The Sins of (PC) Gaming Industry

It shouldn’t have sounded like “The Sins of Solar Empire” originally. Especially because the Sins are nice example how games should be made – proving that they can be successful even without anti-piracy protection.

This is not a review of a couple of games. It is a review of ugly things even good games often don’t avoid. I don’t know why – as often it’s completely avoidable. In other cases it requires some effort, I’m aware of that. And yes, I’m talking about PC games. So this is kinda minority report.

Case 1: Mass Effect 2

I’ve just finished first Mass Effect after a long time, going on to ME2 to prep myself up for Mass Effect 3 I decided to finally buy. I haven’t because it wasn’t available on Steam, however as I have got Origin after all (Sims 2 for free was enticing) I can now proceed to the final part of the trilogy.

I have hardly anything against the first ME. Sure it wasn’t perfect and it had some bugs even casual player could encounter – but it was a solid game. ME2 has many improvements, game is more varied, more story, more variety, everything. But then there are these stupid things developers could have avoided.

Unskippable videos are the first sin. This applies to unskippable intro pictures/animations that often remind me the difference between original and pirated DVD (yes, pirated video is relevant from the second 1). Why do they annoy us with this? Over and over again? It’s as interesting as cookies warning – though here stupid legislation is to be blamed.

Related thing is that sometimes they can be skipped – but the key is totally unexpected (not Escape, but Enter like in ME1?). Sure there is a question whether any key should interrupt the video or non-interactive sequence – but at least some should.

When you want to start a new game of ME2 you enjoy the video and sequences the first time, but not necessarily the second one within a day (bug reasons). Luckily it keeps running on the background so I could write this post up in the meantime.

Hints using original keymap instead of redefined. This is a minor sin, but can be confusing a lot. This requires some effort, but I think it’s minimal and worth it. Otherwise it looks cheap and sloppy – which ME2 overall isn’t.

Inconsistent escape/back compared to ME1. When I used Esc in galaxy map it pulled me up one level. ME2 gets out of the map immediately. To go back you have to use the button on screen. Small thing. Frustrating.

Console-like controls on PC. I understand this, but it has consequences. Now a single button means “run”, “cover”, “jump across” and even “use”. That’s quite an overload. Often I want to run somewhere and I jump across sideways instead.

Lack of some keybinds. While in ME1 you could customize virtually all actions in ME2 you can’t select weapons directly. You can only go to next/previous weapon. Or just use HUD pause to do so because in real-time it’s frustrating and slow.

I’m quite surprised how playable the game still is in spite of this. I like playing the game.

Case 2: Witcher 2

Again – well known game and a good one too. But compared to Witcher 1 it suffered from couple of striking omissions.

Control customization out of the game: Lack of in-game controls customization is the major one. While I still can customize the keybinding I have to do so in a separate program when the game is not running. I don’t have the game installed now, so I don’t remember whether (or how much) this combines with “unskippable video” sin, but even without it it’s a lot of time until you nail your favourite binding. Sometimes I was wondering whether the suffering was better or worse than no customization at all.

Needless to say this game was also more consolized than the first one. But that’s a trend we probably can’t fight.

Case 3: Empire: Total War

This is another game that allows control configuration but it has its own stupid twist that couldn’t pass QA guys (or they were not listened). When you choose a key that is already bound to something the game says so… and you have to find where and rebind that other action to some other key.

So typically you probably first rebind a lot of stuff to some unused keys so you can later freely rebind the actions to the keys you really wanted. Do I need to suggest that obvious improvement here? Just unbind the other key! Or exchange the binding – although this is programmers trying to be unnecessarily smart.

Talking about that latter (suboptimal) option I now recalled Mass Effect 1 which exchanged bindings like this. By some accident it so happened that I had E key bound both to forward and something else at the same time. And I couldn’t get rid of that binding! There was no obvious way how to disable the binding and anytime I tried to replace it with another key it moved E into the secondary option. Now thinking about it, I haven’t tried to replace the secondary option as well, but the whole idea of it was ridiculous. (Secondary binding is actually neat, not that I use it that much.)

Just override what I set and unbind it from original action.

(Just in case you’re asking why E is forward – know that ESDF is superior. Hands down.)

And other cases

Other serious sins are examples of lousily and cheaply localized games with terrible translations and no option to switch both sound and text to original (mostly English). This also often affects patching. Typically original patches break something in the translated version and translated patches are not available.

I just hope many of my grudges are not relevant anymore. I have to admit I originally started this post in 2012 and I’m generally not buying 50+ bucks brand new titles anymore.

How should it look like?

I liked Witcher 1 for instance. Even though I wasn’t RPG guy – I mostly prefered first-person shooters or real-time strategies then – I really liked the game. Even though these “over-the-shoulder” games seem more clumsy compared to FPS genre the first Witcher drew me in and kept me there for a long time. It was a fine PC game.

When Epic pretty much first failed with Unreal Tournament 3 (not with its Unreal Engine though) it tried to redeem itself with UT3 Black Edition. Original UT3 had great reviews but many negative user’s reviews. UT3 Black was a bit too little too late, but it was a nice thing to do and they at least showed they cared about UT brand after all. BTW: Now Epic is making new Unreal Tournament which will be available for free. I’m curious how that plays out but it’s interesting for sure.

I’ve already mentioned Sins of a Solar Empire. It was a successful title even though it didn’t have DRM. The guys who made the game said it simply (not exact quotation though): “We’re making game for people who buy it. Our customers don’t want DRM so we don’t put it in.” This was a fresh perspective in a world where DRM systems go so far that they intentionally harm your computer system. For many years I ignored Ubisoft games for their DRM even though I wanted to buy couple of their games.

There are also other nice examples in gaming industry, examples where you see that games are true passion for someone – GOG or Good Old Games. Originally these guys prepared really old games from DOS times so that they work on modern systems with current OS. Games like Doom or Descent. And GOG too has a fair DRM-free approach.

With this I swerved from smaller (and some bigger) annoyances to a topic much more serious. Talking about GOG, they have a nice video about their optional client GOG Galaxy that pretty much sums it all up.

But why not talk about DRM? It’s perhaps the biggest sin of the industry. Spending millions on something we don’t want. Sure I played cracked game when I was younger (and with little to no money). I’m not exactly proud of it. Now I’m sure I paid back many times over. But I choose where my money go. And good will pays back.

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Galaxy Online? Phew!

After my Travian experience I wanted to develop similar type of web-browser based game. I chose sci-fi star wars setting but before I started to code it I wanted to know that there is still space for it. So I googled for some time and I found more games with similar idea. However none of them was developed enough or so catchy. I had a few ideas how to make the game be the ultimate galaxy war, how to make it less frustrating for the player (in opposite to farming in Travian) and so on. Some were inspired by my short encounter with Sins of a Solar Empire. I quit the project after some time – simply because I wasn’t able to carry away my friends by the idea and it was too much for one programmer (maybe if I had been still just a student… :-P). That was the fate of my sci-fi rip-off of every (not only) web-based game around.

Recently I was somewhere on some site and I noticed the ad about Galaxy Online. So – why not to try it? Not that I wanted to play a game, but there was still the professional me curious about the “market”. 🙂 And Galaxy Online – despite being small client based game (20 MB or so) instead of pure web-based game – simply put me to sadness. There was everything I wanted to do. There was safe home system (in my game it would be accessible, but still safe enough) that prevented you to be a farm from the start. There were fleets, commanders, travels from system to system – even connected by paths (like in Sins), although I decided to quit the idea of paths in my game during its development. There was a good idea of beginner’s quests that guide you through the first steps in the game. Not to mention that you can design your own ships! However…


Artwork is adequate – in login screen it looks like 3D!

The game simply didn’t grow on me. The client is very – and I mean VERY – unfriendly to the user. Things are not contextual there, you have to click back and forth, in dialogs you can’t go from one input to the other with tab or arrows (maybe there is some combination, but who am I to try everything when the most obvious and expected choice doesn’t work). What I mean by “not contextual”? There are generally only two views – big map and one system. So far so good. You have some gateways (stargate, whatever) to other systems. You click on your fleet, send it to the gate and then you want to go there too. I tried some clicking, but it didn’t work. Again – MAYBE there is a way, I just don’t know. So – back to the galaxy view and click on the system. Shock! There are bazillions of other fleets there and it’s not obvious right away which one is yours. No friendly shortcut, nothing. I mean… c’mon! This is DOWNLOADED executable client! Why it can’t provide the most obvious features to control MY units?!


View of your home system. You can see gates to other systems, training field where you can train on pirates, …

Not to mention until you go out of your system you’re just playing on your own sandbox and the whole galaxy can be of no concern to you. There is really NOTHING that somehow drags you to the fight, you have to do your first steps – and these steps are very, very unintuitive. Add some other details like very stupid battle system… I have absolute dominance over some pirates and yet they manage to fly back and forth around the battlefield and after 20 rounds or so they… what? Yes, they WIN! I couldn’t believe my eyes. But OK, it’s a system, right, I’ve read it in the newbie guide, so I’ll live with that. But after a few combats I simply hate this rule. Of course I can make better ships and deal quickly with them. But still… they can run and 20 rounds of the battle is not so much (like 20 moves of all fleets + some fighting). You have to take a lot of supplies with the fleet (no problem with that) and when you want to modify your fleet and anchor some of those ships you have to UNLOAD them first (escape from current view, click on unload, specify how much you want to unload – probably everything because I don’t know when any particular ship is considered loaded…). The whole unloading is waste of time. Simply anchor those ships and unload their load! Easy-peasy.


Splash screen is really ugly and there is no way of knowing if there is some login screen behind or not. No… simply press Enter. Great and warm welcome for fresh players indeed.

I’m sure there are many fans. The game isn’t that bad and probably the mechanics are cool. I played it for some time without interacting with others first. When I wanted to move around all my objections stacked during those few days became even more pronounced. That leads me to the idea that my game could still stand a chance. Too bad I’m lazy to do it (not to mention my passion for music, many unseen TV series, games, … you name it :-)). I think people should try by themselves. I read some reviews first and then tried it anyway – but I was dissatisfied. Not by the idea behind the game, but by the execution. If you’re demanding player, skip this one. But if you wanna try it, just be informed that initial splash-screen with “News Center” can be dismissed by Enter key. Just in case…

Business model of the game is similar to other free to play games. You can buy additional advantages, some buildings cost you so called “mall points”. I haven’t tried this part of the game because I really didn’t feel to do so. 🙂