• Minecraft: 4 Things to Expect From Microsoft

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    Minecraft fans around the world were shocked when Microsoft announced their purchase of the developer of the game, Mojang. There are a lot of comments, reviews, and expectations that has been shared by different people, especially the players of Minecraft with mixed emotions. Many people believe Notch, the original developer, sold out because he allowed his game to be purchased for $2.5 billion. On the other hand, the game’s success can be primarily attributed to the fact that he let the game be “pirated” if the player can’t afford it. This allowed a lot of free Minecraft versions to be uploaded so that users can play the game online without a premium account. There are some of them who are totally against it but there are also others who are already thinking for the possible future of the game in the hands of Microsoft.

    The main question is what are the different things you can expect from Minecraft that is now controlled by Microsoft?

    1) Minecraft for Windows Phone

    It has been a common request by a lot of people to make Minecraft available for Windows phone and surely, now that it is in the hands of Microsoft, you can expect that to be a priority. The company will likely soon announce its launch dates and specifications for Windows phone users. The Minecraft: Pocket Edition will hopefully be more popular after this occurrence.

    2) Better Experience for Windows User

    You can also be assured that there is a better experience for players since it could bring to most of the Windows users together and even expect the following things below:

    • No more bugs and lags
    • Better and Friendlier User Interface
    • Easier accessibility and controls

     

    3) Additional Features to Come

    Another thing you can expect is that there will be more features that will be released in the future. Even if the game could be totally perfect now, Microsoft would make sure to provide something more so that players can enjoy what it has to offer.

    4) Better and Effective Marketing

    The best thing about Minecraft is that it is really popular in the market despite its lack thereof. However, with Microsoft there is a chance for it to be known in the whole world. Just imagine the new Windows 10 that would be preinstalls in millions of devices… Minecraft’s growth is just beginning!

  • Bigger is Not Better

    When Onyx and I were in the dorms at CU, we had two Counter-Strike servers that we always played on. We knew everyone in there and we were known by everyone in there, but that was probably only 40 people or so. Now, Counter-Strike had hundreds of thousands of players, but that didn’t matter to our community. Our microcosm is what made the game so special to us, because it allowed us to form friendships with people that we would never see in person, but whom we could respect and enjoy our time with. Why do I bring this up? I bring it up because MMOG developers have opened up a dangerous door, relying more on numbers than on community to sell their games. Bigger is not always better. Granted, most women would tell you differently, but it’s not. Well, in games at least. Whatever, on to the rest of the article!

    Everquest has over one million active players, making it one of the biggest massively multiplayer online role-playing game ever. Yet what all did the game incorporate to build community other than a shared play area? Well, you could form a guild (which gave you a private chat channel) or you could group with people and get another private chat channel, a group status box, and shared experience (with an experience bonus). That’s it. Granted, there were great reasons to group other than those listed above. You could specialize and let the diversity of the group make the party stronger than if everyone was a jack-of-all-trades. In the high-end of the game, you needed to group in order to actually progress. However, grouping of this sort is beginning to fall by the wayside. With the advent of instanced areas in games, developers cannot force players to group like they have been accustomed too. All of this has been building towards something though, how will developers create a sense of community in massive multiplayer games in the future (or even now) or will they even bother with it?

    Let’s face it, people are social creatures. We tend to congregate rather than stand alone. One of the worst punishments as a child was time out, because it meant that you had to be alone (you got over spanking pretty quickly, as it was no worse than anything that happened when you were playing outdoors). In single player games, developers have to try and make the player feel like he is really interacting with the NPCs (aside from shooting them). However, they can script events and are generally in control of the situation. They have had great success with this, as is evidenced by games like Half-Life, the Medal of Honor series, and Halo; all of which contain a great deal of action that happens without direct intervention of the player, thus creating a sense of something bigger going on than just what the player does. This sense of immersion is vital for games because players are beginning to expect greater and greater levels of interaction, which MMOGs are lagging behind in certain regards and started out light years ahead in others. MMOGs come with a built in player-interaction utility called … other players, yet they have not even begun to reach the amount of level interaction that single-player games take for granted. There are, of course, problems with this as both gameplay models are VASTLY different. There is, however, as always, a common ground.

    Over the next few weeks, myself and a few others will be detailing our experiences with interaction and immersion in gaming and try to figure out where the developers can and will go from here.

  • MMO Gaming

    Friends, enemies, love monkeys… lets get nostalgic for a second. MMO Gaming has become a phenomenal trend in the last five years. An entire culture has sprung up around these roots and is marching forward with an undeniable pace. At the base of these roots was a little site called Lum The Mad. There is no question that in this culture that has sprung up, Lum The Mad acted as a catalyst for its movement becoming accepted on a mass scale. It did that by bringing people together under a common cause.

