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Changes Overwatch Needs

The (early) verdict is in: most everyone loves Overwatch. It’s currently at 94 Metacritic.

OverwatchScore

That’s… really high.

Part of me wants to reject that score right out of hand. 94? Overwatch is currently tied with Skyrim, Mass Effect 2, and Bioshock Infinite, while being  a full point higher than Witcher 3 and Minecraft. Indeed, the nagging feeling I have currently is that Overwatch is almost exactly a Bioshock Infinite situation: a very pretty game everyone loves despite it being terrible.

Well… maybe not quite. Overwatch is actually really fun to play. Until it isn’t. I’ve come up with a few small changes that would make the experience a bit better for me and anyone.

1) Fix the disconnects

Overwatch drops a lot more games than it really has any reason to. While to an extent you can possibly blame it on Day 1 release issues, the disconnects have been appearing en masse since the Beta. One minute you’re playing, next minute it’s asking you to sign back into Overwatch, including entering your Authenticator. Which is weird, considering that I haven’t actually had to sign into a Blizzard game since getting the new Battle.net launcher.

OverwatchDisconnect

Guess I didn’t want to play anyway.

The injury to the insult is that being disconnected in this fashion drops you from the match entirely. In a group? Not anymore. There is essentially no way back into the match you just dropped from, even if you were disconnected for less than a minute. Since Overwatch matches can last less than five minutes, I suppose it’s not too terrible a loss, but it’s still annoying as hell.

2) Indicate Role Willingness

One of the more awkward moments of an Overwatch match is the beginning, during character selection, when everyone waits to see what everyone else picks. Except for those Hanzo/Tracer players, who just don’t give a damn. Meanwhile, I wait down the clock, seeing if anyone else is going to pick a Tank or Healer character, so I can best support my (PUG) team. I don’t mind either role, but if someone else takes them, I’m picking Mei or Junkrat so I can enjoy myself.

But that’s the rub. If there is someone else who actually cares about winning, we end up running out the clock together. I’m comfortable in any role, but maybe they only want to play a tank or DPS and not a healer. If I pull the trigger on tank, they are essentially going to give up and go DPS. Or we can go double-tank and just lose with no healer. I could perhaps switch once they pick something, but if we’re on Defense, there won’t be much time to get set up before the match begins.

All of this can be resolved by a WoW-esque role-check before the team is even formed. “Queue as Offence/Defense characters.” “Queue as Tank/Offense.” “Queue as All.” Perhaps show a little emblem beneath our names on the character select screen. While it is possible to, you know, just type this all out in the convenient team chat text box, I don’t feel like it should be necessary. Plus, this would set Overwatch up in the future to have better matchmaking (creating teams with at least two people who indicate a willingness to be tank/heals) or even just filling teams out.

3) Team Shuffling

It needs to happen. Or if it already does, it needs to be more apparent. I understand that the current two-map setup would make it weird – attacking on a Payload (etc) map follows defending on the same with the other team – but there is currently very little reason to keep playing with a shitty team. In fact, if you experience a blow-out, there is no reason to stay, period. Dropping out “works” for you as an individual, but that solution just ends up forcing both teams to break apart if enough people do.

The downsides are legitimate. Two evenly matched teams might want to keep facing each other in various rematches, for example. But how likely are you to face evenly matched teams in PUGs? I’m not advocating shuffling people who queue in groups, obviously. The other downside is making it a bit more difficult to get to know/friend-request a particularly skillful teammate. Here too though, I feel like shuffling doesn’t really change that, assuming you can get to know people in 7-minute matches in the first place.

4) Current objective timers in Death Cam mode

Why in god’s name would any designer feel like it’s useful or necessary to include historical objective timers in your post-death replay? I know you can disable Death Cam altogether, but my point is that the objective timer should be, you know, the actual timer at all, er, times.

I should not have to choose between no Death Cam and Current Objective timer. Seeing yourself getting sniped at the last possible second is already frustrating, without knowing whether someone else saved the day after your death until you’re already back in the game.

