Hangout March 29

Notices   By Shamus   Mar 27, 2015   16 comments

We’re going to be doing a hangout this Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Josh will be playing that whimsical little journey into friendship and laughter, Bloodborne. We will be watching him make friends with the inhabitants of that fairy-tale land.

The stream begins at 3pm Eastern US time. If you live in one of the civilized places in the world that doesn’t do the stupid Daylight Saving Time nonsense, then here is a timer to the stream so you don’t have to convert from Stupid Time to Actual Time:

The stream will be here when it goes live.

1624 comments. (That's 10 in Hexadecimal.)

Windows 8, A Broken Monitor, and Other Things That are Strange

Rants   By Shamus   Mar 27, 2015   57 comments

This isn’t really a rant, although I’ve filed it under “rants” just so it fits in the continuity with the related events. This probably doesn’t mean much to you, but people exploring the archives years from now will likely appreciate it. You’re welcome, people of the future. If you figure out how to reply, we’d love to know how things turned out with Half-Life 3. Thanks!

You may remember a few weeks ago I installed Windows 8. In fact, it looks like today is the three-week anniversary of using it. How would I rate the Windows 8 experience? Meh. I am indifferent. It’s not nearly as infuriating as I expected.

About once every three days I accidentally shove my mouse into the corner of the screen and open some useless bullshit I don’t want, but that problem hasn’t annoyed me hard enough to convince me to go looking for how to turn it off. I haven’t seen the Metro interface in days. This basically feels like Windows 7 with a way faster search. (I could never figure out why prior versions had such glacially slow file search. Windows 8 is basically in the same ballpark as Linux now, when it comes to looking for stuff on your hard drives.)

The big mystery was the failed monitor. You might remember that right in the middle of installing Windows 8, my monitor failed and a single vertical line of pixels turned on and never turned off again:

The red line of sad-making.

It was an AOC monitor. I’ve thought of AOC as an “off-brand” monitor. Maybe some kind of dark horse newcomer? I dunno. I’d never owned one before and the name wasn’t familiar. But as I write this post I discover the company has been around since 1967.

I got the monitor because it was a little cheaper than the alternatives and I figured at this point monitors are all basically interchangeableMy aging eyes aren’t good enough to appreciate super-precise colors or refresh rates above 60Hz., so why pay extra? Obviously I’m really regretting that now.

The monitor was just a little past the Amazon return date, but still under manufacturer warranty. So I RMA‘ed it, which I’ve never had to do before. I got a replacement a little over a week later, which I understand is lightning fast by the standards of this sort of thing. On the downside, my replacement monitor was even more broken than the one I sent them. It does this:

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Hitman Absolution EP8: Vicar is Quicker

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Mar 26, 2015   93 comments

Link (YouTube)

We could spend a lot of time covering all the ways in which Birdie doesn’t make sense. His short-term actions don’t make sense and his long-term goals aren’t clear. But the way he’s constantly scheming makes it feel like he’s got a plan. He uses the guns and the notes and drops hints and it all has the rhythm of a movie where one fast-talker in the style of Verbal Kint is playing everyone.

But it never goes anywhere. His plans don’t actually make sense or lead to any sort of narrative or thematic payoff. It’s just a bunch of rambling bullshit. But I actually think it could have worked. If the rest of the game had been even halfway competent we would have been theorizing on what Birdie was doing instead of just assuming he’s yet another brute-force plot device. A story doesn’t need to make 100% sense. But it does need to make some sense, and at the right time.

Speaking of dumb things that make no sense:

  1. A biker bar where the bouncers try to keep you from reaching the point where you can buy drinks?

  2. Even though nobody here knows who 47 is or has any reason to be suspicious of him, the bouncers all try to “arrest” you anyway.
  3. And then pull guns. On a patron. Dressed sort of like a priest. Who hasn’t done a damn thing wrong. And then attempt to gun down a civilian in their own establishment.
  4. But once you do reach the bar, you can beat the crap out of the bartender without repercussion.
  5. Still not a Hitman level. No assassination target.
  6. How does pulling the switch begin a brawl? There was no reason for it.
  7. More importantly: There’s no way for you the player to anticipate that pulling the switch would start a brawl. That’s not a puzzle solution or a reward for lateral thinking. That’s just pulling a lever like a good little videogame monkey.
  8. The changes to the disguise system would be so much more forgivable if the game wasn’t full of levels like this, which seem designed to highlight all the flaws.
  9. What’s the deal with the gun store owner? He bought the guns, then refuses to sell them (isn’t he running a business?) but then offers them to you if you can out-shoot his daughter? Why did they bother voicing and animating this walking contrivance? Just replace him with a World of Warcraft style quest maker.

