Category Archives: computer gaming
Words really cannot do justice to this game; it must be seen to be understood. Its trailer captures and relates the spirit of the game:
It is the future! The year is 2007. The apocalypse has had an apocalypse. Remember those old trashy action movies that used to come on after dark on cable, that you taped and watched endlessly as a kid? This game is one of those movies. As the designers call it, Blood Dragon is an ’80s VHS vision of the future, a flashback to what action movies in the Reagan years depicted the future—err, our recent past. It’s overwrought, overflowing with ultraviolence, spewing forth one-liners and bad puns in every direction.
I think I’m in love.
Instead of loading screens, there are “tracking” screens; the draw-distance doesn’t have obscuring haze or fog, it has VHS scan lines. The in-game movies are straight out of the 16-bit console era. Protagonist Rex Powercolt (a gravelly voiced Michael Biehn) is influenced by Universal Soldier, with more than a little G.I. Joe thrown in; his nemesis Colonel Sloan wears the same kind of chainmail vest as the bad guy in Commando. The weapons are homages to such classics as Terminator 2 (shotgun), Predator (minigun), and Robocop (pistol, sniper rifle). The jeeps are straight out of every bad action movie ever, right down to their horrible off-road handling. And let’s not forget the eponymous blood dragons, giant neon lizards that shoot freakin’ laser beams from their eyes.
Actually, just about everything here is doused in neon—the bow glows blue neon, the hordes of cyber-goons glow red neon, the scenery is a sugar rush of colors. Compared to most shooters, which are drenched in a range of bland from “earth-tones” to “shit-covered,” Blood Dragon is almost seizure-inducing. It’s also got an impressive retro soundtrack from Australian music duo Power Glove that’s been on heavy rotation on my iPod since it released.
The gameplay is radically different from the other Far Crys; for the first time, I felt like a true badass in a video game. You can run faster than those crappy jeeps, you have stealthy takedowns for enemies, and while your level-up path is linear, you get plenty of excellent upgrades. The blend of action and stealth is excellent, and it’s equally possible to run in guns blazing, or sneak around killing enemies with your bow and stealth takedowns. Though, the game takes a perverse pleasure in having those stealth scenarios go awry, and there’s a chaotic exuberance to fucking up at being stealthy and getting into a prolonged firefight where reinforcements (and blood dragons) are called in.
At first, I thought of another major franchise combining comedy and violence, the Saints Row series. The two are very different flavors. Saints Row has increasingly been approaching comedy like a baseball-bat-sized floppy purple dildo to the face—an over-the-top assault of crazy. Blood Dragon is much more tongue in cheek, only where the tongue is protruding through the gaping hole in said cheek, and more than occasionally turns into a leering grimace. Some of its lines are drop-dead hilarious; others, like Rex arguing with his internal A.I. over tutorials, and some of the oft-recycled one-liners when he kills a cyber-goon, can come off as grimly glib, even forced. After all, this is the game where you rip out the enemy’s glowing blue cyber-hearts and use them to lure neon dinosaurs around the map.
About halfway through the game I realized that, underneath its candy-colored shell and assortment of ’80s references, this is still a Far Cry game, and living in a post-Far Cry 2 world means a lot of cycling enemy patrols, assaulting cookie-cutter bases, doing three types of similar side-quest to unlock upgrades, and finding hidden “secrets” scattered across the map. I’m not a huge fan of repetitive grind, especially when it feels like filler to pad a short single-player campaign; thankfully Blood Dragon ended up being about the right length. If you only completed the story missions, you could probably complete it in 5-6 hours. Giving in to my OCD-ness and completing all the content, along with a bit of wandering around for shits and giggles, took me a grand total of 11 hours.
