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Preview: Cathode Tan

Cathode Tan



A blog about television, movies, gaming, making games and surviving a nuclear holocaust. Well, at least three of those.



Updated: 2017-11-15T23:03:20.461-08:00

 



Curtain Call

2014-08-29T08:13:55.163-07:00

I've been putting off writing this blog post for some time.  However, since my last post on Cathode Tan was the beginning of this year - I don't think it should come as much of a surprise.

I started writing Cathode Tan years and years ago, mostly as a way to chronicle my early attempts at modding.  Modding Unreal was an experience that still has a special place in my heart - it solidified two long standing passions of mine: gaming and coding, and it also taught me more about coding than I probably ever learned in a singular experience.  Want to learn how to code?  Do it by blowing stuff up, I say.

Over the years, Cathode Tan joined what was a very small community of gaming bloggers at the time.  I actually remember, and even exchanged a few notes with Brian Crecente at the time, when Kotaku was just getting started.  Of course, eventually Kotaku started making a habit of occasionally lifting posts of mine without credit - and we didn't talk much after that.

I want to thank: Corvus Elrond, Regina Buenaobra, Thomas Wilburn, Debbie Timmins, Matt Matthews, Greg Tannahill, and Troy Goodfellow.  These were the names that made up, for me, the core of the early blogging efforts for gaming back in the day and quite honestly made the entire experience worthwhile enough to continue on doing it for years.

That list is by no means exhaustive - I'm actually a bit terrified of who I am forgetting, and naturally includes all of my faithful readers over the years.  Yes, I mean both of you.

I should also give a shoutout the Unreal modding community from back then - but that would be an epic undertaking all on its own, considering it would include everyone from cohorts to Epic employees.  I really do hope that the new Unreal Tournament takes off, as I would love to write a new mod for it.

However, I will call out to EvilDrWongPhD - who more than anyone back then helped me with ideas, code, and just plain having fun.  Man, I hope you are still coding.

Highlights for Cathode Tan include: getting mentioned by Penny Arcade for "frisking" Jack Thompson, receiving a free copy of Duke Nukem Forever (if only because it is one of the worst games I have ever played) and having some of lamest April Fool's posts ever.

I thank all of you, it was a pleasure doing this blog.

I am, however, not done writing.  After a lot of contemplation, I am attempting to combine all of my blogging habits under one roof.  When I first became a Developer Evangelist, this kind of thing seemed ridiculous.  Who wants to hear about both movies and Apex code?  Turns out - nearly everyone I know.  And if one doesn't interest you - I find that I am pretty easy to ignore.

So please join me over at joshbirk.herokuapp.com.  I already have several gaming and media posts over there, interspersed with some work posts as well.  Since it is running Ghost on Heroku, I also have an extremely fine level of control over the blog - something I felt I was lacking after years of updates to blogspot.



PS4 Shooter Shootout: Ghosts VS Shadow Fall VS Battlefield 4

2014-01-05T12:25:07.541-08:00

Shooters are probably one of my most consistently favorite genres of gaming.  Both Wolfenstein and Doom were big influences on my early PC gamer habit and I played nearly every possible shooter that ever came out for the Amiga, so while I haven't played every shooter ever made - I've played the vast majority released for the PC, Nintendo 64 and every flavor of the PlayStation produced ... and the Amiga. Thankfully for me, FPS has become something of the summer blockbuster of gaming genres.  They're the easiest to make the translation from "big budget movie" to "big budget game with movie-like sequences in first person".  As such, the games have gone from being a way to show off technical prowess in gaming (remember that Doom was a 2D world made to look 3D, which is why it was particularly awesome) to single and multiplayer experiences with huge cinematic potential.  They've also become what once the sole domain of the mouse and keyboard set to hugely popular on consoles.For PlayStation 4 launch titles - FPS fans get Call of Duty: Ghosts, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Battlefield 4: Battlefield 4 has no subtitle.  As was inevitable, I've had a chance to put all three through their paces and these are my thoughts on them.Call of Duty: GhostsI've had a pretty uneven relationship with the entire Call of Duty franchise, I'll admit.  I've generally bought them because the titles guarantee a large online audience which makes it easy to jump into a game.  And there's no doubting that at its core ... these are good games, very solid shooters.They also feature just absolutely terrible writing and online mechanics which while popular - are also just not very good.  Unsurprisingly, Ghosts doesn't stray far from this heritage - however I will say it feels better at both of those issues than most.  The writing in Ghosts feels like something from a Bond movie - approaching more spy fi than military fiction.  You'll need to suspend your disbelief when it comes to both science and basic character development.  However this title doesn't have anything nearly as disturbing as No Russian and the chapters feel less like awkward excuses to change from a desert level to a snow level and more like a cohesive narrative.Likewise, a little more care is given to balancing my least favorite multiplayer mechanic of all time: kill streaks.  It's easier to get better kill streaks earlier, there are support kill streaks which culminate over time instead of one life, and in general it just feels like while occasionally you might get attacked by random dogs ... it's unlikely that someone is going to just camp over the map in a gunship and kill waves of people for a massive score.The mechanic is more fair here, and while still not my favorite - seems less likely to disrupt the game in general with a couple of high level players being able to dominate an entire map.My biggest complaint about Ghosts is that the multiplayer maps feel small and overly tuned to deathmatch to me.  The game actually ships with 14 maps, but while they offer a lot of different textures - there's a overwhelming feeling of sameness for me that makes you wish for even more right out of the gate.  This is compounded by the voting system which seems to keep a rotation of about 4 or 5 maps in heavy rotation.Verdict: It's Call of Duty.  Ghosts is slightly better than many in the franchise, but it stays true to the core and pulls of a solid, even if somewhat campy, single player and strong mulitplayer offering.Killzone: Shadow FallKillzone is one those "other" shooter franchises that only PlayStation users really care about (it being an exclusive and all).  I've generally enjoyed the titles and Killzone 3's multiplayer was a routine of mine for some time.  The games always felt like a little bit of Halo blended in with Battlefield.Shadow Fall has been publicly stated to be a "reboot" for the franchise.  You can tell.  While the game sports some pretty impres[...]



How to Fix GTA Online's Free Roam

2013-10-18T10:35:14.393-07:00

A core portion of the 5 Huge Problems previously discussed center around one large problem: GTA Online's Free Roam is effectively broken.  Not broken in the sense that it's glitched beyond repair (any more) - but broken in the sense that the game punishes people for running around, shooting each other, and having fun.Let's take a case in point:  I finished a mission with a fellow criminal.  That mission netted us $5K.  After the mission, we got dropped next to each other.  He shot me, stole my ride.  I spawned around the corner and shot him.  He then proceeded to chase me around Blaine County where I killed him two more times and he kill me one more time.Thankfully, he had a $5K bounty on his head, so I still ended up ahead.  But he probably didn't.  In a matter of minutes, he probably wiped out all of the money he made during the mission.Interestingly, the fact that free roam is nothing but a money sink doesn't keep people from playing like it is the new wild west.  This is probably the most telling fact that illustrates the players want GTA Online Free Roam, they want to run around and steal cars and shoot at other players ... even if it means it could be costing them thousands of dollars.So instead of Free Roam being a huge pain in the ass and drain on the bank account, why not reward players for running around, shooting each other and having fun?Way back when, I wrote a mod for Unreal Tournament called Bounty War.  The whole idea was to re-balance deathmatch scoring.  Better players got higher bounties associated with them and the goal of the game was to end with the most money in your account.  This meant that lower level players had a chance of catching up by fragging higher level players - which in many ways is more fair, since fragging someone who is better at the game is harder than fragging someone who is not good at the game.  It effectively solved the noobie vs. veteran problem while keeping it fun for both.  And it could totally work for GTA Online.  Here's how:Fix Passive ModePassive mode should be the real deal - not some odd Venn Diagram of how you might possibly get killed. Instead of making you semi-invulnerable but not really, passive mode should:Remove the player from the mapRemove other players from the players' mapRemove the name float above playersMake the player bulletproof from other players (always, not just out of cars)The entire "remove players" mechanic could be also be configurable, similar to how you can lock your car now - so you could remain visible to your friends and crew if you wanted.  This would let players roam around without other players stalking them and basically keep them safe from anything but getting run over and falling.Change the Free Roam Death PenaltyUpdate: In the 1.04 patch, the death penalty is getting capped at $500.  Which is a good compromise, though some of the below is still plausible.The worst part about the current penalty is that it is often not associated with skill, but circumstance.  For instance, if you quit out of a session before it starts, you could get dropped right next to a complete stranger who just did the same thing.  The last time I had this happen the guy instantly pistol whipped me.  Bam, I lose over a $1K.  For literally doing nothing.And for some reason Free Roam really likes to spawn you next to your killer (not to mention the whole "1 on 1 Deatchmatch").  So now the whole thing might happen again.  This makes death so common in free roam, and potentially costly.Instead, let's give players options.  On death, a player could:Wait for ambulance.  If the ambulance is destroyed, or medics shot, player goes to hospital. Medium to Long spawn delay.  Risky.  Free.Go to Hospital.  Short spawn delay.  Not risky.  $500.Instant Revive.  No spawn delay.  Risky. $1,000.This would penalize (more heavily) players who are distinctly[...]



