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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gun Limit

I've played a lot of first person shooters, and while they take place in varied environments (space, WW2, Lairs of Evil Genuises) they play similarly. You go, you shoot, you kill...rinse the blood off your suit or armor and repeat. I'm going to spend the next few blogs on the differences in the game types of this genre.

And to kick this off, I'm going to talk about gun limits. The basics are this: Some games let you have every weapon in the game and somehow lug them around (Wolfenstein, Goldeneye 64, Perfect Dark), others let you have a few weapons (Bond Nightfire let you have 4 plus grenades and mines), and finally some just let you have two (namely Call of Duty and America's Army). There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of story-based logic to this. Wolfenstein and Call of Duty are both WW2 shooters, yet in Wolfenstein the player can lug around a gattling gun, RPGs, various submachine guns, pistols, and a dagger (Special Service guys are really fit), and in Call of Duty, the heaviest load you can get is a bazooka and a Tommy gun with a barrel magazine (which oddly enough the Russians get, but the Americans are stuck with clips?). And between Goldeneye 64 and Nightfire, Bond stops going to the gym, and can only lug around four guns.

Now, there is rhyme and reason to all this (I hope at least, I'm just throwing out theories here). In older games, especially console games, controls were more difficult and aiming was harder (on the N64, aiming anywhere but dead ahead required you to stop and hold down the R button while moving the analog stick). Also, games like Wolfenstein were difficult, and the extra weapons you got had limited ammo and use (like the Panzerfaust for killing SuperSoldats). More modern games focus on aiming and tactical movement, as this is what makes the multiplayer so much more fun than single-player. Instead of running at you shooting, enemies hide behind boxes and throw grenades (More grenades have been thrown at me in COD 2 than were used in WW2). If you had 4 or 6 guns, you could just run in and instead of reloading, switch weapons. Now this is possible with 2 SMG in COD 2, but only effective in Easy mode. Otherwise, you'll need the balance a rifle brings to long range fights.

Less guns means more choices. More choices means the game feels more real and the difficulty increases. It also means you can play fun variations like a "Rifles only" game of COD. FPS should always be about the challenge, because unless you are in the army or police force, chances are you won't be in a situation where you are required to kill in the same way you are in a FPS. There is a twisted, masochistic fun to running low or out of ammo, and the adrenaline surge in knowing that your virtual life is ending if you don't do something soon.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Limited Ammo

I brought up this subject when talking about Call of Duty 4, and I think it is a very important aspect to FPS: Limited Ammo. The worst kind of FPS is the kind where you can run and gun and never run dry on ammo. Now, most games do allow you to have a lot of ammo for the basic guns, and most have a pistol or knife that can be used limitlessly, but a FPS should never have a lot of ammo for the big guns. Why? The challenge.

In Return to Castle Wolfenstein, there were SuperSoldats, big genetically engineered soldiers with many fun weapons to kill you with and armor to keep them alive. They are a huge problem if all you have is a SubMachine Gun, but if you have a Panzerfaust (RPG), their armor is blown off and they become mincemeat. Sounds easy, right? Well, if the Panzerfaust ammo was more readily available, then yes, but the usefullness of this bazooka is so great that the ammo has to be kept to a bare minimum even on easy. And believe me, when you find one, you know a SuperSoldat is around the corner.

Having just finished playing Call of Duty 2, I'll use it as an example. In every mission, you are given an initial load out of ammunition that is far from sufficient. You can carry two weapons (though you pick up ammo for any weapons up to your max load for that ammo, or at least that's what I've observed). Usually you start out with one good weapon and one crappy weapon (read: a SMG and a rifle or pistol), and that SMG runs out of ammo fast. If it's a Thompson or other allied gun, you will run out of ammunition very quickly, which is sad because the Tommy sounds so cool. You are almost forced to pick up a german SMG from the first mission because the ammo is so available. The best guns in this game (notably the BAR, Sniper Rifles, and even at times the MP44) are very limited on ammo and require good marksmanship and conservation techniques. Even picking up an enemy gun doesn't guarantee success, as a lot of enemy soldiers carry rifles. Using a rifle in WW2 is a lot like spitting against a fire hose, and I drop the rifle (unless it's a sniper rifle) almost immediately.