    Love. Or more precisely, the love to hate the games they love. In those glory years before Lum moved on to greater things (a job at Mythic) the community that sprang up around him was so distinct, it did not take long through the writings and wit of Lum, and the general scathing intelligence of the community, that idioms relating to the culture and community of this movement sprung up.

    In an attempt to bring these quaint sayings to the rest of the world, a Lumtionary was made by Rasputin, and has since been instructing the unwashed masses in the mystical ways of Lum speech.

    Well, times have changed since then, the Lumtionary has become slightly outdated, and so in an effort to keep this great homage to the original community alive, the remnants of the original Lum community, who mostly can be found dwelling at Waterthread.org have decided to take on the momentous task of updating the Lumtionary. Kudos men. You will make the rosetta stone of MMOG geekdom to bridge the ever growing gap between the veteran bitter MMOG gamer and the idiot average white trash joe who couldn’t turn a computer on, little less pick his own nose.

  • GTA IV: Greatest Ever?

    gta4

    Since 1997, when Polyphony and Kazunori Yamauchi released Gran Turismo for the Playstation, that game, and the series it begat, has become the benchmark against which all other racing games are compared. Yamauchi, with his dedication to making the perfect driving game, has become iconic in stature. GT2 had it’s flaws, but was a solid game, GT3 was a masterpiece on the PS2 early it that system’s life, GT4 is certainly a superior game to GT3, but was, in my opinion, a mistake. Releasing GT4 without online play, on a near-obsolete console that struggles to run the game, and less than a year before the scheduled release of the next-gen console was a big mistake.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I love Gran Turismo, I’m currently 60% on game completion, I run a GT4 racing league at my college, $100,000 (game money) to buy a car and tune it, sports soft tires only, we race almost every day, I drive a Viper, a red SRT-10, I can probably kick your ass, I really like the game…Which makes me all the more qualified to tell you why it doesn’t live up to the hype. This game is a shadow of what it had the potential to be. Let’s have a closer look shall we:

    Graphics:
    This is a pretty game, the car models are spot-on, the colors are not overly vibrant, and not dull, but lifelike. The environments are a vast improvement over GT3 and the panoramic backgrounds and dynamic crowds provide a level of immersion that has been lacking in the previous GT games. The framerate is smooth, and the lighting is as good as one could ever expect from the PS2. While the game still lacks a true driver’s-eye-view as found in Toca, Race Driver 2 and GTR, the bumper cam provides an above average sense of motion. The game seems to impart a more acute sense of speed than GT3, which felt like slow-motion especially, compared tom contemporary racers like Project Gotham (Xbox). The photo mode really showcases the well proportioned car models, and detailed backgrounds. Considering this is a PS2 title, I will grant it a 97 on graphics.

    Audio:
    A vast improvement over the midi-cesspool that was the GT3 sound library, the cars in Gran Turismo 4 actually pipe out a reasonable facsimile of the noise their corporeal brethren produce. The RX-7’s rotary engine burbles along, the Viper’s V-10 growls just as it should, the air cooled RUF Porsche prattles along, fan whirring, The Ferrari’s V-12 howls….oh wait, they don’t have Ferraris in Gran Turismo….forgot, my bad. The sound track of ridiculous Japanese pop, hip hop, and some garage band music remains oddly appeasing, if not somewhat repetitive. They even managed to approximate the sound of a large displacement V-8 pretty well in this game, which has been elusive in driving games thus far. While polyphony definitely had their work cut out with over 700 cars to record or approximate, they did a decent job. 93

    Gameplay:
    In typical gran turismo fashion, you begin the single player, or “Gran Turismo Mode”, with $10,000 dollars with which to purchase and outfit a vehicle. If you have a GT3 save file on your memory card, you also have the option to transfer some money over to your GT4 save file for an extra boost. If you have no GT3 save file, don’t worry, GT4 heralds the resurrection of the used-car market, last seen in the original. The used car lots coupled with the sheer number of cars means that you can actually start out with a decent car rather than a Sprinter, Miata, or some similar drivel. The ability to drive pretty much whatever you want is, in my opinion, half the fun of Gran Turismo. Odds are, your car, however lowly or maligned it may be, is probably in the game….before you speak, if you drive a fox-body mustang, A C4 corvette (non-ZR-1), or late ’70s firebird…first of all I’m impressed that you made it this far, and you can rest assured that I’ve lost money betting against your ability to read and complete the cognation required to get your soiled long-johns in a bunch about my oversight.