Making Money in GTA Online

2013-10-07T10:02:34.610-07:00

In my previous post, I noted how a lot of the big issues in GTA online amount to one thing: the economy works against.  The death penalty can add up quick, ammo isn't cheap, and some of the most common things to do in the game offer little payout for the amount of time you can spend completing them.If you are trying to move on up to the next luxury condo - here are few tips to get you along:#1: Play SoloYou can enter into a solo session by joining GTA Online via the Pause menu instead of the quick character select.  Solo is effectively the passive mode that Rockstar describes in the main mode, except it actually works - even if by brute force.  It might seem counter-productive to play by yourself in an online game - but the advantages are huge.  Firstly, you completely remove the possibility of getting involved in the vengeance-fueled killing frenzies which aren't uncommon when playing with others in free mode.  It also means that you have free reign over events in free mode like Simeon's high priority vehicle and convenience stores to knock over.It also means that bounties can't be claimed against you, and the AI will occasionally set one on your head.  Since after a period of time you get the bounty against you, this translates into random free money for stealing random cars.#2: Franklin's Early YearsTwo of the fastest ways to score cash in GTA Online include what Franklin described as his early years: knocking over convenience shops and stealing cars.  Each store will net you around $1100 on an average, with the occasional spike into $2K or so.  While this isn't a huge amount, if you only hit two in a row - you only have to fight a two star chase.  Once you get used to where the stores are and the easy escape route associated with them, this means you can punctuate your play with cash that takes about half the time of doing a mission or race, while giving you the same payback.That said - there's some misinformation going around about knocking over stores.  One is that you'll bag more money for killing the store owner.  That hasn't been my experience and you'll get three stars instead of two right away - which will usually make the chase go far longer than you really want.As for stealing cars: there are a few select brands that are found around the Vinewood Boulevard area which can net $6 - $9K.  You can sell a car every game day, which is roughly once an hour.  I recommend looking for Ubermacht cars - they're fairly common compared to other high end cars and always net more than $6K.#3: Easy MissionsAfter your second store theft you'll need to cool the cops down a bit (or risk a three star chase off the bat), you can hop into a mission and try to do it by yourself.  Setting the mission to easy will make it simpler for the solo run and only seems to reduce the amount of respect you get from the mission, not the cash.  If you're handy with a gun, many of Gerald's missions can be done fairly quickly and will net a decent haul.#4: Higher Level Missions = Higher Level RewardsThis one is a no brainer, but one of the factors that works for the player when it comes to the game economy is that as you level up, you'll get more access to missions which net higher cash rewards.  Keep an eye on which missions give you the most cash for the time you spend in it and make those a priority.#5: Earn it, Spend it, then go onlineMy recommendation would be to spend a couple days in solo mode, and then buy one of the luxury condos with a 10 car garage.  After that, these tips become somewhat obsolete as you've purchased one of the more expensive items in the game - and once you spend your cash on something big, it can't be stolen away from you.  We netted about $180K over the weekend with the above, bought one of the better apartments and now have a lot less concerns when it comes to playing in the normal session.Of course, now we just hope that Rockstar isn't going to r[...]



Game Review: 5 Huge Problems with GTA Online

2013-10-08T14:12:34.094-07:00

PrefaceFirst note that this is for just the online portion of GTA V.  I may have another post on the main game at a later date.Second, some may say it is unfair to review GTA Online since it has been out for less than a week and Rockstar had warned ahead of the launch that unexpected demand for the game was going to cause issues.  And yes, some issues - like the fact that I can't currently sign into the game ... are probably due just to demand and will be resolved as Rockstar throws hardware at the problem.Others, however, like the incredibly bugged tutorial missions that blocked the game for a majority of users - were clearly not because of high demand.  You couldn't even get into the game in offline or "solo" mode (and in fact, oddly - I had 5 people show up to my solo mission...).  We're now a couple patches in and if the servers are up, you can play - but the experience still has many issues.  Many of them aren't bugs, but simply design.This is clearly another beta being rolled out as a product.  Now, GTA Online is a free component to a game which is already larger in scope than most titles in its price range.  Still, it is a product - and while one that shows a lot of promise (and I've already spent many hours on) ... is still deeply flawed.However, in fairness to Rockstar I'm not even mentioning huge outstanding bugs like your character simply disappearing - under the assumption they'll fix that in short order.Quick OverviewGTA Online is where players of GTA V can create their own criminal and run around Los Santos (and the greater Los Santos area) with other criminals created by players.  A bevy of activities await: Deathmatch, Last Team Standing, Vehicle Deathmatches, Races of nearly every variety, Missions (more on that later) and what seem like the entire set of activities from the main game (Tennis, Parachuting, etc).  Some of these open slowly as the player levels up.At its core, it is a lot of fun.  It brings the RPG/Customization angle from San Andreas (but with a complete character and not just making CJ fat) and mashes it into an expanded online offering that goes well beyond the already surprisingly fun online mode in GTAIV.Problem #1: DyingDying is pretty much expected in a game like GTA Online.  And when you have a bunch of people on the server which think the game is mostly about crashing cars into players to steal the $100 that drops out of their pocket ... it can happen a lot.  Especially because the game seems to egg on revenge tactics by always dropping you near the person who killed you.  We've had people hunt us down repeatedly for seemingly no other reason than us being on the radar.This would be fine if it wasn't for the 5% death tax, which appears to max out at 2K.  I believe this is the same tax as in the story mode, but the online mode currently lacks any major heists to have large sacks of money laying around where even though you're paying more ... you have plenty.  No, here once you have managed to stockpile a decent amount of cash (you'll want $75-100K to buy a decent apartment, for instance) ... your cash becomes a huge liability.  We had about $80K saved up over the course of hard playing all afternoon and night ... but about 10 minutes of getting caught in the middle of some crazed bounty hunt, we were back down to ~$53K.  About five hours of play were wiped out in a matter of minutes.If Rockstar expects the offset to this to be players buying cash with real dollars, then GTA Online will go down as one of the largest missed opportunities in online gaming.  And it will join such modes as Mass Effect 3's online component as being sacrificed to the idiot blind god of microtransactions.Problem #2: There is no Passive ModeRockstar will tell you that if you want to run around and not get capped, you can just go into passive mode.  Passive mode costs $100 to get into (for some bizarre reas[...]



Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Beta Review

2013-08-16T17:16:56.786-07:00

Yeah, so far ... I can't say that I'm a fan.Here's why:This game wasn't really on my radar, to be honest.  I've never been a big Final Fantasy guy.  But I had heard about some people talking about it and one day I get a message in my PSN box from Square Enix inviting me to the beta (I think I entered originally by like downloading a video off off PlayStation Plus or the like).Great.  So I click on the attachment in the message.  This is what this message looked like:It downloads a 28MB launcher, which in turn sits there and downloads some untold gigs of actual game software.Slowly.  OK, so there went using the PS3 for a while.  I go about and do ... some other Friday night thing for a while.  I come back.  Still downloading.  Wash, rinse and repeat about five times.  Finally downloaded.  It's late now, but I can stay up for a bit to smoke test the first few moments of the game.Except, there's no play button.  Instead I first have to enter in my Beta Code.What Beta Code?  I don't have a Beta Code.  I have a huge amount of software that got downloaded from a small amount of software that I downloaded from that ....Oh, right - that message.  So I go back to the message.  The Beta Code can be found if you artfully scroll down a bit.  It's 20 characters long.  There is no concept of cutting and pasting on the PS3.  Thankfully I've got an iPhone with a camera and a USB keyboard. OK.  Beta Code in.  Time to kill some ... I don't know ... bird things.  Whatever they kill in Final Fantasy a lot.  Seriously, I haven't played Final Fantasy since like ... well at least before they needed more than a few Roman numerals.  But now I can play - right?Nope.  Now I get to create a Square Enix account, and then I have to tie that to my PSN account. Usually typing in a promo code isn't really needed if you get it through PSN because it just gets passed through - but OK.  And sure, I've had to link accounts before - but usually that can be done pretty smoothly either through my browser or through the PS3 - this was pretty much neither.  I had to create account information, confirm account information, follow my confirmation instructions, confirm my other account information and so on.Usually "closed beta" means "exclusive rights to download", not really "fill out enough forms to get a new rate on your loan".   After about three more screens and a couple user agreements, though, I've got it.  I'm all signed up, linked up, and I have every single code I could possibly have entered in.Time to kill some Cocoa Birds, right?Wrong.  I just get a message thanking me for joining the Square Enix community and come back when there's a beta not already in progress.  Don't call us, we'll call you.  We'll do lunch.  So days turns into weeks and I get bored with having this downloaded beta I can't play ... so I delete it.Fast forward to yesterday.  I get this in the old inbox:Now, there's just one teeeeny tiny little problem here.  I mean, really, so insignificant that I hesitate to mention.  Really, it might not be worth your time.  I should just go, really.  I mean - oh, well, OK - here's the thing.I don't own a PC.And I really would have thought you would have known that from the thirty minutes of paperwork you forced me to do just to have the privilege of not playing your game.Sigh.  OK, probably a simple misunderstanding. Whatever, no big deal - like I said.  I mean, I spent all that time registering with Square Enix, surely I can just download the beta again and then login and then we'll be fine.  I go back to my PSN inbox, click on the attachment.I get prompted for a 12 digit promo code.  I don't have a 12 digit promo code.  I have a 20 digit beta code. I got to the support center noted in the [...]



OUYA Review

2013-06-30T14:37:00.623-07:00

I've had my OUYA for nearly a month now, having been a backer on their famed Kickstarter campaign.  For me, the OUYA was an easy buy - I've always wanted to be able to easily code something and play it on the big tv.  In this sense, for me, the OUYA is like that workout machine in your basement - even if unused, it serves as a constantly nagging reminder of something you ought to be doing.So I'm basically OUYA's ideal consumer - I've bought into the whole message about an "open console" and would almost feel guilty not owning it, in a weird way.  However, I'm a reformed modder who doesn't mind tinkering around with something for hours and hours with very little payoff - the real question is how well does OUYA sell to the average Joe?Well, it has sold out on Amazon (at least at the time of this writing), but like bragging about the Xbox One suddenly passing the PS4 on Amazon - we don't really know how the math plays out there.  For all we know, Amazon only had 20 in stock.So let's talk OUYA.OUYA HardwareThe console itself is a small cube that fits more or less in the palm of someone's slightly meaty oversized  palm.  "Well constructed plastic" seems to be a theme here, whereas nothing about the OUYA feels cheap outright, but plastic all the same.  The console has a power button on top, an ethernet port, a USB port, an HDMI port and the power port.  Getting started with the console is dead simple - put some batteries in the controller (more on that later), plug in the console, get it online (either through ethernet or Wifi) and download the obligatory update (which has some pretty funny status messages).The guts of the console are likewise simple: an 8GB flash drive handles all your storage and most of the heavy lifting goes through a nVidia Tegra 3 chip.  To say that OUYA doesn't have the same processor power as a PS3 or Xbox 360 is a ridiculous overstatement - it barely swings in the same park as higher end phones or tablets.  However, to expect a $99 cube to outperform a subsidized phone or tablet costing hundreds of dollars is a bit ridiculous as well.  The bottom line is that it plays Android games fine, even if it isn't going to impress anyone in the process.The ControllerThe OUYA controller is the very definition of a mixed bag.  It falls into that "well constructed plastic" vibe, has a decent heft to it and feels responsive enough - if possibly a bit laggy at times.  Sadly not rechargeable, which I almost think should be some kind of engineering crime at this point, and the batteries are inserted into the grips by prying off the cover ... which also feels odd.One of the more innovative bits is the touchscreen residing in the top portion of the black band.  It is, again, a bit of a mixed bag.  It's a great alternative to purely joystick style controlling of a mouse-like interface, but is burdened by a somewhat iffy response rate.  However, since it is also almost completely optional (except by the rare game which is effectively designed solely for mouse-based UI's) - it falls squarely in the "nice to have" camp, even if it is not a killer feature.It's a good controller, well OK a decent controller - but I'm just not sure it is $49.99 decent.  That put its in the same camp as a replacement PS3 or 360 controller, and the construction just doesn't seem to be on par with what Microsoft or Sony puts out.In theory, you can use other devices - including said PS3 and 360 controllers - in lieu of the OUYA one.  Have not tried it myself, but it sounds straightforward enough and is actually a pretty nice benefit that OUYA doesn't really market.  It does mean that, in theory, if you wanted to try a four player game and you have existing controllers laying around ... you don't have to shell out another couple hundred bucks.Update: I've trie[...]



How Xbox One's "Family Sharing" Probably Worked

2013-06-22T10:21:58.718-07:00

This is a rough draft, but I'm publishing it anyway. In my last post, I talked about the Xbox One's sharing model might have been a simple timed demo, based largely on follow up reports from a pastebin post.  I've been reading a lot of different posts in various places.  Much of it does not add up.  This is how I see it.How Microsoft Sold ItMicrosoft made it sound like family sharing would allow you to have a list of ten people, and anyone of those people could play any game in your library - as long as only one person on your list was playing the game at one time - indefinitely. Specifically:Just like today, a family member can play your copy of Forza Motorsport at a friend’s house. Only now, they will see not just Forza, but all of your shared games.  You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time.How "Heartbroken MS employee" described it"Heartbroken" is an anonymous source, claiming to be a Microsoft employee working on their "Always On" strategy (which has now been dropped).First is family sharing, this feature is near and dear to me and I truly felt it would have helped the industry grow and make both gamers and developers happy.  The premise is simple and elegant, when you buy your games for Xbox One, you can set any of them to be part of your shared library.  Anyone who you deem to be family had access to these games regardless of where they are in the world.  There was never any catch to that, they didn't have to share the same billing address or physical address it could be anyone.  When your family member accesses any of your games, they're placed into a special demo mode. This demo mode in most cases would be the full game with a 15-45 minute timer and in some cases an hour.  This allowed the person to play the game, get familiar with it then make a purchase if they wanted to.  When the time limit was up they would automatically be prompted to the Marketplace so that they may order it if liked the game.  We were toying around with a limit on the number of times members could access the shared game (as to discourage gamers from simply beating the game by doing multiple playthroughs). but we had not settled on an appropriate way of handling it.  One thing we knew is that we wanted the experience to be seamless for both the person sharing and the family member benefiting.  There weren't many models of this system already in the wild other than Sony's horrendous game sharing implementation, but it was clear their approach (if one could call it that) was not the way to go.  Developers complained about the lost sales and gamers complained about overbearing DRM that punished those who didn't share that implemented by publishers to quell gamers from taking advantage of a poorly thought out system.  We wanted our family sharing plan to be something that was talked about and genuinely enjoyed by the masses as a way of inciting gamers to try new games.  http://pastebin.com/TE1MWES2How the Internet interpreted Heartbroken's descriptionAccess to the full game was only allowed for a time period up to 60 minutes, after that you have to buy the game. The problem with Microsoft's storyAs advertised, I actually have little incentive to buy titles - especially at launch.  Why buy when I can just wait to see people who have put me in their sharing plan might have bought it?  And then when I see that, why not just wait until someone else isn't playing it?  For publishers, which apparently MS was in negotiations with (https://twitter.com/aegies/status/347748309550645249) - why would this be an improvement over the used games grey market?  With this plan, I might actually forego buying a new game at all ... much less buy it and then resell it later.To put it[...]



Xbox One's "Family Sharing" ... actually a timed demo?

