tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

E3 2014 roundup

Basically what I think this year’s E3 sealed for me was the fact that I’m going to end up owning all three consoles again this generation. As it probably should be.

As it stands these are the main things that piqued my interest:

  • Scalebound
    No in-game footage shown but it’s being made by Platinum Games and it’s being directed by Hideki Kamiya. So yeah, I have to play this no matter what. Also dragons are cool.
  • Phantom Dust
    Never played the Xbox original but I heard good things about it. Might as well jump in with the remake!
  • Assassin’s Creed Unity
    I was really intrigued by both the single-player and the co-op they showed and the setting (18th-century Paris) is probably the most interesting one they’ve used since Assassin’s Creed II.
  • Far Cry 4
    Again, great setting, looks great and open-ended, and the villain seems to be a real basket case who should be fun to take down. Also co-op!
  • Bloodborne
    Hidetaka Miyazaki’s new game seems to eschew the medieval setting for something slightly more modern (as in the 19th century) but I will be playing it since I liked Dark Souls a lot.
  • Uncharted 4
    These games have always been good so yeah, more please!

There were other things too of course – The Division continues to look stunning, Battlefield Hardline looks like a way more fun take on cops vs robbers than Payday 2 and I’m kind of torn between The Crew and Forza Horizon 2 in terms of figuring out what my next racing game fix should be.

On a random note, I do think it’s hilarious that Platinum Games is now three for three in getting me to buy consoles that I don’t own. I bought an Xbox 360 to play Bayonetta (because the PS3 version was sketchy), I’m buying a Wii U to play Bayonetta 2 (and The Wonderful 101) and now I’m going to be buying an Xbox One to play Scalebound (there were other things I wanted to play on it, but this just pushed me over the edge).

As for Nintendo, well, I don’t think anyone will disagree when I say that this was probably the best thing shown in all of E3:

Masterfully remixed

I will say the new Zelda looks nice at least, and that the new Smash Bros seems to be coming along quite nicely. Devil’s Third being on Wii U is also a bit of a surprise but it’s a nice additional incentive to get one.

But yeah, I’ll probably end up owning all three consoles again. I don’t know when I’ll buy what (will probably get a Wii U soon, a PS4 once Guilty Gear Xrd drops and an Xbox One once…Forza Horizon 2 or that Halo collection drops, but that’s just an estimate right now).

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What I’ve been playing lately

Time for a good old-fashioned gaming post!

Company of Heroes

I finally decided to put some RTS gaming on my backlog. This game is developed by Relic, who are also responsible for Homeworld and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (as well as the upcoming Dawn of War II) – so their catalogue is pretty strong. As one would expect, therefore, Company of Heroes is pretty good. It focuses less on base management and more on front-line battle tactics, unit placement and maintaining supply lines (by holding territory). I’ve played a few missions of the first single-player campaign and it’s pretty great so far. As far as balancing goes, it seems to take a similar tack to Starcraft in that your units all have distinct strengths and weaknesses, and you need to use them to compensate for one another.

Team Fortress 2

I’ve been trying to play more Soldier and Spy, but honestly, I’m terrible at both, so I almost always end up falling back on my ‘safe’ classes – Pyro, Medic, Heavy and Engineer. Soldier is tricky for me since I’m still trying to get used to aiming ahead of where my opponents are, which isn’t always easy to do when they’re running straight at you. On the other hand, once I do manage to juggle opponents, capitalising on it to finish them off is something that’s starting to come naturally to me. Spy, though…man, those Youtube videos make the class look so effortless, don’t they. I think the most backstabs I’ve gotten in one life is 3 or 4.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence

I’m actually pretty close to putting this to bed. I’m at the final boss fight (which is annoyingly difficult because of the terrain and the associated time limit, not to mention the fact that outside of first-person aiming mode MGS3 has the same old clunky gun controls from the first game. I will say that the game as whole is pretty good, although I honestly think that the interface for selecting stuff like camouflage is pretty clunky (they did away with it in MGS4 which is good) and the entire hunting/food system serves no purpose other than to annoy the hell out of you. CQC I thought was kind of cool, although I don’t think I necessarily used it to its full potential.

Fallout 3

I decided to press on with the game inspite of my initial misgivings. The game is actually quite hard if you try to play it like a run-and-gun FPS. Which you can’t, really, unless you want to run out of ammo ten miles from any safe house with only a baseball bat to bludgeon Raiders to death with…not that I’ve ever done that *cough*. Half the time I end up wandering into some new town and getting eaten for lunch by some new enemy that seems to be at least ten levels higher than I am (most recently, giant fire ants). The weird uncanny valley people and spotty voice acting still bother me, but the game is at least reasonably challenging so I can’t complain too much, I guess. My first runthrough (as with Mass Effect) will be with a goody-two-shoes type character (although I did enjoy planting a live grenade on an unsuspecting Raider while I was invisible).

