13 Sep 2009

Workload

I’ve been playing around with getting N3 up and running in a pure web environment, running without local installation, pulling all data from a web-server instead of the local hard-disc, embedding rendering into a web-browser and so on. Works pretty well so far, but I’m shocked how arcane and downright silly writing a plug-in for Internet Explorer is. I can’t believe MS hasn’t released a simplified, specialized plug-in API for IE by now, but instead one is still required to dive right into the disgusting cesspit that is ActiveX / OLE. I pity the poor souls who had to make a living in the 90’s grinding on code for OLE or CORBA. Compared to .NET today, this really was software development hell.

On the other hand, NPAPI, the plug-in API for everything else then IE, also hails from the 90’s but it’s clear that it was designed by sane people, and to do one thing right instead of all things poorly: to let people write plug-ins for the Netscape browsers. Embedding N3 into Firefox was a matter of hours. But I already wasted 2 weekends even getting a clear idea how to do the same thing in IE, and every time I’ve finished another doc-reading-session I feel like I must wash my hands.

Gaming! If not for XBLA I would have considered to give up console gaming in the past months and return into the PC camp. Game prices for the 360 and PS3 are simply hilarious right now in Germany. 70 is the new 60 for quite a while now (and 60 Euros was already the outrage when “next-gen” started). Combined with the fact that it feels like half of the games are not even released in Germany it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to own a 360 (or PS3). The new Games On Demand service on Xbox Live just makes things worse. Of course you only get the crappy German versions of games (remember, there’s a hard IP address region check on Xbox Live), and whoever thought that 30 Euros for a 3 year old launch game is a good idea clearly lost touch with reality.

Thank god the UK exists, free haven and last stronghold of console gaming in Europe, where prices are reasonable and censorship doesn’t exist. England is probably saving the 360 in Germany right now. God Save The Queen :)

But not all is bad in the console world. XBLA has reinvented itself during the summer. Games like Battlefield 1943, Trials HD, and Shadow Complex catapulted the service to a new quality and sales numbers level. IMHO, XBLA was in dire danger to become a dump for cheap-ass retro-titles, but since Battlefield everything has changed. I’ve had more fun with Shadow Complex then with Gears 1 and 2 combined. I hope the success of SC means Gears 3 will become a bit more interesting (of course I don’t want a side-scrolling Gears, but I’d like to see more exploration and maybe some character up-leveling).

Dirt2 was a day-one for me, but at first I was terribly disappointed because I was expecting a somewhat arcady rally game like the original Dirt. Everything which I liked about Dirt was removed and more stuff was added which I clearly didn’t like. Especially the X-TREME bullshit: didn’t like the crap you’re co-pilot was spilling before the race (I’m Mister Smooth, you’re Mister Steady)? Well, now the game is completely full of this shit. I’m only halfway through Dirt2, so I’m not exactly sure, but they removed Pikes Peak (and hill-climbing all together), as well as all the amazing “pseudo real world” tracks in Europe, and replaced them with complete fantasy tracks in more X-TREME locations like China and Malaysia. I’ve been playing a bit of the original Dirt again, and the game still looks pretty darn good compared to Dirt2. The car models in Dirt2 are clearly better, the environment in Dirt2 is more detailed, but for some reason don’t look as “realistic” as in Dirt1. The European tracks in Dirt simply nailed the look of a dark German forest during a rainy day. Dirt2 looks a lot more like a typical  video game (Malaysia is a looker, though). Well, I still made my peace with Dirt2. It’s not a rally game, it’s a pure arcade racer now. It looks very good, it plays well, its fast paced, and it has a really good multiplayer mode. But the name Colin McRae does not belong any longer on Dirt2’s box.

Now that the rally-genre is completely dead on the consoles I really wish Turn10 would step in and settle the issue once and for all. Give us Forza Rallysport already. Forza’s driving model is too good for just one game :)

I gave in to the hype and am currently about halfway through Arkham Asylum. My brain hasn’t been “indoctrinated” by American comics during my childhood. As a result I find that whole super-hero thing completely silly. I never enjoyed a single Marvel-licensed game (I think my record was like 20 minutes into one of the Spiderman games), and with few exceptions, all of the movies were utter crap (especially the Batman movies, haven’t seen the last one yet though). So… I was a bit skeptical about yet another super-hero game, to say the least. Well, what can I say? The game is fucking great! It’s a bit too old-school here and there (for instance, there’s A LOT of air duct crawling in the game). Sometimes I believe there’s only one guy in the gaming industry who’s doing all the air-ducts. He’s probably started his career in Half-Life, and then went on to Splinter Cell, Riddick, MGS and probably every other stealth-shooter ever made. So that’s a bit strange, crawling around in air ducts as The Batman. There are other strong design clichees at work in the game here and there. For some strange reason, some corridors in the Asylum look like they were stripped from a space-craft (you know, one of those typical video game space ship corridors, metallic surface, a bit rusty, hexagonal profile, leaky pipes along the walls). Maybe Mister Airducts brought his brother with him, who’s specialized in corridors.

But that’s just nitpicking, and a true hardcore gamer feels right at home with all the air-ducts and spacecraft corridors… The game itself plays really, really well, especially the slick hand-to-hand combat. There’s a lot to explore, sneaking, planning, nosing around in dark corners, just my thing. At times the game feels like Bioshock, and at other times a bit like Splinter Cell, but all in all this is the best implementation of the Batman universe I have ever seen, better then the movies anyway :)