Road-Kill Journal Vol.5-3

Customer Raves About Steam and Half-Life 2
Posted by Toonces T. Cat on Saturday, December 18, 2004 11:30 PM CDT

Well, someone out there loves Steam...:

Do Valve and Steam tickle your fancy?

They say that turn-about is fair play, so I have coded the Steam Rave page for your reading enjoyment. At this point, I have yet to find any worthy pieces, but I know they are out there as Steam does have its defenders. There are many snippets and retorts, and some of those may make it onto the page, but what is really needed are a few eloquent raves about the game software distribution platform. Please let me know if you are aware of any that you feel are worthy of posting on a long-term basis.

To view the Steam Rave page click on the link below:

The Steam and Half-Life 2 Rave Page


Customer Rants About Steam and Half-Life 2
Posted by Toonces T. Cat on Saturday, December 5, 2004 11:30 AM CDT

Wow! So much anger...So little recourse...:

Does Valve have you by the throat?

I know that many of you don't have the time or the patience for reading the on-line gaming forums. A few of the articles being posted about Steam, Half-Life 2, and Valve are really priceless, however, and do deserve a read. So, I've established a "Steam and Half-Life 2" rant page for your viewing pleasure. The two posted so far, by Vibropod and Urk are clearly the picks of the litter to date. I hope that y'all enjoy them as much as I did!

To read the postings click on the link below:

The Steam and Half-Life 2 Rant Page


More Half-Life 2 Screenshots - Possible Spoilers Ahead!
Posted by Toonces T. Cat on Friday, November 26, 2004 7:30 PM CDT

Possible spoilers - proceed with caution...:

The Idiot Squad from City 17...

I've prepped a whole new batch of Half-Life 2 screenshots for y'all. Be advised, however, that there are a couple of fairly heavy spoilers included. So, if you don't want know, DON'T click on the link. The game itself continues to amaze me in almost every respect. It would be easy to pick nits with it in a few areas like the squad A.I. that Valve has implemented, but the one thing that is not flawed in any respect is the fun factor. Not many FPS games have a whole lot of re-playability in their single-player mode. Half-Life 2 is a genuine exception as I know, that like its predecessor, I will play it many times over.

To view the new batch of Half-Life 2 screenshots, click on the link below:

Half-Life 2 Screenshots with Spoilers


Return of the Classics: Half-Life 2 vs. Doom 3 vs. Halo 2
Posted by Toonces T. Cat on Friday, November 19, 2004 2:30 PM CDT

Three Video Game Classics Revisited...:

Doom 3 - On the Martian Surface...

Half-Life 2 - Outside the City 17 Train Station...

Halo 2 - The Master Chief vs. the Covenant Redux...

Many of us have waited with baited breath for the release of the sequels to Half-Life and Doom for the PC...and of course...Halo for the Xbox...and now that they are here most of us are more than pleased with the results. In fact, to call the last two months an embarrassment of riches is likely an understatement. All three titles arrived with a few warts, some larger than others, but all in all the games have proven to be excellent performers in almost every respect.

Let's begin with Doom 3 and it's ground-breaking new game engine:

The good: Doom 3 takes the whole concept of dynamic lighting and real-time shadows to new levels that we've never seen outside of major film productions like Final Fantasy. When combined with the game's outstanding use of a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix, the suspension of disbelief is simply amazing! Turn out the lights, grab the nearest BFG and start blowing things up. Doom 3 also has an excellent scare factor. I know that later I'll regret admitting this, but on a couple of nights I had to actually stop playing it got me so unnerved. On more than one occasion stuff flying out dark corners lifted me a few inches out of the chair. Nothing quite reached the level of that first Face Hugger in Alien vs. Predator 2, but it did come very close. I tried not to make any direct comparisons, but in the end the graphics in Doom 3 even outstrip many parts of Far Cry for their ability to immerse the player in the game's environment. (Note - I'll add a small bit at the end of the article regarding the Far Cry v1.3 Patch and the beta HDR rendering option.)

