18 December 2010

Podcast! The Easy Button Episode 14c

The third part of our top games of all time marathon epic... You might be able to tell from my voice near the end but after four hours of talking (and perhaps drinking alcohol on an empty stomach) i was feeling worse for wear. :)

The list this time is our games that didn't quite make it into the top ten.

The Easy Button Episode 14c


If you want to contact us please feel free to email us with comments, shout-outs, suggestions or questions at: the.easiestbutton AT gmail.com

8 December 2010

Podcast! The Easy Button Episode 14b

Here's the second part of our top ten games of all time! You get to hear us both wax lyrical about the final five games on our lists.



If you want to contact us please feel free to email us with comments, shout-outs, suggestions or questions at: the.easiestbutton AT gmail.com

1 December 2010

Podcast! The Easy Button Episode 14a

This week we've split up the podcast into segments! Surprise! It's our top ten most awesome games of all time..... this part is just five of them from each of us but it's not in any particular order so you won't "get to the good stuff" by skipping this and heading to part deux.

I won't spoil which games we pick so listen in for enlightenment. :)



If you want to contact us please feel free to email us with comments, shout-outs, suggestions or questions at: the.easiestbutton AT gmail.com

17 November 2010

Podcast! The Easy Button Episode 13

This week we talk about Fallout 1 and 3 and there's also a chat about Master of Orion 1 and 2. There may also be calls for listener submissions for their top and bottom games of all time..... You'd better listen to get the lowdown!

Oh, and we also made the show shorter. I think some people will be happy with that! :D



If you want to contact us please feel free to email us with comments, shout-outs, suggestions or questions at: the.easiestbutton AT gmail.com

14 November 2010

Comic #1

I get these ideas from time to time but I don't really have an outlet.... then I remembered this blog and i thought: "What the hey?!" So if I get the inclination you might find these sorts of comics popping up from time to time.

The joke's a bit obtuse but hopefully some people will get it :)



13 November 2010

(Mis-)Characterisation...

This video was recently brought to my attention and, while i haven't played Other M, I have seen the youtube uploads, read the reviews and seen other comments from gamers on the characterisation in the game.

So basically, it’s some guy saying that Metroid: Other M is a good game because the writing is perfectly fine and that if you're opposed to what they've done you view women in one of two extremes (in the kitchen or cold-hearted, man-hating witch). I feel i just have to respond to balance out the stupidity. Onward!

He says that Stoic means that someone overcomes their negative emotions through a journey – however, that’s not the dictionary definition, nor how society uses it ERGO that is not what it means.

Stoic means to overcome your emotions through not allowing them to control you. You’re stoic if you show emotion but don’t let it affect you or your actions in a negative manner just as you’re stoic if you control your emotions so that they don’t shine through and are observable to the outsider.

Now that that is out of the way, I’ll move onto the orders thing. Samus and her team have all the equipment needed to survive in the game but are under orders NOT to use it until told to use it. Game mechanic-wise, it’s no different from finding a piece of equipment and being able to access a new area. Logically it is BATSHIT INSANE.

Seriously, if we’re going off the logic that Samus is a trained and battle-hardened bounty hunter and that this team of military personnel are similarly experienced then they will have full authorization to use necessary force and equipment to allow their survival. No right-thinking military commander is going to expect his troops not to put on their gas masks and biohazard suits if the shit hits the fan just because he didn’t give the order. It’s completely counterintuitive and takes away from the human reality that is projected onto the game. If this was a game about ants or bees where those lifeforms mindlessly obey their superiors then, yes, that makes more sense… but these are human beings and we, being human, understand the human condition very thoroughly.


Next we’ve got the personality switch for Samus. We’ve got a development studio that is known for their disrespectful and immature portrayal of women (i.e. oversexualisation, huge boobs, whiney voices and ‘helplessness’ even though they are hugely capable warriors) compared to the stoic (though I would never have described Samus as such), strong, non-sexual, lethal and capable Samus Aran. To put it into film terms (and ignoring Batman because that’s the example the video uses), Leon: The Professional, trained his whole life to be the best at what he is, he’s smart, logical, tactical, fit, capable and taciturn (perhaps stoic too). Even in the face of absolute terror and the finality of death his focus is pin-point sharp. Samus has also been compared to characters like Ripley in Aliens who is a little more emotionally weak than Leon but she still has most of the other characteristics however, she has to rely on her luck and anger/inner strength to get her through those situations so in my opinion she’s less like Samus than Leon is.

So, what do we get in Other M? We get the Hayden Christensen version of Darth Vader in comparison to James Earl Jones. It’s a slap in the face of the character and I’m wracking my brain to think of another action ‘hero’ like this to compare to Leon but there aren’t any I can think of – the closest is Shia LeBoeuf in Transformers. Honestly, I despair if the meaning of multidimensional characterization means that characters who are established as being strong and capable and free thinking in dangerous situations become self-doubting, helpless and mindless drones. It’s a completely ridiculous to argue that this is a good thing and provides character development when it’s completely the opposite. Leon would not cower in fear at an enemy he had previously thought he’d vanquished. He would not turn into a quivering wreck and be unable to act.

And regarding his Princess Peach comparison? Was he not around when the discussion about the fucking tantrums and emotional ‘powerups’ in Super Princess Peach was ongoing? He comes off as a completely unknowledgeable and anti-progress in computer games writing and characterization. There’s a world of difference between continuing to portray a character as weak and fragile and subservient and actually regressing a character to that state.

Then he takes GREAT leap of logic to assume that people who dislike this change in characterization is those people equating a “strong independent woman” with “pathological man-hating ice queen”… He just used a straw man (no I mean in the video) right before this bit to devalue the arguments opposing this change in character. I mean, the irony is strong with this one. /Yoda

This guy’s argument is vacuous and mindless in its stupidity.

Then he goes on to say that a slight change in gamers’ perception of Samus’ character has resulted in a huge blow out of anger… And yet, these are not small changes these are huge changes. Darth Vader is Stoic – Anakin Skywalker is not. But at least in those films it makes some sort of sense – there’s a character progression, a suppression of his human emotions (except for a seething anger that powers his dark side force powers) as he becomes less than human. If, in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back, this type of character change had manifested itself everyone would have collectively gone “WTF?!” and been very angry with the writers and director for breaking some pretty cardinal rules of human interaction and storytelling. Unless someone’s having a huge emotional or mental breakdown (of which there are many signs beforehand) then there’s no justification, no logic to doing that…. And yet he’s defending exactly this in his argument. In a word: Ridiculous.

Next he somehow gets onto an idea that the strong characterization of Samus (that gamers projected onto her) is rejecting her femininity. I mean…. WHAT THE FUCK?! I know of no women who would instantly pulverize this guy (probably metaphorically) for being such a huge sexist scumbag. Either the straw man he’s constructing here is so big he doesn’t see the looming shadow of ridiculousness OR he really has no idea that femininity does not equate to weakness and subservience. I am actually a little lost for words at this point because his arguments make no sense and are offensive to fans of Samus and other strong women in media.

Yes, being a strong woman does not mean you reject your femininity…. But, and this is a HUGE thing here, women can define what they feel is feminine. I’m a guy and I’m not some hulking brute of a man. I’m sensitive and I cry occasionally and I get overwhelmed when things get tough but I don’t collapse and I don’t become a mindless drone to a superior ‘just because’ or because I have unresolved emotional issues regarding my parents. I consider myself to be a strong man. I still have weaknesses but that doesn't mean they rule me.
You know what? Those people do exist and it is difficult to get out of those sorts of things (having my own separate issues, I know about this) but you don’t tend to find a person’s character altering so suddenly very often. A strong woman will not usually suddenly become all weepy eyed, subservient and emotional when an older, father figure man comes into the picture. A strong, stoic woman would recognize these feelings and keep them in mind as she’s doing her job to the best of her abilities. It doesn’t preclude her from being feminine (whatever she defines that as) and it certainly doesn’t make her a man-hating ice queen because she doesn’t instantly give in to those emotions. This is no binary situation you can be strong and sensitive and even strong in some ways but weak in others… but it’s very rare (and possibly impossible? Maybe the psychologists can answer that one) that you are simultaneously strong and weak in the same area. You don’t not fall, crumpled into a ball at the sign of another soldier dying or surviving wave after wave of enemies only to suddenly and completely cave in when it happens again a moment later. Usually you just go through the actions and sort the emotions out later on and if you don’t that’s where things like post-traumatic stress come into the picture. You know what would be good? It’d be good if perhaps Samus had that as another aspect to her character. Does she? No. Instead she has (as his video points out) “daddy issues”.

Some people might, at this point, try and point out that Samus shows PTSD in Other M - specifically in relation to her encounter with Ripley. These people need to go and read the definition of PTSD, the wikipedia entry on PTSD and then they need to go and look at where Other M falls on the Metroid timeline. Once they've done this they should hopefully recognise that Samus has been in similar situations to the original attack on her colony (resulting in the death of her parents) in conflict with both the Space Pirates and Ridley many times before Other M comes along. This portrayal does not include PTSD and there's no logical reason for her to be suffering, all of a sudden, after defeating the guy and the pirates many times from PTSD or this level of PTSD. Instead Samus falls into the 'revenge' and externalised/internalised anger side of things rather than being unable to process and cope with her emotions regarding that original incident.

