Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Online, Offline, what's it matter ?

The gaming world is increasingly getting drawn into the internet ...

And not in a good way.

But before I dive into that - "Je Suis Charlie". People who have heard about the tragedy in Paris today will understand that. You may not agree with the message but the foundation of our society is that people have the freedom to give that message. They should not be ambushed by gun men for that. That's for barbarians like the taliban.

Most games are played solo or locally, where a single player does Stuff. Things like building cities, shooting bad guys, masterminding an army or playing a role in a magical world. Most of those can be done on the computer or phone/tablet you're playing the game on, although you might want to connect online to match against human opponents because AI's are ... a bit limited.

The problem is coming in because of the pirate influence.

Game publishers have been losing too much revenue to the criminals and have been desperate for ways around that problem. We're seeing things like EA's store and Ubisoft's Uplay bringing in Digital Rights Management. Steam have it too but only up to a point. Without being on Uplay, you can't play the game. The consoles have that too, with us seeing Christmas Day spoiled for a lot of console owners due to the actions of a bunch of hacker scumbags who knocked down the Xbox and PSN networks, for a laugh.

A lot of the online connectivity is totally unnecessary too. You should be able to play through a Far Cry or an Assassins Creed totally offline, although I'd support an initial online check to make sure the game isn't pirated. But the gamer shouldn't be held hostage to :

Game servers being unavailable
Game servers being taken offline when the publisher thinks the game is dead
(especially single player games)
The vaguaries of the internet connections
Instability of the servers when they can't cope with the load.

That's like - yeah, I was enjoying that city building sim but the train just went into a tunnel and I lost my mobile signal. Now my city is going to rats until the mobile signal comes back. The latest Sim City (and I think The Sims too) are online only, for no apparent reason.

Sometimes the online requirement is true, sometimes it isn't. I don't think you'd see a game of the complexity of World of Warcraft possible without it being online only. But a game like Star Wars The Old Republic should have been a shorter single player game, instead of the cash in of a massive multiplayer that it ended up as.

The Elite Dangerous game I've been playing is another online only game. It's producing a lot of controversy because the offline mode was taken away. I have mixed feelings here, as I expected the game to have that offline mode. However ... It's modelling a galaxy of stars with a complex trading mode within. All of the player interactions drive the prices, as they do in a game like Eve, although the player manipulates the economy by buying and selling but not creating like they do in Eve.

Thinking about it, I support that online only mode in Elite Dangerous now, because to do that complex modelling and tracking on the host PC would take immense resources. So :

Positive to online - the calcs are done somewhere else and don't hit the frame rate / gameplay
Negative - you wouldn't want to do a trading run on a laptop on a train

And you have to ask yourself the question - what games would I want to be running on a laptop on or off a train ? Personally, I see playing shooter games or action games on a laptop as a kind of abuse of the hardware. But that's probably because part of my brain believes that hitting the key harder makes you run faster. While you can easily replace worn out keyboards on desktops, you can't really do that on a laptop.

That's the big question really.

My desktop gaming (if healthy!) - actiony type games. Online games where I can rely on a good connection.
My travel gaming - simple games. Things like Banner Saga if I get round to playing that. Plague Inc.

There's another aspect - if you're so addicted to something like Counterstrike and demand the right to play it on a train, you honestly need to look inwards at that addiction. But ... it's very sad that you wouldn't be able to do your city building while on the move.

I'm rambling on a bit now ...

Digital Rights Management is what's really driving all this and I see it as a Truly Awful Thing. It breaks a ridiculous amount of software. It's the reason why launches sometimes go horribly wrong. And it's only there because the pirates caused it to happen. But there will always be piracy.

The big problem is that the digital rights management is becoming too intrusive. You shouldn't need to be constantly online or be a hostage to the company servers in order to stay playing a single player game.

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