Video gamers are so spoiled today.

As many of you know, I cut my video gaming teeth on the original Atari 2600 — or at least the Sears branded version of it — so I remember the good old days (ha!) of 8 bit gaming. Had you shown 10 year old me what current generation video games would be like, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. 

These days, video games have advanced to the point where highly detailed 3D worlds full of NPCs and tons of interactive objects are the norm. Naturally, our expectations of what a game should look and play like have risen accordingly, but there are times when I think we’ve gotten a little spoiled by the riches of modern gaming.

Take, for example, Marvel’s Spider-Man. Which has a brand new game launching on the PS4 today. I’ve been licking my chops waiting for this title to drop as the E3 demo from last year looked fantastic and it’s going to be a bit before I can get my hands on it. Probably not until Christmas as we’re at that point in the year that I tend to stop buying games for myself lest I screw up someone’s Christmas gift for me. It’s gonna be difficult to be patient because the demos I’ve seen are amazing. Which is why I’m surprised to find out some gamers are complaining that the game has been downgraded. 

Apparently, it all started with a post on Reddit that was just the screenshot I’ve included below. As you can clearly see, Spider-Man’s suit isn’t as shiny in the shot from the release version of the game as it was in the E3 demo. Also, where’d all that water go? 

It’s a Spider-Scandal! Click to embiggen.

Thus started the conversation about how the release version of the game had been “downgraded” graphically. Presumably for performance reasons. I say “conversation”, but that’s probably being way too generous. Basically, some fans went apeshit and proclaimed loudly that they were going to cancel their preorder and so on and so forth.

Eventually someone took to Twitter to send the screenshot to the developer, Insomniac Games (who are responsible for some of the best Playstation games ever including the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance series) and asked why they downgraded the graphics to which Insomniac replied that they didn’t downgrade anything.  Which didn’t really help and the “debate” raged on. 

To be fair to the folks crying foul, there is a rich history in the video game industry of final releases that didn’t live up to the demos that developers had used to build up hype for the game. Probably one of the best known examples, that also helped sell a lot of PS4s in anticipation of its release, was Watch Dogs which allowed players to live out their super-hacker dreams in a GTA-style open world. When it was unveiled in 2012 the graphics in the demo were amazing, but the final release looked more like a port from the PS3 than the next gen title it was supposed to be.

Another example is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The initial footage wowed gamers in 2014 so gamers were surprised when the 2015 release had graphics that had been pared back. It was still an incredible looking game and it went on to great success, but there was no denying it didn’t live up to the initial footage even after developers released a patch that improved things. 

Maybe it’s because I’m old and I come from a time when ads for games often didn’t use actual screenshots or had simulated representations on TV, but even with the examples above I think folks are being nitpicky and this is especially true with the just released Marvel’s Spider-Man. Sure, I was underwhelmed by Watch Dogs once I got my hands on it, but that was due more to the fact that the gameplay wasn’t quite as varied as they had suggested. As for The Witcher 3, I had no problems with the release version’s graphic fidelity, but that hasn’t stopped me from only playing it for a few hours. For fuck’s sake, I played Spider-Man on the Atari 2600 and it looked like this:

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does some of the things a spider can.

Granted, that’s an 8 bit game written in just 4K memory circa 1982, but it wasn’t half-bad for what it was. It played a bit like the arcade game Crazy Climber in that it had bad guys showing up in windows who would cut your web lines and bombs from the Green Goblin you had to defuse while scaling the building. By comparison, the amount of detail and just sheer things you can do in Marvel’s Spider-Man is insane. Who the fuck cares if it isn’t quite as detailed as the E3 demo from last year? You get to swing from spider webs around a detailed 3D recreation of New York City beating the shit out of bad guys, finding collectables, and enjoying a narrative story that is more than a blurb on the back of the box the game came in. OH NOES! THE PUDDLES AREN’T AS DETAILED AS THE DEMO! I’M NOT PLAYING THIS CRAP!