It was actually a revelation to me that this is the same team that did the earlier Hitman games. I mean, it’s right there in the title screen. IO Interactive. It just never occurred to me that this might be the case. What could possibly have happened here? This is like a world where Metroid Prime and Other M were made by the same team. It’s like if
Anne McCaffrey followed up her Pern books with The Eye of Argon. Everything here feels wrong. Even ignoring the almost constant failures of logic and basic storytelling, this feels like a Hitman game by people who never really played or understood Hitman. The tone is wrong. The themes are wrong. The setting is wrong. The characters are wrong. Even the gameplay is wrong.

I guess there were six years between Blood Money and Absolution. That’s a long time in game years. But still.

They’re working on another Hitman game. I still can’t escape the notion that all these problems are the result of one complete hack who was given too much power, because it seems unlikely that an entire team could all be this remarkably inept. (Particularly since they apparently made serviceable Hitman games in the past.)

Can the team self-correct? I’m perversely looking forward to the next Hitman game to see how it turns out.

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Hitman Absolution EP7: Get Thee to a Punnery

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Mar 25, 2015   76 comments

Link (YouTube)

This game is a master class in why developers need to stop pretending to be moviemakers. The moment when 47 is approaching the elevator is a great example of a dev mindlessly aping the language of cinema without understanding why or how those techniques originally worked.

In a movie, this is a source of tension and dramatic irony. We (the audience) know the elevator is a threat. The character in the story doesn’t. The suspense comes from our anxiety over whether they will figure it out in time. The scene specifically requires that the audience and the protagonist have differing knowledge. Outside of a railroading cutscene, this is not possible in a videogame because the audience controls the protagonist.

Either you realize the danger and avoid it easily with no suspense, or you don’t realize the danger and get an abrupt game over. Either way, this situation can’t work here the way it works in a movie.

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Errant Signal – Life is Strange (Spoilers)

Movies   By Shamus   Mar 25, 2015   27 comments

Link (YouTube)

I understand the thinking behind episodic games. Like Chris says in the video: It’s like a mini-series or a season of a TV show. It makes a lot of sense to release games like this. It especially makes sense for low or mid-budget titles that don’t have a lot of marketing money. If you release the whole thing at once, the game will come and go in a few weeks. No matter how good it is, once it’s over, it’s over. But if you release it in episodes then the conversation keeps going. The game can stay fresh and relevant for months.

Even better, the team is able to make adjustments based on community feedback without needing to do slow and expensive Valve-style playtesting. If the writer puts in the funny throwaway character Maurice into episode one and the internet turns him into a meme, the devs can react to that. Maybe give Maurice some additional screentime in the later episodes. Or if players really hate him, then pull him from future episodes. Or tone him down.

I certainly can’t judge. Nearly everything I do here is or was part of a series. The Diecast. Spoiler Warning. Good Robot. DM of the Rings. Every programming series. Every let’s play. If I put up 10k words all in one day, it’s too much. Some people will hit the back button because they don’t have that kind of time and were just looking for something to read over their coffee break. Even among those that do read it, there will likely be some skimming. And there’s no way we could do the whole 10k novella justice in the comments. Lots of stuff will be glossed over. And then I don’t have any content for the next 9 days, because I’m writing the next 10k epic.

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Experienced Points: SimCity vs. Cities: Skylines – Who Wins?

