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Thursday, July 28, 2011

A mouse almost transmogrifies into a rat.

I'm an inveterate collector of peripherals, gadgets and toys related to PC gaming.  I've got dozens each of headphones, mice, controllers, keyboards, etc. I get them to test and try, and sometimes review, but mainly for hands-on experience so I can speak from first-hand knowledge when gaming buddies seek an opinion.

Items I particularly like often get bought in multiples (mainly mice and keyboards) so that I can have the same device on my different gaming machines, and for backup in case I particularly like an item and do not want to find it unavailable in the future should I need another.

I picked up a couple of the new Razer Imperator mice recently to play with. In this case, the new mouse bug reared its head quite by accident. I'd been playing on a machine I built for the G/F, using a Razer Copperhead (a good, if not great mouse, but one I'm very accustomed to for feel) that has had so much use the finish has worn off in many spots.

Playing one night, I noticed a peculiar small sliver of what appeared to be plastic remnants, perhaps from a package she'd opened recently. I fiddled with it, bending and stretching it, folding it, using it as a toothpick, scratching an itch on the inside of my ear canal, and finally tossing it in the trash, a crunched and mangled shadow of its former self. I noticed that night the mouse seemed a bit jerky for my fine aim needs. I realized later that the mouse seemed to be 'grabbing' the mouse pad surface. Peering at the bottom of the mouse, I saw the cause: the back friction foot had come off. My toothpick was a piece of Razer engineering.

It should be noted: I'm amazed the mouse lasted this long and through this much abuse. I'm sure it would have gone several more years. I had removed this foot some time ago to disassemble the mouse and clean it out. After years of abuse, the innards had enough muck to cause some minor issues. A cleaning remedied them. I obviously should have used some glue and not assumed the remaining aged sticky goo would suffice. 

Hell hath no fury like a woman gamer whose hardware you have fucked up, to paraphrase Congreve.

Rather than try to find replacement feet for the now out of production mouse, I decided to upgrade her, and get myself a twin to play with myself.

I've had only good experience with the Razer mice, owning pretty much every model sans the ridiculous pimp my mouse editions of the regular line. Never a single failure even under use bordering abusive. So I had no reason to expect any problems out-of-the-box with these new ones.

Razer, like many other vendors, has stopped including media with drivers / control software in the box. Understandable: media adds to the cost, and after release, the media is most likely out of date anyway. So the user guide directs the new owner to the web site to retrieve these things.

And there's the rub.

It appears the Razer web site has been hacked, they are having severe server problems, or their provider is suffering from one or both of the problems: most of the site links in the support / download sections get redirected to nonsense sites. Ugh! No soup for me! Fortunately, I was able to retrieve a copy of an older set of the drivers elsewhere, and get to using the mouse in earnest.

As a mouse, I'm pretty pleased so far. Quite comfortable, very responsive (even my not so game head daughter commented on this aspect), with much improved control software. Changing profiles on-the-fly is speedier than my fingers, making things like a fine aim / sniper mode switch a trifle, with none of the nagging delay and non-response of earlier Razer designs. The sensor works very well, tracking perfectly on the surfaces I tried, with decent lift-off characteristics. I won't bother with a detailed review, those can be found elsewhere, and this is not so much an entry about the mouse, but about customer service.

The lesson to be learned here is simple, vendors:

If you're going to deny the buyer media with basic drivers and other software, and only have these available online, at least provide alternate locations so one is not left wanting when problems occur on your end. The frustration of not being able to take full advantage of a new toy might well put the consumer off of future purchases of your brand.

Media is cheap. Put a friggin' mini-CD, or a tiny flash drive, in the box, FCS!

Better yet, flash is so cheap, why not just load a bit into all of your USB devices, so that the drivers and software "live" in the device, available at first plug-in? You could even make them updatable, so bringing my mouse to a foreign environment is a no-hassle proposition, and I always can have the latest drivers, software, and firmware at hand.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

OCZ Revodrive 3 X2 480 GB Mini-Review

One of the new toys arrived today. The latest revision of the acclaimed Revodrive line from OCZ, a Revodrive 3.

The particular model I purchased (RVD3X2-FHPX4-480G) is the X2 version with 480 gigabytes of capacity. For those not familiar with the Revodrive line, these units integrate multiple SSD units, multiple controllers, and the VCA (Virtualized Controller Architecture) hardware specific to OCZ, effectively giving you a raid SSD system on a single PCI-E card. No sata cables, power cables, separate raid card, configuration, etc. required!

