Tag Archives: Black Ops

Pop-Gaming – We Asked For It

It’s high time I discussed the phenomenon that is sweeping the video game realm. I’ve avoided it so far – mostly because I want to pretend like it’s not there – but I can’t help but see it creeping into my daily life. What started out as mere curiosity has become a huge part of my gaming life, and I can’t imagine it subsiding anytime soon. My will may be strong, but as more people are embracing this paradigm shift I find it hard to avoid. The phenomenon I’m referring to is “Pop-Gaming”.

At first glance, you might decide to bash the Pop-Gaming market, and complain about how Farmville has given many people a false idea of gaming; or how Prince of Persia should have never been a movie. A closer look will reveal that this is what we’ve been demanding all along, but we never expected it to come to this.

As many people spent the 90s sitting at home, playing hardcore games alone in their basements, they experienced the judging glares and condescending comments of pretentious detractors. These gamers quickly began to demand respect and understanding of their hobby while politicians accused their beloved Mortal Kombat, and other “violent” video games as the core reason for high school shootings and the like. As time has progressed, people have slowly dropped the misconceptions and are taking an interest in our hobby. What started out as a misunderstanding and a “waste of time”, has shifted to curiosity and respect for this thing we call video gaming.

When I think about this shift, thoughts drift into visions of game-related novels, movie adaptations, Farmville junkies, and masochistic little birds with a hankering for pork. These images are enough to make a JRPG fan go nuts and begin slandering these wannabes. My initial reaction was very similar, but as I see these mediums begin to permeate the world outside of hot, sweaty dungeon-crawling warlords, I started to realize that hardcore gamers have very little reason to complain.

Take World of Warcraft, it contains what appears to be a niche market; but how niche can 12 million players be? You may have started out on the ground floor of this MMO movement, but you’ve opened the gates and happily welcomed your friends. You showed them around, got them a glass of wine, and displayed grade A hospitality; but by the time you turned around, the entire room was filled with people. Now you are upset all because you forgot to close the door.

There has been a large movement into the realm of MMOs recently. Leaders of free-to-play games such as Nexon, have paved the road and found ways to convince normal people to pour hundreds of hours and dollars into an endless grind. That market is getting bigger, and as more companies jump on board we will see more people losing their time to the micro-transaction model.

How about first person shooters? How many of you spent countless hours in front of a computer screen with Unreal Tournament, fragging your friends and scoffing at those who just couldn’t understand why you thought that could be fun. Now the tables have turned. You complain because some of the same people who laughed at you then, have all but sold their soul to Call of Duty. It’s a fight that you’ve fought for so many years, but you never thought it would come to this.

We were the ones who wrote blog and forum posts demanding respect from unreasonable parents and conservative politicians, who said that shooting and fighting games were the leading cause of juvenile violence. We fought, and continue to fight, in fear of losing our precious games, and the battle is slowly being won. We proudly wore our Legend of Zelda t-shirts and honorably display our allegiance to the Horde and the Alliance. The floodgates have burst open and we now stare in disbelief at the wave of support we’ve ushered in.

Every movie, book, cellphone or Facebook game that comes out is not bad, but I can understand the frustration when you watch your favorite genres or series get watered down with under-par content. What was once a labor of love has slowly been loosed from the grip of the video game forefathers, altered, and injected into the mainstream of America. Now corporations have seen ways to make additional profit off of our favorite games and have all but forced us to support them.

We can’t blame anyone but ourselves. No matter how much we think that motion controls are ruining the core experience, or cell phones and Facebook have inaccurately inducted business men and stay-at-home moms into the gamer category, we supported the development of our current predicament. If you feel like the issue has gotten out of hand, but you aren’t quite sure what to do about it, then I have one thing to say…VOTE.

“How,” you might ask. With your money. You may be able to get your comrades to support your antics by posting on forums about how much pop-gaming should die, but you aren’t going to affect the decision makers unless you refuse to buy their product. If Angry Birds is ruining your gaming feng shui, then don’t “accidentally” download it and get caught up in the addicting gameplay. If you have to choose between Prince of Persia and Bride’s Maids, then go with the latter…though, at that point, you may have a completely different problem on your hands.

You could, of course, choose to support this change. It’s not all bad. In fact, I find the new shift to be quite the stimulator for the industry. As revenue continues to pour in from the pop-gaming market, we will see funds shift to develop higher powered consoles that can hit the market at more affordable prices. Expect to see the Wii U announced with a fairly low price point, due to the astronomical financial success of the Wii. There’s a lot of good that social, mobile and motion-control gaming can do to support hardcore gamers. Plus, Angry Birds is just plain fun.

At the least, don’t forget the role you’ve played in making pop-gaming a reality; even you have made some bad judgment calls. So, dismount your self-constructed throne of conceit, uncover your hidden stash of Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat films, and face the facts…you’re a Pop-Gamer.

