Aug 072011
 
Origin

Ok, so you gave in to EA and installed Origin, and you caved and preordered BF3 after not letting yourself get excited about the game all Spring and Summer.  Well, maybe I’m describing myself a little bit here, but that’s beside the point.  So now that’s Origin is installed, it works just like Steam, right?  Mostly yes, but I noticed a few things that might be helpful to new users.

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First off, I made the assumption that the directory that I installed Origin in will also house all the games that I install through it.  Steam works that way, right?  In Origin’s case, this is actually false.  By default, Origin wants to install its games on to C:\Program Files\Origin Games (at least in my case).  For some, this may not be a problem, but if you’re anything like me (and most other PC gamers I know) you install your games on a different drive than your system drive.  This is especially important if you run a small SSD as your system/OS drive and have a conventional drive for games and applications.  To change this, click on the gear icon near the top right-ish of the main Origin window and click “settings.”  Right on the General tab you’ll see an option under “Downloaded Games” you can set to tell Origin where you put your games.  Keep in mind, Origin will not move any existing games installed, this will just take effect for new games downloaded — so do this now before you try to install BF3.  There’s also an option for keeping Origin game installers, but unless you feel a need to keep them, I don’t see why that would be worthwhile.

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One thing that Origin has that is Steam-like is an in-game overlay which at this point is pretty much just in-game chat.  Pressing Shift + F1 is the default setting here, not to be confused with Steam’s Shift + Tab. You can configure the hotkeys for that combination also in the settings under the “In Game” tab.  Only one obvious tip here; don’t set your Origin hotkey combo the same as Steam or anything else that you may have running while gaming.  I’m pretty sure something disastrous will happen.

Aside from those two things, there isn’t much else that Origin can do at this point that is worth tweaking.  I’m sure as time passes EA will build out their platform much like Steam has, but until then, it’s main purpose will be to serve as a BF3 delivery platform, soon to be followed by the exclusive place to get Star Wars: Old Republic when that arrives later this year.

Aug 052011
 
Battlefield 3

After making Origin mandatory for the BF3 alpha test, EA isn’t letting up on the Origin hard sell.  They know they have a valuable piece of content that can make or break Origin and they’re pulling out all of the tricks.  First off, if your pre-order BF3 through Origin, you’ll get all the “Back to Karkand” DLC for free, which is no big deal, since that’s true of everywhere else that is selling the game.  To sweeten the deal, they are giving early access to the beta in September.  No exact word on how early “early” is, but it’s dangled out there.  If that’s not enough, they are guaranteeing you can pre-load the game so you can play the game the second it becomes available and are also throwing in some Battlefield Play4Free items as well.  The final icing on the cake is that those who were alpha testers can also get a free game with their BF3 pre-order and can choose from Mass Effect 2, Dead Space 2 or Medal of Honor.  Short of coming to your house and cooking you dinner, EA is throwing everything possible to make Origin the place to get BF3.

Obviously, all this is a smart move for EA, who is desperate to get Origin off the ground and help put a few dents in Steam’s armor.  It also provides them a marketplace that they control so that they don’t have to play by Valve’s rules and also not share a cut of the profits of games sold on Steam.  My experience with Origin so far isn’t that great; the interface is clunky and at time feels sluggish — but the same could have been said when Steam first hit the market.  Time will tell if Origin will gain a significant market, but considering the size of EA and the number of games they publish, it’s a safe bet that Origin will be hanging around for a while.  It can’t be any worse than the Games for Windows Live Marketplace, can it?

Where are you planning to purchase BF3? Has Origin offered a sweet enough deal for you to give it a shot, or will you look elsewhere?

Jul 282011
 
Battlefield 3

Yesterday, DICE and EA expanded their BF3 multiplayer alpha test by inviting a seemingly large size of previous BF players (DICE/EA likes to call them “veterans”).  While giving explicit details about the alpha test is strictly forbidden, it’s been widely reported that if you were one of the few who did get an alpha code and invite, to participate in the test, which runs through August 1st, you are compelled to install Origin and link your EA account to the Origin store.  This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a publisher force a brand new download service and client on gamers just to get a highly desirable piece of content.  Remember Steam and Half-Life 2?

While it’s been confirmed that BF3 will be available for purchase from other downloadable services like Direct2Drive and Impulse, EA and Steam have been at odds which may lead to BF3 not being available on Steam.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen EA titles disappearing from Steam, most notably Crysis 2, the delayed appearance of Alice: Madness Returns and now Dragon Age II.  Both Crysis 2 and DA II were previously available and now have been pulled completely.  EA’s official word is:

“Unfortunately, Steam has adopted a set of restrictive terms of service which limit how developers interact with customers to sell downloadable content. No other download service has adopted this practice. Consequently some of our games have been removed by Steam.”

