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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Beware the Razer's Edge

We've discussed this before.

I'm not a gamer.  Early on, when game graphics were at the level of Open Arena and Doom, I tried my hand at first person shooters and even the new-fangled online competitions.  Drop-down consoles made me feel so, I dunno....7337.

But as it is with many other things, one's first negative experiences with any given scenario can taint it forever.  My first competitive FPS taught me a valuable lesson.

I suck at gaming.  No, really.  I mean I truly and honestly suck at gaming.

Within 3-5 seconds of popping into any given map or field, I am blown into bloody puddles of unrecognisable DNA, my nemesis shrieking with glee as he dashes off to dispatch another n00b.

So no, we all live to capitalize on our strengths, and most certainly, I have no business in a FPS map.

But many of you do.  That's what I want to talk about.

Gaming in Linux is just about to take a Proton Energy Pill.  Steam is chugging ahead at an accelerated rate, doing what many of you would not have imagined a few short years ago.  With beta testing for Steam under way, some pretty amazing things have happened in a relatively short amount of time.

1.  Is filed under "well, duh"....real, honest, native gaming is coming to Linux.  You would have to be tending goats on the Serengeti in order to have missed this.

2.  It would strongly appear that Valve's foray into Linux is driving (sorry) GPU improvements for Linux Users. 

Early on, we're talking about 2005 or so, I was sorely chapped over Nvidia not releasing their code to the open source community.  These days, I am a bit more tolerant of the binary blobs released by Nvidia. 

First off, open sourcing these drivers would put a large number of people out of work.  Secondly, I am grateful to Nvidia for releasing anything for Linux that remotely works (note to ATI/AMD).  Nvidia is under no requirement to provide working drivers for Linux...they have done so in the name of good will.  With vast improvements in performance, now Nvidia may have a chance to recoup much of that investment via card sales to Linux Users. And speaking of ATI, how long has it been now since they open sourced much of their code?  5 years?  And still, on the majority of machines I try these cards and drivers on, the performance is abysmal. 

A closed source binary might not be ideal in a Linux environment but the fact that there is a working, well-performing driver now for the Nvidia R310...Well that says a lot about just how much Valve's inclusion of Linux has impacted our environment.  I run a fairly ancient Gforce 8800 GT and this new driver has almost doubled my performance.  I'm impressed that their new driver reaches that far back to improve performance of a card this old.

But still, there is a valid concern over a topic that has become more prevalent over the past few years.


Any hardware of software that limits the user's ability to use that product should be looked at carefully before purchase.  Microsoft is locking down their bootloader by replacing the traditional BIOS with UEFI, making it extremely difficult to dual boot their ARM-based Windows 8 computers with Linux.  there are so many forms and implementations of DRM that it would take a great deal of time to cover them all, but suffice it to say, DRM has become a standard.

Many of us can fully understand a DRM scheme that is engineered to protect a game or a piece of software from being pirated.  That's just the world in which we live, but many hardware manufacturers, like Razer, have stepped over the line, according to a ton of their users.

Here's the deal.

Razer makes gaming devices.  Expensive gaming devices.  The problem is, when you buy a number of Razer gaming mice, you are required to have an online connection in order to "configure" the mouse.  Those configurations are stored in "the cloud", so ideally, you have your pre-sets available to you regardless of where you game or where you go.

The problem is, you cannot use the mouse without "registration".  It's not just simple registration.  It's the information Razer wants in order to register.  But nowhere on the box does it say that it requires an online connection to get the mouse to work.  That's only one of the pleasant surprises that await you after the unboxing.  From the sited article:

Synapse, the software driving the cloud setup, has both an online and offline mode. Unfortunately, you can't access the offline portion until you've registered your new hardware. This is a problem, especially when the company forcing you to create an account before you can use your mouse that can't keep its servers up. Furthermore, if you're away from your own computer (with its offline settings synched) and without an internet connection, your mouse becomes useless again. And it's not just spotty internet connections that cause a problem. It's also other software.
If you work somewhere that has a network behind firewalls, chances are even though you can download the Synapse software, the firewall may also block you from activating and using the software as well.

