Thursday, 29 April 2010

Power to the People...

I'd like to subtitle this post: "How can Developers collect, acknowledge and respect the wishes of their player base?"

Here in the UK it's Election time, I'm sure that unlike when this happens else where and we get flooded with information about it, no-one outside of the UK actually gives two hoots about who's going to be running this backwater of a nation before we finally replace Hawaii as the last state to join the union.

But it got me thinking, when might on-line games start to include, or be directed, by the political, social and hopefully interesting, wants and wishes of their player base?

CCP, the venerable creators of Eve-Online have included a player orientated elected representative body, the Interstellar Council, the members of which were once just lowly players, but whom were elected to office via the wishes of the player base at large. This, as it did here in the UK with the MP's expenses, ended up in some turmoil with allegations, and I believe admissions, of corruption by those elected to the Council.

The concept which failed with the corruption of those elected was in part sound, the idea of letting players appoint a representative and they be the player's conduit through to the developers is a good idea, but you never can tell the true motivations of such a person. History has proven that they are more likely to look out for their own interests than those of the populous at large.

But, someone had to take a step in the direction of MMO development to include political views, and all kudos to CCP for their attempts.

I feel though that whenever a candidate ran on a basis of a manifesto, they had defined that manifesto, they have set out their own agenda, much as politicians do throughout the democratic world. I don't think this model would, or could, work within an on-line game situation. The population focus is so narrow [just including one game world] but with so many varying ideas no one manifesto could include everyone's wishes, or even encompass the gist of very many opinions.

Instead I'd like to see the process turned on it's head, to see a manifesto put together by the player base and then a developer try to find the person to live up to those goals. Literally 'what the players want from a conduit to contact the developers' turned into a job specification and then that role filled by the right person. [Such a situation would only require a good communicator, not a good politician (oxymoron alert level 1)].

The CCP election was far too biased with in-game politics itself, much as the universe within the Eve Server is divided by the large alliances. It always was, and is, very politically orientated to meet the ends of the in game alliances and cartels, rather than the player-base at large.

So, you may ask, what do I suggest? Well, first of all, I do not suggest any MMO publisher out there hold elections to find the right person, they're never going to find them by letting some of the drongo's I've played in MMO's with vote for anyone... I know I sound like a dictator here, but hear me out... I'd have the publishers/controllers/masters of these games hold polls, or focus groups, to try and wheedle out of their player base what they, the players, want to talk to the developers about... be it, content, or balance, or graphics... or just the where the game they play might be going. To condense this down into a specification for a role, a job.

That is the key, a person to meet this very specific specification, to act as a communicator, to filter out the crack pots and give the developers a clear set of questions, or requirements that the player base have for their game and their get honest open feed back, or changes made, by the developers & publishers.

Unfortunately I think that this is a political system with very little back bone. I mean, what can a player do to invoke change in the game they play? The only leverage they have it to stop playing and cancel their subscription, or to stop buying their cash shop items. And unfortunately there's very little chance of anyone stopping playing their favourite game just to make a stand.

The only thing that could happen to a developer or publisher, if they chose to ignore the wishes of their player base in such a situation is negative press. The question is, would a developer like CCP, or Activision-Blizzard, or EA give a damn about some bad press?

So, I ask, would any publisher today be brave enough to acknowledge the existence of the player base, to recognise that they're not all just little dollar signs with a pulse. And for the developers of games to grant the player base something a kin to political rights about the game they play?

We the people would all stand up for our rights in real-life, why do we currently let our on-line experiences be dictated to us?

This is my first post from my newly set up Linux Box.

Monday, 26 April 2010

EVE Expansion, Social Clicking and more DDO

It might actually be time for a me to return to Eve-Online, with ever more news being released about the next Expansion due out in May, May the 18th to be precise, my appetite has been whetted.

Unfortunately, I sense some foreboding about the new features. Planetary Interaction, or PI as it's being called, looks awesome and it very well might be, however, I have a feeling it'll be the exclusive domain of 0.0 alliances, and out of the reach of anti-social high-sec miner spunk monkeys, like me.

I did however like the look of the new Scorpion. Having flown a Scorp in fleet engagements, I know how quickly they get made primary [everyones hates ECM], but I also know how ugly they are/were. So, I have a semi-stoked game boner for that little gem...

I have tonight however been doing three things... the first was play some "Social City" on Facebook and when I use the word play I do so in the loosest sense of the word, you know like you'd play with peeling paint... or... you'd be made to play with the kid from class who got the Chicken Pox first.

Here we see the burgeoning "Xel City" at level 3... a lot of clicks later... and you end up with this...

Erm..... Thrilling....

