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.