Beware the IDE-drives of May. Or we could have misheard.
The announcement of Spore's DRM kicks off the first copy-protection war of the year.
John: What is this "DRM"?
Jim: There's no doubt that this is a contentious issue for lots of people, and it's right that we're providing a platform for lots of the problems with it to be raised and debated. On the other hand: OMG BORING.
Kieron: 2008 is going to undoubtedly a year that'll be characterised as a new height in the intensity of the DRM wars. More virulent DRM introduced and vilified via proper large scale acts of activism. Comments threads stretched ever-onwards. Right now, we can't tell whether it's a new stage in the whole endeavour and this state of affairs will continue, or that 2008 will be viewed as the apex. Either way, it's clearly exausted us all so much we can't really pull together a coherent thought on the trend. Er... it was good for milking hits via comments threads? Oh, I don't know.
Alec: I got lightly burned on this one, as my initial quickie, pre-breakfast post (I gave it a more considered, post-coffee edit later in the morning) about the Amazon protest was open exasperation that a bunch of ferociously - and, yes, justifiably - angry people were effectively sabotaging a game I was (and am) pretty fond of. People were cross with me for apparently taking the side of the publisher rather than the gamers. It wasn't as simple as that - while I find DRM extremely aggravating, I'm still of the opinion that having to make a phone call when you come to install the game for a fourth time is a far lesser evil than actively and aggressively discouraging people from trying an interesting game by shouting exaggerated buzzwords at them. I'm sure that makes me The Most Evil Man In The Whole Wide World in some people's eyes. I am quite evil, admittedly. Why, only yesterday I lied to my mother about how much exercise I do.
Also worth noting that I am entirely comfortable with cracking this kind of guff out of a game, so I always had that in mind when proffering my What's The Big Deal-isms. I appreciate that's not the case for everyone. Still, I do think this Spore mess didn't work out too badly in the end. EA ate humble pie and relaxed their ill-advised choke-hold on installations, the game sold well and plenty of people seem to be digging it despite the large amount who can't stand it. A shame Rockstar didn't pay more attention, though. I can't help but hope heads have rolled for their ridiculous, control-freak stunt with GTA IV.
John: It's tempting to say, "Oh, why aren't id working on original projects?!" But of course they are. So, instead let's say, "Why are they bothering after Doom 3?" Well, I guess the answer is, "Because Doom and Doom 2 were so utterly awesome." I'm glad we had this chat.
Jim: One of the weird thing about being in my thirties now is that there is a younger generation to me who do no understand the relevance of Doom. I'll be dead soon.
Kieron: What Doom 4 really needs to be is some Doom-esque equivalent to Trials 2 - grasping what Doom was and then working out how modern technology can improve that intrinsic Doom-iness. In which case, I'd argue that the real Doom 4 was actually Left 4 Dead.
Alec: Doom 3 made quite a chunk of change, at least once you throw in the Xbox port. While 4 being some sort of return to excessive, cartoonish form seems like the obvious thing, for that reason alone I'm not yet convinced id will have learned their lesson. The likes of Gears of War and Halo 3 prove the world isn't tired of gloomy corridors yet, either. At the same time - whisper it - Doom 3 was actually pretty good. It just went on for far too long, and without lobbing in enough playful stuff in its latter half. Oh, who am I kidding? I just want Doom 2 remade with pixel shaders and ultro-physics.
John: If this ever happens I'll cry tears of purest joy. And if it's anything like the original, I might have a bit of a blub shortly before the end. Of course, making a sequel to a commercially unsuccessful original this many years later is plain stupid. The sort of stupid I hope they embrace.
Jim: Loving this game wasn't hard, because it's simultaneously a peculiar mishmash of ideas, and an incredibly charismatic piece of fiction. It's like one of those kid's movies that you don't want to like because of the risk of Disney outbreaks, but you nevertheless find yourself caught up in because of the sheer inertia of its imaginative enterprise. If there is a sequel - which there looks like there will be - then righteousness will have won another battle in videogamingland.
Kieron: I've still never played it. Man, there goes my pretentious indie-cred.
Alec: I can go one worse. I can remember working on PC Format when this turned up, and a couple of reviewers on various mags gushing away about it. My response: "but isn't it just some kids' game by the guy who makes that Rayman crap?" Oopsie. One furious lecture later, I felt bad enough that I went out and bought it rather than borrow the office review copy. I'll always be glad I did - it's one of those games I'm mighty proud to have on my shelf.
Jim: I once started writing a novel about a career drunk called Jack Daniels Versus The Martians. Stalin would probably have a better time.
