Monday, December 29, 2014

Info Tech as I see it: Cheap (as in free) desktop video capture

Info Tech as I see it: Cheap (as in free) desktop video capture: If you're anything like me you've found the need to capture your desktop activities more than once and the options out there tend...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The 2014 Steam Holiday Sale has started

It's finally here!  The Steam Holiday Sale!

Your chance to get deep discounts on Euro Truck Simulator 2 and Goat Simulator!

But in all seriousness if there's anything you want and it's got some age or an indie developer behind it chances are there's a deal to be had.  

Current 2 day sales are available for titles like: Metal Gear Solid 5 (33% off), Sniper Elite 3 (50% off) and ARMA 3 (35% off)

And yes the trading cards and community voting are back too so here's your chance to get brand new kitsch!

The deals aren't all that hot either but like most Steam sales you need to keep a vigil as flash sales can hit at any time.

The sale is on till January 2nd, 2015

Monday, December 15, 2014

Origin and Steam: When a giveaway isn't

Beggars can't be choosers and free is generally worth every penny you paid...

So when a company like EA or Valve is giving away something you really don't have any room to complain if what's being offered doesn't meet your expectations.

Still, if the "gift" amounts to a glorified door prize the end result is burnt offerings.  If we're talking about  games it's either going to be old, unpopular or just more trouble than it's worth.  If the "gift" is the promise of trading something of value for even more value and it doesn't come to pass then it may be something else entirely.

Case in point: The Steam Holiday Auction.

It's the Holiday season and anyone who's got anything to sell has an angle from Ebay to the local pet store.  Valve's (Steam) angle is a so-called auction.  The premise is simple, use what you already have to bid on games you want. 

For the purposes of the "auction" your currency is a "gem" or rather many gems.  Steam users can bid on games using gems crafted from the promotional leftovers Valve gives away such as Trading Cards and other Steam specific kitsch.    Once a gem is crafted from these items it's irreversible. 

Sounds like a good deal right?  After all you're only bidding with the digital equivalent of a bumper sticker.  

Except that that the Holiday auction looks more like a glitzy bait and switch racket under the harshness of daylight.   You see, the items you "sacrifice" to craft gems for the auction actually have real value in the Steam "Marketplace."   Just as its name implies the "Marketplace" is a service that allows users to buy and sell game related trading cards and the like for real money.  Proceeds end up in the user's Steam wallet and can be used to purchase games.

Here's the bait and switch...

Once you craft a gem from the kitsch in your inventory it can't be undone.  Meaning you lose the ability to sell your items on the marketplace.  "Big deal," you say?  Well, here's the thing, the number of gems you get from your inventory items is paltry and almost worthless compared to what you potentially could have made in the marketplace. 

A quick glance at the current auctions show bids in the tens of thousands but it's unlikely you'll have anything near that even with a healthy inventory of Steam trading cards in your account. 

Worse, the titles up for "auction" largely consist of unpopular "indie" titles or old games that are already deeply discounted elsewhere. 

Instead of an opportunity to reward the Steam community, Valve has figured out a way to snooker them into trading a tiny bit of something for a whole lot of nothing.  Of course all of this happens within the confines and context of Valve's sandbox meaning they get to decide what's fair and just.

So much for giving back to the community. 

With somewhat less suspicious motives, EA's Origin has been offering up freebies all year.  Starting shortly after the Battlefield 4 launch debacle, EA's "On the House" promotion has been treating users of its service to free digital copies of selected game titles.  

Beginning with the hit game "Dead Space," and including Battlefield 3 and Plants Vs. Zombies, the offerings that have come along every few months were a bit dated but quality titles at least until now.

I say until now because it seems EA has decided to start reaching back into the last century for its latest "freebies. "   

In other words they've gone cheap...

Remember Crusader: No Remorse?  Me either.  How about SimCity 2000?  They may have been groundbreaking back in the 90's when they were released but now they're little more than relics and novelties.  Literally more trouble than they're worth and a reminder of how the good old days really weren't that good.

But that's what free buys you at EA these days.  Of course there's not much room to complain considering the price you paid.

But again, just like the Steam Holiday auction, it's burnt offerings with no other purpose than to legitimize a marketing campaign.

It's an insidious ploy.  Slap "Free" on anything and you take away the power to question what's being offered.  Dissent is easily countered with charges of ingratitude even if the motives are less than pure.  In the case of EA, "On the House" was likely little more than part of an overall marketing campaign of damage control after BF4's disastrous launch.

