Malik  (6/4/04)

A good deal of this stuff is a little on the old side, but that is easy to explain...just read the last segment and all should become clear; for those who like a spoiler, it has to do with why I was offline for about two weeks...thankfully fixed all of that, but not until Brinkster had done it's damage.

Anyways, my two favorite things to bitch about are present this week, so I'm in a good bitchy mood.  I always like a chance to bitch about game platforms that shouldn't be; like the pwN-Gage and Phantom.  When you throw that in with the best explanation possible for why I'm not nearly as hardcore for PC games as for console titles, and a chance for me to blow off some steam, it becomes a good column of Malik's Bitchings.

To Thy Own Self Be True

Developers often get "carried away with the power of the technology that they've been given," Shawn Carnes, a designer at Blizzard, said, acknowledging that developers must be mindful of older systems to appeal to the largest audience possible. 

I often tend to neglect PC games for a rather important reason...I'm hella po'. Whenever I've had to upgrade my machine (and I mean had to...not want to so I can play some new cutting edge game...I mean the old machine starts smoking...), I've usually had to upgrade several parts at once and quite unexpectedly. What this means, is that I don't have the forthought to save up some money for a major upgrade and that the little money I have tucked away for just such an emergency is not enough to handle a purchase of two or more major upgrades at once...usually it's enough to get my machine about 3 months more technologically superior to it's old incarnation. 

Anyways, a trend that has existed since the days of the 486 (and even before that) is for developers to put too much emphasis on the technological end of games, and not nearly enough on the overall playability. Hell, I've seen more pretty games that crash worse than Windows in recent years than I've seen fun games that don't look quite as spiffy but also don't crash once an hour (or more). With each season of new games for the PC, two things are almost guaranteed; 

First off, the graphics and sounds will surpass anything seen before. We've seen this ever since Doom came out. Each round of games of any genre to follow will push the graphical envelope several steps beyond the predecessor game. However, at the same time, the actual game play mechanics and overall enjoyment of the game will, at best, only move forward a whole step every four or five rounds of new generation titles. I mean, we first had first person shooters long before Doom, but they all used the same technical aspects until Quake hit the scene. Then, after Quake, we still have not seen a truly large step in the overall mechanics of game play. Meanwhile, if you look at the earliest graphics on a FPS and compare it to each following title...well, they jump up the same amount as the game play did for all FPS history, but with each successive title. 

The second guarantee is that the games will cost far more than the $50 price tag. After the video card, CPU, and motherboard are all upgraded to handle each new game, the price comes to about $500-$1000 each year. Not to mention that the memory will have to be upgraded every year and a half to two years. Why is this? Well, as it was put in by Shawn Carnes of Blizzard; 

Developers often get "carried away with the power of the technology that they've been given," Carnes said, acknowledging that developers must be mindful of older systems to appeal to the largest audience possible. 

So, I guess the best way to look at it is that the developers almost get a power trip of sorts in being able to push the envelope. Sadly, the mass audience is ignored at the same time and unless you have the cash to shell out, you will be stuck playing your old games on your out of date PC. 

In a nut shell, this is why I have so little love for the PC. While many PC games easily top the console experience (Halo was the first good FPS on the console, which is sad when you think of how many the PC had before Halo was ever a glimmer in Bungie's eye) in certain genres, the price is just not worth it. If I want to get my current gaming PC up to speed for Half-Life 2, I will need to spend about $500 (give or take), plus $50 more on the game, if it ever comes out. This $550 for one game (true, I can add extra games for about $50 a pop that will utilize all the upgrades, for about a year) can just as easily be used on one of my existing consoles to buy a good 11 games. However, some people would argue that if I spend so much on the PC, I should assume I don't have to console...however, then I have even more money to blow on console games...let me explain; If I need an entirely new PC for Half-Life 2, then I'll need about $1000 (+ $50 for the game) for the PC. In which case, I can get a console...actually, they are cheap right now, so I'll get all three in this scenario, at about $400 and then still have money for 12 new games. 

