The Case For Mann Versus Mann

The Case For Mann Vs. Mann

Why Mann Versus Machine delivers, but is only a distraction

Team Fortress 2 is, by a half-decade after launch, a resilient and very popular multiplayer shooter that has shocked conventional wisdom by refreshing itself again and again. The newest update was larger than most before it, but instead of offering a new way for players strategize against each other, it offers an entirely new gamemode that pits players against bots.

As a seasoned TF2 player (I have clocked 749 hours according to Steam at the time of writing), the update didn’t provide an alternate gameplay mode that I’ll feel like coming back to again and again. I've played all the maps, even enjoyed them well enough, and I was beaten handily in the “Iron Will” mode despite my best efforts. I’ve tried all the classes, I’ve seen all the content there is to see (until the community whips something crazy up. Here’s hoping).

MvM was hailed as a new dawn for TF2, a mode that would bring new players to the game and old players back for many more hours. In a sense, it has definitely attracted players, but mainly by sheer weight of hype. The new mode isn’t bad in any way, and it isn’t seriously broken (at least as of now-- opening day/week was another story). The update delivered on every promise.

But for me, it lacks what keeps me coming back to TF2. While there could hypothetically be more teamwork in MvM, in my experience there is much less than in actual competitive CP/Payload/etc. because instead of facing off against a dynamic, equally matched team of human rivals, you only have to strategize against predictable, limited, path-following robots. It’s not like this is any surprise, of course, but when most people hear that there are both co-op and competitive modes in a multiplayer game, they assume the co-op mode has more cooperating. Not so.

MvM certainly doesn’t break the Mann versus Mann scene, however. Normal-ass TF2 is, in my opinion, better than ever. Breaking into the game now is still viable and fun. MvM doesn’t add a new dimension to the game, but the old dimension is still my favorite multiplayer game of all time.


Indie Studios & Content-Generating Algorithims

Games today rely on a lot more than the quality of the design ideas alone. There are many smart, enthusiastic and savvy indie game developers out there that have ideas worth making into games, but in many cases the games that end up being made have a hard time competing with those from big studios that are built on more established game design structures. The thing setting the two archetypes of games apart, besides sales numbers, is simply the manhours and high-priced design tools that large studios can afford while smaller ones cannot.

Most of the time, it seems that indie developers simply have to cut down on development time/cost in the simplest way they can: making less content. Fewer assets, fewer gameplay mechanics, less animation, and a generally shorter game are a result of developers with small teams making the tough choices that give their game better odds of actually getting to release intact.

A couple of the indie games that have made it big over the past few years have bucked this trend somewhat, and with teams that were (when the games first started getting popular) as small as technically possible (i.e. solo developers), but somehow ending up with more content in the game than any one person could ever rationally consume. Could this signal a new front in indie game development (or even in triple-A development)? I can’t say.

If you haven’t guessed by this point, the games I’m referring to are mainly Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress, though I’m sure many other indie games that fit this mold are in development currently.

Is it easier for an indie developer to design a game around randomly-generated content rather than building it entirely by hand? Probably not. To begin with, it’s not like Minecraft (for example) doesn’t require a lot of handcrafting. For now, “random” content-generation in games is decidedly limited. Textures aren’t randomly generated, 3D models aren’t randomly generated, AI isn’t randomly generated (though some AI systems in games are majorly impressive in that they can adapt and act organically, they are still very handbuilt), gameplay mechanics aren’t randomly generated, and so on.

Not to mention, the actual work of making code that can build a game world dynamically/randomly is difficult and non-intuitive. It’s time consuming to give a level designer whatever software program they use and say, “make me a world”, but at least you can be assured that they know how to do it and given enough time and money can make a big, interesting game world. World generation, on the other hand, is still mainly uncharted territory, and games like Minecraft use algorithms (which are better than any I’ve ever made) that aren’t remotely as capable as human level designers.

Perhaps the irony in hoping that random asset generation could be the saviour of small-team development (I’m not trying to insinuate that the indie development scene needs a saviour, either) is that the work required to make a game that is truly built from algorithms alone would in fact require a large team of programmers.

Really though, all this is just what I’ve gathered and come to conclusions about. Am I missing something? Do any indie developers (or just enthusiasts like me) want to weigh in on the whether random world/asset generation can ever or will ever replace human design?


