Ubisoft and Sony: Sorry For The Rideshare

Posted by on Jun 13, 2017 in Consoles, Editorial, Featured

I want to apologize for cramming Ubi and Sony into one post, but I wanted to strike while the iron was hot and not drag these thoughts out before I forget what I’m talking about (too late!)

Ubisoft

I actually missed a good portion of Ubi’s presentation because they started during my commute home, and no offense to the good work that the company does, but my getting the hell out of the office takes precedence over pretty much anything. I’ll catch up on the highlights later, but it looks like I missed out on the Nintendo/Rabbids crossover that many people are comparing to the recent treatments of XCom. I do not consider that to be a bad thing.

They also talked about — what else? — Assassin’s Creed. After yesterday’s dismissal of the franchise en toto I was linked a video by the Unstoppable PapaSnark regarding several new or revised features in the franchise assumed from the AC trailer. If the examination was correct, even in part, then I think several of my gripes about the series might be addressed. As stated, I’ve moved this game from a “hell no” to a “we’ll see”.

I came into the presentation during The Crew 2, which is about driving cars, boats, and planes.

Then stuff got weird. There was some Elijah Wood presentation for a VR title called Transference, but the video was too artsy to provide any real substance.

In keeping with the theme of E3 2017, there was a pirate-themed game called Skull & Bones. At first, it looked like a really cool PRPG (pirate aarrgh Pee Gee) but quickly devolved into a 5v5 PvP battle over booty. As stated on Twitter, it reminded me of a high-seas version of the spaceship battle game Dreadnaught, which is available now for those who can’t wait.

From the “no one saw that coming” department, Starlink: Battle for Atlas gave off a serious No Man’s Sky vibe, but with a twist: the trailer showed people playing the game with plastic spaceships attached awkwardly to their gamepads. These toys required them to swap out components like guns, missiles, or engines to have the change reflected within the game itself. Some people called it No Man’s Skylanders, while others attempted to smack Ubi in the head to let them know that unless you’re Nintendo, the era of toys-in-games is grinding to a halt.

And then there was FarCry 5. I have played a few FC games and I like ’em OK. There’s always something to do, but for me, having too much to do is a curse because I have trouble focusing on anything. In the wake of The Division and even Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and in the hopes that Assassin’s Creed Origins changes up its own game, I’d like to see some deviations from the traditional FC formula here. The trailer looked good.

Finally, Ubi surprised everyone by presenting a trailer for the long-awaited sequel to cult favorite Beyond Good & Evil that was teased several E3 ago. I have never completed the original because the controls are so gawdawful that I wanted to throw my PC across the room, but I’ve always enjoyed the unique world of BG&E in which humans and genetically engineered and sentient animals travel freely between the stars. It has a certain cyberpunk vibe but without the contrived magickal overhead of the equally off-kilter world of Shadowrun.

Sony

E3 always comes down to Microsoft versus Sony in a good natured “who won” discussion on the Internet, and while you might think that presenting second would give Sony time to one-up Microsoft’s event…well…They spent a lot of time talking up their own 4K abilities, which after the XBX announcement sounded like someone at the back of the crowd talking really loud in an effort to remind everyone that they were still present.

The first two presentations were for Knack II, a sequel to a game that I’ve only ever heard about from one person who has played it, and for — get this — a second screen initiative called PlayLink. The idea is that one person gets the gamepad and other people in the room get a smartphone/tablet app that allows them to interact with the game in a non-direct control scenario. The interesting game they demoed was called Hidden Agenda which looked like a story-based game where PlayLink users could “vote” on key decisions on behalf of the player. I blame the “Twitch Plays X” for this crowd-control focus. Other games showed that use this tech were more in the traditional “party game” vein because those games are traditional cash-cows, right? The second screen concept never really took off, so it’s kind of a head-scratcher as to why Sony decided to take this route. Still, it’s inconsequential, and doesn’t require any new hardware, so what’s the harm?

Speaking of buying new hardware, Sony devoted some time to VR games, and I can’t say that I’m overly excited. The big reveal for me was Skyrim VR. Bethesda announced a Doom and Fallout 4 VR, but didn’t say anything about Skyrim which seemed like an obvious oversight, but had apparently ceded that info to Sony. Do I want to play Skyrim all over again? Well… Do I want to play Skyrim VR? HELL YES I DO. Superhot made an appearance during this segment, but it’s already VR-enabled on the PC so it’s nice to see it coming to PS4. Final Fantasy XV made an appearance but as a…wait…what? A fishing game? Then came the head-tilted-sideways-with-eye-squint titles. Bravo Team is a military shooter (which I might write about on its own), Starchild is a platformer, and a cute game called Moss is about a small mouse with a magical gauntlet that can turn into a sword who makes her way through a diminutive world in search of something. Sadly, it looks like Sony is already sawing at the ropes that secures the VR bridge over the peripheral graveyard.

The good news is that Sony still had a lot of big-ticket Sony games to show.

First, Uncharted: The Last Legacy featuring the incendiary duo of Chloe and Nadine from previous Uncharted games. This was not a surprise, but since it’s dropping this year it made sense for Sony to include it in the face of so many 2018 titles.

