Cost of living

I’m really enjoying my time back in City of Heroes/Villains. The Halloween event was really good fun and was great to have heroes and villains teaming together. Also it was nice to have an (new) revamped instance map tailored for the task rather than just a ring fenced slice of Croatoa.

The superhero game lends itself so well to the idea of the cash-shop and the foundations of this were established by the booster packs that Paragon Studios had introduced over the past few years. If you want a new costume part then just purchase that one part or the whole outfit if you prefer, or perhaps you’ve seen a new cape someone is wearing and decide your character would benefit from owning it.

Despite being a paying member (VIP) the shift move to the freemium model truely sank in with the release of the “Street Justice” powerset, which requires a cash shop purchase. Of course the cost was more than the 400 points that are given for being a VIP player. So you either have to wait 2 months or stump up the extra cash for points.

That said the cash shop items are nearly all cosmetic and thus don’t impact your gameplay if you don’t acquire them.
But to make the perfect costume you may have to buy some extra parts rather than using just the vanilla sets.

The general thoughts people have about the shop are very positive, even when compared to existing games that sport cash shop models.
Have you tried it out yet? What are your thoughts?

Battlefield 3 : First impressions

I know I’m not the first & won’t be the last to write about EAs next game in the Battlefield series, but here is my brief summary after a weekend of playing.
I’ll to not give too much away about the story, but I will be discussing game decisions & mechanics so if you don’t want to hear about them please navigate away now.

Humble Origins

As we’ve all come know, EA is pimping its own distribution platform big time with the Battlefield brand which means this game isn’t available on any other download retailer. The install from disc is rather confusing as Origin carefully tells you it’s now downloading the game, until you are prompted to insert disc 2.

What is really strange as all Origin appears to do when you attempt to launch the game is to open a webpage which is where you make your choice about what game-mode to play, view your stats or choose a Multiplayer server.

Not only do you need Origin but then you have to install a browser plugin to allow the BattleLog website to interact with the game. The strange thing is that EA have stated that Steam was too restrictive but in my experience the MMOs on there use Steam purely as a method for purchase and download, once installed the MMO is standalone and will update itself using it’s own software/network and the any dependency on Steam is non-existent.
I have no idea why that couldn’t be the same here.

Campaign

Within 5 minutes of starting the game I was rather frustrated by a number of quick time events.
Don’t get me wrong, when used correctly QT events can bring fun to a game, Space Marine used them very sparingly and they were pretty much dynamic in their occurrence. BF3 uses them as scripted events in the linear timeline, so when you have to repeat a section you have to endure them again & again.
I’ve been enjoying the story so far, but a combination of the re-living events via the medium of the “Flashback” and jumping between people & places gives you a dis-coordinated telling of a story. And kind of makes you feel like Dr. Sam Beckett.

Multi-player

I broke my rule and have started playing the multiplayer before completing the single player campaign. I am really glad that I did as the MP has redeemed the game for me somewhat. Here are the best elements for me:

  • First up it’s nice to have a game that allows prone positioning and movement, It really gives an extra element to the battles and makes everyone a little more on edge.
  •  The second item that is nice to have is Team death match, this game mode wasn’t in BF:BC2 and I did miss it. You see the squad death match isn’t want everyone is looking for, I for one just wanted a Team V Team without capture points being involved.
  •  The maps (think I have played them all now) are nicely designed with balance being a good part of them. The maps increase or decrease depending on the server capacity/game mode. There is a mixture of Range long (good for aircraft) and close quarter maps which means you get some great combat in places.

That said, there are some serious lag spike issues at the moment that appear to be impacting all players. This often makes playing the game unbearable and I hope they get sorted out soon or it’s going to put people off.

Last Point

My final bugbear is with the use of the Origin/BattleLog webpage at launches the game for you.

Imagine you are playing on a conquest game server and fancy swapping to a Team deathmatch game. In any normal game you would exit to the menu selection and find a new server and connect.
BF3 is far more cumbersome in it’s design, you play each map which loads the resources into memory, but when you exit the that server, it exits the game and unloads everything from memory.
You then find your next server and connect at this point the game is reloaded and as you enter the server all the resources have to be loaded into memory again.

It’s a horrid method and results in having to open and close the game multiple times in one sitting.
Not a massive problem, but when I have a finite amount of time for gaming I really don’t want to spent it looking at a loading screen.

Pay peanuts, make Lemonade

I recently thought back to my early years on the internet, with my dial-up modem and charged by the minute tariff. Considering how flaky the system was it was a good day when you managed to connect and weren’t booted within 5 minutes.

As I sit here writing this post with my broadband connection that averages over 15MB Per Second, I can download a game 10 times bigger than the size of my hard drive of 12 years ago, in a ridiculously short amount of time.

Since Broadband arrived I’ve always tried to choose an internet service provider that offered packages that favoured my gaming habits, low latency, lower contention rate, little or no traffic shaping. Not an easy task as many of  the smaller brands either folded or were bought by large companies, which meant customers where transferred over  to new terms and networks.

