Friday, March 29, 2013

Battlefield 4, Bioshock Infinite, a new way to rate your graphics card and more!



The Midagedgamer Report for 3-29-2013

This Week:  Battlefield 4, Bioshock Infinite, a new way to rate your graphics card and more!

The Battlefield 4 hype machine's been started with the release of a 17 minute video showing single player gameplay as well as details about platforms and special editions.  The video also highlights the new Frostbite 3.0 game engine which promises a better lighting and weather system as well as new animations and of course what every father wishes for his son, "Improved,efficient destruction"

 If you're dumb enough, I mean interested in pre-orders you can get a special "Premium" expansion pack and if you do it through Origin you'll get additional exclusive content  from their "Digital Deluxe edition" .  Release is scheduled for the fall on PC and current generation consoles.   That begs the question of how console sales of the game will be affected by a refresh of both major console platforms in the same time period.

I chafe at the word "Premium" almost as badly as I do with the word "Pre-Order"  Ask anyone who bought SimCity or Diablo 3 on Pre-order if they got their money's worth.   Fool me once shame on you, Fool me twice EA?  Don't think so.  I'm happy to wait for a sale six months later or better yet just skip it altogether.   In case you're still interested, pre-order price is set at 59.99 across all three platforms (Xbox, PS3 and PC) with Gamefly offering a 20%off coupon. Hmm, discounts on a pre-order this far out? I'm suspicious.


BioShock Infinite has launched and if you buy a physical copy of the game from Irrational games they'll get it to you for 1.99 shipping.  Amazon's got free shipping by the way and Steam will download it to your hard drive today.  If you want it it's going to set you back $60 no matter who you buy it from.  So far reviews have been decent with a 94/100 reviewer score on Metacritic and an 8.9 user score although some reviewers have been a little disappointed in the pace of the game.

If you've always wanted to "play a movie" it seems 2013 is your year.  It started with the Walking dead  Game in 2012 which was designed to be a companion to the popular television series on AMC.  Released by Telltale it follows an episodic formula similar to their recent "Back to the Future" series.

Now we have two new titles trying to cash in on the trend.  Defiance is a game based on the upcoming television series on SyFy channel of the same name.  Star Trek: The Video Game launches April 23rd just weeks ahead of StarTrek: Into Darkness set to hit theaters May 17th.  While not a direct adaptation characters, voice acting and design are all consistent with the movie.  Defiance will be available April 2nd at $60 and Star Trek: The Video game will set you back $50.

If you happen to be taking in a ball game at Coca-Cola park in Allentown PA. you may want to check out the men's room.  They're installing video games at the men's urinals that activate when you approach them.  Don't ask about the controller.  I bet they're going to sell a lot more large sodas from now on.

Are you one of the lucky few who already has your OUYA console?  They started shipping to the kickstarter backers but the rest of us will have to wait till June 4th to pick ours up for $99.  Early adopters of the Tegra 3 powered android console will find a library of 104 games so far from a deep bench of 8000 developers.  The console will also run apps like XBMC and Flixster.    The games are all free to try out but nothing's free forever so have some plastic money at the ready once you run into that free-to-play paywall.

I hesitated to include this last bit of news in this week's report.  That's primarily due to my distaste for gaming benchmarks and the subjective analysis that comes from them.  Weeks' worth of fanboy articles have been written based on nothing more than a bias toward a particular brand and 1 Frame per second. 

So here comes Ryan Shrout of PCPer who's been racking his brains out trying to come up with a different way of quantifying graphics card performance.  In the process it's also showed up how weak AMD's crossfire multi-card GPU performance really is.  You have to give it to the guys at PCPer, AMD's been a major sponsor but that didn't stop them from calling it like they saw it.  In fact it's because of that candor that I had any interest at all.

Without trying to summarize 16000 words of what Ryan's been up to I'd direct you to his article for the specifics of his new process of evaluating graphics performance.  As I understand it, instead of basing ratings on data that hasn't made it to your monitor yet like FRAPS this method is based on what you actually see.  It's called Frame Rating and uses an external capture card to collect the data then process it and display the results graphically on-screen without interfering with the system being tested.

For a primer on what Frame Rating is see this article.

    

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Top 10 - Why Multiplayer gaming sucks


Right up front I'll admit that I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know.  Just point your confused friends to this page when they're wondering why you're tearing up the furniture after your 150th round of Battlefield 3.

This list is ordered from what I feel is the most egregious to the annoying.  Your mileage may vary.   Too much of any of them puts the furniture in jeopardy.  

1. Cheats - This one's easy and we've all suffered them.  Aimbots, world hacks, stat boosters and the pond scum who love them.  Both Battlefield and Call of Duty are rife with these self-centered morons who ruin it for the rest of us.  There's just nothing like having hundreds of hours of experience in a game and getting pwned 50 times by some 12 year old with a $10 hack.  You can be sure that if the developer leaves an opening someone's going to exploit it.

