Saturday, April 30, 2011

Is it so hard???

Last week's game night was awesome, period!

My buddy got an awesome deal from steam on Borderlands plus all the current DLC for something like $7.50.  Of course I've been so buried in my new job that I missed the mid week deal and had to pay $30 for the same package.

Still, it was worth it..


Gearbox gets co-op gaming, plain and simple.

The game is engaging, entertaining and fully embraces co-op! 

I played the single player mission for awhile when my buddy said, "hey see if you can host one up."

Well, OK, I've been playing this game for maybe 30 minutes but in less than 5 I'd figured out the multiplayer and discovered that he could actually join my single player game.  This is a lot like the Battlefield 2 hack and somewhat like the co-op in  Call of Duty: World at War and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

The point is this.  My buddy and I were having a great time without involving online servers, friend lists or complex menuing systems just to play a game on the same map!

We spent half the night playing that game and after playing a few other  titles decided to end the night by playing it again!  Well Done 2K and Gearbox, you truly understand that multiplayer doesn't have to begin and end with the great unwashed masses splattering your online alter-ego across that painstakingly rendered scenery every 10 seconds.

While in an entirely different genre the game  experience reminded me of Dungeon Siege 2 where you could increase your character's abilities in the single player game then transfer that player into a co-op game.  Not only do you get the benefit of playing in the context that the game developer intended with the single player game but you can advance your character's abilities and experience when you returned to single player mode.

So what is so bloody hard about this?  I've heard a recent announcement from Valve proclaiming that they will "probably not" produce another single player game.  OK, well if that means something like borderlands I can live with it.  But if it means they've sold out to the World of Warcraft model I think I'm going to start shopping around for the next generation of XBox. 

Apparently it wasn't that hard for Gearbox or Infinity Ward to figure out how to make co-op work.  To great success and regard I might add.

So EA, Activision and Atari as well as the rest of you who think multiplayer means no AI development or Co-op, what's your excuse?  Before you decided that every game you distributed had to check in with you every five minutes there used to be LAN options in your games.

...and it was good....

It's a game, not a commodity.  We buy it if we like it not because we need it to survive.  Do your bean counting CFO's actually think that the masses will continue to support your products based on your logo? 

Take a lesson from GM, The logo didn't save it from bankruptcy and it won't save you either.  Continue to ignore your market and annoy your customers to your own peril. 

Your future goes no further than a place on the wiki list of dead game companies who just didn't get it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Game publishers, why do you do this to me???

Trying out a new game is always an adventure.  Will it live up to the hype?  Will The online gameplay be as good as the reviews say?  Will it actually work?  Sadly, the answer to all of these questions is invariably, maybe.

It's amazing to me that after almost 2 years since its release game developers still can't
figure out how to put an icon in the start menu of Windows 7.  It's equally amazing that the most popular gaming titles for the PC increasingly have horribly complicated menuing systems with incomprehensible controls loosely adapted from console versions. 

What else explains moving forward and back through configuration menus using the "U" and "I" keys instead of arrows or Hitting the "F" key to confirm an option choice!

While we're on the topic of bad game system design let's also mention the horrible online options in most PC gaming titles made in the past few years. 

Why is it, that I can pay $60 for a game only to be forced to go online to play against an opponent sitting 6 feet away from me?  A developer creates the game and then it seems the publisher comes in and mucks it up with their profit driven annoyances.

Why else would I be forced to manually enter a finger twisting CD Key AND have to authenticate to an online server and accept another EULA just to start the game!   Let's not forget the requirement to provide a valid email address during this process with promises of privacy and confidentiality. 

Yeah, that's great and it worked so well when a hacker broke into Epsilon and stole customer email addresses.  I'm getting about 100 bogus Spam emails a day thanks to somebody's lack of due diligence.

Ok, so if you're going to make me jump through all these hoops, have me sit through minute long intros just to get to the game menus then why do you have to make it worse by confounding my efforts to perform the most basic of configuration tasks!

