This interview was conducted on April 26, 2013 with Skip Clarke, founder of the Widescreen Gaming Forum and friend of PCGamingWiki.
Q: Where did you get the idea for WSGF from, and how was the website created?
It’s been almost ten years now since I started the site (the site was founded on Oct 13, 2003). Some days I can’t believe that I’ve been doing the WSGF for almost 10 years. Ten years ago the Internet was a much different place. (I sound old, don’t I). There was no Facebook, no Twitter, and even major review sites like notebookreview.com and anandtech.com were in their infancy. Users of specific products would set up a forum to create a common discussion area around specific products
But back then I was looking to buy a laptop, and was trying to decide between the Compaq x1000 and the HP zd7000. These models were two of the first widescreen notebooks available. Both models of notebooks had forums: x1000forums.com and zd7000forums.com; and both sites had sections on how to get games to run in widescreen. I initially purchased the x1000 and joined that forum. I eventually found it to be underpowered, returned it and bought the zd7000. I then subsequently joined the zd7000 forums. I frequented both forums, posting fixes for games and chatting with members of each.
It dawned on me that both of these sites were serving a duplicate function regarding game solutions. Two years after the Compaq-HP merger, and people buying two products from the same company weren’t sharing information. If they weren’t talking with each other, then they surely weren’t sharing information with people who owned notebooks from Toshiba, Sony, etc., or people who had widescreen desktop monitors.
I decided to start a hardware agnostic site whose focus would be on the games and their solutions. And thus the WSGF was born. I went into more detail about the starting and early days of the WSGF when I was a guest on the True PC Gaming Podcast. I also go into details on previous communities that I helped to create or manage.
Q: WSGF is a fantastic community driven website. Was it difficult to find contributors to the site?
Thanks for the compliment. We pride ourselves in having a welcoming and inviting community. However, it is quite difficult to get people to contribute content. When we look at our traffic, almost 99% of our traffic are “anonymous” users. These are people who don’t have an account on the WSGF. Of the just over 1% of traffic that comes from registered users, it’s only a small fraction of those people who routinely contribute content.
You’ll hear people talk about an 80/20 rule, where 80% of your volume/traffic/content/etc are from 20% of your users/customers/etc. We’re really at a 99/1 ratio. 99% of our content is generated by 1% of our users, and I’m even looking at just the registered users. So of our total traffic we’re at 99% of the content is by 0.1% of our total user base. Luckily that 0.1% is really dedicated.
One issue we have is that we haven’t made it easy for people to contribute. We have a whole internal culture with the terms that we’ve defined like Hor+, Vert- and Pixel-Based. Beyond that you’ve got to understand our systems and our formats. It takes quite a bit of effort to learn all of that, and you’ve got to really want to contribute. We are trying to help people get over these hurdles, with better layout of our forms, better documentation within the form and tutorials. Here is our recent video tutorial playlist on YouTube.
We also looking at new and better ways to incentivize users to contribute content, and then reward them for their contributions. I am envious of the massive amount of content that the PCGW has been able to amass in such a short time. Likewise I’m envious of the number of interviews that TruePC Gaming has done with developers.
Q: What have been your most memorable moments from WSGF’s history?
Some of the memorable moments are not necessarily happy events, but they do stick with me. For the longest time I was the only American on the volunteer staff. My other moderators/editors were either in the UK, Ireland or Australia. During the 7/7 London bombings in 2005, those of us in the other countries were worried about our staff members in the UK. I was emailing and trying to reach out in any way we could to make sure that ParadigmShifter was okay. I remember the relief we all felt when we got the responses back that he was fine.
It really shows how close of friendships you can make online. When you have people in a shared enterprise, you can become family – even if it’s in the virtual world. I hadn’t been a big online gamer or into IRC, so this was my first real experience with these types of connections. ParadigmShifter was the third member on the WSGF, and my first Moderator in the forums. We had connected way back on the x1000 forums, and he joined the WSGF within two days of its creation.
Other memorable events are my first game fixes. I found fixes for Dungeon Keeper 2, and Warcraft III. Then after digging into the results, we found that DK2 was Vert- and WCIII was stretched. So, while I found solutions, the results were certainly sub-optimal. The discussion of those games, and Warcraft III in particular led to us creating the terms Hor+, Vert-, and so forth. It was also the start of our Detailed Reports, and realizing that we needed to look at every aspect of a game – gameplay, HUD, cut scenes, maps, everything. It was really a growing experience.
