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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Trailer Park Saturday: Penny Arcade

I guess this hit Kotaku with something of a thud. I can kinda see why, but I would guard against judging it too harshly. It smacks of "we got some models and anims, so why not push out a trailer??"

Course, I've also never found the fruit fscker all that funny - so I might just be missing out on something. I just hope, based on the pants Tycho wears in the game, that they aren't taking themselves too seriously here.

I had always hoped someone would make either a game comic game and turn it into a series of game parodies. Maybe someone still will.

Trailer Park Saturday: Oblivion PS3 to 360 Comparison

It's interesting. I can see the difference, but certainly nothing grossly appreciable to jump on one bandwagon versus another. I think we should expect this to be the norm - after all the PS3 isn't $200 more because it has $200 more graphics hardware, but rather because someone shoved a $400 high def player into it.

An Alternative To Demos

The current state of my graphics card is that it works pretty well on most games, especially if I forsake a texture or model quality here or there. On newer games, like Dark Messiah, it's a little more hit or miss. And the physics in that game must hit the CPU a lot, because it's the only game I saw a significant frame dip.

I was disappointed to find out there's no Oblivion demo. I get it, though. Just with the whole current debate about how much games should be examined before their ready. My personal take on that is it should be up to the developers. Let them decide if they want public feedback or not. It shouldn't necessarily be marketing.

I propose a compromise. I don't need to play your game. I just want to see if it works on my hardware. I'm betting there are other PC gamers out there in that boat as well.

So give us a non-interactive demo that puts the game through some paces without being indicative of gameplay. It doesn't even need to be proper gameplay, just a quick run down some path to show how hard the game is going to push. Let us adjust things like resolution, aliasing, etc.

This doesn't need to be released any sooner than the game itself.

I don't need to play your game - but I will return it if it doesn't work on my open box card running experimental drivers.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Dang I Hate Windows

I really have become a Mac convert it seems.

Instead of trying to buy a cheap 360 off of eBay, I decided to instead try and upgrade the CheapBox one last time. I did this by spending just over $100 on an OEM version of the X800 card and a new PSU to supply it.

Both arrived in the office today.

It's been nothing since a nightmare since I got home.

I've got the PSU in just fine. It's actually a great piece of hardware - a 380W Rosewill. Unless that's causing the pain I'm about to describe, I highly recommend it. Quality cables, easy to install, dual fans. Good PSU.

The rest, though. Ugh. I install the new drivers. The system reboots. It comes up in glorious color. The resolution is nice and crisp. Everything seems dandy. But icons are gone. The desktop is just text. Rolling over them makes them appear. Sometimes. Maybe.

So I reboot. I mean, it's Windows. Rebooting again is usually good, right? Surely not bad?

Wrong. When it comes back - it's stuck in 4bit, 640x480 hell. This is what I upgraded to?

I'm almost positive it is a driver problem. I just tried a clean install and it did again however.

Updates to follow.

Update 1 - I figure if I got to the manufacturer instead of ATI, Sapphire, maybe they'll point me to reliable drivers.

Their download page forces me to wait 60 seconds for "security reasons".

And then the download link? 404. Nice one, Sapphire. You evil bastards.

Update 2 - Now trying to find the same drivers elsewhere. Mind you, these are several revs out of date. But if they can make this 256MB card display icons and not coward into 640x480 mode? I'd be OK with it.

Update 3 - The old drivers "work", but not without some serious issues. Artifacts abound. Civ IV refused to run. So now I get to try the most stable version of the driver without breaking the system.


Know what my Mac has never ever, ever, ever, ever asked me about?


Not once.

That 360? Maybe it would have been worth the extra money. I'm beginning to see why Microsoft started to slide into the console camp in the first place.

Fallout: Using the latest Omega drivers, which are some funky offbeat riff of the "official" drivers" - I get pretty good compatibility. Prey played great at 1024, as did UT2004 and the CivIV demo. The X3 demo had some odd 3D artifacts and the Dark Messiah demo had some odd 2D artifacts. I think Guild Wars is OK, but I'm downloading the last year's worth of updates now.

In short, I'm about where I was before. I won't buy a PC game without a demo to prove it works with my hardware ... but at least it runs 100% better when it does.

Who Is Afraid Of Sony?

The answer really seems to be Microsoft.

