Friday, March 28, 2014

On the House, Freebies from EA

Originally published on Kupeesh!

Up for a free game?

Little did we know that last month's "Player Appreciation Month"  for Battlefield 4 players  was just the opening salvo in what appears to be a face saving campaign by EA to win back the affections of disgruntled gamers.

This week found the publisher offering up free copies of the Sci-Fi/ Horror classic "DeadSpace" via its Origin service.  Dead Space is a third person shooter that puts the player in the role of Isaac Clarke as he struggles for survival in a scenario reminiscent of the Alien movies.

Hmm, did anyone else pick up that the protagonist's name is a concatenation of Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke

My geek is showing...

To the point, this is the first offering in a new promotion EA is calling "On the House."  EA plans to periodically give away free games as well as "expansions and more" via their Origin service. 

EA hasn't announced a schedule for the giveaway but has indicated that this will be an ongoing promotion.  That means the freebies can show up at any time but disappear without notice.  EA isn't exactly screaming about it from the mountaintops either.  A check of the Origin website as well as the "Store" tab of the Origin game client found no mention of On the House

A buried treasure only found with the help of a search engine and word of mouth.  Still it's worth the hunt as Dead Space is currently a $20 game on Origin so it's not exactly burnt offerings.

Your best bet is to bookmark the "On the House" page on EA's Origin website and check regularly for updates.  The current URL can be found here.

In this case I suppose money really is no object...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dice delays latest BF4 DLC for PC and Xbox 1

Originally published on Kupeesh!

More news from the company that brings you launch day failures like no other.

Today, Battlefield 4's latest DLC pack, Naval Strike launched for its Battlefield 4 Premium members...well, kinda.

Game Developer Dice posted the following to the official Battlefield 4 blog...

UPDATE: We wanted to provide more detail about the delay of Battlefield 4 Naval Strike. We have delayed the PC version of Naval Strike because we are concerned that the combination of the pack and planned PC updates would increase performance issues on mid-range to high-end PCs. We are working hard to resolve that issue now. Additionally, we have decided to delay the Xbox One version of Naval Strike because we want to address issues in the animation system that hinder players from engaging targets in set circumstances using popular weapon configurations.

So while Playstation and Xbox 360 owners are gleefully spreading carnage on the waves it seems those with PC's and Xbox 1's aren't so blessed.  Dice assures Premium members that they will still enjoy 2 weeks early access when the game finally gets a launch date.  In other words, everybody is going to have to wait.  No release date has been set as of this writing although Dice indicated that they are "trying to release the update in early April for Xbox One and PC."

Which ultimately leaves affected  Battlefield players either suffering delayed gratification or relief that they might have just dodged another bullet (pun intended).

At least you'll have something to look forward to.  Details about 4 new maps were released last week including:

Lost Islands - Players battle for control of a crashed airliner a midst a small group of islands
Nansha Strike Meant for boats and infantry players alike with ample opportunities for each.
Wave Breaker - Featuring a submarine base perfect for Deathmatch play
Operation Mortar - It's got an old fort in the middle offering views of the whole map.  Perfect for well, mortars.

Hang in there soldiers!

Free to Play, the movie

Originally published on Kupeesh!

Truth is stranger than fiction...

That's what I kept thinking as I was watching "Free to Play," a new documentary film released by Valve this week.  A company better known for producing games like Half Life and selling them though its Steam portal than making movies.  In fact, Steam is how I became aware of the film.

Free to Play chronicles the emotional journey of 3 "professional" gamers competing in the DOTA2 International Tournament held in Cologne, Germany during Gamescon 2011. 

DOTA2, for the uninitiated, is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game where teams of 5 players can slug it out in what is basically an online RPG (think World of Warcraft) without all the boring parts.  And yes, DOTA2 is a Valve title so of course the movie is a vehicle for shameless self promotion.

That's not really the point though...

The film paints a canvass of the "professional" gaming scene and its slow rise to legitimacy as a sport.  As such, I'd fully expected to abandon the film somewhere between the opening credits and the 10th time someone expressed their undying love for Valve and DOTA2.  Which in my estimation should have happened somewhere around the 7 minute mark.

That didn't happen...

