Archive for the PC Gaming Category

Won’t Get Fooled Again or Why I Haven’t Yet Played GTA IV

Posted in addiction, Consoles, PC Gaming, Rants with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2008 by Kit

I still haven’t played it. I know! I know!

There’s a series of good reasons, and they all amount to an object lesson in why proprietary software sucks and how you can be royally screwed over if a company releases a busted product when there is no community available to provide a fix.

I’ve opined on this topic a few times, and I’m aware of the hypocrisy: I’m obviously touting software freedom while supporting game companies who make the most proprietary of proprietary software (not only can you not see the source code… but you can only run it on one device made by one company).

But consoles are still simply the best way to play games, and I love games so much that I’ve traditionally made a convenient (I know! I know!) exception for them.

Here’s the story.

Probably you’ve all heard of this little game called GTA IV. The one with all the cop killing and prostitutes. The one that makes teenagers shoot up their Social Studies classroom with dad’s unsecured handgun.

Well, I’m a big fan. I think it’s smart (for a game), provides a great example of satire and anti-genre (for a game), and it doesn’t hurt that it isn’t above a bit of cute self-mockery here and there. It’s also fun as hell.

I am aware that it occupies a moral gray area, and I’m fine with that. Moral qualms are not the reason I’ve not yet played this game.

Not owning the game is also not the reason I haven’t played it yet. I actually bought it the day after it was released. For those of you keeping track… that was last April. As I type this, it is sitting on top of my entertainment center.

Not owning the correct platform is also not the reason I haven’t played it yet. I was a PS3 early adopter… in part because I was excited to hear that it supported Linux out-of-the-box. But mostly (and here is the delicious filling of the irony sandwich) — I just wanted to be sure I had a system that could play GTA IV.

That’s right, I bought the most expensive game machine on the market mostly because I like GTA that much.

I was undaunted when I heard they were giving “downloadable content” to XBox owners, despite GTA’s longstanding association with PlayStation. Whatever – I’ve always liked the PlayStation brand, and I figured the PS3 would be a quality product. I never much cared for those in-between releases (like “Liberty City Stories“) anyway, and I figured downloadable content would probably be just more of the same.

About a week before the GTA release date, my PS3 broke. It just powered itself off one day and wouldn’t turn back on. Not even to eject the Seinfeld dvd that I was watching when it died.

I dutifully called the support number on the back of the machine. Talked to several very polite and helpful people (Sony support is pretty good). Learned that my machine was (of course) out of warranty, and that it would cost some money to repair it. Ok, fine. Learned that it will take up to three weeks to repair the machine.

No!

The meaning of this was obvious: I would not be able to play GTA while all of my friends were playing it. I was going to miss out on all the stories about the various discoveries, stupid vehicular tricks and trash talk that goes with a new GTA release. I was never going to feel the pride at being the first person in my acquaintance to find something awesome in this game.

Oh well. It’s just a game. So I paid the money and shipped the system off in the nice box they sent me.

GTA’s release date came and went. I had the cash, so I bought the copy the day after. Just so I could maybe regain some lost time when my machine came back.

I was so excited when it finally returned. They even threw in a new controller! My Seinfeld DVD was in a nice jewel case, unharmed! I unboxed the whole thing, set it up, got all the system updates from the internet. And then I plugged GTA in, breathlessly waiting through the (long) install.

And then I played the game! I lied earlier when I said I haven’t played GTA IV. I have. For five minutes. I played through the intro mission. Just when was taking Niko out to explore… the whole thing locked up. Niko was frozen in mid stride and a bunch of weird angular graphic shit was all over the screen.

I began to feel a tiny bit sorry for myself.

But no need to panic… I just hit reset. Glitches are not uncommon in the current generation of games. Maybe it’ll work after a reset. And it did. For another five minutes.

The small, spoiled adolescent that lives inside my chest began to make himself heard.

Like all sensible people, I got on the internet to look for answers. I poked around on various message boards, and noticed that a respectable number of people on the Official PlayStation boards were reporting the exact same thing. All these people owned PS3s that were about the same age as mine (i.e. the early release ones).

The bad news: No fix (or even acknowledgment of the problem) was yet forthcoming from either Sony or Rockstar Games (the GTA people). My problem was that new. People online were angry — like bees.

Eventually, after a few days, Sony figured out that something was actually broken and published a lame little checklist of things to try to get the game to work. None of them worked. The word began to spread:

“Call Sony, they are replacing machines for free… even if they are out of warranty.”

If you are still reading, I hope this hits home. I had, not three weeks ago, PAID Sony to repair my broken PS3. And now, here they were, replacing them for free because they had obviously shipped machines with some kinda problem. The initial repair had cost me $150. If the machine had held on for another week or two I would’ve gotten a free repair.

