Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Skyrim Vs. Battlefield 3.....Really?

"When I got Skyrim I stopped playing Battlefield 3"

I hear that a lot but for some reason the BF3 servers are still full.  
FedEx Office Print Online 15% 

I really don't think it's a genuine statement.  I mean how can you buy a game for $50 or $60 then dump it a month later?  It can't just be a bunch of teenagers with short attention spans and their parent's credit cards that accounted for all those record breaking sales.
When you've got people like Leo Laporte seen playing Skyrim regularly online on his TWIT network for weeks between shows it can't be just kids.

As an average adult with limited means I don't think I'm any different in being conservative when it comes to spending money.  I'm also someone who owns both games and plays them regularly.   
Skyrim and BF3 appeal to different sides of my gaming personality.  

If I want to run around a lush open world  by myself with only vague concern about objectives I'm loading up Skyrim.  If I want to work on my profile and blow up a few friends in the process I'm probably playing BF3.

There's not much more to be said than that.  The games aren't even in the same genre so it makes it kind of difficult to substitute one for the other. 
Video games are kind of like Heavy Metal bands.  Most people think there's no difference between say Motley Crue and Motorhead but to the informed nothing is further from the truth. 

To those who don't play games they all look the same which may have something to do with those same people blaming them for acts of violence.  

It's a pretty safe bet, for example, that an avid BF3 player isn't going to be spending a lot of time with Train Simulator 2012.  At the very least they'll know it's not the same experience.   So whomever coined my opening quote is likely not a regular gamer.

Skyrim offers a personal experience moldable by the player.  Battlefield 3 is more of a competitive proposition.  The choice of which one  you spend your time on has more to do with what kind of game you want to play than the game itself.

I guess I've beaten the topic to death by now.  Chalk it up to another soapbox moment on my anti-hype crusade.  I'm just suspicious of anything that reeks of an uninformed marketing department.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Control freakiness

I can't stand Justin Beiber,  He is the embodiment of all that is wrong with a society bent on appealing to the lowest common denominator.  We should demand more of our entertainment choices than that which is why I've resisted every generation of console game since the Atari 2600.  I did have an Atari as a kid but it was an Atari computer and it did a far better job with Pac Man than any 2600 could dream of.

So  in case it's not obvious by now I'm a PC gamer but I see the writing on the wall.  There are far fewer titles that are purely written for the PC these days.  What we're left with most of the time in PC gaming are ports of games written for consoles.  Some better than others. 

With game franchises like Need For Speed and Modern Warfare the effort is usually well executed without too many carryovers from the console.  With others the port is obvious to the point of annoying.  Capped frame rates, bad controls and poor camera angles are hallmarks of a bad port.

So how does one bridge the gap?  How does a PC gamer hedge his bet against a future where PC gaming is reduced to a scant few titles worth playing?

If you can't beat 'em join 'em.....kind of....

I've been trying out a few titles that are obvious console ports to the PC platform. 

The first one I tried out was  Star Wars the Force Unleashed 2.  I'm a fan of the Star Wars genre and have something of a history with it.  The first Star Wars title I ever played was an 8 bit title on the Atari PC called Star Wars which was actually a port from the arcade game back in 1983. Basically the object of the game was to blow up the death star just like Luke Sywalker did in "Star Wars: A new hope"  It was crude with its wireframe graphics but impressive for its time.  It was the first game I'd seen that even tried to approach 3D since Atari's Battlezone in the arcade.

Enough nostalgia.

I tried playing Force Unleashed 2 with both a joystick and keyboard and soon found myself wanting to break something.  The camera angles are awful with a kind of orbiting third person view that is nothing short of maddening for an FPS gamer.  The controls are far too complex to be effective on a PC keyboard unless you have 15 fingers and they're all a foot long.  In fact the game's controls are hard coded for the most part and any controller it finds it treats as a gamepad.  It auto-assigned the buttons on my Logitech Attack 3 joystick for example rendering it mostly useless as a controller since I couldn't change the mappings.  Suffice it to say I was back on the keyboard fairly quickly.

That annoyed me. 

IT seems almost insane to port a game over to a platform and do virtually nothing to make it playable ON that platform.

Ok, I admit I bought the game during a Steam sale and it was about 5 bucks and had horrible reviews for all the same reasons I cited above.  Still, it got me to thinking about a lot of other games ported to the PC that were similarly afflicted.  Perhaps it wasn't so much the platform or the game as it was the controller I was using.

Here's the part where I take my first baby steps into the world of consoles.

