Saturday, March 27, 2010

Peculiar paradigms

Even as the PC gaming industry seemingly conspires to drive me from enjoying the latest titles on my computer, an unexpected and unrelated turn of events has earned admiration for the same said developers.

PC gamers have watched in disbelief as intrusive DRM insists on a constant Internet connection to play a single player option. We've sat stunned as developers took a classic title such as Command and Conquer and dumbed it down to the latest flavor of the month. On screen indicators hold the hand of players and power ups not only make the challenges easier, but give that sense of achievement game developers obviously feel we have missing from our lives.

Meanwhile, traditional PC gamers are left feeling robbed of a games value and even worse, the very reason to buy a title, the challenge.

It's with this backdrop the memo comes down with a 'firm' request I get an IPhone for work. Connectivity improves productivity they say.

The gaming silver lining came with this stormy cellphone cloud when I found some familiar sounding titles in Apples App store.

Assassins Creed? Brothers in Arms? On a phone?

Having been disappointed with the $8 games bought in the past for my Blackberry, I tried not to get my hopes up. After all, these games were much less, so how good could they be?

Exceptional actually. Assassins Creed is really fun, great graphics for a phone game. Sonic the Hedgehog takes me back to my Sega owning days with the same playability programmed perfectly.

It's still in the early days yet, but things look good. Of course it's tough to find the time to test all these games.

After all it is a work phone (wink).

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:From an IPhone

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Third class citizen: PC gamer

I know its been over a week since my last post, but a few things have been happening, most important of which was learning my place in society.

England's empire was built on one knowing one's place in society's hierchy and to this day India's class system is actively maintained and observed. The gaming gods should be happy to know I have come to appreciate the pecking order of our own world.

What has brought this enlightenment? Like any good story, it was more a series of independent events that combined for one big gotcha. Because they've blurred from one to another, here they are in no particular order.

Coming off of an initial insult of being released on every other platform in every other country, Assassins Creed 2 was released in North America last week.

Why North America was slated last I'm not exactly sure, but I find some strange humor in some bizarro reality the last people on the earth would be the Americans and Canadians. Wouldn't that make for an odd movie? But why the game was released on PC last makes more sense. It was all about the DRM.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), which started innocently as laborously entering a games serial number into a screen during installation has become an intrusive and as we'll see, debilitating method of trying to defeat piracy.

You see, Ubisoft had decided 2010 was going to be the year they kicked the software pirates ass. They were going to take it to the matt, throwdown and make those pirates their b***h. An announcement was made that most of the new releases from Ubisoft would require an internet connection, which in itself wasn't too objectionable. Then the details came out.

The game, such as Assassins Creed 2 would require a constant internet connection, which if lost would also lose any progress made in the game. While this in itself is bad enough, the game wouldn't function. Not just the multiplayer which is understandable, but the single player storyline as well.

As explained by Ubisoft at the time, 'if the player loses the connection to the server, the game “will pause while it tries to reconnect,” according to Ubisoft’s FAQ. In the case that the connection cannot be reestablished, the server will store the player’s last saved game. Once the connection is restored, the player can resume from that point.'

Thats right, there was no offline mode to enjoy the single player storyline of a legally purchased copy of Assassins Creed 2. If your internet goes down then so does your chance of playing the game. In a surprising move, even the reviewers in magazines and on game sites told Ubisoft that not only did the emperor not have any clothes, but he was butt ugly as well.

Like a character from one of their titles, Ubisoft sailed into the storm swearing their new system would do fine and no one had anything to worry about.

Cue news story to prove how hard the confident (and incredibly stupid) can fall;

'For a large part of Sunday overloaded servers are the generally accepted reason for gamers left unable to play legally purchased copies of Assassins Creed 2.' Nothing but PC, March 8th.

Of course, Ubisoft saw the error in what could politely be called 'over-ambitious' DRM and released a patch removing the internet connection.

You my friend, would be wrong.

