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Friday, February 19, 2010

MAG: What Isn't A Kickable Offense

MAG's large scale combat relies heavily on leaders communicating with each other, setting objectives, trying to move the game forward, etc. Without solid objectives, players lose out on experience and have a tendency to just wander off trying to kill things.

If you're not a squad leader, you chances of getting kicked off the squad are pretty slim. You'd need to gack the hell out of people repeatedly, and honestly people are pretty understanding of getting shot accidentally in the back (though if you can revive them shortly thereafter, it helps a lot).

If you are a squad leader - congratulations! You're chances of getting kicked off the squad just went up considerably. Well, not too considerably because it still takes a majority vote to kick you off and most players don't know where the kick vote button is hidden (start button, select player, vote to kick, btw). However - you're uniform just arrived with a bullseye on your back.

So far my track record as squad leader is fairly even and I can say we've won a few hard matches we probably would not have without the proper coordination. My collateral damage rate is pretty low, and I will admit that I really, really enjoy raining fiery death on the enemy.

What I don't enjoy is repeated attempts to be kicked. If I deserve it, fine. But here is a quick list of things that don't deserve it.

You don't like the sound of my voice
I haven't had this happen yet, although I nearly harassed a random squad leader last night who found the voice changer setting on the PS3 a bit too useful. In reading around the forums, though, this seem to be a common complaint. To which I can only say ... really? If you're that sensitive about online gaming - you might stay offline.

You don't like my FRAGO
Most experienced players have specific routes/order of objectives that they like to take down. Which is fine, but if you aren't squad leader then well, um, stuff it. Speak up by all means if you think there's a better objective, but if the squad leader disagrees - then well, um. Yeah, stuff it and get running. I've been in many matches with players yelling objectives which would have easily lost the match (usually retreating to the back flank too soon or ignoring key points like anti-air). This could also be summed up as:

You didn't get squad leader
You know what: boo freakin' hoo. Stop with the backseat general crap and fight. When kick votes occur as soon as the game starts, it's a pretty good sign that it isn't about job performance. Though that brings up...

We're losing
Guess what - we're not going to win every match. And sometimes there is only so much that the squad leader can do. Last night we had 11 minutes to get one letter on Domination, but we just couldn't through the defense. I was trying to bomb their back flank, get people to rush, etc. The opposing team just had a hardened group with a lot LMG's. Two clan members kept voting to kick. If you think about it, this is pretty stupid - because you're taking a squad already down and reducing the number. Oh, except they probably had a clan member waiting to join. Which brings me to:

I'm not in your clan
This is the biggest FU one on the list, I think, though it seems to usually go hand in hand with "You didn't get squad leader". If I'm squad leader and there are more than a couple people in the same clan who spend most of the time talking to each other, I know I'm trouble - no matter how well we're doing. There are plenty of posts on the forums about how a clan with a majority number in a squad will just eject the other players to get their clan members in - but most also take the leader role. It's pretty loathsome behavior, and makes players simply not want to be squad leaders so that they can avoid being targets.

I don't have a mic
This one, I'll admit, is a bit of a grey zone. If a squad leader can't communicate with the squad, they might get in trouble - and there are occasions (like when the CNI is jammed or calling out secondary goals) that the only way to coordinate is via a mic. But honestly, if a squad leader is setting FRAGOs and using their command abilities - the squad is often most of the way there. Plus, you can't be sure you're kicking one squad leader off to get one *with* a mic, or will even do any better. Short version - a mic-less leader might not be the best, but it doesn't mean they'll be bad.

I didn't bomb something when you wanted me to
Um, squad leaders can't bomb everything all the time. Sorry. If we could, we would never move. We'd just sit there bombing everything.

So what is a kickable offense? There are really two big ones: not using the CNI (setting goals, using command abilities) and bombing your own team. One match last night started with the squad leader bombing our own bunker ... and then doing nothing else for the rest of the game. That, my friends, is a squad leader you should kick.

The related note here is that the kick system doesn't really work so well. This is only a minor rant because I've never been successfully kicked (I suspect, though, that this is usually because there haven't been enough of the same clan on at one time). And I've actually not seen truly bad squad leaders kicked, including Mr. Bombs Our Bunker there. Zipper would do better to institute a grief/demotion system for squad leaders - some kind of automatic penalty/reward system based on performance, and not the whim of the mob.

On the flip side, I'd love it if squad leaders could see who was voting to kick them. Many of these are silent votes, and last night on the Domination match my requests to tell me what we should do different were ignored.

Like I said on the recent posts, if you don't like the squad leader - leave. Or at the very least be vocal in a constructive way. But just repeatedly trying to oust the leader is pointless and annoying.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TV Watch: Lost, The Substitute

I think a rule for this season will be: we need Evil Locke in it. Last episode was mostly Locke-less and mostly boiled down to a "getting to know Kate" concept and didn't move much of the island mythology forward, with the possible exception of a few pointed facts towards Sayid and Claire, who may know be called Crazy French Claire or Claire French Lady or Claire Rosseau if one likes.

