Monday, December 19, 2011

It's that time of year again...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand thoughts and commentary


Battlefield 3 recently released their Back to Karkand expansion pack which brought four new Battlefield 2-inspired maps and a bug-fixing patch.  I've had some time to play a couple dozen games and here are my thoughts on how the game has progressed.

Anyone that has followed my blog or Twitter knows that I haven't exactly had the best experience with Battlefield 3.  I went from being a good Bad Company 2 player to a terrible Battlefield 3 player and at first glance the games are not that different.  Some analysis lead me to understand why I was not doing as well at Battlefield 3 as I had hoped and most of that revolved around what I felt was Battlefield 3's biggest problem: it was released too early.  Fortunately, the patch and expansion seem to have put the game on the right path and I am finding myself enjoying the game much more.

The best improvements revolve around the UI and while the patch doesn't fix all of the problems, it was a huge step in the right direction.  The chat box can now be hidden and it has been moved to a much more acceptable placement on the screen.  Squad management is simpler and squads are much easier to leave and join.  They didn't up the total number of squads available which is annoying as it literally breaks 64 player servers leaving upwards of 32 players without a squad to join.

The glowing neon text that Battlefield 3 uses hasn't gone away, but ironically enough they added a color blind mode which makes the UI elements (such as names and unit identifiers) contrast much better and I've moved to using as my default mode (and I'm not colorblind!).  Many other players have also moved to colorblind mode which makes me wonder why DICE doesn't get the hint and do away with the horrible, horrible neon lines and text.

Still needing improvement is the mini map, both during the game and during spawning.  It is hard to determine where a certain spawn point is going to place the player and as discovered by some keen-eyed players, the mini maps are clearly not accurate reflections of the actual map.  The mini maps seem to be from a previous map design, showing structures that were clearly removed or moved at some point.

Other than the new maps, weapons, and vehicles that came with Back to Karkand there weren't any huge features added to the game.  Assignments were added, which is like a quest system used to unlock the weapons of BtK.  Kill X players with X weapon and do Y to earn Z weapon.  They are a better system than having to level up specific kits to get new weapons, but some of the assignments just feature dumb objectives such as killing an enemy with the repair tool.

Still missing from Battlefield 2 are in-game voice chat, commander mode, and the battle recorder.  Three items that in my opinion are absolute requirements for Battlefield 3 to ever be considered a successor to Battlefield 2.  Without them, Battlefield 3 will remain low on my list of best Battlefield games.

Back to Karkand inadvertently fixed one of my other gripes with Battlefield 3: the maps!  The Back to Karkand maps are far superior to the vanilla maps.  After a couple rounds on Gulf of Oman and Back to Karkand I knew I would not likely go back to the vanilla maps anytime soon.  The BtK maps look better, play better, and feature a lot more destruction.

Everything that seems destructible is destructible and there are no more random paper thin walls that can't be destroyed.  The capture points on Conquest are tighter making actual defense possible instead of watching your flag cap with no enemy in sight.  The rush modes of the maps bring a refreshing twist to the classic Battlefield 2 maps.  The vehicle spawns seem closer, allowing for more vehicle action.  I could go on, but suffice to say, the Karkand maps are much better.

The balance changes that came with the patch also were a step in the right direction.  Weapons such as the SCAR-H and M240-B had their damage reduced which brought them in line with the rest of the weaponry in the game.  RPGs were slightly nerfed on damage to infantry (but could still go a bit further).   Mines are no longer infinite and limited to six per engineer.  And most critically of all, the IRNV scope was dramatically reduced in effectiveness.  It now only works in close ranges and blurs out at a distance.  The IRNV is no longer the equivalent of a wall hack and no longer the defacto scope everyone uses.

DICE also played with the way burst firing works.  I'm not sure on the details, but I seem to have much better luck with burst firing with certain weapons.  Some weapons still seem to have a first shot that goes randomly off target (and I mean WAY OFF target), but from reading the forums and on /r/battlefield3 it seems it may just be a bug with sprint or changing positions.  Hopefully, it gets tightened up a bit.  Either way though, I feel like I am far more accurate now when firing weapons.

Overall I am pleased with the patch and Back to Karkand.  I would be annoyed thinking I had to pay for BtK, but I bought the Limited Edition so got it for free.  Its still unfortunate that we're waiting for more features to be patched into the game.  Maybe in a year Battlefield 3 will be the successor to Battlefield 2 that we all wanted.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Fallout: New Vegas – My journey

FYI, spoiler warning.



I’m ashamed to admit that Fallout: New Vegas is the first Fall Out game I’ve actually played (as in played). Sure there was the Fallout and Fallout 2 dabbling I did in high school back in the day, but I really wasn’t a PC gamer at that point. I passed on Fallout 3 because I don’t buy single player RPGs anymore until they are on a Steam sale (and Fallout 3 has yet to be on a really good Steam sale). So when FO:NV went on sale for $4.99 I was going to pass assuming it required that I have Fallout 3. It wasn’t fathomable to me that a game’s sequel would be on a cheaper sale than the original. A friend spotted my stupidity and bought me FO:NV. Twenty-five hours later, I’m glad he did.

I’m well behind the release of the game with this post, so I won’t bore anyone with the technical or graphical side of the game. The game works well and looks good.

I finished FO:NV in a single week, a rarity for any game I purchase. What kept me coming back for more was the main storyline of the game, which is ironic considering the immense amount of side content available in the game. I really enjoyed the story and world. The various factions in game are interesting and the constant struggle between the sides is well done. It literally blew my mind when I realized all of these different sides were attempting to recruit me as the all-star for their side in the upcoming battle of Hoover Dam. I genuinely felt like each side had a valid offer.

After this was taken, I accidentally shot him in the face.
In the end I decided to go the route of helping Yes Man. Well to be honest, I accidentally shot Mr. House in the face when he was out of his life-enabling chamber which sort of ruled out following his path towards a Mr. House controlled New Vegas. Which by default made me the leader I guess? I wasn’t quite sure at the end if I was in control or whether Yes Man was. The massive army of robots under Yes Man’s control sort of tells me I wasn’t in charge. Either way, I’m pleased with my decisions.

