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Column: Alt Space

COLUMN: Alt Space: A Step Too Far

February 27, 2010 12:00 PM |

GSW%20Ubi%201.jpg['Alt Space' is a regular GameSetWatch column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. While attempting to keep a calm head about things, he's taken some time to have a look at the new form of DRM Ubisoft are implementing in their future releases.]

The idea of Digital Rights Management is something that's either completely avoided or at least treated with a healthy distance by the media in general. It's a difficult subject to approach, because we're here to look at the games, not the packages they come in, per say. It's analogous to complaining about an overly-strict usher in a cinema and saying that the film is bad because of it. The only problem with that is that here it's a case of the usher coming with every copy of the game. It has become part of the product, and because of that we arrive at the tricky situation of being forced to talk about it.

Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem. So far we've seen DRM come in various shapes and sizes, from the oft criticized Starforce and SecuROM services to the mostly accepted Steam platform from Valve. They're there, but for the most part they're mild annoyances that you can ignore, or in Steam's case, you accept and work with. Essentially, they're there to make it that bit more difficult for the pirates to crack the games, and in doing so they reduce the quality of the product the paying customer can enjoy, without being so ubiquitous as to be a constant source of frustration.

However, in the past few weeks Ubisoft have announced and implemented what I think is the most intrusive and thoroughly unacceptable form of DRM yet to be seen. Starting with The Settlers 7 and Assassin's Creed 2, all Ubisoft games will come with a 'service' that does a list of things.

COLUMN: Alt Space: Facing Mortality

February 19, 2010 12:00 PM |

GSW%20MO%201.jpg['Alt Space' is a regular GameSetWatch column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. Trying not to giggle at virtual dongly bits in a character creator, he's been delving into the obtuse and utterly compelling world of PC online game Mortal Online, the would-be successor to the Ultima throne. That's if it ever figures out how not to get killed by a wild rabbit.]

When you get past the uncomfortable hilarity of seeing your character's genitals on the creation screen, you start to realise exactly what Mortal Online's main design ethos is. This is not a place of half measures. Starvault, the developers, aren't planning on appeasing anyone, and aren't going to chase a rating a few slots beneath what they want for the game just to get a few extra sales. No, this is a game where your characters have genitals. And that takes balls.

That's not to say it's attempting to accurately portray a Feudal system of Medieval Britain or anything as trite as that. Mortal Online is a fantasy MMO through and through, complete with dragons, magic and chainmail. It's not trying to simulate our lives any more than fantasy should, but instead creating a layer of truth that makes being in that world contain a little more fidelity than we're perhaps used to.

COLUMN: Alt Space: Forever Fun

February 1, 2010 12:00 PM |

GSW%20CF%201.jpg['Alt Space' is a GameSetWatch-first column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. Lying awake at night searching for the perfect design, he's been playing PC browser-based indie game Captain Forever, which he's terrible at. Doesn't stop him loving it.]

In the times between getting in bed and going to sleep, all I've been thinking about are colored blocks, and their potential for both defense and attack. I've got to figure out the perfect blueprint for space based death.

This is Australian indie developer Farbs' Captain Forever, a free, browser based game that has you drive a small spaceship, shoot others and harvest their corpses for parts to then make yourself larger and more deadly.

In space no one can hear you build, etc.

So do I make a ship that's long and thing, maximizing broadsides so that I don't have to worry too much about a turning circle? Or perhaps it should just be wide to create a huge forward force. One of the most successful ships I've used had a set of long blocks defending each gun, effectively creating barrels for them that stopped them getting picked off by enemy fire.

The problem is, really, that no matter how you're wanting to craft your creation, no plan survives contact with the enemy; you can't hit a pause button while you weld each piece in place, and instead have to just hope that there aren't enough enemies in the area that you can glue together something serviceable without drawing fire. The longer you spend, the higher the risk goes up.

