EA’s Online Pass

The long and the short of it: EA is playing games with content in terms of the “online pass”. For Battlefield 2, it was a few maps and the VIP Pass would get you them. Don’t have a pass? Pay up $12 and you can get the maps. Preorders also came with perks unlocked for high level players. There’s two problems I see with this system. One being that it’s not uncommon to have multiple gamer tags on an XBOX. I know my wife keeps one and I keep one. We got fed up with the permissions being different and this gamertag having something that the other gamer tag didn’t, so my wife doesn’t user her tag anymore. The net result is that MS loses their $50 a year. But, this was only for netflix or whatever, it never was really codified for games. Now there’s stories of people saying that they’re unhappy that two gamertags on the xbox have access to different content. Now as a parent, if my two kids wanted to play xbox and I either had to pony up $12 or save $50/year for a gold gamertag, it only makes sense to drop the one subscription. And, since a lot of the XBOX games don’t play with two people split screen against random strangers on XBox Live, it’s not like the lack of a second gamertag puts a dent in anyones gaming.

However, the vague threat of letting $50 subscriptions keel over a year later doesn’t really impress Microsoft – where I see the push against this coming from are services like NetFlix and GameFly and even the MS Games on Demand service. The games on demand service in particular doesn’t give you anything – even a manual. How are people supposed to get the codes? What happens when the game is $5 and the code is $12? Or for gamefly and netflix, does EA think people are really going to pay money to play online? Probably not. More on the point if I were gamefly, I would probably be suing EA for anticompetitive practises.

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Bad Company 2 Initial Impressions

I play very few genres on the XBOX. I play racing games, I play shooters and I play demos of other genres to remind me why I stick to the genres I do. Before anyone flames me that X is better than Y, understand I liked Operation Flashpoint 2, I liked Modern Warfare 2 and I like Bad Company 2. Out of all three, I like them least-to-most in that order. Flashpoint took the cake for having the most potential and the worst execution. Making me pay for patches is a no-no. Modern Warfare 2 had slick execution and excellent graphics, but the multiplayer was absolutely ruined and they botched the patch. Bad Company 2 seems like the game I wanted to play in the first place.

Usually these choices keep me happy.

Multiplayer is also a huge factor. If the game doesn’t have multiplayer, I’m probably not going to buy it. Reasons are entirely personal but my videogames need a good bit of tread to keep me interested.

Basically it boils down to time. I don’t have a ton of it and if I can’t play a round in 15 minutes or so it’s tough to play. Modern Warfare 2 scratched this itch. The singleplayer was great, the multiplayer was (initially) really good. My gripes about MW2 are numerous and they’ve been retread a ton on the blog. I finally got to the point where I picked it up for 15 minutes and played a few rounds and finally quit again in frustration. Two words: GOLDEN DEAGLE.

EBGames was having one of their power-trade things, so I figured I would dump Left 4 Dead 1 (which I didn’t trade to Amazon) and MW2. I ended up with a used copy of Battlefield Bad Company 2 (with a code in it for the maps, not sure if this is still relevant or not) for $17. Not bad, cheaper than beer, right?

Singleplayer review follows – everyone is reviewing multiplayer but I’m firmly convinced both MW2 and BC2 use singleplayer for training and thus it’s important to finish the campaign on normal just once before going online. In both cases this is true, but I haven’t finished the campaign yet in BC2. Also I’ll throw in Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising comparisons since, to be fair, BC2 has more in common with FP2 than MW2.

Menus – Strange to start a review here? Not really. While MW2 menus had a tendency to take up the entire screen and be well laid out (minus the weird main menu where you “drilled down” into an entirely different set of menus for multi or spec ops) both FP2 and BC2 borrow the “yellow bar” menu system. Don’t worry, it’s entirely usable, but seems a bit strange. In the game, FP2 uses Ghost Recon pie menus, but MW2 and BC2 share the same “bottom bar” menus for gadgets and options and whatnot. Also object interaction in MW2 and FP2 is nonexistent, but in BC2 it’s much closer to Left 4 Dead. If you can interact with something, you are either presented with what button to press (like MW2) or you can use the generic “mark” button (“back” on the controller) to call enemies, vehicles, etc. It’s all done quite nicely. The whole “press this button” or “mark” meme continues through the menus and the game and it flows quite nicely.

