I know you love me, PC. I know you do. You just get mad and hit me sometimes. It’s ok though, I know you love me. And I love you! I’ll tell the neighbors I fell down the stairs because I’m clumsy and dumb.

After having computer problems for the better part of the last week, I finally have a semi stable system running thanks to my awesome girlfriend who is letting me use her old one while I save up for a new one. It’s been a reminder though of why the PC gaming platform is such a pain in the ass.

That isn’t to say that consoles don’t have issues, because they do, especially the 360 which has a the mortality rate of, well, insert some sort of witty joke there. But, the point is, with a console you put in the game and it plays. You don’t need drivers. You don’t need to upgrade hardware. It’s just plug and play. Every once in a while you need to update the system, but it’s all automated, and everyone who has a PS3 or 360 has the same system (or a reasonable facsimile), so weird conflicts rarely arise.

The PC on the other hand is constantly a source of frustration and anger. I’ve had my WoW account hacked. I’ve had my Steam account hacked. I’ve had crashes, hardware failure, software glitches…. I’ve needed to reformat my old PC probably 5 times total (taking several hours a piece).

So why do all of this? I mean, the answer is half obvious… life without a PC is a life not worth living. I’m talking just about web browsing, doing work on it, etc. But gaming on a PC is such a huge pain in the ass, yet the market seems to be growing, in fact I read today a rumor that EA is entering into the PC hardware market (probably through a partnership, I’m guessing) where they plan on releasing PCs to play Crysis: Warhead in the $600-$800 range. It’s a great idea, and it will surely grow the PC market.

But it will still be a PC. It will still have driver conflicts and viruses and weird hardware failures for no good reason. I wish I could just walk away from the thing as a gaming platform, but the truth of the matter is that the PC is where the most innovation happens in gaming. It’s also where the best American developers make their games. I mean I couldn’t imagine my gaming life without Blizzard. With the recent announcement of Diablo 3 it has people in an absolute frenzy, and it has completely rekindled the sales and playerbase of Diablo 2. In fact this lens about Diablo 2 has shot up to the top 20 of the video game pages on Squidoo. The game is like 19,000 years old and its highest resolution is 800×600, and it’s completely 2D. But it’s still an amazing game and PC gamers are enjoying it all over again.

So I’m stuck with this absolutely infuriating platform for my gaming, whether I want to be or not. There is nothing like World of Warcraft on a console, other than the utterly mediocre Final Fantasy XI. There are Diablo clones on the consoles, but none even hold a candle to that game (and even the Diablo port back in the PSone days was pretty weak). There are tons of great shooters on the consoles, but none will look as breathtaking as Crysis: Warhead. A couple companies are starting to get the handle on how to do real time strategy games on consoles, but they are still a better fit for PCs. And games like The Sims and the upcoming Spore always make an appearance on consoles, but they are never half the game the PC version is.

So it looks like I’ll be saving all my pennies and saving up to buy myself a new machine, so i can continue to break it, and give it viruses and want to throw it out the window. But damn, the games that I’ll be playing in between will be so great.

A WoLK in sheep’s clothing

As many of you who frequent this site know, I am a pretty huge fan of World of Warcraft.  Pretty huge, because I’m fat, but also because I have pumped more hours and days into this game than probably all others combined.   Well, maybe not, I can’t do that type of math in my head, but you get the friggen point.  I love(d) WoW.

But, as stated here many times, I got burned out on it.   There are a few reasons why, mainly I wasn’t happy with the direction that The Burning Crusade took the game, and I got one of those pesky girlfriends I kept reading about in People Magazine.   And she was soooooooo pesky when we first started dating.  I would be all like “I have a raid tonight but I want to hang out with you” and she would be all “No, go do your nerd game, we will hang out tomorrow.”    Women…  I tell ya.

The game started feeling like a chore though with little reward.  My problems with The Burning Crusade are fairly exact:  the loot structure is completely out of whack and actually detracts from the game as a whole.  Basically, when you reach level 70 you already have a pretty decent set of gear from questing, so the need to do dungeons isn’t as great as it was at 60.   But you’ll do some, and it’s fun, but it’s just not as addictive as it used to be.  And the reason for this is because getting the next level of gear is so easy that there is no reason to even bother.

Basically, all you need to do is hop in a battleground for a few hours a day and hit your spacebar every 20 seconds or so.   Now, this is not something I ever did, but i sure did see a lot of people doing it.  And they got easy honor which turned into easy epics.   Then they make an Arena Team with some highly scripted pre-defined class combos and power their way to the best quality gear in the game with very little effort.

