My thoughts on game streaming

Posted by admin on April 26, 2020
General / No Comments

So here are a few random thoughts about tech that allows gamers to play games on a device that is different than the one actually running the game, over the network. This article is about the tech and services that currently exist and my thoughts on viability and their future.
What this article is not is streaming services that stream OTHER people playing:)

There are two distinct use cases for game streaming.

The first one is streaming games from a device in your household to another. An example of this is Steamlink which allows you to stream your Steam library from your (normally powerful) gaming PC to another, normally much less powerful device that has an advantage over the gaming PC, in the form of portability (e.g. streaming to your phone over WiFi from your PC being able to play with the same quality – albeit a smaller screen – in another room or in the garden) or location (e.g. streaming to an Apple TV which is connected to a huge ass TV and game there instead of your PC monitor). This service started as a hardware package, the Link hardware, but has lived on mostly on mobile devices.

Obviously this scenario is free, since all of the equipment used, the machines and the network between them, is already in place and you already own licenses for the games you play. This scenario is also the best performing, since latency is normally low (with a wired connection or 5GHz WiFi), network jitter is low and bandwidth is a non issue.


The second scenario is some form of gaming-as-a-service in some form. Depending on the service provider, this might include the whole package (servers and games) being streamed to any of your devices over the internet for a subscription fee (for example Playstation Now). Other service providers may require you to already own a license of the game you want to stream (e.g. Geforce Now) or even buy a license on the service itself (e.g. Google Stadia).
Microsoft’s Project xCloud is a hybrid service, since it will provide both a way to stream the games you own on the Xbox from your own Xbox console to another device over the internet for free as well as stream games you don’t own from xCloud’s servers (which are Xbox consoles in server racks) for a subscription fee.

I have tested a few of these services over an excellent internet connection (I have a 10GBps fiber at home) as well as local streaming (over gbit LAN and 5GHz Wifi). As things are right now, I think that the usefulness of these services depend on what the expectation of each users are.

If you are a hard core gamer, who can feel the difference of a few fps and demands a 144Hz monitor because 60Hz is just not fast enough for your superior gaming reflexes, just STAY AWAY from ANY streaming software. No network, no matter how fast, will ever be faster than your PCI Express bus and its connection to your monitor. So, if you are the kind of gamer who will pay 500+ for a GPU that gives them 10fps more than what they had before, this tech is not for you. Companies know that, and you are not their target audience anyway.

BUT, it also depends a LOT on the game and companies know that too.
Games that do not depend on lightning reflexes and can tolerate 100s milliseconds of delay without altering their core experience do just fine over the network. Examples include games that you can enjoy in 30fps, like the Assassin’s Creed series (it’s not a coincidence that Google Stadia was showcasing its service using Assassin’s Creed Odyssey). This also include non-real time games, like puzzle and strategy games. If this is your thing, by all means go ahead and enjoy these services.

Streaming Skyrim SE to my phone. I can play like these with no problems for hours, or until batteries start dying. This is an example of a single player game that does not depend on lightning fast reflexes to enjoy that is perfectly playable on a streaming service.

So what is the target audience of these services? It’s two groups of people: casual or semi-casual gamers, who enjoy games like the ones I mentioned before and non-gamers who never invested in any gaming hardware, or did so a long long time ago and would like to play some of the latest games, without doing it now. A small fee is a small price to pay and I guess that services will be adding new games all the time.

The analogy of game streaming has been seen before at least twice now. The first time was with audiophiles. People who invested in hi fi equipment and were obsessing with vinyl analog sound were not the target audience of the MP3 or even CDs. Both are lossy audio formats which is a big no-no to audiophiles. The seconds was of course video streaming services like Netflix. When the internet became capable enough, Netflix provided LESS quality than 4K blu-rays but this was the price to pay, as in the case of audio, for the thing that people seemed to value more than quality.

And that is convenience.

In both cases, convenience won over quality.

Will this happen to game streaming? Well, it depends. Gaming is a weird thing, since “good enough” which was what audio and video streaming was, may not be enough. Gaming requires a feature that none of the others did, and that is low latency. Gaming is interactive, the input of the player and the feedback they get from the game is a crucial thing when playing a game. In local gaming, this is almost instantaneous, the player presses a button, the gaming equipment registers it, incorporates it into the game logic and shows the results on the screen/VR headset etc. This takes almost no time.

Game streaming adds at least 3 things to the mix. The first is the time it takes for the input to be transmitted to the equipment that actually runs the game. The second is the compression of the game video, the third is the delay of the transmission of this video back to the player. These delays are added on top of the existing ones, like game graphics rendering and game logic calculations that exist in every game.

Latency is one thing, while the streaming of the actual game graphics is the second. Video compression technology has evolved a lot since MPEG but uncompressed video will always be better, as long as video compression is lossy.

So are gamers ready to accept these compromises? Some of them are, some non-gamers definitely are and these people may well enjoy game streaming. But many many gamers are more demanding than that. The “PC Master Race” will never go for it if they have to compromise on their experience.