The next thing I did however, was more interesting, I played some more DDO. I made myself another Rank of level 1, and played a little more of the initial story line. This time stopping occultist baddy people hitting a crystal. For my efforts I got a nice pair of new bracers.

I have to say that I am over my initial downer about DDO, I'm coming to grip with the interface, after three good play sessions of about 2 hours each it is comming more naturally, however, I still have this nagging feeling that really it shouldn't have been up to me to change my needs from the game. It does seem to lack some basic information, access to quite what to do doesn't come easily. And I'd have to say some of that problem comes from information overload. There are a lot of NPC's, a lot of interactions to get used to and the tooltips lag terribly [even on an overclocked Quad Core CPU on 8GB of RAM with dual 8800 Graphics cards in SLi Mode????].

I did however come across some rather lush graphics, the lighting in DDO is done very well... the shadow stenciling however, is not... more about that in an up coming post.

The other thing I did was re-watch the Top Gear USA Special, there's something so heart warming watching a BBC crew being run out of "a hick town" in a hail of stones.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Fake NC-Soft Account E-mails

I'm sure all you lovely, non-existant, reader type people out there are smart enough not to fall for this one, but there is current'y a fake spam e-mail making the rounds perporting to be from NCSoft.

The e-mail uses quite bad English, to try and accuse your of having been identified as using an out of game money service.

Here's a snippet of the stupidly bad e-mail:

"When you receive this message at the same time means that you have a routine account of our recent examination, was checking your account we have the evidence to prove that involved in the controversial game currency transaction so we had to take the necessary measures.

Please visit our web site [Fake URL woz 'ere] as soon as possible to activate your account or we will suspend your account."

That is pretty much how the mail appears in your inbox [or spam box], except it's not in italics.

So, don't fall for this silly scam, and scammers, learn to speak the lingo before going solo.

Soon to come, a new post about my adventures in getting to grips with DDO.

And I'm also playing another F2P MMO again Runes of Magic. Which I first had a play of back in September 2009.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Consume or Die!

I had to just run in and post a reply to Darren of CommonSenseGamer... Darren, of course they think of us as consumers! I'm sure you've noticed the never ending conveyor of crap that companies now press on us as “essentials” which ten, five, even two years ago, were luxuries?

I'm sat right now on Holiday, in Cornwall, image below [isn't it lovely] and I have no internet. I've brought my laptop with me and I've noticed how luxury rich my life has got. I can't leave the place without my mobile, digital car key, photo-reactive glasses, debit card, credit card, contact payment visa card and cash. Look at this life style, look at the situation, and you'll see, that not only YES I AM A CONSUMER who happens to like games, as such it is no wonder companies see us all as little dollar signs with heart beats.

We will buy anything. I'm not just talking games, but I'm afraid as with everything we need to look at the most numerous and pervasive demographic (that's the 'most common type' to everyone else) in order to point out what the Romans would have called “The Bleedin' Obvious”.

Console gamers... They are the perfect example, for the most part the console gamers I've met are younger than me, they are quick to buy a title and very quick to finish it and these games cost them upwards of £35... That's a LOT of money to me and they'll pay more and more for titles offered for the platform they've bought, they'll buy them because they want to try everything offered.

The problem I have with this is trend, is that a lot of console games have quite a short duration, they last an average of what? 30 hours... When I were a lad a game had to last MONTHS! And it had to be good (okay it was on my old Commodore 16 [go look it up kids]). But I've seen modern people posting completion times on modern games as a sort of emblem of how cool they are... “Look I spent £44.99 on this, and I finished it in 7 hours!” That's £6.42 per hour [give or take]... And we gamers don't seem to be up in arms about this trend. Indeed we seem to have embraced it as another step in our every disposable approach to our possessions in this fire & forget world.

I mean, why should a publisher worry about innovation, when they can get away with slapping new textures, voice acting and a wafer thin “new” plot onto the same old engine eight months.

If we gamers stood up to the publishers once in a while, and actually said “no that's shit” and didn't buy into things are readily then there'd be far less bad games out there, far fewer forgettable titles, and far more quality. But we don't seem to want to... Maybe facebook games aren't games [they're not, honest guv'] but they do have one appeal, and that is that they're innovating.

My worries though are we are little money factories to publishers, and wherever gaming trends are going, I think common sense tells us that gaming is changing beneath our very feet. And I think my worry is the same as yours, because all the factors driving this change are all socio-economic, and no longer about “doing something cool” that the wind of change will be bringing us lucky few broad minded people very little entertainment in years to come.

