Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pirate Bay Purchased

Torrent hosting site The Pirate Bay has been acquired by Swedish game networking company Global Gaming Factory for $7.8 million. Best known as a site at which users can illegally download music, movies, games, and more, the new owners apparently plan on turning the The Pirate Bay legitimate by compensating content providers.

In a statement, Global Gaming Factory CEO Hans Pandeya states, "We would like to introduce models which entail that content providers and copyright owners get paid for content that is downloaded via the site."

Despite being one of the top 100 most visited sites in the world, Pandeya believes The Pirate Bay needs restructuring. "In order to live on, The Pirate Bay requires a new business model, which satisfies the requirements and needs of all parties, content providers, broadband operators, end users, and the judiciary. Content creators and providers need to control their content and get paid for it. File sharers need faster downloads and better quality."

The move comes after a recent decision by the Swedish court, finding the creators of The Pirate Bay guilty of "assisting in making copyright content available." The four creators were sentenced to one year in prison and fined $905,000 each.

Monday, June 29, 2009

PC Game Sales vs Steals (Week 3)

As explained last week I have decided to document and compare the PC games sales charts to pirated PC game activity. Each week I will present the sales charts, along with the top 10 most active PC game torrents from a popular torrent hosting site.

Unfortunately, it seems as though Direct2Drive has delayed releasing this week's top 10 sales chart. As such, I am only able to present the Steam sales chart for comparison with the most active torrent list. As soon as Direct2Drive's list is out, I will update this post.

Steam Top Sellers (by revenue, 6/21 - 6/27)

1.ARMA 2
2.Overlord II
3.Empire: Total War
4.Left 4 Dead
5.Prototype
6.Counter-Strike: Source
7.Team Fortress 2
8.Killing Floor
9.Empire Total War: Elite Units of the West
10.Dawn of Discovery

Most Active Torrents (6/29)

Seeds Leechers
1.Prototype24626325
2.NBA Live 200824875762
3.Grand Theft Auto 44823786
4.Overlord II10543133
5.Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare13233067
6.ARMA 2852447
7.Empire: Total War Special Forces Edition5462386
8.Fallout 315402203
9.The Sims 2 (incl. all expansion packs)5642104
10.X-Men Origins: Wolverine7062082

The most active PC game torrent list is presented with the number of Seeds and Leechers. Simply put, Seeds corresponds to the number of people who are uploading or sharing the game, whereas Leechers corresponds to the number of people who are downloading the game. One thing to note is that duplicates were not included in the most active torrent list. As a result, the presented number of Seeds and Leechers does not necessarily correspond to the total number of pirated game copies.

This week's Steam sales chart sees the introduction of newly released games ARMA 2, Overlord II, and Dawn of Discovery. The first two titles seem to contribute to Prototype losing its number one spot on Steam, held for the past two weeks.

However, despite falling on Steam, Prototype is able to keep its number one spot on the Most Active Torrents list, with more than double the leechers than Overlord II. Given the nature of torrents, this is not totally unexpected. Being peer-to-peer, those torrents that are popular tend to remain popular for long periods of time, as evidenced by the existence of Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto 4 on this week's Most Active Torrents list.

More surprising is the staying power of NBA Live 08. Entering the Most Active Torrents list last week, I attributed its appearance to the recently concluded 2009 NBA Finals. Since then, however, the number of leechers has doubled. Perhaps this is a trend Electronic Arts, publisher of the NBA Live series, can profit from. Promoting an existing sports game, while providing a price cut, during the conclusion of a sport's season could breathe new life into an aged game. Then again, increased sales in last year's game could jeopardize sales for the upcoming game.

In terms of relating PC game sales to PC game piracy, nothing conclusive can yet be drawn from such a small sample size. One trend that seems to be apparent over the last three weeks, is that popular torrents are able to remain popular for much longer than their legitimate counterparts, at least those counterparts on Direct2Drive and Steam. This is evidenced by Grand Theft Auto 4, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, The Sims 2, and Fallout 3. Hopefully further trends can be deciphered next Monday, when four weeks worth of listings will be available.

Starcraft 2 Lead Designer Interview

Shacknews has recently posted an interview with Starcraft II lead designer Dustin Browder, along with new screenshots.

In the interview a number of topics are discussed, including the development of Battle.net. Browder states, "We're hoping to have support for casual leagues, support for professional leagues, hardcore leagues. Hoping to do a lot more with friends, more with replay sharing."

"There's just a lot more work to do. I could probably show you a full flow of Battle.net today, but I guarantee tomorrow it would be a little different."

Browder also discusses the decision to include one single-player campaign per release. "You know, previously you were going to get a game and two expansions. Now you're going to get a game and you're going to get two expansions. The only difference is that instead of having three campaigns in the game and in each of the expansions, there will be one campaign in each of these expansions, and that's the only difference."

"So I don't think there was any intention to milk anybody of any additional money. This was always going to happen, it's just where the content is placed is now different."

In terms of the Terran campaign, Browder provides a number of interesting details. "It's really different than anything you've seen before in our titles. This is sort of a level of choice and options for the player."

"[N]ow if you get stuck, you can go, 'I'm going to come back to this one. I'm going to go myself something powerful and come back here and make this one suffer.'... The kinds of things you're going to be doing in missions, I think is pretty cool stuff that maybe players aren't quite prepared for."

"We've got a mission right now where every five minutes, lava rises and kills everything on the ground. Everything dies. You've got to get to the high ground or die. We've got a mission right now where infested Terrans are attacking at night, but they're hiding in the ground by day, so you need to just hold out all night long like you're in I Am Legend."

"It's like a 15-45 minute minigame. Depending on how fun the mission is it'll be longer or shorter. But each one is its own little game for you to play."

Details on the upcoming publicly playable demo, and a StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty release date are forthcoming.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Nitpicking Fallout 3 & DLC

(Nitpicking is not meant to be a comprehensive review or synopsis of a game. It instead serves to discuss the design aspects that most contributed to my emotional response, or lack thereof, to a game. A general knowledge of the game is assumed and spoilers may be present.)

Fallout 3

I’m a big fan of Bethesda Softworks and their Elder Scrolls series. So when they released Fallout 3 in 2008, I was excited to say the least. Upon playing the game, I was not disappointed. The well fleshed-out characters, immersive storylines, novel environment, and interesting combat system all provided me with a very enjoyable experience. Two aspects of the game, however, stood out in my mind more than others. One was the masterful quest system, and the other was the rewarding open-world exploration.

