Skyrim on PS3: Took an arrow to the knee

PS3 Skyrim

PS3 SkyrimFor the past few of months, there have been widespread reports of horrendous lag and framerate drops with the PS3 version of Skyrim. The lag gets gradually worse as the user continues to put in hours and their save file continues to grow. After about 60 hours and a save file over 6 megabytes in size, the game degenerates into an almost unplayable state. The game is said to perform infinitely better on PC and Xbox 360. Or so the story goes…

This week, Bethesda announced an upcoming patch to correct the problems. I’ve been playing Skyrim more than any married, full-time employed person should during the time that I’ve owned it, and just hit the landmark 60 hours the other night. Coincidentally, my save file is right about 11 MB now, well above the stated 6 MB size. I’ve experienced almost no glitches, and nothing to agree with the aforementioned issues.

If my memory serves me, I’ve experienced two game freezes and minimal framerate drops, and all of it has occurred while I was background downloading content from the PlayStation Store. Since running the game is I/O intensive on the HDD, as is downloading content from the store, this does not surprise me in the least. I’ve seen videos of the supposed problem, but I can’t help to think there’s a good explanation that doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of Bethesda.

My question is this: Is there really a problem, or are users complaining about nothing? I bring this up, not only because I have yet to experience any significant problems during my significant time spent in Skyrim, but also because Skyrim on PS3 runs noticeably smoother than Oblivion did on the Xbox 360. Even at the worst of times, Skyrim compares nicely to the previous Elder Scrolls title at its best.

I know, comparing Skyrim to a game released over 5 years ago isn’t fair, but it’s the best frame of reference that I have, and users were crying foul back then as well. Personally, I had more problems with Oblivion on the Xbox 360 than I did with Oblivion on PS3 (yes I did play through the entire game on both consoles), and I’ve yet to experience problems with Skyrim on PS3. Maybe my life experience has made me a skeptic, but I’m not buying it. At its best, Skyrim is an ambitious game on a grand scale. At its worst, it is a flawed game with an occasional glitch and framerate hiccup, but not unplayable by any means.

And now I open up the floodgates: Have you experienced problems with Skyrim on your PS3? Am I an idiot for insinuating that there is no issue? Let me know in the comments below.

How to get banned from the PlayStation Network in 30 days or less

PlayStation Network BAN
If you know what you're doing, it's not that hard to pull off.

I’ve written about the sorry state of customer service in the world today and PlayStation’s Customer Service Department is no different. In fact, Sony has assembled a highly talented team of individuals when it comes to bungling customer relations to the point of losing a loyal customer forever.

A loyal customer for 16 years that’s spent an unfathomable amount of money since the original PlayStation was released in 1995. A loyal customer that sold his Xbox 360 to buy a PS3 the week it came out.

This is how I described myself, before yesterday.

Yesterday was the day my PlayStation account was banned forever.

I’ve always wondered how one can possibly get their account banned. The PlayStation network is full of anti-Semitic, racist, sexist usernames, and none of these users seem to have any problems accessing the PSN so they can verbally abuse every person they ever meet online. Sure, there’s a system to report these types of individuals, but how often does Sony ever take action against them?

Being one of the lucky few who’s been banned, I’ve decided to compile a step-by-step guide of a sure-fire way to get banned from the PlayStation Network in 30 days or less. 

1. Store your credit card information on your PSN account.

In hind-sight, this was a stupid thing to do, especially after witnessing Sony’s highly talented team of network security specialists in action. However, this step is necessary for getting your account banned.

2. Wait for your PSN account to get hacked.

There’s not really much to do here except wait. But rest assured, Sony’s network engineers have all but guaranteed that it will happen sooner or later.

3. Allow the hacker to purchase $220 worth of content in 6 minutes.

The $220 will be charged to your credit card. I actually feel kind of lucky that $220 was all that was taken from me. I also feel lucky the hacker didn’t hijack my account by changing my password. Either way, the specific dollar amount doesn’t matter so much, but a larger amount will increase your chances of success.

