Personal Log (4): Games I played in 2011

Last time I wrote “Personal Log” it was the end of 2009 and I wrapped it up in my post from more perspectives. Year 2011 was a good one (again), I started in a new job in January, our daughter Barbora was born in January – but even with these obligations (job and family) and a lot of additional work on Java Simon I still managed to play games. And to my surprise – quite a lot. 🙂 I’ll talk only about single-player games because I can’t engage into any serious multi-player with all the children around. 🙂

So let’s start with the previous Christmas sales on Steam. I bought Mass Effect 2, King Arthur Pack, Railworks (now updated to Train Simulator 2012), Dragon Age: Origins, Crysis Complete, The Ball and Burnout Paradise. I even new I may not play some of them, but for the gamer it would be a sin not buy it when it’s so cheap. 🙂 I want to play The Ball just because it’s made by Hourences and the team of other great mappers/modders who had been around Unreal engine and Unreal Tournament quite some time – and the game is original too.

In the last few years Mass Effect may be my favourite franchise – it’s a great shooter and I even forgot it’s RPG. Not that I have anything against RPGs – on the contrary – lately I played more RPGs of various types to my own surprise. I stopped playing other games and first I had to go through Mass Effect 2 (twice, different gender, different specialization). While you don’t exactly save the galaxy in front of the whole council (dead or alive ;-)) like in the first part, the continuation is probably more epic on the whole. Not that I didn’t have any gripes about the game, I can’t remember them now – but I can remember how great the game was. As I remember the VI announcing another customer in line from the first part I still have vivid memories of quite a lot of scenes from ME2. This game flows well and it’s getting bigger and bigger towards the end. If you like sci-fi RPGs (or even shooters and can survive a few dialogues) then this is an absolute must-have. ME1 was great, ME2 is greater, with less annoyances, more variability in scenery, more subplots and one really nasty boss at the end. Fun factor 5/5, frustration 0, length just right.

King Arthur was the game I spent the start of the year with (after ME2 that is). I was really surprised with the blend of the Heroes M&M turn-based strategy (on a map that reminded me good old Defender of the Crown) and RTS battles – this all spiced up by simple text-based quests and some economy. I was really surprised how playable the game was. In the middle of it I thought I will loose because opponents’ knights (heroes) started to be very strong while I underestimated the power of some spells, but somehow I managed to outmaneuver them in the end. If you like strategies, try it. On the RTS battlefield it’s often about you knowing how to play around key areas and you may destroy a few armies with a single one. Maybe hard-core players would object, but I – casual nearly-ex-gamer – appreciated this concept. Fun factor 4/5, frustration 0, length quite long as expected. Typical “just one more move and I’ll go to bed” game.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a bit difficult story. I had troubles to save single player games originally – I even wanted to play cracked version because of the stupid Windows Live service. But I figured out the offline profile feature (hidden in an unbelievably stupid way) and then I started to play. Another serious issue – no way to change controls. I’m ESDF guy, I touch-type too. WASD drives me crazy and when I want to press 1, I always press ` (key to the left) – well… because I touch-type! Not to mention that one disabled guy told me how missing controls customization can render the game unplayable for them. But back to the game itself. The story, visuals and all was quite reminiscent of Bioshock (both Unreal 3 engine games, by the way). I liked special tactics Batman can use, detective mode, gargoyles, visuals – this all was very good. You were really in the middle of Batman’s story with may heroes I didn’t even know. 🙂 Boss fights were interesting, each of them a bit different. If you had any problem, game gave you some hints – I liked this as I’m less and less hard-core player and more and more a casual one. However here and there you played with different camera than over-the-shoulder and it made controls even more difficult (some boss fights mostly). You could take it as a minigame though. For one reason or the other I wasn’t so sucked into this game in the end, but I finished it after a few breaks (a few months mostly). Fun factor 4/5, frustration 3 (Windows Live + controls + camera), length just fine for me (progress meter counts also riddles, so you may probably end around 60% if you don’t care for the riddles). Recommended? Why not, but I don’t plan playing Arkham City.

