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TitanSide PlanetFall

After gorging myself on Titanfall for the past few days, I just wanted to re-affirm my impressions from earlier.

This = Very Fun

This = Very Fun

Essentially, Titanfall is the quintessential wirehead game: an absolute orgy of sensory experiences surrounding a hungry engine of time destruction. Respawns take less than five seconds. Time-to-Kill is better measured in mouse clicks. The game is so frantic and fast-paced that the 90 seconds inbetween matches feels like an eternity. This is the sort of game where nobody would have time to type “GOGOGO” if there were even a chat interface in-game, which there isn’t. There’s one in the lobby, but it’s sole function seems to be pre-game prognosticating (“Lame, they have two G6 players. GG”) and post-game trash talking/ragequits. There is also voice chat, but it too seems superfluous – what sort of coordination is possible or even necessary when your foes could be cloaked and across the map in 15 seconds or less?

I have never owned a Call of Duty or Medal of Honor game, so this could all be old news for some of you. I cut my teeth on Counter-Strike and Halo and Battlefield 2 which, at least back in the day, seemed to take a bit longer.

This = Less Fun

This = Less Fun

What is somewhat sad is my motivation for playing the game. Essentially, I’m playing it as a PlanetSide 2 substitute. They aren’t really comparable games at all, but sometimes you just want to shoot people in the face, sci-fi style. PlanetSide 2 was failing on the “people to shoot” front, and there is every indication that it’s eternal beta is catching up with it. Specifically, either it’s hemorrhaging players or hemorrhaging paying customers (or both). Anything less than a 24v24 hex is a waste of time, and even the few freebie kills from the spawn room of hopeless defenses is losing its luster.

And by the way, can I just reiterate how asinine faction-specific game experiences can be? I chose VS more than a year ago and have almost all of my unlocks and such spent on that character. There is not a single moment in which I have not regret that choice. I have infinite more fun on my TR and NC alts based solely on their faction-specific missile launchers. Infinite! About the only redeeming factor for VS is the Lasher (which is garbage 98% of the time) and the fact that the Scythe fighter jet thing doesn’t have bars across the cockpit windows. That’s it. A single TR or NC dude with a rocket launcher is a threat; a single VS dude with a missile launcher is a threat 10 minutes from now.

I brought up the Titanfall vs PlanetSide 2 comparison for another reason: I’m realizing the inherent imbalance of level-based unlocks. In Ps2, you are given a menu to select upgrades from. In Titanfall, you unlock things at certain levels, or occasionally based on achievements. I recently unlocked Satchel charges, for example, and it is better than grenades by a factor of a little over 9000. Most upgrades are technically sidegrades-with-downsides, but usually you’ll find that you can more than compensate for the trade-off. What you can’t really compensate for is that your guns or whatever can/will be weaker than those who played longer.

In any case, the one thing Titanfall absolutely must fix (and soon) is it’s utterly repulsive and/or non-existent matchmaking system. There is a “beta” version out there for Attrition and Hardpoint modes, but I cannot begin to imagine what that is supposed to mean in any context. Is it really that difficult to not have matches like this:

This = Rage Quit Worthy

This = Rage Quit Worthy

Those special symbols are sorta like the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer tags, e.g. it denotes a player who hit level 50 and reset their progress to level 1. After “Generation 2″ it also requires you to earn 4-5 special achievements in order to unlock the, ahem, next generation. It’s not fucking titan science to, you know, spread those guys around. Hell, I don’t even care if the G5 player is a skill-less noob somehow (pretty difficult to imagine), it’s just goddamn demoralizing heading into a 6v6 match of any kind looking down that sort of barrel. Give us the G5 and G2 and let them keep the G4 and G3. Bam! Balance! What’s worse is that you’re stuck in the same lobby of people from match to match unless you specifically leave, which tends to cement the winning teams harder and harder.

Anyway: Titanfall. Shooty-shooty, explosions, instant-kill jump kicks, wall-running. I spacebar through the 5-second kill cams so I can perma-sprint into the adrenalin high faster.

Smedbombs

John Smedley, the president of SOE, did a Reddit AMA a little while ago and dropped some bombs.

If you could relaunch a shutdown title which one would you pick and what would you do differently this time?

SWG. I would do everything differently.

SWG PLAYERS – OUR NEXT GAME (not announced yet) IS DEDICATED TO YOU. Once we launch it… you can come home now. (source)

Here are some more snippets:

His response to the closing of Free Realms was rather depressing:

1) Are you planning on adding more family-friendly options? First there was Toontown Online, then there was Free Realms, and CWA. Is there another youth-oriented game planned?

