24 April, 2011

Keepalive: Mostly Multiplayer

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 24 April, 2011

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

While most of the people on my Steam friends list were playing Portal 2, I kept playing Bad Company 2. I'm sure Portal 2 is an amazing experience, but I was just too cheap to spend that kind of money on a puzzle game which I will probably only play through once.

Bad Company 2 I bought for $6.78 and am still enjoying pretty well. There are still lag deaths. And my Comcast internet seems to hitch up for a few seconds every so often, booting me from the game. But I'm still learning the tools and doing better, so it's still got my interest.

My latest favorite toy is the humble motion mine. I never used it at first because it said it was a mine, but didn't explode, which is stupid. But what it does do is send out small pulses that show the positions and facings of enemies near the mine. If you're playing hide and go seek with shotguns, this is life saving information. And when any enemy is killed near your motion sensor, you get free points.

There are a fair amount of cheaters playing Bad Company 2. I suppose that's part of any popular, competitive game. In a single night I've seen over half a dozen people automatically kicked for using various hacks. And I've been on at least one server, where people were hacking and the computer was unable to tell. It's sad how proud they are of it, too. Dude, everyone knows you're cheating. The only ones dumb enough to think you're a winner are some inert silicon and you.

The cheap price of the game may work against BC2 here, as getting banned for life just means dropping $10 to buy another copy. Who knows, maybe someone will use / has used that as a business plan. Sell the hacks through a different company, then ban players for using them, but not until they've had enough fun dominating matches that they'll happily buy the game again.

Killing Floor

I only bothered to reinstall Killing Floor after my recent reformat because my brother has it, and I try to have a nice selection of co-op games ready to go. But when the Portal 2 pre-game silliness started, a bunch of PA people started playing, so now I'm back leveling my pretend skills. I still say that Killing Floor skills take way too long to level. But sometimes I'm tired of fighting against people, so stale co-op wins. Bad Company 2 actually does have co-op, but DICE didn't port it to the PC. >:P

Since I hadn't played it in so long, I found I had a lot to learn about Killing Floor, as well. Monsters behave differently than they used to. They take different amounts of damage from different types of weapons, I hear. And there are a couple new guns. It's fresh enough that I'll probably stick with it for a bit.

System Shock

I forgot what a pain the maintenance level on System Shock was. There are invisible, fireball throwing mutants that spawn in infinitely. Very few shooters put in areas you're just supposed to blow by. Most games are either about shooting or avoiding. Actually having to use my brain to choose for myself is disorienting. It's like I'm choosing what genre the game is as I'm playing it.

Other Stuff

I'm working on some game programming stuff. It's really basic, but if anything results from it, I'll post.

I would still like to post Big Baby's War Journal at some point. I've already reformatted all the images. I just haven't had any inspiration to do the writing. I may have to forgo the inspiration and just post it as a scrap book to have it done.

I would still like to post a video of Chris and me discussing our old Doom levels. To me they represent an important part of our lives, and I want to preserve that.

20 April, 2011

Gaming Culture

written by Blain Newport on Wednesday, 20 April, 2011

Gaming culture is a funny term. It recently popped up in a review of Portal 2 when Adam Biessner of Game Informer said the original game "defined a year-plus of gaming culture". The veracity of GLaDOS' promises of cake, the weighted companion cube, and of course the ending music kept popping up all over.

I don't think of those things as culture. They feel like memes, amusing refernces. It's probably just in my head, but I thought that culture was the stuff that was meaningful to people.

Or maybe I'm just out of touch. When I go to PAX now (and I just registered for PAX 2011), most of what I see feels pointless. All your base? Rick Astley? Dragonball Z? I like silly things, but putting them up on a thirty foot screen in front of hundreds (thousands?) of people who have already seen them feels extra tired. Heck, there were silly videos I'd never bothered to watch that felt instantly out of date in that format. But maybe that's just because being in a giant entrance line in a largely featureless concrete room that feels like the holding pen for a slaughterhouse does nothing for comedy. But I digress.

Culture used to be exclusively about geography. The printing press and faster forms of travel let ideas move around a bit more. And the internet lets them go all over. But does playing the same games and talking about them make gamers a culture? I'm not an anthropologist, but I suspect it doesn't.

