Monthly Archives: September 2013

Gunpoint Screenshot Wallpaper Upgrades

Gunpoint: What a Fine Mess I’ve Got Myself Into.

I think what attracts me most to the indie game scene is the refinement of game ideas down to their core. It’s far too typical for games to include elements from disparate genres (how many AAA games now include some form of levelling or skill tree based progression) and whilst the end result might be playable those extraneous elements usually don’t do much for the game as a whole. Independent game son the other hand, with their much more limited resources behind them, have to focus on those ideas lest the scope get out of control. Gunpoint is an indie platform puzzler that does a few things and does them well making for an enjoyable, if somewhat short, experience.

Gunpoint Screenshot Wallpaper NPC Interactions

You are Richard Conway, freelance spy who’s just received his shipment of Bullfrog hypertrousers and has decided to test them out from his 3rd floor apartment. Of course since you’ve never used them before this sends to you flying out of your apartment and into the nearby corporate offices. Unfortunately for you a murder is committed nearby and the video footage places you at the scene of the crime. So begins your adventure into covering your ass and, hopefully, discovering who the real killer is.

Gunpoint is a pixel art game and does well to invoke feelings of the times when games like it were common. The story behind its creation is quite interesting as the main developer, Tom Francis previously of PC Gamer fame, put out a call on his blog for artists. He eventually settled on John Roberts as the lead artist and Fabian van Dommelen for the backgrounds and the end result is quite good. Francis also went through the same process for the background music and has achieved a similar level of success even though it’s a decidedly more modern affair.

Gunpoint Screenshot Wallpaper Crosslink

As I alluded to before Gunpoint is a puzzler platformer with a heavy emphasis on using the environment to accomplish your objectives whilst remaining out of sight of potential enemies. Initially this is just a game of timing your moves right, ensuring that guards don’t see you and that you have enough time to accomplish your goal before they turn around. However that all changes when you’re given access to the crosslink tool, a game mechanic  which allows you to rewire circuits within the building you’re attempting to infiltrate. This allows you to do all sorts of crazy and whacky things, many of which are emergent thanks to the rather free form nature of Gunpoint’s play.

In the beginning you’re given unfettered access to the entire building, allowing you to rewire anything to anything. Of course if the whole game was like this it would be a little too easy so eventually it’s broken down into different circuits which you need to unlock in order to be able to control devices on it. This necessitates using a little strategy in order to get guards to open doors for you or just to set them in motion so you’ll be able to sneak past them or take them out without risking being shot. This is probably one of the few games where I find one-shot kills acceptable although that’s probably more due to the great auto-save system more than anything else.

Gunpoint Screenshot Wallpaper Shop

The upgrade system in Gunpoint takes on a dual focus with each successful mission granting one point to upgrade your innate abilities as well as a stack of cash which you can spend on upgrades. However like most games which incorporate upgrades which have potentially game changing consequences Gunpoint’s levels don’t strictly rely on you having anything of them, meaning the game can be completed without them. Indeed I didn’t spend much money at all on upgrades initially and only when I was granted a ludicrous $8000 bounty did I bother spending my cash. Even then at the end I barely used any of the additional abilities I had been granted although the upgrades to the jump charge speed and height were somewhat useful.

The story is a light-hearted affair as it doesn’t take itself too seriously (even if you choose the less silly dialogue options) and doesn’t really deal with a serious subject matter. For the style of game it fits quite well and the story sequences, which are told through walls of text, don’t distract from the main game. If you’re feeling adventurous you can also find extra bits and pieces of the story scattered around the levels in optional objectives which aren’t completely necessary but do add a little more flavour and back story. Overall it’s good but lacks any kind of depth so don’t expect a heavily story driven experience.

Gunpoint Screenshot Wallpaper Hiding in an Elevator

Gunpoint is a great puzzler experience that focuses heavily on the game play, allowing the player a degree of freedom that is rare in today’s titles. It’s quite likely that no two playthroughs of Gunpoint will be the same as the amount of emergent behaviour that is possible within each small level is quite extraordinary. It’s let down somewhat by the not-so-useful upgrade system and light on story but the heavy investment in the game play more than makes up for these shortcomings. It’s an intriguing title, one made even more interesting by the fact that it was made by a former game critic, and should you be looking for a good distraction between longer games then you really couldn’t go past Gunpoint.

