Saturday, April 12, 2014

More like Diabro

It appears that Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls is taking up most of my gaming time these days. Rightly so as well, as it is an amazing expansion to the Diablo universe and probably one of the more solid cooperative multi-player experiences on the market at the moment. While there are some minor issues I have with the game, mainly regarding loot and class changes, the new dynamic game content and Australian servers more than make up for it.

Admittedly though, most of the content in Reaper of Souls is for the max level player. While you can level a Crusader and experience Act 5 at some point during your playthrough, you won't get your money's worth unless you are actually interested in endgame content. While the new adventure mode is available for all levels of character, the total legendary item list including crafted, set and difficulty specific ones are only available at 70 in torment difficulty levels. Gambling bloodshards for items and tweaking them using the mystic are good time and money sinks, albeit frustrating ones at times.

With the removal of the Auction House and the introduction of Bind on Account gearing comes the further emphasis on group play, even more so than in vanilla. Such a focus has inspired me to create a clan to allow for easy communication between friends and friends of friends. I have called the clan 'Dread Berserkers', taken from the name of one of my more dominant armies in Rome II: Total War. It is currently at a comfortable total of 25 members, with all degrees of gearing, leveling and interest between members. This diversity is refreshing and allows members to help each other no matter where they are in the chain. While I never expected to be a leader of anything in Diablo, it has been an enjoyable and pressure-less task thus far. One of the ongoing weekend activities we seem to be doing at the moment is 'weekend Ubers'. The video below shows our latest attempt. I recommend watching at 1080p.


Special thanks to hotpies, Onthax and BlueMneme for participating in this week's attempt.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Path of Clunkiness

Ha. Someone reading my last few post titles may think I have a grudge against Path of Exile. While there are elements I still actively dislike, I have overall enjoyed the game quite a bit. Far too much, one might say, having now put in over 250 hours and leveled a 75 ranger. I haven't been using silly build names in Path of Exile like I was doing in Diablo 3. If I was, I would probably call the ranger's build something lame like "Hailstorm" as it focuses on lightning and cold damage for the most part. I guess I would call my Marauder's build "Zero Fucks" and my Duelist's build "Epilepsy" as well.


There isn't really much to say about the ranger's build itself as I feel it is relatively generic. She uses Lightning Arrow and Frenzy for her AoE and single target damage, Lightning Warp for mobility and kiting and a single, straightforward Cast When Damage Taken combination. Probably the most interesting aspect of the CWDT combination is the use of Frostwall. It spawns short wall segments which both block and push back enemies, allowing more room for kiting and adding some automatic crowd control to the mix. The walls also combo well with Lightning Arrow as Lightning Arrows do considerably more focused damage when they detonate on walls. If an enemy happens to be immediately behind a Frostwall, the arrows will detonate on the wall and do AoE damage, but also Fork (support gem) through the wall hitting targets behind. Should a target be immediately in front of a Frostwall, the Lightning arrows will detonate on the the target, fork and detonate on the Frostwall behind. When your positioning is right, the mobile wall you carry with you can be used to do massive AoE and single target damage at varying ranges, all the while staying relatively safe. This concept is demonstrated in the picture below.

Besides the Frostwall + Lightning Arrow mechanic I have been abusing, the bow user has some interesting game play aspects. Resembling a (much) tamer Demon Hunter, you have the potential to avoid 75% of the game's damage output by virtue of being ranged. Especially boss melee abilities. Because of this you are rarely affected by dangerous status ailments such as stacked poison charges, poison clouds, stuns and stacked shock charges. The abilities given to bow users have a high focus on AoE usage, especially when combined with appropriate gems. These abilities frequently have some elemental damage conversion allowing access to elemental damage builds. As you will primarily stack dexterity to use these abilities, accuracy is not something you need to worry about running around with 90%+ hit chance all the time. A ranger's early game passive nodes are also very potent, with considerable damage bonuses.

