DF Retro: How Shadow of the Colossus pushed PS2 to its limits

Welcome to the world of Digital Foundry Retro. Every weekend – or as frequently as we can schedule it – DF Retro brings us a new story based on a significant release in gaming history, backed by exemplary, clean capture taken using original console hardware. It’s a great way to revisit the classics while reflecting on what made each game so special in its day. Check back often for brand new episodes as we update this article with the latest videos.

This week, John Linneman rounds off the Digital Foundry 2016 retro collection with an in-depth retrospective on the second of Fumito Ueda’s PS2 classics – Shadow of the Colossus. You’ll get to see pristine footage of the game’s early concept work, analysis on how the title used new techniques to create its world and characters. And yes, via new captures taken using original PS2 hardware, you’ll get to see just how ‘cinematic’ the frame-rate actually was.

And on top of all this, we check out the best way to play the title today on more modern hardware. Can emulation do a reasonable job of tackling one of PS2’s most challenging titles? Alternatively, just how well did Bluepoint Games manage to remaster the Team Ico masterpiece on PlayStation 3? All this – and more – is addressed in this 19 minute special.

Let’s play Knack simultaneously on PS4 and PS4 Pro

Putting together the Digital Foundry platform comparisons aren’t easy. Pristine, lossless captures are acquired quickly filling multi-terabyte RAID arrays, clips are meticulously lined up, shots are extracted, magnified and compared. And then of course, performance is tested. But what if we could carry out most of the Face-Off process in one pass? What if we could play two versions of the same game simultaneously while grabbing all the capture data we need in the background? Well, that’s what we’re doing here in this video presentation, where John Linneman and I play Knack on PS4 and PS4 Pro using a single Dual Shock 4 controller, with two screens side-by-side.

Dual system control (we tend to call it ‘dual-wield’) was a hardware experiment I put together back in September 2014, in an attempt to streamline workflow and to make our comparison videos – then dominated by cut-scenes and very limited gameplay – a lot more dynamic. In fact, doing a quick search though our YouTube history, I found this never-published which showed highly promising results during our first tests. But the truth is that while dual-wield produces some cool comparison clips, the combination of varying game logic and shifting analogue stick data means that de-sync happens very quickly, limiting its application.

But Knack? Well, that’s different. Camera movement is carried out by the game, not the player, removing our most troublesome de-sync variable – the drift caused by the processing, averaging and smoothing of controller input. Xbox One and PS4 actually have different controller polling intervals too (4ms and 5ms respectively), and this also contributes to de-sync – but this is not a problem with Knack as we’re comparing two PlayStations with the same sampling. Game logic still causes problems, but we can quickly re-sync the action by moving Knack to a corner of a room. In almost every way, we have a best case scenario here. A typical dual-wield session on most titles lasts a few minutes before we need to abort (some see immediate drift) but in the case of Knack, we could probably play through most of the game like this.

DF Retro: Ico on PS2 revisited

Welcome to the world of Digital Foundry Retro. Every weekend, DF Retro brings us a new story based on a significant release in gaming history, backed by exemplary, clean capture taken using original console hardware. It’s a great way to revisit the classics while reflecting on what made each game so special in its day. Check back often for brand new episodes as we update this article with the latest videos.

This week, with the arrival of The Last Guardian, directed by Fumito Ueda, we journey back to 2001 to revisit the classic Ico for PlayStation 2 – the first Ueda classic. John Linneman is your guide as Digital Foundry assesses Ico’s beautiful technology, charting its journey from the original PlayStation across to PS2, as well as covering Bluepoint’s excellent last-gen remaster.

As usual, there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and rare curios – if you want to see Ico running on original PS2 hardware at 60 frames per second (double its usual output), along with a host of debug options, John’s got you covered. This instalment of DF Retro is our penultimate episode this year – we’ll be rounding off 2016’s offerings next week by completing the Ueda Collection with an in-depth analysis of Shadow of the Colossus.

DF Retro: Shenmue 2 – a masterpiece revisited

Welcome to the world of Digital Foundry Retro. Every weekend, DF Retro brings us a new story based on a significant release in gaming history, backed by exemplary, clean capture taken using original console hardware. It’s a great way to revisit the classics while reflecting on what made each game so special in its day. Check back often for brand new episodes as we update this article with the latest videos.

Today we’re publishing a very special episode – an extended 33 minute analysis of AM2’s classic Shenmue 2. John Linneman covers off the game’s notable technological achievements, the changes made from the first game along with deep dive comparisons stacking up the original Dreamcast version with the Xbox port that arrived a year later.

On top of that, we discuss the options available for playing the game today, whether it’s running the original Xbox release under backward compatibility on Xbox 360, or exploring emulation. A lot of love was poured into this episode of DF Retro – we hope you enjoy it.

DF Retro: Tomb Raider – PS1 vs Saturn vs PC

Welcome to the world of Digital Foundry Retro. Every weekend, DF Retro brings us a new story based on a significant release in gaming history, backed by exemplary, clean capture taken using original console hardware. It’s a great way to revisit the classics while reflecting on what made each game so special in its day. Check back often for brand new episodes as we update this article with the latest videos.

This week, John Linneman celebrates the 20th anniversary of Tomb Raider with an in-depth analysis of the first Lara Croft adventure – from a look at the technical innards of the game through to the long awaited and much requested PlayStation vs Saturn platform comparison. Plus of course, there’s a look at the PC version too, plus the later remake.

And of course, as is par for the course with DF Retro, John suggests the best way for playing the game using today’s hardware and as is perhaps to be expected, it’s a modified PC version that retains the spirit and gameplay of the original but cleans up some of the issues in the original release.