 In the case of Valve, it's likely less about magnanimity than it is about moving stale products at the expense of their customers.  The equation goes something like this:

Create a sales gimmick, say an "auction" that relies on a sandboxed currency (gems) only available through the purchase of your products.  Those products have attributes you can convert into auction currency but when you do so you find out that the items up for bid are out of reach because of the paltry exchange rate.  Soon you find slow moving titles selling like hotcakes as "bidders" clamor to get more currency by buying up cheap games thinking they'll come out ahead.

The worst part is that when you look at the games up for "auction" you find that most of them are stale titles whose "gem" value exceeds what you'd normally be able to buy the game for.  Since most of the auction items are "donated" by developers it's nothing but pure profit for Valve. 

The only part missing in a scheme like this is a charitable tie in.  If they donated 10% of sales to a charity the whole thing would be considered beyond reproach.

Call me cynical but I'm starting to get a bad taste in my mouth for the word "free."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Warface: All of the "Free" co-op money can buy!

I like the concept of free.

Free means without cost, without restriction, without encumbrances. We're all familiar with the phrases, "Free will" or "Free beer."  If we get all philosophical about it there's much more serious sounding uses of the word like "Free speech" and "A Free Society."

All of them, without exception, mean the same thing.  Specifically that nothing should get in the way of whatever is supposed to be "free."

Unfortunately, when someone came up with a game model dubbed "Free to play" we were forced to reexamine our understanding of the word "Free."

Case in point: Warface

Warface is a recent entry into the "Free to play" arena and unlike much of its RPG stable mates, is the first FPS of any quality to be offered up free of charge.

At least that's the promise...

The first time you load the game you'll see a typical FPS shooter with graphics that while not cutting edge are at least on par with those of Battlefield 3 without the eye candy turned on.  You'll also find an ample if not somewhat busy user interface complete with a "safe house" for you to learn the mechanics of the game without having to dodge an opposing team's ammunition.  There's even training missions that allow you to earn in-game bux (not real $$) to fix weapons, etc.  Yes, you heard that right, you can "break" a weapon.

Nice features, in fact a few that current triple-A titles would do well to emulate.  Well, maybe not the broken weapons thing but I digress...

Even Battlefield 4 still has a clunky "test range" map that is all but hidden in the game options.  In Warface, the "Safe House" is right up front.

The play is almost textbook Call of Duty-esque "sandboxing" with 3 primary play modes: Co-op, Versus and Survival.  Co-op and Versus offer some variety in map selection with Versus offering the additional contexts of traditional Deathmatch, Objective and Capture the Flag "-esque" modes found in other FPS games.  One thing that does stand out about Warface, however, is its focus on cooperative gameplay regardless of the play mode chosen.  Only in Deathmatch do you ever really suffer the typical Call of Duty multiplayer "run and gun" affair.   Meaning you're always with a buddy and you don't always have to play a pure multiplayer game. 

That's a perspective I can appreciate as the term "cooperative" gameplay is often just a misnomer for "online multiplayer."  

Look at it this way.  Playing a multiplayer game with friends is often like trying to pick up somebody at the airport when you don't know what flight they're on or when they'll show up.  

Cooperative gameplay, on the other hand, is like taking a road trip with a friend.

Not that Warface is a perfect iteration of the concept.  Far from it.  Finding your "friend" involves adding them to a "chat" list and then hoping you can join their game before all the available slots fill up.  

Of course you can start your own co-op session but unless you've got at least 4 in your party nothing's going to happen unless somebody just happens along.

Meaning we have a bit of multiplayer creep if not a bit of Call of Duty's awful "player matching" going on.

Before I forget, there's another game mode, "Survival" but it's really just waves of baddies and to play it you have to achieve a certain rank or XP to unlock it.  Something I'm not likely to do and I'll tell you why in a minute.

So far Warface sounds pretty good right?  I mean who wouldn't want a Call of Duty clone focused on co-op and built on the Crytek (Crysis) engine for free?

Ah, but there's that word again, "Free."

Every time I launch the game and suffer through what seems like a agonizingly lazy progress bar I'm instantly assaulted with prompts to visit the "store" or partake in the "deal" of the day.  It happens at the end of gaming sessions too and there's an ever present "nag" at the bottom center of all the lobby screens encouraging you to buy, buy buy!

There's an old marketing phrase that military types like to quote from.  You know the one.  It's usually preceded with stirring music, jets streaking overhead all while a bunch of guys in camouflage stand there saluting.  It goes, "Freedom isn't free" and neither is Warface.

It seems you're forever assaulted with prompts to buy upgrades, skins and outfits.  In my time with the game I've been offered special weapons, explosives and experience boosters that would clearly give me an advantage.  However, I've noticed that you don't seem to really "buy" much of anything.  You "rent" it. 

