Month: November 2012

Good Old GOG

Fresh off the topic of Steam and its sales earlier this week, I’d like to continue in the same vein of digital distribution. If you’re a PC gamer, you’ve probably heard of Steam. For all intents and purposes, it is the digital distribution platform for the PC. But not too long ago, Steam was released for Mac as well. Now, with a Linux version on the horizon and with over 2000 games available for purchase, Steam is where most people will go to get their games digitally.

But there are other services out there: GamersGate and Desura; Origin and Uplay; not to mention the console staples of the Xbox Live Marketplace, PlayStation Store and the ever-growing number of strangely separate Nintendo e-stores. Some of these will be household names and others will be obscure, but I feel it’s important that every avid PC and Mac gamer know about one website in particular: GOG.com.

Where classics are never forgotten.

GOG is owned by Polish game studio CD Projekt RED – the same team behind the Witcher games – and began its life as a supplier of classic PC titles: “Good Old Games”. It provides people using modern operating systems the ability to play their favourite games from years gone by. GOG does all the legwork in terms of making sure the game is compatible, or at least comes with a third-party program that can do so (such as DOSBox or ScummVM). The games are always reasonably priced, usually between five and ten US Dollars, with the cost being the same regardless of which country you live in: finally, no more artificially inflated prices just because you live outside of Japan or the USA.

You don’t just get the game, either. GOG purchases come with bonus content, which is often extensive and sometimes exclusive. High resolution wallpapers, avatars, soundtracks, game manuals and artwork: all available for free when you buy the game. While your purchase can’t always go towards supporting the original developers (due to many no longer existing; Bullfrog and Westwood, we all miss you), your money is still being used in one of the best ways possible. The one way that really makes GOG distinct from Steam. All of the games they sell are DRM-free.

For those that remain blissfully unaware, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. Its a fancy name for a piece of software or code that ostensibly prevents unauthorised distribution or copying of games, movies, music and other media. To put it bluntly, it’s there to prevent pirates from pirating things. Not only does DRM fail in every single case (often in the same day the game is released), it often causes problems for legitimate game owners. From draconian policies that limit the number of times you can activate a game, to single-player games that won’t even play unless you’re connected to the internet, DRM is a stall at best and a punishment of legitimate buyers at worst.

“FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF-“

But that’s not all that DRM is designed to accomplish. By implementing increasingly complex loopholes for gamers to jump through, the used games market is fast becoming a thing of the past. Console games that require an “Online Pass” to access basic functionality, such as multiplayer, are the worst of the bunch; who wants to buy half a game? Sure, there’s an argument to be made about used games providing developers with exactly nil in terms of upfront revenue, but by what logic do these people think that this won’t just drive more people to piracy? GOG had the right idea from the outset: no DRM. You buy a game from them, you own it. You want to install it on every PC you own? Go for it.

Of course, this now means that you can give a copy of the game to your friends or family. Great titles like Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper 2, Silver, Psychonauts, Age of Wonders… you could give copies to everyone you know. I have no doubt that some people do this. I also have no doubt that every single GOG title is tracked on a multitude of torrent sites, but GOG understands that this would happen anyway. It’s for precisely this reason that, when given the choice between GOG and another distributor, I always buy games from GOG. There is currently no way to stop piracy, but you can certainly discourage it by offering games at low prices, with plenty of bonus content, and by respecting your customers.

One of the many newer titles GOG offer, DRM-free.

In the past year, GOG have rebranded themselves somewhat. They’re no longer just a source of “Good Old Games”, with several new games being published in their online catalogue. They’ve also begun to release games that are compatible with MacOS and have just revealed that the vast majority of their games are now compatible with Windows 8. Despite all of this, they’ve never strayed from their philosophy of fair pricing and no DRM… and they appear to be going from strength to strength. Regardless of their entire product line being either pirated or freely pirate-able, they continue to stick to their guns. For that, they get my respect and admiration, along with my hearty recommendation to every PC gamer I know.

Far Cry 3 Review

After 2008’s Far Cry 2, Ubisoft went away with their tails between their legs. The series’ second outing was flawed in many ways and the overall moment to moment gameplay suffered because of this. Ubisoft have taken the issues on board and came back 4 years later with one of the best games this generation will witness.