I think it's called a culture, though, because people tie it to their identities. People dress up as game characters. People get game tattoos. People give game character names to pets or even children. I guess the idea is that culture is what shapes and defines identity, so if gaming does that, it's culture. But all this stuff happens with movies and music, too. Is there music culture? Is there movie culture? If there are, I don't hear them called by those names.

I have heard of hip-hop culture, so maybe it's about feeling apart. Liking music in general doesn't give you any identity. But if you're really into a particular type, then you start to be interested in the trappings and behavior associated with it. Maybe. If that's true, than the term gaming culture will probably go away as gaming becomes more pervasive. Or maybe it's already going away as we break into smaller groups like core / traditional gamers versus casual / social gamers.

Anyway, that's my muddled thinking on the subject as it stands. I predict that as long as there are hobbies closely associated with gaming that are considered outside the norm (writing chiptunes, cosplay, etc.), the term gaming culture will still exist. But as gaming becomes ubiquitous, those communities will become cultures of their own, and playing games will be like watching movies or listening to music.

I feel compelled to add a final note. These are all cultures based on escapist entertainment and consumerism, not the healthiest of sources. But that's a bigger subject for more educated people.

10 April, 2011

Keepalive: Mediocrity Continues

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 10 April, 2011

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Bad Company 2 is still not the greatest game. Perhaps it's simply the reality of internet gaming, but I feel like I get robbed half a dozen times a round. A guy comes around the corner; I'm right there on the trigger. But I die. Or an enemy opens up, I zip behind cover and feel safe. Then I keel over dead because he killed me already, and the game just hadn't told me.

I've never had much tolerance for lag. I didn't care for Quake, and after trying again with Quake 2 and some mods, I swore off modem gaming completely. That was probably to my detriment as I missed Tribes entirely, which I understand was amazing. I came back to it once I had broadband and had some fun, which is confusing me.

I don't get why BC2 feels worse than I remember Joint Operations feeling. Maybe it's my faulty memory. Or maybe it's that Joint Ops was so janky all around that you expected weird behavior.

Regardless, I don't have anything I particularly want to play more, so BC2 is still the game for now. I'm learning to accept the glitches. Still, I played DooM on a LAN a month ago. And no game, especially one played on consumer grade internet, can stack up to that experience.

Part of me thinks I need to get back to making co-op maps so I can DooM more often. But I've got enough projects right now.

Two Worlds II
I think my time with the game is winding down. I've beaten every level of the adventure mode, and unless I missed something, the adventures don't scale. So there's really nowhere to go but competitive multiplayer. I can tell by how the single player works that that wouldn't be at all satisfying.

I built up my village far enough to know that it's a dead end. Even with an upgraded forge and mining operation to give it the best materials, the weapons in my shops aren't any better than what I see in the NPC shops. Plus despite the fact that the entire village lives and works in buildings I sponsored, they don't give me better prices than the NPC shops. That's gratitude for ya.

Maybe I'll go back and finish the campaign. But I think I'd be smarter to uninstall.

05 April, 2011

Keepalive: Something Old, Something New

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 5 April, 2011

Two Worlds II

I tried messing with village mode. It's not so much Farmville, and is actually the worse for it. The game itself is a very simple village sim. You build structures which add population. You build a farm and ranch to feed them, and a shop to sell them the food. It's a company town, I guess.

You then wander about killing wildlife which doesn't respawn and occasionally getting requests for aid from your second in command, which just mean that you go fight a few other types of monsters in a few specific locations. And you wait for your city to amass some funds. Provided you haven't messed up and put in a building that has more upkeep than its goods produce profit, money comes in every six minutes, which is six hours in game time.

If the designers had been clever, they would have made it so that when I log in and it tells me I haven't visited my village for 22 hours, my town's coffers would have increased, and there would probably be some trouble for me to go fix. Since there's a fairly low cap on the money, this wouldn't wreck the game and would give me a reason to go visit the village. (EDIT: Apparently they did. But it's so little money I didn't even notice.)

