Monday, July 5, 2010


You can now find me writing for the retro-themed gaming blog Continue? and I have my first article up. Longer readers of my blog might recognize it. I'll be submitting new and old reviews and articles over there, with my focus on older PC games and on shmups. If you enjoy my blog chances are you'll enjoy Continue?, and it's a bit bigger than mine. Definitely check it out!

I will still be writing here for odds and ends, and for discussion of modern gaming, but expect fewer large features on older games to show up on here. And definitely continue to check out my youtube channel where you'll find my ongoing Let's Plays of MechWarrior 4 and Illusion of Gaia. I hope to start shooting some shmup reviews for Continue? soon, and they'll be posted to my youtube channel as well.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The future of gaming, according to Bobby Kotick of Activision

Surfing Kotaku today, I came across an interview with the Baron of Hell himself, Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision. You can find the full interview here. Most of the interview was unremarkable attempts at damage control by Kotick, but one part really stood out.

As the interview is winding down I point out to Kotick that he has achieved his goal, traveled down that road to a billion. So why not retire?

"I'm not really thinking about that," he says, after I point out he could use the time to play more games. "I have a big objective for the next ten years. You know the thing that's really exciting is that when you look at what's happened to our medium. We're finally now at a point where we have all the characteristics of mass market, mass media opportunities. And I think it's three things for me that are really driving how you make video games as appealing as TV."

The first is making video game characters real, something he feels still hasn't happened.

"You can't put dialogue in these characters in a way where it's believable," he says. "If we can get the facial animation to be compelling, the dialog to be believable, I think you can satisfy that emotional connection between the audience and the character that gives you the characteristic attributes of film and television."

The second is physical interface, like what Guitar Hero brought to gaming. Something that Kotick strongly believes has a lot more opportunities.

"Physically tying you as a player to what you see on the screen, I can tell you a hundred fantasies I've always had whether it's like conducting an orchestra or unleashing as a rock star, really having a driving experience, like with a helicopter flying experience that is real," he said. "So physical interface is really just scratching the surface of opportunity there."

Finally, tapping into the ever increasing importance of social interaction, whether that means Facebook and Twitter, multiplayer gaming or including voice and video in a game.

We have seen this trend over the last few years already. The modern game climate is all about the experience. Graphics, atmosphere, perspective effects, a focus on first-person views, and stuff that looks exciting all seems more important than games that are actually exciting. Games are getting easy and simpler to play, because deep challenging gameplay isn't conducive to the experience. Dying takes you out of the immersion! The hero of the game is supposed to be a badass, so the player shouldn't ever fail, either. Gamers would get bored with really easy and simple gameplay, though, so they need something to keep them involved in the game somehow, and feeling a sense of accomplishment somehow. They're sure as hell not going to get it from good gameplay, so more and more developers are adding RPG elements to just about every game. RPG elements add a fake sense of accomplishment by popping up item and ability unlocks every once in a while, often for doing nothing but playing for a period of time.

Physical peripherals are in line with this trend, of course. But they're also an opportunity for Activision to make a lot more money.

"Social" gaming and multiplayer is also a clear trend over the last few years. I'm not opposed to it in principle, but the execution game developers have chosen leaves a lot to be desired. Most games nowadays have a singleplayer and multiplayer portion. They focus a lot on the social aspects of the multiplayer, and again the fake accomplishment of multiplayer unlocks and experience points and leveling up. The singleplayer ends up being really boring, for the reasons above. If a game is going to have singleplayer and multiplayer, although it's more costly and difficult, the best thing to do is make the gameplay in the single and multiplayer components actually different, or just don't bother with the singleplayer at all. For example, the upcoming Blizzard RTS Starcraft II will have a very competitive multiplayer with deep and complex gameplay, and a focus on balance and e-sports competition. The singleplayer will actually be quite different. It will have units and abilities that won't be in the multiplayer because they wouldn't be balanced for it. The singleplayer will be like a different RTS than the multiplayer, because that's the right thing to do for that game.

Social aspects of multiplayer is great. It's great to make friends online and play against the same people a lot. Of course, the best way to do this is to have persistent places for gamers to meet. Like a dedicated server. But developers hate those! They don't let you sell map packs and game modes, because they need to compete with modders who create that content for free. They also make piracy a bit nicer, because of pirate servers. So instead, because of consoles, developers can get rid of dedicated servers and just use peer-to-peer connections. You get matched up with a bunch of random people you've never met before, will never meet again, and won't remember. Then you just play games, hosted on one of the player's connections, leading to a ton of lag for everyone but that player. So, social multiplayer as consoles do it, which is how PC games are headed as well, is one of the worst ways to actually do it! Oh, and you can hook into twitter and facebook, because THAT makes the game itself better.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Let's Play: MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries

Because of the recent re-release of MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries by Mek Tek, I've been playing through it again, and really enjoying the changes and additions by Mek Tek. I also have a lot of fun recording commentary videos for games, so I decided to do a series of "Let's Play" videos of MW4:Mercs. I have 7 episodes up so far, with more to come. The pace of episodes is roughly 1 or 2 per day. However, I'm going on vacation next week and I won't be able to record until I get back.

