Homefront: The Developing Revolution


Patrick Klepek interviewed the developers of Homefront: The Revolution who are surprisingly still updating the game almost a year after it was released. This comes as a shock because it was received poorly by both the critics, and while it found some audience, most of the gaming public as well.

I’m mostly interested in the game because it’s set in Philadelphia. Not many games are set there, usually choosing more recognizable cities like New York or San Francisco which was the setting for the first Homefront game.

Watching Austin Walker’s quick look of Homefront: The Revolution when he was still at Giant Bomb was heartbreaking. It seemed to lack any flavor of Philadelphia, no genericized Philly Frenetic, and it was just an unfinished mess of gameplay ideas borrowed from better games.

Hearing that the game is still being updated is a bit of solace, maybe there is something in there worth playing the next time it goes on sale.

The Orange Embarassment Doesn’t Even Know How to Order a Wiretap

This is the immediate aftermath of Trump’s insane lie about President Obama wiretapping him during the campaign according to a New York Times article by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman:

That led to a succession of frantic staff conference calls, including one consultation with the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, as staff members grasped the reality that the president had opened an attack on his predecessor.

Mr. Trump, advisers said, was in high spirits after he fired off the posts. But by midafternoon, after returning from golf, he appeared to realize he had gone too far, although he still believed Mr. Obama had wiretapped him, according to two people in Mr. Trump’s orbit.

He sounded defiant in conversations at Mar-a-Lago with his friend Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media, Mr. Ruddy said. In other conversations that afternoon, the president sounded uncertain of the procedure for obtaining a warrant for secret wiretaps on an American citizen.

Mr. Trump also canvassed some aides and associates about whether an investigator, even one outside the government, could substantiate his charge.

The embarassment is off of his rocker.

Quake Champions Closed Beta

Bethesda and id announced a Quake Champions closed beta test with this trailer. I’m real curious how this turns out, but I’m already kind of skeptical about the character-specific powers. We’ll see how it turns out when the beta starts.

Bethesda notably stopped sending out their games for review prior to the games being released, so you’ll probably want to hold off on buying the game until you’ve either had a chance to experience the beta yourself or until reviews are out.

Andy Kelly’s Steam Link Review

PC Gamer’s Andy Kelly also posted his review of the Steam Link. In addition to having some success with playing over wi-fi, he’s also got a different perspective on what kind of game play it’s suitable for:

I’ve also noticed the Link having a positive impact on my terrible attention span. When I’m playing at my desk I’m forever alt-tabbing to check Twitter or any number of stupid distractions. And I’ll usually last an hour in a game before quitting and doing something else. But camped out on the sofa, my attention doesn’t wander as much. I pay more attention to what I’m playing, and play it for longer, which is a discipline I thought I’d lost. 

Steam Link Review

The Steam Link is Valve’s tiny computer that links any HDMI display to your gaming computer, running Steam, over a local network connection. I’ve had it for a few months and have been enjoying it despite a few obstacles, some of which Valve can’t work around.

The Link doesn’t take up a lot of space but it manages to fit several ports:

  • 3 USB 2.0
  • 1 Ethernet
  • 1 HDMI

As well as Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 AC wifi.

You can connect wired Xbox One and 360 controllers as well as wireless 360 controllers with the Windows adapter. Valve also has their wireless Steam Controller, which is a middle ground for games that don’t support the Microsoft gamepads. If you need a mouse and keyboard they can be used as well.

Once everything is hooked up and the Link is connected over a wired Ethernet network to your gaming computer, you get a one-time code that allows the Link to verify your access to the remote gaming computer.

The computer’s display will be mirrored to the TV over the local network almost as if it were directly connected. Steam’s big picture mode boots up and it reformats their regular desktop interface for a more console style appearance and input from devices attached to the Link is sent back to the host machine over the network.

From big picture mode you can launch any games that Steam supports, though if you’re not using a Steam controller or mouse and keyboard, and the game doesn’t advertise controller support to Steam, you’ll have to pass a warning checkpoint to continue playing the game.

