Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

9Oct/170

Lost in Erangel (…And in Space!)

This entry is so massively overdue that I’m honestly not sure where to even start at this point, so I’ll just dive in. Apologies if this is a little more “stream of consciousness” than my normal posts.

I started playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (AKA "PUBG") in early April, after an old friend from the TPG days and I linked back up and he mentioned being eager to start playing it with friends. Coincidentally, one of my favorite, randomly discovered YouTube channels, FUBARBUNDY, which is usually dedicated to antics within DayZ, posted a video of some PUBG action. I actually first became intrigued by the idea of this style of game after watching another FUBARBUNDY video in which he played the similar (and related) H1Z1: King of the Kill. I hadn’t seen anything quite like either game. They took some of the core ideas of DayZ and other, similar survival games, and gave them a mega dose of adrenaline.

Lying in wait.
"Lying in wait."

I didn’t mentioned it here, but I did very briefly dabble in DayZ. Only very briefly. I’ve been interested in the game since the early days when it was still a mod, but resisted trying it out, afraid that I’d either hate the harsh playstyle of the game, or become absolutely addicted to it. Again, I largely have FUBARBUNDY’s insane videos to blame for my more recent bout of interest. In DayZ’s case, it was for making the game look far more interesting and dynamic than it actually tends to be. That said, I loved the immersive feel of the world. Exploring the desolate, empty landscape, and the possibility of running into other players was endlessly intriguing, but I didn’t like dealing with zombies or wildlife, or how all of my minor injures started to add up until my focus had to shift from the seemingly impossible task of finding guns and ammo to finding first aid and medical supplies, or how most of the time when you do run into another player it doesn’t lead to teaming up, or an interesting conversation, a stickup, or anything besides a well placed bullet from afar. I took several stabs at it, but in the end the pace was just far too slow. PUBG though? It’s like DayZ for impatient people.

Scoping out a compound before I approach.
"Scoping out a compound before I approach"

Now, most people reading this will already be familiar with PUBG as it has become a bit of a phenomenon since it was released into Steam Early Access. Just in case though, here’s a quick summary:

You and 99 other players are air dropped onto a deserted island devoid of much outside of a disturbing amount of guns, ammunition, body armor, medical supplies, and the occasional vehicle. Your goal is to be the last person left alive. So, at it’s core you have a death match across a huge battlefield with an element of looting and survival tacked on. It’s not some bizarre social experiment though, games could last hours without something to give them a little more focus. Instead, inspired by the likes of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, players are constantly being funneled closer and closer together, as the playable area of the map constricts, eventually forcing anyone left to end up in extremely close quarters. Because of this, matches tend to be over within 40 minute or so, and (more likely) much, much quicker if you die earlier on in the game.

Pro tip: Don't skimp on fashion.
"Pro tip: Don't skimp on fashion."

That is one of the strengths of the gameplay model: total, brutal elimination. The number of players left alive is always displayed in the HUD, and is constantly dwindling down. Thanks to a damage model erring on the side of “realism”, you can die very quickly in this game, and you, without a doubt, will. You will have bad games that end in someone beating you to death within the first few minutes of the match, you will have bad games in which you fully gear up, only to find yourself ambushed as you make your way across the map, all your progress vanishing in seconds, and you will have bad games when you make it to the very end of the match only to be outgunned with only a few other players left alive. The game is so brutal that I’m honestly surprised it gets as much love as it does. There’s something really special about the gameplay loop that just keeps you coming back though, and on those rare occasions when you do actually win? Amazing.

Running through the hay fields.
"Running through the hay fields."

Besides the frustration associated with taking a lot of inspiration from its earliest incarnation as an ArmA mod, tending to lean a bit more towards “realism” in various areas in addition to the aforementioned damage model, the effect of “RNG” on each match is also often a topic of out of game discussion. Where you can land, who lands with you, what items and vehicles you find around you early on, and where the playzone constricts to are all vital to your success. In fact, many of my best matches have been, not coincidentally, when the playzone ended up focusing the fight in the location I was already in, allowing me to spend more time on gearing up and fighting than traveling. Likewise, many of my worse matches found me traveling far across the map, often slogging it without a vehicle, and desperately lacking good gear.

Expect to meet strange men in their underwear, and shoot them.
"Expect to meet strange men in their underwear, and shoot them."

