Category Archives: Gaming

Unified Online Network Gaming Language

The case for a unified online gaming language has been with us for some time, as consoles, codebases, platforms and the networks that these systems run upon evolve, asking the impossible is no longer the impossible, everything now falls within the realms of reality and only take a few genius’s are needed to figure it all out and turn a few well taken truths on their heads.

The general consensus is not that separate platforms cannot exchange data with each other it is the manner in which these exchanges take place, the amount of work and manpower required to code these types of language and the business model behind allowing multiple platforms to play together.

The most recent example of cross platform play was in the case of Shadowrun (a game by FASA studios) which allowed players on both the Microsoft Xbox 360 and a normal household PC to play together in the same network, perhaps not the overwhelming success that it could have been, but they may be down to the fact that Live! For windows is still in it’s infancy and the face that shadowrun was never a FPS (First Person Shooter).

Consoles used to be about franchises, the exclusives, the must haves – nowadays, exclusives are expensive and with the 3 console manufacturers all heading to or surpassing the 10 Million installed base, platform holders no longer have the ‘exclusive’ bartering PR lines of old, with the exception of a few titles – Halo and MGS spring to mind.So the war is now fought, on power, reliability, usability and functionality.

Why can’t we all play together, the simple fact – money. If we all had the ability to choose our platform irrespective of our friends choice or ‘who’ we could play with then perhaps our choice of platform would be different. If we get the politics out of the way what really stops us from playing together.Games are often released on all platforms – take Call of Duty 4, available on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 – all of these platforms are online, they all operate on the same TCP/IP free exchange of information and I would assume that they use the same data for working out online play.At it’s heart online play comes down to a set of data being sent across and network, interpreted and displayed. Player A moves their character 10m forward, their location in terms of X, Y and Z is sent to the cluster and everyone else receives this data so their screen is updating accordingly.
That’s an incredibly basic overview of a single action in an online shooter. But you would have to assume that the data that is sent is similar or near identical across the platforms.So maybe it is the architecture behind the games, behind the technology, the servers. PC’s use their own dedicated servers for online play (player’s can even set up their own servers), 360’s use the Live! architecture provided by Microsoft, and the PS3’s use their own proprietary set of servers (I’m not sure who provides these). I can’t envisage a time when Microsoft will let Sony use their servers and certainly not for free, PC’s players will always want to set up their own clusters for clan play or private matches, the same is true of Sony renting out their infrastructure.

Maybe then it is the players who are unwilling to change, happy with their platforms and respective bragging rights.In the constantly connected world we live in, perpetually online, constantly contactable – is it really to much to ask that we all be allowed to treat our games like we treat or social lives. To be free of the restrictions placed upon us by platform choice and to be able to buy what we want to play on the platform we wish to play it, but more importantly to able to play with whomever owns the game.

Portal Ending Video

I was going to write a review of this game and then realised I have neither the time or inclination at the moment and all I really wanted to do was show the world the fantastic ending video – seriously, if you own the game DO NOT WATCH THIS, play it through and complete it yourself, it makes it so much more worthwhile.

Halo 3 Matchmaking Experience and Skill Explained

**NERD ALERT**

There seems to be a great deal of confusion among the million(s) or so gamers currently engaged in the pass time know as matchmaking on Halo 3. I must admit, I’ve been a bit baffled by how ranks, and skills and experience seem to work. Imagine hearing someone say to you (over live) and I quote:

“So if I’ve got 36 exp points, and a skill of 11 in social team doubles games what rank would that give me in a ranked slayer match?”

I don’t know, to be honest don’t really care, but for all you stat whores out there – you probably do.

So here it is (as best I understand it):

You get 1 EXP or RP (Ranking Point) point for being on the winning team in any type of game (social or ranked) or if you place in the top 49% in a free for all match. – so if you were playing lone wolves and there were 16 players, you would need to place 8th or higher to gain any EXP. It is possible to get more than 1 EXP point for being on the winning side of a team, several people have reporting jumping 2 points in CTF, but this is most likely due to a high skill, high kill count and several flags captured / dropped.

Halo 3 Matchmaking

You can play ANY type of game and gain EXP be that social or ranked.