Valve hasn’t said much, if anything on these accusations, and we’ve yet to hear similar complaints from other publishers or developers (aside from standard Steam complaints).  What this almost sounds like, is Apple’s App Store guidelines for selling in-app content or subscription services.  Is it that Valve has a similar policy in place?  Could it be the DLC has to be made available through Steam, and not link through to a different marketplace which requires a separate checkout process?  You could make an argument that streamlining the experience through a single storefront benefits both the customer and obviously the storefront — but that’s a debate for a different day.

For many gamers, this issue may not matter much.  Steam isn’t exactly a perfect service and has its share of problems.  However, no matter how you feel about it, Steam is the biggest PC game storefront on the market, and as of right now, there is no indication that the one of the highest profile PC games to come out in a while (BF3) will make an appearance on Steam.

Jun 162011
 

Yes, I’m a fan of bad puns, get over it.  After yesterday’s news over Crysis 2 getting mysteriously pulled from Steam and then the assumed demise of future EA games on Steam, we get news that the Crysis 2 deletion was done by Valve, not EA,  over Steam policies.    EA was quick to direct the internet’s wrath directly on to Steam, although I don’t think it’s safe to put your Origin conspiracy hats away just yet.  Here’s a quote from EA on the matter:

“Steam has imposed a set of business terms for developers hoping to sell content on that service – many of which are not imposed by other online game services. Unfortunately, Crytek has an agreement with another download service which violates the new rules from Steam and resulted in its expulsion of Crysis 2 from Steam.”

No word on what “new rules” are in place and what Crytek agreement with another service (Origin?) is at fault with Steam’s terms.  Basically, it’s business deals that most gamers don’t and shouldn’t care about.  It doesn’t have an impact on those who previously bought Crysis 2 on Steam, they will still be able to re-download it if need be — but right now, no new purchases are available, hardly a tragedy on a 3 month old game, except for those holding on for a great Steam deal.  Valve is typically tight lipped about this things, so it’ll be interesting to see if they ever address this issue publicly.

What remains unclear is if this will affect future EA games, since Crytek specifically was called out and not EA in general.  Will this weaken any relationship between EA and Steam, especially with EA pushing it’s Origin service, or will it force the companies to work things out?  It is interesting though that Steam is one of the few places where you can’t pre-order Battlefield 3 today, although previous Battlefield titles remain on the service.

Jun 142011
 
Battlefield 3

Pre-order bonus are nothing new.  The fact that it’s a trend that upsets many gamers doesn’t seem to be decreasing the wide-spread usage of pre-order bonuses.  Many games, you’d have to buy multiple copies from both brick and mortar and online retailers to compile all the various extra weapons, levels and perks being offered, which is obviously a non-customer friendly practice.  Even stranger, it’s not uncommon to see codes for bonuses sell on eBay for $10 or sometimes much, much more.  Now that details of BF3’s “Physical Warfare Pack” and “Back to Karkand” have been fully explained, many gamers have been fighting back against DICE and EA on these practices, claiming that if you don’t pre-order the game, you’ll be at a disadvantage online because you won’t get the extra weapons pre-orderers will get.  Also, you’ll have to pay extra to get the “Back to Karkand” pack, which includes some old favorite maps like Strike at Karkand and Wake Island, that any BF veteran will want access to.

What kicked it off was a threat of boycotting the game over at Reddit, which then prompted a response by DICE.  Of course, gaming boycotts rarely work — and we all remember the CoD:MW2 Steam boycott group (over lack of dedicated servers) who many of which were found to be playing the game on release.  However, the internet reminds us it was Sarcastic Gamer who promoted a boycott of the original (console only) BF Bad Company game, which tried to pull a similar stunt on pre-order exclusive weapons scattered about various retailers.  After hearing the outcry of the internet, DICE and EA backpedaled on the idea, and everyone was happy.

This time around, DICE doesn’t seem as willing to compromise, stating that pre-order weapons won’t imbalance the game, and will just offer a “more varied arsenal.”  As far as “Back to Karkand” — well, if you don’t pre-order the game, you can still get it post-release at an undisclosed extra price.

