31 August 2007

Backwards Compatibility: An Update


I previously through in some of my thoughts on Backwards Compatibility, I finished God of War a while back on my PS3. Yes, I know that it seems silly that I got a PS3 basically to play upscaled versions of PS2 games on but God of War didn't work in my PS2 properly (and it's freakin' awesome). Anyway was given a 1 dot thing out of 3 dot things which basically means that it Should play on PLAYSTATION®3 with noticeable issues. If that's what 1 dot thing means then well done Sony's backward compatibility team. There were some artefacts generally at loading and a couple of times in the game but that was it. On the other hand playing Prince of Persia on the XBox 360 (which is binary in its compatibility) had it running in what looked like less than 4:3 ratio, suffering slowdown and crashing. Since my girlfriend was playing it at the time I ended up going for the (cheap) PC triple pack which also means I can play the other two as well.

We'll see whether I'll filled with rage again depending on how God of War 2 runs since I've ordered that. It's not listed on their Backwards Compatibility list but others have had some success according to the unofficial list; I'm pretty sure Sony should keep their own list up-to-date though. Ah well if it doesn't work I can always hope my PS2 fares better with the sequel than the first game.

I'm too busy playing BioShock at the moment to really care :D.

Oh and since it is vaguely related the very funny Zero Punctuation covers the console war.

Update: I've now played God of War II but, at the time of writing, it isn't listed in their backwards compatibility list. Now there are some games I have that I haven't tried but you'd think Sony would check out their new titles and add them to that list since I nearly didn't buy the game based on the fact that the fact it isn't there suggests it doesn't work. No problem yet, it seems to run beautifully.

22 August 2007

The March of Progress


I recently took part in the Valve's Steam Summary which basically just posts your system information to Valve. They then post that online which is probably a good cross section of the slightly higher end of the game playing market (I expect Steam users are probably a little bit more hardcore gamers than a standard cross-section). Looking at the results it appears that my machine is at the lower end to mid end of the spec (there are a few people who appear to be running Steam on toasters). One of the reasons that I love consoles is the lack of upgrade cycle (well there is an upgrade cycle for a new console but it is a much slower cycle). However the fact that I do some development means I still want PC games that have editors rather than their console variants and the fab thing about upgrading your PC is suddenly a bunch of your games look better (I'd love to run Company of Heroes at full graphic settings).

I gave Bioshock's demo a go on my 360 and then my PC and... well lets just say I'm going for the 360 version. I suspected as much when my machine just hit minimum specs for the game and Rainbow Six Vegas (another Unreal3 game) doesn't run great either. A while back Kotaku posted the system specs for Stranglehold which, among other crazy specs, required 2GB of RAM. I'm already planning on going for the PS3 version but looking at the Steam survey (at the time of writing) 4,650 out of 1,092,762 have 2GB or more of RAM. That's less than half a percent, it's not exactly a storming market, is it? There is something to be said about it not mattering how good your game looks or plays if no one can actually play it.

16 August 2007

Play Games With Other People


I've not been a fan of Gamespy's Lobby system (I mentioned this in a post a while back) so I wasn't overly delighted to hear that the next Unreal Tournament is using it. Using it for PC/PS3 cross play is fine but since I'll probably get it on the PC (for UnrealEd and, given my PC spec, the inability to play it) then I can't wait to have a user name produced by randomly mashing a keyboard (though saying that my PS3 tag and XBox 360 tags have resulted in nearly the same pain) and happily knowing that it doesn't link to any other friends list I built up from other games using the GameSpy system.

I haven't tried the PS3 multiplayer system as it stands now. I've seen it identify my contacts are online but I haven't actually tried starting a game with it. I'd be interested to know how well it works. For my PC I looked at Playxpert (which I didn't have any contacts for but seems fine) and Valve's Steam Community (beta) which also seems great then it seems a shame that we can't use one of these. Of course Epic might choose to interact with such APIs so that you can seamlessly go from your desktop straight into a match you've been invited to, it would be great if they did.

Basically I feel that if a bunch of tech heads take half an hour to work out getting over the network, sorting out logins and actually getting to play the game then it doesn't hugely bode well for the growth of a multiplayer community.

13 August 2007

Top 10 Essential RPGs

*Big* D20

Over at Tales of the Rampant Coyote Jay listed the 16 Essential RPGs. I thought I'd give it a go myself, there is quite a bit of overlap with his list but then it's likely that there would be. I've also only done ten, I've been conditioned to base 10 scales though I salute Jay and his hexadecimal ranking :D.

