Sunday, October 29, 2006

Review: Battlefield 2142

So the furor from the "spyware" debacle is dying down, as EA is assuring us all it does is use our IP to give us geographic context to the ads it will show us. Time to get down to brass tacks about the latest of the BF series.

I'm going to do away with my usual subheadings and just talk about the game. It would be silly to describe the gameplay, graphics, sound etc in detail because it's battlefield. Chances are, if you are interested in a BF2142 review, you already know what it means to play a Battlefield game.

First, let's talk about what's GOOD about the game. At least excluding network issues, the game performs slightly better on my machine than BF2 did, which is a welcome improvement. The new walkers are neat, but not TOO overpowered. The player "classes" and kits are nice and streamlined. The maps are well designed. All in all, it's a decent recipe for potential fun.

Pardon me while I crack my knuckles in anticipation of voluminous typing...

Ok, now let's talk about what's wrong with this game.

You may hear grumblings from many corners of the net about this being little more than a modded version of BF2. Well, I must grimly report such accounts are accurate. The dynamic, the control, the weapons, pretty much everything about 2142 basically says "you could just have left the -142 off the end of the name." Maybe some want every Battlefield product just on principle, but I would be disappointed to have shelled out for a game that looked, felt, and played pretty much exactly the same as the last game. Just without jets.

And Dubya Tee Eff is up with that, anyway... the No Jets thing? This is the freaking future. Where are the personal aircraft? The hoverboards? The jump packs? Ok, so we've got these titan things, but that's not what I'm talking about. A large part of the allure of the past BF games (which is now missing) has been "Wanna be a soldier? Be any solder! Be a machine gunner or a bazooka guy or a medic! Wanna drive a tank? We got lots of tanks! Drive one! How about a helicopter? Got those too! Fighter pilot? Hop in! You wanna steer a goddamned battleship? Here you are, skipper! Ask us about our submarines next! Have a little artillery there! Dune Buggy! Jeep! B-17! A-10! Schwimmwagen! Flakpanzer! Swift boat! Jetpack! We got it all and you can drive any of it, right out of the box!" What you got in 2142 is a much pared down selection of basically humvees, walkers, and static gun emplacements. And if you're lucky, maybe a futuristic bladeless helicopter.

Speaking of "right out of the box," even that is gone... and I'm not even talking about the patch immediately required. EA has added a new "unlock" rank system that only advances through online play, such that you have to play (and do well) to earn points to gain ranks to "unlock" most of the equipment for your profile. This is yet another step in a hated direction from those of us who liked 1942's coop mode for single player and the sandbox capabilities contained therein. I'm pretty sure I'm NOT alone in that I liked cranking up the number of bots to 64 in original BF's co-op mode and playing by myself. But Co-op mode went the way of the dodo way back in BF:Vietnam, although there was a nice mod for BF2 that let you play "enhanced co-op" with more equipment, flag points, etc. We can only hope a nice mod comes along for 2142. Some already have pointed out that the unlock system will be discouraging for newcomers, what with all the good toys already in the hands of the Catass Crew, it'll be hard for them to compete to get the points THEY need to unlock the goodies in a timely manner. Hopefully somebody is already working on a hack to unlock everything straightaway, if only for single player mode.

All in all, it's not something I'll be buying, unless something comes along that addresses the unlocks, and maybe adds in some more co-op goodies. The former is unlikely, and the latter is laughable. Besides, we all know the 2142 expansion must be mere weeks from launch, right? One thing that has made me sad is how the brand name Battlefield, which used to be synonymous with comprehensive inclusion of all things combat, now is synonymous with shovelware.

Rating: C-. And that's the word from Bandit Camp.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Review: Space Cowboy Online

Space Cowboy Online has one real marketing hook: It is free to download and play. And, I supposed that's a good thing, because I certainly cannot see myself paying for it.


This game is a Massively Multiplayer Online game, but I hesitate to call it an RPG. It's more like Privateer meets Starfox. You fly around, shoot stuff down, maybe do a "mission", go back to base, sell the crap you picked off whatever you shot down, buy better stuff for yourself and go back out to do it again.

When you get right down to the brass tacks of the game, the controls are very simple. You move your mouse, and your ship turns the way you point. You click, and you shoot. Left click fires guns, right click fires missiles. Your guns will only hit what you have targeted in your reticle, though your missiles can be fired at most anything you have a lock on, so long as it's reasonably in front of you. As far as this much of the game goes, the design and impelementation are good. The method by which you target enemies takes some getting used to (you automatically target and keep targeted on the first thing your attack reticle drags over, and you hit "shift" to discard that target, then you'll target the NEXT thing your reticle will drag over).

