Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Battlefield 3 in decline ? (Updated)

Some days it sucks to be a BF3 player.


Two words, Cheaters and campers.

BF3 was supposed to be designed so nobody could live too long without moving at some point.

Yes, there are exceptions like snipers, support guys with mortars and the like.  

That's not what I'm getting at.  No, I'm irritated at the guys who hide out for half of the game in a building waiting for someone to come get a flag then spring on them before going back to hiding.

Yes, there is such a thing as defending a flag and even a bonus for it.  Yes it's perfectly legit to sneak up and knife somebody who doesn't see you (even though it's annoying).

I hear lots of "experienced" players bitching and moaning about how the word "camping" is almost cliche' and misused.  Of course said bitching comes from the campers...

Hey, I've been accused of it myself while manning a stationary gun emplacement while actively firing on aircraft.  That's obviously not the definition any more than expecting a sniper to capture flags.

If you want to know if you're a camper the definition is simple;

  • If you spend most of the game hidden at one flag waiting for someone to approach...
  • If you come out only to refresh the m15 claymore mines that blew up the last guy who dared come up in a jeep...
  • If your stats are heavy on C4 kills and have 10 medals for flag defense...

You're a camper.

It's gaming the game and it ruins it for everybody.  I will admit, however, when I blast through a wall with a tank and send you to respawn land it is very satisfying.  Much like it's satisfying to squash a roach.  

Yes I'm saying you're the gaming equivalent of a household pest.

There are lots of dark spots and places to hide in BF3 depending on the map and unless you somehow procure night vision goggles while on foot, you'll never see them coming.

I recently had to prove this to a new player in one of my least  favored maps, Noshahr canals.  I hate this map and Tehran highway for the same reason, it's camper heaven.

This guy was about half my rank but managed to take me out 3 times by camping.  First he hid in a jeep parked in a garage until someone went for the flag, then and only then did he open up.

There's no defense since he was far enough away from the flag to be obscured.  For a sniper this is standard fare, for an assault guy it's just camping. 

That's another hint by the way, you shouldn't be lying in wait for anyone unless you're a sniper or someone's attacking your home base (which is against the rules but there's a hack to allow it)

Later he actually moved to another flag where he manned another jeep waiting for someone to come up.  He got me once, I told him about it, he protested and then without him knowing it I rushed him and proved to him that he was camping.  He again protested that he was getting attacked by another player whom I'd actually passed on the way in.  

Really? if you can't take out another player then leave!  That's common sense unless you found an invincibility hack.  In the end is was nothing more than a lame defense.

Speaking of hacks or which I'm sure invincibility is one, I've fed more than one player on foot an M1 Tank round and he didn't die.  

Want reality in gaming?  

Ask how many people survive a direct hit on their body from a 120mm canister round.  Pretty sure it's zero.  So unless it's a hack it's not reality Dice/EA.

Yes there's a fine line between defending a flag and camping but I use a basic rule of thumb.  If you get a flag only defend it if it's immediately in danger otherwise move on and help your team.  Leave the lying in wait to the snipers and mortar teams. 

There's a special kind of camper that's earned its place in my own version of hell.  The C4 ambush camper.  

These campers could care less about team goals.  They only care about getting to the next unlock.  Worse they're hard to defend against.  I have multiple armored warfare ribbons plus a service star in BF3 and I can't tell you how many times one of these miscreants have blown up my tank simply because you never know they're there.  

It's another indefensible attack like the knife takedown.  Just this side of impossible to fend off because of the design of the game.

I've gone to great lengths to try to defeat the tactic like switching almost exclusively to night vision while driving in a armored vehicle and and never staying in one place too long.  

I'll literally rock the tank back and forth just to make it hard for one of these idiots to get the drop on me.  They still do but sometimes I get to run over them and get a roadkill bonus.  Hey, a kill is a kill I just used a bigger flyswatter on the pest.

Look, C4 is a legitimate weapon and I've seen some creative uses such as packing a jeep with it and ghost riding it into a tank before setting off the c4 charges.  It's far more effective than a javelin hit and takes some ability to master.  I almost like it except when I'm the target.
The latest twist on this tactic is to pack a chopper or jet with c4 and fly it into the enemy team.  I guess it was only a matter of time till we redefined "Death from Above."