In remarking upon the quest system, I am not referring to the main quest. All role-playing games have main storylines that the player can follow through, and Fallout 3’s was engaging and fulfilling. However, what really sets this game apart from other role-playing games are the side-quests.

Traditional role-playing games typically incorporate side-quests as a means for the player to grind his or her statistics. Such side-quests can be of the form “kill x number of creatures” or “deliver this item.” Regardless of the form, the tasks are almost always repetitive and/or menial. No motivation exists to perform them, other than to prepare the player for the next stage of the main storyline.

Even those role-playing games that do not incorporate such side-quests can include some sort of grind. The Final Fantasy series of games generally forces players to repetitively face monsters for long periods of time, as attempting to simply follow the main storyline does not provide enough experience to progress from stage to stage.

Outside of a select few tasks, Fallout 3 is devoid of any menial or repetitive side-quests. Grinding is absolutely unnecessary, and can even be difficult to perform in the wasteland, should one choose to do so. Instead, Bethesda’s role-playing game provides engaging stories, characters, and tasks for almost all of its side-quests.

When first coming upon Moriarty’s Saloon in Megaton, Lucy West asked me to deliver a letter to her family in Arefu. Thinking this would be a simple “deliver this item” quest, I agreed and set it out of my mind. After some further exploration of the wasteland, I finally decided to deliver the letter.

Upon arrival at Arefu I discovered that the town was regularly terrorized by a gang known as The Family. I soon also discovered Lucy West’s parents to be dead, with human bite marks on their necks. After discussing the situation with the town’s protector, Evan King, we came to the conclusion that The Family had killed Lucy West’s parents and kidnapped her younger brother, Ian West. Determined to save the poor Ian West and exterminate all aspirant vampires, I set out to find The Family’s hideout, armed with possible locations from Evan King.

After finally discovering and gaining entrance to The Family’s lair, I was surprised when none of the pseudo-vampires attacked me. I was doubly surprised when I found they were all willing to talk. I was triply surprised to find The Family’s leader, Vance, to be a very reasonable and charismatic man.

Vance and I engaged in a lengthy discussion, during which I learned that The Family was a type of support group for those who craved human flesh and blood. I also learned that The Family had not killed Lucy’s parents, nor had they kidnapped Ian. In fact, Ian had killed his own parents during an uncontrollable craving, and decided to join The Family voluntarily, in order to better understand himself and his cravings.

Without continuing along my storyline, suffice it to say that throughout this one side-quest I was completely immersed and engaged. I met a multitude of well developed characters, aided a boy in dealing with his inner turmoil, and forged an alliance between two groups previously in conflict. Most amazing of all was that I could have completely missed out on this entire experience had I chosen not to deliver the letter.

This brings me to my second point, the rewarding open-world exploration. Previously I have written that I do not like open-world games. To be more precise, “I don’t like sandbox action/adventure games.” There are of course a number of reasons for this. “In terms of goals and story, so much time and effort is seemingly spent in developing an open world that quality [plots and goals] are not created for the player. Stagnation through repetition is achieved. The end-user, in order to progress the main storyline, is forced to complete the same actions over and over again.” I enjoy quoting myself.

Fallout 3 addresses these and other problems by providing a pseudo-dynamic open-world. More importantly, however, the game provides varying and engaging motivations for exploration, in the form of new characters and plotlines. Whereas exploration in other open-world games can sometimes be a repetitive task with menial incentives such as basic loot, Fallout 3’s exploration provides for very unique encounters.

During one particular romp through the wasteland, I encountered a lone hostile sniper in a dilapidated chapel. After easily dispatching him, I searched his corpse to find an Oasis Druid Hood and the coordinates to a place called Oasis. Intrigued by the unique headgear I immediately set out towards this place, in order to learn more about the inhabitants.

Without delving into the details of my time in Oasis, I can say that I was astounded by the environment, the people, and the storyline. Never would I have thought to find a full-grown healthy forest when I was searching for Oasis. And given the stark and depressing landscape of the wasteland, the sight of that forest and the individual trees simply amazed me. I can safely say that no digitally rendered tree has ever provided me with as much wonder as the first one I saw in Oasis. Finding that secluded haven would not have been possible without adequate exploration, and actually discovering it provided even more incentive for me to continue exploring the wasteland.

To this point I’ve presented two aspects of Fallout 3, the side-quests and rewarding exploration, separately. They are however, of course intertwined. Through exploration the player is able to find new immersive side-quests. Given how engaging the characters, tasks, and storylines are, the player is motivated to continue his exploration of the wasteland, in the hopes of finding more side-quests. These side-quests, the gratifying exploration, and their intertwining, are what really set Fallout 3 apart from other role-playing games. I can only hope for more of the same in the future.

Downloadable Content

The future is here. Bethesda has released four instances of downloadable content for Fallout 3 in the forms of Operation: Anchorage, The Pitt, Broken Steel, and Point Lookout.

Operation: Anchorage is very specific in its intent, and that intent is combat. There exists no notable story and no open-world. The player is thrust into a simulated environment in which he or she must follow a mostly linear path during wartime, and simply eradicate the enemy, albeit with various new weapons and armor.

The most notable aspect of this downloadable content is that simulated environment. After the bleak browns and grays of the wasteland, Operation: Anchorage provides a refreshing palette of blue and white in the Alaskan tundra.

The scope of Fallout 3’s downloadable content is increased with The Pitt. A new environment is again provided in the form of an industrial complex rampant with slavery. More importantly however, are the new well-developed characters and the engaging storyline. Towards the end of the content, the player is given one of the more interesting moral decisions seen in a videogame. However, those aspects that set Fallout 3 apart from other role-playing games are still missing.

Broken Steel is similar to The Pitt in its scope. Like its predecessor, this downloadable content provides an engaging storyline, albeit enhanced by the fact that it is a continuation of Fallout 3’s main plot. Its contribution does move beyond game design simply by increasing the level-cap set by the original, a level-cap that I encountered much too early during my first play-through of the post-apocalyptic role-playing game.

In the fourth instance of downloadable content, Bethesda delivers an experience that fulfills all of Fallout 3’s promise. Point Lookout provides not only a new environment, but an entire new world for the player to explore, along with more interesting side-quests.

