Friday, August 24, 2012

The Midagedgamer Report 8-24-2012

Midagedgamer Report 8-24-2012

Microsoft is in the news! in a slow news week, AMD 7990, and OnLive is OffDead!

Think 3D gaming is the wave of the future?  Not according to EA.  In a statement Tuesday to Eurogamer an EA exec was quoted as saying, "3D is certainly not in any way on our list of things we are focused upon as a company," he said. "It's just not a technology particularly in our world of gaming that seems to have got traction. If I was skeptical 18 months ago I remain skeptical"

Which pretty much pokes a hole in Nvidia's 3D vision marketing for EA titles. Considering EA is one of the biggest players across all platforms a statement of "meh" doesn't give much incentive to developers. 

In other EA news, PopCap Games known for such cult hits as Bejeweled, has cut 50 employees from its Seattle office and may shut down its Dublin, Ireland office.  John Vechey, the studio's co-founder doesn't accept the speculation that EA has been pressuring the company to make the cuts or control it in any way stating,

"EA has provided a lot of resources for us to grow and allowed us to operate as an independent studio. I've seen speculation that EA is no longer letting PopCap run independently, and that's simply not true. The founders, CEO, and executives who were in charge of PopCap still are"

It does beg the question, however, about why staff have been departing the Dublin operation since the July 2011 acquisition of PopCap by EA.  Vechey is also quoted as saying he expects to grow back the same number of staff cut by the end of the year with some former PopCap staff going to EA. 
Still, Vechey is grateful to EA saying,"If we didn't have EA behind us, the cuts would have been worse."

Sounds more like talent costs were getting too high so it came time to slash payroll by bringing in cheaper alternatives.  There's no other business reason why you'd let a large chunk of your talent go and expect to replace them in such a short period of time. 

If there's any argument for a technology based union I think this is it...

In the everything old is new again section, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2 is being offered on Steam as of august 23rd.  Steam is currently asking $9.99 through the Steam store which is $5 less than anywhere else that has the 7 year old title.  The system requirements aren't taxing, requiring only a DX9 capable system based on a P3 with 256MB of Ram and 32MB video card.  If you're into Star Wars RPG this is already old news to you.  Of course on Steam the release date is stated as 8-23-2012.  Valve, please find some consistency in your stated release dates!  Is it when it's on Steam or when it was released by the publisher!

 Anyway, Might be fun to try in a Win 8 VM!

If you've been waiting for an answer to Nvidia's 690 Dual GPU from AMD your wait may soon be over.  Powercolor has unveiled the Devil 13 HD 7990 Video card with 2 7970 GPU's clocked at 925Mhz, 6GB of VRAM on a 384 bit memory bus x2 (3GB per channel) clocked at 1375MHz.  It's HDMI and Displayport connectors can support up to 4096x2160 resolutions.  
Oh and make sure you have at least an 850W power supply with 3 8pin PCI-E power leads.  IT's a triple wide card as well so forget about putting it in a SFF case.  No official price or availability yet but expect the price point to be around $1000.00 U.S.  The important thing to note is that AMD has authorized the use of the 7990 moniker but has not produced a reference design for the board.  It appears AMD is leaving it up to their board vendors to come up with their own ideas.

Onlive looks to be OffDead...

As I reported last week Online cloud gaming service OnLive was in dire straits.  Apparently more dire than OnLive's director of corporate communications, Brian Jaquet let on.  The company was indeed bankrupt with its assets sold to Lauder Partners LLC.  

Insolvency Services Group handled the transfer of the company and CEO Joel Weinberg reports they were 30 to 40 million in debt.  The remains of the company has proceeded to lay off 100 employees, which equates to half its workforce and has left investors HTC and British Telecom out in the cold. Investors can only expect 5 to 10 cents on the dollar for their interest in the company.   The service will continue for the time being but I wouldn't be renewing my subscription any time soon.

In Microsoft news The company has a new logo said to be the first change in 25 years...It's got colored boxes and boring text...Who Cares...

In other news Microsoft, they're offering an OEM upgrade for $15 to those who've purchased a new PC since June 2nd.  There's till the $40 upgrade for everyone else. 

Must be a slow news week since these stories have been rehashed by everybody...

In our WTF segment, Microsoft will be carrying Election 2012 events including all three presidential debates and both party conventions via its Xbox Live platform.  Yes friends and neighbors,  just like 2008 you'll soon be able to enjoy breaking political news between Halo sessions.  I wonder if they'll make avatars for Obama and Romney...