The 30 days or less starts here.

4. Call PlayStation and report unauthorized use of your PSN account.

This step is fairly self-explanatory. You will get a lecture about fraud, and they will tell you to dispute the transaction with the issuer of your credit card. After being on hold for what felt like ages and finally getting to explain the situation, I was actually told “Sorry, I can’t help you.”

5. Dispute the transactions with the issuer of your credit card.

This was actually a surprisingly painless process. I spent 5 minutes on the phone with a representative from my bank, who asked me a series of questions about the disputed charges. About a week later, I had to sign an affidavit confirming my intent to dispute the charges, and I also received my new credit card.

6. Wait a few weeks for your credit card company to refuse payment.

The transactions should be removed from your account immediately, but you’ll find out in a few weeks if your dispute was successful or not. Make sure you didn’t fraudulently dispute legitimate charges, as you could end up in legal trouble.

7. Turn on your PS3, and be notified of your ban.

PSN Account Banned
Success!!!

8. Create a new PSN account, or buy an Xbox 360.

You will still be able to access your downloaded games as long as you don’t delete your banned account from the console. The only thing that will be lost is Trophies, so be prepared for your online ego to take a hit.

MLB.TV: It’s That Time of Year Again

Batter Up!

At about the same time every year, I find myself with too much time on my hands. The Vikings have finished another season without a Lombardi Trophy, the Timberwolves are hardly a basketball team, and the Wild fail to do The State of Hockey hockey proud. What is a Minnesota sports junkie living in Chicago supposed to do?

Thankfully, the start of baseball season is upon us. Teams have reported to Spring Training, and the first game of spring is this Sunday night (February 27). All across the country, sports fans like me live in hostile territory, transplanted from their home market with few options for keeping up with their favorite team.

Fortunately, one option is fantastic in every way.

MLB.TV

MLB.TV allows sports fans to stream any out-of-market game during the regular season over the internet. For an arguably reasonable price of $120, fans of America’s Pastime have the entire season at their fingertips, in their living rooms, at the airport, at work, or anywhere else you can imagine. The package comes with video broadcasts of every out-of-market televised game, as well as the radio broadcasts of every game for the times when watching the game is not an option.

This works quite well using the web-based player on a PC, but it truly dazzles when it comes to my favorite PS3 app (sorry, Netflix). On days where my home internet was running fast, I was able to stream Twins games in 720p. On the other days, the video quality could be degraded gracefully to match connection speed, keeping me from missing any of the action. Since living in Chicago would otherwise limit me to watching the Twins play the White Sox if the Cubs don’t have a game the same day, this subscription is a godsend.

Features

As for the user interface, it’s all fairly standard design. The video player has pause, rewind, slow motion, and fast forward controls, as you would expect. If you have a DVR, this won’t add much to your viewing pleasure. If you’re like me and stuck with obsolete DirecTV equipment, you’ll wonder how you ever watched a sporting event without it.

A couple of the more attractive features include the ability to switch between broadcasts for the current game. If the game is televised in each team’s home market, you can choose which feed to watch on the fly. Also, if watching A-Roid run up the score with his artificially enhanced muscles gets boring, you can easily pick a different game to watch, all without leaving the UI. Overall, it’s much more convenient than the less-developed PC interface.

Drawbacks

MLB.TV is not without its drawbacks, however. For one, the commercial breaks are incredibly boring, even by baseball’s standards. On the PS3 app, you just get a blue screen informing you that your game will resume shortly. On the PC, they play lame commercials later on in the season, and is about as exciting as a game of curling. Occasionally, the game fails to resume streaming after a commercial break, which the only fix is to exit the game screen and re-load it. Nothing horrible, but annoying nonetheless.

With the second season of MLB.TV on the PS3, I’m sure the app will be better than ever. If they can make the commercial breaks less boring and fix the occasional streaming glitch, Major League Baseball just may knock another one out of the park. If you’re a huge baseball fan and you didn’t check it out last year, make sure you don’t miss out on any of the action this year.

