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Major Tom's blog

7:14 PM on 01.20.2010

Spitter hedge-art (or: "if I don't see it, it'll go away")

I played Left4Dead2 tonight for the first time in what was a fair while due to my preoccupation with Battlefield 1943 as well as Dragonage, and had fun doing so. I commonly play with a competent set of people, and we are all comfortable with each otherís ability with the game to not feel we need to babysit each other or get frustrated when someone does something perceivably silly Ė it was always done for a reason, and was more often than not a smart choice given whatever circumstance that person was in (e.g throwing a Molotov that clips a friendly player, in order to destroy an approaching hoard which that friendly was ignorant to). Our preferred game mode is scavenge and, modesty permitting, we are really rather good at it. We have plans to which we adhere to at each map, and we actually strategise mid-game if things arenít flowing the way we might want it to. Communication is the key, and we have no problem using our headsets for uses that extend beyond calling anonymous players fags and cocksuckers like the majority of xbox live users.

Tonight, though, we played a team that was seemingly content to be ignorant to any threat that didnít pose a direct hazard to their own health bar. One of my main pet-peeves is people on Left4Dead thinking that a threat will solve itself Ė a perfect example is meleeíing a Jockey off a fellow survivor, only for that survivor to then turn his back and stroll away content with the fact that he is no longer the one under attack. The Jockey does not go home to tell his kids the time daddy rode a survivor but was smacked off, and in the interest of fair play called it a day. That Jockey is still there, desperately trying to realise escape in order to attack later. This kind of Ďif I donít see it, it wonít hurt meí gameplay style is incredibly frustrating to me. Even when Iím the infected Jockey that the survivors ignore.

Tonight, we were playing Parish. The Park is probably our strongest map, and we often observe the enemy team struggling to keep up with the momentum which we inexorably maintain on the collection of gas cans as survivors (throwing the cans over hedges to buddies waiting on the other side, etc). As infected, we wait until the enemy team return to the central courtyard to attack rather than the Russian-roulette of trying to predict what fuel dump the enemy survivor team will go for first. Waiting to attack them on the return leg also heralds the benefit of pouncing a team where only half of them can shoot; the other half restricted to melee attacks by virtue of the gas cans they are carrying. We canít claim to be strategic masterminds as its all relatively simple tactics, but such ploys rarely fail and are seemingly beyond the cerebral capacity of many enemy teams we encounter.

I was a Spitter on my first infected spawn. It was therefore my duty to watch the generator and vomit on players either trying to fill it up, or on stray fuel cans dropped by survivors after getting targeted by my teammates (Smoker drag, Hunter pounce, Charger...charge). To get a nice vantage point, I climbed up on one of the hedges that form the central courtyard. I never moved for the rest of the game. Every time a survivor would come to refill the generator, I would rain vomit down from my hedge platform; the corrosive damage constantly resetting the refill-meter of any survivor trying to empty his can long enough for one of my lethal (by that I mean one of the infected that has the capacity to kill by incapacitation) infected teammates to show up and wreck the survivorís day. I donít know about other players, but as soon as I get hit by vomit I immediately look for the offending Spitter. Usually, if I am a Spitter I am up high where my poultry life-bar is mitigated somewhat by the distance between me and the scary gun barrel of any angry and trigger-happy survivors. I immediately scan the skyline for Spitter-shaped silhouettes standing out from roof tops, and squeeze off a few rounds if I successfully spot one. If I am unsuccessful in finishing it off, I immediately alert my team to the Spitterís location so that someone else can take her out when she next pops her head up. I was spitting at this team all game, and they were seemingly content to just let me sit on my 2m tall hedge and continue.

This goes back to the fallacy of some playerís mentality that threats will solve themselves: because the survivor couldnít see me on my hedge (*sigh*), I was none of their concern and someone else would have to do the arduous job of stopping for 5 seconds to do a quick sweep of the area. After about the fifth shot of vomit, I was absolutely flabbergasted.