1) No. No more kids games. Kids don’t spend well and it’s very difficult to run a kids game. Turns out Kids do mean stuff to each other a lot. (source)

There was another question/answer that I felt was rather interesting, concerning card games:

Will Legends of Norrath also be sunsetted in the near future?

no. Actually after seeing what Blizzard did with Hearthstone it’s given us some other ideas…. LoN is an awesome card game. We can take that to the next level. (source)

The whole WoW-clone phenomenon is well established, but I still find it interesting seeing it take place in real-time.

Factoids from Smed

In the midst of phat beats the Smedster was laying down yesterday, there were a few random facts I didn’t want to let slip through the cracks.

In practice, our primary job is making fun games. That always comes first. PS2 was a $25M investment. (source)

It is pretty rare that we get to see how much a game costs directly from a knowledgeable source.

Player Studio items – let me make this simple. We excluded them because we didn’t like the idea of giving away someone else’s item. The player who made it would get no revenue in that case because it’s a free item. We are considering just eating the cost of this. Either way we are likely going to allow Player Studio items. (source)

In case you were wondering about the “eating the cost” comment for Player Studio items. Here is a bigger drop though:

We’re in the middle of developing Everquest Next Landmark (on schedule right now for end of this month). We rebooted the game 3 times. It was a massive delay and it hurt us financially. But it was the right thing to do for us, and for the industry. Most importantly you all are going to get to play something we’re very proud of and we think is a whole lot of fun. (source)

Emphasis added. So… the weird sort of “marketing” surrounding EQN:L is starting to make sense. Namely, SOE didn’t know what the hell they were doing either. That’s almost comforting. But a little scary too, considering it appears as though SOE is going to be leaning on EQN:L for financial stability.

We’ll have to see how it plays out, but for my part, I am liable to start my SOE subscription back up once I can start playing EQN:L given how I’ll likely be getting PlanetSide 2 bonuses as well.

October Surprise(s)

October is shaping up to be a busy month.

Hearthstone is going to have its first (and only) beta wipe coinciding with a large rebalancing patch. And apparently more opt-in beta waves. Which is an important distinction from open beta, which this will not be. The good news is that there isn’t going to be any further beta wipes, so progression for those that are in the beta is going to be permanent thereafter.

The “rebalancing” is of most interest to me (of course), as Blizzard is going to have a thread a needle made out of graphene. I have talked about some of the imbalanced cards before, but the most salient point is that the devs do not have the same access to the balance “knobs” as they do in, say, WoW or Diablo 3. Hypothetically, making the Pint-Sized Summoner go from costing 2 mana to 3, for example, is an enormous balancing change that has wide-ranging repercussions on how (and if) the card is played at all. I would personally change the Pint-Sized Summoner to be a 1/1 or maybe a 1/2; the former makes it a dead draw against Mage and Rogue decks, but honestly, I don’t feel like an Arena game should revolve around whether you have a turn-2 removal spell in your opening hand. Maybe they could change it to be only 1 mana off the cost of creatures and leave the rest alone?

Speaking of digital card games, Hex will be beginning its Alpha testing on October 8th. To be honest, even with the weekly Kickstarter updates, I sorta forgot about the fact that I pledged $85 (!) to this game nearly 5 months ago. And even more honestly, Hearthstone kinda sucked all the oxygen out of the CCG room. For however lame its been to go 0-3 or my most recent 3-3 record in the Hearthstone Arena, at least I could choose to pay $0 for those games; going back to $6 drafts will be rough. The Alpha test will give everyone 4 copies of all PvP cards, so at least I won’t have to decide whether to “waste” all my Kickstarter packs before the game comes out (which hopefully dilute the skill pool a bit).

Although I have not been playing it regularly, PlanetSide 2 is due for a huge optimization patch on October 23rd. I’m not actually all that excited about it, even though the devs are supposedly touting a ~30% gain in frame rates across all types of computer configurations. Why? First of all, this optimization work is at the expense of everything else. Changes to the Infiltrator class? Pushed back. New air weapons pushed back. New continent pushed back. And so on.

A fire was clearly lit under someone’s ass about poor performance, but with players leaving in droves, I’m not sure that chasing after the ones that left over computer issues is a winning proposition. And that leads me to reason number two: it’s all really a cynical ploy to get the game ready for the PlayStation 4. “Cynical” as in they only bothered caring about performance nearly a year after release, and only when the opportunity to cash in on a new market presented itself.

I’m a little bitter, if you can’t tell. Every time I get the bug to go play some more of PS2, I hit Instant Action and am sent to some deserted facility that changed hands an hour ago. And when I do happen to find some action, it inevitably dies down quickly and I’m left staring at the 5, 10, 15 minute capture timer. “Open world” and “emergent gameplay” is nice and all, but when I end up playing longer on my phone waiting for something to happen in the main game, something has gone horribly wrong. Ain’t nobody got time to wait around empty bases.