Enemy AI – FP2 failed it big time here. The game was entirely scripted, and this is OK, but it was done badly and in a way where if the player didn’t follow “the route”, the events wouldn’t be properly triggered. To make matters funnier, one of the singleplayer maps was terribly broken as a result. MW2 also features AI which is largely scripted. The bad guys always appear at the same places, with the same weapons, and take cover where they need to be. They would rarely break from cover. Even grenades are scripted in the MW2 single player campaign where someone will toss one at a predefined point. The level design is so linear in MW2 that it’s a rail shooter, but it’s so well executed you won’t notice. The AI in BC2 is good. While enemies still have patrol routes, they do make some attempt at maneuvering and they’re reasonably aware of the destruction to the environment. Good examples of this – in the second level if you blow out the wall to a building in the courtyard, enemies shooting from the windows will run away and find a new window. Examples of this being lackluster – if you sufficiently skirt the “engagement area” you can sneak around some obstacles without firing a shot. I’m fairly sure this is intentional as the areas this option presents itself with are usually so filled with bad guys it’s ridiculous. Examples are the lumber yard and the last area of the second map where you can ride a quad to the objective and leave the area onto the “escape truck” without engaging the bad guys.

Maps – Maps are well thought out for what BC2 will do. They understand you’re here to have fun, so they give you plenty of buildings to blow up and propane cans to kick around. They don’t make it overt where you’re destroying everything in your path (minus missions with airstrikes), and some of the missions require you to explicitly not do this. The overwatch area with the sniper rifle makes it incredibly tempting to simply run in and tap off all the gas cans to level the camp, but I failed the mission doing this. On the other hand, the mission with airstrikes is hilarious since the whole place comes down. MW2 is a rail shooter, and while BC2 suffers from the same bit of scripted bad guys, the AI is strong enough to let you get off course and try new stuff. In MW2, if you were smart enough to get in “the wrong place”, you could pretty much dominate the campaign. The terminal map comes to mind here (the end of “no russian”), where the shield guys are a real PITA, but if you were smart enough to run forward before the spawn event, you could literally walk down the line and knife them all without being hit. FP2 failed it utterly, thankfully it merely serves as example of what not to do. While FP2 had trigger areas and weak AI that relied entirely on scripting, BC2 has none of that.

Vehicles – MW2 fails it utterly. The entire game is a rail shooter so it’s no surprise when you step into a vehicle and its a rail shooter. FP2 had terrible vehicle physics, on par with Battlefield Vietnam. It wasn’t uncommon for vehicles to get stuck and to get stuck under vehicles. Actually running someone over might work, but usually not. Stepping out of vehicles was hilarious because you could fall through the planet. It was crap, all around. BC2 does it right. The vehicles might be over simplified but they work correctly. They don’t get stuck. The game is really good at dismounting you properly, including when you do intentionally stupid stuff like drive a boat at high-speed up the side of a hill to get a better shooting position for the cannon (lumberyard). Also FP2 wouldn’t let mounted soldiers fire, which was stupid as all heck but with the AI being as bad as it was, this didn’t surprise me. BC2 lets mounted soldiers fire. BC2 has vehicle damage, so when you blow out the windshield of a vehicle you can kill the driver, or you can shoot people off the quad bikes.

Blowing Crap Up – FP2 you assumed would let you drive over trees and stuff, it never happened. MW2 had scripted events where things would explode, and it had a strange bullet penetration system where sometimes you could shoot through a wall and sometimes not, even with FMJ equipped. BC2 has its own quirks where sometimes sandbags are indestructible, and sometimes not. However, vehicles seem to take the “correct” amount of damage, and so do walls and whatnot. More importantly you really can bring down trees, which provide additional cover if you’re infantry or obscure vehicles shooting and view. The trees thing is nice, and it never seems to get in the way. On the other hand blowing the crap out of buildings means – as infantry – you better surprise them or you’reĀ  toast after the first few rounds.

Sound – Normally I don’t care about how my games sound so long as there’s music to establish the atmosphere, etc. FP2 sucked for this – everything was loud. MW2 had a good soundtrack and excellent voice acting. Bad Company 2 actually sounds real. I’m putting that in italics because the effect is so profound it’s visceral. I shoot in real life, I’ve played with rockets, I’ve blown up things where “danger close” would have been an ironic joke. Normally guns make generic “gunshot noises” and clips make “reloading noises” and explosions go “boom”. If you choose the proper speaker setup, the sound makes the firefights in Bad Company 2 absolutely intense. The guns make the right noises. Plastic clips (called “bullet tupperware”) make the right noises. Metal clips make the right noises. Linked belts make the right noises. More on the point you can hear the brass hit the floor and roll around (or grenades) or not, and standing outside lets you hear far more than standing inside. Also there’s a deafness model at work – if you empty a clip you won’t hear much of anything. If an explosion goes off near you, you won’t even hear teammates yelling. The aural model is really, really exceptionally well done.