Read more …

Caught in the Battle.net

There are so many people out there trying to make games. Few actually go through with making one and of those few even fewer get any recognition. This could be due to the wide range of places to put a finished game, like Xbox live, steam, NewGrounds, Kongregate, and dozens of others. It’s easy to get lost and difficult to get noticed. Some games have risen from the miasma though. Angry Birds is shamefully stolen from a game on Kongregate and the studio behind Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers came from Newgrounds to name a few. But there’s one place that to me surpasses the rest; Battle.net. I missed the Starcraft years and joined up when Warcraft 3 came out and by then there were already dozens of fan-made maps. But amongst the chaos of it all new game genres were popularized. DOTA rose to power and gave way to the world’s current most popular game League of Legends and Valve’s DOTA 2 with its stultifyingly hostile fanbase. Although no particular title has dominated the Tower Defense genre, literally thousands of versions come to life on Battle.net. While it lives on in Starcraft 2 it’s not as free and open as it was in Warcraft 3 where scumbags were free to edit maps to benefit themselves or upload pornographic images as the map picture, and believe it or not I feel it suffers slightly under restriction. Not too much though but I like to err on the side of chaos. In its defense, near the end of its popularity on Warcraft 3 Battle.net became little more than 50 DOTA games under the cruel restrictions of the host and maybe 1 or 2 original maps that few would do.

Ahhh, the innocence of flash games

Warcraft 3 was surprisingly versatile for an RTS game and its map editor was fairly easy to use. Even one such as I was able at least edit a map successfully. That and it was back in those golden days of Blizzard where they were still beloved by most instead of super popular but targets of rage and internal strife like they are today. It was through that popularity that the accessibility of the map editor was able to shine. Anyone could make a map and if they dedicated some time to hosting it they could market it themselves. Even better is when others played they got the map too can could host it themselves. Best of all it was FREE! It was a grand all-you-could-eat buffet where people could and most of all WOULD be willing to try a new map just for kicks. It’s really no wonder that from it so many of this generation’s games were born. I wish such a thing could be recreated. If it already has I don’t know about it but I’d just like to talk about a couple games on it I loved that I’d love to see made into standalone games.

All right look, Warcraft 3 graphics are terribly dated and look primitive by today’s standards and good screenshots are hard to come by, especially ones of the games I’ll be talking about which have no good screenshots. So bear with me and if you are familiar with Warcraft 3 just use your imagination.

Rabbits Vs Sheep.
Like DOTA this game had a roster of champions with unique powers. Unlike DOTA it was indirectly PVP. Up to 5 players on each side were dropped into arenas that would begin to spawn either rabbits or sheep respectively. Champs had to kill the critters quickly as each one killed would spawn 2 on the enemy side. Things would escalate quickly and the critters would do a small amount of damage but as their numbers grew things got hairy. You could also drop special enemies on the other side to do damage and disrupt the enemy as well as buff the critters to be harder to kill. The goal was to either overwhelm the enemy and kill them or have so many critters spawn that the round ends, usually around 200 or so. The game was moderately popular for a while but like so many it was overshadowed by DOTA. The game was also in need of routine maintenance and balancing to nerf some champs and buff others. I get the feeling I haven’t seen the last of this game.
Wintermaul Wars
Wintermaul was the name of a random Death Knight for the Scourge army in the normal game of Warcraft 3. For whatever reason he was chosen to make a tower defense map where people would make mazes of towers to try and kill a marching horde of enemies. It popularized the Tower Defense games and although I dumped hours of my life into playing it I don’t think I ever saw victory in it. Enemies would get too strong, mazes not good enough and players jumping ship halfway through and screwing everyone. Still it was a great concept and the suffix –Maul became added to any noun for someone’s own personal Tower Defense game. Later on someone made Wintermaul Wars which had 2 teams of 3 or 5 people making mazes while they themselves chose which enemies to send out to try and beat the other team. Each monster made would add to your income, given every 30 seconds, and gradually the monsters would get stronger. No longer were you at the mercy of the computer now it was a contest of people. I remember some great matches but like so many games on Battle.net it was often killed by an enraged player arguing with someone they deemed inferior to them in skill, or, like all the others, overshadowed by DOTA.
Darwin’s Island
Bit of an oddball, this one. In this game you started off as some random creature at the bottom of the food chain and depending on what you managed to kill you would grow into a number of different animals and had to hunt down the other players until only you remained. Similar to Spore in concept I guess but it had a much more free-for-all gladiator match feel to it. Hunting down other players on a dark island was tense as hell and remarkably simple in concept for being so fun.
With former Battle.net baby League of Legends being the most popular game in the world now I feel the torch could be passed to them to carry on Battle.net’s legacy. While most people’s ideas are god awful a game as popular and free as LoL could provide a great opportunity for spawning the next generation of games. Just my suggestion, though.