2013-06-21T12:15:38.609-07:00

Microsoft has not been having a good time over the last week or so.  They effectively handed Sony one of the most brutal E3 victories in recent memory (and possibly like .... ever), to the point where Sony can even add in details like requiring a PlayStation Plus account for online play (but not, Sony is quick to point out - online apps like Netflix).  The Internet then proceeds to spend nearly every waking hour after E3 trying to come up with the best visual meme to ridicule the Xbox One.  Somewhere in the middle, Amazon quietly pulls a poll from their site because the PS4 was voting out the Xbox One to the tune of 100:1.So Microsoft goes into damage control and reverses their DRM policy completely.  At the same time, they also remove some features, like disc-free gaming (when originally bought on the disc), voice activated game swapping (since apparently Kinetic is too stupid to know if the game actually exists now) and ... family sharing.Family sharing could have been Microsoft's ticket to a better user story.  In fact, by all measures - it should have been.  The idea that up to ten people could effectively play your games without actually buying said games seems like the kind of pro-consumer story that Microsoft's DRM nightmare needed to give it a softer side.It would have made such a great commercial:"Hey have you played X"?"No, can't.  No money.""No problem, just say 'Xbox One, play THIS AWESOME GAME'"OK, maybe it doesn't write itself - but you get the point.  That's something people might be able to get behind.Problem was - instead of a really commercial, Microsoft just left big questions open.  How is "my family" defined?  Can I play the game while they play?  Is it my entire library or is there some other limit?  Certainly with the release still a few months out, some of these details might need to be ironed out first ... but Microsoft never went past the elevator pitch on this one.Turns out, their might have been a good reason why:First is family sharing, this feature is near and dear to me and I truly felt it would have helped the industry grow and make both gamers and developers happy. The premise is simple and elegant, when you buy your games for Xbox One, you can set any of them to be part of your shared library. Anyone who you deem to be family had access to these games regardless of where they are in the world. There was never any catch to that, they didn't have to share the same billing address or physical address it could be anyone. When your family member accesses any of your games, they're placed into a special demo mode. This demo mode in most cases would be the full game with a 15-45 minute timer and in some cases an hour. This allowed the person to play the game, get familiar with it then make a purchase if they wanted to. When the time limit was up they would automatically be prompted to the Marketplace so that they may order it if liked the game.-- Heartbroken MS employee That's from a Pastebin post being circulated around, apparently from a grief stricken Microsoft employee lamenting the demise of the "Always Online" vision. Neogaf grabbed it, and seem to confirm its authenticity ... not in an official Microsoft way, but apparently a user (possibly an MS employee) there quelled an Internet forum's doubts.  Which is actually pretty compelling, if you think about it.  They also point out that this neatly fits into the whole "one hour online" check if you were playing on an Xbox other than your own.The sad thing - this is actually pretty plausible.  Why have such a strict DRM policy just to basically allow only one out of ten people actually buy the game?  Sure, GameStop won't see the cash ... but neither was the publisher.  And if you weren't keeping track - that was pretty much the enti[...]



Microsoft Reverses Xbox One DRM Policy

2013-06-19T15:49:39.455-07:00

Wow.


Reacting to "feedback from the Xbox community," it appears Microsoft is reversing course and changing two key components to policies for its new Xbox One video game console. All disc-based games can be played without ever connecting online, and the 24-hour connection requirement has been dropped, according to an update to a May post concerning questions about the new console. Additionally, there will be no limitations to using and sharing games, Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business division, says in the post. People will be able to share, trade or resell their games in the same way they do for Xbox 360 games.

Microsoft backtracks on Xbox One sharing policies (CNN)

I think "feedback from the Xbox community" can be roughly translated to "getting completely slaughtered in pre-sales" - for Microsoft to reverse this fast after E3, they had to be getting punched hard in the money-maker.

This is excellent news for consumers.  They haven't mentioned anything about removing region locking, but that might be part of this ... but at least your discs are your own again, and the console flamewars can stop being so decidedly one sided for the next generation.

Update: Apparently no region locking either.



It Came From E3: Sony Versus Microsoft

2013-06-11T08:18:58.307-07:00

This next generation of consoles is proving to be far, far more interesting than I would have thought.  Early rumors and expectations seem to suggest that if anything - this generation would basically be two consoles with little distinction except a brand, and something called a Wii U.But then Microsoft had to go and throw sand in the face of my long standing prediction that no console manufacturer would be so stupid as to actually try and block buying used games.  My assumption has always been that eventually everything would just go disc-less ... but just not this generation.Oh no, Microsoft is proving to be just that stupid.  The Xbox One (more on that later) will require an Internet connection at least once every 24 hours to play even offline games and the ability to use a game has been left completely to the mercy of the publisher.Microsoft has made a clear stance: you do not really own any actual physical media.  You are paying for a license to use software and perhaps that software happens to come on a disc - perhaps not, but it does not actually matter.  Once you've bought a game, you are only buying the privilege to use that game in the manner the publisher desires.  Technically and legally, Microsoft is on strong footing - this is actually pretty much how software distribution has always worked.But nobody ... nobody, has ever considered taking it to the draconian levels the Xbox One will enforce.  Purchasing an Xbox One is effectively voting against your rights as a consumer, plain and simple.Microsoft's missteps don't end there.  First of all - I don't know what marketing genius decided on "Xbox One" as a name ... but it is clearly someone who thinks of themselves as a "marketing genius".  It is an utterly moronic name only held aloft by a cool factor in itself supported only by clever advertising. The Xbox One is the third Xbox.The Xbox One has two distinct pieces.The Xbox One has many different purposes.In short, there is nothing "One" about the Xbox One except that it sounds cool.Sony has made it pretty clear that they don't share Microsoft's beliefs about sharing your games - and that alone is going to give them miles and miles of traction with gamers.  Also, "PS4" has a very nice logical feel to it.  But then they had to go and give the coup de grace:The PS4 will also be cheaper.  Even though it will probably be marginally more powerful.If you twist your crystal ball around just enough, you can maybe, almost possibly, perhaps see what Microsoft was thinking: They assumed that Kinect would be a huge value add, one that Sony can't compete with.  They assumed Sony would probably duplicate their mistake with the PS3 and charge a premium.  They possibly even assumed that the lucrative potential of DRM was too attractive for Sony to pass up and that gamers could hard grumble much if both major consoles had matching handcuffs.Except none of those would seem to be true.  Finally, Microsoft seems to have fallen back on their original strategy - dating all the way back to the first Xbox:You'll buy our console because of the exclusive games on it.And why wouldn't they think that?  Halo single-handedly launched a million Xboxes, or you know - something like that.  Gamers might forgive having their purchasing power tied behind their back, a console that is more expensive with less power and name that reeks of marketing stiffs if only they can play the next Halo.And while Microsoft's exclusives - which comprised the majority of their E3 keynote if you have no doubt that this is there main strategy - are interesting, the flagship title appears to be Titanfall.Titanfall looks interesting, but brothers and sisters - I've played Halo and Titanfall&nbs[...]



Game Play: XCOM Enemy Unknown

2012-10-15T10:03:01.094-07:00

I know I haven't been blogging much on Cathode Tan, but you had to know I would write about this game.  The original XCOM (aka UFO: Enemy Unknown)  is almost certainly my favorite game of all time, and I've played it on an Amiga, a PC, a Mac and PlayStation.  Even as emulators brutalized the experience, I found it irresistible to return to the fight against the alien threat - usually resulting in the lethal reduction of my own forces.The allure of the original game is difficult to overstate.  One might think that the game's mechanics are so old school that the strengths would be self-evident, kinda like saying "Pac-Man was addictive".  However, the real test at how subtly the original XCOM balanced the core design between management, turn based strategy and war strategy is more evident in the string of failed XCOM sequels.  It seemed that nearly any change to the formula, be it simplification, complication, adding real time movement, or even changing out the types of enemy - would throw the whole thing off.So it is pretty fair to say that the job Firaxis had before it was a daunting one ... the original was already an incredibly complicated game with a winning formula and a completely rabid fanbase.As a member in good standing in that rabid fanbase, how did I think they did?Best Remake EverNo joke, this game is incredibly impressive in updating the design of the original game for the modern age.  What has been streamlined should have been streamlined, what has been kept should have been kept, and what has been added should have been added.  Everything done under Firaxis' hand feels like the intentional stroke of a surgeon - not some sloppy edits or cuts made to fit a similar experience under some budget or time constraint.Let's take a specific example: you only get one base.  I can't imagine how controversial of a decision this one piece of design alone might have been for the team.  In the original XCOM, starting up new bases was a core mechanic - it allowed you to spread your coverage out, swap resources around, attack UFO's more effectively.  It also felt realistic, as if you had to keep your strategy broad and wide to stretch out the entire globe.So what does forcing one base do?  It greatly simplifies the base management mechanics, however since there are strike bases already setup around the globe ... you lose practically nothing from the overall base mechanic.  And with one base, Firaxis is able to consolidate a lot of menu and UI choices that otherwise felt like a burden.  I am glad not to have to check ammo supplies at every single possible turn just in case that HE heavy I rely one would go out useless on the next mission.Memorial WallIn the past, I used to say that I didn't really care how someone updated XCOM ... make a shooter, an RTS, a board game - don't care.  Just make me care when a soldier dies.  This was one of the most incredibly impressive parts of the original game - you got attached to soldiers who fought well.  It took time to train those people, and when got their head chopped off by a Chryssalid - you really felt it.  Firaxis clearly understood this - and they warn you early on that losing squaddies is probably going to factor into plenty of missions.  While I think a lot of the streamlining on the base management works very well, the true test of an XCOM remake is how you, the commander, interacts with the squad.  I'm actually willing to say that the RPG style ability tree introduced here is a real improvement - it clearly identifies the growth of a squad member from rookie to Major and adds even more attachment for the player.So it's perfect then?From a purely mechanic or game play po[...]



