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Rant Mode–EA’s Origin platform redux

It’s not often that I end up ranting about something twice. EA’s Origin unfortunately has now earned my wrath for a second time. You can read about my previous grumblings here.

Last week, the Humble Origin Bundle went on sale. At the price the bundle was offered, I couldn’t resist ordering. Of the lot, Dead Space 3 is the newest game (Feb 2013), while the other games are anything from 1-4 years old. A lot of people have purchased this bundle, since it is great value and the proceeds are going to charity. More cynical people acknowledge that part, but state that the real idea is to draw people in to use EA’s Origin platform.

Unfortunately, it seems EA were not prepared for the influx of new users. Keys could not be redeemed as the servers had for all intents and purposes, melted under the load. Luckily I didn’t suffer this problem. What has been a problem however is downloading the games. I’m on a paltry 1Mb/s ADSL connection at home, and seeing the size of some of these downloads made it clear I couldn’t do it at home. Luckily I have the capability of doing so at work. I installed Origin and started by trying to download Dead Space 1. Starts off well enough, but then the download simply hangs after a while. Clicking the Pause button does no good, as the download never pauses. At this point I have to hard exit or kill the Origin task with Task Manager.

The line at work could have finished Dead Space over the weekend, but since the connection simply wouldn’t stay alive, I’ve had to baby sit the download in chunks. Not fun, and not the way Origin used to work. Origin didn’t have this problem with Mass Effect 3, so I don’t know if it’s one of their updated releases that did it or what. Numerous reports on the EA forums bear witness to the fact that I’m not the only one suffering this problem. All I want to do is download the game at work and transfer it to my home PC, something else Origin is woefully inept at doing. Steam makes this process idiotically easy.

Also, the latest Origin update has now decided it wants to download and reinstall all my Mass Effect 2 DLC, which for whatever reason it can’t pick up the fact that it’s already installed. The previous version of Origin finally fixed that problem, but it now appears to be back.

Digital downloads keep being trumpeted as the future of how content is distributed, but experiences like this only make me want to cling onto my physical media all the harder. Add the fact that internet speeds here in South Africa are simply not great, and the situation becomes somewhat painful. I can’t help but feel that part of the reason EA offered the bundle was to load test Origin to the breaking point, and then finally get sort out their service. Some commentators have said that we should look at what Steam was like after its first two years on the market, but I’m not sure that is a valid point. EA would have seen Steam’s problems, and could have worked to avoid it from the start. Everything Steam does wrong, EA could have done right, but it seems that this will never happen.

And to think, PC gaming once used to be simple and enjoyable mere minutes after buying a game….

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Fallout 3 and Windows 7

December 9, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve had a copy of Fallout 3 for a long time now. I bought the Collectors Edition on a whim not long after the game out, and as I write this, Vault Boy is staring at me. Getting Fallout 3 working properly on Windows 7 on my new PC was a bit time consuming, including some aggravating bugs that took a while to hunt down. Note that I’m not using the Steam version, but rather the original version that came in the Collectors Edition lunch box.

    1. Install Fallout 3. This should go ahead without any hitches.
    2. Download the 1.7 patch, but do not install it yet. You can get the 1.7 patch from here.
    3. Download and install the latest Games for Windows Live runtime, available here. You don’t have to sign into the program, just have it installed. Without it, patch 1.7 doesn’t work properly, and Fallout 3 won’t launch.
    4. Install patch 1.7.

You may notice that Fallout 3 isn’t added to Games Explorer in Windows 7, despite it being Games for Windows certified. More irritating is that it was added to Games Explorer in Windows Vista. We can fix this by doing the following:

  1. Open up a command prompt with Administrative Privileges.
  2. Go to your Fallout 3 install directory.
  3. Enter GDFInstall /richext .fos /exe “<Path\To\>Fallout3.exe” GDFFallout3.dll

If the command was entered correctly, you should have a small dialog box popping up confirming success. If you now check Games Explorer, Fallout 3 should be there.

