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  • The Elder Scrolls Online review
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus]Thu, Apr 10 2014 9:35:04 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: gaming - by: Patrick Lambert



    I was hoping to wait until I was at least done with the main story quest to write this, but it looks doubtful that will ever happen now. The Elder Scrolls Online is both such a pleasant surprise and also such a disappointment. What I wrote in my initial thoughts are still basically what I think of the game. This MMO could have been so much more, and they had the foundations of a great game. It very much reminds me of Skyrim, and the quests, at least at low and mid levels, are much more interesting than typical MMO quests, and the fact that they are all voiced adds a lot too.

    But then you have the bugs. Lots of bugs, a ridiculous amount of bugs. This game is buggier than any other game I have ever played. We're not talking about a few launch week hiccups. I've had dozens and dozens of quests unfinishable due to bugs. And it's not just quest bugs, here is a small sample of the bugs I've personally encountered in two weeks of play time, and if you go to forums you can see there are many more that others have seen:

    * Broken quests
    * NPCs vanishing and not being there when you need them
    * Infinite (30mins+) loading screens requiring you to reload the entire game
    * Hourly crashes in the one and only PvP zone
    * Falling through the floor and being stuck under the ground
    * Boss mobs stack on each others endlessly making it impossible to see anything
    * Some conversations not being voiced properly

    One of the main quests was broken for many days where nobody could even finish it, which is ridiculous onto itself. The last quest I did before giving up was rescuing and escorting a prisoner out of a camp, fighting a boss mob, then meeting him outside.. except no progress happened outside the camp, and I would have had to redo the whole process and hope that it wouldn't bug this time.

    All of this brings you out of what could otherwise be a great game. But as it is, instead you end up trying to finish a bunch of quests and being constantly reminded how buggy the game is. And it does seem to get worse as you level up. I explored all of the Dominion zones and the last one seems to be the worst. I could write far more about this but suffice it to say this is certainly not worth a monthly fee, and what could easily have been worth an 8+ score is only worth 6/10 in my book.


  • GameSpy and a note on cloud services
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus]Mon, Apr 7 2014 18:13:08 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: lifestyle - by: Patrick Lambert

    Earlier this month GameSpy, one of the oldest PC-based gaming networks, quietly announced that games using its services will no longer work after May 31st. New games haven't used it lately, so the list of affected games includes mostly older titles, but still some popular games like Arma 2, Borderlands, Crysis, Far Cry, Saints Row 2 and more. Right now, the only choice for many of these titles is having the developers go back and change the multiplayer component to use another system, or have the game no longer work in multiplayer mode.

    Here we're talking about older games, and back then cloud integration wasn't as deep as it is today. So in most cases, at worst people will only lose access to the multiplayer or matchmaking part of the game. But I do like pointing out when these things happen that this is the great danger with the cloud, and how modern software has become so intertwined with cloud services. We see it all the time with companies deciding that keeping servers online is no longer profitable, and anyone who owns software that relies on those servers to function are then out of luck. EA has a full page with hundreds of games that have so far been discontinued, with more added monthly, and as we head to more and more cloud enabled systems, it's not just multiplayer that we lose, but the ability to play any part of the game, or use any software.

    This is something that comes up now and again, people pushing back against this trend and making petitions, but it's clearly not working. We're at a point where we have Microsoft Office as a subscription service, even on tablets, same for Adobe software, with more companies jumping in all the time, and games are now all fully plugged into social, cloud servers and so on, meaning they are less and less likely to work without the company's support. Whenever a game shuts down, more often than not regardless how much time or money we spent, it's unlikely we'll ever be able to revisit it. Fortunately, sometimes our cries are heard, even though it took EA a year to bring an offline mode to its latest SimCity title.

    Just think if we had that same situation for movies. Disney is probably the worse offender in that realm, where the company purposefully releases its back catalog of films for only short periods of time to build hype. But think if all of the old classics, and by old I mean anything over about 8-10 years, was lost and no longer watchable because of a lack of vendor support? With all of the classic remakes we're seeing these days like Star Trek, Snow White, Handel and Gretel, do you really think companies would keep access to the originals if they were cloud dependent like software is?

    This may actually be the way we're headed for pretty much all content, with all of our movies, music and TV show libraries being digital. I too embrace the convenience of the digital world, but I always try to go for open solutions when available, with export options whenever possible. But that's not an option for software, especially those so cloud dependent. It's obvious why companies do it, they have more control and the possibility for more income, but it's something we need to fight against.


  • Elder Scrolls Online: My initial thoughts
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus]Tue, Apr 1 2014 23:53:40 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: gaming - by: Patrick Lambert



    The early access period has started for TESO, a game that was hyped for many years and lately received a lot of negative feedback during beta. I was on the fence for a long time as to whether I should get it or not, and finally decided to take the plunge. Now it's been out for two days, and I'd like to give out my initial impressions.

