Destiny 2 Anti-Hype

I tried out the Destiny 2 PC Open Beta Tuesday night. I’ve never played Destiny before or even seen it or read much about it.

It was incredibly easy to install and play through the launcher. I just clicked on the “Install” button and less than an hour later it was ready to go.

It was not quite as easy to configure though. It gave me exactly one opportunity to adjust my video settings and then I got a class selection screen. The class descriptions gave very little indication of the kind of mechanics to expect so I randomly picked the first one (I can’t even remember the class name). After picking a class, the game launches right into cut scenes and then into the game. There was no character customization, but that could have been a limitation of the beta.

My first complaint surfaced right away. I was trying to record my play session with OBS Studio and the default video settings did not record. All I got was a black screen in OBS. I fiddled with the OBS settings with no luck. I have no trouble recording most other games, but Destiny 2 decided to make things difficult.

Since I didn’t want to spoil too much of the game before I started recording, I tried to exit out of the cut scenes to get back to the main menu. No such luck. Once it starts, you’re stuck with it. I had to ALT-F4 to exit the game to try again.

When I started the game the second time, it no longer asked if I wanted to adjust the video settings. It went straight into the class selection screen and then on into the cut scenes. I tried again after ALT-F4 a couple of times but there were no menus anywhere to change any settings.

Eventually I gave up and skipped past the two cut scenes until I got to the first playable section, where it drops you on a burning ship or something in the middle of a battle. Then I could bring up a menu and fiddle with the video settings. I tried changing to fullscreen windowed, but still couldn’t record.

As a last resort I setup a new scene in OBS to record the whole display, and it finally worked. This is the first “modern” game that I haven’t been able to record with the standard Game capture plugin. It was very annoying.

I started over again so I could watch all of the cut scenes. I think I was supposed to geek out over Nathan Fillion but when I heard his voice coming out of a robot face I kind of rolled my eyes. Another sarcastic robot doing comic relief in a sci-fi motif. Never seen that before!

I thought I also heard Lance Reddick’s voice as well–the black FBI agent from Fringe with the very distinctive voice. (IMDB research confirms this.) (IMDB research also confirms that the woman’s voice sounded familiar to me because it was none other than Gina Torres, so it’s a big ol’ Firefly reunion.)

I played through the single-player campaign. The story made no impression on me. They made zero attempt to draw the player into it. They just dropped you into a setting and said, “Here, everything’s exploding so go save the day… because … well, that’s what you do in shooters.”

The combat was very smooth but completely ordinary. The only thing I could see to distinguish this game from any other shooter was the double-jumping jet pack thingy. Personally I thought it was a bit too slow and floaty but I could get used to it.

One nitpick: I did not like how the iron sights shifted the gun all the way from the right side to the center of the screen. It felt like an extremely unnatural shift in perspective. In real life, you don’t bring the gun up from your right side to stick it under your chin. You raise the gun up a little and tilt your head to the right.

For comparison, below is Far Cry 4, a very polished shooter. The change from one position to the other is less dramatic, and the change in the basic shape of the gun is far less noticeable. (Yes, these kinds of things matter to me and can have a huge impact on my perception of a game.)

Anyway, I finished the Destiny 2 campaign with very little trouble. I died once in an area that looked like it phased from a single-player area into a multiplayer “public quest” area. I was warned to get inside a protective bubble and then literally one second later I got killed before I could even take a step toward the bubble. It’s always a great feeling in a shooter to get killed without even having a chance to fight back.

The phasing was kind of neat, I have to admit. It was a 100% seamless transition from being by myself to being surrounded by a few other players, defending a checkpoint. And when I left the area the other players disappeared.

The Big Bad at the end made a really dire speech about stealing light that made no sense considering the complete lack of context I had for the story. He sounded like Mr. Burns with his plot to cover up the sun and it was a bit silly.

I didn’t try any of the other PvP or Coop options after finishing the single-player campaign. I spent a total of about 50 minutes playing before logging out with no compelling desire to return.

I know I’m going to regret this, but: What’s all the hype about? I didn’t hate it, but Destiny 2 looked and played like every other shooter. You run around, you shoot things, and numbers fly out instead of blood. I found myself thinking more than once, “The Division open beta was better than this.” And I didn’t really care for The Division that much. (It wasn’t terrible either, it was just … average.)