For example, I've been offered special smoke grenades and sniper rifles on a "trial" basis for a limited amount of time after which the item is removed from you inventory. 

Thing is, even if you do buy an upgrade, you're still just renting the equipment for 30, 60 or even 90 days after which you have to buy it all over again.  

All you've gained is an extension on your "lease."
I suppose that's one way to guarantee a revenue stream for a game that's otherwise "Free." 

While I understand that Crytek has to make money on Warface somehow their chosen model is nothing short of the epitome of greed.  Too many so-called "Free to play" games are really "Pay to Win" and Warface enthusiastically embraces the practice.   

That's no surprise especially with the obvious development that's gone into the game.  What makes Warface especially egregious, however, is forcing players to continually buy the same weapons just to continue playing.

So you save your pennies, buy your upgrades only to have them taken away if you don't ante up again. 

Sure, you don't HAVE to buy anything.  You can get a few games in and still be a freeloader if you want but much like the "Premium" subscriptions so common these days, you'll soon find yourself outmatched and locked out of "special" events.

So in the world of "Freemium" we have a new worst offender, Warface.  A game whose promise is trumped by its publisher's greed. 

Free in the context of Warface is analogous to being a freed slave in the post-Antebellum South.  You may have been free but you didn't have many opportunities.

That analogy came too easy for a post about a video game.  To me that indicates how wrong the Warface model is.

It's a shame too as I'd have gladly paid $20 for a good co-op FPS that wasn't always trying to pick my pocket.  I've always said that Call of Duty's greatest strength was its single player storyline and the cooperative game modes that grew out of them. 

Alas, even Call of Duty doesn't know how to do Co-op anymore.  I was hoping Warface could have filled the void but it seems the only void it's aimed at is the one created by its revenue model.

I've created the video below to give you a taste.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Shadow of Mordor, Warface & Battlefield 4

I've been busy....

I've got some great new videos posted that I did with my gaming buddy Shotglass.  2 are from the new game Shadow of Mordor 1, from the freemium FPS from Crytek, Warface and 2 from Battlefield 4.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Windows 10 - A death knell for Games for Windows Live?

I've been trying out Windows 10 over the past month or so and of course before I worry about connecting to servers, adding users or any of that boring corporate stuff I try out my games.

So far I've found a lot to like about Windows 10.  It's pretty much Windows 7 on steroids with the coolest Start Menu ever.

I've had no issue with game clients like Valve's Steam or EA's Origin and older games like Grid, Battlefield 3 and others seem to run without issue.  At least until today.

I've had issues with Games for Windows Live (GFWL) before and while they're always a pain in the neck to deal with, this one could signal its death knell.

The game I was trying to install (emphasis on :"trying") was Bulletstorm.  I picked it up for $5 on a Steam sale but interestingly enough the game wouldn't install correctly in the Steam environment on a Windows 7 machine due to conflicts between GWFL and Steam.  Probably why it was so cheap...

Origin, however, has a slightly looser grip on game executables and as such GWFL can complete its 2 step install process.

Games for Windows Live usually gets bundled in the game install and other than a few clicks the process is largely automated.

Generally, GWFL comes in at the tail end of the install and after a few seconds the game launches.

At this point you enter the second phase of installation where the Games for Windows Live client will check to see if it needs an update and in some cases authenticate the game's product key if applicable.

If no update is needed you're done.  Just save your GWFL credentials and play on.  If, however, the GWFL client needs an update it will start in the game then either exit out to complete or prompt you to exit the game.  This is the part that fails on Steam no matter what OS you're running on.

It's the second part I never got to.  Instead I ended up with an error that stopped the game dead in its tracks.  Clean installs, updates and compatibility settings had no effect.  It appears that at least for now Games For Windows Live is a No Go for Windows 10.  A check of the GFWL support site found nothing about Windows 10 either.

I grabbed a video of my experiences below.  Watch as I take you through my discovery....

Friday, November 7, 2014

Freemium - The South Park explanation


Somebody has found a creative way to explain exactly what "Freemium" is!  It started with games like World of Warcraft and Bejeweled that lured you into a premium experience for free.  

But as well all know, it wasn't and most of the time we abandon the game when we find out the only route to victory is to open our wallets.  If we're wise...

Apparently the guys at South Park figured it out too...

Check it out!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tribal Wars 2

It's been 6 months since skies went dark over Caledonia and Lord Of Ultima was no more.  In that time I've been searching for a suitable replacement.  I've tried other browser based MMORPG's since but the only one that has held my interest thus far has been Tribal Wars 2.

