Friday, October 26, 2012

Back for a Rematch

A little over three years ago I made a post on this blog about the decline of PC gaming.  You can read about it here.  I still stand by the six reasons I gave as major hindrances which keep the PC from dominating the video game industry.  That said a lot has happened, and as the current generation of home consoles grow older the PC is starting to make a comeback in a big way.  Why?  Well, here's six reasons:

1# Scale-ability.  One of the nice things about PC games is the ability to adjust the visual performance to suit your own preferences.  This can mean better than current console graphics, but on the flip side I tend to think of it as stuff like toning down resolution to get the most out of particle and shadow effects when trying to play Doom 3 on old hardware.  Consoles on the other had give you no such option.  Whatever the settings are your stuck with regardless of your priorities, which brings me to my next point.

2# Mod-ability.  Ever heard of Black Mesa Source?  DayZ?  Europa Barbarorum?  How about Day of Defeat?  These are just a few mods to come out for the PC over the years.  They're free, and many are practically complete games in their own right.  Best of all I've just barely scratched the surface of what's out there.  Not all mods are overhauls either you got everything from a duck tape mod that lets you attach that trust flashlight to your gun to improved UI.  Integrated support for modding is also becoming increasingly common which is great for less tech savvy PC users.

3# Freedom of Distribution.  You make a game for Xbox360 and your looking at licencing fees, Microsoft's tedious certification process and only one digital means of distribution.  Go with PC on the other hand and you got none of the corporate imposed hurdles, plus options like Steam, GOG and even self-publishing.  Not to mention non-standard means of funding such as community supported in-development financing like what we've seen for games such as Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program.

4# HDTV and Controller Support.  One of the costly bits of buying a PC was the need for a monitor.  Thanks to recent improvements to TV and video card support it's fairly easy to connect your PC to that big screen TV you got and while the display tends to not be quite as sharp, there are a number of benefits to this arrangement when it comes to watching video streaming.  Most new games to come out also support your standard Xbox style controller which is a huge help for certain titles which brings us to... 

5# A Mouse and Keyboard.  I don't care what anyone else says.  If your going to play an RTS, FPS or pretty much anything other than a flight-sim, mouse and keyboard is an equal or superior control scheme.  The joke is there's no reason why Sony or Microsoft can make their consoles support these input devices.  They simply refuse to do so for business reasons (In other words people who don't play video games making decisions for us gamers).

6# Bibliotheca Optimum.  I decided to give this one a Latin title in the same vein as Lingua franca.  Pretentiousness aside my point is whenever discussions come up about what is the ideal gaming platform, it always boils down to game libraries.  Well, guess what?  In terms of back catalog, free stuff, and shear variety noting surpasses the PC.  This is especially true when you consider free emulators for everything from arcade titles to obscure 16-bit Japanese imports, not to mention DOS Box.  

So, there you have it.  Of course this list makes some assumptions about proper porting and DRM (or lack there of), but when you consider that the next generation of consoles (aside from the Ouya) will probably have a high entry cost a few launch titles there becomes more and more reasons to go with a PC; better graphics, greater flexibility, more methods interfacing, less publisher bullshit, and the list goes on.  Will the PC  crush the opposition?  If Google OS gets an upgrade and Valve releases a Steam Box then absolutely.  But since neither of those things are guaranteed to happen we'll just have to wait and see.     

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Promo

When I started this blog it was my earnest intent to discuss two things; video games and internet piracy. With a particularly emphasis on topics that are a combination of the two. For better or worse though I've often drifted off the mark during the several years this webpage has been up and running. Well, I'm about to make my biggest divergence yet so bear with me. I want to take a moment of your time (yes, you the reader) to promote a book I wrote.

It's called Alien Dynasty, as you probably gathered when you looked at the cover art.  I'm hesitant to give it a label beyond "Genre Fiction," but if you like the kind of video games I've been talking about in many of the 75+ posts made to this blog then you might also enjoy this novel.  I'm distributing it digitally via so if you have a Kindle or a device with a Kindle reader app then you should be all set.  There's also a free preview, product description and author bio of yours truly to check out.