So I’ve been playing this game for something like 5 months now which begs the question "what do I like about it?" Well, I actually really enjoy the semi-tactical gameplay, with more realistic handling weapons, including quick time-to-kill, and the ability to move stealthily, or lay prone in wait. Like the ArmA series, I enjoy the wide-open battlefields and the tactical scenarios that kind of freedom can provide, including a nice mix of long range and CQB engagements. I also really enjoy sneaking around and loot old buildings, which is something I'm apparently just into. *cough* State of Decay *cough* I enjoy the intensity of having to spot enemies on the distant horizon and pay attention to the sound of their movements close around you. I also really enjoy the camaraderie of playing these matches with other players when in duo or team matches - being able to work as a team under these conditions is a lot of fun, especially with the added component of being able to revive your fallen teammates, massively altering your priorities versus playing solo.

Proof that I've won at least one match in my life.
"Proof that I've won at least one match in my life."

This game has, no doubt at all, sometimes frustrated the hell out of me. My friends and I have gotten into arguments and left sessions annoyed and irritable on far too many occasions. Yet, at the same time, I’ve also made some new friends and relished practically every “chicken dinner” (PUBG slang for a win) I’ve been able to score, whether I was instrumental in the win or carried by my teammates. With the game continuing to improve with every update, I’m glad I decided to take the plunge. I really don’t know how long its legs will continue to be for me, but I’ve already gotten my money out of it at this point.

Journey to beautiful solar systems...
"Journey to beautiful solar systems..."

Another game I’ve been playing lately is Everspace. Everspace is a cross between an old school, semi-arcadey space sim (think the Wing Commander series, Freespace, etc.) and a rogue-like. You journey from sector to sector exploring randomly generated systems filled with loot, enemies, and other resources but when you die, you die, starting over from scratch. Well, as these things go in rogue-likes, mostly from scratch; you retain any cash you gained in your run which you can spend on skill tree upgrades, and some other special items, such as crafting blueprints, that will also help you in future runs.

...and shoot everyone in them!
"...and shoot everyone in them!"

Not only is it fucking beautiful, but this game has also proven to massively addictive. Your ship controls excellently, even on a controller (I’m playing the Xbox One version) and the space combat is just deep enough to be fun and, at times, a little challenging. My only real complaint is that I wish there was a bit more variety to the random areas and enemies, or even some crazy random scenario ala another space themed rogue-like, FTL: Faster Than Light, as I’ve already hit a bit of a wall with it. Honestly, that's fairly typical with how I play rogue-like style games, so I can't cast any blame there. Even still, it served me well in allowing me brief but highly appreciated vacation into the space combat genre and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the genre.

Oh, and for you VR types, the PC version has Vive support!

9May/140

World of Guildcraft

Outside of my last post I haven’t mentioned World of Warcraft in quite a while, chiefly because I haven’t been playing it. In fact I had (finally) cancelled my account for the first time since launch mere months before the release of Mists of Pandaria, only reactivating long enough to level my main character up to 90 and complete a few miscellaneous end game goals such as grinding out a full set of PVP gear and some decent epic weapons. Now, with Warlords of Draenor on the horizon and the general urge to hit up an MMO again rising I dusted off my old characters and started to try to get into the the spirit of Warcraft once again. So far I’ve mostly spent time leveling up alts and PVPing with my main but one subject has been in my head a lot lately: guilds.

It’s no secret that playing with others can greatly enhance a gaming experience – seemingly everyone loves a bit of co-op. MMOs are ripe for this kind of thing as group gameplay is usually, at least to some degree, built into the core game systems. It’s odd, I’ve always been somewhat of a solo player in the MMO space. I know this sounds like a contradiction but I appreciate other people being around in the game world, making it feel more alive, and having the option to interact with them if and when I choose. That said, some of my favorite MMO memories have been with other people: all the way from meeting random players I eventually became friends with when PVPing in Ultima Online’s faction system (Minax for the win!) to daring coordinated zone raids in Planetside with The Praetorian Guard or cleaning house in Warhammer Online PVP scenarios with my guild there.

Even gameplay aside, I enjoyed those clans and guilds that had a high degree of “community” outside of the game. People that got along and even if they weren’t always on incredibly friendly terms but still felt like family all the same. One of my favorite ways to experience this was in private forums – in fact I selfishly volunteered to get TPG’s going and despite waxing and waning in activity over the years, they remained active throughout its lifetime. Even relatively recently as I looked for Age of Conan and then WAR guilds, a semi-active forum was one of my requirements. Sadly, between the push towards “social media” and the more instant gratification focused players that games like WoW have bred, it seems like private forums, or at least active ones, are becoming a thing of the past. You’d think they’d be more useful than ever with all of these serious raiding guilds and their complicated policies about looting and attendance and whatnot. *shrug*

