November 16, 2004

Half-Life 2 Has Me Steamed

Before I go into my rant, let me say that I've been playing now for about 3-4 hours and the game's excellent so far. The graphics are unbelievable, gameplay is smooth. The story's a bit...well, weird...maybe once things are explained a bit, it'll make more sense.

My big beef with this game is the installation procedure. You don't get a manual or book with this game, only a card with key commands on one side and installation instructions on the other. The actual instructions are deceptively simple:

A Steam account is required to play Half-Life 2 and an internet connection is required to create your Steam account. During installation you will be prompted to create your Steam account and validate your CD key, once this is complete you can play Half-Life 2.

This sounds like every other game, but these instructions are extremely misleading...make that a bold faced lie! What I went through was more painful than my last Windows operating system installation - and no, I'm not kidding.

The actual install from the 5 CDs was smooth. Early on I got a prompt to register my copy, which I clicked. But after entering all my data I found myself on the Vivendi University site, where I had to tell them not to send me any game product we'll see what interesting spam I get out of this.

Now comes creating your Steam account, which is in no way clear or automatically prompted. More like, I clicked on the Steam icon on my desktop (while online) to get this going. Now maybe it's because of the incredible server lag on this first day of release, or because I'm on dial-up, but it took over an hour to create my account! I kept getting an error that the connection was reset by peer...over and over and over again.

*whew* That's over, now I can log on to Steam and start Half-Life 2. It took over 30 minutes to log on to my Steam account. We're talking a simple handshake here, just like logging onto your web account or into a server. But for whatever reason Steam moves very slowly and seems to hang up at the distant end.

Then I register my CD key, but get a message that the server's too busy but it can be done later - do I want to play Half-Life 2? I say "Hell yeah!" and up pops the main menu.

I click play Half-Life 2, nothing happens. I highlight and click it several more times, finally getting quite spastic, still nothing. In disgust I close the window, only to find that the CD key registry window has reopened in the background. I finally register my CD key.

Now Steam starts to unlock the Half-Life 2 game files. I suppose if I'd been waaay smarter and preordered this online, I'd get to start at this step. That would have been nice, but still not entirely painless.

Now I'm ready to play, but Half-Life 2 has detected an old video driver. Old? I just reloaded all my stuff with new drivers 6 months ago. It doesn't help that the automatic driver detection fails to identify my NVIDIA GeForce 4. No matter, I download the driver (which takes 1.5 hours) and restart my computer. By the way, make sure to turn off's a bandwidth hog.

So now I'm ready to go, right? Not quite. I get the main menu. I click Play Half-Life 2 - nothing happens.

I open up the game menu on Steam and select Half-Life 2 to play, but get an error that says "This game is not ready to be played in offline mode."

You see, there's another piece of instruction on that card: An "Offline Mode" will also be available if the "Remember my password" box is checked on the Steam login screen. I had this box checked every time I logged into Steam, but I don't think it actually remembers anything until the first time you actually play Half-Life this means I have to log into my Steam acount again! That's another 30 minutes or so.

This time Steam needs to validate the game files. Will this never end?

Once that's over, I go the the Steam icon in my system tray, select Play then Play Half-Life 2. Now I get a dialogue box saying it wants to install Half-Life 2! WHAT?!? In frustration, I click OK, then get another box telling me it's preparing to play...about damn time.

All told, 5 hours from start of installation to actual gameplay.

I'm really enjoying Half-Life 2 so far, but want to wring someone's neck at Steam. I mean, what were they thinking? By creating the need for a Steam account to install, register, unlock, verify, and play for the first time, they've created a huge bottleneck that the entire gameplaying community has to fit into.


Blogger Rothar said...

Now that I'm done ranting, I can assure you that if you survive the installation process, you'll be playing one enjoyable game.

The facial features are really incredible. There were a couple times that I felt an emotional reaction to some of the character's expressions.

While the story is a bit out there, it's as atmospheric as the first game.

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having worked in UI/HCI, I suggest that you should send them a very polite and concise complaint about the registration process and that the caveats should be listed up front, a checklist of what should not be checked before beginning the process.

Only die hards stick with something that long. I would have returned the product and written a letter to the game creators about the process. Let everyone know.

It shouldn't have taken more than a hour (TOPS) to do this. Stuff like this costs them customers. Help them improve the process. :)

7:59 AM  
Blogger Rothar said...

I finished Half-Life 2 today, and let me tell you this is a solid game. The nightmare of installation is almost forgotten thanks to a good story and great gameplay.

The ending is a bit of a disappointment, but still remains true to the original.

There is still a lot that needs to be explained in the Half-Life universe...this game raises more questions than it answers. Hopefully we don't have to wait another 5 years.

10:14 PM  

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