This week's highs and lows in PC gaming

Rust faces

The Lows

Angus Morrison: Grumble in the jungle
Please tell me: in a game about hitting stuff with rocks to survive, how you could work up the energy to get annoyed about whether the great big character-generating algorithm in the sky has labelled you a man or a woman?

I’m talking about Rust, which now slaps you with gender, race and other physical attributes based upon your permanent Steam ID. This, to some, is not an improvement over a world populated exclusively by bald white man (albeit with dongs of varying size). Complaints about skintone came mainly from Russia. Complaints about being female came mainly from men. Women, who had to play as men until now, largely got on with it.

It’s exhausting. It’s like moaning that you had to play as a barely identifiable grey sprite in Pokémon. The fact that Facepunch founder Garry Newman had to pen a column in the Guardian in response is a sorry indictment of the amount of time some people have on their hands to be cross about these things. If I could find the hours in the day to get mad at an emotionless algorithm I would be a happy man indeed.

Chris Thursten: Oversalt
I've been splitting my competitive gaming time between Street Fighter V, Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm, and the Overwatch beta. Salt manifests differently in each of these games. I'm used to it in Dota 2—expect it, even. In Heroes of the Storm, it's either really pronounced or completely absent: the game has a solid non-verbal communication system and a pretty well-established playbook, and those two things taken in combination mean that everybody is either happily on the same page or completely at odds to one another.

You don't really see it in Street Fighter V, although you can sense it. Even so, it's mostly your own salt that you're dealing with: I've come to the conclusion that both Ryu and Ken are awful, unlikeable assholes for whom lonely mountaintop karate was the only career option left due to how smug and friendless they are.

But I digress. Overwatch is the outlier, here, because at an earlier stage in the beta the community was extremely friendly (or extremely quiet) and now, with the introduction of ranked play, it's starting to feel a little saline. Ragequits, flaming over hero choices, 'omg this team'-type temper tantrums, the lot. This is a complex team game, so some of this is expected, but I'd really hoped that Overwatch was going to be the exception to the rule. I plan to play this game for a while, and I really don't want to look back on the beta as the magical time before ranked was full of dickheads. At the moment, it feels like there's a risk of that.

Tom Marks: Mo’ bile, mo’ problems
Hearthstone being on mobile causes a whole ton of problems for the game design-wise, and it’s really starting to bug me. This isn’t some sudden revelation (it’s been on mobile for exactly one year from tomorrow) but it has started to annoy me more with yesterday’s patch. A new mage hero was added to the game, with all proceeds going to the World Wildlife Fund, purchasable only on iOS. That’s a really cool thing for Blizzard to do, and I actually don’t mind that the purely cosmetic item is only available if you buy him through an Apple device.

What I do mind is the shitstorm this patch caused. People rushed to update their iOS version of the game to buy the new hero, then returned to their PC’s to play only to discover they were locked out. Because pushing patches through the Apple store is apparently an annoying process, the patch hadn’t yet gone out to Hearthstone’s other clients, and if you’ve logged in on the latest patch, it doesn’t let you go back to a device that’s still on an older one. While that’s a minor inconvenience for most, it ended up delaying a couple tournaments (and even causing one top pro to get disqualified) and just never would have happened if Hearthstone was still on a unified platform.

The flip-side of all this is that if Hearthstone wasn’t released for Android and iOS, it’s very likely it would be a much smaller game with not nearly as many players—and possibly wouldn’t have the same level of development power as it does now. The more money Hearthstone makes, the more money Blizzard can spend developing new things for it. But it makes me sad to think we’ll never see things like a 2v2 mode because it simply couldn’t work on a phone screen. Hearthstone has a lot of potential that can never be tapped because it always has to be designed with its most restrictive platform in mind. Small patch issues like this will quickly be forgotten, but that limitation could have severe effects on the long-term health of the game.

Samuel Roberts: Final Non-Fantasy
It’s time for your weekly dose of sadness that open-world epic Final Fantasy XV still isn’t scheduled for PC. This time, it’s via some twice-translated quotes that were doing the rounds this week about how if FFXV made it to PC, it could incorporate some features that were cut due to the limitations of some consoles (based on my time with the recent demo on PS4, the framerate was still struggling a little).

I take all of this with a big pinch of salt. Square Enix may be considering a PC version of XV, but it’s entirely hypothetical—and re-adding features to an already massive, long-delayed game would only prolong the time it takes to bring the game to PC, if indeed that’s what Square ends up doing with XV. I’d rather take the same game, but just released a few months after the console versions.

Fallout 4 PC Gamer Slide

Chris Livingston: Falldown 4
I wasn't terribly impressed with Fallout 4's latest DLC offering, Wasteland Workshop, which is priced at $5 and somehow doesn't seem worth even that. I'm happy that players on console get some extras, since they can't enjoy mods and tweaks the way we do on PC, but it's hard not to wish there were a few more goodies for PC gamers in this release (or wish it was just a free update). There are some nice new items for settlements, but plenty of free mods do that already, and while setting up arena battles for monsters is a nice idea, I just don't find them that much fun to actually watch. Hopefully the next offering will be a bit better.

Alex Campbell: Senate Intelligence Committee crypto fail
After a draft of the bill appeared online last week, Senate Intelligence Committee co-chairs Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) publicly announced the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016. The bill would require that providers of encryption services or technology be able to decrypt encrypted data when issued a court order. It’s pretty obvious that the bill was written in response to the recent fight between Apple and the FBI over an encrypted iPhone that was used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino massacre.

Feinstein’s online announcement contains a link to the ten-page discussion draft of the bill. If you actually read the draft, it becomes clear that the lawmakers who wrote the bill aren’t fully aware of how encryption works.

In Section 3, subsection (a), paragraph (2) of the document, the bill would require providers of encryption to be able to make encrypted data unencrypted when ordered: “A covered entity that receives a court order referred to in paragraph (1)(A) shall be responsible only for providing data in an intelligible format if such data has been made unintelligible by a feature, product, or service owned, controlled, created, or provided, by the covered entity or by a third party on behalf of the covered entity.”

That equates to the requirement of some technology (like a backdoor, key escrow, or a key that doesn’t expire) that weakens encryption to the point that it would only offer a false sense of security. Furthermore, it destroys the notion of forward secrecy in the rule of law.

What’s silly is that Section 3, subsection (b) (on “design limitations”) states: “Nothing in this Act may be construed to authorize any government officer to require or prohibit any specific design or operating system to be adopted by any covered entity.” And that’s bullshit. Paragraph (1)(A) says that a provider must be able to deliver encrypted data in the clear, which requires the design of such a system that would allow it.

The folly of this bill is the assumption that designing encryption that can be overcome by court order, but that will somehow remain secure in the face of the legions of attackers (foreign governments, terrorists, criminals, and bad actors) on the internet who constantly look for any small chinks in the armor of banks, infrastructure, service providers, and yes, even our own government.

A backdoor by any other name is just as dangerous, and this law looks to compel companies and other “covered entities” to create them. There’s no doubt that a balance has to be struck between the needs of law enforcement and the need for data privacy and security, but this bill does not address the issue with any amount of grace or understanding of its consequences.


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