Destiny 2 got it’s Sony-money’s worth by being featured, complete with a rundown of what exclusives you get if you buy and play on PS4. I have it pre-ordered on PC, lag time be damned.

We got to see more on that zombie game Days Gone. Previously we’d been treated to technical showcases in which hundreds of procedurally generated undead canvassed a small farm while the protagonist raced across rooftops. This time we learn that humanity has formed enclaves (of course) and ventures forth amidst the zombie hoards for supplies and such. Not all enclaves are trying to bring humanity back; some are, of course, despotic and filled with assholes, and this demo saw the protagonist, Jeanjacket McMotorcycleStubble, using the environment (read: zombies) to overrun an enemy camp to rescue one of his friends. The game looked great and could be a really cool adventure style game. Except, zombies.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is getting DLC, and water is wet. I’m not ragging on this, only saying that they could have just said “Horizon: Zero Dawn!” on stage and people would have thrown money. I suppose I should get back to that and finish the game.

Skimming a few other things: Monster Hunter World is a thing that people like, and now they can like it on PS4. I know nothing of this franchise, except that you hunt monsters. Large, large monsters. Shadow of the Colossus is getting a remaster, Marvel vs Capcom is also a thing people like, and surprise! Call of Duty: World War II.

Now, what caught my eye: There’s a new God of War game which, as seems to be the Sony trend this year, looks to include some really great cinematic story and is not just room-to-room hack and slash. I might make this my first GoW game because it looked great. One of the wildcards from last year’s E3 (or maybe it was in between) was a game called Detroit: Become Human. This is from the people who made the games Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, which are both narrative heavy, action light decision tree games. This one is set in a future Detroit where androids are created to do the dirty work, but then some “awaken” and get minds of their own. You are one of those androids and have to make moral decisions regarding the relationship between humans and your kind.

Finally, there was Spider-Man. Now, I am not a Spider-Man fan, really. I like the character the way I like yogurt; I would never seek it out, but if it’s around and I’m hungry, it’ll do…but barely. Visually, this game was amazing. The animations were mind-blowing, and the effects (especially the webbing) were top-shelf. In the heat of the moment, I mentioned that I could get behind this game because it seemed like there was just so much Spidering to do! In retrospect, while the visuals were great, the gameplay seemed to be less open-world and more QTE interrupted by occasional brawling action. Now, like all E3 presentations, this is really just a controlled event that we understand doesn’t necessarily represent the entire experience, but whereas a Spider-Man game might have immediately caused me amnesia upon announcement, I might keep an eye on this for more information.

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MIcrosoft @E3 2017

Posted by on Jun 12, 2017 in Consoles, Editorial

MIcrosoft @E3 2017

I’ll be brief because at my age I only remember a few key elements of Microsoft’s E3 2017 presentation.

The Big Deal was, of course, Project Scorpio, now officially called Xbox One X (as Belghast pointed out, X.B.O.X, the best Easter Egg since the naming of the 360). It’s apparently very powerful, sporting a new power management scheme invented by and named for an Xbox engineer, lots of RAMS and teraflops and other things that I think everyone expected. The release date is November 7th and it’ll retail for $499. Expect that eventually, the only versions you’ll find will be Gametop bundle-only packages well in excess of $1000.

The good news is that the presentation was wall-to-wall games. A Big Deal was that not only will you be able to play your XB1 and 360 games on the XBX, but they’re bringing Original Xbox games to the console through their backward compatibility service. The only reason anyone would care about this is for Crimson Skies. There was also the obligatory Forza announcement, which I admit looked pretty awesome, and was apprently important enough that Porsche used a video game expo to reveal a new car model for the first time.

I remember a few games shown, but I wanted to kind of blanket them by saying that there’s a real theme to the games coming to XBX: post-apocalyptic survival battle royale. That include Metro ExodusState of Decay 2 (which looked pretty cool, and I hate zombies), Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds are just three of the titles which fell into that crevasse. These are not in my wheelhouse, so I kind of blanked during these portions. So let’s talk about the Big Deals.

First up: Minecraft 4k. This is a big deal because it reminds us that apparently people still play Minecraft. It’s also a big deal because I doubt anyone was foaming at the mouth for a 4k Minecraft.

Next, Shadow Of War. This game looked very obtuse to me; I haven’t played Shadow of Mordor, but I’m not really into brawlers of this type. It looks super complex, though, as you have to take your little anti-hero and subdue orc tribes to fight for you as you bring your war to Sauron’s doorstep. Although it seemed rather anachronistic, the orc featured in the demo named Bruz the Chopper was actually really well voiced and made me laugh out loud a few times…probably not the kind of reaction one might demand from a Lord of the Rings game, but there you have it.

It wouldn’t be an Xbox reveal without an Assassin’s Creed game, set this time in Egypt. Someone needs to put a bullet in the head of this franchise. Seriously. Moving on.

I traded in my XB1 in order to upgrade to the PS4 Pro, a move which I don’t regret save for one reason and one reason only: Crackdown 3. I loved the original but didn’t take to Numero Dos. Crackdown is kind of like GTA meets Robocop: lots of wanton destruction in an open world city. C3‘s biggest selling point is the distributed computing model which will supposedly allow you to literally level the city block by block (in multiplayer). And now, Terry Crews.