Where we start to get into trouble is predictable to anybody who's played an MMO fresh from the orient. While there is a basic tutorial that does well at teaching you to handle your craft, there's precious little help for figuring out anything else in the game. After finishing the tutorial, you are dumped, naked, helpless, clueless and confused in the middle of the spaceport with no idea of how anything works. What happened to my ship? How do I get back in it? How do I sell items I collect, and where do I buy new ones? What do these stats do in my stat window? How do I outfit my ship and what should I look for while doing it? How do I know if I've leveled up? What do I do once I have? All these questions you are left to answer for yourself, or make an ass of yourself asking 900 noobie questions in the open chat channel.

Add into that the mission system, which is drab, linear, and about as exciting as a day old corned beef sandwich, never gives you any way to actually track down what it is you are supposed to be doing. If you're lucky, often it will at least instantly fly you to the right ZONE, but from there, you're on your own buddy. Go find that hypermoth somewhere in this 30-square-mile area and shoot it down.

All in all, while the actual flying and shooting is ok and fairly quick to master, a lot of people will get frustrated with the sink-or-swim learning curve after blundering, blasting, tree-scraping and ditch-gouging their bewildered way through their first 10 levels or so. It may be eight or so levels before some players actually realize that they have an inventory, as nothing ever points it out to you. You just kind of accidentally stumble on it while you're clicking around in the menus wondering what all is there. Then, when you find it, it is most likely full of crap you've picked up, and you have no idea where to go to sell it. Another 20 minutes of floundering in the spaceport will find you the merchants, and figure out how to buy and sell things.

The game has two forms of currency, one is the regular you get from doing stuff in game, and the other is a special currency called a "Gpotato" that you get by sending them real money on their website. Regular currency will do for repairs, refueling, normal items and whatnot, but the game makes sure that whenever you go looking for something, the first thing you see are the big fancy pretty items that cost Gpotato. I suppose that's to be expected, they *are* trying to get you to spend money while you play their free game. And by "play their game" I mean stagger around running into walls, not quite sure what you doing exactly, but somehow still managing to gain experience and finish missions.

I suggest reading up on the Online Player Guide to avoid most of the frustration.


The graphics are suitably pretty and look about what you'd expect from a game of east-asian design. The ship models are lovingly crafted, but everything is done in the tried-and-true bigeyed anime style, using chestnutted stereotypes of such familiarity as to invoke an almost crushing sense of ennui. As is with most games of this geographic origin, individuality and customization take a faaaar backseat to the standard grind-to-increase-stats portion of the game. There are but a handful of pilot appearances, a shortcoming made all the more painfully apparent every time you go into the spaceport to hit the shops. All the pilot models are the same handful, and there's no customization of them at all that I could see. But then, I guess that's a cultural thing, now isn't it? It does seem to plague a lot of the Asian fare.


The sound is standard. Just what is needed to make it a game. The background music is decent as well.


After you reach level 10, you'll have to choose either the Army or the Rebels to join. Outside of the newbie zones, these two factions are perpetually at war with each other. Population imbalances are addressed by the larger side having to pay more for goods and services (called a "tax." There's a lot of content dealing with the fight between these two "nations," particularly something called the "Nation War." Like most of the game, you'll end up joining one side or the other and coming into conflict with the enemy nation without really having a conscious realization of exactly what is going on here.

In Summary

Few games have left me as conflicted in my reviewing as this one. It's hard to compare it to fancier games you have to pay for because it is free... so I find myself comparing it more to games like Urban Dead or Kingdom of Loathing. It certainly has as much, if not more, to offer than those games... but if you've been spoiled on the kind of content that requires payment, or even moreso, a monthly fee, then you will probably not find much enjoyment in this game. If you are a starving student who can barely afford ramen, this is probably the best game you can find for free.

If I had to sum up the feeling of playing this game, I would say it matches the feeling of skateboarding backwards down a hill. You aren't really sure of what's ahead of you, though you seem to be able to stay up... for now. The queasy mixture of confused progression and unintuitive character management may appeal to those who like a challenge, have a masochistic streak, or plain old don't care what the hell is going on so long as they get to shoot stuff.

And hey, it's free, after all. Rating: C.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

More Females than Males in Online Gaming?

I'm not sure I buy it, but polls are indicating a slightly larger number of online gamers are female than male.

