Sunday, December 9, 2012

The value of teamwork

After trying several times in the past to get people to play the MvM Coaltown Halloween event map in TF2 and failing because of intense lack of interest (something I didn't and still don't get), I recently tried again at a few organised events. One was an afternoon of gaming with colleagues at uni in the GRID Lab. The other was at someone's minilan. During neither attempt was the team good enough to actually finish the map, which I found a little disappointing.

It is funny then that after just randomly scraping some people together in a couple of hours that I and a group of acquaintances managed to tear up the joint with reasonable ease, even after a start which was not even meant to be serious. It just goes to show the difference good players make when it comes to Coop gaming, when I guess 2-3 people aren't having to do all the work.

I have now come to the conclusion that the MvM event map is actually pretty easy with the right crew and as long as everyone does their job without dying much, fun and awesomeness can inevitably ensue. Speaking of fun and awesomeness:


In the video I make extensive use of the Black Box rocket launcher. Having been gifted a Beggars Bazooka, I can honestly say I am torn between two worlds in terms of using it. While the  Beggars Bazooka is undeniably the highest dps rocket launcher available to the soldier, and while getting to roughly the desired location on the map via huge chamber-chained rocket jumps, the Beggars loses some of the precision and timing I am used to with the Black Box. Not to mention the lack of life on hit, something I have pretty much adjusted my playstyle to make extensive use of.


Getting to a new tactical position quickly and easily or even jumping over incoming ordnance is something that can be done quite safely with the Black Box. After extensive use, I have come to realise that the sky is essentially a safe haven, allowing you to do maximum AoE damage from above and heal yourself with the Black Box's life on hit. It is as accurate as you are with the crosshair. There is also nothing better than rocket jumping from ammo pack to ammo pack, crit buffing teammates and dealing death below you in a precise manner.

The Beggars Bazooka on the other hand lacks that precision of aim (random spread), timely support and accuracy of mobility, but as mentioned, makes up for this in both sustained and burst damage potential. You can also fly, once you have figured out how it propels you. There is nothing better for traversing the entirety of the map, albeit in a rather reckless fashion, or for taking down giants of all kinds. While anything at range will give you trouble, anything in your medium range kill zone is going to be pounded by rockets, though not really from above. Standard rocket jumping is a bit awkward (different timing) and not as reliable to pull off in the thick of the fray.

Really I see uses for both rocket launchers. The Black Box I will use if we have heaps of damage (4 or more), little healing, but teammates that could benefit from timely, consistent crit buff support no matter where they are on the map. The Beggars Bazooka I will use if we severely lack damage, and I need to fill the role, possibly with medic/engineer support to make up for the lack of quick mobility and sustain. Ideally I would prefer to have both worlds, but you can't have everything.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The best offense is a good defense

"You do not do any damage when you are dead"

I have said it multiple times regarding a library of games. A simple statement that seems obvious, but is nevertheless ignored by a large number of players in games. Players who would stack the easiest, most simplistic of stats - damage, and potentially become useless during the course of a game. They become useless because they die instantly. While an incredibly skilled or patient player can get away with it, in a game like League of Legends it was very much the defining rule of play, especially if you were melee. The same can be said of Diablo III, at least in higher Inferno monster power (MP) difficulties.

The most effective character builds in Diablo III are the ones that have a well thought out relationship between gear, abilities and individual player skill. This relationship does not necessarily need to be balanced, but they need to work in such a way that you are not dying and still managing to do damage. Gear can be broken down into defensive, offensive and sustain categories. Abilities can be both AoE and/or direct damage, crowd control, survivability or even utility related. Individual player skill ...well, I have already talked about that at length before.

I have always been primarily a melee focused gamer when it comes to RPGs. This has probably made me view defensive stats on par with offensive ones. This is because your damage dealing ability has an incredibly high chance of you taking damage as well. Sometimes you may not even get to deal damage until you close the distance between your enemy (ranged opponent), or even at all if they can kite you to death, like survival hunters in WoW were quite capable at doing. Unless you can sneak up to opponents, being a glass cannon in melee is illogical. In Diablo III, it could be considered suicide, though that again depends on your gear, abilities and individual player skill.


Since entering Inferno, I have always chosen abilities and geared incredibly defensively on my barbarian. With the introduction of MP levels and Infernal Machine, it has become a necessity. Armor, All Resist, Vitality, % Life, Lifesteal, Life on Hit, Dodge and % Damage Type Reduction. If you do not have high enough effective hit points to take a hit from 1-20 monsters, enough sustain to restore your health before they do it again and enough damage to make the whole process worthwhile then you will not get very far. Upon breaking MP level 5, I noticed that while I could stay alive fine, my DPS was starting to drop off, making progress inefficient. It was time to return to the drawing board ...

In a previous post I talked about Nuking - a barbarian build I devised for tackling MP levels 1-5. Essentially you run around with a 2-hander and explode things. Good times. However, it suffered from one problem - the need to generate fury. This fury generation process is time consuming and lowers maximum DPS. It also hinders the possible mobility of the build, using an ability with an awfully long animation time. Unlike a fighting game, it is also an animation you cannot cancel, unlike certain other abilities.

With higher MP levels comes gold. With gold comes gear. With certain gear comes certain set bonuses. With certain set bonuses comes the need to consider different builds. Without going into details, basically I have figured out a way to give myself infinite fury, even on a single target, to use Hammer of the Ancients and Rend at my leisure. This removes the need for a primary fury generator, which is huge! Nuking Mk 2 is a monster of a build, allowing almost full mobility (i.e. manually controlled defense), and consistent use of one of the hardest hitting abilities in the game. I have jumped from MP level 5 to MP level 8 overnight. However, none of this would be possible if I was not able to stay alive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Retaliator Alpha 0.04

Who would have thought that a blog that was originally about games development and being a journal (hence the "gdj" part of the url) would ever actually have a post resembling something of the sort? It has been many years since I undertook the board game development unit at QUT, one where we needed to write an online blog about its progress as well as many topics around general game design. The relics of these days can be found in the far off reaches of the infernal abyss (i.e. first few posts on this blog). How times have changed since then...

The top down side scroller (TDSS) or shoot em up (SHMUP) as they are often referred to I am working on is currently codenamed Retaliator. It is a simple game, one I have been working on, slowly, in Unity 3D for the better part of 2 months. It takes inspiration from several games I used to play back in the day, such as Raiden and Baryon as well as the recent (and brilliant) Jamestown. Although Jamestown is a recent addition to the genre, it unfortunately is a type of game that has also faded from the minds of today's gamers. Much like arena shooters. Hmmm ... I think I am seeing a pattern in my personal preferences here.

I have hesitated to post anything about the actual games production I randomly do, mainly because some of it falls into the 'not-creatively-owned' category of developing content for tutes at QUT. Which is a shame because I have developed many simple game assets in Blender and Unity in the last 3-4 years. Other non-work related content, such as Retaliator and its previous iterations (in Blender) I have barely mentioned either, mainly to keep it as private and secret as possible. The last thing I would want is some wanker taking my idea and developing it before I do.

