Dead or Alive 5 on Xbox One X is a Pleasant Surprise

Team Ninja has a history of great games under its belt but they are most famous for the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden series. With Itagaki in the driver’s seat, they were pushing console hardware to its very limits achieving graphics that few other companies could.

Unfortunately, since Itagaki left the company, the team has been making one sub-par game after another. We sure all want to forget the disgrace Ninja Gaiden 3 was.

Unfortunately, Dead or Alive 5 in my mind was another example of a team having lost its way. The team made some questionable choices when it came to graphical choices for the game to the point that it sometimes looked worse than the xbox 360 launch title: Dead or Alive 4. There were a few reasons for this:

  • Lack of anti-aliasing
  • Lack of texture filtering – DOA 3 and 4 had better!
  • What looked like atrocious texture work all round
  • The buttery-smooth 60fps from previous games was replaced by glitchy framerates and freezes.

Well, imagine my surprise when I started Dead or Alive 5 Last Round on Xbox One X. The console’s 4K upscaling, forced 16x texture filtering and higher compute power allows the game to run smoothly, the texture work to shine through finally (although it still leaves something to be desired at times) and the game runs at 1080p continuously without the dynamic scaler kicking in with what looks like proper AA in most of the levels. It does look like the game applies AA based on GPU load, and only when there is GPU overhead left. The transformation is massive in my eyes: the game now looks to be worthy of the Dead or Alive name. It’s worth checking it out on the Xbox One X. The previous low quality presentation gives way to a sharp smooth look. Awesome!

Now if only Team Ninja could be fixed so easily. Their recent showings don’t give us much hope and it’s unfortunate, because unless Tecmo takes some radical action, they will waste and possibly ruin two of the best gaming IPs: Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden. My advice to Tecmo:

  1. Allow Microsoft to make all previous games available on Xbox One X in 4K – and get some more life out of those games.
  2. Time to sack whoever was responsible for Ninja Gaiden 3 and DOA 5!
  3. Consider building a new more capable team around these two IPs.

I would like to see Team Ninja pushing console hardware to its limits once again with the crazy attention to detail they were once renowned for. It’s not enough to do well enough to kind of meet what other developers do! We want to be amazed once again with what you can do other developers only dream of… 

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Redout Lightspeed Edition – Xbox One X 4K Patch Review

The 4K patch for Redout Lightspeed Edition, a futuristic anti-gravity racer by an Italian studio, just dropped a few days ago. The patch notes promised native 4K rendering, 300+ bug fixes, major performance improvement and a 60fps lock due to the dynamic scaler. Has the Italian studio 34BigThings, achieved their goal?

Upon playing just the first level of the game, it became obvious that something is not quite right with this patch. While the visuals are absolutely gorgeous and look to be rendering at 4K natively, something seems to be broken with the dynamic scaler: it doesn’t actually look like it’s kicking in at all! There are major major performance drops in certain sections to what looks like below 30fps refresh! It’s pretty clear something isn’t quite right. The rest of the first 4 levels all seem to have similar slowdowns in places. 

We have had patch issues with games on the Xbox One X, such as with Titanfall 2, that the developers miscalculated and then fixed quickly. Let’s hope they can do the same with this one. 

Interestingly, the slowdowns don’t really affect the gameplay as you can still steer the ship easily and response is good. But of course screen refresh isn’t great in places. 

However, only around 10% of a level is affected, the rest of the level plays out at an almost locked 60fps. It’s interesting that even slowing down and rotating the camera around the problem area, the slowdown still happens and it doesn’t look like there is any dynamic scaler kicking in or the lower bounds of the scaler are way too high. It also mostly happens when lots of the track is in view all at once so clearly they are overloading the GPU by trying to draw too many things at once without either properly scaling back Level of Detail settings or dropping the resolution.

Anyway, I have contacted 34BigThings to have a look at the issue. Let’s hope for a fix soon. 

