Monday, August 30, 2010

Lotro Update: Onwards into Mirkwood

At level 63 Throg is about a third of the way through the soloable content of Mirkwood, nicely on track for the upcoming expansion to be released with free to play in 12 days time.

Although it is over a year old now Mirkwood is new to me and it is interesting to see how many of the subtle changes that previous expansions played around with have come together in Mirkwood as a unified whole. A players progress through through the Forest is driven by quests in a linear progression from hub to hub. As you finish the quest chains in one place you are directed to the next hub. Itemised quest rewards have been replaced entirely by collectable tokens. Tokens in various quantities can be exchanged for gear and consumables.

In considerable contrast to the radiant elven forest of Lothlorien, Mirkwood is a dark and dangerous place populated by Orcs and savage beasts. All of the quests I have come across so far have been solo-able but soloing still presents a challenge. Much of the action takes place in camps full of fast re-spawning mobs with random patrols. Individual mobs are no match for a player you need to keep your wits about you to avoid being overwhelmed by adds. This type of content can be soloed but there is ample incentive to group up in order to reduce the danger and speed up progress.

Throg being chased by a bevvy of winged ladies
Case in point is the Morrival infested castle of Dannenglor. This crumbling ruin teems with vicious harpy like morrivals. Most of them are paired off so you cannot take them one at a time and an abundance of fast re-spawning patrols means that you can easily find your self fighting three or more of these at a time. One of the most common types called the Morvul Slave is a hard hitting mob that does a tonne of shadow damage which is not mitigated by armour. To me these feel way overpowered for a normal level mob and Throg's first attempts at breaching the castle ended with him running for his life.


There are nine quest to be completed in there in several chains which require repeated entry so I persevered and eventually with much careful pulling and a lot of wall hugging finished them all. Picture of me tacking the final boss mob as proof:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mafia 2 Reviews are out ...

... and they are to say the least mixed. Top marks from Gameinformer and a miserable 4/10 from the usually reliable Eurogamer except that there is also a 10/10 from Eurogamer.fr. As I said, mixed. Most worrying is the fact that even reviewers who seem to understand that Mafia is not GTA have still scored the game badly.

Given my impossibly high expectations I am genuinely worried now. The one glimmer of hope comes from Bill Harris at Dubious Quality. Bill is not a professional reviewer but he is someone who's opinion I trust, particularly on games that don't appeal to everyone like Mount and Blade and Red Faction Guerilla. Bill has only played the game for a few hours though.

I have decided to hold off purchasing. Partly because I am as a rule frugal about buying games and I don't want to waste the price of a new release on a turkey but also because I don't want my dreams of a superb Mafia sequel to be shattered.  At very least I will wait for Bill Harris to rack up a few more playing hours.

Friday, August 27, 2010

GET ME OUT! Unsubscription blues.

About once a week I get a large email from a large concert ticket selling agency detailing their latest offers. I have grown almost immune to to the flood of Viagra emails that have thankfully reduced to a trickle now that spam filtering has matured but this particular email really bugs me.

The thing is I know this is a legitimate company because they are a well known a subsidiary of the largest ticket distributor in this part of the world. What annoys me to the point of frustration is that I am utterly unable to un-subscribe from their mailing list.

Each new missive starts with the line
"This is not unsolicited email - you have previously opted in to receive XXXXXX mailings"
I am pretty sure this is not true. I have never bought anything from this company and I have no interest in their particular line of business. I may have bought stuff from their parent company but I am pretty fastidious at finding and ticking the box that says "don't send me spam" and I never get mailings from the parent.

What really really annoys me though his that each weeks mailing ends with the line: "If you would like to be removed from our mailing list please click unsubscribe Please do not reply to this message, as this email was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming mail."

I have clicked that link each week and it does nothing. Figuring it could be an email incompatibility issue I have tried opening the email in a different email client and  clicking the link. Nothing happens. I have examined the source code of the email for a valid unsubscribe link and I can't find one.

