Friday, August 26, 2011

EULA's

End User License Agreements.

Those boring paragraphs of legalese that we usually just click through to install (or sometimes just start) or favorite game.

Seems like there's nothing that has anything to do with a computing device that doesn't have a EULA to click "OK" on somewhere.

I understand why it's there and both sides of the debate over whether it should be. The conflict comes in when we have to address where your individual rights end and where a vendor's rights begin. The simple solution is that if you don't like it, don't use it.

If only it were so simple. If we all tried to avoid EULA's we'd likely be relegated to a typewriter to compose documents and the U.S. mail wouldn't be so concerned about dwindling revenues. Of course you'd have to be sure you paid for that typewriter in cash because credit and debit cards have their own EULA's. Keep your money in a bank? Well they have their own EULA's too that allow them to collect all kinds of information on you. Have a regular job? Well you had to give up a lot of personal information just to be allowed through the door and some employers actually enforce morality or code of conduct clauses in their employment agreements. Better watch yourself on that spring break and for heaven's sake keep it off Facebook!

So we're constantly bombarded by organizations seeking to know more about us than we'd ever get to know about them. It's the price of convenience but is it right?

If I want to purchase your product why can't it just end there? Do I really need to allow modification of my personal rights just to use it? Is it really necessary to abdicate a portion of my freedom for the greater good of your bottom line?

It seems these days the answer is...Yes.

Privacy is a fallacy, I acknowledge that. It doesn't matter if you never buy anything online, only pay cash and never use your real name on websites. At some point in your life you abdicated your anonymity. Otherwise you'd never have gotten a job, financed a major purchase or attended a concert. All those things required you to reveal something about yourself to take advantage of them.

I accept that since that is how the world works these days. What I don't accept is relinquishing my ever dwindling rights just to play a game.

There's been great furor over the seemingly intrusive EULA proposed via EA's new Origin game service. Steam has a similar EULA but it seems that EA has gone a bit too far from some reports. I don't agree with the premise that because a software company publishes a title that they have the right to invade the platform it's installed on. EA is looking to move most of their game title distribution from competing services such as STEAM to their Origin service. For many if not all of the titles available on Origin a connection to the service will be required to play the games.

Not just to install them or participate in online multiplayer but rather just to start the game. Once there, they also propose to offer an enhanced experience to the "subscriber" by collecting information about the user by periodically scanning your pc's contents. The information gathered is not just limited to just EA specific data by the way and by agreeing to the EULA this information will be shared with "partners". While EA claims it will limit its access there's nothing in the agreement that obliges them to.

I've been through over a decade of EA's bad business practices of poor support, spotty online server availability for multiplayer and ridiculous DRM routines that rendered competing products (or their own for that matter) useless if installed on the same pc. (Think SecurROM)

A thought comes to mind....WHY DO I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS JUST TO PLAY A FREAKING GAME!

It's not enough that EA will effectively eliminate competitive pricing by locking me into their distribution platform for their games but now they want me to give them the right at any point in time to sniff around my pc? The argument that they could but they won't isn't good enough. I'm a customer not a suspect...

Well, if you have nothing to hide then you shouldn't worry about it.

Ok comrade, thanks for that, now don't be late for your KGB admiration society meeting...

It's amazing how customers can be both valued and abused in the same breath. I suppose it's a sign of the times and it's only going to get worse before it gets better.

I just shudder to think of the day when I start getting email critiques on my choice of desktop wallpaper....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why (or when) I use godmode

About 6 months ago I wrote a blog post about cheating in games.  I set some pretty clear boundaries at that time as to what I felt was acceptable and what wasn't.

I've given it some more thought and I've discovered something...

God mode is a failure. 

It's not my failure, however, rather it's a failure of the game's design.

It's not like I buy a game and within 5 minutes I'm looking for the console commands to cheat; I don't.
I have this foolish hope that I can actually play a game "straight up" and still enjoy it without having to resort to such measures.

Unfortunately, I only get my wish about half the time.

Here's a list of games I've recently played that I haven't cheated on.

Borderlands
Killing Floor
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
Need for Speed: Shift 2 (no cheat could possibly help me)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Call of Duty: Black ops
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (although I wanted to but the game doesn't really allow it)
Test Drive Unlimited 2 (Not even worth the trouble)
Dirt 2

Now that doesn't mean I'm grand champion or have even finished these games, I just enjoy them without having to resort to cheats.