…. and finally he compares her to Ripley, saying that she is an anti-social loner who is strong but cold and emotionally distant. I’m thinking that somehow we watched two very different cuts of all the Alien quadrilogy films…. It’s as if he completely misinterpreted Sigourney Weaver’s acting and the character of Ripley. I seriously don’t get it and I think it’s possibly where a lot of his argument comes from and simultaneously falls down. They take a lot of pains to show Ripley's emotional side and the complex interactions between fear, survival instinct, anger and motherly protection in those films. She is never a loner or anti-social or emotionally distant.

This, all in context, makes his high-horse ponderings about other gamers’ views on gender hysterically funny and very sad and worrying. The problem is that a lot of the things he mentions in the conclusion are good parts of a three dimensional character (add your own echo effects here) but that the execution and depiction of those character flaws and intricacies in Other M are so childish, out of character and (I’m going to repeat childish here) immature as to be offensive to the majority of sane people. If you’ve ever watched any of the “Awesome” series you’ll be intimately familiar with over-the-top characterizations of erstwhile human emotions and troubles and that’s the line of portrayal that Samus has in Other M. There’s no subtlety or loving craft gone into it…. Instead it feels like the designers have looked at the checklist of ‘interesting’ human traits (like this guy reels off at the end) and chucked them in without any sort of thought on the logic behind those choices and how they’d fit with a murderous bounty hunter in space.

You know who had ‘issues’? Boba Fett. He was not only conditioned against the Republic but also saw his father beheaded by the Jedi order. Sure, his character wasn’t fleshed out but did you see him fall into a quivering blob during the fight above the Sarlaac on Tatooine when faced with a Jedi Knight (Luke Skywalker)? No!! And you know why? Because that would have made no sense.
His insulting final thought that there’s only two extremes for female characters being ‘allowed’ by his opponents just seals the deal and it’s sad that so many misinformed, like-minded individuals have latched on to his pretty much derogatory and intellectually worthless comparisons and arguments to reinforce their own negative opinions of what is allowed for female protagonists and characters. There is nothing progressive about Other M’s characterization of women.

31 October 2010

Podcast! The Easy Button Episode 12

Another episode of this hit show! In this episode: reduced audio quality! We also talk about Minecraft (shock!), Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment, Baldur's Gate and Elemental: War of Magic.



If you want to contact us please feel free to email us with comments, shout-outs, suggestions or questions at: the.easiestbutton AT gmail.com

21 October 2010

Partners in...

I’ve been thinking about the partner effect recently. No, not the partner effects or the partner effect. The effect i'm thinking of is one you may have encountered in your every day lives - it's when someone who has an emotional tie to someone else backs up the other person's point of view no matter how stupid or ridiculous it is and in fact may go against what they themselves would normally think in a certain situation.

Example 1: A husband states that something is stupid because of some silly reason.... Person C does not agree and states their reasons why. Wife (or partner) of Husband comes in and echoes Husband's opinion despite it being a bit stupid.

Example 2: Programmer 1 questions programmer 2 as to why a piece of software is written the way it is when this other way could be more advantageous. Programmer 2 responds that it's better this way for some dubious reason however, it later becomes apparent that programmer 3 wrote the software and has been good friends with programmer 2 for a long time.

In both these hypothetical situations the 'partner' takes the position of their partner despite obvious flaws in the reasoning or whatever.

Now, personally, i find this annoying and, as far as i'm aware, i do not do it. In fact, i was once told by my mother that i shouldn't undermine my partner despite me not agreeing with what they said. This is all a bit by-the-by and is more of a starting-off point in this thought process.

We talk about emotional investment and involvement with our characters in games and for those of the NPC or AI partners that we engage with. So..... can we evoke this same behavioural response for a gamer and their computer controlled friends? I think, on some levels, this has already been accomplished. Many people talk about their minions in Fallout (1-3) like they were long-lost family members. Similarly, Fable 2's dog evoked a lot of emotional attachment for some players. However, that emotional attachment is different than the one i'm going for. What i want to be able to do is make a player like a character so much that they're willing to change the way they play the game at that moment in time - and not necessarily for the better.

Say you've got a companion who accompanies you throughout the game - they're useful, not annoying or helpless - and you converse with them and learn about them and the world through those conversations. One of the game mechanics is that you're able to eat these pods that grow on grass-like stalks in certain places throughout the world to regain health. Maybe it becomes apparent that these are the babies of a race of beings and your friend is really for continuing to eat them? A lot of people would probably stop eating those foetal beings and take the hit in health or power though some people would continue on anyway due to it just being a game mechanic..... But could we influence those players who would turn away from power to instead embrace it?

I guess the way i'd try and do it is by slowly influencing the gamer's play through insertion of partner opinions. Start off small with suggestions like "Jump when the enemy attacks you and you will have a greater probability of dodging their attack" to "if you combine these potions/items you'll get this really cool thing" and "this guy looks evil, we shouldn't trust him" (he then turns out to be evil).... Doing this is basically offering small cheats and hints to the players but it might also engender trust between the player(character) and the partner through repeated links in the brain of the player to their partner being 'correct'.

I suppose another possible way you could help with this is have the partner completely voiceless and non-interactive during testing and having a person sitting there with the player. Telling them how to play and offering advice on characters within the game. Record these sessions and take the most effective lines and put them into the game for the character to use (and don't have them as 'set' interactions, make it random which ones the player gets). It might work sort of like a sales pitch when journalists are playing the games for the first time - the very action of reinforcing the game's strengths can make them appear stronger and its weaknesses less significant.

It's partly how salespeople perform their pitches too; use positive framing and whatnot.... then, when the trap is honeyed, you reel them in by applying the 'false' logic you've built up around the situation or product along with the positive framing to close the deal.

Perhaps i should rename this post "What gaming could learn from selling..."?

23 September 2010

Blood Bowl Game Diary #5

Playoff 2 VS The Bramble Blockers

So we were up against our nemesis – The Bramble f*ckers. Those namby-pamby, wishy-washy, no-good do-gooders of the wood elves. The very same team that had beaten us 4-0 in our opening match.

I looked over our team and, to my consternation, found we were missing a Witch Elf! Where had she gone? I had no idea…. It’s possible that the hit on the head she received from the Dwarven Blitzer had brought about a sudden onset of Stockholm syndrome and she’d ‘gone native’ on us… or at least on the Blitzer in question. I checked the stats for the match and there were no dead but two injured. I guess that she had reached her injury limit and had retired…. Probably with that damn dwarf blitzer!!

At any rate I’m wasn’t bitter I still had ten men and Mo- Morty?!! Morty, what’s wrong with your hand? Oh, my terrible and dark gods! You… you can’t play? So there I stood in our changing field with Mortbean, the star player of the team so far, sitting on the grass with a hand the size of a melon. A quick look in our war chest told me that we only had 50,000 gold which wasn’t enough to purchase any players outright. I glanced over at the score board from the game the Bramblers had fought against the Scaled Scavengers the day before and saw that the had won 3-0… again!! This wasn’t going to be pretty.

My heart was pounding as I went to look at their team roster…. Seven men!! They only had seven men left! Oh, was it possible that we could pull this one out of the bag? The only problem was that they still had their catcher and thrower… Hopefully I would be able to do something about at least one of them.

So with my heartbeat pounding in my ears, we set off to do battle. In the pre-game warm up and bribery I managed to f*ck things up considerably. Instead of putting 50,000 gold into the pot to buy stuff…. I managed to input 50 gold instead. There was no way back either! Luckily, or rather, unluckily, a band of mercenaries turned up at the last minute with me receiving two of them and the bloody lucky Bramblers getting four. I guess the odds and gods were no longer in our favour! It was now apparent to me why I’d received that loner, Indhil, in the final match of the pool against the dwarves – you always start with 11 players, regardless of your actual player roster.

Having no runner with which to pick up or kick the ball, I used the only other player I had left with high stats – the witch elf, Riisilneth. She would be our runner. Considering this was her first kick off, she did quite well, shunting it into the depths of the enemy half. Unfortunately the wood elves proceeded to set up a really strong box of players around their thrower who was likely to knock it down the field once they got their catcher into position. The only option I had was to take out the catcher and other free linemen then close in on the ball… OR hope for an interception like I had done before. That would make me champion of interceptions in our little league.

We surrounded the catcher with two linemen and our wittle baby Fear Might jogged forward and stabbed the guy through his armour, knocking him completely out and taking him off the field – probably for the half. I stared in shock. The most useless player in our side had actually come through and done something useful! Not only that but it was the first action of the game. Things were looking up!
The second action of the game resulted in the other free wood elf lineman getting sent off the pitch on a stretcher…. It was beautiful! I had to wipe tears from my eyes as the rest of my team surrounded their defensive box.

Unfortunately, my run of good play was soon back to normal when both my strongest players – the witch elf and the assassin – were knocked unconscious for two turns, leaving the rest of my team to fend for themselves. In a rather silly tactical error on my part, we managed to leave an opening at the edge of the pitch, just large enough for the thrower to run through and around my line. Oops.