I have searched their website for unsubscribe information and found nothing useful.  I have tried  logging in with my email address but they claim I have no account. I have emailed their customer support and I have received no response. I even considered creating a new account with my own email address in order to log in and try to unsubscribe after logging in but I pulled back for fear that I would end up with two unwanted emails per week instead of one.

I know I can just flag them as spam and let the spam filter weed them out but it really annoys me that I cannot unsubscribe from the mailing list of a legitimate company.

The City of Trees: a Lotro Update

I am back playing my dwarf Champion Throg with the general intention of soloing him up to the level cap in time for the expansion that comes with Free to Play on 10th September. After all this soloing It will be nice to be part of the buzz that comes from everyone doing new content for the first time together.

Throg had languished just outside Lothlorien since last October but thankfully he was very close to the rep level needed to proceed into the Elven forest itself. This unavoidable grind with only a limited number of rep quests to repeat  was one of the contributory factors to my quitting the game for almost a year.  Imagine my delight on getting in to discover that yet another rep grind is required to get into the city itself. Happily there are more than enough interesting quests in the forest to allow you to build up the required level of rep without repeating anything. Indeed Lothlorien Forest offers the choice between combat against an orc incursion in the North West corner or a whole bunch of tree hugging berry picking quests in the west. I spent a pleasant few days of varied questing acquiring the rep needed to get into the Caras Galadhon. When I eventually got into the City of Trees it turned out to be incredibly beautiful and also incredibly frustrating to navigate. The vast array of multilevelled platforms high in the trees is impossible to represent on a 2D map. Long circular stairways provide access to the treetops but if you search around you can find instant travel ladders which eliminate the long climb. The flet runner quest series which requires you to navigate around the treetops with very tight time limits is really challenging. There are plenty of other quests to pick up in there too all of which give a combination of Galadhrim rep and collectable token rewards (gold and silver leaf). With a high enough rep you can exchange these tokens for epic rewards so it provides a mechanism for  non raiders to get high quality gear. As far as I could tell this gear doe not have the radiance required for access to end game raids however so it is not a mechanism for bypassing the raid progression path.

A dwarf in the City of Trees. (Note that Throg has abandoned the Mohawk and overalls in favour of a more mature look)

I thought briefly about farming for some of this gear but Mirkwood beckons. I am sure that Lothlorien's level 60 gear will be outclassed by newer level 65 stuff and I am keen to to get through Mirkwood before Sep 10th.  I left Caras Galadhon behind me and took the boat across the Anduin to the much darker and bleaker forest of Mirkwood.

NB: I am pretty sure you can get to Mirkwood with out the detour into Caras Galahon. As long as you have earned acquaintance status with he Galadhrim you could walk through Lotlorien and catch the boat straight across the Anduin. I do think it is worth a few days diversion though to see the most beautiful city of the Elves in Middle Earth.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Personal Viewpoint on Buying Used Games

Today's hullabaloo is all about the ethics of buying used games. Cory Ledesma from THQ started it by declaring  in a CVG Interview that "when the game's bought used we get cheated". Tycho from Penny Arcade rowed in in support here and here. Hundred of commenters have come out on either side of this debate and in the blogosphere Syncaine has declared his agreement while Syp and others have come out strongly against.

I firmly believe that I should obtain a legitimate license for every piece of software I use but I don't feel particularly philanthropic towards game developers and I will try and get that license legally the lowest cost to myself. If a developer allows their game to be legally traded second hand, or if they allow it to be deeply discounted on Steam or if they choose to offer it in a "pay what you like" sale then I will happily take that license for the lowest cost possible and feel good about it. I will admit that my conscience genuinely prompts me to pay about €5 for "pay what you like" but I remain deeply suspicious of this type of give away and the way it obfuscates the purchasing decision.