I had heard that there was a way to make an Xbox controller work on a PC and even found a few articles on building an adapter to make it happen.  I had to pick up a couple of UPS's over a weekend and went over to my local Best Buy store.  While there I checked out their selection of XBOX controllers but didn't find anything that worked on a PC.  So I paid for my UPS's and left.  Later on in the day  I had a hunch and browsed over to Newegg.com where I did a search on Xbox Controllers.  I found that Microsoft indeed offered a Windows version of the Xbox 360 controller that connected via a standard USB port.   It works on the 360 as well by disconnecting the USB adapter dongle.

So for $33 I went ahead and made the purchase.  Two days later it arrived at my door.

Luckily for me I didn't have to wait too long to see if I'd be able to bridge the console/PC gaming experience.  The following night was a game night so I'd be able to see if I had a solution to all those bad console ports. 

After installing the driver on my gaming rig and plugging in the controller I decided to try it out.  My friend had picked me up a copy of Disney's "Split Second" driving game.  Normally I'd hook up the joystick to try it out but since I already had the Xbox controller hooked up I used it instead. 

To my surprise and my friend's amusement I fumbled my way into driving a few decent laps in the game.  I had also installed Activision's "Blur" which is another driving game.  My friend kept telling me to relax as I apparently looked tense while playing.

Both games recognized the Xbox controller but Blur was almost unplayable without it.  Blur like Force Unleashed 2 had no provision for a joystick and minimal keyboard control.  Driving games seem to be a good point of entry into using a gamepad since controls are less numerous and complex than an RPG or FPS title. 

When I returned to Force Unleashed 2 I proved that point.  I'm still getting used to complex control sequences with the Xbox controller and didn't do much better than my previous experience with the keyboard.  The fact that I'd never used a controller like this before is causing me a bit of a learning curve but I'm starting to get a feel for it.  It's definitely less awkward than the keyboard when playing games like these.

So  I still don't own an Xbox, PS whatever or Nintendo anything but I am putting a foot into their world.  I still prefer the PC as a gaming platform as even console ports look better on it.  Consoles are nothing but purpose built pc's at heart but the upgrade paths are minimal and hardware refresh cycles are pretty long.  Even the Xbox 360 is a five year old hardware platform which wouldn't be able to play Modern Warfare 2 at the detail and resolutions I'm used to on the PC. 

Consoles are due for a major refresh, however and the next generation is likely to be on par with gaming PC's today.  Increasingly consoles are also going beyond their gaming roots.  Blue Ray/DVD playback, streaming media, internet access and even social networking are being built into their firmware. 

Whatever the next generation of consoles bring I'm hoping that I'll be able to continue to enjoy gaming no matter what platform it's on.  I'm pretty sure I've taken the first step in that direction.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Steam Holiday Sale 2011 and the Dreaded 503 Grinch

Article first published as Steam Holiday Sale 2011 and the Dreaded 503 Grinch on Technorati.

Error 503 Service Unavailable

Service Unavailable

Guru Meditation:

XID: 1771158160

Look familiar?

It should if you've been on Steam's front page recently.

Yep, it's the holidays on Steam again and for the past day a lot of disappointed people (me included) have been getting these errors.  If you're lucky enough to actually get the initial store page enjoy it while you can as chances are you aren't going any further.

Steam had been running a daily giveaway based on user's "wish lists " whereby clicking on the daily game deal would automatically enter into a chance to be one of 10 lucky Steam users to get their top 10 games from their wish lists for free.

That all ended Monday December 19th at 10AM when the Steam winter Sale started.  At that point most games in the Steam library were offered at a discount with a new promotion called the "Gift Pile" whereby you were awarded discount coupons or free games for completing daily objectives listed on the Gift Pile Page.  The objectives change every 24 hours and include awards ranging from just showing up on Steam to completing a task in a specific game.  In a stroke of marketing genius many objectives require certain games to be in your "library" to complete the task.  If you don't have the particular game you have the opportunity to purchase it right from the "gift pile" screen usually at a discount.

So with all this promotional blitz it's no wonder the service is experiencing a heavy load.  Just like Christmas this kind of buying frenzy only comes around once a year.  Although the summer sales can cause outages they pale in comparison to the holiday rush on Steam.

So enjoy some holiday cheer and set your alarm clock to some ungodly hour of the night over the next few days when all the normal people are dreaming of dancing sugarplums should you want to partake in the frenzy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Themes for Some of Your Favorite Games

Article first published as Holiday Themes for Some of Your Favorite Games on Technorati.

So your lights are strung and the inflatable Santa is prominently displayed in your front yard proclaiming the arrival of the holiday season.  Of course for a lot of gamers the holidays are best enjoyed in front of their gaming pc or console.

