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Friday, December 10, 2010

The Money in Multiplayer: Take a Tip from Gabe, Kotick

There was a news article on recently calling for the immediate monetization of the Call of Duty multiplayer game mode. They cite "a betrayal of shareholder trust" as the main cause of this call to action (I won't make that pun. No!) On a purely business level, which is really how Bobby Kotick and the analyst in question are looking at the situation, this is a no-brainer. Do it, make more millions (as if Activision Blizzard needed more money), and work on the next way to milk your fanbase. It is good sense to monetize something with as large and fanatical a userbase as Call of Duty, in any of its iterations. What Kotick and our analyst, one Michael Pachter, fail to understand is what that fanbase really is. They are, by and large, ages 12-21 (sometimes younger and older, but that's the average). The lion's share of this population not only relies on their parents for their systems and games, but also the money for absolutely everything else in their lives. With games now reaching what I think is the line where they increase in price again, to sixty five or even seventy dollars, is it wise to charge people to play a game when they can't even pay for their own lunch? I don't particularly think it is.

Now I'll grant you that the parenting in the Call of Duty community is less than stellar. *Soapbox time* The game is rated M, for users seventeen years of age and up. You can't walk in and show a brand new, just out of driver's school license and expect to walk out with Black Ops, or Reach, or any game with rating higher than T. Yet still the parents do it for their kids and let them interact with adults who have every right to be playing the game and saying what they wish how they wish. The children then begin to say these words and use the vernacular, not knowing its full meaning, and end up being lesser human beings because they think saying "Fuck" seventeen times makes them macho, and putting a swastika as their emblem is funny, when to millions upon millions of people it is a sign of the worst memories mankind can muster (We haven't forgotten the Holocaust, kiddies. Parts of Europe are still trying to come to grips with it, more than sixty years later).

*exhale* That being said, most of these kids and young adults, myself included, won't have the funds to pay whatever Kotick shoves at us on a consistent basis. And yes, I know that there would be plenty of kids who could sucker their parents into opening their pocket books yet again, but what I'm trying to get at here is principle. There is not a single first person shooter franchise with a multiplayer side that charges  for the use of that service. Battlefield? No. Medal of Honor? No. Halo? No (Microsoft charges you. Not Bungie). Team Fortress 2? No. Counter Strike? No. Assassin's Creed? No. Red Dead Redemtion? No. You certainly can pay for certain parts of the game, the DLC, but you don't have to.

I titled this post "Take a tip from Gabe" for a reason, and I'm finally getting around to what I mean. As some of you may know, Team Fortress 2 was, for a long time, a game with items. You found these items through achievements and eventually through an item drop system (that was exploited and properly patched). Valve always fostered goodwill with its community through these patches, tweaking the game to balance it and make sure that nothing made the game unplayable for a large population. The humor inherent in the game and the fun nature of Valve's interaction with the community meant that, when they recently made certain items obtainable through purchase (and others usable only through purchase), there was a bit of a rumble, but not an explosion. The community was supportive of the new system, and especially those five people who made it work so well, the Polycount winners. Everyone cheered when they saw the items that won, and there was much congratulation, pats on the back and friend requests. Everyone felt that, in the long run, these people had earned every cent of the money they earned, and no one seemed to care that Valve probably takes a huge cut from every purchase made, giving I'd guess only 10-15% of the total profits to the creators. This is the tip Kotick needs to understand: goodwill between the creator of the game, its publisher and the community will fully allow you to charge for Call of Duty multiplayer. If you weren't a total jackass and actually tried to know who you were selling your games to, you'd understand that they want to be talked nice to. Everyone does. If you provide a stellar product, as Treyarch has (with Activision's support), and support it with everything you have over a consistent period of time (as Valve always has), you can make large changes with little fear of reprisal.

But, Mr. Kotick, you have not done this. You see only the dollar signs in the name Call of Duty, Bungie, Warcraft, Starcraft. You are a lucky man that the people in charge of these games love them. Even with this, however, putting in a fee for playing Call of Duty multiplayer will probably not ruin your company, but it will shake the industry like never before. You will lose what I'd say is a full half your Call of Duty player base, your stocks would stumble, and you would be faced with a choice you may not want to make (not to mention a possible fight with Microsoft over the money in multiplayer subscription). Take a tip from Gabe, Mr. Kotick. Become Bobby to those you sell games to. Know what their needs are, what their limits are, both within the game and in their pockets, and foster some goodwill. You'll do better in the long run.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Battlefield Marketing: Why Vietnam is Timed Perfectly (Also, Valve!)

This came to me last night and I felt I had to post it before I forgot about it. As I've said, I watch a lot of YouTube, but not just Call of Duty. I play(ed) and watch Battlefield Bad Company 2 from commetators like DCRU Colin, StoneFaceLock, Swordsman75, jayekaisermistuhed and Benjisaur among the more prominent. In the past months prior to Black Ops's release, there were rumblings of discontent with the state of the Battlefield scene, and for good reason. EA DICE released almost no truly "new" content. They updated maps for different game modes, but the maps themselves never really changed. For the first two or so months of the game's lifetime, this was a complaint to be sure, but not a damning one. As things went on, though, it trotted closer and closer to that point of no return, when even the dedicated Battlefield players withdrew for what they considered greener pastures (Black Ops and, to a lesser extent, Halo).

What I think DICE was well aware of, even back in the March release of BC2, is that their game was not Call of Duty 4, the game that needed no infusion of new content to remain both relevant and prominent for two years and longer. This led them, or at least it led Electronic Arts, to the following strategy based on their knowledge of their game. They knew they had about six months worth of game life ahead of them if they did nothing, and seven or maybe eight if they released different map types but not new maps. Their calculations put the end of their game's relevancy right at the release of Black Ops and the huge rush that the game would surely (and did) bring. They knew also that Battlefield wouldn't die out entirely, but it would begin to fade. However, the second tier to their plan was the coming Vietnam expansion, placed about a month and a half after Black Ops release of November 9th.

The timing of this expansion, and the Map Pack 7, which actually brought new maps, is next to perfect, and ingenious regardless. By allowing the giant push and affair with Black Ops to fade and then shoving a boatload of new content at their faithful consumers, DICE extends the lifetime of Bad Company 2 until the release, or at least the Beta, of Battlefield 3. To encourage their followers to play even more, and this is perhaps the most effective marketing that isn't Team Fortress 2's constant update system and Portal 2's announcement. By asking their players to use 69 million support actions (heal, ammo box, repair, revive, spot) in order to receive a fifth map for Vietnam, they've assured a huge amount of time spent in other things in game. Vietnam has been rumored for several months without a release date, and now that it has a firm December 21st (18th on PC) release, you can bet the dedicated BC2 players will not only be helping their teammates a whole lot more (something that was certainly lacking in the games initial stage), but that Vietnam will get even more orders.

I put Valve in parentheses in the title for a reason: they already do this kind of thing, and the industry is only now catching on. TF2 released and was immediately patched quite a few times in the months following its hitting Steam. Valve has always been dedicated to making their games as playable as possible for as long as possible. But they didn't stop at just game tweaks. They did what more developers need to do, at least from a business standpoint: add new content at all times and take full advantage of their community's own map/content making ability. TF2 as a game on release wasn't really much.  Few maps with only two or three game modes and nine classes when a fairly set playstyle, I would have placed a lifespan of around six months at the very most, even with constant game code tweaking and bug fixing. Valve, as usual, knew how to make their game continue thriving for three years and counting: class updates. Placed around four months apart, Valve had 36 months, or three years if they only updated the classes and added nothing else. They also added new maps, game modes, in-game systems to acquire class items (hats included), community maps becoming official, contests and more. This does not even take into the fact that they haven't yet finished the Meet the Team videos and remain coy on both what those clips will contain and which gender the Pyro is (we want to know, dammit!)

I'll end by saying what I've always said outside of this blog to my friends. The video game industry is reactionary to Valve. They innovate, and everyone else clammers to catch up, even Bungie. DICE and EA took the right rout with the release of BC2 Vietnam, and when Battlefield 3 comes out, I think there'll still be players trudging the rice paddies long into the future.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Rage Factor

I watch a little too much YouTube, but one bastion of insight and, for me at least, solace and solitude, is the commentator SeaNanners. He's one of those people who seems to never be angry, though, like all of us, he is human, and anger is certainly an emotion he feels. I'm not subscribed, but when I came across the video Rage-Nanners, I had to watch it. The nice people, with calm, distanced personalities, who rarely get angry are, to me, far more frightening when they are angry that those who are upset more often than not. But enough about me and my thoughts on SeaNanners. I want to talk about rage in gaming, as he did.

I have my fair share of anger, but I find that I spend more time enjoying my experience than I do with a pit in my gut and a scowl on my face. What causes these rage sessions, though? It's a game. There's no attachment to reality, the people you play you'll likely never see again, never meet face to face, the objectives a useless means of spurring players to different play styles. The answer is a simple one, but before, I want to make an analogy. Games are like sports, and indeed are quickly becoming a sport unto themselves. You don't go to a sports game and not see at least one guy in the stands, and on the field, angry at something at some point. There is an inbred need to compete inside us and all thinking animals (indeed, all of evolution is essentially a game of who's better at what), and when we begin to fail at something, even a little bit, there is a frustration that builds. It's a subtle thing, really. When we have an expectation of ourselves, as everyone does with enough experience in something, and we thusly do not meet that expectation (perceived or real), we feel that we've cheated ourselves. Why, we ask, can't I hit that guy/catch that ball/ find that flag/get that grade? What is it I'm doing that makes me unable to achieve my goal?

