Christopher Livingston, Structural Analyst

Christopher Livingston has become obsessed with safety in a new game, INFRA:

I began walking around, exploring the terrain, looking inside power plants, dams, and other structures, and solving the occasional puzzle. I quickly found, however, that I wanted to my job—that of a structural analyst—more than I wanted to solve puzzles or investigate a mystery. Yes, I found some suspicious documents and figured out how to power up a generator to allow me to open a door… but what I really wanted to do was photograph safety issues. All the safety issues. Screw mysteries, I wanted to tally up infractions and write a detailed report and issue fines. That’s what putting a camera in my hand does to me. It makes me want to do my job. If a ghost had floated out of a service tunnel, I’d probably only have photographed it if it hadn’t been wearing a hard hat. Safety first!

TheThrillness Reviews the Elgato HD60 Pro

TheThrillness reviews the HD60 Pro, the first pci-express HDMI capture card from Elgato:

I was pretty sceptical about a card that only accepted HDMI. I found it very weird that they dropped Composite/S-Video/Component support from the original Game Capture HD design.

After having time to reflect on it, I think Elgato has chosen wisely. The future is HDMI and this card is meant to cater to that. Recently I’ve been getting into PC and PS4 gaming so keeping around older consoles like a Super Nintendo doesn’t mean much any more. Time to move on and embrace the new! Eventually some hardware based solution that doesn’t suck (Retron 5 etc) will come out and we can all enjoy the glory of HDMI even with our older games.

TheThrillness’ reviews of other capture devices are the most definitive and thorough reviews out there. I didn’t buy the HD60 Pro due to the lack of input options, and one of the things I had been hoping to capture with a device like this was Windows and Linux gameplay captured to my Mac which isn’t possible as the HD60 Pro is an internal pci-express card which won’t connect to a Mac laptop. Turns out, Elgato’s Mac support for game capture with their Game Capture HD I bought is abysmal anyway (doesn’t work with OBS on a Mac), and capturing Windows games with OBS is usually fine. After reading this review, I know now that I should have gotten the HD60 Pro, upscaled older gaming devices, and put together another machine for capture. My one question is how resource-intensive capturing would be with the HD60 Pro, as cards like this should offload most of the CPU burden.

The Difference Between Two Realities

Speaking of VR, the two leading virtual reality head-mounted displays (HMD) are very different in how they’re intended to be used.

Although the Oculus Rift has head-tracking, it is intended more for playing games in a seated or standing position with extremely limited amounts of head movement. You can think of this as being limited to a cockpit in a jet or the passenger area of a car or mech. The player can look out, and control movement of the vehicle they’re in with a gamepad, but if they get up and walk around they’re still trapped inside that vehicle or cockpit. This is perfect for games like Elite: Dangerous and the Eve: Valkyrie game that will be included with the Rift.

You can also display something with a more traditional third-person camera viewpoint outside of the avatar and have player movement bound to analog sticks on a gamepad or some other controller. That is what you have with Lucky’s Tale:

Many traditional 3D games involve a lot of player movement and a first-person perspective, so being limited to one position in the physical world isn’t quite as immersive as being able to move in a physical space and have that movement be reflected in the virtual world. This is more of the holodeck, or room-scale style of VR. I received a brief demo of this at Valve a few years ago. It is amazing when experienced in action. Valve’s SteamVR system offers this in addition to the ability to play cockpit-style games in a seated or standing position. It’s the main difference between the two headsets. Some games can work on both types.

Holodeck experiences have their downsides. Players need a fairly large space that is empty of obstructions in which to move. You’ll also need to install devices that Valve and HTC are calling lighthouses to define the physical space in which you’ll move and track your physical movement in that space. It’s not something everyone has space for, and although you can adjust the amount of physical space for use with this system you basically need a multi-room house or office to set up that experience. Valve had a few dedicated rooms for it.

It’s been almost impossible to demonstrate that room-scale experience without using it. The Northways, Colin and Sarah, have a video up that demonstrates the perspective of a player in the HTC/SteamVR Vive HMD while playing their Fantastic Contraption:

That’s a clip from a longer stream that you can watch here. The only difference between this and the real thing is that she can’t see the people on the couch while playing, and it’s way more fun to play in-person than watch on a stream.

