Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gaming Masterpieces: Half-life

Half-life. The name should be enough to spark a certain feeling in your mind. If it isn't, then you are not a gamer. Half-life: you should know it without me telling you that it's one of the better first-person shooters that has ever hit the market.
Whenever i think of Half-life, i can't really think of anything that was bad about it, or that i didn't like about it. Not to say that the game didn't have SOME flaws, just that everything it stands for tends to dim that to the point that they're not recognisable anymore.
At first glance, Half-life was just a normal FPS with some guy who shoots aliens and soldiers. But there's something about it... something in the way it's done that says "you're here" in a way that no other shooter can, because it heavily exploits the features based on human emotions: the feeling and setting. Until now, no other game has managed to get me so intrigued in the exploration of a top-secret science facility which destroys itself as you go deeper and deeper down its dark corridors. The feeling is amplified by the way the story is told, i.e. only through the eyes of the main character, which is given a name but not a face: Gordon Freeman. You know how he looks like through the loading screen and the game box's cover, but there is a lack of mirrors or mirror-like surfaces in this game, and we never see the game from any point of view other than Freeman's eyes. There are no cutscenes, and the intro and outro consist of trips seen in real-time through Freeman's eyes. This gives the game a measure of integration, in that you become Freeman, and whatever happens to him has a greater impact upon you than when, say, the guy in Quake died or something. Even though people talk to you, Freeman never says a word, which in Half-life 2 is exploited further by making people feel uncomfortable when they, for example, make a joke and you don't laugh.
The thing that sets you apart from the local NPCs and also the thing that tries to explain why you are able to kill 43753874 monsters without dying (if you've read my Crysis review, you'd know i consider that kind of explanation something that every FPS should have) is the HEV suit, an enviroment suit which protects you from damage received (i.e. your "armor") and offers you an interface with which you can monitor your health, ammo and so forth. You take it for experimental purposes, and you end up keeping it.
Marked with a degree of guilt from the fact that it was you who started the alien invasion of the Black Mesa Research Facility (you are lead through a series of events at the start in which you need to push a crystal inside a beam, starting a "resonance cascade" which rips apart the fabrics of dimension and invites aliens into our world), you are encouraged to explore, survive and fight your way through many diverse, interesting and challenging levels. The story also deviates, special ops marines start to appear and contrary to the belief that they're there to rescue you, start shooting everyone, including the scientists. You are taken prisoner and left to die, you escape and have to fight your way to the facility's Lambda Complex in which the scientists are devising a solution for the current situation. There are no objectives, the game doesn't feature much interface other than your normal suit's health, ammo, armor, light gauges and weapon icons, this is only what the scientists you find along the way tell you. At the Lambda Complex, you are teleported to an alien world called Xen, on which you will eventually finish the game, by killing a huge ugly... thing. This is the point when you are faced with another of the game's original elements: the G-man. The game is made to make you think that this man is always following and observing you, always appearing on a ledge, platform or level which you cannot reach (and usually cannot shoot), and as soon as you look at him, he casually and enigmatically strolls off. G-man stands for government man, because of the fact that he wears an office suit and always carries a briefcase with him. He finally faces you at the end, when you can see that he is indeed powerful, as you are without weapons and cannot do anything to harm him. He talks to you and congratulates you, saying that certain... people (although the term "people" is not used) have taken interest in your abilities, and offers you "further employment". Meanwhile, you and him are teleported through several alien scenes, ending with the tram that you rode in the intro, but that now seems to be flying through space. At the end, you can accept the G-man's proposal and exit the tram (the door opens and a teleporter light appears), or wait until the door closes, at which point you will be teleported in front of a huge army of aliens, the screen will darken and Freeman will be presumed dead. Note that Half-life 2 is designed with the first ending in mind.