Kieron: I've been doing a lot of reading about WW2 this year, so I've been reacquainting myself with Stalin. In short: wot a bastard! I hope the Martians win.
Alec: I hope the expansion pack stars the Welsh.
Jim: People do say some strange things, and strange things often turn out to be true. Unangst can be our format Copernicus.
Kieron: One of my standard arguments about the whole PC's inevitable obsolescence thing is just based around waiting around a lot. Does anyone seriously think in 50 years time we'll be playing videogames based around a machine whose architecture is jealously guarded by a single company? It runs contrary to everything else in society. The console, by its nature, is fundamentally a transitional phase.
Alec: Plus, there's no way - say - my dad, my mother or my sister would ever go buy 'a games console.' Gaming just doesn't interest them enough. The PC remains gaming's ultimate stealth attack. It quietly sticks the most versatile gaming platform in existence into everyone's home, whether they intend it or not - and sooner or later they're playing Scrabble on Facebook or want to have a crack at this Warcraft thing everyone keeps talking about.
Jim: I wish I was rich.
Kieron: I occasionally think RPS should do more follow-the-money style of games writing. Except I realise that while I'm aware it shapes the games that get made, it's also not what drives me or (I suspect) the site. A proper examination of what the mega-publishers mean? I'd love to read it if anyone (talking to you, Leigh) wants to write it. But we're not going to write it, alas.
As a passing note, however: one look at Activision's current status should make everyone understand why they can't help but have a shot at releasing an MMO. It's kind of their duty as money making corporations even.
I'm glad I'm not a money-making corporation.
Though I wish I had some money.
Alec: I don't think we've begun to see the repercussions of this yet. There's a danger they could get big and ugly enough to call some pretty major shots in the industry as a whole. I'm hoping they keep on pumping out enough crap that this won't happen.
John: Here's an insight to the daily goings on behind the scenes of RPS for our readers: Almost every day in the RPS Castle's Discussion Room, Kieron and Alec find an excuse to mention which tiny plastic toys they're currently bidding on/looking at/painting. At which point any hope of useful discourse is abandoned, and I go outside.
Jim: What John doesn't know is that I have Space Marine and Eldar armies too, I just don't mention it in public. Oops.
Kieron: My slow descent into collecting Skaven again was quite the thing to behold, mainly prompted by writing a comic for Boom set in the universe. Warhammer Online acted like methadone for a while, but when my GF bought me a pack of Clanrats for my birthday, for a joke, it collapsed as I took it as condoning it. Ah, my love, you didn't realise that there's no Irony in Warhammer. Current state of the painted army? 30 slaves and 5 Gutter runners. Man! Sometimes I feel like going back in time and shooting whoever first showed me White Dwarf, Terminator style.
Alec: I visited Games Workshop HQ a few weeks back to have a crack at Dawn of War 2. Two days later, I found myself carefully glueing together a bunch of Tyranids I'd had in storage for years, with very little idea of how I got into that situation. I managed to stop this crazed descent into my own past when I caught myself trying to bid on a Hive Tyrant on eBay via my iPhone in the pub. Fortunately, I lost the auction, and I'm all better now. Mostly.
John: And both will be gigantic box office smashes, with aced reviews and OSCARS falling off their shelves! Woo-hoo!
Jim: Man, thank God for videogame movies! The film business would be dead meat and stale crusts without an endless sequence of ideas for action movies... waitasec.
Kieron: Someone from a film company I know asked me to act as an introduction to Ken Levine about a film thing. I have no idea if it's the one which became the deal, but it'd be nice to imagine it was, if only to inwardly wonder whether I should have got a finder's fee or something.
Alec: I gave up on the Max Payne film half an hour in. Grow up, you stupid studios.
Jim: Brave. More people should be brave.
Kieron: I wonder what other PC developers make of people like Tilted Mill. I suspect we'll only see its effect in a few years time. If they exist and make money, we can expect more to follow. If they fold... well, less followers. While I haven't played either of their new games in depth yet, there's much to like about the pair of them, not least the after-sale care. I can't wait to see what they do next, frankly.
Alec: I massively admire them for doing it, but do feel they need to make something truly fabulous to make it work. Seems like they're only testing the waters at the moment - I hope they've got the balls and the resources to really, really go for it, because they really are in a strong position to trendset here.
John: The best thing about all this was the moment right after the presentation was over. Into the room walked Mr Marc Laidlaw who told me that loads of people in the offices had been following the live-blogging on RPS. It turned out most of Valve had not heard of Steamcloud before that afternoon, and had learned about the plans for the new gadget by reading a website based in the UK being updated on a laptop in their own offices. Also I now totally know their wifi password, if any of the businesses on the floors above and below them want to know it.
