Valve and EA. I can't believe they finally tied the knot!

It's a glorious day for the guys over at Valve. They now hold the keys to what is essentially the official PC game download service. Or at least, it seems that way, given today's announcement and release of a series of EA games, now available for download. Yes, EA has finally given in. The best news? It's all DRM free, besides Steam's own version of DRM, which is as unobtrusive as necessary to appease the anti-DRM crowd (which includes myself, given the limitations I've faced with Spore as of late).

With EA as one of the big holdouts, and certainly the largest of game publishers out there right now, I can only foresee good things for Steam's future now that they are on board. It seems like an inevitability for other publisher holdouts to give in and join the age of digital distribution, with Valve at the helm.

The only problem? Do we really want to see one company with all that power over PC gaming? My personal opinion is yes. Yes we do. Steam happens to be my download service of choice due to the ease and reliability of downloading a game. Sure, Steam still has its bumps and rough patches every now and then, and I curse every time the service is sluggish enough to give me that error message saying "the service is temporarily unavailable," but for the most part, it works ,and it works well. It also happens to have the best selection of game of any other service out there, beginning with Valve's own excellent lineup.

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A short Madden rant (yes, I could have made it a lot longer...)

Where would NFL games be right now if the Madden franchise hadn't acquired official rights to the NFL players?

Well, we might have a chance at playing a halfway decent game of football, that's what! Or... where... we would be...!

Seriously. I've been craving some new PC football for quite some time now, but EA gave up on their PC version of Madden altogether. I guess it was for the better; I mean, if they weren't willing to port over their spiffy new engine to the PC( a task that seems like it could take all of days to accomplish, given the similiar hardware), then they shouldn't be making new games based off that old, last-gen console styled engine that was so worn it looks almost exactly the same from 2002 to 2008!

But I could suck it up. I could stand one more use of that engine, if they were really going to be so lazy as to refuse that port, and buy one last game if it meant that every little feature they had ever released, then cut for no apparent reason, was to be thrown altogether (along with a stable, tried-and-true codebase) to create the perfect game of football. Hell, at that rate all EA would have to do to support the game would be to supply us with yearly roster updates and we'd be somewhat content. But that's asking too much of a company that has cut some of the most important features from their yearly increments of games that are *supposed* to be only getting better with each release.

Key in this feature list, for me, at least, was the drop of co-op play after Madden '05. You see, the only time I ever play a football video game is when my brother is up for some reason or another. We've been playing franchise after franchise since Madden 2000; almost religiously finishing an average of perhaps 2 seasons a year until recently.  Throughout the years, one thing has never changed: we always play on the same team. It's just more fun that way. So basically, we're stuck playing Madden '05 until the end of time, because the only way to unlock co-op in the later years is to use some sort of funky hack to enable it. Which would be okay, I suppose, but I never *bought* any of those later games because I knew that co-op wasn't supported (also because the list of new features grew shorter and stupider each year).

Although, when all is said and done, I would probably be sticking with 2005 anyway, because we now have a solid franchise going on its 4th or 5th year now. I'm not sure if franchise import features were ever included in the later games or not, but it wouldn't matter anyway, since the PC version of Madden has passed away.

But to bring it all back to my original topic, I sure do wish that EA would have their franchise deal with the NFL cut, or for people to realize that Tiburon hasn't had a good idea since this little lockup started, and that they would use their power of money and just not buy their games. NFL videogames have such great potential to be something better. I look at the Euphoria engine, and just wish that it would be tweaked and re-purposed for Madden so that we can finally be done with all of this canned animation crap that is so prone to glitches and "wtf" moments. I look at Madden, a game that dropped the very man the franchise is named after; whose almost comedically funny (accidentally) commentary is one of the reasons I loved the game so much, and just wish they would be put in their place so they could realize that you can't just release what is essentially a roster update and a stupid, detracting feature each year and charge another $60 for it, and still expect people buy it year after year.