To note though, at one point I was heavily leaning towards supporting Caesar’s Legion. The free supplies every few days seemed like a nice bonus (except trying to remember where the stash was replenished). However, I must admit I’m not into the whole cannibalism and anti-technology thing they have going on.

I didn’t side with the NCR because, well… I really liked their NCR Ranger Armor and ED-E wouldn’t stop getting into fights with them for some reason, so my NCR faction rating was shot. NCR soliders also make for great experience farming. However, it did make trips to the Strip a bit dodgy until I realized I could disguise myself as an NCR member.

I finished at level 15, which is only half of the available thirty levels. I followed a guide that had me start with ten intelligence, which did result in a ton of extra skill points per level. Following the guide really helped towards my enjoyment of the game as I often met the minimum threshold for a lot of alternate paths and having Repair high early on helped me unlock the ED-E companion who is a huge boon to situational awareness in combat.

My character focused on Guns, Lock-picking, Barter, Repair, and Sneak. My weapons of choice were the Assault Carbine and Hunting Rifle, replaced by the Marksman Carbine and Sniper Rifle eventually. My favorite perk to combine with these was the Bloody Mess which is self explanatory.

Being a loot whore, I also kept choosing looting-specific perks such as the one that let me carry up to 250 weight and Jury Rigging which let me repair my massive stock pile of guns I had made outside Gun Runners (btw I’m amazed how this game can remember where I leave just about anything, even if that anything is 100+ different guns).

Now that I finished the game I’ve been going back a little bit and leveling up some. I have an Anti-material Rifle now (.50 caliber sniper rifle). With the weapon handling perk and implants, I can wield it effectively now.

I’ve also just started to dig into some of the side quests that are in the game. I was really into the main story line and did absolutely nothing on my first run through. I’m still clearing out the stuff from Primm and the other starting areas.

Oh and to note, I killed Boone because I wanted his hat. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It was an otherwise unjustified killing in that giant dinosaur statue.

Here is my collection of screenshots.  And a couple of my favorites below:


Boone's Beret + Boone's Sunglasses + ED-E (robot) + NCR Ranger Armor = I'm a murderin' thief!

Barrels, always getting in the way of my bullets.



Monday, December 05, 2011

On the Brink

Brink had free weekend this past weekend on Steam, so I was able to put a few hours into the game. Brink is great for about two hours, but past that it’s a bore to play. Brink is the rare game that gets all the extraneous features spot on, but fails to inspire with its completely bland game play. Brink, essentially, is on the Brink of being a good game.

Most of the initial two hours is spent in the character creator and then in the tutorial-type challenges unlocking parts for your guns so players can then go back into the gun customizer to outfit some weapons. The customization, of everything about the character, is the impressive part of Brink. Even with the artistic approach to characters (long faces, exaggerated body types), I found an amazing amount of possibilities. On top of this, the weapons can be heavily customized both visually and functionally.

The only roadblock is the fact that many of the customization options are locked behind level or challenge requirements. The challenges are easy enough and within an hour a novice player can have most of the basic gun unlocks and enough character appearance items to make them feel unique. Experience rolls in easily enough while playing and is rewarded for every possible action the player can take, so there is no need to be an FPS god to rack up the points.

The online play is tough to describe. For a new player it is very confusing on what match type does what. A new player will look at a list of servers and game modes and be completely baffled as to whether they are getting into a co-op or team death match or team objective game. While Brink does a good job introducing the game modes in the challenge tutorials, it does not do a good job of explaining what match type a player is getting into.
I started with the campaign game mode first. Initially, I thought I was the cat’s meow as I racked up the top spot on my team several matches in a row. However, my elation came to an end when I realized I was playing against bots in a campaign co-op match. I did a bit of Google research and figured out I needed to be playing the Objective game mode against real opponents. A few matches into Objective and I was brought back to earth, often failing to break out of the middle ranks.

Players can score points from getting kills, assisting team mates, completing objectives, defending areas, and many more non-combat activities. However, there are no kill or death counts on the scoreboard. Players only see the total score of a player’s combined actions. This is something every other team-based shooter needs to take a lesson from. Team and class-based shooters are NOT about kill to death ratios, they are about the objectives, so it makes no sense to display kills and deaths on the scoreboard (I’m looking at you Battlefield 3!). The scoring system in Brink is one of the extraneous features that shines.

The problems with Brink come into play when players start to realize that the gun play is sloppy. Weapons have very distinct ranges and guns with short ranges feature vanishing bullets making it very hard for a new player to understand why they aren’t able to hit an enemy with their gun, even if that enemy seems to be within their range.

The range on weapons plays into the next aggravating feature of Brink: the SMART system. Brink was designed to be about movement and using movement to get an advantageous position on your enemy. The SMART system allows players to vault over obstacles, shimmy up walls, slide around corners, and for the most part live out their parkour fantasies. I found myself making incredible leaps to outflank opponents, but at some point I realized I was being killed more often than not while stuck in a pull-up or hurdling animation. The transitions just take too long to be useful in the middle of combat or the action the player’s avatar takes is not anywhere near what the player was expecting. Add this to the odd vanishing bullets with the limited gun ranges and new players quickly find themselves confused and dead.

The SMART system plays into my next gripe: the maps. The SMART system makes the maps very difficult to learn as many routes are available. A player has to spend a good amount of time learning the nuances of what can and cannot be achieved via the SMART system. Many times a route looks perfectly viable, but the player finds themselves floundering like a fish out of water when they go to make the jump. The jump/move may or may not be doable. Sometimes I would watch a player make a cool SMART move over an obstacle only to follow and fail to clear it myself. The system seemed inconsistent and more damaging than anything.

Also annoying about the maps are the glass walls. I can’t count the number of times I thought I was shooting someone only to find out there was a glass wall between us. Glass, in any game, should break when shot. Glass isn’t the only environmental problem. There are fences and openings around every corner that are invisible walls that bullets cannot pass through.

