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Sins of a Solar Empire
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ON THEIST HORIZON

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Project Offset
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[Due to popular demand, this post has now been proofread and corrected. Enjoy the revised version, as it was intended to be read.]

As a backlash to the backlash that was/is the Resident Evil 5 debacle a couple of days ago with N'Gai Croal leading the way, I reacted to what a lot of people were seeing/reading in his comments made about the trailer.

Time and time again, people were coming with comments like "well in RE4 you shoot Spaniards, and that's OK?" This is not the point, and Croal, among others tried to emphasize that over and over again, and still get the same fucking response!

I had some issues with Croal's statement early on, because his thoughts didn't correspond at all to my thoughts about the trailer. Then I started looking, and noticed what he meant. It was just that, to me this wasn't what the trailer showed. I saw a depraved village in Africa/Haiti where the people where impoverished and trying to cope with reality. And thats not happy-go-fun-time. For anyone.

I've talked to South Africans myself who come from parts that are plagued by alcoholism, pedophilia and extreme poverty. A few years back, I saw a South African play about these issues with my class, and had a discussion about it with the actors afterward. We each had to do research and write a paper about a specific part we found interesting. So I've studied this, read about it and written about it before. Not trying to sound like an ass, but I'm an educated consumer when it comes to this matter.

What Croal was suggesting is that the imagery holds a history, a weight that just simply can't be lifted, and therefor you have to be careful when you're dealing with these issues. I don't agree, but I understand what he's saying. The problem is, dick-warning, not all people are educated consumers like myself in this matter.

A lot of people didn't understand. Jim didn't. Even though his arguments were well informed and intellectual, he seemed to have missed the entire point. Like so many others.








I've said it before that one of the biggest problems with PC gaming is the enthusiast press. And listening to the latest 1UpYours made me want to bitchslap everyone sitting in that room, telling me people do not want desktop pc's, do not want to change their video cards because it's too hard, "have you ever tried putting one in?! it's awful!", do not want big budget games on their machine because they'd rather play browser based games.

The biggest problem here, is the actual defenders of the platform. In this particular case, you've got Shane and John being console people slamming the difficulties of owning a PC, while Shawn and Garnett are the two who use the platform frequently to play games on. Hearing Garnett complaining about the "PC-gaming is dead" mantra, calling it bullshit, only to make a retort saying PC gaming is changing into browser based Quake's and Desktop Tower Defense', made me really concerned about the state of mind of the gaming press.

I could imagine Shawn sitting there trying not to argue but to impose a discussion about it, as his brain's starting to hurt from the stupidity he was witnessing from his own colleagues. He was Goeff Keighly on Fox News trying to bring some sense to the subject matter. Keighly did a better job, because he actually made a solid defense.

When we change the attitude, when we change the tech developers and software developers to help making the PC a more stable platform, that's when we stop having this discussion. That's when we start talking about art instead of products. That's when I stop taking a gaming podcast too seriously.

/end rant








[Ed. Note: Overdue blog is overdue. I'm a periodic person who enjoys his life in small chunks at a time. Sometimes that involves blogging about gaming and its surrounding culture, and sometimes it doesn't. A lot has happened since the last time I even visited Destructoid nor blogged here. My education is bugging me and intriguing me at the same time as my first game is coming along in Action Script 2.0 (lol?) (I'm never making another game in my life, I swear). I've sold my PSP and my 360 to upgrade my computer, and this is the story that followed those events.]


Don't take the title too literally. It's a pun, but as we all know, behind every pun lies a bit of truth. Crysis is a game that relies heavily on graphical flare to make it the "emerging experience" it so desperately tries to be. And it is. With the settings set to "High" it blows every other game out of the water, graphically that is. And that works to fool me for about an hour before I realize what the game actually is. With the settings set to "Medium", it's hard to see what the fuzz is all about. This, among other things, made me want to upgrade my computer. So I did. Into this:

CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 @ 4Ghz OC:ed
GPU: 8800 GTS 512Mb
RAM: OCZ 2x 2Gb DDR2 @ 800Mhz

Can I play Crysis on High setting now? No, I can't. I get around 20 FPS in the ordinary jungle levels in 1280x1024. I just don't want to think about what it'll drop to in the ice level and later parts of the game. So, now my PSU is making a weird peeping noise all the time, although it's more than adequate to handle the new set up. I'm blaming the mobo. And I'm actually considering going SLI in the future if Far Cry 2 is as choppy as Crysis.