One of the main arguments used against second hand sales is that none of the money goes to the developers of  games.   I think if you take a bigger view of the market you will see this is not true. Much of the money spent on second hand games goes back into the hands of gamers who will in turn use that money to buy more games. Where does Gamestop get those second hand games from? They get them from gamers who TRADE THEM IN TO BUY NEW RELEASES.  If you completely prevented second hand sales then there would be less money overall flowing into the games market and there would also be lower sales of new games.

Ultimately it boils down to economics 101 and the downwards sloping demand curve. You cannot beat the curve and force people at the lower price end of the curve to pay more.  If games were only every available at full price then sales would be a lot smaller than they are now.  The differentiation in the market with brand new shrink wrap game available on day of release at a high price, second hand slightly grubby games available a few weeks later at a  discount and budget versions available after while after that is actually very good for the market as a whole and helps to maximise the total revenue from the sale of games.

A game company arguing against second hand sales is being very short-sighted because killing second hand sales would reduce the overall amount of money being spend on games and would ultimately hurt their business. The only valid gripe with second hand sales is that perhaps the retailers are getting too big a slice of the overall revenue pie.




Ultimately this is a non argument though because it is entirely within the control of the game companies. They can intervene at the business level by renegotiating a higher cut from the retailers. They can intervene at the price level by bringing out discounted versions of a game to compete head on with second hand sales. They can intervene at game level by having phone home activation and limited installs. They can intervene at a legal level with restrictive licensing clauses. Would these move increase or decrease the game companies revenue. I don't know but if they are really concerned about second hand sales then they are plenty of things they can do about it rather than trying to pin a guilt trip on their customers.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

This made me chuckle

A poster to Slashdot talking about the first instance of a video ad in a printed magazine:
And which high-tech magazine is leading the charge? Wired? Popular Mechanics? 
Nope. "Successful Farming."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Want Bad

this

I never buy new releases but as soon as I can scrape the cash together I am going to break my self imposed rule for this game. Mind you I won't be buying it off Steam despite my ongoing love affair with digital download.  While Steam and its digital download rivals continue to provide unbelievable value on slightly older games they remain the worst place to buy new releases. Mafia 2 digital download from Steam: €49.99, Mafia 2 in a box from the first online retailer I tried: €34.99. Over 40% extra is too much to pay for the instant gratification of digital download.

I have said it before and I will say it again: We live in an era of game pricing madness.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

LOTRO, Painkiller and a Kick Ass Movie

I have spent quite a few hours soloing my Lotro champion Throg though Lothlorien. Lots of picking up flowers and singing to trees  as I try to build up enough rep with the elves to get into the city. I could bypass a lot of the rep grind by completing Vol 2 book 6 but that needs a group for some tough instances in Moria and that places is pretty deserted these days. I could ask some level capped kin mates to boost me through it but I don't like sponging off them when I am unlikely to ever be able to return the favour. I am hopeful that when F2P happens in a few weeks there will be a flood of new players and I will be able to get pick up groups.

For a competely different gaming experience I bought Painkiller Black edition for $6 in Good old Games sale. It is probably the pinnacle of old school mindless shooters with hundreds of enemies and non stop shooty carnage. Based on an hour or so of play I can vouch for its mindless ultra violenct goodness It lacks the humour of Serious Sam so I can's say if it will keep my attention for long but there are times when you need a bit of ultra-violent de stressing. Happy to report it runs just fine in Windows 7-64 bit, the GoG installer automatically selected Windows XP compatibility mode. I am using Creative Alchemy to enable eax sound effects but the game has a lot of other sound options so my guess is that non creative sound would work ok too.

