrinsic in DX12 that makes for a “tricky to develop” driver. The DX12 driver, compared to the DX11 one, is a driver that does less, at an even more basic level. So I’d assume for an engineer it’s much easier to write that driver (and less to work with when it’s time to squeeze out more performance). The first reason why DX11 might be FASTER is because Nvidia engineers know how to make something faster *in the driver*, whereas these guys who made the DX12 code didn’t know as many tricks. Hence, DX11 is faster because it ends up having better custom-code written by Nvidia.

Part 2: better multi-thread in DX12 still brings overhead. That’s why Nvidia backwards performance ONLY HAPPENS on 4+ cores and higher CPU frequency. If the DX11 render can keep up (meaning that it doesn’t completely fill one core) then the DX11 is FASTER than DX12. Because single-threading code is faster and because it leaves even more space on the remaining cores for the rest of the game logic. If instead you hit your CPU cap on the single thread THEN DX12 should be ideally faster, because you can spread better the load on other cores.

The reason why Final Fantasy 14 benchmark runs faster on DX9 than DX11 is somewhat similar. You can have fast single-thread code, or slower multi-thread core. At the end if you add up the load of multi-thread code it ends up cumulatively higher (so slower) than the single-thread code. The same happens with 64bits vs 32bits. 64 is marginally slower, but it allows you to tap into more resources.


Those are aspects that might explain why DX11 ends up being actually faster that DX12. But the myth is that the ideal better performance of an engine will become better performance for the end-user too. I think that’s false, and that’s because it’s produced by a false perception of how game development works.

I’ll try to explain again why DX12 expectations may be overblown, as it always happens, when you focus on the technical aspects and not on the practical ones.

Optimizing a game is a never-ending process that takes development time. Development time = money.

For a game company the first priority is to do things QUICKLY, because doing things fast turns into money you save. That’s why Batman game tanked: they didn’t want to allocate it enough time. They wanted it done FAST because PC isn’t worth long develop times.

Time spent on optimization and actual game performance for the end user belong to the same axis. That means that in a lot of cases the hypothetical speed of DX12 WILL NOT be translated into faster FPS for the end users, but into shorter optimization phases for the developer.

So, DX12 = same performance of DX11 with shorter development time (eventually), but at a lesser cost for the developer.

That’s how it works. The speed of an engine isn’t solely due to technology, but also to time spent on it. In practice, TIME is more an important variable for the developer than performance for the end-user.

That means, again, that in practice DX12 will end producing just about the same performance you see now in DX11. Every improvement in tech, in the HISTORY OF PC has always been eaten very quickly by rising requirements. Always and without exception. The moment you give developers some gains, they fill them up on their side by cutting down the time.

That’s not even the whole picture. As everyone knows video drivers are increasingly complex and optimized only for the newest cards. See Witcher 3 performing badly on 7xx cards. That means that even if DX12 theoretically bring benefits to ALL cards, as time passes the engineers writing drivers will only have time (and motivation to do so) to optimize them well on newer hardware. To not even consider developers who write engines, that will never waste weeks and months writing specific optimization for older hardware.

That means that all gains that DX12 might bring will be used to push new hardware, and not to make your current hardware live longer. It will mean less engineering effort to develop new cards while showing bigger performance gaps. Smoke & mirrors.

This is how things work in practice, since the world isn’t simply run by theoretical technology. What you expect from DX12 just WON’T HAPPEN. DX12 performance improvements are oversold, as it ALWAYS happened and will continue to happen with new technology.

This modern counter-bias

So, it looks like The fantasy side of tabletop Warhammer joins those things that got a “reboot”. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it turned into shit.

It doesn’t take very long, looking at the internet, to see that the response for this reboot has been almost universally negative. The Warhammer fantasy universe has been reset, so all established lore has been canceled, and it was also an opportunity to rewrite the rules and, guess what, make them more “casual”.

The main differences are the focus on a smaller amount of units and more importance given to heroes with special abilities. So a smaller scale to manage where single units make the difference. Beside that, everyone complains that the removal of army points makes the battles simply impossible to balance. And it sounds like a gaping hole of an oversight, however you want to look at it.

It should be evident that they now want a toy, and not a wargame.

But I’m pointing this out to underline two basic trends. One is about these “reboots” that systematically alienate the current players yet gain absolutely no one new. The point here is that it doesn’t take any careful analysis to realize these plans are always terrible ones.

The second trend is that I was reading this article that was doing a good job explaining the situation:
http://www.terminally-incoherent.com/blog/2015/07/04/age-of-sigmar-and-the-end-of-warhammer/

The problem is that it falls in this trend of the “Social Justice Warrior” angle being forced upon everything, which has the only effect of undermining perfectly reasonable complaints. As I said the article makes very good points, so it really wasn’t necessary to also put the load on that silly angle. I’m linking it because it reads like a parody of those same issues.

One of the new things the new rules seem to do is trying to break the fictional layer of the game to engage directly THE PLAYER as a game mechanic. In some kind of parody game it could even be a good, goofy idea, but on the actual Warhammer? It’s beyond stupid.

