Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Reward

The Reward is a Bachelor film project from The Animation Workshop, Viborg, Denmark.


Don't worry, this'll be my last Call of Duty: Black Ops II post for the time being. I wasn't going to follow up my last video spam so soon, but Maximilian's clip underlines a lot of the issues I've been having with the game post-patch. For all of Treyarch's tweaking, assault rifles might as well be one-shot kills for all the good they do in certain situations. If you're trying to track a fleeing lightweight user on the right side of lag, it can be difficult to put one bullet in him before he disappears into the level's warren like layout, never mind four or five. Having to always dedicate one customisation slot to Stock to stay competitive is bad design. Assault rifles have sixteen attachments available, why is one so necessary?

It's a bore to go on about, but unfortunately most of Black Ops II's issue rest with this failure to provide accurate on-screen information. Map design that resembles something off the back of a McDonald's placemat aside, Black Ops II has a suite of theoretically excellent toys to rival the master, Modern Warfare 2. The level to which guns can be customised is incredible, particularly when you start limit breaking certain properties with the Select Fire attachment. I've just ran a game with the AN-94 assault rifle, a fully automatic gun that can be transformed into a semi-auto to take advantage of a lower recoil pattern afforded by the gun's ability to fire its first two rounds from rest almost simultaneously. This also means if the player can twitch his trigger finger quick enough they can actually fire the gun faster in semi-auto mode than they can full-auto. Black Ops II is full of neat little features like this, but there's no incentive to use them if the game can't clarify basic latency.

Razorclaw by Richard Marcej


Saturday, 26 January 2013

Black Ops II: Terrible Effort

The latest patch for Call of Duty: Black Ops II is live, just in time for a double xp weekend. Normally I would be trying to level up and get a Prestige or two under my belt, but frankly, this game really doesn't justify that level of commitment.

Gaming time for me recently has revolved around the Devil May Cry HD Collection. After hacking my way through the higher difficulty levels of Devil May Cry 3 I've gotten it into my head that high-speed twitch-skill based games, at the very least, must present situations as plainly and accurately as possible. Although historically the Call of Duty series has excelled with rock solid frame rates and actionable on-screen information, sadly this is no longer the case.

Here's OvenBakedMuffin and his best sex pest voice to explain. Unfortunately it seems the issues facing Black Ops II go far deeper than just spotty network latency. Turns out there is a quantifiable reason why that guy running at a 45 degree angle to you with his gun down is able to kill you before you can even level yours.

Friday, 25 January 2013



Black Ops II: Time Line in Jeopardy

Finally, some consistent level of Call of Duty: Black Ops II superplay begins to filter through. Here's TheSandyRavage and some macho sound clips proving that there was a point to Gearbox Software finally getting Duke Nukem Forever out the door. Mr Ravage's clips are always my favourite Call of Duty gameplays - instead of topic talk or mechanic breakdowns we get pure, unadulterated rushing. It borders on bullying.

Ravage's videos are interesting now because there's a very real sense that the last two Call of Dutys have been laser focused on eliminating the player's ability to pull off these kind of clips. Maps have shrunk into a tightly packed series of tunnels and kill-floors. Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops II play like meat grinders with players forced to pick a route to race to their death. In the past there tended to be an obvious, direct route, with a few flank paths running along the map corners. This basic layout remains, but the maps are so narrow and cluttered with bodies that geography becomes meaningless. You're never more than a couple of steps from a strobing, machine pistol lag monster. Spawns flip constantly because the play area is too small, meaning players adopt a harassed, zippy playstyle. There is very little time to stop and think.

The sound mix also has audio cues for enemy movement so low in the mix that it's impossible to effectively track their location. An especially bizarre choice considering two in-game perks are dedicated to picking up or eliminating avatar sound. At this point, just before the release of the first DLC pack Revolution, both Dead Silence and Awareness are basically useless, even with an overpriced video game head-set.

Bear in mind you are expected to be able to pick out these light crunches from a soundscape seething with gunfire and explosions. You'd better get used to silent enemies phasing in by your side, because that's what they're selling.

Since launch support for Black Ops II has been conspicuous by its absence. I think we've had one significant patch that changed a few hip-fire values and addressed some issues with the (still broken) theatre mode. The lag problems that have been making mulch of the multiplayer have not been addressed. It must be noted though that every Call of Duty I have played at launch has dealt with similar latency issues. It's almost an expected peril of early adoption.

With Modern Warfare 3 Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games did recognise and immediately attempt to solve this headache. MW3 had a glut of patches in the weeks after launch that tweaked and tinkered with this part of the user experience - not always to any meaningful effect. Players with premium internet connections were still left feeling gimped. Infinity Ward's sequel seemed to have a very basic framework in place that created artificial lag for faster connections, apparently in an effort to level a playing field that, until that title, had tended to favour the user hosting.

