Creative Outlet – a blog full of stories and personal musings

20Apr/121

Finding Gaming News in the Whole Wide Web

Finding news is relatively easy - just go to a news website or turn on the telly, if you have such an atrocity. But finding news that actually matter to you can be a bit of a problem, especially if you've never really felt "in touch" with the industry as a whole. This blog will be about finding news about your favourite games from the world wide web.

Here are the sites/tools I use:

Yes, that's it.

How can this be it, you ask?

The trick here is to figure out just what the hell is interesting to me and, maybe, the viewers. Well, I know that I enjoy certain genres, such as FPS, action, strategy, RPG. I also know I only play on PC, so that is my "market" right there. From having played games, I know who the big players are. Names like Bioware, Infinity Ward, Treyarch, Blizzard are pretty much well known studios. If you're still unsure what exactly is going on in the gaming world, check out VG Releases. It's a bit of a bloated site, but it's good for finding out about new games.

Despite the massive amount of money publishers toss at marketing - today's marketing is actually going on on social media (free!). Not a lot of news comes from the publishers, but rather the developers themselves. The trick, however, is trying to figure out who exactly you should put your ear to, to catch early details on new games, patches, expansions - well before the huge media sites even pick up on it!

You can follow these companies on twitter and facebook. But, usually, these accounts are run by community managers, who answer to both the publisher as well as the developer. That means they will, most likely, only release information that's already readily available from a press conference or they will just try to be a part of the community by sharing fanmade stuff. Not exactly the best way to figure something out about an upcoming game.

Here comes the tricky part. It is quite hard to write this out, as it differs from company to company. But sometimes you can get lucky by just searching for the company's name on Twitter and suddenly you might find someone who's description says they work at studio X. Go in, see if he's written something interesting about a game or if it's just about his genitals or private life. If it's a gold mine, add him. Next, check out who he is following. Odds are that he is following other members of his team. Check their job description, game designers will usually talk about balance, gameplay elements and such. Graphic artists about art style, sound engineers about sound and so on. Some of the tweets from these guys could also include names for other people working at the same studio, so keep a watchful eye. After having done this, check your "suggestions" as well, as they look into similarities in the people you follow and find new ones based on that. Eventually, you'll have a huge network of "informants" and you're ready to play a journalist.

When I have the time for it, my usual "picking up of news" consist of this:

Going around with my normal every day whatevers, I have Tweetdeck (gives me a nice overlay with new updates) open. On this, I have my Facebook and Twitter account, where I've followed several people inside the industry (they're often more reliable to spill some information than an official developer page/account). Every now and then, a developer tosses out some information while he is working away on the game he loves. It's human nature to want to share your accomplishments with people, so it should, eventually happen.

Once I feel that I have enough information or see some sort of breaking news, I will research it a bit more. For this, I make use of wikipedia, where, usually, all the well known informations regarding the game is. This will give me a bit of a background story to write, such as a release date, genre (if I didn't already know this). Then write it out and there you have a newspost.

If I don't have the time for this, I check out news site I respect, such as Rock Paper Shotgun.

Filed under: Gaming 1 Comment
8Mar/120

Aquaria Review

There are very few games that have drawn me in so quickly as Aquaria did and looking at it, I can’t say anything to that other than it is beyond charming and an exceptionally beautiful ride in a gorgeous world of emotions, song, loneliness and adventure.

At first glance, this indie title seemed a bit technical backwards and limited but that was a short lived thought, as the music, the story, the atmosphere of the ocean, the sounds, the wild life and everything gets together and just brings you into this magical game that can best be described as a mixture between a platform game and Ecco the Dolphin. It is very unique in it’s execution as well, providing an interesting control setup which I have never seen before, which really enhances the beauty of the game, through the slick - yet simple - animations.

Throughout the game, you explore Naija’s travels through figuring out life’s questions, as to why she is, figuring new sides of herself while exploring the ancient and beautiful ocean, defeating it’s more hostile creatures and solving puzzles.

It’s a very long game, especially if you want to figure out all the secrets of the world of Aquaria. I pretty much tried to go straight through it but was often interrupted by the beautiful, awe-inspiring graphics and a sense of exploration. I wanted to explore more, I wanted to see the end of Naija’s journeys and it did not disappoint one bit.

One of it’s very few weakpoints are, however, the very difficult bosses which are enhanced in difficulty as the save points in the game are very far inbetween, meaning a death could mean a lot of backtracking. But the boss fights are unique, interesting and the sense of constant danger in these waters just adds to the lonely atmosphere of the game.

I give it a hearty recommendation to those who appreciate a great story with an amazing and unique presentation, which will haunt you for a very long time. Aquaria is yet another one of those indie games that should be praised as being intuitive, even despite it’s humble engine, which understands the limitations of the small crew and even shines through it.

Pick this up, even if just to support the development of such games that dares to try.

Filed under: Gaming, Reviews No Comments
1Feb/120

Skyrim Review

I've always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with The Elder Scrolls games. It is one of those series that is infamously known to be completely tedious and dull without mods, mainly because the game has a lot of shortcomings. But that haven't really stopped me from completing Oblivion several times (or rather, just play all the side quests and completely ignore the ghastly main story). Morrowind, however, will always be the unpolished gem of the series for me - up until Skyrim came out.

Skyrim does a lot of things right, but while it improves upon the terrible design choices of Oblivion, it certainly hasn't removed them at all or made them perfect and in that sense, it still feels like an Elder Scrolls game, in the worst kind of way.

Let's just get the huge elephant out of the room and focus on the terrible stuff of Skyrim:

Characters. There isn't one character I care about and it seems that Bethesda is unable to actually create such a thing. They've made several main characters with a decent background, but it falls flat on it's face in execution. I can't quite put my finger on it, but part of it might be because of the voiceover. While they all are quite experienced and even famous, it just sounds like a professional read off a script. Not a whole lot of power or emotion behind the words and I feel, at times, the game wouldn't HURT from being purely text only, if it did so I didn't have to hear the same damn voiceover say the same damn thing over and over again. I grew tired of hearing the same guy do voiceover for another character and I occasionally thought "Oh, not him again." Granted, it is a lot better than it was in Oblivion, but it is still nowhere good enough. I am unsure if the problem is poor dialog writing or the voice over - but unless the NPC is offering you a quest where someone near them died, it seems to be emotionless. The only memorable characters are the dragons and the all too neutral Grey Beards.

Storyline. While a whole lot more interesting than, the storyline still suffers from predictability and pointlessness, much like in Oblivion. No one seems to be too worried about dragons after you have, in fact, shown them that they exist. Your mission? Stop them. Oh well, how do I do that? Oh, there is this big guy - I must find a way to kill him. Done and done. There are no twists, there is nothing to gain, there is nothing to lose from not doing it - it is just fairly straightforward. Now, what they seem to get, are the sidequests - especially the ones for shady corporations such as Thieves Guild and The Dark Brotherhood. They are still as spectacular and interesting as in Oblivion, but more have joined the fray. The more interesting ones, are the ones regarding actual Elder Scrolls lore - where do all these damn ruins come from, where did they go, etc. and we seem to slowly come to a conclusion to this.

Combat. Combat is uninspired and tedious at times. It's exactly as any other TES games, except with a bit more fluid magic system - but no improvements at all have been made, to make it less about guffing down health potions constantly and whacking at an enemy until the health bar is empty. The best way to play, for me, seems to be to absolutely avoid the combat system by using sneak attack and one shot kills with my assassin. Sure, it's the easy, sneaky way out - but combat can become boring and just a bit too much.

So, with that elephant shooed out the door, we can finally talk about everything Skyrim did right:

The world. Bethesda have, once again, created a vibrant, beautiful world. The nature is breathtaking, the waterfalls amazing, the views mesmerizing and the sounds thrilling. The first time you stand on the peak of a mountain with the wind howling around you, you can't help but freeze. The immersion is amazing, everything feels so fluid and spot on - it's not even odd that there is a few dungeons a stones throw from you, where ever you are. That mixed with the AI system Bethesda have honed since Oblivion, you can meet hunters, couriers, adventurers and groups of soldiers hunting, going to places, adventuring and patrolling. You only see them fleetingly, but you can't help but feel that they are there, because they have a purpose. It fills up the world a bit more, other than having to run into baddies around every corner and it really gives you a sense of a dynamic world.