Upon arriving at Point Lookout, the ferry-boat captain recommended the Pilgrim’s Landing motel as a place of interest. After some initial exploration I arrived at the motel and entered the only accessible room. To my chagrin I found a mostly decomposed corpse in the bed, along with a computer on the nightstand. While accessing the still working PC, I discovered that the skeleton belonged to a former Chinese spy who had come to the United States masquerading as a defector.

The terminal provided me with instructions to go to a locker, which could be opened with a key located in the spy’s briefcase. Inside the locker I found another set of instructions left by a second Chinese spy.

As I continued to follow the quest I discovered the spies’ ultimate purpose and followed decades-old intrigue. Most significant about this one side-quest is perhaps the fact that a story is told and tasks are carried out without any non-playable character involvement. The player follows in the footsteps of long dead Chinese spies simply by reading information from terminals and listening to voice recordings.

In addition to other side-quests and a similarly engaging main storyline, Point Lookout is a perfect microcosm of Fallout 3. I can only hope for more of the same in the future…

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dawn of War II Battle Report

Relic Entertainment has released a new gameplay video highlighting many of the changes that will be coming with the "There Is Only War" update to Dawn of War II.

In the same vein as the Starcraft II Battle Reports, this video presents a duel between two game balancers, with commentary provided by two other members of the development team.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Emotion, Frustration, Loss of Control

I tend to think of the PC games that I play in terms of the emotional reactions they extract from me. When I start a game I want to be awed and inspired. I want to be surprised, scared, ecstatic, and disheartened. I want to feel a sense of accomplishment when I complete a game, and perhaps some remorse at knowing that my time with the game is over.

Given their interactive and intimate nature, I believe PC games have the ability to extract these emotions better than any other medium, including console games, films, and novels. Not only is there potential for the player to empathize with in-game characters, as is traditional for films and novels, but there also exists the potential for players to experience emotions through interactions with the game world, such as making decisions and completing quests.

Of course this potential has yet to be reached. Certain films and novels have brought tears to my eyes. No videogame has come close to accomplishing this. Nonetheless, those PC games that are able to extract strong and lasting emotions, while still providing a wide range, are those that I enjoy the most. Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic is one such game. The Hunter-Killer assassin droid HK-47 made me laugh; the Jedi Knight Bastila Shan made me contemplative and compassionate; and Revan’s plot twist was overwhelming to an extent that I had never felt before in a videogame. When also taking into account the solid and rewarding gameplay, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic easily provided me with one of the best experiences I have ever had.

If a game is unable to produce any emotional impact, I very quickly lose all interest. These games are what I would call boring. After taxiing around passengers, purchasing new attire, partaking in mediocre combat, and escorting a date to the bowling alley, I was thoroughly indifferent to Grand Theft Auto IV. The game provided a great deal of freedom and activities. Unfortunately none of it was compelling for me.

Despite my desire to experience a wide variety of emotions from PC games, there is one emotion that, if felt strongly, can ruin a game for me even more so than boredom. That emotion is frustration.

Regrettably, frustration can be a very fundamental component to playing videogames. In order for a videogame to hold the player’s attention, it typically must be challenging. If a game is not challenging enough, then it cannot be rewarding. If however, the game is too challenging, it can cross the very fine line into frustrating. When a game achieves that frustration level for a long enough period of time, the reward simply doesn’t provide enough motivation for the player to complete the challenge, at least for non-masochists like me.

Beyond the simple difficulty level, a number of design decisions can attribute to frustration. One example might be escort or protect missions. Such tasks are particularly aggravating when the player is forced to protect a non-playable character with poor AI. Fable provided a number of escort missions in which NPCs not only stood still while taking damage from enemies, they even placed themselves in front of the player’s weapon, essentially acting as shields for the enemies.

There is however one design decision that particularly irritates me, and that is the removal of control from the player. In referencing this loss of control I am not referring to cut scenes or other such non-playable sections. I am specifically referring to a loss of control during actual gameplay or combat, which can occur in a variety of situations, due to a variety of reasons.

One such example of removal of control from the player is the Scout’s Sandman weapon in Team Fortress 2. With this weapon the Scout is able to launch a baseball at opponents, stunning them on contact for a period of time proportional to the distance the ball traveled. While seemingly novel, this provides for very frustrating gameplay as the stunned player must sit and wait to regain control of his or her in-game avatar, all the while watching from a third-person view as enemies deal uncontested damage.

Another more recent example is the ability for Hunters to knock down Alex Mercer in Prototype. Hunters and their superior analogues are tough opponents for Alex throughout the game, and require a good amount of damage to defeat. As the number of simultaneous Hunters that Alex must face increases, so does the need for more powerful and complex attacks. Unfortunately the player’s ability to perform these attacks is removed when a Hunter hits Alex and knocks him to the ground. In such scenarios the player must simply wait while Alex gathers himself to attempt an attack again. There were a number of occasions during the game in which I found myself trapped in a corner while constantly being knocked to the ground by multiple Hunters. I had no choice but to watch Alex slowly die before I reloaded the last checkpoint.

The loss of control, however, goes beyond simple frustration at a gameplay level. When such situations occur, any immersion that the player has experienced is completely negated. The player is reminded that they are simply playing a game, and are no longer experiencing an adventure through their own, or their avatar’s eyes. Speaking in film terms, removing control from the player is analogous to an actor looking at the camera. Because of this loss of immersion, any connections that the player has established are lost, and any subsequent emotional impact is dampened.

To some extent, I can understand why a developer would choose to remove control from players. Doing so can increase the challenging nature of a game, and therefore in theory, increase the reward. However, the further repercussions of a loss of control far outweigh any sort of reward. Not only does the developer create the potential to dilute the entire game experience, he or she also risks disenchanting the player.

When I play a PC game, I want to experience a myriad of emotions. The more I’m able to experience, the greater the game is in my mind. However, one emotion that I always want to avoid, despite its resiliency, is frustration. Developers can aid in this battle by not removing control of my avatar from me.

The Sims 3 Piracy

Yesterday in my PC Game Sales vs Steals column I discussed the fact that The Sims 3 had completely disappeared from a popular torrent website, despite having almost 15,000 combined seeders and leechers in the previous week. Unfortunately I was unable to discover any conclusive reason as to why this occurred.

