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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Patches, Time and Vegas

Tomorrow I leave for Las Vegas to celebrate mine and my parents' birthdays. Posting will thusly be a little bit shorter, and since I need to get to work packing and sleeping, this will also be a rather short blog.

The Battlefield forums have a real history of trolls and flamers (look it up) always looking for something to complain about. DICE wisely remained out of the war on their own forums, knowing that if they chimed in, the flames would only grow hotter and the trolls tougher. With the recent patch to BC2, long awaited, they addressed many issues the community had, while instituting a whole slew of new ones. There are those who are just happy the patch came out, myself among them, and I hope that the issues stay in minority of players and are addressed quickly.

Of course, however, there are those who are still complaining, some even more vehemently than last time. The question becomes: what do you want from them? Either they get as much done as they can and release, testing again and again for any bugs they can find, or they release small patches with less testing which may cause even more issues than a sweeping patch. DICE has no way to win here, and I pity them. To a point. I do think that if they release a large number of small patches over a short period of time would, in the long run, be a better policy. Feedback would be quick and the testing crew is several dozen times larger than DICE could ever hope to field. Valve follows this model, to a degree, addressing two to four issues at a time and occasionally putting out a sweeping patch that changes the game dramatically. What I've come to realize is that big patches carry with them far more danger than small patches. This is obvious. With the huge difference in computer power from person to person, as well as different operating systems, graphical software and so much else, going big or going home brings more problems than it's worth. Every major update to Team Fortress 2 brought with it so many problems, glitches and exploits that in a thousand years the Quality Assurance people at Valve had any hope of finding.

That being said, there will always be people who want to not see the forest for the trees, as they say, and they'll complain about something. I suppose that's just a fact of life.

C'est la vie,

Kill/Death Ratio: Skill or Useless Quotient? Also, iPad!

Yes. I got an iPad for my birthday. It rocks. I'll do a review in a few days, then another in a few weeks. I'll probably gush a whole lot with the first review, then tone it down with the second. Apologies to those Mac haters out there (and I know there are many), but personally, I like Macs and Mac products for what they are. I wouldn't use them for serious gaming, of course, but as a student, they work just fine.

That is not tonight's topic, however. Tonight I want to speak for a little bit about the idea of Kill/Death ratios and their measure of your skill. I won't talk about any specific game, but about first person shooters in general and the game modes that come with them. Here we go.

If you want to judge someone's skill based solely on their K/D, your view is immediately narrowed to a single number not supported by any other evidence than your own views on the matter and the figure in question. To say someone has no skill just because their K/D is 1.5 or 1.25 or 1 or whatever gives no credence to their actual play style, the game modes in which they play, why they play, who they play with, and how the luck of the draw plays out. Someone with horrible luck might have all the skill in the world but always join the worst team possible, leading to below average (for them, anyway) scores. If someone has a K/D like 1.5 and they play objective based games like territory control or progressive objective capture or capture the flag, that kind of score is fine and they may have the skills to do much better K/D wise. But they don't. Why? Because these people care less about their kills and more about winning the game type they're playing. The saying goes that no man is an island, and in an objective game mode, everyone must work together to the betterment of the team. Sacrifices must be made for the win, and if they are not, the only option is loss. I think, for me, I find it more enjoyable to boast a 1.5 K/D and play to win than post a 5.0 but lose. So I wiped my boots on the enemy team, goody for me. We lost, fooey. Now, the excuse immediately comes that the other team were total idiots and sat back doing nothing. Maybe, but probably not. In no game mode, save maybe team deathmatch with eight or less men on the side, can someone post up a huge K/D without the other teammates, and even enemies, doing something to assist in that giant K/D. Perhaps they drew fire away from our kill whore, or the other team were just not paying attenion, or he camped the entire time. It could be anything, but in most games, K/D's come from a team effort, whether planned or no. That team need not even be your own. The enemy team might have no skills and your team has just enough to let you, Mr. Killwhore, go on that rampage you so desire.

In the end, what I'm saying is this. Kill death ratios should never be the sole method with which you judge someone's skill at a game. Say "noob" or whatever to them only after you've seen them play, and then more than once or twice. Everyone has an off night or two. If Mr. Killwhore didn't, who knows where his K/D might be?

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Metal Gear Rising (also, my birthday)

Let's get this out of the way. Today (I'm on Eastern time, so it's just after midnight) I turn 21. So yay for me, I guess. Before I go any further, no I don't plan on plastering myself to the floor today or any other day. I can't stand beer and I have little tolerance for alcohol. I also know when to stop. That's done, on with the games.

Metal Gear Rising, the upcoming Metal Gear game from Kojima Productions, follows the blond wimp (former) from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Raiden. For those who never played that game, do so now. Stop reading and buy it, then play it, and do it twice. Then play MGS3: Snake Eater. It's even better. That done, go back to basics and borrow the original from someone or buy it off the PlayStation network (I think you can get it there). Then finally watch (as that's mostly what you do) MGS4: Guns of the Patriots. It is at this point, and at this point only, that Rising would make any real sense, or have any relevancy.

Backing up a bit, though, why I call Raiden a wimp? Again, if you know the Metal Gear series, you know how much a hard boiled badass Solid Snake really is and how exchanging him for some scrawny little punk with major emotional issues (bordering on the emo) seems like a giant slap in the face from Kojima and company. Granted, the kid knows his way around a gun, but the drama that he brought to the Metal Gear series sans any real testosterone grated at every Metal Gear fan's nerves. I'm not really being fair here, since the point is to explain it how you'd hear it from the internet hate machine (minus the profanity and lackluster use of the English grammatical structure).

But since I don't write to be like the internet but to be intelligent and as unbiased as possible, I'll put up why I think Raiden had a place in MGS2 and why he deserves the now apparent two games Kojima plans to make for him. First, we saw Snake's more human side in the first game, the conflict within him and his past (which, to that point, we knew little about). Second, the sudden shift from Snake to Raiden (call sign snake at first) put us on edge given that the opening sequence very neatly mirrored the intro from MGS. This excludes the section where you played Snake at the beginning. Third, and perhaps most importantly, if you listened until the end of the credits in the first Metal Gear Solid, a small sound clip hinted at something much bigger that Snake alone may not have been able to handle. To that end, a new player in the game that would become the grand conspiracy became necessary. However, Snake must not be that player, because in the first game he was essentially led around by the nose. So now it's Raiden's turn. And again, in introducing Raiden, a fresh-faced new recruit with connections wholly outside of Snake's sphere of influence, the other half of the picture, and its major players, could be brought into focus.

All that, and Kojima didn't want a battle hardened Snake being preached to about how to hold a gun and go prone (since new players certainly wouldn't know).

After the horrid fan reaction to Raiden's character, Kojima wisely left the timeline of the first two MGS games and focused on the man who started it all. Play the game to find out who. When he came back to the present and near future in MGS4, things were very different, Raiden had all but disappeared and the puzzle pieces slowly fell into place. Raiden did not, of course, become playable for any period of time during MGS4, as it was really Snake' story that mattered, he did play a pivotal cinematic role in the game's endgame. What is interesting, however, is that Kojima not only completely redesign his character but also disposed of most of his body and personality, making them robotic and quite cold. Rising and its sequel, are to answer the questions of how this happened.

Snake has a near and dear place in my heart as possibly the best spy action hero ass kicking guy to ever live (next to his "dad" and his mentor, of course), and I really want to see more of him, but I know his story is over, and there is nothing left to say. I was, however, very intrigued about Raiden, far more than I was in the days of MGS2. The new game mechanics Kojima plans to implement, i.e. destructible environments, gore and dismemberment, ninja style sword play and an unknown story telling device allow him to break ground in a way he hasn't since the first MGS. There's a part of me that wishes he'd stop with MGS4 and let the Snakes finally rest, but I know that the fans would never stand for that, and a man like Kojima always has ideas spinning in his head. Plus, Kojima Productions in a successful business, unimaginably so, and so he wants to profit from it (still).

