Tag Archives: PC

It’s a PC

By now you have already seen and heard all about the next generation of gaming consoles, the PS4 and the Xbox One, which were both demoed at the last E3. Microsoft’s Xbox was panned by many reviewers and tech journalist, mainly because of the DRM and Microsoft’s intended online distribution strategy that would have evaporated the used/rental games market. Sony promised to allow people to share their (old game) disks which they announced thru some funny video.

Just two days ago, Microsoft reversed its position on pre-owned games (Eurogamer on this), a move that was praised by many internet youtube army. However, despite the fact that used-games shops breathed a sigh of relief, I think that both Sony and Microsoft just have set a precedent and that in the near future both will discourage the release of games on disks: printing and publishing disks is and will be always more expensive than digitally distributing games. Valve’s Steam has obviously proven that.

I’ve never been in the market of getting a console and personally, once again I think I’ll pass on this generation of gaming consoles. After all, these next generation of consoles are just dedicated PCs.

Eye of the Beholder/Grimrock

This is not going to be a review of sorts: However, I bought ‘Legend of Grimrock’ (producer) the other day, which is an old-style hack-and-slash dungeon crawler a la “Dungeon Master”, or, rather, more to my experience, “Eye of the Beholder”. I’ve only briefly mentioned “Eye of the Beholder” before on this site (here).

The game has been a resounding success, if I may say so: It looks like the Finnish developer has already recovered the cost of producing the game. This is surprising: Back when I played EOB (and EOB2) I always thought the introduction of games from Id Software (you know the 3D FPS) basically replaced the trusty dungeon crawlers: from one day to the other, these crawlers became ‘out of date’ technology. No matter how you turn it: Quake, was the turning point for PC-gaming.

While playing Grimrock, I run into frustrations as reported by many others on the Internets: however, most of them are actually neglectable if you think about the type of game Grimrock actually is: It’s a dungeon crawler. You’re supposed to take the time for it. For someone who finished both EOBs, like ages ago, the puzzles are what make these kind of games enjoyable.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

While I’m at it: I haven’t had time to put any thoughts on games. Not that I spend my hours on playing games all the time: however, 2 or 3 months ago, I managed to finish ‘Skyrim’ (product page, wikipedia page).

I’ve played but never finished ‘Oblivion’ (review here) or its predecessor, ‘Morrowind’ (never reviewed): Actually the latter I actually played on an XBOX before but I can’t recall I actually finished it or not. Regardless, while I loved Oblivion, like anyone else, I despised the game’s ‘level scaling algorithm’. Good news first then: in Skyrim there appears to be no level scaling happening. I believe I was able to finish the game in 120+ hours and generally, it wasn’t too hard, combat-wise.

Right: Skyrim is an FPS-based open-world RPG. Technically you can do anything what you want to do in this game: while there are main quest lines (and the dozens of sidequests), you could venture out into a town, kill anybody and walk away from the onslaught. I think in one case, I refused to do a specific side-quest for people of a particular town and since I refused it, I decided just to kill all of them. The beauty of the game is that it detects people have died and (in my case) killed storeowners were replaced by unnamed assistant-shop keepers. Not bad, Bethesda.

Combat is still sort of clunky: Switching from magic to swords (and vice versa) is tedious. Bethesda provided keyboard short cuts, however the amount of available short cuts is not enough. If you’ve selected a combat-like character, there’s no point to try to get ‘magical points': you might just as well find or create the very best armour/shielding there is. There are (and I won’t reveal too much) specific quests to find these items.

Technically and graphically, the game is not too far off from ‘Oblivion': the engine is pretty and scales fairly well (I ran this on my 3-year old P7350 laptop). I don’t recall experiencing ‘slowdowns’ during hectic combat. I believe Skyrim auto-detects your graphical display capabilities: I would recommend to ‘notch it down’ a bit.

There’s so much more to tell about Skyrim: in my 120 hours, while I’ve discovered a lot, I can tell for sure that I’ve not seen 100% of the world. It feels humongous and the changing weather patterns (and northern lights!) make Skyrim feel truly a world of its own. Highly recommended.

See below for screenshots.

