Sunday, 17 March 2013

EA and its Attitudes Toward the Consumers and the Gaming Industry.

The recent media attention over the SimCity release has hopefully brought public attention to a problem that has been plaguing the gaming industry for a while now. And that problem is the corporate power known as Electronic Arts.

For those of you not in the know, SimCity was the most anticipated game of 2013, racking up a whole lot of pre-orders. Maxis/EA claimed that it would always be online, considered by most to be a digital rights management move, but claimed by the companies to allow certain features to be added. They claimed that a single city acting on its own is not a realistic simulation and that the online features would allow your city to sync with other cities serverside.

 In response to the complaints that always online would cause problems and that SimCity is an inherently offline single-player game EA/Maxis responded by saying that the connection allows EA to keep the simulation state current for all players, handle cloud saves, and enables social features like cooperative challenges and a global supply-and-demand market. Additionally, Lucy Bradshaw, the PR representative for the game said it protects the integrity of features like achievements and leaderboards. Put together, she said the online features made the game almost like a massively multiplayer online version of the series. More importantly, she also stated that the game was designed around this online-mode and it was absolutely key in playing the game, and it was not something shoehorned in last minute by corporate orders.

On release however it was plagued with server problems caused by this always online "feature". Nobody could connect to the servers. EA hadn't made any preparations for first day rush. Surely they should have learned from the mistakes of other online games such as Diablo III. A lot of the problems stemmed from them using MySQL, a database designed back in 1995. It's not designed to handle the traffic EA should have expected from pre-order numbers, it's built to handle small to medium loads and is actually prone to data corruption at high loads!

Despite all these problems, its what came next that is really despicable. Rathen than admitting they were wrong and offering to fix the always-online issue by patching in an offline mode, EA stuck to their guns. This wouldn't be so bad if it didn't involve them stepping on customers.

EA's CEO Riccicito in his regular attire.

Of course, this is EA we're talking about, so they shat all over the consumer. The first problem was their description of the server problems. People were waiting hours to get in and losing their game progress to the pants-on-head retarded cloud saves.  Rather than admitting there was a problem they had the audacity to dismiss it by saying that people were enjoying it and they hadn't anticipated such an overwhelming response to the game.

Of course, when you contrast this to the overwhelming reviews on both Amazon and Metacritic (1 star and 1.7/10) something just didnt quite add up. Those that could get on were reporting that the game itself was riddled with bugs. People began to request refunds because the game was completely unplayable. EA rejected refunds for all downloaded copies of SimCity.

Then the fallout began. Amazon took down digital copies of SimCity because of overwhelming negative reviews. EA actively censored its customer help number on their forums, god knows why. Modders reported that the game works completely fine offline, the only problem being the lack of local saves. That means Maxis/EA outright lied to the consumer, the game can run perfectly well offline, all the information it "feeds" to the servers is completely unnecessary, all it takes is a patch that would allow local saves!

If it were any other industry, EA would already be bankrupt with the way they've systematically destroyed any shred of positive feelings about the company. If they don't clean up their act, and fast, word of mouth is going to completely ruin their reputation and drive profits into the ground, much more than if they had the basic instinct of simply not ruining their reputation, even if it cost them some money.

EA is constantly setting new lows and is playing with the metaphorical atom bomb in the name of cutting corners. If there's one company I'd love to see crash and burn, it's them - it's just a matter of when the consumer has enough. The main problem is that EA is constantly fucking up in ways even the average consumer can notice. They're not just being a scummy company and the like - something you'd have to research to really find out. This is the type of shit you everybody can see; You buy the game, try to play it and get told you can't because the servers are full.

EA Dev's regular meetings

It's really frustrating. This isn't the first game nor company EA has tarnished. Bioware, Origin, Westwood, Bullfrog; all these are names of companies that EA has swallowed. An  anonymous Maxis dev even came out and said outright that the online was forced in last minute as a digital rights management scheme.

