Tag Archives: video

Nvidia’s ShadowPlay and One Angry Earthshaker

fraps movies settings

Occasionally, I put gaming-related videos on YouTube. For all of those videos, I’ve used Fraps to capture in-game footage, and as far as software-based capture tools go, it isn’t bad. I’ve been using Fraps for a few years now, and for the most part, I’ve been pretty happy with it.

That said, there are a few things about Fraps I don’t like. For starters, it creates massive files on disk — it works out to be about 1.2GB/minute for 720p footage at 60fps. There’s no option to record at arbitrary resolutions, only your display resolution or half size, whatever that turns out to be1. And enabling Fraps usually kills my FPS, which usually gets me killed in whatever game I’m playing. The frame rate drop I experience in certain (read: more recent, more demanding) games turns me off recording unless I really want to, otherwise I’d probably record far more often than I do. That, and the massive hard drive space requirements for recording.

But like any in-game capture tool, the worst thing about Fraps is that I have to manually enable it whenever I want to record something. That’s fine if I know something cool might happen in advance, or when I know I’m going to do something which I might need footage for later, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve done something epic and wished it has been recorded. So many times I’ve missed out on capturing some real Kodak moments, and all because FRAPS wasn’t recording. The “workaround” for this, if you can call it that, is to have Fraps running all the time — but when gaming sessions go for hours on end, I have neither the hard drive space nor the low-FPS tolerance for that to be a viable solution.

shadowplay settings

Enter Nvidia’s ShadowPlay.

In Shadow Mode, ShadowPlay automatically records everything in the background. It records up to the last ten minutes of gameplay in the background, which you can then save to disk if you want by pressing the appropriate key combo. Do something epic, and want to have a permanent record of it? No need to gripe about not having Fraps turned on and recording to your friends over TeamSpeak, because ShadowPlay already recorded it for you. All you have to do is save the recording.

ShadowPlay is also great because it doesn’t produce massive files when recording footage. It uses the GPU to transcode your recordings on the fly to H.264 (which is why you’ll need a GTX 600 or 700 series graphics card), resulting in reasonably-sized files, and best of all, there’s no performance hit that I’ve noticed thus far. (For comparative purposes, 1GB of hard drive space gives me roughly three minutes of in-game footage with ShadowPlay at 1080p/60fps, compared to under a minute with Fraps at 720p/60fps.) There are alternative software capture tools that can perform similar compression on your recordings, but those use CPU power instead of a dedicated H.264 encoder built into the graphics card. And since my CPU is a few years old now, I don’t really have those CPU cycles to spare when I’m gaming.

ShadowPlay has a manual recording option too á la Fraps, in case you want to go down that path. But having something sit in the background silently recording my every move is great, and means I don’t have to think about what I’m going to be doing next and whether I want to have that on file for later. It’s like having an instant rewind for anything.

There’s always room for improvement though, and ShadowPlay is no exception. It needs the ability to record voice input, for starters. If I’m communicating hilarious things over TeamSpeak but all the recording captures is my teammates’ responses, then that’s not very useful. And I have to do some more thorough testing, but I’ve had a few recordings with a number of graphical glitches too. Then again, Nvidia have labelled it a beta for a reason, so I’m sure it’ll get there.

But for now, ShadowPlay is pretty great. Reasonably-sized files, little to no performance hit when recording, and the best part is, it means I don’t have to worry about turning on Fraps before doing something cool. What’s not to love?

ShadowPlay makes recoding game footage an afterthought, which is what it should be — because you’re supposed to be playing games, not thinking about whether you want to record what you’re doing in games.

About the video2: OK, so, there was this one game of DOTA 2 I was playing, right. We had an Earthshaker on our team who wanted to play him like a carry — constantly going 1v1 against other heroes. Dude thought he was invincible, even after he died three times in the space of two and a half minutes. After he died he’d usually ping-spam the map, resulting in our Death Prophet getting worked up and shout at him over in-game voice. It was hilarious, right up until the point where Earthshaker revealed he had a mic after all, but apparently only used it to abuse other teammates over voice. We lost the game, of course, but it was really strange. Almost like the dude was drunk or something.


