Noise to Signal

Login disabled.


Of the three remaining pillars of full-priced essential PC gaming, the Creative Assembly’s truly magnificent Total War series has so far escaped the problems of piracy and validation. While World of Warcraft avoids these problems by its very nature and the Half-Life series is policed by Vale’s Steam spyware, the only RTS series worth considering has so far politely ignored the issue. But, as last week’s long-awaited release of Empire: Total War made clear, a fate worse than death has now befallen the historical epics.

What’s the problem? Find out after the jump.

In short, Total War has now been infected with the viral nightmare that is Steam, with predicable consequences. Thanks to the programme’s insistence on connecting to the internet to validate, and then download about half of the web in order to allow Steam to run, the simple process of installing the game and getting it ready to play took just over two and a half hours. I was gnashing my teeth before even half of the time had elapsed, but kept a stiff upper lip thanks to the knowledge that I would only have to sit through this process once.

A very rude awakening followed.

It soon became obvious that Gabe Newall’s little box of horrors was going to insist on connecting to the Internet every time I tried to play the game I held in my hand. So, no more taking the laptop on holiday, then. A long weekend in Bath last year was rendered all the memorable thanks to my forces sweeping around the Mediterranean, courtesy of Rome: TW. These limitations of use of the game, and the resulting breaches of privacy, have not even been accomplished with a semblance of competence. Over the last week, most times I’ve tried to play the game have lead to around fifty minutes of no activity, with only the words “Updating Steam Client” to explain why I cannot enjoy the product which I bought myself in a local store. And are the moments when I’ve been lucky. On several occasions, I’ve just received a blunt message that “Servers are too busy” when I try to launch the title. Too busy to allow me to play my own game? Fuck off.


Early adopters of Half Life 2 were rightly up in arms about the demands of its developer’s pet bug-fest, but the majority of PC gamers seem to have developed a form of Stockholm syndrome, whereby they now claim to love their non-sentient captor. This suits Valve, who have spend the last few years consolidating their stranglehold on the corpse of mainstream PC gaming. Unfortunately, the inclusion of the latest in the Total War series means that Valve are now faced with an influx of dedicated TW fans, with absurdly unrealistic expectations.

Such as, being able to play the game they have bought.

I don’t really do “angry”. I can be annoyed or despondent, but I’ve never seen the point of rage. It’s a waste of time that could be spent doing something productive or entertaining. But after having so many hours wasted over the last week, taking twenty minutes to write an infuriated blog post seems like a trivial amount of effort.

I don’t want to have to fight a half-baked pseudo-console every time I play my new game. I just want to conquer the world. Is that too much to ask?

About this entry


Julian, the Internet from 2005 called; it wants its hot topic back.

Seriously, though, all this sounds to me like a PC problem. You sure your connection wasn’t being hammered by torrents or other slowdown problems? I’ve installed Steam afresh a number of times and it’s never taken more than 15 minutes to fully update, and games patch up in about the same time if it’s a biggie (and patches are important. You need them installed ans Steam makes this easy). After that, you stick it in Offline mode, thus removing the need of an Internet connection. Still, don’t let this fact get in the way of your misinformed Angry Internet Man rantings…

Jonathan Capps's picture

By Jonathan Capps
March 13, 2009 @ 7:37 pm

reply / #

>it’s never taken more than 15 minutes to fully update

It has now. Repeatedly. In public.

The net can debate whatever it likes in 2005, but when Steam is applied to the only reason for the continuation of PC gaming, it’s unsurprising that it is held to a higher standard of scrutiny, and has fallen woefully short. My connection was performing fine- I’d been streaming movies immediately beforehand, with no problems. And Steam wasn’t patching anything except itself, unless “Steam Client” is a special codename for “Empire: Total War”. While it’s an impressive measure of your devotion to Valve that you are so willing to deny the crippled reality of their authentication service, I shouldn’t need to remind you that I’m far from the only Total War fan who has found the system unworkable…

By Julian Hazeldine
March 13, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

reply / #

First experience with Steam:
The Orange Box. Like, four or five months ago.

First impression of Steam:
This blows…I need to download the entirety of the games I just purchased in a store. (This was proven to be incorrect; it was downloading patched and updates…but it was substantial enough that it FELT like a fresh install.)

