TF2 Without Weapons

Note: The following entry contains a lot of TF2 (thats Team Fortress 2 for you unsavvy newcomers) jargon and tactical discussion. If you don’t play the game, you won’t find it interesting. You can play TF2 for free by downloading Steam (Google it) and then downloading the game.

As of late the TF2 item server has been down. This means that users cannot use any custom items, be it hats, weapons, or accessories. It has been a callback to a type of TF2 gameplay that, frankly, I’ve never experienced but have always wanted to taste. The game was suddenly elegant and fun as the desire for hats and scrap and weapons and stranges and trading vanished.

Strategy changed as well. Because I knew exactly what every person could do, the game became a series of tactical calculations. If I confront a demoman as a scout, I know that I need to get up close to avoid sticky bombs, but stay to the side to avoid point-blank grenades. I know that he doesn’t have a shield or loch-and-load. When I see a group, I can more or less tell whether or not I can win. Suddenly the game becomes about pushing people in one direction or another. I need to hold one area long enough to allow the support classes to set up. One of the best parts is that spies are highly restricted. So many people play with the cloak-and-dagger or the deadringer; without them, people become worse at spy, and spychecking becomes much easier.

It also opens up new, unexpected approaches. Because spies became less of a behind-enemy-lines class and more of a fast-moving, harassment class, I saw some brilliant plays. For instance, on the opening arena on the last stage of dustbowl, a medic ubered a spy during a push; the spy walked up and kept placing sappers on all the sentries until the entire loading dock and stairs area was clear. There was nothing we could do about it.

As I’ve heard people comment before, the regular weapons are quite good. It takes a break from them to realize it, and I do use some of the classic weapons, such as the scattergun, medigun, smg, minigun, knife, sticky launcher, etc. However, one thing that struck me, or I should say others, was the scout bat. I got some amazing streaks with only the bat, being a 2-3 hit kill on most of anybody (not overhealed). The speed at which hits are delivered is astounding, and the sound is quite different so it is common to get 3-4 hits on an unsuspecting someone from behind, and which point they are usually dead. The scattergun-bat combo is even more deadly. Hit them 2-3 times from long range, switch as you close the gap, and then run circles around them and hit a homerun.

That’s not to say, of course, that I didn’t miss some of my items. Top on the list were the axtinguisher (our absence has only heightened my love) and the sandvich. The miss-list also contains the cloak-and-dagger (sweet sweet invisibility) and the wrangler. The wrangler in particular is a tactical tool an engie should never be without. Imagine if someone suddenly told you that you could call in artillery strikes in TF2: that’s the wrangler. Excellent for denying an area much greater than usually able to be covered, taking out pesky snipers, and pinning down the enemy team when defending or attacking the final point. Don’t forget the wrangler-repair engie pair that can lock down turbine or 2fort from the battlements.

Needless to say, we’ll all be very happy when the item servers get back up. However, I’ll miss this time and probably reminisce to a bunch of people that don’t care that much. I know I’ll be changing my loadouts. Will you?


Minecraft Server: RPCreate

A while back I wrote a post about Minecraft servers. Since then I’ve put more thought into it and I’m thinking about starting a new server. This will be a much more informed endeavor, and hopefully it will turn out for the best. Here are some highlights:

The main idea is that the server puts all the players on an even playing field by allowing all users to use creative mode and basic commands. This will eliminate hoarding and allow players to focus on interacting, not making money or getting resources. It also removes any worry about stealing. However, because players have the capability to get any resources they need, I am hoping they will be more willing to fill a so for economic role (farming, lumberjacking, mining, building, etc) and resort to using legit materials as much as possible.

You need to be able to write!
Number one requirement to join will be the ability to write. This indicates that you are at least somewhat intelligent and able to express your ideas. In addition, it means you can read what others write and grasp new concepts.

You need to relax!
With a guaranteed level of intelligence hopefully comes a certain ability to compromise and handle a situation gracefully if you don’t get what you want or disagree with someone. We also need people who can play fairly and understand the importance of keeping a balanced economy by not hoarding legitimate materials or abusing creative mode.