I’m definitely not a fan of pre-order shenanigans like this, although I have been known to pre-order games, mostly at Amazon.  My main motivation for pre-ordering is usually monetarily based, due to the plethora of $10 and $20 credits offered pre-release on high profile titles.  I usually won’t pre-order a game that only offers exclusive content as it’s usually just throw-away items — most developers won’t offer “game changing” items because it throws the whole balance of the game out of whack.  DICE says they are most definitely not doing that here, almost alluding to the fact that these extra weapons are worthless.   However, the extra map pack, offering some highly desirable maps, could save you money by not making you pay full retail for the game ($60 on all platforms) plus conceivably another $10 or more for the Karkand pack which includes Karkand (duh), Wake Island, Gulf of Oman, and Sharqi Peninsula which represent the best maps from the previous BF games.

Who’s pre-ordering this one?  I’m still on fence, but don’t appreciate DICE explaining the pre-order bonuses as “rewarding our core fanbase.”  We know what these incentives are for, please don’t insult us.  A better way to reward your core fanbase is to offer these 4 map remakes to all purchasers of the game, included in the base price of $60.

Apr 272011
 

According to Crytek staff posting in the official game forums, a hefty Crysis 2 patch is on the way. The promised changelog includes some welcome bugfixes, but the most striking improvements are at the top of the list: “Vote-kicking feature added; Further improvements to anti-cheat measures.”

I found the multiplayer side of Crysis 2 to be consistently more enjoyable than online play in both Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. That sound like damning with faint praise, but the core shooting and movement systems are polished and satisfying. Maps are generally better than we’ve seen in recent online shooters, too. On the other hand, this patch reminded me of the game’s biggest problem since launch: rampant cheating.

Crytek seems to have shipped the game with no anti-cheat protection, a baffling decision which undermined its viability online. Funkmaster and I ran into cheaters only a few days after the game’s release. When I fired up Crysis 2 again last week, I had to try out several different servers before finding one without an obvious cheater.

I’m conservative about calling hacks. I’ve dabbled in online competition for shooters like CoD4, and most experienced gamers I know have been falsely accused of cheating in public servers. In Crysis 2, tho, I was encountering players with names like “CRYN3TkillahLOLOLOL”, racking up 55-0 nets with 100% headshots. The glaringly obvious killcam shots were just icing on the (exasperating) cake. And with no vote-kicking, honest players had no recourse but to move on and try to find another server – or “Quit to Windows” and choose another game.

With Crytek giving more attention to anti-cheat measures, will this patch make Crysis 2 playable again? It may deserve a second look from those who, like me, shelved the game due to the rampant cheating. But it’s notoriously difficult to rebuild multiplayer communities once they begin to contract, and Brink’s release is less than two weeks off. Time may have already run out for Crysis 2.

Apr 062011
 

Last week, EA opened up BF P4F to all their loyal BF players, before a wider release that happened on Monday.  A free Battlefield game, based on BF2 with some adjustments and a new experience?  Sounds great, sign me up!

So I signed up and played for a bit, and pretty early on in my first play through, an old adage came to mind: “You get what you pay for.”  Much has been made about the “evilness” of the micro-transaction system in the Play4Free games.  Thankfully, EA has provided plenty of ways to avoid spending real money on things that really matter in the game, like better weapons and “training” for gadgets.  However, the system can still be annoying.  You have to buy all your upgrades, but you can use your BF bucks earned in game to unlock new weapons for the day or for 3 days.  To keep the guns permanently, you’ll need to spend real cash.  BF bucks are earned pretty easily, and the cost of the guns is low, so unlocking weapons for a day isn’t going to cost you hours of play time.  All cosmetic stuff seems to cost real cash money, so those of you who want to play dress up will have to shell out.

The biggest issue I had with the game is all options and weapon purchases have to be made before you join a server.  Want to tweak your mouse sensitivity?  Quit the server you’re on, edit sensitivity and then re-join another server.  Want to buy a new weapon?  Exit the game and unlock the new gun.  It would have nice for them to incorporate a Counter Strike in-game “buying” system — and they may still do that since the game is still in its infancy.  It’s also worth noting that there is no server browser.  You can either do a “Play now”, join friends, or play on servers you’ve bookmarked — which seems odd…why would you bookmark random servers you joined through Play Now?  Another minor annoyance is the game has to launch from your web browser each time, so even after a web-based installer runs, the shortcut it leaves in your start menu just takes you to the BF P4F website, which you have to click the play button…very much like Quake Live or BF Heroes.

When you’re actually playing the game, it’s hard not to say that the game is essentially a stripped down version of BF2.   Most of your favorite BF2 maps are there, but don’t look near as good as BF2 — a game that was released in 2005.   Video options take a page out of the Crysis 2 book, with only settings of low, medium and high…and in this case, “high” looks pretty mediocre compared to most shooters release over the past several years.  To be fair, this game isn’t built for eye-candy, it’s meant to be an accessible, multiplayer shooter for the masses — if such a market exists.   Does that mean that it’s a bad game?  No, it’s actually pretty fun to play and provides a quick/free alternative to having to dig out BF2 discs, install and then patch a 6 year old game.  That said, I find it hard to imagine myself sinking more than a few hours into this game which doesn’t seem to register as anything more than a temporary diversion for me.