The reason I like this sort of a mechanic is simple. If I can run through a map killing everything in sight and not have to worry about finding their dropped weapons to grab ammo, I'll finish the game in a matter of hours, and not pick it up again. However, if I have to shoot straight and conserve ammo, I feel more immersed and will play a mission again and again.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

This just saddens me...

I was playing Heroes of Might and Magic V: Tribes of the East earlier today, and it just saddens me. Why? Well, it's basically just a rehash of the last two Might and Magic games, with nicer graphics. No real improvement to the base system has been made. That said, Might and Magic has basically been the same game through every incarnation, so I don't know quite what I was expecting, but the screenshots just looked so good, I assumed there'd be some major changes.


I'm not saying there weren't any changes, mind you, the game got a much needed graphics overhaul that makes it very pretty to look at. Additionally, combat has been mildly retooled (to the point that there's a comabt queue and creatures can become traitors and fight for the other side while in combat). The game just simply doesn't have enough new stuff to really warrant buying it. I mean, if you've played the last five games in the series, you've played this.


The one thing I do like that is new is the racial abilities. Some of these have been in games before and some have not, but they haven't ever really had the mechanics they do now. Stronghold units (read: Orcs & Centaur) get the rage ability, which acts as both a damage shield and a buff. Basically, the more they kill the more powerful they get, and the more they act passively and get hit, the less powerful they get. If you play as an orc would, and smash until you can't smash anymore, you will love this ability. The other races have abilities (the only one I've played around with is the Necromancers faction, and they have a dark magic spell bar that lets them raise dead units, similar to the ability death heroes got in previous games).

I'm going to play it more and give it a full review later, I just wanted to vent a bit about it now.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Elder Scrolls MMORPG

While my focus is on First Person Shooters, I’m still keeping an ear out for VG rumors, and I heard one that interests me: An Elder Scrolls MMORPG. Now, I know that Morrowind and Oblivion especially have hordes of fans, and that the game would certainly be purchased en masse, regardless of it’s actual quality just because it’s an Elder Scrolls title, but I question whether or not the same feel that exists in Morrowind and Oblivion is even possible in an MMORPG.

The problem doesn’t lie in making the games, the difficulty lies in translating the fun parts of Elder Scrolls into an MMORPG. These games are entirely single player, where the player has a huge impact on the rest of the world. You can attack and kill anyone you want (with consequences, but the game doesn’t stop you), and you can reach an insanely high skill and statistic level (with potions and just playing to an extreme point). The world is largely your oyster, and you can do with it what you will.

The things that would translate well are pretty strong. The skill system could be made into a good MMORPG skill system (though the leveling system should be changed to a more experience based system, I think that a World of Warcraft like system would work, with individual skills capped by character level), but I also think that unlike other MMORPGs, you should be able to choose what stats to increase (similar to the choices given when you leveled in the single player games).

The guild system would translate in a good way. I’m thinking Morrowind’s guild and house system, where you could join any or all of the guilds and houses, but ultimately you had to choose one. That gives some freedom, but ultimately you must remain an initiate or you must choose to ally yourself with one of them. This could be a good basis for PVP.

The bad things, sadly, are the things that make the game great. The Elder Scrolls series was great about scaling enemies in the world to your level. If you were lvl 1, there would be low level mobs, but if you were lvl 20, there were much harder mobs. This is unlikely to work in an MMORPG, as you would have high level characters standing in newbie areas just to spawn high level mobs (because it’s funny in a sadistic way). The MMORPG would have to stick to a more traditional level restriction of mobs to certain areas. This was one of the elements that made the original games fun and exciting, as you could travel anywhere and still find a challenge.