I think it's these questions that are the real cause of the anger we feel. From my own experience, I put this forward. With Black Ops being my first Call of Duty game, I had no expectations of myself. I knew I'd suck, and I knew I'd suck with impunity. I was completely fine with it. My good games were those where I had K/D over 1, or even right at 1. The whole experience was new, there was nothing there that made me want to know what it was I'd done wrong, or even I was doing anything right. I chalked up a lot of my kills to luck of the draw or the stupidity of both me and my opponent (and that I managed to be just a touch less stupid). As with most things, with time came skill and, by extension, expectation. I began to see where my limits lay, what I could and couldn't do, and, like a typical human, I wanted to push those limits. The anger came when I couldn't own up to even the most basic of the limitations, false limitations, really, that I'd set for myself. My K/D, in my mind, should always, always, be around 1.5. I can generally get two kills before dying, because I know what players are doing, how they move and where they plan to go based on my time in game. It is when that knowledge either fails, situations present themselves that block my ability to reach my goals or my team is outright shit that I begin to get truly angry. The questions come, and they come in waves. Why, why, why, why, why, why, why? I ask myself with no clear answers because there are none, because the situation I've found myself in lends itself to an unexplainable deluge of failure, and because my rage-clouded mind can't process more than the sum of my anger. It doesn't help, of course, that like SeaNanners, I am very much a perfectionist, whose expectations of himself and his attitude towards himself are far higher, and far worse, than some others.

In the end, though, it remains a game, and if you fight through the frustration, you can have a good game. If that's not your game, put down the controller and have fun in the sun, surf, snow or rain (or some combination thereof). I know I need to do that more.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Longer Delay (Much) and News

This blog let me down, not by any fault of yours, but of my own ambitions. I'd read all the things saying, "You need to stick to it, through the hard and the easy. When it gets good, you'll understand why you worked so hard for so little." Like a typical human, not just an arrogant bastard, I believed them and promptly forgot. I started getting a few who thought what I had to say was interesting, and that rekindled my fires, but then I started posting less and less. It got to a point where I'd reached what was, for me, a cap in viewership, and something inside just wouldn't let me justify continuing. So I let this thing sit idle for full on four months. It was not until tonight, sitting in my editing class and talking about the future (what a thing to do, right?) that something inside me wanted to return, start up the engines again, and get somewhere. And so I write this. What's to talk about, now that I've explained (uselessly) my absence? Well, Halo Reach came out, Medal of Honor all but fell flat, and Call of Duty: Black Ops ensnared the highest preorder stats in GameStop history and got millions (several of them, myself included) playing for inordinate hours. In retrospect, getting that XBOX 360 Slim for Reach was a great idea. I'd never have found out I'm a rusher who enjoys getting in the face of his enemies. In sum, I'm a CoD guy. Halo's too slow, and Battlefield is too sluggish (there's a subtle difference there, but I won't go into that).

So, Black Ops. I'm not going too deep right now, nor will I in the future, just to say that 1) it's my first CoD game, 2) the weapons, for the most part, don't have an overall dominate member (save the G11, perhaps) and 3) Domination is the best game type in the whole game.

I'll put this into perspective using the only other game I've put a lot of effort and time in: TF2 (yes, I'm returning to that too). I've played every game type in TF2, save Arena, because I don't like not getting back in the action, and I can say Payload is the best. The map design, both from Valve and the community, is not at the par of Capture point, but the concept of payload as a game mode is the best one. To qualify, with Payload, more than most CP maps, and similarly in Domination, you know, immediately, exactly where your enemies are. On Payload, your HUD says X players on the cart, and vocal queues tell you to get to it. With Domination, you have a flashing flag and a vocal queue. Those are guaranteed kills if you can get the drop on your hapless foe. While it can certainly become a deathmatch and constant rush for flags, by and large there's one team who takes it to the other team and just keeps hammering. Objective game modes are, I think, my excuse to not play deathmatch modes because I'm not confident enough. There's something to that, and I understand that about myself. My gun skills aren't to par for sheer gun on gun combat, and my mind doesn't work fast enough, most of the time, that I don't need some indicator of where exactly I should be going to get my killstreaks. If I played more, I'm sure that'd change some. The larger reason, or at least so I tell myself, is that I can never find one single bloody person to kill in TDM. I run to where the action is, and I'm a second too late. Ten kills later on the board and I'm still freaking looking for my second kill. If anything, I like some kind of assurance that someone will be somewhere at some point and that I have some chance of killing them. In TDM, for me at least, I'm always exactly where that is not, and if by some chance I happen to be, some situation with contrive to get me out of that groove. IT's usually an RC car.

Let me be clear, however. My most played game mode in Reach was Team Slayer, so my gun skills aren't bad enough that I must stick to objective game modes. I play games to enjoy myself, and I do not enjoy my time in TDM like I do in Domination. And let me be clear that I've gotten several Chopper Gunners and enough kills for Gunship and Dogs (though I don't really ever equip them. That'll change) Hell, I've rushed spawns at gotten upwards of fifteen kills, topped the leaderboard in captures and defenses and had K/D over 5. I can turn on Beast Mode when something inside me really wants to. But I remain the average, above at times, gamer.

That's all for now. I've got other writing to do, and a begging session with That VideoGame Blog

Monday, August 9, 2010

A little of Me and Training in FPS Games

Yesterday I said I'd talk a little about my gaming habits and the little side business I started. I plan to make good on that promise. First, let me clear the air by saying that, yes, video games were the first games I ever played, but my introduction into pen and paper games was all but a foregone conclusion by 1997 when Final Fantasy VII came out and I, on a lark, rented it and loved it. I collected every game since (though I never played XII. Too much changed) and I haven't looked back on that. Fifth grade I started playing social RPG's and all through high school I continued. By college GenCon became my only outlet, and I think I can sneak in a change to that pattern here in the near future. I also dabbled in CCG's or collectible card games, namely Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh (blame the horrid anime, I suppose). Though nothing ever came of it and I've played all of one unofficial and one official game of Yu-Gi-Oh and MtG respectively, I amassed quite a collection of cards. Due to my quickly fading interest in card games entirely, I thought I might make a little extra cash selling them on eBay, at this fine location. The stock is currently very small, but I have a booster box in the mail and a plan in my head to increase and diversify stock on a grand scale here shortly.

Regardless, that isn't the main point of tonight's blog. Instead, I want to talk about training in FPS games. When you play these virtual soldiers, in Call of Duty, Battlefield and Medal of Honor, you use almost any weapon you want and your avatar knows the ins and outs of every one. For the record, this isn't realistic, but it's a game, right? Sure, let's go with that, but take into account the years of training that goes into each soldier on the battlefield. Then think about the special operations teams and the intensive molding and shaping they go through. Now think about Medal of Honor's advisers: Tier 1. These guys, according to the site (and I have no choice but to believe them, since I'm afraid of the guy with the epic beard and assault rifle), go through more training than even the best Spec Ops team. Their numbers fluctuate within a few hundred, with a classified exact number, and you wonder what they do that other soldiers do that others don't. Translating that into a game world seems almost like a moot point when you think about it, since soldiers in the big FPS brands already use every weapon they can pick up, every piece of equipment on the field and every vehicle they get their hands on. Everyone is Tier 1 in CoD4, MW2, Bad Company 2 and Halo. But that isn't true, because in the world of the game, it is a matter of simplicity and ease of use to have soldiers proficient with all weapons and equipment. This leads me to a point I noticed in the Medal of Honor of beta.

The weapon you choose is the one you stick with, and you cannot pick up enemy or ally weapons to use in place of your own. In an earlier post I said that DICE needed to implement this, but I retract that statement. Thinking about it again, I recall the Rifleman's Creed. In essence, the weapon you receive from your country is the one you stick with, through thick and thin, in the worst conditions, through repairs and cleanings, peace and war. Because both EA and DICE are going for the most realistic depiction of modern war in Medal of Honor, that they restrict which weapons everyone uses means they consider the training, time and emotional attachment that soldiers spend and accrue in their service. Think about a soldier on the battlefield watching his best friend die, then avenging him with the weapon he and the fallen knew back and forward, divided only by the set of hands holding it. Would the surviving Marine or Ranger or Seal or Tier 1 operative not wish to use that gun and only that gun in all mission to follow? I would think he would, in memory of his friend, and to show those who took his life what it means to feel the hot steel of vengeance.

And with that cheesy metaphor, I leave for another day.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Long Delay Explanation and Customization

So yeah, I've been away for a looooong time (by my standards), and there is a good reason for it. I'll go into more depth tomorrow, but for now I'll simply say this. Video games are not the only games I play. I also play pen and paper roleplaying games, and in my home town (stalk me if you must) GenCon Indy just went down and I had some great fun with pre-Con gaming Wednesday night. Thursday took my time, as did Friday, and so tonight, since I'm not making the drive tomorrow, is the first night I've had completely free to blog. I've also started a side business selling trading cards (I don't play. There isn't enough time between sunrises), and I've tried to get my stock completely up on eBay, which, believe it or not, is very, very time consuming. All told I've had perhaps two or three hours to myself, and this usually comes at the end of five or six, so I put it on the back burner. With the Con over, for me at least, I'm ready to get back into things. Let's jump in, shall we?