Hm. Now I am sitting here, thinking if the world is really the only great thing about this game and, the more I think about it, yes - yes it is. But it is such a major point of the game, that it is okay. Bethesda have, once again, created a foundation of a game, mods will make even more amazing. While one can be a bit angry or disappointed about the game's shortcomings, the possibility of mods fixing it all is both exciting and a bit shameful. Shameful that Bethesda have to rely on mods to create the ultimate experience but exciting that they allow it, even support it.

I'll give this a game a good recommendation. It's a solid game in it's own merit, but not amazing or something that will provoke a lot of emotions. And, it's apparently a game that all the jocks play, like Modern Warfare, so you won't have to feel like such a nerd for playing it and talking about it over the watercooler.

Filed under: Gaming, Reviews No Comments
10Jun/113

On the Subject of the Gaming Industry

Remember when games were made by people with a passion? Where originality always paid off and there were far between any kind of rehash of another game? Remember the time when genres were still being defined, when such original games like Dungeon Keeper and Doom was on every gamer's tongue? Remembered the thrill of seeing the next step of graphical advancement and how it made the game deeper, smarter, more interesting and a more fun?

I certainly do, but I have been a gamer since I was a young lad with a smile on my face. But then I look at such events as E3, where new technology and games are announced, and all I can think of is this image:

With me so far? Good, that means you are a bit angry at the trend around games now a days, or rather, the last 5 years.

Back in the days, developers would pitch an idea or show off a game, they have made, for a publisher. Based on this, they'd decide whether or not they want to release the game and give the developers some cash. Back then, publishers were happy if they were just in the green after a game launch. The industry was full of smart people with a passion for the games the produce or release. But not anymore -- now it is all about money, revenue and the prospect of reaching an even WIDER AUDIENCE.
Ever since there were PCs, there were also some sort of console. Commodore era = Atari, and later on, Nintendo, as the big players. Amiga era = Nintendo, Sony Playstation, Sega and with the PC era, we see Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. Consoles were ingenious in that they weren't very advanced. There weren't sophisticated programs for them and rarely sported a keyboard as they were mostly made for playing games on. They were also cheaper to manufacture and thus cheaper to buy for the consumers. Games were also cheap and easy to make, back in the '80s, so the market saw a supersaturation - which led to a huge decline of both games and consoles, which ended when the NES was introduced, where developers suddenly had to pay license fees to Nintendo, if they wanted a game released on the system. It made for a much needed screening process, so only some of the best games come out, effectively rebooting the gaming industry.

The problem with consoles, however, was that they often sported outdated hardware compared to the Commodore, Amiga and PC - so many developers saw the possibility to push the technology even further on these platforms. Cross platform games slowly became a reality, but they were mainly ported from the most advanced platform, to the lesser ones, so they often featured either worse graphics, worse sound quality or less levels or features on these platform. Atari, Nintendo and Sega, however, did their best at releasing new consoles as technology became better and more accessible - but they could never really follow the personal computers, which rapidly got better and better; 2D became 3D, sound became more than beeps and gaming milestone after milestone happened mainly on the PC. More and more people became gamers, so revenue rose - but the price of computer hardware was still quite high. Computers were still an expensive thing to buy in the '90s, so when the relatively cheap Nintendo 64 and Playstation came out, boasting the same kind of 3D and sound as seen on the PC for relatively cheap, more gamers could suddenly afford being gamers. They were hindered, however, by the limited joypad and not as great accuracy as seen with the mouse, so it was mostly platform, racing, sports and fighting games that made it big on the console market. Again, the more accessible (read: cheaper) the gaming hardware became, the more people picked up gaming as a pass time.

So why is that bad? It isn't. Yet. With the introduction of the Playstation 2 and the Xbox, more and more games became console exclusive. I am not talking about such games that you'd only see on Nintendo, but rather games or developers that had their roots in the PC world, suddenly abandoned ship for the consoles. And why not do that, consoles were more accessible to people so there is a wider audience, hence more money to make. They were also easier to make, since there aren't a million different console settings and setups, which there is on the PC market. Sony and Microsoft also had a tendency to grease the right people's hands to ensure that games only came out for their console, so it seemed like a no brainer and once the words came out of the amount of money a game on a console could make, people lined up. But, both Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have a licensing fee. That's right, you have to buy a license to be able to develop for the major consoles and even then, it isn't 100% sure your game will be released. It will be screened first and all the companies will have a say in what will be in your game and what won't.

Publishers have also realized that the gaming market had become huge, so huge that it's been compared to the movie business, and they want a part of that money. So they, obviously, have become a lot more active in the gaming community, often buying developer companies, hiring talent and telling them what and how the game should be. Yes, the men with the money now have all the power over games and guess what they want; not originality in games, not to dare and try a new approach - they go for the tried and true. They know what will make money and they want more of the same - just like the movie industry. They don't care too much about reviews, but they care about the revenue. If they make enough money, that game/movie will get a sequel, which is almost exactly the same as the previous one (case in point, Call of Duty among other). Prices for games have consistently gone up, due to the publishers (and licensing costs) and are artificially kept up, even if the game is outdated. This does not happen on the PC, which is usually 20% cheaper than that of console games and will consistently fall the older the game gets.

A side story: Back, when I worked in an electronic store, our sales team had a tendency to put console games on as cheap as possible while still making a slight profit. They were contacted around 5 times directly or indirectly by Sony and Microsoft, trying to force us to put the price up.

Bobby Kotick, the big boss of the biggest, and most hated, publisher company in the world, has a tendency to be a bit too blunt - especially when talking to his investors, often using such words as "exploit", "take the fun out of making games" and "if I could, I would increase the price of games". Happily for us, he isn't the only guy who can make decisions in the company - which is probably the only reason that Activision is still doing their part in getting decent games out there.

Also: The gaming industry sales have tripled since 1996. A counterargument for the price is that gaming development costs have also gone to the air.

Now, you're probably thinking: Why the huge background? Why should I care? Why does all of this matter?

It matters because it should leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth when you hear that games are mostly being used as a cow, being milked till it's early death. There isn't much room in the main gaming/movie/music industry for creative freedom, unless you want to go indie - and that can be a financial nightmare if you're serious about your passion. Games have gone from being a pioneer in technology to a beating a dead horse. It's gone from art to nothing.

This isn't even what I am angry at. In order to hit an even WIDER AUDIENCE, SO HUGE!, they have a tendency to make the game easier or more streamlined, effectively dumbing the games down in fear of alienating the audience or just to make it so they will pick up the games. Ever noticed how it is mostly the big, explosive games that sell the most, while the sophisticated, clever game will get amazing reviews but sell less than a wet noodle? Because gaming is now being catered to this big audience, which has been made dumb by consistently watching reality and TV shows. Ever wondered why good TV shows have been cancelled with the comment that it was "too smart to be on TV"? This is the world we live in now. A world where people don't like to be intellectually stimulated while relaxing, where it is encouraged to just disconnect your mind. As an example, look at the RPG genre. Look how it's slowly desaturated from being about great storytelling and deep gameplay and rulesets to being more about good storytelling and explosive action.

And now for the killer: The technology in games have been stale for the last 4-6 years, mainly because of the consoles. Games are being made for the consoles, so they have to cater to their hardware and it's many restrictions while they were, back in the days, made for the machines that had the superior hardware and then tuned down to be playable on other machines. Effectively, the PC's hardware is about 4 times better than that of the best and fastest console out there now (Playstation 3) and the next generation of consoles won't hit us before at least 2014. Backwards? Hell yes. A PC developer at E3 said that his work computer has 24 cores and 24 gigabyte of memory. To compare, the Playstation 3 has 1 core, 256 megabyte of memory and 256 megabyte of video memory. This specific PC developer is a fucking smart person, in that he is doing his very best at going around all those hardware restrictions on the consoles, but he also stated that their game will never look anything like what it will on the PC on the console.

Why the parallel with the movie industry? Ever noticed how the 3D effect was mostly gimmicky until Avatar came around? A successful man had to show the industry that 3D can be an amazing tool for storytelling and then they all jumped on the bandwagon, quickly killing that poor cow. But that industry is also controlled by the big men at the top, who is only worried about making more money for themselves and their investors.

