FYI, This is Not a Spy

by Steve Bowler on June 1, 2009 · 5 comments

in general,nitpicking

I couldn’t resist.  The Spy’s new hat just had me laughing at its awesomeness, and thinking about the “FYI, I am a Spy” sprays that originally started popping up when TF2 first came out.

Every so often I just geek out on nerd culture + art culture, and this is the result.  If you don’t get where this is from, it’s uh, an homage to Magritte.  I had fun making it.  Please have fun converting it into sprays folks.

Link to a big full quality version (the biggest I have, sorry, not really desktop sized).

And I pre-made the 256×256 version if you already have the Valve Texture Converter ap thingamajig (I don’t).

Come on people, next time I’m backstabbed by a Spy I’d better see my spray up on the damn wall.  Let’s.  Have.  A go at it!

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If it’s Not Broke…

by Steve Bowler on June 1, 2009 · 1 comment

in general

Okay, I have a serious bone to pick with the most recent TF2 Spy/Sniper Update.  At risk of throwing any dev cred I may have once had, I’m going to just come out and say it:  it feels unbalanced.

Now, I know, I know, someone, at some point, has cried foul at every other update.  But let’s take a look at what the weapon updates do based on Valve’s typical design philosphy, which is “this class is weak at X, so we will give him Y to compensate a bit for it.”  Previous updates were supposed to fix broken or weak classes, and maybe we’ve entered into classes that didn’t need fixing, because this update seems to only exascerbate existing strengths/weaknesses instead of solving them.

First, we’ll look at The Spy.

Dead Ringer:  A watch update that allows you while disguised (or otherwise) to appear dead on taking your first point of damage, at which point you’ll be cloaked for 8 seconds, presumably allowing you to kill your attacker.

Not bad.  Takes away your ability to cloak normally, and gives you a surprise use of it.  I’ve seen it in action, and even when someone warns you the spy has it, it’s effective.  There’s a good trade-off as well.  You can’t cloak normally, and the surprise cloak factor shows no trace of tell-tale cloaking clouds or haziness.

Cloak and Dagger:  A watch update that honestly has me a bit perplexed.  On the surface, it’s cool.  It allows you to stay permanently cloaked, and standing still recharges it.  The only drawback is that picking up metal or ammo doesn’t replenish it.  On the surface, this seems like an equitable trade-off.  Standing still for picking up ammo.

However.

You can always stand still.  You can even plan to stand still at specific corners of the map.  There isn’t always an ammo/metal pickup.  This means that it is significantly better than the default watch.  If it did something like use its juice a bit quicker than the default watch, I’d say it’s a fair tradeoff, but now the Spy can cross an entire map without being seen, ever, even though he has to do it patiently.  This one isn’t horribly imbalanced, but I feel that it’s just a touch imbalanced.

The Ambassador.  Easily the most beautiful gun in the game, this one tips the scales heavily into the “unbalanced” area.  To quote from the Spy update: “It has the ammo count of a revolver and the pinpoint accuracy of a sniper rifle, even at long range.”  Worse, it crits on headshots. Granted, it deals “15% less damage,” and has a “20% slower firing rate” than the primary revolver, but I’m not entirely convinced about that “15% less damage” number there.  The problem with the Ambassador is that Spies are now running around like cloaked snipers, taking headshots at everything that stands still (or doesn’t stand still).  They were deadly enough already.  What the Ambassador needed was more damage than the primary pistol (which it feels like it does), but not a chance to do crit headshotting.  That’s the sniper’s job, and more importantly, what the Ambassador does is give the Spy a second backstab, which I’m going to get to in a minute.

So, the Spy update is pretty nice for spies.  You get a couple of great watches to play with (even though one is slightly overpowered by a touch), and an awesome pistol that now makes your class effective at more than just backstabbing when it comes to getting your kill on.  Not sure that’s what the Spy needed.  Most players want spies to be more effective at what he does, such as staying cloaked, in costume, sapping sentries, and backstabbing.  I don’t think he really needed a better pistol, but hey, he has it now.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel The Sniper got a similar update.