Rating: 8.5/10

Gunpoint is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was approximately 2 hours with 50% of the achievements unlocked.

Malcolm Turnbull Derp

Turnbull Backing Off From Anti-FTTP Stance.

There’s been little doubt in the tech community that Malcolm Turnbull had it out for the FTTP NBN. He’s been quite critical of the program since its inception and has taken every opportunity to point out that it’s behind schedule (even though it’s 3 months in a 10+ year project). The FTTN policy which they campaigned with was universally derided yet Turnbull fervently defended it at every possible opportunity. Whilst I was somewhat optimistic that it was all campaign blather just to secure votes from some select parties, especially considering its non-core status, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that Turnbull really thought his policy was worthwhile, especially when he said FTTP had superseded FTTN.

Turns out that my predictions have largely turned out to be correct.

Malcolm Turnbull DerpIn a stark reversal on his previous positions about the NBN Turnbull has now instead opted to conduct a full review to ascertain how long the current rollout will take and if there’s anyway that can be reduced. Whilst on the surface this would appear to be just the next logical step in taking the axe to the FTTP program however it’s been shown that FTTP would end up costing about the same so any cost benefit analysis would conclude it would be the better option. Of course this also opens the door for Turnbull to take credit for the whole program by only making some superficial changes to it. Whilst this is probably the best outcome I could hope for, especially considering that current fibre rollouts will continue until the review is completed (expected to take 6 months), it doesn’t make up for the fact that Turnbull has taken every opportunity to blast the NBN and now wants to take credit for it.

Of course there’s every chance that he’d could still do a lot of damage to it without fundamentally changing the technology that underpins it. Now that the entire NBNCo board has resigned at his request Turnbull has apparently tapped former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski to head the new board. Anyone who lived through Ziggy’s tenure as CEO of Telstra will tell you that he’s bad news for a telecommunications company as he proceeded to run Telstra into the ground and was ousted late in 2004. He has not been involved in the telecommunications industry since then so any cred he had has long since lapsed and would be far more likely to give a repeat performance of his time with Telstra. This could be made up for somewhat by the fact that NBNCo is still on the government’s leash but I’d rather not have to get them involved every time Ziggy makes a poor business decision.

Talking this over with my more politically minded friends it seems like this will be the only avenue in which we will be able to get the FTTP NBN we want: by letting the Liberals claim it as their own. Personally that gives me the shits as it shows that politicians aren’t interested in continuing large, multi-term infrastructure projects unless they can somehow claim ownership of it. Of course the tech community will always know it was Labor’s idea in the first place but the larger voting public will likely see it as a beleaguered project which the Liberals valiantly fixed, something which is provably wrong. In the end I guess I don’t care what the public perception is as long as it gets in but I’d rather not have to argue the point to convince people otherwise.

So hopefully 6 months from now I’ll be able to write a post about how the review has come back and magically convinced Turnbull of what we all knew: the FTTP NBN is the way to go. Whilst I’m struggling to figure out how NBNCo could do what they’re doing faster and more efficiently I’m sure they’ll be able to find a few percent here or there that will be enough to ensure the overall structure doesn’t change dramatically. With that Turnbull can claim victory that he’s able to do the exact same thing better than Labor and I’ll write another angry rant, albeit from behind a nice, fat 100MBs pipe.

 

Surface 2 Pro

Microsoft’s Surface 2: A Big Hole To Fill.

There’s no question that  Microsoft’s attempt at the tablet market has been lacklustre. Whilst the hardware they have powering their tablets was decent the nascent Windows Store lacks the diversity of its competitors, something which made the RT version of it even less desirable. This has since resulted in Microsoft writing down $900 million in Surface RT and associated inventory something which many speculated would be the end of the Surface line. However it appears that Microsoft is more committed than ever to the Surface idea and recently announced the Surface 2, an evolutionary improvement over its predecessor.