Some of you may be thinking that I am anti-PVPing and just an elitist raider.  But that is not the truth at all.  I am one of those weird WoW gamers that enjoys PVP and PVE.   But the PVE loot structure is completely out of whack when compared to PVP. It takes months (or it used to) to learn Karazhan, then even longer to get through Gruul/Mag/SSC/TK.   I’d say it seems to have taken most “normal”  (IE not hardcore, nor casual) guilds about a year to get through all that content.   What do they get for all that time spent?   Gear that is 2 generations worse than what PVPers get in about 3 months time.

Now, yes, i’ve heard the arguments, PVP gear is only good for PVP, PVE gear is only good for PVE.  I understand that.   I just don’t like it or agree with it.   Back in Vanilla wow if someone in blue pve gear fought someone in blue PVP gear, the gear definitely benefited the PVP geared person, but it wasn’t out of control.  It was also A LOT harder to get blue pvp gear back then (unlike the full epic sets you can get in no time flat now), so the advantage made sense.   But at the same time, if a really serious PVEer came in with top end PVE gear, they could flatten people.   A lot of PvPers cried foul about this, but it made perfect sense to me.  Those people put an insane amount of time in to make their characters more powerful, and thus should be more powerful.  But…. but….  but…..  the absolute kings of the PVP mountain were the people that grinded it all the way out to High Warlord/Grand Marshal(the hardest grind that ever existed in the game), and had the full set of epic PVP gear.  And this all made sense to me!

But it didn’t make sense to the casual gamer who doesn’t think that time or effort should get you an advantage.  And Blizzard listened to these people when they designed The Burning Crusade. They made it really easy to get good PVP gear.  Which, in itself is fine, but what it does is make PVEers wonder why they have to spend a year to get gear not as good as what a PVPer can get in 3 months.   Where is the reward?

Well, obviously the reward is in personal satisfaction, and The Burning Crusade raiding experience did provide that.   While there are definitely dull spots, the vast majority of TBC raiding is fun.  Karazhan, for instance, even though we are all sick of it now, is an absolutely brilliant dungeon.   And Mt Hyjal is an absolute blast (especially for AOE classes, I was a warlock when i went through there).    Timed events like ZA for the bear mounts are still difficult, which is really cool.  It was all really well done.  And it kept PVEers playing.  But it didn’t keep them as happy as it should, and a big reason is because the drops that people were getting for working on stuff for months were already outdated by the PVP community.

And then you introduce badge loot as a way for lesser guilds to power up to beat the content… but the problem is when they beat the content the drops aren’t as good as the badge loot they had to grind to beat the content.

The whole system just doesn’t make any sense to me, as a hardcore MMO player.   I thought the way that gear progressed in Vanilla WoW was pretty much perfect.  They turned that on its nose and destroyed it.   But that’s just a fact of life for a WoW player.   Blizzard is catering the game to the more casual players, which is fine, but it’s taking some (not *ALL*, *some*) of the reward away from the guilds that raid on a fairly serious level.

Now that brings us to Wrath of the Lich King, an expansion which is hopefully coming this year.  Again the level cap is being raised by 10.  And again they are revamping how the loot system will work, but details are still hazy at this point.  One thing we know for a fact is that all dungeons will have a 10 man mode and a 25 man mode.   This is a good idea on paper, but I need to see it in action before I give it ye olde thumbs up.  I really love the 10 man instances in TBC, they are fun, and prove a fairly epic raiding experience (and complex, at that) can be accomplished with just 10 players.   But to give a reason for people to still do the 25 mans, they have decided on making those drop the better loot.  Again, on paper this all makes sense.  It’s harder to accomplish things with 25 than it is with 10, so the payoff should be better.

One thing I worry about though is that you will basically have to double back on the content.  Like in a bad shooter game where you keep running back and forth across the same areas to collect different keys.  But instead of keys it’s loot.  What I worry is that you will have to go through and beat a dungeon and collect its loot, and then use that loot to go beat the same dungeon in 25 man mode.  That sounds like it will get kinda tedious.  Because, to me,  there are three reasons to raid:

1.   The camaraderie of doing it with your guild.

2.   To see new content

3.   Loot.

Now, number one stays in tact, to some extent, unless people just decide “you know what, I don’t feel like learning this dungeon all over again, I already beat the freakin thing in 10 man mode.”    Number 2 falls totally on its face, and I don’t care if the boss encounters play out differently, you are still treading over the same ground fighting the same guys… that’s not new content.   Number 3 is the only reason to do it, and having it be the *only* reason isn’t very compelling.