Canada is approximately 4000 miles to the left.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Grab the Dragon by the Horns

Well, I have to take a slice of Humble pie... I'm only going to put the pie onto my plate, I'm not actually going to eat it yet... the reason is, that after playing a good solid couple of hours of Dungeons and Dragons Online, I actually got something accomplished. And it didn't drive me insane doing it.

In short order, I finished a couple of instances, I made rank 2 of level 1, I got to grips with the interface and I played about with the graphics options.

First off, let me explain something which I think has an important bearing on where my opinion of DDO spawns; I've never played Dungeons and Dragons... I know, you're all gasping in horror and closing your Internet browser's of choice without a second glance... but, having never played Dungeons and Dragons as a table top game I only had a rudimentary idea of what to expect from the intellectual property of the online game. Unfortunately I have played other online multi-player role playing games, notably WoW.

So I have to take my cap in my hands and admit that I have come towards trying DDO from a WoW perspective, and let me tell you lovely folks out there... 'Coming at DDO from a WoW point of view is unfair, semi-unjust and may make you miss out on a title you enjoy'.

Having said that, I must make myself clear on one point, that I don't think it is unfair to come to any contemporary MMO offering and no expect to apply WoW metrics to evaluating it. Blizzard did so many things right to popularise the genre it's probably unfair on players to move the goal posts too far; whether this is stifling innovation in the development of new MMO's or just making titles older than WoW seem awkward I think is for a whole other post.

But, as unfair as it is to the makers of offerings other than WoW in the genre we have to admit that unlike any other title Blizzard have hit the spot and defined “the norm”. And not taking a pinch of Blizzard's “ways of working” is awkward to new players whom have only ever played wow. [Which sadly now-a-days is going to be the vast amount of PC based MMO players].

Anyway, onwards and upwards, I was pleasantly surprised, oh yes I was. I got into my first instance, I chose to play this on “normal”. When you begin instances in DDO you can choose to play them in one of five escalating levels of difficulty. From Solo, through to raid. I assume at this point that the levels of difficulty reflect the level of reward which will be made available at the end.

So, for my first instance I chose Normal, and in I went. I had to fight past the obligatory little mobs and I found a little puzzle of pulling levers to access new areas, all very fine, I was however quite interested in the proper puzzle room at the end of the instance, the idea of this was that you worked out how to get power from one central stone to those at each corner by moving the tiles on the ground to align them and allow the power to flow out from the centre. And I have to say, I really enjoyed this little mechanic, the first time I'd seen such a thing in an MMO [I think, certainly the first time I remembered it] and I got to work out the puzzle and feel like I'd achieved something.

The puzzle wasn't even the end of the instance, but it was fun. Something that other MMO's miss in spades is fun, WoW aims for grind to make you keep wanting to play, Runes of Magic aims for play time and breadth of experience to keep you wanting to play and other MMO's have other mechanisms for keeping you there in your seat. DDO however did it to me this evening by at least giving me something to work out...

Not that the experience was perfect, far from it, but I enjoyed this little aside.

One problem I came across was the lighting effects, if you are in a room with two lamps on a wall say, you will get yourself a nicely cast shadow from the closest lamp, if you them move towards the other lamp, suddenly as a mid point as you cross from being closer to one from the other, your shadow will suddenly flip [that's the best description for it] from the direction of the first lamp, to the new now closer one. It is a little jarring to the eye.

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware of the difficulty of decent stencil masking to make shadows work out, but in this case, I'd have rather had no shadow than a broken shadow.

That said the shadow stencil is quite good, reflecting well what your character is doing, it is just rather poor at deciding when to switch from one light source to the next, and there is only one shadow, where as between two light sources in the real world you'd expect to have two shadows... go look yourself outside between to lamps you'll see what I mean :)

But, tonight, was all-in-all, a decent experience, and I can't wait to have some more.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Welcome to Eberron

Right well, here we are at my second instalment of my progress with DDO. Downloading and installing the game, in both standard and high quality graphics, is actually relatively painless, indeed it took far less time and was more informative to the progress made than other titles and indeed the obligatory patching and data updating following install went on without a hitch on both platforms I tried.

The only glitch came with I starved the connected of bandwidth, throttling it down to below 100kpbs, I found the updates repeatedly stalled while downloading. But I can forgive their servers that, after all I caused the problem by watching too many Videos of Elmo on YouTube.

Once I logged in, I could select the world [I assume this is the same as realm] to visit, and previously visited realms are highlighted in bold. However, if like me you are on different machines between visits the different machines are not aware of what realms you've been on. As such I missed getting the same character twice for my time on the laptop and desktop PC's.

