Friday, December 20, 2013

By the pound

Take a look at that screen capture above from my Steam client downloads tab.

Steam is in the middle of their Holiday sale and I decided to take advantage of a deal from BioWare on a 3 game bundlefor their signature franchise, Bioshock.  For $15 I got the original Bioshock game, Bioshock 2 and the latest Bioshock Infinite. 

$15 is a quite a deal considering Bioshock Infinite alone was going to leave you $60 poorer.  Of course that feeds into my assertion that any game that can offer as much as an 80% markdown less than a year after release wasn't worth the original price. 

Some would say that's why Call of Duty titles never seem to drop in price, I think it's just Activision's greed.

Perhaps game publishers are selling by the pound these days.  Case in point, my little screen capture.

Back in 2007 when Bioshock was originally released you were going to pay around $40 and for that you ended up with a DVD or a few CD's totaling up to just under 4GB of install files.  3 years later when BioShock 2 came out that number almost doubled to over 7.5 GB.  While the sequel was panned for being a pale copy of the original the extra space was likely taken up by the new multiplayer component of the game.  

It did cost more but I believe it had nothing to do with the quality of the game or development costs...

Fast forward to 2013 and the much hyped and much overpriced BioShock Infinite.  Critically acclaimed but almost instantly discounted from its $60 price.  For that money we ended up with 15 GB of installation files.
So if the average game in 2007 was $30 to $40 and by 2013 it's up to $60 then the only conclusion I can make is that games are now being sold by the pound. 

As we all know bits are very heavy.  So it stands to reason that if a game has more of them you'll have to pay more.

This is also how Steam can have such great sales.  They bundle more games (bits) together and thus can discount the price.  You know, just like those family size bags of Doritos are actually cheaper per chip than the smaller bags...

See, now I completely understand what publishers are thinking when they charge $60 for a crappy game!  They're selling them by the pound!

............No, I don't actually believe that.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

BF4's broken and EA's shareholders want blood

If this isn't poetic justice I don't know what is...

It seems EA has finally ticked off someone other than their customers.  In a filing Tuesday (Dec 17, 2013) A class action suit was brought against EA by shareholders of the company who purchased its stock between July 24th and December 4th of this year.

The suit is being brought because....

"The complaint charges Electronic Arts and certain of its officers and directors with violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. ...

...The complaint alleges that during the Class Period, defendants issued materially false and misleading statements highlighting the purported strength of the Company’s rollout of version 4 of its all-important Battlefield video game series..."

In other words the plaintiffs believe that EA knew they had huge problems with Battlefield 4 but covered it up to boost their stock price.  Worse, when EA had to redirect all its resources to fixing their flagship game it caused other releases to be delayed which hurt sales.  The plaintiffs contend that all of this ultimately caused as  much as a 28% devaluation of their stock. 

It's unlikely the suit will get far unless there's concrete proof of a deception and not just inept management.  We're talking about shares of stock here after all  which are volatile instruments to begin with.

This also does nothing for the millions of EA customers who've suffered through the past 2 months with an overpriced and flawed purchase. 

I can't say I'm surprised that someone wanted to sue EA over BF4, what I am surprised by is that it was their shareholders and not their customers.
If I've said it once I've said it 1000 times.  Never buy anything based on hype.  That includes games, movies and especially securities. 

If you're a shareholder you need to visit the following site by February 15th, 2014 to join the class action.

Good luck!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Call of Duty:Ghosts and Battlefield 4 (no versus here)

Ok, so I'm not exactly the early bird getting to the worm but I still have some insight into Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty:Ghosts.  Instead of the over hyped (with questionable motives) articles that glorify or pan either title I'm going to do as I've always done.

Tell you what I've seen....

It's easy to take sides but since I never do anything the easy way I won't, even if the result seems like I do.

Let's get this out of the way right up front...

Battlefield 4 was made from the ground up for Multiplayer and offers players more options than Call of Duty.  Ghosts just isn't as accommodating.  I could care less if you think one is better than the other gameplay wise that's a subjective thing almost bordering on an apples to oranges comparison.

Both games look good but Battlefield 4 looks a bit better thanks to the new Frostbite 3 game engine whereas Ghosts is reusing the IW (Havoc) engine which is yet another upgrade on top of the old IW engine.   What's interesting is that while Battlefield 4 will still run on a DirectX 10 based PC, Call of Duty: Ghosts will not.  I guess I should have checked the requirements more closely before I installed it on my 3 year old gaming laptop. 

By the way, whatever happened to system compatibility checks BEFORE you installed a game.  I had the entire Ghosts Single and Multiplayer package installed before I got the dreaded "Direct X crashed" error when I tried to launch the game. 

I'm a gamer dammit!   I don't want to read!  They don't even give you instruction manuals anymore so the least you can do is throw in a few idiot checks!

I won't go into the intricacies of every player type as they are largely unchanged with Assault, recon, medic and support roles in both games.  If you liked a particular class in the previous incarnations of these games you'll find yourself a home in the new ones.  Besides, who cares about loadouts except game devs anyway?

We're FPS gamers, all we care about is point, shoot, boom!

How you feel about either game is entirely dependent on the specifics of what makes it good for you.  If we're talking about multiplayer experiences then it comes down to a choice between run and gun or run, gun and strategize.

Multiplayer - Call of Duty

Are you the type of gamer that's basically looking for an upgraded Team Fortress 2 experience with better graphics?  Chances are,  Call of Duty: Ghosts is your game.  There's about a dozen play options ranging from team death match to domination (objectives) but you're not going to be standing around defending flags for very long.  Those who do tend to become fodder for higher level players padding their stats. 

An annoying trend beginning with COD: Modern Warfare 3 was the automatic player matching for online multiplayer games.  You don't pick servers or your teammates you just pick the level of difficulty and game type.  That's a time saver for those weary of trudging through pages of server pings and player counts but more often than not you'll find yourself outmatched by other players.  Considering how most maps are designed for less than 24 players there is no refuge in numbers.  Just one level 50 player can dominate any game mode simply because his opposition often offers little in the way of a threat.  Automatic matching is a nice thought but it seems whatever algorithm Infinity Ward is using to match players is more concerned with filling maps than providing a level playing field. 

There is an option to create a private match but unless you have a dozen good friends to play against, it's a largely unused option. 

A new wrinkle that's showed up is an expanded arsenal of player deployable items like land mines and sentry guns.  Their inclusion is an obvious nod to Battlefield players and assuming you can attain enough of a level to obtain them, they can help level the playing field a bit. 

Call of Duty is more of a run and gun affair and that's fine if you just want to stomp around and shoot stuff.