Surface 2 ProThe new Surface 2 looks pretty much identical to predecessor although it’s a bit slimmer and is also a bit lighter. It retains the in built kick stand but it now has 2 positions instead of one something which I’m will be useful to some. The specifications under the hood have been significantly revamped for both versions of the tablet with the RT (although it’s no longer called that) version sporting a NVIDIA Tegra 4 and the Pro one of the new Haswell i5 chips. Microsoft will also now let you choose how much RAM you get in your Pro model, allowing you to cram up to 8GB in there. The Pro also gets the luxury of larger drive sizes, up to 512GB should you want it (although you’ll be forced to get the 8GB RAM model if you do). Overall I’d say this is pretty much what you’d expect from a generation 2 product and the Pro at least looks like it could be a decent laptop competitor.

Of course the issues that led Microsoft to write down nearly a billion dollars worth of inventory (after attempting to peddle as much of it as they could to TechEd attendees) still exist today and the upgrade to Windows 8.1 won’t do much to solve this. Sure in the time between the initial Surface release and now there’s been a decent amount of applications developed for it but it still pales in comparison. I still think that the Metro interface is pretty decent on a touch screen but Microsoft will really have to do something outrageous to convince everyone that the Surface is worth buying otherwise it’s doomed to repeat its predecessor’s mistakes.

The Pro on the other hand looks like it’d be a pretty great enterprise tablet thanks to its full x86 environment. I know I’d much rather have those in my environment than Android or iPads as they would be much harder to integrate into all the standard management tools. A Surface 2 Pro on the other hand would behave much like any other desktop allowing me to deliver the full experience to anyone who had one. Of course it’s then more of a replacement for a laptop than anything else but I do know a lot of users who would prefer a tablet device rather than the current fleet of laptops they’re given (even the ones who get ultrabooks).

Whilst the Pro looks like a solid upgrade I can’t help but feel that the upgrade to the RT is almost unnecessary given the fact that most of the complaints levelled at it were nothing to do with its performance. Indeed not once have I found myself wanting for speed on my Surface RT, instead I’ve been wanting my favourite apps to come across so that I don’t have to use their web versions which, on Internet Explorer, typically aren’t great. Maybe the ecosystem is mature enough now to tempt some people across but honestly unless they already own one I can’t really see that happening, at least for the RT version. The Pro on the other hand could make some headway into Microsoft’s core enterprise market but even that might not be enough for the Surface division.

 

steamos_page_bg

Valve Announces SteamOS (I Fucking Called It, Bitches).

The primary driver for any company, whether they’re bound to the public via the whims or the stock market or not, is to create value and wealth for its various stakeholders. There’s not many companies that do that as well as Valve who’s profit per employee is among the highest in any industry and an order of magnitude above all its competitors. This is almost wholly due to their domination of the digital distribution market but their innovative use of Free to Play for their flagship games has certainly contributed to that as well. Of course the question on everyone’s minds is where Valve will go from here and their latest announcement, which I speculated about last year, seems to be their answer.

steamos_page_bgToday Valve announced SteamOS, essentially a Linux environment that’s geared towards playing games. There’s also a number of additional features that will be made available with its release including the also recently announced Family Sharing program which allows you to share your steam library with others. Whilst this isn’t the SteamBox that many were anticipating it’s essentially Valve’s console launch as they’ve stated numerous times in the past that anyone would be able to build their own SteamBox and SteamOS would be the basis for that. What the SteamOS actually entails, in terms of functionality and look/feel, remains to be seen but the launch site promises it will be available soon.

SteamOS comes off the back of Valve’s substantial amount of work on the Linux platform with a decent chunk of the Steam library now available on the platform. If we take Gabe’s word for it much of this was driven by the fact that Windows 8 was a “catastrophe” for gaming, something which I don’t agree with, and Valve sees their future being the Linux platform. Whilst it’s admirable that they’re investing a lot in a platform that’s traditionally been a tiny sliver of the PC gaming market the decision to use Linux is, in my opinion, more likely profit driven than anything else as it gets them a foothold in an area where they don’t current have any: the home living room.