Creation of the characters went on without a hitch, however, when creating your character you get a few of the action animations being played. Immediately I was struck with how awkward some of these animations look. Characters will spin and swing clubs, dodge, parry and cast... but some of the moments are physical impossibilities. I don't like this much, it's a real turn off to me, I like to see natural looking [albeit cartoon-esp] movements. Not these strange efforts in DDO. Indeed I'd have to go so far to say they look amateurish.

However, after selecting my class, race, sub abilities and look I was ready to go, and after giving my character both a fore and surname, I was on a beach somewhere with a short bloke shouting at me.

Please Note - I added the speech bubble.

Now, this guy grates with me, his speech is voice acted by someone I want to punch, this whiny, adenoid dominated rat faced character is matched only by the most whiny adenoid dominated rat arsed voice acting. [Did I mention that the speech text is not bubbled and comes up in the most basic courier font?]

This is your welcome to DDO, this guy SHOUTING at you, showing how bad the 3D sound system is, because though you see the guy a head and slightly left of you the sound of his voice comes from way left and is VERY loud for someone stood so far away.

He proceeds to cajole you into moving about controls, however, there is a lot going on within the UI, if this is your first view of it then it can be quite daunting. You have an action bar at the bottom, which on default settings is hard to comprehend. You have a text/chat area with more of the bad font being used. You also have a mini-map but also a lot of crowding going on, the interface is not clean looking. It just looks to me like it has a lot of things to explain to me, or rather a lot of buttons I don't yet know about. And I'm not sure what clicking them is going to do. All of which leads to feeling that I'm in a rather cluttered user experience. And, with bars above others, and the position of things I have to just hope that I can change things around because to my untrained, but WoW Conditioned eye the interface in DDO does not appear to take ergonomics into account.

Now I suppose I have to draw on a point raised by Darren Love in the latest edition of SUWT. That is that with Blizzard's domination of the MMO Market with Warcraft, there are certain demands and requirements from a player of an MMO today, which are wants and needs influenced by Blizzard. One of these is a simple accessible learning curve and interface. And I'm afraid to say that though DDO's interface is visible, I don't feel like it is accessible.

Even simple things like popping up hints & tips, or tooltips seem sluggish. On the machines I'm running DDO on, I don't think it should feel sluggish... And these feelings about the UI don't even take into account actually achieving control of my character. I am solely commenting about the UI here. Actually taking control of your avatar feels even more alien.

For example, in World of Warcraft to attack you have to select the target and choose to attack [or you can auto attack with a different control]. In DDO you can stand and suddenly make your character punch air. I have been told that later this all makes sense, but right now to the total beginner it does not, I'm basically looking at an avatar whom is punching thin air and I can't seem to stop them doing it [again because in WOW you have to click something else to stop the auto-attack going on, not so in DDO].

I find this shift in my expectations hard to reconcile. I'm afraid to admit that Blizzard have me well trained, conditioned to jump to their tune... I am Pavlov's Dog for MMO control expectations. *Sobs*

However, I did play a little more of the game, I played through the introduction instance, more about that in my next DDO post.

Now, in other news, I have to blush somewhat. As you may gather from post number 1, Darren Love over at CommonSenseGamer was the inspiration for this blog, and today he has made mention of this my corner of the interwebs as his blog of the week.... I thank you Sir.

For now though, I'm about to take a weeks break from work, I'm going on Holiday! While I'm away I'm going to play some Total War Games... Those of you whom know me as “Lord Xelous” formerly of "The Lords Modding Collective" and “The Lordz Games Studio” will know how, and why, I love the Total War series.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

He doesn't Heal Stupid, and Neither Do I

I just got through reading this. Well, actually I read it on Monday, but I had a slew of posts I was working on for my blog which I wanted to get out to you imaginary reader folk first.

Anyway, I liked this one. I like blogs like that, simple and having a point, I wish I made posts here like that... [sigh].

So, yes, anyway, did you know I played a healer in WoW? I actually played two, an 80 Druid in WotL and a long term 60 (end game back then) priest. And I never had a phrase to match what my feelings about the healing role in WoW is like... and it is pretty much summed up as “I don't heal stupid”.

The problem I had with the game was that before the dungeon finder one could pretty much always find a place in a group or PUG as a healer. And because it took an amount of time [usually] to get into a group the members of that group [again usually] had a decent amount of respect for one another's time.

But, I did find as dungeons got better known, and tactics got more widely known, as dungeons got Heroic Badge incentives and finally as they got the Dungeon Finder that respect was lost.

Oh sure, as the healer I still had to respect the asshat paladin tank who was chain pulling, and trying to explain to me why he was able to chain pull with his high DPS and Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. But he'd not want to listen to my explaining, I have this blue bar, and it has 22,000 mana points in it, and I need to drink and have some blue in it... Yes, I know you have one too Mr Paladin Sir, but yours has 2500 points of mana in it and takes one sip of the water Madame Mage made us to fill.

