The Frag Limit


Battlefield 3 – Browser Based Content
May 10, 2012, 5:14 pm
Filed under: Side Strafe | Tags: , , , ,

Dice is doing something new.  Or, at least, they are doing something partially new with the way first-person shooters handle game content.  In Dice’s latest release (Battlefield 3), the company has made the decision to offload a wide array of content that has traditionally been incorporated into each standalone game installation.  They are accomplishing this by exporting this content into a browser-based, web format.  The content that has been offloaded in bf3 includes such things as player statistics, friend communication, friend status, item information, sponsor promotion and even the server browser!  This unique approach to handling this type of content is semi-groundbreaking – it has been done before (Steam, 3rd party modifications, etc.), but never has it been done to this extent.  One question invariably arises from this bold action on Dice’s part, and that is this: Does this system of offloading content actually work or somehow make the game experience any better than the traditional way of doing things?

My opinion is yes.  This system (known as Battlelog) does work and it does make the FPS game experience a little bit better (as opposed to not having it at all).  Battlelog is fast, easy and intuitive.  And it is an excellent method for accessing all of the important information and user content that is not directly related to playing the game and being inside the game world itself.  Battlelog allows players to quickly log into Origin (the publisher’s online platform which hosts Battlelog) and then to find a game, review personal statistics, research weapons and communicate with friends, etc, all “on the fly”.  Additionally, there is even a social media aspect to Battlelog as players can view a stream of their friends activity and how they are progressing in throughout the game.  This social element has all the standard things that most social sites have and players can comment on their friends progress, create and maintain a group (clan), message one another and even “like” each other’s activities.

Other advantages of offloading content to Battlelog also means no more relying on varying, and often incompatible, types of 3rd party programs to keep track of statistics, clan communications, player progress and the like.  In the “old days”, players had to download various applications to handle all of the things that are now neatly taken care of by Battlelog.  This centralizing of game content into a form which is consumable and accessible to all players improves ease of use and content effectiveness, while combating problems such as software incompatibilities and technical conflicts.  Additionally, the browser-based structure of Battlelog works well in translating content into different consumable methodologies (given the nature of the internet) and allows players to review Battlelog on their phone, tablet, or other emerging portable device.

Overall, I really like Battlelog and, to be honest, I can’t really think of any major problems with its design, its theory and its execution.  Of course, there may be some minor gripes – such as user experience inconsistencies and the getting use to a “new way of doing things”.  But these complaints are relatively minor.  And I am sure that in the future, as this type of format grows and evolves, issues of juggling between a browser screen and a windowed instance of the game will be resolved – or, at least, will be seen as normal, acceptable and commonplace.  Battlefield 3 may not hit the mark in a number of ways (especially in relation to not providing a worthwhile platform for competition), but in the case of Battlelog, the game succeeds admirably.  And, it is this kind of smart thinking and creative action that we hope to see more of in helping to continue the long, great legacy that is FPS gaming.

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Battlefield 3 – Weapon Overload?
May 9, 2012, 4:24 pm
Filed under: Side Strafe | Tags: , ,

Battlefield 3 has a lot of weapons.  In fact there are over 55 different kinds of guns alone.  There are 9 assault rifles, 6 carbines, 7 light machine guns, 8 sniper rifles, 6 sub machine guns, 5 shotguns, 6 rocket launchers and 8 pistols in the game (with several faction variations as well).  In addition to this, there are also a whole host of weapon “modifications” which allow players to tweak their weapon setups with scopes,  barrels, grips, lights, laser-guides and suppressors – among other things.  Furthermore, there are also helping handful of grenades, mines, mortars and c4 explosives to add to the mix.

With all this firepower it makes one wonder how one can survive in such a hostile environment.  It also makes one wonder how the gameplay (and the general sense of player to game interaction) is affected by this extreme arsenal of armaments.  In this post I will consider such questions and try to parse out the true affect (whether it be good or bad or something else) that all these weapons have on the game.  Is this wide choice of weaponry an example of giving gamers the versatility and depth that they want or is this just simply weapon overload?