The unit arrives in a compact, if not luxurious (for this kind of money, it would be nice to feel a bit more coddled) box. Included in my example are a tiny user guide (ample, considering the ease of installation) including information on where to retrieve the current drivers. A sticker bragging about the device is supplied, for those needing to make their PC case look like a weathered steamer trunk.

The card itself comes in the ubiquitous anti-static bag, with the appropriate warning to use caution to avoid static discharges that might have a deleterious effect on the unit. The unit is pictured below.
We can see the flash NAND banks on the right, two of the four (X2 models only) controllers (the latest and greatest Sandforce SF-2281), with the OCZ SuperScale controller acting as the commander in chief. The latter component, new to the Revodrive 3 line, provides the PCI-E to SAS mapping, and implements OCZ's VCA, with optimized queue balancing and DMA access. Utilizing both tagged and native command queue balancing, OCZ achieves linear scaling in a raid-like (not raid, but a proprietary array architecture, according to OCZ) fashion. VCA also provides TRIM and SCSI UNMAP (the SCSI equivalent of TRIM) that help stabilize and maximize performance while minimizing write amplification. Do note - the current OCZ drivers do not currently support Windows TRIM, but OCZ promises a solution in the future.

The performance claims are impressive (from OCZ):
  • Read: Up to 1500 MB/s
  • Write: Up to 1250 MB/s
  • Max Random Write 4KB (Aligned): 230,000 IOPS
This is performance at an enterprise device level, equaling and in some cases exceeding devices I have owned (e.g. Fusion IO-Drive) at a small fraction of the price.

Installation in my case took all of three minutes: open PC case, remove PCI slot cover, insert and secure the card, close the PC case. All that is required is one PCI-E 2.0 x4 (or better) slot. Driver installation takes another minute or so. That's it. If installing Windows 7 (is anyone really still using older Windows?) directly to the device, the appropriate files can be placed on a USB drive, or on an existing hard disk in the machine, and accessed when at the initial installation device selection screen for the Windows installer via the driver load option.

I installed windows (seemed a snappy install, but I didn't bother timing it), and a game I play known for lengthy load times (ARMA II / OA). As with the windows install, the game install seemed swift, but again, I did not bother timing it.

Windows black screen "Starting Windows" to the login screen takes scant seconds on my small gaming rig (2600K @ 4.8 GHz, 16 GB Ram, Z68 MB, dual GTX 580 in SLI, etc.), quite comparable to my rigs with dedicated external multi-SSD raid setups. The actual initialization of the Revodrive bios adds a few seconds (5 or so) to the wait.

ARMA certainly loads as fast as I've seen it short of a RAMdisk. Comparing it side-by-side to a high specification machine with a single high performance SSD, the Revodrive allowed me to get to the "ready" state several seconds more quickly. Not a huge increase, but I didn't expect one - this game shows a big jump in load speed going from even fast hard drives (think Velociraptor) to even a mid-range SSD. Other confounding factors result in less than linear load speed improvements with drive throughput improvements. The bottom line, however, is that the Revodrive 3 X2 equaled the performance of my dedicated 8 SSD hardware raid system in load times for the game, at roughly one-quarter of the cost. Impressive, to say the least.

On more strenuous tests, the drive really shines. Imagine running multiple installations of windows in a virtual machine (Oracle's VirtualBox for my tests) and seeing Windows 7 boot in under eight seconds, and getting a Windows Experience disk score of 7.7 in the virtual machines including the overhead and inefficiencies of the virtualized I/O! The Revodrive makes running multiple instances of high-I/O applications and virtual machines trivial and a real delight.

I won't bore the reader with extensive benchmarks, as these can be found elsewhere in droves. Suffice to say, a quick ATTO benchmark shows my device exceeding its specifications nicely:

A most impressive achievement for the price of admission.

In addition to outstanding performance as a storage or boot device, the Revodrive driver exposes a device that Windows (Vista, 7) sees as ReadyBoost capable. This will allow for using part of the Revodrive as a cache for your system hard disk (this assumes, obviously, that you choose to use the Revodrive as a fast storage device, and not as the system device).

This provides benefits à la Intel's SRT (Smart Response Technology) found as an option in Z68 based motherboards, but without the restrictions of requiring a Z68 chipset and a 64 GB cache size limit. I plan on investigating the benefits of this kind of configuration in the future: after all, few boot their machines so often that the few seconds off of boot time using an SSD for the system drive really becomes crucial, yet letting Windows intelligently cache hard disk activity, along with being able to use the same SSD as fast storage for selected files regardless of cache candidacy seems quite attractive and interesting. I don't expect huge benefits considering capabilities of the typical gamer's PC, but my curiosity has me planning some tests.