If I were to believe last year's hype that the PlayStation 3 was simply a non-player in the console market, I don't see why the company which at one point declared gamers didn't need HDMI and didn't need 1080P are now upgrading their line to support ... that's right - HDMI and 1080P. Even to the point of slapping on a larger hard drive and scraping closer to PS3 price points in a clear attempt to undermine Sony's selling points (although Microsoft still refuses to camp HD-DVD in the same tent, unlike Sony's Blu-Ray solution).

And now the European PS3 launch, considered mediocre by most accounts, is routinely heckled by Microsoft PR. While it's easy to write this kind of thing off as simple pranks and media stunts - remember that this kind of thing takes a decent amount of money and organization.

If Sony has the "least wanted console in recent history" as described recently in the press, why bother? Why bother with either one? The "Elite 360" lineup is particularly bizarre. If, as some suggest, Microsoft is planning to simply upgrade the hard drive and output of the Premium 360 at no extra cost to the user (and hopefully with cooler and more stable hardware in general) ... why not just do it? If it's not really ready for production yet - why bother putting out a version at a cost nobody wants?

Or am I not to find it curious that a very PlayStation 3-like version of the 360 (heck, it's even black) hits the mumblevine the same month as the Euro launch?

Lost: The Man From Tallahassee

Season's three slow ascent from despair seems to trudge onward. I'm still not a big fan of Locke as Dr. Smith. Locke's never been selfish. His role in the first season was almost as a guide - as someone willing to share his skills and equipment to help the Losties learn to survive on the island. Remember the Locke who took a nearly fatherly stance with Walt? Or built a crib for Claire? Locke was almost as much of an anti-Sawyer as he was an anti-Jack. Moreso, in ways, since Jack and Locke often shared similar goals.

Yeah, he's apparently dead now. Locke is the new jerk of the island. Sawyer? Sawyer's just a funny man with funny glasses. Locke just betrayed the Losties more than anyone could.

Without anyone's permission or any discussion - he willingly destroyed what he saw as the most expedient way to get anyone off the island.

It does, at least, tie nicely back into his actions as of late. His plan is all unfolded now. His reaction to the Flame Station wasn't hope that got accidentally blown up - it was a willful attempt to destroy communications and knowledge. Then he willingly kills the only Other they've managed to keep hostage and know they're an Other. Then he blows up the submarine which will send Jack and Juliet home.

In the last three episodes, Locke has done more damage to the Losties than the Others themselves. We can only assume there will be some repercussions that will long lasting from this.

The biggest "mystery" element would be the "magic box" of course. The presumption is that the Man From Tallahassee would be Locke's dad (and I guess we could assume that unless Locke's dad magically appeared in a box, Ben probably knew who he was). There is some speculation that his dad is in the same boat at Jack's dad, Ecko's brother and possibly Kate's horse. I agree, they're thematically similar ... but there are also some big differences.

For one thing, Christian Shepard and Yemi are definately dead. They simply can't be walking around the island. Kate's horse is implausible enough to be in that boat. Plus, Christian and Yemi both walked freely and spoke enigmatically. Locke's dad was bound and gagged.

I'm guessing his dad got trapped on the island in a Henry Gale style fashion. What this means for Locke (and Ben) - we'll just have to see.

Good episode. I'm finally getting some actual confidence in the show again.

Hecker-Wii-300 Parody

The Brother sent along this cartoon placing Chris Hecker's Wii rant into a 300 style perspective.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

So What's The 360 Elite Cost?

Microsoft's updated and ebony 360 model is all but confirmed at this point, but the details are getting weird. Take this:

The Elite will be limited quantities only; that may be as much or as little as a couple hundred thousand.


Elite will cost $479, and will be a 3rd SKU; it will be sold alongside Premium and Core packs.


Eventually Elite hardware (in white plastics) will take the role of the Xbox Premium. That is to say, after the Elite is launched and sold out, future Xbox Premiums will have 120GB / HDMI.


We do not yet know exactly when 120GB / HDMI will become the standard for Premium, but it is loosely estimated to be late summer or fall.


Prices may remain the same with the 120GB / HDMI hardware upgrade in the Premium Xbox, but we may still see a price cut on the line when 65nm chips start ship
-- Xbox 360 Elite: new, black limited edition Xbox with HDMI and 120GB drive

That last bit is pretty lousy writing. I took it to mean, "becoming Premium doesn't mean a price cut" (since it is followed with a "but there may be a price cut"). Most seem to take it to mean - "The 360 Elite will become the $399 Premium".

