Digital Gaming Discourse

Discussions on both game play mechanics and story.

Laser Boats

image

This post will detail three mechs of mine that field lasers as the sole damage dealers. Since I have already outlined some of the basics of mech building, each build will be covered only briefly. First up is my Trebuchet 5J. I had initially tried to make it a fast LRM (Longe Range Missile) mech but quickly learned that my playstyle does not favor LRMs, so I converted it into the following: http://mwo.smurfy-net.de/mechlab#i=61&l=4d2557436b3e3eea86203614fe880554ab296999

Since all of the weapons are in the arms, it makes firing while jump-jetting over targets possible. However, with no torso weapons, it is not a good zombie. Therefore, there is no reason not to use an XL engine. In fact, considering the Trebuchet’s hitbox is rather large for a medium mech (due to its height) the additional speed the XL engine affords you is essential as speed is your primary defense. I have the weapons as evenly divided as possible with 15 damage potential in the right arm and 14 damage in the left arm.

Set one weapon group with all the lasers (center mouse button for me) for the alpha that you should use sparingly (e.g. when a good shot presents itself). Set a 2nd firing group (mouse left click for me) for the left arm lasers and a 3rd firing group (mouse right click for me) for the right arm lasers. Lastly, it is also helpful, though not required, to have a 4th firing group (mouse forward button for me) for just the large laser for long range engagements. In combat, I fire off the left arm, then the right arm, then repeat. It’s akin to a left jab, straight right boxing combo.

image

Next up is my Blackjack 1X. This mech has 8 energy hardpoints. One less than the Hunchback P. However, I prefer it as the Hunchback will lose 7 of those 9 energy weapons if the right hunch goes (and it’s an easy target that people will actively aim for). The Blackjack, on the other hand, will still retain 4 energy weapons if it loses a side torso, Most people have been outfitting it with 8 medium lasers. My build is different: http://mwo.smurfy-net.de/mechlab#i=79&l=98371dcf00ef3b8f68730b49ed0b8caa19b04797

The reason for the 6 small lasers is that this mech turns slowly and cannot move it’s arms laterally, making it hard to track medium lasers long enough on a circling target to do full damage. The reduced beam duration of the small lasers (.75 compared to 1) is a godsend here. I added the 2 medium lasers to up it’s alpha to 28 damage and give it a bit more range.

This mech does run hot, so good weapon grouping is essential. I set the left mouse button to all small lasers, the right mouse button to both medium lasers, and the middle mouse button to all weapons. Lastly, I set 3 small lasers and 1 medium laser to the mouse back button, and the remaining 3 small lasers and 1 medium laser to the mouse forward button; both of these last two groups I set to cycle (backspace by default when hovering over that weapon group). I prefer to get in, alpha until hot, then retreat while my mech cools down. For longer engagements, I hold down the mouse forward button quickly followed by the mouse back button for a nice laser show that is more heat efficient (cycling weapons produces less overall heat than firing them all at once). it also increases heat more predictably making it easier to avoid overheating. 

Lastly we have my Dragon hero mech: The Flame. If you do not wish to purchase the Flame (as it requires real money as opposed to in-game currency), this build can easily be adapted to the 1C variant. I tried several unsuccessful builds before settling on this one. The Dragon’s center torso is HUGE making it a poor brawler. My solution is to use it’s speed to stay out of brawling range while lancing off important body parts of enemy mechs with my quad large laser build: http://mwo.smurfy-net.de/mechlab#i=56&l=3480d675e3b386581ddde86b120e2d90f62dd84b

Much like my Trebuchet, I set the left arm lasers to the left mouse button, the right arm lasers to the right mouse button, and all 4 large lasers to the middle mouse button. Lastly, I set all four to cycle on the mouse forward button to use when my heat levels get too hot. As with the Blackjack’s cycling weapon groups, this is primarily to increase my heat more steadily as opposed to the spikes of heat produced when alpha striking. 

All three of these builds are fast energy skirmishers. The Dragon is long range, the Trebuchet is medium range, and the Blackjack is close range. The advantage of laser boating is that you will never run out of ammo. The disadvantage is that they generate more heat than builds that use a variety of weapon types. Only through trial and error will you learn when you can safely alpha, and when you should either retreat to cool off or start cycling lasers. 

The Walking Stick

image

So my last post was in regards to the Hunchback, a good build for beginners as it is a straightforward offensive build. However, to truly master it, one must learn to use it’s speed to flank enemy mechs rather than approach them head on.

This post is about the more defensive oriented Centurion. This mech zombies well, meaning it can still be a threat even without arms or even side torsos. In fact, when in this state, the Centurion is exceedingly difficult to kill as it will still retain its speed (98 kph after speed tweak and with a standard 275 engine) but will just present a narrow profile (i.e. a stick) to the enemy.

I chose the AL variant as I found it impossible to mount any meaningful ballistics while also retaining a max standard engine (xl engines take away the zombie potential of the mech) and good armor. The Beagle Active Probe is there so your streaks can continue to target shut down mechs. I also recommend the advanced sensor range module as it will increase the range that you can still lock on to ecm mechs from 180-200 meters to 180 - 250 meters. My build: http://mwo.smurfy-net.de/mechlab#i=28&l=ce727899cf9a16133611cdc2378997c06e535663

Your defense starts with your left shield arm. A Centurion’s arms are large and notoriously easy to shoot off, but this is also advantageous in that they can effectively block a lot of fire meant for your more important center torso. Once your left shield arm has been destroyed, do not hesitate to start using your right arm as a shield, as you will still retain two medium lasers in the center torso and 2 ssrm launchers in the left torso.

