To Steam, or not to Steam…

August 4, 2008
The Steam client in its full view and mini collapsed view.

The Steam client in its full view and mini collapsed view.

A little while ago my friend Scott sent me a message over Facebook detailing his opinion on Valve’s Steam client. It ended up being a pretty good conversation so I figured I’d post it here. Obviously, I am a huge fan of Valve, Steam, and everything related to either of them, so my opinion is a little biased. Take it as you will.

Scott: Steam is the dumbest thing ever.
I pay money for a game, but no, I have to download this other useless program and make an account. If I was a poor gamer without internet, I would be screwed. Thanks for caring, Valve.
If I’m not connected to the internet but there’s an update available for my game, I can’t play until I get it updated. Great.
I want to install HL2: Episode One. I have the disc in my freaking drive right now, but no. I have to DOWNLOAD the game, which will take over an hour longer than installing it from the disc. This is why software exists. This is why I bought it.
But no. Valve is all, “Hey, you like our game. Great! but before you play, you have to bend over backwards while we rape you! Thanks for your money!”
I’d complain to someone else but I don’t know of anyone else who would understand… If I bought the console version of the Orange Box, would I still have to go through this crap? Did you have these problems?

Me: I love Steam. I think it’s one of the greatest things to happen to PC gaming in 10 years. If not the single greatest.

1) It has more or less eliminated Piracy for Valve’s games. And the more games that are released on Steam are seeing the same results.

2) There’s no DRM bullshit. Example – Mass Effect PC can only be installed 3 times. Period. It checks online every time you install it with a certain serial code, and then you’re done. Even if you have four computers, you are S.O.L.. Three times, and that’s it. If you want to protect your $50 investment in the game, then you just have to let the 6gig installation sit on your hard drive for ever and ever and ever and ever. Bioshock was the same way, but they changed some things up and made a few people happy. I still hate DRM. And right now, it’s pretty much a)Steam or b)DRM. You could say that Steam is the lesser of the two evils, but I personally love steam, so I wouldn’t say it’s evil. You can install and reinstall games any time you want, with no penalty. Right now I have a bunch of games I own uninstalled to save space. Also, When Mass Effect PC first came out, you had to re-validate your install online every 10 days, without fail.

3) Steam is a WONDERFUL way for indie developers to get their games out. Steam takes only an extremely small percentage from every sale, so indie devs can actually make some money from their game, whereas services like XBLA pretty much rapes anyone who tries to make a game. This leaves room in the arena for only bigshot publishers who can afford to advertise the hell out of their cheap games so that they can still make a buck, even if the game sucks.

4) You can log into Steam anywhere. If you came over to my apartment, you could log into Steam. Then you could download Team Fortress 2 (which I don’t have), and you could play the game as yourself. You would have all the achievements unlocked that you earned on your computer at home. You could log into HL2 and pick up where you left off at home. All your save-games transfer over.

5) Steam is a social community, much like Xbox Live. As a matter of fact, Steam has a much larger feature-set than the PSN (Playstation Network) of the PS3. It’s still a few steps behind Xbox Live (anytime cross-game voice chat being a key thing not available), but it definitely rivals Xbox Live any day of the week. You’ve got groups, clans, forums, achievements, and in-game chats. There’s even the Steam Menu (shift+tab) that you can access any time! The PS3 is JUST NOW getting in-game XMB on July 2nd. That’s something that has been available in Xbox Live for years.

Lastly – Steam is free. You don’t have to pay anything to use the service. I love it! I have even added my non-Steam games into the My Games tab inside Steam, just so I can launch them from there.

Digital Distribution is the way of the future, without a doubt. PC gaming is dieing, and the only way to revive it is to be a step ahead of console gaming. Right now Digital Distribution is that step. You can buy Xbox Games and download them from XBL. You can purchase PS1 games from the PSN. You can buy classic games from the Wii Shop channel. You can buy mini-games from the WiiWare channel. You can buy Arcade games from XBLA. You can get smaller games like fLOW and Pain and Super Stardust HD from the PSN.
iTunes is making FORTUNES off of their new movie rental service. Netflix is getting so much business out of their over-the-internet movie streaming on the website that they are releasing set-top boxes for TV’s to stream Netflix movies off of the internet.