Spoilt for Choice

It’s been noted by more than one person, in several other articles, that the Steam Sale is not necessarily a good thing. On one level, it could be argued that the sale price devalues the game itself; why buy something at full price when you can wait a couple of months and get it during the Summer / Autumn / Winter sales? On another level, it encourages impulse buying: wow, a game that’s been discounted by 80%, this is a great deal, I’m sure I’ll get around to playing it someday. No-one is more guilty of this than me, but I didn’t know exactly to what extent until I found this tool one day while browsing the internet: Lambent Stew’s Steam Profile Analysis.

As long as you’ve set your Steam Profile to Public, this page will grab a list of games that you’ve bought through Steam and then do some calculations. It will show, in black and white, the number of games you own, the number of games you’ve actually played and – crucially – the number of games you haven’t even touched. For me, these figures are ridiculously off kilter, but are indicative of my general game situation: I have too many games that I want to play and not enough time to play them.

Pyro celebrates me playing over 117 hours of Team Fortress 2.

The Steam sale only serves to exacerbate the issue: I’m seeing games that I’ve had a passing interest in for a while go on sale for a few quid. Of course I’m going to buy it – this sort of deal might not come by again for a while! It never seems to occur to me that I’ve got over 100 games that I have yet to play, most of which were probably bought in the same, impulsive manner. This same situation is happening with my physical games, too; I have well over a dozen titles scattered around my room that still have the cellophane packaging on.

The problem only gets worse when you consider the portion of those games – both digital and physical – that I’ve started, but not yet completed. Skyrim. Xenoblade Chronicles. Demon’s Souls. Deus Ex: Human Revolution. These are all massive, complex and wonderful games; exactly the kind that I like to get my teeth sunk into. So why is it that I’ve only taken a few bites? Surely the issue of time can’t be the only factor here.

Well it’s not. It also comes down to being effectively spoilt for choice. When I sit down at the end of a day, or wake up after a lie-in at the weekend, and try to decide which of my myriad games I want to play… I draw a blank. It’s the stupidest thing and I hate that it happens to me, but I just can’t decide on which game to play. I have so much choice it becomes impossible to make a decision.

Fruitsplosion – because an illustrated metaphor is a good metaphor.

If you have the option of an orange or an apple, chances are good you’re going to make a choice pretty quickly. But imagine having in front of you an entire banquet of fruit; a table filled with over a hundred plates, each with a different fruit, all looking equally delectable. What would you do? You wouldn’t want to sit down and eat one plate completely before moving on to the next, would you? No, you’d want to pick and sample from as many plates as you could, moving down the table until you were full to bursting.

Nowadays, it seems as though I spend more time buying games than I do actually playing them. I want this to stop, because it’s quickly becoming unmanageable. I realised just last month that I was not one, not two, but three games behind in the Professor Layton series. In my ignorance, I’d missed an entire generational jump – the latest title was no longer being released on the DS, but the 3DS. As my second favourite series on any Nintendo console (closely following the Phoenix Wright games), I couldn’t believe that I’d allowed these games to pass me by. But of course, I didn’t have to rush out to buy any of them… they were sitting on my shelf, still wrapped and sealed, bought many moons ago.

The Future Of Gaming Is Coming!

Unless you have miraculously missed the news on it over the last few months, or the television adverts that have begun to appear on UK channels, Nintendo Wii U launches in Europe this Friday. Nintendo fans in this region are beginning to get restless with the wait, the fanboys of Microsoft and Sony are trying to find every little insignificant detail to discredit the new console, and the press are sending out mixed reviews. So the question is, who do you trust in their opinions of Wii U? The solid truth of the matter is that you can’t trust anyone, as everyone has some sort of bias.

What I would urge anyone to do (regardless of your thoughts on Nintendo), if you have the slightest temptation to see what Wii U is about, is to just play the console. I know that I am a large Nintendo fan and definitely very biased towards them, but having played the console in October, it is most definitely something that needs to be played to be understood.  Standing there in the booth, holding the GamePad, it just feels so natural and you wonder why gaming hasn’t been done this way before.

