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pneuma08 avatar 5:16 PM on 05.19.2010  (server time)
About Competitive Online Gaming

Response to this article.

(I was writing up a comment but it was too long. So I decided to blog a blog blog, I mean response.)

This article hit the nail on the head as to (one reason) why I dislike Halo, as well as that little browser game Travian.

For Halo, scattering weapons about the map basically makes knowledge of the map a prerequisite to doing well. Contrast that to say, Team Fortress 2 or even Bioshock 2 multi and while knowledge of the map helps (namely with health kits/EVE hypos/ammo and possible ambushes), those who know the map don't simply dominate over those who don't.

I also highly, highly dislike miscellaneous spawn points sprinkled across the map. It's super disorienting to begin with (which makes it harder to learn maps), and then if everyone else is wandering around there's a fair chance you'll be attacked immediately or soon after you spawn - and from anywhere. Moreover, you're vulnerable to attack from any which way pretty much all the time - this does not add a whole lot of "tactical" to shooters. This is why I VASTLY prefer Rush to Conquest in Battlefield: Bad Company 2: you know which way the enemy's going to come from, and spawn campers are rare and discouraged (both by map and squad design and by the fact that spawn camping rarely ever assists the team objectives). Of course, flank attacks are possible and devastating, they're due to error - i.e. lack of vigilance or a tactical mishap - rather than just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The second point is what bothers me about "persistent" strategy games. It's simple enough, it's a growth curve (typically exponential, which only aggravates the problem), so those who have been there longer have more resources, more stuff, and so forth. I mean, it makes no sense; you wouldn't join a Starcraft game 15 (hell, 5) minutes into a match with just the basic units and expect to win. Games like that basically have to adopt a board game-esque structure and start over with everyone on the same playing field, change the objectives or give mid-joining gamers a handicap, something to level the playing field.

(Side note: I haven't played EVE, but from what I've heard of that game, that game IS either climbing the corporate ladder or skirmishing about Firefly-style. Simply put, building a sizable army from scratch - what most tactical strategy games are about - takes a backseat to the community. It's a very natural progression, actually - the development of society, people working together for a common benefit, and such. And while it would be curious to see what would happen if EVE started over from scratch today, whatever would happen would be very different game than it is now.)

However, while I hesitate to disagree with regard to unlocks, I believe that they are handled with tact nowadays - at least for the most part. BFBC2's unlocks, for example, are hardly mandatory upgrades. The many people who play the Recon class in particular say that the default level-zero gun is one of the better ones. And while there are some kinks, there's no "BFG9000" that simply trumps all the previous ones. Not to mention TF2's fabulous unlocks which really change how the classes interact with other classes rather than merely giving a boost to damage or something. Even Bioshock 2's unlocks are pretty well-done, and while the imbalance is there and it hurts at times, it's hardly overwhelming. I've killed plenty of splicers much higher level than I, without breaking a sweat.

Really, developers are choosing to tread a very thin line between limiting access to specific strategies without limiting power. Why isn't just accomplishing "trials" or secondary objectives (e.g. "Headshot 100 people", "Kill someone in mid-air with a rocket") enough? That way you don't have to entice by restricting tools, you entice by encouraging their use.

I should note that TF2 does a little bit of both, actually. Ideally, the TF2 achievements will entice players to learn to use a particular weapon, allowing them to get acquainted with it, before giving them another (i.e. letting them switch) and repeating the process. This actually might be preferable since it limits the info-dump on new players who from the beginning have to learn how to defend against everything. (Although, I'd personally rather know beforehand various tricks, such as how recently killed can drop grenades or continue shooting while prone in COD4, rather than finding out in the field. Your first death against things like that is always a cheap death because the game restricts knowledge of it - that is, there's no way you can see it coming. But I'm digressing.)

That said, at the end of the day I'm glad all of the above exist, even if I don't find it all fun. Variety is a good thing, after all.

(All of this is making me wonder how Red Dead Redemption will handle multiplayer leveling.)

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