You never really escape from High School.

Note: This post is long and rambling and about video games and cliques and there’s a good chunk of you who probably will find it hard to give two shits about anything I’m about to write about so you may want to skip it.

I grew up as the weird kid in school. I never really fit into any of the cliques or social groups and my friends were a diverse group of people, many of whom did fall into such categories. I’d like to think that my ability to get along with just about anyone in a work environment these days has a lot to do with how odd my social life was back in school. That said, there was a certain amount of drama that comes with not fitting in anywhere and one of the thimgs I was most happy about when I graduated was that I was finally leaving all that behind. Then I joined the work force and found that, no, you never completely leave that behind.

As I’ve gotten older it seems like the amount of stupid and pointless drama I encounter has diminished over time. Either that or I’m just really good at ignoring it these days. Yet occasionally things happen that remind me that there are plenty of people in this world who have nothing better to do than try to divide people into groups of us and them. Of course a lot of that shit happens in politics, but in a more generalized why and usually between people who don’t really interact much outside of a political protest or an Internet message forum. Rarely at this stage in the game do I expect it to happen among friends and acquaintances.  My most recent experience happened in, of all places, the group of people I play Call of Duty multiplayer with on a regular basis.

godhavemercyThanks to the Internet, I have a whole group of people I consider friends that I have never personally met. I’ve mentioned this before in the context of blogging as there are a number of folks that have read SEB and whose blogs I have read for a long, long time. The same is true of some of the folks I play online games with. Some of them I’ve been playing CoD with since the fourth installment was released in 2007. Thanks to voice chat and too much free time on our hands I’ve spent hundreds of hours with them teamed up on a quest of virtual warfare. Most of them I only know by their gaming nicknames — Abe Froman (the Sausage King of Chicago), Force, Repairman Jack Bauer, Mugz, Mute, Kionela, Fart Master, Deadly Karma, Grim, Willie Womp-ya, ScarMaster — but the same was true back in the 1980’s when I ran a BBS system on my trusty Commodore 64 and had a number of friends who I only knew through their aliases. There isn’t really anything in particular that caused us to start hanging out other than we seemed to get along and we played well together. In addition to that core group, there’s the folks who are more acquaintances than friends, but still folks you’re friendly with. They’re on your friends list because they made friends with one of the folks you play with regularly so occasionally they’ll be in the group with your buddies when you join in. You don’t mind gaming with them, but you don’t necessarily seek them out the way you do your core group that you’ve been gaming with for a long time.

Now one of the scourges of playing online games on the PC, particularly popular First Person Shooter games, is there are always assholes willing to cheat at the game simply to ruin it for everyone else. Whether it takes the form of exploiting glitches in the game that allow them to drop out of the map and still shoot at people in it or employing a program such as an aimbot or wallhack that gives them an unfair advantage in the game. They are a nuisance that has existed as long as multiplayer games themselves. Because of CoD’s popularity it is a primary target of people who write these hacks and you will encounter people cheating in the game on a regular basis. Back in the days when developers allowed players to run their own dedicated servers this was less of a problem because if the folks who owned the server suspected you of cheating, or just didn’t like your attitude, they could ban you from their server and you’d have to go off and find a different one to be a douchebag on. These days developers care more about squeezing as much money out of you as they can so most FPS games don’t allow you to host your own servers. Instead they use a form of peer-to-peer networking where one of the players in a match is picked to be the host at the time the round starts. I’ve gone into why this system sucks in other entries in the past so I won’t go over it again here, but suffice it to say that one of the best defenses against the inevitable cheaters you’d encounter is no more because there is no dedicated server with admins to ban the players. Instead the makers of CoD have put in a method of reporting someone for cheating into the game itself so when you encounter a cheater you pull up a menu and report them and hope that they’ll get banned eventually. This can take awhile as someone back at the game company has to receive the report, look into it, and make a decision and they receive a shitload of reports every day. Your only option until then is to either quit the match and take the loss or continue to play with the cheater and (probably) still take a loss for the effort. There are some cheaters who aren’t all that great at cheating and if you stick around you can sometimes still win the match, but if it’s an aimbot you may as well quit.

mymomsabitchOne of the side effects of cheating being so common is that if you’re a decent player, or just particularly lucky during a game or two, the first impulse a lot of other players have is to assume you must be cheating. While I’m far from being a pro, I am pretty decent at FPS games in general and CoD specifically in part because I spend way more time playing them than I should. My KDR (kill death ratio) is usually between the 1.5 and 2.0 range. That means on average I get one and a half to two kills for every death I suffer. That’s pretty good considering the majority of players have a KDR less than 1.0. As a result when I get into the groove and go on a tear through a match I often get accused of cheating and, probably, reported through the in-game reporting system. Doesn’t matter if you played really shitty in the previous five matches, all it takes is a couple of good matches to have someone get pissed at start accusing you of cheating. This is common and most folks with a KDR over 1.0 are used to it. Of course these false reports only add to the workload of the poor sap back at the game company that has to investigate them which only adds delay to the time before legit cheaters end up being banned. I say all of this as background info for what I’m about to write next.

