PC Ports

I’ve been hopping around from game to game out of boredom, and playing some games has given me a serious appreciation for good PC ports. Not every PC game was designed particularly for the PC platform. When porting a game from console to PC goes bad, it shows. Sometimes it’s even hard to distinguish between whether a game was made for PC first, then ported to consoles, or the other way around. Here’s what I think about a few cross-platform games in relation to how well they work on PCs.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex is a monolithic example of prime PC gaming. It got a PS2 port but that was well after the PC release and clearly a PC-to-console port. The sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, however, was a console game first, and it shows. On PC, the game was hindered by the limitations of consoles at the time, and it suffered for those limitations. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a cross-platform release, but it doesn’t feel like it. This is a game that does cross-platform right. It feels like a PC game. It works perfect with mouse and keyboard. It has a ton of gameplay options that cater to grognards who don’t need handholding. It looks amazing and takes advantage of PC graphical power. It almost makes up for Invisible War.

Dragon Age: Origins

Here’s another game that was cross-platform, but you’d never know it playing the game. DA:O feels so mouse-and-keyboard driven that I have a hard time wrapping my head around why anyone would want to play this with a controller. It’s dense on text, and inventory management, and party control. How it accomplishes those tasks efficiently on consoles, I will probably never know.

Portal 2

Portal 2 is an interesting case. The first Portal game was cross-platform, but it was pretty clearly a PC game ported to consoles with some puzzles requiring some pretty precise portal placement and timing. But it was also part of the Orange Box, which included two other major PC titles, and it was the one that prompted probably the fewest expectations. Portal 2 plays great on PC, and I would not say it was a console title, but the maps, though highly detailed, are typically small in size and the puzzles in Portal 2, in general, require less precision and have more forgiving timing than those in Portal. Portal 2 was going to be a signature game combining PS3 and PC players until the PSN hack mostly blew those plans to hell, and I think that level of attention to console gamers affected the creation of Portal 2.

Any game that came out on XBLA before PC

XBLA ports on PC are so freaking obvious. XBLA has certain requirements. Leaderboards, How to play screen, achievements, demo. Most of these come along with the PC port, whether they make sense or not. XBLA ports have perfect controller support, but mouse-and-keyboard support can be lacking sometimes. They typically map the controller buttons to the keyboard and replace the button graphics with keyboard letter graphics and that’s it. You can count on XBLA ports not to take particular advantage of PC hardware.

Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed on PC looks so good, it’s almost easy to overlook its serious flaws as a PC port. Controls are particularly weird on mouse-and-keyboard because it was made to be played with a controller. Most actions utilize holding a trigger and pressing a face button, which doesn’t translate well to keyboard and mouse. It usually ends up as a game of finger Twister. And when you want to quit Assassin’s Creed? On console, you’d probably just shut off the console, or escape to the dashboard. On PC, you have to back out of the game, back out of the save menu, then back out of the main menu. There is a fair amount of loading time between those menus, which makes it worse. You’re better off just pressing alt-F4 to quit out.

That’s all I have. Consoles and PCs have a weird relationship. I think PC gaming is on a good upswing, but that will probably only last until the next generation of consoles come out. Console ports of PC games have a similar history of spottiness and butchery, but the 360 just got a fantastic port of The Witcher 2. I think good console ports of PC games are about as rare as good PC ports.

Assassin’s Creed

Why Assassin’s Creed is Awesome

  • The process of investigating a target leads to some interesting options. You have to do at least half of the investigations, but doing all of them give you a clearer picture of how you should go about killing the dude you’re supposed to kill.
  • The Middle East crusades setting is a nice change from the typical game setting. Despite being in the Middle East, it’s actually less brown than some other games!
  • The game is really beautiful. Climbing to the tops of tall buildings is required as a gameplay mechanic but it’s also an amazing view.
  • I like that the bulk of gameplay is (in the game) a guy basically playing a video game. It’s a sci-fi premise in a historical fiction setting!
  • There’s a fair amount of non-english spoken dialog, even if all the non-background dialog is in poorly accented english.

