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.


Unreal Tournament 3 revival?

There seems to be some activity around a game of my (once) favourite franchise – Unreal Tournament 3! After finishing Gears Of War 2 Epic seems to plan so called Titan pack for UT3. I’m really very excited about it because it promises some overdue features like better menus, proper server browser, better AI (hopefully some things I’m gonna mention in just a minute will be covered too), client-side demo recording support… very, very good news indeed.

Following the news that you can also register your retail key via Steam I decided to do so and try the game’s single player campaign again in a meantime (until the Titan Pack comes). And I’ve refreshed a few frustrations that were long forgotten (since I quit UT3 which is nearly a year now). I decided to play Hard (I’m no pushover after all) but how those bots ran wild was just incredible. Their aim is insane (how is their aim on Insane level then? :-)) and in addition to that you are outnumbered in many missions. That’s what makes from “the tournament” suddenly something they consider to be “the story”. Or so, I don’t know. Of course, players are stubborn and the game is catchy. So I am willing to play incredible missions against all odds again and again. UT3 is also technically great. But why oh why they put it down with very stupid yet stupidly precise AI opponents… I don’t know. Not to mention stupidity of your teammates that really strikes the eye. Concrete example for all of them.

Warfare on a map called Serenity. You are four and they are eight (unless you play some of your “play cards” before the match – which I can recommend in this particular case). There is a big and strong vehicle spawn under certain conditions in the middle of the map and the vehicle can be manned by 5 players. Of course all of your three mates goes into the vehicle, they go the wrong place, they are not clever enough to jump out when they are needed somewhere else and/or the vehicle is stuck and the driver can’t do anything about it. That leaves the match literally you vs. the rest of the world. There is no excuse for AI like this for a game as over-hyped as UT3 was. This is what UT3 brings to those many who reportedly never go online (for various reasons I can imagine ;-)). And it’s not only this map. The way bots wander with flag when the only thing they had to do is to bring it the last few meters after I died and dropped it… and they gladly die too, why not, they took the flag but there was some fun in the area so why to hurry, right? First UT was really something big when it came out. I still can’t see any serious differences in AI after all those years (8 to be precise).

I recall some other stoppers where my bots were very bad in attack and their bots were very good in defense. I still have levels like Sandstorm (or how is it called) before me and I hope I’ll survive them in full health. Why do I play the game you ask? It’s suppose to be the current UT game and I’d like to play it with my friends – although most of my friends quit the franchise (hopefully only temporarily). I hope Titan Pack lifts the UT3 a bit because the game and the franchise doesn’t deserve the status it has now – and it’s not only our (fan’s) fault whatever whoever says. Some people already like the game like it is but there are many for whom the Titan Pack is one of those bits that are missing. With some luck a great bit fixing most of current problems. If you like UT series, stay tuned – because big things are about to happen. So say we all. 🙂

Top 10 things I love and hate about UT3

I’ve bought Unreal Tournament III quite soon after it was released. Maybe I wouldn’t do the same now – but I’ve already done it and because I don’t buy games too often I should play the games I have. It’s not that hard to play game that has Unreal Tournament in the title because I love UT games. Yet I have a lot of troubles with this one. Not only because expectations were high. They were high because it’s another instalment as well as because they (Epic) promised us finished game. On my box there stands: Unsurpassed. Unprecedented. Unrivaled. Well… I really expected more from the game that looks so good and from the game that acts like one of the top games around here for the time being.

So what are these top hate & love things? I’ll start with things I like and then I finish with the hate part. It’s bad strategy if I want to serve UT3 well – but the truth is that I don’t want to make it look that good because – really – even after second patch this game simply lacks many important things. Game is playable, game is fine, but it still lacks something. Maybe details, but even details are important. After all… next-gen shooter emphasize focus on details besides the other things. 🙂

Things I love (no particular order):

1. Fast-paced, grounded gameplay. This game simply sounds heavy when you compare it with UT2004. I don’t particularly prefer this – I just like it. It’s the change towards first UT (UT99, or UT GOTY if you want) and it feels good. Your movement is fast, not so floaty and you can’t fly around like before. Trick jumpers might be probably a bit sad, but I saw nice jumps in this game as well.

2. Idea of single player story. I don’t like the execution and story-line though, but I like matinees, their quality… the idea. I hope the next UT will bring something that’s better than “forgettable”. I don’t have anything against previous tournament campaigns – they were straight – but these days require solid story. This was the first try and it was the step into right direction. Just work more on the story itself, guys. 😉

3. I really like visuals. Sure – post-processing is overdone here and there, but visuals are nice and rich. Maps are really detailed – even those big battlefields are highly detailed – and there’s a lot of work in it. I like this.