Good use of your arms as shields will effectively add another 62 units of armor (approx 30 per arm) the enemy has to shoot through before even starting on your center torso with its 42 units of armor for a grand total of 104 units of armor. By way of comparison, the mighty Atlas has just about the same amount of armor in its center torso. Sure, the Atlas player can (and should) also torso twist to use its arms as well, but its torso twists slowly while the Centurion’s twists quickly, meaning that the Cent is more likely to get its shield in place in time to block damage.

Begin your attack by circling counter clockwise around your target with your left arm facing them, quickly turn and fire your lasers, then immediately twist that shield arm back in place. This is similar to a boxer throwing a jab and then immediately bringing it back along the same path so that it can protect the head. This also keeps your right arm exposed only briefly so that you can retain that bit of firepower for as long as possible. Your streaks can be fired while turning only slightly towards your target which is why I prefer them to srms on my Centurion.

Once that left shield arm has been destroyed, do a quick 180 and start circling your opponent clockwise with your right arm facing them. When that is destroyed, you will want to start torso twisting like crazy in-between shots to spread incoming damage among your left front/rear torso, right front/rear torso, and front/rear center torso. You will also want to constantly change directions to throw off their aim.

As for weapons, put the two arm lasers in one firing group, the two center torso lasers in a 2nd firing group, and the streaks in a 3rd firing group. Generally, you will fire both laser groups simultaneously to do the most amount of damage in the brief moment your center is facing the enemy. However, you will occasionally have an enemy below or above you and have need of just using the arm lasers. After all, there is no need to also fire the center torso lasers if they will not hit your target, as that will only succeed in generating wasted heat.

That’s it for this post, my next post will round up my medium mech line-up with the Trebuchet!

Update: I’ve just learned that Artemis decreases the lock on time for streaks at no additional tonnage cost. Therefore, I’ve added Artemis to this build. In addition, it has recently been announced that in an upcoming patch BAP will counter ECM, which will further strengthen this build.

Update: Now that BAP counters ECM, an older build I had used for the A variant is once again effective. It has less overall damage than the above AL variant, but retains more damage in the torsos. In other words, its zombie damage is higher. The AL does 16 damage without the right arm, while the A does 21 damage. An added bonus is that you can use both arms as shields without worrying about losing weapons. Here is the build: http://mwo.smurfy-net.de/mechlab#i=7&l=0ea149040abc96adc03fcd8c86d375937fb8fce3

Or, if you want just a bit more streak ammo: http://mwo.smurfy-net.de/mechlab#i=7&l=3ad0fdbec374e89546755354e19ab83345fbe879

Mechanical Mayhem

I have been playing a LOT of Mechwarrior Online lately. Developed by Piranha Games, it combines strategic action with deep customization. I would even venture so far as to say the customization aspect is almost a game in itself: sort of a mech puzzle where you struggle to fit as many weapons, ammo, and assorted equipment into your allotted tonnage as possible while balancing speed, armor, and survivability. Each mech is limited in four areas:

1. Weight: How much your mech frame can carry.

2. Hardpoints: The types of weapons/equipment your mech can equip and which body parts they can be placed in.

3. Speed: The size of the engine that will fit under your mech’s hood (if it had a hood).

4. Armor: How much protective plating you can stack on.

You can technically go into battle with a mech that has free tonnage, but it is considered sloppy mech building; a lost opportunity to fit in another heat sink or one more ton of ammo. However, it is not necessarily bad to not use all of a mech’s hardpoints, as trying to use all of them all of the time can lead to an unfocused build. You need to determine your mech’s role and build around that.

When deciding which engine to equip, your ideal fighting range is important to consider. If your mech has close range weaponry (e.g. medium lasers) then a fairly fast engine is important to grant you the speed you need to close the distance quickly. Conversely, mechs with longer range weaponry can be a little slower as they do not need to close the distance (though speed is still nice as it will allow you to keep out of brawling range if you are sniping). 

In regards to armor, there is a maximum amount of armor each mech can add to specific body parts. However, there is still room for customization here. Since there are no weapons or equipment that weigh less than .5 tons, you will almost always have to shave off some armor to free up another .5 or 1 ton depending on what you are trying to fit in. Some trick builds even have you chopping off a lot just to be able to fit heavy weapons in, making a glass cannon mech that can deal a lot of damage but goes down quickly when focused. Also, with the center, left, and right torsos, you have to divide the maximum armor among front and rear areas. 

With the above in mind, I am going to outline my mech builds. Feel free to use them or modify them as you see fit, as play style has a lot to do with what mech build will work for you. I am gong to start out with the Hunchback 4sp as it is a simple, balanced build that is good for beginners but still a threat to experienced mech pilots. After leveling 3 variants (necessary to unlock elite skills), I sold the other two and kept  the 4sp as, rather than having one large, easy to lose hunch (most smart opponents will take out the hunch to neuter your damage output), it divides your weaponry up among left and right hunches. These are not only harder to target due to their smaller size, but yield less advantage to an opponent should you lose one as that is at most half your damage, rather than most of it.