I even started jumping.

It was clear that the enemy team was not new to the game through exemplification of simple game awareness (e.g shove/shoot Boomers), and there were no guest accounts to be seen. They were just...ignorant? Arrogant? Delusional? I donít know, but they were fine to ignore a Hunter that had missed itís pounce; keep running at pursuing Jockey laughter; and of course deny the existence of a Spitter on a hedge.

Has any other Ďexperiencedí players noticed this gameplay style when playing with other people? Has anyone ever run into an entire team of these people, also?!

DISCLAIMER: I certainly do not claim to be a master at playing Left4Dead2, or any other game for that matter. Throw me into a Halo 3 match and I'll show you a score that stretches into the negatives. I just play with the same group of reasonably intelligent, responsive individuals that I've gamed with ever since first purchasing an xbox 360 which allows us to operate as a fairly competent team.   read

8:10 PM on 01.06.2010

I can't fly planes in Battlefield 1943

The recent New Years less-than-half-price sale of Battlefield 1943 on XBLA has seen a flood of new soldiers taking up arms in the indistinguishable islands of the Pacific Ocean theatre. I wasnít one to spend the full asking price when the game was originally released during the summer months (when I should by all rights be outside scuffing my elbows and getting grass stains or something), but at 560 MSpoints, it was a veritable steal. The game just is fun. Sure itís more Ďarcadyí and has only a handful of maps to delight you with, but hey itís an easily-accessible Battlefield game without an unlock system and very few perceivable exploits/chokepoints (except perhaps some of the mountain ridges in Guadalcanal) with which to punish new and unfamiliar players with. My only other serious experience with a Battlefield game is with Bad Company on the (of course) Xbox 360. Although the token unlock system allowed for a shallow learning curve and didnít bombard the unaccustomed player with all sorts of gadgets and do-dads assigned to the unintuitive control layout, it did however mean that people with some playtime under their belts had a significant advantage over those just starting out. Not significant as to warrant a game design overhaul (deathstreaks, anyone?), but as with all online shooters where the kill requirement in measured in bullets rather than clips *any* advantage is a significant one. For example, the engin-I mean Demolition class was unplayable for me during the period in which it took to unlock the absolutely filthy NS2000 shotgun. Itís nice that with a game like Battlefield 1943 everyone is on an even...well...battlefield?

That is, until, some git gets in a plane.

Fuck planes in that game, man. Seriously. I donít mind when the odd enemy tank comes cruising in and not being able to do anything about it (rifle grenades donít work, the rocket launcher does depressingly menial damage, and the satchel charges means my squishy scout needs to shift it from his nice and secure bush) because I can do the exact same thing to the enemy next time I find a unaccounted for metal behemoth waiting to be used. It is fair(-ish), everyone can have a crack. But planes; I canít fly them for shit. Before you start, itís not just my own personal ineptitude either it seems. Iíve observed a fair few aerial follies from ground level in my week or so playing the game (who knew mountains could sneak up on so many poor unfortunate pilots?), and my playgroup with whom I frequent the game with find it difficult to get a good run in a plane. In fact, I believe what Iíve mentioned before as my Ďgaming spouseí in a previous blog has failed to register a kill on Aerial Superiority that didnít entail kamikaze-ing into an enemy plane/aircraft carrier.

Maybe itís because most of us only recently downloaded the title under the aforementioned New Years sale and we havenít become accustomed to the apparently erudite control scheme for the fighters, who knows, but as soon as we press ĎBí to enter that cockpit we all have the same guilty feeling deep down inside that we are hurting the team by us jumping in the plane rather than letting a better equipped pilot take to the skies.

