Team Fortress 2’s Pyro brings the perfect elements for the psychotic killer. 1 to use a flamethrower; 2 for shotgun; 3 to be an axe-murderer. The three alternate weapons are another axe, another flamethrower, and a different way to set people on fire. What are we missing here besides a chainsaw?

The Soldier is competitive in this respect. He still has a shotgun, but he gets a rocket launcher and a shovel. Something seems classic about beating people to death with a shovel, but maybe that is just my family. If only it looked more like a garden tool and less like a Glock field spade.

: Zubon


I commented last year about the multiple LOTRO PvMP battlefronts:

One interesting outcome is that most people win most of the time. The side with more bodies usually wins, or the winning side quickly becomes more numerous as fair weather friends join and leave their respective teams. There can be multiple fronts, so 75% of the freeps might be at the lumber camp beating 25% of the creeps, with the reverse happening at the mine: both sides had a win, and most of the players on each side were part of that win.

This weekend, I had the opposite experience playing Team Fortress 2. Two times in a row, playing Gold Rush, I was auto-balanced to the losing team within the last minute. With players joining and quitting the teams, you have the opposite effect of PvMP, where the majority of the players are losing most of the time. There is a cap on how many people can join the winning team, and if you are winning, you are less likely to quit. There is never a cap on how many people can quit, so a lot of the losing team leaves, which cycles in new people who also get crushed 5 seconds out of the spawn. Why did no one mention on chat that there are two Heavy-Medic pairs at the spawn? They all quit, and a quarter of your team just joined the map. A quarter of your team is loading in or out while the winning team makes more progress. If people are not joining for the losing team fast enough, they will be taken from the newer players on the winning team. Hit tab, and you will see one or two high-scoring players on the losing team (who have toughed it out), and no one else there above 50; on the winning team, if there is anyone below 50, he has scrolled off the scoreboard. There is no way to overcome this, because half your team will be dead or loading in as you join the losing team, and continuously from there on, so you cannot make any progress. A previous night on this server, I saw the blue team fail to ever move the cart. After a few minutes, no one survived as long as five seconds outside the base, and most never made it to the doors.

My new plan is always to check the scoreboard before joining a team. If one team is way ahead on points, there is no point in joining. Even if you can join the winning team, you will be auto-balanced away. You could try to stay long enough to reduce your chances of auto-balance, but you’ll probably get kicked for a reserved slot.

: Zubon

Simple Graphics for Simple Minds

Setting things on fire in-game is satisfying to a degree that is psychologically worrisome. The implementation, however, is important.

One thing I really enjoy in Team Fortress 2 is playing a Pyro. When you light someone up, they really are on fire, and it covers the entire character model. They yell for help, announcing that they are on fire. If there is water on the map, they may go diving off the edge. If you get a kill, the body will smolder on the ground. Nothing messes up an enemy charge like lighting up a few people, who instinctively go looking for health in a way that simple bullets cannot cause.

Contrast this with your MMO. What happens when you hit an enemy with an elemental effect? Most of the time, it seems, you can have an animation during the casting time and for a second or so later. You can have someone on fire from a half-dozen sources, and they just have a string of debuff/DoT icons. Stacking DoTs is still a good thing, but is a far cry from the panicked shouts of ogres.

Some do this a bit better, or do for certain effects. Some of the City of Heroes control graphics are great. Lock your enemy in a block of ice, boulder, or sphere of electricity. Have little ice cubes fall off a slowed target. Great. The Lord of the Rings Online™’s Red Maid gets a great graphic on her immobilize, with red specters rising from the bloodied waters to hold you in place. Does your game do anything like this well, where an ongoing effect has a highly satisfying ongoing visual? Let us know.

It would be nice to see them scale, from a low-level singe to a high-level pyre. I am not sure how well that works for all energy attacks. I can see frost scaling from a blue tint from a low-level slow to a giant ice cube. I would need to think about some of the others.

: Zubon

Learning Curves on the Shooting Range

My wife hesitates to try cooperative multi-player games because she does want groups depending on her to do something she does not know how to do. If your tank does not know her job, you wipe. If this is your crowd controller’s first time in a complicated fight, you may be in serious trouble. This worked fine in City of Heroes: not only could she solo for almost everything, but when she did group, she was a Scrapper who did not care about dying. There are very few cases in CoH where anyone cares if the Scrapper dies or has less than the perfect DPS setup.

As I am learning Team Fortress 2, I see that, but there is another factor: many of the people shooting me already know what to do. There are nine classes to learn, most with some special feature, six of whom have three additional options for their equipment; there are also all the maps to learn, some with multiple stages, all with their scattered refills, control points, backdoors, ambush spots, ramps, etc. While you are trying to get the swing of all this, one guy is lobbing pipe bombs at you, and you will be shot in the head in you pause in a sniper’s field of vision.

Some things are more intuitive than others. Protect this point, check. Move the cart along that line, check. And then you find that the map has multiple vertical levels, a little room with ammo and health, back stairs that everyone else on your team seems to know, and windows that you may or may not be able to shoot through. While someone with a flamethrower is leaping around the corner at you.

One of the great barriers for PvP games is that they are not newbie friendly. If veteran players are alongside green recruits, that is great for training the new guys and integrating them, and horrible for having their first night of play involve being shot in the head twenty times by guys they never saw. TF2 is kind enough to give you a picture of your killer, so you can see where those snipers are after someone kills you.

: Zubon

Of Alliances and Meaningful PvP

While I’m mostly between MMOs, I am trying Evony [Update], from one of the many ads you may have seen. It resembles Travian in many ways, including the faster pace once fighting starts. I was not sure if I wanted that, what with the whole “job” thing versus a server potentially filled with people who have nothing better to do on summer vacation. Thus came a simple plan: I joined the second-meanest alliance on a newly formed server. Attacking me now risks the wrath of about 400 other people who have nothing better to do than crush every red flag in the area.

This weekend showed an interesting example of that. Looking in around lunch time, there was a discussion of some fellow who had attacked an alliance member and been rude in mailed discussions. He had a strong defensive position with two large castles next to each other, each with thousands of troops and traps, along some friends nearby. “Bring it on” must have seemed like a reasonable thing for him to say, especially when some of us (like me) were over an hour’s travel away from the fight. And then he was attacked something like 100 times that afternoon, until there was nothing but a flat bit of ground.

This is a problem that has been noted for PvP games: once a customer has only a flat bit of ground, it is hard to get more money from him unless he has such a need for vengeance that he vows to RMT his way to victory. When winning means driving someone from the game, that cannot be good for the company, worse if a large alliance gives up and quits en masse.

On the other side, I played Team Fortress on some random servers this weekend. I had a good time, discovering that I really liked the Heavy, which is good since my two favorite classes do not have their achievement/item packs yet. Here, when someone dies, he comes back 11 seconds later with no penalties at all. After a pair of snipers trade deaths three or four times in a minute, I begin to wonder about the point of it all.

: Zubon