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Thursday, September 22, 2011

TWI Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad, pulling the low polygon count wool over your eyes.

Telling post on the Steam forums here, looks like the solution by the geniuses at TWI for their poor implementation resulting in crappy performance is to cut the game details in a patch. While of course, not bothering to tell paying customers up-front that the game will now look even crappier than what they were shown, promised, and paid for.

How would you feel if you bought a nice sports car, had some issue, and found out after servicing the dealer had swapped in an engine with half the horsepower. Without telling you. And telling you instead now the performance will be better?

One of the better retorts to the increasingly arrogant and egomaniacal  attitude of TWI, and its CEO John Gibson in particular, can be seen here:

This is getting more and more ludicrous...

Edit: I came across this reply to a thread at the TWI forum. The thread is an ass-kissing congratulatory tome toward TWI, with the poster offering to take donations and then buy the developers drinks. This thread merited being made a "sticky" by TWI. Yet threads with valid concerns, complaints, and questions get deleted, locked, edited or moved.  This response to the drink thread is priceless:


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A twisted little troubleshooting problem...

This one might have to go into my personal top ten gotcha list.

I've been playing quite  a bit of the game Borderlands in co-op with a few buddies. I somehow skipped over this game, now nearing two years of age. My mistake. I've not had so much fun co-op in some time, easily comparable to Portal 2 for sheer fun. A really superb game, beautifully and artfully designed and executed. Goes on sale periodically on Steam for dirt cheap. Check it out and get it.

On to the problem: Having more spare time on my hands, I'd been "farming" the game for weapons to pass on to my buddies to aid them in their battles. At some point, I asked them to send me their game save files, so as to view their current weapons and other items, helping me to decide what to look for when farming.

Fast forward a few days, and three of us play an epic multi-hour stint, gaining many levels while having a hoot. I passed both of them several choice and rare weapons and other items I'd found. All good so far. A few days later, one of them joins me in a game. Pretty quickly, he notices something's awry. He has lost his level, and the choice items I'd supplied are gone. WTF? Well, we decided to just play, chalking it up to a possible game or Steam problem (more on that later). Now things got strange. He left the game after a bit, and rejoined in later. Same problem. The game was not saving his progress.

We scratched our heads a bit. Could it be due to my character being far ahead in the "quests" of the game? Perhaps a game bug? We knew Steam / Valve / Gearbox had just recently (as in the same time frame) added Steam Cloud save functionality, and game-play information tracking to the game. Perhaps the Steam Cloud functionality was broken or bugged? A more likely possibility to me was an error between the PC and the chair...

I had my buddy send me his current save file after he'd noted the file date was from a few days earlier. In fact, the date was the same date I'd had him send me his file. Sure enough, the file was the same, hashed to exactly the same. WTF? Did the Steam Cloud grab his file when first patched into the game, and was now clobbering his local save? Seemed unlikely, the cloud stuff is pretty vetted.

I asked my cohort if perhaps somehow, he'd accidentally overwritten his file manually. He assured me no such thing had happened. I found some forum posts of users having game issues since the Cloud / stats patch, but scant few had any such save issue.

I asked him to check if he'd accidentally set the file or folder to read only. No dice. WTF?

During this process, one of our other players joined. He had the exact same issues. And just like the first friend, his file hashed to exactly the file he'd sent me. WTF?

I knew when I saw the new EULA, and saw the functionality added, I turned off the Steam Cloud for the game: I was already manually saving my game saves (a habit), particularly since this genre of game can suck so many hours from you building characters and load-outs. Both of my buddies had the Cloud and stats enabled. So was it the cloud? We tried disabling it for their games, still no go.

The "Aha! moment" came soon after. I wanted to test a different save on one of their games, so I instructed them to rename their current save. To our surprise, access was denied. We made sure the game was not still running, Steam was not running, but still no go. WTF?

Then it hit me. We use Skype for our in-game VOIP. Nice, clear quality, and near zero latency, certainly lower than the usual suspects for gaming chat. Greater bandwidth use is the trade-off, but since none of us are starved for the latter, not an issue. For small files, we typically just send them as part of the Skype conversation. This is exactly how both of my friends had sent me their saves.

And there's the rub. Everyone in the 'conversation' got the file transfer notification (neither buddy had sent it directly to me, instead just doing it in the group conversation.) I accepted the transfers and saved the files locally, but neither one of them accepted the other's transfer, since there was no reason to.

And that my friends, was the crux of the problem. Skype, in its wisdom, decides that that conversation has not been completed. Every time each of them started Skype, it noted the uncompleted transfer, opened the local file, and waited for the recipient to accept. Which of course, never happened, because neither one of them needed the file, and the conversation notice had long since become history.

Opened file = locked file! The game could read it just fine, allowing the appearance of normalcy. When it came time to save progress, no go. The game did not throw any error, but merrily continued without saving anything. Not really the game's problem - it is reasonable to expect only the game is touching its files. And not really a Skype issue, though it would be nice if when started Skype would notify the user of actions it wanted to "continue", so as to remind the user and perhaps allow cancellation.