But, again, this is all hypothetical.  We won’t know exactly what our feelings on it will be until we are a good six months into the expansion.  Like, for instance, I remember thinking that getting easy PVP epics was gonna be awesome and great for the game.   And then I got there was like “uh, this is a really, really bad idea.”  So who freakin knows.

The addition of the Deathknight class is obviously much needed and long overdue.  It’s pretty insane that since the game launched 3 years ago that they haven’t added any new classes.   But I do take issue with them adding only one.  They should have released two, at least, that had completely separate functions.  The deathknight looks to be able to tank pretty well and DPS pretty well.  They should have added another class that was a healer/dps hybrid.   I am just nervous that with only having the Deathknight, after so long without any new classes, that there are going to be a million of them.   Atleast if they released two classes it would be 500k healers and 500k tanks.   Not just a million dps/tanks.  But, yeah, this obviously isn’t what is going to happen and it’s too late to complain about it now.

And finally, there is the 500 million pound pink elephant in the room…. PVP.  This is where the least info is known at this point, but you have got to think that they will rework the PVP loot system.  I mean they have to!  They need to see how broken it is, and how unfun Arena is for most people.  But the lack of much concrete info doesn’t have me convinced that they will do much to it.  And I think it will repeat many of the mistakes of The Burning Crusade.

There are other things to rail about, the lack of exciting new class abilities (hihi mages!), the further balancing for PVP, how the new PVP zone will play out (I’m not expecting much on my server where there are 9000 alliance for every horde), how the graphics engine *isn’t* getting an update, how the melee and casting mechanics are starting to show their age in the face of Age of Conan and Warhammer Online….

But, ya know, for all my bitching, and yes that was a lot of bitching, the game is still fun.  And I am sure Wrath of the Lich King will be incredibly fun.   I mean it’s like if I have this gold bar sitting here and it has some smudges on it and maybe a bird shit on it…  it’s still a gold freakin bar!   And how cool is it having a gold bar?  If I ever get rich i’m buying gold bars and putting them on my desk.

E3 Underload

Well now that the dust has settled on E3, I figured it was time to comment on it, but the problem is that I didn’t know exactly how I felt about it.   In fact, I still don’t.   There are some things that are clear to me, mainly that Nintendo is going so far in a direction that I truly couldn’t care about that the creator’s of some of my all time favorite games have basically stuck their middle finger up at me and are saying “sorry, our new friends have more money.”   And money is the name of the game, they certainly are printing their own at this point with sales of the DS and Wii… but nothing happening on either platform got me excited in the least bit.

As for Sony and Microsoft…  well, it was just a bunch of stuff I already knew, for the most part.  Resistance 2? Yep, looks awesome.  Gears of War 2? Yep, looks awesome. Motorstorm2? Socom?   Little Big Planet? Yep, yep and yep.   And then there were head scratchers like Massive Action Game and God of War 3, which both are interesting, but they had so little to show and the release dates are so far off why did they bother?

Don’t get me wrong, i think we are in for an absolutely amazing fall and winter release schedule.   I think, just like last year, that so many good games will come out that i’ll be still needing to pick some up this time next year (kinda like I just got around to Mass Effect).

The biggest surprises to me were actually the little things.   A little PSN game called Fat Princess where the concept is 16v16 swords and sorcery type of gameplay where you try to capture the other team’s princess, but the other team is also trying to fatten her up so she is harder to carry back to your base.  If pulled off correctly I think this could be as fun a game that comes out all year.    I was also really happy to see MS’s plans for the dashboard overhaul.   And while having an “avatar” isn’t anything that’s high on my list of wants, I can kinda see why they went that way.   But MS wasn’t stupid, they saw what the Wii did right and they read about everything Home was planning on doing and they went ahead and came up with their own version.   It’s kinda hard to get behind copy-catting, but if there is any place where it’s needed, it’s in UI’s… because so few are done right.   I am just hoping the new dashboard is faster, because at this point in time it can take me several minutes between when I power up my system and I get into a downloaded game.   The current blades (especially the games blade) are just so slow, especially if you are like me and have like 80 downloaded games).   So here is to hoping for a speed increase also.

So E3 came and went, it was rather unremarkable, but I am fine with that.   And part of it might be that I am just getting to the age where i’ve seen so many of these things year after year that they are starting to become pretty predictable.   But I guess it’s a good thing that what was predictable was that we were gonna see a bunch of really good games, and we did.  Hooray for that.

NCAA 2009 Impressions

I’m not really a fan of summer.  In fact, I hate summer.  I hate being hot.  I hate sweating.   I hate getting burned.   I hate watching guys walk around with no shirts on.   There is nothing good on TV.   The only thing summer really has going for it is baseball and NCAA Football.