‘Til the Blinking Red Light of Death Do Us Part

PS3

I can still remember the launch of the Sony PlayStation 3. While the supply shortage was nowhere near that of the launch of the Wii or Xbox 360, it was still quite difficult to get your hands on one. All I knew is that I wanted a PS3. I wanted one badly enough to pay $600 for one, even though I already had an Xbox 360. I found my PS3 on the second weekend after the launch, and I never looked back over the next 37 months.

Then, suddenly, tragedy struck. I was playing Fallout: New Vegas when the game came chugging to a halt, I heard a loud beep-beep-beep noise, and the game shut off. Fallout has a reputation for being very buggy and having frequent freezes and crashes, so I didn’t think too much of it. I restarted my PS3 and began to play Fallout again. After killing a couple Powder Gangers, it happened again. So I tried restarting the PS3 one more time, and within 10 seconds, before I could even get the game booted up, it crashed yet again. It was the dreaded “Blinking Red Light of Death.”

I spent the next few hours trying all troubleshooting ideas I could find on the internet. Some people have made claims that entering the debug menu and restoring the file system will fix the problem. No luck. Others claimed that removing the hard drive and re-seating it in the HDD slot will fix it. Nothing. I’d also read that it could be from the fans being clogged with dust on the inside of the machine, and that I should run a “fan test”. Not even close.

All of the other suggestions, tutorials, and walkthroughs suggested taking the PS3 apart and re-soldering the GPU and Cell Processor to the motherboard. Keeping in mind that I didn’t have the tools necessary to take on this job, and the fact that I thought Electric Engineering 201 & 202 were hard in college, I decided not to go this route. I didn’t feel like spending 2 hours attempting a fix that I would likely screw up and make things worse.

This left me with two options: send my console to Sony and have them repair it for $150, or buy a new PS3 Slim for $300. On the one hand, I could save a little money going the repair route. On the other hand, I could get a smaller, brand new console for only twice the money. My dead 60GB console has PlayStation 2 backwards-compatibility, but I realized that I never use it. The PS2 games that I still have are sitting exactly where they were when I first moved to Chicago, so it was unlikely I’d play them anytime soon. Also, I didn’t want to take the risk of the repair lasting only a short time before the console broke again. In the end, I decided to buy a new console.

PS3 Slim
The PS3 Slim is a lot sexier than the original model...

Going the route of buying a new console was not without its hurdles, however. The first challenge was retaining my game saves and purchased PSN games on the new console. Sony provides a “Data Transfer Utility” for transferring all content, even protected content, from one console to a replacement console. The challenge was getting the data off of the old console that doesn’t work for longer than 10 seconds. I thought I’d give it a try since I had nothing to lose.

In order to perform the procedure, both consoles need to be connected to different inputs on the TV, so I hooked the new one up to HDMI, and the old one up to Composite Video. This is when I discovered that my broken PS3 still worked fine running at 480i through the AV Multi Out port. I can’t imagine anyone would be satisfied gaming on a PS3 in 480i with a 55” Samsung 1080p LCD television, so I did the logical thing and just took advantage of the old console running long enough to transfer my data to the new console.

After the entire ordeal was complete, an astonishing 24 hours later, my new PS3 Slim is functioning as if it was the same console. If the Blinking Red Light of Death ever happens to you, I have two pieces of advice: dig out your composite video cable, and be patient with the data transfer utility. The result will be worth it, and will lessen the sting of dropping $300 on the replacement console.

Detailed information about all of the troubleshooting steps I attempted, as well as the ones I chose not to attempt, can be found aplenty on Google and YouTube, so I won’t go into further details here.

How To: Stream Media From Your PC to Your PS3

While Sony’s Playstation 3 is viewed mainly as a video game console, it can also serve as a great streaming media center with a little extra software. Using the aptly named PS3 Media Server, it’s incredibly easy to serve up music and video straight to your PS3 from your computer.