You can find all of these and future videos at my Youtube channel:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

This game kicks serious dinosaur butt.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Most Amazing Mech Simulation Game Ever

I recently discovered the Playstation 2 game "Robot Alchemic Drive", although I haven't gotten to play it yet - but it looks incredible. Giant robots punching each other through buildings is pretty much impossible to NOT be fun. Something about the controls of R.A.D., which it appears are very clunky and awkward - just the way a mech should operate - gave me a brilliant idea for a Mech game. Humor me for a minute here:

It's an in-cockpit simulation like the Mechwarrior series, of course. Nothing beats the feeling of being in an authentic, detailed fictional war machine! In the regular Mechwarrior games, movement is controlled via a throttle configuration to control speed, while the torso twists from side to side to aim or move weak armor away from the enemy. This basically amounts to the mechs handling like a futuristic tank, with jump jets and lasers. That's awesome, it works great for that series. What I really like about the clunky control scheme in R.A.D. is how it gives the mechs such a sense of scale, and how it adds an entirely new layer of skill to even basic piloting. Think about a massive, tall, bipedal robot. It's not going to be a very stable vehicle. Again, it works in Mechwarrior because pilots wear neurohelmets to control balance effortlessly, but I'd like to see something different in a new Mech game. In many cases, giving more control to the player is a sure-fire way to add more depth to game mechanics - something the current video game generation could stand to learn. That's what I propose for this Mech game.

In R.A.D., you control each limb of the robot individually. The robots control slowly and awkwardly. I'd like to see even MORE clunkyness in my Mechs, though! It's not nearly enough! Part of this idea comes from watching some really good R.A.D. videos where the players know what they're doing. They make the robots do some ridiculous stuff! I've seen robots uppercut enemy robots, and then punch them again on the way down - all using pretty detailed control of the individual limbs of the robot! That type of control takes SKILL! A beginner could not do that sort of thing. A real mech shouldn't be pilotable by just anyone, they should take some real skill to control a humanoid bipedal robot, right? So, the clunkier and more awkward you make the mech to control, the more awesome it will be to make the mech do awesome stuff! That's the assumption I'm working with, anyway. But just how clunky do I want this mech to handle?

In this fabled Mech game I'd love to play, there will be detailed control of each limb of the mech - of course. But here's what R.A.D. doesn't do, that I want to see: control over the mech's balance. If you screw up walking forward, you should fall over. If you want to run, you need to lean forward and lean into your turns properly and time your leg movement properly, just like you're really running. Unlike Mechwarrior, you can actually sidestep or make quicker movements in this game, although doing so will be DIFFICULT. As it should be. Dodging enemy fire and melee attacks would be more dynamic in this mech game, unlike in Mechwarrior where you need to just run perpendicularly to enemy missiles to avoid them and use cover to avoid everything else. Ducking, diving and maybe even rolling on the ground could be possible to avoid enemy attacks. In the Battletech books which I've recently started reading, the mechs are capable of this - why can't they do it in the games? Melee attacks would be much more physics-based, and you could have a chance to regain your balance if you are struck or pushed, provided you have enough skill at controlling your mech's posture and leg positions to maintain balance. Guns would of course have recoil, requiring a slightly forward posture and good arm position to fire accurately. Seriously, I think the skill ceiling for this game would be insane! Playing the game as a noobie would be a neverending hell of falling over and being killed over and over, but improving at such a game would certainly be rewarding.

Of course this sounds like the most detailed mech simulation anyone could think of, but how on earth would you actually play it? I can think of only three possibilities. The first is one way in which you could control everything AT THE SAME TIME: a special controller in the vein of Steel Battalion - but even more complex and probably expensive! Analog sticks for both hands could control the arms, conceivably - maybe with the addition of hat sticks and sliders and things for finer control of different axes of motion of the arms. Legs could be controlled via foot pedals, but simple analog pedals with a single axis wouldn't be enough. Multiple pedals or perhaps rotating pedals might do it. There would then be a ton of additional buttons, and maybe a third middle joystick, to control the mech's posture and other functions. Weapon switching, power and heat management, and other things would need to be handled by traditional buttons. Ridiculously complicated and impractical? You bet. Fun as hell once you get good at it? YES!

The next solution for control is one that allows for real-time simultaneous control of the mech, but I think might take away from the clunkiness and skill ceiling: motion controls. Something like a wiimote, in each hand, and strapped to each foot, but with a LOT more buttons to deal with. Or, perhaps, all those motion controls in addition to a PC keyboard and mouse, might be satisfactory. That would still be ridiculous fun to play and control, but I think remove some of the skill involved with managing each limb.

Finally, the solution easiest and cheapest to implement, but the clunkiest of ALL: pure mouse and keyboard control. Really, it would center on mouse control for the axes of movement for all limbs and posture, and using the keyboard to rapidly switch between limbs using hotkeys. It would be POSSIBLE to control the mech with adequate speed using a mouse with hotkeys - look at any RTS and you can see how possible it is to control so many things at the same time, so rapidly. But it's really, REALLY difficult. Running while shooting, for example, would take ridiculously fast and accurate mouse and keyboard skills. It would be FAR easier to make mistakes resulting in the mech falling over. But this is still probably the most realistic control method that still provides the adequate amount of control.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Quick Update

Thought I'd update a little on my goings-on. My laptop has been having issues for a while with gaming, and I think I finally got it diagnosed! It appears to be an overheating problem. It also seems like a bit of a pain to fix, and I had been planning to build a new PC soon anyway, so I'm just going to tolerate it for a few months. I have my PS3 to keep me occupied with gaming for a long while. On the PC I've mostly just been playing 2D games and emulators because that's all it can consistently handle. Played through Super Metroid in its entirety in 4 hours last week, which I had never done before, so I figured it was about time to! I have the Starcraft 2 beta downloaded, and it's as amazing as I had hoped, but unfortunately the framerate is just not that consistent. I'll be building a new PC this summer so I can play the full game properly.

