Category Archives: rant

Questioning my gaming credentials

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The Xbox Update; Or Why I Learned to Hate Security

You know there was an update for the Xbox 360 recently? I’ve never enjoyed these updates. They take forever, usually make the console worse and less responsive, and – on one occasion – broke my Xbox.

This new one appears to do two things:

  1. Replace Microsoft Points with actual pound values, and
  2. Make me want to stab people at Microsoft in the face.

You see, there’s now a forced “two factor” logon. Which is good, for security. But the way it’s implemented nearly drove me insane.

After the update, I was asked to sign in to Xbox Live. Which I couldn’t do, as I was already signed in. So I signed out, then tried to sign back in. It asked me for my email address and password again, which is fine, and then asked me for a second email address, a “text”, or a phone call to use as a second authentication contact. Again, this is fine.

I went ahead and gave my mobile number for “text”. I got sent a code, and on the 360 I could type this in. I was then told I couldn’t use this number as I had to authenticate it first on account.live.com/p.

I duly went to account.live.com/p on my computer, and it asked me to sign in. I did, and it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again. So I did, and then it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again. So I did, and then it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again. So I did, and then it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again. So I did, and then it told me it needed to… you get the idea.

I decided to just log into my Live account normally (which worked), and go to my account settings, were, lo, my mobile number was already listed. There was a “verify” link next to it, so I clicked that, and was told it needed to send a code to my mobile number as a security method. I said OK, and got the code, and was told to go to sms.live.com to complete verification.

So I went to sms.live.com and was asked to sign in. I did, and it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again. I did, and it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again.

Sigh.

Returning to my Xbox, I tried to put my number in again and have another code sent to my phone, but now it just says I need to complete verification by visiting account.live.com/p which puts me in the same loop as before.

Stupid, stupid system. The upshot is, I’m currently unable to sign into Live on my 360. And why am I signing into Live? Because I want the free Gold-only copy of Magic the Gathering 2013. “Just grab it from xbox.com!” I hear you cry. Well, I can’t. I can log in there, just fine, but when I go to buy it (for £0) I’m told I have no payment options available. Why I need money or a credit card linked to my account to buy a FREE game (when I don’t need it to “buy” a free demo) I have no idea. I’m certainly not adding a new card to my account for this purpose.

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The impending death of gaming

Yes, that’s an overstatement. Gaming is not going to die. It’s going to change, and if it changes how it looks like it’s going to, then it’ll be dead to me.

Much of this concern stems from rumours (most of which have been rubbished), but where there is smoke, there is fire. Rumours come from ideas, and even if they’re not implemented now, or fully – someone, somewhere, thought they’d be a a good idea.

Online only
I don’t want my console online at all times to play. I can’t rely on my internet connection to allow that, even if I wanted to.

No second hand games
I buy about 30% of my games second hand. None of them have required any of this “online pass” nonsense, so when I pay £10 for a game, I get the game (and all of the game) for £10. I bought it for £10 because I thought it was worth £10, and if I need a £10 “unlock code” because I bought it second hand I won’t buy it. I never trade games in, or borrow games from other people, so it wouldn’t bother me for that reason, but when I buy a game – I want the game for the price I pay for it.

Microtransactions
There are two reasons I don’t play many iOS games: 1) touch screen controls are rubbish on almost anything approaching a “normal” video game, and 2) you can’t just play games any more – you have to pay to play, or have to wait (minutes, hours, days even) or grind tediously to progress. If this comes to console gaming, I’m out.

Download only games
I’m not adverse to downloading my games (legally, I mean). 42.5% of my spending on games last year was on downloadable games. Every single one of which was under 2GB, and the majority were under 500MB. My internet connection will not cope with bigger games, and although my connection will improve in the future (apparently), the size of games will also increase. Some titles are already 35GB+ – and that ain’t gonna happen, no matter how cheap they are. I had a taste of this when Sony had their “intrusion” and I got two free game downloads. That took me a fortnight to download.

Endless updates
It’s a minor thing, in the overall package, but updates are becoming ever more commonplace. Gone are the days you just put your game in and played, and it was rare a bug was found that prevented you from playing it properly. Now, not only are there updates for the games, but updates for the consoles too. Sure, they add features, but especially in the case of the 360, they add a load of stuff I neither want, nor would ever use. The dashboard is now atrocious, which leads me to…

It’s not all about the games
Remember when games consoles were primarily for playing games on? Microsoft don’t. They’ve moved the Xbox 360 into “entertainment system” territory (oh the irony – Nintendo Entertainment System, anyone?) and don’t even have games as the main focus on the dashboard any more. They’re all tucked away. Yes, I play videos on my PS3, but that’s a side effect, not the main event. With the PS4 cramming Facebook into every orifice and the new Xbox almost certainly moving further away from gaming than the 360 already has, it’s losing focus. And, as a result, my interest.