Another bad aspect is that with hundreds of thousands of players, it is highly unlikely that the players can feel like they have a real impact on the game. At best case, only those players who play all the time will feel like they have an impact. The immersion factor of Elder Scrolls games would be largely gone.

Ultimately, while I would love to see an Elder Scrolls MMORPG, I doubt it will happen. At best case, it seems like we’d get a WOW clone in the Elder Scrolls universe, which probably would sell well, but it’s doubtful many people would play it. The Elder Scrolls made you a hero, but let you save the world and have your own adventure and you had the time to explore the world and enjoy it. That is very far from the description of any MMORPG, and I just simply don’t think it’s workable. However, if Bethesda develops one, I will at least take a look at it.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Demo


The Call of Duty series has always had a home as a WW 2 Shooter, but it finally reaches towards new heights in it's fourth iteration: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. For the fan of the series, I must warn you that this is a very different game than 1-3, and the combat is much more intense. If this demo is any indication (or the intro movie for that matter) this game promises heavy action punctuated by periods of stillness that are just as terrifying as the firefights.


I don't know if it's just been too long since I've played COD 2, but it seems like the guns in this demo are far less accurate than the WW2 guns of the earlier games. This could just be the fact that the enemy is everywhere and it's hard to see them die if they're in buildings, or the fact that I use them in full auto because of the number of enemies, it's just something I noticed. I don't like the fact that you're given so much ammo for this demo mission. The hardest part about the earlier games is the limiting factor of ammunition, especially on higher difficulty. I don't think I worried about ammo when playing this mission at all. That said, even if I ran out of ammo, I'd just have to wait for an ally to die, or pick up one of the plentiful AK-47's. It makes the game almost too easy from an ammo standpoint, especially special ammo like grenade rounds. Either a lot of marines are dying or this city is growing grenade rounds.

Which brings me to a final point about this game: the AI sucks. I mean badly. The enemies basically just swarm you (though it's a nice touch that they do melee if they are close) and your allies move in an organized way, which would be better if it was tactically too. Marines tend to move by enemies, then turn around to shoot them...if they are still alive. They also tend to stand in front of windows and fire, usually dying violently. It's really iritating to have your squad eliminated by swarms of enemies that you have to largely kill.


Overall the game is intense and will make for a nice shooter, but I don't think it will be a great shooter. The pace and impact of the setting will do it's job and it will keep you on your toes, and I have no doubts a lot of people will buy the game, I just don't think it fully meets my expectations for a new game. Maybe some of these problems will be hammered out before it's released, but I doubt it will be fully fixed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The First of our FPS

Now, to kick start the First Person Shooter blogs, I've decided to dust off one of my old favorites: Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. This is the latest multiplayer version of the Wolfenstein series, and features six maps for players to fight on. The basics are simple: You are an Allied or Axis soldier, and each map has objectives. Invariably, these objectives are defensively or offensively related. For instance, in the Gold Rush map, the Allies are striving to break into an Axis vault and steal their gold, and the Axis are trying to stop them.

I like this system because you can choose one of five classes every time you respawn, and you gain experience and bonuses as the campaign rolls on. There are even modded servers that keep your experience even after the map cycle resets, so you can get every single bonus. These bonuses range from Improved Stamina to better Gun Control, and my favorite, Dual Wield Pistols.

The classes in game are all available to any player, but a mix of classes provides the best fire team. Ideally, a team will have at least one of every class, and be heavier on Engineers and Medics (depending on the mission).














Soldiers are the grunts on the front line. They carry the big guns and can do the most sustainable collateral damage. A single well supplied Soldier with a MG-42 can hold critical chokepoints, and a solder with a Panzerfaust (bazooka/RPG) can wipe out an entire squad. Soldiers get upgraded with better fire control and the ability to use their weapons more (either by reducing gun overheat or reducing the amount of the power bar they use). Oh, and while in the begining they can only lug around a pistol and their big gun, at max level, they get a Thompson/MP-44 and their big gun, which just makes them even deadlier.