The basic premise of my game is that its a traditional SHMUP, but breaks the rules in several key areas. The first is that you can aim anywhere along the 2D axis these games are usually restricted to. Obviously this will need to have a much higher difficulty then normal, as positioning enemies in your single axis beam of death was part of the challenge of traditional SHMUPS. The second feature is that you can (or at least will be able to) customise the layout and firepower of your ship, choosing multiple weapon types prior to entering a level and adjusting the spread of your primary weapon during the game itself. Unlocking weapon types and ship slots will probably use some kind of credit system, derived from your score at the end of a level. Finally, the last major change falls into the 'unique' gameplay mechanic that I actually abhor teaching in games design units at QUT. Although I am a firm believer that you don't need a unique gameplay mechanic for a game to be acceptable (shit, look at the COD series ffs), I feel the 'Link Cannon' coop weapon I am providing in the game will create some interesting ways in which players will play my game.

 This Link Cannon is also the primary feature of this video diary, that being for Retaliator Alpha version 0.04. I would recommend watching it at 720p:


I probably won't make too many posts about this project in the future, mainly because the time I will get to work on it is uncertain. Also, it is something I don't want to have consume all my free time and consequently all I ever want to talk about.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nuking

A few days ago I was asked by a somewhat opinionated colleague of mine, what was in fact 'wrong' with me to still be playing Diablo 3? Apparently everyone else in the world had 'quit', so my persistence with it was seen to be unnatural.

Am I still REALLY playing Diablo 3? Well ... yes. So it seems anyway. I don't quite know what has compelled me to return to the world of endless hordes of demons to mow through (though its probably that), but I have fired up the old girl to see what has changed in the world of Diablo. Alot, it seems. In particular, the buffing of Legendary items, changing of drop rates and addition of both monster power level and the Infernal Machine. Should I ever choose to level another character (quite likely), one can now finally say "fuck you" to the default easymode difficulty and ramp the monster power level as high as they can handle. This should at least provide a more engaging and dangerous experience for newcomers ... which is unlikely to happen. While most of the super casual (i.e. non Inferno/60) players have moved on, unfortunately they have taken a large chunk of Diablo 3's reputation with it.


Many people were apparently unsatisfied with the game, partly due to conforming opinions (i.e. everyone else doesn't like it so I don't like it either). While I still think many of these people were expecting of and playing the game for entirely the wrong reasons (i.e. narrative, perfectly attuned item drops, fast/challenging leveling immediately etc), I can honestly say that I don't miss their presence. Diablo 3 has begun to turn into a gem of a game without Blizzard appealing to the squealing masses and the game is on road to becoming something I will frequent in the future.

After dabbling a bit into Torchlight 2, I have decided on one simple, honest truth. Diablo 3 is a superior game. I have no bias towards either game or their parent company, but when it comes to straight up, non-skill capped game play, Diablo 3 trumps a game like Torchlight on almost every aspect. An example of this is the fact that I have found an even more powerful and interesting build than the apparently confusing one I was using before. I say this because several Barbarian friends I introduced my old build to (dubbed 'Riding the Walrus') found the build to be too complicated. I feel this is because they didn't understand the purpose of it, or realise its true potential (i.e. near complete invincibility), perhaps not having witnessed it first hand themselves. Watching someone else or a video is very different than doing something yourself. Nevertheless, the new build, which is far simpler, involves using a huge 2 hander, leaping into packs of stuff and doing enormous burst AoE and direct damage, using straight lifesteal as your main means of survival (besides defensive stats of course). While this probably means very little to anyone reading this blog and while there is obviously a bit more to it then that, I will say I have dubbed the build 'Nuking', for that is exactly what it feels like. It is also incredibly fun. Observe.


While Riding the Walrus is an incredibly strong build, it unfortunately lacks some oomph, which can make its undertaking a little underwhelming. With Nuking, the visceral and destructive power I felt as a barbarian while leveling has returned. While it is not as safe as Riding the Walrus, it is powerful enough to handle Inferno content on as high as monster power level 5, which is good enough.

Why am I back to playing Diablo 3 again? I am not entirely sure. I think it offers a satisfying game play experience that I don't think many people encountered, perhaps due to their own personal playstyles. For me, the semi-theorycrafting, bloodthirsty, honour bound lunatic, the way I play the game is enjoyable and so I enjoy playing the game. It is really as simple as that.

... or maybe its just the numbers +_+

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fight Night

The genre of fighting games is the one and only genre of games I fully advocate playing on a console. While you could play it on other platforms, such as the PC, the console controller and especially the arcade stick are both superior peripherals for THAT genre type. You could argue that you can easily attach these devices to your PC, but nothing beats sitting around a large TV with a group of friends, eating pizzas and drinking terribly unhealthy soft/energy drinks (or even alcohol) while attempting to beat them bloody. Virtually, of course.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 has recently been released and a short notice 'fight night' I organised seemed to be quite successful.While no one (including myself) was particularly good at the game, it still managed to be entertaining, mostly in a rather "lolwtf" way. While I would love it if people became slightly interested to the point where they practice a bit and become somewhat competitive, I know that it is probably too demanding to ideally expect that. However, I am content and happy that people can come together and at least enjoy beating the crap out of one another. Truly we are an evolved species.


Part of the problem with becoming good at a game like Tekken is that it still, even today, rings true with that camel hump of a graph I have on my wall, both at home and uni. The general idea of the graph is that, as you become better at playing a fighting game, you actually become less successful for a period of time. At least against the people who are button mashing. I think unconsciously people know this already, even with other fighting games, and that time-sink of doing worse then when you were button mashing is not a dip in enjoyment most casual people are willing to enter. I can't say I blame them either because to get out of that camel hump requires an enormous amount of effort and dedication, something I feel I have only ever committed once to a fighting game and then only became on-par with the best  (worst?) of the mashers. While fighting games will always be a genre I love and while I have a lot of respect and awe for the people who become good at them, I also know that playing casually with friends is more important. Which is what I think I will try to encourage.


On another note, the previous video was the first gameplay footage I have recorded from my PS3 using my Blackmagic Intensity Pro HDMI capture card. A ... lengthy process in figuring out everything required, but in the end I think it is worth it. I look forward to experimenting with the technology further and possibly making more console, fighting game related videos in the future.

Friday, August 31, 2012

This is my world! You are not welcome in my world!

The title of this post is a quote from the soldier in TF2. He says the line randomly whenever he kills someone. It is quite possibly my favorite quote from the game, because it says something about both the soldier and his perception of what it is he is doing.

The soldier is a veteran of wars, a scarred, blood-crazed violent lunatic who demands great performance from and has high expectations of his fellow comrades. In some ways he is a relic from the past, possibly from a better age where honor and respect were just as important as skill and tactics. He possesses one of the most difficult-to-consistently-perform abilities in the game, that being the simple act of rocket jumping. While it is not essential for a soldier to perform, it separates the good ones from the bad and makes the soldier distinct in comparison to the other classes.


In the soldier's mind, what he is doing is the reason for his existence. If flaming limbs and scorched blood are not exploding in his face, if he cannot soar through the sky, raining explosive death from above, then life is not worth living. He wishes to inform you, should your charred, splattered corpse have the ability to hear, that this pain you are feeling and this misery he is inflicting upon your person is what he does best. It is his job. His duty. His world ... and your presence in it is not one he tolerates kindly.

You may question why ... why does the soldier not enjoy your presence in his world? Why indeed ...

