The Half-Life 2 Conspiracy

The Orange Box - Valve's Master Plan
The OB

Half-Life 2 is a great game, and Valve know this.
Valve are a really smart bunch of guys. With the imminent release of The Orange Box, I've come to realise this.

They put out Half-Life 2, and Episode 1 to get players hooked, and then when Episode 2 comes out, they put it in a bundle. This bundle contains both Half-Life 2 and Episode 1 as well as a couple of other games. People that already own the game and Episode 1 can give out their extra copy to other people for free. This, in turn hooks them on the game, getting them to inevitably purchase The Orange Box, getting another set of free gifts of HL2 and Episode 1. They then give it to someone else, who eventually buys The Orange Box themselves. It's one big giant circle.

Their ultimate plan was to get Half-Life 2 in to the hands of EVERYBODY.
And I don't think they'll fail.

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Team Fortress 2


So I've been playing TF2 for two weeks now and I've come to the conclusion that it is most certainly the funnest multiplayer game in the history of the world. Ever.

I take satisfaction in knowing that my killer will soon have a knife in the back of his neck

The retail version of the game isn't available until the 10th of October. Last Tuesday Valve released the game as a beta to people who pre-purchased the Orange Box (and got 10% off, and Peggle EXTREME to boot, which in itself is the best reason to pre-purchase - do it now if you haven't already). Initially, being so close to the release date and the fact that it was inevitably going "gold" any minute now, I figured this wasn't really a beta so much as it was a pre-release perk to pre-purchasers. Turns out I was proven wrong by Valve themselves, who after just a couple days of beta-ing, rolled out an update that fixed several issues.

Capping the point
Capping the point

Since steam is required for Team Fortress 2, the game will automatically update to the latest version as soon as the user installs it anyway, so even if the gold version that people will buy in-store doesn't have these updates, the game will update itself. One of the reasons I love steam so much. <3 Steam.
One of the fixes removed the animated background for the menu (like pretty much all source-based games have) which was supposed to fix compatibility issues. I wasn't aware of any issue but for me it cut loading times in half, which was one of my initial beefs with the game. Before the update it would take forever to start up. After the update it takes about as long as any other source game. So kudos to Valve for that.

There are a couple of things that have stuck out to me.

  • First off, a lot of the pickups and general sound-effects are recycled from Half-Life 2. It's really disappointing when you hear the commentaries. They say they had some spare time once they had finished the game, so they implemented some extra animations and taunt gestures. But they didn't have enough time to make some new sound effects?
  • Respawn times. Sometimes they can be ridiculous. The longest I've seen was about 25 seconds. It really sucks if you're an engineer and you killed by a spy, then the spy proceeds to sapper your turrets and dispensers. You can't do anything about it because you need to wait 25 seconds to respawn. By then the buildings are long gone and the spy has since relocated to another area. The slow respawns can really take away from the fast paced action of the other units, like the soldier, and especially the scout. Then again, other times you can get a respawn time of 5 seconds or less, which is great.
  • Sudden Death. It needs to be removed. It's the worst feature ever and nobody likes it. Every time it starts everyone moans. Sometimes it's often induced twice in a row, once for the round timeout, and a second time for the map timeout. Sudden Death would be great for clan wars and such, but in public servers ("pubs") it's just a big camp fest that always ends in a draw.

    Sudden Lame
  • Red barrels don't blow up. This goes against everything I've ever learnt from games. I see a red barrel, I expect it to blow up when I shoot it. If you're going to make a barrel an object in the environment, make it light blue or grey.

Apart from those small little pesterings, I can honestly say I've never had as much fun in a game as I have with TF2. It's just.. fun.

The death cam is great!
The death cam is great!

I think the death cam is my favourite feature of the game. In the faster-paced areas of the maps, quite often your killer will already be dead before the death cam shows them, so it'll show blood and guts and gibs flying all over the place. The gibs are another thing that are really well done in this game. Cartoony gibs make killing people, and getting killed, unnaturally fun.

Sadly, of all the people I know that have pre-purchased the Orange Box, the majority of them seem to be spending more time playing Peggle Extreme than TF2. I can't really blame them, Peggle is addictive.

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Steam Community

FOff So Steam Community has been out for a few days now and so far I think it's great. We've set up a group for our clan and everything is going nicely.

For those that don't know what Steam Community is, it's essentially Valve's take on a social networking website. Every person with a Steam account has an account there and users can join groups and find new friends and what not.
It's currently in beta, and to take part you need to select it from the Beta Participation option box in your account settings (via Steam). Your Steam will restart and have a refreshed look and a shiny new Community tab.

The best part in my opinion is that Steam Community fits right in to all Steam games. When playing any Steam game simply hit Shift+TAB and the game will fade out (similar to the effect you get when going to the menu) and the Steam Community interface will pop up. You get your refreshed new Friends list, any chat boxes you have open and the community window. The community window gives you access (in the form of, surprise surprise, Microsoft's Interweb Explorer) to the community website. You can browse users, groups, join chats, find friends and so on.
I haven't tried it but I imagine the chatrooms will soon be used for "He's behind the box in mid!" messages during games.
Unfortunately you can't select and modify the URL in the address bar of the community window. So you can't type in URLs beyond the community site. I'm sure leet script kiddies will figure out how to access porn WHILE playing Counter-Strike (probably the ultimate wet dream of every script kiddie) but with Valve's ridiculously impressive patch release cycle I doubt it would stick.

in game steam comm

While the Community is a great step forward there are a few things I think it lacks, and I hope these features show up before, or shortly after the product comes out of beta. Like I said above, Valve are very well known for their patching. There's a new Half-Life or Counter-Strike update every other day almost, so the likelihood of seeing a lot new features are pretty good.

