For Beta Or For Worse: Black Ops 3 Multiplayer

I had months ago resigned myself to not playing the Black Ops 3 multiplayer beta. It came with the pre-order, and I’m leery of pre-ordering anything these days. Sure Black Ops 2 ran pretty well on PC, but it had a rough start with multi-core systems, and besides, I couldn’t predict how my life would be come the summer, or November.

Then I learned that the beta was actually open to owners of Black Ops 2, and just today, it became open to anyone. Go try it if you have an inkling of curiosity (that would be curiosity as measured in units of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien). I tried it, and am inherently an unreliable narrator as to the experience, seeing that my PC is just under the minimum requirements (a 6850 when a 6870 is the lowest level), but I played it on the Potato settings. Everything low or off, resolution set to almost half the native, and the frame rate capped at 30 FPS.

These substantial compromises resulted in a nearly playable experience, barring the frame drops which everyone seems to be having, at the cost of an aesthetic akin to Impressionist painting on the mixed medium of recycled cardboard and rejected plaster samples. But this is multiplayer, it’s about the combat.

Continue reading

Doom … and Gloom

This is going to be a bit of a stream of consciousness following the Bethesda E3 stream. I might throw some pictures in if I feel like grabbing them, but I probably wont.

I have little hope for the new Doom at this point. I know that as someone with a testing background, I’m going to notice more flaws than the average person (your character isn’t even visible as a silhouette in the reflection of his Master Chief helmet), but showcasing the successor to one of the most PC gaming of games with a controller and a low FOV? Bad form.

I get why though, speed is perceived relatively, and slow gameplay looks faster when zoomed in, and on a controller. Yes I said slow. Now I realize that what we saw was likely tweaked for the sake of making a presentation, but that gameplay was… slow. It was faster than Doom 3, sure, but so is a screen saver. As I’ve detailed before, Quake has a rhythm, Doom has a flow. This game has neither. I applaud having more than two to four weapons equipped at a time, but the jolting pause of weapon switching during combat destroys any rhythm or flow. It feels like Zack Morris calling a time out, rather than selecting the most appropriate weapon to kill a demon.

The player movement speed doesn’t look particularly quick, it was certainly a more casual pace than how I played Advanced Warfare, and it doesn’t seem particularly necessary either. The combat was two dimensional, more so than in Doom/2. The player only had to look up during specific occasions, and during that time the only threats were on the level he was looking at. Combat was happening distinctively in arenas, or in small controlled groups with cool down spaces between. That isn’t particularly Doom, Doom is about level designs which pull you through combat, items, or curiosity, from one place to the next, forming a greater idea as to your environment and either building a sense of foreboding, or escalating the danger.

Hell was an arena with a few pillars and spawning enemies hopping down, Mars (not Phobos, yet again) was flat platforms connected around a skybox. Yes, the whole smelting environment looked cool. But it was a skybox effectively.

The chainsaw felt more like a canned animation trigger, rather than a weapon of variable usefulness depending on the opponent.

Items seem to mostly be dropped by monsters on death, emphasizing getting any kill over spatial awareness and resources. One low level enemy (killed by a single shotgun blast) dropped multiple rockets, which suggests that either the drops are random (ugh), or they fulfill what the game thinks is your present need (ugh ugh). Either way, the player relationship to the game world is altered by this quite a bit. It also looks bizarrely arcadey, more like something from Rez than from Doom.

The absence of reloading is nice, but coupled with everything else it just felt like a tick box for “old school” rather than an appreciation of what sort of gameplay it encourages.

The deathmatch looked like Halo, with gibs. SnapMap highlights how two dimensional the gameplay is (and I know people will say the original was two dimensional, but height variation and different sector height connections into earlier places was a major aspect).

I know this was a ramble, but, I had to vent. I shut the stream off once they finished with Doom. They don’t get it. They just don’t get it.

Games Are Better Without Consoles

The topic of consoles versus PCs is something which comes to mind for me rather often. I see the subject surface in strange little ways across a myriad of discussions, and once in a while in a big way. It is regularly debated in practically every place it can be, but it is always from the angle of the gamer, rather than the game. My issue with consoles isn’t one of value (though I do find them to not be a good value), but rather that when you develop for a console, it comes at the cost of the game. The hardware restraints, the common user setup, available input devices, and the garden wall structure all impose costs on the design and development itself. I don’t want console games on PC, I want the best games that can be designed and developed, and that won’t happen when a console is being considered.