Anyways, I have eventually managed to get my colleagues and I to play a single match of a competitive FPS game. Now, my colleagues are all experienced gamers and have some very interesting opinions on game design and skill in games. When it comes to FPS games, they have experience in the likes of Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield and even TF2. They are also familiar with games such as Gears of War and other 3rd person combat shooters.

I on the other hand tend to lean towards more arcade-like FPS games, that of which I dub 'arena shooters'. Most of my experience with FPS games has come from these kind of games, which I have some very strong opinions on in contrast to the games my colleagues play. Games that fall into this category are games like Painkiller, Serious Sam, Quake and the original Unreal Tournament. This is not news, but it is important.

When I found out we were going to play a competitive FPS deathmatch game together, and that this game was going to be Unreal Tournament 3, I was quite thrilled! UT3 is a game I would consider about 1/2 way between the hardest-of-core arena shooter (something like Quakeworld or the non-commercial Nexuiz) and your average modern day shooter (something like Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3), so it would be an excellent test-bed for examining the performance and play styles from players of both genres. While arena shooters are mostly dead in this day and age, it was expected that most of the people who participated were more familiar with modern day shooters. Which seemed to be the case.

The following video shows the result of the match from my (Tinman's) point of view. Apologies for the jerkiness and inaccuracy (turning angles, audio etc) of the UT3 demo recording playback. It never did have good replay functionality. I recommend watching it in 720p so you can actually make out some of the details the engine likes shrouding:


While I don't think I actually played that well (only a 23 frag killing spree after all), I am still quite pleased with the overall result. However, I will say that I am not surprised in the slightest. I am unsure whether my colleagues felt the same way, but I do hope that even for a brief moment in time they may have realised that shooters of yore are not quite what they think them to be, that being mindless, shoot fests more about luck than they are about skill. Even if it were just for half a second.

But, more importantly, in that half a second, I hope they realised something else as well. You see this virtual environment we were just in. These rules, unbounded by restrictive controls and unwavering in non-casual/hardmode mechanics (e.g. non-regenerating health) form something that may not be obvious. They form a matrix of flexible rules and the boundaries that push them. They form a place where freedom and skill is limitless. They form a ... world ... one that I am well acquainted with ...

... and you are not welcome in it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Destroyer of Worlds

"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" 
 - Bhagavad Gita / J. Robert Oppenheimer

 It has been awhile, but returning to Skyrim for the mini-expansion that is Dawnguard has brought back some fond memories. Fond memories of roaming the countryside, hunting 'bad guys' and murdering entire encampments of humanoid creatures. Cleaving through the masses, it is undeniable that there is a certain satisfaction, one of savage glee, that I possess when playing this game. If there is one thing I will remember about Skyrim, or in fact all three Elder Scrolls games I've played (Oblivion and Morrowind too), it's that swinging an enormous two-handed weapon into things makes you feel like a freaking god. Well, sometimes.


The release of Dawnguard has also given me an excuse to return to the drawing board, fine tuning my equipment once again to make the ultimate weapons and armor. With such overpowering gear comes the need for overpowering difficulty and running a mod with up to 32x harder master level enemies makes for some interesting fights. I usually run it between 2-4x though, otherwise you get splattered by simply tripping on your own shoelaces. Running another mod called Warzones (increases number of enemy encounters) ensures that, no matter where you go, there is an entire world full of enemies. It is a world that I intend to destroy.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Time moves forward. Nothing changes

Anyone who knows me at all probably knows I don't play that many single player games. At least in the last couple of years anyway. I just cannot find the reasons to justify spending $40+ dollars on a game that will more than likely disappoint me, especially after the likes of Rage, Bulletstorm and Crysis 2. While Skyrim was the latest single player game I actively looked forward to, played (extensively) and actually enjoyed, occurrences like this are more the exception than the rule. Maybe I'm just a fussy bastard.

Or maybe I'm not. I don't really know anymore. I know there are people out there, like myself, that have become annoyed with a lot of the game play 'features' that stain modern single player experiences. To name a select few we have frequent cut-scenes (which I don't actually mind if they are done well), unnecessary and clumsy cover systems (e.g. F3AR) and my most hated of all ... quick-time events. Features like these have a time, place and even specific genres where they can work really well, but lately developers just seem to want to cram them in to every facet of every game they make. The results, at least in my opinion, are games that become less immersive, disengaging and often just stupid to play and observe. Take this scene from Bulletstorm for example:



Anyways, I've been playing Max Payne 3. Maybe I knew what to except, that being a movie which has playable sections. Maybe it's because I actually like the character that is Mr Payne, the sarcastic, masochistic drunk who has the magical ability to slow time and jump horizontally repeatedly. Maybe it was simply because the game doesn't have stupid fucking quick time events. Whatever it was, I quite enjoyed Max Payne 3, even with its insane amount of mostly unskippable cut scenes. They were good and added to the atmosphere of the game. It is a worthy successor to the previous two games and expands on the series by taking the game into some interesting and believable locales. The ending was also rather epic and satisfying. Most importantly, the bullet time is as good as ever and still a lot of fun even after this long. It was and still is the most enjoyable part of the game, and probably the only game that did, and still is, getting it right. Observe.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Immortal

So yeah. I'm still playing Diablo 3. As I have been semi-busy with uni work lately, it is about the only game I have on my radar at the moment. That is of course unless you count the random moments when I feel like watching a movie and 'play' bits of Max Payne 3.

Inferno is tough. Although it was recently nerfed slightly so that the brick wall you smash your face into isn't as high/thick, it has a different kind of difficulty attached to it. This difficulty is simply the cost of items. Because more people are trying Inferno now, the price on gear needed to get through it (all resist, vitality, armor, life on hit etc) has sky rocketed. It is amusing reading about people who cleared Inferno in the first two weeks now complaining about how they cannot progress on their alts because they have spent their 40 million gold on 5 items. The rest of us (10 million gold or less) barely make an upgrade a week without going completely broke. That's not even mentioning any decent Life on Hit weapons, which cost 20 million gold or more, or the increased repair costs.

Facing this problem was difficult for me. I don't have the patience to farm Act 1 repeatedly for 50 million+ gold, which would take weeks if not months. I have never seen Diablo as a grind (at least in the WoW sense), and turning it into one was not preferable. So I did what many people are, at least in my opinion, afraid to do: admitting that your build/playstyle is not efficient and opting to change it. Long story short, I have come across a build and a style of playing that is not only efficient but incredibly fun as well. The problem is that it is slightly difficult to pull off.

My experience of Diablo is that, at least in Inferno (when the game actually gets hard), you are simply maintaining a balanced relationship between how much damage you do and how much damage you can take. Having a high effective health pool will keep you alive considerably longer, but if you are doing bugger all damage, elite packs will enrage and rape you. If you only do a lot of damage, elite packs will just rape you full stop. Generally speaking, the act of keeping your health up is a straightforward one, though conditionally difficult depending on your class and the situation. Often you will ignore your 'resource' as its generation and use become straightforward as well. You could probably just say that the game is easy to 'play', but the enemies (i.e. elites/champion packs) are what make it hard.

The build I am running now goes a step beyond this. Without bogging you down with names of abilities that mean nothing to you, I will simply say that an intense balance between how much life you have, how much life you are gaining, how much resource (fury) you have, how much resource you are gaining needs to be maintained. If not, you die horribly. This process requires perfect conditions that you need to create and control throughout a fight through both positioning and timing of abilities. Should you stuff up for even one second, you will run out of fury or life and get fucked up very quickly. There is a high risk vs reward element to the play style and it becomes very engaging. It also requires some very specific stats that I won't go into here.



