Category Archives: Video games

Tech Tidbits

A refreshing change of pace from the usual bitching and moaning. 😀

“There’s not enough free space to run Steam”

Are you getting this error message when trying to install Half-Life 2: Episode One from the DVD? I just did. Copy the contents of the install DVD into a temporary folder of your choosing and run the install program from the folder. Disco!

Windows 7 God Mode (LOL)

While some tech sites are referring to this easter egg (of sorts) as “God Mode”, I will just call it something cool and useful to know.

You can create a new folder, and name it “GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}”. This creates an icon that will link you to every single item under the Windows 7 Control Panel. A decent little trick. The problems is that this has apparently been around for quite a while and it is not limited to just the Windows OS environment.

Another fun fact about this is that what works the magic has nothing to do with “GodMode” but it has everything to do with what comes after it, “.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}”. In fact, instead of using “GodMode…”, I used “Control Panel.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}”. That worked just fine. Here’s a couple more hints via a commentator from the CNET article.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R… whuuuut?

Anyone play that funny little game called Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl? Awesome story and great concept until you run into bugs and bad programming. A while ago, a person named “Artistpavel” created a mod called STALKER Complete 2009. This greatly improves the quality of play and graphics in the game. Download it from here. This mod will automatically install into your Steam directory if you have the game via Steam. This will work in Windows 7 64-bit. Make sure you download and install the 1.4.3.2 patch!!

You will have to create a new game in order to use this mod within a game!

A couple of things about it. To use the black and white night vision instead of the crappy green night vision navigate to the anims folder in the gamedata folder which is in the root stalker shadow of chernobyl directory. You will see two files there: nightvision_bad.ppe and nightvision_good.ppe. Change the extension file extension of nightvision_bad.ppe from ppe to bak. Next copy the nightvision_good.ppe and paste it into the same folder (anims). Rename the copied file to nightvision_bad.ppe.


Valve/Steam Rambling

Over at Ars, there’s an interview Ars had with Valve’s Director of Business Development, Jason Holtman. In case you are unaware, Valve is the game development company that has brought us Counter-Strike, the Half-Life series and Left 4 Dead. Valve is also the company behind the downloadable PC game store, Steam. In the article, Holtman discusses Valve’s success with Steam as a platform for digital distribution of games.

Steam and DRM

I have been using Steam since 2005. At first, I didn’t trust Steam very much. I think I was a little apprehensive about what would happen to the games that I buy if Steam should ever close it’s doors. Steam distributes the games it sells with a form of DRM – a non-obtrusive form of DRM mind you. Some games you buy require you to have a connection to the internet to play. Most do not and you can choose to take Steam “offline” if you want to play a game offline.

It has been my experience, so far, that you can download and install games as many times as you want. Some 3rd party games still come with Activation Limits or Install Limits. However, some of these games also come with programs that you can use to deactivate a game before uninstall, thereby saving you 1 activation.

While I have become more trustworthy of Steam, I can’t help but wonder what the hell will happen if/when Steam dies? I think this is a question that has been asked far too many times and that has not had a clear, precise answer. Will this DRM that Steam uses keep us from enjoying these games we purchase should they go the way of the Dodo?

Purchasing games on Steam within the European Union

There is a lot of [obvious] convenience when it comes to buying games on Steam. You don’t have to go to the store or order games from another online site that will deliver the physical medium to your door. Steam used to charge in US dollars but changed that well over a year or so ago. Since I live in Finland, I have to purchase each game in euros. Fair enough, but the problem is that Steam seems to be charging the same number amount in both euros and US dollars. For example, Steam is currently having a 5-day sale. A couple of days ago, they were selling Left 4 Dead 2 for 25% off. The price in euros was 37,49€. I checked with some Steam users in the States and the price was exactly the same in dollars, $37.49!

Now, $37.49 does not equal 37,49€;  it equals 25€ and 37,49€ equals $56. Now, I can understand and expect some price increase if this were a physical medium I was buying the game in, such as a DVD or a CD. Since you have to import the game into the country and we are talking supplies, shipping costs and import taxes. However, this is not the case. What about VAT (Value Added Tax) you say? Here is the price for a game that costs $37.49 with Finland’s VAT of 22% :

  • Game in US dollars: $37.49 + $8.25 VAT = $45.74 or 30,55€
  • Game in euros: 25€ + 5,5 VAT = 30,50€ or $45.65

So, I have to ask what the heck is going on here? Why is Steam price gouging it’s euro-using customers in Europe?