There’s a group out there called Digital Foundry that came together in 2004 specifically to analyze video games and settle arguments such as the one about downgraded graphics in the final release of a title. A couple of days ago they released their video on Marvel’s Spider-Man and they argue that not only is the final release not downgraded, but it’s an improvement over the E3 demo in a lot of areas.

I don’t watch a lot of their videos, but I thought I’d check this one out given all the noise that’s been made about it. It was during that viewing that it occurred to me that video gamers have gotten spoiled. The DF folks do an amazing job of pointing out all the details that are in this game and the methods used to achieve those effects. You don’t have to fully understand what a Cube Map is to appreciate what it adds to the visuals when it’s pointed out to you. For a game that expects you to spend a lot of time swinging between buildings high in the air, there’s an amazing amount of detail at street level when you opt to just walk around a bit. From the number of unique and varied NPCs to the amount of traffic to the various storefronts, this looks and feels like a living world.

The DF folks show where you can see how the underlying game engine works to compromise between realism and playability in areas such as the reflections of other buildings in the windows of the one you’re climbing up and it’s the sort of thing you’re only likely to notice if you were looking for it. In the heat of gameplay it’ll probably never catch your attention and it shouldn’t matter that much if it does if the gameplay is fun. That stupid Atari 2600 game was as basic as you can get, but it was Spidey’s first video game and it kept us entertained for awhile and it’s nothing compared to this. Here, check out Digital Foundry’s video for yourself:

Holy shit! We have come a long way since 1982.

Isn’t that amazing? The detail on his costume alone is something that would’ve been impossible 10 years ago. It’s also a detail you’ll probably notice once before your eye is overwhelmed by all the visual candy on display. Now we’re on the verge of having real-time ray tracing in video games that only looks to make for another big leap in visual quality as it’ll help to eliminate some of the limitations current games have to work around. 

All of the reviews I’ve read for Marvel’s Spider-Man have it pegged as arguably the best Spider-Man game ever made.  So quit yer bitchin’ and appreciate what you’ve been offered here. While you’re at it, get the hell off of my lawn!

Thoughts on the Call of Duty: WWII PC Beta and Activison’s problem with cheaters.

This past weekend Activision gave fans of CoD on the PC a chance to try out the upcoming Call of Duty: WWII game in beta form. This was open to anyone with a Steam account as opposed to the console beta tests, which were limited only to folks who had preordered the game. I suspect this was in part because the last few CoD games have had very limited player populations on the PC compared to their console counterparts and the hope was that by allowing anyone to try it out they may convince a few more folks to slap some money down for it. At one point there was over 35,000+ players checking it out mid-day Sunday according to Steam Charts.

Overall I thought the game felt pretty good for being a beta. It ran smoothly on my machine and it looked pretty good doing so. It was a big adjustment to go from the wall-running jetpacks of Infinite Warfare and Black Ops 3 to the limited sprint and boots-on-the-ground of WWII, but it only took a few games to get acclimated. There were a number of graphical flourishes I noticed that enhanced the immersion a bit. On one of the maps with a lot of trees if a grenade went off next to a tree the tree would actually shake from the explosion.

Here’s a YouTube video I made of one of the matches I did pretty well in:

One annoyance that I hope gets fixed before the final release was that I couldn’t hear my own character’s callouts. As you run around the map you and your teammates will automatically call out enemies they see such as “Sniper in the upstairs window!” which can be helpful, but there were a couple of times where I thought I had snuck up on someone only to have them whip around and kill me. I couldn’t figure out why until I watched the killcam and realized my character had made a call out about the dude I had just tried to sneak up on alerting them to my presence. Other than that I have no real complaints about how the beta played.

Which isn’t to say I don’t have any additional complaints. One of the drawbacks to playing games like Call of Duty on the PC is that there will always be people who cheat at the game. On consoles this is usually limited to people who exploit glitches to get outside or under the map so they can get kills while being more or less immune. On the PC it goes a step further with third party programs called aimbots and wallhacks that allow the people using them to see where you are through walls and automatically aim and fire at your head with a simple button press.