All this forced my compulsive self to spend more time in the settings menu than in the actual game tweaking it to "perfect performance". Double that with all the constant re-installments of the game and OS, and imagine how many times I've played through the first four levels of the game. Quite a few. And the fact that keeps coming back to me is that this game has managed to do two things incredibly well: fuck up every computer out there with its poorly optimization and graphical wonders, but also giving the player enough freedom in a controlled environment to actually make him personalize his own story and progression throughout the game.



This is the balance that so many games strive toward and fails miserably at it. This is also the balance that all games should strive toward to truly separate games as an art form. It is the essential nature of interactivity that lets a person mold his own way through a number of set pieces of story elements that makes me want to play games.

What Crysis' multiple playthrough's taught me was that I never did the same thing twice. I was dropped in an open world that certainly had its limitations, but I was free to do whatever I wanted within the confines of those limitations. I was free to think of new tactics to kill Koreans who thought I was a "dog-man" for some reason. Three takes on the same event:

The first time I would lure as many NPC's i could into a shack, then jump on top of it and smash its roof down upon them, jumping out in surprise of the remaining squad and take them out with my assault rifle.

The second I would steal a truck, drive it all the way into their center base, take cover behind it enough for the enemies to gather around only to set my nano-suite to maximum speed, run the hell away and blow the truck to pieces.

The third time I would use my cloaking ability and silencer to quietly take out the NPC's one by one, constantly staying in the shadows.


I was constantly surprised at the different approaches the game afford me, and that ultimately made me mold my own "Nomad". Bioshock did exactly this and tacked on a rather shallow morality system and mild RPG elements on top of its free corridor combat scenarios (a contradicting statement that only testifies to the game's strength). Instead of trying to be other genres, instead of trying to be like other mediums, this is what games should be about.

Games need to offer the player options to mold his avatar into a projecting self-image of a fantasy self. Be that in terms of stats and feats, or in terms of open world combat and multiple solutions to problem solving, games will always have something other mediums don't: choice.

When open worlds fail they fail hard and fast. I couldn't stand Assassins Creed and never finished it. Crackdown gave its fare share of fun for about two hours of trying to be an alternative take on GTA (which I don't like, either). It is certainly personally preference, but I can't help but feel that there is a fundamental design issue that allows certain games to create this balance of control and freedom at the same time.

Basically, if one aspect is completely out of balance, the games falls like a shit house. Give the player too much freedom but nothing to do and it falls. Give the player no freedom without even tricking him into believing he is in control and it falls. Give the player a certain aspect of freedom to trick him into thinking he is making his own destiny, only to pull the plug and laugh at him, and you'll have Bioshock.

We are all tools. Every game designer should study the work of Edward Bernays and the following PR culture, because that is essentially what games are dealing with: mind-control.

A man chooses, a gamer obeys...








I should have a formed opinion on GDC (that it's a mini E3 at this point and that they could just scratch the C out of that acronym and add a S for Showcase) and write about what this year will be all about based on these last weeks exciting news. That sparkle never ignited a flame in me. Instead I'm starting to feel overwhelmed with game news and debates to the left of me and canons to the right of me. This year started off with two great AAA titles (DMC4 and Burnout Paradise) and following last years crescendo of games I've finally found time to sink my teeth in Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4, Unreal Tournament 3, Halo 3, Mass Effect, Project Gotham Racing 4 and many others that I want to play more of.

What I am starting to feel however is a contempt for the common consensus that is being perpetuated throughout the gaming community about PC gaming. I have taken it upon myself to start supporting my favorite platform more than I have in past, not just from buying games but to actively preach about it to friends and E-tards (thanks Jack) on the internet. I am not alone and I feel obligated to thank everyone here at Destructoid who also have taken it upon themselves to start setting the record straight for what PC gaming actually means for the consumer.

However, this is both a case of preaching to the choir and arguments falling on deaf ears, as this community hardly stretches outside the realm of hardcore gamers, who either have already picked a side and chosen to stay with it. That term I just said, "picked a side" sounds awful, by the way. When did this become a war? Is co-modification actually a good future after all?

What bothers me about the current state of mind in the gaming community regarding PC gaming is that it also involves that strongest proponents of the platform. Listening to my favorite podcast this week, 97.5 The Brodeo a.k.a. GFW Radio, and watching the latest 1UP Show, and hearing all the talk about PC gaming from GDC, I found that it all came down to smaller indie-games as the future and savior of the platform. That bothers me.

