Sunday, February 28, 2010

Calm Down! SecuROM DRM in Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Limited EditionI hate DRM as much as the next person, SecuROM being one of the worst offending DRM schemes out there.  However, the heat that Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is taking for including this DRM is out of proportion to the facts of the DRM works.  Fortunately, we have level-headed redditor, SnakeDiver, to steer us through the fog.  He posted a great response to a comment in /r/gaming over on Reddit.com.

I've capture the comment in its entirety:
If you have been following BF:BC2's blog then you would have read How BC2 Uses Copy Protection .

Of course it's going to be disabled by pirates. It's inevitable. All it is is a deterrent. But SecuROM doesn't run like it has in the past in BC2.
  • It runs only when the game runs, and really only does anything on first launch.
  • It's a wrapper contained within the EXE. Launch the EXE and SecuROM does it's check and game goes
  • It doesn't install anything into the Kernel

In reality PB is more invasive then this SecuROM. The only thing annoying is the download limits. I wish they'd have a smart activation server, not just a "limit to 5 installs" server. With the smarts being, unlimited installs but if you install X times within X geographically dispersed locations within X amount of time, we're going to block your key.

Complain about real piss-poor DRM such as UbiSoft's "always-on DRM". BC2's DRM is, for the most part, non-invasive as DRM should be. I don't care if they want to protect their code as long as it doesn't get in the way of my use of the product (or of other products).
Again, I don't like DRM. Pirates are already playing BFBC2 on pirated servers, days before the official launch. However, DRM is a fact of life for PC gaming and voting with my wallet is the only way I can let game companies know what I think of their DRM schemes.

I vote for Valve's games on Steam, because Steam offers more than just DRM protection for the games. I didn't vote for EA's last DRM disaster, Spore, and its originally planned "phone home every 10 minutes" DRM. I will NOT vote for any of Ubisoft's new "always-on DRM". I will and have voted for the new SecuROM bundled with BFBC2. its not perfect, but its not as terrible as it once was.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Self-Serving PC Gaming Wish-List

It's not my birthday, but I was inspired by Alec Meer's birthday post over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

I want these things.
  • A Free 2 Play Warhammer Online.
  • A fantasy-based EVE Online (where is World of Darkness anyways?).
  • A Shadowbane that doesn't make me want to vomit on my keyboard.
  • Battlefield 1942 recreated in Battlefield: Bad Company 2's engine, destructible environments and all.
  • An announcement from 38 studios on what their MMOG will be.
  • To figure out what ever happened to Project Offset.
  • Some sort of hypno-therapy that makes me incredible at FPS games overnight.
  • To never see or hear the phrase “dumbed-down” again
  • A loaf of bread.
  • My kid's two front teeth (teething sucks btw)

NOTE: Yes, I stole a couple of Alec's ideas and changed or did not change the words slightly.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sunshine for Allods Online?

Keen has a post up: A Ray of Hope for Allods Fans
Today’s communication from gPotato shed some light on a few things we’ve been having to deal with over the past week. First off they debunked the rumor that the original dev team was no longer working on the game. Second, they addressed the cash shop prices stating, “we are actively working on new pricing options to accommodate the masses.”
While we don't know what the final verdict is yet; Keen stated something a lot of Allods players feel.
What gPotato needs to realize coming out of all of this is that the people who enjoy the game are willing to spend money.
Allods players, for the most part, are willing to pay to play the game at a reasonable price. However, I disagree with Keen's next statement:
Yeah, it’s a cash shop microtransaction model game. We know that we’re going to be forced into the cash shop because that is an intrinsic property. That doesn’t bother us anymore.
I don't want to play a game that forces me into its cash shop. It is NOT intrinsic to the business model and does more damage to the game than good. A cash shop should be about convenience, not necessity. The game should make me want to spend money, not punish me for not spending.

I think I am the minority in this. All along I didn't feel the discussion should have been about the cash shop. It should have been about how poorly thought out the game changes were. Removing mana/health regeneration skills, changing the Fear of Death debuff, and increasing the leveling curve are dumb changes for the game. I could care less that I can "buy" my way past these changes, at any price.