I am as mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!

Filed under: Gaming 3 Comments
19May/110

Brink!

As seen here

And now we are on the edge of Brink!

It grew on me. It truly did.

14 hours played over the course of a weekend and I have come around and accepted it for what it is. Disregard my 5 hour impressions because this will be the brink of my masterpiece! Or something witty that is a pun on the word brink.. never mind. Brink is a smart game. It gives you the tools to shape just about every encounter. It gives you plenty of variety. It's a smooth game. It's a hell of a lot of fun game with some of the annoyances. Read on and you might buy this game. Or not, who the fuck cares, as long as I am having fun.

Graphics. Let's get the graphics out of the way. It's pretty. It's functional. You can walk around and stare at a map and be in awe. The first time. When you first get into the game, the surrounding just don't matter. They blend together. You never really focus on it. What you do focus on are the models, the guns, the explosions, the animations and they are just right. There is a huge amount of customization in this game, which means that the models never really get boring to look at. The weapons look solid and are done with such care that they'd feed every person with a gun fetish. The finish on them is just exceptional and I really haven't cared that much for a weapon since the M1 Garand in Day of Defeat. The ability to customize your gun certainly does help as well -- you can even change the way your muzzle flash looks, which is purely cosmetic but great looking none the less. You might think that with such an elaborate system as SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain), the models and animations might look a bit off at times. This can be true but most of the time, they look spot on. It is mostly from first person the problem arises, but it is not really something you think about when you're dancing across stuff, mantling at random and getting up where you want to be. It looks pretty much like what you'd expect it to look like, if you're coming from Mirror's Edge. In short, it is pretty and the action works smoothly. Nothing that look out of place and nothing that looks too weird. The art direction is amazing and interesting, if a bit plastic-like at places.

Sound. Sound is very important, yes it is. I am not sure, but I think that ever since Battlefield: Bad Company 2 pretty much made a joke out of every game's sound, they've seemed to try even harder and they have succeeded -- yet not really surpassed the champion of sound. Let's start where it fails. The ambience. For some reason, developers have a tendency to pick the sounds that gets the most annoying after repetitive play and cram them into the map and make sure that they are constantly looped. For example, in an "aquarium" kind of level, there is a message over the speakers constantly saying the same sentence over and over again. A good way to set the mood and to gives us the idea that, well, that speaker isn't really working any more. But fucking hell, I do not want to listen to it all the damn time. Other than that, the sound is pretty damn good. The weapons have the right oomph, running around gives a satisfying sound of wearing equipment and thebattlechatter works great but isn't as varied as one could have hoped. This, on paper, shouldn't be possible since there are around 10 different voice actors (which you can freely choose from) but maybe I have just been relatively unlucky with that. The voice actors are, however, very very good. What they say is full of emotions, screams from pain, the hint of a fear when they see multiple enemies, the works -- and it sounds bloody great. It's professional and well done, that's the conclusion we can reach from that.

Gameplay is where it is at and what a ride it is. It's a constantly changing formula of amazing fun, what with the objective based nature of it. The maps are small, as I have complained about, but they work and once you get to know them, you get to use them to your advantage. An example is constantly be in a firefight close to a corner, so if everything gets hectic, you can slide around the corner to avoid fire while healing up or reloading. That's right. You can slide. You can also mantle, jump up to ledges, hang on to ledges, walljump to get up higher and everything that is so awesome and parkour-like. You do feel like a regular badass when you pull off a move with no hitch and leave an enemy puzzled about your whereabouts. It feels so smooth that you are puzzled that not every FPS game pulls this off and you will automatically look down on games that don't. Sliding doesn't give you an unfair advantage either, since your recoil goes bananas and scoring a kill while sliding is very tough - but sliding into people kicks them off their feet, so.. I'll let you think about that one. There are 24 weapons in Brink, 3 "frames" (small, medium and heavy), a lot of various skills you can buy - such as giving a teammate a speed boost as a medic -, countless ways to customize your player - even change the voice of your character and much more. It is objective-based and there is a lot more focus on teamplay. Essentially, if you want to win, you have to be a part of the team. That doesn't mean you can't rambo kill a ton of people, it just means you will need to have someone to do the objective while you do this. The various objectives requires a specific class to be completed, such as hacking as an operative, reviving a hostage as medic amongst other. Most of the objectives are described as you load the level or through small cinematics before the round starts as well as after a specific objective has been completed. It really pulls you away from the action and after you've watched it 10 times, they get kind of tedious. It's a great presentation when you just start out, but this is a game that is built to grow on you and get better the more you play it. It's also one of those games that just keeps giving you amazing moments. A small story is us, as the attacking team, have finally managed to push to the objective, which is a crane that needs to be repaired. The enemy kept pouring in and we were overrun in the end and they kept pushing us back towards our spawn. I then revived myself (a skill I've obtained, but which I can only do once every 5 minutes) and ran to the engineers littered around the objective and revived them. When they noticed that the objective was being repaired, they came back for us but we managed to keep them away long enough for us to get the objective. It probably doesn't sound that amazing but you just sit on the edge of your seat as you see the objective slowly get built as enemies are pouring in.

I love this game and I will keep on playing it. Come join me, you will not be disappointed.

8.5/10

 

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15May/110

Brink – 5 Hour Impression

Note: This is based on 5 hours of gameplay. I've played a lot more now and will post a proper verdict later on. Crosspost from here.

Brink. I have waited long for Brink. I even got some of my friends hyped on it, even though I wasn't sure they'd like the type of gameplay that we've seen in other games by the same developers, namely Enemy Territory and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars - both very amazing games to me. So, what is it?

It is that jock friend of yours who likes extreme sports, drinking and playing console games socially. He likes to be philosophical at times, which pisses out the crowd he usually hangs out with, such as Mr. Haloplayer, Mr. Callofdutyguy and Gearsofwarjerk. They hate it when he belittles them, especially in front of everyone else by appearing smarter, smoother and a lot more charming. He does try to explain what he means by dumbing everything down to their level but they don't like that one bit. So he really likes it when there is someone who understands him around and gets a lot more rewarding, co-piloting you to get all the chicks, buying all your booze for you and generally giving you memories for life.

But even then, I just can't help but want to play with his little brother who is all play without any of the instructions, all the possibilities and all the choices. I want to be with the jock and have fun, but really my heart desires to go back and play Enemy Territory or Quake Wars. Mainly because they were a whole heap of fun without it being wrapped in shiny plastic, overly descriptive feedback on your HUD and because it just felt a lot smoother.

Having said that, Brink offers a lot of originality, polishing the tried and true formula of Enemy Territory but falls short on it's face by confining it to 16 players on one server and making the maps more corridor based which really limits the ways of using the various classes. But having said that, it is still damn addictive and a hell of a lot of fun.

Brink is a more mature game, designed for the console crowd but only enjoyed by the PC gamers. It really tries it's best to cater to every crowd, but eventually gives up and goes and plays with the PC nerds instead - who accepts him for what he is rather than what they think he should be. A lot can be said by this: console gamers just wants to run and gun - console gamers can't figure out how to do objectives - teamwork is not heard of on a console etc but quite frankly I just think it is a PC game, developed for the console, then ported to the PC.

For those who don't know it, Brink offers an "objective" based gameplay, much like the assault mode in Unreal Tournament 2004 but with classes. The classes are soldier, medic, engineer and operative and the objectives usually require each of the classes special abilities, such as blowing up a wall with the soldier, hacking a computer with the operative or repairing something with the engineer. It features a respawning system with waves, so there is constant action which is focused mostly around choke points. You'll rarely get to walk for long without encountering some sort of action and the game features a sort of mission wheel, which will always point you in the direction you need to go to fulfil your class' goal - which is a clever extension of the minimal system seen in Quake Wars. Any progress since that games makes plenty of sense, except putting it in such small levels, compared to what was used before. It's like putting Battlefield into Call of Duty maps. It might work on paper, but part of the greatness was that there were so many entries into a battle and that you could pretty much go where ever you damn pleased.

