Kotaku Being Blacklisted Was a Good Thing

“News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” ~ William Randolph Hearst

Boy, am I a little late to this party.

It’s been almost a month now since Stephen Totilo wrote his piece on the blacklist, and it seemed that almost as soon as “A Price of Games Journalism” was published, everyone had an opinion. Some sided with Kotaku, saying that real, true journalism was something relatively unknown in the gaming press, and that coverage of the problems developing Doom 4, the leaking of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (then called Victory) and Fallout 4 were all acts that should be celebrated, not punished.

This was the first image on Pixabay for “blacklist”. I don’t know why.

Others took the side of the publishers, arguing that there was no real public good in revealing those secrets that people had worked hard to keep. They claimed that by going behind the publishers’ backs, Kotaku were betraying a trust, and that they were simply using this as sensationalist news to garner clicks and attention. And what was the point of releasing them early anyway? Why not just wait for each publishers’ PR department to reveal them? That was their job, after all.

Continue reading “Kotaku Being Blacklisted Was a Good Thing”

How Blizzard Broke World of Warcraft

Cataclysm was a great World of Warcraft expansion. Under the pretense of the return of the mad Dragon Aspect, Deathwing, Blizzard gave themselves a chance to update an old game.

Cataclysm was released in late 2010, making WoW six years oldat that time. And that made it a very old game indeed. The MMO genre was moving on. Grind-heavy MMORPGs like EverQuest were out of fashion, replaced with games that were becoming ever more story-driven. Star Wars: The Old Republic was just around the corner, and it promised to make questing a fun experience, driven by your story, not y the whims on some guy who wanted some rabbit’s feet. It was about you now.

And WoW, with it’s reliance on old-style quests and gathering, was looking dated.

So Blizzard did want any sensible person would do. They threw a big-ass dragon at the world and started again.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Cataclysm. It was one of my favourite expansions for WoW, and it marked the first time I was able to reach the level cap (don’t judge me). I joined the PC Gamer guild and I took part in various raids – my first ever raids! I loved my time there. And as was usual for my cycle of sub – get bored – resub – repeat, I left WoW with the full intention of coming back some day.

About six months after I left, I wanted to go back to Azeroth. But I didn’t want to return for the new content, I wanted to return for the old.

I had spent a lot of time in Old Azeroth. I once spent the Easter holiday break sat at the computer, in a conservatory, in direct sunlight, with a sheet over my head so I could see the screen. I spent that entire holiday, sweat dripping down my face, leveling a Tauren Warrior.

I could barely keep the women away from me.

But the Charred Vale as I knew it didn’t exist any more.

And that, as you may have guessed, was the root of the problem. I realised I didn’t usually resub for new content, I resubbed to revisit the places I remembered from my childhood. I had spent a lot of time in Azeroth, and they were fond memories of mine.

And it was all… gone. In remaking the world, Blizzard had destroyed everything I held dear. And it was gone for good. I could never go back and visit it in the same way.

The current Warcraft storylines look incredible. Utterly amazing. Blizzard have gone from strength to strength, taking the storyline through Pandaria and back into Azeroth’s original lore. They’ve made an engaged and thoroughly engrossing world.

But Azeroth holds nothing for me any more.

Blizzard had done what I had never managed to do. They had made it so I would never resubscribe to World of Warcraft ever again.

If you fancy playing World of Warcraft for whatever reason, you can find it over at the Battle.net website. Otherwise, download something like Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm. They’s free!

World of Warcraft and free-to-play

The state of World of Warcraft is a constant discussion on gaming websites and blogs, and it’s obvious to see why this is the case. It’s the largest MMORPG to ever have existed and it still dominates the market despite losing large chunks of its subscriber base in the last twelve months. The numbers peaked at twelve million, but have only fallen since then, prompting the usual questions of whether WoW should convert to F2P, B2P, or whatever acronym is favoured this month.