Steam isn’t the only company engaging in price gouging here in Finland. Finns have been complaining about this since the introduction of the euro. Products and services apparently used to cost way less under the old Finnish mark. My concern here is that some foreign and Finnish companies importing, physically or digitally, products into Finland are keeping their prices at the same number as they are in the States. Counting on the ignorance of Finns who do not understand what is going on here, either because of language issues or they genuinely do not understand. Meanwhile, hoping that the Finnish government will keep ignoring the will of the people as they have been doing in recent years.

I’ll end this by asking asking one more question, where the hell is Half-Life 2: Episode 3??? 😀


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – Russians, Servers and Sales

Sales

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has, apparently, broken sales records previously held by Grand Theft Auto IV. According to the Christian Science Monitor, sales figures from North American and the U.K. put sales amount at 4.7 million units and the dollar amount past $300 million in the first 24 hours. GTA IV sales were 3.6 million units at $310 million for the first weekend.

Activision rejoices, “Hah we knew it! You clock dollars when the game you release is geared towards the console market!!”

Meanwhile in Russia…

Our neighbors to the east are apparently not very happy with the “Airport/No Russian” scene that has been sort of controversial in the west itself. The scene, in which you play a Russian terrorist who kills innocent people in an airport has drawn the ire of the Russian government and a few Russian gamers. The Russian government has banned the game and according to CNET (Warning: sarcasm filled article!), the scene will be removed in both Steam and disc versions.

I had the pleasure of attending Finnish language courses with many Russian classmates. They are nice, regular people. They were not the monsters my government (The United States) made them out to be when I was growing up (during the late stages of the Cold War).

The Russians are a proud, patriotic people. They love their language, culture and county. Russia is the center of their universe and anyone who doesn’t like it, be damned. Does this sound familiar? Well, it should because this is how we Americans are.

The entertainment industry in America has made anyone, from Americans to Russians to Muslims the enemy of any protagonist in a story. Because this is exactly what it is, a story. We Americans are used fighting our own in books, TV, games and movies. We also don’t think any less of our fellow countrymen. Guess what? We don’t think any less of Russians because a few bad apples decide to cut down innocent people in a game.

Now, I could point out Russia’s foreign policy, talk about Russian current issues and the dark past of the Russian-led Soviet Union. Then, I could point out the same for America just so people don’t feel that Russia is being singled out. But, I’m not going to do that. In the end, this is just a video game based on a fictional story. No real harm has been done and Activision is going to block scene from the Russian versions. Time to move on.

PC gamers to Activision, “You can clock all the dollars you want, we’ll make our own server.”

Over at Tom’s, you can get a look at a video presentation of people playing on a self-built dedicated server. They demonstrate grenade and AC-130 cannon spamming and low-gravity jumps. I would assume that since this can be done, eventually there will be community-made dedicated servers up and running in no time.

I think the funny part about this is that this dedicated server was made a week after the game was released. There is simply no excuse as to why support for dedicated servers is not available.


Bioshock And Realtek HD Audio

Are you unable to play Bioshock because you can’t hear anything at all? Maybe this might help you. But first, let me give you quick specs of my computer:

  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • ASUS P6T
  • Onboard Realtek ALC1200 which is using HD audio software and drivers, downloaded from the ASUS support website
  • Audio ports on the motherboard and in the front of the Antec 1200 case via wire from port to motherboard
  • Bioshock purchased and downloaded via Steam

History of the problem

I first encountered this problem while I was using Windows 7 Ultimate RC. The sound in the game worked just fine until after the plane crash at the beginning of the game. Of course, I googled for the problem and it took me some time. Most suggestions had to do with downloading and installing Windows Visual Basic 2008 Redistributable. There were also suggestions to download an older version of Direct X 9. When Bioshock was installed, it also installed an older version of Direct X and Windows Visual Basic 2005 Redistributable.

