Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ubisoft sucks [rant]

I brought Settlers: Rise of a Nation. I just wanted to play a happy, constructive game. I wanted to pretend I was 12 again, playing Settlers II for 10 hours a day - a really really great game for chilling to.

It was a mistake. The game looks fantastic, but I think it's due about 6 months more development.

From the cheesy voice overs to crashing with "bad allocation" popups, there are a lot of annoying things about the game. I think I should have read some of the patch logs first, release 1.3, so a very advanced release has only just fixed:

  • Game no longer crashes upon entering LAN/online mode if no network connection is available.
  • Building decals should now always be visible.
  • Fixed a bug on campaign map 4 (Narfang) where Hakim would not reach the castle and hence the final quest could not be completed.

So...for versions 1.0-1.2 the game crashed if you clicked the wrong button and didn't have internet. And there where route finding issues with a key character? I thought it was funny that a single player game forced a 75Mb update the first time i used it.

1) Annoyances

On the first few levels you can't upgrade the storehouse very far (they save that for later in the game). Problem is that the store house keeps filling up. It took me three levels to figure out how to stop production of certain type of produce and 10 levels to discover that you can delete produce. First you find your Storehouse, then you select the item you want to dispose offa, then you move the slider to the amount you want to dispose, then you click on the trashcan icon to really remove it. wtf? why so many steps,. (and come to that, why a trash can in medieval times?...)

It is quite possible (and frequent_ to have a guy get stuck behind their own house. Yup, they can't walk through their own buildings. To get around this you delete their house... except if they've been there long enough to hungry, so they're on strike. Why can't you delete houses when people are on strike - what else is there to do?

help me I'm really constipated and need fresh fruit
But just look at it - there are some amazing details in there- the animations on each of the hundreds of settlers is fantastic, the random wild life (squirrels & rabbits) must have been a lot of work for someone. There has been lots of time spent on the game, but something went wrong.

Can you use battering rams to destroy outposts? no, you can just use them gates. Can swordsmen defeat the big trebuchets ? no, they are mostly a plot-driven device. And why do you end up making candles and banners (yes you have to build a building that makes banners to get to some of the high tech levels)

The building placement is just plain annoying - you do this a lot, it really is the core of the game. If something's going wrong in the game, you'll probably end up placing a building or two to solve it.

The space is obviously big enough, but no matter which way you turn the building (why doesn't it turn the way it fits itself?) you can't find a way to make it fit. Sometimes, just somestimes you get the flash of green that shows the 2 pixel wide area that you can place the building on.

On Level 9, your settlers start getting sick when you have more than 150 people. You don't have access to medicine on this level. 3 hours of slow, frustrating gameplay and you get stuck. Worse than that, this is documented and reported on their forums. No comment, no patch from Ubi.

To knock down buildings your men need torches. This is critical - if the enemy walls your troops in and you run out of torches, it's the end of the road for the troops. But there are levels where your army can get trapped between rebuilt walls:

Oh, and crash bugs galore:

Pathfinding sucks - quest is to use thief to free guy from prison (top left in video below). If you go in the obvious route you can't walk down a path between two fields, and the theif detours past a group of guards. Only way to shift the guards? Attack the front gate as a distraction. This wasn't a "grown" city, so was probably layed out by level designers. What where they thinking? At least I feel like I'm hacking my way through the levels.

You can't destroy aggressive fractions (villages) that don't have a keep. So... in mission 14 you can blow up a set of town gates, invade the town, can't take it over, move on through the town to the city the other side, meanwhile the town rebuilds it's walls blocking your retreat and reinforcements. Then you run out of torches and can't get out, so my huge army was waiting for

But on the plus side, sometimes the errors come out on your side. 1) to capture an area you need to capture an outpost. 2) To capture the outpost you need to get to it 3) Stone walls stop enemies getting to the outpost. 4) seige engines let men over walls. 5) you can't get seige engines over walls. Solution? Build a wall two layers thick around every outpost. job done till the highest tech level that you can't get till the end of the game.

I always run up against the population limit before I max out the tech tree. This one is just plain bizzare.

And when I blew up the final castle in the game (despite being on a fairly hefty 2GB gaming rig):

Why does it offer to uninstall the game every time I restart my computer with the disc in the drive? Perhaps I should have taken the hint...but I just wanted to see the cool bits of the game even if I had to hack around the rest.

This isn't a rant at the developers, just how polished lots of the game are shows how much attention to detail there is. This is a rant at the managers and publishers for not letting Bluebyte finish their game. It reeks all over of management pushing decisions that weren't theirs to make. Is this design ready ready to enter production? "Well no, it needs another 3 months work" Whats wrong with it? "Nothing, it just isn't right". Product gets shunted along.

After seeing man decades of loving work not being allowed to finish, am I ever going to want to work for a developer under Ubisoft? Would I ever sell a company full of friends to Ubisoft? Am I going to think twice before buying a game with Ubisoft's logo on it ever again?