It seems everything has a holiday theme this time of year and for gamers it's no different.  Admittedly some of the offerings seem a bit out of step with the overall holiday theme but for connoisseurs of the pastime it's a perfect fit.

As gaming becomes more mainstream it's not surprising to see developers acknowledging the holidays as it takes its place among other more serious entertainment mediums. Gaming platforms have become more powerful and with them have come more immersive titles that allow an experience impossible just a few years ago.  Far removed from their pixelated predecessors we can now experience the holidays in Highly textured realms both familiar and festive.

After all why not spread a little holiday cheer while battling hordes of baddies?  Nothing says Christmas to a gamer like mowing down zombies adorned with Santa hats and sharpened candy canes!

Holiday themes are becoming something of a tradition themselves in gaming.  Special maps in FPS titles and holiday snow seems to be showing up in some of our favorites.  It's a trend that started a few years back but seems to be more prevalent now.

If dispatching zombies are your thing then you won't want to miss Killing Floor's Twisted Christmas with special holiday themed maps and weaponry designed to dispatch bad Santas and vengeful gingerbread men alike.  The event runs from December 7th till January 4th and is free DLC for owner's of the game. 

If you'd rather dispatch your online competition in a fast moving FPS then check out the Australian Christmas event in Team Fortress 2 which is free to play on Steam.  A number of special weapons and holiday themed items will be available through December 22nd.  Be sure to check out the Mann Co. store for special discounts up to 75% through January 2nd.

Into Real Time Strategy games?  One of the best is on EA's Free to Play network.   Lord of Ultima is a web based online browser based RTS game.  As they did last year, they're getting ready to turn the green hills of Caledonia white with holiday snow and festive decorations.  Be sure to check out the Christmas trees in the center of your marketplaces. 

One of the earlier special holiday themed game modifications was way back in 2004 with a special map for Id and Splash Damages' Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory which was a free to play follow-up to the then popular FPS title Return to Castle Wolfenstein.  The map included holiday decorations on Santa's workshop as well as a barn setting complete with reindeer. 

The holiday season is creeping into more and more of our favorite titles.  Even if you're not the type to be donning a Santa hat between Halloween and New Years you can still enjoy the special offerings in some of your favorite games. 

So warm up the game rig, tune in to your favorite holiday music station and enjoy the season fragging with some friends in a winter wonderland.

Monday, December 12, 2011

FPS, Multiplayer and noobs

It's an interesting experience to play a first person shooter online.  You'll encounter players that cover the spectrum from the casual to the maniacal.  I fall somewhere in the middle of that pack with a leaning towards the casual. 

I'm old enough to know it's just a game but committed enough to figure out how to play it right.  Well at least well enough to rise above the "noob" moniker most of the time.

So I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the hardcore players with little patience for "noobs".  In case you didn't know, a "noob" is a player new to the game.  If your first experience in a FPS title involved dying multiple times without firing a shot in the same minute then you've had the pleasure.

Aside from the obvious example above (which really happens BTW) Hardcore gamers will either use the noobs for target practice or ignore them till they get in the way of their kill streak.  The latter usually results a tirade against the hapless victim in the chat window.  

I've learned to grow a thick skin, you have to or you'll either stop playing or start breaking inanimate objects.

Perhaps it's a side effect of the immersion that's possible in current games that turns otherwise  reasonable people into raving maniacs online.   I honestly can't say if it's age related since the most sedate 40 something can turn into a 12 year old given the right circumstance.

Everyone was a noob once.  After awhile, however, you learn how to read a server list.  Most FPS games like Battlefield 3 will give you a list of servers showing different attributes.  For example; on BF3 servers you can see what map is currently active, whether anti-cheating measures are enabled and how many players the map supports.  If you drill deep enough into the server information you can even see what players are currently playing. 

Here's a tip, if you're level 3 and most of the other players are level 40 you may want to look for another server.  

As with any new competitive experience, it's best to play against those who are better than you but I'd recommend against any David vs. Goliath scenarios.  As you browse the server lists you'll often see descriptions indicating "noob friendly" or blocking players above a certain level.  

If you want to play online, look for servers like these where you can get experience and not just be an easy kill to pad a higher level players statistics.

Here's another tip.  Most of the players whining about "noobs" are frustrated because they're not being allowed to run the map.  Nothing's worse than a control freak on a power trip but you can safely ignore them.  If they begin mowing down teammates they'll usually get kicked off the server by the admin and if not it's time to go to another server.

Even knowing all of that I'm still occasionally taken back by the visceral exchanges and playground politics that exist in the multiplayer world.  That may explain why some games have thrown away the server list entirely and simply match up players of similar level and throw them on a map. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 takes this approach.  It makes for a more balanced multiplayer experience but doesn't allow for a choice of servers or complex tactics.  That's also one of the reasons Modern Warfare is more of an RPG than an FPS.

