Friday, December 28, 2012

2012, Gaming's Best and Worst

In case you haven't noticed 2012 is fast coming to a close and it's been a rollicking year even with a weak economy.  THQ and OnLive went belly up due to financial troubles and many developers either consolidated their studios or closed altogether. 

Even long popular gaming franchises found themselves forced to compete on more than just name recognition with some more capable than others.

Still there were bright spots this year as well as those not so luminous.  So let's get on with my own top (and bottom) 5 gaming related picks.

First, the good stuff.


1. Torchlight 2 - While somewhat obscure this RPG is everything Diablo 3 should have been.  Good looking, engrossing gameplay, easy UI navigation and with no more profit motive beyond the initial purchase price.  The addition of cooperative play brought back fond memories of playing hours of Dungeon Siege 2.  Runic has achieved on a much smaller scale what larger developers with more resources still can't seem to, namely, making a game you actually want to keep playing.

2. Borderlands 2 - Looking back over my old blog posts you'd be excused if you thought I hated this game.  Nothing is further from the truth.  While the game is afflicted with "DLC Disease" and was overpriced at launch at $60 (as is the case with most other triple-A titles these days) the core game stands on its own and leaves you wanting for nothing.  You need buy no more than the base game to enjoy hours of single player and co-op fun.  The game is better looking than its predecessor and takes advantage of enthusiast hardware but is no less entertaining on less capable hardware like my 3 year old gaming laptop.  If an FPS shooter set in a comic book Mad Max world appeals to you then take advantage of a Steam Sale and pick up a copy for yourself.

3. Orcs Must Die 2 - I can't help but be reminded of the classic 80's arcade game Dragon's Lair.  Easy controls and infinitely re-playable  the addition of cooperative play mode only made this game better.   If this game's addictive it's due to beautifully rendered maps, humorous storyline and a constant variety of adversaries.  Let's face it, it's the 21st century version of Space Invaders meaning you have limited resources to battle waves of ever more difficult adversaries.  It's the strict adherence to that simple formula that keeps this game in my personal library.  The only reason it's so far down the list is that it's easily hacked with a memory editor that pretty much  invalidates the global scoreboard.  Kind of hard to brag about 30000 points when someone had 1 billion showing on launch day.

4. The Geforce GTX 680 Video Card - PCPerspective may like the AMD 7970 better but you can't beat the price for performance of the latest Nvidia Enthusiast card.  Using less power with equal if not better performance than AMD's offering I'm convinced my next gaming rig's going to run Nvidia.  Then there's the whole "PhysX" capability if you care about such things, which I don't.  Not to mention the still somewhat awkward AMD driver model.  AMD driver packages are still too big, take too long to install and are far more prone to corruption than NVIDIA's offering.  I'm also someone who has two game rigs running AMD 69xx graphics by the way so I know from whence I speak.

But seriously, Nvidia's learned some lessons from its mobile division and brought the best ideas to its enthusiast graphics family.  Sorry AMD guys but you're about a generation back and at this point it's not reasonable for a an idling enthusiast video card to be pulling down more than 250 watts.  Game bundles are nice but they're not a good metric to compare hardware.  A friend of mine replaced a pair of juiced 6950's in crossfire with a pair of 680's to run his 30" monitor that runs 2K resolutions.  A single 680 allowed full resolution with medium settings, two in SLI is even better but bordering on the pornographic..

5. PC hardware in general -  While I'm still somewhat dismayed that there really isn't an enthusiast platform for CPU and chipsets anymore the mainstream is impressive.  Even with a good enthusiast graphics card in the mix you can still build a stout gaming rig for around $1000 that will pummel any previous Intel generation.  The emphasis is on lower power consumption without giving up any of the performance and that's a good thing.  The only downside is that AMD isn't really any competition to Intel in the PC gaming space which keeps prices higher and slows innovation. 

Honorable Mention
Killing Floor - This game is going on 4 years old but is still actively supported with regular updates and entertaining new DLC all the time.  If you've never seen a zombie in a Santa Cap you're missing out.

Big Picture - Finally a way to easily navigate Steam on a big screen TV!

Now for the bad stuff and while it was tough to come up with the bright spots this year the bad stuff was easy.


1. Subscriptions and DLC creep - This one isn't that new but really started taking off in 2012.  It started awhile back with Call of Duty Elite and now every triple-A title with a multiplayer option has a "premium" subscription offering.  Battlefield 3, Call of Duty and Borderlands all offer it with other popular franchises looking at the option.   If it was just restricted to DLC that'd be fine but in the case of Battlefield 3 it's become downright discriminatory.  Restricted access to servers, special "Premium only XP" events and unlocks that give an unfair advantage to "premium" players are all hallmarks.
It seems these days publishers want you to pay twice for a game or suffer a diminished experience.  Game DLC isn't much better with prices usually around $15 which might give your character a change of clothes and a few new maps which you may or may not have access to if you're not a "premium" subscriber.  Beware overhyped DLC as well.  One of the worst DLC packs I ever bought was for Call of Duty: Black Ops.  For my $15 I got rehashed zombie maps from COD: World at War and a moon map, yippee...

Of course if you "subscribe" that DLC is "Free" but in the end you're paying twice for content that really should have already been there for the inflated price.  Worse, with EA's model you get all the DLC pain whether you want it or not.  You can count on waiting for at least a 4 GB download on the week preceding any new DLC release and a host of global game tweaks to support it.  All the suffering, none of the benefits which  leads to my next pick.

2. The $60 game - I don't know when this happened exactly but it seems 2012 was the year for any game with a major publisher behind it to squeeze you for $60 or more.  Why? There is no inflation in fact we're in a recession, development staffs have been slashed and development hardware is cheaper than ever so where's the rationale?  Considering you'll probably have to buy additional DLC packs or "Subscribe" the cost of entry is awfully steep.  Worse not every game is worthy of its price.  Remember "Rage?"  I have a few theories about why but they all lead back to one thing, greed.

