Dongyrn Miniprofile

20071009

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2

The following review originally appeared on GamersWithJobs, written by the excellent Julian "rabbit" Murdoch on 09/25/2007.


"Medic!"

There's no sound quite like it. Well, there's the sound of the medic running around screaming "I am on fire!" That's pretty good too. Oh and then there's the grumpy school teacher protesting that the "enemy has been granted additional time."

Never mind it's all good. It's all brilliantly good. The weapon sounds, environmental effects, the music -- each perfect for the setting. In fact, the sound design of Team Fortress 2 is so good it would almost be reason enough to play it. But luckily, there are other reasons. Here they are.

It's almost free. I was going to be buying Half Life 2: Episode 2 no matter what. I would likely have paid $44.95 just for that. I have no burning interest in Portal, and I already own HL2 and Episode 1. But here's the thing, I'd also pay $44.95 to play Team Fortress 2. So by my twisted algebra, I'm either getting Episode 2 for free, or I'm getting TF2 for free.

It looks fabulous. It's not Space Giraffe trippy "oooh look at my HDR" fabulous, but fabulous in an entirely different way. By abandoning the pervasive trend towards photo realism in first person shooters, Valve's nailed it. The game looks wonderful in any resolution (seriously, it looks great in a 640 by 480 window), is completely unique, and highly immersive. 

TF2 Image 1TF2 Image 2


Even more important is the animation. I find myself increasingly taking "good" animation in games for granted. Developers have become very sophisticated in the art of motion capture and representation, from the big daddies of BioShock to the performance characteristics and deformability of the cars in Forza 2, the goal is realism. TF2 throws that out the window. Taking cues more from traditional animation than from game design, the animations are exaggerated, fluid, and because of that, just plain funny. The animation is perhaps the key to why TF2 simply feels so good.

It's designed to be fun. This may sound axiomatic since we're talking about games here, but there's a difference between "lets go to the circus and watch jugglers" fun, and "lets go ride our bicycles 100 miles in the rain" fun. Having done both, they are both entertaining, but very different.

TF2 is designed to be the circus-clown kind of fun. Some of this is obvious - the Demoman flashing the happy face on his crotch as his taunt, for instance. But the goof-factor is built into nearly every component of the game, from the design of the buildings and characters, to the pacing of the maps. On top of this, there are dozens of stupid little extras. My personal favorite pointless touch is the Nemesis system. When someone kills you often enough, the game puts little fists over them whenever you see them, so you can make sure to smack them hard. It's the difference between being annoyed and enjoying dying.

It's designed for people who suck (and you guys too) If you're 18 years old, have sharp reflexes, and 3 hours a day to play first person shooters, you will kick my ass. I might get a lucky head shot or chainsaw once in a while, but there's not much I can really do about this. TF2 is designed to reward multiple play styles. Most of the time when we see that on a box what it really means is "it's designed to reward one play style, but if you're a 'tard you can play this other way." In the case of TF2, there are substantial, necessary and skillful roles to fill that do not require quite the lightning reflexes of a heated Gears match.

That's not to say that being an Engineer, or a Medic or any other class is necessarily easy. Each of the 9 classes is accessible, but each is also best played by someone who knows what they're doing. I don't know what I'm really doing yet, but I do know how to maintain a defensive placement with a couple of other engineers, for example, and if I find myself out-pinged and out-caffeinated, I know i can at least do something useful and fun.

It's dynamic. Another marketing buzzword which usually means "things change all the time for no apparent reason." In TF2, the dynamism comes from map design, player styles, and strategic shifts. Playing against a team which is determined to turtle is very different than playing against a team that's all offense. And these differences mean you need to experiment with different classes and strategies. The mix of classes is constantly changing in response to the situation, and this just plain makes if un-boring. In a game of, say, Battlefield 2, while there are many choices about how I can play a given round, in general, they're going to devolve to what I happen to be decent enough at to play, and the variation is nowhere near that between a Scout and a Medic in Team Fortress 2.

By keeping the classes extremely limited they've ensured that each class is truly unique. None of the classes is unplayable, boring, or underpowered.

It's highly strategic. Because of its fundamental simplicity, TF2 resembles a game of chess more than a flat out fog-of-war, artillery-laden chaos-battle. More than any multi player game in recent memory, I want to play with a real, regular team against other regular teams. I'm not delusional enough to think I will, but I want to because I can see deep and evolving map strategies and counter-strategies emerging.

Just like the tournament scene for Magic: The Gathering, the orthogonal possibilities for a given map are exciting and enticing. Have you tried an all-scouts raiding attack in Gravel Pit? I have, and let me just say it's insanely great, nobody expects it, and you can get away with it. What about an all heavies march-of-doom on the control point maps. Strategies like that would never survive long term, but I can easily see dozens of viable, reproducible strategies that would at least be a hell of a lot of fun to try.

It's Short. Unfortunately, this isn't true of all the maps. The territorial control version (represented by Hydro in the beta) can go on for ever, in particularly frustrating fashion. But the core of Team Fortress has always been 2forts capture the flag, and the TF2 version of 2forts is essentially perfect. There's a sweet spot in multi player games for me. Dying has to matter enough that it's not a pure zerg-fest, but at the same time, I'm completely done with games that force me to run for 2 minutes just so I can get killed again. TF2 seems to strike the balance perfectly.