Hardcore FPS gamers generally hate Call of Duty for that reason.  It's hard to be a control freak if you never have the opportunity to monopolize a map.

Regardless, never allow anyone to cheat you out of an experience you put hard earned money down for.  You have as much a right to be there as the seasoned veterans.  FPS games are just commodity products dependant on volume sales.  If the game gets a bad reputation for being hostile toward new players it will be reflected in the revenue stream.  No game publisher is going to allow that to happen.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Social media that really isn't

Right up front let me apologize if this edition of midagedgamer seems like a 3000 character Twitter post.  From time to time I like to step away from the mechanics of being a middle aged gamer and observe the lifestyle itself.
This week a friend of mine came down with what is most likely the flu (although he probably won't admit it) so the regular Saturday gaming night didn't happen.  Whether I'm busy earning a living or just treading water the Saturday gaming night is an important event.  So when it gets sidelined by outside forces it's a real blow.
As I've written earlier, gaming for me is not so much a pastime as it is a social event.  Playing Battlefield 3 or maintaining my Lord of Ultima empire during the week while fun are really for the benefit of the big night of the week, Saturday.

Efforts to level up, make progress on a map or even try out new hardware tweaks have a dual benefit.  It's fun while you're doing it but it also provides interesting topics for discussion.  Perhaps that's the primary difference between younger gamers and folks like myself.

As I said, I look at the Saturday night LAN party as a social event.  

My friend and I usually go out and grab some dinner somewhere (and eat better than we did all week) to discuss all the recent happenings in our travels.  

In my case it's usually something about a job interview, a client issue or gaming during the previous week. 

It's very social and even as the night goes on there's a vibrant discussion about any number of topics.  Of course there's the gaming but there's also (sometimes heated) discussion on any number of topics.  The point is that an emoticon can never replace the expression on someone's face.

For me it's not enough to merely meet friends in some online lobby regularly.  It's too confining and allows for little interaction outside of the gaming context.  I've often said my game nights are the equivalent to the old "poker night" stereotype.  Other than the use of a PC instead of a poker table it's really the same thing.

My generation is commonly called Generation X or the MTV generation.  We grew up when social technologies were in their infancy.  There were home computers and game consoles back then but they were merely a substitute for the video arcade.  

Phones weren't "Smart" and the most entertainment anything with a dialtone could muster came from dialing the prefix "1-900" or making a tune with the keypad. 

It was far more fun to actually go somewhere that lots of other people like you would congregate.  Video arcades sprang up everywhere but the best were usually in shopping malls or attached to mini-golf parks ( My favorite was Golf and Stuff in Phx. )

There you could find your friends or others just like you enjoying the atmosphere and each other's company. 
Before you think I've gone all soft and nostalgic I'll mention that it wasn't quite utopia and I had a few memorably bad experiences.  All in all, however,  the experience laid the foundation for what I consider leisure time today.

I enjoy technology but for me it's far more fun to explore with my friends.  Preferably in the same room or at least the same location.
It seems the succeeding generations while very social and connected to the point of ridiculous, only interact on a superficial level.  Put something disagreeable to them on their FaceBook wall and you're likely to get a visceral response rivaled only by a political debate between candidates from opposing parties.

It's all about the image these days.  It was back when I was a kid as well but back then it was harder to fake.  We had to interact with each other without the luxuries afforded by the layer of abstraction that is the Internet.  

The "Smartphone set" will likely disagree with that statement but I've found it hard to develop relationships with people who are forever staring at their Smartphone whilst giving themselves carpal thumbs.  How do you hold a conversation with someone who barely looks at you? 
While talking to these people, I sometimes feel like the neglected wife whose husband only ever responds, "yes dear" to any query.

Just for fun I sometimes make silly faces while talking to them.   Sadly, they rarely notice.   Interacting "live" has been reduced to nothing more relevant than going through the checkout aisle at the supermarket.  Even that is slowly going away with RFID and self-checkout registers.
I believe that my generation still has a need for interpersonal relationships beyond just supporting an image and sex.  I also believe that succeeding generations have the same needs but believe that they've satisfied them with social media technologies. 

They really haven't...
Though they'll have to be my age before they even acknowledge the possibility.  By then they may quite literally be socially retarded or society will change to the point where our carefully crafted "e-image" is all we care about.  You see early signs of it today.  

Put something off-color on the Internet and it will haunt you the rest of your life.  Possibly preventing you from getting a decent job or running for public office.