Why Assassin’s Creed Fucking Sucks

  • The sword fighting is god awful. There are essentially two options: mash the attack button and hope you win, or hold the block and wait until each attacker takes a swing so you can counter it. And sometimes the counters don’t result in a kill, so you have to do it again.
  • This game is so, so, so repetitive. To complete those investigations, you have to find informants. To find informants, you have to either search every corner of a large city or climb specific tall buildings. Even then, most of the objectives are saving citizens, which involves sword fighting between three and five soldiers. Saving people gives more options to help escape soldiers, which becomes important post-assassination when you’re trying to escape.
  • Some of the actual investigations tasks suck. Stealth archer assassinations are awful because if you fail one, you have to start all over. Escorts, like all escort missions, suck because it’s just more sword fighting spread out into four or five small fights.
  • Beggars, drunks, and crazy. They’re people in the streets who are there to be obstacles. Did you know a slight female beggar can stop a deadly assassin from walking past her entirely? Me neither! And forget about getting past two or three crazies in an alley. because they just push you into each other. It’s awful. And if you punch them to get them out of the way, the city guard takes offense and then it’s time for more sword fighting!
  • The final sequence of events is a series of sword fights. But by that time I’d spent so much time sword fighting that it really just ate up my time as I waited to counter attack 20 separate attackers three or four times in a row.
  • The “real world” ending is really underwhelming. It’s like they just stopped the game right where it was without a lot of resolution.

Games For Windows Live sucks

There is no way I can put it any better; Games For Windows Live (GFWL) is awful. Not only is it cumbersome, especially when combined with other forms of DRM such as those built into Steam, but it openly punishes gamers who most want to use Microsoft products.

Way back when, my first encounter with GFWL was Fallout 3. At first, I thought it was pretty cool that I could play Fallout 3 on my PC and get achievements in it that were reflected in my Xbox Live account. I don’t recall having any problems with using my Xbox while playing Fallout 3, so I didn’t get why so many other people had complaints about GFWL. It was just one more login to get it started, what’s the big deal?

Not too long ago, I bought the Game of the Year edition of Fallout 3 through Steam so I could play through all the DLC that I missed. I wasn’t thrilled to find out that even the Steam version had GFWL, but that didn’t immediately make me regret buying it. Since then I’ve gotten Fallout: New Vegas, which uses Steamworks, which provides the achievements and the ability to buy DLC through Steam.

I’ve played through Fallout: New Vegas and purchased all the DLC separate from my initial purchase, and never had a single problem. Throughout almost the entire game, I’ve watched TV shows and movies through Netflix on my xbox 360, which requires me to login to my Xbox Live account because an Xbox Live gold account is required to use Netflix.

Now I want to go back to Fallout 3 and play through it again, except when I start the game, it logs into my Xbox Live account and promptly disconnects from my xbox. GFWL and Xbox Live will not allow me to be logged into both services at the same time on the same account, despite the fact that I’m doing entirely different functions on two different devices.

I want to play Fallout 3 on my PC, and watch Netflix (which requires its own login and account, with its own costs!) on my Xbox 360. Because of Microsoft’s policies, I cannot do both without some inconvenience, being either having to re-login every time I finish an episode of a TV show or movie, or risk having achievements malfunction and not being able to use the DLC that I want to play in Fallout 3.

Because of these hassles, I can barely muster the enthusiasm to play Fallout 3. During my vacation, I sank over 40 hours into Fallout: New Vegas and watched an unholy amount of Netflix because the DRM and copy controls were not preventing me, the legitimate, paying consumer, from using those products which I’ve paid for. The other side of that is Fallout 3, where the DRM is actively working against me to prevent me from using both products at the same time.

These frustrations are what drive so many others to video game and movie/TV piracy. If I were downloading movies and TV shows illegally, I could watch as much as I want while being logged into GFWL because watching local media on an Xbox 360 does not need an Xbox Live gold account. Similarly, if I were playing a pirated, cracked copy of Fallout 3, I’d at least be able to play the game while being logged into Xbox Live because the cracked copy would bypass GFWL.