I expect multiplayer to be more of the same. All in all I shouldn’t have bought FP2, it was a disaster. I don’t regret buying MW2, it was fun for what it was but in the end the users ruined it and Infinity Ward couldn’t keep up with Activision messing with them constantly. Battlefield Bad Company 2 is the game I should have bought in the first place, but frankly getting all three games for $20 each time because of trade ins means I don’t feel bad about the experience.

I’m Fed Up With Modern Warfare 2

The no-dedicated-server thing has let the cheaters run wild. Post patch, you can still do the care package glitch which now requires One Man Army and flashbangs. Otherwise it works as normal. While it slows down the pace of the care packages, it doesn’t really affect the game too much when someone’s doing it because you can’t call in two harriers at once. They’ve got all the time in the world to mess with it.

The other problem is the current “ice skating” craze. You’ll join a game where you can run 100 mph, take no falling damage, and the autoaim area is turned way up so firing a gun always results in a kill. It’s cute the first time it happens. Last night I had to fight to find a game where it didn’t happen.

Finally the killer is that IW’s forums said if the host migration fails, it’s because it was either migrating to a host which was modded or from a host which was modded. Since there’s no indication of who was the host, there’s no way to report them unless the modding is blatent.

Which is the other, final straw. I was on a game yesterday with an invisible teammate. It was hilarious he was on our team, but he got 122 knife kills. Its shit like this which makes the game not much fun. When the matches are honest, they’re great. When the matches are very subtly dishonest, it’s hard to detect. All in all now that I’ve got level 70 and unlocked most of the gun toys on most of the guns, I’ve got enough experience to know when someone has, for example, jacked up the accuracy and damage on the vector.

IW’s magement just got fired and the next patch which was supposed to include a mappack is apparently “on hold” as a result. More like they’re realizing just how entirely fucked they are.

Is Battlefield Bad Company 2 any good? It’s gotten decent reviews, and the last battlefield game I enjoyed was Battlefield Vietnam. I played Operation Flashpoint 2 – BFBC2 looks like its the same game spiritually. The demo on LIVE is a bit of a wash because nothing is explained and people tend to take a vehicle and run off with it – however this has always been a problem with all the Battlefield games.

Anyone trading in MW2 for Bad Company 2?

Mille Bornes

I love Mille Bornes. I was tickled pink when there was a port of it in the BSD-console games package.

Problem is there’s a bug where you sometimes need a go card and sometimes do not need a go card. When don’t you need a go card? When you get hit with a hazard like out of gas, and immediately play the remedy (gas), the game will let you play a distance card like nothing happened.

Normally this would be a funny oversight, but the computer abuses it too.

You know your game is well written when the computer abuses the bugs too.

XBOX 360 – Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Review

HALF out of FIVE stars. Where 5 is good and 1 is “managed to get all the textures right”.

Actually this game would deserve a 2.5 star rating except that the developers have conducted themselves in a completely reprehesible way.

What we were promised: Accurate damage models, simulations of vehicles, simulations of weapons, killer AI and realistic warfare.

What we got: A steaming turd. To aggrevate things, developers wanted to charge for the patch.

The game works well enough as a game until you get good at it and can start pushing it’s boundaries. By that I mean you get good enough at maneuvering that you’re not in fear of doing the wrong thing while orders are coming in over the radio, which often tell you to do something completely different. Case in point, there’s a mission which asks you to storm a beach. Mid storming, you’re told to sweep up the side and eliminate anti-tank teams.

Now this would be all fine and dandy, but one of the games problems is missing sound queues. There’s times where, unless you have captioning turned on, you don’t get the audio for the radio calls and you wouldn’t know you were being given instructions. To add insult to injury, if you storm the antitank crew (or the mortar crew later in the mission) because you discover them before you’re supposed to, the AI isn’t initalized and the opfor will blindly stand around until you kill them all. Kill them you will, they won’t even react when you’re knifing the guy next to them. To really make this aggrevating, the game also scripts Things That Kill You. Getting into a vehicle on a map where there’s an enemy chopper results in instant death – even if you already shot down the chopper.

