hard to port

I’m worried that Square Enix has forgotten how the process of porting works.

A store page for Final Fantasy IX has just appeared on Steam, just the latest in a long line of one of the biggest JRPGs ever to exist being brought to the largest PC gaming platform out there. It’s introducing Final Fantasy to an audience of players who don’t game on consoles, including updated graphics and gameplay and Steam achievements. What’s not to like?

A lot, apparently. According to the Steam store page for the game, Final Fantasy IX will require 20GB of hard drive space. Keep in mind, this is a game that originally released on four PlayStation discs, which at the time had a maximum capacity of 650MB. Assuming Square used every single bit of space on those discs, that’s 2.6GB total. This is just speculation with no real information behind it, but here’s something better: when the game was released on PSN as a download, the size was revealed to be 1550MB, a perfectly reasonable size for a multi-disc PS1 game. Somewhere between the two, the game’s size apparently increased by nearly a factor of thirteen.

The first response that comes to mind is that the game’s quality has been scaled up significantly. This isn’t without precendent, as the recent trend (and main motivation) behind all these oldies coming back is the use of the original uncompressed textures. But FF9 doesn’t seem to make use of that. Character models have been improved significantly, but the backgrounds are quite clearly the original artwork from the PS1 release. The resulting image is an epic Wagnerian symphony of discord. It is awful.

Surely, you say, there is a reason for this. The original, high-resolution artwork must have been lost in the intervening years since release. Worse things have happened to bigger projects.

But at least some of the original artwork is easily available. Two years ago, a neogaf user found, compailed and posted over 40 images of original background art; and as if that weren’t enough, also included high-resolution images of character models and concept art, all of which could be very effectively utilized in the process of an HD remaster.

But this is Square Enix. They seem pathologically fixated on phoning it in on almost any matter imaginable. It’s a sad truth–the gaming industry as a whole these days seems to be obsessed with trying to look as indifferent as possible to their customers and their products.

Final Fantasy V and VI were ported to PC from the mobile ports, except their graphics were smoothed in a way that made the games look like a Saturday morning cartoon with oversaturated colors. Not only that, but they featured badly-tiled textures with badly-rounded edges, and it all combines to create an environment that doesn’t feel cohesive. Then Square Enix came back with a port of FF6, which was again based on the mobile port…except this time, they decided to up their own ante by implementing the worst possible way to upscale pixel art, as well as stretching the game into a wide aspect ratio, on top of everything else.

But this isn’t a sprite-based game, therefore it needs a closer analog for comparison. Thus, the blog presents its next exhibit: Final Fantasy IV. Ported, yet again, from the mobile version, which itself was ported from the DS release, FF4 is the only other from the original six games to be ported in its 3D form. While the later 3D releases also suffered somewhat from bad background graphics clashing with higher-quality characters, FF4 goes the extra mile and adds framerate problems. Not only is the main game locked to 30 frames per second, but the battle screen is locked…to 15 frames per second. Sometimes it just boggles the mind, how game developers seem to hate this whole high performance fad going around.

Last-minute disclaimer: these are pre-release images, and as such very much at risk of changing by the time the game officially drops, which as of yet is unknown. But based on Square Enix’s recent history of porting their older (and newer) games to PC, hopes aren’t terribly high.

as the bat glides

Arkham Knight was finally patched a few days ago, and subsequently I was finally able to finish the game, after being stuck at a point where the performance issues got so bad I had to just give up for the time being. Thus, within hours of the patch rolling out, I was glued to my controller once again.

My one-word review for the now-playable Arkham Knight: Unfulfilled.

To be fair, it’s hard to top a game like Arkham City. While Arkham Asylum tapped into my Batman geekdom and piqued my interest with the dozens of nods to lore and mind-bending riddles, City took it up to addict levels, reaching out of the screen to slip an IV into my arm when I wasn’t looking, eventually leaving track marks in the form of a constant subconcious obsession with the gameplay strategies and Riddler’s various contraptions.

Arkham Knight takes off from that springboard, introducing a bigger, more detailed game world, a Batman at the peak of his ability, a smorgasbord of villians lining up to bring him down, and a plot that builds and builds and builds…until it reaches the climax, at which point it drops the ball.