So in short, Brink is the next logical step. Everything gameplay rocks the boat and feels so damn smooth and slick. Using SMART (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) can be a bit overwhelming at first but eventually it feels so smooth that you can't help but wonder why other games don't make use of it. It also feels so logical, interesting and you can't help but stand at awe at times because of it. It opens up the levels a bit more on the vertical level, but the general movement is quite sluggish, so you won't be taken off guard if someone suddenly ran up a wall. You'll have plenty of time to aim and shoot before he'll go out of mantling mode.

Art style is great but I am growing quite weary of the "Apple" look on everything futuristic. I honestly doubt that going for shiny plastic is the way for a future look but up to them. Models are great, especially the guns and hell yeah, the guns are fun to use. They also give a good "oomph" when shooting and they actually have a proper recoil outside of the "crosshair" spread we see in games now a days. Occasionally, they don't feel as powerful as they should and the enemies health seems to go down slower than your own and you often get a few "what the hell?" deaths, especially from weapons that aren't supposed to be very powerful but then kills you in a few hits.

The music in the game is exceptional as well. When you die and await respawn or a medic to revive you, you hear this sad music in the background and you can't help but feel bad about being dead. It is such an incredible moodsetter which I have never seen before. It is just like in a movie where all the sound fades out and a quiet, sad sound score starts. It is almost theatrical and is really something you have to feel before really understanding just how well it works. Sound can be a bit wobbly at times, but it works. As I said, weapon sounds are great, enemy and friendly chatter is good and they give you a decent indication of what is going on. It is mostly automated, so if you suddenly hear "Enemies spotted", you'll know it's true. The voice overs for the various characters are superb and suddenly hearing "I've been shot .. medic..?" which slowly fades out just gets you right into the atmosphere again. The presentation is phenomenal, I have to give them that.

Verdict: They took two great games, combined them, removed the fluff, polished the edges and made it look even better. Sadly, they added in too small levels - which just doesn't work too well with this type of gameplay, despite the huge variations in the various levels. But, I am fairly certain all of this will grow on me because the game is very addictive and certainly keeps me going. While writing this, I've gone in and out of 5 games. It's a game that can be played competitively as well, so if you fancy that, you're definitely in for a treat. I'd recommend you buy it, if just to play something else than another Call of Duty clone and to see what can happen when clever minds come together to make a clever game design, unfortunately catered to the wrong crowd. There is still quite a few bugs to squeeze out but I trust Splash Damage to have this done within at least a month. New players still aren't too sure just how important teamwork is in this game, so the defenders tend to win a lot.

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21Jan/110

Games of 2010 – Thoughts and Opinions

2010 is long gone and we look toward a 2011 with even more console ports! I simply can't hide my excitement on this. At least developers have promised to focus a tad more on their PC versions, as the indie scene once again have proven that there are plenty of money to be grabbed from the PC gamers. I really do play too many games.

Fallout: New Vegas

I was not a big fan of Fallout 3 at all but loved Fallout 1, 2 and Tactics to bits. Granted, I completed it after having remade my character a few times, probably adding a good 10 hours to the normal playtime - but it just felt so disconnected, empty and shallow - like every bloody Bethesda game made. Characters were two dimensional and boring, story was dull and uninteresting and the only strong side was the huge area to explore and a few side quests (exactly like Oblivion).

The announcement that Obsidian was going to make a Fallout filled me with hope. Maybe they'd be able to use the dated engine to create an epic adventure, worthy of the predecessors, which several of their developers and designers have worked on.

They barely touched the Fallout 3 system, which still feels like Oblivion with guns (yes, it's been used to death - but it is true) mixed with a bit of Fallout perks. But the world. Somehow they managed to make a Obsidian game inside of a Bethesda game and it just works. Engaging quests, interesting characters and a shit ton of things to do. While the actual story was great, it is really the entire world plus it's plethora of side quests that patches it all together and makes it work and enjoyable.

I couldn't help but feel that they could have done a lot more out of the companions. There are no means of romancing any of them nor is there much to do with them other than a few character quests. They do liven the wastelands up a bit, though.

Positive: Great world. Great quests, Decent characters compared to Fallout 3. Better than Fallout 3. A lot of replay value.

Negative: Combat is still meh. World have a lot of invisible walls. AI is just plain bad. A lot of bugs.

7/10

Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising

Chaos Rising is an expansion to the original Dawn of War II. It builds further on the Blood Ravens campaign to eradicate the universe of everything opposing the emperor (pardon my ignorance on the Warhammer 40.000 universe) and essentially takes everything bad about the first campaign and corrects them, blends them together with Chaos Marines and then adds a few extra flavours. The many many choices you get throughout the missions makes for a desire to play it through again and again.

If you never touched Dawn of War II, it's single-player is essentially a mix between Diablo 2 and a single player RTS. Think of the annoying missions in Red Alert where you don't have a base and all you have is Tanya. Now take out Tanya, add a squad of bad ass space marines as well as loot and a leveling system and you essentially have it. It is relatively addictive, especially since the looting system is random so you can keep playing and fine tune your squad with better and better gear, after each play through. Yes, it has a new game+ feature.

Now, I find that the single-player is actually the games weak point. Multi-player is where it is at and damn, is it good. It is different to other RTS games, essentially because they removed the base building aspect, the crawling part of any RTS game, and put you right into the action. Chaos Rising adds the Chaos Marines as a race in the game and, while I haven't played too much multi-player, they balance out well with the existing races. It is also a bonus that Relic keeps patching and balancing this gem of a game. It is definitely my favourite RTS game released lately.

Positive: Chaos Marines feel balanced. New campaign with same addictive gameplay. A lot of replay value. More units to the other races.

Negative: Still not great support for custom maps/mods. I still don't have a buddy to play it with. Games for Windows Live. Very overlooked so the community is small, yet dedicated.

8/10

Mass Effect 2

Successor to a great game, Mass Effect 2 had a lot of pressure on it's shoulders to be able to compete with it's prequel. I honestly didn't think that Bioware could pull it off, especially when it was announced that they had "dumbed down" the game. But they did. They bloody well did. They took away a lot of the bloat seen in the first game (and between you and me, Bioware just can't seem to get their own game rules done right, so it makes for interesting gameplay - as seen in their own games, such as Dragon Age and Jade Empire), made it into a third person shooter with leveling system, removed the inventory and loot, streamlined weapons and power upgrades and.. well, they dumbed it down, yet somehow it still contains enough character choices to make you want to replay the game several times.

To me, Mass Effect was one amazingly epic story with some sort of game rules sticking to it, trying to make it a game rather than an adventure game. I tolerated it, but didn't like it all that much. Mass Effect 2 swooped in with bearable gameplay and an even more amazing and epic story, then proceeded to make you it's bitch. You were sucked into that game like nobody's business and you loved every second of it. EXCEPT. Yes, there is a bloody down side here, the only means to "research" upgrades is to go out and mine asteroids and planets. This is every bit as tedious as it sounds, though made a bit easier by a patch, and truly is the only thing disconnecting you from the game. Plus, they are trying to steal all your money by COUNTLESS DLC. I mean, if you actually plan DLC for a game, why not just add it to the original game? I know you like money, but there is such a thing as fanservice.

Positive: One of the best sci-fi RPG games ever made. Truly epic story. Great characters. Plenty of replay value.

Negative: Pricy DLC you must have if you want the entire story. Male Shepherd voice-over pales in contrast to the female. Combat could be a lot more interesting.

8/10 - this would be 9 if they had handled DLCs better.

The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom

It's an Ubisoft game and they have a tendency to put on some draconian DRM, which is why this gem of a game didn't fare so well out there. It's a damn shame, but all we can do is buy the game anyway to support the hard working developers and then crack the game. Please do that instead of just pirating it, I will be eternally grateful if this means we'll get more Settlers in the future.

I grew up with The Settlers series, loved them to bits and clocked in many many hours. Anything Settlers is almost an instant hit with me but this is the best Settlers since Settlers 2, which is probably not a surprise to most, if they know the dreadful story of the series. It's a series that went from silly, to series, then stepped a bit back and went silly again - an empire builder at it's roots, it's gone through quite a few generations and I like where it's ended up: back where it started. The game is, once again, about expanding borders, gaining and harvesting resources and getting your logistic chains to work without too much clutter or missing materials. It's execution is simple, yet hard to master - which makes this a game that can be played for hours and hours.