There are some tradeoffs however, the most noticeable being a distinct falloff in damage output as you level should you not pay it sufficient attention. Unless you stack strength and use Iron Grip (something I did not do), your damage scaling is very much dependent on your gear and passive nodes. As strength also gives you miniscule amounts of health, the staggered upgrade effect of the game is much more pronounced. As you naturally become squishier over time, making sure your gear is on par with the content you are facing is critical for success. Because of this, you are forced (though perhaps not unwillingly) into employing kiting tactics against your foes. The squishy but mobile, 'glass cannon' concept is perfectly fine, though it is somewhat problematic in execution in Path of Exile. I say this as I again draw attention to the clunkiness of the game's combat and how stutter stepping, dodging and casting spells is a slow and broken affair. Coming off the heels of Demon Hunter game play in Diablo 3, I find myself annoyed at the lack of response the game needs to make the play style truly work in this game.


Nevertheless, I did manage to get to 75 without issue. Of my three 75's it was probably the least enjoyable to level, though not by much. I think going from the madness of Flicker Strike to the mediocrity of Lightning Arrow will do that. The video below shows the ranger in action. I have intentionally facetanked some sections just to show how Lightning Arrow and Frost Wall compliment each other. Recommend watching in 1080p.


As I am pretty sure I will not be playing Path of Exile seriously for a long while, I will also leave some comments about realisations I have regarding the game's mechanics. Hopefully they are useful to someone.

Armour and Evasion Comparisons:
The most important thing to realize about armour in Path of Exile is that, for the most part, it sucks. You may naturally think that armour makes encounters with hard hitting melee dudes trivial, but in actuality it barely makes a difference. In short, the harder a mob hits you, the less percentage of that damage will be mitigated through armour. If something is capable of one-shotting you with 0 armour, it will still likely do a huge amount of damage even if you HAVE armour. Where armour really shines is against attacks that do little damage. Individually these attacks are meaningless, but en masse (e.g. against large packs of light enemies), armour comes into play very effectively.

Evasion on the other hand is great in theory, but makes you very susceptible to taking random damage spikes from attacks, hard hitting or not. These spikes are unpredictable and uncontrollable, creating scenarios where you can just randomly die in normally 'safe' situations due to bad luck. Personally I have never been a fan of evasion/dodge in games as it has always felt like dice-rolled karma. It is unreliable and I feel it can encourage bad playstyle habits such as ignoring other critical defenses (health, block, movement speed, resists, buffs, manually avoiding stuff etc) in favour of more evasion and more damage. There is also very little involved in relying on high evasion rating to 'tank' for you, as well as very little you can do when it fails.

When it comes to the argument of armour or evasion, I am naturally inclined to say both. However, given only a single option, something you are somewhat forced into when playing Path of Exile (lest you have the best of no worlds), I would likely go for the reliability of armour. While it is going to do little for you against heavy hitting physical damage dealers (e.g. bosses), you have a greater sense of your own survivability and likely a balanced effective health pool to back you up should trouble arise. These elements can contribute to a more reactive, enlightening and controlled play experience.


The mana and attack speed trap:
I have always preached that you don't do any damage when you are dead, whether it be a MOBA, ARPG or MMO. In Path of Exile, I have a new one, that being you don't do any damage when you are oom (out of mana). This issue is related directly to attack speed, and the potential mechanical trap it creates if you are using it solely to increase your damage. I have always considered attack speed as little more than gravy when it comes to doing damage in these games. Unless you are benefiting from Life on Hit, hitting harder usually scales much better than hitting faster. In Path of Exile, the mana cost of spells, supported by gems or not, is static. Whether or not you level them up, they will cost the same amount of mana whether you are level 1 or level 75. This can be problematic, especially early on. The majority of abilities in the game are cast depending on your attack (or casting) speed. A fast attack speed means you deplete your mana pool much quicker, leaving you oom sooner. At this point, if you are waiting on mana regen or needing to flask excessively, you are already playing far less efficiently than if you had mana. Essentially, attack speed has destroyed your ability to do reliable, consistent damage. It only functions as artificial sheet damage that has no meaning in actual game play.