This really comes to a head later when, during the night raid mission, you’re told you must not be discovered and hold out until the marines execute their distraction. Given the amount of freedom you have in maneuvering and the fact if you go low and slow like you do in Ghost Recon you can avoid discovery indefinitely, I waited a half hour for the marines to distract. Only later did I manage to sneak down to the base and found out the walls of all the buildings were simply props – the player was never intended to enter the base and the walls of the builds would let you (and bullets) pass straight through. Sloppy coding, and more on the point I had to go online and pirate the strategy guide to find out you’re supposed to be discovered. Were I playing it on the hardest difficulty which only shows you your final waypoint, I could have easilly infiltrated the base without being discovered and really been bewildered. As it stood on normal difficulty, one of the waypoints did take you through an enemy bunker which I had opted to simply skirt.

The manual is crap. There’s not a whole lot to say about it except it has a picture of the controller in vehicle context, infantry context, and airborn context in three languages. It doesn’t tell you anything about the weapons. I’m a gun nut and I hadn’t even heard of most of the weapons since you’re playing as SAS or another foreign military for some of the missions. Pirate the game guide since it’s clear they intended you would buy the guide and read that in leiu of the manual. That being said, the vehicle controls are for naught. Unless you’re on a paved road, vehicles which should reasonably be able to drive off road (tanks) get stuck on rocks, bushes, low walls, stumps and other crap. Hitting someone with a car at 60mph is an excersize in hit detection – sometimes you kill them and sometimes they pass clean through. It’s not uncommon to have jeeps, APCs, hummers and similar with their noses pointed at the sky over a rock.

I haven’t said a whole lot about the pros, and frankly I’m hard pressed to come up with any. Sniping works realistically, and all weapons have bullet drop. The zeros aren’t published but I’m thinking they used 100 yards since shooting MPBR causes hits too low. Guns jam realistically, if you’re reloading when you’re laying down or have dirt being kicked up – it’ll jam. The AI does a decent job of keeping itself alive even if it doesn’t always follow your orders. And, it’s awe inspiring to call down artillery strikes on towns. The problem with all this is multiplayer. With only 8 players maximum in an area 230sqkm, they opted to chop the theater of operation down. This is OK, but it’s still too large. What it turns into is “Who can get to the chopper” (and use missiles unopposed since the AA vechicle gets stuck on everything) or “who is a sniper”. One of the outstanding bugs is that the cover draw distance is calculated from you. Zoom in on a player on a hill opposite you and he might see himself in a bush, but there’s no bush drawn making for an easy shot. It’s even easier with guided missiles from the aircraft since they have no cover and you don’t have to aim.

Then there’s also the incredibly frustrating problem that using the medic kit causes the medic to get stuck or fall through the map. There’s several places where this happens when you spawn, but it’s really frustrating when you’re the medic and performing your job causes you to die. Enough said.

So when’s the patch come out? Well, the game only ships with three maps for deathmatch, and the only game modes are single deathmatch (each player gets a squad) and single DM (8 players individually). These numbers are both abysmally small. You can get unlock codes for four more maps, brining the total up to 7. Unlike Gears or Ghost Recon where game modes make up for lack of maps, there’s only two, essencially identical game modes. Code Masters opted to release a network patch so you don’t get dropped from games all the time (sometimes that costs you all your points and achievements), but they said the rest of the fixes would come out with the mappack.

You have to pay money for the mappack, thus you have to pay money for the patch.

I don’t really know what codemasters was thinking – anyone who buys the game used won’t get the maps, and there’s plenty of people who are going to be buying this turd used. Maybe they get a kickback from gamestop. I’m trading it in while I can still get $25 for it and buying Modern Warfare 2. Maybe when Battlefield Bad Company 2 comes out (what is with these terrible titles?) we’ll have a half decent total war game.

Left for Dead Patch Review

New Left for Dead patch is out. My thoughts:

Adding damage to the “help me up” state of the survivor when they’re hanging onto a ledge is a good thing since 90% of the time when someone was there they took no damage as no-one could reach them on either team. The survivors could basically ignore a player there until whatever they were doing was done then come get them with no health penalty to them. Now the person loses health and gradually lets go.