  1. Since I game at 2560×1440, the native resolution of my display, half size turns out to be 720p, which works out well enough for YouTube purposes. 1080p would be great, but recording at full size and then down-sizing is too much work. 
  2. I had to upload the video to Vimeo because YouTube blocked the audio because of the Lady Gaga going on in the background. But the audio is kind of the best part. And yeah, sorry about having the not-very ad-free Spotify going on in the background. (The new Lady Gaga is just OK, IMHO). 

Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light

At the heart of it, Metro 2033 is about camaraderie. You're not a Ranger, but friends help out friends.

At the heart of it, Metro 2033 is about camaraderie. You’re not a Ranger, but friends help out friends.

I think I restarted the original Metro game probably five or six times. It wasn’t because I wasn’t very good at it, or that I didn’t enjoy it, but every time I’d get up to one part, but then I’d run out of filters and die in the harsh environment of the post-war Moscow. Or I’d come up against innumerable enemies, waste all my ammunition, and die. Or maybe I’d lose my way, frantically run around trying to find the next area to go to, run out of filters, and die unceremoniously in some dark corner, panting for breath as everything slowly faded to black.

I probably played through the first few chapters five, maybe six times, each time growing more and more frustrated with a game everyone was raving about, all because of its incredibly atmospheric gameplay and fantastic plot — an atmosphere and plot I was being denied time and time again, due to my own inability to survive on the irradiated surface.

It even got to the stage where I wanted to play through the game so badly, wanted to experience it for myself, that I looked up cheats for “infinite ammo”, or some kind of god-mode invincibility so I wouldn’t have to worry about using my hard-earned military-grade rounds buying filters for my mask whenever I got the chance. I’m usually against cheats, but in this case I was making an exception. I was desperate to play the game, but it seemed as if the game didn’t want to be played. At least, not by me.

So I played other games. Every time Metro 2033 came up in a Steam sale, I pushed away the guilt of never having played what was by all accounts a fantastic game, ashamed I couldn’t even beat it on the easiest difficulty. My pile of shame grew, but Metro 2033 sat squarely on the top of the pile.

It wasn’t until Metro: Last Light came out that I read a review of Last Light that said the first game was supposed to be played as a stealth shooter. Then it dawned on me almost as if I had just stepped out of the underground tunnels of the metro and into the harsh sunlight above ground: that was exactly what I had been doing wrong all along. Instead of sneaking around in the shadows, crouch-running through the tunnels, I had been going in all-guns blazing. Instead of conserving my ammo, I had been neglecting my knife when only one or two enemies were between me and my goal.

Metro2033 2013-05-17 10-39-08-30

Looking back at it now, I’m reasonably surprised I didn’t think of playing 2033 as a stealth game. I must have restarted the game some five or six times without changing my play style, each time expecting to Rambo through sections with wanton abandon and then dying out in the unforgiving tunnels and surface. But after learning about playing it as a stealth game, everything changed. Suddenly, I had more filters than I knew what to do with. My knife became my best friend for dealing with one or two bad guys, and ammo, while not exactly abundant, became plentiful enough.

The game changed.

Instead of a game where my every thought was on survival and finding enough filters, it became a game about exploration and discovery. Fear was replaced by a curiosity that could only be sated by exploring every nook and cranny for supplies, with little fear about how many filters I had or which direction I was going — although that could also be attributed to my compass, which always lead the way to the next objective, to the next rendezvous.

Sections that had seemed impassable before due to the numbers of enemies between myself and my object now seemed easier, somehow, either by use of stealth or a little ingenuity on my part. The game didn’t become any easier, necessarily, but the simple act of playing it differently meant that I could see and explore places I wouldn’t have had the chance to had I just sprinted through rooms filled with enemies.

I started to enjoy the game.

And what a game it was. The reviewers and critics were right: Metro 2033 was as deserving of every accolade it earned, and for good reason. As an introduction into the subterranean life of a post-nuclear-war Russia, it was unparalleled. As a look into the life of one individual’s journey through the dark tunnels of the Metro, the harsh wasteland of the surface, and deep behind enemy lines, it was an awe-inspiring experience.

Forging your own path was easier if you shot out all the lights first so that you could remain unseen, as indicated by your handy watch. Stealthily taking down enemies wherever possible meant you raised the least amount of suspicion, meaning a longer time undisturbed looking for ammo, military-grade rounds, or secret caches filled to the brim with ammo, filters, and military-grade rounds.