To start, the new Gotham is gorgeous. The visual style has been refined to near-perfection, littered with glowing neon signs and numerous variations on neo-gothic, art deco and modern architecture filling the landscape. The city was redesigned after Rocksteady realized the map used in City was too cramped for the Batmobile, and while I wish they had simply adapted the old map rather than build anew, I’ve found that I cared less about it the longer I played. More specific details never cease to entrance. Batman picks up a new suit at the beginning that is just incredible to look at. It (perhaps fittingly) resembles a suit of plate armor, with folding plates and scales, and even the bat-symbol on chest flexes as he moves. The Batmobile is equally stunning, using designs like the Tumbler as a starting point and taking everything up a notch until you have this all-terrain Swiss Army Batmobile that can power machinery, execute ramp jumps of over a hundred meters and even lower itself into bottomless pits, all in a day’s work.

Gameplay is a mixed bag for me. Batman begins the game with several advanced devices and combat moves immediately available, eschewing the trend of using an anti-deus-ex-machina to force the player to start from square one in each of the previous games. It ends up feeling more natural, and shows that Batman is already prepared to kick ass. The combat flow is further improved on City and Origins; when they know what they’re doing, players can be absolute juggernaughts. Outside of combat, the Dark Knight is equally adept. This time around, you can use the disruptor to not only disable enemies’ guns and ammo, but sabotage nearby sentry drones, medics’ equipment, and more. Few things are as satisfying as entering a room, sabotage the medics, then initiate combat and watch them incapacitate themselves attempting to revive a fellow soldier. The hacking device can now also be used to trigger overhead doors, escalators, and generators to take out enemies, often with humorous results. A new gizmo is the voice synthesizer, which can be used to fake a villain’s voice to order troops specific locations to set up takedowns; sometimes, however, they get wise to the act, forcing the player to adapt.

Some tweaks were made to gameplay, which I don’t care for. Previously, the left bumper (or L1) was used to switch into and out of detective mode; now this button summons the Batmobile to a nearby location. Detective mode has been moved to D-pad up, which feels awkward to me. The other D-pad buttons are used to bring up the missions, gadgets and challenges screens. Gone are the days of fluidly switching between gadgets–while the gadgets screen does stop the game while it’s up, it still feels like it’s breaking the flow of gameplay for me. And I don’t see why the challenges and missions screens couldn’t be placed alongside the map screen like in previous games. But maybe my glasses just need cleaning.

And for the big one: the story. After Arkham City‘s stunning conclusion, Knight had big shoes to fill. Rocksteady chose not to bring back Paul Dini for this one, which was a mistake in my view. The story just doesn’t hold up, it feels less like a sequel to Arkham City and more like it’s trying to be a sequel to Arkham City. Once again, the city is cleared of civilians by a plot device, leaving only criminals, villains and supervillians for Batman to contend with. With Gotham under lockdown, two powerful evildoers take over the city with a well-armed militia and the singular purpose of destroying Batman’s legacy and Gotham’s hope. (Does this sound familiar?) Scarecrow finally makes his return–after missing since his downfall in the first Arkham game–having allied with a mysterious new heel calling himself the Arkham Knight, and in the chaos, several of Batman’s previous relations come out of the woodwork to sow discord and generally hasten his demise. On top of all this, Batman is still trying to cope with the fallout from Arkham City, which is wreaking unforseen consequences.

Arkham City was like a sampler plate of villains, giving a brief glimpse at the various inhabitants of the Rogues Gallery, but nothing so in-depth as to distract the player from the game’s main story. What I wanted, personally, was the full buffet…villains with mission chains that rivalled the core plot and really made it feel like Gotham was on the brink of being lost to any number of insidious parties. But that isn’t what this is. You get to stop Two-Face during a series of bank robberies, but the final showdown doesn’t hold a candle to his climactic encounter in Arkham City. Likewise, Batman foils Penguin’s attempt to traffic illegal weapons through the city, but once again, the finale feels hollow and the individual missions feel like they were concieved purely as a way to inject Nightwing into the game. Among the more interesting is one mission chain which involves finding a series of mutilated bodies around the city, which I found more engaging than most of the others. Azrael and Hush both appeared in Arkham City, and both their missions hinted at far larger plots in the future, but in this game their roles are no larger. Hush in particular disappointed me, as he was a character I very much wanted to see explored more; alas, he only gets an appearance in a single mission, and it’s over all too quickly. In both City and Origins, I did considerably less sidequesting, as the main story felt much more pressing. In Knight, the pace was almost lesiurely, despite Scarecrow, the Knight, and Riddler constantly usurping the public-address systems to taunt and lure me.

