I've been on a bit of a buying spree with games lately. Firstly I bought EVE Online. I played the trial of that on the recommendation of two friends who have been playing the game for about a year. After about 6 days into the trial, the game was looking fun, so I bought it, and began to play it. I got most of the tutorial missions done and the combat ones in particular were quite enjoyable. So I bought the full version for a month, which cost me €20 just to start with, much to my annoyance when Steam put it on sale for €2 a week later. I then joined the corporation (for anyone who hasn't played EVE, these are the guilds/clans ingame) my friends were in.
The first impressive thing about EVE is that it is big. Very big. It's also very empty. Both of these were pretty much a given the space setting, but it's still impressive to see it. The emptiness is cancelled out by the Warp Drive, meaning you aren't spending ages staring at black space, yet because you need to use gates to go between systems, the sheer size is still obvious.
The possible routes there are for EVE seem to be these:
- Trading: Buying stuff cheap, selling it dear. Easy to explain, hard to do well.
- Mining: Resource gathering. Is there anywhere this isn't boring?
- Manufacturing: Making stuff. Get x, y and the blueprints, wait some time. Might be OK for some, not for me.
- Combat: The highlight of the game. This is really quite fun, and well done, as you control all the various weapons/defenses on your ship. Of course, being a noob, I'm still at the sucking and dying stage, so haven't done any PvP yet.
A nice feature in game is that skill training takes place in real time, and continues when you are not online, meaning you don't have to play obsessively to get anything useful. I was a bit confused over what to do after the first few days because my two friends who played it went on holidays, but I managed to work my way through it. Learning the game could certainly be easier, but it's not as bad as some people make it out to be. A few things were confusing, but even when my friends were gone, I still didn't find anywhere where I was going "What am I supposed to do now?"
However, MMOs really aren't my thing, and while EVE was a good game, I am unwilling to give out €15 a month for it. If it was a game that cost €45 once, and that was it, I'd jump for it. But at over €100 a year, it just isn't worth it. It's a good game, but fails on the area of value for money. Which is something a lot of gaming sites don't always take into consideration. That €15 a month could be spent on getting a new game every 2 or 3 months, rather than just keeping an old game.
Introversion Complete Pack
Another recent purchase was the Introversion Complete Pack, which I bought during the Steam sale for €5. The pack contains 4 games - Darwinia, it's multiplayer successor Multiwinia, DEFCON, and Uplink. The one I've played most was Uplink.
Unlike EVE, which struggled to prove its value for money, Uplink alone is worth more than the €5 I payed for the set on Steam. Uplink is a game about hacking (of the script kiddy variety seemingly), where you have to break into various systems by using the right tools. The gameplay was simple, and the game's soundtrack was good, in a retro way.
The other one of the set I've played is DEFCON, a RTS based around nuclear warfare. The game starts slowly, as you build up your units and stockpiles, then move them into position, until the timer reaches DEFCON 1, and the nukes start flying. Again, it was quite enjoyable, even if I wasn't that good at it. Though from what I've seen from comments by other people who have played the game, the AI is quite hard to defeat at first.
Darwinia, and Multiwinia? I haven't got around to playing those two yet, but the other two have already paid for themselves several times over, so these two should be good as well.
Left 4 Dead
The final games I bought recently were Left 4 Dead 1 & 2. Again, I got these in the Steam sales, and given the price reductions, I bought the 4 pack of Left 4 Dead 1 so I could play games with friends when they were over. The co-op element is really fun, and most of the online community is luckily as good as Team Fortress 2, as opposed to the likes of Xbox Live and Counter Strike.
I know I'm rather late to the party with this one, but it is still a fun game. The zombies like the Charger and the Tank add the need for extra strategy than the "Get a good weapon and keep shooting while hiding in the corner until they are dead" of my other favorite zombie game, Nazi Zombies mode in COD5 (which was the only reason to play COD5 once you cleared the campaign).
The matchmaking system also works very well - I've found myself in matches with players of comparable skill most of the time, rather than being stuck ruining someone else's game by being a noob, or being stuck with people who are even worse at games than I am.
Playing locally with friends on Left 4 Dead 1 is fun as well, so the 4 pack was well worth it. The one problem I did encounter, is that the multiplayer element in Left 4 Dead 1 is rather unbalanced in Versus mode if you don't have 8 players, as there are no AI special infected, unlike in Left 4 Dead 2 which had this feature added in a patch. Oh, and the lack of melee weapons is also a bit disappointing.