Skill is only obtained from ranked games, and is based on a number of factors – badges earned, people killed, kill vs death ration, killing streaks team awareness, life expectancy etc. Skill can go up as well as down and you can’t achieve officer ranks (explained in a bit) unless your skill is over 10!

Ranks are the badges that appear next to your name in matchmaking (recruit / sergeant / general etc). All of the lower ranks (apprentice / recruit / corporal / sergeant / gunnery sergeant) need no skill to attain, they are purely based on EXP points gained. Once you hit the required EXP, you get that rank – applies to all game types and modes.

Officer ratings require skill to get, if you don’t have a skill rating of 10 or higher you could have 5000 EXP points but you would never progress past the rank of gunnery sergeant. Officers need both a high skill rating and a good amount of EXP.

Halo 3 Matchmaking Darren and Mike

Finally, the little numbers that appear when in matchmaking next to your rank represent your usefulness at that type of game, you’ll notice if you change the gametype the number changes depending on how much you have played that type of game.

EXP can’t be lost unless you quit a match in which case you can wave bye bye to a little chunk of EXP. Skill is lost when you lose a match or perform badly (like team killing, getting your arse kicked excessively, short life expectancy etc).

That should clear it up for most people I hope – and no I’m not saying this is exactly how it works, but that does seem to be the general consensus across the web at large!

360 Red Ring of Death (Part 2)

So, the box is back for barely 2 days (from it repair ordeal), I’d sold it to one of my very good, console loving, game playing friends and it’s already fucked – damn, those repair men are really doing a good job for Microsoft. Back on to the phone, more arguments with Microsoft and just maybe it’ll be back in time to witness the end of the universe.

Not the case!! I phones Microsoft Customer Support and got through to a really helpful rep, told him the problems:

  • Power button has to be pushed really hard to turn console on (and sticks)
  • HDD Cover missing
  • Console won’t play disc’s (Games and DVD’s) – get the media read error

I got an apology, an omission (that the Support line is inundated with calls, they can’t cope) and a packing label within 2 hours! I also told that somebody from Microsoft’s compensation department would be ringing me to ‘keep my mouth shut’ (aka. Have something for free), not bad at all.

20 Minutes later and the compensation guys are on the phone, the call went something like this:

Me: What the deal then
Them: We can offer you a game for free
Me: Go on then, shoot, what have you got?
Them: How about PGR3?
Me: Got it, next?
Them: Perfect Dark Zero?
Me: Got that, and it’s not that great anyway, next?
Them: OK…. how about Viva Pinata… all the kids are raving about it!?
Me: Yeah, they may be, but a) I’m not a kid and b) I’ve already got it! Anything else?
Them: Kameo?
Me: …………
Them: Maybe not then, we could offer you an accessory instead, how would that suit you?
Me: What would suit me is not having to wait another 30 days for my console to come back?
Them: ……………
Them: So, we could offer you a play and charge kit?
Me: Got it already.
Them: A Wireless pad?
Me: ….. Got Several ……
Them: (Nervously)… The only other thing we can offer is a wireless headset?
Me: Great, haven’t got one of those, send it over….
Me: Or better yet, stop shafting me and get my console back within a few weeks rather than a few months?
Them:……….
Me: Come on, this is fucking ridiculous? I’ve got Halo3 on Preorder like everyone else in the world, you robbed me of Bioshock, I had to buy a new elite to play my games while I waited for you untrained, uninformed indian monkeys to fuck me over a barrel, I’ve got a freebie so brownie points but all I really want is good service and my xbox back!!
Them: ……….
Them: I’ll see what I can do sir.

The attach rate for the 360 is something like 5.6 (which is unprecedented for a console), I’m 27, have a high disposable income, own nearly every game (worth owning) for the 360 and would consider myself part of their core market – it’s inevitable that I have it all, the wireless headset is a really nice gesture and I’m glad that my packing label turned up in a few hours rather that 3 days, but you know – all us RROD xbox owners really want is a working console delivered on time and in working order.

360 Red Ring of Death

The Red ring of death

It’s dead! After what seems like an eternity, my xBox360 has finally kicked the bucket – no biggie, I’ve had it since launch so I was kind of expecting it to die, it has been playing funny buggers recently anyway so I figured it was on it’s way out! Thought I might chronicle the experience of an xBox360 repair in the UK.

Symptoms Precluding the imminent demise

My tech problems always start off slow, a lock up here, and a lock up there. Always while playing games – I thought it might just be a glitch with the discs or maybe the xbox was getting a bit hot (they chuck out a lot of heat), this went on for several weeks before the lock up became more severe, (the pad wouldn’t work, couldn’t turn the console off). Until finally 4 weeks later I was hammering through the ace combat demo and suddenly a loud distorted blip in the sound and a screen full of artifaced images. If you’ve got DTV, you’ll know what that looks like – it’s like when your receiving a bad signal and the screen has tiny little blocks out of place. COMPLETE lockup, no way to do anything. I tried this several times and always the same problem after roughly 4 – 6 minutes – DAMN!

Microsoft Tech Support

First up a visit to xbox.com/support/ to check all of the necessary remedies – none of them worked so it was on the phone (oh how I love speaking to Indians). Admittedly the phone was answered quickly but the chap on the end of the phone was less than helpful. Telling me (after I had given him the serial number) that the console wasn’t registered to me so he couldn’t help!!! I brought the console on eBay 2 days after launch and luckily had the receipt for the original purchase. I was told to scan it and send it off which I did and had to wait 24 hours for them to acknowledge the change of ownership. Bear in mind I had explained the problem in detail to the tech guy at this point.

Day 2

Back on the phone, differrent rep who confirmed the change of ownership, didn’t have any notes pertaining to my case (even though I explained it in detail the previous day), told me that because it was just a fault with no RROD I would have to pay £67 to get it fixed, didn’t like the sound of this so I told him I would think about it, but insisted he document the problem so I would not have to explain it again!!

He also told me that ‘they’ (the repair centre) would probably just replace the motherboard / cpu and heatsink – just!! Might as well ship me a new console while they are at it. I asked him if they are getting a lot of RROD calls and the line went silent, apparently he didn’t have the authority to comment on Corporate Microsoft Matters – fancy that. I asked him if he was busy, he replied ‘Very Busy’ with a little chuckle – so I guess they are inundated with faults.

Day 3

Booted the xbox in the hope that the problem had gone away, no such luck. Was prompted to download a dash update, did this, restarted – RESULT, three red lights – no £67 payment for me. Back on the phone, (they had remembered my problem), told to send it in for a free repair and said they were going to send me a prepaid return sticker via email which I could print and send off. Gave the rep my email address and spelt it out 5 times to make sure he had it correct, was told to wait another 24 hours for email to arrive.

Day 4

24 hours later, still no packaging slip and no further contact from Microsoft. Rang tech support again, they had the wrong email address even though I had spelt it out 5 times and insisted that the tech person read it back to me!! Gave them the correct spelling for another time, and was told to wait an additional 24hours!

Day 5

Finally, got my label, boxed up my beloved and UPS picked it up barely an hour ago. I wonder how long it will take to get it back?

So for now, I off to play with the Wii until my baby comes back. Let’s hope it gets here in time for BioShock!

Day 6

So my tracking number on UPS says that the box was delivered today at 12:57 to HAVANT, GB. So I guess it’s at the repair centre now. How will Microsoft contact me to tell me that it’s on it’s way back?

Day 7

No Word from Microsoft, not even a polite email to let me know they received it safely and have begun its resurrection. Oh, well.

Day 8

Still no official confirmation or word.

Day 9

Still no official confirmation or word.

Day 10

Ditto

Day 11

Ditto

Day 12

Ditto

Day 13

Ditto

Day 14

Ditto

Day 15

Rang again to ask for a progress report (Now been over two weeks since this fiasco started), still nothing to tell me – the telephone ‘hired help’ couldn’t even tell me where my xbox was.

Day 16

Ditto

Day 17

Ditto

Day 18

Still no word – went out and brought an Elite, it looks very nice on my shelf – I am so desperate to play Bioshock – so my copy of Bioshock cost me £335 to play all because my core has not come back from Microsoft yet – thanks. And to add insult to my injury I have to order a bloody transfer cable.
Day 19

You guessed it – still absolutely no word on where it is or how it might be. Rang Microsoft again (I’m sure the support number in ingrained in my mind forever) to ask for a transfer cable (should be here in the next 12-15 days!), another ref number to write down but at least this was relatively painful. Couldn’t they have just put one in the box or sold it for a few quid at stores selling the elite? So I’ll be using my 20gb hdd until the cable turns up – I can’t play my XBLA games without my WiFi turned on either – fucking DRM!

