Gears of War: Judgment initial multiplayer thoughts

When Judgment was announced, it was a surprise to me that there would be a new Gears game after the very complete package of Gears of War 3. I don't agree with but understand wanting to squeeze more money out of a franchise, but with a well-populated, comprehensive multiplayer suite, Gears of War 3 was sufficient to take us to the new generation.

That being said, I've loved all Gears campaigns in the past, so when the Games on Demand sale for Judgment came up, I was willing to take a look at this entry. Unfortunately, with my parenthood-based time constraints, multiplayer is the thing I now have a chance to dig in to sooner since the per-session commitment is low.

The transition from COG vs Locust to COG vs COG is jarring and frankly unwelcome. The Locust are a great enemy race: they look monstrous and powerful, and it is equally satisfying to be one of the monsters as it is to be the seemingly fragile humans taking them down. I've softened with parenthood, and I actually find it less satisfying to be a human avatar killing humans - I can't enjoy the game in the same way. (I don't have this problem in, say, Halo 4, because it's not as violent and avatar identities are more obscured.) From a purely mechanical standpoint, losing that differentiation in Judgment also introduces ambiguity in the player silhouettes. Good thing friendly fire isn't an issue or I'd be killing my teammates constantly.

After getting thoroughly demolished initially due to my rusty Gears skills, I moved over to Overrun, which at least corrects the issue I had with COGs fighting. However, the Locust spawning is akin to Beast mode, and the COG spawning is class-based, so the matchups are asymmetrical. That's not a problem in and of itself, but the learning curve of asymmetrical team power along with new objectives was too much for me to digest without some practice. I'll have to return to this mode once my core skills are tuned to where they used to be for Gears 3.

I hit my stride with Domination mode. There are three static capture points per map. It's easy to understand in terms of objectives and strategy and draws enemies together in battle. I started to be successful with the right team members. Most of my 9 levels so far came from playing this mode.

I do have a concern there. There are only 4 maps for Domination/Deathmatch. That's absurd to me for a game that was preceded by a package as complete as Gears 3. After a round on each of them, I'm not necessarily fond of all of the maps either. If a large player base is expected to migrate to Judgment, Epic should have considered that there should be some content to migrate to. If the sub-1000 player counts (sub-100 in most cases) in most gametypes, I think the players have called their bluff. I purchased this game so I'll explore it more, but part of me just wants to switch back to Gears 3 to see if the players are at least still there.

I know there is a Season Pass for more content, but the DLC-specify playlists had less than a few dozen players playing! Perhaps the locked-out-to-paying-users VIP playlist houses all of the players but I certainly won't spend $20 to find out. If we're to compare Xbox 360 flagships, I also purchased Halo 4 well after it was released, and it has plenty of maps out of the box and a fairly large player base on the core game.

I'm sad to be complaining so much about a Gears game, but I was really looking forward to having a go-to multiplayer experience on demand, the same way I did with Gears 3. The under-execution on Judgment makes me feel like this experience won't have legs, and that is unfortunate. I don't want to say that there's no space for smaller scoped games with experimental ideas. What I will say is that there isn't room for forcing degradation of multiplayer userbases when so many games are already vying for our time.

I hope in another 10 levels I'll feel differently. I hope to return to Overrun and have it "click" so that I can enjoy a seemingly deeper mode than I am used to in competitive Gears multiplayer.

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Steam Cleaning

My awkward, depreciating beast of a gaming laptop from 2009 needed a bit of a pick-me-up - it was bloated full of Steam games and running hot enough to experience random slowdowns.

Though I hesitated for a while to add a premium product to an aging laptop, I figured adding an SSD as a second drive would help address both the storage problem and the heat problem. Any speed benefit would simply be a welcome consequence.

Though I'm a software developer by profession, between work, family and hobbies I don't get a lot of time to tinker with technology. Somehow I got this far without ever having seen an SSD in person. I felt silly walking out of the local PC component store paying $1 per MB until I got home and opened up the box for my Samsung SSD 840. To the eyes of a person who last installed a 3.5" hard drive in his desktop tower, seeing this this rectangular slat as a drive felt like the future.

After the painless drive installation (thanks YouTube and Google), I copied over my Steam folder (a lengthy process due to being limited to SATA II and Valve overselling how well Steam's self-repair of installed games works).

I have to tell you: after getting used to the incessant chirping of an overfilled mechanical hard drive for 3+ years, the complete lack of drive noise when loading and playing TF2 was eerie. Granted, the fans on this monstrosity are still louder than a launch Xbox 360, but they became the only noise. I guess cleaning out half of the primary mechanical hard drive served to silence even it!

I'm pretty excited about my laptop's new lease on life. Less heat, smoother games, quicker loads.

There's only one unfortunate part to this endeavor: now I want to build a desktop out of 100% new parts instead of just making minor tweaks to an obsolete laptop. I'm excited how much computer components have progressed over the past 3-4 years and I want to play with all of those new toys for myself.


