Thursday, 20 January 2011

Making Protagonists Suffer: Why I love it.

(by Ben Winterton)


I would never claim to be a nice person. In fact, one of the greatest aspects of video games is their ability to provide you with guiltless schaden freude. There is a great deal of fun to be had from just persistently acting like a dick in video games.

Let’s not get confused here; I’m not talking about being evil. Massacres are all well and good (well, they’re not, but shut up), but in many ways the fun of destroying someone is less than that of slightly annoying them. One of the best easter eggs of “Banjo Kazooie” was the dialogue you got with Bottles if you just kept pestering him. For those who don’t know, Bottles was effectively your guide through the game, telling you where to go, what to do and, crucially, teaching you new moves. Normally if you revisit him he goes over the move he taught you at that location. If, however, you repeatedly keep talking him, he starts getting annoyed, and eventually starts threatening to override your game. There is absolutely no tangible benefit to winding Bottles up, but my word is it enjoyable.



Banjo-Kazooie


Thinking back over my gaming career, in fact, I can think of innumerable examples of times when I have chosen to act like a dick just because I can. One of my favourite features of the “Gran Turismo” games is the complete absence of any retribution for you mercilessly ramming your competitors off the track. Despite all its allusions to realism, I’m pretty sure that’s frowned upon in most forms of professional racing. Maybe if it wasn’t I’d actually have an interest in it.

But, as the more savvy of you may have noticed, the title of this piece is about making protagonists, not NPCs, suffer. And here I come to my main point. I play a lot of RPGs, a genre of games that generally put quite a bit of gameplay emphasis on some kind of experience system. Now the reason I can play these games endlessly is because I quite enjoy the “level up-assign attributes-repeat until your play time is over 50 hours” gameplay mechanic (if I didn’t enjoy it then that playthrough of “Final Fantasy X” would have been equatable to reading a novelisation of the entirety of “Coronation Street”).

Final Fantasy X


Because of this frequenting of RPGs, I’ve noticed a bit of a tension; namely, I want to get into as many fights as possible, as I want as much exp as possible. My character(s), however, don’t want to get into fights, as they have these crazy notions of self-preservation and violence being a bad thing. This can be seen best in “Mass Effect”, where Shepard (effectively you) always seems to be trying to avoid massive gun fights against hundreds of enemies. He doesn’t seem to realise that the only thing stopping me killing some of the more irritating NPCs is the fact that they don’t yield experience. Hell, I’d probably commit suicide for an attack bonus (both in and out of the game).

My main problem is the effect it has on immersion, as a lack of immersion can damage pretty much any gaming experience. It’s a hard one to reconcile, as I identify far more with a character like Shepard than a character that would warrant the “kill everyone I meet” mentality; give me “Mass Effect” over “God of War” any day. To “Mass Effect”’s credit, it does give you alternative options a lot of the time, and I hear many good things about the choice of play styles in “Deus Ex”.



Mass Effect


Maybe I’m being pedantic. Or maybe game designers should finally give me a game that rewards exp for tedious tinkering with arbitrary menus. That would be a game where I could truly play as myself.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Mangus' Guide to Surviving Halo and other online FPS games.

“Who sneezed into the Microphone? I will find you, kill you and then teabag you. That's disgusting. I'm going to teach you a f*cking lesson!” 


Come one, come all and welcome to the wonderful online world of Halo:Reach Multiplayer. Step right up, don't be shy! Come in and enjoy the game mode in which you try and collect as many angry 13 year olds as possible in a single night; or, if you prefer, count how many of your kills can be blamed on lag/bad spawn/anything but you doing something good. The possibilities are endless.

In all honesty I love the latest version of the Halo series, even with the infamously infantile populous chittering away at me. There are two main reasons for this: Firstly, the mute button. secondly, it's mind-bendingly brilliant, and is now the record holder for most X-box live users online at once. As long as your idea of a good time is jet packing over someone and bashing them upside the head until they keel over (which it should be) then you'll quickly forgive many of the community ills.

However, as with everything good in life, there's a catch. To some extent, it's an issue faced by all Massively Multiplayer Online games and the logic runs as follows: 1) Some people, somewhere will love your game no matter what it is or how good it is. 2) They will love it so much, they will cease to do much else and become very very very good at it. 3) They will then run around your lovingly created online universe pouring scorn and bloody death onto anyone who has the temerity to try playing a single game for less than 30 hours a week. 4) Casual folk get sick of being treated like cannon fodder and become discouraged. 

If this sounds achingly familiar, then fear not because I am here to provide the beginners guide to not dying on Reach. If the above sounded achingly familiar but your online tipple of choice is the 1998 Terminal Reality classic Monster Truck Madness 2 then you're on your own. Sorry.






Before I start, a quick disclaimer: This is not a guide to winning every game you play of Reach online. That will require millions of hours of practice and a natural flair for FPS shooters. Even then, with it's ingenious system of constantly matching you against similarly skilled players, you would eventually come up against the proverbial bigger fish. Nope, this is in fact a guide to not coming last and dying all over the place, a skill which is trickier than you might imagine. 

So, a general overview: You're a 'magic space person' (oh all right a 'Master Chief'), who has in his inventory the best two weapons you can find as well as a special power (or "class"), a few types of grenades and also the ability to hit people in the face (melee). You must either kill the other team or everyone around you, based on game type. Some of the more subtle game modes call for standing in a certain place killing people or picking up an object and killing people or stealing skulls from the dead people...you know, the ones you've just killed. I'm sure you get the picture.