Luckily for me, and rather unfortunately for Sony, Battlefield 4 comes out October 29th.

I am not really all that certain I will be purchasing it on Day 1, although I had a blast playing Battlefield 3 for the six or so months that I was doing so. Looking back in my archives, I didn’t really talk about my experiences with it all that much. Basically, I see it as PlanetSide 2 without the waiting. While BF3 is technically more similar to Call of Duty than a sort of “open world” like PS2, the reality is that all PS2 brings to the table (or my table, anyway) is the ability to hop into a vehicle or airplane without having to wait/steal it from someone else. Every single other thing is better in BF3 – the shooting, the graphics, the action, the tactics, the depth. Again, technically, PS2 can have deeper strategy via Outfits and the like, but to the average player in the average game session, BF3 can’t be beat.

I haven’t really been following the Battlefield 4 news all that closely, but I find it interesting that the new game modes are being heavily skewed towards Call of Duty. Not that CoD invented any of them, of course, but I am more referring to that sort of play-style. Domination, Defuse, Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch, and Rush are all CoDish to me. Conquest is still there in all its glory though, and Obliteration sounds somewhat interesting with its hot potato gameplay. But sometimes I just feel like shooting people in the face, you know? So that’s probably okay. Plus, technically every game mode will be available in all 10 maps, so it is not as though you’re stuck in the same handful of maps for every Conquest game.

Also coming in October: Terraria‘s 1.2 Patch, Don’t Starve‘s final two content patches (October 1st and presumably the final one 3 weeks later), and I guess GTA Online.

Regarding the latter, I am, of course, holding out for the PC release.

First Impression: Firefall (Beta)

Downloaded the Firefall open beta client yesterday because, you know, Press™.

For those not keeping track at home, Firefall is… well, hell if I actually know. Without looking it up, I’m assuming it’s a F2P MMO set in an open-world, over-the-shoulder Borderlands 2 with bugs taking the place of bandits. After looking it up, it seems the devs want to emphasize the fact that it is a skill-based action shooter with sandbox MMO elements. Apparently the world is a not level-restricted, but the highest-ranked “dungeons” will need full groups with crafted gear. Which sounds like roundabout levels to me, but let’s play along.

One of my biggest fears with new MMOs – or any game which expects me to be playing for 50+ hours – is losing on the character select screen. How am I supposed to know which class will be the most fun months from now? And even if I luck into the best class for me, how will I know it won’t radically change (or get nerfed) years later? So, right away, Firefall got some major brownie points with me once I understood that a “class” means a Battleframe, which you can swap out at pretty much any time. Need a healer? Jump into your healer suit and go play.

In the future, even clothes are rationed.

In a twist, the Assault and Engineer classes have less armor than the healer and rogue.

Loincloth starting armor tropes aside, I think the whole Battleframe direction is pretty clever. Not only are you allowing people to play whatever role is necessary at the time, having independent frames means a player has to “level-up” multiple times while still allowing for quick catch-up. In other words, it’s horizontal progression. PlanetSide 2 has this same sort of thing, where you might have to purchase various levels of Flak Armor for each class (which is expensive with Certs), or you can just focus on playing Light Assault or Medic and save your currency.

In any case, from the extremely limited amount of time I spent playing, things seem fun enough. They certainly looked good, at any rate.

Borderlands 2 with an actual color palate.

Borderlands 2 with an actual color palate.

Some people might not like the sort of cel-shaded motif here, but this sort of thing has never bothered me. If the game runs better and has more options for crazy effects, then I will “sacrifice” ultra-realistic graphics any day. Plus: everyone has jetpacks, right from the start.

I can’t give much more of an impression beyond the above, as I was unable to progress past the second “quest.” The first quest was to follow a waypoint, and the second was to kill some bugs and then return to purchase your sidearm from a vendor. Unfortunately, either I am completely oblivious (possible) or the the game was bugging out for me (likely) seeing as how no menu would appear after interacting with said vendor:

How about you give me a gun and I don't shoot your face off?

How about you give me a gun and I don’t shoot your face off?

Since the mouse controls your aim, I know that I successfully clicked ‘E’ on the vendor because the crosshair disappeared and an actual mouse pointer appeared. But no menu. I tried highlighting the guns in the background, clicking on every on-screen icon-looking thing, reloading the client, and finally restarting my computer. Open beta is open beta, but I was left feeling pretty disappointed all the same. Hell, I couldn’t even submit a ticket because that interface wasn’t showing up either. I could probably submit a bug report on the forums… or I could go play some other game that works instead.

While I was clicking around, I did notice something particularly interesting:

Customizable interface right out of the box?!