Although there is also an option to minimize big picture and use the desktop directly, I haven’t had much success navigating the desktop with a gamepad.

Performance on the Link is impressive. I had previously tried Steam’s built-in streaming to a micro computer hooked up to my TV and it never worked well. There were bursts of latency and a “slow network” error message would appear in a tiny font in the lower left corner of the screen. I don’t have a lot of time to diagnose networking issues and was surprised that it wasn’t up to snuff. My networking equipment isn’t that old, and while streaming will be difficult for a wireless network it should have been OK on the wired network.

The diagnostic steps I tried, reducing the number of pieces of networking equipment between the desktop gaming computer and the TV, swapping out network switches, none of them worked and I had given up on streaming. I figured the challenge wasn’t the streaming so much as keeping it to a low latency that Steam would need for a game to be playable. That’s why it is less likely to work over a wireless connection where interference and distance could prevent a solid connection.

When the Steam Link was discounted to $35 (down from $50) I purchased it and kept the receipt thinking that it might perform better than the pre-release developer-focused Steam Machine had, and was surprised to find that the Steam Link performed perfectly on my network. It streamed 1080p, 60 FPS video fluidly.

So if the Steam Link performed well, what are those obstacles? There are a few.

When a game doesn’t work right for whatever reason, maybe it locks up when launched, maybe it crashed while you were playing, when this happens the Link can get stuck in limbo and you’ll be forced to walk away to the desktop computer and force the game to quit.

Technical issues with games aren’t something Valve can prevent. Quality control is up to the developer and publisher. When this happens and it feels like something specific to games running on computers that they’re just going to crash in ways that aren’t recoverable from a controller because computer operating systems aren’t built with gamepads in mind.

These problems happen most often for me with non-Steam games. While some work fine if they’re added to Steam in desktop mode first, like Overwatch, others just won’t work well. That makes me want to try Nvidia’s competing Shield TV console that also includes game streaming. It has the benefit of not being affiliated with any particular digital download system, so it might be better at handling games from Origin, for example. The downside to their Shield console is that it is $200 new when the Steam Link is priced at $50 (without a controller) and I’ve seen it on sale as low as $20 during holiday sales.

Overall I am very satisfied with playing Steam games over the Steam Link. It’s a terrific experience to sit down on the couch, turn on a gamepad and have the Link remotely turn on my desktop computer and start playing Fallout 4 without hauling your computer around or using an extremely long HDMI cable. I just wish the Link had better support for games from third party services, or that third parties would stop exclusively releasing their games through other desktop download stores. There’s an opportunity for a third party to develop software that encapsulates gog, Origin, itch, Blizzard, and Uplay games into Steam for more streamlined streaming and game library management.

Xbox Game Pass Announced

Microsoft recently announced their Xbox Game Pass subscription service.

Most people are comparing it to a Netflix for games, it’s not a bad comparison excepting that while Netflix streams, the games with Microsoft’s service will download to an Xbox One.

The selection of games available will be pretty small, “over 100” when the service becomes available later this spring for $10 a month. The games will change every month, and once the game is cycled out you lose access to it. You do get a discount for purchases of games in the Game Pass library. The Xbox Game Pass games are mostly older from the Xbox One and 360, no real newer options though there isn’t a final list of what will be available.

There’s nothing exactly comparable to this from Sony, their Playstation Now service on the PS4 and Windows is $15 a month at its cheapest (3 month subscription), only streams older Playstation 3 games. The PlayStation 4 has no backwards compatibility with the PS3 otherwise.

Both Microsoft and Sony include “free” games every month with the subscription they charge for online play. I dropped my Xbox Gold subscription because I wasn’t playing online regularly, and the games they were offering weren’t as good as the Playstation Plus games.

Nintendo is going to include free games with their online service for the Switch, but final pricing is unknown, and they’ll all be swapped out every month.

There’s nothing at all like it from Valve on Steam or Windows, though the third-party Humble Bundle has a monthly subscription for $12 that acts like a blind box. Subscribing to that only gives you access to the next month’s games.