You know, I’ve never really had a real guild in WoW which is pretty shocking considering how long I’ve played it despite it being a casual on and off kind of affair the entire time. When I started World of Warcraft I rolled with my old Planetside and America’s Army clan “The Praetorian Guard” of which virtually all of us were playing WoW. Unfortunately, it quickly became obvious that there weren’t really enough of us sticking around the same levels to really play together. That’s to say we didn’t have huge numbers in the first place but when some of us were powerleveling through the game and others playing multiple characters or moving at a much slower pace we couldn’t exactly run dungeons or even quest together. We didn’t have this problem in games like Planetside or Star Wars Galaxies where your level didn’t so strictly dictate what you could or could not do in-game but in WoW it was crippling.

Later, when we started reaching max level we soon discovered that there weren’t enough of us to experience end game “raiding” and not all of us were even that interested in doing so in the first place. This became a bit of a contentious issue which threatened to pull the guild apart as some of our main players plotted moving their “mains” to other guilds. I personally saw this as quite shortsighted and selfish but in hindsight I was being a bit shortsighted and selfish myself even if my heart was in the right place. I don’t really know what the ideal solution would have been, honestly – some of us wanted to be in a hardcore raiding guild and some of us didn’t. If we could have done some major recruiting we might have survived but our position as a guild, both internally and in the makeup of our particular WoW server, didn’t make that a very realistic possibility. Soon most of our top members (including our leader and practically all of the officers, tragically) went separate directions in the pursuit of bigger and better loot.

Since then my WoW experience has mostly revolved around either very casual solo playing (questing, PVPing, and working on professions and achievements) or playing with a few specific friends. In fact other than a few brief excursions into guilds with other games (often mentioned here) my multiplayer gaming as a whole has been pretty similar to that. Other than the occasional bit of pick up grouping when doing world PVP and the like I've barely got a glimpse of guild gameplay.

Sitting there with my WoW account thinking of the looming release of the latest expansion it only recently occurred to me: I really, really, REALLY miss being in an active clan/guild. It’s hard to describe to those who haven’t done it but playing a game, particularly an MMO, with a friendly group can be an incredibly social experience. It becomes a regular thing, something akin to a group of inseparable friends who spend almost every evening or weekend together. In this respect even the most casual/social group is still better than none at all providing you’re all friendly and get along. So, I’ve decided… I’m going in!

There are a few challenges with this. First, despite WoW’s immense popularity spawning all kinds of 3rd party guild finding sites and Blizzard themselves having added a in-game guild finding feature in Cataclysm it can be pretty difficult to really a gauge a guild from the outside. In my case I’m looking for an adult but not necessarily “family friend” guild of cool people. Even if the guild you’re applying to sounds AMAZING on paper you won’t really know how well your personalities mesh until you’re really in it. This is another reason I like forums – they’re a great way to try to figure out what the overall personality of the group is like before you even talk to any of them. One of my suckier community experiences was applying for a Battlefield 1942 clan that seemed to appeal to my tastes, making it through the application process (which included an intense and challenging tryout) only to discover that I had little in common with any of the members and, in fact, most of them were giant douchebags. Ugh!

Another problem is that I’m definitely not looking for some “serious” guild. I want a group I can socialize and level my alts in without constantly being criticized for not meeting some raiding, arena, or rated battleground criteria or item level or something… and I definitely don’t want a guild that makes massive demands of my schedule. Unfortunately most WoW guilds present themselves this way regardless of how casual friendly they really are. That’s fine though, I’d rather not be part of a guild where non-raiders (or whatever) are treated as second class citizens or something. Casual guilds in their various forms, or even social or “leveling” guilds aren’t too hard to come by regardless. The problem is that many of them are horribly unstructured which is a bit on the extreme side of what I’m looking for – a group of random people who simply all share the game guild tag is not my idea of a good guild.

My biggest problem is this area is probably simply that my server is dead. Fucking dead. Elune on the Horde side is a virtual ghost town these days. In fact, checking the Realm Pop statistics it's the least populace Horde realm in the entire US region. Wow! There are definitely active guilds there, sure, but my selection is relatively slim to start with and by the time I factor in what I’m looking for I don’t have much wiggle room to be picky with. I’ve thought about simply starting my own guild but that contains more variables than I’m comfortable trying to deal with at the moment. After a brief cast of my net out into the cesspool of various guild recruitment forums I've really only found one guild that seemed to strongly meet my requirements: have a decent, semi-roleplayed name, have a good community feel with mature, decent people, have good out-of-game website and/or forums, and have a decent amount of active players online without being one of those guilds who just blindly invites anyone without a guild tag. Unfortunately that guild is both on another realm AND Alliance instead of Horde.