Customizable interface right out of the box?!

That’s right, you can move shit around your screen and I think resize elements right from the start. It might seem like a small thing, and it arguably is small, but it begs the question of why some MMOs *cough* require you to download 432 mods to do the same sort of things. Artistic restrictions? General laziness? More of this sort of thing, please.

I might check back in on Firefall later to see if the problem resolves itself, or I might simply wait until release. Until then, feel free to try it out yourself.

Worst of All Worlds

A few days ago Tobold made what seemed to be a reasonable argument that F2P games are just like cell phone plans – some plans work better than others depending on how much you use the phone. That seems fine, until you realize that phone carriers typically give you a choice between subscriptions and buying minutes, even for the same phone model. But more than that, what I want to talk about is how/why I feel that F2P is always bad for me as a player.

I’m one of those people that derive pleasure from “optimizing the fun out of games.” Of course, I don’t actually see it as fun reduction at all; if anything, I get the most entertainment possible when I can lever the whole of my mind in opposition to the game designer. It is not that I want to discover the ultimate ability/gear combo to make the game trivial (most games have cheat codes, Save file hacks, etc), it is that I want the game to be difficult or deep enough to drive me to discover it using the tools the designer gave me. The optimization part is simply the nominal destination of a thoroughly engaging and fun journey getting there.

This brings me (back) to the topic of F2P. One of the common defenses of F2P is that it evens the playing field between the time-rich and the people with limited time. Frankly, I feel that is bullshit right off the bat. One of the hallmarks of a fair game is everyone playing by consistent rules – if I have to kill 1000 boars, everyone has to kill 1000 boars. If killing that many boars takes 15 hours, then yes, someone who can spent 15 hours a day playing the game will have an “advantage” over someone who can only play two hours.¹ Then again, a particularly skillful player might be able to figure out how to kill the required number of boars in only 10 hours, perhaps by optimizing his/her equipment, farming strategy, and/or ability rotation. The “time-rich” player might still have the “advantage,” but their brute-force approach is inefficient.

The typical F2P experience is thus the worst of all possible worlds for players like myself. I am both time and money “rich” (i.e. I have disposable income), which already presents uncomfortable gaming decisions on a daily basis. If you have no money or no time, the solution to any F2P problem is pretty obvious: grind it out or pay to skip the grind. Conversely, those of us who can do both are stuck rationalizing every possible decision all the time. “Do I grind for another 2 hours, or do I just spend the $5?” Maybe the default should be pay-to-skip in that scenario, but what about all the other games you could be purchasing with that same $5? Is “saving” two hours in one game worth purchasing a different game that could last you 20 hours by itself?

The real kicker though is the fact that F2P more or less invalidates any real sense of optimization. All of us already know that the most efficient move in a F2P game is to load up on XP potions, convert cash into in-game currency to clean out the AH, and open lockboxes all day until we have everything of any value. There is no possible way to beat that. “Just figure out the most efficient path without spending money.” Playing with an artificial handicap is simply not as engaging to me. You can technically increase the difficulty of a FPS by decreasing your mouse sensitivity, but that will never feel as satisfying as having more intelligent opponents.

Where I agree with Tobold is that F2P is here to stay. Outside of the CoDs and Battlefields and Counter-Strikes of the world, I’m not sure many multiplayer games could exist on their own in sustainable numbers. Astute readers will also know that I have been playing PlanetSide 2 for 230+ hours now and that’s a F2P game. Then again, I also spent over $100 in Ps2 thus far, including being “subscribed” for the last six consecutive months (efficiency, yo). Not to mention how I bought helmets and camo for my characters almost entirely because of the extremely slight advantage that they bring (arguably P2W).

I am not against F2P games on principal, it’s just that they quite literally cannot be as fun to me as they could be. I play these games to submerge myself in their fiction. Being constantly reminded that for the low, low price of $4.99 I could have X, Y, and Z not only breaks the immersion and puts a price tag on my hitherto priceless time, it also serves as a reminder that the solution to every problem is just a credit card away.

¹ Advantage is in scare-quotes because I don’t recognize an advantage as being “playing the same game more.”

The 4th Faction

One of the perennial hot topics on the PlanetSide 2 Reddit forums are concerns over the “4th Faction” and how to handle the issues that arise from it. So, let’s go ahead and talk about this issue.

Broadly defined, players of the 4th Faction in PlanetSide 2 are the people who have no particular loyalty to any one of the game’s three factions, and instead choose whichever side has the highest chance of winning. Some definitions of the 4th Faction term specifically reference the players who switch to an alt character in the final moments of an Alert, in order to get a higher Cert award. Other definitions include “spy” characters who will switch factions mid-battle to sabotage the efforts of their opponents via friendly fire. Still other definitions are so broad to encompass anyone who has an alt of another faction, even if that alt is on another server entirely.