As you can see, the build is incredibly strong, almost to the point where I am going to stop stacking hard defensive gear. The build is actually stronger the more things you are fighting as they provide a larger surface area for you to sprint/whirlwind into, assuming they don't hit you too hard. The hardest part of the build is fighting small packs of elites, if not a single elite by itself. This is because your ability to gain life on hit with the tornadoes that spawn depends entirely on the distance that you travel. The tornadoes come out slowly at a controlled rate (attack speed). Essentially you need to move to stay alive, but the target you are fighting is stationary, so you need to move just the right distance to and from the target to spawn the tornadoes right on top of them.

If you can maintain this intricate balance of dps/tank stats, managing your fury, damage intake, precision of movement and timing of abilities you can essentially become immortal.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

HOW TASTE YOUR FEAR!!!???

As I expected, Diablo 3 has been as addictive as I thought it would, taking up the vast majority of my free time these days. Like Skyrim before it, it is one of those games that put me in these strange situations where I realise I have forgotten to eat both breakfast and lunch and it is currently 3pm. On weekends anyway. When at uni, I spend the few bits of downtime I get to theory craft, thinking of new builds and gear setups to both maximize my damage output and survivability. My colleagues probably look at me in bewilderment as I scribble down SCRAM calculations in meetings, instead of taking notes. Either that, or think I am taking notes on the discussion topic and pretend to write some notes too. Ah, peer pressure ...

Anyways, I was thinking of how I could write a post about Diablo 3 that wouldn't be the same as usual and was considering approaching it from a narrated, first person perspective. Something about a barbarian (me) buying a ring from a merchant in game and confusing him/her with gamer lingo. I may still do this if I get extremely bored in the future (unlikely). Not to mention that this individual already performed something like it anyway, and it is probably more entertaining than anything I could conjure. So, I will simply turn this post into a discussion on four topics: what is happening right now, what I don't like, what I don't mind and what I do like. Because I feel the topics under 'What I don't like' are actually game design flaws, I will explain them in more detail than the other sections.

What is happening right now in Diablo 3:
As of writing this post, only just a couple of days ago I hit 60 on my barbarian. For any hardcore gamer this would be described as an incredibly slow leveling rate. For most people I know this would be described as incredibly fast leveling rate. For me, it is about 50:50. I spent a lot of time trying to help people to get to my level and even got a witch doctor alt to 50 in the process. Perhaps I have played it quite a fair bit, but honestly it doesn't feel like it. I think my disregard for the story probably assisted in my ability to level two characters so 'quickly'. However, like every other barbarian in the world, I have hit a brick wall, but I will talk about that later on. During my leveling process on my barbarian I ran an incredibly bursty dps spec, running a 2-handed build that relied on building fury (barbarian resource) quickly and spending it quickly too. Running with ever increasing critical hit chance, the result was the ability to cleave through hordes of minions with relative ease, but lacking on single target dps (i.e. bosses). It worked pretty much all the way up to the end of hell, though I am slowly transitioning to a more tanky build.

My witch doctor is really just there as a character I play when I am bored or am waiting for other people to come online/catch up (i.e. singleplayer). It's primary purpose is to farm gold for the gold eating machine that is soon to become my barbarian, as well as providing the damage I need to progress through Inferno, whenever a friend and I get to clearing that.

Too sexy for my ... shield?
What I don't like:
- Normal mode was ridiculously easy. While the first act should have been easy, it unfortunately continued all the way to Diablo in the final act. You could quite literally put any spell on your toolbar, roll your face across your keyboard and end up getting to and killing Diablo (somehow). Even for casuals, the difficulty in normal was far too simplistic, especially for a game that traditionally got harder over time. Many people I know have expressed their disdain for the lack of difficulty in the default difficulty and some, I fear, were turned off by it. Although the later difficulties do propose a more suited challenge, the damage may already be done for a large amount of the casual fan base.

- A minor complaint, but bosses in later difficulties do not drop rares. They only drop rares the first time you kill them in normal mode. They are also incredibly easy, outside the latter half of Hell's bosses. This is quite a shame as boss fights should be both difficult and rewarding. Although getting 5 stacks of the Nephalem buff after hitting 60 fixes this, it does make the leveling process a little more silly.

- In my opinion, the playthrough content is rather short, both per difficulty and in total (i.e. to 60). I remember it taking ages to hit level 30 on my characters in Diablo 2. Although there is the entirety of Inferno to clear, the idea of facing the same environments again for the 4th time is a little discouraging.

- Inferno is apparently a bitch for melee. For Monks and especially Barbarians, unless you stack tank gear through the roof you will die instantly in almost any elite encounter. I managed to kill 3 elite packs in Inferno so far with no resistances but literally hit a brick wall on the 4th pack. Buying resist gear will fix the problem, but the gear is not cheap. What is annoying is that the other 3 classes don't have to spend anywhere near the amount of gold to become eligible for Inferno. While I could view this as being unfair and imbalanced, I prefer to think of it more as a challenge. Clearing Inferno as melee is a greater achievement than doing it as ranged.

- Your character is basically just his/her gear. There is absolutely no reason to make another of the same class type, unless you want a sex change for some reason. While I actually like the versatility in build changing, it does destroy some of the uniqueness your character can be. If you throw on your friends gear who happens to be the same class as you, now you become them with their exact dps and survivability (assuming the same skills). It's not so much a complaint, more a ... unusual occurrence in a genre of game that traditionally offers so much character choice.

- The music. Usually I wouldn't complain about music in a game, but the music here just doesn't fit right in certain places. The main theme, for example, is nothing like it should be. Instead of a gritty, demon-inspiring orchestral score, we are treated to an over zealous, victorious, anthem like hymn of tracks that makes the game feel more holy than it should.

- Gems and stats seem a little too simplistic for my liking. With only 4 gem types and no real reason to stack any stat other than your primary and vitality, gearing and gemming your character can seem both straightforward and frustrating at times. It is an unusual, unsettling combination. Getting an insanely good new pair of boots that has a large amount of strength and intelligence make the item both good and shit for both barbarians and wizards/witch doctors. There is no reason why the stats couldn't do more than their secondary bonus, even if it is class specific. For Barbarians, dexterity giving miniscule traces of crit and intelligence giving pathetic amounts of magic find would be interesting, for example

- Weapons. A wizard using a 2 handed axe for maximum damage is just weird. I think weapon damage scaling should work differently for all classes, but I am not even going to consider how one would go about implementing it

You were defeated because you were a girl with a bad hair cut
 (As I mentioned, I have paid more attention to the flaws of the game. However, this does not detract from the positives of the game which are described in less detail following)

What I don't mind:
- The visuals. They could be grittier, but overall they are fine.

- Story. I am actually ok with the story, mainly because I only half paid attention to it the first time through and find skipping it to be an art in consecutive times. I am not going to be one to rate a game on its singleplayer narrative when the game's primary focus is multiplayer game play.