But then sometimes I remember why I loved this series, behold the running fish boy -

"A farmer has no fields" "A beekeeper has no bee hives" every spring. They're just waiting for them to thaw out, but they don't say anything through the winter.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Saturday, January 05, 2008

This is a description of my experiences of upgrading my beloved compact Canon elph/s410 for a full-blown digi-SLR in the shape of a 400D.

I always took loads of photos and after struggling with my conscience (bank account) for a year I decided to get a new camera (back pay). I wasn't sure what to get - if I had a big SLR would I use it in the same way & get more pleasure from it? I was really impressed with a friend's more recent compact Canon - it was half the size of mine, took much better low light photos (my main grudge against my old camera) and had a kick ass screen.

In the end I was going on holiday and chose the digiSLR because I wanted something to play with. I got the body and standard (duplo) lens, a spare battery, a case and insurance.

The big thing I noticed travelling with beast was that you are obviously a tourist. You can't hide it in your palm like the elph. You can't pretend that your dressed like that because you're a student. You are a tourist. You are Taking Photos. I could just about pass for a fat-man with the thing under my waterproof (certainly not if I had a bigger lens), but it wasn't comfortable. This meant that it spent a lot of time in my rucksack and I missed some action shots I would have got with the elp. (Swans flying over the dogs)

The SLR's battery life was just awsome - I'll almost believe the 500-shots per charge quoted on the blurb. I take a lot of photos and found myself switching battery every other day. Having a spare was almost optional.

My elph was American and had a nice charager that was a mains-plug. Thanks to the over-engineered British plug deisgn, this isn't really plausible on the 400D, but all that extra wire takes up space.

Noise. I was generally dissapointed by the quality and sharpness of the images. I don't think this is anything to do the 400D, but more general camera-ness. In mid-light conditions the noise & fringing distortion wasn't much better than my 3 year old compact. I was almost expecting pin-prick sharp noiseless "digital" images - as in digital cinema over analogue. The SLR gives lots of noise and fringing in low light/high contrast situations. I guess it's just what is possible.

I'm very curious to see what effect putting a bigger lens on the Canon will do (that's waiting for my next pay check). There is much more of an upgrade path with the SLR's - I've already got a list of widgets (lens, remote control, uv/polarising lenses, one hand grip...) of things I want for it (no wonder canon are making such a big push to sell these suckers).

Generally it rained at me for the whole 3 weeks. I know that with my little camera I wouldn't get many shots I was happy with. For a while I didn't have the confidence to use it in low light (only really just got into this way of thinking - raise the ISO and keep clicking!). You get grain, but you can also get great photos. Looks at pro's photos it's the same - grain isn't the end of the world - I'm just coming around to the idea that it is a usual phenomenon.

I got some great long expose nigh time shots with the compact - 20 second exposures and some clever camera electronics will remove all the noise from the image. On this mark there is little difference between the cameras if you don't mind waiting longer for the elph to gather the same amount of light.

Where the stonking big camera won was on the mid-tones - it was always possible (and pleasurable) to tweak a shot until it looked just right. Until the emphasis was on just the right part of the image. Shooting in RAW format eats memory like your mum, but gives extra tweakability in the end.

The feature I love is sleep mode. I like instant-on on everything (from my rice machine to my powerbook) and when you leave the 400d with a convoluted set of settings for a while all the lights go out and the normal buttons stop working, but push the shutter button and you're back where you started. Great.

The design of the 400D is just plain bizzare. Again I'm not sure it's specific to Canon cameras, but it looks like a Japanese-more-buttons-is-better design mulched with functions left-there-for-historical-reasons. This is a rant unto itself and has moved to it's own post on UI design.

That said, I don't think the camera will be leaving my side for a while - I'm glad I upgraded.

The 400D is a machine designed to take sequences of image. It has options to take barrages of shots at different EV-levels at once. It feels right to fire 10 shots, whereas my old camera felt like a family-friendly one-shot only machine. A bit of a touchy-feely point to end on, but Mr. Stephenson puts it much better:

"But even with the biggest power saw in the shop, Bobby Shaftoe always got the sense that he was imposing some kind of stress on the machine. It would slow down when the blade contacted the material, it would vibrate, it would heat up, and if you pushed the material through too fast it would threaten to jam. But then one summer he worked in a mill where they had a bandsaw. The bandsaw, its supply of blades, its spare parts, maintenance supplies, special tools and manuals occupied a whole room. It was the only tool he had ever seen with infrastructure. It was the size of a car. The two wheels that drove the blade were giant eight-spoked things that looked to have been salvaged from steam locomotives. Its blades had to be manufactured from long rolls of blade-stuff by unreeling about half a mile of toothed ribbon, cutting it off, and carefully welding the cut ends together into a loop" ... "Anyway, the most noteworthy thing about the bandsaw was that you could cut anything with it and not only did it do the job quickly and coolly but it didn't seem to notice that it was doing anything." - Cryptonomicon (he is really trying to describe a Vickers machine gun)