So, already you can see that there is a serious problem with defining what a 4th Factioneer consists of, let alone how to tackle the issue (assuming one exists). And yet, by far, the most popular response is somewhat rudimentary: nuke it from orbit logging onto one Faction automatically locks your other Faction characters for 12 (or more) hours.

Apparently this was how the situation was handled in the original PlanetSide, and some feel it would work in this game too. Others are a bit more charitable and suggest the faction-lock should only trigger if you leave the warp gate. After all, SOE gives free daily Certs to each character you log onto, so a log-on trigger would prevent you from claiming these Certs. Others think a 3 minute timer would be sufficient. Still others believe you shouldn’t be able to roll different-faction alts altogether, or at least on the same server. Nevermind if SOE merged your server, or you are Australian and only have a single server on the correct side of the Pacific Ocean.

If I have not been overt enough with my tone, allow me to be explicit: the 4th Faction is a problem that cannot be solved. It can be mitigated somewhat with better incentives, but all of the proposals I have seen (including faction-locking) thus far have been terrible design.

Let us all face reality here: nobody likes to lose. But the more salient point is that you cannot force someone to stick around to lose. At any moment a player can simply log off, hit Alt-F4, or unplug his/her computer from the wall. While games like EVE/Darfall can have your character remain attackable for X amount of time even after a ragequit, the point is that that player has already given up. Although I have not played League of Legends, I have heard about their anti-quitting penalties. Which, again, doesn’t really solve the problem of “motivating” a player to not have (mentally) conceded an obvious loss.

Basically all games.

#FundamentalTruth

Many of the 4th Faction sob stories revolve around the curious population effect once an Alert starts winding down. Teams will be an even 33%/33%/33% for the first 1.5 hours, but in the final act the numbers start reading 50%/30%/20% or similar. “Those traitors are switching!” the forum warriors cry. Except… that’s not how it works. Each faction has a population cap per continent. You cannot go from, say, a 333 person split to 500/300/200, because 333 is the limit for your faction. While it is certainly possible for someone to switch to their winning-faction alt in the final moments, it’s only possible because there were empty seats.

And even if it were impossible to switch (via faction-locking), what difference does it make? The entire premise of the argument is that the person in question is on the losing side. The point at which they decided to switch characters is the point at which they gave up. They still would have given up if they could not switch. Switching characters at that point is indistinguishable from them simply logging off altogether or simply being AFK at the Warp Gate.

The fantasy that being “forced” to stay on your character will create the opportunity for a come-from-behind victory is exactly that: a fantasy. It might happen when the stars align and the angels sing, but it will never be due to random players banding together, but rather the concerted effort of Outfits – players who would not be switching to their alts anyway.

What are some solutions? Like I said before, we cannot “solve” the issue, but we can mitigate it. Here is an easy one: stop making Alerts grant 30, 40, 50 Certs for simply being online at the 00:01 second mark. Sometimes I will be online at 11pm and a 2-hour Alert will pop up, which means I can only really play part of it. While the Alert will grant a blanket 20% XP increase for everyone for the duration, why is it that I can play 99% of it and then lose the bonus Certs by having to go to sleep? The current design is dumb at both ends of the spectrum, and actually encourages people to switch characters (since they get the full reward whether they played 2 hours or 2 seconds).

Perhaps it would be too resource-intensive to track individual participation in an Alert. In which case, here is another solution: a steady trickle of rewards. Instead of 20% bonus XP throughout and 10,000 XP at the very end, how about 20% bonus XP and +50 XP every 5 minutes you are logged on? Or, hell, to reward the more “loyal” players, make the reward ramp up the longer you stay logged onto that character during the Alert. Something like +25 XP every 5 minutes, which doubles every half hour – if you stay for the entire Alert, towards the end you would be getting +200 XP every 5 minutes plus whatever you earn on the field. Change the final reward to something like 50% more XP/Resource generation for the next X hours, to incentivize winning (if necessary).

Will this solve server/faction imbalances? Sadly, no. If you are not VS on Matterson, you are probably getting farmed; other servers have similar scenarios with different faction names. You cannot force someone to pick the losing team. Not only that, but anyone who complains about the imbalance already implicitly gives voice to desire that sustains it. “It sucks being TR on Matterson.” Yes, I’m sure it does. Just like it sucks being outnumbered anywhere else. Stick with the miserable situation long enough, and it would be perfectly rational to quit or transfer… which is exactly what 4th Factioneers (proactively) do.