Current impression of Steam:
Extremely handy. The shopping is easy, the selection wide, and the prices (in 80% of the cases in which a game actually interests me) are fair.

Question for Julian:
Will the game not allow you to play it if Steam is operating in “offline mode?” I’m not trying to belittle your feelings here, but is that something you tried?

By Phil
March 14, 2009 @ 12:07 am

reply / #

Julian’s right, this sort of thing is just anti-consumer nonsense. No one actually wants it but the publishers get away with it because people just shrug and accept it until it’s considered “normal”.

I’ve got Steam. I use it to play a couple of games I received through it. It’s fairly unintrusive (I only run it when I play said game), I still think this whole system stinks.

What’s really needed is legislation laying-out consumer rights with regard to software. People should be able to buy and play a piece of software by right and as long as they own it, they should not have to rely on the publishers servers or request permission each time they play. That skews things massively against the consumer and in favour of the producer. They should be doing things for me, that’s how the market is supposed to work (although given the turmoil of the last year or so we’re all learning that the market doesn’t actually do what it’s supposed to, but I digress…).

Zagrebo's picture

By Zagrebo
March 14, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

reply / #

Here’s something more important, and which reflects on what that law on IP is supposed to do.

I went to a retro-gaming convention recently where all sorts of vintage consoles, computers and games were on display playing original boxed copies of games. In thirty-odd years this will not be possible with much current software because of the use of dedicated servers to play the games, downloadable content etc etc.

The IP laws are based around the idea that they encourage the creation of art, that the creator can benefit from it for fifty-odd years and that it then enters the public domain.

What are modern software developers plans to make their games available in the public domain when the IP runs out? Older software is on media that wears out so people have been forced to break IP laws to preserve it. Will the downloadable content for various games and their dedicated servers be released to the public domain or deleted once the games become “obsolete”?

If these software houses cannot demonstrate that they will make their IP available once the IP limit runs out - in entirety - then they are reaping the benefit of the IP laws without holding-up their side of the bargain. If that is the case (and I suspect it is) then something ought to be done.

Zagrebo's picture

By Zagrebo
March 14, 2009 @ 12:09 pm

reply / #

Phil- I wasn’t aware of this mode that, if it does what it says on the tin, would remove half of my complaint. Through poking around, I’d managed to stop it activating every time I switched on the PC, but had seen no sign of the Offline Mode. I am rather surprised to learn of this, however- the software has made no attempt to inform me of this, defaulting to its intrusive online incarnation. I’ll take another look!

Zagrebo- Exactly, which is why it’s such a shame that the Mecca of abandonware Home of the Underdogs recently shut up shop. Cultural artefacts like MMOs will inevitably be experiences limited to the time of their release, but given the size of the industry, a voluntarily funded achieve isn’t inconceivable, if the will could be mustered.

By Julian Hazeldine
March 14, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

reply / #

In my version of Steam (presumably the newest…it’d update itself if not, I think…) you hit File > Go Offline. That gives you the option to restart in Offline Mode.

You could also boot up your computer without it being connected to the internet, and Steam will ask you if you’d like to work in Offline Mode.

Hopefully this helps. Again, I’m not meaning to undermine your complaint…but maybe this can at least let you enjoy the game properly.

By Phil
March 14, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

reply / #

>You could also boot up your computer without it being connected to the internet, and Steam will ask you if you’d like to work in Offline Mode.

Interesting- I haven’t recieved this prompt when not connecting. I’ll have a go at what you suggest.

By Julian Hazeldine
March 14, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

reply / #

>You could also boot up your computer without it being connected to the internet

What is this, the ’30s?

Seb Patrick's picture

By Seb Patrick
March 14, 2009 @ 8:25 pm

reply / #

> and games patch up in about the same time if it’s a biggie

I just want to point out for the sake of argument that my steam games currently update at a speed of 4.6Kb/s. This is with no torrents running, or other downloads for that matter, on a connection that generally prefers 1.8Mb/s

This does not impress me.

Karrakunga's picture

By Karrakunga
March 17, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

reply / #

Speaking of Home of the Underdogs, someone appears to have resurrected it:

Zagrebo's picture

By Zagrebo
March 18, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

reply / #


By Julian Hazeldine
March 18, 2009 @ 10:13 pm

reply / #