After a few matches most players are probably confused. Their selection of guns don’t seem to hit what they are aimed at as aside from a loading screen tip, there is no explanation of how gun range works. The SMART system has shown them that there are alternate routes to take on the maps, but they have most likely failed several times trying to take advantage of them. And even when their weapon of choice does manage to hit an enemy it is difficult to tell how much damage needs to be done to kill them. Then there is the grenade spam which the player has probably gotten stuck in multiple times.

Once acquainted with the game after about three hours of play I found myself not making many of the obvious newb mistakes, but I still felt like I was fighting the game trying to figure out the weapons and SMART system. It then dawned on me that it really doesn’t matter as I watched some of the top scoring players. It was better to just sit back and spam a class ability on team mates for points rather than to charge into objectives or to try and kill other players. Through brute force one side was eventually going to push into an area, completely negating the SMART system.

At the end of the day, Brink is a very boring game to play. All of Brink’s best features are outside of the actual game itself. Character and weapon customization are among the best of any FPS I’ve ever played. The art style and visuals are awesome. Unfortunately the gun play and fact that the SMART system is a moot point makes Brink a “what if” contender. I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone at this point.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Why I failed #NaNoWriMo 2011 (13,825 words)

I was cruising.  It was day 13 and I was already past 13,000 words keeping pace with my 1,000 words a day goal (note: NaNoWriMo officially encourages 1,400 words a day).  And then it all stopped.  I finished on day 14 with 13,835 words in the middle of what I feel was turning into a good story.

The main problem I had was that the time I was allotting to write was during my breaks at work (an hour lunch + two 15 minute breaks).  When work got a bit crazy I had to switch over to using up free time at home each night.  With a family (especially the 2 year old) and games like League of Legends and Battlefield 3 to play, I just couldn't focus on writing at home.  However, there were a couple other things that derailed me as well.

I really screwed up the geography of my world building.  The story is supposed to be taking place in the east, but I ended up calling the land mass the "western key".  Then the nation of Alb I put in the east only to later realize it made more sense for Alb to be in the midlands.  Which means I should of had the ruling Kingdom of the midlands in the east.  The only group I placed correctly it seems was the foreigners from the islands of the west.

At first this mix up didn't really bother me.  NaNoWriMo is about getting words on paper which can be edited and fixed up later.  Rewriting should be the second step to a story, not a part of the process of the first draft, so I pressed on with the bad geography in the idea that I'd clean it up in editing.  However, I ran into some problems with what I wanted to do with the story.  This forced me to think far too much about what I was writing each day and lead to the writers block that ended my NaNoWriMo attempt for 2011.

When the initial writers block set in, I looked into working on just editing my 13,000+ words and getting the geography together.  As I went through the text I started getting really good ideas and started adding in large sections and more descriptive language to previous chapters.  Before long the writers block collided with the changes I was making and I was finding myself creating gaps faster than I was filling them.  So instead of pushing into the second half of the month, I put the work down.

Oh and at some point I realized I really disliked some of the main characters names: Enlil and Orten specifically.  I literally picked the name Orten based on the NFL quarterback Kyle Orten.  And with Enlil, I am not even sure how you would pronounce it.  In Orten's case I have a new name picked out that I really like.  In Enlil's case I am aiming to change up the history of his nation of Alb which will result in some pretty unique names (moving it more towards the naming conventions of the Native Americans).

I still have plans to clean this story up.  It's a story I didn't outline, but I have had the general plot in my mind for some time.  It's a dark story, but a fun one in my opinion.  And it's all aimed at a pretty climatic ending.  I actually started on the story a while ago, but had only written a single chapter.  Even though I failed to hit the full month word count, I feel like NaNoWriMo was still a useful experience for me.  It did get me writing and it did force me to think about this story a bit more.  Even if I don't finish this story I should still be able to use the lessons learned for future story writing.

For anyone interested, here are all the posts tagged for my NaNoWriMo 2011 writing.

FTFY: Steak anology for the game that shall not be named

Lifting this quote from Kill Ten Rats:
It’s like the difference between presenting a nicely cooked steak on a plate and one that has been sliced for the guest to show a nicely cooked interior.
And applying a little FTFY (fixed that for ya):
It’s like the difference between presenting a nicely cooked steak on a plate and one that has been sliced for the guest to show a nicely cooked interior.  It’s a steak either way, except one has let all the flavor run out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

At least I'm not alone - problems transitioning from Bad Company 2 to Battlefield 3

It was nice to find this Battlefield 3 video on Youtube where a player, Aethyal, describes his challenges with transitioning from Bad Company 2 to Battlefield 3.  Aethyal is having almost the exact same issues that I am having coming from BC2.  In BC2 I always felt that I was helping my team and that I was a decent player. In BF3 I feel that I am constantly hurting my team and being an overall liability. 



Aethyal makes a couple good points.  One, his run and gun play style from BC2 doesn't work in BF3 due to the map designs.  Two, the differences in weapons is flip flopped between the two games. 

The run and gun play style worked in BC2 because the maps were well designed and as I've mentioned in other posts, BC2 maps were designed mostly as Rush maps which is meant to be run and gun.  BF3 features maps designed mainly for Conquest game play with more open areas.  Add onto the openness of BF3 maps the fact that there is a ton of enviromental noise (sun glare, smoke, fog, dust, fire, etc.) and Aethyal's point about being unable to "clear" an area before moving on makes complete sense. Players are more likely to die in BF3 to an enemy they never see than in BC2, therefore more tactical game play is required with some brute force to clear the bottlenecks.  Flanking is also more viable in BF3 due to having multiple routes on most maps to get around the enemy, but at the same time this is a negative as defense gets invariably harder with such map design.

The second point Aethyl makes about guns in BF3 may have shed some light on my own transitional problems between the games.  I had been using BF3 weapons as I had in BC2: in short controlled bursts which to my mind should be more accurate.  However, BF3 was designed so that anytime a new burst of fire is initiated the recoil is very significant.  Once the the initial recoil is over, the weapon's accuracy is controlled much easier during the burst (aka the first shots are off target due to recoil, but the following shots are easier to keep on target as recoil is automatically accounted for during the burst).  So in my BC2 style where I am using repeated short bursts I am being penalized with massive recoil on each new burst and am far less accurate because of it.  I will have to see if I can adjust my brain to use sustained burst firing from now on and see if it improves my play.  Or conversely use the weapons that have single shot settings and not rely on any burst at all.