On the PS3, at the moment I'm going through Just Cause 2 and having a ton of fun. This game is absolutely massive! So many crazy situations and so many things to do, I highly recommend it! Beyond that, the two games I continue to come back to are BlazBlue and Guitar Hero. In GH, I got into it pretty recently, so maybe I'm behind the trends here, but the plus side is it was pretty cheap. I'm working my way through the game (Metallica, and occasionally World Tour for Tool and Dream Theater songs) in hard mode right now, after beating everything on medium. Adding the 5th button was a real challenge, but I've finally got it and it's so much more fun because if that! Soon I'll try to transition to Expert. In BlazBlue, I'm playing a lot more online, and winning more. I think I'm around level 28 right now, playing almost exclusively Tager.

Currently I'm getting super-hyped for Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar's western sandbox game coming up in May. I haven't been this hyped for a game since the Orange Box, I think, and this game just cannot come soon enough!

Finally, some non-gaming stuff, but I just want to mention it anyway, I had a big epiphany in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu last week. I've been training in BJJ for 4 and a half years now, and I'm sure any hardcore gamer can identify with the awesome feeling of a major epiphany in any game of skill and strategy, which is what BJJ is for me. The rest of this paragraph won't make a lick of sense to you unless you know about grappling, so if you don't you might as well stop reading. I had been having some issues with my guard in the last year or two, and then last Friday, all of a sudden, I was rolling with a friend and something in my brain just clicked. I was using rubber guard pretty much exclusively, all the time, from full guard, no matter if it was gi or no gi. When it works, it's awesome, and I get an omoplata and probably finish them 60% of the time. Side note, so many people don't actually finish the omoplata submission, I've been working really hard on learning that skill and it's probably my #1 submission now. Anyway, when I was starting out in BJJ I was doing everything standard with my guard game, and had good success with it. I have long legs, and my guard was fairly good. Around the time I got my blue belt, I started trying to learn rubber guard, and just stopped doing my fundamental guard moves in favor of rubber guard. I would break them down and go straight for mission control, and if they tried to break out, I'd just work rubber guard stuff on them regardless. So last friday, I had my friend in my guard, and broke him down properly, with the intent to go for rubber guard. He started standing up, in anticipation of mission control. Instead of going for mission control ANYWAY, as I normally would, I just went to a completely textbook armbar from the guard, got it, hooked under his leg and rolled him over for the finish. I realize now that I was getting tunnel-vision about the rubber guard. I wasn't being adaptable and I was neglecting the fundamentals because of that. I don't doubt rubber guard is fantastic, and innovative, and effective. But there's a time for it, and there's a legitimate time for the traditional closed guard game, as well.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Are publishers TRYING to kill PC gaming? Yes. Yes they are.

Over the past several years, developing games have become a very expensive affair. Because of this, more and more games are going multiplatform and abandoning exclusivity. The age of PC exclusives is coming to a close, and we've seen games come to consoles which no one would consider playing without a PC just a few years ago. FPSes, RTSes and even MMOs are being released on multiple platforms now, simply because they will generate more overall revenue because of it. It's hard to blame a business for wanting to make money, but I do feel that the overall quality of games has deteriorated because of this behavior.

Most recently, we've seen the rise of some very harsh Digital-Rights-Management (DRM) in PC games. The reason is obvious: piracy. It has been a problem virtually as long as games have existed on the PC. I doubt it is possible to completely eliminate the problem of piracy on the PC - nor on any platform on which piracy exists, including the 360 and the Wii right now. Yet this is precisely what Ubisoft, EA and other publishers claim they are seeking. There is considerable evidence that adding more restrictive DRM will only encourage piracy, not dampen it. Take the recent example of Ubisoft's DRM in Silent Hunter 5 and Assassin's Creed II. Both games - and all future Ubisoft games, as of now - require a constant internet connection to play. If your connection or Ubisoft's authentication servers drops out for any reason, the game will stop until the connection is resumed. Even if you are playing strictly singleplayer, as is likely to be the case with both games. Within a day or two of release, Silent Hunter 5 was cracked and pirated en masse. Shortly thereafter, Ubisoft's authentication servers went down, preventing legitimate buyers from playing the game they payed for. The pirates could still play the cracked version just fine.

Do publishers (who certainly are the ones behind the implementation of DRM, not developers) really believe this type of system will stop piracy and increase game sales on the PC? Average gamers such as myself, who do not work in the game industry, can clearly see evidence that it will not. Indeed, DRM like this drives gamers away from the PC platform and from purchasing PC games, because they are in reality being punished for legitimately buying games.

Now ask yourself what is more likely: that game publishers are completely oblivious to this effect of DRM and sincerely believe they will decrease piracy and increase sales, despite all evidence to the contrary; or, that they know full well what they are doing and the consequences of doing so?

The latter seems far more likely. But why would they do it, if they know it doesn't work and only encourages piracy? Because they want to kill gaming on the PC. There are a few reasons they would want this specifically:

A: PC games cost more money to make than console games
While I don't work in the game industry and I don't have evidence to back this up, it seems logical to me. Developing a PC game means ensuring that game will work for a wide variety of hardware and software configurations and versions. With consoles, the hardware is a very known quantity and not as difficult to develop for.

B: Console games make more revenue than PC games
With WoW as the major exception to this point notwithstanding, console games are more profitable to make than PC games. The average gamer doesn't really care about the inferior controls of FPSes on a console, and the RTS genre is now mostly a niche genre anyway. Games simply sell better on consoles now compared to the PC (in general).