    On the plus side, I would say the graphics are very faithful to the Elder Scrolls series. Both the interface, the world and the characters are nice looking and remind me of Skyrim. Also, the quests are much better than the typical MMO. In fact they are of RPG quality. You aren't chasing 10 rats for a local farmer, right away you're working with the Queen to bring diplomacy to the kingdom, and other grandiose purposes.

    Quests are all voiced, and they alone make TESO worthwhile as a RPG, even if you don't group for dungeons or do other social activities. The world also changes based on the things you do, all over the place, something that not a lot of MMOs do right. There isn't a lot of full instancing, instead characters, objects and effects change based on what you've done in the quest. For example you can get to a village burning and under attack, and once you've solved the situation, the buildings aren't burning anymore and the attackers are gone, replaced by guards. On your map, at that location, from now on it also says that you've driven the attackers from the town. This happens in almost every corner of the world.

    However the game also has some strong negatives. The main one is bugs. Many quests are bugged and cannot be completed, which is a big problem. Sometimes you can fix them by logging out and back in, but there seems to be some server issue that makes them bug out when too many people complete them. There are all sorts of other bugs as well, like being dismounted in PvP, heavy lags in some situations, and so on. Support seems slow or nonexistent for many of these issues, with tickets going unanswered, and gold sellers flooding the game without shame.

    I would say for now I'm happy to have bought it, and will be satisfied even if my use of it ends up being as a single player RPG, going from level 1 to 50 and ending there. As for end game play, it seems to center around alliance vs alliance PvP. So far it's extremely similar to Guild Wars 2, and I've had fun, but it's too early to say how long that will last.


  • Why we must resist Office for iPad
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus]Thu, Mar 27 2014 19:10:45 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert



    Today Microsoft announced their latest version of Office, the one that finally runs on the iPad. This wasn't a big surprise, a lot of rumors were pointing at such a release. They have apparently been working on this product for quite some time, and unsurprisingly, all the tech blogs are talking about it. Personally, I cringe at this announcement. Not because it doesn't look like a good product. In fact, it looks very good and seems to have all the right functions that people need in an office suite. I own the Apple equivalents: Pages, Numbers and Keynote, and I still think what Microsoft did looks better.

    No, my issue is with the pricing model. More precisely, the subscription. When Office 365 came out, a lot of people complained about this fundamental change of pricing model. Software has always been about buying a product for a fixed price, and then owning it (or at least owning a license to use it). But in these past few years, companies have realized that people don't always upgrade to the latest versions, so they can make a lot more money with subscriptions. $10 a month and you can access the latest version of Office. Adobe did the same thing earlier. $35 and you can have full access to the Creative Suite. There are a lot of problems with that.

    First, the only way this is cheaper than buying software is if we always intend to upgrade to every version, and would purchase every application in the bundle. For things like Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office, the incentives to upgrade to every version are few and far between. So it's no wonder that these are the apps we see adopting the subscription model first. But just think when all the other developers start using that model. If you've been using computers for a while, chances are you have a large back catalog of software you've bought over the years. Maybe most of them aren't installed, maybe you use some of them only occasionally. Think what you would be forced to pay every single month if all of these applications forced you to pay a constant subscription fee to even have the right to use them at all.

    Back when Office 365 was announced, some people pointed to the fact that Office 2013 was still available for purchase, but anyone without their head in the sand could see that this was only a temporary reprieve. This became clear when the iPhone version came out, and now once again with this iPad version, which requires a subscription to use. So where is the push back? Where are the angry bloggers denouncing this fact? It's like almost everyone already gave up and accepted the subscription model as the new norm. Well, I certainly won't, and I really hope people will fight back against that. Because I don't want to see a world where not only do we no longer own content, we only pay streaming rights to various companies, but even our software isn't even licensed to us, but rented for a monthly fee.


  • Remember Me review
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus]Mon, Mar 24 2014 19:50:39 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: gaming - by: Patrick Lambert



    Remember Me is a game that grabbed a lot of people's attention with trailers before it came out, but for some reason got bad reviews at release. I was still curious to see what it was about, and as is usual for me, I waited until a sale to get it. Steam had it for cheap last week so I played through it in about 10 hours, and here is my quick review.

    I have to say what stands out immediately are the graphics. It reminds me a lot of the Deus Ex: Human Revolution graphics style, design, architecture and aesthetics. Both the characters and scenery are excellent. The textures, lighting and character models are all great. While you do end up revisiting similar locations multiple times, you still get a good range of styles from the old Paris medieval constructions all the way to futuristic designs.

    On the negative side however I would say the combat was the low point for me. It is a brawler style game, and I've never been a fan of this type of melee combat. Even though it makes you use 15 different keys it still manages to make combat repetitive. The story is also overly convoluted, but I would say a lot of games suffer from this, and it's a fine line between artistic vision and something that just doesn't make sense, so I would give it a pass on that.

