Sunday, June 28, 2020

Monster Hunter World: Got a refund after an hour.

With the steam sales, Monster Hunter World was available at a really good price, and thought I'd get it. Unfortunately, I realized how much of the game was just standing out to me in a negative way, and I just stopped at about the hour mark and got a refund.

First, there was no way to invert the mouse Y axis during the tutorial. There was no combat or anything, just running away with the WASD keys, so that was fine, but I can't believe the options menu was not available till I arrived on the island. That wasn't a good start.

Next, movement. Maybe I'm being overly harsh here, but the feet of my character was slipping all over the ground when walking. What the hell. This is a modern video game, surely foot locking is not a difficult thing to do? I'm extremely sensitive to this as I've been working on crowd systems in houdini, and slipping feet simply takes away a massive part of the realism. With a 3rd person perspective where my character is right up against the lower third of the screen, I thought this was rather offputting, and also pretty interesting as I've watched gameplay demos before buying it, and I did not feel any issue then. To be fair, I did not notice it much during the first portion of the game that was set in a forest. It was when I hit the city that it was bloody apparent and took a lot of the immersiveness out.

Next, there was a part during the tutorial where my NPC companion and I were hunted and surrounded by massive lizards at least 3 times my body weight. This was the part of the game where the tutorial teaches you how to hide from them. But here's the thing. We're two people, with no weapons, surrounded by a dozen lizards. Keyword here: SURROUNDED.

My companion shouts out at me to run towards a big bush, and to hold down spacebar to be quiet and hide.

I ran the wrong way and....

Nothing happened. Bloody lizards appeared to be out there to soak in the sunshine.

NPC continued to get me to move over to them, and the lizards did not seem to hear anything. Ok, so maybe they're er... deaf?

But then I ran over to the bush, THROUGH A DOZEN LIZARDS, and there was zero reaction. Next, I then crouched down in a bush that will never, ever be able to hide two fully grown humans, and the bloody lizards seemed to go: "Oh noes, where have the humans gone? We can't see them. Let's go home now."

Jarring. Just jarring. This totally broke my immersion of the game. Giant lizards hunting us, stopped doing so just so we can hide in a bush?! No sense of smell? Terrible eyesight? Hard of hearing? That's BS. A better way could have been designed to teach us this mechanic, perhaps running from bush to bush and hiding to avoid roving lizards. Sigh. Sorry, this part really stuck out to me, and that was barely a few minutes into the tutorial.

What pushed me over was when I started on the weapons tutorials. There are a massive amount of playstyles in MHW, from aerial weapons to bow weapons, swords and shields to transforming weapons. But the four-five I tried just felt meh. Some of the weapons actually felt too heavy, too impactful for what they were. Shocking. Also, the controls were probably optimized for console - blocking with my shield was an odd button on my mouse, mouse 4. Remapping it messed up some camera controls, and I just gave up and ran with the defaults as I wasn't in the mood to go through the menu system, something I found really unintuitive.

It was about then I said I'm done with this and got a refund. It's a pity I got affected by these things that most people probably don't care about. The models and environment look amazing, and the attention to detail on the characters is just fantastic.

I'm really curious about the lore too, are the cats slaves? Why are they helping humans? Like, I only saw one cat in the "council" meeting. The human:cat ratio seemed really uneven. Ah... well I'm not gonna go down that road. Next game, I hope I won't be that picky. Ha!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Houdini + Redshift 3950x PC build - choices and problems

I've never wanted to own a desktop PC again. Unfortunately, I messed up the bios of my desktop replacement (9900k, 2070, 128gb) and I needed a machine to get a project done. It was either a) Buy a similar desktop replacement, or, for more or less the same price, get an even more kick arse desktop PC.

I waffled for a few days between those choices - I'm trying to keep the amount of stuff I own to a minimum, and hoped that the laptop would be fixed in time. But that's unlikely with covid, and I went with the desktop route as the new amd chips really intrigued me.

Now, a bit of background, I do vfx for film, and recently quit my job to pursue freelance opportunities because reasons. When I still had a job with a big vfx production house, I'm pretty much used to a multi cpu xeon machine with at least 128gb of ram, and a quadro for my display. There is no way to justify one of these at this point in time. But the last few years, AMD's threadripper cpus have been popping up all over my feed, and I was like, yeah, let's go check out those chips.

The pricing of the current threadrippers simply blew my mind. Yeah, no. 1.9k cad - 5.4k cad for a cpu? I've seen many vfx freelancers with them, but until I can get to where they are, I'm going to stick with something I can justify. I went with the next step down, the top of the line Ryzen 9 cpu. Let me get the built list up before I start on the choices I made, and where I went "wrong".