C: Game publishers would prefer all gaming to be done on consoles only, with the PC out of the picture

This becomes clear when you consider the previous points and the problem of piracy. Beyond this is the lack of control over their product which game publishers desperately want. Modern Warfare 2 illustrated this when Activision chose not to have dedicated servers or mod support (I firmly believe it was Activision's decision, not Infinity Ward, despite what they may claim). They don't want gamers to modify their game. They don't want gamers to have access to the longevity and moddability of dedicated servers for their games, because they want every customer to switch to the newest game next year when a new one comes out, rather than continuing to play the older one. Publishers want to sell map packs and other content that PC gamers are used to getting for free. Big publishers do not want to compete with free user-created content. The PC simply offers too much freedom for gamers, and too little control for publishers.

I don't think PC gaming will die because of the moves of these publishers, thanks in large part to Steam and Valve's efforts on behalf of our platform. Even so, I do expect large publishers to begin abandoning the platform in the next few years. At the moment, most big releases are developed for consoles primarily and then ported to PC, often to the detriment of the PC version. There are also frequently no demos of games, which PC gamers use to determine if a game will run on their hardware. When publishers do this, in addition to adding obtrusive and restrictive DRM, gamers turn to pirated copies of the game to sidestep the headaches of the DRM or test a game before buying it. When publishers see the high piracy rate of their games, they declare PC gaming is dying and decide to add even more DRM or put even less effort into porting games from consoles - nevermind putting effort into making native/exclusive PC games! If this trend continues - which I've just argued is intentional, so it ought to continue - then many large publishers will eventually give up on the PC platform. They just need to find the right excuse.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Let's Play: My First Attempts

I've got some recording software up and running, so I've been attempting some Let's Play videos. If you're not aware, Let's Play means recording myself playing a game and adding commentary. The commentary can be done during or after I play the game itself, but I personally prefer videos with live commentary that reacts to the gameplay. So far, I've made:

a quick test using Peggle Nights,

A full mission in Wing Commander,

and a full (crappy) run of Dodonpachi,

It's a lot of fun to do these things, but it is difficult dividing my attention between playing and talking. I plan to do a few more next week, and I'm definitely open to game requests. I've had one on youtube to do a Dodonpachi Daioujou LP and I'm considering it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Star Wars Jedi Outcast Multiplayer Treatise

A Guide to Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast Multiplayer

1. The Basics and Etiquette

Jedi Outcast is a game with a unique multiplayer atmosphere. When you're just starting out, it can be a confusing experience. If you do or fail to do certain things, you might be picked on or even kicked by the denizens of a server, so it is very important to know how to behave. Admittedly, this has turned many players off of the multiplayer experience, but for most servers this is just a fact that must be accepted if you want to really play the game. How and why these practices came about is beyond the scope of this guide, but rest assured that you will learn everything necessary to start out Jedi Outcast's multiplayer on the right foot.

When you first fire up the multiplayer portion of the game, you'll want to immediately head over to the setup screen and configure your player. It's a sad fact that if you go onto most servers with the default white name of "padawan", other players are going to assume you're a noob and they will treat you as such. A few servers will kick a "padawan" player outright. Avoid these baseless judgments and choose a name for yourself before you start. You'll avoid some potential trouble later on. Optionally, you can give some color to your name in the same way as any other game based on the Quake 3 engine: with the ^ character, followed by a number. Play around with different numbers to discover all of the colors. It is also possible to switch colors multiple times within the name, so enjoy personalizing your experience.

When you're done setting up your character, it's time to jump into a game. When you hit "join game", you probably won't see any servers initially. Go and change "source" from "local" to "internet" up at the top of the screen, and then hit "get new list" to connect to the server list. This late in the game's life, you probably won't see a large number of servers, but there are plenty to choose from.

Jedi Outcast is unique in that most gametypes are not actually what you think they are. If you see a server running the map ffa_bespin, chances are it's not actually a free-for-all deathmatch with weapons and force powers where every man fends for himself. Most servers running this map, particularly clan servers - you can tell these by the clan tags at the beginning of the name, naturally - disallow weapons and run mods that specifically disable force powers except for jump, offense and defense. This will apply to other servers running other maps, and it might not apply to every server running ffa_bespin. Still, this is a fair generalization. There are a few other gametypes, but it mostly boils down to duel and not-really-FFA gametypes. If you want to be sure about the details of a server, you can always select it in the list and hit "server info" to find out what mod it's running and who is playing on it. Keep an eye out for servers that have nobody but bots populating them! You'll recognize bot names easily because they sound like characters from the single-player game and they have all-white names. Make sure a server has real people before joining, unless you just really want to kill some bots. But then that's not why you want to play multiplayer, is it?

If you want to play online in a deathmatch with full force powers and weapons, this guide won't be of much help to you. Hunt down a server that allows these things and have fun! Let's briefly cover duel servers before moving on to the main focus of the guide. On a duel server, players are put into a queue as spectators while two players duke it out in a one-on-one lightsaber duel. Typically these don't allow force powers either. On a duel server, when you get your turn to play, you'll want to start out with a bow to your opponent (see below) before beginning the fight. Most servers also frown upon kicking the opponent (doing a wall-flip or side-wall-flip off of an opponent will damage them and knock them down) and attacking an opponent who is on the ground due to a failed saber-lock. Let them get back up and then resume the fight. Aside from that, there isn't much to say.

From here on out, I'll assume you're on a "regular" FFA server. These servers have a lot of unwritten etiquette rules that baffle most new players. For starters, when you enter the server you'll want to make sure you have the right force powers allocated. Max out your jump, saber offense and defense before entering the game. When you enter the game, your lightsaber will be on - turn it off! Running around with your saber turned on conveys a threat to other players and make them feel uneasy. Even though the gametype is called "free-for-all", it is not correct to attack any other player - unless they attack you first, of course. The real point of this game mode is to duel other players.

