Thursday, May 28, 2015

I hate the whole "Pro Gamer" thing

Pro gamers are fucking up gaming...

There, I said it.

Which just lost 90% of the people who were reading this.  Of course most of those people were probably 12 years old and without cheat codes they weren't going to stick around anyway.

For those of you that remain, I'll attempt to explain why I feel that way.

It's pretty simple really, it comes down to this:

Pro Gaming has turned something fun into something serious and ultimately ruined the experience for everyone.

Games like Counter Strike, StarCraft and DOTA have become virtual grind fests completely devoid of amusement.  Watching a tournament is like watching fast food workers during the lunch rush.

Increasingly, new releases are being produced with competitive gameplay in mind catering to a gaming culture that reveres the "skills" of "professional" gamers.  The result are games that are either needlessly complex or boring grind fests stripped of all but the most basic elements.

But take away the stadium crowds, pyrotechnics and Rock Concert atmosphere of the average championship and suddenly a DOTA 2 competition makes watching a ping pong match look exciting.  I mean how much fun is it to sit there for hours watching someone play a game.

Yeah, I know TWITCH and HITBOX are all about that. I'm on both of them.  But I'm not a pro and don't want to be.  I just like to share the fun.  In fact watching TWITCH streams often inspires me to play and helps me to enjoy the experience more by learning from other players.  If I land on a pro-gaming stream, however, I tend to fall asleep after a few minutes of endless grinding on the same map.

Hey I love video games.  In fact it's that love that lies at the heart of my irritation with a fake construct.  

Pro gaming is less about the game and more about the gamer and believe it or not that's wrong.  It's a product of the hype perpetrated by game publishers and enthusiast hardware vendors.  It's product is reflected in overpriced Triple-A titles, DLC disease and the delusional construct of the "Pro Gamer."

I say delusion because there's an entire population of gamers who actually think that playing video games is now somehow equivalent to other "professions"

I understand the push to redefine paradigms when it comes to what you do for a living.  Hell, I've been beating that drum for 20 years and try to live by my own example.  Do what you're good at and let that define your value.  The superficial nonsense that defined our parent's reality simply doesn't apply anymore.  So yeah, I get it.

But there's such a thing as taking it too far and professional gaming has done exactly that.

The variables of the "real" world dictate a need for "real" skills to succeed.  Video Games, on the other hand,  operate in a sandbox.  A video game by its very nature places you in an environment with strictly defined rules and outcomes.  There's no such thing as "out of the box" thinking when the "box" is your entire world.  If you play long enough you'll eventually master every conceivable aspect of it in a relatively short period of time. 

Real life doesn't work that way and neither do real skills.  

Now before I go off on some rant about how video games don't require "skills" I'll just say this.  If playing a video game requires any measure of skill then where would you put it on a resume?

What's its market value?   Do you actually believe it compares to the skills of the people who actually made the game?

Sadly, people see an equivalence based on unrelenting hype from an industry only too happy to prime the pump with flashy competitions and false legitimacy for the participants.

Which is exactly why pro gaming fucks up video games.

When you turn an entertainment medium into a competitive sport all the crap that goes with it comes along for the ride.  It's the competition and not the quality of the game that matters. 

And that's just wrong. 

Maybe 1/10th of the people who buy a game do so because they plan to play it competitively.  Of that number most will never explore any more of the game than the tournament requires.  To keep things fair most competitions only involve a subset of the entire game.  No mods, no campaigns, no DLC.  Meaning game modes like Campaign and Co-op start to disappear.  

"Pros" don't need them.  Add a new game engine and some flashy effects and the latest incarnation of Battlefield launches with half the features of its predecessor with nary a peep of complaint. 

Well, at least none they need to pay attention to.  Because of pro gaming, major publishers get to release a lesser game for more money than the one it's replacing.   

So-called "Professional" gaming leagues like the ESL, MLG and PGL all enjoy major sponsorship from the likes of EA, and Valve not to mention enthusiast hardware vendors like AMD and NVIDIA

Meaning they'd rather dump millions into hype and false relevancy than improve what more often than not are buggy, overpriced products.

So the next time you think playing a video game involves skill, remember what that belief is costing you in crappy game releases and higher prices for less content. 

Talk about sucking the fun out of a party...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bad night, When good gaming goes bad

You know you've been there.  The perfect storm where it just seems like everything is conspiring against you. 

This is a gaming blog so I'm not talking about your lousy boss or the irritation of your significant other...

No, it's about how you thought you'd be gaming till dawn but instead ended up flipping through seasons  of Community.

In case you haven't guessed, I just had one of those.

It's a special kind of masochism that makes a gamer spend hours beating their head against the same wall and so it was with me.

The game I'm currently spending the most time with is Path of Exile.  Like most players I have a few characters I play and like anything else some are more entertaining than others.  I enjoy a challenge but I don't enjoy stupid.

I've mentioned before my irritation with games that get unnecessarily difficult just to keep things interesting.  Which is exactly why I spent last night watching a lot of TV instead of gaming.

It started with Path of Exile and my level 52 Witch.  She's my original character and the one that's responsible for most of my time in the game.  Unfortunately as I've gained more experience it's become obvious that she's the equivalent of artillery in  a game that favors infantry.  Yes, she can do some nifty tricks but only if she can survive long enough to light them off.