I actually missed having cover mechanics. The last shooter-ish game I played was Mass Effect Andromeda, which had completely seamless, natural cover mechanics, and I liked that better. It doesn’t feel very comfortable anymore to stand out in the open while people are shooting at me. :)

I get the impression from Twitter and other blog posts that this open beta is only showing a fraction of what will actually be in the game. Okay, well, what is the point of that? Isn’t this open beta supposed to sell me on the game? (We all know open betas aren’t for testing.) Isn’t it supposed to show me what’s new and unique about this particular shooter, to convince me to shell out $60+ as opposed to playing any of the perfectly good shooters that I already own?

I guess this speaks to the points that Scopique and Belghast both made in their posts: This was not a very good sales demo for me. I was interested in seeing why everyone is so hyped for this game, but after playing the demo, I have no interest in buying it. Not unless it goes on sale. (I said that about Overwatch, too, and to this day there have been no sales that I know of and I still don’t own it.)

Snap Judgment – Quake Champions (Open Beta)

I don’t know how many people know this, but I used to play a lot of Quake CTF with Crayola Clan in the 1990s. Back then, “eSports” were community-run tournaments with no stakes and no prizes and barely any organization. We played mostly NetQuake, QuakeWorld, and Quake 2. We played a little bit of Quake 3 Arena but I personally never liked it and by then gaming started to get commercial with sponsors and cash prizes and it was more work than fun and it was all too stressful to deal with.

Fast forward to this past weekend, when I got my first look at Quake Champions, the newest iteration of multiplayer Quake from Bethesda. I’ve played a total of about an hour, which, when you’re playing a fast-paced shooter, feels like an eternity. I think I have a pretty good handle on what this game is and what it’s trying to do.

It’s clearly based heavily on Quake 3 Arena. Most of the sound effects and weapons are the same. You move incredibly fast and the default FOV is about 800 degrees so it feels like you’re playing in that trippy ending in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In deathmatch, your base strategy for every match is to grab the lightning gun, then grab the quad damage, then insta-gib anything you touch, just like in Q3A.

In addition to recreating that classic Q3A experience, they’ve bolted on all the useless bells and whistles of modern shooters: Match-making, levels, unlockables, lockboxes, stores, and most importantly, manly voiceovers telling you how much you suck at the game when you die.

With the match-making, you no longer browse a list of servers to play on, you simply click the giant Play button and wait for it to deposit you in a game with other people. One might assume that it would put you in a game with people of similar skill levels, but I think we all know by now that those other guys who appear to be level 1 and 2 are probably not noobs like you who just installed the game, but kids who have played in the closed beta for months, perfected their games, then made new accounts just to whup up on the noobs like you.

At least that’s how it feels. The point is, you’re going to die a lot. And everyone is probably cheating. And also get off my lawn.

Overall I found it to be a good shooter experience. It’s fast and responsive. So fast that I can’t really play for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time.

The biggest negative I saw (besides dying constantly) is that it takes a really long time to load after you click the icon. It sits there on a loading screen for a minute or more before you can even think about getting into a match. And then there is the time to find the matches, which for me took up to another minute. That’s a long time to wait after impulsively deciding to jump into a 15-minute deathmatch.

How does it compare to Overwatch, the obvious competitor? I don’t know. I don’t have Overwatch. I can only say that I felt more at home playing Quake Champions than I did playing for that hour I played the Overwatch open beta. There is no reloading in Quake Champions, which is awesome. You start out with only one “champion” available to you and you pick up weapons from the map, which suggests that everyone has the same weapons, which is awesome. The standard free-for-all deathmatch game mode is really nice because you don’t have to worry about everyone else on your team being terrible, which is awesome. The chat is hidden by default, which is awesome. If there was any voice chat, I didn’t hear it, which is awesome.

But, it’s not as colorful as Overwatch, and it doesn’t have Blizzard behind it, and it’s late to the party, so it’s probably dead before it even gets out the door.

Apparently Quake Champions will be free-to-play. At that price, I could see myself leaving it installed and playing a match now and then. But I doubt I would sink any real money into this game.

Battlefield 1 Authenticity

Here’s a timely post written about six months ago, which sat in my Drafts folder lacking not only a picture, but also some links.

I started playing the Battlefield 1 single-player campaign on a Friday evening, and finished it the next day, on Saturday night. There were six missions. I recorded 12 videos, averaging about 35 minutes each, for a grand total of about 7 hours of gameplay. Let’s be extremely generous and say I cut out an hour of video, so let’s round it up to 8 hours.

