Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Not Competitive Settings?

Having played Team Fortress 2 on the Xbox for over a year now, I have become, if I do say so myself, very good.

Now, I understand that this IS a game and, as such, should do its best to deliver good, clean fun. It has done that well, thanks to Valve, and the pacing is incomparable to any other multiplayer FPS in existence.

But as I get better and better, the more and more I am spotting a hole in the game: it does not translate smoothly into a competitive fashion.

Especially for the clans, poor guys. They could use an Xbox LIVE way of organizing things. Of course, they have made other outlets for our clans that are fantastic, such as this site, but surely being able to join a game as a group would be better for them.

Anyway, the main problem arises in the gameplay. Unless you hack/cheat/mod, there is no way to set up a fair, competitive, skill-based game, which I am desiring more daily. This is very different than the PC version, where all of the clans change settings to make the game more competitive.

It isn't unfair glitching, its just common sense, and I wish that XBox players could have the option to change the game to "competitive mode" or some stupid name like that. What would competitive mode entail? It would be something like this:

-No random critical hits
-Static damage (instead of dynamic)
-The ability to set class caps
-Friendly fire (turn on or off)
-Vote Kicking

Basically, a lot of little tweaks that would change the game drastically. Since the update has taken so long anyway, I don't see why Valve shouldn't take another day or two and write coding for this gaming option.

I know it would mean a lot to me to filter out the silent players in the community and search for a game that almost certainly would have better teamwork and a more serious perspective. And for clans, this would make all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Take Comfort in Your Skill

It has been a couple days since my last post, but I have good reason. This new post has taken a bit more elbow grease on my part than usual (even worse than editing artwork of controllers on Paint.)

It all started when I began to think of the usual responses from PC gamers about the disadvantages of being a console gamer. Most of them I find acceptable, like lack of updates and the inability to create maps. But there has always been one that has bothered me a bit more than the others: CONSOLE GAMERS HAVE LESS SKILL.

This never, ever made sense to me. At what point did the game require less skill? If everyone on a computer games with a mouse, their controls are equal, creating an equal playing field in that respect. Similarly, everyone on the Xbox 360 uses the same standard controller. If the level of threat is equal from everyone, when does the PC users abilities make more influence against other players? The answer is that it doesn't.

Certainly, if a PC gamer came along with a mouse onto an Xbox 360 match, they would probably be extremely successful because the mouse is a superior input device. Instead of going through this much thought, however, PC gamers, instead, say that they have superior skill. This is completely untrue. In fact, if our input device is inferior and we accomplish the same things, that would actually require more skill.

When I had made peace with this, I heard another comment that deeply disturbed me. I was told that Team Fortress 2 on the Xbox 360 had auto-aim. "It isn't true," I told myself, "every frag of mine is my own, not assisted by some coding!"

"Maybe it wasn't so bad," I thought after awhile, "many 360 games use auto-aim, like Halo 3 or even Call of Duty 4. Heck, even Half-Life 2 used auto-aim on the PC!" My confidence was growing again, but only on the surface, and I would often remember this comment when I went on a 15 kill streak or sniped a Scout that was right in my face.

Soon after, I had my first air-shot kill with the Rocket Launcher (one of the most exhilarating moments of my gaming career, coming close to winning that Strider battle at the end of Episode Two.) But the experience became less exciting when I realized that it had been the game, not me, who had shot that soaring Soldier.

Then it hit me fast and hard. I had predicted that movement, not the computer. Auto-aim didn't make one difference in this case. I felt real success and I now considered Soldier to be a class of ridiculous skill because he couldn't rely on auto-aim.

But sometimes I still thought about auto-aim, and the more I played, the more I'd think about it. I began to watch my reticule while I played. Did it ever bend towards players? Could I miss by just a little and still do damage? When I was sighted in and I took my thumbs off the sticks, did my reticule follow the enemy?

The answers to these answers were all, surprisingly, NO, and in one day, months of discontent became confusion. How was auto-aim implemented if it did none of these things? Then I did something I should have done much earlier. I asked Robin Walker.