None of these suggestions worked for me. I eventually found this solution via an obscure forum posting. For the life of me, I cannot remember the address so just take note that I did not come up with this solution all on my own. 😀

The solution

Just remember that if you are not using Realtek HD audio, this might not work. Not everyone’s specs are the same. It doesn’t hurt to try this. Oh, and I am not responsible for any damage that might occur for whatever reason.

Realtek HD Audio MenuIn the notification/status area of the taskbar, right click on the Realtek HD Audio icon and select “Audio devices”. From here, a window will popup. This window should have four tabs: “Playback”, “Recording”, “Sounds” and “Communications”. Even if it doesn’t have 4 tabs, make sure that it at least has the “Recording” tab.

Realtek HD Audio Recording Tab MenuClick on the “Recording” tab. In the picture to the left, I have two devices which are currently “not plugged in”. Now, right-click inside this window and select “Show disabled devices”. Any device that is disabled should appear in this window. Now right-click either “Stereo Mix” or “CD Audio” and select “Enable”. A green circle with a checkmark should appear next to the device. The picture below shows the disabled devices and the right-click menu to enable them.

Realtek HD Audio Recording Menu Disabled

Enabling the device in the "Recording" section.

Now you should be able to hear sounds in Bioshock after the plane crash. These are pretty exact instructions for a setup with Realtek HD audio. So, no one should mess this up. If this does not work, then you might be experiencing a problem somewhere else.


Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Thoughts

The demo for Left 4 Dead 2 was released last week. After the controversy and boycott groups I finally get a chance to see if publishing a sequel not more than a year after the first was a good idea.

Madden and NHL anyone?

Left 4 Dead 2 charger

The Charger is trying out for the WWE.

Anyone who has played Madden (insert year here), an American football game, or any NHL (insert year here) game on many consoles knows that new versions of these games are released year after year. You could look at these games as simulators. New players are hired to teams in these leagues. Also, players retire, get traded to different teams or they are simply let go. This is the nature of pro sports. This is one of the reasons why new versions of these games are released every year.

Where’s the beef?

The decision to announce Left 4 Dead 2 so early, I think, did not help Valve’s case to justify a sequel a year after the first. This was only part of the controversy surrounding this game. The second part of the controversy was what gamers saw as a promise from Valve to support it by adding new content. What happened instead was the SDK was slow to be released and the only new content released prior to the annoucement was the new game mode, Survival and the one map campaign, The Last Stand.

Left 4 Dead 2 horde attack

Valve staff ready to take on hordes of angry gamers.

I tried Survival and I wasn’t that impressed by it and the The Last Stand just wasn’t enough. I was very excited about the release and a little disappointed after the release. The release was free for us PC players so I can’t complain too much – well, just a little… 😀

Sometime after the L4D2 announcement, Valve announced a new two map campaign called Crash Course. This campaign ties together No Mercy and Death Toll. However, while mainly Co-op players like myself can enjoy the campaign, this new campaign was targeted more for the Versus crowd. I wasn’t nearly as disappointed with this release but it still wasn’t enough. Feed me Seymour! Feed me!

Taking a stroll through the French Quarter

Left 4 Dead 2 riverfront

I guess someone lost too much playing the slots on the boat.

The demo starts off with a boat operator dropping off four survivors. Here we get to see our new characters: Rochelle, Coach, Nick and Ellis. Immediately, you can tell that they picked up Nick from a shoot of the remake of Scarface and they dug up Ellis from some crap gas station in the middle of nowhere Alabama.

The drop off point is along the Riverfront, I assume the Mississippi River. At that point, our four new kickers of dead ass can pick up their weapon of choice, a pump action shotgun or a silenced Uzi submachine gun. They can also choose to take a melee weapon and leave their pistol behind. Another survivor can immediately pick up the pistol for dual-pistol goodness. From there, team Rape the Dead make their way into the streets of New Orleans.

The infected

Left 4 Dead 2 JockeyI have been able to play the demo quite a few times. In this turn, my team was confronted immediately by the Jockey. The Jockey’s ability is to jump onto the shoulders of any survivor and control them. From there, the Jockey can steer it’s victim into a rushing horde or towards an approaching Tank.