About the only thing I can complain about—besides my dislike for the series’ devolution into repetitive gameplay—is that it requires Uplay, Ubisoft’s new proprietary game hub. (“But everyone else was doing it!”) While it’s no Steam, and it’s frustrating to boot into yet another platform from Steam, at least Uplay is leaps and bounds ahead of Origin. It doesn’t transfer achievements (which is why Steam doesn’t have any), but it does have an interesting system where getting achievements and accomplishments gives you Uplay points, to unlock content like wallpapers and music files. (Yippie.)
What really impresses me is that someone at Ubi came up with a risky idea, and then management let them run with it—using one of their cornerstone triple-A brands, to boot. I applaud them for taking the risks; some of the game elements feel like baby steps, like the devs could have expanded on an idea or pushed a boundary, but for the price I got more than I expected. (MSRP is $15, I picked it up during the Steam summer sale for $8.99. You can get the digital soundtrack for $7.99 at Amazon.) Also, it’s worth pointing out that the game is a standalone DLC title and doesn’t require Far Cry 3, despite its branding.
Commentators have wondered if the same nostalgic magic will work for other Ubisoft properties; “Watch Dogs: Pound Puppies edition” was one suggestion thrown out there. But I don’t think it’s the flashback of ’80s nostalgia that made Blood Dragon work. I think it was stepping outside the box, taking risks, and coming up with something radically different from anything else out there that made such a splash. When you compare the lineup of first-person shooters coming out in recent years, you have a few outliers (Bioshock for example), but most fall into the modern military “bro shooter” category. In that sea of games with coffee-stained graphics, whose gameplay elements tend to revolve around linear corridors and cover-based-shooting, the neon-infused homage/loving satire of ’80s action movie stands out like a sore thumb. Or a glorious beacon of hope, who knows.
There’s a reason I’m so hard on games like Metro: 2033, Far Cry 2, and even Bioshock 2: it’s because of games like Bioshock: Infinite. Games that are not only a step above the herd, but games that raise the bar of excellence and become milestones in their genre.
That’s not to say that Bioshock: Infinite is perfect. It leans on the short side—even mining it to glean every secret I could, I barely topped 14 hours, and most players I know beat it in 10-12. Why do you acquire superhuman powers (vigors) from vending machines? Because Bioshock had plasmids, and System Shock had psionics before it; there’s no story reason for them this time, though, so they feel tacked-on to keep the game mechanics symmetrical to its predecessors. The ending of the game is a cerebral mindfuck, which is good, but it’s on rails, which will bother some players, and is… well, for the sake of spoilers, let’s say not the most upbeat of circumstances. (Though it’s generating plenty of discussion, which I’m sure was the devs’ intent.) And this is a game whose story excels to the point where the combat mechanics look underwhelming in comparison, where each new combat situation is shorter than the last due to my upgraded abilities and weapons, simply filling time before I’m off to roam the next impressive environment to find more clues about the story and setting.
The sad part about those environments is that, in our age of Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Autos, we expect—want—demand a game to give us open sandbox freedom to explore every square inch. We can explore all we want here in the flying city of Columbia, but its’ narrow alleys and locked storefronts offer limited potential. What we do see is a gold mine of creativity, beautifully rendered in stunning graphics. We have stunning vistas of city blocks rising and falling, the hectic chaos of riding on a metal skyhook on rails during some of the more impressive combat set-pieces, and one of the few new worlds of gaming that’s shockingly original. But I can’t help but wish that a company like BethSoft would come up with a new, original idea half this creative for their next FPSRPG sandbox epic; this world has plenty of depth, but I want to get lost in it and can’t.
By which I mean, Borderlands 2 has fun environments to explore, but c’mon: it’s all rocks and rusting debris and one glittering robot metropolis and you can’t beat a flying fucking city, you just can’t. Meanwhile, Bioshock: Infinite is an illusory sandbox whose freedoms don’t live up to the expectations its trailers set. It creates those restraints to hone in and focus on its narrative, its story.