Instead, I found a thoughtful treatment on the topic of what it means to be a "professional" gamer.  The film tries to draw a strong equivalence of competitive gaming to professional sports.  Even as an avid gamer I struggle with that "professional" tag and in the end so did many of the players.  Free to Play showed the glory but wasn't afraid to address the pain and raise the question of whether or not all the sacrifice was worth it.  In the end it was still just a game leaving many of the gamers profiled in the film questioning their choices.
That kind of honesty was unexpected. 

I went into Free to Play thinking I'd get the equivalent of Warren Miller's Snowriders but got something more akin to Bowling for Columbine

Valve took the high road for a change...

Well done.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Grid 2 - A personal score to settle

If you've read my recent stuff you've probably noticed that I've been waxing nostalgic lately.  In part that's due to a minor case of OCD that drives me to at least get a few hours of play out of a game I forked over my hard earned money for.

That's what caused my obsession with the BioShock franchise over the past 3 months and the videos that resulted.

Considering I've recently been living on Ramen noodles ( .25 a package!) and tap water I'm hard pressed to let anything I've paid for languish for long.  It's used or it ends up on Ebay.

I can't Ebay my Steam games so I might as well play them...

I wrote an earlier article on Grid 2 and I was kind of lukewarm on it.  I really didn't care for the "Need For Speed" direction it's taken with the very Autolog like Racenet online portal and DLC disease.  Still, the game is as gorgeous as its predecessor and car control is almost as good.

For months, however, I just couldn't get into the vibe of the game.  It seemed like there was always this disconnect between me and what was happening on the monitor.  Today, however, I was in the right mood and decided that at least I would finish the first "Season" of the single player game.  I'd let it languish for almost a year so it was about time I think.

Now I already mentioned that things have been a bit financially challenging and one of the big changes,  gaming wise, was being forced to sell my Radeon HD 6950 video card from my home gaming/everyday pc. 

Hey, I got a few bucks that bought some groceries and gas to get to a few interviews so not a bad trade but that left me coming up a bit short.

I had originally tried to sell old Nvidia GTX 260 216 which while a worthy card in its day, just doesn't stack up to anything made recently.  I mean, really now, it's a Direct X 10 card that came out 5 years ago.

So that's what I had to put into my home gaming rig to get by.

Here's the thing...

I found out that Battlefield 4 could run on a DX10 card, Call of Duty Ghosts won't but then who cares,  I hate that game.  Guess what else works, Grid 2.  In fact it appears to play better on that old 260 than it did on the 6950.

I'm starting to wonder if in spite of my efforts I just play better on Nvidia cards.  Even if they're old and crusty.  After all, HD gaming doesn't need a lot of power and Grid 2 isn't taxing the hardware even with 4XMSAA and high textures. 

The result is what you see below.  I finished the Season 1 series pretty easily.  I was not having as easy a time with the 6950. 

I think I'm an NVIDIA guy now....

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bioshock - 1 Gamer's trek (Part 2 Bioshock 2 and Bioshock Infinite)


So what the hell happened with Bioshock 2?

This time, we've been dragged back to what was left of Rapture after the closing of the first game.  It's 10 years later and you wake up as one of the iconic "Big Daddy's," lumbering around in some giant Victorian era diving suit.  Which for all intents and purposes is where the first game left off. 

I didn't make it more than a few hours before I gave up on the game.  It's one of the worst reviewed of the franchise and for good reason.  Even with a metacritic user score of 7.9 out of 10 it wasn't anything more than a recycled storyline with slightly improved controls. 

For all the hype and the 3 intervening years fans had to wait, they had a right to expect more.  In short, if you like FPS games and really enjoyed the "Little Sister" storyline in the original Bioshock this game's for you.   

As such, it's not for me.  I was bored with it.  Instead of wanting to see more I just wanted out.  As a now fan of the first game this is nothing less than a fail.  Gimmicks like he inclusion of multiplayer were even more laughable.  2K and Irrational games milked the franchise cow and I was having none of that milk thank you very much.

but, at least I didn't pay full price. ...


So finally, mercifully, I was onto Bioshock Infinite.  Arguably the only game I really paid for and even then at a 75% discount.

It opened with my character seated in a rowboat being taken to a secluded dock at the base of a lonely lighthouse.  Hmmm, seems familiar but I soon found that's where the most obvious Bioshock reference ended.


OMG, this was incredible.  I was hooked, hours melted away.  A rich, lavish, utopian world and you just knew something was going to screw it up.  That something was you.

I love that!