You can tell when a Jockey is coming because it likes to laugh a lot. It’s probably listening to Dice’s The Day The Laughter Died on it’s iPod.

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Spitter AcidThe next special infected we came across was the Spitter. This zombie spits out green acid onto the survivors. The acid burns and deals damage to the survivors. The acid pool is actually quite large and it presents a problem for survivors trying to get away from the pool or survivors trying to revive fallen comrades.

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo SpitterThe Spitter is a female zombie and obviously enjoyed Timmy Chan’s fried chicken and fried rice a little too much. I know I did!! She also apparently listened to her mom at one point when her mom lectured her on wearing clean underwear in case you should ever die.

She also makes noises when she is approaching. It’s sort of like a laugh combined with the gargling of liquid.

Of course, we already met the Charger near the beginning of this article. The Charger gets it’s name from charging at it’s intended victim. When it comes, it sounds like a bull. Also, the Charger cannot stop once it begins charging. Meaning that if you pay well enough attention, you can dodge it’s attack. But if you get caught by the charger you will be knocked down and then it will repeatedly pick you up and slam you to the ground until someone kills it.

Left 4 Dead 2 ChargerThe purpose of the Charger is apparently to keep the survivors on their toes. Once of the tactics of players playing as survivors is to sit in a group during the time when the horde are attacking. The Charger can be thrown in to knock the group over like bowling pins. This will split them up and distract them long enough for the attacking horde to actually become a serious problem.

The older special infected are also around. They have been made over a bit but I have not been close enough to them to actually notice. However, Valve has created a female Boomer as variety. This was a nice touch. Women can be Boomers too ya know!

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo S.W.A.TThere are also new horde members that Valve has thrown in for our amusement, the one that we get to go against is the infected S.W.A.T member. I won’t let those who haven’t played this wait, you cannot kill it by shooting it’s front. Knock it back with your weapon and shoot it in the back.

There are a couple more new horde members, a clown zombie and a protective suit wearing zombie. The protective suit zombie apparently can withstand fire which could make it a problem for those expecting a wall of fire to protect them. Unfortunately, we see neither of these two in this demo.

Boomsticks

Left 4 Dead 2 PistolValve has thrown in new weapons along with the multitude of new zombies. You get to see a few of them in the demo. The normal pistol, which is my most used weapon in Left 4 Dead, has received a make over. Along with the Uzi, pump action shotgun, M-16, auto-shotgun and sniper rifle from Left 4 Dead, you can expect to see the silenced Uzi, Ak-47, combat shotgun, what looked like a Desert Eagle pistol and a newer sniper rifle I haven’t tried yet. It looked like a semi-automatic rifle. You can also pick up melee weapons such as the electric guitar, frying pan and machete in the demo. They deal quite a bit of damage to the infected when you use them so, they make up for the fact that you have to drop your pistol in order to pick up a melee weapon. I tried the guitar last night, it was wonderful! 😛

Detrimental to your health

Along with the red med packs and the pills you can also pick up adrenaline shots and a defibrillator. In case you never saw Pulp Fiction, shooting yourself with adrenaline allows you move faster and act faster. It also makes your eyesight sharper and brighter. It does deafen you a bit.

The defibrillator revives dead teammates. This is an interesting new addition to this game. Now you no longer have to wait till you stumble upon a spawn closet. If you have a defibrillator handy you can simply revive a dead teammate. I have seen this approach in another game I used to play, Battlefield 2. My favorite class was a medic and I had to revive a lot of dead guys with my trusty paddles. Since, I play more of a support role throughout the online games that I play. I might pick this up the next time I play this demo.

Chariots of Fire

Note: Once I get a screenshot of this area, I will post it to this section.

A new alert sequence has been added to Left 4 Dead 2 and you can see it here in the demo. In left 4 Dead, you could prepare yourself for the inevitable onslaught of the pissed off dead when you move something big or blow up something. However, Valve has mixed things up here. Players, including myself, have grown accustomed to finding a spot and camping there. Using a wall of fire and bullets to get us through the sequence. Now we have to run for our lives. Now if you even stop for a second, your ass is in trouble.