First off, Valve’s raison de etre for the Sniper update had me pretty cheesed.  They wanted to make other players feel better when playing against Snipers?  So…instead of making the Sniper better, they wanted to encourage players to self-nerf themselves and take themselves out of the long-range game?  Don’t get me wrong, the Huntsman (detailed below) is pretty great (it’s not for me), but based on the press release, the Sniper update doesn’t sound like it’s off to a good start for people who love playing Snipers.

The Huntsman: A bow and arrow which only takes one second to reach “full charge,” crits on headshot.  Damage is out on this one at time of this writing, but a lot of players like using it to be a more mobile sniper.  I personally don’t care for it as the arrows take time to travel through the air, so you often miss your mark.

Jarate:  Easily one of the greatest additions to gaming ever, just because you can throw pee, this thing puts out friendly fires, busts spy cloaks, marks enemy players (even disguised spies), and makes every hit they take +35% more damage.  Plus, it’s fun to throw.  Your pee.  On anyone.  Only downside to Jarate is that it takes up your SMG slot.  This is a bit of a problem, as the SMG was the only decent short/medium defense a sniper had, and it was just okay at best.  Granted, the rifle has gained the “no-scope” crosshair, but a Sniper with Jarate is still at a bit of a disadvantage if someone moves to medium range against his rifle.  On day one throwing Jarate got enemies to back off, but now they know just to press harder offensively when covered in urine before you can no-scope them.  It’s like advertising you’re defenseless.

Razorback: Easily one of the worst additions to gaming ever, because with the Spy update it is completely useless.  Hell, even if the Spy didn’t get an update, it’s still mostly useless.  When it was first announced I suspected that it was a joke, perhaps.  Here’s a recap of how it works:  The Sniper wears this impossible to miss giant tribal shield on his back which electrocutes and “locks up” a Spy’s knife when he stabs you with it.  Only problem:  spies won’t stab you if they see you wearing it, and they’d have to be absolutely blind to not notice it.  Wait, that’s not the only problem.  The other problem with it is that it weighs so much it slows you down by 15% when wearing it.  Considering that the only thing this shield does is stop one single backstab (for two seconds), prevents no other damage, takes up your SMG slot, and slows you down considerably, it is completely worthless.  Most spies worth any salt at all already have the Ambassador, so a shield that is meant to prevent backstabs which is obvious in nature (instead of being hidden under your shirt) is meaningless in a world that has spies which can simply switch to the Ambassador from 20 feet away and one shot you in the face for the kill.  I originally joked that enemy teams would simply send two spies to kill a sniper (one to take out the shield and one to take out the sniper), but they don’t even have to do that. Just send the spy with the Ambassador, and the situation is solved.  An entire slot in the Sniper’s update, the slot that most needed to stop a Spy from backstabbing you, is wasted.

I get that you can’t give the Sniper a tool to stop spies from backstabbing them indefinately, but how about claymore mines or something?  Battlefield 2 solved the “vulnerable” sniper issue by allowing snipers to drop claymore (anti-personelle) mines behind (or in front of) him which would detonate on enemy movement.  Problem solved.  The TF2 sniper could drop a mine behind him which could be cloaked to enemy players, and if a spy tried to stab (in costume or no), kablooey, mine goes off.  Granted, that could be griefed by having Snipers use them offensibly, so just give them one.  One shot, one use, and they have to replenish them at a locker.

Hell, I’d even take a bomb vest at this point which guaranteed that the spy died if he stabbed me (so I can take him with me).  That’s good risk-reward, and makes spies think twice about backstabbing.

But the bottom line here is that the Sniper update did not give the Sniper any decent tools to prevent or mitigate backstabbing, or more importantly, keeping a Spy from always getting the upper hand at close range when you’re scoped or even just at the rear of the field.  Preventing backstabbing at the expense of guaranteeing a face-peeling shot from the Ambassador is merely trading a knife for a bullet, with largely the same effect.  The Ambassador has even made a mini-sniper out of the Spy by allowing him to oneshot snipers, medics, engies, even slow scouts from range.