On the same day, IndustryGamers posted an interview with EA CEO John Riccitiello, in which he discusses EA’s current philosophy for combating piracy.

“In the game that was pirated there’s [only] one city [out of two]… and Sims 3 has a massive amount of content, and a lot of it is downloaded once you register with EA… and join the online community. So you get that content in addition to the second city, and that’s a major component,” states Riccitiello. “So for the pirate consumer, they don’t get the second town, they don’t get all the extra content, and they don’t get the community.”

Riccitiello believes the best way to combat piracy is to provide services and not simply packaged goods. “Dragon Age is probably a 100-hour game by itself, but what comes post-release [for these games] is bigger still. So the point I’m making is, yes I think that’s the answer [to piracy]. And here’s the trick: it’s not the answer because this foils a pirate, but it’s the answer because it makes the service so valuable that in comparison the packaged good is not… So I think the truth is we’ve out-serviced the pirate.”

EA has seemingly taken a very commendable stance on combating piracy. Instead of advocating DRM that hurts honest consumers, such as limiting game installations, EA is now attempting to reward those honest consumers with extra content and services. In order to get the same rewarding experience, pirates are forced to legally purchase the game.

This seems sound in theory, but I’m confused as to why PC game pirates can’t simply pirate downloadable content in the same manner as packaged goods. EA’s new approach, in my mind, can only work for persistent online games. The Sims 3 may fit into this category given its strong online community and social networking components, but I’m curious to see how effective EA’s strategy is for a strong single-player experience, such as Dragon Age: Origins.

Monday, June 22, 2009

PC Game Sales vs Steals (Week 2)

As explained last week I have decided to document and compare the PC games sales charts to pirated PC game activity. Each week I will present the sales charts, as reported by Shacknews, along with the top 10 most active PC game torrents from a popular torrent hosting site.

Interestingly, the NPD Group this week decided to cease releasing its weekly top 10 best selling PC games chart to the media. As such, the NPD's week-long delay in releasing its chart is no longer an issue. Therefore, two weeks of data are presented below from Direct2Drive, Steam, and a popular torrent site.

Direct2Drive's Top Ten (by unit, 6/7 - 6/13)

1.The Sims 3
2.The Sims 3 (Mac)
3.Prototype
4.Civilization IV: Complete Edition
5.The Sims 3 (Prima Bundle)
6.DCS: Black Shark
7.Fallout 3
8.Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
9.Mass Effect
10.Civilization IV

Steam Top Sellers (by revenue, 6/7 - 6/13)

1.Prototype
2.Left 4 Dead
3.Killing Floor
4.Team Fortress 2
5.Counter Strike: Source
6.The Orange Box
7.Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
8.Penumbra Collector Pack
9.Railworks
10.Plants vs. Zombies

Most Active Torrents (6/15)

Seeds Leechers
1.Prototype 294118622
2.The Sims 3370810592
3.Grand Theft Auto 45063647
4.Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare12973192
5.X-Men Origins: Wolverine8713015
6.The Sims 2 (incl. all expansion packs)5642657
7.Empire: Total War Special Forces Edition5852556
8.Fallout 315872382
9.Terminator Salvation3782172
10.Pro Evolution Soccer 20095352053

Direct2Drive's Top Ten (by unit, 6/14 - 6/20)

1.The Sims 3
2.The Sims 3 (Mac)
3.Ghostbusters: The Video Game
4.Prototype
5.Civilization IV: The Complete Edition
6.Fallout 3
7.Aion: The Tower of Eternity
8.Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
9.Mass Effect
10.Call of Duty: World at War

Steam Top Sellers (by revenue, 6/14 - 6/20)

1.Prototype
2.Empire: Total War
3.Left 4 Dead
4.Ghostbusters: The Video Game
5.The Elder Scrolls Game of the Year Pack Deluxe
6.Counter Strike: Source
7.Team Fortress 2
8.Killing Floor
9.The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Game of the Year Edition Deluxe
10.The Orange Box

Most Active Torrents (6/22)

Seeds Leechers
1.Prototype 28539785
2.Grand Theft Auto 44603670
3.Ghostbusters: The Videogame4203426
4.Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare13313165
5.NBA Live 0816542820
6.The Sims 2 (incl. all expansion packs)6382480
7.Empire: Total War Special Forces Edition5152474
8.Terminator Salvation3842349
9.Fallout 315882287
10.X-Men Origins: Wolverine6552252

The most active PC game torrent list is presented with the number of Seeds and Leechers. Simply put, Seeds corresponds to the number of people who are uploading or sharing the game, whereas Leechers corresponds to the number of people who are downloading the game. One thing to note is that duplicates were not included in the most active torrent list. As a result, the presented number of Seeds and Leechers does not necessarily correspond to the total number of pirated game copies.

When comparing each outlet across the two weeks it can be seen that the games listings are somewhat consistent. Prototype appears at the top of Steam's list and the Most Active Torrents list for both weeks, whereas The Sims 3 dominates Direct2Drive.

There are, however, a number of exceptions to that consistency. Perhaps the most obvious is the release of Ghostbusters: The Videogame on June 16. The game debuts on each outlet's chart, landing at #3 for Direct2Drive, #4 for Steam, and #3 for the Most Active Torrent list.

More interestingly, Empire: Total War makes an appearance on Steam's 6/14 - 6/20 chart, when it was completely absent the previous week. This is most likely due to the 50% off promotion given during the June 20th weekend. When taking into account the fact that Steam's chart is organized by revenue, and not units, it can be seen that a greater profit was generated by an older half-priced game than a brand new full price game. Essentially, Empire: Total War outsold Ghostbusters: The Videogame more than two-to-one, at least on Steam. Combined with the appearance of The Elder Scrolls products on Steam's 6/14 - 6/20 chart, publishers should realize that Valve's digital distribution is a great method for generating new revenue from older games. Assuming of course they don't realize that already.

When viewing the week-to-week torrent activity, two points immediately stand out. The first is that despite remaining in first place across both weeks for Direct2Drive, The Sims 3 completely disappears from the 6/22 Most Active Torrents list. Upon further investigation I discovered that The Sims 3 not only fell out of the top 10, it completely disappeared as a download from the referenced torrent site. As to how or why this occurred, I have no conclusive explanations. Perhaps the game's DRM has proven to be very effective, or perhaps this incident is completely unrelated to any copy-protection. I do know, however, that Electronic Arts is very happy right now.