It's PC. I'll admit it, I have great love for the PC as a gaming platform. But until recently (when I kicked off the last round of gaming nirvana with Civ iV: Beyond the Sword, took a detour through BioShock, and landed on TF2), I'd spent far more time with my 360 than with my PC. At the moment, playing TF2 on the PC doesn't buy me anything in and of itself. But it does fill me with hope: TF2 with a good mod community would be a game I play for a long time, possibly years, just as the original was.

It's Steam Baby! The dirty little secret of the TF2 beta is the heavy, heavy win for Steam Community. Here are all the reasons Steam suddenly rocks even more than it did last month, but WAY more than it did when it launched.

  • 180 people in the GWJ Steam community. My 99 person friends list on Xbox LIVE is simply a poor substitute.
  • Fantabulous server finding, filtering, and managing.
  • Dedicated servers are easy and free to set up.
  • Multi and single person chat that just works.
  • Spy on all your friends games, join them with a click.
  • Stats. Where did this come from? TF2 stats beat the crap out of Xbox LIVE.


Two months ago, Xbox LIVE was hands down the single best game community and multi player management experience out there. I can't even imagine going back now. Sure, if nobody I knew was on Steam, it would suck. But with games like this, it's only going to get better.

Is it a perfect game? No. Is it everything I hoped TF2 would be? Yes, and then some. I guess it's impossible for a game to be an instant classic when it's actually the sequel to a classic. But regardless, it's going to be an icon on my desktop for a long, long time.

--

Thanks to the GWJ community for the screenshots

20070227

World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

WoW:BC What follows is the review of the latest expension for my MMORPG addiction, WoW. This article originally appeared on Slashdot on 2007.02.23 written by ScuttleMonkey.

In the beginning Blizzard gave us World of Warcraft. And life was good. Like any shiny new toy, the faults inherent to the game weren't initially obvious. As time wore on, though, players were able to delve into the guts of the game through raiding and excessive amounts of play. After a while the main complaints seemed to fall into two different "camps": those who wanted to see more "hardcore" content and those who wanted to see more "solo" or "casual" content. There were many arguments about how these two groups of people were mutually exclusive and how one or the other was the "obvious" best choice. However, in BC, Blizzard has done an excellent job in making sure that both groups of players have content to shoot for, even if the rewards aren't necessarily all that much better for conquering the raid content.

The first major improvement in the game comes with the extension of the level grind. There is a vast difference in the enjoyment of leveling a character from levels 1-60 and from 60-70. While the amount of experience is relatively comparable, the mechanisms in place make it a completely different animal. With the original game, leveling was thought of as one of the main aspects of the game and designed to take a long time to do with very little continuity or help to speed you along. Instances were designed to be for gear rewards and something you did rarely in between your bouts of leveling. With The Burning Crusade, the quests were designed to make you feel like you were accomplishing smaller tasks within a grand scheme, and they actually helped to develop the plot and a feeling that you were a part of the game rather than just trying to "beat" the game to get a level.

Throughout the questing and overall leveling process, instances in the Burning Crusade were also designed to be a much more integral part of the game for both leveling and gear. The group experience bonus allows a player to still make good progress towards the next level while playing through group content with friends and finding new challenges and boss fights along the way. The quests for every zone eventually start to poke and prod you towards the next level appropriate instance to help players make this decision and help round out the leveling experience. To make the process of instancing even better, Blizzard has grouped the instances in each zone together as "wings" of increasing difficulty within a larger structure that has an overall theme. This allows players to tackle the content in smaller chunks without having to commit large blocks of time just to do an instance. At the end of each group of instances the content culminates in a larger group encounter for raids to tackle once their players have completed a key quest for that particular instance.

While instances may have gotten a large push in the right direction, there are still a couple of major problems that continue to crop up, preventing players from really enjoying the content that is right in front of them. The largest of these problems are instance-breaking bugs. There have been quite a few of them since launch, and while bugs are to be expected, these are taking a long time to fix. Meanwhile the customer service reps in game are doing very little to help the players deal with the bugs beyond telling them it is a known problem and sorry about your luck. Now, I realize that some people are going to try and exploit GM assistance, but there comes a time when you just need to give your customer the benefit of the doubt and help them through any problems that crop up. The other major problem attached to instances comes before you even make it to the instance. If you aren't part of a large guild with resources always at hand, it means you are going to have to try your luck with a pickup group. While the "Looking for Group" interface was a neat addition, I think Blizzard either did too much or too little depending on what they were going for. With a simple global chat channel it was very easy for players just to type what they were looking to do and for others to answer, a quick and easy solution. In fact, most servers have seen a grass roots channel emerge to move back to this functionality. With the introduction of a user interface and automation to the process, they removed the "easy" solution but didn't go far enough with the complex solution. Ultimately, the "best" answer to this problem would be to bring back the chat channel but make the user interface "grab" names and classes from that chat channel into a larger pool of people to draw from, allowing users to use both methods of communication depending on their preference.