If the latter is true, though, lots of things don't add up here. For one thing, a couple hundred thousand is like what ... a month or two of supply? So you're getting taxed $80 because you're impatient and you like black? Black is an $80 option? Here in Chicago, we call that a sucker tax. (Yes, I feel that way about the $50 paint job Apple charges for black Macbooks, although at least that's a decent paint job).

If the Elite is a collector's edition, surely it needs to have something to upsell other than a color swap that any modder could do for a few bucks? Usually when someone pays more for a limited edition, it is so they can show something off to their friends. Nobody would want to do that here because it only shows their friends that they're rather stupid when it comes to money.

Plus, the 20GB accessory for the 360 costs $99 right now. So if the SKU line gets a free upgrade, it would be safe to assume the 120GB would likewise cost $99. Course, that has to annoy the hell out of anyone who has 100GB less sitting on their shelf right now.

Something doesn't add up - but of course it wouldn't be the first time that's happened with console sales. I note the "may" in that sentence and take this whole thing with a grain of salt.

Xbox Live "Pretexted" - Not Hacked

Microsoft's Major Nelson has stated that they've looked into it and found no evidence of hacking being successful against their Xbox Live service:

Despite some recent reports and speculation, I want to reassure all of our 6 million Xbox Live members that we have looked into the situation and found no evidence of any compromise of the security of the Xbox Live Network or  There have been a few isolated incidents where malicious users have been attempting to draw personal information from unsuspecting users and use it to gain access to their LIVE account.  This is a good time to remind our members that they should never give out any of their personal information.
-- Xbox Live's Major Nelson : Xbox Live Security

As he puts it - it doesn't get much clearer than that. So what are these "isolated incidents"? Apparently some social engineering:

Among a tirade of name-calling, one player threatened to steal his account, the security researcher told SecurityFocus.

Finisterre did not put much store in the threat until the next day, when he found his girlfriend's account--which he had been using the day before--kicked off the system with a message that someone else was using her gamer tag on Microsoft's service, Xbox Live. Finisterre confirmed that he could no longer log onto the service, and a message on the Account Management page indicated that the account had been suspended.

After more than a half dozen calls to the support staff of XBox Live, which Halo 2 uses to authenticate players, the status of the account is still in limbo.
-- Account pretexters plague Xbox Live

While Nelson warns players against giving out personal information, the problem Security Focus describes is with Microsoft support. Clan Infamous claims to document ways to call support, pretend to be a player and get account information (aka pretexting). Then people can essentially go joy-riding online.

This isn't the worst security problem to have, even if it's a little embarrassing. It doesn't require a firmware upgrade or anything - just better training for some staff and more draconian measures when it comes to offering up account information.

Community Of User Generated Games

Currently players get points for uploading games (big points), completing game challenges, rating games, leaving quality feedback, and referring Kongregate to other players. You get achievement icons by accomplishing challenges, like finding all the hidden items in their top game, The Fancy Pants Adventures. In the future, players will get some rewards for each level-up, which may include new options for personalizing their profile, unlocking the ‘labs’ category on the site, or special offers from Kongregate and its advertisers. The achievements you get from points and challenges will also unlock cards for a special online card game (set to release in May) they are developing in-house.

Developers who upload their own games get more than points. Kongregate will also share 25%-50% of advertising revenue generated from the games with developers.
-- Kongregate Gets $1M, Launches User Generated Games

I'm still not a fan of Flash games. I can't describe, every one I've played has rubbed me the wrong way. I'm beginning to lose interest in browser based games in general, with the exception of IF, in spite (or rather because) of working with one for the last couple months.

Still, Flash is a compelling platform because it is so cross-platform and universally accessible. Plus - I can't argue with the idea of people being able to upload games, rate games, play games, etc. This is something of an "iTunes for games" that I think is just waiting to pop, although I'm not sure this is the avenue that will really take off.

But of course, Kongregate just got one million reasons to think otherwise, so kudos to them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

10 Maxims For FPS Games offers up some academia, including 10 tips for FPS design - including this one:

Create a world that invites, encourages, and rewards smart thinking

Combining fallback points, fortified positions, and stretches of exposed ground intelligently allows the player to choose when to make a run for safety or to take a stand.

Example: Far Cry. The mixed terrain and objects gave the world a “real” feeling, allowing stealth or brute force to move Jack through the game.

Always running in circles or darting around the same corner to pick off one enemy at a time is boring, and forcing the player to figure out the “trick” is an exercise in frustration (not challenge) if done poorly or too often.