2. Lag - You can't help this if say you're in North America and the server's in Germany.  Adding more
servers in a region can fix it but that rarely happens.  Which is probably why you're crossing an ocean to play in the first place. 

It can be almost imperceptible showing itself at those times when you know you should have hit what you were aiming at but didn't because it really wasn't there anymore.  Other times it can be more obvious with an annoyingly slow frame rate.  One of the worst cases you can suffer is the rubber banding  effect.  This is where your character keeps getting reset in the same spot as the server tries to compensate for excessive lag. 

Online games can be sensitive to player induced lag and many have instituted a maximum ping time to the client to combat it.  Most dedicated game servers will  try to tune the game performance to the slowest connected client.  Problem is,that can lead to the rubber banding effect so you're more likely to run into a maximum ping restriction.


3. Game Server Admins - Most online game servers are privately run with only a handful of "official"
developer controlled examples.  As such you have to deal with a game environment that doesn't necessarily follow the official template.  Ridiculously high ticket counts, weapon restrictions and draconian banning practices can ruin an otherwise good game. 

4. Player Matching - Call of Duty and Team Fortress 2 try to do it but never do it well, Battlefield 3 doesn't even try which means you could end up like a duck in a shooting gallery if you don't check out the leader boards before you join.

You'd think player matching would be a good thing but you usually end up with a bunch of players at a much higher level than you  anyway.  I prefer choosing my own servers but it would be nice if games like Battlefield 3 made it easier to figure out who you're playing against before you get in a game.  Something along the line of an average player level indicator or a color code in the server list would be helpful.  Are you Listening EA??

5. Who you have to play with - It'd be nice if everyone followed the rules and did what they were supposed to do but they don't.  Cheaters, noobs and people who just take the game too seriously can turn a game sour fast.  A few here or there can be safely ignored but in numbers you may as well give up.  It's why I prefer co-op.

6. Game tweaks - BF3 is the biggest offender.  Every patch contains "fixes" that change multiple game elements.  Weapon effectiveness , map elements or even the availability of equipment can be affected which makes every logon a roll of the dice.  Hmm, maybe that's why Battlefield's developer is named "Dice."  In their constant fiddling all they do is throw off the game balance and annoy players.  Worse it's usually done to support new DLC even if you don't buy it.

7. " Premium" - From reducing the amount of available servers for "normal" players to special "events" that give an unfair advantage.  This is the most blatant evidence of a software publisher's money machine in action.  From "double experience weekends" to early access to new maps this tactic will allow you to buy your way to the top of the leaderboards if you have the scratch.    

8. DLC - Make no mistake, this is nothing but a money machine for the publishers.  A few new maps and weapons may be nice to have but they end up skewing the whole game for everyone else.  DLC or downloadable content is meant to extend the life of an old game.  The more DLC available the weaker the core game is.  The mark of a great game is re-playability without a bunch of tacky add-ons.  If you have to keep adding content to keep things interesting you've either held something back at launch or your game is boring.  'Nuff said.

9. Huge Game updates -I realize that games have to be constantly fixed but there's no reason that a game that is 5 GB fully installed needs a 4GB patch every 3 months or EVER.  Publishers like to "preload" DLC and extra features whether you buy them or not.  So come patch day, everyone suffers.  Expect more of this as the new PS4 plans to "preload" full installations to your console based on what Sony "thinks" you'd like to buy.  Hope you're nowhere near your Internet Download cap!

10. Slow game joins - This could be lag but more likely it's just too much preload going on.  It wouldn't be such a big deal but sometimes the delay is so bad that the game ends before you get a chance to play.  You get tired of seeing "Loading" after a while.

Some of you may think I've missed one, namely "noobs."  Hey, like the say, we were all noobs once.  Instead of cursing them in the chat window just point them toward the unranked servers to practice on.  Otherwise let them learn the hard way...as practice targets.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

From the Borderlands to the Battlefield


There's two types of games I tend to play the most often and it's no surprise that one of them is a good First Person Shooter.  The other is a good driving game but since there's been few really good titles and I can't afford a good control setup to adequately experience them I spend a lot of time shooting at virtual people. 
I like realism but I know it's still a game and that short of a Star Trek style holodeck I can't expect too much.  Still I want an interesting environment to look at and challenging opponents that have just as much chance to win as I do.

Angry Birds and The Simpsons: Tapped Out may be popular with the masses but aside from a convenient time sink they don't do much for me.  They're considered "casual games" and after awhile they stop being fun and start turning into a career once you pass a certain level.  That's their hook and it's something I recognize in games in general.  How obvious that hook is separates a good game from an also-ran.