One of the main points of skepticism before the release of The Burning Crusade was the number of reputation "grinds" that would be required in order to experience new content. While much of the new content is hidden behind reputation requirements, the new system allows players to gain reputation at an amazingly fast rate making this requirement almost a non-issue. In addition to new content for these new factions the reputation system also unlocks a vast amount of new pearls for the crafting system. This allows different reputation choices to determine which recipes you are able to craft so that each crafter has the ability to obtain unique recipes instead of being a cookie cutter crafter like it was before the expansion.

Despite the fact that the casual consumer has definitely been given quite a bit of content to work their way through, the hardcore player has certainly not been left in the lurch. Raid content is available in spades. The addition of a 'heroic mode' for dungeons allows players to go back and play through previous instances at a higher difficulty level (and for better rewards). This, again, requires that they have put in the time to attain a high enough reputation level with the controlling faction. With each set of instances, there is also a difficult 25-man raid (now that Blizzard has decided to limit their "large" raids to 25 players instead of 40) encounter designed to provide an additional challenge. Beyond these short raids there is also new 10-man content (Karazhan) that allows players to work through a larger dungeon and attain a new armor "set" in addition to the random drops that still occur. Once players have made their way through this 10-man content they can start working towards some of the even larger 25-man content with huge sprawling dungeons promised, eventually culminating in the battle through Mount Hyjal. However, in order to get to this final realization players must wade through a lot of content. In an effort to help players in this goal one player even put together a flow chart of what it is going to take to realize this goal.

The largest problem with the current raid content is that while it requires large amounts of work to get to and complete (as it should), the rewards for actually completing that raid content have all but eviscerated the desire to do the work. Having moved from a "hardcore" raiding style of play to a much more casual approach I was quite pleased at how much I was able to do on a daily basis with my limited time. However, looking back at my previous play style and the rewards that I would be shooting for I realized that there was very little reason for me to aim for those "end game" rewards anymore. The time spent versus rewards earned seems a little imbalanced. I'm sure that a large part of this decision was to try and cater to the larger "casual" player base and stop the hemorrhage of players they were losing to other games. Just the same, if you are going to create content that caters to your hardcore players you should probably create rewards that justify the work they are about to put into it.

While much of the game play and content has been improved greatly the class balance issue is still one that continues to haunt Blizzard. For example, if you are a Rogue and you really want to experience some of the heroic content and smaller raid encounters, you are in for a difficult time finding a group. The same goes for priests if you are really into the competitive player versus player aspect of the game. I am willing to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt on this one since they are probably still evaluating how the new talents and new gear will effect the overall class balance, but changes are definitely needed.

In addition to all of the game play changes, each faction also has a new race, a new homeland, and tons of new starting quests to work through. While information on the new horde race, the Blood-Elf, has been available for quite some time, the new alliance race, the Draenei, has been somewhat of a mystery almost until the release of the beta. Unfortunately, this also shows in the quality of both the quests and the overall feel for each of these races. The homeland and starting quests for the Blood-Elves have a much larger degree of continuity and they lend a feeling of a long time in development while the Draenei feel like a last minute cobble when they couldn't think of anything else. This obviously doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things once you make it to Outland and the new content, but it can have a definite effect on someone just starting the game.

Overall, it seems that Blizzard is definitely listening to their player base, they just need to do a better job of communicating that fact. I realize that it is hard to release information about something if it later gets taken away or changed, but let your GM staff work for you, give the player the benefit of the doubt more often, and admit when something is wrong so that players can avoid the disappointment while it is being fixed.

Despite any pitfalls, The Burning Crusade is an excellent addition to the Warcraft Universe. Blizzard has done an excellent job of catering to many of the different types of players within the game, providing a wide array of enjoyable content. If you are new to the MMO scene or even if you gave up hope before The Burning Crusade hit the streets, now is a great time to get into the game and give it a shot.

20070105

Battlefield 2142

BF2142

Ah yes, time again to clear the cobwebs away from the gaming page. Fear not, WoW has as much a hold on me as ever, and it's iron taloned grasp would not let go of me that easily. However, it's well past time to jot down some thoughts of another LAN party staple (or rather, a new one) - Battlefield 2142.

I gotta say, I'm amazed that this game has given such controversy within our humble clan. The GunrunnerClan has grown some (welcome additions of Chezman, BrockHead72, Andyfco, and olderdude) and some AWOL (where the heck did Bill drop off the face of the earth, anyways?), but we seem to be fully split in half over the decision to purchase and play BF2142. Now, I was cognizant of the issues and controversy surrounding the adversiting within the game, but as it seems to be fairly non-intrusive I went ahead and took the plunge. I'm not going to go into detail about the ads, save that yes they're there if you notice them - I keep seeing Intel ads on the ground in Berlin, only noticed them when I hid behind the sign - but I will talk a little about the different gameplay from BF2.

The objectives of BF2142 don't differ substantially from BF2 (save for Titan mode, I'll get to that later). Grab flags, hold them, and kill the enemy. Aircraft have been severely nerfed (THANK YOU!!) which would excite any non-airwhore like myself, and armor plays a significant role, balanced by the infantry. Gameplay is faster, vehicles seem tougher, and the customization options for each class are significantly higher.