Team mechanics aren't as critical as your ability to survive on your own.  Individual accomplishments far outweigh any team bonus.  So if you're the lone wolf type who could care less about flags unless there's a bunch of enemies around them to mow down, you'll enjoy the experience.  The maps are detailed and conducive to fast moving gameplay.  Ladders, tunnels and rooftops are at your disposal with a few destructibles thrown in for good measure.  Just don't hang around too long as the game's "kill cam" returns revealing exactly where you were when you took out your nemesis.

I suppose if you're a masochist looking for even more ways to punish your ego the "Kill Cam" is a godsend but in reality it's just another element to keep the game moving along.  Which is a strange twist considering how much time you waste watching yourself die.  I guess that's so the guy who tagged you can change his location.  Unlike Single or Cooperative play modes, you'll rarely have a multiplayer game in COD last more than 20 minutes.  Battlefield games in comparison can drag on for hours.

Playing Call of Duty multiplayer, regardless of the noun that follows those words, is an extension of the single player experience.  If you play the single player mode you'll find corresponding locations in Multiplayer.  But don't be fooled.  While the environments are an extension of single player maps that knowledge will afford you no advantage in multiplayer.

You'll be treated to maps that answer burning questions like, "Hey, that big dam that got blown up when I was playing "Legends Never Die," what does it look like up there?"  Locations are just backdrops, however, and if you spend too much time thinking about it you'll find yourself looking at the respawn timer repeatedly. 

Finally, another annoyance with Ghosts again involves the player matching system.  Because you have no control over what server you join you also have no control over game lag.  I've literally been in a game with such bad lag that my only function was to provide a convenient and altogether oblivious target for another player before my game caught up to the server. 

Battlefield 4 - Multiplayer

There are 6 multiplayer modes in all for Battlefield 4 as opposed to Ghosts 11 (not including the "Hardcore" variants) The "objective" is in fact the core of gameplay and that makes Battlefield 4 a far different multiplayer experience.

If you'd prefer a game that offers play modes containing more than just variations on deathmatch then Battlefield 4 is likely a better fit for you.  It's still a run and gun affair but where most game modes in COD flow from deathmatch, Battlefield flows from the conquest mode.

In essence, conquest is nothing more than capture the flag and Battlefield 4 offers it as well as a multitude of variants including Domination and to some extent Rush and Defuse modes.  There are deathmatch options but they're still team based as opposed to Ghosts "Free for All" that requires you to shoot anything that moves. 

 Like its predecessor.  Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4 relies on a new version of the Battlefield game portal otherwise known as Battlelog.  Battlelog 2.0 is the latest incarnation and aside from the option to enter "testing" servers to try out new equipment and develop strategies it's largely unchanged. 

Your multiplayer experience starts on a webpage followed by selection of a Multiplayer tab where a list of servers and their statistics are shown including name, game mode, number of players active and ping (although I've yet to see a ping value in any server listings.)  Everything flows from the Battlelog including your stats, loadouts and game mode.

I've been a vocal critic of starting a triple-A title from a web page and Battlefield 4's insistence on Battlelog 2.0 only seems to make it worse.  In fact the latest patch has effectively blocked my gameplay of BF4 if my default browser happens to be Internet Explorer 11. 

While IE isn't blameless for this, the fact that I have to switch to another browser for the sake of a game is nothing short of pathetic.  At least Call of Duty still handles multiplayer duties from within the actual game.  Web pages are fine for free to play flash games, not triple-A titles.  And for what? the capability to get stats on your Nexus 5? 

Right now, the biggest problem with Battlefield 4 is that it's not done.  Rumors are that Dice was literally begging EA to hold off on the release date.  The plea fell on deaf ears and so far BF4's broken launch has almost elevated it to SimCity failure.  If it weren't for the throngs of ever suffering Battlefield fans the game would have become another Medal of Honor: Warfighter.  It's amazing how someone who has  invested in some cases over $100 for a subpar experience can become an ardent defender and company apologist.

That's devotion and while I don't agree with it, I understand it...if your 12....

Battlefield 4 has brought back an oldie but a goodie to its multiplayer experience.  Commander mode was last seen in Battlefield 2 and lets you take control of friendly forces to direct them toward objectives.  As far as I'm concerned, its return is welcome as the best and highest scoring games I ever had in BF3 only happened when players would follow the direction of another.  Just watching an objective taken by a huge contingent of your teammates is an epic experience.  You're still running and gunning but it's not just about you anymore.  That's a key distinction between Call of Duty and Battlefield multiplayer experiences.

That said, Battlefield multiplayer can get very "high school" with clans and "clicks" that operate to the exclusion of all others.  If there's bad game lag, for example, the first one blamed will be you if you don't happen to be part of the group.  It's also not uncommon, for example, to find server admins who act like arrogant little boys on the virtual playground.  Servers with unwritten "rules" also pop up with restrictions on weapons, objective control and other nonsense that confuse gameplay.   I've personally been kicked for a server for using a weapon that wasn't a knife or a pistol, for example.  I had no idea I was breaking "the rules" and I was allowed to choose "banned" weapons in my loadout. 

This arbitrary and often ad-hoc deviation from what most understand to be online multiplayer only server to diminish the experience.  I played Battlefield 3 for almost 300 hours, I've played Battlefield 4 for less than 20 and already ran into it.  You've been warned.  That's one thing that can be said for Call of Duty, the rules are the same for everyone no matter whose server you play on.  

Well, ok, aside from the cheats and hacks but that comes with the territory in online gaming so I won't belabor the point here.  Hey, if you've read any of my stuff you knew it was going to come up at some point!  :-)

Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 Single Player

I'm going to go ahead and combine both games under one topic for one reason.  In a word, they're both pretty much the same this time around. 

Single player in the Battlefield series hasn't been much competition to Call of Duty's since Bad Company 2 which was more of an offshoot of the series than a core title.  In Battlefield 4 you're basically trudging around dangerous locations with your buddies to take objectives.  That's pretty much the whole story and aside from some nifty visual effects there's not much more to say.  As in Battlefield 3 there's an attempt to draw the player into the narrative but you never really care about the characters.  It's more tutorial than tome.  None of your accomplishments transfer to Multiplayer save a few extra dog tag options for you to equip that only serve to prove your mania to your online friends. 

Single player in Call of Duty has always been the strongest aspect of the series with well fleshed out storylines that could be lifted from a Tom Clancy novel.  It's less about shooting stuff and more about advancing the story.  Unlike Battlefield 4 you won't find much in Ghosts to train you for multiplayer.  Even with a game engine that's been patched more than a porcupine's blow up doll, Ghosts offers a fast paced adventure that takes you from a quiet conversation with your father to the edge of space then rockets you into battle with a backdrop of a world turned upside down. 