Now the list that I have used God Mode or some kind of cheat on...

Half Life 2 + DLC packs (got tired of getting killed every 30 seconds)
Dragon Age Origins + DLC packs (Ditto above)
Portal ( only two maps - see my portal review earlier in blog posts)
Portal 2 (If watching a YouTube video play through counts but again for only a few maps)
Fallout 3 (see Half Life 2)
Fallout:New Vegas (see Half Life 2)
Dungeon Siege 2 (For some maps or for level ups)
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (Died every battle and like the naked girl mod)

Ok, so I have some kind of justification for my evils after most of those but if you look at the two lists I think a pattern develops.
 
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First of all it would appear that my preference is for games that don't involve devoting a major portion of my life to.  Hey, it's a game not a vocation if I devote major time without major reward I'm out. 

Something that only I could notice is that the list of games I've used cheats on I haven't really enjoyed that much excluding the Portal series and Dungeon Siege 2 Co-op play. 

If I resort to a cheat it generally means I'm getting bored of being stuck and I'm about ready to give up on it.  My depression era upbringing (my grandmother's complex if you must know) won't allow me to discard something I paid hard earned money for without exploring every angle first.  It may have cost $10 but I'm going to see the end credits one way or another by god!

A lot of those games are RPG's as well which rarely hold my interest if I have to traipse all over the map to accomplish part 1 of 10 quest components. 

* Please note: "traipse" is my word of the week or so it seems..

As sad as my life is; devoting it to an unfullfilling game experience would just make it sadder.  So I try to get to the good parts and have some fun blowing stuff up if I can.

Oh yeah and about that.  Hey Bethesda ( Fallout series) Since when does a Flamethrower cause the enemy to burst into chunks??  I swear I saw chunks that looked ready for packaging in the butcher's case at the supermarket.  I've never flame broiled anything organic that blew up in chunks.  It just burned and eventually turned to ash.

The choice to run a cheat is of course a personal one.  You take the risks since most PC games are so badly coded that using a cheat to make them run right gives you a 50/50 chance of the game crashing. kind of like everyone in your neighborhood using 20Mbits of Bandwidth on their cable modems at the same time (see earlier post about over committed broadband)
Still, I think of it as a failure on the developer's part.  If I can't enjoy a game straight up without a cheat and I have a history of playing games without resorting to such tactics then you've ultimately failed me.  I'm not alone either. 

Cheats for games show up literally within minutes of release these days. 
Now some people are just the type that read the end of the book first but I doubt it's that large a list or else gaming would have been dead back in the Galaga days.

So the bottom line is; If I feel the need to enable a cheat just to try to enjoy your game then it's not my failure it's the creator's.

 

Fallout: New Vegas Part 2 and I'm done!

That's freaking it!

I now have 20 hours (according to the steam counter) into this game and I'm through with it.

I've already mentioned the shortfalls of Fallout:New Vegas in my first post.  Now I've finally gotten back to why I don't care for Bethesda or Obsidian game titles.  Frankly, they're unfinished, buggy and annoying to the point of distraction.

I  know the whole idea is that I'm supposed to traipse around a barren wasteland for months (real time) just to get 2% further in the game.  I know I'm supposed to be immersed in the game environment with all the gloomy visuals, sound effects and repetitive dialog. 

Sorry, I'm not buying it and frankly it's tedious not immersive.  Hence my foray into the game console commands "~ key" and "tgm" because I'm sick of being killed by over sized bees and morons with tire irons.

This game is basically Fallout 3 DLC with absolutely zero improvement in the game engine.  All the crashing, bugs, and sloppy coding make this thing tax my gaming rig more than Crysis could ever dream of doing.  And the worst part?  Even on max settings the game doesn't look that good!  I haven't found anything I'd want a screenshot of in this game.  So what's the excuse?

Did it really take 3 years from the release of Fallout 3 to produce a new map rotation?  Going into some of the "vault" sequences show an obvious reuse of maps and textures from Fallout 3.  That's a cop out. 

Here's the part where I've sworn off the Fallout series, however.  See I have a few hours invested in the game hoping it would get better if I just ran around enough and did some stuff no matter how boring.  So I've viciously killed whole families of wiseguys in bad suits.  Hacked morons dressed like refugees from and 80's punk rock band and chatted up people I could care less about just trying to get another map marker. 