So for BF2 and BC2 die-hards, it’s hard to recommend this game as an alternative to those, as I’d say you’re better off to just keep on playing the existing games until BF3 comes out.  For people new to the BF experience, it’s a quick and easy way to check out that type of gameplay with relatively low system requirements and great for a quick match when you just want to jump in / jump out.  Is this the future of games on the PC?  I doubt it, and I seriously hope not.  My guess is that it’s trying to fill a gap between “hardcore” PC games, who play the “proper” BF games, and the casual PC gamers that play Flash-based games.  This falls somewhere in between which feels a bit like no-mans land.

You can sign up and download the game for free at battlefield.play4free.com

I did try to do a little video of the gameplay, but had trouble with both Fraps and WeGame with the beta version of the game.  With the WeGame client running, the game would crash every time when loading a map.  I could actually record with Fraps, but the result was just a stuttering mess even though the game played smooth — something I hadn’t experienced in other games.  Instead you’ll have to just deal with a few screenshots:

Mar 262011
 

One useful rule of thumb for cross-platform titles might be “If it was made for consoles, it probably needs a console”…by which “console” could mean the Sony or Microsoft toys, or could instead refer to the debugging console that PC gaming grognards have used for years in order to optimize game settings. Get it? See, it’s a pun. The word “console” means two different…bah, never mind.

You heathens.

Right, then. Moving on. Crysis 2 is getting strong initial press, including a pretty adulatory note from Jim Rossignol over at RockPaperShotgun. But there’s a fly in this butter-smooth ointment of gaming-goodness: despite a history of pushing the PC platform’s graphics capabilities (in Far Cry and the original Crysis), developer Crytek ditched any pretense at letting PC users crank this one up to 11. The PC version of Crysis 2 offers very limited configurability of its graphics options.

This leads us to the other meaning of “console”: the game’s debugging console is the best way to actually open up the throttle on this newest version of the Cry Engine that powers Crysis 2. Arcane knowledge is apparently a prerequisite for PC gamers wanting to take advantage of their machines’ power.

Or I should say, the game’s console was the best way to optimize the game’s graphics. Enter PC user “Wasdie”, who posted a tiny little program to help you generate an autoexec file to be placed in your Crysis 2 directory – basically giving you easy access to all of the game’s graphical options which are otherwise accessible only through debugging console fiddlery. Those who read our Bulletstorm wiki might recall similar user ingenuity behind the tools needed to configure that game. Borderlands is yet another obvious example, a title whose PC user community created separate applications for optimizing the game’s “hidden” settings.

Funk, Zeus, and I have spent a lot of time in the past 10 years mucking around with debugging consoles and config files, for multiplayer PC games like Unreal Tournament 2004 and Call of Duty 4. This isn’t a new pastime. This used to be a technique for fine-tuning a game’s framerate or optimizing its network performance, however. What’s different now is that consoles and config files are often required for the PC versions of AAA games just to look as good as they were designed to look.

Think about that for a second. It’s idiotic. I understand some of the factors that led to this situation – for example, the economics of creating the PC-specific interface that would be required to expose the more advanced options supported by PC hardware – but it’s still inane.

Thanks for your service to PC gamers, Wasdie. Crytek should be cutting you a check…but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.


Download Crysis 2 Now!

Mar 222011
 

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the new offshoot of the Battlefield series, like me, Battlefield Play4Free is essentially a “free” version of BF2, updated for the current times.  Why is “free” in quotation marks?  Well, the game is free to play, but relies on micro-transactions for things like getting improved weapons and upgrades.  If this sounds familiar, it uses the same model as Battlefield Heroes, and a bunch of other games under EA’s Play4Free program, which I just noticed has more games than just BF Heroes.  No word how crippled the game is if you truly try to Play4Free.

In an interview with RPS, EA confirms that players who own any previous version of a Battlefield game will be able to get into the semi-closed beta starting March 31st.  I’m actually tempted to check this one out, mainly due to my nostalgia for BF2.  I haven’t read much about it from current beta testers, and don’t know how much of the game you can enjoy while avoiding micro-transactions altogether, but I figure it’s worth a shot — for science!

Current or previous BF players, will you check out Battlefield Play4Free?

Bonus Official Trailer: