Subject: General Tech | November 12, 2014 - 03:23 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, final fantasy xiii-2, final fantasy xiii, final fantasy
It seems like Square Enix has paid attention to the criticism about Final Fantasy XIII.
While it would have been nice for them to go back and fix the problems for the original game (Update Nov 12 @ 5:35pm EST: They are, in early December - Thanks TimeKeeper in the comments), it looks like the sequel, XIII-2, will behave more like a PC title. First and foremost, it will not be locked to 720p and it is said to offer other graphics options. The sequel is scheduled to launch on December 11th for $20, or $18 USD on pre-order (a few dollars above the launch price for Final Fantasy 13).
Of course, it is somewhat disappointing that screen resolution, a 60FPS cap, and graphics options are considered features, but the platform is unfamiliar to certain parts of the company. Acknowledging their error and building a better, but probably still below expectations, product is a good direction. Hopefully they will continue to progress, and eventually make PC games with the best of them. Either that, or they have a talk with their Eidos arm about borrowing Nixxes, a company that specializes in enhancing games on the PC.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is coming to Steam in a month for $20 USD. The third installment, Lightning Returns, will arrive sometime in 2015.
Subject: General Tech | November 11, 2014 - 03:10 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, gaming, eff, DRM, consolitis
This is something that I have been saying for quite some time now: games are struggling as an art form. Now I don't mean that games are not art; games, like all content that expresses feelings, thoughts, and ideas, are art. No, I'm talking about their ability to be preserved for future society and scholarly review. The business models for entertainment are based in either services or consumables. In the entertainment industries, few (but some) producers are concerned about the long tail – the extreme back-catalog of titles. Success is often determined by two weeks of sales, and the focus is on maximizing those revenues before refreshing with newer, similar content that scratches the same itch.
DRM is often justified as maximizing the initial rush by degrading your launch competitors: free versions of yourself. Now I'm not going to go into the endless reasons about where this fails to help (or actively harms) sales and your customers; that is the topic of other rants. For this news post, I will only discuss the problems that DRM (and other proprietary technologies) have on the future.
When you tie content to a platform, be it an operating system, API, or DRM service, you are trusting it for sustainability. This is necessary and perfectly reasonable. The problems arise with the permissions given to society from that platform owner, and how easily society can circumvent restrictions, as necessary. For instance, content written for a specific processor can be fed through an emulator, and the instruction sets can be emulated (or entirely knocked off) when allowed by patent law, if patents even interfere.
Copyright is different, though. Thanks to the DMCA, it is illegal, a federal crime at that, to circumvent copyright protection even for the betterment of society. You know, society, the actual owner of all original works, but who grants limited exclusivity to the creators for “the progress of Science and useful Arts”. Beyond the obvious and direct DRM implementations, this can also include encryption that is imposed by console manufacturers, for instance.
The DMCA is designed to have holes poked into it, however, by the Librarian of Congress. Yes, that is a job title. I did not misspell “Library of Congress”. The position was held by James H. Billington for over 25 years. Every three years, he considers petitions to limit the DMCA and adds exceptions in places that he sees fit. In 2012, he decided the jailbreaking a phone should not be illegal under the DMCA, although tablets were not covered under that exemption. This is around the time that proposals will be submitted for his next batch in late 2015.
This time, the EFF is proposing that circumventing DRM in abandoned video games should be deemed legal, for society to preserve these works of art when the copyright holders will not bother. Simply put, if society intended to grant a limited exclusive license to a content creator who has no intention of making their work available to society, then society demands the legal ability to pry off the lock to preserve the content.
Of course, even if it is deemed legal, stronger DRM implementations could make it technologically unfeasible to preserve certain works. It is still a long way's away before we encounter a lock that society cannot crack, but it is theoretically possible. This proposal does not address that root problem, but at least it could prevent society's greatest advocates from being slapped with a pointless felony for trying to do the right thing.
