Filed under Jon

Looking at EverQuest 1

Tim started out in MMOs with EverQuest 1, which explains a lot. Join us as we go back to look at an old part of the game as it is today.

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Stop Stealing My Time

I’ve noticed a increasing pattern in my life recently: I’m resenting games. I suspect a lot of people are feeling it to some extent, the mobile model of paying to speed up games or you can’t play probably being the most obvious one but the thing that’s getting me the most at the moment is different. It’s the fact that games steal time from me. They make me repeat actions, revisit areas, chase low frequency drops in an effort to extend play times. This is time they are taking from us just to prolong the experience rather than making the experience better.

Game developers deciding that I need to put in some work before I can see the real game used to be something that I would put up with, but tell me I need to get to level 20 to really enjoy Destiny and I’m much more likely to consider what else I can do with that time that’ll be more fun. Tell me that an MMOs endgame is where it really starts and I’ll not bother playing what is by definition just hour upon hour of padding to get there. Tell me that there’s a 0.2% chance of getting the drop I want and I’ll see the 99.8% chance of me having wasted my time that could have been better spent sinking 10s of hours into something like Civilization. Tell me that your game lasts 100 hours and I’ll think that’s far too long for me to get invested in just in case the game is good and you haven’t padded it out just to hit a massively high number.

It’s not actually about the time spent, I’ll gladly put the hours in if I don’t think that the developers are wasting my time in order to prolong their game. It feels like they are stealing my time, and only I should get to choose what I do with that.

More often or not whenever I get told I need to level up in order to progress in a game now I’ll just walk away. It turns out that it means I play a lot more games that I actually enjoy the minute to minute of.

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The Return of Old Van Hemlock Episodes

Before we were Murdering Time we were Van Hemlocking, and those shows have been offline since an unfortunate accident with a goat, a rake and our old server consigned them to digital oblivion. It had nothing to do with my name not being in the title, honest.

Since I love/hate all our fans (delete as appropriate depending on if you like the show or not) I’ve restored the archives for the main show. That’s 153 episodes of very out of date information for your listening pleasure. Hear us talking about  games with a great future such as Tabula Rasa, Star Wars Galaxies and Auto Assault! Hear about console games that you’ve forgotten were even released! Hear all of our predictions become 100% true!

There’s no RSS feed because I’m not that keen on people downloading 9gb of shows all at once (and I couldn’t get it to work), but the show posts are all restored  and there’s a list of all of them on the Podcast menu (or click here), or you can click on the handy podcast category here.

I haven’t manually checked all 153 episodes, so if you find any problems leave a comment on that post and I’ll fix it. If anybody fancies writing better shownotes for any of the episodes then leave a comment with it as well and I’ll update the post to be more informative about what’s actually in the episode. Anything to stop me having to listen to them because I don’t need to be reminded how dumb past Jon was!

Fighting the pile of shame

I can’t win. I’ve come to accept this now, but the world will always defeat me. Can everybody just stop making games for a year or two so I can catch up?

My pile of shame is staggering. I wrote a little app to parse various websites that contain my owned games like Steam and trophy/achievement info on consoles and the number came up as over 600 (feel free to feel superior for having more or less, either works). I then went through and checked off which games I had actually completed, a task that was only possible because of achievements and trophies telling me I had completed games that I had forgotten existed. I came to the conclusion that I had completed (as in saw the end credits, nothing crazy) a grand total of about 40% of console games and considerably less of PC games. The reason for the difference is of course Steam sales and the “I might want to play that one day” or “£2? How can I not buy it for that much even though I own it on a console already and it’s a notoriously bad port” madness that those sales bring.

I don’t think that 40% is good enough so I’m going to improve that. In an ideal world 100% would be the only acceptable number, but I’m not quite that insane yet. I’ve done this in previous years, which is why I’m at the giddy heights of 40%, but this year I want to get past 50.

I actually began at the start of the year, but since I actually seem to be getting somewhere with it I thought I’d better document it so I don’t forget. The rules are simple. Seeing the credits mean completion and if I’ve been dumb enough to buy a game on multiple platforms then I damn well have to complete it several times to teach myself a lesson. I also don’t have to complete games that don’t have a suitable win state, so I’m not including MMOs and the like.