Then there's the dog.  Everyone talks about the damned dog.  Guess what, it's just another weapon.  Yes you can control it a couple of times during single player but in the end  it's really not much more exciting than piloting a drone from a suitcase (a common event since Modern Warfare 2.) Your 4-legged friend even shows up in Multiplayer games as an available option in your loadout.  Here's a hint, shoot it if he's coming at you in multiplayer.  If you have any hang-ups about cruelty to animals just think of it as a robot with fur.  After all, it's just a game and you aren't killing anything but a few pixels and maybe a few brain cells should you knock back a few. 

I started this section with a bold statement.   That being that both games offered the same single player experience.  I say that because while the story in Ghosts is better than BF4, it all seems a bit contrived.   All COD single player campaigns follow basically the same formula.  That being: You're some guy inclined toward the military arts, the world is in danger and you're the only one who can save it.  Along the way you meet characters that may help or hinder you but ultimately you're going to save the day.

The problem is that I personally never really cared about the storyline in Ghosts.  I just wanted to see the next cool environment because that was all I really had to look forward to.  Not that the experience wasn't a roller coaster ride but I never had an investment in the story.  I was never able to suspend my disbelief and that's a huge failure for a COD title.

Think about it like this....

Remember "The Matrix?" That movie made me question my own reality.  The sequels just milked the franchise and that's what Ghosts single player is.  A tired rehash of the same formula. 

Where Battlefield 4 (and 3's) single player experience was lacking in the story it did serve as a good tutorial.  You can literally run all over the place and get yourself in all kinds of trouble.  Call of Duty is still about the story  (weak as it is) which means you're led down a tightly scripted path.

To put it in the proper context, think of Battlefield 4 like those times when you were a kid on the way to the principal's office.  You eventually got there but your path was probably not a direct route.  Think of Call of Duty's single player like a trip to the museum.  There's lots of nifty stuff to see but it's all behind ropes you're not allowed to cross.

In short, single player is not the strongest element of either game and that's detrimental to the Call of Duty franchise.  Battlefield 4 can be excused mostly because they don't have as high a standard to meet. 

Which leads me to the last section.

Cooperative play modes

This shouldn't take too long mostly because there's really not much to say. 

Battlefield 4 unlike its predecessor does not include a cooperative play mode.  Dice has not abandoned the idea entirely but it's likely EA's rushed timetable and problems with the game shortly before launch knocked it off the priority tree.  Even the open beta was comprised largely of Battlefield 3 elements placed on new Battlefield 4 maps.  That should have been an indication that something was wrong so close to launch but more about that later.

Admittedly, co-op is a low priority for a title so focused on multiplayer but the past few years have shown a growing popularity to have a multiplayer experience that doesn't involve suffering the unwashed masses.  While not up to the co-op standard of Battlefield 3's then competitor Modern Warfare 3, many players found it a good training ground free of the bullying of malevolent Colonel types.

Call of Duty, on the other hand,  has done it again.  "Again" being fall on its co-op face. 

Ever since Black Ops, Cooperative mode has suffered.  First it was a rehash of zombie survival mode stooping so low as to even pull in 4 year old maps from COD:World at War.  Gone was the parallel storyline in favor of an endless meat grinder of stumbling corpses.

This time around Infinity Ward threw in a twist.  Instead of zombies you're fighting an alien invasion.  Aside from the settings, the game mode has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the game.  It's yet another tacked on survival mode experience with aliens bouncing around like rabbits intent on your demise.  The only objective, if you want to call it that, is to set up and protect a drill you place on the alien's "mother" thing.  I put about an hour into it before I gave up. 


Battlefield 4 is broken, plain and simple.  It was a rushed product and developer DICE is spending all their time trying to fix it.  It's gotten so bad that DLC development has been suspended until the core game is fixed.  Some would say that's a good thing as howls from the Battlefield 3 forum were plagued with pleas to "fix the game!" throughout its run.  Battlefield 4's forums have been seeing the same. 

With no less than 5 major patches since its release a month ago, you'd have been wise to heed my advice last summer and skip the pre-order.  I did and actually picked up the game for half price on Amazon during a flash sale.   Hey, I'm late to the party but at least I didn't end up an unwilling beta tester. 

Call of Duty: Ghosts is more stable than Battlefield 4 but that's not saying much.  It's another COD formula release and hasn't improved on its predecessors.  If you liked the last 3 years of COD titles then that's probably going to work out just fine for you. 

After skipping a few installments I was frankly expecting a little more.  Then it occurred to me.that for all the hype it's received, Ghosts is not really a major COD release.  At least no more than Black Ops was.  Where Modern Warfare 3 was a direct competitor to Battlefield 3, Ghosts is more a competitor to a Battlefield: Bad Company title. 

In that light comparisons between the two aren't really fair.  It's apples to oranges even though they share common traits.  Battlefield 4 is the "It" game for EA right now, Ghosts is just another franchise distraction while everyone anxiously awaits Destiny.

As much as EA's poor management of its studios has caused a string of launch day disasters it's not alone.  Activision's meddling and constant squabbling between Treyarch and Infinity Ward has forced Call of Duty to produce a string of titles that are largely the same.  It's a safety play and potentially threatening to the franchise. 

While sales of both games were good they weren't quite what the publisher's expected.   The bloom is off the rose and gamers were expecting more than a re-run with a few tacky add-ons. 

Unfortunately, it seems re-runs are all we're getting which will eventually doom both franchises. 

You can only count on fanboys for so long.  12 year olds eventually grow up...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday Havoc the Killing Floor Twisted Christmas 2013 event

Tripwire has offered up 2 new maps for this year's Killing Floor Twisted Christmas event.  While good maps, unlike previous years you won't find any holiday themes in them aside from the normal cast of terrifyingly contorted holiday stereotypes.

Yes the evil elves, sadistic Santa and all their friends are back but the scenery isn't as festive.  Still, it's nice to have a few new maps and you'll find them by the names: KF-Forgotten and KF-Hell.

Check out the video below for a taste of this month's Holiday goodies from Killing Floor...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Latest Game Video updates

The latest vidcaps from the past few weeks.  First off, A couple of gems from Borderlands 2.  Both of these were completed in True Vault hunter Mode.

The First video captures an Endgame ("End This" mission) with a very "Rambo" esque way of dealing with Handsome Jack...


