Castle Draculo

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The Dangers of Cloud Gaming


I suppose it's a combination of video compression technology, good ideas, and fast internet that led to it. Cloud gaming is an insanely cool idea, but one that I think needs to be developed and used carefully so it doesn't ultimately hurt the players. Services like Xbox Game Pass and PS Now are relatively cheap and convenient. Virtual machine services like Shadow and Paperspace are even better, letting you just use a computer through the Internet as if it were your own. I wouldn't use them for anything but playing games due to security concerns and the fact that it's not literally a computer that you can own, but it's an extremely convenient and useful thing to have regardless.

I will say, however, that I believe Google Stadia (just like any other Google service, really) represents the potential destruction of video games as we know them. I'm dead serious about this, even if it seems unlikely given that Stadia's launch and continued run have been pretty terrible.

I'm saying this because Stadia is the only service I know of that has had, or tried to have, exclusive games. Think about that for a moment. Game streaming, meaning technically nothing but a video signal is reaching your computer, in which certain games are exclusive to the streaming platform. So what happens to the game once the service goes down? What if the contract between the platform and the publisher ends? If Stadia no longer has the rights to host the game, it's just taken off the platform. What if you paid for it already? What if you have saved progress, or what if you just want to revisit it?

It doesn't matter. It's not really your game, so Google can do anything it wants with it. You might look through your library on Stadia to see one less game in the list, with the only trace of its existence being someone's VOD on Twitch or YouTube.

The notion of streaming-exclusive titles is awful for this reason. I would absolutely never trust my games to be safe with Google, given their track record with countless other services they've killed. My fear is that other companies will start to pick up on this idea and try it for themselves, forming the video game equivalent to the current disgusting situation with all the disparate streaming services like HBO Go, Hulu, Netflix, CBS All Access, and probably half a dozen others I don't even know about.

The solution, like with any kind of software, of course, is making all games free and open source. Understandably, nearly any game company would find the idea to be completely ludicrous. The next best thing would be to make all games DRM-free, but then anyone can just upload copies for anyone else to download without any penalties.

For what feels like the past two decades, nearly every medium to large game developer or publisher has been in an utterly rabid and psychotic downward anti-piracy spiral, grafting increasingly invasive and user-disrespecting anti-cheat and DRM programs into their games that in 100% of cases only slow the inevitable, in most instances only by hours. The scary thing is that they might not have to do any of that anymore, the reason being that games on streaming services cannot be cheated in. If you're using Stadia, how are you going to load a trainer and cheat while playing in a multiplayer match? How are you going to pirate a game in an encrypted video stream?

There's no full access to a virtual machine, no way to run any other software, no way to sideload anything at all onto the service. It's like pay-per-view, but you can't steal your neighbor's cable or insert a hacked card into your satellite box to get free content. Streaming is the ultimate anti-cheat, the only anti-piracy that will ever be needed again.

And that's bad because what? Because you no longer own a copy of the game you're buying*. Because the game you purchased will never be archived. It'll exist for a number of years, and then it'll disappear in a puff of candy-colored bits forever. All for the sake of control, all at your expense.

So what can you do about it? I would say purchase or support free and open source games first, DRM-free second. Don't use streaming services with exclusive titles. If your streaming service starts to advertise streaming-only games, cancel your subscription. If you want to stream games, rent a VM, or better yet, build a gaming PC from used or older parts and install Windows to it, connect it to your network, and use Moonlight. Cloud gaming is an overall very good thing, but we have to use it in a player-respecting way.

In my next post, I'll talk about some really cool game streaming applications and services and some potential FOSS solutions and ideals.

*I understand that videogames have technically been licensed for play rather than owned for a very long time. But even if a game is said to be licensed, if you own a cartridge or disc and the console doesn't have CD keys or other DRM, you effectively own game and can sell or use it in any way you want.

Thu, 28 Jan 2021 18:28:49 -0800

Asynchronous Gaming


This isn't something I've done; I haven't been able to try it. I don't know if anyone is willing to go through the trouble of playing games in such a slow, involved way when normal multiplayer games are available. But every so often, I get an idea in my head that I at least need to write out, so here it is.

Asynchronous gaming, as far as my knowledge goes, goes back to correspondence chess nearly a millennium ago. Special postcards have been made just for the purpose of playing chess over mail, with games lasting years at a time. I don't think I would want to go that far outside of some very special circumstance. I can't see myself playing the same game for years, taking months to come up with a countermove.

That said, the same idea can be applied to email. You can play games by sending moves in the form of files, which opens up certain possibilities that I found somewhat compelling. Board games, for example, can be played by recording moves in VASSAL and sending the resulting file to the next player. There are certain turn-based computer games that could probably be played like this too, like Civilization. I think there's actually a play-by-email option in the newer Civ games.

I also think it might be fun to play games simultaneously rather than in a multiplayer fashion. Single player games can be played in a sort of book club style, where everyone shares scores, secrets, strategies, and discusses the game for a week or two, moving on thereafter to a new one. I guess this isn't really a new concept. When any new game comes out, people naturally flock to forums and discuss it as they play. But maybe doing it more deliberately with older games would be cool.

But there's one idea that that I think is worth trying out. Years ago, I remember seeing options in emulators to record movies not to video files, but as series of inputs to be played back by the emulator itself. Retroarch still has this option, which you can access by pressing 'o' while playing a game. You can only record from within the program, however; you need use the command-line the to play the file back. The recordings are known as input movies, and they're saved as .srm.bsv in the Saves directory.

The command is

retroarch --bsvplay [path/to/bsvfile] --libretro
	[path/to/core] [romfile]
. Once you start playing the file back, the game will play itself in just the way it was recorded. I think you can even save and load savestates while recording, and it plays back just fine. Take the recording and send it to the next player. When the playback is finished, the game simply continues to run, allowing the viewer to keep playing, recording gameplay and sending the recording back again.

Why would you want to do this? I'm not too sure, honestly. Maybe you have a pen pal who isn't awake at the same time as you are, but you want to play games one way or another. Maybe you want a little something to do during a break on busy days. Maybe you can have multiple games going with other people in a turn-based game club or something.

Anyway, this is something I've had in the back of my mind for quite a while now. If anyone else wants to try it, it would be cool to hear about the results.

Wed, 14 Oct 2020 21:38:07 -0700

Beginning the Blog Dump


Welcome back to Draculo's Castle!! If you're reading this, that means that this site has gotten some attention for the first time in many months. Frequent updates are the lifeblood of any website, so I've decided to reinvigorate what was originally my one shot at creating a little space for myself on the web by turning it into a real brain dump.

In practice, this site was never meant to be much more than a silly front for my writings. This is where most of them will go, with a few of the more lengthy showcases going into the Projects section. Should things ever become more popular due to my streams (whenever they return) or any other public efforts I make, I'll add some donation links for those who want to tip me in support of my efforts. You'll also find an RSS link in some corner somewhere, probably spinning around or otherwise animated. Be sure to subscribe if you want to get all the cool updates!!

I'll be back soon with more!!

Sat, 15 Feb 2020 16:14:26 -0800