The story is what carries the game with the critics, earning its nods and speculation as Game of the Year. It’s immersive, a pressing mystery you and your character have to solve with clues and foreshadowing scattered throughout Columbia’s environs. It’s a highly cinematic game, meaning it’s a tad linear (hence the lack of free-roaming environments) and sticks you in a certain character and set-piece situations. It’s also the best in that field since Half-Life 2. Unlike Half-Life, the protagonist has dialogue, and it’s more than the set-pieces which are scripted; there’s a lack of choice there, but more feel of character and story. Really, it’s trying to re-shape the “game” element into something we’re more used to experiencing as “movies” or “books,” and bind that narrative into the game medium using twitch shooting. Bioshock: Infinite is either representative of the future’s more interactive narratives (“played any good books/films lately”), or it was constructed using the wrong medium.
The reason Bioshock Infinite is a milesone is because it challenges some stereotypical assumption we have about games, re-defining ideas. That shooters can have a better story than combat. That escort missions don’t have to be a chore, and that secondary ride-along characters can be deep and interesting, helpful gameplay-wise, even highly likeable—after this, I foresee secondary/support characters being approached from new directions. And that asking deep questions—about concepts as deep and heady as philosophy, choice, freedom, predestination and fatalism, fate and free will—nothing that dense had really been tried before, so no one knew if it was something gamers will embrace or than shy away from. Instead, they took to the forums and Youtube and created a massive free-flowing dialogue of its elements, looking closely to point out intricate details such as the Lutece connections and the various hidden sounds in the game.
I realize I’m saying a lot about the game without really saying anything about the game; it released months ago, so unless you’ve been hiding under a rock I’m going to assume you’ve already played it, or have read/watched a review—there are many others more qualified than I to review it. For the most part, the game is a bestseller with high critical praise, but there are several key complaints about trying to write a linear narrative in game form, even some downright hostile criticism. I agree with some of their elements, but am willing to look past them for two reasons. First, the game itself is an addicting experience, sheer brilliance tarnished by a few critical flaws; it grabs you with its immersion and doesn’t let go until the ending. Second, looking past it is looking ahead at how its styles and techniques could impact the gaming medium. Bioshock: Infinite could be a one-off that makes some waves but shows that a more linear/cinematic story-driven game an evolutionary dead end, or it could be a half-formed stepping-stone which foreshadows a paradigm shift in how game developers integrate narrative into gameplay.
Most of all, I’m curious where its DLC will take the game, given that the ending had both a sense of finality along with its open-to-interpretation uncertainty, a lack of clarity that helped opened the pandora’s box of discussion.
I have to say, the trailer to Far Cry 3 makes me really want to run out and pick it up. The depth and breadth—not to mention the various critics’ praise—shown in the ten-minute teaser trailer is impressive. The single-player story looks cool, the environments look immersive, and the leveling up tattoos and gun modifications look amazing. But I’m still a little hesitant; it looks too much like an improved Far Cry 2, and Far Cry 2 was one of the most disappointing games I’ve ever played.
Far Cry 2 didn’t try to follow in the original game’s footsteps, other than having lush, expansive environments to drive around in, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to focus on; they even expanded the amount of sandbox, putting Far Cry 2 on the Elder Scrolls/Grand Theft Auto level. It took place in a war-torn African nation, playing a mercenary stricken with malaria who was after the arms dealer supply both factions in the war. With an arsenal of weapons, it’s your job to take on the two factions and fight your way through the jungles to kill the arms dealer. Sounds all good so far, right?
Well, the actual gameplay is very hit or miss. Some of the game’s mechanics are great, some of them terrible. Most of them are just bland and irritating.
- The setting is just plain huge, covering deserts, plains, jungles, slums, all the key African environment types. And when I say huge, I mean fucking gigantic: the map you start out on is bigger than most sandbox games, and then halfway through the game another map is unlocked, doubling the world size. The day-night cycle is impressive, and goes by at a decent pace. And those expansive maps are filled with lush vistas and really cool locales, even if the plants can be rubbery at times.