Example: Painkiller. Despite featuring a wide array of locales and enemies (and lots of them) every level managed to be the same combination of jumping in circles as enemies appeared from every side.
-- The Academic Word: Ten Maxims Every FPS Should Follow

Retro Play: Phantasy Star Online

Having apparently lost or loaned my copy, I had to order Phantasy Star Online (PSO) off of eBay. Arrived yesterday and today I hooked the Dreamcast into the VGA box and gave it a go.

PSO was designed to be an online experience ... a devoutly multiplayer one. Even in single player mode you have access to a wide range of phrases and emoticons for nobody to see. It was a precursor to the kind of design Guild Wars would use - connected lobbies seperated by servers to facilitate the instanced versions of missions for a group of people to play.

The gameplay is a kind of turn/action hybrid. It's real time and reaction based, but the monsters are slow and attack with some predictability - allowing the user time to plan attacks or shift tactics if need be. Largely it plays a bit like Diablo with large blocky monsters and combos - you run up and hit a couple of buttons in a small variety of attacks and repeat.

In its heyday - PSO was a dream. You could jump online with nothing more than a 56k connection, lobby up and maybe make some friends. Ping your buddy list to see if you want get a pick up game going on and then hit some dungeons. Sometimes a high level would offer up free goodies or take you sightseeing (go and beat a boss again just to show off).

It remains the best massively multiplayer experience I've ever had.

Course at some point the fees went up, people figured out how to clone objects and the world turned unfriendly.

And now PSO is just a single player game wondering where its multiplayer friends went. The good news is - it still fairs pretty well as that. Everything is dated, of course, from the graphics to the controls. What felt like new before is now just old and clunky.

Still, the core gameplay was really good and that stands up. As a 3D action roguelike (which I completely understand the contradictory nature of that description), PSO is pretty simple and fun. If I didn't have such a nostalgic feel to it, I'd like to that I'd still be enjoying it. Now, I don't know how much of the game is really field tested for a single player - the goal was always a party based game - but I'm willing to find out.

PSO, for the record, is a game in desperate need of a proper revival (like X-Com). Phantasy Star Universe was a major disappointment, in my book, by kicking the proper single player to curb and ditching any kind of split screen coop.

Game Play: More On Hotel Dusk

(spoilers - although I'll try to be vague)

Last night I got into the conversation with Jeff Angel. This is - or should be - kinda like the IF equivalent of a boss fight. It's the end of a chapter and I've just gone wandering around the hotel figuring out what Jeff has been up to.

The first hitch is that I'm stilling missing a vital object. There's no way I could have known this before talking to Jeff and ... honestly ... I didn't realize while talking to Jeff. All of his questions go on and on in circles. The reader/player is only left with the choice of giving up. Which feels mighty odd.

Worse, though, is that after running down and getting this evidence, you are still missing another object. There's no indication you need this object but Angel magically knows if you have it or not because he won't let you in without it.

The reason why you need this object (and others) is that the story has Hyde leaving them in Angel's hotel room when he's done talking to him. Again, there's no way you can know this is what the story is going to have Hyde do - but it's required. All of this is compounded by the fact that Angel won't talk to you about an object, no mattter how many times you've shown it to him previously, unless you shove it in his face and then ask him specifically about it.

In other words - where most games would have a boss fight, Hotel Dusk had a confusing combination of requirements it needs you to guess around before you can clumsily continue on to the next chapter.

Part of this is indicative of an inherent problem with IF ... how do you funnel the reader into the ending you require? There's certainly sound plot reasons for Hyde leaving the objects in the room - even if they aren't apparent at the time.

To me, it seems the game fails at correctly broadcasting it's wishes to the reader. In trying to be an opaque puzzle, it becomes a frustration. It's a hoop to jump through disguised as a puzzle. Kinda like Bilbo asking Gollum what's in his pocket. It's not a true riddle because Gollum has no means of figuring out the question.

Hotel Dusk begs a simple question, I think. Does simple participation merit a kind of interaction? I mean, if an interaction isn't being formulated as a proper puzzle ... how bad is it to merely instruct or hint the player on what to do and wait for them to do it? Dusk actually does this in places as well, using Hyde's inner monologue or nudges from characters.

So why shouldn't it do more of it?