The Medic is the class that keeps the team alive longer, and that means more enemies are killed and more objectives are completed. The medic class can only carry a submachine gun and starts with a small ammo load, but they aren't in the fight to kill, they're in the fight to heal. The medic does get some killer abilities, though. The get upgraded with additional ammunition, a full revive, and self adrenaline, which turns them into unfeeling killing machines for a period of time. A good medic is almost an assurance of victory.
















Engineer is probably the most used class, and every player will play as an engineer in their career. Why? Because blowing stuff up is fun, and vital to the war effort. In every mission, an engineer is needed for something, and engineers have access to the widest array of explosives. Land mines, dynamite, and rifle grenades are unique to this class. Their upgrades are nice too. They get loaded down with even more grenades, improved demolition speed, and their final upgrade is a flak jacket that greatly reduces their damage from shrapnel and bullets.
















Field Ops is another very fun class, as you carry a radio that lets you call in air and artillery strikes. What's better is that you carry ammo packs, which means you have virtually limitless ammo. The downside? None of your abilities are that good until about lvl 3 in Signals, and by then you've been playing the class for a bit. The upside? By then, Ammo packs take almost none of your power bar, artillery strikes for two rounds, and air strikes are twice as powerful. The downside again? At max level you get Enemy Recognition....which is like opening a box full of socks on Christmas. If it weren't for the last upgrade, I'd play this class 24/7.















Finally, Covert Ops is the last class you can play as. Now, when selecting the class almost every player thinks it's a sniper class. Fact is, it's probably easier to snipe with the SMG than it is with an actual sniper rifle. Since so many of the Sniping Positions on the released maps are known, they are usually blanketed with fire every time someone steps near them. The good news is that the class was actually designed more for sneaking around than sniping, and you can take enemy uniforms and pose as their team, open enemy doors, and cause confusion. Oh, and you have Detonation Packs, which make for some fun ambushes. The rewards for Covert Ops aren't that great, basically you get more bullets, less special cost on smoke grenades and det packs, and better gun handling. However, the final upgrade allows you to insta kill anyone with your knife, if you're attacking from behind. It's a good ability, but frankly you can kill anyone with two quick knife strokes to the back, so fighting through 4 levels of covert ops for that seems tedious to me.

This is a fun and free game I suggest anyone at least try out. Lately, I've been using it with a mod called Bobots that creates a group of skilled bot opponents. It eliminates the need to find a server with enough players and low lag, and also greatly improves your skills, as these bots are deadly accurate and have great vision. Don't know quite what I'm reviewing next, but I have been playing around with the COD 4 demo.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Top 5 MMORPGs

As a closer to MMORPGs, here is the top 5 list of MMORPGs.

5. Star Wars Galaxies NGE: While not a good game technically, the attempts to turn it from a total disaster into something playable make this worth a top spot. That and Smedley apologized for it, which is a step in the right direction.


4. Final Fantasy XI: The game has a nice levelling system, where once you gain a level in a class, you don't loose it, and can change classes at will. The community aspect is great at the end-game levels, and the crafting system is unique.


3. Anarchy Online: Base game without any expansions is 100% free for life, and their base game has over 200 levels per character and a ton of classes and races for free. AO level system gives you total control over your character. Biggest failure is that the game almost went under when it was released, but now is fairing pretty well. Bad graphics, but a good game


2. World of Warcraft: I can't disagree with their marketing and their numbers. They are one of the most successful, if not the most successful MMORPG on the market currently, and they are still growing and learning.


1. Star Wars Galaxies Classic: The extensive skill system is what is amazing about this title. The plans that were made for it originally were extensive and amazing. The community is where it really wins out, as the entire game revolves around the community from the beginning.