Going back to the feeling, i mentioned that this game has no cutscenes. That would usually make a game dull and boring, but Half-life succeedes to become an exception to this through its wide use of scripted events. Laboratory equipment that explodes in your face, trams that explode with you in them halfway to your destination point, taking you somewhere else entirely, ambushes set up by the millitary, alien monsters knocking doors apart, all of these take the place of cutscenes, and all of them are happening in real-time, with you having not just a front-row seat, but a role in them as well. The puzzles are easy enough to not be an inconvenience and hard enough to matter. All in all, Half-life is one of the games that shouldn't be missing from a gamer's repertoire.
Following the great success of Half-life, 2 expansion packs were released: Opposing Force and Blue Shift. The former takes place through the eyes of a millitary soldier named Adrian Shepard, which appears to talk (by how the drill instructor is talking to you in boot camp), but we can't really hear what he's saying. The one thing Shepard and Freeman have in common is that they're followed around by the same man in an office suit. The ending of Opposing Force takes you face-to-face with the G-man again, and you can now see the full conclusion of the Black Mesa incident: the whole facility is nuked and wiped from the face of the world. After which, the G-man takes you into custody again. Shepard has yet to make an appearance in any of the Half-life sequels.
Blue Shift is a short expansion featuring the lab security guard Barney Calhoun, and is the only one of the Half-Life games featuring a happy ending. Barney never goes to Xen and never uses alien weapons, but sets things in motion for Half-life's sequel (such as the teleporting sequence), eventually escaping Black Mesa with a group of scientists.
The expansions didn't have the same success that Half-life originally did, but are considered worthy descendants nonetheless.
In conclusion, as long as i remain a gamer, Half-life will always have a special place in my heart as an example for how future games should be. A masterpiece in itself.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Unreal Tournament 3

Once upon a time there was a nifty little game called Quake 2 with a nifty little map called The Edge. Its single-player campaign was good enough, but what made the game REALLY sweet was this single map played on multiplayer deathmatch mode. Producers took note of it and adopted the ever-profitable marketing strategy of "hey, let's milk the cow!". This is how Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament were born, and soon became unstoppable engines of fandom and finger-cramps for the thousands of insane gamers everywhere. The former had a rather short carreer (featuring only one expansion) before returning to the mode that made it popular (aka single-player), but the former, which also featured a different name (adding "Tournament" meant they could make sequels to it AND the original game without them overlapping) flourished and produced many (more or less retarded) offspring: Starting with Unreal Tournament 1 (which we will call "Unreal Tournament" from now on because i'm too lazy to add the 1), then Unreal Tournament 2003, 2004, and then jumping 2001 sequels down to 3.
You'd think giving it a more distinguishable name than Unreal Tournament 2007 would mean that it attempts to bring something entirely new and different to the scene, but other than "the usual", there doesnt' really seem to be something entirely GAME-BREAKING about it.
Let me elaborate on that. The game starts with an annoying "please insert username/password for online play" prompt instead of the normal main menu. I didn't really want to experience online play right now so i just clicked "play offline". Once you get into the main menu, you find that it has been drastically cut down. The plethora of multiple options in UT is no longer here, and it pains me like a piece of paper stuck in my ass to find that the options menu was toned down like this. No more UI color/icon customisation, for one. The game just chooses for you based on the team you're on, and i still can't stop myself from wondering why they would make the game more retarded like this. It just doesn't make sense. And while i'm at it, i also noted that there is no option for disabling the stupid jump-strafe that occurs when you press the same movement key twice in a row. I never liked that option, in fact i hated it with a passion since it hindered my playstyle, so thumbs down for the idiot who considered that it should be always enabled.