    Alternatively, I found that a clever racer could likely complete through at least the professional events without purchasing a single car. Completing the license tests requires no car, and yields prize cars for each level of completion, bronze, silver, and gold. On one level, this provides an interesting challenge; however I felt like the game became too easy too quickly as a result.

    Speaking of difficulty, the AI is still pretty stupid and usually has at least one “slow section” on each course that they will make a hash of regularly, allowing the player to catch up, or pull further away. The game does provide a means with which to measure difficulty: A-spec points. Depending on how your car stacks up against the competition, anywhere from 1 to 250 points are up for grabs each race. A driver might only get a single point from romping a field of civics with a 900hp LMP car, maybe 100 for beating a stock 350-Z with a lightly moded RX-8, or 250 for pulling a huge upset of some sort. Unfortunately, aside from a warm, fuzzy feeling, I have found no use for these points. They don’t seem to unlock anything, and I can’t cash them in for money…ergo, what’s the damn point? Anyone with gray matter between their ears can tell if a race will be close, or a blowout simply by looking at specs.

    The customization has been tweaked slightly, but remains incomplete. Hearkening back to the “racing mod” in GT2, players can now outfit their cars with spoilers in order to provide all-important downforce to their personal rides. The wheel shop has been expanded, and a “Tuner Village” has appeared that houses licensed aftermarket manufacturers and some “original” parts that have abilities beyond, or prices less than comparable parts found elsewhere. The tuning interface remains largely unchanged with only minor visual tweaks, such as improved diagrams, that improve usability. The big frustration is the limited scope of the upgrades. For instance, in reality it is not uncommon for someone to bolt a turbo onto a previously normally aspirated (non-turbo) car. However, this “simulator” does not account for or allow this. I’m sure most people who have played this game wouldn’t notice the difference between 600 and 700 cars. They would notice the ability to do such things as engine swaps, or maybe some visual customization.

    The physics are really fairly accurate, though are certainly not perfect. The true detail of the physics can really only be experienced through the use of a wheel, the $200 GT4 wheel. While I refuse to purchase such things on principle, I do know people. Thussly, I have played the game with the wheel, and it is much more engrossing than with the unresponsive, non-pressure sensitive turds known as PS2 controllers. The balance of the front, all, and rear-wheel drive cars is fairly accurate, the front drivers are useless off the start but are easy to correct mid-corner, the AWD lot have loads of grip, but tend to understeer, and the RWD cars tend to want to wag the tail a bit if you get trigger-happy. Naturally, the deficit in the physics involves impacts. While certainly a step forward from GT3 pinball, the cars in ‘4 still tend to bounce rather than crunch. Polyphony missed the meeting where a clever fellow pointed out that simulating a car mashing into a wall doesn’t require that the damage be modeled on the car, merely that the invisible damage be addressed when modeling the impact physics.

    Driving in this iteration is somewhat less tedious than in past GTs. The more accurate physics help to keep you on your toes, and the degree to which going off track can actually mess you up, means greater concentration becomes key. That said, only the most hardcore will want to tackle a 24 hour race, yes that’s twenty four real hours, start at noon today, finish at noon tomorrow. Enter B-spec mode. This is an AI driver that, in longer races, or shorter ones if you’re lazy, can step in and drive while you do homework, talk on the phone, relieve yourself, or sleep. This AI is controlled using a pace meter, ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 being a slow pace, to conserve fuel, and 5 being balls-out. Your B-spec personality starts off being a pretty poor driver, but improves with use. Initially a mechanical advantage is the only way the AI will win a race barring blind luck. Later, however, after amassing say 10,000 B-spec point, I was able to put my driver in a car not much better than the competition, set the pace control on 4 on most tracks and just watch him drive away from the competition. My only gripe with B-spec is that it’s somewhat inconsistent, and like the opponent AI, has stupid habits like running into the back of a car in front of it, instead of simply overtaking.

    Overall, the gameplay isn’t bad at all. There’s something fore everyone. Arcade races for those who just want to jump in and go, GT mode with all it’s nuances to explore. There are even driving missions that offer overtake challenges similar to those in the Project Gotham series. Even if all you want to do is look at the pretty cars, there’s always photo mode. In light of all the variety of ways to play the game, the above average physics and the best modeling of the Nürburgring to-date, I grant GT4 a 94 for gameplay.

