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.

Daybreak Closing Landmark

In the most shocking news heard since WildStar announced they were going free-to-play, Daybreak revealed they will be closing down Landmark in February.

I bought one of the $99 Founder’s packs. I don’t exactly remember why, but I remember seeing that video showing them digging holes in the ground and thought that was pretty dern cool. It turned out to be the most ill-advised game purchase decision of my entire life to date. To this day it informs my Early Access buying decisions. Thanks to Landmark, I made a rule that I won’t take a chance on an unknown Early Access game unless it sells for $10 or less.

Now that I think about it, I came up with the $10 mark because of H1Z1, another Daybreak product. H1Z1 consistently sells for $20, so I knew I had to make my dollar amount less than that, because I did not want to take a chance on another Daybreak product, even at only $20. All indications were that H1Z1 would be another unfinished prototype disguised as a game. It turns out I made the right decision there, because H1Z1 still looks awful, years later. (I don’t understand much German, but I get the impression they aren’t pleased with the game in that video–I picked it because it was recent.)

I saw some concern on Twitter about Daybreak’s new role with LotRO. I can understand that, but I’m also of the opinion that Turbine was getting ready to shut down LotRO completely, so even if Daybreak does shut down LotRO in a year, it will be one more year that LotRO survived. But I doubt that Daybreak would get involved with LotRO unless it was an easy money-maker for them.

I always thought the first versions of Landmark were their best versions. I actually had some fun wandering around mining resources to make stuff in those first versions. I liked the crafting progression for the most part. It was pretty relaxing, and digging through the terrain was some pretty cool tech.

Unfortunately, every time they released a major patch, the game seemed to get worse. They were using Landmark as a testbed for the systems that would go into EQNext, but those features weren’t that great, most notably the combat. I never did any PvP, but fighting mobs in the countryside was horrible. I actually started working on a post titled “EverQuest Next Will Be Terrible” but then they went and cancelled EQNext. Honestly I’m glad they did, because it’s better for the MMORPG industry to have no EverQuest Next than to have an EverQuest Next that’s a massive flop.

I always got the impression that the features planned for Landmark and EQNext were simply beyond the skill set of the developers working on it. I felt like the changes were very slow. I imagined there were two old EverQuest programmers in a basement furuiously working to patch Visual Basic 6 spaghetti code, maybe reading books on modern coding techniques on their lunch breaks. If anyone ever sees that code base I bet it would be a mess of Daily WTF material.

I know I’m making wildly unfair and unfounded accusations here but after spending some time in the software development industry, you sort of get a feel for the development process behind a product based on watching the changes in the finished product. The point is that watching Landmark’s progress did not inspire me with confidence in its development process. Compare Landmark with something like Trove, which pushed out huge, sweeping changes very quickly in their early days.

In retrospect, I think their building system was too complex for a consumer product. It was practically Blender-level of detail (a gross exaggeration, I know–using Blender is like trying to juggle while riding a unicycle on a tightrope and recite Shakespeare in Chinese at the same time). The point is that it was work to build something. Some people loved that (many of whom probably want to make games :), but I think most people found it inaccessible. Then again, it had to be complex because it was also the tool they were using to build assets for EQNext.

I will now show you the video I recorded shortly after Landmark’s big March 2016 Update last year (the one right before the “launch”) where I tried to give it another chance. I wasn’t going to upload it because I thought I was unfairly harsh and critical of it. But hey, I lost $99 on this game, so here it is.

Here are all my posts on Landmark.

Devil Daggers

I saw Devil Daggers on Steam when it first came out and thought, “What an odd-sounding game.” I saw the “Too long, didn’t play” guy on Gamers With Jobs call it “punishingly hard,” and use it as the benchmark for measuring hard games ever since. I put it on my wish list. I laugh at hard games! Ha!

Recently it went on sale and I bought it for $2.99, along with some other stuff I might play some day (including another one of the Batman games–I have them all now but haven’t played any of them yet).

