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Archive for November, 2009

Warning! This post contains spoilers about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. If you don’t want  to have the surprise spoiled just wait until you have the first act of the game completed.

Just like about everyone on on this Earth who likes military themed shooters I got myself the newest Call of Duty game. No matter the controversy about the multiplayer or declarations of Activision CEO, I needed my commando action fix. And the game does not disapoint, incredible graphics, great action, unbelievable storyline, over the top action! It’s like the good old war movies of the eighties mixed with the newer techno-babble shows, it’s awesome!! Makes you want to run out the nearest recruitment center and sign up right away for the commando job. I can just  see myself asking the recruiting officer when we get the course to take out an enemy base all by  ourselves.

Modern Warfare 2 also managed something I tought I would never see or feel. For the first time in my  20 years+ gaming career (I started young!) the game made me feel bad about what I was doing. And I do  mean truly bad.

Hyperrealism, really ???

Hyperrealism is perceiving a fake situation as a real one. The best example is when you go out to see a movie and end up crying as the main character dies. It’s not real, this personn doesn’t exist but you still feel sadness at his passing. Umberto Eco defined it as “The authentic fake”.

Let’s put things into context first. The third mission in Modern warfare 2 has you playing as a new recruit to a commando unit. Your job is to go undercover with a terrorist organisation in the hope it will lead you the personn really pulling the strings. Something is amiss and the high command wants to know what. You join up with the terrorist as they prepare to attack an airport full of innocent people and this is where the game takes a weird turn. The game has you play the actual attack. For a complete mission you are a terrorist firing on innocent people and fighting the armed forces coming to stop you.

Now try to imagine it. You are armed with a machine gun and you walk into this incredibly detailed airport thanks to the game gorgeous graphic engine. Innocent people are sitting waiting for their planes, you can see couples,  security agents and everything you would expect to see in a real airport. Then the shooting begins, your terrorist group opens fire on everything that moves and proceed to gun down every living being inside. Blood is everywhere, an old lady is lying on the ground gurgling blood, people are running for their lives screaming in sheer terror, it’s a very graphic scene. To make it even more realist the designers have obviously put a great lot of effort on making the whole scene as realistic as possible.

How it got to me

It took me about 2 seconds to stop firing. At first I was playing along as we made our way to the scene. After all I’ve played numerous villains in multiple games, have been responsible for quite a few worlds destroyed and nuclears holocaust so a terrorist attack should be fine right? We move into the passenger area and my terrorist buddies open fire on the crowd and I press the trigger, hosing with bullets a group of people standing up. And I stop right after as I see the crowd react and the bodies falling. All around me it’s pure chaos and I realize  right then and there how wrong the whole thing is. Here I am sitting in my living room gunning down innocent people as a form of entertainment. Still, I want to see the whole thing through as I’m really curious to see how it ends so I follow the other terrorist arounds, firing on a few security guards threatening me directly but I let the  butchering to the NPCs. Eventually the whole thing ends with my character being bretrayed by the terrorist leader and the mission ends with me dead along with everyone else.

How did this happen? How did a game managed to creep me out like this. Me, who’s running over pedestrian happily in grand theft auto, who destroyed countless cities in Civilisation, who lied and tortured jedis as I was playing a sith lord.. how did that happen? It’s quite simple I think, unlike all those games the scenario in Modern Warfare 2 is plausible. I know perfectly well that what I’m doing in grand theft auto is not possible, that war doesn’t work that way in Civilisation but a terrorist attack on an airport, it can happen. Modern Warfare 2 deals with real weapons in a real world environment and the people reacts how you think they should. By trying to emulate reality as much as they could they managed to make it feel real for me in a way.

Why did they do it?

To their credit Activision knew this mission would be disturbing and ask you twice when starting a campaign  if you really want to play it. Also, the ending of it all is kinda redeeming. By having the player killed, the  game does not reward you for playing along with the terrorists. In fact it’s the starting point of a whole lot of events wich could have been avoided if you din’t participate. In short, this mission was a fiasco and your paying for it.

