On Acceleration and Sensitivity

Posted in Gaming on August 25th, 2009 by samuraisam

In our universe we have many forces–gravity, magnetism and acceleration. I could go on. No force is as hard to master as mouse acceleration. You see, mouse acceleration is one of those things like wide-screen support–only some developers understand it. It takes a little bit of effort to implement, and makes every one’s lives easier when a developer approaches it properly.

To explain it briefly, mouse acceleration is the nature of the speed at which you move your mouse and the presented distance on screen. The faster you move, the further the cursor moves. If you are really dying for a nice technical explanation of mouse acceleration (or “Pointer Ballistics” as Microsoft calls it) you can read about it all on this page on the Microsoft site.

Mouse acceleration does have its uses in regular computer use–clicking and dragging files and navigating the internet can do with a bit of added movement, however for most gamers mouse acceleration is highly undesirable. In a frantic game you need ninja quick reaction speeds, so when you see that enemy in the corner of the screen and zip your mouse across, you’ll find you have missed them entirely because of mouse acceleration.

Gamers spend big bucks on fancy mice and mousepads and can spend literally hours modifying their mouse settings to suite individual games–they don’t need developers putting a wrench in the works by adding forced mouse acceleration to games.

The responsibility of mouse acceleration begins at your mouse (drivers), then your operating system and then finally is placed in the hands of the game. Mouse acceleration can come from any of these 3 places and can be a bit of a headache to track down and control if not eliminate.

The notorious enhance pointer precision checkbox in Windows

The notorious enhance pointer precision checkbox in Windows; the cause of many a headache.

This slider and checkbox represent the only options within Windows to change mouse acceleration–keep in mind how important this mouse stuff is in relation to RSI and basic comfort… and these are the only options Windows can provide. It seems like a basic enough request – don’t fiddle around with my input – yet Windows XP (yes, the same Windows XP that is used by over 400 million people worldwide) had a fault. If you unticked the infamous “enhance pointer precision” in the mouse control panel it only might have no effect. Some claim that the only way to deactivate mouse acceleration in Windows XP is to set the mouse speed to its lowest setting at which speed mouse usage becomes highly impractical. On the other side of computing, Mac OS X has also been criticized for its approach to mouse acceleration.

If you own a nice, expensive mouse your options will look something like this:

Sensitivity, Acceleration, DPI and refresh rate options for a Logitech G9 mouse

Sensitivity, Acceleration, DPI and refresh rate options for a Logitech G9 mouse

The history of mouse acceleration in games has been a long one and hasn’t exactly resulted in what you might call sound progress; Duke Nukem 3d (1996) was the first game to support mouselook (i.e. mouse to control vertical and horizontal movements) however mouse acceleration settings were unavailable–as the game was not true 3d, mouse acceleration wasn’t really necessary.

Quake (1996) was one of the first games to feature a multitude of mouse options, ranging from sensitivity to acceleration; however all of these options are hidden away to the average user in the form of advanced console commands.

Much like with wide-screen gaming, things didn’t exactly ‘progress’ as one might expect, the Unreal engine (1998) bought users back a generation and forced mouse acceleration upon them when playing titles such as Deus Ex and Unreal. Later Unreal titles such as Unreal Tournament 3 require solutions that amount to over 700 characters of .ini file modifications.

One of the common methods of defeating mouse acceleration is by using DirectInput (an option available in many games), however this isn’t always an exact science; with Deus Ex using the DirectInput options removes the usage of mouse on any in-game menus. It may not sound that bad, but when you consider that Deus Ex is one of the most critically acclaimed games ever made–yet you can’t even access the inventory properly when using this fix, it destroys the game.

Half Life (1998) and Counter Strike (1999) are some of the most popular and well regarded FPS genre games in the entire history of gaming, yet require specific launch options to deactivate mouse acceleration from the games. There are no options available through menus.

Given this history you would think developers have woken up to the fact that mouse acceleration is unacceptable, however it is still a problem; take for instance 2K Games’ Bioshock (2007); the number of pissed off users amounted in the hundreds and a 59 page thread was generated on the official forums. The end solution was a few game file edits. Why wasn’t there a simple option within the menu to disable mouse acceleration?