I'll be staying away from SimCity on principle, I wouldn't buy food or a movie if it wasn't top quality. Just because EA monopolizes the gaming industry doesn't mean it can ruin it by destroying reputable companies. With the rise of Kickstarter, maybe publishers for games will become a thing of the past. We can only hope.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Pokémon Generation VI Announced: Pokémon X & Y

I decided over the last week that I was going to get back into the swing of writing, so you can expect regular updates again now! Apologies for the lack of content over the last 4 weeks, unfortunately Christmas and University interfered with my free time!

On a better note, coinciding with the return of content to this blog was a massive announcement by Nintendo. That's right pokéfans, Generation 6 of the games will hit stores ALL OVER THE WORLD at once (for the first time in pokéhistory!) later this year. The announcement came in the form of a video by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, where he presents the history of the games before dropping the bombshell. This comes only one year after the release of Black and White 2, fast even by Nintendo's standards. Here's the video for those of you unlucky enough to have not seen it yet.

In this wonderful video we see many aspects that the new game should hopefully offer. A fully 3D world (admittedly Gamefreak could have done a better job, the 3D just looks low grade when compared to some of the other 3DS titles), a new region  new battle animations and new Pokémon! You have to admire this bold step, there's not enough information to know how far the game will deviate from its predecessors but integration of the 3DS features could add extra dimensions to the gameplay.

I want to point out some of the more exciting things the internet is speculating about to you guys. First of all, everyone is pretty excited about the new starters. The designs seem really great, basic but fresh. I personally will be picking the Fennekin, but I'm a fire type fanatic, what about you guys? Here are pictures of the new starters along with their names.

The new Legendary pokémon look great too, one seems to be some kind of bird, whereas the other represents a giant stag. They're meant to represent the letters X and Y (look at the Japanese logo below and if you squint hard enough they kind of look like the legendary pokémon). I think I'll be getting X, that stag looks pretty sweet, and I've always wanted to use a stag looking pokémon in my team but never liked the ones currently available!

There's also controversy surrounding the new version names, X and Y. This is a deviation from the usual colour choices, and people have been throwing round several reasons why. The strongest of these, in my opinion, is the X and Y are to do with chromosomes, and the DNA of pokémon will somehow be implemented into the story (maybe something similar to the Dream Radar or Dream World). This is supported by the fact that in the japanese versions a small symbol can be seen that seems to represent a small strand of DNA. Take a look for yourself, they're above the N in Pokémon (I've enlarged this image so you can see it better, apologies that it doesn't fit great with the formatting)

One disappointing thing about this announcement is that there seems to be no Ruby/Sapphire remakes on the way, something people have been asking about for a while. With all Gamefreak's resources dedicated to getting a worldwide release date, we probably won't be seeing Gen III remakes for a while.

Personally, I hope X and Y take a few leaves out of the Heart Gold/Soul Silver remakes. The bag organization system, the fact your pokémon follow you around and the pokéwalker. All great features, and it's widely thought these were probably the best of the "new" pokémon games
Overall, it's a great announcement and I'm sure all die hard pokéfans will be looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to more news being announced, and October 2013 can't roll around quick enough for me!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

To The Moon

Hello folks! Sorry for the lack of content posted in the past week or so, unfortunately I had a ton of deadlines for University, an exam, AND a dozen or so new games from the Steam sale, whoops! Anyway, I wanted to kick off getting back into posting by doing a review on a game I just played. I mentioned this game briefly before in the Autumn sale post, but having played through it completely I feel it deserves its own entire post.

The game is called To The Moon, and its an absolute roller-coaster of emotions. You play as two doctors, whose job it is to travel to dying patients, and using super cool futuristic technology let them live out the full life they wanted to in a dream during their final hours. This can be anything, from becoming a successful sports player to being a Rockstar.

The two doctors, Eva and Neil, visit a man called Johnny. Johnny is dying, and days before he fell into critical condition he contacted the company with just one wish. He wants to go to the moon. Only he doesn't know why, so its down to Eva and Neil (you) to go back through his life, find out why, and change something so that the "virtual Johnny" will live out the life of an astronaut. The game is spent travelling back through Johnnys years, witnessing his life and all the events that go with it. I'm not going into any detail, as any spoilers could ruin the entire game for you. It's very Benjamin Button, a story told from back to front.