Article at MSN Tech

In my opinion, that just indicates the Manginas are playing pretend on polls as well as in their RPGs.

Although, come to think of it... at least as many of the voices in teamspeak the last six months or so have been female as not...

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

City of Heroes/Villains: Invention System

A sneak look at the new crafting system called "Invention" that Cryptic is working on for the Issue 9 expansion can be found over on the euro boards here. Looks for some very interesting stuff.

Some may be concerned about the effect the enhancements detailed may have, but me, I don't see this as unbalancing at lower levels. I expect most will wait until they're close to 50 to mess with this stuff.. after all, who wants to pour buckets of salvage down the drain for something that will only be useful for 5 or so very short levels?

And I'm psyched about craftable temporary powers and costume pieces.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

RTS Review: Warhammer 40k Dawn of War: Dark Crusade

Hot off the heels of THQ's RTS smash "Company of Heroes" comes this nerdgasm. If you know anybody who even remotely likes Warhammer, 40k, Blizzard RTSes, Company of Heroes, or just the RTS genre in general, get them this game. The best way I can describe it is summed up like this:

This is what Starcraft was trying to be. WH40K:DoW:DC expands on Company of Heroes' engine and gameplay style, set in a gritty bloody future like Starcraft, with a dash of Warcraft 3's "hero" system for army generals, and incorporates a non-linear campaign mode to give even the single-player mode almost unlimited control and replayability. Throw in the fact that there are seven different factions to possibly play, and all in all, it comes down to you not leaving the house for a while after you get this game.

And even though it's an "expansion," it stands alone just fine. If you don't have the original Dawn of War, nor even the expansion previous to this one, you can still play Dark Crusade without missing out on a single thing.

Let's get into some specifics.


The gameplay dynamic is one that fans of Company of Heroes will find familiar and yet have enough that is new to be interesting. Those who have only experienced Blizzard or Command and Conquer fare in their RTS'ing are in for a refreshing experience. While most of the commands are intuitive (left click to select, right click to perform obvious actions, etc), the paradigm is squad based: rather than having to mass select all the individual grunts, you may have two or three units, each comprising maybe a dozen or so soldiers, a squad leader, and perhaps some upgraded weaponry. As individuals in a squad are killed, you have a "reinforce" command on each unit. Basically, rather than having to click on a barracks and say "make more troops," you only have to produce a unit from the barracks, then add members to the unit by clicking on the unit in question and clicking reinforce. The unit will then "build" its new soldiers in the familiar way, costing resources and filling a progress bar over time. Other improvements to the squad are purchased in the same fashion, such as a "sergeant" to improve the squad's stats or specialized weaponry upgrades. Unlike Company of Heroes, the troops' AI doesn't have it scrambling for cover the instant fighting starts, which is good in some ways and bad in others. Really, the concept of "cover" in Warhammer is dramatically simpler than in CoH. Another difference is that squads can reinforce/upgrade in the field, without having to return to base. Also, there is a cap on how much infantry and how many vehicles you can support at once, which is largely determined by how many of the buildings that produce these units you have in your base... but even at the maximum, you'd be hard pressed to have more than 15 or so units, give or take 5 or so depending on the cost of the various units you choose to produce. All in all, it makes for a very balanced strategic game.


Like its cousin, Company of Heroes, 40k's graphics are superb yet scalable. If you play on an old clunker, the game is perfectly playable and enjoyable with most of the fancy bells and whistles turned off... but if your rig is so powerful it practically needs dual exhaust, you can crank the graphics up and be wowed by the level of detail and intricacy. Add in the iconic artwork from the Warhammer world, and you've got an all-around crowd pleaser.


While most of the sound effects and music are what has come to be standard these days, there were a few things worth mentioning. The music is nice and atmospheric, though nothing fancy or involved. The voice acting is good, but often the unit voices become extremely repetitive. I only played it for about an hour before I could practically recite "Long have I wished to serve under you, sir" perfectly in time with the growling trooper, complete with
thick Liverpudlian accent. This is really the only shortcoming I've found thus far, and it is by far a minor one.

In Summary

When it rains, it pours. We've been awash in very decent games recently, and this is another. In fact, it's not decent, it's excellent. Even if you've been burned out from hours and hours of Company of Heroes or any other RTS, this is definitely one you want in your collection. Even if you've never played the Warhammer tabletop game in your life. Especially if you have. Excellent strategy. Challenging AI. Forgiving consequences for failiure in the single player game (you just fall back and either try again next round or attack somewhere else). Vibrant graphics and artistry. Novel controls. All in all, it's a definite keeper. I give it four chainguns and a plasma rifle. Rating: A+.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

City of Heroes/Villains: Halloween Event

So, the Halloween event for CoX is in full sway, and I for one am pleased with it. Lots of activity stirring as people look for the new giant monsters or go trick or treating, and I'm never one to turn down a new costume slot.