For clan groups like ours, we need to send out invites to each of our clan members. These clan members need to be participating in the beta to receive invites. Our clan is massive, in no way a pro clan, a fun-times clan comprised of probably every player on GameArena (just kidding, it's more like 50%). And I doubt any one of us has every member on their Friends list. I rarely use the Friends list, up until a few weeks ago I only had a players on there.
Having a "Request Invite" or "Apply to be in this group" button on the groups page would make it so much easier on us administrating the clan group. We could just log in and see 3 people have requested to be in this group. If one or two aren't clan members we can deny their request and accept the one that is a clan member.
This request might not make it to the light of day, since most clans are small, it's more likely they'd want to invite other players in to their clan.

The other feature I want is to make RSS or XML feeds for things like group members, member profiles and friends lists.
This would be ideal for clan website integration. Have say a memberlist page that lists each member from the feed from Steam Community and then link each member to a profile page, which reads it's information from the user's profile feed.
This idea is too good not to do. It also makes my job managing the mcsA website something like 154.81% easier.

Another thing is probably to change "Custom CSS" (a feature labelled as coming soon) to "Custom Cascading Stylesheet", if only to stop the confusion of everyone that calls Counter-Strike: Source "CSS". When I first saw it I was like WTF Mayte. Unfortunately it did take me few seconds to realise what they were talking about, considering I had just moments ago selected "Counter-Strike: Source" as my favourite game.

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Spider-Man 3 The Game

Spider-Man 3 The Game Requirements

Spider-Man 3 is awesome. On PS3 and 360. PC on the other hand is one jinormously bad port. The second you pop in to the game you can tell that it really wasn't coded to be played on the PC. The maximum framerate you can ever have in any situation is 30, because the game caps it at that. Like I said, it's a port, and if you play anything on a console at more than 30 frames a second it will blow up your television and make your cousin pregnant.

When it comes to bad frame rates in games, usually the first thing to do is turn down some graphics options. So I did that. Turned off extra filters and lowered the resolution. If anything it actually got worse. Turning the res back up and enabling the filters actually got me a better framerate (as much "better" 30 can be).

30 frames isn't bad. In fact it's quite playable. Until you do anything other than stand around scratching yourself. I swing around town and do amazing tricks and stare at the beautiful HDR lighting (one of the few games to actually do it nicely) and amazing scenery and all the while it wavers between 25 and 30. Not bad. Fighting brings it down to around the late teens to early twentys. Boss fights tend to be painfully slow and don't even TRY going underground. The second you enter the subway for some reason it shoots down to 5-10 FPS. What is so painfully intensive underground? Whatever it is it slows Spidey to (wall)crawl.


Speaking of The Subway, whats up with the music down there? It's like they tried to emulate the echoy dullness of the underground but all they ended up with was horribly distorted noise. When I first went down there I thought it was loud rock music being played by the Apocalypse gang, of whom I was sent in to slaughter. Unfortunately not.

For that extra bit of interactivity, the game includes Interactive Cut-Scenes. Horrible technology that has been around since the days of Donkey Kong. I hate these things. Maybe it's because I have no hand-eye co-ordination, but I think it's more because when I see a cut-scene start I expect to put the controller down and watch this vividly entertaining piece of machinmatic cinema. Then a large SPACEBAR appears over the Cut-Scene and I think, "What?".


Maybe the Interactive Cut-Scenes work well on the consoles, but on PC they are just plain mean. You have no way of predicting which button it will prompt you to press next and they flash on the screen for a very short time before Spider-Man dies because you failed to press the correct button. The buttons range from your standard movement keys: WSAD, the advanced movement keys, Q and E, buttons I didn't even know the game recognised like Left Shift, Right Shift and the Controls, the numbers 1-4 and then the mouse keys, Left Click, Right Click and Middle Click.
So whenever a cut-scene starts I'm holding both hands over the keyboard, ready to press any of those buttons, and I have my leg over the mouse in case they throw one of those at me.
This coupled with the horrible frame rate means quite often you have to press each key a few times just to make it sure it got through. If you press it when it skips a frame it disregards your input as non-constructive criticism.

Now I'm up to the final battle of all time and I'm up against Sandman and guess what? The whole battle is determined by those stupid cut-scenes. And for some reason every time they start I get a big cross over the screen saying I pressed the wrong button, regardless of whether I actually pressed a button or not. So essentially I'm stuck.

Another thing I would like to complain about is the fact that the hidden tokens that you (don't really) have to collect aren't highlighted when you use your spidey-sense. I figured the tokens would be one of the very few things the spidey-sense is good for.

By the way, I copyright that image for all time over all the universe for ever and ever amen. It took me a whole half an hour to edit that.
Also, I feel that I should say that I played this on XP, to make sure the bad framerate wasn't Vista. It wasn't. It's just as bad in XP.

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Sounds Pretty Serious


Of all the adjectives for an error, I must admit "catastrophic" is by far the coolest of them all.

Related.. ly.. why do developers always put shit pictures in the background of their installers? Shouldn't the install process get users pumped and ready for an awesome game experience? Putting a 320x240, 16 colour, no AA, no filtering, low quality and all around crappy image in the background just makes us depressed. Arsehole.

I'm sure there's some BS answer for this such as a bunch of wankers with ties did some research in to the launch speeds of the install process and found that low res backgrounds made some omnipotent being happy or something. It's 2007 for Christmas' sake! I think it's safe to assume everyone has quad core CPUs and several magaflops of RAM. I'm sure they can handle an image of ginormous proportions like 1024x768.

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