Thursday, December 24, 2015

Steam Sale 2015 is on!

Title says it all, The Steam Sale started December 22nd and this year promises all the same goodies ( and crap) as last year.

Check it out while you can.  Sale is over January 4th, 2016 which from years past really means January 3rd...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Path of Exile - 6 reasons it's moved to the back burner

I won't even add the qualifier, "arguably."

Path of Exile is hands down the best RPG (free or otherwise) that I've played in years.  It's honest and isn't in your pocket just to advance a level.  What you put into it is what you get out of it and if you're a serious RPG player it's on your short list of games you play regularly.

So I'm not suggesting there's necessarily anything about the game that's all that horrible.   An avid RPG player will overlook any idiosyncrasies as being a normal part of playing an RPG.  A genre that demands more of a commitment than most others.   In short, one doesn't simply play a game like Path of Exile.  Rather you invest yourself in it like others invest in financial securities or a classic car.  You learn the ins and outs, make a few mistakes all the time hoping the effort will pay off.
Which brings me to why I'm backing away from Path of Exile.
In short, there's just not enough reward for the investment.
My reasons may rub some RPG devotees the wrong way but understand that I'm not new to all of this.  I've been gaming longer than most of my competition has been alive.  I've seen a lot of RPG's some better than others.  The best were not only immersive but fun to play.  

Fun is the operative word here.  To me fun is playing the game with little regard for the mechanics of it.
Which leads me to the first of my 6 reasons why Path of Exile isn't at the top of my list anymore.

1.  Character development  
Oh yeah, there's no end to the ways you can tweak and equip your character.  Which is part of the problem.  Want a witch that's a great archer?  You can do it.  Want a Marauder that casts a mean fireball?  You can do that too.  Just allocate the right points to the passive skill tree and you can make just about any combination you can imagine.  
It's that passive skill tree that's the biggest problem.  Allocating skill points can be a daunting task and even what looks like a great build can end up completely inadequate.  There's no end to community contributed "builds" all of which demand point allocations that are less than obvious.  Ignore them at your own risk when after 100's of hours you find yourself tossing out a character because you got the tree wrong.  Yes, you get a few "do-over's" in the form or re-allocation points but never enough to  fix a mature character's entire skill tree.

Which leads me to the next annoyance...

2. Updates
There's nothing wrong with a game developer keeping a game up to date.  Bug fixes, adding features and new content are all good things.  Except with Path of Exile update=upheaval.  If you thought Battlefield had way too many re balance tweaks and weapon nerfs just wait till a major update makes that cool spell that you built your witch around suddenly about as effective as a bad card trick.  New expansions to the game are even worse when your passive skill tree ( see a pattern here? )  is suddenly blank.  Now instead of playing the game you get to spend the next two hours trying to figure out where your points are supposed to go.  By the way if you put them back where you "think" they should be you may be in for a rude awakening.  Yes things change but having a long term character in Path of Exile is like having to go back to birth and start your life all over again every 6 months.  

Speaking of updates, they're huge!  Worse they're way too frequent and take forever to install as the game has to basically be recompiled to apply them.  It's a cumbersome and painful process that is unworthy of a game of this caliber.  

3.  LAG!
Good luck finding an online game that doesn't have problems with lag but Path of Exile's issues with it can be absolutely devastating.  Developers and players will refer to the most common symptom of lag as a "de-sync" issue where the player's game session is disconnected from the game's online servers.  A technical sounding term that only serves to cloud the obvious problem. That being, an online game that seems to have trouble staying ONLINE!

Random disconnects erasing all your hard won progress, characters appearing and disappearing seemingly at random and rubber banding are just some of the issues.  A game that requires tens of gigabytes of local storage space shouldn't be so sensitive to online issues especially when you're doing what most players do which is playing single player! 

