Friday, 30 March 2012

Completed: Batman Arkham City

Batman Arkham City was a lot of fun to play, mechanically it is an expanded more open version of Batman Arkham Asylum, a selection of gadgets from the first title reappear along with a fair number of new entries in the the Batarmory.

Instead of having the game split into several areas with connecting paths, Arkham City is mostly open and can be traversed by Batman in a few minutes once the player is used to the movement controls. Similarly there is more happening in Arkham City than the main plotline, there are other forces with their own agendas operating meaning that Batman can detour from the main story to complete a range of sidequests.

I found that the combat was as satisfying as ever with a few new twists here and there in the form of new gadgets and enemy equipment.

There are three combat types you encounter in Arkham City, there is your general brawl, where most if not all enemies have hand weapons and you as Batman demonstrate that you are ridiculously badass and can prevail in a street fight against 20 guys. I found myself using the various quickfire gadgets a lot, mostly explosives, Batman can quickly spray a small area of the ground with an explosive and then detonate it later, making whatever sucker was walking over it drop their weapon/shield and just generally temporarily disabling them.

The second type is my favourite, this is the predator combat. Here you have a series of enemies all armed with guns, patrolling an area. If you reveal yourself you have a very short window to get away without being blown to bits. Batman is tough, but he is not immune to bullets. This mode is all about staying out of sight and silently taking down enemies when they are out of sight of the rest. This makes you really feel like Batman as your enemies begin to panic as their numbers are slowly whittled down by an unseen, unknowable foe. This is made clearer with the detective vision mode, where you can see their heart beat climb as their fear grows. Unfortunately I neglected to take any screenshots whilst fighting.

The final combat types are the boss battles, each boss battle is unique with each boss having a unique twist on the mechanics, they all have a pretty clear weakness to take advantage of but they are pretty cool. The best I feel is Mr. Freeze, to beat him you need to think of 5 different ways of attacking him as he will not fall for the same trick twice.

The plot is hokey, I mean who the hell would actually agree to create a superprison which is next to the city proper? At the B plot mostly overshadows the A plot, but the voice cast put in a great performance all around.

Another riddle solved
I am not normally a completionist, but in Arkham Ayslum I found all of the riddler trophies and I expect at some point to come back to Arkham City and do the same. I will find you riddler!

There are two major problems I encountered with this game, they are Securom and the depiction of women.

As noted in a previous post my copy of Batman would occasionally forget that it had previously been activated and need to go through this process. In theory, The version of Securom is meant to uniquely identify my computer and has two different activation types, a unique PC activation, of which you get 5, and a normal activation of which you get 10. Every time I had to reactivate, a unique PC activation was used up. Securom's support says that their system shows that I had used what they would consider 4 different machines. I did not make any hardware changes post installation.

The Arkham series has not been particularly... classy when it has come to the ladies. All of the major female characters are a little underdressed, especially given that the conversations you overhead on the streets (when they aren't about which of the ladies they want to sleep with) often centre around how cold it is and it even snows during the game. The women still are wearing clothes like this:
Surely they could bundle up a bit given the weather?

But I have to admit, I did laugh out loud when I saw that one of Catwoman's take down moves was this:

Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Arkham City. I would suggest to be wary of the Securom in the PC version though.

Games list status: 388 unfinished titles
               Net change: 1 title finished, 5 added

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Completed: Lair of the Evildoer

Lair of the Evildoer was the bonus game in the St. Patrick's Day Indie Royale bundle. It was made by Going Loud Studios, the same developer as DLC Quest.

It is a fairly simple diablo style action RPG, complete with random weapon drops that various modifiers. You are an experiment by the evil Dr. Odius, who dissatisfied by your performance in the tutorial decides to have you killed. You promptly escape and work your way down from the 20th floor to the 1st so that you can escape.

It displays the same quirky humour as DLC Quest, the doctor refuses to accept the name you choose and names you something else (for example my character was renamed to Lavender). He taunts you every so often and has recorded a single log to each computer you run across.

It only took me a couple of hours to finish but I had fun destroying all of Dr. Odius's robotic and undead minions.

 Games list status: 384 unfinished titles
Net change: 1 title finished

Monday, 26 March 2012

That Syncing Feeling

Increasingly games and software are being sold such that you buy it once and you legitimately get it on all of your machines. Whether you buy through Steam, the Mac App store or the Google Play Store, anything you buy from there you can run on all of your PCs/Macs/Android devices.