3. Diablo 3 - Probably the most anticipated sequel in recent gaming history Diablo 3 has become the poster child for all that is wrong with gaming in 2012.  First, launch day found millions of rabid players looking at an error screen because of Blizzard's poor capacity planning.  Next up, the "new" in-game marketplace that was supposed to allow players to trade and purchase game items found itself hacked almost from day one.  Linux players using Wine to play D3 found themselves banned and labeled as cheaters without recourse with Blizzard refusing to refund the purchase price for their legitimate copies.  Finally the constant Internet connection even when playing the Single player D3 is nothing short of draconian.  Runic's Torchlight 2 may not be as pretty as D3 but it's a far better experience.  Not everyone wants WoW in their D3 Blizzard!

4. Medal of Honor: Warfighter - What can I say, another example of pimping out EA's Frostbite 2 engine on a half-baked overpriced "triple-A" title.  Stupid AI, bad storylines and in general an overall bad experience forced even EA to admit that the game was a flop.  That doesn't stop them from asking full price for it on its EA's Origin service, however.   It's also heavily promoted within Battlefield 3's "Battlelog" web interface, forever reminding you of its existence like a glowing "service engine"  light on your car's dash . EA even promised early Beta access to Battlefield 4 for Warfighter pre-orders!  Now that's desperation. 

5. The WiiU - Arguably, this thing was DOA.  A pathetic gaming library, underwhelming hardware and gimmicky features make this console too little too late.  Slow load times, bad Wii game compatibility not to mention that whole "adult" content restriction makes this device a perfect example of where consoles "don't" need to go.

Dishonorable mention

Slow Steam Servers and never ending updates - Valve's been working on improving its regional Steam download servers and they can't do it fast enough as far as I'm concerned.  I still routinely have to switch servers when I'm getting rates under 128K on an otherwise good connection.  EA is even worse, especially if you own Battlefield 3.  Up to one hour of my weekly game night is routinely taken up by updates, luckily there's usually beer handy. Worse, with Origin (unlike Steam) you can't choose servers like you can with Steam.  If it's slow you're stuck.

So that's it, my picks for the best and worst of gaming for 2012.  Whether you agree or disagree with my picks I encourage you to check them out for yourself.  I've included a few links to other popular year-end lists below.  

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

A new Star Trek Game, THQ Bankruptcy and oh yeah, it's the 21st and we're still here!

The Midagedgamer Report for 12-21-2012        

This Week...Steam's got a sale! A new Star Trek game coming, THQ hits the skids and oh yeah it's the 21st and we're still here.

So it appears the world didn't end and you will indeed have to pay the credit card bill for all those games you bought on Steam this week during the Holiday Sale.  Speaking of that, the holiday sale is going on right now and ends January 5th.  The requisite daily and instant deals are all there as well as the special holiday sale badges you can earn for discount coupons and free games. 

If you're a fan of the new Star Trek "reboot" movies then developer Digital Extremes (Bioshock 2, The Darkness 2)and Namco have a special treat for  you.  Described as an "unprecedented co-op experience"  "Star Trek"  will be available on April 23rd with pre-orders open now.  The game will be available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.  At this point they're asking $59.99 for the pre-order at Best Buy, Amazon and GameStop for the Xbox and PS3 platforms.  PC versions don't appear to be available for pre-order yet.

The world may still be here but troubled publisher THQ isn't.  They've filed for bankruptcy protection and sold 60 million dollars worth of assets including all 4 of its game studios and intellectual property including games currently in development.  Clearlake Capital Group is the buyer and reports thus far say nothing is going to change except the ownership with all talent and contracts being retained by the new owners.  THQ's assets essentially remain the same but the debts are left behind with the old company filing bankruptcy.  The move is called a stalking horse bid which is a way to better position a company for sale after it jettisons its debts via bankruptcy. 

If you've been wondering what Steven Sinfofsky's been up to since being jettisoned from Microsoft  weeks after the Windows 8 launch ponder no more.  He's going to be teaching "product development" at Harvard business school this spring.  I wonder if part of his curriculum will include dissertations on collaboration and teamwork...hmm.  His title, by the way, will be "Executive in Residence" 
No ego there...

In case you found yourself bumped off your favorite Battlefield 3 server Early Wednesday morning the reason was a server update to fix "3 bugs".  Apparently there was an immortality bug for certain player classes, broken spawn points on the "Strike at Karkand" map and a crash that occurs when playing in Gun Master mode which is only available to owners of Close Quarters and Aftermath DLC as well as Premium players.  Downtime was supposed to be 15 minutes but ended up being twice that.   The immortality bug is bad enough, worse it isn't map specific which should have been picked up sooner.  Will you be readjusting stats or continue to screw players unfairly affected by it?  The biggest bug in BF3 is EA's profit motive

We're at the end of a slow news cycle being so close to Christmas so the news is a bit light this week.  That gives me an opportunity to remind you that many of your favorite games like Team Fortress 2, Killing Floor and Lord of Ultima have holiday themes to keep you in the spirit of the season while your boost your stats. 


I'd like to direct you to an article I recently published on Technorati concerning a new push to blame video games for the tragedy at Sandy Hook.  Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia is pushing a bill to get congress to look at violence in video games again.  He uses Starcraft as one of the examples of a violent video game which you and I both know are about as violent as Farmville with explosions.  Gamers usually aren't very political but it may be a good time to make your voice heard.  Games don't make people kill, sick minds do and we need to stop the hysteria and deal with the real problem.  Besides, you'd think with the country teetering on the brink of the fiscal cliff there'd be more important things for congress to worry about!