Ah, but it's human nature to exploit the flaws in a game isn't it.

Which leads me to my next topic, Cheating.

I've bemoaned the evils of cheating before but it seems the cheats are way ahead of EA and Dice in BF3.

Take a look at the screen captures I put at the end of the video.  In seconds I found 3 sites actively selling BF3 hacks, some even come with guarantees!

I have about 20 favorite servers in my Multiplayer list that I play on because they usually host a good mix of players of varied skill levels.  

It's how I've leveled up with less than 100 hours in the game.  So when someone has a cheat going on one of these game servers it's pretty obvious to the rest of us.  

The One shot one kill hack or instant kill (Instakill),  the aim-bot and the auto attack only take a few minutes of play to ferret out.

The auto attack is interesting as it could stop you from being knifed from behind by automatically attacking any enemy that gets near you without you having to do anything.  This is a great defense against the completely legitimate but almost indefensible knife takedown.  So I can see the popularity.  Still, it's defeating the design of the game however bad it may be.

If you find yourself being dispatched on a regular basis by the same player without ever seeing them chances are they're using an aimbot. Most of them take advantage of the fact that games on Windows or any DirectX (like Xbox) based platform have to communicate with the hardware by passing commands through DirectX   

That communication can be intercepted and used by the hack to quite simply display information that normally would be hidden.  

Part of the mechanics of online gaming is that every client  has to be aware of what every other client in the game is doing.  So the information is already there just waiting for a bright programmer to take advantage of it.  

The end result.  all the enemy players on the map light up like lights on a Christmas tree.  Some mods even go so far as to negate any physics applied to weapons.  In short, if you play straight up, against the hack you don't have a chance.

I see plenty of "player banned for gamehack 0933840" or "banned for aim-bot 3434" or whatever.  Glad Punkbuster got around to catching the cheat but in the meantime I've been taken out 5 times and my stats don't care that someone did it with a cheat.

Believe me, I play straight up and wouldn't have the achievements I do if I couldn't play the game.  It's not a matter of experience or ability.

Why EA or Dice doesn't pursue legal action and appear to take a passive stance against an issue that is such a prevalent problem is a mystery.

With the release of the shortcut kits which equate to little more than a legitimized stat hack the problem has only gotten worse.

It almost seems like a case of if you can't beat 'em join 'em.  What else could explain the apparent lack of attention to an obvious issue.  

First the shortcut kits (which I've already admitted to taking advantage of myself just to stay on a level playing field) now we have an apparent lack of interest to pursue enterprises that exist just to cheat the game.

Of course if you get banned your game is useless.  If you're hardcore enough you'll just buy another copy and use a free email account to register it.  Ka-Ching! for EA!

Maybe that's the idea because the cheating problem doesn't seem to be getting any better and the response to it is little more than lip service.

This is why I have to wonder if the BF3 is in decline.  EA just wants to sell premium memberships and DLC packs these days and more and more servers are cheat havens.  

Worse, if you don't buy a premium membership you could find your online server choices further reduced by EA's policy of favoring premium members by reducing the number of servers available to non-premium members.  There was a recent flare up over the issue when the new Armored Kill DLC came out.  You see, most of the servers supporting the DLC were "Premium only" leaving out those who just wanted the DLC and paid $15 for the privilege.  

They've even promoted their upcoming FPS, Medal of Honor "Warfighter" by offering BF4 beta access to pre-order customers.

By the way, Kotaku thought the game sucked and from what I saw I have to agree.  See the Midagedgamer Report from 10-26-2012 for more information.

All this just suggests that BF3 is on its last legs and EA doesn't care...

I guess there's always Modern Warfare 3 co-op....

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Midaged Gamer report Memorial Day edition!

Hey guys, happy memorial day!
For those of you who plan to fill every minute with some quality time in front of your monitor You may want to take a break from the Demon hordes of Diablo 3 or practicing with your shiny new sniper rifle in Battlefield 3.

