Farewell Robin Williams, an oldschool video gamer

Very sad to hear about the passing of Robin Williams.

I loved his movies, but I also loved his lesser-known passion for video games.

He did an interview years ago where he talked about playing Quake – I’ve held on to this mp3 file since I got it and always enjoyed listening to it every time I stumbled across it when I was deep-diving in my archived files.

It’s embedded below.

Form Letter: Where’s the Dedicated Server Software for My Game?

A few years ago when I was actively hunting down dedicated server software for video games and directly dealing with users asking “hey, why don’t you run servers for Game X”, I wrote a form letter that I recommended gamers used as a basis for asking game developers and publishers questions about their dedicated server policy.

I’ve reproduced it below. I strongly advise everyone to use this form as often as possible.

More companies releasing more dedicated server software means more servers all over the world. It means it’s more likely that you’ll get a better gaming experience from your game. Companies like Valve Software understand this implicitly – their success selling games is certainly linked to their excellent dedicated server software, which means anyone anywhere in the world can experience their games the way they’re meant to be played.

“Dear Sir/Madam,

I have been keenly following the development of your upcoming game, [Insert Game Title Here]. I was very excited to see the release of your multiplayer game on my favourite gaming site, [Insert Site name here]. I went out and purchased it with alacrity and looked forward to playing it, but was disappointed when I was unable to find many local servers that provided me with a low-latency game – and thus my experience of the game was very poor.

I contacted my local game service provider (GSP) and asked if they would put up a game server for [this new multiplayer game]. My GSP is called [name of GSP], and they provide server support for a lot of other games that I like to play.

Unfortunately, they have informed me that due to the lack of support from the developer and publisher – specifically a lack of a standalone dedicated server product that complies with their service infrastructure – they will be unable to support your game.

Generally speaking, game service providers requires such games to make available a standalone dedicated server for Windows or Linux that runs as a console mode or Windows application. Games that require a hardware accelerated video mode are totally unsuitable for many game service providers as they are typically running servers that don’t have this sort of hardware available.

As a result, I – and many other gamers in [name of your country, state, city, etc] – will be unable to play your game in the environment in which it truly deserves. I am forced to play on slow servers in other countries with very poor network performance, which ultimately greatly reduces the enjoyment I get playing the game – and thus significantly reduces the liklihood that I will choose to purchase any other titles from you.

So, on behalf of the gamers all around the world that are currently in the same situation that I am in, I humbly request that you make available a standalone, dedicated server package that can be downloaded separately and independently of the main product.

Without a version like this, it is very probable that many game service providers around the world will have problems arranging resources to run servers for your new title, which will lead to less servers online, which of course means less chance that people wanting to play your title will be unable to do so in the environment for which it was designed.

[Insert name here]”

Grand Theft Auto 4 – The Aftermath

The AusGamers Grand Theft Auto 4 review – on our new whiz-bang website – is now up. Steve has given it a thorough playing before deigning to write a single word, I think with excellent results. If you want to really know how the game plays before you drop your hard earned cash, then you should definitely check it out.

It was interesting to see how all the major players in the review space had their reviews up. A brand like GTA is going to sell no matter what they put in the box and put on the shelves, so I can’t help but feel that it almost doesn’t matter what people write about it – everyone is going to buy it regardless. But at the same time, it’d be nice to think that critical reviews of entertainment software are going to be done by someone that has at least spent several days playing the game – especially when it is a title crammed with such variety as your average GTA instance.

The echoes of the release of GTA4 will continue to rebound around the universe for months, if not years. A title that cost around US$100 million to make and raked in around US$500 million in sales in the first few nanoseconds after release – well, at title like that is something that will affect the industry in significant ways.

EA has definitely caught a taste of blood in the water, and are circling Take Two to try and get a few bites of that tasty Grand Theft Auto meat that appears to be ever-so-slightly out of their reach.

