Category: general

Assassinate DRM and ports…

I played the first Assassin’s Creed back when it came out and liked it well enough. I just never got around to buying the others. A couple months ago there was a sale on steam and I picked up Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations. I’m playing through 2 and I’m enjoying it but drm is still terrible and it is a bad port.

Although the game is on Steam, it still uses the crappy Uplay drm which requires it to launch the Uplay program thingy. Only it won’t launch on Windows 8 when you try to start it through Steam.

OK, fine. I can just launch it directly through the Uplay thing, right? Of course not. When you try to do that it says it is launching steam or something but that doesn’t work either.

So play the game I bought, I have to launch Steam, then launch the Uplay application which I had to enable running as administrator, then go back to Steam and start the game, which makes the Uplay thing flash in the taskbar so before the game starts I have to click on Uplay to give it focus and then the game will start.

Great.

So once I get the games started it runs fine. Only, instead of telling you to press the left mouse button or the E key or whatever, it shows you a picture of an open hand, or a closed hand, or a foot, or something else. assassinscreed2controlsAnd the background of the icons clearly have the Xbox button colors which probably indicate which controller button you need to press.

So to be able to tell the different between a picture of a head and a picture of a head with a tiny little up arrow in front of it, in addition to the process mentioned above, I also have to open up a picture of the controls to put on my second monitor to know what buttons I’m supposed to be pressing…

Thanks Ubisoft…

 

 

A Call of Duty edition of Newsweek?

I was in the grocery store Monday and decided I would check out the magazine rack. I was surprised to see a magazine devoted to Call of Duty with the Newsweek logo on it:

callofdutynewsweek

While there have been special issues of magazines for specific videogames before and whenever someone famous dies it seems like there are special “tribute to X Collector’s Edition” magazines on the stands just days later, it seems weird that Newsweek would be the one to have their name attached to this. Of course, because I love gaming magazines I had to buy it, so I guess the combination worked.

blogroll updated

As promised  I’ve updated the blogroll over on the right. I would have done it earlier but I got caught up in rolling around in all that darpa money that digra gets in their think tank which employs tons of people…

blogroll pruned

I’ve deleted some of the links in the blogroll over in the sidebar.As someone who is having a hard time finding a job, I can’t blame some of the people if they have left academic game studies since I might have to be doing it myself (of course it seems more like academia leaving me than me leaving academia…) Regardless, it did hurt to delete some of those links but if they haven’t updated since 2012 I have to assume the site isn’t being updated any more. I’ll be adding some new links in the days ahead.

 

Analog keyboards and rumble mice

Back in December I got a PS3 for the first time and more recently I’ve been working on a side project that involves looking at a bunch of gaming stuff from the 90s. Recently these two interests have combined in a way that made me think about the lack of progress in the way pc games are played. Ever since the Atari 5200 came out with a different controller than the Atari 2600 it has become common for console controllers to change with each new console. Most of the time the new controllers don’t just look different but they add in new/different features. Some of those features then go on to become more or less universally adopted.

This really isn’t the case with pc gaming. Aside from incremental improvements such as using a laser instead of a ball in a mouse, the mouse and keyboard for the earliest computers isn’t really all that different than modern ones. Sure, mechanical switches are the hot thing now but those are really just coming back. No matter how many leds and lcd screens they add to a keyboard or mouse it is still basically the same and doesn’t really change your gaming experience.

There was a time, however, when there was more experimentation on pc controllers. There were controllers that basically tried to make the keyboard more comfortable like The Claw, the Wolfking Warrior, the Z-board which offered replaceable keyboards for a specific game, or the Razer Orbweaver and similar products but all of these are just putting buttons in the different spots.

My research reminded me of one controller that tried to have analog movement: the Spaceorb 360.

Spaceorb 360

I remember when this came out and while it seemed like a cool idea, I never saw one in person. Unsurprisingly it failed because it was weird looking. (a somewhat similar looking controller was the Microsoft Sidewinder Dual Strike but it used the ball thing to look and not move like the Spaceorb). Apparently the Spaceorb has its fans since someone made an Arduino interface to make it work with modern versions of Windows. The thing that is appealing about the Spaceorb is something I’ve wanted in pc games for a long time: variable speed. How nice would it be in a FPS to be able to easily be able to control how fast you move? Here’s what I want: analog keys on a keyboard. Maybe just for WASD or whatever but imagine keys that would work like triggers on a controller where you could push them down a little to go slowly and all the way to run. I know it might make the clicky keys weird but surely they could just put in a potentiometer or something on the keys to measure how far down the keys were pressed without making them feel different.

Running across the Spaceorb reminded me of the other old control device that never took off but seemed really cool: the rumble mouse. Logitech released a couple different kinds of these over the years. The first was the Logitech Wingman Force Feedback Mouse. Check out the video of how this thing works:

Maybe it is just me but it seems like it would be pretty cool to have a mouse that could do that. Unfortunately, to make it work the mouse was apparently attached to the pad which meant you couldn’t really move it very far.

The other line of force feedback mice Logitech came out with was the iFeel mice which looked like regular mice. I never used either of these but I would imagine that the iFeel didn’t have as much movement as the Wingman because it wasn’t attached to a mouse pad. It was, however, apparently useful outside of gaming as it could be used to rumble when you moved the mouse over a link, a window border, or something else. That seems like it would be kind of neat and could come in handy when trying to move your mouse to just the right spot to resize a window or move a text box border. Unfortunately, like the Spaceorb, the rumble mouse also failed to catch on.

However, it has been more than a decade since the rumble mouse was released and nearly twenty years since the analog controller so I think it is time for someone to try these ideas again. Come on Razer or Das Keyboard and give me a keyboard with analog keys and a rumble mouse! (seriously, give me one because I’m poor and couldn’t afford to buy them if they came out).