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Dethroning a Giant: Battlefield vs Call of Duty

There have been few success stories as great as the one surrounding the Call of Duty series. Climbing from a pit of shooters to claim the top spot is no easy feat in this generation of gaming, but the Modern Warfare series has sold millions on the idea of chasing others around a small map and shooting their faces. Over the recent years Call of Duty has developed a new way of playing shooters that involves what most gamers like to call, twitch shooting. For some it’s all they need, for others it’s a poor excuse for exciting gameplay. I happen to fall into latter category, but it’s hard to deny that Call of Duty has a strong purpose and a high fun factor.

If the breaking up of Infinity Ward wasn’t enough of a reason for the demise of the Call of Duty series, a game called Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was another glimpse into the competition that the series would have to face. We all know that you can’t stay on top forever, but Activision is working hard to do it. Providing an addicting style of progressive gameplay and smooth graphics has soothed the itch that most gamers had after making straight A’s in Halo during college. I thought I had found heaven back in 2007 when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit shelves.

I had never played Battlefield prior to Battlefield: Bad Company 2, but I had heard some rumblings when the first Bad Company made its way onto consoles. After watching some excellent gameplay footage I decided that Bad Company 2 was the game for me. Hours and hours later I found that I had discovered a shooter that rivaled the likes of Call of Duty. With more strategy and bigger maps, BF:BC2 provides a much more expansive gaming experience than its rival. Where Modern Warfare is built upon the idea of a one-man army and kill-streaks, Battlefield has a stronger focus on tactical gameplay and teamwork. If you go into a match and think you can rush the enemy with out the support of your teammates then expect to die much more than you kill. The style of combat and match pacing is a stark contrast to what we have become used to in this generation of first person shooters, and I believe that as the Call of Duty series grows stagnant and watered-down, Battlefield 3 will rise in its place.

What will it take for Battlefield to dethrone this giant? Are jets, vehicles, and bigger maps enough to chop COD off at the knees? Will the downfall of Infinity Ward send the Call of Duty series into an uncontrollable tail spin? I think it’s likely that all of these will factor into the fall from grace, but the biggest factor of them all will likely result from DICE’s new engine, Frostbite 2. This new engine is equipped to do almost everything that Battlefield: Bad Company 2 wanted to do, and everything Call of Duty wishes it could do. From dynamic lighting, to large-scale destructible environments, Frostbite 2 hopes to finally tap into the unreached potential that its predecessor was trying to reach. Rather than simply tearing down a building, you will large chunks of debris shooting from the side of a high rise followed by a plume of smoke and dust. Sounds have been upgraded too, making it a more believe experience even though you’re sitting in your living room. Sounds that are closer will typically be louder, while it will be easier to detect the direction of explosions whether they are far away or up close. Realistic movement will also be a key feature in Battlefield 3. Rather than watching character models move stupidly across the map, soldiers will have weight to their steps, and getting up from the prone position (which is making a comeback) won’t make it appear as if your character has spring-loaded knees.

When it comes to multiplayer, developer DICE realizes that they missed the boat on capitalizing on their success. It all came down to, “too little, too late” as they released their new maps and expansion Vietnam, about 8 months after release. In a recent interview with Game Informer (Bertz, 2011), executive producer Patrick Bach admits that “Bad Company 2 was a bigger success than we anticipated.” First hand experience showed me that even the servers were having a hard time keeping up with the massive amounts of players trying to connect to games. A poorly laid out system caused many hiccups and an inability to matchmake. Let’s also not forget how the game almost completely halts progress at about level 25 once you’ve purchased your final upgrade for each class. While the battle experience alone carried me through 80+ hours of online multiplayer, DICE could have given me so much more…and I would have paid for it!

So what are they going to do to fix it? The same interview with Game Informer (Bertz, 2011) highlights the team’s ideas to provide players with continuous progression that was made famous by the Call of Duty series. They may not be giving you fashion choices by allowing you to dress up your characters with make up and have the ability to paint your guns different colors and draw things on them, but DICE promises to use that same energy in the parts of the game that matter.

I enjoyed the class structure of Bad Company 2 despite a few unbalanced features in a couple of the classes. Being able to stick close to my team’s tank and keep it alive by repairing it gave me much more satisfaction than running into a crowded building and getting a triple kill. BC2 has a wide variety of classes that offer unique gameplay when compared to your typical shooter. One particular instance had me playing as the medic class in a game of Rush while attempting to hold off the advancement of the other team. In any regular game the offensive teams would have pushed right through our defense, and we would have been pushed back all the way back to the objective we were trying to defend. Thanks to my quick thinking and my defibulators, I crouched behind some sandbags and revived my teammates as they fell, allowing us to hold the line and defend the objective. It’s moments like these that make BF2 unique, and make it the reason why it will top the charts when Holiday 2011 comes around.

I can’t do the multiplayer enough justice when it comes to words, but Battlefield: Bad Company 2 re-energized my passion for first person shooters during a time when my interest was waning. If DICE is able to fix the issues that were present in BC2 then I think that we will have a blockbuster game lined up for late this year when Battlefield 3 takes the stage. So far I have complete faith in DICE and the talent that permeates the company. They have proven over the years that will dedication and passion, comes great results, and it will only get better from here.

Bertz, M., (2011, March). Battlefield 3. Game Informer, 215, 46-55.

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