In other Windows 8 News, People are still bitching about how awful it will be for games.  In an article on Kotaku by Kate Kox entitled, "Windows 8 is not good for games.

Kate expressed her dissatisfaction with the new OS.
The primary complaint was Metro and the Xbox Live experience which wouldn't allow interaction between a player on an Xbox and on a PC.  Because that works so well in Windows 7 don't you know. 

Also bemoaned was the switch to desktop in Valve's Steam and when loading non-metro based games. 

Further evidence of the "catastrophe" of the Windows 8 tile interface was shown as a long screen capture at 5200x900.  Of course it included every conceivable screen option in Solitaire turned on.  So we got to see all the help tiles, friends, leaderboards, etc. 

I'm not going to spend much more time on this.  I'm by no means a fan of the new Windows 8 UI but this crap has got to stop.  The whole idea is that most pc's in the next few years will likely at least "offer" a touch screen option to compete with tablets.   People like to touch their screens, get used to it.  It's why people pay upwards of $500 for an IPAD.  That's why the interface favors it and is likely to be in all of our futures. 

The Desktop is still there, still functional and automatically pops up when you load a non-metro app.  Much of the bad blood between developers and Microsoft has to do with the Microsoft Store's 30% sales premium on the channel, it's as simple as that. 

To hold up examples that amount to nothing more than unfamiliarity with a new interface is setting up a straw man.  A legitimate gripe is more along the lines of Steam crashing or a lockup in Battlefield 3 that only happens in Windows 8. I can make that happen in Windows 7 or XP so even that's not definitive proof of anything.   

Windows 8 is coming like it or not and all this noise is much ado about nothing.  If it's a success then everyone will have to learn how to take advantage of it.  If it's a failure then Windows 7 will have 10 years of support like XP got when Vista bombed. 

Now shut up!

So closes another animated but still snarky midagedgamer report.  Sorry if it offends but when the hype fails the reality as in the case of OnLIve or Diablo 3, it's just too easy...

The Midagedgamer Report, No BS since 19.....lines ago...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Team Fortress 2 Co-op

Team Fortress 2:  Mann Vs. Machine Co-op is out
but it may not be all you expect it to be.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Midaged Gamer Report 8-17-2012

This is the midagedgamerreport for August 17, 2012...

This week...

The 660Ti is out, a new boost for AMD's 7950 could be a bust for current owners. Is OnLive dead?  and co-op on the rise!

The cat's out of the proverbial bag and Nvidia's 660Ti has launched.  Depending on who's review you read it's either a 7950 killer or a midrange also-ran assuming you stay at resolutions below 2560x1600  that is.   Sharing the important bits with its big brother the GTX 670 the 660Ti specs show just how close the family resemblance is.

As you can see from the chart, the big differences are the number of ROP's down to 24 from 32 on the 670 as well as the 192bit instead of 256 Bit memory bus which drops the memory bandwidth from the 670's 192.2 GB/sec to 144.2 GB/sec.

GeForce GTX 670
GeForce GTX 660 Ti
Texture Units
Full Color ROPs
Graphics Clock (Base)
915 MHz
915 MHz
Texture Fillrate
102.5 Gtex/s
102.5 Gtex/s
Memory Clock
1502 MHz
1502 MHz
Memory Bus
Memory Bandwidth
192.2 GB/s
144.2 GB/s
Graphics RAM
Die Size
294 mm2
294 mm2
Transistors (Billion)
Process Technology
28 nm
28 nm
Power Connectors
2 x 6-pin
2 x 6-pin
Maximum Power
170 W
150 W
According to one review the 660Ti  can best a high end ATI 7950 at HD resolutions and below even with a bit of boost ( more about that in a minute) but loses at higher resolutions.  Considering this card is meant to go against a 7870 and trounces it completely when it does it's unlikely that was ever the real target.  At $299 with the same feature set as it's bigger brothers, speculation is another round of price cuts from AMD is likely. 

Speaking of ATI and the 7950, apparently a lot of 7950 owners and a few reviewers are upset about a recent firmware release that unlocks higher clocks for the HD 7950.  AMD released the update to reviewers who then had the choice to offer it to their readers. 