So why do it? From a game and story point of view it makes perfect sense. It’s a strong moment that explains a lot of what is to come and set the stage for a lot of characters and events. If the idea here was to make  me convinced of who the bad guys are and motivate me to deal with them then it’s mission accomplished.

On the other hand maybe the motivation to include this mission was to send a message. A sort of twisted moral about how the end does not justify the means and how it’s important to keep high moral standards no matter what the situation. A reversed Jack Bauer message where doing whatever it takes ends up doing more harm than good. Or it could be also to convince me that terrorism is a bad thing and that killing innocent people is bad. I did not need a videogame to tell me that.

Going too far?

No matter what the real motivation is I do feel like Activision has gone too far with this. If the point of this mission was to explain story elements then a simple cutscene would have sufficed. If it was morals then I’m disapointed. I play games to entertain myself, not to be told how to live my life and I did knew that  terrorism is a bad thing, I saw the second plane fall on the World trade center live as it happened on TV and I saw the world change after. I have quite a few friends and family in the military, most of wich have gone or are in Afghanistan right now. I do not need to be reminded of the effects of terrorism anymore, society is seeing to that already.

So I do think Activision crossed a line here. It does not make the game bad(it’s awesome) but it will make me wary of the following games in the serie. They touched my limit and I don’t want or need anymore of this.

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Blog updates

It’s that time of the year again!

I know I’m a terrible host when it comes to blog maintenance so if you have my blog on your blogroll and yours not on mine please reply to this post so I can go check your awesome blog and add it to my list.

Also, I noticed quite a few of you have linked to posts on this blog from your own guild forums wich is awesome. However since I can’t always access your super private forums and since I won’t register to them all to tell you I appreciate the linkage your more than welcome to drop a quick “Hi” here so I know who you guys are!

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WoW immersion

Larìsa at the Pink Pigtail Inn posted today about immersion in WoW, how the recent inclusion of RMT pets breaks her immersion into the game. Frequent readers here knows that immersion is very important for me when I play a game and they also know that I’ve been pretty critical of the latest changes to WoW when it comes to immersion.

The importance of immersion

Immersion is one of the many facets of a game. Depending on who you ask it won’t have the same importance. For me it’s one of the most crucial elements of a game, on the other hand a friend of mine couldn’t care less about it,for him it’s all about hardcore raiding and immersion equals loss of time in his mind.

No mater how much you care immersion still remains a very important part of a game. If we truly didn’t care at all about it we would be playing chess or solving complex logic puzzles (not that there’s anything wrong with those two activities). Instead we are choosing to be a warrior and go on to fight dragons. A more subtle example would be the class we choose. If you want to roll a healer in WoW you could choose to be either a priest, paladin, druid or shaman. Four choices but most of the time you will hesitate between two, one for its abilities and the other because of a gut feeling. That gut feeling is immersion, it’s you seeing yourself more as a druid than any other class.

There’s a reason why games like Fallen Earth and Dragon Age are doing so well right now. They got immersion down right. Yes, you’re going to miss ammo in Fallen Earth and your horse might not be there the next time you log on but it’s all part of living in post-apocalypse. The funny part is people love it, they are willing to put up with those annoyances for the fun of feeling like living in a real post-apocalyptic world. Just like back in WoW it took 4 hours to do blackrock depths from start to finish. It was long but it worked because from the story standpoint it was the old capital of the Dark Iron dwarves.

When it all changed for WoW…

Let’s review our history first. Back in 2004, WoW is released worldwide. It promptly outshines EQ2 wich came out at the same time by offering players a much more accessible gaming experience. The days of MMO for the hardcore are gone and now everyone can enjoy the game. Back then there was no flight path to camp Taurajo in the barrens. Taurajo was far and to make it feel that way (immersion) you had to leg it for 5 minutes to get their everytime from crossroads. A few months later Blizzard figured out it was more of a pain than a benefit to have players run there and they added a flight path. A bit less immersion but way more fun for everyone.