Now the new angle here is the Titan mode. Again this is something covered ad naseum in other forums, and yes it's pretty cool. The bugs are annoying, if the Titan is moving when you die in it your body moves so it can't be revived, stationary objects you drop (ammo and c4 and mines) will also move. I know it's a complication with the game design, but if it wasn;t worked out why the heck did it ship? I mean, could the beta team not tell this when playing on a Titan? I don't think so, the flaws here would have been obvious. But the idea is very cool, and you can rack up good amounts of points and medals by fighting in a Titan, or even shooting out its guns (and also by repairing them).

So I realize I haven't played the game nearly as much as I did BF2. But still, there's a tremendous amount of things going on in the game, that you can't play around with or experiment yourself with until you get the unlock. For instance: I'm going up against a squad leader, and I see the little drone above his head. No problem, seen that before. But then the drone starts shooting at me. WTF?? That's new to me. And yeah, again if I played more I'd see more and understand more of what I see, but I spend more time dying, and uttering "What the hell just killed me??" than I do playing.

So I'm playing the game, but just not as enthusiastically as I did BF2, and especially BF2:SF.

I miss my grappling hook, dammitall.

20060619

World of Warcraft

WoW So I decided to emerge from my 'cave' (as my wife refers to my home office in the basement) to do a little updating in the same venue as my review of the MMORPG, DDO. Shortly after my review, and subsequent blog posting, my friends and I decided to call it quits on DDO. In reviewing our experience, the wife of one of our gaming clan revealed that although she did give DDO a try she was much more taken with World of Warcraft. This is a game which has been out for quite some time, so though I had expected it to be a step below DDO (a newer release) she assured me the opposite was true. Armed with a 10-day guest pass we girded up for some more MMO experience, somewhat jaded after our last venture.

At face value, WoW seems to be similar to DDO:

  • Adventure together with thousands of other players in an enormous, persistent game world
  • Create and customize your own hero from the unique races and classes of the Warcraft universe
  • Explore an expansive world with miles of forests, deserts, snow-blown mountains, and other exotic lands
  • Visit huge cities and delve through dozens of vast dungeons
  • Enjoy hundreds of hours of gameplay with new quests, items, and adventures every month
Additionally I was a little leery of entering a mature game world, akin to entering a ranked BF2 game as a lowly newbie while the rest of the players are all ranked master sergeant or above. But I fired the program up, after some prior research, and entered the realm.

Words cannot begin to describe the difference in experience from DDO. The WoW world is just so much more... RICHER in texture, experience, gameplay, just about everything. And the main problem I had with MMOs in general, that of forced teamplay, is nonexistent. Yes you can create parties, but it is not a requirement to enjoy the full experience (some of the more dangerous areas, like the dungeons and instances, almost require a party, but if you're high enough level you can manage).

Let me reiterate that, as it needs repeating: YOU DON'T NEED TO PARTY UP TO PLAY!

Here are just some thoughts, from myself and gleaned from other reviewers:

  • Experience from completing quests is noticeable, and the rewards from completing them are worthwhile. In WoW, it is possible to gain more experience from completing a quest than from killing a monster.
  • Experience progress is anything but vague. Every time a character kills a monster or completes a quest, the experience points are clearly given, and a meter with the character's progress within a level is clearly marked with numbers. So it's impossible not to tell how much experience killing a monster was worth. No more questionable meters with random values.
  • The world is easy to get around in. And it doesn't take an hour to get where you need to be, if you know where you're going. (Granted you still have to do a lot of running, until you're level 40 and can afford a mount, but the travel routes are a nice shortcut.) This has been one of the biggest problems with other MMOs like EverQuest, because, as a semi-casual player, sometimes I don't have the time to run for an hour to complete a quest, or, in some cases, die, then have to make a corpse run and take twice as long as it originally was supposed to take. Which leads to the next point.
  • Death is reasonable. If your character dies, its ghost spawns at the NEAREST graveyard, so there is no need to manually bind your character somewhere. Also, there is no XP loss if you choose to run your character over to its corpse. In my opinion, the death system is one of the best, as you can choose to lose health and mana by resurrecting right at the graveyard, or just run to your character's corpse and revive there with no loss. (Previously, I believe there was an XP loss associated with resurrection, but this must have been discontinued.)
  • An XP grind is perfectly possible, but not necessary. It is very possible to level up consistently without having to play for 5-7 hours a day. I have played to date just over 100 hours (ouch). I have 5 players I'm running right now. My first is a Tauren Druid 16. I also have a Tauren Warrior 20, a Troll Hunter 16, an Undead Warlock 8, and an Orc Warrior 6. So yeah, leveling at the lower experience isn't too difficult, and once you get past 20-30 then you really start hitting the nice abilities and quests...
  • With the mail system, you can have once character gathering resources and another manufacturing. This can work nicely as your own little mini-guild, and all your characters can profit as a result.

WoWI don't think there's a whole lot else to go into. I have fallen into an overwhelming addiction with WoW. I have actually abandoned much of my BF2 gameplay. I just want to make one final point in closing here. Unlike DDO, where you have to run the same quests to get another character running, in WoW there are so many different combinations based on race and class of where you start and what you start off with, that each character you run up can have a unique experience if you so desire.

Which may explain why this game is still the #2 seller on Amazon, even after having been released in 2002.

