Thursday, December 29, 2011

Terrible Yet Beautiful

It is not often that I play games in the vein of GTA 3 anymore. After San Andreas, I was done. Not because it was a bad game or anything. I just felt the genre didn't have anything else to offer me.

Just Cause 2 proved me wrong in that regard, as insane and explosion-porn-like as it was. I would say however that it kept me interested mainly because it wasn't about rival gangs and hoods in a stereotypical American city, but rather an oppressed island nation fighting back against the government. It was incredibly open, diverse and looked and played great. Being a game where you are essentially spiderman with a gun will do that.

I didn't have much of an interest in Saint's Row The Third when it came out. It seemed to me like just another GTA clone that would probably be worse than GTAIV was, which apparently was boring and had lost its charm. I wouldn't have purchased the game if I wasn't informed of its $20 price tag from greenmangaming, but since buying and playing it I am glad I did. I think there is a lesson in this, that being that your non-experienced impressions can occasionally be wrong and you should go to the effort to making up your own mind in an informed manner. There isn't really much to say about it so far (not even 1/2 way through atm) so I will simply post this picture/comic of your everyday encounter with innocent citizens in this digital world:

... terrible, yet beautiful. All it needs is a trollface.

Edit: Video testing coop gameplay.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My horror story

Edit: I should probably mention this earlier in this post lest anyone get the wrong impression. I don't dislike consoles or the games that are best designed for them. There are, in fact, many games that I think excel on console and should only ever be played on console. Fighting, driving, sports, shmups and platform games are all examples of these. My issue lies when games and more importantly, game design suffers when games that shouldn't be built for consoles are. It is of my strong opinion that both RTS and FPS games fall into this domain, and why I have such a seething resentment for FPS games that are built exclusively for the console market. It should never have happened to FPS games and they are worse off today because of it...

Recently I attended a social event organised by my university colleagues and I to play some games that involved catchup options in modern games. To provide an example of what a catchup option is, think of the Ultra bar that charges slowly when you take damage in Street Fighter IV. It is something that allows a losing player to equalise the playing field, should they know how to effectively employ it. A lot of fighting, racing and even FPS games have them. I do not have a problem with catchup options as I am all for allowing players who are losing considerably, slight advantages for them to still remain competitive. As long as they don't tip the balance in an overpowered manner or effectively rubberband the winning players from their deserved position. I am, however, totally against options that allow a winning player to continue winning ... but that is a heated topic for a later date.

So ... this event. We played a number of games and people generally had fun. There isn't really much to say about the specifics of what happened as it would probably seem pretty boring to an observer/outsider. There was, however, one thing that stood out dramatically for me which is why I am making this post. I consider it a brainfuck of epic proportions now that I think about it, mainly because it both proves and hammers home everything that I despise about console FPS games. Yes, it's one of these posts again. Sif not.

While I was busy fighting some people in SSFIV (a game I still consider to be terrible at), I couldn't help but notice that Halo Reach was being started up on the TV adjacent to the one a group of us were playing on. I wasn't aware of there being catchup options in a game like Halo Reach. In fact, I was quite certain (and still am) that there are not, as it is in fact the opposite of catchup with the whole regenerating shields/HP bullshit that it spawned in the last generation of shooters. Nevertheless, for some bizarre reason, I was curious as to why everyone was so keen to try it out. What was I missing?

As the afternoon continued, I noticed some people were giving up and handing controllers over to others. It seemed like some of the people, namely the ones who wanted to play the game in the first place, were feeding off the less competent in a rather egoic fashion to the point where the less fluent were not willing to contribute anymore. Some of the non-fluent players openly admitted to finding both the genre (FPS) and the method of control (360 controller) to be cumbersome, which I remember thinking was a fair statement at the time. I did not inquire as to what their preferred genre or method of control was as I was too busy pullling off an Akuma Ultra, but it did irk me somewhat. Eventually my sparring partner and I had enough of fighting each other and surrendered the game to another two people, so I made my way to the other television, only to squint at it in utter disbelief. Now, we were playing on rather large 50" TV's at a reasonably close distance. Admittedly my eyesight is not perfect, but it wasn't so much a resolution issue as it was a framerate and visual clarity related one. I suppose the 360 shouldn't be expected to run four instances of the game (at least from a UI point of view) in four separate windows for four players with any respectable visual magnificence, but it seriously looked like something from the early 2000's. But then I noticed that one of the screens wasn't moving. There was also a controller on a seat where someone had given up and just left it there. I don't know why I did it, and I regret doing it even now, but something akin to the competitive berserker I knew in my early years of UT99 fired at that point, so I grabbed the controller and sat down.