In the second map of the Parish demo, the action sequence is when you reach a safety trailer (it looks like a sealed research trailer). When you close the first door, you will have very little available to pick up before you open the second door. Maybe there will be a couple of adrenaline shots or pills sitting there… but that’s it. As soon as you open the second door you need to run. It’s imperative that you run and shoot. You will run through what looks like an area that was used to keep people in line. You have to run to a large structure where you will have to climb a couple of ladders and run some more to reach the alarm button. Once the button is pressed, the alarm will shut off. But before that, the alarm stays on and the horde keeps attacking. This is, in my opinion, an awesome addition to the game and it is much needed.

Visuals

This game looks just as if not better than the first game. The one thing that I wanted to point out is that when you deal damage to a zombie, you might shoot an arm off but it keeps coming. If you tear through it enough, it will expose the innards of the zombie for the world to see. This is a really nice touch to the game. However, in Australia, this has caused a problem with a government that apparently still believes that only kids play video games. You can read about that at Kotaku.

 

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Dead BodyLeft 4 Dead 2 Dead Body

 

Some thoughts

Like a lot of other people, I was put off by Valve announcing a sequel to Left 4 Dead so early. They had hardly put out any content. Why couldn’t they have just added the new characters, weapons, infected and campaigns to the original Left 4 Dead? I still don’t know the answer to this question. I understand that a company needs to make money in order to survive. However, I think in the future anyone working for Valve should be careful when they say someone that might be construed as a promise to all of the people that buy a game.


The PC… Err… Nerfed Version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

*Update: Activision responds to comments about IW nerfing PC CoD: MW2.

According to Tom’s Hardware, Activision President, Mike Griffth has responded to Kotaku concerning the comments by saying they are, “Watching this very carefully and paying attention to it. But we’re not overly concerned about it.”

Quite honestly, Activision does not have to worry about it. As I already addressed in the original posting below, IW’s and Activision’s bread and butter for this game will come from sales of the game to console owners. He admitted that Activision and IW have intended for the PC online experience for this new game to be similar to the “friendly consumer experience” enjoyed by console game players.

The problem with this is that no one told Activision to change the way PC gamers have been playing multiplayer games for more than a decade. If there is one thing that I have not heard since playing PC multiplayer games myself (1998) is “Gee, I wish someone would reinvent the way we all get together and play on a server because it’s just too goddamned hard as it is.”

In the end, pointing at the console sales charts is nothing more than an excuse to be lazy. Activision and IW have decided that just not enough people buy the PC version of the game to justify caring enough.

Some of the commenters in the Tom’s article are obvious console fanboys. You want to play games on a console? Go right ahead because I, personally, will not judge you. I mastered Super Mario on the NES. I played Pitfall on the Atari and Intellivision. I am the proud owner of a Wii and, hopefully, some day a 360 or a PS3. Fanboys are people who just don’t see both sides of an argument. They are right and everyone else be damned. I pose this question to console owners: How would you feel if Activision and IW said to you, “Sorry guys, but the PS3 and 360 versions of MW2 are single-player only. Console sales just do not justify us making any kind of effort for online play.” You would be pretty ticked off. And you would know how PC gamers feel right about now.

To be honest, my personal interest in this game was for the single-player side only. But now I need to seriously reconsider buying it or waiting till Steam sells it for dirt cheap before I pick it up. In the meanwhile, I’m behind in my games so, it would be no immediate loss for me. I feel bad for all of the players in the CoD PC community.

 

*Original posting

As reported on Tom’s Hardware, Ars Technica and probably a billion other places, the newest release of the Call of Duty franchise by Infinity Ward comes with severe limitations that are guaranteed to piss off CoD PC fans and the established online CoD community.

During a podcast and a Best Buy chat, Infinity Ward gave out more details about it’s newest game that have enraged fans by limiting the amount of players on a server to 18 , no more dedicated servers and no custom controls via console commands.

Online play

IW has setup CoD: MW2 so that the game will automatically pick the host of the online match, based on predetermined criteria. Basically, those people with the best bandwidth and the computing power out of those who wish to play in the match will host a game. You will not be able to pick what player will host the game. There will also be an, at-least, 5 second pause during a host migration just in case the original host quits – for any reason.

