Duke Nukem Forever

A couple of weeks ago, Duke Nukem Forever was finally released after perhaps the longest development period ever. But the reviews were brutal, ripping the game apart. In my opinion though, the reviews are too harsh. The game isn’t great, but not that horrible as some reviewers like to call it.

Now, there are a couple of assumptions. First, a lot of people expect that a game that is in development for 14 years at least should cure cancer, bring world peace and send men to the mars just so that it is okay and meets the expectations. Then, they like to compare it to the predecessor and to other games in the genre, which is fair.

On the development time: I don’t know how long DNF was really in development and how much material was really scrapped. I looked at the fantastic 2001 trailer and and the various leaked material after the 3D Realms shutdown, and there is clearly a lot of content that was created at some point and then scrapped. I really don’t know how long the current iteration was in development for. However, when you play the game you can see that there are a lot of great ideas that made it into the game. You can play Pinball, Air Hockey, Pool, Whack a Mole, you can interact with the vending machines, toilets, vibrators and water faucets. You can write on some whiteboards, autograph pictures, control an RC Car or race around in one after you have been miniaturized.

The amount of versatility and interaction was one of the cool features of Duke 3D and still somewhat sets it apart from many shooters that have a very static world.

The enemies are great, with the Octabrain really looking freaky, the Pig Cops actually looking fearsome, the Assault Captain reminding me of a flying mancubus and of course the Alien Queen with her large… assets. To defeat them, you have access to an arsenal of weapons that pack a good punch: The Shotgun has a very satisfying sound effect, the rail gun bring in a sniper rifle, the RPG is as cool as in Duke 3D and pretty much every other good shooter, and of course the Ripper and Devastator which are just the perfect tools to rip through hordes of enemies.

So Duke Nukem Forever has everything to be a fantastic shooter? Unfortunately, not quite. First off, it’s based on the Unreal 2.5 Engine, aka. “Look, we can make anything look like it’s chrome plated, even the rocks!”. It looks rather dated, when a pig cop latches on to you it drags you right down into the uncanny valley. Also, the animations are somewhat simplistic. The minigames are a nice touch, but not very well implemented – trying to pocket all the pool balls is a true test of patience because the ball physics are way unrealistic. Air Hockey is better, but suffers from a weird perspective. The world is very linear, to the point where invisible walls block you from making a perfectly sane and possible jump – this is a sharp contrast to Duke 3D’s many secret areas and clever tricks. There are some Jump and Run passages that shouldn’t be in any shooter (but then again, Half-Life did it as well) and some sequences are too long (like the RC car drive through the Lady Killer). The Video Poker machine was quite good though.

However, the single biggest and devastating blunder is the weapons system, because you can only carry two weapons at a time. Two. While all the good old school shooters allow you to carry about 10 weapons (regardless of weight), DNF decided to be console friendly and only support two weapons (plus a melee attack). Because the weapons have only a small maximum ammo, this can lead to frustrating situations. For example, I was in the hive with a shotgun (28 shots maximum) and a rocket launcher (5 rockets maximum), and I ran out of shotgun shells when I was facing 3 Octabrains. As they can fly, I couldn’t melee them. As they can throw back rockets, I couldn’t hit them with the RPG. So I had to die/restart from checkpoint to pick up the Ripper. I felt that this was really bad design, and with a full arsenal the game would have been a lot better.

A lot has been said about the seemingly offensive content of DNF. There’s nudity, crude one-liners, toilet humors and in-your-face obscenities all over the place. Criticizing Duke Nukem for being offensive is like criticizing Apple for making Designer Products or criticizing Louis Vuitton Handbags for being expensive. The Duke IS offensive, and if DNF weren’t then it wouldn’t be a Duke game. If that is not your cup of tea – fair enough, just ignore the game and play a different one, there’s plenty of fish in the sea. The valid criticism is that DNF doesn’t do too much to add to the formula. It’s mostly the same one liners, and some elements are drawn out too long or were removed (no option to tip strippers anymore).

As weird as it sound, but I think the one thing that DNF is missing is polish. Maybe another year would have radically improved the game. On the other hand, a year from now the graphics would look even more dated, so it’s the decision between cholera and the plague for the devs.

The game has a lot of rough edges, weird level design limitations, poorly implemented mini games, graphics that were cool in 2006 and worst of all a broken weapons system. Many great ideas, sometimes poorly executed. But for me, it was still a fun experience and overall a satisfying game. I’d give it a 5 out of 10 for being a straight forward, old school shooter with plenty of Duke, lots of explosions, great enemies and enough devastation to keep the action going.