Lastly, I had a problem where my game would freeze up anywhere between 5-10 minutes playing time. It was particularly bad after entering a new building. The game music kept playing, but the game was frozen rock solid. A bit of searching on the net gave me some tweaks to make to your Fallout.ini file, located in C:\Users\username\Documents\My Games. Make the following changes:

  1. Find the line bUseThreadedAI=0, and change the 0 to 1.
  2. Directly below this line, insert the following line: iNumHWThreads=2

With those 2 tweaks, the game has been behaving solidly for me now, with no more crashing after 5-10 minutes. From what I gather, the Gamebryo engine used in Fallout 3 is pretty picky about what it will run on. The amount of cores in a modern PC is a bit more that what was around when Fallout 3 originally came out.

Hopefully, with these tweaks, you will get some enjoyment out of the game. I’m really glad Bethesda switched to the Creation engine for Skyrim, it’s been far less buggy for me than any of the games that used the Gamebryo engine. I had Fallout 3 installed on my old PC, but the sound crackling issues with my Creative X-Fi eventually made me give up and move onto other games. The game worked fine in Windows XP, but I had already made the move to Vista by then. I didn’t feel it was worth it to keep XP around for just one game, so I didn’t bother. I’m enjoying the game so far, but as usual with a large RPG, there are many more hours to go.

Rant Mode–EA’s Origin distribution platform

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment

In the digital game distribution world, there are many products that have come and gone over the years. Some have managed to survive with a small audience base, while others came, shone brightly for a while and then died. One name stands above all others however: Valve’s Steam. I’m not the biggest fan of Steam in the world for a few reasons, but it works well and has changed the industry probably for the better.

EA sold their games through Steam, but starting with The Old Republic and Battlefield 3, they no longer provided their games on Steam, but were instead forcing people to use Origin, their rebranded attempt at taking on Steam. For the most part, Origin has worked ok for me, but its features are lacking compared to Steam. In particular, the one that is grating me the most right now is the lack of a proper game backup/restore option.

I’ve recently just built a new computer for myself (more on that soon), and one of the things I needed to do was to set up Steam and Origin again on the new PC. With Steam, restoring backed up games off of my old PC was a piece of cake. Click on the Steam menu button in Steam, select Backup and Restore Games and follow the prompts to easily restore your games. Worked like a charm.

Origin has no such ability. A search found out that you could try copying the existing folder off the old PC onto the new PC and run some setup file in a specific directory to reinstall the game, but this file didn’t exist on my PC. Reading through other links revealed that other people also didn’t have this file. In the end, I was able to get Mass Effect 3 reinstalled by pointing the location Origin uses to install games to the new correct directory. I right clicked on the Mass Effect 3 game art in Origin and said Install. This proceeded to reinstall the game using the existing folder I had copied earlier.

However, after installation, it kept trying to download all the DLC I’ve purchased for the game, which is a multi gigabyte affair. After forcing enough cancels, it seems to have settled down a little.

Just when I thought I would be good to go, Origin wanted to start downloading every piece of Mass Effect 2 DLC I own and install it. I registered Mass Effect 2 with Origin, so that if my game disks are ever damaged, I can download the game for free. However, I already have all the DLC packs downloaded and saved, so I don’t need Origin to download and install them for me. I cancel every time I open Origin, but it keeps attempting to download the DLC files.

Origin has potential. I like its interface, as well as its speed. As a launcher of games, it’s pretty decent. However, many of the games that it supports managing in return have no idea Origin exists, so there is a disconnected feeling when playing an older game. Contrast that with Steam, where every game on the platform is Steam aware. If EA want to seriously compete in the digital download market, they need to ramp up the quality of the Origin client. They don’t even need to copy all of Steam’s features – just get the rest of the basics in place. It really isn’t too much to ask for. After all, the more competition there is in the industry, the more we as customers benefit.

Origin

My Origin collection of games. Note that only Mass Effect 3 fully supports Origin. The others were “redeemed” games in case my physical disks ever get damaged/lost/stolen

Mass Effect 3 review

Last week I finished up Mass Effect 3, and I thought I would post my thoughts on the game here. I’m not going to score the game in a traditional way, but rather give my thoughts in ugly, bad and good point form. ME3 is a highly subjective game, and depending on how you played the previous games, most of the outcomes will differ from player to player.

