25 November, 2008

Keepalive: Supreme Commander, GTA: San Andreas, Titan Quest, Left 4 Dead

Maybe it's a holiday slowdown. Maybe I'm just bored. Okay, I know I'm just bored. Supreme Commander was basically Total Annihilation 2. The original TA wasn't very fun in campaign mode, either. And what's worse, the scale of the game almost always assures that you can never see anything interesting going on. In fact, the best way to actually play the game is to zoom out far enough that the units just turn into icons. So Supreme Commander gives me nothing. :P

I've almost completed San Andreas for a second time. Las Vegas is done. The bank heist is done. I've got a foothold back in LA. Then it'll be nothing but sandbox and side missions. It'll be nice to take over LA again. My first playthrough (back on the PS2), I completed the turf wars, only to have my progress ripped away by the story and never got back to it. It just seemed like too much to do two times in a row. Now, I'm looking forward to it. Plus hijacking a plane in mid-air to the chorus of Toto's Hold The Line was pretty awesome. :)

The Titan Quest Sunday group is still going. We've just about caught up to where I got bored of the game and quit. I've missed a couple weekends, so I'm grinding with my healer. It's a pain, so I try to do it in short sessions. On the plus side, a couple nice swords dropped, so my lower level Warfare character freaking melts bad guys. I named her Ginsu, I believe after one of Wayne's old D&D characters, but that was long enough ago that I may be mistaken.

Finally, I'm feeling pretty done with Left 4 Dead. I've got a number of players in my friends list now, so if someone invites me to a game, I may join, but I've played through on advanced a few times, and most people (myself included) aren't good enough to play expert. The finales on expert are mostly just trying over and over until the tanks get stuck and go down easy combined with BS strategies like hiding in closets. It's not my idea of fun. And versus is often pretty terrible too with wildly unbalanced teams and general incompetence. Plus the losing side often bleeds people like crazy, making it even more imbalanced.

19 November, 2008

Game Journal: Left 4 Dead

I don't care for people. It's a blindness. There's a certain spark, a mix of empathy, passion, and thoughtfulness. And if they don't have it, I can't see them. They're empty shells. I hate myself for being near them.

I played Left 4 Dead's versus mode today.

At its best, I was working well with fun people. In one particular incident, I was playing a hunter and had pounced on a survivor who had gotten out of position. Life as a hunter is generally very short. And when I saw one of the other survivors heading my way, I figured my fun would soon be over. Instead, one of my fellow infected, playing a smoker, grabbed him with his tongue from a distance away.

And there we were. Me ripping into someone. Him strangling someone. It was our most excellent moment together, and we were on voice chat enjoying every second of it. There was another time where one smoker kept pulling a survivor off the same ledge, one they had to cross to progress. So their friends kept having to come back to save them. It must have been a nightmare for them. But we couldn't stop laughing. How long could we possibly keep doing it without them getting a clue?

WARNING: What follows is pure boomer bile.

At it's worst, I was wasting my time waiting for people to fail to organize games, or worse, trying to support people who didn't deserve to have me on their team.

If that sounds arrogant, you're paying attention. But when people play on difficulty levels they have no business playing on, trying to hog kills instead of work together, making jokes that aren't interesting enough to be called insipid, and just generally being worthless companions, my tolerance is completely spent. It takes all the restraint I have just to keep from shooting them in the back.

Seriously, there were games when every time one of them would run into my line of fire, I wanted to pretend that I hadn't anticipated it and mow them down. Or someone would say something so stupid or insulting that the only reaction that made any sense was to plug them between the eyes, then keep shooting them on the ground until they were out of the game. I only did that one time, and that was to a guy who was so dumb he thought that shooting me with his pistols was funny. #(*$ that guy. Right through the hole in his head.

People with no microphones (or who won't use them) suck. It's a team game. You will often see things the team needs to know about. There were some good players who would type out vital information. Of course, by the time it came up, we were already screwed. Then they would blame the team for not "listening". #%(& those people.