Flail
Kinect? No. Move? No. We’ve already done that with the Wii. We know what worked well, and what didn’t. We don’t need any more of it, and we certainly don’t need them shoe-horned into games.

Where have the games gone?
So many studios closing. So many sequels being churned out – and even those series I enjoy (Assassin’s Creed, for example) are becoming worn and rely upon wrong-footed changes to appear fresh. Pirates in Assassin’s Creed IV? Sigh. Indie games and small studios funded by the likes of Kickstarter seem to be where my gaming is going, but how long will that last before they’re bought up or go bust?

At the moment, only Nintendo seem to understand what a games console is, but how long for? They’ve already got streaming video and TV on the Wii U, along with a web browser. Miiverse is a great example of how to do something new with a console but still be all about the games – but if the Wii U fails where then? Or worse, what if it succeeds because it changes to be more like its competitors? What’s left for me then? The next Playstation and the next Xbox. Or PC gaming, which I’ve never really liked.

As a gamer, it’s the first time I’ve been concerned about the future of gaming.

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How I hate PC gaming

Ten years ago, I used to play quite a lot of PC games. Sim City, Tony Hawk, GTA, Rollcage, Half Life. Some of the Tomb Raiders and things like NOX too. I forget the rest. The last PC game I really sank any time into was Anarchy Online, back in 2005. Even that I didn’t play for long. Aside from brief prod at the Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst demo, that was the end of my PC gaming. There were two main reasons: I couldn’t be bothered upgrading my computer every time a game came out, and I’d rather sit in front of the TV on the sofa with a joypad, rather than at a desk with a mouse. Besides, all the games I wanted to play were console games. My apathy towards PC games was part of the reason I bought a Mac when I needed a new machine – no need for games, so no need for a PC.

However, I have now found my new Mac laptop is pretty decent at playing PC games, and, with a HDMI connector and an Xbox controller, I can play it on the TV sat on the sofa, with a joypad.

Then I saw Batman: Arkham City for £11.60 for the PC. And I bought it. Here is a chronicle of the events that followed. Disclaimer: I have rubbish broadband, which didn’t really help matters.

On Wednesday, I installed Origin (which was a 10 minute download) and bought Batman. I set it to download. 70+ hours later (constantly!), on Saturday morning, it was done, so I excitedly ran it. Up popped a message from Games for Windows Live saying I needed to sign in. So I did. Then it spent over an hour downloading my Live profile. Then it told me an update for Games for Windows Live was necessary, so I set it to download.

It finished downloading about 20 hours later, on Sunday morning. At no point did it tell me how much it needed to download, so I had no idea how long it was going to take. Once the update had installed, I then had to sign in again, and it decided to download my profile again. It “only” took about 20 minutes that time.

Finally! I can play Batman, right?

No. There was another update – this time for the game itself. So I left that to download and install. And, at 9pm, eventually, I could play the game. Just 100-odd hours after I bought it. Hurrah for digital copies and their super-fast delivery mechanisms! Saved me the minutes I’d need to buy it from Asda, at least. Oh, wait.

Sure. My connection is rubbish, and yeah, this is just one game, but I’m wishing I’d bought the 360 version instead. In fact, I still might. I’m not sure slightly shinier graphics is really worth the hassle.

As a related comment to this, I have tried Steam too. I quite like Steam, for what it is, but when you forget to update your games for offline play, then try to play offline (as I have to because my connection is so rubbish Steam keeps detecting I don’t have one) – you can’t. Which is more than a pain.

At least I’ve not had to fiddle with graphics drivers and controller configs (Batman just switches to Xbox Controller Mode, which is nice) yet. I did have to turn the virus killer (Microsoft Security Essentials) off though, as 20 minutes into the game the framerate dropped to nothing as a scheduled scan kicked in…

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The new Xbox 360 Dashboard

Rant moan rant rant moan.

That’s all I’ve seen written about the new 360 GUI. It’s rubbish. Everything is hidden. There’s too many adverts. Games aren’t the focus any more. It’s too confusing. Everything is seventeen menus deep and behind carousel images. Rant bloody rant moan moan.

With good reason:

Everything is hidden. There’s too many adverts. Games aren’t the focus any more. It’s too confusing. Everything is seventeen menus deep and behind carousel images.

Of course, it looks nice. It really does – clean and swish, and everything moves around seemingly much faster than before. With my useless Sky “Broadband” connection, the images on everything take a while to load, but at least I can chuck the screens around without having to wait, so that’s not the end of the world. I also like how playing my most recently played games is now a bit easier too, with the disc in the tray a single stab (been playing Assassin’s Creed, sorry) of A away and the ten most recent installed games and demos just down-and-A. Nice.

Unfortunately, it’s finding everything else that’s a problem. Getting to installed content is akin to one of those steady-hand testers, where accidentally veering into the wrong menu or tab or button or whatever the hell else you end up in means you get lost, electrocuted, and essentially have to start again. Finding new content, be it Arcade games, demos, or (worst of all) Indie Games is now five hundred and forty six button presses or more, is displayed in a jumble of nonsense, and even lumps stuff that isn’t new games (like game trailers and videos) in the list of new games. I spent ages last night excitedly trying to download Sonic CD from the New Games bit on the Games Marketplace only to realise it isn’t out – there’s just a video to look at.

Most worst (and most worser than my grammar) is the special offer section. Take the current Ubisoft offers, for instance. There’s an offers section, and within that an Ubisoft section. Fine. Except the Ubisoft section is three screens wide, with only 5 “tiles” on each. And then, on two of these screens, the middle (larger) tile is actually a carousel of several offers which cycle through, meaning you have to watch and wait to find out all the offers. Then move to the other screen and watch and wait there. I was later told (it doesn’t say this on the GUI anywhere) that you could select the carousel and use the right-stick to flick through manually, but even so – why can’t all the offers just be in one big list on one screen, which scrolls if necessary? Or at the very least, provide a “show all” button? They’re going to lose sales because people can’t browse – they essentially have to sit and watch adverts instead.

The browsing thing applies to pretty much everywhere as well. Unless you know what it is you want, finding stuff to buy is a chore. Impulse purchases are going to drop as a result, so it’s not only a bad design issue, it’s a bad business move – especially for the smaller companies who thrive (or throve) on XBLA sales. You can’t stumble upon their games any more, you have to seek it out. Often, when I had five spare minutes having finished a game or something, I’d have a quick nose through the marketplace at new stuff and offers. That’s not going to happen any more.

With the shift in focus from games to “home entertainment”, the menus on the dashboard now have lots of video, music and social “features”, almost exactly none of which I will, or even can, use. As I’ve mentioned, my internet connection is akin in speed to a telegraph machine, so any streaming media from the internet is out. So no Youtube, iPlayer, 4oD, Lovefilm or Zune for me. I have a phone for Twitter, don’t use Facebook, and since they crippled Last.fm I don’t use that any more either. In fact, the only non-gaming thing I use my 360 for is streaming video from my network. As an aside, there is a positive thing I can say here – the new dashboard finally fixed it so I can stream m4v and mp4 files from my NAS, making my PS3 completely obsolete now.

And the adverts. Oh the adverts. Yes, they’re fairly unobtrusive, but I pay for my Xbox Live Gold service. I don’t need it to be subsidised with adverts thanks – and neither do Microsoft. I don’t even mean the usual adverts for games coming soon or available on the XBL marketplace either – actual proper adverts for Sky TV and Virgin Money. If you must have adverts, leave them for the non-paying members, please.

Somehow, in one fell swoop, Microsoft have gone from having the best console-based “store”, light years ahead of PSN, the Wii Shop and the 3DS eShop, to having this crippled form-over-function one. Consider the old store as a sort of virtual Argos catalogue, where everything is pretty easy to find and well presented, and the new store as an online TK Maxx, where nothing is in any particular place, the things they show on the TV ads are in there somewhere (but where?), and half the stuff is strewn on the floor like a WI jumble sale. Nasty.

tl; dr version: New dash looks nice, fixes playing media files, fails spectacularly at usability, screws over users and providers of XBLA and Indie Games, annoys the hell out of everyone, makes deKay cry.

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Games I Hate: Donkey Kong 64

Kill them. Kill them all.

Until the release of the technically fantastic, utterly huge, and gloriously lovely to look at Donkey Kong 64 for the Nintendo 64, I was a big fan of Rare’s stuff. Or at least, I thought I was.

I mean, I did really, really, enjoy Banjo Kazooie. So much so that I almost completed it many times (the end boss proving too much), and even got the XBLA remake – finally 100%ing it. But looking back at their other titles, I’m not sure I was that big a fan.

Donkey Kong Country was a horrible, fantastic looking, impossible platformer. Its two sequels were too. All three I had some fun with, before realising they weren’t really very good and were more flash than actually enjoyable. The Donkey Kong Land Game Boy games were even worse, being just as rubbish but also impossible to see on the low-res, blurry GB LCD display. Mmm, smeary.

Even Banjo Tooie, the follow-up to Banjo Kazooie was pants. Yeah, it was more of the same, literally following on from the first game, but with a larger, more irritating to navigate main “hub” – which the game’s design forced you to traipse all over after almost every jiggy was obtained. Lots of pointless backtracking over the same areas over and over and over again does not a fun game make, so every attempt to play it just resulted in frustration, boredom, or a complete loss as to what needed to be done next.