As I said, you get used to being accused of cheating every so often by other players after you’ve had a particularly good game. However, a couple of months ago I was accused of cheating by someone I have played with on a semi-regular basis. He’s one of the folks I would consider an acquaintance. I don’t recall who he was friends with that I met him through, but he’s a pretty decent player himself with a KDR of 1.14 in Call of Duty: Ghosts team deathmatch. He seems like a decent fellow overall, but he has a tendency to jump to cries of cheater whenever someone does better than he thinks they should in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll announce to my teammates when I find someone suspicious and I’ll ask them to watch their killcams when that player kills them to see if we can verify if they’re cheating or not. Aimbots are pretty obvious to spot because the player snaps around instantly and headshots you from across the map without ever seeing you. Wallhacks are a bit harder to discern because a careful cheater will wait until you are seen by the camera before shooting you, but because they know exactly where you’re at (thanks to a bounding box added to their display that won’t show up in the killcam) they can start shooting just prior to you coming around a corner insuring a kill. This is complicated by one of the “perks” you can take on your build in the game called Amplify. It makes all enemy footsteps louder unless they take a counter perk called Dead Silence. Using Amplify and a good set of headphones you can hear when someone is coming up behind you giving you ample time to turn around and line up a shot on a doorway before you can see them. I use both Amplify and Dead Silence in almost every class build I have in the game. Things are further complicated by how the fact that the game uses a peer-to-peer networking system. The person who is the host has a slight advantage over everyone else because his machine is the one that determines whether or not a bullet hits its mark. That alone can make the difference between an epic run and a shitty match. The further you are from the host, the more likely you are to have a shitty game. When that host is in another country your only hope is that everyone on the other team is a crappy player.

beatamotherfuckerAnyway, this fellow, we’ll call him Limbo for the purposes of this article, is quick to assume the only reason someone is going 25 and 3 is because he’s cheating and he gets quite upset about it. Not that I don’t rage a bit myself when I think someone is cheating. I don’t mind losing to someone who is a better player, but I can get quite agitated when it’s clear the only reason I’m losing a gunfight is because of network lag — let alone if I think the other person is cheating — so I can understand his irritation. Yeah, I know it’s just a stupid video game, but I know people who have gotten into fist fights over “friendly” poker games and/or pro football rivalries when they’re not even the ones playing the game. I was never any good at sports (my one trophy for winning the local Boy’s Club T-ball Championship when I was 8 notwithstanding) so I get all my competitive aggression out in virtual reality. I am am my most “male” when I’m participating in virtual mass murder and there are a lot of guys like us.

OK, I keep going off on tangents so let me try and get to my point. A couple of months ago Limbo decided I was a cheater and started to refuse to play with me in games. He didn’t say anything directly to me about it, just ignored me when I asked him if he had room in his group or if I invited him to my group and would quit a game if I ended up joining it regardless of which team I ended up on. It took a bit before it dawned on me that he was actively avoiding me and confirmation came one afternoon when I sent him an IM asking if he had room for two players on his team and, apparently not realizing it was me the message came from, he replied with “not if you’re bringing Dead God with you.” In the following conversation I was told that he knew what a cheater looks like and, buddy, I look like one. One of things he cited as evidence (other than the matches where I had a high score) was the fact that I never wanted to play against him in a game. It’s true that I was reluctant to play against him, as I am with anyone on my friends list, because I’d rather play with them than against them, but if that’s a problem then I was perfectly willing to play against Limbo if that’s what he wanted. He didn’t, because I was a cheater in his mind. I pointed out the fact that I’ve had the same Steam account for over 10 years without a single VAC ban listed on it and that I get review copies of Call of Duty games which I would put at risk if I cheated at them. He dismissed the latter as bullshit and the former as me being a very good cheater.

You can’t argue with someone like Limbo once he’s made up his mind so I didn’t waste too much time on it. I’m used to being accused of cheating, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that having the accusation come from someone I played with regularly wasn’t annoying. This is what led me to make my first ever YouTube video showing just how I manage to do so well in the game. This is it here:

I apologize for the poor video quality, but it was the first one I had ever done and it was before I upgraded from my AMD Radeon 7770 to the nVidia GTX 760 I use today. In this video I end up with a final tally of 27 kills and 1 death. To be fair, this took place during a free play weekend where they allow folks who haven’t bought the game yet to try it out and a lot of the people on the other team were very inexperienced, but I’ve done just as well (and occasionally even better) against experienced players. My Steam profile is full of screenshots of scoreboards from games where I did really well because I’m not beyond a bit of bragging about totally pointless accomplishments. Here’s one where I went 30 and 7. Here’s one from Modern Warfare 3 where I went 30 and 3. One more from Ghosts where I went 36 and 3. And, if you’ll permit me one more YouTube video, here’s my best ever run where I managed 40 and 11 and got the best killstreak in the game:

fuckshitupOne of the interesting things about this last video is the fact that I don’t start off having a great game. There’s no early indication that I’m going to end up on top and you can even hear me asking my team to keep an eye on one of the guys on the other team that seemed to be getting awfully lucky with his kills. Halfway through the match and my team is losing and I’m at a paltry 17 and 9 ratio. Then with about 3:23 left in the match we pull ahead and I go on a tear. Once I get the Loki it’s all over but the crying.

