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 (playgreenhouse.com), 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.


Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, and more…

August 2, 2008
Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 on "King" mode.

Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 on "King" mode.

Hard to believe it’s been six months since I’ve posted anything here, but alas, it has! I’ll be trying to update a lot more frequently from now on, with more focus on casual “what I’m playing” type entries than anything else. So please, check back regularly and let me know what you think. Also check out the new box on the right column with links to all my micro-blogging sites. Twitter is still my favorite, so gets the most attention. If you don’t have a Twitter account already, get signed up and start following me!

This summer has been one of the best ever for the games industry – with plenty of AAA titles like Battlefield: Bad Company, Soul Calibur 4, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and On Tour being released during the usually slow hot months. Plus, hugely anticipated downloadable titles like Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2, Pixeljunk Eden, Bionic Commando, Castle Crashers, and Siren: Bloodcurse keep things fresh with innovative pick-and-play game mechanics. And with PS3 games getting their trophies rolled out, the PSN is as alive as ever and quickly growing into a worthy competitor to Xbox Live.

Pixeljunk Eden multiplayer

Pixeljunk Eden multiplayer

And of course, not to be left out on all the action, Nintendo announced the Wii Motion Plus accessory at E3 this year, which will bring true 1:1 motion control to Wii games. By next year, we may finally see the end of waggle control!

But what I really want to talk about today is why $10 downloadable games like Geo Wars 2 and Pixeljunk Eden are able to capture my attention for hours and hours at a time, while many $60 games that take millions of dollars to create can barely keep me in front of the TV. What keeps people coming back to the first Geometry Wars, three years later? And what has me itching to go play the sequel, even right now? It’s the fun factor, and it’s how the developers use it in their game. I remember one of the Bungie studios employees talking about this in an interview for the Halo 2 collectors disc. He said that with Halo, they took 30 seconds of fun, and just recreated and repeated it throughout the entire game.

I think its the same concept with games like Eden and Geo Wars. The developers come up with an awesome idea, capitalize on it, and create 30 seconds of fun out it. Then if they can manage to repeat that over and over again, and keep it interesting, they’ve got a great game. Sure, 70 hour RPG’s are a whole different world and can’t really be applied to this sort of thing, but when was the last time you played through an RPG a second time? Yes, there are exceptions such as Mass Effect, Fable, and FFVII, but most of the time games that take many hours to beat are only worth a single play through. And it’s because instead of creating a single really-fun instance and repeating it, they spread out less-addicting moments through the game and put hours of side-quests and level-grinding in between.

It makes me wonder if these two very different types of games can ever be merged, or switch roles. Can a game like Geometry Wars ever warrant a $60 price tag? (and yes, I know about Galaxies, but it wasn’t the AAA blockbuster I have in mind) And is the XBLA or PSN capable of putting out a quality epic-scale game like Mass Effect or FFXIII without demanding an enormous chunk of your hard drive and/or your wallet?

With current-generation hardware finally starting to be taken advantage of (think Halo 3’s multiplayer or Little Big Planet’s user-generated content), the lines between genres are merging, but the line between casual games and “hardcore” games is getting bigger and bigger while the fanboys bicker. I suppose only time will tell how things are going to evolve, but at the moment I am happy to see games like Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 and Pixeljunk Eden be so successfull.

What I’ll be playing this weekend: Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2, Pixeljunk Eden, Devil May Cry 4. I’m also going to be getting some PC time in with Civilization 4 (is it bad that this will be my first time playing a Civilization game?) and going oldschool with the Descent series so I can bust out my flightstick. Reading up on Jumpgate: Evolution news has gotten me nastolgic for some old-school space flight sims!


Gaming with energy, when you want something healthy

January 28, 2008

 

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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.

Seaweed

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.


Gamefly launches music service… kind of

December 6, 2007

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Yesterday Gamefly launched its new music service creatively named “Gamefly Tunes”. Gamefly subscribers now have access to an overwhelming selection of five pre-selected, DRM-free tracks to legally download each month for no extra fees other than their normal monthly bill. Non-subscribers aren’t left out completely, being able to download one of the songs for free. The first “track of the month” is the song “Get It” by RJD2, and the Gamefly Tunes VIP members lounge currently offers the remaining four tracks by OK Go, Little Brother, Shadows Fall, and Thievery Corporation.

While it’s nice to see Gamefly offering some added value to their paying customer’s subscriptions, I can’t help but think they could be putting the effort into working on current problems with the whole game-renting service. It never fails to aggravate me when I have a game in my game queue for a week or so, only to be shipped the third game on the list once they receive the title I sent in last.

With so many fantastic titles released over the last couple of months, Gamefly is the perfect service to be able to play all of the games I didn’t have time or money to spend on when they came out. However, with my queue so jammed with “low availability” and “medium availability” notices, it’s getting harder and harder to stomach the $22.99 per month.

Here’s hoping the next email Gamefly sends out to its subscribers is to inform them of a new shipment center for faster turnaround times, or a significant boost in the number of copies of new releases they have available for rent.