The answer is to not stack attack speed overly excessively and, to a lesser extent, even mana regen. What you want is mana leech, whether via gem (all damage) or gear/passive (only physical damage), and you want to hit like an absolute truck. Doing this early on is somewhat difficult, unless you have incredible gear. One way around this is to buff ability damage using gems that have a positive tradeoff for the damage they deal vs the additional mana they cost. An excellent example of this is Multi-strike, a gem I use on both my Marauder and Duelist.  Eventually you will hit a point where your ability can potentially return the mana it costs within a SLOWER time-frame of you spamming the ability, a time frame you are never oom in. With 4 to 5 linked ability combinations, this becomes increasingly possible. It will only get better from there, as increases in damage (i.e. NOT from attack speed) will only restore more mana faster, potentially at a profit! It is at THIS point you could consider getting some additional attack speed, to normalise your mana leech rate. Not before it.


Cast When Damage Taken combinations:
A few people have asked me why the characters in my previous two videos seem to explode randomly, with symbols and buffs appearing around them all the time. The answer is a gem called Cast When Damage Taken. It is a gem that makes life easier, but with some rather harsh limitations. First of all, it will only cast gems that are of a equivalent or lower level requirement than itself. For the base gem this is about levels 5-7, which, in Merciless difficulty and with the massive damage scaling reduction the gem imposes, results in almost nothing. Raising the level of the CWDT gem increases the level of gems that it can support, but requires you to take much more damage for them to be cast. So essentially your options are to cast crappy spells that do almost nothing frequently, or effective spells that actually do stuff albeit infrequently.

If you are clever you will realise the potential for this gem to do damage for you. That potential can be summarized as the following: Fuck All. Instead, this gem should be used purely for status effects, whether it be on yourself or on enemy targets. Probably the most effective combination I have devised uses a combination of two CWDT gems working in tandem. One is left at level 1, the other I levelled to 15 or so. The first CWDT  gem has an Enduring Cry gem attached that generates Endurance charges every 400 damage or so (within 4 seconds). The second CWDT activates at around 1600 damage taken, one of the attached spells being Immortal Call. Immortal Call uses all current Endurance Charges (currently max of 4) to make you immune to physical damage for a short duration. This duration is increased with an Increased Duration gem, as is a Molten Shell gem for additional armour. With a Warlord's Mark gem attached to the lvl 1 CWDT, you can generate additional Endurance Charges on kill as well.


Together, this system creates a loop of Endurance Charge generation to Immortal Call expenditure that, assuming the damage you are taking is not excessive, can be maintained in a timely fashion. As the damage from CWDT is mitigated by your defences (armour, evasion, resists etc), you can further funnel the amount of damage you take so as to have some control over this process. Overall, CWDT combinations such as this are a good example of how your Effective Health Pool can be used for more than just staying alive, rewarding creative players with timely status bonuses for their effort.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Path of Desync

So I come to it at last. Level 75 of, at least for the moment, the only other class I really had any interest in playing in Path of Exile. The Duelist. Having taken what I learnt from my Marauder and applied it to a more offensive class, I feel I have stumbled upon something that could almost be described as broken. A literal killing machine when rolling, the build I theorized being possible only truly came into affect around level 30. Funnily enough this is about the same level I changed to Spectral Throw on my Marauder. This level of epiphany is probably a combination of getting access to higher level gear (read: more gem slots), higher level gems and generally having more points to throw around your skill tree.


Anyway, I was originally planning on using Cyclone, Path of Exile's equivalent to Whirlwind from Diablo 2. While it wasn't ranged, it was both AOE and mobile. However, while attempting to become accustomed to the ability, I realised very quickly it was terrible. A huge mana cost coupled with adverse scaling with movement speed meant it would never be an ideal ability for most situations. Forcibly dropping Cyclone for something else was, however, problematic. Without resorting to a ranged/AOE ability for ... well ranged or AOE circumstances meant that viable ability options were rather limited. My experiences with my Marauder showed that using purely melee abilities in dangerous circumstances (outnumbered, mobs that charge/shock, bosses etc) was a death wish unless you were geared to the teeth.

So, I returned to the drawing board. It is probably no surprise I was drawn to the ability Flicker Strike, which, provided you are within a short range, teleports you to a chosen/random enemy and attacks them for small amount of damage. While this addressed the mobility issue, it did nothing for AOE purposes and unfortunately had a habit of putting you right in the middle of large packs of enemies. Additionally, it has a cooldown of 2 seconds, preventing it from innately being spammed. Why would anyone want to make such a crappy, unreliable ability the focus of their build?