The other side of this issue, is that while the games are being made visually more appealing (even if the other aspects are overlooked, like innovation in game play), then we have the problem of higher requirements for the PC almost always (I'd say 99.9% of the time) leads to greater bugs and glitches...especially in terms of the crashes that cannot be solved with waiting for a new patch to come out. While this happens with consoles too (KOTOR being the worst offender I've seen yet), at least the console hardware is standardized, so the glitches are a little less severe and you don't have to shell out $500 to put up with the buggy software. 


So, to go back to what Carnes told, the developers need to remember the audience, not just the cool thrill one can get from pushing the technology to the limit. While this makes some really cool software, it also alienates your target players who don't have a desire for credit card debt or a parent's hefty wallet to mooch off of (the target players are usually not old enough to afford all of this shit on a whim without some "mature" assistance). I think, therefore, the biggest solution is to remember who you are working for. You may, as a developer, get your paycheck from the company your work for. However, ultimately, it is the gamers who pay for the games that keep the companies in business to give you a paycheck. 

Another thought I like to keep in mind...when new PC software (games) are developed, the technological envelope is pushed forward by creating something that requires a more expensive system. However, with a console, something can be technologically superior to a previous title, but be on the same console with the same standardized hardware. So, my thought is this; imagine if hardware upgrades were required (as in new titles didn't require them) as quickly...still more often than the generation time for a new console, but slower (far slower) than it is done now. If that happened, imagine how well the new technology could be used. 

It's almost like, to put it to metaphor, if you enjoy collecting game consoles (like I do), are on a limited budget, and you gave up on collecting something as soon as it become "obsolete" by market standards. If I did that, I would have about 6 consoles. However, since I don't give up on something just because it's old, I have some really cool (often overlooked) consoles and games that I know not many of today's gamers have enjoyed. 

If you push technology to the limit before discarding it for somehting new, a lot of nifty new features can be found and utilized in the future hardware while still finding the features initially offered by the new technology...put those two groups together, and you can have something that could easily kick ass. It's like how the envelope is often pushed on the PS2 (the oldest of the current crop of consoles) despite how the XBox is technologically superior. If the PS2 was abandoned as easily as PC hardware is when something more technological came out, then we would be missing out on some really kick ass games about now. Just think about it. 

Here We Go Again...


Leave it to Nokia and Infinium Labs to not give up on a bad thing...or should I say, a bad concept? For example, Infinium Labs, which has been promising to change the way gamers look at the world for the last few years have delivered nothing but empty promises in the aptly named "Phantom". It seems no name could be better for an intangible object than "Phantom". Well, now they've drawn on Andrew Schneider, formerly from Sony Pictures Digital to be a Senior VP of Marketing. I could think of some far better career paths than to join a company that has delivered about as much as Duke Nukem For-never...ummm, that should be theory. 


So far, beyond the incredibly pathetic promises posted on the Infinium Labs web site over the last few years, Infinium has given us less than Bungie and Valve did last year (at least they gave us false hopes). Originally, the Phantom was touted as a facsimile of a PC, but without a disk drive, upgradeable parts, a real OS, etc. Then, the Phantom seemed to disappear from Infinium Labs' web site for a while as the site underwent some rather predictable changes. The site merely changed in the way that buzz words were thrown about and the promises were reworded.  True Infinium has touted a release date later this year, but those of you who are excited, I wouldn't hold your breath...actually I would say you should hold your breath since it's for the better.


Fast forward to the latest re-invention of the Phantom. We are now being promised a "Phantom Gaming Service" with almost no details. For one thing, the details of whether this "service" and what it will, in the end, bring gamers is rather illusive at best, and just vague and confusing at worst.  Also, if I want a PC game to play on a "service" I can click on the online button of the game's main menu and start playing; I don't need Infinium to do this for me; and if you do need Infinium to do this for need a lot more than a phantom Phantom.  


So, my one burning question is this; why doesn't Infinium Labs give up while the going is...well, not good...while the going is not a 100% humiliating experience for all involved? Why not try to do one of two brilliant ideas; Firstly, they could scrap the Phantom name. This name has become a joke to geeks for the last few years and that will not change with a simple re-invention. A new name for the service could help. I remember being a child and when I came up with a cool name for something I drew or made or whatever, I would stick with it until it was a sad and overused concept. Is the marketing team at Infinium ran by children or are they just missing the point of proper marketing? 