There is a lot of talk about the PC these days and we are seeing a lot more attention to it, now that the next-generation consoles are the current-generation consoles, and thats a good thing. What bothers me is that the talk always involve indie games and casual games. The fact that UT3 and Crysis were two commercial disasters on the platform is the indication that the platform is dead and that those AAA titles with amazing graphics fit better on a console, are arguments that bothers me.

Microsoft's keynote at GDC mentioned nothing about PC gaming. Absolutely NOTHING (hey, say it again)! That, in conjunction with the enthusiast press, is turning the PC into an casual gaming platform that "you and your whole family can just pick up Peggle on and try and beat each other's scores, yeah!" That bothers me. A lot. (I must pay homage to Sins of a Solar Empire to break loose the chains and pushing PC gaming even in this day and age, strategy games will play a huge role for the future of the platform)

So, to sum up what bothers me, if you haven't noticed, is the direction the mindset of PC gaming is headed. Not just from developers and consumers, but from the actual enthusiasts themselves. They play into this notion and are desperate to save their platform, just as much as I am, that they forget what the system is capable of and what platform RPG's, FPS's and racing games first emerged on.

Take a look at the history of videogame consoles. In what direction is their technology heading in? They are essentially turning into PC's. That's why we are seeing this paradigm shift in consensus of what a platform is capable of and on what platform a certain genre of game belongs on. To me, casual games and arcade games are preferred on a console, whereas graphically impressive and intelligent game experiences are best played on a PC. I can tweak the settings to my liking, I can chose to play with a controller or mouse and keyboard, I can hook up my PC to a 50" plasma or LCD TV if I want and I can alt-tab out to check my mail and stocks just before a boss battle if I want (not to mention the ridiculous amount of porn available to me from the get-go).

I do acknowledge the hassles of owning a PC and having it as a gaming machine. If you wanna be on top, it's gonna cost you. But if you wanna be able to squeeze out the amount of graphical power like the 360 or PS3, expect to land at a lower price point compared to buying either one of those consoles. You buy peace of mind with a console (for the most part). You know it'll work and what the game will look like on your screen. No driver hassles and no crashes. But if you want to play games in higher resolutions and more optimizing capabilities, the PC has more to offer (if you didn't know, not one current-gen console game runs in 1080p).


All anyone can do is buy games for the platform they enjoy to play on the most. But know your options and educate yourself. The internet is a good place for education, but it is also the best place for indoctrination. Get out there, make an informed decision and support the platform you want to play your games on. Don't contribute to diminishing other platforms and turning them into something they're not. That goes for meaningless bloggers, for the enthusiast press and for the developers, publishers and manufactures.

And please, stop flaming other peoples choice of gaming experience.

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing...








[Editor's note: I am a kid. I don't know jack-**** about "the industry", yet I tend to talk about it a lot because I believe I can see something there. Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe my thoughts won't count for **** anyway. Take this and all future Industroid-pieces with a big Atlantic ocean of salt.]


Microsoft hasn't really been nurturing the PC gaming market with the Games For Windows initiative. The Vista and DX10 supports have mostly been a bug, not a feature, and a lot of people are tired of the "constant upgrades" to play games on their PC's. So Microsoft took the key out of the ignition, threw it out of the window and said "bye, have fun, casual games whatever". My concerns are premature, perhaps. But lets recap for a moment what has happened in the last couple of months.

Their CES press conference was a joke. Nothing to announce in terms of games, and the IPTV announcements made me pretty uncomfortable. The things they showed and key words they used all pointed toward one thing: Microsoft wants to take over your house. Connectivity. Whenever. Wherever. Digital Distribution. Not today.

It all sounds very good, but part from the IPTV distribution partners that were announced, nothing was really said about their future goals for either PC or the 360. So, just to throw it in there, Microsoft will probably ride on the success the 360 had last year in 2008, only to have it replaced by the end of 2009 or 2010. From what we've seen, this is going to be the Sony year.

Games For Windows with Vista and DX10 failed in 2007. Not many people had the will or the money to make the next generation leap when they could get a console that did all that, and in some cases did it better. When consoles today are becoming more like PC's, the advantages start to blur themselves out. Big screen HD TV's that make the experience as good, if not better, as on the PC in your living room has become the new norm for hardcore gamers. When Call of Duty 4 for the 360 outsells the PC version by ridiculous numbers, that shows you where most people want their gaming experience.

But this year, in 2008, we will see fairly high-end PC's dropping in price and the 360 starting to struggle to keep up with PC's on the technical side. Look at Mass Effect. The 360 can barely handle that game. Maybe it's a developing issue, and you actually can make it work good on the system, but I doubt it. The PC port will show this and the 360 is gonna get yet another kick in the butt, on the technical side that is.

My hope for Microsoft is laying on GDC. I hope they really announce something there that will make me confident that they actually care this year about anything game related. Unfortunately, I don't think that will happen. I think we won't get a respons to Valve's Steam Works for quite some time. I don't think we will hear anything new from Microsoft regarding games in the first half of 2008.

But where does that leave Microsoft? Are they giving the keys to Valve? Are they sitting in their dungeon crunching numbers and coming up with the greatest solution ever to make PC gaming on Windows the best gaming experience you can have? Are they working on getting a Game For Microsoft-system that will materialize the connectivity we've been promised across every digital platform in our house? Maybe... The key has been thrown for this generation. Their emphasis has been and will always primarily be on the 360. Thank Gods that the world of PC's is a fracking world of ever thriving Swedish geeks (this is a huge cultural issue, USA vs. Europe, more on that in later installments), always ready to upgrade their rigs and supporting the modding scene.


PC gaming is not dead and will never die. There will always be nerds that play WoW, Dota, Starcraft and prefer their FPS' with a mouse and keyboard. And so, PC games will always be made. PC ports will always be made, and Crysis will be played years from now when people get a new rig to see if they got their money's worth of CPU's and GPU's.

Digital distribution will hit the PC market first of all, and it already has. All the copies of Crysis, Call of Duty 4 and The Orange Box that were bought digitally hasn't been accounted for. I bought The Orange Box via Steam and couldn't be happier with it. Steam is where it's at. That is the future platform for digital distribution and gaming on your PC. It's just that good. So, maybe Steam Works is a big FU to Microsoft (of course it is) and maybe Gabe Newell & Co has taken it upon themselves to "save" PC gaming. To bring it back to the respect it so desperately deserves and craves in the state that it's in right now.

Nvidia recently acquired Agiea. This is exciting because it is just what the PC market needs. Integration of technologies and a homogeneous platform. The Nvidia press released reads that the industry is heading in a heterogeneous direction with technologies, but what that really says is that "we need to start bringing it all together", thus making it a homogeneous platform. And we know who likes that idea.

As PC gaming seems to come back to Valve when I talk about this, I found this blog post quite interesting. Maybe that's where Valve is heading? Maybe they actually are saving PC gaming and taking it under its wings, and maybe Steam Works will be the first step for developers to look towards Valve instead of Microsoft for the right distribution model for the their PC game?


What I'm trying to say... is that... PC... game... nah forget it. After all, this is just random ramblings of a kid who doesn't know Jack.








After a retarded impulse I got to suddenly upgrade my PC a few days ago(I frequently get those retarded impulses, not just PC related), I've decided to hold that thought for a couple months.

Reason: I don't want to upgrade my entire core (CPU, GPU, RAM & motherboard) because I'm quite happy with it for the time being. Then I started googling hardware specs in my solitude and thought, the 8800 series came out some time ago, what about GeForce 9? Sure enough, planned to be released this month and hopefully up 'til summer, the GeForce 9 series will bring havoc on Crysis. I'm aiming for the 9800 series, of course, hoping it will come out before summer.

I've decided to maybe go with just the GPU first and see how it goes, then if games start to crap out like hell I'll do a core renewal.

That gives me time to evaluate my position and maybe make a more sane investment, like in funds or some shit... At least I got my PSP sold, money in theist bank!

I've played a couple of levels in Crysis, and it's incredibly fun and immersive, but the story and dialog and the whole execution of it is terrible. Just terrible. It's all about graphics and that over powered feeling of killing Korean's that got me excited, and ultimately made me long for a PC upgrade.

My hopes are to be able to play Far Cry2, Fallout 3, Borderlands, Project Offset, Mirror's Edge etc. (see my list) on my new computer with respectable settings. I hope I'm doing the right thing. Will this G9800 series last me at least until 2010? '09? Please, what more do you want me sell? My soul? Sorry, but I ain't got none...