The ‘Revolutionary’ GamePad

I know that it is a little presumptuous to label Wii U as the ‘Future of Gaming’ (at the present time anyway); but, whichever way you look at it, this title is the most appropriate. The first and foremost reason being that this is the first console of the next gaming console generation, it just so happens that Nintendo are the first to release one (Microsoft being first in the last generation). I know that many are arguing that Wii U isn’t next generation, but I am pretty sure that a generation is the next line of consoles by the developers. For instance, the generation we are currently in is Wii/PS3/360, the one before was Gamecube/PS2/Xbox/Dreamcast, and so on. However, the biggest reason for the label I have given it can be attributed to the fact that Wii U will be doing something very different, once again.

Nintendo are pretty much, with Wii U and the GamePad’s second screen, bringing new dimensions to gameplay again. The most fundamental dimension, known as ‘asymmetric gameplay’ allows different people to have different experiences whilst playing the same game simultaneously. This, of course, opens up games for some entirely new ideas that haven’t even been played before. Some of these ideas are simple and childlike, like a game of hide and seek with the GamePad user being able to see everything and having to hide from the other players. On the other side of the coin are the more complicated gameplay ideas like the GamePad user teaming up with a Wii Remote user to battle a common foe. Still simple to understand, but a little harder to succeed.

Trying to escape from zombies has never been so frantic.

Of course, in any run down of Wii U, you can’t forget the new capabilities of the Wii U GamePad and it’s extra screen. The title currently displaying the greatest use of the new controller is the Ubisoft-developed ZombiU. I am mildly aware that this game has received some very mixed reviews since it’s release in the US with Wii U, but I have assurances from some friends of mine from across the pond that they can’t understand the amount of negative press. From using the GamePad as a touch screen input panel for a security door, to holding the controller in front of your face as a sniper scope, it seems that Ubisoft have arguably the best hang of the new control system and it’s features.

The standpoint of this new controller and second screen as ‘the future’ has only been strengthened by the response of the other companies. Both Microsoft and Sony have announced their own versions of dual screen console gaming, with SmartGlass and CrossPlay respectively. Both of them (unfortunately) only appear to be capitalising on the second screen as a method to remove features from the main game screen such as maps, and inventory screens. I am very intrigued to see where both companies go with this advancement, and whether they manage to create experiences similar to Wii U. But, I cannot really comment on either until I get to play around with them.

Not the full launch, but you get the idea.

ZombiU isn’t the only game to show what Wii U is truly capable of however and, having played several games recently, I can safely say that there are a lot of excellent gaming experiences arriving on day one with the console. This is boosted by the support of even more amazing titles reported to be arriving before March 2013, such as: Pikmin 3, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and incredible title The Wonderful 101. Every title is bringing something a little new to the table, and although I can’t promise that the entire of the launch range will be of a high standard, it is already looking better than some recent launches.

If you add to all I have said above an integrated social networking operating system, Wii U takes on yet another dimension. This service, called Miiverse, allows you to interact with your friends in new ways, and find new friends, right from the home screen. Upon turning on the Wii U, Miis flood the screen and gather around icons representing games and applications. They can chat, give advice, send pictures drawn on the GamePad screen and even send screenshots of their gaming prowess. This is only the tip of the iceberg, and I wil know more once I have played with it, but the prospect of Miiverse being available on smartphones as well in the future really excites me.

Behold, Miiverse!

The only fact, at this moment, that goes against Wii U as the ‘future of gaming’ is the power of the console. The fact that Nintendo is only now embracing high definition makes them very late to a party at which Microsoft and Sony have already been for hours, and are blind drunk. High definition is all well and good, and some of the titles I have played are genuinely stunning already, but it does seem a shame that us Nintendo fans have had to wait so long for it. Also, Wii U will be more powerful than PS3 on it’s release, but it all depends on how much so as to whether Wii U will be able to survive against PS4 or Xbox 720.

Needless to say, I am very excited about this console, and I do see Wii U as the future. Even if this doesn’t end up as the future of gaming as a whole, it is definitely the future of my gaming sphere, and is one I thoroughly look forward to meeting on Thursday at midnight. See you all on the other side.