The second point that stands out is the appearance of NBA Live 08 on the 6/22 Most Active Torrents chart. This might be due to the recent conclusion of the 2009 NBA Finals. Of course NBA Live 09 was never released for the PC, so downloaders flocked to the most recent NBA Live title, released on October 2, 2007.

In terms of relating PC game sales to PC game piracy, nothing conclusive can yet be drawn from such a small sample size. One obvious conjecture might be newer games that sell well are also pirated well. Hopefully further trends can be deciphered next Monday, when three weeks worth of listings will be available.

Left 4 Dead Online Distribution

Last week I discussed Valve’s announcement of Left 4 Dead 2 and the Steam boycott group. As part of that discussion I demonstrated how Valve has shown innovation in business through Team Fortress 2. “Almost two years after [Team Fortress 2’s] release, Valve continues to release updates and new content for the cartoonish first-person shooter, free of charge. Through these updates, and free-to-play weekends, Valve continues to sell copies of their online shooter, justifying more free content and more free-to-play weekends for end-users. It is one of the few systems today that truly benefits all parties involved.”

I concluded with questioning Valve’s decision to move away from this business model in favor of a more traditional one with Left 4 Dead 2. “I can understand why Valve would not want to split up the new content into smaller, discrete updates. However, would providing the new Left 4 Dead 2 content free-of-charge not increase Left 4 Dead sales substantially?”

In the wake of this discussion, Gamasutra has posted the results of a study performed by analysis firm DFC and social media company GamerDNA, comparing Left 4 Dead user activity across the PC and Xbox 360. Based on over 180,000 gamers across Steam, Xbox Live, and Xfire, the study demonstrates spikes in PC activity during certain Valve promotions.

A slight spike in activity was evident during mid-February, in conjunction with a 50 percent-off sale on Steam. PC activity leveled out afterwards, until the release of the Survival Pack downloadable-content. Most significant however is the activity during a Steam free-to-play weekend, which saw an unprecedented spike which resulted in a significant increase in long-term usage.

The report reads, “Steam is rapidly becoming a marketing vehicle where promotions run on Steam can significantly increase product sales and usage.”

Given such significant support for Valve’s Team Fortress 2 business model, I have to again question why Valve has decided not to provide Left 4 Dead 2 content as an update to Left 4 Dead, free-of-charge. Granted, Valve has the right to decide how they release their content, and user activity does not necessarily relate to revenue. However, the point remains valid.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Starcraft 2 Battle Report

A third "Battle Report" for Blizzard Entertainment's much anticipated StarCraft II has been released. Like the previous Battle Reports, a duel between two members of the development team is featured.

Part 1 of 2

Part 2 of 2

If you missed them, the first two Battle Reports can be viewed here (1) and here (2).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fallout 3: Point Lookout Developer Blog

Bethesda Softworks has released six new screenshots for the upcoming Fallout 3 downloadable content Point Lookout.

Alongside the screenshots a new developer diary by the lead designer and lead artist of the DLC has been posted, detailing the design process behind Point Lookout.

Of particular interest are the goals for the new DLC, "one of our primary goals was not to create just a quest, but a whole new region for players to explore. Straight away we knew that we wanted to focus on what we felt was one of the great strengths of Fallout 3 –a world too full of stories and surprises, ripe for exploration and adventure."

The designers also discuss the new visual aesthetic, "The Capital Wasteland has its own unique visual style: very dry and heavily damaged by nuclear blasts. Point Lookout is more rural, and it was not hit directly by the blasts."

"While everything is dead and dry in the Wasteland, we wanted Point Lookout to be a region where plant life has managed to survive and proliferate in wet conditions."

"Most of the buildings in the Capital Wasteland are bombed out and destroyed, or built out of scrap metal. The structures in Point Lookout existed before the war and many of them are still standing, though severely deteriorated. Over the years, nature has taken the land back, slowly erasing man’s influence on this place. Instead of blowing out huge chunks of the buildings in Point Lookout, they are crumbling apart, vines growing over untended walls."

The designers conclude with a discussion on the characters in Point Lookout, "Tobar is the Steamboat ferryman, and this grafter is one of the first characters the player will meet."

"Point Lookout is also home to a group of transcendental Tribals, who received new garments to help reinforce their beliefs and set them apart from citizens of the Capital Wasteland. Perhaps most involved was our new enemy type; the Swampfolk. These denizens of the marsh are descended from the reclusive natives of the swamp, inspired by Bayou legends and other modern myths."

Point Lookout will be available for download through Games for Windows LIVE on June 23.

Nitpicking Prototype

(Nitpicking is not meant to be a comprehensive review or synopsis of a game. It instead serves to discuss the design aspects that most contributed to my emotional response, or lack thereof, to a game. A general knowledge of the game is assumed and spoilers may be present.)

As I understand it, sandbox games are those games that provide the end-user with a sufficiently large and open-ended world, in which said end-user can travel freely throughout. In turn, the player is able to interact with the inhabitants and constituents of the open-ended world, in order to craft his or her own experience. Developers of sandbox games will typically give the player goals, such as progression through a main storyline or side quests, in order to provide boundaries and a framework for the player. The end-user of course has the option to completely ignore these developer set goals.

Generally, I try to avoid categorizing or defining games according to any decisions made by the developer, especially since developers themselves tend to break genre boundaries. However, for the purpose of this article, I will categorize Prototype as a sandbox action/adventure game.

More often than not, I don’t like sandbox action/adventure games. When it comes to the sandbox action/adventure genre, as seen in other recent installments such as Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry 2, and Grand Theft Auto IV, a sense of stagnation throughout various aspects of the game is usually very present.

In terms of level design, the end-user is presented with a very large and open world, but it is a world that never changes. Despite how much an end-user accomplishes, whether it be completing a large number of missions, accruing a countless number of kills, or saving innumerable victims from certain death, the world is always indifferent. Enemies continue to spawn in order to challenge the player, non-lethal inhabitants continue to conduct their lives in the same manner as always, and environments remain uninterested and unaffected. Stagnation is ever present.

