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."