Digital Distribution is the future. When Steam was first released, it was clunky. It was ugly. It had MAJOR bugs.
You think it’s annoying to install HL2:E1 now? I got HL2 when it was first released. I had dial up. And there were already a bunch of updates to HL2. Booooo… Steam was aweful. Fast-forward almost four years and now Steam is the grand-daddy of digital distribution.
Penny Arcade released PAA:E1:OtRsPoD to their own new digital distribution website – Greenhouse (, but soon realized that the only way they were really going to sell any copies was to sell it on Steam.

And also, hehe…. My internet connection tops out at around 1.5mb/s downloads, and it’s always that fast when I’m on Steam, so installing the updates or games is never much of a problem for me. I do love my Powerboost!

Scott: Okay okay, I understand points 1, 2, & 3, and they are good things, yes. Innovative. Point 4 sounds cool, but I have yet to try out. It sounds weird. When I left your house and logged off Steam, would my games just be wasting space on your hard drive?
I realize I’m being a little harsh. Steam has some cool stuff. There’s a promo going on where I can download Day of Defeat: Source for free during the next 14 hours. And I think I will.
My beef with it is that it’s required to play the games. Honestly, it is flat-out ridiculous that a separate client is needed to play. It’s not really even a client, just a community thing… and yeah, internet isn’t a problem for YOU, but when I wanna play up in my room, like a tried 30 minutes ago, the weak wireless i pick up is enough to log in and find out that TADA! I need to update the games. But it’s not strong enough to download anything larger than a webpage. So Steam either says, “the servers are too busy. Try later” or “This program is not ready for offline play.” Or something.
I’ll update later, I promise! Just let me play!
Nope. So I’m down here etherneting just to play a game and I get distracted by Facebook.

Sparknotes: Steam is cool, but it shouldn’t be required. It interferes with stuff.

Me: That’s all, folks! I think that in today’s age of internet-enabled games, a client like Steam is absolutely neccessary. We’ve got Xbox Live, PSN, the Wii’s feeble online (friend codes, game codes), so why are PC games held up to a different standard? But at the same time, I am a believer in free information flow and open source. So I can definately see where Scott is coming from. It would be nice if Steam was only optional.

What I’m currently playing: Zork! (yes, the first one, on DOS), Fallout (also the first one), and Civilization 4. Not to mention I’m still playing TONS of Geometry Wars 2 – working on my scores and trying to not suck so much. I’m also going through Serious Sam 2 (I forgot how funny this game is!) and going to try and make it to the Prince of Persia Sands of Time trilogy soon. I feel like the Prince deserves some attention – it’s been a while, and the new cell shaded game is looking pretty good.

Review: Rez HD

January 30, 2008


Having played the Dreamcast and PS2 version of Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Rez, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Xbox Live Arcade version of the game, Rez HD, since it was announced back in September ‘07. The game was finally released today, and I couldn’t be happier.

While the original Dreamcast version will cost you about $50 on eBay, and the PS2 version running at least $30, the Live Arcade version is only 800 Microsoft Points, or $10 – an absolute steal!


Hopefully you’ve figured out that the “HD” in Rez HD means that the game has undergone a visual face lift. It now runs in full 720p with 5.1 surround sound. The game looks absolutely fantastic, and plays equally as well. The controls are very simple – use the left analog stick to target your enemies, and hold down the A button to lock on to up to eight at once, Panzer Dragoon style. You can not technically move your character, but you will notice yourself moving around slightly depending on where you’re aiming the target reticle.

All of the Mizuguchi goodness from the previous iterations from the game are present, Tetsuya himself was quoted saying that the game was “100% the same game” as the original. But to top things off and please even the most hardcore, there is an option to play the original game exactly as it appeared on the Dreamcast. This does not have to be unlocked, and is available right from the main menu. However, with the gameplay exactly intact, the HD version is the way to go when it comes to reliving this sensory euphoria all over again. Unique to the Xbox version is the capability to have three trance vibrators running at the same time.