5) Bastion maximum bullet count in Sentry mode reduced.

Yeah, Bastion is “easy” to counter and we should probably stop complaining about him. Here’s the thing though: when your solution to a stationary enemy killing your team within two seconds is changing your character, something is up. Sure, change characters when the enemy team is turtling up, or picked four tanks, or they all went Hanzo. But if the existence of a single character on the enemy team dictates your own team comp… then maybe you need to admit an issue. Nobody is swapping characters when they notice a Reinhardt or Tracer or Mei on the other team.

Plus, this is a team-based game. Who goes Genji/Windowmaker/etc? You? What if you are the team’s only tank/healer? Maybe your team just deserves to lose then, I guess.

Also, that Kotaku writer actually suggested Reinhardt to block the incoming stream of bullets, as if Bastion couldn’t chew through his entire 2000 HP shield in less than four seconds. The Wiki states Bastion deals 4-15 damage in Sentry mode and spits ~30 rps, but that’s fairly laughable. Assuming it’s correct though, and assuming 15 damage apiece, that means 1800 damage is thrown down in four seconds, shield is broken a second later, and Reinhardt is dead on the floor a second after that.

Meanwhile, Bastion still has another second to put out 80-300 damage before he has to reload.

So, my solution? Reduce Bastion’s maximum ammo size in Sentry mode from 200 to 150. He will still murder everyone as soon as they walk through the door, and skilled players will still be all but untouchable with judicial use of selecting targets and/or frequently moving and/or you know, reloading. But if those damage/rps numbers are correct, Reinhardt can at least provide some coverage versus Bastion solo, at least long enough to throw out a Fire Strike.

6) Increase tick rate to 60 Hz.

Overwatch has a tick rate of 20 Hz by default. If you haven’t ever heard of tick rates in FPS games and/or the importance thereof, this is a good primer. Battlefield 4 had this same situation at release, with it updating at 20 Hz and resulting in an excessive number of headshots around corners. When the tick rate is increased, the game feels even smoother, and you start seeing Death Cam footage that resembles what you actually did right before getting owned.

The head-scratching part of this is the fact that Blizzard already introduced 60 Hz tick rates into Overwatch. In Custom Games. Which is great, I suppose, for the people wanting to run tournaments or something. But there is zero downside to the average player to go to 60 Hz and every possible upside. It just needs to happen.

In any case, that is that.

Review: Bioshock Infinite

Game: Bioshock Infinite
Recommended price: $15
Metacritic Score: 96
Completion Time: ~14 hours
Buy If You Like: Stripped down, Art-Over-Substance FPS console ports

If only everything had this level of polish.

If only this level of polish extended to the gameplay.

Something that I struggle with when starting a videogame for the first time, is under which critique rubric I am to judge the experience. Sometimes the circumstances makes it easy: a $10 indie title ensures low-expectations, with potential high returns on either an entertainment-per-dollar basis (FTL, Binding of Isaac, SPAZ) or even an artistic one (LIMBO, Bastion). Indeed, in the years since the indie game revolution gained steam, I have found it increasingly difficult to justify $40-$60 Day 1 purchases of even AAA titles. What is the point, other than proactively (and expensively) avoiding spoilers? It was with this thought and a few other development team concerns that I initially decided to forgo Bioshock Infinite’s Day 1 purchase. That is, until I watched this fateful Adam Sessler video review. I mean, how could you not whip out your credit card right there?

Now, some 14 hours later and $45 poorer, I am wishing for an alternate reality in which I waited for the inevitable 75% off Steam sale to purchase the game.

Bioshock Infinite follows the story of Booker DeWitt, as he searches the floating streets of Columbia to bring back a girl to erase his debts. It is immediately clear at the beginning that Columbia is both visually stunning – seriously, where did these guys pull this fidelity out of the Unreal hat? – and an overt, artistic repudiation of Pax Americana fetishism. While rifling through picnic baskets and trashcans for every last silver dollar, you will run into signs of the blunt, religiously-justified racism and bigotry of the early 1900s. While I would be surprised if this is the first videogame rendition of this particular theme, Sessler is not wrong about game aspect of Bioshock Infinite functioning as a more effective prism to explore this theme, than had this been a book or movie and showing the same thing.