- The randomness of gear. It's always been a part of Diablo and it's no different now. Sure, I don't like it when a piece of good gear has bad stats on it, but that's not the item's fault. Making different stats more useful for other classes is the key here I feel

- The 'grind' to 60. I don't see it as a grind in any shape or form. Grinding is boring. Diablo 3 is not.

- The auction house. 50:50 on this one. It is bad as it makes the game easier (farm gold->buy gear), which makes the casual appeal stronger. However I would not be running my crit build without it so I can't complain. Although, there do seem to be a large number of idiotic people making stupid buyout prices on their items.

... right
What I do like:
- It is actually quite fun to play (at least as a barb), especially in multiplayer

- There is potential for skill and strategy in harder difficulties

- Variation in builds and gear make for interesting play styles and choices

- Coop game play is a breeze. Don't need to be on same quest or act, can join friends anywhere in the world. Difficulty increases with players but so do the rewards. Encourages working together and sharing loot. This is honestly the best part of the game and it is a big factor towards enjoying it.

GIVE ME EPICS!!!
When it comes down to it though, most of my Diablo 3 experience has been playing coop with at least one friend. Basically I wouldn't be playing the game unless I had at least one other person to share the experience with. Singleplayer can be fun at times, but it is a little too easy for my liking (outside Inferno). Throw in 3 more players and all of a sudden the game becomes fantastic in that chaotic, fun-even-if-you-die sort of way. Would I recommend Diablo 3 to others? If you have friends to play the game with, most definetly. If you don't, give it a miss.

Now I go to farm demons in a distant land, to steal their clothes and riches and to sell and buy from other, demon-thieving lunatics. TIME TO DIE!!!

Below: My Barbarian farming Hell for gear, gold and fun

Friday, April 20, 2012

A simple model for measuring skill ceilings in video games

If I was not already doing a PhD in AI and Games Design, I think I would most likely gravitate towards something along the lines of player skill in games. It is a topic that for some reason I am quite fond of, not because I consider myself to be all that skillful in games (really only a select few), but more because I feel it is a very important topic for game designers to understand. In my opinion, making a game that tailors towards skillful play can only be done if you have at some point been a skillful player in something. I am not talking about beating your friends a few times in a random game at a LAN. I mean actually being good, and interested in being good, at a game, even if it is just from a theory-crafting or spectator point of view. When you realise that skill in a game is often more than just mastering the basic mechanics of the genre, you can begin to see that skill is often much more complicated and harder to define than previously thought. High skill in one game does not automatically mean high skill in another, and games that, to the casual observer, may seem simple, mindless or even primitive may in fact have more skill than any of the other games in the genre.

Lately, and usually the cause of most of my rants on this blog, I have had conversations with people I did not wholeheartedly agree with. To simplify, I felt they were somewhat wrong. Or perhaps just ignorant. It is hard to tell. My impression was that they had never been at a stage where they could comfortably describe themselves as skillful at or even knowledgeable about a game, even from a meta/external level. To me, this has skewed their perspective of what skill actually is in games. Particularly, it had deformed their idea of what a 'skill ceiling' should be in a game. I got the impression that they thought the actions you perform in one game take the same amount of skill and are used in the exact same way in another game of the same genre. This is an incredible misunderstanding and a terrible oversimplification of determining the skill ceiling of a game. Even the simple act of pressing a button in response to an event can be drastically different conditionally from one game to another. To describe something like 'aiming' in an FPS game as a generic action, unvarying in skill in all FPS games, is like saying that boxers all just throw the same weighted punches at each other. I hate to burst your bubble guys, but depending on the weight/style of boxing, certain boxers will punch harder and faster than others. The same can be said of skill in video games.

I have beaten around the bush concerning skill in video games before. Once I mentioned skill having a physical/mechanical execution process to it. That's one part of it. In this post, once and for all, and for the benefit of 'grading' possible games in the future from a 'skill ceiling' perspective, I will introduce to you the rest of my model. Academically, this model does not incorporate much, if any of the minor research I have found around this topic. There really is very little. Instead, it is more of my own opinion on the components that define skill in video games. It is therefore subject to change and open to suggestion.

The skill level capable in video games can not simply be described as any one thing. It can more correctly be viewed as a combination of interrelated, similar but separate actions/processes that players are capable of executing while playing a game. In my opinion, these action/processes are the following:

Tactical thinking - having or developing a strategy to counter your opponent
Example: saving a powerup, unit or cooldown for use at a more opportune or unexpected moment

Multi-tasking - a player's ability to perform seperate but useful actions or observations that are of benefit to their current game state
Example: queueing up unit production, observing your resources and moving soldiers to the front line

Mechanical Dexterity - the physical speed, precision, timing and variety of input allowed to and required by players to be sucessful
Example: pulling off a tricky combination of moves in a fighting game

Threat Assessment - a player's ability to quickly assess a situation in game and respond to it in a useful or beneficial way
Example: realising your opponent will defeat you for X reasons during your next encounter in an FPS, and fleeing from the encounter temporarily

Prior knowledge, memory or experience - a player's long term and short term memory regarding specifics of both the game and the ongoing events in it.
Example: Details about enemy specifics or recollection of opponent traits, patterns and weaknesses all fall into this category

A skillful game may not necessarily have all 5 of these components. It is entirely possible that a game can have only a few of the components, but in a high enough concentration for it to still be viewed as a skillful game as a whole. An excellent example of this would be chess, requiring high amounts of Tactical Thinking and Prior Knowledge from players, but almost nil of anything else. What you may have noticed, and what was previously mentioned, is that many of these skill components have areas where they will undoubtedly overlap. Your Prior Knowledge will greatly affect your Tactical Thinking, as will your current assessment of threat. Your prior Knowledge will also determine your ability to perform actions, contributing to your level of Mechanical Dexterity. Both Mechanical Dexterity and Multi-tasking go hand in hand, the ability to do one assisting the ability to do another, but they are still inherently different. Maintaining a balanced economy in a strategy game (multi-tasking) is not the same as your ability to pull off a combo in a fighting game (mechanical dexterity), but the result from one will affect the other. In that regard, your ability to multi-task does affect your ability to assess threat. The faster you take into account all the variables which define your safety in a situation, the more efficiently you can make a helpful threat assessment. The relationships between these components can be seen in the figure below.


There is something missing though, and its a big one. A constant, unstoppable variable that without consideration, skill in video games would be non-existant. That variable is, quite simply, time. Unless you are playing a game with potentially unlimited time, such as a turn based game like chess, time can drastically affect how significant each of these components become, especially if left unchecked. Time defines how intense each of these components actually are, and is the most crucial element for truly understanding how high a skill ceiling a game can possess. Allow me to explain.

Three seconds. Just three seconds of game play. Imagine, for three seconds, you are playing Starcraft 2. In those 3 seconds you performed the following: queued up another worker, checked to see if your new unit was almost done, checked the mini-map for enemy dots and started selecting a group of units. In this time you applied 4/5 of the components of the prior model to a semi-intense degree. The only thing you did not do was change your existing strategy via Tactical Thinking, whatever that strategy was. Now imagine, for three seconds, you are playing Modern Warfare 3. In those 3 seconds, you reloaded your gun while crouching behind a chest high wall. In this case you probably applied at most two of the components, though to a much less degree. Both of these scenarios can be described as passive, non-action filled scenarios where you simply performed actions typically required of a player prior to engaging in combat. One, however, had a lot more skill to it than the other.