The people who only want to play as the bad guys suck. They immediately kill each other if they have to be the survivors so that the round ends and they can go back to having their fun. Hello? What about my fun? #*^% you.

Automated matchmaking sucks. Multiple times it puts us on servers running on calculators or gives one side of a versus match horrible connections.

The way I feel right now, (#&$ everyone. I need to sleep and regenerate my tolerance.

18 November, 2008

Keepalive: Left 4 Dead, GTA: San Andreas, Universe At War

Whew! I'm spent. Left 4 Dead released last night, and I've been through the game a few times. Co-op can be very taxing. Especially when certain people do not listen at all. But vallav had my back. It is so great to have someone you can depend on like that. Unlike the demo, where you'd only fight one tank in a map, there were many maps with two tanks, and some with three. If you get lucky, a tank gets stuck in the environment and dies. That is no fun. If you don't get lucky, a tank kills everyone. That is also no fun.

Actually, it's not always no fun. One time we were fighting on a building rooftop, with lots of levels. The tank smacked me. I went flying. I figured I was toast. But I managed to land on a twenty foot tall air conditioning unit on a lower level of the roof. Then a hunter (one of the other boss zombies) pounced on me and started tearing me up. I figured everyone else was too far away from me to help, so I was dead. As he was killing me, I could see that the tank was still intent on killing me and ripping up a huge piece of concrete to throw at me. That's going out in style friends.

Except, it didn't happen. That giant chunk of concrete killed the hunter, saving my life. Crazy.

So it released. It was a big event. I'm sick of it. I'll probably be back tomorrow. :)

I also played a bit more San Andreas. I got through the crazy desert missions and am now in Las Vegas. There's a big casino caper and the final, completely crazy mission to still do. I'm looking forward to it.

I also played through the first couple campaigns of Universe at War (an RTS by former Westwood people). I would have played through the third, but it sucked. It was the same fight over and over again. And even on easy, it was a pain. I'll just move on to Supreme Commander on GameTap. I'll probably also play SC on easy. I don't really enjoy most single player RTS campaigns. If it's anything like Total Annihilation, though, it will be glorious to watch.

15 November, 2008

Review: Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30

Sigh. I wanted to love Brothers In Arms like I loved Opposing Force and Blue Shift. But I don't. It tries hard to be respectful to the source material, to the men and the history. But it's obvious they couldn't realize their ambition. The voice acting is pretty good, but the direction is poor, making the characters seem wooden and fake.

Moreover, the AI is so broken that I can't take any of it seriously at all. I shot an enemy soldier who was standing in a corner, running in circles. I imagined him emitting Curly style whooping noises as I shot him. Also, my men would regularly stand in the open. I'm supposed to care about these men. They're supposed to be my family. But when they display no regard for self preservation that illusion doesn't work. Also, they frequently refuse to fire on targets they should have no problem firing on. Sometimes it's because they won't move three feet to the corner of a wall without explicit instructions. Sometimes it's because they're behind a wall that's scripted to be too tall to fire over, even though enemies on higher ground are clearly visible and shooting them.

There are other reality bending minutiae, like bullets coming out of guns at weird angles and AI that can shoot you with total accurately through obscuring foliage, that make it impossible to suspend disbelief. The sequel, Earned in Blood, fixes none of these things. Based on the review scores and limited podcast discussion I've heard, it sounds like the recently released third game in the series also doesn't work for most people.

And it's not just about the lack of "realism". The game is generally pretty frustrating to play, as well. Sometimes enemies spawn next to you and you're instantly dead. Sometimes unsuppressed enemies can hit you from super far away, further than you can suppress them from. Sometimes I found myself facing three enemy elements with only one friendly element backing me up. How do you pin three enemy elements to move up in those circumstances? You don't.

