25 December, 2011

Keepalive: The Holiday Sale

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 25 December, 2011

Steam's having it's usual holiday sale. They've recently added coupons to the service, so they've folded those coupons into the promotion. Unfortunately, the way they've done it is awful. If you perform a holiday task (by completing special holiday Steam achievements), you get an item in your Steam inventory. You might get a game. You might get a lump of coal which acts as an entry in a contest to win games on your wish list. Or you might get a coupon, which is worst of all. The vast majority of coupons are useless during the sale, and worse than that, provide lesser discounts /than the sale/. I can certainly imagine circumstances where the coupons will be better than nothing, but for me, they're worse than nothing because they clutter my inventory with garbage. I couldn't even give them away to other people in the Steam group I hang out with. :(

The contest lets you take seven lumps of coal and turn them into a guaranteed "gift" of a coupon or game. If I could make just one lump of coal from a coupon, I would have a clean inventory and wouldn't see coupons as worthless. OCD whinging aside, I have picked up some games during the sale (though not all from Steam).

Dark Void

I would have put up a picture, but Dark Void tends to crash my computer so badly that the screen goes away and I have to restart via memorized hot keys. Saints Row 3, Bulletstorm, and Dark Void fail spectacularly while Rage, Singularity, Killing Floor, Orcs Must Die, Psychonauts, Magicka, and everything else I've been playing work fine. I have no idea what's going on.

Anyway, Dark Void is only $3 during the sale, and when it works has pretty lousy mouse and keyboard controls, but for $3, I had fun. The best part is definitely the flying. The way you can never quite control your direction on blast off and the way your limbs dangle around in the wind give me the sense that my character is being hurled through the sky by his crazy little rocket pack. But with the controls as bad as they are I'm grateful the designers didn't put any stunt flying challenges in the game. This is pretty much the only game where I actually used my gaming mouse's ability to adjust sensitivity on the fly, cranking sensitivity up so I could actually turn my jetpack without dragging the mouse across the pad four times, then cranking sensitivity back down so I could aim at something without doing a 180 in the on foot segments.

Payday: The Heist

Since the game was patched and my Steam compatriots have taken it up again, I tried some Payday multiplayer. It's better than playing with bots simply because you don't have to do all the objectives yourself, but it's still a pretty bad game, with cops magically shooting you through hostages you get penalized for shooting and solid objects. Supposedly the patch reduced the number of cops and made them hit harder, but when we saw over a dozen of them spawn in front of us on a section of Heat Street with very little cover, I knew that mission was effectively over. And we also lost a couple maps to one hit kill Cloaker enemies coming around a blind corner. It's not a good game.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Amazon was (and still is as of this writing) selling the downloadable version of Human Revolution for $10. You can then get the key from your download inventory and add the game to your Steam account. You also get a $5 credit for any future Amazon downloads, so it's a really nice deal.

So far, it feels like the Deus Ex I remember, which is kind of good and kind of disappointing because it's over a decade later and the gamier elements seem more ridiculous as the production values go up. I'll say more when I'm done with the game.


Prototype is an open world super power game. When it came out, it was frequently compared to Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which was made by the same developer (Radical). The feeling was that Prototype wasn't quite as good, but hopefully the sequel would be better. Activision fired half of Radical after Prototype came out, so I don't know about that, but I do know that so far a lesser Ultimate Destruction is still better than most of what I've been playing lately. Plus all the different combat modes I can switch to have put me in hot key heaven trying to master all this power, a tiny bit like Magicka.

Also, I'm finding myself having all these weird memories of virtual New York. I've been here so many times. Grand Theft Auto IV was the most recent trip, and at a similar level of graphical fidelity, so that's the game I most often remember. Those were the projects where Dwayne lived. Here's a section of walled street that stuck out in my mind so I start looking for the nearby bowling alley that Niko had to go to so many times.

Some of the buildings in Central Park immediately take me back to Alone In The Dark. Pretty much every structure in the park had to be investigated and cleansed in the eternal night of that game's midsection. I had to use a rope to climb around the burning part of that silly castle in the middle of the park. I think that castle was also the entrance to Alone In The Dark's underworld.

And even though it was much lower fidelity, I also get flashes of Spider-Man 2 once in a while. I'll remember swinging down a particular street, or think I know which building Doctor Octopus' penthouse lab was in.

I may never go to New York, but I feel like I've been there a lot.

And I know there are a lot of cabs in New York, but this is ridiculous!

17 December, 2011

Keepalive: Various And Sundry

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 16 December, 2011

Public Service Message

I probably should have mentioned these earlier, but the fourth Humble Indie Bundle is available for the next ten days. I've usually owned the games I cared about in the bundles already, but they're a good, cheap way to try a lot of indie stuff.

Pay what you want, and if you pay above the average (which was $5.33 when I wrote this) you get a couple extra games. This particular bundle also includes soundtracks to all the games. Also you can decide how much of your money goes to the game developers, bundle organizers, and / or charity.