By finding the file send in the conversation history, and cancelling the (never to be seen) acceptance for the other player, the file was no longer locked / open, and the game functioned correctly.

A good one!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Playlist...

A quick update on games recently played:

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
Played a few hours on the PC of the one local buddy that kept his preorder. A bit of a turd right now. Serious performance issues (we did a quick copy to two other differing machines with different CPU and GPU, all pretty high spec). Looks fair. Not horrible, but certainly nothing here justifying TWI's "cutting edge" label. Somewhat clunky game-play / movement, yet seems faster that RO: Ostfront (haven't played that in a while though). Cover system broken - it's a crap shoot whether you can cover or not. Seems faster play style by those playing compared to Ostfront.

The CODizing of the game is a success, IMHO, if you wanted the game to lean more that way. Veterans will likely not. Serious reliability issues. Crashes on all three PCs constantly (this is barely beta quality, and certainly questionable just a week from release). Server browser kaput. Music irritating (can be silenced). Weapon sounds are bordering on superb. Overall, glad I bailed on it, holds no interest at this time, and I'm not one that falls into the "pay retail for potential" crowd - a ludicrous idea from a TWI VP. I'd pass, unless you are a WWII semi-realism fanatic and / or RO & Ostfront are favorites.

Hard Reset (Demo)
Nice engine renders the cyberpunk world with attractive, though not world-beating, visuals. Game-play is quite linear, and one is unable to access areas of the environment that appear easy to get to (e.g., invisible walls trying to jump a railing, etc.) Not a big fan of that. Weapons, at least in the demo, are for all practical purposes unlimited in ammo, enemy fairly easy to clobber. Looks interesting from the rather short demo exposure, probably a decent buy for sci-fi / cyberpunk genre fans at the price.

As I said in an earlier entry, I'm not sure how this one slipped by me. I have not had this much fun in a game since Portal / Portal 2. FPS & RPG combined (and I'm not normally a fan of the latter), it provides engaging game-play, interesting and varied quests that thankfully have none of the "rinse and repeat" boredom factor of Far Cry 2. The humor, music, character development, and story are engrossing. Co-op play is a complete hoot. If you have even the remotest interest in the genre, and don't have the game, passing on it when Steam has one of their ludicrous sales (e.g., ~ eight bucks for the game with all four DLC) is a gaming crime. GET IT!

Dead Island
I wanted to like this game. I wanted to love it. I get a kick out of zombie games. Left 4 Dead, Killing Floor, et al, all provide loads of fun. The award winning trailer looked awesome. My friends were as hyped about it as most. The reality: at this point, a contender for turd of the summer, displacing RO2:HOS as my pick for worst game delivery of the summer.

First, the release on steam was a debug build. Riddled with bugs. The fix broke save games (though thankfully not skills progress), and clobbered the pre-order bonus DLC access. To the developer's credit, these issues were addressed rapidly, and they are hinting at some kind of compensation for those afflicted by the screw-ups.

Even without the mess, the game-play itself is not capturing me. Imagine the overly repetitive quest mechanics of Far Cry 2, insert zombies: "Go get me a cappuccino. It's all the way across the island. Fight all the zombies on the way there. And back. Wait for my wooden response upon your return. Rinse. Repeat."

Combat mechanics are a bit strange. Even with a weapon with some length, it seems hard sometimes to hit the target, while the zombie arms seem to be able to hold an invisible baseball bat, hitting you from the same distance where your character misses - and you're wielding an oar against just their arms. They also take an unreasonable amount of punishment before finally passing on to zombie heaven. Makes killing them a chore, instead of a challenge. Quests are yet more broken in the latest patch: I have quests to meet an NPC, but no NPC is to be found at the destination. Can't complete it.

A pass, at least for now, even if you are a zombie fan.


Monday, September 5, 2011

"Cutting Edge"? More like cut by an edge...

I've nearly had my fill of the Red Orchestra 2 train wreck. I know that my original blog entry saved a few gamers some wasted bucks. Even now, as one sees far more negative forum posts with the 'release' of the 'open beta' for the 'deluxe edition' suckers purchasers, the foamers proclaim how awesome the game is, how perfect the developers are, blah blah blah.

A gaming friend sent me a link, insisting I take a gander. What is amazing is that the loyal are just now noticing this fundamental flaw in the visuals. This has been obvious since the first screen shots and videos - I just assumed it was something they did for press effect. The characters in the game are chopped down midgets! See the thread "Character is so small isn't it" for some hilarious TWI style humor.

If a broken server browser, constant crash-to-desktop for clients, buggy servers, horrible client and server performance, clunky animations, steely irritating 'mood music' and hackers galore already in game is not enough to have you thinking twice about purchasing this turd (or getting a refund before it is too late), perhaps the RO2: Oompa-Loompas of Stalingrad visuals will have you wondering.

Save your money, play some other game that works and looks good. TWI may fix this, given some time, they do have a history of decent support. You just should not be expected to pay to play a beta that is barely beta quality, and seems will be troublesome for some time to come after the production release.