Thursday, February 21, 2013

The DayZ Update - 02/22/2013

Been quite a while since I've done one of these but I think enough has been happening lately to justify it. As the "DayZ" standalone creeps ever closer to a point where we can all lay our grubby little hands on it, there's been a lot of new information released by the development team– as well as interesting community-driven improvements to the mod and some wicked-good "DayZ"-inspired media.

So, without further delay, let's get into it!

DayZ Development Updates

As many of you are probably already aware, the "DayZ" development team has started posting semi-regular updates on the progress of standalone to its tumblr page.

What you may not be aware of is that Fridays are the day these are most-likely to appear, including this week's update, which focuses on a recent zombie motion capture session.

If you missed the last update, which talked about improvements to the map and character customization– as well as answering a bunch of questions tweeted to #AskDayZ, or the prior update, which showed the first video of standalone in action– you'll want to check those out as well.

DayZ Mod Hits Version Thanks to Community

One of the interesting things about "DayZ" is how the community that's built up around the mod has taken an active role in continuing to support and evolve it even as the "DayZ" development team focuses on standalone.

There have been a few community-driven updates to the mod over the past several months and while the architectural limitations of what can be done in the context of a mod prevent some of "DayZ's" biggest issues from being addressed, it is impressive to see the determination and creativity being displayed by the community.

For the latest on the state of the mod, check out this official forum thread. As you'd expect, third party tools like "DayZ Commander" have already implemented support for

DayZ Mod Now Available via Steam

From the "Why wasn't this done a lot sooner?" file, it's now possible to install and launch DayZ from directly within Steam. Of course, seasoned DayZ players will no-doubt prefer to stick with third party tools like "DayZ Commander," which provide a vast array of functions beyond just getting it up and running but this seems like a good option for those interested in checking out the mod without having to fiddle with manual configuration or additional software.

DayZ Super Fun Adventures

There's a lot of really great content out there inspired by "DayZ." With that in mind, I want to start featuring a different creator each time I do one of these updates.

To kick things off, here are some of the funniest "DayZ" animations I've seen yet by Engan:

Keep in mind that if you enjoy these videos you should SLS (subscribe, like and share) them to help support and encourage their creator.

Until next time, have a good one folks!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Thoughts on Aliens: Colonial Marines

"Aliens" is one of my favorite movies. In oh so many ways, it represents the pinnacle of 80s sci-fi/action cinema. It is one of the most memorable, endearing and quotable movies ever made and there have been precious few films released in the past 27 years that can hold a candle to it as far as I'm concerned.

I am somewhat less a fan of the video games that have been based on "Aliens." While some of the "Aliens vs. Predator" (AvP) incarnations, including the most recent one from 2010, have been entertaining and fun in their own right, they don't really echo the quality and impact of their source material in my view.

"Aliens: Colonial Marines" (A:CM) is no exception. Does that make it a bad game? No, but it is not the quintessential, interactive "Aliens" experience one might hope for given how many times that's been attempted over the years.

In fairness, this was the first time at bat for many of the folks involved in trying to bring "Alines" to life in video game form and in a lot of ways, A:CM is just as successful as any of its predecessors in achieving that.

The problem is that A:CM is not the first game to attempt such a feat and its creators taking a similar path to those who came before them has produced a game that feels far too familiar in a number of ways.

The good news is that A:CM does provide a few features that are uniquely its own. The ability to complete the campaign in four-player, drop-in/drop-out co-op is a welcome inclusion and something I've always wanted from an "Aliens" game.

There are also some interesting competitive multiplayer modes that take things beyond the basic "Aliens vs. Marines" team deathmatch mechanics featured in the AvP games.

Still, I can't help feeling like A:CM doesn't do enough to differentiate itself, not only from the AvP games but from "Aliens" itself.

One of the major reasons why "Aliens" is such a great movie is that it took the premise established in Ridley Scott's original film and built on it– elaborating on and extrapolating it into a natural evolution that felt compelling, believable and satisfying.