In the past few months I've spent a lot of time with Borderlands 2 and Battlefield 3.   During that time I've been trying to identify exactly what it was that made one more engaging than the other.  A good game draws you in and before you know it entire evenings have evaporated without notice.

Borderlands is like that.  Both the original and the sequel have this subtle quality of being just challenging enough to keep you coming back but not so easy as to become repetitive.   The story is as over the top as you can get but does a great job of setting the mood.

A hallmark of the series is the seamless gameplay experience between single player and cooperative mode.  The ability to help out your friends on a particularly difficult single player mission is nothing short of brilliant.  Another nice feature is how  your accomplishments follow you regardless of the play mode.  That's far more valuable than any badge on somebody's leaderboard.

Battlefield 3 is a whole different story.  It's a game with split personalities.  A single player mode that had no bearing on multiplayer and seems like it's just tacked on.   I've had "epic moments" with BF3 but most of the time I'm just waiting for the ticket count to drop to zero.

It's this trait that's most like its Activision competitor, Call of Duty.  You could literally spend  days in the single player mode and have nothing to show for it when you were done.  The gameplay is very linear much like Call of Duty but without the saving grace of a good story. 

Battlefield's multiplayer was a completely different experience and the real focus of the Battlefield series since the release of Battlefield 2.  And it's obvious with features, achievements and rewards only available in its online multiplayer mode.  Too bad Dice couldn't get a handle on the cheats, hacks and glitches that plague the game. 

I've spent over 200 hours playing BF3 and about half of that on Borderlands 2 so far.  Yes I know they're vastly different games and have a different focus but the success of one shows the failure of the other.  They're both FPS games and emphasize the development of your player character.  Battlefield does it with rank and unlocks while Borderlands does it with level and stat boosters. 

The difference is that Borderlands concentrates on the gaming experience where Battlefield concentrates on the game environment. 

Nobody in their right mind would ever say that Borderlands was anything but an arcade shooter.  Invisible rocks block your path, physics are a mere suggestion and controls can be vague.  Battlefield, on the other hand, strives to be as realistic as possible with highly detailed scenery and physics effects.  Aim and shoot and chances are you'll hit something in Borderlands,  Battlefield makes you seriously consider things like bullet drop, armor and firing position if you want to hit anything smaller than the broadside of a barn.

That's ok but it's tough for developers to keep making near photo realistic environments with all their physics along for the ride.  It may be great for selling DLC every 6 months but it ruins re-playability.  After awhile it gets tedious when you constantly reminded that you're just in a very pretty sandbox.  Play Battlefield 3 and you're guaranteed to  know more about the map than your opposition.  Borderlands 2 is the reverse.

 I've mentioned before that Battlefield 3's multiplayer experience has been going downhill for the past year.  If I buy a DLC pack it might extend my interest another month or so but ultimately I'll get burned out on it too.  With cheating so rampant it's roughly a 1 in 5 chance of having a good multiplayer game in BF3.  Worse, where DLC in Borderlands extends your co-op and single player game, DLC in BF3 offers nothing to its single player mode. 

In short Battlefield is being supported by a regular parade of DLC and paid add-ons like the shortcut kits.  Borderlands 2 has these as well but they enhance an already good gaming experience instead of trying to crutch a marginal one.

Don't get me wrong, I like Battlefield 3 when it's good.  It's just that it's not good that often and the only response from EA/Dice is to buy more DLC. 
I don't believe 2K/Gearbox is driven by any greater humanitarian philosophy but they have made a more playable game. 
Games are about having fun regardless of  the motivations of their creators are.  If I'm not enjoying the experience what's the point? 

I mean, why should I invest tens of hours in something that only serves to aggravate me.  Battlefield does that now and the blame lies squarely in Dice's lap.  They made a good looking game with great potential but never fully delivered.   Adding insult to injury they relentlessly push DLC and subscriptions to the exclusion of all else.

If you're going to have multiple ways to experience a game they need to be seamless and I don't mean forcing me onto a website just to start the game.  Who cares how realistic the explosions are if the game modes and thus anything I accomplish in them are completely isolated from each other?

This is the same mistake Call of Duty makes over and over again.  It has a great story and good looks but the Multiplayer is stuck back in 2002 and is easily exploited by those with less than honorable intentions.  In short it's not much fun for anyone but a hardcore player or a cheat.  

Battlefield 3's design comes closest to Call of Duty's and makes the same mistakes with the only difference being where each game's strengths lie.  Call of Duty is about the Story, Battlefield is about the environment but in the end they fail in the same way.

Borderlands 2 is like playing a character in a comic book.  It's a good looking game but it's not about  a game engine or realistic bullet drop.  it's about having fun blasting bad guys with goofy looking weapons.  All of this framed within an interesting story and a unified single and multiplayer experience.