OK, enough bragging. Let me get back to the point. So three or so weeks go by and Limbo hasn’t spoken to me or stayed in a game I’m in and has engaged in a campaign to try and convince some of the other folks I play with regularly that I’m a cheater. Then, one afternoon, it all goes away. I’m invited to a game by a mutual friend and Limbo doesn’t leave. I ask if he’s OK with me there and he says yes. In fact, he acts like nothing ever happened. Totally pretends he didn’t spend the previous three weeks trying to convince folks I was a cheater and avoiding me.

Fast forward to last week when I realize that Limbo is no longer on my friends list. With the Steam client, if someone on your list removes you as a friend then they are automatically removed from your list as well. It’d been a few days since I’d last seen him in game (as I said previously, he wasn’t someone I regularly sought out to game with) and the only reason I noticed he had gone AWOL from my friends list was because I ended up joining a game he was in and yet wasn’t showing up as online on my friends list. I wondered if he was back on his Dead-God-is-a-cheater kick and it didn’t take long to verify it. Anytime I ended up in a game he was in — regardless if it was because I was invited by someone or just luck of the draw — he’d immediately quit. At one point I was in a group with some of my regulars when we got placed into a lobby with him and some of the other folks I regularly play with that he was grouped with. The match started and not 5 seconds into it a forfeit countdown started because Limbo, who had been lead of his party, had pulled the entire other team out rather than play against me. We ended up winning without ever firing a shot.

The last couple of days I’ve been hearing from mutual acquaintances that, indeed, Limbo is back on his kick and is trying to convince others that I’m a cheater. Word has it he’s managed to win over at least one other person — let’s call him USAF Inactive — I’ve played regularly with. I’ve not been pulled from USAF’s friends list yet, but he doesn’t speak to me in-game anymore and he usually quits at the end of the round if I’m on his team or immediately if I’m on the opposing side. It’s all a bit amusing because nothing has really changed since the last time Limbo decided I was a cheater. Well, I have ended up on the opposing team from him on a regular basis, because I’ve learned my lesson about not playing against my friends. and it appears that may be what brought on this latest bought of you’re-a-cheater syndrome. I’m pretty sure the last match I played against him I ended up being picked as host and I went on a great run including winning most of the gun battles when I came across Limbo and I could tell he was getting frustrated. About half-way through the match I started trying to avoid him altogether because I didn’t want to piss him off anymore than he already was. There was easily a half-dozen times I got the drop on him and I ended up not firing and went in a different direction just in the interest of harmony, but there was still a few times he’d come around the corner suddenly and I’d end up mowing him down.

This time around I’m not worried about convincing him or USAF that I’m not cheating. It doesn’t matter as they’re going to believe what they want to believe and there are still plenty of people for me to play with on my friends list. If anything, I’m amused at how like high school the whole thing feels. Which is the entire reason I wrote this huge, rambling, blog post. Limbo, despite being a middle-aged adult, is like all those kids who used to be so concerned about the cliques they were a part of. I mean, in the grand scheme of things being good at Call of Duty and having a high KDR and being way up on the leader board rankings really doesn’t mean jack shit to anyone who doesn’t care about KDRs or leader-boards. I take the game more seriously than I probably should, but I don’t take it anywhere as seriously as someone like Limbo does. All of this drama over a game is just silly and yet here we are. I’m arguably just as guilty of engaging in it for writing this huge post on it knowing that it really is meaningless, but I find it funny to think about.

itsnotsupposedtobefunAt the age of 47 I thought I had left all of this nonsense behind, but it doesn’t appear it ever fully goes away. Some folks will always find a reason to not like you or be jealous of you because you’re mildly good at some pointless thing or extremely lucky at said thing or, probably in my case, a little of both. Am I proud of my KDR? Yeah, a little bit. Ghosts is the first game I’ve managed to get a 2.0 in and that’s probably because a lot of the really, really good players didn’t like it and went back to playing MW3 or BO 2 where my KDRs are more in the 1.5 to 1.7 range. Last I checked the leader-board I was ranked 169 in the world for Team Deathmatch. Given the small player base on the PC that’s not all that surprising. Limbo was ranked around 71 in the world. Does that mean he’s the better player? Not really as your ranking on the leader-board is as much about time played than anything else. Limbo has 1,765 hours on record in Ghosts whereas I’m at 729 hours. When you have over 1,000+ more hours into the game you’re going to be higher on the leader-board regardless of how good you are. I think that’s part of what contributes to his thinking that I shouldn’t do as well as I do in the game. He has all those extra hours so he’s much more experienced and therefore should be nigh-impossible to beat, natch. The thing is, after you’ve got your first hundred hours or so into the game chances are any additional hours won’t amount to much improvement unless you really work at it.