The last video is my most recent acquisition, Call of Duty:Ghosts.  This video gives you a taste of the only Co-op play mode available in the game.  It's a survival/wave scenario so don't expect much.  At least you get to shoot at something other than zombies for a change.  COD has done the zombie thing to death since the release of World at War.  I just wish they'd bring back the campaign modes of Modern Warfare co-op.  Of course I also wish they'd bring back .99 cent a gallon gasoline...


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Grid 2 and how "Freemium" dooms yet another game

Just once I'd like to be able to sit down and honestly say I was wowed.  Looking back over the last 2 years of writing for this blog there's a definite streak of snarky in almost every game I've written about.  It's distressing...

I really want to be able to say that somebody finally got it right.  I'd just love to see a game that made me proudly proclaim! " I paid $60 for this and it was worth twice that!"

Alas, it's yet to be...

Case in point, Grid 2.

I was a devout fan of the original Race Driver: Grid, so I waited with anticipation for its sequel.  The original occupied hours of my time and consumed many more competing with my friends.  I wanted to learn every nuance of the game and it was actually  possible without spending a dime on DLC.  If you drove a McLaren, it wasn't going to handle like a minivan.  The tracks were challenging but not discouraging.  The cars reacted the way you expected them to with the physics spot on.  A Camaro was going to drift like a drunken sailor on a Jet Ski and you could be sure a Pagani Zonda was going to handle like it was on rails. 

Having actually owned a few examples that appeared in the game I can attest to the accuracy. 

Rarely would you get a car that was completely unsuited to a particular race type or track.  It did happen, but not enough to abandon the game.   

Unfortunately, that happens a lot in Grid 2 and that's just the first of my many annoyances with the game.  After many months of avoiding it I went ahead and loaded up Grid 2 tonight to give it one more shot before declaring it shunned. 

I have about 25 hours into the game so it's not like I haven't given it a fair chance.

My attempt to redeem the game led me to try a few global challenge events.  In one I was asked to drive in one of my (least) favorite types of events called overtake. 

In case you don't know, "Overtake" is best described as a commute on steroids.  The whole idea is to pass a bunch of trucks without running into them .  Every pass gives you points and they multiply with every additional vehicle that succumbs.  The wrinkle is that there's a countdown timer that gradually reduces your awarded points if you don't pass another vehicle in the allotted time. 

Oh yeah and if you so much as let a hubcap stray off the track you lose all your current (not banked) points and start at 0 for going "off-track".  I won't even get into how the trucks can ram you leaving you with the "collision" penalty.  I mean c'mon! At least give me a whiplash bonus!

That wouldn't be so bad except that you usually get the wrong car on the wrong track with an astronomical goal almost impossible to achieve with your available vehicles. 

That is, unless you buy DLC packs. 

See, Grid 2 has a bad case of "Freemium" disease except that the game wasn't free.  There's a constant push to get players to buy more DLC for the game.  That DLC is almost always in the form of a selection of better cars.  Cars that coincidentally (NOT) are perfectly suited for the event unlike the sad examples you have available otherwise.   I've literally seen events  that had all but one vehicle labeled as an "add-on." (DLC)

Of course devotees would argue that you could always upgrade or buy better cars without any DLC but it's a catch 22 since you'll be hard pressed to win any races without the right car and thus not have too many greenbacks to purchase that perfect ride.  There's also the issue of some DLC cars being better than anything you could ever build via the in-game car upgrade system. 

Bottom line,  the game is slanted towards DLC and without it just becomes an endless grind.  If you wanted to top the leader boards you'll have to buy every DLC pack available for Grid 2 to get the necessary cars.  When you were done,  you'd end up  paying more than the original purchase price of the game!  ($70)

DLC is supposed to enhance the experience not be a core component of it.  Grid 2's DLC is largely composed of car bundles and maybe a new route on an old map.  New cars are nice but you shouldn't need them just to play the basic game. 

I've literally had a challenge meant for a McLaren with only the choice of a Volkswagen Golf to race with.  Needless to say I didn't medal in that race.  I've also had drift events where my only choice of car was the aforementioned Mercedes SLR or McLaren road racer.  Two cars that were explicitly designed NOT to kick their tails out!  Grid 2 at least got the physics right on that one.

So it's back to the shelf for Grid 2.  It's not fun anymore.  The first few weeks were amusing but once I tired of the pretty scenery it got to be a grind.  The real problem is, the game is all glitter and no gold.  Even my regular LAN party buddies have given up on the game choosing instead to go back to the original game to satisfy that need for speed.

I'm really tired of being disappointed.  I'd honestly like a game to be worth its purchase price but few are.  Think about this.  If a publisher can slap a $60 pre-order price and then give away $15 of DLC then the game is overpriced.  It really is that simple.

I'm probably at least a decade older than most people who write about games which means I have a lot more patience and spend a lot more time evaluating my game purchases.  Loyalty has a lot to do with that and lately I feel a bit betrayed. 

I'll gladly plunk down a few extra greenbacks to extend the fun but one of the reasons I have yet to buy Battlefield 4 (aside from the price) is the money machine it's become.  BF4 is about the multiplayer and you're not going to have much fun for very long without paying EA for DLC.

Truth be told I'll probably buy Call of Duty: Ghosts first simply because I know the story is good and the co-op won't require me to buy any DLC.    Activision is no better than EA in it's DLC schemes but at least I'll get my money's worth out of the purchase of the core game. 

That's the failure of the "DLC first" strategy.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

SLI = Still Lacking Innovation?

More is better, that's what 100's of years of marketing has tried to make us believe.   Who can argue with having a bigger house, a gaggle of friends or more money?

If you're a gamer you're very familiar with the mantra of more.  More performance usually means more clock speed, more memory, more video cards.  More of everything except what's in your wallet after you pay for all of it.

In the swirling vortex of the enthusiast PC market churn is as natural as the change of seasons. 

It is a "market" after all, built on a volume of repeat sales but often it's participants are disingenuous about the merits of their wares.  It's common, for example, to see a previous generation's graphics platform get a few tweaks and reintroduced as something new. 

Remember the Nvidia 8800 GT?  It was still around 3 years later having changed names twice before it finally ended up as the GTS 250.  Everything old is new again I suppose.

We see a market where performance gains from 1 or even 2 generations back only rise to the level of single digit percentages.  All of these "features"  you hear about while useful are just window dressing.  It obscures the fact that we're getting more fluff and less substance. 

Want a recent example?  Look no further than the latest Intel family of CPU's, Haswell.  It's got better power consumption, improved embedded graphics on the chip (whether you want them or not) and native support for USB 3.0.  Yet in spite of the marketing,  real world performance is only marginally better than its Ivy Bridge predecessor. 