Whatever Happened to 80s Anti-Videogame Advocate Ronnie Lamm?

In the last post I mentioned I was doing some researrch on history of gaming for a side project. In the history of videogame censorship, one of the earliest and most notable people was Ronnie Lamm who was quoted in lots of interviews and appeared in many tv segments back in the early 1980s.

When I read about people from decades past who fight for a losing cause, I often wonder what became of them. I think it would be an interesting project to do a real “Where are they now?” with people involved in news events in decades past. Interestingly, I ran across a 2009 article from the Long Island Press that did talk to her. In the article, she is quoted as saying:

“It was a very interesting time of questioning,” Lamm, now a grandmother, tells the Press. “This is something new, something that parents were embracing, possibly for the wrong reason, and school districts at the time had concern about children cutting out of school to go to [play] video games. But our initial concern was the safety of children in bar lobbies, in luncheonettes. Where were these machines? Were they in the backroom? Were they being watched? Children are hanging out here… What was their supervision?”

 

History and Research

I’ve been doing a side project that involves tracking down some release dates of videogames. Because I’m a bit obsessed with finding authoritative sources I’m finding it difficult for some things. Strangely, although wikipedia has tons of release dates on games, hardly any of them are sourced. Perhaps stranger is that although wikipedia loves to put [citation needed] on everything, hardly any of these uncited dates have that tag.

Some release dates don’t seem to be known. For example, the exact day that Space Invaders first came out seems lost to the ages. And even though things like the ET Landfill thing were well documented in Atari Inc.: Business is Fun, there was still tons of coverage reporting that it was thought to be an “urban legend” and “no one knew what was buried there.”

What wikipedia does have though is a couple videogame sources that I wasn’t aware of until I stumbled on them the other day:

  • The first is wikipedia’s list of videogame source that they call their “reference library.” It contains links to gaming magazines and websites online and off as well as books and other things.
  • The second is wikipedia’s list of “books on video games” which is, cleverly enough, a list of books on videogames.

Neither of these is earth-shattering but they are useful sites to keep in mind when looking for something.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Review

 

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

I’d heard a lot about Call of Juarez: Gunslinger [Download] on various podcasts so when it was on sale during the winter steam sale I went ahead and bought it.

The premise of Gunslinger is that you play an old bounty hunter in the Old West and you walk into a bar and start telling stories about all these famous outlaws that you fought. Because it is in the form of storytelling, there are times in the games where someone will say something like, “I heard about that. You killed 50 people that day” and you play that section shooting tons of people but then the game will stop and your character will say, “No, it wasn’t like that. I only killed 5” and then you will replay the scene the other way. This video does a pretty good job of describing the game:

I found the game to be entertainingly told but other than that to be a pretty basic linear shooter with few places to vary from the main path.  There were also only a handful of different weapons which I found disappointing.

What I found most interesting about the game was how they worked with and around the limitations of the game engine. It uses the Chrome engine which is pretty enough and also powered Dead Island. What it doesn’t seem to be able to do, however, is animate mouths because no one in the game ever seems to talk on camera. All the storyline about telling the story is through cut scenes or voice overs. It has been a while since I played Dead Island but I seem to remember people talking in it so I’m not sure if this is the engine itself or more a sign of the design choices of Gunslinger.

Another interesting aspect of the game’s design is that the fact that at tomes the story will backtrack or be told with different facts means that the player is in effect replaying the same level twice (or more) which means that the game designers can make the game longer without having to create any more levels. Several of the levels also take place in Ye Old Western towns which might very well be the same town because they looked quite similar. I admit that I didn’t really bother to read all the text or pay that much attention to where the game was being set but there were times when I thought I was playing a level set on the same map as a previous one.

While these things work pretty well, not everything about the game works as well because some of the arcade game-style stuff feels at odds with the conceit that the player is experiencing a retelling of a story. For example, there are points for shooting multiple people that you can use to level up which draws attention to the fact that it is a game.

The most dissonant gameplay element is that each level has hidden “Nuggets of Truth” cards that you can collect and which tell you the historical facts behind the colorful story you are playing. While this is neat in concept, the reality is that because they are hidden meant that while I was playing I spent a lot of time wandering around in nooks and corners looking for these secrets and not playing through to the next part of the game. So while I liked the concept, the execution was more of a distraction than it should have been.

Overall Gunslinger is fun if you like old school shooters and are interested in storytelling in games and how the software used can influence how a game is made.

three thumbs up

Tell me a story
About outlaws and cowboys
Just don’t distract me.

 

Is G4TV a ghost town?

I was never a huge fan of G4tv but it did have good access to videogame events like E3 and occasionally good interviews and Ninja Warrior. Now it seems like a ghost town.

First, it was supposed to become the Esquire Network in April of 2013 and they fired all their on-air staff and recorded the final episodes of their shows. Then April came and they were all like, “no, no. We meant September!” Then September came and they made a last minute switcheroo and instead kept G4 and made Style the Esquire Network.

So what about G4 then? Well, apparently nothing.  Their website hasn’t been updated in months:

g4tv

Their last tweet says that their twitter is moving to Esquire TV’s account:

 

g4tvtwitter

The links on their website to their forums don’t go anywhere. As far as their programming is concerned, they just keep airing the old episodes of Attack of the Show and X-Play and other random stuff like reruns of Lost and Airwolf.

So why is NBCUniversal keeping the channel around? Is having that channel on cable so valuable that they might possible one day maybe want to put something on it? (Probably). It just seems odd and a waste.

…But I don’t even have cable so what do I know?