Another effect is a little more personal, but I suspect it’s actually fairly common. GTA4 is, for me, the killer app that is going to drag me kicking and screaming into the “next generation” console world. The reluctance on my part is really just because I know what is “next generation” in consoles is really “several generations old” in terms of PC hardware – while I enjoy running down pedestrians from the comfort of my couch, I can’t deny I’d rather be paying GTA4 on the PC.

But it looks like that dream is a while off, so I’ve reconciled myself with my fate – I need to buy an Xbox 360 (I have ruled out a PlayStation 3 as part of a general anti-Sony bias that shows no sign of abating).

Now, I don’t want to go to all the trouble of buying a next generation console and the hottest game of the year only to play it in a blurry mess on my old CRT TV – so that means I need to get a new TV. As far as console accessories go, this is a big one – instantly my ~$600 next generation upgrade becomes a massive investment, not just into my game playing but into my TV watching. I need to factor in how big a deal 1080p is, whether or not I want a BluRay player, should I get surround sound…

I tried to solve all these problems in a single sweep last weekend, making the painful decision about what TV I wanted, committing myself to spending a large sum of money all so I could play one particular game. By the time I’d committed to the decision I felt like a large weight had been lifted off my chest – I was finally moving forward into the next generation, so my peers would no longer look pityingly upon me when I said I only had a 80cm CRT TV that wasn’t even widescreen on which I played GTA: San Andreas on a PlayStation 2.

Sadly, about 10 minutes after I’d decided to jump in feet first, it turned out that the plasma TV I had decided on was not available in the store – or any other stores from around town. Instantly, my whole plan became unravelled – I’d spent ages researching this particular TV and had my heart set on it as I knew it was a pretty decent one. Should I risk gambling on another just to solve the problem? Or go back to the research drawing board?

The adrenaline rush and mental effort of committing to this purchase had drained me of all ability to think further on the issue, so I walked out of the store a broken man – no doubt much to the disappointment of the salesman I was dealing with, who was looking forward to a nice combo sale to wrap up his day.

So I’m back at square one – no GTA4, no nice new plasma, no Xbox 360. I’ll probably go out again this weekend after doing some more research on TVs, but reflecting on the whole process and then extrapolating it out to the Rest of the World makes me curious – how many other people are going through similar pains because of the lure of just one game? Are we a small group of just crazy people with a bit too much disposable income? Or is this game such a big deal that it has the potential to not only drive people into the next generation console world, but also move people into the next generation television world, prompting a more significant uptake of big screen, high definition televisions than ever before seen?

Either way, the impact GTA4 has had already in terms of its own sales – regardless of anything else it’s done to or for anyone else – is simply mind-boggling. The effect it has had on gamers is no less astounding – every website is awash with stories of how great the game is, how much it’s selling, how many people are going to go crazy and kill people because of it, how it’s not going to incite riots, etc, etc.

And I have only played it for a few minutes. When will I get my turn?!

AusGamers is Offline

Due to unexpected hardware failure, the majority of the AusGamers Network is offline.

Unfortunately we’re a little too poor to afford awesome redundant solutions (except in certain situations, like the above sentence’s use of “unexpected hardware failure”), so the failure of one physical server has taken out the majority of our web services (the ausgamers.com website, the file downloads, and of course the forums).

We’re working on the problem and hope to have it available again soon.

Me on TripleJ’s Hack

I was recently invited to say a few words about the PC game America’s Army on Triple J’s current affairs programme, Hack – one of the best radio programmes you’ll ever listen to. It was related to an article they did about comments made by Dick Cheney about the war in Iraq – sounds deep, but I was just talking about a video game, not offering any interesting political insight. If you’re interested I recorded a bit of it and you can play it here.

E3 2006


Thank shit that is over.

I had bad memories of Los Angeles, and it was really depressing to see that they were all still pretty much valid. After just coming from San Francisco (which I’m not going to write about, except to say that I was fortunate to get great weather most of the time and had a blast), LA felt like a major downgrade.