Modern first person shooters nowadays are big on one thing: customization. Sure there are gametypes and map packs and different play styles, but customization, for me at least, drive a game's replayability. In BC2, for example, there are so many different ways to play every single class, and no one "right" way (though there is always a wrong way, but that's for another post). If you want to play an assault class, but aren't the guy who goes hog wild with the kills and low death numbers, sit back and provide cover for your friends, be sneaky and get behind the enemy, provide a safe place to spawn your mates in, then get out. Throw down ammo packs and keep everybody covered while they rush in to arm the objective. Their eyes are on one thing, and yours need to keep them safe. If you want to do the opposite, slap on lightweight and magnum, a shotgun and some C4 and you've got yourself a mobile death machine. Hell, I saw a guy with lightweight and body armor knifing only, because he could.

What I'm getting at, of course, is that games, especially FPS's, grow boring rather quickly once everyone discovers the routes to run, the weapons and perks/specs to use and the tactics the other team is likely to employ. It becomes a repetitive grind/yawn fest where everyone just goes through the motions until the timer goes "buzz." What makes any game fun for longer is the ability to change it up. Call of Duty is perhaps the best example of this, and I'll explain my reasoning for not going with my series, Battlefield. The Call of Duty engine is relatively static. The maps are not destructible, and only the rare car explosion and window smash break the steady flow of troops around the environment. Call the physics system simple, but with the massive weapon selection, even the most mundane game remains something to enjoy months, even years in the case of CoD4, after release. Players try out new things, from weapons to perk setups to map routes and even douchey tactics to get just a week more out of the game. Slap on an RPG only 360 spin match (Seen it. Hilarious) and you have something fresh to enjoy.

Going back to Battlefield, and why I stray from speaking about it in the same way as Call of Duty. Putting aside the fact that they run on different engines, cater to different players and use different play mechanics, there is one reason sometimes using the same kit until you don't grow bored of it ever is that the matches are always, always, different. Certainly the routes that troops take are probably the same, but the tactics employed are always in motion. In Call of Duty, it's essentially kill kill kill, take objective, kill kill kill. Forgive my presumption, as I don't actually play, but that's how I see it. In Battlefield, there is almost always a different way to approach a situation. Putting aside vehicles for a moment, the maps themselves are large and varied enough that a single objective has at least three ways to attack it at any one time. Combine this with the four different classes, their almost infinite variety of setups, and the constant motion of class balance, and you might play one game on one map and then the next game is completely different, simply by the virtue of a few new players and few new play styles. It doesn't take much.

I think Call of Duty suffers a little bit for this fact. Because there is no class system, as character skins are determined solely by weapon choice and not role played, there are only so many ways to go about doing something. Again, certainly there probably hundreds of ways, but not the thousands of Battlefield. Add to this a non-dynamic battlefield, smaller maps with sometimes no between-player support, and those hundreds of methods exhaust themselves fairly quickly. In the end, in Call of Duty, with a very specific set of weapons, attachments, perks and killstreak setups making the killing the most efficient in game play, eventually it becomes fairly standard, and you return to the grind described in the beginning of this post. I may be being a bit contradictory here with my belaboring the Call of Duty stuff, but my earlier comments only last for so long, as I've said. I think that, in the end, it comes down to a player and his desires from a game that determine his, and only his, replayability. What I've tried to say, in a very roundabout way, is that the overall replayability of a game measures itself not by a single player or small group of players, but only after a few months of play and discovery. If, in that time, a very small set of tactical choices become the norm, the game has a lesser replayability than another.

Whew. I guess I needed to get this out of me, huh?


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Crysis 2 and Dead Space 2 News

Yeah, yeah, no update for two days. Sorry, but life calls first!

Anyway, I just received word, through our friends and GameSpot, that both Crysis 2 is delayed and that Dead Space 2 is coming to every platform to ever exist ever. Meaning, in essence, that it's coming to handhelds and mobile phones and consoles and PC.

For the first part, Crysis 2, I'm not at all perturbed, and you shouldn't be either. The original Crysis came out almost three years ago, and still remains the benchmark for how good your PC is. I say that if it takes three years to catch up with graphics technology on the hardware front, I don't think anyone should worry about a few more months of hardware dev time and releases to help ease the processor destroying monster that will be Crysis 2. Like Portal 2, I'm willing to wait a little more because I know that CryTek wants only to make sure the game will be the absolute best it could be. They received a lot of flak for their handling of the original Crysis, what with its strange premise, cliffhanger ending, unidentifiable island and giant, yet inconclusive, boss fight. For a game as massively changed as Crysis 2 seems to be, not only is a three and a half years reasonable, I'd say that it asks a little much. For the first part, the folks at CryTek are building a whole city from the ground up, in cyberspace. The opportunities for dynamic action, death defying stunts, open world gameplay are endless and the sheer amount of detail that goes into creating a realistic virtual environment take equally endless amounts of time and dedication. Also, like Portal 2, CryTek seems to be expanding not only the environments but also the game mechanics, and, based on the already rather complicated mechanic of Crysis, that is a tall order.

As for Dead Space, not much to say beyond, "Wow." I didn't play the original, due in large part to lack of funds and interest, so I can't speak to the game itself. I may have to do what I've done with other game series and play the second game quickly to follow the first, to see what they improve. Then again, I don't really care for horror games, so maybe not. I applaud EA for pushing it so hard, since the response at E3 was so positive.

More tomorrow as I crawl home from my pre-GenCon gaming.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Taking a break from FFXIII and back at BC2. What seems to plague a good many Rush games is the idea of camping. Being a progressive objective gametype with an offense and defense, camping is always going to be a factor, especially on defense. Heck, that's what defense play can be, though good defenders actually move around the map rather than posting up with an ammo and health pack and spamming with nades and noob tubes. Where it really becomes an issue is on the offensive side. You take a single base and then suddenly someone decides its best for the team to sit on their duff and watch the defense push back. This notion seems to be contagious, as the entire team soon follows suit. Perhaps the most amusing part about this syndrome is that, when the game is all but lost, someone finally sees that there is an opportunity, but by then, it's too late. Then the game switches, and the rage quitting begins.

It certainly has its place in FPS games. There are times when you must camp, as is the case with Rush and defense, or in Call of Duty when you just need that last kill or two, or, if your team is good enough to spawn trap, sit back and watch the kills rack up. Certainly there are time when, tactically speaking, camping is probably a better proposition than rushing. However, I take the OpTic crew's ideals that I'd rather lose by rushing than win by camping.This is, of course, more applicable in CoD due to the faster nature of that game series, but it applies in BC2 as well. The name of Rush is rush for a reason. The attacking team needs to rush intelligently and fiercely, then take a quick breather and repeat the process until the game is won. The strategy a team uses must revolve around the environment, how players react to air support and other vehicles, what they destroy and what they leave standing, but rushing teams need to do just that, rush. I've played just one too many Rush games where a team pushes the enemy back then takes just that instant too long and finds themselves unable to push again. The momentum shifts and something in the minds of the players changes, forcing them into a regiment of "sit in a corner and kill when you can." I understand that, at the end of the game, K/D padding is something to think about, but, again, I've been in games when it is literally the very last ticket that allows the attackers to blow up the M-Com and they then have 75 brand new tickets to push once again. It really only takes a few tickets to decide a round. It's those games that are the most enjoyable, the ones where every second could spell the end of the entire base. Games where both teams sit and take pot shots at each other are boring, and spawn trap games are both frustrating and endlessly boring.

I understand the camping mentality. I do. It almost guarantees a kill or two, and smart campers move around a couple spots intermittently, farming their kills as they go. It is an easy, if uninteresting, way to get points and keep an objective safe. Some players do it to troll the enemy team and make them mad, others do it because they don't yet have the skill to do anything else. Others do it just because they're lazy. All three reasons have their place, I suppose. You'll find fault with any of them. The trolls need to get a life and find another way to make their lives enjoyable than making the random person on the internet mad (who hasn't done that? Think of a more productive thing to do). The lazy people probably have better things to do, and I'll admit laziness is a good excuse. The skill factor comes with time, but to really get better, you need to get out of that corner and try other things. I can only bush wookie for so long. I switched to the VSS auto sniper and C4 and I feel like a fuzzy assault guy with boom boom blocks. I'll admit that I actually prefer the VSS play, most times. The bush wookie has his place too. If he takes out defenders when they're doing their job and covers his allies and throws motion mines, then he's doing a good job.Camping for them is a job. That's what a sniper does, and wt some recon guys do and do well enough to shoot up the scoreboard. What I don't condone is joining a team halfway through the round, banking a mediocre score with a few headshots and motion mine assists and finding myself at the top of the scoreboard. If, within 3 kills and 5-6 assists I am doing better than the 15 other people on my team, something's wrong. Either people aren't hitting shots or they aren't really doing anything. It's sad, really.

Camping sucks done wrong, and when it's done right it's still rather annoying.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Combat in FFXIII...