Oculus Rift Pre-orders At Pricey $600

The only head-mounted displays (HMD) for virtual reality games and other activities available last year were pre-release versions for developers only (the $350 Oculus Development Kit 1 & 2, limited quantities of the HTC/SteamVR Vive), through crowdfunding campaigns, or scraped together garbage used to fill in the features and benefits lists of terrible smartphones.

This year the HTC ViveOculus Rift, and Playstation VR are supposed to be more widely available and will be of a higher quality level than the versions developers had access to. We’ve been warned that they will be expensive, and so they are. Facebook’s Oculus is the first to announce the price of their Rift HMD and make their product available for purchase at $600. Though it won’t actually be available to anyone before June at the earliest. When it does ship, it will include two games (3D platformer Lucky’s Tale, starfighter Eve: Valkyrie), an Xbox One controller, external sensors for head tracking, removable headphones, and a simpler remote control option.

People who participated in the original crowdfunding campaign will receive the first public version of the Oculus Rift HMD for free, everyone else who was interested and didn’t participate is kicking themselves right now.

The price is high, but the Rift device is going to be at a higher quality and performance level than the development kits that preceded it, and it is cheaper than the PC you’ll need to run it. As the internet’s Daniel Gibson points out, the Rift is even more expensive after including the cost of shipping, taxes, and other fees. To get it in Germany, the total price goes up about $200 to $808, and the total after tax and shipping just to California’s Oakland is $688. This is all after you acquire the correct hardware to match the specifications in the downloadable compatibility checker. I expect many people will be very disappointed when they attempt to use the Rift with an underpowered computer having ignored the system requirements. Even my gaming computer’s CPU is not up to the task according to the compatibility checker. PC gaming is not cheap, and although I expect the price of all of these components to drop, I would be very surprised if the Rift’s price lowered before 2018. It is unlikely that the HTC/SteamVR Vive will be cheaper or have more limited hardware demands. The only device that could possibly be less expensive is Sony’s Playstation VR, and then it would be a more limited experience in terms of technical capabilities than anything on the PC.

It’s exciting that we’re finally going to have widely available HMDs, even at that price, but there are still unresolved issues.

Oculus first announced cross-platform support for their platform during their extremely successful crowdfunding campaign with logos for Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS and Android. The pre-order campaign only includes a downloadable compatibility checker for Windows and though it would be ridiculous to expect the hardware to work with the limited power available on devices without active cooling systems like smartphones, it is kind of outrageous how quickly they’ve dropped support for Mac and Linux. Linux is promised to be supported post-launch, and OS X support is supposed to be limited by the hardware currently on offer from Apple.

Software availability is going to be an issue. Besides the two games shipping with the system, and a broad range of technical demo software, it isn’t clear what compatibility will be like for software between headsets and what complete software will be available soon after launch. Most complete games take 1-3 years to develop, and the software that truly takes advantage of hardware available through the SteamVR system might not be compatible with the Rift at all. Valve is trying to resolve compatibility with their OpenVR program, but theVive hardware developed with HTC is more like walking around a holodeck than the limited-to-a-cockpit experiences of the Rift.

Finally, as an expectant father, I cannot imagine a scenario in the next two years where I will be able to use a completely-detached experience like the Rift while my family needs my attention. This product seems to be only targeted at people who are either totally alone or have no responsibilities in the outside world for extended periods of time. Awareness of the world around you is going to be a big problem with every HMD. The only ones that are looking to avoid that issue so far are Microsoft with their Hololens augmented-reality HMD and a few other companies developing AR devices instead of VR. Augmented-reality will be for completely different, less immersive, kinds of experiences from virtual reality.

I recommend that anyone considering the purchase of this headset wait until more of these issues are resolved, especially the software availability and compatibility as that is going to be the largest roadblock.