If you've read my blog for a while, you may have noticed that I have mentioned OpenTTD a few times. It's one of my favorite games, and it's well worth playing. If you haven't played it, you can get it from the official website. It used to be a case that you needed a copy of the original TTD game to play it, but with OpenGFX, that is no longer true.
There is a tutorial for the game on the offical wiki to get you started. Once you've read through it and understood it, you are ready to play the game. After a while, you'll probably want a few, more in-depth tricks to the game. So here's a few basic ones:
- Coal -> Power and long distance passenger travel by air are the easiest ways to make money early on.
- Pay close attention to your slopes and curves. Although the game will allow it, making sharp turns and going up long hills straight away will slow you down, just like real trains.
- You can grow towns with a few bus stations and buses going around within a turn, which will produce more available passengers.
- Put signals close together so trains don't keep stopping and starting because of a train loads of tiles down the line. (You can hold ctrl, then click and drag to make signals all along a section of track)
If you want to learn how to play the game really well, I suggest you spectate or play a few games on #openttdcoop. They are very advanced, so if you don't understand what they are up to, don't worry. It is kind of a case of learning in the deep end there, but it does help a lot. While I'm still barely a newbie compared to what they build, most of my friends think I'm really good at the game. Don't ask me why. I certainly don't think so. The official wiki, and the openttdcoop wiki also provide a good few tips.
#openttdcoop built this. Insane, but mostly simple ideas scaled up.
The game has a multiplayer mode, (which is how #openttdcoop build such huge things), which can be played co-operatively or against each other. It's great for LAN games, provided you have a bit of time on your hands. For internet play, you can find loads of servers to play against other people. If you want to just play against your friends over the internet, without joining someone else's server, it can get a bit tricky since someone needs to host it, and firewalls and NATs and all the other issues you normally have do cause problems, because one of you need to host it. I managed to get around it by running it on my VPS a while back, but that's still kind of complicated. I may post a guide for how to do this in a few days.
One of the most annoying recent developments in gaming is Ubisoft has, and EA plans to, implement a always-on internet requirement for their DRM in the games, including single player games. This means that even for single player games, you need to be online to play it. Which is very annoying, to say the least. Yet I frequently see people online saying that you must have a always on internet connection, and presume if you don't, it's your fault for being cheap or lazy.
Most frequently, this seems to come from American users, who have become accustomed to having decent internet (as much as they complain about their standard of internet). There are countries other than America out there. Here in Ireland, I have a 1 megabit connection. An unreliable 1 megabit connection, with an ISP that works 9-5, Monday to Friday. This means if my connection crashed at 6pm Friday, I have no internet until I get home at 5pm Monday. So long internet outages do happen. And, because of my ISP's hours, they tend to happen at times when I might be at home, wanting to, maybe, play some video games.
Sure, it's your own fault, get a better ISP, I hear some of you say. But, there is no better ISP here. I can get a more stable connection alright. It's called dial up. But now I have to pay for usage, rather than monthly, rendering it (a) significantly dearer, and (b) on even less.
And apart from the big outages, between the fact that I have a wi-fi network, and my internet connection is a rural satelite dish pointed at tower on hill affair, smaller ones, maybe a minute long, are par for the course. Do I want to be kicked out of my game EVERY. SINGLE. TIME? Nope.
Oh, well you're a minority, living rurally in a country with poor broadband. If I moved to a city (other than Dublin), I could get 7 meg broadband. And I've read Americans on forums complain at the state of broadband in America (usually whilst comparing themselves to Sweden or Japan), but on the other hand, I've seen Americans scoff at 10 meg connections. Which would leave the average Irish internet connection in the dust, even in a city.
There is another part to the poor internet connection, one that Ubisoft would be delighted to hear about. It renders me incapable of pirating a game, because of the sheer length of time it would take to download. Between unreliable internet corrupting downloads, the fact that I'm not home all day, and my slow speed, downloading a 5GB game would take around 2 weeks. And let's be honest, 5GB is a conservative estimate for the size of a modern game. By which stage, all my friends would have cleared the game, and moved onto the next one, rendering it pointless.