Over at Serial Ganker, sid67 lays out his view in response to my original thoughts.
Heartless_ is making the argument that we would hate this type of penalty in any game. He argues that if this change were made in a subscription game, players would still be up in arms about it. Very true. But with one critical difference, in Allods, you can PAY to avoid the penalty.
sid67 is one of the more balanced writers I've found in the MMOG blogosphere. This shows just how much of a minority my line of thinking is. I'm pushing against the conversation about the cash shop, because I want to discuss Allods Online as a game, business model agnostic. The reality is that Allods Online is a poor example, at this point barring any changes, of the microtransaction model.

I have the problem of having a happy-go-lucky vision of Free 2 Play games and the micro transaction model. One whereby players pay for microtransactions that enrich their gameplay experience, while the base game is playable and satisfying within itself. Developers have the right to make money with the game, but at some point, forcing players into a cash shop tells me the game would have been better off in a subscription model.

I must accept my minority view and move on. I'm still playing Allods and depending on where the game changes go, will determine if I continue playing. I don't want to feel like I'm forced into paying for cash shop items; at any price.

Steam Update Incoming

Valve has released a beta version of the new Steam client:
As of today, a new version of Steam is available through a public opt-in beta, open to all Steam users. This Steam update provides several major upgrades to the platform's core functionality. We've overhauled the Steam user interface to enhance the way you already buy and play games, adding more info about the things that matter — getting games, playing them with friends, and staying current in the gaming world.

If you already have Steam installed on your computer, you can take part in the beta by clicking this link and then selecting "2010 UI Update" under Beta Participation. If you don't have Steam installed, download it today.
I'll update this post to leave my impressions tonight when I am back at home.

UPDATE:

I've installed the update. It looks very clean. The major difference can be noticed on the My Games screen, where the ugly old list of games has been replaced by a fancy new list of games. When a game's name is clicked on the new list, a basic description, screenshot, handy list of links, and your total playtime for that game is displayed. For example, Left 4 Dead 2 from my Steam install:

 

Unfortunately, not all areas were given the once over for a new visual look.  The Steam community page is still its same old self.  Hopefully Valve will look into giving a bit of new spin to that page at some point (it needs it).

Overall I like the new look.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

gPotato and Astrum Nivel respond to Allods Online debate

gPotato and Astrum Nival have responded to the community outrage over the recent Allods Online changes.
Over the last several days, the Allods team has been spending a lot of time listening to player feedback. We’ve noticed that two of the biggest topics this weekend have been regarding rumors of Astrum Nival remaining as the developers for Allods and what our future plans are for the item shop. We wanted to take a moment to address these topics and clear up some of the general questions many of you may have.

The original Astrum Nival developers are no longer involved in Allods!

False!

The original development team for Allods Online is still 100% involved in developing Allods.

To provide everyone insight on the situation let’s take a trip down memory lane. The developers for Allods Online were originally known as Nival Online. On July 6th, 2009 Nival Online merged with Astrum Online Entertainment and became what most people know them as, Astrum Nival. Then on December 1st, 2009, Mail.ru merged with Astrum Online Entertainment. Astrum Online Entertainment operates Astrum Nival, the development studio which developed our beloved game, Allods Online.

In any case, the original developers are intact – they just have a new company name. The original vision of Allods Online is still being followed by the developers. Allods Online is in great hands and is being actively developed!

Item shop prices are overpriced, what is gPotato doing about this?

As we mentioned in our official statement last week, the Allods team is well aware of the situation. We can’t apologize enough for the stir and shock it’s caused within the community and the lack of communication we had beforehand with not evolving you, the players, in our decision making process.

We want to make clear that this is something we are not taking lightly. We are not sitting and waiting just to see how many dollars we’re going to make over the next four weeks. It is very clear to us that players are already disgruntled with the situation and we are actively working on new pricing options to accommodate the masses. However, we ask the Allods community to please be patient with the situation! Adjustments like this cannot happen overnight. That’s why we continually encourage everyone to submit constructive feedback to us regarding your opinion about both the game and the item shop. In fact, we started a forum thread that we will be checking on an hourly basis here.

