Macros and the accepted form of cheating

A while back at a friend’s house party, he showcased the visitors how he had set up a command macro on his mouse to function as a repeating fire in Mech Warrior Online. This macro allowed him to gain a high rate by timing the fire button presses according to the cooling rate. All he needed to do was to press a button. Execution and timing removed, all there was a press of a button.

I admit, this struck me. While macros are accepted in computer game community from the get go practically across the genres, all I really saw was an accepted method of cheating.  Cheating is, after all, gaining an advantage of sorts through illegal means. Illegal in gaming would mean something that would go against the allowed functions of the game. In this sense, there is nothing wrong in using a macro in a competitive game. Nevertheless, yours truly would feel compelled to ask the opposition whether or not it would be alright with them if I were to use macros to enhance my performance.

However, with electronic games the use of assisting programs is counted as cheating as well, as they often give you an advantage of sorts. Trainers directly interject with the intended function of the game and can give advantages like infinite resources or limitless health. The question that I need to ask at this point whether or not we can count macro programs in this category, as they do no directly intervene with the normal function of the game. Nevertheless such function gives an advantage to the player, an advantage that would not exist otherwise. In a competition situation of any sorts against a human opponent, this would be without any doubts be counted as cheating. Not in PC gaming though.

To use a standard 2D fighting game as an example, the use of a projectile within the game is often highly necessary. This necessitates the skill of being able to execute the fireball motion, most often being down, down-forwards, forwards and an attack button, or 236+A if we were to use your keypad as a direction indicator (assuming the player character starts at Player 1 side on the left).  If we were to use the same kind of macro function here, the player would simply need to push a button to throw out a projectile attack. However, due to the different nature of the games, the timing would still be completely up to the player, but with high repetition on the player could throw out this projectile as fast as the game would allow. In some cases, this could mean having multiple projectiles on the screen that the player would not otherwise have, or would have difficulties of executing without said macros.

To re-iterate in a different manner, macros are  a way to handle a mundane task that would take too much time or execution to streamline the gameplay, if you will.

The use of macros have become common to the point of games essentially being designed to use them. The amount of Damage Per Second is various MMOs are essentially tied to macros, in-game or not. An acquaintance asked me if I wanted to play an MMO with him, replying to my inquire whether or not the game required skill or whether or not it Was just about the numbers that it was. You needed the skill to set up the right build to your character and set up the macros so that you maximise the DPS.

Knowledge is not a skill. The search for knowledge however is, and the lack of that is evident on the Internet on sites like Yahoo Answers. To be frank, games like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest require no skill. They require acquired knowledge of in-world mechanics and how to set up a party to counter these mechanics. You can set up a perfect team and win, or lose if your knowledge fails you. In a game like Monster Hunter the knowledge is about as much required, but the element of skill required to play the game also brings in execution, and that execution brings in

The use of macros are, in effect, replacement of execution and skill. As said, this is accepted within the PC game community as-is. There is no negative stigma in using them, and complex macros that may give even the slightest of advantages is seen as some sort of marvel. An impressive feat of setting up a string of commands that are executed with a press of a button.

Automation is where the world is going anyway. Tasks that used to take a master craftsman or other kind of skilled worker have been slowly replaced by machines.  In few decades even welders will have to wonder what’s next, when the technological level has reached certain point. In similar manner how macros are prevalent in PC gaming, some genres have aimed to broaden their customer base by streamlining their games, effectively, trying to lower the skill required to play them. This of course usually bombs and alienates the installed fan base. A fighting game, for example, won’t see much success if it becomes oversimplified and takes away the sheer excitement of the game. Pressing the same button for time for an automated string of attacks that end in a super is the very opposite way to go. The problem why current gaming has hard time to expand its audience is that it mostly refuses to expand itself. It’s the same shit all over again, and making things easier or dumbing things down (i.e. more accessible) has yielded little results. Games like Nintendogs and Brain Train  managed to be a hit due to them being something new and hitting completely different and untapped section of the possible market.  This is a whole post on its own, and I’m sure I’ve already written about it few times already.

To take yet another position, what does it say about current games and their design when they expect the player to have a set of tools to remove task management from the game? Is the mark of controllable complexity now the hallmark what ultimately separates PC and console games? That’s something we’ leave hanging out.