Do note: There has been some confusion regarding the availability of a 240 GB Revodrive 3 X2 at a much more palatable price point. This appears to have been the result of a misprint in the OCZ pre-release information, further promulgated by various pre-release reviews. At this time, however, OCZ is not releasing an X2 in this capacity. The non-X2 Revodrive 3, utilizing a configuration lacking the mezzanine card containing the extra set of controllers and flash NAND, still offers respectable gains over the prior generation of 240 GB units, just not the extreme performance of the X2 series.

Should the avid gamer purchase a Revodrive 3 X2? Only you can decide what fits your own needs and budget. At $1650 to $2300 currently on-line, it is a pricey proposition. You could get roughly equivalent performance by purchasing a dedicated quality raid card and four fast dedicated SSDs and save a few bucks. But, you'd give up TRIM support, and the solution, with all the additional cables and configuration, would clearly lack the plug-an-play, "it just works" elegance of the Revodrive. For the green readers, the Revodrive should also be more frugal in its power requirements.

If you want the current top-of-the-hill performance at this price level, the Revodrive 3 X2 480 GB (or its more capacious 960 GB bigger brother) are the only game in town at this time. You simply won't find anything else that combines the performance, footprint, and elegance of this product for now. A logical and close second option is the 240 GB Revodrive 3. At ~$650 on-line, it presents most of the performance of the X2 line (likely little subjective difference for the gamer) at a price that is most attractive.

Either choice will net the hardware enthusiast performance that was only dreamed of not long ago, and was priced at $10,000 and up just a few years ago. And neither is likely to be a bottleneck for game level loading.

Edit (07/29/11): It appears, from the Global Marketing staff at OCZ, that as of now, there is a 240GB X2 version getting ready for release. Part RVD3X2-FHPX4-240G, expect a price somewhere north of $700. Looks like stupid fast storage just got more affordable for the dedicated gamer!

Well done, OCZ!


Using graphics processing units (GPUs) to watch the heavens.

As gamers, we sometimes marvel at the visual treats our GPUs provide us in our games. Few realize, however, just what a powerhouse of processing power modern graphics cards can be. I've had blog entries highlighting some uses of these "general purpose" capabilities of GPUs aside from their normal roles as rendering hardware.

A new paper "Accelerating Radio Astronomy Cross-Correlation with Graphics Processing Units" demonstrates a novel use of the hardware capabilities of modern GPUs (in this case, units from the Nvidia line of Tesla and standard GPUs) to accelerate the cross-correlation of interferometric data from radio telescope arrays. For those not familiar with this technique, allowing an array of telescopes to resolve at the level of a telescope the size of the array (implausibly large to actually realize - arrays can span arbitrary distances), a quick look at the Wikipedia article "Interferometry" provides a high-level refresher.

Even readers without a mathematical inclination should find the paper accessible, though a full understanding will require very basic calculus. There is a minor mistake on page 9, a confusion over 8b/10b encoding, that has no material effect on the contents of the paper. These are astrophysicists, not computer scientists...


Saturday, July 23, 2011

OCZ Revodrive 3 X2 PCI-Express SSD 480 GB Review - Incoming!

I received an email confirming shipping of my recently ordered OCZ PCI-E SSD. I wanted to pick one of these up to play with to see if it delivers on the pretty astounding capabilities (for a workstation / enthusiast consumer grade device) seen in reviews of pre-production samples. Several of my gaming machines already have dedicated RAID hardware SSD systems, and I've had earlier PCI-E based solutions (e.g. Fusion-IO) that were intended for enterprise use and were priced accordingly.

The latest OCZ offering appears to offer a level of performance equaling and in some cases exceeding these loftily priced solutions, in a form factor that gives the enthusiast gamer a hassle free, no cables, plug-and-play installation. You could perhaps beat the price by building an array of several fast SSD combined with a quality dedicated hardware raid card, but if the unit delivers as promised, why bother?

There was a puzzling delay between OCZ's announcement of availability (I ordered then) and actual availability, but it appears the device is now available at the usual outlets. Unfortunately, either because of supply and demand, or a price change by OCZ at the last minute, the price seems to have jumped almost $200.00 to nearly $1800.00. Fortunately, Amazon is honoring the price I ordered the drive at, saving a few hundred bucks. Good on them!

I chose the 480 GB Revodrive X2 model over the 240 GB Revodrive 3 since it offers dramatic performance increases over the previous generation, much more so than the non-X2 models. This is not to say the non-X2 240 GB does not offer worthwhile benefits over the earlier version, just that it is not nearly as dramatic of a boost as the X2, which has double the controllers and nearly double the IOPS capability and double the data throughput rate in some cases via its mezzanine card architecture when compared to the non-X2 240 GB model.