The Allods team works hard on this game and loves it just as much as many of you do. When we see a problem we want to address it and take the most appropriate actions that make sense for both the players and the game. With that said, we encourage everyone to voice your opinion, even if it’s about something you absolutely hate, just please do so in a constructive manner.

Thank you everyone for your continued support! As we’ve said many times, the Allods fans are some of the best gamers in the world – we really appreciate that!
First, they dispelled the conspiracy theory that the original developers were gone. Still, that is a lot of merging and there are reports out of Russia that mail.ru is a less than reputable online-games operator.

The price hike in the cash shop does not appear to have been a mistake as first assumed (they literally multiplied the prices by 10 for everything which made it seem like an obvious mistake).

The changes to Fear of Death, mana/health regen, and leveling speed are not addressed in the post directly, but are the catalyst of the problem. I sincerely hope that Astrum Nival and gPotato realize the prices aren't the problem, its them crippling the game to force players into the cash shop. The cash shop should be about convenience, not necessity.

They have brought up a forum thread to collect feedback.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Forget about the Allods Online cash shop, this is dumb for any business model

It never fails that a game implodes while I am away for the weekend.  This time around it was Allods Online.

In the beginning of the early closed betas, I was not worried about the Allods Online cash shop.  The game in closed beta proved to me and many other players to be playable without any cash shop items.  The cash shop was going to about convenience.  The only thing that was going to change that was a game breaking patch.  Barring that single situation, Allods Online was shaping up to be a delightful game.

Unfortunately, game breaking changes just so happen to have been slated for patch 1.0.07.07, which contains changes best summed up by Keen:
Guess what was in these notes? Game breaking changes to the cash shop. Being resurrected by other players now gives you Fear of Death (the death debuff). In Heroic instances, which you can not leave, this essentially means you must have perfume to remove the debuff. Clearly promises are broken here. Given that the NA version must pay $13.50 for a stack of 20 perfume, the math was done and we’re looking at over $50 / month in order to participate in end-game PvE. Top it all off? Fear of Death now lasts 2 hours at level 40.
Lets forget about the cash shop for a minute; these changes don't make sense for any business model.  Unavoidable, hours long death penalties?  In a game designed to have players die repeatedly?  This is a classic case of the punishment (fear of death) not fitting the crime (death).  I would have as much of a problem with these changes in a subscription game where I would have to grind away my time for perfume, something more valuable to me than my cash. 

Bringing the cash shop back into the conversation highlights how dumb these changes are.  Either change was bad by itself, but combined they are a nightmare.  Its not a question of players wanting to be free riders.  Many players were more than willing to pay for Allods Online (me included).

The power of the micro-transaction model is it's ability to attract players in at all buy-in levels.  Those willing to spend $5 are given options while those willing to spend $50 can do so as well.  Pricing every single thing in the cash shop out of that lower bracket, while simultaneously forcing players into the cash shop goes against the grain of the business model.  At that point, the game is better off in a subscription model.

Stay tuned for more commentary on this subject.  I think people, again, are losing focus because this involves micro transactions.  Hopefully, we can steer this conversation back to just how stupid the planned game changes are.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It’s not Battle.net, it’s me

I was less than thrilled to hear about the new Battle.net. I commented on other blogs that this new Battle.net was five years too late. I don’t want every new game to launch with its own developer tie-in service. I want simplicity; consolidation. For me that was Steam. Sadly, Blizzard has shown no move towards Valve’s digital distribution platform and as Blizzard has always been a heavy box sales driven company, it’s a pipe dream. I don’t like the idea of Blizzard’s new toy, but it’s me that’s at fault, not the new Battle.net.

