I hate Valve

Well, alright, I <3 Valve. If you play PC games at all it’s very difficult not to love Valve just a little bit. They’re so unashamedly keen, and successful, and funny, and community-minded, and clever with PR, and, and, and stuff, that you can’t help yourself.

But I bloody HATE the sales they have on Steam.

“But why would you hate the opportunity to pick up games at a discount? Are you STUPID?”, I hear you ask?

Because I am weak. That’s why. So there was/is a July 4 (date format snerk) sale which I spotted the other day. And I ended up buying three games completely randomly, because the were “cheap”. Only as well as being “cheap”, they were also, well, “shit”.

The best of the bunch was Rainbow Six: Lockdown. I was pretty excited when I saw this, as I think I own ever game in the series, from the original almost-a-strategy game Rainbow Six (and the Eagle Watch expansion) on PC, through Rogue Spear (and expansions), Rainbow Six 3 and the “Vegas” games on Xbox 360. And, while I loved the “devise a route through the map and control it with gocodes” play of the original games, in which you could even opt to have the AI play *your* character and restrict yourself to an OpsController role, I *also* loved the more action-focused later games.

Lockdown, I didn’t recognise. So what if it’s a couple of years old, more R6! Great! *Buy* *6Gb download*. Oh, waitaminute. Wasn’t there a *really* shit game in between the strategy and the action. Where they got everything wrong, and it didn’t work? Yes, there was. It was Lockdown. It’s dreadful, it’s clunky, it jitters and stalls on my dualcore PC, it looks bad, it sounds bad, it plays worse and it smells. Still, at least it was cheap. Sigh.

And then there were the Gothic games. Gothic 2 and Gothic 3, in a pack, together, for cheap. I’ve heard of those, vaguely. I’ll give them a punt. ~10Gb download, for the pair.

Imagine if you were to concoct the ultimate RPG from all the best bits of other RPGs somehow fused together in a way that actually worked: the writing from Planescape or maybe Baldur’s Gate, the depth and complexity of an original Fallout, the shiny graphics of a Fallout 3 or a Mass Effect (having first taken the sticky labels from the designers’ screens that hide every colour except brown, blue and red). Throw in some of the better Bioware dialogue, have Obsidian do rewrites but someone else do QA, and on and on. Imagine the wonder you’d get.

Now imagine what you’d get if you combined the leftovers.

That’s probably a bit unfair, as I haven’t played Gothic 3 for more than about 10 minutes, but I don’t think I can. The controls are horrible, the voices dreadful, the script (what little I’ve seen of it) it painful and if the combat blossoms into something wonderful later, it was probably a mistake to make me kill 30 or 40 orc-things by clicketyclicketyclicketying before even telling what, why or how.

But it was cheap.

Why does everyone hate Flash?

I was killing some time and a random selection of links took me via the Doghouse Diaries to this post on Not Even Philosophy about various things Apple have done, including the changes to the iPhone developer agreement, and it got me thinking about Adobe Flash. In particular, this section:

Not only is it Apple’s right to not include Flash on Safari, it’s actually to the benefit of Mac/PC/iPhone/Android users in the mid- to long- term. I almost feel like this section needs little to no explanation if you’ve been keeping up with the HTML 5 / Flash debate. If Apple had continued to support Flash, a viable alternative would certainly not emerge for years to come, not to mention the quality of their products would have suffered in the meantime. Conversely, and for the sake of argument, this could also make Adobe revisit Flash and make it a much better product.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many criticisms that can be levelled at Flash, and at Adobe. Its security history is spotty at best, and recent flaws have been rather unpleasant and hard to work around short of disabling flash entirely. At various times, it’s been a horrible CPU hog, and even now it’s easy enough to create a page which bogs down the mightiest of PCs unless the host browser has some form of plugin throttle or has successfully moved plugins to separate/multiple processes. Of course, it’s closed-source commercial software, so if you’ve a bee in your bonnet for the GPL then it was never going to be your favourite. And y’know, I’ve ranted at length in the past about Adobe’s corporate policies — their “ha ha, because we can!” pricing policy (particularly for non-Americans) and their “how long was the illustrator graph tool broken for?” patching timescales. They aren’t perfect by a long chalk.

But, based on nothing more than gut feeling, I’d suggest that what the greatest number of people hate about Flash are the annoying ads it’s allowed into being. The “punch the monkey and win a prize” ads, the stupid autostarting video clips which blare out loud audio at the worst possible times. All the websites with 3 minute unskippable intro animations and menu systems that take 5 seconds after every button push before starting to load the new content. And guess what: none of that will go away.

HTML5 and its associated tech is looking to replace the underpinnings, not the mechanism itself. There’ll be HTML5 smack-the-spider ads, there’ll be opening sequences and too-clever-to-be-navigable interfaces. There’ll be video blaring out EVERYWHERE.

So by all means call the for destruction of Flash if you like, praise Apple for excluding Flash and others for stepping up, but just keep in mind that the new reality, when it arrives, might look a little familiar.

Top of the Rock, NYC

It seems a shame to rub it in (as there are now no flights in or out of the UK due to volcanic ash clouds straying from Iceland) but this time last week we were in a very sunny NYC.

On arrival on Thursday 8th April, we dumped our luggage at the Edison hotel, Times Square and wandered over to the Rockefeller Center. Taking an early flight from Heathrow meant we were admiring the NYC view from Top of the Rock by 2pm (local time)!

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Firenze frolics

Thanks to Assassin’s Creed 2 (set in Florence) we’ve just enjoyed a few days break in Pisa and Florence.

Now I’ve discovered that K will travel to the places on my hit-list, provided he can play a video game set there first, I’m on the look-out for new games set in Japan, Vietnam, South Africa, Russia…

Highlights of our Florence trip include:

Taking a bite of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
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Palazzo Vecchio (Florence’s government palace – once home of the Medicis)
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View from the cupola (dome) of Firenze Duomo (cathedral)
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More
~ Lou’s Florence photo-set
~ K’s photo-set
~ Mayday cafe-bar, Florence – LardButty award