Technology

Google Stadia: Now, game without a console

Google wants a big fat piece of that gaming pie, breathing new life into the gaming console courtesy Stadia, which promises to cut down on hardware costs and piracy

On March 19, Google announced at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco their plan to blow the lid off their long-awaited game streaming service, previously known as Project Stream. Google Stadia is the gauntlet thrown directly into the paths of Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox, both of which are working on their own versions of game streaming.

The low-down

This console’s etymology comes from ‘stadium’, delineating the re-imagination of the device’s mission statement as ‘gather around’. Stadia wants to recreate that very spirit, with the freedom of letting you play anywhere — on your PC, laptop, Macbook and even on your smartphone, making for a platform which brings the players, developers and spectators all into one space.

‘The Netflix of gaming’
  • Let us address that big question on your mind right now: what is ‘game streaming and how does it work?’ It is simple. The game is installed on several servers, which then stream the game to your screen. Just like you would stream a Netflix movie at crisp 4K. The only difference is that there is a two-way stream. You send your input forward and the stream sends the result to you.
  • Several gaming giants are working on cracking this, as it cuts down hardware costs, and eliminates piracy. Google showed off its numerous data centres the world over equipped with hardware created by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) to be able to support the demands of gaming.

The ‘no hardware needed’ proposition ultimately makes the Stadia attractive. By hardware, we are referring to expensive graphic cards or heavy-duty consoles that you are required to buy. Essentially, the console can connect with all your existing hardware through Google Chrome and YouTube, and can use existing controllers and peripherals. If you want to connect through your smart TV however, Chromecast is the way to go and you will need Google’s new game controller, also unveiled at the show.

Another strong message which seeped through was the ease of use, as live demos showed a gamer just tapping‘Play’ on a YouTube video of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and instantly jumping into the game. No lengthy 50 GB install process, which is roughly what Odyssey’s download size is, if you have to download and play. Couple that with the beefy specs that you require to run the massive open-world game in 1080p at 60fps, and you would run out of a small fortune — immediately establishing Google Stadia as cost-effective. And, hey, it’ll support 4K, and it does support HDR, surely growing to support any new technology that may make its way in the future.

The grand-daddy of controllers

Through the leaks which seeped out during the Stadia’s patent filing, we’ve already seen glimpses of the controller. Unlike all existing controllers, the Stadia Controller has social out-of-the-box functions which let you share instantaneously.

Google Stadia: Now, game without a console

The device looks like a hybrid of the Xbox, Nintendo and PlayStation controller, except that it supposedly connects directly to the data centre over Wi-Fi, and links to your game session, independent of your device. So whatever screen you choose to play on, your progress will reflect.

The Stadia controller has two new buttons — one is the instant capture button that, well, captures gameplay. The other is the Google Assistant button, which you can pull up at any time and ask it all sorts of questions if you’re stuck in the game.

The controller comes in a standard white with coloured thumbsticks, as well as a black version. If you look at the bottom of the controller, you’ll notice a neat little Easter egg in the form of the Konami cheat code. Up, Up, Down, Down, Right, Left, Right, Left, B, A, Start.

Support systems

Ubisoft has been piloting this service with Google by using Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as the flagship. There will be other games coming to the service, teased in the form of icons, including Red Dead Redemption II. Going down the same road as the big game companies, Google has created its own gaming studio, led by Jade Raymond, the co-creator of Assassin’s Creed series and head of Google’s Stadia Games and Entertainment, to create first-party games available exclusively on the Stadia.

As for the service remaining alive, it’s debatable, given the ever-growing graveyard of Google’s services that it’s launched just for the sake of entering into the arena. A game streaming service needs a lot of commitment and it’s something you can’t just half-do.

Google Stadia: Now, game without a console

Drawbacks and competition

Obviously, you will need a robust connection to be able to stream; a minimum of 25 mbps Internet speed dedicated to just game streaming. There is, however, still the stream rate and the problem of input lag, which is crucial in the case of online shooters that need quick reaction time. That time taken for your mouse and keyboard to send an ‘aim and fire’ command, could mean life or death, especially if you’re in e-sports and if you’re a streamer.

Google Stadia: Now, game without a console

Thankfully, there are several ‘edge node’ data centres in India, and if you’re in the metros, then chances are you’ll be close to a data centre, to which your controller will pair up easily. At launch, the service will support 1080p 60fps, but will scale up to support 4K to 8K. The biggest threat to Stadia comes from Microsoft and Sony, but it does mean more choice, and just like Netflix got rid of or increased the FUP quotas, hopefully, game streaming should increase it more.

The service launches first in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe. There is no launch window for India at the moment. So till Stadia launches here, you will probably have to make do with your soon-to-be obsolete gaming systems while preparing yourself for a whole new gaming future... or for when Google decides to shut down Stadia the same way it shut down Google Allo and Plus.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 7:20:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/google-stadia-now-game-without-a-console/article26642506.ece

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