Subject: General Tech | October 28, 2014 - 06:10 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, disney, lucasfilm
Lucasfilm games (think LucasArts) and Disney Interactive have recently been re-introducing their back catalog to the PC. Earlier this month, Disney unleashed its wrath upon Steam, including Epic Mickey 2, which was not available on the PC outside of a limited, Eastern Europe release. Today, they licensed (different) titles to GOG.com: three Star Wars titles and three point-and-click adventures.
As for the Star Wars titles? Two of them are X-Wing Special Edition and TIE Fighter Special Edition. Both titles include their 1994 and 1998 releases, as well as any applicable expansions. They, along with Sam & Max Hit the Road, have never been sold through digital distribution platforms, prior to today.
Honestly, I never had a chance to play X-Wing and TIE Fighter. I liked space combat games, but I pretty much just played Privateer 1 and 2 as well as some console games, like Star Fox and Rogue Squadron. I was a kid. I played a handful of games to death. I keep hearing that X-Wing and TIE Fighter were, supposedly, the best of the genre. I have no experience with them, though.
These titles are currently the top six best sellers on the service, pulling ahead of The Witcher 3 pre-order as I wrote this post. The press release claims that more titles are on the way "in the coming months".
Subject: General Tech | October 26, 2014 - 08:28 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, free to play
Year to date, League of Legends, Crossfire, and Dungeon Fighter Online are each closing in on one billion dollars in revenue. Yes, three free-to-play MMO titles are closing in on $1 Billion USD in a single year. All three exceed World of Warcraft, which is still the most lucrative subscription MMO. That might change once expansion pack revenue from the upcoming Warlords of Draenor is accounted for, however. The total MMO industry, free-to-play or subscription, is estimated at almost $8 Billion USD, from January through September.
This is all according to Gamesbeat and their dissection of a SuperData Research (how is that a real name?!) report on the MMO industry. Of course, there is always the possibility that these products will fall short of that milestone by the time January rolls around, but they are pretty close for nine months in and three to go.
The interesting part is why. The article discusses how easily these games can transition between markets due to how low the barrier to entry is. This is especially true in markets that embrace internet cafes, where the game is already installed. The barrier to entry is creating an account, the customer does not even need to think about payment until they have generated interest in the free content.
The second reason, which is not mentioned in the article, is the curve of revenue by customer type. A flat-fee is some value multiplied by the number of legitimate users you have. You will get at most "X" from a customer, maybe a little less for sales, and zero for pirated copies or customers that simply ignore your content. Subscription games split this off to a recurring income; it is the number of legitimate users for that month, summed over every month. While this will get more money from the most dedicated players, because they are playing longer, this still has a ceiling. Free-to-play and other microtransaction-based models have no ceiling except for all the content you have ever made. This is an unlimited ceiling for consumable content.
This can be good for the consumer or it can be bad, of course. Where a game falls on this spectrum really depends on how it is designed. Also, money is not everything. A game can even be released for free if the developer has a reason to not ignore all claims, whether it was a hobby, tech demo, are art piece. It is up to the player (or their gift giver) to decide what is worth their time or money, and that is okay.
Subject: General Tech | October 20, 2014 - 10:14 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: raptr, pc gaming
Raptr, a PC gaming utility, tracks the time spent within each game and aggregates that data across its user base. Its actual purpose is for game recording, adjusting quality settings for your machine's performance, community engagement, and so forth. Still, it is allowed to collect that data, so it does, and it shows fairly interesting trends of game popularity. Note that these figures represent percentage of total game play, by hour.
Before we get into the numbers, a quick reference about statistics. It may be counter-intuitive, but you can get a pretty accurate result from a relatively small amount of data. Ars Technica's "Steam Gauge" polled 100,000 random Steam accounts, including hidden ones by poking at generated IDs, and came up with fairly accurate sales figures, confirmed by a few indie developers.
