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WWDC Surprise: “No Man’s Sky” Is Coming to the Mac and iPad

WWDC Surprise: “No Man’s Sky” Is Coming to the Mac and iPad

Today, Apple live-streamed the keynote that kicked off its annual World Wide Developers Conference. Occurring every spring, WWDC serves as an opportunity for Apple to announce product updates to consumers, show off new software and OS features that are on the way, and put its latest development tools in the hands of the dev community.

During today’s keynote, Apple announced the new M2 processor, successor to the extremely performant / low power Apple M1 that kicked off the Mac’s transition from Intel-based processors to Apple Silicon. Apple showcased the M2’s performance in the first machines that will be receiving the chip, the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops. The coming, yearly update to the Mac’s operating system, called macOS Ventura, was also demonstrated. As is always the case, the new OS brings with it a variety of new technologies that were detailed during the keynote. One of those technologies is Metal 3.

Metal is a low-level, low-overhead hardware-accelerated 3D graphic and compute shader API created by Apple. It debuted in iOS 8 during WWDC 2014 and combines functions similar to OpenGL and OpenCL in a single API. Apple moved away from OpenGL as its core 3D API and created Metal in order to improve performance by allowing low-level access to the system GPU. It is comparable to other APIs such as Vulcan and DirectX 12 and is currently utilized by Apple’s macOS, iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS. WWDC 2017 saw the release of Metal 2 which brought various enhancements and optimizations. Today’s announcement of Metal 3 brings more features and improvements still, and Apple Senior Director of GPU Software Jeremy Sandmel took the stage today to demonstrate some of these new features.

And that’s when things got interesting. (The keynote video presented herein is cued up to the moment in question.)

The first first new feature of Metal 3 that Jeremy pointed to is MetalFX Upscaling which, it was revealed, is as a scaling technology akin to Nvidia’s DLSS and AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (both of which are supported by the PC version of No Man’s Sky). While he began to speak, saying the following (quote below) about this feature, the keynote stream highlighted a MacBook Pro laptop running a game that looked so familiar to me that, in this completely unexpected context, I had trouble recognizing it.

We continue to improve Metal. It’s the software that powers hardware accelerated graphics on all our platforms, and now Metal 3 brings new features that will unleash the full potential of Apple Silicon for years to come.

Gaming at maximum resolution and quality looks awesome. And, to help game developers increase the performance of realistic and immersive graphics, we’re introducing MetalFX Upscaling which enables developers to render rich, visually complex scenes even faster. It works by rendering smaller, less compute intensive frames and then applies high quality spacial upscaling and temporal antialiasing — and it’s so cool.

No Man’s Sky, coming to Mac later this year, will be one of the first games to use MetalFX Upscaling. The framerate increases give you that responsive feel — and it looks beautiful.

There was … a Traveller … jetpacking up the hill of … a paradise planet… It took a few moments for my mind to take in what I was seeing, and it was at about that time that he stated that No Man’s Sky would be coming to the Mac later this year and that it will be one of the first games to utilize Apple’s new upscaling technology.

This is amazing news of which no one had heard even a hint. Hello Games’ front man Sean Murray didn’t even tweet a teasing emoji leading up to it. This came as a complete surprise to the entire No Man’s Sky community.

MetalFX Upscaling demo clip from the Apple keynote

And, what comes as a further surprise to those who watched the keynote is Apple’s announcement, in their own press release, that No Man’s Sky will also be coming to the iPad later this year. Nowhere during the keynote video was an iPadOS port of the game mentioned, which is a little surprising considering that in 2021, the iPad generated over 90% the revenue of the Mac.

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A Lengthy Session of “No Man’s Sky” Running on the Steam Deck

A Lengthy Session of “No Man’s Sky” Running on the Steam Deck

Last month I made a post featuring a short video by YouTuber PC-Gaming.it that contains a clip of No Man’s Sky running on the Steam Deck. It was our first glimpse of the performance of our favorite infinite universe, procedurally generated space survival / exploration game running on Valve’s new mobile console.

A much more lengthy look at No Man’s Sky on the Steam Deck was recently posted by YouTuber Gaming On Linux. The nearly 40 minute video shows gameplay across various biomes and gives a much better feel for the NMS Steam Deck experience. The on-screen performance meter shows that the game, capped at 60fps, plays fluidly and rarely drops below the capped rate. Also notable is the fact that it is running with AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) turned off, which raises the question of just how much higher a framerate could be achieved on the Steam Deck with the FPS cap off and FSR enabled.

