Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

28Oct/090

Dropping on to the Lost Planet

Oh shit, it's game log time and I actually played some things this time!

As predicted my next 360 foray was Halo 3: ODST. ODST has pretty much been talked about to death lately on all of the gaming forums, blogs, podcasts, and the like so I won't go into it too much. I played through it co-op via splitscreen on Heroic difficulty and enjoyed it quite a lot. It's nice and short but well paced and a lot of fun. If you're a Halo (particularly Halo 3) fan then this is a must buy despite the lack of the iconic Master Chief. I plan on going back and getting more of the achievements, including going after all of the audio logs, in a subsequent playthrough sometime soon. I also dabbled in the new Firefight mode a couple of times with some friends and, as predicted, enjoyed the hell out of it. There's just something to be said for working together with friends in just about any game and the Gears of War 2 "Horde" mode template that everyone has been shamelessly copying lately really seems to nail a certain pure aspect of that.

Silenced pistols are the new black.
"Silenced pistols are the new black."

Next up I decided to play Lost Planet: Extreme Condition on my 360. Why? I don't know. Perhaps it was the ever increasing nip in the air around here as we move into the fall that made me want to jump head first into Lost Planet's abundant virtual snow banks... or maybe I just dig mechs? Who knows. I remember thinking the game looked cool since well before it was released but until the relatively recent announcement of its upcoming sequel I feel like it has been overshadowed by newer games. I've got a couple of friends who really dig the game though and one of them, NetworkShadow, even demoed it for a few of us at his place one day not too long ago. I really got into the idea of trudging through the beautiful snowy environments. The graphics might be fairly dated nowadays but people were blown away by them at launch and they're just stylized enough to remain easy to appreciate even now.

E.D.N. III has some pest control troubles...
"E.D.N. III has some pest control troubles..."

I managed to beat the game in just a few sittings and although there were some tricky sections (including lots of old school set piece boss battles) I found the game to be fairly easy. In fact a lot of my difficulty came about from trying to collect the achievements for all of the "target mark" collectibles for which I had to replay a few sections, even a few entire levels to complete. The character's movement and control felt slightly off to me (though admittedly I play relatively few 3rd person action games) but once I got used to the controls it all felt quite smooth and I was generally quite happy with it. I was a little disappointed by the last boss fight which hit on a pet peeve of mine - throwing entirely new game mechanics at you in the last level. I didn't feel like Lost Planet's case was as gross as a lot of other game's and I once I got a good feel for it I could more or less tell what they were going for. Still, it was fairly annoying and I ended up having to replay it like 15 times before I finally managed to beat it.

Lost Planet is also one of those newer Capcom games that seems to heap on a large amount of Western influence for some mysterious reason I don't suppose I care enough to speculate too much about - something about increased international sales or a bold new direction or something, I don't know. Indeed the game reminds me a lot, the setting, graphics, control, and the core gameplay, of a lot of Western 3rd person shooters, however there is an unmistakable Japanese feel to the entire game. I'm not just talking about the often silly extended cutscenes but the game itself often feels like somewhat of a 3D take on an oldschool side scrolling shooter like Contra or something. It's hard to explain but I'm sure some of you who have played it know where I'm coming from. Regarding those cutscenes though, I've got to say that not playing many Japanese games, particularly the cutscene heavy JRPG genre, I do find an occasional dip into the cesspools of insane Japanese cutscenes to be pretty refreshing.

What's better than mowing down aliens with a minigun? Mowing down aliens with two miniguns!
"What's better than mowing down aliens with a minigun? Mowing down aliens with two miniguns!"

Next up for the 360 is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. An interesting note, and one I remember mentioning once or twice on the old podcast, is that I've had Call of Duty 4 since right around the time it was first released. I had the PC version and only really bought it to play multiplayer with friends however. As a result I never even started up the single player campaign and somewhere in the back of my mind I had always figured I'd probably enjoy it more on the Xbox 360 and that the achievements wouldn't hurt either. So, here I am, nearing the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and I've finally tracked down a decently priced used copy of the game for 360. I can't wait! I've heard so much about the campaign and, who knows, I might even give multiplayer on Xbox Live a try while I'm at it since it's such a blast.