New Games With The Wiimote

Chris Kohler a la Wired looks at some of the recent Wii offerings:

f it weren't for the Wii, the snowboarding game SSX Blur would have no reason to exist. Most of the content is cobbled together from previous games in the series, and the new cartoony approach looks good but not amazing. But this is the Wii, and everything old is brand spanking new again because of that funky controller.

Sadly, the controls in SSX Blur are all over the damn place. The steering, an interesting mix of the analog stick and the nunchuk, feels good. The tricks are a little unintuitive, but you get to wave your arms around like a maniac. The problem comes with the ubertricks, which are essential for progressing past the first third of the game.
-- New Wii Games Have Control Issues

I'd insert a pretty standard bearing "what if the Wii controller became a liability instead of an asset" argument here - but I'm tired of predicting doom and gloom for Nintendo's recent designs and getting proven wrong. Instead, I'd say it will just be interesting to see how 2007 plays out and whether Nintendo can really capitalize on a successful launch or if the honeymoon will be brief.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Like Watching Molecules Dry

Sony's Folding @ Home:

Hey, least it's science.

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For Me, The Real Console Question

Sony's new PlayStation 3 video game has gone from top dog to underdog in record time.

Despite the buildup and hype around its arrival in November, the PS3 has been outsold so far — at a rate of almost 2-to-1 — by the Nintendo Wii.

In February, the Wii was the top-selling console video game system with an estimated 335,000 sold, outpacing the Microsoft Xbox 360 (228,000) and the PS3 (127,000), according to The NPD Group.
-- PlayStation 3 is down 2-to-1 to Nintendo's Wii -

Yeah, I'm willing to agree that sales for the PS3 are soft ... and as I predicted earlier and will continue to predict ... will continue to be soft for the early part of 2007. Having married the PS3 fortunes to Blu-Ray, don't expect the "real" launch of the PS3 to be until HDTV adoption gets more steam. Sony has said this is that they just finished the "year of hardware" and are now getting into the "year of software".

The 360, on the other hand, had its "real" launch last March when it could satisfy enough units to actually meet demand.

So for me, the real question here is:

How is it that a next-generation console with a year's worth of headstart is getting outsold by last generation's top selling model and an upgraded version of last generation's least selling model with a fancy controller?

The follow-up question?

If Sony's PlayStation 3 is such a horrible concept, why are rumors so persistent that Microsoft is getting ready to launch a upgraded version of the 360 for $480? Without the high definition player? (Which, for the record, would make the 360 far more expensive once you tried to make it such)

Damn, I know I come off like a Sony sympathizer ... but I'm still just looking for some common sense. Actually, I've leaned closer to a 360 purchase recently until I found some deals for PC hardware and am waiting to see if they pan out. The 360 has some serious issues, though, that aren't being discussed. Hardware malfunctions seem to be rampant on the machine. It's expensive for not being a true high-definition player, so I'm more likely to hook it up to my LCD TV than worry about it with an upcoming HDTV purchase.

And honestly, the Wii ... it seems to be running on a lot of hype right now. I love my DS and I really would like to get a Wii and hope both could be all they could be ... but I'm not sure I'm seeing it. Take the problems Thomas lists with the Nintendo online strategy for example. Will Nintendo take advantage of the numbers out there or not?

This is a really weird time for consoles. Might be the reason I just spent a few hours playing Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast.

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PS3 Backward Compatibility List

Sony's official list of backward compatible games for the European launch is up for perusal. It's a very mixed bag. Yes, there are lots of titles - although many seem to be slotted at least the "minor issues" level of compatibility. Katamari is noticeably absent from the list (both versions) and Killzone has a "noticeable issues" rating. Shadow Of The Colossus, on the other hand, has "no known issues".

The list also includes PS1 games. X-Com isn't on the list. Looks like I'll be hanging onto my PS1 a while longer (assuming by the time I get a model, it will have software emulation)

Update: The Baldur's Gate, X-Men Legends and Champions of Norrath series are all missing as well. Ultimate Alliance has "noticeable issues".

Update 2: Psychonauts fans will be happy to know it has "no known issues".

Update 3: Oddly all GTA's have "no issues" except San Andreas and Vice City Stories ... which have "noticeable ones".

Course, the thing to remember is that this list will only improve with firmware.

More On A Watchmen Movie

Reelzchannel has an interview with Zack Snyder for your viewing pleasure which talks at some length about the possibility of a Watchmen movie (via popmoderne). He's clearly bullish on the idea and the success of 300 seems to be making it likely.