In any case, it seems like there is an audience for these services since we see them multiplying. Tech also gets better so the compromises may be even less important in the future so stay tuned while we all see how all this plays out.

Paper computers

Posted by admin on April 22, 2020
DIY / No Comments

Since we are all stuck inside for a while, it was inevitable that some projects we would never do, just happen to be a good idea. One of them was making an Amiga 500, my first Amiga model I owned back in the day, out of paper.

The link to the file I used is https://www.docdroid.net/PE7D4vg/amiga-500-ver1-pdf if you feel like making one for yourself. There are also a few different screens of games to put on the screen instead of the Workbench image if you prefer. A mousepad is also included.
By the way, I used a simple white elastic band for the mouse cord. I think it looks great.
The guy who makes these has also made paper models of MANY MANY other things, including 80s and 90s PCs and game consoles. You can find his excellent work here: http://rockybergen.com/

Here are some pictures of the end result, some on top of my keyboard and some on top of a real Amiga 1200.

The perfect GameBoy – The Sequel

Posted by karios on October 30, 2019
DIY, Games / No Comments

Every time I decide what the perfect Game Boy is, something happens and I reconsider. The same can be said for many retro systems, because there seems to be an endless stream of hacks, addons and mods for almost anything from the 80s, 90s and 00s nowadays.

Previously (see here), I had considered the GBA SP 101 with a new shell and fixed shoulder buttons to be the perfect Game Boy, since I love the form factor and the screen was lights ahead the GBA SP 001 and of course the original GBA non lit screen. Since then, I modded the original GBA with a very nice backlit screen that improved things dramatically and made it very playable in all lighting conditions, on par with the SP 101.

Now, it’s time to take my SP 001 and take it to another level by installing the best screen on the market, the Funnyplay v2 IPS Laminated display.

This display is hands down the best one yet. IPS colors, 5 brighness levels (and it gets REALLY bright on the highest one), 4x the pixels of the GBA resolution, resulting in no distance between pixels, very fluid (no tearing like previous Funnyplay displays), infinite viewing angles and the display is laminated to the glass, so no dust between the glass and the screen ever and the screen seems to pop. Oh, and the price is very competitive compared to backlit aftermarket displays.

I am really struggling to find anything bad about this mod, but if I had to I would say that it may use a bit more battery. And that’s about it.

The display came in a nice orange box that kept everything safe. In there you will find the display itself, a ribbon cable with a small circuit board and a very thin wire. Oh, and a square white foam that you have to put behind the screen.

If you plug the display on the ribbon cable and plug the ribbon cable where the old SP 001 (or SP 101, works there too) display was, it just works. So if you don’t care about the different brightness levels, you are done.

I modded my only SP 001, which looked like this before the mod:

Modding was relatively easy. The hardest parts was trimming the back cover of the display to allow it to fit and soldering the thin cable to enable the brightess button to switch between the 5 brightess levels.

You have to trim only one side as shown below, and don’t forget to put the foam behind the screen before closing.

For the easy soldering part, which you should do after you pass place the display, connect the ribbon cable and pass it through the opening, the thin cable must be soldered on:

a) the solder point on the ribbon cable itself, as shown here:

b) the solder point marked Q12B on the motherboard of the SP, as shown here:

The soldered wire should look like this (with better cable routing):

This is it. Close everything up and you are good to go.

Now all my GBAs have backlit screens. Funnily enough, the original 101 screen is the worst of them now (on the SP on the left), with the aftermarket backlit taking second place (on the GBA on the right) and of course the new Funnyplay IPS taking first place (on the center SP).

Here are some close ups of the 3 screens. See if you can spot the new IPS (hint: it has 4x the number of pixels, so it’s super sharp compared to the others with no visible gaps between the pixels).

Click for larger image

Micro Gotek replacement on my Amiga 1200

Posted by admin on March 16, 2019
DIY / No Comments

I’ve recently replaced my Gotek which I described in previous posts (http://www.karios.gr/?p=1029 and http://www.karios.gr/?p=1003) with a Micro Gotek (found here: https://www.sellmyretro.com/offer/details/32413). As a reminder, the Gotek and Micro Gotek are floppy emulators that replae the old-school floppy driver on the Amiga and can read and write on virtual floppies stored on USB sticks (called adf files).

The main difference between the two is the size that takes inside the case and convenience with the cabling. In the old Gotek, I needed to solder wires on the switches for example while the Micro has everything on normal headers, for buttons or a rotary encoder. I chose the latter, which is much more convenient for scrolling through lots of ADFs while still using the encoder as a button to load or eject virtual discs. Another big difference is that you can connect the USB outside of the case, which is very convenient if you want to change USB sticks often.

I chose the Micro Gotek version that goes directly on the motherboard to avoid using a floppy cable and the need for yet another 3d printed base to base the Micro Gotek on. I also printed a new version of the control box to accommodate the USB and the encoder. I shared the file here:

https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:3485091

This is a work in progress and I do already regret putting the USB and encoder on the same place, which I plan to change in later versions. If you push them enough though, they will fit.

I also printed the encoder cap found here:

https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2832652

Having the Micro Gotek directly on the floppy connector on the motherboard also leaves few choices for getting the cable outside of the case of the A1200. One would be through the ventilation grills and another from the back side (e.g. the expansion port), using cable extensions.

The Micro Gotek uses the same FlashFloppy firmware which I used for my original Gotek and it updates just fine (I have it updated to version 1.0, which is the latest at the time of this writing, with no problems). It also works great.

The final result looks like this:

The perfect GameBoy

Posted by admin on December 16, 2018
DIY / 1 Comment

I just finished restoring the perfect GameBoy, in my opinion, to the perfect state! But first a little history:

First was the original GameBoy which took the world by storm by being an awesome way to play video games on the go, with the important feature of actually being able to play different games on the same portable console, a new thing at the time. Technical wise, it was not anything spectacular to speak of, it featured a few grey (well, more like puke-green) colors on the screen, which was not even lit, so no playing in the dark for you (at least without any of the numerous silly light-and-magnifying glass after market add-ons). But it was more than good enough, there were some awesome games on it and the 4 AA batteries last for a long time. 

Then we had the GameBoy Pocket, which was the same thing but smaller and only took 2 AA batteries. Other than that, it was the same machine.

Then we had the GameBoy Color. This could play all the original GameBoy games with the option to turn their grey palettes to a color palette with the same number of colors but at least there are colors. There were also games built specifically for it with better colors. But other than that, the screen remained non-lit and the quality of the games was more or less the same as the original.

Here I should mention that in Japan only there was a special version with a lit screen, called the GameBoy Light which was essentially the Pocket with a front lit screen. This never came out anywhere else.

But then we had the GameBoy Advance. Now this was the real deal. The GBA was more or less on-par with the Super Nintendo, power wise and it fit in your pocket. The future was there! It was also backward compatible with original and color GameBoy games, so at launch its software library was already huge. 

The original GameBoy Advance featured the controls on the sides of the color (but STILL not lit) screen and took 2 AA batteries for power.

The next version was the GameBoy Advance SP. Hardware wise it was a GameBoy Advance, so all of the same games played fine (including original GB and GBC games), but it now featured a much more pocket-able clam shell design. And the screen was lit for the first time!

There were two versions of the SP though, the original SP model 001 featured a rather unimpressive front lit screen that looks, well, not so good, but you could play in the dark for the first time and that was important. But the second version was the real deal. Model 101 featured a very bright and beautiful backlit which is on-par with the ones found on the DS which came after that. These are quite rare and expensive to find nowadays, but in my opinion they are the best GameBoys ever made, since they are backward compatible with ALL GameBoy games ever made (GB, GBC, GBA), they have an awesome small foot print clam shell design and they feature the best screen.

The last GameBoy SP released was the SP Micro, which was a super tiny version of the SP and played only GBA games. These are very nice, feature a smaller backlit display but they are a feature less than the SP 101. 

So, since I never had a GBA, I decided to go hunting for the perfect GameBoy. Finding a 101 was not too hard, the price was a bit high though and, since it’s now more than 15 years since it was released, there are always some problems with them.

The most common problem is of course, the state of the plastic chassis of the device. These games were meant to be carried around and played, so scratches and filth was everywhere. Repairing and cleaning was out of the question but thankfully, you can buy a replacement beautiful brand new plastic chassis for less than $10 online, which is exactly what I did.

The second most common problem is the shoulder buttons, which wear out and stop working after a while. On the device I received, both shoulder buttons were not working at all, or worked when they felt like it. Here, I had to open the device and desolder them, order new ones online and replace them and boy did this make a difference. The new shoulder micro switches work perfectly and they also have a very satisfying clicky feel to them, not present in the originals.

Lastly, the battery needed to be replaced, just so it can last for a good few hours more of gameplay. You can also get them brand new online very cheaply.

So there you have it, I am now a happy owner the of the perfect GameBoy!

Update:

Another one, this time a 001 model, is saved and added to the collection. New shell, new shoulder button microswitches, like new!

Welcome!

Update 2:

Another GameBoy Advance joins the collection. This time it’s not an SP but a regular GBA, but with a brand new plastic hell, screen crystal and backlit screen modded. This was a relatively easy mod, there are lots of tutorials on how to change the original non-lit screen to an after market backlit one (e.g. https://www.instructables.com/id/Gameboy-Advance-Backlight-LCD-Screen/).

The only things you need to be careful is the screen connector model you have on the GBA motherboard (40 pin or 32 pin – determined by the first number you see through the battery compartment – 0 for 40 pin or 1 for 32 pin. They are also called type A and type B) and to careful to solder the screen power wire correctly on the GBA motherboard to get power for the backlit screen. Other than that, it looks and plays awesome:)

Welcome old GBA with brand new screen
My GBA collection so far.