The Evolution of Steam: Mac Version and More

I’ve been a big fan of Steam, the game download and community service from Valve for a long time now. Not only do they have a great selection of games and a great online infrastructure, but they prove that you don’t have to rip people off and be an “evil corporation” in order to be successful in the games industry.

Valve show that you can give people legitimately great deals, be nice and make money at the same time, all the while increasing brand loyalty with their customers. Valve show that downloadable games can make sense, and that they can be lower priced than their retail counterparts where Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have yet to grasp this notion.

As far as recent events, Valve have just launched Steam for Mac, and I have to say I’m very impressed with it. As far as the application itself is concerned, it is essentially exactly the same as the PC version we all know and love, but that’s probably the best thing they could have done. The integration of Mac software into the existing storefront shows a huge amount of care was taken in trying to make Mac users feel welcome and not confused by not distinguishing between Mac and PC games.

Not only can you sort by operating system, but you can also Play Mac games with PC players of the same title online using SteamWorks. On top of this, and perhaps coolest of all, for certain titles marked with the Steam Play logo, you are eligible to download these particular games to both your Mac and PC for no additional charge. Shockingly, PopCap games are included in this, so I could download BookWorm, Peggle Deluxe and Peggle Nights to my MacBook for free, when on PopCap’s own site they charge separately for Mac and PC versions, so this is a fantastic offer for Steam gamers.

Not only this, but Valve are offering one of their well known and popular games, Portal, which is one part of the hugely successful Orange Box for free for a limited time. This is yet another piece of evidence of Valve’s commitment to customer satisfaction and increasing brand loyalty.

So what have we learned? Steam on Mac is fantastic and a must-download for Mac whatever kind of gamer you are. We’ve also learned that it is possible to be a successful game developer and publisher and make a lot of money, while also treating your fans well and giving away content, as opposed to charging for every single thing you release after the launch of a game.

Activision and EA among others, take note.


StarCraft 2 Beta Thoughts and the Type of Gamer I am

I recently got invited to the SC2 beta and I’m not sure exactly what to make of it. On one hand, it looks very well made, it runs well and looks exceptionally good even on our average graphics card at medium settings.

The online integration is also great and the game overall feels just like StarCraft should feel. For the real SC and RTS fans out there it may be the perfect game, especially with the chance to prove yourself online.

My problem with it personally is more to do with just myself and my own ability. Online gaming for the most part is an incredibly intimidating, intense world where you have to want to win so badly that you’ll give everything you have to do so. If you lack that competitive fire like I do, and just want to relax and have a bit of fun building a cool army and so on, then you’ll lose, and a lot. I’ve played 3 matches online so far and at first I had fun at the beginning having nostalgic feelings about the original starcraft and how fun it was playing on a LAN when around a friend’s house years ago. Once that wears off, the harsh reality that my beautiful base is getting destroyed and I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was sets in.

I lost all 3 games extremely easy, and this is on the “novice” mode when you first start playing. In other words, even the so called novices see this game as life or death. I could probably learn to be faster and learn the tactics more, but it’s kind of like Street Fighter. The stress and work of having to learn so much and perfect it, it’s clearly not my idea of fun. Therefore, whenever I play a competitive game of SC2 online I’ll probably lose. I may never win a single game because every single person wants it more than I do.

If I do play the game online when it comes out (if I get it at all), I’ll hopefully be able to have some good fun playing co-op against the AI rather than competitively, or at least play competitive with 8 players so that I have a possibility of being left alone for a bit longer. That said, in co-op I’ll probably just let my team down and cause disagreements akin to when people in WoW always gang up on the healer when something goes wrong.

To be honest, when I played StarCraft and the Brood War expansion, I actually never played online properly, or even played the single player campaign. I loved to either play local multiplayer in a friendly atmosphere, or play single player skirmishes against an easy CPU and just enjoy the fun of building all the units I wanted and having the satisfaction of wiping out the AI, even though they never really had a chance.

It’s the way I am as a gamer. While more traditional gamers prefer to punish themselves on the hardest difficulty levels and test their metal against the best in the world online, I just like to take the easiest route possible for the majority of the time.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy a challenge ever though. In games that I really enjoy and am good at, such as driving games like Gran Turismo, F1 or sports games like Grand Slam Tennis, I have fun testing myself. For essentially all other types of games though, the first thing I do is go into the options to turn the difficulty down to the lowest possible settings. I prefer to enjoy a story of a game and have casual fun with the gameplay rather than stressing myself out by getting killed or in tough situations like boss battles.