I can’t accept that I have to maintain an EA, Steam, Games for Windows Live, NCSoft, SOE Station, Galanet, Gamespy, Rockstar, Battle.net, and God knows what else account. Whatever happened to launching a game.exe, typing in a display name, and hitting play? Where the hell is the OpenID or Facebook Connect of PC games? Even my cherished Steam platform is becoming a hindrance as the majority of games I play do not integrate with my Steam login for multiplayer or friends tracking, meaning for the majority of games I own via Steam I am logging in twice to play (thank God for the invention of the auto login features).

Battle.net will be successful and heralded as an industry standard. It is a Blizzard product after all. However, I don’t like the trend of every publisher/developer having their own separate platform trying to lock me into or out of their games. Hopefully my complaint has been noted and quickly dismissed somewhere within this crazy landscape of what we call PC gaming.

The New Battle.net

With the "eye in the sky" opinion out the way, lets get to the new Battle.net.  Ars Technica has a preview. It appears to have the usual Blizzard polish and is probably ready to go live now, but I suspect we won't see it until Starcraft 2 hits the shelves.

Nothing from the article is groundbreaking. The new Battle.net features streamlined matchmaking for Blizzard games with integrated social networking. It is what most expected and the Blizzard polish will seal the deal.

Conclude

I almost kind of wish it was opened to more than just Blizzard games, but as a long time Steam (and Steamworks) observer, I understand that even giving access away to a digital platform for free doesn't mean any of the larger developers will pay it any attention.  After all, that would be crazy. They can just make their own flavor!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Initial Impressions: Allods Online Open Beta

Allods Online launched into open beta this week and I've had a few hours to spend with it. I'm playing with the League faction as Heartless the Priest or Favre the Ranger on the Tensess server.  The open beta has been great so far and in classic Heartless_ style, here is a pro/cons list:



Pros

- Runs like a dream with little to no video or net lag.
- The visual style and game play is directly comparable to World of Warcraft. This works to the benefit of Allods Online.
- Leveling is well-paced. Not too fast, not too slow. There are enough quests to go around at each level.
- Combat is smooth and enjoyable.
- Class mechanics are unique to each class.

Cons

- Runs like a dream, but at the price of a view distance that can be measured in inches.
- Quest objectives and areas are camped into extinction.
- The general chat is a never ending debate about World of Warcraft.
- Questions about the Cash Shop are unanswered currently. The details seem to change every week.
- No auto attack.
- Chat interface needs improvement.

Overall I am really enjoying my time in Allods Online's open beta. As characters won't be wiped for launch, Feb 16th is the true Allods launch date. The greatest thing it has going is the free 2 play business model. This allows me to enjoy the game casually without the worry of maintaining a subscription. I can come back and play whenever I want and when I have more time to dedicate to the game, I can spend a few dollars in the Cash Shop to improve that dedicated time. Allods Online is going to be a popular game and I will be very interested to see how financially successful it can be.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tips & Tricks: How Not to be a Noob at Battlefield Bad Company 2 (Video)

Best. Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Video. So. Far.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Allods Online Characters and Upcoming Guide

I wanted to post about my two characters from Allods Online, which just launched open beta (patch 1.0.05.41) today.

Server: Tensess
Faction: League

Heartless the Priest
























Favre the Ranger
























Also, I am begining work on an Allods Online Guide blog.

Love Release Set for March 25th

Via a tweet, we have been given a release date for Love:
Love has a release date: 25th of march.
Since Love is impossible to explain in words, here are some videos:

Video 1:



Video 2:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Preparing for the Allods Online Launch Tommorow

gPotato has released some information to help everyone prepare for Allods Online open beta launch tomorrow (2/16):
If you downloaded the Allods client before midnight (12am Pacific Standard Time) on Monday, February 15th, you will need to go through the following steps to make your client open beta ready. Also, if you participated in any of the closed betas, this most likely affects your client. You will not be able to update your client through the normal launcher patching process.

1. Download the Allods open beta update here: http://allods-ftp.gpotato.com/OBupdate.exe
2. Run the open beta update from any directory (be sure to close the launcher before running the update!)
3. Re-open the Allods Online launcher
4. Download the latest updates and enjoy the game!
Players can verify their version against this:
Also, the version number to participate in the Allods Online open beta will be 1.0.05.41.
I'm updated and ready to go and just so happen to have the day off from work (not that my kid will let me play that much). Hopefully, I'll be able to grab my favorite names for once!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Challenge, a Free idea, and Warhammer Online

Bootae has issued a challenge:
A challenge for my fellow bloggers!