Without going in to too much detail, the answer is quite simple: frenzy charges. More specifically, its keeping frenzy charges generating constantly. While Frenzy, a single target ability capable of generating frenzy charges is used in the build, it really only acts as the keys to the engine. Why frenzy charges are necessary is because they can be consumed to bypass Flicker Strike's cooldown. While you could continuously generate frenzy charges with Frenzy and burn them all with Flicker Strike, the process would be laborious, inefficient and dangerous in melee. Generating frenzy charges without needing to constantly Frenzy would be ideal.


Blood Rage allows you to do this, but has a negative side effect of killing you slowly, removing 4% of maximum health per second. In Normal difficulty, this self-induced damage is laughable. In Merciless however, without Chaos resistance, it becomes incredibly taxing. You can counter this Chaos damage by either getting some Chaos resistance (hard to get) or stacking life regen passively. Ideally you would do both. Additionally, you can improve the efficiency of Flicker Strike by combining it with both Multi-strike (3 Flicker strikes per Frenzy charge) and Melee Splash Damage, allowing the ability to do some decent AOE damage. Unfortunately these gem combinations make this ability chew mana ridiculously, with no feasible amount of regen, mana leech or pot chugging able to keep up with it.

While unnecessary, uniques such as this one can enhance the build further
Using Bloodmagic gems or the Bloodmagic Keystone will unlock your healthpool as a resource for casting abilities. Considering your health is already decaying from Blood Rage, significant Life Leech is necessary to retain any health at all, especially in combat. As you are of course melee and because Flicker Strike doesn't make you untargettable, you will still take damage and often considerable amounts of it. Having a high effective health sustain through regen and leech, achieved through high armour and elemental resists but not not so high on actual hit points makes this more effective and further negates the %health damage caused by Blood Rage. Finally, using the Warlord's Mark curse will give you additional life leech and a chance to gain endurance charges, further adding to your finely tuned effective health pool. Throw in Whirling Blades for defensive mobility, a couple of CWDT combinations, some extra single target Frenzy damage and some minor Life Leech gear and you can pretty much handle any situation. The end results are as follows:

Recommend watching in 1080p.

I have to say, the build is quite strong and a bit better at farming than my Marauder currently is. While it took some extensive theorycrafting and attention to detail regarding specific gems and stats, the end result is worth it. This is not to say the build isn't without its weaknesses. Running out of Frenzy charges still occurs, albeit infrequently, but has the habit of putting you in some ghastly situations. Most significantly though, the build is incredibly susceptible to desyncs and is usually the reason for the former problem. The speed and frenetic damage output of the build seems to tie up a busy server more than normal. However, it is something I have grown accustomed to and built my character to handle. Deaths are infrequent and far, far apart, if at all. Death dealing, however, is brutal and surprisingly fun. However, the satisfaction comes more from the visual result of the build and the conscious effort taken to get it working and less from the execution of the build itself.

In any case, the Diablo III expansion Reaper of Souls is on the horizon, so it is likely I will return to it in preparation. After soloing 180 levels (75 Marauder, 75 Duelist, 33 Scion) and just as many hours in Path of Exile, I think a decent break from it is in order.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Path of RNG

I have been playing a bit of Path of Exile lately. I have apparently racked up over 100 hours, far more than I ever intended to, but a few hundred shy of my Diablo III playtime. I bring that up because there is (for some bizarre reason) a lot of competition between Path of Exile and Diablo III, despite being vastly different games. While they may both be listed as Action RPGs, the similarities between the two stop abruptly there.


First of all, Path of Exile is a very decent game, especially for something that is free. However, that doesn't mean I don't have some major criticism of it, but I will get to that later. One of the grape-vine comments you will hear, especially with regards to "why it is so much better than Diablo III", is that it is a complex game, with a much deeper ability system and has meaningful consequences to how you build your character. For the most part, the game does have an interesting skill tree and ability gems that can combine, support and rely on each other that does create some interesting offensive/defensive combinations. However, that is as far as I would take the point of view. Skill trees have always been a naivety trap in games, fooling people into thinking they have meaningful choices when, really, they do not. Admittedly PoE's passive skill tree is an impressive design, but it is still capable of restricting game play more than you would think. The illusion of choice, when you are still technically limited by your level/class/stats, is as much of a barrier to game play mechanics as traditional point/level restriction systems.