Where you can run into difficulties is if your random sample has some non-randomness, outside of your intended bounds. For instance, if you want to see trends involving PC gamers then it is logical to limit your survey to PC gamers, but you can run into systematic error if the study is voluntary, self-reporting, or has some other bias. Sometimes you cannot control these biases for your experiment, so multiple, different experiments may be necessary to dial in on a causation.
In this case, it seems like Raptr's study is an honest representation of the typical Raptr user. Tens of millions of samples is enough to crush random error. The only question that I can think of is whether Raptr users represent a sample space that you care about. If you want to know about the average gamer, including console, casual, and mobile, then maybe not. The average PC gamer? Definitely closer, but it should be compared to other studies in case there is disproportionate representation of some group. Interesting none-the-less? Of course.
So, that aside, the top three PC games of this poll stayed exactly where they are:
- League of Legends
- World of Warcraft
- DOTA 2
World of Warcraft and DOTA 2 held steady, but League of Legends increased its lead by over 14% (relative to second place). 22.54% of all play time that is recorded by Raptr is done in League of Legends. Diablo III jumped up to 5.23% of total due to the launch of a new "season", which encourages players to create new characters and compete for placement and loot. Basically, it attempts to recreate the feeling at launch where enthusiasts attempt to be the first to reach the level cap, and so forth.
The recently launched The Sims 4 found its way to #16. It launched on September 2nd, so it had basically a full month to collect usage time (including the launch surge). Raptr expects that it will slip off the list for October, and that makes sense for me.
Subject: General Tech | September 29, 2014 - 02:59 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: assassin's creed, pc gaming, ubisoft
Ubisoft's upcoming Assassin's Creed: Rogue is currently only announced for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but it might see a PC release, too. This is particularly weird because Rogue is scheduled to launch, for the two aforementioned consoles, on the same day as Assassin's Creed: Unity is scheduled for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Unless they are planning a delayed PC launch, PC gamers might receive two games, in the same franchise, on the same day.
I would have to expect that its PC release would need to be staggered though, right? I mean, how would they market two similar games at the same time? In particular, how would they market two fairly long, similar games at the same time? I mean, thanks Ubisoft, but it just seems like an unnecessary risk of market cannibalization.
About that evidence, though. PC Gamer apparently found reference to the title in the Brazillian software ratings board and the title was mentioned on one of Ubisoft's Uplay page for the PC. Those are pretty good pieces of evidence, although we need to take their word on it, which is implicitly trusting screenshots from NeoGAF. Also, PC Gamer really needs to link to the exact thread at NeoGAF because it was buried under the first several pages by the time I got there.
Assassin's Creed: Unity launches on November 11th, 2014 (not the 14th). Rogue -- maybe?
Subject: General Tech | September 28, 2014 - 08:30 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mount & blade, taleworlds, mount & blade ii, bannerlord, pc gaming
The Mount & Blade franchise is enjoyed among a relatively small, dedicated group of fans. One leading reason for this uptake is the large base of third-party content from its modding community. One mod, Mount & Musket, led to the creation of a game studio, Flying Squirrel Entertainment, when the mod was picked up into an official expansion, Mount & Blade: Warband: Napoleonic Wars. Sometimes taxonomy can be proper but a little bit excessive.
Developer, TaleWorlds, builds games atop their own, proprietary engine and designs it with modders in mind. They are currently in development of Mount & Blade II: Bannerlords, a prequel to Mount & Blade: Warband. In the video, below, they explain that every feature in the video is available for third-parties. This includes painting layers of materials and foliage, generating terrain by height-maps, and tessellation.
Hopefully they also add "connect to IP"...
While the game was first announced two years ago, it is still in a "when it's done" phase. The publisher is still unknown. Paradox Interactive was attached to the first three games, and Napoleonic Wars, but are not involved with Bannerlord, according to a Reddit AMA from last year. As popular as it is, at least for what it is, TaleWorlds could even be self-publishing to digital distribution platforms like Steam, Desura, GoG, and others, but that is just speculation.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | September 27, 2014 - 02:59 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: rage, pc gaming, consolitis
Shinji Mikami has been developing a survival horror game, which makes sense given a good portion of his portfolio. He created Resident Evil and much of the following franchise. The Evil Within is about to release, having recently gone gold. At around this time, publishers begin to release system requirements and Bethesda does not disappoint in that regard.