A “trance vibrator” is what they called the extra peripheral that came with the special edition of the PS2 version of Rez, released only in Japan. This was a USB-device that was essentially a souped-up rumble pack, capable of rumbling much stronger than the Duelshock. The trance vibrator thumps along with the beat of the music to appeal to your sense of touch, while the game overwhelms your sense of sight and sound with its beautiful vector-visuals and trance music. Mizuguchi has stated that he did not originally intend for the trance vibrator to ever be used for any sexual reasons, but ever since Game Girl Advance’s story about how she used the device, the internet can’t seem to think of anything else whenever Rez gets mentioned.

When you have extra 360 controllers turned on, you can enter the options menu and enable them as trance vibrators. While playing, I liked to either set an extra controller on my stomach/lap while playing, or place it in between my feet on the floor. The vibrations aren’t a distraction, like some people may think, but instead only immerse you even deeper into the gameplay.

Lots of unlockables, Live leaderboards, and the unique trance vibrator support make this a must-have title on the Xbox 360, especially if you’re one of the sad souls who has never played it before. It’s less than a third of the price you’ll find it anywhere else, and it’s better. Sit down with a friend, let them hold a trance-vibrator, and take turns experiencing true synesthesia. Even if you play this game by yourself though (it is only single player, after all), you won’t be dissapointed. You’ll see why lots of gamers consider Mizuguchi’s masterpiece an almost religious experience – especially after you beat the final area of the game.

Geometry Wars may be old, but you know you still play it

January 29, 2008


After playing Geometry Wars for about an hour tonight, I found my thoughts drifting away from the game to escape the monotony of the first few minutes of play.

Why are these green squares after me? What did I do to them? Does my character have a back story? Actually, what the hell even is my character? Am I in space? Am I in a Geometry teacher’s nightmare?


If Geometry Wars has you thinking about the souls of the shapes you’re blasting to hell heaven, then you’re probably looking for your next fix of Bizarre’s masterpiece everywhere you go. Have Windows Vista? Buy Geometry Wars from MSN games and play on your PC, or even take your Vista-powered laptop with you on the go.

Looking for a different Geometry Wars experience? Try Grid Wars 2, easily the most popular and arguably the best Geometry Wars clone. It’s fast, it’s pretty, and it’s free. Not close enough to the original for you? Then try Grid Assault, an almost exact recreation of GW. However, you can only play for six minutes because the creator stopped development to relieve legal pressure from Bizarre.

If you want a whole different experience, but something with familiar controls and a simple premise, check out Mono, a strikingly unoriginal game by the developers own admittance. Mono is a blend of Ikaruga’s color-swapping gameplay with GW’s destroy-everything-that-moves gameplay that has you trying to change the color of the entire game arena from white to black, or from black to white.

All three of these games are completely free, and can be played with a duel-analog controller, a la Geometry Wars. Heck, you can even play with a USB 360 controller if you want to. So try them out – give them a download and see if you like any of them better than their inspiration! You may be pleasantly surprised.

Gaming with energy, when you want something healthy

January 28, 2008



It’s after midnight, but you just started the raid. You’re tired, but you know if you drink one more Red Bull, you’re going to crash and burn in an hour or so, much to the dismay of your fellow guild members. Sound familiar? Maybe you’re at a LAN party, dawn is breaking and you’re hungry again, but can’t stomach the idea of one more piece of pizza. As ridiculous as it may sound, there are better ways for gamers to get energy than eating greasy foods that play hell with controllers and keyboards, and drinking energy drinks that give us terrible caffeine headaches!

Here’s three great foods that aren’t nearly as bad for you as pizza and coke, but will work a hell of a lot better at giving you the energy you need, long after the sun’s gone down.

Fruit and Nuts

Oranges, apples, cherries, berries, kiwis and raisins – fruit has a lot of vitamin B and C. Nuts and even some fruits have a lot of fiber, and when your body is getting vitamins and fiber, your blood sugar levels stay stable and you’re able to produce energy more efficiently. Never had dried limes before? They’re delicious.

Beef Jerky

Fact: beef and chicken contain a lot of protein. This protein contains something called tyrosine, which is an amino acid that helps your brain produce all sorts of things to enhance mental function. Jerky is easy to pick up at 24-hour gas stations or supermarkets, unlike pizza. Also, mental function is commonly considered a good thing, and will keep you on top of your game. If you’re feeling particularly healthy, pick up some USDA organic jerky.


Ok, so it’s not the easiest snack to find, and it’s not exactly traditional here in America, but you can’t ignore the health benefits, let alone the energy boost you’ll get after snacking on some. Seaweed has a broad range of vitamins and minerals, and containts two of the B-vitamins your body uses to make energy. My favorite are these seaweed-wrapped rice crackers – crispy and delicious! And if you’re not keen on buying snacks off of the internet, try a local Asian market, they’re sure to have several varieties.

Fall Dashboard Update impressions

December 4, 2007

2007 Fall Dashboard Update

Today Microsoft’s anticipated 2007 Fall Dashboard Update was sent out to appreciative gamers all over the world. Here’s a quick rundown of the key features:

Xbox Originals

Easily the most publicized feature and announced back on November 13th, now Xbox Live users can buy and download full Xbox games to store on their hard drive for the not-so-low price of $15 (1200 MS Points). The games are direct ports and do not have any enhancements whatsoever, but some users will appreciate the convenience of not having to switch discs, and it also provides an easy way for budding and relatively new gamers to experience some classics from the previous generation of gaming. Stateside launch titles are Halo, Fuzion Frenzy, Psychonauts, Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, Fable, and Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge.

Enhanced Parental Controls

Parents are now able to control exactly how much time household members are logging on the 360. Controllable in 15-minute increments, the amount of time allotted can be on a daily or weekly basis.

Social Networking

Xbox Live members are now able to expand their personal profile by entering bio information, which can be visible to only registered friends or all of Xbox Live. Also, new “Friends of Friends” features lets you look at the friends (you guessed it) of your friends. This can be disabled under system settings or on

While these are all great new addictions to the system’s already robust feature-set, it’s two of the lesser-known features that are going to be the ones people will be appreciating the most as the hype dies down. First up, there’s the long-awaited option to change the Windows Live ID that your account is associated with. There aren’t really any consequences to changing your ID – your Microsoft Points follow you to your new ID! This is an extremely welcome update for anyone who uses the messenger functionality, or for anyone who had to drag out their five-year-old email address while setting up Xbox Live for the first time, and has since created a new Live ID for chatting. It should be noted, though, that this option should have been supported from the start.

Lastly, the 360 now has expanded video codec support including Divx and Xvid. While this comes off as gibberish for some, it’s probably the best news torrent junkies have heard in months. AVI files can now be played directly from an external memory supply, or streamed from a compatible networked PC.

A few other notable additions to the dashboard include the “Inside Xbox” RSS feed which although is not as annoying as the PS3’s ticker, is so far equally useless. Xbox Live Arcade now has Arcade “Hits” not unlike retail games’ Platinum Hits – five of Live Arcade’s best sellers are reduced in price by around $5.

While the Xbox Originals will appeal to a select few, most will probably either already own the games or recognize that you can find them in a local bargain bin or online for significantly cheaper than buying them over Live. Bring in the fact that almost all of the titles have known issues and can cause your entire console to crash and have to be restarted, I think you’re better off buying these classics in disc format for the time being. Besides, why pay $15 for Crimson Skies when less than 10 buys you the disk, case, and all original artwork?

All things considered, Microsoft didn’t leave much out. It’s a jam-packed update that doesn’t leave much to be desired; virtual-console-like game downloads, actually useful video playback capabilities, and extended capabilities of the already user-friendly Live networking. It makes you wonder – what will be in demand for next year’s Fall Update?