What I don't understand is why it is entirely up to application developers to handle application data syncing? Admittedly when the developers build it in you tend to have more control and it opens it up to multi-platform sync, but wouldn't it be a boon to a platform to be able to say we can automatically sync not just your OS settings but also all of your application data?

In my case I hate having to retread old ground in games, losing a save for me often means that I will leave that game and not come back to it for years. In the case of games this means that unless there is a sync feature built in, I will end up picking a device and playing there. Even if it would be more fun to play on something else when it is convenient.

There are several different situations where better syncing would be great, here are my thoughts how I think it could most easily be handled.

PC to PC - Homegrown Solutions

I have a desktop and a laptop and while with some modern games there can be built in syncing, if I am connected to the Internet I can get my Mass Effect 3 or Assassin's Creed Brotherhood saves. If I wanted to do this with other games such as Baldur's Gate though there is no baked in solution

For a while I rolled my on using a combination of Live Sync and symbolic links. Unfortunately Microsoft changed Live Sync when they combined it with Mesh and setting it up again on a new machine was too much of a pain. There is a program Game Save Manager which does appear to do a similar job, especially when combined with drop box.

iOS to iOS - The Missing iCloud Feature

Backups could include an All Devices
Setting up a new iPad is easy, you can plug it into your computer and then take a backup from your phone, or in my case an iPod, and restore that. This copies not just the apps but all of the app data to the iPad. Meaning it preserves your Angry Birds progress along with putting the Angry Birds app on there.

However this data is not kept in sync. Changes made on one device will not propagate over to the other unless the developer built it in and surprisingly few developers spend the effort to do this.

iOS 5 introduced a core feature which should have let Apple solve this problem for most apps. This feature is iCloud.

iCloud lets users automatically backup their personal app data to Apple servers, meaning that you can restore lost data even if you never actually hooked your iOS device up to a computer. These backups are done per app and per device. It is a neat idea and pretty straight forward for the user.

iCloud also lets users share documents between their iOS and their macs, never really managed to get this to work. iCloud docs on my iPod never showed up on my iPad, but I've not examined it too closely.

What I do not understand is why Apple does not let you select an app and tick a box which says sync to all devices. If they did that all iPhone and Universal apps have a Cloud syncing feature.

Android to Android - Like iOS But More Difficult

Android has a similar issue, like iOS, it has a built in cloud backup functionality. It is harder to find, the checkbox is tucked away under the Privacy settings and as you can see in the screenshot, it doesn't have the same granularity as iOS.

The same solution would work though, Google could add this functionality (and provide a better UI to control it) by allowing the user to set some apps to automatically sync data.

You could include this in the permissions an application can request when you install it to make it clear to users that the app supports it.

At a very basic level app developers could do the slightly less secure approach of storing the relevant app data on the SD card which would then allow users to roll their own sync via dropbox.

PC and Android - My Pipe Dream

Thanks to the two Humble Android Bundles, I have a set of games that I own and have not finished on multiple PCs and android devices.

There is absolutely no solution I have found here other that the hope that the developers involved will patch in a save sync system, ideally one that lets me authenticate via an existing account I have like facebook or google rather than requiring a new account for each game. So I need to decide whether or not I want to start playing Avadon on my tablet or continue on my PC.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Completed: Witch Watch

The Witch Watch is a novel written by Shamus Young with illustrations by his wife Heather Young.

The initial concept of the book is that a shady cabal of magicians has violated every natural law in an attempt to raise their master from the dead. Unfortunately for them however, they had the wrong corpse and so they raise someone entirely different.

The story is set in an alternate late 19th century London where magic is an active force in the world, though it is banned by both the church and the state. The story has an interesting approach to spellcasting which is split between two types, Wizardry and Sorcery. Wizards are born, not taught, and being a wizard does not prevent one from learning sorcery which relies on magic circles and incantations.

During the book some details of both wizardry and sorcery are explained but only where relevant. I did appreciate the attention to detail in that the magic system is established and never clearly violated during the tale.

I have read Shamus' blog for some time now, I started reading when he was most of the way through DM of the Rings and I have particularly enjoyed his posts about the processes involved in the creation of the book, from the origins of the characters, through to the difficulties in hiring an editor and formatting the digital version of the book in order to have it work correctly in all the appropriate stores.

I enjoyed reading the book, I thought the characters were interesting and entertaining and the world was well built, the plot went in directions that surprised me and information was conveyed quite nicely.

The first chapter is freely available here and information on where you can obtain copies of the book can be found here.

Books list status: 45 unfinished titles

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Completed: Mass Effect 3

What a fantastic ride. I am going to try to be as spoiler free as I can.