 It's a perfect example of the ridiculousness of games demanding "always-on" Internet connections.  Grinding Gear's response to the problem has been to either blame the player's Internet connection (millions of them) or encourage the use of "deterministic lockstep" mode.  That's just a fancy, geeky name for "best guess" networking.  Instead of solving lag it makes it worse.  A game that requires such a huge investment in time shouldn't be plagued with an issue that wastes so much of it.


4. You need a PHD in RPG
Argue with me if you want but there's no way anyone is going to get very far in Path of Exile without getting intimately involved in all the mechanics of the game.  Nothing is set in stone aside from where the different character types start out in their stats and the passive skill tree.  I've had college classes that didn't require as much study as a good character build in this game.  It's not uncommon for players to go through half a dozen characters before they finally start to figure out how to build a decent one.  A glorious waste of time if like me you don't find it fun to do the same thing over and over again.
Even visiting a merchant in the game is an overly complex process as a myriad of "vendor recipes" (combinations of items) offer a dizzying array of possibilities if you happen to be clued in.  If you're not you can soon find yourself on the wrong end of a bad deal.  

Considering how precious and few useful items  can show up in the course of normal gameplay it seems like relying on all this secret sauce to get something of real value is a bit of a "dick" move.

5. Loot drops suck
Not much to say here.  90% of the loot drops in the game never rise above the level of an ingredient in a "vendor recipe."  Even boss battles can be less than satisfying when collecting the spoils of your victory.  Now it's true that higher levels and harder bosses drop better loot but not without significant risk.  Death comes frequently but ever more painfully as you progress into the cruel and merciless game modes where losing costs not only your pride but experience points.  

It's like fishing for a Morgan Silver Dollar in a garbage dump.  Valuable but you're going to sift through a lot of trash and probably still never find it.  Add in being chased around by a dozen T-rex's  while you sift through the dreck and you've got some idea of the challenge in finding decent loot in the harder game modes.

6. Cruel and Merciless
Normal mode is kind in Path of Exile.  Losing in battle cost nothing more than a little time and some pride.  The problem is you're not going to advance much further than level 50 or so  without moving into the harder game modes.   That means playing in Cruel and Merciless if you want to level up. 

And you DO want to level up...

Unlike Normal mode, losing in Cruel and Merciless costs you experience points which is far more punishing.  You have to realize that by the time you have a character that's progressed to the harder modes it's very difficult to gain experience on the sliding scale Path of Exile uses.   That means losing it hurts even more and it's far more likely to happen if you haven't quite figured out the passive skill tree.  

I've got no problem with harder boss battles and I'll fight them forever if it means I can progress but erasing hours of work (and at some point it does become work) seems unfair.  In fact it's this very attribute of Path of Exile that has had the most to do with my loss of interest in the game.    If a game requires grinding that's fine but I'm not going to stick around long if you're going to punish me for the effort.

So there you have it, the main reasons why I'm not playing Path of Exile much anymore.  Like the shallow breakup line goes, "It's not you, it's me" and it really is.  Some folks like to beat their head against the wall or make a video game a second career.  For me it's simple recreation.  I'm not quite hardcore but I'm not casual either.   I can get invested in a good game but there has to be a payoff somewhere.  If it starts becoming a hamster wheel I'm going to jump off.  

That's the big issue, there's  just not enough reward for all the time you risk.  The hardcore RPG gamer would say I miss the point and it's all about the journey and not the destination but my journeys need to eventually get somewhere worth going to.  

For me I haven't seen anything worth spending that much time trying to get to.    Yes there's Hardcore leagues and competitive events but now we're starting to drift into the whole competitive gaming thing again and you know how I feel about that.

Am I wrong?

Tell me on the Straw Poll  -----> Vote!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Grand Theft Auto 5 - What else do I need to say

Ok so I'm 8 months late but thanks to a STEAM sale and a generous friend ( Shotglass ) I've finally made my way into the mean streets of Los Santos.  Come along with me as I take my first tepid steps into the wild amusement park that is Los Santos.