In his own words:
Hi Neal.
Nope, there's no auto-aim on the Xbox.


So now I can take comfort in my skill. That is, unless I get lucky.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gravel Pit

Capture Point A:

This point is the hardest for RED to defend of the three on the map, probably because it is the furthest away from the spawn of the two initial defensible positions.

A clever Soldier or Demoman on team BLU can make it up to the point very quickly because much of the travel distance is vertical from the exit tunnels. A Sniper on either team can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of this point because the arena is basically a narrow strip. However, many objects obscure the view of players, and the upward slope can lead to a limited view for a BLU Sniper.

With all the height options here, a Scout can flank easily, while remaining mostly unseen. To slow down the Scouts, the single health pack is stored on the inside of a small building, forcing the Scout to move in a predictable fashion to retrieve it.

It is an excellent idea to have RED Pyro wait by the largest health pack (directly beneath the point), ready to spring into action if BLU begins to capture and essentially lockdown the health pack from BLU opponents.

Putting a Teleporter Exit in a clever hiding place near this point can mean the difference between losing the point and letting it get captured. Sentries are less useful on this point due to the long sightlines for Soldiers and Snipers to shoot them down.

All these factors mean that Point A is usually captured first, making every defensive decision surrounding it become extremely tense. The mission of RED should be slightly kamikaze because it is so unlikely that Point A will be saved from capture. Therefore, it is important that RED delay BLU for as long as possible here, but also to sacrifice it when saving it becomes unrealistic in order to defend A or B.

Some of the greatest chainstabs I've ever had have happened immediately after BLU captures A and they are headed to B. The emotional high of success can lead to them letting their guard down temporarily, so good Spies should capitalize on this opportunity. I know I do.

Capture Point B:

Following that terrible lead in to Point B's Introduction, some of you might not be taking it seriously enough. I cannot let that happen. Point B is one of the best map elements of any game I have ever played.

Standing about an equal distance from both RED and BLU's spawns, the Point B Building is likely to be in contention for a majority of the match. Much like a Teleporter Exit near Point A, a Soldier or Demoman on the roof of the Point B building provides an enormous amount of leverage. Note: If you are Engineer that get to this rooftop (without hacking), I highly suggest you build a Sentry farm up there. It is nigh impenetrable and a Teleporter Exit there can provide quick reinforcements.

A Spy can wreak havoc on RED defenses here because they can convincingly come in from any direction. Scouts can also be very effective on either team because they have a wide range of motion outside the building without every having to risk going inside, on the capture point.

In other words, it allows Scouts to impact the match without going where the Sentries are (something that Dustbowl has failed to do.) At the same time, once the Sentries are eliminated, the Scout can rush in and capture from any number of entrances.

If RED stays inside the building, they will eventually be bombarded to death from the outside, but if the team can keep BLU busy outside, a Heavy and a Pyro can clean up anybody that breaks through. RED Pyros also have an extra bite because BLU cannot return to spawn to douse the flames. A single BLU Medic can solve this problem, if BLU has one (it should.)

Stopping BLU from capturing Point B is fairly easy to do, even if they manage to collect a good presence there. If the point is almost captured, a good strategy for RED would be to split their ranks between setting up camp at C and sending one more squad to B. If B gets captured before the squad reaches BLU, they can at least disrupt their forward movement to C, giving the other squad more time to get ready.

Capture Point C:

Valve's intent, when creating this part of the map (according to the Developer Commentary), was to enforce a free-form battle until a decisive victory of one team was discernible. This invokes images of a fierce, climactic struggle.

This is stamped all to hell by a Spy decloaking on the point right after it becomes available. However, I cannot deny that this is a superb strategy. Even if this doesn't work, it shakes up team RED pretty badly, and soon they are making hectic, irrational decisions, such as Demomen trying to sticky-jump to the point using three stickies.

Since there are five separate entrances to the arena, team BLU has a lot of opportunity to cause chaos. Team RED can also flank from lots of areas, making Spies and Scouts even more useful than usual.