Unfortunately, due to some marketing typos further promulgated by pre-release reviews, gamers were led to believe there would be a 240 GB model of the X2 at a much more affordable price compared to the larger capacities. Such is not the case, and OCZ has corrected their media to reflect this.

I intend to focus specifically on any benefits the card brings to gamers as far as load times and any enhancement in game performance (e.g., streaming of textures).

Is it worth the $1800.00 price of entry, or for that matter the $650.00 cost for the smaller and lower performance 240 GB Revodrive 3 for use in games?

Stay tuned for the review in the next week or so!


Friday, July 22, 2011

Regarding Comments...

I pretty much post / approve any comments. Exceptions are outright ad hominem posts, or ones patently blather from fainbois that may not agree with me.

Reasonable comments are always posted, unedited. 

If you chose to disagree, well though-out comments are likewise nearly always posted.

However, if you want to be caustic, feel free to do so, but have the fortitude to post with a real name and account. You see mine, give me the same courtesy.

Do note: there is, and has been for as long as I've used it, an issue with the Google blogger comments system:

Rarely, I don't even get the comment. I don't even see something to approve. You will find similar comments on other blogs, and it has happened to me posting a comment elsewhere. It has apparently happened here, as a friend of a commenter notified me that a particular comment had not shown up, and wondered if I'd not approved it.

If you post a comment and it does not show up (even obnoxious comments usually will get a post from me referencing them and inviting a proper response), assume that may be the case and feel free to re-post it. If you continue to experience issues, feel free to email me.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A sorry heBETAting of the truth...

Part of blogging something that won't please all is the expected personal attacks. Particularly from fanbois and their ilk. Such is the case with my recent post (I) Don't Believe the Hype. It seems some of the faithful need to make up fatuous motivations for by post. I make it clear - my BS meter has been steadily increasing toward the marketing versus reality picture of the game Red Orchestra: Heroes of Stalingrad, and my goal is to get PC gamers to look behind the curtain and use their heads in deciding game purchases. This is not the first game to appear to be over-hyped, and won't be the last.

The popular fabricated motivation of the day attributed to me is that I am lashing out because I was rejected from the beta test of the game. That that is bandied about by ill-informed random fans of the game is not surprising. What is, and is revealing of the credibility of some TWI staff, is that it is offered up by TWI as the sole reason for my exposé.

Seems like the truth is stretched, or broken, in more than just the current apparent reality of the game. Were I actively involved in income production in the gaming industry, such apparently slanderous and defamatory actions would warrant swift legal action by me. As it is, no one pays me to do anything gaming related, I'm just a PC gamer, and I find this laughable. A piteous example of what appears to be marketing CYA.

The fact is, I declined the beta invitation. I was not interested in being just a warm body: told that feedback was not desired, simply bodies to fill servers to show off working parts of the game to press. Marketing, in other words. Others in the candidate pool at the time were rejected, including long standing members of the Red Orchestra community that had not always toed the glowing, Heroes of Stalingrad will stop global warming line, but instead offered constructive and valid criticisms.

Those accepted received an acceptance email. I have shown mine below, with my response. I marked out certain personal information. They are otherwise unchanged. Strange to "welcome" someone rejected, and provide an NDA, don't you think?

I'll leave it to you to decide what the truth is in this. It should be patently clear. And it should give one pause that some senior members of TWI do not seem to be above promulgating such falsehoods or making attack posts (while censoring or locking out replies), instead of offering facts. Hilariously, these douche nozzles seem to prefer fighting fires with a hose attached to a gasoline pump, rather than using the water of facts to put them out.

I'd be more than happy to post a response from TWI showing anyone that was rejected, yet mysteriously received the same acceptance email. 

Perhaps there's some strange black hole or other anomaly in their office, warping the truth. Maybe that same anomaly is also what's stopping them from offering a demo of the game, instead of making gamers fork over their hard-earned dollars to decide if it's great or a turd. A really great game can sell itself in demo form, and doesn't need hyperbole and secrecy. Any developer worth their salt that truly has a great game, and not just over-the-top marketing hype, should be willing and able to provide one. Do you buy your new cars without a test drive?

As a gamer, unless you've played the original and are enamored with it, I'd either wait for a trusted gamer you know to take the plunge and render an opinion (since, as already stated, reviews from magazines and press can be quite shifty), or wait for a demo. The latter is unlikely to ever happen. Wonder why?