Regarding the game’s performance on the Steam Deck, at the beginning of the video the reviewer states,

I’ve had a lot of people ask to do No Man’s Sky on the Steam Deck, so here we are. Truly I have to say though, I’m somewhat impressed by how far it’s come along. Before the release, while I was reviewing the Steam Deck itself, the game did not perform well — but now it’s perfectly playable. My save is quite early on but I’ve covered a number of different areas that you’ll find in the game in the video. Hopefully it gives you a reasonable idea of what some of the performance will be like.

The performance improvements spoken of by the reviewer are certainly due to the frequent and numerous updates to the Steam Deck software that have come, surrounding its launch. The Proton compatibility layer / translation software under which No Man’s Sky runs on the Steam Deck, in particular, may have seen ongoing optimizations for the console’s custom Zen 2 + RDNA 2-based APU.

Have a look and share what you think in the comments. Are you about to take exploration on the go with a shiny new Steam Deck?

First Video of “No Man’s Sky” on the Steam Deck Surfaces

First Video of “No Man’s Sky” on the Steam Deck Surfaces

[ Update – April 11: A longer gameplay video than that shown here has since surfaced and is featured in a more recent post elsewhere on this blog. ]

Last Friday Valve’s Steam Deck embargo ended and those with Steam Deck units in their hands have begun sharing thoughts, experiences, and gameplay videos. One such individual is Italian YouTuber PC-Gaming.it. On Friday, they shared a short video showing a person playing three games on the Steam Deck: Nier Replicant, Persona 4, and No Man’s Sky.

Within, about two and a half minutes of No Man’s Sky gameplay is shown towards the end of the video, starting at about the 5 minute, 47 second mark. An on-screen system monitor shows some interesting system performance metrics during gameplay.

The video shows the Italian version of the game being played at the Steam Deck‘s native 1280×800 pixel screen resolution. Framerate stays locked at 60fps for nearly the entire video and, while the GPU remains pegged at near 100% utilization, the CPU load rarely rises above 50% and stays at around mid-40% most of the time. Halfway through the NMS demonstration, the player jumps to the in-game graphics options screen and changes the settings from the Standard preset (with no anti-aliasing) to the Enhanced preset (with TAA enabled) — and this has no measurable effect on either CPU or GPU load, interestingly. With the CPU utilization so apparently low, there is likely room to edge up the settings further before seeing a performance hit.

And, here we should remember that SteamOS on the Steam Deck is Linux-based, and that the system is running the Windows version through Valve’s Proton compatibility layer / translation software (this has been verified) which necessarily impacts game performance to some degree.

The NMS graphics settings as well as the screen overlay also reveal that AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) scaling is not enabled during the demonstration video.

Traveller’s out there debating the purchase of a Steam Deck to play No Man’s Sky on the go should have a look at our recent post, “No Man’s Sky” on Nintendo Switch – So, How Will They Do It?, which looks at some likely approaches Hello Games is taking with their recently announced Switch version.

[ Proton performance is discussed in the comments ↓ ]

“No Man’s Sky” on Nintendo Switch – So, How Will They Do It? [Updated]

“No Man’s Sky” on Nintendo Switch – So, How Will They Do It? [Updated]

Many of us had wondered over the past few years if it would ever happen, and last week Hello Games announced that — yes — No Man’s Sky will be landing on the Nintendo Switch game console sometime this summer. [ Since this post was first published, a tweet from HG’s Sean Murray has announced October 7 as the launch date of the Switch version. More info can be found at the bottom of this post. ]

The news comes to the surprise of many who had assumed the Switch wasn’t up to the task of conjuring the limitless, procedurally generated universe of No Man’s Sky. And, indeed, Hello Games is certain to have had to make some compromises to get the game running on the Switch in a manner that maintains a solid framerate while remaining a real looker. But, as the No Man’s Sky Switch announcement trailer demonstrates, they seem to be having success in the effort. (And, yes, based on a number of small details in the trailer video, most notably the discernibly low resolution, I feel confident we have been handed in-game video of the Switch port of the game in that trailer.)

No Man’s Sky looks the best and plays the smoothest on high power gaming PCs, the Xbox Series X, and the Playstation 5. As the chart below shows, the older Playstation 4 — the game’s original target platform — is a considerably more powerful system than the Switch for playing a game like No Man’s Sky, which is particularly intensive as far as both GPU and CPU demands. So, how will they do it?