Moving past the bastardized options screen, the game still has a single-player campaign which can be played and hopefully completed. Hopefully, because after working to progress in this game for half a day, after taking a break i found that the game didn't save my progress at all when i got back to it. So it was either start the game anew and try to finish it in less than a day, or "fuck you, UT3". I chose the latter. Still, i feel like i got enough out of the campaign to form an oppinion, which is: don't play it unless you team up with a few friends and finish the campaign in online-mode. Seriously, the AI in this game is so idiotic that you shouldn't even bother. Your team-mates might do well in team deathmatch mode, but when made to do more complex actions (such as think instead of shoot), they become some of the worst liabilities this side of the Second World War. So stupid in fact that in a certain mission i actually competed against THEM for who gets the base-capturing powerup first, since if they got it, they would go kamikaze on the other team with it and die, leaving the powerup lying helplessly on the ground where it would eventually blow up. The game would have been easier if i could tell them what to do like in the former Unreal Tournaments, but the producers decided to follow the bastardizing habit and tone THIS down too. The command menu is now limited to about 5 orders that you can't even direct to one teammember at a time. And even with those, i didn't notice any bloody difference either. The idiots were STILL getting themselves killed, still taking their sweet time to defend a point that didn't need defending and still jamming our Leviathan in narrow pathways, while the enemy was coming in an endless line of endlessly respawning endless ugly alien zerg. Endless.
I guess i could bash the AI some more, but i'll move on and talk about the graphics instead. The game is as gorgeous as it is shiny, and features some of the most impressive sights i've ever seen in a game. It's no Crysis, but the grapihcs tend to concentrate more on fantasy than realism so who cares. Still, all the shaders and stuff make the background blend in with the characters to some extent, and it's pretty difficult to see them with an untrained eye, while the AI with its telescopic X-ray vision can see you from the other corner of the map through a fly-sized hole.
The difficulty has also been tuned up, as i could previously easily attain the rank of "unstoppable" or even "godlike" while playing with bots at the "skilled" level, right now i can't even maintain a killing spree for 5 seconds without getting my brain splattered by some precisely-aimed expertly-timed Shock Rifle combo. This is made even more difficult by the (seemingly) lack of health items on the map. And speaking of maps, i really wanted at least some re-makes of the old maps that made Unreal Tournament what it is today, and i was pretty disappointed when i found nothing like them. I guess constantly re-making old maps is a 2-sided coin for the producers, but they could have at least re-made Morpheus... that was my favorite, damnit.
As for the gameplay, well the Assault mode is gone (and the nice, sophisticated maps are gone with it) and the power struggle mode is now replaced by "Warfare", which is basically the same (build and control key points to make a link to the enemy base, rendering it vulnerable) but with one major element thrown in: orbs. An orb is the powerup i mentioned earlier, it spawns at your base (you get a new one everytime the old one is gone) or at the last key point you control that features an orb respawner, you get it like you get a flag, it behaves like a flag(meaning you can't drive vehicles around with it), and it instantly captures (and heals) enemy checkpoints for you, or if you take it to a checkpoint it will make it invulnerable until you go away or it explodes. If you die, it falls on the ground and explodes in 13 seconds (more or less) during which you can pick it up again. If it's an enemy orb, you can "use" it and it will explode, often killing you in the process. Warfare maps usually have vehicles (if not exclusively), and there's a thing about vehicle maps which pisses me off to no end: say you're walking down the street, happy that you just got your hands on a shield belt + rocket launcher combo, when suddenly, SPLAT. You get run over by a Manta, a Goliath cans your ass, or your face gets melted by a hellbender shock-rifle-combo. It's frustrating, and it makes the game outside of a vehicle feel like you're a lone infantryman in Command&Conquer. Dead meat, that is. Killing vehicles is damn hard if you don't have the anti-vehicle gun (called Avril here), and even with that, some vehicles are so heavily armored that you only scratch them. There's also a hoverboard which replaces the translocator in vehicle missions, but if someone so much as touches you while you're on it, you go down rolling (also losing any orb or flag you had).
Story-wise, the game finally tries to incorporate a complex story into the mechanics of a multiplayer arena-type game. Basically, you and your elite (ahem) squad are a bunch of guys who are really pissed off at the world because they got owned by some aliens whose leader is a female human. Because they're so pissed off, they enrolled into the mercenary corps to try to earn some cash and fame. This is where the "oh wait, you're kidding" part starts: apparently there's some new tech in town, and all over the battlefield there's that thar respawners that everyone's been so a-hooked on back in thar Tournament thingy. And cuz the enemy's a-respawnin everywher' you gots ta kill'em till they stop. That don't explain why the battlefield's the size of an arena, why you simply can't walk past certain points but who cares 'bout that detail mumbo-jumbo.
