Hello, my dear, good-looking and sultry readers. I know itís been a while since Iíve written anything and thatís because Iíve been on a self-imposed hiatus. My creativity said it would return after it picked up some smokes, but I havenít heard quip nor snark from that mysterious source for over an eon. (For the purposes of that last sentence, an eon means approximately one month.) Hereís the problem: Iím really lazy and unmotivated.
If my ambition could materialize as a worldly object, it would be an old galosh with a fat platypus inside, languidly rubbing itself and rolling its eyes as the clouds hover with despondence. As I previously mentioned, Destructoidís blogging community is amazing with a nitrous-oxide fuel mix, but I have about as much endurance as Lance Armstrong without the pharmaceutical enhancements. I know, I know. Iíve just kicked a man whoís already been down for so long that any reference including him has grown moss.
This blog entry is designed to get you up to speed with my exciting lifestyle and the mind-blowing adventures Iíve had since weíve last seen each other. Itís also a disclaimer that while I may intend to update this line of work on a regular basis, that pie is so high in the sky itís already synced its orbit with the International Space Station. Those astronauts havenít been able to get any work done due to its pleasant aroma and flaky crust. I do have some irons in the fire though, so youíll see more of me in the future...just more sporadically than I had anticipated. So, what have I been up to instead of writing?
Company of Snow-Techô 2
When I played the original Company of Heroes, I was enamored with a Dawn of War style RTS combined with a WWII setting. I loved the cinematic quality of the action so much that I began playing multiplayer for the sole purpose of obtaining a ton of epic replays that I could sit back and gaze upon from all sorts of different angles and viewpoints. Of course, they had to be matches that I had been victorious in, because Iím made up of silky swatches of splendiferous vanity. I donít feel bad about it, for what is this age of Instagram and Youtube, if not the ad-filled mirror that Narcissus fell in love with?
As a result of my replay admiration, when I heard about Company of Heroes 2, I was excited to get my hands on it. It is one of the few games Iíve pre-ordered, so sure was I that this would be an absolute delight. Alas, I share the fate of many Shakespearean characters, for Relic had descended in quality so hard that it blew past Icarus on their way to crater into the Earth.
When the open beta started, I was on board and raring to go. The multiplayer aspect was working very well and the demo single-player mission was interesting enough that I was pleased with the direction the series had gone. In fact, this very website gave Company of Heroes 2 a glowing trophy with the number 10 etched upon its golden base. The sequel lacked innovation, but it made up for this in mechanic polish, allowing troops to vault over fences and short walls, creating dangerous situations if a player decided to mix armored vehicles, explosives and ice, and even introducing blizzards, creating freezing hazards for your infantry.
Unfortunately, during the beta SLI wasnít available. Nvidia had yet to release a game-ready driver for the game. At the time, my rig relied on having two GPUís handling a new game in order to play it on medium-high settings. I thought, ďItís no big deal. This is just the beta. Theyíll have SLI up before release.Ē I was wrong, dear reader. So very wrong.
Company of Heroes 2 never received SLI or Crossfire support. It never received an official Nvidia driver to optimize it. Benchmarks were so scathing, not even the mighty Thor of graphics cards, the GTX Titan, could run the game on maximum settings at 60 FPS. It had to struggle with around 45. When a blizzard hit during a match, it would melt the CPU and scorch whatever GPU was unlucky enough to render this fresh new visual hell.
Even after the particle effects quality was reduced, the blistering snow was still powerful enough to humble everything from an average gaming PC to the greatest PC NASA can currently afford on its withering budget. Maybe Iím being overly sensitive, but I could swear Iíve seen framerate drops during official trailers showcasing new Theatre of War DLC.
As a result of all this, I was forced to play Company of Heroes 2 on the muddiest possible settings. Speaking of settings, the options menu is only marginally better than a standard PC port, which is strange, considering weíre talking about a PC exclusive game. For instance, one setting controls shadow, terrain, and particle quality, perhaps even more. I donít actually know, since the tooltip describes the setting along the lines of ďenables advanced features such as shadows to make the game look better.Ē
The tooltips in CoH 2 arenít even properly optimized. It couldnít give less of a fuck if it became self-aware and wrote itself. Oh, this setting has shadow quality in it. Awesome. I guess I can figure out the rest because itís fun. Also, FXAA is considered a ďlowĒ anti-aliasing option, making you feel like Halfling for choosing it. There are some methods of further tweaking using the .ini files, but theyíre set in such a cryptic fashion, youíll need to endure several trials in error before you cry out in frustration because youíre not TotalBiscuit and you have to use affordable PC hardware.
On the technical side of things, itís best to describe Company of Heroes 2 as a ritzy bar. Youíve just had your second martini. Thereís a lady in a red dress and sheís winking at you, succulently licking her lips and twirling her hair. She beckons you toward her. Flush with excitement you walk towards this sexy dame. Closer still you approach and as you sit down next to her and get a good look at her face, you realize sheís an albatross in a dress. The bar youíre in is a condemned mannequin factory. The bartender is wearing a GAP polo.
Yet, despite all the vitriol Iíve spilled over this game, and this is the damndest thing, I just canít stop playing it. Mechanically speaking, the game is still well done. Close matches can bring chaos and excitement as the map becomes gradually more destroyed. Buildings collapse, craters dot the landscape and tank carcasses line the front as a progress bar on just how explosive things have become.
It certainly helps that Iíve got a war partner that Iíve been playing with for several months. In fact, like I told him, I probably wouldnít be playing this game anymore if he was done with it. Thereís just something really fun about jumping into Skype, strategizing on the fly, and enduring the highs and lows of an RNG system that dictates whether a full squad of infantry survives a mortar shell or becomes a Whitmanís sampler of assorted limbs and body parts.
Streamers In the Shadows
The game is also more tolerable because Iíve upgraded my PC. I still went with an SLI system because I feel that most developers donít want to commit themselves to hara-kiri design philosophies. Hereís the punch line though: I still canít play CoH 2 on everything maxed out. Sometimes I dip below 60 FPS if I like having my ďimage qualityĒ at high. †Yet, the additional horsepower has allowed me to enjoy watching replays again. Itís allowed me to look at those fantastic battles with enough fidelity that I feel entertained.
Of course, when Iím playing the game in real-time itís always a mixture of stress and dread, but Iím pretty sure the only people who donít feel that playing an RTS are currently employing 250 APM on a sponsored keyboard. Nonetheless, Iíve even started streaming CoH 2 (and a smattering of other games) because I play it so often. The community for Company of Heroes is small, but extremely dedicated. Their primary fan site is so steadfast, it actually released ladder rankings for people to examine before the developer did. I guess some of that enthusiasm piqued my interest enough to participate.
I wonít advertise my twitch channel here, donít worry. Itís not much to look at. Though this brings me to the second aspect of why I havenít been writing much, and this one is 100% positive: Nvidiaís Shadowplay. Man, am I enamored with this software. Twitch streaming is just a click and a log-in away, and you can record 20 minute gameplay clips that are supposedly very easy to upload onto Youtube. (Iíve only been using the twitch feature since you can highlight/upload your streams, so I havenít personally tried this.)
Yes, I know. I havenít gotten with the times. Prior to Shadowplay, I had a lot of difficulty doing stuff that other people manage with lackadaisical ease. So for me, Nvidia hit it out of the park. Of course, there was also the Steam holiday sale. Iíve added that as an afterthought because this article has already reached critical mass. (Iím sorry.)
So yes, these are the main activities that have occupied my time since writing my previous blog in late December. Company of Heroes 2 and Twitch streaming.