- The problem is, it’s empty, and infuriatingly boxed-in despite its size. Big and expansive with not a damn thing to do it in, except at the scattered waypoints on your map. There’s no real wildlife out there, and except in the wide-open plains and desert areas, you’re restricted to either a.) traveling by foot, which takes YEARS for you to cross the map, or b.) driving along rivers and dirt tracks through the jungle.
- The problem with the dirt tracks and roads is that there are faction checkpoints every mile or so filled with troops that you have to kill. Between the checkpoints are roving vehicles on patrol. Either way, you have to stop to fight after about five minutes of traveling, which gets monotonous and repetitive. Worse, it takes the focus away from the gorgeous scenery.
- Respawns! When you leave a checkpoint after blowing it up and looting it, walk five feet out of view, turn around and go back because you’re short on grenades, bam reinforcements have arrived. There is no sense that anything you do impacts this world, since the checkpoints and road patrols regenerate some ten seconds after you get out of view. This also works in the inverse; walk too far away from a vehicle and it vanishes.
- Enemy AI! This exists only in on/off form; either they’re shooting at you, or they’re milling about. If you silently kill one of them trying to be a stealthy sniper, they all see you and open fire within minutes, and have the accuracy to shoot the ass off a gnat at half a mile. Enemy tactics revolve around a.) seeing you regardless of how well concealed you are, b.) shooting way more accurately than you do, and c.) running wildly in your general direction. Gone are the tactical geniuses of the original Far Cry; these guys are just dumb mooks with superhuman accuracy and x-ray vision. Their vehicles drive faster than yours, too, which makes chases not very interesting.
- Realism! Your weapons will degrade over time, so you have maybe three or five pitched battles before that awesome assault rifle blows up in your hand. Pick up an enemy weapon and it blows up even quicker, because these sniper ninjas use garbage equipment. The same thing happens to your vehicles; they can take scant little damage before their engines start smoking and you have to hop out and crank the fix bolt a few times to repair it.
- Malaria Outbreaks! As part of the realism, now and then your screen turns sepia-toned, and you have to travel back to the center of Map A to restock on medicine. If you don’t, you become sick and wobbly-cam ensues.
- Vehicles! Handle like overladen shopping carts, and can accelerate from 3 to 30 in about a minute. They are made of glass, except for the special Unimog armored truck (which is made out of particle board). There’s also a hang glider, which is neat, and boats, which are not.
- Fire! Okay, this was pretty cool: throw a Molotov cocktail or set off an explosion and the world catches fire. It spreads out to a certain radius and stops, but it looks cool and can be really helpful. The plains burn especially well.
- One of the great ideas the game brought in was the allies system; you’ll have some mercenary allies who’ll ask you to do sidequests, and will offer alternate routes for doing main quests. Do enough of those and their friendship bar will increase; then, when you’d otherwise be shot to death, one of your buddies would arrive to pull your ass out of the fire. Way cool. What made it better was when your buddy went down trying to save you, requiring your medicinal syrettes for healing or a mercy-kill overdose if they’re too badly injured. Added a bit of depth to a game that sorely needed it.
- The game uses conflict diamonds as currency, which is a fantastic piece of flavor.
- The diamonds are used to unlock weapons, then to buy and upgrade them. There’s a wide and interesting selection of killin’ utensils, but the best options are if you preordered to get the bonus DLC. At any one time, you get a selection of grenades and Molotov cocktails, and get to pick between one light weapon (pistols, machine pistols, a flare gun, an M79 grenade launcher, or a sawed-off double-barrel-shotgun), longarms (a variety of assault rifles, a shotgun or two, and a bolt-action sniper rifle), and heavy weapons (an RPG, a crossbow that fires explosive bolts, a flamethrower, a mortar, machine guns, and a recoilless rifle). The upgrades only modify accuracy, damage, and reliability (how long it goes before it blows up), and are a nice touch, but I’m not actually sure how much they improve anything by.