Mass Effect 3 is a great conclusion to the franchise, it is full of moments large and small where you unite the galaxy behind you in an effort to stop the reapers. The process of doing so is neither simple nor straight forward. It involves dealing with problems that have existed within the Mass Effect universe since well before the first game. Some of which predate humans entering the setting.

The game builds on the attachments you formed with characters and races during ME1 and ME2 in order to tug on players heartstrings.

There are some difficult decisions to make along the way and in a galactic war many lives are unavoidably lost. What I love most about this series are the little conversations that you find walking around the various locations. People talking about current events and asking each other what they can do to help or profit from them.

One of the improvements they've made to the Normandy is that characters will move around occasionally and you will find say Garrus and Joker both in the cockpit exchanging jokes about turians and humans. It just helps you immerse yourself in what seems like a living, breathing world.

Pity about the ending though, it did feel a bit limited. Then again, the core plotlines of all three games were fixed, it is the details along the way which change and made the experience for me.

Games list status: 385 unfinished titles
Net change: 1 title finished 

Monday, 19 March 2012

Completed: DLC Quest

DLC Quest was a short and entertaining parody platformer that I obtained as part of the Indie Royale St. Patrick's Day Bundle.

It takes the concept of downloadable content to the ridiculous extreme, where not even the sound and animation are included in the initial purchase. The art style is pretty simple but attractive and the concept charmingly silly. It takes pains to warn you that you are not spending real money to get the DLC in game, instead you are purchasing them using coins found within the game.

I would be interested in seeing similar parody which had a separate "out of game" layer where the player actually earned the fake money to buy the items in the game. I think that claiming that the player has just spent a day at the office specifically to earn enough to pay for that next bit of DLC would add a bit more emphasis to the ridiculousness.

It only takes an hours or so to play through and finish and its a great inclusion in the St Patrick's Day bundle. 

Games list status: 386 unfinished titles

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Mass Effect Multiplayer

Sorry for the silence on the blog. I have been playing a lot of Mass Effect 3. According to my Raptr I have spent 40 hours on it thus far. This is not unexpected, ME3 was a game I had always expected to take up most of my gaming time until I completed it.

What I had not expected was for the multiplayer to take up at least half of the time I have spent on the game. It surprised me to see that as a feature in ME3 when it was announced, it has not been something I have expected from Bioware games and I did not really think that the Mass Effect combat system was that well suited to a multiplayer game since I use the pause system a lot to utilise powers in single player.

I was quite wrong about this, the quick use bar that I had never really bothered using in single player showed its value in allowing me to fire off my one or two main powers that my characters in multiplayer have.

The multiplayer works really well because the maps currently available range fairly well in terms of size and layout, the bronze, silver, gold challenges are progressively challenging and rewarding and it encourages players to try out classes that they otherwise never really use.

I played an infiltrator in ME1 and so when I imported my character into ME2 and 3, I didn't really examine the available classes, I just stuck with infiltrator. Thus far in the multiplayer I have a level 20 adept and a level 19 vanguard having a blast with classes I have spent no time with previously.

This screenshot is a few days old but shows my characters

There are a few niggling issues, you have to name your characters, but those names are never seen by anyone else, they just see the name associated with your account, even if you promote a character, the war asset they become does not mention the names of the characters promoted.

You cannot respec characters without a rare respec item, so if you make a mistake with leveling you either abandon that character or get that class up to level 20 so you can promote it out and restart at level 1.

I don't expect that I will be playing this in 5 years time like TF2 but for now it is a great way to play with some friends who for some reason are less interested in TF2.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A Textbook Example of Frustration

My university classes have begun for semester one and thus the subject of textbooks has come up. One of my subjects has no recommended textbook, they will provide readings for us to do, the others however do have books they recommend we have.

Ideally I would rather purchase digital versions of these textbooks. I have a kindle on me pretty much any time I am out, even if I don't I have my phone which also runs the kindle app, not to mention a tablet and a desktop. So a kindle version of a textbook is available to me any time keeping track of notes I make and any highlighting I have done. The same availability would apply to a digital version without DRM or available from another company that had similarly invested application platforms.

However, when the textbook in question, Integrated Business Processes with ERP Systems, is available from Amazon, but only if you are in the US. While you can lie to amazon in order to purchase it even then, due to an unusual variant of the kindle format, Print Replica, it is only compatible with the Mac, PC and iPad kindle clients, my tablet is not an iPad these days.