"Why not just play on duel servers?" you might ask. The answer is that in duel servers, only two players are fighting each other at any given time. On a FFA server, with the help of mods - the vanilla game cannot do this - any number of players can be dueling at the same time. To instigate a duel with another player, you hit the challenge button. The default button is k, although I prefer to have it closer to WASD so I don't have to reach for the button. When you're engaged in a duel with another player, you and the other player get full health and are covered in blue. This means no other players can damage you, and you cannot damage any other player. Of course, other players can still get in the way, because you can not run through them no matter what. It's courteous to avoid duels already in progress at all times, so you won't interfere.

When a duel begins, you have to bow to your opponent. Just hit the crouch button, and optionally look down to simulate a bowing motion. The duel begins when both players have finished bowing. If you don't bow, your opponent might not know you've started, which is unfair to him. Believe me, you'll get yelled at for not doing it, at the least.

At the end of a duel, one player will be dead. No matter which one is you, be sure to say "good fight" or "gf" (to chat, hit the y key). This is like bowing - you just have to do it, or you'll get hell from the other players. Besides that, it's just a nice thing to say. If you're the winner of the duel, remember to shut off your lightsaber! Go challenge some more players to duels and have more fun!

2. Beginning Combat

Want to know how to win a lightsaber duel? You need to start here. There are three lightsaber styles to use in a fight:

2.A. Blue Style Basics

Blue style is the fast, weak style. It lets you chain up to ten attacks in a row with no restrictions. Each hit does fifteen points of damage, which isn't much but can add up over time. The special attack of the blue style is the lunge, probably the most useful special of all the styles. Crouch and hit forward and attack to do a lunge. The lunge is great because it moves you quickly forward and disrupts the other guy's lightsaber, knocking it away and preventing him from attacking. The rear attack is the backstab, and it's good, but other rear attacks are more useful. Blue is mostly used to counter red.

Because blue is so weak but so fast, your strategy needs to be to avoid damage and play very defensively. Dodging and counter-hitting is the only way to use blue effectively. Use the lunge judiciously but try not to be predictable. Crouch during a blue combo, and you can chain a lunge after your combo for a surprise hit. Above all, the main attack in blue is the sway. Swaying is the act of moving left and right rapidly to swing horizontally. With blue, you can do this pretty fast, and it's a good way to rack up some fast damage. Crouch while swaying to get under the opponent's defenses in some situations.

It's dangerous to rely on blue style too much. You could spend half the duel whittling away at the opponent's health with blue, only to be the victim of one solid red hit and be losing the fight just like that. There are also counters to every blue attack, and if your opponent knows what he's doing, you'll have some difficulty executing any good attack against them. As a beginner, my advice is to only use blue to lunge. It's far too difficult to successfully win using blue's regular attacks. When you get more skilled, you might use blue to finish off a weakened opponent with quick attacks. Outside of this scenario, I don't advise using it much.

2.B. Yellow Style Basics

Yellow style is the medium style. Medium speed, medium damage. Up to five attacks can be chained together with no restrictions. Each hit does thirty points of damage, which is pretty respectable. The special attack in yellow style is the death-from-above, or DFA. Hit forward, jump and attack at the same time while facing an opponent at close range to do this move. The DFA does a lot of damage, but it's a stationary close-range attack so it's very difficult to hit with. It leaves you wide open to a variety of damaging counters as well. The rear attack in yellow is a spinning swing, but for the risk involved it doesn't do that much damage. Yellow is used in a wide variety of situations, but typically to counter red or sometimes other yellow users.

Yellow style affords a little more in the way of offensive options than blue. Two yellow hits is roughly equal to most red attacks, so it isn't hard to give out damage equal to or better than what you get. Even so, it's good to play defensively by dodging attacks as much as possible and counterattacking. As with blue, the sway is a great attack and crouching while swaying can get under the opponent's defenses sometimes. There are also other combos to mix up your offense; vertical hits mixed with diagonal rising swings can land an unexpected hit. Experiment with different angles in different situations.

Yellow is very versatile but takes skill to use properly. A good yellow player will time his opponent's swings, and count the number as well as pay attention to the type of swing, and counterattack accordingly. Generally, I don't advise using the special or rear attack in yellow at all. It's not worth the risk in either case. When you get more skilled, you can experiment with setups for the DFA.

2.C. Red Style Basics

Red style is the slow and powerful style. Only three attacks can be chained together, with the following restrictions: The same attack can be chained to itself only once, e.g. two vertical swings in a row at most; attacks can only be chained if they are zero or forty-five degrees away from the previous attack, e.g. "horizontal right > diagonal-down right > vertical" is a legitimate combo, but "horizontal right > vertical > horizontal left" is not valid. Each attack does varying damage based on when during the swing animation the attack lands. The general maximum damage is sixty points, but if the swing lands at the beginning or very end of the animation, it may do less. The vertical red swing does much more damage compared to the others. It varies more as well, but typically it's around one hundred points maximum, making it the most powerful normal attack in the game. The special attack in red style is the red death-from-above or DFA. Begin any normal red swing, and at the beginning of the swing at the point right before your character swings the lightsaber forward, hit forward, jump and attack all at once. You will jump forward and swing downward, resulting in a one-hit kill if you manage to land the attack. The sheer power of this attack is offset by the fact that it is virtually impossible to land against anybody competent. The rear attack of red is similar to yellow's: a spinning swing behind you. It does a good amount of damage and is worth doing when combined with a jump. A jumping rear attack is an advanced technique that will be covered later. Red is great for attacking against any style, but weak for defensive options.