And that’s been Blizzard motto with the game :”If something isn’t fun then it needs to be changed”, their words not mine. So every now and then WoW would change to accomodate the player base. This became apparent with the release of Burning Crusade when they revamped the raiding experience to give a chance to everyone to experience it this time around. And for the most part they kept immersion pretty intact up until the Sunwell patch. The Sunwell patch was the first obvious time that a zone had been designed with the gameplay first and not immersion. They did dress it up nicely but you could see the point of the island was to get you geared and give you enough money to raid. It was also a great success. By doing a compromise in a spot of the game they allowed everyone who wanted it a chance to set foot into raid progression. The major barriers to raiding at the time, namely money and starter gear could all be solved there. So for a time, all was good and balanced.

 Then patch 3.0 came not long before Woltk and with it came achievements. This was a turning point in that Blizzard was introducing a whole new dimension to the game that had nothing to do with the story, raids or gameplay. According to Blizzard it’s intended to be a complement to the game, a way to mark your victories and milestones. The reality of it is that it completely changed the way WoW is played for most people. Suddenly, gathering as many pets and reputations as possible is important. if you want to raid Ulduar you need to have the achievement to prove you are worthy of doing it. Reading the trade chat in cities is enough to depress me now, all you hear is LF healer ToC 25 ,pst achievement. So for most max level WoW players the game can be resumed to waiting around in Dalaran while waiting for something to happen… again, immersion doesn’t seem to be important here.

Finding the middle ground

As with most things in life I’m pretty sure the answer must lie somewhere in the middle between immersion and accommodating gameplay. Like I said before if a game motivates me to do something else then it’s doing something wrong. So if I have to take a 20 minutes flight path for the sake of immersion I’m not interested, I’ll go watch videos while in flight. On the other end, abominations like ToC where all you do is fight generic bosses isn’t working either. The more I look at it the more I think that BC pre-achievments had the best of both world.

Here’s to hoping they get it right again with Cataclysm.

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All worship Bioware!

I won’t go into a detailed review of Dragon Age. If you want to see  some reviews check out this post by Syp at BioBreak and follow the links for a comprehensive list of reviews. For myself I think this is the most awesome game to come out in a really long time. It’s why I’m sleep deprived today, this game has a way of keeping you playing “just one more hour”. Truly, if the Star Wars MMO is anything like this my real life is in serious trouble.

So go buy it… NOW! Like why are you still reading this? GO!!!

On the computer front I’m still pc-less. I managed to beg and threaten my way to have a nividia gtx260 installed instead of the gt9800 they wanted to give me. So I get an upgraded card but still a few days without a computer. It’s not all bad tough, I got Dragon Age to tide me over until then.

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Theorycrafting madness, part 2

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up. I had one written but I wasn’t satisfied with it so I scrapped it and wrote a new one.

Let’s get straight to the point. The other day I ended the first part of this post with a story of two groups doing the same raid. The chaotic pug succeeded where the organized guild group failed. Why? Because the pug was playing and the guild group was following a recipe.

I’m going to assume your all smart readers and have already figured out the main point when it comes to theorycrafting. It’s a good tool but if you follow it without thinking your setting yourself up for failure every time something new or unexpected happens because you did not really learn how to play. How do we fight this? How do we learn to use theorycrafting well to improve our raids?

KISS

Keep it simple and stupid. This might sound so obvious but how often have you sat in front of a boss for half an hour while the raid leader discuss ad nauseum the strategy he read on website X while people are going on ninja afk or falling asleep on their keyboards. Do you really expect that after a monologue of 30 minutes, of “wait, there’s also this abilities that..”, that the raid will remember everything. Of course not. Your going to wipe straight after. But on the second try you’ll do much  better and after a few tries you get the boss down. That’s because the raid was learning the encounter from experience instead of following the theroycrafted strategy. Sure it’s a  good starting point but until people do the actual learning your wasting your time explaining. 

