26 March 2008

Developers, take note!

Two things i hate about install procedures:

1) Install programmes not checking the available volume for installation on the disk (as the GB amount required on the back of the box is not always actually required) and then having to pull out of the install after 10 minutes of extracting. Annoying. (CM:Dirt, i'm looking at you as i've literally just now had to delete some crap off my disk for an extra couple hundred MBs)

2) Multiple CDs/DVDs having a play disc which is not the last disc inserted. What is up with that? Why make me install the game via a couple of discs and not leave the play files on the last disc, making me change it out one last time when i try and run the game.

Now, make these better!

22 March 2008

Piracy on consoles...

It seems the original post was eaten so i'll just write an approximation here. :)

Basically, the premise of the post was that the PC is always decried for its ease of piracy and levels of pirating ongoing. However, my experience in real life is the opposite for games (while ringing true for people downloading media such as music and movies/TV episodes).

I've known only one hardcore PC gamer in the reality that surrounds me outside of this glowing screen called Internet. He used to download quite a few games - but would also usually buy the AAA games. Now, considering that most of the people i know who play games (literally 4-5 of them) only play on consoles and i was surprised to find that there were many of them who were consciously pirating lots of games.

The 360 has been hacked a few times and those 4 people i know who have the console all have it hacked and all download games and burn them to DVD. They are also able to play online due to the ability to switch between 'pirate mode' and non-pirate mode. Of course, their warranty is void and with the 360's failure rate being so high they will undoubtedly have to buy another console and have that one hacked to be able to play the games they bought.

Again, another person i am barely familiar with has a son for whom he bought a Wii and DS. He also recently bought an R4 cartridge and downloaded a ton of games.

I'm quite shocked. No one ever goes on about the piracy percentages on consoles but knowing that the Xbox, Gamecube, PS2 and Dreamcast's security features were easily circumvented along with the fairly easy 360 work-arounds this must also be quite an issue on the console side as well as PC side.
Another thing i'm confused about is rentals and rental services. I'm not sure how much a copy of a game costs for buying to rent (i know that films tend to be hundred of pounds) but the number of people (especially in America where these services are prevalent) who rent games must remove a large percentage of a game's potential revenue.

Now, i don't rent games... nor do i pirate games (though i have played pirated versions of PC games that other people have downloaded) and i would like an R4 - for the homebrew application 'Colors' - but i'd really like to know the theoretical monetary loss that the consoles suffer due to piracy, region-locking and staggered release dates.

18 March 2008

Pricing problems with Steam...

While i'm at least partially for the digital download revolution, three sides really stop me from embracing it completely.
  1. Eroding consumer rights
  2. Rising costs of games
  3. Regional discrepancies

The first i've discussed elsewhere and perhaps i'll discuss in the future... the second is leading to gouging of customers.

The problem is that digital distribution costs are negligible in comparison with having to print discs, manuals (not that all games even have non-electronic manuals anymore!) and produce CD/DVD cases. This means that when a game is released for the same price as in the shops on a digital download service, the amount of revenue generated by that sale is larger in comparison with the physical copy's.
In a perfect world this would mean that prices could be lower for digital downloads however, we live in the real world; planet Earth and there are certain factors such as retail outlets not stocking the boxed copy of a game for fear of losing sales to a cheaper alternative, publishers/developers wanting more money to cover the (sometimes) increased cost of producing a game... to the digital distribution service taking their cut. All well and good.

Except it's not. Any game that i can buy on Steam is cheaper at retail: maybe not always at launch but definitely within a few months.

Digital distribution, due to its cheaper stocking costs, is not affected by market demand. If the market demands something then the price will increase and vice versa. However, publishers/developers will sit on that release price for longer than if the game was at retail.

Let me give some examples from Steam from different publishers: (all compared with the retail PC prices in the UK from GAME - though i'm not sure how the prices are rounded in the transition from currency to currency)

Universe at War: $49.95 - £24.88(11) + ~17.5% = £29.234 Current price at retail: £14.99
Sega Rally: $49.95 - £24.88(11) + ~17.5% = £29.234 Current price at retail: £9.99

Unreal Tournament 3: $44.95 - £22.37(65) + ~17.5% = £26.29 Current price at retail: £19.99

Frontlines: $57.95 - £28.87(89) + ~17.5% = £33.92 Current price at retail: £19.99
DoW Soulstorm: $39.95 - £19.90(29) + ~17.5% = £23.38 Current price at retail: £19.99

2k Games:
Bioshock: $54.95 - £27.35(75) + ~17.5% = £32.14 Current price at retail: £17.99
Jade Empire: $39.95 - £19.90(29) + ~17.5% = £23.38 Current price at retail: £14.99

Call of Duty 4: $69.95 - £34.78(68) + ~17.5% = £40.86 Current price at retail: £29.99

Now i realise that there are certain things that might affect this and they probably don't apply to US retail stores:
  • Retail outlets like GAME take in a substantial amount of money from re-selling used games
  • PC games cannot be brought back (if opened) to be re-sold or part exchanged
It's feasible to think that retail outlets are losing money on the new games sold but that this is compensated by the used game market. However i have some doubts on this theory - mainly that these prices are all online and in store. They are not store-only which would make sense if this was the case. Therefore i cannot reconcile the disparity between US prices, charged UK prices and retail prices of the games. There is no reason for me to buy a new or recently released game on steam... and i only buy old games due to the difficulty in finding versions of them in retail outlets.

