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weemadando Blog

My temporary blog.

I'll set up a proper website at some point. But in the meantime you can check me out at:

http://hyperboledrive.blogspot.com/

Losing my stripes.

Just letting everyone know that "I'm out." I appreciate that the Gamespot community is still in existence, but damned if I'm going to pay for a site which I can no longer enjoy.

Jason Ocampo was my final straw. Up until then, I'd held out some hope that Gamespot might recover from its seemingly unstoppable plummet into mediocrity and the realm of Gamespy and IGN. Sadly, it seems that I was wrong.

You see, I liked, trusted and agreed with the reviews of Gallup, Gertsmann, Navarro, Davis and Ocampo. I enjoyed them as part of the overall crew. And I don't like saying this, but I just don't enjoy the site any more. The editorial process has become suspect, the show quality has dropped significantly across the board and really, it would take a miracle to bring it back for me. Don't get me wrong, I still know Shoemaker, Thomas and Eckberg, in that I've read enough of their work to form opinions on their opinions, but it's not enough to keep my attached to pay content here. I don't even use the video features that much any more and I've very rarely downloaded a gameguide from Gamespot rather than the much more detailed "free" content at GameFAQs.

Sadly Gamespot, it's a case of too much haemorrhaging of the important and valued staff members in way too short a time. I haven't been a subscriber that long, it's true - but I will be one more who is cutting my time short here.

Should I find a new place to publish my writings, I'll post the link. But that's it for me on the pay side of things. I hope you all enjoyed the show and thank you so much for your support and occassional hate for my opinions.

Money spinning or: EA-synchronous play

Again, as I must always remind people, hyperbole in operating in this area.

I've been catching up on my GDC and DICE viewing of late and recently watched Peter Molyneaux's Fable 2 presentation. He opened with an interesting little mini-game which will be sold through XBLA and from which you can transfer winnings to your in game character.

Now, it could be that I'm firmly entrenched in the "embittered and cynical" camp but the first thing that came into my head was the following.

"EA is going to make a ****ing mint out of this."

Don't get me wrong, I think that asynchronous play has some seriously cool potential, but at the same time I can't help but think of all of the "this should have been in the goddamn game" moments that we will be having over the next few years as more and more studios start fracturing their games into yet more levels of micro-transaction hell.

For example, I can see EA pulling the roster editing, trading and other franchise aspects out of Madden, NHL et al and putting that up on XBLA as something for asynchronous play. After all - that's not part of the core game experience and why should everyone who buys the game be forced to pay for something that isn't going to be used by them?

Nevermind that the game would remain at the $60 price-point with this content stripped out and that you'd have to buy it later for some strange amount of points that may or may not be $5 or $50 because no one can tell what a points amount is in real money. And what comes after that? We've been waiting for the "current rosters as pay-DLC" shoe to drop. I can't wait until things like the mini-camp games turn up as asynchronous options too. What about player creation and editing? Surely people won't miss that and would be willing to pay 500 points to get that feature back in the game?

Some of these ideas aren't actually terrible. If EA could guarantee me that they could get a Franchise Mode working on a Zune with asynchronous play, so that I could spent time editing rosters, making trades and setting seating prices at times when I'm not at my 360, then that would be awesome and a reason for me to a) get a Zune and b) pay that little more. Why? Because it would mean that when I did get the time to sit down at a 360 I could actually just play the games and not have to worry about losing gaming time to the Franchise bits.

But that won't happen. What will happen with this asynchronous play is that suddenly we'll be faced with a barrage of new money-spinning rubbish which will almost always result in a scream of: "Why wasn't this in the game to start with?"

Peter Molyneaux's Fable 2 gambling thing is quite cool and if released at a reasonable price could be something that I'd seriously consider getting. But I just get the feeling that asynchronous play will just become another revenue-generating tool for publishers and developers. I can only hope that Microsoft is going to have stringent controls on what they allow to be released with an asynchronous component, or that developers ensure that the total cost of a gutted game + guts sold seperately never exceeds the price for the full game that they should have released in the first place.

But we know that both those things will never happen.

PC gaming - the rose with a thousand thorns.

As hard as this statement will be for many readers to accept, the PC is the ultimate gaming platform. It allows for the widest variety of controllers customisations and configurations thereof to ensure that the input methods and UI are appropriate to the game and the person playing it. There is an expanse of games and genres which put every other platform to shame. In terms of multiplayer, I have yet to see any console title introduce the kind of comprehensive and functional server browsing features as those which PC has had since the late 1990s. And in terms of pure, unadultered power - nothing, absolutely nothing on the console side can come close.