If I buy DLC for Borderlands it's because I want more of what I already have.  Which is exactly why I won't buy it for Battlefield 3.  In short, I'm not satisfied with what I got from the core game so why would I throw more money at it in hopes of a better experience?

 I'm hopeful that Battlefield 4 will learn from the mistakes of its predecessor but EA is all about the money machine these days.  That means it will probably look great and you'll be able to count the rivets on every tank.  It just won't be very interesting past that point. 

Dice will continually fiddle with the physics and EA will push them to release DLC packs to keep the money machine humming along and I'll probably be writing the same article a year from now.
 If you ever see an (Updated) in the title you know what happened...


Friday, March 22, 2013

IGN too close to publishers? Steam Early Access, Origin Sale and more!



The Midagedgamer Report for 3-22-2013

This Week:

IGN in cahoots with EA?, Steam Early Access, Origin likes you and more!

First we get movie reviews on a gaming website now it appears that gaming news icon IGN may (or may not) have exclusive access to content from the upcoming Battlefield 4.  The Battlefield 4 website went live Wednesday and somebody dug into its code and found a snippet suggesting that IGN already had a promotional  article written proclaiming "IGN predicting Battlefield 4 to be game of the year".  A check of the site today shows no evidence of the code but the suggestion that IGN may be partnering with EA to promote the game is a natural leap.  Whether or not is true is something entirely different.  It does call into question how impartial a game review can really be when there's such a close relationship with a publisher.  As though movie reviews weren't bad enough.  By the way the BF4 website is here.  If you have an Origin account and log into the website you'll earn the special "I Was There" in-game dog tag to show all your jealous friends...

Ever wish you had a say in how your favorite game got developed?  Well Valve has just launched Steam Early Access where gamers can play games that are still in development.  Most of the games are of the indie variety but include titles like ARMA 3.  It's an interesting opportunity born out of Valves community based Greenlight program.  Smaller developers rarely have the resources to fully flesh out a game before launch so getting the fans involved could produce a better product.   Hopefully the free help translates into discounts and freebies for the participants.

In case you haven't noticed, EA's Origin service is having a week long sale that ends March 26th on over 200 games.  Some are up to 70% off with Crysis 3 and Dead Space 3 around $30 US and the BF3 Premium subscription now half price at $24.99.  That's almost funny, now that BF4 is announced who cares about Premium anyway? 

236405_GameTap GameTap Games on Demand 120x90They call it an "Origin Player Appreciation Sale"  I call it damage control after the SimCity debacle.  Who cares, take advantage while you can. 

Seems Battlefield 4 isn't the only game IGN has a sneak peak at.  They've released a glowing review of the upcoming Bioshock:Infinite due out March 26th.  Hailing this latest installment of the Bioshock universe as

"A stunning original world of retro-sci-fi technology and gorgeous scenery. A cast of fully fleshed-out, memorable characters who deliver real emotional impact."

I don't know about you but with all this gushing going on in reviews that sound like they came right out of the publisher's PR department I have to wonder how impartial IGN really is.  It's not a stretch to suggest that publishers may be willing to give early access to a review site if they know they're among friends.  Even flaws seem to be glossed over in favor of phrases like, "You Will Believe a City Can Fly"

Really?   Even bad reviews of games like Medal of Honor:Warfighter try to soften the blow by acting apologist and highlighting irrelevant bright spots like this from IGN's review of Warfighter.

" Warfighter strives for this by giving you a genuine impression of what it’s like to live as a Tier 1 operator, the elite operatives at the center of the modernized Medal of Honor series. It’s clear from the first cutscene all the way to the end credits that developer Danger Close has the utmost respect for the extraordinary skills and bravery of these soldiers.

 If Medal of Honor extended the same level of respect to its players, Warfighter might have accomplished more than its numerous significant failures and lack of player agency has allowed." from IGN's review of Warfighter

Ok, the last paragraph was somewhat useful but it's a negative review, so what's up with all this about "striving to give a genuine impression."  How's that even possible in a game so flawed that even EA (the publisher) had to admit it.

I guess that's why I work for free...


                           

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Just Talkin' - Tech Episode 3


Today's installment allows you to eavesdrop on a discussion about how rampant cheating has brought down an otherwise decent game.  What follows is too average players with hundreds of hours of experience discussing why the game no longer holds much interest.

A little background first:

When Battlefield 3 launched it was one of the most anticipated FPS's in recent history.  Building on a rabid fan base stretching back a decade, it introduced the most realistic gaming engine (Frostbite 2.0) any FPS fan had seen to that point.  It continues to be the engine for other EA titles like Medal of Honor and Need For Speed due to it's realistic physics effects and visuals.