Nintendo SwitchPlaystation 4
CPUTegra X1 (4x ARM Cortex-A57 cores) @ 1.02GHzJaguar (8x AMD x86-64 cores) @ 1.6GHz
GPUNvidia Maxwell w/ 256 stream processorsAMD GCN Radeon w/ 1152 stream processors
GPU Perf393 GigaFLOPs1.84 TeraFLOPs
System RAM4GB LPDDR4 @ 1.6GHz8GB GDDR5 @ 2.75GHz
Memory Bandwidth26GB/s176GB/s
Max Display Res1920×1080 docked, 1280×720 mobile1920×1080

One approach is the use of adaptive screen resolutions. Many console games vary their screen resolution depending on the complexity of the scene being rendered, even on today’s most powerful consoles. I have analyzed a still shot grabbed from the Switch announcement trailer at different source resolutions with several graphics editors and, counting the individual pixels for a section of the screen and calculating across the full screen width, I have determined that it is being rendered with a horizontal resolution of 640 pixels. It’s hard to estimate what the high and low marks will be for rendering in No Man’s Sky on the Switch, but the indicated scene appears to be rendering at half of the Switch’s mobile resolution of 1280 pixels wide. Such variable rendering would certainly assist in keeping the game’s framerate fluid.

Screengrab from NMS Switch trailer

Another performance enhancing approach that will certainly be employed on the Switch port is the use of AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution, a set of open source high quality upscaling algorithms that allows a game to be rendered at a lower resolution and scaled up by the GPU to a more desirable target resolution for significantly improved framerates with almost no reduction in image quality. And, the GPU of the Nvidia Tegra X1 in the Switch supports this technology.

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The Keyboard With “No Man’s Sky” on Its Mind

The Keyboard With “No Man’s Sky” on Its Mind

I started playing No Man’s Sky on launch day on the PS4, and a few weeks later I decided to build a gaming PC in order to play at a higher resolution and framerate. Among the parts I ordered for the build was a Corsair keyboard with Cherry MX Red linear keyswitches. Cherry Reds are ideal for gaming, but make any sort of actual typing a rather unpleasant affair. For quite a while I had been wanting to switch over to a board with a somewhat more tactile feel.

The other day, I ran across a reddit post showing a keyboard with an uncommon feature: a small OLED display. The display works in conjunction with driver software to provide status information from supported apps, but it also can be used to display a static image or animated GIF*. The user that made the post is an Elite:Dangerous fan and showed an animated GIF of the wireframe Cobra Mark III ship from the 1984 original Elite on his keyboard display. I quickly realized it would be fun to use that display for some sort of No Man’s Sky image or animation. So, I finally replaced the PC’s keyboard with a Steelseries Apex 7 TKL board with Brown switches, providing a subtle tactile feel. (I am something of a keyboard hound, actually.)

The new keyboard has quite a nice feel and its little 128×40-pixel OLED display is a fun little feature.

After the board arrived, I sat down and made a little pixel-art No Man’s Sky-inspired scrolling GIF and loaded it onto the keyboard. It’s definitely fun to glance down from the screen and see my ever-scrolling homage to the game, there on the board’s little display. I’ll soon put a few other graphics together for the display, in time, to add to what’s already out there.

I felt readers might enjoy this little exercise. Download the animated GIF if you’re a Traveller with a Steelseries keyboard.

No Man's Sky animated GIF for Steelseries keyboard

* GIF is pronounced with a soft “g”.

Did You Hear About That Nutter Who Dropped $4K on “No Man’s Sky”?! [Updated]

Did You Hear About That Nutter Who Dropped $4K on “No Man’s Sky”?! [Updated]

No Man's Sky Atlas image

People who know me both online and IRL know that I’m a pretty big fan of Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky.

Actually, that’s something of an understatement.

I’m about 330 hours in so far (405 planets across 128 systems). I’ve been rather prolific on Twitter, sharing experiences and evangelizing the game (out of a sense that unhappy players don’t quite “get” it), I’ve been a denizen of the related Reddit subs since Launch Day (9 August, 2016) and have gained some note there, and I’ve made several posts about No Man’s Sky here since launch: A Few Words About the Best Game I’ve Ever Played: No Man’s Sky, My Skylake Gaming PC Build, Procedural Planetary Exploration Across the Decades. My wife and my 10 year-old daughter are pretty tired of hearing NMS anecdotes, I’m quite sure.