Playing BF3 is a lot different than playing other modern shooters.  Yes, other games have often have a wide aresenal to choose from – but BF3 is in a league of its own.  Even Battlefield: Bad Company 2 doesn’t offer as many weapons, modifications, gadgets and so forth as Battlefield 3 – indeed, there is nowhere near the same amount of options.  The first question that needs to be answered is why?  Why did Dice choose to go with this route?  Why are there so many weapons?  One answer may be that this is the current trend (although with the sheer scale of unlockables in BF3 it goes beyond the trend considerably).  Another answer – and the answer that I believe to be most realistic – is that Dice wanted to create a structural system of incentives.  Essentially, they wanted to make the game addictive.  And addictive enough so that gamers would be compelled to play the same maps over and over again until new content could be released via expansion packs.  Obviously then, this system of incentives boades well for the company’s bottom line and, in the end, isn’t that what it’s really all about (for Dice anyways)?

The question following why Dice made the game like this is; does this system of incentives actually work?  Does the large arsenal of weapons, gadgets and customizations, etc., actally pay off and make the game a better game?  Does the large arsenal make gamers want to play more than if it otherwise didn’t exist?  My answer is… is that it probably depends on the player.  Each player has their own unique interpretation about what is and what is not compelling.  Some players may be extremely motivated to unloack each and every item until there is nothing else to unlock – while others may find a “decent” weapon and stick with it indefinately (and not necessarily b compelled to find something better).   Indeed, in my experience with Battlefield 3, the latter case tends to be the most true. 

Having played the game for a little over 40 hours now, I have only unlocked roughly a quarter of everything there is to unlock.  Invariably though, I almost always end up playing with the same “configuration” – I always end up playing with the support class with an AEK, holo sight, grips and supressor.  Ninty percent of the time I select this loadout.  It seems to me that I have found a winning combination (for me) that augments and supports my tendencies to play stealthily, nimbly and quitely (and as medic) and I pretty much have no desire to try anything else.  Indeed, I have tried other things, up till this point, and those things have usually gotten me killed or have otherwise comprimised my ability to play the best I can in the world of Battlefield 3.  For me then, I have no incentive to unlock more and the structural system of incentives that Dice so wanted me to fall for now just seems like a large, bloated, purple elephant in the room.  And I have no intention of messing with that elephant.

I know that others though do enjoy the incentive of constantly unlocking new weapons and assests.  Indeed, on nearly every server I play there are usually about a quarter of the players on that server who have unlocked everything there is too unlock and are now simply playing to bump up their rank and/or just playing simply for fun.  I have nothing against this, of course, and I am glad that those players have gotten as much as they can out of the game.  For me, however, I will probably not be investing that much time in the game as to unlock every item (it would take somewhere in the ballpark of 80 hours of gameplay to get there if I continue at this rate!).

The other major question in regards to the large amount of weapons available in bf3 is gameplay.  How is the balance of the game affected by having over 55 guns to choose from?

To say this least, Battlefield 3, and other modern shooters similar to it, are not like the older shooters that came out a decade ago.  Games like Quake 3, Tribes, and Unreal all had a limited number of weapons that each individual player could use and no additional weapons could be unlocked.  This helped balance these early shooters well and prevented any one player (or team) from dominating the other players (or teams).  Indeed, this balance is what made these games special as the focus was less about configuring the perfect deadly combination of class and weaponry and more on simply playing as best as possible within the confines of the gameworld.  And here is where Battlefield 3 suffers.  Battlefield 3 can not and does not provide the equal playing field that those eariler games provided.  It can not provide that equal gameplay simply because it offers too much.  It’s complexity and it’s structural system of incentives makes the game bloated, heavy and slow – and not to mention, unfair.

Given this, there is always the argument that if every player on a given server (say, in a clan match) has unlocked every weapon and every item, then the game will be fair – or at least, a lot less unfair.  I am uncertain whether this argument is valid or not, as I can understand both sides equally.  Of course, if every player has equal access to every weapon/item then no one player can have a technical advantage over any other player.  Conversely though, the sheer number of weapons available in the game may create an intrinsic imbalance that may be so great that even if everything is unlocked and available to every player the combination of skill and play style, for each specific player, coupled with specific weapons may create a compounded effect larger that what can be accounted for by the other team’s players.  For example, if there was a really good version of me out there (and I’m sure there is), then the combination of using a stealthy/nimble play style with an AEK or silenced sniper rifle may simply overwhelm the competition.  No combination by the opposing team can really resolve that threat – of course unless there was a similar player on that team.  This “sum is greater than its parts” effect is a huge problem for gameplay balance in an competitive environment and I’m not sure anything can remedy it (in Battlefield 3’s current set up).