That's it for the last Midagedgamer report for 2012.  Yup, I'm going to give you the greatest gift of all and not do a video next week.  Mostly because I probably won't have Internet access anymore but we won't get into that... Anyway, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Kwanza and whatever else you people celebrate when it's cold outside.  Oh yeah, sorry, belated Happy Chanukah too..

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How Responsible is Starcraft for Sandy Hook?

Article first published as How Responsible is Starcraft for Sandy Hook? on Technorati.

No one can deny the loss suffered in Newtown Connecticut last week.  It was perpetrated by a disturbed individual with no regard for life, including his own.   His actions made more egregious than even Columbine or Aurora by his choice of victim.  Young children, whose lives had just begun, viciously cut short in an instant.  Survivors, whose innocence forever ripped away must now carry the weight of a memory that will never leave them.

There is no denying this single event is unrivaled in recent American History.  Unfortunately, thrown in with public outcries for stricter gun control is the tired rhetoric of the role of violent video games in this type of tragedy.    Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia has a bill in congress in the wake of Sandy Hook to study the impact of violent video games specifically targeting their impact on children. From his introduction of the bill on Wednesday,

"...some people still do not get it," he continued "They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians, and psychologists know better. These court decisions show we need to do more and explore ways Congress can lay additional groundwork on this issue. This report will be a critical resource in this process."

The bill was prompted by reports that Adam Lanza, responsible for the Sandy Hook murders, "may" have played video games like "Call of Duty" and "Starcraft." 

Just as in the Columbine and Aurora incidents we again find video games at the center of controversy.  Frankly, as horrific as Sandy Hook was, it seems we're again searching for the easy scapegoat.  When we act out of emotion, reason has no quarter. 

It's more likely that the good Senator from West Virginia is the one who truly, "doesn't get it."

Just as in Columbine the perpetrator was an individual with a history of emotional and psychiatric issues.  In the case of Adam Lanza, his mother Nancy Lanza (also a victim) was seeking to have him institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital.  Lanza's conflict with his mother, not video games, is a leading theory to explain Sandy Hook.

Of course for politicians and media types, anything that even suggests a violent theme must be a contributing factor when a tragedy like this occurs.  A disturbed and bullied teenager is far less interesting than the prospect of that same teenager being driven to madness by the likes of "Starcraft."  Starcraft, by the way is a real time strategy video game more akin to the classic board game "Risk" than the movie "Natural Born Killers." 

In the end Starcraft might as well be Farmville with explosions.  To suggest it's in any way a foundation for mass murder is nothing less than political theater born of sloppy thinking. 

It's far easier to point our collective finger at the symptoms rather than the ailment.  After all, it requires less reflection on our own actions.  In the case of Columbine for example, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were  two disturbed teenagers whose fascination with violent themes was blamed on the video game "Doom."  Only later was it revealed that both had a history of run-ins with the law and psychiatric issues.
Issues exacerbated by frequent bullying and isolation from their peers as well as inattentive parents.  Over a decade later the detrimental effects of bullying have only recently entered the public consciousness when it became a "cause célèbre." 

Here we're presented with yet another example of the fallacy of the straw man.  Be it for political gain or intellectual laziness we prefer the sensational to the rational.  Our preferred solution is always biased toward avoiding our own complicity in the cause.  Think about how many times you looked away when action was required or shunned another because they didn't fit our vision of "normal."  In those actions we sow the seeds of tragedy. 

The ramifications of indifference rarely rise to level of a Sandy Hook but exact a toll just the same.  Blaming an entertainment medium is nothing more than a distraction that allows us to remain in the shallow reality of some idyllic societal norm.

At some point we have to admit that It's not the game, it's the player.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Killing Floor Twisted Xmas 2012 in space!
For the third year in a row Tripwire has released a special holiday update for Killing floor during their "Twisted Christmas" Event.  The update is free and comes down automatically on steam. There is apparently a free to play option as well for those who haven't already purchased the game.

So if you like zombies with Santa hats and murderous gingerbread men this may be right up your alley.
The event goes on till January 3rd, 2013

Check out the gameplay video below for a sample...

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Steam box is real, Crysis 3 a console crusher and advertising to voyeurs

The Midaged Gamer report for 12-14-2012        

This Week...

Steam Box...confirmed, ME4 and Crysis 3 news, how to spot a lousy game review and voyeurs are  making advertisers drool...

Well it's kinda confirmed.  As if the "Big Picture" option in your Steam client wasn't a big enough hint.   Valve's GabeNewell grudgingly admitted at this year's VGA's that his company was  indeed working on the rumored "Steam Box."   The device will likely have a static hardware platform similar to existing consoles but based on the PC architecture.

We don't know much more than it's guts are going to be some kind of PC.  The real question is, what  OS will it'll be running?  Of course there's speculation that it will be Linux but considering the bulk of Steam Games are Windows titles that may not be the best option.  Considering the heavy reliance most popular games have on DirectX (which only shows up on Windows and Xbox) that would be asking non-Valve developers to develop for a new Operating System.  One that is in addition to their development for the Steam on Windows (and to a lesser degree Mac) platform. 

The last I checked nobody really cared about OpenGL anymore.
Let's also not forget that one of  the world's largest game publishers, EA, started its own portal expressly to compete with Steam and does quite well on the PC, Xbox and PS3 platforms.  None of which is a threat to their core revenue stream the way Valve's Steam is.  While EA has made overtures to the Linux community there's been no suggestion of developing their own hardware.

This begs the question of whether the world needs another console.  PC gaming has been experiencing a minor renaissance in the past few years with Triple-A titles being optimized if not available exclusively on the PC platform.  PC's, especially gaming and enthusiast models are not static beasts either.  Memory, Storage, CPU and graphics are at the discretion of their owners and can support at least one round of upgrades before being retired.