In terms of goals and story, so much time and effort is seemingly spent in developing an open-world that quality boundaries are not created for the player. Stagnation through repetition is achieved. The end-user, in order to progress the storyline, is forced to complete the same actions over and over again. Whether it is pick-pocketing information from an adversary, killing enemies at an outpost, or chasing a competitor through city streets, any action can lose its appeal after its tenth iteration. This is doubly true when the means to perform these actions do not evolve, such as not being able to gain or utilize substantially different weapons or vehicles.

In terms of pacing, open-worlds are often so large that it can sometimes take longer to travel between mission locations than to complete the missions themselves. Coupled with sometimes repetitive goals, this can often lead to boredom.

Refreshingly, stagnation is not a theme prevalent in Prototype. Throughout my playtime I was astounded at the amount of meaningful evolution that occurred in all aspects of gameplay and design.

The main and playable character, Alex Mercer, is forced to combat a number of different enemies during the game. These include military units with various weapons ranging from machine guns to rocket launchers, common infected with the ability to scale buildings, Hunters who are able to match Alex in physical attributes, advanced Hunters denoted with the tag Leader Hunter, and even vehicles such as tanks and helicopters. What is particularly interesting about each enemy is that they are not simply upgraded versions of each other, with increased health or damage. Each enemy type has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and as such, forces the player to modify his or her combat tactics.

In order to effectively achieve this, the end-user is given the option to gain various powers and abilities, each having its own strengths and weaknesses. From the start of the game Alex is given the ability to disguise as anyone he consumes. This ability is particularly useful against military units, as the player is able to walk unimpeded into bases when disguised as a military official. It is also valuable when the player is severely outmatched and wishes to make a hasty retreat.

Later on in the game the player gains the ability to stealthily consume military personnel without alerting any other nearby units. Entire military bases can be destroyed without a single fired shot using this power, in conjunction with the abilities to call in an artillery strike and/or accuse other military units of being Alex in disguise.

Unfortunately common infected, Hunters, and Leader Hunters are not concerned with or fooled by disguises. When Alex first encounters a Hunter, the player is without any substantial physical powers and is forced to make use of military weaponry to win the battle. Immediately afterwards, Alex gains the ability to create and use razor sharp claws, which prove to be effective against further Hunters.

During later battles in the game, when faced with combined military and infected enemies, I found myself frantically switching between powers in order to most effectively destroy and kill those that threatened Alex. To remove a crowd of common infected I utilized the whipfist power, which allowed me to employ a long whip to cut through multiple opponents with one sweep. In order to destroy a tank I switched to the hammerfist power, which gave me the ability to deal an extremely strong but slow attack. To kill Hunters I switched to the blade power, which provided me with a six foot long arm-blade. It provided for very frenzied, chaotic, and satisfying gameplay.

Prototype’s ability to evolve as a game is not restricted to the enemies and available abilities. I was particularly impressed with how Radical Entertainment varied the missions and environments.

Available throughout the game are of course a number of side activities that the player can perform, such as movement and consuming challenges. Performing these provides extra currency which can be used to enhance Alex’s abilities. These however are typically menial and repetitive. Prototype really shines in its main story missions. There are thirty-one missions to perform in order to complete the game, and no two feel the same.

Early in the game, Alex is tasked with infiltrating a military base, requiring heavy use of the disguise and stealth consume abilities. The situation takes a turn for the worse very quickly when Alex is forced to lead Hunters, much more powerful than himself, to a new area where he can combat them. Another mission midway through the game results with Alex losing some of the powers that he had previously gained. This forces the end-user to severely change his or her tactics against enemies that had, prior to the mission, been easy to defeat. Towards the end of the game Alex must protect a pump while it is being assailed by waves of infected enemies. In between these infected waves, Alex must combat military units who are also trying to protect the pump.

Certain mission themes are repeated throughout the main storyline, such as "protect this" or "infiltrate this base." However, the situations, obstacles, enemies, and Alex himself evolve enough that the protect missions, infiltrate missions, or other various types of missions never get repetitive.

Alongside the mission progression, Prototype’s environment continues to evolve. The sandbox action/adventure title is set in New York City at the beginning of a viral outbreak. As the player progresses through the story, the infection continues to spread. Water towers become incubators for Hunters, buildings become hubs for common infected, and panic-stricken uninfected run through the streets. In turn, the military presence increases in order to combat the infection. Tanks roam the streets at increasingly regular intervals, helicopters begin patrolling throughout the city, and military bases materialize in greater numbers. As a result, Manhattan progressively becomes a more dangerous and fascinating place.

Prototype is of course not without its problems. The lock-on system can be inaccurate, the controls can be a bit too finicky, and the boss battles can be a test in endurance. However, it really shines in addressing the flaws of past sandbox action/adventure games. The game provides very satisfying combat that constantly changes and forces the player to think. This, alongside varying missions structures and a city that continuously increases its ability to end your game, ensures that Prototype moves at a very fast pace and never gets boring.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mass Effect 2 Update

Casey Hudson, Executive Producer on Mass Effect 2, has updated his blog at IGN with a general discussion on what was presented at E3 2009.

Of particular interest is the possibility for Commander Shepard and his squad members to permanently die. Hudson states "When you get to the very end of the story in Mass Effect 2, you will get one of a wide variety of climactic and satisfying endings. Depending on how prepared you were, your ending may involve Shepard making the ultimate sacrifice to accomplish the mission."

"Part of what makes the final mission dangerous in a more profound way is that each squad member could potentially die a real, story-based death during that mission as well.You might have an ending where Shepard’s entire team survives, or where the entire mission is a bloodbath and everyone (including Shepard) is killed, or anything in between."

Hudson continues "if your Shepard dies in the end of Mass Effect 2, that's the end of him / her. In that case, you can play Mass Effect 3 as “a” Shepard – just not “your” Shepard."

Hudson also discusses importing savegames from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2. "The Mass Effect savegame doesn't just contain a couple of your big choices. It contains countless decisions you've made, both large and small. These things could each potentially carry forward and affect your story in Mass Effect 2."

Savegames that are able to affect a game's sequel, and in turn its sequel's sequel, opens up a new era of replayability for videogames. Unfortunately I lost all of my Mass Effect savegames. Looks like I'll have to play through it again.

Hudson concludes by answering some common questions including "Will Ashley/Garrus/Wrex/etc return in ME2?" and "Will there be alien love scenes?" The entire blog can be viewed here.