So again...I'm not a gamer.  But many of you are and I have to wonder, even with the much-anticipated arrival of Steam on Linux, how much DRM is acceptable in order to gain the ability to interact with the software or hardware involved?  I've heard both sides when it comes to Steam and DRM.  Some of it I can understand, some of it I can't.  But what I can't understand or would not tolerate under any conditions, is a mouse that required me to have an Internet connection before I can use it.

I am hoping the return lines for these Razer products are long.  Or better yet, you might want to reconsider this purchase over the holiday season

All-righty then


Unknown said...

Good thing you pointed this out, I was about to buy one of these mice (the Razer Naga)literally within the week. I do have internet of course, and I don't really plan on taking my mouse with me since I don't have a gaming laptop, but I'd wager synapse would cause problems with Linux anyway. I guess I'll find another good gaming mouse.

burpnrun said...

Same her. My wife's DeathAdder is on it's last legs, and I'm looking for a new one. Razer is now off my list.

This thrust of theirs reminds me of Sony's rootkit fiasco/DRM. We haven't bought a single Sony item since we got bit on that one.

Same intention re: Razer. Absolute BS "excuse" from them as to why registration and cloud access is mandatory to use the features of the mouse bought.

Anonymous said...

@Chance Griffitt - I found out about Roccat recently, they're a gaming peripheral company that actually support linux, so I supported them with the mouse I got as a present for my friend. Hopefully it's good, will find out next month when I give it to him I guess :) Looks fancy though

WorBlux said...

Roccat is rumored to have good linux support, with configuration utilities included in some distro repositories. (gentoo and perhaps some others)

For those looking for alternatives, that's where I would start looking at least.

Gavin said...

Technically, Microsoft is simply using a feature of UEFI (secure boot) to lock out the installation of other (unsigned) OSes on Windows RT devices. Secure boot is part of the UEFI specification. Where things become undesireable is the fact that device manufacturers are able, under the UEFI specification, to lock secure boot in enabled mode. Why this is even possible baffles me.

On the flip side of the coin, MS specifically requires Windows 8 computers to have the ability to freely adjust the secure boot mode. Completely the opposite of Windows RT devices.

MS is clearly trying to protect the devices running their new baby OS from tampering and other user-unfriendly attacks. It just also happens to lock out alternative ARM-bases OSes such as Android from being installed on their Windows RT devices. I imagine the MS execs are horrified at the idea of an Android-Surface marriage. But the fact that their stance on secure boot in UEFI is completely reversed for Windows 8 systems shows some signs of a company that is so huge they have schemes within schemes.

Of course, it could also mean something completely different.

Gavin said...

I can understand the lack of open-source code for a lot of hardware out there simply because of the fact that drivers can tell you quite a bit about the hardware they are intended to support. Such information released to everyone could eventually, over years, put even a huge company like Nvidia out of business.

Hardware manufacturers today are in a giant cold war with each other, and everyone is trying to survive. (We may in fact be on the upswing of some rather large consolidations.) Nvidia in particular is fighting on multiple fronts, from Intel to AMD to Qualcomm; and anyone who knows hardware can pick apart minute details about your latest SoC or GPU just by looking at your driver code. Moreover, they can see where you are going with your overall strategy by picking apart your driver code over a year or two.

Granted there are likely fewer than a hundred people on the planet who can reliably perform such a feat, but open-source means open-source. It is a catch-all for a reason.

Gavin said...

DRM is a tricky subject. We never have figured out all the facets of copyright and patents. But I do believe that publishers are the main brick wall in terms of DRM applied to electronic games. Many computer games are released with DRM without any prior knowledge on behalf of the developers. The devs know that some sort of DRM will be applied to their game, but they have no idea of the specifics nor do they usually have control over it. The limited install aspect of the DRM applied to Bioshock is a good example of publisher-driven DRM that was really not a good idea at all (as evidenced by the fact that it was modified several times before being completely removed).

