EA pulling games from Steam. Miscalculation or cunning plan?

If you're a PC gamer, chances are that getting stuff from Steam is a big part of your procurement process. I haven't bought a physical PC game in years. The vast majority of the stuff I buy digitally comes from Steam. There are a couple of exceptions - Stardock for Gal Civ II, Blizzard stuff and some things from other stores because they were cheap.

When EA were on Steam, they had a chance of getting some business from me. Now, on the PC, they may as well not exist. Now I'm not saying that I don't like EA's games. It's just that I'd rather play most on console. Steam's all about the impulse buy, so that's gone - and do I really want to install another store on my computer?

The answer is no, but I'll probably end up doing it anyway. See, EA are publishing Star Wars : The Old Republic soon. Battlefield 3 too. Games that you either cannot play on a console or historically, haven't travelled well on consoles ( compare Battlefield 2 : Modern Combat with its bigger PC brother and you'll know what I mean ). So yeah, EA might lose a few impulse sales from me, but ultimately, that store will be on my PC - and EA won't be paying a dime to Valve when I make my inevitable purchases. Another positive is that in a time when people are accusing the PC of being moribund, you've got a major publisher investing in its own digital distribution platform for a platform supposedly on the operating table.

Long-term, while having to install different stores for different games is going to be a chore for PC gamers, the only way that a publisher can get you to install that thing is by giving you a good damn gaming reason to do so. This may end up being a good thing for PC gaming overall. So, gross miscalculation that'll cost EA impulse sales or cunning plan to cut out the middleman? Time will tell. It really depends on whether EA can deliver the goods with their most anticipated games.

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Dreaming of boredom

As kids, we'd chew the fat with suggestions for the world's most boring videogames.  Having experienced enough of life to know what boring meant, we dreamt up concepts to drive men to tears.  Text-based adventures without exits, where the parser treated every combination of verb and noun as the consequence of a squirrel clambering over a keyboard.   One waterbound suggestion that always floated to the top was fishing.  How could that ever be fun in a videogame?
 
I know that fishing can be fun.  We've all seen affluent anglers reeling marlin onto million dollar boats.  We're not talkiing about that sort of fishing.  We're talking about  sitting alongside a dismal body of water where nothing happens for eight hours climaxing with a going home empty credit sequence.  Eight hours your life that were totally pointless and you'd never get back.
 
Last night, I spent an hour fishing for Glacial Salmon in the Grizzly Hills of Northrend.  How times have changed.
 
To be fair, games based on mundane activities are not new - but they normally add something fantastic to the mix to spice things up.  The aim of  BurgerTime  is to make burgers, but each sandwich is six feet in diameter and the staff get harrassed by six-foot hot dogs.  Likewise, Jet Set Willy was nominally about clearing your house of detritus after a party - but the house was replete with rotating razor-blades of death, vicious vicars and trident-wielding demons. In the first five screens.   Must have been quite the party.
 
Perhaps the first attempt to make a truly boring game was Advanced Lawnmower Simulator, for the Sinclair Spectrum.  This game's obstacles were rocks, coat-hangers and duck ponds.  Despite the intentional mundanity, the game gave some reward to the gamer.  Equipment upgrades available to skilled mowers, providing some sense of progression for lawnmower enthusiasts everywhere.
 
Desert Bus is a mini-game featured in Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors.  The player has to drive a bus from Tucson to Las Vegas in real time. It's a 360 mile run which can be driven at a maximum speed of 45mph. The road is perfectly straight, but the bus pulls to the right, meaning a player has to yank the controls left every couple of seconds to keep the bus on the road.  The game cannot be paused, so players must spend eight continuous hours to drive the complete length of the trip.  If you do veer off the road, the bus is towed back to Tucson, also in real time.    A video of the gameplay is here.   Desert Bus for Hope are a group of well-meaning maniacs who do Desert Bus endurance runs for the Child's Play charity.  Compared to what they go through, fishing in WoW  doesn't seem so bad.
 
Desert Bus is undoubtedly the king of mind-numbingly tedious video-games.  It is intentionally and deliberately humdrum, purpose built to bore the living shit out of you.  Those little tykes that dreamt of boredom would be proud.

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Gaming season is upon us. The weather just needs to catch up.

We British have a strange relationship with the weather.  While we're typically free of the extremes of say, Tornado Alley, our climate is variable enough to permeate most aspects of our existence.  The news bulletins spit out a report every hour, with increasingly impressive graphics showing the sun over Southampton, showers over Somerset and the proverbial cats and dogs pissing all over Manchester.  
 
As a gamer, I love bad weather.  It justifies the hermit-like existence I have grown to love.  Clement August days?  I can do without them.  All it means is that the sun is streaming through the windows of my domicile while an inner voice guilt trips me about not spending more time outside.  Winter I can handle.  There's little more satisfying than exploring every nook of a fantastically realised virtual world while the real one is being battered by the elements.  The season happens to coincide with a massive influx of new and exciting titles, so all should be cool.  Except it's not.  Fallout New Vegas was released last week, and it has been gorgeous outside. 
 
I haven't had a great deal of time to spend in Obsidian's return to the Fallout universe.  Fallout 3 happened to coincide with an extended period of working away from home - which provided the perfect excuse to run riot in the Capital Wasteland.  This time out, I'm back as leader of the family clan, have massive time commitments inside and out of work.  I've barely reached Primm on a saved game I'm satisfied with.  I'm sure I can concoct some excuses to vacate the family so I can travel further afield, but it'll be difficult to explain the pristine state of the house when they return home and discover that it wasn't really on fire. 
 
On the portable front, I've been playing Game Dev Story for the iPhone OS.  At the time of writing, there's no real Retina display support, meaning everything looks a bit blurry.  It's definitely compelling while it lasts, but having finished the game, I feel like I've seen and done everything it has to offer.  Still, for £2.39, it's pretty good value.  I'll offer the following advice for anyone embarking on their own Game Dev Story. 
 

  • Don't be afraid to restart.  Trial and error is your friend.
  • Hire and fire until you get the right people.  There are some game-breaking stat-monsters out there.  Seek them out and use them.
  • Always bang out a couple of contracts after every game release.  Not only does it make you money, but you'll also score research points - essential for levelling up your staff.
 
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the immense World of Warcraft patch that landed in recent weeks.  We're now at patch 4.0.1 - the changes are massive.  Talent points have changed completely, forcing a character to pick a speciality within its class.  The new user interface is at a point where the only addons I care about are those that help me play better.  The days of overriding poor user interface elements with superior user-generated alternatives seem to be at an end.   
  
 It's also worth pointing out for long-time stay-aways how much better the game has got.  Groups are easier to find, characters can no longer ninja inappropriate gear  ( "Warrior - why are you needing that cloth chest?!!" ) and you can get decent gear by running heroics - whether you win the dice roll or not.  Players who return for Cataclysm are in for a hell of a treat. 
 
So, gaming season is well and truly on.  All we need now is a bit of bad weather.
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What I've been playing


Flower
Finished this little baby last week.  An excellent experience, which would no doubt garner a "just right" response in a Goldilocks-penned review.  Definitely worth the 6.29UKP that rattled off my financial coil.  The PS3 seems to be the breeding ground for innovation right now, although I'm sure Sony would just prefer the market share. Flower is peerless.  Santa Monica are nailing it.  

Fable 2
I'll keep it short and sweet.  Huge fan of the first game,. Not disappointed with the sequel.  Frame-rate drops a little, but the scope is huge - so there are things you can easily forgive.

Fable 2 masks much of its complexity through a clever control system which allows you to perform the majority of actions intuitively.   You'll have everything you need in combat, but the controls take a rougher ride when going off the beaten track.  Doing something specific is a one-way ticket to a wood-themed pause menu, which is a pain when you're trying to pop a potion during a multiplier.

End-game is interesting.  Unlike say, GTAIV - where all your choices inexorably lead to crappy outcomes, the final main-quest conundrum is well laid out - explaining the consequences of your action succinctly.  Doesn't really make the choice any easier .  Without being too spoiler-ific, Sacrifice is a bitch if you're a family man.  Even worse if you're a polygamist.  

Very glad to have played it.  I really want to see Lionhead do another Fable this generation.

Left 4 Dead
Played this a few times and my romps through the infestation immensely.  I've mostly been playing this with randoms, but we're looking to put together a 4-man squad with people from work.  Only downer on this game is buying it this far after its release.  Many people know what  they're doing.  I do not.  Got kicked from a game the other night due to my Romero-paced shambles through a versus game.  But that's ok.  I'd probably have been the same if the roles were reversed.

Some people like to game in short bursts - comfortable with the likes of Pro Evo and Streetfighter, but entirely absent from The Capital Wasteland.  Left 4 Dead is perfect  for them.

Prince of Persia
Loved Sands of Time, gave up very quickly with Warrior Within and skipped over whatever the last one was called.  Sunk around six hours into the PS3 version.  

The game is platformer and puzzler, with combat playing a small part. A tidy list of combos is the small guy in 90/10.  Puzzforming rules here. 

Overall, I'm impressed.   The core game flows, and its clear that the game has been through some real balancing.  A fellow Praiser of Persia remarked that "it's the first game to have absolutely no penalty for death, but still remain compelling".  A great approximation of the game.

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