Awesome Computer Games – Part 1

As the title might suggest I’ve decided to do a post on some computer games that I consider to be awesome.  This topic might sprawl over a couple of posts as I talk about various games, I’m going to start by talking about ‘Retro’ games that I have enjoyed.  These games will be presented with no regard for the chronological order of release, the order I played them in or how well they were reviewed, this remains (as always) my opinion and your mileage may vary.

This idea was brought on by events of last night.  I was looking for something to play, having completed all the games in my recent stack, so I browsed to the PlayStation Store to see if any new content was available for favourite games of mine (the answer being no).  I did however find the original Deus Ex on download for £7.99 which I immediately downloaded and started to play, so that’s where we’re going to start.

Please note – There may be spoilers in this post for these games, I take no responsibility for this as they are old games and I subscribe to the Penny Arcade idea of spoiler expiration dates, if you’ve not played them then either don’t read or suck it up.

Deus Ex
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_Ex)

Published in 2000 on PC , a couple of years later on PS2 and even ported to Mac & Linux (something that remains unusual even today) Deus Ex is a hybrid of both traditional FPS & RPG Gameplay styles and is the game that opened the way this style of gameplay.

You play as agent J.C. Denton a newly commissioned agent for UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition) and second of a new wave of Nanotech enhanced UNATCO agents (the first being your brother), the game starts out with a fairly basic premise of ‘Terrorists’ are doing bad things and you must stop them.  From there it takes turn into crazy conspiracy land with some really awesome betrayals and revelations, predictably the UNATCO group turns out to be a bunch of bad guys but (and I believe this may be a first for the genre) there are numerous conflicting groups trying to take control of the situation and your choices about who you help, who you kill and who you leave alive shapes the story the game follows.

Along the way you earn skill points for completing objectives that can be spent to upgrade various skills (allowing you to customise your skillset for your approach) and Augmentation Canisters which allow you to choose how your nanotech upgrades.  The combination of these two things gives huge flexibility in how you approach the game.

Why this game?
Easy, this was the first game I’d played that really did something new, the setting was (and remains) awesomely detailed, you had a feeling of really interacting with the world and of your choices having a huge effect.  The skill trees and nanotech as well as the huge choice of lethal and non-lethal weapons gives you a variety of approaches.

X-Wing & Tie Fighter
(
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_X-Wing_-_Space_Combat_Simulator & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TIE_Fighter_(video_game))

X-Wing was published in 1993 & Tie Fighter the next year in 1994, both of these games were (in my opinion) the start of the golden age of Star Wars games and I played them avidly.  This was back when Joysticks were a must have PC Accessory and space combat simulators were a genre people still produced games for.  The premise is simple in both games, you are a fighter pilot for the Rebel Alliance/Galactic Empire and as such you are tasked with a number of missions from simple ‘Stay here, defend this’ to more involved convoy interdiction, patrol and base assault objectives.  You are provided with a number of different ships and they are assigned to you depending on the mission type, scout/intercept missions tend towards A-Wings and Tie Interceptors, heavy attack Y-Wings and Tie Bombers etc.  Each game also had its ‘secret’ craft, the Rebels had the T-Wing and the Empire the Tie Advanced, TIE Defender & Missile Boat, each of which had distinct advantages.

The games also involved an element of tactics, you had wingmen you could command for example and you had to pay constant attention to the balance of power between your engines, shields, lasers and ion weapons.  Most craft also came equipped with a launcher weapon of some kind that you would use to rain death upon your foes from a great distance but with limited ammo.

Why these games?
I have many excellent memories of playing these games on my 486 PC with friends and on my own, they were atmospheric (helped by the inclusion of MIDI versions of the movie scores), had great plots and attention to detail in the story, you actually felt that you were fighting for something.  Technically these games were excellent examples of a genre that doesn’t really exist anymore, they were immensely playable and for the time the graphics were cutting edge stuff.

I-War
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-War_(Independence_War))

This is not a conspiracy where Apple attempts to take over the world via global conflict (although I wouldn’t put it past them), the I in I-War refers to Independence.  This is another example of the Space Combat Simulator games of the 90’s (1997 to be exact) that do not seem to exist as a genre anymore, however it is very different to the previously discussed X-Wing & Tie Fighter games, they we fairly simple re-skinned fighter games with some extra space stuff thrown in (like shields), I-War on the other hand was a proper full on Space Combat Sim that implemented Newtonian physics and put you in command of a corvette scale craft rather than the traditional fighter.

You could move your PoV between 4 workstations allowing you to swap between Command, Weapons, Engineering & Navigation, each workstation allowed you to do specific things; for example the Weapons station gave you a 3D wireframe view of the ship with a PoV locked to your current target and allowed you to access the ripple fire fast fire mode.