The Ugly:

  • The character importer is severely broken. If you customised the face of your Commander Shepard in the previous games, there is a very high chance that when you import him/her into ME3 your face will either look very different or will fail to appear at all. I can understand that BioWare worked on improving the graphics in ME3, but to have your custom Shep face not available immediately breaks immersion. Very poor form BioWare, and the 1.02 patch does not resolve the problem!
  • The endings ruin everything that was built up over 5 years. It’s too short, too full of holes and feels incredibly rushed. It poses far too many questions that deserve answers, being the end of the trilogy.

The Bad:

  • If you play on a PC, EA’s Origin service is required. Depending on how you view it, this could be a non issue or a massive pain. Origin is a lot like Steam, though I find it to start up faster and be more responsive. Still, it’s a bit intrusive to have the service forced on you.
  • Multiplayer can be buggy. MP is a lot of fun with the right team, but sometimes it glitches really badly. Apparently the MP section is peer to peer hosted, so if your hosting player is on a slow connection, strange things can and do happen. It’s also frustrating when you get disconnected right near the end of great match.
  • Enemies are repetitive! There are only 3 types in the entire game, and they get boring after a while. The previous 2 ME games had a lot more variety.

The Good:

  • There are some truly epic moments in the game. Some characters get a wonderful ending that leaves you emotionally wrecked. These missions are truly the BioWare standard of old!
  • Graphics seem to have been spruced up again. ME3 is no Crysis, but it’s come a long way since the first game. Also, crying seems a lot more natural now and not like the oil slick effect from ME2.
  • Ashley is back. She’s my favourite character and love interest, so it’s great to have her back.
  • Great squad dynamics. The smaller squad makes the game feel a bit more like ME1, where you could get to know your team mates quite well, unlike ME2 where there were up to 12 members. Banter is great, and the team mates generally work together very well.

Overall, Mass Effect 3 is a very good game with many fantastic moments, but it is also rough around the edges in many places. There was a massive leak of the game’s contents in November last year which forced BioWare to make a lot of last minute changes. I’m sure that impacted quite a bit on the game as well, and could go a way to explaining the nature of the endings.

BioWare have announced an Extended Cut that will come as free DLC in “Summer 2012.” They won’t change the endings, but they intend the EC to flesh out the choice you make, as well as provide closure. If BioWare pull this off, then at least it will go some way to helping us accept our Shepard’s fate in the end.

Until then, I will leave it at this: Mass Effect 3 is a fine game in most of its areas, but as a complete package, it falls short of Mass Effect 2. I hope that further DLC as well as the Extended Cut will flesh out the game to the level of ME2.

Is this the last we’ll see of Commander Shepard? Probably and sadly so. I just can’t see how Shep will feature in future games after the Reapers. Will it be the last Mass Effect game? Unlikely – Electronic Arts knows when they have a gold franchise, and I am sure that they will push for more games to be made in the universe in the future.

Mass Effect 3 Redux

My last blog post was about the failure of Mass Effect 3 to correctly import the face of my Commander Shepard. I’m still waiting on BioWare to patch the problem, so I’ve yet to start the single player campaign. However, I thought that a picture would be worth a thousand words, so I’m going to graphically demonstrate how far off the importer is.

My Shepard in Mass Effect:

MassEffect 2012-03-15 18-41-24-60

Mass Effect 2:

MassEffect2 2012-03-15 19-12-03-25

And what Mass Effect 3 wants to offer me:

MassEffect3 2012-03-15 18-45-23-49

I tried fiddling with the values in the Character Creator to get him close to what he was, but this was the closest I could get:

MassEffect3 2012-03-15 19-21-54-06

Needless to say, I will only get to fully experience Mass Effect 3 once – replays after that will not have the same impact. It’s painful to wait, but I will wait until the patch comes out and fixes the problem, or BioWare says that they cannot fix it. Until then, it’s multi player only.

Categories: Computer gaming

Mass Effect 3 trials and tribulations

March 14, 2012 1 comment

When it comes to game companies, BioWare is my favourite developer. I don’t even want to think about the number of hours I’ve sunk into their games over the years. In the last couple of years, the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series have captivated me like no other. Whether it’s the Warden or Commander Shepard, my imagination has worked overtime living in these worlds.

