Doom’s Problems

I haven’t played very much lately. Over the last few weeks I’ve been putting time into reading up on World War I (research for what I hope will be a historical fiction story for NaNoWriMo), reading Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, listening to Stephen King’s 11.22.63 audiobook, and even playing with composing some music in Renoise. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say the frenzy over the 2016 election has turned into a really entertaining Jerry Springer episode.

doom
A carefully un-cropped screenshot of a video player.

Gaming-wise, over the long rainy weekend, I thought I would make a push to finish recording my Doom Ultra-Violence blind playthrough. I didn’t think it would take that long, but boy was I wrong. That game just goes on and on and on and on forever. I feel like I saw everything there was to see in the game by about the halfway point, and beyond that it’s just an exhausting slog through room-to-room fighting.

You know exactly what’s going to happen every time: You get to a certain fairly obvious trigger point, then the quasi-metal music plays, a bunch of demons spawn, and you have to kill them all before you can go to the next room. At first the formula is fun, then it gets a bit tiresome, especially when you’re trying to finish it quickly.

Other than that, I have two main problems with Doom. One is the amount of exposition and narrative, which are 100% pointless in this kind of game. I really don’t need a detailed explanation for why my character is running around shooting Hell minions on Mars. I don’t need to know where they came from, who released them, or why. Even if I did, this story is not the slightest bit surprising or entertaining. Every single chapter is like, “You need to go to X, but first you’ll need to get Y and Z.”

The second problem I have with the game is the excessive size and complexity of the levels. This is a shooter. I shouldn’t have to spend half an hour trying to puzzle out how to get to the next level. Sure, I don’t mind hiding the secrets behind mazes of jumping puzzles and whatnot, but not the exit! Also these levels are enormous compared to the old Doom and Quake levels. Instead of 13 massive levels, I would have preferred to see 50 small levels.

Otherwise it’s a fun game. I wouldn’t recommend playing it on Ultra-Violence though. It’s too much work for too little payoff. I can’t even imagine playing it on Nightmare or whatever the one above that is.

Overwatch Snap Judgments

I finally have a chance to talk a bit about Overwatch, which I played for roughly an hour or two during the open beta.

My first impression was horrible, because I played it on a Sunday night, which is usually my least favorite time of the week, considering that it’s the time when I’m forced to face the reality of going back to work the next day. Last week was a particularly onerous week because it was my last one on the dying project, so I was anticipating a horrendous week of panic and anxiety from me and everyone else who would be left behind after I’m gone.

The point is that there were no circumstances in which I would have enjoyed Overwatch or any other game when I played Sunday night. And indeed, I did not like it when I first played it. I found it too cute and every character annoyed me in some way. As far as gameplay, all of the worst aspects of FPS “advancements” over the years are all right there, easily accessible–snipers, grenade spam, insta-kills. Basically, in the modern shooter, all the emphasis is on killing other people without any regard to whether you live or die. In the old days, there was value in staying alive because the longer you stayed alive, the more ammo and powerups you collected and thus the more enemies you could defeat. Not anymore. Now there are no more health and armor powerups laying out in the level. Now it’s all about spawn, die, spawn, die, spawn, die, and if you’re lucky sometimes you can one-shot kill some other people in the back before you die.

Yes, I’m very cycnical about modern shooters.

So yeah, I didn’t like Overwatch at first because it’s more of the same bad things that have crept into shooters for the last twenty years.

I was completely prepared to never play Overwatch again, but then they extended the beta another day, and I thought I should probably give it another try on Monday night, when I wasn’t in such a terrible mood. Everyone on the Internet was saying it was great, after all.

Well, I’m still not going to buy it, but my second opinion was better. The game became 100% better as soon as I turned off the character voices. I tried some other classes and some of them were fun. However I noticed that most of the fun involved things like turrets and grenades and basically all of the cheesy tactics that I hate in shooters. The rocket launcher class which I should have loved turned out to have a crippling flaw of having to reload, which of course leaves you 100% vulnerable during that time.

I did not find the game modes particularly innovative. It was your basic capture-and-hold and escort maps. I didn’t see any capture-the-flag, which in my opinion is still the best esports-style game mode around. It seems criminally negligant to leave it out of a game that’s supposed to be totally focused on esports. (Why would you NOT include a game mode that is so easy to watch for viewers??)

Of course I have to insert the obligatory comments about how pretty and smooth the game runs. But that’s not a stand-out feature in a game these days, especially a shooter.