I grabbed NCAA on Tuesday and I must say that thus far I am really enjoying this year’s offering.   The gameplay is crisp and plays pretty wide open, even online.   In fact, online is really where this game excels.  Last year there was a very noticible button lag (and going into pause menus was a nightmare) but thankfully EA has cleaned that up and playing online this year is a much improved experience.   There is still a slight hint of button lag, but it’s completely playable, and you will adapt to it fairly quickly.  Well, I did at least, and I’m a pretty crappy gamer.

The big draw for this year’s release is online dynasty mode.   I am actually running one of these with some of my friends over at The Fanboys. I can’t comment much about this mode yet, as I’ve only messed around with it a little bit so far (our dynasty isn’t starting proper until next Tuesday).  But from what I’ve seen it’s basically the same as playing a multiplayer dynasty on your own console…  so I think it’s gonna be pretty cool.  It’s especially gonna make stuff like recruiting and all the off the field stuff have some weight and meaning to them, as we plan on running this thing multiple years.   In my single player dynasties I never really gave a crap about any of that stuff, but the prospect of competing for recruits with my friends as we all try to better our teams is gonna be a whole lot of fun.

I guess the single player create a player mode (sorry, I can’t even think of the name for it) is pretty weak.  But as you can tell, I really don’t give a crap as that mode means nothing to me.   NCAA football is good for one thing and one thing only… playing with your friends.  I mean, I do have a single player dynasty going currently, but it’s really what I care the least about.   The game being great online is what is really important, and thus far I am very happy with it.

Once I get to sink my teeth into the online dynasty mode I will write up some more detailed impressions.

Age of Conan sails the failboat

I have been an avid MMO gamer since the beginning.  I got Ultima Online at launch, and dealt with the insane lag and server instability.   I got Everquest at launch, but to be honest never made it very deep in that game.   I know it is the grandaddy of them all, but grinding rats for 50 hours to get a level just didn’t do it for me.   I played other numerous MMOs along the way (like FFXI, City of Heroes, even Everquest Online Adventures on the ps2).   Anyway, I’ve played most of them, missed some (never played Anarachy Online or Dark Ages of Camelot) but none has ever grabbed me and sucked my life dry like World of Warcraft did.

When WoW was announced I was excited, I have always been a huge warcraft fan, and an mmo fan, it was a match made in heaven.  A buddy of mine was even more excited, we would sit at a local pub and get sloshed and just talk about how awesome it was gonna be.   We had already formed our guild and decided on our tabard months before the game came out.   We both got into the beta together and tried out every race and class and just wet ourselves over how awesome it was.  Then the game came out proper and after a few hiccups (our original server went down for 5 days so we migrated to Llane, where we still are) we created the guild and tabard that was formed in that pub.  Good times were had by all.

I had a strange experience with WoW overall, I was never really content.  I left the guild I helped create to go play on the horde side.   I left that guild and the server as a whole to try out a new server.   I came back to the guild I originally made and did a fair amount of raiding (this is pre-tbc) and then the expansion came out and I basically repeated that whole process again.  Eventually after going down every avenue I could with the game, from casual pvp to hardcore pvp, from casual raiding to hardcore raiding…  I grew tired of it.  I also emerged from my cave and got a girlfriend, something that helps noones MMO career.  So, early this spring I decided it was time to quit WoW.   I had to purge myself of it completely, I decided.   So I took my account, which had 6 lvl 70s, and 2 more guys just shy of 70, and I sold it.   Viola, done, finished.  Take that WoW, I wash my hands of you.   I loved you, but I used you up, and you used me up…  and I just haven’t been a fan of many of the changes that came with the expansion pack.

So, there I was, free of the MMO that I literally had 400+ days played in.   What was I to do?   Well, play other MMOs, of course.   I played Lord of the Rings Online for a while, and it really is a good game, and more importantly it has one of the best player bases you will find in an MMO.  Everyone was really, really cool.  But it just didn’t hook me.    So I waited patiently for Age of Conan to come out (after getting turned down for the beta like 19 times) and in early May it finally dropped.

I loved AoC a lot early on.  Just scroll down and you will find numerous posts on the game, all of them glowingly.   But I knew there was trouble brewing, I just didn’t want to admit it to myself.   The forums for Age of Conan is simply the most hideous place on the internet.   And this means two things:

1.  The people playing the game are assholes.

2.  The game isn’t very good so everyone is complaining about it, nonstop.

I would say the core of the game is pretty good.  The “no auto attack” really does work, and makes playing melee classes a bit more intricate and fun.   Also, the questing itself is pretty great, in the places where they are finished.  The quests are written at a very high level, always have clear goals, and are well worth your time both in terms of story and helping you level.