My favorite line is where he candidly equates a three hour Watchmen film (fans would hope for a long and faithful rendition) to being the Lord of the Rings of comic films. Although his expectation from writer (and long abused by the movies of his work) Alan Moore is pretty good as well.

TV Watch: More On The Riches

Second episode last night and I think we're officially hooked on The Riches. It's a standout because this family of Travellers is somewhat unlike what we're used to seeing.

Take AMC's Hustle ... also a big favorite around our place. The con men (and women) of Hustle are incredibly smart and sophisticated. They have a code. Everything is the long con to these people. You watch not because you're honestly afraid these people will get caught - although it remains a remote possibility - you watch because you assume they're smarter than everyone else and you want to see how the work.

By contrast, the "Riches" are essentially white trash thieves. They'll beat one of their own in a bathroom stall. They're extremely talented liars, sure, but whereas the crew in Hustle seems to make calculated moves to better their chances of success ... the Riches seem to be almost constantly stumbling farther into jeopardy. Their lies seem to be only capable of leading into bigger lies which will all that much harder to support.

Hustle is an orchestra. The Riches is like a jamboree.

Game Play: Hotel Dusk Room 215

This isn't really a review since I'm not finished with the game and for a game like Hotel Dusk that's a bit like commenting on a story before getting to the end.

So like most titles, I'll just comment on the mechanics and leave the story for later.

Hotel Dusk is a graphical work of interactive fiction. In general, the interface is pretty smart and original. Holding the DS like a book, one side works as a map, or 3D view to specify objects, or a character screen for interaction. It's straight-forward and versatile.

And yet at times - it just breaks down.

Don't get me wrong ... I love seeing a piece like this on the DS. I want to see many more of them - but Hotel Dusk occasionally falls victim to some of the worst pitfalls in game design. Games are their least fun when I know what I'm supposed to do and I'm honestly trying to do it ... but I keep failing and start to assume that wasn't what I'm supposed to do.

In an adventure game where you have to do a specific task to progress the plot ... that can get pretty annoying.

Some spoilers ahead.

For instance, there's an object in the game where you need to figure out what is written on something. So I covered it in flour. And the game just stared at me. I actually tried blowing on the mic to blow the flour off (and got a stare from The Girl in the process) ... to no avail. Turns out I just wasn't rubbing enough flour on it. Or something. I'm not sure.

A more egregious example just happened to me last night. I was trying to put something in my suitcase. My mistake? Actually opening the suitcase first. Essentially the game was punishing me for being logical and not allowing me to move forward.

Granted, most of Hotel Dusk is a pretty smooth ride. In general the puzzles aren't terribly complex and often pretty well broadcasted. Defenders will certainly stick up for it's use of narrative and unique graphical style. And I think that's all grand.

At the same time though - we should acknowledge why formats like IF and adventure games have been dying off. This is one of those reasons. This is why I refuse to force anyone to fight with a parser to read a story. Just like action games have slowly realized how inane jumping puzzles are ... IF pieces need to worry about how usable their logic puzzles will end up. It's one thing to run to the Internet because you're just truly stumped ... it's another to need a walkthrough to tell you what you already know.

Don't get me wrong ... I still love this game. But I can see why it might annoy the average gamer.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Sticky Point For 360/PC Convergence

Last week I wrote about my recent purchase of the Xbox 360 controller for Windows, most notably, the lack of support from Microsoft and the inability to tweak it. Not that this should come as a surprise to any Windows user. But still quite disappointing.

Since then, I’ve received quite a few hits from people searching phrases like “xbox 360 controller deadzone”, “configure xbox 360 controller for windows”, “xbox 360 controller for windows mapping”, etc. Needless to say, I’m not the only one been who’s looking for a solution. Luckily, thanks to a few (very lengthy) anonymous tips, that solution has been found!

Pinnacle Game Profiler has come to the rescue. Developed by KALiNKOsoft, it’s an advanced (yet very easy to use) shareware application that adds gamepad/joystick support to any game and let’s you tweak your controller and emulate keyboard and mouse movements to a tee. I was playing Need For Speed Most Wanted within 10 minutes from the time I installed the software. Mind you, I had to completely setup the controller, so in future, that time will be cut in half, at least.
-- Configuring Your Xbox 360 Controller For Windows

Previously I pondered on 360 games for Windows and just now poked around to see how useful the 360 controller for Windows would actually turn out. It doesn't seem all that great. It's great that a solution exists to help this kind of thing out - but that seems suboptimal to a true plug and play experience.

Then we need to factor in actual game design. For instance, take Oblivion ... this is from

Although the PC version of Oblivion handles best when played with a keyboard and mouse, it is possible to play the game with an assortment of game pads as well. Due to the variance in these game pads, it may be necessary to make a few changes to the Oblivion.ini file located in My Documents\My Games\Oblivion. Below is a list of the settings that can be changed to make a Xbox 360 controller attached to a PC, function better with Oblivion. It should be noted however, that because the PC version of the game was optimized to play with a keyboard and mouse, the experience will NOT be the same, as using a 360 controller on the Xbox 360 version of the game. Additionally, these settings can be applied to other game pads, but the values represented may need to be tweaked further. Finally, the mapping of the buttons will need to be determined when entering the game, and can be changed in Options - Controls, from the Main Menu - Do NOT map the directional controls (Forward, Backward, Left, Right), as this will overwrite certain changes made in the Oblivion.ini file.
-- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Version 1.1.511

Sure, the easy answer is ... why would anyone want to use a controller when they have a keyboard and mouse? Well, because if the experienced diverges to deeply based on the input hardware - you (logically) lose out on convergence.

And personally - I associate a keyboard with work. I like simplicity of a gamepad. It won't try and get me to cut and paste anything.

Large Database Of Video Cards hosts this rather impressive list of video cards the you can try to use when navigating the various technical differences between products.

And it's been so long since I've seriously shopped for one of these things, I didn't realize just how diversified and complicated the scene has become. For instance, it's easy to find a card which just doesn't belong on this page or has a stat or two different - like twice the amount of RAM or a different bus or whatnot. Cards with virtually the same name might not really be all that similar.

So read up before you buy.

DVD Watch: Babel

We first heard about Babel from some friends as it was getting the Oscar buzz. And anyone who saw the Oscars at least has a rudimentary understanding of the film - it's a sweeping drama that intersects the lives of families from San Diego to Tokyo (at least I assume it's Tokyo). The movie opens on the lives of goat farmers in Morocco.

One of our friends described it as "international version of Crash" ... and that's a pretty honest way to put it. The film's purpose is to show that lives aren't that much different or separate as we'd like to think - even with continents dividing us.

So if you didn't like Crash, you'd probably hate Babel.

In general, I have to recommend it. It's very well directed with actors giving a truly diverse and powerful performance. The filmmakers went to great lengths for accuracy - getting native actors to speak in their native tongue. The plot is pretty good, if not slow and predictable at parts. Occasionally a character does something stupid enough to push the limits of belief - but in general you're just watching normal people deal with circumstances only partially in their control.

DVD Watch: Man Of The Year

Man Of The Year was sold to audiences as a light-hearted Robin Williams vehicle for political comedy. The scene in the trailer with Williams in a pompish wig in the car with Lewis Black would seem to be indicate that it would might be near slapstick full of Williams style manic one liners.

This isn't really true.

Actually, it's almost a political thriller. The first scene is Christopher Walken in a wheelchair beginning the narration.

Yeah, I know. I was little surprised as well. Levinson walks a very tight rope with the movie, balancing parts of satire, comedy and suspense with generally good results. His trick seems to be to fill the scene with the actor or actress most appropriate for the tone he needs. Williams, comedy, Walken, satire, Linney for suspense. The plot isn't exactly complex and holds together pretty well with Williams (playing a Jon Stewart-like media figure) gets plenty of jokes into the mix. Some of the, um, technical elements might make the geek in the crowd groan a bit - but otherwise it's pretty solid.

For what it is, it's a pretty good movie. It's just not the movie they tried to sell you.

Dev Diary: The Ugly Head Of Performance (again)

Yeah, it's getting a little frustrating.

I'm not even sure what pushed it over the edge this time - it might be because I was finally trying to get maps which resemble actual play up and running and the size is simply too much (again). It's not unplayable ... but it is annoying.

Not sure what to do at this point. I'm looking at the interactive fiction code I've got and thinking maybe I should try melding it in. Torque Game Builder is out of beta, so perhaps Garage Games beat the OS X performance issues and bugs down. I'd like to keep in the spirit of "an easily mappable" roguelike somehow, but I'm not sure which avenue to take.

Sigh. It occurs to me that I haven't really found many web-based games I've really liked, really felt compelling - Flash, DHTML or otherwise. I'm thinking I see why.