There really isn't much to say about this game, other than that it is Settlers at it's core and it really understands that. The only downside I personally find, is the emphasis on armies. They have provided alternatives to winning, such as resourcing, creating wonders and more, but it pretty much always comes down to the damn armies - which pushes the view away from the real Settlers meta-game and tosses you into a resource glut with no end. Like most RTS games, it is all about swarming and building the most soldiers, which is just plain out boring and not at all the point of a settlers game, in my opinion.

Positive: True to it's Settlers roots with few variations. Long single-player campaign. Emphasis on multi-player which work great. Interesting tutor program built into the game.

Negative: Too much focus on army construction. AI feels like it's cheating and can become too predictable. DRM.

6/10 - No, 6 does not mean it is unplayable. It's a 1 to 10 scale, not a 7-9. It's a memorable and fun game but that's about it. Hopefully we'll get more like it but expanded.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

This game was meant to be: "Modern Warfare 2! With dedicated servers and developers who actually want to nurture their game!" but it just falls short of it's goals. The single-player is what we have come to expect from the Call of Duty franchise: short, epic, good fun, not all that memorable but it is the multi-player they put the focus for Call of Duty now a days. Call of Duty 1, 2 and 4 have been played to death on the PC, but it is with Modern Warfare 2 they really pushed it onto consoles and they just embraced it like they do, the savages. Sales went through the roof, game was consolified and the PC games just had to live with it. It is now one of the biggest games on the couch magnets. Certainly, Black Ops will reap in on the hunger created by a lack of content and attention from the developers, Infinity Ward.

They were right.

Black Ops is a hit, no matter how you see it. It's a good game, no doubt about that - it's multi-player's sense of achievement is essentially the same as seen in Modern Warfare 2, just with different content and - to be fair - a slight "mod" feel to it. Playing the game and having clocked quite a few hours into it, I couldn't help but feel if this game would be better if Infinity Wards had made it; what kind of game it would, how it would play differently, how much better it would be.. I usually pushed the thought away because of the promise Treyarch have made: they'll support the game till it dies.

So far, the PC version is 4-5 patches behind the consoles - the lead designers say that weapons being overpowered should not be confused with being overused and we have yet to see any kind of balance changes, despite there being several apparent ones, according to the game's community. I stopped playing after it became a frustrating mess of people using the same weapons, killstreak spam, servers playing the smallest maps and general frustration. It made me cancel 2 servers I've rented since it is just not that enjoyable with this amount of annoyance.

Positive: Decent single-player campaign that ties in with a previous Call of Duty. More Call of Duty kind of multi-player. A promise to support the game till it's death.

Negative: Multi-player is a mess on the PC. Slow patching progress on PC. PC version feels less important to the developers.

7/10

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

Finally, the long wait was over and Starcraft 2 was released. Blizzard caused a bit of a controversy when they stated that they were essentially doing 3 different games, one for each race instead of 1 game with 3 campaigns in it. People were quick to cry wolf, said it was half a game and Blizzard just wanted more money by selling the same game 3 times with slight variations in the campaign. I say wrong.

Starcraft 2 is by any means a full game. Sporting a hefty single-player campaign as well as the full multi-player experience, this was to be the ultimate RTS game of the 21st century, taking the throne from it's predecessor, Starcraft. To some, this is exactly what happened. To me, I never really could enjoy the multi-player, despite being an avid player of the first Starcraft, though mostly at LANs. The games were essentially the same, except with upgraded graphics, different units and buildings. Blizzard worked hard to make sure that Starcraft 2 felt like Starcraft - and they truly succeeded. But I just can't help but feel that they are stuck 10 years back. They've done absolutely nothing to change the formula of the game - which is probably what most people wanted. I was one of them, but after having played it, I found the game lackluster.

Base building felt slow and tedious. Same build order at the start of every match with little to no variation. The real dynamic of the game first starts when you figure out what tactic the enemy is deploying, and by then, it could already be too late. It's like a game of chess but you can't see the enemy's pieces because of damn fog of war. Suddenly, checkmate. It just never grew on me. It then dawned on me that I've probably outgrown Starcraft and that it no longer was a game for me. Queue custom maps. So far, it is mostly tower defence maps as well as some quite original and interesting maps - but nothing that have really caught my interest for very long. Sadly, Blizzard have implemented a max size, which means that the sky is no longer the limit. You can barely get to the tree tops now.

Having said that, I found the campaign extremely satisfying. It was a welcome reunion when I got back into the seat of the commander and I felt that the original game came out just yesterday. The start of the game was just one big fanservice jerk. Nostalgia oozed out of everything and it was just love at first sight. Game was smooth, direct, interesting and missions rarely got tedious, unless you had to replay it. I, however, can't help but feel bad about all those people who haven't played the first game and have no idea who these people are and why they are so important.

Positive: Nostalgic sequel. Great single-player campaign with a good storyline. Amazing cinematics.

Negative: Custom map support could be better and hopefully will be. No development in the RTS formula whatsoever, which makes the multi-player feel stale. No LAN support.

7/10

Alpha Protocol

A mess of a game that hides a gem of a story, Alpha Protocol tried to do too much while still trying to keep the game simple which simply didn't work. I can't help but wonder how much better this game would have been if it was a PC exclusive but there I go again on the dreamboat. The game is a third person stealth shooter with a perks, levels and feats tossed in casually to give some sense of progression and motivation to the game. It tries to be Splinter Cell and Deus Ex at the same time but can't even figure out how to take the middle ground and make it work. It lacks polish and they put the ambitions too high and falls flat on it's face. It's a rough gem. The only thing saving this game is it's magnificent story, the characters and the character development. It is some of the best writing I've seen in a RPG since, well, Mass Effect 2 and they pulled out the big cannons when it came to cinematic animations and voice-over, which are phenomenal.

The concept of the game is good but the execution is just piss poor. As far as I know, the development team had the issues of too many designers wanting too many features and simply not enough time to get it to work right, which is a bloody shame. It could really have been an exceptional game. Despite all of this, it still has good replay value because your choices affects the story.

Positive: Story. Characters. Character development. Great ideas. Good replay value.

Negative: Poor execution. Bad gameplay. Poor animations in-game.

5/10

Transformers: War for Cybertron

Another third person shooter. People seem to love them, but if they don't really add anything new to the formula, it just tends to get stale and boring. Transformers does its best, but still falls short with it's boring, generic shooting. As a Transformer, you can transform into a vehicle with the associated classic sound effects which makes every kid born in the 80s smile. Sadly, it really doesn't add a whole lot to the game. They've put in several classes, however, which would really shine if you played the game in co-op, but they feel relatively pointless with the AI.

The environments aren't that varied, but still manage to be quite interesting. There is a lot going on and you just feel immersed right away. You know you are on a planet made of metal and yet it feels alive. The sound effects in this game does it's best to pull you right in and shooting just has the right "oomph" to it. The game feels manly in every manly way. Metal, grit, explosions and everything just comes together and makes you feel like a little kid in Transformers - yet you realize that this game is definitely not the made like the show you loved. It's matured with you and has more in common with the movies than the cartoons. And that's okay. You can't help but feel a bit happy that it grew together with you.
I didn't have the chance to play this in co-op or in multi-player, so I can't comment on that, but I can only imagine that co-op would make the gameplay more bearable and fun.
Positive: Great environment and world. Great sound. Co-op and multi-player is most likely a hoot.
Negative: Standard, boring third person shooter with little variation. Suffers from being a console game, both technically and gameplay-wise.
6/10

Singularity

I've always been a fan of alternative timelines as well as time travelling and Singularity does not disappoint in that genre. Despite the fact that the twist towards the end was predictable, yes, yet it was very interesting in execution.

It's yet another one of those "run and gun" FPS games. It feels very much like any other Raven game and, while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is pretty bland. It kind of has a nostalgic feeling over it that isn't bad at all and provides some good hours of mindless fun. But that is all it is, mindless fun with an interesting story going on in the background.

Positive: Good story. Decent "run and gun" gameplay. Mindless fun.

Negative: Not very memorable. Brings nothing new to the table. Mindless fun.