I find the reactions to Overwatch very interesting so far. I’m utterly blown away by how many traditional MMORPG players are jumping into Overwatch. I can only assume it’s because they think that because Blizzard made it, or that it started out as Titan, there must be some RPG elements. Perhaps predictably, though, most of the responses from those people, while positive overall, are focused on how much they want to know about the stories of the characters and the world in Overwatch. Those kinds of things just don’t exist in team shooters, and it boggles my mind that people thought it might be otherwise. When I played Overwatch, it never even occurred to me to wonder or care anything about my “character.” Honestly character classes in shooters just get in the way. When you’re playing Overwatch there is little or no indication that you’re even playing a character. I mean, it’s first-person. You can’t even see yourself.

I am curious about all the comments about how “approachable” Overwatch is. I can only assume it’s the artistic aesthetic that makes it approachable, because it doesn’t look like a typical military shooter. From a gameplay perspective, however, it did not appear any easier to play than any other shooter. Old folks are still going to get owned by college kids who spend all day honing their muscle memory, and probably after Overwatch has been out a few weeks, it will be utterly pointless to try to catch up to the power curve. (There was an aimbot mode on the Soldier 76 class though. :) I saw nothing in the game to deal with that particular issue, which is the number one issue that plagues all shooters in my opinion. The idea that it has support classes is not going to change that, either. From what I saw, there is no doubt that the support classes are completely superfluous. A healer or two is not going to do anything to stop a team with a lot of aggressive players on it, and the good teams are almost guaranteed to be based around offensive classes.

Speaking of teams, let me talk about another trend I saw continuing in Overwatch. I’ve seen this in many other shooters, too. When I’m playing, I don’t care one whit about whether my team wins or loses. There is no incentive whatsoever to think strategically or help my team win when I’m playing with a bunch of strangers. The only thing that matters is my own individual performance, and I saw nothing in Overwatch to change that basic tennant of team shooters, which has been a problem (for me, at least) since the late 1990s.

I suppose it’s possible that if you’re on the winning team, you get more experience points or something, but I just can’t bring myself to care about experience points in a shooter. That’s not what shooters are supposed to be about. Shooters are about shooting, and working together with your teammates to score more points (or whatever) than the other team. At least, until COD came along and corrupted everything with their progression systems and unlocks.

That’s probably a different tangent though. But hey I’m sitting here at work with nothing to do, and now I have a Bluetooth keyboard hooked up to my phone, so I can just type and type and type all the live-long day. Editing is still a bit of a problem though.

To wrap up my thoughts on Overwatch, I would say that if you’re new to team shooters you could do a lot worse. It’s colorful and fast and exciting. However if you’re a team shooter veteran, you’re going to run into the same problems you’ve seen a million times before. I myself will not be buying it unless it goes on sale. There are plenty of cheaper or free-to-play options out there for getting a quick shooter fix.

Snap Judgment – The Division Open Beta

The Division isn’t for me.

It’s a very beautiful-looking game. The graphics are fantastic, and the urban environments are very realistic and detailed.

Unfortunately I didn’t see anything new or innovative in the gameplay. The whole time I was playing, I kept thinking, “This plays just like Defiance, and Defiance is free.” The only thing The Division has is the cover mechanic. And the fantastic graphics, of course.

I also couldn’t help but notice that there were very few other people around in this alleged MMO game. Perhaps that’s why they keep talking up the Dark Zone–because that’s the only place that has any people in it?

Anyway, I recorded my impressions in a video.

Quake CTF Nostalgia – CC vs. DPS

This is off topic for this blog, but my old Crayola Clan mate ]CC[-Orange converted some of our Quake CTF match demos into videos. It’s not an exact copy of what we would have seen on our monitors back then (we probably ran at 800×600, and the fov looks higher than I remember) but it’s close.

Quake 2 CTF

Most of the time I was average, but this one Quake 2 match I was “on” so this is how I will choose to remember my performance from the good old days. :)

This is what “e-sports” looked like before it got all commercial and weird. It’s a 30-minute match so it goes on forever (matches were usually 20 minutes). In summary, the match was close at the beginning but then we pulled things together and ended up with a solid win.

I think I said in an earlier post that I hated the Railgun, but in this one match I sure used it a lot. (There was even an impossibly lucky spinning mid-air shot which undoubtedly caused the other team to think I was running a hack.) If memory serves, there was always more Railgun ammo around than Rocket Launcher ammo on that map so sometimes you had no choice. Also if you got on a “hot streak” with the Railgun it was sometimes better to stick with it.

I had a tendency to play very defensively in Quake, which you can see in this match. I figured it was more strategically important to stay alive and “geared up” for the long-term even if it meant a short-term loss of a flag. Every time you died, you had to spend a certain amount of time gearing back up during which you were pretty useless to the team, so I tried not to die, ever. Results varied.

Posted on Blaugust Day 19. Read all of my Blaugust posts here.