Overall, of course, Battlefield 3 is just a game and provides a solid amount of entertainment.  In this light, perhaps weapons overload is not an issue and is a real advantage for those who prefer to play the game casually.  For those who want to play the game more “seriously”, or in a competitive manner, the huge number of weapons in bf3 makes the game beyond consideration for competitive use.  The imbalance created by those weapons is just too great – no matter how you cut it.



Quake Live – Review
May 6, 2012, 10:55 pm
Filed under: Hit Scan | Tags: , , ,

Review Score:   88 / 100

Review Stats:

  • Gameplay – 10
  • Fun Factor – 8
  • Competition Value – 10
  • Replay Value – 8
  • Intangibles – 8
  • Total Score – 44 (x2) = 88

Game Information:

  • Platform(s) – PC, OS X, Linux
  • Release Date – August  10, 2010
  • Game Modes – Duel, DM, TDM, CTF, Clan Arena, Freeze Tag, Harvester, Domination, Attack and Defend

The Nitty Gritty:

Hello everyone.  In this installment of Hit Scan, we are going to take a look at Quake Live – id software’s online competitive revamp of Quake 3 Arena.

So much has been said and so much as been written about Quake 3 and it’s derivitives over the course of the last 12 years that any new content about the game is surely going to rehash old material.  This begs the question of why even bother creating another review?  Well, since our specific focus is on multiplayer FPS gaming here at The Frag Limit, we feel that in this review we can offer a more tailored perspective of the pros and cons of this game for the dedicated/hardcore fps gamer.  We will look specifically at the details of how the game performs, what it offers competitive gamers and it’s overall impact and influence in the realm of professional gaming.

Quake Live is a “port” of Quake 3 Gold (the combination pack containing Quake 3 Arena and Quake 3 Team Arena released in 2000) and is based on the same engine (q3 or aka idtech3).  As such, Quake Live inherits many of its asthetic properities directly from q3 – the same original maps, sounds, gamemodes and gameplay mechanics are all used in QL as in the original.  Indeed, Quake Live is just about the same exact game as q3, except for some minor differences.  The biggest difference is that it is now a browser-based game that can be downloaded, accessed and played from any remote location as desired.  In this setup, players download the small, but robust, engine down to their local HDD and play online via the dedicated skill-based match-making master server.  The setup is nice and works as promised – though it can be a bit ad-heavy at times.  Other differences include the absence of blood, gibbing and satanic references (perhaps a notable betrayel from some players) and also the absence of dedicated servers and the ability to play any custom map as desired.  The HUD has also been changed – it is now more user friendly and easier to use or consume.

Alright, let’s now get into the details!

Gameplay:

As might be already known by most hardcore, competitive audiences, Quake Live really shines in the realm of gameplay.  Of course, the major advantage in this area obviously comes from the fact that QL uses the immensely popular and award-wining Quake 3 engine – which is a highly-polished, finely-tuned, quick, tight and nimble engine if there ever was one.  Engineered by the legendary John Carmack, this engine proves why it was (and still is) one of the major foundations for the world of competitive, hardcore, professional gaming.  The engine is fast, responsive and absolutely lag-free (client-side) and it is an undeniable  joy to play on.  Fortunaely, Quake Live inherits all of these outstanding physical properties from Quake 3 and nothing is lost in translation (in spite of the crossing of technology platforms and methodologies).

The other major aspect of the gameplay is the gameplay balance itself.  Like Q3, QL has no classes of any kind (although it does have model options) and only a handful of different weapons to chose from.  The lack of classes – despite the modern tendency for a wide array of class options – is not necessarily a bad thing.  The sameness of each player makes the game just that more fair and balanced.  Simiraly, unlike modern fps shooters, there are only a select number of weapons that can be used (depending on the map and gamemode).  This lack of weapons also aids fairness and makes the experience much more enjoyable from a purely skill-based standpoint.

Fun Factor:

Quake Live is a fun game.  But it’s an old game.  Essientally, it’s the same game as Quake 3 (except, of course, for the minor changes already noted above).  Given this, Quake Live feels like something that you have already played.  And if you are any sort of serious fps player than chances are relatively high that you already know what the Quake 3 experience is all about.