Consoles don't share that trait and to base a console like device on static PC hardware with similar limitations seems wasteful.  Not to mention the versatility a PC platform enjoys that a console could never offer.  It's one thing to watch a Blu-Ray movie on a device for example but quite another to produce one.
Newell also mused about Living Room PC's which sounded eerily like just another HTPC with a better video card.   A form factor quickly losing ground to appliances like Apple TV and Roku by the way.

Newell seems to think otherwise, however...

"Well certainly our hardware will be a very controlled environment," he said. "If you want more flexibility, you can always buy a more general purpose PC. For people who want a more turnkey solution, that's what some people are really gonna want for their living room."

Valve has also been trying to expand Steam to include productivity software on the platform.  That doesn't lend itself to the "squishy" interface of "Big Picture," however, even if the underlying hardware is more capable. It seems like the Steam Box's biggest problem at this point may be multiple personality disorder.

If you're a fan of the Mass Effect series the news this week of Mass Effect 4 probably has you searching for new Commander Shepard wallpaper.  Expected out in late 2014 to early 2015 the game will be based on the Frostbite 2 game engine with goodies lifted from Dragon Age 3.  The new game will come from Bioware's Montreal studio instead of Edmonton but with a lot of support from the ME3 development team.

In our continuing Crysis 3 coverage... As if I cared...
You're going to get Crysis 3 on a console but expect it to use more than 99% of your resources when you play it.  Yeah, it's that bad.  I wonder what that will do to the multiplayer?

If you're someone who cares about gaming news it's best to choose your sources carefully.  CNET games tech writer Jeff Bakalar offered up his 6 most disappointing games and game trends of 2012 His list included this year's "lackluster" E3 convention, the WiiU's launch woes as well as occupying two of his picks with the PSVITA.

The PSVITA?  Wow, like anybody cares anymore?  The WiiU? It's DOA, what else is there to say?  Nowhere to be found was anything about the overpriced and underperforming Medal of Honor: Warfighter.  Nor did we find any mention of the ridiculous requirement of Diablo 3 to have a constant Internet connection. 

What about the "trend" to alienate players who opt out of "premium" memberships like Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty by limiting server access and upgrades?  I'd think that anyone who cares about gaming would recognize the injustice of basically asking a gamer to pay twice for the same game in the hopes of "free" DLC. 

Lest we forget the "trend" of rushing out titles before they're ready thus wasting hours of prime gaming time waiting for patches to download and install.  In the worst example EA forcing everyone to download DLC files whether they want them or not!

Or companies like Zynga that just need to die instead of stinking up the mobile gaming space.
Oh but that's right, gaming only happens on consoles and handhelds.  PC's, Smartphones and tablets don't count. 
 Here's some advice, get your gaming news from people who actually care about gaming like CVG, Joystiq or Kotaku. Leave the hacks covering pop culture and tech on your Yahoo start page.

From our, "This came out of left field department..."

Adweek reported this week that according to an IAB report, over 80 million people visited gaming sites in July of this year.  That number is bigger than the total visitors to porn sites in the same period.  So why does an advertising publication care about such things?  Because buried in those numbers were a noticeable tendency for visitors to watch... gamers that is.  It seems watching other people play games is at least as interesting as watching an episode of a sitcom.  23 minutes as interesting in fact which has advertisers drooling.  With gaming sites like IGN and streaming live gameplay there's a real opportunity, according to Adweek, to tap a new market.  

In response developers are trying to accommodate the trend by tweaking their games to offer a better voyeuristic experience.  Hopefully that doesn't mean we'll see more of those annoying cinematic sequences every time your character meets an untimely demise. 
So the next time you go online don't be surprised if you have an audience. Video games have evolved past being just the simple time sink of our youth.   A triple-A title today is an experience more akin to a  Hollywood blockbuster than Mario Kart. 

So is it any surprise that people want to watch?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Intel and AMD socket love, Nintendo Nanny, New Radeons

The Midagedgamer Report for 12-7-2012

This week...

Steam officially rolls out Big Picture, Intel and AMD profess love for sockets, Your new Nintendo nanny and more!
Well it's happened again, yet another multi-gigabyte download for BF3 on Origin.  Just ahead of the launch of the Aftermath DLC the 3.8 Gigabyte download showed up Monday whether you planned on purchasing it or not.  This may be very convenient for EA but it seems a bit ridiculous to be filling up hard drives with content you'll never use.  Trust me, it's more than a client update and a few interface tweaks.  Nice that I get all the pain but none of the benefits of a Premium membership. 

If you're on a PC and like to game on your big screen but aren't ready to move to the dark side (consoles) you may want to check out "Big Picture." Available via the steam client, "Big Picture" allows you to access all your Steam content plus Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Yahoo.  The interface is similar to those found on consoles and web connected TV's and is easier to navigate with a game controller than the regular Steam client.  This may be a preview of the rumored Steam console user interface.  A smart marketing move that would make the transition from all those "evil" Windows PC's to Gabe's new hardware all the easier.  The only problem with that is that all the interesting stuff is on Windows!

According to new numbers, Black Ops 2 has grossed 1 Billion dollars in the 15 days since its launch.  There's no explanation for the slow start that had initial sales down 20% over its predecessor but it may have something to do with the much hyped but ultimately overpriced and disappointing launch of Medal of Honor Warfighter.  With a $60 price tag it's likely wary consumers adopted a "wait and see" approach to the game.

If you suddenly see all the game studios move to the UK in the next year you can point to the recent passing of a 25% tax reduction on game developers in the UK.  The move is said to be an attempt to make the UK more attractive to investment in "creative industries." which include film and television.  Currently the UK rates 4th behind countries like Canada in the number of workers employed by the game industry.

Here's something from the department of the obvious..
Microsoft's Windows 8 is more popular than MAC on Steam.  Considering the comparatively limited selection of triple-A game titles available on the MAC that's not a surprise.  By rank, Windows 7, XP and Vista still come out ahead of Windows 8, however.