That's why I don't put anything on the Internet that I might regret later.  So much for the promise of free speech and the liberation of ideas.  It seems that more and more we're concerned with what we want people to believe we are than who we really are. 
Let me pull this back to being a middle aged gamer.

The point of all of this is that I enjoy my time with my friends no matter what we're doing.  I prefer to be gaming above all else but I'm satisfied just to be amongst my peers in person.  The worst gaming night is still orders of magnitude better than the best online meet up.  At least to me it is.

We're all bound together by shared experience.  The quality of that experience colors our impressions of the world around us.  Technology should be a catalyst instead of a replacement for our personal interactions.
Ask yourself this, how many people do you know of your own age who don't have a FaceBook page?   I don't know too many but those are the people I seem to have the best time with. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Battlefield 3 December 6th update

Article first published as Battlefield 3 December 6th update on Technorati.

EA released an update for Battlefield 3 at midnight December 6th.  Prior to release it was said  to be a 2GB download but in my experience was actually 3.9 GB in size.  Fixes for game bugs and  Multiplayer balancing tweaks were included in the patch as well as content for the upcoming "Back to Karkand" expansion pack.  It's the expansion pack content that likely swelled the size of the update in my case. 

The expansion pack DLC is available as an add-on purchase for $14.99 from EA's origin service with a posted release date of December 13th on the Origin site.  Those who pre-ordered the "Limited Edition" version of Battlefield 3 will receive the DLC at no charge.

Immediately after the patch installed and patched servers became available I played a few online games of BF3.  I immediately noticed better response in the controls and less frequent game crashing and frozen black screens.  I also noticed that the 4 player minimum start enforcement enforced by the last BF3 patch had been removed. There appears to have been some work on gamepad/joystick controls as well.   These changes are mentioned in the patch notes that follow.

The official press release stated both a client and server update would be deployed.  The official statement follows.

The client/server combination will be incompatible with older clients/servers. All players will be prompted to download the update once it has been released. All RSP companies will begin upgrading their servers at the same time.

The client update is large because it contains most of the content for Back to Karkand. This is not ideal, so we aim to make potential DLC content in the future as optional downloads.


Fixed a problem with spawn timer now showing blue border on startup and lost spawn point
Fixed a problem where player who joined queuing on End of round got spawn screen stuck on screen, but unable to do anything with it untill next round loaded
Fixed a problem where camera would change to 3rd person on killcam when killcam was turned off in server settings
Fixed stat references on several dogtags
Fixed for surveillance ribbon not counting TUGS
Fixed a missing combat area lines on the minimap for Grand Bazaar conquest small
Moved a tank spawn in US base on Caspian Border so it would not be destroyed by a falling tree
Fixed a problem where placing C4 with the russians soldier was playing US faction VO
Fixed a problem where TV guided missiles could be shot into its own helicopter and destroy it
Fixed a problem when attempting to fire lock on weapons without a target
Tweaked the chat, it should now be a bit easier to read
Fixed several vehicles that did not properly shoot rockets and guns towards their predictive sights
Fixed the G17 Supressed Laser not working properly
Added alternate HUD colors to help colorblinds
Added a network interpolation setting. This allows users with good bandwidth reduce latency, but might increase some stuttering. The user can find what works best for his connection by tweaking the slider.
Increased the Spawn protection radius on TDM
Fixed a problem with smoke on land vehicles, Missiles should now miss more often
Fixed a problem where users could end up with IRNV scope in any vehicle
Fixed a problem where player dies if vaulting over a ledge and into water while sprinting
Fixed several crashes and increased general stability
Fixed a problem where the user was unable to revive two players that have the bodies one over the other
Fixed so you can assign an axis and use as a digital input. This makes it possible for the player (on pc) to assign one of the sticks on a gameped to be used for throttle/brake.
Fixed a problem with the Kill camera acting up when suiciding from parachute
Fixed air radar was showing to much. now lasertagged, heatsignature above threshold, enemy missiles and capture points are only visible on air radar
Fixed a problem where the game would enter a technical hang if the user pressed pause menu and tilde at the same time
Fixed a problem where you could get green flashes on screen
You can now reassign cycle weapons
Fixed so the weapon zooms automatically after bipod deploy is gone when using zoom toggle
Fixed a problem where the parachute would stay stuck in air if the owner was killed