When ever the game is going to come out, I want to wait and sit on my thoughts, hear what both the critics and the populace has to say. I'll make my decision then, and I honestly hope I'm not disappointed. Honestly, I don't think I will be. Heck, if I can sit through the hour long cinematic at the end of MGS4 and enjoy the game for what it is and more, I'll be able to handle a little emo drama from its best Kojima produced purveyor.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What's to Come for Medal of Honor

So I've gone over the major parts of the game and how they seem to me in a reviewer's sense. This being a beta, however, I can't give it a full review without talking about what I hope to see in the actual release. The end review will come after the PC patch, so I can give one review pre and post patch. We'll have to see what game I go for tomorrow, or what news comes up.

In this beta, we have two maps, less than ten types of guns and three class setups. There are crashes and glitches and map errors. All of this will change with the final release. But how, and how much? Here are my thoughts.

First, I'd like to see a couple more class setups. Something in an even bigger support role would be nice. Medal of Honor already distanced itself from its two biggest competitors, let's keep that going. Give something like a medic class or an engineer class, but take a great deal of combat capability from them. Give them a pistol and a low powered rifle, but make them absolutely necessary to a good team. Medics don't revive people. That's too Battlefield. Maybe have them set up shop somewhere and make the shop destructible. Reduce the bullet damage and maybe add an injury system, so that the medic doesn't go through a canned animation for any and all injuries. The engineer should be able to either destroy or repair the environments and/or alter it in ways regular troops cannot. The Frostbite engine already has destruction built in, so use it at least a little more. Maybe adding more alternate routes could be the engineers main job, and maps with impassable chasms cater to them making them a real necessity to the team. At a score chain for them maybe let them build a small bridge or destroy an otherwise indestructible passage way. At their next one, maybe let them increase the minimap for a small time, so that the full battlefield becomes visible with enemy emplacements and everything.

While I'm on that topic, add more to the scorechain, but keep it simple. Make it class based rather than universal. So the rifleman gets what's in the beta, and then each other class gets something of their own, even one or two things different.

DICE promised endless customization. So did MW2, but in the end the best set-ups always boiled down to a very small selection. Don't give an advantage to one set-up over another. Keep it balanced, which DICE is more than capable of.

Give us prone. The single player has it. Give it to the multi. That needs to happen.

More than a few maps. Give us a lot. This has been a long war, and Afghanistan is a big place. Maybe show us a fight over an oil field (controversial, eh?) in the true desert. Show us some cave fighting with very little outdoors. Underground even. If there are fully class based maps, make sniping even harder. Give us windage and bullet drop and true travel time. Make the distances feel right. Make us work for the shots.

If you implement an injury system, have it act like a real injury. Legs injuries should slow you down or immobilize, head injuries blur vision, arm injuries decrease reload times or end it all together, add idle sway to all guns like a sniper scope.

Add a weapon pickup system not unlike Battlefield's, but keep it away from the complete transfer. Just the weapon you're holding with the one on the ground.

All in all, be as realistic as the game will allow. Don't overdo it, and show us the best game you've ever made.

Do it DICE, we know you can.

Thanks for reading,

Medal of Honor Gameplay and Problems

Jumping right in here.

I've made mention of the fast paced nature of the game, and that is the only way I know to describe it. From what I've seen, and seen is all I have, of MW2, Medal of Honor is only slightly slower in the deathmatch mode and significantly slower in the objective gametypes. This is, of course, relative, since spawn times are, at their longest, only about 5 seconds long, and then only for the defenders. Attackers reenter in about 2 seconds tops. Modern Warfare 2 and its nigh-instant respawn times in all but CTF or no respawn in Search and Destroy, is faster. Dying is also faster, even more so than Medal of Honor, and with the number of different ways to die (air support mostly) and patently noobish ways to acquire said kills, not only do games last significantly shorter spans of time, but there is quite a bit more rage involved.

The deathmatch games last about ten minutes, which is comparable to anything in MW2, and for good reason. Respawn times are so similar and the map is much smaller. That is not to say the map is actually small, as it is moderate to large compared to MW2 maps. However, even with a twelve on twelve game, sometimes actually finding another player to kill takes time, especially if spawns recently shifted, instant respawn doesn't do as much to speed up play.

On the deathmatch mode, the score counting kills as well as support actions and revenge/savior/headshot kills, not to mention assists more than makes up for the lulls in battle, as well as lowering the time for gameplay. And speaking of time, DICE continues their idea from BC2 by not putting a time limit on either of their game modes. For Combat Mission, there is a built in limit on how long a match could concievably last, since the attackers have only so many troops to send in before they fail. In a 1v12 situation, with a full spawn trap, the match's limit is only around 200 seconds, or three and a half minutes. However, with the various people playing, and the different ways they play (cautious or aggressive or in between), the matches tend to go into the fifteen minute mark, though they don't really last more than 20 minutes at the maximum. The longest I've seen is a little more than 18 minutes.

That all being said, the comparison of MoH to MW2 and BC2 is impossible to ignore. If you follow anyone on YouTube with the beta in hand, and there are many, the opinions are out there, and they are, surprisingly, wide and varied. Some think the game is more of a Battlefield mod or outright copy, essentially DICE repackaging BC2 with a few changes to gameplay and new maps. Others see it as a mishmash of the two, hedging its bets between the warring franchises. Still others see it as the silent observer, who realized what worked and what didn't, and took its own spin while adding something of its own. The last one works for me. It is neither a copy of MW2 with a DICE touch, nor is it a BC2 mod with different maps. It isn't even a mix of the two, and here's why. First, there doesn't appear to be an air support problem. When I say problem, I mean that during play you don't hear ENEMY AC130 IN THE AIR! at all times, and there aren't constant assaults by harriers and helicopters and missiles aren't falling from the sky every five seconds, or at least, not guided ones. A human guided missile is a late scorechain reward, and you can't call a harrier strike to sit over the map and do the work for you. Secondly, the game takes only the actual engine from BC2, the Frostbite, but utilizes it in a very different way. The destruction is exceedingly limited, since C4 can't even destroy mud houses and it obliterates concrete in BC2. Add to this that the only vehicle acts only as a support unit, not as the primary attacker/defender. If this were a BC2 mod, even the deathmatch mode would have something like a tank or emplacement or something. If it were a clone of MW2, players wouldn't have to work quite as hard for their air support, and they wouldn't have a choice to be team players with defensive scorechains either, especially not when there's a viable mortar strike just waiting at 40 points. The weapons travel in similar paths and in similar ways to MW2, since bullet drop isn't a factor, but they do less damage all around, though more than BC2.

This idea leads nicely into the problems section. First, two things about weapons. Maybe reduce the damage a little bit, just a couple bullets more for each kill, and then make there be a little time between shooting and hitting. Less than BC2 but more than there is currently. I think also there needs to be a kill cam. Giving the weapon that killed you is certainly a nice piece of information, but also knowing from where the bullets came helps occasionally, so that players must move to remain deadly. It reduces camping, if only a little bit.

The lag, of course, needs fixing, as do the freezes on console and the random crashes on PC. I mentioned hacking already, and the server browser needs work, but I know a lot of this last stuff came, and is coming, in the patch.

All this being said, I am glad that DICE put MoH through a beta, because if all this stuff were in the final product, I can only imagine the flame and hatred the game would draw (and I look at MW2 here). Plus, DICE is even patching a Beta so that testing can happen. That makes me happy. Fixing a beta usually happens after it ends, and some companies don't do squat until they don't have to worry about actual gameplay occuring. Granted, these bugs in the beta are next to game breaking, and many are straying away for that reason.

If anything, I wish the beta were extended longer than just a month. This is a fun game.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Medal of Honor Map and Weapon Design

No intro today. Just content.

The maps in the Medal of Honor beta don't need, at first glance, much improvement from their current state. For what they are, they could very easily be final game maps (as well they might). There are a couple things I can say about them, since if there weren't, I wouldn't have much of a topic tonight would I?

Beginning with the Helmand Valley map, I think overall this map doesn't need a whole lot of actual physical changes. Of those it does need, the first is easier access for the one and only tank the map provides (barring the rare two tank game). The bridge has two boxes that impede tank movement completely which cannot be destroyed by Bradley bullets of any kind (something outside of any reality). While there is an alternate route for tanks, the way you have to drive the tank doesn't allow for a lot of quick, calculated movements and it's awkward to say the least.