And of course, there were the two biggies.

Sea of Thieves presented a really well done scripted scenario which saw the participants sailing their ship to an island where they fought through a skeleton army in search of a buried treasure, and ended in a ship-to-ship battle. During the segment, we saw underwater exploration, use of clues, maps, and the compass, cannon, sword and gun fighting, ship boarding, and some jaw-dropping ocean visuals. If SoT can extrapolate that kind of rudderless exploration in a shared multiplayer world, it’s going to blow the doors off. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.

And of course, the presentation closed out with the reveal of the teaser we had seen the day before during the EA presentation. Sandwiched in between sports games during the EA presser, we got a 30-second clip of a new BioWare game called Anthem. It looked like maybe Titanfall. Maybe Blade Runner. During the MS presentation, we saw what appears to be another Big Name studio wanting to get a piece of that open world, squad-based exploration-and-explosion pie currently occupied by Destiny and The Division. The presentation started us out in a kind of futuristic desert bazaar where we’re told that we need to go out and fix someone’s screw-up. We jump into one of three (that we could see) suits of power armor and then leap from a ledge into an absolutely massive and lush jungle world below. We don’t just fall but jetpack through ruins and foliage until we land on the ground where we meet up with another player in a much heavier mech suit. The duo proceeds to push their way through the jungle, taking out mobs which seemingly have some kind of a purpose in their presence. Eventually, the scene cuts to a different point in time where they are confronted by something called a shaper storm — complete with high-speed winds, scenery destruction, and a vague glowing epicenter that the team (now four strong) bravely fly into.

Damn. I don’t know why but I’m really into the ideas of the squad-based games these days. MMOs are great, and other multiplayer games are OK, but these kinds of games feel like the sense of teamwork is as much a reward as whatever loot and XP we gain from the operation. That Anthem was stupidly gorgeous helped a lot. Of course, as presented we were told that we were a “bastion of civilization” living in a “walled enclave” in the middle of a “ruined world” — a la Destiny, a la The Division. In that regard, no points for originality, but I don’t really care.

Of course, this was a very managed demo. My initial reaction was to run around the room screaming with tears running down my face at how awesome I thought it was, but in the afterglow, I realize that this is the “wait and see” period. It’s using the Frostbite engine so we know it’s going to be visually stunning. The wildcard is actually the fact that it’s made by BioWare. They aren’t known for their pure action games. I don’t know how many conversation wheels we’re going to get with Anthem, but the free-space on my Anthem bingo card says “people who want to be able to have sex with NPCs just because it’s a BioWare game, and complain about it if they can’t”. Most importantly: Did they dissect Destiny and The Division to see what worked, what didn’t, and what people would have rather had? Or did they just develop this knowing that these squad-based games are hot right now, and that’s all they needed to know?

A lot of the titles on offer were noted as being available for both Xbox and PC, although it wasn’t universal, or else I missed it. I know Sea of Thieves is going to be multi-spectrum, but not sure about others. If Anthem is, then I don’t think I’ll jump on the XBX. If not, I’m going to have to get back into the Xbox ecosystem. I had anticipated maybe deciding to do that — my sale of the XB1 was purely mercenary, and I bear the platform no degree of ill will — but I’d rather save my $500 for the eventual release of the low-cost, higher-performance VR headsets.

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Grab Bag for the Week of 6/9/2017

Posted by on Jun 9, 2017 in Editorial, Featured, Scopique Plays, Video

Normally when I don’t post anything it’s because of a general blogging malaise (bloglaise?) but this week it’s because I’ve been both forgetful and super busy.

Battletech Backer Beta

I haven’t played Battletech proper in maybe 20 years or so but it’s a franchise that’s always been at the top of my lists of Franchises I Love. I owned the original box set, read the Technical Manual until it literally fell apart (I rebound it with string), read all the Stackpole books, and even drew a game board on my parent’s concrete basement floor so my brother and I could play with our Transformers. As Time does, I found myself with less time to play, and fewer people to play with during the Dark Ages between when I was in high school and when the Internet became a viable way to meet up with folks. I played the Mechwarrior games on PC, and tried Mechwarrior Online a few times but the random nature of other people’s play styles didn’t do it for me. I wanted the old-school Battletech lance-vs-lance tactical gameplay again, so while I bought the Anniversary Edition box set a few years ago (never played), I was all over the new Battletech game from Harebrained Schemes, helmed by the originator of the BT franchise, Jordan Weiss.

The KS backer beta arrived last weekend (when I was stricken with the plague), but I’ve only played two rounds so far of the single player game. If you have been waiting for an honest BT implementation, this is your candidate. Even though there’s obviously work to be done in several places, the game is playable. I have yet to win a game, having lost my second round to an armless enemy who headbutted my center torso to death. Still, it instantly brought back long-ago memories of all of the variations of Battletech that I had played, which means that it’s the real deal as far as I am concerned.

Motion Graphics Update

I have no fewer than two consecutive posts about my motion graphics learning, prior to this post. Since that last update, I’ve done almost nothing with it. Looking back on the initial attempts I realize that I have a long way to go in being able to create something to be proud of, but even attempting to use the things that I have made, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not sure I have an actual need for this.