6/10

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days

Ah, the game that makes reviewers happy, sitting behind their desk and smiling, well knowing that they are the reason that game reviews scores are so fucked up, making everyone believe that a score under 7 is unplayable. For some reason, they simply love to hate this game, just because of a controversial decisions from the publishers in regards to the first game. It's like they don't even try to understand this game and appreciate it for what it is. It is like they finally have a scapegoat and they can finally jot down all the rage they have gathered over the years from playing the same old shit, with little intervention or creative spirit.

Yes, I enjoyed this game and I believe it is really misunderstood. What IO have done is quite simply make one of the most immersive games I've played in a long time. They pulled out all the cannons and whistles and put YOU there. The gamer. You are in Shanghai. You are behind a guy who is borderline crazy. When he goes crazy, the background noise just slowly gets higher and higher, making a very eerie effect of claustrophobia, loss and general pointlessness - the effect it creates feels like something out of Silent Hill. You get rain in your shades and it obstructs the light just like it should. This is really a game that tried to make it, like it would be seen in reality. The gritty environments of a prospering China, sweatshops, dirt, fucked up people and crime. It is like an interactive movie, a piece of art, with the unfortunate elements of a third person shooter stuck in there.

Truly, the worst thing about the game is the stereotypical third person shooter. Yes, the same kind of third person shooting that is seen in Gears of War, Uncharted and other "praised" games is in this game. Apparently reviewers seem to think it works in those games, but not this one - despite it being the exact same thing, it works in the same way and is just as boring as it was in those games. So why is this game the one that gets ridiculed for using the exact same recipe? That, I do not get. The gameplay, like in those games, are uninspired. It's the same constantly. Get to cover, watch as a huge amount of enemies get into place behind their cover. Shoot at them when they peek out. Rinse and fucking repeat.

The game is quite short, though, around 4 hours long. I was unable to try out multi-player and co-op, despite sitting in a lobby and waiting for a good 30 minutes. I might have hit a bad time or the game have already been abandoned. I spotted something great, though. They have LAN in this game and this is just the kind of game that would be amazing at a LAN with friends. Bank robbery where you can betray your friends? How is that not a hoot?

Positive: Incredibly immersive. Amazing lightning and effects. Detailed environments. Good animations. Skilled voice-overs and good sound effects. Eerie music. Artsy.

Negative: Very short. Boring, uninspired third person shooting. Anti-climatic ending.

7/10

Special Mention: Deus Ex

I never played Deus Ex. Well, that isn't true, I tried it briefly back when it came out but never got past the training. I knew that it would be a good game, but it just never really clicked for me - same with System Shock 2, so it was shelved. 10 years later, Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War was available for a fiver on Steam and I just had to get it and give it another go. Obviously quite limited by dated technology, the Unreal Engine 1, it still manages to impress in it's multiple ways of completing goals, the story and it's gameplay -- to an extend. Obviously, the AI isn't the best, but it actually beats some newer games. The stealth elements works great, while primitive - The RPG elements make for quite a few different approaches in the game - The gunplay is simple yet does exactly what is required of it. All in all, it comes out as a great cocktail with level design limitations - but it doesn't impress me as much as it would have if I had played it 10 years ago. It took me 18 hours to complete the game and I had fun, but nothing that really awed or felt epic, even though the storyline is interesting, yet quite predictable.

After completing it, however, I felt something I've rarely felt with a game. I was happy about having played it and it felt like I had just made a great friend. I now understand why people say you have to play it if you are even remotely interested in games, despite it's age.

Positive: It's Deus Ex, even the mere mention of it makes people reinstall it. Good story. Good RPG elements. Good replay value. Even though the voice over is amateurish at best, you really start caring about them - JC Denton is just a badass.

Negative: The years haven't been kind to this game, but there are several mods making it more tolerable. Engine and level design limitations. Predictable twists and ending.

7/10

Filed under: Gaming No Comments
4Dec/101

Getting Better at PC First Person Shooters (FPS) Games

Introduction

"I've played games since I was a wee lad and have been playing FPS games in multiplayer since Doom 1. Since then, we've seen a natural evolution in FPS gaming, like, the now normal, mouse and keyboard controls, dedicated servers, matchmaking and more. Sadly, developers have had a tendency to take 3 steps forwards and 10 steps backward but that is another story. I've always felt I was decent at most of them, some times even downright good. I would never use the word great or awesome, because I am quite humble - but yes, I am relatively good at the games I really focused on. Personally, I've focused mostly on: Quake 1, Quake 2, The Specialists, Action Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Unreal Tournament 2004 including many mods, Day of Defeat, Natural Selection, Warsow, Call of Duty 4, Call of Duty 5, Modern Warfare 2 and now Call of Duty: Black Ops. I felt that all of those games contributed to my current "skill", for a lack of a better word. Most of the games rewarded different kind of gameplay, so it basically combined and sanded the corners of my abilities as such that I feel I can apply it to any game and come out quite successful with little adjustment. I've never attempted to go pro. I've had my fair taste of competitive gaming and it is just not my cup of tea. I prefer to have fun except maybe entering a tournament at a local LAN party."

Just being good at aiming, knowing the maps or knowing the best camping spots in the game does not make you a great player. It is a combination of things like:

  • Hardware and gaming peripherals
  • Aiming
  • Reflexes
  • Movement
  • Map knowledge
  • Using sound to your advantage
  • Using your team
  • Coping with losses and learning from them
  • Tweaking the games

That might seem like a lot to take care of, but before you know it, these things will come very natural to you.

Hardware and Gaming Peripherals

If you have ever cursed at any of your peripherals, then it is probably time to look into them. If you have performance issues, it is probably time to upgrade - especially if you want to get great at that specific game. It's as simple as that.

Personally, I make use of a Logitech MX518 mouse. I've simply found it to be the best gaming mouse out there, after having tried laser mice. I tried to go back to optic after a year using a G5 and the difference was just immense. It felt a lot smoother and I was more in control than ever before. I think I might have found why this is - I make use of a cloth mouse pad, which, according to Logitech, had some issues being "detected" by the laser optics. This has been fixed by new firmware.

The only issue I have is the wire, which can be relatively frustrating if it gets stuck somewhere. I just make a curl on it and put something in the middle of that curl, such as a lamp or something similar and heavy.

But spend time figuring out what mouse feels great for you. You might need a heavier, clunkier one like the Microsoft Intellimouse 3.0 or the smaller Logitech G9 - never go on compromise on your mouse as it is probably the most important tool in your FPS career. Most Logitech gaming mice (The G series) have a weight system, so if you find that your mouse is too light, make use of this system.

There is also the subject of DPI settings, i.e. how fast the mouse updates. Most gaming mice have several settings for this, but I make use of the lowest one. This might be because I am used to it, but I just don't find the more updates all that essential, despite what it in theory should do which is, that it should allow you to be more precise, but it often does the exact opposite for me - even when I have found a suitable sensitivity to use in higher DPIs. You be the judge of this.

There really aren't any golden rules to keyboards. I really like the "laptop" keys instead of the big, normal ones so I go for a Logitech UltraX Flat which is very cheap and easily replaceable. I've gone through a lot of these keyboards, so I feel that it is safer to go cheap than expensive. Some like the added displays offered by the Logitech G15 and G17, but I find it completely unnecessary and doesn't really give you an edge against others.

If you are really into getting better, get a great headset - preferably one that simulates 5.1 so you can be able to hear the direction of where the sound comes from. I use Logitech G35, which have great sound capabilities but is a bit pricy. Any gaming headset from companies such as Logitech, SteelSeries and Creative have my heartiest recommendations.

Now, sit comfortably. Do not feel like you are strained anywhere on your body as you play. If you feel strained, rethink your sitting position, the position of your mouse, keyboard, desktop height, chair height and screen. Sit up straight and do not slump down. Slumping down is like a relaxed state and your movements and how you do in the game is affected as such. If you can't get comfortable, no matter what, look up ergonomic tips on the internet and redo your desktop.

Aiming

Arguably one of the most important aspects of most FPS games, aiming is easy to learn, yet hard to master. However, just being able to hold your crosshair over someone doesn't mean you have already succeeded. There is also a bit of a reflex to it, but we'll cover that later on.