BF3 is the first game where after the first 30 hours I'm just not getting it and feel like I'm regressing more than progressing in my skill level.  I have learned the maps (aside from Metro which I pretty much refuse to play) and game modes.  I have done everything I know to do to be better at the game and it just doesn't seem to be working,  And even in matches where I focus on objectives I don't feel I'm being successful as I can't defend reliably.  It's really frustrating to me that I haven't gotten better aside from when I equip an IRNV scope or spam mortars on unsuspecting campers.  Even then, I am not breaking even on the K:D ratio and I don't even really care about K:D in Battlefield games!  However, it's clear that the guy giving up three deaths to every kill is really hurting the team and sad to say, I'm that guy right now.

Fortunately, there are vehicles.  There are med packs and defibs.  There are supply crates and land mines.  There are other things I can do to try and help my teams in Battlefield 3.  The question is whether I can pick up the rest of my game so I can do more of that instead of waiting for my respawn.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The New Jungle - League of Legends patch 11/29

Riot Games updated League of Legends today with controversial changes to the "jungle".  For the uninformed, the jungle in LoL is a series of neutral monsters that players can kill to gain experience, gold, and buffs during a match.  It is an optional path, but in competitive play there is almost always guaranteed to be a "jungler" on the team clearing the jungle.

Some really good information has been coming out now that the patch is a few hours old.  First up is a numbers post on Reddit covering the new respawn times and camp values based on time of clearing during the match.  They are not set in stone yet, so check back for updates (the Reddit LoL community is great for fast digestion of patch changes FYI).

Prior to this patch, jungling required choosing one of the few jungling champions and a specific set of masteries, runes, and summoner spells.  In this patch the jungle was made "easier" in the aspect that the monsters are now a bit easier to kill and are less likely to be able to kill the player.  However, killing brain dead monsters wasn't exactly a challenge to begin with so saying it got easier is more in regards to the fact that far more champions with more diverse builds can now jungle successfully (instead of just as a joke).

Maokai has been a recent jungle star even prior to the patch due to some play by some top LoL players, so he is a good champ to show off some footage of the new jungle.  If you are not a hardcore LoL player, you may not notice any difference in this footage from the old jungler.  However, the differences are there as Maokai comes away with a very fast and efficient jungle run before emerging with level 4 after clearing the camps.



The new jungle is just the tip of the iceberg for this patch. Many other balance changes came down the pipeline aimed at making the early part of classic LoL games more aggressive in nature which should speed up games and make it a better spectator sport.

Personally I have been playing a lot of Dominion (a different game mode without a jungle). Dominion has faster games and focuses more on champion vs champion combat on a capture the point map. I like the faster game times and the more aggressive play. If this patch cuts down the average game length and increases the action in classic LoL, then I will probably return for some normal solo queue action.

Anyone else have thoughts on the new jungle? On the patch? Share in the comments.

Are CCP and EVE Online back on track?

There is no doubt that EVE Online’s biggest crutch has been its own developers; CCP.  First it was CCP employees giving unfair advantages and preferential treatment to certain in game corporations (aka guilds/clans).  Next it was the micro-transaction debacle and the community unanimously agreeing that CCP was being greedy.  The core community around EVE was starting to crumble and CCPs only answers seemed to be projects completely unrelated to the core of what made EVE tick (Dust 514, virtual monocles, other games like World of Darkness).
This culminated in CCP finally realizing they were overextended as a company.  So they shut down a studio and fired a bunch of people.  They also figured out that it was about time they started to focus on the core of EVE Online before continuing with any of the peripheral nonsense that had gotten them in so much trouble as a company.  The direct result of that refocus is the Crucible expansion.
With the Crucible expansion CCP is returning to the basics of EVE, such as introducing new ships, squashing bugs, and improving the “it’s more like a spreadsheet than a game” user interface.  And that is just a brief overview of what is getting worked on with Crucible.  CCP appears to be digging down deep to work on many of the long-standing, yet minor issues that have plagued the game while at the same time taking a hard look at polishing things such as starbase management and fleet vs fleet engagements.  Graphical flair through engine trails and updated space backgrounds are also featured.
Most important to note is that nothing is mentioned about virtual monocles, console FPS spin offs, or Iceland’s volcanic history.  Crucible is aimed 100% at the core of EVE Online and CCP is selling this as redemption for their past missteps. 
Reading over the notes and feature set for Crucible I can only draw the conclusion that CCP is committed to getting EVE Online back on track.  There are several excellent improvements going into the game with Crucible, some that should have been fixed long ago (like the damn UI font).  I’m sincerely hoping CCP has learned their lessons and they will take better care of EVE Online going forward.
EVE is still the MMO that I’ve always wanted to play and these are the type of changes that will continue to interest players like me.  Unfortunately, I can’t justify a monthly subscription for an MMO with my very limited play time.  Also, I’ve already experienced the gambit EVE has to offer: massive warfare, getting ganked, “rat”ting, and watching your corp implode as the corp leader robs the coffers bare.  Someday I hope I can return and just be a lonely jackass pirate ganking newbs two jumps outside of Jita.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Battlefield 3 is a step back


Battlefield 3 is probably the last new game I will ever buy. The game was not ready to be launched and it is clear that EA and DICE only launched to beat Modern Warfare 3 to the market. If anything, I should have waited for the Black Friday $30 sale. Battlefield 3 is NOT worth $60. While Battlefield 3 is a definite step back for the Battlefield series, it will still be a solid installment once they patch in the rest of the game and fix the glaring WTF balance issues (IRNV anyone?).

Battlefield 3 is a perfectly serviceable game at this point. It runs well for everyone I play with and aside from the initial rubber-banding issue on 64-player servers, I have no technical complaints about the game. The graphics are beautiful, even on low settings, and it plays smoothly. Graphic card manufacturers have been very responsive with BF3 specific drivers.