But my real beef with the game is the Arkham Knight himself. He was touted as a new character, an original creation, and the majority of the game focuses on Batman’s continuing search to find out who he is, and being foiled at every turn, and even headed off by the Knight on a constant basis. But when the big reveal comes, it turns out to be not only an existing figure, but someone who already has a story. To me, there is no reason whatsoever for this person to become the Arkham Knight. And despite being a central character (and one who is consistently underutilized in my opinion), Scarecrow lacks presence, with nothing like the masterfully done “nightmare” segments from the first Arkham game. After building up to it for hours and hours, the denouement just doesn’t have the impact of Asylum or finality of City. It’s like he just agreed to put his brand on the game, without actually putting his product into it. That said, John Noble does a fantastic job of voicing the character, sounding sinister and threatening while at the same time minimal, without too much embellishment. I would be quite happy to hear his voice in a future Arkham game, or DC Animated film.

But we can’t ignore the game’s technical issues. It took Rocksteady almost three months to fix the problems that Iron Galaxy left in the game, which rendered it unplayable on a great deal of machines. My computer is by no means a powerhouse; I run an FX 6300, Geforce GTX 650 Ti and 16GB of memory. It’s quite capable, but I had to play this game on low just to maintain 30 frames per second. (Although, to be fair, even low graphics still look pretty damn good). These problems led to WB suspending sales of the game while Rocksteady worked to fix it, and on top of that none of the DLC has been released on PC yet. WB has quite easily taken the crown of Most Fucked-Up Game Development. It will be a long time before I see a game released in quite such a sad state as Arkham Knight. At least, I hope it will–if someone else manages to top this anytime soon, it will be depressing indeed.

Overall, the game just didn’t connect with me. Several moments in Arkham City gave me chills (and still do, in the case of the final cinematic), but despite a number of similarly-tense scenes, Knight just didn’t make me care as much about the characters or events. That said, it’s still an Arkham game, and it’s still fun as hell. I’ve only yet scratched the surface with the various challenges, and I only have just over half the riddles, yet already I’ve sunk over 40 hours into the game. Despite its flaws, Arkham has managed once again to tap my inner addict.


Storage is cheap these days. It’s not rare to find terabyte drives in low end desktops, and many people have several multi-terabyte drives to store oodles of data. In particular, many games have large drives to store games downloaded from Steam, GOG, Origin, Uplay, or any of many services out there. There’s no doubt about it–games are getting bigger. But is it better?

Recently Bethesda announced that the upcoming Wolfenstein: The New Order will require 47GB of hard drive space to store the game. It’s already spilling over into dual layer blu-rays, and the Xbox 360 version will span four discs. This brings back some old memories, not all of them good ones.

It’s one thing if there is actually enough content to justify such a large download size, but is there? Titanfall on PC is a 48GB download–of that, 35GB comprises every single language of the game, in uncompressed audio. That’s not “lossless compressed audio”, or even “high bitrate audio”. Uncompressed. Respawn claimed this was to accomodate lower spec machines, but this reasoning is (to use a technical term) bullshit. We’re in the days of six- and eight-core computers, when even low end duals and quads have cores sitting on their laurels with nothing to do, when processing and decompressing such files is a trivial matter even for a cheap entry-level cell phone. This isn’t even excusable, it’s just laziness.

