Category Archives: rants

EA penalises its existing customers; nobody cares

To follow up from my last babblings on the scourge of expansion packs and unfair advantages, EA/DICE has really put the cat amongst the pigeons with the release of BF3 Premium.

I bought BF3 premium because I view £40 for 5 expansion packs as a reasonable price (even if I already own Back to Karkand and don’t receive a discount or extra copy, ala Steam).  However, read about the other features and you’ll notice the following blurb,

Queue Priority

Get priority when queuing for your favorite game server. Queue priority lets you get quicker into the game (VIPs will still go first).

Read this and think about what it actually means.  You, the existing, non-premium customer, are being actively penalised through no fault of your own.

A mere 7 months ago, you spent £30 to £40 of your hard-earned money, but now you’re a second class citizen because you’re not willing to spend even more.  This is not a case of players with the base game being unable to utilise new content/maps/guns etc., it is a case of a whole tier of customers being treated with contempt, and for what?  To add an extra bullet point on the marketing blurb.

Why the hell should somebody who paid an extra £40 be given the nod ahead of you when joining a vanilla BF3 server?  Somebody on the BF3 forums used an excellent analogy – everybody knows it is rude to jump the queue (or to use an Americanism, to “cut in line”).

I often play on heavily contended servers with queues containing 3 or more players – without premium there’s every chance that several premium players could repeatedly knock me down the queue, potentially indefinitely.  “Your game is important to us, please hold the connection”.

I don’t often unleash a polemic about something, but this is what is technically known as, “total bullshit”. 

It sets a worrying precedent.  I hope EA/DICE reconsider this decision and show their customers more respect.

The Power of Boy Scouting & Git Stash

No, I’m not advocating beavering your way to several badges while wearing ill-fitting shorts, a neckerchief fastened with a woggle and risking a criminal record.  I’m talking about The Boy Scout Rule

The gist of it:

The Boy Scouts have a rule: "Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it." If you find a mess on the ground, you clean it up regardless of who might have made the mess. You intentionally improve the environment for the next group of campers. Actually the original form of that rule, written by Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, the father of scouting, was "Try and leave this world a little better than you found it."

What if we followed a similar rule in our code: "Always check a module in cleaner than when you checked it out." No matter who the original author was, what if we always made some effort, no matter how small, to improve the module. What would be the result?

Why it matters

As a programmer, sometimes it’s doing the little things that makes everybody’s collective life a little bit easier.  There’s a lot written about the practical benefits of doing this (namely: the ability to continually deliver without having to scrabble around in a dung-heap, weeping with shame) but, for my money, the most important thing is that it makes writing code more enjoyable on a day to day basis. 

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And another thing… BF3 Expansion packs

From the blurb on the Battlefield Blog (emphasis mine):

Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand is a huge expansion pack featuring four legendary Battlefield maps reimagined in the Frostbite 2 engine. Three new vehicles (the VSTOL fighter jet, Desert Buggy, and an APC), ten new weapons that you can bring back to the base game, and a new layer of persistence with our all-new Assignments make this a must-have for any Battlefield fan.

Keeping up with the Joneses

I’m very, very disappointed to see that, just as in BF2, weapons from expansion packs can be taken back into the main game.  The reason I find this to be a particularly bad decision is that it potentially puts vanilla* players at a disadvantage.  Some people will say, "guns are sideways upgrades", but really, it’s not true.  Unless each gun is identical, there’s no such thing as perfect balance in games.  All it takes is one overpowered weapon to make it a "keeping up with the Joneses" experience. 

If the content pack contains weapons that are very strong or particularly useful in common situations, players will have a choice: buy the expansion pack and have that option, or watch the playing field become skewed in favour of those who pay more.

Moreover, cynics among us (i.e. me) see this as the perfect vehicle for developers to drive revenue by deliberately adding must-have content to expansion packs.

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Since when was it in vogue…

… to make aspects of your game totally totally and utterly unbalanced when new players are in the mix?  I realise that people are OCD and like collecting shit, but has it really come to this?

I say this because I’ve finally had the time / hardware upgrade to allow me to play BF3, and what do I find?  Every bugger has guns and vehicle perks except me.  In some cases this is not so bad (e.g. I can do just fine without heavy barrel and minor options like that) but in other cases it renders the game unplayable for the noobs.  E.g. I get in a chopper and get shot down instantly, as I don’t have any countermeasures.  The best I can do is wait for a friend to come online who already has chopper perks so I can piggy back off them. 

Similarly, folk in jets have perks like air radar so they can find me easily.  Tankers get various perks like coax machine gun & smoke. 