- The designers tried to institute some story-oriented missions and sidequests, but these are so predictable that they become boring as hell. Standard mission setup involves you traveling to the other side of the map, emptying out all the checkpoints in between, killing everything at the mission location, then clearing out the checkpoints on the way back, to get paid with a few conflict diamonds. Missions include “blow up the convoy looping endlessly from point A to point B,” “kill dude X for the dude at the cell towers,” “kill things so the gun shop unlocks more gear,” “kill everything at location Z and bring back the area’s macguffin,” etc. Imagine a half-dozen copy/pasted versions of those mission types and you get the picture.
- The main missions weren’t much better, and only a handful fall outside the most generic mission types. In truth, there isn’t much of a story, just an endless series of repetitive quests similar to the sidequests. Lord, it’s like the world’s emptiest MMORPG. The exceptions were hunting for secret diamond caches (a scavenger hunt), and unlocking safehouses (you’d bump into them, kill the occupiers, and have a save place to sleep at night). Both were useful and entertaining pursuits, from an exploration standpoint, if a little gamey.
- TL;DR: To complete one mission, you’ll most likely have to end up driving for half an hour, adding ten to fifteen minutes to the trip for each checkpoint you run. After spending the better half of an hour to get to the mission, you fight more mooks—just like at those checkpoints, but at someplace bigger!—then fight your way back through that half-hour drive and all those refilled checkpoints. Rinse, wash, and repeat for six billion identical missions.
- Did I mention that no matter whose side you’re working on, all the faction checkpoints will open up on you at first sight? The game tries to play it off as you being some undercover operative on a secret mission for the head honchos so they can’t tell their hired mooks not to shoot at you, but it feels like lazy game designers.
So, some interesting features, fantastic immersion, great graphics, and a number of serious, critical flaws that ruined the entertainment value of the game. I get the feeling the developers were trying to make a first-person Grand Theft Auto, which they set in the African equivalent of an Elder Scrolls game. But they did so without understanding what made those sandboxes fun. Most of all, those worlds were packed with interesting locations, NPCs, and missions, things that Far Cry 2 sorely lacked. In a way, it was too much sandbox, not enough content. And your actions had next to no impact on the cookie-cutter world.
Some people really liked Far Cry 2. The critics loved it; just look at its Metacritic rating to see the difference between “critic” and “corporate shill.” I stopped playing after some twenty hours and went off to beat Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Maybe things got better on the second map, but I was just too bored—it’s not a game, it’s a slog. Compared to sandboxes like Fallout: New Vegas, Just Cause 2, Saints Row 2, Oblivion, Skyrim, even the STALKER games (limited sandboxes though they are), I just didn’t find Far Cry 2 entertaining or redeemable. Hence my apprehension at the third game in the Far Cry series, despite the trailer’s lovely promises. Won’t get fooled again.
Combine Half-Life 2′s cinematic flourishes and overall brevity and linearity with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s post-apocalyptic atmosphere and horror, and you have Metro 2033. That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it. First-person shooters don’t often have a seminal work that shows up and reinvents the genre—like Half-Life—or one that turns the genre on its head thanks to sheer brilliance, like BioShock or Portal. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when I picked up 2009′s Metro 2033 on a $5 Steam sale and found it a predictable but filling shooter experience.
The setting is the real selling point to the game. Imagine Russia following a nuclear, biological, and chemical war that ravaged the planet. The survivors took shelter underground in the Metro subway system, and have eked out a living—a society—in the wake of nuclear winter. They face off against mutants and strange anomalies that live in the darkness between Metro stations, until the day the protagonist must set off on an epic quest to save his world. You crawl through the old subway tunnels, littered with debris, florescent fungus, and the remains of unlucky looters, strapping on your gas mask to survive on the frozen surface world.