Valve Releases Statement Regarding Information Leak

Valve put out a statement today about the recent leak of user information via cached pages being presented to anyone who visited the Steam website on the 25th. Notably, if you didn’t visit the website during the attack, your information should be safe:

On December 25th, a configuration error resulted in some users seeing Steam Store pages generated for other users. Between 11:50 PST and 13:20 PST store page requests for about 34k users, which contained sensitive personal information, may have been returned and seen by other users.

The content of these requests varied by page, but some pages included a Steam user’s billing address, the last four digits of their Steam Guard phone number, their purchase history, the last two digits of their credit card number, and/or their email address. These cached requests did not include full credit card numbers, user passwords, or enough data to allow logging in as or completing a transaction as another user.

If you did not browse a Steam Store page with your personal information (such as your account page or a checkout page) in this time frame, that information could not have been shown to another user.

Valve goes on to note that this issue did occur due to web caching rules implemented during a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack.

Those types of attacks are extremely common, and extremely disruptive when they occur.

Unfortunately I am very familiar with DDoS attacks, as the ioquake3 master server I operate for every game using the engine has been under daily assault for the past few months. Fortunately we don’t store sensitive user information within that project, though we have far fewer resources to deal with it I can’t get on board with Valve’s apology.

It makes sense that mistakes are going to happen in responding to a DDoS, but it is extremely out of the ordinary for those mistakes to include leaking personal data. Valve says that they will contact those whose information was leaked, but the help offered by companies like Valve in response to past leaks has been to offer users time-limited subscription accounts at predatory companies that provide almost no legitimate identity protection services.

We will see what Valve actually does in response for those who were affected, but this is not an acceptable kind of thing to have happen at what should be a fairly mature institution that has been in operation as an online storefront for over a decade.

Steam Website Leaking User Information

The Steam website was completely broken for several hours today. Attempting to load any page on the site would give you another user’s version of that page including any personal details. This was also happening in the desktop client. Users on several sites produced screenshots that included blacked-out versions of pages that had other users’ details such as their billing address and Steam usernames. For example, I was able to load other people’s shopping cart just by visiting the regular cart page. Unlike many other services, the login username on Steam is to be kept secret.

As of this writing, hours later, logging in to Steam via the website just takes you to a logged-out version of the Steam page. The SteamDB site (not affiliated with Valve or Steam) has written up a note about the outage and security leak with some assumptions about how it happened. I agree with their suggestion to not store credit card details with Steam, or any online vendor as Sony proved a few years ago when their online storefront was hacked.

James Davenport Interviews R6 Siege’s Cleany Gunhands

Cleany Gunhands:

Hey there. Yeah, thanks for having me. My name is Cleany Gunhands, and I love to clean, but I also have guns for hands instead of regular human hands for hands. I’m stuck in a scary digital hell dimension where I’m thrown into a very messy house or cafe or something and, like, I have to stop a bomb sometimes. There are others there, and they’re always yelling at me, yelling, ‘Dang-it, Cleany! Stop shooting the fridge and help us make these walls strong! We need the strong walls! But I’m just trying to clean the fridge, but I can’t because I have hands that aren’t hands, but guns instead of regular human hands.

Video Footage of id Software’s Super Mario Bros. 3 Clone

John Romero posted this video today to Vimeo in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Commander Keen. it’s the first publicly available footage of the Super Mario Bros. 3 demo that id software pitched to Nintendo. You might have heard about it from the David Kushner’s Masters of Doom book (Amazon, iBooks, Wikipedia) which is well worth reading if you haven’t already.

Playstation 4’s PS2 Emulator Disappointment

A few weeks ago there was a rumor that Sony would soon announce some kind of software support for the Playstation 4 to emulate the Playstation 2. It would be a nice favor to players since Sony very quickly dropped Playstation 2 compatibility from the Playstation 3 in order to lower the price of that console’s guts.

The rumor was based on the special edition of the Playstation 4 bundled with Star Wars Battlefront. That bundle also included a code for four older Star Wars games. Star Wars: Racer Revenge, Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, Super Star Wars, and Star Wars: Bounty Hunter. Super Star Wars originally hails from the Super Nintendo and was actually ported to the Playstation 4, the other three are Playstation 2 games running under emulation.