The problem with the game is that it just isn’t finished.  Now, I understand that MMOs are never truly “finished” when they are released (or ever, really), but AoC is so far from finished that it is kinda shocking that the game was released.   The rumor swirling around is that the development team basically ran out of money so they put it out to get some cash flowing, and right now its subscribers are basically paying to beta test the game.

This is something I could live with if the developers were a bit more open and honest about what is going on with their game, but I think the reason they aren’t is because they know that the things that everyone wants are a long, long ways off.   There are bugs that have been around for months that have yet to be squashed, memory leaks making even the strongest PCs crash or run the game at really low frame rates and basically once you hit the late 40s there is no more content.  From 50-80 all you pretty much do is grind, kinda like years and years ago in Everquest.   I loved it up until that point, and then the game became a repetitive chore.

I still have high hopes that in maybe 6-12 months the game will end up being a very strong MMO.  The groundwork is laid for it.   But there is just soooooo much they need to add and balance and fix before this can happen, I just can’t see playing it right now.  I mean if you still like it, more power to you, but with other much more complete MMOs out there, the only option I saw for myself was to cancel my account.

So I did.  And then, against my better judgement, I started a new WoW account, I am back with the guild that was born In Rudy’ Bar and Grill over 3 years ago, and I have just one character… a level 40 (and growing) warlock.  The thing is, though, I am having a ton of fun again.  And fun is the name of the game, and it’s something that Age of Conan is currently lacking.

Insert annoying Wii pun here.

Well, a comment I got a few days back saying “more Wii please” got me thinking.  I really have been neglecting the system in my Squidoo roundups, so I figure it’s time to make amends.

Lets dive right in with Wii Fit.   Despite the fact that Nintendo continues it’s somewhat shady practice of not supplying enough of a product to create a larger demand, it can be found be some of the more intrepid shoppers. The game is receiving rave reviews from the gaming public at large, with it’s groundbreaking (literally?) “Wii-Board” or whatever they are calling it.   Most of my friends that have it love it though.  Word on the street is that it isn’t the best workout you will ever get, but it certainly is more of a workout than sitting on your couch and playing Paper Mario, which has been my favorite game for the system so far.   But, I must say, the fact that Nintendo can convince people to put a controller in their pocket and run in place and call that a mini game and people enjoy it….  well, the world exploding in 2012 doesn’t seem all that unrealistic.

Another huge title right now for the Wii is Super Smash Bros Brawl.  The game is a continuation of a series born on the Nintendo 64.  Basically it takes your favorite Nintendo characters, mixes them in with crappier Nintendo characters and lets you duke it out.   The action is fast and frantic, almost so much so that it loses a bit of strategy in the face of wild button mashing.   The game delivers a ton of fan service to long time Nintendo fans though, and people are eating this game up like hot cakes.   Which an episode of Ed recently taught me are both hot and cakes.

Mario Kart for the Wii is also another great use of your gaming dollar.   Coming with a rather cheap but effective wheel for you to put your Wii Remote into to simulate a steering wheel, it adds a new wrinkle to this tried and true franchise.  Other than that, not much has changed, it’s still the same Mario Kart we have been playing since the early 90s, good or bad.   For most it’s a good thing though, so I don’t blame Nintendo all that much for not reinventing the wheel.  Wait, they actually did do that, kinda.

And of course there is thefluffanutta’s insanely popular Top Games for the Wii lens, which is always sitting either at #1 or #2 in the top 100 lenses in the games category.

The final WoW vs AoC post is coming, I promise.

Holiday weekend roundup

Kotaku is reporting that Microsoft is readying a price drop on the Xbox 360.  Evidently some intrepid Gamestop employee snapped photos of some sort of invoice with his cell phone camera.  A price drop makes sense, it’s been a while since there has been one, and it will force Sony to do the same with the Playstation 3, which I assume will be tougher on Sony financially with the more expensive to make console.   It’s good news for gamers though, as cheaper = better.   Now if only they would cut back the prices on games from $60 back to $50…

Personally, I am still balls deep into Battlefield: Bad Company.  I just flat out love this game.  After beating it on normal I started over on hard and I’m on the final level now.  I know this isn’t much of a feat to most gamers, but I tend to have videogame ADD and single player games especially just don’t grab me for more than one playthrough just about ever.   The last game I can think of that I beat twice was Mario 64, way back in 1853.  BF:BC is just that good, and the online is even better, even if it fails many of my commandments posted late last week.

I’ve also caught a bit of the World of Warcraft bug again, I guess for many reasons, but the two big ones is my inability to find a good guild and the fact that I have many good friends that still play WoW.  I do plan in the coming days writing a final WoW vs AoC piece that highlights what both games do right and wrong.