The update is not being offered directly through AMD,  however.   Board vendors have also vowed to void the warranty of existing 7950's that apply the firmware.  AMD is not changing the SKU for the 7950 but does plan to provide the firmware update to new 7950's. 

Some reviewers and end users feel slighted by having bought a more  expensive and less capable card due to the restrictions on applying the new update.  Most manufacturers have been showing new box art with some derivation of "Boost" in the name. 

That should address any perceived confusion between the new versus old firmware cards.  Still, there's nothing to suggest any difference in the hardware between this next batch of 7950's aside from  possible binning to ensure compatibility.  Arguments aside, ATI would have been better off just introducing a new SKU to avoid all the whining.

Half Life 3 rumors?  Probably not...

At Gamescon this week the Half Life 3 rumor mill got revved up again when the game showed up on the event's website in a PDF file.  Valve did have private meetings but denied any software announcements.  Here's a tip folks, find better sources for your rumors.  That includes you gamescon.

The latest installment in the gaming portal wars...

Origin is expanding to other platforms including Mac.  Another Gamescon announcement has Sim City 3 coming out around the same time EA plans the launch on the MAC platform.  Looks like another example of imitation being not so flattering as Valve's Steam has supported MAC's for over 2 years.  Other platforms planned are android, facebook and smart tvs.  No word on Linux yet, Guess Gabe beat 'em to the punch...

Crysis 3 dev team "promise to melt down PC's"

So said Crytek CEO Cevat Verli

This time around Crytek plans to concentrate on pushing the limits of PC hardware again.  The excuse for the last go-around was compromises made for consoles.  Acknowledging that consoles are generations behind PC's in terms of graphics capability they say they won't compromise this time but will push the limits of consoles. 

I still question whether Crytek was actually pushing the envelope the first time around.  Was it really that advanced  or just less than optimal coding?  How can you develop for next gen hardware when it doesn't exist?  How can you judge how it will react?  My guess is that we won't see Crysis 3 until the next generation of consoles appear with hardware much closer to a PC.

 I n driver news...

A New AMD Catalyst 12.8 driver has been released.  Aside from performance improvements the biggest news is certification for Win 8.   There's also Support for Ubuntu Linux 12.04 in this iteration of the AMD video drivers.


Performance highlights of AMD Catalyst 12.8 (versus AMD Catalyst 12.6)
  • Up to 25% in Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
  • Up to 3% in Battlefield 3
  • Up to 6% in Batman: Arkham City
  • Up to 3% in Dues Ex: Human Revolution
  • Up to 6% in Crysis 2 Up to 15% in Total War: Shogun
  • Up to 8% in Crysis Warhead
  • Up to 5% in Just Cause 2
  • Up to 10% in Dirt 3

I'd like to say I was surprised but I'm not...

Cloud gaming service OnLive has reportedly laid everyone off and is filing for bankruptcy... or have they? In a story first released on Kotaku then picked up by Joystiq and CVG there was apparently a meeting this morning where OnLive CEO  Steve Perlman apparently called a meeting with the company staff and told them,
 "no one would be employed by the current OnLive going forward."  That was followed up by a denial from OnLive's director of corporate communications, Brian Jaquet saying, ""We don't respond to rumors, but of course not." Which seemed to be supported by an announcement about their built in app arriving in customer homes via Vizio's Co-Star players.  This is either a case of rumor run amok or the first indications of the company's imminent failure.  Pick one guys...


With the growing anticipation toward Borderlands 2 and the recent release of Orcs Must Die 2 it seems there's a resurgence of the cooperative video game.  Not so long ago developers thought adding an online lobby to their multiplayer games constituted co-op.  The few remaining titles either had bad AI or were so neglected that a minor update to the operating system could break them. 

When Battlefield 3 was released last October with co-op mode it sent a signal.  No Battlefield game since 1942 had that option.  The competition did, however.  Most major releases of Call of Duty had a cooperative play mode that still remains among the best in the genre even if the story wasn't  always stellar. 
Now comes the latest shock.  As of August 15th, Team Fortress 2 has a new cooperative play mode called Man Vs. Machine.  The object of which is to defeat legions of robots resembling the normal TF2 players.  Team fortress 2 has been exclusively online multiplayer sine its inception and the fact that a cooperative play mode has been added is significant. 

Seems  co-op may be making a comeback

Monday, August 13, 2012

Orcs Must Die 2, Review and Co-op demonstration

Hey folks,

This is a short review of Orcs Must Die 2 and a demonstration of the new cooperative gameplay mode.  We'll go through some of the setup involved with getting a cooperative game going and then highlight some of the more important aspects of the game.

