Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sofa Story: Original Sin

After spending several hours with the Titanfall beta, I initially intended to write about my reflections on the gameplay but have decided leave that for another day. Suffice it to say that I am tempering my expectations for release but am still lining up to apply for my Titan pilot’s license on launch day. Instead, today I’m going to seize the opportunity to rant about Origin after being forced to install it to play the beta.

Let me start off by saying that I’ve never been a fan of Origin. It’s EA’s hamfisted answer to Steam that doesn’t offer any of the incentives (massive sales and a huge library of titles) that I have come to expect as the benefit for not physically owning my games. Digital distribution platforms, especially direct proprietary ones, offer an unprecedented level of profits by cutting out expensive middle-men and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect my experience with the software to be pleasant (especially when it’s forced on me!). My first experience with the Titanfall beta was thus the initial dilemma of deciding whether I wanted to play enough that I was willing to install Origin. After some soul searching, I decided I would let the black plague onto my hard-drive; my last experience with Origin was when Mass Effect 3 launched and I convinced myself that it must have improved since then. After the obligatory ‘forgotten password’ shenanigans and assigning myself a new one that conforms to the ridiculous 8+ characters with both upper and lower case and at least one number restriction (‘Passw0rd’ ftw), I was finally given the privilege of installing the software.

Now the one thing I expected to be simple would be the install process. PC gaming has come a long way since the days of manually assigning IRQ ports and install wrappers are about as perfected as they can be. With Origin, I witnessed something that I haven’t seen in over a decade, the install-wrapper itself crashed. Yep, I double-clicked the executable, clicked through the Terms of Service that put Shang Tsung’s soul stealing abilities to shame, and promptly watched a progress bar fill to an error message and the wrapper auto-quitting to my desktop. Undeterred, I tried again with the same result. After a third attempt, I had pretty much given up until I realized that Origin was actually installed, just all of the requested desktop and start menu icons weren’t created; a simple matter of browsing to the install folder on my hard-drive and manually making a short-cut… and then telling Windows to run as administrator… and then having to endure a lengthy update. Finally, I was ready to start the Titanfall download!

Origin loaded and I soon realized that everything was in Dutch which I apparently have no idea how to read. Origin correctly detected that I was accessing the service from Belgium and courteously defaulted to one of the official languages without so much as a ‘Would you prefer one of the other official languages?’ box. Scrolling through what may as well have been the language of Mordor to the bottom revealed a familiar drop-down box to swap languages that offered me the choice to switch to French. Uh what? Okay, I understand that I may not get English here but what about the third official language (German)? Guess they can screw themselves along with English speakers because there is no apparent way (barring a proxy-server) to get Origin to display in a language other than the ones that EA has ordained righteous to the region. A quick Google search later and I discovered I wasn’t alone but fortunately, when actually buying a game, EA would generously offer you a choice of install languages (just don’t screw up and pick the wrong one because you don’t want to deal with trying to switch the language after the fact). My French was passable enough to navigate to my library where I was pleasantly surprised to find the Titanfall beta already there waiting to be installed after avoiding some click-bait to pre-order the game (which no doubt would have auto-charged my credit card).

The actual install proceeded without issue and actually put an icon on my desktop this time. I double-clicked the icon and the title loaded with the Origin interface lurking in the background and occasionally popping up in the middle of my screen to advertise something in Dutch (guess my language selection didn’t affect the ads). After the third time of my screen real estate being interrupted in game, I decided something was clearly up and it wasn’t the fun factor. I decided that the best way to handle things would be to reboot my computer. Much to my chagrin, I noted that Origin was loading on start-up despite my purposefully checking the box for this not to happen. Great, I had now intentionally installed malware on my system. Fortunately, the reboot solved the issue and Origin stayed neatly behind the scenes while I was in game and saved its advertisements for when I was done (how about just no advertisements, would that be so hard?).

All in all, my opinion of Origin hasn’t changed because it couldn’t get any lower. It’s on my system now (at least until I reformat) and I’ll have to live with it if I want to play the latest EA published games – unfortunately that means Titanfall. I think my biggest issue with the software isn’t the comical installer, the bogus language choices, or even the buggy interface, but rather that I have no other option. Even if I go to a brick and mortar store, I’m going to have to install Origin before the game I bought will activate and play. I’m not opposed to digital distribution (I love Steam even though it has many flaws), I’m opposed to reduced choice – especially when my options are limited to the equivalent of eat garbage or starve.