Monthly Three: Computer game

This Monthly Three (imaginative name, I know) will most likely consist less content than usual, as the theme will be System X defining games, in this case What games define computer games? In this way I hope to showcase the core differences that stand between computer/PC gaming, arcade gaming and console gaming. As all three systems have differences in their core, the selection here are largely picked to present the definitive elements that a platform excels at.

We start with computer games, because they are the first to stem from the general field of electronic games. That’s a whole another can-o-worms we might open one day after discussing how computer and video games are simply continuation if child play culture.

But onwards, games that defined computer gaming as we know it nowadays. These are not in any particular order, so there’s no reason to look into that. The amount of games will be kept under ten for the sake of removing excess fat.

Continue reading “Monthly Three: Computer game”

A lack of steam in a machine

Valve’s Steam Machines were launched some seven months ago. They’ve made no impact on the consumers’ habits or to the general scene. The industry expected them to have an impact or challenge the existing consoles, but the reality is, nobody outside hardcore Steam fans gave a damn about them.

Not even their controller has made a huge impact. They’ve sold about a half million Steam controllers according to themselves (which may or may not be an exaggerated number) and the number compared to the amount of Steam’s users is laughably low. The thing is, computer is the king of input devices. You can essentially add any input device you want and even build your own, and then hope for the best the games on Steam support it, and that their anti-piracy system doesn’t screw you over. But that’s the point; PC itself is that Wild West of every thing’s free, but Steam limits the user, and Valve trying to push the Steam controller is an example of further putting that console twist to what essentially is a digital console.

However, are all these controller sold separately? Without a doubt no. This half million sales figure most likely includes sold Steam Machines as well, which would mean that the Machines have probably sold less than a half million in six month’s sales period. There are no exact numbers anywhere, and we’ll most likely never hear any. Valve had partnered with numerous companies from Alienware to NEN to deliver their machines, a thing that caused more confusion to the general public than anything else.

People who already wanted to play console games on a power PC already had their gaming rig build and ready to go, and those who didn’t want to spend few thousands to build a supercomputer were satisfied with the console versions for their own reasons.

The Steam Machine is a physical iteration of a digital games console, and it showed that people aren’t willing to dish out money on yet another machine to play games when they have a computer to run Steam on. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbone sold over a million units on their first day back in 2013. To compare how well those two sold compared to Steam Machine, PS4 had sold 10.2 million units and Xbone 5.5 million in the same passing of time.

Steam Machine has been barely a splash in a puddle, comparable to any other dud console in the game history, especially with Valve’s status. If we’re completely honest, Steam OS is an idea worth jack shit as it supports no standards widely used. Linux is a nice thing but has its own problems, while Windows still rules as the standard OS across the world in most cases, followed and overtaken by Apple’s machines in certain fields. There is no reason for a consumer to move from their standard current setup to a dedicated Steam console. There are no benefits to do so, especially when Steam is free to download.

Steam Machines have nothing to do with PC gaming, much like how the only thing Steam has to do with PC gaming is that it’s a software on PC that functions like a game console. Giving Steam Machines any credit for driving Linux gaming is stupid, as Valve already released a version of Steam catered for Linux users before Steam Machines.

What appeal do the Steam Machines have? I have to ask this, as it seems that everything was against them. They had no exclusive deals that other consoles had as all titles that were offered through it were also available on the Windows Steam. The controller had put off a lot of people due to its general functions, especially in an environment where you can put a goddamn fleshlight into the USB jack and play games by using your hip movement. Their price range is rather on the high-end, starting from around five hundred dollars if their site is to be believed. That puts it automatically above the basic budget the common consumer wants to put into a game console, and both Xbone and PS4 are cheaper. Whatever capabilities the Steam OS is wasted on a  Steam Machine, when you probably have a computer sitting next to your desk.

Steam Machine baffles me. What was the point of it in the end? To make a computer more user-friendly for a console user?  If that was the intention, they’ve underestimated their consumer base in a major way.  A console is just a box to play games on, and without anything special on a particular console (especially in the price range they are in) Steam Machines withered fast. It doesn’t help that after the Steam Machines’ launch, Valve did exactly jack shit with them and their promotion has been worse than the new Ghostbusters’.