"Does this helmet kind of remind you the NCR Ranger Combat Armour from Fallout 3, or is it just me?"

“Does this helmet kind of remind you the NCR Ranger Combat Armour from Fallout 3, or is it just me?”

But as much as you thought you were the silent killer lurking in the shadows, you never felt overpowered compared to the enemies you encountered — human or otherwise. Part of the reason you had to sneak around in the first place is because you’d quickly run out of ammo if you had to engage the enemy, particularly during the section where you’re between two sets of enemies on either side, where you have to jump around and avoid being spotted. The only time you feel on top of things is when you’re journeying towards the D6 compound with your fellow Rangers — only because there’s safety in numbers, and even then, only when those numbers are comprised of the Ranger elite.

In terms of gameplay, Metro 2033 is a shining example of how to do stealth right. There’s parts where stealth benefits you greatly, combined with parts where you can’t stealth due to environmental conditions, and just have to run and gun. Your watch helps you immensely, and paying attention to it is usually the difference between a successful stealth attempt and tens of soldiers being alerted to your presence and opening fire.

The plot of Metro 2033 isn’t too bad either. You meet a couple people and do a few things along the way. You’re never completely alone except for a few short parts here and there, and you always have a clear sense of purpose, even when you’re given the freedom to roam around an underground establishment or and above-ground environment.

For the most part, other characters will be there to guide you through various sections. It’s a little hand-holdy at times, but means you’re never really thrown into a situation you can’t handle. I usually hate escort missions, but this isn’t like that at all — if anything, it’s more like a reverse escort mission where you’re the one being escorted through the bowels of post-nuclear-war Moscow, being taught survival tips and tricks along the way. If another character tells you to jump, you don’t even have to ask how high, because he’ll tell you.

The introduction at the start of the Metro 2033 is brilliantly executed — the whole “play through this first part, then flashback to the beginning of your journey, playing though until you come back to this section again” aspect is a plot device more frequently used in TV, but it still works here. It creates enough intrigue to get you hooked and just enough action to blow you away, at which point it dials it all back a few notches so you can start to ask questions and get truly into the plot and story that Metro 2033 presents during the course of gameplay.

Make no mistake: Metro 2033 is a great game.

Continue Reading →

Shenanigans and Tomfoolery in DayZ

A few cliff notes:

0:00: “I’m gonna hatchet his ass”
0:47: I cannot throw grenades
2:58: “Can I shoot the four to the front or no?” “Negative” *starts shooting immediately*
3:45: M107 vs AS50 noise comparison
5:07: what kind of a person lets off a DMR at the NW Airfield? Not that it really mattered anyway…
5:48: “You’re not dead, you’re not dead, you’re just unconscious”
7:21: “Glad I brought plenty of ammo”
9:28: “Damn boy that’s a lotta shooting”
9:34: “That was an M203! Oh, no, wait, it’s blowing up now.”
10:07: We try and flip an flipped ATV with the ute
12:20: “Just smash into it”
12:30: “It disappeared.”
13:20: Long-range sniping at the NW airfield
14:07: “The answer is always bandits.” (lulz in chat)
14:39: “I couldn’t even see it, there’s so much lag man”
15:09: “Well, I think we just got rid of this server’s airfield population”
16:34: “Now we’ve killed everyone at the airfield.”
16:52: M203 flare brightness testing
17:23: Low-FPS infinite zombie killing
18:00: “Hey, I didn’t use a Lee Enfield, that was somebody else”
19:23: Whose blood is that? I’m not bleeding…
20:16: Last-gasp abort attempt

Oceans Away! | Unwinnable

Before I tell you the story of how I tricked and deceived my son, an innocent 7-year-old who trusts me with his life, his happiness and his dignity, let me first explain how much I hate Plants vs. Zombies. I cringe just typing the name. A clip of the music or a piece of the art is enough to make my gut shrink. I don’t blame the game, which is a perfectly great, smartphone-friendly tower defense title. I hate it because of my son.

via Oceans Away! | Unwinnable.

You should read this.

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line is a game unlike any other in recent memory. It asks a lot of you. It’s emotionally exhausting, and it’s the biggest eye-opener to war I’ve ever played.

