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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

DiRT 3 - MONTE CARLO TRACK PACK   *   30.06.2011
The first track pack for DiRT 3 is here. It features eight tight and difficult stages located in Monte Carlo, where the very famous rally is held every year.
These stages will truly test your driving skills, as not only are the tracks very fast and narrow, they are also a lot more slippery than the ones in the main game. Driving without assists is more difficult, and the lack of ABS is a nightmare in those tight bends. That is why I decided to turn it on.

Apart from the changes in handling, we also get one more addition to weather conditions - fog. It does not really affect difficulty, because we can see far enough, but it sure looks nice.



I decided to include real-time gameplay this time, as replays do not fully show how difficult these tracks are.
I raced with the Group B Audi Quattro on the highest difficulty with everything except ABS turned off, and I do not have the skill to win here.
I am using the Xbox 360 gamepad, maybe I could shave off those few seconds with a wheel, but who knows. Maybe more practice would produce better results, and I did not push it to the limit, because I did not want to use flashbacks while recording. Steering at 30 FPS (I cap the framerate for the recordings to look smoother) is not so precise either, but enough excuses.

Game is rendered in DX11 at 1920x1080 with MSAAx8 and maxed out details (except for ambient occlusion, which does not really do anything except lower performance).


DiRT 3 (DX11) - BEAUTIFUL SCENERY   *   19.06.2011
The last DiRT game is known for its very beautiful graphics. This time I think we got an even more stunning presentation. Even though the number of locations was significantly reduced, they look really amazing.
I am especially fond of Kenya, I could look at those tracks for hours.

The awesome replay feature is back, so we can be amazed by the graphics, or analyze every mistake we make along the way.



Game is rendered in DX11 at 1920x1080 with MSAAx8 and maxed out details (except for ambient occlusion, which does not really do anything except lower performance).


RIVATUNER - ENABLING HARDWARE MONITORING ON CONTEMPORARY PLATFORMS * 18.06.2011
RivaTuner was one of the most popular tools for overclocking and tweaking the graphics card. Its development was abandoned when the author was hired by MSI to work on MSI Afterburner.

While the new software has quickly become just as popular, it is still missing a few things, most importantly two plug-ins for hardware monitoring - CPU and system memory usage.

Fortunately there is a way to enable RivaTuner's hardware monitoring on platforms with contemporary graphics cards.
While in most cases monitoring of the card itself will not work, we are able to enable the CPU and system memory plug-ins. They allow us to monitor the system resources used by any games or software.
RivaTuner's monitoring also allows us to place markers on the graphs, which show their exact values at any given moment. Very useful, and it helps in calculating the average usage of multi-core CPUs.

You can read the complete guide here - LINK


PCSX2 - GTA VICE CITY STORIES   *   17.06.2011
PCSX2 is a PS2 emulator that is becoming more and more popular with each passing day.
Its developers are working hard on bringing new features, improving emulation speed, and increasing compatibility with available games.

GTA Vice City Stories is one of the games I wanted to play the most, as it was never released on PC.
The PS2 version is a PSP port. While the game really impresses on PSP, it's doesn't really bring anything new compared to the previous games of the series. Well, not much, anyway.
It's still a nice game, though at times a very crazy one, and I especially like the business empire idea. That's something I'm really hoping to see in the next GTA game from the HD consoles era.
If we combined the graphics the RAGE engine offers with San Andreas' world and storyline, adding to that the various sideline features from all the GTA chapters, we'd get a perfect game that could be played forever.



The emulator itself works really well with this game. I haven't encountered any significant glitches or problems that would make the game impossible to play. I've completed over 30 missions so far, and if I was forced to repeat any of them (and I sure was), it was just because of the craziness we have to fight with most of the time. Some missions can really give you a headache.