One of the stupid things I do in the game to keep my interest from flagging is I try to unlock all the camos for every single gun in the game. You’ll note that in the first video clip the gun I’m using has some sort of grey camouflage on it while the gun I use in the second video is a bright gold color. Each gun in the game has 12 or so different camos that you can unlock by accomplishing various tasks. The red camo, for example, requires you to get 150 kills without using any attachments (e.g. sights, silencer, grips, etc.) on the gun. Another one requires you to get 50 kills while learning around a corner. Another might require 150 headshots and there’s one that requires simply getting 500 kills with the weapon. Unlock all the different camos and you earn the Gold camo showing you’ve mastered the weapon. Once I’ve mastered one gun, I move onto the next one. So far I’ve unlocked Gold on all of the submachine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and marksman rifles. I’m halfway through getting Gold on the shotguns and light machineguns. One of the things you learn while doing this is how to use each of the guns in the game effectively giving you an edge over people like Limbo who tend to find one gun they’re happy with and stick with it 90% of the time. I also adjust my play style to the map. I can run and gun on the smaller maps, but I can also play conservatively on the medium sized maps and I can snipe pretty well on the bigger maps. If one play style isn’t working well I adjust my tactics and try and different style. You can see that happen in the second video above. I start off having a crappy game and then I adjust my approach and come out on top. Limbo seems to have one play style and that’s the run and gun approach. He relies on speed and surprise to carry him through and that can work pretty well against folks not prepared for it, but when they are it’s just going to lead to frustration if you don’t have another tactic to fall back on. Sometimes you have to play smarter than run around and shoot everything in sight.

Anyway, I’ve wasted enough time rambling about this and I’m not even sure I got my main point across properly. Still, it’s the most I’ve written in an entry in a long time so there you go.

Games I’m Looking Forward To: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

If you’ve been reading SEB for any length of time then you already know I’m a huge fan of the Call of Duty series from Activision even if I have been somewhat disappointed with a couple of the directions the series has taken with its multiplayer game. The fact that CoD tends to be one of the games I play the most in spite of whatever disappointments I may have with it says a lot about how much I love the series. The last iteration, Call of Duty: Ghosts, was from Infinity Ward and it showed that the company hasn’t completely recovered from the loss of its founders and the subsequent mass exodus of top talent that went with them (they started a new company called Respawn Entertainment and put out Titanfall). It’s also clear that having two companies develop a CoD game every two years (Infinity Ward and then Treyarch) wasn’t leaving either company with enough time to really polish the final product.

That’s why this year’s game is coming from Sledgehammer Games who will be the third company producing CoD games from now on giving each team three years to work on their title and ensuring Activision still has a CoD game to put out each fall. Activision just put out a  reveal trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare showing a bit of the plot from Sledgehammer’s debut effort:

OK, they have my attention. Kevin Spacey appears to be playing (what I am guessing is) the villain for this next incarnation and the plot revolves around the growing using of Private Military Contractors (PMCs). Spacey’s speech alone has me wanting to play through the campaign. Activision also teamed up with the folks at Vice to put out a short video on PMCs and how they’ll be the focus of the next CoD:

While I am excited by the reveal, there’s still a lot of reasons to be hesitant about Advanced Warfare. The first is not knowing what engine they’re using to run the game. All CoD games run on variants of the same engine ever since the first one was released, but with Ghosts they tried to rewrite major chunks of it and ended up with something that only ran really well on a handful of hardware. When I first started playing Ghosts I was running it on a Radeon HD 7770 and the start of every level/multiplayer map had at least 10 to 30 seconds of lag because the video card was struggling to cram it all into the 1GB of video RAM it had. When I upgraded to a nVidia GeForce GTX 760 it started running smooth as silk. That’s in spite of the fact that people I knew with even better video cards were still having issues with the game. Much like the Call of Duty app from Beachhead Studios, if you don’t have a specific set of hardware then you couldn’t expect Ghosts to run all that well on your system.

The engine in this trailer looks a lot like the one used in Ghosts and being Sledgehammer’s debut CoD game it wouldn’t be surprising if they just made use of what was already on hand. After all, Treyarch’s World at War seemed to take the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare engine and just re-skinned it for the WWII setting. Treyarch has since developed the engine quite a bit on their own and it actually feels different than how IW’s engines feel when you play their games (enough so that I know of CoD fans who won’t play Treyarch’s versions of the game). If AW is using Ghosts’ engine then I hope Sledgehammer has used the time they’ve saved in doing so to really polish the hell out of it so it’ll run well on a wider spectrum of hardware. The player count for Ghosts on the PC dropped quickly after launch and now, six months later, you’re lucky if there’s 2,000 players in-game during the weekdays. Hell, there are days that Black Ops II and even Modern Warfare 3 have more people playing them than Ghosts does and I think that’s largely due to how little hardware it runs well on.