With the leaked roadmap last week all signs pointed to the eventual demise of the socketed Intel CPU in the near future.  I still don't believe the enthusiast offerings will completely go away but just in case, AMD has announced that they will supported socketed CPU's for the foreseeable future.  AMD claims..

"...But for the desktop market, and the enthusiasts with whom AMD has built its brand, we understand what matters to them and how we can continue to bring better value and a better experience."
That's all well and good but I'm afraid I have to parrot an opinion already expressed by other sites.  That being, that AMD's focus on the "value" market has already caused them to cede the performance/enthusiast crown to Intel which makes them a less than attractive alternative should the BGA form factor take over.  To truly regain the market, their products will have to be able to compete with the Best Intel has to offer in any form factor.

Speaking of AMD...
There's a strong rumor that AMD is looking to release a new family of RADEON GPU's under the 8000 series moniker and they've already given a name to their next dual GPU offering, The 8990.  The more mainstream high end part is being called the 8970.  Specs show that both cards will have 6 to 12 GB of memory (per GPU), die sizes of 400mm, 2560 shaders (per GPU) 48 ROP's (per GPU) and 384 bit memory bus size.  The 8970 will have 322 GB/sec bandwidth and the 8990 600 GB/sec.  Expect the family to eventually match the current 7000 series cards.  The first cards in the new family were due out this quarter but Q1 2013 is reportedly more realistic.

In related news early Thursday morning Intel has reportedly committed to CPU sockets for the "foreseeable" future in response to the reports of the BGA takeover. 

"Intel remains committed to the growing desktop  enthusiast and channel markets, and will continue to offer socketed parts in the LGA package for the foreseeable future for our customers and the Enthusiast DIY market. However, Intel cannot comment on specific long-term product roadmap plans at this time, but will disclose more details later per our normal communication process”

Wait till the body's cold before the funeral folks...

The next version of the hardware abuse and wasted resources that is Crysis, Crysis 3 is scheduled for release on February 19th in the U.S. and the 22nd in Europe.  Along with this announcement comes news that  Albert Hughes known for such cinematic high water marks such as Menace 2 society and Dead Presidents, will be producing a cinematic video series for the game.  I guess Quentin Tarantino wasn't available.

Deal of the WeekIf you're a regular League of Legends player and your tired of your feelings getting hurt by pimpled faced adolescents and middle aged men with no sex life, Riot Games has come to your rescue.  They've deployed a new "anti-troll" unit headed by a neuroscientist and a psychologist.  In an interview with Gamasutra, Travis George, lead producer for the game said,

"We've experienced it all ourselves. But we actually sat down and said, 'how do we actually more tangibly understand how bad the impact is, or what the impact is, or understand the problem more?'
"We actually have built a team around this. We call it, lovingly, the Player Behavior and Justice Team. There are a lot of really talented folks on that team, including two PhDs. One's a cognitive neuroscientist and one's a behavioral psychologist."
He said that the science team "can help develop models for how we track and trend what we call 'player behavior'".
"We've actually developed specific trends, and our own set of metrics that we look at for measuring what percentage of times we think that players will encounter a negative experience in a game, and how severe that negative experience is,"

If you've got your shiny new WiiU and want to take a walk on the "Wild Side" you best restrict your wanderings between 11PM and 3AM.  If you're in Europe that is.  Nintendo sent out an email this week informing WiiU users that games rated PEGI 18 (Europe's ESRB equivalent) would only be accessible from 11PM to 3AM.

"Dear customer, we would like to let you know that Nintendo has always aimed to offer gameplay experiences suited to all age groups, observing carefully all the relevant regulations regarding content access that are present in the various European countries."We have thus decided to restrict the access to content which is unsuitable to minors (PEGI) to the 11pm - 3am time window."

Looks like you'll have to miss some sleep if you want to get some time in on Left for Dead or Mass Effect 3.  The nanny state's gone corporate it seems.  There's a link to the list of PEGI 18 rated games below.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Intel CPUs, THQ's humble bundle, WiiU guts and Xbox delays

The Midagedgamer report for 11-30-2012

This week: THQ gets a charity bump, Delays on Xbox720, Confirmed! WiiU CPU sucks and Intel CPU sockets in jeopardy!

THQ's seen a slight bump in its share price on Thursday due to an unexpected windfall of 2 million dollars from the success of their Humble bundle program.  The promotion allows the buyer to pay whatever they want for a collection of 7 classic THQ titles including metro 2033 and Company of Heroes.  The buyer can choose how much of the purchase price goes to THQ and charities including Childplay and the American 
Red Cross with the minimum purchase at $1 .  It's a nice influx of cash and the charity tie-in is either brilliant marketing or a new low depending on your sensibilities.  Know this, THQ has already defaulted on loan payments to Wells Fargo and has till January 15th 2013 to settle up.  THQ's share price was $1.45 a share on Friday's close.  If this promotion is successful in pulling THQ out of its financial woes it could mean that THQ may become the bargain bundler of the game industry.

There's a strong rumor, meaning more than just some scribbling on a Chinese website, that the next generation Xbox is due out for Christmas 2013.  Apparently multiple Bloomberg sources close to the next gen console's development say manufacturing problems have pushed back the original September 2013 release date. 

Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood has created a new game publishing house called Warchest to distribute Splash Damage titles.  Their aim is to produce, "free digitally distributed games with high production values for all leading platforms". They've been successful with the strategy on the PC with the classic, "Enemy Territory" and now seek to extend the philosophy across platforms. 
The first hint of what's to come from the publisher is in the form of a teaser trailer for the PC only game, "DirtyBomb" to be followed by "Rad Soldiers" for IOS devices in June of 2013.  "Connectedness" is important to the new publisher so that you can continue your game experience across any device regardless of platform.  Not a bad idea.  It would be nice to play a game on a PC, for example, and pick it up where you left off on an IPAD.