So if there aren’t any technical disasters, then why would I say the game was not ready to be launched? BF3 is one of the rare games that launches on a solid platform (Frostbite 2) from an experienced team (DICE), but is missing that extra layer of polish and features that could separate it from other titles on the market. On top of this, there are previous Battlefield games that, in my opinion, have far better feature sets. In fact, I’ll reiterate; Battlefield 3 at launch is a step back for the Battlefield series as a whole.

The biggest glaring problem for Battlefield 3 is one of UI design. This is ironic considering that the one thing Battlefield 3 did fix for the series is that of a functional server browser. Some may not like Battle Log, but the truth is that Battle Log is the best server browser to be featured in any Battlefield game. However, the actual in-game UI is terrible and only now with the first patch is it even approaching being useable.

At launch, squad management within the UI was impossible and even after the first patch fixed some of the problems, there is still massive room for improvement. It is entirely possible for a player to be locked out of joining a squad if all the squads get locked to private with less than four players (the max squad size). There is exactly enough squads and spots to accommodate 64 players. On a full server if a squad locks itself private with only two players, two players will not be able to join a squad on that server. I don’t have to state how dumb that UI limitation is. The ability to create an unlimited number of custom squads needs to be added.

The lack of in-game voice further destroys the squad aspect of the game, especially when the in-game chat UI is unusable. The chat window is too big, with no control of text size or font, and features the new and annoying “glowing” text that DICE seems to love. Both of these combine to limit on-the-fly squad creation.
Missing from the game as well is the role of a commander, a prominent feature from Battlefield 2 that set the Battlefield series apart in the FPS genre. In BF2, a single player could take on the role of commander and survey the entire battlefield setting up UAV drones to spot enemies, issue artillery strikes, give squads attack/defend orders, and in general provide that strategic organization so badly needed in a Battlefield game.
BF3 isn’t remiss on the “key components” of the commander role as they have shifted the features into various aspects. Squad leaders can issue attack and defend orders. Any player can spot enemy players (press Q more pls). Artillery strikes are replaced by the mortar of the Supply class. The Supply class can drop ammo boxes to resupply players.

Even though almost all of the functions of the commander role are present, the biggest and most important aspect is missing: organization. There is nothing that ties all the squads and battlefield assets together. Without a commander, the battlefield doesn’t live up to much more than a sparsely connected series of firefights.
To harp on the UI’s last fatal flaw I want to point out how damn impossible the mini-map is to read. Again, DICE chooses to use the glowing neon lines and glowing text that they are so fond of. It’s distracting and annoying; especially considering the map is a blue/black/white satellite image of the map. Other than checking for spotted enemies, the map is worthless leading to the final nail in the organized battlefield coffin.

The UI was the first and biggest step back, but there are a couple other things that equally upset me about the game. The destruction is dialed back significantly from that of Bad Company 2. Mostly, it is a problem of map design. The maps are meant to be larger, but also more “iconic”. And by iconic I mean they feature set pieces which clearly aren’t meant to be destroyed such as large communication antennas, shipping crates, gas stations, refinery pipes, etc. This results in a very confusing play experience where in some instances a tank shell will crumble a wall and in the next instance the tank shell can’t even penetrate a flimsy tin shed. Or the hilarity that ensues when a tank is stopped by a dreaded indestructible light post. The “most destruction ever” bullet point on the box for BF3 is a complete and utter lie.

The destruction is only part of the issue with the maps. BF3 features some truly atrocious maps. Operation Metro is hands down the worst Battlefield map ever designed. It takes out everything that makes a Battlefield game Battlefield and replaces it with a corridor shooter. Caspian Border is a lesson in running and running and running as too few land vehicles spawn and only seem to spawn back at the bases which are located much too far away from the fight. Nashar Canals features a stationary anti-air turret that dominates a third of the map and resides on an almost unreachable ship anchored off the shore. I could go on and on about the maps, but I won’t. Hopefully the Back to Karkand mini-expansion and it’s updated Battlefield 2 maps will bring back some sanity to BF3 maps.

There are also other things missing or altered for BF3. There is no battle recorder which was one of Battlefield 2’s best features. Fun tools like the grappling hook and zip lines of BF2:Special Forces are gone. Night vision is plugged into a scope with infrared (aka IRNV) which is pretty much equivalent to a wall hack. Night vision, as implemented in Special Forces was a much better way to go. There are no custom squad settings. In-game voice is missing.

BF3 should have been a combination of Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 2. Instead BF3 is a crappier version of BC2 that happens to have planes on some of the maps. With all of this said, I still will play the game for a good bit. It is, at its core, a Battlefield game and while some aspects are lacking, it still delivers that Battlefield experience. At the end of the day I rank BF3 in last place on my list of played BF titles, which isn’t too bad considering every BF game has been good to me.

My list:

1. Battlefield 2
2. Battlefield 1942
3. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
4. Battlefield Heroes
5. Battlefield 3

Cyber Monday Gaming Deals

Amazon.com

Rotating hourly lightning deals in gaming (varies based on time, check in often)

Steam

Last day to cash in on the Steam sale!

Friday, November 25, 2011

TIP: How to move Steam games to another drive in Windows 7/Vista/XP

One of the quirks with Steam is that it only allows users to install games to the same drive that Steam resides on.  For many, that is their main C: drive, which often fills up quickly.  This tool, the SteamTool Library Management will automate the process.

Or for those wishing to do it the old manual way, I will detail the process used to move 3rd party games to another drive.  This will be for Windows 7 and Vista (Windows XP users click here).

Black Friday Gaming Deals #blackfriday

Amazon.com

At Least 50% Off Over 150 Great Games
Rotating hourly/daily deals in gaming (varies based on time, check in often)
PC game specific deals


Steam

Check each day for new sales.  Recommended that you only buy games on the daily deal and then on the last day if they never come up on the daily deal.

Reddit post detailing hidden Steam deals that are overshadowed by the daily deals.