Secondly, why not do the modern thing and change the company image? Might I suggest a new company name? Typically I am one to laugh at the pointless name changes that many companies have undergone in the last couple of decades (the best example being how many of the phone companies who didn't undergo a merger still managed to go through with the name changes associated with mergers), but here it might be something that will divert the typical laughing and jeering of the geeks who know what a joke Infinium Labs has been since their first announcement of the Phantom project. 


Meanwhile, Nokia is coming at us, once again, with some more empty promises in the form of the N-Gage QD. The new pwN-Gage recently appeared in every market short of North America with incredibly low prices...incredibly low, yet highly understandable prices. Considering how absent the N-Gage is currently from most game and cell phone stores (the two places that would in theory sell them) in North America, I think the best thought is to either give up or to start from scratch. An update of a current "system"/phone that has sold even lower than the lowest of possible expectations (even I thought enough yuppies would want a trendy enough phone to go for the N-Gage just as a yuppie status symbol) should not be remade as much as scrapped to make room for a fresh product. I mean, what would have happened if the Pinto or Gremlin (talkin' cars here...but only for a minute...) were continued beyond those short hellish times that they were manufactured? Would the future versions, no matter how much they were upgraded and improved, have sold with the previous name that did little more than bring up a sadistic laugh in those who never had one or an insane laugh in those who did own one? I think not. So, why is the gremliN-Gage being continued beyond what was definitely it's 15 minutes (nay...seconds) of fame? Only because Nokia obviously has a little too much persistence and a little too little foresight. 


Also, with a re-launch of the N-Gage in the form of the QD, we still are faced with the same inevitable good games and (I'm guessing on this, but I think it's an all too educated of a guess) the same crappy controls. As for the controls...well, not much can be done at this point besides scrapping the entire project. However, for the games, Nokia needs to do something and quick. Before I ever saw a hideous image of what the N-Gage looked like (the usual source of humor on the "system") I was laughing my ass off at the horrible and tiny selection of games. I mean Pandemonium? A game that few people ever noticed on the PSX and was only moderately fun (at best) was remade for a cell phone...sigh...and then we have the selection of FPS titles (both in development and released). I think we should have all learned our lesson by now; FPS on a portable is a bad idea no matter how you look at it...they are clunky, slow, and not nearly responsive enough to play. Of course, who could forget Tomb Raider. Just like with FPS titles (and for the same reasons), 3D adventure/action titles have a good home on real consoles...also, didn't Lara Croft die in Viet Nam or something? I mean who actually gives a crap about Ms. Croft anymore? 




I think the solution is obvious and was stated above, but here it is in a nut-shell. Nokia and Infinium Labs seriously need to scrap their ideas, stick with what their good at (Nokia should make phones, and Infinium should...what the hell do they do?), and stop trying to give us geeks so much unintentional comedy...while it was funny to begin with, I now only feel pity and a small level of disgust.


When Old Friends Go Bad: The True Story 


I usually like to keep the general tone of Malik's Bitchings at sarcasm, cynicism, and dark humor, but every once-in-awhile I am faced with something so damned stupid that I lose all humor in the situation (don't worry, there's a little humor, but this is personal also)...Also, since I always like to cover my ass, I'll just say this, all quotes that I claim came from Brinkster are real (I have the emails), so if Brinkster decides to say I'm slandering them or something, I just say this; BRING IT ON BIZNATCH!


While this doesn't hit video games dead on, and I do like to keep things pointed in the right direction, so to speak, this is something very near and dear to my heart. As you are probably all aware, I only recently started this domain after moving out from Brinkster's free web hosting package. Something about having my web address along the lines of "" just sucks...maybe it's the fact that it took me almost 2 weeks to remember the 28 after the www, or the fact that I can't just say to someone where is without first saying, "get a pencil ready".  So, I decided that since Brinkster had treated me so well with my free space (they got that up and running in only an hour), that they should be my host for a real domain. Well, for those who don't know, that was a nightmare. 


