Sunday, 29 March 2009

Inactivity apology and streaming games

If I were to compare my life to a computer game character at this moment in time, it would probably be Sonic. Not that I am fast, agile or a hedgehog, but I seem to be going after a lot of gold rings in a metaphorical sense at present. I could also perhaps compare myself to Max Payne, not that I have a depressing life or kill people, but there is currently a lot on my mind, as I imagine there probably is on his. University work is always fun, but it does seem to eat up blogging time, so I am sorry for my slight inactivity.

Anyway, back on to the meat portion of this entire blog, gaming.

Recently a brand new digital game service has been showcased at the Game Developers Conference which promised to stream games directly to your computer, requiring no download or install.

Streaming video games in theory could revolutionise the games industry in the way that YouTube revolutionised copyright infringing film footage and unfunny home videos that nobody cares about. Of course it could just as easily go the other way and be as useful as a chocolate teapot in a radiator factory situated on the sun.

The first thing that struck me when I browsed to the OnLive website was that my relatively decent computer and broadband had a bit of difficulty streaming the introductory video on the homepage. If it struggled sending this information to the user, how will it cope with sending thousands of games to thousands of people all at once?

The tech demos that have been given so far have all looked quite impressive, but they are not being influenced by the potential other hundreds of thousands of people that might want to stream games when the service goes live this winter.

The games themselves are hosted on the OnLive servers which means that you are sending each game command and click through the vastness of the internet in the hope that it will get to your game at the critical moment you need it to. This seems a little bit far fetched at present, seeing as how a lot of people get lag when playing online, even when the content is all hosted locally.

An advantage to the games being hosted elsewhere does put less demand on the users PCs which should hopefully broaden the audience of many games that would usually require a very high spec machine to play. This could of course, again, go the other way and affect the quality of some games graphically.

I personally remain to be convinced to see if this will work, as it will really need to be something truly special to de-rail the victory train made of gold and unicorns that Valve’s Steam is currently riding.

Replacing locally installed games and forcing everyone online will be a very difficult thing to do, as even now, a lot of people put up a fuss with having to play games like Dawn of War 2 through Steam.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Violent games are taxing

I can understand why things such as alcohol and cigarettes would have extra tax on them. They have proven negative effects on people’s health and pleasantries. I do not necessarily agree with taxes on them 100%, but I do see the arguments behind it.

On the other hand however, I do not see the reasoning behind taxing violent videogames, as was suggested earlier in the week. The genius thought behind this one is that if violent games were a little dearer, those who might be tempted to buy the game, like it too much, and kill their family with a hammer, might be put off.

I know this is a major bit of dead equine floggery, but violent games do not kill people. It’s the few crazies that slip off the edge that carry out unspeakable acts and then when they have no where to go, might blame the games, if the jury doesn’t first.

I do not mean to sound insensitive, but blaming games for society’s ills really is stupid. In a similarly stupid vein, so is suggesting that a high tax will help curb the alleged problem.

The main argument for putting a tax on violent games is that they are turning our sweet innocent youth of society into hoody wearing, knife toting muggers and rapists. So if the games are more expensive they will have less access, helping communities live together in a little more harmony.

Has it struck them that making games cost more could go in the completely wrong direction, and so instead of just thugs, we will have thugs who are more desperate because they spent all their money on games.

Surely the best thing to do is to try and treat games retail a bit more like alcohol sales and enforce a stricter challenge 25 out look to it?

On a slightly different note, Mad World comes out soon and if reviews are anything to go by, it is fun but a little short (around six hours apparently). Is this still regarded as short nowadays? I only ask because to me it seems that this is becoming the average, which is a huge shame.

From the videos I have seen, the game’s protagonist, Jack, has an arm mounted chainsaw that is put to a rather gloriously violent use. I think that that he may have over looked the lucrative aspects of selling such a device to lumber jacks who are always on the move. A retractable chainsaw would make equipment management so much simpler for them.

Friday, 6 March 2009

The RTS is starting to mutate

I have been hopelessly addicted to Dawn of War II for the past two weeks. It has been my safe room away from the hordes of university assignments that seem to be charging at me fists first, attempting to pummel my free time into the ground so far it might strike oil.

DOW2 is a real breath of fresh air in a genre of game that was starting to go stale. The game is a real-time strategy, but it has been gutted of so many elements that we are familiar with, it is amazing that it can still walk. To replace some of the stuff it has lost, various RPG elements have been welded on to the sides to make some kind of hybrid monster that is very pretty.

For a start, the removal of base building means that you are immediately thrown into the fierce melee of battle, using a cover system similar to Company of Heroes’ in the gritty universe of Warhammer 40,000.

In the single player campaign you have four squads to nurse and maintain, and when one dies, the squad commander lies on the floor waiting to be revived, meaning that your units never really die. Immediately this is screaming RPG and that’s even before I mention the new weapons, armour and items that can be looted from missions.

This really is a leap and a bound away from the Command & Conquer style of games that can be argued set a mainstream precedent for the genre of click this, then click that to kill stuff.

Is it a welcome change though? I must admit, I really did like Supreme Commander in the way that I could build my impenetrable fortresses of doom that would make a tortoise so ashamed that it would try and think its way out of existence.

The concept of building the biggest stick to hit the enemy with is now near enough gone, even though you can build units in DOW2 multiplayer, they are too resource intensive to create vast armies.

Personally, I am very happy with the change that DOW2 has brought to the game, but I am unsure if it will become the norm for the genre. It is a fun style to play, but base building and horde management have just been such oversized staples in the genre for so long, that they will be there for a long time.

Just look at Starcraft II for instance. That is sticking to its roots like a house to its foundations caught in a light breeze.

DOW2 revolutionised the series that is for sure, but I am not certain if anybody outside of Relic will try and develop this idea any further. Not for the time being in any case.