League of Legends

Sign up to play for free
League of Legends boxed bundle
Champion skins that will be on sale

Sasquatch Nunu
Nottingham Ezreal
Blacksmith Poppy
Masquerade Evelynn
Scuba Gragas
Spectacular Sivir
Mr. Mundoverse
Toxic Dr. Mundo
Swamp Master Kennen
Hextech Sion
Yellow Jacket Shen
Red Riding Annie
Leopard Nidalee
Dragon Knight Mordekaiser
Sonoran Kog'Maw
Kingpin Twitch
Professor Ryze
Shamrock Malphite
Highland Tryndamere
Pharaoh Amumu
Badger Teemo

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

DC Universe Online Revenue Up 700% due to Free 2 Play

Another game gone Free 2 Play (F2P) and another success story.  This time it was DC Universe Online from Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and the success was a 700% increase in revenue for the game.  So it's no surprise that they are also launching their other titles such as Everquest 2 into the F2P atmosphere.  With my SOE hate somewhat in my past, I may have to give DCUO a try now.  It is on Steam after all :)

Full article on the revenue increase can be found here: LINK.

Battlefield 3 Patch Notes and Commentary

Battlefield 3 will be getting a patch today (how nice of them to get me a birthday present).  The details of the patch can be found on battle log.  Browsing through the notes I think there are some definitive steps being taken in the right direction for the game.

First (but last in the notes) are the changes to squad management.  Squad management as it is currently is a nightmare.  Trying to play with friends in the same squad is a lesson in frustration.  The patch has several tweaks that will help squads be easier to join.  Most importantly players can now join an empty squad which will make it much easier to get everyone into the same squad.  This was not possible prior to this change.

My only disappointment with the squad UI and management changes is the fact they still are NOT adding the ability to have more squads available.  If a squad is made private on a 64 player server, and the four slots are not filled, then players get stuck without being able to join a squad.  This is a glaring bug that should be fixed.  I'm a bit scared by the quote in the notes that they aren't planning on fixing this oversight:

Please note that the Squad Privacy option still allows 2 man Squads which, during 64 player sessions, can lead to players with no squad position

The next big change is that to infantry anti-air (AA) weapons which got nerfed in damage.  Personally this one didn't make much sense to me.  Most pilots have flares and stealth, almost eliminating the threat from ground AA almost 100% of the time.  The better helicopter pilots in particular will have two sets of flares and be able to navigate the map via stealth to guarantee they can't be locked on.

The AA change really confuses me. I don't know if DICE wants infantry to be able to bring down aircraft or if they have the same silly ideas that they had with Battlefield 2 where aircraft reign supreme on the maps.  Small arms fire doesn't harm the aircraft.  Nor does fire from a jeep-mounted weapon.  The only viable way I've seen to take down any aircraft is with an aircraft of your own.  Even tanks struggle to take down aircraft and aircraft can easily destroy any tank in a single salvo of their unlimited rocket ammo.   DICE just sucks at implementing aircraft in their modern day titles.  Battlefield 1943 seems to be the only game that has gotten aircraft right.

A lot of weapon damage got tweaked as well.  This is nice to see to bring some of the more popular weapons back in line with the rest of them.  However, I still feel BF3 has very little variation in weapons.  There is almost no reason to use most of the new weapons that are unlocked as they function nearly identical to a player's current weapon.

One big fix on the hardware glitch side for me will be "Fixed a problem with high speed mouse movement" as I recently changed mice and often find myself having to dial down my mouse sensitivity and DPI on the fly in order for me to make small movements with the mouse.  It really feels like my mouse is just stuck at times, unable to make anything but a huge sweeping arc instead of the pinpoint nudge I need to put bullets on target.

Overall this patch will be good for the game, but Battlefield 3 has a long way to go and a good couple of expansion packs to become a worthy contender for best Battlefield game.  Currently I would probably put Battlefield 3 as the fourth best Battlefield title I've played, which isn't bad considering I hold the entire series in high regard.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Civilization MMO? Not from Sid Meier? What?

News has hit the net that XLGaming will be making a Civilization MMO.  XLGaming?  Where is Sid Meier?
Get ready, Civilization fans, as your favorite franchise is heading to MMO-land (and no, we're not talking about the Civ World Facebook game). A couple of months ago we told you about XLGames' partnership with Take-Two Interactive, as well as the fact that XL would be making an existing Take-Two property into an MMORPG. 
This morning, various Asian gaming websites confirmed that said property is the venerable Civilizationseries that began way back in 1991. Details on the new game are sparse, but Google Translate versions of the news articles indicate that XL has begun "large-scale recruitment of MMORPG developers [...] including server [programmers], client programmers, artists, planners, project managers, story designers, [and] mission designers." 
Prior to its involvement with the Civilization franchise, XLGames was known exclusively for ArcheAge, a fantasy sandbox MMO that is currently undergoing closed beta testing in Korea.
I can't imagine this turning out well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NaNo WriMo Day 14, 15, & 16: Pain

Yes, I am three days behind, but its all good :P

Chapter 14:  Pain

Gurley opened his eyes.  He was still alive.  At least he felt alive.  The old man’s face still burned in the back of his mind.  Shrake was not a man soon forgotten.  

Shrake had bragged to him how he counted success in limbs and appendages.  First with the fingers, then the hand itself.  Then the arm.  Most victims of Shrake and his Krakens did not make it to the arm, giving in once their hand had been removed piece by bloody piece.  Gurley had been lucky.  They started with his busted leg before going to his fingers.  Gurley figured that keeping him alive was of more importance than making him talk.  

Odd concoctions had kept him from passing out during the entire ordeal.  Sticks in his eyelids had forced him to watch the entirety of the event.  Pain was not descriptive enough for the torture of watching one’s own limb being removed.  Yet, the Krakens worked fast on the leg and once the stub had been bandaged and a poultice applied, Gurley seemingly felt better.  He actually felt good.  That is, until they started on his right hand’s middle finger.

Gurley had wondered if the entire castle could hear his screaming.  Shrake’s hooded bastards were more than willing to let his torturous ramblings filter out.  Warnings to the rest of the captives.  Were there captives?  Gurley had been in a feverish state when the castle was taken, so he was not sure of much aside from the fact the Thunderer now held the castle.