Valve & Left 4 Dead 2

I find that my decision on whether or not to purchase a PC game is largely dependent on its developer. Trailers, previews, reviews, walkthroughs, or any other type of press typically doesn’t sway me nearly as much as a developer’s track record. And when it comes to track records, very few PC game developers can compare to Valve Software.

In releasing Half-Life, Valve revolutionized the first-person shooter genre. The relatively unknown developer brought a new level of immersion to videogames in general through intelligent AI, realistic level design, an immaculate presentation, and a main character geared toward any and all end-users. Six years later, Valve released the sequel, Half-Life 2. Continuing with and improving upon the principles that made Half-Life so popular, Half-Life 2 also brought the use of physics as a gameplay element to the forefront of videogaming. Almost all developers, both big-budget and indie, have since adopted this concept, regardless of the genre or type of game they create.

Valve’s revolutionary philosophy, however, is not confined to its videogame design. Valve also popularized digital distribution with the creation of Steam, streamlining the update process that had proved to be problematic for online PC games, and allowing for end-users to purchase and download full games. Thirty publishers now distribute their games over Valve’s platform.

The number of contributions Valve has made to videogaming overall continues with other various innovations such as the art style in Team Fortress 2, in-game navigation in Portal, and cooperative play in Left 4 Dead. Suffice it to say that I’m a big fan of Valve. Each product they have released has stood out and changed the way I think about videogames in some way.

That is why I became concerned when Valve announced Left 4 Dead 2. Six years were spent in developing the single-player first-person shooter Half-Life 2. Ten years were spent in creating the artistically inspiring Team Fortress 2. Less than one year will have been spent on the development of Left 4 Dead 2.

I have no doubt that Left 4 Dead 2 will be a good, if not great game. I enjoy playing Left 4 Dead, and a game which builds upon and improves its experience will no doubt provide endless hours of fun. However, will Left 4 Dead 2 prove worthy of its pedigree? Will Left 4 Dead 2 make a contribution to PC gaming similar to past Valve games? Will the zombie apocalypse sequel, like those Valve games before it, change the way I think about PC gaming? From the little information that has been released, I am not confident that I can answer these questions in a positive manner. Features such as a new environment, improved AI Director, more weapons, and new zombie types are interesting. They do not however, seem revolutionary or innovative.

My concern however, does not end with the presence, or lack thereof, of original game design. In Team Fortress 2 Valve established a business model rarely seen before in the videogame industry. Almost two years after its release, Valve continues to release updates and new content for the cartoonish first-person shooter, free of charge. Through these updates, and free-to-play weekends, Valve continues to sell copies of their online shooter, justifying more free content and more free-to-play weekends for end-users. It is one of the few systems today that truly benefits all parties involved.

Instead of advocating and building upon this unique business model, Valve has decided to seemingly abandon it, in favor of a model upheld by the sports videogame industry. Left 4 Dead writer Chet Faliszek told Ars Technica, “It just became very clear that this was a cohesive, singular statement we wanted to make, not a more slow update thing… too much stuff was tied together with too many other things.” I can understand why Valve would not want to split up the new content into smaller, discrete updates. However, would providing the new Left 4 Dead 2 content free-of-charge not increase Left 4 Dead sales substantially? If the generated revenue from free Left 4 Dead 2 content would not justify the effort put into it, why can’t Valve delay Left 4 Dead 2 further? Why can’t Valve take the time to make those substantial and revolutionary changes that I have come to expect? Valve has often been criticized for its delays and not adhering to its release dates, but the results have always been worth the wait. From my viewpoint Valve is distancing itself from its revolutionary attitude, in favor of a path most traveled. As stated before, that concerns me.

That is not to say my apprehension extends to support of the L4D2 Boycott (NO-L4D2) Steam Group, now over 32,000 strong. I am not troubled about “continued updates to Left 4 Dead in order to build and sustain the community,” as stated in the NO-L4D2 charter. Nor am I upset that “Left 4 Dead 2 as a stand-alone sequel will split the communities and decrease the quality of multiplayer gaming.” If the communities are split, or even if one community dies, so be it. Enough people will exist for me to enter the zombie apocalypse and either survive or propagate it, depending on the situation. I believe the number of members in the L4D2 Boycott group proves this.

Simply put, PC gaming is a large part of my life, and Valve is one of the last remaining stalwarts in the PC game industry. I have no desire to support a PC game developer that disregards innovation as an objective. Nor do I have any desire to support a developer that follows the sports videogame business model. I must ask myself what state will the PC game industry be in, if one day I decide not to purchase a game because it was developed by Valve?

Perhaps I am off-base in my argument. Perhaps I am being overly concerned at a non-issue. There are certainly more knowledgeable people than me making the decisions at Valve. However, I still can’t help but worry.

Switch to Windows 7

Speaking with Gamasutra, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell states "it would be good if everybody switched to Windows 7 as quickly as possible."

He specifically points to WARP as a major contributor to his support of the forthcoming operating system. The Windows Advanced Rasterization Platform allows a PC's CPU to perform DirectX acceleration if said PC's video card doesn't support certain rendering features.

"One of the things that comes up often is, 'How has Stardock made so much money on these niche games?' Well, because our games run on millions of boxes."

Wardell's philosophy of accessibility seems to be one prevalent among successful PC developers, including Valve and Blizzard Entertainment. For example, Valve's support of legacy hardware allows users to run Team Fortress 2 in DirectX 8 mode.

Personally, I'm a big fan of Windows 7. To date I have tested Fallout 3, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Prototype, Team Fortress 2, The Sims 3, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, and more on Build 7100 of Microsoft's new operating system, with all games performing similarly to, if not better than their counterparts on Windows XP x64 edition. Those interested in testing the release candidate can find instructions here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

StarForce Making a Comeback

In 2006 StarForce Technologies found itself mired in controversy and a public-relations nightmare when various websites accused its pc game anti-piracy measures of being harmful to pc hardware and systems operation. As a result, multiple pc game publishers, including Ubisoft and JoWood Productions announced that North American versions of their games would cease using StarForce for copy-protection.

Gamasutra has posted a recent interview with Dmitry Guseff, Deputy Marketing Director at StarForce Technologies. Guseff presents internal reactions to the 2006 controversy, along with developing technologies that StarForce hopes will rebuild the company's reputation. One theme surrounding said developing technologies is choice.