So this was a pretty Locke related episode, though technically it was half Locke and half SmokeLocke. Locke's sidestory continues along an odd theme: without the island, everyone seems like they're doing all right. Locke is getting hitched to Helen, is becoming comfortable in his own (broken) skin, and can even roll with the punches when he gets fired (thanks to his other would-be Losties). So the theme seems to be: this is a group of people who would have made each other's lives all right.

And then Jacob comes along, crashes their plane and they start dying. Or time travelling. Or whatnot. SmokeLocke confirms for us that Jacob has slowly weaved events off-island to bring them all to "candidates" of some kind, though we can't be sure what that really means with Jacob currently a pile of ash in Ilana's pocket.

Or perhaps he is a bloodied blonde hair kid? Wait - what? OK, one sec - is this really the best time for Lost to get weirder? The proverbial Swan clock is ticking down here, and this is the most tantalizing tidbit we got:

4 - Locke
8 - Reyes
15 - Ford
16 - Jarrah
23 - Shephard
42 - Kwon

Written on a cave wall. It's been noted that Kate is not among the names, though it should be pointed out that Sun might not be either - as Kwon could well mean Jin. Is being a candidate a male exclusive recruitment option?

SmokeLocke mentions that "Jacob had a thing for numbers". Let's hope that isn't the complete explanation for one of the first mysteries the show offered up. Honestly, Lost Writers - we get the "black and white" thing. Honestly, I was hoping for something more like a ... spaceship? Less like a ... mysterious cave? If you were Sawyer - would you buy SmokeLocke's speech as a reasonable history of being plane wrecked? Before they go jaunting off together and selecting floral arrangements, shouldn't Sawyer try to figure out just what SmokeLocke is?.

We seem to be teetering towards something of a conclusion, but it remains to be seen if there is a Grand Unified Theory to explain all the loose ends Lost's rambling plot has left in its wake. So far little is know about the next episode "Lighthouse" (Lost producers have said that even a single screenshot from episodes this season will reveal too much) - but hopefully we keep following the smoke trail down the old rabbit hole.

Crazy theory time: Evil Locke put a bit of a damper on the alien theory, claiming he was once just a man like Sawyer. I'm not thrown off the scent quite that easily. Smoke Monster can clearly resemble dead people, complete with emotions and memories. Evil Locke used to look like someone completely different. "I was a man once" might mean, "I took that dead guy's appearance." We're still dealing with an entity that can resemble dead people, cure cancer, regenerate broken legs, and manipulate world events (somehow to the point where people can't even die).

OK, now that I put it that way, maybe even aliens doesn't cover it. It may be time to start wondering just how much into the supernatural Lost will be willing to go.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More on MAG

I've been playing a pretty silly amount of Zipper's MAG since I last posted on it, and I need to preface this with the note that I'm still pretty wildly positive about the game. It's impressive how much the size of the maps and teams helps insure that you've got consistent gaming available to you - and usually pretty decent matches.

Take the recent Aliens Vs. Predator demo as a counter-example. The matchmaking is loose and seems to have troubles getting more than four people into a game together. The end result is long wait times to try the gameplay out and very uneven results in the long run.

But while MAG is something of a technical achievement, especially for the console, there is quite a bit left to be desired. Here's my short list.

Shoulder Controls
Right lower shoulder cycles weapons, left lower shoulder cycles gear, left top shoulder aims, right top shoulder fires. If that sounds like a strange mental crossword puzzle, it is - and it is complicated further by slow animations which can't keep up with what you need. Not to mention my rocket launcher (a weapon) is cycled as a gear, at the end of my gears - so if I miscount the number of shoulder clicks to pull it up ... that APC may have just driven past. You do get used to it, to a point, but even after clocking several hours I'll mess it up in the heat of battle.

Weapon Balance
While weapons across the three major factions feel balanced, the individual genres of weapons seems off. When threatened by a sniper, I don't go get a sniper rifle - I put my large machine gun on a bipod. I may not get the advantage of the best scope, but I do a lot of damage and can fire 100 bullets before having to reload. And should I need to get up and close, the LMG is still the one of the better options. It can spray, target shoot and tango - once you can respec to the LMG I don't see any reason to use any other gun in the game.

It's not that the sniper rifle or the assault rifle or poorly designed, both are good in certain situations. It's just that the LMG, properly equipped, is handy in nearly any situation. It's a little too Rambo for a modern shooter.

On the flip side, the RPG's feel wildly underpowered. OK, I get that bunker turrets should be difficult targets and it makes sense that they can take more than 3 rockets. But when I'm point blank to an APC and they don't even bother to pick me off with that big turret - and I have to go run for more rockets just to finish them off ... why did I bring it in the first place again? Not to mention that it doesn't seem you get assist points for helping finish off vehicles.

Skill / Equip Options
MAG works on experience. If you do stuff, especially, stuff your squad leader wants, you get XP. XP can be traded for better guns, gear, abilities and options. For the most part, this works really pretty well. Some of the choices, like before mentioned placement of a rocket launcher as a piece of "gear", and that it occupies a slot in and of itself ... so in other words your near future soldier can slap an RPG on his back, but not - say, another grenade.