Originally I thought “hey, I could make animated splash screens for streamers!” or even “now’s the chance to get that animated intro for my In The Car video series that I’m kinda not really doing anymore!”. As far as the splash screen goes, I figured that there aren’t too many designs that would work without being annoying. Maybe the most animated thing we could use would be a countdown timer (which I went and made using Javascript), but otherwise…meh. Upon further reflection, I can’t think of any kind of decent composition to fit in with the motif of the In The Car.

I might keep it around for a while, but I haven’t continued with the video lectures since last week. I might need some of the other software that comes with my Adobe CC subscription, but $50 a month is a real headache just for eventualities.

Wombatical! The Wombats Get Serious About Streaming

The Big News, then, is that since Imzy closed down and a few of us moved over to the Combat Wombat Discord server, we’ve been a lot more active as a community. The real-time nature of Discord is great for communication, but not so great for other productivity, and is part of what’s kept me from updating this site.

See, in the wake of the migration, several folks have decided that they would really like to get into streaming. We had evaluated Mixer (formerly known as Beam) for its low-latency and co-streaming functionality, but several folks weren’t convinced that Mixer was set up to accomplish all of the same things that Twitch could in terms of features and moderation. While it might be easier for smaller streamers to get noticed on Mixer due to the lower population there, it might also suffer from a lower population because people are so mentally invested in the idea that Twitch is where people need to be if they want to take the hobby of streaming seriously (at least as seriously as far as getting viewers goes). Several people outside our circle have even been heard remarking that they would refuse to watch a live stream unless it was on Twitch.

Needless to say, several of the Wombats have now been testing the streaming waters on Twitch. So far Stargrace has been attempting to stick to a schedule when the real-world isn’t making demands, and Girl_vs_MMO has been working around her own real-life schedule to get some streaming time in, and Arislyn has popped in from time to time as reality allows.

I have yet to get online, myself. Instead, I’ve been preparing. Lots of preparing. Like…a shitload of preparing. I considered whether my preparations were really just delaying tactics or whether they were actual steps that would help me make a smooth yet entry-level attempt…whenever I got around to pushing the button. I upgraded by webcam to the c922, which has the background removal (sans green-screen) built in. The verdict: works OK, but it all depends on — wait for it — lighting. Not sure if I’ll use that feature or not. I also have the Stream Deck, whose Twitch integration isn’t really all that great when you get down to it. The weapons of choice for enhancing the streams have been narrowed down to two: Ankhbot, which is a desktop app which allows for all kinds of stream management options, and Streamlabs, which handles certain remote notifications (followers, subs, hosts, etc) and handles donations for Extra Life, which we do. In addition, I’ve found a “theme” for my channel that I think I’m happy with, reflecting my love of space, sims, and space-sims.

Now, to find the time to actually get out and stream…

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Stream Deck; GR Wildlands; Endless Space 2

Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Editorial, Endless Space 2, Featured, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Hardware

Now that our deck has been completed, we’re spending more time outside than in. For me, this is a blessing and a curse; I am not made for the out-of-doors, but I’ve also not really been “feelin’ it” when I sit down to play something. I need to get back to the PSVR games I have, and also the non-VR PS games I have (including the upcoming Marvel Heroes translation for the PlayStation).

Saturday was spent mostly doing yard work. I have to dismantle the old stairs leading up to the original deck, so I did a bit of that. We also carved out a small garden section at the foot of the new deck stairs, so we had to get plants and mulch for that. I’m never more reminded of my housebound status than when I try and do intense yard work, and this was one of those cases.

Sunday we spent at the in-laws, celebrating a belated Mother’s Day because scheduling conflicts prevented us from doing so on the actual day. There’s really not a lot more to say about that.

Stream Deck

Honestly, this is going to be the last dedicated post on the subject you’ll get from me. I am now officially defeated by the Elgato Stream Deck.

A lot of folks on /r/elgatogaming and elsewhere have said that they’ve been using the ‘Deck in conjunction with a utility called Auto Hotkey. This app is designed to allow users to write scripts that listen for special key combinations, which can then trigger actions such as adjusting your OS volume or taking screenshots and posting them to Dropbox. Because AHK works at a level which allows it to interact with a whole range of applications (when running as Admin), the plan is that Stream Deck can send these scripted hotkeys into the aether where they are picked up by AHK, which can then do what Stream Deck cannot: send keys to the focused apps.

As a developer by day, I’m open to the nuances of whatever scripting language you want to use, and AHK isn’t all that complex. I created a script which checks for Elite Dangerous and if it’s running, execute whatever key combo was sent. I managed to translate a chord into the game command to turn on my ship’s headlights, and that works…but nothing else does. The lights work 100% of the time, but everything else works anywhere between 0% and 2% of the time. That 2% is something that I’d seen people talking about: how the ‘Deck doesn’t always send commands on the first, second, or even 10th press of the button, but might consider doing so somewhere down the line. I had entertained the idea that my script was bad, but I’d tried several variations on the theme and recevied the same non-results every single time.