This doesn’t just affect Fallout 3. I have Section 8: Prejudice, which also uses GFWL, which I also can’t muster any enthusiasm to play. Section 8: Prejudice is also mostly a multiplayer game which takes advantage of GFWL matchmaking services. There is no logging in, logging out, logging in like sometimes works out in Fallout 3. It’s either GFWL or Xbox Live but never both. With these kind of irritations, it affects the community of a game. If it’s a hassle to play Section 8: Prejudice because of GFWL, it’s easier just to play one of the bazillion other multiplayer action games on PC that don’t need GFWL.

DRM only punishes legitimate, paying customers. It’s not a hassle for people who illegally download and pirate games and movies. Games For Windows Live is particularly bad because it doesn’t just affect one product, it affects multiple products across multiple platforms. I will be more wary in the future not to buy games that use Games For Windows Live because it sucks.

Clive Barker’s Jericho is not Clive Barker’s Undying

I have a lot of love for Clive Barker’s Undying. It oozed Clive Barker from beginning to end. It was a colorful, imaginative, and well-made first person shooter. Jericho is basically the polar opposite of Undying.

The premise of Jericho is that you play a member of a team of witches, warlocks, priests, and other occult figures sent to investigate an opening hole in the middle east. A bad guy is trying to open a breach to release The Firstborn, the thing the Christian god created before he created mankind. The team jumps back through times in which others have tried to unleash The Firstborn and so goes from modern times, to World War 2, to the crusades, to ancient Rome, to Sumeria.

So your guy dies early on, but he can possess the other members of the team, which gives the game its strongest hook. You can freely jump from team member to team member, each with unique weaponry and special abilities. The weapons all sound and perform really weakly. It takes a full magazine to kill the most basic enemies and it sounds you’re firing a rapid-fire BB gun. They all lack power. Of the special abilities, only a couple are worth using. There’s one that lets you shoot a guided sniper bullet, which will kill three enemies in one shot, and another that shoots a fire demon that automatically hits enemies and sets them on fire.

The design also suffers. No matter what time period you’re in, the game’s color palette has three colors: black, brown, and red. The enemies lack imagination in their design. Take a body, wrap it some straps, put a bag on its head, and color it brown and black. Ta da! And they all just run at you until you’ve put enough bullets in them to put them down.

The ending, like the rest of the game, is a complete disappoint. Spoiler alert, that childlike figure that has led you toward The Firstborn is The Firstborn. The Firstborn is a glowing green toddler. Like the previous bosses, it takes a little use of your special powers to beat The Firstborn, and then the game very suddenly ends. No epilogue, no resolution.

I don’t know what to say. I’ve tried really hard to like Jericho but it just doesn’t measure up to Undying. Supposedly a sequel is in the works. Hopefully it’ll fare a little better.

Deep Fry Everything

Last night we got together at Jim and Andria’s and had a “deep fry everything” party. It was at least twice as amazing as it sounds. Katie made a batter and we just kind of ran with it. We deep-fried avocados, which were pretty amazing. We stuffed some jalapenos with Daiya, but I didn’t get to a hold of one of those. We also deep-fried some of the standards, round tater things, onion rings, tofu (which fried better without the batter), and sweet potato fries. We had grand plans to make things before deep-frying them, like taquitos, but we just kind of went nuts with the deep fry everything instead.

Then we played a whole pile of Rock Band 3. After moving all of our songs onto one hard drive, it turned out that Katie and I had a total of 358 songs. That’s with all of our Rock Band 1, 2, and 3 songs, but that’s an unholy amount of songs. The plus side is that there was a little bit of something for pretty much everyone. The down side is “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”.

Capital City Biathlon

Yesterday I finished my first biathlon! It was a 3.1 mile run followed by a 15 mile bike ride. Leading up to it, I was mostly concerned with the run because I haven’t done much running in the last six months. I spent the last three weeks running three times a week to build up my endurance again. Katie and I did a casual bike ride last week and that was about all the bike training I did. I placed 86th out of 153. I finished the run in 26:36, spent about a minute in the transition area, and finished the bike ride at 53:55. Here are some pictures!
Finishin', finishin'!
That’s me crossing the finish line. It was chip timed, hence all the mats. I rode my mountain bike with commuter tires because a friend of mine was also in it and she only has a mountain bike and I didn’t want her to feel left out. I beat a lot of people on much more expensive bikes than mine, and I’m pretty sure I was the second person on a mountain bike to finish. The first was a 15 year old boy. I’m okay with that.
Finishers!
Here’s how I’m supposed to feel after I finished! You can’t tell but I’m giving a thumbs-up behind that water bottle.
Finishers!
Here’s how I actually felt. Sweaty, tired, hungry!
"Put your medal on so I can take a picture!"
And here’s Erika shoving a banana in my face.