But for all this, there is a huge disadvantage to the PC. It is probably the single most fractured market in the world. People worry about some XBox360s lacking a HDD, or certain PS3s not having backwards compatibility, this is nothing compared to the incomprehensibly large number of potential configurations that exist for PCs in the world. And developer's must try to ensure that their games work on a large a cross section of these as possible. Within reason of course.

There's no point in getting Bioware to ensure that Mass Effect for PC has Windows ME support. No point in having Introversion spend some of their precious time trying to sort out compatibility issues with an OEM, no name, no brand USB soundcard that perhaps 0.01% of the gaming community in Malawi have. There's no hope in Crytek even trying to get Crysis to run on an S3 Virge.

But for all the issues that developers face, there is one that is more important in that it is the bane of every single last PC gamer: "Can my box handle this?"

You go to the store and buy an console and you are guaranteed that any game which comes out for that console will run on it, even if the game is a total dog, at least you know that the dog will run. There are no such guarantees for a PC owner.

The game might have an issue with your drivers for any number of devices, with your OS or service pack level, with a particular piece of hardware or another piece of software. But the issue for many games (myself included), which rises above all of these quibbles are the lies (minimum spec), damned lies (recommended spec) and statistics (both) which constitute the system requirements. Such bald-faced falsehoods if uttered in any civilised setting would usually result in some form of criminal charge, or at the very least a civil suit. But somehow, having a set of meaningless numbers and words hidden on the bottom of the box has more credibility than the developers and publishers simply admitting: "We have no goddamn idea what this will run on, although having a card which supports SM3.0 is essential. Until we patch it that is."

People wonder why piracy is such an enormous issue for the PC. In my humble opinion (humble, heh - this is on the Soapbox). It's because people are unwilling to drop money on a game which they have *zero* guarantee of working on their system. And should it not work? Well, lets just say that most game retailers have a chronic aversion to accepting returns on PC games. You can't trade them in. Or if you've purchased through an online store or digital distribution channel, then even the already slim chance of a return is pretty much gone.

And don't for a minute think that demos are an acceptable substitute. The number of demos which come out and bear no resemblance at all to the final product in terms of quality are legion. The greatest offender in my mind was Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. This had one of the most brightly polished demos I have ever played. It ran like a dream on my PC of the time and the gameplay was so smooth that a gecko wouldn't have been able to clamber up its perfectly shaped learning curve. Yet, the final product ran like an arthritic amputee sloth. It appears that they'd spent all their time and money on making a good demo and then failed to include any of the graphics optimisations or performance tweaks in the final product. Then, when they finally started patching it, I was one of the lucky ones for whom the patches managed to completely destroy the game, leaving me unable to even load the menu screen. Even following an upgrade Dark Messiah of Might and Magic continues to be the bane of my system - at least I can play it now, for a few short minutes, before my system inexplicably shorts itself out, not just rebooting, but turning itself off, along with the power to whatever section of my home it happens to be plugged in to. I'd be worried, except it is the only game that has ever done that, and to be quite fair, I wouldn't really expect anything less from it. Maybe after my next upgrade, it will be able to turn my monitor into bridge to the hell dimensions. Again, welcome to the wonderful world of the PC.

So lets move on and look at that great bugbear of PC gaming at the moment: Crysis. A game which at every level appears to be a system hog beyond reproach. The developers continually state that it isn't (and to be fair, they have proved this point), but people are unwilling to risk their hard-earned on something which they aren't sure will run on their PC. As demonstrated by the rampant piracy of this game versus its (to be honest) crap sales. Have no doubt that I will buy Crysis. But by the time I have a system that can do it justice it will be in the "EA budget" range.

And that's the big problem with Crysis - most gamers have a PC that can run it. But they don't want to "make do" with the low-end graphics options that they'd have to deal with. I have been looking at movies and screenshots of it at insane resolutions, and even played it for a few minutes on a system which I may be able to afford if I spent the better part of six months pay on it. So, suddenly playing a game that looks like 2004 due to my system being rubbish just wouldn't be the same. When the time comes, Crysis will take the place of Far Cry in my line-up of Far Cry, Doom 3, Lock On: Modern Air Combat and Half Life 2: The Lost Coast in the list of games that I keep on hand just to see how well my upgrades are treating me.