More on that in a bit. For what it’s worth, there will be a few spoilers along the way. I have endeavoured to keep the spoilering to a minimum though, in order for you to enjoy the game in its entirely at a later date. Thank me later.

My expectations for Spec Ops started out as they usually do when a new shooter appears on my gaming radar. The usual “ooh, new shooter!” excitement accompanied by a Google-ing of a PC demo. I found none, but I did end up watching the trailer on my 360, only to be incredibly disappointed: there wasn’t anything appealing here, just what seemed like a massive grind through an extremely linear level structure, doing the typical shooter thing; i.e. shooting things. Disheartened, I moved on and promptly forgot about the initially promising shooter that turned out to be nothing I hadn’t already played before.

Sometimes, it’s fantastic to be wrong. And boy, although I didn’t know it yet, was I wrong — on every possible facet and every possible level.

Fast forward to a few weeks later, when I’m going through my usual gaming feeds to see if there’s anything new. I come across the Destructoid review of Spec Ops, along with The Verge review of the same. I decide to read their reviews out of curiousity, to see if they came to the same conclusions as I did when I had simply watched the trailer.

What I read wasn’t just unexpected, it was flabbergasting. What The Verge and Destructoid described wasn’t the boring, cookie-cutter shooter I had seen in the trailer, but a masterfully put-together commentary on war and its effect on everyone involved.

And then I watched the Zero Punctuation review on a game that had piqued my interest for the second time around, and I realised something: I had to play this game.

As fortune would have it, Spec Ops was on sale on Steam during their Steam Summer Sale a few days after that, and that was that. I paid for, downloaded, and started to play the game.

Now, you have to remember where I’m starting out from: Spec Ops is a game that I initially was somewhat interested in, then completely uninterested in, then finally, very much interested in once again. I had high expectations going in, and Spec Ops exceeded expectations in almost every way.

It’s no secret that I love a game with a good storyline, and Spec Ops is perhaps one of the only PC games I’ve played this year that has delivered in spades.

The scene is this: Dubai is in turmoil after sandstorms have ravaged the once-beautiful city. The US has already sent the legendary Colonel John Konrad and his battalion, the Damned 33rd, to help with the evacuation, but something is wrong. In Spec Ops, you play the part of Captain Walker, a US Delta operator who is sent into Dubai with two of his buddies in order to find out what happened to Colonel Konrad and his band of merry men, the Damned 33rd.

Like many shooters of the same genre, Spec Ops stats out innocently enough. In the first half of the game, you’ll begin to hate the cover-based combat – it’s not too dissimilar from the system used in the Mass Effect series, and yet there’s a constant grating that means combat doesn’t feel fluid as it could. It’s not as intuitive as the Mass Effect system — sometimes when you want to run to cover, you can’t. You just run, and then stand next to the cover, all the while taking fire from multiple enemies. It feels every bit as awkward as it sounds, but it’s not a deal-breaker; you’ll get used to it soon enough.

Ammo is scarce in Dubai, so you have to make your shots count; head-shots, for example, are accompanied by a puff of red mist, and a slow-motion effect that lasts for a fraction of a second. Not enough to move the crosshair to another target, but enough for your adrenaline-fuelled self to plan your next move. In true third-person shooter style, you walk over ammo to collect it, and can pick up weapons from the fallen at your leisure.

Welcome to hell, Walker.

But it’s during the second half of the game where things start to get a little out of hand. It’s not so much a departure from the shooter norm than a complete, off-the-rails derailment that sends you spiralling into the abyss of questionable morals. The story progresses from simple “reconnaissance” to “search and rescue”, all the whilst spinning an intricate web of more questions than answers.

Suddenly, your two subordinates are fighting amongst themselves over a decision you made earlier in the piece. Suddenly you’re thrust into a truly unforgiving world, where horrific scenes are witnessed, where you have to make the choice between shooting a civilian who stole water or a soldier who murdered the unlawful civilian’s entire family as punishment. And, wait a second, why am I suddenly shooting US servicemen? Aren’t we supposed to be on the same side?

There’s various sub-plots in the overarching story of Spec Ops that only serve to drive home the realities of war. At one point, the game sees you team up with the CIA who apparently know what’s going on in Dubai and have a plan — but in the end, all your efforts to get some more answers only results in more questions, and perhaps even the realisation that something is very, very wrong here.

