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GTA 5 Complete

I finished GTA 5 a few weeks ago now, and my experiences can be summed up with this:

The game overall was actually phenomenal, albeit strangely balanced. It has been ages since I played GTA 3 and Vice City, but I remember those games being centered on steady progression with gun unlocks and even vehicle selection. For example, you couldn’t find the fastest cars in GTA 3 until the first bridge gets repaired, which only occurs after finishing several story missions.

In GTA 5? Some of the best cars are practically outside your first house. Indeed, several more things appear to be cash-gated too – gun unlocks and such – but completing a successful heist towards the beginning of the game ended up giving my characters over a million dollars apiece. Body armor costs $2500? No problem. Pretty sure I went ahead and unlocked most of the guns right away too.

GTA5_2

The best of introductions.

One of the more consistent pieces of feedback I heard about GTA 5 going in was that nobody really liked Trevor as a character. Turns out Trevor is one of the more authentic characters in the game, IMO. Granted, he’s a batshit insane psychopath, but the body count of the other main characters are nearly as high, and yet they act like it is no big thing.

I did try out the GTA Online aspect for about a hot minute. One of the tutorial missions required me to go to a specific clothing shop that was currently being camped by a player with an attack helicopter though, so I Nope’d right out of that server. This aspect of GTA is apparently wildly profitable (to the tune of $500 million), but I have little desire to grind (or pay) my way to progression in this sort of game.

GTA5_1.jpg

Christ, the visuals are amazing.

The single-player portion of the game though? It was a blast to play through. The three-person narrative worked out well, the graphics were sublime and ran at a silky 60 FPS with a GTX 970 the majority of the time, and there were plenty of emergent shenanigans. I barely played GTA 4 or San Andreas, so it’s hard for me to say how much the formula has improved, but the game is quality regardless.

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Spell It Out

I was playing GTA 5 this weekend, and one of the missions really reminded me of why I prefer game devs to just spell out what they expect you to do as a player.

The mission was technically a “side-quest” of a heist the main characters were setting up. This particular branch was to acquire a getaway vehicle, take it to a discreet location, then call Michael and let him know where it is. Not just any vehicle will do, but there are a million carjack opportunities in the game, so it didn’t take long to find one the game was satisfied with.

What did take an annoyingly long amount of time was figuring out A) where a “discreet” area was, and B) phoning the location in. Back alley? Not discreet. Docks? Not discreet. Area marked in green? Whoops, that’s an entirely different mission area. I tried calling Michael half a dozen times, but never got the option to “Mark the Location.” And I never knew whether that was because I wasn’t in a discreet location, or if I was but I had to be outside the vehicle to make the call, or if the quest was just fucking bugged.

There are a lot of challenges I enjoy in gaming. The one challenge type conspicuously absent from the list is being a goddamn mind reader. Or, more specifically, trying to figure out what the designers wanted players to do. Sometimes the issue is that I missed what would otherwise have been an obvious clue. Hey, it happens. Doesn’t change the fact that I’m not going to wander around cluelessly for 15 minutes not playing the game. Give me a puzzle, and I’ll try to solve it. But I’m not going to fucking hunt for the puzzle, because I have zero faith in my ability to divine whether all the proper programming flags were set.

So, I looked the quest up. Turns out they wanted the car in a neighborhood area. Drove there, parked, and the option to Mark the Location came right up. Fantastic. If they could have just dropped some markers down on the map like they do with everything else in the game, I would have been done with this vanilla quest more than 20 minutes ago instead of it completely breaking the flow of my gaming session.

And looking at my experience with MMOs? Same sort of thing applies. I played WoW when it didn’t have quest givers on the minimap, when quest items didn’t sparkle, before addons highlighted quest areas, and when Thottbot was breaking new ground over Allakhazam (I think). You know what? I’ll say it: it sucked. Killing mobs and not knowing whether you were just unlucky with quest drops or if you were killing the wrong specie of bear sucks. Get lost in a cave sucks. The item you need to click on being the basement as you scour the other three floors fruitlessly sucks.

I’m not saying there can’t or shouldn’t be mysteries in a game. But it should never be a mystery that you are in a mystery. The difference between hunting for clues and being clueless is immense. It is the difference between playing a game and not.