Balance Tweaks

Fixed several weapons so they are properly suppressed and hide the player on the minimap when fired.
Tweaked Tactical Light so it is not as blinding over longer ranges.
Tweaked the IRNV scope so it is limited to usage only at close range.
Reduced heat masking effectiveness of Spec Ops Camo.
Fixed a bug where Ammo spec would give additional 40mm grenades instead of Frag spec.
Increased the number of additional 40mm grenades from Frag spec.
Fixed so AT mines only live for 20 seconds after a player dies to prevent infinite mines.
Increased the Time to Live on sniper caliber rounds to allow extreme distance shots.
Fixed several weapon descriptions, calibers, and fire rates. The weapons themselves have not changed.
Fixed so the M9 and MP443 pistol can be equipped by the opposing faction when it is unlocked at 100 kills.
Fixed Laser Guided Missiles missing their targets if the target is moving too fast.
Reduced the effectiveness of Stealth on Air Vehicles.
Reduced the effectiveness of Beam Scanning for Jets.
Reduced the damage done to Armored Vehicles and Infantry from AA guns.
Increased the damage RPGs and Tank shells do to AA vehicles.
Slightly decreased the accuracy for all weapons on fully automatic, burst fire is now preferable at mid to long range.
Increased the effective accuracy of long bursts for LMGs when using a bipod.
Slightly increased the range of the 44magnum bullets.
Increased the close range damage of 4.6x30mm and 5.7x28mm bullets.
Increased the reload time of the Mortar from 3.5sec to 4.8sec and increased the time it takes before a shell hits the ground.
Reduced the aimed accuracy bonus given by a Suppressor for the MP7, P90, PP2000, PP-19, and UMP45.
Increased the range and FOV for designating targets with the SOFLAM and vehicle Laser Designators.
Decreased the effectiveness of 12g FRAG ammo when equipped on semi-automatic and automatic shotguns.
Slightly Increased the power of Fighter Jet Cannons against all vehicle targets, especially Helicopters.
Decreased the power of Miniguns against Jets and Helicopters.
Increased the power of Stingers against Jets.
Flares reload times for Jets and Helicopter Gunners have been increased.
Tweaked the AN94 so its burst fire better conveys the real world advantage offered by this weapon.
Added Single Shot to the AN94 as an available fire mode.
Slightly increased the recoil on the M416 and removed the Burst Fire mode (this weapon incorrectly had burst fire, which was not authentic).
Tweaked the spawns for TDM on Kharg Island, Grand Bazaar, Caspian Border, Seine Crossing, Operation Firestorm, Damavand Peak and Noshahar Canals
Moved a tank spawn in US base on Caspian Border so it would not be destroyed by a falling tree
Tweaked the Gas station Capture area on Conquest on Caspian Border
Tweaked the max vehicle height on Noshahar Canals

Min player requirements

Also, it will once again be possible to reduce the number of players required to start a round to 1 both in ranked and unranked mode. We changed it back after getting a lot of negative feedback from both individuals and the RSP companies.

Our plan for the future is to introduce a warm-up mode, where players can move about and play the game, but with scoring disabled; then, when the number of players goes above the threshold -- that's when the real round starts.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Could your IPAD replace your game console?

Article first published as Could Your iPad Replace Your Game Console? on Technorati.

The New York Times reported that a company called Onlive wants you to leave your consoles and PC's behind and take your game experience to your mobile devices.

We all know how comparatively pathetic the processing and graphics power of even the newest mobile devices are compared to even the most mundane desktop computer. Sure, a stirring game (or 20) of Angry Birds may fill the time sink of the dreaded airport layover but it can't compare with fragging your friends on your PC or console. 

More and more we see mobile devices extending into realms previously unthinkable simply because the price of mobility was reduced capability. Even the most efficient gaming laptops have to trade processing and graphics horsepower for power consumption and heat management. 

So how can your IPAD or Android tablet play Arkham City? The answer is the almost ubiquitous "Cloud" that's permeated everything from your music collection to productivity apps. 

Onlive is a cloud based gaming service available to almost any internet connected device including smart phones and tablets.

The simplest way to understand it is to look at the experience as a layer of abstraction between you and the game. Onlive services require a "player" or app to use their service. When you connect to their service and select your game you are essentially connecting to a remote host that you control. If you've ever experienced remote control of your pc via gotomypc or Windows remote desktop then you've got a good idea of how this would work. 

The user connects to their game host on the Onlive service via app( mobile devices and PC's ) or a hardware device (TV's). Then the magic happens. Since this is a remote connection and only control sequences and screen refreshes are being sent; your device's internet connection is the only hardware to be concerned about.

But what about controller lag over the connection? Any FPS gamer worth their salt knows what lag can do to a multiplayer gaming session let alone beating down baddies in Arkham city. To answer this Onlive claims, 

"OnLive says it has solved this problem by figuring out a method of efficiently packaging video images of a live game that it delivers over the Internet, and that allows for instantaneous response to actions by players as they control the movement of characters within a game."