Planetside 2 – First, Second, and Third Impressions

This is unrelated to MMOs (sort of ), but I’ve been on a Quake CTF nostalgia trip for a while, so I went looking for a modern AAA shooter that would provide the same sort of team-based competitive spirit.

I don’t know if such a game still exists, but my first candidate for testing was Planetside 2, a game which I haven’t played before. (Well, that’s not entirely true–I installed it sometime around when it first came out, played it for about 30 seconds–enough to see myself airdropped into a chaotic mess–and then decided it wasn’t for me. I don’t remember it launching with the tutorial it has now and I had no clue how to play it.) I suppose technically PS2 is an MMO, but I think of it as a shooter because there is no PvE element.

It's a nice-looking shooter at least.
It’s a nice-looking shooter at least.

First Impressions

My first impression of Planetside 2 now after playing for a handful of hours is: It’s not what I was looking for, but it’s a fun and dare-I-say addictive game. (If you can set aside all the standard problems that modern shooters have.*)

In a nutshell, Planetside 2 drops you (sometimes literally) into a battlefield with hundreds or thousands or millions of other people. I’m not sure exactly, but it’s a lot of people. The gameplay is very similar to Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, if anyone remembers that, but with a whole lot more people.

There are the standard overall team objectives, like capturing enemy bases and defending capture points and so forth, but when you start out they are unimportant to your immediate survival so you don’t really think about them. At least I didn’t. Mostly I just thought about staying alive and trying not to shoot the teammates that kept jumping in front of me. (I imagine that is similar to what real warfare is like, not that I would have any clue about that.)

In more practical terms, when you start out your best bet is to find a group of other people running somewhere and help them shoot whatever enemies they’re shooting at. Most likely those enemies are very far away so you can’t really see what it is you’re shooting at. Even when you use your iron sights or whatever you still can’t see individual people very well. I end up spamming the “spot enemy” key while waving my gun around until I see a red triangle. Not that it matters because the enemy probably has sniper rifles and they’ll kill you the second you stick your head up to look around. Because all scrubs use sniper rifles in these games. (They don’t know they’re scrubs though, which is the worst part. That’s probably going to get some hateful comments but god I hate snipers.)

Side rant: God I hate snipers. I don’t know about anyone else, but I still curse the day that sniper-like rifles were ever added to the shooter genre. The first one I can remember was the Railgun in Quake 2, and snipers have destroyed the fun of anyone who prefers “fair” combat ever since. (At least the Railgun didn’t usually kill you in one shot like most modern sniper rifles.)

Anyway, back to Planetside 2. It’s yet another one of those progression shooters where you “level up” by gaining experience so you can unlock new stuff and whatnot, which makes it sort of like an MMORPG. You’re never really sure exactly what it is that you’re doing to gain these points, but sometimes you get a lot of points and sometimes you get a few points, and eventually your “battle rank” goes up. (I assume that’s meaningful but I can’t really tell any difference except that I can create more loadout sets–which is useless to me since I only have basically one gun.) That’s the essence of what makes these progression shooters so addicting. You’re always thinking to yourself, “Well, if I just play a little bit more, I’ll be able to unlock X, Y, or Z and that will really help kill those bleepity bleeping bleeped snipers.”

One thing I really like is the nifty report that appears each time you die that shows how well you did during each “lifetime.” It also shows who killed you so you can see just how much that other guy out-ranked you and how hopeless your chances are to run back and avenge yourself upon him.

I don't know what any of those numbers mean but it looks pretty impressive. EXTREME MENACE KILL. Yeah!
Don’t know what any of it means but it looks impressive. EXTREME MENACE KILL. Yeah!

One thing I don’t like is the placement of the minimap. SOE must have been sitting around thinking, “Let’s see, every other game puts the minimap in the upper-right and a few put it in the lower-right, so everyone is familiar with looking to the right to see where they are. I know, let’s put ours in the lower-left!”

Ahem. Anyway. I set out to find something like Quake, but this isn’t it. The scale of the battles in Planetside 2 is way too big to feel like you’re playing anything like a team-based “sport.” In these massive battles I don’t feel like my playing matters much when I’m only doing roughly 0.1% of the damage, or whatever. You’re mostly playing against yourself at that point; just trying to see how long you can stay alive while hopefully contributing a few bullets in the right directions.

To be fair, there are occasional times when the action feels a little more Quake-like, for example when you’re trying to hold one of the capture points. Those times are quite fun. But they are pretty rare.