In my opinion, everyone should start with the key class/vehicle items (defibs, flares etc.) and anything beyond that should be a sideways option.  By sideways, I mean that you already have a default set of perks/tech (such as smoke in the tank), and additional perks give you options for certain situations, not concrete advantages.  As far as I’m aware, there’s no disadvantage to having flares (as opposed to nothing). 

I don’t get it.  It’s just as … weird as starting with no defibs in BC2 – you couldn’t actually be a medic until you’d played for a while.  Games are naturally weighted in favour of experienced players, as they have map / weapon / game knowledge that new players lack.  By design, this compounds matters.

Gigabyte GeForce GTX 560 Ti OC–Avoid

This card, amongst various other factory overclocked GTX 560 Tis are causing problems for lots of people.  There are various 560 Ti cards that have the OC postfix which stands for “Overclocked”, but the Gigabyte one seems to be the biggest offender.

tl;dr summary:

Batches of these cards do not run at their advertised speeds with certain DX11 games.  The cards are either stretched beyond their comfort zones, or don’t get enough voltage.

If you have one of the unreliable cards and play the likes of Crysis 2 or Battlefield 3, your game will probably crash with a silent error, or a driver error.

Symptoms

I bought the Gigabyte card purely for the quiet fans, but I’ve found that it cannot and will not run Battlefield 3 without heavy tweaking.  Without the tweaks BF3 will, without fail, inside 3 (three) minutes:

  • (Silently) Crash to the desktop
  • Crash with a BF3 stopped working error
  • Crash with a Windows 7 driver failure (like this)

    bf3_crash

I initially raged against BF3 and called DICE all of the names under the sun as BF games have a history of being horrendously buggy on release (I still crash on loading up for the first time quite a lot so…), but this time around the amount of ranting on forums with BF3 and other DX11 games points to faulty hardware.

‘Fixing’ The Problem

Gigabyte users only.  Either RMA the card and ask for a different model or…

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Good support (for once)

… kinda.  I recently built a new computer and one of the parts I received was faulty.  The heatsink bracket had a missing thread, so it was impossible to screw the brackets together.

I emailed Novatech support, assuming I was in for the full, painful returns rigmarole, but was pleasantly surprised, but also befuddled at the hoop jumping I had to do. 

The good

I described the problem and told them exactly which bracket was unusable (the Zalman CNPS 10X Quiet comes with three mounting brackets for different motherboard types, and only the LGA 1155 bracket was faulty).  I only had to wait to speak on the phone for about 30 seconds of hold music the second time I phoned. 

Most importantly, I received a new bracket in the post the next day, and you can’t say that about most places.

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Valve’s response to being hacked

… was very, very disappointing.  I’m somewhat befuddled by the extremely low key response to the incident. 

Visibility

On logging into the steam client this evening, there is no mention of the breach.  I’ve seen a few people on the forum disagreeing with my assertion, so I can only assume their announcements strategy is bugged or flawed.  I have announcements turned off, but in this case, the announcement should be prominently displayed.  Being told you may have had your credit card / password details stolen is not something I ever want to opt-out of.

There is no mention on the steam website.

There is no mention on the steam forums except for a tiny security announcement across the top of each individual forum.  It is tucked away out of sight – it’s not splashed across the main index or anything of that ilk.  I was asked to change my password when I tried to log in; that is all.  No reason was provided as to why I had to do this, either before or after.

Finally, I didn’t receive an email about it. Emails were only sent to those registered on the forums. 

Breached

A company’s security is only as strong as its weakest link, and once inside a machine, it is hard to say where an attack started and ended — particularly when you take human factors into account.  Not to be mean to Gabe, but Gabe’s HL2 fan site forum account was hacked years ago and they found his password was “gaben”.  Nobody is perfect, even when they’re taking preventative measures.

Even if the machine is totally isolated from the rest of Valve’s network, all it takes is one sloppy admin to re-use a password elsewhere, and you have major problems. 

History tells us that companies often cling to information when something goes wrong, and that what is eventually admitted (either due to information control in the early moments of the investigation, ignorance or both) can be far worse than the initial assessment.  In a situation like this, I believe that the only safe thing to do is to warn all of your customers about the potential breach so that they can take preventative measures.

Furthermore, as it happens, I do have a forum account, but it was tied to an old email address.  Who’s to say that my steam account username & password don’t match my forum username & password?  It is a common thing to do (note: I didn’t, but it wasn’t far off as, like most people, I am forgetful and a touch disorganised).

In my opinion, there should be a general email going out to all steam customers via their login emails, plus unavoidable notifications on the steam client, website & forums.