Note that the video captures below are from a YouTube live streaming event which means it's real, raw and with a few uglies.  It's just like being there! 


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why Dudz Fryd?

After almost 5 years of writing for this blog it occurred to me that a question may have immediately formed when you got here.

That being, what's this "Dudz Fryd" stuff all about?   

The short answer is, it's my gamer tag.  One that I came up with over a decade ago when I first started getting into online gaming.

Life forced a bit of a hiatus on me sometime between DOOM and Battlefield 1942 so when I came back into the fold I was a bit rusty if not a complete noob.

The first real FPS I was exposed to was Wolfenstein Enemy Territory.  The free WW2 shooter loosely based on the Castle Wolfenstein franchise.  It was great fun but I spent a lot of time in spawn screens if you know what I mean.

Nonetheless I was hooked...

The longer I played the more I began to develop a unique gaming identity and I wanted to reflect that when I went online.

Thus DUDZ FRYD was born.

Since Enemy Territory was a WW2 shooter I wanted something that sounded kinda German but wouldn't be taken too seriously.  The tag is actually a play on words.  Read it closely and you'll see it's kind of a joke.  Although not everybody gets it so I'll clue you in.

I pronounce it: DUDS FRIED these days but the real intention was for other players to see it as: DUDES FRIED.  As in the phrase, "That dude's fried!"

I decided to stick with it after the entire chat window filled with LOL's when they saw my new tag.  

From Enemy Territory I moved on to Battlefield:1942, Battlefield 2, Call of Duty and so on logging into all of them as some variation of DUDZ FRYD.

I've continued to use the tag in every game I've played online since.  

So if you see DUDZ FRYD on a server chances are it's me. It's kind of a brand now and a way of trying to connect with other players.  It's why this blog exists and why I won't use any other tag.

So there's the short but simple explanation of why this blog has such a weird name.  

...and now you're in on the joke!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Rise or should I say the return of the mature gamer

I was having dinner with a friend of mine the other night and being lifelong devotees of video games the topic naturally turned to how today's offerings have managed to achieve the status of dazzling mediocrity.

My impressions of the upcoming MOBA, Battleborn, helped spur the conversation.

Battleborn, just like DOTA, League of Legends, Battlefield and Call of Duty have a common trait.  That being that they are almost entirely focused on competitive gameplay.  Whether it's just for bragging rights or tournament prize money the outcome is the same.  These days games are less about fun than they are a manufactured status.

Which has led to the phenomenon of the "Pro Gamer."  A distinction that has grown out of a counter-culture population that feels that prowess with a video game should be on par with professional sports.  

An arguable position to be sure but one that fills the coffers of big game publishers trading on hungry egos.  It pervades game development and sidelines once common features like cooperative gameplay and immersive single player experiences.

But here's the thing.  Professional gaming is not the future of video games.  It can't be..

Even "Real" sports like Football and Basketball have far more amateurs than pros in their ranks.  It's the fans that keep the game relevant and prime the money machine that allow for the pros to turn a pastime into a career.

Amateurs are the ones that buy the team jerseys and branded coffee mugs.  They have a love of the game regardless of who plays it.  If they want to get a bunch of friends together to shoot a few hoops they don't have to worry about the Chicago Bulls showing up to make them look like fools either.  It's that love that allows your favorite player to make millions of dollars for doing something you've done for free since you were a kid.

It's not every sports fan that can play the game they love but it's a little different with a video game.  They're more accessible with simple rules and none of the variables that plague their real world counterparts.   Their purpose is to be an escape, a simple pastime but not a career.

The older guys know that and it's a big reason why mobile games are so much more popular than even the most successful triple-A title.  Mobile gaming hearkens back to the good old days of video games.  A time when playing the game was its own reward and leader-boards were only relevant so long as the power cord was plugged in.  