As little as I believed the hype as of late, I believe it even less after these recent examples of the pomposity and perfidy of TWI. And it seems, so do more and more gamers.

Edit (7/21/11): Thanks to some recent messages, the story (polysemy intended) from TWI gets even more bizarre. There is now apparently another conspiracy theory there, one where old hands (guys around since the free mod days, active in the forums) of the Red Orchestra community are out to "get them" by spreading lies and innuendo and influencing others. What? Attacking your own faithful now? Perhaps the address in the acceptance email is a typo and it's not Roswell, GA but Roswell, NM instead. You know, where the aliens hang out...

Dedicated to the num nutz at TWI: 

A most interesting use of GPUs, and an "infinte channels" communication scheme.

Taking a break from the nonsense of the maelstrom my exposé on Tripwire Interactive's Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad (if you've not read it and you're a gamer, take a gander, it may save you some money), I checked out some recent papers at one of my favorite brain gyms, the Cornell University Library. Two particularly interesting papers piqued my interest.

The first, "Encoding many channels in the same frequency through radio vorticity: first experimental test." by Fabrizio Tamburini, et al, shows the results of recent experiments (extending work done earlier with lasers) utilizing the orbital angular momentum states of electromagnetic waves to allow a (theoretically) infinite number of channels to be simultaneously transmitted on a single frequency without resorting to any need for dense coding or channel sharing techniques. Fascinating. Do note, this is a pre-print, you will catch a few mistakes. 

The second, "Real-time, fast radio transient searches with GPU de-dispersion."  by A. Magro, et al, demonstrates a most interesting use of GPGPU computing (the use of GPU functionality for highly parallel computation as opposed to its traditional rendering role), in this case Nvidia's CUDA. In this example, a computational problem for exploratory astrophysics, the dispersion of radio signals from distant sources through the inter-stellar medium, is solved through compensatory algorithms. Utilizing the GPU compared to a CPU results in a 50 to 200 times improvement in processing speed, opening the possibility of moving the computations from offline into the real-time realm. As a user of GPGPU since before the term was even used, this is an exciting example of real-world benefits to science of this evolving capability.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A manufacturer doing the right thing.

All too rare these days. In the thread What causes this (amp related)? in the Head-Fi forums, a poster brings up a potentially serious issue with an esoteric (though very fairly priced) headphone amplifier.

NWAVGUY responds with an engineering opinion. Watch the foamer fans of the brand go nuts. Then watch, after all their personal attacks and ad hominems toward him, as not only are the cold hard facts shown to be true but are confirmed by outside sources. Even then, the believers rant on. Reminds me of the recent reaction to some entries here: attack the blog (and me), not the facts.

To their great credit, the manufacturer (despite one of their representatives on the forum being a particularly obnoxious example of typical foamer behavior) does the right thing. Everyone is offered a way to be made whole. Refreshing.

Makes me want to buy their products just to show support for this rare behavior. So I did.


Monday, July 18, 2011

You're viewing a member of the "Ill Informed Attack Blogs" !

I just picked up an e-mail from an eagle-eyed reader. It appears, by proclamation of Yoshiro, a.k.a. Jared Creasy, that my blog is officially an Ill Informed Attack Blog! You can see details in the Steam or TWI forums, assuming of course the posts have not already been deleted in the recent rash of censorship.

Here's one of the award announcements (click to enlarge):

Cool! I didn't even know that he, a senior member of TWI and also moderator of TWI forums and Steam TWI related forums even had such awards to give out! I also appreciate that Jared locked the thread immediately after announcing the award: I probably couldn't stand the accolades that were sure to follow. The idea of an open discussion is just plain stultifying.

I am honored, though I'm hoping this doesn't mean a free copy of Heroes of Stalingrad is going to show up on my Steam account.

I truly appreciate that Jared, whom previously I've never attacked personally, had the time to think out such a unique award, since I know he was much too busy to respond to my inquiries as to giving actual feedback, as opposed to being a just a warm body to show the press, when I was invited to the beta for Heroes of Stalingrad.

Thanks again, Jared, for thinking of me and my lil' ol' blog!

P.S.: If you want to debate the facts of my entries, I'd be delighted to post your response(s). Better yet, how about just responding in your own forum - I'm not the only one looking for real information on the game to back up the claims so close to release.

P.P.S.: Not only have I not attacked you Jared, I admire you for what you were able to do in those Subway® campaign TV ads! Edit: I've been advised you're NOT that Jared. He was obese and got skinny. You just have a big head. My bad. 