Game 1: Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)

This is something I picked up on PS3 several years ago due to it being very cheap at the time and having the exclusive Joker content. Completing it took less than an hour as I’d almost played it all the way through, but involved two of the worse boss fights in the game so I was too grumpy to actually play the damn content I actually got the game for. The PS3 version is mostly notable for having a different camera angle on Batman than the other versions, the sole reason seemingly just so that he takes up more of the screen and makes it more annoying to play.

I’ve now completed this game on three platforms. Somebody will use this as evidence of my insanity sometime in the future, but they would be wrong as it’s the best Batman game so far and if you haven’t played it then you’re probably the one who is insane. Or you don’t like Metroidvania inspired versions of Batman, which when I think about it is probably more likely.

Game 2: Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD (PS3)

This is another game that I’ve been playing on another platform, but it’s a much better experience on a large screen rather than on the Vita and so I actually completed it just after it released. For some reason “proper” games just don’t feel right to me on a handheld.

It’s too short, graphically underwhelming and misses the chances to be great at every opportunity. When it’s cheap on a Steam deal it’ll be well worth a look, so keep an eye out in the next sale. I’m not sure it’s worth the £15 they currently want though.

Game 3: Journey (PS3)

This is a visually attractive journey through a desert with a score that I love and gameplay that is, to put it politely, primitive. You find yourself repeatedly collecting things to open up a way out of an area just so you can do the same thing with a slightly different area. There is some variation as eventually the sand gets replaced with snow (spoiler!). The attraction comes from the multiplayer which joins you up with fellow players with no indication of who they are and no proper way to communicate. It turns out that when you do this players default to being nice to each other and try to help you when you appear stuck on what to do next. It really restores your faith in people online in a way that no other game really can, which makes it An Important Game in my book. At the very end of the game it tells you who you played with, which is nice.

I just can’t remember why I only got half way through when it released, but it was probably the repetitive nature and something else coming out.

Game 4: Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PS3)

PlayStation+ is my enemy. I hate it with a passion for the constant stream of games that it puts in front of me that I just have to play. I’d played this on 360 when it came out, but since it was the closest we’ll ever get to Burnout Paradise 2 (seriously, rename it and nobody would know) when it came up on PS+ I downloaded it and have been messing around in it ever since. I remembered that there was actually a game that could be completed in there so ran through all the most wanted cars quite quickly.

It’s a really odd game. It lacks the charm of Burnout Paradise, but has nearly all of the same features. The race types are less inspired, there isn’t the route finding that everybody hated in Paradise until they learnt the city and the police make races a lottery with you being rammed off the road at really annoying times due to no fault of your own. It wasn’t as pleasant an experience as it was playing the first time, I suspect because the flaws were more obvious from the start. It’s also a stupidly short game if you’re just going for the credits and ignoring the collectables.

Game 5: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag (PS4)

I sort of got this game again just to play something on my PS4, and having completed it a second time I’m not sorry. It’s harder than the PC version because you don’t have quite the control a mouse gives you when running over rooftops and so you sometimes miss the jump you think you should be able to make, but the rest of the game more than makes up for it. The real world elements are a treasure trove of jokes and observation about game development that manages to not break the fourth wall while still poking fun at the previous games.

There are more people on the multiplayer on the PS4 version than the PC version as well, but it still feels a little off. I love the way they came up with a conceptually valid way to do multiplayer that sticks to the plot and the gameplay, but it has always felt that there is something missing. The level system also means that you don’t get any fun tools until you level up, which turns it into a grind that shouldn’t be needed in a fun multiplayer environment. Multiplayer is fun for the gameplay, I’m really against levelling up as anything other than a measure of ability.

Anybody who hasn’t been playing the games because they didn’t like the way the series was going should probably pick this up and take a look. On PC of course as it looks better, plays better and is cheaper.

Game 6: Tomb Raider Definitive Edition (PS4)

This is exactly the same as the old version except for the addition of dumb controller gimmicks (Kinect for Xbox One and Camera/stupid controller speaker for PS4). I almost finished it in a single sitting, so take that as a recommendation as to how much I still like it and how bad my sleep routine is.

So there we have it. Six games completed and we’re on the 6th week of the year. Time to find another game I’ve abandoned 10 minutes before the end!

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On press embargoes

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I’m not a massive fan of the press, games or otherwise, being told they can’t report on something and it’s happened twice this week so far.

Last night at Midnight the BBC announced that two recovered Patrick Troughton Doctor Who stories were being released at that moment on iTunes. Everybody was happy, especially as it includes both The Enemy of the World and  The Web of Fear (one episode still missing but reconstructed), which sees first appearance of then Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart fight Yetis on the London Underground. They just don’t make TV like that anymore.

The dumb part of this story is that the press were told in the early afternoon and everybody was sworn to secrecy so that, presumably, the official announcement could be the second that they went up on iTunes. This of course didn’t work as expected as throughout the afternoon and evening leak after leak happened, some deliberately and some accidentally. Newspapers published stories early and pulled them, front pages were released on line and towards the end iTunes had the shows available early anyway. In the end we’re all happy that we have the episodes but was that wait really needed? Did it actually add anything to the level of anticipation?

Earlier on in the week Beyond: Two Souls released in the US (out today in the UK) and there was a review embargo until the day of release. Now my general rule is that if there is an embargo it means one of two things: The publisher doesn’t think the reviews will have any real affect no matter what they say (e.g. GTAV) or that they are worried that they will (Beyond). Now I get why in theory an embargo is good for games as otherwise there’s a race to get reviews up for that all important first published review for an anticipated game that will bring in a lot more clicks than otherwise, but release day embargos for games that are reviewing badly just stand as almost colluding with the publisher to not tell the public that maybe the game sucks, especially if they’ve purchased the game online because of the hype and it gets shipped out the day before anyway.

Now while pre-ordering games, especially one that was always going to have the same problems as the other David Cage games (bad writing, lack on interactivity) is always a bad idea, but the idea of the press agreeing to self-censorship in a way that is without a doubt at the detriment of their readers who have pre-ordered seems just wrong to me.

The press have little choice. You publish that review early and you’ve pissed off Sony, which means you might not receive early review copies of any other Sony games. This is a bad time to be risking that so it’s just not worth the risk. That isn’t to say that the reviews haven’t all been fair; it seems as if there has been no pressure at all to nudge the scores of the game upwards, but only to ensure that it came out on the day of release.

This happens all the time, and there’s no way to stop it. The best advice I can give is don’t pre-order based on hype if you haven’t liked the previous games by the developer.

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The PC is king?

November is going to be an exciting month for new things. Will we see some Time War closure? No, Ecclestone wasn’t the Doctor then, which was made very clear all the way back in Rose. What does that mean?

There are also new consoles being released. They are exciting too I guess, even if they don’t ever have good Doctor Who games. Why are they trying to ride the Doctor Who hype with their suspiciously timed launches anyway? Which gets me thinking as to why haven’t they hidden a police box in Assassin’s Creed somewhere? I would.

Oh yeah, consoles. Fancy new processors that are as powerful as some PCs today! 5gb of RAM available to games! It’s such a massive improvement on the dinosaurs that are the 360 and PS3 that we can’t help but have better games as a result. Well, we will when they stop designing them to be cross platform with the last generation at least.

The thing is that my gaming PC is faster than these consoles, and has more memory. The PC is the obvious winner next generation, there’s nothing to hold it back.

Only it’s not that simple. Let’s check the Steam HW survey.

Let’s start with some facts before we get into rampant dodgy speculation. In order to support 5gb of memory being available to games you need a 64bit operating system. A quick look at the survey for September 2013 reveals the following:

PC OS Sep 2013

Limiting my data to OSs that are greater than 1% of the sample size we find that 12.83% are on 32bit Windows 7. 6.96% are still on 32bit Windows XP (and due to become a 100% zombie Trojan platform in a few months) while 2.07% are still on Vista 32bit. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that makes 21.86% of PCs that use Steam can’t access more than a couple of gig of memory. Don’t they know that they are wasting so much of their PCs power? We can check that by looking at how much memory is reported on the survey:

PC Memory Sep 2013

If we total up those numbers for 4gb of RAM and below we get a staggering 53.67% of PCs sampled by Steam don’t have the memory available for a fully maxed out next generation console game. These numbers make the 64bit OS stat make sense, there’s no need for these users to upgrade their OS to 64bit. It also means that a lot of users are running a 64bit OS with no real benefit.

The thing that got me thinking about this was the beta for Battlefield 4, which is 64bit only. The released game will have a 32bit version as well, but assuming that the next generation console version uses all of the RAM it physically can then the 32bit PC version has to be lower quality. The 64bit version can beat the consoles on memory no problem, nearly half of PCs have more memory than them.