There are a lot of questions left to be answered. Games are different from movies, you might take more than a month to play through something and even some games could stick around for multiple months you might be coming up on the end of the month wondering if the one you’re playing is going to cycle out.

Nintendo Switch Launch Day

Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Nintendo of America

Nintendo launched their new console, the Switch, today. The console plugs into a TV but can also be taken on the go with the built-in screen.

Kyle Orland at Ars has a review of the system. CNET’s Jeff “Autoplaying Video” Bakalar also has a review.

I have some concerns with the system’s a lack of games at launch, the two hardware flaws that we know about, it’s regressive online features, and the price.

The only major games available at launch are The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Dan Ryckert’s 5-star review) and the 1-2-Switch fifty dollar minigame collection that isn’t that great (Alanah Pearce’s 6.2 out of 10 review w/ autoplaying video) and should have been included with the system. 1-2-Switch seems to be the only game that makes use of the Switch’s full functionality by using the gyroscope and other sensors in the Joy-con controllers. Zelda sounds fantastic, but I’d understand why people are skeptical if they have read any of the reviews for console Zelda games in the past ten years. The reviews have been overly positive for games that aren’t that impressive.

Anyone that owns the Wii-U and is considering buying the Switch for Zelda would probably be better off just getting the Wii-U version of the game.

More games are coming, and Nintendo recently announced that a lot of independent developers have signed up to deliver their games to the Switch as it takes over the indie portable role from Sony’s now defunct Vita, but those are the only big games available today.

Those Joy-con’s have had two major issues already reported by journalists who have had the system early. One is that the left Joy-con’s wireless signal to the console isn’t great and disconnects or gets out of sync sometimes. Nintendo’s response was not very helpful. The other hardware issue is that the rails the system uses to hold the Joy-con controllers onto the system aren’t very sturdy.

When you’re holding the Switch in portable-mode, that connection rail mechanism is the only thing preventing it from falling onto the floor.

The Switch’s operating system is also woefully outdated at launch compared to its competitors. It is not possible to back-up saved games anywhere. They aren’t saved on Nintendo’s servers and Nintendo doesn’t let you carry them on an SD card to back them up. Sony and Microsoft both automatically back up saved games to their servers, though they do that with a paid subscription to their online service. Polygon’s article linked above incorrectly indicates that only Sony requires a paid subscription.

Finally, I don’t feel like the $300 price for a Switch is entirely fair when you can get an Xbox One for around $200 (on discount) or a PlayStation 4 for a little bit more.

The comparison may seem a bit more fair later this year when the Xbox One Scorpio is announced and released, I expect the Scorpio’s price to be comparable to the only PlayStation 4 anyone should be buying which is the $400 Pro model. However, even the base models of those systems have games that look better than the Switch’s whose leg-up is portability with a built-in screen and Nintendo’s exclusives like Zelda and Mario.

I wouldn’t let these caveats stop me, those games would be enough reason to own a Switch, but they may not be for many people.

The Scarlet VAC Ban

How does Valve handle cheating?

When Valve’s anti-cheat system, VAC, detects a user has cheated in a multiplayer game they’re marked for seven years on their Steam profile page and blocked from VAC protected servers.

Patrick Klepek interviewed cheaters who were branded:

“When you have big red letters on your profile announcing everyone you have a ban, the experience is never going to be good,” said Oliveira. “If you don’t suck at a game, they will right away point a finger at you and accuse you of cheating. You get told so many times that ‘Once a cheater, always a cheater.’ I knew I did it, I knew I would never do it again, and I wanted to prove that that was not me. But how do you do that? How will they believe you? Yeah, no. It’s the biggest badge of shame a person can have in an online world.”

Oliveira found himself taunted when playing games, years after his initial offense. He couldn’t shake the stink, and Valve offered no recourse. He was, for at least seven years, a cheater.

Bizarre to me is that everyone interviewed agreed the policy was generally acceptable.

This program lacks nuance. Policies against cheating are good, but without more granularity in enforcement it’s kind of ridiculous. Someone who cheats at Counter-Strike for ten minutes shouldn’t necessarily be punished the same as another person who cheats for a month.