Even though many developers don’t inhibit the players with mouse acceleration, the number of games that include mouse options beyond sensitivity within the in-game menus are few; the problem has also been complicated by the console demographic who expect a bit of mouse acceleration. Developers give PC users dumbed down interfaces a lot of the time because they think everyone is stupid like console users (e.g. Deus Ex 2: Invisible War) Most if not all games at the very least include mouse acceleration settings via console, however figuring out the commands usually requires a bit of Googling.

Some game developer forums are filled with requests that upcoming games feature proper and adequate mouse acceleration settings; customers want these options and developers aren’t very straight forward about providing them; I believe some of this reluctance to include these options is to try and play happy families and not confuse users–even though the users are the ones that want these options. Even having the most basic option in the menu does provide some reassurance when you are trying to figure out whether the game is applying mouse acceleration, the operating system is applying mouse acceleration or you are just going insane.

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PS3 and why it is a failure

Posted in Consoles on August 18th, 2009 by samuraisam

Released in late 2006, the PS3 was billed by many as being the next generation of gaming because of its fancy Cell and Blu-ray technology, there was so much bullshit PR hype about the Cell processor, yet few even cared to read the details. In short it was going to kill every other gaming system out there, it was going to kill everything… almost 36 months later and it hasn’t done any of that. In fact the PS3 hasn’t even superseded the day to day sales of the Xbox 360 or Wii yes.

To start a failure of a console, you need a lead-up and launch littered with failures. You name the failure, the PS3 had it: missed deadlines, no vibration feature, stupid quotes from execs, not enough supply, bad PR from developers who call the consoles stupid. Never in recent times can I think of a product with so much bad hype surrounding it.

One of the first things I heard about the PS3 was the word ‘cell’, it was supposed to be some fantastical processing unit that would revolutionize gaming. Pinning next generation cell technology on how good a console will be is just about as good as the bit wars of previous consoles. Your average gamer, doesn’t actually care about the cell processor–gamers care about games.

The idea that a console, whose components remain stale throughout its lifespan, can remain an interesting platform for more than a few years is benign. The purported lifespan of the PS3 should be no more than 4-5 years, and there are enough reasons out there for this (Moore’s law anyone?). However Sony thinks that a lifespan of about 10 years will get them somewhere–the same as the PS2. We are in a different moment in technology now though. Sony is used to a land where it once had complete control of everything and had exclusivity agreements with publishers around every corner; it is unrealistic to expect a product to feasibly last 10 years anymore. In my opinion, with its 256MB of RAM the PS3 is not going to technologically last 10 years.

Another talking point prior to the launch was the the Blu-ray drive on the console. I don’t think I need to remind anyone of the HD-DVD / Blu-ray wars. I seriously question the necessity of the Blu-ray drive in a world where the capacity of games needn’t be so high.

“a device that is going to be state of the art and future-proof for the next decade” –Jack Tretton

You could merit the inclusion of the Blu-Ray drive as future-proofing… for a system that is already 3 years old. Probably the best thing about Blu-Ray for the PS3 is as a method to thwart piracy. This is a tactic that wouldn’t be too unexpected given Sony and its previous practices with proprietary formats:

“A company trying to sell technology and provide content faces a contradiction. Its manufacturing arm realizes the market wants a device that can handle content from a variety of sources, yet the content side needs to ensure that products are protected and available only through its own choice of format. Sony Music could not very well support a Sony product that encouraged piracy, so it opted out of supporting MP3 and attempted to push ATRAC, its own copy-protected format. Sony’s answer to iTunes, SonicStage, was designed primarily for use on Sony’s VAIO computer, and the initial launch of Connect, its iTunes Music Store equivalent, also ran into problems. Internal rivalry hindered Sony’s attempts to establish the company as a digital music force, despite its unique position of being the only company with a computer division, record label and electronics arm.”

The PS3 is the only modern gaming platform so far to have no piracy at all; the increased costs of Blu-ray in comparison to DVD have likely meant further reduced profits for publishers. Sony has so many people up its PR sleeve to put positive hype on its products though…

Interviewer: Wait, wait a sec. Saying there’s not enough capacity, are you talking about Blu-ray?