And so I don’t sound like a sniper, I’ve got a treat in the next post for you spray loving spies out there.

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Debate the Spy (Movie)

by Steve Bowler on May 18, 2009 · 3 comments

in critique,nitpicking

So, the Spy Update is complete (although they never revealed his 3rd kit upgrade, unless it IS the portable Baccarat detector), and already there is some fun debate over a tiny tidbit in the short.

First off, this is super spoiler laden, so if you haven’t watch it yet, go see it in HD here.  Take plenty of time to enjoy the text gags (there’s a few in the big blue board, the bell ringing, the dossier folder, just keep looking).

Awesome, right?  Okay then, let’s move on.

At the end of the piece, Red Spy picks up the photo of Scout’s Mom, and says what sounds like:

“Ah, ma petite chou-fleur.”

This, literally translated, means:

“Ah, my little cauliflower.”

While folks might find this hilarious, consider that the majority of French expressions are founded in agriculture.  Thier version of “Oh my god!” is actually “Oh la vache!” which literally translates to mean “Oh the cow!”  (If it was not literally translated we’d probably say it meant “Holy Cow!”).  So, this is absolutely an honest term of endearement on the behalf of the Red Spy.

Now, some folks on the internet who are horrible at translating and probably used Google Translator or Altavista (Babblefish) think he’s saying

“Ah, ma petite chaude fleur.”

This would translate to something more shocking, and perhaps validate some folks’ thoughts on the Pyro being a female, because, again, literally translated, this means

“Ah, my little hot flower.”

Oh HO you say!  Except for a small problem:  There’s this rule in French grammar called the BANGS rule.  It stands for “Beauty Age Number Goodness Size.”  Any adjective or descriptor that meets the BANGS rule must come before the noun in the sentence.  So, if the Red Spy is truly French and wanted to say “Ah, my little hot flower,” he would have said:

“Ah, ma petite fleur chaude.”

This is a proper diagram of the intended sentence “Ah, my little hot flower.”  The reason chau comes before flower in the cauliflower sentence is because it’s a hyphenated noun, so it’s all the same word.  Petite still comes in front because it fits the “Small” qualifier in the BANGS rule.

So sorry folks, the Spy was not referring to Scout’s Mom as “hot.”  Logic, however, says that this does not disqualify Scout’s Mom from being the Blue Pyro.  Especially since she wasn’t visible in this video, and we haven’t “met” her him them yet.

If you want real proof that the Scout’s Mom is the Pyro, assuming Valve would leave any real evidence of that in the piece, you’d probably have to comb the images pretty hard.  In fact, if you look at the pictures in the dossier closely, you can kinda make out that ZOMG IS SCOUT’S MOM CARRYING THE PYRO’S PURSE!!!!!!

It’s the correct shape to be the Pyro’s clutch purse, maybe?

Also seen here in the first images that slide out of the dossier:

Okay wait maybe that’s not the Pyro’s purse.  Pyro’s purse is rounded on the corners, is color tinted to her team (blue-ish in this case), and has a big pink flower on it.

Nevermind, nothing to see here, carry on, evidence is definitive: Scout’s Mom is NOT the Pyro.

I bet you never expected you’d get a French grammar lesson here, did you?

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Holy Cow

by Steve Bowler on May 17, 2009 · 2 comments

in general

It’s been awhile, no?  I have a perfectly good excuse.  In fact, it’s so good, it’s not an excuse.

Work has been pretty frustrating lately; my project was shelved and now I’ve been pretty much battlefield demoted or side-moted or whatever the “moted” you want to call it to a position that I used to do but doesn’t really include game design in the core job description deets.  With the state of the current industry, I’m pretty happy to just have a job, especially since it’s still in the industry.