As it is, the village is tedium. After you've cleared the surrounding countryside of wildlife, there's nothing to do but wait for the next emergency. I considered removing my guard houses to manufacture more emergencies, but there are only a half dozen types of emergencies, so that would be just as dull. Plus the villagers would be unhappy because they would feel unsafe and nobody would buy the weapons my forge cranks out.

I'm still kind of curious to see if there's any fun locked away in village mode, so I'm taking my character adventuring to earn money that I can then pour into my village. It not much faster as a way to earn money, but it is much more fun, and I level up, which happens painfully slowly in village mode.

The thought has occurred to me that village mode is supposed to be multiplayer, so I may just be doing it wrong. But how would having four people standing around waiting for an emergency be any better than having one person standing around waiting for an emergency?

EDIT: On further reading, it looks like the village is more of a time sink. You upgrade the buildings so that they produce good gear for you to buy, not to get wealthy. But I was never at a loss for decent gear in the first place. What a waste.

Bulletstorm Demo

I tried the demo for Bulletstorm. It ran well, especially once I turned the settings down to medium. The game felt passable. There's a lot of auto aiming of your special abilities that frequently had me killing guys in ways I didn't mean to, which lessened my sense of control.

The control bindings were also a bit off and needed to be remapped. Some of that was me being particular, but some of it wasn't. Space is the sprint key, and the shift key is entirely unused. That makes sense when you learn that the sprint key is also used to jump over low barriers, but assigning shift as the backup key would have helped players familiar with the many FPS games that put the sprint button there.

The main improvement I think the demo could have is reinstating the trick list. The game's main mechanic is supposed to be killing your opponents in these elaborate ways, but I got bored of the simple combos and kicking guys off ledges / into spikes before the ten minute demo was half over. I've played Dark Messiah of Might and Magic already. As it was I played through twice, to make sure I wasn't missing anything, then deleted the demo. If I want a shooter with combos in it, I've got Necrovision. Bulletstorm still needs to show me something.

01 April, 2011

Keepalive: Videos and Such

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 01 April, 2011

System Shock

I'm spending too much time recording System Shock videos, partly because I record them multiple times. If an installment is boring or I trip over my words a lot, I'll scrap it and start over. This then makes it tricky to record the second time because I know things about the upcoming section I shouldn't. I have to remember my mistakes and repeat them, which is silly.

But I'm also spending too much time recording them because I'm enjoying the game. Cyberspace in System Shock is different and cool. Picking up the audio logs and trying to piece together what happened to who and when is just as interesting a puzzle as it was when I first played the game.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Originally, I played BC2 for five hours, beating the single player campaign, and put it away. But I saw that the Penny Arcade forum folks were having a Bad Company 2 night and decided I should give the game a chance. I probably should have stuck to the PA night because on it's own, the game isn't impressive.

Like many modern shooters it adds so many special effects and fancy lighting that it's often hard to see. I was told that there are a few maps where sniping mostly doesn't work because of graphics problems that make your screen go white when you bring up the scope. Also, the controls are only read once per frame, so if you're on a slow computer, you're doubly boned. And last but not least, you have to unlock fundamental class abilities. Initially medics can't heal or revive and engineers can't repair. I still haven't earned enough medic points to be accorded the privilege of reviving people.

I very much enjoyed hanging out with Carbon Fire from the PA forums for a while. But I can't imagine playing this game for anything but the company.

Then again, I may just be old and out of touch. I thought the Crysis 2 multiplayer demo also had disorienting effects and a discouraging unlock system too.

Two Worlds 2

I met the creative director for TW2 who was demoing the game at PAX. I got a lot of enjoyment out of the somewhat similar Gothic 3. I watched videos people made of themselves having a lot of fun with the co-op and spell system.

This game is dull. It's so desperately dull. The combat is very basic and exploitable. It's generally more about patience than skill. The spell system has fun bits, but loses it's charm pretty quickly. And I've long since stopped listening to the quest dialog.

I should probably just uninstall it, but when it's too late at night to play something fun, I'll do a couple quests in TW2 to help me get to sleep. I may need to just switch to playing the multiplayer mode by myself, since it gives me a town to manage and build up. Since I don't care about the story anyway, it might be more fun to use the game as the world's fanciest Farmville clone.