A:CM doesn't. It is so preoccupied with fan service and so determined to re-tread the same ground as the films that it never develops an identity of its own. I liken it to a theme park ride, designed to provide an interactive version of content that those familiar with the source material have already experienced in a more passive form.

As I said before, that doesn't make A:CM a bad game, just a largely-uninspired one. Everything "cool" about it comes straight out of the "Aliens" universe with little of merit added to the mix.

The other issue with A:CM has to do with its production values. It strikes me as a game that spent a bit too much time in development and is consequently saddled with some game engine technology that's a bit behind the curve of what's come to be expected from current first-person shooters.

Because of this, A:CM feels like a game that's struggling to justify its price tag and would be a lot easier to recommend at $20 or $30 than $50 or $60.

I'm not saying that A:CM hasn't had some serious work put into it but it also has some technical issues and limitations with regard to enemy AI, visual effects and animations. I could see some of these being resolved via patches and none of them are game-breaking but they are yet more chinks in the game's already acid-soaked armor that hinder it in overcoming its unambitious overall design.

I'm intentionally being a bit harsh on A:CM because I want you all to understand why it's not a great game in my estimation. Having said that, it is a fun game and I've enjoyed playing it alone and with others over the past few days.

I could sit here and pick it apart, elaborate on how it's just another overpriced, run-of-the-mill FPS with an "Aliens" skin and all that would be true but I also had and continue to have fun with it and I'm not going to ignore that fact.

Got another co-op game to play with your friends? Not a big "Aliens" fan? You can probably safely give A:CM a pass, or wait for a Steam sale but there is fun to be had with this game and I've played a lot worse.

To paraphrase Newt: It's mostly good on sale... mostly.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Revisited: Test Drive Unlimited 2

I was a huge fan of "Test Drive Unlimited" (TDU) when it was launched back in 2006. While far from perfect, it was one of the most ambitious and innovative driving games ever released up to that point. Its open-world, aspirational, multiplayer-friendly design made it one of the standout titles of that year for me and hinted at a bright future for the series.

It was therefore with great anticipation that I awaited the release of "Test Drive Unlimited 2" (TDU2) in 2011.

Sadly, TDU2, while improved in certain regards, didn't really live up to my expectations. Whether it was the sub-par performance of the game engine in a variety of circumstances, the hackneyed attempt at a "story" to frame the in-game activities, or the ridiculous lack of control that made driving just about every car feel like clinging to the back of a wild animal as it rampaged vaguely along a given trajectory– the game was too broken and unrealized to take seriously as anything more than a curiosity.

Despite all that, I still find myself compelled to periodically return to TDU2 as the occasional patch or DLC is released, or simply to give it another chance to win me over. This might seem odd but the simple fact is that there really isn't anything else quite like it out there and that has been reason enough for me to be far more forgiving and patient with TDU2 than I would be with most other games.

As a result, I've learned a few things about TDU2 that would have otherwise eluded me. For example, that switching "Driving Aid" to "Hardcore," tweaking "Steering Sensitivity" down three notches from center, and using the maximum and minimum settings for "Speed Factor" and "Steering Damping" respectively causes the driving model to feel much better and more akin to the original TDU when using an XBOX 360 controller. Thanks and props to the TDU2 community for that tip!

I've also managed to find video settings that look good and provide a consistent framerate partially due to post-release patches but mostly I suspect due to GPU driver updates and the fact that I'm now on a much better PC than I was when the game was released.

In short, I've come to a point with TDU2 where I've gotten past the worst of its hurdles, and can finally enjoy it with a minimum of compromise. It's still not a great game in a strictly-objective sense but it is unique and oddly charming despite its flaws.

I don't know that I could generally recommend TDU2 in good conscience but I do like it and its rough edges are certainly much more manageable now then they were back when it was released; assuming that you've got a newer PC that can overcome some of its performance issues with raw horsepower.