It was still only a DirectX 9 game but they used every bit of it.  Did I still trip over invisible curbs, get stuck in Velcro shrubbery and occasionally have to contend with controls as sluggish as an Atari 2600 joystick?
Yes, of course, just like any other DirectX 9 game but it didn't matter .  The story was good, the environment every bit as immersive as Battlefield 4 or Call of Duty.  Again, I was hooked.

I liked the way the developers let you get a feel for the place before people started shooting at you.  I also appreciated how they let you take a breath between bullets as well.  The themes were clear.  Hyper religious zealotry driven by megalomania with a side of racism just for good measure.

Fascism was there as well but more of the nationalistic breed than Andrew Ryan's corporatocracy.  The good of the state or at least the idealistic society it purported to be were paramount. 

It was engrossing.

I remember strolling through a cobblestone street with a barbershop quartet singing, "God only Knows" in 4 part harmony on the Victorian equivalent of a land speeder.  Which I accepted till it occurred to me that this particular song was actually released by the Beach Boys in 1966.  This was supposed to be 1912.
In another section of the map I heard CCR's "Fortunate Son"

Amusing.  Just an Easter Egg but it seemed to fit the now uneasy backdrop of what was rapidly becoming a dystopian world.

Just like the first game I was pulled along.  Learning new abilities and gaining new weaponry to further my cause.  Unlocking puzzles and always keeping a sharp eye out.  In games like these you learn to look in every nook and exploit every cranny. 

It's how I survived...

Twists, turns, heart wrenching morality and outright slaughter, you never knew what was coming at you.  History buffs would chuckle at the distortion of their tomes.  Stone effigies of the likes of John Wilkes Booth and  Jefferson Davis alongside George Washington.

Looming larger than them all was the primary antagonist, Zachary Hale Comstock, the Prophet as he preferred to be addressed.

So the game continued on with the story revealing itself like the layers of an onion. 


Sadly, it all had to end.  The final crescendo, the answer nagging for your attention throughout the entire game was at hand.


The devs screwed it up.  Cheating me out of a hard fought and anxiously anticipated conclusion. 
Irrational Games decided to cheap out on the end and instead of leading you to a natural conclusion placing a final "God Battle" in the way of unlocking the secrets I'd invested so much time in learning.

What the hell?!

Instead of seeing the end credits I was forced to defend some blue jar on the deck of a floating air barge from hordes of invading foes I was ill-prepared to dispatch.

I was sent scurrying to YouTube to find an answer.  After a dozen attempts and just as many failures I relented.  I've been defeated by a game mechanic.  It was like getting to the last chapter of a book and finding someone had ripped out the pages and locked them in a box then thrown away the key.
Life's too short...

The game became a grind and one that took me further away from the story.  It broke the immersion and for that sin I cannot forgive Irrational games.

Again, just as in the first game and all of Bioshock 2, the idea was to protect something defenseless with less than adequate means. 

I don't have any patience for that.  Challenge? yes!  Stupid? No! 

Again I was resigned to YouTube to see what was denied me.  Gracious souls either more skilled or more lucky than I had posted the footage I would never see from my own efforts.

All of the failings that were mere annoyances became impenetrable barriers to me.  How could I go through the entire game without the need of trainers, cheats or hacks only to be thwarted at the end.  So much for being a straight shooter. 

At least you had console commands in Bioshock 1 and 2.  No such luck in Bioshock Infinite.


Those similarly afflicted (and there's a lot of you out there) have our revenge, however.  It seems the same crass disregard for fans has now extended to Irrational Games itself.  Ken Levine shut down the studio forever leaving most of its staff to fend for itself elsewhere.  It seems the same DNA that created my annoyances with Bioshock was really just an expression of studio head Ken Levine's callousness. 
So while the second DLC for Bioshock infinite is shipping now don't expect any more.  Even with infinite universes, there are no more pages to Bioshock's story.

Maybe that's a good thing...

In an alternate universe where Levine let Irrational Games continue, maybe the follow-up to Infinite would have been just another Bioshock 2.

Bioshock - 1 gamer's trek (Part 1, Bioshock)

System Shock, Deus Ex, Fallout and the Elder scrolls and of course Bioshock.  All Story game franchises  and all require a commitment that just doesn't do it for your average run and gun FPS player.