In spite of this, however, Quake Live can be a damn fun thing to play – regardless if it’s 1999 or 2012.  The tight gameplay, frantic battles, the matching of wits, and the general sense of just playing a good ole’ fanshioned deathmatch can be a real blast.  There is a reason why Quake 3/Quake Live was (and still is) so popular.  Gamers the world over love demonstrate their ass kicking skills and what better way to do that then through the ultimate platform for competition?  The even balance of the QL battlefield provides an equal and fair environment in which gamers can honestly display their raw, unadulterated gaming skills without the interference or distruption of overpowered weapons, items or player advantages.  And indeed, from the newest newbie to the most battle-hardened veteran, the game holds no favors and pulls no punches for anyone.  It is in this environment – whether it be old or new – where many fun and exciting battles for honor, glory, esteem and bragging rights plays out.

Competition Value:

Quake Live was built for competition – literally.  Much of the revamping and redesigning of the game, from Quake 3, was intended to make the game more paletable and more accessible to the hardcore, professional gaming audience.  The removal of blood, gibbing and satanic references all made the game more of a legitimate “e-sport”, instead of just a simply violent video game.  Additionally, the redesigning of the HUD, and many in-game icons, along with the decision to make all enimies one specific model, all make the game more easily consumed in a professional environment.  These changes all have made Quake Live one of the foremost choices in gaming where money is involved.

In addition to satisfying the professional gaming crowd, Quake Live also succeeds in satisfying the larger amuater clanning crowd.  While this crowd is not pulling in any money, per se, they still do have a strong tendency to take their games very seriously.  The fact that QL provides a fair, balanced and even playing field, only makes it that much more popular for those gamers who are looking for such important things.  In this regard, QL is a true winner.

 Replay Value:

While the basic gameplay hasn’t changed a bit from Quake 3, Quake Live does feature some added content to the experience outside of the actual gameplay itself.  Like many other modern games, QL features a slew of “medals” and awards that can be unlocked through actions acheived inside the game.  These awards are given for many different reasons (such as, for playing for a certain amount of time, for dealing out the most damage and for being the best player in a given round, etc.).  While these awards in no way affect the actual gameplay – meaning that you don’t unlock new weapons or upgrade your skills in any ways – these awards do make the game seem relevant and provide some incentive to keep playing.

The stronger reason to come back playing again and again is that it is just a damn fun thing to do.  This is especially true if you haven’t played Quake in awhile or any other game that is similar to it (meaning fast-paced, balanced and easy to learn/play).  The seminal shooters of yesteryear – the ones that came out around the turn of the century (like Quake, Unreal, Tribes, etc.) – are a dying breed, or, more likely, have long since been dead.  And in their place slower, more delibrate shooters have come along.  While these games are all good and well, perhaps gamers are pining for something with a little more… action?  Quake Live provides this much needed frenetic action, that has been missing for so long, and for that it scores well with gamers who see the game as being “a breathe of fresh air”.

Intangibles:

There are several different things that Quake Live does nicely.  The first thing is that the game loads quick and easily.  Anyone with a PC and an internet connection can download the game and play from any location of one’s choosing.  This is nice and handy if you are say at school – or maybe even work – and you want to get a quick 10-minute frag in just to relieve some stress or get your mind off other things.  The download is fast and often times wil go unnoticed (depending on connection speed).  This is a real advantage when time constraints are an issue as QL will get you in and out of the game as fast as you can possibly want to.

Additionally, the game is free.  If you just want to play some of the vanilla q3 maps (and a handful of popular custom maps), you can do so without dropping a dime.  There is no charge at all and you can play for as long as you like.  However, if you feel like you are getting bored with the standard fare and want to frag in some other arenas, the “pro” version will allow you to do just that as well as some other nice things.  For a small monthly fee, you can get access to some of the finest, user-made multiplayer maps and also the option to create your own “server”.  These additional things are nice as the original maps can become stale with multiple playthroughs.

Overall, Quake Live is a great classic multiplayer fps video game.  Indeed, it is not a game that should be missed.  Wether you are a newbie or a seasoned fps veteran, QL provides the quintessiential deathmatch experience.  An experience in which most other modern shooters have either directly evolved from or been strongly influenced by.  And it is with this pedigree that every serious gamer should at least take, in one point in their life, the time to play and appreciate the simple (though powerful) roots of the lasting legacy which is multiplayer gaming.