But I’ve always wondered why monthly subscriptions are so reviled among certain gamers. On the surface, not wanting to pay per month is a common sense; I’ve already paid for this game, now why should I pay per month in order to keep playing? I already pay for my internet connection, electricity and everything else that other games need in order to keep going past a single month of gaming, so why is this so special? Hell, even multiplayer games don’t charge for the use of the multiplayer. Microsoft may well do, but the games makers themselves don’t do, usually. So why should an MMO be any different?

Subscription fees on Elder Scrolls Online? NOOOOOOOO!

And that’s the answer, really. It’s an MMO. It’s not a normal multiplayer. Everything is bigger and better, and the costs of running the game go up along with it. The worlds require more space to run, and that means a larger overhead. And those servers need regular maintenance, and a team constantly available to fix those servers when they occasionally go kaput.

Not only that, but the money goes towards a constant and consistent development team, who balance the game, nerf and buff, add new areas, and fix bugs. Patches are a sign that the game is being constantly worked on, and those people need to be paid for the work that they’re doing. And they are doing work.

And how much is that monthly subscription that people so dread? WoW is currently priced at £8.99 (€12.99/$14.99) per month at the most expensive option. That’s roughly £2.24 (€3.24/$3.74) per week, or 32p (46c/53c) per day. Can you play enough WoW per day to justify that expense? Depends on how you justify your time of course, but 32p’s worth of play is a pretty large bargain in my book. If I get an hour of gameplay out of that, I could end up doing anything. I could be fighting over strategic locations in a PvP struggle. I could be tagging along with thirty-nine other people to take on raid bosses. I could be infiltrating capital cities as a rogue, cheekily sapping people. I could just take an hour out to chat to some friends I met online. For 32p a day. I struggle to think of any other activity I could be paying for that would give me the same value for money.

Of course, if you’re really not interested than this isn’t going to sway you. And nor should it. This isn’t meant for you. This is for those who view subscriptions as only being better than the devil because Satan stole their shoes. This is for those who’re put off games by the need to pay per month to play. For those who use that as a reason to argue against the game, as if willingness to pay places people in the wrong. Take a step back, run the numbers, and think about it. If you feel you can’t afford it, or just don’t want to, then fair play. If you really do want to play the game, don’t let 32p a day put you off. By signing up, you’re not signing your life away, and you can unsub at any time you feel you’re not getting your worth out of it.

This may still be a little far to go though.

World of Warcraft is unlikely to go free-to-play or buy-to-play any time soon. A move to full F2P is generally a desperation move on the part of the company, and whilst WoW may be losing players, it’s still sat on more people than the rest of the market combined.

WoW, free-to-play? Maybe at some point in the future, but certainly not yet. Now go get your shoes back; I have a fiddle you can borrow.

E-sports – wait, they’re good now?

It’s been over an hour in the making. The crowd roars, the commentators scream and the final explosion signals the end of the match.

What? Explosion? What sort of sport is this? The competitors are routinely butchered, sometimes multiple times in a match-up, and only the strongest is allowed to continue onwards. What sort of barbarity is this? Oh the huge manatee! Won’t somebody think of the children? Why isn’t anyone thinking of the children?!

Put your writing tools away, newspaper readers and middle-class sentiments in us all, it’s only an e-sport. More specifically, it’s the DOTA 2 International competition, and I’ve just watched the previously invincible Alliance team come undone at the hands of the Asian superteam DK.

Plus it’s a rather pretty game. And you can eat trees.

This is my first time really watching e-sports, and I’m finding it to be a very enjoyable experience. If you’ve ever watched a sport for the first time, the process to enjoyment is much the same; settle down, learn the basic rules, and pick a side. I have some experience with other MOBA games, such as League of Legends, but the rules are easy enough to understand; two teams begin on opposite sides of the map. Each one attempts to push through to their opponents’ side and destroy their HQ. The map consists of three lanes, half initially controlled by each side.

It’s a simple set-up, but it leads to some masterful strategy. Rather than relying on brute force to push through the opponents’ towers and minions, most teams play a vicious game of cat and mouse, where either side is loath to engage on weaker terms. Heroes heal slowly, and if dead, they face a hefty respawn timer, so it’s common for a fight to end on seemingly empty terms, as the aggressor runs back to their side of the map, leaving their foe alive. But often there’s a deeper strategy at play, and forcing an opponent to use their ultimate ability can be as rewarding for the team as outright killing them. It’s a game in itself to try and out figure out the strategies being played, a game that always only be improved with alcohol.