The combat model is a joke and by the time you figure out the camera angles you're usually dead.  If you happen to have an area of affect weapon you have some saving grace provided any companions along with you aren't too close and get in the way.  Then you get to waste supplies healing them up because they got between the baddy and your flamer.  Vats is useless with area of affect weapons by the way.  I guess that makes sense, it's useless 90% of the time anyway.

So what happens.  I continue my exploration with mild interest in my quests which are almost impossible to follow using the "map" and suddenly the game starts hiccuping.  I've got a system monitor running and nothing on my rig is being overtaxed.  Temps are in line and CPU is well below any loaded thresholds so why does the game suddenly stop, shudder, then start again?  Doesn't matter what graphics settings I choose it's always the same.  Then it will just randomly crash to the desktop.

The final straw? 

Gone...

All my saved games, just gone....

I checked the forums, Apparently a problem with the steam cloud or some such nonsense.  All that work and all I'm left with is a saved game from when I first started the game.

I foolishly ended up going into the DLC:Honest Hearts not knowing that this single action would wipe out everything I'd done up to that point.  No warning, no recovery, no recourse.....NO More!
Gee, would have been nice to know that I was actually going into the DLC before I made the leap.  I guess I'm just not "in sync" with how this game works after 20 hours.

That's it, I'm through wasting time on a rehash of an old game with virtually no improvement. 

Bethesda, I'm done with you even at a discount price point.  Apparently the game model is to waste as much of the gamers time as possible then throw an occasional carrot and brand it "immersion" 
Unfortunately the only thing I'm immersed in is anger and embarrassment for being suckered into once again into a flawed game model.

It's titles like this that are killing PC gaming.  Thanks Bethesda for giving more ammunition to the "PC gaming sucks" crowd.

Monday, August 15, 2011

On mandatory internet connections and gaming

So I'm browsing the latest offerings on Steam the other day and I happened on to the new Driver: San Francisco.  Looks like a fun game with just enough of a storyline to be interesting without being boring and lots of cool cars to run around in as well. 

I watched the gameplay videos and thought to myself, "Hey, This might be worth a look when steam does a sale on it"

Then I told a friend about it and he informed me that it required an active Internet connection to play it.

What!

Really? So if I want to play a game I have to constantly siphon bandwidth from an already overpriced and over-capped broadband connection struggling to stream netflix and YouTube videos?  I understand game updates and such, that's fine.  In fact I love the fact that Portal 2 saves my game online so I can pick up where I left off from anywhere that's got a connection to my steam account. 

You already know how I feel about moving saved games between PCs so to avoid such annoyances is a welcome feature.  I don't have to be online all the time just to play it however!  There's even an option, "No Steam" that will let me play Portal 2.  Truth be told I ran into it by accident but it's there nonetheless.

So why do I have to be constantly connected to the Internet to play a game??  I've accepted the phone home aspect of modern gaming but this is less like checking your voicemail and more like calling your mother.

361259_Up to 75% off Video Game Accessories - Shop GameShark Store NowHow is this reasonable when we have broadband providers defending bandwidth caps while in the same breath raising prices without improving the service.  It seems to be another example of a game publisher getting between the developer and the customer just to fatten profits.  I would bet that ISP's like ComCast and Time Warner will soon start offering games like these for free or reduced cost if the subscriber would just "upgrade" their broadband connection.  All under the guise of supposedly charging commensurate with heavy usage while offering the game publisher a captive market.

Broadband providers sell their services knowing full well that they promise more than they can deliver.  It's called overcommitment and based on a model where the majority of users will pay for bandwidth they'll never use.  Let me rephrase that.. The core business model is based on the hope that you never get what you paid for. 

MWave 88x31Since Broadband providers are technically not "utilities" they don't have the restrictions that say your water or electric utility does.  So they can set their prices arbitrarily with only market forces to say otherwise.  Since many broadband providers operate as virtual monopolies the "market" is largely non-existant. 

With that in mind I can only think that there's some kind of backroom dealing going on or that Game publishers are totally disconnected from the economic reality of their market.  Forcing a constant connection does not benefit the consumer in fact it hurts the experience.  Who among us hasn't run into downed game servers or an over-committed ISP degrading our Internet connections.  It's an indefensible position.

Well, I can say this.  If I'm forced to use up my bandwidth "allotment" just to play a game I might as well stick to Lord of Ultima or Armor Games. It'll cost me a lot less...