Tribal Wars 2 is much like Lord Of Ultima in that you have to build up your resources, armies and alliances to advance in the game.  I've found that I'm investing about the same amount of time in it on a daily basis as I was in Lord Of Ultima.  

Make no mistake, however.  While in Lord Of Ultima you could be a pacifist and still reign over a huge empire, it's just not so in Tribal Wars 2.

You fight to survive and resources are more often taken at the end of a blade than plowshare.  Defense is your first concern as the "protection" afforded new players wears off quickly leaving you open to attack.  

If you happen to be on a more established server, chances are you'll become a farm for a bigger tribe.  So find some strength in numbers or move on to a less hostile world.  

The game is still in beta so bugs and crashes do happen.  For instance, my game will inevitably crash if I enable the background music while playing in the Chrome browser. 

Slow servers and periodic maintenance intervals can interrupt your gameplay as well but thankfully that's an increasingly rare occurrence as the game moves closer to final release.

In fact many of the issues I've experienced will likely be gone in the final version.  I've been playing Tribal Wars 2 for roughly 2 months now and built a respectable empire.  On the down side, a friend of mine who started playing the same time as I did hasn't had the same opportunity.  

The world he was started on contained advanced players who instantly attacked him.  Worse, you can't choose your world so it's likely your friends will be of no use to you as game worlds are completely separate entities denying any contact even via the in-game mail system.  

Of course such disappointments could be attributed to the BETA nature of the game as developers likely try to keep the server load balanced.  There's also no word on whether current BETA players will have to start over once the game goes live.  

While the gameplay is much like any other MMORPG, there are still aspects of the pay to play freemium model that I intensely dislike.  Case in point, you have the ability to purchase troops which while pricey still allow a well heeled player to take an unfair shortcut.  

On the other side of the equation a new player set upon by a bullying tribe could literally find themselves paying just to survive by purchasing upgrades and troops to fend them off. 

Stat and resource boosters are fine but the prospect of purchasing entire armies invalidates all the time and effort that regular players have invested in the game.  

Before it  goes live that balance will have to be worked out or it runs the risk of being just another pay to win title like so many other doomed browser games that have gone before it.  

Look to the mess created by the failed marketplace in Diablo 3 as an analog.  Its abuse so severely unbalanced the game that it threatened the fledgling title's survival.

So far I haven't personally bought anything that gave an unfair advantage or that I couldn't earn over time.  There is opportunity to earn in-game currency, however, by participating in sponsored activities such as surveys, marketing campaigns and the like to earn the in-game coins necessary to purchase upgrades.  

The price? a lot of spam email and 10 minutes of questions about feminine hygiene products...

I've also been fortunate to build up my little empire enough to fend off the attacks of all but the largest enemy tribes but I have yet to test that belief. 

I'll say this of the game.  I've tried others and this is the only one that's held my interest so far.  Unfortunately for my friend, his experience has been less enjoyable finally giving up on it last week.  

If the game resets on launch perhaps my friend and I can have a better experience on the same world.

I've done a video overview of the game that should give you the basics of gameplay and even a few tactical hints.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Crusader: No Remorse - The latest giveaway from Origin

EA's ongoing "On the House" promotion has been rolling along since February 2014.  In that time we've been treated to free game titles ranging from DeadSpace  to Battlefield 3 for nothing more than an Origin login. 

While the value of these giveaways is debatable it's hard to argue with the a price of FREE.   After all, if you don't like it all you're out is a few minutes of time to download a dud.  On the positive side, even a bad game gives you street cred in those heated BS sessions with your gaming buddies. 

"You don't know!  You weren't there man!"

Which brings me to EA's latest giveaway that showed up on October 31'st.  While others may have had this info early I can tell you with certainty that the promotion didn't show up in my personal Origin client till Halloween.

That said, what's the value of this latest FREE offering from EA?

I'll be brief....

It's worth exactly what you paid for it, that being nothing.

Crusader: No Remorse is a third person shooter produced by Origin Systems in 1995.  It harkens back to the days when the box art was more exciting than the game. 

Considering the game is almost 20 years old it holds up well (not really) especially with Origin conveniently providing a runtime environment courtesy of DOSBOX.  By the way,  if you dig deep enough you can find the DOSBOX.conf file in the game's configuration files and modify it if you feel the need.  

I had the need...

Here's a pro tip when capturing DOSBOX game videos with FRAPS.  I ran into this while producing the footage you'll find below.  Set your FRAPS capture to 75 Frames per second and in your DOSBOX.conf file make sure the "output=" parameter is changed from "=surface" to "=openGL"

Otherwise you won't get anything but a video of your idle Windows desktop.