So how did I find out?  http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/ was the messenger for me, not Valve itself.  Perhaps I am the exception, but I somehow doubt it.

British Telecom: SIM codes

tl;dr summary

If you’re with a broadband provider other than BT, ask for the SIM code when you’re moving your telephone line.

Long version

British Telecom have a habit of making things unusually difficult for their ‘cheap’ customers.  Not only do they try and foist every single one of their sodding services on you when you only wish to make an enquiry, but they’re (deliberately or otherwise) quite adept at being very inconveniencing when it suits them.

If you don’t have broadband with them and you’re moving home, you may need a SIM code (simultaneous provide code) to transfer your broadband smoothly.  Failure to obtain this code means you can’t kick off the broadband transfer in parallel, meaning a much longer time period of downtime.  After arranging my phone line transfer, I phoned up BeUnlimited (an ISP I can thoroughly recommend) and was informed that I need a SIM code to move the broadband quickly.

I then entered the catacombs that is BT’s cavernous automated phone system.  After much swearing and several dead-ends (note: companies should NEVER tell me to hang up when I reach a dead-end – there should always be a ‘to speak to a human being, press 1’ option), I managed to get through to someone.

Anyway, it turns out that various BT operators don’t seem to know what the SIM code is and will gropingly state things like, “no, you mean a MAC code; I can arrange some broadband with BT for your new home, Mr. Simpson”, as you patiently try to explain that you have placed an order, and you wish to retrieve the SIM code associated with it as your existing broadband provider is asking for it. 

After much gnashing of teeth and stalling, the operator revealed that I cannot get the SIM after an order has been placed – it is generated once and discarded; they don’t take a note of it or mention its existence.  I was told I had to cancel the order, wait 24 hours and then re-order, then explicitly ask for the code during the order process next time around (as they don’t provide it as standard).

What an absolute shambles.  Can you imagine them doing the same thing to me had I been with BT for all services?  Not on your life.

Stackoverflow is good… but

Stackoverflow is a phenomenally useful resource with a huge community.  You can post questions that span the full gamut of programming, from ponderous questions like, “what makes a great programmer?” through to the very specific, “why does this LINQ code fail to compile?”.  I’ve gleaned quite a lot of useful things from that site and occasionally resorted to posting questions, too.  However, it does lack something.

My concern with Stackoverflow and other sites of its ilk is that, very often, folk will simply focus on the how rather than the why.  I’ve read numerous questions in the past where the question author was trying to do something that was either debatable, counter-productive or downright wrong.  It’s often the case that any attempt to drill into the problem to suggest a different approach will be ignored in favour of the the “fastest on the draw” answer; indeed the site is set up to reward people who answer quickly.  Before you can even say, “why are you trying to do that?”, someone has answered with a line of code that does the trick.  The person asking the question sees that it compiles and runs and gives them what they want, clicks the “correct answer” button and goes on their way, unaware of any problems they may be storing up.

It’s reminiscent of bad requirements gathering: People often ask for a particular solution (“we need a web filtering application”) instead of stating their problem (“our network is too slow”).  Just because you want something doesn’t mean it’s actually what you need.

Normal service to resume shortly

I’ve had an .. interesting few months.

Realtime Worlds went into administration and then collapsed.  It was quite abrupt; abrupt to the point where even the more cynical amongst us (i.e. me) didn’t see it coming.  We’d done some cursory back-of-the-fag-packet calculations in the pub and reckoned there was roughly another year of funding in place; we’d also been assured in the past that MyWorld was not at the mercy of APB’s performance.

The gist of it is that APB launched to a critical mauling.  The company’s great hope haemorrhaged money; the sack-everybody card was duly played.  Understandably, the project that was not making revenue was first on the chopping block and MyWorld staff were placed on 30 days of consultation, with a further 30 days of notice of dismissal after that.  It was a long, drawn-out process that bore little fruit.  Needless to say, I was very, very … displeased.  More than two and a half years of service down the drain; some folk had much more to lose.

Long story short, we all got made redundant.  During this period I was rather pre-ocuppied and didn’t do much interesting programming at home (I spent most of the time in the pub moping and fostering a weird, giddy doom-mongering spirit), so the blog went a touch quiet.

A new company sprang up to continue development of MyWorld and I’m now a part of it.  This is now common knowledge, so there’s no great harm in saying so.  Hopefully we (we as in : the new company) will be blogging about our games/technology/company culture in future, but I’ll try to resume normal service of talking balls here, too.  I’ve recharged my batteries and I’m ready to go again :)

On another plus note, pretty much every single person I knew on MyWorld has now secured a new job.