PCSX2 requires pretty powerful hardware to run games smoothly, especially in hardware mode when rendering at high resolutions.
Unfortunately it doesn't support multi-core CPUs very well. It only uses two cores effectively, which means a Sandy Bridge CPU overclocked to 4.5-5.0 GHz is pretty much necessary to maintain a stable framerate. I have a Phenom II X6 @ 3.5 GHz myself, so the CPU is really a bottleneck in my case.
GSdx is running in DX11 mode at 4x the native resolution scaled to a 1280x720 output. If I understand the official guide correctly, the scaler multiplies the width and height, and not the amount of pixels rendered, so in this case the resolution should be 2560x1744. It sure looks like it, because there's very little aliasing present.
At this resolution the CPU is still a bottleneck, and the GPU can't give it everything it's got. At 6x the native resolution the GPU usage is constant at 99%, but the framerate isn't acceptable. A GTX 580 should do really well here, so here's hoping the 28 nm generation will bring a similar card at an acceptable price.

One more thing. You can notice a blurring effect in the video when the camera is moving very fast. That's because the video had to be recorded at 60 FPS and than chopped to 30 FPS. My hardware can't maintain stable 60 FPS when playing, and that's when halving the framerate crates that blurring effect.
In-game anything between 40 and 60 FPS is playable and looks rather fluid, but if we drop below 40 FPS the animation becomes really slow. That's because the rendered framerate is achieved after deinterlacing. So, when the game is running at 60 FPS, the effective framerate is 30 FPS. At 40 FPS it's 20 FPS, so you understand why anything below 40 FPS looks really slow, as the animation speed is bound with the framerate.

I also wasn't able to eliminate screen tearing completely.
Enabling Vsync still leaves some amount of tearing, while drastically reducing performance, so it's not really acceptable.
The other option is to use the Blend deinterlacing mode, which reduces tearing substantially while creating a slightly blurry image (not a problem at high resolutions) with no negative effect on performance.


DiRT 3 - CPU UTILIZATION ANALYSIS   *   10.06.2011
DiRT 3 uses the Codemasters' own EGO engine, which debuted in 2007 with the first game of the series.
After that other Codies' games have used that engine as well, including GRID, the Operation Flashpoint series, and last year's F1 2010.
While the original DiRT didn't really impress on the graphics side, the engine has definitely come a long way.

DiRT 3 uses a modified version of the engine, with changes focused mostly on multi-core CPU utilization. Not much, if anything, changed in terms of graphics (though I'd risk saying we got even more precise HDR rendering), the engine can now make much better use of various multi-core CPUs, including 3 and 6 cores, which wasn't the case with DiRT 2 (it only supported 1, 2, 4 or 8 cores).
While the fact is that the engine is capable of using more than 4 cores, it's quite obvious it doesn't really need that much power, especially in singleplayer. What I was curious about was how it would benefit from multiple cores at low operating frequencies, where the CPU would definitely become a bottleneck.
That's what I decided to check.

You can read the full article here - LINK


DiRT 3 (DX11) - NIGHT RACING & WEATHER EFFECTS   *   08.06.2011
DiRT 3 introduces a new experience in the series - night racing. Available in all types of races, this mode will truly test your driving skills. Personally I'm not that good at driving in the dark, I really need to see where I'm going, as the co-driver's instrunctions don't really help me. I still enjoy the experience a lot, and the game looks very cool.

The awesome replay feature is back, so we can be amazed by the stunning presentation, or analyze every mistake we make along the way.

It also reintroduces the missing weather effects. Rain and snow have been present in the Colin McRae Rally series, but were lost in the last two DiRT games.

  

The falling snow looks really impressive in motion, creating a blizzard affect and substantially reducing visibility. It's even worse (in a good way of course) when driving behind someone, we can't see anything at all. It's amazing.

The rain is rather disappointing, unfortunately. While it looks nice, it should be a lot more intensive to change the gameplay in any way. The handling isn't even harder, which is rather weird considering how little grip rally cars have, especially on gravel or mud. This is definitely something that needs to be reworked in the next game, to bring it closer to how it was in F1 2010. Maybe it didn't change the handling there a lot either, but at times there was no visibility at all.

Game is rendered in DX11 at 1920x1080 with MSAAx8 and maxed out details (except for ambient occlusion, which doesn't really do anything except lower performance).
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