My current build for it is here: http://mwo.smurfy-net.de/mechlab#i=22&l=7530ee00cec64ba798b059a40a85355140f901ef

This is what I coin a rogue build as it does best when you use its speed to get behind a larger enemy while it is already engaged with another mech. I started with a standard 260 engine, the largest it can fit, for a max speed of 92.7 with speed tweak (one of the elite skills you can unlock). 

I know some builds will use 4 medium lasers (2 in each arm) but I found that to run too hot for my tastes so I dropped one medium laser and moved another to the head so that if i lost both side torsos I would still have something to fight with.

Something to note is my placement of double heat sinks is intentional. Basically, when weapons crit in Mechwarrior, they don’t deal more damage. Instead, they randomly deal their damage to one of the internal components in that body part which could destroy your weapons even if the body part itself is still attached. Therefore, you want to buffer important items like weapons and especially ammo (as if critted it will explode causing damage to your mech) with non-important items (like heat sinks).

For example, in each arm I have one medium laser (which takes up one crit slot) and one double heat sink (three crit slots). If a PPC crits my arm, it has a 75% chance to destroy the heat sink, and only a 25% chance to destroy the medium laser. Whenever possible, I strive to have only a 25% chance to have something important destroyed. In the same fashion, the srm (short range missile) ammo in each side torso is buffered by the srm launcher itself and one double heat sink. In addition, I have a case in each side torso which, if my ammo is critted, will prevent the damage from transferring to my nearby center torso. 

As I said, it is a simple build but does allow one to see how to buffer weapons and ammo. I know that some prefer the Centurion A variant for a medium mech with srms as it has 3 missile hardpoints rather than two, but I prefer the 4sp as it has one srm6 on each shoulder, rather than three in one shoulder. The reason is that when fired, the 4sp’s missile spread is more horizontal, rather than vertical, which makes it easier to land the srms on targets moving fast from left to right in front of your mech (as will invariably happen when a mech is circle strafing you).

In my next post, I will cover my Centurion build. Until then, feel free to try this game out as it is free to play and, as always, if you see me in game feel free to say high. My handle in it is RedrumnCoke.

UPDATE: Alternate build http://mwo.smurfy-net.de/mechlab#i=22&l=2549c1f6775158042c1b51a16139b905f5add2f8

I’ve recently started to run this build. It trades the dual srm6s for dual srm4s which allows me to run one more medium laser (I then put two in each arm) and two more double heat sinks (to balance out the additional heat while also providing more of a buffer for the srm4 launchers and ammo). The overall alpha (burst damage) is similar, but the srm4s have a faster rate of fire and are accurate further out. Plus, all four lasers being in the arms gives you an advantage on hilly terrain. The downside of that is if you lose your arms you have no more lasers.

UPDATE: After writing my post on the Centurion I realized I had forgotten to put in my recommended firing groups for my hunchback. I put the left two arm lasers in one firing group, the right two arm lasers in another firing group, and the srms in a third firing group. This way, if one of my arms is blocked by a building or friendly mech, I can just use the opposite arm.

Pip Kinetic is taking a break from exploring Lion’s Arch. I love the bridges!

Pip Kinetic is taking a break from exploring Lion’s Arch. I love the bridges!

Guild Wars 2, First Steps (and Jumps)

It’s been a long time since I wrote here, primarily as I was not playing anything new that warranted a post. However, that changed on 08/25/2012 when I finally got to dive into a game that I have been eagerly and impatiently waiting for since 2007 when ArenaNet first teased us with it. I had participated in one of the beta weekends for Guild Wars 2, but it still felt surreal to finally be playing it with a character that would not be wiped. My first pick for a main was an Asura Mesmer (on the Gate of Madness server), as I love tiny spell casters with a lot of mobility. I named him Pip Kinetic in fond remembrance of Ray Bradbury, and he’s “the greatest [Asura] boy who ever lived.” I’ll give some of my early impressions of the game, explain some of the basics, and talk a little bit about group play. However, let me start by saying that I honestly have not had this much fun with a game (not just an MMO) in a long time.

The first thing you’ll see is the lush, paint brush art style. If you prefer stylized art to photo realistic graphics, then you’ll love it. Next, your ears will be presented and pleased with the music of Jeremy Soule (whom I still best remember for Morrowind). Here, his music can be soothing, atmospheric, or adrenaline pumping when need be. Words can’t do it justice, so press play below and listen to a sampling while you read the rest of this post.

I spent most of Saturday getting acclimated to the mesmer profession, leveling, and exploring.  I particularly enjoyed exploration, as even in real life I occasionally like to walk or ride my bike in a random direction and see what I can find. Like most games, there will be a fog on the map in unexplored areas (except for a portion of the starter zone). As you move around the map, these areas will become visible on your map.  In addition to that, there are a few notable locations you’ll want to watch out for:

1. Tasks - These will appear as empty hearts. When you get in the vicinity the task info will appear in the upper right hand corner and let you know what you need to do. It will list a variety of tasks and an empty bar that fills up as you do them. The nice thing is it’s flexibility. If you don’t like one of the tasks, you can concentrate on the others and still fill up the completion bar. Also, you don’t need to talk to the quest-giver. Once you see what the tasks are you can just start doing them. When finished, you”ll get a completion message, the heart will be filled in, and you’ll get mail from the quest-giver delivered directly to you with your monetary reward. 