DF Retro: Metroid Prime – Nintendo’s first-person masterpiece

Welcome to the world of Digital Foundry Retro. Every weekend, DF Retro brings us a new story based on a significant release in gaming history, backed by exemplary, clean capture taken using original console hardware. It’s a great way to revisit the classics while reflecting on what made each game so special in its day. Check back often for brand new episodes as we update this article with the latest videos.

In this week’s episode, John Linneman examines Nintendo’s phenomenal Metroid Prime. With the series originally designed as a 2D platformer, the Metroid titles enjoyed huge success on NES, Game Boy and SNES – but there was no Metroid title for Nintendo’s first true 3D console, the N64. In truth, it seemed that the platform holder just didn’t know how to evolve the franchise.

A collaboration between Nintendo and the then newly formed Retro Studios, Metroid Prime is a technical masterpiece for the GameCube – a 60fps mostly first-person adventure that sees the platform holder dare to radically evolve the franchise to make the best of new technology. It’s a fascinating story and one we’re happy to share with you.

DF Retro: Daytona USA – why frame-rate has always mattered

Welcome to the world of Digital Foundry Retro. Every weekend, DF Retro brings us a new story based on a significant release in gaming history, backed by exemplary, clean capture taken using original console hardware. It’s a great way to revisit the classics while reflecting on what made each game so special in its day. Check back often for brand new episodes as we update this article with the latest videos.

This week, John Linneman revisits one of the most important arcade releases of the 90s – Sega’s epoch-making Daytona USA. Built on Model 2 hardware, Daytona is a shining example of an age where arcade gaming technology was generations beyond what the home consoles could offer.

Daytona also highlights that the importance of frame-rate isn’t necessarily an issue just for modern gaming – Sega’s iconic racer played host to a range of home conversions across the years that simply couldn’t match the original, and poor frame-rate was the key reason why the original Sega Saturn port just couldn’t capture the experience of the classic arcade title. John’s analysis doesn’t just cover the Saturn conversion though – every single port and sequel is covered.

Digital Foundry: Hands-on with COD Infinite Warfare on PS4 Pro

PlayStation 4 Pro’s enhancements for supported titles are proving varied from what we’ve seen so far, ranging from resolution bumps to more fine-tuned visual tweaks. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare gave us more insight on this – the one game to demo the hardware at EGX 2016 this week. Running on a guarded row of six PS4 Pro machines, we could compare it to a similar multiplayer build running on the original PS4 – a rare chance to see the prospective gains for supported titles as we approach the new console’s November 10th launch.

Between myself and colleague John Linneman, the consensus was the core visual make-up is perceptibly very close between PS4 and PS4 Pro right now, with resolution being the only enhancement. Though the maps shown on each console differed (with PS4 Pro running a neat sci-fi edition of the Terminal map from Modern Warfare 2) there’s no sign yet that Sony’s newer machine offers higher quality scenery or effects work while simultaneously rendering out to a 4K screen. Instead, the resolution bump is clearly the focus.

Here we saw the very same game, but rendering at a higher pixel rate to hand in a vastly clearer image. The code we saw suggests that Sony’s checkerboard upscaler is in effect here. As with Horizon: Zero Dawn and other titles seen at the PlayStation Meeting, this renders out a 2x 1080p pixel count in a 2×2 checkerboard format, extrapolated out to get perceptibly close to the real deal. This can also manifest as a subtle stippling pattern on high-contrast edges in motion, difficult to pick out unless you ogle the screen closely.

Watch: We play No Man’s Sky on PC locked to 4K 60fps

It’s fair to say that the PC version of No Man’s Sky got off to something of a shaky start – and despite the release of a beta patch over the weekend, performance and features in the computer version still aren’t quite up to scratch. There are definite improvements though, and yesterday we were able to get a pretty much locked 60fps experience – at 4K resolution and max settings to boot. The key to our success? We’re not entirely sure but a surfeit of raw processing power can’t hurt, courtesy of Nvidia’s new Pascal-based Titan X backed by an overclocked Core i7 6700K running at 4.6GHz.

But what’s clear is that even at 4K, we have far more power than we actually need here – GPU utilisation is often at the 70 per cent range, while we barely seem to tap into half of the Core i7’s potential. The current stutter issues seem to be down to shader caching issues that Hello Games has identified and is seeking to address. For our part, we achieved fluidity with the game simply by turning off v-sync, fully unlocked the frame-rate and then using Nvidia’s adaptive v-sync to take over screen refresh and frame-pacing duties.

However, at the same settings and at a rather saner 1080p resolution, attempts by DF colleague John Linneman to replicate the same experience with a GTX 970 proved fruitless. It’s clear that No Man’s Sky can hit the 60fps frame-rate target that Nvidia’s adaptive sync wants to lock at, but something is still holding the experience up – and in his case, it’s clearly not CPU or storage related.

Introducing DF Retro: Half-Life, Shenmue, Quake and more

Have you checked out the recently? You’re guaranteed daily videos, some exclusive comparisons and analyses you won’t see anywhere else – and we also like to try out some new ideas. DF Retro is the brainchild of John Linneman, possessed of a gaming lair crammed with virtually every major piece of console hardware ever released. Every Sunday, DF Retro brings us a new story based on a significant release in gaming history, backed by exemplary, clean capture taken using original hardware.

In this week’s video, John tackles one of gaming’s most celebrated games: Half-Life. Before developing its Source technology, Valve stuck doggedly with the original Quake engine. We take a look at how Valve utilised idTech initially, with a look at the 1997 alpha code – which the developer canned, rebooting the project almost from scratch. And after that, we take a look at the quality of the console ports: the PlayStation 2 release and the cancelled Dreamcast version. Comparisons, performance metrics – you name it, we’ve got it.

But that isn’t the end of the Half-Life story: we finish up by checking out Half-Life Source and Black Mesa, the most modern ways available to experience the original game.