The first step in getting streaming media to your PS3 is to download and install PS3 Media Server, which is available for Windows, OS X, and Linux. Once it’s installed, go ahead and open it.

Note for Windows Vista and Windows 7 users: You might have to run PS3 Media Server as an administrator for it to work properly. To do this, right click the shortcut and click on “Run as administrator”.

Once opened, you’ll be presented with a screen like the one below:

The next step is to show PS3 Media Server where your media resides on your local computer. Click on the ‘Navigation/Share Settings‘ tab at the top. This page has some settings you might want to change later, but what we’re interested in right now is at the bottom. Under ‘Shared Folders‘ click the plus button and navigate to the folder that contains the media you would like to stream. You can add as many folders as you like.

You’re now ready to stream your media to your PS3! Turn on your PS3 and make sure it is connected to your local network (for best reliability, it’s recommended that you connect to your network via Ethernet cable instead of through a wireless network, both on the PC you’re streaming from and your PS3).

Navigate to the desired media tab (Music or Video), and at the very bottom you should see your computer’s name.

Press X, and you’ll be presented with the folders you added earlier, with their content ready to be streamed.

Have you used any other software to stream media to your PS3 or other video game consoles? Let us know how it works in the comments below!

Review: Fat Princess

Have your cake and eat it too.

Developer: Titan Studios
Genre: Action
Release Date: July 30th, 2009
Number of Players: 1-32
ESRB Rating: T
Platform: PS3

Author’s Note: This review was written after the release of the first patch, using version 1.02 of the game. Since the connection issues from the original release have been almost completely resolved (for me at least), they won’t factor into my score.

Fat Princess is the first title from developer Titan Studios. I’ve heard it described as Team Fortress 2 in a medieval setting, and while that isn’t completely accurate, it does give a pretty good idea of how Fat Princess plays out. Two teams of sixteen players each (a mix of human players and bots) compete in a variety of different game modes, slinging spells and decapitating opponents along the way.

Players are able to choose from five different classes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Newly spawned characters start as a neutral class with low health and weak attacks. Even this base class has its uses, however, as it’s faster than all of the other classes. Class changes are made by putting on the class’ respective hat. Hats can be found either from hat machines in the player’s base or from fallen combatants strewn about the battlefield. The hat machines can each be upgraded once, providing an alternate version to the respective machine’s class.

review_fatprincess_1The Warrior is your stereotypical tank, having the most health and packing quite a punch. The Ranger has a moderate amount of health and the longest attack range of any class. Healing duties are handled by The Priest, whose presence can turn the tide in a battle. The Mage can unleash a devastating area of effect attack, and can also launch fireballs directly at enemies in a one-on-one situation. The final class rounding out the cast is The Worker. The Worker harvests the game’s two resources, wood and stone. Workers can then use these resources to upgrade hat machines, build structures such as ladders to aid in attack, and construct doors to keep out the enemy.

Players will find themselves competing in five different game types. ‘Rescue the Princess’ is the most popular mode, and probably the one you’ll be playing most often. Each team has the enemy’s princess held hostage, and the goal is to rescue your own princess while retaining possession of the enemy’s. Hold both for thirty seconds and you’ll win the match. While this may sound like a fairly standard Capture the Flag match, a couple of variations keep the formula fresh. Pieces of cake are littered across the map. Carry a piece back to the captive princess and she’ll eat it, growing fatter and harder to move. She’ll get skinnier over time, so you’ll have to feed her a constant stream of confectioneries to keep the enemy from making a clean getaway.

‘Snatch n’ Grab’, another game type, gives you slight variation on Rescue the Princess. In this mode your aim is to rescue your captive princess a total of three times.  Your team doesn’t need to be in possession of both princesses to score.

‘Team Deathmatch’ is fairly self explanatory. The princesses are done away with; instead each team starts with a point pool. Every time a player respawns, a point is subtracted from their team’s pool. Force the enemy team to zero points to score a victory.

review_fatprincess_2Placed around the maps in strategic areas are capture points. Hang around them for a while and you’ll take control of the capture point for your team. Workers can deposit resources here, and your team can also use these points to quickly recover health. In the ‘Invasion’ game type, your goal is to control as many of these points as possible. Each team again starts with a point pool, and if your team controls more than half of the capture points your opponent’s point pool will slowly deplete. Completely drain the enemy’s point pool to win.