An aid to the confused are the excellent commentators available on the DOTA 2 stream. Whilst they succumb to over-excitement during the team-fights, devolving into a fast stream of technobabble somewhat reminiscent of horse racing, their explanations of the deeper strategy at play and the next steps for the team is very welcome for those who’re new. It also gives you the ability to sagely nod and agree loudly, just to make you feel better, you poser.

I mentioned that this was my first time watching e-sports, and the largest surprise for me was the capabilities of the platform for presenting it. Rather than watching through a video stream, I’m able to watch the match through the DOTA 2 client itself, and watching the game in this way means that lag is essentially non-existent and gives the viewer the ability to survey the battlefield for themselves, moving the camera as they see fit, or choosing to follow a specific character. Or you can hand the reins over to the aforementioned commentators, who can then talk you through the game as they show you exactly what they’re referring to. For me, this was a massive boon since I had no idea what to look for and when, plus my Easily Distracted nature.

Though this match was terrible.

This has surprised me. Even in this age, and with the backing of the mighty Valve itself, I was surprised by the smooth nature of my viewing. I’ve viewed several matches now, and enjoyed all of them, and it’s been the easiest thing in the world to start watching. DOTA 2 is free-to-play on Steam, so if you enjoy the MOBA genre, give watching it a go.

If you don’t, give it a go anyway. A five GB download isn’t that much in this day and age and if you really can’t be bothered with the download you can still watch it over at the DOTA 2 website. Grab a friend, re-read my explanation of the rules, pick a team and settle down. Once the commentators get screaming, and the towers start falling, you’ll start screaming.

E-sports are as viable to watch as real sports. And I don’t know what I’m more surprised by; the fact that this is the case, or that after DK’s awful second match they managed to pull off an amazing win against Alliance. Like, seriously?

I’m off to watch the third and final match between Alliance and DK. I hope to see you watching too.

E3 – My hopes for the next generation

E3 is big. Like, really really big. Staggeringly big. Douglas Adams big.

That size has meant that writing a post containing all of my first impressions from E3 has been a toughie. So many great games and new hardware was on show that talking about it all would be nigh-on impossible. My initial idea was to focus purely on the games that I liked. Being a gamer, this seemed like the logical conclusion. But unlike the past few E3 events, games companies actually remembered to bring some damn games with them this year. Hell, even Microsoft brought some games this time, and Microsoft are apparently convinced that all gamers want is a magical box that controls their entire house. Even when cutting myself down to only the games that caught my eye, for good or ill, I’m still left with twenty-two games.

Um, yeah. So it’s time to write a lot, I guess.

Those twenty-two range from the massive, AAA titles that headlined E3 – Titanfall, Destiny, Ryse: Son of Rome – to the smaller projects that might not have been the focus of the main presentations, but nevertheless caught my eye – Doki Doki Universe, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot – and the announcements that were annoyingly brief, but somehow the most exciting parts of the event – Battlefront 3, Kingdom Hearts 3 and Mirror’s Edge 2. And there are thirteen more, somehow. God damn it, E3. You used to be so predictably boring. Why did you have to actually show off games this time?

So, I’ve tried to pare them down to just a few and I’ve failed. But I’ve managed to squeeze two of them into this post, in order to help me make a point about the new hardware and what that means for the gaming industry.

It’s almost as if I’m organised.

With the introduction of a new console generation comes the promise of a new step upwards in hardware across the board. You see, the limitations of consoles tend to hold PC hardware back – there’s no point stepping video cards too far ahead of the current console generation. Game developers won’t use the additional oomph delivered by the card because it’ll involve much more work on their part to scale the action down to the consoles (and will prompt much disillusionment from the console gamers, who’ll see the PC nerds getting such better graphics) and it’ll only mean that the cards themselves will depreciate in value whilst staying essentially worthless.

