tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

How was your day?

Mine was pretty terrible.

I think I’ll go blow up some random douchebags in Team Fortress 2 to vent.


Some clarification as to aforementioned spastic monkeys

Since you’ve had to stare at my three-line essay for about three days now, I figured I should explain my position in more detail :P

As I’ve mentioned in the past, one of the games on my backlog is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the 2003 reimagining of Jordan Mechner’s classic platformer. At the time, my completion rate was 65%; since then, I’ve reached 81% completion, and the game hasn’t lost its lustre yet…except for one problem which you might have been able to infer from my previous post – that the camera is incredibly dodgy.

Most of the time, when you’re running on walls, making death-defying leaps and swinging on poles, it works perfectly, and maintains the perfect angle for you to see what you’re getting yourself into. However, during combat, it takes an incredibly inconvenient angle, moving around jerkily, pivoting 180 degrees for no reason and generally behaving like a douche. This is a problem not only because camera orientation determines your control mapping, but also because it changes your field of view, meaning that I can’t see the huge guy with the scimitar just so slightly off screen who’s about to leap over and tear me a new one.

Exacerbating the problem in this particular case is the fact that you need to protect someone while on this elevator, someone whom the camera excels at keeping out of my field of vision. I don’t know what the general consensus on escort or protection missions in most games is, but based on my experience here and in Resident Evil 4, I would say that they need to take a flying leap off a bridge. The so-called “artificial intelligence” is terrible at keeping itself out of trouble, and in the case of Prince of Persia, said character’s inability to keep herself alive forces me to remain nearby, in a walled-off area of the elevator, eminently suitable for all the enemies to gang up and introduce me to their little friends, simultaneously.

The combat itself is functional, if rather bland, but the camera has proved to be the source of much of my frustration so far. I’m hoping it doesn’t end up putting me off completing the game altogether.

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This post brought to you by the letters O, T and L




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Beating the dead horse

I was hoping that I could write about something unrelated to gaming today…it’s not like I’m lacking for topics in any way.

But then EA goes and pulls a stunt like this with two of the biggest upcoming PC releases; games which I had been very much looking forward to.

I guess the appearance of security (and mind you, it is only for appearances – the probability that this copy protection will be broken by an enterprising hacker is pretty much 100%) is far more important than customer goodwill.

(BTW, anyone who suggest I should buy a 360 to play Mass Effect can go die in a fire)

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Sound Blister

From time to time, when faced with a question about industrial development in Singapore, someone will trot out the predictable line “What do you mean we don't have any successful private home-grown MNCs? Look at Creative!”

Never before in my life have I felt more like punching that hypothetical person in the face.

Creative is not what I would call a “successful” MNC by any means – while their sound cards were good once upon a time, and they were one of the pioneers in hardware-based positional audio, they completely missed the boat when it came to integrated audio (something they're belated trying to make up for), and have been utterly flattened by Apple in the digital audio player space in spite of having been one of the first companies to enter the market. Their practice of disabling card features in software so they can force people to “upgrade” for better features (and suing people who try to make up for their lacklustre drivers) is pretty reprehensible. And of course, their drivers have sucked for a long time, and often come packaged with useless bloatware. Their failure to perform is most evident, of course, in their quarterly results, where performance has been abysmal for years on end.

So where am I going with all of this? Well, I have a Creative sound card. An X-fi XtremeGamer, to be exact. And I'm not sure that it was a good buy.

The first warning signs that I had made a bad purchase were when I tried to play Sam & Max Episode 104: Abe Lincoln Must Die! (which is awesome, by the way, if you like point and click adventure games) on it. The audio would periodically hiss or play back way too fast, which was a major issue for a game that focuses a lot on funny dialogue. It turned out this was an as-yet unresolved issue with the X-fi. More recently, after installing the latest driver, any WAV or MP3 files I play have the same issue. Even when my MP3s manage to play correctly, they're interrupted by intermittent popping and hissing. I'm really glad I backed up all my favourite tracks to my new 8GB Sansa e280 (which I seem to have forgotten to mention on this blog) or I would be even more mad right now.