On another front in the constant battle between PC gamers and their systems, I'm struggling with Call of Duty 4 at the moment. Following Activision's outrageous pricing adjustments on Steam, I decided to purchase the box copy of the game (prior to discovering that those of us in Australia can still get it for the actual price via the WarCry digital store). However, my DVD drive fails to read the full disc. I can install the game by copying the game folder to my HDD, but a full install eludes me. And even with the folder copying - some files remain inaccessible. It's all enough to make me download an ISO just so I can install the damn thing properly. And yes, I exchanged the disc, just in case that was the issue. So, because of this issue with my DVD drive, I cannot complete the campaign, at least not until I upgrade.

And here is where the PC really falls down, upgrading. In the relentless arms race between NVIDIA and ATI, Intel and AMD and so many other groups all with their own concepts and designs, the humble gamer is left sitting by the side of the road, watching advancements rocket past at breakneck speed.

How hard was it for you to justify the purchase of your 360 or PS3? Now, imagine for a moment that you take the cost of both of those, put them together and there you have a pricepoint for a reasonable gaming PC. If you want a fairly powerful one, add in a Wii and another 360. But the issue is that in commiting to that purchase, you are commiting yourself to something which is outdated the moment you buy it. In the graphics card and CPU stakes we're seeing generational upgrades every 12 months at most and multiple iterations and updates within that single generation.

Hence, every PC owner becomes a master procrastinator. They'll always upgrade when the next iteration hits the shelves. But the problem is, that by the time that new iteration arrives, the test benchmarks for the next one have already been released. And they're better.

For those of you without experience in this brutal climb up a greased ladder with missing rungs, imagine that you are looking forward to buying the PS3. But then, just days before the launch of the PS3, Sony announces the PS3.1 and says it will be here in three months and will be better in every goddamn way than what's just about to hit shelves now. And then of course, there's the leaks about the PS4 which will be out at the start of next year and will blow away even the PS3.8GTI-SS500 which will have been released by then.

That's the PC experience. So, you say to yourself: "why spend the money now, when I can save up a bit more and get the newest thing in a few months time, after all - I'm already well behind the curve, a few more months won't hurt." But as always, those few months pass and suddenly you delay again because a new CPU or MoBo or GFX card is due later.

It's like being on of those poor evil legionnaires from God of War trying to climb a ladder with Kratos ahead of you. Every time you start to catch up he grabs you by the scruff of your neck and slams you face first into the wall over and over and over until he tosses you, bleeding and broken down to the bottom, where you can start your climb all over again.

Now, this all sounds like a bit of a whinge. And it is, and it is not over yet. I have one major point left to get to.

Many (not all) PC developers are cash-strapped or lazy or both. They can't afford to spend time or effort, or worse can't be bothered optimising and tweaking, so they just release a product to market that will only run properly on the most monstrous of computers. Thankfully, most games worth playing on PC have had a lot of effort go into their optimisation. But the problem is that so many haven't. They get tested for 30 seconds on an Alienware-type beast provided by some company in order to get a 10 second splash screen at the start of the game. And the developers and publishers, based on the fact it works on an dual CPU octo-core, quad SLI system with more gigabytes of DDR3 RAM than most people have in HDD space then it's deemed to "be in releasable condition" and off to the printers it goes.

Then, of course, the game eventually gets about a 5000:1 ratio of pirated to legitimate copies, because no one who owns a PC that can run it actually has any money to buy games with following their constant upgrades and a power bill which rivals a partical accelerator's because their PC draws enough juice to brown out several city blocks. Anyone who you play with online is going to be cheating in some way, due to the innumerable hacking and "adjustment" options open to them. And then, just when you think that you are getting somewhere in the game a patch will be released, which once installed will remove all your savegames and if you are really lucky, format your HDD.

Now, with all of this in mind, most people would ask: "why bother with the PC?"

And I return to my original point. Because it is the best gaming platform that you can get. And despite all the downsides, the gaming experience always wins out.

P.S. And also because the majority of PC gamers realise that just because a game has voice chat, screeching homophobic, racist insults in their best pre-pubescent tones is not what they should do with it.

P.P.S. As for that bit about DMoMM shorting out my PC and breaking circuits in my house. It's 100% true. It has done it 3 times now. After testing several other Source Engine games and mods as well as many other games and programs, I can confirm that it is indeed that game which is causing the problem.