The bad: Sadly, the downside of Doom 3, in my opinion, is huge. The game-play, once you are past the level "Hell" becomes downright lame. To describe it as repetitive just doesn't cover it. You meet your first pair of Hell Knights on the way into the level and after that it is all pretty much the same stuff over and over again. There are few "Boss" characters, but they are nothing special and, frankly, are rather easy to defeat. Even the "Soulcube" weapon that is required to beat the level is rather much eye-candy and so little thought as to what makes a video-game truly great. I suppose that for newcomers to the First Person Shooter genre, Doom 3 will be a real treat. For the old-time Dead Cats and the original DM players from Bullet Time, y'all will cruise through this venue like grease through a goose.

The real upside to Doom 3 is that the engine is not just another Id knock-off of the Quake engine. Those folks will need dump trucks to haul their income to the bank from the royalties on this critter. What that means for us is that we can look forward to a host of phenomenal new games being built on this platform.

Next up is Half-Life 2 and its Third Reich registration process:

The good: I have to say up-front that I have not finished the game. In fact, I have only completed the opening sequence at the City 17 Train Station and the first actual game level called Route Kanal...pun intended I'm sure. To cut to the chase, so far this game has it all! The graphics, dynamic lighting, and shadows of Doom 3 and Far Cry plus the game-play of...well, the game-play of Half-Life. The A.I. is superb in most respects. If there is any fault in it at all, it seems that the squad tactics of the Combine Troopers is not quite up to the Far Cry level. They have a tendency to stand and fight rather than take cover or make an attempt to double-back and come up from behind your position. This is at the normal difficulty setting and their tactics may change at the higher levels. The story-line, so far, picks up right where the original game left off. The G-Man wakes you up and says, "It's your time Dr. Freeman." The facial animation bones in the G-Man's face are amazing! I'm kicking myself now as I was too stunned to grab a screenshot while I had the chance.

The bad: Valve has one word for you...Achtung! I really, truly, do appreciate Valve's need to protect their product and themselves from the all too rampant software pirates, but the registration process puts this game well into the Nazi-ware category. For those that download the game directly from Valve's content servers, the procedure is completely understandable. It is the only way they have to ensure that you are who you claim to be and then allow them to actually debit your account prior to making the game playable.

If, however, you purchased at retail for anywhere from $60 to $80, then you have every right to expect that when you get home with your game and load it on your machine that you will be able to play it without further hassles...Well, you had better think again! In little, tiny, itty-bitty, fine print on the very bottom of the box it does say, "Internet Connection Required." I will bet dollars to doughnuts, that 95% of the folks that buy the game in a store will assume that to mean that you need a network connection to use the multi-player component of the game and never realize that it is also needed to access the single-player game as well.

And, it only gets worse from there. After you load the software on your machine, the next logical step is to start the game. So, you double-click the Half-Life 2 shortcut and what happens next is the game verifies your network connection and wants to install Valve's Steam client on your PC. If you say no, it cancels the install and you CANNOT use Half-Life 2. Now, this is the really great part of this deal...and I am sure hoards of hungry lawyers are looking at it right now...It tells you all of this in the EULA (End User License Agreement) during the install. The rub is that you can't read the EULA without opening the box and video-games are not returnable after you have opened the box. It is the perfect Catch-22...Can you say lawsuit Valve? After you do register, then Steam jumps on your machine, under Valve's control, and unlocks your game files and downloads the extra stuff you need to have from their content servers. After all of this, it will let you play while you are on-line. You cannot, however, play off-line until your purchase is authenticated...which for me took around four hours. This is going to really make a lot of kids happy on Christmas morning...Just outrageous!