Rather than an isolated incident, this is on its way to becoming the norm. Max Payne 3 will cost you 29GB if you want it on PC. Battlefield 4 demands 24GB even before DLC is added in. For comparison, World of Warcraft was roughly 25GB at its worst, before Blizzard rolled out a patch that hugely optimized the game and pared it down to size. Skyrim is a diminutive 6GB in size, and still looked good (but that’s not to say it can’t get better). Meanwhile, Rocksteady recently commented that the Batmobile alone in Arkham Knight would take up half the available memory of an Xbox 360. I’m left wondering how much space a game like Grand Theft Auto V would will consume. I have a 1.5TB hard drive that is mostly taken up by games, and I’m not keen on shoving another in there.

Storage limits aren’t the only concern, either. Most internet providers impose limits on users’ activity, namely through download caps. In some cases, downloading even a few games like Max Payne 3 or The New Order will put someone over their limit, resulting in their speed being throttled or huge overages on their bill. I had to download and install Titanfall three times before I could launch, meaning I burned through nearly 150GB of data. While I (no longer) have a cap to worry about hitting, many users aren’t so lucky. And what about patches? Machinegames recently decided that 47GB isn’t enough space, and will be applying a 5GB day-one patch to the monstrosity of a game.

Other than optimization of files, where is the future? My money is on procedural generation. While its engine is simplistic, Minecraft can generate vast worlds using a binary that is a mere 100MB. At 148MB, the binary for Daggerfall makes use of procedural generation to create a world that would cover most of England. Going off the deep end, you find .kkreiger, which is contained entirely within an executable 95 kilobytes in size.

Even ignoring hard drive space, games are beginning to hog memory. Watch Dogs, The New Order, Titanfall, and Call of Duty: Ghosts all require at least 4GB of memory to run, to store their enormous textures. There is a dire need for a new, more efficient engine to run games at higher qualities like these; hopefully one will be here soon.

It seems that procedural generation is the buzzword of the gaming industry’s future. It cuts down on file sizes, allows for streamlining and makes every experience unique. I know I wouldn’t mind my second playthrough of a game being a little different than the first; it certainly seems to have worked well (albeit through limited implementation) in Left 4 Dead.

It’s either that, or we’re looking at multi-blu-ray titles hitting the Xbox One and Playstation 4 before long. Time to start checking prices on hard drives.


I’ve not been the biggest fan of the adjustment succession of the Modern Warfare games of late.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the hipster MW hater much of the internet has come to be, hating the franchise simply for the sake of hating the franchise.  I loved the first game, not least because it had a nicely executed OHSHI- moment that really made the player confront mortality, a rarity in shooters.  The second game changed the main character into something of a superhero, gunning down enemies in a James Bond-style chase down a snow-laden mountainside and surviving a knife wound to the chest and still managing to use the same knife to kill an enemy.

Modern Warfare 3 does a better job of using multiple viewpoints to tell the story, including one segment in which all the player does is literally walk a few feet before that character dies in a sudden terrorist attack.  But I have other fish to fry.

I would say that Activision is worrying me with the way this series is going, but that would be something of an understatement.  So far little progress has been made with it, other than innovative storytelling.  The games use virtually the same engine, with only minor tweaks (though Infinity Ward claims they are major advancements on par with the invention of the third axis).  Modern Warfare 2 and 3 are little more than glorified map packs–indeed, several of the maps are virtual copies taken from previous games, and many map structures appear to have been copypasted into “new” maps.  About the only part of the engine that shows improvement is the lighting, and even that is debatable, as shadows are blocky and pixellated, and roughly the level of quality I would expect on a low-end Wii game.

Find the differences. I dare you.

Then there’s Elite.  This aspect of the game worries me the most.  The idea is this: you pay a subscription fee, and you get access to all new content–map packs, weapons, whatever–released during the subscription period.  Considering Activision has held a pretty strong record of releasing maps for a rough price of $5 apiece, this sounds like a great way to save some money.


I’m skeptical that this will actually be to the players’ advantage, even ignoring the fact that this is Activision.  For Black Ops, the publisher managed to push out four map packs in a year’s time, which at $15 a pop would actually have justified a subscription service such as Elite.  But this is not a pace they’ve kept with other games.  Even were this not the case, Elite creates an incentive for the publisher to go slow: the slower they push out content, the more they milk the subscribers for.  And again, being Activision, I can absolutely see them pumping the teats dry.