The final game type, ‘Soccer’, plays completely different from the previous types. Players spawn on a soccer field, and instead of retrieving hats from machines the hats are randomly spawned around the field. Soccer balls randomly appear on the field, and your aim is to kick it into the enemy’s goal. Like a game of soccer in the real world, you win by having the most points when time expires.

While most of the action takes place online, there are a couple of single player modes. ‘Legend of the Fat Princess’ will take you through basics and let you familiarize yourself with the controls and game mechanics. It can be completed in about an hour, and there’s essentially no reason to play through it again after doing so. The ‘Gladiate’ mode lets you pick one of the character classes and attempt to defeat increasingly difficult waves of enemies without dying. The third and final mode is titled ‘Mess About’, and lets you set up a custom single player game. You’re able to select the game mode, the map to be played on, and the number of bots among other options. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the game’s maps and try out different tactics under controlled conditions.

review_fatprincess_3Getting online is a breeze. You can host your own game if the mood strikes you, or you can let the matchmaker find a game for you. Either way, you’ll be slaughtering Mages and stuffing the princess full of cake in about twenty seconds.

Online matches themselves are hit or miss. If you manage to get into a game with a decent number of human players who can work together you’ll have a blast. The classes are relatively well balanced and each and every one is enjoyable to play. If you find yourself growing bored of healing your teammates, switch over to the Mage and start setting people on fire.

A few technical details can mar the experience. The most glaring offense is the atrocious bot AI. You’ll frequently find yourself running right past a bot without them even attempting to engage you. They’ll stand there stupidly while you attack them from a distance. The bots have no concept of strategy, and will happily take over a meaningless capture point while the rest of your team is attempting to return the princess. This can become a serious problem, since bots fill the empty spots on a team if no human player is available. Since players can change teams after matches, what inevitably happens is everyone switches to the winning team, leaving a few human players and mostly bots on the other team. An auto-balancing feature would be a very important addition to online matches.

Games will frequently end in a stalemate. If the number of bots in a match far outweigh the number of human players, or if neither team is able to work together to capture the princess, games will devolve into pointless killing matches that eventually end in a tie.

review_fatprincess_4Graphically speaking, Fat Princess delivers. Titan Studios went for a cartoony style reminiscent of last year’s Castle Crashers. Character models and backgrounds are simple but elegant. Character animations are anything but flashy, but do serve their purpose. Deaths are particularly exciting, with plenty of cartoon blood and dismemberment.

A helpful announcer keeps you informed on current events. He’ll keep you up to date on what’s happening (“We have the princess!”), frequently with a comedic twist (“They’re in our base! Killing our dudes!”). Characters speak in high pitched munchkin voices, and the princesses irritably scream for more cake. The musical score is pretty much what you’d expect, with various medieval sounding tracks playing throughout the game.

Fat Princess Shows a great deal of potential. If you check out Titan Studio’s blog for the game you’ll find that they’re committed to making Fat Princess as great a game as possible. They’ve already released one patch that fixes several issues, and they’re hard at work putting together another one. They quite obviously didn’t just release Fat Princess and turn all of their attention to the next project.

Fat Princess can be found on the PSN Store for $15. It doesn’t quite live up to expectations, but still provides solid class based multiplayer gameplay.

Pros:
Great sense of humor
Can be a tremendous amount of fun
Has graphical style
Developer continues to support

Cons:
Laughable bot AI
No auto balancing of teams (yet)
Stalemate endings

Bottom Line:
Fat Princess delivers a good amount of team based fun, occasionally spoiled by technical issues. It’s worth looking into for all PS3 owners, especially with Titan Studios working to improve it even more.

Final Score (out of 10):

7.9