What's so touching about this game is the writing. Freebird really did a wonderful job, you become emotionally attached to the doctors and Johnny, and the ending is one of the most moving finales I've ever witnessed. It reaches out to you somewhere deep, and grabs that same part of your brain that gives you tingles when you watch a space documentary, while playing on events that occur through the story.

The gameplay itself is pretty quirky and fun, it just involves solving little puzzles now and again. The writers made Eva and Neil interesting enough that this doesn't get boring quickly as you'd expect. A lot of the time is also spent walking around and talking to people, and trying to find "links" (items or people that connect to the past, so you can jump back a few years in Johnny's life).  The games pretty short, only 4 hours long which is a downside, but I suppose any longer than that and the gameplay mechanics may have got boring and repetitive.

The soundtrack is pretty stirring to, one track I particularly like is "For River", a song Johnny wrote for his wife (this songs pretty important in the story, as you'll find out why if you play it, which you should!). It's "just two notes repeated" but its played throughout the game and you really do associate it with the story and the emotions you feel.

So, if you couldn't already tell I absolutely enjoyed the heck out of this game. It's possibly my favourite game this year. It's also cheap, available off freebirdgames for £6.60. (or you can wait for the next steam sale, I managed to pick it up for £2.49!) So purchase if you get chance, you can easily play through it if you have a few hours free, and it really is worth it.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Autumn Steam Sale!

It's that time of year again folks! Steam sale! So in this blog post I'll briefing you on all the lovely stuff I spent my money on (even though I can't afford it, damn you steam!) Picture totally related.

Alright, so first I'm going to list the games I got for cheap (one in a flash deal that had 3 minutes left, talk about luck!) I'll probably get a few more too before it's over, sometimes you just can't turn them down!

Portal 2

I've been meaning to pick this lovely game up for a while. I was a massive fan of the first one and I really really cannot wait to start the second one. I don't really know what to expect, but if it stays true to the first one it should be a real good deal. I grabbed this gem for just under £4, a bargain and a half!!

To The Moon

A brilliant new indie game, two doctors travel back through a dying patients life to give them memories of fulfilling their dreams. This has apparently made lots of people cry and is an proper emotional journey, really excited to play it. I think I'll probably play this first, get it out the way, I mean, MEN SHOULDN'T CRY! This was under £3, cheers Steam!


If you loved minecraft, this is the one for you. Basically a 2D minecraft, sandbox game. I'm sure I'll sink hours and hours into this, as I did with minecraft. It's an interesting concept, and I'm unsure whether it will take a dimension away from gameplay.

So those are the 3 games I've downloaded so far. Once I've played them enough I'll go a little more in detail and do some reviews on them. What great deals have you got from the steam sale?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Crusader Kings II & The Bastard Son

Recently I've been playing the absolute shit out of this game. There is absolutely nothing like it in the market at the moment. It's a grand strategy game; but rather than focusing on building units and conquering the land, it concentrates on maintaining relationships, making decisions and ruling over your lords and ladies, all while maintaining a good relationship with religious leaders, trying to avoid being usurped or invaded and attempting to expand your realm. It feels more human than your average grand strategy game, which is regularly just tables and statistics. It's about the characters, not the numbers.

Crusader Kings II places you as a Christian (other religions are playable with expansions) noble in the medieval era. You can choose from a variety of rules, from Counts to Kings and in any Christian country. You can also play from any era from 1066-1337 and even choose to play as famous dynasties from that point in time (William the Conquerer, anyone?). You play as a single person, through hundreds of years of medieval history, taking over as your heir once you die (in many, many ways; from a hunting accident to a fatal accident to being assassinated with a snake). The aim of the game is to keep your dynasty alive and in power; there is no "final goal", its very open and quite sandbox-esque. There is a point system that compares you to famous dynasties on a leaderboard, and score is calculated by adding together the success of each individual ruler. It's not necessary to pay any attention to this mechanic though, just holding a country, or even a duchy together through the entire time period is an achievement in itself.

What makes this game so interesting is that every count, every duke, every king is looking out for himself, trying to gain as much power as possible. You have to deal with dilemmas and decisions, things like; "Do I assasinate my eldest son because he was born a dwarf and mentally handicapped?" and "Should I imprison my brother for plotting to claim my cousins land as his own?". These situations aren't scripted, they arise according to the situation at hand . Every game is different, and as you rise in power (or struggle to maintain it if you started at the top) you gain more enemies as your vassals (the nobles that you rule) try to further their own interests.