The story was a fairly basic corporate overlords versus plucky rebels but was well enough executed and fun, the game used full CGI Cut Scenes for a lot of story advancement, which were (for their time) amazing.

Why this game?
I love space combat sim games and lament their loss greatly, I-War was (for me) the greatest example of the genre, the ship felt like a big ass space ship, the different flight modes and full Newtonian physics model added a huge amount of fun to the game.  Plus it was hugely satisfying to blow things up with your array of missile and particle cannon. 🙂

——————————————————–

That brings us to the end of this blog post, next post on this topic will cover off more of the RPG games I loved, expect to hear about Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape Tormet & Final Fantasy VII….

For anyone who may be interested there is a website at http://www.gog.com  who specialise in making old games available for a reasonable fee, they include all patches and if emulation is needed to run them on newer systems they include that as well.

 

Console, Games, Music, Books & DRM

Something that I feel has been bubbling under my threshold of rage for the past little while is the ever increasing presence of DRM in my life and all the problems it’s causing me.  So I’m going to talk a little bit about why I’m so opposed to it.

First up, let me get this straight from the very beginning, I fully support the writers, developers, artists etc.  A number of good friends of mine make their living in the creative industries and they deserve to get paid for the awesome work they do.

Right then DRM first; this is the core of all the problems and, in my opinion, also the cause of a lot of piracy as the more intrusive the DRM gets the higher the incentive the get the pirated version.  DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, it is basically a way that the providers of content (note this is not the creators) or the creators of hardware trying to assert their ownership of the thing you have just purchased.

Now you can probably tell from my wording above that I have a huge bias here, I HATE DRM and all that it stands for, the DRM/Walled Garden model is one of the primary reasons I have such a problem with Apple and their products.  DRM is, in my opinion, actively harmful to the development of new technology and any kind of creative innovation as well as a method of actively punishing consumers.

The pro-DRM group always try to make the case that we are not purchasing the product only a licence to use it under conditions they can specify.  This is bullshit in my opinion.  If I buy something I own it, I can modify it and resell it however I want and you can all fuck the hell off.

Again, in danger of getting a bit ranty about that, so moving on….

But what about the pirates?

The reason often given for companies calling for stricter DRM and other controls is that piracy is costing them a fortune, this is (I believe) a total lie.  Most people who have downloaded a pirated album, game or movie simply wouldn’t have bothered to buy the product in the first place, hence why the figures quoted by the ass-hats over at the RIAA & MPAA (I’m using the American organisations in this example as they are both louder and more obviously evil that the UK versions) are nonsensical.

DRM & The Future Games market

This is the problem at the moment, the reliance on DRM and the legal ‘stick’ is now at a point where it is actively harming things.  I know several people who are massively into the computer games scene who have actively refused to by recently released titles because of the requirement for an always on internet connection for DRM verification.  I also know at least one or two who went out and purchased the game, then downloaded the pirated version just because it was a more fun experience without the intrusive DRM.

Microsoft have suggested that the next generation Xbox may require you to have an always on internet connection to play _any_ game at all, if that’s the case then I simply won’t be buying one, same with Sony and the next gen Playstation, if it requires an always on connection then I’m simply not buying it.

Read All About It

Ok then, books.  Everyone loves a book (or should do in my opinion) and eBooks have exploded onto the scene in the past couple of years, unfortunately this again brings up the topic of embedded DRM.

I have a Kindle (which I have fallen utterly in love with) and I am fully aware of the DRM issues surrounding Amazon’s format and the limitations an eBook has, for example I cannot lend or gift an eBook to anyone at the moment, which is quite annoying, and I cannot buy a Kindle book as a gift yet.  Hopefully these things will come and in general Amazon is considerably less evil than Apple.

The biggest issue for me at the moment is the stupid pricing in the UK, we are charged VAT on eBooks (an extra 20%) but not of the physical ones, this means that in a lot of cases an eBook is actually more expensive than its dead tree counterpart despite having much cheaper manufacturing costs (i.e. the layout and upload to Amazon).

What This Means for Me

Pretty basic, I object to DRM in all its forms and companies who consistently endorse stronger controls on these things will be companies I will not be doing business with.

Syndicate – Game Review (Leads to a bit of a Rant)

At the weekend I purchased the new Syndicate game for my Playstation 3, at the not inconsiderable cost of £40.

I have a few things to say about not only this game but a general trend that seems to be spreading over the computer games world.

But first, a review.

Syndicate is an FPS reimagining of a classic small unit strategy game.  This game, despite its name, is actually the 3rd in the series.  The original Syndicate found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syndicate_(video_game)  was a squad based game that put you in command of a team of 4 Agents working for one of the Syndicates (mega corporations that now run the world).  Your job was to blow up other syndicates, steal stuff, brainwash civilians etc.  It was awesome.  There was an expansion for that game and eventually a sequel that expanded on the conflict and gave us a really interesting and kick ass world.

