Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day: Actually, 10 Minutes

By Kieron Gillen on December 17th, 2008 at 5:54 pm.

There's no place like... oh, fuggetit.
We haven’t talked about Awomo before, oddly. I suspect that while it’s conceptually interesting, that we couldn’t download something to try it out meant it was filled firmly in the “We’ll write when we can get a game sharpish, thanks” category. And lo! Now we can have a whole copy of the genuine classic Rome: Total War for free. In ten minutes! Less, if you’ve got a better class of broadband. You can get it here, but a little more on my experience with their streaming-thingy-tech-stuff beneath the cut…

While there’s more technical fairies bouncing around, the key idea is that rather than downloading the whole installer, the game’s able to be played when only a small fraction of the game’s actually downloaded. An 8-bit line gets enough to play in less than ten minutes. Meanwhile, it continues to stream the rest while you play. I tried it. And it works fine. I suspect I threw it by going into a historical battle rather than the campaign, which needed a couple more minutes pause while it presumably got more data, but after that it was totally Total War. What’s most impressive about this as a Beta project for the system is that Total War is close to the definition of a game which isn’t built to be streamed in play. It’s got a mass of content, almost any bit of which could be called first. Compared to – say – a linear first person shooter, where you know you need to stream the levels in order, this is a tricky task. I suppose it’s one thing which makes Rome suitable for the beta.

I suspect there’s more things to say about streaming technology – how it both speeds and frustrates the experience (e.g. The gloriously robust Guild Wars which can have you playing in minutes – a good thing – but pauses when you head off to an area it hasn’t streamed yet – a bad thing. The problem being, if you start to play, you want to play.) But that can be saved for another time, I suspect, just so we don’t distract ourselves from the main point:

Rome: Total War. For Free. Go!

[And thanks for The_B for chatting to me about it]

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31 Comments »

  1. Heliocentric says:

    Limited Beta Trial – Download Rome: Total War for Free

    does that mean the right to download is is time limited or that once downloaded it is limited, presumable both?

  2. Svenska says:

    there’s just something about this that I don’t like. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m still rather confused about how it works…do I really own the game or am I just borrowing it from them?

  3. Leeks! says:

    You get to play it for free. Are the semantics that important?

  4. Dreamhacker says:

    “AWOMO is like any other store so expect similar prices…”

    Yeah, expect similar DRM outrage.

  5. Theory says:

    I’m downloading at 200KBps and the timer says 40 minutes (not surprising once my slow, slow brain finishes the arithmetic).

    Not quite a casual download, but then as has been pointed out most other titles should fare better.

  6. Fido Dido says:

    Doesn’t work here; Windows 64-bit, says it needs an “x86 system”.

  7. Heliocentric says:

    Steam already prefetches i played halflife with 20% downloaded. I admit there was often no sound and it crashed after half an hour. But eh, maybe episode 3 might support play while you download :)

  8. The_B says:

    I was speaking to Kieron yesterday about this, and it reminded me about Halo 2′s big feature that Games for Windows was trying to show off, the “Tray N Play” feature which supposedly let you play the game while it was installing. I never used it myself, so I have no idea how well it worked, but I did notice that no other game has used it since…

    Was it that bad anybody? Or just another GfW failed experiement?

  9. El_MUERkO says:

    x86 only

    pfft, get with the times!

  10. Garrett says:

    A PC game rental service is something I’ve wanted for some time now. Back in the heyday of shareware this wasn’t needed, because developers generously gave away a quarter or even a third of the entire game (which meant you could get a good feel for everything the full game had to offer but were still left wanting more–if the game was any good, that is). Now you’re lucky if a game has a five-minute demo that shows you nothing of what the game is like and is over before you know it (why hello there Call of Duty 4); most sandbox-style games don’t have demos because it supposedly isn’t feasible (their real reasons are more devious and selfish in nature), so for some games you can’t try before you buy. It’s no wonder some gamers have taken to downloading a “full demo” before risking wasting all that money on a terrible game, especially since these days the DRM generally makes resale difficult or impossible.

    Having said that, this particular rental implementation sounds strange. “Rent To Own … paying at an hourly rate. Five hours’ play and you own the game!” — so are all their games going to be older titles, with bargain prices like Good Old Games or the like, or will the hourly fee be a fifth of the price of a new game at retail? Many recent games require a lot of time-consuming and repetitive activity to make any progress (like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry 2), so you can’t actually do much in an hour, while in your standard FPS or RTS you can make a good amount of progress through the missions in that same amount of time.