Is annoying. The AI isn't bad at all, but I really wish they'd slowed it down. Turned based combat at the speed FFXIII takes it to ceases to be turn based and becomes more akin to God of War at the speed of a tortoise (forgive the bad metaphor). What they did in FFX-2, may it burn, actually worked better. You still controlled all the characters on the screen and it moved at a nice pace, if a little sluggish at times. The core battle mechanic had some potential, but, being completely outside of Square's comfort zone, they dropped the ball at many points. I never played XII, but the battle system was similar to XIII's, though XIII took it a step further. With the ability to control one and only one character leaving the rest to the AI, there's not really a lot to do. That, combined with the fact you could just sit and spam the "Auto-Battle" until the enemy goes kaputs, occasionally switching to a medic setup to heal, leads me to think that Square ran out of time from everything else they were doing with the game and left the combat to lay fallow.

Which is a major fault, since combat is 95% of the game. 4% is running towards combat, and the rest is listening to dialogue/watching cutscenes. The whole thing really turns into a giant grind-fest from one battle to the next, and I'm getting to the point where I just want the story to advance at let the combat take a side road. The boss fights are just a little too far apart and a little to predictable, what with suspicious save points and all. Those, too, have lost their satisfaction. I hit a button or two and I win if I do that enough. Even X, whose fights were a little less than button mashing storms themselves, took strategy with the character switching, Aeon summoning and tricky boss tactics. None of that is here in XIII, which really saddens me.

Probably the best part of the battle system is the summoning, if only because it isn't game breaking and you can only do it once in a few fights, so you have to choose your battles. The actual mechanic makes this less of a skill as well, since you can only summon a single character's summon in a battle and not the other characters'. Every summon is awesome, but only being able to use one in the battles I really hope are coming (those that rely on everything you have just to survive, let alone win) might be a game breaker. Hopefully that rights itself as I keep going.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII: Character Development

Short post, this is in two parts. I'll compare FFXIII to VII a lot, since that is the closest game that Square emulated for XIII.

What was really impressive about VII's characters was, as I said, their complexities and depth. The multiple plot threads, mindsets and personalities that each character possessed evolved and found resolution as the game progressed, reaching their endings only when the game's end came into sight. What FFXIII does, and  wrongly, in this case, is quicker development. Having played a little farther into the game, I need to clarify a few things. The whiny little kid is no longer whiny, but now fills the role as secondary "friendship is everything" talker to Snow. The anime is showing something fierce both in his current mindset and the entire game's art style. That aside, the kid is a little better than he was a few hours ago, but he's slowly approaching Snow's one-sidedness. There is one thread of thought he still needs to tie up, but for now the only reason he's still around is because he likes these people. Sure, in VII there were a couple people like that, but they were temporary. Again, each character stuck with the party because some part of them was incomplete without the completion of the end goal and the happiness it brought. If they had a name and more than 10 lines of dialogue, they were deep, meaningful characters with motives beyond "save the world" or "I'm really curious" or "these people are nice and I'm kinda stuck with 'em." To XIII's credit, there is one overarching theme that ties the party together, but there needs to be more, as I've said again and again.

Another thing that bugs me is how quickly characters move from one emotional state to another. One minute they're laughing, the other their angry and confused, the next, laughing again. Emotions don't fade that quickly, at least not for anyone I've ever met. Ways of thinking change too quickly as well, and Lightning's monologue about herself was about as forced as I've ever seen. She, of everyone, needs to change slowest, evolving in small, delicate steps. At this point, I think Square dropped the ball on their "female Cloud." He remained cold and distant for essentially the first disc and half of the second. He moved with the group because he had too and, deep down, he knew he needed them more than they needed him. There was certainly that attention to the whole "FRIENDSHIP IS AWESOME" is VII, but it wasn't nearly as pronounced. Cloud's trust in the party came based on his own morals and how everyone seemed drawn to him, but he remained always unsure. In XIII, unlike its model VII, that uncertainty is voiced again and again, in no uncertain terms. Subtlety, Square, Subtlety. We don't need to hear that they don't know what to do. We can tell from their body language and the tone of their voice and the look in their eyes. What's irksome about the style in XIII is that the subliminal signals are all there, presented in high definition picture, and gamers who have at least three functioning brain cells can see what the character is really thinking and feeling. Yet apparently Square thinks much less of their players' intelligence than they used to, because, and I'll repeat, they give us everything verbally.

There are those brilliant Squaresoft moments though (Square Enix really lost something), and as you may expect, they come from Sahz. He remains the only character to evolve but remain damaged, complex and interesting. I won't say why because that's a big part of his story, but the scene I just finished really shows that some people at Square still value complex characters with pasts that affect the present and that the future is not always an easy thing to see. Maybe this is because Sahz is the oldest in the party, and has more on his plate then the others. That's really bullock though, since the only character less than 15 years old is Hope, and as one dimensional as he's becoming, 14 is plenty of time to garner plenty of stuff to hate about life but not be able to voice. It's disappointing but for XIII Square really made the game for themselves and not their fans. How much can we make ourselves look awesome, they may have thought. The characters, save Sahz, are over-thought and overdone, but with 40 hours of game left to play, anything could happen.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Too Tired, Maybe new Schedule

I'm too tired to put up anything. Couldn't sleep a wink last night and I'm running on empty.

I might make this an every other day blog, but we'll see.



Final Fantasy XIII: Initial Impression

So the game's been out for months. So it's more linear than any to come before. So it's been reviewed and played into the ground by people willing to pony up 60 hours of their life. None of that matters to me. I skipped FFXII because it looked absolutely not worth a moment of my time. I almost did the same to FFXIII. I'll be the first to admit that I probably would never have picked it up if I hadn't gotten a great deal on it in the UK. 47 bucks for a $60 game and I got the damn thing in England. I'm gonna play it until my hands fall off and write about it here.

That doesn't mean, though, that I won't rip the thing to shreds in an effort second only to Ben "Yahtzee" Crowshaw in Zero-Punctuation. I'm going to be as brutally honest as I can here and stray from my scoring review, since, for now, I haven't finished the bloody thing.

Here we go. First, let me say that, despite their best attempt at recreating the magic that was Final Fantasy VII, Square failed on all counts, at least in the first parts. To begin with, there's no world map. -10 awesome points. You spend about 2 hours in FFVII and then you get a full glimpse of the huge world you will tread all over. You walk in a straight line ad infinitum in FFXIII. Second, there is no clear villain from the start. The opening cutscene and subsequent early play define the setting, certainly, and show that there is something we should be fighting, but what, we really don't know. Again, within 2 hours of FFVII's beginning, I know there's a guy called Sephrioth and that he's really bad and he's going to be the final boss. You just know it. Within 2 hours of FFXIII beginning, there are at least five candidate final bosses, I have no idea how to fight effectively and there is almost no clear direction for the story.

Also, and this is the real big part, the characters are not nearly as complex as they need to be. In FFVII, within 15 minutes of starting the game, there is something very, very wrong with Cloud, and you sense confliction even as you feel put off by his blase attitude. Lightning, on the other hand, is just cold, hard and downright mean. I've spent five hours with her and all I know is she wants to kill something really big and really powerful with no other reason than that she's really mad at it (and that it's cursed her to "die" when it's done with her). We know that we want to beat Sephiroth because of a broken past, something buried deep in the lore and literature of the ages. Cloud is certainly cold and has his mean points, but there is a soft side of him, a side brought out by memories of a better time. He is more human than Lightning to begin with, filled with emotions of love and hate, sadness and joy that play out even despite the much inferior graphics.

The supporting characters too lack a depth seen in past FF games. Their goals are too simple, too defined by only what is on the surface to be effective. Snow, pushed by love for his fiance and nothing else. Hope, wanting revenge and whining constantly. Vanille, who everyone seems to universally loathe and who is somehow the narrator. If anyone has even a vestige of the character of FF's past it is Sahz. He, I think, carries more confliction and interesting depth than any of the others. Why does he have a chocobo? What is his past, his reason for joining and staying with the party? There is a tension within him that none of the other characters possess. Certainly there is tension, but it doesn't run as deep or as strong as it does in Sahz. If I'm interested in unfolding any character to see the underlying layers, I want to see his. Lightning I want to see evolve the most, since Square tried to model her after Cloud, a superior character, in my opinion. Vanille I want to shut up and see that the world is not a constant positive place. Hope I want to grow a pair (I know he's like 10) and man up to both his feelings and the responsibility he now holds. Snow I want to grow complexity. He is the most one sided character where I am in the game, about 8 hours in.

Also, I want to know who the ****ing final boss is. Who am I supposed to hate? Give me someone I know that'll be: "That's gonna be a fight for the ages."