Kojima: That’s correct. There’s not enough space at all. (laughs) …There’s not enough space. We always talked about where to cut and what to compress.”

The capacity of a Blu-ray disc is 25-50 GB (depending on single or dual layer); here is a game developer saying he thinks that 50 GB isn’t enough space, even though his end product only marked up to 33.8 GB… and runs at 1024×768. There is some debate on forums etc as to what could possibly use this much space; some people point at lossless audio.

Given the recent developments of solid state memory (SSD, SDHC etc) Blu-ray isn’t even a warranted technology anymore and I believe we will see its welcome demise soon. The long loading times on optical-based media are easily avoidable by using solid state memory.

For a while the PS3 sat as probably the best value and highest quality Blu-ray movie player which was probably a good move on Sony’s part, though that time has now passed. The PS3 has to stand on its own from a gamers perspective.

From that persepctive, what does a Blu-ray drive offer? It’s a 2x speed Blu-ray drive. That means… it arguably has the same/worse transfer capabilities as an Xbox 360 DVD drive. It does have around 5 times the capacity, but whats the point when it would take over an hour and a half to read all that data?

Given that one of the primary benefits of console gaming in comparison to PC gaming is the lack of installation requirement, it is slightly weird that the PS3 requires installations of some games. We’re talking 20 minute installation times.

The controller is one of the most important elements of any consoles as it will form the staple interaction device of most users; if it fails, the console fails. In this case, the PS3 launched with a controller that featured no vibration. Even though Sony claimed it was because it interfered with the sixaxis component of the controller, every man and his dog knows it was because of a lawsuit at the time. Since then, Sony has restored the vibration feature as standard.

The graphics on the PS3 are barely better than anything else out there; despite being released an entire year after the Xbox 360 the graphics are only marginally better in most cases and in some cases arguably worse. The number of games that can actually output at 1080p (1920×1080) natively are few, many popular titles such as Metal Gear Solid 4 run at a paltry 1024×768. In comparison to a PC the graphics are far, far worse nowadays.

One of the staple titles of any Playstation console has always been Gran Turismo. You can’t screw up Gran Turismo… Gran Turismo 5 prologue (the ‘teaser’ to the real release of Gran Turismo 5) features no rendered damage, and get this–no tyre track marks at all. Driver, from 1999 on the PC and PlayStation 1 had more realism in that regard. Despite these shortcomings, the game still scored 80 on metacritic.

The games of the PS3 up till now (33 months) have recieved lower ratings in comparison to the first 33 months of the PS2′s life and the first 37 months of the Xbox 360′s:

PS3 (33 months) PS2 (33 months) Xbox 360 (37 months)
Min: 72 73 75
Max: 98 97 98
Range (lower is better): 26 24 23
Average: 80.7 81.5 81.9
Median: 80 81 81

(the xbox is taken from a 37 month period because metacritic doesn’t list the month at which games were released, I simply omitted 2009 to get it down to 37 months)

Of course these are all aggregated from professional reviews and not user opinion and are from different periods. There are also some wild things going on with Playstation release dates (PS2 released in Japan several months before other places). From these statistics the median and range are probably the most important factors as when higher indicate an increased number of positively recieved games.

Average Median
2006 73.75 77
2007 72.96 74
2008 72.89 74
2009 72.79 72

These statistics show the year-on-year performance of games (again, based on metacritic scores) which are gradually worsening. You can read statistics any way you want to, the point I think that these statistics show is that the PS3 has poorer quality games than other platforms and that the games are slowly decreasing in quality rather than slowly increasing in quality.

Console fanboys often point to console and game sales in Japan… a region that accounts for around 18 percent of global game sales. In the rest of the world (the other 82 percent) these sales figures don’t even figure; Japan is a very specific region, with a specific culture and specific interests in gaming.

From my personal perspective the PlayStation forms a bridge between Japanese/Asian games and a European and Western market. Sony conveniently has an array of Japanese programmers and designers to quote every so often for good PR.