Black Ops II has a twin system in place. The game creates artificial lag to penalise players with stronger connections. This isn't the only problem though. Player movement has been significantly increased compared to MW3 to the point were it doesn't seem like the actual game is able to keep up. Chose Perks and attachments based around increasing character speed (Lightweight, Extreme Conditioning, the Stock) and you can create a situation in which you are substantially frustrating other player's ability to track your actual physical location.

Couple this with a aiming mechanic that doesn't immediately confer the advantages associated with looking down sights and you have an experience that frequently feels impenetrable. You are robbed of the meta game advantages you have picked up over countless Call of Duty iterations - you are here to die.

I think the most telling aspect of Black Ops II's failure to engage a higher level of gameplay is that a pronounced amount of YouTube commentators have already migrated away from the game. Maximilian has returned to fighting game uploads and a run through the (superb) Devil May Cry series on his retro gaming channel. ELPRESADOR has sloped back to Modern Warfare 3 (and similar frustrations it has to be said).

Remember, these are people who make their living from attracting clip likes and views. This would seem to suggest that this game is so frustrating they are prepared to take a dip in revenue rather than force themselves to cope. You could even speculate that the demand for Black Ops II clips is already drying up if so many content creators are comfortable with this decision. Watching your favourite player blind-sided on their way to a Swarm loop isn't particularly interesting.

Hopefully the start of the DLC season will see a significant overhaul of how the game communicates between players. Wishful thinking perhaps, considering Treyarch's game design director David Vonderhaar refuses to acknowledge such a problem even exists. It would however be a shame to see some of Back Ops II's genuine innovations (the Pick Ten System, Scorestreaks etc) wasted on the frustrating experience the game currently is.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Films 2012

5. The Raid

This list is bookended by two films that deal with the action hero's place in a siege. Whereas my number one film deals with an impossible personality genetically incapable of being dominated, The Raid's Rama has character beats built on stressing vulnerability. His wife is expecting, he's a rookie, and he has a personal connection to one of the enemy's major players. Everything in this film is designed to injure and stress Rama until he finds his way into a meat locker containing an unbeatable enemy and a potential ally. The Raid then transforms from a rough-house Die Hard recalibration into a 1980s Jackie Chan joint. Project A in a locked room.

4. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

John Hyams didn't have to try this hard building a follow-up to 2010's wonderfully taut Universal Soldier: Regeneration, he could have just created a round two. Instead he's charted an intersection between Lost Highway identity headaches and white-line nightmare movies. I've held off talking about Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning mainly because the exact moment it changes from an efficient muscle mash into something akin to Blade Runner is a spoiler planted deep in the third act. It's not just surface twists and turns, it's a choice that means something / everything to the weary lead. He rejects the plot as it develops. He declines reality and fights like an animal to protect the idea of who he thought he was.

3. Looper

In Looper two versions of the same man stare their opposite down over coffee. They hate each other. The younger identity is revolted by the walking fuck-up seated before him, all his potential mistakes made flesh. The older man loathes the idea that he was ever this unevolved; that he was once this preening, drug-addled nihilist. Of course in this instant they are both exactly the same. For all his sneering disgust, Future Joe's ideas are all focused on his past skill-set. His reasoning is selfish and reptilian. He is a self-loathing personality locked by decades of wrong choices. He's incapable of conceiving any new ideas. Real growth must come from the younger, more impressionable man as he experiences a similar epiphany to that which drives the older man.

2. Moonrise Kingdom

Pierrot le Fou with Playmobil playsets. Two misfit children abscond to live on a beach. Moonrise Kingdom charms because there's an emotional reality in the children's relationship. They're not just in love because the film keeps telling us they are. Instead they are in love because they act as one cohesive unit. They consider each other's feelings and both really listen when the other talks. They aren't trying to manipulate each other or coerce an expectation, they're just enjoying being with the only other person who truly understands them.

1. Dredd

When I originally wrote about Dredd I focused on the ways it absolutely did not let me down. It wasn't just a faithful adaptation of a beloved British comic character, it was also a rolling meta-text breakdown of the character's enduring appeal. That's not the only reason Dredd is number one though. Dredd is also exactly as good as you remember your favourite 1980s action movie being. Dredd is the epitome of that decade's identity fascism - the idea that all weaker personalities are fair game for extermination. If they don't meet your standards, then crush them under your boot heel. Karl Urban's Dredd takes cues from all the late twentieth century American action heroes, from Clint Eastwood's stoicism to Arnold Schwarzenegger's psychotic indifference. Dredd is a rugged, unchanging ubermensch locked into a dilemma that barely stresses him.