As for infantry, the map doesn't really favor either side too much. While the attackers certainly have an uphill climb on their hands and limited troops, the decreased respawn time and multiple routes behind the defenders lets them put up an offensive that, if coordinated correctly, is impossible to stop. I'll talk about the respawn tomorrow with gameplay, but now I'll say that it needs tweaking. Also, while I'm on the topic of alternate routes, I have to say that the map is, if anything, too big, with far too much open space. First, with so much damage from weapons and so little health per soldier, pot shots take down enemies in no time. Second, if the shooter has any accuracy, even the best shooter won't last too long unless he spawns right in the action on someone who managed to make it to the front without dying. The map size also comes into play with the number of players per side. Even at twelve at maximum, a coordinated assault by three or four attackers from one of the many flanking positions compromises the defenders just long enough for the plant and the push forward. This, combined with the close together spawn points of the defenders and the tendency of spawn killing among many players leads to a very one sided game regardless of respawn times. Again, this depends almost solely on coordination or the skill of a few players, but it's not fun for the defenders in most cases.

The other map in the beta Kabul City Ruins, is all infantry, and its design reflects this. Close spaces and long corridors with specific sniping positions, easily accessible by anyone and rotating spawns, all combined with short respawn times keeps everything fast and hard. A couple parts of the map need fleshing out or removal, like the stairs to nowhere or the blocked off sniper house stairs, though this probably won't be an issue in the final product. Players quickly deduce the major lines of troop movement on the map and capitalize on them, but with the chaos of battle, and this map really rewards that, keeps things interesting. Adding to the strategy in the map design is the verticality. With different levels of play, whoever has the high ground has the advantage and teams who use it almost always win. That being said, with the multiple ways to said high ground and very short respawn times, barring a spawn trap, advantage shifts.

There are some negatives about this map, though. The above mentioned quirks aside, what breaks and what doesn't isn't always clear and the predicability of where the main conflict happens is something that might monotonize the game. While I don't think that destructable environments are really necessary here, since the map is far too small for that, something needs to happen to free up more of the map for play. For example, there is an entire middle hallway, quite large, in fact, that gets very little playtime, simple because it is so open. If parts of it received cover, even a little bit, it might take some of the load of the other three areas of major combat.

As with all things, the combat in the game relies on the weapons, and from where I see it, there are only six weapons in the game, with grenades being equipment. The rifle, the spec ops, the battle rifle, the pistol, the rocket launcher the bolt action. Stat wise the two factions are identical barring attachments, so I'll talk along these general lines. The rifle (M16, AK-47) is perhaps a little overpowered. Low recoil, especially if burst fired, and equal damage at all ranges makes it a universal death machine. Damage falloff, at least a little more than there is now, would be nice for it. Don't take it so far as the spec ops (M4, AK-74u), but more is better. As for the spec ops, these are probably the best balanced, though still a little over the top. The damage falloff isn't what it should be for a carbine, even at the longest ranges. Still, at all but across map, it's basically a rifle with a different name. The battle rifle (SVD and M21), with either scope, takes a little more skill to use, but because of the instant-shot-from-gun-to-hit and one hit kill headshots, accurate shooters with quick trigger fingers make quick work of almost anyone at long ranges and even quicker close up. The recoil on these is much more, almost too much, leading to wild shots sometimes. Still, it balances the weapon more for its power. The pistols (M9 and Tariq) are pocket rifles with much smaller magazines. The damage is a bit less, but not by much, and three to four shots kills. With across map accuracy, pistol play, while not quite so easy as rifle or spec ops play, is still possible. Rocket launchers, which I put the rifle grenade into, are a little weak, but with straight line shots and instant kill hits or close-by hits make them really powerful in the hands on someone who knows how to use them. The slow reload time and lack of ammunition, however, severely, and properly balance them, so they are perhaps the best balanced weapon currently. The bolt actions are great for either game mode, thought he play style differs tremendously between them. The accuracy and power balanced by the need to hold your soldiers breath makes running and running a little hard, but they are still not to be trifled with. At the longest ranges, a center mass body shot probably should be a one hit kill or close to it, but that's just me and my knowledge of sniper rounds at almost any range, especially bolt action. The only thing I have to say about grenades is that their blast radius needs a little boost and that you need to be able to throw them farther. Not as far as Call of Duty, but father than you can right now.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, June 25, 2010

MoH Beta Review, Part 1: Graphic and Sound Design

I wanted to make this blog about game news, reviews and critical interpretations (for #3, see the Portal blog), but no actual reviews have gone up. Tonight I rectify that in the first of what I think will be a three part series reviewing the Medal of Honor Beta. Tonight is the graphics and sound design, tomorrow is the weapon and map design, with day three covering actual gameplay and whatever bugs need ironing out. The fourth day, while not actually a review, will go over what I hope to see in the actual release in early October. So let's jump in, shall we?

Graphically speaking, this game is amazing. The computer I play on, and the one I write this blog on, has a much older graphics card, an NVidia 8600 GT. It stinks, I know. Regardless, even though I put almost everything on Low settings, the game looks wonderful. Granted, there's popup and the occasional see through then not see through walls, but overall it works. I think it's also a testament to the game that the low settings have the ability to blow my mind.

Specifically, I think the use of the small color pallet is really well done. Since Afghanistan is mostly a haze of greys, browns and other desert colors, that DICE managed to craft a game not only visually stimulating but that gives the ability to see enemies at almost any distance give credence to the subtle touches in the environments that separate them from the drab "there's more brown over there" graphics of other games. In the Kabul City Ruins map in particular, there is a huge range of colors concentrated in a very small area: namely, a silly looking TV. Breaking it is so very satisfying and almost always guarantees me a better game. The Helmand Valley map, on the other hand, is almost completely a set of five different brown shades scattered and mixed to create a desert environment. Even the tanks and trees and water is brown, if you can believe it. Again, it speaks to the skill with which DICE crafted the game that not only is the map entirely pleasing to look at, but it too allows you to see enemies from a great distance, if only as silhouettes.

The character design too is well done. Each class is immediately distinguishable from the others based on  very basic differences, from the headgear worn to what kind of turban the class wears. The developers did their homework on this one, since I can honestly see these Taliban soldiers doing battle with the Coalition in the very cities and valleys where the game takes place.

I won't say a lot about DICE's sound design, because there isn't much to say beyond: it's second to none. Battlefield Bad Company 2 took sound to a new level with bullets falling on snow, buildings collapsing and tanks sounding different from within and without to the sound of a 40mm grenade or a sniper bullet landing next to you. MoH does BC2 one better and, while I've never fired an M16 or an AK-47, I think this is as close as I'll ever get to actually shooting and hearing one. I hear the rattle of the bullets in the magazine of the LMG's and the wing whistle pass the knife when I miss with it. I even hear the sound of the chamber opening and closing on the bolt-action sniper rifles. DICE makes a point of putting the absolute best sounds in their games, and Medal of Honor is no exception.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, June 24, 2010


The title needs no real explanation. People in any game, if they can, hack or cheat to make the game easier or different. Some do it to frustrate other players or to make themselves look aces to others on the internet who don't know that they actually hack.

Now, this wouldn't have been tonight's topic of discussion, but I joined three out of the twelve games I played tonight to see unbelievable scores posted at the top of the leaderboards. At first I thought the players were just really good, but I began to watch the killfeed and discovered differently. Also, the scoreboard itself told a very clear story. In MoH, as in any shooter that requires a good deal of aim, programs called aimbots allow for pinpoint accuracy and kill shots at any distance, almost always in groups of four or five. Also in games like MoH and MW2, where bullets do not feel the effect of gravity and where the game rewards players for accurate headshots and then goes on to give them extra abilities for those kills, you have a recipe for broken games.