A high profile Wii hacker has published specs on the WiiU on his personal twitter account, @marcan42,  claiming the CPU runs at 1.24 Ghz with the GPU running at 550Mhz.  Those numbers are weak compared to the upcoming next generation Xbox and PS3.  Of course this is a hacker we're talking about but other sources seem to be backing him up.  Last weekend PCPer's Ryan Shrout disassembled his brand new WiiU to peekat its insides as well although the technical specifications weren't as specific.  If you're a Wii fan this information is important to you.

Want to drive a pre-production C7 Corvette?  If you own Gran Turismo 5 you got the car as free DLC on Wednesday.  Funny how the front end looks like an Aston Martin...  Enjoy, PS3 racers!  Sorry Xbox and PC fans, none for you...

If you've managed to avoid the bloodletting that is an Xbox Live Gold account, Microsoft is offering a free weekend to try out the upgraded service.  Much like the pusher giving free samples to kiddies who then continue their habit by stealing mom's rent money...

Well over 100,000 people have petitioned Grand Theft Auto 5 publisher Rockstar games to port the title to the PC.  All I can say is, are you nuts? Since when is a console port ever been a good thing on a PC?  Keep it on the consoles until Rockstar does a dedicated PC version kids.


The proverbial sky may be falling on PC enthusiasts.   A leaked processor roadmap shows that Intel plans to get rid of socketed CPU's in favor of BGA or soldered on mainboard designs after Haswell's successor, Broadwell launches in 2014.  The rumor showed up on a Chinese website and has gained support from motherboard manufacturers since the leak surfaced last week.  Consensus among the pundits ranged from "No big deal" to "not gonna happen."  Of course those who don't think it's a big deal were reporting the news while reading copy from their MacBook Airs. AKA, consumers not enthusiasts.
 It's likely Intel will consolidate its processor lineup and slate the low to middle range processors on the BGA platform.  Mainstream CPU's usually end up in OEM designs anyway so it makes sense to sell assemblies rather than individual components.  The enthusiast market will continue and likely pay whatever Intel wants to charge for the now "niche" discrete CPU offerings on the high end.  With AMD no longer a force and Intel focusing on Broadwell for mobile platforms, expect less choice in your future.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Intel's Socket Swan Song?

Article first published as Intel's Socket Swan Song? on Technorati.

Are you the type that enjoys getting up to your elbows in computer parts and the thought of buying a PC from Dell repulses you?  Well then, there's a new rumor based on a supposedly leaked Intel roadmap that shows Intel may be moving from socketed CPU's to permanently soldered designs.  If true that  would spell the end of CPU upgrades and the end of upgrade paths.

The move is said to be related to an attempt to reduce form factors, a benefit for ultrabooks, as well as to lower the electrical resistance of the CPU to motherboard connection thus reducing TDP on their processors.

The next upcoming processor design from Intel is called Haswell and it's due out in the latter half of 2013.  According to our supposed Intel roadmap, 3 of the 5 Haswell designs are socketed with the remainder being soldered designs. 

According to the leaked chart, after Haswell comes Broadwell in 2014 and all those designs are soldered.  What's interesting to note is the question marks in the final column of the chart.  Reading the TDP (power dissipation) numbers it's obvious that the designs that follow the Haswell enthusiast and value CPU families are still up in the air.

The question marks probably say more about future Intel CPU designs than anything else on the chart.
With the explosion of tablet and smartphone devices there's an obvious trend toward more integrated SoC (System on a chip) configurations.  Since few of us will ever see the inside of our mobile devices let alone upgrade the processors, the roadmap seems viable. That doesn't necessarily mean that Intel is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, however.  

First, this is a rumor and the source is questionable.  Second, To move the entire Intel lineup to a soldered design would have a chilling effect on Intel partners and boutique builders who could no longer differentiate their offerings from OEMs.  With Apple signaling a move away from Intel chips and AMD still in play, Intel can't afford to alienate its partners. 

It's far more likely that the SoC designs are meant to lower the cost for OEM's like Dell and Lenovo whose market segment is less concerned about upgradability than price.  Remember, OEM's make most of their money from business customers who tend to turn over rather than upgrade equipment.  An all in one design is cheaper to produce and support for OEM's since they have fewer part SKU's to worry about.  Standardization on a SoC design can also further reduce warranty costs as OEM's are already used to replacing assemblies instead of individual components.

Few power users or enthusiasts would entertain a commoditized product like an OEM desktop to meet their needs, however.  As such Intel is unlikely to limit their choices any time soon.  With AMD no longer a force in the enthusiast market that also opens the door for Intel to raise prices on the remaining enthusiast parts without consequence.

So is the desktop heading for the big sleep?  The guys marketing tablets and smartphones would like you to think so.  It's probably not wise to jump to conclusions based on a rumor, however.  Unless ultrabooks and tablets can satisfy power users and enthusiasts alike,  the demise of the desktop is as Mark Twain said, "premature".

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday Deals, Dice branching out and the WiiU has a horrible CPU

The midagedgamer report for 11-23-2012

Black Friday deals, EA want's DICE to expand its horizons and WiiU has a "horrible" CPU.

Well it's that time of year again where it's completely normal to find non-gamers spending all night camped out in front of a Best Buy.  Yes it's Black Friday and there's deals to be had if you're willing to huddle with soccer moms and frazzled fathers on the hunt for this year's "It" gift.

Joystiq has provided links to the best Black Friday deals on gaming this year.  Instead of rehashing what they have I've posted a link in the blog and in the details section of the video.  Enjoy!

If you're looking for a Steam sale your wish has been granted.  Steam's Autumn sale is going on now through November 26th and includes deals like Arma 2 for $14.99, Sleeping Dogs for $24.99 and Borderlands 2 for $44.99.  Check the link for daily, flash and other deals.