On a side note, Games for Windows Live (which Fallout 3 makes you install if you want to download patches) is decent enough but it feels rather pointless. There are a few games that you can play online using it, two of which are widely regarded as terrible ports of console games (Gears of War and Grand Theft Auto IV) and the remaining two of which aren’t particularly remarkable (Universe at War and Lost Planet: Colonies Edition). Other than playing online, the only thing it’s really good for is tracking achievements, which is kind of cute but an ultimately pointless feature. Hopefully the PC version of Street Fighter IV lets you play online with 360 players or something, because they are in serious need of some killer apps.

Also, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida is stuck in my head ever since I bought the album of the same name and the associated EP Prospekts March off Amazon MP3 this past weekend. Not that I’m complaining…

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LOL of the Year

Poor console-to-PC ports are getting annoyingly common these days – Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed (and almost assuredly Prince of Persia since it runs off the same engine) is the most recent one I can think of, but now it looks like Rockstar’s port of Grand Theft Auto IV has joined the club. Apparently the game requires you to be signed in to not only Games for Windows Live, but also something called ‘Rockstar Social Club’ if you want to do any multiplayer matchmaking. On top of that, the performance is terrible, and the game is clearly in a pretty unfinished and buggy state. Here are a few choice quotes from the Steam forums:

“all drivers are upto date and all i get it around 20-25fps, ive spoken to R* about this and they said 20fps is what they class as ‘playable'”

“I am amazed that any company would release a game that requires you to have a computer that can max out Crysis to play it on MEDIUM detail…I would laugh right now if that wasn’t so pathetic.”

“Here’s the problem people have: It doesn’t stack up on the ‘performance to prettiness’ ratio. The visuals are incredibly subpar for the colossal system requirements, and when a rig finally comes along that will run it maxed out at a playable (solid 60) fps; the visuals will be even less impressive when compared to future titles which will not only look better, but run better.”

“I have a 8800GTS 512MB, run crysis on high with no problem, run crysis warhead on highest setting with a solid 30 FPS but in this game I can’t even pick HIGH under texture? The game looks so bad under a benchmark run, there are no detail on the cars, people, the street… I would love to run the game on high and see whats like, with my current setup (Highest setting that I can pick) I average about 38~47 FPS so I see no problem why the hell it won’t let me run the game on high.”

Rockstar’s official explanation is even more pathetic:

Most users using current PC hardware as of December 2008 are advised to use medium graphics settings. Higher settings are provided for future generations of PCs with higher specifications than are currently widely available.

So apparently their engine is so awesome that they included super high resolution textures with the game that can only be displayed on some hypothetical future computer! That must be why they shipped it without SLI support.

One word: BOLLOCKS.

One thing I’ve heard is that the engine is incredibly CPU-intensive (moreso than most Source engine games), and predictably, like so many console-to-PC ports this gen, is terrible at scaling down to single-core processors and, it seems, even dual core processors. But hey, according to Rockstar, it scales up just fine!

On an occasion like this, I would normally rant about how the big publishers treat PC gamers like dirt, but this is honestly way too funny right now. One of Rockstar’s biggest titles, the flagship title for the relaunched Games for Windows Live, has turned into a major embarrassment for Microsoft, Rockstar, Take 2 and SecuROM.

Hopefully the other big publishers are taking notes.

And to top it all off, here’s a hilarious article I found linked off Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
http://hellforge.gameriot.com/blogs/Random-Ravings/20-Easy-Steps-to-Starting-GTA-IV-on-Your-PC

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LOLympics

The Beijing Olympics have been going on for about a week. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not much of a sports fan, but I have been keeping track of the big news from the event, like the epic 4×100 swimming relay finals, and India’s first solo gold medallist in the history of their participation in the Games (as well as the reaction at home – the railway minister promised to give him a lifetime travel pass for his achievement, which I found rather amusing).

Oh, and of course, there’s the drama. Namely these little tidbits that have been making the rounds.

Windows XP BSOD makes an appearance at the Olympics

Apparently one of the computers that was projecting video onto the stadium walls met with the operating system error of yore. Bad drivers, perhaps.