Am I 4th Factioning? By some definitions, yes. I created a character of each faction, on three different servers that I researched ahead of time to be the home of large Outfits. After server merges, my NC alt was moved to Matterson (home of my VS main). I basically stick with VS until I get the desire to use the Phoenix (camera-guided rocket launcher) or the desire to ruin people’s days with the Striker (OP and annoying lock-on rocket launcher). Indeed, for the longest time I started to think I would just give up on VS altogether, considering that the Lasher/Lancer was not nearly fun enough to justify the faction. Then, well, the ZOE happened. ¹

But here’s the thing. I find it completely ridiculous to buy into the whole “faction pride” angle when you are presented with fairly unique, faction-specific experiences. You are, in a sense, voluntarily avoiding the other two-thirds of the game. Granted, the empire-specifics weapons other than the rocket launchers are really just minor variations, so maybe not an entire two-thirds. My point still stands: the loyalty is largely arbitrary self-flagellation.

While even-fights and faction parity is a perfectly understandable, legitimate desire, so is the desire to not experience demoralizing losses or be stuck on dead-end servers/factions. And even in a perfectly balanced scenario, you are still going to lose two out of three games. Ergo, the best thing we can do is give consolation prizes to the losing side and hope there are a perfectly symmetrical amount of stubborn underdog-fans for, well, ever.

¹ And it’s getting nerfed, of course.

Virtual Realms: Height of Cynicism

Alright, maybe Virtual Realms were the unannounced feature of 5.4. Or the tutorial zone, aka Proving Grounds. But, no, probably Virtual Realms:

New Feature: Virtual Realms

  • Virtual Realms are sets of realms that are fused together, and will behave exactly as if they were one cohesive realm. Players on the same Virtual Realm will be able to join guilds, access a single Auction House, join arena teams and raids, as well run dungeons or group up to complete quests.
  • Players belonging to the same Virtual Realm will have a (#) symbol next to their name.

I guess they finally solved that otherwise insurmountable naming problem, amirite?

Anyway, there are two (other) reasons this announcement is the height of cynicism:

1) Server Merges by any other name.

I get it, you get it, we all get it. Actually saying “server merges” is a sign of the apocalypse and bad PR besides. Grouping several low-pop servers together “virtually” is putting lipstick on the pig of 1.3+ million subscriber losses in the last quarter. At some point though, it’s just sad. You aren’t fooling anyone with that ridiculous comb-over. Just shave your head and get it over with.

2) Aren’t you glad you just spent $12.50+ server transferring?

I read the comments on my earlier post, regarding how things “usually go on sale before they are obsoleted.” For as jaded and dour as I can be under normal circumstances, I generally have some minimum level of faith in humanity. Obvious displays of naked greed are actions that can still genuinely surprise me, even if I distrust the “altruism” of corporations as a rule.

But, Jesus Christ, did Blizzard just take a huge shit on their playerbase.

There was a running joke in the PlanetSide 2 community regarding something similar: Item of the Day. Usually, the deals are 50% off the Station Cash (i.e. RMT) price of some garbage item or another, including items that are way cheaper to purchase with Certs. Every now and then though, some recently-released gun or something will pop up, prompting a lot of sales. People always joked that whenever something good snuck its way into the rotation, that meant it was getting nerfed by next week. And the shitty thing? It usually did.

The assumption got so pervasive and accurate that Higby, one of the PlanetSide 2 devs, actually stepped in and rolled back a planned nerf to one of the vehicle weapons that had just went on sale. He assured the community that these sales are planned out 30 days in advance, that the sale/nerf cycle was just coincidence, but who can you really believe when it comes to capitalistic incentives?

That question is not so rhetorical anymore. It was not an accident that Blizzard put server transfers on sale for the first time in their 8+ year history a mere week before announcing (free) server merges. Maybe they see some distinction insofar as players can choose where they go versus leaving it up to random chance. It’s still absolute bullshit though, because how many people would have bought a server transfer if the sale was this week, or next week? QED.

I mean, this is a new low that even EA hasn’t achieved, not for lack of trying.

First Impressions: Dust 514

After talking about this F2P title on and off for the most of last year, I decided it was about time to put my conjecture where my mouth is. Err… hands? You know what I mean.

After quite literally dusting off my PlayStation 3, I started the process of downloading the 1.3gb game. To kill some time, I started playing Journey while downloading Dust 514 in the background. I didn’t make it more than five minutes before stopping Journey and doing some research as to how I could take screenshots on the PS3 because damn. An hour later, I stopped looking at $150 video capture cards and finished installing Dust 514. Ten minutes later, I begin updating the game. Forty-five minutes later, Dust 514 finishes downloading and installing a patch larger (!?) than the entire original download.