That's why the skill tree for the Witch is so heavy on something called "minions."  Minions are the equivalent of an army on call and I've found that on more than one occasion they've been the difference between survival and defeat.  Spawning a half dozen skeleton warriors or zombies usually provides enough buffer for my witch to make the fireworks happen.

But not last night.

No, last night I spent over an hour in Act 3's Crematorium map running for my virtual life.  This map is the player's third encounter with one of the two antagonists in the game, Piety.  Unfortunately as you advance in the game (especially in cruel mode) so too do the enemies you face.  In some cases exponentially.  

In case you don't know, death in the cruel game mode not only brings the agony of defeat but the annoyance of losing 15 percent of your experience. 

Long story short, Piety was eventually defeated but not before I'd lost all the experience gained from battling through baddies to get to her.  OK, I know I signed up for this but for some reason last night was worse than most.  After 15 deaths I gave up.  We went from challenging to stupid and I'd had enough.

So I was still in a gaming mood and thought I'd give Star Trek Online another shot.   Star Trek Online is a game that I'd spent a few hundred hours in about 2 years ago.  At the time I found it a captivating and sometimes challenging RPG set in a universe I dearly loved. 

Recently it came to my attention that after the passing of Leonard Nimoy the game developers had modified a few sections of the game as a memorial.  Initially I was playing via Steam but on returning to the game after a 2 year hiatus, I found an 11GB update waiting.  

That's fine once but apparently Cryptic ( the developer) wasn't keeping the game updated on Steam.  That meant every time I launched it I was forced to download the entire 11GB update again which was doing my 250GB data cap no favors.  So Steam was out at least as far as Star Trek Online was concerned.

I was determined to get a video of the in game memorials so I decided to reinstall the game via the developers own service, Arc, which solved my duplicate download problem.  Finally I could run the game.

Except for one thing.  I'd forgotten just how bad the user interface was.  The game itself is ambitious and the most immersive Star Trek gaming experience I've had but the learning curve is steep. 

Where I was battling fleets of Borg cubes and Romulans with reckless abandon when I first played the game now I found myself battling the UI just to get around.

Which brings us to last night.   I had beamed my character down to New Romulus and was exploring the map.  I was finding movement difficult and inventory management almost impossible but I was managing.

At least I thought I was up to the point where I was attacked by enemies and found my weapons not responding to my repeated mashing of the FIRE key.  I remember being able to quickly use items from my inventory bar when I was regularly playing this game.  This time, however, it took a number of mouse clicks.  Not ideal when in the middle of a heated battle with a Tholian Commander.

I used to be proficient in that game but something's gone awry here.  Control was never that great to start with but it seems to have gotten worse over the past few years.  Assuming you can dig through layers of interface to find your key mappings, there's a very good chance it's all for naught as the game is likely to ignore them. 

After having my level 50 Vice Admiral knocked on his Vulcan posterior a few dozen times it was evident that I just needed to stop beating my head against the wall.

Another hour, some abuse of the furniture and I was done.  We'd again gone from challenging to stupid.  So stupid in fact that I uninstalled Star Trek Online and it's ARC launcher.

Two games, two failures, one broken computer desk.  Time to quit...

Thus ending the game night and beginning of couch potato night. 

I can only take so much abuse before I cut my losses.  I'm not that much of a masochist.

Monday, May 11, 2015

No more YouTube videos on Steam?


If you're a gamer chances are you're on Steam and have even posted a few videos on YouTube of your exploits.  Until recently Steam allowed you to post your YouTube videos to your account and make them available to other STEAM users.  

In my case, I've got over 200 videos shared on YouTube and for me it's another avenue to share my gaming experiences and promote my content.

That was until today...

Around April 20th YouTube sent out a quiet little warning to everyone who used their version 2.0 API to stream content to their respective apps.

Apparently it was too quiet as 3 weeks have gone by and today Steam will no longer allow me or any other Steam user to share videos from YouTube.

What's annoying about this is that something so major has gone largely unannounced and apparently unaddressed without so much as a post in a STEAM forum.  The only thing that even suggested a warning was a strange little video that showed up in my Steam video gallery.

Somebody dropped the ball...

Was it YouTube who has a history of making unilateral changes to critical services without bothering to tell anyone till after the fact? 

Was it Valve (STEAM) for not bothering to pay attention subsequently crippling what has become a critical community tool?

Was it the users for not raising the red flag sooner?  We all know that nobody listens to users anymore unless they do something "viral" 

Well, the answer is YES.  It's them and it's us but the only people with any power to affect change in this case is STEAM.  They've been warned for at least 3 weeks, likely longer and have done absolutely nothing.  Worse they didn't bother to warn the users or suggest a timetable for a fix.

Until they do I'd advise anyone who shares YouTube videos to their STEAM profile to do the same thing that Valve has.  That is, nothing.  Don't unlink your account, don't mess with your YouTube settings, nothing.  Do absolutely nothing with your video settings as many users have reported losing the videos they already had on STEAM and being unable to reattach their YouTube account.

Hopefully the next STEAM client update will finally address the problem. 

UPDATE!  As of 4PM 5-13-2015 STEAM has fixed the YouTube issue and you can again post videos from your YouTube account.  Note that you will have to RE-Link your YouTube account to STEAM but your old videos will still be there.  If you tried to re-link your account before the fix, however,  you may have to add your videos all over again.