Friday, December 4, 2009

Respice, Prospice (Part 1)

Since I took a look yesterday at what had happened to PC gaming over the past year, it seems only fair now to take a look ahead at what we can expect to be spending our money on in the forthcoming year of 2010. These are in no particular order but are simply games I am interested in that I think will do well and that a lot of other people are going to like as well.

To start us off, Mass Effect 2.

Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: 26th January 2010 (NA), 29th January 2010 (EU)

Originally published on the 360 in 2007 and later ported to the PC in 2008, ME2 continues the story of Commander John Shepard, the sole human Spectre who, after saving the galaxy in the first game, has to somehow do it again in the sequel but in a much more badass way.

I only just finished the original on the PC a few days ago but it had BioWare written all over it. Attention to detail everywhere; a believable futuristic universe; more quests and side-quests than you could shake a stick it, and an in-depth class and party system to keep you tinkering away for hours. I thought the original had an excellent story that will hopefully be built upon in the sequel (and, by extension, the final part of the trilogy) as well as engaging action sequences in a very well-defined universe.

ME2 cannot come along soon enough for me, and fortunately there isn't much longer to wait. Expect ME2 to be a smash hit, and give thanks to EA and BioWare for the simultaneous 360/PC release.


Star Trek Online

Developer: Cryptic Studios
Publisher: Atari
Expected: 2nd February 2010 (NA), 5th February 2010 (EU)





How many ears does a Vulcan have? Three - the left ear, the right ear and the final frontier. Yes, bad jokes can only mean that STO, after lingering in development hell for years and going through a couple of developers, is finally expected to hit stores this coming February.

Cryptic, themselves no slouches at developing award-winning MMOs with City of Heroes, City of Villains and Champions Online under their belts, accepted the mantle of trying to bring the iconic sci-fi show to the gaming world following the collapse of Perpetual Entertainment, the previous licensee.

Every player is the "Captain" of their own ship and can advance in rank from Lieutenant (Junior Grade) all the way through to Admiral, unlocking new ships and hull configurations as they go. Space combat looks interesting and very action-oriented, but the "Away Team" portion of the game seems a little lacklustre. Hopefully Cryptic can dot their "i's" and cross their "t's" before the launch in February or nerds everywhere will arise from their chairs (possibly with help), Hot Pockets in one hand and Milky Ways in the other, screaming murder for not having been delivered the experience they were promised, as well as castigating the developers for using Type L phasers on Federation ships when everyone knows that they actually use Type R.


Rage

Developer: id Software
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: "2010"







Rage is an FPS set in a near-future dystopian world in which the world is struck by an asteroid which leads to global devastation. On first look it seems to be Fallout 3 crossed with the Mad Max films crossed with Borderlands, and that's got to be an interesting setup in anyone's book.

id are of course famous for creating Quake and Doom and are a strong supporter of the PC, so I am expecting great things to come of Rage. Vehicular combat will an emphasis of the game (hopefully done a little better than it was in Borderlands) and it has been confirmed that you will be able to upgrade your car with various components and addons, and by winning prize money from entering your car in desert races.

Details are still sketchy but Rage should hopefully be hitting the PC (as well as PS3 and 360) sometime in 2010.








World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Expected: "2010"









Since WoW already makes Blizzard more money than sin, it was only natural for another expansion to be cranked out sooner rather than later. Following The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm is set to be the third expansion pack to the original World of Warcraft, and will be the first to not introduce a new land mass into the game. Instead, Blizzard are re-invigorating all of original WoW world, changing parts of some zones, separating large zones into smaller zones, and introducing two new playable races. The Alliance get Worgen (who are absolutely not werewolves) and the Horde receive Goblins. New quests, new race/class combinations, new raids, new dungeons. Sounds like WoW all right.

Expect the relationship destroyer to surface sometime around mid-to-late 2010.

APB (All Points Bulletin)

Developer: Realtime Worlds
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: Spring 2010






APB is an upcoming subscription-fee-less cops vs. robbers MMO in which criminals act like criminals and "enforcers" (police) try to stop them being criminals. The game features a dynamic matchmaking system that will pit enforcers against scofflaws in a traditional FPS setting. There can be thousands of players on a server, but each "district" is limited to 100 players total (50 v 50) as you duke it out. APB uses some clever music trickery (powered by last.fm) that will let you save a signature piece of music (just a few seconds long) that will be played to anyone whenever you kill them, and if you are cruising around in your new ride and have some music playing, people around you will be able to hear what you are blaring out. last.fm's technology will select something similar in style and theme on other people's PCs to play for them if they do not have the exact same track as you.

No subscription fee and a novel setting for an MMO make this one to watch, with an early 2010 release anticipated.


Stay tuned for another upcoming post with part 2 of my selections for games to watch out for in 2010.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

State of the (PC Gaming) Union Address

Well we're rapidly approaching the arse-end of 2009, so it's time to assess how good this year has been for PC gaming.