The flaying continued through a grizzly procession from finger to finger.  Gurley didn’t talk.  Pain combined with secrets hidden deep within Gurley to create a euphoria which permitted a mental escape.  Gurley took little satisfaction in the fact Orten was feeling all of this.  It was probably driving him crazy, wherever he was, and no doubt he was cursing Gurley’s name with every painful step he took.  

Gurley laughed at the idea that this would continue until the Krakens had removed the last bit of his skin and sent him into the underworld.  Orten would not be pleased with such a turn.  Not at all.  These bastards know nothing of what they were awakening. The thought comforted Gurley.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, Gurley really couldn’t decide, the Krakens stopped after the last finger detached from his right hand.  They left the thumb.  With each cut had come another question, met with the euphoric silence that had entrenched itself upon Gurley.  Was Shrake irritated?  It was hard to tell, but Gurley figured not many were able to not talk to Shrake.  The satisfaction sat like a cask of ale in Gurley’s gut, warming him on the thought of what awaited him when he awoke again.

However, in his dream-like state fear had started to creep upon Gurley.  His bandaged stub of a leg and the neat wrappings being dressed unto his hand were too well done.  The torture was excruciating, but it had stopped.  Sharke may have been irritated at the silence, but he hadn’t really shown it.  Then the realization caught up with Gurley.  This wasn’t for him.  It was for Orten.

***

The small skiff beached itself as the wave crashed onto the beach of the small island.  The storm had visibly weakened in the glances Orten had caught as he slipped in and out of consciousness.  The moon lit the area enough for Orten to drag himself out of the skiff and make his way into a cluster of trees.  His right hand throbbed as he clutched it to his chest.  He laid his head back and breathed a deep breath.  A burst of fire leaped from his chest and shadows danced down the beach.  Rain sizzled as it clattered off Orten’s skin.  He slipped back into the blackness with the thought of freedom ringing in his ears.  When day broke, it would be glorious.  The Flamerunner awakes.

***

Enlil had begun tracking time based on the meals served him and the shifting of the guards outside his door.   It was mid day when the washer boys brought by his cleaned doublet and captain’s vest.  To his surprise, his feathered officer’s cap was also returned.  He had not hesitated to change into the clean change of clothes.  The comfort was immediate.  If only he had a blade to clean the scruff of beard that had grown about his face.

The hard rap of a knuckle on the door broke his moment of escape.  He put his feathered hat on the table and walked to the door.  The toothless grin of one of the guards stared in at him through the tiny window.  “Dress up Captain.  We like a good show for an execution.”

Word count: 13,835

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NaNo WriMo Day 13: Revelations

Chapter 13: Revelations

The crimson star was emblazoned on the dirty white of his breastplate.  The guardsman stood alert and proud of his station.  Hard work and loyalty had earned his trusted place at the sides.  Loyalty that meant death if broken.  

His name was William, but as far as anyone knew he was You.  You there as fingers pointed.  You by the door as he stood by the door.  You seemed to fit him well.  He did not need a name.  William the guardsman was a silent, obedient man.

He had found himself situated inside the Thunderer’s main chambers this evening.  He knew this meant sensitive talk was going to be had.  Talk that only occurred in the confidence of trusted men.  Talk that also meant a chance of violence.  William had dressed the part; drab in understatement. He needed no ornament on the handle of his sword for the sharpened blade hiding within the sheath to do it’s business.  The daggers tucked in the small of his back stood backup.

It wasn’t long after he was positioned that the procession came in, lead by the women.  William took note of this.  It was unlike the Thunderer to play second fiddle.  William knew of the Fravashi, but had not had the privilege of meeting them.  Yet, there was no doubt who the women were.  They were followed, closely, by the Thunderer who took his customary seat at the head of the table.

Following the tall man came a shorter, older man covered draped and hidden within a blackened robe.  His demeanor was disconnected, uncaring.  William knew him well:  Shrake of the Krakens.  William did not care for his presence, but did not deny the value of the information he so often collected.  Still, the man disturbed him deeply.  Evil creature.

The next party to enter the room was that of an envoy from the King.  The crimson stars on bright white gave way to neatly cropped hair cuts and

The last group William did not know anything about, which meant he needed to find out everything in the short time it took them to get to their seats.  Their shorter height was the first clue they were not midlanders. Olive skin meant westerner, from the islands of the jade sea.  Odd dress-like garments covered their bodies, buttoned up the center with large wooden buttons.  Ornamental hair pieces adorned their hair, most with which appeared to collect in a hornlike structure at the back top of the head.  No visible weapons.  William didn’t relax.

A traditional meal of lamb and root vegetables was served.  Conversation flowed freely among the varied groups.  The foreigners spoke mixed dialect that stuck their home language of the island nation with that of the main lands.  The letter h seemed to present a challenge however.  William took note of this.  Either they had been on the main land for some time or they were attempting to play the part.

Midway through the meal, William noted one of the foreigners favoring a single side.  William did not let the alarm show in his face.  He waited for the shift in position to come with the guard opposite him.  As he crossed to the other side of the doorway, he discovered the reason for the favor.  The man’s hand appeared to be missing, replaced by a wad of bandages.  The wrappings looked fresh, possibly hiding something?  William didn’t venture to guess and stored the information in the forefront of his mind.

After the meal was finished, the envoy from the King did not wait to start addressing their concerns to the room at large.  They started in immediately with taxes from the new Alban holdings and provincial domain the Thunderer had taken on his travels down the eastern coast.  The Thunderer was visibly uninterested in the conversation, nodding agreeably with the majority of the statements.  

William noted Shrake peering out from his cavernous hood towards the foreigners.  At first it was little more than looks, but then William noted it moved to a savage monitoring.  William pieced it together when the man with the bandaged stump of an arm winced at Shrake’s stare.  William was disturbed by the revelation, but again showed no change in his stature or face.  

After the tax discussion ended, the King’s envoy excused itself from the table.  Their crimson clothes flowed out of the room, splitting the two guardsmen.  William counted their departure, four out the door.