Unfortunately along with all that progress came the hacks, exploits and the cheaters who love them.  In the Year and half that's gone by EA/Dice have made only cursory overtures to deal with cheats.  Instead, focusing on DLC, the Premium subscription and purchasable upgrades.  Game hacks are so prevalent in Battlefield 3 that it's said an average server can expect to have at least 10% of its players engaging in some manner of cheat.   Entire businesses have sprung up with their only product being game hacks for BF3 and EA/Dice have done virtually nothing to stop it.

In short EA's decided that cheats are best dealt with by the community that plays the game.  Unfortunately they've given them few tools to combat the problem.


Friday, March 15, 2013

EA's sorry about SimCity, What's an OUYA? and more!


The Midagedgamer report for March 15, 2013

This week:

Ea apologizes for SimCity but no refunds!, New Borderlands 2 character coming, What's an OUYA? and more!

The big news out of EA this week?  If you found yourself looking at a blank dialog box instead of playing SimCity, EA's got a consolation prize for you.  They're going to offer you one of their downloadable games for free.  Watch your email March 18th for details on how and what you'll be getting for the frustration you suffered last week. 

SimCity developer Maxis' GM Lucy Bradshaw was quoted last Friday (March 8th) as saying the reason for the outage was.."a lot more people logged on than we expected.  More people played and played in ways we never saw in beta....OK, we agree that was dumb but we are committed to fixing it."
That's all very well and nice and it's refreshing to hear  an EA developer admitting the inadequacies of their beta programs.  But only time will tell if they've learned from their mistakes.  Time will also tell if the "free game" is salve for the wound or just a burnt offering.  Didn't see anything about a refund in there BTW.
The following  comments come from the referenced EA article...

"Why do I want another game to play on your obviously buggy and unreliable Origin service? Giving me another game that has a good chance of not working due to your servers isn't going to make me happy. Givi ng me an offline version of SimCity will

"Maybe you should think about NOT having this stupid Always Online DRM crap? Yeah? Might solve the problem of bad design and bad decisions on your part. "

236405_GameTap GameTap Games on Demand 120x90More Borderlands 2 DLC in the works and it appears we'll be getting a sixth playable character.  October saw the introduction of Gaige a female cyborg mechromancer which seems like a cross between a siren and a commando.  At last weekend's South by Southwest Gearbox hinted at a new character which appears to be focused on Melee combat much like Brick in the first game. 

These are DLC only, however, and not available to premium subscription members which makes me wonder what the point is of having it if I have to keep buying extra stuff?  I wonder if Gearbox is looking at Borderlands 2 like EA looks at Battlefield 3.  You know, a money machine?  If so it doesn't bode well for Borderlands 3...

Ah well, wait a year and you'll get it all for $60 on a Steam sale....

So are you one of those people looking to break out of the shackles of traditional console gaming with their high prices, subscription models and closed ecosystems?  Then OUYA may have your alternative.  OUYA is an Android based gaming console that will go for around $100 when it officially launches in June.  Funded by a successful Kickstarter project started by Julie Uhrman and Yves Behar back in August 2012 the project managed to attract 8.5 Million US. That was 8 times their target by the way.
The news this week was the announcement that Kickstarter backers can expect to see their new OUYA boxes show up by March 28th. 

What's significant about OUYA isn't just the migration of android based games from mobile devices to your HD TV.  It's the freedom afforded to developers to develop without the restrictions that come from other platforms like Xbox and Playstation.  OUYA claims that, "Anyone can make a game, every OUYA console is a developer kit.  No need to purchase a license or an expensive SDK.." 
The platform is more of a boon for indie game developers than even Valve's Steam can offer.  The question remains whether this will be the functional alternative to mainstream consoles or end up a hobbyist platform for the true believer.  If it becomes the Linux equivalent to Windows in the console gaming world the result will likely be less than revolutionary.

The other issue to consider is that with a few exceptions, Android based games are made for mobile devices with 4" screens.   That may not translate well to your 50" HDTV.   That is, unless you're ok with the bulk of your gaming looking like something from the original Sony Playstation.   Of course that can change with time but developers will need to ramp up their efforts if OUYA has any chance of being a force in the console market.

In the end if OUYA serves no other purpose than to soften the draconian licensing and development practices of the Sony and Microsoft's of the world that's a good thing.

If you've been wondering why Nvidia's been shut out of the next generation consoles your answer may finally be here.  In a nutshell, Sony and Microsoft are cheap and AMD is too.  Apparently Nvidia passed on the opportunity to be in the next generation of consoles because the big 2 weren't offering enough scratch for the effort. 
" (They) didn't want to do the business at the price those guys were willing to pay", Tony Tomasi Nvidia SVP of content

AMD came in cheaper so they got the gig.  Sony claims it wasn't about the technology just the price.   That's really all there is to it.