I made cool keys and everything! 🙁

Right now, I’ve given up on trying to make this thing do what I want it to do. Obviously, all of the OBS stuff works because that has a dedicated pipeline to speak through. I can launch apps like Elite Dangerous and its utilities, and I did manage to wire up the Windows Game Bar commands which is a good thing because it has a screenshot function that works on anything you tell it is “a game”. I also managed to get it to work with Discord so I can mute and deafen audio in the voice channels, although I’d love direct Discord integration so I could switch servers and even rooms using the ‘Deck. I also have buttons that control my OS volume, but that’s about all. Really, the screenshot, Discord, and OS volume buttons are the only regular commands this thing is going to send, making it a very expensive paperweight.

I hope Elgato opts to make it more of a  universal app that does what Logitech and Razer, et al., can do, although given that their wheelhouse is dedicated to streaming, I don’t know if it’s in their interests to update it to do more than what little it’s meant to do: control your live stream.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands

As of right now (May 22, 2017), Humble Bundle has Ghost Recon: Wildlands on sale for 20% off. I saw this deal and sent it out to friends who have been happily subsisting on The Division Underground missions for the past several months.

I received GR:W for free with my video card, and aside from using it to put the card through its paces, I’ve not played it much. It’s not a soloist game, despite having a squad of NPC soldiers backing you up. GR differs from The Division in that GR games tend to be way less forgiving when you’re getting shot. When you finally make it to cover, then, the system is calling in wave after wave of reinforcements.

Teabagging Unidad corpses

I played it last night with my brother, and Mindstrike, and we learned a few things. First, you die quickly and often. Second, if you’re attacking a cartel-held property, kill everyone quickly or else you’ll be there forever and will probably find yourself back at point one. Third, there’s no coherent line-of-sight between where you start and where you need to go. We tried to figure out our next step in the narrative but ended up picking some of the worst random locations for new players to take on.

Still, it was fun. More fun with real people. I’m hoping more people snag the game before the sale ends, because I burnt out on The Division a long time ago, and would like to play something with people again.

This is my role in the team.

Endless Space 2

Endless Space is one of my favorite 4x games. Like all of them, however, I have never actually completed a scenario. Still, it served as inspiration for several features of my ill-fated “Project Universe” because I really like the way Amplitude approached the game.

Wandering through the stacks at Steam storefront, I literally stumbled across Endless Space 2. I think I knew this was A Thing, but like many things these days it fell off my radar.

I watched the videos on the store page and decided that ES2 was a solid follow up game. It seems that Amplitude has included a lot of cool new features, not the least of which are the addition of probes instead of scouts, a need to to research FTL technology to get beyond your meager local neighborhood, and a galactic “auction house” which allows you to buy and sell technology and ships for Dust, the game’s mysteriously magical currency.

4X NSFW

I haven’t yet fired it up, but I’m looking forward to it. Amplitude is really an under-the-radar strategy developer (Endless Space, Dungeon of the Endless, Endless Legend, and other Endless universe games) that does consistently good work that I enjoy.

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The Elgato Streamdeck

Posted by on May 19, 2017 in Editorial, Featured, Hardware, Other Geeks

Following on the heels of Wednesday’s post on the Elgato Streamdeck, I managed to get some time with it this Thursday and wanted to offer some initial impressions.

Nicely packaged: cradle, stand, and manual.

First, the device is solidly made. It’s basically a block with overly-glossy keys, none of which feels flimsy in the least. When not plugged in, it doesn’t look like much, but when it’s receiving power the keys are backlit with the Elgato logo spread out across the center buttons. The keys are nice and bright, but unfortunately not bright enough to overcome a harsh glare at certain angles, depending on where your local light sources are at. The deck itself can be removed from the desktop stand which may have some uses for enterprising modders out there. The stand itself, though, gets some props for innovation: it’s sporting a two-stage support system. The cradle portion lifts up on a front hinge, and you can extend either the back of the cradle to sit in the base for a more upright position or use two smaller side supports to raise the cradle up to a lesser angle, making it more keyboard-esque. However, the pins used to keep the supports in place are small and I can see them snapping off at some point in the future. I have found that in my setup, the more acute angle works best to avoid key glare, but also put the keys at an angle such that each key is slightly more difficult to see.

The removable deck and cradle

 

Setup was super easy: install the software (Windows 10 and Mac Whatever only) and plug in the device. Hopefully, you have a nearby USB port because the cable is shorter than what you’d expect from a lot of desktop peripherals and is non-detachable (i.e. can’t swap it with a longer cable).

I’m a software guy, and I love playing around with configuration software so the management utility for the Streamdeck might be one of the easiest I’ve used. The main window features 15 slots representing each of the buttons. On the right side, you have a series of commands that you can assign. Simply drag a command to a button, and you’re about 90% of the way done. Depending on the button, you’ll have some settings you can mess around with. For example, the OBS integration allows you to drag a “Scene” action. In the button properties, you select which Scene in your running copy of OBS you want that button to trigger. The updates are in real time, so as soon as you place the button in the software, it shows up on the physical device. You can also change the icon (some of which have lit and faded states to show which one is active among those it recognizes as being mutually exclusive, like OBS scenes) and layer mutli-line text on the button. I learned that Elgato has a quick key icon creator on their website if you have images but no Photoshop or graphics experience. Like the settings app, this is really easy to use and I had a lot of fun making icons that I needed.