Luckily, my assassin and one lineman were free to track back and block their progress and, as one of their players powered forth to knock the assassin back into the diapers he so rightfully normally wears, he flicked his leg up and stopped that weakling wood elf dead in his tracks, leaving a nice boot print on his face. It was good times!! Unluckily, my witch elf kept on getting knocked down on her follow-up attacks… allowing the enemy wood elves a second shot at the assassin that stood in their way, this time knocking him down and out – completely off the pitch. Nuts!!

The thrower ran through the newly-made gap and there was only one lineman who could reach him in time to stop the touchdown. He charged… and was knocked out by the stupid, weedy thrower – of all people!!

0-1

The only bright side to the score was that, during the celebrations, my assassin recovered and returned to the pitch but their two players did not. The loss was also compounded by the seemlingly witless witch elf fumbling when picking up the ball. Where was Morty when I needed him?! Even worse, while the rest of my team performed defensive duties, the witch elf proceeded to fumble the ball, seemingly unable to get a grip on it at all! I immediately called to the ref for an inspection of the ball for tampering by the bramblers but it only served to remind him that it was actually well into half time and the whistle was blown.

After the break we got back to business, with the witch elf vindicating herself by collecting the kicked ball and running up the field. The assassin stabbed another wood elf, knocking him out completely and the offensive line began it’s (hopefully) inexorable push forward. I grinned and rubbed my hands accordingly.
The next few minutes were a veritable bloodbath with several key players getting kicked and gouged around. First off, our assassin was knocked for six and, while scrambling to cover our ball carrier, the witch elf, the wood elf catcher’s head was almost taken off as he tried to dodge around several of our players. I silently hoped that it was a crippling, permanent injury.

As the dust cleared, the witch elf saw her chance and slipped through the defence towards the touchline. Then, from out of nowhere most of their team sat up and seemed to come alive…. Well, I mean figuratively – they weren’t undead! Whilst most of them were blocked by my fearless blitzers and assassin, the catcher ran past three players, dodging all their attacks and, in a fit of frenzied rage, punched our blitzer, Rianndrir, so hard that his pelvis momentarily appeared to be above his shoulders; a frightening sight that I hope you only see happening to your enemies… This left him being carted off the field and a gaping hole in the defensive line that was preventing runners from catching up with the witch elf. Though, I guess it was ironic that the runner that did catch her did so from a completely different hole in the defensive line that I hadn’t spotted. There was still a chance though! She had been able to dodge attacks before and she was within distance of scoring… Nailbiting resumed. SCORE!!

A couple of horny linemen came to the witch elf’s rescue, momentarily distracting the wood elf and allowing her to run to the end zone.

1-1

Upon resuming the game and the witch elf making the kick, I was struck with a sudden fit of genius, allowing me to magically rearrange my team without penalty while the ball was stuck in the air. Brilliant! I moved up my players and had them ready to attack the opposition’s half. The move obviously paid off because a lone wood elf, driven to madness by the unlikely turn of events then threw himself at my left-most lineman, knocking him down and himself out in the process. The lineman, a hardy fellow by the name of Malion, proceeded to get right back up before spitting on the wood elf as he was carted off the pitch. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the pitch, my linemen blasted into the front line of the wood elves, injuring one guy and pushing the other back - the poor sod who was on the receiving end of that attack also happened to be holding the ball, spilling it onto the floor ready for the pick-up. Amazingly, the same lineman who had just crippled the other player proceeded to grab the ball in the middle of a somersault and avoiding the defensive play of the nearby wood elf lineman. This, of course, left the rest of the team in a dumbfounded daze and I screamed at them to pick their jaws up off the floor lest they be shattered by the quickly regrouping Bramblers.

The assassin, taking advantage of the general lethargy of everyone else, glanced around before placing a handkerchief over the wood elf that stood next to him until he was unconscious. I was beginning to like this Fear Might fellow afterall. However, despite the number of wood elves off the pitch and on the floor a couple were able to catch up to the courageous lineman, Mormal (one of the mercenaries who I suspect might have been a ringer), though with my two covering blitzers close behind. They knocked out one wood elf and Mormal was able to dodge his way past the other to score!

2-1

This was just unbelieveable. Just one and a half turns to go and we would win. This called for an all-out defensive strategy of blocking and delaying. There could be no mistakes made this time – not with the wood elves annoying propensity for being able to run long distances. I carefully placed the members of my team, noting that the Bramblers only had 4 starting players on the pitch. Strangely, though I had been cock-sure, once the game started they had the full compliment of 10 players (11 minus the injured player) and the kick went straight into the hands of their damned thrower… If there was any way they were going to draw and get extra time in this game it would be through a throw and score approach. I held my breath.

Our assassin lept forward into the breach of their closing defence around their thrower and was promptly knocked out for his bravery… simultaneously, their thrower chucked the ball down the pitch to a player that wasn’t their catcher because, for some unknown reason, he had ran behind the rest of the team towards his own end – doubtless scared of our aggressive nature. The lineman that tried to catch the ball took his eyes off of it and let it spill to the ground at his feet. The whistle blew, we had won!!

The victory was cut short though, when I realised that I was unable to hire Mormal directly after the match despite having 50,000 in the war chest and earned 20,000 in the game. They apparently hadn’t collected the ticket sales yet and so I had to let this apparent superstar go. Damned rules!!


Overview

It’s amazing really – and a tribute to my skill and passion for the team and my players – that we won the trophy despite finishing last in the group stage. Actually, we graduated with flying colours. Learning a game that is actually pretty brutal - even on easy mode - can be quite difficult and i'm quite happy with myself for managing to bring it all together. This will be the last diary for the time being. I have played through a second season where the introduced Chaos team really gave my team a spanking and i lost a few good players... If people have an interest i can write it all up and post it. So let me know in the comments!

Hope you enjoyed this little foray into game diaries. I'll try and think of other games i could do this in and if i get any ideas then i'll probably put something together.

22 September 2010

aaand.... GoG is back...

Seriously, what a terrible way to do this whole thing. It was all just a PR stunt. Great.

Dickheads.

19 September 2010

And it's done.... Bye bye Good Old Games

(Update: So it's possible that this is all one big, huge, misguided publicity stunt. However, these are just rumours so we'll have to wait and see...)

Well, there's one less thing that's good about PC gaming. DRM-free older games on Good Old Games are no more. Seriously! Just go and have a look.

Sucks... doesn't it?

I hadn't even downloaded some of the games i had bought, because of our monthly download limit, such as Masters of Orion 1+2. They say, in the very light blurb on their replaced main page, that they will try and give a way to redownload the games for their customers some time this week. We'll see how that pans out.

As such, it's a nice little test of all these claims by companies, like Valve, who claim that if the worst comes to the worst and they are bought out or go out of business then they will release patches for their games to enable their customers to continue playing them. Not quite the same scenario since, if you have the installer for the game already then you're covered - which was one of the immense pros of GoG.com.

The two most disappointing aspects come of all this: It looks like the DRM-free model is dead. The idea, despite what GoG themselves have stated in their words, seems dead and unworkable. The reasoning for this is linked in with the second aspect which is that there is essentially no reason given for this closure. Worse, it was so sudden that it seems unreal. They had only just added new games and had a sale on Activision titles.

What their blurb seems to say is that "the idea of DRM-free old games is unworkable... but we couldn't make it work." Since they were the only game in town with this then... well, there was practically no competition and that potentially means that the publishers and developers who were making the contracts for their games on GoG.com didn't want the service to work. If the publishers and developers don't believe in the service then the service will not exist. Essentially, DRM-free games are gone; the future is a bleak mishmash of always connected DRM-authentication combined with ultra-small and lower quality games that contain little DRM but which are still tied to a service environment like Popcap and Zynga with a minority of small and lower quality independent titles like Evochron and Minecraft that subsist on their playerbases over incremental updates in a symbiotic relationship.

It's possible that publishers and developers will change their minds on how they treat and interact with their customers and my bleak prediction of the future of gaming will not come to pass. However, given the current economic and political trends that seems unlikely... The bright side of this all is that music will never suffer the same fate as games and movies due to the lower budgetary requirements and level of difficulty to produce a track or album (e.g. skillset, technology and manpower) than it is to make a movie, TV show or game.

I look at times like this and I wonder what sort of a world I will be experiencing in 10 years time...

GoG's release below:

We have recently had to give serious thought to whether we could really keep GOG.com the way it is. We've debated on it for quite some time and, unfortunately, we've decided that GOG.com simply cannot remain in its current form.

We're very grateful for all support we've received from all of you in the past two years. Working on GOG.com was a great adventure for all of us and an unforgettable journey to the past, through the long and wonderful history of PC gaming.

This doesn't mean the idea behind GOG.com is gone forever. We're closing down the service and putting this era behind us as new challenges await.

On a technical note, this week we'll put in place a solution to allow everyone to re-download their games. Stay tuned to this page and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

18 September 2010

Blood Bowl Game Diary #4

Playoff 1 VS Iron Head Wanderers

I was against this blasted team again – Top of the group and I’d only just managed to scrap that draw. Worse yet, I’d been unable to afford to buy Indhil the Loner who had subbed in my team randomly last match when I only had 10 players after the unfortunate death of one linesman who’s name will not go down in the annals of history as I lost the slip of paper it was written down on. (Still not sure how that happened!) Luckily, once the funds had cleared from the ticket sales, I was able to afford a new player and I quickly snatched up the strangely named Fear Might, an assassin of no renown. I figured that having someone of that profession on the pitch would sway things in my favour.