Friday, November 2, 2007

PVP

First some housekeeping, I will be leaving the realm of MMORPG discussion soon, and move on to other areas as a focus. Drop me a comment if there's a subject you think I should cover. Additionally, I will be adding some game reviews when I get the chance, and expect some more top 5 lists. Also, my profile has been updated. Believe it or not, I'm not an Accountant from Afghanistan, rather blogger has those as the default values for profession and location.

Now, on to PVP. I think that any MMORPG needs some element of actual competition. Player vs. Player combat is the easiest way to do this. A lot of ideas about PVP have been thrown around over the years, and every existing PVP system could use improvement. Let's take a look at a few.

Star Wars Galaxies has had several types of combat and PVP systems. The system has majorly revolved around the war between the Empire and the Rebels (The Galactic Civil War). Players could choose to be overtly a member of their faction, or be a covert operative. Overt players could kill other overt players and enemy NPCs, and covert players could kill overt playuers and enemy NPCs. However, when a covert player killed an enemy of the other faction, or aided an overt ally, they got flagged temporarily as overt (called a Temporary Enemy Flag or TEF). They could be then killed by the other faction as if they were overt. The system was hard on those who didn't want to PVP, but wanted to be members of a faction (as the easiest way to get faction points was to kill enemy NPCs). Also, Rebels had the additional problem of being turned overt if scanned by imperial stormtroopers and found to be a rebel.

The later incarnations of SWG removed the TEF, instead players could be combatants (non-PVP) or Special Forces (PVP) members of their faction. An imperial Special Forces would have to sit and watch as a Rebel Combatant killed stormtrooper NPCs. It was largely the end to real PVP in the GCW, as the non-PVP players were immune to retribution. Later, Sony Online Entertainment released a specific PVP area for the purpose of furthering the GCW. The Reustess Conflict is a very popular area, and largely the reason for playing the game anymore. However, the only change to the PVP system is that Reustess is a quest-based area where PVP has goals (similar to battlegrounds in WoW) and everyone is flagged Special Forces.

It should be noted that SWG also has always had a bounty system (in the begining just against Jedi) that allows Bounty Hunters to track down other playesr and engage in battle against them. If they kill their target, Bounty Hunters get paid. In the early phases, Bounty Hunters could group up to kill their targets (they had to to kill Jedi players) but now it's strictly 1 vs 1 PVP (things have been roughly rebalanced so that it is far more equal now than it was before). Also, there is a duel system for 1 vs 1 combat.

World of Warcraft's PVP system is simple and complex. In specialized battlegrounds, you are flagged, and directly competing against members of the other faction. In the world, it gets more complicated. On a PVP server, there are zones for each faction and neutral zones. In your zones, you are unflagged unless you choose to be flagged, but the enemy is always flagged. In their zones they are unflagged unless they choose to be flagged, and you are always flagged. In neutral or contested zones, everyone is flagged. On non-PVP servers, you are only flagged if you choose to be, or you attack a flagged character or heal a flagged ally.

There are other examples of PVP types out there (one I will be looking at soon is Warhammer Online, but I need more research on it), but these two examples show some of the important parts. PVP needs to be fun and engaging, with an element of real danger to be fun. However, you shouldn't loose all that much in forced PVP, or else fewer players will want to play. Also, it shouldn't be possible to kill enemy NPCs and heal your over allies without becoming overt youself, or else the other faction will be frustrated and stop playing.

A final note: PVP shouldn't feel like a football game. That's the biggest problem with WOW's battlegrounds: I don't feel like I'm fighting for my life, I feel like I'm trying to win points (and largely I am). In SWG classic, most PVP revolved around defending your faction's bases (usually bases your guild spent months getting faction points to buy, and even more time supporting and using as a base of operations). Beating off attacks actually mattered. A lot of players hate grinding honor in WOW, and honestly, that's not something I'd loose sleep over. However, to defend my guild's faction bases, I'd stay up all night. One of the best times I had in SWG was as a newbie, trying to do anything I could to help the guild defend our bases. I didn't get to do much before being killed, but I'd clone and head right back out. If I tossed on good heal, I considered it a good job.