Also, a lens making contest over at Squidoo is still in the works, but with the holiday and all it’s been tough ironing out all the details, and I want to get them exact before setting this thing in motion.    But if you are a lensmaster, or someone who could whip up something cool for some sort of prize (probably a game of the winner’s choice…) Keep looking here.

The Ten Commandments of online console shooter design

1.  Assume the worst about your player base. Anyone who has played online games of any form know that the majority of the people you play with are idiots.   Not only are they idiots, but they will do anything and everything to cheat, glitch or otherwise mess with scoring system or ranking system of any given game.   You need to proof your game from these idiots long before the game ever releases.  You need to think up every possible scenario these guys will be looking for to cheat.  Take Battlefield: Bad Company, for example.  In that game you get points for fixing vehicles you blew up yourself.  So guess what happens….?  Most matches have a handful of asshats running around blowing up their own vehicles and fixing them just to get points to move up the leaderboards (and level their characters).   How does a design flaw like this make it out the door?

Other than cheap points like I mentioned up above, these glitchers will also look for soft spots in the map where they can become invulnerable (like in Socom when guys would get outside of the map and be able to shoot up through the ground).   Developers, YOU NEED to assume that people will be doing this stuff and you need to make sure it isn’t possible when the game ships.

2.  Online Achievements / Trophies that aren’t win based are a BAD, BAD, BAD idea.   I can understand how a developer can think that other types of online achievements are a good idea, but when that thought process happens they forget the first commandment.  All of your players are cheating idiots!  If you put an achievement in to get “20 melee kills” you will find matches with idiots running around just trying to knife everyone and not doing a damn thing to help the team.   These are always a bad idea.  Always!  If you must have online achievements you must make them based on how you want the game played.   Simple stuff like “Win 20 matches” will mean that achievement whores will *gasp* try to win the match.

Team Fortress 2 is suffering from this badly right now.  Each time they update a class they add these insane achievements that are about impossible to pull off if you are playing the game correctly, so all it does it make people play the game in the most wrong way possible to get them done.   I really respect Valve as a developer, but how can they see what is happening on TF2 servers across the globe and be happy with how people are playing their game?

Online achievements should only be based on how you want the game to be played.   I know already said that, but it is worth repeating.   If you, as a developer, want 20 guys running around with knives trying to stab each other and blowing up 1000 crates just to get some worthless achievements… then, well, you have succeeded.   If you want people to play the game correctly don’t put that crap in the game.

3.  Just because Halo 2/3 and CoD4 are popular and use a party based matchmaking system doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do. I am not against party based matchmaking in general.  I think it is a pretty good system that in theory puts together two equal teams to play each other.  The problem with it is that it takes all of control out of our hands.   In Call of Duty 4 if you are in the mood to play Search and Destroy on the Chinatown map you are just shit out of luck.   You need to keep joining and leaving games the auto-party making system throws you into until you get to that map.

One thing that party based matchmaking does do is eliminate stuff like “rank up rooms,” which is a positive, but it’s the wrong way to do it.  What gamers want is options.  The perfect shooter, to me, would have matchmaking games, a server list where you can search games that you want and the ability to create ranked games with settings that are reasonable with the creator being able to chose the map selection.  I know you love all your maps, but we don’t.  We have favorites and we want to play them more often.

The answer to “rank up rooms” is to make it so winning a legit game is the fastest and best way to advance up the ranks in your game.   This takes much more complicated design, I understand this, but no one ever said making the perfect online shooter would be easy.

4.  The community is the number two reason people will keep coming back to your game.  Support them. Create a website where users can track their stats.  Create forums where gamers can talk to each other about strategy and clans can setup matches against one another.   Be active in these forums, talk to your customers, see what they like and don’t like.   Now, I still stand by the everyone is an idiot rule, so most of the stuff they suggest to you will probably be gamebreaking…  but there is still stuff to learn.  And, in general, gamers feel more attachment to a game where:

A.  They feel like they are part of a community, they see the same guys over and over (another thing random party matchmaking KILLS), they know who the top clans are, they have some interaction with the developers and can see when things (like glitches, new maps, etc) are going to be addressed.

B.  They feel like they are respected.   Even if the majority of gamers opinions on things don’t make any sense, they still bought your game and they deserve to feel like you are doing things to make them happy.  If you ship a game and then basically close down shop they will stop caring just like you did.

5.  Gameplay is the number one reason someone will stick with your game. I know this goes without saying, but you need to hammer out all the kinks before your game ships.  If this means pushing it back a few months than so be it.  Yeah, I know that’s easy for me to say, I’m not the one dealing with publishers who force dates on you.  But at the end of the day if your game is good people will play it and they will have their friends play it.