Itís fairly depressing to see enemy planes screaming up above me unmolested because I apparently lack the knack to do anything about it, apart from scrambling to the nearest flack gun to get off a few shots before getting inevitably sniped (OKAY I shouldnít reaaaally complain about that; I love pointing my crosshair at the seats in the anti-air emplacements and daring anyone to take position), and to have my erection-inducing tank rampages cut short by a perfect bomb drop by a low-flying stuka wannabe. Ah well. Iíve resided myself to clock a few more sessions in Aerial Superiority to get to grips with the flight controls and get the measure of the weight and flight path of the machine gun bullets before I write-off fighters completely (though I worry that Iíll become adept at shooting stuff in the air, while still poor at land-based targets), but I just want to know if this potential initial weakness with flying in Battlefield 1943 extends beyond myself and my immediate gaming peers? Anyone?   read

9:54 AM on 01.04.2010

A free copy of Onechanbara?

I am a university student who has been living in various rented accommodation for the past few years; currently residing in the third different property of said academic career. Due to these houses usually being occupied by students, you can of course expect a certain degree of postal overlap between houses due to the forgetful and lackadaisical nature of their transient occupants. Over the past 5 months, my household has been receiving numerous mail correspondence directed at what we only assume to be a previous occupier. Usually if someone forgets to update their address on some sort of online account, they soon remember when their usual cache of Tesco loyalty card points have been failed to be successfully delivered at the expected date. This fella, though, must be dead or something.

Over the past academic year we have received so much mail for this individual (which is depressing in itself: this guy gets more mail than I do, and he seemingly doesn't give a shit about it) that stealing his identity could be accomplished through nothing more than assimilation information derived through randomly grabbing a handful of any of the numerous envelopes we have collected.. The good upstanding souls that we are, however, has seen us simply adding his mail to a plastic bag (which student household doesn't have 1000+ of those things?) should he ever come looking for it, or we get over our collective lethargy and actually do something about it. Doubtful.

Our curiosity was piqued recently, when a small nondescript box arrived in the post. Good intentions aside, we couldn't help but shake and rattle the box like small children on Christmas eve in the hope that such actions would allow us to fathom what the contents could be. The box occupied a corner of our coffee table for a month or so, providing a constant vessel of mild confusion, frustration but always one of fancy for us.

I'll cut to it: recently the box was somehow opened. Gasp I know I know. IT COULD HAVE SO TOTALLY BEEN A BOMB OKAAAAY. But our self disgust for our unscrupulous actions was soon overshadowed by our amazement and mirth for it's contents: Onechanbara, for the Xbox 360. One of the worst games ever released, let alone one of the gaming travesties of last year.

So, I am presented with a quandary: What do I do with this discovery. I doubt the intended owner of the 'game' (read: interactive wank material) will ever come to collect it, and I am loathe to ebay or auction off things on the internet. Should I play it? Should I just destroy this abomination? ARGH   read

6:17 PM on 12.22.2009

A warning against having one's cake and eating it in Dragon Age: Origins

Anyone who has played Dragon Age: Origins (console version) for any reasonable length of time should only be all too aware of the numerous and usually inconsequential glitches in the game. These include NPCs floating up in the air, entire tracks of conversations simply mimed, and game freezing. Up until this evening, the worst glitch I encountered was during the Slot daemon's induced dream sequence, causing me to turn off my Xbox 360 and reload an earlier save. Luckily, I am an absolute wimp so I frequently save the game before entering a new area allowing me to recover with minimal gameplay lost.

I am on my second playthrough of Mass Effect, and my save count is embarrassingly high. Something like 350-ish, I believe. I am just glad that Dragon Age doesn't keep a tally of your saves.

However, I was unfortunately caught out by a game-breaking glitch that doesn't present itself until further down the quest line; this meant that even though I frequently saved, the mistake/glitch was done and I was simply heading towards an proverbial brick wall.

I am referring to, after a few google searches, the somewhat infamous 'Orzammar Glitch'.