Day 20

Still no word.

Day 21 / 22 & 23

Still no word – I wonder where it is?

Day 24

Hahaha, this gets better and better – I don’t fucking believe it!!! Finally recieved an email from Microsoft’s repair centre, expecting a ‘Your console tracking number is’ email and I get this instead:

‘We have received your Xbox at our service center. It is our priority to process your Xbox in a timely manner and to get it back to you as good as new. We will contact you as soon as we are finished so you can get ready to get back into the game!

WTF? Well, thanks, guess it only took you 24 fucking days to get it in – glad I brought an Elite, but what about or the poor buggers that can’t afford to purchase a new console? Sort it out Microsoft – please!

Day 25

Still no word

Day 26

Still nada, nothing, jack sh#t

Day 27

Nothing

Day 28

Nothing

Day 29

Hurrah, an email from Microsoft with a tracking number, the box is on it’s way! I wonder if it will be here by tomorrow – I do hope so, because I’ve already sold it.

Day 30

Low and behold, the Core 360 has been returned to its home, with only a few MINOR problems – just little things, like the HDD flap that I attached to the original console I sent is missing, the power button now sticks and doesn’t click when you press it, there are some small black marks on the back of the console and the fact that this is not my console, just somebody else’s refurb – great.

What can we learn from this process

It takes an age to get a console repaired if the repair centre is inundated with faulty consoles – one estimate I heard recently was that over 2,500 360’s a day are being returned. That’s a lot of red rings! Communication is the key to everything and a few simple emails from Microsoft throughout this entire process would have helped ease the pain of losing a loved one :)

I’ve gone and brought an Elite (maybe this was their plan all along) and sold my core onto a friend so I’m only £140 worse off, so not to bad from my point of view especially considering a 120gb HDD would cost me £129 anyway.

I’m pretty pissed off with Microsoft’s customer care policy and their complete lack of communication between repair centre and myself, but hey, that corporate’s for you. But they did send me a complimentary 1 month Gold live subscription, so not all is lost. I heard someone mention on Kokatu this was a refund for the time we had lost on live :)

Still, 1 month on, the box is back, arbeit with some minor differences and this whole ordeal is over – now where’s that HDD transfer cable I ordered?

Update: Continued in Part 2 

XBLA – How hard can it be?

The Scene
Concept stage 1 I’m sitting on the floor admiring the plasma, playing a bit of worms with a friend.

Now this friend has always had a head for crazy ideas. As kids I used to like blowing things up, my friend made a laser and burnt a hole through his door (no small feat. when your 12), it was always about the science. A railgun, a particle accelerator, a bigger laser, an explosive, a gauss rifle, a gas turbine, a new type of spaceship propulsion, all things we have tried (and had varying levels of success with) to build over the years. A bit older (26) and a bit wiser these days, we still chat about building the next ‘great’ project.

Him: Do you remember that game we used to play in school?
Me: On what?
Him: The A3000 (That’s an archimedes for those not in the know)
Me: The game that consumed every lunchtime for 2 years?
Him: That’s the one!
Me: What about it?
Him: That would make a great XBLA title, don’t cha think……..

And so another crazy idea was born. Sometimes (read: often) the simplest ideas are the greatest and has to be the best idea we have come up with yet. Take a childhood favourite of ours and pretty much everyone we every played at it, rip the source from the original (it was public domain), convert it into c#, complile with XNA and deploy to the little white box, now how hard can that be?

Problems

  • I’m a graphic designer / web coder so I now next to nothing about c#
  • My friend is an accomplished artist with a definitive creative flair
  • We have to learn to program, and quickly

It’s a daunting task, as I’m sure you will appreciate, but we all got to start somewhere. I’ve looked in Torque which seems to have a lot of the components I don’t want (don’t know) to write, collision detection, sprite mapping, layers backgrounds and all that, so starting off shouldn’t be to difficult – the thing that worries me the most is writing the physics!

What’s great about this project is an hour after we had started talking about it we already had it planned on paper, I can’t wait. The Macbook Pro will be here soon, so I can jam xna / torque and c# onto it and get my fingers wet.