So, I started to build a list of personal rules for healing, I always enjoyed how no matter what you suggested to a bad group, the less they listened, the more they died, the more they blamed the healer... its like some perverse WoW equivalent of Goodwin's Law... the worse the group is, the more they blame the healer/tank/state of society/global warming and not their own screamingly obvious stupidity.

In my experience this was generally exacerbated as people didn't want to admit any tiny lack of knowledge... like not knowing was some sort of stigma... “Do you know the tactics for this boss fight?” [Tumble weed] “okay, go”. [Wipe] “What the hell healer, why didn't you heal me?”.... erm... maybe because I was silenced / shocked / wrapped in webs / turned into a turtle / around the corner / at the top of the steps you ran down while feared [delete as appropriate] and you 'tard face were not paying attention to anything but your solo approach to this multi-player game.

I got so tired of this, I left WoW... and all other MMO's... I'm trying to avoid returning to it...

Other posts spawned on the interwebs from the blog above include this rather nice addition from The Grouchy Gamer.

No Shit Sherlock...

I read this... and... well, the mind boggles.... BBC News Report

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

DDO First Impressions

Oh for crying out loud, will I ever find an MMO I don't complain about? Probably not [throws rattle out of his pram], but that's not my fault games are just so bad.

And I think, DDO is going to be that way, I played the first little bit last night... and I wasn't impressed, first of all there are graphical glitches, like I set it to be 1280x1024 full screen mode, and all that did was cram the game into 1280x1024 pixels in the top left of my main screen as a window... So, not a good start there.

In the game itself the colour palette looked a little washed out, like everything was dusty, I'm not sure what was causing that appearance, but I'll persist in finding out.

Then, there's the game play itself... Okay, so I was level 1, I had the standard crappy starting mace in my hand and I was playing clueless. Ironically I immediately had to stop myself trying to use things in the "wow" style. You have to left click on things for activation and right click on things for passive selection in DDO, this is the opposite to WoW and Runes of Magic, and well, opposite to every other MMO I've played. I'm not sure if Turbine were just aiming to be different that the rest of the pack of MMO's out there, but the mechanic annoyed me greatly.

Then, the character animation and movement struck me, they were awkward, there are options to smooth the animation going on, so I'll have a play about with them tonight, but the actual movement was odd. Characters, NPC's especially, didn't seem to walk or run around, they seemed to glide while moving their legs. A most disconcerting effect. And very 1990.

Not something you'd expect in a game boasting "This Machine can run me in DirectX10, do you want me to?"... and you click Yes to be given appreciably nothing different... I'm going to run it in DirectX9 mode thoroughly for comparison...

Finally, the combat system, yes I was in a melee just swinging my beginner mace around wildly, but the text used to indicate damage, yes it floats off of things, but it's in the Courier Font... it looks like the system default... it was really off putting.

NPC speech was also presented like this, floating without a bubble, just loose text above their heads, it was hard to follow where the text began at times, and where it ended.

Overall, so far I'd day the game's pants, but I'll persist... I'm yet to interact with anyone else... well except one person called "Rox Rox" who simply ran up to everyone spawning in the first town and said "paladin" to them... "paladin".... "paladin"....

Monday, 12 April 2010

Revell USA versus Revell GmbH

Well, I've had to update my Revell airbrush page, since I had a reply from Revell in the US washing their hands of the issues I raise and pointing their fingers at a "different company" in Germany...

Oh and DDO High resolution is at 92% download... the standard graphics edition is on my laptop and I'm about to fire them up... wish me luck.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Dungeon & Dragons Online Account Issues

With the advent of Dungeons and Dragons Online going free to play I filed it on my "to try list". And having recently finished playing a thorough pass through other free to play offerings I thought now was the time to give DDO a whirl.

My first surprise was that I was unable to add DDO to my Turbine trial account easily, in fact I had to create a whole other account to get the game downloader to acknowledge me. This was rather annoying, and of course adds yet another username and password to the defunct list.

My next problem arose from the options for downloading DDO, there are three set up options... DDOStandard graphics, DDOHigh graphics and then mysteriously another installer called DDOSetup. The latter of which was the first one I tried. It ended up just closing off in the end with no real explanation of the 139 something megs of information it had downloaded.

Anyway, right now I'm downloading the standard graphics DDO onto this machine (my laptop) and I have a slot to get the high graphics version downloading onto my main gaming machine later tomorrow.