Ninja Gaiden Black on Xbox One X is Tremendously Handsome

The First Wave of Original Xbox Titles

I consider Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox as still one of the best action games of all times. So when Microsoft announced that they would be bringing Original Xbox games to the Xbox One and that Ninja Gaiden would be in the first wave of titles, I was excited!

Upscaling – Not Just Any Upscaling

Emulating the original Xbox is no small engineering achievement, but little did we know that Microsoft wasn’t done there. Microsoft’s backward compatibility team figured out a way to upscale these titles to 1080p on Xbox One and 4K on Xbox One X at the emulator level. It isn’t just a simple video output upscaling, but the actual game on the emulator is rendering out 4x (on Xbox One) or 16x (on Xbox One X) the resolution of the original game with antialiasing thrown in for a super smooth image that is an awe to behold on the Xbox One X especially.

Xbox Graphics

People like to throw figures out: these days it’s teraflops, back in the day we were talking about vertices or triangles a second. However, I think those numbers are pretty meaningless with regards to the kind of image quality a machine is able to produce.

I was never drawn into the Playstation world of games because I found their graphical quality lacking in major areas: objects were too angular, textures were blurry and lacked detail and jaggies were all over the image. This is because Sony make some rather poor design choices when it came to their machines, with the exception of the PS4. With PS1 and PS2, they didn’t have much of a choice due to the available technology to them, however, with PS3 they had only themselves to blame. The machine may have had enough power to complete with the Xbox 360, but the truth is that the machine is not even capable to surpass the original Xbox with regards to graphics and here is why:

From the original Xbox, Microsoft built features into the GPUs to allow for shortcuts in rendering. One of these techniques in the original Xbox was called bump mapping (or DOT3 mapping). Bump mapping allowed the machine to simulate more detail in its textures and more details in the character models than would have been possible otherwise. The Xbox GPU also had pretty sophisticated pixel and vertex shading for the time.

Ninja Gaiden on Xbox One X

So how does Ninja Gaiden hold up after so many years upscaled to 4K with the original assets? Quite simply stunning! I have the PS3 copy of the game as well and running through the same areas in the game, my PS3 copy looks flat and outright horrible in some areas. The Xbox One X image is jaggy-free, has better lighting (except for the first chapter which was re-mastered on the PS3) and beautiful running at 60fps. The original assets hold up remarkably well and the original art really shines through. It is clear the original Xbox was capable of some awesome graphics, just the low resolution was holding the image quality back.

Tremendous job! The Wizards at Microsoft have done it. Now I can’t wait to play some of my favourite games on the platform such as:

  • Outrun 2 – although there may be licensing issues with this game because it had to be pulled off retail years ago – Microsoft, sort out a way to replace music in games so this isn’t an issue!!
  • House of the Dead III – the original Xbox was an arcade powerhouse! This was so much fun.
  • Dead or Alive 3 and Dear or Alive Ultimate (DOA 1 and DOA 2) – come on! Make Xbox One the first platform to have all Dear or Alive games, please. Also bring DOA 4 from Xbox 360! While you are at it, bring DOA Beach Volleyball 1, 2 and 3 so the spin-offs are also on one console. The only thing holding this back might be Tecmo, however, now that they are finished milking DOA 5, they might allow it. Come on, guys!
  • Rallisport Challenge 1 and 2 – they are classics!
  • Top Spin – I still love the original. Awesome!
  • MotoGP 1, 2 and 3 – the original games were some of the best motorcycle racing games on any platform. Still haven’t found any that compares – MotoGP 07 on Xbox 360 comes close.
  • Dino Crisis 3 – this game got some beating from the reviewers, but it is one of the best Sci Fi puzzle shooters on the platform with beautiful graphics and cut-scenes to die for. It is a personal favourite of mine!
  • Brute Force – why not!
  • Unreal Championship 2 – oh yes!