I watched the movie Kick Ass with my wife last night. The title and the promos so don't do that movie justice. We both loved it but it was a really hard sell to get my wife to watch an apparently idiotic superhero movie. I would really love to watch this movie with my kids. I have an 11 year old daughter who is a similar age to the awesome heroine "Hit Girl". Sadly however the gratuitous violence would traumatise her and the glib sexual references would embarrass the hell out of her at this sensitive pre-teen age. Perhaps in a few years time.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

WoW account hacking and phishing - Some indirect evidence

Wilhem2451's made some intersting posts over at the Ancient Gaming Noob recently about WoW account hacking. The problem appears to be absolutely massive with Wilhelm's back of envelope calculation suggesting that up to a quarter of accounts may have been hacked. I naively assumed that all hacking was due to people falling for phising scams or being otherwise promiscuous with their passwords but a commenter on Wilhelm's blog opened my eyes when they pointed out that after a major web forum (to which I subscribe) was recently hacked a    lot of users subsequently had their WoW accounts hacked using the same usernames and passwords.  It appears that WoW is now on the the goto list for purchasers of illicit usernames and passwords so if you get hacked anywhere you can bet that your user details will be tried out on WoW next.

This was brought home to me recently when I got a WoW phishing email addressed to my runes of magic account. In an unusual for me  fit of security consciousness I set up a separate email alias for Runes of Magic and I have never used it anywhere other than to log into the game. The phishing attempt was crude but how the hell did these people get that email address?

I know we have long been warned to use separate usernames and passwords for every website but how many of us do?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Planet MMORPG turns sloooowly

Re-installed Lotro on Sunday. I don't really intend to start playing seriously but as the holder of a life time subscription I thought I may as well install it on the new computer.

I spend a couple of hours in game trying to remember how to play my level 43 loremaster.  After months of playing single player games it was a shock to remember how sloowly everything happens in an mmorpg. Picking up a quest, travelling to the quest location, finding the mobs, killing (all ten of) them, looting, travelling back handing in, selling stuff and re-organising loot and gear all take forever. Remind me why people do this again? Its the multi-player part isn't it? Trouble is the game is a lot quieter  than I remember it and not having a level capped toon more or less condemns me to playing solo. My kinmates are all doing end gamey stuff. I did check out the new skirmish system - a kind of instant "pick an instance" form of game play that you can play solo or in groups that offers an alternative form of advancement to questing. The tutorial was easy enough so I jumped into my first real skirmish with plenty of confidence. With my pet soldier and a helpful archer we had to hold off a bunch of ghosts who were assaulting our camp.  I was doing pretty well until the big bad boss arrives and kills my archer helper ending the skirmish and booting me out. Say what you want about Lotro but the solo gameplay is far from facerolling.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Grand Theft Auto - I tried to go straight, honest.

Enthused by the demo for Mafia 2 I decided to have a go at Grand Theft Auto IV a game I bought in a Steam Sale but never installed. I guess I was hoping to indulge in a bit of criminal role playing in a massive meticulously crafted open world game.


Things started out well. I am an Eastern European immigrant enticed  to the USA by my cousin's tales of instant riches. Needless to say my cousin turns out to be full of bullshit. He drives a clapped out Taxi cab and his irresponsible gambling has put him in debt to a seedy money lender. Blood being thicker than water I stick up for my cousin when the money lender sends some thugs around to extract the cash. I can hold my own in a fight but I didn't come to the States to descend into petty crime. It is clear that my cousin is a loser and I am going to have to make my own may in this melting pot of a city. About the only good thing to have happened to me so far is that I met a nice girl called Michelle. We went out bowling and I think she likes me. Perhaps we will see each other again.

So far so good. Playing GTA IV made me realise how much I enjoy the role play aspect of games like this. I really crave good immersion. Unfortunately things went downhill a bit soon after this. The first thing to really bug me was the thorny issue of transport. Even the earliest missions pretty much require that you have a car but as a new immigrant with $50 in his pocket I surely couldn't afford my own car. Rocko lets me drive his cab occasionally but a lot of the time I am left walking. Soon I realised that I am supposed to steal cars, which turns out to be laughably easy to do. That is a big problem right there. I am just off the boat. I am not a criminal yet why would I go around stealing cars?