Again, I have empathy for the players for whom their primary enjoyment is figuring shit out on their own. I hope there are addons or options for you to turn off all the quest tracking overlays. But if the designers want me to collect ten bear asses to complete a quest, that is my quest, not exploring the taxonomy of virtual Ursidae and/or their habitat. If you want me to stash a car somewhere “discreet,” you either tell me where that is, or allow me to stash it somewhere I think is discreet enough. Which was apparently 100 feet away from where GTA 5 said I couldn’t make the call.

It Worked

The final (?) chapter of my GTA 5 woes has come to its end.

After uninstalling the “corrupted” GTA 5 installation, I emailed GameBillet to ask them to reinstate their download page that I had brief access to when I originally bought the GTA 5 key from them. From there, I committed myself to downloading 30 individual 1.9 GB files from their servers.

Nothing (other than Steam) is ever that simple though. The first problem I encountered was the fact that Chrome would hang on 100% download completion without actually “finishing” the file. This was not a GTA 5-specific issue, but rather something I have been experiencing for the past month or two with Chrome, even on 125 KB downloads.

Chrome_Stop

Ain’t nobody got time for that. Except for me.

To ensure this would not be a factor, I ended up reinstalling Firefox and downloading from there. This prevented the hung downloads, but Firefox was unable to handle downloading more than six files at a time, so that is what I limited myself to.

The next issue was that after a day of this, I couldn’t log into my GameBillet account, and the “forgotten password” request couldn’t be completed because it stated that my email account didn’t exist. Pretty goddamn strange considering I had two emails from their support team not four days ago. Luckily, I was able to find the original email that contained the download links, so I could still download direct from there.

The final boss, as in most RPGs, was somewhat of a let-down. Having downloaded all the .bin files, I had to run the installer to combine them. Which meant duplicating the 60 GB files on my SSD because of course. After deleting some other games I doubt I’d ever play again (or at all), I logged into Rockstar’s shitty Social Club interface…

…and had to download a 2 GB patch. At 200 kb/s. Fine. I made the time.

Then, the moment of truth.

GTA5_Success1

Never felt so good driving around a corner.

It worked. It really worked. I was able to get to and through the 2nd mission. I didn’t play for much longer beyond that point, but at least I did not run into the exact same breaking point as before, and that’s something.

While this remains another example of my parsimony biting me in the ass, I don’t really blame GameBillet in this scenario: I blame Rockstar and every game maker with their own shitty download client. If Social Club downloaded at more than 200 kb/s, I wouldn’t have had to use a VPN and it wouldn’t have corrupted my files. The real lesson learned here is that Steam fucking earns their 30% cut, and Rockstar is going to eat that cut every goddamn time from here on out.

The Curse that Keeps Cursing

Hey, do you recall the travails associated with my attempting to install GTA 5 through Rockstar’s shitty “Social Club” nonsense? Well, I finally decided to quit hesitating and go ahead and start playing the game.

Oh, wait, there’s a 1 GB patch to download first. At 200 kb/s, again. I think the most baffling part of this – besides the fact that I can use a VPN to magically make the download go back to 2 mb/s – is how it says it is downloading at 200 kb/s, but literally nothing else will load properly. I tried to load Google to see if this shit got fixed somehow else, but Google literally timed out. So whatever the launcher is doing, it is doing so badly to effectively kill the entirety of my internet.

With everything downloaded (via VPN), I finally booted up the game. And it worked through the tutorial and the first few missions. Then… it didn’t:

GTA5_1

Really? Really?

I was on the way to repo a motorcycle in the game, passed some invisible line, and the entire game crashes with that error. After several repeated experiments, it appears the crashing is related to either loading a cutscene that would trigger in that area of town, or simply loading that section of town. Either way, the game is functionally useless because I cannot progress past this point.

I looked online for solutions, and the culprit is likely some kind of corrupted file. Which, per the source, can occur if the original download is interrupted. Hmm. Where have I…

The one “quirk” with this “solution” is that Ultrasurf cycles through various proxy servers at certain intervals, which technically interrupts the download. For the most part, the GTA 5 launcher will pause and then resume the download no problem. After 5-10 cycles of this though, it will stop the download entirely, forcing you to press Retry to get it moving again. I’m not in a particular mood to babysit this download for eight real-time hours, so I had to look for another solution.

Enter Advanced Mouse Auto Clicker 4.0

…oh.

There is no official way to check for corrupted files via Social Club’s launcher, for the record. I ended up finding a Reddit thread talking about downloading and creating a goddamn Python script to check your files. Which I did so, and everything came back OK. Found a slightly more up-to-date list to add to the script, but still no errors. Rockstar themselves suggests uninstalling and reinstalling.