I know what you are thinking. How about when they are in combat? What happens to skill levels then? Obviously both would spike, possibly even firing components that were inactive in the described 3 seconds. It may even be possible that elements of MW3 would even exceed that of SC2, for a brief moment in time. Because of this, it is difficult, if not impossible, to measure the skill ceiling provided by games using random 3 second intervals. The only way to approach this topic is if you were to average the amount of skill that is possible by players over a period of sufficient game play time. Assigning arbitrary values in the form of a scale is also ... difficult, as a scale of numeric 'skill' is non-existant. Any scale you use may, unit for unit, not be equally 'skillful' in comparison to other skill components. But for the sake of getting this done, lets just make this simple...

Assuming a most skill based map, environment, level, song, track, weapons, gear etc, over a game play period of approximately 10 mins of continuous play with each individual skill component having a maximum value of 100 'skill' I hereby present to you what I think the skill ceilings of certain games are. They are generated from my observations of the most highly skilled play available to each game, from various sources:

Of course this is all quite subjective. Until a more in-depth analysis can be done employing methods capable of actually gathering the true values these components should represent, these ratings should be considered ... a little off. Not to mention biased. But it's a start. An attempted theory, if you will, quite subject to my own personal criticism. First of all, it is hard to define arbitrary values in the form of a scale for each component, for many reasons. One reason is that each individual component can not really be compared to the others numerically, so a 'skill value' is somewhat inappropriate to use. Really, what this skill measurement system is attempting to describe is a purely visual way of observing how much skill can be injected into the sorts of games described, and how certain games, by the very nature of their design, offer higher or lower skill ceilings than others that are similar. In this case, I would like to think that Quake 3: Arena has a higher skill ceiling that say Modern Warfare 2, even though they are (apparently) in the same genre. This is because a game like Quake 3: Arena offers higher levels of many, if not all of the 5 components in the model. In a 10 min gameplay session, a Quake 3 player will have had more interactions, more observations and assessments, more inputs and a longer history of changes to an ongoing strategy. Basically, time defines the skill ceiling of a game, and a game that is inherently faster, more diverse and offers more player freedom will inevitably have more room for skill.

Don't believe me? Watch this video of a professional Quake Live player, describing his 1v1 match against another opponent.



If you can show me a video where a professional modern day FPS gamer (i.e. Halo, MW etc) describing his/her gameplay in this detail with the same number of variables, items, controls, tactics and decisions being made, I will give you a $100. Seriously. When players are capable of doing actions similar to that in the previous video, when they have the ability to, even if the majority of people who play it do not, then a skill ceiling for a game can be drawn. Only through the analysis of the high-end players, what they do and what they are capable of in certain games, both hardcore and the professional, can a true understanding of and appreciation for a skill ceiling in a game be realised.

By no means am I saying that the people who play a more skillful game are inherently more skillful than the people who play a less skillful game. The skill ceiling of a game is simply just that. A player can play a skillful game and be nowhere near the cap, just as a player can be playing a slightly less skillful game and perceive themselves to be near the top of the possible skill ceiling. For the most part, they would probably be right. This model only focuses on the maximum skill allowed by a game and by no means suggests that it is the skill of the players who play them. Unless, of course, you are talking about the very best players of that game in the world. If I use the game Unreal Tournament from 1999, the game I feel I had the best grip on out of any other game, I can describe what I mean by this, and demonstrate another way in which this model can be used: personal mappings of one's own skill.


When it boils down to it though, the maximum skill capable in a game is demonstrated by the players. The maximum skill is, however, defined by the game. This, at least for prospective game designers, should be a very important realisation.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A brief return to story writing

I have never been a big fan of Star Wars. The old series or the new, the universe just seemed a little too ... comical for me (or something). It is actually one of the reasons why I think the more recent films did not succeed in the minds of viewers in the last few years. In today's TV series where you see gritty, hard-boiled character developed stories (e.g. BattleStar Galactica, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones), stories that succeed phenomenally ratings wise, it is easy to look at something like the recent Star Wars films and notice the incredible lack of it.

So, without really thinking about it much, I decided to write the introduction to a gritty story set in the Star Wars universe. It took me less than half an hour, but it is the kind of introduction to a sci-fi film that I reckon I would continue watching. There are slight elements of the Warhammer 40k universe in here (primarily because I am more familiar with it) that fans of that universe will probably easily spot. There are bound to be some bits that I have missed or interpreted incorrectly (again, not an avid fan of Star Wars at all), so bear with me. I swear I will make a post about gaming again when there is a game worth posting about.

==================================================================

The music was making it hard to concentrate. The band of biths in the western corner of the bar had resorted to tunes native of their homeworld, unlike the typical jazzy score they were popular for. The night had drawn out and the occupants of the bar at this hour were not your usual attendants. Hard working labourers working inhumane hours slowly replaced by some of the seedier trades of the sector. Prositution. Drugs. Weapons. Slavery. Criminals and scumbags awakening in the night to do business into the new day. Through fear of martial arrest, the shroud of night had become their domain ... and consequently their prison. It would be hard to tell among this bunch.

Within this ominous setting there sat a figure, humanoid in shape, alone in the centre of the scene. He was dressed in what appeared to be blanketed rags, reaching the ground from the barstool and covering his neck and head like a hood and shroud. He looked tired, as well he should. He had travelled precariously far to get here and risked everything in doing so. Looking up from his glass into the gloomily lit surroundings, he noticed the approaches of a female twi'lek, gracefully striding to his table with the seductive confidence and manner of her kind. They both knew what this was. Removing his gaze from her bodice he stared blankly into her eyes. She looked back with the feigned eagerness that only an experienced 'worker' would possess. After a few moments, her expression changed and without saying a single word, the shrouded man convinced her that it was not going to happen. She returned glumly to her master's table, displeasure written across the man's face, confusion and shock written across hers.

The music was making it hard to concentrate. Removing his gaze from the whore and her unimpressed pimp, he drew his attention to the band and their alien instruments. Never one for music, he found the logic of the musicians puzzling. A usually respectable race performing a respectable profession amongst this sorry crew was a rare sight to behold. And what a sorry crew it was. Wookies, selonians, aqualish, jawas, rodians and, worse of all, humans. The worst of the galaxies species, all crowded in one coop. Racial tension would be high here, and any dispute would cause the whole bar to erupt in an orgy of violence. It would be difficult to perform amongst this crowd.

An angry fist was slammed into a table a few seats away from the shrouded man. Looks like it was too late. Something about incorrect payment, or a late delivery. It was hard to tell amongst all the laughing and profanity. However, it was obvious what was about to happen from where the shrouded man was sitting. The aggressor, in his rage, was not sitting on his chair correctly anymore and his victim was slowly reaching under the table with his foot while drawing a small blaster from his lower vest pocket. It was a rookie tactic, to feign defeat and fear while cowering in your position but giving yourself an advantageous maneuver. Almost anyone would have seen it coming, but the aggressor seemed to be completely blind in his fury. The foot went up, the blaster was drawn and the rodian was shot in the head while lying on his back. The bar went quiet, including the band, heads turning to the point of conflict for the briefest moment. The victor sat back down on his chair, gathering the slates on the table and eventually everyone looked away, the event already being forgotten. The music started up again.