My Games of 2011

It’s not an uncommon occurrence this time of year for gaming blogs and publications such as this to be putting out a “Top x Games of the Year” list for discussion purposes, as well as to put some sort of finality in regards the the year’s games.
Leisure Manifesto is, above all else, another one of those blogs. However, I’ll try to refrain from using a numbered ranking system. All of the following games I played this calender year and I think deserve to be recognized and played.

In no particular order:

Portal 2: It’s well established that Portal 2 is one of the best games of the year with it’s creative gameplay, clever story, and fantastic characters. What makes Portal 2 stand above other sequels to successful games is that it somehow managed to add many new elements to the game and yet stay relatively simple to understand and compelling to continue.
I’ll admit, when I first started reading the various reveals of different things that would be included in the game, I began to wonder if I would like it at all. Valve seemed intent on adding a mind-boggling amount of new puzzle elements, which I could only assume would make the game only that much more difficult.
Somehow, I was wrong. Valve managed to balance all the new interesting ways to solve puzzles and keep roughly the same difficulty level as the first game, and also improving the story with old and new characters. This is one of the few games I can honestly say I have no qualms with.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution: While a new “proper” Deus Ex game is an easy buy for fans of the series, I was not previously one of those fans. I pretty much entirely missed the Deus Ex boat, and when I attempted to play it years after the fact it was simply too confusing and old-fashioned to hold my interest throughout.
But the new entry modernized the series while still keeping a good bit of the same charm. The story was decent enough (to be fair, the story itself wasn’t nearly as interesting as the world in which the story took place) to hold my interest, and the gameplay ranged from entertaining to awesome to frustrating (boss fights).
This game is not without its flaws, as the gunplay can be difficult to a generation of gamers used to FPS mechanics of the modern era and stealth is still stealth (love it or hate it, I mean). Luckily, the art direction and pace of the game outweighs the jarring (but not bad!) gameplay, making this game a definite buy for anyone who likes a good action game that will satisfy their need for well-made entertainment.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: As a huge Oblivion fan, I was promised a better playing, better looking, and all-around better Oblivion in the newest iteration of the venerable Elder Scrolls franchise, and I’m very happy to say those claims were met with truth.
If you’ve played a Bethesda RPG before, you’ll probably know what you’re in for with this game: huge open world, tons of stuff to do, customizable character, loss of social life, et cetera. While only released in November, I may have already put more time into this game than any other singleplayer game this year. Actually, I just reinstalled my OS on my gaming PC and forgot to backup my save, so it looks like I’ll be doing it all over again. Which is OK, because I’ve had new character in mind for a while anyhow.
Anyway, this is without a doubt the best Bethesda RPG released yet, so if that’s your poison Skyrim does not disappoint.

Team Fortress 2: Hats, hats hats hats hats hats. Hats hats!

Dungeon Defenders: Probably my best use of $15 this year was to purchase this game. Seriously, it looks like a deceptively simple action RPG, but really it’s a deep action RPG/tower defense/co-op funbox. What makes this game stand out above other downloadable action RPG’s is the amount of post-release support and DLC released (and much of it free). There’s also a development kit out there, so you can probably expect new levels, mods, and gametypes from the community (I think. I haven’t fired it up for myself, so I just imagine that’s what it is to be used for).
There’s also a big amount of loot-lust driven late-game grinding if you’re into that, and several PvP gametypes are out in the wild (8v8 capture the flag, anyone?) that I admittedly haven’t even tried as I haven’t had the time to max out any of my ‘toons or complete the numerous challenges.

EVE Online: This game deserves a mention because I spent a lot of time with it this year and will continue to at least until February (I’m pretty sure I’m paid up until then). This game has enthused me, challenged me, and occasionally broken my will.
I have to say, though, it’s a game unlike any other, in as many good ways as bad.

I’m certainly forgetting a bunch of great stuff that will come to me, and if that is the case I’ll probably just edit it in. So, if you’re reading this post far after the fact, you’ll be none the wiser. Internet!


I watched part of the VGAs. WHY?

Look, I had nothing better to do on a Saturday night, and they had some new game reveals planned, OK? That’s why I did it.