It is too early for me to pass definitive judgement but at least the bit I have played so far has made me realise what I want from a game like this. I want to believe in my character and his story. I want immersion most of all. The original Mafia gave me that in a way that GTA III never did. I just hope that Mafia IV pulls it off in the same way.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mafia 2 Excitement Building.

Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven remains one of my favourite ever games. I totally lost myself in its beautiful recreation of a prohibition era city and excellent gangster movie story line. It was therefore with much trepidation that I downloaded the Mafia II trailer on Steam. Would my memories be cruelly betrayed?

The good news is that the trailer is excellent and has really whetted my appetite for the game. The post WWII era city is beautifully portrayed (although the demo only allows you a few minutes in which to explore it). The gritty mobsters are straight out of Hollywood and the bonus is that the movement and combat are very fluid and an the cover system is a great new improvement. The full game is due out in a couple of weeks. Providing they don't pull some weird drm swindle this might just be one of those rare occasions when I pay full price for a new release game.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Is this the best of times or the worst of times for PC gaming?

In his regular weekly bargain bucket slot on Rock Paper shotgun this week Lewie Proctor made a simple yet profoundly controversial statement:
You know, if you stop and think about it, PC gaming is in such a fantastic state at the moment.

The very first response in the comments thread:
I don’t know what it is you’re smoking, but please can I have some?

This begins a lively discussion with strong views being taken on both sides of the argument. Many of the respondents are genuinely depressed with the state of PC gaming at the moment when consoles seem to get all of the love from big developers and the only happening things in PC gaming are the five year old World of Warcraft and Facebook's utterly casual games. Those supporting the golden age statement point to the incredible value obtainable on the PC via digital downloads and the explosion of creativity from independents.

Having worked through my own bout of depression about the state of my pc gaming hobby I have come through the other side and tend towards the golden age view. The hobby has changed enormously in the past couple of years. Many things we once believed sacrosanct have been overturned. If you look at the platform with a year 2000 frame of mind it seems to be failing. If judge the health of PC gaming by the number of first person shooter releases that stretch your hardware to the limit then the platform is dying. If you put aside those expectations though you will realise that there is more stuff going on in PC gaming than ever before and and MMorpgs and Facebook games are only a small part of this wildly unpredictable story.

We live in interesting times.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

First blog post from my newly upgraded PC

Success!

The hardware part of the upgrade went surprisingly smoothly. A bit of footering around in the bios was required to get my ram set up correctly and hard disks recognised but nothing too scary.

Getting the software setup was not so easy. Windows 7 does not allow a direct upgrade from XP so I had to do a clean install and rebuild everything from scratch. That meant re-installing drivers followed by key programs followed by porting over my user data.

Unexpectedly porting over my personal data turned out to be the biggest headache. I thought I had this covered because I installed my old hard disk in the machine right next to the brand new windows 7 disk figuring to copy everything over at leisure. I had reckoned without NTFS security restrictions unfortunately which decided that I didn't own the old files and therefore wasn't authorised to look at them. Sure I can get around it with administrator privileges but that is incredibly tedious because I have to change to ownership of every file individually. I have thousands of personal files so that isn't going to happen.

I find it hard to believe that there is no Administrator mode over-ride that just lets you see everything without having to change permissions every time but there doesn't seem to be. A normal administrator account doesn't work even the secret hidden administrator account doesn't work and the tantalisingly named "God Mode" turns out to be not quite so powerful as you might imagine.

I did come up with a solution in the end though - I booted up Puppy Linux from a CD and it was not so fussy about permissions. I used Puppy to copy the files I wanted over to my new disk and it handily left them visible to everybody. Puppy is just a beautiful little operating system that runs entirely in Ram at lightning speed. If you have never tried it I recommend doing so just to see your PC in a completely different light. Sadly I have never found a use for these live CD operating systems other than as repair kits but this one is mighty purdy.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Grrrr..DRM....grrrr..activation limits

Before turning off my PC for the final time in its current incarnation I went through the installed software to make a list of the stuff I absolutely needed to re-install after the upgrade. I will be keeping the hard drive but I don't expect any of the programs to still work because they are installed under the old Windows XP operating system.

