Thursday, 28 April 2011

Sony's massive cock up

Games are once again being shunted in the headlines but for once it’s not because Grand Theft Auto is molesting the nation’s children, or that Call of Duty is actually an al-Quaeda training facility. Even more interestingly, it’s also drawn the support of gamers to cry out against one of the industry’s super giants. Of course I am talking about the current PSN outage.

Sony’s small faux pas in this international stage play is simple. They took the PlayStation Network down without providing a decent reason before telling everyone a week later that all of their data might have been stolen. Please excuse me while I go and change some passwords, monitor my bank account like an obsessive compulsive hawk, and make sure that my bike is still chained up.

It’s one thing to have all of this information nicked, but to not tell anyone about the possible damage for so long is really dodgy. It probably won’t affect the majority of people, but it’s still wise to take the appropriate actions just in case the bastard hand of fate decides your life could do with an extra speed bump.

This is before you start thinking about how upset PS3 users are that they haven’t had the opportunity to sample Portal 2’s online co-op play yet, or enjoy the new SOCOM game in the way it is clearly meant to be done. Many have perceived the PSN to be slightly behind other online gaming services up until recently, so being crippled with no conceivable end in sight will certainly not do anything to sway that popular opinion.

It’ll also be interesting to see how this has affected other game developers. No revenue from digital content for them or Sony for every day the service has been down must be mounting into a big pile of wet, slippery unhappiness. I wonder if subscribers to PS3 MMO DC Universe Online will get any kind of compensation for not being able to play what they have already paid for on a monthly basis. What about those that have paid for a PSN Plus subscription? Bet they can’t be happy to see how their shiny e-coins didn’t go towards protecting against long term outages.

Hopefully services will resume to normal sometime soon, but it would be nice to know a few more details about what has happened. I can only hope that it is something as entertaining as the work experience boy pulling the wrong lever in a massive control room at Sony HQ. He’d certainly get an interesting reference from it.

Monday, 18 April 2011

AAAARRRGG at the Portal 2 ARG

I’m usually the first one to excitedly jump up in the air, giggling like a school girl who’s been drinking liquid helium when it comes to saying how much I love Valve. With the release of Portal 2 frustratingly still a few hours away, I can’t help but feel that the (apparent) final part of their ARG has been one massive cock tease and a bit of a dick move.

For those not in the know, the ARG (or alternate reality game for those not in the know) has been some sort of crazy metafiction revolving around Portal 2 and potatoes. People have been collecting potatoes from hidden Aperture Science login screens from a collection of thirteen games while trying to piece together exactly what the hell has been going on.

Then a mysterious countdown screen was discovered. There was loads of flimsy and some slightly stronger theories that when the countdown expired, Portal 2 would get an early release, and all of that mad potato hunting would have been worth it. Instead what we got was simply another countdown. But all hope was not lost! Apparently if we played the same indie games for long enough then our gracious Aperture Science overlords would be able to awaken GLaDOS early for a slice of early Portal 2.

About 76 hours later and we still haven’t unlocked Portal 2. I think at the very most we’ve made it release four or five hours early. Four or five hours despite the collective wealth of Steam’s awesome user base putting hours and hours into hunting for potatoes with a passion that borders on deranged.

I don’t mean to sound like a really ungrateful sod, but promising that working hard will get Portal 2 released early, and then not really delivering on it in any real way is just mean. A lot of us will have a fair day of work before we can play, so get no benefit of an early release by a few hours at all.

It would have been better to have delivered a new awesome trailer or something at the end of the initial countdown, not buckets and buckets of false hope peppered with the glittering ashes of fresh optimism. Valve isn’t new to this kind of fan service, so you’d have thought they would have been able to work it so we had a weekend release or something (if they were serious about giving it to us early).

Still, it could be worse. Those who want to feel the hardened skin of a boxed copy (as opposed to merely sniffing data packets as they download over a wireless network) will have to wait until Thursday. I honestly think I would have exploded by then.

I really doubt the game will be unlocked tonight, and if it does I will happily chew on my own fingers that have typed these words, but I really think it would have been a lot better to have not hinted at an early release at all. There was even a clue in the ARG that literally translated to 4/19/11 at 7am (Portal 2’s official time of release) = 4/15/11 at 9am. How else can that be interpreted?

The other thing that really bothers me about this whole thing is that the pirates already have the game and have spoiled the ending for hundreds of devoted Portal 2 fans hunting for clues on forums. It’s such a shame that those trying to help the ARG effort have had a twist straightened out for them. I’ve been on a complete forum black out for fear of spoilers since last Friday.

Ah well, hopefully in 24 hours this’ll all be over and Portal 2 will happily be humming away in my hard drive. Of course knowing what Steam is like on a big release day, it’s quite possible that their cloud servers will start raining hot shards of angry shrapnel.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The state of multiplayer games today

I think I’m just about ready to give up on finding hope in multiplayer first-person shooters. The fun factor seems to fluctuate more than an indecisive metronome from round to round and it’s the little things that are really killing it for me.

For starters, where the hell has the frontline gone these days? Why are we randomly dropped around the map in a place where the game has decided is sensible? I really miss fixed spawn points because at least then you know the rough direction the enemy might be meandering his way to your position from.

Nine times out of eleven I am shot in the back, usually after chasing an enemy down in an attempt to kill them. Enemy placement is hellishly sporadic and so you just end up creeping slowly everywhere, like you’re on the lookout for the Predator’s tri-laser sight of doom to show up somewhere. Any mad sprint to re-unite with your team is usually met with an anti-social enemy sniper letting you know he has spotted you with punishing accuracy.

As there is no central “your team appears here” place, sticking together becomes a lot more challenging and very often more hassle than it is worth. Of course when you then decide to go lone wolf it’s a pair of hostile buddies you run into who merrily shoot your teeth into the back of your brain.

Personally I think it’s why Bad Company 2 works so well in multiplayer. You’re constantly in amongst your teammates because the game actually drops you into it together. You’re in the thick of action with fierce firefights over key areas allowing for more strategic play then the random carnage of Call of Duty. I think it’s a real shame that Crysis 2 went with the sprinkle spawning option.

I’m really trying to get into Crysis 2 multiplayer but there are so many things that have started to put me off. Focussing on the spawn problems alone, I rarely seem to end up anywhere near my fellow comrades. I actually spawned immediately behind an enemy the other day (and merrily bagged the cheapest kill of the week).

I really hate Call of Duty for what it seems to be doing to the industry. So many games these days have a multiplayer component tacked on that attempts to copy and paste the foundations of Modern Warfare rather than come up with something completely new. Maybe I’m just noticing it because I have the gaming prowess of a paralytic sloth at times, but the majority of deathmatch type games give you a lifespan of under two minutes, with all the grenades, rockets and random death that seems to fly around.

Take me back to the days of Counter-Strike, with tense waits, slow advances and reason to actually value the life of your virtual avatar. The pacing of that game just seems better than the hideous cluster mess that competitive multiplayer is these days.

I just hope that Battlefield 3 is planning to kill Call of Duty by going back to the days of Battlefield 2, Vietnam and 1942, and not jump into the same chud boat that the masses seem to like for some inexplicable reason. Oh yeah, and screw killstreaks as well!