The Thunderer broke the silence left by the envoy’s departure.  “Your boy there did a hell of a job.”  The Thunderer thumbed towards the man with the bandaged hand.  “Quite well considering the years he spent under the watch of good old Orten Ben Fareen here in this dump.  My apologies for his hand.”  The Thunderer paused as if waiting for acknowledgement of the apology.  He continued, “and of course for any disgraces from my men.  Clydas knew not of the arrangement and Shrake.  Well Shrake and the Krakens just do what is asked.”

The foreigners didn’t respond.  In turn they stood and bowed in the direction of the Thunderer and then again towards the Fravashi.  William counted off their paces to the door, thirteen.  He counted as the party left, four.  The Fravashi and Shrake remained with the Thunderer.

Once the door swung closed and the footsteps faded into the far hall, the six women spoke as one.  “The Flamerunner comes.”  The Thunderer eyed the women and then Shrake.  A nod from Shrake confirmed the statement.  “Let us make preparations then.  I suppose he will want that brother of his back.  Shrake I do hope your lovely boys left him in one piece.”

Word count: 13,038

Monday, November 14, 2011

NaNo WriMo Day 12: Findings

Chapter 12: Findings

Thump, thump, thump.  The steady pounding of drums beat like the wings of a bird announcing the arrival of something.  Enlil did not care to guess at the identity of those arriving in the castle as the thumping echoed about the inner confines of his holding room.  His white doublet had been recently washed and felt brisk against his skin.  Leather chaps clung tightly to his legs.  Sandals replaced boots lost to the sucking sand of his prior prison on the beach.  He paced from wall to wall, thinking.

The Thunderer wanted something from him, something that was not apparent until after the successful siege of the castle.  At first Enlil had not caught onto this fact.  He awoke every day, groggier than the last.  His mouth would be parched dry as if he had spoken for hours.  Yet, he bared no recollection of any talking outside of a few crude jokes thrown at his gaolers.  

It was on the third day, or what he ascertained as the third day, that he discovered the powdery substance on his food.  Tact was taken to carefully place the substance where it mixed best with the liquids of the meal, clearly added after the meal had been prepared.  

On that third day some of the powder had managed to stay suspended; afloat on a pool of rendered fat among some chopped and roasted root vegetables.  Enlil opted not to partake of the vegetables that day and instead dumped them in a hidden alcove behind the high-backed chair.  

His keepers seemed none the wiser and when the Thunderer arrived that evening for questioning, the change was immediate as Enlil sat quietly opposite the taller man.  “You are very quiet this evening Captain,” the conversation had started.  The talk died quickly before the Thunderer saw himself out, whispering in the ear of one of the jailers on his way down the hall.  The door had swung shut before Enlil could make anything of the whispers.

The next day, Enlil hid his entire meal along with the previously discarded vegetables in a bundle of clothing passed to the washer boys.  However, that night when the Thunderer visited Enlil spoke openly.  Unsure of where previous conversations had wandered while he had been under the influence of the powdery substance, Enlil tried to be truthful enough to be believable.  It seemed to have worked as the pair discussed details about the Alban procedures at the camp, but the Thunderer clearly guided the conversation. Enlil felt that he filled in enough new information to deflect his ruse.

However, abruptly during the conversation, the  Thunderer announced he had business elsewhere and that “I will miss our conversations Captain.”  The door clicking shut behind the the man as he left sounded like the final hammer blow on the nail’s head of the coffin that was Enlil’s confinement.  Better here than the beach Enlil thought to himself.

Enlil ate his entire plate of food at each meal the next day.  On the next day he awoke clear headed and energetic.  It was clear the Thunderer had seen through his guise, but why not send the executioner to finish this?  Why spare him now after the treatment in the camp and on the beach?

Had he awoken with the grogginess associated with the powdery substance the thumping of the drums would have driven him mad.  His pacing continued from wall to wall, before he changed to the door and table.  The rhythmic flip flip of the sandals about his feet combined with the steady beat of the drums set his mind at ease.  

On a pass nearer the door he overheard the guards speaking.  On his first pass of the conversation he made out the word “women”.  The second pass revealed “dresses”.  By the third pass “storms” and “cursed” filtered through the small inset opening in upper half of the door.  This meant only one thing: the Fravashi had returned.

***

Clydas dragged Jacco down the steps by his tightly knit horn of hair.  Ornamental beads pattered in cascading hops down the stairs as the ornamental ties broke in the knot of hair.  The staircase had been found at the backside of Orten Fareen’s quarters, hidden cleanly behind the linen closet.  The biting sound of axe on wood sounded in the background as the men accompanying Clydas proceeded to disembowel the room.  Clydas was not pleased Jacco had chosen to hide this from him.

“Tis is all.”  Jacco pleaded with Clydas.  “I swear.” The whole situation had turned on Jacco. Gurley had not cooperated as he intended.  The man’s busted legs slowed had slowed him down.  Far to slow.  The siege was practically on the castle as they had arrived.  Jacco should have just killed the sorry excuse of a man right there and fled.  Yet, Jacco knew that would have been disastrous.  No, not disastrous.  It would have meant his death.  Better to let the foolish midlander that was so fond of being called the Thunderer meet the fate that lay at the hands of Gurley’s killer.

Jacco wondered if the Krakens had finished with Gurley yet as he eased himself into the corner nearest him.  He was careful to avoid putting weight on his right arm as his own time with the Krakens had left nothing but a knob of a wrist covered in bandages.  They were, if anything, thorough in their craft. He should have accepted the tainted food.

Jacco sighed a sigh of relief as Clydas lost interest in his misery in favor of the oaken drink casks lining the walls.  Stacked in rows three high, two deep, the entire room was filled with orderly rows.  Actually, he couldn’t quite believe it had been this many.  This was a lot to have been carried through that secret door in Orten’s room.  What was this stuff anyways?  It clearly wasn’t wine or ale.  Clydas was happy at the find, but Jacco knew it wasn’t the happiness of a drunkard.


Word count: 12,088
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