Baldur's Gate II
Though I enjoyed the first Baldur's Gate I also found it deeply frustrating. The second one changed all that. The character interaction with members of your party was mature. I don't mean that they talked about rude things, I mean that your party turned to you for advice, they had conflicting emotions and opinions about situations. Often I'd be playing through the game hoping that one of my party members would start their next conversations (indeed I changed the heartbeat or flags at times to insure they would). Your character felt like it was an influence on the world around it, that your actions mattered and the game brought you in.
Final Fantasy VII
The Final Fantasy series has long been at the top of my list. I guess VII stands out, in part, as it was the first I played but also for its solid story and good game system. I really enjoyed FFVIII and FFX and FFXII wasn't bad but I think one Final Fantasy game is enough for the line-up.
Fallout 2
I'd start by saying that Fallout 2 had a bigger impact on me than the first one. I picked up a Fallout pack that included them both so I played them at roughly the same time and, I felt, the second one had the edge in character interaction. The post-apocalyptic setting and the dark humour of the games really made it one of my top RPGs of all time.
Planescape Torment
Unlike Jay I have played this game. It's an amazing game that focuses on the story of the central character, a man who wakes up on slab in a morgue. It's got some interesting philosophical dialogues and solid story.
System Shock 2
System Shock 2 is genuinely creepy. It's probably the first game that put me on edge about the sounds in the ship around me. Some people might not consider this an RPG but I think it has the same level of story development as many of them along with stats, so what more do you want? It's immersing and involved and had me more emotionally attached to the stories of the crew members than many more traditional RPGs have ever succeeded with.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
As Ray stated many consider Morrowind to be a better RPG. However I think Oblivion's quest system is better sorted which means I can better manage actually getting through the varieties of quests and side-quests there are in the game (even still it has take me many, many, hours to get through it). Graphically it is beautiful, and though not something that should be a factor in this compilation, does add to the feeling of an immersing world and made me continue to want to explore the setting.
NeverWinter Nights
NeverWinter Nights represents two main things for me. Its development tools are great fun to work with (I'm designing a module with it at the moment) and it was the first RPG I really took online to play with friends. That experience was great. The single player though, felt a little like a step back from Baldur's Gate II. In part just having one henchman rather than a party didn't feel as good. I can see focusing on both single and multiplayer experience might well do this though.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Yet another BioWare game but with a good set of characters and a great story (ok, I admit I didn't see the plot twist coming and was pleasantly surprised when it did) with the Star Wars universe background but not directly linked to the films setting I was a really enjoyable game.
Arcanum was somewhat a flawed game in its execution. Buggy and rough around the edges but I really enjoyed the magic against technology clash and the Victorian steampunk setting.
Phantasy Star III
Phantasy Star was probably my first real introduction to computer RPGs (along with Rogue). I'm actually not sure how well it has aged. I bought the first three as a pack for the GBA and I found the user interface so bad that I had difficulty playing it. Plus, often, it resorts to you needing to talk to everyone in a town just to find out what to do next. However I loved the way it was about generations of a family (including branches of who said character is marrying) and at least tried some attempt at political intrigue rather than just there is a super-villain who hates everything (though it has that too).

So there you go, what would other people place in their top 10/16 RPG games that should be played?

09 August 2007

Rack Mounted PS3s

I was interested to read that Warhawk server cluster is using racks of PS3s. The obvious dig is that Sony just has heaps of PS3s lying around their offices. Seriously though, I get that you don't have to rewrite/recompile your code to work on other systems and can just use the same retail version you are giving the consumers but surely there is a better way to do it than this? I mean the cell processor was designed for rack mounted servers. I remember the reading about a cell based blade a while back, you'd think this would be a good way forwards for them.

Furthermore your interface either has a web system (which I doubt the released version has) or you have to get some poor sap to hook the system up to a screen to alter settings.

Anyway it just seems a waste, to me, to have something that includes components for graphics acceleration and a blu-ray drive to be used to run the headless job a dedicated server has.

07 August 2007

Casual Games

Soarin' Queue

This post was in draft for some time, I basically felt it was some half formed thoughts. It still is... I'm hoping for the other half soon :D.