Oh and guess what, a huge percentage of the people playing those mobile games are over 30.  For them it's not about ego and bragging rights, it's about fun.  A fact not lost on all those overnight millionaires who've amused you while you waited for your flight to board.

One thing a mature gamer knows is that he/she is not alone.  Even a cursory examination of the planet's population demographic bears that out.  There's more folks over 30 than under and that's not changing anytime soon.  Eventually video game culture will have to reflect that reality.  

Oh and you tweens and hipsters?  You're getting older too.  You may revel in your mastery of keyboard and gamepad now but time will dull your senses and rob you of split second reactions.  What then?  You've been weened on the medium.  Without it you're adrift.  However, all is not lost if you can accept the premise that playing a game should never have been anything but a recreation.  

If video games are to survive they will have to return to their roots.  They will once again have to be about the gameplay, the fun and the experience.  Game development will eventually reflect that reality if the EA's of the world wish to survive.

Other kinds of games remain popluar precisely because they've either adapted to their player base or were never exploited to the point of losing the fun factor.

Take a lesson from Poker if the concept is difficult to grasp.  

Yes, there are professional Poker players and Las Vegas was built on the misplaced confidence of amateurs.  Still, far more people play the game for recreation than profession.  

Nobody has tried to change the rules or bias it toward the pros.  The game is largely the same as it always has been and like Billiards and Darts has been sustained by amateurs not professional leagues.

Here's what I'm getting at.  If you're a more mature gamer time is on your side.  You are the next target market and what makes video games fun for you has nothing to do with competitive sports or the lackluster development that comes with it.

If video games are to survive they'll eventually have to drop the whole "Pro" premise that's killing the industry.

Our time is coming.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Secret's no secret...Battleborn

So the secret is pretty poorly kept.  Battleborn is coming and already there's been articles written, footage posted on YouTube not to mention a website set up by Gearbox itself.

So there's nothing here that could be considered a "spoiler" or "confidential".

Battleborn is first and foremost a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) just like DOTA and League of Legends but with a story mode tacked on. If you want an idea of what it's like just take Borderlands, mix in some Unreal Tournament with a dash of DC Universe and you pretty much have the look and feel of the game.

What hasn't been disclosed is how characters are developed and I won't disclose it either for two reasons.  One, it may actually violate the NDA and Two, I don't really care.  For me it was an overly complex and vague process that's common to the genre.

You see I don't care much for MOBA's.  They are the cornerstone of all that Major League Gaming (MLG) crap and I have no use for it.  It's a game not a profession no matter how good you are at it.  It's an arena (pardon the pun) overpopulated with fragile egos and online extroverts that take games way too seriously.

Whatever happened to fun?  

With games like these, character development is always limited to what you can buy or earn which is why so many of them are free to play.  They're usually supported by the Freemium model which means you may get the game free but to be effective you're going to have to plunk down some cash for the goodies.  Over and over again.

Battleborn isn't going to be free but it feels like it should be.  Not because it lacks quality or polish.  On the contrary it looked at least as good as any Borderlands title and gameplay was well sorted save for a few clunky controls.  Overall, however, it's leaning hard toward the MOBA genre.

And those are usually Free-to-play not Triple-A...

I should mention that Gearbox is adamant about how the game isn't a MOBA but rather is something different with MOBA-esque elements.  

Perhaps they're going for a hybrid of sorts which would explain the presence of a single player component in an otherwise online focused experience.  The inescapable fact is that without a rich single-player experience, Battleborn is just another League of Legends with a first person perspective.

As such I wouldn't bet on the single-player (story) mode to disappear as that would remove the justification for a triple-A price tag on it.  That  said, my sense is that the MOBA component will still be far more popular than the single player game.  Something I'm confident Gearbox is aware of.

As for me, I don't care much for MOBA's so my enthusiasm for Battleborn waned after about 30 minutes.  I gave it the college try for about 5 hours but my opinion didn't change.