Now, that being said, once you have acquired some karma (which you get from participating in the dynamic group events), you will want to talk to these quest-givers. After you’ve completed their tasks, they offer items for sale that can only be purchased with karma. Typically, it’s blue gear, so it’s well worth it. Also, it’s one of the few ways to get the accessory items for your character in the beginning.

2. Waypoints - These will appear as empty diamonds.  Once discovered, they will appear filled in and will allow you to quick travel (for a nominal fee). Always nab these when you first go into an area so that, if you die, you can respawn there.

3. Points of Interest - These will appear as small empty squares that will also fill in once discovered. They are notable areas story wise. Think of them as landmarks you can use to give directions to other players. For example, “Hey, we’re at Dr Bleent’s Encampment and could use a hand vanquishing this giant blob (more on that below).

4. Skill Challenges - These are self explanatory. Here you will encounter a challenge that, when completed, will give you a skill point. 

5. Unexplored Vistas - These will appear as two red diamonds placed close together. Once found, they will appear filled and say “explored vista”. Getting to them, however, can prove challenging. You can’t just walk over to one, as they are always placed high and require a bit of platform style jumping to reach; some more difficult than others. I love these! After getting the waypoint in a new area, I always seek these out next. A lot of MMOs have you getting into a comfortable routine of killing, looting, and so forth. These force you to stop, look up high and say “How in the hell am I going to get up there?”.

I spent an hour or two fully exploring Rata Sum (the floating, pyramid shaped Asura capital), and I remember one vista (in the bottom center) that required me to walk along an edge, round a corner, then continue further down that ledge with nothing visible below me except sky. Then, you have to take a leap of faith and jump down onto a curved tree root (think Castle in the Sky) and climb a bit down it to get to the vista. I slipped when trying to land on the tree and plummeted to my death, but got it on my second try.

When you reach a vista, you are rewarded with a rotating view of the surrounding area which gives it that epic, “Hey look what I climbed!”, feel to it. I almost wanted to shout “Drago!” when I first got one of them.  After you fully explore an entire area, you are rewarded with experience points, currency, and a treasure chest. I leveled twice just by exploring Rata Sum (you also get a small amount of xp when you find each individual element). One tip I can give you for Rata Sum is that not all of the points are in the pyramid. Some of them are far below the pyramid on the ground. You can use gates to get to them. However, there is no gate to get to the  Rata Sum Port Authority. I got there by taking the gate to the Idea Incubation Lab, SLOWLY making my way down the mountainside (as each slide to the next stop nearly killed me), and then swimming across the bay to get there (a bit of a triathlon).

Before I go, I want to also touch on group play. Even before you engage in your first dynamic event, you’ll notice people helping one another as there are no penalties for doing so. If you help someone vanquish an enemy, you both get the same amount of xp and loot. I also really like that there is no more racing to resource nodes, as they will only disappear once you’ve collected from them, despite how many other players get there before you. No more do you have to curse that guy who ran in and got the mining node while you were fighting it’s defenders. You know who you are! Now, you can casually stroll to a node when it’s convenient for you to do so. Quick tip, you don’t need to wait until you choose your crafting professions to start collecting, so buy the gathering tools off a general merchant as soon as you can afford to do so.

Then there are the dynamic events which will be announced if you are nearby one and will also show on your map as a large, red circle drawn around the area the event is in. You will want to participate in these. Partly because you get some good xp, money, and items from them. Partly because you build up karma to spend on good gear at the aforementioned quest-givers, but mostly because they’re a blast!

I briefly mentioned the giant blob at Dr Bleent’s Encampment. Here a giant blob (I’m sure it has another name but I can’t recall it) shows up and must be defeated. He seems to regenerate life pretty quickly so you must maintain constant pressure on him. For my part as a staff wielding mesmer, I kept conditions up on him continuously. While you’re doing that, parts of him will occasionally eject from him in the same way that Mogwai reproduce, giving birth to smaller blobs that pack a mean punch and must be dealt with quickly, so some of the group must take them out while others still focus on the main boss. Lastly, since players were dropping left and right, a few players must run around and revive those who fell in battle (everyone can revive, there is no dedicated priest profession). At one point, all of us had fallen and had to respawn, but we persisted and finally took him down.

In closing, it is really nice to encounter such a difficult boss on the map at random, without having to cue up a raiding party and enduring a long dungeon that not everyone may have time for. That’s it for now, but I will be writing again as I get further in the game. I’m on the Gate of Madness server (once again named “Pip Kinetic”), so feel free to say hi if you see me.

Unreal Tournament FTP Wishlist

Sorry for the delay in writing a new post. My old keyboard died on me and my only replacement on hand was a compact one that was sufficient for web browsing but too annoying to do any real typing on. I just got my replacement keyboard in the mail today and thought I’d get right back to writing.

Just this past weekend at Pax East, Epic Games announced that they are working on a PC only title. A number of people have been speculating that it will be a new installment in the UT (Unreal Tournament) franchise for the following reasons. Back in March, Epic showed off their new Unreal Engine 4 at the 2012 GDC (Game Developer’s Conference). If you remember back far enough, when the Unreal 1 engine was created, they released Unreal and Unreal Tournament. The Unreal Engine 2 beget UT2003 and UT2004 (my favorite of the franchise). When the Unreal Engine 3 was created, Epic released UT3. The first game released using the Unreal 3 engine was Gears of War. However, since it is PC exclusive, we can rule out Gears as it would most certainly appear on consoles due to its strong sales there. As you can see, Epic has a history of releasing a new UT game with each new engine, and I see no reason for them to buck that tradition.