The latest addition to my game library has all of these traits, the much hyped Need For Speed: Shift 2.

Don't get me wrong, the game is gorgeous and works beautifully with my new Radeon HD 6970 card in spite of the fact that I use a joystick and my driving stinks. 

Trying to find a friends game, however, is maddening.  Everything about connecting to other players seems to center around the "Autolog"  That's nice.  So how come it makes no sense.  Oh yeah another "feature", my friend posts a better score than I do and there's no less than 3 places to remind me of it including an annoying stock ticker like device on the main screen that I still don't know how to shut off. 

Oh and don't look to the manual (if you can call a pamphlet a manual) for help.  The only thing is says about multiplayer is a half page long diatribe about license restrictions in legalise and a sentence for each of the multiplayer game modes.  Nothing about how to join or host a game.  Isn't that a basic function?  Why do I have to search through some text document buried in an installation folder or google this kind of information? 

Apparently I'm not alone as after an hour of trying to figure out how to set up a game with my friend, he found a number of people in EA's (the publisher of Shift 2) forums bemoaning the same problem.  That's unacceptable.

We had the same issue with other EA titles like Shift, Undercover, Pro street as well as games from other publishers Like Activision and Valve.  All of which suffer from the disease
of console porting and needless online connection to "home base".  This isn't about copyright intrusions even if they play a part in ruining the experience.  It's about bad game design.

There was a time when a local LAN option was standard fare in PC gaming.  Now it seems we're forced onto online servers just to play against our friends in the same room and if those servers go down or the Internet connection is interrupted our play experience is halted.  That's stupid, plain and simple.

Earlier Need For Speed titles like the original Hot Pursuit, Porsche Unleashed as well as games like Star Trek Armada 2, Unreal Tournament and host of others had a LAN option that was no more complicated than knowing whether your network was using TCP/IP or Novell's IPX protocol.

History and technical problems aside, the needless complex menuing systems and maddening network play issues need to stop.  Even if the PC versions of the most popular games are console ports there's no excuse for bad design.  I can't imagine I'd be any more tolerant of a game with these shortcomings on a console.  I definitely won't tolerate it on a more flexible platform like a PC.

There's no reason that I shouldn't be able to enjoy a game title with my friends within minutes (not hours) of installation without the frustration of a poorly executed design.  The gaming experience is not enhanced by needless complexity and irritation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Oh yes, There's a Blog post in this...

Ok, here's the setup,

See, I just started a new job today which in itself was stressful since I always come down with a case of the fraud disease i.e. I'm not good enough for this job, blah, blah, blah...

This time wasn't so bad because I spent the week before giving myself an attitude adjustment.

I mean isn't it remotely possible that my new employer may be a better judge of my competency than I am.after 2 phone interviews, 2 long in-person panel interviews and glowing references to support their decision?

Bah!, enough of that, It has nothing to do with gaming!  Ah, but it does...

No I wasn't interviewing to administer EA's corporate network although that might be fun...for about 5 minutes.

But on with it.

The week before I was having fairly good fortune in tidying up loose ends which would get waylaid once work commenced in force.  That was until Saturday night when everything slid down the slippery slope of madness and despair for want of a $5 power adapter...

I had this big plan.  I was going to swap out my two GTX 285's in my gaming rig with a shiny new AMD Radeon 6970.  I was going to get a bit more performance while simultaneously relieving myself and my friend of 10 degrees F of room temperature and 200 watts of power draw from his house where my gaming rig lives. 

It was all so simple and wouldn't my friend be surprised.  The perfect crown to my newly found employment.  Oh the party just wasn't going to stop...

After pulling both 285's a rather annoying discovery revealed itself to my sweat soaked brow.  I had forgotten that in their infinite wisdom PC Power and Cooling's (OCZ)1KWSR power supply had no provision for an 8 pin PCI-E connector.  The online manual said they should reality said it didn't.  That wasn't a problem with the 2 285's that used up 4 6-pin PCI-E connections. 