The design and graphics are vivid, depicting the run-down squalor of the outnumbered, could-be-the-last-survivor stations. The weapons and equipment are all jury-rigged, unstable devices built by the survivors with the materials they had available—crude submachine guns, pneumatic firearms, a heavy-machine gun cut down into an automatic shotgun, a Van Helsing-style crossbow gun. There aren’t that many of them, but they have their own unique look and feel. The design of the characters and their environs perfectly fits the image of apocalyptic world—motorcycle helmets are used as impromptu armor, rickety old trolleys are hand-built and maintained to allow inter-station trade.
Besides the mutants and setting which owes quite a lot to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise—and by proxy, to Fallout and Roadside Picnic—a number of other elements have been pulled off, seemingly willy-nilly, from the FPS resource shelf. There’s a group of secretive, extra-special-force “Rangers” living deep within the system that you later get to join. There’s a war going on between hardline Communists and “Nazi” Fascists. There’s the strange floating light anomalies, and the giant fleshy Lovecraftian monsters near the end. And there’s a recurring subplot about some “Grey”-style aliens, mutants, or the next step of human evolution.
As a game, Metro has a number of frustrating features. It starts off easy enough, until the difficulty ramps up to sheer heights at the later levels. Level design is painfully linear, leaving no room to explore and precious few secrets to discover. It’s short—I clocked in at just under 13 hours on normal mode, after getting caught on two abusive stages. If you rushed it, you could get by in eight or nine hours, fifteen tops if you died a lot. There’s not much diversity in weapons, or scenery, or enemies—whose AI is passable, but not great. Worst of all was the horrible camera angle: you can tell this is a console port because your view is intentionally narrowed down to a thin strip. It breaks the game down into pure twitch shooter territory, if only because you can’t see what you’re shooting at.
Most of all, it’s just never explained. None of it. The anomalies, the return to Stalinism and Nazisim, the apocalyptic war, even the game’s ending just exist in a void without explanation or resolution. There’s what goes on outside the linear Metro corridors, and then there’s what goes on within Metro 2033, and never the two shall meet. Life inside the Metro is vivid, intense, and atmospheric, but ethereally insubstantial—it leaves you satisfied but filled with unanswered questions. Perhaps the book Metro 2033 originated from will answer them. But in giving up the open-ended exploration of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for a more cinematic, movie-like approach, shouldn’t the filmmaker at least tell the lead actor what’s going on? A riddle for the ages.
I get that Rapture was supposed to be the pure Objectivist paradise, and that I’m looking too seriously at mechanics designed to provide in-game resupply, but why the hell are you stocking your vending machines full of bullets and handing out gene-altering substances that promote, in their advertising no less, smashing your ideal state? Seriously, you ponder not why it went to shit, but why didn’t it go to shit sooner?
It’s like the State Department giving every citizen an Anarchist’s Cookbook, saying, “Here you go, enjoy! Oh how could we not have foreseen this going horribly, horribly wrong!”
At least the Vaults I can kind of understand. The point of their heavy arsenals was preparatory, to be used against the Mutant Red Bastards who were probably sitting around in everyone’s houses topside soaking up the gamma rays; the Vaults were screwed up, but they went the opposite direction from Rapture’s libertarianism, and Overseers kept a firm grip on their citizens’ freedoms. Though you’d think that the Overseers might have immediately noticed some potential long-term problems, like the severe overcrowding, or the 2:1 ratio of narcotics to food, or the live panther.
Regardless, if you’re ever asked to join some secluded ideological bunker system to escape the oppression/destruction of modern society, which may or may not involve lots of firearms or robots or inane traps or super-power genetic modifications or strange agricultural experiments on the edge of the desert… my experiences from video games says, “Run like hell away from that death-trap.” Trust me, you’re better off living with the parasites and the mutants.