This isn’t to say that PC gaming is inherently better than console gaming – it’s not. The consoles enjoy their time as the ‘most powerful’ right at the start of their life cycle, where the PC hardware either hasn’t come down in price enough to compete, or simply hasn’t managed to match a system geared up primarily for gaming. What I’m saying is that the PC isn’t restricted by the limitations of the console – PCs can be upgraded more often than once every six years (the average time in the life of a console where the successor is released) and this flexibility means that the hardware for the PC begins to lag behind its actual capabilities. The release of a new console generation means the raising of that invisible barrier and means that PC architecture can again rise.

But this generation may highlight a growing problem within the industry. The Law of Diminishing Returns is starting to drastically take a hold.

Whilst the hardware has taken a step upwards, it’s harder than ever before to make the large steps in graphical fidelity that we’ve seen happen in previous generations. Graphics haven’t reached their physical zenith – I’m not so arrogant as to suggest that – instead, it’s both intellectually harder and more expensive to progress towards the ultimate. It’s more expensive, and it’s much more demanding. But the question is, do we really need it? Computer graphics today are utterly stunning and whilst we may be able to push past them, should we bother? Should we focus more time and effort into making more visually stunning games, or should the gaming industry start to focus elsewhere?

It’s an old argument, and one that I’m not looking to rehash. Gameplay versus visuals is an age-old battle in the gaming industry and we’ve seen the sides clash many times over the years. Games such as Minecraft have only served to fuel the argument, making it’s creator Notch a multi-millionaire, despite the crude, blocky graphics. And again, at this E3, much was made of an increase in graphics. The Xbox One announcement ended with a look at Call of Duty: Ghosts, a look that focused primarily on the increased graphical clout.

But there was something else. An element that was ever-so-tantalisingly revealed through E3’s many games. I’m not even sure if the developers themselves ever saw it as a big thing. It’s not specific to any one game. Rather, it’s something that can be tied into every game. And that’s polish. The details. The smallest parts of every game.

Now, I’m not necessarily talking abut graphical details either. During the Sony conference, for ever so brief a minute, we saw Kingdom Hearts 3. What we actually saw was very little; Sora, on the Destiny Islands, picking up a Keyblade. Stop the presses, Sora has a Keyblade.

Then BAM! Shitload of Heartless, tidal-waving towards Sora. Sora evades the Heartless wave effortlessly; running up a wall before vaulting onto the Heartless themselves, riding them like the perfect surfing wave before jumping off again. The video closes with a gorgeous, fliudly executed attack onto the front of the wave itself.

Fluid little details. That’s what I want from the new generation. A fluidity of movement that we’ve never seen before and those little details around that just make you believe. If graphics won’t go much higher without significant work, then why not focus that time and money into making everything else so much more believable and so much more fluid? Nothing in gaming feels better then when an independent stream of attacks look so perfect and so connected. Fighting games have known this for years. Stringing attacks together into combos just solicits that perfect feeling and fighting games live and die on their combos. Devil May Cry also knew how to make a gamer feel special – everything you did in that game made you feel like the coolest motherfucker who ever lived. It’s high time that the game industry started really getting behind that feeling.

Another game that showcased beautiful and fluid movement was Titanfall. Jetpacks are cool. The jetpacks in Battlefront 2 and Ace of Spades were great fun, but highlighted a pretty huge flaw in rising above cover in a world where everyone has a gun. Jetpacks just aren’t a huge amount of fun when sniper rifles are able to keep a watch on the skyline.

Jetpacks in Titanfall are about maneuverability and speed, not vertical jumps. The first time I saw the jetpack in Titanfall used, I knew this was something special. The jetpack was a part of the overall movement package, and not a seperate movement entirely, the thrust being used to push the player over a gap, maintained over a wallrun, and then back into a thrust that carried them onto the next rooftop. Jetpack thrusts were chained in with acrobatic parkour moves, almost as if the thrust alone isn’t enough to support the player, but can be used to make larger jumps, support the player through insane acrobatics, or dodge inhumanely fast. In a world where every player can call upon a ten foot tall mech, the ground-pounding player needs a pretty bog advantage to stay alive, and Titanfall’s jetpack movement could give that advantage.

