Rundown (3/15-3/21) Quarantine Time with Haz-Nat

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Wherein I discuss the modern troubles and Gen 9 (or G9N if you’re feeling a little cheeky).

So COVID-19 has been sweeping all the nations and put many people into a work-related pickle as industries are being disrupted, quarantines are encouraged, work hours are being cut back, and people are being encouraged to work from home if at all possible. Me personally? Well, I work for a group of medical practitioners (I do accounts payable, IT, and lab stuff), and most of our offices have adopted reduced hours as the majority of future appointments have been cancelled. Because there is little in the way of work, I am now working from home effective March 19th and will continue to do so for about two weeks, embarking on a self-quarantine… that became a mandated quarantine until April 7th, as per my state’s governor.

How will this work out for me? Well, I am arguably most productive when working alone, at home, from the comfort of my PC, without needing to jump between workstations or offices or interact with others. However, there isn’t much work that I can do in my current state, so I’m probably going to work on Nigma Box content a bunch while sporadically studying for the CPA exam. I would be concerned about how this predicament is affecting my finances, as I am working less, but America’s far-right government is looking into momentarily embracing socialism in this time of crisis by offering stimulus to all American adults in order to curb an economic recession. Meaning that my personal revenues will probably go up.

However, viruses, quarantine, and recession are not going to stop the almighty Gamindustri, which will forever shine on like a shimmering sizzling sausage… whatever the hell that means. And I say it means that Microsoft released a bushel of hot details on the Xbox Series X and how it is the best-est and coolest device for video game playings. But in order to explain why it is so great, they had to make a gosh dang glossary to define all the fancy-dancy new-age terms they’re boasting, at least one of which is probably just a modern version of Blast Processing.

Oh, I kid, I kid. While I am not too interested in the power or fidelity that new systems offer, I have to say that they are equipping the Xbox Series X with a lot of nifty features for developers to use to make their games more visually appealing or dynamic. While I think ray-tracing often looks garish, I believe it will do wonders to improve the lighting seen in a lot of games. I am all for bigger frame rates and resolutions, even if I have no plans to move beyond 1080p and 60fps. I think the Xbox Velocity Architecture is a lot of fluff, but I can get behind reduced latency and faster asset loading. And the fact that backwards compatible games will see improved load times, resolution scaling, and possibly not only improved frame rates but also HDR support… it just warms my emulation and preservation-loving heart.

But you know what I don’t really care for? The use of proprietary memory cards for expanding storage (except for backups, storage, and backwards compatible titles, which can run from standard external HDDs and SSDs.) However, in this one instance, I understand why Microsoft needs to use their own memory cards. Because they are making custom cutting edge SSDs that boast read times that outmatch most SSDs currently available for the PC, and you simply cannot get comparable speeds through a USB-based connection. However, USB-based external HDDs are still supported for backups. Based on this information, I am under the impression that users will be able to rotate these downloaded games between external storage devices and the Xbox Series X. And assuming this assumption is accurate, then these proprietary memory cards will not be essential, unlike the memory cards for the PSP and Vita.

I have a feeling that Sony saw this news and realized that they still had yet to do a deep technical rundown of what makes the Playstation 5 so gosh danged great, and proceeded to release technical specifications two days later. Ultimately, the two systems have very similar specifications. Both have 8-Core Zen 2 CPUs, GPUs with 10+ Terraflops, 16GB of DDR6 Ram, super-fast memory bandwidth, and SSDs with 800+ GB that can be expanded either with expensive SSD storage solutions or external HDDs for backups and the like.

Will one perform better than the other in certain aspects? Yes. But aside from variable frame rates and resolutions, which will still be a thing, promises of 120fps and 4K resolutions be damned, the differences will be marginal for most major third-party titles… which will wind up looking best on high-end PCs anyways. This isn’t like the PS1, N64, and Saturn generation, where every system was a wildly different animal with its own strengths and weaknesses. This isn’t even like the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation, where one is technically more powerful, but the other is far easier to develop for. The PS5 and Xbox Series X are two iterative pieces of hardware that boast significant boosts in performance over their 2013 predecessors but are also very similar to each other, and feature tech that has not been demonstrated even in the staged unrealistic tech demo sort of way.

The only games we have seen running on these machines have been enhanced titles from the prior generation that boast features that could be found in the PC versions of the respective titles, between bigger frame rates, better resolutions, and faster loading. Don’t get me wrong, those things are great, and I am happy that Sony is rolling out a program to enhance existing PS4 games, starting with most of the 100 most-played games on the system while allowing regular no-frills backwards compatibility for the ”overwhelming majority” of PS4 games via a Legacy mode. However, none of this really strikes me as a leap that most gaming enthusiasts can justify because people typically buy game consoles for new games, not the same games they already own, but a bit shinier.

I suppose that they could do a lot to convince customers that it is worth it as time goes on, but considering that the Xbox Series X is planning on a holiday 2020 debut, with the PS5 likely launching around the same time, they don’t have a lot of time to drum up hype. Mind you, I do not believe that date is realistic considering how much COVID-19 has affected… everything, but I think this new generation really needs a marquee title by this point and we have not gotten one yet.

This may be because the technical advancements over the past decade have not truly pushed game design beyond the standards established in the PS3/360 generation, and since then generations have not meant much beyond better frame rates, resolutions, and specs, allowing developers to make bigger and prettier versions of the same games seen in prior generations. Not that I really mind. The industry could honestly just stop progressing technologically right now and I’d be happy with it.

Anyways, most other companies were a bit too busy reacting to this situation to give the gaming community too much news. And since I do not particularly want to muse about how certain conventions held during the latter half of the summer are still happening despite the malleable situation the world is in, such as EVO, Gamescom, and the recently rescheduled GDC Summer 2020, I’m going to end things for this week.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home.

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