Still, it’s hard for me not to get excited at the prospect of a new CoD game from a new publisher who will be bringing their own ideas to the series. The plot for AW is certainly intriguing and they’ve obviously attracted some big name talent to the voice cast. It’s also clear that it’s a good looking game based on the trailer. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the multiplayer given how customizable loadouts in Ghosts became. I’m eagerly looking forward to the multiplayer reveal in the months to come.

SEB Reviews: Call of Duty: Ghosts.

 Call of Duty: Ghosts Call of Duty: Ghosts
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Infinity Ward
Price: $39.99
Rating: 3 out of 5

This is my third attempt at writing a review for the latest in the Call of Duty franchise of games. I’ve decided that the usual format of describing the single player versus the multiplayer and the story and such is unnecessary. If you’re at all interested in a review of the game then you probably already have a good grasp on what it’s about and, if you don’t, there are plenty of other reviews out there that go the traditional route. Instead, I’m going to focus on the PC version and its pros and cons.

Here’s the short review that may be all 85% of you reading this would need to make a decision on: If you’re not a fan of CoD then there is absolutely nothing about Call of Duty: Ghosts that will in any way change your mind and if you are a fan of the series then chances are you’ve already bought it making a review unnecessary. For those of you on the fence, whether you should buy it depends on how much you’ve enjoyed the past games in the series and whether you think your PC is up to the challenge of running it.

The campaign mode continues the trend of shortening the amount of hours it’ll take to finish setting a new record of a scant 4 hours total; perhaps a little longer if you make a point of finding all the hidden briefcases scattered along the levels. The story is completely over the top and full of the sort of spectacle you’ve come to expect from the series. The multiplayer introduces a couple of new game modes, but otherwise feels like what you’d get if you took Modern Warfare 3 and both Black Ops I & II and smashed them together. The three different types of killstreaks (assault, support, specialist) from MW3 return combined with the ability to unlock perks/weapons/equipment/accessories using a form of currency (squad points) of BO 1 and a pseudo-Pick 10 class loadout system like what was in BO 2.  I’m a fan of the series and I find this new game, when it’s working properly, to be a lot of fun.

You’ll note the caveat I put in that last sentence. We’ll use that as the segue into the longer review.

It’s tough being a first person shooter fan on the PC these days and this is doubly so for Call of Duty fans. For me playing FPS games on a console is as close to sacrilege as you can get because the average console controller is no match for a good keyboard and mouse — part of why they don’t allow for cross-platform play between consoles and PC players — and yet consoles are where most FPS games make their money these days so that’s where a majority of the developer’s attention is focused. The PC versions of many FPS games end up being console ports with just the barest of tweaks to get it to work on the PC. It’s somewhat understandable when you consider that the consoles are easier to develop for as you know ahead of time what every Xbox/PS3/Xbox One/PS4 owner has in the way of hardware whereas the hardware in any given PC can vary wildly depending on the inclinations and fortunes of the individual gamer.

Call of Duty: Ghosts on the PC has some hefty minimum requirements: You must be running a 64 bit version of Win 7 or 8, have at least 4GB of RAM (down from a launch requirement of 6GB), a Intel Core 2 Duo E8200 2.66 GHZ or AMD Phenom X3 8750 2.4 GHZ or better processor, 40GB of HD space, and a NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 or ATI Radeon HD 5870 or better, and a DirectX compatible sound card. The “recommended” specs are 8GB of RAM, Intel Core i5 – 680 3.6GHz processor, and a  NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 4GB video card. My own system is up to par on the processor (AMD FX 4170 quad core at 4.21GHz) and RAM (8GB), but my video card is a little on the low end for this game (AMD Radeon 7770 with 1GB of RAM).

The thing is, it’s hard to tell what use all those resources are being put to. Supposedly this is a new engine (it’s not, it has the same base as all the others with lots of new bits bolted on) that should make it the best looking CoD game ever, but it’s really no better looking than BO 2 or MW3 and it performs a lot worse than either of those two games. The one really impressive innovation in Ghosts is that the sniper rifle scopes no longer black out the screen around the scope. Instead it shifts to a very fuzzy rendering of the environment making for a much more realistic effect when aiming down the sight. You’ve just enough visual information to see movement, but not be able to tell what it is until you get your scope over it. From what I’ve read, that’s a real technical feat engine-wise which is why in the past it was easier to just to black out the screen around the scope. If there’s anything else particularly innovative or impressive about this “new” engine, I’ve yet to see it as, other than the new scope effect, it looks pretty much like the past few CoD games when you crank up all the effects.

You'll note all of the "No" or "Off" settings on this screenshot of the Advance Video Options. This gives a tiny performance boost on my card. Click to embiggen.

You’ll note all of the “No” or “Off” settings on this screenshot of the Advance Video Options. This gives a tiny performance boost on my card. Click to embiggen.