I know for a fact that I’m not in the minority of “gaming elite” that are disgusted by the VGAs each year. It’s almost as if executives and television producers who have little knowledge of videogames planned an event to appeal to the Spike audience. Celebrities? Really? Anyone could’ve read the teleprompters and delivered a horribly forced line of enthusiasm, but anyone wouldn’t have cost as much money. Also, 90% of the time it felt as if they were talking down to the audience, which they probably were.

Fuck that show! The worst part is, some small part of me knew this was coming, that I’d have to endure constant douche-chills for an hour or so to see the one trailer that was relevant or interesting. I knew that I could’ve just waited an hour for all the trailers to be on Youtube.

Actually, I did eventually make a stand. It was just about to go to commercial break, and I was left with the promise of Charlie Sheen delivering the award for “best shooter”, when I finally just made the pain stop.

And what of the awards themselves? Honestly, I couldn’t care less about them. Though as one positive point for the show, I know that Jeff Gerstmann was one of the judges chosen. So even if no one working at Spike knew what games were, they at least tried to find someone who did.

Oh, but I did see a couple of awards (they’re divvied up throughout the spectacle between cupcake eating contests and general bullshitting). They awarded the “Best PC Game” to Portal 2. Now, I love that game to death and think it’s very award-worthy, but that is a weird one. Portal 2 was a multiplatform game, and while the PC version may have been better, it seems like that award would’ve been better suited to go to an actual PC-only game, of which there are many. Oh well, minor issue.

So why don’t I care about the awards in general? Without any discussion or rationalization, calling one game “better” than another is pretty abstract, allowing that all the games considered are good games. To give a counterexample, Giant Bomb’s game of the year deliberations are usually epic 4+ hour podcasts in which you actually get to listen to the arguments for each game.

Oh! One more thing that made me mad. Uncharted 3 got the “Best Graphics” award? It’s a great looking game, but honestly that plus the “Best PC Game” award lead me to believe that no one on the judges panel actually plays very many PC games.

Eh, but who cares. Like I said, the awards don’t matter. Some parting advice. Next year, let’s not watch the VGAs.


On Origin

PC gaming isn’t as big as it once was in terms of market share, but within gaming circles the PC gamers tend to be the ones that are knowledgeable about games and have considerable clout. (You can read that as an opinion, if you want. I’ve found this to be true.) They really do embody the “vocal minority” spirit on the internet.

So when you mess with PC gamers’ beloved distribution service and community-builder (Steam), you tend to get a bit of flak. So is the case with Electronic Arts’ new Steam-like service, Origin. Announced at E3 last year, EA essentially looked at Steam and decided to “do that”, but instead of Valve getting a cut of the profits, they’d keep it all for themselves.

I can’t take issue with that. It is perfectly reasonable for a company to try to maximise profits, and this is really just EA’s way of trying to do that. As you may have heard, the problem is in the execution.

EA’s recent military-shooter juggernaut Battlefield 3 required Origin to be played on PC and has as of yet not announced plans to come to Steam. Future games from EA look to be doing the same, like Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Origin connectivity is reportedly integrated into the console versions of their new games, too. (Post-Battlefield 3, that is.)

What people sometimes forget is that Steam had a rough launch, too, and it was a forced part of Half-life 2. In the years since that, Steam became a respected service and is today regarded at the top of its class. The difference between Steam’s rough start and Origin’s rough start is that Steam was at launch one of the first platforms to attempt digital distribution. It wasn’t perfect, but it still really was the best option out there. Now, Origin has a model to compare itself to and copy so that it didn’t make the same mistakes- but it did make the same mistakes. Origin has downloading problems, billing problems, and poor customer support. In a world in which Steam exists, many find this unacceptable and criticize EA for putting together a shoddy service just for the sake of getting Valve’s fingers out of their already-lucrative pie.

The saddest part is that the game developers that EA publishes for have no control over this, and the games they’re making actually seem quite good. Battlefield 3 is a good game, and EA deciding to stick it with the burden of being the first over the wall reflects poorly on Dice, even though they probably wanted nothing to do with the service. Mass Effect 3 and SW:TOR will probably take hits to sales, and many will probably turn to piracy as their way of voting with their wallets, so to speak. It’s unfortunate, it really is, and those of us out there who just want good games wish that EA would either improve their service or back down on it.