4. I like player visibility in team-based games. Too sad I can’t say the same about free for all deathmatch, here default skins are really hard to spot. And please don’t call me blind. I can see that there is something moving over there but it’s hard to recognize player itself. Team games bring nice glow effect for player skins which is much more adequate than glow-sticks from UTComp. Funny thing is that you can sometimes see players better when they are further from you (they glow more). Akasha on dark Necris map “right to your face” should definitely glow more even from close distance. Still step into right direction.

5. Bio-rifle death delay. It’s a nice touch – you know that you’re probably gonna die when you have that green mess on you but that duration effect is nice. I like it more than instant death from previous UT.

6. Lorem Ipsum on some screens that are not supposed to be seen. Ok, not really a thing I like but it made me smile. 🙂

7. I love the content in packages you can use in your maps. Packages are sorted out much better than in UT2004 and it finally makes sense to find garbage in a package called so. Also the volume of assets is good. I like this.

8. Another UnrealEd feature I have to praise – Sync Generic Browser. That’s just cool thing. UnrealEd in general has some very nice touches and it went its way since UT2004. Very good. Not that it’s solely UT3 related thing – but hey – it’s in the package! 🙂

9. CTF-Vertebrae! You can think whatever you want – but this map is great. Maybe not pr0, but it’s cool, it’s crazily vertical, you just need some time to navigate it. But it’s worth it. This map is something fresh in CTF.

10. It’s UT! It’s fast, crazy, brutal, unreal and however I keep distance I still like it because it’s UT.

Ok, I know – things I like were accompanied with some irony in some cases. But it was really hard to find real big things I like on this game except for a few gameplay shifts which have their drawbacks as well.

Things I don’t like:

1. Small and fast moving targets. This game is not that hit-scan oriented like before, but to hit with sniper or shock now it’s really hard. Even bots above average levels are moving like crazy and it’s nearly impossible to hit them. This – of course – relates to thing I like – fast movement. But bodies could be a bit bigger and maybe the movement could be just a bit slower. If you mix this up with (again) poor visibility of skins in non team-based gametypes – it really sucks.

2. Spam and splash damage weapons dominance. You can still find good snipers here – of course – but in general you’ll do good with rockets (faster than in UT2004), flak and similar weapons. Rockets are extremely annoying when you’re playing with bots – and especially if it’s arena like map. Not to mention overpowered stinger.

3. Bot’s precision. It just sucks as always. But this time they are much better aimbots from distance. And with stinger – they are unbearable. I can’t play lower difficulties because bots are clearly stupid there. But playing higher ones is very frustrating because they let you sense that they are bots. Also if you just appear from behind some wall and they hit you with sniper – well, that’s… inhuman? 🙂

4. Add bot’s taunt every time they kill you. No, you can’t turn this off (at least not in the UI). Unbelievably stupid feature that is probably seemed funny in Epic. I can’t explain it otherwise. Retarded. Maybe it’s intended as a nerves training.

5. Client-side demos. They are broken, buggy and instead of repairing them Epic’s stance is “not supported”. Well, what the heck? Game is out for over four months and I can hardly find one file with 1on1 demos? It’s also hard for movie-makers.

6. UI forgets settings when you get back to Main menu. If you want just to change player count you have to check and select your map again! That’s pathetic. Bot level and count is not preserved between runs of the game like it was before.

7. You can’t spectate instant action. You might think it’s stupid idea but it’s actually quite usable feature especially for mappers.

8. If you’re in a ghost mode and you get into solid matter screen starts to jitter. Funny – not with behind view. Being partially in wall is good for some snapshots so this shaky cam is very disturbing.

9. Hm, I’m running out of list! Ugly sounds if you use mouse wheel fast in lists (map list, server list). They probably tested it only with PS3 controller. You also can’t copy&paste into console (for instance server IP), you can’t even set any server as your favourite. Because you have to visit the server first to appear in History tab from where you can move it to Favorites. But if you connect to server using “open <ip>” command it’s not added to History. What a mess. I don’t care Gamespy integration – but I care that Friends system is messy and very badly integrated and all is billions of clicks away.

10. Last point is general – unfulfilled promises. A lot of them. Broken. And when you read (otherwise nice) art book delivered with Collector’s edition with bullshits about “we’re the company that can deliver things when they are done” and you have to interact with half-baked product… that’s sad.

As months goes by guys from Epic tries to blame (weak) PC market, piracy or whatever else. But there are some good points. They finally admitted some flaws and there are already two patches released that makes UT3 better deal. Anyway – all my points are still valid after second patch and I have to wait for third (and next). 🙂

So that’s it. It’s VERY personal and I bet you can agree with a lot and disagree with many points as well. I’d probably adjust this list later after much more playing of UT3, now it’s just the list of a player who did his best to overcome that second list (things I don’t like) and play another game from his favourite franchise. And yes – Unreal is my favourite game series. Yet shortly after UT3 is out I expect the next one. But maybe one more patch and more players on servers… and we’re there – and we have our good UT we wanted. We’ll see.