Kieron: I kinda wish that Valve would go further with Steam. I'd like it to actually become the equivalent of the Itunes shop. One of the interesting things about the whole digital download thing is the growing reticence - at least as shown in the comments threads - to people to buy an indie game which isn't on Steam. There's clearly a ridiculous number of issues involving in lowering their boundary to entry, but I think if Valve were interested in taking up the task, it'd be the single biggest step towards improving the sustainability and growth of the PC scene.
Alec: Yeah, their library needs to expand massively, particularly in terms of indie and retro stuff. I'm frankly amazed GoG beat them to the punch with the latter. I'm sure there's all manner of business reasons and obstacles I can't begin to understand behind the relative safeness of their catalogue - but that, say, Positech's games aren't on there just seems like absolute madness. Also - while I'm being bitchy - the Steam app itself could do with a redesign. While its interface is neat, it's a slow old beast sometimes. Faster and sleeker, please.
Games of Note:
Jim: When playing this and Rez I'm often surprised at how few games are set to music. More like this please.
Kieron: Yeah, me too - there's quite a few even-indier games which have taken a similar route and it can do enormous things to shape experience. I went back and forth on Everyday Shooter, to be honest - its grindy-esque wasn't quite my thing - but as a model of how untraditional game music can integrate into a modern-traditional game it's a masterclass. In fact, if I wasn't playing an advance copy of PC Space Giraffe, I'd have another crack now.
Penny Arcade Adventures
Jim: Yeah, I should play this.
Kieron: Yeah, despite forum-thread's urging, I haven't played this yet either. Man!
Alec: I played through the demo, but wasn't even remotely tempted to pick up the full thing afterwawrds. It looks absolutely lovely, but the frat-pseud humour and slightly irritating combat wasn't for me. I hear the second one's much, much better, particularly in the writing. I'll try and give it a crack come an idle afternoon.
Jim: I spent several weeks with Conan from beta through to the launch. It was genuinely entertaining for many reasons, but I found myself wishing all that money had been spent on a really fantastic single player RPG set along the same lines. The night-time stuff in which the plot for the tutorial area was fantastic, and I find myself less and less interested in the goings on out in the world at large. I think that was to do with the lack of "worldiness" of the wider game. I wanted to wander and explore, and found myself running into invisible walls, or constrained by endless mountain ranges. It was a game that could have learned a hell of a lot about MMOs if it had looked at Wow, Eve and City of Heroes, but it seemed to miss many of the lessons from those game. I fear that genre does far too much reinventing of the wheel.
Kieron: Talking about games which I wanted to give a crack to - I've had a copy of Conan and a one-month code sitting to my right and slightly forward of my keyboard for about six months now. It stares at me. I feel guilty. But, after noting how people talk about Conan, not too guilty.
Alec: I absolutely loathed this: it was clear it was a disaster from pretty much the first second. It may have been shiny, but the characters looked horrible, the world had no life to it and the much-vaunted destiny quest storyline thing just seemed dreary and vague, even before you hit the nothingness beyond. The combat stank like Kieron's mum's socks, too - whoever thought that replacing boring auto-attacking with miserably pressing yet more number keys in response to some Simon Says guff was hepped up on goofballs. And not even pure goofballs - just the cheap shit that's cut with sherbert and squeezy-cheese. It's sad that people will probably lose jobs when it inevitably dies - but really, don't make promises like that it if you can't keep 'em.
Kieron: Actually, Alec reminds me of a couple of things...
i) A Conan press event a few weeks before the game came out which was one of the most disastrous I've ever been at, which I wrote up scornfully for PCG, I think. The event was based around letting a load of journos skipping the opening and being dumped in a more advanced bit, including typing a code which should have upped you up some levels, Problem being, it actually ended up breaking the game's progress and leading to all our characters running around naked. I'm used to iffy press events, but normally a lot earlier in development. But that they hadn't even tested what they wanted to show us didn't exactly speak bounds of how well tested the game was going to be on release. And lo...
ii) Fuck off, Alec. My Mum's socks smell lovely.
John: It's too easy to remember Turok as a stinker. But it really wasn't. It fell into that much more complicated camp of "slightly below average". As I mentioned in the PCG review, no matter how awful the human AI was, and how incredibly terrible they'd managed to make a great engine look, and how much they'd somehow made a corridor game in a forest, you still got to shoot dinosaurs with a bow and arrow. And it's hard to complain about that. Complain about everything else in the game, sure. But not the shooting dinosaurs with a bow and arrow.
Kieron: I think ultimately, the lesson that I learned from May was that shooting dinosaurs with a bow and arrow is okay. And thanks to that lesson, I consider myself the better man.