Hot Bloggin' Nights- A Fripplebubby Joint Number One

“Whoah? Where am I and how did I arrive here? These words... As I read them, I become more and more informed of the opinions of one Fripplebubby T. Jones, and I feel smarter by the second!”

-Your thoughts upon entering this blog

Hot Bloggin' Nights

Let’s clear some stuff up. First of all, you aren’t dead and this isn’t heaven. Secondly, my name isn’t Fripplebubby T. Jones. I don’t even know where you come up with this shit, I swear.

Nay, you have stumbled into the blog of a very eager man. A man who will dispense you his thoughts in exchange for only your audience. Covet these thoughts, as in the post-apocalyptic world that will soon be upon us these very thoughts may just be used as currency. And right now, inflation rates are rising.

Videogames. This is the topic I wish to discuss with you today. So that your mind may more fully comprehend the scope of my thinking, i’ll narrow down the subject to one Just Cause 2.

Get it? Just Cause is a play on words. 

Any PC inclined users would have noticed the Steam summer sale that went on last week. During this time, Just Cause 2 went on sale for a pittance. A mere pittance, I say. Jumping on this opportunity, I finally got around to seeing what the relative hype was all about (after all, people liked this game, though it wasn’t a blockbuster exactly).

My first reactions are that Just Cause 2 is a bloody gorgeous game, from the scope down to the textures themselves. From the air, everything looks as good as any game i’ve ever seen. And the world is pretty huge, with a great array of vehicles to traverse it’s varying environments.

At it’s heart, Just Cause 2 is a stupid game. Look at me, I shot a dude. Look at me, explosions. You pick up missions as the main character, Rico Rodriguez, by working with the criminal factions on the island in order to gain information on a rogue agent you were sent to find. In the world of the internet, I find it hard to believe that one would have to resort to such extremes (by which I mean completing dozens of missions and single-handily murdering hundreds of armed men) just to find a guy who you know the name, appearance, and last known whereabouts of. Still, the game has to have some premise for launching missions, and I can respect that it could be worse.

The missions themselves seem repetitive, but the gameplay is so fantastic that I don’t mind. Oh, and about the gameplay: it’s fun. Grapple your way to the tops of buildings, onto vehicles, shoot dudes, tie dudes to other dudes, it’s all there. Red barrels that explode? Check. Chaos? Check check check.

Just Cause 2 reminds me a lot of one of the first games I owned for the Xbox 360, Mercs 2. I liked Mercs 2 at the time, but looking back, it was pretty garbage. Just Cause 2 is Mercs 2 done right. Strap it on.  
FAQ: “Hot damn I dig this guy’s writing, where can I find some more?” Here.

Deep thoughts about story elements in video games.

I've been doing a lot of two things as of late, playing Bioware RPG's and thinking. If one is to do this too much, they start to realize some truly odd things about the way the story in these games (namely the Mass Effect series and Dragon Age: Origins) works as far as how much effect the character you play (you referring to the person playing the game) has on the story as a whole, or at least the small details of it. Let me elaborate.  

Let's say i'm playing Mass Effect 2, as good 'ol Commander Shepard. I'm running around on the Citadel, endorsing this or that, filling out my spaceship collection, et cetera. I see some interesting space woman up against a window somewhere and I gallop on up to speak to her (note that this is a hypothetical situation, and i'm pretty sure this never actually happened. Let's pretend). She says something with an intricate detail, and thoughts that are real and have value. I can respond with simply a few options that generally involve either probing her further along her established conversational route or otherwise asking her something mission-specific, or saying goodbye. I can't, however, respond with my own tale of boring details and how I was abused as a child or whatever, because this cannot be properly expressed in the shorthand as an option you would want to choose at a moments notice, and would invariably just lead to confusion if it was attempted. 
Don't get me wrong, i'm not saying I demand this to be something that future games work on, and I realize that the main character having a long-winded response to every damn space woman would perhaps make the game tedious and probably disliked by the sniveling masses (you know who you are, CODBLOPS fans). I just would like to point out this discrepancy between video games and other forms of story-telling, like novels or movies, in which all characters are interesting and have things of real value to say. In games, it seems all characters are interesting except the one you play.  
That's not to say the character you play doesn't have a profound role to play in the world, as I would say it is quite rare that you end up in the shoes of a janitor or cook and much more common to be the person to save the world from definite destruction. From this standpoint, the character is certainly "interesting", but really, it is not because the player decides to make it so. I suppose this is why the majority of games either choose a silent protagonist or one that only speaks in unchangeable cutscenes.  
To sum up my point, it is often in games to play the character of someone who is told the long-winded "tales of the forest" or whatever it is by some NPC, but never the player's role to actually tell the tale to some random adventurer.  This seems like an awfully one-sided approach to story-telling, but regardless it seems to be the most interesting, invariably.  
I hope at least some portion of that made sense. 