The skill gem system is also unique. While it borrows some basic ideas from Diablo II's rune system, it is a much more intricate beast, capable of changing how you think, build and play. You could turn a spell you would otherwise use for mobility into a damage dealing rapid fire nuke, provided you synergise the right gems together. With the right combination of abilities and gems you can have an immensely powerful and useful arsenal at your disposal. Getting gems as quest rewards or as drops can be problematic at first, especially when you realise you don't want to or cant use a skill anymore. Leveling gems is dangerous as their str/int/dex requirements are not based on your current base stats. Replacing gear with crucial base stats can completely disable abilities from being used as they don't downgrade to their lower level versions. It is a harsh newbie trap, but one that you will never repeat again. Additionally, gem use is controlled by a system of gem slot colours and links in main pieces of gear. It is a system I have grown to despise. Not so much the system itself, but the 'crafting' of gear to attain colours and links has been the most frustrating thing in gaming for me for a long, long time.


To explain as simply as possible: crafting isn't crafting. Everything involved in upgrading gear is based on randomness and therefore luck. While you have some incredibly MINOR control over this luck with orbs that can increase item quality, it will cost you and is not guaranteed. Despite the spawn of random mobs with the chance of dropping random gear that will have random stats controlled by random item quality, the random number of gems, colours and links on that gear that are compatible with your build result in a situation where finding straight upgrades becomes impossible. Realistically, you will need to make some modification to a non-ideal piece of gear, usually a white item with the correct number of slots and possibility of rolling colours. You will likely save hours worth of crafting materials for such a venture, spending all of it in an attempt to make an item compatible. You throw all your resources at this item, and end up with ...

... absolute fuck all. 40 chromatic (gem slot colour changing) and 10 fusing orbs (fuse links between gem slots) later and you have nothing to show. Basically the dice-roll did not favour you. Even if you did get the colours/fusings, you were still susceptible to the RNG of item stats, usually with very finite rerolls. While you could go and farm some more materials, by the time you have them you would probably have found something else anyway. It may not be as good as what you were intending to craft, but it was better than the thing you were using. This process happened over and over for me to the point where I was using gear 30 levels lower than I should have. From what I hear, this experience is normal for most players. In my opinion, it is an incredibly asinine and outdated method of upgrading gear, coming from a time where RNG systems were favourable over more difficult to implement upgrade systems. Such a system, where you spend ever increasing amounts of resources to upgrade your gear should really be designed instead. RNG being RNG aside, when you consider that so much power (i.e. ability combinations) can be granted from the simple click of a button, rewarding players with progress for being lucky instead of resourceful, committed or patient is a very big problem.

10 x fusing failure - fml...
Overall, Path of Exile's systems can initially be seen as complex, but once you wrap your head around how things work and get seated properly, the intricacy falls away. This is not a bad thing, it is just important that people do not confuse complexity with greatness, nor argue that a game is better or more skillful because of complexity. Complexity is a hurdle, nothing more. Perhaps for more casual gamers, blissfully ignorant amongst the confusion and marvelling at the sheer overwhelming (initial) complexity of a game, the desire to pick favourites is more prevalent. A "I have no idea what I am doing, but it seems complex and therefore I am playing a better, more complex game. GG-lol" mentality. I am not sure.



Nevertheless, I played the game for over 100 hours, during which I managed to get myself a level 75 Marauder. Leveling further seems to be rather inefficient so it is likely I will park him there until Act 4 comes out. While his gear is particularly awful, I would like to think the 'build' I am running is rather strong. It is a build I have devised myself, taking no heed to the idea of copying an existing one from somewhere. I figure if you don't have a grasp on what you are doing, an understanding of the abilities and mechanics you are putting on your toolbar, you won't know how to use a pre-made build anyway. After much effort I have managed to maintain a balance between tankiness, damage and speed that I am comfortable with. While I still think Path of Exile is an incredibly clunky ARPG game, I have at least managed to get my Marauder leaping around the battlefield with some manner of efficiency. The combat can have its moments, feeling rather satisfying when you outmaneuver a large horde of dangerous enemies. Spectral Throw is a fun ability to use and Heavy Strike a strong offensive and defensive tool. Overall, without doing too much research, I feel I did a pretty good job for a first Path of Exile character. Whether or not I will make another one remains to be seen.