On a non-console related note I also continue to play Half-life 2 from time to time - I'm about to start Episode 2 and wrap the game up. I'll talk more about Half-life 2 in a separate post when I finally get around to finishing it.

25Oct/090

Big Fake Robots

With Planetside on my mind and a lot of great memories welling up I'm also reminded of one of my stupidest moments in online gaming.

As I mentioned in my last post I'm a somewhat big fan of Planetside and I've resubbed to the game many times though because of the game's many flaws I can never stay subscribed for very long before I get bored, annoyed, whatever - at the very least I get my fill and cancel yet again. Shortly after renewing my account for the first time in many, many months I received a gaming magazine (Computer Gaming World for the record) in the mail that had a relatively small article about this huge new free expansion they were adding to the game that centered around the addition of what they called Battle Frame Robots, or BFRs. Mechs for you Planetside virgins.

Sometime later I was curious about what kind of idiocy was going around on the official message boards as a result of this (SOE's Planetside forums were always a pretty hideous pit of bitching about the developers, flame wars over balance and whatnot, and immature braggadocio) only to find absolutely no mention of this new content being added whatsoever. Suspecting I might be the first to know, but not 100% positive, I posted a purposely naive message asking what people thought of the new content. Call it trolling if you like but there wasn't really any ill intent.

The first several replies were filled with people questioning my sanity but many others were intrigued and wanted to know more. I then posted a link to a picture of one of the pages of the article. I quickly grew tired trying to explain what I was on about and just posted high resolution scans of the entire article and tried to limit my number of replies as the replies grew more and more heated.

The absolute torrent of flames and acquisitions hurled at me was truly something to behold. The board erupted into frenzy as thread after thread was created on the subject. I was amazed as I watched things I obviously knew to be 100% fact get torn apart and debated incessantly. Some of the amazingly intricate conspiracy theories people came up were quite fun to read though I've got to say. A large number of people replied to my posts or PMed me asking for more proof, wishing I'd die in a fire for being a filthy con man, congratulating me on such a brilliantly executed scam, and, most annoyingly of all, bluntly declaring that I was a liar and betting millions of combined dollars that everything I had posted was pure bunk. Insert some great revelation about "John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory" here. I admit that after awhile I started throwing out some purposely snarky and slightly misleading replies just to mess with people since I knew the actual truth would eventually come out.

A day or two later when the devs finally responded and confirmed that what I had posted was true I didn't get a single check in the mail or even an apology in my inbox. *sigh* Still, it was pretty exciting being the most infamous person in an entire MMO for a couple of days and I did get quite a big kick out of watching all of the chaos I had caused.

And all that is just a small sampling.

It's funny. BFRs were hated by a large portion of the community the second I posted about them but they were even more hated once they finally made it into the game: as many of us had feared they were grossly imbalanced and the game suffered as a whole due to their addition. Eventually they were nerfed over and over again until they were just another vehicle on the battlefield, albeit still a very powerful one. The controversy still lives on as you can see from the celebratory comments on this news item announcing that BFRs apparently won't be reappearing in Planetside 2. I, for one, liked the idea. 🙁

25Oct/091

Quick Planetside Tribute

I noticed a few weeks ago that some of the news sites had picked up on the story that SOE has been poking around about Planetside 2 lately, in particular by putting out a survey to gauge interest in it and, probably more notably, figure out how to improve things for the sequel. I'm generally pretty excited about the possibilities of the MMOFPS genre's future but until hearing about this seemingly sudden interest in developing a sequel to Planetside I wasn't very optimistic about it - it seems as if many non-massively multiplayer FPS games like the Battlefield series and its imitators are delivering more massive, persistent FPS experiences than some of the new and upcoming MMOFPS titles. Planetside, it seems, was one of the few games to really deliver on the concept. Sure, there are other games that could be considered both FPS MMOs but most of them (Neocron and the newly released Fallen Earth for example) mix in RPG elements much heavier than Planetside ever set out to.