Initial items I'm going to look at are graphics quality, though I've not very high expectations having thoroughly hated the look & feel of LOTRO. And also the combat system as Turbine boast DDO has "the best combat system of any MMO"....

Revell Airbrush Review

Check out my review of the Revell Airbrush Starter Kit for plastic model kit making.

Friday, 9 April 2010

My girlfriend... has a man draw

"What?" I hear you asking "is a man draw?", well according to some a man draw is a single, usually small draw in the house, where as a man you get to store things like batteries, fuses, string, glue... all those little nick-nack things that as a man you need from time to time...

A small torch... Blu-tac... tippex...

My man draw is actually a whole room, including dual screen PC, drum kit and coffee maker... but that's beside the point... because I'm a little worried...

My GIRLFRIEND... let me emphasise that... GIRLfriend [well fiancee - yay us] has a MAN draw... she's not a man... but she has a man draw.

She had this little... well, quite large actually... draw in the kitchen full of little nick-nacks... infact I'm quite proud of her, because as man draws go, hers is a cracker, you can hardly get the thing closed without a pen or piece of paper getting trapped in it.

I'm not worried about this, we both know who wears the trousers in our relationship... she does... so everything is fine.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Dragon Age... A bloody mess

I didn't enjoy Dragon Age Origins.... “oh why xel, why could this be so?” I hear you all crying... well because it was [maybe still is] a crashy bugging pile of poo. Let me give you a quick specification break down of my PC.

Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 – 2.6Ghz (over clocked to 3.2ghz) on water cooling single block & radiator. 4GB Corsair Dominator RAM (in 4 x 1GB sets) with aluminium cooling fins & fan. Dual nVidia 8800 GTX in SLi mode on air cooling. All in a lovely Coolmaster 1000 case. Running Windows Vista Ultimate 64bit and later Windows 7 Professional 64bit.

And Dragon age crashed all over the place for me, I clearly met the minimum specification and then some, so after buying the game and receiving it on the day of release I was very excited to install it and got my wife to be to leave me alone for the evening (no mean feat) and I got to play. I enjoyed the game LOADS.

But, then it crashed... Oh well, sometimes things do this, reboot... Crashed... What the? Reboot, twiddle with the settings to make sure nothing nasty is going on in the defaults.... CRASH. Every time I loaded my save game it simply dropped out from under me, dumping be to desktop. So I had it load a different saved game. All fine... carry on... past where I was before... CRASH.

What the heck is going on? Now I'm a programmer, so I had a few debugging tools around, next time is crashed I had the stack un-spool itself and it told me the problem was somewhere in the nVidia DLL's. Hitting the support forums for the game, sure enough there's a notice that on 64 bit Operating System users need to disable PhysX until further notice. I duly did this, and no crashes... for a while. CRASH.

What the heck is going on here? I get along trying to play this increasingly frustrating situation, and in the end I just give up. I decide that instead of spoiling the experience, I'd put it down for a patch to arrive. There was an admittance of a problem and a fix promised, I was determined to become the zen master and wait this problem out. So my misses got to see me that night... not a good trend to set, when you've been so stoked to play a game, and she thinks two hours was plenty of time to have played it for...

Anyway, next evening I get in from a long day at work, and low and behold a patch is available for Dragon Age... YAY.. I pamper the misses and I get food done and sit down to play.. YAY it's working... CRASH.

Not a good moment... I don't try to force it this time, I close the game and go scour the support forum again, no biggy, still problems for 64 bit OS users... right, leave it, come back later... Oh and the PhysX problems are only for 8800 card users... DAMN....

Next evening, suggestions to turn off PhysX and SLi... okay.. give it a whirl... CRASH.

Next evening, patch 1.0b... hurrah.... CRASH.

Next evening, nothing new …. CRASH.

That following Monday I got around to firing it up again, and there's a new new patch out... I set it going, all looks fine... I play for a good hour... CRASH. This time it's taken the whole saved game with it, and for some reason this includes a load of progress made, so frustratingly I replay a large section of the game. Only to CRASH again.

In the end, I've put the game aside, four patches, countless passes of the forums and I've not yet stoked up my interest enough to go look at the game again. I might this evening.... Might being the operative word.

But my problem with all this, isn't really that the game crashed, because I accept that they can't possibly have tested all the possible hardware and software configurations out there affecting the behaviour of such a complex thing as a game (and believe me, modern games are very complex). No what's bothering me is that I paid for this game... I shelled out near enough £35 to it... but I couldn't play it straight out the box.

In effect I could have waited six months, or a year, gotten it at a budget price or re-release price before too long from now and been able to patch it and most importantly, it would have missed this terrible knock in my want to play the game and cost me less money!

