Ben Murden

Games

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Multiplayer

by on Mar.11, 2010, under Games

I kinda played a lot of Battlefield 2, so when I heard Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was coming to the PC this time, of course I was interested in how the Bad Company subtitle would affect the multiplayer aspect. I’ve had a few hours with it now and have already come to appreciate the refocusing of the classes, making each one useful in more than a couple of scenarios. The support and spec ops kits are gone and have had their varying attributes spread across other kits to make them more meaningful. This feels like a sensible change, especially since this game is focused on a lower player count.

Where kit balance has been well thought out, I feel like the progression has lost its way a little. The number of available unlocks is numerous and varied, but includes items that are key to the successful functioning of some kits. For example, one must accrue a number of points as the medic before even being able to heal other members of the team, let alone revive fallen teammates. I can only imagine this direction was taken in order to slowly introduce new players to all the features of each kit, but for those who already have some familiarity with class-based shooters, it just becomes a frustration and leads to those classes being ignored in favor of classes that can shoot dudes better. This might not have been so bad if there had been a way to unlock features across kits without essentially grinding them out, but again, if the key features of kits like the medic or engineer were available from the beginning, this wouldn’t be an issue.

Besides this, I’m just getting used to the little differences in the way things handle: the inability to go prone, tanks not having a driver machine gun, no rockets on APCs, no camera missile on choppers, no ability to change firing mode. Some things have clearly been changed for balance reasons; choppers could absolutely dominate in Battlefield 2, so making them less of a threat was probably a sensible move, even if it does make me a little nostalgic for the old MEC fat-choppers from Battlefield 2. In addition, a lot of the changes are there to streamline the experience for consoles, which is not always a bad thing (look at how Valve streamlined the Team Fortress 2 experience), though I would like a few more options about how I can control the game; not being able to change the toggle aiming and not being able to invert the flying independent of UAV controls has really messed me up more than a few times.

In the end, I think a lot of gripes I may have with the multiplayer exist because I spent so much time with Battlefield 2. The extent of progression and unlocks will keep me coming back for a good long while yet. However, I still can’t help but look forward to what Battlefield 3 will bring to the franchise for the PC crowd.

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Mass Effect 2, Non-Canonical

by on Feb.17, 2010, under Games

This is probably my fault for not having scoured the Internet for the minute slivers of hard information on this subject, but I was originally very excited to hear that I would be able to set the back-story for Shepard in Mass Effect 2 if I did not have a Mass Effect 1 save to import. Despite words to this effect being spoken on the Bombcast by BioWare’s Casey Hudson, it would appear that the game makes several terrible assumptions about the canon of Mass Effect if you do not import a save game.

The reason this is a problem is because I played the original on the PC, but wanted to play Mass Effect 2 on Xbox 360. Ironically, I’d have been in a much better situation if it were the other way around, with all the PC saves that are out there to download as a direct result of this. However, as it is, I’m stuck with a universe that’s hard to care about because characters are talking about things that just didn’t happen. Every time I hear a reference to events that simply never were (as far as I’m concerned), I cringe, as if watching a bad B-movie that can’t remember it’s own plot half-way through the film.

Knowing that this feature once existed in a build of the game further fuels my incredulity at how this was never included in the final package.

Aside from this glaring omission of functionality, the game plays very well and provides much more satisfying combat than the original. I also appreciate how the loot management has been reduced to zero, allowing the player to focus on the story and the experience of the Mass Effect universe.

Now if only my Shepard could be my Shepard.

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Bayonetta

by on Feb.04, 2010, under Games

Don't mess with this witch

Don't mess with this witch

Having now played Bayonetta at least 3 times through, which I can tell you is a rare occurrence for the way I play games these days, that should be a good indication of the quality on offer throughout this game. When I think back to the images I witnessed coming out of E3 last year and then TGS, I was cautiously hopeful that the game would deliver all the craziness I was seeing while maintaining a balanced game that wouldn’t be as punishing as Ninja Gaiden, but with perhaps more fulfilling combat than God of War. On my first wish, Bayonetta delivers in in gloriously lavish spades, with combat feeling like a finely choreographed dance as much as it does convey a sense of otherworldly power. Fortunately, this combat is also deep and rewarding, with mechanics such as Witch Time promoting good timing over perfectly memorized combos.