This generation will doubtless play host to the glut of unimaginative first-person shooters that we’ve seen dominate the previous generation (with the exception of the Wii), but perhaps there’s hope for it to become something more. Perhaps the difficulties of increasing past the current graphics will cause developers to start to really polish their gameplay, smooth it out and add all those little details that we love.

And then, can we have a Star Wars game with decent lightsaber combat please?

BC: The Unlikely Saviour of PC Gaming

Article first published as The Unlikely Saviour of PC Gaming on Blogcritics.

Whilst I’ll never advocate piracy, either maritime or electronic, I do believe they have the right idea about some things. Frilly shirts, large hats, a penchant for all things shiny… pirates have a good time about life. My largest point of envy for pirates, though, is the fact that they never have to suffer DRM. DRM, or digital rights management, that boil upon PC gaming’s overwise volumptuous and tempting bottom, has hit a new low in inconveniencing paying customers. And the pirates get none of it.

See, once a game has been cracked, it’s cracked. It might take a while; Ubisoft’s infamous always-online DRM took months to crack – but they got there in the end. And once they’ve done it, they have a game stripped of all of the annoying things that continue to plague us paying customers.

I understand why DRM has to exist, I really do. And I honestly don’t mind about entering CD keys on install. That’s been part of being a PC gamer since before I can remember. That’s normal and quite acceptable. What isn’t acceptable is the new DRM that companies think they need in order to preserve what they believe are lost profits. Always-online, limited installs, Games for Windows Live, Steam… they’re all DRM in one ugly form or another, and whilst some are more acceptable than others (I’m a massive fan of Steam and Valve) they’re still a way of chasing after vanishing ghost profits.

I don’t understand economics, and certainly not the economics of piracy, but I do understand one thing; pirates probably wouldn’t have bought the game anyway. Whether or not you feel you have lost a sale from piracy, the truth is that you probably haven’t. And if they weren’t gonna buy the game anyway, then you’ve lost nothing. Technically, you haven’t lost anything anyway, since a digital version of the game hardly amounts to a physical copy anyway – it isn’t the same as stealing. Nothing physical has been lost. But that’s something I don’t understand deeply about, and am probably wrong about anyway. Feel free to pick apart my fleeting knowledge in the comment section; back onto the subject.

The DRM that is supposed to keep pirates away and stop them from playing the games that the companies have worked so hard to make (and they have) only inconveniences those who have to put up with it – the consumers of the product. Those honest people who actually bought the game. The pirates breeze right by as if the restrictions weren’t there, and it’s us honest people who foot the bill.

It’s like a sign saying, ‘don’t buy this game!’

Some might side with the game creators on this issue, and I can see why. Yes, they have the right to protect their intellectual property from people who are distributing it unofficially. But why must they feel the need to prosecute the innocent in order to vainly strike out at those who aren’t affected by it anyway? It really isn’t a good business ethic, and it must be stopped. Surely, great minds such as theirs must be able to figure out a new method of DRM that doesn’t infringe on their users and actually stops pirates from using unlicensed software. Steam managed it – despite it being a variation of the always-online DRM, it still allows you to be offline (sometimes, when it’s not being buggier than Starship Troopers) and is generally unintrusive to your gameplay. The same can’t be said for Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live. Having to log in through a buggy and slow interface every single time I boot a game was stupidly annoying, and made only more so by the fact that I knew pirates wouldn’t have to go through this rigmarole every time they wanted to play Arkham Asylum.

And so, I come to the main reason I typed this article. My solution to the whole shaboodle is a simple one, and I expect that many of you have come up with it yourself. It comes in two steps: buy the game you like, despite the horrible DRM; then pirate a version that doesn’t have the offending demon-DRM. You still bought the game, and that should give you the right to play it however you like, especially if that’s without restrictive DRM that doesn’t apply to you, a person who actually bought the game and can prove it with a boxed/digital copy.