So I haven’t exactly been inspired to write a lot lately.  I’ve been reading a lot of what the other game critics have been writing, and it seems like there’s just a general dearth of stuff to critique.  GDC just didn’t leave me as invigorated as the previous year’s (at least the talks didn’t, anyway), and to be honest, I’m more of an “in the trenches” kind of do-er rather than a guy who is comfortable just sitting back and critiquing.

With that in mind, and due to some crazy circumstances, I’ve been working on a side project that if you’ve been reading my Twitter feed you already have an idea of what it is.  I just needed something to invigorate the designer in me and keep the tools sharp since work has become more of a job for the time being than something that motivates me to create.  The project is still super ultra top secret, but I will say that it started as a pet “can I do this” one man project and has ballooned out completely into a full pitch concept.

Hopefully I or someone else will have an announcement of sorts in the next couple of weeks, and even if that isn’t the case, I’ll either be done with it (and therefore have more time to write), or I’ll be working on it like crazy, but at least might be able to talk about it a little bit.

So, keep tuning in.  I’m not dead, yet.

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I’m back from GDC and slowly climbing back onto the writing horse.  I’d apologize for taking forever between posts again but hey let’s be honest, I’ve been doing a ton of that lately so let’s just move on.

I saw some great talks, but one that kinda bothered me in a way and yet at the same time invigorated some of my old opinions was the Rant Panel.  This year’s was five (actually more) of some of the most esteemed game critics in the industry.  While I get that this was a podium for opinions to be thrown out there, I couldn’t help but wonder about a few of the positions, and rant back a little bit of my own on the matter.

One of the biggest talking points was how Game Journos (for lack of a better word) could do their jobs better.  N’Gai (who incidentally I’ve found myself disagreeing with more and more lately) had some of the most salient points of the whole talk, asking writers to eschew the terms “hardcore” and “casual.”  I’m paraphrasing, but his example of “Who’s more hardcore:  the person who plays Peggle five hours a night 7 days a week or the guy who plays Gears two hours a night Monday through Thursday?”  Who’s the casual player there?  Who’s hardcore?  N’Gai asked for better descriptors to be used, like “competitor” or “completionist” or “tourist.”  These terms don’t just benefit writers, they benefit developers and publishers alike, because we’ve been working on a binary system that doesn’t really identify anyone properly.  N’Gai’s proposed terms helps us figure out who we’re making the product for, and who to write about.

But some of the rants I just found…lacking.  Stephen Totilo (of MTV’s Multiplayer), while being critical in general said “Our reporting is fine. There’s no lack of good journalism, though there may be a lack of effort in finding it…There is a lack of good writing.”

Stephen, I expected more from a guy who started his speech with “I’m going to lose some friends over this.”  Look, fuck the writing.  I don’t care if you use the word “compelling” or adverbs or adjectives or two hundred words that end in LY.  I seriously don’t.  Besides the fact that most of America’s readers only read at a 4th grade level, Game Journalism isn’t at the point where the only thing left to hone is your craft.  My god man, I’ve seen stories, especially lately in this economy with bankruptcies and studio closings which concern corporate law, and there’s no mention of a corporate lawyer weighting in on the piece.  Are you a lawyer?  Did you pass a bar in corporate law?  Why then are you or your contemporaries writing about it?  Why are there one-sided opinion pieces where the writers don’t even attempt to contact the company they’re writing about for comment?  Do you guys realize that when you get the facts wrong in one piece, it brings into question everything you’ve ever written?  I get that you can’t get everything right 100% of the time, and that sometimes you just have to go to print with what you’ve got, but could we please actually try to make sure that you’re getting the facts straight before you go to print?  If you think this isn’t a big deal, then you’re not taking your job seriously enough.