I can’t say enough about just how good the combat feels in Bayonetta. I found myself actually being excited to get into another brawl with heaven’s minions, rather than feeling like each scrap was just an obstacle on my way to the real destination. Aside from the mechanics such as Witch Time, making the player feel powerful without making the game easy, every battle is coated in so many layers of visual and audio flourish that it’s sometimes hard to believe you’re even controlling what’s happening on your screen.

The game seems to revel in its own fiction and setting and is all the better for it. The music and visual style build on the clash of modern and rococo themes to make something that feels very unique, if completely insane. While the music does feel a little patchy in spots, there are certainly some moments in which I felt the highs of combat were accentuated by the soundtrack. In addition, it complements Bayonetta’s hyper-sexual striptease aesthetic with some upbeat jazz sounds mixed with lusty vocals.

It must be said that while the titular character is sexual and performs striptease dance moves while dispatching foes, it never feels misogynistic and Bayonetta herself is never coy at any point. Her skintight clothes are made from her own hair, which she uses as a conduit to summon demons and perform more powerful attacks. Doing so causes her to strip down as she summons more of hell’s devastation, as if to make some kind of poetic statement about female empowerment.

Like this, only crazier

Like this, only crazier

Bayonetta is the kind of game that’s easy to play again and again, with plenty of extra items and weapons to be found, each providing their own spin on the combat. This combined with the ability to have two sets of weapons the player can switch between on the fly, as well as most weapons being different if used on the hands or feet, there’s plenty of depth here and more than enough reason to keep coming back.

I enjoyed the first Devil May Cry and I’m glad to see Hideki Kamiya making more good games that celebrate and build upon Japanese game design. I appreciate the numerous nods to various classic Sega and Capcom games; it puts a smile on my face every time I hear that rendition of the Space Harrier theme following Bayonetta’s announcement, “Welcome to my Fantasy Zone.”

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Japan, PC Gaming in the Arcade

by on Jan.08, 2010, under Games

I’m back from just over a week in Japan and in between all the cultural sightseeing, I managed to find some time to check out what’s happening in Japanese arcades. As it turns out, the world has turned upside down or come full circle, depending on how you’d like to look at it. I had to try it; Border Break from Sega is an online multiplayer 3rd person shooter featuring giant robots instead of beefy space marines. The matches seem to play a little like the onslaught game type from Unreal Tournament 2004, though with classes and an unlock progression system. The crazy thing is it follows those kinds of shooters so closely the machine has a MOUSE! A MOUSE! Attached to AN ARCADE GAME! The only thing missing is a miniature WASD layout. Instead, movement is handled with a thumb-stick ala any controller since the N64. The thumb stick is mounted on a kind of joystick with no movement of its own, but with a couple of buttons on the front and an awkwardly placed action button by the thumb – though how you’re supposed to press it during any kind of action is beyond me. The analogue nature of the stick overcomes the limitations of WASD quite nicely, while the little mouse allows smooth aiming control that feels very natural to anyone who’s played a few shooters on PC. Because of the simple action based nature of the game, resembling Unreal Tournament, and the familiarity of the controls, I found myself buying a save card for the game and playing a few more matches than I expected I would, even topping the scoreboard.

I’m surprised to see a game with what looks to be a deep unlock path and engrossing team-based multiplayer in an arcade. PC multiplayer games must be even more unpopular in Japan than I thought. Sure I’ve seen a few Japanese players on Battlefiled 2, but for Border Break to survive, there has to be a significant audience out there with no other means to play such a game. Either that or I’m missing the draw of the noisy arcades. It makes me wonder if an arcade developer could revisit some older online first person shooters and modify them a little for the arcade. Though I suppose they would not appeal as much to the Japanese sensibility. Border Break does at least meet that requirement in spades, not only with the giant robots but also the anime looking pilots. I assume this is also to keep the game kid friendly, though all the people queuing up to play it were adults.

I must say I enjoyed my time with Border Break and it makes me think that Japanese gaming isn’t so dissimilar from western after all, but I do wonder if the format would last if the money-based time limit were removed and the game became a retail PC release. There’s certainly a lot more potential for more money to be made with this pay-to-play model, especially with the amount of progression there appears to be. Still, running out of 100 yen coins and suddenly dropping out of a game is more annoying than having to answer the door or the phone, since you can more successfully ignore those.

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Fall of Matchmaking?

by on Dec.20, 2009, under Games

There was a time when I felt that the process of matchmaking would completely supersede server browsers, but recently – and especially since the release of Modern Warfare 2 – I feel that there is still a place for them.