Thus I begin considering the potentially expensive process of moving servers and changing realms. Actually, more troubling than the money is the fact that I've been playing Horde since beta. I love the Horde! I mean, I've had Alliance characters before, don't get me wrong, but ever since falling in love with series in Warcraft III playing anything other than a green skinned brutal yet honorable orc as my "main" in WoW has never crossed my mind... and playing a fucking Human? Forget about it! Ignoring the travesties brought by the Alliance on my beloved Horde and my own personal defeats to them in the various battlegrounds of the world, I don't really identify with or otherwise like many of the races on the Alliance side. They really are quite different. Most of all I'm worried that as I do my banking in Ironforge or Stormwind I'll have a sudden, inescapable feeling that I'm some kind of lowdown traitorous, sell-out bastard. Ugh!

Still, it'll be nice having people to chat with and an auction house with, you know, actual stuff on it... 😉

26Jun/102

Clan Down!

It amazes me to see how little I've actually posted about my attempted America's Army 3.0 clan considering how much work I put into it and how much it dominated my gaming time for a little while. I intended to post an update about how that whole thing turned out but it seems I never posted much about how it even started out so I guess I'll post the whole story, abbreviated as it may be.

Myself having just suffered a rare, humiliating death by the VIP.
"Myself having just suffered a rare, humiliating death by the VIP."

America's Army 3.0 (referred to as AA3 from here on out) was rumored to be a reboot of the popular online tactical FPS America's Army. It was basically going to be a new game from the ground up. I ran a small gaming "clan" dedicated to these sorts of games with aspirations of playing them in "serious business" tournaments and the like. Since these types of games are few and far between these days I generally keep a close eye on new releases and AA3 really caught my attention - not only was I a big fan of the original game, having played it for countless hours with my old clan [TPG], but it sounded like it was going to be amazing. The more I learned about the game the more inspired I was to take my clan, <8AT>, out of the mothballed state it had been in for years and get things going again. Eventually I got into a last minute private beta of AA3 and I liked what I saw despite it still being a bit rough around the edges. After looking around a bit and not finding any existing clans that interested me I made the decision to relaunch my clan.

And so I did! It took a lot of work - I revamped our website, setup a new Ventrilo server, reserved a ranked AA3 server, and started work on a recruitment campaign, never mind revising all of our rules, policies, and hell, even the entire focus of the clan. This was going to be something slightly different then the last incarnation of the clan and I was quite pumped up to get it going. A lot of my old clan buddies who had played SWAT 4 with me in <8AT> and/or America's Army with me in [TPG] had expressed interest in joining. Things were looking up.

Finally the release date for America's Army 3 arrived and while the game with rife with technical issues it was still quite an awesome and fairly unique experience. There were some troubling things, such as how many of the bugs from the beta hadn't been fixed yet, including some pretty major ones, in an apparent rush to get the game pushed out, and the news that apparently the entire civilian development staff of the game had been unceremoniously fired by the Army the day after the release to move development in-house. Still, many of my old friends joined or rejoined the clan including some I hadn't expected to show up while sadly some I did expect (and hope) to show up never materialized. We started strong though - my old co-leader from the original America's Army days in [TPG], 20kill, was there and took the much needed role of second in command.

For the first few weeks we spent our time suffering through bugs and bizarre issues with the game's central authentication servers, and simply trying to figure out the many nuances of the gameplay. Much fun was had though the bugs and unpolished state were simply too much for some members to deal with and there was a small, gradual exodus of mostly old friends from the clan very early on. Recruiting didn't go exceptionally well either - it seemed that most of the clans in AA3 pitched themselves as super serious, hardcore "realism" clans where members had to follow strict orders, call each other by rank, and all sorts of other silly things. I didn't have any problem with such realism clans but this wasn't what I had envisioned <8AT> as being. Unfortunately though, I quickly noticed that most of the people who were looking for a clan in AA3 were looking for that kind of an experience and the majority of those who weren't simply weren't looking for one in the first place. Thanks to a combination of technical problems with AA3 itself and the fact that we were mostly adults with jobs who didn't play the game 24 hours a day, our server floated around wildly between obscurity and semi-notoriety but never really gained the full on popularity I had hoped it would, putting yet another dent in our recruiting efforts.