Without further ado, let's begin...

For those who haven't played its predecessor, Orcs Must Die 2 continues the theme of a kind of First Person Shooter meets tower defense game.  Your job is to keep waves of rampaging orcs of all shapes, sizes and threat level from getting past you.

This incarnation's most important change from the original is the addition of a cooperative play mode.   Arguably the most compelling reason to buy the game, cooperative play is at the heart of Orcs Must Die 2.

That said, let's see about setting up a co-op game...

Setting up a co-op game isn't much different from setting up a single player game.  In fact the only difference is the need to send a game invite to your partner.

By the way, you can set your controls from the main menu but I've found the defaults work nicely.  Standard WASD and space bar will be familiar to any FPS or RPG gamer.  One of the best things about this game is the simplicity of the user interface.  Nothing is difficult to find so no BF3 or Skyrim flashbacks here.

We start a co-op game by creating a party.  From the Campaign screen click the Create Party button on the campaign menu to start the game invite process.  It's pretty much a standard Steam invite so I won't go into detail.  Know it can take some time as the Steam join process is a little kludgy in this game.

Once your friend has joined, pick the game difficulty level  from the button on the top of the campaign screen then choose a map from the list of available options in the middle of the campaign screen...

As you play the game more maps open up...

When you're ready click the Play button!

There's a nice reference screen that shows up the first time that you play that shows the basic screen layout. 

We also get the back-story cutscene the first time through.

As in the first game your first task is to set up your spell book.  Here you choose the spells and weapons you'll use in the current game.  Available traps, spells and weapons can be changed, sold or upgraded  from the spell book option on the main menu.

As in the first game, Skulls are the unit of currency.  The more skulls you have the more goodies you can buy.  You get skulls by dispatching your enemies.

Once you've chosen your loadout, deploy your traps. 

The first wave won't start till you initiate it.  After that each succeeding wave will have a countdown time until the last wave which again forces you to manually start it.

Powerups show up as you dispatch your Orc adversaries.  Health, Mana as well as other bonuses appear frequently.    You can deploy traps in the middle of a wave if you have enough points...and time.

Co-op gameplay is excellent in Orcs Must Die 2.  In fact most of the levels are designed for it and difficult if not impossible to master without a partner's help.

In addition to weapons and traps you can equip special spells that can be used to bolster you and your partner's attributes like armor, mana or health.  Once used, they need time to recharge so use them wisely.

All in all a worthy successor to the original game with the wonderful addition of co-op gameplay.   That's the good, now the bad...

I'll say this, ignore the leaderboards.  The game has already been shown to be vulnerable to memory hacks like Cheat engine.  Which explains the Billion point scoring you see in the video above.

Still, who cares about leaderboards??

Orcs Must Die 2's addition of co-op gameplay makes it almost infinitely replayable.  It's also likely that there will be new DLC content in the future as was done with the original game.

Aside from the kludgy game invites (which is likely more a Steam problem than a problem with the game) and the occasional bad camera angle when you get too close to a wall I can't fault the game.  I plan on spending many hours with it. 

It's earned a place in the weekly game night rotation as well which says a lot.  Game night time is precious and Orc's must Die 2 is worth spending some time on.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Changes to Battlefield 3 loadouts

This is a short video on changes to the Battlefield 3 loadout setup procedure.
Previously you could only change your loadout within an active game which usually
resulted in getting kicked it you had a lot of new unlocks.

This is a welcome change but it's easy to miss if you're not paying attention.


Friday, August 10, 2012

The Midagedgamer Report 8-10-2012

The Midagedgamer Report for 8-10-2012

A new Origin Client that doesn't say Beta, Id boss apologizes for Rage, a new "are you stupid?" segment and more!

So Wednesday evening EA finally pushed its latest Origin Client (ver. 9.0.2) out as an update.  Aside from some refinements to the look of the games library and minor reconfiguration of the UI it's pretty much the same.

At least EA isn't hiding behind the "Beta" tag anymore

EA also took down the Battlefield 3 Battlelog site Early Tuesday morning replacing it with the "Update in Progress, Check back later soldier" placeholder.  Early Thursday morning the Battlelog page showed a notice that the service would be offline for one hour starting at 8AM UTC.  Since the Armored Kill DLC is due out in a month with 2 week early access for Premium members it's the likely culprit.   A month prior to Close Quarters' release saw similar outages. 