I wasn't going to consider games because I figured I would only re-install the games I actually wanted to play but then I remembered reading something somewhere about activation limits. Some games can only be installed a limited number of times and if I ever want to re-install I will have to use a new attempt unless I revoke the currently installed copy.

This is enormously tedious because there is no easy way of knowing what games use this scheme or not. With the help of Google I managed to successfully revoke the installation of Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Mass Effect but I was somewhat miffed to realise that I have probably lost my chance to revoke an install of Spore which I installed some time ago.

As a game collector with a large collection of titles that I hope to be able to install and play at leisure long into the future I find this particular form of DRM very annoying.

I am about to start a serious PC upgrade - I may be offline a while.

I am looking into a shipping carton that contains a shiny new motherboard, processor, ram and disk drive. Within the next few hours I will hopefully have completed a major upgrade of this my main gaming PC. Of course these things don't always go as planned so wish me luck.

I am also taking this opportunity to finally migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7. XP has served me well since 2002 and I remain genuinely fond of it. I think it stands out as the best operating system Microsoft has ever made but all good things come to an end and the time has come to move on is now. I managed to avoid Windos Vista entirely but I have been using 64 bit Windows 7 on my laptop for a few months without problems so I am hopeful it will serve me as well on my gaming rig.

Another novelty for me is that this will be the first time ever my main gaming rig has an Intel processor. I have been building and using AMD rigs for the last 15 years (from AMD 586 through to an Athlon 64X2) but I was tempted over to the dark side by Intel's I5-760. Intel appear to have a considerable technical lead over AMD at this point in time and the I5 range which is only a mid range processor for Intel offers comparable gaming performance to AMD's top end parts but with considerably lower power consumption. AMDs parts are probably still slightly cheaper especially when you take the motherboard into consideration but lower processor power consumption is a lovely thing to have with knock on impacts on cooling and power supply requirements.

Alien Breed, Alien Swarm, Alien wtf?

Last month team 17 released "Alien Breed Impact", a tasty looking top down co-op shooter where you and a buddy get to mow down never ending swarms of bug like aliens in futuristic space ship corridors. Looks pretty enjoyable and its on half price sale today for only €7.49 on Steam.

A bargain right? Well, yes except that last week Valve released "Alien Swarm" a tasty looking top down co-op shooter where you and a few buddies get to mow down never ending swarms of bug like aliens in futuristic space ship corridors. Valve's game is naturally also available on Steam only it is FREE.

Way to stab your business partners in the back Valve. Maybe there was a bit of choreography going on behind the scenes with Valve deliberately holding the release of Swarm back  a month to give Breed a chance but the impending release of the free game was signalled in advance so it must have hurt sales of Alien Breed. The discount on Alien Breed this week is probably an attempt to salvage something but no amount of discount can compete with free.

I did download Alien Swarm and it is pretty fun even though the top down shooting takes a little getting used to. The biggest gripe I have with the game is that apart from a one mission tutorial it is 4 player co-op only. That makes it great fun when you have the right four people but getting four friends to play a video game together is non-trivial for a middle aged gamer like myself. That puts me at the mercy of internet pick up groups which can be trying at times.

This could turn out to be the silver lining for Alien Breed as that game has a full single player campaign and only needs one other player for co-op. I am going to try the demo and if I like it Ill probably buy the game.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

How to run STEAM games offline

You can run Steam games in offline mode without an internet connection but it is not exactly obvious how to do so. It is also very easy to "break" offline mode and put steam into a limbo state that can only be fixed by going online again. Here are the steps I used to ensure that my Steam games remained playable in offline mode for the duration of a recent vacation without reliable internet access.

1. The most important thing is to prepare in advance and set up offline mode while you still have a good internet connection. If you simply try to run Steam without an internet connection it will hang for a long time. It may eventually offer you the choice of going to offline mode but don't count on it and don't count on your games being playable.