I remember being quite enthusiastic. "Why not?" I thought. Surely they can't be as bad as I have been preaching all these years. Maybe I have just been a misinformed, biased lunatic and simply havn't gotten over the hump that is the torture of using a controller for playing FPS games. If I could get past that, maybe I could look past all the other bullshit that evolved as a result of it.

Below is a graph of my enthusiasm over time:
Note: The game played was actually Halo Reach, but it is essentially the same

Roughly linear, it took me less than a minute to go from a highly enthused, keen-for-frags young man to a blank faced, eye-twitching Hannibal Lecter, observing the silly man who could not play his instrument properly in the orchestra. To an extent, that pun is two-fold. I was watching a tiny screen of a player not doing things correctly ... but I was watching it from a player who knew how to DO them correctly. You see, in that less than a minute of play I had performed the following sequence of events:
  1. Turned around, taking a good second or two
  2. Moved to the end of a corridor, in what seemed like a year of gameplay
  3. Realised it was a non-obvious dead end with nothing in it and and frowned at the point of the corridor
  4. Walked back down the corridor, looking back at the SSFIV screen longingly while doing so
  5. Exploded around a corner from a grenade not thrown at me
  6. Respawned back in the corridor
  7. Ogled worriedly at the responsiveness, speed and sensitivity of the controls
  8. Started a gunfight with someone who got the jump on me
  9. Noticed the significant amount of auto-aim granted
  10. Still managed to shoot walls and windows more than I shot the dude
  11. After a year, killed him (I think I had more shield regenned due to floating around jumping)
  12. Got one shotted in melee
  13. Respawned back in the corridor
If I wasn't holding a controller I think I would have face-palmed around about that point. I continued playing for a few more minutes, longer than what that graph suggests (you get the point though). At some point I found a sprint button and laughed out loud at the meager increase in speed it offered, sacrificing aim. Everything. Everything I had been saying and ranting about for the last few years was still true. Worse in fact, if that was possible. I remember thinking how had we come from the glorious days of Quake, UT and Half-life to this shamble of game play and mechanics? The precision of keyboard and mouse, the multi-task capability of the PC, the flexibility of graphical and control settings, the variable and ever increasing speed of the internet, LANs where everyone would bring their own terminal and comfortably do what they wanted, when they wanted, how they wanted ...

... to sitting in a stinky, cramped room around a TV, squinting at 1/4 of a screen, trying to make out the environment from the UI/weapon, taking forever to do anything using a horrible control peripheral with a horrible control scheme, fighting the game more than I am playing the game, a game that is apparently a FPS and supposedly a good one at that. HOW!!!?? Why is this considered normal, good and fun? This has to be the shittest FPS experience I can think of!

Halo Reach - your average frag video (recent)

The thing is, it is considered normal. Not just by the developers, the publishers and the general media. By the consumers. This is apparently what the average consumer wants and what the average consumer considers to be an enjoyable FPS experience. At some point during my play I actually glanced at my opponents/colleagues in bewilderment, eyebrows raised, to see their reactions. They were having a ball! Laughing, joking, merry as can be. I felt sick. Have I really been missing something important all these years? Hours of fun playing console FPS games with friends, squinting my eyes into blindness at 1/4 of screens every weekend? My god, surely the problem wasn't me ...