Seriously, with all its flaws and dumbness, this is still Unreal Tournament, the game that has made itself a brand. And whenever you see that brand, you know that you're gonna have some pure quality fun. So take it. Play it. Hell, it's Unreal Tournament.
PS: forgot to mention, Malcom's making an appearance too.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Gaming Life part 2 - Shade's point of view

I felt like writing my own type of "gaming styles" post since i disagree with Devil on some points and wanted to bring this topic to a different, more psychological light.
First off, what Devil names "gaming styles" are actually different types of attitudes taken when gaming. We stop having common thoughts about this at this point: i feel like there are many more and much more complex personalities out there than you observe at first sight. Stereotyping them is not something i'm too inclined to do, as you'll always see one person which doesn't fit into any "class", so to speak - but not classifying them would make one ignorant of the fact that there actually are types of people out there with similar minds. But the internet has much more complexity, even in the more retarded people, than just noobs and... emos, the latter i feel being only a term for Devil to have something else to hate. In truth, emo people are probably too preoccupied with cutting their wrists to sit around and play games.
Instead, i'll just put all the good and bad people together, eliminate those 2 terms and judge them only by the way they act while playing or surfing the internet, starting with the worst. Just remember that except for some labels, these people might actually be bearable or sociable IRL.
1) Scum - not a researched or approved term, i just felt like naming them that. These people are your usual scammers, griefers and con artists of the internet - people you do NOT want to be with no matter who you are (unless you're in league with them), people who cannot be trusted, who profit most from the annonimity of the internet and who make lying their second job. The moral explanation behind this type of action is most usually "the internet is just pixels and pictures, it's not real life, and doing wrong stuff on the internet doesn't mean it's wrong irl as well. And people shouldn't feel bad because they don't lose anything but pixels". Unfounded and misguided of course, since we all know there is another type of value that you put into your account or character - sentimental value, and it carries as much weight as any type of money - at least to some people. Some types of "scum" will use net or game tranzactions for real money, and some will even steal irl money via the net - these have virtually no excuses, or ones that are so shallow that even they don't believe them. But they keep lying to themselves, always ignorant. I've seen and dealt with many of these in my life, and they are about the only people who i'd beat to almost death IRL if i saw them on the street. The world is better without them.
Scum are the opposite of the tragic no-lifer class: they cut off any emotional ties they would have to the game or the net and view it as a way to get richer, and it's ok if they do it off other people's backs - who cares, they're annonymous.
Some scum get their pleasure out of ruining others' playstyle, buying chars that they didn't make themselves for real money and using the superior gear to kill people who are inferior to them in every aspect, or griefing and generally causing havoc to bolster their own ego and pride.
2) Retards - about in the same pit with scum, but these are a bit more morally understandable. That doesn't mean they're likable though. To be honest, i really don't think that they are actual retards - they just behave like them. You'll know them when you see one: whenever you see a comment posted on youtube that leaves you saying "why did you have to post that!?", whenever you see someone use their class with so much lack of skill that they butcher and destroy all it stands for, whenever you try to teach someone something and they don't listen, doing the same idiotic thing over and over with no apparent care for the group's well-being (and thus, their own), having an interest in discussion but never saying or doing anything smart, acting like kids... and the examples could go on. God knows the internet is full of them, and they usually borrow traits from the other types resulting in even more frustration (especially when they decide to act like scum). It's good that you don't always have to deal with them, but sometimes there are situations in which you don't have a choice.
Seeing them irl would make me slap them in the face and restrict their access to the internet. It is not for them.