Recently, Hi-Rez Studios successfully brought back the Tribes franchise (a direct competitor with the UT franchise back in the day) with Tribes Ascend, a free to play (with optional cash shop) shooter on the PC. While there are free to play shooters on consoles, they are far more common on PC. UT3 was released on both PC and consoles, so for a new UT game to be PC exclusive my guess is it will be free to play so as to get some of the lucrative free to play shooter market. 

Historically, free to play has had some bad connotations (initially well deserved). However, recently we have seen some quality free to play games, most notably Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) on the MMO scene and Valve’s Team Fortress 2 on the FPS side. While it is true these were initially games you had to pay for, they have raised the benchmark considerably for other free to play titles. For example, the previously mentioned Tribes Ascend was built as a free to play title and is remarkably well polished and most importantly fun. Some free to play games can rightfully be called pay-to-win, and that is indeed something developers need to be careful to avoid, but this is slightly less of a concern in a FPS versus a MMO as FPS games are by heart much more skill based. In particular, Tribes Ascend is more skill based than the majority of modern shooters.

The UT games were also incredibly skill based. This leads us right to the first item on my wishlist:

1. Skill Based Gameplay: In the UT series, just like in Tribes, just because you see someone first does not mean you will kill them. You will have an advantage by getting the first shot off, but they can still turn it around and take you out. Since duels last longer than a single head shot, skill has more time to be factored into the equation. In most modern games, he who shoots first generally wins, so it often comes down to who guesses well and looks in the right direction. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve killed (and been killed) because I looked left instead of right when playing BFBC2. 

2. Movement Based Gameplay: The UT series was never about sneaking around or lying in prone, it was dodge and jump ‘n gun. First thing we need is a return to UT2004 movement which allowed one to add a jump to a dodge. Of course, jumping into a wall and dodging off of it should still be possible too as that is a staple. The one improvement UT3 did bring to the table movement-wise was the hover board. I often got stranded when I ejected the flaming wreckage of my vehicle in UT2004 and it took too long to get back to where the action was. Some tweaks to it would be nice though. I remember a mod where if shot on the hover board at normal speed you would simply dismount from it rather than fall to the ground. There was also a boost option but if shot while boosting you would still fall to the ground. Of course, the hover board didn’t have as good a place in UT3 as the maps were too small, negating the need to travel quickly, which leads me to … 

3.  Larger Maps along with a Map Editor: Small maps can occasionally be nice but for Onslaught mode (or Warfare as it was called in UT3) you really need larger maps since vehicles are involved. Think of the Dria, Severance, or Red Planet maps from UT2004. They were huge and gave an epic scope for the conflict to be played out in. It required good communication and coordination among your teammates as it took awhile to get from one node to the next; you were committed to any attack. Nothing was worse than rushing to get to the next node only to lose the preceding one because no one stayed behind to defend it (in Onslaught, you can only attack a node if you own an adjacent one). It would be a good idea to update and bring back some of those classic maps (like Torlan). It would be easy since they already have the design (they would just need polishing) and it would help to rekindle that UT nostalgia.

But well designed maps still get boring if there are only a few of them. That’s where free developer map packs and a map editor help to keep a game alive. UT2004 had a long lifespan thanks to the hundreds of maps made for it. Team Fortress 2 has also been going strong for awhile and it too allows custom maps to be made by fans. Games that must be purchased have gone away from user generated content as they would rather sell you map packs, but a free to play game makes more money the more players there are, and selling map packs instead of giving them for free segments your player base which then dwindles and dies (this is what happened to Section 8: Prejudice, an otherwise good game).  Also, the longer a free to play game is alive, the more money can be made from the cash shop, so longevity should be a top priority.

4. A Fair Cash Shop: They will want to avoid the pay-to-win branding which drives players away. Ideally they would sell cosmetic items only. The first thing that comes to mind would be player skins as there were always some cool ones to choose from in the UT series (though the player should at least get a few choices for free). If they must include weapons, they should follow Valve’s lead and A. allow all weapons to be earned in game through time (so that buying is merely a shortcut) and B. make sure they are sidegrades rather than straight upgrades so that a beginning player is not handicapped. An example of a sidegrade for a UT weapon would be a shock rifle that does not have the secondary bubble fire (and therefore no explosion combos) but instead has a short zoom and a slightly increased fire rate so that it specializes in mid range combat.

Another idea for the cash shop, this from my roommate who is an artist, would be to follow Realtime Worlds’ idea in APB and allow players to make custom skins and possibly vehicles decals (you get into a manta and your decals are applied) which can then be sold in the cash shop so that Epic would make money from the sale and the designer would also earn credits (per item sold) which they could use in the cash shop. This would encourage artists to create content which Epic could profit from and which the artists could use to pay for items they want. In other words, by allowing some players to earn cash shop credits rather than have to buy them, sales would increase.  