It strikes me that the whole push for more everything may actually be a sign of failure.  It doesn't say much for innovation if the major players need to recycle old technology just to fill out a lineup.  It also makes me wonder why in this day of doing more with less that performance is still measured in having multiples of the same component with features irrelevant to the primary function.

Copious CPU cores are great if you need them but 90% of us don't.  2 to 4 threads is more than enough for most people, 16 is just gross overkill.    Multiple GPU's may be required for ridiculously high resolutions and eye candy but the average gamer doesn't need them for 1920 x 1080 gaming. 

If they do, something is very, very wrong.

I may be speaking heresy here but I really do think the whole concept of SLI or multiples of the same anything for that matter is a huge admission that innovation has stalled.  I shouldn't need two graphics cards to do the job of driving one display or even multiple displays (within reason).  I also shouldn't need 8 cores just to open a spreadsheet. 

That we've accepted that configuration for over a decade is even more damning of the lack of innovation.  We accept lower performance from mobile devices because their convenience will always trump any performance shortcomings. 

$700 to $1000 for a graphics card is neither cheap nor convenient.  That much money should not require an exponent (x2) for what is ultimately a middling benefit. 

Perhaps there are advantages but my point is that at this stage you shouldn't need 2 of anything just to enjoy a little more than the bare  minimum.  We should be an order of magnitude further along than we are but instead we're forced to buy multiples of what often amounts to just rehashed old technology.

I don't deny that those of you that have embraced the concept of more (SLI, 8 core CPUS) are seeing some benefit.   I just believe that the "more" you  should be getting has nothing to do with what you ultimately ended up with.

Forgive me if I lapse into a bit of gearhead tech but I see a correlation here.  For a long time cars depended on a device called a carburetor to get fuel into an engine.  Over time refinements to its design  were made to improve its efficiency but in the end you still have a largely unregulated fuel delivery system.  At the end even computer controls couldn't provide enough lipstick for that pig.  It took fuel injection to change things. 

Right now, PC tech might as well be carburetors.  Just refinements to the same old technologies being passed off as revolutionary.

I'm waiting for fuel injection before I get excited.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

21 Days

508 hours....

That's how much of my life I've spent playing Borderlands 2 and Battlefield 3 over the past 2 years.  I'm sure there's some truly hardcore gamers out there that can attest to many, many more but I'm just talking about 2 games here. 

Why have I invested the equivalent of 3 weeks of my life into games with a relatively simple premise, i.e., run around and shoot stuff?

Battlefield 3 certainly doesn't have the depth of story of say a Call of Duty but it's got better multiplayer.  Borderlands 2 is unapologetic about its simplicity.  It's all about "87 Bazillion guns" with plenty of targets to test them on.  Don't look for any veiled Tom Clancy references here.

Let's be honest.  Both games are about the grind.  In case you don't recognize the term, in gaming it's a series of repetitive objectives that must be completed to gain a reward.  How very Pavlovian, do a trick get a treat...

Life may be a journey but while gaming is ultimately about the destination you can't bore the player while they're getting there.  There has to be more than just the promise of reward to keep you engaged.  In a good game, the grind lives on the razors edge of being challenging without discouraging the player.

Pretty scenery and player customization alone can't make up for bad game mechanics and lopsided objectives.  Overcoming obstacles is part of any game but the core design shouldn't be one of them.  Look no further than the latest installment of EA's Medal of Honor franchise for an example.

Battlefield's take on the grind offered a multiplayer environment both immersive and beautiful occasionally offering up those "epic moments" that just don't happen in other shooters. For a gamer it's a fix that's worth suffering through the cheaters and endless developer tweaks.  What the game may lack in story it makes up for in realism.  Many a middle-aged gamer has lived out his Rambo tendencies  in the virtual desert wastes of Iran.  ...and it was fun...

Borderlands 2 allows you to engage your "Mad Max" fantasies while you strive for ever bigger guns.  That's fun for awhile but there's an overarching storyline with interesting characters that keeps the player engaged.  Even if you're doing badly you're still progressing.  Knowing that no action is ever in vain makes the sometimes insurmountable odds more palatable.   Players know that they will eventually win, you just have to find the right combination.  You may even forget that it's just another gaming grind.

I've played lots of games but few have approached the time investment I've made with these two.  Call of Duty came close but when missions became unwinnable after dozens of attempts my interest waned.  I've played many Need for Speed titles as well but found my attention wandering after one too many skill trees to get past just to unlock a decent car. 

Up till now I've been talking largely about the past.  Truth be told I haven't played Battlefield 3 since June.  EA's incessant push for add-ons and DLC releases began to veer off into just pretty landscapes without much more to offer.  After 213 hours I'd had enough.  EA made the mistake of focusing on marketing instead of gameplay and did little to keep my interest. 

It was just the same grind but for no real purpose.  I set the goal of achieving the rank of colonel and once I'd accomplished it, I was done.  I was starting to feel the grind instead of enjoying the journey.
I almost gave up on Borderlands 2 as well until Gearbox released Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon's keep DLC.  Up to that point there was one remaining objective in the main game that I was going to have to either grind through what were now all too familiar missions or cheat the game to beat.  Neither was an attractive prospect.

As a gamer we know that regardless of how much we may love a game, we'll eventually get sick of it.  Battlefield 3 is pretty much dead to me now and that Battlefield 4 is really just the same game with a prettier face does little to motivate the purchase. 

Still, Battlefield 3 and Borderlands 2 kept my interest longer than any previous game ever did.  Only the original Borderlands and Star Trek Online came close.  The common thread was a focus on the experience and only when someone took their eye off the ball did I move on.

With games becoming more cinematic and a crossover of talent from Hollywood, it stands to reason that the gaming experience is becoming more than just a casual pastime. 

That's great news for all those salivating publishers already awash in the cash from rabid fans of their franchises.  But it's both a blessing and a curse.  They'll keep putting out titles so long as they keep making money but at some point you're going to end up with RoboCop 3.  That's called milking a franchise and EA, Activision and Sony are all guilty of it. 

I'm quivering in fear over Battlefield 10 for example...

Playing a game should be something you want to do not something to be suffered in hopes of it getting better with the next level up.  I've often said that in games there's "challenging" and "stupid."  Challenging at least lets me believe I can eventually win.  Stupid happens when you feel like you're being punished for some unknown sin.

If there's one thing that could save us all from boring game grinds it's a return of the game demos.  You know, like Doom, Quake and Commander Keen.  It's a refreshing change when it actually happens.
Battlefield 4 offered both a closed and open Beta where you could try out the game and I appreciated that.  It's also nice to know that my efforts weren't made in a vacuum.  The few paltry accomplishments I managed to achieve in the Beta are still showing up in my stats. 