Big Picture mode was their first attempt at this which was pretty squarely aimed at replicating the console experience using the Steam platform. However since most people run their games on a PC dedicated to such activities this would mean that Steam’s penetration in the living room was minimal. The SteamOS, and by extension the SteamBox, is a more targeted attempt to break into this area with it’s additional media features and family friendly control options. I don’t begrudge them for this, the sole reason companies exist is to generate profit, however some seem to think Valve’s moves towards Linux are purely altruistic when I can assure you they’re anything but.

Of course the biggest factor that will determine the success or failure of this platform will be whether or not the big developers and publishers see the SteamOS as a viable platform to develop for. As many are speculating Valve could do this by drastically reducing their cut of sales on the platform, something which would go a long way to making developing for Linux viable. I don’t think Valve needs to do a whole lot to attract indie developers to it as many of the frameworks they use already natively support Linux (even XNA does through some 3rd party tools) and as the Humble Indie Bundle has shown there’s definitely enough demand to make it attractive for them.

If any other company attempted to do this I’d say they were doomed to fail but Valve has the capital and captive market to make this idea viable. I’m sure it will see a decent adoption rate just out of pure curiosity (indeed I’ll probably install it just to check it out) and that could be enough to give it the critical mass needed to see adoption rates sky rocket. Whether or not those numbers will be big enough to convince the developers and publishers to get on board though will be something that will play out over the next couple years and will ultimately be the deciding factor in the platform’s success or failure.

 

cygnus-cargo-logistics-spacecraft

Orbital Sciences Cygnus Launches, Heading For The ISS.

There was a long running joke that the International Space Station existed only as a place for the shuttle to go. Whilst that joke ignores the fact that the ISS wasn’t just an American creation it was true that the Shuttle really only had a single destination for the last decade or so of its life. Still it was pretty damn good at its job, both in terms of delivering payloads and its ability to ferry large crews and its retirement left a large hole in launch capabilities that is still yet to be filled. There have been many alternatives popping up however and the second fully privately funded one, the Orbital Sciences Cygnus, made its launch debut last week.

cygnus-cargo-logistics-spacecraftIn terms of capabilities the Cygnus is very similar to the Russian Progress craft with the initial versions able to deliver a payload of 2,000kg to the ISS. This is scheduled to be bumped up to 2,700kg after the first 3 vehicles as the craft and its associated launcher will be upgraded, giving it more significantly more interior volume as well. Much like all the other ISS cargo craft it does not have an automated docking capability and needs to be captured by CANADARM2 before being guided to one of the station’s ports. Additionally the Cygnus does not have any capability to reboost the ISS whilst it is docked, something which seems to be uniquely confined to the ATV (although the Progress can do it if required), and does not have any down range capability meaning it burns up on re-entry.

The first Cygnus craft launched late last week after a technical glitch caused a one day delay whilst a fix was developed. The launch itself was trouble free and it spent the weekend catching up to the ISS for a scheduled rendezvous today.  Unfortunately whilst the Cygnus was attempting to establish a direct data link with the ISS another glitch was encountered forcing it to abort the current docking attempt. This will delay any further attempts for another couple days due to the orbital mechanics involved but this will give Orbital Sciences enough time to create and test a fix so that the next attempt should be successful.

Just like SpaceX before it Orbital Sciences has a pretty aggressive schedule for successive flights with the next flight lined up for December this year and 3 to follow in 2014. Considering their pedigree with multiple launch systems under their belt this is somewhat expected but it’s still quite amazing to see just how quickly these private companies can move when compared to previous governmental based efforts. It will be interesting to see if they ever adapt the Cygnus to be a human rated craft as whilst they’ve never launched people before they’ve got much of the expertise needed to do so.