Recommend watching in 1080p.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Centurion

I recently hit Paragon level 100 on my Barbarian in Diablo III. It has been a relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable process, with Hellfire runs around Paragon level 20 to Crypt runs and speed farming from level 80 onwards. I have played with some great people on the way. Real life friends (both old and new), friends of friends, friends of friend's friends, complete randoms (some now friends) and even a cousin and his friends from Malaysia. I have dabbled with the AU/NZ Diablo community and made some great friends there too. It would seem that friends are one of the most important aspects of playing a game like Diablo III, especially for staying motivated throughout endgame. Hopefully the same community experience, both local and national, can continue in Reaper of Souls.

Nevertheless, after over 800,000 demon kills and an embarrassing amount of hours, I think I can finally put my Barbarian to rest. At least for the moment. A short break, if you will. Perhaps I will see what max level is like in Path of Exile in the meantime. I will need to retain my sanity if I am going to do it all again on my Demon Hunter.

Recommend watching in 720p+:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I have ridden the mighty moon worm!

Good for me, right? Oh my yes, the mighty moon worm. I could explain to you what this is and why its a wonderful, beautiful thing, but I think the only person who would read this blog and appreciate it is me. But that's totally ok! The moon worm loves each and every one of you!

So anyway, I made a video. Pretty standard reason for a post appearing on this blog. Why talk about it when you can watch it instead? The first reason for this video's existence was complete and utter boredom. Historically though, boredom has never been a bad thing. Some of the best creations in this world are the result of boredom. One need only ask their parents for verification of that.

The second reason being some criticism that my videos are always so serious in nature. While light-hearted or funny videos have never been the point of my video making, I would like to point out that some are of this nature already (for example Skyrim Space Program). Nevertheless, I'll show you, you anonymous critic you ...

The final reason is because I am still (yes STILL!!!) playing Diablo III and because the Reaper of Souls expansion nerfs are just around the corner, I thought I would make a video of some of the builds I discovered/use. All are viable in Inferno MP10, the game's hardest difficulty. Often regarded as one of the game's flaws, Diablo 3's build diversity is in my opinion one of the most appealing things about the game. The vast majority of these builds will become obsolete when the expansion comes out, so having some record of them now is nice.

Recommend watching in 720p+.

While I would stress that these builds are the result of meticulous attention to EHP (i.e. tankiness) before lolol-faceroll-DPS (as evidenced by the video's outro), I'm sure no one gives a hoot. More power to me I guess. Now then, if you will excuse me, I have a moon worm to ride, complete with cow bells.

For the confused: The original Double Tornado Barbarian build was discovered by myself and a few others back in the day. I dubbed it 'Riding the Walrus', quoted from Futurama. Now that fury generation is going to be a problem in RoS, I created a build that could still work without Into the Fray. The result was Bloodshed Tornado, potentially superior to Double Tornado and likely viable in RoS. I dub it 'Riding the Moon Worm', also a reference from Futurama.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Exactly what I needed

There are times, particularly under great stress, that you will find me playing games for the simple things. Simple things such as the colours, the sounds, the explosions and the basic pleasure that can arise when said elements combine into an overwhelming synesthesia of light and sound. A much younger me would have considered this ensemble reason enough to enjoy a game, but the older, more cynical me often looks past it unappreciatively. It is often beneficial to revisit said levels of expectations, if not just for the relaxing and carefree game play that can arise. When there are much more serious and darker things clouding the mind, playing a game of this nature can be exactly the thing you need.

With a bit of effort, Strike Suit Zero has become one such game for me, and conveniently so considering current PhD circumstances. I say effort as part of the way to enjoying this game's potential laser show requires abandonment of inhibitions a more careful and sensible me would usually employ. Barrel rolling at terminal velocity, your complete arsenal of weaponry ablaze, into the unfortunate victim of your targeted demise is not exactly a practical or healthy thing to do. But damn, it sure is fun!