Mostly, though, it would be nice to see the upgrade tree allow for more flexibility and versatility. It's almost, but not quite, RPGish. If you could, say, tweak the LMG to have better range by foresaking rate of fire, you would allow players to toy with their builds much more as well as potentially balance out weapons better.

Also, I would recommend a free respec for new characters. Especially with the balance issues, it is hard to know what works and what doesn't until you've tossed some XP at the problem.

Squad Leader Mechanics
OK, now we get into some real split hairs - because the squad, and the squad leader, mechanics really help MAG work as an online shooter. It's not that the system is broken, the system usually works extremely well. But there's a few faults.

First, no tutorial. So many new squad leaders just have no idea what they are doing. It is really, really not that complicated and Zipper would be well served to add a tutorial level for setting fraggos and using command abilities. It's as easy as hitting select, panning the map and clicking a few buttons. But so many start without really understanding what a fraggo even is.

Second, a better waypoint system. Many assaults would work better if the squad had a "meet point" which was secondary to the fraggo itself. It would even be nice to be able to set secondary fraggos (guard the bunker, but if someone could repair that AA...).

Third, some kind of demerit/demotion system. Some squad leaders just don't actually want to be squad leaders, or have so little clue as to what to do that the squad quickly devolves into a wandering band of mercenaries. Right now, if you say ... have a squad leader who continually drops cluster bombs on his own squad, the squad can only kick the leader off the server completely. If there was firstly some kind of auto-grief system for leaders, and secondly a way to demote a leader out of office without kicking them completely - bad leaders could be handled without much harm to the team in general (there are often situations a squad should rather not be a man down).

On a side note, though, some MAG players need to freaking cool it. I've seen perfectly good squad leaders go through kick vote after kick vote. One even kept asking what the squad thought he was doing wrong, and he never got a response. I was just on the receiving end of a similar vote recently. I was setting my fraggos, trying to move the squad up the map, and using command abilities but two players apparently didn't like my lack of cluster bombing (which I didn't actually have much control over) and decided to ignore the fraggos and constantly vote to kick me.

We ended up winning the match, not really thanks to our squad since they kept dying in random places on the map. But we did win, and I ended up on the MVP list at the of the game. If I had had my squad with me, I probably would have done even better. So to MAG players - if your leader isn't setting goals, or keeps carpet bombing you ... fine. Kick them.

If you just don't like the goals - kick yourself. Seriously, just go home. Directives might bring in some other player who isn't an asshole about it.

That's about that for now. I'm hopeful that Zipper will update the game with DLC - certainly more maps would help, and if they could add more upgrades/weapons/etc, that would be grand. I won't hold my breath for a control remapping (or at least the ability to remap individually) ... but some additions to the squad leadership concept would go a long way.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Demo Play: Heavy Rain

I was pretty iffy on the game play of Indigo Prophecy / Fahrenheit back on the PS2. One part of me wants anything which is trying to push the interactive adventure genre forward, since any game should be a bit weary about a world where we're only getting the next shooter, or next third person platformer, or the next rendition of a franchise, etc. While I mostly enjoyed the game, I felt the story kinda whimpered towards the end and the control system got to be a rather insane exercise in quick-time events.

QTE's are oddly controversial. In case the term is unfamiliar, this is where the "press button now" interface is displayed and the player generally has a pre-determined amount of time to respond. It was basically the only gameplay mechanic in Dragon's Lair and got a refresh in Shenmue and became widespread with God Of War. Many game developers and critics bemoan them, but players seem quite willing to devour them until they get truly abusive. Heavy Rain accepts this reality and moves forward in two ways - one: turn nearly every action in the game, from opening a door to swinging a punch, into a kind of QTE. And two, lessen the penalty for failing them.

I can't tell how the story will be from the demo, but it looks like at least a decent noir detective tale in the making. The graphics are good, the advantages of a controlled camera view clearly being put to use here. Sound and other production elements seem pretty high value, and even if the characters are somewhat stuck in the Uncanny Valley, the developers should get some credit for trying to add a layer of emotion to their performances.

But back to the QTE's. The first portion of the level will introduce you to the concept and partially because of the fact that it is being a tutorial, becomes instant overkill of the concept. It feels like a burden to literally move and breath in the beginning, but once the commands have all been put through their paces, the game feels more rational. I actually thought the fight scene was pretty impressive - it felt fluid and engaging, which is pretty rare for a QTE based game.

And yet during the investigation, I wonder when I have to perform a QTE and wait for animation to perform every time I want to switch between the cool cyberglasses (which, are actually pretty cool) and normal vision ... if the game isn't going to have components where it continues to lay it on too thick.

Heavy Rain is a difficult game to measure on the basis of the demo, simply because it hold a unique place in Sony's library. It's not like it can be recommended simply because it's a shooter, or based on a franchise or if "you like X" kind of thing. I would say it should be recommended because it is trying to do just that - be unique, but that's hardly enough for the average gamer. I can say I'm tempted by the game, but not sold - so my suggestion is that if you're a fan of the old adventure games or interactive fiction, certainly give the demo a try. I'll be keeping an eye out when the title comes out and may pick it up if I'm past my Bioshock 2/Assassin's Creed 2/Brutal Legend glut.