When shooters come out with glitches, weapon imbalances, laggy servers, etc, etc, etc…  you are going to get an initial group of buyers who will play it, hate it, bitch about it in every forum across the internet and your game will die an early death, even if you patch it down the line.

6.  Beta tests are your friend and you should listen to the people playing them. In the controlled environment of your development house your game may be playing fine only for you to come to find out that in a live environment it’s a complete mess.  Players aren’t playing it like you envisioned, the servers can’t handle the load trying to sync people from 1000s of miles away, etc.   Get a build up of your game on XBL or the PSN and let actual gamers put it through the paces.

Even with beta tests you may find that gamers just refuse to play the game how you designed it, if this is the case you either need to adapt the design to them or rework what you have done so far.   Beta tests are for more than just testing your servers out.  It gives you a peek into how the game is actually played, how things are balanced and will also flush out some of the easier to find glitches.   Use them!  In fact, you can probably charge a small fee to play the beta if you wanted.   I know if the Socom beta came out tomorrow and cost $5 to play I’d plunk it down in a heartbeat, and I would be all over their forums with what I am seeing.

7.  The rich shouldn’t always get richer. Most games are designed to reward the best players and while it may be impossible to argue against this, I’m gonna give it a shot.

Lets take Call of Duty 4 for example…  in COD4 when you get 3 kills in a row you get a radar that will show where your enemies are on the map, giving you a huge tactical advantage.  Once you get to five kills you can call in an air strike on whatever part of the map you would like.   Once you get to seven kills you can call in a chopper that is basically just a kill bot that will fly around and take out anyone standing out in the open.

Now, all of these moves have a counter, which is good, but it is still just making the better player more powerful.   So if I am a crappy player the match will start and I will get killed because the guy shooting at me is better than me.  That’s fine and dandy.   But then he will get the radar and know where I while I am clueless to where he is.  I mean he already killed me without it, why does he need that?   And then he gets more kills and starts dropping bombs on my head.   And then he sends up a chopper that takes zero skill on his part for him to kill me even more.   All of these things are only punishing bad players and giving extra power to players who don’t need the advantage, they are already better players.

I don’t mind games having a learning curve, I fully expect in any game that I play that there will be better players than me, and worse players than me, and if I keep playing I will get better and better.   And like I said before, all of those advantages in COD4 have counters, or at least ways of avoiding them, but that design is just piling on frustration for newer or less skilled players.   The same thing can be said for games that open up more powerful guns as you progress your character.   This is a good idea on paper, but when Joe Newbie comes into a game not only does he not know the maps, or how to play, he also has a weaker gun.  I am a firm believer in fair play and the movement in shooters to reward players like this is very disheartening.

Don’t get me wrong, I love throwing a chopper up in COD4 and getting a huge killing streak going, it makes it really fun for me…  but as for the balance of the game, I think it gets skewed.

8.  Auto-aim is bad.  Bad, bad, bad. I am a PC gamer at heart, I always have been, and I understand that getting precise controls with a controller is much harder than with a keyboard and mouse, but auto-aim is just lame.  I don’t know how else to say it…  it is just a weak way of making up for your sloppy controls.

Even with the reality that it is harder to aim with a controller, the fact of the matter is that everyone playing your game will be using the same controller (or a reasonable facsimile of it), so you don’t need to assist them.  If was controller vs kb/m I could see attempting to level the playing field a bit, but not controller vs controller.   The fun in killing someone in an online shooter is knowing you got him, not that the computer helped you do it.  I know I was just bitching up above about having fairer games for newer or less skilled players, but auto-aim is the wrong way to do it.  It stops being a game at that point.

9.  Stats are fun. The more the merrier when it comes to stat tracking.   I know I can sit there for absurdly large chunks of time just going over my stats, trying  to assess from them what my strengths and weaknesses are and then hopping back into the game with a slightly modified strategy.   This seems to be becoming the norm more and more, which I welcome wholeheartedly.  The stat tracking on the BFBC website, for instance, is very well done.   It adds a whole layer of fun to the game when I’m not even playing the game.   How cool is that?

Also, and this is a biggie, if your game has multiple modes track the stats just within that mode, don’t give an overall leaderboard.  The problem is that if one mode will get you up the leaderboard quicker the leaderboard jockeys will play that mode exclusively which is to the detriment of your game as a whole.  Also, it gives people something easier to focus on.  Like, say, I really like your capture the flag mode it will motivate me to keep playing as I see myself move up that specific leaderboard.