Escapist   By Shamus   Mar 24, 2015   55 comments

The more I think about Cities: Skylines, the more delighted I am at how it turned out. But I didn’t want to spend an entire article just gushing about the game. So instead I did a compare & contrast between Cities: Skylines and SimCity 2013. Spoiler: This comparison is not remotely fair and I don’t even feel bad.

And yes, this leads into more EA bashing. (I’m sure you saw that coming.) I’m not as angry as I might sound in the article. I’m actually just sad. The people at Maxis gave us four wonderful Simcity games before 2013, and they absolutely could have given us a fifth.

There’s a usual defense for when an EA game turns out poorly. “This is what the developer wanted to do! You can’t blame EA!” While none of us can really know what was said or done internally, I do find it implausible that so many innovative and creative peoplePeople who have invented entire genres of games!, once they are free of the immediate money pressure of being independent, suddenly decide that their heart’s desire is to make their beloved franchises into forced-online DLC vending machines. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying it doesn’t sound like the most likely of explanations.

I am reminded of the TUN video on BioWare:

Link (YouTube)

Just so you don’t have to watch the whole thing: I’m talking about the part of the video where he points out how company values inevitably permeate downward through the layers of the company. If you’re looking to advance your career (and who isn’t?) then you’re going to do things that you believe will please your boss, and your boss will ask for things that will please their boss, and so on. This is why I’m always trying to push the blame uphill.

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Diecast #97: Hotline Miami 2, Nintendo NX, Game Music, Battlefield Hard-On

Diecast   By Shamus   Mar 23, 2015   124 comments

If you’re going to play Hotline Miami 2 and you want to avoid spoilers, then skip the segment between 44 minutes and 53 minutes.

Direct link to this episode.

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, Chris, Rutskarn, Mumbles.

Show notes: Continue reading »

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Cities: Skylines: Death to Chirpy!

Video Games   By Shamus   Mar 22, 2015   95 comments

Chirpy is the fictional Twitter in the Skylines world. Through it, you can see what your citizens are saying and worrying about. The cool thing is that it’s part joke, part world-building, part brandingThe devs refer to players as “Chirpies”., and partly an effort to show that unlike Sim City, this game is set more or less in the present.

On the other hand, Chirper is awful.

Really awful. This is a bad and terrible feature, which seems to serve no other purpose than to reduce your enjoyment of the game. The design is so bad that it’s hard to nail down where it all went wrong. It has numerous problems that all combine and feed into each other to form a massive feedback loop of suck.

Yes, it’s a small feature in a big game. But that only makes it more mystifying how there are so many problems with something so small…

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Hitman Absolution EP6: The Savior of Chinatown

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Mar 20, 2015   143 comments

Link (YouTube)

So we’ve now done a total of five assassinations in this game, four of which took place here in Chinatown. I like Chinatown and all, but that’s still pretty disappointing. Would have been nice to do some Hitman-ing on the train platform or any of the other locations we strolled through. The majority of our running time thus far has been spent just moving 47 from A to B.

Does Birdie send you to kill the three goons to delay you on purpose, or did Blake find Birdie on his own while his men were searching in the wrong place? The answer is: Who cares? It’s all crap.

I can’t be mad at this game anymore. So let’s be mad at reviewers. From the Wikipedia entry on Absolution:

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Hitman Absolution EP5: Team Rocket

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Mar 19, 2015   123 comments

Warning: At the start of this episode we’re still raving.

Link (YouTube)

Okay, so Birdie suggested that you take the girl and run. And 47 doesn’t want to do that. So instead we go and kill Dom Osmund. It really does seem like running is a foolproof plan, and 47 doesn’t seem to have a good reason for not following it. I’d forgive this for the sake of getting on with the story, but the next part of the game really makes it clear that once again the audience is right and 47 is dumb.

So on top of the cops storming the exploding hotel, the cops gunning down people on the roof, the cops searching the library, the cops doing the drug bust, and the cops locking down the subway, there are also cops patrolling the sewers? Maybe there’s a reason given for this, but right now we’re staggering around in the aftermath of a category-5 story collapse, and I’m not inclined to assume anything favorable on the part of the writers. So I’ll just assume this is more random stupidity.