  • AMD 3950x
  • Gigabyte Aorus Elite X570 Wifi
  • 2x32GB HyperX Kingston ram 3600Mhz DDR4
  • EVGA 750 G2 PSU
  • Gigabyte 2060 Super Gaming OC
  • Fractal Design Meshify C
  • Noctua D15 cpu cooler
  • 2x WD Black 500GB NVME
  • Asus PA248QV
First up: I am NOT a system builder, and I am not in touch with the latest tech things happening! The last PC I built was a pentium 3 in the early 2000s. Ever since I've started this vfx life, I have had no need for a powerful machine since that's what work would provide. 

For the cpu it was pretty easy to select, Threadripper was out. At least the newer 39xx series. No way to justify the cost of the cpu, and the mainboards were pretty expensive as well. I _might_ have dropped the cash on a Threadripper system if my rendering solution was purely cpu (e.g., Mantra, PRman, Arnold), but based on what I've been doing at home, I enjoyed the workflow of using Redshift as my primary renderer for its speed of feedback. I'm hoping Arnold GPU will make some big strides, as I think of all the renderers I've dabbled with, I found Arnold the easiest to get a nice image with, and the shaders are the most intuitive to me. 

So, Ryzen 9 then. I waffled between the 3950x and 3900x; most of the time it was unlikely I'd be using all the cores all the time, and the 3900x has much better single core speed. Especially when rendering, redshift does not seem to use more than one cpu core when rendering on a single gpu. Given as I'm probably going to be working on fluids and volumetrics for a fair bunch, and these are relatively well multi-threaded, I decided to place my bets on the 3950x with its additional cores.

For the motherboard, I was pretty limited to what I can get here in Vancouver (time constraints), so I basically filtered it by X570 boards that can a) support 128gb of ram b) at least two pcie slots c) wifi onboard as I ain't not using no cat 5 cable if I can help it!

The Aorus Elite X570 Wifi seemed to fit the bill, and it didn't seem to be a bling fest of leds, so I went with that. More on that in the gpu section.

Ram: I didn't really have much choice. For 2x32gb dimms, my choices were Kingston, Crucial or G.Skill. I have no idea what G.Skill was, and it was a tossup between Kingston or Crucial. The Kingston blurb on the online shops mentioned "Ready for AMD Ryzen" so, I went with those.

The 750W PSU seemed like a good choice, I used 200W for the 2950x (power usage figures jump all over the place on review sites; I took the upper limit) and another 200 for the 2060 Super. Lots of overhead for peripherals and future expansion. 

Now the GPU might surprise you. If I'm running redshift, shouldn't I be running something faster? Indeed! However with the 3000 series nvidia cards coming up in the next quarter, I thought I'd rather wait it out, and render using an online service if I needed fast turnaround. 

This is where it kinda breaks down. I was hoping to start with the 2060, then tack on a 3000 series when they arrive. Unfortunately, I read the blurb on gigabyte's site incorrectly, and thought both slots were x16 pcie. Wrong! Only one pcie slot had the 16 lanes, the second slot only was a 4 lane slot, though it was a x16 connector. Blargh. So, that kind of ruins my plans for running two cards.

What I really should have looked for, was a motherboard that would support nvidia SLI, these would support two gpus no problems. Oh well, live and learn. 

Finally, storage. This, I did not figure out a good solution yet. My current plan is to have one nvme to be my primary boot drive with all applications on it. The second nvme drive as a "work drive" for the current project I'm working on. The read/write speeds would really help with simulation caches. 

500gb is fine, perhaps even overkill for the application drive. 500gb might be a joke for the work drive. I've occasionally had caches in the terabyte range when dealing with large, detailed simulations, especially when storing multiple revisions of simulations. Given I doubt I'll get one of those in the near future, I thought a 500gb drive for my current project will be enough, then I can dump the data onto a 2.5in for backup when the project is done.

If I do need to get a large working drive for simulations though, I think I will probably get a SSHD drive, perhaps two in raid1 configuration for data security. 

As a side note, my thoughts on storage above are on top of how I'm planning to store data on disk. A feature film is broken down into sequences, and each sequence is broken down into a series of shots. While I'm not going to be working on a whole sequence on my own, I still do need a way to store assets in a manner that is easy to recover and work on, not haphazardly stored across folders over multiple disks. That's in the pipeline to develop soon.

So, at the time of this writing the machine has booted up fine with windows 10 installed (its a miracle!). I've got the latest drivers, installed houdini, redshift, as well as resolve and fusion studio. ocio has been installed, and I've moved all my hdrs and assets from the laptop's work drive to the nvme work drive. 

Thoughts on the build:
Pretty smooth. The Fractal Design meshify C is amazing to work with. Pretty lightweight, and the quality is top notch. Manual is pretty good. The D15 notua cooler also went on the motherboard easily. All in all it was a very easy pc to build. 

