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Pirates defeat Ubisoft DRM. Are ninjas next?

by on Apr.26, 2010, under games


I hope you like angry verbage.

This week will see the release of Splinter Cell for the PC. On the surface, this seems like an excellent idea. A gaming machine will render Mr. Fisher and his victims beautifully. I heartily welcome rich, cooperative experiences on PC. That’s partly why WoW kept me coming back for two and a half years. And all that moody sneaking being lovingly rendered by your expensive rig will immediately halt if you lose connection to Ubisoft’s servers.

This isn’t the first volley of incendiary equine excrement Ubi has lobbed, they’ve promised it won’t be the last, and I’m certainly not the first to vent my ire in regards to it. The concept of having to ask permission to use something I purchased on a moment to moment basis is enough to incite apoplexy. It is truly horrible to know this is a real thing. And they’re not the only ones doing it.

Enough anti-DRM hate speech for now.

An obvious retort is that most PC gamers have a constant broadband connection. Certainly this is necessary to support the torrents we’re constanly downloading. Folks who live in the sticks who can’t get fancy big city internet are stuck. Even an always on connection might not be good enough: a glitch in your LAN, ISP, or Ubisoft’s servers will interupt your game with prejudice. This means Ubi can literally turn your game off at a whim.

Another rejoinder offered is to blame software pirates, not Ubisoft for this move. Ubi has every right and a fiscal responsibility to prevent the wholesale theft of their goods, and the problem wouldn’t exist if there were no software pirates. They probably know that not every instance of a pirated game represents a lost sale. Many people who torrent games simply don’t have the money to spend or wouldn’t have bothered with a game if they had to pay for it. In rare cases it can result in purchases by gamers who feel guilty or who treat it like an extended demo. Interestingly enough there isn’t a PC demo of Splinter Cell: Conviction.

My objection here isn’t that Ubi is trying to protect its intellectual property, but how they’ve gone about it. Stealing a page from government playbooks everywhere, Ubisoft has implemented an innefectual solution with a high profile for the sake of being seen to be doing something. Predictably, there are already multiple ways to circumvent the system, methods available to legitimate and illegitimate users alike.

My fervent hope from all this is that other companies see how useless this approach is and try to combat piracy by working with gamers, by treating us with respect rather than contempt.

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My Lack of Conviction, or Why I Won’t Play Splinter Cell

by on Apr.20, 2010, under games

Some of the fondest game moments of my adult life come from the Splinter Cell series. But I will not play Conviction.

Crouched in a corner, breath bated, I trained my suppressed pistol on the guard. His every step brought his unsuspecting forehead closer to the bullet.

I loved the abject terror of skulking past a group of machine gun wielding soldiers when detection meant death. I employed stealth not because it facilitated brutal kill animations or because I felt like it, but because to fail to dictate the terms of an engagement, to squander the element of surprise was to suffer the fate of anyone foolish enough to charge into an enfilade. ┬áLining up that perfect shot or surviving after being exposed was an Accomplishment. This is my objection to mark and execute, that the world’s foremost infiltrator is relieved of the burden of aiming his gun.

Is this reticence enough to warrant a boycott on the title entirely? Playing through the demo affirmed my misgivings over this much-paraded mechanic. It felt like a cheat mode, far from authentic. It was easy enough, however, to not press ‘Y’.

Better sites than this have extolled the cooperative play in Chaos Theory for good reason. The return of this mode made me realize there was a co-op shaped hole in my heart, from which poured a torrent of memory: recollections of creeping into position, of coordinating the sudden death of our foes, of whispering into our headsets lest our voices betray, while a length of crossover CAT5 snaked through the heat duct into my brother’s room like so much optic cable.

Now we come to it. I will not play Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction yet because my brother is deployed to a sandy place where email is a luxury and more immediate concerns eclipse such frivolity as games. And he typed to me the modest proposal, “I’ll wait on splinter cell if you do. . . “

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Regarding Due Provocation

by on Apr.14, 2010, under games

According to Steam, I’ve spent just over thirty-eight hours in Panau, yet to undertake any of Just Cause 2’s story missions. Surely this trap tastes familiar to anyone who remembers falling into a Grand Theft Auto game for the first time to discover that the game is more about messing around than about experiencing a piece of fiction. You literally play with the game.

Experiencing the demo through several of its enforced thirty minute intervals (I can’t remember the last single player demo I played more than once) assured me of the graphical fortitude of the title. From the amazing variety of the landscape of the ocean floor, to the postcard evoking vistas (just wait until sunrise/sunset), the attention to detail in the world design and the visuals is flattering to the “PC enthusiast gamer” as our ilk are now known. No shoddy port of a console game here, thank you. And the world is monstrously huge without resorting drip fed area unlocks. There are no arbitrary barriers blocking off entire regions of the map, nor does entering an area before the game intends provoke a nuclear response or automagically jack up your Heat (pronounced “Wanted Level”).

I did find trying to control the plethora of mechanical contrivances available with the keyboard to be untenable. The Xbox 360 controller seems to be the preferred instrument in this case. If you have a wired 360 controller laying around, then great. Maybe you do, but the wireless model included with the console requires the purchase of an adapter to be useful here. A Dualshock 3 USB alternative exists for the more adventurous gamer, which is how I’ve been playing. Being able to not only guide my careening vehicles via analog inputs without buying additional hardware but subvert a device and lash it to a platform for which it was not intended makes my world a happier place.

Everyone is already talking about how crummy the narrative is. While I haven’t played through the story, the cutscenes I have seen are atrocious. The dialog is a steaming pile of manure that sounds like the lines were uttered wilst gripping action figures in each fist. The saving grace here is that, like popcorn action films, the story is nearly irrelevant to the experience. But I can’t shake the feeling that Avalanche Studios and Eidos missed an oppurtunity with this game. With a compelling story and multi-dimensional characters driving the action (like GTA IV or Vice City), we could have had a Matrix instead of an Avatar.

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A Step Along the Precipice

by on Apr.07, 2010, under games

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Two Gods yet on the windowsill,

Showered in oil and pulpy swill.

Upon the Earth will they glut,

Lest that malevolent window shut.

For those of us unable to attend PAX East, those not paying enough attention while attending PAX East, or those not feverishly checking Wikipedia, Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins offered a lesson in game mortality to the followers of @TychoBrahe. He informed us that Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness episodes would no longer be produced in game form. And that he had missed Twitter.

If you haven’t played Episodes 1 or 2 and in any way enjoy Penny Arcade or games, I admonish you to procure one of their PC/Mac/Linux demos from the afore-coded link or your Xbox 360 or PS3 video game devices. They are ripe fruit, drizzling sweet wit and gusto one would expect from the PA crew at every bite. I mourn the passing of my sardonic, rake-wielding protaganist. Sic transit gloria mundi.

On the less soul crushing side of things, the world of New Arcadia will persist. Episodes 3 and 4 will be released in the form of prose. On the even less soul crushing side, these stories will be posted on a periodic basis for free. Additionally, Tycho seems to wish to foster an environment in which fans could create their own stories set in their world. This will most likely result in an abundance of seduction-of-Anne-Claire fanfics.

My hope: a New Arcadia table top RPG setting. Also, Lookouts.

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