The other option according to the Uni provided link is a company called CourseSmart, they have the digital version of the textbook available from their site for a similar price, they even also have android and iOS apps... which are unavailable in Australia. Looking at the FAQ they have I am no longer sure they actually would sell me the textbook if I tried. I am leery of buying from them as I have never previously heard of them and in any case if it is only available on my desktop at home then it is not a good enough plan.

Still it is amazingly frustrating to know that there are perfectly adequate solutions out there that are stupidly locked off because the companies capable of providing them will not do so to my region, my device (why can't the android kindle client show these print replica textbooks when running on a tablet?) or even just won't put in the effort to put out a textbook in a more standard ebook format.

As a result I am going to end up getting a textbook that will cost me twice as much and is far less likely to get nearly as much use as it could.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Finished: Anomaly: Warzone Earth

Forgot to grab a shot from the end of the final mission
The first title I've moved from Unfinished to Finished on the game list is Anomaly: Warzone Earth. It is one of the few games on the list that I also have on Android (the list does not normally contain any mobile games), this is a result of The Humble Android Bundle. This is why on the screenshots in this post you can see the ICS action bar at the bottom of the screen.

Anomaly is an unusual game, it is marketed as reverse tower defense. When you start a mission you get an overview which looks something like this

The assumption I had initially held was that you would assign resources, such as the ordering of troops and set the initial path through the enemy towers. This isn't the case, in most missions you can add, reorder and upgrade troops at any time provided you have enough money and you earn money from the destruction of enemy towers and also the collection of those yellow symbols which are resource nodes.

In order to play well you have to alter the course during play, you bounce between watching your guys follow the course and actively managing them his the judicious use of various power ups and the route management/squad upgrade screens.

The combat screenPurchasing and upgrading your troops
Changing your route mid-game

The story is pretty simple, a mysterious alien race has.attacked bagdad, leaving a pile of tourers and a mysterious done over this anomaly. You lead the 11th in a series of missions against them. Very little story about the aliens is actually told to you, which fixes with your role as a soldier, you are provided with the information you need to complete your objectives.

The android version worked really well on my tablet, with the only flaw being that it was not quite up to date meaning there were a few glitches with smoke here and there. Nothing that actually got in the way and I am sure that the most recent version has fixed these minor glitches. The touch controls work really though also feel like they were pretty analogous to the mouse controls I would expect a title like this to have.

Minor glitch with some smoke
Overall I enjoyed my time with this game, it does have another squad assault mode, but I tend to not bother with those. Back to Batman: Arkham City.

Friday, 2 March 2012

I am BatSecuROM

This has been a fairly leisurely week, given that NF finished on Sunday and Uni lectures do not begin for me until Tuesday night next week.

I spent some time going through android development tutorials, had another karate class on Tuesday and made the first of my lists. I have gone through my Steam, Desura, GOG and even my ubisoft and telltale accounts to record all of the games that I own that have some kind of relevant completion status and recorded it.

It was a fairly lengthy process and I was pleased when it was done. The plan is to maintain this list, adding and moving around games as I either complete or abandon them, including some notes as I do so along with more substantial posts here. The current priority game (marked in bold) is Batman: Arkham City, as there are a couple of posts on Shamus Young's blog I want to read that I have reason to believe are a little spoileriffic regarding this title. This is only likely to last until next Thursday when I pick up Mass Effect 3.

That said I haven't been playing as much Batman as I would like because of the DRM that it uses. Warner Bros decided that the DRM provided by GFWL and in my case also Steam was simply insufficient for their needs, they also needed SecuROM. Not something I approve of but also not a DRM that has caused problems for me in the past.

However, now it has requested to activate 4 times on my PC, each time using up one of the "This title can be activated on only 5 machines" uses. I find this particularly strange given that I have made no hardware changes to my machine and licence specifically gives two limits, one on PCs and one on activations. There is no activation revocation tool for it either, unlike Arkham Asylum.

After the 4th activation I decided I had had enough and contacted Warner Bros support to ask them 1) Why is this happening and 2) Can I get the limit increased/removed or have all my existing activations revoked so I would be able to start again. They responded fairly quickly and said this is a SecuROM issue, please contact SecuROM support.

I then contact SecuROM support with the same questions and they take a fair bit longer. They finally replied this morning with a short response saying unfortunately we cannot raise the limit, with matters regarding this we have been asked to refer you to the publisher support. Which is a bit frustrating given the circumstances. I have responded by providing them with the initial email and response from Warner Bros and requested that even if they cannot raise the limit they can answer the question regarding why it would request extra activations and revoke my current activations.

Now to wait a few more days I guess. I can't play much at the moment anyway since this weekend I am in Mudgee, a place to which Batman is ill-suited.