Guseff states that "freedom of choice is the fundamental right of every consumer. The consumer likes to have alternatives and we offer this possibility. In 2007, StarForce presented 'Disc Free Technology' which allows you to choose between a disc-binding schema and activation one."

"The most interesting thing is that the consumer may switch between launch methods whenever he or she likes. Internet connection problems? Activation server is down? Run out of activations? You are welcome to use the disc. Have disc checking problem? New operation system and protection driver incompatibility? Don’t like a protection driver presence at all? Activation solves all the problems in-house. Moreover, in case of the original disc being damaged or lost, the user may launch the game using a previously made backup."

Guseff also discusses Steam, "for those who say that Steam is the best choice, I say that Steam is not a protection method; it is the distribution platform," and a Stardock title that shipped with no anti-piracy or copy-protection measures, "but in spite of the fact that [Galactic Civilizations 2] made good revenue for Stardock, it was, I think, a weird move not to try to get twice more."

Personally, I never had any problems with StarForce software, but I am apparently in the minority. The interview can be viewed in its entirety here.

PC Game Sales vs Steals

A number of causes have contributed to the decline of pc gaming, the least of which is not pc game piracy. In turn, a number of solutions have been proposed and attempted, some more successful than others. Before commenting on these and other possible solutions, I thought it would be interesting to compare the pc game sales charts to pirated pc game activity. Each week I will present the pc game sales charts, as reported by Shacknews, along with the top 10 most active pc game torrents from a popular torrent hosting site. Hopefully over time certain correlations and patterns will be discerned, in order to help solve the pc game piracy problem. The first installment is provided below.

NPD's Top Ten (by unit, 5/31 - 6/6)

1.The Sims 3
2.The Sims 3 Collector's Edition
3.The Sims 2 Double Deluxe
4.World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
5.World of Warcraft Battle Chest
6.Spore
7.Real Deal Slots Adventure
8.World of Warcraft
9.Empire: Total War
10.Fallout 3 Operation Anchorage & The Pitt Expansion Pack

Direct2Drive's Top Ten (by unit, 5/31 - 6/6)

1.The Sims 3
2.The Sims 3 (Mac)
3.The Sims 3 (bundle with Prima Guide)
4.Assassin's Creed Director's Cut
5.Civilization IV
6.Delta Force: Xtreme 2
7.The Sims 2 Double Deluxe
8.The Sims 3 (Mac) (bundle with Prima Guide)
9.Mass Effect
10.Civilization IV: The Complete Edition

Steam Top Sellers (by revenue, 5/31 - 6/6)

1.Left 4 Dead
2.Killing Floor
3.Assassin's Creed
4.Team Fortress 2
5.Unreal Tournament 3 Black
6.Penumbra Collector Pack
7.Counter-Strike: Source
8.The Orange Box
9.Freedom Force Pack

Most Active Torrents (6/15)

Seeds Leechers
1.Prototype 2941 18622
2.The Sims 3370810592
3.Grand Theft Auto 45063647
4.Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare12973192
5.X-Men Origins: Wolverine8713015
6.The Sims 2 (incl. all expansion packs)5642657
7.Empire: Total War Special Forces Edition5852556
8.Fallout 315872382
9.Terminator Salvation3782172
10.Pro Evolution Soccer 20095352053

The most active pc game torrent list is presented with the number of Seeds and Leechers. Simply put, Seeds corresponds to the number of people who are uploading or sharing the game, whereas Leechers corresponds to the number of people who are downloading the game. One thing to note is that duplicates were not included in the most active torrent list. For example, the top three most downloaded games could have been three different torrents of Prototype. Only the most downloaded version is provided here, with the rest disregarded. As a result, the presented number of Seeds and Leechers does not necessarily correspond to the total number of pirated game copies.

Further there is a weeklong gap between the sales charts and the torrent chart. Subsequent installments will address that discrepancy.

Welcome to UseYourMouse Gaming

The earliest experience with video gaming, that I can recall, came when I was dragged along to a dinner party by my parents. Their inability to find a suitable babysitter spoiled the typical plan of leaving me at home for the evening. Fortunately, or so my parents thought, the hosts of said dinner party had a son only slightly older than me, to keep me entertained. After introductions, my personal dinner party host decided to show me the games he enjoyed playing. Hoping for a round of Hungry Hungry Hippos I followed him down to his basement, where he sat me in front of a computer. Immediately confused as to what was occurring, I kept silent while he started a game of Wolfenstein 3D… Thus began a lifelong ambition to play and enjoy PC games.

I love PC gaming. Very few activities in life are able to provide me with the myriad of emotions that pc games solicit from me, ranging from awe to horror to satisfaction. I still carry with me the sense of accomplishment from defeating Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Baal, the sense of horror from being stalked in Aliens vs Predators, the sense of excitement from a zerg rush in Starcraft, and the sense of amazement from the plot twist in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. These emotions are of course not specific to PC games. I play and enjoy console games, but to me they have never had as much of an emotional impact. General proximity serves to remove me from console games, as players typically sit back from televisions instead of directly in front of monitors. The potential inability to properly control your character with a controller over a mouse and keyboard, specifically in first-person shooters, can also add to the loss of immersion in console games. Further, PC gaming can provide a sense of satisfaction prior to even playing a game, from building and tweaking a computer that is able to run a cutting edge game. I can of course see how that last point might not apply to everyone. Regardless of the reasons, I have always felt closer to PC gaming than console gaming.

That is why, in September of 2003, I was left dumbfounded when Bioware announced that Jade Empire would be exclusive to the Xbox. The developer of so many PC games that I had come to love was turning its back on PC gaming. Of course, Jade Empire was eventually released for the PC, but for me that announcement marked the beginning of the decline of PC gaming. Since then more and more PC game developers have stopped developing exclusively for the PC, adopting strategies such as delaying PC games in favor of the console versions, hiring third parties to port console games to the PC, and discontinuing PC game development altogether. There are of course those developers that continue to fully support the pc such as Valve and Bethesda Softworks, but as stated, their numbers continue to decrease. As such, I have decided to start this blog in order to champion PC gaming through critical evaluation of game design, marketing, and all aspects of the industry itself. Hopefully my small effort can draw more attention to PC gaming, so that one day it may return to its former glory.