She is the color in this Paint By Numbers.

Elizabeth is the color in this Paint By Numbers.

Sessler and the other reviewers whom have catapulted Bioshock Infinite to a 96 (!!) Metacritic score are also not wrong about the brilliant elegance of Elizabeth. Rescued fairly early, Elizabeth initially serves both as a foil to the stoic/cynical Booker and as a player narrative stand-in. As the game progresses though, she provides a sort of… warmth that becomes noticeably lacking from the game proper whenever she is absent. Sometimes it is mesmerizing just watching her run around – the number of animations are incredible – or when she sits at a park bench as Booker stuffs his face with candy bars looted from the pockets of the slain. Immune to all damage, Elizabeth nevertheless avoids feeling like mere window-dressing (even in combat), while also avoiding the immersion-breaking pathing bugs we have come to expect from companion AI. She is simply… there. Present. And Bioshock Infinite is better for it.

I would also be remiss if I did not briefly mention the absolutely amazing soundtrack. While the omnipresent “angry violins” battle music gets old pretty fast, nearly everything single other ambient score is both haunting and melodic. Periodically there will even be barbershop-quartet-esque pieces that quite literally caused me to remove my hands from the keyboard and mouse to simply experience. Hearing songs like Will the Circle Be Unbroken and God Only Knows satisfies a need I never even knew existed. Any game that can fit in classical Mozart in a way both consistent with the fiction and powerful in execution gets mad props from me.

Unfortunately, where Sessler and all the other reviewers go off the rails is when they talk about (or conspicuously omit talking about) the actual game bits.

Simply put: Bioshock Infinite is not a very good FPS title, and absolutely not at all a good Bioshock title from a gameplay perspective. The skeleton is all there, with Vigors replacing the Plasmids, but there isn’t any meat. The gunplay is simplistic. Environmental damage combos are virtually non-existent. While the eight Vigors available seem to be a comparable number to the original Bioshock, the (usually) extremely open battle environments lends itself to one or two extremely OP strategies. For example, in an early combination with some equipment, using the secondary fire of Murder of Crows to create a single nest trap can disable dozens of enemies across the entire map; when one nest triggers, the crows chain from enemy to enemy, stunning and damaging them, and all enemies leave nest traps if they die while afflicted. Alternatively, once the Possession Vigor is upgraded, it essentially one-shots most enemies in addition occasionally scoring you kills if they actually get in some damage on friends.

For the record, I played beginning to end on Hard difficulty. So when I say things like the gunplay was simplistic, I do not mean that enemies fell over from one or two shots. Instead, firing the guns takes little skill, and there is little variety in the types of guns – there is no reason to have the Machine Gun, Burster, Repeater, and Crank Gun in the same game, for example, as they all occupy the same design space. While the skylines provided a useful gimmick to certain battlefields, their primary purpose seemed to be giving you the opportunity to one-shot weak enemies with a melee attack that would otherwise only remove 20% of their health.

Da Birds, da Birds.

Da Birds, da Birds.

The fingerprints of Console-ification are also all over the place. Bioshock Infinite uses a completely oblique Checkpoint system, with no Save & Exit option. There are no Quicksaves.  Booker has a regenerating shield, and can carry only two weapons at a time. There are no First Aid Kits or other inventory-esque items, although there is “clothing” that acts as swappable passive abilities. While changing clothes might have added some depth to the combat, the reality is that most of the items are hopelessly weak in comparison to the aforementioned OP combos.