Programming on the PS3 has been denounced by several key industry figures. Notably, Gabe Newell pissed off the entire Sony fan base by denouncing the PS3 as a development platform. John Carmack also shared his somewhat negative opinion regarding the PS3. I guess what you can take away from both of these is that Sony has chosen a platform which requires a very different development manner to other consoles and which probably leads to games that work on a PS3 only working only on a PS3. Keep in mind this is two very highly-placed game designers (creators of Half Life/Steam and Doom/Quake respectively) saying that something isn’t perfect about PS3 development. There is another article on Cnet that discusses some other developers that think the PS3 is a pain to develop on–Only 3 years into the PS3′s 10 year lifespan and people are already talking about memory limitations.

Behind the PS3 are a group of execs at Sony that spend all day and all night making stupid statements. Literally 24 hours a day they spew stupidity on a continuous basis. The level of elitism and preposterous nature displayed in these comments is second only to those associated with Daikatana.

“Now, rumble I think was the last generation feature; it’s not the next-generation feature. I think motion sensitivity is.”

“PS2 was still going strong after eight years, and with the power the Cell processor provides, not to mention the fact that PS3 is inherently future-proof, we see the PS3 sales curve far outlasting that of PS2.”

“DVD is current generation. Why would you support current generation?”

“We don’t provide the ‘easy to program for’ console that (developers) want, because ‘easy to program for’ means that anybody will be able to take advantage of pretty much what the hardware can do, so then the question is, what do you do for the rest of the nine-and-a-half years?”

Such a disconnection with the customer base is alarming to say the least. If I was a PS3 user I’d be offended by most of the comments from Sony.

Given that the PS3 is now on the verge of being 3 years old, some long overdue price cuts are on the horizon; the end profitability of this console is already non-existant. Sony’s year-on-year console sales are down. The attach rate of the PS3 is comparitavely low.

Sony believes that the PS3 will be the ‘dominant’ console in the near future. The sad reality is that even if the quality of games increases and propells the PS3 to have a longer existance, the console will whither away on the technical side; it had a failure of a launch and still remains a technically questionable console. It is already far underpowered in comparison to modern technology and instead of trying to aim for a short, sharp lifespan, Sony is under the impression that a product will actually somehow last for 10 years in this day and age.

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Full Throttle review

Posted in Game Reviews on August 11th, 2009 by samuraisam

I first recall playing Full Throttle in primary school on an old mac; it was absolutely great then however I cannot recall ever playing through the entire game. It has been at least 13 long years since I last played this game.

Ben, just out of the dumpster and ready to kick some ass.

Ben, just out of the dumpster and ready to kick some ass.

I was visiting my regular game store and I saw 2 copies of Full Throttle on the shelf (yeah sometimes they just find crates of vintage stuff laying around). This game from 1995 is sitting on a shelf in 2009. Unopened. Sealed in plastic. The asking price was 30 USD so I just had to oblige. I purchased both copies–one sits on my shelf waiting to be opened never, and the other copy I opened.
It’s quite nice to open something that has just been sitting there for 14 years; it has a nice expensive smell to it. The pamphlets and slips of paper, although ultimately useless still posses some form of charm that cannot be found elsewhere (like the “send this in and get six free Duracell batteries” offer that came with my Virtual Boy). The box contains a survey, mini official player’s guide, a lucasarts promo booklet, a reference guide and a Jewel Case that has a small booklet inside it (along with the game obviously); these pieces of paper separate old games from new games, most new games don’t even come with a single piece of paper in the entire box, everything is a PDF that you can just search through. But this paper stuff is nice. It’s what makes me want a physical copy of the game.

Unfortunately this is a mac version of the game, so I had to copy the game files and after minimal fiddling around I got it running on ScummVM. The game starts with a brief rundown of the story.

The entire game world is actually a dystopian kind of world; everyone is out to get you. Evil suits, badass bikers, and a decent story to boot.

One of the first interactions you have with anyone in this game (in which you interact) is with a fat bubba barman; you have to use the P key to ‘punch’ him, which really just pulls him by his nose ring down to the bar. He gives up the keys to your bike instantly. Imagine seeing this as an 8 year old. Come to think of it, what kind of a primary school lets children play on a game in which you have to handle someone by a nose ring?

"You know what might look better on your nose?... The bar."

"You know what might look better on your nose?... The bar."