Already cracks are showing in Elite’s armor.  The service has not been active since the game’s launch a full week ago, with Activision blaming the outage on heavy use overloading the servers.  Even more, they have moved the PC release of Elite into the “indefinite” category, and it’s unlikely the service will ever be available to the master race.  This will force the PC consumers to buy map packs as they are released, and with a minor price increase, or by breaking packs up into fewer maps or less content each, this opens up another hose through which they can suction cash like so much crude at the bottom of the Gulf.



Origin is the hot topic of the day, as is Battlefield 3.  The consumer whore I am, I decided I couldn’t wait to nab a copy of BF3 to play on launch day, but I’m wary of Origin (for obvious reasons).  I’ve read statements from EA claiming that Origin would not be required for any of their games to run, which apparently have all been deleted from the internet–either that, or my hat isn’t working anymore, because apparently Origin is and will be required for (virtually) every game to run, including Battlefield 3.  Oh well, I figured.  I purchased it on Impulse in an attempt to get around this issue.

Not only did it not work, it backfired like a CIA operation.  After a four-hour, 13GB download (yeah, my internet‘s not great), I attempted to run BF3 through Impulse and got…a game key.  That was it.  A small window in the top center of my screen showing my game’s key, which when clicked on caused Origin to launch.  Origin then prompted me for said key, after which point it began downloading the game.  Even after installing via Origin, I could not launch the game from Impulse.

What is the point of selling the game through a third-party vendor when it can’t be used by that vendor’s software?  I understand EA’s want to have Origin on the market, and have its own social network.  But it’s one thing to have Origin running in the background while the game runs, and entirely another to force someone to re-download the game even though it’s already been legitmately purchased through another storefront.  Another four hours later, I was finally able to play the game.

Thirteen gigabytes of wasted bandwidth.

At this point I was confronted with the Battlelog, perhaps one of the most confusing elements in the game so far.  Rather than having a server browser built into the game, which has been done for many years now, EA and/or DICE seem to think it was a good idea to make players manage their avatars and find servers from their internet browser, which then launches the game itself and loads everything up.  This means that switching servers requires quitting the game and re-launching it, with no shortcuts in the middle.  Meanwhile, the consoles have a fully functional server browser within the game, with almost all the options available to the PC players.

One argument I’ve heard is that this system allows for closer support for changes and patches.  Isn’t this what Origin is for?  Steam pushes updates to games automatically, so if Origin doesn’t do that, what’s the point?  EA didn’t want to play Valve’s game of providing easy-to-get DLC and updates, so if they’re not going to use Origin for that, is this just their digital iron maiden to put players in?  Seems like they’ve decided ActiBlizzard‘s douchebaggery made them look too good, and they had to start a pissing contest.

Another defense is that this allows for simplification and a more unified interface for the players.  Again…isn’t this what Origin is for?  Origin allows direct access to the EA store via what is basically…a browser window.  Couldn’t this be rolled into Origin, even in the exact state it’s in now?  Apparently not.  As the rule goes, it can’t be too easy or logical…somewhere it has to get convoluted, just to screw with people.

And what happens when this website is shut down?  Certainly they won’t keep it running indefinitely.  Someday the userbase will decline to a point at which EA decides it’s not worth running the Battlelog anymore, and then…no more play.  If all servers were centrally hosted by EA, this argument might be baseless, but they’re not.  They’re hosted by whoever feels like hosting one, to avoid the issues Activision ran into with peer hosting in Modern Warfare 2.  But this is pointless if one can’t find the servers to login to, and unless EA/DICE decides to patch the game to include a server browser that isn’t going to happen.  I’m beginning to become convinced the developers and publishers out there want to destroy the PC platform for no reason other than sadism, or perhaps boredom.

duke flukem

Duke Nukem Forever was put up on a Steam sale last week, so I decided to take it up.  I’ve put four hours or so into it by now, and I have to say, I’m not impressed.