The Microsoft store has even better deals on Borderlands 2, NFS: Most Wanted and Dishonored all $24.99, for the Xbox360 that is, PC prices are still...too high.

Check out your Origin client for similar Black Friday deals.  Only good on Black Friday though!

Black Ops 2 hasn't even been out for 2 weeks and there's already patches for all platforms.  Mostly game tweaks and multiplayer issues are being addressed.  This is what happens when you rush a game for the holidays.

Looks like EA wants its #1 development studio to mix it up a bit.  There's currently 3 to 5 new games under development at DICE that have nothing to do with Battlefield.  That's welcome news for two reasons. 
First, Frostbite 2 is too good an engine to limit to just Battlefield games.  A little more variety can push the engine farther and faster.  Second it might stop the annoying, endless tinkering and tweaking of Battlefield 3

It seems the Wii U has a "horrible, slow CPU".  At least according to THQ's development partner 4A on the possibility of an  upcoming port of Metro: Last light to the platform.  THQ needs to have Last Light ready on other platforms including XBOX, PS3 and PC before April due to "assurances made to investors"  making a port to the Nintendo console less of priority in light of THQ's recent financial troubles.  Apparently 4A is a "small studio" and would have issues dedicating another team to a port to the WiiU

Finally,  An amusing image.   I can't help but agree...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Black ops 2, THQ, AMD, & Sinofsky in the news

The Midagedgamer Report for 11-16-2012

This week...

Black ops 2 is here, THQ and AMD's futures uncertain and Windows boss is shown the door.
Black Ops has dropped!  Well, Black Ops 2.  If the gaming press, High Budget commercials or worldwide midnight launch parties on the 13th didn't already alert you then allow me to provide the service.  Black ops 2 brings back Alex Mason and takes you through the 70's and 80's and on to 2025 for futuristic call of Duty action.  I Suppose COD felt the need to put their own twist on BF:2142 in the series.

Black Ops 2 is available now in the U.S. on Xbox, PC and Playstation and for the WiiU November 18th.  It's the 30th in Europe and Japan December 20th.  Of course the price is $59.99 like any other so-called "A-list" title.

You probably heard the news.  Members of Seal Team Six got in  trouble for supposedly divulging "classified" tactics to EA during the development of Medal of Honor: Warfighter.  As bad as the game is it's hard to believe anyone with any tactical training had anything to do with it.  I'm hoping it's all just an administrative foul up.

Seems THQ may not have to worry about the success of their next 3 titles.  The troubled developer's assets are being eyed by Ubisoft.  THQ has already sold the rights to their UFC license to EA earlier this year to raise some capital and last week's stock split didn't help much.  Their stock price continues to hover around the $1 range.  The writing on the wall predicts that THQ is going to be picked over by the buzzards instead of rising from its own ashes.

Are you happy now Windows 8 haters???

You scared little Steven away!

Steven Sinofsky that is...

Not really, Steve Ballmer actually showed him the door and it had nothing to do with Windows 8 sales numbers...

Steven Sinofsky the man responsible for the new look of Windows on PC's and tablets has left the building.  When asked about the reasons for his departure the standard breakup line of "It's me, not them" was offered up. 

"Some might notice a bit of chatter speculating about this decision or timing. I can assure you that none could be true as this was a personal and private choice that in no way reflects any speculation or theories one might read — about me, opportunity, the company or its leadership,"

That "speculation" may have something to do with his reputation of being a divisive force within Microsoft and generally not pleasant to work for if your viewpoint wasn't completely in line with his.  Inside sources claim that Sinofsky's absolute rule of the Windows division pushed aside the tradition of collaboration among other Microsoft groups causing rifts.  That would explain the lack of a unified programming interface across the new Windows variants including phone and RT.

So it appears that you either loathed or loved the guy, with the former being more common.     
Picking up the reigns of Windows engineering is Julie Larson-Green who after joining Microsoft in 1997 was responsible for the much loved (sarcasm there) ribbon interface in office 2007.  I passionately hate the ribbon but others  are equally passionate in their praise of it.  Let's hope her future decisions are less polarizing.  One thing is for certain, she'll need to brush up her keynote skills over what we saw in the Win 8 launch event.

What does this have to do with gaming? 90% of games are played on a Windows platform.  Even if you don't plan an upgrade soon, at some point you'll have to deal with Sinofsky's legacy.

AMD is not, repeat not selling off the company...yet. 

So why are they working with J.P. Morgan to figure out the value of their assets.  AMD hasn't been doing as well in the mobile and desktop processor space as it's competition over the last half decade.   With limited mobile products and lackluster processor offerings that long ago ceded the market to Intel.  The only bright spot is their graphics division which is the only division that's remained profitable. 

It's hard to understand how a company that pioneered the now ubiquitous ideas of multiple CPU cores, and on CPU graphics could have fallen on such hard times.  AMD was largely responsible for bringing 64 bit computing and workstation level performance to the mainstream user.  That kind of innovation almost toppled the giant that is Intel who was caught resting on its laurels with more power hungry and less efficient designs.

AMD's been through too many management changes in the years since it lost the processor wars with Intel and decided to be the "value" option.  The trouble with that strategy is that Intel has been able to crush AMD's engineered "value" offerings by simply releasing gimped versions of their high end products into the channel at competitive prices and competitive if not better performance.    

Last year AMD officially ceded the performance and most of the mainstream processor market to Intel.  In essence, they just gave up on performance and decided to try to change the market instead.  It was the safer bet but in such a competitive space the safe  doesn't translate to a dominant market position. 

AMD is looking at possibly selling off patents and IP (Intellectual Property) to try to stay afloat.  Perhaps they need to go all in instead of treading water as they have been doing.  If AMD leaves the chip market entirely expect prices and innovation to further stagnate.  Worse, expect to pay whatever Intel and Nvidia want to charge you for the parts in your next game rig.