Ea's chosen to pacify the salivating scores of devotees by releasing more screenshots and gameplay footage of the upcoming Armored Kill DLC. 

Interesting to note that some of the new DLC footage is reminiscent of Bad Company 2 Multiplayer maps.  Wouldn't be the first time EA reused content.  Think Need For Speed Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted.  In related news it seems Motorcycles are in, Dino's are out for the final BF3 DLC pack called Endgame.  Reportedly seen at E3 this year along with new maps come a new two wheeled option to dispatch your enemies.

Crytek is reported expanding its operations into Shanghai, China saying; " "The formation of Crytek Shanghai builds on the base we first established in Asia with Crytek Seoul, and offers invaluable strategic opportunities as we continue to expand our reach into the world's largest market."
The new Crytek Shanghai Software will be responsible for support and development of Crytek's products in Asis as well as supporting their Free to Play "Warface" FPS. 
With a focus on what Crytek calls the world largest market, expect upcoming releases from the German company to have the same disappointing gameplay and visuals on release as Crysis 2.  Leveraging a market is fine but with it comes the danger of focusing on quantity over quality.  Crysis was groundbreaking, Crysis 2 was just broken.  Let's hope Crytek has learned their lesson.

And now, our "Are you stupid??" segment.

Seems young Tyler Rigby, a 15 year old boy from Columbus, Ohio has taken up residence in the hospital after playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 for 4 days straight.  His aunt, Jennifer Thompson, said, ""We were talking and I heard a thump and I looked over and he just fell."
Tyler's Xbox has been confiscated.  Apart from the obvious video game addiction, how could a parent not notice their child playing a game in a nonstop marathon session for 4 days?  Electronic babysitter indeed.

In a completely unrelated but equally ridiculous story  Wednesday found a guy winning 50K in a texting competition with the news touting his "mad skills."  Strange how loosely we throw around the word "skill" these days.  I bet Tyler has "mad skills" too.

Diablo 3 Character Profiles went live Tuesday which is little more than a stats page that can be shared with other D3 players. This goes along with the July 19th announcement of max-level content for Diablo 3 to keep high level players paying.  Oh, I mean playing....sure I do
Now if they could just fix that always online thing...

Counter Strike: Global Offensive PC pre-orders have opened up.  It's said to be the first CS title to be released simultaneously on PC and consoles.  Price is set at $15.  At least the price is reasonable.  Of course CounterStrike is an acquired taste focused more on gameplay than visuals which in GO's case are roughly equivalent to a five year old  COD title.

In our "Let's give Valve and Blizzard more ammunition" segment it seems a leak of the Win 8 RTM has removed the ability to boot straight to the desktop available in the earlier builds.  In other words Microsoft is telling the world, It's tiles or nothing, get used to it.  We'll see how the world responds.

In other news..

Steam is expanding its offerings beyond games.  Likely a move to counter Microsoft's store, the online game portal will supposedly add productivity and creative software to its lineup .  Valve's Mark Richardson says this about the expansion, " The 40 million gamers frequenting Steam are interested in more than playing games"

Sure they are Mark, sure they are. 

At last weekend's quakecon Id software co-founder John Carmack took one for the team and apologized for the recently released RAGE debacle.  Among the admissions were issues with a lackluster game world and problems with driver support likely responsible for reported tearing and rendering flaws throughout the game on the PC.  Carmack said driver support was, "really, really poorly handled."

He went on to say ID's learned from their mistakes with Rage.  No word on when to expect those apologetic $60 refund checks though. Currently the game is selling new for around $15 on with some vendors offering it for as little as $9.  If you're really sorry, give the money back John and save your crocodile tears.   Of course with Bethesda as Id's taskmaster now, they're probably ok with turning out C list titles for A list prices.

Finally I'll close with a suggestion to the EA, ID and Activision's of the world.

With so-called AAA game titles now demanding $60 it's inexcusable to have such debilitating flaws. Diablo 3's launch day issues, player hacks and Rages poor showing on the PC never needed to happen.
 Closed betas are obviously not enough to ferret out these issues and there's a growing backlash against premium prices for flawed products.  That's as it should be.