And as I've mentioned before, the fact that your troops only follow the shortest path between where they are and where you tell them to go means they have be treated like Amelia Bedelia, rather than combat veterans who know about fields of fire, using cover, etc. Also, giving the command I wanted to was often difficult to give. I'd be trying to point at a bad guy, but I'd get the movement cursor. A few times this meant my men broke cover and ran to their deaths when I wanted them to suppress a target. Essentially, the core mechanic is tedious and unreliable in a game that harshly penalizes mistakes.

As I said, I wanted to love this game. Gearbox is working on Aliens: Colonial Marines, and Borderlands, both sci-fi co-op games. I want them to be great. Based on Brothers In Arms, I'm no longer holding out much hope for those games.

Designers need to be monstrously ruthless about admitting what's broken and finding ways to fix it. I think the industry term is "killing your own babies". I'd like to believe that the people at Gearbox simply don't have the stomach for it. Because the only other options I can see are that they're oblivious to the game's flaws, or not capable of doing better. I'd prefer to think that they're simply "too nice" to make a great game.

3 of 5

11 November, 2008

Game Journal: Left 4 Dead

I keep trying to hate Left 4 Dead. I'm failing.

It's becoming a love / hate relationship.

I love shooting zombies. And this is the best zombie shooter ever. Zombies move with momentum and mass. If you bash one into another, they knock into each other and sometimes fall over. They jerk as you shoot them. If you have a really good gun they lose extremities. They blow up. They catch on fire and stumble around. If it was humans, it would be horrifyingly graphic. But since it's zombies it's superbly gratifying. Go figure.

And yeah, sometimes they get stuck in canned death animations that make it hard to tell when they're dead. And the fact that they fall right through you like ghosts can take you out of the moment, but these are standard game concessions.

I guess my main problem is that I hate having my success or failure rest in the hands of random people, or bad AI. (Seriously. Try taking down a Tank on Expert with only AI for backup.) The Penny Arcade beta group has a lot of good people, who are fun and don't suck. I would let fodder boy, Galaga Galaxian, or Carbon Fire guard my back any day of the week. But playing on public servers is a real crap shoot, and getting shot in the back or constantly having to go rescue someone who doesn't stay with the group gets old in a hurry.

I guess you could argue that I'm not deriving the appropriate pleasure from heroism. But if I have to save the same person repeatedly, I feel like I'm not helping. I'm enabling.

And of course everyone kills everyone else at the end of the second level because if you actually finish it you don't get any stats (like you do at the end of the first level), and you have to sit through the stupid "buy this game" movie. I COULDN'T BE PLAYING IT IF I HADN'T ALREADY BOUGHT IT!

Sigh. I want to love this game. I see many reasons to love this game. But I've played the two demo levels to death and it's time to knock it off. Back to World War II. Again.

But wait! What in the world could that be?

It's King Bill! Run!

09 November, 2008

Game Journal: Left 4 Dead

Things have improved some. A couple patches have added a server browser, so if people want to run private servers they can. It seems like a lot of people are still using the random matchmaking, though. It sucks to be in a really exciting part of the game and have the server admin kick everyone or have the server shut down with no warning. And verifying my cache files seems to have gotten rid of the purple checkerboards.

I'm still not sure about my purchase. The best part of it is playing with good players from the PA boards. But that was also the best part of playing Hellgate: London, which most people say is a horrible game. I probably should have stuck to TF2.

Still. It beats looking for work. :P

07 November, 2008

Game Journal: Left 4 Dead

Well, I've been through Left 4 Dead a few times now. If you keep trying long enough, you can eventually accidentally get on a good server. But you can never get on that server again, not on purpose anyway.

The difficulty is a little messed up, but that's to be expected from a game that's trying to provide dynamic difficulty. Hard is pretty easy. And Expert is crazy hard. One group I was in spent a couple hours trying to get through the second demo map on Expert. Of course, it didn't help that you start with whatever health you ended the last map with, so we always started wounded and had to waste time bandaging ourselves before we could start playing again. And fighting Tanks (giant bad guys) in the close quarters of the subway is almost 100% death. The winning strategy may be to play with one player always dead, as the game doesn't seem to spawn the worst baddies unless all four players are active.