Because each iteration of CoD is built upon the versions that came before it’s often trivial for the folks who create such hacks to modify them to work with the next game in the series. It took less than a day for an aimbot to show up in the WWII beta and in a 24 hour period I literally got placed into 5 different matches that had an aimbotter in it in spite of there being tens of thousands of people playing at the time.

I made a YouTube video of the first aimbotter I came across. You’ll note that for the first couple of minutes I don’t realize what’s happening and don’t bother to watch the killcams, but if you pay attention to the text chat in the lower left hand corner of the screen you can already see people arguing over whether or not someone is using an aimbot:

It takes until about my fourth or fifth death to watch the killcam and realize what’s going on. What really amazes me about this clip isn’t the guy cheating, it’s the person on his team telling others to shut the fuck up about it and go back to playing Minecraft if we don’t like it. As though he wouldn’t be upset if he were on the opposite team. I didn’t stick around long after realizing there was a cheater which is why the clip is so short.

Remember how I said the PC beta was open to anyone who wanted to check it out? Turns out this was a terrible idea because anyone who wanted to cheat just had to set up a brand new Steam account and install the beta with the hack and have at it without fear of repercussions.

A little later in the same day I was in a group with Giddy Wraith, who I often play CoD with these days, when we came across another aimbotter. I’m not sure if the cheat was using a crappy hack or if he was overseas, but you can see his character stuttering as he moves around the map. Before the end of the round he ends up timing out and being kicked from the match which allowed us to rally and end up winning. I had my mic on for this one so you get to hear me bitch about it:

I didn’t upload that video right away. I ended up having some minor insomnia and got up around 1:30AM Sunday morning and decided to edit the video and upload it to YouTube. Then I thought I’d see if anyone was playing the beta.

Literally the first match I got into after uploading the above video had another aimbotter in it. I decided to play out the whole match so I could record as much of it as I could. Again, I do a fair amount of bitching about it in the video and you can also hear the cheater laughing about it at one point:

As a PC player none of this is unexpected. There’s always gonna be some assholes out there who are willing to ruin a game experience for other people. Activision maintains an enforcement team specifically to deal with cheaters like the ones above. The folks who make the cheats are always working to improve them and there are enough people willing to purchase stolen game keys and the hacks that the ability to eliminate the problem completely is probably nil, however, this wouldn’t be a big deal if Activision did a decent job of policing their games.

On the PC they don’t seem to be doing much of that at all. In Infinite Warfare there’s an asshole who goes by the name “xihucoatl” who has been aimbotting for months without repercussions. He’s never bothered to set up his Steam profile probably because he assumed he’d be banned pretty quickly, but so far that hasn’t happened.

I first reported him in-game back in April and then I contacted Activision’s support folks on Twitter about him a month later. Their response was to report him in-game, which I and a lot of other people have done. I’ve contacted them repeatedly since then and they always give the same response. It’s now October and here he is still aimbotting away:

Anyone who watches the video can clearly see he’s cheating. At one point I use an ability called “phase shift” that puts you into an alternate dimension for three seconds making you impervious and invisible unless someone phase shifts at the same time. You can clearly see him following me and firing in the killcam while I am phase shifted and he gets a headshot as soon as I phase back in.

He’s been doing this for months. He’s managed to reach Master Prestige 11 with this account which suggests he’s got at least a hundred hours into the game. I have 759 hours in the game and I am Master Prestige 21.

To be fair, there are other aimbotters in IW that we have reported who do appear to have gotten a ban, but it took months for it to happen. When the game is only averaging 802 players world-wide a day that becomes a big problem. There are days where it can be difficult to find a match that doesn’t have a cheater in it which results in my not playing the game for long that day. I don’t know if cheating is so rampant on the PC that Activision is overwhelmed trying to deal with it or they don’t bother with the PC as much because we have such low player populations.

It didn’t help that when Infinite Warfare was released it was incomplete. Standard features such as leaderboards and the emblem editor didn’t come out for a couple of months and a number of challenges weren’t registering properly. Add in the rampant cheating that goes undealt with and it’s no wonder the player population dropped off so quickly. At its peak just after launch there were 15,312 players on the PC with a daily average 4,995 for the month of November. Certainly not a record number, but not bad. The daily average for December was only half that with a peak of 5,496. It’s only gotten worse from there.