I guess it had something to do with the "support offline group play" feature that got a new phone from Samsung on the gaming news radar this week.  Yes the highly anticipated Samsung S4 has been officially announced.  It's a phone that lets you do things by waving your fingers at it.  It's set for release at the end of April.  Must be a slow news week...

That's it for this week.

                               

Friday, March 8, 2013

Nothing simulated about SimCity's launch failure


This week produced not one but two major product launches with 2 huge failures.  Yes I'm talking about SimCity and Tomb Raider. 

Of course in the case of SimCity the memory of the nearly disastrous launch of last year's Diablo 3 came racing back to the gaming community's consciousness.  And why not? The failure was almost identical and the recovery even more clumsy.  As of today SimCity is still suffering the effects with EA disabling functionality such as achievements, leaderboards and region filters.  Developer Maxis is racing to add servers and patch issues but still seem to be in a state of denial. 

"This has been an exciting and challenging week for the team here at Maxis, the culmination of years of planning and development.  We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and enthusiasm from our fans which has made it even more upsetting for us that technical issues have become more prominent in the last 24 hours..."

Outpouring of support? Most of the forum posts I've seen aren't exactly supportive...

"How many times in the last few years have games with online features or requirements been screwed up when the servers became overloaded? You’d think that someone in the games industry would have noticed this by now.." From a comment on Forbes

"I've been trying to play for the last 4 hours and still haven't even started my first city. I have been a die hard Simcity addict for going on 18 years. Not any longer. I am fed up with it and wish I hadn't wasted £65 on it."  From a comment on Techcrunch

When even Amazon has to suspend sales of your game I have to question what they mean by "years of planning and development."

What metrics did EA and Maxis use to plan for launch day?  Did anyone even look at those pre-order numbers?  Was nothing learned from two closed betas?  Beta players reported slow load times which resulted in Maxis adding a few more servers. Even in a tightly controlled sandbox the cracks were starting to show.  So I suppose  two closed betas were considered an adequate load test.  Apparently not  when thousands stared at an empty dialog box when the game went live.

So far the biggest news to come out of this debacle is Maxis' GM Lucy Bradshaw falling on the sword via a rumored internal memo that states...
"I'd like to say that it's not fair — that the game score (from polygon.com) shouldn't be punished for a server problem, But it is fair."

"SimCity is an online game and critics and consumers have every right to expect a smooth experience from beginning to end, I and the Maxis team take full responsibility to deliver on our promise."

Couple that with EA "suspending marketing" of the game due to the continuing server issues and no matter how great the game is, the failure of the launch will forever color it. 

236405_GameTap GameTap Games on Demand 120x90Now, let's address the elephant in the room. 

All of this trouble, all of this pain comes from one source and that lands squarely in the lap of EA.  You can't even blame Maxis for this one because we all know EA's penchant for sticking always-on DRM where it doesn't belong.  That's what sunk SimCity's launch period.

There is absolutely no reason that any game from any publisher should require a persistent Internet connection.  At least not for a single player game.    

I've said it before, the Internet is not ubiquitous when it comes to access and having to be constantly connected offers the consumer nothing.  It does however offer publishers like EA the opportunity to intrude into a gaming experience they were never invited to.

Real time ads, dynamic updates and unwanted invitations to online promotions are the real focus.  EA wants to turn every product it sells into a perpetual money machine but they can't do that without absolute control of the experience. 

Want DLC? you're going to have to buy it from EA.  Forget about community contributed maps or character tweaks. 

Think about it, when's the last time you heard about a Battlefield 3 mod?  Remember Battlefield 1942?  That game got new life with a community supported mod called Desert Combat and spawned the fortunes of developer DICE. 

The only time an online connection was required was for multiplayer gameplay.  It wasn't to annoy you with popup ads for new DLC or track your every move.  It was just simple connectivity to other players.

That's as it should be but it isn't anymore.  It's disappointing to not be able to play a multiplayer game when servers go offline but the single player experience should NEVER be affected by it.
Take another popular franchise that EA has applied the same formula to. 

Need for Speed started out as a single player game with later versions allowing multiplayer gaming via LAN connections.  As time went on EA began requiring connections to their servers that forced players onto web servers even if they were playing in the same room.  It's culminated in the requirement for players to log into an interface called the "Autolog" that forces you to be online even if you're playing in single player mode. 
There are Need for speed titles just a few years old that are now unplayable in multiplayer because EA has shut down the servers.  How far behind can single player modes be? 