Are the requirements... RAGE-inducing?
A case could be made for disappointing requirements, themselves, though.
Basically, Bethesda did not release minimum requirements. Instead, they said "This is what we recommend. It will run on less. Hope it does!" This would not be so problematic if one of their requirements wasn't a "GeForce GTX 670 with 4GBs of VRAM".
They also recommend a quad-core Core i7, 4GB of system memory, 50GB of hard drive space, and a 64-bit OS (Windows 7 or Windows 8.x).
Before I go on, I would like to mention that The Evil Within is built on the RAGE engine. Our site has dealt extensively with that technology when it first came out in 2011. While I did not have many showstopping performance problems with that game, personally, it did have a history with texture streaming. Keep that in mind as you continue to read.
A typical GTX 670 does not even have 4GBs of VRAM. In fact, the GTX 780 Ti does not even have 4GB of VRAM. Thankfully, both of the newly released Maxwell GPUs, the GTX 970 and the GTX 980, have at least 4GB of RAM. Basically, Bethesda is saying, "I really hope you bought the custom model from your AIB vendor". They literally say:
Note: We do not have a list of minimum requirements for the game. If you’re trying to play with a rig with settings below these requirements (you should plan to have 4 GBs of VRAM regardless), we cannot guarantee optimal performance.
Each time I read, "You should plan to have 4 GBs of VRAM regardless", it is more difficult for me to make an opinion about it. That is a lot of memory. Personally, I would wait for reviews and benchmarks, specifically for the PC, before purchasing the title. These recommended settings could be fairly loose, to suit the vision of the game developers, or the game could be a revival of RAGE, this time without the engine's original architect on staff.
The Evil Within launches on October 14th.
Subject: General Tech | September 26, 2014 - 02:46 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: free games, swap, arena shooter, pc gaming
Subterfuge Weapons Assessment Program, an obvious backronym for S.W.A.P., takes the first person shooter genre and removes the whole "damage" mechanic. Basically, shooting an opponent will have your character "exchange bodies". The point is apparently to prevent the enemy from delivering a payload to your base or put them into situations where they will kill themselves once they are at your position.
While I have yet to play the game, it is free. No micro-transactions, DLC, or subscriptions. They are using this project to gauge interest for a full, Unreal Engine release. It has an interesting art style, reminiscent of Unreal Tournament (1999) or the original Tribes. It could be worth a download, especially if you like old-fashioned arena shooters and unusual game mechanics.
Those are two genres which do not get mixed a lot...
Subject: General Tech | September 22, 2014 - 05:50 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, final fantasy xv, final fantasy xiii, final fantasy
Square Enix is "very interested" in the PC platform. They acknowledge that the Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII Steam re-releases were quite popular. These titles were originally released on the PC in 1998 and 2000, respectively. They are now interested enough to bring the three titles in the Final Fantasy XIII universe to Steam that were Xbox 360 and PS3 exclusives. Also, the first title is launching for $16, $14.39 on pre-order, so they are not even gouging us with a full-price tag.
The first title will be available in two and a half weeks (October 9th). The other two are expected to roll out by Spring 2015. Also, Final Fantasy IV was released on September 17th. They are actually releasing them faster than most people can probably play them. The flood gates are open. In their Final Fantasy XIII news post, PC Gamer muses about the rest of the franchise reaching the PC, such as FFX and FFX-2. It would make sense. I mean, they released (or are working on) seven remakes, not even counting the two MMOs. That is already a large chunk of the main franchise.
Personally, I wonder if this is testing the waters for Final Fantasy XV.
Final Fantasy XIII is being released on October 9th for about $15, give or take a dollar.