On the other hand, if you are more into these awful almost-on-rails shooters that traded fun for broken scripted sequences then DNF is certainly not for you. If you believed that 14 years of development would create a shooter that is better than Half Life 2, Halo 2 and Gears of War combined, then this isn’t for you either.

The game is underwhelming and broken in parts, but I hope that there will be a fifth entry in the main Duke Nukem series.

Business IT needs to step up into the 21st century

There is a lot of discussion going on at the moment about Firefox’ rapid release cycles, releasing Firefox 5 just a few weeks after Firefox 4. A lot of business customers are complaining about this, saying that the testing cycle of FF4 is still ongoing, and now it’s EOL already. Others think that it should be Firefox 4.0.2 or 4.1 to appease both.

I say that Business IT finally needs to move into the 21st century and embrace this thing called “Internet”. Why do you need a long testing cycle for a web browser? This is most likely a sign that your internal web applications are written for a specific browser, usually Internet Explorer 6. It means that your web applications contain countless hacks for that browser and because you didn’t upgrade to Internet Explorer 7 and 8 when they came out in 2006 and 2009 respectively. It means that you have amassed considerable technical debt, and now you have to pay the piper.

I say: Sucks to be you. The Web is improving fast. When you wrote that ASP.net 1.1 Application that displays an Oracle Database in a data grid, you made a commitment to the web. You committed to abandon a stable platform like Windows (even with all the negative reactions to Vista, Microsoft is doing a lot to ensure backwards compatibility) and chose a platform that has been chaotic, anarchistic and unstable since the dawn of time, or at least since Netscape 2.

The year is 2011. You don’t have to embrace HTML5, but you should make sure all your applications work in IE8, Firefox, Chrome and Safari/Mac without hacks, because then browser updates will be no problem. If you are still on Internet Explorer 6 or 7, upgrade to 8 (XP) or 9 (Modern Windows). If you are vendor-locked in to IE6 – I’m sorry, but you sucked. Your Purchasing Department really dropped the ball when they bet on IE6, because no sane company ties itself to a single product version of anything.

If you wrote an in-house web app or browser extension, then just upgrade it. And don’t tell me anything about cost here – your business made the decision to go to the web, so if changes to the web environment come as a surprise, you didn’t do your homework properly. Please, go back and write Windows Client apps again or do your job properly. If you want to be a web developer, then you need to do more than just drag/drop a DataGridView and connect it to a SqlDataSource. If you want to be an IT Person, learn how to work with the developers to make them change their apps.

Or, more likely: Continue to whine about how fast stuff changes, how vendors dare to improve their products, how they change the version number. Continue to embrace the waterfall model, get obsessed with version numbers, create test plans that take a year to execute, and stay out of touch with the real world. After all, business needs are more important than quality.

Just do me one favor then: Make sure that your crappy web apps can’t be easily hacked. I’m getting tired with incompetent companies constantly losing my customer data to hackers. But then again, there are no penalties for losing customer data, so my plea will go unheard.

Booking a Flight with only a rough idea of the destination

I thought that Airlines, Airports and Travel companies have worked out how online searching and booking should work by now. After all, Services like Expedia or Travelocity or one of the many other services make it easy to search all the possible Prices quickly (although you may want to clear your cookies before searching). Travelocity even gives me the option to say that I’m flexible with dates and search for +/- 1 to 3 days.

However, my situation is a bit different. I live near Los Angeles. I come from a German city near Düsseldorf. That alone is not so special, however I refuse to fly with intermediate stops – I want a non-Stop flight. Since the train network is pretty good in the area, I can fly to a city in the area and just take the train. This should be easy, right? Show me all flights from LAX to the area near DUS, which can include cities as far away as Frankfurt/Main, Paris or Amsterdam.

No such luck though. I can pick flexible times, but not flexible destinations. Oh, no problem, a big and well connected airport like LAX surely has a website? Sure they do, and they also have an outbound schedule. So I just look up all the destinations served by the airlines and (because I do know geography) I just pick a city in the area. Sadly, their flight schedule is a form that expects me to pick a target city in order to view the schedules. That’s stupid!

Why can’t there be a big-a$@ list of ALL outbound flights from LAX? Why can’t I get a simple lists of all Airports that LAX serves? Even Wolfram Alpha couldn’t answer this seemingly simple question.

I ended up getting a lists of all big Airports and looked at train connections. To spoil the ending, Amsterdam and Frankfurt am Main seem to be good choices, with Frankfurt being more attractive because it has a better train connection.

But really, this stuff should be easier.