The only good thing from all this is the fact that Valve really is intending to push Linux gaming further, but as said, Valve had been pushing that before Steam Machines. Without a doubt they are one of the major reasons why they are doing it now, and perhaps had planned it beforehand. Valve should drop their nigh stupidly manical ideas of pushing a physical iteration of Steam any further or an Operating System dedicated to it, and stick with driving more Linux and OS compatible titles.

The last thing that shows that Valve failed with Steam Machines that there is no buzz about them. There is not discussion on the general level or even news about them. Occasionally you can see news about Xbox or PlayStation, even about the Wii U. People will discuss them and their games. Steam Machines will be a footnote on electronic gaming history alongside Atari Jaguar.

However, that controller of theirs has still something in it. It’s floating in the ether and pops up in discussion about controllers, but that seems to be it. Still a failure in the end.

Technology, consoles and computers

One way to determine a difference between a console and computer gamer is how they approach their respective platforms. For console gamer, he approaches the games first and foremost, giving them a platform and concentrating on those themselves. A computer gamer however concentrates on the specs, citing everything from the RAM of their gaming rig to the maximum resolution their monitor can output. Essentially, the software versus the hardware.

Because of the mixing of computer and console games, the approach between the two has become just as mudded. More often than not computer games used to drive the users stupidly insane, as they had to continue updating their rigs to play the latest Ultima or Privateer. Not only it demanded money, but dedication most of all. For console gamers life was easier, as all they had to worry about were the release dates and whether or not they had money to purchase the game, or in case of games like Zelda II, if they managed to nab a copy for themselves.

Console games are tailor made to run on a console, using the best possible capabilities it offers from controllers to whatever the hardware could do. It is far more easier to produce a computer game, as it has very little limitations what you can do with it, outside the whole keyboard and mouse controls. Whether or not you prefer those over a controller is up to opinion, even thou one can make a proper argument about the tactility of controllers and their form fitting.

Recently SONY admitted that the PlayStation 4 was not up to the technological higher end it was meant to be, but this is an oxymoron. Consoles have never been at the technological high end. Because of the technological development and the solid nature of the consoles, the moment any game console is released it holds outdated technology that can’t be upgraded. However, SONY is absolutely right in that PlayStation 4 not being at the top of the line has little do with game quality. Over and over again we have seen the consoles with lesser specs beating their more powerful competitors. No, Super Nintendo is not an exception in this. Mega Drive has 32X and Sega CD in the end, putting it on the higher end than Nintendo’s reverb filled console.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot of roaring from the computer gamers about the 4k displays. Your normal user doesn’t care about that at this point, nor has the 4k displayed the other HD displays at this point in time. Display technology advances at such a high rate, that buying a high end television once every twenty or thirty years should suffice you just fine, unless you’re a huge tech fanatic.

For the computer side, the 4k is another hardware issue the love to discuss how they would be able to make use of them the best possible way. For a console gamer, the issue is not relevant, at least not yet. This is because the 4k sets are not common in households. The companies have released numerous versions of their sets offering 4k support, but as with others things, there’s very little reason to put money now into 4k television when there’s very little that supports it. Much like with almost every console launch, the first years of any new technology sees little adoption before the gradual shift either makes a household standard or something new comes along and beats it. The change from VHS to DVD is an example of rather rapid change in both industry and household standards. SONY wished to replicate that success with the Blu-Ray format, but the jump from DVD to Blu-Ray has been far more slower. Even with DVD, the early players were rather low in quality and some early players simply can’t play the latest discs because of the technology differences, and then you had the fact most DVDs were low quality VHS transfers. There are instances where the Laserdisc edition was superior before a proper digital remaster came along, or in few rare cases, a Blu-Ray release.

There is also an issue of worldwide markets. The cultural values regarding technology varies massively and not all areas simply accept the new technology as the best. That said, the opposite applies as well. All we can really do is to individually wager whether or not it is worth purchasing potential rather than proved practicality. Early adopters always purchase for potential, and there are times when they simply bet on the wrong horse, much like with the BetaMAX or HD-DVD.