Live updating with default config

Unfortunately, this is where my enthusiasm starts to wind down, but I need to remind you that I didn’t buy this device for its intended purpose of augmenting my live stream control. I bought it to send commands to my games — something that I couldn’t get to work anywhere often enough.

It seems that Elgato has designed the software to be extremely specific in what it does and how it operates. Since the company focuses on streaming technology, their software heavily favors streaming tasks. It has support for Elgato’s own streaming software, OBS, Twitch, and only a few other services like Twitter. For local hooks, there are media control commands, app and website launchers, and hot key broadcasters. Even then, OBS requires a plugin so that the Elgato command software can communicate with it when another app has focus.

For use with OBS

I was mainly focused on using the hotkeys. I tried Elite Dangerous because that’s a game where having access to a lot of keys is something that will enhance the experience. For testing, though, I only created a new button and assigned it the Hotkey “1”. In Elite, this opens the left-side control panel for mapping, local targets, etc. It works when docked so I knew it would be something that I could do without having to leave my current station. Unfortunately, the game refused to acknowledge the key press. I know that the key was working, however, because I could open the chat entry box and see a string of “1”s whenever I tapped the button on the Streamdeck. I tried full-screen window mode, and full-screen mode (since some games are picky about that kind of thing) but nothing changed. I even tried the 32bit non-Horizons enabled version to no avail.

Ideally, for use with Elite Dangerous, but with fewer assignments.

Figuring I’d try something else, I booted up Guild Wars 2 and rebound my “1” key to the “B” key which would open the RvRvR standings window. Again, no luck. Again, I tried adjusting the window mode and verified that the key was working by activating the chat box and hitting the button.

Since the Streamdeck is brand-spankin’ new at this point, and since Elgato doesn’t maintain a community forum, I had to descend into the depths of *shudder* Reddit to find the /r/elgatogaming subreddit. Thankfully there was a Streamdeck “megathread” where people were talking about it, and I saw at least two people claiming that they had done exactly what I was trying to do. I asked one poster if he/she did anything specific to get it to work, but haven’t seen any replies.

On a whim, I loaded up The Elder Scrolls Online to test with the original GW2 “B” key button, and amazingly, it worked. At this point, I don’t think I’d done anything differently between the GW2 test and the ESO test. At an earlier point, I suspected that there might be something running on my system that was hijacking the input from the Streamdeck software since I’d experienced something like this in the past with audio. I shut down anything that I thought might handle key input like Plays.tv, my Logitech keyboard and mouse software, and even Steam and it’s overlay, but the results had been the same. I read that the Streamdeck software should be run as Administrator in order to be able to send keys to another app, but that didn’t seem to help either.

As it stands, the Elgato Streamdeck is at the “confounding” level on the “love it or leave it” scale. I’m not going to say “disappointing” because I suspect that there’s something standing in the way of what I am doing and what I want it to do that may or may not have anything to do with the Streamdeck or software themselves. I can tell you, though, if I can get it to work then I’ll quickly upgrade my assessment to “spectacular” because it’s an excellent piece of hardware. If they release an SDK or expand their software beyond the narrow focus on streaming (which may never happen due to Elgato’s market segment), or if more apps adopted the input hooks for it (Hey, Discord!), then its value would skyrocket. I don’t know that I’d suggest that everyone go out and buy one and experience an input Nirvana because unless you’re a moderate to hardcore streamer or use apps like Photoshop that have a lot of keyboard shortcuts, it seems that the Streamdeck’s operations are limited and pretty “fragile” in that they’re easy to interrupt.

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Transparency and Star Citizen

Posted by on Apr 17, 2017 in Editorial, Star Citizen

Transparency and Star Citizen

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Star Citizen backer. At the writing of this post, I am in for about $300 over the course of the entire campaign. I had started out with one of the entry level packages and then upgraded over time, folding better and better ships into even better ones until I reached the present pledge-configuration of a Constellation Andromeda and Dragonfly hover-bike. I’m sure there might be a few folks who are reading this and are nodding, having bought into the development of Star Citizen at various levels and it’s single player companion Squadron 42; they know what this process entails. I’m absolutely sure there are others who are reading this with less charitable reactions: what a fucking idiot. Must be nice to have money to throw into a black hole.

Star Citizen is ambitious which is undeniable no matter which side of the table you sit on. The closest analog is probably…well, nothing, really. EVE Online comes to mind because both allow you to jump into different ships and fly around a living persistent universe, but SC has personal avatars that can disembark their ships and participate in entirely different gameplay. There are also games like Mass Effect which will allow you to land on planets and explore with a team, but that’s not right either since ME is a scripted single player game with limited scope. SC is probably most like Elite Dangerous, except that Elite locks you into your ship like it’s afraid you’ll wander off and never return…something that’s possible and even required in SC as you will need to visit NPCs on space stations, planetside, or even between ships docked together in deep space. Even though I’m not a game developer, I can appreciate how difficult making this game must be. It’s been tried before and has failed spectacularly, and I’m sure that everyone working for RSI reminds themselves of this every day. Nevermind the fact that they have taken in several millions of dollars from people who really want this game enough to gamble on one of the most ambitious projects that the games industry has birthed. It’s not a project for the squeamish or the half-hearted, especially since we’re talking about an industry that frequently plays its cards close to the vest when it comes to progress reporting, treating each PR push as a “warm fuzzy” or “hype” opportunity. There are a lot of eyes on this project, and a lot of those eyes are extremely critical for two reasons: the amount of money they’ve taken in, and how long the development is taking.