20060524

Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach

So Wizards of the Coast, the owners of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise, finally licensed out their massively popular RPG for a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game, called Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach (DDO). Now, I'm not going to get too much into the background of either. If you don't know what D&D is, you've lived under a rock. And DDO itself you can google many other sources, even visit the official forums. What I will talk about are my impressions of the game from playing on a free 7-day trial version.

DDO2

I'm not a big fan of MMOs. I think I finally figured out why, and I'll touch upon that in my blog. Suffice to say that though I did dip my toes into the pond with the first incarnation of EverQuest (a.k.a. EverCrack) back when dialup was still the norm, I don't have a lot of MMO experience. So much of my opinion is that of a total MMO n00b.

The graphics of DDO are stunning, no arguing there. I like the character movements, and the monsters, it really gets you into the feel of things. Visual effects of spells and the like are very decent. I tried several character types to get a good feel for the game rather than try and move one character up as far as I could. Didn't care too much for the Wizard class for some reason, liked the Sorcerer and Cleric and combat types (Ranger, Barbarian, Fighter) - fairly straightforward to play those. Rogues just seem far too weak, some of the single player quests were near impossible to complete, luckily my character was a fast runner. Now Paladins, though I've always enjoyed playing them, seemed overly weak at lower levels.

And I realize I'm a little behind with the ruleset (I only just got up to 3.0 and then they came out with 3.5), but the half-orc seemed to have been replaced with something called a Warforged. Yeah, I know, now it sound like I'm the one who's been living under a rock. Though powerful (and a very decent Barbarian) I dislike the way you have to use different potions, spells and tavern items to heal them...

Combat: Takes a lot of getting used to. The quick-keys on the bottom are a little unintuitive to use when on multiple bars, so if you need to change to a different spell or weapon of potion it can cost you time. I guess if I were to play more I would get more used to it. Very difficult to get used to all the different icons too - what all the effects are up in the right top corner, what the spells and potions are, etc. There's just a lot of information. I know if it were turn-based, it would be easier to dissemble such info, but in a real-time based game you have to work with the icons. Again, takes some getting used to.

So most of my playing was as a Dwarf Cleric, along with two buddies (a Dwarf Fighter and an Elven Ranger) we did a little questing. Had some fun, and proved once again the value of a good Cleric at your back. Noticed though that it took a LOT of time to level up. I mean, I barely got to 2nd level. I know there are some who play a whole lot, and can get up to level 10... seems to be some of the way the 3.5 rules do experience now... but that's getting too far into the mechanics of things...

So would I buy a copy and pay $15 a month to play? Short answer: No. For the long answer as to why (and my fundamental problems with MMOs) read on at my blog.

20051117

Star Wars: Battlefront II

A very decent update to SWB in my opinion. Nice co-op maps, some of them are HUGE and with the AI filling up the field, it gets to be a very confusing battlefield... Biggest updates to SWB2 are the inclusion of space combat and the Jedi. SWB2 With the latter come other heros that you can spawn as after winning a certain muber of combat points during a battle. While the Jedi can kick some serious butt, I'm not so sure of some of the others - I've played Leia (very weak) and Boba Fett (nice blaster, flamethrower sucks, and the rocket takes too long to fire), along with Mace Widu (kickass) and Darth Maul (oh yeah, now we're talking...). And let's not forget the Emporer, gliding evilly across the floor, and cackling with glee as he cuts down hapless rebel scum... Zonk over at Slashdot Games did a decent review that pretty much matched my opinion, so I'll just do a repost.

The original Star Wars Battlefront (SWB) was the a traditional FPS title that did a competent job of capturing some of the essential atmosphere of the Star Wars franchise. Putting you in the boots of J. Random Clone, the opportunity to see the Battle of Hoth or fight in the streets of Theed was powerful mojo for Star Wars fans. Star Wars Battlefront II upholds the standard of the original title, and successfully expands its scope with new places to fight and new ways to go into combat.

With the exception of the Super Star Wars series of titles back in the SNES days, Star Wars movie-specific game titles have almost universally disappointed. The blending of the mythology into a more cohesive whole makes for a much richer and ultimately more rewarding environment to set a game, and SWB II makes full use of all six movies. The single-player campaign starts you off in the final days of the Clone War, filling the boots of a Clone Trooper under the command of a Jedi Knight of the Republic. If you've played the previous title you'll have almost no trouble getting into the thick of it. Gameplay is essentially unchanged, preserving the wise decisions from the original title's designers. You'll have the option of choosing from among several unit types to spawn onto the battlefield. Each has a specific set of weapons to draw on, such as a heavy weapons trooper or a sniping unit. The average Battlefront mission tasks you with keeping control of several nodes scattered across the map. Nodes can be flipped from one side to the other by occupying the area around the node with troops. Most maps are won when all nodes have been converted to one side or the other. SWB II"s single-player campaign switches this up a little with non-node mission objectives. One level, for example, requires you to hold just one node for a specific length of time as a massive force of droids marches on your position. Another has you fighting off the monstrous Acklay creatures before they can kill too many of your troops. This variety adds a little more interest to what would otherwise be multiplayer games played between you and a bunch of AI.

