Posts Tagged ‘steam


TowerFall: Ascension

What?  You’ve been living under a rock for the past year and haven’t heard of TowerFall?  Originally released in mid-2013 for the Ouya platform, it was quickly recognized as the platforms standout game.  Now, with the release of TowerFall: Ascension on Steam and PS4, the game has continued to grab the attention of critics for it’s polished, offline, multiplayer mode.  In it’s competitive mode, you and up to three other players are dropped into a non-scrolling, single-screen arena.  Players are given a bow and several arrows with which they can shoot down other players.  Alternatively, you can drop down on top of them to remove them from the match.  You’re also given a dodge button that allow you to get out of the way of incoming arrows, reach higher ledges, or steal arrows right out of the air.  Moving to the end of the area will wrap your character and their arrows to the other end of the screen.

It’s an incredibly well balanced game that’s easy to dive into, but deep enough to keep you coming back to come up with, and master novel strategies.  You can out-maneuver other players, specialize in the game’s many power ups, or simply utilize the game’s verb set more effectively.  Many battles can be decided in a few frantic moments, and you won’t entirely know what happens until you watch the match replay in slow motion.  It’s an awesome way to compete, and it can be satisfying for everyone involved, even when you’re losing.  You can definitely tell that the efforts that would have gone into making this an online multiplayer game have gone into refining the core experience and fleshing out the different ways you can play it.  While I haven’t spent much time with it myself, you and other players can run through the game’s quest mode, which pits you against waves of monsters.  If you’re looking for a game that you can play with your friends, on the couch, then you’d be hard pressed to find a better candidate than TowerFall.


The Steambox is the most interesting console of the next generation


It’s been fun watching Sony antagonize Microsoft and it’s indecisive approach to the Xbox One.  I have never sat down and watched through an E3 press conference by Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo.  Seeing Sony eat Microsoft’s lunch felt vindicating after years of contending with the growing complexity of DRM, DLC, and season passes.  What was best about these press conferences though is how each sought to reassure gamers that next generation consoles were going to cater to core audiences and not go off the deep end with motion controls, DRM, cell processors.  It felt that these press conferences were aimed at clearing the air of uncertainty (whether or not they were successful is another story.)  While the console industry has focused on not rocking the boat and trying to emulate the success of Steam and mobile platforms,  Valve will now be staking its claim in the living room in a way that really does feel worthy of being called “next gen.”

Around this time last year, I wrote a #BoRT post on the value of video game input as opposed to audio/visual output.  It’s been no secret that Gabe Newell has been looking at how the gaming experience can be improved with reduced latency and greater precision in gaming controllers, and that vision has come to fruition in the form of the Steam Controller.  It was Valve’s third announcement following SteamOS and the Steam Machine.  While the first two products expand Valve’s reach into the console gaming sphere, the Steam Controller is a more radical departure for PC gaming and console gaming.  There are some who are nervous about the lack of face buttons and joysticks.  Valve wants to assure us that the lack of tactile feedback from buttons and sticks will be compensated for through use of linear resonant actuators.  Instead of having the immediate feeling a button giving away under pressure, it appears players will instead be feeling the controller respond more programmatically.  From what I’ve read on it, the Steam Controller will make the nature of interaction with the controller part of a game’s design.

Of course, part of the attraction of having Steam in the living room is being able to tap into an existing library of games.  Valve once more attempts to reassure gamers that the Steam Controller is being designed with this in mind and will be providing legacy configurations that provide a natural experience while playing games designed for traditional controllers or the mouse and keyboard.  (If you’re interested in hearing a hand-on account of what the controller is like, check out this post by Tommy Refenes.)  And given the nature of Steam OS, you won’t be forced to use a Steam Controller to play games on the system.  Ultimately, the controller introduces a lot of potential, and uncertainty, in ways similar to motion controls in the previous generation.  I feel there’s more reason to be optimistic about the Steam controller though since it seems to be designed to empower designers rather than dictate to them as motion controls or the cell processor did.

There’s no guarantee that developers would jump on board with this new control scheme, and Valve would suffer little if their controller went the way of the Playstation Move.  But right now, the potential of the Steam Controller offers a much bigger step forward for games than the most recent console offerings by Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft.  While those companies are trying to just catch up with the technology of the last 6 years, Valve is in a unique position to actually innovate rather than iterate.  Here’s hoping that it succeeds!


Guess who owns your games?

Look out for Matt.  He's an angry, angry man.

Spoiler Alert: The answer is probably not you.

The news that THQ’s upcoming game, Homefront, will require an “online pass” to unlock all of the game’s multi-player features has led to broader discussions of who exactly owns the games that you purchase.  I’m not entirely averse to the trend where publishers technically license games to you.  With games purchased through Steam,  in exchange for omitting a physical copy of the game the consumer will be given virtually indefinite access to games they have purchased.  No matter where they are.  It’s not as easy for digital games to be stolen, and it’s impossible for them to be broken or destroyed in say a house fire.  And when Steam puts on one of their notoriously awesome sales, it’s a deal that’s almost too good to pass up.  For whatever consumer “right” is given up it would appear that others are emerging in their place.  If I tried to go to Gamestop and ask for a replacement copy of a game I’d only get a blank stare and then be asked if I want to pre-order $300 of new games.

What I’m not entirely thrilled about with the trend are the instances where these changes aren’t being made known upfront.  With Steam, at least I’m immediately aware that games I purchase there can’t be shared in the conventional sense with other people.  Homefront on the other hand is presenting itself as a game that is entirely contained within its physical format, and its price tag reflects that.  In reality you’re buying a discounted game with the online multi-player pass in one package.  And for the time being, that’s somewhat misleading for someone who believes that they are buying a full priced game and will be able to do everything that they’ve been able do with games in the past.  Homefront is not a game you can loan to your friends (in its entirety), and if you lose the code for your pass and have to play the game on a new console then you’re going to need a new pass.  And unless the game is discounted for used purchases (on top of the discount from the new purchase price), I can only imagine being annoyed and disappointed when I find that I need to purchase something else in order to unlock the full game.

This would be easier to swallow if either it was made clear at the point of purchase (e.g. on the game’s cover) that you’re buying the game and a pass.  Or if you were given the option to buy the game sans multi-player pass, then purchase it online later if you really want to. I don’t imagine that would go over so well with gamers who already pay a monthly fee to Microsoft for access to multi-player.  The online pass, or game license approach isn’t unreasonable so long as the process and product are transparent to the consumer.  It will probably be more accurate in the future to think of game purchases as being analogous to the admission fee to movies, a carnival, or a show that you can keep coming back to whenever you want.  Or they can be thought of as one-time fees to rent digital real estate to house your games.  In any case, it’s as important as ever to understand what exactly you are getting when you hand over your money.

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