Category Archives: Gaming
We console gamers are a finicky bunch. Unlike our computer-gaming counterparts, we typically expect everything to work right out of the box. In fact, this is typically why we invest in a console over a computer. We don’t want to be bogged down by hardware assembly, installation times, and optimum display settings. And when our consoles do fail straight out of the box, we usually get pretty upset.
And yet, because of this, it is easy to forget that a game console is nothing more than a machine. And, like a machine, its parts can become worn and dirty. Eventually some parts fail entirely, and need to be replaced.
With 2012 just about wrapped up and the Steam Christmas Sale chugging along until January 5, I decided now might be a good time to catch up on a game that’s been generating a lot of buzz this year: the DayZ mod for ARMA II.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – ARMA II? How does an aging military simulator from 2009 belong on a list of this year’s greatest hits? Thank Dean “Rocket” Hall and his zombie apocalypse mod for that one. Released this past May, DayZ is a hyper-realistic simulator that answers the question: What if there really was a zombie apocalypse? It’s true survival horror, with the emphasis on survival. Food and water are scarce. Ammo is as valuable as gold. Death is permanent. And most of all, other survivors are not to be trusted.
The game takes place in the sprawling land of Chernarus, a fictional Soviet-inspired tract of land filled with mountains, valleys, and temperate forests and speckled with small villages, outposts, and military bases. Civilization has collapsed – the zombies have taken over and there’s nowhere to run or hide. The game’s two biggest cities, Chernogorsk and Elektrozavodsk, are teeming with hordes of ravaging zombies. Further inland, wide swaths of wilderness and abandoned villages offer more privacy and protection, but supplies are hard to come by. However, even worse than the zombies are the other survivors – the players fighting along side you for survival. Food and water are scarce, and most players are willing to shoot a fellow player if it means taking their supplies. The game’s colossal map means that depending on where you are, you may be alone for miles in every direction, or you could be surrounded by hordes of zombies in a matter of seconds. The game’s only goal: Survive.
I heard about the DayZ mod for ARMA II: Combined Operations when I read this magnificently written article about it on Ars Technica. It was the greatest pitch for a zombie video game I had ever heard. The author fantastically conveys the sense of danger that surrounds the player – not just from the monsters themselves, but from the other players as well. Long journeys are planned with painstaking caution. Detours in remote, heavily wooded hills are preferred over risking detection in well-traveled areas, settlements, and open fields. Players are forced to survive by cooking food, drinking water, and mending wounds and broken bones.
As you can expect, DayZ quickly propelled ARMA II to one of Steam’s highest-selling games when sales exploded during the Steam summer sale. It reached 1 million players in roughly four months, and a commercial product is already being collaborated by Hall himself and Bohemia Interactive, the producer of the official ARMA games. When I finally saw ARMA II: Combined Operations on sale for $15 during the past Christmas sale, I decided now may be the best time to see what all the fuss was about.
When I was in high school, I played a lot of video games. Granted, I’ve been a gamer since as long I can remember. My fondest memories of childhood were those spent in front of my television with my brother by my side, trying desperately to get past even the second level of Battletoads on our old NES. Back before Steam was emptying my wallet with their never-ending sales, my friends and I hounded our local Gamestops for any juicy deals. A lot of game stores were dumping their old inventories back then, so we scoured bargain bins for any overlooked gems from the NES, SNES, or N64 era. Yard sales, pawn shops, and flea market stalls were our gold mines. By the time I headed out to college, I probably had around 300 games in my collection.
Needless to say, I did a lot of arguing about games. I met friends who also played and loved video games like I did. We talked about which game had the biggest influence on each genre, argued what game pulled off a specific mechanic first. Of course, I had my biases. All of my friends did. We were more likely to love a game from our childhood over another game, even if it was comparatively mediocre by most measures. And like most geeks my age, I spent many of my teenage years on the Internet. I spent many hours online researching games made before my time, learning the intricate history of gaming, and debating the merits of one game or another to total strangers.
Now, imagine taking all that arguing and then turning it into a game: that’s Metagame in a nutshell. It’s a card game for geeks who like to argue about games (which is probably most geeks). Functionally, the game plays a lot like Apples to Apples (or perhaps more appropriately, Cards Against Humanity). Players draw a hand from one stack of cards containing titles of video games and try to best match them with a set of hypothetical questions. Which gave players more freedom: Morrowind or Grand Theft Auto III? Which is funnier: Katamari Demacy or Grim Fandango? The game can be played with two competitors and an impartial judge, but is even more fun to play with a large group of people.
Valve co-founder and current managing director Gabe Newell recently made it pretty clear how much he really hates Windows 8. Two weeks ago, Valve officially announced that they would be porting their Steam distribution service to Ubuntu and would be working to natively support Valve games on Linux, starting with Left 4 Dead 2. Their drive behind the project: Newell’s belief that Windows 8 will be a “catastrophe” for PC users.
Granted, Gabe’s got a bit of a habit of dropping bombs on people – five years ago he called the PS3 a “total disaster on so many levels.” Unsurprisingly, he wound up going on to apologize to the makers of the Playstation 3 in 2010 for his remarks. But when Phoronix’s Michael Larabel went to visit Valve’s Linux offices this past April, he was shocked to see Newell speaking like a died-in-the-wool open source supporter – so much, in fact, that Larabel wondered how the man could have ever worked at Microsoft for over 13 years.
Why all the harsh rhetoric for Windows 8? Why the sudden push for open source? Despite Half Life: Episode III now being five years in the making, Newell seems to be pretty excited about Valve’s new project. At a reception at the Casual Connect game conference in Seattle, Newell stated that their “perception is that one of the big problems holding Linux back is the absence of games. I think that a lot of people — in their thinking about platforms — don’t realize how critical games are as a consumer driver of purchases and usage.”
I think any gamer will agree. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I never installed a Linux distribution on my personal laptop. Plus, if anything is going to make a real impact on the way game developers look at Linux, it’s going to be Steam, which is now the largest third-party distributor of digital entertainment. So naturally, open source advocates are pretty excited about what this new development could mean for Ubuntu and the Linux platform as a whole.
But Newell’s recent praise about the virtues of open source seems fishy at best. Besides the obvious compatibility issues with Linux (which I bring up below), there’s the simple fact that even a Windows 8 catastrophe will probably not spell the doom of Microsoft. And let’s not mince words – despite Gabe’s push for open source, Steam will pretty much be anything but. So what effect will Steam have on Linux users in the long run? Quite frankly, probably none at all.
So what do you get when you build your business plan on a fad? You get what happened to Zynga, whose stock tanked Thursday afternoon after it announced that it had missed its expected second quarter earnings in its Q2 financial report. The social gaming company’s stock price plummeted to around $3 after hours Thursday night, a loss of roughly 40 percent. Zynga has only been public since December 2011, and its share price peaked at $14.69 in early March this year. Zynga was hurt so hard by the price drop that founder Mark Pincus is no longer a billionaire. Forbes reports that thanks to the price drop, Pincus’s net worth has dropped more $120 million overnight.
Zynga blamed some of the shortfall on Facebook, whose shares also dropped some 8.2 percent following their own lackluster first quarter financial report. The two companies are close allies in the social media market, and Zynga is the largest game publisher on Facebook. Zynga said that Facebook’s new layout made it harder for users to find existing games. Zuckerberg’s own net worth fell a whopping $2 billion Thursday following Facebook’s price drop.