And frankly, if that’s not legal, you have to wonder why not.

BC: Why We Care About Historical Accuracy.

Article first published as Why I Care About Historical Accuracy. on Blogcritics.

Quickly, before I copypasta this article in, I want to say a few words. The tag ‘BC’ now means that this article was first written for Blogcritics and was first published there. This doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the blog, since I can post the same articles on here, and actually means that there’ll be a wider degree of stuff on here now! Hurrah!

Anyway, without further ado, here is the first post I wrote for Blogcritics.

So this is my first Blogcritics post. Hello, my name is Mark. I study Ancient and Medieval History at university, I do historical re-enactment and I love historical accuracy in my gaming. It’s a very clear divide: those who whine about the accuracy and those who who don’t care. The most common answer is ‘why does it matter? Why do you care?’. And I want to explain why we do care. Why it does matter.

I wasn’t always this way; I started out as most other people do; I hated it when self-proclaimed historians ridiculed at the inaccuracies that they saw in films and games. I hated it when someone disregarded a game I enjoyed simply because it wasn’t up to their exact standards. And when I entered into my degree, I vowed to never be that way.

Last week, I watched Kingdom of Heaven with a group of my friends and I laughed at it and mocked the version of ‘history’ it proclaimed. I go to re-enactment events and criticise other societies kit and gossip under my breath about wrong colours and out-of-period helmets. I’ve become that which I hated. And I’ve realised why we do it.

The epiphany came whilst I was reading a rather boring article about the inheritance customs of the Normans. The article stressed that William the Conqueror’s inheritance to his son was not down to any system set in place, but because he chose who inherited what. And I thought: ‘why can’t I do that in Medieval II: Total War? I want to choose who inherits the kingdom, rather than letting the game choose my eldest son by default, because that’s how William did it. I was disappointed that a game I loved so much wouldn’t allow me to follow in the footsteps of a great historical figure.

And that’s the root of the grievance. As a gamer, I expect to be drawn into a world and I expect to feel like a part of it. That’s basic immersion; that’s what all fictional media attempts to do. The problem is that as I learn more history, I expect the same games to live up to my new expectations, and as I learn more and more I notice more and more of what doesn’t fit; what’s out of place; what isn’t accurate. And that breaks the immersion and I no longer feel as snugly in-universe as I did.

I’m now disappointed when I start Civilization V as Alexander III of Macedon, and get Athens as my starting city. Sure, I could change that, but that’s not the point. That’s not what makes me sad. Not only can I not follow in Alexander’s footsteps and start from his true origins, but I’ve been broken from the experience that I could be Alexander the Great.

And that’s where modding communities come into their own. There are always a bunch of people out there who are willing to spruce up the authenticity of a game. The Stainless Steel mod for Medieval II; mods that let you have a correct starting location in Civ V… stuff like this fills me with glee and breaths life back into a new game. And it’s not because I’m anal about the whole thing, it’s because I care about my own experience in the game: I want to follow such great historical figures and see if I can better them. And when a game doesn’t allow you do that to the best of your knowledge it’s frustrating to the point where your immersion and experience in that world is tainted.

So please, the next time you see a ‘historian’ complaining about the level of realism, take a step back from the standard response and think about what he feels is missing. I’m not saying not to tell him to STFU, I’m just hoping you understand more about why he feel it’s important. I’m just asking not to type that sentence.

‘Why does it matter?’

Until next time, game well.

Find me at my profile on Blogcritics.

How I like to play Deus Ex

Deus Ex, for me, has always been something that I loved. Waaaaay back in the annals of time, back when my Playstation 2 was my primary games machine I played the original Deus Ex. And I played it… badly.

Back then, I was a rampant cheater. I cheated my way through every game I could. And I loved it; games weren’t about the challenge, they were about having cheap fun. And I enjoyed blasting through whilst being invunerable, or completely invisible all the time. Perhaps it led to my current laziness. It would certainly explain a lot.

But that was the first and only time that I ever played through the original Deus Ex, the whole way. Since then, I’ve done as many have, and played the first level over and over again. It’s a yearly ritual that must be observed by certain members of society, like Easter, Christmas and the dreaded annual Cleaning of the Heat Sink.