The biggest change in Star Wars Battlefront II is the inclusion of space combat. While it's no Tie Fighter, space missions will please the dogfighter in every Star Wars fan. Most of them are fairly quick, with just one or two simple objectives (destroy these ships, keep this ship alive). Gameplay is fast and enjoyable, with a more straightforward version of the controls you might expect from other Star Wars titles. The straightforward design makes it easy to just hop in a craft and blow stuff up. Some single player missions have a little more to them, requiring you to fight in space and then land for another objective. Dropping the shield protecting a landing bay, piloting a troop transport inside, and then stealing data from the ship's computer is a highly satisfying experience. To provide the entire range of Star Wars gameplay, Jedi characters are also available. They're fast and powerful, and a side with one available to them has a great chance of prevailing. Control is similar to what you'd expect from Jedi Academy, and there are several force powers available to the Jedi that makes fighting one as a normal ground troop a short and stressful experience.

Visually SWB II is an obvious improvement over the previous title. There's a great deal of detail, and the overall presentation of the game has been refined. Both the visuals and soundscape do their best to adhere to the Star Wars universe, and succeed admirably. Ships explode, battle droids splinter, and gungans gargle with the sights and sounds you'd expect from a licensed title. As with all Star Wars games, the sound experience is particularly enjoyable. John Williams scores strain to be heard over the zip and pop of blaster fire or the scream of a passing Tie Fighter. While there aren't any appreciable physics elements, playing SWB II also probably won't strain your graphics card overmuch. The feel and look are dead on, dropping you into the mythos of the galaxy far, far away.

While the single player game is enjoyable, multiplayer is really this game's strong suit. Extremely large battles are possible, and every aspect of the single player campaign is available to multiplayer combatants. Maps are fairly roomy and are usually set in extremely evocative locales. While fighting on the snowy ground of Hoth was done to death five years ago, some of the new levels offer a distinctly different experience. Kashyyyk, Dagobah, and Coruscant are all battlefields in this (sometimes continuity breaking) free-for-all environment. Action isn't nearly as fast paced as Quake or Unreal Tournament, but that's okay. The joy to be had in popping off shots at a fleeing droid or charging Rebel soldier means that it's fun to savor the moment. The 'hold-the-node' gameplay is the default choice, but just like in the single player experience there are space battles and objective missions to be had as well. There was very little slowdown or technical problems related to the game during battle I participated in, and the necessarily aggressive tone that teams have to take to win matches ensures both offensive and defensive players will have a blast.

Given that it's only been a year since the last Battlefront title, it should come as no surprise that gameplay still feels fairly fresh. SWB II improves on already enjoyable gameplay by expanding the scope of the title. More Jedi, and space combat completes the full arc of what makes the Star Wars universe unique. While I don't expect that SWB II is going to be knocking Half-Life off of the top of the server population list anytime soon, it's a satisfying update to a title that scratches a dorky itch. Whether on foot or in space, Star Wars Battlefront II puts you in the moment like few other license titles can.

Myself, I haven't tried the single player yet (didn't for the first title either really) nor have I tired space combat. I suck at flying anyways, as evident by my crash rate in BF2. But I can say, Darth Maul seriously rocks. 'Nuff said.

20050816

Quake 4

Quake4

WorthPlaying has a Quake 4 preview posted today that is worth taking a look at. I don’t know about you but I sure am looking forward to this one..

Quake4 In Quake 4 the Strogg are quickly regrouping, however the Strogg’s planetary defenses still destroyed, Earth's forces can deliver a full and final assault. This time, you're not alone. You are Matthew Kane, an elite member of Rhino Squad, and part of Earth’s next invasion wave. An army of soldiers are fighting with you and an arsenal of weapons and vehicles are at your disposal in this heroic and epic battle between worlds.

As most of you already know, Quake 4 picks up right where Quake 2 left off. Your nameless counterpart from Q2 has just taken out the Big Gun, which defends Stroggos from orbital bombardment, and the menacing Strogg leader, The Macron. Now playing as Corporal Kane, you land on Stroggos under heavy bombardment. The Strogg, it would appear, are not as defenseless as you were first told. Yes, the Macron is dead. Yes the Big Gun is destroyed, but the Strogg still have soldiers and defenses aplenty. Not to mention, a centralized brain known as the "Nexus" running the show from an underground fortress...

All the best elements of Quake 3 and Team Arena are back by popular demand. Rocket jumping will be the rule of the day. The Nail Gun will make its triumphant return. The Rocket Launcher, Blaster, and Hyper-Blaster will make their presence known. You can also bet that Quad Damage will be back for that extra punch! The BFG is not official (yet) but it is VERY LIKELY.

This is gonna be so sweet... Here's hoping this wasn't as much of a letdown as Doom 3 was...

UPDATE: From the reports of those with more money than I, who have had the chance to sample Q4, it "somehow fails to capture nostalgia and comes off feeling retread." Which is too bad, I always have fond memories of my Quake II days. Ah, well, it won't be added to the LAN Party stable anytime soon, so I'll wait for it to come down in price.

20050706

Battlefield 2

bf2s.comScore, Kills, Deaths, and TimeSPM, KPM, DPM, and K:D RatioAll Awards (minus stars and purple heart)

Here's the new goodie. Just came out within the last couple of weeks, and I can honestly say that when all works well, it seriously rocks. BF2 Unfortunately, with the multiplayer portion, all does not always go well.