The Future of Xbox Backwards Compatibility

Now that Microsoft has figured out how to upscale original and Xbox 360 games to 1080p and 4K, I can see a future where they enable this for all backward compatible games (400+ and counting). Enabling it and testing it game by game might be tedious, so it would be great if the feature could be switched on and off for titles that have not been tested with the feature yet so the full library can benefit straight away- and we can turn it off per game if the game has glitches because of it until MS gets around to manually updating it. Maybe add some options for upscaling such as 1440p / 1800p / 4K so we can configure it and see what works for now. I know it’s a lot to ask for but dare to dream!

What’s more, this opens the possibility of Xbox One games that were not patched with 4K support for the Xbox One X to actually be upscaled to 4K using an emulation layer / swapping out render targets at run-time. Some of those games currently run at 900p with lack of AA. Even if 4K isn’t possible, 1800p (note I didn’t write 1080p!!) should be easily possible for older Xbox One titles.

One more thing: if they could enable this for all OG Xbox and Xbox 360 games WITH at least 2x AA (preferably 4x where possible), then Xbox One X would be THE PLATFORM to play 3 generations of Xbox games at the best image quality possible. Please make it happen!

 

 

Why I love the Xbox – and Looking Forward to the Xbox One X

Introduction

This isn’t going to be an unbiased view or review – as if there was such a thing minus conducting a double blind study on it and even that is questionable. This is my story of why I love the Xbox brand and I have never been swayed by the competition.

Let me start by saying I am certainly not a Microsoft “fan-boy”. I feel, in the area of personal computing, they have not innovated since Windows 95 and actually are holding the industry back. Don’t even get me started on Google: we’ll sell you out so you can get it for free and Apple: let’s put lipstick on a pig! Well, I guess if I have to use a pig, it might as well be pretty, lipstick and all, so I am writing this from a Mac.

So with that out of the way, why the Xbox?

Graphics

I remember getting my hands on an Xbox back in the early 2000s in London and hooking it up to a flat widescreen CRT and 5.1 surround sound system at home. I bought two games initially: Dead or Alive 3 and Halo, and I was floored by the graphics. This was the first piece of hardware that could simulate high-resolution textures using bump mapping, pixel shading and the like and it looked super good.

Remember, the console was designed by the guys who designed DirectX (hence Xbox) and they knew just how to do it. The PC would be getting these features approx a year after the Xbox launched.

This was a far cry from the likes of Sony’s first 2 consoles: PS1 and PS2 which could only push out low-resolution textures and lacked hardware for pixel shading or bump mapping. In fact, even the PS3 was weak in those areas.

I must admin, Microsoft lost the plot with the Xbox One X and was overtaken by Sony in the graphics department, but not by much. Most cross-platform games initially ran at lower resolution or at a lower framerate on the Xbox One. Microsoft however did correct course – freeing up system resources by removing Kinect and helping developers utilise the EDRAM better – and brought games upto better performance on the system.

The Xbox One X is a message from Microsoft to say: we are sorry, we messed up. We have engineered a box that is kick ass and will push the graphical boundaries in this generation. In fact, due to heavy customisation of the silicon inside of the Xbox One X, 6Tflops of power will go a long way to make it competitive with not just the current Playstation line-up but also well into the next generation.

Games

The Xbox over 3 generations has built up a massive library of amazing games. It would take a lot more time to play through them than I have now as an adult so not going to run out of games to play anytime soon. Whoever is complaining that Xbox doesn’t have enough exclusives or good games should look on their shelves: I bet you haven’t played through those games you bought last month or even last year.

I think Microsoft’s new approach to backwards compatibility: bringing 3 generations of Xbox games playable on the Xbox One family of consoles – and beyond – is a massive value proposition for both developers and gamers. There are over 1300 Xbox One games that have been specifically developed for the Xbox One, while 400+ Xbox 360 games are also playable with more and more becoming compatible every week. The Xbox 360 had a library of over 1200 games over its lifetime. Even if Microsoft only made half of those available to play, we will have more games playable on Xbox One than any other console in the history of gaming.

Then there is backwards compatibility for the original Xbox. There were over 1000 titles developed for that system. Even if Microsoft only brought forward a quarter of those, it would show that they honour the investment gamers have made into their platform and that is massive!