And since I stopped using cheats, I stopped playing the way I did then. Granted, I did play in a manner unlike any other person playing Deus Ex; berserk charges with the Dragon Tooth Sword. But now I play all sneaky-sneaky, with non-lethal takedowns.

It was slow-going, and sometimes I hated myself for choosing it, and sometimes it just plain didn’t work – I’d leave an area, dragging myself by my one barely-functioning arm, leaving a trail of blood from my shattered limbs. Often, the reason why I quit was because I couldn’t face the sheer amount of energy that it took to play through the levels. It was totally exhausting. And I loved it. There was no game like it. None at all.

I aimed to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution in the same way. I’d seen the trailers, and I’d chosen the stealth/social route. And I aimed to be non-lethal throughout it too. Not, because of the achievement that I later discovered, but because I’d always played it that way.

It started well. I worked my way to about the halfway point in the game, and apart from a single guy I’d killed in the prologue to test the shooting, I hadn’t killed a single person. I ghosted from one area to another, taking down criminals with arm-wrenches, neck blows and just plain-old punches. I was the silent predator. I was the shadow in the night. I was the mother-fucking Batman.

And then those invisible bastards showed up. The first time I tried to get through them, it went badly. They noticed me early on, and I spent fifteen minutes in a vent, desperately trying to tranq enough of them so that I could get through. But those invisible bastards just kept shooting me whenever I popped my head out.

I wasn’t Batman any more. I was too pissed off to be Batman any more.

I’d put some points into hacking earlier, and revenge was best served cold. I reloaded, snuck into the room adjacent and hacked the console. I had control of their robot, and I turned it on them. I watched through the cameras as their previously loyal robot tore into them, blowing them apart. It soon relented to the sustained assault of their weapons, but it had felt… glorious.

I was unleashed. And it felt good.

I could use the pistol that I had been patiently upgrading throughout the game, and I did. Those invisible bastards troubled me no longer.

And that was the end of my non-lethal playthrough. It was just too much. Although I stayed stealthy and used non-lethal takedowns when I could, I had more options now. The game got a lot easier.

Of course, not everything was as good. The much maligned boss battles were a pain. At least, until I realised what worked. And mines worked.

My final battle with the snake-dude went something like this:

  1. Throw EMP mine.
  2. Throw frag mine.
  3. Throw frag mine.
  4. Throw frag mine.
  5. Win LIKE A BAWS.

And that was it. Whilst I’d struggled against the first boss, now I had an obvious routine. Which was ironic, because so did they. I didn’t view them as much of a problem, once I had my technique down. They were just an annoying break in the middle of the game, like an unusually-interactive loading screen. They advanced the plot… but that was about it. They weren’t fun, they weren’t clever, and they weren’t Deus Ex. They really dropped the ball with the bosses.

But apart from that and the constant golden-filter over my screen, I really enjoyed the game. I played it from beginning to end and had fun the whole way through. I might have lost my morals, but I gained something else, something very important. A psychotic viewpoint towards life.

Next, full on Batman playthrough. Oh fuck yes.

Why I Love Team Fortress 2

Team-based shooters have always been something of a no-go area for me. I had played Counter-Strike: Source enough times to know that it wasn’t for me. Apart from the occasional GunGame map, I tend to steer well clear of it. And why? Because I’m a noob. I’m not much of a shooter. I’m competent and I always have been. But I lack the fast-twitch skills and the hair-trigger mouse finger to really rise to the top. Perhaps my easily-distracted nature has gimped me, and all I need is practice, but I’ve never been one for sticking with a game when I’m rubbish at it and not having fun. I’d rather go play a different game and have fun than stick with a game I’m not enjoying. Judge me if you like, but I know what I like.

And that’s where Team Fortress 2 comes in. When it was released, I scoured the review, and the details of the combat enthralled me. The options! The taunts! The characters! Everything pulled me towards this game; it was shiny-central for my short-attention span.