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X3 and Elite

It probably doesn’t surprise anybody that I’ve added “X3: Albion Prelude” (Egosoft) to my collection of playable games. This is supposed to be an expansion to “X3:Terran Conflict” (earlier on xsamplex), but to be honest, it doesn’t feel like that: from what I can tell is that some of the X3:TC features aren’t there. It feels more like a stand-alone game than an expansion, which makes the $9.99 price it sold at initially a very reasonable price. Alright: this is not supposed to be a review of sorts, so,

The reason I bring up X3 is that the joy playing this game stems from the initial skirmishes I had in the MSX version of Elite, like, way back in the late 80s (earlier). At one time I showed someone some X3 gameplay, and I was asked what ‘the point is of travelling for hours without doing anything at all’. Which is true: the game doesn’t have real goals (besides the missions). The only goal in the game is whatever the player wants to make out of it. On your own pace.

This is also what set Elite apart, 25 or so years ago, and it was indeed one of the most successful games ever made. I wish X3 would get the same attention as I believe Egosoft is doing something remarkable here.

Crysis

I‘ve always been hesitant of trying Crysis (2007) mainly because of the fear my current hardware wouldn’t support the notorious system requirements and other related video graphic cards tweaks that are needed to get this to run nice and smooth. Worse yet, Crysis is currently (still) the litmus test how good your high-end PC can run this game. All the hoopla out of the way: I, however, had no problems getting Crysis to run on my laptop. I had to tone it down to a 1280 x 800 resolution and all settings set to medium. The result is actually not too bad and at least it seems very playable (without any lag, that is). The proof is in the screenshots.

Now, I haven’t really played FPS games recently and upon starting up a new game in ‘normal’ mode, during the initial runs, my skills were obviously lacking to say the least and the game does not forgive you for that. Like any other FPS, it’s very fast paced and running into hectic situations has two outcomes: you get either killed or get your butt kicked by the AI. This is also when you learn to rely on the specific nano-suit skills the game provides to you: using a short cut you can adjust to focus on Shield (max. protection), Speed, Strength and Stealth. If you prefer to lay down and scout the environment before attacking a heavy-guarded base, you can do so. However, nothing stops you from ramming a vehicle in a guard post, jump out of it and “run and gun” your opponents. The game flow is so fluid and so dynamic, that it doesn’t matter what route you choose or which approach you use (by vehicle, food or water) as long as you make it to your checkpoints, from where the cut-scenes and main story line will continue. In that sense, Crysis is indeed a typical linear FPS game, make no mistake about that. However, the open-world and the excellent AI, will most likely make every new game a different challenge.

So without a doubt, I highly recommend this game. It’s a game that doesn’t punish you when you take the wrong short-cut. It is demanding though, skills and computer wise, but the freedom of movement in this game and for an FPS, it is magnificent. Truly, magnificent.

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Dragon Age: Origins

I finished my first ‘Dragon Age’ (official site, Wikipedia) run earlier this weekend, so I thought a write-up was an excellent start of the year of 2010. You may have heard of ‘Dragon Age’, most likely because it received excellent reviews. Metacritic (currently) has it listed with an average of 91 (right here), where reviewers have lauded the game with so many good reviews that it makes you wonder. Let me quote Eurogamer UK, which is a review that will reveal my thoughts about the game:

In its desperation to infuse this setting with “maturity” – be it of the sober, political kind, or the game’s painfully clumsy gore and sex – BioWare has forgotten the key ingredient of any fantasy: the fantastical. Without it, you’re still left with a competent, often compelling, impressively detailed and immense RPG, but it’s one that casts no spell.

And that’s truly it: while extremely detailed (story-line wise), the game feels boxed. If you’ve played ‘Oblivion’ or ‘Fall Out 3′, you’ll find that ‘Dragon’s Age’ is extremely linear. Ferelden is not a place you wander or roam about, it’s a place where you move from A to Z.

It has it’s good sides though: If you like long elaborate storylines, you’ll enjoy ‘Dragon Age’. If you like elaborate interaction with your party-members (and Dog), ‘Dragon Age’ will probably satisfy you. If you love micromanaging your strategy, well, if you’re a programmer, the ‘Tactics’ screen offers a variety of commands to mop up enemies in no time. And since nobody in your party really dies, there’s no way you end this game unsuccessfully.

So, the game is highly immersive and entertaining, if you’d like. However, on my famous ‘Frustration level’, I’d give it a 7: Don’t be surprised if you need to do some parts over and again: battles can be unpredictable and repetitive at times making it less fun at some stages (the ‘brood mother’ battle for example). It’s highly re-playable though, which is a plus for this game and (obviously) that is something you don’t really see a lot in the current gaming world.

Games redux

I finally managed to find some time to play a couple of rounds of ‘Civilization 4: Beyond the Sword’ (2007) and while I’m hesitant to judge it right now, I’m not overly enthusiastic about it (previously.). Particularly considering the current hardware I’m running it on, all across the board (from the custom dialogs to the AI) it is god awful slow. I’ll see if I can revisit this in a separate item.

People who’ve followed this blog, should be familiar with the praise I heaped on X3: Reunion (old material right here): I decided to pick up the game where I left it a couple of years ago. Just recently, I decided to move up to ‘X3: Terran Conflict’ (which incidentally, is also available for the Mac): Excellent once again. Since this is the last game in the X-Universe, it’s going to be curious to see what Egosoft (company site) will come up in the near future.

Minor update: Additionally, I noticed that in Civ4:BTS for some of the technology discoveries some other person’s voice was used (definitely not Leonard Nimoy’s).

FarCry 2

The only reason why I got FarCry 2 is that I find the concept of ‘”Sandbox” First Person Shooter’ games extremely compelling. I think the idea started with ‘Oblivion’ (discussed earlier, thanks Alfons), where players could wander about and around for hours and take on any quest or job that was offered on the road. STALKER (the other ‘Sandbox’ game) was another game I tried (and never discussed, for the reason that I don’t own the game anymore): While STALKER is buggy and graphically not-up-to-par, it provides plenty of space to explore. Brilliant and ugly at times.

So, Ubisoft, the maker of FarCry 2 promises 50 square kilometers of land to explorer, take on missions and what not and after playing the first 7 hours (already?), I think the software maker delivered, I admit, hesitantly. You definitely need the map (and the GPS device) to find your ways around. The most surprising thing about FarCry, is that the graphics engine is highly scalable: I’ve been able to play the game without issues on 1024 x 768 (medium graphics) on this system (A T5600/Nvidia 7600 GO). If you have a laptop system that is newer than the one I have, I wouldn’t be surprised that you’d be able to play the game on higher graphical settings than the one I currently play at.

The game content disappoints, though: I question Ubisoft’s ‘respawn checkpoints’ algorithm. If you clear a checkpoint of enemies, they will be back in full force at the same spot the moment you return: this makes the game extremely repetitive because you end up doing the same over and over. The other nitpick is that the Malaria-feature-thing is obviously a ‘game breaker': I think that without it, the game would feel more ‘open-ended’. Instead, every, what, 2 missions, you’ll end up going back to help the ‘Underground’ just to get your ‘malaria’ fix. The biggest disappointment was the lack of (left/right) leaning and other stealth tactics you needed to employ in the very first FarCry: I hear that the PC version was literally a port from the XBOX 360 version and that support for this would handicap the console-game players. I’m not sure if this is true, particularly looking at Call Of Duty 4, which is available for the popular consoles and has support for this.

However, besides these, the game is ‘immersive': at times, you have time to look around and can make snap decisions about taking a detour instead of going with the mission (nothing will stop you from doing so). You can hide (and run away) from your enemies if you don’t feel like taking them on: you can even finish missions without having it end like a ‘Texan machine gun massacre’ (this requires heavily scouting of areas of interest, which the manual recommends). The shooting mechanics are sufficient but at times obnoxious: during the early stages, it seems like it takes a whole ‘clip’ to kill your foes. Eventually, you’ll figure out that you have to buy up specific weapon upgrades to improve your targeting skill and weapon reliability.

So, yes, FarCry 2 is enjoyable if you can live with the particular nitpicks I mentioned above: It’s not a typical run-and-gun game and yes, it’s highly replayable, that is, if you didn’t burn through the ‘5 installs only’ DRM. It’s extremely stable (there are some storyline bugs) and highly scalable: even on the lowest details, the game is playable and a feast for the eye. However, I’d be the first to admit it’s not perfect at all and (obviously) it looks like Ubisoft didn’t make up on all its promises in early previews and tech demos. Hesitantly recommended: however, don’t bother spending 50 what dollars on it if you were planning to spend it on something else (like Fallout 3).

01/31/09: Looking back at Farcry 2, an interview with one of the designers of the game.

Call Of Duty 4

A Pripyat sniper missioncouple of weeks ago I ended up buying ‘Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’ (Wikipedia). The game, as the title suggests, is situated in today’s world (instead of the usual WWII setting): the single player portion delivers a slightly unrealistic story about a revolution in an (unspecified) Arab country and ties that together with a storyline about a nationalist faction in Russia. You play two officers: a staff sergeant in the USMC and an SAS operative and (obviously) your job is to stop the terrorists at all cost (no, really).

Before I continue to elaborate on the single player missions: I was pleasantly surprised about the hardware requirements: I had no problems running it on my current preferred setup. The game has excellent frame rates at a 800×600 resolution: with a higher end duo-core 2 processor (5600 and higher) and a better graphics card (Nvidia 7200 and greater) you should be able to run COD4 comfortably on 1024×768 or higher, that is, including shadows and that. So: if you bought a computer just recently (lets say, a half year to a year ago) you should be able to run this game provided that it came with a 3D capable card (NVIDIA or ATI that will be). Parents, do notice that this game is rated ‘M’ (17 years+ older).

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Ghost Recon (Gold Edition)

ActuallyWaiting for tanks to come, I wanted to play Medal of Honor, but since the (original) discs appear to be damaged, I ended up looking at a set of Ghost Recon discs. I bought this set of discs 3 or 4 years ago (for 20 dollars or so), played it and never finished it. Actually, I never played the (extra) expansions, which are called ‘Desert Siege’ (situated in Africa) and ‘Island Thunder’ (situated in Cuba). The main game focuses on a couple of incidents in Russia.

The good thing is that games that were new 3 or 4 years ago, play very well on today’s hardware3. So, Ghost Recon works good and the scenery is quite enjoyable on the highest resolution (1280 x 800): I was surprised to see that an older game like this one supporting wide-screen resolutions. There are some screens that show the wrong aspect-ratio, most notably the map and command screens, however, this doesn’t really affect gameplay though. The problem is still there even after applying the latest patch (see the Ubisoft website for ‘latest’ patches) so I guess, it was never fixed.

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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

IView on Imperial City from the mountains‘ve been hesitant writing about the game Oblivion (link goes to Wikipedia). The game was passed on to me by Alfons, who complained that (while amazing) the game concept didn’t really appeal to him: too long and dreary. It appears that after the first few hours of playing, I was hooked: Oblivion is literally, the ultimate open-ending RPG game you can play. Beside the main quest, there are hundreds of other quests you can follow and play. Actually, you don’t need to finish or follow the main quest: if you feel like strolling around, you can do so. This is basically what I’ve been doing too: strolling around in the game, going from city to city; so once in a while solving puzzles, advancing levels and ignoring the main quest. There’s too much to discover and too much to see.

But lets take a step back and look at the requirements: obviously you need hardware to get this game to run in high resolutions. Even my latest hardware has troubles running Oblivion in full screen mode, so in my case I still have to run the game in 800×600 mode. When installing the game, I was also surprised to find that (at this stage) only one patch was ever released for the game: While generally stable, the game has booted out a couple of times: from hard resets [blue screens] to lockups. Most of these problematic cases seem to point to the video. On the good side, the game does use ‘autosave’ extensively so after every crash, you magically begin at the point where the game crashed.

Game play is as simple as playing other First Person Shooter games, however, so once in a while, fighting (still) feels like a turn-based game. Take for example the fact that switching and selecting weapons still requires you to go to the a secondary screen: time stops briefly too. Combat can also be quite obnoxious when battling multiple attackers: this is mainly due to how the combat vs. experience system has been implemented. Basically, monsters “level” with you: so in many cases, you may want to clear out areas before actually levelling up.

Additionally, gameplay can be dreary when walking on the roads: I choose that above riding the horse (you can pick up that horse at the priory). Battling enemies and animals on a horse is literally impossible.

But yes, Oblivion is for sure a highlight in the gaming industry: it’s huge, it allows plenty of freedom and the scenery can be totally amazing (as you can tell from the picture above). On my game rating system (aka ‘Frustation level’), this game is definitely ‘Smooth sailing’. As in enjoyable if you like these kind of games.

A list of lists

Not playing any major game recently (besides the occasional Fifa Soccer 05), I wondered which games define the current state of the gaming industry. Obviously, it’s ID’s Quake series that mark what can (and cannot) be done on the latest available PC hardware (or console, whichever you fancy). Content-wise, there’s nothing really new to 3D first-person shooters anymore: the average storyline of these games always ends up to be that you (the player) accidentally end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I ended up compiling a list of games, I thought marked the beginning of a new area of games programming. Besides being fun to play, the following 10 made the most impact from a programmer’s point of view. Make your own list and compare it with the ones after the fold.

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