The ranking idea was nice, but the ranked servers are virtually impossible to get on. And forget a 64-player server, that's just ludicrous. Non-ranked work well, and I've spent a good amount of time on them. As you can see from above, my score (pretty version) has suffered accordingly. Well, that and having a life. What a drag. I could seriously spend hours a day fettered to CrazyHarry playing this.

Regrettably, I now have to earn a paycheck. Sigh.

Counter-Strike: Source

OK, so I had to update this page to show why I haven't been updating this page much. Hmm, that was a little repetitive.

CS:S

I have become seriously addicted to playing CS:S now, as evidenced by my Xfire stats above. I find myself sneaking off to get a few rounds in. Rather pitiful actually. My gaming nom-de-guerre is, you guessed it, Dongyrn. (I'm just the picture of originality. Hey, at least for Far Cry I go by "DearGodNotTheMachete". Thanks for the nightmares, Bill.) I have a private server I play on, but when not there I try to get into the BBR servers, they are very well moderated (cuts down on the hackers and immature adolescents). Hard to get into during peak hours tho.

Not much point in going into much deatil on gameplay. I was never into old-school CS much (though I did download 1.5 and 1.6, just never played it). Much of that derives from my lack of broadband. Now that I have a decent connection, I have really gotten into the online game play. And the graphics with Source are simply stunning...

Half-Life 2

From Slashdot, Half-Life 2 Targeted for Summer Release:

Half-Life 2

According to CNN Money, Valve's director of marketing Doug Lombardi announced that the company is 'currently targeting this summer for the completion of Half-Life 2'. From the article: 'Valve does not plan to reveal any additional information until the time surrounding the E3 trade show, where the game will once again be shown this year. E3 will be held in Los Angeles May 12-14.'" The game was delayed following a previously covered code leak...

Half-Life

I have been a HUGE fan of Half-Life since it came out. No FPS game has revolutionized the genre since Quake II (still a favorite of mine). I still like to play the mod Opposing Force, though I haven't been able to sit my brother down in a while for a nice smack-down... er, I mean a nice match.

The graphics in Half-Life 2 are radically more advanced than any PC game on the market. (If you don't believe me, just check out some of the incredible screenshots, and be prepared to drool.) Many gamers (myself included) are waiting on the release of this game or id Software's "Doom 3" before upgrading their video cards. Granted, I still choke on the price tags of the top-of-the-line cards... ($500 or so!!!)

Lastly, here's a good review (and preview) on Gamespot.

UPDATE: It's out now, w00t!

Star Wars: Battlefront

SW:BF

Oh, man, this completely blew me away. There are some kick-ass trailers and screenshots for this new multiplayer game over at the official web site, and a couple of reviews at ign.com for starters.

Like Battlefield 1942, there are multiple classes to choose from per side, tons of vehicles to hop into, and a very team-centric play style. Take those elements and coat them with the Star Wars universe, and you'll have an idea why you need to check out the Battlefront video preview.

A multiplayer online shooter set in the Star Wars universe featuring soldier sets from the series (Stormtroopers, Rebel pilots, AT-AT commanders, Republic Guards) and a wide variety of vehicles out of the films. Players take part in epic battles from both the original series (Episodes IV, V, VI) as well as the prequel trilogy (Episode I, II, III.) The game liberally borrows concepts from EA's Battlefield series, transplanting the competitive action into the Star Wars galaxy. Players team up or go head-to-head to fight on ten legendary planets from the George Lucas franchise and use a variety of weapons and vehicles, including X-wings, snowspeeders and AT-STs.

Each of the game's four factions has four troop classes. The general Rebel soldier and Imperial Stormtrooper serve as the basic assault troops. The only real difference between the two (apart from their appearance, of course) is that the Rebel weapon is a bit more accurate but has a slower rate of fire than the one the Imperials use. The heavy weapons class for each side use a shoulder-fired torpedo to take out heavily armored targets. Each side also has a scout class that comes equipped with a sniper rifle. Finally, there's a pilot class for each faction. The pilot's ability to instantly eject from any destroyed vehicle has been removed, leaving him (all the character models are male) to fill a more traditional engineering role, repairing vehicles and structures.

I have SO got to get this game when it comes out September 21st. The screenshots and trailers, as well as the teaser videos at the official site, seem almost too good to be true. This absolutely is a fantasy come true.

FarCry

FarCry

Wow, I wish I had a better video card to really experience this game... It totally rocks in multiplayer, but I keep freezing in the single player missions... Check out the web site for more info and demo videos.

Welcome to Destination Far Cry

You are Jack Carver, running your own boat charter business in beautiful Micronesia. With a past best left behind you, you'll be focusing on your present assignment: escorting an ambitious journalist named Valerie Cortez to the island of Cabatu. It seems like a piece of cake, but you'll soon learn: paradise can be hell.

Experience a new style of FPS gameplay featuring massive outdoors environments and unprecedented long-range gameplay.

Feel the Far Cry Engine
The meticulously designed next-generation CryEngine pushes the threshold of action gaming with proprietary Polybump mapping, advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, dynamic lighting, motion-captured animation, and total surround sound.