You need to play fairly, and build sensibly.
As stated before, each member should be responsible. It is their server, and thus they need to actively work to keep it fun. This is the main idea I want to permeate through the server community: the server is merely a utility through which the players, as a community, get to act out fantasies and epic stories. There are no “admins” lording over the players, telling them how to play; it is the players that get to enjoy the world they have made, and the players who have to maintain the server.

This is not to say that I won’t make suggestions about economy and distinguish between responsible building and overbuilding; I’ll be doing it as a concerned player, not moderator. I won’t have more powers than anyone else on the server, and I won’t get the final call on decisions.

One thing I won’t tolerate, however, is plugins and mods. Besides the basic Bukkit server framework, no mods or plugins will be installed, by request or otherwise, that change or enhance game mechanics. This means no currency, no WorldEdit, no seasons or races or NPCs, nothing.

The community will have a say in everything else, though. The players will make the stories, vote on policies, and build the world. The server will be quite open to change. If the players want to institute a new policy, they can. Since there are no admins or moderators, they will be the ones carrying it out. Since there is no higher authority to appeal to, players will be forced to talk out disagreements among themselves.

Obviously its impossible to completely eliminate a leader who “runs” the server. Someone needs to host it, and someone needs to maintain the bulletin boards and websites. I suppose I would do that, but nearly anything could be changed if it was popular opinion backed by a vote. What I want is a player-made server and community, not a pre-made admin’s framework which has been filled in by the players. That breeds a dependency that ultimately leads to arguments and unrest, and it gives the players something to blame for all the bad things: namely, the admin.

I mentioned in passing a website, which would actually be a key element of the server. In my opinion, a bulletin board isn’t enough to truly let a server grow into a community. It needs independent features for planning events, posting featured videos, screenshots, and stories, and a hub for bulletin board, wiki, and all the other possibly third-party utilities. A website lets the person hosting the server to post updates, which can be emailed to people in case they didn’t catch it on the bulletin board.

If I built my own bulletin board and wiki utilities (which I am interested in doing anyways), the website could have a single account for commenting on news, RSVPing to events, editing the wiki, and posting on the forum. I HAVE been wanting to get back into web programming… maybe I’ll start that this weekend.

The Chicken or the Engine?

When designing an application that has separated functions for created and displaying data, the developer faces a dilemma. It is difficult to test the application that displays the data without an existing test set. However, it is hard to create a data set by hand, and it is difficult to know whether your data creation program is operating correctly without being able to view the product in the display program. It always ends up being a balancing game; develop a small part of the display app with a limited hand-crafted data set, then build the creation app, and then try to develop small modules in parallel until you have a robust enough codebase.

Really the problem is the development cycle itself. Say I want to create a game. So maybe I decide to use a preexisting engine so I don’t have to create my own renderer (by the way, my 3D game engine is coming along nicely, albeit slower than I expected. I need to rework a lot of the math behind it, but once I’ve built the basic graphics part I expect it will get easier). First you strip down the engine, but then what the hell do you do?

I suppose you code game mechanics, or at least the UI and then the way user controls interact with the game. Then you start to build up a set of game entities, until you have the basic game and then you can add in features. You can create test assets as you add features. Once the main meat of the game is coded, you can pass it off to the environment designers, etc. After that you can continue to polish the game and add features that don’t change asset requirements or level design needs.

But that’s only if you start with a pre-built engine. When building an engine from scratch, you need some sort of test data, such as a 3D model or XML file. You need it to be be simple enough to debug, but that may involve a lot of hand work. Often you need the display codebase to build the test data in anyways! Hmm. Not sure where this is going. I guess it was more of a complaining session than anything else.

Spore, or Why I Hate New Games

As if the existence of this post doesn’t say it well enough: no, I haven’t forgotten about this blog. I just happened to encounter some writer’s block, coupled with less free time due to track. Moreover, I’ve been playing Team Fortress 2 and recently started playing Minecraft again, too. The games have got me thinking, as usual: what makes a good game?