I stopped playing the WWII Beta mid-day Sunday because by then I had ended up in an additional two matches with an aimbotter in them and it seemed unlikely that I was going to find many matches that didn’t have someone cheating. For a while I considered canceling my preorder of the game which would make it the first CoD I didn’t play. In the end I opted to stick with it as it is my favorite FPS series and I’ve yet to find another that I enjoy as much. At least when I can find a match that doesn’t have someone cheating. I hope Activision does a better job of policing cheaters on the PC, but given the example above, I am worried they won’t.

Games I’m Looking Forward To: Far Cry Primal

I play a lot of First Person Shooters and while the Call of Duty series is my favorite for multiplayer, I have enjoyed the Far Cry series’ single player mode for quite some time. Especially the third and fourth editions which were much more open world in nature and had a lot of things you could do outside of the storyline such as hunting animals for materials to upgrade your equipment with. However, when I first heard about the upcoming Far Cry Primal which would take the open world back to the stone age I have to admit I had some skepticism, but after watching this gameplay footage it’s changed to being intrigued:

A chance to play as a Beastmaster and tame prehistoric animals for use against my enemies? Oh hell yes! Granted, this isn’t the most realistic approach to a stone-age shooter, but then the other FC games weren’t known for their high realism either what with their mystic superpower granting tattoos and weird drug-induced hellscapes.

In Far Cry 4 the wildlife was one of the more annoying aspects of the game as you never knew when a lurking panther or dive bombing eagle would show up to wreck havoc while you were trying to gun down an outpost full of enemies, but they could also be a lot of use if you tossed out some bait into the middle of said outpost or set a captured bear loose to do your dirty work for you. Plus you could mount up on an elephant and just rampage through the middle of a base for even more fun.

At first glance Primal looks like they just took FC4 and reskinned it as a lot of the same mechanics are present, but the addition of the ability to tame and summon animals adds a whole new aspect to the chaos you can cause. It’s not due to be released until March of next year, but it’s now on my wish list.

Modding & Mapping Tools Coming to Black Ops 3 PC in 2016!

In a move that is sure to please fans who play Call of Duty on the PC, Treyarch just announced that they will be releasing mapping and modding tools for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 around March of next year:

black-ops-3Over the years, the Call of Duty® community has proven itself to be among the most passionate in the world – and we count ourselves fortunate to make games for you.

We’ve been listening to one of your top requests and are excited to announce that modding and mapping are coming to Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 PC!

We’ve still got a lot of work left to do, but here’s our current plan:

  • You will be able to create Maps & Game Modes and more!
  • We will include Unranked Dedicated Server Files with the tools so you can run servers with modded content anywhere you choose.
  • We will provide an Unranked Server Browser so you can easily find and join servers with modded content.
  • Closed Alpha target date:  March 2016

The last CoD to offer dedicated servers was Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in 2011 and it was a hidden option that very few folks knew about and even fewer took advantage of. As far as I’m aware, no CoD game on the PC has ever offered map or mod making tools.

These servers will be Unranked meaning the ranking-up system won’t be in effect and all weapons/perks/scorestreaks will be unlocked for everyone so if you want that experience you’ll still need to play on Treyarch’s servers, but that’s perfect for LAN parties. This is a huge announcement and something fans on the PC have been asking for for years.

As a fan who plays Call of Duty on the PC it’s been disheartening to see the console versions getting the majority of attention from Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer games over the years while the PC versions of their games suffered. I’ve complained for years about a bug that’s existed in the PC versions of Call of Duty that causes killstreaks/scorestreaks to sometimes not deploy properly. It started in MW2 and has been present in every IW release as well as Sledgehammer Game’s Advanced Warfare released last year. Only the Treyarch CoD titles are free of this bug on the PC.

I was looking forward to BO3 already. This makes it even more appealing.