Saturday, July 24, 2010


Right now, I'm rather glad I didn't put anything up last night. See, my mother is, was, the owner of a very special animal that we had to put down today. What do you care? If you play video games, the kind of which I've described time and again on this blog, namely First Person Shooters, you've killed thousands and thousands of people. Virtual people, mind, but people nonetheless. Until about three hours ago, I had never once seen a real living being cease to be so, and become a lifeless shell of gas, flesh and bone. Bella, the horse's name (and this is relevant), was the last in a long line of animals to fail in some way. Never before, however, has my mother had to watch as an animal she saved twice, at enormous emotional and monetary expense, die despite all her best efforts. Keeping a straight face, even for an animal I had very little connection to, I found exceedingly difficult, given my mother's response to the finality of her decision. As Bella laid down and began to fade, I could not help but wonder at the sheer audacity and callousness we gamers feel towards killing when we play games. We think nothing of shooting a man in the head and watching him fall. "He'll respawn in 10 seconds," we say. "He isn't real," we tell ourselves. "This doesn't affect me," we lie. That's bull and we all know it. We become inured to death at a younger and younger age, or so we think. Until we actually see it, we cannot know. I can contest, at this very moment, with all my heart, that had I not played these games for as long as I have, I would have bawled and crumpled right along with my parents. That I kept my composure at all is testament to the hardening of my spirit in the face of death. This is a horrible thing.

So shooter games make us cold creatures with no sympathy, is that what I'm saying? No, it isn't, but they do adversely affect the way we view the world. Guns become less instruments of death, pain and misery and more means to an end. Chemicals that stop the heart are no less potent than a story device, albeit a powerful one. I watched today as a simple blue liquid, it could have easily been Kool-Aid, killed a 1200 pound animal with no pain or regret. I watched as she slowly drained of energy, and finally succumbed. I began to think, as I sat watching my YouTube videos, how awful death really is.

And we do not restrict it to humans either. Animals in games go through horrid things as well. A game called Red Dead Redemtion allows you to kill your horse in any variety of ways, and I've heard people talk about how cool it was to watch their character and the horse tumble down a cliff "spectacularly." Do these people have any idea what it really means to own a horse, let alone in the Old West? Do they understand the bond that forms between a horse and its rider, its owner, how the owner caters to the animal's every demand, seeks comfort from it when he/she feels down, how riding provides more than simple exercise but performs miracles? Google "therapeutic horseback riding" in your state and watch some videos of children who would otherwise never walk get on their feet and take steps for the first time in a decade or more. Watch as children ten years and older, who've never spoken a word in their life call out how much fun they are having. Watch as their parents burst into tears of joy at what wonders the horse can do, what it did for their child, what happiness it brought to their otherwise miserable lives. Go to the library and read about the love the cowboys held for their horses, how the Native Americans, nay, the Original Occupants of the Northern Western Hemisphere, cared and loved and cherished their horses. Go to a horse barn in your state or town or country and see the love that circulates between a horse and its owner, an owner who values the horse as a being and not a tool. Ask anyone who's put such a magnificent animal down what they felt as the last of life ebbed away. What did they feel? What level of pain did they go through? How much did they spend to keep their friend alive? Did they call for "Godspeed" as my mother did when the last breath left the body, tears streaming down their faces? I guarantee at least some of them did.

At the end of it all, I suppose what I ask is that, the next time you go about your business playing games filled with needless death, you ask yourself what you are really doing. Consider for just a moment the ramifications of war, the momentous sadness it causes. Think on the cruelty of the fantasy of video games. Do not simply shrug off with lies and rationalizations. Look to death in your own life, for there will be some if there has yet to be, and think, just for a moment, what that headshot really means.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Gaming Setup

First, again, sorry about the missed update. I went to long into the night (morning) and couldn't muster the energy to put anything up. I also have a pounding headache to show for it, so I guess that's my punishment.

Anyway, here's tonight's topic: setup. It's different for everyone, and comes from both the monetary limitations and the actual gaming preferences, so mine and yours and the pros' are going to be drastically different. I'll start with my own setup and expand onto my thoughts on what a prime setup should be for various people. I'll stick to the PC for today, and I might go into consoles tomorrow.

First, my rig. Don't shoot me, but it's nothing spectacular. At all. I run a two year old MacBook Pro with an NVidia 8600 GT graphics card and 2 gigs of ram. I don't just play with the stock keyboard and screen and mouse. I'm not a masochist. For a screen I use a 19 inch, 720p Insignia through the attached HDMI port, and for my purposes, it's more than I could ever need, right now. I have a Logitech Pro 2000 wireless keyboard and mouse, which serve me rather well unless the connection isn't great, as it can be with all the stuff on my desk. I now have Turtle Beach PX21 headphones, which I'll be reviewing once I get a few weeks of gameplay with them. A couple early dings on them, however, are that they are not circumaural, but instead sit within the lobe of the ear. Granted, the padding is very good, so no real pain yet, but we'll see. Also, there is an annoying feedback from the microphone which I think is there for gaming, since this is a gaming headset, not a casual listening headset. I use a Staples mousepad with puppies on it, which make me smile and serves my current purposes. For internet I have Comcast cable at 2 Mbs through an Airport Extreme Router and ethernet cable. I have the capability, therefore, to run any PC game on the market, albeit the newer ones run at low settings. I'm not choosey, so I don't really mind. I want to upgrade, but funds aren't there. I'm working on that.

For the casual gamer, or the guy who plays RPGs for a couple hours a week, maybe a little more, the setup I described above is probably more than enough. In fact, even less would probably do. Go to Best Buy and pick up a stock PC and you'd probably do just fine for the RPGs and casual games out there.

For the enthusiast, which I myself quickly crawl towards, more oomph is in order. A newer NVidia or ATi graphics card, say in the 280 GT or 5500 series, respectively, is probably sufficient. The prices on those cards is at all time lows, so getting your hands on a card to last a few years is easy. 720p screens are the way to go, since the human eye has trouble discerning between it and 1080p resolution except at very large screen sizes. The keyboard/mouse I use is probably not really a good choice, since it's exceedingly cheap and the signal likes to flake at the end of long sessions. Wired keyboards and mice are the way to go, if you can find a way to keep them untangled from all the other cords that go with the various tech devices for a gaming setup.

For the pro, I can only imaging that everything is at the very top of the line, from $100 dollar mice and keyboards to mousepads, graphics cards and screens and headsets. Without the skill-set, time or wish to go into competitive gaming, there's not much I can say. That isn't mentioning that these guys get a lot of their stuff for free from their sponsors, so money isn't that big an issue. What I can be assured of though, is that setups like these are upwards of $10,000 dollars or more, and that doesn't count the countless hours spent using the equipment, the constant upgrades and cost of transportation, food and living.

Whew. I'm going to bed now.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Story in Multiplayer Games

This idea came to me when Valve, the creators of Team Fortress 2, began giving a story to that game. On the face of it, a solely multiplayer game like Team Fortress 2 or Blacklight Tango Down don't really need a story. Team Fortress Classic didn't, and there aren't that many actual wholly multiplayer games out there. Sure, games like CoD, Battlefield and MoH are mostly multiplayer, but there's a story behind the maps you play on. If you had the audacity to play the single player and enjoy it, you'd recognize some of the maps as set pieces from the game. Not so for fully multiplayer games. The maps you play on were built, ostensibly, for players with no regard for background or flavor. As long as they functioned for death match of CTF or territory control, who cares?

That misses the point, though. Every game out there has an art style unique to it and it alone. What informed the decisions the artists and level designers made was not simple ergonomics. There are ideas and stories that go with any one of the maps you can think of. The dark, war-torn world of Blacklight and the strange pseudo America of TF2 came into being because someone thought there was something to say with the environments, the way buildings stood, their colors, the color of the water and the sky, the action around the maps. All of this has some tale to tell, but no one seems to care, so long as the maps are balanced and fun to play.

When Valve began implementing a cannon to TF2, I was ambivalent, but I realize now how important all they're doing is. Sure, we don't stop playing to examine the environments around us in these games, but maybe we should. If we don't, all the work hundreds of people put into making those environments is for nothing. You end up with a map like Orange_X3 and all its variants. There is nothing to say about these maps. They are functional. That's all.

But there's life in the real maps, just like their is in a book or a comic or graphic novel. The question that follows, therefore, is why we appreciate multiplayer games versus why we appreciate the work of art that is literature? If we value one far more than the other, as is actually the case, why is so much work put into the games to make them feel like there are words to write about them when almost no one plans on writing? What if we didn't read books, but merely used them as page turning simulators without the simulator. Every page is blank. It's just turning pages. That's the same idea as bland multiplayer maps. When you play them, you're just going through the motions of play. There's no consideration to the artistic value of the surroundings.

We enjoy a lush setting for books and movies and art, why not for games? They're games, we say. There's nothing in them, let alone multiplayer games. Valve, in their unending quest to break boundaries, sees that there is a value in the story that surrounds a game where no one cares about the surroundings. Stunning vistas no one looks at carry just as much, if not more, weight than those examined in detail. They are all the more sweet to enjoy when you finally look at them, or when someone decides you should take a little time and view them.

Thanks for reading,


Not much to say right now. I've written myself into a corner with nothing to say. However, tomorrow I'll have a post going up that I'll announce on this blog and you'll see it on my acquaintance's.

Stay tuned,

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sleepy Gaming

I'm really tired, and I don't know why, but that brought me to the thought of gaming while tired. I don't think I'll have much to say here, but I'll see what I can post up.

It happens to everyone. You're playing and it's going great, and then you look at the time. 1:30 AM. Whether or not you actually have to wake up that day, it's still not a great sight to see. At that point too, skills begin to decline and reflexes slow, reactions are less frequent and frustration levels begin to rise, compounding the problem.