For the majority of their customers it's likely this scenario would work well. Gamers like me, however, who are sensitive to issues like microstutter and controller lag would likely have issues. The reason being that you can never completely eliminate lag even on a local gaming system. The difference is that the lag you experience on a console or PC is undetectable under normal circumstances (how long is a nanosecond anyway?) but over a remote connection that can be amplified to the point of affecting your gameplay even if you don't consciously perceive it.

Still, this is one of the more unique permutations of a cloud service.

On review of their 150 titles I searched for Call of Duty, Need for Speed and any Battlefield title. I found none. . I could assume the lack of such titles may be due to licensing issues specific to those games or a delay in getting them on the Onlive system but searches for older titles in those series tend to favor the former possibility.

I did find Orcs must Die, Call of Juarez and Batman: Arkham City, however.

Games like BF3 and MW3 have a much more involved multiplayer system with licensing more tied to the user than the software media. BF3 even attempts to synchronize saved games to the cloud but ...

Oh wait!


We're trying to sync a local file to the cloud!

That's not going to be possible with a service such as Onlive because it's not your hardware. That may be another reason why Onlive promises multiplayer but doesn't include certain game titles in their catalog.

This is also a reason why game publishers like EA and Activision need to start taking the cloud seriously. Licensing has gotten more liberal in the past few years but the mechanics are stuck in the last decade.

Issues like lag and localization of game files are a current stumbling block for the serious gamer on these services. Still, such services may be a catalyst for game publishers to improve long standing annoyances that detract from their titles such as a lack of portability in saved games.

Some may see cloud based gaming as accelerating the demise of gaming on the PC and even consoles. That can only be true if you think Crush the Castle is a premium gaming experience. There's no danger of the legions of serious gamers tossing out their multiple monitor high horsepower gaming systems for an IPAD app.

It's more likely that it's just another avenue to expose a wider audience to a more immersive gaming experience. One that goes beyond even what Onlive can provide.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why Modern Warfare 3 isn't Battlefield 3

Article first published as Why Modern Warfare 3 isn't Battlefield 3 on Technorati.

I've already written an article comparing Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 and in that article I said that Modern Warfare 3 was more like playing a movie than a game.  I still hold that opinion.

Since that article I've had more time with it and just recently completed the Single player campaign.  It took about 9 hours culminating in a textbook Modern Warfare boss battle.  Very satisfying but a bit short for $59.99. 

Recently an article on Kotaku entitled "Why Modern Warfare 3 Remains an Un-game" again criticized Modern Warfare 3 for being more spectator sport than game.  A sentiment commonly echoed from fans of Battlefield 3.

I've noticed fans of Battlefield 3 (BF3) have an almost visceral reaction to Modern Warfare 3 when the two are compared.  It's understandable but a bit unfair.  The two share little more than a setting (World War 3) and game play modes. 

Fans of the Battlefield series love it for the game play.  A quality somewhat lacking in Modern Warfare 3.  Modern Warfare's strengths have been the storyline and the cooperative modes.  In Modern Warfare  3 the single player campaign is tightly scripted with scant opportunity to stray too far off the beaten path. 

One of the primary complaints from the "un-game" article comes to mind here.  The author expressed his feeling that the player was always put in a deprecated role subservient to other non-player characters.  Anyone who's spent any time with the Modern Warfare series knows that nothing happens until the player takes some kind of action. 

The game relies on trigger points that prevent NPC's from doing anything until you trip it.  So the player is critical to the action but enjoys few laurels aside from completing the mission. This is likely where much of the discord between Battlefield Fans and Modern Warfare fans lies. 

Modern Warfare 3's (MW3 from now on) single player doesn't allow you to freely roam around the map or cater to your Rambo fantasies.  Your role is to complete the objectives or rather to survive them.  Instead of clever tactics the player needs to overcome obstacles in a well defined path.

I've also commented on the visuals of MW3 which while well implemented do fall flat from the perspective of a FPS gamer.  For example, in one of the later missions in MW3 you are attempting to surreptitiously cross a courtyard guarded by snipers, assorted militia and attack dogs.  While I was waiting for the "Go" signal I looked around the environment and decided to zoom in on one of the brick walls.  What I saw was a texture that reminded me of "Doom"

In the world of custom cars a paint job that only looks acceptable from a distance is commonly called "a ten footer"  Visuals in MW3 are meant to be experienced this way.  Much like the false front buildings on a Hollywood movie set have little detail on close inspection and so it is in MW3.  The story and not the visual detail is what immerses the player.  Battlefield 3's visuals while not used to their full potential are better than MW3 but the BF3 story lacks depth.  Visual detail in a FPS is critical to success as distinguishing an enemy from a rock often determines the outcome of a skirmish.  RPG's while attractive are much less dependent on that level of detail. 