There are other bundles trying to cash in on the success of the HIB, but they tend to include inferior games. Buyer beware. Public service message over.

Orcs Must Die

I want to like Orcs Must Die. It's got personality and looks. But it never gels. When I succeed, it's often boring. When I fail, it's usually because I made a bad decision picking abilities at the very start of the round, and that's the worst kind of trail and error gameplay. And the progression of the maps, abilities, and difficulty never seems purposeful. Nothing builds on anything else.


That's Limbo. It's got good art. The gameplay is pretty much designed to have you die in different ways as you learn what you're supposed to do to progress. The dying is often more fun than succeeding, and there's not enough variety, but it's okay.


NightSky is a physics based platformer. I do not like every other physics based platformer I have ever played. I would never have played NightSky either, but it came with the HIB.

NightSky is simple and varied and joyful and mostly easy. I recommend it for everybody and everybody's kids. :) Actually, that's not entirely true. People who enjoy soul crushingly difficult physics games like Trials 2 might not get much out of NightSky.

And for no reason, here's how silly it can look when you pull an enemy into barbed wire in Bulletstorm.

11 December, 2011


written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 11 December, 2011

Saints Row 2

After the disappointment that was Saints Row 3's story, I decided to go back through Saints Row 2.

Here's the character I made. He's a cheerful, portly fellow. But he takes no guff.

He does look a bit out of place leading the Saints.

But thanks to the Gentlemen of the Row mod, I was able to give him a gang of his peers as backup.

Killing Floor

Killing Floor held another holiday event. For a few weeks you can fight elves, reindeer, and gingerbread men instead of the usual zombies. I'm not sure which is creepier.

I also heard that the current nVidia drivers (the 280 series as of this writing) were lousy, so I went back to version 275.33. Bulletstorm works now. Oh PC gaming. :(

I also dumped some time into Terraria because they had a huge content patch. The new content was mostly cool, but the new ore types took too long to find, the new bosses were too difficult, and controlling the outbreaks of "corruption" and "hallow" never seemed practical or worthwhile.

02 December, 2011

Everybody Loves Pirates

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 2 December, 2011

CD Projekt Red recently talked with PC Gamer about piracy. I normally tune out piracy talk, but CDPR is the only triple A developer not using DRM, so I thought their CEO, Marcin Iwinski, might have an interesting perspective. He really didn't. He walked through a very rough calculation of how many people pirated the game and talked about how educating consumers and offering extras like soundtracks, making-of videos, and books are the only way you can compete with pirates.

You can imagine how disappointed I was when Joystiq and GamesIndustry.biz chose to run his off the cuff piracy figure as their main headline.

Then GamesIndustry.biz ran an editorial on the subject. It was very strange to see an editorial criticizing "the media [for] breathlessly reporting the results of his paper napkin calculations as cold, hard fact", when that site was one of the offenders. Plus the editorial ignored how CD Projekt had beaten the pirates, which seems like what its audience would want. But the editorial was trying to point towards getting better numbers so that we can finally have a proper discussion instead of mindless hand waving.

(You can skip this bit.)

Then the comments were a bunch of mindless hand waving. (Aren't they always?) GamesIndustry is a British business site. Consumers aren't, to my knowledge, even allowed to comment. And the amount of ignorance coming from industry people, especially Chief Marketing Officer Bruce Everiss, was amazing. First he claimed that piracy was the reason publishers stopped working with certain companies. He basically said Commodore and Atari died out due to piracy. There wasn't piracy on the IBM-PC!? This has to be a joke.

This is from a man who worked for Codemasters, a company that moved on from Commodore and Atari computers to the NES, then built a lock-out chip bypass so that they could cheat Nintendo out of licensing fees! So they love piracy when it lines their pockets. Not only that, but he goes on to state that "20% of the workforce were made redundant because of PlayStation 1 piracy".

While I'm sure piracy played a part and layoffs are never cool, isn't it more likely that it was simply easier for management to scapegoat nebulous pirates than to be truthful about their own mistakes? Codemasters created zero intellectual property on the PS1 that I can find. Everything was licensed: sports, toys, even a clothing license, so they were always splitting profits. Plus Codemasters had dumped the budget titles that earned them their success, so they were a budget brand selling full price products.

But that's the real key here. Piracy is a bogeyman. While it is a bad thing for sales, it's a fabulous godsend as a lie.

Publishers have to make PC versions of their games. Shareholders see how much money World of Warcraft and The Sims and Starcraft 2 and little indie games like Minecraft are making on the PC. Publishers have to tell shareholders they have a plan to get that big money, even if they don't. And when they don't, they blame the pirates.

The GI editorial is trying to call out for better information about how much of piracy is really lost sales. It's a nice idea, but why would a publisher pay money for a study that could evaporate their best excuse?

Everybody loves pirates.