This was very promising. The emulator appeared to be robust in taking advantage of modern amenities like trophies and upscaling, and generic enough in its implementation by virtually mapping the Dual Shock 4 and virtual PS2-era memory cards to support a range of games instead of just the three in the bundle. The Digital Foundry article analyzing the emulator for the Star Wars games was simply titled “Hands-on with PS4’s PlayStation 2 emulation.”

Why would Sony go to all of this trouble just for three Playstation 2 games? They wouldn’t. Surely it would be for more than just those. A Sony representative vaguely confirmed the coming emulator to Wired.

Surely, surely, surely there would be a generic Playstation 2 emulator coming along any day now where you could just insert a Playstation 2 disc and receive most of these features, maybe trophies would be limited to especially popular games.

Nope.

Instead of attempting to compete with Microsoft’s recent addition of Xbox 360 emulation on the Xbox One, Sony announced that they were simply offering a short list of games for download at $10 or $15. Here’s the list:

$15 Games:
Dark Cloud
Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Rogue Galaxy
The Mark of Kri

$10 Games:
Twisted Metal: Black
War of the Monsters

People who had already purchased those games can’t just pop in a disc and play them, they have to be repurchased and more games are promised be added for download regularly.

It’s not completely unreasonable to charge that price for a download version of the game, and clearly it would require work per-game to support trophies, but it is incredibly boneheaded to not just drop a generic Playstation 2 emulator and leave out trophy support for games unless they are purchased again.

Almost more boneheaded is that some of these games had already been available for download on the Playstation 3 with an emulator running there, but they’ll still need to be repurchased even for people who bought those versions. I just don’t understand this strategy. Sony has been great with allowing people to purchase games online for the Vita, Playstation 4 or 3 and get the other platforms for free. They even have a goofy marketing name for it, Crossbuy. It should extend to emulated Playstation 2 games.

The only place you can still get a generic Playstation 2 emulator is on a computer with PCSX2. Using this kind of emulator is still finicky enough that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the experience. Unlike emulators for 16-bit consoles like the Genesis and Super Nintendo where you kind of just choose an emulator, find a ROM image of the game and go, Playstation 1 and 2 emulators are highly dependent upon selecting the right group of plugins to provide support for things like reading the disc, USB input, audio, and video. Sometimes this process has to change depending on the game.

Getting PCSX2 to work for your games is more complicated than sticking a disc into a Playstation 4, but Wes Fenlon has a nice introductory guide up if you’re willing to battle with the open source software and move past the disappointment of Sony’s business decision to not release Playstation 2 emulation to the public on the Playstation 4.

Bad Customers Don’t Make Good Curators

If you owned a retail store, would you let a customer start cursing and yelling at your customers that the products you sell would give them incurable diseases or would you kick that customer out?

Steam’s curator program was implemented a little over a year ago. This program allowed individuals and groups of users to put together a selection of recommendations with a brief text component that appears on everyone’s Steam store page when enough people are following that curator. 

Some curators are what you would expect. Publications like Cheap Ass GamerPC Gamer, Giant Bomb, Gaming On Linux, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun, have groups and recommendations. It’s nice to see that a publication you like is recommending a game, and it says a lot when none of them are. Then there are community action groups dedicated to specific causes, like one that is a group of made up of non-developers highlighting games that lack features that they feel should be available on every computer game regardless of what era it was developed in or if the lack of such a feature would even be an issue for this type of game.

Finally, there are curators on Steam that are beyond hyperbole. For example, Waifu Hunter. Normally this name would just imply that the group is operated by anime fans who will never know how to speak with actual women. Their disgusting motto is “I will tell you if a videogame has attractive anime ladies in it.”  Here’s a sample recommendation from Waifu Hunter:

This game is a matryoshka doll of cancer, furries, and Tumblr. Play this if you hate good writing, loathe functional game design, and want to get AIDS.

Valve allows this to exist in their store, why? This negative recommendation is for a point-and-click adventure that has very positive overall user reviews. 103 positive and 10 negative reviews are shown directly on the store page for the game. Destructoid gave the game an 8 out of 10. This system is intended for positive recommendations, not rants from 8chan users. It is time to kick this customer out of the store.