What if someone made Gothic without half of the jank?

It’d be something like Arcania: Gothic 4. I’ve spent all day playing it. It looks better than any other Gothic. It has normal game controls, unlike Gothic 1 and Gothic 2 (I haven’t played Gothic 3 yet). The combat is fluid. It has only crashed twice in 5 hours. The voice acting isn’t god awful. It’s almost an enjoyable game.

I also played the Risen demo, which is basically exactly like Arcania. They’re so similar that I got a bit of the Risen storyline confused with the Arcania storyline and spent some amount of time wondering why I wasn’t running into any Warriors of Order or the Inquisition. And both of these games are unreasonably similar to Two Worlds, except they’re both a lot less awful.

I’m going to keep playing Arcania until I get bored or find something better. Which will definitely end on May 17th, when The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings is released OH MY GOD I CAN’T WAIT

XUUU

I just finished XIII. It’s an old, cel-shaded first person shooter based on a Franco-Belgian comic book of the same name. It’s a spy game, more along the lines of Jason Bourne than James Bond and it was totally fucking awesome! This is a spy game done right. You plant bugs, blow stuff up, sneak around, stab people in the eye with bottles, and save the president. It has a grappling hook. If your spy game doesn’t have a grappling hook, it doesn’t count. Alpha Protocol fails on this account.

Speaking of stabbing people in the eye with bottles, improvised weapons are done fantastically well in this game. There’s a relatively limited number of items that can be used as weapons, but they’re available when they’re necessary, and usually hanging around somewhere when they’re not. It is exceptionally satisfying to throw a shard of glass into someone’s face for a stealth kill. Also used to great effect in this game, throwing knives. I guess if I had to choose one thing, XIII does stabbing people in the face the best.

My only complaints are that it’s a little short, and the cel-shading led to some interesting artifacts. The game moves along at a pretty fast pace, but the levels never feel too short or too long. The locales are varied and you spend enough time in each area to enjoy it without overstaying your welcome. The cel-shading is used very well in the game, but it resulted in some abnormally thick black lines in unusual places, like the corners of the nostrils, or around the rims of eyeglasses. The nose thing is a little distracting in in-game cutscenes, but the eyeglasses thing really sucks. Characters wearing eyeglasses look like they’re wearing some kind of sci-fi goggles. These effects, however, may be a result of eight years of hardware progress, or a variation in how my graphics card presents the game. I’ve seen screenshots of the game from other people who do not have the same weird artifacts.

I’m really glad I picked this up. I got it off of GOG for $6 and it was totally worth it.

Agent Michael Scarn, FBI

I’ve started Alpha Protocol. It seems like a logical next step after finally finishing Deus Ex. The reviews weren’t joking when they said the character customizations were limited. The choices are hipster douchebag or hipster douchebag with a Castro beard. I went with hipster douchebag with a Castro beard. My first actual mission did not go well. I kept getting spotted or I was too loud or something because alarms kept going off and I had to shoot my way out.

Hacking in this game sucks. It involves matching patterns in a constantly shifting sea of characters. I am apparently not great at telling the difference between a quickly changing letter and a letter frozen because it’s part of a string. Thankfully bypassing electronics is not that hard and lockpicking is dead simple. Because this is a spy game, I feel like I should be more sneaky than destructive so I’ve been dumping my experience points into stealth, which is paying off. I’ve gone from setting off every alarm everywhere to being able to sneak up behind dudes and stab them in the throat. I only set off an alarm in the last mission because I failed on an electronics bypass.

Anyway, it’s not Deus Ex but it is pretty enjoyable. I’m playing it seriously but I kind of wish I could play it like a shitty James Bond.

Ne Cede Malis