In the middle of the year I suddenly got a strong need to play Half-Life 2 again – with both Episodes too, of course. As scripted this FPS is, it is simply great. Even the second run. I realized how many scenes in this game are simply so great. The river, first gravity-gun practice, “We don’t go to Ravenholm”, blocked bridge, Nova Prospect fight while waiting for Alyx, all those striders, Overwatch Nexus, Citadel… all of it! And then the Episodes – reactor hot-fix, run away to the station, fleeing the city, jumping over a broken bridge, Alyx down and up again, ambush in a homestead and amazing finale of the second episode. Without making any choices, without any active dialogues, the story is just great and I think I’ll probably have to go through it some other time again. Not to mention that it has great commentaries too – these just underline how well-thought this game is. Fun factor 5, frustration 0, length just fine – I even consider the main game quite long for a shooter, but I bet it’s short for others. 🙂

I was nicely surprised by Anomaly Warzone Earth. Simple, arcadish, and as goes with turret defense – very addictive. The concept of playing against the turret defense is smart, it is spiced up with a lot of specific details on particular maps and while this game was shorter in overall, it was also cheaper as it is no AAA title. Still the production was surprisingly good and the whole game is just smooth. Worth a few bucks for killing a few evenings, really. Fun 5, frustration 0, length could be longer, but OK.

Frozen Synapse on the other hand was too much for me. You have to dedicate more time to this game, it’s not good for a casual player I’d say. I expected some kind of Laser Squad I remember from ZX Spectrum (or the horrible port on PC) – but then – I had much more time (and much less games) back then. However the concept is interesting but without going for a multiplayer it’s probably not worth it. Fun factor 3 (single player), frustration 0, length – no idea.

And then there’s The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I played Morrowind before, but after some time I just gave up. Maybe I chose more boring class, but I guess different class wouldn’t change my mind. Oblivion is more or less like Morrowind – but more fun. Both these games are BIG. A lot of locations, a lot of characters, a lot of quest. However I lost my goal after some time. Oblivion is far better from this perspective than Morrowind, not only because it’s newer. But still – after shutting a few Oblivion gates I started to loose my focus, I didn’t know where to go and what to achieve in this game. This game is very good and having less other games and more time I’d probably play it (and maybe I’ll return to it). System is better than in Morrowind, a bit simpler, leveling goes more naturally, movement around the world map is faster – this all makes the game great. But when I compare it with games like Witcher and Dragon Age Origins (which I’m playing now though I hardly started the story) it’s easy to get lost here. I like RPGs that lead the player a bit (or more) – Witcher, Dragon Age, Mass Effect – these are much better in this aspect. For Oblivion the fun factor is 4, frustration 0, length was too much for me. 🙂

However, there is one easy way how to try a lot of games for little money. Wait a year or two and buy it during holidays sales if you’re not sure if you really want it. I remember buying Unreal Tournament 3 in metal case for quite a lot of money for my taste – and I was utterly disappointed by the game (though I loved UT99/2004). That’s why I hate to give anything more than 30 for a game I’m not sure of. Having Dragon Age 1 with all of the DLCs (another reason why to wait a bit) for 20 is much better deal then. I rather spend a lot of money on a lot of games risking I’ll not play a few of them than spending even more money on a few ones, half of them probably more or less disappointing.

And what were your favourite games in 2011? 🙂 Let me know, anonymous comments are allowed as well – as always.

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How I cracked Batman

And what a shame – game I bought. I’m seriously annoyed by so many things in game industry, but I like games. I like Stardock and their policies, too bad other companies are… frankly, stupid, and they punish me with things like Games for Windows and other stuff.

I personally hate even unskippable intro videos. That’s often the first thing I google – which file to remove or rename to get rid off all the commercials I’m really not interested in every time I start the game. It’s like the punishment on original DVDs – unskippable warnings (“I bought that damn thing, ffs!”) or even trailers for movies that will be forgotten when I want to see my film again after 10 years. But this, at least, is not crippling the game. It’s just the annoyance all these companies can’t knock off, obviously.

But various anti-piracy protections and required live accounts, those are just too much. I have Batman Arkham Asylum and it has just installed this crazy MS service. I have the account, I updated the damn thing from Microsoft’s pages, but I still can’t access my profile from the game. Maybe it has something to do with port-forwarding (now beat that if your provider doesn’t care!) – but I just don’t (want to) care!

Steam’s page states “Other Requirements: Online play requires log-in to Games For Windows – Live”. I try to be careful on Steam (which itself I quite like) because of companies like Ubisoft. But when I decide “I don’t wanna play online” and then I can’t save the single-player, something is seriously wrong. I didn’t know you can create offline profile and play without problems, because it’s not really obvious.

So after some Googling I decided “what a hell, I’ll get a crack”. It’s no accident Google suggestion completes phrases like “batman arkham asylum crack save game”. So I got one crack and I could save the game without any profile – but gliding was broken. I found another sources for “save glide problem” – but this time I was instructed to create “offline profile”. I thought: “Wait, what offline account?” When I realized what I needed to do – and that I can do it without the crack – I put back the original executable file, of course.

Now I’m ready for another game that works like this with that service that is otherwise completely useless for me. I know that when you’re about to create profile, you have to scroll down some information and find link in order to create offline profile. Whoever created such a user interface did it probably intentionally, but I can’t understand the true motivation. Either you want additional service – and then you create online profile – or you don’t want it and then you should be offered obvious way how to get to a fully working game. Or not?

So now I’m wiser again, though I don’t like this kind of experiences at all, and I can play without a crack. But I’m telling you – when I started to write this article, I was much more desperate, and I really thought I will be playing bought game – with a crack. That is also saying something about gaming industry nowadays.

Steam doesn’t like me… again

I don’t know why I’m so lucky . I started the computer but for some unknown reason Windows XP just didn’t want to start any program for me. Not even Ctrl+Alt+Delete worked. Not even Turn Off Computer. Otherwise it just looked OK. I even noticed bubble saying that Steam is updating EVE Online. God knows why EVE is so stupidly updated in Steam. I have already patch 1.1 of Dominion. Yesterday I patched to 1.1.1 and it was like 5 megabytes. Now today Steam was obviously downloading more megabytes. I’m even convinced I turned off updating for this game. But who knows…

Back to computer problem. I pressed reset – harsh but not my fault after all.

After another reboot, computer was OK, but Steam said it couldn’t connect. Of course – it couldn’t go to Offline mode either. Steam NEVER went to Offline mode when I needed – and I really don’t know why. Steam website seems to be OK. So I decided to search a bit. I hit troubleshooting link on the error dialog (the one offering Offline mode too). First time I timed out, second time I got to what was expected. FAQs about network issues. But there are no actual network issues!

Funny thing is that whether I hit Retry connection or Start in Offline Mode, the error is still the same: Could not connect …blablabla. And behind this window there is another one saying: “The operation cannot be completed when Steam is in offline mode.”

I went to their forums and wanted to search for other tips. To my surprise, blank page with error message was the result:
Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 268435456 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 71 bytes) in /valve/www/forums.steampowered.com/forums/search.php on line 1034

I – poor stupid user – blamed myself for querying with a long string, went back to repeat with shorter – yet the page told me: “This forum requires that you wait 60 seconds between searches. Please try again in 44 seconds.” By the way – the same message appears even when Steam tells you only that “could” is too common and should not be used, ergo no search was performed at all. I tried more keywords later, but often the result was – no results at all. I consider their forum search pretty much unusable and I miss full-text search. What should I search for when I think that “Steam couldn’t connect because of some other non-network issue”. Or why I can’t search for “offline mode doesn’t work”. Is it “offline mode malfunction”? I seriously doubt many users use word “malfunction” in their problem post. I’m pretty sure – on the other hand – you can see “doesn’t work” a lot.

Isn’t it beautiful to have games for hundreds of Euros unavailable because of some stupid Steam issues? I told it before – Steam is supposed to be client for simple users as well. I pity them if they have to resolve any issue like this by themselves. For most of them there is only one option -reinstallation. That just sucks.

Actually – I believe that pirates are lucky guys who have much less problems playing their games. I don’t know what troubles I would hit using Impulse more often. On the other hand Impulse is run byStardock – a company that issued The Gamer’s Bill of Rights. I’m convinced that Steam/Valve should do better to make their client more robust and failure safe.

(The little tragedy is that I often hear that Steam is one of the top products in its category. I’m afraid it’s true.)

Edit: Problem was obviously on the server side which means it really was network problem. It was resolved soon “by itself” from my perspective. It – however – doesn’t change anything on the fact that I was unsuccessfull with Offline mode.

Personal Log (3): Year of fulfilled dreams

So the year 2009 is over and – all crisis considering – it was a good year for me and my family. Our son was born shortly before the year started which means that most of his first year happened in 2009 – and interesting year for him it was! He now walks, touches my guitars, opens cupboards and freezer – you can imagine.