    Overall I think the low scores are mostly undeserved, it's very worth playing. I would give it a 7/10.


  • Wearable computing
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus]Wed, Mar 19 2014 1:39:35 PDT - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert

    Yesterday was all about wearable computing it seems, first with the Motorola 360 video, then with Google's Android Wear blog post, and finally yet another virtual reality helmet from Sony. There's no question that after a lot of bad starts in this area, it seems companies are starting to get it right and more people are taking note. Personally, I have no interest in wearable computing. I have no desire to start wearing a watch again or to get Google Glass to have constant notifications in front of my eyes. But with that said, I fully think that wearable computers are the future.

    It's easy to compare this to the Borg from Star Trek, or see possible dystopia scenarios like the human augmentations in the game Deus Ex, and I do think this is also part of the future. Right now the Internet is being assaulted from many sides, from countries blocking sites criticizing politicians, to the total surveillance society that the US, UK and other countries are well on the way to establishing. Can you imagine these types of deep, fundamental issues when applied not only to our home desktops and smartphones, but also our watches, and eventually perhaps even implants? That's the first big issue that needs to be addressed.

    The second issue is the actual form factor. Google Glass is the first real attempt at an always-on, fully integrated wearable computer that is constantly relaying information to you and ready to record the world ahead of you, and it's hit quite a few bumps in the road. People aren't that comfortable with having a camera always pointed in their face, or talking to someone they don't know whether they are busy watching the latest sport results. Right now, I believe we're in the early days, not in term of the first iPhone, more so the very first brick phones from the early 90s. We're that early.

    Designers are, for the most part, still trying to adapt existing technologies like glasses and watches to become something else, and the results are not that useful in my opinion. Sure, the Moto 360 is round, apparently it took us years to get there, but it's still far from the mark. This watch is still huge, and not an ideal form factor for reading information. People are going to bigger and bigger phones for a reason, I would suspect most don't want to go back to a tiny screen, even if it's just for notifications.

    What we need are radical concepts, like the Mass Effect arm interface, pictured above. If we want a screen accessible all the time, why not model it on a bracer rather than a watch? Right away we would get a much more usable screen. Then, as technology evolves, we could get rounded screens, or even projections into the air.

    In the end my point is that while this all seems very exciting to many, I believe we're so far from what will become known as wearable computing when we finally get there, that we wouldn't even recognize it. We have a long way to go.


  • Kingdoms of Amalur review
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus]Mon, Feb 17 2014 21:02:38 PST - [Permalink] - Category: gaming - by: Patrick Lambert



    Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is one of those games that came out a while back and I knew nothing about. All I saw was that it was a RPG, so I added it to my list of games to get at some point, whenever the price got low enough. Last month it was on sale so I got it. I was pleased to find that it is a pretty good game.

    On the plus side, I would say that this is a very complete world with quests, races, cities and a very large world. It took me 33 hours to finish the main quest and most side quests, which is pretty good for a role playing game. Everything is voiced and the graphics are nice enough. You have quite a bit of customization and a good variation. It reminded me of Oblivion with things like guilds that you can join and quest for, and also Fable with how colorful the world is.

    On the negative side I would have to say the choices you make aren't reflected as much as I would have hoped near the end, and the combat can be a bit repetitive. Overall I would give it a 8/10.


  • Why I'm going back to cable TV
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus]Sat, Feb 15 2014 19:02:17 PST - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert

    Cord cutting, people who give up any type of broadcast TV and go strictly for Internet streaming, is a popular phenomenon these days. More and more people are giving up their cable TV and living off their Internet connections alone. I was part of that crowd, not having cable TV for many years, and using a simple antenna for local stations. But now, this week, I'm going back to the world of cable TV, I'm subscribing again. Part of the reason is because here my antenna is barely able to get two channels clearly, but it's not so much because of that, nor because I have money to throw away, nor do I miss the good old days of channel flipping. There are many reasons which I will talk about, and they have to do with a lack of choice here in Canada along with a system that incentivizes you to subscribe.

    Canada doesn't have the broad Internet-based choices that the US has when it comes to TV and other streaming options. Amazon Instant Video is a great option many Americans have, but it's not available at all here. Google Play is quickly growing its selection in the US, but is pathetic in Canada. Hulu is US only. Netflix has a Canadian catalog but it is a far cry from the US one. In fact, what I found is that the only option that offers any decent choice in this country is Apple. They are miles ahead of anyone else when it comes to TV shows and movies, with an almost parity between us and our southern neighbors. So it's no surprise that I bought an Apple TV back in November.