Certain inherent dangers...

If you are yet to, you should really play Audiosurf which has recently been released via Steam.

The big problem is that this game taunts you. With XBox Live at least you have to logon and actively look up lists to see if your top score has been beaten. Audiosurf does this for you, by sending you a mocking e-mail. Just see the attached e-mail below.

-=-=-

Audiosurf scoreboard alert - Dethroned!

You used to have the worldwide best score for: mighty wings by cheap trick

Now the Audiosurf player 'alex1893' has beaten you. Get back in the game and reclaim the top spot!

View High Scores for mighty wings by cheap trick

-=-=-

Ignore for a moment that I held a record for "Mighty Wings" (what - you got a problem with that!), how else are you meant to react to such taunts other than to immediately hop back into the game and try and get your record back.

An amendment.

In a previous blog post I'd complained that Valve forgot to make it [Halflife Episodes 1 and 2] awesome.

I hereby retract that statement.

They merely failed to make all but the previously mentioned setpiece in Ep1 and "Under The Radar" onwards in Ep2 awesome. Lets hope that by Ep3 they remember to make it ALL awesome.

That said, the final battles in Ep2 are really something else. I didn't see that coming. The entire premise of the final fight. The scope of it and the style. Well, I could ramble, but I won't.

I'll sum up this way. It took me ~a month to play through the first 2-3 hours of Episode 2 (the Antlion and Zombies + ooze BS). Meanwhile, once I got past that point I couldn't stop playing until it was over. MAKE THE WHOLE GAME THAT WAY IN THE FUTURE.

A great game is a many legged thing.

In my previous post I copped a lot of criticism for saying that just because something was simple, it wasn't necessarily dumb. So I decided to delve into gaming history and pull out some examples of games with amazingly simple controls which were anything but "easy" or "dumb".

But then I got distracted by a cockroach.

How many gamers here have actually played the game Bad Mojo, or the "Redux" version which I am now enjoying? Not many I bet. I remember overlooking it myself back in 1996 and indeed, until the Redux edition was released and I found it more to my tastes. It was a critics darling, but never sold well. Let's face it, the box art wasn't especially appealing and the actual concept sounds pretty damn odd.

For those not in the know, you can read the 1996 review of the game. You play as a cockroach trying to regain your humanity following an odd and magical event. The game opens with some really quite well produced and acted FMV, which continues to develop the really quite intricate and by turns sad, intriguing and heart-warming story throughout the game.

But in this game you had but 4 controls. No "interact" button, no jump button, no action button, no fire button or anything like that. You could simply crawl forward or back and turn left or right.

And I got to thinking - could a game like this get made today?

We see the effects of the commercialisation of the game industry everywhere - from the cookie-cutter approach to design, through to the issues with publishers throwing a whammy whenever someone tells them the truth (more on that later).

So how would a game with a really different concept, some genuinely creepy design and a mature story get published today? It may turn up on PSN or XBLA - but this is a bit more high concept and not nearly as family friendly as Flow or Undertow. Valve would almost certainly host it on Steam for the PC - but what about getting the money to develop in the first place?

The issues involved with obtaining financing for games have been well documented by people more informed than I, but I cannot help but imagine a modern version of Bad Mojo ending up being financed by JoWood who then demand that it be an MMO featuring a variety of insects armed with guns fighting Nazi Zombie Bugbears in Afghanistan. And then cancelling it a few weeks prior to release.

A game about a cockroach crawling around a dingy apartment block certainly is never going to knock Call of Duty 4 of the best seller list, no matter how good the reviews are. But if you have the chance to get a copy of Bad Mojo - do so, and play it. It is one of the oft-overlooked experiences of a time when games could afford to innovate.

And finally, in the wake of yet another departure from Gamespot (rats, sinking and ship are three words that come to mind) and Ubisoft's temper tantrum at Ziff Davis media I need to get something off my chest.

Attention: Activision, EA, Eidos, Ubisoft et al.

Re: Your BS

Turns out that occassionally you make shoddy games. Sometimes even bad games. And it doesn't matter how much money you throw at marketing, at least some people are going to be willing to call it like it is. So don't shoot the kid who has the balls to say: "The Emperor is naked!", instead take that marketing money and shove it back into development and make sure that your games don't suck.

In conclusion: Don't be petulant children.

Yours sincerely,

The world.

