24 June, 2012

Ghosts of San Francisco

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 24 June, 2012

I picked up Driver: San Francisco because I'd heard good things and it was on sale. It's a driving game with a weird premise. You're a cop chasing a crook when your car gets hit. Your character gets put into a coma, but now your spirit can fly around and possess other drivers.

My physical body has been loaded inside the ambulance. I have possessed the driver and now have to drive my body to the hospital before I die.

Even if you can follow what's going on, it doesn't really make sense. Ambulance drivers know how to drive fast, and they know the route to the hospital much better than the player.

But that's the least of the nonsense in this game. Even though you and your partner got t-boned by a semi, there's still a car with the two of you on the road. Not only that, but when you float around the city to find a mission, then come back to the ghost car with you and your partner, your partner is talking to you like you've been with him in the car the whole time, not saying anything. There's even more weirdness, but there's no point in talking about it.

Coming right off of Far Cry 2, I was hoping that Ubisoft's PC port for Driver SF would be just as good. But it's got frame rate issues which make the driving feel lousy, so its madness will have to wait for my next PC. Given my buying habits, that should be early 2017.

17 June, 2012


written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 16 June, 2012

I played Far Cry 2 a while back and felt sort of okay about it. It came up super cheap on a Steam sale, so I paid the "never have to find my disc again" tax and spent some time with it.

The thing I really like about that game is it's engine and the sense of place it creates. When I drive under a tree the shadows of the branches and leaves just flow over my avatar and my vehicle in a way that lets me believe. And the level of detail system keeps the frame rate high, which keeps that feeling unbroken. I start thinking about how hot it must be, how humid; how it must smell. It's also fun to drive through bushes and watch them fly apart. And it's nice to see African animals running around. It's the game part that wrecks it.

I'm not saying the combat is bad. Enemies try to flank, so you have to be vigilant. Stuff gets set on fire, cutting off avenues of attack / escape. Opponents attack from a couple different ranges. Ubisoft Montreal didn't just plop out another generic FPS.

But every time I look at my map and see enemy checkpoints between me and my destination, it makes me sad.

It makes me appreciate other open world games a lot more. The option to just enjoy the environment is very valuable. Maybe I'll go run around a bit in Prototype.

Or maybe I should get back to that They Hunger video series. :P

There's still a lot of E3 chatter in the enthusiast press as people firm up their opinions. I didn't notice any valuable epiphanies, but here's a public service message.

Asynchronous multiplayer allows people to play a game together, but not at the same time.

Asymmetrical multiplayer allows people to play a game together, but with different game abilities and / or information.

A multiplayer game can feature neither, one, or both.

(Multiple enthusiast press folks got those terms confused.)

10 June, 2012

E3 Wrap Up

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 9 June, 2012

Wii U

Reaction to the Wii U and the software shown for it was tepid. The enthusiast press were underwhelmed, but then many of them were also underwhelmed by the DS and the Wii, which sold great.


There were a fair amount of games people were excited about (Halo 4, The Last of Us, Dishonored, Star Wars 1313; Watch Dogs). A few of them will release this year. A few others were not given release dates and looked too good to work on current consoles, lending credence to rumors that MS and Sony will release new hardware next year. And trapped in between are the many, many games aiming to release in early 2013. It'll be a rough first quarter, methinks.


John Carmack likes to take a break between games to do research, often revisiting old ideas that weren't ready for prime time. Roughly 15 years ago he looked into VR headset technology and decided it wasn't practical. After Rage he decided to give it another look and believes he can make something awesome. It's still in the early stages, but within a year or two we may all look this cool.

Also, Unreal Engine 4 has a lot of snazzy features. Epic games has said that they're pushing the console manufacturers to make sure they provide hardware powerful enough to support all this new chrome.

05 June, 2012

Nintendo Press Conference

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 5 June, 2012

Nintendo's press conference is hard for me to judge, as I'm not their target demographic. Sure, they showed some stuff for core gamers. And I guess you could say they did as well as Sony in that regard. They didn't have as many interesting games, but factor in the novelty of Wii U controls, and it's about equal.

They showed a zombie game from Ubisoft which could turn out gimmicky or delightful, depending on how much polish they can give it. (concept video)

I'll be curious to read the reviews of Batman: Arkham City for the Wii U. (concept video) Most of the "additions" look pretty dubious, but I'll reserve judgement.

Depending how these games turn out, I might eventually be interested in owning a Wii U.

But, again, I'm not the target. The question is if this new system will have the same mass market appeal as the Wii. I checked the New York Times, Reuters, the Associated Press, USA Today, and the LA Times (which didn't even have an article).

Nobody knows. The New York Times columnist (Seth Schiesel) gave a tentative thumbs up, but everyone else either had no guess or asked the opinions of enthusiast press people who are the wrong demographic.