    However, this caused two immediate problems for me. The first is cost. Apple is expensive, and that goes for TV shows and movies. They hardly ever have sales, and usually you have to pay full price for anything you buy. The second is bandwidth. Like most other North American Internet providers, my cable Internet company only gives me 150GB of download per month. The past 2 months saw me go over by quite a bit, in large part from my heightened use of streaming videos. What's the point of a fast 30Mbps connection if you're limited with download caps? So while doing some research on cost structures, this is where their pricing tactics come into effect.

    My provider does offer an option for unlimited downloads, but you need to pay for it. It's $30 extra if you have one service, but $10 if you have two. Similarly, the cost of Internet goes down when you take another service with them. So all told, it ended up costing me only $25 more to get cable TV, and get unlimited downloads. Sure, I could go for Internet streaming options, but they would all cost more because the unlimited Internet option is so much higher when you only want your cable company to be an Internet pipe.

    So in the end, I will now pay more on my cable bill than the base price I had, but less than what I was ending up with by going over the limit. Plus, I feel like having cable TV, I will likely buy less items on my Apple TV, so it will likely be more economical. The whole debate that cord cutters have is much more nuanced than many make it seem to be. People are quick to point at abc.com or nbc.com for live streaming, Hulu for TV shows, and Amazon for streaming movies. But none of those options are available in Canada. Even if they were, watching them would bring me over my download cap, which would require me to pay much more for unlimited, making the primary reason for cord cutting, saving money, pointless.

    Network neutrality? When you only have one cable provider for both Internet and TV, setting up prices for both, it hasn't been neutral for a long time, and there's no need for deep packet inspection or stream degrading tactics. So for me, cable TV is coming back home.


  • How much computer memory do you need?
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus]Tue, Feb 4 2014 11:19:33 PST - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert

    ...or why I upgraded to 16GB of RAM.

    When looking through web sites and forums, I see that there is a lot of misinformation about system memory, and how much you really need. A lot of people say arbitrary values like 8GB of RAM is fine for everyone, or get the most you can since it will speed things up. Truthfully, memory is a hit or miss thing. Depending on your needs, you will use a certain amount of RAM. If you have more, then it brings you no performance increase whatsoever. However, if you don't have enough, then suddenly you will experience a massive drop in performance, because your applications will suddenly have to swap back to the hard drive, which is much slower than RAM.

    So how much do you actually need? It all depends on what you are doing. In any modern Windows version, you can go to the Task Manager (by pressing CTRL-ALT-DEL) and then selecting the Resource Monitor. That will tell you how much CPU, memory, disk and network usage your programs are using. Many people may be surprised at how much RAM is actually being used, same as I would suspect a lot of people may be surprised how many watts their systems use. Typically, simple tasks like web browsing, editing a document, email and so on, use very little RAM. You can get by with 2GB easily. Gaming also doesn't use that much memory. Most games will use around 2GB to 4GB. In fact, it's only when you push up graphics settings to extreme levels will you start needing that 8GB of memory. Very few games will see any performance gain at all when using 16GB.

    However, there are applications that will use an impressive amount of memory, and that's graphics apps. Things like Photoshop or 3D renderers will definitively make use of that memory. So to get back to my first question, why did I upgrade to 16GB on my system? Here is an example maximum load for me. I routinely run two games (in this case two instances of World of Warcraft), make 3D renders in the background, and I sometimes run virtual machines as well, this time a beta build of Windows Server 2012 R2.



    As you can see, under a maximum load I do need more than the 8GB that I used to have. Here I only have 3.6GB of free RAM left. But this is an extreme case, which most people won't need. As you can see, a single instance of WoW is only using 1.1GB. A more demanding game such as a first-person shooter will use a bit more, but even the latest titles won't go above 8GB, if that. But again, it's best to test things out yourself, as there are interesting exceptions. For example, I've seen Half Life 2 with some mods use over 5GB of RAM, even though it's an old game now, while some of the latest games can use barely half. It all depends on how many assets (textures, 3D models, etc) they need to load, and how optimized they are.


  • I hate DRM
  • [Tweet] [Facebook] [Google Plus]Sat, Jan 11 2014 19:58:44 PST - [Permalink] - Category: tech - by: Patrick Lambert

    I've owned Vue 6 Infinite for over five years now. But like so many products these days, it comes with Digital Rights Management, or DRM. That means you never fully own it, you always need to check with the home office to prove you actually have the right to use this product, which is the worst business model ever.

    Now tonight, 11 PM on a Saturday, I try to open the software which was working fine last week, and it says the activation code is somehow invalid. I go through all the annoying steps to try and get it reactivated, and surprise, the site tells me I activated it already, with no apparent way to remove those older activations.



    Of course, this company only offers phone support if you pay for it, and if you send an email, they say that they will get back to me in a couple of days. So I have this product that I bought, that I paid hundreds of dollars for, and now cannot use, all because DRM is and always will be a broken model.

    I hate DRM.


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