Fuck. That. Shit.

Honestly, at this point, I’m sorely tempted to chalk the whole thing up as a total loss. As in, deleting GTA 5 and just never playing it. I mean, technically I can wait for another year or whatever and try and snag the game in a Steam-specific sale and be done with it that way. But I’m already out $28, so there is no “deal” possible in this scenario.

There is one other scenario in which I might salvage this situation: I contacted the retailer to re-enable a direct download of the individual installation pieces of the game. My hope is that it won’t download at 200 kb/s, and thus I can download sans VPN and without mid-download micro-interruptions. There is no guarantee that it will work, and shit is already annoying as hell, so this may just be another variation of Sunk Cost Fallacy.

But Christ Almighty, have I learned my lesson. Some people might cry about Steam being a monopoly, but if Steam is a monopoly, it is precisely because of the incompetence of everyone else. It has literally been 5-10 years since I’ve remembered that I’m a PC gamer. You know, that unfortunate kind of gamer who can buy shit that doesn’t work out of the goddamn box. Who else would put up with that?

Review Bombing

Three years ago, I wrote a post called The Weaponization of QQ in which I discussed “review bombing,” e.g. the practice of people writing negative user reviews out of spite. At the time, one of the particular objects of ire was Mass Effect 3. The user rating has trended upwards from 3.7 to today’s 5.4, but there remains 2518 positive vs 2372 negative reviews. And the vast, vast majority of the latter straight-up include passages such as the following:

I would have given this [Mass Effect 3] just a five, as it’s just that, an average game. However, since it’s clear that Bioware bribed journalists and reviewers to give their game a good review, I decided to counter the inflated reviewer scores and give this game a zero.

Now in the waning days of 2015, I am here to say that the practice is, unfortunately, alive and well.

One of the more topical targets is Fallout 4, which also sits at 5.4, primarily due to “reviews” like this:

Overrated Bethesda is back at it again, and they created another piece of garbage idiots to j!zz over. For starters this isn’t a 0/10, it’s more of a 4/10 but I’m trying to even the score because the fanboys are giving the game a 10/10 without explaining anything.

The above opening continues with some actual criticism of game mechanics and such, which puts it in a shockingly vanishing minority of these sort of reviews. Many are just like this:

Slacktivism at it's finest.

Slacktivism at it’s finest.

It is not entirely clear how many of these people even played the game.

Fallout 4 is not, of course, the only high-profile victim. Even media darlings like GTA 5 are not immune:

Useful.

Useful.

Back in June, I had to scroll through thirty-eight (38!) negative Steam reviews to find even one that contained useful information about the actual game. The rest were simply outrage over one of the Steam sales in which Rockstar apparently increased the price ahead of the sale, via adding in-game currency as the only available bundle, thereby possibly disabling Steam refunds. Which is certainly an entirely valid concern by itself, but not one that really has anything to do with reviewing the game.

The first time I brought this up, I was concerned about what possible effects these user review bombings might have on the direction of developer game design. Now? I’m much more concerned about how devalued this practice has rendered user reviews and, by extension, all our opinions. Perhaps developers have never been overtly concerned with user reviews, so review bombing doesn’t matter. But they mattered a bit for me, when determining if a game might be worth playing. And now that resource is gone, to be replaced with the outrage of the day.

This is Why People Pirate Things

You might have read that I picked up Grand Theft Auto 5. You might also have heard that “Rockstar Social Club” is Rockstar’s laughably bad, Origin-esque attempt at creating a platform for their, like, two games or whatever. Why not just use Steam (which they are also on)? Probably because they must be digging through the couch cushions for quarters, given how they already cut corners on their goddamn server technology.

Case in point:

Party like it's 1999.

Party like it’s 1999.

I knew the download was big (60gb), so I started it overnight. I woke up to that. 230 KBs? You’re telling me I have to leave my computer on for three days straight to finish a download? My Steam games download at 1.2 MBs on average. It’d be one thing if I were trying to download from a small outfit or whatever, but this shit is a clown show. “It’s after Black Friday and everyone is downloading at the same time, overloading the servers.” You know who doesn’t have this problem? Steam. Blizzard (minus Diablo 3 launch). Pirate Bay. Any semi-intelligent network engineer who can plan ahead.