The process of searching for a dedicated server with a good number of players on it might seem antiquated, but with adequate search features it becomes far more robust at finding the kind of game you want. All that’s required is a filter for X number of slots available, giving the ability to ensure space for any friends joining in. Xbox live did have this great feature known as parties, but it seems party chat is a tool of the devil, so even those are far less useful now.

So often I find myself comparing my Modern Warfare 2 experience with that of Battlefield 2. It makes me yearn for a time when I could find a well administered server with a population of players who were not just out for themselves. Even Battlefield 2 had a “Quick Play” button, which was enough to get you into a populated server and start playing. That satisfied the “I don’t care, just let me play now” contingent, but having the fully featured server browser there with a bevy of search options meant I could find the exact map I wanted to play on and see beforehand whether I would be jumping into a game full of hardcore clan members looking to lay waste to my plans of enjoyment.

Matchmaking in Modern Warfare 2 has been honed to a point where it can get you into a game very fast and with little effort on the part of the player, but I often find that if I pick anything other than Mercenary Team Deathmatch, I rarely have a good game. This is because that is the only mode that will ensure you’re not put on a team opposite a bunch of clan members working together, while your team team is made up of players hoping to just hop in and have some fun. It makes me feel like the choices in multiplayer on Modern Warfare 2 are extremely limited, else I am not given a greater guarantee of a game I will have fun with. At the very least with server browsers I could leave and find a different game if the people there were being unsporting/annoying/jerks, but any time you try that in Modern Warfare 2, you’re right back in the same game.

I suppose with the additional limitations imposed on the Xbox 360 version of Modern Warfare 2, I start to feel like there’s too much dictation of what the experience will be on the part of Infinity Ward. Rather than making a game for people to play and have fun in, it has become self-serious as though the hardcore minority – though vocal they are – have been able to influence what that mode should be. Those are definitely not the people you should be listening to if you want to make your game fun for the most people possible.

I don’t think I would feel so bad about matchmaking and multiplayer in Modern Warfare 2 if it were just a lot more flexible. Seeing a kind of regression back to few game types and few rule-sets in multiplayer games is quite saddening.¬† Have your easy playlist style games, but also allow people to make games with custom rules that can be searched using a kind of advanced matchmaking. No one would end up in them who didn’t want to, and you’d be able to have a Mercenaries Domination on the smallest map available; now how much fun would that be?

Bare in mind that besides Battlefield 2, a lot of my multiplayer online gaming time was spent with games like Unreal Tournament 2004, so take that as you will.

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Intro Movies: Batman Edition

by on Dec.06, 2009, under Games

Intro movies in games are fine as long as you can skip them. Though I’m a busy man, and even having to hit the Go button several times wears a little thin over time. However, when faced with unskippable intro movies in any game, I can’t help but let it get to me. Where PC games are concerned, it does at least mean I can search around for something like “Disable intro movies in game X” and that usually does the trick.

I was fortunate enough to buy Batman: Arkham Asylum in the Steam sales, which I’m pretty glad about, because I’ve wanted to play that game for a while now on the back of all the praise it had been receiving, but had been buying so many games that it just happened to be the one-too-many. I’m enjoying it so far and really seeing what all the fuss was about, but as you might have guessed by now, the game features an endless stream of unskippable intro movies! The unfortunate thing here is that no one seems to have written about how to disable them for this particular game. That said, this is an Unreal Engine game, making the process of removing them somewhat standard, but I thought I’d document it here anyway.

  1. Go to your user documents folder. In Windows XP, this is usually Documents and Settings\<User>\My Documents. In Vista/7 this is Users\<User>\Documents.
  2. Open the Eidos\Batman Arkham Asylum\BmGame\Config folder and edit the file BmEngine.ini. If you have the GOTY edition, the publisher is Square Enix, so the folder would be Square Enix\Batman Arkham Asylum GOTY\BmGame\Config. Thanks, Matt Sach, for the updated info!
  3. Look for the following lines:
    [FullScreenMovie]
    SkippableMovies=Attract
    StartupMovies=baa_logo_run_v5_h264
    StartupMovies=UTlogo
    StartupMovies=Legal
    StartupMovies=Install
  4. Add a semicolon (;) to comment out the startup movies:
    [FullScreenMovie]
    SkippableMovies=Attract
    ;StartupMovies=baa_logo_run_v5_h264
    ;StartupMovies=UTlogo
    ;StartupMovies=Legal
    ;StartupMovies=Install
  5. Save and play without intro movies!

The only issue now is that Windows Live may not have signed in before you hit play. Maybe it didn’t save all that much time after all…

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