The obvious solution is to go to sleep, but some gamers feel like they can "go all night," and so they do. The problems with this I've already stated, but there is a phenomenon I experience that I think requires expanding on.

I'll make no lies about my own obsession with games. I've posted at 4:00 AM some nights. But what I find interesting is that the last game I play in the wee hours of the morning is often the best of the night. Whereas I'll barely be breaking even in K/D and sit comfortably in the center of the scoreboard. I've contributed, but not enough for it to be noteworthy. Then, for some reason, my playstyle changes and I go on a rampage, taking point after point, saving allies and killing enemies like it's something I do regularly with no effort. I cannot say I know why this is happening.

The one explanation I have is this. At some point in the session, prior to my late night tear, I had a great game. A game you only have once a week or less. I say to myself that I need to stop and go to sleep, but I do not. I keep playing, and I suffer for it. Then the night grows frustrating and my pride goes up on the line. So I keep going, and I finally stop with a second good game. The guy who played Morpheus in The Matrix said it best on CSI the other night. Basically, I was chasing that good feeling, the feeling of success and accomplishment, but, when I didn't get it, the chase grew harder, and I lost ground. It is only when the mind begins to shut down and calm to restore itself in the early morning that I can pull it all together for one last game. It is only then that I find it in my power to stop and go to sleep.

It's funny, I guess, but not hard to understand. I feel good once, I want it a second time. When I get it, I'm satisfied.

I know, though, that it isn't good for my health, and now, at 11:45, I'm going to bed. The earliest in weeks.

Thanks for reading,

The Pros are Human

This is something I myself have never experienced, having no YouTube name, but I've heard quite a bit about. When we(the masses) watch high level video gameplay on the internet, our first instinct is, wrongly, that the results we see are the norm. A high K/D in a few games of CoD, BC2, MoH, TF2, anything where that kind of data makes an appearance, means, at first glance, that these are games that happen all the time. These YouTube commentators always, always, go 75/2 in MW2, 30/3 in BC2, 43/1 in MoH. It's routine for them and there is no frustration involved in getting these games. They are just naturally good and everyone who thinks they do anything less than 10.0 K/D is just a noob with no skills.

It isn't true, no matter what your thoughts on K/D, no one goes for any period of time without something to grow frustrated about. No one has a K/D of 30 all the time. If you look at the stats these very commentators post on their pages, the answers are right there, it's just that no one looks. Would SeaNanners have a measely 5.0 K/D if he always went 30/2? Would Sandy Ravage, who I'll talk about shortly, have a 3.20 CoD4 /3.50 MW2 (XBox 360) or 4.10 (PS3) K/D if those 78/4 gameplays he posts happened every night in almost all the games he played? No, it would be much higher.

On the topic of Sandy Ravage, I watched his live stream today, and I can say that he is just like the rest of us. Not every game is a complete domination (regardless of gametype). He died, he used Painkiller, he had trouble and he quit when he became frustrated with the game or someone in it. Granted, he did win quite a bit of the games he joined, but not all of them. Some you simply can't win, having joined too late. Quite a few of the games too were close calls, with only a point or two between victory and defeat, and Mr. Ravage spent a fair amount of time either looking for players or dying. It wasn't the AC130 fest or the Spas-12 fest that he puts up on YouTube. The reason is simple, and the real point of tonight's blog.

These players are human. They make mistakes, they have bad days, bad rounds and bad weeks. SeaNanners stated in one of his videos that he simply became to angry to continue, which for many of his viewers is all but inconceivable. But the emotions are there, the mistakes are there. No man is a god at anything. These people are good at what they do, sometimes even great or exceptional, but they are not perfect. Ask any of them about going negative. They will have stories for you. Oh, the stories they will tell.

And that leads to the title of the post: the Pros. Yes, what they can do is amazing, and what they show off at tournaments is beyond the ken of 99.9% of regular players. The reason? These guys practice, and they do it a lot. They don't go into public matches, generally, keeping to the competitive circuit as much as possible, keeping their skills sharp by playing against equal or better players and learning, yes learning, from them. Even the best players always learn as they continue playing. A new tactic on how to approach an old enemy, a new technique to surprise an unexacting foe, a new way to use the environment, itself known to a pixel, to the betterment of the game.

This does, of course, lead the the question of frag videos and top ten/five videos. Why aren't there more of them put out? The answer to this is simple as well: those moments are rare at best. Sure kills like those you see on PLDX might be somewhat regular, but the chains of kills, the exterminations, the total destruction is something that happens once in a while, not every day for any single player. The events must line up in just the right order at just the right time and that player must have just the right setting for his epic action. 

All this, of course, comes with experience. In established games like Halo 3 or CoD4 or MW2 or TF2, where most maps played competitively are well known and well explored with known troop routes and objective locations and weapon drops times (down to the second), you'll get some really good stuff. That's because the players know what to expect and they play, both sides, knowing exactly what will happen. They've done it before. Many, many times.

One last thing to remember is that every single gamer that has ever lived has been a noob at some point. No human who ever lived jumped into a competitive game with no prior experience with any sort of gaming apparatus and completely owned, that I know of. Any stories I hear I will not believe, simply because of the way humans are. We must learn before we can grow. No human looked at a book at could read at a college level. No musician never heard music and could simply play. Not even Mozart. He copied his sister after listening and watching, not completely cold. The same goes for competitive gamers. They don't just head into Counter Strike or whatever and start dominating. There is always a learning curve that, once surmounted, allows for great feats.

And still, no one does perfect or even excellent at every game. It simply isn't possible.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, July 17, 2010

BC2 Update(s): Final Review

Well, looky here! An update not at 3:00 in the morning! What a sight to see!

Ahem. The rest of the weapons and items really received very little in the way of boosting or nerfing. The M1A1 Thompson received a damage boost and in the last update the MP-443 Grach and M1911 pistols received a little tweaking. The MP-443 received a damage boost, since it was already the weakest of the pistols but with the highest fire rate and clip size, thus making it a much more desirable weapon. The M1911 had its rate of fire significantly reduced, which was good, considering it was almost a machine pistol with really big bullets to begin with. It is still a very powerful weapon, but it isn't as widely used as it was. You see the MP-443 and the M9, even the M-93, which also received a damage boost. The M1 Garand is finally usable, since DICE fixed its inability to receive stars, and you see it a lot more in the game nowadays. Prior to the update, I'd seen it used once, and I don't really know why, since the guy using it really cleaned house.

Probably the largest change for the general kits came to the shotguns. Their slugs lost accuracy, which was good considering they killed at any distance with pinpoint accuracy, and overall shotguns no longer require magnum ammo to be effective, though some people still run with it out of habit or superstition. A better option is the increased ammo capacity or explosive damage increase for the assault shotgun players (C4 works wonders if you know how to use it).

Two small things I forgot to mention in the actual class reviews.

First, the recon mortar strike had its recharge time increased to 60 seconds, which is actually quite a bit with a game that moves fast (they do, sometimes). It also makes tactical use of the strike much more valuable, considering it's great cover fire on Rush and works wonders against a stationary vehicle of any kind.

Second, the engineer's repair tool overheats faster but repairs faster, so overall the effect is the same, but pulsing the tool is now more attractive than constant repair. Killing with it is, of course, now easier, and still just as rewarding.

I think that's all of it. If I missed something, I'm sure I'll think of it after the post.

Overall though, this update gets an 8.5. I'm not averaging the scores too much, just seeing where the high-middle might be. The updates to the game do make it more playable and enjoyable on a more consistent basis. Rage always happens. That' the topic of tomorrow's post.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, July 16, 2010

Penultimate Reivew: The Engineer

Tonight's entry will be short, this time not because I'm tired, but because there's really not much to talk about.

The engineer's main weapons, the SMG's didn't really get too much tweaking in either of the updates. Without the data from the first update handy, I can only talk about the current one. The UZI had its ranged damage increased and the PP-2000 had its up close damage decreased. The UZI, not having used it, didn't really need this little increase, and the PP2000, if anything, needed  a very slight boost. As it is, the weapon is really not much use, even with its high rounds per minute. You're really better off with the AK74u or the XM8 compact.

The real topic of debate, continued debate, is the Carl Gustav rocket launcher. Even though DICE reduced it's lethal radius to 1.8 meters rather than 3, it's still a primary weapon for many engineers. Some say even more so than it was before the "nerf." I tend to agree. I see more and more engineers using the CG at the expense of other weapons for purposes other than vehicle destruction. Paired with the tracer dart, which saw a slight reduction in travel speed, most vehicles have no hope of survival, especially against a determined few engineers and their CG's. However, with explosive damage increase and more explosives carried, a total of 8, CG only engineers have the ability to spam their weapons until they get the kills. With the lower skill level required for CG kills in this case, those looking for high K/Ds with minimal effort need only look as far as the Carl Gustav.

Granted, I don't really know what DICE can do to decrease the CG effectiveness any more beyond reducing the radius still more. Reducing its damage is out of the question, seeing as it then becomes useless, and without the two main nerfable areas, there isn't a good alternative.

Regardless, DICE did nothing to address the issue at all, so this part of the update gets a 7.75.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Medic Kit: Review

There's two reasons I"m reviewing only the medic tonight. One, I'm tired (again), but also because it begs a bit of explanation.