Notes from Management: We'll be back. Sort of.

2012-08-27T09:07:23.552-07:00

So many of you may have noticed that posting on Cathode Tan has been reduced to an extremely random affair.  This is largely because for the last couple of years I have a job which actually wants me to write, which means that writing is less of a stress reliever than it was when I would just keep a tab open most of the day to jot down notes which would eventually get turned into blog posts.

I can't say this is going to change anytime soon - I really enjoy the job, and the writing ... so I can't really say "well, I'll probably be devoting more time to Cathode Tan real soon".  I have noticed that I am microblogging more, though so I'm considering revamping Cathode Tan into something more personal.  A sort of output of a Venn diagram consisting of the other things I put out in places, but keeping aside the things which are overly job related or too personal.  I.E. there might be more politics and vacation pics at some point.

Anyway, it's a side project I'm considering - writing a framework which makes it easy to coordinate in between all the other writing/blogging/tweeting I'm doing ... but nothing will happen for a couple of months.

In the meantime, I've been playing the hell out of Dragon's Dogma so expect a post on that at some point.



Diablo III And The Age Of Always Online

2012-05-29T06:17:00.304-07:00

For at least the moment, I'm not going to actually tarry on with yet another Diablo III review.  I think I might have a purely mechanics based review later, when I've beaten the game at least on normal.  Instead, I think we can focus on one of the more controversial aspects of the game - the fact that it requires an net connection to play.For Blizzard, this might not actually seem like much of an experiment.  After all, they are responsible for one of the most popular games in video game history, World of Warcraft, which is the grand-daddy of requiring a net connection to play. Most gamers, however, easily distinguish between the action RPG genre of Diablo and the massively multiplayer RPG of WoW - after all ... it is right there in the genre title. Massively.  Multiplayer.For Diablo III players looking to solo - the always online requirement is nothing but a burden.  There is very little benefit aside from the credibility of the Auction House being maintained.  The big problem here is that the Auction House doesn't seem to really be taking off.  Sure, some people have gotten far enough ahead and they're already farming legendary items for decent amounts of gold - but for the common player there just isn't much action either in selling or buying items.  It's decent enough, but I think if you had asked solo players if they wanted the ability to play their game whenever they wanted or if they wanted access to the Auction House ... you would have gotten a nearly unanimous vote for the former.For players with solid Battle.net friends or those who like to do Pick Up Games (PUGs) - the requirement is far more of a mixed bag.  If there is one place Diablo III shines in this regard, it is the lobbying and matchmaking system.  Want to solo?  Just resume your quest where you left it.  Want to pick up some players a half hour later?  Just open it to the public - you'll get some new players nearly instantly.  Want to PUG right away?  Just look for public games, you'll be in a game very quickly.  Want to send a direct message to your friend to see what class you should play?  Just a few clicks away.If Diablo III has any defense for being always online, outside of the the technical bits about piracy and cheating (more on that later) - it has that it has managed to create an action RPG with a lot of the best trappings of an MMORPG without the hassles of an MMORPG.  There is no monthly fee, you don't have to stand around an area like a tart for an hour flashing "LFG" (Looking For Group) to get into a PUG, you don't even have to feel guilty about ditching that group ten minutes later when your pizza arrives.  However, you do get the team mechanics, proper loot sharing, and the ability to start forming a community.  You might not be able to build a guild house - but the online components of the game are fairly compelling and so tightly integrating that it begs the question as to whether there is any point in playing Diablo solo at all.  There's no griefing, it's simple and easy, and you get better loot.The real problems come with being directly tied to Battle.net.  If you have time to play, but there's a maintenance window - tough luck.  Lag seems to occasionally pop up and it can be difficult to tell where the cause is - but lag can be incredibly deadly when the hordes of hell are on your heels.  Of course, the Diablo III launch itself is now infamous for having about an entire day of downtime ... meaning Diablo III didn't really launch when it said it launched.  It launched when it was finally ready for players.And of course there [...]



[Mass Effect 3] Oh, Dear Yahtzee

2012-04-25T20:39:53.001-07:00

I've been somewhat amazed at some of the aggressive response against the Mass Effect community's desire to see a different ending for the epic franchise. Then I read this ... and yes I know I'm like a month late to the party, but I've been travelling. "But I doubt the fanbase of Mass Effect were dismayed because they wanted an appropriate ending to the story. Rather, they wanted some kind of appropriate closure for the many-storied and I would argue unnecessarily lengthy process up to this point. Perhaps some epilogue where we get to see what all the characters we met along the way got up to after the events of the series, which I imagine would be easier if they hadn't pretty much all been killed off. I've been given to understand that Bioware are talking about changing the ending under the massive pressure from the idiot fanbase, and I hope like hell they're just talking about doing something like that, an epilogue appendix style thing just to square away the subplots. Because it would set a horrible precedent if they're serious about actually changing the ending in line with some kind of democratically agreed upon alternative, rather than merely expanding or adding to it." -- Mass Effect 3 Gets An EndingAt this point, I should probably warn that this post will have some swearing. Yahtzee ... you can bite me. To try and mount an argument by reducing a very large group of people with a shared and reasonable opinion about what might possible be the most disappointing ending to what could have been a crown jewel of gaming writing as the "the idiot fanbase" absolute devalues anything you might have had to say in a two page article. That you end the article also referring them as "cockheads" who "are just going to have to accept that there are people who know better than them" and by association I'll just have to assume, you mean yourself ... you've clearly devolved from a somewhat unique entertainer to your typical Internet troll with an atypical megaphone by which to broadcast your trolling. The fanbase of Mass Effect, or at least a large contigency of it, is dismayed not because they wanted one specific thing or another, or that they would have preferred character X had story ending Y, or that they wanted an epilogue which neatly ties everything together, or that they're a bunch of entitled whiners or pretty any of the other theories that I've heard assembled out of thin air and then wailed against the objecting fans. Since you don't have (according to you) have a cock for head, it shouldn't really be that hard to grasp. But since it seems to be, and it seems to be beyond a lot of games journalists to be bothered to actually try and read through the Bioware forums to ascertain what the gamers are actually complaining about - let me put it into troll terms for you. Gamers are upset about the Mass Effect 3 ending because the Mass Effect 3 ending was pure bullshit.100% low quality pure bullshit. It stinks of being written, produced and delivered under concerns related to budget and timelines and showing absolutely no evidence of having any concern for the actual integrity to writing that the rest of the series has been known. That any gamer is fine with the ending is less of an indication of the possible merit of the ending, or even a any insight into the mind of said gamer, and more of a reflection on the otherwise low quality of gaming writing in general. That there are now reams of prose being spouted out about how changing the ending in a way that might actually reflect the quality of the rest of the series is a "dangerous precedent" set by "gamers which have no rights to request it of game publishers" is absolutely nothing shy of simple fea[...]