If you purchased at retail, then after you have gone through this onerous process, you can disconnect from the network, post authentication, and play in Steam's off-Line mode. You cannot uninstall Steam or all of Valve's games cease to function. I am sorry, but that is some cold comfort for spending $80 on a video-game and being punished and subjected to all forms of intrusive behavior by a software company for the misdeeds of others. If I sound offended by all of this, it's because I really am. My feverent wish is that somewhere out there, there exists a tort-monster of an attorney that will give Valve the legal spanking they so richly deserve for pulling this stunt on their loyal fan-base...'nuff said!

Finally we come to Halo 2 for the Xbox from Bunjie:

The good: This will be short as I have nothing bad to say about this game. Somehow, Microsoft and Bunjie have managed to squeeze even more performance out of the Xbox as Halo 2 makes the original look like it's three-years-old...which it is and you all know that is a life-time in the video-game world. I don't know how much of the DX9 APIs are in use, but the game definitely bump-maps the textures. Wet surfaces have a beautiful sheen to them and metallic items are just plain stunning! I played Halo 2 on 50" Sony Wega LCD unit using the Xbox's component video output connectors. The game is custom made to accommodate progressive scanning, high-definition, wide-screen monitors. It looked amazing! I also had the fiber-optic output connected into my Dolby Digital 5.1 system and it absolutely rocked!

The bad: There's a minor spoiler ahead so if you don't want to know stop reading now. The ending of Halo 2 is a cliffhanger. There is a great deal of complaining across the net about this. Speaking only for myself, I love the ending as it has Halo 3 written all over it and I can't wait! Just think The Empire Strikes Back and it will all be good...:-)

Last words:

What made the Halo 2 experience even better was a little toy I discovered called the Smart Joy Frag...

The Smart Joy Frag Adaptor for the Xbox...

This device allows you to use a keyboard and mouse with your Xbox. Here's the short review I put up at the manufacturer's website:

Insanely Great!!!

Review by: Toonces T. Cat on November 6th, 2004

This thing is THE stuff! No more of that ridiculous over-shooting and then correcting for everything you target. I was determined not to wait two years for Halo 2 as I did for the first Halo...Now I don't have to. The only complaints you are going to hear about this device will be coming from players that don't have one.

This is just my opinion, but most Xboxers have no idea what real FPS gaming is all about. Twitch gaming on a PC with an optical mouse and a keyboard involves a level of precision that no console controller can begin to approach. The Smart Joy Frag brings that level of accuracy, speed and reliable aiming control to the xbox. The only downside will be for on-line players using controllers...They will be owned big-time!

The biggest difference for me with Halo is that I really need to play it at the "Legendary" setting to make it challenging anymore. I always thought that the PC version was far more difficult to beat and now I have the empirical proof. My best estimate is that "Heroic" on the xbox is pretty close to "Normal" on the PC.

The Smart Joy Frag takes the xbox to the next level in every respect. If you don't already have one, do yourself a favor and order it today. You will never buy a better gaming accessory for anything you own!

As far as Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 are concerned, I would buy them again even knowing what I now know. The former provides some terrific visuals and a lot of fun for at least half of the game and the latter is a fantastic shooter...If you can deal with Valve's fascism to get to the game.

Regarding the Far Cry v1.3 Patch, it works fine for me, although quick-saves have not been added and the multi-player situation is not much improved. What is cool is the beta package that lets you use HDR (high dynamic range) rendering if your video card has the chops to handle it. What HDR does is make the screen react as though you're viewing through your own eyes. For example, if you're in a dark room with a window at the opposite on a sun-lit day, the window would be a bright, glowing, unfocused glob. With D3D rendering it will appear crisp and clear and even objects beyond the window will be visible if they are adequately illuminated. With HDR enabled, you get the bright glob as in real life and as you approach the window you will virtually iris-down and the image will begin to resolve and objects slowly start to appear. It is an amazing effect and is probably about as close to visual virtual reality as we are going to get any time soon.

To view all of the Half-Life 2 screenshots, click on the link below:

Half-Life 2 Screenshots

To view all of the Doom 3 screenshots, click on the link below:

Doom 3 Screenshots


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