The music was making it hard to concentrate. It was an unnerving tune, both sad and spooky having a lethargic feel to it, causing visitors to relax and slow down. The effects were subtle but noticeable, causing visitors to have another lazy drink or possibly open their wallets a little further for business. There is always a reason for everything and the shrouded man reflected on this, as he had done many times in the past. To casual observers, how this unknown human had ended up in the asshole of the galaxy was a big mystery. For him, it was but a brief moment in history, one that would resonate in due time.

It seemed the dispute was not completely over. Another rodian busted through the scanner doors and, noticing his companion lying dead on the ground, unholstered his weapon from his back and took aim at the previous victor. The shrouded man slowly lay his head on the table, as if going to sleep. The rodian fired a short burst, missing wildly and hitting the pimp in the back of the room. Killed instantly, the pimp's bodyguards drew their weapons and fired a hail of energy bursts in the direction of the assailant, killing both the rodian and the previous victor in the process, along with several others. All hell broke loose, everyone in the room grabbing for their blasters or diving for cover wherever they could find. Suddenly, the hall was filled with the cacophony of concentrated light waves dispersing air, the view a light show of blaster fire spitting on every surface of the bar. Someone had managed to bring in a lasrifle in and on full auto, quickly seared the occupants of the western side of the stage. He quickly became the target of almost everyone in the room, mowed down and torn to pieces by an endless stream of blaster fire. Someone on fire ran for the door but was cut down in the process. The smell of burning flesh and ionized air filled the room, a room still ablaze with both blaster light and flames. An explosion erupted from underneath a table, a droid's fuel compartment igniting within its hiding place, hurtling people towards the middle of the room. Amongst all this madness, the shrouded man still lay with his head on the table, eyes closed. Unmoving.

Eventually the blaster fire ceased. The smoke began to clear and the survivors crawled or limped slowly out of their hiding spots. A few stray shots were fired to finish people off, although almost everyone in the room had been killed. A large figure emerged from the back storage room, a gungan, fat and old. The owner of the bar. Mouth open in horror, he slowly moved to the middle of the hall, taking in the damage done to his place and the corpses lying everywhere. "What the fuck been doing in here you idiots!?", he bellowed, anger slowly forming across his ugly brow.

The female twi'lek, the whole time, had been watching the shrouded man lying on the table. The whole fight he had not moved. Whether he had been hit or not, prior or during, she did not know. Until he opened his eyes and looked at her.

The sound of ionized air, an electrical discharge and the flapping of large blanketed rags was heard throughout the room. An instant later, the head of the gungan landed deftly in the female twi'leks lap, tongue lolling ridiculously. The gungan's body, still in the centre of the room, next to the shrouded man's table, flopped on its side with a crash. Every eye in the room was focused on the weapon raised in the air. A weapon not seen in generations. A weapon marking something terrifying. A red weapon.

The shrouded man lowered the lightsabre, flicking the activation switch and watched as its form shrank back into the hilt. Giving the corpse of the gungan a light kick, he raised his head and listened. Looking to his left he observed the corpses of the bith band. If he still remembered how to smile he would have. After a moment he sat back down and began finishing his drink, taking a data slate from his sleeve and marking off his current target from a list of many. He closed his eyes and sat perfectly still, listening to the voices and alarms echoing in the distant night.

After some time, the female twi'lek, unaware of what she had just witnessed, came to stand over him.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Concentrating".

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Into The Grey

Note: In an effort to talk about something different for once, I present my attempt at another movie review. Of course this doesn't actually mean I review it.

I have come to the conclusion that there is a large percentage of people who don't watch movies properly. Or maybe I should say ... are incapable of watching movies that are otherwise different from your standard Hollywood film but for whatever reason decided they would watch it. Now I know, movies are as subjective as other types of media. What one person likes is no guarantee that another person will like the same thing. I am not a fan of Scott Pilgrim VS The World, for example, but mainly because I believe it to be a stupid movie that is overrated. This opinion was brought on by the hordes of people saying it is the greatest film of 'our' culture and a film I would therefore thoroughly enjoy. This process, in my mind, created a space for a film of deep meaning, emotional story telling and with excellent cinematography. Scott Pilgrim did not deliver this.

This can be attributed to the fact that it was not anything like what I regard to be a brilliant movie, essentially what it was talked up to be. It is usually a strong combination of the three previously mentioned factors that result in a film I regard as worthwhile. These are the factors I look for in films which is where said subjectivity arises. I can understand if they are not the same factors other people look for in films ... but I do need to ask myself why.

What is it that people look for in the movies they watch, and why do people often have such vast differences in opinion regarding particular films? I feel there is a large audience out there that have become accustomed to the typical spoonfed style of Hollywood movies and therefore regard anything that slips off the boat as "boring", "weird" and "confusing". They are there for the laughs, the explosions, the same ridiculous romantic stories between impossible characters in unreal situations. If a movie lacks any of these tried and true attributes it is therefore somehow lacking in substance and not worthy of viewing.


So I finally come to 'The Grey', a movie I thought I knew what it would be like and what it was going to be about and, generally speaking, I was mostly correct. It was a film very much in the vein of something like The Thin Red Line, except to do with survival instead of war. It has an interesting way of delivering the story, a story that I will attempt not to spoil much of here. From forum posts, reviewer comments and even people I have met, opinions of this movie were very mixed but generally in the negative. "Boring", "weird" and "confusing" were terms being thrown around by many, while others complained about the foul language (?) and apparently dodgy ending.

For some, such negative peer remarks would dissuade one from seeing the film, but for me it only increased my interest. After all, this was a film I thought I knew what it would be like, and for it to be as bad as I thought it would be good ... well, I just had to see it then. If only for clarification and understanding.

So I saw it. As I thought, it was a movie that had elements of story telling similar to that of The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life and even 127 Hours. I do not mind this type of story telling at all. It can be quite effective in its abstractness, if that was the intended style of the movie's narrative. However, I came out of the movie at a complete loss as to what other people were complaining about it for. The questions and arguments they had against the film were not even remotely complaints for me ... and it bugs me. It bugs me because some of the arguments are so completely invalid, naught and unwarranted that I wonder if I actually saw the same movie as these people. Perhaps it is best described if I detail these arguments in a question and (my) response format, so you can understand my meaning:

1. Why did they move away from the plane crash?

My reply:
They had just crash landed on an ice plain in the middle of nowhere with rapidly dwindling food supplies. There are also freezing winds and sub-zero temperatures and they have barely any shelter. Also there are wolves attacking them and they believe they are on the wolves hunting grounds. Kind of hard to have missed that point...



2. Why was there over-dramatic, irrelevant and boring bits of self-reflection and happenings from the past?

My reply:
A lot of movies do this. Some don't even attempt to tie them in with the story at all (which is alright). A character looks at a photo and some random clip of them from their childhood is shown for a few seconds, seemingly unconnected. Or is it? I don't know what the term is, but I am going to call it impressionistic, non-chronological story development. Neeson's character allows for several moments of this style to be presented, all tying in some way to the movie. A poem by his father, a sentence from his wife, recollecting a prior event, experiencing a somewhat similar symbolic situation etc. Somehow they will have an impact on the development of the story. If you cannot see this, understand how it works or appreciate it as a method of exposition ... than you really shouldn't be watching this kind of movie at all. The message has failed upon you. Or rather, you it.