Whether you can crank up all the effects will depend entirely on what make and model video card you own and having the best video card, or more than one, is no guarantee that the game will perform decently. This is probably the biggest issue I have with Ghosts. My video card is a mid-range model that’s almost two years old. Outside of Crysis 3 it can run most games I throw at it with all the effects cranked up. With Ghosts I’ve got most of the effects disabled or set to low because it offers a slight, and I do mean slight, performance boost. This doesn’t resolve the one major ongoing performance issue I have when playing the game. At the start of a level or the beginning of a multiplayer match there is often a period of about 15 to 25 seconds where the game will lag considerably. I’m talking a frame rate of around 5 to 10 FPS with the occasional pause of 2 to 3 seconds thrown in here and there. Once we get past that initial few seconds (often long enough for someone to kill me in a multiplayer match which is highly aggravating) the game will usually perform well enough to be playable. As near as I can tell from reading up on the issue the most likely reason for this is the fact that my video card only has 1GB of RAM on it. The weird thing is that it doesn’t appear that having a better video card is any guarantee of better performance. I know of folks who had nVidia Titans — arguably the best video card available at a cool $1,000 a pop — that suffered from the same start of the round lag issues I’m having. One guy I play multiplayer with has a system that exceeds all of the recommended specs for the game and he has constant lag throughout multiplayer that is so bad as to make the game nearly unplayable. Having multiple video cards in SLI or Crossfire configurations is actually not recommended as the game has not been optimized for it and will suffer from major microstuttering. One fellow I play with who has an SLI setup tried it and reported that it caused the trees in the game to flash as well as parts of his weapon. Another guy I played a lot of multiplayer with under previous CoD games won’t play Ghosts because it will not support multi-monitor setups. He has a very high end system with three monitors and just about every other FPS game he plays will spread the image over all three monitors, but not Ghosts. Attempts to contact anyone at Infinity Ward and Activision to inquire as to why have gone unanswered. Lastly it appears that the game’s frame rate is capped at 60FPS. If you have a setup capable of rendering at a higher frame rate that’s just too fucking bad.

Compare Ghosts' audio options to Black Ops II. Notice a difference? Click to embiggen.

Compare Ghosts’ audio options to Black Ops II. Notice a difference? Click to embiggen.

Then there’s a lot of options players have come to expect that are simply missing from the game. You’ll note in the screenshot to the above right that Field of View, which is quite common on most FPS games, is absent from Ghosts. You can use a third-party program to force it to modify the FoV, but that might get your account banned. No one seems to know for sure.

The Audio Options section is even more ridiculous as you can see in the screenshot to the left. There’s just a single slider for Volume. You have to wonder why they would even bother as just about everyone will use the volume controls on their speakers/headsets to adjust overall volume.  Compare that to Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II which had separate sliders for voice, music, sound effects, cod casters (a streaming option for eSports), and a master volume to boot. To be fair when BO2 was first released it also lacked a FoV option, but after fans asked for one they quickly added it in a patch not long after release. I’d be happy if Infinity Ward just put in multiple volume options like Treyarch did. I play multiplayer with a regular group of guys and I like to have the voice communication be the loudest setting so I can hear them talking. I like to turn the music way down so that I can still hear it, but not have it overwhelm the sound effects so I can still hear enemy footsteps. Your only option in Ghosts, much like Modern Warfare 3 before it, is to rename several of the sound files so the game can’t load them canceling out the music altogether. That’s just stupid.

Which brings me to the biggest problem with the game: Infinity Ward has stopped giving a shit about their fans who play on the PC. This has been becoming more apparent since the release of Modern Warfare 2. When I wrote the review for that game I opened by saying that I had a real love/hate relationship with it. In particular the decision to go with a peer-to-peer networking system rather than dedicated servers was a major problem as it opened the game to all manner of exploits and hacking and the quality of your online experience was dependent on how far away the people you were playing against were and whether or not you were the host of the game. The rise of DLC also brought about the end of player created maps. Want new maps? They’d sell them to you in 4 DLC packs after which you should buy the next iteration in the franchise if you wanted anything new. With each release since then PC fans have grown increasingly frustrated at how little support IW gave the PC version of their games. We were promised the ability to run dedicated servers in Modern Warfare 3 and they kinda kept that promise by providing a barebones option that removed the whole level up and ranking system of the peer-to-peer version of the game. They also hid the option by default — you literally had to turn on dedicated server browsing in the options — insuring that most players didn’t even realize there was a dedicated server option so the player population using them was ridiculously small. That pretty much meant that if you wanted to do multiplayer you were going to use the inferior P2P system whether you wanted to or not. For Ghosts there was a lot of promises made about dedicated servers for every platform — console and PC — giving fans hope that the days of the shitty P2P system were behind us.

As it turns out, that promise was only kind of true. You can imagine my surprise when during one match back when the game was first released the game suddenly paused with a “Host Migration” message indicating that a player that had just rage quit had been hosting the game and it was now trying to find the best connection out of the remaining players to make the new host. That’s the same shitty P2P system we hated in the previous two Modern Warfare games. If we were on a dedicated server we shouldn’t be seeing that message. When fans started to ask what the hell the deal was Infinity Ward took to Twitter to explain:

Just a reminder that we are using a hybrid system for Ghosts online play to deliver the best possible connection. So sometimes you might be on listen-servers and sometimes you might be on dedicated servers, depending on which offers the better connection. We’re making tweaks every day to improve the experience across all platforms, more updates to come. And yes, with today’s launch of Xbox One, there will be dedicated server support.