Of course, this is all providing you're playing with competent players. Most people are used to standard FPS games and being the lone ranger. Going it alone gets you dead from the first boss you fight. But when you're together, you've just got a different problem.

Friendly fire is on in this game, and even when I wasn't playing with jerks who simply enjoyed killing each other, accidents were frequent. It's almost the best reason not to use a shotgun as one errant blast can knock a friendly out of the fight. But the best strategy is often to back yourself into a corner and kneel. That's pretty counterintuitive when facing a wave of ravenous undead. Most people run and jump and shoot like crazy.

And good luck if anyone in your group picks up a Molotov. Multiple times I found myself on my back, on fire, using my pistol to try and fend off burning zombies who were kicking me to death. It's fun the first time. :P

Overall, it's a pretty harrowing experience. And it only makes it worse that it's the same two maps over and over again. Returning to Brothers In Arms' hedgerow fighting will be like a picnic in an enchanted forest compared to this.

Also, I really don't see how this is a full price game. The online experience is sub par, and there are only four campaigns to play through. And I think you can only play two of those four with humans as the bad guys. And for all the supposed randomness, the encounters all just blur together after a while. I almost think I prefer the easier difficulties because they make boss attacks a change of pace. On Expert, you know there'll be another boss attack in about twenty seconds, so it's not really a surprise or very interesting. It's mostly just a grind.

Plus when I upgraded to the latest recommended video drivers, everything turned purple.

I think this is the first Valve purchase I've regretted.

06 November, 2008

Game Journal: Left 4 Dead

So far, the Left 4 Dead experience has left me unsatisfied. Single player works. But that's not really the point.

I managed to connect to one fellow Penny Arcade forum goers game, but even with a 100ms second ping (which is normally an okay ping), the zombies teleported all over the place as I was trying to shoot them. This lead to friendly fire and general confusion. And it crashed trying to load the second level. I tried to get into other people's games, but they were all reporting IP addresses from the far side of a router (192.168...), so they were unjoinable. Trying to start my own game, I was told that there are no dedidcated servers and I would have to host a LAN game. I'm amazed the other humans were able to move around at all. Or maybe they were instantly replaced with bots, and I didn't notice. Regardless, the netcode on PC seems pretty boned.

I thought this was a demo. It feels more like a beta. And with two weeks to the game's official release, that's cause for concern.

05 November, 2008

Keepalive: Left 4 Dead, GTA: San Andreas

The demo is pre-loading now. My understanding is that it won't actually unlock until 7AM, not midnight. Phooey.

It's probably worth mentioning that I rarely get on the hype train like this, but the beta for TF2 was super fun. The people in it were super happy to be in it and just generally crazy about the game. I'm guessing L4D will be the same. I am still a bit worried that I've overpaid. But it's Valve. They've earned it.

Staring at my Steam window so long, I got bored and clicked on GTA: San Andreas. Fake San Francisco is fun to drive in.

Keepalive: Brothers In Arms 1, Left 4 Dead

I'm playing Brothers In Arms 1 in small chunks. I've been lucky with recent missions, so it's not been frustrating. But I'm still apprehensive, so I don't play more than one map at a time. I'll probably be recording a video to give the flavor of the game soon.

But in the meantime, Steam is open. I'm staring at the line that says "Left 4 Dead (unreleased)". Staring. And staring. Twenty two hours or so until the preorder demo comes down the pipe. These are the times that try shallow men's souls.

04 November, 2008

Game Journal: Brothers In Arms 1

Yeah. Technically it's "Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30". But I'm not writing that every time.

BiA's a tactical shooter. Find the enemy. Pin them down. Flank and kill them. But it's rarely that simple.