But then I looked at their screens. At what they were doing. The simplest of movements. No vertical aiming. No circle-strafing. Chasing someone for ages with a powersword, to kill them instantly only when they stopped moving. No jumping. Camping on weapon/player spawns. No defensive retreats, no running backwards pot-shotting around corners. No strafing, checking corners, looking behind for an instant to check for chasers. No sense of awareness, no sense of self-preservation, no strategy and no plan.

Nothing that I was doing and everything that I wasn't doing.

It was then that I realised ... that they were all just a bunch of scrubs. To them, seeing enemy and running forwards while pressing fire was the limit of their FPS capability. Even with auto-aim, wrestling to keep the crosshair on a target using the horror that is console controls WAS the challenge. Everything and anything that goes beyond that exceeds their ability to perform in a multi-task manner ... and I couldn't blame them. I was struggling to perform 1/2 the shit I was doing in a timely manner and more often than not, it was getting me killed. So used to circle-strafing a target while engaging, quickly checking a door way while bunny-hopping, checking for respawns and equalising distance based on enemy location/firepower that it was actually inhibiting my ability to play the game. Simply put ... you CAN'T! At least in any acceptable amount of time. The sluggish controls of the console controller and the responsiveness translated into the game are not worth the effort of doing. So you are quite literally forced to just move forward and shoot if you want to have the advantage over someone you come across. You meet them, you shoot before they shoot, you wrestle to keep the crosshair on them and whoever did that better wins. Gee-fucking-gee!

Quake 3: Arena - your average frag video (old)

I remember back in the day I would have struggled with this even on keyboard and mouse. Aiming, moving and shooting were the limits of my skill. Over time however, it became muscle memory, a reflex that is instinctively ingrained in the way I play these games. I don't think about it, and I think for a lot of people who grew up playing FPS games on PC it would be the same. So you consider other things, get better at other techniques, learn weapon mechanics and so on and so forth. Not for every game, but at least for those that offer them. When you go 'back' to a game where all you really have to think about is aiming, moving and shooting because that's all you really can do ... it's hard to break out of habits. I want to do certain things and I just cant do them. This is, in my opinion, a problem.

I didn't voice my opinion of the game at the time, mainly because I knew it would have gone on deaf ears and because it wasn't what other people wanted to hear. As much of an elitist prick I can be on this blog at times, I know when my views are not welcome in a social situation. So, I swallowed my pride, took my helping of fail and smiled politely when the owner of the game boasted of their score at the end, repeatedly. Remaining humble and collected was more of a challenge to me than expressing my opinion, something I think more people should do more often concerning other topics in life. I did quietly kick his ass at SSFIV later though :)

So, to cut a long story short, this event can be summed up as a realisation of two things:
  1. Console FPS games (like Halo Reach) are not designed to allow players to employ many of the techniques, skills and logic that origintated from their PC ancestors
  2. People enjoy playing the aim-move-shoot mini-game that essentially is these sorts of games nowadays because its all you can do and because it is in itself a challenge due to the impracticality of the controller
Subconsciously I have always known this, but to see it laid out in front of me from a first-hand, social experience is horrifying.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Diablo III beta experience

After receiving the opportunity to try out the Diablo III beta from a friend, I have come to the following conclusion: I am going to fuck up the final year of my PhD because of this game. Let me explain...

I have always had a strange relationship with Diablo. I never played the first one and was introduced to the second one roughly the time it was released by a cousin of mine. He was addicted to the game and explained how it was affecting his first year university studies. I gave it a go and didn't really see the appeal. Too much clicky, not enough rewardy is probably what I was thinking at the time. After a couple of hours I grew bored and shelved it with the intention of never playing it again.

Oh what a fool I was! But how was I to know? How was I to KNOW!? It's the numbers, you see. Oh yes, it was ... it was the numbers ...

sif not

So ... it was the numbers. Anyone who has played an RPG seriously or dabbled into the likes of games such as WoW will know what I am talking about. You 'see' numbers, whether they be related to your health or armour or critical strike chance or perhaps the damage you are doing, and so you ... see ... them. You see? See, the numbers are how they get you. It's like licking grains of crack every time you see and mentally process what they are. Low on health, a big crit, fuck tons of armour. The numbers don't lie, and your ability to maintain and fix a situation using other numbers is somewhat satisfying. You can be a terrible mathematician and still enjoy the process of observing big red numbers above your avatar, refilling your health bar with green numbers while simultaneously pressing buttons to make orange and white numbers appear on the enemies. It's all to do with numbers and people's want/desire to manipulate and rectify them.

