Level 67: Some Shiny New Graphics

Nvidia's new GPU line-up, D&D becomes digital-focused, and Tom Nook for president

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📜 This Week’s Notable News

A Shiny Coat of Paint for PC Graphics

Many gaming analysts argue that video games have pushed technological innovation due to the intense demands of computation. Even in last week's S-1, Unity CEO John Riccitiello noted that his company’s history in game development has led them to create one of the world’s most complex simulation engines. The demand for lower latency inputs, seamless multiplayer, and precise movement are some of the main reasons that companies like Epic and Unity have rose to prominence. But in the world of gaming metrics, graphics are always hotly debated.

To many, how a game looks is as important as how it plays. And for the last generation of PCs, Nvidia’s RTX 2080 TI has generally been seen as the gold standard, with a price tag well over $1,000. The performance of the 2080 was already unbelievably impressive, which is why this week’s announcement covering a new line of Nvidia graphics units is so awesome. According to the company, the new line-up will work at “2x the performance with 1.9x the power efficiency”. There’s no better tagline than one that promises twice the output for 1.9x the energy. For context, Nvidia majorly accelerated growth of it’s graphics line a few years back through the hype of bitcoin mining, PC gaming’s continued proliferation after Fortnite, and importantly, big corporation’s data center requirements. Link

There’s a whole bunch of technical aspects to their hardware but the important takeaway is that their GPUs are going to be MUCH faster and efficient than they exist today. The fact that companies can still be creating hardware enhancements that double their quality in 2020 is mind-boggling, and will only continue to deepen the technical moat that the PC industry has. It almost makes the arguments about graphics for next generation consoles seem moot by comparison. In addition to the new GPUs, Nvidia also announced a whole array of gamer focused tools that serve to increase their foothold in the PC space: 

  • Reflex: Important technical aspects that often fragment the multiplayer experience and generate lag will have improved real-time rendering through AI-based resolution. Esports and competitive play, and also games with friends will have lower latency, so there will be less time between your mouse moving and the action happening on screen.

  • Broadcast: Nvidia built a plugin to improve the creator experience, enhancing the quality of microphones and webcams, suppressing background noise, and providing virtual backgrounds (just like Zoom!)

  • Omniverse Machinima: This will be an animation development feature to accelerate designer and engineer workflows. The more barriers that Nvidia can remove for developers to utilize its hardware, the more their market share increases. Feels like a no brainer.

💡 Industry Content

Tabletop Games (No Table Required): A16Z’s Jon Lai and Andrew Chen’s latest gaming blog post explores an interesting thesis: the “ digital redesign” of traditional tabletop games like D&D is leading to more healthy & engaged game communities. Games like Magic: The Gathering have had successful tabletop redesigns into titles like Hearthstone, and are being played by tens of millions of people. Even classics like Chess have been brought back into the public’s attention, as evidenced by TSM’s Chess grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, who has been putting up numbers in Twitch’s Chess category. What will the next breakout digital tabletop game look like? Link

Deconstructing Unity’s IPO: Following last week’s Unity S-1 filing, two of our favorite publications Deconstructor of Fun (focused on game theory) and Master the Meta (gaming with a financial twist) ran separate breakdowns on the company’s financials. Both gave positive outlook on the future trajectory of the company, and include lots of interesting tidbits on where Unity is headed next. Deconstructor of Fun | Master the Meta

Precedent in Epic v Apple: WaPo’s The Launcher wrote a piece examining the legal precedent behind the Epic vs. Apple case (e.g Qualcomm, IBM and Microsoft). A lot of the public debate happening on Twitter and Reddit doesn’t necessarily account for the actual legal implications behind the feud, but we found that this piece sheds light on the more nitty-gritty and pedantic details: “Antitrust law doesn’t obligate Apple to do business with its competitors.” Apparently there’s a large distinction between “antitrust” and “hypercompetitiveness”. Link

🎮 Fun & Games

More Mario...For a Limited Time: As is tradition during COVID-19, Nintendo dropped a slew of major Mario headlines out of nowhere yesterday morning. Seemingly confirming rumors from earlier this year, the surprising announcement included a line-up of new Mario content, including shoes, an “AR”-esque toy, and 35-person Mario Battle Royale. The best news was undoubtedly the announcement of Super Mario 3D All Stars, a limited time release that includes remasters of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. Link

Video Game History Booklist: This is a chronological list of books examining game design, academic research in games, memoirs, etc. on video games. Super interesting compilation of sources and we’ll probably be sharing some of these as we dig through them. Link

Video Game Pricing: A WSJ feature on video game pricing introduces various modes of monetization spurred by the $10 increase in video games. Link

😎 Other Cool Reads

Vlambeer Shutters its Doors: This is a look into the inception of hit studio Vlambeer and why they decided to shut down on their 10 year anniversary; the deep insight into the hustle of business and founder relationships in this piece is fascinating. Rami Ismail, one of the founders of the studio, has been a huge inspiration for us in his effort to uplift underrepresented minority developers in games. Link

Tom Nook for President: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris launched yard signs in Animal Crossing for supporters to canvas for their presidential campaign digitally. This is cool, but are people really gonna do this? We wonder about the divisive political implications of an otherwise community-focused game and the demographics involved. Link

QAnon Uses Video Games: Where trust in U.S political institutions has continued to erode, conspiracy group QAnon has filled the void. In QAnon, everything is a puzzle to be solved, with the end result being a constant supply of falsehoods and fear-based stories. Axios notes how QAnon takes inspiration from the addictiveness and mechanics of many video game genres to draw an increasing amount of attention to their fringe theories. It makes you question the broader implications of design in vide games. (h/t Emily for surfacing) Link

“The Secret Origin of the Action RPG”: Video game historian and Japanese Translator, Samuel Messner, explores the history of RPGs that is dormant in the underbelly of the bustling electronic district of Tokyo, Akihabara. Link

📊 By The Numbers

45,000: The number of viewers that YouTube star David Dobrik logged on his first Twitch stream. Dobrik is the most recent in a string of celebrities jumping into Twitch and gaming, including NBA star Ben Simmons, rapper Logic, and Lebron “Bronny” James Jr.  Link

$1,000,000: The amount of money that Ninja, esports team G2, YouTuber Mr. Beast, and gaming software company Aim Labs are donating to Special Effects via the Fall Guys Donation Challenge. They will each receive a custom in-game costume for players to snag at some point in the near future. Link 

118: the number of China-based apps that were banned in India due to growing geopolitical tensions. Link

😍 Our Current Favorites 

Fawzi (@fawzitani)

I discovered this week that Twitter has an incredibly passionate and well-supported community: artists prop each other up and garner large followings, tease their video games through gifs, and put their portfolios up as a way to drive traffic. It’s super interesting to think that this vast portfolio of art will inevitably be lost every few days; that is, the nature of the infinite News Feed is that this type of content will be lost and that we need to continue producing it to resurface it to an audience. 

I was thinking about what it would take to document the myriad of pixel art on Twitter and came across The Masters of Pixel Art, a physical approach to the documentation of art and artists on Twitter. Ultimately, something like this isn’t enough to capture all the art on Twitter but I think it’s an awesome approach to archiving, transforming something innately digital. Link

Max (@MaxLowenthal)

The A16Z blogpost that we highlighted above really struck a chord with me, as I’ve been spending the last three or so months getting really into board and tabletop games. One title that I’ve been enjoying lately is Bohnanza, a card trading game that centers around growing and harvesting the beans. Imagine if you played Catan, but the entire game was just trading sheep for ore. There’s nothing like trading Cocoa and Green Beans to bring out your inner salesperson. Link

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