Games I’m Looking Forward To: “Call of Duty: Black Ops 3”

Call me the eternal optimist, but despite how disappointing the last iteration of the CoD series turned out to be, I’m still hopeful that the next one will be an improvement. Event if it isn’t, you gotta give Activision credit for putting together a cool commercial for it:

The wait is almost over. It’ll drop this Friday, November 6th.

Jimmy Kimmel pokes fun at YouTube Gaming. Gamers freak the fuck out.

Last Friday comedian Jimmy Kimmel — host of Jimmy Kimmel Live! — did a bit on his late night talk show about YouTube’s recent unveiling of YouTube Gaming. For those of you who are not aging gamers like myself, YouTube Gaming is Google’s attempt to take on Twitch, a site that allows gamers to live stream themselves playing video games. YouTube already has a pretty big video gaming community of players who post videos of them playing/critiquing/trolling and/or otherwise spending way too much time playing video games with PewDiePie being not only the most popular gamer making videos, but the most popular person on YouTube as a whole. YouTube Gaming allows you to organize all of those offerings in one spot as well as provides a streaming platform for games to compete with Twitch.

Anyway, Kimmel’s bit was about how he just doesn’t understand why anyone would sit and watch videos of other people playing video games. He compared it to being like going to a restaurant and watching someone eat his food for him. Here’s the bit:

Now I’m not unsympathetic to Jimmy’s argument. I wrote about the trend back when it was first getting started and I was amazed there were that many people out there content to watch someone else play a video game.

However, that was years ago and the folks making videos have evolved over that time such that it’s not just about watching someone else play video games. PewDiePie is probably the best example of this as his videos tend to be entertaining not because he’s so good at the games he plays, but because he’s goofy as fuck while playing them. There’s also been the rise of MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA 2 that involve quite a bit of strategy as well as skill and can draw crowds that rival any major sporting event. It’s no longer just watching some other random dude play a game, though there’s plenty of that out there for those who are into that.

Personally, I don’t watch much of that sort of thing though I’ll indulge in the occasional video put out by Tony “Tobuscus” Turner on his gaming channel because, frankly, he’s an amusing idiot. I also watch videos by Drift0r and TmarTn for tips on Call of Duty class builds and strategies. So I can relate to both sides of the argument.

What I can’t relate to is the ridiculously vitriolic reaction from some parts of the gaming community to the light-ribbing Jimmy Kimmel gave YouTube Gaming. It’s been so bad that Kimmel has covered it on two different nights on his show. Check it:

Holy shit, what the fuck is wrong with you people?

While I’m sure most of that is hot air, there’s still no excuse for wishing fatal diseases on the man just because you didn’t like his comments about watching other people play video games. And there’s certainly no reason to imply you’re going to put a fucking bomb in his car and that you’re going to do terrible things to his wife and daughter.

And it’s not just Kimmel. Video game developers regularly get death threats when they make changes to their games to try and balance things out. It’s doubly bad if you’re a woman in the video game industry and don’t even think of being a Feminist trying to critique video games.

It’s tempting to suggest that this is just the perils of having a hobby that also includes way too many 12-year-old kids who shouldn’t be on the Internet unsupervised, but then you look at the profiles for a lot of these assholes and you realize this isn’t just a bunch of kids trying to look mature by being dickheads. It’s a bunch of adult assholes who really should know better by now. You want to know why people still look down on you when you say you’re a gamer? This is why.

I’ve been playing video games since the days of the original Atari 2600 and I love this hobby. Some of my best friends are people I’ve only known over the Internet, chatting through a headset while shooting up zombies or blasting away at Nazis or working together to take down a dragon. As an older gamer* I feel a bit of responsibility to tell you fucks to stop being so fucking butthurt over someone else not understanding your hobby and poking fun at it.

Your enjoyment is not dependent on Jimmy Kimmel understanding why you like to watch others play video games. You certainly shouldn’t be making death threats just because you’re not happy with something he (or anyone else) said about it.

(*As a side note, it’s really kind of weird to learn that I’m a couple months older than Jimmy Kimmel. He’ll turn 48 in November. I’m not used to being older than the hosts of popular late-night talk shows.)