This is what this game is like. For a point and click the interaction is unique; you have a selection of keys (walk, examine, inventory, talk, punch and kick) which you have to use to go around the world and do what you need to do. You can either use the keys or just click and hold for the ‘action menu’. The action menu is quite well designed and although the keys are faster it is still nicely done.

Full Throttle Action menu

The action menu

Full Throttle inventory

Full Throttle inventory

The music for the game is provided by a real band, The Gone Jackals; it’s nice that the music isn’t too in your face and the subtle bass guitar notes here and there suit the barren American motorcycling landscape well in my opinion.

The audio and dialogue quality overall is good for an adventure game for its time. The box advertises movie quality sound and I can’t really see any reason to argue with that; in particular the recording quality of the dialogue stands above many other point and click adventure games.

As the game menus etc are replaced by ScummVM I will avoid commenting on them.

One of the novel features of the game comes about half way through; you have to beat the crap out of some other bikers. There are 4-5 different bikers during this situation and it is a nice dynamic touch that many other point and click games don’t really have.

Full Throttle fighting sequences

Full Throttle fighting sequences

Ben weilding a spikeball after defeating an enemy

Ben weilding a spikeball after defeating an enemy

Some of the stuff in the game is a bit far fetched to expect most people to discover. The controls and actions you are able to direct Ben with, whilst novel aren’t very straight forward in some situations.

Even though Ben’s motorcycle gang, The Polecats, is mentioned enough times it barely has any presence in the game.

A major shortcoming of the game is length–the quickest playthrough of the entire game was recorded at just under 17 minutes. Whilst you may argue that that is a speedrun there aren’t really that many locations in the game either; but what isn’t there in length is made up with by dialogue, gameplay and a solid story.

Overall, Full Throttle is a great, entertaining game.

I rate it

9.5/10

More links:

wikipedia: Full Throttle (video game)

Walkthrough: Full Throttle

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Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars review

Posted in Game Reviews on August 10th, 2009 by samuraisam
a screenshot of brokensword

a screenshot of brokensword

Broken Sword, Ireland screenshot

Broken Sword, Ireland screenshot

I first played Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (alternatively titled Circle of Blood in the US) on a mac; it was included on a demo disk with a magazine around the time of its release (1996). The scenes of Paris in the game are absolutely stunning and I can still recall the scenes in Paris even though the game is over 13 years old. The game has obviously had a lot of hard work and care put towards it as witnessed by the hundreds of unique lines of dialogue and a captivating, in-depth story with a range of characters and locations all around the world.

The Good

  • A beautifully crafted game–hand drawn scenes, interesting characters and attention to detail.
  • More dialogue than you can poke your cursor at–this is particular seen with the hand buzzer and also a dirty tissue, almost every single character has a unique reaction to these items… Keep in mind that each extra piece of dialogues indicates care and attention to detail. This extra load of stuff to uncover during the game is part of its charm.
  • A thrilling story (I won’t say anything about it because it would ruin it)
  • A working menu system!
  • The usage of musical cues to inform you when you are on the right path helps a lot
  • Good humor about Irish, French and American people
  • Beautifully composed music, great sound design
  • Leprechaun, assassins, Guidos, psychic detective, terrorist clown and a whole bunch of other interesting and diverse characters

The Bad

  • Damn French people
  • The use of 3d or at least computerized illustrations in some FMV’s is really off-putting for me; it just doesn’t fit in well and really breaks the artistic side of the game. For 1996 they may have been impressive, but nowadays aren’t.
  • Unfortunately this game – like all point and click adventure games – can become a little tedious at times when you can’t figure out how to proceed.
  • It can get a little tiring going back to people to talk to them and having to wait several seconds while they complete an animation before you can speak (i.e. the coughing guy in the Irish bar)
  • There are some small bugs that make it impossible to progress further in the game (i.e. the tap in the Irish pub)
  • Not available on Steam

Overall, Shadow of the Templars is what I would call a great game; it still rates as one of the top games I have ever played and amongst the point and click titles out there it is the cream of the crop. It is appealing to people of all ages and shines as an example of good game design.