Most of the Next Gen Console Rumors Are Probably Wrong

2012-04-02T08:34:59.419-07:00

It's that time of the year again.  Or more specifically, that time of the gaming console cycle when it seems credible enough that the next generation of devices might be in some kind of hardware prototype form that it seems perfectly reasonable to float around rumors about how they'll play (pun intended) out.Which also means it is time to go visit some old friends.  Take a quick glance back at the news reporting about the PlayStation 3 before it debuted.  We're going to see some similar themes: leaps to conclusion about disc storage and of course, the old ghost about playing used games.  Let's not even worry about these from a Microsoft or Sony or Nintendo stance, just as pure speculation. No more used games!We'll start with the real money-maker.  And when I say money-maker, I mean this is essentially the online equivalent of trolling for a news source.  There's no doubt that the concept of having a game console block used games will drive page views and comments - gamers love their used games.  The $40-60 price range of most new titles is painful enough to have many gamers think twice before purchasing and the so called "grey market" that keeps GameStop in business is a handy way to purchase for many gamers.This was widely reported as pretty much factual for the PS3 before it arrived, with some news outlets even suggesting the PS3 would physically notch your disc to make your game its bitch.  But it just doesn't add up. Problem is: The used games market hits publishers in the money belt, not console makers.Probably the biggest problem with this meme is that it supposes that the big three have a huge financial stake in it.  However the real profit loss for the console makers is subsidizing the console hardware, not in licensing software.  While they would surely like to see the "white market" sales go up, even Microsoft managed to turn the 360 into a huge profit machine this generation.  Publishers and studios are the ones who potentially go into the red when they spend money on game development, not the hardware makers.Worse, such a move could potentially hurt console makers where they are actually vulnerable - selling actual consoles.  Analyst Michael Pachter has guess that blocking the sale of used games would probably lead to a bricks and mortar lead, gamer followed revolt.  I think he's completely right (and I don't always think that about Pachter).Finally, I still say that the technology isn't quite as solid to pull this off as some other people do.  If you accept that gamers will still have an offline, disc-based experience ... there's no real way to pull this off.Course, that brings us to... No more disc-based games!This one has an awful lot of credence behind it, considering the number of people who are now used to buying games - be it for the PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, PS3, 360 or other abbreviation, via the Internet.  Steam, app stores, and console networks are big business these days and with some games only available via electronic means (think Minecraft), surely it makes sense that the next generation consoles would follow suit, right? Problem is: many, if not most, living rooms are still not on the information highwayWhile wi-fi is largely domesticated and the concept of "high speed bandwidth" is becoming rapidly redundant - there's still a very healthy percentage of gamers who play 100% offline.  And we're not talking about the casual or senior citizen crowd here - we're talking normal if not hardcore gamers.  While  a decent percentages of gamers in 2011 use their console for online activities, it is by far not th[...]



[SPOILERS] Mass Effect 3's Ending From a Narrative Stance

2012-03-13T21:09:39.560-07:00

The whole controversy over Mass Effect 3's ending is picking up a feverish pace at this point.  One of the things I'm finding interesting is that many players are finding wrong with nearly the exact same things, which I went over a subset of yesterday.   Usually when fans get upset about storytelling in games, you'll get a host of things they thought were wrong.  A more literary example - ask a hardcore grumpy Tolkien fan what they didn't like about the movies, or what should have been in them: you'll almost always get "Tom Bombadil" ... but also fifteen other random things.In the case of Mass Effect 3, the fans are all noting the exact same things: including plotholes, lack of closure, deus ex machina character, overall similiarity despite previous choices and a depressing outcome.Was that really Bioware's intent?  Or did they just completely mangle the message by spending too little on producing the end cutscene?Instead of focusing on in-game elements, which the more I think about it when those elements include the ability to alter the DNA of every living creature in the galaxy with a green energy cloud ... which supposedly solves all the Reaper's issues and yet they didn't try that like 10,000 years ago because killing is so much more fun ... well, it occurs to me that debating the finer points of things like what happens after all the relays explode might not even be possible - so instead, let's look at just the narrative tools Bioware used to bludgeon their own ending.1. Deus Ex MachinaYeah, let's start with the big one that everyone is calling out.  Deus Ex Machina, or "God from a machine",  dates back to plays and operas where exactly that would happen - when all the actors on the stage were in terrible peril, they would get someone dressed up as Zeus or Poseidon or whomever and pulley them down to save the day.  How did they get out of that mess?  Zeus did it.  We get this here, but instead the question is: "How did we get into this mess?"  Well, apparently The Catalyst did it and has been all along.  And so he's also capable of doing anything else ... like a "synthesis DNA explosion".The problem with this mechanic is that it is so transparently lazy.  The viewer has no context or setup for the core feature of the ending and is hence forced to simply accept it on faith or be left bewildered.Clearly, a lot of fans are in the latter camp.2. Simple explanations happen off-screenWhy is Joker fleeing Earth?  How did your squad get away from Harbringer?  How does Shepard survive being blown up in outer space?  You'll never know.  You can imagine a whole host of possible explanations, and while that might highly entertaining for some fans ... the amount of information left up to the viewer is pretty staggering in this case.  It's also very different from the style of storytelling the player has been offered up until this point.  I spend how long in nuanced dialogue to determine tidbits about the story, but you can't tell me why one of my best friends just abandoned me to die?3. Important (possibly good) things happen off-screenPerhaps even more important is that if Bioware wanted some of the endings to be "better" than others, they take absolutely no time to make that apparent to the player.  Does controlling the Reapers mean that the Mass Effect relays might be re-built?  Or at least can everyone stuck on Sol get a lift home?  Does being a hybrid mean anything other than having glowing bits?  Does your love interest live happily ever after on a remote planet, or do they di[...]



[SPOILERS] Mass Effect 3's Bizarre (and bad) Ending

2012-04-02T10:13:25.748-07:00

See - it's right there in the title. Spoilers.  Big time.First (and to give those who are still parsing the whole "spoiler" bit a second) - I want to say that the Mass Effect series is still an amazing achievement and hands down my favorite BioWare franchise to date.  I don't know if a full review is really helpful from Cathode - easy to say I highly recommend it.  I have a few nitpicks with it - like the fact that in the far future I have a holographic glove which can unlock doors, repair items and kill people ... but I can't check my email.  Or that once again, BioWare managed to put in a boss fight which suddenly jumps the difficulty (and when both your squad mates die when walking in the room, don't cry "strategy" to me).99% of this game is gorgeous, plays great and tells a wonderful story.Until the end.  And I don't think anyone will ever really know what happened here.  Here's five reasons why Mass Effect 3's ending was just plain wrong.And no, it's not because Shepard usually (and probably) dies. (spoilers!)1. You don't save the galaxy.I'm not sure what the definition of saving the galaxy would be ... but let's recap here:Option 1: Destroy the Reapers and all the mass effect relays.  Destroying the Reapers also destroys all the important technology in the system, totally wiping out both the quarian and the geth and possibly doing untold damage to the other races who have already been decimated by the Reapers. So in every cycle, the Reapers come and wipe out the dominate species and leave the remaining ones intact to evolve and be harvested later.  So while not the usual plan here - I'd still score this one pretty solidly in the Reaper column.  Most of the galaxy is destroyed, and what isn't has been tossed back to some kind of stone age. Option 2: Die and control the Reapers.  Which is the first of the three options which starts to leave logical thinking aside.  I'm dead ... but I'm in control.  Worst.  Promotion.  Ever.  There's no indication of what this odd paradox of being both deceased but in control actually means - you're just left to assume.  It doesn't help that every end cutscene is 95% identical except with a few edits and color changes.For the record, this is the only ending which seems even passable to me.  If I assume Shepard is now some kind of free-floating Reaper god child (seriously, wtf) - then I can assume enough technology and power remains that maybe everyone I just spent all that time fighting for might have a chance to live.Option 3: Modify the entire galaxy into some kind of organic-synthetic hybrid.  Or as I like to call - what the frak are you talking about? How...   what.  Huh?  I mean, you stick a circuit into Joker, and put some dermal patches on EDI ... wait ... that's all the Reapers really wanted?  They just wanted organics and synthetics to get along?But I did that.   It's possibly to have the geth and quarians living happily side by side, without any bullshit cutscene or mass genocide.  And since all the mass effect relays exploding still killed the vast majority of life in the galaxy ... I'm still not entirely calling this "saving the galaxy".  Not to mention, oh little glowing god-child of my dreams .... but a synthetic-organic hybrid could still make synthetics which could kill all the synthetic-organics.  And according to you, it's inevitable.  And now the Reapers are on vacation from "saving us".  So the synthesis doesn't really solve anything that controlling option did, exce[...]