Then there was nothing for a long time.

At the end of last year an announcement trailer was put out for a New Syndicate game, it looked very stylised, had an awesome soundtrack provided by Skrillex and the story was written by Richard Morgan (who is an amazing author who I will talk about more in an upcoming post on books).  Despite my misgivings about the game moving from 3rd person squad based & tactical to 1st person FPS I was sold.

Last week it came out and I brought it.

So here are my thoughts…..

The game is quite pretty, not as striking as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but definitely true to its stylistic origins.  The guns are suitably groovy and possess multiple fire modes, this leads to the combat which is fun and quite well executed, although it doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a traditional FPS for a cover based shooter.  The breech combat hacks make for some interesting options in a fight and there is an upgrade path available to customise your abilities and add more funky stuff.

The boss fights are quite well executed; more Skrillex soundtrack mojo makes the boss fights feel properly action move badass.

The story is quite interesting but compared to Deus Ex: Human Revolution comes off as a bit lacklustre.

That said, now the bad, the game is far far too short, especially for its £40 price tag, I completed it the same day I purchased it.  I’m getting fed up of games doing this, if you are going charge me £40 for the game there should be a minimum of a weekends worth of playtime in it.

The problem with the extremely short nature of the story is that you only get to pick maybe ¼ of the available upgrades and I finished the game feeling both cheated and disappointed.

I got to the final scene in the game and was genuinely shocked when it ended, surely there was a whole other half of the game somewhere that took the story to its logical conclusion.  Yes there is a multiplayer but I don’t accept that as being an excuse for a 6-8 hour single player campaign, I can accept the single player being less polished and less of a focus for things like Modern Warfare and Battlefield 3 where they are all about the multiplayer, that is not the case here.

Basically it’s a really good half of a game and if the other half had actually been done then it would have been brilliant.

Graphics:             6/10       Quite pretty but not exceptional
Gameplay:          6/10       Fun but far too short
Value:                   3/10       £40 for a game I can finish in an afternoon is not good value.

Final Score 5/10

It’s definitely worth playing the game but I wouldn’t rush out and buy it immediately, either pick it up used or wait for it to appear in a sale somewhere.

The Future – Technology Snapshot

One of the things I spend quite a lot of time thinking about each day is cool new technology. So I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’ve come across.

First up my friend Savs (@21stCenturySci) mentioned this on G+ today: http://www.txchnologist.com/2012/charged-up-electric-rockets-are-set-to-transform-space-flight

This article talks about Electric Rockets, a very cool emerging technology that provides a much more efficient engine for use in space. You still need good old chemical rockets to get out of the gravity well but once in space something like is just much much more efficient and cheaper to run.

The reason this is cool is that a large chunk of our future as a species is going to be in space. Our planet only has a limited amount of resources and we are going to run out, at which point importing them from space is a good plan. The best way to do it is looking to be unmanned vessels, so we don’t care that it takes 10 years to do a round trip (please note for the space nerds, 10 years is a number I just pulled out of the air) and a more efficient engine is much cheaper.

Second, Ubuntu for Android: http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/android

This is a very exciting project. The basic idea, as I understand it, is that most modern smartphones are as powerful as a decent PC (Dual core processor, 2-4gb RAM 16gb+ storage) and also have hi-def video out, USB & can use Blue Tooth Peripherals such as keyborads. The ‘app’ contains a fully functional deployment of Ubuntu which can be started when the phone is docked and connected to an external screen/keyboard combo this lets your phone function as a full desktop replacement. This is the first real step in device convergence and looks really promising.

Third is V-to-V Technology: http://money.cnn.com/2012/02/21/autos/vehicle_communication_v2v/index.htm?iid=HP_LN&hpt=hp_t3

V-to-V stands for Vehicle to Vehicle and is an idea that a computer system in a car will communicate with all other nearby cars, sharing info such as road quality, current speed, accel/deccel, direction of travel etc. This means that cars can warn each other about accidents and hazards, if one car spins out then the others will know its spun out and will be able to adjust for this and actively avoid/reduce the collision.

Mate this technology with things like traffic lights, emergency services sirens and possibly even a mobile app that could warn cars of your presence and you have a system that could dramatically increase the safety of motoro vehicles.

Finally I want to mention Google Drive: http://www.gottabemobile.com/2012/02/09/google-drive-rumored-to-launch-soon/

Rumors have been flying around about this for quite a while and I am quite excited about it. I am a Dropbox user, I use it for all kinds of stuff and find it to be incredibly handy. Now if Google manage to make a cloud storage solution that is as easy to use and friendly as Gmail/G+/Google Docs then Dropbox are going to have a serious competitor. Hopefully more news about Google Drive will be available over the next month or so.

Anyway, I think thats it for this entry. Don’t want you all to start thinking that this will become a thing. 🙂