As soon as I had a PC that could run it (my old laptop was dying a slow and painful heat-death), I bought The Orange Box and installed it. Heaven was mine! Team Fortress 2 was as good as I thought it’d be and I loved it! I’d arrived just as the Gold Rush levels were released and those levels were my Mecca. They still are, in fact. With forays into custom maps, I loved everything about it. The maps, the weapons, the community… everything was great. I even dragged large amounts of my clan into it, and they play it to this day.

That looks quite painful. With the gunshot wounds, of course.
And then I got bored and stopped playing.

This happens with a lot of games, as regular readers will know. Hell, non-regular readers should have figured it out by now. But Valve were on to me. With nano-cameras no larger than the dust particles in The Orange Box, they watched me and millions of other players become slowly bored and start switching off hl2.exe.

What happened next is detailed in the Not-So-Elder Scrolls(TM) as held by Markus Persson:

Gabe Newell did arise and proclaime: ‘THIS SHALT NOT BE!’
The Valve offices and pie shops shook with his wrath, for his was this game, and he foresaw the immenent downfall.
And the great chjinn bellowed and smashed and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Until the Great Prophet Walker did arrive, and with a calm voice did he quiet the great beast.
And ‘lo, was Hatdora’s Box opened, and unlocks were unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.

Valve released the unlock system and people came flooding back. Or maybe they’d been there all the time, and it was just me who arrived like so many Noahs. My playtime with the Medic was tiny, but I came back anyway. I joined the mad-Medic rush that consumed servers like a healing wind of needles. Whilst I got few of the unlocks, perhaps one – Valve had intrigued me, and I waited for the next class update with bated breath, knowing that it was sure to be a class that I played.

And boy, they didn’t disappoint. The Pyro Update rocked my world and set it on fire. Much like a girl you might pick up in a seedy bar, the Backburner granted guaranteed crits from behind and left afterburn. Only in TF2 would that be a good thing.

Drops came much later to the game than unlocks. Originally, the only way to get new items was to earn them through the achievement system. Later, that changed when the drop system was implemented. Now there was a way to get items without earning them! You simply played long enough for stuff to drop. So I played. And played. And played. And fuck all dropped. Valve had made it pretty damn hard to get items. Hats were even harder to get. The chances of me ever getting a hat from a drop weren’t great.

And thankfully, they changed that. Now the drops come pretty often, and although hats aren’t any quicker than they used to be, they’re only cosmetic items anyway, so who gives a shit? It’s the shiny new weapons that I care about!

And wow, aren’t they fantastic. Even now, Valve are adding more and more new items. And despite the age of the game it’s still fun to get a new weapon to play with. TF2 isn’t like an MMO, where a new weapon generally means an upgrade to your existing skills. In TF2 it’s so much more; it’s an addition of skills and a change in playstyle. When the Engineer update released, I ran around with a Gunslinger, punching people in the mouth. It’s not how the Engineer should be played, but who cares? I could punch people with a robo-fist! This new item made melee a fun and viable alternative to playing the Engineer in the normal way. Some changes are obviously more blatant than others, such as the Demoknight becoming the unofficial tenth class, but I’m sure that Valve were looking at me personally with their Valvebots when they designed the Enforcer. Or was that community-designed? Either way, it fitted beautifully with my Spy playstyle of ‘run-and-gun IN THE FACE’. And whilst it might mean that creepy teenagers designing TF2 weapons are spying on me, I’m fine with that, because it fitted into my niche (ooh err). Each and every new weapon has opened new options in playing TF2, and exploring the new niches of each class is a blast. Literally, in some cases.

More importantly for me, the drop system has kept Team Fortress 2 alive. Valve have done much the same as major MMOs in offering new content to keep the audiences, and best of all, Valve did it all for free. I’ve never had to pay anything past the box price for The Orange Box.

I love you, Valve. And I love you, Team Fortress 2. Long live you both.

Much love to Gabe Newell and Robin Walker, despite my ribbing. And the same to Bethesda, despite their suing of Notch aka Mr. Minecraft. Team Fortress 2 is already in your Steam list since it went free-to-play, so go play it!