I really don't think I'm describing the scale of this game well, let me instead share with you the story of my last playthrough.

I started as an Irish duke, owning a single county in Ireland. In the time period I chose Ireland is split into various countys, each with independent counts and each as powerful as the other. I made it my aim to unite Ireland under one banner; my own. I started as the Duke of Munster (the dark green area of the Ireland). One man managed to do it all, and his name was Earl Locán. It was the first son of the original person I chose, beloved by all. Through the clever work of marrying off brothers, sisters and cousins and a bit of luck, I managed to give him the whole of the South of Ireland. This was enough for Earl Locán to declare himself King, and demand the other Counts swear fealty and become Locán's vassals. This went smoothly, nobody dared to declare war and the whole of Ireland was united. The people dubbed him "King Locán the Great", he was the man who united Ireland in less than a generation and brought peace to the land.  He married the Duchess of Brittany (the purple area of France) who had only one son.  They had a son together who would inherit and unite Ireland and Brittany, if only her other son, born to a French Duke wasn't in the way. I sent an assasination team after him, and they succeeded.  The perfect plan.

Too bad they were caught in the act though, right? They bloody squealed, and revealed everything about the plot. Brittany got real mad with me, but because I was married to the Duchess there was nothing they could do! Of course my wife wasn't too pleased either, I mean, I just had her son killed. Unfortunately the renowned king met his fate to this cruel woman, who arranged for a carriage ride to go "horribly wrong". Killed, and nobody knew her involvement.

This is where things went a little awry. His heir, Ormond, was not well liked at all, being cruel and lustful, the vassals of both Ireland and Brittany despised his unholiness. Ormond's eldest child was Baseborn, although named after the great king Locán. This caused a succession crisis, with every duke wanting a different person on the Irish throne, and rebellions within Ireland that took 30 years to quell. Fortunately, after the rebellions things began to calm down, and Ormonds sights turned to expanding the realm. He had to grant the title of Duke of Brittany to his bastard son to stop the rebellions. This turned out to be the Dynasty's downfall.

Ormond conquered Wales, and created the Kingdom of Wales. Again, he was holding too much land, so granted a duchy to his bastard son. His legitimate son was to inherit all of Ireland, and the idea was that the two brother would rule side-by-side.

Big mistake. The bastard son had Ormond assassinated, and I suddenly found myself playing as a 5 year old King. The bastard declared Brittany and Wales independent and under the rule of the Kingdom of Wales, not Ireland. Uhoh. He now had more forces than me and a claim on all my lands, and because I'm playing as  a damned 5 year old there's nothing I can do about it, all decisions are made by my Regent, (who was French by the way, I still think she was in Lorcán the bastards pocket!) He declared war for the Kingdom of Ireland, and I watched helplessly as his forces decimated my lands.

So my kingdom fell apart within a generation. But I had so much fun doing it. It's a steep learning curve but so good to play. Not to mention you learn a little history here and there!

This game feels really "Song of Ice and Fire". The backstabbing and deceit is great. If you can pick up this game, I really recommend it. If you're not sure, watch a few Let's Plays on youtube and get the free demo. If you like Game of Thrones, or strategy games in general, you will absolutely love this. Paradox really got it right with this one.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Adventures of an Undergrad Biologist

Today was a pretty big day for me in the world of science, and hopefully my future career. Not only did I realise how far my practical lab skills have come in the past 3 years while doing my project, but afterwards I went to a postgraduate fair and talked to university representatives about the future. It was pretty intimidating at first but toward the end I was just getting excited and grabbing at all the information I could. I also got a pretty big haul of prospectuses; as you can see. I have no idea where I'm gonna keep these bloody things, I only need about 3 pages out of each one. I just like having them, reminds me of being in 6th form and applying for uni all those eons ago!