[Game Play] Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (vs. Skyrim)

2012-02-10T09:56:37.401-08:00

Reckoning is, if not anything else, an excellent freshmen attempt from a freshmen studio.  Sure, it famously hails Ken Rolston of Elder Scrolls fame - and that is probably cheating on the "freshmen" front, but this doesn't change the fact that it is a brand new franchise with a brand new engine.Partially thanks to the Rolston connection, many comparisons were lined up between Reckoning and Skyrim.  I first heard about Kingdoms of Amalur in the midst of forum chatter about Skyrim, the theory being that Reckoning might be a Skyrim experience without the numerous bugs of Skyrim (did I mention this was a PS3 forum?  Yeah....).I've clocked about 10 hours into Reckoning, so this is probably not an overly comprehensive review - but I'm now walking down the path of thinking that the games are far more different than similar.  Skyrim strives for a dense, realistic world and favors a first person narrative.  Reckoning is a fast paced third person affair with cartoon-like graphics.  Despite their similarities, Skyrim reminds me of old school games like Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master, where Reckoning reminds me strongly of Diablo and World of Warcraft.Reckoning also sports a storyline by R.A. Salvatore - a rather famous author in the Dungeons and Dragons line of fantasy.  Salvatore's backstory seems to give Reckoning a certain edge, but the familiarity of the world with immortal fae, kobolds, trolls, and the like ... does it no favors in making Amalur stand out or seem particularly gripping.  Some of the dialogue and characters are interesting, but largely lacks any emotional impact.If anything, I think this highlights a very strong suit of Skyrim.  The player manages to feel connected to the NPC's and hence, to the story itself.  In that game, I joined the assassin's guild out of an attempt to betray them (which failed, because you apparently only get one chance to do that...) - which is a pretty complex plot for a computer game that had nothing to do with any of the code.  I don't see anything like that happening in Reckoning.The world and the story is a solid backdop for the game, and the designs by comic artist Todd McFarlane likewise gives everything you look at an extremely competent feel to it ... but there are rare instances when the design will really give you that "wow" feeling.At this point, Reckoning would be set for a solid B if it weren't for two factors.The first is the combat.  It's been noted in every review for the game, but it can't be mentioned enough.  These combat mechanics are through the roof good.  It's not just the way the auto-lock system flows easily without any real user interaction or input.   It's not just the highly stylized combat moves and the pure joy of unlocking new moves and figuring out how to best incorporate them into your fighting strategies.  It's not just the well factored physics and NPC reactions to your moves - enemies "feel" like they go down when they should, and keep charging when they should.  It is how all of that works together.  Rolston, Salvatore and McFarlane made sure that this game had a solid base when it comes to design, but I think the most noteworthy aspect is that the real star of the game had nothing to do with those big names ... it's the technical brilliance behind the most core aspect - beating up monsters and taking their loot.Back when I modded Unreal, I realized the most important thing to keep ri[...]



[Game Play] The Problem with Catwoman

2012-02-08T07:33:22.843-08:00

Arkham City has a lot of things going for it and for those things has earned plenty of accolades and inclusion in Game Of The Year discussions.  I'm not really going to to go on here about the improvements to the combat, or how the open world plays well with the Zelda-esque handling of the adventure genre in general.  Instead, we're going to talk about Catwoman.The used games market is something of a villain for the games publishers in general and the reason why you now usually will need to enter in some kind of code to do things like play online.  The publishers are infuriated with the numbers stores like Gamestop make in repeat sales of their products without the publishers seeing an additional penny.For gamers, the so-called "grey market" can be a huge boon.  By waiting for titles after the (insanely important to the publisher's PR) release day they can get increasingly better deals on titles and by trading in their recent titles they can see even better discounts on completely new titles.  This reason alone is probably why we shouldn't read too much into reports about game console X banning used games anytime soon (especially with said rumors reporting on extremely vague technology in order to accomplish said feat).However, we should expect developers and publishers to continue to find new and inventive ways to force people who buy used games to give them money.  In fact, I just entered a code for the online pass for Kingdoms of Amalur.  This is notable because Amalur has no online mode.For Arkham City, Rocksteady decided to include a code to unlock what could essentially be considered first day DLC - meaning that it was additional content outside of the normal gameplay which could otherwise be purchased separately - but Rocksteady decided to give people buying the game new a bonus of having the DLC right away.At face value - I don't have any real issue with this strategy.  An argument could be made about what is truly "DLC" and what is simply normal content that is being intentionally divided out for an extra fee.  It gets particularly contentious when gamers discover this "DLC" was actually on the disc they paid for all along and the "download" is just a key to unlock it.I'm honestly on the fence on that one - just can't bring myself to feel too strongly about it.No, none of that is the problem I had with Catwoman - the star of the DLC for Arkham City.  The problem I had with it is all the ways Rocksteady made sure to shove the leather clad whiptress in your face.  It started with every single time I started a game, getting a reminder that Catwoman existed and I hadn't entered in any code to unlock her and am I sure I want to continue without doing that?She also gets her own icon on the main menu, again reminding you if you haven't unlocked her that maybe, just maybe you should?And of course, she gets a leading role in the first part of the game because if you didn't remember already, Catwoman is totally in this fucking game.Now at this point I found the above mildly annoying.  Annoying enough that I eventually just entered the damn Catwoman code even though I had no intention of trying her out until I was completely done with the main Batman material.Oh, how wrong I was.  Now remember that Batman is one of these non-linear designs with tons of side quests.  But it isn't open so much as branching - which means that some parts of the side quests until you get the right gear or whatnot.  Which is fine - and I didn't even think it[...]



[Logically Speaking] Santorum vs. Gay Marriage

2012-01-29T20:31:33.462-08:00

I generally try to keep politics out of Cathode Tan, but sometimes politicians just say things which are simply an affront to logic itself.And yes, I'm talking about Rick Santorum. Faithful Cathode Tanners also know that I'm a fairly staunch advocate of gay rights - though I generally just consider it advocating human rights. Anyone who has actually spent time with a loving, faithful gay couple and walks away with the thought that "we should totally ban that" ... well, I just can't see how it doesn't come from a place of fear and ignorance.When the politicians use logic to cover up that fear and ignorance - it requires logic to set that right.When Santorum is asked about gay marriage, he often applies the "slippery slope" argument, that for instance legalizing gay marriage would in turn open the door to legalizing polygamy.  Here's Santorum laying out his so-called argument: allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/CGzsHURVE7Q?feature=player_embedded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Rick says that if we are going to have a conversation about one, we have to distinguish the other for him.So let's do that.Let's outline Rick's logic.All people have the right to be happy.Because gay marriage would make some people happy, it should be legalized.However, marrying multiple people would also make some people happy.Therefore, if we legalize gay marriage - we will need to legalize polygamy as well.This is a classic straw man argument.  The formula here goes:You have proposed X.I can prove Y is similar to X.Y is undesirable.Therefore, X is also undesirable.The problem is, of course, that X != Y.  It's a substitution for a real argument when you lack the facts to actually distinguish X from Y.  This is why it works for Santorum as a stump response.  The potential voter is prepared to talk about gay marriage, not polygamy - and so is placed in the same camp of not really being able to distinguish X from Y.The first fundamental problem comes from Rick's first statement.All people have the right to be happy.Which is a) not the original argument and b) isn't factual.  We have a constitutional imperative, as it were, to the "pursuit of happiness" - but we have laws in place because if being a serial killer makes you happy the state still has the right to track you down and place you in the electric chair (your state laws may vary).  So no,  not everyone has the right to be happy.A more factual opening statement would be:The state should not create laws which impede a citizen's pusuit of happiness without proof of harm to the state or citizens.At this point we don't need to worry about introducing ridiculous arguments like I can kill people because it puts a smile on my face.  It should also neatly remove equally ridiculous arguments like "legalizing gay marriage would open the door to bestiality or pedophilia" since proof of harm in such cases easily fall under sexual and/or physical abuse.   So let's continue with this as our opening statement (we'll lump citizens and state into one here as well).The state should not create laws which impede a citizen's pursuit of happiness without proof of harm to the state or other citizens.There's no evidence which shows gay marriage causes harm to to the state and therefore should not be made illegal.However, there's also no evidence that polygamy causes harm to the state and therefore should also not be made illegal.The[...]



[In The News] The Old "Consoles Will Block Used Games" Returns

2012-01-27T09:43:51.774-08:00

Long time readers of Cathode Tan might remember back when the PlayStation 3 was about to roll out, we got tons of interesting news posts of very dubious quality, not the least fervent that the PlayStation 3 wouldn't play used video games. It started with a rumor based on a patent, got twisted, add a big of blog phone game and then the Guardian was reporting the rumor (only to get it later vetted and pulled).