Say what you will about other aspects of the game, let it never be said that Cryptic doesn't know how to throw a party.

A fair number of people are using the new costume slot as their "Halloween Costume," and I decided to as well...

My Normal Costume:

My "Halloween" Costume: "Football Player"

Hope you all get lots of candy.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

BF2142 - The Future of Combat is Orwellian

So, by now everybody has heard about the Spyware in Battlefield 2142. I, naturally, disapprove. However, my ire on this matter is tempered by the fact that there hasn't been a Battlefield game worth buying since the first one, and half of that was because of the pillar of awesomeness that is the Desert Combat mod.

Don't worry, folks... I'm sure the pirate, cracked version that has most likely already hit your favorite torrent site has also neutered the spyware. If not, well, give BF2142 a pass and maybe try Starwars Battlefront 2 instead.

Last thing I need on my box is another piece of poorly programmed marketing-maggot software bogging down my performance and causing other issues... that's really the biggest problem I have with spyware. Sure, the fact that it watches me and reports what I do irks me as well, but what really frosts my tuchis is the performance hit. Anyway, I digress.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

If you run a new ASUS mobo, read this

Seems ASUS is pushing more voltage than you tell it to... might be important for those who are experiencing performance issues, or overlockers who don't want to fry their gear.

Article from NGOHQ

Apparently no word on if this is unintentional or a deliberate attempt to boost benchmarks done by unwitting reviewers.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Virtual Real-Estate Lawsuit

I've never had an inkling to play Second Life, but right now a lawsuit is going on that has interesting ramifications for online players.

It's not a long read, go ahead and read the article linked above. I'll wait.

Back? Ok.

I don't know enough about Second Life to really come to grips with this lawsuit, but what is scary is neither do 99% of the United States Judicial Branch. To them, this may set a precedent where, if you can sue over a bad virtual land deal, why can't you sue for other things? Here the "foot in the door" so to speak is the use of real-world money. I am not sure it is so much of a leap from there to adjudicate that time spent is just as tangible and valuable. After all, who hasn't heard the phrase "Time is Money" repeated ad nauseum? It is also a common argument among many of the Catass variety that their character and items are THEIRS, not the MMO company's, because they put the time and effort into playing/collecting them.

So if this goes through, will a player be able to sue another player who kills his game character? If an item trade doesn't turn out well, can it be dragged into court? If you kick a clueless, talentless player out of your adventuring group, can he sue you for wrongful dismissal?

As the article references, some other nations have already passed laws about the player's rights to his virtual property.

I don't agree with this practice.

I believe (when it comes to most MMOs) that all you are paying for is access to the game. What you are buying is the ability to play. Inherent in that agreement is that the game world is configured a certain way by the game company, and it is subject to change without notice. If you don't like it, your only recourse is to stop playing and stop paying. This is why most MMO companies only charge for the access fee (and even prohibit the sale of in game property for real-life money, or at least wash their hands of it with a "caveat emptor"). When you start accepting money for additional in-game favors or property, you open yourself up to a whole new slough of... well, the above situation.

Personally, I think anybody who would drop real money for in-game property is the very proverbial fool who is soon parted from said money. Man up, Nancy. You just had an object lesson in being less of a nitwit. Suck it up and stop being stupid. Go buy yourself something real with that money, or (gasp) invest it or save it for retirement. Don't buy something that could stop completely existing because somebody flips a virtual switch or accidentally kicks out a power cord.

What the hell is wrong with these people, anyway?

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Monday, October 09, 2006

RF Online: Brief Review

Not many people have heard of this game, and fewer still have actually played it. I had a brief (free) stint in in, and I'm going to shed a little light on the subject here.

The net is saturated by MMOs to the point that we're even starting to talk about what "niches" are already full. The fantasy MMO market is obviously flooded to the point of overflowing, atop which floats World of Warcraft. The Superhero niche is occupied only by City of Heroes/Villains, though its own company is at this moment planning its obsolescence in the form of a NEW superhero MMO being made in conjuction with Marvel Comics. The quasi-futuristic and truly-futuristic genres kind of overlap into each other, where gamers have choices between games like FFXI, Anarchy Online, EVE Online, and so on. It is this last category that is still breathlessly anticipating its true scion, the one MMO to rule them all.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is that game. Oh, there's nothing particularly wrong with RF Online, but there's not all that much it has going for it to set it above, or really even apart from, the other MMOs in the futuristic niche.