Our domestic rhythm section

I mentioned crisis… I guess everybody noticed. Somewhere major banks went down, a lot of people lost their jobs, but again – with a bit of luck – nothing of this affected our family seriously although payment didn’t come up either as it would have otherwise. What troubles me seriously though – it’s the politics here in Slovakia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slovakia. I’m kinda hopeless thinking about normal Slovak people when I see what they want to rule and lead us. Socialists or not, there are two parties from Slovak pre-1998 “dark ages” (HZDS, SNS) and one newer, bigger with a leader that reassembles infamous Vladimír Mečiar from HZDS – our modern populist, Robert Fico and his party Smer. Thanks to this trinity our country is loosing money way too often – bribery, frauds, over-priced tenders (often won by the highest bid as anything “inappropriate” is disqualified for absurd reasons), etc. You may think it’s the way it is in every country – more or less. The problem here is – it’s way too common here. Media often discovers new cases, but the real tragedy here is – electorate as a whole obviously doesn’t care about it and believes in lies they are told. Morale suffers, justice is crooked, economy could go better too. It will take many years to fix all the damage in the society. If it ever goes there…

Funny enough – if we haven’t bought our flat here in Bratislava maybe we would leave the country. Now we’re more or less stuck here but I can’t really complain about our living standards. Regions where HZDS, SNS and now mostly Smer has biggest support are not getting that better thanks to these politicians, but they rather blame media, foreign capitalists, or whoever the current designated enemy is. This all in Slovakia – otherwise normal, modern, educated country. To add more – we chose (again) Ivan Gašparovič for the president – the man who was just the second one in rule after Mečiar , the man who evidently broke even constitutional laws as a leader of parliament, the same Constitution he helped to create. The man who called previous president “the old dick” in the parliament – unaware that his microphone is still on. And I know people who voted him because he was just recommended by Smer/Fico – of course, because it’s just their type. So we have liars and cheaters on all important positions now, just great. You may say – “it’s the same here”. Well, unless you’re more to the east I just doubt it. Even if there are cheaters and liars in politics everywhere, the magnitude, the scale is still important.

Whatever… after I paid my taxes on these parasites, I could spend some on my dreams. Politics really affects us all, but I can’t say I’m doing bad – far from it. Of course I can’t buy anything I want, but when you want to buy something related to home music production, you can do it very easily and cheaply nowadays! So it just happened that having microphone and Midi keyboard for a few years already, I decided to take it all from the closet and actually use it! I bought a mixing console, stands for keyboard and guitars and so I got to my first kind of home recording studio. I added DAW of my choice in – REAPER – and the day before Christmas Eve I brought also M-Audio studio monitors (speakers). I blogged a few times about various topics related to home recording.


My new speakers – not the best position, I know 😉

I also bought better electric guitar. The first one I had – again for a few years already – was Behringer’s V-tone with amplifier. While I don’t use the guitar, I still use the amp. My current guitar is nice black Lag AM-100 and while I don’t expect to be great guitarist, I practice here and there and just have fun with it. Too bad I could fulfill these dreams after 30! Too good I could do it at all on the other side. 😉

I should not have too much free time besides my work and family, but our son is really great and my wife is even greater. 🙂 That leaves me some time to practice the guitar (with son messing with my cables) or keyboard. And not only that. I have a feeling I now play more computer games than ever before. I bought a lot of Steam games (mostly on sales) and that also keeps me from buying more as I can’t play all of those I have already. I’d love to post something about the best I played this year. I really enjoyed Mass Effect, Mirror’s Edge, Left 4 Dead and now I’m stuck with Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. But not only that. I started to play Perfect World International on September 2008, but I quit the game during this summer. I play it only here and there with my wife. I was just pissed of how imbalanced the game is on many places, how high levels do often too much for low levels which ultimately means there are a lot of mid-level players who just can’t play properly, etc.

For that I decided to go for a paid MMORPG after all – and I went for EVE Online as it was the game I was thinking about for some time. The game mechanics are just way more complex than Perfect World, market really works, graphics is not that crazy when it comes to some aspects (PWI really overdid it with most boutique mounts and especially their particle effects), the whole sci-fi feel is just great and believable, and also the netcode is far more fair than in PWI.

So that was my year! Job is OK, baby is great, family even better and then there are my musical hobbies and a lot of fun with games. Maybe the whole wrap-up could be much more negative if I had different attitude – because, yes, attitude is important as well. So if you’re in doubt about something, try to see it from the positive side.

I wish you Happy New Year – and good the whole year of course – and wish you a bit of luck too, as it always helps. After that it’s all about your attitude. 🙂

Merry Xmas with crashing Steam

Besides their crazy sales until January 3rd plus new even bigger deals every day Steam gave me one additional experience. It all started in an innocent way – some question about defragmentation. I answered positively and since that moment Steam UI was completely dead for me. After long minutes I killed the client and that was the last time it was alive. From that moment on I saw exemplary showcase “how not to do software that may go wrong and is reportedly aimed for common users too”:

1) Steam started for a short moment, displayed a message for a split of a second (no chance to read it) and failed. Nothing reasonable in log file either (not that normal user would check that). After a few more tries I managed to copy screenshot and I found out that some blob file went wrong. I guess you see my point – how come that there is no normal way to see the error message? How come there is no direct link to knowledge base? Even some hardcore software solutions are more user friendly at this point.