While some of these things do not sound bad on their own, the problem arises when you then apply these simpler systems to an artistic game so focused on encouraging  exploration inbetween the banal combat. Why barge into every non-locked house on the street – and see the thematically consistent bigotry – if there is quite literally no point to do so? Even if I accept that Checkpoints aren’t all that much different in practice than Quicksaves, the ever-present hunt to replenish my First Aid Kit supply drove me to explore every inch of Rapture, to my ultimate edification. Conversely, I explored Columbia out of a vague sense of propriety, like when an acquaintance takes you on a tour of his house even though you couldn’t care less about what the pantry looks like. Don’t get me wrong, I explored every masterfully crafted inch of Columbia that I could. But the whole time I sat there thinking “There is no reason for me to be here,” which I count as a deficiency in the game design, especially given how the original Bioshock played out.

Finally, in an effort to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, I will not talk about the specific issues I had with Bioshock Infinite’s plot or overall narrative. Suffice it to say, I did not feel that the actual message the writers were trying to convey made a whole lot of sense given what was presented and foreshadowed. Indeed, the whole narrative felt disjointed, likely due to the first half of the game consisting almost entirely of exploring Columbia’s working class issues, rather than the more fantastical premises that dominate the later game.

Ultimately, Bioshock Infinite is clearly an ambitious game, but at the end, I felt like nearly every aspect of it did not live up to its inherent promise. While that is a shame, that doesn’t mean you should avoid the experience altogether. Bioshock Infinite is definitely a game worth playing, it is simply not worth playing for full MSRP, or even half that amount. If you can wait, you should. And as far as Sessler and the others predicting Bioshock Infinite’s long-term “lionization” and discussion “for years to come,” well… I think they will be waiting for that for quite some time. Perhaps until the heat death of the universe.

The Weaponization of QQ

The end goal of all QQ is for a game (etc) you enjoy to be fixed or changed for the better.

If you look at something like the WoW forums, or any game forums really, you will see dozens and dozens of impassioned arguments as to why the author is quitting. I seem to recall there being an actual study that demonstrated that the vocal complainers spend the most money on a given game, far in excess of the average; considering I cannot find said link though, let us assume the opposite for now. Why tell tens of thousands of anonymous readers that you are unhappy with the game? Why not just shrug and uninstall?

The ideal scenario in an “I quit” post is for you to continue playing a game you enjoy (in most respects), and for other people to quit. It is like “voting with your wallet,” using other peoples’ wallets. As strategies go, it never seemed too effective, although obviously it is effective enough that moderators tend to shut it down pretty quickly. Besides, the only audience you can reach by posting on forums are the people who read the forums, so any damage is pretty limited.

Oh, the times they are a-changin’.

Metacritic, Comparison

Welcome to the future.

I do not know whether Modern Warfare 3 was the first Metacritic salvo in a post-Weaponized QQ landscape, but it has become increasingly obvious that it will not stand (or fall) alone.

Now, obviously, there is nothing inherently wrong with a game receiving universal critical acclaim by professional gaming journalists, while being panned by uncouth Philistines. Or vice versa! But if you dig a little deeper, an incredibly large portion of the negative reviews for those three games (and who knows how many others) stem from issues not necessarily connected to the game itself – complaints about the state of the game industry, or the existence of Day 1 DLC/multiplayer, or people who wanted a sandbox instead of a themepark.

Maybe those things are connected to the game. Maybe you do enjoy MW3 less knowing how much was copy-pasted from MW2. Maybe people have wildly differing views on what constitutes a “review.”

What I do know is that, going forward, we can expect more of this:

Head to the bunker.

That right there is the present scoring of Mass Effect 3 for the Xbox 360 on Amazon. The PC version has less reviews, but it too is 2/5 stars.

What ever you think about the ending, and how much ever it may have soured the entire experience in your mind… is the game really 2/5? Were all of the emotions you felt during the journey not worth it? I am not entirely sure I want a philosophical debate about the nature of objective experience (or the nonexistence thereof); I just want everyone to know that this is our future.

Believe me, I am the first in line to say that customers have the right to question the creative decisions of designers/writers. However… is this what we want? Do we want developers worried that any reasonably controversial aspect of their work will lead to highly visible backlash? Does that actually encourage higher quality games, or simply encourage safer games? Or are the collateral effects of public catharsis simply their problem?

I used to believe the latter. Now… I’m not so sure.