I was waiting in the Soarin' ride queue at Disney's Epcot a few weeks ago. It was quite a long wait but was entertaining due to the fact they had some cinema screens set up with games on. Basically they just used a machine vision system to try and pick up on the general movement of the crowd to play some games. Some involved trying to keep thing in the air or breaking objects apart. Others involved racing using a consensus system to determine if the crowd is tell the bird to fly in a particular direction. It was enjoyable but more interestingly it was fascinating to see how many people were getting involved in it (though I guess a dull queue is pretty much the best way to get a captive audience).

It must be interesting developing games like this, designed to be played in the space of a few minutes that should be accessible to all. Of course their were points it seemed to be failing to pick up on people's attempt to play the game but then we aren't paying for it. Currently the Wii seems to be suffering from the controller just not having the fidelity for some games, better design will probably address this (not in increasing the accuracy of the controls but just insuring the games take this more into account) but perhaps that doesn't really matter. After playing Wii Sports I may not have found the controls perfect but the nature of the games never lead that to being a problem. I've recently been playing Super Rub-A-Dub which uses the SIXAXIS controller. Again the control system isn't exact but that's part of the fun of it. As long as that doesn't become a point of frustration then it is fine.

There is quite a debate in the games industry about this. With the current success of the Wii lots of people have looked more at drawing in the casual market. Gamasutra recently had some analysts opinions on what the other systems need to do to pick up the casual market. However The 1up Yours podcast, I felt, made a good point that Sony should probably be looking to position the PS2 as the casual games system. With EyeToy, Singstar, Guitar Hero and Buzz they can push a cheap entry system with a bunch of casual games already available. With the exception of Guitar Hero I think all these work fine on the PS3 ensuring that they can continue to push that system as well (as the upmarket version that also includes a Blu-Ray player and such). Perhaps that extends the life of the PS2 beyond what Sony really want but it also provides a system cheaper than the Wii to push at the casual market that could provide Sony two areas to move forward in.

05 August 2007

The Festival

Zombies on a break

People in Edinburgh are lucky in the fact that we get the festival at our doorstep every year. Of course often we are too busy moaning about tourists being everywhere to actually attend any festival events. I think actually enjoying the festival yourself is a great way to alleviate this. I've done festival events in years gone by but I'm trying to do a few more this year (though I still haven't booked them). Unfortunately the Edinburgh Interactive Festival doesn't seem to be running any public talks as it did in past years (just cheap short talk events rather than paying a fair chunk for an event I'd have to take a few days from work to go to). Though the talks they are having do look interesting and fairly diverse.

Anyway so hopes that I can attend more than three shows this year. I'm just back from seeing Famished, a Victorian zombie musical, which was fabulous from start to finish. With my girlfriend's interest in the Victorian era and my interest in zombies then it was an obvious choice and even with high expectations I came away really enjoying the show.

01 August 2007

WTF with Cables

Macbook Connection to HDMI

Please note: I've been recently learning all about the world of different video outputs and such. It's actually really dull and, for some reason, I've been inclined to blog about my woes as some form of cathartic release. This might be real dull reading.

So I got a HDMI to DVI connector for my Playstation 3 yesterday. I've been using component up until now but if they ever decide to use the ICT and if I want to up-scale DVDs (and my TV seems to have issues with ones not up-scaled over component) then I'll need to use a digital connection (actually with DVDs you can do it over VGA as well). So I plugged it in and set it up and noticed that the image had been shunted to the right by maybe 10cm. So you got a bit of the right hand image on the left hand side of the screen. This was very annoying. I looked around and checked out my screen settings but short of changing it to 4:3 (for a widescreen resolution, humm...) I couldn't figure out how to get 720p to fix. I tried 1080i and even 1080p where my TV will correctly downscale the image and display correctly. This would be fine by me, and, at first, testing a few things seemed to go fine. Except for the fact that Resistance: Fall of Man and Motorstorm only run at 720p so the image shift problem resurfaces when playing these games.

So unless I constantly switch back to component when I want to play these games or buy a new TV (I'm blaming my TV for this one) then I'm just giving up on the digital method and switching back to good ol' component again. Hope I don't find myself needing to watch DVDs on my PS3 any time soon.

Update: Except for the fact that my A/V system can't put both component videos into the same selection as two optical audio outputs so I can't tie my audio to my visual unless I use regular audio (and lose Dolby Digital). Arrrrrrgh!