What exactly did I see in these games? Kill to death ratios of something like 50/1, headshots that do not account for actual human movement of the mouse, impossibily consistent headshots, absolutely no one being able to kill a player. The list could go on. In each of these games, I recognized the hacks as aimbots that automatically, and within the code of the game, put the targeting reticle exactly on the enemy and then pulling the trigger, shifting at an inhuman rate to the next target.

What is so pathetic about this is twofold. One, why do you want to just sit back and let the computer play the game for you? These players literally sat in one place and let the game do the work for them. It ceases to become a game at that point and little more than clicking a button and watching. If you need to watch Medal of Honor or Modern Warfare 2 and not worry about your own skills, go on YouTube. Search for five seconds and you'll see crazy scores that come legitimately and fun commentators who enjoy the game for what it is while not trying to cheat their way through (for the most part. There are some fakes up on YouTube, too). Two, and this pertains almost directly to Medal of Honor, the game is still in beta. Beta! This game won't come out for months, and many, many things will probably change between now and October and any score you post will most likely be erased, forcing you to start from scratch. Your hacks might even be unusable at that point, and where are you then? No real skill or game knowledge and hated by everyone you play with.

Maybe these people want to show their mastery and ability to manipulate game code or pad their stats to the point where they look like the proest pros to ever pro up a pro server. Any legitimate player with two functioning brain cells knows a hacker/cheater/no skill player when they see one. Whether this is actually the case is usually in favor of the positive, but sometimes players just have that kind of skill or their don't play the way that some consider "good." That being said, I digress. If these people think that learning how to infiltrate a game, alter its code or exploit something inside it to their own benefit will get them jobs or endear them to the developers or other players, I know they are sorely mistaken. Then there are of course those that do it simply because they can, and they don't care what others think; some even find it amusing. Enter the troll.

At the end here I must apologize. This is perhaps the most personal blog I've written, and I want to stay away from that. News reviews and critical evaluations, Xiant, not personal beefs with the games. Get more news up, more reviews, Xiant. Talk less about yourself.

Okay, let's try that.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Battlefield Bad Company 2 Updates and New Game Mode

This is something of a point of contention among the BC2 community. That is, of course putting in lightly. In reality, the flame wars in the community are rampant and widespread, with DICE/EA being the brunt of many insults and expletive filled comments. On release day for BC2, the EA servers dedicated to making the game run were completely overfilled, and only a fraction of the players had the ability to even join a game. Granted, game launches are hard to get right, but the degree to which the launch failed surprised and angered many. I myself couldn't play for about a week and a half, though once I started, I didn't feel like complaining. After playing for a while, there were some very specific complaints that I shared with many other players. Namely, overpowered M60's (a medic weapon) and grenade spam. The latter of the two was such a problem that players grabbed their assault kits and used the 40mm grenade as a primary weapon. The M60's damage killed in 4-6 hits at any range and it had dead on accuracy from any range. Add to this that there was very little falloff while moving and run and gun medics became a real issue.

DICE, in response to community outrage, responded with a huge update that balanced weapons, reduced damages and kill ranges, decreased accuracies and buffed weapons otherwise unused. This and many other things went into that first update, and the community was happy. For a time. New problems then began to pop up. First, knifing was now all but obsolete as it was only completely reliable when done from the front. Knifing from the back now did absolutely nothing except on a glitch or when the enemy was moving. People, like myself, who enjoyed sneaking up on enemy snipers (recon kit players) and knifing them in the back now had to actually shoot, hoping no one else heard the death and bullets firing. Secondly, and this was the only other in game complaint, rather than the 40mm grenade being a primary weapon, now rocket launchers took that mantle. In DICE's defense, they did decrease the kill radius of the rocket launchers, but did nothing to the damage against human targets. Why decreasing the kill radius increased the usage I cannot fathom, yet there you have it.

The other two large complaints came in the form of a lack of private servers being completely private. Currently, and the patch is coming out today or Monday on Steam, you need eight players for a private match. If you don't have that many friends, or friends that own BC2 and regularly play it, it really isn't great to be you. The second complaint is one that constantly evolves, as the consoles, PS3 and 360, received several updates while the PC got nothing. Add to this that a promotion and addition to the game, the SPECTACT kits, comes with the update, and you have a recipe for hatred and flame, which is exactly what DICE has.

What really exacerbated the whole problem is that DICE announced the update in early May, and it is only now, on June 23, that we actually get it. The huge delay, coupled with very little feedback till lately, and the continuing, lamer growing excuse of problems with Quality Assurance, did nothing to help DICE's case.

Now, one has to remember that when the update does in fact go live, a good portion of those people who wanted nothing more than proclaim DICE and EA as the worst game developer/publisher combination the world has ever known will undoubtedly shift their position completely around. DICE and EA, to them, will be the greatest community responders the world offers, and when called on their change in viewpoint will deny and circle the point until someone finds themselves banned.

On a more recent topic, BC2 Onslaught mode. On the surface this seems like a really novel idea. Four player co-op against AI opponents until the entire squad is overwhelmed. New and interesting, except Valve did it with Left 4 Dead two years ago. What saves DICE from being just ripping off Valve is the uniqueness of their class setups. In L4D, each player has exactly the same skills, whereas in BC2, there are medics, assaults, engineers and recons, each of which bring something different to the table. As I understand it, Onslaught mode has no goal, only survival. You keep going until each and every one of you dies with no hope of revival. If this means that entire squads will be medic and constantly revive one another remains to be seen, but somehow I think the game will make players chose one of the four kits and stick with it, making a team of four using all kits.

Either way, it'll be interesting.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Medal of Honor Spawn System

As I continue to play MoH, I come to enjoy and loathe the spawn system. Having never played MW2, I can't contest as to its comparison, but several people say it's exactly the same. The best I can do is describe what I see and how I think it plays into the game. So here we go.

In Combat Mission, an objective gametype, there are two spawn options. First, spawning back at the base keeps you "safe" from enemy fire but leaves a large gap between you and the enemy base/objective. Thus, you have to traverse quite a ways to find assistance, all the while making yourself vulnerable to enemy fire. If, on the other hand, you chose to spawn on the front, the game chooses a random player, who may or may not be taking fire. If he dies, a new spawn location pops up, in my experience at a safer position. The advantage of this latter option, of course, is getting you into the action much quicker and most likely close to the objective. This system is for the attacking team.

Defenders in Combat Mission spawn at their currently held base, since that is always the center of action. In either case, attack or defense, the respawn timer is set to five seconds, which seems like an eternity. The action in MoH is fast and hard, and doesn't really reward sitting back and waiting for kills the way Battlefield does. Five seconds, however long it may feel, keeps the ebb and flow of soldiers on both sides even, allowing for lulls in the action for the defenders to catch their breath before renewing the fight. The win to loss ratio in Combat Mission, all things being equal, is about 50:50. However, like the game type Combat Mission is more than obviously modified off of, Rush from Battlefield: Bad Company 2, if the attacking team has only a few players who want to attack the failure rate increases very, very quickly. If you renamed Combat Mission Combat Rush or Rush Mission, the point becomes only more clear, as does the direct pull from BC2. The basic play style is the same, minus only the vehicles and with far increased bullet damage and lowered player health.

The other game mode, Team Assault, is essentially team deathmatch. The spawning system here is relatively simple. The minimap divides the battlefield into discrete sections, and your spawn point shifts depending on where troop concentration is. If you put a four quarters grid on the beta Team Assault map, the outermost corner of each is the spawn point. Of course, with this lack of generally random spawn points, a couple players can post up and take people out as they spawn, wait for respawn and repeat until someone finally gets them. Again, I've never played Modern Warfare 2, but from what I've seen this is how that game's spawn system works. Add to this that the respawn timer is a little under a second to keep the action fast paced (given the smaller map size) and spawn camping, trapping even, becomes an issue. This happened to my team when I joined a game tonight, though we eventually broke or spawned out of it, but it is not a fun experience.

One thing I want to get off my chest, though, before I end tonight, is aiming. With consoles, as I understand it, there is a system of auto aim to compensate for the control stick's lack of precision. Because the mouse on a computer allows for next to exact aiming, auto aim is never a factor. For me that's a problem, since I find that I always tend to aim directly to the left or right of my enemy before he sees me, and then he sees me, shoots me, and I die. Bah I say, bah.