The problem, of course, is that there’s no way to tell whether you’re on a dedicated server or a P2P one other than by how laggy the game is playing. Which, considering that there are other sources of lag beyond just your network connection, it’s not easily discernable whether the lag is from being on a shitty P2P with someone in another country until the host rage quits and forces a host migration. There’s also no option in the game to only use dedicated servers which most PC players would probably take advantage of even if it meant longer wait times to find a game to join.

Ghosts was released on November 5th and I’m just getting around to posting my review on the last day of 2013. Part of the reason for that is that I wanted to give IW some time to fix some of the issues that were plaguing the game. There’s been at least six patches since launch, only two of which focused on improving game performance. There’s also been an updated video driver from AMD that helped improve performance on my system. The problem with start of the round lag in multiplayer has improved a bit since release having decreased in the amount of time it’s a problem (it could last up to 30 seconds back when the game first launched) and on some smaller maps it sometimes doesn’t happen at all, but more often than not it does happen. I’ve learned to live with it, but it’s very annoying. The fact that simply buying a better video card is no guarantee that performance will improve doesn’t speak well to IW’s commitment to PC players. Other players I game with report problems with lag throughout the game that will vary from match to match with no apparent rhyme or reason.  Some rounds are fine and others are laggy as hell. There doesn’t appear to be any indication from Infinity Ward that they plan to address the performance issues on the PC any further than they already have. Needless to say, the ongoing indifference of Infinity Ward has done much to deter PC fans from buying each new release that comes along which just gives IW more incentive to half-ass any PC version of their games in favor of consoles.

Which brings us to arguably the biggest problem Ghosts has on the PC: The lower player population compared to the consoles. It doesn’t matter how well the game performs if no one is playing it. At its all-time peak shortly after launch Ghosts had 36,922 players according to Steam Charts. A month later the peak was down to 14,923. The day before Christmas it was a mere 9,654. Christmas gave it a bump thanks to all the folks who found it under their tree that morning, but the highest it’s gotten since then was on the 29th with a peak of 17,290. That’s worldwide. Consider that the all-time PC peak tends to be less than the daily player counts on the Xbox and Playstation consoles. Ghosts is the 19th most played PC game on Steam with 9,148 people playing right now at 8:40AM in the morning. What’s 20th? Black Ops II with nearly the same player population, 8,469, at this moment as Ghosts. Hell, Modern Warfare 3 has almost as many players with 6,776 currently online as I type this.

Borderlands 2 — which was released in September of 2012 — has more people playing it right now (11,895) than Ghosts does. It probably helps that BL2 runs pretty fucking great on the PC and doesn’t have ridiculous system requirements and has been pretty heavily supported by Gearbox Software over the past year and some months. The current most played game on Steam? Dota 2 with over 491,070 playing it right this very moment. But that’s not a FPS and it’s technically free(ish) to play. What’s the top FPS? Currently it’s Left 4 Dead 2 followed immediately by Team Fortress 2 with 57,960 and 54,489 respectively putting them in the number 2 and 3 slots. Again to be fair TF2 is technically free(ish) to play and L4D2 was helped by a day of giving it away for free, but it’s not a stretch to say that IW’s shitty track record of support for their titles on PCs after CoD 4 has had an impact on the number of PC players buying it.

Here’s one last indicator of just how bad IW supports PC players: In Modern Warfare 3 there was a glitch that would affect kill streaks every so often during a match. Most commonly it would manifest as the inability to call in a care package. Your character would go through the animation, the signal grenade would drop to the ground, and then… nothing. The package wouldn’t come and trying to call it in again would just put you through the same animation with no results, but leaving you vulnerable to being attacked while doing it. You wouldn’t be able to call in the care package until after you died and respawned. Then it would work. With other killstreaks, like the body armor, it would do the same thing and play the animation, but not actually deploy. Over the year they released patches for the game they never bothered to fix that glitch. With Ghosts that very same glitch still exists, though it’s changed somewhat. You can only get care packages from completing field orders and those always work, but calling in a Satcom (Ghosts version of the UAVs) will sometimes not work on the first try and will leave you sitting there without a weapon until you hit the key to call it in again where you’ll go through the animation as though you were putting it away (you have the option of not deploying in Ghosts by hitting the key again) and then trying it again where it still may or may not work. Sometimes I’ve hard to try three or four times to get a stupid Satcom to deploy usually dieing in the process because I’m sitting there without a weapon. Body Armor will also sometimes just not deploy. This is a stupid glitch that I think goes back to MW2, but it’s been awhile since I last played that so my memory is a little foggy. It’s puts the lie to the idea that it’s an entirely new game engine. 