At the moment, TDU2 is $5 on Steam. I'd say that it's easily worth that price if you like driving games and are looking for something really unique. Just go into it understanding that the ride is likely to have as many bumps as thrills.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Random Thoughts

Sometimes, there are things I'd like to write about that don't warrant a full blog post of their own. This is one of those times:

PlanetSide 2 Game Update 2

After a bit of a delay, the second major update to "PlanetSide 2" was released this past weekend. Following a somewhat bumpy rollout, things have settled down a bit and players are starting to see the real effects of the patch.

According to the development team, this update was intended to discourage spawn camping by diminishing experience rewards for killing freshly-spawned players, de-emphasize KDR (kill/death ratio) by adding and calling out experience gained by team play, and better support defensive play by redesigning many of the base buildings throughout the game world.

There are of course a myriad of other changes listed in the patch notes that impact various other aspects of the game but those are the broad strokes.

From what I've seen so far, it seems like most players are still coming to grips with the changes and haven't really embraced them in terms of changing their play style. I've seen a few nice battles post-patch but zerging still seems to yield Certification Points (CP) faster than any other tactic.

I'm frankly surprised that the successful defense of facilities still doesn't yield any CP as that would seem like the most obvious way to encourage defensive play. I'm not saying that players should get bonus CP for every attack that's repelled but it would be nice for the reward to scale based on the size of the conflict and the ratio of attackers versus defenders as it would in real military service. That is after all how and why soldiers are often promoted in reality. That same sort of variable CP gain can and should be applied to offense as well. Why should players be rewarded the same for capturing a base in two minutes with no resistance versus a 20 minute bloodbath? It just makes sense and the game seems to already have access to all the data it would need to make something like that work.

It will probably be a week or so before we see if the changes in this latest patch produce the desired results. Right now, I'm cautiously optimistic and have started playing again as time allows. "PlanetSide 2" still has a way to go to live up to its full potential but this seems like a good step in the right direction.

PlanetSide 2 (via Steam)

PlanetSide 2 Boot Camp (for new players)

Omertà: City of Gangsters

I want to like this game. I really do. There aren't enough quality, tactical, turn-based strategy games being made these days– much less any with an overarching, strategy meta game. In point of fact, "Omertà" is a well-made game based on the handful of hours that I've played of it so far but there's something about it that I just can't shake.

From a mechanical standpoint, there's a lot to like about "Omertà." The strategic, "empire building" aspects seem well thought out and interesting. There are some compelling and unique aspects to the tactical combat system to boot such as the various, character-specific attack types and special abilities but something about the overall experience just doesn't work for me.

To put it plainly, I don't care for the subject matter. The whole premise of being a mob boss holds little appeal for me and I simply can't get past that.

I may play some more of "Omertà" at some point but with its "co-op" mode limited to two stand-alone missions that don't have any direct tie-in to the single player experience, I suspect that it won't be a game that I'll be compelled to finish or return to frequently.

If the concept and esthetics of "Omertà" seem like your cup of tea, I'd say that it's probably worth a look even though it doesn't really resonate with me.

Wizardry Online

I hesitate to even mention this game because in a great many ways it's rather unremarkable; however, I do have to say that I am intrigued by the idea of a "hardcore" MMO with perma-death, which is what "Wizardry Online" promised when recently added to the growing number of free-to-play titles on Steam.

Unfortunately, the conditions required for perma-death are pretty extreme and unlikely to occur and despite a few "hardcore" trappings such as the need to sleep or rest to regain health and mana, there isn't much happening in "Wizardry Online" that you can't find done better in other free-to-play MMOs.

That and the number of technical and performance issues many are having with the game would seem to be the reasons for it being removed from Steam just a week after being added.

Will I play more of it? Probably not. Will it return to Steam at some point in the future? I have no idea. Would I be interested in a game that was actually as "hardcore" as "Wizardry Online" claims to be? Hell yes but I also don't see how a truly hardcore, perma-death game design could ever work in the context of a free-to-play business model. Seems like it would end up like a certain half-finished, rip-off zombie game that I won't do the favor of mentioning by name here. :)

If you are interested in checking out "Wizardry Online," it is of course still available through its official web site but don't take that as a recommendation. It strikes me as a game that would be pretty safe to give a pass after spending a few hours with it.

Wizardry Online (Official Site)