Essentially the patch allows players to resume the game "from the exact same point" when they reconnect. But whether this move will be enough to help questionable sales when the game becomes available in the North American market on March 16th is another matter. Nothing but PC

Interestingly, many reports put the official release date as the 16th, but Steam has had it available for a few days. Whether this has any relationship to the terrible PR the whole incident has brought about or not, I'm not sure.

So basically, a gaming company can deliver a full priced game ($60) which doesn't work as is generally accepted in the gaming world and no one has complained. Hardly anyway.

But this is a rarity, its not happening with other companies so why would we as PC gamers have to worry.

Wrong again my friend (you're not too good at this guessing game).

Electronic Arts finally brought the Battlefield 2: Bad Company 2 series to the PC after the game's characters had a few adventures on every other platform but ours. Looking to cash in on the Infinity Ward backlash, EA put a dedicated team on the PC development, had destructable environment, dedicated servers and promised to continue the fast paced squad based action the Battlefield series was renowned for.

Oh, by the way, EA mentioned as they left the press conference, there won't be any chance of going prone and the crouch button can't be toggled.


When the game is released, connecting the dedicated servers were fine until 3pm then bang! couldn't get on. Don't worry forums and EA said, we did such a bang up job, everyone and their granny are downloading the game and clogging up the systems a little. Give it some time and everything will be fine.

Cue news story;
Many players feel furloughed with the various technical challenges that have plagued the highly anticipated latest edition in the Battlefield series. For those taking the digital download path, a few missteps kept them waiting just a little bit longer with Steam's servers claiming they were momentarily overloaded. And that was only a sign of what was to come.

As the game found its way onto more and more computers, players apparently overwhelmed the servers with EA acknowledging the multiplayer Rush or Conquest games experienced problems with messages such as "Failed to connect to EA online" or "Invalid EA Online Account".

In this age of extra content for pre-orders, some complained of the needed codes missing.

On Sunday, problems continued to keep players away from the frontline as a message streamed across the bottom of Battlefield: Bad Company 2's game browser acknowledging connectivity problems as well as 'PB kicks'. EA noted that deleting the game's beta from hard drives and re-installing Punkbuster helped some players with the issues.

For those that could connect, play was limited to a short period before being kicked off for losing the connection with the server.Nothing but PC, March 8th.

Understanding we have to give them some time to fix the problem, oh wait is that another news story coming across the wire with perfect timing to prove a point?

EA has been shutting the servers down constantly, to improve their hardware via maintenance updates - PR Product News March 14th.

I haven't gone on for about three days, which is sad as every gamer knows that addictive first few weeks of a new title where its hard to pull away long enough to even go to the bathroom has to be captured and enjoyed at the time. Be in the moment so to speak.

But that has already passed for this game as has my delusion that I, or apparently my fellow PC gamers matter enough for developers to create and deliver an acceptable gaming experience. Although they have no problem charging premium prices for the new titles, the games themselves are either so riddled with DRM they are made unplayable, or the needed work that should have be done during the beta phase was never completed.

The further fact that none of these problems appear to have the attention of the developers, who are showing no appearance of urgency doesn't make me as a customer feel very happy.

But at least there has been a lesson learned and according to my grandpappy, no price can be placed on that (although I'm sure the $60 dropped on Battlefield Bad Company 2 is a good number to start with). Now knowing my place in the gaming world, I will head back to the kitchens like any good subservient should and wait for any PC game morsel the developers feel  like throwing my way. And when that scrap does come, boy I won't complain if its stale, tastes horrible or if its even food, just thank them and wait for more.

After all, that seems to be what the gaming developers expect.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

War can be a love-hate thing - thoughts from the battlefield of Bad Company 2

So, I'm not a huge fan of the linear, movie-type feel over realistic game play, flash instead of substance kind of guy. If my subtleness is too slight, Modern Warfare, I'm talking to you.