Going back to the intended topic of this post however, the question should be: Is StarCraft 2 a good game and worth playing? The answer is clear. Like I previously mentioned, if you’re a fan of the series, an RTS player or someone casual looking for a well made PC exclusive game, you will find it here. You just have to decide whether or not you’re mentally up for the challenge of playing online. Of course, it should also be noted that you can’t access any of the single player campaign, nor the co-op or 8 player modes online, but judging by what I’ve seen, I would be shocked if they were anything less than spectacular.

As a Blizzard fan, yes I’ll probably pick it up and I’ll have fun with it as I own all recent Blizzard games and don’t really want to miss this one. It won’t be my favourite game ever or anything but it’s a great RTS and a fantastic game to spent a little time with on a rainy day.

I can certainly say though that Diablo 3 is looking much more up my alley as I’m always more into the co-op side of things. Plus, if continues to improve and look as stylish as it does in SC2, then it will be an absolute joy to play. I just have to be realistic and understand that not every game is for me and I just don’t fit the mould of a fiercely competitive online gamer and focus on what I have fun playing, as in the end we all play to have fun, not stress ourselves out.


3DGalaxy 2009 Game Awards – PC

PC 2009 Awards

Quick note: Only games that I’ve played / am excited to play soon will be eligible to win awards.

Best Action Game – Borderlands

Traditional categories kind of don’t matter at this point. I realised there was a vacancy at action game and since Borderlands is more of an action game with it’s vehicle combat than other games that are more strictly shooters, it made sense to put it here. It’s a great game on all platforms.

Also notable: Batman: Arkham Asylum (playing soon)

Best Puzzle Game – PuzzleQuest Galactrix

Interesting twist on the PuzzleQuest formula.

Best Racing Game – Dirt 2

While Dirt 2 does effectively insult and ignore the history of Rally and what Colin McRae stood for, the fact is that it is a very well made, very fun off-road racing game in its own right. The only game to beat it in the genre in my opinion is Forza 3.

Also notable: Race on, Need for Speed: Shift

Best Shooter – Left 4 Dead 2

L4D2 is a worthy successor to the first game, even only 1 year after the L4D came out. Other series get yearly sequels which people accept for the most part, this does more than enough to warrant its release as a full price sequel rather than DLC for the original.

Also notable: Modern Warfare 2, Borderlands

Best Strategy Game – Plants vs Zombies

PopCap did it again with their newest game, a fun, deceptively simple RTS where you fight back hordes of Zombies by carefully placing Plants which all have different strengths and weaknesses. It’s a move away from PopCap’s roots as a casual games developer exclusively. However, that’s not to say it can’t be enjoyed by a lot of people, just that the learning curve might be high for some people. Regardless, it’s a great game and certainly worth the price of admission.

Best Visual Quality – Borderlands

Gearbox Software took a risk on the cell shaded style of Borderlands paying off, and in the end, it certainly did. The game looks great and very distinctive among many similar games.

Also notable: Left 4 Dead 2, Modern Warfare 2, Dirt 2

Best Use of Sound – Modern Warfare 2

MW2 perfectly captures the intensity and rush of combat through it’s use of sound effects.

Also notable: Left 4 Dead 2, Plants vs Zombies

Best Story – Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman draws on years of comic storytelling to deliver a great fun and true to the series story for the game. Iconic villains and the location help this cause tremendously.

Best Multiplayer – Modern Warfare 2

MW2 is probably the best multiplayer game of all time, and that’s not an understatement. The game is impeccably well engineered to offer not just a great gameplay experience, but also by far the best matchmaking and hosting service ever. One of the most important aspects in multiplayer gaming is how fast actually getting into the game is and how the smooth / lag free the gameplay itself is once you get there. MW2 excels in all areas, leading to the massive commercial and critical success it has garnered to this point.

Also notable: Left 4 Dead 2, Borderlands

PC Game of the Year – Borderlands

Borderlands was one of those titles, like Batman, that really surprised people this year with how good they were. I personally have had the most fun playing Borderlands on PC this year and that’s reflected in this award.

Also notable: Modern Warfare 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dirt 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Plants vs Zombies

Up next: DS


Left 4 Dead 2 Early Impressions

I pre-ordered L4D2 on Steam a while ago but it took me a while to get around to playing it over the other new games that came out this week. I have now had the chance to play the first couple of levels and the title leaves me sitting on the fence at the moment.

On one hand it’s hard not to like the concept of the game and the way it feels to play. What I don’t like though is the ridiculous difficulty level in the game even on easy.

It may just be that I ended up playing one of the hardest campaigns on my first time online in the new game but even so, you would think it would be doable on the easiest difficulty level at least, but it really feels incredibly punishing, possibly more so than NSMB.

I’ll try practicing a bit more in the next little while and see whether my opinion changes in accordance. Regardless of my own personal experience, I can see how L4D2 will appeal to a lot of gamers and will undoubtedly be another big success for Valve.

More soon.