Monday, May 27, 2013

Featured Game: Motocross Madness

This was hot stuff back in the day
Motocross Madness Windows Front Cover
Year: 1998
Genre: Vehicle Simulation + Racing
Recommend: YES

Maybe you're nostalgic. Maybe you want to see what game graphics were like a decade and a half ago. Maybe you tried Motocross Madness 2 on your Cedar Trail netbook and were disappointed by how poorly it ran, but still wanted to experience the action of motocross (hint hint). Whatever your reason for trying the original Motocross Madness, you will find that it's a fine game that's plenty of fun. Sure, it pales in comparison to its sequel, but come on, this was 1998. This game was da bomb, and it's still enjoyable today. 

What you'll need

For being such an old game, Motocross Madness works well right off the bat. You don't need to mess with compatibility settings, no-CD patches, or anything else that tends to plague games of this age. The only problem I can see so far is the invisibility of player names above the AI's heads and on the scoreboard. Whether this is a driver or a Windows issue, I don't know. (I'll look into it.) The game runs very smoothly, as a game with such simple graphics should.

Reviews and Awards

Motocross Madness has garnered positive feedback from reviewers. IGN gave the game 8/10 (a 'great' score), praising the realism of the game by saying it "portrays the sport in all its agonizing glory -- a fast, maniacal sport that's more fun (and much safer) to watch than it is to participate." Gamespot awarded an even higher score of 8.4/10, still great, proclaiming "this is pretty much everything you could hope for in a motocross simulation, and then some."


From here on out, I will make my best effort to more tightly integrate this blog and my YouTube channel. That's why I've embedded my gameplay video of Motocross Madness below. Screenshots, like I've used in previous posts, are a dime a dozen, but a video really shows what you can expect from a game. Feel free to check out my other videos here, and their descriptions. I put important info in the descriptions (because I don't like too much fluff in my videos, and text uses next to no bandwidth), so read them!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Future of Netbooks: More Details Surface on Intel's Next-Gen Atoms

The more I hear about Intel's next-gen Atom platform, the more excited I get. Bay Trail, if it lives up to the hype, will supercharge the netbook experience. More details on Bay Trail have been released in the past few days and weeks, and it is now viable to make predictions on the caliber and breadth of games that will work comfortably on the next generation of netbooks. Put on your sunglasses, 'cause the light at the end of the Intel-netbooks-suck-tunnel is getting close.

All of the codenames associated with Intel's upcoming Atoms can be quite confusing: Bay Trail, Valley View, Silvermont, Saltwell, agh! What do they all mean?

*Bonnell - name of the microarchitecture used in Diamondville and Pineview
*Saltwell - name of the microarchitecture used in Cedar Trail
*Silvermont - name of the microarchitecture used for the next generation; by far the superior of these three
*Valley View - name of the physical next-gen chip itself
*Bay Trail - name of the next-gen platform

Do these names really matter? No, at least not on this blog. Cedar Trail and Bay Trail are the only codenames I'll regularly use.