The problem that comes into play here is that many ISPs have rules and regulations against it’s customers hosting any kind of server. Many ISPs will simply throttle bandwidth if a server has been detected. The game will then pick the next player who is capable of running the “server”.

For those who are hosting games, they will experience latency so their “connection” will match the rest of the players.

The ability to remove problem players from a game has also been taken away. So, this leaves PC players of the new CoD game left with almost no ability to use the game as a base to make their own modifications and help make online play better for their fellow gamers.

As for recording of games. Demoing matches is a staple of online play. I used to do it when I used to compete with clans in Quake 3 CTF and RtCW matches. With YouTube, players can upload their gameplay vids so everyone else can experience what the player experiences during play. When asked by a questioner if the ability to record games is in the game (and then begging for a “yes”), they were told “No”.

Balance

Apparently, “balance” is the new buzz word at Infinity Ward. In response to a question about console commands, graphics tweaking and other tweaking, IW’s Vince Zampella said, “We would like you to play the game the way we designed and balanced it.” This also means that there is no longer any lean (when you can peek around a corner to see who is coming without being shot). leaning would ruin the balance of the game, according to Infinity Ward.

The good news for players is that you can still customize your controls, use text chat in-game and change graphics settings. I guess doing this won’t ruin the “balance” of the game.

So why do this?

Piracy

That’s a really good question and one that cannot be easily answer even by Infinity Ward. Chatter around the campfire is that some of this has to with piracy. With IW completely at the helm, they don’t have to worry about pirates, cheaters and the rest of their ilk. But the problem with this is that, as we have seen recently with EA’s DRM debacles, instituting draconian measures and DRM just drives users to download pirated games. Users who would not normally pirate games can now enjoy a much better experience playing a game than if they had bought a copy from the local store.

I always encourage people to buy a game if they want to play it. I’ve been called a “goody-goody” for it but the thing is that this newest fanning of the flames by IW is exactly the knee-jerk reaction which makes the lives of everyone a lot harder. If you do download a pirated version and you like it, go buy a copy and spare the rest of us from having to deal with this bullshit.

And before you think otherwise, I am very much against draconian DRM and other measures that developers and distributers are now taking to combat piracy. They are losing the battle and the rest of us gamers are caught in the middle.

Consoles are where the money is

Let’s face it, without the need to break out statistics, sales of consoles and their games pretty much blows away the PC gaming market. It’s been this way for several years now thanks to big, cheap flat panel TVs, the Nintendo Wii and HD gaming via the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 with integrated entertainment systems wifi or wired net capabilities. Who needs to spend 1200€ on computer hardware like I did when they can get a console a fourth of the size of my computer case for a third of the price?

There are fanboys on both sides who claim that PC gaming is dead. Steam and the games it provides to the public is one of many fine examples of why that cannot be any further from the truth. I think the real problem here is the game developers are starting to go down the same path the recording industry did. The recording industry latched onto a huge source of revenue while becoming very complacent in their position. Quality suffered at the hands of quantity. The same thing is starting to happen with the gaming industry. The only thing we are missing now is a cartel “representing” the gaming industry suing every man, woman and child within a 1 mile radius of a DVD drive.


Borderlands PC Authentication Troubles

The PC version of the new “artsy” FPS coop game, Borderlands, was delayed for a week. This is fine and all but the problem, according to Ars Technica, is that because the “street date” was pushed back a week, those people who were able to buy copies of the game from stores have been screwed by the fact that the Authentication servers were not online. So, now people who have bought the game will have to wait until the game day the PC version of the game is actually released.

Another thing I wanted to point out in the article is the subject of software licensing and DRM. For a long time, we users have been under the impression that when we purchase a physical copy of software, it is ours. However, this is not the case at all. For example, when you buy a copy of Microsoft Word from the store you are only buying a license to use it. It’s like going to Filmtown here or Blockbuster in the States and renting a movie. The only difference being that you don’t have to return the Microsoft Word disc to the store after a certain period of time.

Both my wife and I are users of Steam. Personally, I enjoy the convenience of buying and downloading games from Steam right then and there without having to go to the store or ordering from Amazon UK, Play UK or CDON. However, I am worried about the day Steam servers go offline forever. While I have backup copies of the games, I am not entirely sure where it goes from there.