    Multiplayer:
    I felt it would be wrong to include this segment in the broader class of “gameplay”, doing so might have caused those who simply look at the ratings to get the wrong impression of the game as a whole. The multiplayer in this game is indescribably terrible. Imagine an amalgam of every swear-word you’ve uttered, combined with that feeling you get when you know you’ve just planted one of your favorite shoes deep in a steaming pile of critter excrement, and you will begin to develop a notion of how I feel about the multiplayer feature on this game. Firstly, the game does not allow the use of driving aids, such as traction control, on garage cars (the ones you’ve made and actually care about). Why is this a problem? Well, it effectively neuters high-powered front drive and rear drive cars. If you have to drop your Corvette below 3rd gear in a slow corner, the tires will break loose under acceleration because the controller button is an on-off switch, not progressive. Even if you are a certified badass, and I happen to be just that, keeping the white smoke to a minimum is difficult, and virtually impossible during the jostling around in a race. This limits the number of cars that are actually competitive in split screen play to a handful of non-AWD cars. Secondly, there are only three rally courses…THREE. Some gamers might actually want to race a human opponent on the much lauded Grand Canyon track. Oh, sorry, it’s not one of them. What about the advertised system link capability? If anyone out there knows how to make it work, you are a better man that I, and my buddy in the IT department at my college, and all the people on any forum in the world. I have had two PS2s (old style) sitting across a room, linked through a hub, and they refused to recognize each other. So the one thing that might have atoned slightly for lack of online play is a complete farce. Sony can fornicate themselves with the network adapter, all it’s good for is a paper weight or some trade-in credit at EB. Multiplayer score: 30

    A note on content:
    In the great world of cars, there are slews of rather pedestrian grocery-getters, and there are a few legends. Porsche, the winningest brand of car in racing ever, Ferrari, the most successful marque in Formula 1, the benchmark against which all other high performance cars are measured, Lamborghini, the only company ever to rival Ferrari’s prestige. What do they all have in common aside from rich heritage and a monopoly on kids bedroom walls all over the world? NONE of them are included in GT4. Sure, they’ve got the panache companies like Aston Martin and Lotus, the up-and-comers like Pagani, and the niche-market TVR. Those are fine and dandy, but they don’t carry the weight of the other three. I like the fact that I can drive the car I actually drive in the game, it’s novel, but what good is a game if I can’t indulge in fantasy as well. If I want to drive an MR2 Turbo, I’ll grab my keys and head for the door. If I want to drive a Ferrari, well…ok bad example. If I want to drive a Lamborghini, I would like to be able to depend on a video game to hold me over until I win the powerball lottery or something. I’m not asking for every Ferrari, or Lamborghini, just one of each would do fine. I would give up at least 20 of the 25 NSXs in Gran Turismo, or 12 of the 17 Skylines, or 10 of the 15 EVO Lancers, or….well, you get the point. All I’m saying is that quantity isn’t everything.

    Fun Factor:
    Aside from the shite multiplayer, and some repetitive races, I found this game to be pretty fun. The wide variety of cars, and car dynamics kept my interest high for quite a while. Once I came to grips with the neutered multiplayer mode, the racing league has made for some good times. If driving games are your thing, you will enjoy this game. It is probably a safe buy if you are not planning on getting an Xbox any time soon. The 80 score is weighted on the bottom by the egregious neglect of multiplayer support by polyphony/sony.

    Usability:
    The menus in GT4 are sometimes not very intuitive, and the layout of the main screen in GT mode takes getting used to. The game has a tendency of blurring, or vibrating the on-screen image during racing, which could pose a hazard to anyone with epilepsy (I’m being serious). This blurring effect is enough to make me queasy if it persists for long enough. Load time can be annoying, but aren’t terrible. Once the menus and main screen become second nature, the game is easy to navigate. The garage is sortable by a variety of statistics or categories, but could do with a scrolling design rather than a page-based setup. 85

    Stability:
    GT4 has been rock solid. The only software/hardware issue I have discovered is the blurring screen. 98

    Summary:
    An superior evolution of GT3, GT4 is the best game on the market for the PS2 exclusive racing fan. As long as nothing is expected of the multiplayer mode, the game will provide ample variety and playability. It scores in the visual and audio department with excellent car models, attractive environments, and proficient engine notes, but lacks in user-friendliness, and multiplayer support. GT4 would have been infinitely better as a launch title for the PS3.

    Overall Score: 82.4 (multiplayer included) 91.2 (stand-alone)

    ****Editor’s Note. The Music has a rating of 30 because we have no rating for Multiplayer, which Wheelman apparently did not realize. So, Music = Multiplayer (whatever that means) for this game.