Like FFXI, it tries to bridge the gap between techno-futuristic and sword-and-sorcery fantasy. In fact, the character design also is extremely reminiscent of somewhere between FFXI and Lineage. The look and feel is distinctly east asian in origin. Though, in my opinion, if FFXI had incorporated a few of the ideas in RF Online, I might have actually bought it.


Did you ever wish Diablo 2 was massively multiplayer? Or wish FFXI required more clicking and potion quaffing? If you said yes to either, RF-O is your game. The dynamic is one familiar to all MMO players (Kill stuff and do quests to gain exp and gear to go up levels so you can do harder quests and enemies to gain more exp and better gear to go up levels so you can...). It's how all these games work. The things that stand out about this particular one, however, is the Diablo-esque potion chomping and the elimination of a lot of the tedious need to run around to do things that some of us might consider immersive. Each faction has the same four basic player "jobs" as classes (Melee tank, ranged damager, support class and pet class), so balance is more or less maintained.

Potion Gulping: When you fight, you take damage. You use up magic power, or stamina, or whatever. But there are cheap potions you can buy from a variety of vendors to refill these bars, and they stack literally by the hundreds. Even going one further, the game lets you set sliders which can govern when your character will take the initiative and use one of these potions without any input from you. That's right, you can buy 1000 health potions, set your character to drink one every time he/she gets below 40% health, and never bother to think about healing again... until you run out of potions. Same goes for the energy by which you sprint around, swing your sword, fire your gun, or cast your magic spells... potions for every occasion and need, in denominations suitable for any level. So if you are like me, and often find yourself ironically shunning the vast majority of your fellow players in an MMO because the lion's share of them tend to lack the mental capacity to avoid shooting themselves in the genitalia, you need not worry about the difficulty of soloing. However, this also means that when it comes to PVP (see below), it takes a titanic, monumental, herculean effort of Zergish proportions to actually kill a player who has potions.

Travel Time? We don't need no Steenking Travel Time: Many of you (aside from those familiar with the mission system in City of Heroes) are under the impression that to get a quest, you have to go see a certain person, go do the quest, and then go BACK to the quest-giver to get your reward and possibly another quest. Well, forget that. This here is the quasi-future! We have cell-phone-doomaflotchies with picture and whatnot. You don't even have to know who to call. When somebody has a quest for you, they'll call you on the phone. When you have satisfied the requirements to complete that quest, they call you up again, and seemingly teleport whatever necessary turn-in items the quest may have required directly out of your inventory. Can't have any pesky distractions getting you away from the grind, now, can we? You don't even have to go find a trainer when you raise your level... you just pick your new abilities and keep on slaughterin'. Though, when your bags do fill up, you will need to chuck things out or go find the appropriate merchant to sell off your swag.


The controls are close to standard, yet not quite, swapping the F-keys and the numeric keys uses from what most of us consider to be the intuitive default. That takes some getting used to. Other than that, you can play this game in first person, third person (chase camera) and there's even an option to temporarily give yourself a giant, static "bird's eye view" of the general area in which you find yourself, all the better for executing tactics in either complicated encounters or in PvP. After a little configuring, you can either use normal FPS movement with WASD or Arrow Keys, or you can use click-to-move if that suits your fancy.


The graphics are impressive. They've done a good job here. The three factions from which you can choose are pretty stereotypical east-asian fantasy-future archetypes: Steampunk-looking robot guys; Beautiful, skinny, pointy-eared (and large-breasted) elf types with swords and magic; and finally an over-cute midget munchkin race of techno-magic tinkerers who, when needing to fight the other two factions, can climb into big mecha-like battlesuits to fight on even terms with them. Generally, the graphics and effects are as good as anything else on the market, though from time to time I did get a BSOD playing this game.


The sound lives up to expectations, though it doesn't precipitate any weak knees or teary eyes like some other games have managed with their soundtracks or immersive environmental effects. They get the job done.


Unlike so many of the others in the MMO genre, RF Online actually has a pretty novel idea for PvP, making it an integral part of the crafting economy. See, the world on which this game takes place is a resource world, and down deep by the core is where the best resources are. But there's a guardian down there, and he doesn't let just anybody go down to get the sweet mining spots... only whichever faction has won the latest Chipwar.