(By the way, if Autolog sounds familiar it's the predecessor of Battlefield 3's Battlelog.  The web based interface that disables any type of gameplay unless you're logged into EA servers. )

361259_Buy Direct and SAVE on Mad Catz products

If we're going to be required to connect to a web server even to play a game in "offline" mode then we have to trust that EA will perpetually provide access which history shows they won't.  That puts your $60 to $120  (addl. DLC or Subscription cost) investment in jeopardy.  It's like selling you a car but giving you keys that will only start it for five years.  After that even though the car is perfectly fine it will never run again because of your now useless keys.  Leaving you with nothing to show for your money.

Is that a future you're willing to accept?


SimCity & Tomb Raider launch fails, EA backpedals and more!


The Midagedgamer report for 3-8-2013

This week EA CFO backpedals, Tomb Raider, SimCity =launch day fails, and more!

So it seems that last week's comment by EA CFO Blake J. Jorgensen caused an uproar loud enough to cause him to issue a "clarification."  concerning micro-transactions.  Jorgensen claimed he was only referring to mobile games most of which are already "Free to Play"...
"The real core of the micro transaction business is within the mobile part of our business which is the free-to-play business."

Of course in the same breath he still likes the idea of milking a franchise...

"It allows someone to take a game that maybe they played for 1,000 hours and play it for 2,000 hours...We are very conscious that we don't want to make consumers feel like they're not getting value. We want to make sure consumers are getting value."

Paying twice for a game isn't much of a value proposition to me Blake.

So Tomb Raider launched this week and if you happen to have a high performance Nvidia based gaming rig your experience probably sucked.  Nvidia's on the case but blames the developer for not getting the code to them on time.

"Unfortunately, NVIDIA didn't receive final code until this past weekend which substantially decreased stability, image quality and performance over a build we were previously provided. We are working closely with Crystal Dynamics to address and resolve all game issues as quickly as possible.
"In the meantime, we would like to apologize to GeForce users that are not able to have a great experience playing Tomb Raider, as they have come to expect with all of their favorite PC games,"


At this stage in the game (pardon the pun) why are we still coding games for specific GPU's?  That crap should have went by the wayside somewhere around the last sale of the 3DFX Voodoo 5 cards.  

Nvidia Tomb Raider issues

While we're on the subject...SimCity launched this week or at least that's what everyone expected to happen when they logged in to their Origin client Tuesday morning (March 5).  Similar to the dreaded "Error 37" suffered on Diablo 3's launch day users found themselves in endless queues just trying to launch the game.  It got bad enough that Amazon actually suspended sales with a note on the games product page saying,

"Important Note on "SimCity "Many customers are having issues connecting to the "SimCity" servers. EA is actively working to resolve these issues, but at this time we do not know when the issue will be fixed.  Please visit https://help.ea.com/en/simcity/simcity for more information." 

The status of the game was also set to "Currently unavailable" We don't know when or if this item will be available again."

Yet another example of a promising game brought down by an unbridled profit motive.  Why pay full price for a game that's so dependent on being online?  Is it DRM or just a part of the EA strategy to constantly sell you something even after you bought the product. 

Just as in Diablo 3 SimCity requires a constant Internet connection even for single player gameplay.  Which is ridiculous for a so-called Triple-A title.  Of course the tech pundits turned tech apologists acknowledging that this was indeed a problem but that this was the way things were going to be from now on and citing how "smooth" Diablo 3 runs now. 

361259_Buy Direct and SAVE on Mad Catz productsSmooth?  did we forget how long it took to get the servers straightened out?  or the hacking of the marketplace?  I suppose that's all part of "smooth"  If anything kills PC gaming it's exactly this kind of event where poor planning and unbridled greed trump common sense.  Great job EA and Square Enix...

In PS4 news it appears that NVIDIA's  PhysX and APEX technologies will be showing up in Sony's next generation console.  Considering it's an AMD GPU, that proves once and for all that the much hyped physics engine is nothing more than a bit of driver code not exclusive to NVIDIA hardware.

So as you're enjoying fluttering flags and rippling waves lapping the shore of some virtual sea remember that apparently NVIDIAs  done what AMD couldn't.

That's not fanboy, it's fact...


Finally some commentary...

It's interesting to note that this week's launch day failures of two highly anticipated games shared a common flaw.  The need to be  connected to the Internet just to play a game (although Tomb Raider is somewhat less draconian in its approach.).  Then we have EA's CFO looking at games as nothing more than an opportunity to nickel and dime you to death and a pattern starts to reveal itself.

It's all about creating a constant revenue stream instead of concentrating on making a quality product.  Everyone's got a right to make a buck but sacrificing the core product for it is inexcusable.  When you release a flawed game like Warfighter or inadequately prepare your infrastructure for a launch day that requires everyone to phone home, you're not doing your due diligence.

Worse, the tech pundits have turned tech apologists for the industry every time we have an event like this and quite simply it needs to stop.  It is NOT acceptable to require an online connection to play the single player mode of ANY game.  It's also NOT acceptable to require an Internet connection without first adequately preparing the back end to support it. 