In a nutshell, it started out like this. I first heard of No Man’s Sky in the summer of 2015. The previews looked pretty amazing and, as I had a PS4, I was excited for its release. Not long after, I grabbed Elite:Dangerous, which I had been following with interest for some time, when it landed on the Mac (I wasn’t a PC guy…at the time), and was amazed by its realism. Comparatively, my impression of NMS at that point was that it would be less of a “whole scope” universe simulation than E:D; it seemed from previews that NMS wouldn’t be presenting an “I can fly from point A to point B across the galaxy without ever breaking frame” environment and I wondered if that would make for a much “smaller” experience. Months passed and I was spending time in E:D, mining, fighting, but became frustrated because the difficulty of amassing assets in order to upgrade ships was, to me, a huge barrier and I eventually lost a good deal of interest. I wasn’t having much fun and as a result I pretty much stopped playing.

Months more passed and No Man’s Sky was released. I purchased a digital download of the game for PS4 on day one and began playing. I fell in love immediately.

photo of computer desk with iMac on the left and a gaming PC on the right

I recall waking up on my genesis planet and walking about the lush alien landscape in a sort of wonder. I had to make an extremely long trek in order to find the elements needed to repair my initial ship so that I could venture onward. Along the way, walking through the trees, boosting up cliff faces with my jetpack, gazing at planets hovering on the horizon, running around with the various creatures skittering about the landscape, I experience a feeling of incredible immersion and the scale of the thing reality sunk in. I could explore every inch of this massive planet if I wished. And there are over 18 quintillion planets in No Man’s Sky‘s procedurally-generated universe. My earlier concerns about NMS feeling “smaller” than Elite:Dangerous were certainly for nought.

Blake holding a GeForce graphics card

The PS4 I played with was in my den entertainment center with a few other consoles, tied to the wall-mounted screen. After just a few days in, I wanted to get as deep into the experience as I could, so I pulled one of my Mac’s displays off the desk to clear a space in the basement computer room, bought a 32-inch curved 1920×1080 display, and plopped it and the PS4 down next to the Mac and started playing. This turned out to be a great move — so much nicer than playing from the couch across the room. I ran like this for a couple of weeks, getting up well before dawn to get some time in before heading to the office most days, and it was awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I wanted to take things farther, to get all that I could out of the game. I decided to build a high-end gaming PC specifically to play No Man’s Sky.

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My Skylake Gaming PC Build [Updated]

My Skylake Gaming PC Build [Updated]

A month ago I shared my feelings about Hello Games’ space exploration game No Man’s Sky. (Spoiler: I loved it — and still do, about 150 hours in.) In the post I mentioned that parts were in the mail for a high-end gaming PC build that would allow me to enjoy NMS at 60fps with adjustable POV angle as well as mods. Well, the parts arrived, I built the PC, and I wanted to check back in with a brief report. (Apologies for two non-retro-related posts in a row.)

With the exception of the retro-recreation of my circa 1996 5×86-based PC that I put together three years ago, this is the first PC I’ve built in 18 years. The last was an AMD K6 233-based machine sporting (originally) the ill-fated 3dfx Voodoo Rush board (later a Voodoo II). I assembled it in 1998. I went with Asus for the motherboard on that K6, the recent 5×86 rebuild, and this Skylake gaming PC. They know how to make a motherboard.

It’s an Intel Skylake Core i7-6700K 4.0GHz + Nvidia GTX 1080 system running on the Z170 chipset (full parts list here). The tower is on the floor and on the desk is a curved Samsung 32-inch 1080p display plus a 7-inch secondary display that I use to monitor CPU load and temperature so I can see what kind of a workout games are putting the system through. The curved primary display adds to the “cockpit” feel of the setup to a surprising degree. One detail I’m particularly happy about is that I was able to put the 10,000RPM, 6Gb/s SATA WD VelociRaptor that booted my old Mac Pro back to use as a data drive in this build. The system is running Windows 10 Pro 64 and gaming is really all I’m using it for; in all other regards I’m an OS X (/ UNIX) guy. I pulled the ten-year-old 30-inch Apple Cinema Display off the desk in order to make room for the new system, so it’s down to one external screen on the iMac.

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