SC has had a rough road which we didn’t learn about until after it started abating. Their initial attempts were hampered by a crisis of leadership, which isn’t all that hard to believe when you view Chris Roberts as one part visionary, one part eccentric, and several parts rampant ego. Although Roberts occupies a very respectable place in the pantheon of game development for his Wing Commander series, it had been quite some time since he’d done any development work that mattered and I would think that this hiatus helped contribute to the confusion involving different studios orbiting the core team working on a project that would dwarf the largest MMO to date. Add to that Robert’s “top-down management style” (putting it kindly), and the choice of CryEngine which turned out to be another hamstring when the engine couldn’t accommodate the design and then when CryTek ran into serious financial trouble. The project was apparently spinning out of control, and it’s documented in the Kotaku article “Inside the Troubled Development of Star Citizen” which I urge you to read for an investigation into the project, circa 2016.

After reading that article, then, you’ll either come away with a greater appreciation for how difficult it is to create a game of any scale, or it’ll solidify your belief that SC is nothing but a scam that no one has caught on to yet — well, except for Derek Smart. Smart has no compulsion against getting his foot wedged up people’s asses, and there’s got to be some kind of bad blood between Smart and Roberts. From an outsider’s perspective, it could be related to Smart’s own attempts at a massive open world ground-and-space simulation, Battlecruiser 3000AD. Back in the early 1990s, Smart attempted to create what was at the time one of the most ambitious gaming products ever seen, but due to bugs, wild claims of capability of the product, and good old fashioned legal combat between Smart and publisher Take-Two, the game quickly earned a reputation as one of the largest failures in video game history at the time. Smart would go on to pop up like Whack-A-Mole from time to time, even forming a new studio to work on modern MMOs, but Star Citizen seemed to call to him like a proverbial moth to a flame. I don’t know why, although it could very well be because SC was looking to do what he couldn’t: make a massive space sim game, and was already flush with millions of dollars signaling votes of confidence that BC3000AD never enjoyed.

By the time Smart arrived on the scene, there were strongly encamped supporters and detractors. While I don’t know if anyone would consider throwing their lot in with a firebrand like Smart just to support their position, he certainly made it easier and popular for detractors to voice their opinions on SC. Many people were demanding pledge refunds because they felt the project was a scam, or that it was taking far longer than they believed that it should. Truth be told, they weren’t wrong on the development cycle complaint: SC has been in production for about six years. According to its Wikipedia articleWorld of Warcraft took 4-5 years to develop, which included rigorous testing. Back in those days — the early days of MMOs, mind you when no one really knew what they were doing — 4-5 years was certainly a long time. These days, games can come to market in half the time thanks to experienced developers working on established knowledge, engines, and concepts, but look at what such a cycle churns out. How many MMOs have fallen by the wayside or been derided because they just don’t seem to have done much to step outside the box created by WoW?

In the development world, we have a saying: When you want me to build you a product, you can have it good, fast, or cheap; pick any two. Star Citizen has chosen “good” but has opted to stick with just “good”. Their rationale is that the money paid to them is in the form of a “pledge”, not a purchase. People are naturally wary of this kind of doublespeak, and it may very well be a way for RSI to avoid certain pitfalls involving a purchase of something that hasn’t yet been delivered. We are, after all, getting access to the game in its alpha state, will get finished products, and can choose the amount of money we wish to part with by selecting starships of different size and ability to represent the level of buy-in. For all intents and purposes, it looks like we are buying something (ships) for our pledge…just something without a definitive, final due date. Because RSI has opted to go with just the “good” option, and because they are sitting on top of a pile of money that is still rolling in, they are doubling down on the promise of “good”, and that takes time. Companies like Blizzard always throw out the “it’ll be done when it’s done” and people get antsy but understand that this is Blizzard’s M.O.; they create quality products and people are willing to give them time to ensure that the products live up to the company’s legacy. RSI doesn’t have any previous products to vouch for them; just their words, which is partly why Derek Smart started legal action against them a few years back, claiming that Roberts was mismanaging the revenue and that RSI would never get their product to market.

That kind of brings us to today. Although the Smart sideshow was a nail-biting distraction, RSI has basically used it as an opportunity to give Smart what he wanted withing agreeing that they were doing what he demanded. He wanted to know where the money was going, and what RSI was working on as proof that something was being done, so RSI has opened its doors to the public.

  • Funding ladder which lays out how much they have collected, and what each tier “unlocks”
  • Monthly studio report which explains what got done and is pulled directly from their internal work-tracking systems. The report is broken down by sub-studio and details work both accomplished and what’s setting them back (Note: link was to the report current at the time of posting).
  • Production schedule report lists the next steps in development which will eventually become the subject of a future month’s studio report.
  • Letter from the Chairman which is Robert’s platform to talk about what got done and what’s still left to do.