I rate this game:

9.9/10

More links:
Broken Sword walkthrough
Metacritic: Circle of Blood
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars trailer (youtube)

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The Dig review

Posted in Game Reviews on August 9th, 2009 by samuraisam

The Dig (1995) is supposedly a famous point and click game; I’ll be perfectly honest with you though, I’d never heard of it until it popped up on Steam a month ago so I bought it and have played through most of it and overall I would say it is a really great game.

Any game having Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it and being produced by those wise people at LucasArts (back in 1995) is worth a try in my books. With a 6 year development cycle for this game it goes without saying that it took a long tedious time to finally be released.. This game is an adventure/exploration game–if I delve too much into the story it would really ruin it; all I will say about the story is that it is really enthralling and worth purchasing this game to experience for yourself.

The Good:

  • The atmosphere of the game is convincing and well designed from all angles; the game succeeds at being extremely immersive the entire way through
  • The art design of the game is superb–the hand drawn backgrounds are probably one of the most impressive elements in this regard.
  • The sound and music design deserves a lot of praise for its role in the immersion of the player within the environment
  • The attention to detail in the world makes it a fascinating, interesting and life-like place to explore.
  • The voice acting is another strong point of the game; the dialogue also varies and doesn’t become stale
  • The number of characters is a minimum which helps in driving the story in my opinion
  • The communication system within the game is certainly unique

The Bad:

  • Unintuitive save system (even though you cannot die or ‘fuck up’ there is no automated save system even though there should be)
  • No main menu (the game just starts at the beginning every single time you start it)
  • The ‘pauses’; i.e. the communication system is frustrating because every time you try to communicate with someone they start talking for a few seconds before you can proceed–although this talking is sometimes necessary to drive relationships and the story across, most of the time it is not. There are keys to skip through unnecessary parts if you want to.
  • The doors: Without revealing much there are doors/areas that are really integral to the game, you have to put in a code to unlock each door however entering codes into doors is a real asshole and takes time and whats worse is that there are at least 65000 possibilities for each door which is a bit excessive. The symbols are also confusing due to the angles at which they are shown and the resolution of each symbol is poor and leads to confusion given how some of the symbols look confusingly similar
  • In your inventory you can’t move the stupid fucking walkie talkie, so I accidentally click it all the time which is a real pain in the ass. You can move every other item around except for the walkie talkie which is a pain because it’s right next to the magnifying glass–you can however move the magnifiying glass.
  • The game doesn’t tell you things; for instance there is a malfunctioning door in the game, I put the code in and it just sits there. So I must have the wrong code (because there is no way to match the door codes to the doors, you just have to guess); I go around to all 4 doors and have to fucking arrange the keys in the stupid ass inventory, then I try the door code again and it doesn’t work–the only way I figure out the door is broken is by using the magnifying glass, and when the outward appearance of the panel is practically identical to all the other panels HOW ON EARTH CAN HE SUDDENLY ‘SEE’ THAT IT IS CORRODED.
  • Again with the save game system:

    “Do you want to replace this saved game?”

    Yes.

    “The game was NOT saved”

    What the fuck?

  • Some parts of the game are immensely hard to figure out (in my opinion anyway)

Additional observations (regarding releasing an old game on steam):
Whilst the meat and bones of the game remain; other features like the save and load system are probably alien to todays gamers and could’ve done with being changed/updated.
There are minor bugs with the game (like if you try and use the numpad to save a game with the name involving 0 it will escape the menu and go back to the game without saving) however the game is quite stable for an old game on a new system.
The game also has some issues when not running in full screen mode mostly relating to input.
Although I don’t think the game really needs a hi-definition rerelease it would still be nice to see some limitations addressed.

If you’re not bothered to read through the manual then here are some handy shortcuts:
ALT + TAB: toggle between full screen and windowed modes
F1 or F5 = menu (save games etc); if you can’t get this to work try hitting CTRL+F1
C = communicator
. = skip current line of dialogue
esc = skip current sequence
double click (when used on edge of screen) = quick travel to another area

Overall
This is a solid game. With celebrity names attached to it it can be easy to think it might suck however this game is the real deal and impresses on many levels. The difficulty is too high in some areas and some parts of the game (the save system, the menu design) wouldn’t be seen dead in todays games.
I rate this game

9.5/10

More links:
The Dig museum
The Dig on Steam
Wikipedia: The Dig

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