It’s great to see that NASA’s COTS program is doing so well, producing results that many believed would be impossible. Whilst they still haven’t bridged the launch capability gap that the Shuttle has left behind they’ve already demonstrated one major part of it and I know it won’t be long before the crewed capability is restored. I’m hopeful that this will enable NASA to continue focusing on the real envelope pushing ideas to further our capabilities in space, leaving the more rudimentary aspects of it to the private market. The future of private space travel is looking brighter by the day and I’m glad Orbital Sciences, with their incredible pedigree of delivering on space projects, has come along for the ride.

 

Saints Row IV Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Saints Row IV: Fun, For a While…

I’ve always been somewhat aware of the Saints Row series of games although I’ll be honest and say that I have, for the most part, ignored them. It’s not that I have anything against them in particular, indeed I played Saints Row 2 a bit when it came out, it’s just that open world games aren’t usually that appealing to me. Still it’s been hard to miss the controversy that surrounds Saints Row IV and by all accounts it’s been well received by the community at large so I had to wonder if I was missing out on something. Whilst my time with Saints Row IV might not have turned me into an open world convert I was amazed at how far Grand Theft Auto’s poor cousin had come since the last time I played it.

Saints Row IV Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Saints Row IV takes place shortly after its predecessor putting you, known only as The Boss, in the middle east to track down Cyrus Temple who’s gone insane and is hellbent on kill all of your crew. Before you can get to him however he launches a nuclear missile at Washington and you, being the charismatic hero that you are, leap onto it and disable it mid flight. This wins you the praise of the American people, catapulting you into the oval office with the Saints as your cabinet. 5 years later however the world is invaded by a ruthless alien race and you’re the only one that can stop them.

It’s clear that Saints Row IV has been engineered towards fast paced game play as even with every setting dialed up to the highest possible setting it still looks and feels like a current generation console game. It’s a world’s away from the horror show that was Ride to Hell: Retribution  but it’s still below the level I’ve come to expect from current generation games, even open world titles which usually dial it back a little for playability. This is made up for however by the surprising amount of detail that’s been stuffed into every scene something that becomes quite apparent when you’re driving through the numerous winding streets. The graphics were obviously not their primary focus however as there’s a lot more to the game than just the visual experience.

Saints Row IV Screenshot Wallpaper Character Customization

Like previous Saints Row games you’re given a pretty extensive amount of customization options for your character, many of which go far beyond that of what you’d normally expect. I was just going to go with the default settings however after browsing through the available skin colours and finding the fetching blue hue you see above I couldn’t help myself and set about creating Dr Manhattan. This was probably for the best as my last character, a geriatric white man who’s default look was sheer terror with a voice that certainly didn’t match his appearance, ended up becoming a distraction more than anything else. Dr Manhattan on the other hand seemed to fit in with Saints Row IV’s ludicrous nature.

If there’s one theme that runs through everything in Saints Row IV (and I’m not just talking about the story here) its that nothing should be taken seriously and that there are no limits to what the developers would mess with. Now this presents something of a conundrum for me as much of the longevity I get out of games like this comes from the fact that they take their world seriously and, once I’m bored of that reality, I can set about sowing chaos and destruction. In short Jerk Mode is a key part of my experience for these kinds of games however Saints Row encourages you to be a giant dick to everyone from the get go and indeed that becomes a central part of the overall game.

Saints Row IV Screenshot Wallpaper Gliding

The vast majority of your game time will be spent inside the “simulation” where your primary goal is to disrupt it as much as possible. There are numerous ways for you to go about this, indeed the first 4 hours of the game are pretty much dedicated to introducing you to these mechanics, and they’re all about breaking the rules and generally running amok. These are all essentially mini-games that you play to gain cash, experience and unlocks that will make your time in Saints Row IV easier and, possibly, much more enjoyable. Unfortunately like all open world games these quickly start to lose their sheen and fast become repetitive tasks which are no where near as fun.

Of course you don’t have to do all these side missions as once you’re past a certain level it’s next to impossible for you to die and the weapons you have at your disposal make all but the hardest enemies evaporate instantly. I made the mistake of trying to clear out my side quests initially which turned out to simply be an easier way to find the various challenges scattered around the place. After that I instead went to focus on the story line but even that just became a way to introduce new types of challenges into the simulation. It was at that point that I started to lose interest in Saints Row IV and is the primary reason why I didn’t finish it.