Perhaps developers should take a look back at the old shareware model.  For those of you unfamiliar shareware was a try before you buy affair that was responsible for putting I'd software (Doom, Quake,RageAn) on the map.  With it you got a functional piece of software that either disabled premium features or stopped working after a period of time. 

For games it was a playable demo that allowed access to the rest of the game after purchasing a key to unlock it.

A game trailer or leaked press release is no longer sufficient to make a buy decision.  It also does little to ferret out potential issues for the publisher.  After somebody has paid full price is not the time to make sure everything's right. 

Even Microsoft releases demos of their operating systems before they ask for any money these days.
So bring back the shareware demo, it's a much more realistic measure of your market and allows adequate resource planning should you want to emulate Blizzard's draconian "always connected" model.
Really makes you wonder about the MBA's who run these companies doesn't it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Video Games & The Skill Question

So as I was driving on a rainy monsoon Saturday I got to thinking about all those proud FPS'ers out there proclaiming their "l33t skills."

Webster's defines skill as this...

skill noun
1:a the ability to use one's knowledge effectively and readily in
execution or performance b: dexterity or coordination especially
 in the execution of learned physical tasks

2: a learned power of doing something competently : a developed aptitude or ability <language skills>

So I find it amusing when I hear gamers attributing their accomplishments to it. 

I can understand the confusion.  After all, as gamers we spend  countless hours honing our" abilities" so we can trounce our opposition.   Notice I didn't go so far as to say the word "skills."

Skill and ability are two different things.  Abilities can be natural or learned but they're less tangible than a skill.  Think of it this way.  I may be "able" to do something but not have the "skill" to do it with any competency.

Playing a game does not constitute doing anything outside of recreation.  Nowhere do you see the word "recreation" used as a synonym to the word "skill." 

Don't get me wrong, recreation is important but nobody gets paid for it. 

Even professional athletes have to possess real "skills."  Those skills may be tied to doing for profit what most of us do for fun but demand far more effort than your weekend warrior pursuits.  Far more too...than any video game.

Skills usually have to have some value to the real world.  They come only after some degree of training and commitment.  For example; when you hear someone talk about "unskilled labor" they're talking about jobs that require no special training or experience to complete.

You won't even get an "unskilled" job if all you've got is your video game accomplishments.

In the world of gaming we do invest a lot of time learning the ins and outs of the games we play but rather than skill most of our success is dependent on our familiarity with how the game works. That can extend to taking advantage of flaws in the game (glitches) and earning achievements based only on how many "noobs" were available for abuse on the server at the time.

"Well," you might say, "that's skill right there!  I learned how to play the game well and now I have the "skill" to do it."  Except your context is wrong. 

Take the following sentence... 

I am skilled at playing Battlefield 3.

which is exactly the same as saying...

I am skilled at watching television.

Looks kind of ridiculous doesn't it, and it is.  When someone possesses a skill it means they have the ability to use their knowledge and training to accomplish a task, usually for a fee. It can also be used in other contexts. 

You'd expect a skilled athlete to dominate the casual amateur but that's not much evidence of his/her skill now is it.  It would be a hollow victory and guess's the same for video games.   

Just as a skilled welder can apply his/her skills to anything from the family car to a warship that skill has value beyond a single context.  In the gaming world being good in one game doesn't mean you'll be good in another even if it's in the same genre.  There are plenty of Call of Duty players that stink at anything Battlefield and vice versa.

Most learning involves some level of repetition which is how most of us learned our ABC's.  Knowing our ABC's is a result of repetition, not skill. 

So it is with gaming. 

We can get bored with a game that we know all the ins and outs of.  It's impossible to be bored with a skill.  Once we have it we have it forever.  We can choose to improve it or let in languish but we still retain it nonetheless.

The context of a video game is a tightly controlled sandbox with little variation regardless of the players involved (unless they cheat)  If skill were truly involved a high ranking player would never be beaten by one of less rank.  Yet it happens all the time.  What you accomplish in a video game has no more value than how many more beers you can drink than your friends before blowing chunks.

Being an accomplished marksman in Battlefield 3 is not the same as being one on the shooting range.  It takes far more effort and training to acquire the real versus the perceived competency.

The bottom line is this:  Video Games are a recreation and nothing more.  Pro-Gaming is an oxymoron primarily because,  like reality TV, it only exists to make money by entertaining an audience under the pretense of making the trivial seem more important than it is.

I realize it's a gray area but it's important to know the difference between real versus imagined skills. 