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Welp, Devil Daggers is pretty hard all right, but it’s also fun. Basically you run around a big round platform and shoot weird floating skulls and other demonic monstrosities until you die. Supposedly you’re throwing daggers really fast but it looks more like you’re shooting a stream of alien goo. That’s pretty much the entire game.

Average game time is somewhere around 10 seconds when you first start out. After an hour you might get that average up to about 30 seconds. After about a week I’ve advanced to the point where I can survive 60-70 seconds per game. That’s how you “score” a game, by the way: How long it takes you to die, to four decimal places. My absolute best time so far is 108 seconds.

I love this game. It’s really fast and smooth and responsive. It’s almost hypnotic. After you die, you can hit ‘R’ and immediately start a new game. Like instantaneously. How awesome is that? How many games today let you restart instantaneously? Almost none, that’s how many.

The other awesome thing is that it takes about 5 seconds for the game to startup after you click the desktop icon. You think to yourself, “Man I’d love to veg out with a dumb game for a few minutes,” click the game icon, and you’re right there. What a concept. It’s like the PC equivalent of an Android game, except even faster!

The sound effects are really understated but effective. You can tell they put a lot of work into it. There’s no music, just weird ambient creepy sounds.

The only flaw in the game is their insistence on artistic integrity by using a pixelated low-resolution software-rendered Quake look. You don’t even get to pick your screen resolution. It always looks like a 512×384 resolution game in 1997. I would much prefer it render everything with smooth edges at 2560×1440. But it’s a small quibble.

Snap Judgment – Novus Inceptio

I should be really excited to play Rift: Starfall Prophecy but to be honest I couldn’t care less about any MMORPG right now. I’m just in one of those moods.

Instead I installed one of the many games on my Steam list that I’ve never tried so that I could bring you another (cue huge reverb and echo) … Snap Judgment! .. judgment .. ment .. nt.

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Novus Inceptio is yet another Early Access survival sandbox game. You gather materials and craft things and explore. Currently it appears to only have a single-player mode, but multi-player is supposed to be coming.

I played it for about 30 minutes. I like the overall concept. I like the direction they are heading. I like the UI. I like the realistic art style. I like the complexity of the different crafting resources you can gather. I like the plump rabbits that look like roasted turkeys with bunny ears.

However, they have a long way to go yet before they reach the point where this game will be truly enjoyable. The key bindings are not yet configurable. The frame rates are slow, and everything has the look of the generic sets of free textures and models that come with game engines. The sound effects are somewhat jarring (I swear there is a Tivo blip-blip sound in there). It feels like there are just programmers working on this game, and no artists.

Perhaps a year from now the game will be in better shape.

Snap Judgment – Riders of Icarus

Welcome to another installment of Snap Judgment, where I fully evaluate every nuance of a game after playing it for less than an hour.

I downloaded and installed the latest malware … I mean, Asian import MMORPG … Riders of Icarus. I kid, I kid. But it asked me to reboot to finish the installation, which makes me wonder just what kind of rootkit it put on my system. Not to mention the extremely suspicious Nexon anti-cheat monitoring software that runs in the background. But I guess that’s the standard for Asian games now, because ArcheAge had one, and I think Blade and Soul, and maybe some others I can’t remember. I assume they’re all capturing my passwords and sending them to China, and not doing anything to prevent cheating.

Icarus itself is the most average an MMORPG could possibly be. The graphics are average, the sounds are average, the animations are average, the classes are average, the cut scenes are average, the story is average, the combat is average. If I had to give a nod to one thing I’d say the music was pretty good.

While I personally find the concept of flying whales pretty cool, there wasn’t nearly enough of that in the first 45 minutes to make me want to continue playing. Everything about the initial experience was … completely average, well-trodden MMORPG territory. Nothing in there made this game stand out from any other fantasy MMORPG.

Anyway, check out the video, so you don’t have to bother installing it.

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.