Speaking of which....
Ok, I admit it, I'm a hypocrite.  EA had a weekend sale last week and slashed the prices of the shortcut kits.  I got the ultimate shortcut kit for 24.99 which is usually 39.99.  I guess I should have waited because the memorial day sale has it for 19.99 now along with 50% price cuts on BF3, Mass Effect 3 and a few other titles. 
At some point I came to the realization that between the shortcut kits and the aim bots I wasn't going to get my upgrades before being eligible for social security.  The nice thing is that I was far enough along in the game to not have it affect my game play too much. 
For one thing, in BF3 if you don't have rockets on your Jet you may as well not fly one.  I didn't spend enough time early on in Jets so I didn't get the perks and never got the opportunity as the more hardcore players used me as target practice with little opportunity for me to retaliate. 
So I still feel kind of dirty doing it but ultimately this is the direction BF3 is going and unless you have 40 hours a week to devote to the game this is the only way to keep enjoying the multiplayer unless you like being cannon fodder.,
There was also some buzz this week about a few screenshots showing off EPIC's Unreal 4 engine.  Thing is, I remember an announcement few months back  from EPIC that they were not really developing for Unreal anymore and focused on Gears of War.  So the engine is nice.  The Aliens thing is interesting but I really don't care unless a new Unreal game comes out with the new engine.

no unreal...

Not much that interesting going on this week.  We've already seen what the hardware guys have in store for us over the next 6 months so no big surprises there.  Your new ultimate gaming rig will probably have the new Intel Ivy Bridge I7 3770K processor in it. 

Funny thing is, Mine wouldn't.  For all the marketing hype I'm not all that excited about Ivy Bridge.
Yes, it's got great clock speeds, multiple cores and improved on chip graphics but let's not forget that with dual channel memory controllers  and limited PCI-E lanes compared to Sandy Bridge E it's still not an enthusiast processor it's a very efficient, very powerful, MAINSTREAM part.  Right now I'd either wait for Haswell or if I had to build a rig right now get a nice Sandy Bridge E setup going.
Then again, who cares what I'd do..

On a final note I have a suggestion.  Since it's Memorial Day weekend I'd like to suggest that you pull out
your favorite historically based fps and try to appreciate just for a moment what the real participants had to endure as you play it.  I remember back when I was playing Call of Duty World at War how one day for some reason I suddenly had a new appreciation for the guys who had to endure the real thing. 
I'm out

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gaming on a Prayer

Article first published as Gaming on a Prayer on Technorati.

Gaming on a prayer...

So Diablo 3 is out today and after a long, long wait I can proudly say...
I'm going to wait a little longer...

See, Diablo 3 is one of those cornerstone games like Battlefield and Mass Effect that define a genre.  As such you rarely get a discount and can pretty much be assured that paying a premium for having the game on release day will only garner you frustration.

So it was with the launch of Diablo 3 today...

It wouldn't be the first time that an anxiously awaited title fell flat on its face.  Think back a few months to the Battlefield 3 launch and you see my point.

Does that mean I think these are bad games?  By no means but it is bad faith.  In the case of Diablo 3, It's the first game in the genre since Dungeon Siege 2 that has any hope of an entertaining co-op.  World of Warcraft doesn't count by the way.  That game's so mainstream they might as well sell it in the same place your mom gets her Nike running shoes.

 The problems are the same that have plagued the game industry since its inception.  Simply put, careless planning and sloppy execution.  Considering that popular games tend to be a niche market with  easily obtained metrics there's no room for the excuse of the "overwhelmed".

I can't think of any popular platform title that didn't have huge glitches on launch day in the past decade.  I suppose developers and publishers aren't students of their own history.

In the end that kind of carelessness usually translates into avid fans wondering what their pre-order premiums really bought them.  Then comes the wailing and vows to never be fooled again. 

Ah, but they will.  With games like Diablo 3 there's just enough time and hype (maybe too much) between sequels to forget the disappointment.  It's like those fond memories of youth when you'd sneak out of your room to go to a party.  You remember the party, you just chose to forget being grounded for a month when you got caught.

It's those same rose colored glasses that publishers bank on.  They assume their customers will put up with almost anything just to have the bragging rights of being amongst the first.  It's a classic case of early adopter syndrome and gamers have it in a bad way.

So with such a adoration and faith you'd think that developers and publishers would invest in some stress testing before subjecting paying customers to the dreaded Error 317002.  