3. The ending sucked. What happened?

My reply:
Really? The ending seemed rather conclusive to me. He ended up in a situation he could not possibly survive and instead of throwing in the towel (like he was doing at the start of the movie), he chose to make a personal stand. Everything about the story, especially the impressionistic, non-chronological scenes, were leading up to this point. A final outcome against insurmountable odds, one in which you will most likely die. It was about accepting fate and the purgatory of life but still resisting it even if it is futile. Did he regain his faith? Did he kill a wolf? Did he even live? Good questions. Do you need to know the answers to them? In my opinion, the ending of the movie is far stronger with these questions left unanswered.


There is a higher meaning to films like The Grey than your standard Hollywood flick. Those who came expecting a movie where Neeson mindlessly punched wolves in the face were bound to be dissapointed. Those who came expecting a clear and happy ending were left a similar result. Not everything in life ends well, and this is a film that exposes that. Depressing? Maybe. I would prefer to call it honest.

The Grey is therefore not for everyone. Do I recommend it? That depends. I personally think it is a decent movie, one with deep meaning, emotional story telling and with excellent cinematography. However, that is what I personally look for in a movie and if your taste differs in any way, then no, I cannot recommend it to you. If, however, you can watch something a tiny bit different from what you expect and appreciate the light amounts of impressionistic, non-chronological story development it uses, than sure, you may get an interesting watch out of it.

However, it is the type of movie I would watch by yourself. There are some movies that are simply ruined by the presence of more impatient/talkative fellows and this is definitely one of them.

Also he does kill the Alpha wolf. Patience is a virtue.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Four Da Whored!!!

"You know you can take a noob, to like, water, but you can't, like, make a noob drink" - Jeremy, Pure Pwnage

I swore I would never play and pay for an MMO ever again. A game that has no end, no conclusive end goal or conditions to meet is not a game I want to be paying $30 a month for, and that's not including initial retail fees. To this day I have not broken that vow. Not even with what I am doing now.

Where's Wally?

What am I doing now? Well, its very simple. I am playing Vanilla WoW. For free. My end condition is to PvP my guts out. Not for gear, but for glory. For fun, whether that be derived from nostalgia or generated from happenstances, I know what it is I want to do with the game. So far it has worked out pretty well, though perhaps I should start from the beginning.

Roughly 3 weeks ago, before a trip overseas, I stumbled across what appeared to be a very popular and well maintained private vanilla WoW server. Advertised as 'blizzlike', it had a few notable changes to game play, some of which I much approve of. The most notable of these changes is simply a 12x increase in experience your character gains while leveling. This makes leveling ridiculously easy, fast and enjoyable, far removed from the painful grind to 60 that was the original WoW experience. I know this must have been difficult for some because I know of so many casual players who could not even reach 60 in the time that they played vanilla WoW, which in all honesty was only like 1/5 of the actual game.

You level so fast that quests go grey before you can even hand them in...

Leveling aside, the community also seemed incredibly active with up to and including 3500 players during peak and possibly up to 10,000 players total. This is smaller than your average Blizzard server, but for a private server that number is apparently considered huge. Someone, somewhere would at some point be doing or at least want to do the same sort of things you do, guaranteed. My experience in a few groups with members of the community have also been positive, the vast majority being experienced veteran players who are mostly playing classes they have played before. This also makes them competent PvP buddies/opponents, but I will get to that in a second.

Excited, I mentioned this 'opportunity' for potential free fun to the majority of the friends I thought would be interested. I remember thinking that a group of five of us instance hopping to 60 in a matter of days would at least be entertaining, with 12x experience, non-stop action and blues dropping by the bucketload fueling interest levels. Alas, after my two week vacation, it appears I have misjudged everyone's interests, which is unusual considering many of them complain about us not 'doing anything game related' together anymore.

-_-

I know exactly how you feel ...

This, however, did not stop me from undertaking this mission by myself. Even without company, not doing a single instance (until 60), and having terrible gear along the way, I still found the process to be quite fun. When you are not struggling to make a dent in your XP gain, attempting to maximize your questing efficiency and make travel times a minimum, you can comfortably explore and wander around the world at a much more relaxed pace. Knowing you could power level to 60 in a couple of days, but choosing not to is an interesting perspective, one that is unnatural in a game like WoW. It completely changes the leveling process and almost makes it optional instead of required. The 'grind' simply doesn't exist.

While I still feel this was a massively missed, face-palm worthy opportunity for a group of us to not be doing (hence my noob related introductory quote), I have decided not to let other people slow me down this time. In fact, I have moved onto something I have wished for for quite awhile, that being a return to objective style battle arenas set in a fantasy, RPG setting. Or, more simply, battleground PvP. I did my fair share of this back in the day and while I have no incentive to put in the number of hours I did back then, I am keen to experience the glories of yesteryear once again.

I'm talking about the massive 40 vs 40 AV battles that lasted hours, the intensity of close 1990:2000 AB games and carrying the flag in WSG into an open field to face off against the enemy team, with your own team at your back. The entire reason I kept playing WoW was mostly in hope of this aspect of the game to continue and not to be replaced with dueling matches in a box (i.e. Arena). If I wanted a dueling game I would go back to TTM in UT99. But, it wasn't meant to be and BG PvP slowly dissipated from the minds of players, even resented and branded as noob by the rating obsessed, gear spoiled elitist jerks of the WoW Arena community. But that's a topic for a different discussion...

Arcanite Reaper HOOOOOOO!!!!

So I got to 60 in just under two days 'played', and that was with a LOT of fucking around. Mining, afk, leveling smithing and first aid, doing quests for gear etc. I could probably have done it in 1 day played if I didn't care about it. Now that I have gear suitable enough to PvP with, I will turn this game into the game I wanted it to be so many years ago, that being a casual BG PvP game. Think League of Legends, except in 3rd person, less hero classes, more randomness and a billion more buttons to press and you get the idea. I don't care about ranks, I don't care about gear. I just care about fun.

And by golly will I have it. With or without company.

Edit: The following video is a quick edit of my horribly geared warrior in PvP. As much as I will probably never edit to Eminem ever again, I thought the editing style was interesting and effective at points and I will probably use it for another video in the future.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ultrakill LAN 2012

Recently I hosted another Ultrakill LAN after the somewhat failure that was the last mini-one, with people leaving and not playing games all over the place. This one went somewhat better. In fact, this one was probably more like the LANs of old that I remember in my highschool days. A dedicated and keen crew playing multiple games in a somewhat undisturbed peace makes for true LAN experiences, something I witness rarely these days.

I think the magic ingredient is, as mentioned, to play lot of different game types at a moderate pace. Roughly 2hrs a game is plenty and gives everyone the opportunity to shine at games they are most comfortable with. Providing that you participate, it is humbling to get your ass whooped in X game repeatedly when you know you did the whooping not too long ago in Y game. It makes your random victories in Y game more satisfying, but keeps the gaming environment fair and friendly.

Despite some ... differences in opinion between participants, I think everyone got along well enough and I look forward to hosting another one sometime in the middle of this year. Granted, anyone who attended this recent LAN will be the first to be invited.



I am still irritated about the demo recording for Sven Coop getting corrupted though. It would have easily been the most hilarious and insane footage from the LAN by far and made the associated video that much more entertaining.