The teenager that lives in my chest was locked in his room with black eyeliner on, listening to The Cure and crying with his face in a pillow.

So I dutifully called Sony support again. Once again, they were very polite and very helpful. I described my problem, told them I’d tried all their fixes and that GTA simply wouldn’t play on my machine for more than 5 minutes at a stretch. They said they’d repair it for free… and sent me out another box. No, they would not be able to refund the previous repair costs since they were unrelated to the GTA bug.

After another 3 weeks, I had my PS3 again.

Feeling pretty ambivalent about it, I stuck my GTA disc in. And it worked. I played for about thirty minutes. Enough to satisfy myself that the crashing was over. Then I put it away.

I’ve since played some older games, replayed some favorites, but I haven’t touched GTA IV again. I don’t know why. The thrill is gone somehow.

I’m not wowed by the innovative gameplay, or the graphics. Not because they aren’t great… but because they are just dismal reminders of how much shit that machine put me through and how much of a sucker I am for putting up with all of it.

The thing is, I know Sony didn’t cheat me. I know Rockstar didn’t cheat me. This is just what happens when a piece of highly coveted software gets tied to one specific platform. When that platform dies, or has trouble, you have no recourse.

I still like my PS3. Sony support was fast and courteous. The problem is that the entire business model is designed to leave the consumer helpless. When one of my home computers breaks — I can fix it myself. Usually pretty cheaply. You can’t do that with a Playstation (or an XBox or a Wii). Even if you aren’t afraid of breaking the warranty, most of the parts inside them aren’t off the shelf components.

When software on my Linux desktop has a bug, it is usually quickly addressed and repaired by the massive community of people out there who care about it. If I was smarter, I could even participate in this process (I have, to a very limited degree). Hell, if I want the software on my desktop to do something that it doesn’t currently do – there’s a good chance that I can actually email the person that wrote it and ask them to add it. And even if they can’t or won’t, there’s a good chance they’ll at least write me back.

Try getting that kind of attention from any company who produces mass market software.

I may not be able to get away from proprietary games… but the PS3 will be the last dedicated game console I purchase, so help me. I may miss out on some console exclusives, but I’m not going to be suckered by the system again. No game is worth that.

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A Series of Interesting Items

Posted in General, Online Gaming, PC Gaming with tags , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2008 by Kit

No time, no excuses – here’s some interesting stuff I’m seeing today.

Online game rivalry ends with real murder

All this shit does is convince me that my all stereotypes of online gamers are correct. Just kidding.

The press slobbers all over this in the same way they slobbered all over Satanic D&D Brainwashing back in the 80s. Fact is, there are some psychos out there who can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. I’m willing to bet this’ll be true with any other new entertainment medium our children invent.

Still, it is a troubling story. Online gamers… will this make you think twice about who you choose to interact with in the game? Does the existence of (a statistically insignificant number of) people who will murder you when you beat them give you any second thoughts?

None of this is why I don’t play World of Warcraft. I just think MMOs suck.

Free Game! Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden!

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I don’t even know where to begin. It’s like a Final Fantasy game only it stars Charles Barkley in a post-cyberpocalyptic New York where basketball has been banned. Just… watch… the trailer.

My Living Room

A man who keeps his computers for an average of 6 years between major upgrades is walking a fine line when it comes to Geek Cred. You are either a luddite who hates technology or an equally frightening sort of uber-geek who corners people at parties to tell jokes about vi, bash, or the latest revision of the GPL.

While I’m probably more of the latter than I care to admit… I plead that mostly I’m just cheap. I hate upgrades and I hate spending money on something I already have. So I tend to run computers until they accumulate so much cruft that the hard drive quietly asks me to take it out behind the shed and just shoot it for pity’s sake.

So my old computer has been moved down to the basement to quietly serve files, stream music, and download torrents. In its place is a shiny new computer with a lot of new and interesting capabilities. I’m nt going to list stats here, because I don’t want to be one of those guys. But let’s just say I can render with the best of ’em.

My current favorite new capability? The ability to use my computer to play Mario Kart 64 on my TV while Shae uses her own time more productively.

That’s right, I’m using my computer to play Mario Kart 64 and that’s my favorite part of this upgrade.

Next post: Remind me to tell you this great vi joke I heard the other day…

Free as in Freedom

Posted in Consoles, Indie Games, PC Gaming with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2007 by Kit

In a previous post, I went off on PC gaming and how much it completely, totally sucks. And I stand by that position with one notable exeption: free games.