Well ... it's baaaack. Via Kotaku:

But that disc detail could be far less impactful to the next generation of game consoles than the assertion I've heard from one reliable industry source that Microsoft intends to incorporate some sort of anti-used game system as part of their so-called Xbox 720.

It's not clear if that means that the system wouldn't play used games or how such a set-up would work. Obvious approaches—I'm theorizing here—like linking a copy of a game to a specific Xbox Live account could seemingly be foiled by used-game owners who would keep their system offline. My source wasn't sure how Microsoft intended to implement any anti-used game system in the new machine.
-- Sources: The Next Xbox Will Play Blu-Ray, May Not Play Used Games (And Will Introduce Kinect 2)

Emphasis mine. First, let's set aside the notion that the next gen Xbox will use Sony's Blu-Ray for a whole other rumor-busting post. Let's focus on the concept of reporting something based on an anonymous source who can't provide any actual details on how this might work. If you can't detail how this might work - I don't see what the point is in reporting it at all. How this would work is the story. Last time, people were actually thinking the PS3 would scratch a notch into the disc to determine if it had been played.

We'll also set aside the questionable grammar of describing obvious approaches and only describing one approach and instead focus on the notion that the theory is hypothesizing using Microsoft's paid online service for punishing used game owners.

Because yeah - that sounds like a decent business strategy. Hey, I finally signed up for Xbox Live. Why aren't my old games I bought at GameStop playing?? Unsubscribe.

So not so much obvious, more like ridiculously bad customer trust.

Look people - the games industry might see the used games market as some kind of "grey market" area where they don't see any revenue while GameStop sells a $59.99 game once for $59.99 and then again for $56.88 ... but Microsoft's (or Sony's) role as a game publisher isn't going to override their need to sell consoles and XBox Live. And any strategy down this general direction would do just exactly that.

And that's aside from the point that I've yet to hear anyone give a technical method which would actually work. Bad business and sketchy technology? Not buying it. Let's wait for some real 720 news.

Which out of the original article is ... uh, yay! Kinect 2!



[Gratuitous Plug] To Trust The Wolf

2012-01-22T13:37:26.901-08:00

So my brother wrote a book which you can grab from virtually every e-service on the planet.  The summary:


As the mundanes riot against the control of the witches, threatening to tear the fragile realm of Raioume apart, the Gran Mater of the Coven races to defend one little girl who holds the key to mankind's future, only to find her beset by ancient demons the Gran Mater had assumed long vanquished.

So begins the story of Perdita Perrault, an awkward but precocious young witch who struggles to find her place in the world, a path which ultimately leads her to the Gran Mater's greatest enemy, the vicious and blood-thirsty Wolf King, Lupus Rex.

To Trust the Wolf is the first book of the Little Red series of novels, set in a land filled with political intrigue, governed by a matriarchal society led by a martial order, the Red Cloaks. The story of the Gran Mater, Perdita, and Lupus Rex weaves a dramatic thriller against a backdrop of magic, witches, and wolves that will captivate and enthrall. 
-- Smashwords

You can buy it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I've got my copy on Kindle on the trusty iPad - to be read soon during business trips when I once again forget how heavy the volumnious hardback edition of 1Q84 is...



Game Play: Kingdoms of Amalur Demo

2012-01-18T10:47:00.662-08:00

It's been about a month, faithful reader (or both of you - if the other guy is still around) ... the holiday drag is now nearly officially over and the gaming hangover which has been the survival of all of those November releases is behind us.I could tell you about Uncharted 3 - which is simply one of the most technically impressive games on any platform to date.  It's just so ... so ... insanely solid.  The writing, the animation, the graphics, the inner mechanics - everything just clicks.But you probably already knew that.  You might not have known about the Kingdoms of Amalur demo which just dropped on PSN and XBLA.  It's gotten some legs in the press because of Ken Rolston, of Morrowind and Oblivion fame, coming out of retirement to help retire it.The main feeling on the net, even before playing it, is that the game is a mashup of Skyrim (or more generally, The Elder Scrolls in general) and Fable.  There's a little truth to that - but I think either comparison is dangerous.  Rolston's stamp is certainly all of this game - in the latter portion of the demo you can essentially go and do whatever you want.  So I tried to steal from a store, got caught, busted out of prison and went on a killing spree on the townsfolk as they tried to reign me in.  And that was all in like twenty minutes.But the world design feels more like World of Warcraft, or I suppose Fable - if Fable was far less linear.  You don't quite get that "what is over that hill" feeling you get in Skyrim - but that doesn't mean the world isn't open to explore.  The combat mechanics are very difficult to describe - they easily transcend the usual button mash + power attack of most action RPG's by forcing players to dodge and defend themselves ... as well as pay close attention to the tactics of the enemy which change impressively from one type to the next, but I certainly wouldn't call it "strategic".The thing is - Amalur is so clearly utilizing the playbooks of other games that describing it without making comparisons is difficult.  The problem is if you were honest - you would be making comparisons not just to Rolston's previous games, but WoW, Fable, God of War, most Bioware RPG's and probably wear yourself out by the time you remembered Nethack.What Amalur has going for it is some excellent design and mechanics.  Unfortunately the demo appears to be plagued by more than a few bugs - I noticed a few "hall of mirrors" ... a graphics glitch when the rendering engine doesn't know what to render.  Other players have reported crash level gltiches.  As anyone who has read Cathode know, I've beaten on the rotting corpse of the horse which is Bethesda's miserable QA process in the past ... and hope Amalur won't have such issues.One thing that I noted: I don't know if the lack of specific save is because it is a demo, or will be part of the game.  Not being able to have multiple save points would give the game a sort of permadeath like quality (not really, but actions would have consequences you can't take back ... like murdering a whole town).  I'll be curious to see what the full version has in the way of save game control.Full version comes out Feb. 17th - very much looking forward to it, if it isn't too crash-laden.[...]



Why Skyrim is not Game Of The Year Worthy ( and Bethesda certainly not studio of the year )

2011-12-15T12:01:58.951-08:00

The recent marketing spun Spike awards granted the latest version of Skyrim both Game of the Year and Bethesda studio of the year.I wish I could feel differently, but these accolades are really a sad reflection on the industry leaning towards the figure of sales on a certain product rather than actual quality.  In my initial play of Skyrim, I thought it a high watermark of the RPG genre ... and well it should have been, except for the thousandfold number of bugs which have been found within the game since people have played the game for the hours for which it was designed.Many professional review sites have boasted playing the game for 50 hours or more.  50 hours on the design of Skyrim is nothing.  Most users play the game for over 100 hours, if not 200 hours before what they consider completion.  Skyrim should not be granted lenience because the designed hours of play is far greater than the industry average ... this should be rewarded greatly but only if Bethesda can offer it without the sacrifice of quality.Honestly, I don't think they can.  And after their marketing brigade about how Skyrim is based on a completely new engine - which is clearly a false assumption ... I don't know how any gamer can trust Bethesda again as a game studio.I'm not going to replicate the many videos out there showing the horrendous performance on the PlayStation 3.  I haven't seen this kind of performance, but what I have seen are these insane quest breaking bugs, like the inability to break through spider webs with a two-handed sword: allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/caONqglriCY?feature=player_embedded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Spider webs, Bethesda?  Seriously?  I didn't hack this quest in any way ... in fact I can run through it twice and get  completely different results on spiderwebs  which can result in me being able to finish the quest or not.Someone at Bethesda please explain how this is possibly the result of modern quality assurance.  How is this anything remotely in the realm of acceptable loss?Update: My video on the map being confusing to use was pointed out to be more of a usability nightmare than really a technical issue with the game.  OK, I'll grant that.  I'll also grant that it was probably a factor of being annoyed at running into both the Blood on the Ice quest breaker and the quest breaker above.Fine.  It isn't like you have to throw a stone very far to find other examples of quest breakers.Like this one: allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/96k3L2nczLM?feature=player_embedded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Or this (glitch doesn't happen again for this guy until towards the end of the vid): allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/2DmOxRlf2r8?feature=player_embedded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />Or this (seen this one documented a few times):Or this one where you can get out of the Mind of Madness quest, and find yourself unable to do anything: allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/QirWw6HeAWw?feature=player_embedded' F[...]