This gives developers an interesting quandary. Do they strive to make the PC the best version possible, or do they aim at a full half of the market that can’t fit all of those lovely high res textures into memory? Will they come up with a scaling solution that works out what they can do automatically? Or will we just see better versions of the last gen versions of the games for a while and perhaps less PC ports after that?

There is a serious point to this mindless speculation, which is that PCs have stagnated somewhat recently. There’s been no real drive to push PCs beyond the 32bit barrier as most people really don’t need 4gb or more of memory in their everyday usage and most people don’t need a quad core monster processor to use IE and run Word. Gamers are different, but 50% of gamers aren’t waiting to upgrade their PCs when the next gen consoles come out.

The assumption that the PC is going to be the best version of games still this generation is not exactly guaranteed to be true. Some games will be better, but I think some will be worse as publishers won’t want to throw away half of the potential market.

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GTA5 is an ugly mirror because it doesn’t pretend not to be

There is an uncomfortable truth in gaming: if your character spends the game running and gunning down hundreds of people then they probably aren’t a nice person. When games try to create characters who buck this trend by saying they don’t like killing, like Nathan Drake and the latest incarnation of Lara Croft, it just comes off as strange.

It’s impossible to avoid the fact that if your gameplay and cutscenes are at odds then you are doing something wrong with your storytelling.

Games that avoid the excessive shooting can create characters that work really well. The Walking Dead and all but one of the characters in Heavy Rain show how storytelling can work really well when your characters remain true to the story with their actions, but those games are few and far between.

The problem also arises when you are too true to your characters, which is something that GTA5 has found. You have the young gang member who just wants to make some money and you have the retired thief who finds himself in need of some cash quickly so gets it the only way he can. These characters show zero remorse about their actions; they embark on their crimes with no second thoughts as to what they will lose in the process.

It’s the last of the three characters that has everybody upset, and that’s because he’s the only one true to the gameplay. He’s unapologetically violent and unpleasant. He’s the kind of person you can imagine mowing down pedestrians on the sidewalk so that he can get past the traffic stopped at the lights quickly. He’s the one that you can believe the motivation for killing all of the enemies he comes up against, even when they start to run away, just because he feels it’s the thing he should do. He’s the one who will abandon somebody who could be called a friend because his task means that he should.

He is a ghastly character that I actually dread playing. I had to stop last night because I thought I found the game annoying, but actually thinking about it I was reacting to having to play him. He was everything that I was already doing in the game given voice and I didn’t like what I saw.

The annoying thing is that he’s also the most interesting character. The other two are clichés that rely on other media in order to fill in their characters without the game having to bother and who will never do anything too surprising because of it. By making us play a character who is the embodiment of how we play the game the options of crazy are there. The option for interesting is there. The option may never be taken up, I don’t know as I haven’t finished the game yet, but it’s there and that’s the most interesting thing about the game.

I’m not sure I’ll ever enjoy playing that character, but I’m sure the memorable points in the game all come from him (as was helpfully spoilt by reviews, probably for the better).

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Indie games as short form fiction

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There’s this idea that indie games are all 8bit graphics with chiptune soundtracks. This is of course false, as some of the most gorgeous experiences I’ve had in games recently have been Indie games. I think it should be a new genre: the heavily atmospheric game with just enough story added in. I suck at coming up with names.

Gone Home, The Light and Dear Ester are all games about broadly the same thing: creating an atmosphere but they are all very short compared to larger games. You can play through any of them in an hour or two, much less if you tried a speed run (well, except in Dear Ester where running is considered to be a gameplay issue.) This sounds like a problem but if you expanded them to a full sized game you would have big problems keeping that level of atmosphere going. The only AAA game that I can think of that actually manages that is Portal 2, which must mean that it’s a really hard thing to get right. Even then it throws puzzles into the mix to keep you occupied between the real game of finding out about Cave Johnson. OK, I might have taken the wrong thing away from that game.

One of the problems with these games is that they can cost more per hour of play than some people might be OK with. Gone Home costs about £5 an hour if you explore properly and although I feel that I more than got my money’s worth I can see why some might not. The payoff for me at the end of Gone Home was some sever anxiety about how it was going to end after an enjoyable rummage about in a strange house, and if you’re not into that kind of thing then it’s really not going to seem to be value for money.