Performance

The dedicated hardware of a console was for a very long time, the advantage of a console. Where PC gamers had to run a game on top of an operating system, consoles were comparably leaner, and the game had more resources at their disposal. The trick there was the different architectures between the consoles, so even if a developer had the freedom to release on the leading platforms, they rarely had the fiscal freedom to do so. Consoles were faster, but inflexible, and PCs were growing in both strength and selective standardization.

quake_n64

With the Xbox 360 and PS3 we saw more defined operating systems, and thus some actual overhead to the games, while at the same time PCs were immensely powerful. Sure the 360 and PS3 had some muscle behind them on launch, but that muscle was fixed. Over time, developers learned the systems and the games looked better and better. Competition naturally set in, and more of that processing power went toward the environments and effects. Games streamlined toward gated stories as we see in things like The Last of Us, where it is easy to control what a player can currently possibly see. As expectations of detail levels increased, larger and more open (in terms of choices and exploration) environments decreased. With the fixed hardware, the two could not coincide. Meanwhile on PCs, you simply need to raise the minimum specs some, or advise the user disable a more costly effect. The design wasn’t encumbered. When a game is being ported to PC from console, I expect more limited environments, and being forced down certain areas with no ability to backtrack. Continue reading

Quake and Doom’s Mechanics

So sock, level designer extraordinaire, had a tweet which triggered some interesting discussion:

I didn’t directly participate, as on this subject I find Twitter’s character limit to be too restrictive. Jehar and negke jumped in with thoughts, but I figured I would share mine here. At a glance Doom and Quake seem to be similar games. First person shooters made by largely the same team, and with the same key people of Romero, Carmack, and Petersen at the helm. But they have many fundamental differences, such that I find it hard to articulate it succinctly. As negke has dubbed me a master of verbosity, I shall do my best to live up to that. Continue reading

Oh, Bother – RPS Interviews Molyneux

John Walker of RockPaperShotgun fame/infamy, depending on who you ask interviewed Peter Molyneux of game industry fame/infamy, depending on who you ask. Likely you’ve heard about the interview by this point. It is a write up of a 75 minute phone conversation that has a whole lot of emotion, but not much useful information for the reader.

Allow me to distill for you the things to be learned from this very large column of text:

  • The reports about the team size of Godus being decreased in favor of other games is inaccurate, the people working on other projects have a skill set that is more suited to early and pre-development.
  • Actually that is about it.

I’m mildly thankful for that information, I’ve not followed Godus much. I did read the Eurogamer piece on the guy who won the God of Gods contest, as it seemed an interesting side story to the meta aspect of games, their developers, and how they interact with the world. But this wasn’t a particularly informative interview. It didn’t illuminate anything, other than perhaps providing yet another data set on how emotional inquiries can make people react emotionally, even if they are desiring to be calm. Continue reading

Whatever Happened to Diablo?

December 31st, 1996 is when Diablo was unleashed unto the world. It was great. Excellent even, one of my favorites. It catapulted Blizzard forward into the world like no other, and triggered Diablo 2 and 3 as well. The game world was moody, the writing was creepy, vague in all the right ways, and humorous at the right times. So where is it today? Well, it is scattered across eBay and Amazon used sellers and resellers.

Blizzard may have adopted digital sales, but not for Diablo. It isn’t even in the Diablo Battle Chest anymore. Now the chest is simply Diablo 2 plus the expansion and the strategy guide (which I would wager is woefully out of date with all of the balance changes and mild expansions like Pandemonium Events). Diablo has been left behind by Blizzard. You can’t even get it on GOG. Some of us still have our CDs, but for many, if not most, of those who play Diablo 2 or 3, the original is more a concept than an experience. I would love to see it for sale on Battle.net. Preferably with support for modern resolutions, and maybe, just maybe, a more streamlined store front interface (one of my few issues with the original Diablo). But this is only addressing the availability. We’ve got Diablo 2 and 3! Those are logically twice and thrice as good, right? Continue reading

Gaming is the Highest Art Form

If the reason for your game is to tell a story you have to tell, consider writing a novel. If the reason for your game is to depict a vision, consider making a film. If the reason for your game is to articulate a political point, consider a blog where you can define your terms.