Remember, this game has to run in a virtual DOS environment and DirectX was still half a decade away from being useful when it was produced.   Meaning FRAPS is completely lost without DirectX to hook into. 

These were the "good old days" of EMM386 and figuring out what order to load your hardware drivers in your config.sys file. (Google it if you don't know what those are) 

DOSX and OPENGL were the standard, de facto or otherwise, in high graphical gaming content.  Plug and play anything was still something you did with a power cord.

That said, this game is laughable and hardly worth the effort to suffer such indignity.  Still, for a few it may be intriguing enough to suffer through the awful controls, vague hit registers and ancient graphics for a bit of nostalgia.

If you're younger than 30 you may want to try out the free download just to see what all of us "old guys" keep going on about. 

The "Good Old Days" weren't that good and after spending a few minutes with Crusader you'll realize just how fortunate you are to have missed the "golden age."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween treats - Team Fortress 2 and Killing Floor

It's that time of year again and two of the best examples of holiday spirit have released their Halloween specials.

The first is Team Fortress 2 which finally released their Halloween update.  It's called Doomsday and features a wacky romp through Merasmus' twisted amusement park.  As with all recent "Scream Fortress" releases (this is the sixth) the endgame of each round features an exclusive minigame.  This year it's bumper cars and that's all I'll tell you...

Next up is a cult horror shooter classic, Killing Floor.  If you're into dispatching waves of zombies this is your game.  Every year around Halloween (as well as Christmas and the Steam Summer Sale) Tripwire releases a new themed map and activates special zombie characters.  This year's map is called KF-clandestine which places you in a nightclub but don't expect to do much dancing...

Try them out!  Team Fortress 2 is Free and Killing Floor is cheap.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Team Fortress 2 - Days of Halloweens past

Not much to say other than if you're a fan of the Team Fortress 2 Halloween maps like "Harvest" and "Hell Tower"  then you'll need to get onboard because Valve has unleashed ALL of the previous 5 seasons of Halloween revelry for the game leading up to this year's event.

Special Halloween giveaways and loot drops are also active during this "Pre" Halloween event.

Check out the video for what you can expect and have fun!

Updates to the Real Dudz Fryd


I know some of you probably noticed that the video links in the posts were broken.  That was due to my shutting down my YouTube channel after my brush with #microstopped.

If you're interested the story can be found here.

Well, I've just spent the last 4 days rebuilding and reorganizing my content and you'll be happy to know that the new YouTube channel will contain only gaming related content.  I've made 3 new channels for all the rest.

The link is updated in the sidebar but here it is again.

Check out the video playlist below to see what you've been missing if all of this is new information to you.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Borderlands Pre-Sequel freebies!

The gaming scene hasn't been all that exciting as of late unless you were anxiously awaiting Destiny.  Which I wasn't.  I'm not into games with that bad of an identity crisis.

However, we're getting very close to the launch of the latest entry in the Borderlands Universe.  That being Borderlands: The Pre-sequel. As I've said in the past I don't consider this game anything more than a training exercise for some new game physics that will eventually show up in the next "real" installment of Borderlands.  Still, it's undeniable that it is nonetheless a new Borderlands game and as such worthy of attention but perhaps not its $59.99 price tag.

So today I received an email from Gearbox offering a not so subtle reminder that we're drawing ever closer to launch day (October 14th) and to sweeten the deal for fans of the franchise like me, they've offered up some new Shift codes for both Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre Sequel.  Note that the codes for Pre-Sequel only work for 7 days after launch..

From the email:

Thanks so much for playing Borderlands 2! In honor of the upcoming release of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, we’d like you to have these Golden Keys to unlock some new loot in Borderlands 2. 
Borderlands 2 SHiFT Codes:
Xbox 360: K35TJ-6395F-TXFBX-56TJB-ZZ33S
PlayStation 3: K35TJ-6399B-XZBCT-93WJB-ZZ35K

In addition, here’s a second set of SHiFT Codes that you’ll be able to redeem in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel when it’s released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC/Mac/Linux in North America on October 14 and worldwide on October 17.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel SHiFT codes:
Xbox 360: KKK3J-T66J3-FZH3X-KFJJ3-JSF6R
PlayStation 3: KKK3J-T66R6-HTF5T-SBKJ3-JSFRJ
These Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel SHiFT Codes will only work for the first 7 days after the game is released, so act fast!

So go out and get yours.  Me I'll wait for a Steam sale...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Something less than a Mass Effect

There's no accounting for taste or so they say...

Which is why it should come as no surprise that popular culture frequently veers off into left field when it takes up a cause elevating the inconsequential to the lead on the nightly news.