There's certainly no lack of tools available for the purpose both commercial and open source.  With so many pre-orders it's a simple proposition to get a fairly accurate  estimate of your zero day users and plan accordingly. 

Instead, the early adopter gets to be the final beta tester and pay for the privilege.  The final act of faith and indignity.

Me, I think I'll wait for a few patches and an Amazon sale....

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Postal 3, Notsomuch...

Article first published as Review: Postal 3, Notsomuch... on Technorati.

I admit it, Running with Scissors' previous installments of the Postal series amused my inner 12 year old sociopath.  Game mechanics were never a priority in the series as basic functions like movement and combat were little more than exercises in futility.  Postal games are popular for their context not their execution.  To play a Postal game is to revel in an assault on societal hypocrisy and popular culture.

What made the series amusing were the seemingly endless one-liners and not so subtle social commentary.  Admittedly, however, if you're the type who never misses an episode of the 700 club it's likely you wouldn't see the humor. 

So it was with this relatively low expectation that I took advantage of a Steam sale and picked up the latest installment, Postal 3, for $19.99 or half of its original December 2011 release price.  I knew the experience would be awash in juvenile humor and over to top violence.  Still, I held out hope that with 8 years passing since its predecessor there would be some improvements.

There wasn't....

Within the first 5 minutes I was disappointed.  For a new game, load times are unacceptably long; taking 20 seconds or more regardless of your platform.  It's made worse by the periodic appearance of Uwe Boll (the Postal movie's producer) in a load screen extending his middle finger in your general direction.  While in character with the juvenile humor, the more time you spend with Postal 3 the more it seems as if this load screen is affirmation of being  on the receiving end of a bad joke.

This game has been panned across the breadth of the Internet and deservedly so.  The controls are horrific, the AI awful and the graphics only mildly updated from its 8 year old predecessor(think Half Life 2.) It's also buggy and prone to crashes at inopportune moments.  Even if you enable cheats (and you will) you soon find that being invincible and having access to any weapon in the game doesn't improve the experience much. 

In combat (which happens a lot) your choice of weapon is mostly irrelevant as you can be assured that at least half of your attacks will be in vain.  Coupled with an AI that's anything but intelligent and ambiguous mission objectives the game is more frustrating than challenging.  Accurate aim of any weapon is more a function of luck than skill with strange camera angles and a meaningless targeting crosshair.  For a game whose storyline is tightly woven into combat one would expect a better combat experience.  One might expect that but Postal 3 could care less about your expectations.

Speaking of the storyline, there are a few memorable one liners like, " I blame Glenn Beck" during a rampage against NPC's but aside from a few bright moments it falls flat. 

Postal Dude, as the character is known, seems to have a recurring problem with getting paid as he moves from one dismal job to the next.  His only compensation, a new weapon for his inventory which is usually inadequate to complete his task when combined with the poor combat controls.  That's pretty much the entirety of the storyline so don't expect any complex plot devices.

To be fair, I could easily have written this article 8 years ago about Postal 2's bad mechanics.  Nothing's really changed on that front.  What has changed is a linear storyline much like Modern Warfare instead of the freeform "checklist" of its predecessor.  There's also opportunity to play as either a good or evil character but in the context of the game the distinction is largely meaningless.  Your actions in the game  are judged and can affect the linear storyline but there's no great depth to it.  For example, I attempted to play the game as a "good" character but soon found myself on the "dark side" as the poor combat controls led the unintentional demise of innocents.

There is plenty of social commentary and as with all Postal games it is a reflection of the darker side of a supposedly civilized society.  From the porn store owner turned morally righteous mayor of Catharsis (the setting of Postal 3) to a police force using the homeless for target practice no moral tenet is left unsullied.  There's also no dearth of bathroom humor with examples numerous enough to delight any 12 year old.

As games go Postal 3 is certainly one of them.  While I always appreciated the irreverence of the series this latest installment seems completely unfocused and juvenile.  You always know what you're getting into with a Postal game but this one is like a Final Destination sequel.  You know what's going to happen but you really don't care.  As a friend of mine recently said of Postal 3, "That's the last time I buy a game without checking metacritic."