    Another potentially great part of this service is the promise of playing while downloading. This has been recently implemented by GameTap (where most games only need about 30-50% of the full game downloaded to be able to play a reasonable portion of the game), but this implementation sounds closer to the “Tray and Play” feature used by Halo 2.

    RPS guys, you should try to arrange an interview with the people behind this if you can. It would be great to know more about it.

  11. Tei says:

    This don’t work on GoogleChrome

  12. Kieron Gillen says:

    The_B: I knew I’d forgot to include something. Credit added.

    KG

  13. Garrett says:

    @Tei: the FAQ page clearly states that the minimum requirement is “Firefox 3 or Internet Explorer 6 & 7″. Chrome is unpopular, so I wouldn’t expect it to be supported any time soon.

    What isn’t immediately obvious about AWOMO is that the downloads are actually done within the browser–there is no client application. You need the browser open at the game’s page in order to play, although you can browse freely within the site without interrupting the download.

    Until this is released as a standalone client I can’t see this service being widely accepted; browser resource usage is significant compared to a dedicated client, and it doesn’t seem to be able to create a shortcut.

  14. Theory says:

    So are all their games going to be older titles, with bargain prices like Good Old Games or the like, or will the hourly fee be a fifth of the price of a new game at retail?

    The latter. I interviewed them a while back about the whole subject, though I’ll be the first to admit it didn’t turn out so well. :-/

  15. Jon says:

    I was very impressed with the WoW streaming client when I tried it a few weeks ago, I was astounded by how easy it was to use and how quickly I got into the actual game. I’m all for this sort of thing.

    p.s did you lot design your site to work so well with my new sony ericsson x1?

  16. Garrett says:

    This proposed pricing structure is totally unreasonable (thanks for that article, Theory). Charging around a fifth of the full price is great for movies, because DVDs aren’t all that expensive and you get to see the whole movie within the rental period; PC games are significantly more expensive (meaning that fifth costs a lot more), and you can’t get much done in an hour. Bizarrely, their “coming soon” page indicates you can “rent a game for an evening or weekend”, presumably offering significantly more play time at a much lower price than the rent to buy scheme, although without the advantage of contributing to the eventual ownership of the game. While I can understand charging more for permanent ownership, only allowing an hour of play per fifth is not value for money, and it’s sure to be unpopular with discerning gamers.

    AWOMO’s current implementation is fundamentally flawed. Like GameTap it works by mounting a restricted Z: drive, but unlike GameTap it then attempts to execute a Windows Script Host script stored on the virtual drive. Such scripts are almost never used by legitimate programs any more, so this behaviour is treated with suspicion by some firewalls and anti-malware programs; the restricted virtual drive model is also incompatible with some security software, although to a lesser extent. I couldn’t get AWOMO to work for one or both of these reasons. I can understand why they have gone with this protected model, but it isn’t nearly as compatible with the user’s other software. With Steam the only possible security issue is it asking to open a port or two, which is easily granted and works with any firewall, so incompatibility with user software is virtually nonexistent.

    Due to this virtual drive implementation I can’t see the merit of buying or renting to own any games through this service. Unlike Steam the game files cannot be directly accessed, which means you have no way of installing any mods or making configuration changes (unless the game stores such files in the Documents folder or some other external location, which most older games don’t do). It also leaves you totally at the mercy of AWOMO; with Steam you can back up your games so if Valve suddenly shuts down for some unlikely reason you can at least use cracks to keep playing the games you purchased, but with AWOMO the games are stored in a proprietary format (no doubt encrypted to some degree).

    AWOMO is a promising concept, but it needs a significant overhaul to the pricing structure and technical implementation before it can begin seriously competing with Steam.

  17. Poita says:

    Shock Raper Potgun

    Even though I own the retail version of RTW I almost downloaded it just to check the speed and the convenience of it but when i saw that i have to download and intall some program i decided to skip it. The more crap i install on my PC the more messed up things tend to get.
    Some crap even has no uninstall exe and can’t be done with ‘add/remove programs’. I get sick of that stuff so i’m wary about what i’ll install.