Let's start with the basics. You aim by using your mouse. Go into your favourite game and aim around. The aiming movement needs to be smooth and at same speed. If the aiming feels weird, sluggish or accelerated somehow, go into your control panel on Windows and click "Mouse". If you can't find it, click the "View by" and press "Small icons". Under pointer options, untick "Enhance pointer precision". I also recommend setting the sensitivity here to the middle setting. Most games make use of DirectInput, which directly makes use of this sensitivity.

This feature is also known as mouse acceleration and is incredibly hard to play with, as the aiming becomes uncontrollable and unpredictable. Most, if not all, serious gamers will have this disabled. Some games might make use of their own mouse acceleration or have issues with newer operating systems, such as older Half-Life mods. To fix those, I suggest you use Google.

Now you should have most external influences out of the way, so you can finally get down to business. If you have played games for awhile, you might know of a sensitivity that you feel comfortable with or maybe you make use of the default one, set by the game. What we are going to do, is fine tuning this setting so you can both aim comfortably and with ease, but also be able to trace a moving target.

For this, there are several methods. I am going to show you the one I used and can swear by. I've made a simple clip to demonstrate. Don't do this on a live server, I just needed to make use of the inbuilt Black Ops theatre mode.

This is not very well made, because I just wanted to show off the method. What you have to do, is find an edge of a building or something similar and keep moving back and forth while keeping your aim exactly on the edge at varying speed. I made use of Black Ops due to the easiness of getting a video out of it, but it is really better to make use of a faster moving game, such as Quake Live or Enemy Territory. While moving back and forth, you might notice that your aim isn't dead on at all times or sometimes falls behind or ahead. This is a sign that your current sensitivity isn't right for you. Pull down the console (usually found on the tilde (~) button, depending on keyboard layout - it's the button next to the number "1") and type in "sensitivity". There you will see the current value. Mine is currently at 2.3, which is one I've made use of since Day of Defeat and Enemy Territory, where I tried this technique. Odds are, that yours is something less specific, such as 5 or 3. If you felt your aim was too fast, decrease the sensitivity - like 2.9 or 4.9. If it was too slow, increase. Do this until you have found a sensitivity that stays right on the edge, no matter how much you move about. Remember, if you are stuck between two sensitivity values, such as 2.4 and 2.5, you can use two decimals, like 2.45. The wonders of this sensitivity value, is that it should work in most games. Only games I've found where this sensitivity value does not work, are the Unreal Engine games.

You should now have a sensitivity that allows you to stay on target, but where exactly should you aim on the enemy? After hitboxes (a model is usually made up of several invisible hitboxes, defining several areas of the body) have become more defined, it is harder to go for the headshot, unlike in older games where this was the norm and the head hitbox was bigger . If you try it now in newer games, you'd find yourself become infuriated and with a lot of deaths due to hits not getting registered, passing around the neck or something else. I've gotten the habit of just aiming straight ahead, which makes me shoot into the chest/stomach - which often gives me the kill. If you play a game with a recoil of some sort, stray shots to the chest will most likely go towards the head, making this the best place to aim in such games.

Reflexes

Reflexes and visual perception are many things but essentially comes down to one thing: Hand-eye coordination. The time it takes for you to spot an enemy and shoot is directly related to hand-eye coordination. It is something everyone have, but the speed can be increased with practice - thankfully, you can practice this both on the computer and in real life. Someone with great hand-eye coordination will shoot that camper before he even gets to move, get the first shot in on a sniper, dodge grenades and rockets and a lot more. It is the edge that will make sure you survive and win every encounter. If you don't believe me, go check out various videos on youtube from twitch shooters, such as Quake 3, Quake Live, Warsow and more. You will stand at awe at some people's reflexes and hand-eye coordination.

There is no easy way to improve your coordination other than a lot of training. Personally, I've combined small reflex/twitch games as well as a lot of practice to improve my reflexes. I've been looking high and low for a decent flash game, but have been unable to find one and, apparently, there aren't that many new games that offer the proper stimulation. I used Quadnet, which is a relatively old game but is super intense and addictive as hell. Having to both move and shoot in several directions at the same time, while the environment "changes" is just mind boggling at first but once you grasp it, you will keep on improving. There are other games, such as Beat Hazard and BIT.TRIP, that offers reflex based gameplay. While the latter is predictable, just like Guitar Hero, the first one isn't. Another one is Rhythm Zone, which is like Guitar Hero, but makes use of your own tracks. I swear by the first one, though - since it makes use of both your hands, which makes it is harder to get right and the outcome is greater and better. Do not give up but keep on going.

If you want to improve your reflexes outside of the computer, there are several games you can do solo. Toss a  ball on a wall and catch it on the rebound, challenge yourself and throw it at weird angles or clap a few times before catching it again. Another one is to toss it up and catch again. You can also do this idly with a water bottle - something I have done a lot. You can also get involved with sports. Play ping pong, tennis, badminton, football, the works! Just like computer games, these really help out your reflexes, the more you practice. Plus, it never hurts with a bit of exercise and being social.

Movement

I've watched a lot of people play FPS games. What amazes me the most is that there are so many people who thinks that forward, backwards, crouch and jump are the only keys in the game. Needless to say, these guys usually die a lot. If they meet someone and all they do is walk forward while holding down fire, they just make themselves an easy kill. He won't have to trace you across his screen, he just has to keep the crosshair on you and shoot. Enter: Importance of movement.

Always be moving. When you constantly move, you make yourself a harder target. Strafe left, then a bit more left, then right, then left all while shooting. Maybe jump a little bit. Crouch. Not only will you test his aiming capabilities, you will also have the upper hand if he is standing still. Remember to make use of natural cover in the maps to show as little of yourself when possible. Even snipers should be moving. One trick is to make use of the move, stop, pop. If you are moving in a direction and suddenly stopping, your enemy will be caught off guard. If you are playing a game with one shot, one kill weapons, he'll be dead. This is a great trick from Day of Defeat, but mainly because the stop would completely remove any movement recoil. By stopping, I mean pushing the key in the other direction, which makes you stop right on the spot instead of sliding to a standstill.

Trick your enemy. Be as unpredictable as possible. Be on top of him. Sprint in for a melee kill if  he is caught off-guard. Make use of the maps in ways you don't see anyone else do. Flank your enemies' position. There is a lot more to tricking with sounds, grenades, map design and layouts and more - but that is more game specific than I wish to be in this guide.

Adapt and learn. There is a lot more to movement, but, again, it is very dependant on what game you play. If you know you made a mistake, make sure you don't do it again. Watch replays of yourself playing and see what you can improve. Most games is made out of many specific situations, if you find yourself in one, remember what worked or didn't work last time.

Use your enemies strength to your advantage. If your opponent is fast, await him. If he is slow, hunt him down. Fast players aren't great on range, nor great against people with a better situational awareness. If he is slow and checks every corner, be fast and take him down from behind. If they are just that good, then do the same as them but be unpredictable. Again, study your faults and mistakes to see how you can counter them.

Map Knowledge

This is really something that comes with playing the game enough, but there are still some things to notice. Every map ever created have camping spots. Learn them, check them, avoid them. If you want to camp, be "tactical" or whatever you call it, consider hiding in places where no one does. On the occasion, you can even hide in plain sight.

As your knowledge of the maps grow, you'll also figure out where the choke points are. Avoid these as best as possible or cover them. In some games, you can shoot through various surfaces. Learn where and make use of it. Some games have means of showing if you hit someone, so you'll know if you hit through a wall. This is also a great way to counter campers - i.e. by shooting at the place they'd usually sit, through a wall. It's an ammo intensive thing, but can be extremely useful since they'll never see it coming. Plus, it feels amazing getting kills through walls.

Using Sounds

Situational awareness is more than just visual perception. The use of sound have become a huge factor in competitive play. Footsteps, gunfire, jump sounds, pain noises, item pick up sounds, environment effects and more can tell you where exactly an enemy is, especially if you have the necessary hardware and peripherals to make use of directional sounds. A huge amount of time and money in game development, now a days, is  spent on sound systems and sound effects, so make use of it! If you can hear an enemy on the other side of the wall, it's best to just wait for him and be as quiet as possible. If you can hear him about to throw a grenade towards where you are, run for it. If you can hear him reload, go and get him. There are so many situations that can be won, just by using sounds.

But it can also be used to trick your opponent. If you know there is someone close by, you can shoot once, reload, change to another weapon and back to cancel out the reload. They'll think you are easy prey, while you are more ready than ever. There are many such situations, but once again, they are very game dependant.