Fallout: New Vegas

I just started playing Fallout: New Vegas.

This was another one I got from a steam sale and so far I'm glad I didn't pay full price for it.  In short it feels like DLC for Fallout 3.  The graphics aren't any better and the storyline isn't that engaging.  The ambiance is there just like Fallout 3 but so too are all the failings. 

I'm not sure if this was meant to be a sequel to Fallout 3 or some kind of parallel storyline. So if it's not a sequel and not a prequel then what do you call it?  A currentquel?  a parallelquel?  Eh, who cares..

Other than the "pip boy" wrist device and a post-nuclear wasteland I don't see much in common from a creative standpoint.  I don't see any continuity other than the setting.  Of course it's still fairly early in the game for me so maybe I'll find a connection.  If I last that long.  I'm already looking for cheats to move this thing along.

From a gameplay standpoint it's very familiar and that's unfortunate.  Do good things get good Karma, do bad things get bad Karma and get shot at a lot more.  Wander around the wasteland, consume radioactive sustenance, battle mutant bugs and ill-tempered morons all in hopes of furthering your "quest".  That's all fine and good but does it have to take so long to do anything interesting?

Ok so it's 99% the same as the first game.  It's not all bad.  For example you can choose different radio stations to listen to while you traipse through the post-apocalyptic desert wastes and hearing Rat Pack crooners in the background is a nice touch considering the game takes place in or near Vegas. 

In the context of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, the world that supposedly ended was eternally stuck in 1962. Technological advances look like a cross between "Lost in Space" and late 50's episodes of "The Twilight Zone". 

Most NPC's you run in to look like escapees from a Mad Max film but only a few of them have anything interesting to say.  If you remember those classic text based adventures like Zork then the conversation interface will be familiar.  It pretty much goes like this..

Howdy! What can I do for you...blah blah blah

Then comes the list of your available responses..

1. Tell me about the bad guys
2. Tell me about where the hell I am cause it all looks the same and I keep getting shot at..
3. Tell me why I shouldn't beat you up..
4. Tell me about your bad hygiene or some other pointless thing that will make you offer up another stupid side quest.
5. Goodbye

Choose the right text from the list of available responses and that can trigger different available responses that if chosen may reveal pertinent information.  This is also how you end up on pointless side quests like harvesting flowers that only grow around some mutant infested dwelling.  Complete this important quest and you gain 1 whole Hit point...yay...

I may have a Part 2 of this post coming as I progress but so far I'm feeling a bit disappointed.  I'm hopeful it will be like the last Fast and Furious movie, "Fast 5"  I spent half of that movie waiting for someone to do something interesting.  Once they got in the cars it was good.  Maybe Fallout: New Vegas will be the same.





Challenging or just stupid

I've had more time on my hands recently so I devoted some of it to completing Portal 2.  A great game but I felt the ending didn't live up to the original game but that's not what this post is about...

While playing through the latter part of the game I came across a few levels that stepped over the line between challenging and just plain stupid. 

What do I mean?

To answer that you have to first understand that a puzzle game like Portal 2 is not designed to challenge your reflexes but rather your problem solving skills.  Part of that is being able to look at the challenge before you, take inventory of your resources and ultimately figure out how to best use them to your advantage to solve the puzzle. 

At some point you need to be able to figure out what you're trying to accomplish.  You're playing a game in a world both foreign and impossible so the solution needs to be free of trickery.  There is one map in Portal 2 that in particular crossed the line from challenging straight into the arms of stupid.

WikiGame Guides has a great video walk through of Test Chamber 16 in Chapter 8 here just navigate to "Test Chamber 16"...
Now I'm aware that this is the last "test" you have to do before the boss battle but I was more than
a bit annoyed by this level.  Make it difficult but don't cheat the level design by hiding the solution.  It's like trying to build a 3 legged stool and taking away two of the legs.

If the rest of the game were like this I would have dumped it about an hour in.  While there are familiar elements there was no way I was going to figure out what it was I was supposed to be doing without some YouTube help or spending a week of my life on one level.  Now we've moved from recreation to job and I sincerely doubt I'll ever earn a living out of figuring out Portal levels.  Which brings up another question.  How did this get by the QA testers?  Did they just give up?

I enjoy a good challenge but I don't enjoy suffering through a developers bad joke or sloppy level design.


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