As consumers, many of us still operate under the belief that we are in a “partnership” with game developers. We give companies money, and therefore they are beholden to us in whatever way we wish to collect. Most of the time we’re content with a simple product/service-for-cash transaction but a lot of people believe that if they’re supporting a company financially then they deserve a window into the operations at least, a seat at the design and development table at best. In a lot of ways companies themselves are to blame for empowering this entitlement when they run campaigns to let consumers be the “fifth Beatle” in choosing from options that are probably of no consequence to the developers themselves; they would just assume do all options, but in the interest of “good, fast, or cheap” they’re allowing the consumers to make the choice and by extension are making the customers feel like they’re invested in their product instead of looking elsewhere at a competing product.

To me, it seems that RSI has taken the criticism it has endured and has agreed with many of their detractors. “Want to know what we’re up to with your money? Here’s what we did, and what we’re going to do next,” is essentially the goal of their monthly reports. In addition, they have several video series each week which gather special interest stories from around the company. They’ll talk about the procedural generation of planets in one series, and talk about dealing with troubleshooting bugs in another. If you really want to know what’s going on with Star Citizen then you don’t really need to wonder, but you do need to have a shitload of time to consume it all, and the stomach to endure the nitty-gritty of technical insight into the esoteric world of game engines, physics, audio, server technology, rigging and texturing and modeling and all of the complex systems that people forget are the foundations of the products that we bitch about like they dropped into our hands from a magical vending machine.

Honestly, I can’t think of another company that goes to these lengths to keep consumers in the loop. A lot of companies don’t have to, though. Blizzard doesn’t. Neither Bethesda nor Bioware does. For them, it’s enough to announce, mete out occasional details punctuated by scripted trailers and scripted developer interviews and press junkets, and people give them the pass (antsy, baited-breath passes, but passes nonetheless). Because of their mountain of cash, because of the length of their development cycle, and because so many people have been beating on their door demanding accountability, RSI is doing all this to provide accountability. I suspect that they are going to these lengths not just because people demand it, but because they can; whereas Blizzard wouldn’t tip its hat in such a radical fashion when working on something new, RSI knows that there’s no way anyone could match their efforts at this scope and with the quality targets they are aiming for in a timeframe that would steal their thunder.

Sadly, almost 2000 words into this post, and with all of the material that RSI is putting out to show people that they’re not all just partying in Cabo with the money, people are still going to be angry and accuse them of shady dealing. These people don’t like RSI’s funding method. They don’t appreciate the fact that stupid amounts of money can’t dilate time and make things happen faster (remember, RSI tried to bring tons of people on board to move quickly early on, and it was a disaster). I suspect a lot of people are upset because the game is too ambitious, and these people think that RSI is just throwing more features onto the pile as they accomplish previous milestones. These people will readily point to Elite Dangerous as how to get a space sim game out the door on schedule and without rampant feature creep, although really this is a false equivalency considering what little Elite does in release and what SC does already in alpha. Maybe some people are even just pissed that this system seems to be working despite people’s best efforts to stay mad at it. They can’t back down now lest they lose face in their communities.

This is the nature of the Internet, circa 2017. Progress is being made on Star Citizen, full stop. Its there on their website in several forms, on YouTube each week, and is something everyone who pledges can get their hands on in the form of the alpha client. As someone who is in for a pound I’m in the group that would really love to have the game right now, of course, but as someone who is in for a pound I don’t want the game as is; I want the game as promised. That being said I’m also flexible; I know that Roberts and team(s) have a massive amount of knowledge on game design and development, and have been learning more as they go. If they say they can’t do something that was promised, I’m OK with that. I’d rather they focus on what they can accomplish or what they think they can accomplish rather than holding things up as they stumble through possible solutions just to tick boxes on someone’s contract. The good news is that they seem to be accomplishing a lot of what they did promise, even when they admit that it was a difficult problem to solve. Even better, once this project is done and their studios disband (as all game studios seem to do), this knowledge will disseminate into the larger development pool so that other teams won’t have to struggle with the problems that RSI is working on. A “good” Star Citizen is certainly not cheap, and it’s certainly not fast, and I’m OK with that especially now in light of their frequent updates being made available to everyone — not just those who have backed the project.

I’m sorry if you can’t understand where I’m coming from. I’m not using 2500 words to try and convince myself that I didn’t waste money. I check in on their progress every week and because of it, I feel the momentum of the project which can’t be felt by those who stopped paying attention once they had made up their mind that the project is a failure or a scam. If you’re on the fence, dig through the RSI website; unlike a lot of game company sites their front page is filled with updates, behind the scenes, and lore entries. There is literally a ton of information from behind the screen doors of the company being put out there for anyone who wants to look at it. I do urge you to look at it, especially with an open mind, if you are skeptical or otherwise have no horse in the race. I can’t predict the future, of course; this project may absolutely crash and burn, but that’s the same risk any company takes and none of them are bulletproof. Most, however, go down in flames without the kind of transparency that RSI has adopted, and if you want to understand where the company is going, do your own due dillgence and don’t rely on groupthink. Read the articles. Watch the videos..

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