[Spoilers lie ahead]

Now, I've never been a fan of the self-imposed inevitable extinction that so called 'elder races' seem to suffer in almost every fantasy yarn that includes Dwarves and Elves. They're always dying out due to their own cultural or technological nihilism that stops them from adapting to an ever-changing world; this leaves any potential human protagonists in said fantasy yarn as the target or some resentment, and fear. And, of course, the hero to save such pitiful races. Anyway. In Dragonage, upon discovering the great Dwarven hold of Orzammar I learned that the poor stunties are lacking in a King and one more political hissy-fit away from a civil war. My arrival was nice timing, eh?

After interrogating (and pick-pocketing as I did so, naturally) a few NPCs, I learned of an pretender to the throne called Prince Bhelen. Despite some mucky business with his brother, he was hailed as something of a revisionist; he wanted to expand the interaction that the Dwarfs had with the outside world through trade and treaties. "Brilliant!" I thought, this guy is going to get put in charge by my hand. The trouble started when I realised that I could play both sides; also doing the dirty work for Bhelen's rival, Lord Harrowmont.

I got greedy (I was playing Rogue!). I did one quest for Bhelen's guys (distributing some questionable documents) and some more for Harrowmount's cronies (competing in a gladiatorial arena), content in the assumed knowledge that the game must force me to choose at some point who I would definitely back. When the time had come, I sought out Bhelen's representative Vartag Gavorn to initiate the second tier of quest tasks. After berating me for representing his rival in The Proving arena, I managed to convince the poor sod that my actions had only been to deceive Harrowmount into trusting me. Hah hah, I am so clever and tricksy.

I didn't do it for the extra EXP at all.


Approving of my machevalian activities, he proposed continuing the faÁade and ascertain what it was that Harrowmount intended for me next. Harrowmount was nowhere to be found and, alas, I was rumbled immediately upon talking to Harrowmount's representative in the Dwarven pub. With a slight shrug, I returned to Vartag to tell him the regrettable news but to move the quest on anyway. I guess I had messed up a potential storyline bonus, but ah well. Little did I know that I had just entered a perpetual quest task that was incapable to be completed. Vartag wants me to speak to Harrowmount, but Harrowmount's representative knows I have betrayed them and won't engage in any conversation. Nothing I have done has resolved this loop, and nothing I have read online has enlightened me to anyone else managing either.


- There is a glitch with the 'Betrayed From Within' and 'A Prince's Favor: The First Task' quests in Orzammar.

- If you attempt to play both sides for either fun or the EXP, you run the risk of never being able to satisfy both and therefore never progressing the quest.

- Just pick one faction to back from the beginning, and don't be a greedy git like myself. Pick to distribute the letters (Bhelen), or fight in the arena (Harrowmount).

Unfortunately for myself, my previous save that would set me back before this quest was initiated is some way back in the game meaning that I have lost a fair few hours of play due to this glitch. Ah well. Hopefully this quest-loop will be patched up in some foreseeable future. I wouldn't want any other player to experience it in the meantime, however.   read

7:26 PM on 12.18.2009

First blog; Army of Two and Conviction.

Most of us with a gaming-spouse tolerated a playthrough of the Army of Two: 40th Day demo that was made available through xbox live recently, and (I'm assuming here) that the majority who did manage to endure an entire playthrough* share the same opinion I hold. It's a bit rubbish.

Anyway, I have just now watched a video on GT showing some contrived gameplay footage of Prologue; the Splinter Cell Conviction co-op story mode.

The five or so minutes of video looks so much better than anything I have seen and/or experienced for the sequel to Army of Two. Having not ever had a vested interest in any Splinter Cell game, I haven't followed the release of Conviction at all so you can appreciate my surprise at what a slick-looking game had escaped my rapture thus far.

I just hope I can convince my primary 'gaming buddeh' to be cautious and act a bit stealthily, at least some of the time. Immediate memories of premature activation of Left4Dead finales, arming of crate-charges on Bad Company interrupted by the detonation of C4, ambushes of the melee-shotgun double tap on Gears of War 2 rumbled by the irrepressible sound of chainsaw bayonet revving, and the repeated and unforgivable use of scout/spy ruses in Team Fortress 2 come to mind.

*I did not.   read

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