None of these things preclude a game as a choice, and a great game may have all of them. But the operative aspect of a game is in mechanics which respond to user input. If you do not feel you are ready for that aspect, your great story will be mired in poor scenarios, your grand vision will be worn thin by repetitious experiences, and your political point will be nullified by the dominant strategy gamers naturally discover in playing.

You must first love gaming as an action, a venue, a notion, and a lens through which to view the world. If you love your story, vision, or point more, the game itself will suffer for it. The game will be streamlined to keep player choice inside of these non-game aspects.

Regardless of which suffers intrinsically, the player will have a lesser experience, and all will be undermined. Make solid mechanics and user input the cornerstone of your game, and build upon that cornerstone that which fits on it. This is part of the art form of gaming. It is not in impersonating other art forms, in impressing critics of other fields, or seeking legitimacy by being covered by non-gaming media venues.

Gaming is the highest art form, because it doesn’t tell us strictly about the times in which it was made, or the people who made it, or even how it makes us feel. It can tell us who we are, by allowing us to explore the scope of our moral agency in a controlled fashion. Gaming is the art form which is a moral expression of all who partake.

The ceiling has never been higher for art, let’s not hunch our backs to endear the leading art forms of previous times.

Quake Map Jam 3 Post-Mortem

Note: This post was written before the pack was released, so I’m far more embarrassed as to the map’s quality now than I was when this was written.

I’ve been rather quiet for a number of reasons, but a big one was my participation in the Quake community map jam. This is the third like it, and it used a Zerstorer theme. Being so inexperienced in the ways of mapping, and a huge fan of the mod Zerstorer, this appealed to me as there is room for brutalist architecture in a Zerstorer theme.

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By brutalist architecture, I mean low skill. So I pounced on it. I am rather proud of the fact that despite its numerous problems, the small scale, the features cut, and having ~1/4th the detail level I would like, that I still completed it. It is a titled level which you can play from start to finish, with themes, traps, secrets, and little bits to it. So this is kind of a post-mortem, but since I mostly did things wrong, it functions more as a list of things I need to do next time. I probably won’t do another map jam because though the deadline kept me motivated, it also put some stress on my family life. Sure a Quake map was part of my “bucket list” (or backpack list for Quake), so we pushed through knowing the deadline, but in the future any mapping will be likely on my own timeline. I.e., over months, rather than weeks.

So all that being said, Continue reading

Quake Live on Steam – Thoughts

So Quake Live is now on Steam. For whatever reason, some people insist on calling it Quake which is just silly. I won’t be doing that, but I will be abbreviating it to QL.

A lot of mechanic changes seem to be operating under the auspices of making the game more welcoming, an understandable goal for a Free To Play title. But friendly mechanics can only work if the user can appreciate them, and that involves a useful UI. I’m not a UI expert, but if I’m going for a quick game and choose Team, don’t put me in a full game. I didn’t click Play to Watch.

The real crux is in all of the fairly random game design changes. QL is a modified form of Q3A. Q3A was very friendly to new players. Weapons respawned quickly and set the ammo for that weapon to either a minimum, or current + 1, making camping weapons or timing them a low return effort. This solution unto itself had the potency of Weapon Stay without the visual incongruity. Pair this with the mentality that QL is “too hardcore” or something of the sort. This is inane. QL has a high skill ceiling, but five seconds with any gun and playing two rounds on a map is going to teach you the nuts and bolts. The only not quite observable mechanic is in the finer nuances of bunnyhopping. Rocket jumping and plasma climbing are things you can observe. Item timing is a case of noting the time when you see an item picked up, and noting it again when it reappears. The rest is the mental juggling you would want to do, on par with the precision you would want to practice to improve your aim. Continue reading

The Costs of Kickstarting Games in Expensive Cities

Recently Tim Schafer tweeted a little bit about the cost of his Kickstarted project which he raised over $3 million dollars for. Some were critical of the fact that this yielded only one episode of the game. Schafer gave a quick run down which you can read below:

There is nothing wrong with Tim’s math, and in fact it lines up with other industries that labor is typically the largest cost to an enterprise.

Kickstarting has its share of controversy, you are investing in something without an explicit return for that investment should it succeed. Yes, there are rewards and the product – but not equity for example. Still, it has its value and has certainly changed the scene. The question then becomes one of, when is it responsible as an independent developer to source from the public? Continue reading