Anyway, thanks for reading,

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Sniper Update and Medal of Honor

Hello again. Today's topics, the Huntsman and more Medal of Honor, mark the end of my forays into TF2 for a while. Since I've already covered the Ambassador in the first blog, at the time of writing, the Sniper is the only class left. Therefore, I'll talk more about the beta from here on out, and I'll try to bring you some more news from the industry that may be hard to find or that I find interesting. I'm also going to start playing Final Fantasy XIII with some regularity so that I can get a new genre of game into the loop, namely the Roleplaying Game.

The Huntsman then. I'll admit my feelings on the matter are somewhat contradictory, and I hope you'll forgive me for that. When released, this weapon is perhaps the least patched of all of them. Recently they added the ability for arrows to remain on fire when not drawn, and various small fixes to the hitbox and arrows sticking enemies to walls. Damage wise and accuracy wise Valve did nothing. However, my main complaint about it is this, and it is here that the contradiction comes into play. The headshot hitbox for the Huntsman's arrow is huge, so much so that a sniper can aim within what would amount to a foot in game to either side of the head and still get the headshot.Add to this that one need only aim the arrow, release it and await the headshot, hide and repeat the process basically warrents spam. Find a chokepoint in the maps, for all good maps have at least one, then just shoot wantonly into the crowd on the objective (this applies to payload and CP maps, not necessarily CTF) If your aim is high enough and you (easily) about being shot, you'll either damage an enemy and maybe get an assist, or, more likely, a headshot.

With this in mind, when facing a Huntsman sniper of superficial skill, for that's all it take to be a Huntsman sniper, as an class save a fully buffed heavy and you have a recipe for quick death and very annoying killcam. Things get worse when the arrow comes from across the map without losing any of its damage. The Huntsman damage is over 150 for a quick release headshot and 360 for full charge. That automatically takes out scouts, spies, snipers and medics. More than half charge and you take out soldiers and demomen and pyros. Full charge takes out fully buffed soldiers and drastically injures heavies at any stage of overheal, killing them outright without a medic with them.

All this leads to a very large amount of hate for the weapon and frustration aimed directly at anyone with the lack of skill to use it. I myself hate the huntsman except, of course, when I'm using it. Granted, I don't actually use it when I want to really try. I'll play soldier, spy or demo for that. It's a relaxant not really caring or putting any real effort behind play. It's just enjoyable, and thankfully on the servers I play, people are generally good spirited about the whole thing, but I will hear a little hate if I'm failing and they know I could do better as another class. Three snipers and spies on a team of only 16 is still a little much.

Shifting gears, I want to say something about the Medal of Honor beta that really bugs me: random crashes. I know they happen on all systems though not for all people. I am one of the unfortunates. On the one hand, they do stop me from going long into the mornings, but I can't help but wonder at the times they pick. A great killstreak, one last kill for the next scorechain...crash as I get the kill. This is a beta, I understand and accept that. Indeed, I'm less angry about the crashes because it's still in beta. I know DICE and EA are working to fix it, since it seems to be gamebreaking for some people. I'll wait and see.

More on topic, the weapons in the beta. The startup weapons for each kit are actually each pretty good. The AK for the insurgent basic soldier and the M16 for the coalition; the AK-74u and M4 carbines for the spec-ops who takes out tanks with rocket launchers; the SVD and M21 for the sniper kits. The basic soldier's (called the "rifleman") weapon has very little recoil and can kill across map. Both are fully automatic, unlike the M16 from MW2, which is a three round burst. The 74u and M4 lose damage over distance, as a sub-machine gun should and keep the low recoil. The startup rifles for the sniper kit have a great amount of recoil but kill in fewer bullets at all except max range. Headshots are one hit kills with the rifles, though, which is nice.

Overall, the weapon selection is really nice, each balanced against its counterpart. If the final game makes quite a few changes (big and small), which I'll get into tomorrow, I know that this could very well unseat Modern Warefare 2 or Black Ops from its lofty seat. With both MoH and Black Ops coming out very close to each other, whoever gets the better exposure and the best showing wins. So far, the former goes to MoH. Whatever the Treyarch team is doing with their own beta, they need to get on it now, because the MoH beta is about to take off like a shot. June 17th was the beta for those who already had Bad Company 2. With the influx of new players come tomorrow, word of mouth will only spread faster.

We shall see.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Medic Update and Medal of Honor

So, yes, I finally dove into the MoH beta tonight. But more on that later. First is the medic update. With the engineer update still to be released, and with the changes the medics update weapon underwent, I'll stray from speculation as to what the shotgun revealed in the Mac Update video actually is.

The medic's update weapon is called the Blutsauger, or Bloodsucker/Vampire in German, when released, was probably the most powerful weapon one could think of for the medic. Not only did it allow the medic to retain his slow health regeneration, but it also healed him as he did damage with it. Of course, that the medic even needs a close range weapon should be a non-issue, seeing as their job is to keep the killers alive. One must also put into play that the medic update was not even named the Medic Update. Rather, it was the Gold Rush update, the first major update to the game, and they tagged along the medic's weapons and achievements with it.

The main drawback to the Blutsauger came at the cost of random critical hits when fired. Offset by the massive +3 health boost per each needle, at ten needles per second, this really didn't hinder it. Add to this that in competitive gameplay random criticals are turned off, and suddenly the Blutsauger became the go-to weapon for medics the world over (in TF2, of course). On September 15th, 2009, Valve changed the Blut's effect on the medic and the medic's abilities themselves. Without the Blut equipped, he now recovers from 4-6 hp per second, but with the Blut only 1-3. At first it may not seem like such a big deal, especially with random criticals reinstated, but playing a Blutsauger medic, and I can say this from experience, is almost detrimental to your health. The increased health regeneration saves precious seconds to reach a health kit or get behind allies. Plus, since the damage output for both the main syringe gun and the Blutsauger is the same, it really comes down to what you want to sacrifice and your confidence with your needle aiming. Watch competitive medic play now and you'll see a mix of syringe run and Blutsauger play, though the former is now the more prevalent.

Enough about that though. Let's talk Medal of Honor. Let me start out by saying that, no, it is not a Modern Warfare 2 clone, nor is it Battlefield: Bad Company 2 repackaged. Rather, it is a little bit of both with some major tweaks from both. On the MW2 side, there is the decreased map size, the high intensity action and the fast, sharp gameplay. On the BC2 side, there is the excellent sound design, weapon animations and team based, tactical play that must occur for a team to win hands down. There is also the kit selection system that limits you only as much as the beta is allowed to contain, even though customization is still quite varied. The little something extra is the realism that comes in MoH. Calling in a mortar strike is quick, but what is really rewarding is seeing that walkie-talkie calling in a UAV, or the cell phone detonate the C4. Also, the battlefields are real places, created with the utmost care for balance and game enjoyment. The weapons too look and feel like real weapons, and the sounds they make sound like the actual gun. Also, there's a tank. And tanks are always awesome. Granted, the bullets and cannon of the tank take way too many hits to kill right now, but given the confined space of the map (currently there's only one) in which a tank gets used, that's okay. They also need to be harder to destroy, though not to the extent of BC2. I killed one with my gun's grenade launcher, so something's wrong there.

Speaking for myself, for what else can I do, I think I'll grow to lie MoH because it is not MW2. The killstreaks, while not named such, are decidedly not MW2 killstreaks. Getting 11 kills will not let you pilot a chopper with explosive rounds or a giant plane with guns the size of houses. You get one missile that you guide yourself or a strategically placed mortar/rocket strike that then goes out of your control. There is not the constant fear of joining a game to nuke-boosters or hackers (as yet), though camping still plays a little part. I saw one of those today. Killed the little bastard too. Excuse me. Can't stand campers. The support streaks also help: new ammo types and UAV recons and others keep the game balanced without causing player to hunker down in houses and wait out the storm. If there is any CoD game I could compare MoH to in any way, its CoD4. Minus the helicopter and add some more awesome (yes, I said it), there is a real comparison to be made.