The "Chipwar" is an event that happens every 8 hours on the dot. Each faction has a base in the chipwar area, and basically the idea is to beat down the bases of the other two factions while protecting your own. Whichever faction destroys one of the other factions' bases first is the winner of the chip war, and they get unrestricted access to the bonanza of the core until the next chip war. It's an interesting concept, and I wish I got to look into it more... but... well, let's have a look at the summary.

In Summary

RF Online is not a bad game, but unfortunately it was not a good enough game to keep me once my free trial wore out. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to look even deeper into this game, particularly the PvP and crafting aspects. But, unfortunately, I have other games to play that I'm not ready to give up yet, at least not for RF Online, and I can't justify ponying up yet another fifteen bucks a month for a game I'll rarely have time to play due to my current rotation of games.

But, if you're looking for a Final-Fantasy looking east-asian flavored Diablo potionfest MMO with a City of Heroes type quest system, Warcraft's early-game inventory-management-as-character-progression, a small and personable population and a PvP system reminiscent of DAOC's RvR, this may be what you're after. Rating: C

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

South Park: Make Love, Not World of Warcraft

If you didn't catch it on TV last night, here's a version on Google Video. Ain't the internet grand? Pure hilarity. Almost makes me want to play WoW again. Almost. But not quite.

Edit: The Man has struck, and the google video is gone.. but here is another source. Yarrrr.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Company of Heroes Review

Alright, so I've gotten my hands on the latest of the WWII genre: Company of Heroes. A lot of people are sick of the Dubya Dubya Aye Aye type of game, but that's never really been a problem for me. However, I think even a guy who was sick to death of the subject after BF1942, MOH, and CoD can still find a lot to like in this RTS.

Yes, Company of Heroes is a real-time-strategy, and a pretty good one too. It feels very much like Call of Duty in RTS form, and there are notable similarities between the two. For instance, Tanks are largely superior over infantry, infantry units are squad based, Tank armor is thinner in the back than up front, attacking from cover is far superior than standing in the open, etc.


The squad dynamic is something I haven't really seen before, and it works pretty well. Though, I know some people like to play RTSes trying to aim for as few casualties on their side as possible, and I'm here to tell you that you will have to get used to the idea of spending blood to gain ground. There is a difficulty modifier, but even on the medium setting you'd best hunker in for a bloody mess and an aching jaw from clenching while you concentrate. Borrowing an idea from Command and Conquer: Generals, as you fight you gain "experience" which you can then spend to buy abilities such as artillery bombardment, faster unit production time or other such upgrades.


The controls are rather straightforward and intuitive to anyone who's played a RTS in the last 10 or so years. It's all point and click with keyboard shortcuts, assigning/selecting attack groups based on keyboard numbers, spacebar to zoom to the location of the last event that happened, etc. Anyone who's played a Command and Conquer game or a Blizzard RTS will find the controls easy to learn quickly. But the gameplay is different enough from them such that you don't feel like you're playing the same game again.


This is where Company of Heroes really shines. The models use about the same amount of polygons as BF 1942 or the first CoD, but usually you will be viewing things from 100 or so feet in the air. But you don't have to! You can use the camera controls to zoom right down to ground level and tilt the view up so you can see things just as if you were standing on the ground with your troops. It's a nice feature, even if you will only use it once or twice, ever. This also means that Heroes needs a pretty beefy machine to run well. My rig isn't a slouch (1.7 ghz AMD, 1 gig 3200 DDR ram, AGP Radeon 9800 pro 256mb), and even it couldn't handle much above 1024x768 with the bells and whistles at about half. But it is still entirely playable and enjoyable.


The sound is good quality, the voice acting excellent. The sound effects are the sort you would expect. Parents, be warned, if you have small children you're going to want to invest in some headphones. Much as soldiers really do, much of the dialogue is riddled with obscenities, epithets, slurs and plain old filthy F-bombs. Most of you will also recognize the omnipresent voice of Steven Blum, who you may know as "The Guy Who Did the Voice for (Pick)Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop/Mugen in Samurai Champloo/Roger Smith in Big O/Zabusa and Orochimaru in Naruto/Kazuma in S-Cry-Ed/Jamie in Megas XLR/Captain Foley in Call of Duty/Half the Characters in Doom3/etc ad infinivm." The guy is freaking everywhere these days.

In Summary

Definitely one worth picking up. It's an evolutionary step forward in RTSes, with just enough new ideas worked in to give it a fresh feeling where it needs it. But be warned, some of the levels in the single player campaign will take you many hours. All in all, I'd give it a 9/10. Rating: A.