Adding a limit to the “swing” really sucks. Part of the terror of the game was knowing you simply didn’t have time for a reload. The shotgun is now absolutely useless since it’s reloaded one-at-a-time. It used to be you would reload the shotgun while swinging wildly, now that you can’t swing nonstop the shotgun is simply a trap. You either have a clip or you don’t. The game is now a lot less frantic because common infected can put serious hurt on a swinging player, so everyone moves slooooowly to cover each other. While this is more realistic, that wasn’t ever the point of a zombie game. I realize people abused this in the past in versus where they would bunch up and just keep swinging, but I don’t think this is the solution. Last nights romp through Death Toll took two hours because of the change of pace.

The “fix” for that is they made the guns more powerful. Shotgun still goes through infinite zombies when you fire it, but now bullets penetrate all surfaces except cars. We found this out the hard way on the lighthouse map where we stockpiled the bathroom full of explosives and the first zombie that ran by we sprayed through them, through the wall, and into the bathroom, which resulted in the death of the team. This works to great (some might argue too much) effect against the infected. For example I knew a boomer was on top of a building, so I simply walked in and emptied the clip into the ceiling until I got him. I suppose this is to fix the “smoker tongue around a corner” that people complained endlessly about where you could tongue a running survivor and if you timed it right you would just barely be hidden by a wall, but I liked the old setup better where bullets stopped more.

However, all these encourage the survivors to consume stupid amounts of ammo, which means they spend a lot more time using pistols.

Special Infected can no longer crouch and attack, except the hunter, which makes the claw-swipe useless as your head is always above the common infected crowd.

The new map is merely decent. The lighthouse is claustrophobic and there’s really no good place to hole up because every single wall is destructible in the place. You can be on top of the house, but then the first smoker that comes along after the rails are destroyed makes a survivor hang on. The tank will also climb up the lighthouse. The rock face also sucks because your survivor won’t hang on, you just drop into the surf for an instant death.

I only got to play Death Toll last night, but I’ve got mixed feelings about that too. For one, it was designed for single player which means that unless you’re floating, it’s really hard to get into the ambush spots. Since you’re not floating, some of them are simply inaccessible like the drop down in the tunnel. Other areas have been “cleaned up” so there’s less obstacles. I’m not sure if this is for the tank or because the boomer would always get hung up in them for great comedic effect. Other areas are closed off entirely, they used to be nooks and crannies for survivors to check for healthpacks but now the closets have a lot less space in them (look for new doors) and some of them don’t exist at all (the rest stop in the forest is now boarded on both sides). Almost all buildings have at least one hole in the roof.

They did fix what remaining map cheats there were, but it remains really hard to find a place to spawn on any forested map, especially when the survivors are playing to intentionally fan out through choke points so the infected get “you’re too close to the survivors” or “Can’t spawn were you’ll be seen” messages. For Death Toll in particular the map is so linear that a little effort goes a long way into preventing infected spawns.

Hopefully Dead Air is a bit more forgiving but last night was not encouraging.

Limbo of the Copyright and Adventures in Fair Use

Slashdots coverage of the Limbo of the Lost controversy has yielded some really interesting linkfodder. Steve Bovis is apparently a real world class idiot and has taken up the banner in his own name. His lawyer (solicitor) has advised him to keep quiet but it’s pretty obvious he’s proud of his own invention and thinks videogames are big money. He also claims he was developing the game (Limbo of the Lost) for two other consoles before they were “killed off”. Nevermind the fact that a development license on a console is exactly that – you need to actually buy a license to develop and you need to buy the hardware to develop on which is big money to discourage us non-big-game-company folk to not buy a console which doesn’t check the copyprotection on discs.

Apparently Steve also has had his account suspended on Wintermute, which tells us a lot about how he intended the game to look. Wintermute is a free-to-all engine which retains copyright control over it’s code. This means the engine itself is suspect in terms of fair use, let alone all the produced artistic materials. So far no-one on their forums has weighed in on the topic aside of banning his account outright.

But it gets better – with Wintermute being used with questionable legality and redistribution rights, Steve decides to go over to Games Radar and talk a pile of trash. His arguments are fairly braindead and illustrate why I don’t believe that physical property law is any type of analogy to intellectual property law. It’s clear that Steve and company ripped off these games wholesale and violated the intellectual property law protecting them, but his views everything in terms of property law. His examples include the ideas that screenshots are not derived works and they are the same as photographs. He also says that copying Big Ben wholesale would be clear infringement but a photograph of Big Ben is not. (The actual legal status of both examples is that this is OK for educational or personal use but commercial resale is strictly prohibited). While I hate EULAs attached to software, this is clearly why they come in handy.