I wasn’t looking forward to this game, but play on I did. I watched as my brave sacrificial lambs, er players… er, beloved players took to the pitch against the Dwarven threat. We let them kick off and I watched as the ball sauntered through the air to land not far off my runner, the heroic Mortbean, who in true style was kept in the rear due to his lack of muscle. I sent my linemen, blitzers and witches all off to block and guard the dwarves who had once again fielded two Troll-slayers and their one Blitzer… all three of which appeared to be nearly unbeatable in the last game. Then, with Morty heading forward my attack began to falter.

Left and right, players from both sides were going down in the maelstrom of pitched battle…. And then promptly getting back up again after a quick nap. Morty managed to pass off the ball to the Camfindys, the witch elf, and she made a run between the Dwarf Blizter and one of their blockers – skilfully dodging a blow or two as she did so – and i watched as she ran wide right where there were fewer dwarves. Unfortunately, it was at this time that my blocking spree in the centre crumbled as my assassin tripped on the dirk he had pulled from his boot and fumbled to the ground in a failed stab attempt on one of the troll-slayers, promptly being knocked on his ass and as the whole mass of players moved forwards a two blockers emerged from behind the pack to race across the field to intercept my witch elf. She managed to hand off the ball to a blitzer, Argthar, who was promptly knocked out, the ball sent flying out of play. This, of course, annoyingly meant that it was flung back onto the pitch right into the midst of the main body of dwarven players… just my luck.

Immediately I shouted a time-out to the ref (who ignored me until I called his mother a slimy pus-bag at which point he came over to enquire how the old slimy pus-bag was…. It was all very embarrassing. I had to lie about her health being poor which seemed to please him greatly and he granted us a moment to talk to our teams). Drawing my meatbags around me I told them to hit the dwarves hard and to keep them in their half it they could. “No mercy!” I remember shouting as they ran back onto the pitch which, in retrospect, seemed rather redundant. Amazingly my team proceeded to do very well for the next six or so turnovers. They hemmed-in the dwarven defence who were crowding their runner and stopping any meaningful progression. My assassin managed to fail three other stab attempts and as the referee’s whistle blew to end the half I was considering murdering him and taking his apparel and putting it on a child I had seen waving a pointy stick in the crowd. He probably would have been more deadly.

The second half started as you’d expect. I kept my assassin in the centre along with a witch elf and a blitzer, spreading the rest of the team wide to cover any runners. The ball soared into the air and all hell broke loose. From what bleary memory I do have of the event it seems that one of our cheerleaders accidentally threw her knife-edged pom-pom into the eye of one of dwarven players' wives…. who then fell backwards into the warm ale she was stirring, spoiling it for all the potential drinkers in the crowd. The crowd, thus incited, went on a rampage, spilling onto the pitch and attacking all the dwarven players and subs and knocking virtually the whole team out. Double out, in fact…. They were seeing at least six or maybe eight stars each! It was a beautiful sight. Unfortunately, there was a little collateral damage with both of our players on the left of the pitch knocked partially unconscious (just four stars) as the players exited to the stands to enjoy the rest of the half.

Unsure of what had really happened, everyone just stood there until Morty, that god-blessed devil of a man, sprinted up and claimed the ball right from underneath the noses of the befuddled dwarves. The rest of my players dusted themselves down, kicking a few of the dwarves for good measure in the process (the ref didn’t notice… in fact he may have been unconscious too!), then proceeded to run a standard blocking pattern. It’s mighty effective on unconscious dwarves and is now a staple in my playbook in case such an event should ever happen again.

So off he went, towards the touchline when a couple of dwarves picked themselves up and trundled off after him. Once again, Morty came through. He dodged a tackle and, as they knocked him into the ground, threw the ball to our Blitzer, Argthar, who turned around and scored a touchdown!

1-0!!

(Later on, after the match, Fear Might – the assassin – informed me that he had directly contributed to the score by not using his stab ability and thereby confusing several of the surrounding dwarves. He still hadn’t knocked anyone down or out though!)

We only had four or so turns left in the match too and all’s we had to do was run interference. Back to kick-off positions and we launched the ball high into the air where it once again landed near their back blockers. One of them picked the ball up and was immediately surrounded by the defensive-minded dwarves. My players moved in for the blocking kill. It was at this point that the dwarven blitzer and his blocker mate went on a bit of a bender. The blocker knocked my witch elf out – sending her off the pitch into the recovery zone… where she then died. Dead?! Camfy was dead? This was a terrible loss but the pain wasn’t over yet because then, with the help of one of the troll-slayers, he opened up a huge hole in the midfield by knocking out another man. Down to nine men - I wasn’t hopeful of the outcome after being left with only five in the last turns of the preceding game against the dwarven scum.

Slowly, the dwarves motored forward with a combination of knocking my players down and running a diagonal pattern around my blocking formation: The blocker who had the ball switched from the left to the right of the field and made his way into my half. It was at this point that I realised that the only person between the blocker and our touchline was good old Morty. There was another lineman off on the far left of the pitch, covering what I had thought would be their route, who was running over to cover the centre but who would be unable to make it in time to aid in the interception. Morty lept. My hands were gripping the railing of the dugout so tightly that the knuckles went white. Morty hit the blocker and pushed him back and toward the centre of the pitch – near the lineman who was running to join him. Another dwarf broke through the centre and came to sit behind the ball holder and, obviously overexerting himself, promptly fell on his face. Taking advantage of that mess, the lineman ran next to the blocker holding the ball and caused a distraction while Morty gave him a good push and collected the ball as it fell to his feet.

There was only one problem: In the intervening period most of the team had been knocked senseless and now there were a metric f*ckton of angry dwarven Blood Bowl players heading towards Morty and the linesman. So Morty did was any blue-blooded Dark Elf would do in his situation…. He ran! First he ran towards me and the coaches in the dugout. I began screaming, “No!! Get away!” and at last he took heed and turned…. Straight towards out touchline!! What the hell was he thinking? Well, it turns out that old Morty had a bit of a brainwave (or that’s what his story is post-match at any rate!). Why waste the final moments of the game letting himself get tackled and possibly allowing them to score when the slow as molasses dwarves would be unable to keep up with him?

Unfortunately, as he ran back and forth across our touchline in an effort to confuse the dwarves he was tripped by a sneaky runt of a dwarf who then stomped on Morty’s catching hand. Morty, injured as he was, left the pitch but the game was won! The match was over!

I had done, er I mean, we had done the unthinkable and beaten the strongest side in our league.

17 September 2010

Blood Bowl Game Diary #3

Match 3 VS Iron Head Wanderers

This next match was weighing heavily on my mind. Looking at the group table, the Iron Head Warriors were top – having easily won their previous two matches. Worse still, I was a man down – Riisilneth wasn’t able to play having been severely injured in the previous game – and instead Indhil, a wandering mercenary stepped in to fill the gap.

Starting the match, we received the ball, via Mortbean’s pick-up and charged up the field, handing off to Camfindys. Unfortunately, I hadn’t taken into account the stoutness of dwarven players and Camfindys was knocked completely unconscious just past the halfway line by a dwarven blocker and dragged off the pitch. The rest of the dwarves began knocking our players senseless up and down the field. It wasn’t a pretty sight! Morty, sensing an opportunity, sprinted up and re-collected the ball in the midst of the confusion and passed it out of the melee to Enddar, who waltzed up the right sideline towards the touch line, covered by Rynnear. Meanwhile, a little fight had broken out between Mortbean and a dwarf named Hurrig over beard-pulling or some such. Morty, in an uncharacteristic bout of truthfulness to his name, planted the seeds of death and outright killed Hurrig in a move that could only be described as audacious. Somehow he got away with it and the ref didn’t bat an eyelid.
I made a mental note not to mess with him if he was in a bad mood and when I looked up I saw Enddar crossing the touchline and scoring!

1-0

Excellent! The plan was coming together. The play started off innocently enough with a few blocks and manoeuvres but, somehow in a triple move including the two troll-slayers, perhaps in revenge for the earlier death, Banfil’s skull was crushed-in and he lay dying on the pitch. I immediately called forth the apothecary and sent him out to save the poor lad. Unfortunately, the damned physician spent the time applying leeches or something instead of un-caving-in Banfil’s skull and he actually ended up more dead than before. Ah well, he shalt be remembered!

The dwarves rallied as my team began to lose cohesion and pushed forward with the ball – I noted that they liked to play very tightly around their ball carrier in a similar, but shorter, manner to the lizardmen. Argthar, Enddar and Malion lead a counter attack, knocking the ball-carrier down and allowing Lamael to collect it from his twitching hands. Lamael turned and ran up the pitch with two dwarves in close pursuit… there was only one outcome possible really – the dwarves knocked him to the ground completely unconscious and he was taken off the pitch. Damnit!! They immediately counter-attacked but, as their players pushed forward to make space for the ball-carrier, one of their players was severely injured from a tackle and also stretchered off the pitch… Shame it wasn’t another death!