Red is the style of attack so accuracy of attacks is very important. Horizontal-right swings have the most range of any normal attack, and it makes for a good approach. It also has the advantage of sometimes knocking back the opponent's saber, disrupting his defenses. This attack can defeat the sway of both yellow and blue because of this property. The vertical red swing is the most powerful normal attack, but it has its own weakness: it requires a lot of accuracy. A yellow or blue user can be adept at dodging sideways around vertical red swings in order to hit you from the sides. Vertical red attacks are great against other red users though, as you can risk being hit by a single horizontal attack in order to land one vertical attack. It will be well worth the sacrifice of health. The diagonal-down-left swing is also a useful one in red, because it is the fastest attack you can perform. It works well at counterattacking a jumping opponent. Swaying with red is, of course, impossible because of the combo restrictions.

Red requires an aggressive play style and accurate attacks, but you get some serious power for your effort. The special in red will kill anyone in a single hit, but - well, just don't do it. You won't land it and you'll get punished severely by trying. Due to red's ability to counter the other two styles, it's a good beginner style to learn. Typically at least one player in a duel will be using red at any given time, making it useful to know.

3. Advanced Techniques

There's a few advanced techniques that not as many people know/do in the game.

The Running Lunge

The main weakness of the regular lunge is you need to stop running to crouch. If you crouch while running, you enter a roll. Thus, you need to stop running, crouch, and then execute the move, at which point the opponent knows what you'll do. To get around this limitation, you can use the walk button (default left shift). If you crouch while walking, you'll crouch rather than roll. While running forward, hit the walk button and then immediately crouch and hit the attack button. It will be so fast, you will appear to run right into a lunge, surprising anyone who doesn't know it's possible to do that! Believe me, this works, and people still don't know about it. After you learn this, there is no reason to do the stationary lunge except to purposefully trick people.

The Jumping Rear Attack

A stationary rear attack is fairly useless, with the possible exception of the backstab. To make it more mobile, when the opponent is directly behind you, you can jump backward while hitting attack. Time it right, and you'll jump and execute a rear attack in midair! This won't hit often, but it's a safer way to do this attack than standing still like an idiot. Best used with the red or blue rear attacks.

Extended Range Red Horizontal

The red horizontal-right swing is versatile and effective, but sometimes the opponent knows the range and can dodge it every time. If you notice the animation of the swing, your character will end the right-horizontal swing with his right hand outstretched to the right, holding the lightsaber. Take advantage of this animation by turning ninety degrees to the left as the swing finishes. The longer range will catch many opponents by surprise and add some damage.


Want to fake the opponent out a little? Try rolling forward but not actually moving forward! During a forward roll (forward + crouch) simply move backward, and you'll roll back along the ground as if sliding. Not useful as an attack, but can be used to trick the opponent. This only works for the forward roll, not any other direction.

4. Counters

4.A. . . . to blue

Blue offers two main attacks: swaying, and lunging. To counter the blue sway, a red horizontal or even vertical swing with proper aim will make them regret standing or crouching in one spot for long. A blue lunge will adequately counter the blue sway. Yellow is difficult to use as a counter to the blue sway, but doing a yellow sway right back at him can often work. Each of your hits will do double the damage of his, and you'll likely do more damage than him during the exchange, but the element of randomness leaves a risk to be considered. It's possible to use the yellow DFA as a counter - a blue sway typically lasts through ten swings, and the opponent might be surprised enough by the DFA that he will fail to cancel his swaying and avoid it properly. Against a blue lunge, recognize that the lunge is a linear attack. Dodge sideways around it and attack at the exposed rear of the opponent. Most normal attack is adequate for this, although a few red swings are slow enough that it's possible for the opponent to dodge them, or even turn toward you and do a second lunge before he is hit.

4.B. . . . to yellow

Yellow offers more varied attacks, which makes countering difficult. Countering the yellow sway can be done in blue with the lunge. With yellow, you can counter the sway with a vertical swing to penetrate the overhead defenses of the opponent, but this has an element of randomness. A less risky strategy is to count the opponent's swings in the sway. Remember that a yellow combo only lasts five attacks at the most. Wait until his fifth attack is almost finished, and then rush in and attack for one or two hits, before immediately backing off. With red, the horizontal swing is recommended, because a vertical swing is too easily dodged by a yellow user. Yellow swings are slower than blue, so you tend to move farther to the left and right while swaying, compared to blue. Countering the yellow DFA is fairly easy. As long as it doesn't hit you, the fastest thing to do is a running lunge on your stationary and defenseless opponent. If you have the time to wind it up, a vertical red attack is very damaging. It is even possible, with fast reactions, to wind up a red DFA, but this becomes dangerous if you delay too long.

4.C. . . . to red

. . . horizontal swings

Don't get hit by this attack! Jumping and rolling are good ways to evade it. With blue, lunging into the horizontal swing will generally succeed, but there is some randomness and you may take damage regardless. Otherwise, wait for the swing to finish before moving in to attack. The ending animation of the horizontal red swing is long and leaves the opponent open for a moment to counterattack. With yellow this could mean rushing in and hitting vertically. It's also possible but dangerous to use a yellow DFA as he swings. Using red, a vertical swing is a great counter to the horizontal swing, and you don't even have to worry about being hit! Run straight into his attack while winding up your vertical swing, and he'll be left with much more damage than you, provided you succeed. It's also a bit safer to wind up the red swing by running backward first to stay out of range of the horizontal swing, before moving forward on the down-stroke of the vertical hit for massive damage.