16 March 2008

Game review - Timeshift

This weekend i bought and played through Timeshift. My thoughts on the game? It was time well spent!

Timeshift is a game that had a lot of publicity before being released: There was the controversy of the much-hated demo that was released and also then the stories of how the peopel at Sierra (the publisher) asked the lead designer what he thought he would/could do with another year to finish the game rather than a month or so that was left before the original release date.
I'd heard that the new version still wasn't up to standard when it came out so i gave it a wide berth - now i wish i hadn't.

The game is very well put together (i'm playing on PC), i didn't encounter any bugs or crashes and it ran excellently on my mid/high range system: see bottom of post for the specs.
While i chose not to stick every detail on high (such as shadows) the game looked beautiful and i was pleasantly surprised by the semi-destructible environment (which added a nice touch to an already good-looking game).

The HUD and user interface are probably the best i've seen in a game to date. All the functions were spelled out and the information i needed was easy to read during hectic fighting (which was useful :) ). The thing that really impressed me was the options available for playing the game. You had control over the normal attributes such as inverted mouse, key changes etc... but also down to really useful settings such as FOV (field of view) size and crosshair thickness) - something i wish were in all games (without having to access the command console) as i prefer a wider FOV of around 110. These could all be saved to a profile, allowing more than one person to be able to play the game without having to twiddle with all the settings.

Control was the standard fare - WASD + mouse for movement and aiming - but the headlining features of the game are the time control powers: Stop, slow and reverse. Initially i had read in reviews that they were controlled by one button and that the suit 'AI' would select which power was most appropriate. However, a glance through the manual quickly informed me that you have direct control over the powers as well if you so wish (and believe me it makes it easier!). One feature that people could find annoying is that when there's an explosion in the direction you're looking, there is a brief zoom-in on that area of the screen during the explosion and this effectively disorientates and distracts you for a split second.

Gameplay itself isn't too innovative but that doesn't really matter because the time powers, along with the weapon configurations, really helps to make this something special. During the use of the powers, the player is able to move, aim and shoot at normal speed. This allows the player to steal weapons out of enemies' hands or take down 4/5 enemies in the blink of their eyes before ducking back behind cover. Which, i have to point out, is a requried strategy. While you may have limited god-like powers over time and your will health regenerate after a short time of not being damaged, you are quite vulnerable to enemy fire and so ducking and hiding before popping out to snipe at enemies is the easiest way to stay alive.
Luckily, the enemy AI isn't stupid. I'd put it on par with FEAR's enemy AI. Opponents retreat, search for cover and jump over obstacles.

The physics engine is also very well implemented - with many objects in the game world having a relatively realistic weight and interaction. One really nice facet of this is that enemies (and you) appear to be affected by incoming shots and collisions. If you hit an enemy hard enough but don't kill him then he will stagger, sometimes if you get them right they will lose their weapons and quickly scramble for them (or hide behind something) and other times, you can knock an enemy over - meaning that you think they are dead - before they sit up and collect their wits and begin firing back at you from the floor... eventually, if not dealt with, they will get back on their feet. One thing that was missing from this was that i don't think i ever saw a wounded opponent limping around... though considering what has been implemented you can't really complain.

The weapons are a nice variation on tried and tested FPS industry standards. Your pistol, assault machine gun and shotgun are all present in their various forms - though i never used the pistol passed the first level. Every weapon has its usefulness and while not all weapons will suit an individual player's tastes, the player is guarranteed to enjoy using 4-5 of the 9 within the game. The grenades on offer are also interesting and very useful in tactical situations and with the sticky grenade (combined with the recharging shields and health system) it's obvious that the developers have paid attention to the lessons learned from the Halo series.

Finally, the story. While a little confusing (by design) due to the flash-back heavy narrative during the game's progression, the tale told is interesting and links in well to the sci-fi bent on show. I hesitate to say this but i could easily imagine this storyline being shown on the silverscreen in a blockbuster movie with the time travel/alternate dimension elements being better than previous Hollywood offerings such as Time Cop and The One.
The end of the game leaves it open for the continutation of the story and i really hope the developers are able to do so.

All in all, i'd recommend this game to anyone.

P4 3GHz (single core, hyperthreading), 2 GB DDR400 RAM and an ATI 1950 Pro 512 MB.