2) I renamed the blob file but the following update went wrong. Funny enough – the error message after 99% of update was on the screen just for a while – not for a split of a second this time, but still… just a few seconds – maybe ten, maybe fifteen. Too little when you’re not a fan of progress bars. Slow progress bars actually in my case. As it turned out, I’m not the fist one with this problem.

3) I tried also to repair the client. For that I downloaded installer, chose Repair (this is not offered when you don’t have Steam client installed – of course) and after some progress it stated magical Error 1334 (I’m surprised it’s not 1337). Strange when the software offers the Repair option but that one doesn’t work.

After a few more futile attempts to resolve the situation I decided to uninstall Steam – that is only possible with all the content. That brought me to one old situation when I moved Steam directory on the same computer – the process is decribed here and – I think – more clearly here. I have the problem spiced up a bit as my steamapps had 80GB. As there was no regular way how to uninstall those games, I decided to remove some game directories in a rather harsh way (deleting from the disk obviously). Now I’m after successfull Steam installation copying the rest of it (still 40 giga or so) and I’m really curious what will happen because I already logged into the client. Why? Because in the first link how to move directory there was no explicit warning not to do so and client prompted me. Well… I thought I’m a computer engineer (and software is my speciality) but I’m failing miserably with Steam – on the Second Christmas day.

I wish you a Merry Christmas without selfdestructing software! 🙂

How I did NOT buy Corel VideoStudio

While my Steam client is turned on most of the time, I have also Impulse client that is mostly turned off. Last time I need is to have billions of game/SW delivery clients running at the same time. I run Impulse only when I play Sins Of a Solar Empire. I check up on weekend deals on both stores – for instance http://store.steampowered.com/ offers 66% off of all Half-Life titles this weekend! Too bad I have them already. 😉 Back to Impulse. I’m still in search for video editing software. My needs are simple and I currently evaluate Sony Vegas 9.1, but the time is running out. What I don’t like is that Sony is somewhat slow on my computer – I don’t know why. Otherwise I can do what I want with it, so far so good. I’m just not sure yet.

Impulse came with Corel products on sale – one of them Ulead Video Studio 11.5 Plus for 42,24€. “Hm, I never heard of this one.” So I googled reviews, they were generally positive although users reported crashes – now what do you do? I downloaded the demo to find out by myself. What I don’t like is when I can’t try exactly what I want – demo was Corel VideoStudio Pro X2 (version 12). Now how do I know what I get in 11.5 PLUS? There is some comparison chart on Corel’s site – during this process I found out that Corel itself offers the sale until August 30th – and that the Pro X2 version is available for $60. That is still very good price, let’s just check out if I can order it – you never know if they are willing to deliver it (even online only) to your country. This screen changed my decision in seconds:

Instantly I recalled my experience with EA Store. It has been two years I’ve registered on Steam and bought Orange Box and I still can imagine I want to install some part of it – why to keep it on disk all the time? Or install it on another computer. I didn’t even check what’s the default time frame for download in case of Corel – EA offered half-a-year. That’s ridiculous. I’m going to delete the downloaded demo of this video software right away and I say it loud and clear:

You know what, Corel? Fuck off… I’m finished with you for years at least. Doesn’t matter that I haven’t even started.

You still don’t have Orange Box?

Very short and sort of promotional post this time. I remember myself buying Orange Box for $50. I remember signing up for Steam account for that reason. Now Orange Box costs €30 and it’s still great deal because those games haven’t gotten so old yet. This time – this weekend – you can buy Orange Box for €10 on Steam – because it’s current Weekend Deal. In case you like FPS – and I mean GOOD single-player FPS with great story – you are obligated to buy it NOW. 🙂 I mean it – and no, I don’t work for Valve, of course. That’s Half-Life 2 with two more episodes and one bonus level as well. Team Fortress 2 is for those who like pure multi-player FPS genre. And finally there is a bit shorter puzzle FPS (well, not shooter really) called Portal! I bet you’ve heard about it already. This package for 10 euro-bucks (maybe also for $10, I rather don’t care anymore ;-)) is something incredible. Reason to create your Steam account if you still don’t have it.