First take the assumption that the game isn’t in the alleged maintenance mode and there’s not only money for new content, but you have access to new content that’s been in development over the last year. So we’re writing this in a happy place. Now then, if you had control of Mythic what would be your plan for WAR in 2010?

Broken down into Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, what would be your strategy for changes, improvements and expansions to the game?
Follow on past the jump for what I would do if I were Mythic in 2010.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 vs. Battlefield 2

In my initial impressions post for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (BFBC2), Esoteric Articles left a comment asking me what I thought of BC2 vs BF2:
Do you think it [BFBC2] is better or worse than Battlefield 2?
I left my initial thoughts in a reply, but I wanted to note and add to those thoughts here.

As compared to BF2, BFBC2 Pros:
  • BC2 is better about vehicles. Aircraft aren't overpowered (so far) and ground vehicles aren't invincible.
  • Destructible environments.
  • The leveling and upgrade system is superior in BC2.
  • In-game friends system.
  • Squads are limited to four players in BC2 and any member can be used as a spawn point.
  • Vehicle-based upgrades.
  • Rush game-type (a game mode that doesn't stray too far from the traditional BF "capture the flag", but provides a focused objective-based progression map).
  • Collecting dog tags for melee kills
  • A move away from kills counting for the most points, allowing support players to be in the hunt for top honors each round.
As compared to BF2, BFBC2 Cons:
  • The gun play feels sloppy in the BC2 beta. 
  • Players can not go prone in BC2.
  • Ground vehicles feel overpowered until players unlock laser tags.  This is mainly because C4 in BC2 is  a pain in the rear to use.
  • Some graphic effects in BC2 are annoying (scope blur, bloom, fog/smoke, explosion bounce).  BF2 always felt very clean visually, allowing players to make sense of the madness.
Good in BOTH
  • Squads
  • Large, open maps
  • More to do than just kill enemies, but its still really all about killing enemies.
Sucks in BOTH
  • The server browser.
  • Close quarters sound effects are non-existent.  I've never heard another player approaching or running around near me in BF2 or BC2. 

Hmmmmm... it has been a year

Just realized that it has been a year since I posted this bit of news.  Amazing how time flies.

And to prove he's mine, here's a pic:


Does the Green Bay Packers outfit give it away?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

1205 Pages Complete: A Dance With Dragons Update

Not Done Yet is the title of George RR Martin's latest blog posting.  In it he reveals that he has reached 1205 manuscript pages for A Dance With Dragons.  Suvudu makes the comparison, in manuscript pages, of the series:
As a reference, A Game of Thrones is 1088 manuscript pages, A Clash of Kings is 1184 manuscript pages, and A Storm of Swords is 1521 manuscript pages.
Its been a productive period for Martin and it appears that the story that is A Dance with Dragons may finally be winding to a conclusion. Then its onto the waiting for the next book!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Superbowl or Super Snore Forty-Four?

Saints win! What, not that excited? Well, the Superbowl has come and gone again. The Saints ain't no longer the Aints, so the city of New Orleans can finally put the brown paper bags away.

It was a competitive game, but outside of the last few seconds of the first half, the onside kick to start the second, and the late-game interception the game was a bore. For two of the "best" offenses in the NFL, they managed to have a very unspectacular game.  Also, its quite ironic the Saints were the benefactors of two late-game interceptions thrown by two of the greatest quarterbacks in the league (Favre in the championship game and Manning in the Superbowl).

Other than the Snickers commercial with Betty White, the commercials were a huge letdown. The halftime show was as unmemorable as they come.

