Gaming: Another Notch towards Respectability



eSports, VR arcades, and competitive gaming for serious prize money form a growing market. Autonomous cars learn to drive by playing Grand Theft Auto.

Premium PC gaming performance can get fairly expensive, especially when gamers want to mega-task by gaming on a 4K display while recording and streaming games for others to watch. High-end gaming platforms qualify as High-Performance Computing (HPC) to many. Gaming is not just the domain of young men, either; the average gamer’s age is 35 years old and 48 percent of gamers are women. Gaming technology is leveraged into alternative uses for motivation in education, training, and simulators, which closely follow gaming technology.[i]

Curiously enough, the computer game Grand Theft Auto provides the high-capacity model that is necessary to achieve training with extremely large data sets. The large data sets are needed for the deep learning that self-driving cars use to make decisions in neural networks. A team of researchers from Darmstadt University (Germany) and Intel Labs have created software that automatically classifies objects in the game’s road scenes; a task which would be very time-consuming if people had to identify and label them manually. Using Grand Theft Auto, researchers were able to automatically generate labels and feed them into a machine-learning algorithm. In this way, the self-driving car’s “brain” can recognize pedestrians, cars, and other objects, even as each new encounter varies in the angle of viewpoint, color, direction of motion, and so forth.

Deep learning trumps mere image-matching, since homogeneity is not required for neural networks that use deep learning to “recognize” objects as they appear in everyday life. In the paper “Playing for Data: Ground Truth from Computer Games,” the authors “validate the presented approach by producing dense pixel-level semantic annotations for 25 thousand images synthesized by a photorealistic open-world computer game.”[ii] Apparently, games aren’t just for gamers anymore.

Figure 1: Grand Theft Auto is a valuable tool for a deep-learning exercise for self-driving cars. Human annotators are not needed to delineate object boundaries; associations between image patches can be reconstructed from the communication between the game and the graphics hardware. (Source: Playing for Data: Ground Truth from Computer Games.ii)

Figure 1: Grand Theft Auto is a valuable tool for a deep-learning exercise for self-driving cars. Human annotators are not needed to delineate object boundaries; associations between image patches can be reconstructed from the communication between the game and the graphics hardware. (Source: Playing for Data: Ground Truth from Computer Games.ii)

According to Intel, there are more than 1.2 billion PC gamers worldwide, although only a fraction are hard-core gamers that require the 10-core CPUs that Intel touts. The PC is the tool of choice for the serious gamer, as gaming PCs outperform the one-size-fits-all console. PCs can also be future-proofed by obtaining higher performance equipment. A PC capable of mega-tasking can also be justified as dual-role equipment for accomplishing everyday tasks.

Gaming in itself is serious business, however. An emerging market in gaming is eSports, “a cultural phenomenon expected to reach about 500 million fans worldwide by 2020.”[iii] The Intel® Extreme Masters (EMI) championship hosts gaming talent and the latest one boasts more than 173,000 in-person attendees and as many as 46 million unique viewers to the streaming portion of the event.[iv] According to Intel, EMI is the “longest running global pro gaming tour in the world.” Started in 2006 by Electronic Sports League (ESL), the competition features Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, StarCraft II, and League of Legends tournaments across multiple continents. ESL is an eSport (competitive video gaming) company that inked a deal with Intel, revealed at the recent E3 gaming conference. Intel will power the gaming platforms and associated electronics as ESL’s “official technology partner.” Intel is also offering a $1 million prize via the Intel Grand Slam for the winning team.

 Figure 2: At E3, Intel’s Gregory Bryant showcases the power of the Intel® Core™ i7 X-series processor with a mega-tasking demonstration. (Source: Intel)

Figure 2: At E3, Intel’s Gregory Bryant showcases the power of the Intel® Core™ i7 X-series processor with a mega-tasking demonstration. (Source: Intel)

Teams that win these games can make some serious money, and the equipment they play on has to be superlative. Gaming consoles simply cannot hold a candle to the power that the high-performance computing platforms provide in the form of a personal computer. According to Intel and ESL, “Intel’s technology will be the backbone for ESL’s eSports events, studios and broadcasting operations, with all tournament PCs running the latest Intel® Core™ i7 processors and all of ESL’s production hardware running on a combination of Intel® Core™ and Xeon™ processors.”[v]

Gaming has evolved from single-player games such as the humble Pong, Space Invaders, Wolfenstein, and a long evolution of other games played on a single PC to massive multi-player games that are played across time zones and the internet. Gaming has become a spectator sport. Gaming is taking a growing chunk of the entertainment market with it.