Now, if it has not already been clear from historical record, let it be noted that I am not much of a console gamer. This was not always the case. In fact, all the way up until the end of the PS2 era, I was a console purist. With the notable exception of Balder’s Gate and the original Deus Ex, I felt like PC RPGs were cheap imitations of the holy JRPG (i.e. Squaresoft), which could do no wrong. In my prior life as a freelance RPG reviewer, I have 60+ “published” RPG reviews attesting to that fact; I even gave Planescape: Torment a below-average score because the combat system was bad.

I’m bringing this up to illustrate the fact that this entire console generation has left me behind until now. Or, rather, I left it behind. Although I was in college during the Halo heyday and thus have experience playing its first three iterations many times in the fraternity house, I never personally owned an XBox. Ergo, my skill at thumbstick shooters is abysmal. Give me a mouse and keyboard and I will shoot your aim-assisted face off any day. Ask my thumbs to do more than spam the Spacebar though, and I’ll have some rehabilitation issues.

Enough preface, let’s dive in.

First Minutes

God damn this game is ugly. This seriously looks like I’m watching a 480p Youtube video of someone playing Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Yes, the Nintendo 64 version. Don’t get me wrong, it looks better than Darkfall, but it also looks like it was drawn entirely in watercolors on a soggy canvas. Or I’m looking at it through goggles filled with river water. My first red flag should have been the 1.3gb download, I suppose, although Skyrim was Skyrim with just 5.8gb. Then again, that was on the PC…

I made Azuriel Inanage a Gallente something something race, a decision based entirely on the look of the face mask. In my defense, the entire race decision seemed somewhat pointless considering everyone is in armor all the time, mercenaries can fight for any race, and you can train every race’s gear. I sat through several tutorial screens which showed me around the basic lobby interface, with its amusing “Would you like to learn more?” Starship Trooper prompts. They start out giving you 500,000 Skill Points and 250,000 ISK and then… basically drops you off at the pool.

Now, I still struggle with the judgment as to whether a game developer deserves a pass for this sort of design. Is it the noble “sink or swim” attitude, or is it “crunch time, we’ll fix it in a patch later” lazyness? I’m personally willing to muddle my way through a considerable amount of bullshit in search for that one kernel of fun, but that’s mainly because I’m a masochist at a minimum it becomes easy blog content. And I am not even really saying that Dust 514′s Skill/etc system is hard. It’s just… opaque. 100% function, 0% form.

You basically cannot spend Skill Points until you pay ISK for a Skill book that unlocks that specific Skill. So to start, I needed to purchase Skill X for Y ISK and then spend Z SP to unlock Rank 1. Some of the skills are “empty,” in that their sole function seems to be to sink ISK/SP by forcing you to rank up just for the privilege to access other skills. Others are more functional, like increasing shields by 2% per rank. The system seems to promote unlocking as many Rank 1-2 skills as possible (these ranks only cost 18k-36k SP), but you are gated pretty hard by ISK, at least at first.

So let’s go get some ISK.

It is worth noting, before I get into the outcome of my first few matches, how this game works. You start out with a few different loadouts with basic gear that you can always equip no matter what. Every other thing in the game, from weapons to side-arms to grenades to the very dropsuit you wear is a consumable resource. Meaning, each time you die and respawn, you lose everything you were wearing. Did you just buy some uber-gun but get ambushed at the spawn point? It’s gone now.

I suppose this is designed to evoke a feeling of risk and gravity as a counter-point to the more standard suicidal FPS inclinations. I wouldn’t say that I am completely risk-adverse per se, but I absolutely hate the feeling that I would have been better off not playing at all. Losing WoW Arena games back when hitting 1800 represented a huge leap in combat effectiveness, for example, felt brutal; there was no worse feeling than starting at 1780 Rating and then losing six games in a row. Dust 514 evokes that same feeling, as not only can you lose a bunch of purchased gear right away, but that gear also represents ISK you could have spent buying Skill books instead.

As it turns out though, those ISK concerns may be moot.

My first match was pretty bad, entirely due to my aiming like… well, like I was holding a gun using just my thumbs. It was a “Skirmish” map, which breaks down as a pretty standard cap and control game. At the end of the match, it turns out I received ~150,000 ISK for losing. Based on my experience thus far, the payout seems to be mainly based on time spent; the difference between a win and a loss seems to be around 50k ISK. Also, you can end up receiving “salvage” in the form of guns/equipment. I am still technically in the “battle academy,” aka the kiddie pool, but I would be surprised if you end up earning less out in the game proper.

Given how much ISK you get either way, any consumable equipment concerns are severely diminished. Even a top-tier assault rifle only costs ~11,000 ISK. There was not a full match in which I died more than 8 times, so I would still have turned a profit despite losing all those guns. Plus, presumably a better weapon would mean dying less in the first place. The value of a whole suit loadout is probably more substantial, but quibbling over the 700 ISK mid-tier guns suddenly seems silly. If this is the paradigm though, why bother with all the ISK nonsense to begin with?