In fact the beta moved me that much closer to purchasing the game but not enough to pay $60 for it.  I could almost see myself putting a few hundred hours into it, almost.  The Beta for Crysis 3, on the other hand, convinced me that my money was better spent elsewhere.

I'm sure I'll happen across another time sink in the near future but whether or not it's a triple-A title is by no means a certainty.  I'm already lukewarm on Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts but you never know.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Battlefield 4 = Battlefield 3

I hate to be an "I told you so" but  oh well....

Battlefield 4 has officially launched with all the fanfare of say, SimCity !

Well at least if you cast it in the light of other members of the club like Diablo 3, GTA 5 and World of Warcraft.  Apparently if you were one of the lucky 4 million or so who expected October 29th to be the first day of a very long gaming weekend there was a good chance that you were disappointed.  An issue with region locking forced many players to have to wait 24 hours (October 30) because of a clock bug in EA's authentication mechanisms.  The bug somehow misreads the time on some ISP servers making their subscribers appear they were coming from Europe where the game is not scheduled for release until November 1st.

According to Scott Michaud of PC Perspective, when he contacted EA about the issue they were very polite but had no intention of doing anything about it.  EA has been relying heavily on their Origin distribution client and it appears the issue stems from its DRM mechanisms. 

If you sell software it stands to reason that you have to protect your revenue stream somehow.  However,  when that protection stands in the way of your paying customers you're going to need to do more than just comfort them on the support lines.

Maybe consumers are finally getting weary of the false promise of "The Pre-Order."

As recently as a week ago pre-order sales numbers were down compared to Battlefield 3 while the competition (Call of Duty:Ghosts) were on par with their predecessor.  EA's only recent comment came from a conference call where all they could say is that "pre-orders are stacking up well against BF3"
"Stacking up Well" is not "beating", "exceeding" or "surpassing."  It's like a weather forecast that's only "Fair," which is pretty much the middle of the road.

With such a popular franchise with a year's worth of hype leading up to the release how can BF4 possibly be just an "also ran?"

Maybe it was a largely flawed beta that excluded players with 32 bit platforms even though the final game supports both 32 and 64 bit.  Hey, it's a beta and its bound to have problems but with mostly empty servers the 10 to 20 minute process just to connect didn't bode well.

Perhaps it was "Pre-Order" fatigue.  Even as early as last Fall EA was offering early Beta access to BF4 with the purchase of the now infamously failed "Medal of Honor: Warfighter."  The spring and summer found relentless promotion sinking as low offering up a set of "Mechanix" gloves  for your "memories" of BF3.

Maybe it was the bait and switch of what looked like gameplay videos that turned out to be nothing more than cutscenes.  The actual game looks only marginally better than its predecessor even with settings turned up. 

Maybe it's a matter of people getting tired of the franchise and the relentless money machine EA has turned it into.  DLC, upgrade kits, premium subscriptions designed to enhance the game only seem to alienate those who actually play it.  Players have dumped millions into Battlefield 3 hoping to get more but more often than not get less than they paid for.  Ask anyone who bought BF3 DLC outside of the "Premium" subscription how they felt when they couldn't find a server or when they did were blocked by "Premium Members Only."

Perhaps it stems from the simple fact that Battlefield 4 looks largely like a rehash of Battlefield 3.  Even the storyline is largely unchanged save the addition of the Chinese as an additional antagonist.  We're still forced into a clumsy web interface to launch the game.  Still have to be in an active game just to configure basic settings and EA's only response was to set up dead servers so you can complete your settings without getting booted off an active server.  

That's not a fix, that's a band-aid and for many it may be just  one annoyance too far. Don't get me wrong, Battlefield 4 looks like a fun game but it's not the leap we expected in a sequel.  Battlefield Bad Company 2 was the last  major release in the franchise before Battlefield 3 launched.  Battlefield 3 was noticeably better (even with Battlelog).  Battlefield 4 isn't the giant leap we were expecting.  It's more like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 which looked exactly like its predecessor Modern Warfare 2 even down to the scripted gameplay in co-op missions.

BF4 is looking like it's going down the same road.  Perhaps only a spin-off along the lines of Call of Duty's Black Ops can truly energize the franchise.  Bad Company 3 anyone?

No matter, so long as they keep trying to milk the same cash cow I'll always be skeptical.

Fool me once EA, that's all you get.

Halloween chills for your gaming pleasure.

This year's crop of Halloween gaming goodness.  

No tricks, just treats....


Team Fortress 2 Halloween event.  Harvest and Hell Tower

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Why the gamer hasn't been gaming

Gaming hasn't been a priority these past few weeks and here's why....

The last month has been hell....

Let me give you the cliff notes version of my tale of woe.  It contains a cast of completely unrelated characters that somehow managed to simultaneously screw up my life. 

I recently had to sell my 2008 Mustang GT.  Not by choice but by need.  This hasn't been a good year for me financially and like so many others in this skewed reality we call an economy something had to give.  In my case it was my Mustang.

I've already chronicled my disastrous results of trying to get a "regular" IT  job( I've been a private IT consultant for 15 years) so I won't rehash it here.  However, my latest efforts to rejoin cubicleland bear mention since they were the catalyst for my latest tribulations.

After 3 weeks, 6 interviews for not 1 but 2 different positions at a security software firm, what should have been a sure thing ended in a two line e-mail reading.

"Van did go with an internal candidate, but he wanted me to make sure you knew it was a tough decision.

Thanks indeed.  I can guarantee Van's decision wasn't going to be as tough as the one I would have to make.
They say never to put all your eggs in one basket but I had only one egg and my basket had holes in it. 

It was like trying to reach level 50 in Borderlands 2 without any DLC or savegame hacks.

With no other opportunities it finally came down to either clinging to hopes of regaining my lost success before I starved or cutting my losses and liquidate some assets.   After a week of serious deliberation and living on 2 year old Ramen noodles my Mustang was up for Sale. 

When the buyer came and presented me with the check it was bittersweet. I'd survive but I'd also taken a giant step backward just  to live another day.  I told myself that at least I had enough foresight to have an asset I could liquidate but it didn't make me feel any  better. 

I couldn't even watch when they came for it a few days later.  I sold it through CarBuyco and it took them a few days to pick it up.  Those two days were like looking at a ghost in my driveway. 

