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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.