OK, I’ve focused almost entirely on the problems with Ghosts on the PC. I should try to say something positive about it and the best thing I can think to say is this: Despite all of the problems I mentioned above — and that’s not even everything wrong I could say about it — when the game works I enjoy the hell out of it. Since its release I’ve invested an embarrassing amount of time into it (I won’t say how much, but in my defense I have been on vacation) and have managed to prestige 5 times already. When I get a good connection and make it past that initial 15 seconds of video card lag and get into the zone it’s just as fun as every past title in the series. I like the fact that it takes some of the best things from MW3, BO1, and BO2 and puts them into one game. I like what little I’ve been able to play of the new game modes introduced even though too often there aren’t enough players in those modes to find a game to join. I like the fact that there is an in-game system for reporting the inevitable cheaters and hackers that you’ll come across. I am still a die hard fan of the series.

The ultimate question is: Should you buy Call of Duty: Ghosts? If you’re a fan and can’t stand playing FPS games on consoles then it’s probably worth your time in spite of the problems, but given IW’s shitty treatment of their property on the PC I wouldn’t blame you if you skipped it. That’s especially true if your system is far below the “recommended” specs. If you are a fan and don’t mind playing on consoles then a lot of the problems I describe above won’t apply and you should definitely pick it up. If you’re not a fan then, well, I already addressed non-fans back at the start. On the plus side, the PC version is already down to $40 on Amazon.com.

Games I’m Looking Forward To: Watchdogs.

I’ve posted about Watchdogs in the past, but a new trailer done in the style of a official report on the protagonist gives us a little more insight into what the game will be like.

Check it:

Yep, still looks wicked cool.

Where will you be when the glitches come?

It’s every video game character’s worst nightmare: The Glitch.

It’s the digital equivalent to the Mayan apocalypse.

Games I’m Looking Forward To: SimCity

Here’s another title I’ve posted about more than once, but every time they reveal a little bit more of how the game plays my enthusiasm for it spikes. In this video they show how you can have multiple cities that work together or have your friends build cities near yours to work together. I wasn’t sure how you’d do multiplayer in this sort of game, but this looks awesome.

Check it:

Another title that won’t be out until next year, dammit!

Games I’m Looking Forward To: The Last Of Us.

I’ve blogged about this title previously, but every glimpse I get at a new trailer reminds me of just how amazing this game looks like it’s going to be.

Here’s the latest trailer which introduces some of the story behind the game:

It won’t be out until May 7th of next year, but it looks like it’ll be worth the wait.

Games I’m Looking Forward To: “BioShock Infinite”

The next in the BioShock series of video games is looking pretty amazing:

I say that I’m looking forward to it, but there’s a chance I may never play it. I was really looking forward to the original game, but then it came out with one of the worst Digital Rights Management solutions available so I ended up not buying it. The DRM was so strict that it would prevent the game from running if certain applications, many of them legitimate apps, were installed on the PC. I believe these days the DRM on the original game has been reduced greatly and so I may eventually pick it up the next time it’s on sale on Steam. I’ll only be playing it some five years after it was released, but at least the DRM won’t be quite so restrictive.

There’s been no word yet on what DRM, if any, BioShock Infinite will have and I’m hoping it’s not as insane as what they put on the original game. If it is then it may be another five years before I get around to playing it.

Games I’m Looking Forward To: “SimCity”

I can remember when the original SimCity came out all the way back in October of 1989. I played the hell out of it on my Amiga computers and loved every minute of it. I also played the inevitable sequels up until SimCity 4 where things got so detailed that not only did you need to lay out power lines, but water and sewage lines among other things. It was the first of the games I found to be overly difficult and as a result I didn’t play it as much as the previous versions. SimCity 4 was released in January of 2003 and — other than an expansion pack (Rush Hour) in 2004 and SimCity DS and SimCity Societies in 2007 — was the last of the official SimCity games.

Well the folks at EA/Maxis have decided it’s time to dig up the long dead corpse of SimCity and reboot it. And it’s looking pretty fucking great. The simulation itself will be as detailed as any that has come before, but it looks like they’ve solved a number of the complexity issues that plagued SimCIty 4 with the clever usage of roads.

Check out the following SimCity strategy video just posted to YouTube to see what I mean:

The folks at Maxis have been putting out a series of YouTube videos that detail just how complex the engine running the new game will be and how much of it is handled through the placement of roads. The new engine is called GlassBox and the depth of the simulation it’s capable of is amazing. You can watch all of the developer previews by clicking here.

The new game isn’t due out until February of next year and I am seriously looking forward to it.

Games I’m Looking Forward To: “World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria”

I’ve been playing World of Warcraft since it launched back in 2004. It quickly grew to be the 800 lb gorilla of MMORPGs and it has maintained that position by constantly evolving over time. There have been three expansions to the game since then that tweaked the formula with changes both major and minor. The next expansion, Mists of Pandaria, looks set to continue that trend when it arrives. Today, Blizzard released the new cinematic for the expansion and it shows why people keep coming back for more:

Check it:

Some have decried the new expansion as being Kung-fu Panda Warcraft, but having played in the beta I can say that it’s way more than that. I’m definitely looking forward to playing the final release.