To be fair, I’ve only so far put a few hours into the game.  But already it’s flailing about like a frog reanimated with raw electricity.  The game runs on a heavily modified Unreal Engine 2, so much so that the increase in detail and model complexity almost makes it look like Unreal Engine 3 (which makes me wonder why Gearbox didn’t go with that out of the box).  This is probably the cause of issues, because I’ve had to scale back the game’s settings considerably.  While my system isn’t bleeding-edge, it’s not a pushover either, and the fact that the game’s high settings drags it down to 10 fps tells me something in there is overloading the processors.  This framerate drag can even leak into play at lower settings, but oddly at random times.  This can be corrected by just sitting and waiting for a minute, but you can’t always do that in heavy combat, and even so, having to stop and wait for the frames to catch up can really hurt the motivation to continue playing.

Interestingly, the skybox isn’t a clear image.  When looking around at normal magnification, it looks perfectly fine, but when you zoom in the view–even the basic “iron sights”-esque zoom–it’s quite obviously fuzzy, as if the developers didn’t intend (or want) the player to actually look at it.  This is a bit puzzling, because it wouldn’t have taken much more to fully detail the image, even on the off-chance of being looked at.

The shadows in the game behave oddly, to say the least.  When the focus point of the player’s view changes, it seems all shadows are redrawn, so that objects seem to glow.  This has distracted me on more than one occasion with thinking that the “glowing” oject was my obective when it was just a minor lighting glitch.  This even happens with some “permanent” objects, such as buildings and terrain, not just items that are sitting around.  I can only surmise that this is also a result of the heavy modifications made to the game engine.

Above: The shadowing issue in action.

Probably the worst design decision the team made was to graft platform and puzzle elements into the game.  In one stage, you come across a statue of Duke which must be used to reach the next floor of a building.  The statue’s hitbox is small enough that one can very easily fall off the arms, making the task tedious and annoying.  Later Duke must utilize a crane to continue his progress, and like most other puzzles in the game, the solution isn’t very clear.  At least six times in the first six chapters, I have had to look up YouTube videos to solve these awkward puzzles, and each time I felt stupid for not noticing the solution, even though it was badly designed.  Don’t get me wrong, these features can work in a shooter, but they don’t really fit into this game at all.  Duke  is all about fast and furious gunplay with weapons of absurd destruction.  Breaking the momentum with tedious puzzles and framerate issues can kill the game, and in this case, probably does for many players.

What strikes me as particularly funny is that another game feels more like Duke than…well, Duke.  BulletStorm is a game focused purely on gunplay, and capitalizes on this with skillshots that grant points for particularly interesting, unusual, or simply skillful kills of various flavors.  These skillshots make the game far more enjoyable by encouraging creativity with kills, while having almost zero emphasis on plot or puzzle elements.  I get the distinct feeling that BulletStorm is the game Duke Nukem Forever wanted to be.  It’s certainly the one I enjoyed more.


Recently the gaming world was rocked by an earthquake of indescribable magnitude.  That earthquake was the sound of one of the great titans falling–id Software, or more specifically that great god of gaming John Carmack.

For the past four years, id has been trumpeting the development process of their new engine, id Tech 5.  This new engine would support enormous textures (as high as 128,000×128,000), live streaming of textures into the game world, automatic optimization of resources to make cross-platform development easier, and dozens of upgrades to increase the visual quality of games, such as multi-threading and volumetric lighting.

Comparison: id tech 3, 4 and 5

But when the hammer hit the nail, some bad things happened.  Immediately the PC version of the game suffered from horrendous texture pop-in; if the player shifted their focus of view for even a moment, high-resolution textures would be moved out of memory, thanks to the texture streaming aspect that the studio so staunchly stood behind.  The result is a world of constantly smeared textures, which looks so badly like an overused highlighter that even Joystiq had to take a shot at them.

Compounding the problem, the game had virtually no settings the player could access.  Literally.  These are settings more or less like those found on console games, where there is no need to allow players to alter every aspect of the game’s performance.  A patch now allows more settings to be accessed, but being one of the chief advantages of the PC platform, this is something that should have been there from the start (and is there, in virtually every other PC game released in the last fifteen years).

This is all baffling when taken in the context of who made the game: John Carmack, one of the foremost PC developers of all time, and probably the most ardent crusader for the platform in this day and age.  At this year’s QuakeCon, he speaks of the differences between PC and console development and mentions (as he has many times before) that the limitations of consoles hold back PC game development because games essentially must be developed for the weakest platform, and can only be scaled up or adapted for the PC.  From the way he constantly brings this up, it seems the logical solution is to abandon console development entirely and focus, with religious zeal, on the PC platform.  But he insisted (or at least, someone insisted) on creating an engine and a game for all three platforms.  The end result is…well, you can see for yourself.