The final memorable moment was when I got a phone call out of the blue from a producer on Attack of the Show, the program from G4TV. They had gotten wind of the FOV and aspect ratio controversy on the first Bioshock title. It was great to see the site mentioned on the show, along with the comparative graphic that one of our Mods (Paddy The Wak) had put together. We got a *HUGE* influx of traffic, had over 800 people on the site at one time, crashed the server and then got a $750 hosting bill in the mail. That was 2007, and people still tell me that was what first brought them to the WSGF. I also consider this an achievement, “Hey Mom. I’m on TV!!!”
Q: What WSGF achievements are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of the relationships that we forged with Matrox in the early days. They were great to work with, and their early support really helped us. I’m also really proud of the relationship that we’ve forged with AMD, and continue have to this day. It’s great to be able to provide feedback directly to them and help drive improvements in the Eyefinity ecosystem.
Having Ergotech reach out to us to review the stands, then work with them to design the WSGF Edition Stand, and become the sole distributor for it. It all starts with the fact that Ergotech saw us as a “valid” website with cache in the marketplace. Things like that make you feel like you’ve “arrived”. And then working to build a product that fills needs of the gaming community is great. It’s a huge achievement to be able to develop a product and bring it into the marketplace. And now we have folks like InfinitX who are looking to develop a new display system, and came to the WSGF to partner with us.
Recently, the lead programmer from Minority stopped by and gave us a word of thanks. He saw Eyefinity somewhere, threw a system together in their offices and set out to get their previously PS3 exclusive “Papo & Yo” to run in multi-mon. He thanked us for the information on the site that helped him ensure the FOV was calculated properly, info on HUD positioning and then general info on how we expect a game to behave in multi-monitor. It was really great to see a developer use the WSGF as a resource.
Finally, we have been referenced in a series of articles about screen change in video games, on Wikipedia. They have taken our terms like Hor+, Vert-, etc., and codified them into the the Wikipedia reference. This one really makes me feel like we’ve made a difference in the industry. Our work and internal hashing (and some of the discussions were not-so pleasant) has resulting in an accepted standard. Seeing the statement “The terms were originally coined by members of the Widescreen Gaming Forum” makes me smile.
Q: Where do you see WSGF going now that the widescreen monitor is ubiquitous?
Over the years I’ve posed this same question to my self, repeatedly. I also talked pretty extensively about it on the True PC Gaming podcast. Widescreen is the new normal, what do we do? We ensure it’s done properly, and we focus on the details. There are some indies who aren’t doing widescreen at all. Their games end up coming out with a focus on windowed gaming, and the window is often not a widescreen window, or the max res of the artwork is 1280×720. FTL is a recent example of this.
Multi-monitor is becoming more common, and generally has good support. However, the devil is in the details. We’ll get something with solid 3D gameplay elements, but the HUD and/or in-game menus don’t work. Or maybe the the cut-scenes were broken. Or maybe there are some some issues with shadows, or AA, or some other issue.
Beyond that there are luckily always new display technologies on the horizon. Ultra-widescreen 21:9 monitors are just hitting the market. 4k UHD is making inroads into the living room through TVs, but we’re still waiting on them to break into the PC space at a reasonable price. These are immediate spaces we are working in, and updating the WSGF to handle. Specifically we’ve updated our Certification medals to be more easily identified between WS and MM, and we’ve also added medals for 21:9 and 4k. We are currently working the grading rules for the last two.
Q: Do you think multi-monitor gaming will ever enter the mainstream?
I think that multi-mon is becoming more mainstream, and will soon be there in ernest. A few years ago you needed a $500 video card, a $300 Matrox TH2Go, and $1500 in widescreen LCD panels. Today, a mainstream $300 video card gives you solid multi-monitor performance, and for $600 you can get a trio of solid LCD panels. What used to be almost a $2500 proposition can now be had for less than $1000.
Multi-mon is now something that can be built towards. Get a decent card, and a solid panel. But the second panel for greater productivity. Grab the third panel when they go on sale. It’s something you can grow into as the commodity prices come down. Before you basically had to say, “I’m going multi-mon, and I’m outlaying all the investment”. If you weren’t getting three panels to start with, then what was the use of the TH2Go? Your video card could already do a primary display and extended, so you didn’t need the TH2Go for a second monitor. Now your GPU can handle 2, 3, 4 or 5 monitors.