But that is a story for another time.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Heavy Update and More E3 News

Having made a great deal of noise about the Medal of Honor beta, not putting up first impressions of it seems to me to be a betrayal of words. And it is, but I do of course, have a reason (some might call it an excuse). First off, the beta didn't actually go live on Steam when everyone expected it to, though it did go up on the appointed day. That said, it was already rather late by the time I finished downloading, and as I considered booting it up to try it out, a friends of mine, TheDakon, who plays Battelfield and TF2 with me on occasion, already had it going. I asked him how it was, but soon realized he spent perhaps three minutes in the actual game. When I pressed him as to why, his response was quick and to the point. Because the beta had just gone live, everyone and their dog was in game trying it out, and the Steam servers were overloaded, as were the EA servers hosting games. Furthermore, several key functions were malfunctioning, so I decided, rightly I hope, to wait the until initial rush ended and the start up kinks began to work themselves out. I know that the consoles are also having trouble with occasional freeze-ups and other game-cracking things, so my patience, I'm sure, will be rewarded in the end.

With that out of the way, I think I'll get to talking about TF2 some more, this time on the Natasha. Because he heavy loves his guns, he names them, and Natasha is his updated weapon (he calls the regular gun Sasha). Sasha's main selling point is its bullets' ability to significantly slow down the movement speed of its targets. Every bullet causes the enemy to move at 75% their total speed for a little more than half a second. That being said, because four bullets come out of the heavy's gun per one unit of ammunition spent, this makes the falloff much more dramatic, so much so that it seems like you come to a near complete stop at all but long range.  The tradeoff, for all valve update weapons have a tradeoff of some kind, is a reduced damage output, to the tune of 25%. Again, with the amount of ammo the heavy puts down range with each pull of the trigger, he still takes out enemies very quickly, put up against a heavy with Sasha, the one who wins is either whoever shot first or whoever has a medic. All things being equal, the Sasha heavy wins.

Natasha went through several update phases, as most times, when Valve updated the gun it would lose the slowdown quality. Valve fixed this only recently. As for me, I don't use Natasha as a rule, though I don't play heavy that often (the servers I play on often having a goodly number of skilled spies). However, when I encounter one, I find my teeth grinding, since I feel, and I think others do as well, that the slowdown is too much and makes heavy a much easier class to play, almost cheaply so. Plus, with even the moderate damage reduction, in crowded areas the heavy loses out to the constant assault of rockets, bombs and bullets quicker than with Sasha. His effectiveness dropped, the medic usually goes with the soldier or the demoman or, if he wants to just clear a room, a pyro, while the heavy sits back and eats a sandvich.

Thinking about it, I'll stick to a single class update weapon, since there's cool news coming out in the industry right now that some might not know about. First is Infamous 2, the game where you have electrical super powers the likes of which send ordinary citizens fleeing in terror and cars effortlessly flung into enemies. Infamous (the original) became a favorite among sandbox game enthusiasts for the ease of getting into the game, the story and unique method of its telling and, most of all, the superpowers, something not often seen in a complete sandbox. Cole McGrath, the main character, always seemed the reluctant hero, forced to battle forces for the reason that no one else would. Assuming you played the good side of things, Cole truly did follow Joseph Campbell's Hero's journey, with a few modifications. It was a story of growth and transformation from ordinary person to true hero. By the end of the game, Cole, while still somewhat reticent about his status as super hero, has no reason not to follow the destiny he begins to see before him, and while the city of the game's setting might be safe, there is a whole world that needs saving. With his powers only in their infancy, what Cole comes up with next is anyone's guess.

All that aside, there is one piece of trivia that bugs me a little bit about InFamous 2. Cole's voice actor and character design are completely different. In the first InFamous, Cole' voice was gravely and his head shaven. In InFamous 2, his hair is full and black and his voice is more southern, more relatable. While Sucker Punch, the makers of the game, have purely practical reasons for doing this (their vision of Cole's voice and the actor didn't match up, and the actor couldn't make it to face modeling from where he lived) I find it against the spirit of the game. The voice and appearance of the first game acted as a strong indicator as to both the kind of person Cole is but also shone a light on his internal conflict. His voice, a low, rough sound, mirrored his mental state and reluctance to hear the call to action. His yellow apparel and rucksack showed his link to humanity while still subtly separating him from it. He remained somewhat above and beyond the normal person, while still maintaining his humanity. With the blue t-shirt, the southern voice, Cole is now still more human that he was before, and seems much more casual with the whole idea of having his powers. Now, I don't want Cole dressing up in tights and a cape, but retaining some degree of separation, at least for me, should have been tops on the list. Cole is no longer part of the population. He is a man apart, a man above and beyond so many. I think his appearance should reflect that. His reluctance should be fading as the world heats up in danger and chaos, but I know that to be a room with Cole, a man within whom a huge electric charge always sits, would be uncomfortable to say the least. I don't, therefore, want to feel like I could let him into my house and have a drink with him. If he is to be the savior, make him seem, first visually, the savior.

Thanks for reading,

The Demo Update and Portal 2: A Briefing

Again, apologies for the late hour. Life gets in the way, and habits need to form. Because tonight is still yet later than last, this will be the shortest blog so far, and I feel awful for it. Tomorrow will be better.

On that note, the Demoman's only actual ranged weapon from his update. The Scottish Resistance. The newest weapon, along with the Direct Hit, discussed two blogs ago, it is perhaps the most tactical weapon in the entire game. Remote detonation of sticky bombs with just the press of a button, long a staple of demoman strategy, does not apply with the SR. Valve's design philosophy for their updates seems to be, "How can we make our players play differently, and play smarter?" Their case in point is the Scottish Resistance. Because you have to be directly facing, and in some cases looking directly at, groups of SR bombs to detonate them, placement and detonation takes a great deal of memory and battlefield finesse, something most demoman players, so used to the original launcher, either do not possess or do not wish to learn. This, coupled with the increased amount of sticky bombs allowed on the field of battle at a time, makes the SR the hardest weapon to use effectively. Something that I'll touch on in the future, rocket/sticky jumping, is also made a good deal harder, since the SR requires directional detonation. Therefore, the demoman must look down to detonate the SR bomb, whereas with the regular launcher he need only click a button.

As for myself, while I play demoman only to wear the really sweet hat and get a few laughs, I don't particularly care for the SR. I tax my brain enough with the strategies of TF2, especially playing demo, that I don't need to think any more than I already do. On forums I've seen people say that a skilled SR user can singlehandedly hold down any objective with little trouble. This argument, however, turns stale if you take a moment to look at any class played skillfully. Search YouTube or and see that scouts, soldiers, snipers, demomen without the SR, pyros even, defending the objective with nothing more than their starting weapons, and allowing their team to push back.

While I can't say too much about Portal 2, having seen only scant details (along with everyone else save Valve), I noticed this during the examples of play I did see. Note here that this is more a personal interpretation and critical stance on the game, rather than a review, but it bears speaking to. In Portal, and its sequel, there are sentry drones voiced by the voice of the main villain, indeed the only character to speak at length during the first game at all. These bots add some black humor to the already horrendously dark and funny game by trying to murder you with twin machine guns, then saying, if you defeat them, "I don't hate you." In the original Portal, they seemed little more than drones sent by your nemesis to test and, more than likely, kill you. There were moments, and these were mere moments, where their pleas to be put down before being deactivated seemed somewhat genuine, but, of course, you know better.

In Portal 2, on the other hand, there are many more ways to torment and destroy these sentry bots. Fling them into a high energy wind tunnel, down a bottomless shaft, send them into an infinite loop ending only when you decide to laser beam them to death, or just do it yourself. Fun and merciless as this is, as I watched the demo being played, a disturbing side of me began to feel pity for these little machines. Put in front of us only to serve a very simple purpose, I looked back and realized that their statement "I don't hate you." Is a true one, fully honest and devoid of deception. Programmed with only one action and response, they are innocent casualties in the war between the player character and the antagonist. What makes this yet more powerful for me is that their responses to the laser beams and the wind tunnels now seem to involve pain and distress at their situation. Not robotic any longer, they seem to truly lament the state you put them in for your own survival, and just a little bit, I feel for them as less robot killers but instead beings whose feelings and bodies are tortured only for my and my captor's amusement. It is a sad state, I think, one worth lamenting, if considered in this way.