3) Clueless people - these are usually the type of people who always act like they know everything and judge others rashly with a huge lack of facts. Most noobs fit in this cathegory, in fact noobs are just a combination of clueless and retarded - but not all clueless people are retarded, indeed some are well-spoken and well-taught. Yet this type of personality implies that they always jump to the wrong conclusions with the smallest amount of facts. Examples of these would be people on an internet forum who instantly consider you a retard because you made a simple typo, or people in-game who will quit because they lost... once. Or because someone told them that you usually lose in that type of event unless you're affiliated with a certain faction, and they aren't.
4) Tragic no-lifers - the type of people who put a lot of feeling and soul in playing a game, and will lash out emotionally at the weakest sign of something going wrong. I dislike these people a lot, because they tend not to see the difference between feeling sad that you lost a match and constantly sulking for the rest of the day because of it. In-game death is a tragedy to these people, and loss of an in-game item will almost always attract rivers of tears and whines. The "no-lifer" type comes from the fact that they seem to put more soul in this game than they do in real life, thus exchanging their priorities, thus making them lose focus with the real world.
5) Usual no-lifers - this type encompasses a lot of other sub-types, such as the hardcore gamer, the friendless fatso or the high-school geek. Overall, they are not at all a bad type - on the internet, you can form lasting friendships with them as long as you share a common goal. You can profit from their addiction by using them to group together, for instance. This group is offset however by the fact that, alongside the retarded people, is the most criticised group on the internet - criticised often by retards themselves, but also by social people who seem to view the fact that these people have little to no friends as a sign of weakness and wrongness. But not all of them are lacking friends, their biggest problem (to others) is that they spend too much time in-game. I would probably fit the closest in this category, even tough i have friends and my time is pretty short right now - still, i'd love to be a no-lifer again someday, playing 20 hours out of 24 and not giving a damn about anyone. Might be dangerous to my health, but hell, all drugs are if you look at it from that point of view.
6) Loners - you may find one of these people here and there in the gaming scene. They're rare, but an awesome sight if you catch one. This group represents the people who spring forth from time to time, having excellent progress and great skill, knowing every in and out of their class and having accomplished more than casual gamers could ever dream of, at the same time being so obscure that no one heard of them. Like i said, they are rare, and usually no-lifers - but they deserve respect for getting where they are without asking for help, without whining, doing things on their own terms, without giving a damn about what everyone says or does.
7) Socials - people who join the online gaming scene for two things: other people, and CHAT. They LOVE to chat, though the chatter types are usually girls, and can often seen quitting the game for the sole reason that their friends also quit, or they don't have anyone to play with anymore. They desire the companionship of another human and will always act on a group consciousness, following, taking examples and sometimes leading their like-minded friends. Beware though, some of them might also be retards or scum, and usually when these types of people are present, scandals and real-life threats happen. Yet the best fact about socials is that this is perhaps the group with the widest range of personalities, all socials borrowing traits from all other groups.
8) Leaders - actually a mix of loners and socials, these are the people who are born to lead, and use their gaming experience to gain the upper hand. Leaders will be found bearing the burden of their clan/guild, coordonating others, giving advice to newbies and being the best of their class while the others are still struggling to understand it (this can happen when an MMO is in its early stages). The will of a loner, and the popularity of a social - but not all of them may have clean or just principles.
That would be about all the groups i can think of. Please note however that the complexity of a human mind is so great that no person can possibly be of only one group (with the possible exception of scum). We are a mix of either 2, more, or all of them. This is the factor that gives us diversity as human beings.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Gaming Life - part 2

We are all gamers, we all use the mouse and keyboard or joystick with a more or less efficiency calculated by other gamers and named skill. While we all may seem to "pwn" and "own" in probably the same games but we do it differently. Let`s take an example : I pwn my way, like nothing you`ve ever seen before, a random "spook" player will try to pwn his way, probably copying another emo.
I`m typing this post only because gamers have the one thing few people seem to notice : a gaming style. Sure everyone does what`s expected from his or her class, and a class will most likely have the same skills no matter the player, but it`s the way the player uses them that counts.