I hope that sparks your interest, regardless if it does or not though I will be returning to a regularly weekly posting schedule pertaining to video games and internet piracy.  So, think of this as an intermission of sorts which I'll conclude with a short excerpt from my debut novel.  Here you go:

The uncultivated gully was well away from any homesteads or places of gathering, and as such rarely had any visitors, least of all, a pair of knights mounted on serrator maws and dressed in full battle harness. They were an impressive pair with sabers at their hips, bucklers at the wrist and demilances in hand. Their armor glinted in the waxing light of the rising sun. Aside from some differences in the dye of cloth they wore, the pair looked nearly identical. From the perspective of colorblind spine scroungers which foraged amongst the small tufts of grass the two appeared to be mirror images of one another as they simultaneously entered at opposite ends of the gully. The location had been selected for this meeting because of its seclusion and the long flat patch of even earth which lay between the riders. 

No words were spoken for none were needed. A brief raising of demilances was all that was required to signal that the duel should begin. Not a single person was present to watch, the knights nudged their serrator maws into a full charge. The beasts and their riders bore down upon each other with ever more frightening speed. Demilances slowly lowered as the two approached the moment of their collision. Despite their battle inexperience the skill of each was impeccable. It was regrettable that when the two demilances struck their opposing targets not a spectator was present to witness the event. It had all been kept a secret, for if the purpose of the duel had been made public it would have brought shame upon both knight’s families. Neither demilance broke, but both penetrated with incredible force. One through a gap in the armor around the neck, and the other straight through the breastplate. The one whose armor had failed him entirely was thrown from the saddle and crashed to the ground, broken and lifeless. 

 His opponent fared little better. During the exchange he had lost the grip on his demilance and by trained instinct reached for his saber. Before this action could be completed though, a wash of dizzying nausea overtook the rider. Only half comprehending, he groped with a free hand at the slippery plate of armor just below his throat. Just before passing out he managed to lift a gloved hand to his visor and saw that it had become covered with fresh blood, his blood. Slumped in the saddle the victor soon listed to one side and fell to the earth. Now riderless the serrator maws drifted off. Eventually they were found and returned to their proper stables. The fallen knights fared worse though. When the bodies were finally discovered in that lonely gully the carrion eaters had been feasting for much of the day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

After Action Report

I'm going to start this off by saying two things.  First, in light of the release XCOM: Enemy Unknown I'd like reminisce over my experiences with the series.  I'm going to avoid discussing the space flight sim, third person shooter and canceled FPS (this one not the other one) that hang like a dark shadow over the IP and instead focus on my experiences with the original game and its two direct sequels. Second, my most memorable squad based strategy game involving guns and an isometric perspective is, in fact, Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games if only because of the fun I had with the mission and campaign editor.  So, I can't say I'm a rabid fan of the series although I really enjoy what it has to offer.

The original was known by two names X-COM: UFO Defense and UFO: Enemy Unknown.  I reluctantly played this game at the behest of a friend who was way into it. Thanks to his enthusiasm I got hooked. My friend was extremely focused on minimizing losses and would lament the death of even one of his agents. I, on the other hand, treated my brave soldiers like cannon fodder (with predictably disastrous results on night terror missions involving the dreaded chryssalids). I still have bad memories of missions ending with only one survivor out four. I was also fond of taking low stat rookies and turning them into "Stun Troopers," agents armed with shock sticks, stun bombs and laser pistols. Typically they'd be charged with storming the interior of downed UFOs or dealing with mind frazzled agents. When to my horror I discovered not one, but three alien bases in the Antarctic they also made for expendable point men.

I was a little disappointing with this one in that it felt more like an re-skinned expansion pack rather than a proper sequel.  The feeling of being underwater was great though and some of the monsters were truly terrifying (the Tentaculat and Lobstermen in particular). Unlike the first one, where I'd often wait until the sun was up before starting a mission, water depth often forced me to fight in the dark, crushing abyss. I was also able to finish this game without hacking the research tree. Although I had a lot of fun using a mod that let the AI and player swap sides. Needless to say the entire squad of X-COM aquanauts perished on that seaside terror mission. That said, I think they stole a bit too much from H.P. Lovecraft and the increased level size exacerbated some of the problems with the combat. On a side note am I the only one that thinks flying submarines are a bit too much?