I paid $60 for that.

But I won’t dwell on that. My main reason for getting the game was to examine the historical accuracy of it. World War I is my “favorite” war, so I’ve read a lot about it. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I could probably answer a lot of trivia questions.

TL;DR – It’s not very accurate and I give it a big fat F. But it was kind of fun to play.

Some spoilers about the single-player stories below.

Storm of Steel

The first mission is sort of an introduction, and dealt with the Harlem Hellfighters. I think. It’s never actually said, and I only recall seeing a single African American. The story is very disjointed, and you’re supposed to die. When you die, you jump to another person’s POV in another part of the battle. In that way you get to see a sort of potpourri of “front line combat.” It was very confusing and I didn’t like it.

It didn’t specify where that mission takes place so I can’t say anything about the historical context of it. (The Hellfighters apparently fought mainly with the French so maybe the mission was in France.) The only thing I can comment on is that your average soldier in WWI did not walk around with fully-automatic rifles and automatic pistols as depicted in the game.

After the very, very brief introduction mission, in which you are largely a spectator, you get to choose the order in which to play the remaining 5 missions. (This is also the point when you yell at your monitor, “Is this all there is???”)

Most of the stories seemed to be set in 1917 or 1918. I imagine they did that because all sides had figured out how to break through trench lines by then, so more diverse technology was available to use in a game. Unfortunately it means that like 90% of the war goes unrepresented in the game.

Overall I thought the storylines were reasonably good, however there was nothing particularly surprising about them. They followed well-trodden war story tropes. If you’ve seen a few war movies in your life, you’ll probably recognize the plot lines.

The Runner

The first war story I played followed a pair of ANZACs in the Dardenelles.

As I came to realize was normal, there was very little historical context given for the Gallipoli story, except in the broadest possible terms. (There was no mention of Winston Churchill’s role.) It wasn’t clear to me exactly where in time and space the events were taking place, but I think it was the Landing at Cape Helles.

The player’s mission was largely a personal one, and didn’t involve any of the larger events of the battle. There was only a casual mention of the British failures in conducting the battle. Mostly this mission involved, well, running–back and forth, delivering messages.

Avanti Savoia!

I’d never heard of Italian Arditi troops before. The only thing I knew about Italy’s role in the war was their collapse at the Battle of Caporetto in 1917, due to some Italian general’s massive incompetence.

After playing the game, I did a bit of research. The Arditi existed, but I don’t think they operated in the way depicted in Battlefield 1.

According to Wikipedia, Arditi were armed with knives and grenades and were employed as shock troops against enemy trench lines. From what I can gather, they would run up to the enemy lines during an artillery bombardment (possibly getting hit by their own shells), wait for the shells to stop falling, then jump in the enemy trenches and try to stab everyone to death. Sometimes it worked, but mostly it didn’t.

The player in the game, however, is dressed head-to-toe in heavy bulletproof steel armor and carries a big machinegun. Even if such an armor design existed (which it probably did, at least in prototype form), I have a very hard time believing it would be practical in a real battle the way it’s shown in the game. All you’d have to do is knock the guy down and he probably wouldn’t be able to get up again. The difficulty of walking around for long periods of time in that outfit, especially attacking up a mountainside, seems too far-fetched for me to believe. That set of armor plus a machine gun must have weighed like a thousand pounds. Also, I think WWI machine guns required more than one person to operate anyway.

Historical inaccuracy aside, it was fun to play. :)

Oh, then there was the moment when a bunch of (presumably) Austro-Hungarian biplanes flew in, shot rockets at a mountainside, and caused a landslide. I’ll have more to say about the depiction of WWI aerial combat later, but this earned a highly skeptical raised eyebrow from me. For one thing, according to Wikipedia, the Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops were very short-handed in 1917. But more importantly, biplanes couldn’t blow up mountains with rockets.

As for the historical context of the Italian story, there was none given. I don’t even recall hearing the name of the place where the fighting took place. I’ll have to double-check. Story-wise, this was probably the least interesting of the bunch for me.

Nothing Is Written

Lawrence of Arabia is another one of those World War I topics that I’m aware of on some level, but haven’t investigated much. The Arabian theater doesn’t interest me as much as the European theater, to be honest.