Back around 2003, when AMD broke the 64-bit barrier, the virtues of 64-bit computing was heralded as everything just short of the second coming. Better looking programs, more powerful computers, a whole new world. AMD spend a lot of time hyping its AMD 64 platform, particularly its impact on gaming; the AMD 64 logo showed up on many game boxes, and is slowly driving out 32-bit hardware and operating systems.
For a brief moment in 2003-05, there was a flurry of game developers jumping on the bandwagon: 64-bit versions of UT2k4, Half-Life 2, Far Cry, and STALKER appeared, amongst a few others. Of them, Far Cry probably received the most attention, since it came first and had a shiny promo video, making good use of its already-stunning exotic island locales:
And that was about the end of that, save for a few johnny-come-lately outliers. Crysis needed a 64-bit version so the designers could build the game’s engine, so out came a 64-bit version of that. And Hellgate: London had a 64-bit version up for its brief pseudo-mumorpuger life, in order to support more memory on its servers. These two programs switched for technical reasons, not to be a part of the 64-bit gaming storm, which more or less died down when people stopped and realized the world wasn’t going to convert immediately just to please hardcore gamers if it meant they couldn’t use their six-year-old deskjet printer or scanner.
In actuality, 64-bit computing hasn’t been the powerhouse AMD claimed it would be. Looking at the Far Cry video, it’s pretty easy to see that the devs just added some shiny new effects, higher-res textures, and called it a day, probably banking on the fact that anyone capable of running 64-bit games had a high-capacity gaming rig to begin with. And as this three-year-old Tom’s Hardware survey shows, most of the 64-bit games weren’t even optimized for 64-bit OS’s: the games’ framerate performances were on-par or lower than their 32-bit versions, even for the much-vaunted Crysis.
In other words: there’s a reason the 64-bit gaming hype has fallen to the wayside. The tech just isn’t being utilized to its full potential; too many people were still using 32-bit operating systems and/or legacy hardware, and building a separate architecture—or pushing exclusivity to the smaller 64-bit gamer niche—wasn’t going to fly with marketing. So instead of native 64-bit games, these are all examples of 32-bit games patched—but not optimized—for 64-bit systems. (The exception being Crysis, which was a native 64-bit program optimized for 32-bit systems.)
On the plus side, the technological advance is needed, welcome, and will—eventually—pan out into major benefits. The biggest advantage of a 64-bit OS is that it can recognize more than 4GB of RAM, something 32-bit can’t; at this point in time, 4 gigs costs about $20-35, and many hardcore gamers are investing in 8GB (or more) because the price is so low. (A quick glance at the Steam Hardware Survey shows some 60% of its PC survees have 4GB of RAM or more, and over 80% for MAC gamers.)
32-bit gaming is reaching the end of its era; games are advancing fast and hard enough that old 2GB memory caps hard-locked into 32-bit OS’s are giving some issues. To get around that, Windows programs can be flagged as “Large Address Aware” in order to use the full limit of 32-bit RAM—the aforementioned 4 GB, or 3GB if you’re using an older version of WinXP. Most of the Large Address Aware programs require a lot of system resources—PhotoShop CS3, for example—or were games, like STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, Company of Heroes, and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.
Given that this is a problem we’ve known about since 2007, I’m still surprised that many AAA-titles and high-end software launch without being Large Address Aware today. Skyrim, for example, wasn’t, so it crawled along only using 2GB of system memory. (Guess which was one of the first major mods out there; an official BethSoft 4GB patch came later.) Before that, people tweaked the .ini files for Oblivion and the Fallouts to accept larger quantities of RAM—Oblivion launched only recognizing 1GB, if memory serves; then again, 2GB was pretty high-end back then.