I'm pretty picky about games that demand my undivided attention for hours on end.  A good one will make hours seem like minutes.  A bad one, well I'd think it was pretty obvious at which point my only consolation would be that I got it on sale.

That's how I ended up with all 3 Bioshock games...

During the 2013 Steam Holiday sale Bioshock, Bioshock 2 and Bioshock Infinite went on sale as a bundle for $15. 

I only had a passing interest in them but for $15 it was kind of a no-brainer to take the plunge.  My previous experience with games that focused on a strong narrative was fairly limited.  I'd played a few Elder Scrolls games including SkyRim as well as Fallout 3. 

I still don't know what genre games like this officially fall into.  They're not really RPG's, not FPS's and they're definitely not MMO's since you never play against anything but code.  They tend to crossover depending on what you're expected to do. 

It's all about the story and the game pulls you along giving you just enough bait to keep you going.  That's what any good story does.  They're immersive, intimate and often thought provoking.

Bioshock fits the "thought provoking" label pretty well.  It's kind of Sci-Fi but really is more of a "what-if" experience with just enough reality thrown in to make it seem plausible.

I decided that i'd play all three games in order.  Truth be told I was tempted to rush right into Bioshock Infinite but I resisted the urge to skip ahead.  I'm glad I did too.


I started with Bioshock which came out in 2007.  By now everyone know the story so I won't saddle you with yet another boring rehash of it.  There's plenty of YouTube videos out there to clue you in if you don't already know it.

What struck me was the intelligence of the game.  It was creepy, engrossing and I couldn't resist the urge to look at everything.  That's a good thing too because clues as to what was really going on were sprinkled liberally everywhere.  From map design to lighting effects  and even furnishings everything in the environment worked to keep you on edge.

I haven't been so creeped out since Doom 3.  The best way to describe it was like be locked up in some creepy old underwater insane asylum and all the inmates had guns.   It was brilliant and I was hooked.  Yes, hours passed like minutes and I was both frightened and thrilled through most of the game.

Till it got stupid...

About halfway through things were getting a little tougher on me than my patience could stand.  This is the same flaw I saw with Skyrim and now just as I did then I went scurrying off to find the hacks that would let me continue my adventure relatively unscathed.

Mostly because there was a lot of "Scathing" going on....

Which sucked...

I'm all for a challenge but when it turns into a grind it ruins it for me.  Not that every opponent should just fall over at the sight of me.  It's simply that these types of games tend to put you at a disadvantage from the onset.  The first few hours you do alright with whatever you can scavenge but soon you find yourself woefully outmatched.  Your only hope of survival being a lucky break.

I don't want to be lucky, I just want to get to the next chapter in your story.

Where games like this start to fall apart is when they get too complicated for their own good.  Give me the opportunity to find what I need but don't make me spend 8 hours of my life dying in the same spot to do it.  That's the very definition of a grind and it's a cheap tactic used far too often.

Instead of concentrating on the story we're forced to worry about things like inventory slots, combination attacks and whether or not we're going to find a health pack somewhere.  It's tedious; it's stupid...
I honestly think developers do it to claim more hours of gameplay but to me it's a cheat. 

You know how I keep gushing about Borderlands?  That's the reason right there.  It's about the environment and there's always a way to succeed that doesn't involve being forced into a grind. 

All the Bioshock games made this mistake but to their credit they did throw you a bone.  Death was only temporary costing only some time and a few coins.  Your enemies were still smarting from your assault as well although they did recover somewhat.  That was eminently fair in my book.  What wasn't was when I would reemerge from my demise only to be instantly struck down again because of bad AI programming.
Block the way but at least let me grab a power bar for god sake!

Ok, so enough bitching about game mechanics, the story is still paramount in Bioshock and it's a good one. 
Andrew Ryan, ambitious, industrialist, visionary and ultimately megalomaniac.   The largesse of his character is reflected in his sunken kingdom, Rapture. 

But obviously something went wrong in his world.  A world built on satiating the self was bound to spring a leak (pun intended) at some point.  His promise was classic Ayn Rand, enrichment of the self above all else and to hell with the consequences.

It was fun to explore this cultural mix of objectivism turned fascism.  Where else could such a story go?  Bioshock made me want to find out even if I had to cheat to do it.  Which ironically is in line with the philosophical backdrop of the game.

Bioshock made me stop and think just as much as The Matrix or Inception.  Well done....