When I was raid leading I used a rule where I had to explain the fight under 2 minutes, no matter  how complicated. Of course it can go a bit longer but by aiming for 2 minutes I make sure I stay on the important points. I would focus on the particular “tricks” of the boss. Every boss got a few tricks you have to know and then you can beat it. For example when taking new players on Shade of Aran in BC I would explain the following:
-On flame wreath don’t move at all, for no reason whatsoever.
-Run away in the corners of the room when your teleported to the center.
-When the elementals appear the offtank picks them up and ranged dps kill them in the usual order. Use fear and CC if you have them on the others
-Those who can interrupt spells should do so when able to.

You see? Four quick points and we are good to go. Sure we might wipe the first time around when learning the fight but we can get more attempts in faster, raid members stay focused and we get to really master the encounter. How did I learn to focus on these four points? By reading strats and focusing on what’s important and trusting my group to know enough how to play to figure out the rest as we go along.

Knowing why

How often do you really stop asking yourself why you are doing something in the game. Understanding why you are favoring crit over strength for example goes a long way in making you a better player and helping you  understand what you need. If you ask someone why they are picking up spellpower and the answer is “because it’s what recommended on EJ” then you know right then and there that he doesn’t really know how to play his class and what he is doing. Sure checking out EJ for your class best spec is a good idea but you need to understand why an ability was picked over another one.

 I truly hope these posts on theorycrafting made you think. I am sick and tired of hearing blanket answers like “go check on the forums” who rarely truly help the person asking the question.

PS: On another completely unrelated topic I bought Dragon Age yesterday. The game looks awesome so far but I haven’t made it more than an hour in so I’ll be posting about it later when I get more time to play with it.

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Monkey is overloaded

Quick update to tell everyone I’m currently swamped with work so I don’t have time to finish my post on theorycrafting. But no worries! It will come soon.

On the computer front I got news from the repair shop. Seems like the company switched my nvidia gtx8800 for a gt9800. Not pleased at all with the switch since I’m loosing ram on the card. However I’ve read some people claim the 9800gt is stable and runs really smooth so maybe it’s not so bad.

But still at the time I took the warranty the guy at the shop assured me they would swap for a card with the same money value as I paid and I got a 80$ card when I paid 700$ at first. Really pissed but not much I can do since it’s my word agaisnt their.

At least I’ll have a computer to play with this weekend.

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Theorycrafting madness, part 1

Among the many geek things I love to do I play Warhammer, both 40k and Fantasy. Just like MMOs there’s thriving online community dedicated to the little toy soldiers and just like MMOs we have a ton of theorycrafters(mathhammer) who spends all their free time crunching numbers and lists to provide  us with the ultimate army of doom. However anyone who’s been playing Warhammer for a length of time will tell you that there’s a world of difference between the forums lists and real tournament lists. If only for the simple fact that an online list does not explain subtleties in strategy and meta-game.

I’m part of a gaming club wich gather weekly for games of both systems. We are associated with a local retailer, we organize tournaments, events and when new players show up in the area they are often directed toward us so they have people to play with and show them the ropes. In many ways we’re not unlike  a MMO guild. Whenever we see a new face come in with a “forum list” people nearly line up to play against him(or her) to beat him and show him that internet lists are not the way to go. It’s not always the nicest thing to do but over time the club has adopted a very “L2P” philosophy. We would rather have someone make mistakes and learn from them than just pick a list of the internet.

We have a lot of tournament players,myself included, and we all agree that the theorycrafted  lists are very good as starting point and to give ideas but they should be that,  only inspiration, not a crutch. In short we say that you’ve got to learn to play by yourself before truly understanding how to use theorycraft as a tool to complement your gameplay. It should not be your gameplay.