I bought Assassins Creed 2, on 360, before this mess was announced. And now I regret it, having supported a company that does this.
Linux and wi-fi. They normally go together like a square peg and a round hole. Every wireless adapter I've had the past few years has had at least some problems running under Linux. Ranging from my USB WPN111 putting an end to my first foray into Linux ("screw this - no internet, it's too much effort, I'm going back to Windows"), about 2 years ago, to my current laptop's random DNS failures when I used WPA2.
So, I was pleasantly surprised when my new TP-Link WN821N worked straight away on Linux on my desktop PC. Given that is was a €20 Wireless N adapter, I didn't expect it to. All well and good. Then it came to Windows. Expecting it to be simple as usual, I installed the driver. The wi-fi thing showed up, I used Connect to a Network, and... No network.
Several minutes of googling later reveals there is no Windows 7 driver (which is what Server 2008 R2 normally uses). Instead there is a Vista driver, which is no good in this case. So I've either:
- Ran into one of those edge cases where the difference between Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 actually does matter.
- Ran into one of those edge cases where the difference between Vista and 7 does matter
Which really sucks. Especially when the majority of what I do on that desktop using Windows is gaming. (Yeah, yeah, gaming over Wi-Fi, tut tut...). Gaming sans multiplayer is kind of limited. I mean, sure I can play Fallout 3, and Oblivion fine, but what about Team Fortress 2? Oh, hold on, that works on Wine. Actually, so does Fallout 3. And openTTD. And that's basically all I play in PC games lately.
Right, so why am I running Windows on this machine? My copy of Visual Studio is from DreamSpark (as is my copy of Windows, which is why I'm using Server 2008 R2 in the first place - it was that or XP, I've no Windows 7 yet, and my Vista disc is a Dell OEM disc), which I'm fairly certain can only be installed once, and it's already on my laptop. uTorrent and Paint.NET both blow away their nearest competitors on Linux, but uTorrent is useless without an internet connection, and Paint.NET is only one program at the end of the day.
So, screw this - no internet, it's too much effort, I'm going back to Linux1. And that is something I never thought I'd say when I first started experimenting with Linux. Of course, most of this is TP-Link's fault. If some random outsider can write a working driver for Linux, I don't see why they shouldn't be able to write a driver for Windows 7. I won't be buying from them again.
On this desktop at least, on my laptop I still dual-boot to have VS for programming Windows languages, and iTunes for syncing my iPod Touch.↩
Auto updaters are great. They keep Windows secure, they save me having to manually install each time with Firefox, they're completely transparent with Chrome and on Linux, the whole system's updates are controlled through the one interface. Some are less ideal. Paint.NET prompts you to update on startup, usually when you've just turned it on for a quick edit (and you can't use it while it downloads the updates - apparently this is fixed in the newest version). It's still better than nothing however.
There are one class of updates that aren't quite so great however. These are the ones that decide they need to sit in your system, all running simultaneously. And when there is an update? It's so important that they need to pop up a window to alert you of this, even if you have no intention of going near said application for a week. Or maybe they are like Apple's. An update to iTunes includes Safari by default. Why?
The other day, I was two hours into a Supreme Commander LAN party. While I was about to start the final attack, what happens? The game minimizes, and a message pops up. New update for Adobe Reader. Last time I opened a PDF was a week ago (against my will). On my system, once you minimize any of these games:
- Supreme Commander
- Call of Duty 5
- Team Fortress 2
- Unreal Tournament III
They aren't coming back up again. Say goodbye to your progress if there isn't a recent save. I tried in vain to start the game again. Click the taskbar entry. Up pops another Window:
"Supreme Commander Application has stopped responding"
It closes. I end up disconnected from the LAN game. Up pops to the nearly defeated player "Macha has been defeated". All because some stupid cruddy app to open files created by those too lazy to make an actual web page decided it needed to update itself right now. (Yes, I am aware Adobe Reader and PDFs are useful to some people in some situations. I am not one of them).
While the Java updater was not the guilty culprit this time, it has been at other times, with behavior similar to that of Adobe's updater.
That is one clear advantage to console gaming. The nearest equivalent is the 360's forced update or be signed out of xbox live being applied to single player games as well, and that's not nearly as bad.
I can remove these applications from startup of course, but somehow they seem to always make their way back there.