Interestingly, I have found that performing these rather dangerous maneuvers have considerably increased my competence at the game. Homeworld style fighter trails and music (same composer) aside, my initial impressions were rather disappointing, finding the game to be slower and less chaotic than I was hoping. However, pushing the Strike Suit to its limits and brutally attempting to take down more than you should be capable of puts you in some ridiculous situations that, after some failure, result in you learning to play better. In some ways it almost clips the skill ceiling of games such as oldskool arena shooters where reaching one's maximum control potential is limited only by the player and not by the game. It is funny as I am yet to see a rated video reviewer play the game anything like is possible, again lending my disdain of the profession.

The following video (recommend 720p+) was originally intended to be a heavily filtered and edited composition, experimenting with some new video editing techniques I have thought up. However, upon performing a first pass of the video using traditional techniques, I thought the resulting short sequence did the job well enough. Maybe next time.


Nevertheless, I do hope my need to indulge in the simpler pleasures of gaming are not necessary in the months to come. While I should try and dedicate as much of my time as sanely possible to finishing my research, there are times when overdoing it can distort your view on the matter, especially when trying to complete a deadline. That is where games like Strike Suit Zero will come in handy, to unconsciously reset the reality of the situation and allow one to cheer up about it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

When Pigs Fly

Flying Wild Hog, the developer of two games (Hard Reset and Shadow Warrior) that I have been playing recently are an interesting company. They are not quite indie, nor are they exactly AAA, but are somewhere in between. This in-between-ness seems to allow them to create games that they as developers want to make and not what some out-of-touch business man or woman in a suit who has dollar signs for eyes wants to. The reason I say this is that their games have a distinct flavour for fun derived from raw gameplay, paying homage to the oldskool FPS gameplay mechanics lacking in so many modern FPS games today, much to the detriment of the genre. You don't see this today because it is risky to not make games that cater towards the lowest common denominator. However, their games also have the visual quality and production values of a game you would typically have to fork out $80 for, but are instead available for a fraction of the price ($30 for Shadow Warrior on release). The only way I can see companies like this existing is if they are unhindered by at least some of the bullshit plaguing much of the games industry these days and are allowed free reign over IPs that they actually care for (unlike Gearbox with Aliens: Colonial Marines). Part of this can at least be discerned from FWH's main website regarding their design philosophy:

"We do not believe in corporate management and corporate ways. Our studio is managed without producers and we try to employ as many anti-corporate management ideas as possible. Such a flexible structure allows us to limit all the obsolete bureaucracy and hierarchy to minimum. We do not believe in managers or leads who themselves don’t create real content of a game. People who are responsible for management in our studio also work as programmers, artists or designers. We do believe that people who are given freedom, both for their ideas and use of their skills, work better and more effective. We don’t complicate things that are simple."

Personally I find the stance they have taken to be quite admirable and as long as they maintain this perspective and continue to pursue and produce games in the vein of their most recent ones, they will likely stay on my (incredibly short) list of game developers I have any faith in. Along with Croteam, Riot Games and Valve, any games made by them will instantly be on my radar.

Hard Reset - Final Boss Battle
But enough of the fanboy talk. This short post is really about the games Hard Reset and Shadow Warrior. In many ways they are similar, taking the good parts of classics such as Duke Nukem and Doom but adding RPG elements from a game like Skyrim for good measure. Intense oldskool combat (without regenerating HP and optional ironsights), crude but enjoyable humour and exploration are welcome elements in any FPS game I play. Additionally, they both have upgrade/perk systems that you expand upon as you play, making weaker weapons and different playstyles relevant throughout the course of the games. However, this is where Shadow Warrior really shines, going one step further by introducing a deep and powerful melee and offhand combat system which is crucial for success in harder difficulties. Up to 7 additional sword and offhand abilities can be used, 3 specific to the katana, allowing you to tank, heal or cause mass crowd control for extended durations. Combined with the primary and (unlockable) secondary attacks on all the 7 weapons as well as shurikens, demon heads and hearts and you have a formidable arsenal of weapons and attack combinations. While overwhelming at first, with a bit of practice it flows into regular combat naturally and beautifully. If this is not the correct and logical evolution of the FPS genre then I don't want to know what is.