But I find even more funny that on one side the game rules themselves break the fictional layer, while on the other side the guy writing that article pushes the political agenda onto a fictional game/product. So I guess two wrongs make a right. And so the result is that perfectly reasonable complaints about a very goofy ruleset turn into very goofy complaints, in a kind of circular way.

And so the accusation:
“encouraging players to straight up mock people who suffer from mental illness”

About this rule:
“if, during your hero phase, you pretend to ride an imaginary horse, you can re-roll failed hit rolls”

Uh-oh. So very offensive. Worthy of a crusade. GRAB THE WARHAMMERS!

P.S.
On a more serious note, this way of thinking is dangerous. It’s a weapon of an argument and it is now pervasive in our culture, in plenty of more subtle ways. Blaming people for imaginary intentions. If you ride an imaginary horse while playing a game your INTENTION for doing so is “mock people who suffer from mental illness”. And of course you cannot even defend yourself from the accusation, because the accusation pretends to reveal an HIDDEN purpose, and so that won’t be admitted. Like a dialectic bullet of entitlement. Beware, because this way of thinking is spreading.

A few things about E3

When I was a kid I used to be super-excited about new games being announced, but because of how I’m wired it wasn’t due to me being a kid, but to the different scenario and then things before us.

I was excited when Quake was announced, with the promise of a true 3D engine and a medieval setting with dragons. And I was excited when Final Fantasy 9 was announced, as a return to a more medieval “fantasy” setting, that I liked so much better than the futuristic mishmash more typical of Square, still without losing the sense of wonder and with character design going in the opposite direction of the VIII chapter.

And, in general, new games would push the boundaries of what could be done. Look at the timeline. Just one or two years between each, we went from Wolfenstein 3D, to Doom, to Quake. Since the early 2000s the progress curve has been flattened, and new games simply fail to hype, not because I’m older, but because the value simply isn’t there.

Fallout 4 is a good example. Same engine, but new hardware allowing them to add more foliage and geometry. Still no shame exhibiting horrendous animations. Still terrible combat. Dialogue system turned to utter shit. Removal of all skills. But hey, one really good idea: turn all the clutter into actual useful resources.

And I almost agree with Sarkeesian (who at this E3 has been working hard to troll the internet with the most stupid claims ever), if the modular crafting system wasn’t all about armor and weapon, and more about survival and other tools, the system and potential gameplay would have been nothing short of amazing. But, alas, “streamlining” is the buzzword of shitty design. And that’s what we get nowadays.

Then, Elder Scrolls Online? No one cares about that, and still has no vision of itself and what it is supposed to be. Yet Another Card Games (announced with an handful of concept art screens)? No thanks. Another program launcher to launch programs? No thanks. Dishonored 2? Just CGI trailer, no gameplay being shown, nothing at all being said about the actual game beside it has an option for a female protagonist.

And there’s Doom. Could be worse. This tweet already shows a lot. The idea of an “editor” that simply allows you to paste together pre-made rooms is fucking terrible if they don’t actually give players a real editor when you can edit actual geometry, and from what I read on twitter this is very unlikely. So it’s basically all a fraud. Pasting together rooms is fun and exiting for about 10 minutes. That’s not what made Doom map-making popular.

At least they did get the fact that Doom core is about gameplay and you can’t turn it into a scripted, linear game. So focus on gameplay, action and atmosphere. Problem is that what they’ve shown is problematic. I also thought that even if they do that, then they’d basically have Bulletstorm.

That’s also a problem. That demo looked “nice”, but a kind of nice that could easily be done with Unreal 3 engine (and it would probably run immensely better than whatever tech has ID now). The level design was really poor, and that’s THE feature of a Doom game. And only an handful of monsters on screen. That means they are probably on the right track, but the game currently is very shallow.

EA presentation: utter shit. Nothing to comment.

Ubisoft: look at The Division. This year they replaced their fake/fraud gameplay trailers with one that is actually in-engine and running. It’s obvious because they announced it playable at the show, and because you can observe some flickering textures (glitches are usually a good sign of a non-doctored footage). The problem is that it looks immensely downgraded from the previous two years demos. And now that it look barely average it also lost most of its coolness.

Then Ghost Recon. This is interesting because of the interplay with The Division. On one hand we have a game that comes out of “bullshit trailer” to show real footage, on the other we have a game that just enters now the bullshit trailer phase. The effect is that now people suddenly stop caring about The Division, while Ghost Recon can steal the show.

Until Ghost Recon also exits its bullshit phase, I guess.

Then Sony. They obviously win by the biggest margin imaginable, but. The Last Guardian is not there to awe us with a scripted jumping scene. Is that Uncharted? If depth of interaction is replaced by scripted scenes then we simply get a shitty game.