The value proposition and brand loyalty for me therefore makes a lot more sense than buying a Playstation. Even IF Sony were to bring forward PS1 and PS2 games, I lose interest because of a lack of good graphics or audio. I even detest most PS3 games because a lack of texture quality stands out for me almost immediately. Granted, PS4 games look and sound great. But that isn’t the whole story…

Controllers

I don’t really know where Sony got their idea for the Playstation controllers, but I have always found their analogue sticks way too flimsy without enough resistance to allow them to be accurate – rather frustrating! The PS4 controller is slightly better, but it’s neither ergonomic or smart design. Maybe it’s designed for Japanese hands but I need something a bit meatier to grab onto.

The Xbox controllers from the first generation Xbox were very well designed, for accurate aiming and great button / trigger positioning. The controller sits in the hand very comfortably even after hours of play.

The dual rumble motors of the Xbox controller also just feel much much better. It literally feels like they can simulate different textures: as you’re riding on the asphalt, as your motorbike speeds up, as you fly through the air, etc. It’s a sensational piece of kit. Yes, the Playstation controller used to have rumble motors, but since it didn’t sit in your palm properly, all you felt was this light piece of plastic vibrating in your hand. Let’s just say I was not impressed.

The final blow Microsoft managed to land on Sony’s flimsy controllers was the Xbox Elite Controller and the superb customisability of even the stock controller button layouts – per game no less!

Xbox Live and Services

It is not secret that Microsoft was the first company that successfully launched online gaming for consoles. Sure, they weren’t the pioneers (Sega were), but they were the first to get it right. Xbox Live is a very well-designed network and how it integrates with games. Microsoft’s push to enable cross-platform play between consoles should also be praised. I think it’s the right thing to do for gamers and Nintendo agrees. However, if I was playing on a Sony Playstation with a PS controller, I would sure have my behind kicked sooner than I can say “hey!”. Maybe I can see why they are scared… 😉

I would like to see Microsoft re-enable Xbox Live for original Xbox games – and keep it alive for Xbox 360 games. In fact, some of the most popular titles could get a rotation on Xbox Live with certain weekends dedicated to oldies where the service is enabled for that game for everyone to join in. That way, the smaller but faithful community for those older games could get together and have a blast.

Why the Xbox One X

The Xbox One X makes a lot of sense to me. Finally, Microsoft is back on the horse. They have engineered an Xbox that will be a tough act to follow for Sony. They have the best controllers, the best online services, an amazing catalogue of games over 3 console generations that will be playable on the machine over time – at great performance and improved graphical fidelity.

On that note, I would actually like to see Microsoft applying higher anti-aliasing to Xbox 360 and original Xbox games than they were originally released with. I know it’s not as simple as applying texture filtering which will be done, but I think it would improve visual fidelity greatly if jaggies were gone from older generation games. Microsoft, please make it happen!

As you might have guessed, jaggies are the last bug-bear I have with video games of today and the Xbox One X will be the first console that promises to eliminate them by either a 4K resolution or downsampling for 1080p screens. I have to say that even the Xbox One S made grate strides to reduce them though. Have you tried the 4K output of the Xbox One S? It reduces jaggies considerably so for me it was worth of price of admission – especially with a UHD Blu Ray drive.

As I said earlier, I think the Xbox One X could also become a machine that is kept alive beyond the Xbox One S and play next-generation games – albeit at a lower resolution or graphical fidelity. Nonetheless, if Microsoft are smart enough, they will ensure games will be forwards compatible (play on older consoles), and actually the plumbing they have been doing under the hood of the Xbox One family of consoles will enable them to do just that – and much easier than the challenge of porting games back and forth through the generations. This is something Sony has not even begun to work on and enable properly, and I think over time, it could cost them their console business or at least a considerable amount of business. However, we want Microsoft on their toes and not get complacent so long live Sony!

In any case, that is only my view of why I love the Xbox brand. Whichever console you play, enjoy! Let me know in the comments below why you love your Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo or whatever else you’re playing. Happy Gaming!