Games

Free to play will neither destroy nor save the world

f2p free to play Games

So there’s been a ton of talk lately about the state of the mobile games industry, and specifically the place we’ve reached now in the race to the bottom on pricing, which has meant people concluding that if you make a mobile game today, it has to be Free To Play to be successful, and that this fact is either ridiculously awesome because it’s leading to vast riches from new audiences, or that it’s an insidious evil which is destroying the game industry forever.

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My home-brew 'Steam Box' for the living room

Games hardware PC steam

I’ve already posted about how I’d decided to choose the PC as my ‘next-generation’ gaming platform, and last weekend I built the first iteration of that machine. I say the first iteration, because a PC is inherently an evolving platform, and I expect to refine it and upgrade it in future, but this is where I’m starting from. I thought I’d discuss the choices I made, and the experiences I’ve had so far. Be aware, this is a long one with quite a lot of technical detail, so buckle up 😀

My Criteria

The problem with buying a PC is that you can quite easily go absolutely nuts and blow a fortune on it, by creeping up specification scale gradually without even realising - it’s only a little extra to move one notch up on a component, but then the other components are letting the side down, and before you know it you’ve blown a couple of grand. So, I deliberately set myself very clear goals in building this machine and didn’t allow myself to stray from that:

  1. It had to fit in my cabinet under the TV and not look out of place, and had to work in a living room environment generally
  2. Despite 1, it had to be full ATX with room for 2 full-length GPUs (even though I only plan to buy one initially), and have good ventilation
  3. It had to be approximately the same performance as Xbox One / PS4, give or take, because that would be the benchmark for most game developers going forward. I’ll compare to the PS4 since that’s the more powerful of the two.
  4. I set a budget limit of £700-£800, or about 2x a next-gen console. Mostly this was because I felt I needed to set a reasonable limit to avoid the ever-persistent ‘just one more upgrade’ temptation on PC, but also because it felt like a reasonable test of whether you could build a decent lounge setup for a reasonable sum. It’s never going to be as cheap as a console, but I’m willing to pay extra for a more open & flexible gaming machine.

With that in mind, I went shopping 😀

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Why I'm returning to the PC for the 'next generation'

Games PC PS4 steam Xbone

I have a long history with PC gaming; I was there back when you had to tweak your autoexec.bat and config.sys to squeeze that last 200K of memory to run specific games, and when we used to debate which DOS extender was the best. I owned consoles too, but my PC was where my serious gaming happened for many, many years. That period ended when I badly injured my back in 2008 and had to limit the hours I spent sat in front of a keyboard / mouse - I could barely put the hours in for work (and open source), never mind spending my gaming time there too.

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Roland TD-9, Rock Band 3 and Pro MIDI Adapter setup

Drums Games MIDI Music rock band

A little while ago I blogged about setting up a MIDI interface for a Roland TD-9 (KX in my case - I love my mesh heads :)) so it could be used to drive Rock Band. I’ve had that setup for almost 18 months now and it’s served me well, but the main problem with it is that the older Rock Bands only recognised 5 different triggers, with many doubled-up - so Yellow was both closed high-hat and high tom, green was floor tom and crash, and blue was over-used as mid tom, ride cymbal and open high-hat.

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Arkham Horror: it's all good fun until someone gets devoured

It was my birthday this week, and from my wife I received Arkham Horror, a co-operative board game based on the classic role-playing game Call of Cthulhu - which in itself draws much of its content and vibe from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Set in 1920’s New England, in contrast to traditional western ‘horror stories’ (vampires, werewolves etc - all a bit pedestrian), Lovecraft’s world is filled with bizarre creatures and unknowable ‘Ancient Ones’ - slumbering horrors in the outer dimensions who threaten to wake and destroy the world, and the ‘Investigators’ the players control - which include doctors, archaeologists, flappers and gangsters - are trying to avert this outcome.

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Monsieur, you are really spoiling us

Yesterday saw a triple-whammy of sugary Apple gaming goodness: Steam for Mac was released, meaning all the games you own on Steam that are ported to the Mac can also be played there, free. Torchlight was a day-1 release on the service, meaning Ogre (and therefore code written by me) was among the very first on the service. Portal became free (for Mac and PC) Wow. A great day for Mac gaming.

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KOTOR, you have finally been matched

I recently finished Mass Effect 2 - I was reserving my judgement until the end because Mass Effect 1, while great, failed in a few areas to deliver a KOTOR-beating experience that reviewers had attributed to it. ME2 was looking very promising, but I couldn’t realistically call it until I was done. Now, I can safely say that KOTOR has finally been matched, and in some ways surpassed. The main thing that I griped about in my Mass Effect review was that the characters were far too vanilla and predictable.

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50% of what you pay for a game is wasted

I’ve been an advocate of digital distribution for a while now; I think packaged physical distribution of a product which is essentially entirely complete as a stream of data is hugely wasteful financially and environmentally. Ever since publishers stopped bothering to give you anything worthwhile in that game case - manuals these days are rubbish, carbon-copy affairs that rightly no-one bothers to read because the in-game tutorials are more interesting, and Ultima-style cloth maps and runes are consigned to history - physical game cases are doing precisely nothing but take up space in my house and making me get up to fiddle with disks when I want to play a particular game.

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Chime

I’d read about One Big Game in EDGE this month, and it was a great idea - kind of a developer-led version of Child’s Play with a more significant UK presence, and where funds are donated from game sales themselves rather than only from related activities. So, I was keen to see what their first game Chime was like, produced by Brighton-based Zoë Mode. At first glance it appears to be a hybrid of Tetris and Lumines, and undoubtedly shares a lot of visual and gameplay styles from those games, but actually it brings plenty to the table on its own too.

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Game reviewers are snobs

Beatles Games lego Music

I’ve established a tradition on this blog of reviewing games that came out several months ago, thus cementing the absolute irrelevance of my commentary to the majority of the intertubes for whom content goes out of date in about a day. It’s kind of the opposite of a magazine that’s delivered by ninjas every 3 hours to ensure cutting-edge coverage. Thing is, unless a game is truly awful I like to try to finish it (or at least finish with it, which is not always the same thing) before deciding my opinion of it, and these things take time.

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