It's not unlike the difference between a simulation and arcade racing game.  For Example; Consider the difference in game play between Need For Speed Shift with its detailed textures and realistic physics and Need For Speed Hot Pursuit with its endless nitrous boosts and impossible driving maneuvers.

Being a veteran of a number of games in the Call of Duty series I have enough experience to notice when a shortcut's been taken.  If it weren't for a good storyline I'd almost call MW3 a re-run.  The reason being that I felt a strange sense of déjà-vu as I went through the single player missions  Often  it seemed as though the same missions from Modern Warfare 2 were reused with a few subtle changes.   

It was more than just familiar game play rather it seemed as though the mission objectives were applied to a similar map with different textures.  For example; there's a mission where you must use a predator drone to take out waves of baddies threatening your squad in a disused diamond mine.  This was almost the same experience as the Sniper Fi  cooperative mission in MW2. 

After finishing the Single Player Experience in MW3 the game takes you to the cooperative mode of the game.  As in MW2 you can play these missions solo or with a friend and just as in MW2 the first mission you're presented with is the timed shooting gallery mission. Déjà-vu indeed.

It's understandable why MW3 enjoys the popularity it has even with Activision's reluctance to offer any discounts on the title.  An MW3 player is generally not the hardcore FPS gamer but more likely a fan of the RPG genre.  MW3 caters to such a player with an immersive storyline and compelling characters.

BF3 fans will bemoan the lack of tactics and weak "run and gun" game play options of MW3's multiplayer.  Such comparisons ultimately fall flat simply because it's an apples and oranges comparison.  It would be just as incorrect to pan BF3 because of a weak story as it would be to pan MW3 for its game mechanics.

In short there really isn't a comparison.  MW3 exists in its own right as does BF3.

Are you a Video Game War Criminal ?

Article first published as Are You a Video Game War Criminal ? on Technorati.

In a recent article on the Video Gaming news site Kotaku an article entitled, "War Crimes in Video Games Draw Red Cross Scrutiny" caught my attention.  You can read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions but as a gamer I find the premise of the International Red Cross' argument without merit.

There's no denying that the International Red Cross is compelled by its charter to "...protect the victims of international and internal armed conflicts. That includes war wounded, prisoners, refugees, civilians, and other non-combatants."

 It now seems that may move to extend that charter to the realm of video games,

 "... The question they debated this week is whether their mandate should be extended to the virtual victims of video game wars."

I couldn't help but read that last line with a sense of incredulity. 

I find it utterly ridiculous that an organization concerned with the well being of the oppressed would devote its resources to the defense of pixels. 

Are there offensive video games that treat their characters inhumanely with little to no regard for human life?  Of course there are.  There's no shortage of human carnage and wanton disregard for the rule of law in video games.  However, the premise that it's presence is somehow a war criminal training ground is nothing short of an extension of the nanny nation to a global scale.

Let's not forget that video games like movies, TV and music are nothing more than an entertainment medium.  The assertion that involvement  in a violent entertainment medium will somehow contribute to one's deviant behavior is as ridiculous.  If that were the case then we could all be theoretical physicists just by watching a movie about Einstein a few dozen times. 

The prevailing argument against any violent media is that it desensitizes the consumer making violent  and inhumane acts more tolerable in the real world.  By extension showing a character assassinating an innocent will somehow make the real life act acceptable. 

As a gamer, First Person Shooters are part of my repertoire.  Most of these involve some level of armed conflict with military or paramilitary contexts.  I've had my share of violent ends and dispatched a few well textured pixel baddies in my time but I've never had the desire to commit genocide after a spirited gaming session. 

In most First Person shooters, it's the bad guys committing the atrocities.  That's how it is in the Modern Warfare series.  In Modern Warfare there's always some maniacal despot leading a legion of degenerates bent on leaving civilization in smoldering ruins. 

There's little opportunity for peaceful negotiation and the bullets fly fairly quickly after the start of a mission.   Sometimes there's a contingent of innocent civilians hampering your efforts.  Too many misplaced shots in their direction will bring instant repercussion and ruin your day (in a virtual sense).

It's far better to bring the ugliness of atrocity to light in an entertainment medium than to whitewash over it and turn conflict into something neat and tidy.  If a war crime is depicted then let it be as horrific and graphic as the developer can stomach.  Not for some sense of dark satisfaction but rather to dismiss any illusion that such actions can ever be acceptable. 

The problem with neutering violent video games is that you remove the consequence of violence.  It's far more dangerous to have your dispatched opponent morph into a bouquet of flowers than to see the grisly aftermath of a violent action.