A girl who performed at the opening ceremony was revealed to have been lipsyncing

And she wasn’t even lipsyncing to her own performance – it was the performance of another girl entirely, one who was deemed insufficiently representative of her home country. And of course…

The victorious Chinese women’s gymnastics team might be underage

The age threshold for taking part is 16 – I’m not sure any of the team members look that old. It certainly fits into my own perspective of the decisions that tend to come out of figures of authority in China and Japan – the focus is not so much on accountability as it is on preserving one’s image, and any blemishes are explained away or quickly hushed in order to save face.

I would express more indignation, but I really don’t care enough to, and on top of that, I suspect that indignation will be in abundant supply thanks to the drones in the mass media. In the meantime, I shall return to amusing myself with the Singapore contingent’s attempts to get a second medal through massive imports of “foreign talent.”

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Is it just me?

Surely I’m not the only one who thought “is there a version you can wear on your right hand?” after reading about this?

Fear the day when otaku start designing operating system kernels. :P

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Electronic Entertainment something or the other

There were only a few things I was looking for out of the gaggle of E3 propaga- er news:

  1. Mirror’s Edge news (this game still looks bloody awesome)
  2. Sonic Unleashed news (hopefully my dreams don’t come crashing down around me)
  3. Any news out of Valve (this had better come to Steam, damn it… and Episode Three details kthxbai)

Blizzard is a no-show because they just held their Worldwide Invitational where this little game called Diablo III was revealed, and where Starcraft II was shown off in a competitive match for the first time.

Anyway, on to the few other tidbits that caught my eye.

Apparently Nintendo has announced some thingamajig that will improve the motion sensing of the Wii remote. How it does this, I have no idea. I’m more concerned about the fact that plugging that thing into the remote seems to preclude the attachment of a nunchuk for smoother aiming in Resident Evil 4.

Microsoft’s presser was largely uninteresting to me since I don’t own an Xbox 360 and they hardly mentioned PC releases. The reaction on the Internet to the news that Final Fantasy XIII would be coming to Xbox 360 has been hilarious, though. It’s a repeat of the NERD RAGE that erupted when Devil May Cry 4 became a multi-platform title instead of a PlayStation 3 exclusive – somehow they feel betrayed because Square Enix decided to widen the game’s potential market. Whatever. I’ve given up on trying to analyse the psychology of lunatic fanboys.

Oh yeah, that two-player co-op in Resident Evil 5 is pretty cool. I doubt I’ll buy it unless that rumoured PC version materialises though. For the life of me, I just can’t aim with a thumbstick at all. Don’t ask why.

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*crosses one more off the backlog*

Finally beat Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition today. Great game overall, with a few things that could be improved (like the repeated boss fight issue I mentioned a while back). It’s off the backlog for now, but I’m definitely going to re-play it with Vergil and on harder difficulties when I get the chance. I stuck mainly to Swordmaster and Gunslinger, too, so I’d like to try out some of the other styles (and weapons) as well.

And at some point I’ll get off my ass and beat the original game as well. For some reason that final Nightmare fight kept kicking my ass.

And of course, I beat the game just in time for my copy of the PC version of Devil May Cry 4 to arrive tomorrow. Woo.

On an unrelated note, I was having some connectivity issues with my desktop last night when I got home from work. I could ping websites just fine, but all other outgoing requests were being blocked. I knew it wasn’t my modem or my router because my laptop (which runs Kubuntu) was able to connect without any problems.

I eventually found out that ZoneAlarm Firewall was blocking all outgoing packets. I shrugged, chalked it up to lousy developers and uninstalled it, restoring connectivity. Nod32 comes with a firewall too, after all.

And then today I read about this, and the fact that I had installed some Microsoft security updates right before leaving for work came to mind.

This line in particular made me laugh:

Mr Rogers said installing it and re-booting his machines fixed all the problems.

He said he could understand Microsoft being reticent with details about the patch given its sensitivity.

“But,” he added “it would seem reasonable for [Microsoft] to test their patch against what is probably the most popular software firewall.”

Of course it’s reasonable. Which is why they probably didn’t do it. :P

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Odds and Ends

Not much in particular I want to talk about…just dealing with various things that have been happening recently.

I got a new video card recently – a GeForce 8800GTS 512MB from EVGA. It was a bit of a pain getting it into my case…it’s pretty much the same length as my motherboard, so it was a pretty snug fit (it’s nestled right up against my SATA connectors). Performance-wise, though, it’s a dream. I get anti-aliasing in Mass Effect now (as well as a much better frame rate), and games like Half-Life 2 Episode Two that would chug a bit on my old card now run smooth as butter.