Harder is not better.

It's a frequest criticism in the gaming press, blogs and forums that Assassin's Creed was "too easy". "You only ever have to use one button" is the most common issue raised with the game.

Is there a problem with distilling gameplay to a nice simple, level? It's not like you just have to press the button and you automatically win. It just means that you aren't struggling with hundreds of combinations that you need to remember to successfully play the game.

Are people seriously contending that the game would have been better had it required you to use all the buttons, bumpers, triggers, the d-pad and the sticks in combination for combat? I think that reducing it to the "one button" system made it elegant. It was refined, it was simple, but it was still difficult to master.

Another complaint about Assassin's Creed and its "simple design" is that it made the free-running too easy. Why not? Can you imagine how infuriatingly frustrating that game would be if it had made the free-running hard?

The entire point of the game was to allow the player to be a very, very dangerous man. And it was effortless to do. Which left you as the player then able to think about things like: "How do I make this look awesome?" rather than throwing your controller through your TV after you fell to your death after messing up a hand-contorting button combo to run across some roof-tops.

Being an avid PC gamer I certainly can't claim to be innocent of the occassional "They've dumbed it down!" remark. But in the case of Assassin's Creed it wasn't dumbed down. It was made better. No measure of complexity was lost - instead, the developers chose to not add a level of complexity where it wasn't needed.

As much as I will get flak for saying this (and I don't want to have to say it), I would rate Assassin's Creed well and truly above Ninja Gaiden. Why? Because Assassin's Creed was fun to play. Ninja Gaiden was an excercise is frustration. I'm sure that it would be rewarding if you could spend ten hours learning to play it.

In fact, most people who extoll it's virtues insist that you just neeed to give it time and you'll learn to play it well. In those ten hours I could have finished Assassin's Creed again and be having a great time doing it. I could have played through Call of Duty 4. I could have had a great time in any number of other games.

I just hope that more developers and more importantly, the gaming community realise that hard for the sake of hard is stupid. People play games for fun, not frustration.

Why do Valve forget to make it awesome?

One of the final set pieces in Episode 1 is a shining bit of corn husk is an otherwise dull and smelly pile of poop. Because they finally remember the tone of HL2 - you're the goddamn Free Man. The legend. The one who everyone is willing to take up arms and follow. Not the person who spends all their time shifting crates with a gravity gun, or turning wheels to make doors slowly open. You're Gordon Freeman, the man who is here to save the world. So one of the final set pieces where you are having to shepherd groups of civilians to safety from the remaining Combine bent on exterminating them is remarkable. The Source engine shines - you see the look of recognition, adoration and maybe even a little hope on the people's faces as Barney brings them out to you in groups to escort. You feel bad when you lose one. The game which had previously been three hours of tedious zombie bashing suddenly becomes something else entirely.

So what do they do in Episode 2? Aside from a really impressive opening sequence (I will not spoil, I will not spoil - but DAMN that is cold). They decide - you know what? People complained about having to fight endless swarms of zombies in Episode 1, so we'll put them in a series of cut-and-paste tunnels fighting Ant Lions for more than an hour. And we'll even add some even more irritating Ant Lion opponents who just make the players insanely angry. Nevermind that you get a Vortigaunt companion who seems to be trying to imitate Bob Marley with his speech patterns, I'm bored! I know that my cause is noble and all, but damnit! Let me do something heroic that doesn't involve more mindless tunnel crawling.

I hear that once I hit the surface it all turns awesome again, but seriously - physics based puzzles with a "comedic edge" (ie NPCs commenting on how its "always with the couterweights" etc) aren't fun. They're boring. If you want to mix it up a bit look at CoD4. Give Gordon an AC-130 for a while or something. Not another goddamn "wait for a slowly descending lift in a dark room filled with constantly spawning zombies/antlions" segment.

FInished it yet?

Holy crap.

Some time ago I seem to recall talking about how long it had been since I actually finished a game. Yet recently I have completed Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Rainbow 6: Vegas, Assassin's Creed, Portal, Episode 1 (yes, 1) and am well on my way to finishing Call of Duty 4.

I don't know what happened, except maybe I finally got motivated and decided to finish lots of games. Maybe the games were a lot better and I felt compelled to finish them.

Anyhow. Just thought I should mention that I'm actually getting somewhere. Sure, it doesn't make me a gaming god or anything, but it's pretty interesting to actually get around to doing all that stuff.