The 6970 uses an 8 and a 6 pin.  Now this shouldn't be that big of a deal except that my 6970's maker, XFX, didn't include such an adapter and quite arrogantly states in more than one forum that you shouldn't need one with a suitable power supply. 

Suitable?  I have a power supply that can supply a stable 72 Amps on the primary rail, delvers a consistent 1000 watts of power and with certification receipt in hand has actually been able to peak at 1100 Watts at 80 Amps. 

So my $300 (on sale) SLI certifed (8800GTX) power supply is somehow less capable than a $25 Frys Electronics no-name (no warranty) special because of two 5 cent pins on a PCI-E power connector.  One more thing, those extra pins?  Yeah, they're grounds!  no power, no juice, just grounds! 

Well Reliving this story is giving me a headache so I'll get to the point.  I ended up having to put one of the 285's back in and waste about 1.5 hours of my precious Saturday night when all was said and done because of the lack of an 8 pin power connection that SOMEBODY should have provided! 

My victory celebration cut down in its prime.  The gaming wasn't the same either.  Almost every game we played defeated us.  My game controller hit the soft carpet numerous times that night as I stormed down the stairs in animated frustration.  Mad obscenities trailing after my dejected spirit.

The next day after bringing my game rig back home I swapped out the power supply for one that did have the proper connections.  (Also a PC Power and Cooling) The final indignity...I ordered a set of PCI-E adapter cables from  PC Power and cooling that were meant to address just such a problem.

XFX, you have great products, great warranties (lifetime) BUT YOU ARE CHEAP!  You won't put a $5 adapter cable in with your cards when almost all your competitors do without reservation. 

Oh yeah and PC Power and Cooling (OCZ),  How can you have a $425 list power supply that had no provision for 8 pin PCI-E when you produced other contemporary but less capable (output wise) power supplies that did have the proper connections!

I don't buy cheap, so how come the more money I spend on parts the more trouble I seem to have with them!

Friday, April 1, 2011

When games get racy

OK, maybe I'm a prude but there's some things that I don't think I need in a game

Now nobody get excited, this is still a family type blog, Rated G stuff or maybe an ESRB "E".

I've just finished up Dragon Age:Origins including all the DLC campaigns and I've had my
first exposure to an aspect of gaming that I'm not sure I'm quite comfortable with.  I'm well aware that gaming has matured since the days of anything suggestive being limited to the cover of the box but it seems to have gotten more overt.

There's never been a shortage of scantily clad representations of the idealized human form in gaming but until recently it seemed to stay in the realm of mild titillation.  Anything beyond that was usually found in the back of the software rack if at all.  Probably the most famous example was the Leisure Suit Larry series.  In this game the whole point was to, well, score..

At least you knew what you were getting and you probably couldn't get the game in the bag fast enough before anyone saw you with it.  Of course when Larry started wearing his leisure suit graphics were nowhere near what they are now making the whole thing still largely subject to the imagination of the, pardon the pun, player.

Fast forward to today and the scenery has changed, literally.  I'm a normal guy and I certainly appreciate the female form.  Still there's something a bit odd about a game that includes physical relationships as part of the gaming experience. 

I know games like the Sims have had this element to them but I'm not entirely convinced that it's necessary in a game like Dragon Age.  There is a relationship aspect to the game in the form of a slider under each character in your party that shows how much they like you.  The more they agree with your actions the more they like you and the less likely they are to run off in the middle of battle. 

That makes sense and maybe it's even educational.  Treat your party like dirt and just like real life you find yourself all alone or even battling your former allies.

So is it really necessary to take the whole relationship thing to the next level when your primary focus is to slash and bash your way through hordes of baddies? 

It seems unnecessary.  I have to wonder if the opportunity to explore a character's more carnal nature is less of a feature and more of a distraction from a less than epic but very hyped plot.

I guess I just always thought of the word score as more of a noun than a verb when it came to non-sports gaming.

Well this is a blog and thus just my opinion.