It's been a very mixed bag. There have been both highlights, such as Borderlands turning out to be quite fun despite some shortcoming that could have been easily dealt with and the announcement of a new game in the PlanetSide universe. We've also had lowlights, such as Microsoft deciding to can the PC version of Alan Wake and the lackluster release of Prototype, a game that seemed to get bitchslapped by the much-better Infamous on the PS3. Can any conclusions be drawn from this year's PC offerings?

Aside from the usual "death of PC gaming" stories which come out every year and still manage to not be true every year, we've had a lot of ups and downs. Microsoft's dissing of the PC in regards to Alan Wake was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, as Microsoft has not released a PC game now since 2007. It seems they have clearly identified where their bread is buttered, and I'm guessing the bread has a giant X through the middle of it. Yet there was also the release of Windows 7 which offered a good reason for gamers to upgrade their OS to something that wasn't as bad as Windows Vista and get good performance as a result of doing so. So while Microsoft is quietly offing anyone who remembers that it used to develop and publish PC games (Freelancer, anyone?) it has at least tossed us the bone of Windows 7, a rock-solid OS that will run your new (non-Microsoft-developed) games quite nicely for the foreseeable future.

As I've already mentioned before, Borderlands was a great game but still suffered from being a poor console port. It was only through the loyal PC community coming up with fixes for many of these problems that made much of the console cooties go away. These days just getting a major multi-platform release to hit the PC is a win in itself, so I guess we should at least be grateful to Gearbox for that. Not every developer has this problem though, and indeed Capcom this year talked about how they wanted to pursue the PC as a major gaming platform, and then followed through on their talk by delivering the best version of Resident Evil 5 that just happened to be on the PC. Capcom are now talking about seeing the PC as a "growth platform" and making efforts to perhaps sync their release dates up a little better, since while the PC ports of their games are usually solid they will often lag behind the original console versions by several months. I hope other developers are paying attention here and will follow Capcom's lead, because pushing the PC as a serious platform is only going to pay dividends for them in the end. Lost Planet 2, another Capcom game, is eagerly expected next year on consoles and will hopefully make the transition to PC down the line, as the original did. Let's also not forget that Capcom delivered the best version of Street Fighter IV on the PC as well, with higher-resolution textures and better visual effects than were available on the console versions, and PC gamers only had to wait a few weeks behind the 360 and PS3 releases to get their sweaty hands on the game, too.

While we're at it, let's confront the elephant in the room. Retail PC game sales are down, and they are down quite a lot. Why isn't this the problem it seems to be on the surface? The simple fact that NPD, the main group who collate and publish gaming industry statistics, including sales and revenues, still do not include digital distribution or MMO subscription fees as part of their PC statistics. As such, their figures can be said to be unreliable at best and downright misleading at worst, since digital gaming platforms such as Valve's Steam, Impulse's Stardock, IGN's Direct2Drive and newcomer GamersGate are commanding increasing sales and market penetration every year. Factoring in MMO subscriptions, including World of Warcraft (which at the last count had almost 12,000,000 subscribers worldwide) likely pushes the PC into first place among all gaming platforms, X-Box 360, PlayStation3, Wii or anything else. Until NPD, or someone else, starts collating accurate information with regards to PC games then the "officially published" figures will always be woefully inaccurate. What I am trying to say is that the PC as a gaming platform is strong and the industry figures do not reflect that strength. Blizzard HQ is full of gold-plated toilet seats for their employees to s(h)it on, and it is rumoured that the executives have a big vault full of money that they can jump into a la Scrooge McDuck, whenever they feel the need to be comforted by vast amounts of cold, hard cash.

Valve also seem to manage to eek out a living as one of the leading game developers in the world despite their concentration on the PC. 2,000,000 gamers can't be wrong - right?

Any talk of PC gaming being dead or dying is simply that - talk. When you run the numbers and look into the sources you can plainly see that the PC is the strongest gaming platform there is, and is unlikely to be displaced by any heretic console anytime soon.

So my plea to developers is to embrace the PC as a viable gaming platform. Follow Capcom's lead and devote more resources into PC releases and reap the benefits when you get increased revenues from better sales. Focus on the strengths of the PC:

- that most people are going to have a PC in their home just for Internet access, for working with Office applications or as a media centre for their family.

- that a PC can essentially play any type of game. RTS? Sure. FPS? You 'betcha. MMO? Ideal. Sports sim? Why not. RPG? Always better on a PC.

- that since consoles are so PC-like these days it is not going to cost much extra to add a PC port of your game. Heck, 360 games are built around DirectX making 360-PC ports easier than ever.

At the end of the day us PC gamers have to be a part of the solution as well. Reward developers and publishers of good PC games by buying them and not pirating them. Email or post feedback of games that particularly stand out to the company or to that company's forums. Likewise, avoid those companies who are content to treat the PC as a gaming pariah. Inform them that PC gamers demand games that are just as good as console games, and releasing half-assed bug-ridden ports is as much as a slap in the face to us as no release at all.

Together, we can make a difference.

Goooooooooooooooooooooooooo planet!