P.P.P.S.: To help you out in your time of need, I think you meant "Ill-informed", not "Ill Informed". See the difference? The former means clueless, the latter means knowledgeable and not feeling well. Happy to clarify that for you!


Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain!

Who can forget the climax of the great film "The Wizard of Oz", when Dorothy and her companions realize they'd been hoodwinked: The "Great and Powerful Oz" turns out to be an ordinary little man, until then concealed behind a curtain and using mechanisms to animate what turned out to be nothing. We as PC gamers have seen an analog in some recent games: Homefront and Brink spring to mind. Both hyped up as "the next big thing", both turned out to be largely turdelicious, and are effectively dead games scant months after their release.

Prime examples of hype meeting reality. I shared the skepticism of many at the marketing of these two games, and even with low expectations, shared the disappointment of many in what was delivered.

Now, clearly, like or dislike of a game is a personal thing. Opinions should be expected to differ. There will always be outliers of both in the overall appeal of a game. Technical objectivism aside (e.g. incredible visuals, realistic AI, realistic sound, etc.), some may find delight in another's bomb of a game. I can think of one myself: I found Frontlines: Fuel of War to be an enjoyable single-player game. No world beater, but my experience was better than I expected, by a good margin, than what I would have thought based on critical and gamer reviews.

In that vein, the subject of one of my recent entries (I) Don't Believe the Hype, Red Orchestra: Heroes of Stalingrad, will very likely have great appeal to some gamers. Certainly it will, if only through cognitive dissonance, to the Red Orchestra brand faithful.

Nonetheless, that entry seems to have hit a nerve. Comments (all but one particularly obnoxious one published at the time of this entry) lean toward support of the entry, or neutrality. The expected ad hominem or two is of course sprinkled in.

Sadly, perhaps the most interesting discussion at this time of the entry, to be found in the TWI forums, cannot reliably be used to judge the response from gamers. Even adjusting for the expected bias by forum posters there (no indictment intended or implied - one should expect a bias toward a game franchise in the game's forums), the rank censorship going on clouds the view. Posts positive toward the entry are generally summarily deleted, with threats of bans bantered about, while those negative are generally left to stand. Insults and ad hominem toward those not toeing the line are treated similarly compared to those foaming at the mouth with glowing statements. Same in the Steam forums by TWI appointed moderators. Laughable, were it not for the chilling effect it has on open discussion.

It does remind one of the movie scene. The curtain has been pulled back. The reaction of the Great and Powerful Oz is most telling.

I've been apprised of veiled threats against some beta testers for allegedly "leaking" information. Well, at least if this is happening it is information, and more than the developer themselves seem to offer the community and other potential purchasers of the game. I have been quite clear with persons I know that are in the game's beta to not reveal anything violating their NDA to me (unenforceable as it is - TWI might want to invest in proper legal counsel next time, and use care in post NDA statements to participants), and as far as I can tell, no one has violated any part of their agreement, certainly not in any actionable manner.

Perhaps if the pulling back of the curtain had revealed something appealing, such caustic reactions would not have ensued. I have no plans to purchase the game on release, as I've already stated. I will, however, be happy to respond to the many requests for a full review if at least one of the local gaming group does buy the game. Despite my distaste for much of the community shared by others, and the apparent hyperbolic marketing of the game, I won't let that get in the way of an objective review. I am always willing to take a new look, and learn new things, when it comes to games.

Case in point: Had you asked me a month ago my thoughts on ARMA II, I would have been dismissive. My only experience was with the "single player" mode of the game. Quoted for a reason: to call it such is a gross misnomer. It is more like a sandbox to familiarize oneself with the mechanics of the game. Nothing more. As a game "mode", it is horrible.  Pulled kicking and screaming into the multiplayer mode, my eyes have been opened. While the game certainly has its quirks and bugs, its verisimilitude can at times be strikingly effective in its immersion. The "add-ons" and mod community provide bits and pieces that allow the game to become more than the sum of its parts, and to me represent the finest example of a "moddable" game I've yet played.

I'm not nearly deep enough into this very deep game to do it justice in (an already requested) review. When I feel like I have enough measure of the game, I will write one.

Stay tuned...


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ahh, Summer.

I love summer. Who doesn't? When answering a question from a friend's teen about why there are seasons, I recalled an animated graphic I made for Wikipedia's article on the Equation of Time. Using the most excellent Mathematica, I modelled the Earth's orbital components and calculated the components of the Equation of Time, generating a series of graphs that were combined to form the animation. The Sun, time, and the seasons all in one...

An Engineer's Audiophile...

If you have not happened across the blog NWAVGUY I highly recommend a gander. Using state-of-the-art test gear (including the yummy Prism Dscope III), he shreds audio BS seen elsewhere with cold hard science and facts. My kind of blog!

AMB Mini3 DIY Headphone Amp  is a great place to start. Watch the reaction of the foamers to cold hard facts and measurements. Sound familiar to that of non-glowing PC game reviews/previews/skepticism?


(I) Don't Believe the Hype...

There’s been much hype about the upcoming FPS PC game Red Orchestra: Heroes of Stalingrad from TWI, that cannot denied. I have never believed it, per se, but I did have high hopes for the quality of the game. The latter is no longer true. Most of the hype, repeated and linked ceaselessly, has been from the RO community and the developer themselves. Much of the rest has been from one publication (PC Gamer) and one reviewer there, known for uneven reviews.

Who can say how much of that positive “pre-review” might be the result of selective hiney powdering of said reviewer by the developer, the promise of ad revenue (a recent full page ad...), or other coddling à la the infamous COD reviewer junkets? Conspiracy theory? No, reality - the “review” business, whether it be PC games or anything else, is known for its corruption. Examples are rampant. Good reviews seem easily bought, or otherwise obtained. 

Part of the job of marketing, frankly, is the inveigling of hapless reviewers. I myself treat any review, save those by trusted friends or critics with unimpeachable credentials, with a block of salt for these reasons. 

And for the same reasons, eyebrows surely must rise with scepticism at “pre-reviews” making proclamations so grandiose as a game from a relatively unknown publisher somehow “beating” megaliths such as COD:BO. 

We should not forget the many games hyped similarly that turned out to be turds.

Opinions posted in counterpoint to this tide of hype from those not part of the religion of HOS are excoriated and often locked or deleted in the TWI forums. These selfsame forums allow other threads to limitlessly suppurate their spite until it fills every available crevice so long as they involve bashing other games and potential competitors. 

Similar behavior can be seen in the few other forums actively conversing about the game, often from apparent patrolling by TWI cultists: Witness the ridiculous level of “down-voting” of dissenting comments toward the alleged quality of the most recent game-play visuals on the gametrailers.com site. (You’d think these probable sock-puppets could at least be creative enough to use names dissimilar to their TWI forum monikers when doing their psuedo-astroturfing...and that TWI would at least be bright enough to use a sock-puppet moniker when actually astroturfing...)

To not toe the line is to be branded a “hater”, or “ignorant”, or “naive”.  

Such censorship and bullying of dissenting opinion and warranted scepticism, either from corporate edict or inaction in corporate forums, or by fanbois elsewhere should not go unnoticed, and instead should garner a dim view by the PC gamer.

TWI has made AAA claims for the game, but there has yet to be seen AAA evidence. Few backwater developers that have made grandiose claims have delivered, and I share the view that the proof is in the pudding. We’ve yet to see anything truly justifying AAA status much less claims, a status that seems preordained by the believers.

We really know little about  game, other than the paucity of information released by the developer and proclamations by the foamer faithful. 

We do know that not all of the “sneak peeks” of the game have been met with unanimous praise. 

Why might this be so? There are some prime reasons PC gamers buy a game:
  1. The game has a fundamental mechanic / game-play style they particularly enjoy.
  2. The game serves as a showcase for their PC horsepower: Crysis: Brutal for hardware and pretty!
  3. They want to play what their friends and their community plays.
To some gamers, satisfying even one of these qualifies a game as desirable, while others require all three (and more) criteria to be met. Looking at RO:HOS in each of these areas proves enlightening.

The game has a fundamental mechanic / gameplay style they particularly enjoy.
Viewed by this criterion, HOS finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Despite efforts claimed to make the game “more accessible” to the mainstream gamer, I’ve seen little if any evidence this has been successful. Sandwiched between the more mainstream (arcade? popular style?) play of AAA titles such as the Battlefield and Call of Duty series, and the arguably superior “realism” of games like the ARMA series, HOS seems to be limiting itself to an exceedingly thin slice of the gamer pie. 

The attempted COD land grab by TWI (historically implausible weapons, unlocks, etc.) has further alienated their existing dedicated community, and to my eyes is not going to be sufficient to capture any real segment of the mainstream market without losing many from the existing core.

The fact that one will find more people in their local Safeway than are actively playing HOS’ forebearer worldwide at any given time amply demonstrates the vacuum of interest in this category of play and game family (WW II “realistic”).