I'd hate for any dedicated gamer to find out the hard way that being a "skilled" game player was not the same thing as being a skilled game developer.

I'm sorry if this offends anybody's ego (AKA Butt Hurt) but the sooner you realize it the more fun you're going to have and the more you'll get accomplished in life.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Midaged Gamer Report 8-3-2012

This week we have more dire predictions for Windows 8, criticism of the critics, Rumors about the next Xbox's guts and more!

So let's get on with it...

It seems my foot in mouth segment may have to become a regular feature.
Rob Pardo executive VP of Blizzard entertainment apparently is jumping on the Newell bandwagon of calling Windows 8 a bad deal for gamers.  He tweeted on July 25th..

nice interview with Gabe Newell - "I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space* - not awesome for Blizzard either

Since Blizzard hasn't been that "awesome" to gamers recently it's a case of the pot taunting kettle.  The concern is over the new Windows store and the 30% royalty on purchases made through it.  Considering the desktop is still in place in Windows 8 and both Origin and Steam work on it; Game portals like Origin and Steam don't  have to use the store to sell their wares.

Further, If Microsoft tried to close Windows 8 to only allow purchases through the store it's likely another anti-trust suit would soon ensue.  Such a move would be an even more clear case of monopoly than the IE antics of the 90's. 

Speaking of Blizzard, I've been thinking about Diablo 3 and specifically reviews of the game. 
According to Metacritic the critic reviews total up to 88 out of 100 points.  The user reviews, however, only total up to 3.8 out of 10 which is an unfavorable rating according to their own scale. 

As I look over the comments I have to wonder how there can be such a discrepancy between the opinion of somebody paid to evaluate games and someone who paid for the game itself.  Of the few points of agreement between the two camps the most important appears to be the look of the game.  In fact among the user reviews the look seems to be the only thing actual paying customers and paid critics agree on.  So I have a suggestion for Blizzard.  They should stop developing anything but their cash cow, World of Warcraft and farm out their art department to other game developers.  After all, there's always a market for good cutscenes and I'm a strong believer in sticking with what you're good at.  Apparently Blizzard's forgotten how to make a game that doesn't annoy its customers or have a subscription.

I'd also like to challenge the 85 (notice how those numbers look like the letters BS) critics who gave Diablo 3 a favorable rating to expose their criteria.  If it's anything but a real user's experience but instead based on betas their opinion is worthless.  As more user than critic I can care less about the story if the game itself is poorly designed.  If I want a good story I'll read a book.  A good game doesn't hide its flaws behind its narrative.  Of course with an attitude like that I suppose that's why I do this for free and the "journalists" get paid for it.

People buy games for the experience.  If it's a bad experience because of say, a mandatory connection to the Internet or boring gameplay  those factors need to carry equal weight to the pretty cutscenes.  That goes double in this day an age of $60 pre-orders.

In other news....

Intel doesn't plan on an enthusiast Ivy Bridge processor till the third quarter of 2013 instead offering one more iteration of Sandy Bridge E called the 3970X running at 3.5 Ghz ( 15mb of cache, 6 cores and quad channel memory controller) in the fourth quarter of this year.  Meaning those hoping for similar firepower from Ivy-Bridge are out of luck till next  year.  However, the upcoming Ivy Bridge Enthusiast part will work on X79 platforms with the socket 2011 configuration which means the possibility of an upgrade on an SB-E platform with just a BIOS refresh.

If nothing else this proves the move to put most northbridge functionality onto the CPU is finally paying dividends to the upgrade community.  For a few years now it seemed that every new Intel enthusiast platform demanded a motherboard upgrade to match.  Think about it, when was the last time you could actually swap in a new CPU on the same motherboard and see and actual improvement?  AMD doesn't count in this discussion by the way but Intel may be taking a page from their playbook.

For those that may bemoan the lack of an Ivy Bridge enthusiast part right now, consider that Ivy Bridge itself is a mainstream platform and was meant to be from the start.  With less on-board cache, dual-channel memory controller and emphasis on more efficient power consumption and on-board video it was as close to system on a chip that Intel could offer to the PC market.  So it's no wonder that they are wringing a bit more life out of Sandy Bridge E when the platform offers everything to an Enthusiast that Ivy bridge doesn't.  Let's not forget that Intel began this trip with X58 which was an enthusiast chipset from day one.  The P55 was the mainstream platform that came after that could never match it.

