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Editorial

Live Long And Prosper

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It’s difficult to get excited by a gaming API. Many people are familiar with DirectX, Microsoft’s ubiquitous creation, which is impossible not to run into on both the PC and Xbox. The PS4 has its own in GNM and GNMX. And OpenGL is one that’s withered on the vine somewhat, but was quite popular not that long ago — especially in id games. Bonus points if you remember Glide.

A new challenger approaches though, and it’s going to be good news for everyone. It’s called Vulkan, and brings substantial changes and improvements to how game developers can address your gaming hardware.

First, a little background. Vulkan is being created by the Khronos Group, who made the original OpenGL. In fact, Vulkan was initially known as “next generation OpenGL” before being retitled. AMD donated code from their moderately successful Mantle API (from when AMD were essentially trying to create an alternative to both DirectX and OpenGL themselves), and that eventually became GLnext, which became Vulkan.

doom

Why is Vulkan so attractive? For one thing, it’s built from the ground up to allow low-level access to your hardware. This means finer control over your console or PC, with games able to both run faster and look better. For many, this is the Holy Grail of game development, since you usually have to choose between one or the other. Vulkan is also platform-agnostic, compared to DirectX (Xbox and Windows PC only) or GNMX (PS4 only). Right now, Vulkan supports Windows 7/8/10, iOS, Android, and Linux, with more planned. Companies like AMD, Intel, Nvidia, and Qualcomm are all involved in the future direction of Vulkan.

So why should you care about it? Well right now (at least on PC), Vulkan supports only three notable titles: The Talos Principle, Dota 2, and Doom. Doom‘s support was patched in only a few weeks ago, but resulted in substantial performance gains on certain hardware, particularly AMD graphics cards. As an example, Guru3D’s tests (comparing Vulkan to OpenGL) showed an increase of 23% on Doom using Ultra settings at 1920×1080 (96 FPS to 116 FPS). At 1440p, the increase was almost 20% (61 FPS to 73 FPS). This was on AMD’s new RX 480 graphics card. Not too shabby for a brand new API that developers are still learning with.

The bad news is that if you look again at the list of devices that Vulkan currently supports, nowhere there does it say”Xbox” or “PS4.” Microsoft, for now, has chosen to proceed with DirectX 12, which shares some characteristics of Vulkan (notably better use of multi-core CPUs), and Sony has been silent on its plans for supporting Vulkan. Of the two, it’s more likely that the PS4 will eventually support Vulkan, since Microsoft have seemingly thrown their lot in with DirectX 12. The PC gets the best of both worlds, receiving both Vulkan through AMD, Nvidia, and Intel, and DirectX 12 through Microsoft themselves. That’s not to say that Microsoft may not reverse course down the line and adopt Vulkan on top of DirectX 12, but I don’t see that happening in the short-term.

dota2

The good news for PC gamers, at least, is that Valve have already announced support for Vulkan in the Source engine, so all future Valve titles will natively support Vulkan. Dota 2‘s beta implementation is the first step of this. id’s addition of Vulkan support for Doom hopefully signals that the Unreal Engine (used by many games and not just Epic titles) will support Vulkan in the future, which will make it extremely prevalent in the PC universe.

What can you do if you want Vulkan on your console? For now, not much. Perhaps tweet at @PlayStation and @Xbox saying you would like Vulkan support added for your console, to allow game developers to be able to fully unleash the power of your hardware. (No doubt Microsoft would say that DirectX 12 already does this.)

For PC gamers, the future is already here. Hopefully for console gamers, that future won’t take much longer.

I write about PC games and sometimes it even makes sense. I'm a refined Englishman, but live in Texas with my two young children whom I am training in the ways of the Force.

Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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