This third chapter in the X-COM story could have been the greatest. They wanted to have a game that not only involved aliens, but also rival organizations. The Cult of Sirius always took a beating in my games, and occasionally they'd get revenge by attacking me side by side with aliens on base defense missions (I always wanted to do more defense and as a bonus security stations are actually useful this time around). Because of problems during development a lot of things didn't really pan out, but there were also some neat bits that did make it into game too like me selling alien tech for cash only to realize later that it ended up in the hands of street gangs and rival organizations. I also thought the alien dimension was way cooler than Cydonia or T'Leth. And unlike my aforementioned friend, I really enjoyed being able to take the gloves off and bring out all those heavy explosives  without fear of repercussions when sweeping allied buildings. The battles also felt more decisive to me than the cat and mouse of the previous two titles. I can vividly remember making firing lines as hordes of aliens poured out of downed saucers. At first I tried playing turn based but eventually gave up when I found out how much faster and smoother the real-time system worked. Air battles over the dystopian cityscape were also a lot more evocative than a simple tactical display. The retro-future look and setting were aesthetically pleasing, but I'm not sure if it was better than the comic book style of the first two games. During the final raid into the alien dimension the leader of my forty man team, Captain Wulfe, killed three megaspawn single handed and a wounded private, who was knocked out early in the battle and left for dead, woke up and escaped after the smashed alien facility had been completely vacated.

Ah memories.... Incidentally, if you not familiar with the XCOM series or have become fuzzy on the details here's an excellent video to bring you up to speed:

Friday, October 5, 2012

For Gamers, By Gamers

Something I've recently seen being brought up a lot on video game websites and forums is all the people in this industry that don't actually have any real interest in the art or craft beyond the cash which can be made from it.  The most obvious example of this is Xbox Live which has become more and more like an advertisement ridden entertainment hub rather than a dedicated video game platform.  But it goes well beyond that.  Guys like Riccitiello and Kotick have increasingly demonstrated that they really want to reduce game development down to its most addictive aspects.  To give a pair of analogies it's like coffee that has everything taken out but the caffeine, or if you prefer beer that with every brewing is pushed nearer and nearer to the 100 percent alcohol mark.  It's not healthy, enriching or good for the hobby and industry as a whole. 

So what's the cause of this?  Well, it really comes down to people running the game industry who don't play games.  CEO's and their lackeys aside, marketing departments blow tons of cash on events that are ostensibly meant to promote new games, but in reality expend a lot of budget resources on B-list Hollywood talent, flavor of the month musicians and circus performers.  Make a good game and it will speak for itself!  If anything all this sloppy advertising takes away from the games since it's money that doesn't go toward actual development.

It gets worse when you consider that this money obsessed mindset leads to games that are meant to maximize short term gains rather than cultivate the medium. To paraphrase what one successively Kickstarter funded developer said in promo video; the problem with producers is they're really just looking for the next Angry Birds.  In other words time waster games with simple mechanics and low budgets, but high potential for quick profits.  The ugly twin of this philosophy is stuff like Call of Duty which is more akin to a military themed roller coaster ride than a video game with its flashy spectacle but shallow game play (even by FPS standards).

I've painted a rather grim picture here, but there is still hope.  FTL is selling well and one reason is it's made for gamers by gamers.  The basic modus operandi being "make the game you want to play."  So, the fact that this crowd funded game is both a finical and critical success makes me very happy because it's a sure indicator that there are a lot of gamers out there that want more than the "junk food" of the video game industry. Perhaps this new form of gaming philanthropy will be the saving grace of the industry? Regardless it's nice to have some kind of counterweight for the shortsighted corporate greed that plagues this generation of entertainment software.