Making things even worse, id has recently revealed that their test builds of the game ran on machines with drivers that had been customized.  There are no words for how foolish a plan like this is.  This would be like custom building a car engine that ran on a homemade concoction of fuel, and then complaining when that engine failed to run properly on the fuel that people actually sell at gas stations.  AMD and nVidia, stunningly, have released driver updates that have greatly improved RAGE’s performance–but this arrangement is backward.  Developers don’t dictate to hardware vendors what their drivers should do.

And now, as can be read in the above link, id is saying that the PC isn’t the “leading platform?”

A titan has truly fallen today.  Let’s hope the PC pantheon can hold itself up.


I’ve been playing some Alan Wake lately. I’m inclined to say that, yes, it is a very good game. The horror aspect is normally something I’m not into, but in this case it is exceptionally well-executed. Making the game dark and shadowy binds the player to the flashlight and makes it a lifeline both in and out of combat. In true horror fashion, the game is more about the fear of physical harm than the physical harm itself. As I wandered through a forest, fighting occasional Taken, I saw the bright light of a safe haven in the distance. I proceeded to move at a crawl through the next 200 feet of forest, constantly turning in circles to check around me in what was now a hard-coded paranoid habit. When I reached the haven without encountering a single Taken, I had the distinct feeling that I had just been trolled by the developers.

One problem I have with the game is its camera placement. I realize this is a third person shooter, but damn. The camera floats around a point that looks to be almost five feet away from Wake, making aiming a bit skewed. Walking around imparts a feeling like peering through a fisheye lens, because everything is at such a high angle to the camera. It looks as if Wake is going to fall over at any moment, or perhaps the Earth will suddenly fling itself out of its orbit.

The autoaim is graciously forgiving, which is a definite bonus considering the skewed angle. More than once, I’ve managed to die particularly gruesome deaths in combat because I couldn’t get the angle of my shot right, and was somehow managing to miss constantly. The shotgun, of course, remedies this well, but shells are preciously few and far between.

There is one thing that annoys me too much to look past: the tearing. Apparently the game isn’t properly v-synced, which is something I’ve noticed of late in console games. It doesn’t make sense to me, as TVs pretty much all have the same refresh rate (can you say “NTSC“?). Granted, the move to LCDs kind of throws a wrench in this as LCDs don’t have a “refresh rate” in the conventional sense, but sticking to 60Hz shouldn’t create any issues regardless.

This is an issue I see with PC games almost all the time, as well. Most any PC game features a v-sync option in its video settings, but this option is apparently a placebo, because it has absolutely no effect. It’s because of this that I have v-sync forced on at all times via my nVidia drivers. I don’t know why the games themselves can’t do it, but it seems to me something that should have been worked out many years ago.

out of control

Several months ago I bought Darksiders on Steam during a sale. Upon first launching the game, however, I noticed a problem: the camera was pointed at the ground, and I couldn’t get it to budge from that orientation. Neither my keyboard/mouse nor my controller seemed to work properly. It wasn’t just the camera, either–it seemed like controls were mapped randomly, sprinkled like dust in the wind to land in patterns governed only by nature. I tried to force the game to comply with my wishes, to no avail. After some lookups, I discovered the game was designed specifically to use the Xbox 360 PC controller. So specifically, that it was programmed not to make use of any other controller.

This is a massive failure of programming. I’m not even sure this is a failure, per se. This is something that takes actual effort to do. One has to actually program the game to refuse other controllers for this tactic to work. I imagine the effort involved to enable general support would be significantly less than that which was consumed to make it only use the X360 controller. I found numerous solutions for using my controller, most of which invoked the dark magics of custom firmware and the unreadable tomes of custom-written executables. None of these I was comfortable using.
Eventually I gave up and steamed over the loss of my money for an unplayable game.