A few years ago I asked at a Valve GDC booth for job-seekers if they ever had room for online community managers. It’s not surprising the Valve employee thought the idea of them hiring an online community manager was ridiculous after reading this article from Patrick. The one-size-fits-all kind of anti-cheat enforcement has the stink of developers making community decisions all over it.

Hitman: World of Assassination, Fashion, and Fire Alarms

To me, 2016’s Hitman is this bizarre game about planning and murder, where you’re also trying to make your cloned assassin (Agent 47) dress up and act normal to the other NPCs in the game. They aren’t particularly concerned with anything going on around them, and generally won’t be upset if you walk into a room and walk out two moments later wearing a completely different outfit, or were the only person to walk out of a room alive. They do care if they see you change outfits, or if you have the same clothes as some other bald clone who they saw do something bad recently, so the rules are a little different than reality.

Each level has new outfits for 47 because they allow him different kinds of access, into a guard post, or into a silent auction for evil billionaires who want to bid on people or state secrets.

It gets completely ridiculous when Agent 47 is required to do things like get dressed up, put make up on, and walk a runway in France, nailing his pose as perfectly as he nails a drum solo when he’s trying to blend in during a mission in Thailand.

IO Interactive’s Christian Elverdam in an interview with Matthew Pellett:

One thing we learned pretty significantly is that some of our best moments aren’t assassination moments; it might be walking onto a catwalk, simply because it’s a cool experience. Isn’t that weird? In a game about assassination and silent assassins, one of the marquee experiences is: “Do you want to be a male model?” People were like: “YEAH!”

Most modern character-driven games are either/or propositions. Either your avatar is perfectly capable of murdering hundreds of people without flinching, or it’s some kind of narrative exploration. Hitman’s Agent 47 can’t take much fire, doesn’t talk much, and can’t fight very well unless it’s planned out in advance and goes off without a hitch.

The assassinations never go off without a hitch, it’s just not really possible for 47 to use a gun and clear out a room of more than three people without getting dropped by security guards.

Last week I was playing one of the elusive target missions where you’ve only got one shot to complete the mission. No saving, no loading. It took over an hour to figure out how I was going to assassinate the target, and I did, but then I had to complete the second mission objective and use the key the target was carrying to open a safe and retrieve a flash drive with information the client wanted.

One problem: The safe was in a hotel security office brimming with guards and military. All armed, and because there were two types of personnel I couldn’t just have an army costume on and open the safe. The regular Hotel guards would freak out and shoot me.

Bewildered, I cheated a little bit and read on a forum for Hitman players that you could pull the fire alarm and the room would empty out. Great idea!

Of course, no Hitman plan survives contact with the game.

I had Agent 47 pull the fire alarm in the security room, and then everyone in the room immediately got their guns out and lit Agent 47 up. Hours down the drain because it was an Elusive Target mission I couldn’t replay, and I was laughing the entire time it happened because it was just so ridiculous. Who shoots somebody that pulls a fire alarm?

Cellar Door Announces Full Metal Furies

If you’re like me you’re gonna spend a good long moment looking at the name of this game before clicking play on the trailer. It’s Full Metal Furies, not Full Metal Furries.

Cellar Door Games created such fine games as Rogue Legacy, and my personal favorite, Don’t Shit Your Pants. This Full Metal Furies game doesn’t seem to involve any pants-shitting, but it looks like a few characters from Rogue Legacy are hidden in there, so that’s good.

What kind of game is it? The door that leads to the basement describes it as an RPG-ified action brawler for four, or fewer, players. They emphasize that they have modernized the genre, we will find out more later this year when the game is released.

The announcement notes mention Xbox and Windows 10 cross-platform purchasing and online support, so we’ve got those platforms. There’s also a Steam listing, but if you purchase it via Microsoft you will only get it via the Windows store. I’ve put out a question to Cellar Door asking after Linux and macOS, will update this post if they get back.

Update 2/22/17:

Ryan Lee of Cellar Door let me know that macOS support is a lock, either at launch or a few months after. Linux depends on how well the game does when it is released.