2. While you still have a good internet connection - log into Steam and check that all of the games in your library are fully up to date and ready to play. Any game that does not have a "ready to play" status will not work in offline mode.

3.  Go to the Steam menu (top left hand corner of screen) and select offline mode. You will be given the option of restarting Steam in offline mode. Say yes and test out that your games are playable.

4. Some games (most Valve games) will give you a warning that you are out of sync with the Steam Cloud. Ignore this and just select "Play the Game".

5. You are now good to go. I suggest shutting down the machine at this point and heading off to the great internetless unknown.

6. Steam and its games will continue to pester you about going online. Resist any urge to do this as you risk breaking offline mode and putting Steam into a locked up state  that can only be fixed by going online.

7. Do not try to run games that are not installed or not "ready to play"
 
8. Do not logout out of Steam or try to change to a different user while offline. This will put Steam into that limbo state that can only be fixed by going online. Even if you have multiple user accounts on the laptop do not allow another user to try to log into a different Steam account.

9. Do not try to use any online features of Steam such as Friends. This is obvious I know but a careless moment could  put Steam into the dreaded Limbo state.

10. When you get back to civilisation  you can use the Steam menu to restart online mode.

That's pretty much it. Enjoy your offline gaming.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Holiday Gaming on a Laptop

I brought the a Laptop on holiday primarily as support to my wife's fairly serious photography hobby (total quantity of digital imagery captured during one 10 day holiday: 19 Gb) and also as a means of accessing the internet whenever a signal could be found. Gaming was certainly not a priority but I did install a few games on the machine more as an experiment than anything else.

First decision was what games to bring. My Laptop is fairly new with a Core 2 duo processor, 8Gb ram and a discrete Nvidia 9300M  GS graphics card so it can handle fairly demanding games quite well on its 13 inch 1200x800 screen. I don't expect Crysis 2 to run on it but Left 4 Dead is very playable as is Half Life 2 and its sequels. A more severe restriction was my unwillingness to lug game dvd's around on holidays so only games that were fully playable from the hard drive without an internet connection could be considered. I have in the past resorted to no cd cracks for games I legally own but it never felt entirely safe so this time I decided to experiment with Steam and its elusive "offline" mode. Steams offline mode is not very user friendly but with a little bit of care it does the job, material for another blog post later I think. Anyway here are the games I installed:

Left 4 Dead
Half Life 2 Episode 1
Peggle Nights
Overlord
Torchlight
A Kingdom for Keflings (not a Steam game)
Rome Total War

 All the above games ran well on the laptop but not all were played. I did complete a chapter of Left 4 Dead in offline single player mode and spent a couple of hours playing Episode 1 but I really don't enjoy fps gaming on the laptop. I used a plug in USB mouse and external headphones to overcome the inadequacies of the touchpad and crappy laptop speaker but the whole thing felt very cramped. It is not just the small screen size, it is also the fact that the screen and keyboard are so close together forcing you into  cramped hunched position as you stare down at your left hand.  I actually think a plug in keyboard would solve a lot of the problems allowing you to space out your hands and the screen but who wants to pack a keyboard in their suitcase. A game-pad might be a more practical option.

The more casual games (Peggle and Keflings) actually worked much better  because they can be played without a keyboard. They can even be played using the touchpad giving the option of true lap top gaming with the computer on the lap.

I didn't try any mmorpg on the laptop but I would guess that the keyboard heavy nature of the controls would also make for uncomfortable gaming.

Conclusions: While a surprising amount of games can be played on the laptop I won't be throwing out my desktop gaming machine any time soon.  Being able to play a game and being able to play that game in comfort are two very different things and in this respect the desktop is definitely the way to go for more serious games. The situation is a bit more complicated with casual games that have simple controls. In these cases the ability to play while slouched on the couch or in bed is quite attractive.