When the medic kit first hit, the gun everyone used was the M60. The gun was accurate from across the map and had the most damage of any light machine gun (and still does). The only real drawback was the giant recoil, which didn't really matter at anything other than long range. Add to this that LMG's were generally accurate at any movement speed save sprint meant that medics with M60s ran and gunned, carrying whole teams to victory on the virtue of their overpowered mancannon. It became a polarizing issue in the BC2 community, the first of many. It's damage, fire rate, ammo carried, lack of accuracy falloff and other lesser factors created a class play style that wasn't intended. Instead of staying at the mid-lines keeping everyone alive and reviving, medics took the assault's job away from them to some extent. Another gun like the M60 but not nearly as vocalized was the XM8 LMG, whose increased fire rate and rounds per minute coupled with its own sizable damage output made it a worthy second to the M60's crown.

DICE took their time in balancing the weapon in the major update, wanting to be sure that it no longer carried the stigma of launch. When the patch finally came out, the LMG's saw perhaps the biggest nerf, since rather than a single weapon seeing a reduction in its attributes, the entire LMG category felt the blow of the balancing hammer. LMG's no longer carried near the accuracy when moving, and no crouching gave the best results. The hit was so great that running and gunning medics all but disappeared and medics, if they wanted to go back to their old ways, were forced to choose from the all kit weapons with much more limited ammo supplies. The M60 and the XM8 also saw great reduction in their damage output over range. While the M60 now carries a 16.7 damage at max range, that, combined with its great recoil, does lower its ubiquity somewhat.

With the recent update, the status quo changed the most for the medic kit as well. The intro LMG, the PKM, saw an increase in its damage at range, the T88, which previously received a nice pad to its damage output, found itself reduced back to standard fare. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the MG3, the final LMG rewarded to medics, with the highest rate of fire and lowest damage, received a boost to both damage up close and at range. Originally, I believe, 10 damage up close was the maximum, but now that figure is 12.5 and damage at max range is 10. With rounds per minute at 1000 and .06 seconds between each bullet, it takes approximately 4.8 seconds to kill up close and  at max range, assuming every bullet hits (my math might be wrong).The weapon has, therefore, seen a rise in users. The SPECACT kits released do something for that as well.

Overall, the medic updates are good, but the M60 is still a little over powered. Proficient users still snipe from long range, but its core users, the run and gunners, moved on, thankfully.

The updates get a 8.75.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Change of Plans: K/D in Single Player

Ugh. Here we are again. I played too much and don't have the time or energy to make a full post. So tonight's quick post is about Kill/Death ratios in single player games.

Back in June I talked about K/D's in multiplayer at length, but I'll make this quick, because it's so needless. I first ran across K/D during a game in the original Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and I've seen it in every shooter game since. What irks me about this so much is that, unlike multiplayer, single player has no difficulty setting. The difficulty determines itself based on the skill level of the players in game and the maps played. The skill level represented by multiplayer K/D is dependant on game type and perception, but single player is neither. And here's why.

If you play single player games in today's world, you have achievements, trophies, whatever, and in order to get them, certain conditions must be met. These conditions sometimes take so much skill and luck that even the most godlike multiplayer player might not be able to achieve them on the first runthrough, or the second or the third. Someitmes these depend so much on luck that players restart a level over again and again after each death to get what they want.

There is also the option to raise difficulty, as I mentioned. And again, even the most godlike multiplayer player may not have the skill level required to make it through an entire game without a death or two. Sure, you could certainly say that he restarts after every death or restarts from a save point, but, regardless, he dies and eventually the game will record a death he decided he didn't want to worry over. This does not even take into account the cheapness some games exhibit in their enemy AI construction and ability array. Death after death piles up at no fault of the players. The situation he finds himself in is simply unwinnable, and until he decides to move on, his anger only increases with the number of his failures.

Some might call the above a moot point on the principle that K/D defines skill in all video game circles, or that you've mastered a genre to such a point that even the hardest difficulties are easy. Even with this, the whole idea of Single Player K/D's is ridiculous. They are easily shrugged off on the excuse of AI or repetition of a single event or as simply unneeded.

I feel I've made myself unclear here, at least in my own head. Single player kill to death ratio has no purpose because the human element of the equation is removed. You outsmarted a computer. Good for you. No get online and show that you can do the same to thinking, cunning humans.

So there.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bad Company 2 Update Review: Assault and Recon

Strangely, despite DICE's claim that they tweaked a lot of weapons in the latest update, I can't say I see all that much in the way of improvement. The weapons I can speak to I'll talk about, but there isn't much in the way of stats for the update, at least comparatively. Therefore, I'll talk about the two update together in places where it's pertinent.

First, the Assault Kit. This kit didn't get much of anything. The two main changes came for the 40mm shotgun and the AN-94. I'll touch on the shotgun first, since I've never used it. Apparently, DICE raised the base damage from 14.3 to 16.7 with a multiplier of x12 based on distance. This, combined with the 2.5 damage bonus for headshots, greatly increases its range. I may start using it, but since I rarely play assault anymore, that may take a while.

As for the AN-94, I can't speak to it before the second major update, but that one made it the new M60, and everyone who's anyone uses it, unless they find it distasteful. It's base damage at close range is 20, making it a five shot kill. While it's rate of fire isn't stellar, it is fast enough at .1 seconds that the kill is only about half a second long. Most players don't react that fast to much of anything, and if you've got them in your sights from most distances before they see you, they're dead. This is still true since the update. The only major change is the damage drop off at distance. DICE lowered this to 14.3, which makes the weapon the equal of the M16A4 at any distance and most other weapons at mid to long range. The only real drawback to the weapon is the fire rate. If you want more kills, it's the weapon to use.

The Recon kit recieved a slight buff and a hefty nerf in the first update. The M95, a bolt action, .50 caliber sniper rifle, reduced its longest range damage to be in line with every other bolt action, which many people found distasteful. There was no longer a reason to use it over any of the other rifles, considering the accuracy is actually less than the GOL or the M24. Interestingly as well, the headshot multiplier for the M95 is only 2.3 while the other bolt actions are close to 4. This not only makes the M95 a poor choice up close, it is less effective at range as well. All this, added to the paltry increase to 55 damage at max range (from the base 50) in the recent update, and the rifle is useless as a bolt action. I prefer the GOL.

These parts of the update I give an 8.

That's all for today. Tomorrow is the medic and engineer kits. The day after covers the rest of the weapons.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, July 12, 2010

The BC2 Patch: Knifing and Review Begin

Sorry about the missed update yesterday. The family went to a party I didn't know we were going to and that messed up the rhythm of the day. I'm back, though it's my father's birthday tomorrow, so we'll see what I can cook up.

Tonight's topic is, as promised, the beginning of a review of the Bad Company 2 update. I'll speak to knifing in this blog. In future entries, I'll touch on further problems that arose in the second major update, as well as any statistics changes I can find.

But knifing's back. Everyone cheer! When BC2 first launched, after the obligatory problems with any big launch, knifing was a whole new experience. I believe that in Call of Duty, especially the newer ones, the knifing is a little overdone. I know that the Commando perk in Modern Warfare 2 is a bit much (and that's putting it mildly). Therefore, when I first knifed someone in BC2 I was surprised, but not negatively or positively so. The animation was exceedingly slow and the hit registration needed work. That is the negative. The positive is the satisfaction actually knifing someone gave you. You had to really work to get the knife, and on the big maps for any game mode save Deathmatch, going knife only, as is possible in Call of Duty with a fair bit of skill, became a task of almost monumental difficulty. Granted, it is possible, and people do it. Some of them even go positive doing it. They are, however, an even greater minority than in the Call of Duty franchise. I know of only two or three in BC2 while I'm sure there is at least ten times that number, if not more, in CoD.

Then the patched the game in April. Knifing went to hell. Strangely, knifing from behind did not work. You had to be within 180 degrees of your enemy's front if you wanted to get the knife kill. On the other hand, the longer knife animation was not always necessary for the knife kill. A simple swipe got the job done. Hit detection in this regard was much improved, and it was still satisfying to out think your opponents in fights when you've both run out of ammo (which is easy to do between players of equal skill or fail level). Overall, though, knifing fazed out of fashion if only because it was now even inefficient than using guns.

In the recent update, which came out on June 29th, my birthday, they fixed knifing. Anywhere near the opponent and suddenly he's dead. Right on! Unfortunately, the awful hit registration returned as well, and there is, once again, a little bit of a lunge when you knife someone, sometimes. Other times, you just fail. In all my time before knifing returned, I didn't get a single melee efficiency pin, a hard pin to get. I can now claim at least six to my name in the twelve or so hours I've played since the 29th.

This part of the update I give a 9.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Metal Gear Solid 5?

This should also be quick, since I've already touched on the MGS series. The news is this. Hideo Kojima, in a recent interview about his future plans, noted that his next big product would be either something completely new or Metal Gear Solid 5. No, Hideo. No.

The thing of it is, Metal Gear Solid 4 wrapped up every loose end I could think of, killing off key characters, destroying the series' reason for existence and all but ending the entire saga. Not to mention the ten deus ex machina that there was no way you could no about. And that doesn't even begin to excuse the casual and completely bogus explanations for a full 75% of the games' coolest abilities. I cannot think of a single thing Snake could possibly do that fits neatly, or even disgustingly, into the current cannon. Time travel wouldn't even work, I don't think. But let's move on to speculation.