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Cease and decist.

So I got a cease and decist letter from my ISP and the ESA today. Funny thing is that the ESA, or at the very least videogames as a whole, is one of the things I respect wholly in this case as a person very much interested in the gaming community; and especially as someone looking to find a *job* in said community.

I'm not sure what to do; I mean, I haven't been downloading videogames since I was too little to afford them myself, and too stupid to realize the implications and ramifications of such a thing. I have a secured wireless internet setup with WPA and what I feel is a pretty strong password. But I got the notice for *a* reason, so what am I supposed to do, wait around for a second notice and/or legal action to come?

Without going into too much detail here, there are a few specific things on the notice that are interesting. First, it says the infringment date was November 30th. The game: Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir (As I currently type looking at my legal copy of Storm of Zehir in my hand right now, as well as the second copy I have purchased from my brother for Christmas). I'm not sure about the IP; to tell you the truth, I don't know my actual IP, besides the static one being sent to my router. The DNS server is just plain wrong (I have all of my computers set up to use OpenDNS, and I believe the dns address in reference is the DNS server of the ISP itself, although I don't know if that's supposed to be the case). That is perhaps the most suspect thing I can find.

I'm worried and I shouldn't have to be. I just wish companies like this would perhaps do a little more research before sending out very scary legal letters to people that live, breathe, and sleep the product they are trying to protect in the first place. I can only pray nothing more will come of this, because there's no way I'll be able to pay court fees when I am currently on the verge of losing my job to the economy.

If there's anyone out there whos reading this and can offer me any suggestions as to what to do, feel free to comment. All I can really think to do is ignore it and continue on as usual, but when the courts are involved, and when what I can only assume would be a very hefty fine is involved, ignoring it might not be the best option.

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Steam Refunding GTAIV Purchases

In an unprecedented turn of events, Valve, the makers and keepers of the popular PC game download service Steam, are now accepting refund requests for Grand Theft Auto IV. Yes... GTAIV. There's been controversy aboud surrounding the PC release since it hit its Steam release earlier this week; mostly widespread complaints of poor performance on PCs that can even run Crysis respectably.

Those affected can send Valve an e-mail (the full details and steps to be taken can be found over at Voodoo Extreme) and request their money back.

I am fortunate enough to have avoided this problem, though I admit I can awfully close to pulling the trigger and buying Grand Theft Auto IV via Steam just the other day. I'll also say that there is little doubt that the retail version of the game will also be plagued by the same issues, and I'm sure that the problem is not with Steam itself. So for those who purchase retial, my heart goes out to you. You'll have to deal with whatever return policy your place of purchase offers (I know most of the places I've bought from in the past won't take returns on open games, and open PC games, in particular, due to the ease of piracy).

That said, if you choose to stick with your copy for whatever reason, you'll still have a couple of options. A beta patch has been released by Nvidia (you can download it from their site) that supposedly helps. I'm sure Rockstar themselves will be quick with a patch of their own, though I wish I could remind them of the dying art of "releasing a game when it's finished." I'll admit that I was expecting GTAIV it have unusually high system requirements, much like the PC release of Assassin's Creed, but that game just flat-out does not have the graphical prowess of a "Crysis" to where it would be pushing your system harder than that powerhouse. It runs solidly enough on the Xbox 360's hardware, so I can only assume this is another case of poor optimization and/or lazy porting.

(Update: In my hastiness to post this admittedly day-old news, I forgot to mention that Valve has not actually given the go-ahead to anyone and everyone with an issue. They have, however, set precedent by offering their requested refunds to a handful of Steam users who e-mailed them.)