Saints Row IV Screenshot Wallpaper TRON Tanks

The combat of Saints Row IV is primarily of the 3rd person shooter variety with hordes of enemies throwing themselves at your vast arsenal that includes both regular guns and ludicrous weapons such as the Dubstep Gun. The AI isn’t particularly smart or innovative, usually standing in the same position and taking pot shots at you, and the challenge usually becomes finding them rather than dispatching them. If you prefer you can also go toe to toe with them either using your fists or one of the few melee weapons available to you however the melee combat system feels really clunky, to the point of being unusable.

The problem stems from the fact that your normal walk speed is heinously slow and while sprinting you can’t use any weapons at all. This means that approaching an enemy involves sprinting right up to them, stopping and then waiting for your character to switch into melee mode. If you rapidly press the fire button while sprinting you’ll perform a super power take down, something which is effective in its own right, however if you’re trying to take out multiple enemies at a time it’s by far the least effective way of doing so. Thus whilst there is a melee combat system it feels decidedly lacklustre and is only made worse when you’re forced to use it in some of the challenges.

Saints Row IV Screenshot Wallpaper Escape Zin Ship

There are also large swaths of the game that seem to be completely irrelevant. Like Grand Theft Auto you can steal cars and even upgrade/customize them however once you’ve got a couple levels in sprint there’s not a lot of point in driving them around. Indeed if you’re chasing data clusters, the little things that let you upgrade your super powers, you can’t be in any kind of vehicle in order to pick them up. There was allusions made to the fact that there might be races using them however I never came across one so any money sunk into improving your cars seems like an utterly pointless endeavour.

The story is pretty much as you’d expect although I get the feeling I’d be getting a lot more out of it if I had seriously played some of the preceding Saints Row games. Indeed much of this game relies on past events to drive the current narrative so those of us who are only tangentially familiar with the Saints Row story are likely to be left wondering why certain things are the way they are. The romance options are pretty hilarious though, even if you don’t need to do anything more than press R to activate them.

Saints Row IV Screenshot Wallpaper VROOOMMMM

Saints Row IV starts off strong with its complete disregard for seriousness and emphasis on just having fun. However that quickly wears thin as the game throws repetitive challenges at you making every task feel like just another grind for experience and cache. I’m sure long time Saints Row fans will find much to love in the current title but for someone like me I just couldn’t get into it past a superficial level. I tried to stick it out, honestly I did, but the repetition and lack of any investment in the characters or story just wore me down and I couldn’t continue playing it.

Rating: 7.0/10

Saints Row IV is available on PC, PlayStation3 and Xbox360 right now for $69.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with around 6 hours of total game time and 21% of the achievements unlocked.

Oh The Clicking (or Planes, I Like Planes).

Came across this video the other day, it’s the start up sequence for a Boeing 737 jet:

YouTube Preview Image

I knew the process for getting a jet off the ground wasn’t exactly easy but seeing the whole thing play out gave me a whole new perspective on it. What particularly got me was how much of it still relied on the pilot switching things around even though it was one of the newer models with a glass cockpit. I’m sure there’s a good reason for that (regulatory I’m guessing) but you’d think that eventually a lot of those manual processes would become part of the flight software.

That’s probably just the software developer in me however, wanting to automate anything and everything.

Diablo-3-Auction-House-bids

Diablo 3 Will Return to its Roots with Reaper of Souls.

Taken at face value my review of Diablo III is overwhelmingly positive and for the most part I still agree with it. Whilst it hasn’t managed to become the cult classic that Diablo II was, one that managed to rear its head every so often both on and offline, Diablo III still felt like a solid title. My time with Diablo III didn’t stop after the review however as I continued to progress my character through it’s hardest difficulty setting: Inferno. As anyone who has played the game will tell you the difference between Hell and Inferno is akin to running head first into a brick wall repeatedly until you realize that you’re never going to get past it unless something drastic changes.