With point C being at the top of a large vertical building, a Solidier or Demoman has a lot of chances to rocket/sticky jump to attack or defend. Besides being a practical way to ascend the ramps quickly, it is also a great way to impress your friends.

Snipers will be right at home if they take the passage from A to attack the defenders on Point C. Conversely, a Pyro can make themselves usefull by periodically flushing out that area of the map of enemies.

All-in-all, Point C provides a lovely finish to a well-designed map. When you look at it, you begin to understand why Team Fortress 2 took nine years to make.

Suggested Improvements:
BLU has a small lead in the statistics, so measures to help RED win should be minor, not dramatic. The geometry is great, so my suggestion would be to have RED's respawns happen a little more frequently after Point C becomes available for capture.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If You Haven't Yet, It's Time To Optimize your Controller

One of the earliest problems I had while playing Team Fortress 2 was that I felt limited by the control scheme that Valve had set for me to play with. After much tweaking, these are the controls I have settled on.

The reason I like this way of playing so much is that you never have to take your thumbs off of the movement/aiming sticks while performing actions that require precise movement/aiming.

For example, you don't need to make aiming adjustments while reloading, switching weapons, or taunting. At the same time, it is easy to dodge and attack simultaneously without any trouble.

Setting the controls this way also makes crouch-jumping incredibly easy and Rocket/Sticky Jumping possible. To further increase the simplicity, I would suggest switching the crouch from Toggle to Hold.

Finally, the most critical thing you can do to your controls to improve your game is to adjust your sensitivity so that it is as high as possible. It may seem challenging at first, but in the end, it allows you to defend yourself much more quickly, and to attack both accurately and with a better response time.

And for those of you who really want to take it to the next level in any FPS title, I would highly recommend you invest $10 in these Kontrol Freeks. They may look bizarre, but they make sense scientifically. The greater leverage supplied by the extensions allows for minuscule aiming adjustments that are otherwise impossible.

I can testify that they have improved my skill significantly, and they are quite sturdy, so don't worry about them getting broken. Good gaming!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I bought my Xbox 360 almost 18 months ago, but the year prior to that was quite a struggle.

A lot of issues come up when you consider the affordability of an Xbox 360. I chose to budget myself, yet I didn't want to lose anything by spending less. And so the research began in January 2007. I had price checked, literally, hundreds of sites by the time I began to narrow my focus to just a few. I had to factor in so many things, such as Shipping&Handling charges as well as seasonal bargains that would no longer exist by the time I had gathered enough spending ability.

My list of essentials began to shrink with time, with my overlying goal soon entailing the gather of as many resources as possible with an expense of less than $800. I might remind you, at this point, that the average price of an Xbox 360 at that time was about $400, so it wasn't as easy as it would be nowadays.

I needed to have two controllers (costing about $100 together), a Play-n-Charge Kit ($25 that I didn't want to spend on batteries later), and my own television set (a $100 hard-to-find beauty that I suggest you take a look at).

Do the math, and you'll realize that I was left approximately $175. With that much I couldn't even afford to have three new games. The level of frustration was so high now that I almost decided to buy a good camera instead.
But I collected myself and brought forth a new level of dedication to the cause. It wasn't so bad, I thought, and I wasn't to give up on an idea I'd been working on for 8 months. So began the research into which games I wanted.

I quickly decided that I would try to get one good game for each of the major genres: FPS, RTS, RPG, Action/Adventure, Racing, Sports, and Music. The only obvious choice to me was to purchase Halo 3. Yes, marketing and advertising does work when the hype train starts to roll.

Other games were more difficult to find. Racing went to Burnout Revenge. Action/Adventure went to Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (included in the package I bought.) On and on the list went, but I wanted more.

That is when, by strange chance, I discovered a preview for Portal. I fell in love instantly. The innovateness of Portal is subtle but undeniable. After Portal, I read a review for The Orange Box. Suddenly, Halo 3 was out the window forever and The Orange Box reigned supreme.