. . . vertical swings

Definitely do not get hit by this attack! Fortunately it's not hard to dodge. Move to either side and you'll avoid it, unless he's very fast and accurate. With blue or yellow, follow up a dodge with swaying. With red, you won't be able to respond quickly enough in close-range after a sideways dodge, so just retreat after dodging and begin a new attack. Backing off in a straight line and winding up a vertical hit at the same time can work, but you need to know the range of your attacks precisely.

5. Attacking Options

5.A. . . . with blue

Lunge! Aside from this, blue doesn't have much in the way of offensive options. You must wait for the opponent to do something before running into range and swaying.

5.B. . . . with yellow

Yellow is also a counterattacking style, but it's possible to poke the opponent a little. Run in with a single yellow hit before running back out to avoid damage. The combo "vertical > sway" can sometimes be effective. Running in and immediately swaying might do damage, but if the opponent is smart he'll back out of it and come back with one of the counters presented above. With yellow, feinting is also a smart option to provoke the opponent. Try a fake-roll or even just moving in and out quickly, making it look like you want to attack. When he does something, counter it!

5.C. . . . with red

Any swing can make a good attack in red. Take advantage of the slow speed of red attacks, and launch swings at odd angles while running forward. If you begin a diagonal-rising-right swing for example, you can begin running forward before the swing has finished even winding up. Mix up the direction of your movement and the swing direction to confuse the opponent, such as swinging right while running left. Never underestimate the power of the vertical swing! If you master the accuracy of this swing, you'll win duels quickly and violently. Jumping while winding up a red swing can be a good idea, but don't do it too often. A diagonal-downward red swing or a lunge can defeat any normal jumping attack.

6. Training

Improving your skills doesn't have to be just guesswork. There are some particular exercises and methods to improve your game at a rapid rate. I've discovered or developed all of these in the process of one-on-one training with several players in the course of my career with the game. These are effective and they work. I've had players progress to near my level of skill in only a month or two of training with these methods. Find a partner or a cooperative player and get to it!

Learn Red Attacks

Practice red attacks against a wall. Learn the exact range of each attack, and learn how far you can run during an attack to land the hit. Use the wall marks from the lightsaber to see feedback of what hits and where.

Learn Red Attacks, Stage 2

With a partner, duel with only red versus red. Learn the timing and range of your attacks and the opponent's. Know how to dodge red attacks and you will learn how the opponent will try to dodge your attacks.

Learn Red Attacks, Stage 3

Fight real duels using only red style. Learn to deal with yellow and blue opponents. Learn how to attack without being counter hit.

Learn Evasion

A partner will attack you using red, trying their best to hit you. Your job will be to avoid getting hit. If you take a hit, exit the duel and restart completely. You cannot attack. See how long you can survive.

Learn Evasion, Stage 2

The partner will do the same thing. Instead of only dodging, your goal is now to use yellow style to win the duel, without being hit once. If you get hit, exit the duel and restart. Use your dodging skills from the previous exercise to avoid damage, but now you must recognize openings in the opponent to hit once or twice with yellow before evading. It is important not to get greedy by attacking too much.

Learn Evasion, Stage 3

Same as before, except use blue style. No lunging.

Learn Yellow Style

With a partner, fight duels using only yellow style against yellow style. This fight is fast and furious. You'll learn just what yellow is capable of and how to avoid fast attacks. This should increase your reaction time as well.

7. Final Thoughts

To excel at Jedi Outcast Multiplayer, you can not be predictable. As I've shown, every move in the game has some sort of counter. Don't stick to a single style for the entire duel. Remember every option at your disposal, including every special move and every evasive option including rolling and jumping. Keep in mind that you can flip off of walls to get behind an opponent. Sometimes avoiding damage is more important than dealing it. You can easily estimate the opponent's health by keeping track of when you land a hit, based on the amount of damage I've told you each attack does. Keep an eye out for when the opponent's shield drops, as this is the simplest visual cue to his health. If you have less health than the opponent, plan your strategy accordingly. If you have more, you can afford to take more risks.

Get out there and own some people with a lightsaber!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How to Botch a Demo, according to Rebellion

Rebellion is the developer of Aliens vs Predator, the upcoming reboot game of the 1999 PC classic. I was tentatively optimistic about the game, and today the demo finally came out. Let's examine just why this demo is probably the worst advertisement Rebellion could ask for!

First, some backstory. When Modern Warfare 2 came out, and PC gamers everywhere unleashed a torrential flood of rage over the lack of dedicated servers, Rebellion announced they would fully support dedicated servers because they care about the PC gaming community. Hooray! The internet rejoiced and began praising AvP alongside Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for having features that are simply standard on every PC game released since Quake. So, this week, the demo was announced, and it would be a multiplayer demo! Wait, what? Let me explain just why a multiplayer demo is a bad concept for a game that ISN'T entirely multiplayer:

The purpose of a demo is for potential consumers to sample the game and decide if they want to buy it based on how much they enjoy the demo. When your demo is multiplayer only, it's not so easy to get a feel for the full game. It's an inherently competitive atmosphere, with each player trying to win, so learning the controls and mechanics of play aren't so easy when you're thrust into that. A prospective player hops onto the game to try it out, and they end up getting killed over and over while trying to learn the controls. It makes them feel frustrated and that feeling becomes associated with the expectations for the full game. Besides, a lot of players (including me) are interested in certain games for single player, not multiplayer. I didn't particularly care about AvP's multiplayer, but now the only way I can get a feel for the single player of the game is to play the multiplayer, and that's not very easy.