Now it’s a few months later. I recently finished my playthrough of Batman: Arkham Asylum, although I will probably go back and do the challenges and find the rest of the riddles and all the completionist nerd stuff. ANYWAY, after finishing Arkham, I was a little listless, unsure of which game to play through next. I randomly decided to give Darksiders another go. Experience expand.
This time when I launched the game, by chance my controller wasn’t plugged in. The game loaded up, I skipped to the murdering and desecration courtesy of my spacebar, and…it worked. It just worked. I could run around and fight via the WASD/Mouse control scheme. It was as if there had never been a problem whatsoever. To say the least, I was a little confused. I did some forum searches and came up with this post. I was even more confused now. How could the mere presence of a controller, even a disabled controller, affect how a game interprets input commands? This is asinine.
Having a discussion with a friend over this, I was told that the PC version of the original Halo suffered from a similar retardation. Apparently the game does not interpret joystick inputs as analog commands, but digital ones. What does this mean? The effect of tilting the joystick foward a millimeter, or tilting it to its full extent, is exactly the same. The character moves at the same speed. It’s just like pressing the W key. Why could Gearbox not have programmed the game to actually make use of the joysticks? It’s not like they were exceptionally rare at the time the game was made. While I hear arguments of “programming for controllers is difficult because they’re all different”, I don’t buy that. They may have different layouts, but there are only a handful of individual layouts used for controllers nowadays, and in the case of joysticks–they’re joysticks. There’s no reason why they can’t be accomodated for in the programming.
In another related rant, there is Magicka. Great game. Absolutely fun. And ridiculous. In more ways than one. When the game is launched, you are asked to configure your controller. This is done in a surprisingly intuitive manner. However, you can’t not map commands to the controller. That is to say, if you’re out of buttons and/or you reach a command you will rarely use, you can’t choose to map it to the keyboard or not at all. You have to map every command it asks you to. There is no way around this. I don’t know if it detects controllers and configures itself based on what it detects, but it so happened that the number of commands exactly matched the number of buttons on my controller. This is a problem for me, as the lower shoulder buttons are mapped, via the Logitech driver, as dedicated screenshot and recording functions. You never know when you might want to grab a screenie, and when you miss the moment, you regret it forever. So, I have two leftover functions I have to map to the keys already reserved. While Arrowhead has mostly done a superb job with Magicka, this is one minor detail that is a big annoyance.
And for my conclusion: Braid. You can’t use a controller at all for this game. Why not? It’s a fucking platformer!

warranty disservice

Around April 10th, my motherboard crapped out on me due to minor power issues at my apartment. Shit happens. Oh well. It was a week out of NewEgg’s return policy, but well within Asus’ warranty period. These circumstances clearly dictated my course of action.

I filed for an RMA, and after waiting three days, got my approval. Why I had to wait that long during the business week is beyond me, Gigabyte had my approval back by the end of the same day. A few days later I walked into my local UPS Store and had it sent out. It arrived at Asus’ repair facility in Indiana on the 20th, and I recieved confirmation the next day that they had the product.
April 25th: An email appeared on my browser that stated the repair was finished. While the email stressed that it was not in any way a confirmation that the product had been shipped out, it did say that it had left their warehouse and was on its way.
Today is May 10th. It has been fifteen days. I was not given a tracking number with which to verify the progress of the package (Asus states they use Fedex for their return service). When I ventured to Asus’ support site to file a complaint, I encountered another layer of stupidity.
The page to file includes fields for the following:
Product Model
Serial Number
BIOS Revision
Video Card Make
Video Card Model
Video Card Chipset
Video Card Driver
CPU Make
CPU Model
CPU Speed
Memory Make
Memory Model
Memory Capacity
HDD Make
HDD Model
HDD Capacity
All of these fields are required before the form can be submitted.
Asus, what the fuck does all this matter? Your motherboard crapped out on me, it’s under your warranty, and you should at least be able to fix it, return it to me in a reasonable period, and provide me some way of tracking the progress of the repair and the return package (they at least got the former tracking right, something Gigabyte didn’t do). You’ve already determined that it is fully covered by warranty or you would not have carried out the warranty service on it.
My next motherboard is going to be a Gigabyte. At least, unless Asus spontaneously overhauls their RMA experience.