What was the point of this long rant? Explain my view on theorycraft. A good tool that should be only that, not the holy gospel it has become in most online games.

You need proof? Go check most of WoW raiding guilds. Almost all of them will check your spec against Elitist jerks, then it’s off to Be Imba or WoW heroes(if not both) to check your gear and finally your told to go read strategies on Bosskillers, Tankspot or any combination of videos and strategy guides.On Elitist Jerks for example you literally have pages upon pages for almost any spec for all classes and the theorycrafters have drafted complex spreadsheets to tell you exactly how to squeeze every last bit of dps/healing/threat you can get out of any character.

For example while I was playing my death knigth I would need an Obliterate build with precise points and very specific stats to reach a good enough dps. It didn’t matter that we would still be killing the boss if I didn’t have the perfect EJ spec, I was expected to have that spec and learn how  to use it. I was expected to learn by heart the strategy in the Tankspot video. In short, do you homework,  show up and execute said strategy.

Before going any further I want to address the concerns of readers reading this and telling themselves that what I just described is the right way to do things. That you should check out EJ,videos, do your research and execute it in raid so the encounter is beaten in the shortest time possible.

You are absolutely right.. in a certain way.
Theorycrafting and veterans

Theorycrafting sites often contain basic truths about the game. For example having enchants, gems and potions for a raid will remain true no matter what. Just as healing with a dps spec will always be a worse idea than healing with a healing spec. Another example would be telling you to get out of a boss AoE who can one shot you. It’s not surprise then that they are always refered to. Raid leaders and guild leaders don’t want to have to explain all this and direct their members to the theorycrafters. After all these guys theorycraft more than they play the game and more often than not their numbers are right on the money.

Now, do you remember my little story with Warhammer at the beginning at this post? Where I talked about army list taken off the internet? Remember how I said a newer player would fail with this kind of list because he would not get the subtleties of the list and the strategy? Well the veteran player could probably take that list and win with it. Why? Because his experience and true understanding of the game rules and strategies would allow him to grasp the list strategy. His experience would help him tweak a few minor details before playing with it and winning.

Theorycrafting in MMOs has become so important because exactly of that phenomenon. Veteran players, who get the true meanings and strategies of theorycraft, are often in important positions in guilds and have become natural leaders as their experience and talent is showing. So when asked for advice they often point players to the theorycrafting sites. The problem is that where a veteran would get the right information, a newer player would probably just read it as a step by step guide and try to commit it all to memory. So while the veteran get the right information, the other player might understand the wrong information or simply not get it at all. But you can be sure that if you ask him he will tell you he has read the forums and the theorycrafting sites.

Let me conclude today with a situation I’ve experienced and that I’m pretty sure anyone who has raided  for a while has too.

It’s late at night just before the weekly maintenance. For some reason you have not raided this week so when you get a whisper to go raiding with a PuG from someone you’ve raided with once before you tell yourself, why not? After all if the raid is a fail you’re good to go the following  day and if the raid goes well you can score some loot. So it’s pretty much a win-win situation.

So you get in the raid, full of people from different guilds, a vent is offered but not everyone hops in and every time the leader asks for something people don’t answer or are too busy telling dumb jokes to answer.However by some miracle, this unfocused raid with minimal instructions manage to clear the whole raid in record time. Only a single wipe when the hunter lagged and ran ahead. Every boss one shotted and spirits are high. You even get an upgrade you’ve been after for a long time. When you log off you’re left with that awesome feeling of a job well done.

The next day it’s guild raid time. You’re telling yourself that after acing it the previous day it should be a cakewalk. After all everyone is in vent and focused,you raid got better gear, the strategies  are explained and everyone looks ready. But no… this raid is going nowhere. The raid is moving at a snail pace, you keep wiping on bosses and 4 hours later the raid end with barely 4 bosses down.

… tomorrow the conclusion to this exciting tale and the pitfalls of theorycrafting explained in full 3D!!!*

*special 3D glasses not included

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