Staring up in awe as a friendly Galaxy dropship's pilot ejects, potentially sending it crashing directly into my face.
"Staring up in awe as a friendly Galaxy dropship's pilot ejects, potentially sending it crashing directly into my face."

Do I sound like I'm gushing about Planetside yet? Good. I'm a big fan of the game. It's highly flawed in many respects but not only did I love my time in the game (and I've gone back to it many times!) but it also holds some of my best online memories. It's also where I met The Praetorian Guard - a clan/guild that I ran with for several years in quite a few games, many of the members of which I'm still in contact with.

A rare meet up with enemy soldiers in a safe zone.
"A rare meet up with enemy soldiers in a Warp Gate's safe zone."

Let me try to briefly sum up the game for those who had never played it: The player picks one of three factions to fight for that each have their own distinct look as well as some faction only weapons and vehicles. Players are awarded certification points as they level which allow them to purchase different "certifications" that let them use certain types of weapons, vehicles, and utility items which include things like medical, repair, and hacking equipment. Players are also awarded a few implants along their character's progression which they can select from to give them special abilities. This is one of the coolest things about Planetside in my opinion - the only thing separating a new player from a veteran is how many certifications they can have at once. For example, my level 5 character might be able to drive tanks and use assault rifles just like my level 20 opponent, but the level 20 can fly a dropship as well. This adds flexibility to characters without destroying the balance by making it so that the best weapons can only be accessed by the highest level characters. Additionally these certifications and implants can be changed more or less at will so, while a low level character might not be able to do everything at once, they certainly aren't cut off from experiencing all aspects of the game.

One of TPG's infamous vehicle nights, this time the hilarious Lightning light tanks menaced the countryside.
"One of TPG's infamous vehicle nights, this time the hilarious Lightning light tanks menaced the countryside."

There's a variety of weapons - your standard fare of assault rifles, missile launchers, sniper rifles, etc. and even different levels of armor, from the sneaky stealth suit all the way up to the walking tank MAX armor. Vehicles include ATVs, buggies, personal tanks, bigger battle tanks, flying vehicles, bombers, even utility vehicles such the all important ANT fuel tanker, the Galaxy dropship, and even a flying vehicle transport. Players are free to go, whether in groups or by themselves, to practically anywhere in the world from their faction's home area via a variety of methods, including some designed to get them into the fight as soon as possible. Once in the field the action resembles that of a game of Battlefield or even Tribes at first, though on a much, much larger map and many more players. The actual core of the gameplay involves taking over and defending bases and towers. Because of the open world battlefield battles often rolls seamlessly across the map from tower to tower, base to base, along battlefronts until one side eventually drives the other off the continent. That's about as much as I can say without going overboard with specifics.

Stupid stunts were also a fun diversion.
"Stupid stunts were also a fun diversion."

As I mentioned the game does indeed have its flaws. I'm not prepared to write a real review but just off the top of my head the lack of any real persistent change in the world is probably the biggest issue for me. The only real persistence is your own character's (and i suppose the other player's, friend and foe) progression. This could make logging in for the night for the 2nd or 3rd month in a row feel a feel tedious and pointless, especially after reaching the basic level cap. Another flaw, the lack of interesting things in the world, be it wildlife, cities or other buildings, or even more variety in bases and towers, adds together with the first to conjure up a hilariously bleak vision of what life must be like for these imaginary Planetside soldiers - constantly fighting over the same towers and bases and eventually dying in vicious battle, only to be reborn, and do it all over again in the exact same places the very next day.

One good backstab deserves another.
"One good backstab deserves another."

Another problem I had with the game was the payment model. I didn't mind paying 15 bucks a month for Planetside though quite a few of the FPS gamers the game set out to hook wouldn't even look its general direction. I did, however, want a bit more out of my money. I expected the content patches to roll in much more quickly. What do FPS players want? More vehicles, more weapons, etc. I feel like if they had cranked out updates at a quicker pace I would have initially stayed hooked much, much longer. Still, I feel like the large amount of content they added over the years was mostly pretty good, even the BFRs mechs they added ended up being decent additions once they were properly balanced. It was pretty clear from the onset that the various producers of the game (a constantly revolving cast) didn't really seem to know what to do with the game and/or how to do it. Hopefully Planetside 2 will be designed more with providing compelling updates in mind though it is probably more likely they'll just implement an entirely different subscription model.