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The Final Upgrade

I'm taking the plunge for this coming Christmas. I've just spent $150 to upgrade my old AthlonXP based system as far as it can possibly be upgraded. Well, perhaps not *as* far, but as far as it will have any impact on performance given the processor's very limited power by todays standards. I'm currently buying a couple gigs of memory off ebay to replace the mismatched 512+256mb sticks currently residing within, plus a Radeon HD 3850 AGP; possibly the last AGPcard ever. I figure for the price of these little upgrades, I can essentially have a whole new computer to gift away to my brother for Christmas this year. His aged rig can't even play the original Neverwinter Nights so well, and It'd be really awesome to be able to once again hook up to play some online RPGS with him.

But hey, this is as much for me as it is for him. I love building computers, and it will be nice to finally have this thing off my hands, to tell you the truth. It's been sitting in my room collecting dust since I bought this beast of a rig I'm currently typing from earlier this year.

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Pirates Have It Easy

Game piracy protection sure is a bummer. I've had to resort to searching out pirate copy CD keys so that I can play my legitimately purchased copies of Warcraft II BattleNet edition, Starcraft 2 + Brood War, and Warcraft III. I believe that I stupidly threw away all of my game boxes and jewel cases from ages past, and thus have lost "legal" access to all of my old games that require keys.

Do I feel morally wrong? Not in the slightest. like I said, all of these copies are legitimately bought. I can provide pictures of them in my hand (and/or in my dvd drive right now, as the case permits) if need be. This situation has made me reflect on just how easy game pirates have it over the supporting customers. Any game is just a click and a brief (possibly) wait away for anyone who cares to download a game. For someone like me, who has just happened to loose an easily lost series of digits that allows access to something I paid for, I find it easy enough to do a quick search through torrent sites to come up with a working key to provide me access. Sure, I can't probably play online with this key, but I hardly want to.

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Gears 2 Finale (No Spoilers)

I just finished Gears 2 and all I can say is: how the hell has no one mentioned that the last boss is so extremely easy? It took me all of 30 seconds to beat, if that. I remember dying over and over against Raam, and I never once lost a life or even came close with this thing. That was a thoroughly disappointing end to an otherwise epic climax.

I suppose it is probably harder on a higher difficulty. After all, I was playing on Normal. But again, even Raam poses a challenge on his Normal difficulty level.

Of course, I fully intend to ramp up the difficulty for my second playthrough. I always keep my first run tame so I can get through with the story, then play later for the challenge.

But man... really. I don't know weither or not I just got lucky... I can't believe it. Oh, but the game as a whole: still a masterpiece.

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Just In Time For The Depression!

My computer has temporarily bitten the proverbial dust. I'm diagnosing the problem now (it keeps restarting in an infinite loop even before POST), but if I can't get things in order quickly, I may just end up buying a new Core i7 system. The only problem I have with that is the ridiculous price-gouging going on with the latest Intel hardware, and the fact that it means a $300 motherboard, $300-$1000 processor, and $200-$300 ram. And as the title of this posting suggests, I really don't think I can make my priority such stupidly expensive computer hardware in this time of economical whathaveyou.

My worst fear is that I won't be able to isolate the problem. That will literally mean buying new hardware piece by piece from scratch. It's tough to say what the problem is, since it all started with what seemed like a graphical failure. I had just installed the latest Nvidia drivers, and every game I attempted to launch would hang and crash... of course, that could be a memory issue, too. The unfortunate thing about that I can't even run memory diagnostics without the ability to POST. So at the moment, I'm clearing the CMOS and letting it rest overnight.

The bright side is that I'm forced to play a whole lot more 360 games, of which I am currently finishing Gears 2, half-way through Fable 2 (still), and just today got my copy of Mirror's Edge. But that means no more Fallout 3 (I've done almost everything there is to do in that game, anyway), and worse yet, no more Left 4 Dead. God, I was just starting to have fun with that game, too. In fact, I was in the throws of setting it up so I could play CS maps Left 4 Dead style when all of this happened.

By the way, I'm typing from my laptop now. If there's anyone tech-savy out there reading this, please feel free to offer me some advice. My wallet may depend upon you.

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