Once again Agthar, Enddar and Malion stood in the way of the ball carrier and managed to collectively push him back. Somehow, though, during a bit of pushing and pulling, Rynnear was knocked unconscious and had to also be taken off the pitch – we were down two men!! As I reeled from these continued losses, Agthar, Enddar and Malion were getting thrashed as another player was knocked unconscious just as the half time whistle was blown. Phew!!

Coming back from a few light refreshments, we kicked into their half. Three of our knocked out players recovered and returned to the pitch – bringing us equal in number, if not skill to the dwarven side. Receiving the ball, the dwarves pushed forward – their blitzer, Noragni, holding the ball. We tried valiantly to stop this advance but with the knocking out of Camfindys and Mortbean there was no one left but Argthar to defend deeply and the touchdown was inevitable once the seemingly indestructible Noragni also palmed him off.

1-1

Camfy rejoined the play after being roused by the cheering which helped me formulate a plan of attack. After the kick (which was sent to our touchline), Morty retrieved the ball and passed it to Camfy (the pairing of these two is remarkable – I wondered if perhaps there was some sort of extra curricular activities were happening off-pitch) who sprinted up the field, covered by Malion and Enddar. In the centre the troll-slayers were getting their arses kicked, however this unexpected sight merely resulted in distracting both Malion and Enddar who were promptly shoved away from the nearly defenceless Camfindys who tried to run away but was tripped in the process with the ball falling to Malion’s feet. With our luck running low, however, he was also tackled and the ball fell free.

Our only chance at interception before the whistle was also knocked out and stretchered off the pitch and, as the dwarven player trundled along towards our touchline all hope of drawing seemed lost. The only man in the way was dependable Argthar, who, in the tradition of the blitzers of legend, blocked the run whilst Camfy, angry at her earlier deposal, trounced down the pitch and knocked both the dwarven player and the ball for six. Annoyingly, the ball was sent back to the halfway line in no-man’s land, however, Rianndrir had enough presence of mind to run over and pick it up – completely uncharacteristic of a blitzer! He then ran towards our own touchline with a couple of dwarves closing in quickly. Camfindys and Argthar rushed to cover his retreat as Rianndrir circled around and stood on the touchline awaiting the game’s end. A cynical move, some supporters might say, but one I was thankful of!

We drew! Against the group leaders! Awesome! Things were definitely looking up.

16 September 2010

Blood Bowl Game Diary #2

Match 2 VS The Scaled Scavengers

After a stern talking-to and a quick browse over a book I found in the library titled “Tactics: You may need them”, my team rallied for their next engagement. This time I was up against the lizardmen of Katchanooth. I noticed that the majority of the lizardmen team was made up of weak but fast players…. however, their stronger players were beasts twice our team’s average height with prehensile tails that could trip us as we passed them. It wasn’t looking like the match would go well.

We won the toss and took the received the kick. Good old Morty stepped over and caught the ball as it hurtled into our half. “Nice catch!”, I yelled though my voice might have been lost in the mug of warm beer that I was drowning myself in – in preparation of our impending defeat. The rest of my team ran something called an “interference pattern”, covering and blocking all the lizards so that they would be unable to hit Morty with any force.

Unfortunately it appears that we underestimated those weaker, faster lizards as they easily moved around our players without so much as a trip or foul. They closed down on poor Morty and tackled him to the ground though, once again, he managed to pass off the ball to one of our players (this time into his hands). Banfil (the guy with the ball) shot up the sideline towards their touch line and was immediately knocked out of play by a charging Skink. Those things are annoying!
The ball was thrown back into play in our own half and, as the players all ran to collect it, the lizardmen Saurus took the opportunity to fell most of our team. Mortbean, the ol’ mucker, grabbed the ball before the Skinks could arrive and score and passed it off to Camfindys – who sprinted heavily up the pitch towards our unconscious players and the Saurus who had done the unconscioufying. Luckily, all of my players got to their feet and provided cover from the front while, unluckily, the Skinks caught up with Camfindys from behind. She managed to fend off one attack but was knocked out by a second Skink who sacrificed his own consciousness to pry the ball from her hands.

This must have confused the other lizardmen as they managed to collect the ball and then field a pass backwards into empty space. Camfindys and Argthar pushed forward, blocking and collecting the ball. Camfy did a sweet-looking little pirouette and ran to the touch line where she scored. I briefly considered adding more armour to her attire so as to protect her from the depredations of enemy teams but, as she performed her celebration, all thought of such things quickly evaporated as I made a mental note to personally congratulate her later that evening for making the score.

1-0

A decision that I may come to regret after she was knocked out upon kick-off. Is it considered taking advantage of someone who has amnesia? I guess we’ll take care of that if it crops up! Fortunately, half time came around and allowed her to regain her senses and return to the field for the second half.

We kicked to the lizardmen, who collected the ball and formed a Cambrian square dance around the ball holder. It was an effective defensive manoeuvre which also resulted in them being unable to move the ball very quickly. Taking advantage of this, Lanlil and Ryanndrir took out a Saurus, injuring him in the process. Quite satisfying!

Unfortunately, breaking that Cambrian square dance was proving far trickier and none of my players could get a hand on the Skink holding the ball. Lanlil, overconfident from his take-down of a saurus, launched himself at a puny skink and was knocked completely unconscious for his troubles and stretchered off the pitch. This gave the lizardmen a chance to make a break for our touch line with only Mortbean and Ryanndrir blocking the way. What with the Skink’s ability to run circles around our defence, the next moment screaming filled the air as it ducked through Mortbean’s legs and scored.

1-1

The lizardmen, sensing victory, kicked the ball deep into our half, requiring Mortbean run backwards to pick it up. Unfortunately, Morty must have picked up some sort of eye injury because he promptly fumbled the ball and stood there wiping his face as the lizardmen tried to move forward against our defensive lines, though they held firm. Once he had actually collected the ball, Morty ran up the field and handed off to Riisee (I should really look into making up nicknames that aren’t so cutesy) who also ran around the lizardmen right against the left sideline. She obviously wasn’t looking where she was going because a Skink came from midfield and chucked her into the roaring crowd, sustaining a major injury in the process. Somehow we managed to retain control of the ball after the lizardmen fumbled a pass and Morty once again sprinted with the ball across the pitch to hand it off to Enddar who wasn’t far from the lizardmen touchline… just in time for the final whistle to blow. Nuts!!

I took this opportunity to purchase another cheerleader and also an apothecary for any future matches as I thought he might come in useful at some point…

15 September 2010

Blood Bowl Game Diary #1

Match 1 VS The Bramble Blockers

As my team lined up on the pitch a sudden tremor hit me…. I barely knew how to play the game. I mean, I really barely knew how to play the game. I’d done the tutorials but they often felt like they covered up information or didn’t make the mechanics clear enough to me during die rolls. However, strong-willed as I am I set my face in stone and watched the match begin in grim determination.


They kicked to us and as the ball landed the centre of our field pushed theirs back while the runner, Mortbean, picked up the ball and ran straight across the field to an opening our team were leveraging wide on the right side of the pitch. Having run out of steam, Mortbean attempted to pass the ball off to another player and promptly dropped the ball on the floor. I realised now, that throwers are named so for a reason!

Taking advantage of the situation, several wood elves streamed through the defensive lines and picked up the ball. My players tried to organise a defence but it came to nothing as, time and again, they were knocked to the floor trying to get to the ball holder, a wardancer named Balldeorn (I think the translation of this is ball hog). My team appeared to rally briefly as they knocked down several Bramblers until my idiotic witch elf, Camfindys, pushed Balldeorn ‘back’… by which I mean forward toward our touchline. She tried to salvage the situation but the wardancer just, well, danced around the witch elf and scored.

0-1

After the kick, Camfindys, who obviously felt some portion of guilt (a weak emotion if ever there was one!) charged into the fray. This would have been a noble endeavour if not for her managing to get herself injured and stretchered off the pitch. Somehow though, despite the sight of one of our stronger players being removed from play, the rest of the team pulled up their panties and made a run up the pitch, with Mortbean, holding the ball, steaming ahead of the pack…. Only to run out of steam and fall over, spilling the ball. This unfortunate event allowed a wood elf to pick up the ball and pass it off to their thrower and, as my defence organised themselves, the thrower threw the ball through a humongous gap in my central defence to their receiver who scored an immediate touchdown.

0-2

I slapped my hand on my forehead – something that one of my coaches later suggested that we patent, though I dismissed him saying that it was unlikely to catch on – and cursed the benevolent gods of the flammable wood tribes, Deh and Ooh. This was going to be a long match.

My team were quickly losing cohesion. After the kick off, Argthar and a couple of others hit their central formation hard in a fit of anger. They knocked one guy down and, right in front of the ref, proceeded to kick the everliving sh*t out of him.

Red card.

Stupid m*therf*ck*ng Argthar!! What the hell was he thinking? Worse still, the player on the floor didn’t even appear to be hurt and the wood elves pushed through our lines to attack Mortbean who had idly picked up the ball during the fracas. I and the rest of our measly supporters (who, granted were mostly here to watch the cheerleader) shouted at him to move as Ball Talu (translation: Ball Breaker), a wood elf lineman, hurtled towards him. Semi-luckily, Morty tossed the ball forward in panic before being flattened and it landed next to one of my players who watched it as one of the wood elves nimbly sprinted by and plucked it off the ground. Damnit!