That's not completely the game's fault, it's just a genre I'm not into.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate playing Battleborn, There's a lot to like about it.  (for a beta that is.)  

I just found elements that detracted from what I believe Gearbox wanted me to get out of the experience.  Most of which landed squarely in the lap of an awful matchmaking process akin to those seen in Call of Duty games.  

I'm pretty sure Gearbox was more interested in actual gameplay performance than the lobby you had to suffer through to get there.  Long wait times, lopsided player matching and players falling out of queues are all well documented annoyances in public forums.  I'm certain there were far more people turned off by the lobby experience than the gameplay itself.    

I don't see this getting any better when the game is actually launched unless they dump the whole matchmaking thing.  It didn't get better with Call of Duty games and I'm seeing the same type of game mechanic at work here.

Remember, however, that all of this opinion is based on impressions of pre-release software so things may change but I'd guess that at least 80% of what I saw will show up on launch day.  Still, that testing was so focused on online play this late in development tells you where Gearbox's head is at with Battleborn.

As for the release of the game, well, that's been pushed back from February to May.  Perhaps the technical testing was more revealing than Gearbox expected.  The release date changed between the first and second "load tests."

I have suspicions as to why based on my own experiences but sharing them might violate the NDA.  I'll say this, think about the kinds of things that have delayed the launch of a triple-A title over the past 5 years and it's likely the reason is in there somewhere.

In the end Battleborn is poised to be the MOBA Borderlands players have been hoping for but only time will tell if that's enough of a market to make it a success for Gearbox.

But that's just my opinion...

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

I've got a secret...

Here's what I can tell you...

Absolutely nothing.  

Except that I'm currently participating in a closed beta for a game due out next year.  When I can, I will tell you all about it but because I'd like to be invited to more closed betas in the future I suppose I have a secret.

On the up side, I'll be able to report back before IGN, Kotaku or Gamespot assuming they don't have anyone participating that is.

From the feedback I've been seeing I'm probably the oldest person current playing.  Finally!  a game developer is going to get some input from an actual adult!

Stay tuned!

....and don't tell anybody....shh....

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Star Wars Battlefront - A retrospective perspective...

It's the day after the Beta, the dust is settling and if you happened to take advantage of last weekend's free peek at Star Wars: Battlefront then chances are you've made up your mind.

It's a shooter set in the Star Wars universe just like its predecessors a decade ago but this time EA has unleashed the magic only a DICE game can bring.  Its fast moving, fluid gameplay set against a backdrop of a galaxy so far, far away.

Make no mistake, even at the low end of the hardware requirements the game was gorgeous on my old Core I7 940 with 12GB of RAM and an AMD HD6970.  Nowhere did I feel any limitations from my crusty old rig. 

Battles were fast moving, spirited affairs whether you chose the single player survival mode or mixed it up with the masses on the volcanic fields of Sullust or the frozen wastes of Hoth.

I was pleased to find both a single player and co-op mode available.  I would have liked to see a campaign as well but something is better than nothing.  That said, the survival mode was a romp and promises to be the one single player mode that actually gets played in a Battlefield game.

Oops, did I slip...

Yes, I'll admit it.  For as much as I enjoyed my time with Star Wars: Battlefront it is quite simply, Battlefield Star Wars.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Let's face it, DICE has done every Battlefield game since BF1942 and since we're talking about an FPS it's no surprise that an awful lot of that DNA is present.

What's good is that there's a lot about Battlefront that isn't Battlefield.  For one thing there was no sign of the dreaded Battlelog, no sifting through server trees, no squads, no bullet drop and no overly complex UI setup.

You start the game, choose your game mode, map and off you go.  

On my first run through in Multiplayer I initially had a few misgivings.  The list of players scrolling down the right side of the screen gave me a sense of déjà vu.  For a moment I thought I was going to be "player matched" a 'la Call of Duty.  A feature that would have pretty much ended my experience right there.