Purchasing Mass Effect 3 at GameStop

I don't like GameStop. I pre-ordered Mass Effect 3 there anyway because they had an exclusive pre-order bonus and my Mass Effect love is greater than my GameStop hate.

I was reminded of how much I dislike that store by the three to four minutes I spent in there to purchase Mass Effect 3.

  • An employee took a phone call before the first person purchased their copy as answered the phone "Thanks for calling GameStop, where buying used saves you money."
  • The same employee got a standard edition buyer's copy of ME3 PS3 and asked "Would you like to add a $20 PSN card for the Day 1 DLC? Apparently it is crucial to the game." The upsell was successful.
  • After my purchase was rung up, I had to ask specifically for my preorder bonus. All of the people before me left without preorder bonus slips because my clerk simply didn't remember/care.
  • Every person was asked if they wanted to purchase a strategy guide. We all heard the clerks the first time.

They were very rehearsed and persistent with the upsell. They were lax about providing the pre-order bonus item owed to the customer.

I took this to mean that they are disciplined in selling the customer what they don't need but not in providing value to the customer.

Ultimately I got what I wanted but everything GameStop adds to the buying experience is negative.


Many Snacks, Fewer Meals: How short games are worth more to me

Lately I've put a lot of value on my time. It's changed my gaming habits because while I can afford to buy any game, I don't want to buy or play many long games - the main cost to me is always time, not money.
This means the value of a game that requires long stretches to play is diminished unless it's easy to break up that play time into smaller increments (eg. RB3).  Either that, or the game has to be so good that it warrants that increased attention (eg. ME2).  As a result, I spend a lot of time on my 360 and PC but the only AAA full-priced games I've purchased for myself in 2010 are Mass Effect 2, Rock Band 3, and StarCraft II.
This doesn't mean I don't buy games. I am a huge fan of the downloadable space right now, as I'm getting a lot of value for my money and for my time.  I very rarely spend more than $10 on a game or DLC, but when I purchase something like that, I know I can have a complete, satisfying experience and not have to schedule my life around gaming. I have so many fond memories of downloadable games and DLC in 2010: 

  • powering through Shank on Hard
  • soloing General Knoxx and co-oping Zombie Island in Borderlands
  • grinding through 40 rounds of Survival in Plants vs Zombies XBLA
  • competing for high scores with my wife in Pinball FX 2
  • learning to play poker in Poker Night at the Inventory
  • playing through Mass Effect DLC and learning more about that world
I feel most moments playing any of the aforementioned games are rewarding and cost me little time and money. I spent as much time (or more) playing those games as I did playing the AAA games I bought.  The games in my backlog I am very excited to find time for are things like Super Meat Boy, Limbo, and Costume Quest.  The thought of diving in to AC: Brotherhood, Red Dead or Halo: Reach just feels like work instead of play.

Ah, Quests

The internet is already full of garbage, and Giant Bomb has convinced me to add to that scrap heap. 
I hope this completes the Open Enrollment quest. 
Quest complete. Sorry internet.


Sweet, Sweet Victory

I've been quite fond of the unified friends list on Steam. I was worried I'd miss that in, since playing with friends is the way to go in StarCraft II. Turns out this game is so popular with my Steam and work circles that my friends is always populated with some people to play with. 
I've been playing unranked placement matches for a while (usually 2v2 or 3v3) and it's been fun.  A friend and I recently got ranked and so we jumped into our division and tried some matches out. 
I tell you, losing 3 times in a row in one-sided blowouts is demoralizing. I was worried I'd hate playing 2v2. 
We got into our fourth match, and we had a strategy, but we built up for a while with very little noise. No early attack, no big signs of the enemy. Then, while scouting I saw the massive clump of Battlecruisers. I knew they were preparing to attack, but I decided I was not going to lose again. I just picked up my buildings and flew them away to my distant expansion.  I completely ignored the Battlecruiser attack, took 8 Thors, and went on a rampage through all of the enemy bases. That now-thinned squad of Battlecruisers eventually came back to attack my Thors, but they were dealt with, and the Victory screen popped up. Turning a near-certain loss into a victory in about 2 min was so sweet.
Okay StarCraft II. I get you. I'm in.


Giant Bomb is going to kill me.

I thought was a nice, friendly way to check out my Achievements and compare them to friends.
Steam Achievements were just there... PC games hadn't ever been about Achievements to me.
Then came Achievement tracking on Giant Bomb.  They articulated the quality of my achievements, not just the quantity... and this has been the end of me.
I've done terrible things... things no gamer should have to do, just to earn a rare Achievements.
I'd have been satisfied with my progress in Borderlands, if not for seeing that almost every achievement is common, and I don't have them.  What kind of gamer am I?
I am doomed to play TF2 forever.  The Achievements... they never end.