With this, I leave you.

Good night.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Pyro Update Weapon and E3

You'll have to excuse the late hour, and the fact that nothing went up today. I'll confess that this is as yet not a habit for me, and until it is, regularity will be something I'll have to work at. On a more petty note, since I haven't gone to bed yet, it is still Tuesday for me (at least in spirit). Because of this, and the fact that I have to get to an eye appointment early tomorrow, I'll make this brief, or as brief as it requires. The topic is the Backburner, the pyro's weapon of choice if he want's to help himself and not necessarily his team. Also, I'll give my opinions of what's been going on in the world of the Electronics Entertainment Expo, or E3 as the world of gaming knows it.

So, the Backburner. At first, the weapon seems like a handy replacement for the pyro's regular flamethrower. Crits from the back, which is generally where the pyro should be, being an ambush predator. At a current 20 hit points per crit, the damage per second (DPS) is over 450, which is enough to kill even a fully overhealed heavy (who has 450 hp). The catch, though, is that the pyro loses his/her airblast, the one thing that makes him/her more versatile than just a giant damage source. The ability to reflect rockets, flares, baseballs, sticky bombs, pipes and arrows allows the pyro to not only be offensive but also play a support role, keeping vital players safe for just that one second longer, which might be all that's needed. This also makes axetinguishing (the act of setting someone on fire, airblasting them into a wall and killing them quickly with the Axetinguisher) much more difficult, since the second step no long applies.

The Backburner, therefore, encouranges what TF2 players in the know call a "W+M1" pyro. Essentially, the pyro runs forward without regard to his safety and flames everything in sight. There is no advanced tactical thought, no idea of where to go next, simply a desire to ignite everything and let the chips fall where they may. While the pyro him/herself may certainly approve, a good deal of players do not, for the simple reason that skill is applauded in the game, as it is anywhere, and someone who shows no desire to go beyond the basics generally garners a good amount of criticism. This is, of course, putting it mildly. What one hears in game is often, almost exclusively, hate and insults.

Before I move on to E3, something I need to explain. I did not give the pyro a specific gender. This is not a mistake. The simple fact is no one, except Valve (and maybe even them still) do not know if the pyro is male or female. He/she could be a robot for all we know. There is a fan created reskin of the pyro without a top showing a bikini, but this is by no means canon. The answer to the three year old questions will be answered, the community hopes, when the Meet the Pyro promo video comes out. Somehow I don't actually think that'll happen.

On to E3 then. With the convention now three days old, I'm going to revise my plans again. I'll split my conversations from this point on between my thoughts on E3 and Medal of Honor (the beta starts tomorrow for me, I hope). The first thing I'll talk about is what Electronic Arts (EA) put up in their press conference. There was EA Sports, a good portion of the presentation, which I won't touch on, since I'm not a fan. There was the Medal of Honor demo, which I'll get to in a moment. Killzone 3 and Crysis 2 of course, which I'll talk about now.

I did not play the original Killzone or its PSP adaptation, but I picked up Killzone 2 pretty soon after its release. I played through the campaign, then jumped into multiplayer. The campaign was fairly good, with some nice set pieces and fun firefights, but it was generally a really grimy shade of brown all the time, and the ending turned into a grindfest worthy of a B-Class MMORPG. The multiplayer, however, was awesome. I'd never played a console shooter like Killzone 2 before, since, and I'll admit this now, I didn't jump on the bandwagon to play Call of Duty 4 (hate me if you must). The experience was an eye opening one, but enjoyable in the extreme. Certainly there were frustrations, for when aren't there? but in the end I appreciated the amount of thought and care the designers put into each level. Every game mode shifted seamlessly between the others, and the maps accommodated each beautifully. The matchmaking too worked really well. Experienced players generally didn't play with the newcomers, and those with hours and hours under their belt were barred from playing with anyone but their dedicated peers. When I got to this last level of play, and I'm vain enough to say that even here I could manage to come out #1 among these players, I slowly grew bored and returned to Team Fortress 2, my home among the multiplayer masses.

Killzone 3, then, I hope fixes the few things Killzone 2 did wrong, the main thing being the horribly responsive controls. Even with a high sensitivity, turning to face an enemy was slow going and unneeded deaths happened as a result. Also, I think the shotgun needs to be tweaked, since if you had any skill with it, rage among your enemies was common. On that note, the engineer class in general needs work, since it had almost no tactical use, and few people played it. I was awful, and so stuck to the support classes, occasionally moving to assault. Lastly, I sincerely hope that jetpacks somehow work their way into the multiplayer. Halo Reach is doing it. Killzone 3 should too... And no, I don't think much of the whole 3D thing. The TV's are too expensive and I don't want to wear something to watch TV. I already have two remotes for each TV. I don't need anything else.

Lastly, Crysis 2. My experience with the original Crysis was almost the complete opposite of Killzone 2. I played the campaign several times and enjoyed every one. The multiplayer sucked. The maps were too big, the weapons too clunky, the game modes to obscure and not nearly enough players to make it worthwhile. The campaign, however, I think, set a new tone for how shooters should be done. The sandbox environment of the game lets you tackle every encounter differently, no matter how many times you play through. Sure, the enemy spawns in the same place, and their reaction to you, blind fury, is the same, but how you take them out is up to you. Plus, there is a really nice social commentary tucked away in there, despite the seeming disconnect from reality with the whole "we're on the island why?" argument. With Crysis 2, I want the action ramped up to 11, where it was once only 9. I want bigger alien battles all throughout, not just at the end. I want more weapons and more customization. More types of ammo, new armor abilities (which I know we're getting) and most importantly more relevant setting. Of course, this last bit is already taken care of. Crysis 2 takes place in New York City under siege by Aliens and super powered human enemies and their tech.

We'll see.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Ambassador and the Scout, Soldier Update weapons

Hello. Xiant again. With introductions out of the way and the basic structure of the blog established I'll get right into things. Today's topic is the update weapons for the spy and the scout and soldier. Once I finish with the nine class update weapons, I'll talk about the regular starting weapons, along with whatever else I can think of. I'll sprinkle in my thoughts from E3 tomorrow as well.

Also, I just pre-ordered Medal of Honor, and I'll get my hands on the beta on Thursday. Hopefully I'll remember to stop playing that and put something down here.

So, the Ambassador. Back when the Spy vs. Sniper update went live and the community first learned of it, the site stated that the first shot, if an accurate headshot, was a mini-crit, which did 46 damage, making anyone at least a three-shot kill. Afterwards, the update said the gun had a long cooldown period when accuracy became a real issue. This made the gun a tactical, wait-and-see weapon. At close range it was deadly in the hands of someone with a steady hand and an dead eye. Initially released, the Ambassador was a fairly balanced weapon, with a few key flaws. First, it shot through engineer buildings and there was a much smaller accuracy falloff, making distance mini-crits, a deadly thing even at the relatively low damage. Things got really hairy when Valve increased headshots to full criticals, at a whopping 102 damage. At the time, Valve did nothing about the others faults, so not only was the weapon now overpowered, but it had the ability to 1) shoot through before round gates, 2) shoot through engineer buildings, 3) make multiple critical headshots at even moderate distances. Released on May 21st of 2009, it wasn't until June 23rd at the gun reached its current state. Now, the gun acts like the regular revolver in all senses and only crits when the accuracy falloff ends. This makes the gun more balanced, but if you search around YouTube, finding Ambassador only gameplay for ludicrous scores isn't hard to come by.

As someone who took full advantage of the Ambassador before all the patches, it was a real let down to not be able to get right up next to snipers and know that you had two accurate crits to the head. It takes more skill now, and I admit I don't use the gun much, if at all. Sure, I'll put it on to change things up a bit, or just for yucks and giggles, but that's all.