Gaming HPC Platforms Demand the Latest Technology
Similar to financial markets that seek the tiniest edge in rapid computer trading, serious gaming requires the best technology in order to gain an edge on the competition. The higher-performing gaming platforms today include motherboards with the latest display and memory technologies, and the top gaming processors include the new Intel Core X-Series processors with up to 10 cores. Intel’s Core™ i7 processor (Extreme Edition) is one of the most powerful gaming processors available. Gaming is more than the processor, however, as the best PC gaming platforms will include a Solid State Drive (SSD) and a good graphics card.

SSDs are much faster than the Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) that we have used since nearly the beginning of PCs. Early mass storage devices were tape drives, but platters with read/write heads moved by stepper motors have been in existence for more than 50 years. The seek and spin functions of HDDs eat a lot of time. But SDDs, with no moving parts, do not have to spin to retrieve data. SSDs make data retrieval faster, and SSD prices have been coming down. While SSDs are known to degrade over a very long period of time, in the gaming universe, other components are more likely to experience technology decay, before the SSD wears out.

Graphics cards have always aged quickly as newer, faster models come out faster than you can pay the credit card bill for the last one. Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) process repetitive computations at a breakneck speed. GPUs originally created to handle the compute-intensive task of rendering graphics. CPUs were thus off-loaded to improve overall performance. Applications demanding fast, repetitive computations, such as mining bitcoin and machine learning, use GPUs. Real-time imaging is even more important in a graphics card if Virtual Reality (VR) is involved. Rendering in near real time requires frame buffers of 10GB or more. VR can make people nauseated if frame rates lag behind the accelerometer input that is tracking the movements of the person wearing the headset.

To handle the extreme loading and provide extra edge needed for competitive games, Intel Core X-series processors are designed to meet the instantaneous need by using the two fastest cores at higher frequencies and fully utilizing up to 18 cores with extreme mega-tasking. The processor series is also unlocked to allow users to overclock core by core for extreme scenarios using the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) for Windows based machines. Even those inexperienced at overclocking can use the Intel XTU to overclock and monitor an Intel-powered system with a software interface by selecting a profile rather than agonizing over each parameter in BIOS. Users have the ability to reset back to the default profile if a profile doesn’t work out or if the user wants to use the PC for less demanding applications (and save power). Advanced overclocking capability is also provided for the expert or intermediate user.

Gaming is growing less virtual and more real with real-time VR immersion experiences in gaming that are increasingly brought within purchasing-distance of the middle class by the decreasing cost of high-performance chips. VR gaming arcades are popping up around the U.S. to provide more people a gaming experience that they are unlikely to forget. Last but not least, teens everywhere have a reason to justify buying Grand Theft Auto to skeptical parents, thanks to a scientific paper touting the benefits of the game in deep learning to drive.

LynnetteReese_115Lynnette Reese is Editor-in-Chief, Embedded Intel Solutions and Embedded Systems Engineering, and has been working in various roles as an electrical engineer for over two decades. She is interested in open source software and hardware, the maker movement, and in increasing the number of women working in STEM so she has a greater chance of talking about something other than football at the water cooler.


[i] Doug Fisher and Kirk Skaugen, IDF 2015.

[ii] Richter S.R., Vineet V., Roth S., Koltun V. (2016). Playing for Data: Ground Truth from Computer Games. In: Leibe B., Matas J., Sebe N., Welling M. (eds) European Conference on Computer Vision – ECCV 2016. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 9906. Springer, Cham

[iii] “Taking Gaming and eSports to the Extreme at E3.” Intel Newsroom. Intel Corporation, 12 June 2017. Web. 29 June 2017.

[iv] Soqui, Frank. “Helping the World Get Its Game on at Intel Extreme Masters and Beyond.” Intel Newsroom. Intel Corporation, 16 Mar. 2017. Web. 29 June 2017.

[v] Taking Gaming and eSports to the Extreme at E3.” Intel Newsroom. Intel Corporation, 12 June 2017. Web. 29 June 2017.

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