Of course I still needed a car for work (assuming I'd eventually have some) but I knew with the money I had to spend it was not going to be anything near what I had lost.  So started the search for a suitable (barely) replacement with a budget of no more than $6000.  That would leave me enough money to live on for awhile and take care of the inevitable repairs that come with a vehicle not so well loved as what I'd given up.

Or so I thought.  My search yielded disappointing results with most candidates either too abused or too expensive for what was offered.  I came close to buying one car (A 2001 Camaro) until I pulled the dipstick on the transmission and found black, burnt fluid.  That vehicle had over 100K miles, was 12 years old and started at 7K with tax and license fees.  By the time I was ready to leave the dealership the price had dropped $1000.  I no longer had interest but still get called every week about that car.  Last weekend the price had dropped to $4991. 

My search continued and I found a few other less flawed examples but they too came up short either already being sold or having a questionable background history.  By the way, CarFax is your friend.  I found at least 5 cars that had serious damage or questionable mileage that was otherwise undisclosed. 

It was like living a real life version of Flatout 3.  All the promise but nothing ever delivered.

A week went by and my folks called to see how I was doing.  I told them about the lackluster examples of pre-owned automobiles and they made a suggestion.  They had 4 vehicles 2 of which are rarely if ever driven.  They offered up one that I was very familiar with.  My mother's 1995 Firebird Formula.  I was hesitant to accept the offer not wanting to deprive them of an asset of their own.

 I knew that the car was well maintained, had most of the problem areas already addressed and would stand up to my relatively light usage but it was still a well used high mileage car that was already 18 years old.  Still, it was becoming obvious that I wasn't going to do any better with the examples I was finding.  It also didn't hurt that they were already looking to get rid of it anyway.

They offered up the car with no strings attached aside from having to pay for it to be transported from Colorado to Arizona ( A cost of $1100.)  Now survival is one thing but I wasn't about to let my folks on a fixed income get nothing for an asset.  I checked Edmunds and gave them what was reported as the highest retail price for the car.  It was less than I'd pay for the far less pedigreed examples I'd been entertaining but a better price than they'd get for it otherwise. 

Happily my search ended.  I set up the transportation for the car via Reliable Auto Transporters and awaited its arrival.  I knew there was the possibility of a 2 to 4 week delay from the carrier but a week later I got the call that the car was going to be picked up and delivered a few days later.

While I waited I was forced to use another car for transportation.  Not that I had anywhere much to go but the nearest supermarket is 2 miles away and that's a long way to go with armloads of groceries.   In case you're wondering, yes I own 2 cars or at least I did before I sold the Mustang.  My other car is a 1974 El Camino.  I've owned it for over 20 years and while it's more family member than car I can't rely on it.  I knew I couldn't use it for daily commuting for example; if for no other reason than the fuel costs would bankrupt me.  It's also insured as a classic, recreational vehicle so daily commuters are a no-no. 

Let me add one wrinkle and a bit of foreshadowing.  I could never register this car as anything but a classic in my state because it would never be able to comply with the stringent emission standards demanded.  Thus it's only meant for glorified parade duty and occasional boulevard cruises.  You may be asking why I didn't sell it instead of the Mustang at this point.  The reason is, I didn't have time to wait and wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the money out of it. The Mustang was a guaranteed quick sale for a fair price, the El Camino wasn't.  I may have been in survival mode but I'm not stupid.

So at least I had a decent car coming and something to drive in an emergency if need be.  Or so I thought. 

Here's where the real fun starts...

Before I go on let's recap my adventure thus far.

1. Sure thing falls through
2. Have to sell car or starve
3. Went car shopping found junk
4. Ended up buying car from parents

At 10AM on a Tuesday morning I got a phone call from the folks.  The car was picked up and on its way.  An hour later I got a call from the truck driver informing me that he'd be at my door by 6:30PM the next day. 

"Wonderful!," I thought, that means I'd have 2 days to take care of all the necessary evils of getting an out of state car registered and insured and I'd be able to show it off to my friends for the weekend!

It was not to be....

Wednesday morning I received another phone call from the truck driver.  He blew a heater hose outside of Flagstaff and didn't know when he'd be underway.  He was going to have to be towed into Phoenix, 150 miles away and the schedule was blown to hell.

At this point I was ok with the delay.  After all, bad things happen and it wasn't the driver's fault that his rig broke down.  Having paid $1100 for transportation I assumed the Reliable Auto Transport's dispatch would make arrangements.  All was well.

Except it wasn't...

Two days went by and I'd heard nothing from Dispatch.  Friday afternoon I received another call from the unfortunate driver.  He was in Phoenix holed up in a motel and didn't know when his truck would be ready.  Apparently Reliable Auto Transportation had yet to send another truck out to complete the deliveries.  Mine wasn't the only car on his trailer and there were at least 5 other unhappy people not counting the driver who was losing money every day his truck was out of commission.

In our conversation I let him know I didn't blame him but was unhappy with the dispatch operation.  My car was sitting in a trailer in a repair yard 30 miles away for no other reason than somebody wasn't doing their job.  The driver gave me the number to the local dispatch office and I called them immediately after I hung up with him.  Of course there was nobody at the office but I left a long voicemail detailing exactly why I was happy with the driver but unhappy with dispatch.

Well, at least I had the El Camino for the weekend....

Except I didn't.  I started having trouble with the car backfiring through the carburetor.  For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a cantankerous lump of metal whose only reason for being is to defy its primary purpose.  That being, to get gasoline into the engine.

I spent most of Friday and Saturday trying to connect the problem and only managing to asphyxiate myself from the noxious fumes that resulted from my efforts. 

This was bad...

Saturday, 5PM, I had one car and it wasn't running.  It's disassembled carburetor lying bare on my workbench.  I needed to take action or I could potentially be without wheels for a week.

Reluctantly, I called for a rental car.  I'd had good experience with Enterprise Rent A Car in the past so I made a reservation.  Unfortunately, renting a car at 5PM on a Saturday means you have to go to the airport to pick it up.  I have at least 6 car rental offices within 2 miles of my home but all of them were closed. 

No matter, I'd get a ride to the airport somehow.  I was supposed to meet a friend later than evening and after making the reservation I called him up for a ride to the airport.  It was him or a $60 cab ride.  Luckily for me I have good taste in friends and the only compensation for his trouble he'd accept is me buying dinner.  Done deal and we even got to try a new restaurant on my side of town before we went for the car.

My friend dropped me off and confident my troubles were over I went to the rental car counter, reservation in hand.  All went well, I enjoyed pleasant conversation with the agents as they finalized the paperwork. 