Multi-monitor is here and accessible – we just have to let people know.
Q: Do you see much multi-monitor support from indie games?
There are some games who end up with small resolutions and/or windowed game play. While I see the benefit of keeping a gaming window open while doing other “productive” things, I wish the developer would give me the of running full screen at native res. We do often see good support in indie games, and it’s often a surprise to those developers. They didn’t have a multi-monitor setup, and it was just serendipity that they chose the proper rendering techniques (Hor+).
Recently the guys from Minority were able to get Papo & Yo running in Eyefinity, and it seemed to be a pretty painless experience. I am about to interview them to get more details on their first experience with Eyefinity. One of our editor/admins analyzed every game offered in the Steam Indie Bundle Series. He found about a half dozen games with really solid support. That doesn’t seem like a good support rate, but we are seeing more independent releases with good multi-mon support.
Notable titles such as Dear Esther, Minecraft, Hoard, Defense Grid, Magicka, Of Orcs and Men, Towns, Trine 1 & 2, and Osmos all had really good multi-monitor support, as well as “kinda indie” titles such as Torchlight I & II, Legend of Grimrock, and entries in the Divinity series. A full list of games that support multi-monitor is on the site. So, there are plenty of quality, high profile releases from indie and smaller developers that support multi-monitor.
Q: What video display trends to you see for the future?
I think that the big trend is lots of options and having a display technology to fit your preference and needs. That may sound a bit obtuse, but it really embodies the DIY and customization nature of PCs and PC gaming. For the longest time we were just going from one size/resolution of single panel to larger versions. Then with Eyefinity and Surround, we had reasonably easy options for multi-monitor. But in the past few years, the options have really exploded and become much more diverse.
Don’t want the issues of Eyefinity or Surround? Don’t like the bezels? Don’t like the stretching at the edges of the screen? Well then 21:9 ultra-wide may be for you. It is significantly wider than 16:9, doesn’t get wide enough to distort at the edges, and is easier to implement and power than multi-monitor.
Don’t want to go wider than 16:9? Well, you can eventually get to 4k UHD. Same aspect – far far more detail.
Want to totally immerse yourself, than maybe the Oculus Rift or some subsequent version or future competitive option.
Alternatively, you can go in a totally different direction and use projection systems. Large installations can use 1-3 (or more) front projectors for massive screens. With projectors you’re not limited to using an odd number of units, like you are with traditional displays. Companies like Fly Elise, NTHUSIM and Warpalizer, allow you to perform multi-screen projection on a curved canvas. Futhermore, with the work InfiniteX is doing, you can soon get a curved rear projection system that will fit in your office.
Q: How long do you think we’ll be using the standard 1920×1080 resolution for?
I think it will still be the baseline and norm for a few more years. The 21:9 ultra-wide 2560×1080 tried to make inroads into the living room, but hasn’t gained much traction. It seems to have faired better in the PC space. 4k is coming, and will be coming soon. I think it may be a few years before you get mass adoption, or at least mass usage, in the living room. Prices of 4k UHD TVs will come down, and will probably come down sooner than people realize. Like Stereoscopic 3D, it may be a feature that simply gains marketshare by becoming a standard “spec”, but I think it will be a while before you get enough content for people to make repeat use of it.
Only recently have movies begun to be shot in 4k (Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” franchise is the most high profile), and a 4k media player will be great for those. However, most traditional television content hasn’t even made the jump to full 1080p60. Getting the bandwidth to go full 4k will take a while, and first have to produce the content. Getting critical mass of “TV content” will take a long time. Netflix just put out a “Long Term View” document, and in it they say that 4k streaming will come long before 4k “linear TV”.
The great news on the PC front is that by and large our content isn’t created at a predefined aspect ratio and resolution. We can fire up a game and select 3840×2160. If you can’t select it, then an .ini tweak will probably make it available. Will the HUD be positioned properly? Will it be the correct size, or will it be really tiny? These are things that either our community or the developer community can potentially fix. You simply can’t do that with TV or movie content.
Add to that the advances Apple has made with their Retina displays in both MacBooks and iPads. The Retina Macbook Pro is running 2880×1800, which is closing in on 4k UHD res. Both Apple and Microsoft have updated their respective OS offerings to account for HiDPI. Once the technology hits the right price point, the computing realm is ready.