In short, PC software is reaching the end of an era. The way things are going, clinging to 32-bit architecture is rapidly becoming obsolete, even with the Large Address Aware safety net. A high-end program, be it Adobe Creative Suite or BioShock Infinite, is going to run a hell of a lot smoother if it recognizes more RAM, moreso if it’s been optimized. Games like Skyrim are already pushing the limits of 32-bit technology. 64-bit compatible operating systems, drivers, and software are becoming commonplace enough that the full-on shift will probably/possibly/hopefully start in the next decade. And then—finally—we’ll be able to reap real rewards for 64-bit gaming: more RAM means shinier visuals, higher framerates, better performance.
Paizo has just announced (literally, earlier today) their intent to get into the world of computer gaming by licensing the Pathfinder rules and world for an MMO, with games in the works. It’s going to be (loosely) based around the Kingmaker adventure path, second in popularity only to the originator, the Rise of the Runelords path. And Kingmaker is a perfect fit: it’s open, it’s broad, it’s established, and it’s a perfect building ground for empires to rise and fall.
I’ve been kind of curious why Paizo hasn’t branched out like this yet: yeah, economic feasibility, spreading the game’s IP out, the risks of developing games, and all that. But licensing Golarion means money, it broadens the label’s appeal, gets new players interested, and besides, we haven’t had a good tabletop-based CRPG since, what, Baldur’s Gate 2? Unless you count the fan-patches for Vampire: Bloodlines.
The new company who got the license is Goblinworks, a name that should please most Pathfinder aficionados: Paizo’s had a thing for goblins since Classic Monsters Revisited, if not before, so having goblin in the name gives them a leg up in the street cred department. Their relationship with Paizo sounds pretty strong, so provided the game doesn’t go the way of the WoD MMO or other vaporware, it could be an interesting new step for the Pathfinder license.
Note that Ryan Dancey is one of the forerunners of this project; this interests me for two reasons. First, Dancey is the person you can hold accountable for Pathfinder, M&M, True20, Spycraft, and more, because he’s the guy who pushed to open the OGL floodgates for D&D. Second, he’s a former CCP employee—I just was talking about them and their relation to White Wolf a few days ago, and from what I remember Dancey was one of the RPGers working on the World of Darkness MMO in CCP’s Atlanta (White Wolf) offices.
Dancey’s CCP relationship is what makes me most interested. The reason CCP was a good fit for WoD was because of its hands-off mentality: instead of focusing on designer-driven content, like World of Warcraft and its perpetual updates of new zones and dungeons to raid, CCP’s EVE is all player-driven. It’s up to the players to make things interesting, and they take the game’s freedom to its fullest, hence EVE’s harsh learning curve and reputation as a breeding ground for scammers, griefers, and political intrigue run amok. Much like with the backstabbing World of Darkness, I think that style of play would fit the squabbling River Kingdoms quite well.
That’s most of why I was interested in seeing the WoD MMO finished product; if the Pathfinder RPG does go that route—the freeform chaos of the CCP player-driven-content model instead of the pointless grind of a WoW clone—and the press release on the GoblinWorks page does mention its sandbox nature. If it’s true, they may indeed have my money.
It’s a sad state of affairs when most of my gamer friends no longer play Magic. (Or, if they do, I’m not around for it.) Instead, they sucked me into a free CCG availible on our respective Facebooks… Warstorm.
Check this out: video games done up as movie posters… fairly slick movie posters, at that, with a strong retro vibe and more than a little arthouse cinema flair. It’s like the Criterion Collection for games. They’re done by Ron Guyatt on deviantART, and he’s done a half-dozen posters so far (if you include the badass one he did for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).
I’m particularly thrilled by the retro-style tones and silhouettes on the Bioshock one: it just screams ’60s B-movie, which is so damn fitting for the game. I might be biased, though, since I’ve been replaying the hell out of Bioshock lately, and saw this poster linked via Steam.
Speaking of Steam, Dead Space is the current weekend deal at 66% off, coming in at a mere $6.80. I’m tempted to buy it even though I lack the 7.5 gigs to install it, but I wouldn’t mind playing it when I get another hard drive next month.