An annoyed enemy in a Reaver aircraft watches me on the other side of a bulletproof window.
"An annoyed enemy in a Reaver aircraft watches me on the other side of a bulletproof window."

There were plenty of issues with the game such as how there always seemed to be one weapon or vehicle that was generally considered out of balance though of course the grass was always greener on the other side. I'll probably talk more about Planetside in the future. For now, in tribute to it here's an exert from a quick blog entry I made about the game two days after playing it for the first time, on launch day, inspired because of how anxious I was to get home from work and play it again. Enjoy:

It took me a good portion of the first night to install the game, patch it, and setup my account. I then went through all of the offline training missions which give you some of the basics on the game engine and are quite worth doing, though only once. Next I created my character on the Konried server (new, lower population, and east coast) and joined the "New Conglomerate" army because I liked their politics (not that they affect gameplay) and the way they look. I had read on the Planetside forums that you could get to rank 3 simply by going through the "virtual reality training" so I decided to do that first. VR training is actually QUITE a cool feature that more MMOGs should have - it lets you try out all of the weapons and vechicles without actually having to meet the normal game requirements to do so. I can imagine popping in there for a bit when I'm thinking of trying a new skill template just to test it out.

Anyway, after training I decided against spending my 6 "certification points" until I have a bit more combat experience to help me make a better decision so I hopped on the "HART" (High Altitude Rapid Transport) shuttle system which basically lets you go ANYWHERE in the world. I picked a fairly isolated battle which I thought would be good for getting my feet wet. I slowly approached the scene but while I was screwing around with the interface I accidentally hit the "instant action" button. The instant action feature will spawn you at a random battle that your forces are involved in somewhere in the world. I respawned, re-armed, and started creeping around this new area. It took me awhile to figure out that I spawned in a NEARBY base rather than the one where the battle was... doh! This is when I learned about the nifty waypoint system and started my run to the action.

I slowly approached the scene of the battle... a road leading to a large enemy complex with a huge open gate and a few scattered bunkers around it. I could see several of my own men on the opposite side of the road pinned down in a rock formation, part of a large firefight unfolding. I, however, had somehow (by dumb luck) flanked both my own troops and the enemy's! Eventually my troops made a run for it to the gate so I joined in. I ran to the opposite side of the gate and once again they were pinned down. I decided to run to their side to join them, possibly putting myself in EVERYONE's line of sight and just when I made it I watched all but one of them get gunned down. The remaining soldier dove into a bunker leaving me standing next to the wall. I then noticed what looked like cloaked soldier... and he wasn't wearing my army's colors! He seems to ignore me for whatever reason and was going after my comrade in the bunker. It took me awhile to decide to do it, but I jumped out and opened fire. Wow, dead before I had even realized... my first kill! The troops ended up inviting me to their squad and I racked for 7 kills in the short time I played.

The entire next day I prepared for Planetside - reading forums, strategies, investigating outfits (Planetside's name for clans) and deciding what to spend my valuable certification points on. After a quick trip to the VR trainer I decided I'd purchase "medium assault" which gives me access to some groovy weapons like the more accurate Gauss Gun and the assault gun with the auxiliary rocket/grenade launcher. I also decided to try out the fast light scout aircraft the Mosquito. Again, I took a HART out to a fairly isolated battle. This time I got a Mosquito and went scanning around for enemies. I spotted a few and managed to blow them away with the craft's minicannon... yay! Then I approached the main battle. I ended up doing something incredibly stupid and ramming my plane into the communication tower of the base and had to land and go it on foot. I went in and help a large squad attack and then defend the base's flag room... lots of fun killing stealthers!

Ugh. It's depressingly astounding how little my writing style and voice has changed over the years. Well, that is one of the main reasons for this blog... to get better. Ugh, I can't believe it's been a month since my last update. Believe me, it's not for a lack of trying. I just haven't had the free time I used to have. 🙁 Hopefully the next post will be in very short order.