After experiencing this with my ISP, I decided that I needed to choose an ISP that wasn’t all about bundling my phone-line or offering me 100GB download limit, but I could only really use the service early in the morning due to data throttling. Almost every day I hear of others people’s experiences and problems with their internet package, of course on closure inspection and I’m stunned  by how many opt for the cheapest/Best-deal they could find.

My ISP is Zen, I have to admit they do may charge slightly higher prices that others and they may have traffic caps, but I’m more than happy to have those elements if it means the service I pay for is there when I need it. When I finally begun to experience the full ASDL2, I had a number of issues related to the quality of the phone cable in this area. Zen were very helpful and coordinated with BT to get the problems resolved as quickly as possible.

Consumables

On returning to City of Heroes one of the in-game systems I took for granted in the past was the inspirations. You can activate them as fast as you are able, so with a little preparation you can enter each battle with a balanced load out to help you out if things turn ugly.

Of course this isn’t anything new to the genre, potions and medkits have been stable component of our games for many years, However I’ve always been frustrated by cool-down systems that games use to limit the speed of consumption of these items,excluding PVP balancing I struggled to find a clear reason for this implementing this in PvE, other than slowing me down.

Using a health potion every 3 minutes isn’t ideal, for me it will often result in death. Mainly due to my fondness for soloing but I also like to face obstacles that offer me a challenge. I don’t want to be limited to. Grey mobs just because I play a supporting class.

I know may will argue that “it’s a multi-player game for a reason, find a healer”.
Of course finding a healer that wants to spend an evening playing whack-a-mole is never that simple and I want the ability to play a character that is able to solo between grouping.

So I use up twice as many health potions, but my enjoyment of the game increases too.
Anyone else with a similar opinion or am I just being awkward?

Communication Breakdown

A recent Podcast by those exquisite purveyors of fine words KIASA,  there was a little banter that mentioned the lack of in-game typing and the need for an external audio solution is be coming more common place now.

I completely agree, but what can we do to help combat this?  What’s needed are methods that would enhance interactions and communications within the gaming group, what’s more that group could be best friends or just a random PUG.

With every new game we see “recycling” of features that have been tried and tested in other games. No matter the origins, beneficial functions in one game, will generally benefit players in another, so they get included.
Players also come to expect similar feature to be included otherwise they feel that a game isn’t catering for their needs.

Many games have systems for easier levels, or group questing, tournaments, yet there is a lack of systems that aid games with their interaction with other players. There is one such feature in Planetside that for me is one of the games crowning glories, yet it remains the most underutilised across the multi-player gaming scene.

Voice Macro System

Now on the face of things, you may think that a system such as this isn’t suited to more RPG style games, but when you boil down the needs of the players the truth is very plain to see. Players want an easy method by which to communicate, interact but one that doesn’t mean having to stop everything to type into the chat window.

The basis behind the voice macro is that by using a number of keystrokes (between 3 and 4) you can quickly inform those in your group (and maybe other players nearby) of various information.

Despite not having played Planetside for some time, the keystrokes needed to convey meaning, are still easily remembers.
  • V-V-T = Thanks
  • V-D-C = defend our Control console!
  • V-N-R = We need Repairs!
  • V-W-C = Cloaked Enemy detected!
  • V-S-R-G = I will repair our Generator!

Initiating the voice macros menu by pressing V you then choose the topic for the message

  • A = Attack
  • D = Defend
  • N= Need
  • R= Repair
  • S= Self
  • T= Tactical
  • V= Quick (Commonly used)
  • W= Warnings

Nearly all of these keys are located near the WASD keys cutting down on the amount of movement needed from the player and when you’re in a PVP game where the action is pretty continual, those few seconds matter.

Real benefits

As you can see the Planetside system uses a simple tree structure that allows a number of benefits to be realised:

  1. Quick process that is easily learnt & ultimately becomes muscle memory driven
  2. As well as display text allows for a macro to play sound files, good for those that struggle to read in game text
  3. Easily configurable for different languages, allowing more cross language interaction

Even if you can get all of your team into a TeamSpeak server, there is no guarantee  that everyone has a microphone, or that they are able to talk due to other circumstances. This instantly puts certain people at a disadvantage which could be avoided or reduced at least by a Voice macro system.

What use

I see many games that could benefit from using a system such as this, Any games with large public raids/fights such as Warhammer or Rift.
I would have enjoyed being able to have been able to communicate with other raid members in Rift but not having to type everything to them.

I’ve played World of Tanks recently which has a basic alerting system in place but could use something to that’s more detailed and allows other players to co-ordinate easier and more fluidly, of course this removes any barriers that exists due to language and ultimately gives the players a more enjoyable experience.

The final use would see players in PUGs being able to interact in an easier manner,

I don’t think that every game needs a massive list of commands and some games would just be unsuitable for this type of system, But I’d like to see this creeping into more games in the Future.

Original Planetside Manual entry