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So, what's the deal with DAOC?

Dark Age of Camelot.

Ahh, those four words, they really have an emotional effect on me.

Time-wise, I've probably invested more in DAOC than any other MMOG to date, even including my 3+ year stint on Everquest (Rallos Zek server).

But the word on the latest expansion does nothing for me.

Dark Age of Camelot is, frankly, a work of art... but in mathematical terms. No other game has the formulae, the back end, the very concept of what MMO PVP should be, like DAOC does. RvR (Mythic Entertainment's term for their specific interpretation of team-based PvP, "Realm vs Realm) is the most perfect execution of MMO PvP that has ever been wrought.

But I am afraid the game has about run its course.

Really though, 5 years isn't a shabby amount of time for a game to remain viable. And, of course, I'm sure that there will be subscribers for DAOC for many years to come. The game used to be the Dark Horse of choice for those who were tired of EQ's grind and yet not satisfied with WoW's lack of meaningful PvP. And it really is unchanged in what made it great. The problem is, unfortunately, largely out of Mythic's control.

The pitfall of the MMOG paradigm is that a large part of any player's experience is crafted by the players around him: The community can largely make or break the game. Right now, the population has shrunk (though it has slightly come up from where it dived when WoW went live) and, at least on the cluster where I play (Tintagel, aka "Penguin" for it being 3 merged servers: PErcival, Nimue and GUINevere... PE-N-GUIN), the people are too fractured.

Most of those still playing are Old Guard. They remember the way things were and want to try to keep things as close to that as possible. Additionally, the setup of DAOC inspires a great deal of loyalty to one's guild (particularly if it is an old guild), and as such nobody wants to disband their guild to merge with another. So, by and large, we have lots of small guilds, each unable to field an effective force (some not even a full group) who refuse to disband and form up into fewer guilds with more people.

So what, right? With alliances, chat groups and battlegroups, this can be overcome, can't it?

Well, the problem is that the RvR dynamic depends on guilds for claiming, upgrading and maintaining the strategic elements of the battlefield. A realm's frontier has seven keeps and twenty one towers. These keeps and towers must each be claimed by a guild, and then maintained at a high level at a cost of guild bounty points (which are awarded when members of a guild kill enemy players). Keeps in particular create a large drain on a guild's BP, one which the majority of the remaining guilds can't maintain. This leads to a fair amount of territory going unupgraded, if not flat out unclaimed, which makes it easy pickings for the overnight crew.

Which brings me to the next problem: The Primetime/Offtime disparity. I'm a prime-time player. My playtime generally would fall between approximately 7pm and midnight, eastern. This is when most of the population of just about any american MMO is on. But on DAOC, at least on Tintagel, there's enough people who are on early in the morning on a regular basis to be called a sizable chunk of the population. But that population isn't equally balanced between the three realms, though the imbalance isn't consistent from day to day. But what the upshot is here, is that many times it can feel to a primetime player that what he or she does in the frontier doesn't particularly matter, because the overnight crew will just come along and undo it after bedtime (or, as the case may be, the player may decide no heavy lifting on their part is necessary because the offtimers will be along in a few hours to do it for them). The "Alarm Clock Raid," once just a rare but extremely annoying occurance, is now a de-facto nightly event.

This poses quite the puzzle. It doesn't behoove Mythic to make game design changes that favor one time block over another, for obvious economic reasons. So inexorably, more prime time players become jaded as the situation wears on. They stop working together. They stop working altogether perhaps, and go roll a thidranki alt. Remember the old chestnut, "What if war were declared and nobody came?" Well, that's the view from primetime sometimes, thanks to the 6am Suicide Squad.

DAOC is a great game. It has excellent team-PvP oriented balance, more than 30 classes, 3 realms each distinct from the others in style and feeling, tons of PvE content full of quests and tricky encounters that require strategy (I don't care what some people say, Trials of Atlantis was an excellent expansion), a crafter-player economy without equal, a perfect player housing implementation, and a setup for endgame PvP that is palpably meaningful to every player of the game. The interface is a little clunky compared to newer games, sure, and the graphics feel a little dated, but the guts of the game far outclass most any other MMO you could name. But it isn't the latest, brightest flash in the pan.