First impressions on the Black Ops III Beta.

Explosions! Big vehicles! Ridiculous outfits! Must be Call of Duty time!

Explosions! Big vehicles! Ridiculous outfits! Must be Call of Duty time!

It’s almost time for the next iteration in the Call of Duty franchise and this year Treyarch is up to bat. I wasn’t sure I’d get into the beta because on the consoles you had to preorder the game to get in so I assumed the same would be true for the PC and I don’t preorder because I’ve been getting review copies for the past several years. As it turns out, Treyarch decided to open the PS4 beta up to everyone before it came to an end and on the PC if you had bought any of the last three CoD titles then you qualified for the beta on that platform. In short, getting into the beta for Black Ops III was way easier than anyone expected. The beta was released on Tuesday evening (I considered it a birthday present) so I downloaded it and got a couple of games in before bed. Then I spent a good chunk of last night playing it and now I think I have a pretty good feeling of what it’ll be like even though it’s currently a beta.

At first the game was surprisingly ugly until I figured out that it had set all of the graphics options to their lowest levels by default. I don’t know if it does this for everyone or it was just that unimpressed with my gaming rig, but a few adjustments here and there and I got it looking halfway decent while still maintaining a 50 – 75 frames per second performance. The default keybindings move some of the more important ones (such as weapon switching) to new spots leading to some confusion when you try to bring up your secondary by pressing the 1 key and nothing happens because it’s now the X key. So I had to spend some time remapping some of the keys. Once you get things a little closer to what you’re used to you’ll find that, yep, it feels like another Call of Duty game. That is to say, despite some new trappings and some new abilities, the basic gameplay feels about the same as what you’re used to if you’re a fan of the series.

Which isn’t to say that nothing’s changed. Like Sledgehammer Games’ Advanced Warfare, BO3 has revamped the movement system in the game bringing unlimited sprint, boost assisted jumps, swimming, and wall-running ala Titanfall. It’s also now possible to fire your gun at all times whether you’re in the water, mantling a wall, or wall-running. I won’t get into my opinions on this just yet — that’ll come later when I review the release version — but it definitely makes the game more run and gun than it used to be.

The one opinion I will share right now is that the thing I was most worried about, the addition of “specialists” with a bonus ability/weapon they can activate every so often, doesn’t seem to be as disruptive as I thought it was going to be. Yes, the abilities/weapons are very powerful, but so far they seem to only be available two to four times in any given match. Here’s some gameplay footage I captured of one my my better rounds to give you an idea of what it’s like:

At the moment I’m definitely intrigued. It helps that the folks at Treyarch are much more responsive to fans who play on the PC than Sledgehammer Games was. Not only are they doing a beta on the PC, but the lead developer is on Twitter soliciting feedback and answering questions. I couldn’t get anyone from SG to answer any questions before or after AW was released. The PC version of AW was plagued with problems and SG did little to address them and as a result the player count dropped dramatically within the first two weeks of the game’s release. I still play it occasionally, but it’s one of the few CoD titles that hasn’t held my interest. I’m actually playing more Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops 1 than I am Advanced Warfare these days. I don’t know yet that BO3 will be my new favorite, but it’s already doing better than AW.

 

SEB Reviews: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – PC
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Sledgehammer Games
Price: $59.99
Rating: 3 out of 5

November has arrived once more and with it comes another iteration of the Call of Duty first person shooter franchise. Given the disaster that was last year’s Call of Duty: Ghosts on the PC is there any reason to be optimistic about Advanced Warfare. As it turns out there indeed is. Activision has added a third development house to the effort in the form of Sledgehammer Games. The idea seems to be that the last few CoDs had issues because the developers (Infinity Ward and Treyarch) only had two years to develop their respective titles so by adding a third publisher they can now devote three years to development per studio and still put out a new CoD every year. In theory, having a third year should allow them to polish the game till it’s flaws are few and far between and Sledgehammer is the first studio to have three years to get it right. So do they?

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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 way 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.