I looked at the clock and realised that they might not even have enough time to effect a touchdown before half time and I frantically waved my arms around in what I thought was a motion that would induce our team to do something. Luckily, they did and a couple of running wood elves were tripped as they tried to get past our defence. Half time came none-too soon!

After a break, during which I swore and swore until I had no words left, Mortbean kicked the ball into their half and I watched as they formed an Aladrian circle (which is actually more of a square) around their thrower who had picked up the ball. Their catcher and a lineman ran forward and thankfully my team moved to surround them as the thrower cast the ball into the air. We all watched as it sailed towards the catcher only to be intercepted by our brave Rynnear who hit the ground running with everyone who was in our half directly behind him. I should have known not to get too excited about this turn of events as, just past the half-way line, he was knocked down by the angry catcher who then tossed the ball back into my half – though no one was there to receive it.
“Another bit of good luck”, I said to myself as I rubbed my hands. Only, it wasn’t… since Lamael moved from next to the big Ent, er, I mean Treeman towards the ball without first looking for low-hanging branches and was promptly stretchered off the pitch with a nice big red lump on his forehead. Stupid boy!

Balldeorn streamed forward and collected the ball, followed closely by several wood elves playing a defensive formation. There literally was nothing my players could do, though Riisilneth the witch elf who tried to block the soon-to-be scorer from making the touchline.

0-3

What a mess! There wasn’t much time left on the clock now so I called to my team to run an all out attack to try and score at least one retaliatory touchdown. Unforunately, my shouting obviously distracted the players because the damned wood elves breezed past our team as the ball they had just kicked flew through the air into our half.

Sensing disaster, Malion threw himself at one of the charging wood elves, only to knock both himself and the runner down. The rest of the wood elves collected the ball and scored without any of our other players even moving from the starting position.

0-4

I wasn’t sure if managers could be fired before they’d even played one game but I felt as though it might be happening to me in the dying moments of this abortion of a game.

In an odd bit of luck, or perhaps pity (the vile scum!), the wood elves dropped the ball short into their own half, allowing my team to select who received the ball; I gave it to Riisilneth so she could charge down the pitch and score. The wood elves decided that their good natured pitiful action was over and quickly knocked down the rest of my team as they surrounded Riisilneth, who jumped past them, only to be knocked down once she got into their half.

Game over.

I was beginning to regret the decision to enter into this tournament. My distant relative died for nothing…

Podcast! The Easy Button Episode 11

Amazingly, there's a new podcast up and edited! Crazy stuff!

We talk a lot about Bioshock: Infinite, Dragon Age 2, Drakensang, Hearts of Iron 3, Minecraft, Oblivion and more!

The Easy Button Episode 11

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Blood Bowl Game Diary

It was the night before Christmas, when all through the… wait a minute, it’s not December and we don’t celebrate Christmas in the world of Warhammer!!

Not to fret, instead I thought we’d celebrate through a good game of Blood Bowl (or two)! So I figured I’d set up a league and see about doing one of these autobiographical/fictional playthrough diary thingies.

Let’s set the record straight right here at the very start: I’ve never played Blood Bowl before. In fact, my only experience playing any of the Games Workshop games has been a little of the 40K universe, Necromunda and Warhammer Quest. These games are not really at all similar to something like Blood Bowl … well, apart from all the blood! In fact, I’m not really even very good at any of those games (nor, as you’ll see, at Blood Bowl itself).
On the other side of the equation I’ve played games like Championship Manager and in various Fantasy football leagues… never finishing in the top few places in any of them.

To put it short: I’m a newbie, a fool and an idiot for thinking I would be able to manage a team in a sport that I know nothing about. But that’s never stopped me before. So, just to make it so that you’ll have something to read I set the game up so that it was in classic rules mode and also on Easy (I’ll be playing against the AI).

**And so it starts!**

Liistgar Anstronmel (that’s me) is calling on his fellow evilies *ahem* …er, I mean vile and underhanded Dark Elf brethren to show these other pitiful races what-for! I’ve come into a bit of an inheritance after one of my distant relatives fell on a sword he borrowed from me…. (right after I gave it to him) and I’ve booked a place in one of the lower Blood Bowl leagues. Our team shalt be named: Valkyrie Warriors!

I started by looking over the types of players and seeing what their strengths and weaknesses were…. And immediately bought 4 Blitzers, 2 Witch Elves, 4 Linemen and a Runner. Let’s see who we’ve got!

Riisilneth – Witch Elf
Camfindys - Witch Elf

Argthar – Blitzer
Lanlil – Blitzer
Enddar – Blitzer
Rianndrir – Blitzer

Lamael – Lineman
Rynnear – Lineman
Malion – Lineman
Banfil – Lineman

Mortbean – Runner

I had a little spare cash after that spending spree to get one cheerleader to increase my chances of getting luckier random events that can happen upon kicking off. It basically appears to be a luck modifier to my untrained eyes…. Something that every team desparately needs in Blood Bowl.

More to come soon! I should be posting one up every couple of days.

10 September 2010

Thoughts on Kong 2005... late though they may be...

So, while i'm busy with other stuff. I thought i'd talk about King Kong (2005).


It's simultaneously a great-but-..... amazing take on humanity in desparation, greed... racism and passion. Episode 11 is coming soon - i promise!! But i'm watching the film. It started off, passionately enough. The 1920s or 30s era of America was depicted fantastically! The desperation of the characters is shown and expanded upon. Then, however, the film has a weak point where it depicts tribal africanism and becomes, IMO, quite racist in its depiction - not because those particular characters are black but because they are depicted in the most unthinking savagery that it becomes degrading in its spectacle.

Of course, there are many fictions within this period of the film that also do not work; such as the carrying of the sacrifice (Anne) during transit on all fours. (I think that she would have been crushed at this point as no load-bearing stress on a fist would not crush the person within the fist).

Then, further on, the fight between the ape and t-rexes....... the anthropomorphism between the 'lizards' (aka Tyranosaurus rex'es) makes no sense. Why would a being dedicate itself to the eradication of some entity it had just barely been made aware of, no less 3 or more T-rexes all coming to the same conclusion at the same time.

Clearly, if i were a T-rex, standing 3 stories tall, i would concentrate my efforts on a prey that was able to satisfy my appetite for more than a few seconds (aka the female sacrifice) otherwise i would ignore it. That is standard evolutionary procedure...


The worst thing of all is that the writer (as in the actor) is a metaphor for the courage of the writers...... which is possibly the most impotent and offensive part of the whole narrative.

Then, of course, the inverse existence of any participants that show adversity in the face of existence.... draws parallels between white and blonde idealism......... To a point. Mainly since Jack Black is dark haired. It is, to be fair, a strange realm, to be sure...

19 August 2010

Podcast! The Easy Button Episode 10

Surprise! Episode 10 of The Easy Button: Double digits edition! This episode i find that i am incapable of talking. We chat about the games we've been playing - mainly Alien Swarm, Oblivion, Hearts of Iron and Echelon Book 1.

Enjoy!

The Easy Button Episode 10

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17 August 2010

Minecraft!

Games like Minecraft are why I love PC games. It is also an example of why, when people talk about PC games dying off, I shrug my shoulders and go play another PC game.

Minecraft is about as open-world a game as you can imagine. You start off by spawning into a 3-D world made of blocks of stuff. This stuff can be anything from water, dirt, gravel, and sand to coal, iron ore, diamonds, or gold. You have to build everything, the game gives you nothing at the start. But by mining different blocks of stuff and combining them in your inventory (actually, a crafting table in your inventory) in different ways, you can combine different sorts of stuff into tools or better items.

For example, you can take sand and coal, put them into a smelter (which you build using a different recipe) and create glass blocks. These glass blocks make great windows for your tower (or pyramid or house or - well, you get the idea).

The beauty of the game is that only your imagination is the limit. Well, and a few laws of physics. Gravity works, for example; you will fall to your death more than a few times. Also, at night monsters spawn (zombies and spiders and I am sure a few other nasties) and will try and kill you, so you will need some shelter in order to live through the night. Of course, you can make weapons to defend yourself but only after you find the appropriate raw materials.

My comments on this game would not complete without acknowledging the old-school, 8-bit graphics. While I like the simplicity of the presentation, others may not like the retro look of the game. Their loss. This game actually looks fantastic - some of the views are awe-inspiring.

Build roads. Explore dark caverns. Create towers. Plant trees. Do a million other things. Just get it and play it.

Free older version is available here. For-pay (9.95 Euros during the Alpha) version available here. The free version is browser-based, the for-pay version can be run in a browser or as a standalone application. Since it is written in Java, it should run on almost any computer.

Oh yeah, one other thing: it supports multi-player. There is a server version available. I have not tried it yet, but I hear that it is pretty cool sharing the world with other people (as long as they aren't assholes :) )

Support an indie developer and buy this. You will not be sorry, except for all the sleep you will lose. I will leave you with a video - enjoy!

7 August 2010

75% Off.... for your soul.

Seriously, it's a trite title but i'm pissed. So Machinarium, a cool-looking point and click game that i never wanted to get at full price is now $5 or £3.25ish (from memory) because of pirates (apparently) whereby the creator decided to lower the price down as an amnesty for un-bought copies. Of course, it's just a bit of clever marketing since anyone can buy it for that price.

So i was going to buy it.

"WAS."

Why is that word in the past tense, Duo? Well, my friend it's because of the stupid way in which you need to buy it. You can go to the site, click on download the game - click on purchase the game and then the real issue comes to the fore. You have two options for payment: credit card and paypal. Regardless of whether you want to do either one you are required to enter your:


  • First and last name
  • Your email address
  • country
  • full address including postcode (ostensibly as your mailing address)

So, not wanting to give out these precious details with no restrictions or legal wrap around them, i clicked on paypal which does not require any of these things to work. Funny thing is that you STILL can't proceed with the order. It's ridiculous. The whole point of paypal is that you only give out your email address and the funds are transferred from your bank account. This just smacks of fishing for information to resell onto other companies.

Worse still is the whole "mailing address" thing because, quite clearly, on the page before it states:

You will get download links for 3 versions of the game (Windows, Mac, 32bit Linux) and the soundtrack (in MP3 format). Please note that you are not ordering CD version of the game! Also you need at least 1024x768 screen resolution!

So it makes even less sense.

Amantia design - i'm willing to buy your game, just make it so i can do so without giving away my first born.

4 August 2010

Is the gaming industry about to die?

Controversial title aside, there is some evidence that this may be the case!!

It's come to my attention that yet another beloved PC non-FPS franchise is likely to be FPSed (Definition: first person shootered; see neutered): Syndicate. Not bad enough that X-com is also going this route but I soon expect to see the announcements of FPS 'revivals' of Wing Commander, Koronis' Rift, Baldur's Gate and Theme Park.

"So why the doom and gloom?", you ask.

"Renegade...", I sourly reply. "See, also, Enforcer."

Yes, that's right! Two FPS games in a long line of non-FPS games (that's RTS and TBS respectively). The birth of Renegade marked the end of Westwood Studios and the downward spiral of the Command and Conquer series. Similarly, Enforcer was the death knell for the X-COM brand.

Extrapolating these events draws me to the shocking conclusion (and also the title of this post)..... is the gaming industry about to die?

27 July 2010

VAC a palarva!

So, there was this whole malarky with Valve and mass bannings via VAC, the automated cheat detection software, of supposed Modern Warfare 2 cheaters. They all complained and they got beat on by the community because 'Valve is never wrong'..... then today, Valve admitted that the bans had been handed out in error, apologised, restored the banned accounts, gifted away a free game and it seems everyone has moved on. All hail our Valve overlords, those gracious, beneficent godsons!

Or not quite... at least for me. I've been long-term unhappy with the way that Valve's support system works. They appear to be understaffed, resulting in long wait times for simple queries or issues which are also often written in the form of copy/pasted FAQ standardised responses.... Hey, Valve, if the answer was in the FAQ then don't you think i would have looked there first as when you go to submit a ticket it tells you about 10 times about the FAQ...?

Then there's the whole golden egg in which VAC bans are definitive, 100% correct and are unable to be queried, petitioned or appealed. The logic behind this is that VAC is never wrong. Only that, as seen this week (and in previous instances), it can be.... Since right-minded people know that software is never 100% all the time and that humans themselves can also make mistakes and you end up with a system which is almost, in effect, the gaming death penalty for your Steam account.

I say almost because VAC bans result in the loss of the online portion of your game and all other games utilising the same engine under your account for VAC-enabled servers.... What you will also find is that the account itself it labelled as being VAC banned which can and will result in third parties banning you from their servers if they look at your profile. It's also the case that the ban is permanent. I feel that, for such an infraction (and while i never cheat myself and hate cheaters with a passion) banning more than just the game that you were caught banning on is wildly unfair though many with a scorched-earth, shoot now, ask questions later mentality see these issues as collateral damage in a war in which it is acceptable to have that collateral damage. (These are words from discussions i've had with people in various places like RockPapgerShotgun!)

****

What gets me the most riled up about this instance is that before, the unquestioning Valve-lovers stated emphatically that VAC was never wrong and if you complained in the forums for being banned these people demonised you, basically spitting on your virtual body with Valve's moderators (and at other places too) doing nothing to stop this.... there's no question of innocence because VAC and Valve are never wrong.

So now we have an instance where Valve has widely and publically stated that the system had picked up a false positive due to "a combination of conditions" (though there have been other times in the past whereby innocent use of mods has resulted in a ban). What this results in is not questioning of the system as it stands but instead people who rally to Valve's banner will now confidently state that if you're banned you're either a cheat OR Valve will rescind the ban and apologise for it. There's no admission that Valve simply will not catch all times that their software and their personnel fail (which will happen) and it means that they can just continue steamrolling away without any real thought towards the consequences to any innocent person crushed by a ban - both through financial/game and also social means.

****

The support/deterrent sytem needs improving and there are several things i'd have in mind to improve it:

1. Make bans an escalation offense. There's a reason why the death penalty (or any other piece of legislation that effectively destroys that aspect of a person's life) is not approved by the majority of people. Most systems have a graduated response.... after all, you don't lose your car and your driving licence because you went 2MPH over the speed limit once.
E.g.
  1. First instance of cheating - warn the user that they have been caught cheating via a PM or email and then ban them from online activities across the whole of steam for a week or two. - This gives them time to appeal and also sort out any problems with their account. i.e. if they've been hacked or whatever (imagine if Blizzard or your Bank closed your account every time there was suspicious activity going on in it with no way to appeal or try and sort it out!)
  2. You then get a probationary period after this of, say, 8 weeks in which time, if you are caught cheating again you go straight to number 5 on this list.
  3. Second instance of cheating you get a 6-12 month online ban in the game you cheated in and get a temporary label on your account detailing which game you cheated in.
  4. Once they have served this sentence they get the label removed and are on probation for 6 months. If they break their probation they go onto numer 7.
  5. Third instance of cheating you get a 12-24 month ban in both the singleplayer and online portion of that game and the label is again added to the account.
  6. Probationary period after this is again 6 months.
  7. Fourth instance, you get a permanent ban in the game you were cheating in - both online and offline and people will be able to see that you are banned from the game in your steam account - though there won't be a label on the account next to the name.

So, say, if you are banned initially you would get a ban of two weeks. If your appeal fails you will be playing with extra scrutiny on you in the eight weeks following that. If you don't cheat in that period then you go back to being 'threat level 1' though if you are banned a second time you will be banned for 6-12 months. If you are caught within that first probationary period then you could be banned for 12-24 months. etc. etc.

The bans would also not be stacked across different games. So if you were banned in Half Life 2 then your copy of TF2 or L4D would not be affected. Plus, there would be a time-out clause in the system as well whereby, if you were banned once... if you weren't caught at all again on any game within another 12 months then you would only receive a two week ban if you were banned a second time after that 12 month period.

It's not perfect but it stops people from being unduly punished in the case they are innocent... It also helps people who were tempted to cheat to mend their ways. You could even cut out the appeals process and i'd be happy with this system... but having no appeals and no graduated response is just a double whammy that is bound to impact many legitimate players.

23 July 2010

A new idea for Quick Time Events...

After reading one more time about how people hate quick time events I had an idea of how to remove one of the obstacles whilst still keeping them (since developers seem keen to tie them to cutscenes wrapped around gameplay).

Essentially, one of the complaints levelled at QTEs in Shamus' article/comic is that your attention is diverted away from the action. This is an entirely fair critique and is one of the reasons why i do not like QTEs. The idea i had was to separate QTEs from the cutscene. i.e. The gameplay would pause as if you were queuing up actions (which i seem to remember from a game i once played a long time ago - though which one it was escapes me at this moment) and the prompts would come up.

There's two ways you can do this and one is already sort of implemented in some games where they slow down the gameplay and blur the screen while you try and hit the button. The downside with this mechanism is that the player might have to go through the component parts of the cutscene and then fail again.

The second way, and the one i would prefer, is to have all the prompts come up on the screen before the action starts. Then if you pass or fail you get to see the whole sequence in one go - allowing the player to enjoy the action as if it were just a cutscene.

Of course, all of this is just an end-run around the problem: I'd prefer to just have a cutscene or actual controllable gameplay. Also remember, developers, don't put things in the cutscenes that you cannot do in the game!!

15 July 2010

Podcast! The Easy Button Episode 9

We're live(ish) again and forging ahead with the podcast-making. It's sort of like baby-making... but with less thrusting and more feinting. This week we talk about the games we've been playing... possible futures for the Team Fortress franchise along with a unintended divergence into privacy and other such things!

The Easy Button Episode 9

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If you want to contact us please feel free to email us with comments, shout-outs, suggestions or questions at: the.easiestbutton AT gmail.com

13 July 2010

Privacy...

Just a quick note/thought here.... We talked a little about privacy on our upcoming podcast but i thought that this article on Ars Technica was interesting since it highlighted one aspect of industry-led governance that i find troubling.

The ESRB has a "Privacy Certified" badge (which i had no idea existed) but what this badge is and what it represents is a little more nebulous than it sounds:

"The role of the ESRB Privacy Online program is to make sure that member websites—those that display our seal on their pages—are compliant with an increasingly complex series of privacy protection laws and are offering a secure space for users to interact and do business online"
"This includes addressing issues like what types of personal information can be collected, how companies must handle that information with respect to individuals' right to privacy, and ensuring that people are informed of exactly where and how their information will be used."

This is all good... though i'm not always satisfied that this complex information is easily and clearly provided to users. Those massive T&C for websites are usually no better than the EULAs of games.... lots of legal talk that makes little real-world sense.

"But online privacy protection doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as anonymity. It's about making sure that websites collecting personal information from users are doing so not only in accordance with federal regulations but also with best practices for protecting individuals' personal information online"

This is where i have a problem. "Best practices" is essentially a cop-out phrase that means "there's no industry standard, we just took an average of what everone's doing and then said that was okay". If no company is performing well then the standard they are held to is lower... if one or two companies are holding themselves to a higher standard it does not affect the average overall if the larger percentage of companies are more lax. The ESRB, PEGI and other industry bodies need to sort out a base-standard of privacy along with an easily understandable bit of text that explicitly outlines what is collected and what is done with that information. It also needs to be higher than legal requirements as they are often the very lowest rung of responsibility.

My problem with the whole Blizzard forum thing is that it is the primary means for tech support since, from what i've heard, the phone support is completely overwhelmed by demand. The article says that the ESRB worked with Blizzard to make the whole thing opt-in and 18+ only.... however, that doesn't seem to be the case since you could not opt to use the forums without using your/a real name.

[EDIT]

And this is why we need higher standards. The ESRB, in a response to the privacy complaints from all the people who wrote to them about the debacle over at Blizzard's forums, sent out an email containing each and every person's email address. Granted, it's probably minimised a little through the fact that these people were all concerned about privacy and are so unlikely to take advantage of other people's disadvantage.... but it's certainly a bloody nose considering all the talk of privacy within the email itself!

"ESRB, through its Privacy Online program, helps companies develop practices to safeguard users' personal information online while still providing a safe and enjoyable video game experience for all."

Hehehe...

7 July 2010

Why Videogames Are Not Art

or, How Mass Effect 2 Ruined the Mood

I was finally finishing Mass Effect 2 (caution, thar be slight spoilers here!). I'd done all the loyalty missions. I'd upgraded my ship, flew through the relay thingy, fought a bunch of weird bio-mechanical dudes. I killed the last big baddie. I'd saved my crew. Hell, I'd saved the entire damn galaxy - humans, Turians, Solarians, Quarians, Geth, Asari, even those funny little guys with the breathing problem that kept calling me "Earth-clan". It was all very dramatic - intense, and fulfilling, and (more to the point of this post) cinematic.
As the last big foozle explodes, stuff starts falling all around. Again, a very tense, tightly directed sequence that is the payoff for thirty-ish hours I invested in the game. As my party and I are running for our ship, a slab of something from the baddie's ship falls on Shepard and knocks him down. Shepard gets up....

...and his backpack clips right through the huge slab of alien masonry.

Oh, videogames! How much money was spent on that final sequence? How many man-hours and blood and sweat and tears by extremely talented people? How much of myself was invested in that final scene? (Too damn much, for this to make me react the way that I am) And, sure enough, videogames show that, once again, they are videogames.


Provocative title aside, what is my point? My point is really that video games have a long long long way to go before they can be considered as being able to deliver complete emotional experiences. Videogames as a medium are at the point where, for a small sliver of time, they can be provocative, terror-inducing, funny, tender, capable of inducing a panoply of emotions. The problem is that this is only for a tiny sliver of time; then, it's back to the grindy, videogamey foundation. It's not that videogames are not capable of creating an emotional response, it is that they cannot sustain it for any length of time.

Think of a game, any game, where you've had an emotional response. Think about how long you were actually responding. Then think about something that happened shortly thereafter that "took you out of the moment". I could have been a technical glitch or an achievement pop-up (dammit, don't show those when they would be off-putting in the game to show!). It could have been some ham-fisted story-telling, incongruous dialog or action by an NPC. It could have been something else. But I am pretty certain that something happened that killed the emotion you were feeling. You may have gone on and had fun with the rest of the game, but something important died then. Something important about our shared hobby and us as people.

"It's just a game!" I hear you saying, oh hypothetical reader. "Who cares?" And you have a valid point. It is just a game, something we do for fun and entertainment. But we also watch film and read books and listen to music for the same purpose. We would not tolerate something like this in those media; it would be decried as being "bad". Poor dialog, for instance, in a book or film makes for a bad book or film, not a great one.

Why should we give videogames a free pass on this? Mass effect 2 was a really well written, well directed game; I don't think anyone would hold it up as being "bad". On the contrary, one could successfully argue that Mass Effect 2 much much closer to the pinnacle of videogames story-telling and "cinematic" experiences than the nadir. So we are not talking about a "bad" game here by any means. Which I think proves the point about why videogames are so far from being able to carry an emotional response for any length of time - if a really good game works less well in this regard than a poor piece of music or a novel, that's a problem with videogames as a medium. The fact that it works well sometimes, for small instances of time, just makes the "videogaminess" of it all stand out in contrast that much more.


What gamers accept as being "just a game" would not be tolerated in the worst Uwe Boll claptrap. Games have the ability and the promise to be so much more than they are, but we settle for so much less. And that's sad.

5 July 2010

NGJ: Wishing for the moon but finding that you've already been there...

NGJ (Or New Games' Journalism as it is sometimes known) has been doing the rounds for a number of years now. Popularised by some minor British journalist*, and taken up by a number of outlets and other 'journos' (as we in the industry call them*), it received and receives a fair amount of coverage. Honestly, i'm not sure i get what all the fuss is about.

Reading through the examples given i'm struck with an overwhelming sense of dej√° vu. What is probably rightfully described as a new wave of gaming journalism (because, lets face it, what we had before was primarily a review-based format) this is not new in the wider scheme of things.

We're talking about an article - plain and simple.

Yes i know the term 'article' in common usage covers every type of written piece in a publication but when i think of article i think of what NGJ is.... and it's been around for quite a while; from travel writing and cookery books to men's and music magazines, alternative styles of writing - somewhere in between an opinion piece and a history lesson - has enjoyed a long history of minor success and while it's important that the gaming industry also has this aspect to its journalism the type of pompous self-importance that names an existing style of writing needs to be carefully managed.

Of course, perhaps i'm purposely misinterpreting the reason that this whole thing was started - as a means of trying to instigate change in a stagnant industry. In that respect, perhaps it's succeeded or perhaps it's just the inevitable creep of this style from other areas of publication.... the question is: How would we ever know?

It's unfortunate that New Games' Journalism isn't new at all, it's just that gaming is still catching up....



* This is completely tongue in cheek

30 June 2010

Kinect and it's specs!

Seems it's a busy day, news-wise!

Seems Eurogamer has the scoop on Kinect. I was quite skeptical of Kinect and it's abilities on our last podcast and it seems my fears might not be that far off the mark. The technology for the kinect is generally scaled down from its prototype (take that Bioshock 2 haters!):

Maybe Tboon can enlighten us a bit better on the field of view specs (which i've posted below).... that's a little over my head, but the resolution is half of what we thought with at a distance of up to 3.5m. My simple calculations for a distance of 2.35m (middle distance for the depth sensor) put it at approximately 3.24 DPI. Considering they're supposedly only tracking whole body parts as opposed to individual pieces (such as the fingers) as the tech was originally designed to be able to do, then it's unlikely to be much of a problem for gesture control..... that poor depth 'perception' might limit what developers can and can't do on the system though: Gestures won't be able to be too slight otherwise they will not register - especially if the camera is unable to properly detect the depth. This likely means the movement of an arm that is in the plane of the body will be easier to detect than if it is pointing towards the camera.

More worryingly is the potential only two player limit. I don't quite understand why the system can track six people but with only two participants.... i'm not understanding the difference there. This could limit the appeal of the system as opposed to the Wii and Move but then, to be honest, how many games allow more than two people to play a game when on the screen at the same time anyway? From my understanding this is rare even for Wii games.

One interesting tidbit is that the motorised portion of the device is only for effectively setting up the monitoring area of the cameras so that it'll work on multiple surfaces/height levels and in different environments. It won't be used to follow users around if they move towards the edges of the monitoring area - which is what we saw from demos at E3.

Overall these differences in spec from prototype to final product might not make much difference in user experience as Eurogamer reports that, having tried both pieces of tech, they state that "the overall experience is fairly close". Playing devil's advocate - it makes me wonder if the overall experience is being held back...

Sensor

Colour and depth-sensing lenses
Voice microphone array
Tilt motor for sensor adjustment

Field of View

Horizontal field of view: 57 degrees
Vertical field of view: 43 degrees
Physical tilt range: ± 27 degrees
Depth sensor range: 1.2m - 3.5m

Data Streams

320x240 16-bit depth at 30FPS
640x480 32-bit colour at 30FPS
16-bit audio @ 16 kHz

Skeletal Tracking System

Tracks up to 6 people, including 2 active players
Tracks 20 joints per active player
Ability to map active players to Xbox LIVE Avatars

Audio System

Xbox LIVE party chat and in-game voice chat (requires Xbox LIVE Gold Membership)
Echo cancellation system enhances voice input
Speech recognition in multiple languages