Except they didn't finalize anything.  They ran my credit card for the full rental plus $100.  Unfortunately a recent payment hadn't posted from my bank so it was rejected.  Undaunted, I suggested my debit card which had more than enough to cover the cost.  I was told, " We can't run a debit card without a trip itinerary." 

Really?  Remember, I had a confirmed reservation and a fully loaded Visa Debit card ready to go and they were hanging me up on policy. 

"Ok, can you just change the reservation to one day?"

"No, we can't change a reservation"

"So basically you're saying I'm 28 miles from home with no ride and nothing but my shoe leather..."


"Well, you can go upstairs and see if they can do anything for you..."

So I did and after standing in line 10 minutes at the Enterprise counter I realized that all I was doing was wasting time to hear the same BS I heard downstairs.  I walked out onto the concourse and did a quick game of eeny, meeny, miny,  moe.  My finger stopped on Avis.

I walked up to the football jersey bedecked agent and asked him, " Do you take debit cards?"  Without so much as a breath, quoted policy or anything about Itineraries he said, "No problem."

Needless to say, Avis in now my favorite car rental company.  After a few minutes I was tossed the keys to a better car than Enterprise was offering for only 5 bucks a day more. 

Time for another recap...

1. Sure thing falls through
2. Have to sell car or starve
3. Went car shopping found junk
4. Ended up buying car from parents
5. Delivery truck with new car breaks down
6. 2nd car breaks down, no ride till new car shows up
7. Reserved rental car
8. Get ride to airport to get car
9. Denied rental car I reserved from Enterprise, granted one from Avis
10.  Spend the rest of Saturday night trying to forget the last 3 days

After Saturday had passed I spent the next 2 days trying in vain to get the El Camino to run.  No joy and I spent a lot of time at auto parts stores. 

Tuesday brought a phone call from Reliable Auto Transport's dispatch department.  My car was going to show up within the hour. 

Joy among joys!

Right on time the huge truck showed up and I greeted a very pleasant husband and wife driving team.  In short order the Firebird was in my driveway.

As soon as they left I took the car out for a shakedown run.  Everything seemed to be working and having driven it 10 miles I decided it was time to get it registered.  I went to my local AAA office because I knew that was going to be easier than dealing with the DMV. 

Upon arriving at the AAA office, I dutifully went to the counter to start the process.  Where I was told I couldn't title the car till it had passed emissions.  They wouldn't do a title without registration.  That meant I still didn't own the car but had to drive it to the emissions testing station.  That put me in a grey area that I was uncomfortable with but considering what I'd already been through to this point it wasn't that big of a deal.  The title clerk gave me a temporary registration sticker and off I went.

I went back home, collected the car and took it to the emissions testing station.  I expected it to go well, it didn't.

In Arizona  the emissions test for cars older than 1996 consists of running through a gauntlet on a dynamometer supposedly simulating a series of real world driving scenarios that take about 15 minutes to complete.  The simulation is designed to stress emissions control systems  by operating the car in situations that would rarely occur in real life. 

I'm all for clean air but this whole process is a racket.  I mean how often would you take your car to 70Mph, slam on the brakes to a complete stop then speed up to 70 MPH again in daily driving.  I know the freeways are bad but they're not THAT bad!

After about 12 minutes of this torture testing my new ride decided to puke coolant all over the emissions testing station.  To my mind I felt it was suitable commentary all things considered but the end result is that the car failed on one reading. 

I took the car home and checked the radiator.  It appeared that the coolant had overflowed from the recovery tank and just needed more added.  If only it were that simple...

I replaced the missing coolant, started the car and upon checking the results of my handiwork discovered the radiator had a leak that was spraying coolant all over the engine like a kid with s super soaker.

Great, now I have 2 cars that don't run and I'm already into my rental car for $250. 

I called up the folks and couldn't resist the jibe.  I said, "Hey, thanks for the lemon." 
I  expected to pay up to a grand to fix things on a used car within the first 6 months of ownership.  What I didn't expect was to have to fix it in the first 6 minutes!

Truth be told, I hold my folks blameless.  The car had sat for 3 years only gaining 100 miles since they moved to Colorado.  They live in an area that rarely gets above 80 degrees and in the winter can go below zero.  For them, they would never have seen the problem, in fact where I refer to that red oily water as coolant they call it anti-freeze. 

In my mind, this was still a win-win situation.  It was just going to take a bit longer to get my trophy.

It was like a boss battle in Borderlands 2 except you run out of ammo, he spawns 20 underlings and your special ability hasn't recharged yet.  You got everything but the bullets....

Now add this to my little recap and consider my state of mind at this point....

I called up Avis and extended my rental car another day and lined up a ride back home from the drop-off point from a friendly neighbor for the following Thursday.

I spent the next 12 hours fighting the dubious engineering GM employed in the removal and installation of a radiator on a 1995 Pontiac Firebird.  There was much cursing, numerous lacerations and even a bout of nausea involved but by daybreak my task was done. 

I had read a few car forums discussing the process and most of them said it would only take a couple of hours for my car.  Gentlemen, if it only took a couple of hours you did it wrong.  It took me 3 hours just to bleed the air out of the cooling system!

I don't want to do this job again anytime soon so I'd rather suffer the pain up front.

I finally went to bed and 4 hours later woke up and proceeded to take the car on a test drive to make sure all was well.  Satisfied I went back to the emissions testing station and it passed with flying colors.  Amazing what a difference it makes to actually keep the coolant in the radiator.

Happily I left the testing station and went back to the AAA office where I was able to finalize my paperwork.  I left with a new license plate, title and registration.  Finally the car was all mine and all legal.

I'm still aware that I'm driving a car almost 2 decades old and I've spent the last few days cleaning it up and fixing minor issues.   I know, however, that it's been better cared for throughout its life than the examples I was looking at before.

The El Camino is still down but I've ordered the correct parts online after having no luck finding them locally.  Hopefully I'll be back to 2 functional cars in a week or so.

Somebody once said God didn't give you more than you could handle.  I was starting to doubt that during the past month.  What came to light, however, was the kindness of people who had no stake aside from the knowledge of their own kindness. 

My faith in humanity was validated in the selfless act of my folks to give me a cherished asset for no other reason than I had the need.  It was further validated by the actions of my friends and neighbors to help me out however they could and finally to the Avis car rental agent that saw my plight and got me a ride.

Balanced against that were: The actions of the security software company dangling a carrot while knowing full well there was no opportunity to be had  The arrogance and callous attitudes of Enterprise car rental, The questionable motives of the emissions testing station and the careless disregard of Reliable Auto Transport dispatchers. 

So if you've wondered why I haven't been posting many gaming articles or videos the past few weeks, now you know.