First of all, it is mostly grey – the air and the ground. What isn’t grey on the ground is probably the road. The whole place just filled me with dread the second I stepped off the plane.

Anyway, LA aside, E3 was really only vaguely entertaining for me this year – highlights included, in approximate order:

– Seeing the Microsoft press conference – they have some good stuff coming. Live Anywhere has some serious potential.

– Seeing Bill Gates IRL. I was wondering what all the security was for when I arrived – lots of incredibly serious looking heavies.

– Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Looking good, baby. Also, meeting Kevin Cloud from id Software and Paul Wedgwood from Splash Damage.

– Rainbow Six: Lockdown looks awesome.

– Didn’t get to tinker with a Nintendo Wii but from what I heard and read, it sounds pretty good.

Wasn’t impressed with Sony’s offering or the PlayStation 3, to be honest. I didn’t get to see any steller titles for it (like Assassin’s Creed which by all reports is shaping up to look hot), and the release price – yowza.

E3’s changed a bit since I was there last in ’99. It is jam packed full of people, all the time. The exhibits are gaudier and noisier. There must be millions and millions of dollars spent, but somehow – it feels cheaper. Stretched.

I don’t really know what the point of a trade show is for computer games. I’m sure a lot of connections get made, deals get signed, ideas are shared, and that sort of thing. But it has turned into such a media blowout that it’s just really hard to take it seriously – publishers and developers trying their best to edge each other out to get the most coverage for their titles.

I think the entire thing would benefit from a no-media policy. Probably a weird thing to say from someone that only goes there as media (and E3 is such a popular time for gamers in general) but without them it might be less of a circus.

Anyway, with the exception of the Saddle Ranch – a great cowboy’ed up restaurant right near the hotel with awesome food – LA’s been the lowlight of the trip.

CTFi Practice Round

Well, we had our CTFi practice round. Me, Storm, FactorX, BadKarma, Limpz, Harkonnen, and Wog all kicked some ass against Team D, who I couldn’t be bothered to name here. Had some server problems towards the end of the game, but they were resolved. And continued problems during the game, because I’d cleverly forgotten how to put a password on the server, so cluepon-worthy people kept joining the server.

The first game in q3wctf2 was a draw, 2 all. We only got our 2nd cap because Kuffs dropped out, so they played damn well to come back and finish the game in a draw. Some awesome plays all over the place, especially by our team in defense, executing a stack of great movies to get our flag back when I thought it was lost for sure.

Second game was q3ctf3, which is a damn defensive one. Fortunately, we somehow managed to sneak through like damn legends and took it out 1-0 with some awesome teamwork co-ordination to cap.

Last game took a while to get going, and we ended up a player down, but fortunately scoob was playing like an child and only using his keyboard or something lame like that. In any case, we played like legends while the other team floundered around whinging about lag and generally trying to see if they could play better through tears. Next game is on Thursday – looking forward to it.

QGL Finals

Phwoar, its been a long time since the last update. Basically because I, along with the rest of the admins, have been busy doing the QGL Finals. To sum up, it went unbelievably well. It seems everyone had an awesome time, and mad props to all the gamers who put in the hard yards over the season and managed to take home the prizes. Big thanks to everyone that helped on the day.

There were a few minor problems – some on Saturday morning with the power, caused (as usual) by people plugging in their own power boards. The worst thing was on Saturday night when the security guard called me at 11:45pm and said we all had to get out of there by midnight. With 80 odd gamers in the hall, this was obviously a bit of a problem, made worse by an awesome headache. Fortunately, I was able to convince the security guard (a totally top bloke) after much wheeling and dealing that unless we could all stay, I’d have to drive everyone home myself. Which would have, needless to say, sucked.

Anyway, it all worked out, and it ended up awesome. Even madder props to the Max and j0r guys, who put on some tremendous displays of both ability and good sportsmanship, something that is a rare combination in the world of computer gaming.