While on I’m the subject of massive-battle shooters, let’s talk about sound effects. Something that bugs me about Planetside 2 and other shooters of this kind is the unrelenting assault of sound effects that wash over you the entire time you play. Don’t get me wrong: It’s perfect for the kind of game it is, and it’s brilliantly immersive, but I just can’t handle it anymore at my advanced age. It jangles my nerves and makes my muscles hurt from the tension. (I am the same way about continuous loud noises in real life, too.) If I lose track of time and play for too long (which unfortunately is easy since there aren’t any breaks in the action), I feel like I’ve been in a boxing match. I really wish there was a way to adjust the sound in such a way that you only hear the things that really matter to your particular gameplay. Or maybe have some way to adjust the volume of your effects versus the effects of other players versus incidental world effects. (Final Fantasy XIV has some nice controls like that.)

Overall it’s a fun game* that’s worth a look (since it’s free), but I can only play it for short periods of time. (I usually set a timer so I only play for about 20 minutes per session.) So far I don’t see any compelling reason to pay any real money for it. I’m perfectly happy with the free experience so far. (Unless there is a way to pay them a one-time fee or something to unlock everything–like a super-sniper-seeking-death-bomb–but I have a feeling they are more interested in nickel-and-diming you to death. A quick glance at the store confirms that it’s a subscription model–that SOE All Access Pass thingy–with the obligatory cash shop.)

Second Impressions

After playing a little bit each night for about a week, I’ve started to notice some trends.

The deck is seriously stacked against people who like a more defensive playing style, like, say, me. All weapons do incredible amounts of damage. Snipers almost always one-shot kill you (typical in modern shooters). Standard duels between two automatic weapons at relatively close range last for about two seconds if you’re lucky. Even the defensive turret positions at bases don’t last very long against flying vehicle weapons. So if you don’t like dying repeatedly, you may want to steer clear.

The game makes it possible to use plenty of super-cheesy scrub tactics. Things like suicide-ramming a position with vehicles over and over again. And of course the sniper thing. You can never, ever stand still if there is a hillside anywhere in the vicinity.

I’m not quite prepared to call it a pay-to-win game, but you can definitely buy better “stuff” with these things called Nanites (like Maxes and Tanks and Flying Gizmos), which are given out periodically while you play, and I think you get more Nanites if you’re a paying customer. (You also get more XP I think.) Basically, I believe it’s designed so that paying customers control the overall battlefield. The rest of us freeps are beholden to their whims. (Cannon fodder, in other words.)

But for some weird reason, I still think it’s fun*. Maybe because it’s the only game like this that I can play for free hehe.

Third Impressions

As you can tell from my statistics page, I’ve played about 18 hours of Planetside 2 and reached battle rank 14. My kill/death ratio stands at 0.27, a rating which I would have found shameful back in my Quake days, and today I find only slightly less embarrassing. People who are good at modern shooters would probably put me in the “loser scrub” category based on those numbers. (But I saw plenty of people worse than me, so there.)

Anyway, the freshness of the game has now worn off. I might pop in every now and then (because it’s free) but it doesn’t really feed the reward center of my brain very well now that the “ooh shiny” phase is over.

(By the way, the statistics page in Planetside 2 is very, very cool. The obsessive attention to detail in tracking statistics is one thing I love about modern shooters.)

Modern Problems

  • All modern shooters have these problems, no matter how fun they are:

1) Usually, you are the only person on your team who knows what to do and how to do it, because you’ve played team-based shooters for ages and everyone else is just there to shoot stuff and look at the pretty lights. 95% of the rest of your team either doesn’t help or actively hinders you somehow, which makes for a frustrating experience. Since Planetside 2 is a Friendly-Fire game, you can expect your teammates to be particularly adept at either shooting you in the back, or jumping in front of you when you’re about to make a crucial kill.

2) Everyone else has unlocked all kinds of uber weaponry and armor so you have basically no chance of killing anyone who has played the game longer than you, which makes for a frustrating experience. I really miss the old days when everyone was on a level playing field equipment-wise. (After carefully reviewing the weapons of the people that kill me, I can say that it’s not quite as bad as I first thought.)

3) In most modern shooters, old people like me can’t see what they’re shooting at. The enemies usually blend in completely with the background terrain somehow via. some sort of camouflage, or the enemy models are so small that they are just specks of pixels.

4) Ever since 1999-ish, somebody somewhere will always make a bot or a hack or something for online games so even if you do manage to get yourself the right equipment, you’re still never going to be able to beat the cheaters. Maybe I’m paranoid but I still clearly remember when cheating ruined Quake 3 tournaments. (And people were cheating, it wasn’t just our imaginations–back in the old days it was easy to tell the difference between a very good player and someone using an aim bot–so once the genie came out of the bottle, in my mind, there is no reason to think that cheaters aren’t continuing their efforts to create more and better cheats as the years pass.) (By the way, I don’t think everyone that kills me is cheating, like some people do, but some small percentage of people out there are definitely cheating in online games. The only thing you can do is keep repeating the mantra, “It’s just a game. It doesn’t matter.” And try to enjoy the scenery while you’re running back to the battle.)