Instead of responding to the aforementioned hook, I’m going to talk about why Spore was such a huge disappointment. While this may seem like a slightly depressing topic, it is of great interest. How did such an open ended idea get made into a game, and where in that process was the game turned from a brilliant idea to a pedestrian waste of time?

Here’s what spore should have been: you start out as a microorganism and slowly develop as you become multi-celled and then a macroorganism. At this point you enter the water stage, first as a fish-thing, but then you develop more advanced features and learn to penetrate onto land. The water stage is where you outline your creature. Once you evolve into a land creature, you need to fight or create symbiotic relationships with other species and spread your own. Not only will your evolution finalize your species basic structure, but you need to evolve in order to outcompete other species, which are also evolving. After a while, your species is widespread and you may start encountering evolved members of your own species.

Once you’ve achieved a certain density and dominance over other species, you will already have developed the rudiments of communication and tool making, albeit in the final stages. Then you will move on to an RTS style game, just like in actual Spore. However, instead having one village with a number of other villages you have to conquer, you would need to push your civilization to advance. The triggering event is the discovery of agriculture, after which your “tribe” settles down. It is up to you to build buildings and fields. You need to decide what to irrigate, what animals to domesticate, and what other tribes to trade with. You eventually need to conquer or join with other villages to form a small civilization. A la Katamari Damaci, as your civilization grows you have to start dealing with bigger problems, as well as keep developing technology that uses your local resources.

My point here is that Spore need to be much more technology, resource, and civilization focused. In the game, you don’t get any real choices about where your civilization is going. In my Spore, there would be different civilizations that use the local resources. Each area of the planet would have a different set of available materials. It would actually be a lot like Anno 2070, from what I’ve seen of the game. Another analogy is that of Trade Empires, except my Spore would focus a lot more on building than TE.

Then a sort of technological revolution would mark the switch between the “local stage” and the “global stage” (called the “tribal” and “civilization” stages in Spore). You would suddenly be dealing less with a building and culture and more with resource exploitation, colonization, global politics, technological advancement and generally beating out the other competitors. And unlike real Spore, in which there are only 2 technological turning points, driven by number of cities captured, you would be driving the advancement. You could focus more on stamping out competition, or more on advancing to the space age, similar to Civilization games.

If I had to pinpoint one area where Spore went wrong, it was the Space Stage. Honestly, I could have stomached all the terrible, formulaic nonsense that filled the space between the Cell and Space Stage, if only the Space Stage had even mildly lived up to expectations. They hint at a story line at the very beginning of the stage, and even half-heatedly carry it along. But let’s be honest: there was NOTHING to do. My space stage, like any gourmet smoothie, would be a fine blend of single-ship adventuring and space empire managing. You could set up trade routes to get the resources you need and export the ones you are mining. You could colonize systems and divert a certain amount of resources to various endeavors. You would have to build construction yards if you wanted to build a fleet. If you went to war over a system, you better have the resource and infrastructure to back it up, because as a single ship you should have no chance against an entire planet’s defenses. But if you don’t want to dominate the stars from an office, you can go get in your ship and fly missions, upgrading and earning money and prestige. The point is, it’s space! The possibilities are endless; if a Space Stage in any game bores you, they’re doing it wrong.

I can’t believe they didn’t realize how far they had strayed from the original idea. The spent so much time and money making that game, it wouldn’t have been much harder to actually make it fun. In the end, they realized it sucked and decided to market it to shallow people who only buy it to make stuff in the editors (although honestly the only palatable editor is the creature and MAYBE the building editor).

I was thinking just earlier: when I’m in charge of a production, I’ll make sure I stay true to a vision and that the final product is me-worthy. I would hire an independent consultant/critic who could tell me anything without fearing for their job. Their whole job would be to tell me when I’ve made a poor choice or what my team has pumped out so far just isn’t FUN.

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