There are also sounds that can work to your disadvantage, but are relatively automatic. In games with battlechatter, such as Bad Company 2, you'd automatically yell out such things as "friend down", "enemy spotted" and more, which the enemy can hear. This is usually something I use to my advantage, as I flank. If I kill someone and hear another enemy commenting on it automatically, I know there are more nearby. It is an incredibly impressive effect, but can get really frustrating if you are on the receiving end of it.

Be aware of the noise you make yourself. Some games do not let yourself know if you've said something automatically, such as "reloading" - but know that you do. Sometimes very loudly, too. Be aware of your footsteps and either crouch or walk if you want to make a surprise attack. Don't randomly shoot, because you'll give your position away. Don't overdo it by going all assassin and only shoot if you hear an enemy shooting, but just be careful. If you want to be sneaky, then makes as little noise as possible. If you want to be up front, then you don't need to think so much about it.

Remember, many people won't overthink situations, so it is easy to lay traps. Play smart and get awarded.

Using your Team

There are many many ways to use your team, both selfishly and selflessly. First and foremost, help out as best as you can. Be the team instead of just running in and dying. No one learns or wins by doing that.

Having said that, there are many ways to "abuse" your team. Pretty sure there is an enemy in a house/room/building? Wait for a team mate to run in and check the death messages. He might have killed the attacker, he might have died. Either way, you know something new and can use that to your advantage. Also, make notes on where people die and to who. Within a minute, from looking at the death messages, you'd know who to look out for, who is probably camping (by getting multiple kills at a choke point or something else). Some games even show you where they died, so you can pinpoint the location of enemies. If you know the map well, you might even know where they are sitting, thus making them easy kill for you.

Staying together with your team is also a great way to "confuse" the enemy. You give them several targets to shoot at, which gives you a bigger chance to not be targeted first. If all goes well, you might even kill them -- without any casualties on your side. Your team is also part of choke points, of which you can flank or get behind, taking out the enemy with ease.

Coping with Losses and Learning from Them

As I've stated several times through this guide, it is important to learn from your faults and errors. You can make use of replays or killcams to see your mistakes or if you are anything like me, you'd know what you did wrong a few seconds after you've done it. There is no point getting angry at other players, when you know the fault is your own - so lose with dignity instead of getting angry and using verbal threats. Understand what you did wrong and avoid doing it next time. If you start getting angry, blaming the game, blaming the team or anything else, look to yourself and take a few minutes to realize what you did wrong. If you know you didn't do anything wrong, you are some kind of God and should be praised as such. I honestly doubt that there is anyone out there who plays perfectly all the time, any time. There is always room for improvement.

Learn to challenge yourself. If you can get a lot of kills with a certain weapon or by playing a certain way, try something different. A little story of mine: In Day of Defeat, the M1 Garand is one of the best weapons if you learn to counter it's huge recoil. I set down to learn this weapon but found myself with a horribly negative score. After a few months, I finally had the weapon grasped , understood how the recoil works and learnt how to counter it with ease. As the time progressed, I could see my kill-death ratio increasing, until it reached such a height that I felt I couldn't improve any more.

Don't be a hypocrite. Don't call someone a camper, if you camp. Don't EVER call anyone a cheater unless you are 100% sure. I mean, absolutely positive. A few lucky wallshots or headshots is not enough to call anyone a cheater. Instead, understand what happened and avoid it happening again. If your concentration is shut, your patience gone and your anger rising, quit the damn game for now. If you can't, at least unbind the talk buttons and learn some restraints. You won't learn anything if you are a sore loser.

If you are really interested in trying every aspect of getting better, look at competitive game highlights or tournaments. Look at their movements, what they do, how they navigate the maps and learn from it. If you've tried everything you can but still don't feel like you are improving, ask a better player to spectate you and listen to his advice. I know several competitive gaming sites have a kind of "tutor" program, where professionals take time to teach people on how to get better.

Other than that, keeps practising. Keep. On. Going. Take a loss with uplifted spirit about the concept of getting better.

Tweaking your Games

Newer games tend to have a lot of beautiful eye candy and all the whistles blowing but what does that matter, if you can't even keep a steady frames per second rate. Depending on the game, I tend to put most things on low and then gradually up a few settings that will give me an edge, such as shadows or special effects.

There is a lot of controversy and discussion surrounding on what is an acceptable amount of frames per second. Personally, I prefer something around 100. In Black Ops I've set the maximum frames to render to 125. This is something from Quake 3 and is more out of habit, than anything. And yes, you can see the difference from 30 frames per second to 60, to 100.

A place that you shouldn't go on compromise with, is the sound. As stated previously, it is such an important factor in most games and removing that edge is just pointless.

Certain games have the ability to change the field of view (FOV), which basically means you won't get tunnel vision and have a wider (funnily enough) field of view.  Annoyingly enough, console FPS games tend to try to squeeze in the lowest FOV as possible and give us zero option to change it. It is playable, though, but it takes some getting used to. If you don't know what I mean, imagine wearing a pair of swimming goggles constantly. I'd recommend going for anything above 90, depending on how the game calculates the FOV values. Bad Company 2 have a different way of doing it, while Quake Live, amongst others, use degrees (I believe). Anything above 130 is too much.

If you tend to use anything than the default controls, try to map most essential things to the keys close to your moving ones. You should never have to move your hand in order to throw a grenade or change weapon, since it'll leave you exposed.

Make use of the highest resolution possible for your monitor. It basically means you can see a lot more and don't have to go "pixel hunting" in order to shoot anything move in the other end of the map. If you can't run the game properly, even with everything on low, then upgrade your computer. It can't really get any cheaper now a days.

Conclusion

Training, practice, loses, practice, train and train even more. This isn't a super guide on how to get better straight away. Or maybe it is and you just needed to be told how to set your sensitivity up properly, how to counter campers or how to make use of sound. Who knows. Just have patience as you get better and better. Eventually, you'll get there, if willing.

Do feel free to ask me any questions you have, my opinion on something or just praise or mock me. I am open to everything.

Filed under: Gaming, Tips 1 Comment
8Nov/100

Tidal-Gaming – A new Community

The story behind this site is both boring and interesting - but only interesting because of our idea. To create a great community based around games, specifically Call of Duty: Black Ops.

The people behind this community have been die-hard fans of Modern Warfare 2, which, despite it's many short comings, made for an addictive and fun game. Now that the "sequel" is here, they've promised to avoid many of the faults that Infinity Ward made when creating Modern Warfare 2. The most interesting, for us PC gamers, is the promise of dedicated servers. No more do we need to use the ghastly IWNet, yell at the many errors it could spit at us, the lag, the cheaters, the abusers and more. Everything that made us hate Modern Warfare 2 should be gone in this new game - hopefully.

But the concept of dedicated servers brings the idea of a community. Servers in most FPS games get a good following and people start to get to know each other, which makes them want to come back. Especially if they're treated with respect.

Our idea is to create such a community. A serious, friendly, mature - yet with tongue in cheek and well administered community. With the launch of these forums, we've taken the first step towards making this idea a success. Come Black Ops, we will have servers that will help us reach out to similar minded people, people who are tired of immature people looking to troll, cheaters running rampant, horribly configured servers or just generally servers that are not at all administered.

We hope you will feel welcome here and that it will make you stay and maintain a strong community. If you have the slightest hint of an idea to improve this site and our community, do not hesitate to speak up.

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13Jul/100

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Verdict/Review

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

"I HATE SAND!"

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Pros:

  • More Prince of Persia kind of platform gaming.
  • Beautiful levels, design and graphics.
  • Great presentation - slick and smooth.
  • A good stand-alone game outside of the Sands of Time series.
  • Interesting extra elements to the platform puzzles.

Cons:

  • A few bugs made it so you couldn't progress. A reload fixed it.
  • Constant reuse of the same 3 monsters and 3 bosses.
  • Dodgy and annoying camera.
  • Occassionally a jump sends you anywhere but where you wanted to go.
  • Weak story but is in the same spirit as the other Prince of Persia games.
  • Ubisoft DRM

Buy Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Amazon.com)

Buy Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (PC DVD) (Amazon.co.uk)

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