I've done limited tests on it so far, but after I got the drivers installed, I turned on the ram's XMP profile to 3600Mhz, so far so good. I did some benchmarking using Cinebench R20, and the results came in at 92xx, which was 200 less than the comparison machine. Wasn't too keen to overclock but I remember reading something about pbo - precision boost overdrive. Some kind of automatic overclocking thing. I just set that to auto and hey, presto! R20 hit 94xx no drama. Ran a few minutes of prime95 and it seems good.

The temperatures with all cores running on R20 was in the 61-62C range, but when I turned on pbo it jumped to the 70+ range. It seems like that's still a good temperature to be at, so I'll leave it there for now. Plus, during simulations, the cores are not pegged permanently at 100%, for example with volume simulations, certain stages are only single threaded, so there will be periods of calm amid 100% cpu utilization spikes.

In terms of noise, I'm pleased by how quiet this system is. My desktop replacement is a banshee screamer, the fans engaging pretty loudly for any task more than reading an email. Not this PC. With all cores running at 100% whilst running an extended R20 session, it's audible only if I really try to listen to it. If I have any audio playing, it's basically covered up. Heck even the fan across the room from me is louder. 

For the GPU, it too hit 70-ish degrees under redshift render, and the fans are barely audible. 

Finally, for the monitor, I found the Asus PA248QV. 24 inches across is a good size, and I choose it because it supposedly supports the Rec709 colour space. Now, I'm no colourist and only know enough to get textures into the right colour space for rendering, when to apply view luts. What I was impressed that there was a calman calibration certificate in the box. I was like... whuuuuut. Omg how is this monitor only 200 odd bucks!? 

Only used it for a few hours, it's pretty solid. No glare, and I'm using a Rec709 profile. I really appreciate the proper working resolution of 1920x1200 that houdini needs. I still need to plug in one of those portable display monitors I was using with my laptops. 

I'll need to do some comparison sims between this an my desktop replacement - when it gets back. But based on what I've seen in benchmarks, this pc will likely wipe the floor with the 9900k for multi threaded simulations. That said, the 9900k's single threaded performance at 5ghz+ is nothing to sneeze at; lots of Houdini's nodes are still single threaded. For specific workloads, the i9 could prove to be a better performer. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

NC vs ND MX5

It's been a long time since I've updated this blog - things have been pretty good but I just left my job at Sony a few weeks ago for a change of pace. I'm a bit sick of Vancouver... not gonna go into detail on a public blog but let's just say I'll probably be single for a good long while. I needed change, and put in my resignation early this year.

With the resignation, I'd planned to move somewhere with a lower cost of living, then bam. Covid 19 came along. Boo hoo hoo. Given that I can't really drive anywhere fun with the restrictions in place, I wasn't going to be paying 400 a month on insurance on my NC (N driver lyfe), and the money from the car can be used to pay rent for over a year. Easy choice, though the first few days after selling the car, neighbours could find me staring at the empty parking lot. Thankfully, no one saw me do that.

With Covid 19, two car share companies shut down; Car2Go and Zipcar. I'm really sorry for the folks employed there, I hope you all found jobs, ideally before the CERB payments run out. I'm going to miss seeing smart 4 twos running around Vancouver. *I* miss taking them out for shit and giggles.

Thankfully, Modo is still kicking and alive, and I've been mostly driving a Prius. Oh god, the more I drive it the more I consider it an appliance. The steering feel is non existent, the engine lethargic, and the worse thing, I can never get the side view mirrors to be adjusted right. It feels like I'm driving a large SUV when I can't accurately tell where I am on the road. I still use it very often, as it's only a few minutes away from where I live, so yay to being a slacker :P

The other cars are similarly quite boring, but the Hyundai Kona EV was a welcome surprise! It's pretty big, but doesn't feel all that huge, and I thought the steering feel was pretty solid for an electric steering rack. It feels pretty nimble as well, and with its EV PAWAH, accelerating off from a stop is actually quite fun. I definitely understand the appeal of EVs after driving it, and also the fact that they are likely only feasible for rich kids that have the ability to charge an EV at home. Ain't no such spots in my apartment!

Today though, I needed a car so I pulled up the Modo app. I came across.... a ND MX5. I was That can't be right. wtf is that car doing on Modo. I needed to pick up some computer parts (building a desktop after almost 2 decades without one wooo) and the prius was in use, and the ND was probably too small to take a case home. But after some waffling I was like... let's just do it. I wanna drive the ND.

First impressions. It's small. Really small. It's such a refreshing car to drive after driving the big ass prius and kona. I had the biggest grin on my face when I put the top down. OH MY GOD. Convertible life again. Unlike the powered hardtop on my NC, the ND's cloth top went up and down in maybe 3-4 seconds. Super easy to operate.

