High speed, storage space fuel digital distribution

Owen Sound Sun Times (On)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Computer users have been downloading games and game demos for over a decade, but the widespread adoption of high-speed Internet and storage space for home consoles has led to an explosion in legitimate digital distribution of video games, both for PC and home console.

All the major consoles have digital distribution platforms for various types of content for various prices.

Services range from offering full games and re-released classic games to original content not available through any other medium.

These services are also catering to the booming retro game market. Each service offers re-releases of classic games previously available on older consoles. Some of the games are even retooled to take advantage of new hardware.

Game companies are constantly growing and incorporating new content, both original and the same as retail outlets. If you keep an eye on the service for your console of choice you’re bound to find some cool new content, often for a fraction of the cost of buying a full new game, if not completely free.

Here are some popular distribution networks as well as some of the reasons to check them out. Most are free to at least browse, though Xbox live does require a subscription fee, as it is the same service that powers multiplayer for the Xbox 360.

Steam (PC)

Steam has some very interesting and unique options outlined below, as it is for PC, not console like most of the others.

Games purchased through Steam are saved with your account information, allowing you to install and play your games on any computer where you can install and sign into Steam.

Many of the publishers releasing games on Steam release their entire back catalogue, so you can get games like iD software’s “Doom”, “Quake” and “Commander Keen”, or Epic Games’ original “Unreal”.

Steam catalogues a large selection of modifications for “Half-Life 2”, allowing direct downloads for countless hours of free content. Downloading mods through Steam guarantees a certain degree of quality and polish in the mods, so you won’t find yourself downloading early stage, barely functional mods.

Steam offers many interesting independent games. Since distribution costs little on Steam, numerous highly praised independent games (like “Audiosurf”, the subject of a previous column) are available uniquely from Steam for relatively cheap. Again, their presence on Steam guarantees a degree of quality, since they have been specifically selected for distribution.

Xbox Live (Xbox 360)

Xbox Live allows users to download demos, something that was not possible on earlier generation consoles. It lets console users try before they buy, without having to buy demo discs.

Users can download select re-releases of classic games like “Pac-Man” and “Castlevania” as well as HD versions of “Street Fighter II” and “Rez” (a cult favourite originally released on the Dreamcast)

Some of its original games, like “Geometry Wars”, are very popular and have seen subsequent multiplatform releases.

Playstation Store (PS3/PSP)

Users can download free HD movie and game trailers as well as music videos from Sony artists.

Users can download free PS3/PSP Game demos and full (not free) games, some of which are exclusive to the Store.

Original Playstation games are available both on PS3 and PSP, as are certain arcade game re-releases.

Some indie games, like “Everyday Shooter”, are available for download.

WiiWare (Nintendo Wii)

Channels” can be downloaded allowing users to download other content.

There is a News channel, and Internet channel (for $5) among others.

Virtual Console channel lets users download Nintendo 64, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Neo Geo, Sega Genesis and Master System and Turbo Grafx 16/CD games and play them on their Wii console.

Recently Nintendo started launching original games through WiiWare, and is encouraging developers to use WiiWare as a way to distribute low cost pick up and play, or experimental games.

What I’m Playing and Why You Might Like It

This is a new section where I talk about what I’ve been playing recently and why. Let me know what you think.

I Just Finished: “Bioshock” (PC), “The World Ends With You” (DS).

I got distracted from “Bioshock” and was a bit put off by how nerve wracking it was at first, but I gave it another crack and played all the way to the end. The gameplay is great, but the atmosphere and the story really pull the game along, by the last few hours of the game I couldn’t stop playing. I wanted to know what was next in the twisting plot. Still just as recommended as when I first talked about it “The World Ends With You” was great all the way through. The story never got too complex, the combat system kept things fresh and interesting and I really started to care about the characters and wanted to know what’s going to happen next.

I’m Playing: “Gears of War” (PC), “Call of Duty 4” (PC), “Age of Empires III (PC).

I haven’t made much progress in “Gears” since I have to reorient my typical approach to a shooter. But if you’ve got a fast PC it’s a great action game, the cover system combat is really interesting and fun.

I still love “Call of Duty 4” multiplayer and I’m still terrible at it. I’ve been playing “Age of Empires III” quite a bit. It’s a pretty typical realtime strategy game, but it’s got really good graphics and throws just enough new things at you to feel fresh, but approachable.

I Can’t Wait For: “Mass Effect” (PC).

I love Bioware’s Games, and I love Sci-Fi, so I’m really excited for the PC port of “Mass Effect”.

Calen Henry is a fourth-year student of Japanese studies and multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound, has been a gamer since childhood and is also interested in music and film.

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