Addendum (3:30pm): There's a well loved horror franchise called Fatal Frame where you have to survive in a haunted environment with only a camera to defend yourself. If there's no Wii U sequel / homage to Fatal Frame, the gaming industry as a whole has failed.

Sony Press Conference

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 5 June, 2012

I'll be brief. Sony showed some games. Some of them looked good. They gave even less lip service to the Vita than I thought they would.

For me personally, it was slightly better than Microsoft's press conference because they weren't pushing MS Smart Glass.

04 June, 2012

Microsoft Press Conference

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 4 June, 2012

Better With Kinect

To demonstrate Kinect voice commands, a player speaks to make a character in an action game call in an air strike. Audibles are called in sports games. These are not bad things, but it only takes some simple math to prove they aren't worthwhile.

Publishers believe that the money Microsoft pays them to make voice commands for Kinect only is more than the extra copies they would sell (across all platforms) if they gave everyone with a headset access to this "amazing new feature".

Live Anywhere 2

Announcing MS Smart Glass! Yep, Microsoft's cross device initiative that died on the vine in 2006 is back and so withered it's hardly recognizable.

In 2006 Microsoft was talking about the future of games. Buy once, play on any device. Edit your race cars on your PC and phone, then race them on the Xbox. Play multiplayer games across all supported platforms. It was ambitious and cool.

If the 2012 edition succeeds in every way, it will be a dismal failure by 2006's standards. Microsoft's lead feature was being able to pick up watching a movie on your TV from where you left off watching it on your mobile device. They'll save you the two seconds it took to read and remember the time index and the three seconds it takes you to skip ahead on your TV.

The rest of the features (supplementary info during video viewing and gaming, using the tablet as a controller, web browsing) were also uninteresting.

Maybe they think a little tablet integration will make people ignore the Wii U, but that's wasted effort. The Wii U will sink or swim based on software designed for it's unique abilities.

As far as I'm concerned, Microsoft had nothing to show this year.

03 June, 2012

Best Humble Indie Bundle Ever

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 3 June, 2012

The E3 update was fun to research / write, but I would be remiss if I didn't point you towards the fifth Humble Indie Bundle.

It's Bastion (if you pay over the average) plus Psychonauts, Amnesia, Limbo, and Sword & Sworcery. You can download them all, DRM free. Plus you get the soundtracks. Plus you get Steam codes. Plus all games have Mac and Linux versions. Plus you are (at your discretion) supporting charity. Plus they tend to add a game or two later on to get a sales bump, and if you buy the bundle before then (paying over the average), you get any additional game(s) for free.

I almost never post deals here. In fact, I created the deals label just for this post. But this bundle is amazing. And the current average price is ~$8. It's insane.

It's E3 Time Again

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 2 June, 2012

The industry trade and press show known as E3 will be starting soon.


Their new console, the Wii U, was announced at E3 last year. It's roughly as powerful as a 360 or PS3, but in addition to supporting Wii motion controls, it has a dual stick controller with a large touch screen on it.

The performance bump is nice for developers because it becomes easier to create a game that will run on all three consoles. But the Wii U isn't going to succeed because it can play the same games as everyone else. Nintendo needs to show consumers and retailers the software that will distinguish the Wii U.


The number of of Sony's game announcements that were leaked ahead of their E3 2011 press conference became comical. Outside of Naughty Dog's latest (and the slim possibility of an appearance by The Last Guardian), there doesn't seem to be any game the press are universally hyped about. Hopefully this just means Sony improved their security.

Sony's trying to get traction with Vita, their new portable system. According to gamesindustry.biz Sony will be bringing PS1 and PS2 games to the PS3 and possibly Vita using the Gaikai cloud gaming platform. That could put a lot of good, cheap games on the Vita for people with reliable mobile internet connections who don't mind a bit of lag.


Microsoft claims to have a number of world exclusive game announcements at their press conference. I'm betting more than half of them are Kinect titles.

Microsoft will lie about how much they care about Windows gaming, as they always do when they roll out a new OS. Just remember that over the last two years (2010 and 2011) Microsoft published four games for the PC and sixteen games for the Xbox. (source)

And they will apparently be making another push for Live Anywhere, the cross device connectivity initiative that, to my knowledge, hasn't moved the needle since it was announced at E3 2006.

Also everyone will probably announce new / enhanced music, video, and social media features / partnerships. I said it before, and I'll say it again: this overpriced generation was about conquering the living room (except for Nintendo). The question at this point is whether Smart TVs (with OnLive and Netflix integration, for example) can eventually cut the consoles out of the equation.

You may recall that I predicted MS and Sony console announcements at E3 this year. Barring a miracle, I was wrong. Sony almost certainly isn't announcing anything, and according to Arthur Gies of Rebel FM, Microsoft was planning an early announcement to steal a bit of Nintendo's thunder but had to call it off for some reason. Hey, if it means Microsoft's new hardware won't require over a billion dollars of repair work, I say delay it two years. :P