I mean, how could you NOT know what the load was going to be when most games have pre-orders 3 to 6 months out from launch day? 
The response, "Oops! so sorry"
Not good enough guys, this isn't your first trip to the rodeo.  There is no excuse but it seems everyone is making them anyway. 

There's no reason to keep accepting this.  Remember, you're the customer, the game industries' bread and butter and you are under no obligation to buy their wares.  It seems the industry has forgotten that fact and replaced humility with arrogance. 

If you want to fix it the answer is simple.  If you don't want to be fleeced stop acting like a sheep.  Ignore the industry apologists and the lame excuses.  This is not the future and NOT the way it has to be but nothing changes until you take action.  Vote with your wallet and support publishers who focus on a quality product instead of their money machine. 

There's an old adage that says build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.  We need to remind the game publishers of that lesson.  They need to stop focusing on revenue projections and start focusing on making a good product.  Do that and the revenue will take care of itself.

                        

Friday, March 1, 2013

Just Talkin Tech Episode 1



This is the first episode of a new video series called "Just Talkin' Tech" It's nothing fancy just me and a friend of mine casually talking over tech topics.  Sometimes it's about gaming, sometimes it's about IT.  The first one is gaming related and I hope you enjoy the humor.  IT related JTT's as I'll call them from now on will show up on my infotechasiseeit blog here...http://infotechasiseeit.blogspot.com

                               

Nickels, Dimes and EA, Fight for your gamer rights & AMD's got perfect hair forever!



The Midagedgamer Report for 3-1-2013


This Week:  EA wants to nickel and dime you, Stand up for your Video game rights! and perfect hair forever!

Ok, you know how much I hate the money machine that is gaming by subscription.  It's not enough to overpay for a game now the EA's and Activisions of the world want to keep charging you for what you should already have.  Now comes a bald faced admission from  EA's CFO and Executive Vice president Blake J. Jorgensen that this is indeed the new revenue model.  His quote...

“The next and much bigger piece is microtransactions within games. ... we’re building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be, and consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business,”

That's nice but if the EA and Activisions of the world want to make it work then the next Battlefield or Call of Duty better start out Free to Play.  Free to Play's not a bad model when its done correctly.   In games like Star Trek Online I've actually bought upgrades I didn't need just to support what I felt was a great game.  Free to Play and Microtransactions are synonymous what isn't is charging me an inflated price up front and expecting me to pay for the game twice.

This isn't gaming related which is exactly the point.  Checking my twitter feed found a story about the upcoming  sequel to Will Ferrell's Anchorman , Anchorman 2 on IGN.  Why am I getting movie news on a gaming site?  It's not even a movie based on a game!  Stop it!

It seems there's an active gamers lobby to keep the politicians out of our chosen pastime.  The Video Game Voters Network is out to stop Washington from painting video games with a broad brush.   It looks to be a growing grassroots lobby backed up by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) Check them out at the link below and give yourself a voice louder than any forum post. 

HardOCP did a review of the new 140MM Corsair Hydro H90 and H110 CPU coolers.  The big difference? no frills, no blinkin' lights, no colored coolant and 140mm radiator instead of the H50/H70's 120MM size.  The H90 has a singlewide (like a mobile home) 140mm radiator while the H110 has a 280mm radiator.  These new coolers are single core radiators roughly half the thickness of an H70.  Check them  out at HardOCP

MiniInTheBoxKotaku decided to let us all know what the next Assassin's Creed game will be called and even gave a few shots of the box art.  Apparently the game is called Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag.  Due out, who knows, price? nothing yet.  In spite of the misleading title the game will not have you running around dispatching unruly household pests armed only with a blade and can of Raid.  No, it's all about pirates!  Check out the link to Kotaku to keep up with the unfolding tale of AssCreed 4... 
What? It's a contraction...really..

AMD is bragging about hair.  Specifically Lara Croft's hair in the new Tomb Raider scheduled for release on Tuesday March 5th.  Apparently TresFX is a physics implementation that makes items that are difficult to realistically render, like hair, look more natural in video games.
Which makes perfect sense since Tomb Raider only allows a third person view and all of us will naturally be looking at Lara's...hair.

Finally, Battlefield 4 is coming out next year not late this year.  EA Boss Frank Gibeau says it'll stay in a modern setting.  Hmm, we've already went after the Russians, spent most of our BF time ripping up the middle east so I guess it's China's turn?

 It's also being developed for next gen consoles like the PS4 and new Xbox.  In other words, there's a very real possibility that Battlefield is about to enter the trap of Call of Duty's Modern Warfare series.  That means It'll look good but basically be a collection of new DLC following a copycat BF3 storyline.  I hope I'm wrong but I wasn't about MW3!  Talk about milking a franchise!