The most exciting part about Bay Trail, in my opinion, is the improvement in processor. The best Intel netbook processor today, the Atom N2800, is slightly better than a 3.4 GHz Pentium 4 HT from early 2004. Nowadays, the vast majority of games require some sort of Core 2 Duo-class processor, and Atom can't keep up. That's where Bay Trail comes in. Using a quad-core CPU, Bay Trail can run neck-and-neck with an equally clocked Core 2 Duo from mid to late 2008, as long as the application is optimized for 4 cores. That's a massive improvement over anything available in the past. With this kind of power, a Bay Trail Atom clocked at 1.8 GHz can take on games like Assassin's Creed 2 or Battlefield 3 (whether the graphics can keep up or not is another matter...). In addition to the increase in power, the new CPU's will also have new instruction sets, like SSE 4.2 and cryptography extensions. Sadly, HyperThreading is gone, but having a quad-core CPU more than makes up for that.
Source: Anandtech
We already know that Bay Trail will be employ Intel's 7th generation graphics (the kind used in the iwhatever-3000 and 4000 series). The only things that tells us are that the feature set will be much better than all GMA's, well, ever, and that there won't be any more suckish drivers (we can hope). According to Anandtech, the graphics will consist of 4 execution units, only 25% of what Intel's HD Graphics 4000 has. Still, that's a big improvement compared to Cedar Trail. 4 Intel execution units are like 32 of AMD's, Nvidia's, or PowerVR's shader cores, and can deliver double the fillrate of the GMA 3600 at the same clock speed of 400 MHz. What does that mean? It means you can play the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Left 4 Dead series on the weakest of the Bay Trail chips, and it only gets better from there. Rift and Skyrim will play just fine on the strongest of the Bay Trail family. You still won't be able to play F1 2010 or Metro 2033, though, but still, having DirectX 11.1 and OpenGL 4 support on a netbook is going to be epic.
Leaked information from CPU World indicates that there are 7 unique SKU's, 3 "standard temperature" and 4 "extended temperature" ones. Whether netbooks will use standard or extended temperature SKU's is unknown. All standard temperature parts get a dual-channel memory controller, for a maximum memory bandwidth of 17 GB/s (for netbooks), as well as GPU clocks of at least 300 MHz. One of the standard temperature SKU's will be a quad-core solution that supports speed boosts of up to 1.9 GHz or higher, with a TDP of 12 watts at most. The other 2 SKU's have unknown clock speeds, but one will be dual-core and one will be quad-core, and both will consume less than 10 watts of power.
Extended temperature SKU's come in 4 flavors: entry-level, mid-class, high-end, and premium. The entry-level will have a single core clocked somewhere between 1.3 and 1.6 GHz, with a 400 MHz GPU. The mid-class parts gets two cores clocked between 1.2 and 1.5 GHz with a GPU running at 533 MHz. Both of these SKU's only get a single-channel memory controller, which, if used in netbooks, will put out a little over 8.5 GB/s of bandwidth. The high-end SKU is also a dual core part, but is clocked between 1.5 and 1.7 GHz with a 667 MHz GPU. Finally, the premium solution will be quad-core and run between 1.7 and 2.0 GHz combined with a 700 MHz CPU. The high-end and premium SKU's will get a dual-channel memory controller, for a maximum bandwidth of, again, 17 GB/s. All extended temperature SKU's will consume less than 6 watts of energy.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

New Format for 'What you'll need' Section

You may have noticed tables like this one popping up around the blog.

They are intended to make it easier to determine if your netbook can handle a game at a glance. In case you're unsure of what some information means, I've explained it all below.

Don't know which platform your netbook is built on? All you need to know is which GPU you have.

GMA 950 = Diamondville
GMA 3150 = Pineview
GMA 36x0 = Cedar Trail
Radeon HD 62x0/72x0 = Ontario
Radeon HD 63x0/73x0 = Zacate
ION & ION 2: self-explanatory
It's easy enough to tell the difference between red and green, but what about the different shades, and what do they mean?

Red - You can't play the game on this platform.

Orange - There's a chance you can play the game with some overclocking (mainly on Diamondville netbooks); in the case of Cedar Trail, it means the hardware is theoretically capable of playing the game, but is being held back by Intel's atrocious driver.

Yellow - Cedar Trail only. It means the game will theoretically work, but hasn't been tested.

Light Green - With exceptions, the platform can handle the game well. These exceptions are specified in the Notes.

Green - Think of this as a 'Gaming with Netbooks Seal of Approval'. The game will run on all processor/graphics configurations in that platform (with enough RAM, that is). For Cedar Trail, it means the game has been tested and runs with a satisfactory framerate.

I've only prepared tables for games that only work on more powerful netbooks. In other words, if a featured game is headed by 'Recommended: Depends', then there'll be a table. Games with 'Recommended: YES' or 'NO' don't need one, for obvious reasons. Games like StarCraft 2 that fall under the questionable category will be explained with text, rather than a table.