Review of the Month: Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller

The stock three-pronged Nintendo 64 controller is a peculiarity, to say the least. Whatever Nintendo’s approach was with it, be it designed solely to play Super Mario 64 or just try to separate itself from the rest of the controller crowd, it has ended up as rather infamous. To cut to the chase, it’s not very good as a general controller, and its shape doesn’t exactly fit the hand as intended.

Enter Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller, which was Kickstarted a while back, to which I threw some money at just for this review. Intended to be competent, modern replacement for the stock N64 controller, the Brawl 64 opts for the now-standard pad design and placements, while also carrying the action button setup from the stock N64 controller. There is a follow-up campaign coming up with updated firmware and hardware for translucent shells

Probably needless to say that the controller was tested on real hardware

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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.

PC game market is wide open for the taking

Valve’s an interesting company. They have managed to further turn legions of PC game players into console users with the Steam, and with their recent announcements of SteamOS and Steam Machines, they’ve essentially abandoned PC game market. Valve has decided to cannibalise the console market instead, mainly the upcoming PS4 and Xbone.

StOS is essentially a way to turn your computer into a game console. It’s a Linux based OS that allows your computer to run games better, if I’ve understood the little info I’ve read correctly. But that’s beside the point. The point is that your PC with the StOS is now dedicated to run games. It’s not anymore a virtual console, but an actual, physical console.

Whoever thinks that this will challenge Windows’ place or whatever Apple is pushing out needs a reality check. A dedicated OS like this won’t appear on workplaces or in schools. StOS is aimed at the people who want to play games easily on their computers, but people who want to play console games will buy a console to play these games, and people who want the computer game experience are shunned.

A company like Valve shouldn’t put their resources into developing an operating system. Operating system has nothing to do with games. Valve hasn’t even made games in a long damn time now, they’ve just repacked the console idea and have been reselling console games for the PC market. Games like La-Mulana are console games and sell for something like three bucks on Steam. Valve hasn’t been a game company for a long time now, and now with StOS they solidify that they’re a non-game software company. They want you to play games, but games through their software. With Steam Machines, they’re also saying that they want you to play games on their hardware.

Valve’s SteamBox is now something else. Nobody really knows what, as Valve didn’t show any of the Steam Machines or tell much about them. It’s a generic market trick, that seemed to work on the hardcore Steam fans. But who is the targeted person here? If Valve has really decided to split modern dumbed down PC consoles’ functions between multiple machines, they’re really making a stupid decision. Actually, they’re talking about streaming services with Steam Machines, as in that the Machines are to stream Steam content from a PC. That’s stupid. If you have a Steam capable PC, even the stupidest person realizes that it is possible to connect your PC to a television and have wireless controls from your couch to your PC.

Valve claims that Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world and there’s a small truth in there. If asked from a random person on the street, they’d be glad to take one machine that could to everything in their livingroom, from playing music to DVDs. Having multiple machines that all do different things different ways and in different fashion will confuse the customer, unless they’re know exactly what they want and how they want it, and we all know that this kind of customer is extremely rare. Yet, they’re intending to say that they want to invade the living-room with multiple machines by different manufacturers that would optimize your experience. This sounds like something a tech geek would cream over, not the general customer. People who want multiple pieces of equipment to run one thing are generally speaking a rare sight. So yeah, one size doesn’t fit for all in entertainment, but is sure does fit for the majority of them. As before, a console’s just a box to play Mario on. Now Valve’s saying that there’s a vast need for multiple boxes to streamplay Mario. And to stream video. And to stream music. And most likely photos as well. Can’t forget those.

Actually, why the hell do consoles have image viewing software in them? Hell, even my TV is capable of showing pictures via USB-memory. What’s the damn point? How many people have actually transferred images to a USB-stick and used their console or TV to to view images? The only time I have seen anyone viewing images in 360 was when I was testing a Kinect at a friend’s place, and that just when the game took in-game screenshots. Otherwise people just use their computer screens to do so, and the older folks just want the damn pictures printed. For fucks sake, it’s completely useless and they’ve been pushing these image viewing software into everything they can think of. Next thing I know they have a damn alarm clock that has a screen showcasing pictures while waking you up.

No, don’t tell me that such a thing exists. It’s stupid idea enough that somebody has already designed and massproduced it.

Perhaps The worst statement what they’re offering is that you can do whatever you want to the Steam Machines, from installing your own software into them to building a robot out of it. We all remember how successful piece OUYA was with the same promises.

What information we have now, we can say that Valve’s new scheme to further consolise the PC game market has an awful design in it, and mostly Valve fanboys will be eating this like the tastiest porridge ever. This would offer an interesting competition with the other gaming consoles, but to think that now almost all the consoles are offering same games same way with same extras. We already can see that Steam Machines are going to offer video and music streaming from certain services, so they’re further parting from consoles and closer to… modern consoles.

It’s mind boggling. If Valve’s really pushing StOS out as their biggest and best service, and Half-Life 3 as their trump card, I really hope that they have a large amount of people convincing themselves that the project was a large success.

You know how Valve would have made more money? By putting their resources into developing games. If Valve and their higher-ups cared for games, they would have put out Half-Life 5 out this year and the numerous DLCs to rack up some more money. Instead they’ve been coasting on their initial success with most famous games all this time, as well as coasting on the success of other games via Steam.