5. Classic Game Modes: If only one game mode were to be included, it should be Onslaught as that more than anything defines UT. However, other game modes were always nice when you were in the mood for shorter games (as onslaught matches tend to be lengthy). Capture the flag (with the translocator of course) and team deathmatch seem like easy no brainers to be included. Getting back to Onslaught, they either need to take out the orb introduced in UT3 or tweak it as it ruined the flow of matches and made some games drag on far longer than they should have. Possibly a longer respawn if destroyed/used and maybe a speed penalty to the carrier so that they must be protected by teammates. Lastly, a single player story is uncessary as multiplayer is the real focus (though AI for a single player offline game would be nice, but not necessary, to practice or play alone on).

6. Classic weapons/vehicles: For starters, this should not be a class based game. All characters should have the same speed, armor, and life unless buffed by an in game power up. All characters should also be able to get and carry all weapons if they visit enough weapon racks. A note here, and this is where Tribes Ascend falters a bit, all the base weapons should be available to everyone without purchase, it should only be the sidegrades that must be earned and/or purchased. For example, you go to a weapons rack and get the shock rifle, frag cannon, and lightning rifle.  Another player would go to that same weapon rack and also get the shock rifle, frag cannon, and then the sniper rifle (no visual cue as to where the sniper is but less damage maybe) because he unlocked that sidegrade for the lightning rifle. I would also like to see the shield gun return, either as the default or a side grade to the impact hammer, though the impact hammer would need a more useful secondary to be balanced versus the shield gun.

Concerning vehicles, all of the vehicles from UT2004 and it’s Editor’s Choice Edition should make a comeback. The Necris vehicles from UT3 can be left to rust somewhere as most were clunky and complicated for no reason. I guess they could be re-tweaked but it hardly seems worth the effort. For balance purposes it just makes sense that both sides should have access to the same vehicles anyways. The one nice feature of UT3 vehicle wise that I’d like to see again was the ability to eject from the scorpion and have it self detonate. 

Lastly, one should be able to easily customize their crosshairs, either across all weapons/vehicles or setting each weapon’s crosshair individually as that was always a nice feature. The above are all the main wants and wishes I have for a new UT game, but feel free to comment below if you have any other ideas as well. If Epic does officially announce a new UT, I will post a link to this blog entry in their forum.

Links: 

http://www.joystiq.com/2012/04/07/epic-games-has-a-pc-exclusive-in-the-works/ 

http://www.joystiq.com/2012/02/27/epic-games-to-privately-showcase-unreal-engine-4-at-gdc/

Stale FPS Themes

image

Many years ago, while a student at Kent State University, I worked at Video 101 (sadly no longer in business). One of my duties was to put the new releases out on the shelf.  I remember Dante’s Peak and Volcano being out on the new release shelf at the same time, and the next year it was Armageddon and Deep Impact. Mainstream Hollywood has a tendency to release thematically similar movies in twos, sometimes even threes. The big studios are so concerned with finding the next big thing that, if they think a rival studio is working on it, they will copy it or at the very least try to draw some of the spotlight away from it. Now that video games are mainstream as well, we have been seeing the big publishers use this same tactic.

image

The Call of Duty (CoD) franchise is the highest grossing multiplayer FPS out there. In the MMO world, World of Warcraft (WoW) is the king of the hill. CoD was made by Activision while WoW was created by Blizzard. Then, Activision and Blizzard merged together to form the gestalt Activision Blizzard (not nearly as cool sounding as Squaresoft and Enix’s merger into “Squeenix”). Whether you view them as “Devastator” or “Voltron” depends on whether or not you like their games. Love em or hate em, you have to acknowledge their impact on the gaming world. MMO publishers see WoW’s monetary success and want to emulate them. After all, if they can reproduce even 1/10th of WoW’s success, they would still have enough money to justify a Scrooge McDuck style money bin. FPS publishers similarly look at CoD as the golden template to print money.

Most multiplayer shooters released nowadays fall into the “realistic” shooter vein. CoD has already been mentioned. Pictured at the top is their chief competitor, Electronic Arts Battlefield series (which actually originated a year before the CoD franchise). I am not going to get into a fanboy argument over which is better; both games have their merits.  My concern is that this blind, stifling adherence to one particular style has resulted in fewer innovations in the FPS genre. I would like to see more variety in FPS themes. After all, we have enough real war on the news. I prefer my games not to mimic reality as I use them to escape it.

Why do we not yet have a good western themed multi-player FPS? There was an attempt with “Lead & Gold” developed by Fatshark but, while the theme was fun, it failed in other areas leading to a lackluster game overall. Unfortunately, this probably set the hopes of a good western shooter back a few years, as publishers will erroneously conclude that this means consumers do not want a western FPS (Please note that I am referring only to FPS games primarily designed for multiplayer. I am aware that Red Dead Redemption had a multi-player mode, but that is different than being designed solely for multiplayer.)   

There is hope on the horizon, mostly from smaller developers (though I am keeping an eye on Sony’s Planetside 2). Uber Entertainment’s Monday Night Combat offered a fresh game show theme. The gameplay was fun and engaging but the small team size along with poor match making made team stacking commonplace and aggravating, ultimately driving would be new players away. Hopefully, their free to play sequel Super Monday Night Combat will include a more robust matchmaking formula so that players new to the game do not find themselves lumped together versus pros. Hedone, by Acony Games, is also going the game show/reality TV show route, though I cannot comment on its gameplay as it has not been released yet.