A few Google searches suggests this is an issue with X-Fi cards ONLY on nVidia chipsets (due to PCI bus behaviour), which is of course not at all what I wanted to hear.

I'm going to try a reinstall to see if it fixes anything, and failing that I'm getting rid of it and switching to my onboard sound chip.

EDIT: Looks like the reinstall fixed something…I saw a whole bunch of registry entries get deleted and re-added while I was running the setup program.



Wii would like to play

It's been about 5 months since I got my Wii. I don't usually get consoles this close to the start of their lifetimes, but I made an exception in the Wii's case since I was intrigued by the possibility of new methods of interacting with game worlds. Well, that and the fact that there was a Sonic game on it that wasn't entirely bad. Five months on, I find myself satisfied on the whole, yet still disappointed at certain ways in which the experience has been lacking.

First off, let it be known that there IS good third-party software for the system. I've been largely happy with Capcom's efforts on the system, and Sega has also shown some rare (if rough) inspiration with titles like Sonic and the Secret Rings and NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams. I've heard largely good things about other titles like No More Heroes as well. Unfortunately, good third-party software is far from common. There's a LOT of shovelware on the system, and much of it is either in the form of completely uninspired minigame collections or lousy ports of PS2 games. The Wii has the largest install base of all three current-generation consoles thanks to its low price and emphasis on “casual-friendly” gaming, but so far long-time gamers appear to be expressing dissatisfaction at the third-party software available on the platform, and I would have to agree with their complaints. Nintendo's first-party efforts have been largely solid, if excessively familiar, but what really keeps gamers committed to a platform is a reliable stream of quality third-party software. It's why the DS continues to be a success in spite of its own casual gaming focus, and one of the reasons why the PSP and PS3 are finally seeing success.

The other thing that annoys me about the Wii is how underdeveloped certain aspects of the system are. This isn't a knock against the CPU/GPU performance of the system (it's not even as powerful as the first Xbox, seeing how it lacks programmable shaders, but that's not my focus here) – it's a gripe with the capabilities of the hardware. For one, the 512MB internal memory is incredibly limiting. The lack of significant internal storage has already gimped Guitar Hero III's feature set, and the much-anticipated Rock Band will similarly lack downloadable content. In addition, once the WiiWare service launches, Wii owners are going to find themselves strapped for storage space with downloadable titles vying for space with Virtual Console games. An easy fix would be to support USB hard drives (and Harmonix has already openly asked for such a feature) but it seems unlikely Nintendo will do anything of the sort.

In addition, the Nintendo Wi-fi Connection has proven to be a major hassle. A limited online service hampered by the need for “friend codes” made sense on a handheld with relatively simple firmware and no in-built storage, but on the more powerful Wii it makes absolutely no sense. Why doesn't the Wii have support for the same things that Xbox Live or even PSN does? I've been gaming online since before it was even possible on consoles (1997, with Starcraft, Diablo and Quake) and even those games had far more robust online features than anything on the Wii. No unified friends list, strange and hard-to-remember friend identifiers (which are game-specific for some reason), no support for voice chat peripherals of any kind…WFC is just lacking in so many respects that it's not funny. I do play Super Smash Brothers Brawl online, but it's enough of a hassle that such occasions are rare (compared to say, the times when I log on to Steam and play Team Fortress 2).

I've had fun with the Wii, and there are games, both upcoming and currently available, that I'd like to play on it, but I feel that Nintendo is in danger of squandering its lead if it doesn't address the shortcomings in its platform. Attracting casual gamers is all well and good (and lord knows there are still millions of people out there who shell out money for shovelware) but annoying the core gaming audience who have bought into their platform is far from a recipe for success.

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Just when I thought Sonic Unleashed was looking pretty nice


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Dear Internet

Please stop telling me that the PC is dead or is dying as a gaming platform. It simply isn't true, and it pisses me off.


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