Of course, as luck would have it, the same week I decide to upgrade, nVidia drops the 9800GTX to $200, and ATI comes out with brand new cards that keep up pretty well with nVidia’s current offerings. Such are the travails of the PC gamer :p

In the meantime, work has been…not really as interesting as it could be. After the problems we had on the site a few weeks ago, my team has dropped what we were working on before and has been working full steam on mitigation measures. This is kind of annoying for me since I was just getting my first taste of real software engineering(requirements gathering, writing technical specs, getting them reviewed, the whole lot) when this happened. I can’t complain too much though – the site is what keeps us running, and we’re beholden to the customers to make sure it stays up.

(And if you’re still waiting for me to tell you what actually happened…forget it. I like my job too much to risk it like that. If you must know something, get our official position from Jeff Bezos’ radio interview on KUOW this past week)

Speaking of work, in a couple of weeks, I’ll have spent a year at Amazon.com. I might have been in India by this point had it not been for the interim regulation that lets me stay here until my work visa starts on October 1st. Still, one year…what a year it’s been. There have been low points, but the good has outweighed the bad by a significant margin.

I really should do a proper retrospective before I forget.

In the shorter term, though, I was thinking of watching a movie this weekend since I don’t really have anything better to do, and the release of a Pixar movie is always reason to celebrate. Both Wall-E and Get Smart are looking like good candidates for my dollar…any recommendations?

A big news story I’ve been following recently is Bill Gates’ departure from Microsoft. I can’t help but wonder what will become of the company after his departure…Microsoft is hardly the powerhouse it used to be back in the 90s, and has ceded a lot of ground this decade. I found a vitriolic blog post from a (now former) stockholder, who has used the occasion of Gates’ departure to dump all his Microsoft stock. It makes for very interesting reading.

Given the occasion, I’m wondering if I should pick up Microsoft 2.0 by ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley. I’m in the mood for some insight on where the world’s largest software company is going, and where it might be going wrong.

Speaking of Microsoft, I’m actually writing this blog post in Microsoft Windows Live Writer. Aside from the cumbersome name, it’s a really nice blog client that works with a wide variety of blog sites and services. Very cool, and easily the most impressive thing I’ve seen out of Windows Live so far.

On a final note, the Jun Senoue remix of Lee Brotherton’s Dreams of an Absolution is currently stuck in my head. Yes, I know it’s from the horrendous next-gen Sonic the Hedgehog – but this is one of the (very) few good things about that game. The others being the instrumental version of His World and this cutscene from Shadow’s story.

I sense my last.fm profile looks pretty messed up right now…

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Touching is good

Bill Gates and He Who Flings Chairs apparently just gave a brief demo of some of the new features that will be in the successor to Windows Vista.
Click here for a summary at Engadget.

Apparently the biggest two things are that:

  1. Microsoft has borrowed the OS X dock (or something similar) for Windows 7 and
  2. Multi-touch (based on their upcoming Surface technology) apparently plays a significant role in the OS

That’s right – multi-touch, aka that technology which the iPhone brought to the mainstream last year. A desktop OS driven by multi-touch definitely sounds interesting, but it’ll require dedicated hardware. Still, Surface is probably the most interesting thing that’s come out of Microsoft in a long time, so I’m genuinely curious as to how they’ll integrate it into a standard desktop OS. In addition, I doubt this will supplant mice and keyboards as input devices – I’m not sure I want to be typing my e-mail by tapping on a touch screen, or aiming my rockets with touch gestures.

Still – interesting developments, worth keeping an eye on.

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Time to take the plunge?

This test by ExtremeTech appears to suggest that Windows Vista has finally reached performance parity with XP as far as gaming goes. Another interesting note – Ars Technica has also started recommending Windows Vista (with Service Pack 1) as the operating system of choice in their monthly system guides.

Is it time to bite the bullet and upgrade to Vista? Perhaps along with a nice DX10 graphics card like an nVidia GeForce 9600GT, or an 8800GT…

Vista tends to get a bad rap from a lot of people, but it does have a lot of good features that Windows has been needing for a while (user access control, a composited window manager, integrated desktop search, lots of under-the-cover kernel improvements). The main thing keeping me from upgrading was the possibility that my games (the only real reason I keep Windows on my hard disk) would take a performance hit.

It does sound like a lot of things were changed just for the sake of changing things (like the location of Control Panel apps) which may be a problem when switching initially, but other than that it doesn’t sound like there’s much of a barrier to me upgrading any more.

Can any Vista users (who also use their PCs for gaming) comment?

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