We have also seen a small return to sci fi themed shooters. Timegate Studios’ Section 8: Prejudice featured some nice weapon mechanics and was surprisingly good for $15. Much better than many full priced shooters (I’m giving you the crooked eye Brink). While still in open beta, both Hi Rez Studios’ Tribes Ascend and Zombie Studios’ Blacklight Retribution look promising. Also, Red 5’s Firefall has been getting a lot of gaming press. Hopefully it will be released soon so we can see if it lives up to the hype. Presently, the FPS genre is stale, but I am hopeful when looking at these and other upcoming games. My next post will be about FPS multiplayer game modes, see you then.         

FPS Multiplayer Ingredients

This week I am shifting gears from story to gameplay ingredients, specifically FPS (First Person Shooter) multiplayer ingredients. I play almost all gaming genres on and off, but because I crave competition and enjoy good teamwork FPS multiplayer is always a staple in my gaming pantry. There are always 1-3 such games I am actively involved in. Currently, I play Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (BFBC2) with some friends on a regular basis (check the “About Me” page for my gamer tags). I am also playing the open betas of both Tribes Ascend and Blacklight Retribution (the above photo is from Blacklight) These types of games can often appear simple on the surface, but to make a good FPS that develops a loyal playerbase requires sound knowledge of the basic ingredients.

The cooking base is the theme of the shooter. For example, in BFBC2 this base is realism tempered with fun (i.e non-fun elements of realism, like applying tourniquets to wounded soldiers, are strained out). In Tribes, it is jetpack wearing sci-fi built for speed and in Blacklight, it is claustrophobic cyberpunk with hacking. Currently, the FPS genre is over saturated with realistic shooters in the same way that the MMO genre is inundated with fantasy, but that is another blog entry I will pursue later on.

The different modes are the meat of the game. Some traditional modes are team deathmatch and capture the flag. Personally, I always found deathmatch too lean for my tastes; I want more purpose and strategy to chew on. Capture the Flag (or intel for Team Fortress 2) is nice because it necessitates that your team break into offensive and defensive groups. This requires the three C’s: communication, coordination and cooperation. For example, if you see an enemy unit escape with your flag but are unable to stop them, you should immediately let your teammates know the route they are taking so that someone can intercept. Conversely, if you are infiltrating the enemy base and die upon encountering heavy defense, you can let your teammates know the placement and nature of the defense so that they can either take another route in or at least come prepared.

Finally, we must season the gameplay with weapons. As with spices, you must be sure not to let any one weapon be overpowering so that the flavor of the others is lost. The tricky part is that you also must avoid the opposite error of not adding enough flavor to the weapons whereupon they are bland. Luckily, game designers have one advantage over chefs in that, if they do make a weapon over powered they can easily remove some of it’s strength by, for example, lowering it’s damage, fire rate, and/or accuracy. Realistic games will of course use realistic weaponry or military prototypes (e.g the XM8 assault rifle in BFBC2). However, I always preferred fictional firepower as it allows for some creativity in an otherwise formal genre. The shock rifle in the Unreal Tournament games has two fire modes. The primary fire is a focused energy beam great for hitting targets at a range. The secondary fire mode launches an unstable energy sphere that deals some Area of Effect (AoE) damage upon contact. I always liked that secondary fire to knock a Manta (small lightweight hover vehicle) back before it made a pancake of me. The real combo is to first fire the secondary, and then hit that unstable sphere midair with your primary, igniting a much larger AoE that is deadly to all within range.

Lastly, if you’ve ever seen Iron Chef, you’ll know that presentation is important to any meal. Well balanced but interesting weaponry and fun engaging game modes would be for naught if the level design did not properly compliment them. Team Fortress 2 (TF2) maps are a great combination of open and closed environments so that each class has an area of the map it is best suited for (e.g. Pyros behind corners waiting to incinerate intruders or soldiers up high raining rockets on the battlefield below). A well designed map is also the right size for the number of players it is intended for.  In TF2, the maps are large enough that there is always at least one other route to your goal but small enough that you do not have to hike a mile to get back in action after respawning (an occasional problem in BFBC2 if your squad mates are all dead). I’ve always been fond of games like UT2004 and TF2 that released map editors allowing the community to create their own maps as it lengthens the lifespan of the game. I played UT2004 for years before getting bored as there were hundreds of maps made by fans. Unfortunately, today’s developers are reluctant to release map tools as they prefer to sell their own map packs as downloadable content (DC). 

This has been a small introduction to the basic ingredients of a tasty FPS. In my next few posts I will expound upon them and look at some of my favorite recipes (er, games). Until then, feel free to say hello and/or frag me if you see me in game.

Ambient Storytelling in Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I want to apologize for my missed post last week; I was unsure how to continue from my previous entry on the beginnings of game story. I’ve decided that instead of looking at numerous modern games, I shall look at one exceptional example from last year: Deus Ex: Human Revolution by Eidos Montreal.

This was the most immersive story I played through last year for several reasons. The art style, featuring black and gold as its main theme, is gorgeous. The game’s art director, Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, stated “the black represents the dystopian cyberpunk side of the game, and the gold represents the humanistic side.” The soundtrack, by Michael McCann, is the perfect auditory accompaniment to the visuals and my pick for best gaming soundtrack of 2011 (Bastion’s being a close second). 