10.  Ease of use. This is a pretty broad topic which ranges from everything to menus to how the game actually plays.   The simpler it is to perform something, the better.   One thing that is an absolute must these days on Xbox Live is being able to mute people with the quickness.   There are so many idiots on there that will start screaming, rapping, yelling at their moms, talking on the phone with the mic open, etc etc etc… you need to allow players to squelch that crap immediately.   If I have to go through 4 menus and probably get killed while I am doing it, I am going to be pissed.

Also, things like weapon swapping and context sensitive buttons are a must (like to arm a bomb or something like that… flash that crap on my screen so I know what to hit!).   Also, allow the user to *FULLY* customize the controls to how they want.   I hate having to learn a completely new control scheme with each new shooter I play because they refuse to give me the option to change it.   If I want the Select button to fire my freaking gun… let me!   Why games rarely let users do this is completely beyond me.   I want the throw grenade button to be the same in CoD4 as it is in Halo 3 as it is in Socom.   I don’t want to be fumbling with my controller because you think throwing a grenade should be the Y button when I think it should be the left bumper.  That’s just lazy design.


So, there you have it straight from a gamer with no development experience.  I understand that games are on deadlines and things get cut and things get rushed and no matter how much you test new glitches are sure to be found after release (and when they do, for the love of god… PATCH!).  I understand all of that, but these are the things that drive me crazy as a gamer, and these are 10 fairly easy steps to creating a game that would be the total package.

I mean, just imagine a game with achievements based solely on winning, where the playing field is evenly balanced, the glitches minimized, all of the stats tracked, a huge community that interacts with each other and the developers on their website and the ability to configure the games how you want and to squelch out the little kids that haven’t learned how to swear properly yet.  Man, that would such an awesome game.

If you agree and would like to help get the word out there…  DIGG IT!

Shoot you in the face

Well, late last night (or early this morning) I beat Battlefield: Bad Company.   Just about everything I wrote in my early impressions holds true throughout the game, so I won’t ramble on and on about it.  But I must say, for a game I had to convince myself to buy I am really surprised by how much fun I’ve had with it.   I can’t sit here and tell you all that it is perfect, because I had tons of issues with it, but none of the issues mattered because I sat there for hours and hours with a giant smile on my face having a freaking blast.   The game, offline, is just flat out fun.

Online is a whole other can of worms.  On the one hand it is also insanely fun, but it’s left me wondering how they could have made some design decisions.  Basically, the problems arise from the fact that it is very, very easy to “cheat” to get tons of points, which means in any given game either side will have a few folks that just go off and blow up their own trucks and then repair them and do that over and over for a whole match.   Obviously, if you have more guys doing that on your team than the other team does you will be outgunned and have no chance of winning.   The other problem is online achievements.   Online achievements are a very tricky thing to do right, and almost every game does them wrong.  In fact, my whole experience with BFBC added on to other console shooters of the past has me laying out the groundwork of the Do’s and Don’ts of online shooter design.   Hopefully I will have it posted in the next day or two.

Overall though, with people playing the game correctly, BFBC online is about as fun an online shooter as I have played.  Now, of course, I’ve only been playing it for a few days, so I can’t speak on it’s lasting power…  but there are so many options on what to do while you play that I think it will be staying in my tray for a long time to come.  Until Socom: Confrontation, at least.

And for those that don’t know…  Socom has been pushed back a month and is now expected in late October.  As bummed as I am (Socom is my favorite console shooter of all time), I am happy they are taking the time to get it right.  Though they have made some questionable design decisions themselves.   They just revealed on their blog that matches will be 10 rounds with no tie breaker.   How can they think that is a good idea?   They are also planning to ape the Halo/COD party match making system, another error in my opinion.   But, yeah, I’ll cover all of this in the bigger post I am working on.

When the target audience knows more than the designers (aka Mik’s dream for the 360 dashboard 2.0)

Long time Mormon, smartass and podcaster Mik from The fanboys has written (with pictures) a very honest and smart post about the shortcomings of the current Xbox 360 dashboard and what he hopes Microsoft will do with it in the future.

The blog post is a piece of gamer geek genius (to the point that I am jealous, but it gives me something to strive towards).  He clearly outlines the design flaws with the current system (with graphs no less!!) and then dreams up how it could and should look in the future.   It is probably the smartest thing you will read about UI design on video game systems, which makes it a crying shame that it is coming from someone who has no control over any of it.   It’s almost sad that he (and with him sharing his knowledge with us…. we) know more about how it should function than the team at Microsoft working on it does.

Check it out, and if you are signed up at Digg.com digg it.  If you aren’t, sign up there, and then digg it.