  18. Xercies says:

    Unfortunatly this crashed on me when i tried to do a quick battle, its a nice try but I would rather the whole thing be downloaded or let me download a setup.exe since it would take ages especially for this game. And I have no idea what the downloading is doing to my bandwith.

  19. El Stevo says:

    Interesting technologically, perhaps, but as a consumer I don’t really see the appeal of the service.

  20. Shamanic Miner says:

    Bring back invaderload.

  21. malkav11 says:

    I really do want a decent PC game rental service, but I think it would have to operate more like Gamefly, Gametap, or Netflix – a single rental fee for a month’s use. Perhaps sort of a combination of Gamefly and Gametap – stream the download to your PC, but only allow X number of games installed at once where X is the number you’re paying a monthly rental fee for. And offer a discounted digital purchase option (preferably DRM-free) after you’ve spent some time with the game.

    Also, it would need to be more accessible than Gametap – mods are an essential part of the experience you miss with Gametap, and it certainly shouldn’t erase all your saves when you uninstall the app.

  22. Neil says:

    Yep, no XP/Vista 64-bit support. Probably should put that in the main article.

  23. The_B says:

    Oooh, something else I just remembered about the chat last night that I also think is interesting to note – AWOMO was supposed to have a Second Life style client attached to it when it was first announced, a lot like PlayStation Home. However, there’s now no mention of that at all on the website anywhere. It would be interesting to find out if that’s been dropped altogether or what, especially after the demise of Google’s Lively.

    (No worries about the credit, by the way.)

  24. aiusepsi says:

    The thing with game streaming is while it’s one of those features that sounds cool on paper, it’s actually really hard to do right in practice, especially if you’re going to have to retrofit old games to support such a thing.

    It’s not new, either. Steam does it with the older games (HL and HL2) and Triton did it, at least in the beta. There are good reasons they don’t do it any more!

    The trouble is that making games work well in an environment where you can’t be sure that your assets are going to be available just adds a whole new set of complexities. Do you pop up a loading bar? Can anything be done to ensure relevant content is bumped to the top of the download queue? etc.

    Also, there’s a good reason Valve stopped using a virtual drive to support third-party games in Steam – it does hideous things to loading performance.

    Oh, and if you’re streaming you suddenly become extremely sensitive to network throughput. If your servers start to fall over under heavy load, it becomes a heck of a lot more of an issue, which is going to be an operational headache for them.

    They’ve no doubt dropped the little virtual world feature too because it’s another one of those things that sounds great on paper, but in practice it has a terrible benefit to cost ratio.

  25. kafka7 says:

    Is anybody really suggesting that being able to play a game before it’s finished downloading is a ‘feature’? Good luck to them.

  26. Heliocentric says:

    I own rome. But i never got the expansions. Med 2 never hooked me. But i might get rome gold off steam for a tenner. To be honest if empire wasn’t such a retardedly expensive price i’d love to get it off steam. But 40? 30 if you count the free rome as a discount? Is too much when it will be 17.99 a month after release at retail. Saddest of all is now some people have preordered at that price they wont lower the price until after release fearing people asking for the difference back. Blah

  27. Mike says:

    If I might just shamelessly promote the excellent Inflammable Jim again, he’s done a similar thing he did for Hitman (The Amateur) for Rome:TW.

    http://houseofjimius.wordpress.com/

    It wraps up tomorrow, so the whole thing is there to enjoy. The screens are delicious.

  28. Anthony Damiani says:

    “Is anybody really suggesting that being able to play a game before it’s finished downloading is a ‘feature’? Good luck to them.”

    So you’ve never spent 18+ hours on a game download (damn you, D2D!), then?

  29. Legandir says:

    @The_B http://awomo.com/?q=node/29
    “What is AWOMO 3D?

    Ah! Our plan for the future… We are building a massive online virtual world for gamers complete with top of the range social networking and group management tools. You will be able to live and play inside this world, launching your games straight from it. We hope to build the ultimate hub for gamers complete with personal housing, leagues, tournaments, shops… everything that you might need, whoever you are, whatever type of games you like and however you play. More on this soon…”

  30. lee says:

    Lmao, this concept is a bit dodgey, but who knows, once every person on the earth has ultra violet fibre optics ( goes faster than current technology ) this should be possible :D