There are numerous beautiful screen shots I could have used. However, I chose the one above because it showcases another feature of this game that is well done: the NPCs (Non Player Characters). More specifically, I am speaking of the NPC dialogue. Despite the wonderful music and visuals, it was the character chat I found most intriguing.

One of the central conflicts in Deus Ex is between Humanity Front, headed by William Taggart, and the various augmentation corporations. Those that work at Sarif Industries generally favor augmentations and cite the good it does for those who have lost their limbs in war or by accident. On the street, people are generally opposed to it, either because they feel it is unnatural or because they fear there will soon be no place for them in a corporate world where augmented people are more desired for their enhanced abilities. Several NPCs will also argue that it is an unfair advantage as not everyone can afford to get and maintain augmentations.

I will not go into all the viewpoints presented in the game as they are varied, and that is not my aim here. Suffice to say that both sides are well argued enough that you can see and agree with at least some part of either side’s talking points. These points are so well written and thought out that I would not be surprised to hear them in real life years from now once our technology inevitably catches up to fiction. While playing, you’ll be walking to your next objective and overhear one of these heated discussions and either slow down or stop to eavesdrop. It’s not part of the main story, and so you can just walk on by if you wish, but for those who are interested in more it provides some real depth to the future world Deus Ex inhabits.

This is what I feel games need more of: ambient storytelling. I define this as story that does not interfere with your interaction with the game but rather supplements it.  I had briefly spoken of this in regards to Bastion as well. It is story contained within the background or environment of the game. People are naturally opposed to whatever is forced upon them, but if you present the offering as a choice that they can walk away from at any time you’ll find more takers.

In addition, this encourages and rewards exploration. If the story is not all told at predetermined cut scenes or during main quests, then the interested player will go looking for it. The prey that must be hunted is always more enticing. Besides listening in on conversations, you can hack computers in Deus Ex and read other people’s emails, giving you a glimpse into the private lives of some of the characters. There are also magazines and other periodicals on desks and tables, often giving some detailed background or explanation of the technology of the time. Lastly, large screens are placed throughout the world typically airing the news as told by Eliza Cassan of Picus TV. Whether you trust in the facts and/or opinions presented by Picus, it still helps to make the world more believable and therefore more interesting. 

Ambient storytelling does have its limitations. Mainly, since it is so easy to miss or skip, you cannot trust the main plot to be conveyed in this manner. However, I do not feel that would be necessary nor desirable. Its main use should be to reinforce the core story and add more detail and depth to it. It is one thing to hear Sarif tell you that Taggart is holding back human advancement, it is quite another to be walking the streets and hear people arguing passionately for both sides of the issue, ultimately resulting in a full scale riot.  

Nostalgic N.E.S. Game Story.

This week’s post will be about gaming in general rather than a specific game. Next week I want to focus on how story telling has evolved in games and where I would like to see it go, but before then we should look at its beginnings so as to better appreciate how far it’s come.

In my initial post about Bastion, I had mentioned the page or two of story some Atari games would include in the manual. It was not until I got an NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) that I experienced story within the game itself. In the early NES games, this would merely be some slow scrolling text before the game started and after it had ended. I was never too fond of this approach, as in the 80s game developers apparently felt that people would not grasp how words could appear on screen sans sound so they would include the requisite “typing” effect which tended to be harsh on the ears. More importantly, as a kid who read a lot of books, I felt two to three lines was insufficient. For example, In Bad Dudes the opening lines were “The President has been kidnapped by ninjas. Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?” Sure, this has got a great nostalgic 80s kitsch to it, but it is not really substantial.

The next evolutionary step was to have an opening and closing animation. The first example I can recall was the notoriously difficult Ghosts ‘n Goblins. I never saw the ending until the advent of YouTube as I could not complete the game, but I saw the beginning numerous times thanks to having to start over again and again upon defeat. It starts with the knight lying in his underwear next to his maiden in a graveyard at night. Having seen Phantasm, I only have one guess at what their plans for the evening were. Suddenly, a red winged demon swoops down, grabs yonder maiden, and whisks off with her. The knight dons his armor, and “the game is afoot.” 

Presentation wise, this was definitely an improvement. However, the characters are portrayed as simple archetypes; there is no real depth to them. Just a few years later, I was infatuated with the arcade game Ninja Gaiden, so I asked for the NES version when my birthday came around. Soon after sliding the cartridge in, I realized it was nothing like the arcade game apart from there still being ninjas (for those not old enough to remember the 80s, there were ninjas everywhere). Disappointment soon gave way to excitement when I realized it was much better in terms of both game play and story.

Ninja Gaiden had a well crafted introduction that featured Ryu Hayabusa’s father Ken losing a duel to an unknown ninja. Ryu reads a letter his father had left him and then sets out to discover his father’s fate. What really floored me was when, after completing the first stage, I was treated to another spectacular cut scene. Up until now, story was only briefly brought up at the beginning and ending of a game. In Ninja Gaiden, the story tantalizingly unraveled just a bit more after each stage. Existing characters were fleshed out and new ones introduced. The whole story had a vibe reminiscent of film noir.

This was the first time my main motivation for playing through a game was to see the story completed. It’s interesting to note that, although Ninja Gaiden is also notoriously difficult, I finished it numerous times. Perhaps if Ghosts ‘n Goblins had a more compelling story, I would have completed it as well. This is probably a good stopping point before next week’s post, so until then, let your mind drift back to some of those classic NES game stories.