Monday, May 28, 2012

Five things I’ve learned from Diablo III

Who says educational games have to be boring? I’ve learned a lot more than I expected this week from Blizzard Entertainment’s release of Diablo III. Here are the top five tidbits…

1. PC gaming is alive and well

There’s a lot to complain about regarding how Diablo III‘s launch was handled (ahem, see the next item), but one thing it proves is that reports of the PC’s death as an original gaming platform remain greatly exaggerated. One reason so many people get down on running games on computers is because of how many games aren’t designed to actually run on them. They’re designed to run on consoles and computers, which isn’t remotely the same thing and, at least to me, isn’t remotely as much fun. (I “love” games like DiRT 3 that don’t have basic mouse support, or Batman: Arkham City, which gives you no way to change graphics detail settings in-game.)
But when a game like Diablo, which makes no attempt to hide its pro-PC bias, it’s always gratifying to see it become a success. It reinforces what, on some level, we all already know: Because everyone already has a PC of some sort, there’s no better way for everyone to play everything. This means that most (if not all) console gamers aren’t left out in the cold, either, they’ll just need to put down their specialized controllers for a while. That’s okay: Given what I’ve had to endure from bad console-to-computer translations over the years, I think they can swallow a taste of their own medicine. And who knows? They might even discover that PC gaming isn’t so bad after all.
Diablo III - 001

2. Requiring an internet connection is doing the devil’s work

When a game has the kind of relationship between single- and multiplayer modes that Diablo III has, some problems are naturally going to arise. But is forcing the player to have a persistent internet connection the only way to solve them? I’m not convinced. Blizzard’s servers’ launch-day woes were well documented and criticized (as they should have been), but the problems don’t end there. A couple of days ago, I spent upwards of an hour mapping and clearing out an area only to unceremoniously booted because of some server problem. When I was finally able to get back into the game 15 or so minutes later, all my progress had been erased and I had to start over from scratch.
In the grand scale of tech tragedies, this is pretty far down there, I admit. But having your single-player experience ruined or, worse, denied because of something beyond your control is not fun — and not least because you’ve already paid for the game, and don’t you deserve to be able to play it whenever you want? I understand that Blizzard needs some method to protect gamers from griefers, but there must be a better way than this. How tough would it be to include a mode that lets people play just by themselves and not worry about the grander network? You could even still require them to log in while loading the game, and most people aren’t going to complain too much. But the idea that any hiccup anywhere along the line can cause you to lose progress and patience isn’t going to be most people’s idea of a good time. Forcing players to stay online all the time may solve some problems, but if it creates more — and engenders bad will along the way — how good a solution is it really?

3. You don’t always need an expensive video card

This is something I know instinctively, but a reminder is always useful (especially given how much I’ve been writing about video cards around here lately). Although first-person shooters and titles with intense full-screen action will always benefit from first-rank discrete hardware, you don’t always need it — and, in fact, major titles let you get by with a lot less. Diablo III is an excellent example, with exceedingly modest system requirements (and only slightly more severe recommended components). On lesser hardware, the game might struggle just the tiniest bit during attacks by particularly large zombie hordes, I saw well-above-average performance regardless of the video hardware I used, without having to futz with the detail settings that much.
A lot of developers could learn from Blizzard’s example, both on World of Warcraft and here: A big part of why their games are so popular is because pretty much anyone can play them. That’s smart thinking, from both a business and a technological standpoint.

Bridge Linux 2012.5

Dalton Miller has announced the release of Bridge Linux 2012.5, a desktop-oriented distribution based on Arch Linux: "In this version, we have something very exciting. We are the first Arch-based distro to support (U)EFI out of the box. The 64-bit live media should boot natively on (U)EFI systems. There are some special steps that are required for installation, so be sure to check the README on the desktop for instructions. The rest of the changes are as follows: fixed live GNOME screensaver lock issue; fixed gcc-libs issue; fixed 'db not found' errors when running Pacman for the first time; replaced sudoers.d with sudoers; add VirtualBox additions to all editions; replaced LightDM with LXDM in Xfce; added mobile broadband provider info; updated Xfce to 4.10." Here is the complete release announcement. Download: bridge-xfce-2012.5-i686.iso (650MB), bridge-xfce-2012.5-x86_64.iso (662MB). Separate Bridge Linux editions featuring the GNOME, KDE and LXDE desktops are also available.