Or maybe it's just me. But I feel like every time I move between cover without every nearby enemy suppressed, I must be doing it wrong. And, like SWAT 4, I don't ever want to lose a squad mate. But I always do. Sometimes they ignore grenades tossed next to them. Sometimes they stand next to enemy tanks I've dropped a grenade into. Sometimes they pathfind stupidly and wander in front of machine gun emplacements.

There are automatic checkpoints, but when I get kicked back for something that wasn't my fault, I get frustrated. I'm working harder here than I would in a standard FPS. So losing progress to stuff like that is more demoralizing.

My first experience in this game was in an internet cafe in Prague. I've just gotten past the point I left off at there. When the tanks come in, it's even easier to instantly lose the game. Enemy tanks will kill your men instantly, and if an enemy takes out your tank, you instantly lose the game.

I've got BiA 2 here. If the first one gets to be a pain, I may see if the sequel suits me better. The reviews on the third game (which came out last month) were pretty meh. In fact, taking a quick look at Game Rankings, it appears that the first game was the highest rated in the series.

Right now, though. Nothing satisfies. The gun combat is supposed to be gimped, and I accept that. But the tactical elements are also pretty gimped, and that's the core of the game. I mean, any time I tell my guys to put fire on a target, they stop moving, which means I have to manually step them up through cover while keeping the enemy suppressed. Plus I have to do all the flanking myself because I can't send them around anything. It's repetitive and dull and feels like work. Gearbox earned my eternal respect with their Half-Life add-ons and Doom deathmatch skills (or skillz, I can never remember the rule about when to use the "z"), but there's a good chance I just won't hang with BiA.

Dear Gearbox,
Please make Aliens and Borderlands super awesome co-op games.

That reminds me... BiA could be a superb co-op game, but has only competitive multiplayer, which has it joining Republic Commando and Jericho as a Crime Against Co-op.

Here's a simple rule. If a game has the word "squad" on the box and has no co-op, the makers should die in a fire.

03 November, 2008

Keepalive: Jericho, Heart of Evil

So I've uploaded four of Jericho's five chapters (or acts or sections). I don't think I'm going to upload chapter five. It's mostly boss fights, and they're the type of boss fights that are only interesting the first time because once you know the trick, the execution is pretty straightforward.

The main thing the recording process has taught me is that it takes too long to upload these things on my connection. Only very special games will get that treatment, going forward.

Also, recording a game as a movie does introduce pacing problems. If you're playing, the game is hopefully keeping you engaged, thinking and decompressing, during travel time. But when it's just a video of someone else playing, there's no engagement.

I've toyed with the idea of editing out dull bits. But usually any given dull bit is me getting slightly lost then getting back on track, and the loss of continuity doesn't seem worth the seven seconds saved. But that was Jericho, which is super linear. Heart of Evil actually has levels I've gotten lost in for five minutes or more.

Game Journal / Review: Yakuza 2


Oh wow. What an ending. I hated it and loved it at the same time. It was almost Metal Gear stupid. So the dead guy turns out to be alive and the mastermind behind a huge revenge which he never intended to go through with. Seriously? There were multiple cut scenes in the final section where I kept wishing SEGA'd just gone all the way and put the cast in full clown costumes. Only Metal Gear could have done it crazier.

The first game was melodrama. This one is just plain stupid. I mean, there's an "it was just a dream" segment and everything. Maybe that's part of Japanese culture I don't understand. But I think I'm done with the series. Much like Metal Gear, I respect it, but it's not for me.

Sure, there's nothing like it. Sure, the fighting is still decent. But I spent over thirty five hours on this game. And that's with significant FAQ usage. It's not like the next one will be shorter. Even the trailer SEGA showed at Tokyo Game Show was longer than I had patience for. Fifteen minutes? Seriously? I'm a guy who is literally sitting here in front of a computer, wasting his life blogging and gaming listening to podcasts, and I find that self indulgent. :P

Time to move on.

3 of 5