All that exposition aside, I expect we will see 4k UHD monitors be readily available in the PC space in 2014, and at palatable price points by 2015. I expect by 2016 or so, 4k UHD will become the dominant offering in the marketplace.
Q: What would you say to a game developer to convince them to implement multi-monitor support?
1 – It’s not has hard as you think. A few simple things like fixing the vertical FOV, and allowing the horizontal FOV to expand with the display aspect is 90% of the battle. From there ensuring a proper HUD is the next hurdle. Fixing the HUD to a 16:9 aspect ratio is a good starting point. A slider to set HUD width (a la Borderlands 2) or a fully customizable HUD (Guild Wars, LOTRO) puts the power in the hands of the player and takes work off of the developer. It also helps take into account things like 21:9 and niche multi-mon implementations like 5×1-P. After that it’s just making sure the FMV (movie) cutscenes format properly, and that the menus work. Set the menus to mimic the HUD and you’d probably be safe.
2 – You’ve made this world that you’ve rendered beautifully (even if it’s just 16-bit sprites). Let me see more of it. Let me really see grand vistas in your RPG or MMO. Let me see more of my city or kingdom in the sim. Let me see more of my armies in an RTS. Let me see more of the environment and track in a sim. You’ve spent years, along with blood, sweat and tears making this world for me to enjoy. Let the early adopters and cutting edge folks enjoy more of your world. Let us immerse ourselves in it.
Q: What is the most elaborate PC gaming setup you’ve ever seen?
There are lots of elaborate systems, from a CPU/chassis standpoint. There are lots of custom cases out there, and beefy systems. I still get amazed at people that splurge on triple and quad GPU systems. Just the expense and investment puts it beyond me. But going outside of the box, I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff. A number of folks on the forum (and from sites like SimHQ) build full pods and cockpits. I’ve seen a few dedicated rigs with the pneumatic chairs for racing, and even race car bodies. In the flight sim space one of our forum members has a fully functioning cockpit with touchscreen LCD panels for the individual cockpit screens, and an array of buttons and switches that are each functional. It’s all in a real aircraft body with three screens providing panoramic view.
Stepping down from dedicated rigs, the demo units that AMD has had a few events are both impressive and reasonably attainable. They paired the pneumatic chair with racing wheel, with a 3×1-Eyefinity rig on a curved 30′ screen. That screen is like six feet tall, and DiRT 3 looks awesome. If you had a dedicated media room in your house, you could do something similar but with slightly smaller screens.
On the desktop side seeing a 5×1-P setup is really impressive. One of the best 5×1-P installs is by a guy known as Vega (screenshot below). He took 120Hz 27″ Samsung IPS panels and totally bezel stripped them. He then set them up on a WSGF Edition Stand with 5×1-P, and pushed them with Quad-CrossFire. While expensive, this is immersive, impressive and doable.
Most people find my 3×1-L Eyefinity + 21:9 pretty impressive, especially considering it’s on wall-mount. Really the best of both worlds widescreen, ultra-wide and Eyefinity.
Q: What does the future of the website hold?
Trying to do more of everything, and at the same time focusing on what our users want. We have recently updated the site so that our games database can accommodate info on 21:9 and 4k, and we’ve gotten the medals for those. We’ve also recently set up a forum section for the Oculus Rift. I’m working with InfiniteX on their rear projection system, and I’d like to work with more people who want to do something custom or new for PC gaming display systems. Our community is a great sounding board for the design phase, and our community is also potentially the early adopters for their product.
I’d like to do more reviews of games and hardware, as well as interviews. I also want to start crowd-sourcing more content. I’m sure there are a lot of budding tech/games journalists that would like a place to hone their chops and publish their work. Same can be said for simply opinionated gamers. ^_^
Finally, I’d like to develop more relationships within the industry. We have a great relationship with AMD, and I’d like to extend that to other companies. I’d also like to do more with game developers, and hopefully get to the front-end of their development process. And, I’d like the WSGF to start having a presence at more events like Rezzed, GDC, QuakeCon and PAX. This would allow us to connect more with gamers and developers.
We’re obviously a much smaller site than HardOCP, IGN or AnandTech. But we’ve been a presence in the industry for almost 10 years, and have made impacts. I’d like to accelerate that and use our knowledge and experience to push PC gaming even farther.