I see it more as a switch in marketing strategy.  Instead of trying to amp up a mainstream part with phony clock and cache bumps (I'm thinking P4 Extreme here) They lead with the big guns and use the mainstream parts as a bridge to the next architecture.  Just as Sandy Bridge E led the way to Ivy Bridge, it's likely Ivy Bridge E will lead to the next mainstream platform.   A quick glance at the chipset numbering reveals it.  For example, SB-E is on the X79chipset , Ivy Bridge is on the Z77 and Sandy Bridge Mainstream was P67.   In the End Ivy-Bridge E will likely be less of a boosted Ivy Bridge than it will be a gateway to Intel's next platform even with socket compatibility with X79.   

Perhaps the bigger upgrade news this week is the supposed leak of a next Gen Xbox developer kit  supposedly sporting Intel CPU and Nvidia Graphics platforms.  If true this could mean MS is ditching the PowerPC and AMD platform in favor of something more closely aligned to the PC platform.  It's already known that the XBOX UI has been moving closer to the Metro interface of the upcoming Windows 8 release.  Some even theorize that the move is meant to further consolidate PC and Xbox gaming into the Microsoft channel thus closing the environment to outside vendors.  That's quite a lot of speculation for just a change of hardware platform.   The current asking price is 10 grand if you're interested by the way.

Speaking of Nvidia...

Rumors about the upcoming Gtx660Ti have been confirmed...

"The GTX 660Ti will feature 1344 CUDA cores and 2GB of GDDR5 memory on a 192-bit memory bus. This puts the GTX 660 Ti very close to the current 670 in terms of potential performance. According to the leaked benchmarks, that seems to be the case. The GTX 660 Ti is only a couple of frames behind the GTX 670 in Just Cause 2 and Dirt 3, for example. Considering this card is likely to use a bit less power and cost less, it is shaping up to be a rather desirable card. If this ends up being on the low end of the $300-400 range "
If the card comes in at a midrange price it could be the first salvo against AMD's Pitcairn 78xx cards in the 2 to 4 hundred dollar range.  Performance just a few ticks behind a GTX670 is nothing to sneeze at.

And flying in the face of those who say the PC is dead as a gaming platform comes news that game publisher EA known for titles like Battlefield  and Mass Effect made more from PC based sales than PS3.  Of course Xbox 360 leads the pack at 292 million in Q1 2012 but coming a close second at 276 million is the PC followed by PS3 at 267 million.  It's no surprise given the pay to play model coupled with DLC packs that drives the gaming industry now.  As consoles continue to stay a step behind the PC from a hardware standpoint and games like Battlefield 3 pushing the limits of consoles, it's no surprise that PC's are enjoying something of a revival.  Most of the sales numbers quoted were not boxed but rather online and subscription which validates the pay to play theory. 

It seems that 60 is the new 50.  No I'm not talking about sexagenarians running around in their speedos.

I'm talking about the price of games.  Initially I was confused as to the sudden price increase on mainstream PC titles as not so long ago a premium title didn't go higher than $50 with most being around $40.  Then it occurred to me that the equivalent title on a console was around the $60 mark.  Since the trend is to develop for at least compatibility with PS3 or Xbox it suddenly became clear.   It's another case of charging more for less.   It a twisted sense of the concept of fairness it seems reasonable to charge the same price for the same work.

 Most popular titles on PC these days suffer the effects of being concurrently developed for console.  It shows up with strange controls, bad camera angles, limited replay and elimination of features that only work on PC's.  Heavy reliance on Internet connectivity allows publishers to tightly control their content and supplement the limitations of consoles.  With the next generation of console hardware moving even closer to the PC, development becomes even easier especially if you create your own Apple-esque sandbox (Think Microsoft Store and Steam). 

So in the end we're getting less but paying more.   Nothing is forever though and the trend isn't sustainable.  The same arrogance that drove PC gamers back to consoles could drive customers to cheaper alternatives and other platforms.  As it stands now indie developers already have a foothold in the portable market with the big names conspicuously underrepresented. 

In late breaking news it's reported that Codemasters developer of the Dirt and F1 series is working on Grid 2 rumored to be coming shortly after the release of F1 2012 which is due in September.  Just in time for Christmas and for fans of the original nothing would be a better present under the tree.

Finally Orcs Must Die 2 was released on July 30th and it's shaping up to be just as much fun as its predecessor.  Look for a video review from me in the near future.