This decision to release only a multiplayer demo for a game with a substantial single player campaign is only the first in a series of monumentally stupid ideas! Let's go through them one at a time:

  1. The demo does not have dedicated servers! Seriously, do they even care at all? The player has zero control over their experience. You just hit "quick match" and you get to stare at a screen saying "searching for game" for twenty minutes until you arbitrarily get put into a game or kicked off of matchmaking for timing out. And that's not an exaggeration. I watched the clock, it takes around twenty minutes to find a game. That's just not acceptable. I don't care if some developers think it's "easier" than going through a server browser to find a game, it takes MUCH longer, and it gives me much less control and feedback. What exactly is it doing while it says "searching for game" for twenty friggin minutes? Why exactly does it time out sometimes? I have no idea because it won't tell me. I understand this is the first night of a demo, and there aren't that many people actually playing yet, but it's a symptomatic problem for matchmaking and it's there whenever I've tried it on other (console) games. It sucks. And here's the kicker! Remember how I said the full game was announced to have dedicated servers? And yet the demo doesn't. How is the demo supposed to be a way for the player to sample the full game and figure out if they want to buy it, when the demo doesn't actually represent the experience of the full game?! If the demo DOES represent the experience of the full game, there's no way in hell I'd play the multiplayer of it, which only leaves the single player. But I guess I don't need to sample that, because Rebellion said so.
  2. The other major consequence of not having dedicated servers is that players host servers. This means lag, and I mean a LOT of it. The game is barely playable half the time. Of course I don't know how MUCH lag, because the game is kind enough not to tell me what my ping is! Seriously is it that friggin hard to do this, when every PC game since the beginning of time has done this?
  3. Next, while there are scalable graphics settings and it works fairly well on my computer at low settings while looking decent, there is one very annoying and non-optional feature of the graphics: motion blur. If I turn fast, the screen blurs annoyingly. This makes quickly turning or aiming behind me very difficult, which shouldn't happen in a PC game. I don't know if I'd mind it terribly in single player, but in multiplayer it has no place.
  4. So how about the actual gameplay? I'll just break that up into each of the races you can play as, because they all have serious issues.
You spawn with no weapons but claws. No disc, no speargun, no plasma caster, nothing. Invisibility doesn't make you nearly invisible enough either; marines can detect you with their motion sensor (if you move at all) and aliens can just see everyone, all the time, everywhere. Predators also don't have as much health as the original game, so they go down to a few shots from marines or melees from aliens. Their super-jump ability consists of holding down a button and then auto-jumping to a marker that pops up onto the terrain. While doing this, you can't turn more than a few degrees, so jumping and turning around is just not possible.

You automatically stick to every surface. You wouldn't believe how annoying this is. The original game had a crouch button to hold down if you wanted to wall-walk, but this game has no crouch button. I guess that's too complicated. If you run to the edge of a platform, instead of jumping off you will start walking down the edge. If you are running and casually bump into something, you'll wall-walk up it even if you don't want to. Oh and did I mention that Aliens had wall-hacks? Because they can seriously see every nearby player through walls as a bright outline.

The humans unequivocally suck. The other two species were DESIGNED to prey on humans. I can understand this in the single player, because the Marine's campaign is supposed to be like a horror game. This shouldn't be the case in multiplayer! Regardless that the lag made it impossible to aim or react properly to enemies, the marine only has a pulse rifle to start out with. No grenade launcher attachment like the first game, it seems, which was the main balance in that one's multiplayer for the humans. As a human in this one, you're just going to walk around and hope you can hit an enemy before they close into melee range, because at that point you're done. Also you better hope you aren't facing more than one enemy at once, or you're done. It's frustrating and it isn't fun to play as a Marine online.

Common gameplay problems:
The entire melee combat system is simply broken for multiplayer. Normal melee attacks by predators and aliens will kill other species in around two hits. When you get hit with a melee attack, you go through a hit animation in which you are stunned and cannot move or turn or attack. This leaves enough time for a followup finishing hit without any possibility of defense. If you get hit by one melee attack, you're probably going to die. Oh, there's a block button, but it doesn't help much beyond preventing that first hit (which it probably won't anyway). Oh also, melee has auto-aim, which will track enemies during the animation. I can understand this on a console game, but on the PC it's stupid and inexcusable because it just removes any remote semblance of skill from the melee system. Although, the grabs throw any remote chance of balance straight out the window as it is! If you are behind an enemy, you hit E to grab them and insta-kill them. They cannot defend themselves. Already that's a big red flag for anyone who knows anything about multiplayer balance. And yet, it gets worse! While grabbing and killing someone, you are stuck in this animation that lasts a good three seconds. During this animation, you can be shot at, and you can even be grabbed yourself, and there's nothing you can do to defend yourself! It's entirely possible to be grabbing another player, when a player grabs you, and a player grabs that player, and so on. No one can defend. If you are killed in the middle of the kill animation, the original victim won't even necessarily survive; if they have been killed during the animation, but the animation itself isn't finished yet (e.g. the predator stabs an alien in the face, and is about to throw him to the ground) you still can't move, and if you get grabbed or killed at this point, you'll die and your victim will die and neither of you can defend yourselves! It's a real mess. I can't imagine why anyone thought this was a good idea for multiplayer!

I'll keep a jaded eye on how the single player turns out for this game, but I'm definitely no longer excited for a frustrating, laggy and unfair multiplayer experience. Luckily, the multiplayer for the original 1999 PC game has recently been resurrected, and it plays far better, so I have that to fall back on!