Now, I wonder if we all make a patch right now, to NOT rush to buy the new titles, to not go rent them from blockbuster for our consoles for a fortune, to NOT pre-order them. But we all let game houses know that actually we will only buy the games when a. they're finished.. and b. they don't cost a bomb. Surely then we'd get better quality output? Certainly we'd not all be falling for this propaganda of excellent infinite promises which are not being lived up to in oh so many cases...

And, yes I use propaganda there as a term of derision, we are getting all these trailers and airbrushed up art, even CGI promo's we even see great promises made about games from shows like GPC & PAX. But do these large developer houses actually ever deliver?

I mean, Indy developers make their name and profit margins swell by releasing good, clean, working software. Yet larger houses seem to get away with murder, just because they have fancy artwork and a good PR man.

Think on... Budget titles which work.... or empty pockets and no play... Has that latter ever happened to you?

If you've had a game which was a buggy mess, reply below.

Stick around for my next post, which I think will be about a bug in a game which turned out to be a benefit...

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Car Computer

This is really a test post from my car, using my nifty Windoze Mobile, but I thought it interesting I'm trying to post on my blog, in a car which has had it's internal computer crash... the dash board LCD is currently flashing at me in Portugese....

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Disappointed with Star Trek Online

Hello there again, yes, it is I... Not Leclair...

Now, I'd like you to all gather around, and I'm going to tell you about my personal experience with Star Trek Online [STO] earlier this year, but first you can all go and find out what I'm talking about by checking out the game yourselves at their site.

Now, I did something rash; at least rash for me; and I bought STO, I actually bought the pre-release digital pack off of steam. Purely on the basis of the reaction I'd heard of people liking it on podcasts and on the stock I hold in the Star Trek Franchise name [yes I can even forgive them for 'Enterprise' because, I can always think that Captain Jonathan Archer was actually a time-traveller trapped in that show and he had to get to the end of the Zindy war before he'd get zipped out of there... cough... sorry going off topic a bit there... Sorry, I don't know what came over me... slaps his Ziggy Remote].

Yes, so I got into STO pre-release. I'd not played the beta but I thought pre-release would get me going, especially as we got “exclusive pre-release” access.

Well, lets just say, I didn't think that the pre-release access was worth the £10 paid. I can accept there being lots of pre-release development going on, I accepted the patches coming in. But the Server instability, especially when they knew how many potential accessors they had, was pretty poor. The server was down a lot more during US Prime-Time [least that's what I heard], so I was considered lucky playing on UK Prime-Time.

But even so, I was at one point so frustrated with the log on process and queuing and then random kicks that I contacted them and voiced my concern. I even mentioned the point of paying a premium to access the service which was not available. I came up a blank on that one, and I unlike me, I was quite calm about it all.

When I was in game though I began to enjoy the mix of space to ground missions. I enjoyed being sent off to Memory Alpha, and I even enjoyed grinding up some of the space junk to hand over to the scientists. I advanced in rank and got myself a pretty new ship [I was playing a science officer, I like to heal, however, I found the STO mechanics for fleet support annoying at best].

I joined a nice fleet in the game and we have a fun role playing evening or two, it was nice to meet people in a pug situation who were willing to role play too. A refreshing change I thought. I could live with all this.

But as my month of play came along and I moved up in rank to the mid-tier III – LtCmdr – stuff, I found that the game play was really rather repetitive. Ground missions became something of a joke, they had an eerie feel of an episode of the Flintstones. Whereby the background is repeated over and over to save money animating it... the same thing was happening in STO... I'd go past a bunker, or a rock, or a whole planet and think... “That's the same as X I did yesterday”. In fact the only things changing were a few words here and there.

Now, I will admit a strength in STO, something it had over other MMORPGs, it didn't try to hold your hand too much. It did, obviously, or no-one would be able to fathom it out at all. But it basically introduced you to how to do something, and then let you figure it out as you went. Ship equipment, away team kit, new skills, recruiting officers, levelling skills. All these things were pretty much left up to you. And with the game being new there was no consensus of a right or a wrong way. Making it feel so much freer than other MMO's which have now been out a while.

However, after exploring around a bit, going through missions and ranking up level upon level, I kind of came to a sorry end with the game. It has been, I feel, released too early. There were a lot of bugs, even after release. Some of them very detrimental to the Star Trek name... I was surprised that it was allowed. For me these included:

  • Warp in of ship – often happened with no ship.

  • Pop-up characters would display the old head and then “flip” to the new head as it loaded.

  • Falling through the ground on away missions.