Consoles are still frightfully proprietary and will remain so for the near future. As a home Linux user and part-time Open Source evangelist, this annoys the hell out of me. Not just anybody can fire up a compiler and start producing games for the Wii, XBox 360, or the PS3. This gives the game machine manufacturers a really unprecedented level of control over the content available on their systems.

Imagine if everyone had to get the blessing of the manufacturer in order to make a CD that plays in your car stereo, or a DVD that plays in your home theater system. CDs and DVDs would be a lot more expensive, and you might occasionally have trouble finding an album that plays in your brand of CD player.

Because of this situation, there is no serious indie market for games on consoles. As long as the Big Three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) make it expensive to produce games for their machines, there never will be. These companies don’t actually want a thriving indie game market – they believe that it’s in their best interests to make it just a little bit expensive to publish a game for their console.

Since games sell consoles, the Big Three would rather focus marketing efforts on big blockbuster titles. Games with TV commercials that make you feel as if you really have to play that game. They are banking on these marquee titles (think Halo) to help them sell consoles and don’t want to muddy the marketplace with thousands of no-names that won’t necessarily inspire people to buy a console..

What they want is a cardboard cutout of Master Chief standing on a pile of Xbox 360’s in every GameSpot. Ideally, they are shooting for a handful of new major games like that every couple of months to really put their marketing money behind.

Not so in the PC world. There are so many indie games that it’s hard to keep track of them all. And many of them are free. So in the interest of extending the olive branch to the PC world… I give you the One Good Thing about PC gaming: Free, indie games.

Below is a rundown of some greats. They are all “Open Source.” That means that they are free for anybody to use, modify, sell, or give away, so long as they also provide the source code for any changes that they make. You may have heard about the Linux operating system or the Firefox web browser – those are both examples of Open Source software.

Egoboo is a 3d arcade-action dungeon exploration game with a cute visual style reminiscent of Mario. It’s been out for a while, and has garnered an active community. The official site is mostly dead and is rarely updated, but a new community has sprung up that is producing new releases of the game.

FlightGear is a slick, professionally produced and fully open flight simulator. As a young geek, I was addicted to Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer. Obviously, this fully modern flight sim puts that experience to shame (although it lacks a poorly rendered likeness of Chuck Yeager mocking me whenever I crash). The pure joy of flying a virtual airplane is now sadly lost to me, but FlightGear itself really does it well if that’s your thing.

Armagetron Advanced. Remember how I tried to have Tron killed on the game grid? Remember how poorly that lightcycle game turned out for me? Well despite my resulting aversion to the very idea, I have to admit that Armagetron is a great game. It’s a 3D racing game where you pilot lightcycles just like the ones Tron rode to infamy on, and you can play it with friends over a network. How about that?

Frozen Bubble is a free remake of Bust’a’Move. I’ve tried to steer clear of blatant remakes in this list, but Frozen Bubble is just so damned well done. You can download and install it directly on your computer, but you can also just play the java version online right now!

Nethack is an ancient geek standby, and also extremely engaging dungeon exploration game. NetHack dates back to the days when computers didn’t have any means of displaying complex graphics – so the player, the terrain, the monsters… everything had to be represented with alphanumeric characters. Today it is quite possible to play NetHack with graphics (even in 3D!) but real geeks are only happy if their character is represented by an “@” symbol.

Neverball is a 3D arcade game that is reminiscent of that old wooden Labyrinth game… you know, the one where you guide a ball through a maze by tilting the board itself? Use the mouse to tilt the world around your Neverball as you guide it through various obstacle courses.AlephOne is an Open Source release of Marathon that is supported by its original designers: Bungie (of Halo fame). Mac users from back in the day might remember playing Marathon while their PC buddies were knee deep in Doom. Bungie has added all kinds of interesting updates (including optional updated 3d models, new scenarios, physics, network games, etc.).

Scorched 3D brings the so-called Mother of All Games into the world of 3D. Does anybody else remember the original Scorched Earth? That incredibly simple game where you had to enter velocity and angle numbers in order to get your cannon’s projectile to destroy the other player’s cannon? Anybody? Scorched 3D is exactly like that, only the action takes place on a three dimensional island with terrain. Also, your “tank” (which is really just an immovable base) can be upgraded with shields, different kinds of weapons (including nuclear bombs), etc. The game also incorporates local and network multiplayer, and is a great way to waste an afternoon.

Vega Strike is a space trading, exploration, and combat “simulator.” It’s similar in many respects to the old commercial game Privateer, but has a much larger universe to explore. You can choose from and customize many different kinds of space ships to pilot, and you can make money by trading or by accepting missions (randomly generated). I have to admit that I haven’t spent much time with Vega Stike, but it’s suprisingly deep, and very strikingly pretty.

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Oh Chuck, still you mock me in my dreams…