COLUMN: Alt Space: New Horizons

November 18, 2009 12:00 PM |

GSW%20SH%202.jpg['Alt Space' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. In a haze of stars and the sleep-deprived state of 2am, he's been floating through the obtuse beauty of Shattered Horizon. Which he thinks is pretty brilliant.]

Sensory deprivation is a powerful thing. It can lead to hallucination, loss of self, and the enhancement of whatever senses still operate. So when you're left alone, in space, the harshness of the sun glaring in through what little protection your visor provides, left only with the heavy beat of your heart and the mechanical sound of your breathing. Left alone in nothing, it's understandable to get a little sentimental.

And when you start seeing what's going on around you as some sort of elaborate ballet, mixed with a bit of pyrotechnics and bulky spacesuits pirouette through the nothingness, the odd flare of blue or yellow as they fire their jets, tracer fire lighting up the sky as debris meanders around purposelessly, well...

Then the trusty computerized voice of your on board computer informs you that suit functions are returning, and the virtual sound grid kicks back in, illuminating the soundscape as the sun so harshly washes everything it touches. Guns bark angrily, jets growl into life, and grenades roar. All of a sudden this isn't some surrealist performance; this is life and death.

COLUMN: Alt Space: War Ain't No Fun

September 5, 2009 12:00 PM |

GSW%20WW%201.jpg['Alt Space' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. Sweeping his gaze across the esoterica of PC gaming, today he regards WW1 Medic, and the success it has portraying the essence of war, and the implications of that portrayal.]

Two dots and a curve. That's all you need, these days, to denote happiness. The entire culture of smilies and emoticons has grown up around the basic principle that facial expressions can be boiled down into a few markings and thrown from the keyboard across the aether, until the person on the other end knows you're joking, happy, angry or sad.

A simple concept, arguably trivialising the infinite capacity for human emotion, the massive number of combinations those 52 muscles resident in the human face can amass. So there you have it, two dots and a curve, boiling something down into it's essence, with little lost in the process.

COLUMN: Alt Space: This Port Is Tart

August 21, 2009 8:00 AM |

GSW%202.jpg['Alt Space' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. Today, he's looking at the ever popular ports of console games to the computer, and how well they fare.]

Of course, it's night. The street is cobbled, but each stone is placed with the utmost precision and skill. The façade of each building is created out of the browns, greys and blacks of a thousand office corridors and lonely wastelands, with the odd piece of artistically placed graffiti, the hand of a Mudoken, 'Our Day Will Come' stencilled underneath it.

In the middle of the street is a bar, 'The Mesa and Crowbar', written in slightly, somewhat intentionally faded writing, with a symbol that would seem more at home on a scientist's calculations than gracing the swinging sign of such an establishment.

Inside is a mixture of old and new; wooden barstools and a steel floor. Atari t-shirts are mixed with the new wave of existentialist glasses. These are the PC folk, everyone familiar with the ins and outs of The Black Mesa Complex, each one able to build military bases and command troops. We're not here for their skills, but their conversations, and their worries.

COLUMN: Alt Space: Trying to Make a Connection

August 4, 2009 8:00 AM |

MP%203.jpg['Alt Space' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. This time, he's looking at the technical pitfalls regarding how PC gamers play -- or don't play -- together.]

Opening Ports....

Lowering Firewall...

Authorising False Localised Network...

Attempting Connection...

The heart flutters. The false hope that resides in every PC gamer's heart surges, hoping that you've not forgotten the tiny, insignificant setting that will mean that the game will throw up the rude, course and unwelcome error message. Multiplayer games really haven't come a long way.

The internet was supposed to be a huge boon, something to let you reach out and touch someone. For gaming, that 'touch' was usually with high velocity rounds or razor-sharp blades. But, well, it was still something we were looking forward to.

The problems were that the developers couldn't, and haven't, moved fast enough, and more often than not you'll get nothing back from the fickle 'refresh' page when looking for servers, or your friends will have some inscrutable 'NAT' configuration that means you're out of luck, and back at square one, bored and frustrated.