But there was something about Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (BBC2). Admittedly, some of the charm wore off with the MP demo that brought home prone and lean would be MIA from the game, the former a particular fancy of die-hard Battlefield fans. Graphics looked nice, but a trip through Modern Warfare taught me that storytelling and graphics don't necessarily deliver an enjoyable and repeatable 'gaming' experience.

The first outing of the Bad Company characters never made it to the PC, so being included on their second journey made us red-headed stepchildren feel special and certainly more loved than we have been in recent gaming memory. And DICE claiming they had a group of developers dedicated to creating the PC version put us in the front seat of the car for this first person shooter.

But whatever the factors were, there I was at the checkout screen on Steam forking over some hard-earned cash for the latest journey into the Battlefield world. The plan was to kick the download off at lunch, and have it ready to play when I got home. The annoying message claiming the Steam servers were too busy to handle my request gave a few false starts to my new deployment, but within thirty minutes I managed to sneak into the downloading queue.

So what about the game?

Good looking graphics. I mean, the sharpest thing you'll find out there. From the quality of the characters to the textures used, there is nothing bad to say about the graphics. All the Direct X candy is included, bloom, mist the whole nine yards. Each level is a living breathing world. Albeit one that occassionally runs on rails.

If there were anything bad to say about the game its just that, filled with a lot of sections that have you running or riding on a rail, spraying and praying. Its really the most disappointing part of the effort.

But what they do well more than makes up for it, at least in this early stage of playing through the game.

The game is dumbed down by removing leaning, prone and silly things like the ability to change ROF (rate of fire). Surprisingly, as annoying as this may be on paper, once in battle its not so noticeble. The SP battles are hectic, made even more so by the very buildings crumbling around you. Doors aren't opened in this game, they are busted through.

The excellent sound floods your senses with the loud, confusing battlefield that has danger coming from seemingly every direction. Trying to take a breather and heal (yes, it has the annoying auto-healing) is near impossible.

The rate of fire? Don't worry about it. The game is designed for players to put down a lot of lead and has enough ammo on each level to ensure you'll never run out. The weapons have a nice kick to them, trailing up into the air the longer you hold down the trigger. When your enemy falls, the moment is well done and a far cry from the rag-doll days of Battlefield 2 which could add a comical note to an intense battle.

The upsides to the game, even with the crisp graphics and destructible environment the game runs pretty smooth. And the game does look beautiful.

There aren't enough adjectives to describe the sound. By far the best I've heard in any game, from the atmospheric effects from your surroundings to the mutlitude of layers immersing the player in the battle. The way DICE has managed to fade the sound in and out as a player gets too close to an explosion or is coming close to croaking is by the best in any game. If there was ever a reason to justify the surround sound set up, here it is. An example to the attention to detail, during one of the cutscenes I kept looking around to see if a tv in the house was on. It ended up being a radio in the office my character was standing in, playing out of one of my rear speakers.

Downside? Not sure about the first edition, but the story for this game is weak. Stereotyping is so strong, I'm still waiting one of my NPC's to tell me how much he likes the smell of napalm in the morning. But for PC players, the Battlefield series never had storylines, so no let down there.

However, I'm only three hours into the SP, and hoping the confusing back story set at the end of World War 2 comes into play soon, otherwise what was the point?

Speaking of which, the transition between game play and scripted sequences is clumsy at best and feels like and afterthought. Its as if they came up with all the different levels in a pitch meeting and worked out how to connect them on the elevator ride down to the lobby.

And it was obviously a short elevator ride.

As soon as the developers make me feel good about all the effort they put into the gameplay and level design, I have to run along a corridor or ride in the back of a vehicle to do yet another mini-level on rails.

Glad I bought it though, no ill-feelings about paying full price. DICE seems to have made me feel good (for the most part) about being a PC gamer. The real test will be the longevity of the MP. Many will be looking to see if it can unseat MW2, most certainly reviving the arguement and true need for dedicated servers.

Check back here for my thoughts on that side of Bad Company 2. In the meantime, I need to shred some buildings.