4k displays may be latest of the tech, and we all know that in a year or two we may be hearing about something that makes the 4k a moot point. Actually, there already exists numerous higher resolution standards than the 4k, like DCI Standard and the 8k FUHD. New ones will come along. Skipping a technological step isn’t anything new, and majority of consumers simply skip the things they don’t consider as worthwhile purchases. I can assure you that while 4k displays, objectively speaking, seem to offer better visual experience, there are those who simply don’t care and are fully content on using their current sets due to variety of reasons.

All that said, when would we see actual use for 4k display sets outside video games? NHK has announced Super Hi-Vision broadcasts for Japan in 2016. Eutelsat is Ultra HD dedicated channel that is already operating. 2013 and 2014 have been the years when Ultra HD has made its impact mainly within the industries. The end-consumer hasn’t really seen anything worth purchasing outside the potential. Then again, we had people announcing that 3D would be the future, and the boom ended up being a simple whimper.

First adopters purchase for the possibilities products offers, whereas most other consumers base their purchase on what already is offered. The compute gamer most likely would put his money into a 4k display in order to keep himself atop the hardware race, whereas a console gamer wouldn’t need a 4k set before something worthwhile would come into play. Even then, when something has a 4k support, there’s always the question whether or not the content in itself is worth the investment.

The last generation was about getting rid of the publisher, now it’s to get rid of the machine?

It looks like everybody wants to make a game console nowadays. Ouya, Gamesick, Shield and Valve’s Piston are a symptom of lack of competition on the game market. The last game generation was a rare one in the sense that it had three consoles competing with each other. A lot of younger people who began their gaming history with the PlayStation/2 think that three consoles is enough for a market. Naturally, this is a load of bull. When we have large competition, we should get proper competition between the consoles.

I must admit that I do not see future in Ouya, Gamestick or in Shield. Nevertheless I wish to keep my options open and review these consoles with as open mind as I can. Even if I find them completely absurd and laughable devices, not giving them any weight would be stupid. After all, nobody really gave the NES or Wii any weight at first, and they became the best selling systems in the history of electronic games.

Let’s start with Ouya. Ouya is built on Android in order to allow all Android programmers to directly step into Ouya’s world. The console’s prototype is a small box, which I can’t find that attractive at all. I really hope it has GameCube level built quality, otherwise it’ll be easy to break and shatter. When building small consoles like this you always need to think of the rare situation where during a cleaning process something goes wrong and the console falls from its designated place.

I really hate that this sort if minimalistic design has become extremely popular
I really hate that this sort of minimalistic design has become extremely popular

Ouya promises large range of games from various developers, but none are named or given images of. Borrowing the free-to-play model is a completely stupid choice, as only failing games go for F2P model. Why do you think World of Warcraft is still subscription based? Not only that, but the hardware developers promise that Ouya will bring back the creativity to the game developers. We all already know the same old song; creativity kills the product that needs craftsmanship. Also, it’s promised that we’d be able to watch videos and play music as well.

Ouya’s a dumbed down PC, and not even a proper desktop or laptop computer; it’s a damn downgraded tablet computer. I have a phone from HTC, a Desire S model. I never use it for gaming unless my DS or PSP run put of batteries. I use it check my mail and newest Pixiv pictures and making those phone calls. There’s no reason to even consider buying Ouya when we haven’t seen one single game. I’m actually getting a good amount of 3DO vibes from this console.

Speaking of consoles that really don’t have much going on for them, Gamestick is pretty much the same deal as Ouya. Gamestick has an interesting design that it’s basically an USB stick for HDMI socket. I just wonder how much physical memory that thing will hold, as the size of games has been expanding way too much. The idea is decent, but overall how it looks falls into the same field as many of those controller-console TV games that had pirated NES games in-built.

It's a nice design idea to stash the stick inside the controller for travel, but the question is why not to give a small case for that? I'd really hate to have all those buttons broken in my pocket. Those slidepads are never a good idea either.
It’s a nice design idea to stash the stick inside the controller for travel, but the question is why not to give a small case for that? I’d really hate to have all those buttons broken in my pocket. Those slidepads are never a good idea either.