With multiplayer modes coming packaged with almost every game released, and broadband becoming so prevalant that if your ping is over 100 you're in trouble, you'd think that making a connection was the least of your worries. The problem would seem to be the alcricity of progress; the games are becoming vastly more complex, and they are still supposed to be able to throw around all that data at the right speeds for continuous play, and that's just during a match.

COLUMN: Alt Space: 'Losing Control'

July 16, 2009 8:00 AM |

GSW%20Control%202.jpg['Alt Space' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. This time, he's looking at how the unique and diverse control scheme of the PC is pushing developers to ever more ambitious heights.]

Tracer fire sails over my head, a visual reminder of the situation.

'Enemy gunner, to our front, close!' The amalgamated speech patterns add to the surreal atmosphere, but don't make it any less deadly. I search the horizon, trying to find the offending target, pinpoint him, then struggle to remember how to give the order.

It's 2, then 3, I think. No, first it's 1, then 2, then 3? It doesn't matter, the bullet has entered my brain, and my commands are as useless as my leadership. War is hell.

ArmA 2, the startlingly expansive army simulator from Bohemia Interactive, can only be a PC game. There's no way it could work on anything else, not least because of the attitude and unhindered ambition it possesses. It mostly could only work on the PC, because the keyboard is the only thing with enough buttons to cover its complicated order system -- while at the same time allowing you such privileges as an entire button dedicated to climbing over fences, even when the fences aren't around.

COLUMN: 'Alt Space': Game 9 From Outer Space

June 16, 2009 8:00 AM |

GSW%20AS%202%20B.jpg['Alt Space' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. This time he's looking at whether the availability of download-only games is allowing a new form of cheaper, lower budget games to flourish.]

As with any format, PC gaming is evolving to accommodate new business and distribution models, and as is always the case with anything new, there are those who are taking advantage of the system to create something that was not viable before.

We're seeing a new rise in obscure music thanks to the ease with which downloadable songs can be obtained, and similarly, games are starting to come out that take advantage of the fact they need very little in terms of distribution cost. These aren't the AAA titles that grace the shelves of the local games retailer, but they're far from being part of the indie scene either. They're really something entirely different.

The concept of the B-Movie may have begun when low-FX budgets forced horror and sci-fi films to be released with less than cutting edge effects, and with less than stellar scripts, but now the term more applies to those films that don't even see a cinematic release, instead being sent straight to the retailers and rental outlets.

These are the so called 'Straight-To-DVD' releases. In a similar vein, games are starting to surface that forego the retailers all together, cutting out such costs to bring something that, while it may not be run by the most powerful engine around, comes in at a reduced price, and aims at a slightly more casual experience.

COLUMN: Alt Space: 'The PC: The Champion of the Revolution'

May 26, 2009 8:00 AM |

['Alt Space' is a new column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. First up - a call to appreciate the PC as ground zero of the current indie video game revolution.]

It all started here. Decades ago, games were made on the first computers, on the Amigas and Commodores that took only a few people to develop, putting in long hours to come up with innovative ways to make pixels move on the screen.

Then the big money came in, buying up the talent and churning out Triple A titles like there's no tomorrow. Games and game development stayed insular for the longest time, just because it took so long to learn how to make the games. By the time you knew how, you were already part of the system. And then things got a little easier, and that's when things got really interesting.

Over the past few years, there's been a crescendo. Independently made games have gone from novelties to an entire subgenre, capable of earning the makers a living, if they so choose. No longer are indie games enjoyed by just the few who pay attention to the scene. Now, all you have to be is an enthusiast tuned into the right channels to know about the latest brilliant step. It's happened so quickly that it's hard to recognise a tipping point.

One day you were just playing the big titles, perhaps indulging in the odd flash game if the moment took you, the next, you're laying down £10 for something like World of Goo, and declaring it the best game of your year.