Last week, Mass Effect 3 was finally released. I, like millions around the globe, looked forward to the conclusion of Shepard’s story. The trailers BioWare put out only made the desire heighten. For 2 fantastic games, we guided and moulded our individual Shepard. I even ordered 2 copies of the Collector’s Edition, as a memento the entire series.

I got home with my copy in tow on Friday and went through the setup procedure. A bit different thanks to Origin, but nothing too major. The amount of DLC was long to download, thanks to my slow internet connection at home. Nonetheless, I let it finish first so I could dive into the game in one go. By the time I was ready to play, I had read about a bug on the BioWare forums that affected characters imported from earlier ME games. The faces of said imports either errored out or produced vastly different results compared to ME2. I hoped that I wouldn’t be hit by this, as my Shepard was chosen from one of the presets in ME1 and then modified to suit me.

Lo and behold, the bug affected me as well. My Shepard has green eyes, ginger hair, no beard and is a white character. The import face I was offered had brown eyes, brown hair, brown skin and a scruffy beard. Needless to say, I didn’t continue. I tried to customise the import to match what I had looked like in ME2, but I gave up after a while as it was nowhere near close to what I had. Instead I’ve had to delay playing the game and satisfy myself with multiplayer instead.

There is currently a 150 page thread on the BioWare forums about this bug. BioWare are aware of the bug, but there is precious little feedback on when/if the bug can be fixed. I have to admit that I am not impressed, as something this major should have not slipped by Quality Assurance. One of the unique and fantastic aspects of the ME universe is that you would carry your same Shep through the entire trilogy. To have it fail at the start of ME3 feels like someone either overlooked the bug or didn’t test properly.

All in all, I am not impressed. I am prepared to wait for a final verdict on whether this will be fixed or not, but what I really want is just some feedback from BioWare. Just a quick note to say they’ve made progress, or something to let us know. Many people will put up with the bug if they know it’s being worked on and there is feedback. Silence on the other hand only inflames the situation. I hope that for BioWare’s sake, they take this to heart and communicate more about this sort of situation. BioWare has many passionate fans thanks to their wonderful games, but they need to be more open with the fans if they want to keep the fans.

The Witcher 2 initial experience is troublesome

This past week, I decided on a whim to buy both The Witcher and The Witcher 2 on gog.com, a site that has earned plenty of praise for their work with, literally good old games. In particular, the GOG version has no SecuRom copy protection in it, something I am always happy to avoid. I must add that while I have no major issue with copy protection or DRM, it needs to work right, be reliable and not mess with Windows. SecuRom in particular doesn’t fit this bill, but that is a story for another time.

Long story short, I downloaded the files and brought them home. Installation of both games went well, no issues at all. The problems began once I tried to get online to register the games however. The Witcher website appears to have been redesigned shortly before the launch of Witcher 2, which is nothing major in of itself. What is a problem is that you cannot login or register on the site, with those buttons being greyed out. Attempting to register from within the launcher for Witcher 2 is a very hit and miss affair with the servers seeming to be constantly offline or having connectivity issues.

While I finally managed to get the game registered, I’ve been unable to download the first piece of free DLC they released. The launcher struggles to connect to their servers, most attempts simply die. When it does connect, it downloads the file, says Verifying and then does nothing. Going back into the Downloadable Content option on the menu shows that the DLC was not installed. Mass Effect 2 was a good example of how to do DLC right technically. Download an exe file, install it and content is available if you log in with the matching account.

Trying to register Witcher 1 has been even less successful, as it appears the servers are either down or not available. Reading the Witcher website reveals that there is some hairy server maintenance going on, accounts being moved, forums offline, use one account for Witcher 1 and one for Witcher 2 and many other issues.

The overall feeling from this is one of irritation. While I have no problem with server issues, a clear announcement on the front page of the website would be useful as well as some sort of concrete timeframe on when everything will be up and running.

In mitigation, I will say that perhaps the demand has surprised the crews at CDProjekt Red, and based on what I’ve read, they are working insanely hard to get it all worked out. It’s just a pity that no game seems to be launched these days without some or another flaw that makes the initial experience less than perfect. I begin to understand what draws so many people to consoles now…

Overall, I’m going to give things about a week to settle down, and in the mean time I can play through Dragon Age 2 and Witcher 1 before finally getting into Witcher 2.