Ouya and Gamestick both have the same design philosophy to burst open from the closed environment and allow everybody to step in. Much like the last generation mirrored the will to step away from publishers and embrace the digital environment (with varying degrees of success), this generation seems to mirror the wish to step away from the closed environment system; the classical console ideology. However, both Ouya and Gamestick fail to grasp what a game console is and follow the same path that Microsoft, Sony and other companies before them have taken with less desirable results.

I’ll be frank; Valve had an excellent opportunity to make their console look good, even if it was just the prototype. Sure, it might be one of the many prototypes, but I’m certain that none of them had any steampunk or dieselpunk going on. C’mon Valve, embrace your name. Put brass piping in the design, make it look unique and something ornate. Don’t stick with the stainless steel and black/primary colours.

Prototype or not, it looks dull. Put some more effort in that design!
Prototype or not, it looks dull. Put some more effort in that design! [It looks fugly.Editor]

There’s really nothing to say about this one that hasn’t been said before. It’s a PC dedicated to nothing but games. It’s different from Ouya and Gamestick’s philosophy, but then again this is just a Steam-in-a-box. I initially joked about Steam being a digital console, but now they made it into a dumbed down PC much like what Ouya, 360, Ps3 and Gamestick are. I hope that after Valve has released their console, the console market will take this into notice and start playing their cards better and concentrate on the strengths a console offers rather than trying to compete in the endless Red Ocean. Piston won’t really change the market in any direction. People with Steam account most likely will eat it up as soon as possible, and I do believe that there will be new adopters as well, unless the rumours of the prices are right. In that case Valve’s doing the worst decision in their company history, but without any credible information I can’t say a thing.

Then as the last pillar of this post we have NVIDIA’s Project Shield. It’s basically an XBOX controller they added a touchscreen to. Speaking of the controls, Ouya’s controller looks poorly designed and follows the same line of thinking non-Nintendo consoles have been doing, ie. don’t do your own proper research and steal from others. Same goes for this one. Shield looks like a re-built Dreamcast controller, a bastard son of Robocop of sorts.

Oh I need to quote this tasty bit;

Powered by NVIDIA® Tegra® 4, Project SHIELD is made for those who demand amazing gaming experiences. It features precise, tactile controls and the latest version of Android Jelly Bean, giving you the best way to play your favorite Android games.

The Shield to protect PC gaming against the possible ravaging possibilities of console gaming!
The Shield to protect PC gaming against the possible ravaging possibilities of console gaming!

Translation; it’s the same thing as Ouya and Gamestick, but separated from the TV! You can also play Steam games on it, just like on Piston! The thing is, Project Shield is supposed to stream games from PC. It doesn’t even try to separate itself from the big box, rather it ties itself more down to it! Hahahaha! This has to be one of the worst ways to make a dumbed down PC! Why would I want to go and play PC games on my couch with a console controller when I could sit on my couch and play proper console games? If I want to play PC games on my couch, then I’ll just get that good wireless keyboard and mouse and play from there. I have a decent setup for that too, but I never used it because it’s far more intuitive to play PC games on PC rather on couch. The name really sounds like a Shield against console gaming or something, it’s a completely laughable apparatus.

Overall, while I’m giving all of these new consoles a good amount of chances and possibilities to surprise me in the future, I can’t see them having a dent on console business. They’ll cannibalize the PC market that was already being ripped into two or three parts by the tablet computers. The true console gaming will laugh at these, but the developers who can’t distinguish between arcade, console and computer gaming will be shitting their pants at some point. It’s natural for these consoles to use nothing but digital shops, as they are all about getting rid of the people who hold the leases.

I want two new consoles to be released during next generation that are not from Sony or Microsoft. Sony has stated that the PlayStation platform will expand, but this can mean anything from getting some new additional unnecessary content to the existing consoles or that more PS related hardware will be integrated to other products. PS4 is probable as well, but really a stupid decision. Microsoft will release their multimedia equipment at some point.

What I want to see is some sort of a console that embraces a multiple style of controllers rather than forcing me to use the one and only way from the console developers, and embrace what a console really is; a box you play games with. Nothing more, nothing less. It would be affordable and still manage to do everything the customers want it to do. In the end, if the customer wants to listen to music and watch videos, they have a PC for that. Consoles are their own thing.

But goddamn these people could concentrate on the design more.