So I got in on the APB beta

Yessir, I had filled out the beta application months ago in high hopes, and just the other day I received word that I could participate in the beta. So I did. 
The first thing that happened was the disappointment of a crappy game installer. I set it up to download all day while I was away, and later I would come home and start it up right when it opened, at 4pm that night. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The game corrupted (?) or something of the like, and the installation failed. So I attempted to download it again, and even that didn't work. I deleted the game off my HDD and tried again, and it finally worked. Unfortunately, its an 8 gig game and the beta had just started (10 hour download). Damn!  
Many hours later, I actually began to to play APB. Now here's the thing, it's a CB and i'm not supposed to talk about deep elements of the game, and I don't want to be the guy that leaks anything, but let me tell you this: Even in it's unfinished state of current, this game has a lot of potential. Everything about the game oozes of quality and work, even though some of the graphics look a little dull as of now.  
Here's one thing I can tell you, however: You'll need a pretty high-end system to run this hoe. I have a middling-to-bad rig (GeForce 9500GT, 3 GB Ram, Dual Core 2.5 GHZ) and I ran into some frame rate issues whenever other players were around. MAJOR framerate issues, and the game doesn't look all that good yet. Think of GTA Vice City, only on a little bigger scope. In any case, it's possible that it's just poorly optimized, and it's possible that i'm just lame. Bear in mind however, that my rig can run Bioshock 2 and Borderlands really well, but not this.  


DS Gaming Part II- Good Games Part I

My last two ds-themed blog posts have been on the subject of bad ds games, which I could write about for quite a while, seeing as the DS is generally the platform game devs put the shoveled out crap on, and yet it sells like crap of much greater value. In any case, this time, i'm writing about a good ds game. And it's not Pokemon.  

Something Something... Miles Edgeworth

 I may have fucked up the title to a fair measure, but my laziness does not stop the quality of this game. In case you didn't know, this one is by the people who made the Phoenix Wright games (which we're pretty good, imo). Basically, this game is Phoenix Wright 2.0 (or at least 1.5, if you aren't a huge fan). 
If you are familiar with the PW games of previous you will be right at home with this one, and it plays likewise. That being said, it actually improves in some spots over the tried-and-true method of PW. Here's the great innovation i'm talking about: You get to walk around. To a non-PW fan, this may sound like nothing at all, but to me, this was a huge thing. In previous games, one would navigate point-and-click style, while here you have a visual representation of everything in the room. I must say, it's pretty cool. 
All the animation is really slick. Even while conversations are held in-engine (instead of flashing to the normal PW conversation, seeing the person you're talking to close up, with funky animation a-plenty) it feels and looks pretty decent. 
As far as story, they really keep up appearances. The PW cases were all unique and much fun, and this carries out in much the same manner. One might think you would run out of interesting cases after a number of games, but this isn't the case. The new "walking around" also adds new angles to the gameplay for better storytelling, expanding what they can do as the case progresses.  
The characters in the game are as good as ever. Miles Edgeworth, for one, is a LOT more fun to play (for me, that is). My personality matches his much more closely than that of Phoenix Wright. I love Miles's no-nonsense-ness, and that everyone is not good enough for him. It really adds some interesting moments throughout. Also, some old characters from previous PW games make an appearance, so if you're a big fan of that security lady at the TV Studio from the first DS PW, you will be thrilled.   
There is also some great humor in here if you catch it. I had a few moments where I smiled, and even one or two where I laughed. This is rare. One great moment was the fat guy (who had made a previous appearance, but I can't remember which game it was) that made references to many good internet jokes, such as "In Soviet Russia, ________" and "Over 9000".  
All in all, if you liked PW games to begin with, this one is definitely for you. If not, it may not have enough changes to draw you in. I personally loved every minute of it. Highly recommended, but it's not a super-long game unfortunately.    
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