It started with me signing up and giving them a shitload of money in the process. Well, I got an email (automated, of course) saying that my site would be up and running soon and "You will receive an email detailing your account in the next 24 hours" (exact quote). I waited...I waited some more...I got to 48 hours and got a little concerned (my money had been transferred, so I was almost $60 closer to eating ramen with nothing to show for it) so I emailed Brinkster support. Well, I then waited, waited, etc, you get the picture. Then I emailed again. This time I got a response..."I have forwarded your issue to my supervisor. If we can help you with anything else, please let us know." (exact quote) and then heard nothing else for a couple of days...Yes Brinkster, you can help me find my missing money.  Is "I have forwarded your issue to my supervisor" the email business equivalent to "get bent" felt like it to me. 


So, I finally get a response after I write another email to support. This time I'm told that via an automated email, "We have completed the setup of your Brinkster account"...strange, my account doesn't work and the setup is "completed". Did I just get pwned? But then, the same day, I hear "I have corrected these issues and your new web site is working properly." My response, something along the lines of, "my ass feels like it's been torn open...I wonder why". So, I naturally stop being concerned about my site and start some shopping around (after I wrote them a bitchy, yet non-insulting email...aren't I nice to not insult after they have insulted my intelligence and my bank account? Yes I am!). 


Well, I end up finding (who I am working with right now to bring you this issue of Malik's Bitchings), get plenty of personal contact as they confirm everything. Then my site is up and running with the domain I wanted from Brinkster (I don't think could register it if Brinkster did...maybe Brinkster lied when they said "It appears that your domain was not registered when you opened your account. This is being corrected by the server administrator" 5 days before my domain was registered by a certain good company). By the way, at the time of me going with a better hosting solution, I wrote Brinkster to tell them I want out and I want my money back. 


It only took them until today to respond (I wrote them on Sunday) with a "I apologize for the length of time this took, Brinkster has received an un-normal amount of email in the past few days and we are running behind". Do I give a shit? No. If your company cannot handle the job it is there to do, don't accept my money or my business until you can act a little less like some half-assed bastards who obviously are not prepared to do what they are paid to do. 


In the same email, I was informed that "We have corrected the problems with the domain registration yesterday, and will be able to register your domain name for you at this time, if you wish." Do I wish for them to do what someone else has properly done for me? Let me think...should they register my domain I asked for 16 days ago? F$#@ NO! I don't wish for that as much as I wish for my almost $60 back (I could be playing a new game right now with that type of cash). They also wondered "Please let us know if you would like us to complete the registration of your domain name, or continue with the cancellation of this account." I asked them to cancel my account, but maybe saying "I want my money back and I want my account terminated" was just a little too vague for them. Why do I have to use such soft language as "want" instead of "f^$%ing remove my account now you pathetic little whores!"? I guess I need to rethink my word choices to talk to Brinkster since they make up new meanings to words ("want" now means "I'm interested in ; Send me some more info, pretty please. Signed: Your little butt monkey, Malik"). 


Well, this reached a boiling point for me when I got an email from a VP after the first email I got today. He had the audacity to tell me "Your domain has been added to your Brinkster account...Please let me know if you have further questions. I do apologize for the confusion during the sign-up process." After I have asked to cancel my account they dare to use their (obviously) limited abilities to try to repair my site instead of getting me my damned money back! I see where their priorities lie; in making money with as little effort as possible. 




I don't endorse or condemn any products too openly, but I will just say that I will never deal with Brinkster again (after I get my money back; until then I'm going to write them a few more times before I file a fraud complaint with my credit card/bank to get my money back). I will also say that I don't wish this type of bullshit on my worst enemy. Lastly, I will just say that I plan to let the Better Business Bureau know about this type of shit just so other don't go through this type of crap. They say misery loves company, but no one should be cruel enough to wish for company in this breed of misery...I wish I had about $60 right now...wonder where it could be...? 




I am still pissed (bitchy and pissed differ by finding humor in the situation or just feeling like you've been pwN-Gaged) about Brinkster and hope this will all be behind me before my next issue of Malik's Bitchings.  However, I also was hoping that Fable, Half-Life 2, and Halo 2 (and some people could throw the pathetic looking Doom 3 on this list) would all have been out last year as the developers all promised.  At least, in the meantime, Infinium, Nokia, and a long list of other companies are giving me plenty to laugh at and keep me in a good bitchy mood.  If you have something to say in defense of Brinkster or are excited about the Phantom, tell me...I could use something to keep me laughing between Nokia press releases.