I think that these are the gaming equivalents of short stories in the way that they have a single point to tell and are very focused about getting you into the right mood to make that point. They don’t even tell you what they’re trying to be, they just put you in the world and let you explore the very well created surroundings as the tension as to what’s going on builds up. Gone Home and The Light especially have a scary quality that comes from not knowing what’s going on, which is something I can’t elaborate on without spoiling the games.

I like the idea of being put in a world and being asked to figure out why. Actually that’s not true, you’re never asked and you just end up doing it anyway, which is fantastic.

Above all it’s a micro-genre based on environmental and sound design with storytelling being the key to move you onwards. I want to play more of these games, I think they’re an exciting direction for games to go in.

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The last game I’ll play

There is a game that’s been sitting on my shelf a while and yet I haven’t played, in fact it’s got to the point where not playing it is a matter of principle. That game is Gun.

Yes the game is old, it’s from way back in 2006. In fact it’s a launch title for the 360 and that’s where my brain has decided to get in the way. With the release of the Xbox One in a couple of months and Microsoft’s usual lack of support for older platforms I don’t expect I’ll play a new (to me) game on the 360 after GTA5, which will probably also be the last game I buy for the platform. I don’t think there are any exclusives that I’ve not played and so I can do the odd thing and think about what game will be the last “new” game I ever play on the console will be.

I think it’ll be Gun. I shall end with a launch title. It seems fitting somehow.

Should I decide which Xbox One game I’m not going to get around to playing now?

A look of the next gen launch titles

Now that we know what the launch titles for the Xbox One will be and what will be out by the end of the year on PS4 I decided that I needed to go mad and make a spreadsheet saying what was coming out on each platform. As I went in a bit I started recording what was coming on PC, which naturally led to me adding 360 and PS3 as well. It’s really quite telling that an awful lot of these games are actually multiplatform and in some cases are even out already.

Here’s my quick analysis as to what is available where. It should be noted that I’ve been a bit generous with some of the titles which are expanded versions of previous games.

The totals I have so far (expect new games to show up and new platforms to be discovered) show that the stated numbers of 33 PS4 games and 23 Xbox One games has some very good titles but there’s a massive crossover between platform with 18 games also coming to each of the PS3 and 360, although those are actually slightly different lists of games.

It’s this support for the last generation of games that is the most surprising as many games don’t look like they are any different on the older platforms due to them being less graphically intense.

Totals:

17 18 33 18 23 1
Announced Games PC PS3 PS4 360 One Ouya Proper Exclusive? Platform
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag 1 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Basement Crawl 1 TRUE PS4
Battlefield 4 1 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Blacklight 1 1 FALSE
Call of Duty: Ghosts 1 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Contrast 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Crimson Dragon 1 TRUE One
DC Universe Online 1 1 1 FALSE
Dead Rising 3 1 TRUE One
Doki-Doki Universe 1 1 FALSE
DriveClub 1 TRUE PS4
FIFA 14 1 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Fighter Within 1 TRUE One
Flower 1 1 FALSE
Forza Motorsport 5 1 TRUE One
Hohokum 1 1 FALSE
Just Dance 2014 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Killer Instinct 1 TRUE One
Killzone: Shadow Fall 1 TRUE PS4
Knack 1 TRUE PS4
Lego Marvel Superheroes 1 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Lococycle 1 1 FALSE
Madden NFL 25 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Minecraft 1 1 1 1 FALSE
N++ 1 TRUE PS4
NBA Live 1 1 FALSE
NBA 2K14 1 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Need for Speed: Rivals 1 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Peggle 2 1 TRUE One
Pinball Arcade 1 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Planetside 2 1 1 FALSE
Pool Nation Extreme 1 TRUE PS4
Powerstar Golf 1 TRUE One
ResoGun 1 TRUE PS4
Ryse: Son of Rome 1 TRUE One
Skylanders: Swap Force 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Super Motherload 1 TRUE PS4
The Playroom 1 TRUE PS4
Tiny Brains 1 1 1 FALSE
Warframe 1 1 FALSE
War Thunder 1 1 FALSE
Watch_Dogs 1 1 1 1 1 FALSE
Zoo Tycoon 1 1 FALSE
Zumba Fitness: World Party 1 1 FALSE