The classes are what got everyone excited, because it's a new concept in the Halo world, so I’ll go over them first. Actually, before I do allow me to be a total pedant and complain that they aren't classes in the, er, classic sense of a Team Fortress Classic or Battlefield 1942. They only affect one thing, and you can pick up any weapons you jolly well please no matter what class you may be. The 5 powers you can pick from are: sprint, jet pack, armour lock, active camo and hologram. Of the 5 my favourite is certainly jet pack and it has a great many uses. Any real Halo player reading this would choke on his cornflakes if I told you to use it though, because it is without doubt the worse pick tactically. It just happens to be the most fun. 


Halo Reach - Legendary Edition


The problem with the jet pack is that it shoots straight upwards extremely quickly but then doesn't really go forward. This leaves you with a problem. You're now massively in the open 20 meters above the whole battlefield and quite frankly a sitting duck. If you want to explore hidden areas and you're happy to die ten times for that one time you throw a plasma grenade at someone (sticks to the enemy, waits a few seconds then explodes) and then jet off into the sky leaving them impotent and fuming, it's fantastic fun. My only advice would be to remember to limit yourself to small bunny hops and not get carried away with seeing how high you can go, because you will quickly find out how far you can fall.

Where it's really at is armour lock. I'm going to come right out and say this...i hate armour lock. I really really hate it. It feels like cheating and it's the only aspect of the game that annoys me. It runs like this: You can turn yourself invincible for about 10 seconds at anytime. If you're loosing a fight, no problem! Just armour lock and wait for someone else to turn up and kill the guy killing you, then run away like the coward you are. Obviously it needs to recharge and if nobody comes along you come out of armour lock with the same health you went into it, and you're in a bit a trouble. 

It also has a second less well known effect, called (in this house at least) the “two-step”. If someone is too close to you when you come out of armour lock, they loose all their shield, which effectively means a melee will give you an instant kill. We call it the two-step, because you walk towards your unsuspecting victim, armour lock for all of 1 second, and then charge forward again and melee them as they flail despondently. It's effective once you get the hang of it, but it is a tad repetitive. 

Of the other three, sprint does what it says on the tin, active camo makes you invisible (kind of) when you're not shooting stuff and it scatters everyone's radar (including yours) so there seems to be about 20 enemies in the area, and the hologram sends a version of you running towards the enemy. Holograms are a tricky skill to get right because if you look at them closely, no gamer tag shows up so they're never going to fool someone properly. They will, though, get them for a split second which should be enough time for you to have formed a cunning plan...hopefully.


Halo Reach



All right guys... time for 10 more primers to help you survive the Halo universe. 


1) Power weapons. Before you do anything find a weapon which looks scary. It's standard FPS fare with the rocket launcher, sniper rifle and shotgun all present. My personal favourite is the hammer which is...well a giant hammer, basically. Find them and learn where they respawn on the maps or you'll be constantly outgunned.


2) Don't forget Melee. In the world of Halo, you have a shield which recharges on it's own and health which doesn't. Once you're through somebody's shield they will start flashing and they're easy pickins. A melee attack, unlike in most first person shooters where it's totally useless, will either take off someone's shield or all of there health. Two melee attacks will always kill someone. It's an essential part of the game and once you get used to the idea of melee the shield away, back off and shoot, you're half way there.

3) Health packs. The online version has health packs scattered about the levels which lots of people ignore. Do so at your peril! These red boxes stuck to walls come in pretty handy.


4) Plasma pistol. That little green gun which charges up and wobbles like jelly in a stiff breeze? Useless right? Not true. Once fully charged, it will strip away an enemies shield entirely, and it homes in on them. Run around with it full charged, fire it as soon as you see someone, switch to the alternative weapon and you've got a big advantage.


5) Teabaggage. You've just shot someone in or around the facial regions with a rocket launcher. Unless they happen to be made of “l337 h4xs” they will now be dead. Take a quick shufty at the radar and close vicinity. Nobody around? Then go crouch down over your victims face a few times in quick succession. Congratulations, you have just teabagged someone. If you do it to a friend in the same room while laughing and ironically teasing “whey, teabagged” you win. If you do this to someone you'll never meet over the internet while screaming “screw you, asshole!” then the local hospital has plenty of pill based solutions for your problem.


6) Radar invisibility. Want to get off that pesky radar? Push the analogue stick and sit yo' ass down fool. 


7) Look behind you. The most common 'noob' death is not looking at the radar, not looking around you to know what's happening, and getting stabbed in the back. Taking the time to work out who might be where will save you a good 5-10 deaths per level. You'll still get assassinated (instant kill by meleeing from behind) once or twice, but that's pretty unavoidable.


8) Don't go in swat for a long time. SWAT is the version of the game without a shield so one headshot will take you out. People who play swat are very very good. Not for novices. That place is a self-esteem black hole.


9) Use grenades sparingly. You start with two grenades. Granted, there are lots more on the level but you can only carry two of each type (explodey and sticky) at any one time. So don't just chuck one because there “might” be someone there. Think carefully and when you see a group, go mad. Also it takes 10 seconds or so for armour lock to finish...throwing a grenade at someone who just went into armour lock is silly.


10) Team player. In small teams, your KD ratio (kills – deaths) is more important than how many you kill. Kill 20 people but die 30 times? You've still lost 10 kills for the team. So stick with your team mates and be wary of getting involved in below odds fights...going up against a rocket launcher is like trying to stab a shark to death with a soggy macaroon. This doesn't count in big team battle, because you can do anything the hell you want and no one will notice. This makes big team and rumble pit (everyone v everyone) the best place to start.

So there you are. Do all those things and you might not die quite so much. Oh and pick the jetpack; it will make you feel 5 again.