As for the Scout's new primary, the Force-a-Nature, which wasn't nearly in need of fixing as the Ambassador, I think it's one of the most annoying weapons in the game. The only two above it are another Scout weapon and the Sniper upgrade, which I'll get to probably after Medal of Honor beta play winds down. Basically all Valve needed to do the FaN, as it's known, is tweak the effect it has on enemies and the ability it confers to scouts. In short, it knocks enemies backwards or allows the scout a third jump beyond if he fires at the ground. At first, the third jump worked no matter where you aimed, then they patched it.

I mentioned, though, that I hate the weapon, and I do. It's useful used intelligently, like anything in the game, but remains, to my opinion, a little over done. With its increased bullet count per shot and speed of shooting, scouts with any modicum of skill have the ability to kill almost any class in the game, even if it takes them two double barrel shots (since the FaN only has two shots per magazine). With the new item Crit-a-Cola, now even the really heavy classes have something to fear, since Mini-Crits, plus FaN, plus jumpy scout equals annoyance followed quickly by death.

Lastly, a weapon I'm more fond of but don't currently possess, since I crafted it a while back (more on that later). The Soldier's Direct Hit. Now here is a weapon with use casually and at the pro level. With increased rocket speed but reduced explosion radius, you must hit the enemies directly to be effective. Coupled with mini-crits to airborne enemies and also increased damage on a direct hit, even demomen or other soldiers have much to fear from a competent Direct Hit user. Originally, the DH had an even smaller explosion radius and air explosions were indifferent to how the enemy got into the air. Now, the enemy must be made airborne by some explosion to be mini-critted. Because of this, soldiers using the DH now cannot spam rockets in the hopes of kills. More skill isrequired.

It's getting late now, around 11:30, and my brain needs rest. Therefore, I'll continue this discussion of Update weapons tommorrow, perhaps with an errata of this post with more info about updates.

Good Night!


Monday, June 14, 2010

The Quest Begins

Hello, internet, they call me Xiant on Steam, and I'm watching G4's coverage of E3 2010. Currently they're talking about the Ubisoft press conference. As a goal of mine is to eventually reach the fabled halls of big name video game scriptwriters, I thought that a good place to start would be here, in the vast reaches of cyberspace, with my writing about the industry. At some point I might begin to write a script here when my traffic reaches a certain point, but first I just wanted to get started. So here we go.

With this blog, separate from my more personal ones, I'm going to talk about news, reviews and my interpretations of video game stories. Also, I'll give a sort of running commentary on the state of multiplayer games as I know them. This last bit is the topic of today's, the first, blog. The game of choice for today is my game of choice, Team Fortress 2.

Now, TF2, as I'll write it for convenience's sake, came out almost three years ago, but has changed immensely since then. Back then, there were only a few maps, Dustbowl, 2Fort, Gravel Pit, Turbine, Hydro and Granary. The nine classes (scout, soldier, pyro, demoman, heavy, engineer, medic, sniper and spy) all had only three weapons and their class's abilities to combat the enemy team. Players needed to adapt to the situation in ways today's player would likely find different and perhaps still more challenging. Medics had no ability to call out ten second non-stop critical hits; demomen couldn't lop off people's heads; the scout couldn't go invincible for six seconds; and, my favorite class, the spy had ten seconds of cloak with a thirty second recharge time. Map knowledge was paramount, especially for the spy, since if you uncloaked in the wrong spot, you were dead. Quickly. No one likes a spy.

Since then, over 120 updates have completely changed the game, giving each class save the engineer (forthcoming) three new items to play the game differently and more complexly (or cheaply, some argue). Since I talked a little more about the spy, that'll take up the rest of this entry.

I began my entry into the spy not long after I got the game, once I found my bearings. At the time, the December 11th, 2008 update was still a couple months away. For those new, or newer, to the game, it was that update that allowed spies to pick up ammo boxes and fallen weapons to restore the cloak meter. Valve got a great deal of flak for this update, since spies of even superficial skill, with enough map knowledge, to stay invisible indefinitely, picking their spots to uncloak. Or, if they knew the location of a full ammo box, they could camp (unless a pyro has half a brain and starts flaming the ammo locations) as long as they liked. 

The main argument beyond this, however, is that the spy was now so much easier to play. The tactical cloak uncloak was "out the door" so to speak, and optimal use of space no longer mattered. As long as there was ammo, you could uncloak wherever you wanted. To an extent this became true. Spy did lose some of its difficulty and more people started playing. Of course, the spy at this point remained a class that took a good, if not great, amount of skill. Uncloaking was perhaps harder since players with map knowledge now patrolled the ammo locations and began timing dropped weapons disappearing. Spies picking up ammo or dropped weapons became a dead giveaway. A team with competent pyros just needed to spray a couple puffs near where the spy just was or might be and suddenly twelve to sixteen players converge to send the spy into the ground. The spy was not invincible, and the play style changed to adapt to the new update.

Then came the spy update, which changed everything. Again. Two new invisibility watches created two new play styles, for better or worse. with the Cloak and Dagger, campy spies became vogue, since standing still now recharged the cloak. Map knowledge and troop movement knowledge still applied since you needed a safe place to wait for recharge. Also, since the C&D (as I'll now call it), used cloak faster, you had less time before good players knew exactly where you were and converged on you to end whatever your plans were. By the time of this writing, the C&D is the least used watch of all of them, I think, because of the stigma against camping and the reduced moving cloak time. However, the other watch they introduced, now the most used of all of them, is yet more stigmatized, and does essentially make the spy, physically one of the weakest classes, invincible for about 6 seconds.

I speak, of course, of the Dead Ringer (DR for short). With only 10% damage for 6.5 seconds and fake death to throw off your enemies, a full health spy can take several critical rockets, stickies, pills, even several backstabs (whose damage can go into the 1000's). However, after Valve allowed spies to recover DR energy with ammo as well, since this was not original feature, the DR became what has come to be called "easy mode." Valve attempted to remedy this by capping the cloak energy gained from ammo and reducing the amount of cloak energy left when you decloak (since it takes a full cloak to activate the DR). 

With the advent of the DR, spying reached a new, low level of difficulty, (though none of the classes are really "easy" to play well). As a consequence of the DR's ubiquity among all levels of spy play, and the length of time a spy remains on fire even after having the DR activated, made every single player, pyros especially, paranoid beyond anything before. Now spies who did not use the DR have a much more difficult time, since spy death went way, way up on the list of priorities. Higher, even, than it had been before. Regularly cloaked spies, since the DR forces you to stay visible until it goes off, fear the paranoid pyro (or soldier, or demo or anyone with skill). 

As for myself, since I play on large, 32 man servers on maps primarily made for 24, I use the DR if only because the choke points doing really allow for a good way around the enemy team to behind them. Better spies than I, of which there are many, will of course get behind anyway and have a great time. Lesser spies than I, of which there are an equal number, can do the same and have just as much, if not more success, with the DR. I can use the regular watch to great effect, but I'll admit I'm a bit rusty, since I play soldier and demo and medic more these days. 

My opinion on the matter is this. The DR is now an overpowered crutch that lesser spies use to get good scores and gain infamy on the servers they play on. However, I will say this in the DR's defense: every watch at the spy's disposal has a use depending on the situation. 

The end story to TF2, not just the spy, is that combat, how you play and the weapons you use are situational. For the spy specifically, the DR has its uses in crowded areas when there are nigh-impossible ways behind enemy lines. The C&D is good for wide open map with metal just far enough away to be inconvenient for the regular watch. The regular watch itself is good for almost any map with enough metal and/or hiding spots for stab-and-go tactics. Which ever watch works for you is the watch you should use. Whatever style of play you enjoy will dictate which watch you want to use.

In the end though, Team Fortress 2 is a game. Have fun with it. Don't over think it or put too much stock in it.

For tomorrow's post, I'll talk more about the spy, specifically his ranged weapons. Since there's not quite as much to talk about there, I'll branch out into some (maybe all) of the update weapons for the nine classes. The post after that will talk strategies I've discovered over the years. If I decide to get the Medal of Honor beta before all that's done, my initial impressions will appear here instead, with the finish to follow.

Thanks for reading, those of you that have, and I'll see you tomorrow.