It is obvious that Mythic knows this as well. They're working hard on their next big cash cow MMO, Warhammer Online (which many of us chuckle and call DAOC 2). The upcoming Minotaur-oriented expansion for DAOC sounds rather uninspired to me... like it is just going through the motions. Slowly, Camelot is entering that big MMO rest home to join UO, EQ1, AC etc in their fallow state... not dead (after all, even UO still sports thousands of subscribers even after nine years), but never again as alive as they were.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

City of Heroes/Villains: Veteran Rewards

So Cryptic has announced that there will be in-game rewards for players who have been playing a long time, in multiples of 3 months. Recently they started detailing what those rewards exactly are.

See, the rewards are mostly costume options. Kilts. Wings. Baby-doll shirts. Greek letter insignias. Trenchcoats. Although there are other rewards, such as respecs.

Now, don't get me wrong. The rewards themselves are worthy additions to the game. In my opinion, however, outside of things like Respecs these are the sort of content that should just be the sort of thing that Cryptic has been regularly adding to the game as normal (IE, previous costume option additions, Capes, Auras, etc). The caliber of most of the rewards is such that I am, frankly, underwhelmed that these are somehow supposed to go up in value simply because you have to keep paying and playing (well, ok, just paying, really) to get them.

It's not even that you have to jump through a hoop to get them. That wouldn't bother me. The fact that you have to get to level 20 and do a special mission to get a cape never struck me as anything but appropriate, for instance. I believe that wings would be an excellent addition as a level 40 mission reward, though you can name most any level and I'd have an easier time agreeing with you. But no, the hoop through which you must jump to put wings on one of your characters is not one of skill but of glacial patience. Word on the forum is they are the reward for fifteen months of loyalty.

Naturally, the reactions to this method of delivering standard content at premium price falls neatly into two camps: Those who are already veterans, and as such will have the rewards the instant they go live, are completely happy and in agreement with the method by which the content is delivered because the barrier to the content is already removed for them. The other camp is my camp... the folks who just bought the game a few months ago and frankly are rather nonplussed that our 15 bucks a month aren't as good to Cryptic/NCSoft as the veterans, so we'll get to piddle around wingless and un-greek for months (if not years), watching the elitist veterans flap around and wondering if maybe we (and our money) would be more appreciated by Blizzard, Mythic or Sony.

You see, a lot of "veterans" of these games find it very easy to forget that it is not their money alone that keeps their favorite game afloat. It requires a constant influx of new blood to the ranks to keep the expansions and support coming. If a MMO company consistently makes design decisions that pander to the already-addicted whilst alienating the fresh meat,
then the pool of newcomers slowly dries up and in a few years the Veterans will be standing around their largely empty playservers wondering why there are no newbies for their fantastic game, and why the will and wherewithal to produce expansion content seems to have dried up at the company's headquarters.

For a long time, I was surprised CoX wasn't a runaway success like Everquest or World of Warcraft. It's a well-programmed game (something many MMOs more financially successful than CoX can't claim), the concept is solid, and it's the only comic/superhero bent MMO in existance. Now that I've played for a few months, I can see why they are doing "ok" instead of "swimming in cash." It is because of things like this.

Of course, when I voiced my opinion on the official forum, the veterans promptly channeled Marie Antoinette. Of course, because I'm not a veteran, I must just be a fickle, fair-weather, faithless, disloyal peon who can be dismissed with an airy wave of the hand when I point out this isn't the best way to keep new players coming into a game.

God forbid new players should be enticed to play. Oh, no, we've got to give loyalty rewards to old-timers who probably wouldn't close their accounts if a Cryptic dev showed up in person at their house to sodomize them with a crowbar.

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Getting started

Hi, I'm the Gas Bandit. I'm a gamer, through and through. I favor mostly PC gaming, though I love a good round of Soulcalibur with friends as much as anyone. As such, most of what I'll talk about has to do with PC gaming, with maybe the odd rare console gaming tidbit snuck in. I like MMO (Massively Multiplayer online) games, Real-Time Strategy games, First Person Shooters, Arcade style games, Flight/Space sims, turn-based strategy games, pretty much anything aside from Sports sims. When I feel like tossing a football around, I go outside.

I'm a very opinionated guy. I also have a generally dim view of my fellow gamers, and indeed, most of humanity in general. I tend to be a little harsh and cynical in my interpretation of... well, just about everything. But that's just the way I am. Some have suggested my love of MMO games is an amusingly ironic counterpoint to the fact that I can barely tolerate other people.

I've played a good 90% of the PC games that have hit the market since 1990, and still spend much of my time on them today. My MMO experience goes thusly: Meridian 59, Ultima Online, Everquest, Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, RF Online, City of Heroes/Villains.

I invite you to read or not as you see fit, as I talk about whatever suits me in the way of PC gaming.

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