First Impressions of Project Stream, Google’s Video Game Streaming Service. Earlier this month, Google announced their intentions to publicly test a video game streaming technology called Project Stream. Beta testers would have the opportunity to stream Ubisoft’s latest blockbuster Assassin’s Creed in Google Chrome, so long as they had a 25 Mbps Internet connection and relatively low ping.

A week later, several outlets have had the chance to test Project Stream, and the results are positive:

Jason Schreier, Kotaku:

There’s something a little funky about playing a game like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in your internet browser. It almost feels obscene, like you’re getting away with something that shouldn’t be legal. Google’s Project Stream might have some obstacles on the way to global dominance, but it’s still pretty damn impressive.

Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica:

What’s more, Project Stream’s source servers appear to render the game at near-max PC settings, especially in crucial categories like ambient occlusion and shadow-map resolution. (These categories, in particular, render at least “one higher” than their pro-console equivalents.) AC:O’s focus on lengthy dialogue trees—and, thus, tight zooms on human faces—is all the better when that shadow-and-light pipeline enjoys as many pixels and bounce opportunities as possible.

Austen Goslin, Polygon:

To say that the streaming service and its presentation of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey were impressive would be an understatement. Given the choice between playing the standard PC version of the game and the Project Stream version, I’d probably choose streaming. With Project Stream, the game launches a little quicker, and you only really lose the top end of quality. For those with the internet connection to play — but without a suitable computer to handle the traditional install — it’s hard to imagine a better setup than Project Stream, even in these early days.

Remember, we’re talking about streaming a massive, detailed AAA video game in a web browser. While there are already services that let you stream video games to your console or PC, the level of quality delivered via Project Stream is impressive. That it’s possible is a victory; that it’s graphically rich and enjoyable would be seemingly a triumph.

For those wondering why video games are more difficult to stream than the music and video we’ve had for years, here it is: video games require near instant response to user input. If you press a button to make your character jump and that action takes a full second to register, the game would be unplayable. Today’s video game consoles or PCs are mere feet from your controller or input devices, so input is received and registered instantaneously. A streaming service means the console/computer/server will be in another zip code, if not further away. If input lag isn’t measurable in milliseconds, there’s a problem.

So far, Project Stream seems to be handling delays relatively well, with little to no criticism from the testers. Granted, this is with a limited beta pool — who knows how tens or hundreds of thousands of players will affect the service — but the overall experience is doing much better than I would have guessed.

Looking forward and assuming streaming limitations are no longer a major obstacle, the only questions I have left are about price and competition. PlayStation and NVIDIA both already offer somewhat similar streaming services, and it’s not clear whether Google intends to be a consumer option or simply offer the technology to other companies. Regardless, Google’s message with Project Stream is clear: game on.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

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