I mean, seriously, after seeing that speed I started researching to see if I could just download a pirated copy and sign in with a legit account at the end. That was when I found this Youtube video talking about a program called Ultrasurf. Downloaded, launched it, and picked my jaw up off the floor:

GTA5_Download2

The one “quirk” with this “solution” is that Ultrasurf cycles through various proxy servers at certain intervals, which technically interrupts the download. For the most part, the GTA 5 launcher will pause and then resume the download no problem. After 5-10 cycles of this though, it will stop the download entirely, forcing you to press Retry to get it moving again. I’m not in a particular mood to babysit this download for eight real-time hours, so I had to look for another solution.

Enter Advanced Mouse Auto Clicker 4.0:

Embrace the Dark Side.

Embrace the Dark Side.

Just so we’re clear, I had to download a proxy server program that can supposedly defeat the Great Firewall of China, then set up an auto-mouse clicker program that checks to see if the Pause button changes into the Retry button. Just to fucking download my legitimate copy of GTA 5. I mean, sure, I could have bought it from Steam and paid an extra $9 to get a stable download. Or I could have paid nothing and got a stable download from Pirate Bay.

HMM. I wonder what I might be more inclined to do next time?

Rant over.

The Sorta Haul

Is it a haul if it’s only three things?

  • GTA5 w/ 500k online cash = $26.99
  • FFXIII + FFXIII-2 = $9.17 (@NewEgg)
  • Motorola Moto G 2nd Gen smartphone = $99 (@Amazon)

I’m punting on the $19.99 Dying Light because I know that there is a substantial DLC coming early next year (so substantial they’re raising the Season Pass price), which means I should either be buying the game + Season Pass now, or waiting for the GOTY edition to include all the DLC at some indeterminate future time. And even if I did the former, it means not playing the game right away, as I’d want a smoother segue into the DLC rather than an awkward, months-long gap.

Also punted on Far Cry 4, mostly because I’m miffed that the $15 deal was apparently a pricing error. The “gold” edition is still around for $22.50, but nothing I have read really indicates that the DLC is worth $7.50.

Actually, everything seems pretty silly having just purchased GTA 5. Not only from a game-time perspective, but the 60gb installation is forcing me to look at all the other games I currently have installed on my SSD but never booted up once. Shit, I technically have both FF14 and Elder Scrolls Online installed. Or I could delete Wasteland 2 and Total War: Shogun 2, and maybe actually get around to finishing Pillars of Eternity; that adds up to around 60gb. Hmm.

As far as the smartphone goes, that was strategic impulse buy. I was debating making any decision for a while, and had basically came to the conclusion that I could wait it out. Then my parents were late to Thanksgiving dinner because they got lost due to their TomTom GPS not having been updated in 10 years. It seems rather absurd that in 2015 you have to pay $50 for map updates when I could pull up detailed satellite images (and Street View!) like a goddamn NSA agent from any smartphone. Indeed, they only purchased flip-phones about two years ago, and never set up texting either.

So… yeah. The idea with the Moto G is that I’ll test it out, see if I like it compared to the Nexus 4, then gift whatever one I don’t like to them. Worst-case scenario: I bought them a $99 smartphone for Christmas. Or, I suppose, they get a Nexus 4 that randomly shuts off every few weeks. I’m not even convinced their phone plan would get that much more expensive.

Game Collector

I think I just need to admit it: I no longer play games, I collect them.

There is no other explanation for what just transpired. Which was me buying the Humble Capcom Bundle, that included Resident Evil 4 & 5, Devil May Cry, and Remember Me. In my defense, it was the inclusion of Resident Evil 4 – which I have heard is one of the best in the series – and Remember Me that pushed me over the edge. In my prosecution, this was a few days after getting the Humble Weekly Bundle Valentine’s Day 2. For the pants. Or for Hatoful Boyfriend for $1. Your choice.

Indeed, the entire reason I am writing this post is as a distraction to not also pick up Grand Theft Auto 5 for ~$32. Granted, GTA 5 is on my 970 hit-list along with Far Cry 4, and this is an all-time low price. At the same time… I’m at 45 hours in Witcher 3 and I doubt even halfway done with the game. Then there’s Pillars of Eternity still languishing in my Steam account. And, you know, the literal library of other games that were purchased presumably for a reason. Don’t get me started on all those PS3 games on my shelf either.

This shit is the first-worldest of problems. And it has to get sorted out in the next three weeks because Fallout 4.

I don’t even know anymore.

October Surprise(s)

October is shaping up to be a busy month.