Outrage over the ridiculous can take on the gravity of SOPA if you mess with somebody's hero, virtual or otherwise.

So it was with Mass Effect 3.  A sci-fi themed RPG morality play with elements of an FPS thrown in for good measure. Two years ago it was a triple-A title from a franchise rivaled only by Call of Duty and Battlefield in the gaming community. 

But a month after its release it became the center of a firestorm of controversy. 

Why?  Because fans didn't like the ending.  Bioware, the developer, had made it abundantly clear that the storyline was coming to close with Mass Effect 3.  Meaning that while decisions made during the game ultimately affected the outcome, that outcome would always lead to the same conclusion.

But it seems that wasn't enough for fans.  Too many loose ends, the hero dying and huge plot holes you could drive a truck through were too much for them.  (sorry if there's any spoilers there)

So why do I bring a tired subject up now, 2 years later?  Well, mostly because Origin had a sale on Mass Effect 3 and I picked it up for $5 a few weeks ago.  To me, that was a fair price and if I was disappointed at least I had the benefit of personal experience from which to lob my criticisms. 

It took me a total of 37 hours over 2 weeks to complete the single player game.  I found it to be slightly less engaging than Bioware's other blockbuster, Bioshock, with characters and gameplay that seemed more mechanical than other Bioware titles I've played.  It was more something to get through than to get excited about. 

But that was ok.  It was a game not a life changing event.  I found myself contemplating my actions a bit more carefully after seeing the effects of an ill considered decision but in the end it wasn't really of any consequence.  You were still going to fight the "real" bad guys and unless you managed to slight every conceivable race that could help you, the game was going to end the same. 

If I really cared about the story I suppose I'd be upset.  For example at the end of the game there were races of aliens that were supposedly joining in the effort that were notably absent when the time came.  There was also scant explanation as to how a safe haven for 35 of my 37 hours had suddenly turned into a chamber of horrors. 

To be honest, I found Bioshock a better franchise with a more compelling story even when it veered off into the insane.  A lot of the same elements were there including the grinding boss battles but the story never failed to support the game.  Mass Effect 3 was the direct opposite with a disjointed story and irrelevant character interactions frequently getting in the way of the game.

From the perspective of the game and not the narrative, however, it was still textbook Bioware.  You were led down a tightly controlled path that led you to visually stunning but minimally interactive environments.  Then there were technical issues such as the mannequin-like interactions between you and other NPC's and frequent map glitches that could get you trapped in scenery.  That could be said for any modern title, however.

I'm not going to get bogged down in specifics though.  Mostly because it's just a game (at this point a $5 game) and as such it lived up to its potential.  That being an entertainment medium and not a personal relationship...

Look, games are just products and as such their only real function is to entertain.  Mass Effect 3 did that better than other games that weren't trading on their narrative like Battlefield 4.   Technically, nothing about the story would keep your character from advancing on his skill tree or blowing away the waves of bad guys.

It would just waste your time dealing with things that didn't save the galaxy.

In fact I would have preferred a more technical and less narrative experience in Mass Effect 3.  There were times when I became annoyed at the moral and sexual ambiguities of the game.  Yes, I said "sexual" ambiguities. 

Let's be honest, if I'm playing a game where I'm supposed to be saving the whole freaking galaxy do I really need to concern myself with my love life?  Remember, you can sleep with anyone you want, alienate the aliens and be as saintly or satanic as  you want and still get the same ending.

So why are we pandering to sexual orientation? 

Maybe this is where the outrage came from.  Mass Effect 3 is full of dead ends and the inclusion of political correctness may have led players down the path to a false conclusion. 

That being that the game is something more than it actually is.

To be honest, the only game that's really moved me in recent years was (of all things) a Call of Duty title and it had nothing to do with whether or not the sarge went "commando."

It was Call of Duty: World at War and while I was playing the game I began to feel like I had a better understanding of what a World War 2 veteran went through in the closing days of the war.  It was full of pain and grit and moral ambiguity and I loved every minute of it.

That's where a good story improves a good game.  I cared about characters that were every bit as fictional as Mass Effect's but it never got in the way of the core game. 

Unlike Mass Effect 3 that had me worrying less about the fate of the universe and more about who would end up in the captain's cabin for a nightcap.

That's a fail.

I'll leave you with this.  If the ending of a game is important enough to you to threaten legal action you may need to reassess your priorities. 

It isn't that important, really...

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Fair Fight in Battlefield 4?

Perhaps I'm clairvoyant, clued in or it's all just a coincidence...