Final Fantasy VII. Beside universal hype there’s the fact they’ve shown nothing at all. The CG wasn’t even THAT good if it didn’t have that brand. So? That’s a game that can be a total failure or total success depending how you do it. And no one can guess how they are going to do it. A good idea would be to keep it classic, turn based, but with polished and deep systems. Streamlining here will simply kill it. Making it “realistic” or real-time would kill it too. So the way it would work great would be like Pillars of Eternity to Baldur’s Gate: something that at least aims to enhance the core, maybe radically, but without transforming it. So, great idea, but with very good chances of fucking it up.

Shenmue? Beside the ridiculous contradiction of an “indie” kickstarter begging for money on the biggest stage (it’s like EA launched a Kickstarter for the next Fifa game), this is still a game series that was built on the hugest budgets imaginable. How can this work out for a respectable Shenmue 3? No idea, no explanations given. Just BELIEVE!

Horizon? That looked fucking cool. And because I’ve seen this happen, and because this is the Killzone team, that’s also load of bullshit. So wait next year (or two) to see what the real game looks like.

See the pattern? This E3 is about two things:

1- It is about a lot of hype for vaporware games. Games only shown as CGI, that barely exist as ideas. That’s how hype works: if you show something completely undefined, people will complete it with their wishes and imagination. That is going to be nothing like the final product. An endless cycle of hype and disappointment.

2- Most of all other games, and those that are real, are all games that look behind instead of ahead. From Doom, passing through The Last Guardian, to Shenmue, we only have classics of the past. But are they connected to something? Do they know their roots or are they just aping their own identity?

No new game seems to actually show you something that you REALLY can hype. That you see and think it is INDISPENSABLE right now. Battlefront looks good, but it’s Battlefield with Star Wars skins.

The industry seems only being able of looking behind and digging out old bones. Having an history is extremely important, but what I observe is BOTH a critical failure in understanding what’s good in what’s left behind, and another failure on the vision of things ahead.

And only hardware and graphics can brute-force things onward.

Anime Decadence

A week or so ago I decided to revisit a Japanese anime that I loved when I was a kid: Saint Seiya.

The rewatch has been a surprising experience because the anime not only is still very fun, but the art style can still be amazing today. I went digging for some volumes of the manga, and this is one of those RARE cases where the adaptation (the manga comes first) is way, way better than the original. The anime does the exact contrary of what typical adaptations usually do (that is, downscaled, simplified versions). For example you’d expect the armor complexity to be simplified for the anime, compared to the manga. It’s the opposite, the anime armors have been redesigned and are way more beautiful and complex than they are in the manga. The same for the story, where in the manga some scene can be thrown away in a handful of pages, in the anime it’s much better developed, with inspired direction, great use of music, much sharpened tension and lofty drama. It’s no wonder that this series was popular all over the world. It’s plain obvious that the team behind it had many talented people.

In fact, this anime is so great that I began seriously wondering WHAT THE FUCK happened to Japanese animation in recent times.

Look at this. Here’s a screenshot from something done in 1987. Almost 30 years passed, and this is a common television series, not a movie or an OAV:

And now look at how it becomes in a movie from 2005:

ARGH! WHAT HAPPENED?! Twenty years and everything’s gone to shit.

I’m pointing at this because I see more of an overall, pervasive trend, instead of a single case. There’s something beautiful in how the old anime were drawn, the medium itself and the physicality of it, those ink lines that are never uniform but more coarse, with a varying thickness. More organic to the image. Colors and light more natural compared to brightened, flashy ones and the sharp cut lines of modern animation. That first shot from 1987 looks as beautiful today as it did at the time. It doesn’t become obsolete.

Of course I’m aware there’s plenty of good stuff today, amazingly drawn, colored and animated, but I also see the pervasive trend that is widespread around the most common, commercial series, and that’s the bad part. Saint Seiya WAS a common, commercial and popular series. There’s something in how anime were made in those past years that makes every shot so beautiful and that instead looks plain ugly and flat in modern animation. As if all life and soul have been sucked away.

See this other example from a more recent Saint Seiya series (or this other one):

And compare to this:

Or even compare this and this. They seem from a completely different source, but only two moments just a few episodes apart. Yet, the second one, even if displaying a much lower quality, retains the charm of those bold lines. A charm that is completely gone from modern anime. What I mean is that it’s not just a matter of quality and detail, but of the actual texture, the physicality of the work itself, the tools used. You can take any anime from the eighties and they all have that special something, a beauty that is timeless and unsurpassed.

Of course there’s more to this discussion. It’s about technology and art, and it is common across the media. It applies to anime as it applies to cinema. The film grain of some old black and white Super-8 Kodak film gone out of production just can’t be achieved now. The secret is that movies can be better than life. Reach for an ideal dimension that is more. The medium itself, the process, has a unique beauty to it. Its own soul and unique aesthetic. Modern technology achieves higher fidelity and realism, but it also loses something in the process. Realism can be a value, but it does not have to be. Modern processes replace obsolete ones.

Something invaluable is lost. Things get better but there’s always a loss. A beauty irreplaceable, but forgotten.

(Since I’m taking screenshots as I watch, you can “manually” browse them. Currently they start from http://cesspit.net/misc/anime/seiya03.jpg and they go up to 39.)