Happily, the fear was misplaced.  This was a game with roots firmly in Battlefield after all so forget any pretense about trying to even up the odds. 
Which was confirmed on my first game. 

There I was, racing across a landscape reminiscent of Hawaii Volcanoes national park.  Molten rock twisted and stretched with the wreckage of Tie Fighters and X-Wings strewn about like toys.  The objective?  To secure pods falling from embattled skies before the other team does.  In the process battling both noob and veteran. 

In a four day beta with a level cap set at 5 ( I made it to 3 in an hour) there were times where I felt like I was back in Battlefield 4. 

Maybe not quite that bad but I found it amusing that I managed to break a kill streak while simultaneously earning myself a nemesis who seemed to pop up at every turn.  A characteristic eerily similar to my experiences the night before with Team Fortress 2.

Which isn't a surprise, in fact my tryst with Team Fortress 2 may have helped me.  There's no doubt that Star Wars Battlefront is a run and gun affair.  

Tactics are limited to whatever you can come up with on your own coupled with knowledge of the maps.
Knowledge that was already being leveraged by other players who had obviously been doing nothing else for the 2 days prior to me logging on.  

Get in their field of view and you had no chance.  They already knew where to hide so as to be safely out of range of what at the time seemed like a fortuitous heavy gun emplacement.  I was literally being led into a trap based on my ignorance.

Which leads to my concern.  While this was the best beta experience I've had with a DICE game in 5 years I've seen the first signs of those things that make Battlefield 4 multiplayer so unfulfilling. 

Perhaps if Dice could randomize the maps a bit so that nobody could leverage a favorite "camping" spot.  There's precedent for it.  Grid 2 can change a race course while you're driving on it!  Path of Exile changes the map and the baddies every time you go through.  It doesn't take much and would make things a little more fair and a lot more interesting.

Multiplayer is what most Battlefront players will buy the game for.  If you're the type who's more into dominating other players and stat boosting than actually enjoying the game, Battlefront is more than happy to accommodate you at this point.

On the upside, there's no such thing as bullet drop or overbearing "physics" to contend with.  

But then, why would there be?

You're playing an FPS with weapons that fire bolts of energy.   Nobody's going to calculate the effect of gravitational eddies and light refraction on laser discharges.  All you have to worry about is range, damage and cool down.  We are in a fantasy universe after all so it's likely all that BS "reality" stuff will be left to the Sci-Fi nerds...

Meaning Dice is unlikely to play around with the physics much.  Maybe nerfing a jet pack or the duration of a personal shield but let's get real here.  There's no reality to mimic, it's supposed to be fun!

Which has led to a lot of wailing about how the game is too simplistic from the hardcore types.  To them I say, if you want to worry about bleeding out from a flesh wound while scrounging around for bullet casings go play ARMA 3.  This is a game not a simulation.  Can we have some fun here?

All was not perfect, however.  I ran into another Battlefield legacy. 


It was almost imperceptible but when I saw players literally disappear right next to me and hits not register when they should I knew my networking nemesis was back.  

While I can give EA a bit of slack (being a Beta and all) this was EA's largest BETA in the company's  history servicing some 9 million players.  That's quite a load but we only saw a fraction of the full game.  Meaning netcode and lag issues are likely to become more prevalent on launch.

Still, the game is solid.  I do suspect, however, that 6 months from now when the hype has died down and the first DLC has dropped that we're going to see technical issues akin to Battlefield 4.  The only saving grace is the co-op and single player which right now is rather limited.

I'm afraid that while good, Star Wars: Battlefront isn't going to be worth the $60 or more EA is asking.  That has everything to do with a carryover of what I foresee as being the worst aspects of Battlefield 4.

I will eventually own this game but probably not until it goes on sale.  But at least I don't hate it...

On this page are a few of the videos I've done including what I considered to be an "Epic Moment" in the single player mode.  It's a fun game...for now.