The game serves as a showcase for their PC horsepower.
The visuals seen so far for HOS have been underwhelming at best. Not much really can be expected from the already aging version of the engine used. Statements from the leaky beta testers have not been encouraging in this regard, excepting those of (possibly sight impaired) foamers

Most serious PC gamers have serious investments in PC hardware. They want to show it off, if only to themselves. HOS seems unlikely to fulfill that desire. 

“Gameplay AND graphics from 5 years ago” as one viewer of the game commented.

That the game is being consistently shown with less than “full on” visuals (by admission of TWI staff) when it is allegedly scant weeks from release rings alarm bells. Are the visuals seen in fact really as good as it gets? Is the performance with the apparently mythical “full on” settings so dismal it can’t be shown? Who knows.

We certainly have been told to expect great visuals. Where are they? 

And why on earth with beta testing nearing its end, so close to release, would the game not be tested at its limits? Something doesn’t pass the smell test here.

Apologists saying things like “...the game is set in WWII and has a certain look because of this...”,  with foamers quickly chiming in with nonsense like “People know in their heart of hearts the game is going too [sic] have pretty good graphics...” (Really? Your heart told you so?), where no one I know of has publicly seen anything remotely resembling modern hardware quality capabilities in visuals is analogous to Britney Spears fans wailing how fine her voice really is. 

When was the last time a game that actually had truly kick-ass capabilities was not shown in that light scant weeks before release? I can’t think of any.

They want to play what their friends and their community plays.
This may ultimately be the killer for the game. All but one of the serious gamers I personally pointed toward the game has stated they no longer plan to purchase the game. Their reason: the community. I’ll not delve into details. A perusal of Facepunch will give one sufficient pause as to the view seen by many others. Suffice it to say, the CEO of TWI has claimed he gets ten messages a day from new community members stating they don't want to go there any more.

We want to play what our friends are playing, and meet new friends in the greater community. The latter in the case of RO seems utterly uninviting: a club no one wants to be a member of, save the overabundant churls already there. I myself have joined the ranks of “no thanks” because of the behavior there, seemingly encouraged rather than disciplined by TWI themselves. 

TWI’s flippant attitudes are sewage sauce on the excrement pie. To paraphrase one example: “You just don’t get it. It is a revolution in gaming. You’ll see!” Really? How about letting the gamer decide what is and isn’t revolutionary, instead of decreeing it so as if only you are the all-seeing, all-knowing of the PC gaming community? Even hardened, long faithful members of the core community feel slighted and are turning their backs on the game because of the attitude pervading the forums from the top.

So, a game that has apparently already dated visuals, with a play style that seems to attract a limited player base, played and hyped by a community with one too many TWIrps. 

It seems there must be many better places to spend my PC game monies in the near future (like the upcoming Iron Front WW 2 realism game on the ARMA OA engine, and of course BF3 and MW3, with ARMA 3 and Dead Island thrown in for good measure), and I and others I know plan to. 

The fact that the game, only a few weeks away from release, did not even muster a mention in the list of the top dozen games of the most recent OTX GamePlan insights surveys of PC game purchase intents bodes poorly and is a focused magnifying glass on the (un)reality of the hype. 

The fact that the recent Steam giveaway of the top ten games in 100 winners’ wish lists resulted in a grand total of three “wishes” for the game reinforces the detachment of reality from the hype.

The fact that many long-standing and devoted members of the community are not pre-ordering the game, and some have chosen to divorce themselves from the community speaks volumes.

The fact that one beta tester called the game “...shite [sic], with some interesting features...” is perhaps the most disquieting indictment of the chasm between the hype PC gamers have been fed and the apparent reality of the game.

I played the original mod. I bought OSTFRONT to vote with my wallet for an original job well done. I never even played the latter in earnest, I’d already moved on from an enjoyable time with the free mod. I just wanted to reward a tiny team for their effort. It’s a shame the heads grew so big, and too much of the community so foul, that I’ve no desire to continue my patronage of the brand.

I’ll be voting with my wallet, along with others. Elsewhere.

I may buy HOS when it is cheap, for which I do not anticipate a long wait.

Edit (7/20): The reactions to this entry (other than the largely concurring comments here and elsewhere) have become something bordering on bizarre. Like watching Bill Clinton in his infamous parsing of words. See the post A sorry hebetating of the truth, and be sure to follow the hyperlinks contained therein, for an amusing trip. The Attack Blog entry should amuse you also.

Edit (7/17): It seems some readers have posted links to this entry in various forums, including TWI. I've received amusing messages regarding the (not surprisingly biased) censorship going on at the TWI forums (and Steam forums by TWI moderators) over comments toward the entry. Head on over to see great examples of the artificial view TWI wants you to believe...and the reality (before they delete those posts.)