Donkey Kong 64 then. To all intents and purposes, it’s Banjo Kazooie again with more characters and different levels. It all starts off fun, collecting bananas and reaching level goals, but then new characters are unlocked and you find you have to redo the levels again, albeit sometimes differently, collecting different bananas. And the next character? Same level, more bananas. And again. And again. AND AGAIN. 100 for each character in each level. Seven levels, five apes. 3500 bananas to collect. “Fun”.

You can even see the bananas each character can collect when playing as other characters. But can you pick them up? No. It isn’t just bananas either. There are also character-specific Golden Bananas and coins. Then there’s boss keys, ammo (different for each ape), Crystal Coconuts, special coins and banana medals. Joy.

It became a slog. Levels went from amazing and exciting the first time round to dull and oh-so-bloody-tedious on the third run through,  let alone the fourth or fifth. And that’s assuming you don’t have to redo the level yet more times because you missed stuff. Oh, the merriment of trudging through the jungle for the nth time and spotting some missed bananas, only to realise you’re the wrong Kong and have to go back in as the right one and do it all again to get to them. Even the masochists can’t enjoy that, surely?

Most of all, I hate Donkey Kong 64 for what it marked the start of – a terrible downturn in the playability (not the technical quality) of Rare games. Starfox Adventures. Grabbed by the Ghoulies. The GBA Sabre Wulf game that wasn’t anything to do with Sabre Wulf. Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero, Banjo Kazooie Nuts & Bolts – all far from the glorious days of old. I’ll give you two exceptions – Viva Pinata and its sequel – but even they are less game and more gardening/zoo simulators.

And what of Rare now? Creating Xbox 360 avatar clothes, aren’t they? Horrific.

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Sky can’t read

At least, it seems that way. I sent them a message via their help pages:

This isn’t a complaint, I just can’t find any other way of emailing you. Since Ofcom have now forced BT to reduce the cost of their wholesale product to resellers (such as yourself, with Sky Connect which I use), I was wondering when you are going pass that price reduction on to customers, and by how much our bills will be reduced? BT have a very good deal on at the moment for broadband which works out cheaper than what I pay for Sky Connect, calls, and line rental so unless the price of my package is going to reduce, I don’t see any point staying with Sky.

To which I received this reply:

Thank you for your email about the Sky account.
I’m sorry this issue has caused you concern and hope my reply below clarifies the position for you.

I regret to read your comments regarding this matter and welcome this opportunity to clarify our position.
Our agreement with you is to provide viewing services of your chosen viewing option and this we have done. Sky does make available promotional offers to new and past customers. However, long-standing active customers are also invited to upgrade their viewing option from time to time in response to promotional marketing mailings, which are issued.
I do not consider our policy to be unusual in comparison to many major service providers. Our aim is not only to provide excellent viewing services to our customers, but also to ensure that new business continues to be improved.
Due to our promotional offers changing so frequently and being more tailored to what packages and products you select, the best way for you to get the most up to date information would be to check out our website at the following link:

http://www.sky.com/shop/bundles-offers/customer-offers/

I’ll also take this opportunity to advise that you can access your account information via Sky.com and by registering with MYSKY. Once registered, you can view historical statements, update payment information, change payment due date and upgrade your account.
I hope this information has helped with your enquiry. If you require any further assistance, you can respond to my email. You can also contact our Customer Service team on 08442 41 41 41, where one of our advisors will be happy to help.
Kind regards
Zeba
Sky Help Centre

http://www.sky.com

Which helpfully avoids my question, and gives a reply about something else entirely – my “viewing package”, which is the ONLY thing I DON’T want to change. Amazing.

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Happy Birthday, Sonic the Hedgehog

Happy 20th birthday, Sonic! Not that you can hear me, being a) fictional, and b) dead. Dead to me at least, with Sega’s stream of memory-raping crapbaskets they call Sonic games.

I’ve done all that before. Moaned about Sonic games. At length. To anyone who will listen, read or otherwise take an interest (or not). It hasn’t done any good: Sega still keeps making them.

Today, to mark his birthday, Sega have released a demo of Sonic Generations for the 360 and PS3. In this new corpse-beating adventure, Sega have attempted to appease both new fans (those who love the into-the-screen, homing attack nonsense) and old fans (those who don’t) with a game that lets you play as both Classic Sonic (rejoice! for he has no green eyes!) and Modern Sonic, in some horribly convoluted storyline.

I’ve not played it yet. But I’m expecting big things. Big brown steaming things. Watch this space.

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How do you buy from Lenovo?

Answer: You don’t. In fact, you can’t. I couldn’t anyway.

It’s not even the first time something like this has happened with Lenovo, as they’ve been utterly useless in the past.

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Dear Santa

(Using handy template from Sega’s Blog)

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