Lately, the noobish style has reached critical numbers. Don`t get this the wrong way, there`s a damn big difference between noobs and newbies, newbies can be helped, noobs however deserve to feel the ownage on their own skin. Noobs can be found in every single game which involves two or more real players, from shooters to MMOs and even forums. Noobs have taken stupidity to the next level, known for their over powered ability to "whine" just about everything and for the second power called "bragging", if a noob manages to do something right thanks to sheer luck i can bet my sweet emo neighbors depression that at least one gaming community will hear about that noobs luck, as he will most probably call it : skill. A noob is as impressive as he is annoying, impressive is a weak word if i think about it harder, amazing would be more proper because of the massive amount of shit which can come out of a noobs mouth. Without a second thought a noob can send any gamer to the edges of sanity and back only by "whining", he will always have something or someone to blame if he looses, for example : lagging/ the mouse isn`t working/ mom dropped in/ was afk / brain-freeze/ random pc problem/ imaginary girl friend came over for a blow job/ forgot to equip important random item. But if by any chance the noob wins something, it will be something like this : HAHAHAHA / YOU SUCkZ0RZ/ I`M L33t u`r nabz / ALL Y0ur ba53 ar3 b310ng to us/ etc/ etc. Expecting something good from a noob is like expecting a dead cow to give milk, if you ever encounter one just ignore him and hope he`ll go away. As they tend to migrate from game to game the noob problem will most likely never end (unless you`re a good friend with the local gms, but that`s another story).
Sadly, most of the noobs cannot realize that they are noobs, not even if an entire gaming community tells them that, therefore they will never figure out the fact that they suck because of their gaming style and will always blame it on others rather than blaming themselves, thus, never fixing the problem. Here are a few examples of the most common noobs:
-the Counter Strike idiot who will flashbang his comrades in a premature attempt to draw attention upon his "l33tness"
-the same Counter Strike motherfucker who will jump in the way of your bullets to steal your frag, getting his self, and you, killed.
-the random RTS idiot who will start mining YOUR resources because his mines (who produce just as much as yours) aren`t enough.
-the random MMO dickhead who will start masturbating the moment a good looking elf/night elf / dark elf character will join your party and who will lure the party to insanity in an attempt to hitch the gay dumbass with the sexy char.
-the fucking idiot who will nuke your base in order to save it ------ LE FUCK !!!
-the idiot who will ... ahhh forget it ... this list can go on until the heavens divide.

I guess thats enough hate typed down about the noobs and it`s just about time i started thinking emo, emo style to be precise, but still it`s hard for me to put the words idiot and style together .. pardon .. emo and style, i`ll get this over with one way or the other. Unlike noobs who only pretend to know what they are doing the emos have a vague clue about whats going on. For instance: he has the fully loaded shotgun in his hand, the enemy is at point-blank range, but still, the emo cannot comprehend the idea of clicking the mouse button in order to eliminate a potential threat, therefore the emo will farm .... the emo will grow ... the emo will do 30% of what he should do ... the emo will remain an emo only because in the gaming world a nice ANTI IDIOT BARRIER has appeared. This barrier is like air, you can`t see it but it`s there, making emos freeze or to simply fail if they try to do something casual for anyone else. For example in a juicy pvp match in a random mmo the emo will clearly loose thanks to a fucking big number of idiotic excuses like : i couldn`t target him/ i can`t kill him because he`s a good dude and he helps people or the classical : i`m too emo to figure out which skill to use against him.
The funny thing about emos is when the die or get pkd by not-so-emo rational players, the emos actually whine about how hard it was for them to get to the place where he got pkd, or about the XP or rank lost.
What can i say ? What could anyone say ? If being and idiot is a way of life for some people so be it ... i can only wish them to live forever !

I just can`t add noobs, emos and good or pro player styles in the same post. Part 3 will soon be posted.
Here`s a nice video about noobs/emos and wannabe PROs: