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Stages: everything you need to know about Google's game streaming service

Imagine a world in which you do not need expensive gaming equipment to play the next major release title. A world in which all you ever have to do to play games, open your browser, select a game and start playing – no long download required. This could soon become a reality if Google's cloud gaming service, Stages, delivers on its promises – you can go from opening a Chrome tab to playing a 4K, 60 fps game in five seconds, no installation required.

The service, which was announced at this year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, received a good unveiling prior to E3 2019. In a 15-minute presentation starring Phil Hallon, the boss of Google Stages, we learned how much the service will help us. back – $ 9.99 / £ 8.99 (about AU $ 14) per month for unlimited games – and how good a connection we have (35Mbps for full 4K HDR / 60fps).

  • These are the first games that have been confirmed for Google Stages

At the launch, Google has promised that Stadia will support desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones – but only the Pixel series to launch – without the need for a hardware box, with games powered by Google's own data centers instead.

So far, Google has promised that Google Stadia's cloud computing power is the equivalent of a console running on 10.7 GPU terraflops, which is more than the combination of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. This can be a total game changer to be.

(youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klipg69IyB0)

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The big step from Google to gaming: a & apos; Netflix for gaming & apos; streaming service that is a true console competitor, one to compete (and possibly lead the new generation of gameplay).
  • When does it start? At a certain point in November 2019, with starting areas such as the US, Canada and the UK.
  • How much is it? $ 9.99 / £ 8.99 (approximately AU $ 14) per month for full 4K HDR streaming through Stadia Pro, or you can purchase a la carte games with Stadia Base.

How Google Stages works

The best thing about Stadia is that as long as you have a stable and fast internet connection and you use a recent version of the Google Chrome browser, you have everything you need to get started.

Playing a game on Stadia is as simple as opening a new tab in Chrome and going to the Stadia.com service home page, or even jumping a YouTube video link about the game.

To get started, Google asks you to perform a connection test that checks your internet bandwidth, the latency between your computer and the servers and any data loss. Google requires a streaming speed of 15 Mbps, a waiting time of less than 40 ms and data loss of less than 5%. If these requirements are met, you are ready to dive.

Project Stream beta offered Assassin & Creed Odyssey, which is nothing less than a demanding title. If you launched the game on your Chrome tab, it would be fully displayed and run just as if it had been started on a special game console (except without an extensive menu with graphic settings). You can play with a keyboard and mouse or a supported game controller and the Google Stages controller.

  • Practical: assessment by Google Stages Controller
  • Is cloud computing for gaming too good to be true?

All your input on the computer is sent to the servers of Google, processed in the game and everything that happens is streamed directly to you. That's why the latency is so important because you can't have a good gaming experience if everything you do in the game appears a second later.

The boundaries of Stages are still detailed, but Google has stated that Stages will eventually be able to scale up to 8K / 120fps-plus frame rates, with 4K / 60fps as the norm. That is far above the standard bar for high-quality PC gaming.

All your input on the computer is sent to the servers of Google, processed in the game and everything that happens is streamed directly to you.

What you are doing here effectively is opening a new tab that directs all your input to a high-end gaming PC that streams the images and audio to your computer screen. This system is simpler than some others, so you have a virtual desktop that runs Steam, Origin, Battle.net or whatever on your PC remotely.

In the case of Assassin ' s Creed Odyssey on Stages, you still need to log in to a Ubisoft account to play, but beta testers are not required to own the game.

Stages will also work well with Google Chromecast, which means that you can stream its games directly to any TV using Google's streaming dongle, not to mention phones and computers.

You can use keyboard and mouse or a game pad to play Stages, and Google ' s Stages game pad, a brand new piece of hardware, seems particularly smart. First, the problem of latency – the gamepad itself connects directly to the Google cloud, which takes a few steps out of the data transfer chain, limiting the delay between your inputs by the game. It also has a special Google Assistant button, which Google claims to contain information about the title you play, provide tips where needed, or provide access to special in-game features from developers.

In addition, it supports platform-independent multiplayer platforms, as long as the other major game players want to participate, of course.

It is currently unclear whether Google will need players to purchase games and pay for the streaming service in separate transactions, or whether access to certain games will be bundled in the service.

Which games are available on Stages?

The definitive number has not yet been released, but so far the figures seem promising. During the pre-E3 event from Google we got our first look at Baldur ' s Gate 3 from Larian Studios and we heard from Bungie that Destiny 2 would be available at the launch in Google Stages. Add to that a Ubisoft Ghost Recon Breakpoint and a number of new Bethesda titles, and Stadia could have one of the best launch libraries of any platform in recent memory.

Here are all the games that Google has confirmed so far:

  • Assassin ' s Creed Odyssey
  • Borderlands 3
  • Baldur ' s Gate 3
  • The crew 2
  • Darksiders Genesis
  • Destiny 2
  • fate
  • Doom Eternal
  • Dragon Ball Xenoverse
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • Farming Simulator 19
  • Final Fantasy 15
  • Soccer Manager
  • Packing up
  • GRID
  • Gylt
  • Just dance
  • Metro Exodus
  • Mortal Kombat 11
  • NBA 2K
  • Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
  • Rage 2
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Samurai Showdown
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  • Tom Clancy ' s Ghost Recon Breakpoint
  • Tom Clancy ' s The Division 2
  • Tomb Raider Final edition
  • something awesome
  • Trials are rising
  • Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Stadia offers games as part of its service and offers users the opportunity to directly purchase the largest titles. However, in response to a question from Eurogamer, asking whether Stages ' s paid games would be cheaper due to users who already have to pay for a high speed internet connection and Stages subscription, Stages chief Phil Harrison replied: "I don't know why it would be cheaper. "

For Harrison, it seems that the advantage of paying the full price for a version of a game at Stages, as opposed to another platform, is the accessibility that it offers.

"The value you get from the game at Stages means you can play it on any screen in your life – TV, PC, laptop, tablet, phone," he said. "I think that will be valuable for players.

"In theory, the Stages version of a game will offer the highest possible quality of innovation and sophistication on the game engine side."

Can my PC or laptop handle this?

Because everything runs on the cloud, it seems that almost every laptop or PC connected to the Internet can play with Chrome Stages. That said, Google released a set of required specifications when it tested the service last year:

  • Operating system: Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8.1, Windows 10 (64-bit versions only)
  • Processor: AMD FX-8350 @ 4.0 GHz, Ryzen 5 – 1400, Intel Core i7-3770 @ 3.5 GHz
  • Video: AMD Radeon R9 290 or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 (4 GB VRAM or more with Shader Model 5.0) or better
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Video Preset: High
  • Storage: 46 GB free space on the hard disk
  • DirectX: DirectX June 2010 Redistributable
  • Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card with the latest driver ' s

For 4K at 30 fps and high settings, the recommended specifications are met with 16 GB RAM, a more powerful AMD Ryzen 1700X or Intel Core i7 7700 processor and a fuller AMD Vega 64 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card. With stages streaming in video, this limitation can be eliminated, making AAA gaming even at entry level laptops.

In addition, id Software confirmed that Doom Eternal is coming to the Stages – with the team only needing a few weeks to transfer the title to Google's cloud streaming service. id Software Marty Stratton revealed that Doom Eternal is capable of playing with 4K 60fps at native HDR at Stages.

If the Assassin ' s service can handle Creed Odyssey at 1080p 60fps and Doom Eternal at 4K / 60fps, Stages will be able to play a lot of games with these settings. Other important titles could easily see support on the service.

  • Google Stages is perhaps the first good use for 5G phones

Games with a large online focus may have less good prospects for Stages. Because competing online games are often fast and require a reaction time of a fraction of a second, the extra latency introduced by streaming is probably a problem for serious competitors. But Stadia seems to be better able to solve this problem than other comparable services, with infrastructure that nobody else has in the field of fiber optic cabling and a Wi-Fi controller that connects directly to the Google cloud. That could mean that online multiplayer titles such as Fortnite support thousands of players instead of just hundreds.

A recent Chromium update has also added support for Nintendo Switch controllers to the Google browser, so it looks like we could get more than just streams from PC releases.

Google also announced the launch of Stadium Games and Entertainment. This will be a new branch of Google, with the sole purpose of designing games exclusively for Google's gaming streaming platform.

In addition to Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Ubisoft has indicated that a few upcoming games will also make it to Stages when it is released, including Multiplayer Motor-cross game Trials Rising, Marine Warfare game Skull and Bones, as well as strategy game Anno 1800.

Google Stadia also offers developers the ability to more easily implement shared local cooperatives with shared streams via Stream Connect. This means that players must not only be able to view the worlds of each other, but also be able to communicate.

But perhaps the biggest development for video makers and their viewers is Crowd Play with which viewers can play games with their favorite streamers by simply clicking a button.

The main focus here is on designing a system that is both easy to play and easy to show off with your friends. That is why Stadia sends both a 4K signal to both your device and YouTube, so that you can record what you are doing.

The last feature that Google showed was State Share – that is, the ability to share any place in your adventure with anyone through a Google link. One usage situation is that State Share allows you to take your place in a tough boss fight and challenge your friends to beat it.

If you are stuck in your game or in a friend, Google Assistant integration allows you to open on-demand guides and walkthroughs.

What was Project Stream fun to use?

Project Stream was good at best. At its worst, Google won't let you play under a certain quality threshold, and you wouldn't want that.

We have tested Project Stream on various configurations. We played on an unstable 2.4 GHz wifi connection, a fast and nearby 5 GHz wifi connection and on an ethernet connection that was stable and offered a high bandwidth. Keep in mind that this was without the special hardware that Google has now introduced.

The very outdated Chromebook hardware could not stop it.

We also played on a 5-year Chromebook, a 2-year Razer Blade, and a modern desktop gaming rig that would like to run Assassin's Creed Odyssey with 1080p / 60FPS on its own hardware. We even started one computer, while another ran the stream and Google simply transferred the control to the second computer, without stopping in the stream.

Across the board, we describe the experience as at least playable. The very outdated Chromebook hardware could not stop it. The biggest problems come from a poor connection: if the connection speed drops, the game quality also decreases, with lower resolutions, latency and much more noticeable compression.

That said, in our experience, the visual degradation was before the latency, so we were able to keep fighting enemies smoothly, even if they seem to look like ghostly swarms of pixels.

In general, the graphics were pretty good everywhere, especially when playing on a high bandwidth connection with ethernet cables. Colors, shadows and anti-aliasing look good, and the frame rate seems to vary between 30 and 60 fps.

The low frame rate was one of the two problems we noted. The other was compression. Usually it is not super shocking, but if there are many details in a scene and a lot of movement, the compression changes everything into a bit limp. Drawing faces become blurry and hard edges (noticeably the character's hair) become soft. Will Stadia have solved these problems by launching?

It seems like a sign of the lower bit rate that makes this type of streaming possible, but the truth is that it is usually unnoticeable and even harder to recognize if you were not looking for it (we goods search for it). By panning the camera and running through densely wooded areas in the game (and combining the two), the only times we were turned off were the visual quality interruptions.

The experience is not bad, at least until you remember that it uses so little computing power from your computers that you literally have a full virus scan in the background and nothing has changed. The images are similar to what you would get on a console, except with here and there compression artifacts. And, with a stable connection, it compares fairly favorably to streaming in a home on a Steam Link.

Although the price and service model that Google uses will go a long way in determining whether Stages are worthwhile, we can now immediately say that the prototype works, and it looks good. But want XCloud from Microsoft do it better?

Can you play Google Stages on your phone?

Yes! Well, yes … as long as you are a Google Pixel owner. For whatever strange reason, Google limits Stages to Google Pixel phones to launch.

That's not so bad, since there are so many other ways to access the service (see: desktop, laptop, tablet and TV via Chromecast Ultra), but the fact that all Android phones have won stages at the same time feels A little bit weird.

Why would Google bundle its largest user base? It all comes down to quality. Because the hardware can be as wide as Android devices, Google probably wants to make the best possible splash possible by releasing Stages only on hardware that it can handle, i.e. its flagship Pixel phones.

That does not mean that iOS and Android users will ultimately not see the service – they will know for sure at some point – but not on the launch day.

What happens if my connection fails?

According to a word specialist from Stadia, the game authority remains active for a few minutes. If your connection suddenly returns, you restart the game you were playing and you should immediately return to where you were.

… but you have to act quickly.

If you wait longer than a few minutes, Google will close the instance of the game you were using and you will be sent back to the last checkpoint the next time you play.

According to the spokesperson, Stages will do everything to prevent a game from crashing – and even drastically lower the graphic settings to keep you connected – but it cannot completely prevent a disconnected connection.

What remains to be seen is how often these drops are, something that we will know later when we try the service in our own home later this year.

Contest

A diagram illustrating how the streaming service would work, included in the patent from Sony (image administration: Patent and Trademark Office of Sony / United States)

According to a recently accepted patent from the US Patent and Trademark Office (spotted Digital Trends) filed by Sony in 2014, the company is working on a "system for combining the recorded application status with interactive video processing of application streams".

In other words, a cloud gaming service that can compete with the Google Stages (or a cloud that streams new Xbox) and possibly start with the PS5.

Players can stream a game via a hosting server. So if you have a device that connects to the Internet, whether it is a mobile device, console or PC, you can connect to that server and the game you want to play is streamed to your monitor or screen, allowing you to play using your preferred input device. Imagine your Netflix for gaming.

Instead of downloading a game, it will instead be streamed directly to your device and you would be playing in real time, eliminating the need to delete games to create storage space on your device and reduce hardware requirements – although you technically would not own the title.

Sony also points out that this cloud gaming service would benefit game developers because the service would prevent piracy (because the games exist only on the server) and developers could design games to specifically utilize the capabilities of the service.

But how would players pay for this service? Sony has included two specific models in its patent. The first would see that Sony itself would collect a subscription fee from users and then pay royalties to developers. The second is that the developers themselves collect a subscription fee from players and then pay a fee for using the hosting service. However, neither model specified a price range.

We expect Sony to implement this cloud gaming service alongside PlayStation 5, although the company has not indicated whether this is the case.

  • Looking for a fully-fledged game streaming service? PlayStation Now is now available
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