Shadow Warrior - Astoundingly pretty and high performing Road Hog engine visuals
Perhaps expectantly though the press have somewhat mixed reviews on FWH's most recent game, Shadow Warrior. Usually I couldn't care less about the subjective opinions of a 'professional game reviewer', but this time the ignorance and stupidity of remarks are astounding. While Shadow Warrior has received some stellar reviews, even from some of the more mainstream and criticised sites (e.g. IGN), there are reviews floating around that seem like the reviewer was playing a completely different game. Gametrailers gave the game a 6.2/10, remarking that the combat system is simply button mashing (note: he doesn't perform a single combo in the video) and claiming the game doesn't bring anything new to the genre. While I would like to say the reviewer was having a bad day or that maybe the game was too confusing for him to appreciate, I unfortunately cannot write off the fact that these surface-level reviews can and DO affect the sales of games. That is definitely a shame, as Shadow Warrior is, honestly, brilliant.

But enough talking. Why post words and pictures that can say a thousand words when a moving picture can say a million? The following video is my playthrough of the final arena battle against demons in Chapter 16, arguably one of the toughest sections of the game. The difficulty is Insane with EX mode on and all upgrades, perks and skills unlocked. Worth mentioning is that the combat in these kind of arena battles are more about endurance, timing and positioning as much as they are about strategy and skill. One ill timed move in the wrong place can make you very dead very quickly. If not for the Soul Harvesting perk (last stand) not being off cooldown on two occasions, I would have died horribly. This fight actually lasted more than 20 minutes in actuality, but I have taken out the less interesting parts for clarity's sake.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

DOOM

Every now and then I find myself returning to various games from the past to remind myself of certain things and to learn from them, purely from a game design perspective. Sometimes games from the past can provide an important perspective on things, such as what qualified as game play and fun. I find this is especially true, for me, regarding First Person Shooter games. It is not unknown to people who know me that I am not a big fan of the direction that modern shooters have taken. Mechanics such as regenerating health, two weapon systems, insta-kill melee, chest high wall cover systems and entire arsenals of brain dead hitscan rapid fire weapons have, in my humble opinion, degenerated the genre into a shell of its former self. At least regarding pure game play and especially true when catering for the console market. Amongst classic games such as Half-life, Quake II and Unreal, Doom still stands as not only one of the most influential shooters regarding my FPS design philosophies, but also one of my favourite games in general.


Doom. A simple name for a very straightforward game, one that I still enjoy playing today more than certain games that come out. Pretty much my first real PC game, the first time I played Doom I ended up with a huge migraine and was sick for an entire day. I didn't play it for several months after that, but when I did I was gifted with some of the most memorable gaming experiences of my youth. For hours my sister and I would attempt to clear the first 'Act' of Doom, Knee Deep in the Dead, on Normal difficulty. I would move and she would shoot, keyboard controls only, scared out of our minds. We were probably about 7 and 9 years of age, far below the recommended age for the game. After many an evening of skipping our chores, we eventually got to the end of the Act and killed the two Hell Knights that appeared in the red penta-star arena. Then screamed in horror when you walked through the next portal and got raped by monsters. Good times.

You see, with Doom, it's all about the game play. Even at a young age, as incompetent as I was, I could see the amazing potential for fun that a game like Doom offered. The strategy behind dodging projectiles, managing your resources (ammo, health, armor), realising when you should fight or run and overall, the impending ... Doom ... of dying to a relentless horde of monsters. It was exciting and terrifying and still is even today. Speaking of which, today I play Doom and Doom II in the glory that is both GZDoom and Brutal Doom, two mods that bring mouse axis life and further game play enhancements to the franchise. Observe (recommend 720p+):


I often think about what Doom 4 should be like after the slight disappointment that was Doom 3. Doom 3 got a lot of things right, but missed a beat regarding the game play and general theme of the game. I have always thought the Doom series to be a survival horror based shooter, but not in the form of unnecessarily dark rooms and monster closests. Nay, the pure dread of going toe to toe with the endless forces of hell with a ridiculous arsenal of weaponry, using nothing but your reflexes and willpower to survive. Being low on health with almost no ammunition left, knowing that the next battle may result in your intended demise. To push yourself further into the fray, splattered and flaming demon remains abound, ever closer to the end, whatever that may be. That is the essence of Doom. I surely hope ID can capture that essence once again.