Ah, right. Free-to-play.

Instead of purchasing items individually, you can buy blueprints which give you an infinite supply of them. These blueprints, assuming they don’t drop as salvage, can only be bought via Aurum, the RMT currency. Now, Dust 514 is probably cheaper in the scheme of things compared to, I don’t know, Planetside 2. But in this particular case, the game mechanics themselves feel a bit more insidious. Granted, it could just be my bias showing through, especially given how Dust 514 lets you preview the weapons or effectively “buy them” for significantly less than the Planetside 2 equivalent.

Honestly, I just don’t like consumable anything, even if I have more than I would ever need. I’m the guy still hesitating to use the stockpile of Elixirs while fighting the final boss. It makes no rational sense, but there it is. Ergo, I’m leery of CCP having my number, so to speak, when it comes to these blueprints. I’m not actually going to buy any, but I will feel bad all the same.

Anyway, those are my Day 1 impressions of Dust 514. Like always, I will stick with the game for a bit longer just to ensure that I give it as fair a time as is possible under the circumstances.

PlanetSide 2 – Six Months Later

So, it has been almost 6 months since I started playing PlanetSide 2. Am I still having fun?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: …yes.

Everything a sniper likes to see.

Everything a sniper likes to see.

Aside from a brief 1-2 week experiment with Outfits (aka guilds), I continue to have fun despite playing solo. While many of the problems I outlined in my prior article are true regarding organized PvP, they are perhaps a tiny bit less true now. Anti-Aircraft units have not been nerfed, but I am a bit more cognizant of of where they might be and thus avoid them. Or perhaps, given the server mergers, there may simply less people playing.

The biggest “problem” I consistently have with PlanetSide 2 are its break points.

Have you ever sat down at an MMO (or any game) and find yourself easily able to play for 2, 3, 4 hours at a time? That sort of thing doesn’t happen by accident; it’s part of a game’s intentional design. In PlanetSide, I occasionally sit down prepared for a long night of gaming… and then log off after 30 minutes. Finding a compelling fight isn’t necessarily the problem: the problem is finding the next one.

Momentum can stall. Spawning at a Sunderer and throwing yourself into the meat-grinder attack of a base feels awesome. And then you win. Err… what now? Sometimes the attacking force splits up. Sometimes you stay together as a cohesive unit, only to find that the next base you find is empty. It can take 8+ minutes to cap even an empty base. That is eight literal you-only-have-41 million minutes of your life, staring at the wall.

Thankfully, this shit should be changing soon.

Thankfully, this shit should be changing soon.

Part of why I stick with this game though is because of how much communication and iteration there is between the devs and the community. There are major game updates roughly every two weeks. The community asked for test servers so broken mechanics and (new) bugs stop appearing, and now we have a Public Test Server. The devs are pretty active on the Reddit forums, soliciting suggestions and advice.

I don’t think the designers have all the right answers – the devs clearly have some issues coming up with interesting Vanu mechanics, not unlike the issues Blizzard has with the paladin kit – but they are visibly trying. I am excited in particular regarding the upcoming lattice system. Assuming everything works, this could go a long way in fixing the problems with the gaps in engagement I experience after capping a base. And changes to the capping of a base – where destroying the Spawn Control Unit allows an attacking team to actually move on – will lessen the dead time after overwhelming a position.

So… good news all around.

Still such a thrill rushing an enemy base as a spontaneous group.

Still such a thrill rushing an enemy base as a spontaneous group.

If you are curious about the personal effects of Cert-Gate a month later, let me assure you that I don’t feel like it has changed all that much about the way I play. Yes, I have most every upgrade. Yes, I care a bit less about capping empty bases, given that I don’t feel like the 2-5 bonus Certs are worth 2-5 minutes of my time. On the other hand, I naturally have a hard time committing all of some limited resource to something. For example, I have ~2800 Certs left out of my stockpile. There are two guns I could buy with those Certs… but I won’t. Because I know that there will be new shiny things coming out in a few weeks, and I like the option to purchase those instead. But I might not buy those, and instead hold out for the new gun releases after the next batch. And so it is almost as if my 2800 Certs don’t even exist. It’s a bit irrational, but that’s how I roll.

So, yeah, I’m still having fun. PlanetSide 2 isn’t my main game (largely because it can’t be, given the breaks), but it is still a game I constantly think about and can’t wait to play for a bit when I get home. And the best thing? I don’t have to make apologies to anyone for those days when I just don’t log in.

Who is enjoying the MMO single life? This guy.