The mission was fun to play right up until the final battle against the train, which was about as not fun as a game could get. I slogged my way through it, dying over and over again. I probably died more there than anywhere else.

The story was okay I guess. It’s a pretty standard rebels-versus-empire story, only notable because the Arabian protagonist in the game is a woman.

I don’t know about the historical accuracy of this mission. By which I mean I don’t know if that battle train thingy existed or not. If it did, it seems like the best strategy for combating it would be to, you know, stay away from the train tracks.

Through Mud And Blood

Next we go to what was probably my favorite mission of the game, the British tank assault. We play a tank driver who shows up at the front, never having been inside a tank before. Roughly ten seconds after we arrive, we have to get in a British Mark V tank and drive in an important attack on Cambrai. Okaaaaaay. Given what I imagine was the enormous expense of building a tank, it seems like they would give tank drivers some opportunity to practice driving before going out on the battlefield, but let’s give them some dramatic license on that one.

Driving the tank around, over, and through the rubble, shell holes, barbed wire, and trenches in the first part of that mission felt reasonably authentic to me. That was the WWI that I know. I don’t think an actual tank at that time would have been quite so fast and agile, though, and probably wouldn’t have been able to crash through buildings. Tanks in those days were lucky to make it across flat ground, let alone across the cratered, muddy surface of No Man’s Land.

I thought it was kind of funny that they made me wait for the infantry to run ahead before moving up with the tanks. I’m no military strategist but I kind of thought the whole purpose of a tank was to clear the way for the infantry. Especially in World War I.

After getting through the trenches we went behind the German lines and entered what almost looked like a rain forest to me. For some inexplicable reason they make you (the driver) get out and scout a path for the tank. Luckily someone else can drive the tank while you’re doing that, making your entire role on the team redundant.

Still, that part was fun because it reminded me a lot of the Far Cry games. My favorite part of those games was stealthily picking off people in outposts one at a time until you’ve gotten everyone, and basically the same gameplay happened there in the foggy forest.

After leaving the forest your tank breaks down so you have to get parts from a nearby village. Then there’s a final tank battle. There weren’t any “tank battles” in WWI, but let’s pretend there were. (I only found one instance of a tank battle, in the Spring of 1918, in the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, some months before the events of Battlefield 1 took place.)

By the way, it was the First Battle of Cambrai in 1917 which is popularly known as the first successful use of tanks on the battlefield. (It wasn’t the first, but let’s pretend it was.) The Second Battle of Cambrai was just another ho-hum day at the office for tanks.

Friends In High Places

Finally we come to the last mission I played, the one with the planes. I saved it for last because I’ve never been particularly interested in World War I “Flying Aces” and whatnot. Still, it turned out to be kind of fun to dogfight in Battlefield 1. I can’t even remember the last time I played any kind of aerial fighting game. (The last one I can remember was an Amiga game!) I had to switch to using a controller. I had a hard time handling the vertical stick with a mouse. (I blame the fact that I gave up my “invert mouse” habit some years ago.)

As for historical accuracy, I’m pretty sure no WWI flying planes were equipped with forward-firing rockets of the kind depicted in the game. They had machine guns, and they had bombs, usually dropped by somebody tossing them over the side. Even that meager weaponry was only available later in the war. In the early days, the only weaponry a pilot had was a pistol.

One of the most striking parts of the whole game (for me) happened in the middle of this last mission, when you ditch your plane behind enemy lines. You have to make your way (stealthily) through several German trench lines and then No Man’s Land. That was what I expected to see more of in this game. It was pretty creepy to go through that muddy, blown-up hellscape, at night, especially after all that I’ve read about the conditions of the Western Front. Yuck.

Then, back in London, you’re involved in flying fighter defenses against German Zeppelins and massive bombers. While I was playing, I questioned whether such bombing raids ever took place over London, but it turns out they did. Kind of. Another part of the Great War I hadn’t explored much. (It was a big damn war y’all.)

I didn’t care for the resolution (or lack thereof) in that story. It was one of those “you have to decide whether you think the protagonist is a good guy or a bad guy because we’re not going to tell you and it could go either way” kind of deals. Sometimes that works as a storytelling device, but it didn’t work for me here.

And that’s about all I have to say about Battlefield 1.

But as a reminder, don’t buy it at full price if you’re only going to play the single-player campaign. And, uh, don’t buy it at all if you want an authentic WWI simulator.

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.

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.)