And then you hit up the auction house.

Diablo-3-Auction-House-bidsAt this point I had a decent reserve of gold built up thanks to pawning off a few good items and being able to power through levels without too much trouble. I was able to afford a few decent upgrades that were enough to see me through Act 1 but any further than that and I was running up against yet another brick wall. So I figured I’d just need to grind out Act 1 for a while in order to scrounge up some gold for a couple more upgrades in order to get me through the next phase. I soon realized that the amount of time I’d need to invest per upgrade was pretty extensive and, most depressingly, the inflation rate of the auction house ensured that subsequent upgrades would get further and further apart.

This was made even worse by the fact that nearly every single drop I got wasn’t useful for my character class and was never likely to fetch a good price on the auction house due to the random assortment of stats that wasn’t good for anything in particular. Whilst my chosen character class (Monk) was one of the better ones for end game content I still found myself struggling, especially after the attack speed nerf came through. All of these things combined to create an experience that was solely focused on grinding in order to buy better gear on the auction house, something that I, and all of my friends, had no interest in pursuing after that.

The problem as I saw it was two fold. The introduction of the auction house was meant to be an avenue for players to trade items to overcome the rather inadequate solution that Diablo II had. I don’t have a problem with this idea per se, however Diablo III seemed to rely on it due to the way the loot system worked. Essentially since the loot you found was usually not particularly useful for you at your current level/end game progression you had to sell it and, since you needed more gold to buy the required upgrades, you needed to charge a premium for those items you did sell. The crux of it was that the loot system however since the randomization added on top of the legendary items usually resulted in them being useless to you.

Blizzard has since announced that in Reaper of Souls, the upcoming expansion for Diablo III, the auction house will be going away permanently. This comes hand in hand with a revised loot system that changes the amount and distribution of items a player will receive over the course of an Act.  Honestly the latter is what will improve the game experience vastly as it brings back the kind of variation that made Diablo II so infinitely replayable whilst making the drops you do get more meaningful. Removing the auction house will hopefully reduce the game’s reliance on it allowing players to enjoy the experience and the thrill of getting those upgrades.

I was honestly skeptical that Blizzard could do anything to bring me back into the fold with the latest expansion. I mean sure I was probably going to buy it and play it through once but beyond that I figured it would just become yet another box to add to my collection. However with these changes it shows that Blizzard is listening to the community and fixing the major issues that stopped many from continuing playing. Of course I’ll reserve final judgement until I actually play it but suffice to say they’ve got my attention and they’ve reignited my hope that Diablo III will be able to emulate the cult classic success that its predecessor did.

 

Review Scores

Why I Still Have Scores on My Reviews.

Review scores have always troubled me. Ever since I found out how the industry uses them to judge bonuses for developers (something I knew long before that article was published thanks to friends working in the industry) the score I ended up giving the game always had a level of gravitas attached to it, even if I knew only a couple dozen people read the review. I tried to clarify my position in an attempt to give more insight into how the final score was constructed but still that nagging feeling remained. Since then I’ve had many discussions with friends about review scores in general and I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re staying around but there’s a set of rules around their use.

Review ScoresFor starters I think the biggest issue with review scores in general is when they’re used in aggregate to compare  titles on the same medium (games/movies/books/etc.). The problem with this is that it ignores the unique perspective and thought process that goes into curating that score, something that’s intensely personal and becomes meaningless when stripped of its context. For instance my preference to start games out with perfect scores and then take points off is likely not the same process other reviewers go through and thus my 8.5/10 does not compare to the same score elsewhere. Indeed I try incredibly hard to lay out any personal bias on the table so that when you do see that final score you can make a decision as to how valid that is compared to your viewpoint or other reviewers you might follow.

Following on from this its logical to then assume that scores bear no correlation between different game genres. It’s impossible to compare something like MirrorMoon EP to Payday 2 using only the review score because their commonalities end almost as soon as they begin.  However I feel comparing MirrorMoon EP to say Kairo quite valid as they’re quite similar in many regards and whilst their differences are nuanced if you wanted a general idea of how they compared to each other the review score is then appropriate. I’ve been told that this kind of philosophy is what drove the late and great Roger Ebert’s review scores for movies and I believe that it’s very applicable to the world of gaming.

Of course I can really only enforce these rules here where I have total control over how the content is presented but I think some generalization of these ideas applied widely would go a long way to reversing some of the damage that review scores have done to various parts of the industry. They’re still not ideal of course, nothing that boils down hours upon hours of invested time to a single digit is, but if we as consumers become more nuanced in the way we use reviews then they might start to become meaningful. This would have to go hand in hand with turning down our usage of review aggregators as they’re arguably the primary source of most of the complaints that center around review scores.

I don’t see that happening anytime soon but I can at least do my part to improve the situation.

 

Phonebloks Design Concept

Phonebloks: Cool Idea, Bro.

One of the first ideas that an engineer in training is introduced to is the idea of modularity. This is the concept that every problem, no matter how big, can be broken down into a subset of smaller problems that are interlinked. The idea behind this is that you can design solutions specific to the problem space rather than trying to solve everything in one fell swoop, something that is guaranteed to be error prone and likely never to achieve its goals. Right after you’re introduced to that idea you’re also told that modularity done for its own sake can lead to the exact same problems so its use must be tempered with moderation. It’s this latter point that I think the designers of Phonebloks might be missing out on even though as a concept I really like the idea.

Phonebloks Design ConceptFor the uninitiated the idea is relatively simple: you buy yourself what equates to a motherboard which you can then plug various bits and pieces in to with one side being dedicated to a screen and the other dedicated to all the bits and pieces you’ve come to expect from a traditional smartphone. Essentially it’s taking the idea of being able to build your own PC and applying it to the smartphone market done in the hope of reducing electronic waste since you’ll only be upgrading parts of the phone rather than the whole device at a time. The lofty idea is that this will eventually become the platform for everyone and smartphone component makers will be lining up to build additional blocks for it.

As someone who’s been building his own PCs for the better part of 3 decades now I think the idea that the base board, and by extension the interconnects it has on it, will never change is probably the largest fundamental flaw with Phonebloks. I’ve built many PCs with the latest CPU socket on them in the hopes that I could upgrade on the cheap at a later date only to find that, when it came time to upgrade, another newer and far superior socket was available. Whilst the Phonebloks board can likely be made to accommodate current requirements its inevitable that further down the track some component will require more connections or a higher bandwidth interface necessitating its replacement. Then, just as with all those PCs I bought, this will also necessitate re-buying all the additional components, essentially getting us into the same position as we are currently.

This is not to mention the fact that hoping other manufacturers, ones that already have a strong presence in the smartphone industry, will build components for it is an endeavor that’s likely to be met with heavy resistance, if it’s not outright ignored. Whilst there are a couple companies that would be willing to sell various components (Sony with their EXMOR R sensor, ARM with their processor, etc.) they’re certainly not going to bother with the integration, something that would likely cost them much more than any profit they’d see from being on the platform.

Indeed I think that’s the biggest issue that this platform faces. Whilst its admirable that they’re seeking to be the standard modular platform for smartphones the standardization in the PC industry did not come about overnight and took the collaboration of multiple large corporations to achieve. Without their support I’m struggling to see how this platform can get the diversity it needs to become viable and as far as I can tell the only backing they’ve got is from a bunch of people willing to tweet on their behalf.

Fundamentally I like the idea as whilst I’m able to find a smartphone that suits the majority of my wants pretty easily there are always things I would like to trade in for others. My current Xperia Z would be a lot better if the speakerphone wasn’t rubbish and the battery was capable of charging wirelessly and I’d happily shuffle around some of the other components in order to get my device just right. However I’m also aware of the giant integration challenge that such a modular platform would present and whilst they might be able to get a massive burst of publicity I’m skeptical that it will turn into a viable product platform. I’d love to be wrong on this though but as someone who’s seen many decades of modular platform development and the tribulations it entails I can’t say that I’m banking money for my first Phoneblok device.