Now, that probably sounds a bit insane. It probably is. In a normal situation, the previous scenario would likely be described by a regular fellow as (for example) "killing an elite who is doing a lot of damage to you while you pot and spam your abilities". That sounds more like a game, doesn't it? Still, while you may think you are looking at textured polygonal meshes translating and animating in three dimensional coordinate space, you are still undertaking the process of manipulating and rectifying numbers. It's just prettied up a bit to deceive you from your true nature - that you are obsessed and compelled towards changing numbers. Forever.

You're your yore

What the flying fuck am I talking about? Well, let's get back to what I was originally describing with my early Diablo experiences. It didn't take long for the numbers to haunt me back in the year 2000. As much as I thought I didn't want to play the game, I just could not let my health pool be that low. That axe could probably have used an upgrade too, hitting only from 3-6. What about that sash? It's only got 1 armour, is cracked and looks like shit! Come on, have some style at least. And so it began. I did eventually stop playing the game some time in 2002, though my high-school friends and I eventually picked it up again in our final year and eventually took it into first year of university. While some awesome moments did arise from that (e.g. the fabled Ratmen incident), Diablo slowly slipped away in the face of bigger, prettier and more time consuming games of similar nature. By which I mean World of Warcraft.

"Fuck! I died" - The Ratmen Incident

So, Diablo III. This post is already getting stupidly long and I don't care about going back and making it shorter so I will sum up my experiences of the beta so far in bullet point format:

• The beta is overall far too easy. No enemies, not even the boss at the end, really pose a challenge
• It was incredibly short
• It doesn't actually look that great. This is something I have a problem with Blizzard and their latest games. While I am all for performance, their production timelines are confusing
• It's very dark and gloomy. Hopefully this changes as the game continues
• Combat is somewhat boring and repetitive early on. This is unfortunately the nature of these sort of games though
• Sound design is excellent
• It feels very similar to Diablo II, albeit a few changes here and there (e.g. Artisans)
• Killing/destruction streaks give you incentive to pop the shit when you fight a screen filled horde of enemies
• It is addictive
• I will more than likely buy the game when it is released

So, with that out of the way we can get to the most important part of this post. Oh yes...

... that being the NUMBERS!!!!!! GLORIOUS NUMBERS!!!!! Mwaahaahaglrgrgrll!!!


Wllaarrgrala!! Wllaarrgralaaaaa!!!!





Thursday, December 1, 2011

Berserker Rage: Sated

Not really much to say about this except that it is likely the last Skyrim execution video I will make. I have done enough executing to last me a lifetime, and that was before I even started Frapsing for this video. Now I can play and enjoy the game more without my framerate dropping to 30 fps everytime I find a dude to kill.

I have went for a slightly different editing procedure this time, not using heroic/trailer music and instead using a couple of tracks blending into each other. They are from X-Men: First Class and were used to make the video seem a little bit darker/edgier. Not entirely sure if I am happy with the results. I think heroic music just suits the world of Skyrim better.

Additionally, I have improved upon my original Skyrim weapon after painfully leveling alchemy, the only profession I actually regard as taking some skill and effort to level properly (unlike facerolling smithing and enchanting). This is mainly because you actually have to find the vast majority of the ingredients you need to make stuff (to simply level) instead of just rocking up and buying out a vendors supplies and making 50 iron daggers. The following 2h Daedric Greatsword I have appropriately renamed as 'The Soulreaver' (sif not Legacy of Kain) is the result of this process and in all honesty, a complete waste of time. Even on master, the game has become too easy as these weapons just do too much damage. I don't think this damage was intended by the developer.

"The descent had destroyed me... and yet, I lived"

This is with both Berserker Rage (100% extra) and a Fortify two-hand damage potion (130% extra) activated.