We know that we can't make Snake a rookie again. The Metal Gear games did that. The Solid games eventually elaborated on his past and set a future for him. The only things I could think of that Snake might do are to fill in the blank spaces between games (and sections of games). What did he do between MGS1 and MGS2, since there is a lot that goes on that Snake touches on but never elaborates. In MGS2, a lot of things go unexplained between acts, and between MGS2 and MGS4 (MGS3 covers another Snake) the whole scene changes, Solid Snake included. That period, after he and Raiden part ways and before the events of Guns of the Patriots would probably be really interesting. If Kojima took MGS: Rising and made a sister game following Snake around, I can see that working. Hell, I'd probably play it.

Still, beyond that, there isn't much for Snake to do, except smoke and die.

Sad, isn't it?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gaming Withdrawal

First, apologies for the missed update. I hope today's topic clears it up a little bit. This will also be the first almost completely personal blog I've done, but it has pertinence beyond my own experience, I think, especially for the really hardcore crowd.

Since I went to Vegas, my gaming setup reduced to only my laptop with no wireless mouse, keyboard or high quality screen. I left my best headphones at home as well, and when you go to Vegas, you don't go to play video games. You go to lose (gamble) money. That, combined with the small break from gaming I took on the days just following my return left with me with a serious case of what I'll call gaming withdrawal. What I mean is this: as a gamer just this side of hardcore (I'll never actually have that level of skill), I'm somewhat addicted to video games. I've come close to medical drug addiction too, right after my wisdom teeth removal, so I know what real withdrawal is like. I sat down to play Battlefield Bad Company 2 at around 10:00 PM and didn't stop until 4:30 in the morning. Granted, I do this even when it happened just the night before, but the experience was deeper, less frustrating and far more liberating. I played a class I suck at, the engineer, and had a blast. I argued with an arrogant noob-caller, finding him to be a shell of a man with no way of expressing his discomfort with other people than by demeaning them. I insulted him several times in ways he could not and did not respond to, but he always came right back at me, or others, with the same tired phrases. It's typical, I suppose.

This thing's happened to me before. I took drastic steps a few months back by completely uninstalling all my games and deleting all related files on my computer. Suffice it to say, this lasted a total of 33 days (which, by my estimation, is something to be a least a little proud of). I did something very similar the night the games returned: 4:30 to 5:00 AM, sleep until 1:00 PM. Horrid for my health? Yes and no. Yes because I need better sleep schedules, but no because it relieved the ache in the back of my head that pushed me farther and farther from sanity the longer I went without the games.

This is not to say I need games to breathe, eat and sleep (the last one, especially), but I use them as a way to unwind from the day, to prepare myself for sleep by using up any excess energy in my body and, most important of all, have a little time completely to myself. Gaming is my escape, and when I finally put up the mouse and keyboard, I've either had my fill and am ready to sleep or my frustration grew so great I simply turned the computer off. Yet regardless of any anger the game creates, it servers its purpose and does so well. I'm ready for bed, completely drained.

I suppose I think of the need for gaming like this. When we arrive home from work or school or whatever occupied us during the day, there is some kind of ritual that we go through to welcome ourselves into the relaxation of home. It is a general formula that we follow, allowing us to unwind. We add or subtract activities from it, change its location or the various pieces that make it up, but the structure stays relatively the same. Gaming is, for me, the final act in that ritual. It is a habit I enjoy that ends the day for me in a way that I wish it. Interrupted for a few days and things are fine. Stopped for more than ten and there is a breakdown. For more than a month and the urge is at its strongest. If I quit cold turkey for two or three months, the ritual formula would change in a bigger way than it has in a long time, but I don't see that happening. I have an addictive personality, and this is an addition that costs me far less than I gain from it (considering I'm not constantly changing my game of choice).

In the end, I see myself playing games for many years to come. Withdrawal will happen as it has in the past, and I'll go on binges and then slowly rebound to a regular schedule.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

InFamous 2: ReBoot of Combat

I'm exhausted right now, so I'll make this quick.

On, there is a video showcasing InFamous 2's combat features. It seems melee is now a major part of the InFamous mechanic. This is a good thing, since the basic three button melee from the first game, while amusing to use on bystanders and fallen but not dead enemies, played little role in actual combat.

This addition to the gameplay should be as no surprise, given that Cole now sports a giant cattle-prod and such things aren't good from any range but shockingly close (boo). The actual combat itself is rather fluid, consisting of punches and kicks interspersed with the electric powers. The ice powers should also add an interesting twist to the way you deal with your enemies. The game itself is probably still in the early alpha stages, so combat will see major tweaking as development continues. One thing I want to see in the end though, is the closing distance mechanic that came in Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner.

Here's what I mean. You take in your tough baddie close, rough him up and shoot him into a building from a hundred feet away. You then use the electrical powers to somehow bend space around you to appear in front of him and continue your assault. This will have to be a late in the game ability, since by the time it's usable the big enemies should have the ability to counter or recover from damage. They are super baddies, after all.

Since we know that the Beast, the super-super-super powered villain introduced in the last game is making an appearance, he too should have this power, but it should be far more developed and evolved. The attacks should come quicker and fiercer, leaving little time for Cole to wrest his way out of the onslaught.

All this, however, obviously leads to the idea of just spamming that one attack at the expense of all others, and the Beast could be really annoying if the attack is too powerful. Balance issues in InFamous 1 were fairly well done, seeing as all attacks had a limit and the ultimate attack was a one shot before recharge.

Back on the topic of overall combat, I want to also see chaining of attacks. Seamless chaining, no less. A lightning bolt to the head followed by an electric grapple to throw into far away building to warp melee is something that would not only wow audiences but would be incredibly satisfying to pull off. InFamous is a super hero game, and SuckerPunch brought us the powers in the first game. What needs to happen now is bring in the cinematic combat, the fast paced, explosive, huge scale asskickery that you see in the best superhero movies.

That's it for now,

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

iPad Prelimanary Review (With Score, no less)

The iPad. Yes, it is a wondrous device that I do not use to its fullest capacity. In fact, I hardly even use 1% of what it can do, but at this juncture, I think that's okay, seeing as I've had it for less than a week. However, what I have seen appears below, and I give the machine a tentative score. Let's jump in.

The interface: As with most Apple products, the user interface is clear, crisp and easily manipulated. With the addition of the gyroscope the screen rotation is far smoother, faster and cleaner than it was in the older iPhones. What I wasn't expecting, and what I'm rather glad Apple put in, is a rotation lock to avoid unwanted movement if something needs doing without interruption. As for screen space, there is, of course, more than on the iPhones, accounting for screen size. However, Apple managed to capitalize on the new HD screens by maximizing resolution and icon size while minimizing space required for recognition and usage. Any applications that you buy are easily integrated into the screen space and the multiple screens allow for a number of apps on the iPad limited only by the hard disk space on the machine itself. Scrolling through them is easy and smooth, though the theoretically infinite number of apps makes for touch scrolling if you need to find something in a pinch. The search function certainly makes up for this, but because it is only accessible from the first page, things could still get rather time consuming.
I give the interface a 9.25.

App selection and store searching: This is still the biggest problem with the Apple smart devices, and the iPad in particular. With the App store and especially the iBookstore not allowing for continuous narrowing of selection, you're really stuck rifling through thousands of books/apps until you find what you want. Broad catagories cannot be focused and the only two ways to look through are on the featured pages, which limit the shown items, and the release date selection, which shows every single text in the catagory, do not allow for easy viewing. There are top picks and New York Times best selling, but those don't really help with only ten showing to begin with and ten more at each request for a bigger selection. Overall, the App selection and searching gets a 6.75.

Hardware: The real meat of the matter, the hardware and function of the touch screen are things I will touch on briefly here and expand upon in the full review. For now, I'll say this. The touch screen is very sensitive, almost overly so. It takes very little effort to change screens in iBooks and other reader apps, and switching between application pages takes no time at all. However, beware launching an app you don't want while scrolling, because the line between movement and selection is a fine one. The touch screen is also susceptible to smudges and requires constant cleaning. Dust collects and shows extremely well, leading to annoying distortions of light. The gyroscope too is almost too sensitive and turns with the slightest provocation. The lock certainly handles this, but isn't always a good option. Lastly, multitasking needs to be implemented, and soon. I want to listen to Pandora and read my books, not the few hundred songs (yes, I have that little) I've heard too many times to begin with. I'm putting this here because I have a feeling that this function is a hardware issue and can't be fixed simply with an over the internet update. I've been wrong before.
Overall, the hardware gets a 8.75.

The iPad, therefore, gets an 8.5 overall in its current state. That's really good, in my book. The original iPhone gets only a 7.75, maybe an 8 on a good day. When I have more reviews up, this will mean more, so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading,

Monday, July 5, 2010

Vegan, Final Act

Saw Blue Man Group for the Second time. It's still awesome. Hoover Dam is big. Like really, really, big.

Will have more to say tomorrow. I'll give my first review of the iPad with the limited time I've spent with it. I will play Bad Company 2 and give my thoughts on the patch in the days following.

Expect a lot more tomorrow.