Whatever it is, this week Dice published an article on its Battelog webpage on the topic of cheating in Battlefield 4.

What makes it interesting to me is the timing.  Coming almost a week after I posted a video exposing the ongoing problem of blatant cheats available and prevalent in Battlefield 4 comes Dice's renewed commitment to combating the practice. 

Touting its "FairFight" anti cheating system as central to its efforts Dice claims to be administering a Heavy Hand to cheaters. 

So what is this "FairFight" all about?

Simply put, it's one part snitch and one part stat tracking.  In other words it's a whole lot of nothing.  It showed up around the release of Battlefield 4 and was supposed to address the rampant cheating that was going on largely unhindered in Battlefield 3.  FairFight relies on user reports, PunkBuster Bans (aka: PBBANS) and "unusual" player statistics gathered during gameplay.

One of the improvements in Battlefield 4 over its predecessor is real time statistics tracking.  Meaning if you get disconnected from a game you still have your unlocks, kills and other achievements up to that point.  This also allows Dice to monitor gameplay via those same real time stats. 

The theory is that nobody should be able to get say 30 kills with a sniper rifle in as many seconds without a cheat involved. 

Dice has been adamant about the system being largely immune to false triggering due to the performance of a "skilled" player. Ugh...that whole "skill" word in the context of video games drives me nuts.  Yeah I suppose I'm a "skilled" web surfer and toilet flusher too.
Anyway the official line is this...

"Our policy on banning cheaters is very strict – we only ban a player if there’s evidence that he or she is in fact cheating as we don’t want any false positives. I’m not saying that no evidence = no cheating, it’s just that we can’t ban anyone if there’s no solid evidence of it. Suspect players are being monitored a bit closer, and we look for other ways to prove their guilt." (from the Battlelog article)

Which still doesn't address the real problem with online multiplayer gaming on PC's and consoles.  That being the very real disconnect between the online host and the player.  It's the same issue that's caused the failure of cloud gaming services like OnLive except it wasn't lag or price.  Rather it's the layer of abstraction between what you think is happening and what is actually happening.  Real time gaming isn't possible over the Internet, there's always a delay and until Terabit connections happen you can't call it negligible.

As such most online games rely on having as much information about what's going on preloaded on every client.  It lessens the burden on the servers and it's why you rarely see FPS titles with more than 64 player slots available.  It's just too much data to keep track of which provides the perfect opening for cheats.  All a cheat has to do is expose information that's already present but normally hidden from a legitimate player.

Unless someone is dumb enough to upload a video bragging about their exploits to YouTube exposing the hack there's little chance of getting caught.  Meaning we're all on the honor system.  Unless a developer creates hooks into DirectX that monitor for specific changes to the display output they can't possibly know about a hack when it's being deployed.  That would involve a level of coding that would be akin to adding a virus scanner into every game's code.

The only thing FairFight does that even comes close is to monitor certain areas that are considered "off limits "on multiplayer maps.  Off limits is defined as areas that allow players to hide and slaughter their opponents with impunity.  That includes infamous map glitches, "holodeck" walls you can shoot through and areas that can otherwise give an unfair advantage.  A player that enters these areas can be banned instantly but remember that we're still not operating in real time.  It's only the local interaction with the loaded map and not the other players that comes into play here.  You can be sure that every game "update" will have these areas defined in the local map cache on the client.
So what's the answer? 

FairFight isn't it.  I can't see it as anything more than PR tool.  After all, the cheating industry is a multi-million dollar business built on circumventing these types of measures.  Reason being, the technology to combat it is too cumbersome and expensive from both an economic and resource point of view. 

Not to mention the uproar that would result from the ever present eyes of some draconian "Big Brother" watching your every move.

Meaning we're pretty much stuck with a halfhearted attempt. 

Perhaps the problem really doesn't lie with the developers, however.  Perhaps we just need to remember that just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. 

It's human nature to gain the upper hand but as children we're often told that cheaters never prosper.  But it all rings hollow in the face of an easy victory doesn't it.  I can excuse the 12 year olds in the crowd but the rest of you, well...

The only fix for cheating is to resist the temptation to do so.  If you take your gaming seriously then you should also take anything that threatens it seriously as well.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Battlefield 4 Hacks and Cheats

We all know BF4 is broken.  We also know that someone will always find a way to cheat them.  But does that mean we should?

Watch the video...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Gaming is better than ever, so why does it suck? ( PART 3)

Remember awhile back when I said history may be repeating itself? 

The signs are there and I'm fairly certain we're rushing headlong into 1983 again.  Here's why...