The state of the game improved a bit with a fair amount of mostly small patches in the first month of its release in June. Many of the changes seemed like minor fixes and band-aids which did little to comfort us in the shadow of some of the bigger issues that loomed. The communication from the devs also all but stopped during this period which was a shame considering how active it had been in the old days and even lading up to the release of the new game. Finally, after July, the patches stopped, and I had a lot of serious questions in the back of my mind about the decision to dump the previous development team and what it had meant for the future of the game itself. Was this just some sort of fumble? Had the funding been cut drastically? Was the entire project being canned? Who knew.

During this lull in official activity the influx of good new recruits into the clan still hadn't been strong enough to counter the previous departures and I found myself losing a lot of interest. Originally I had to more or less force myself to carve out a section of my free time, especially on week nights, to play AA3 and with the state of the clan and more so the game itself it began harder and harder to do so. I also changed jobs from that of a programmer to that of a network engineer and while the programming tasks I was assigned left a lot of breathing room to surf the web here and there, reading about the state of the game and keeping up with the clan, my new position was hectic and saw me putting in quite a lot of overtime. At around the same time 20kill, who had been instrumental in keeping the clan alive and active, suddenly departed. At first he returned a few times but eventually left and was never heard from again. The clan probably could have survived my reduced commitment but with 20kill now completely out of the picture and interest from the rest of our membership waning I knew the end was near.

Fighting the fog.
"Fighting the fog."

Finally, after a month of silence, another patch was released in early September. Everyone was hoping it would improve things in big ways and breath some new life into the game but it didn't seem to deliver and certainly didn't help out <8AT>. I felt like the depression brought on by the state of the game was something we were all feeling across the board to different degrees. Even the official America's Army forums seemed to have noticeably slowed in activity. Eventually the few remaining members dispersed unceremoniously. The clan was dead.

I stopped following the game and hadn't even really played it since around this time though I did keep my eye out for patches: there weren't any. Surprisingly there hadn't been any patches since that September until February. Finally, another patch was released just yesterday which is what prompted me to write this post. The last two patches were large but don't include any new maps or promised features and seemed largely unimpressive for having taken so long. It seems my original suspicions about the change in development were quite possibly correct - depressing since I did in fact enjoy the game and, even after <8AT> dissolved, hoped it would succeed and I could possibly even return to it.

I have no idea what the state of the AA3 community has been like for the last year (I picture a lot of rage posts) but I can't imagine it had been as healthy as it was in the America's Army days when communication from the development team was frequent and, while patches were often few and far between, they were usually also fairly major. In my opinion if a company wants their game to have "long legs" online it has to try to create and maintain a community and it needs to feed that community with at least little chunks of carrot on the end of a proverbial stick semi-often. With AA3 that online community was literally all there was to the game so it was critical to keep people playing, especially considering the goals of the project as a whole. Personally I find it to be a bit insulting when a developer asks players to commit themselves to a game yet does not offer any commitment in return, at least in the form of the occasional bug fix here and there. This was why the original incarnation of <8AT> stopped playing SWAT 4 - I loved the game but it had issues and the development team and/or publisher seemingly washed their hands of it as soon as they had our money.

Then there is me. Over the years I've participated in several different clans, guilds, and the like, and have often found myself quickly rising up the ranks into positions of leadership. I'm not sure if I have a natural knack of leadership and/or management or if I was just better suited to it (or maybe just to be nominated for it) then others in the particular situations I've been in. At times while being in these kind of "officer" positions I felt the urge to break out from beneath whatever structure or leadership was above me, frustrating me, to start over and do things my own way which is, in part, how <8AT> came about. In practice, however, I've consistently found myself to be much more suited to those kinds of secondary leadership roles where I'm not under quite as much pressure or commitment yet can still be useful and contribute the group. I suppose with this, what might prove to be my final run at running my own clan, I've finally come to terms with this.

Being out there, putting the whole operation on the line by myself was often a big bummer, even with friends backing me up, the pressure felt like it was solely on me - others could come and go as they pleased and often did. I especially disliked having to worry about recruiting and now better understand some of the attitudes I encountered when joining or watching others join past clans and guilds I was in. For me, I suppose, there is a delicate balance in the feelings of pride and accomplishment, and even control, gained from running or helping run a group, and the enjoyment I need to have in actually playing the game. When running the group saps the fun out of the entire thing, or worse, the stress bleeds over into day to day life, then the balance is too far off.

I may give running a clan, guild, or some other type of community another go at some point in the future. It's quite possible, even, that <8AT> itself will have another run some day. Hopefully if that does happen I'll be able to concentrate on running the group and playing the game without also having the state of the game being as much of a concern as it was the last two times. For now though I think I'll be content to let others run the show and try my hardest to resist the temptations of sweet, sweet power. 🙂