Another cool thing, I had a massive moment of realisation while doing my dissertation project today. I managed to do 3 serial dilutions and 6 miles-misra counts (not important what they are, just a technique used to estimate the number of bacteria in a liquid) in under 2 hours, where it took me 3 hours to do one in first year. It really is a great feeling when something like that hits you, sort of like a "bloody hell look how far I've come" kind of vibe. I also have sick pipette skills nowadays. Like, mad tricks.

The fair was actually a lot of fun(subjective), and I've now got more of an idea of the direction I want to go and what universities offer what I want. Some of the big contenders for me are Liverpool, York, Sheffield and Manchester. They're all relatively close to home and offer top class facilities and research opportunities (especially York and Liverpool). Liverpool really caught my attention, it had a massive range of Bioscience choices, and on top of that all the subdepartments work together, it just sounds like a really pleasant experience (obviously taken with a pinch of salt, the rep was bound to be biased). It probably helped that the guys from these universities were willing to talk and help. Oh, and I applied to Australia for shits and gigs You never know though. It'd be a sweet adventure.

One of the main concerns of applying for postgrad stuff is funding (Austrailia is funded for you, score one for down under). I still have major concerns about that but the reps reassured me that if I'm choosy with what I apply for funding shouldn't be a problem. So that's a big ole weight off the chest.

Apparently a lot of students are skipping doing masters degrees this year due to the price, moreso than any other year according to the lovely rep from York (who didn't have a broad yorkshire accent, thankfully, so communication wasn't a problem!). I hope it doesn't increase competition too much, or make it hard to get on something I'm really keen about.

Of course, this is only the start. I've got the obstacle course of interviews, rejections and the pressure of doing well in exams. But this was the first step into my career, and it was exciting for me, so I guess I just wanted to share it.

Any of you guys going through the awful process of postgrad applications?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

New blood test could reveal how fast you're aging

After driving my housemate to the shop today, I decided to kill time while she shopped by picking up something to read. Normally I head straight for New Scientist or Scientific American, but today I was drawn toward the newspapers; more specifically The Independent. Why, you may ask? Well a certain article caught my eye.

"It works on birds - so could a simple blood test tell you when you're going to die?" A simple but effective title, playing off today's obsessions with youth and longevity. However, this one isn't some phony cream or miracle face wipes, but rather a scientific study.

This article stood out to me in particular because I nearly did my dissertation on the very thing it is using as a test subject: telomeres. For those who don't know; telomeres are structures on the tip of your chromosomes (your genes) composed of a repeating sequence of base pairs (the "language" of DNA). They protect the actual important DNA from damage and they get gradually shorter with age. They go through a sort of "wearing down" process, when a cell divides they become slightly shorter, and those with shorter telomeres tend to suffer premature aging and related diseases. In this sense they act sort of like a biological clock.

Chromosomes with telomeres highlighted in red

Of course,  this wasn't the part that captured my attention. The article describes researchers testing telomere length on a population of 320 island birds. Island birds were important to use, as they have little/no migration and no natural predators, so the gene pool stays relatively stable. The researchers found that if the birds had telomeres that were becoming shorter at a faster rate, it indicated they would die within a year. They also found that birds with longer telomeres had a longer life span. 

This changes the way telomeres are viewed, it was thought that they shortened at a constant rate, but these researchers found that individuals suffer different rates of shortening depending on the levels of stress and exertion in their lives. Their results also provided the first clear, unambiguous  evidence of a link between telomere length and mortality in the wild, and that telomere length and shortening rate can be used to predict biological age.

People are beginning to capitalise on this, despite the fact that the science behind it is still rather young, causing a lot of controversy and ruckus. One company is offering a £400 blood test to determine how fast you are aging based on your telomere length.

The question this whole thing raises to me is whether it's actually beneficial to know your lifespan? I don't know about you guys but I like life to be a surprise. Obviously certain genetic tests are beneficial, to determine your susceptibility to certain diseases (ie cancer, diabetes) and make lifestyle changes to avoid these. But knowing how fast your body is aging doesn't seem all that beneficial. Of course, it should be made clear to those that do take these tests (assuming they are scientifically robust and accurate)  is that it's based on probability and likelihood, not clairvoyance, and although you may be aging slowly that's no reason to make bad lifestyle choices.

Would you take this test? What are your feelings on this whole subject? Comment with your views!