In the past 3 or so years that I've done this blog I've chronicled the spectacular failures of recent releases like SimCity, Diablo 3, Medal of Honor:Warfighter and Battlefield 4.  It wasn't just the technical failures that made them notable for our purposes, however.  It was that they were such perfect examples of the "business" of gaming.

If you recall, My friend and I have made gaming a priority for over a decade.  We've seen game franchises come and go but some seemed to have more staying power.  For example, it used to be that anything with Battlefield, Need for Speed of Call of Duty in the title was what we called an "Instabuy."

But the past few years that term was more likely to be applied to more mature titles purchased in a Steam Sale than faith in any gaming franchise.  Macro economic concerns aside, we seemed to have lost the faith.

It was a struggle to figure out why too.  Were we just getting crotchety in our old age or was it something else?  Fairly quickly we were able to dismiss any romantic notion about the glory days of our younger selves.  It was an easy enough test, validated through a quick and thoroughly entertaining jaunt through the zombie infected maps of Killing Floor.  By the way, it's a 5 year old game built on a 10 year old game engine.

Those few minutes with an outdated (yet still popular) game brought a laser focus to what was wrong.  Games are more commodity than art now.  In fact, more than they've ever been since the crash of '83. 

Beloved franchises have increasingly become little more than cash cows to be milked by greedy publishers.  Look no further than the lawsuit against EA alleging that they cooked a prospectus to hide very real problems with the Battlefield 4 launch. 

I truly believe that game developers want to put out a superior product and care about being good stewards of the franchises under their care.  I can't say the same of the EA's or Activision's of the world that reign over them, however, they deal in timetables and volume.  Artistic concerns are secondary. 

That's the rub...

Most games worth playing aren't free, it is a business after all and a quality product deserves compensation.  But producing a good game is more art than formula.  Just because something worked before doesn't mean slapping on a new coat of paint and incrementing the version number will guarantee success.  

And it shouldn't!

Call of Duty and Battlefield are perfect examples.

My gaming nights over the past few years have largely been comprised of Battlefield, Borderlands and to a lesser degree, Call of Duty games.  But where Battlefield 3 (BF3)was revolutionary, Battlefield 4 (BF4) seemed like little more than a rerun.  It was BF3 DLC with crappier gameplay. 

Then there was the incessant pitches to buy into "premium" and get access to upcoming DLC and "special" events designed to give an advantage to those who could afford to "pay to play." 

Call of Duty (COD)was no better.  The last title I cared about was Modern Warfare 2 (MW2)with single player and co-op play modes that set the standard for the industry.

Modern Warfare 3?  Almost the same story as Battlefield 4.  It was a re-skinned MW2 right down to almost identical cooperative objectives.  

It was a rerun too...

Yes, I played Black Ops and Ghosts and admittedly their Single Player campaigns were decent but their cooperative games never rose to the level of a Modern Warfare 2 or World at War in my view.  

Not to be outdone, COD had it's own bundle of tacky add-ons for all it's recent releases.  There was the "Elite" subscription that got you "most" of the endless stream of DLC that gave you special goodies.  Examples included custom texture packs to apply to your guns and multiplayer maps to add to what always seemed like empty servers.  

I suppose publishers think they can fix a flawed game by giving you more of it.

Games are better than ever but they still suck precisely because of the "business of gaming."

We're not blasting pixilated aliens or racing around blocky polygon filled race tracks anymore.  Gaming is an entertainment medium on par with movies and television.  An immersive, interactive experience far removed from just casual entertainment or electronic babysitter.

Or at least it should be but the underlying premise of the Business of Gaming is that the buying public is stupid.  Willing to bite at any shiny object dangled in front of them. 

Honestly, for the past few years they were probably right and it was a viable model but now?


You've dangled the carrot, shown us that we can expect more and now you have to deliver.   But more often than not launch day finds little more than empty promises.  Inadequate server capacity for games requiring an always-on connection, poor or nonexistent quality control and unfinished code seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

The old adage of getting what you pay for fails here.  Why pay a premium to be a beta tester?

Is the industry getting the message?  If sagging sales numbers of the latest blockbuster game titles and consoles are any indication, they should be. 

There are signs of hope.  EA's latest Battlefield (Hardline) was set to launch this fall but after a private and public beta it was decided to allow the developers more time to refine the game and make it look less like BF4 DLC. 

Unfortunately, if history holds true, the move is more exception than rule.  The Business of Gaming is concerned with sales quarters not legacies.  They'll squander the goodwill gained from a previous success on shelf loads of garbage with nothing in common but the name on the box.

Which can only lead down a road that takes the gaming industry back to 1983.  

Keep an eye out for semi-trucks heading for landfills!