Hearthstone is going to have its first (and only) beta wipe coinciding with a large rebalancing patch. And apparently more opt-in beta waves. Which is an important distinction from open beta, which this will not be. The good news is that there isn’t going to be any further beta wipes, so progression for those that are in the beta is going to be permanent thereafter.

The “rebalancing” is of most interest to me (of course), as Blizzard is going to have a thread a needle made out of graphene. I have talked about some of the imbalanced cards before, but the most salient point is that the devs do not have the same access to the balance “knobs” as they do in, say, WoW or Diablo 3. Hypothetically, making the Pint-Sized Summoner go from costing 2 mana to 3, for example, is an enormous balancing change that has wide-ranging repercussions on how (and if) the card is played at all. I would personally change the Pint-Sized Summoner to be a 1/1 or maybe a 1/2; the former makes it a dead draw against Mage and Rogue decks, but honestly, I don’t feel like an Arena game should revolve around whether you have a turn-2 removal spell in your opening hand. Maybe they could change it to be only 1 mana off the cost of creatures and leave the rest alone?

Speaking of digital card games, Hex will be beginning its Alpha testing on October 8th. To be honest, even with the weekly Kickstarter updates, I sorta forgot about the fact that I pledged $85 (!) to this game nearly 5 months ago. And even more honestly, Hearthstone kinda sucked all the oxygen out of the CCG room. For however lame its been to go 0-3 or my most recent 3-3 record in the Hearthstone Arena, at least I could choose to pay $0 for those games; going back to $6 drafts will be rough. The Alpha test will give everyone 4 copies of all PvP cards, so at least I won’t have to decide whether to “waste” all my Kickstarter packs before the game comes out (which hopefully dilute the skill pool a bit).

Although I have not been playing it regularly, PlanetSide 2 is due for a huge optimization patch on October 23rd. I’m not actually all that excited about it, even though the devs are supposedly touting a ~30% gain in frame rates across all types of computer configurations. Why? First of all, this optimization work is at the expense of everything else. Changes to the Infiltrator class? Pushed back. New air weapons pushed back. New continent pushed back. And so on.

A fire was clearly lit under someone’s ass about poor performance, but with players leaving in droves, I’m not sure that chasing after the ones that left over computer issues is a winning proposition. And that leads me to reason number two: it’s all really a cynical ploy to get the game ready for the PlayStation 4. “Cynical” as in they only bothered caring about performance nearly a year after release, and only when the opportunity to cash in on a new market presented itself.

I’m a little bitter, if you can’t tell. Every time I get the bug to go play some more of PS2, I hit Instant Action and am sent to some deserted facility that changed hands an hour ago. And when I do happen to find some action, it inevitably dies down quickly and I’m left staring at the 5, 10, 15 minute capture timer. “Open world” and “emergent gameplay” is nice and all, but when I end up playing longer on my phone waiting for something to happen in the main game, something has gone horribly wrong. Ain’t nobody got time to wait around empty bases.

Luckily for me, and rather unfortunately for Sony, Battlefield 4 comes out October 29th.

I am not really all that certain I will be purchasing it on Day 1, although I had a blast playing Battlefield 3 for the six or so months that I was doing so. Looking back in my archives, I didn’t really talk about my experiences with it all that much. Basically, I see it as PlanetSide 2 without the waiting. While BF3 is technically more similar to Call of Duty than a sort of “open world” like PS2, the reality is that all PS2 brings to the table (or my table, anyway) is the ability to hop into a vehicle or airplane without having to wait/steal it from someone else. Every single other thing is better in BF3 – the shooting, the graphics, the action, the tactics, the depth. Again, technically, PS2 can have deeper strategy via Outfits and the like, but to the average player in the average game session, BF3 can’t be beat.

I haven’t really been following the Battlefield 4 news all that closely, but I find it interesting that the new game modes are being heavily skewed towards Call of Duty. Not that CoD invented any of them, of course, but I am more referring to that sort of play-style. Domination, Defuse, Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch, and Rush are all CoDish to me. Conquest is still there in all its glory though, and Obliteration sounds somewhat interesting with its hot potato gameplay. But sometimes I just feel like shooting people in the face, you know? So that’s probably okay. Plus, technically every game mode will be available in all 10 maps, so it is not as though you’re stuck in the same handful of maps for every Conquest game.

Also coming in October: Terraria‘s 1.2 Patch, Don’t Starve‘s final two content patches (October 1st and presumably the final one 3 weeks later), and I guess GTA Online.

Regarding the latter, I am, of course, holding out for the PC release.