Cunning and Complex A.I. Tactics
Autonomous A.I. make realistic decisions based on observations of the current state of the world. These highly trained mercenaries are designed to utilize environmental features, attack in groups, divide and conquer, respond to player actions, and call in reinforcements from air, land, or sea.

Astonishingly Tension-filled Non-linear Experience
Unique game design encourages a combination of pure reflex shooting as well as intelligent stealth. Draw out your enemies or perform a full-on assault. It's up to you to use the vast environment to your own advantage.

Heart-Pounding Atmosphere
Unique proprietary physics and lighting, adaptive audio, weather effects, and day/night cycles provide a tropical setting so real you'll never want to leave.

What You See Is What You Play
Thanks to the Sand Box Editor, you can easily create and edit your own terrain, foliage, textures, lighting effects, vehicles, missions, etc. Place enemies, build maps, and construct the world in which you want to play.

Unreal Tournament 2004

Downloaded the demo for UT2004 much as I did for UT2003. I'm very impressed with the graphics, they did a nice job with the demo of not delivering a crippled product, I can really get a feel of how the game plays. The Assault mode left me a bit confused, I'll have to play that more to get used to it... I'm getting bored with the Capture the Flag map (only one map per mode is supplied) so I might bump up the bot difficulty. Here's from the site:

Unreal Tournament 2004 is a multiplayer first person shooter that combines the kill-or-be-killed experience of gladiatorial combat with cutting-edge technology. Ten game modes - both team-based and "every man for himself" -- provide even the most hardcore gamer with palm-sweating challenges through unbelievably detailed indoor arenas and vast outdoor environments. As the ultimate techno-gladiator of the future, players will take their fates into their hands, battling against up to 32 other players online in action-packed, frag-filled arenas.

UT2004

UT2004 has more than twice the amount of content as its predecessor, and you can tell the graphics are really sweet. I haven't tried to install the demo on the family computer (BeanBunny) as I don't think it could handle it, right now my box is the only one with enough muscle. System specs:

Operating System: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
Processor: Pentium III or AMD Athlon 1.0 GHz processor or faster (1.5 GHz or faster processor recommended)
Memory: 128 MB RAM minimum (256 MB recommended)
Hard Disk Space: 5.5 GB free
Video: Any Windows-compatible video card (NVIDIA GeForce 2 or ATI Radeon with at least 64 megs of video memory recommended)
Sound: Windows-compatible sound card. NVIDIA nForce(tm) or other motherboards/soundcards containing the Dolby Digital Interactive Content Encoder required for Dolby Digital audio
DirectX: DirectX version 8.1(included)or higher
Multiplayer: Internet (TCP/IP) and LAN (TCP/IP)play supported | 33.6K baud modem or broadband Internet connection recommended

Temple of Elemental Evil

Temple of Elemental Evil

So this is my new addition. Played through once, made some mistakes, trying again with a smaller party.

See, this is as close to authentic Paper-and-Pen (PnP) Dungeons & Dragons experience as you can get in a computer game. It has lots of bugs but they are being worked on; in addition, there are modding communities like Circle of Eight which puts out their own patches and modifications. Here's one review's conclusion:

The ending to Temple of Elemental Evil isn’t set in stone like most RPGs. Actions taken throughout the game, which are influenced by the makeup of the player’s party will determine how the story evolves, and ultimately finishes. The replay value is extremely high, especially when factoring in how different parties can be created and will have different skillsets available, enabling different tasks to be accomplished.

Accessible to the typical PC RPG player as well as the fan of Dungeons & Dragons, Temple of Elemental Evil is a solid game worthy of purchase. Most Dungeons & Dragons fans will have snatched this up, and rightfuly so.

Game Features:

  • Literal computer translation of one of the world’s most beloved Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings, the Realm of Greyhawk. The first and only PC game to utilize the newly released D&D 3.5 Edition Rules.
  • Options for creating up to five characters per party, in a reactive world filled with nonplayable characters (NPCs) that react differently to the unique attributes of the adventuring party
  • Improved, easy-to-use turn-based combat system quickens gameplay and allows players to better manage battles and spell casting
  • Dozens of skills and class abilities, over 50 feats and hundreds of spells from which to chose, including cleric domain spells
  • Multiple quest solutions lead to different paths for different parties
  • Over 50 side quests allow players to explore beyond the main storyline
  • Multiple starting points depending on the party’s alignment, and multiple end games depending on how the game is played
  • More than a 100 different monsters, from goblins and hill giants to elementals and demons

UPDATE: Uninstalled to correct some File Explorer issues, but that turned out to be Homesite. New patch is out, I've been away from the game for some time (about a month or so during the move and all) so I might reinstall it and give it another go... maybe most of the bugs have been ironed out...

Command & Conquer Generals: Zero Hour

Command & Conquer: Generals

Up till TOEE, this had been my central gaming addiction. Played through every version of Command & Conquer out, from the first Gold edition on. Loved the Red Alert series the best until Generals came out. Nice 3D strategy gaming experience.

C&CGen:ZH has gotten some good reviews, and some panning by gamers themselves, but I was overall very pleased with my experience.