The train platform is indeed a pretty cool sequence. It feels a lot like a “classic” Hitman experience. Too bad it’s not, and you don’t actually have a target.

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Hitman Absolution EP4: Ranting and Raving

Spoiler Warning   By Shamus   Mar 18, 2015   219 comments

This is it. This is why I agreed to cover this game. This very cutscene. Buckle up.

Link (YouTube)

Thanks to Chris and Josh for letting Rutskarn and I monopolize the show. I know how frustrating that is. Thanks for playing along. Next episode we return to our regular format. This was a special occasion.

We skipped a lot of my gripes because the whole thing was dragging on too long. And I thought of some new ones while re-watching the episode just now. This really is a disastrously incompetent cutscene.

Think about how stuff like this is produced. The writer writes it. Then the voice actors – with guidance from the director – perform it. Then the mo-cap actors do their part. Then some artists take all those assets and create the cutscene, which involves watching it many, many times over. This thing is pure torture to watch, and I can’t get through it once without shouting outraged questions at my screen. How did the team get all that done without correcting any of the glaring problems here?

I find it hard to believe that so many people let the scene slip by without noticing any of these issues. Instead, I imagine this cutscene is the result of a writer in a position of power where nobody was allowed to question his bullshit. And that makes me mad.

This is bad. It’s not bad in a fun way. It’s not bad in a campy way. It’s not bad in a playfully subversive way. This is just horrendously sophomoric trash that’s been undeservedly elevated to the status of AAA movie-game.

It’s been a while since I gave one of these out, but you clowns earned it:


Shame on you IO Interactive.

For fun: Try to spot all the errors Rutskarn and I missed.

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Experienced Points: No Future for Old Games

Escapist   By Shamus   Mar 17, 2015   150 comments

My column this week talks about why – barring some major changes in the way we deal with old titles – we most likely won’t be playing 2010 games in 2025, even though we’re still playing 2000 games in 2015.

As an extended topic: What games from the last five years will you still want to play in 2025?

For me: Arkahm City. Minecraft. Saints Row 3 or 4. Borderlands 2. All the Half-Lifes & Portalses. Maybe Skyrim? Maybe the Tomb Raider reboot?

Games I liked but that I’ll probably never play again: Deus Ex Human Revolution. (It just doesn’t have the emergent depth of the original. I’ve tried, but there just isn’t enough new or different to pull me through the game again.) Maybe someday I’ll go mad and feel like putting up with the Brotherhood of Stupid in Fallout 3, but I doubt it.

Although, it’s actually pretty hard to guess what games I’ll still value in 2025. Maybe I’ll go wild for Human Revolution again. Maybe new Minecraft-y games will come along that make our version seem shallow and redundant. Maybe I won’t care about Borderlands 2 because I’ll be playing Borderlands 5, and it’s basically the same damn thing. If you’d told me in 1998 that I’d still be playing Thief 16 years later I would have told you you were crazy and to leave me alone because I was busy playing it now. But I was playing Thief (original flavor) last year, and it was still pretty good.

Of course, in an ideal world all games would survive, be forwards compatible, go open source, or see re-release. But this is not an ideal world and we don’t know which games will make it and which ones won’t.

EDIT: Over at the Escapist, some people are suggesting using virtual machines to solve the compatibility problems. I’ve only dabbled with VM’s and don’t know everything they can do, but my first worry is getting that troublesome GPU driver layer to work right. (See the article for details on why that’s a nightmare.) Like, okay: You’ve got some kind of NVIDIA Windows XP GPU driver. You’re going to need some kind of feature in your VM to get that driver to talk to your 2025 graphics cards.

And now that I think of it, will you be able to properly install Windows XP in 2025? Sure, you’ve got your VM and an iso of the Win XP disk… but what about updates and service packs? What about all those Direct X runtimes that you need to run the games and that Microsoft doesn’t permit anyone but them to distribute. Just getting the final form of Windows XP running might involve several instances of “piracy”. Sure, it will exist. You’ll be able to do it. But it won’t be like running DOS Box. It will be a sketchy thing on the Torrents, not a turnkey thing on GoG.

Now I’m sad again.

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