Hey what a surprise! Somebody's going to make a movie based on a popular videogame!

The next installment in our, "Hollywood is bereft of an original idea" series is an upcoming movie based on Deus Ex: Human Revolution.   Hot on the heels of that news is the announcement that it will have a director.  His name is Scott Derrickson whose credits include "Sinister" whatever that was. 

It's not really a surprise with so much crossover between the gaming industry and Hollywood.  It would just be nice to see more movies like StarGate or WarGames that don't have a game or comic book as their basis.

The real question is at what point will seeing a movie be superfluous because everyone already played the game it's based on?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Free Battlefield, THQ troubles, Blizzard in the bux

The midagedgamer report for 11-9-2012

This week...Battlefield is Free and it's not that goofy Flash game either, Game publishers make too much money for crappy games, THQ delays 3 games in hopes of stopping their circle around the drain and more!

Free Battlefield!  1942 that is,

On Tuesday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Battlefield series of games EA began offering the original Battlefield that started them all for free on Origin.   Battlefield 1942 will take 1.6 gigabytes of space and includes the most recent updates.  A word of warning.  The game is 10 years old and  was originally designed for Windows XP and a Pentium 3 CPU.  Also know that the game doesn't appear to support widescreen resolutions natively but will run on Windows 7.  Not a bad deal for a free game and there are plenty of multiplayer servers available.  Enjoy a little nostalgia and see where it all started.

Are you the type that just likes to watch? Well Origin might just be able to satisfy your voyeuristic tendencies.  EA has partnered with online game streamer TWITCH to allow live viewing of your gaming from  EA's Origin service.  You can bet there's going to be a spike in YouTube game videos from EA titles.  Guess the publisher better loosen up its copyright!

World of Warcraft claims its subscriber base has grown to 10 million after it's Mist of Pandaria release.  Guess the fantasy RPG world has fallen in love with furry samurai pandas..

Diablo 3 has passed 10 million sales and an expansion is coming.  In related news Activision/Blizzard says it made 100 million more than its third quarter revenue forecast of 740 million coming in at 841 million.  They also report that they have 3.4 billion in cash and investments and no debt.  Unlike their customers who continue to get fleeced. 

Halo 4 came out on Election day (November 6th) and so far it's getting good reviews.  The XBOX360 exclusive taken over by new developer 343 Industries appears to be carrying on the tradition started by Bungie.  $59.99 gets you back on board with Master Chief.

THQ publisher of the upcoming Company of Heroes 2 and Metro :Last Light as well as South Park: The Stick of Truth has decided to delay release of the titles till spring of 2013.  THQ is betting the farm on these releases and needs a hit if it wants to stay in business.  Jason Rubin, President of THQ says the reason for the delay is,

"without extra time for polish in the current environment, would lead to underperformance that could in turn lead to future additional capital shortfalls".

THQ has had some serious financial issues lately that began with a reverse stock split a few months ago.  THQ was forced into the move to avoid getting delisted on the NASDAQ for falling below $1 a share in value.  So far THQ's financial woes continue and  most recently have culminated in a 50% loss in share value on November 6th.  Hope it works out for them but of the 3 titles Metro: Last Light is the only prospect that has mass market appeal.

Oh yay, more SkyRim DLC from Bethesda.  When is this game going to go away already.  Anyway the new "DragonBorn" DLC is set for release on the XBOX360 on December 4th.  PS3 and PC release dates are unknown.  Why don't they just start a subscription model already.  It takes Bethesda years to make Elder Scrolls sequels so they might as well milk the franchise like everyone else.

In a statement obvious to any PC gamer Chris Roberts was quoted this week in an interview with ARS Technica as saying,

"You can do most of it on a next generation console, but I can promise you a top-end PC now is already more powerful than what a next generation console is going to be."

In response to whether  his new release Star Citizen would be available on a console..
I certainly hope so, Chris.  I'm tired of games being dumbed down for console compatibility..

Fall has come to Caledonia and the lush green hills have been replaced with golden landscapes.  Ok, for the uninitiated Caledonia is the setting for Lord of Ultima and they've deployed seasonal textures to the maps.  Nice look and a break from all that green!

If you're a fan of Star Wars and MMO's you may want to listen up.  Bioware has announced that Star Wars: The old Republic will go to a Free to Play model on November 15th.  Not quite a giveaway, however, as they're only unlocking 50 levels and will keep a paid subscription model in place.  Pay to play gets more options, features and game content.  If they follow the Star Trek online model it would be a welcome addition to current Free MMO's.  If pay for play lets you mop the floor with the free to play players it'll fail.  The nice thing about a good F2P MMO like Star Trek Online is that you can enjoy the game without having to buy upgrades just to survive.  In the end most people pony up the cash, willingly.  We'll see if EA (Bioware's parent) can stifle their greed.

Yay! more Grand Theft Auto 5 details released....I've posted a link because I don't really care...

Getting a little tired of the scenery of Skyrim?  Well Bethesda is working on a new MMO called Elder Scrolls Online.  It's due out in 2013 on both the PC and the Mac.  This explains why they didn't bother to do a co-op or multiplayer option in Skyrim.  Just what we need another overpriced subscription based MMO.

Finally a suggestion.

This may seem obvious but to older gamers there may be some resistance to what I'm about to propose.  I know I was resistant to the idea at first.  Should you find yourself frequenting a particular podcast or forum and there's any chance of joining an online multiplayer game with like minded fans, just do it.  Older gamers may not be into the whole "social" thing so spending time with strange people even online may be uncomfortable.  Get over it.  Multiplayer gaming is exponentially more satisfying when you're playing with people you share a common interest with outside of the game.  It's one of the reasons I enjoy co-op games with my friends and why I don't pay much attention to online FPS games unless I can play with someone I know.

That's it for this week and don't forget to check out the links below.  Click the "Show More" below the video to see them...