The worst part, of course, is that Football has ended for another year. The 2010 regular season can not come fast enough, but I'm chanting Go, Packers, Go! already!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Jan 2010: What I'm Playing/What I'm Paying

Welcome to the first What I'm Playing and What I'm Paying post for 2010.  In the future I will attempt to have these posts ready for the first of each month, but Heartless_ Jr is teething and when I finally had free time this past week all I wanted to do was own face in Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

I have embedded the new What I'm Playing/What I'm Paying spreadsheet for January below.  The overall spreadsheet can be found here.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Initial Impressions: Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Beta

My gaming budget of $180 for all of 2010 does not have much room for new games.  However, I saw this video for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and remembered how much I miss the traditional Battlefield gameplay. (Found the video via ITG)



I've always been at odds with the Battlefield series.  I've been a fan since Battlefield 1942, but have skipped every other title in the series.  I played 1942, skipped Vietnam, played 2, skipped 2142.  I skipped Bad Company 1, but now I'm going to be playing Bad Company 2. (NOTE: I left out BF:Heroes as it is outside of the traditional BF series).

The first thing that struck me about Bad Company 2 (BC2) was it's destructive nature.  As can be seen in the video, almost every wall and obstacle can be destroyed.  This was something promised back in the days of Battlefield 2 and only partially realized in BC1.  BC2 takes it to another level.  No wall, box, barrel, or cement slab seems safe.  Annoying sniper on the third floor three buildings down?  Level the first two buildings and smoke that fucker out.

Oh, did I mention the foul mouthed soldiers fighting on the field?  Every other word seems to be fuck and I have no doubt the enemy (Russian?) one-liners are just as abrasive.  It takes a bit away from the game and with a kid in the house now, I have to pay more attention to things like this.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Limited EditionThe next touted feature for BC2 is the reworking of the Squad mechanic (first introduced in Battlefield 2).  BC2's flavor allows up to four players per squad.  Any squad member can become a roving spawn point instead of just the squad leader.  Even in random pick up group play there is a reason to be in a squad.  Lone wolfing it will mean a lot of running.

Fortunately, I was able to spend the first three hours or so of the Beta with Alex Taldren.  The squad mechanic shines when playing with a friend or group of coordinated players.  The game has built-in, squad-based voice communication which works well.  Teamwork goes a long way; Alex and I were able to remain on the top of the scoreboard running as an Assault and Medic combo.

The combat took a bit to get used to, but I've been playing so much Civilization 4 lately that my FPS skills were rusty.  A couple hours in and I was somewhat back to old form.  My only quibble was with weapon damage being all over the place.  Sometimes a good burst would take down a target, while other times an entire clip could be laid into a hard charging foe only to have them cover the gap and collect my dog tags (via a knife kill).

There is a level and enhancement system built into the game. As I'm only level 4, I don't have much of a comment on the system.  It seems straightforward and most of it does not seem as though it will create overpowered have vs have not situations.

On a side note, in BC2 there doesn't seem to be much of the insanity that the Battlefiled series is known for.  No crazy jumping, vehicle riding, or parachuting tricks.  It has a more realistic feeling, from environments to combat to vehicles.

I recommend this game to anyone that's enjoyed the Battlefield series over the years, but make sure to buy the PC version (its cheaper @ $49.95 via Amazon.com).  The Limited Edition will grant beta access prior to launch.  The game launches on March 2nd.  I can be found in game as [BLOG] Heartlessgamer

Thursday, February 04, 2010

My wishlist for further improvement to Borderlands multiplayer

With the recent update to Borderlands, the multiplayer connectivity and stability has been fixed. Now that I can actually enjoy online games, I have a wish list for some other changes I would like to see:

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Borderlands improves PC multiplayer

Back in my review of Borderlands, I had a huge complaint against the state of multiplayer on the PC. It just didn't work and for a game I purchased with multiplayer in mind, it was disappointing. News came down today that its fixed:
Multiplayer connectivity has been improved; users should no longer be required to forward ports to host or join multiplayer games. (source)
After reading this, I immediately jumped into my Linksys router's settings and dumped all of my port forwards. I jumped in the game and I was able to join the first game I tried without a problem. Its amazing what a simple change can do. I am feeling a little Borderlands action in my future (I haven't completed playthru 2 yet).
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