The steering is, unfortunately, electric, and just doesn't have the good feedback of the hydraulic rack on my old car. The steering wheel itself was some kind of slick material, feels like a game controller or one of those smooth phone cases. To be honest, after driving the car for a few minutes, the electric rack didn't bother me at all. The experience of driving a small car coupled with the open air experience is what Miata Life is to me. The quality of the indicator/wiper stalks though, felt really good.

The next thing that I really noticed is how soft the suspension was. Driving on the same roads I've driven upteen times in my NC, the ND is significantly softer. Rougher, less maintained roads felt smoothed over, no longer the bumpy ride on my NC. Even so, I think this car has bloody alot of grip. I took some of my usual corners with gusto, and this car *grips* like nobody's business. I'll bet these are the tires that came with the car too. I was like... damn. The rear end is on rails.

Now many people have mentioned how much body roll there is in the ND, and for the street driving I did I could not feel it, whatever corners I took hard felt fine. And to be sure, when I take corners "hard" it's a joke compared to people who really take corners hard. I've sat in with people driving hard and yeah, when I'm driving "hard" i doubt I'm at even half or a quarter of what they're pushing. I like driving spiritedly, not taking it to the ragged edge of the envelope, especially on the street.

Now I'm assembling a ryzen system, so needed to transport all the parts. The 24in lcd I bought would not fit in the empty boot at all, it had to sit beside me up front. I got a Noctua D15 for my cooler, that took up basically a fifth of the usable space! The boot of my NC was far, far more spacious, there is no chance the camping gear that I jammed into the NC would ever fit in ND. So usability on that end.... yeah not very good.

Speaking of storage, there were no side pockets, no glove compartment, and I had to look up on youtube where to find the 12v plug for my dashcam lol.

One aspect I need to talk about is the transmission. Given Modo is a carshare, the ND was an automatic. It'd likely a base model as well, as it didn't have flappy paddles, only the +- automanual shift on the transmission lever.

For most of the drive I left it in automatic mode, the +- shifts using the transmission lever felt wierd and I didn't want to get distracted by it in traffic. I honestly don't have any complaints with it. Sure, a manual would be more fun, but today's traffic was pretty heavy, and it was nice to just lift off the brake to inch forward.

During some empty stretches where I saw a red light coming up, I did try manually shifting down to engine brake, but it doesn't seem to do all that much compared to my NC. When I shift down on my NC, I can feel a definite slow down. Not on this car, the revs jump up as expected but even on second gear it didn't slow down all that much. Eh, minor detail.

So what do I think about the ND? I think it's a brilliant car, and even better, I get to take it out :) I really want a private vehicle of my own, and I may do that once I get my shit together with life. I've actually been checking out vehicles to buy, cars less than 5k. Just looking, honestly! No way am I paying 3-400 a month for insurance. Cars in that price range I'd like include Smart's 4 two.... but then I realize it's a mercedes and probably cost a bomb to maintain. Similarly with a mini cooper... been eyeing the 2006 Cooper S as they fall in my budget. But icbc insurance and they're bmws. Argh.

An NA MX5 would be a logical "budget" choice for a car. Another one that I'd want... an 80s corolla. Yeah. Boxy, square, boring. But they're iconic in an age where cars look so damned similar. I mean, tear of the bloody stupid fat ass grille of a modern audi. Looks like every other design on the road. BORING. And given I live along a stretch of vancouver where supercars abound (got a few in my apt lol), I'm like meh. Still attracted to the old wedge shaped cars of yesterday, where pop ups abound and manufacturers still dare to experiment. Four wheel steering Prelude, anyone?

Update: 14th June 2020
Took the ND out for a drive up the Sea To Sky highway, and I'm just beyond impressed by how well it handles. It has a ton of grip, and just keeps to the line I choose. The responsiveness of the car is bonkers, must be the super light weight. I also had more time to get a better feel for the transmission. In fully automatic mode on twisty roads, ergh, it is boring AF. The logic just wants to shift to a higher gear, presumably for fuel economy. If you jam the throttle down, sure it downshifts and zooms but you can tell the transmission wants to keep the engine at low revs when you let off.

Now using the manual override is a different story, it shifts really fast, probably faster than what I can do. The engine is surprisingly linear (probably the 2L skyactiv, given we're in canada), I don't remember getting a mild kick around 3.5k like on my NC with the MZR engine. In some sense this makes the ND a bit tamer to me, but from what few pulls I did it is smooth from low all the way high.

One other point. I took the car out in the early evening when it was still light and relatively warm. I had to put the top down. On the way back home though, traffic was getting heavy and I did not care for the open air experience then. The top comes up in barely a few seconds, and latches easily. Did that at a red light with no drama. On my NC with its mechanical hard top, I'd be like. Nope, need 13 seconds.