As the game progresses, it’s not just “search and rescue” anymore. It’s “escape”. It’s “revenge”. You’re forced to make terrible, terrible decisions – forget the lesser of two evils, and just choose what you can live with. You’ll die a lot, and the messages on the loading screen are chilling: “do you feel like a hero yet?”, “how many Americans have you killed today?”, and my personal favourite, “you are still a good person”.

Action or inaction will sometimes result in the same outcome anyway, so you might ask yourself: what is the point of Spec Ops? The point is to get you to realise that war itself isn’t just about killing. Make no mistake, Spec Ops doesn’t glorify war like other shooters might do: Spec Ops makes you realise that war is truly horrific. Bad things happen in war. Bad things happen to people who are involved in war, and sometimes, there’s just no coming back from that.

There’s not much more I can say about Spec Ops without spoiling it totally, but suffice to say Spec Ops has to be played. The only real sticking point about the game is it’s cover-based combat — something the Unreal engine isn’t really designed to do — but the gameplay mechanics pale in comparison to the real reason you’re here; I knew Spec Ops wasn’t going to be just another cover-based FPS, and I went in expecting a stellar storyline, great pacing, and believable characters.  Trust me when I say it’s worth it for the storyline alone.

What you get out of Spec Ops will depend on your resolve: some games aren’t just games you play sitting in front of a computer, but real experiences that make you feel like you’ve been there, and you’ve made those choices for yourself.

Spec Ops is a masterpiece of brilliance. It offers an experience like nothing else I’ve ever played, and as a narrative on the realities of war, Spec Ops is unparalleled. You should play this game.

Further reading:
Zero Punctuation’s review of Spec Ops: The Line
The Verge’s review of Spec Ops: The Line
Destructoid’s review of Spec Ops
Ars Technica’s piece on Spec Ops: The Line including an interview with lead writer (major spoilers, please only read if you’ve finished the game)

Can we talk about video games?

I have about a million and one thoughts on various aspects of photography and tech (I got a Kindle Touch!) which I’m going to write about a little later, but just for now, can we talk about video games for a second?

I’ll start with this: nobody likes guys.

Nobody. Likes. Guys.

Or so says the Thought Catalog piece that sparked this piece on video games. What is it about video games, man? What is about video games that makes people start foaming at the mouth whenever someone even mentions DICE are working on a new title, or that Notch has something new on the horizon?

I wrote about Medal of Honor a little while ago, and it was while watching the new Medal of Honor trailer that it dawned on me: video games are all about enjoyment, and maybe, just maybe, feelings. When you play games like Mass Effect (I wrote about that too), with games that tell the same story over a period of years, you feel something for the characters. For Commander Shepard, and for you. When you play games like Medal of Honor and you’re falling off a cliff trying to escape from people you were previously hunting down, that feels real. For Rabbit of AFO Neptune, and for you.

I recently re-played the single-player campaign of Battlefield 3 and Medal of Honor, and it was then I realised why it was enjoyable. It was about the storyline, yes, but also about experiencing gameplay as a game designer wanted you to experience it. A game designer, sitting a desk in a country you’ve only read about or seen photos of, wanted you to experience a game in a very specific way. And not just you, but everyone who played the game. How crazy is that? Think about that.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the multiplayer aspect of games. Even more so when playing with friends over voice comms. But I was thinking about the Fallout 3 campaign, how your choices impacted gameplay, and I realised that single player gaming will always have my attention. Single player means you have unique experiences, exactly as the game designer wanted.

And yeah, a big part of these experiences are the graphics. I’ve been looking forward to the new Medal of Honor ever since I played through the 2010 game, and the new Medal of Honor trailer looks fantastic. Rightly so, because it’s based on the same engine as Battlefield 3. But what’s up with the trailer for Ghost Recon Future Soldier looks terrible by comparison? The graphics look like something out of 2005 — honestly, they’re not that much better than the Battlefield 2 intro (the Battlefield 3 remake of which is fantastic, by the way). Call me crazy, but I know there are heaps of games that offer brilliant gameplay experiences — but if the graphics just aren’t there, then I can’t really play the for any length of time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s a combination of heaps of things that mean people play games. What I’m trying to say is that you should go read the Thought Catalog piece on The Games Guys Play, because it explains everything a little better than I just did.