The current electronic games publisher model is also completely unusable IMHO because publishers often retain complete rights to any content created by the devs. So the devs get funded by the publishers but lose everything in the process (again, IMHO). This interpretation of the publisher model is reminiscent of rock & roll bands a few decades ago who were taken for quite the ride by their publishers, some even ending up owing money to their publishers for activities for which they neither asked nor wanted.

A terrific modern example of this whole ordeal is Halo 4. The Halo franchise is "owned" by Microsoft, despite the fact that no one at MS had anything to do with the initial ideas or concepts surrounding the Halo world/universe. Bungie originally came up with Halo. Bungie then went on to make Halo 2 and Halo 3 for MS (rather reluctantly). But MS owns Halo, so they brought in 343 Industries for Halo 4 (although Bungie was likely glad to be off the hook in any case). Now 343 Industries is working on Halo for MS, even though neither party created Halo in the first place. Even more odd, Halo 4 was released after Windows 8 hit RTM, and yet Halo 4 will apparently NEVER come over to Windows. The details of this situation confuse me to no end.

This archaic distribution model has driven many to seek independent means of funding, with Kickstarter being the main source for electronic games. Obsidian recently ended a Kickstarter campaign rather successfully (I pledged) and the most important aspect of that campaign IMHO is the fact that Obsidian gets to KEEP anything and everything related to that game. They signed over zero rights to the Kickstarter/Paypal pledgers and so they get to do whatever they want with the game they are making. They are making their new game for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. They are making it DRM-free. They can make any sequels they want, when they want, for any platform they want. They can give away all source code for the game if they want, all the artwork, all the assets. They can market it how they want and even pick up publishers how they want. They now OWN the game they are making, not some publisher that gets all the rights unto perpetuity just for plopping down some green. For Obsidian, it must be a great feeling to finally own something after slaving away for publishers creating games such as Fallout and Baldur's Gate and not being able to even gift those games to friends. To create something and be able to do whatever you please with it - that is what DRM should protect. Protecting Microsoft's "rights" to own Halo - that is pure poison.

Gavin said...

It is not surprising to me that Nvidia's latest driver supports the GeForce 8800 GT. It is a DX10 part, after all. The unified shader architecture of the Direct3D 10 and OpenGL 3.0 functionality level was essentially a redesign of the rendering pipeline used by PCs. Hardware and rendering APIs were changed and aligned to a single model which wiped the slate clean (DX9c and OGL 2.x were messes!). All subsequent hardware has been "DX10+", making it much easier to support.

The latest and greatest right now is DX11.1 and OGL 4.3, which really are extensions of DX10 and OGL 3.0 (just like they promised!). So that line in the sand represents everything that was deprecated, and that line is nearly 6 years old now. My GeForce 8 series vid card died a while back now, but if I still had it, it would still be supported. A very nice change of pace compared to DX7 throught DX9c. Very nice.

Gavin said...

I did not know that about Razer's mice. I have been eyeing them for gaming peripherals. But now they are off my list until they change their ways! Probably no big deal for Razer to lose me as a customer. But me and everyone who listens to my advice? Priceless! :D

I had been hearing the first whispers of Roccat lately, so thanks for that tip, Anonymous #1. Any peripheral company that supports Linux gets my Windows gaming dollars! (I know, it sounds funny, but I use so many OSes...)

Anonymous said...

Mice apart, come on, we all suck at gaming when playing with teenagers, that's why I choose cooperative gaming without lives limit to play with my kids.

An old game like Serious Sam which runs using Wine can give you lots of fun, give it a try.


Unknown said...


We were given an unlimited license for World of Goo by 2d boy and we include it in all of our computer installs. We'll take a look at serious sam for inclusion though. We also have a copy of Crossover Games we include as well.