Now, unless we count the episode where the black blob kills Denise Crosby, no-one ever fell through the floor in a Star Trek episode... Ships never arrived from their enigmatic warp after their own con trails... and subspace transmissions didn't load slower than my old Atari ST playing Captain Blood.

So, all in all, I shut down the subscription.... yes I avoided the life-time sub... and I left feeling somewhat dejected.

I don't think there is much that can be done to rescue the situation either, as I'm sure that Cryptic don't have full control over the engine STO is based around, I feel that Cryptic are doing a bang up job to mould and craft the content to minimise problems with a flaky engine. This is only a personal view, I'm sure someone over there would correct me if I'm wrong, and I'll happily accept that correction. But with no future information except playing the game to go on, and seeing how patches affected things, I can only say I saw content changes, no major code base changes.

So, I left STO. Star Trek did not meet up with the expectations from a major franchise name, at least not for me.

Catch my next blog where I make enemies of you all by slagging off Dragon Age... Blasphemy! I head you all cry, but bare with me, I have a point to make and it is all about the contents of your wallets.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A Blog for Darren...


Well here I am, my inaugural blog. Hello, my name is Jon, or Xelous, which ever you prefer, and this is my first blog about... well anything I damn well please.

You see, I'm one of these many people jumping onto the blogging band wagon to spout off about stuff no-one else wants to listen about.

I must stop myself a moment though and send your hatred and derision to Mr Love over at CommonSenseGamer he's constantly threatened... well not threatened exactly... maybe just mentioned it once... in passing... that he'll let me on his wonderful podcast if I blog. I don't know why you have to blog to get onto his podcast, but it's his rules so... Love your blog Darren Love, big hugs.


So, now let me kick off my rabid drooling by picking up where I left off on Darren's Blog earlier... he's made an excellent post about quitting WOW.... Kudos to you sir, good move, well done, you're now one step closer to being able to leave the rehab centre and return to society, jolly good, pip pip. (Please Note: I am English, I was safe while using this phrase, no puppies were harmed while writing it; and unlike Dick Van Dyke doing a cockney accent; I never even broke a sweat).

But as part of Darren's post has made me think, about the game industry "blowing it's load", you see I see it similarly, but I think the game industry blew it's own brains out many years ago, and all that's left are pessimistic investor types funding more of the same stuff. Spoon feeding the console generations who will by any title, as they want to play all the titles for their limited dead-end specification console.

The reason being they've invested in development houses, tools and technology to write games, and they want to see return after return and return for that outlay. "They" don't care that "they're" now making "Blow your clip of ammo XXIV", because we're still down Asda or BestBuy cough over our dosh for it.

Now, I don't pick on consoles to be a bastard; I own consoles myself; I've seen them leap-frog a head of other gaming technologies. But once out a console becomes a rung on which we all dangle. We're all ready to reach up for the next rung, but it's not there until it gets hammered in the wall. And "they" only get their hammer out when "they" have rung every penny, cent, yen or drachma out of that platform.

And it's that ringing out of every last drop of cash which has currently taken hold of the game industry.

There are more and more titles from each and every developer who have paid for their development tools, but all are in the same dowdy old genres. RTS, FPS, MMO, RPG, MMORPG, MMOFPS... sometimes listing the genres of games is like going into a coffee shop "I'll have a decaf half fat frapachino.... and a Wii Controller".

God it annoys me.

Don't get me wrong, I acknowledge innovation when it comes along, the Wii... I liked it's new take on control methods I went so far as buying one. But, the games are all the same sort of thing... You know, I like nothing more than a Zelda title on my Nintendo. I love it... But has there been any innovation since the N64 with that genre? No, not much at all... It's the same lovable characters carrying it off, with better graphics and sounds along the way... but how far can character take us?

Without someone pushing PC gaming on there's going to be little innovation to move on the Consoles, and vice-versa, and since they're using PC's to write Console Content I don't see where any innovation is going to come from, there's (I reckon) ten years in the current Playstation 3, maybe a little less in the Wii & Xbox360. Ten years on the current nVidia Chipsets (260+) until we all HAVE to go buy a new PC.

That's a long time. I feel we're sitting on a high tide mark in the sand, and though we know the tide will come in one day, and maybe carry us higher up the beach, for now we're high and dry, picking through what we've got.

I do however hold a small candle in the wind, hoping that some indy developer comes along with some real innovation for us. CCP did it with Eve, maybe their new titles can (they're certainly pushing the massive eye candy with the current Nvidia Tools). But will they produce anything by another WoW style game, or a ST:DS9 episode style situation via their ambulation in stations promises?

In my next post, expect me to slate Star Trek Online and World of Warcraft... or Bloody Let Down and Virtual Cocaine, as I see them.