[click to continue reading]

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This is How They See Our Hobby

by Steve Bowler on March 23, 2009 · 6 comments

in general

While at the Kindergarten meet-and-greet for my daughter’s upcoming indoctrination into our public schools system, I noticed that not many (in fact really none) of the other parents there seemed to be a “gamer.”  Well, really, even a true “nerd” or “geek” or “dork.”  They were all…normal.  I imagine they’d buy games for their kids, or even play games with their kids, but none of them struck me as the type who buy and play games on their own, at least those beyond the Madden/Haloz crowd.

And yes, I know I’m just looking at stereotypes when I look out at a crowd of “normals.”  Maybe there was a PC gaming enthusiast.  Maybe that balding Dad over there in the boring dockers and the plain coat is really into RTS or likes ranked CoD servers.  It’s entirely possible that Mom not only enjoys Cooking Mama but is actually in a TF2 clan.  But really, I doubt it.  They’d only discuss playdates for their kids or getting their hair done at the salon (not joking here) or shopping.  The guys all mostly just smiled and looked like they’d rather be at home.

I was wondering what they felt about our world, about our games.  What would they say if you asked them about this lifestyle we’ve crafted for ourselves?  I imagine you’d have to start by getting them to actually play some of the games with you first.

As it turns out, a gamer at LavaLevel already asked his girlfriend to play some of his games and comment on them in real time, and recorded them for posterity.  What follows is one of the most charmingly delightful outsider views into our universe I’ve ever seen.  She even brings up some great points, such as “How can a wrench run out of things.  There’s no bullets in a wrench.”

Watch them all, especially the TF2 and the CounterStrike ones.

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Gaming Memes That Can Die Now

by Steve Bowler on March 20, 2009 · 10 comments

in general,nitpicking

I don’t know if it’s lack of sleep, but I’m especially cranky today.  I’m tired of seeing not-news and even less interesting posts about stuff that is barely even tangentially related to gaming flooding gaming (and non gaming!) sites.  Can we all agree that this shit can just die now and people can come up with some new ideas?

The List of Things that Can Die Now:

Add your pet peeves to the comments.  Let’s vent.

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Timing is Everything

by Steve Bowler on March 18, 2009 · 4 comments

in general

I figured since it’s been awhile since I wrote something (enter excuses here) I’d take the easy route out and offer up a unique opinion on the whole DLC kerfluffle that’s going on right now in gaming news circles.

Hokay, so everyone is pretty much upset at Capcom for releasing multiplayer as DLC content, and then Capcom is indignant about it and claims that RE5 is priced correctly for the content at sixty dollars.  Everyone up to speed?  Good.

I was going to originally make this a piece laying out the ways that Capcom could be going about this.  It turns out this is a pretty simple thing to outline, and the end result is pretty much the same:

  • Situation A:  Capcom screwed up, and dind’t get Multiplayer done in time for the original product submission.  They used their one free patch to fix all of the bugs that came up during the submission process, and decided to finish Multiplayer with a B team while the A team was finishing the submission buxfix requirements, and release it as paid DLC (since their one free launch day bug patch was used up) to recover the cost.
  • Situation B:  Capcom is telling the god’s honest truth here, and decided based on cost-per-feature budgeting to release Multiplayer as paid DLC from the product’s launch/full production.

Invariably, we wind up in a situation that ends with “Capcom screwed up.”  Say what you will, Capcom, but the customer is always right (unless they call the cops because you’re out of McNuggets).  In your case, the customer is calling “shenanigans” on your selling what is commonly accepted as a featureset as DLC immediately following launch.

There’s a reason why they’re upset, and it’s not what you’re thinking.  People have a tendency, when angry, of not being very eloquent or rational.  Trust me, I’m an expert on being angry.  Here’s the thing:  they’re not mad you’re releasing Multiplayer as DLC.  They’re not mad you’re asking them to pay for it.  They’re mad you’re asking them to pay five dollars to get content that should have been on the disk if it’s landing one week after launch.  If you had waited three months before releasing it, or if you’d not charged money for it at launch, folks wouldn’t be complaining.

Your argument notwithstanding, you releasing it at launch tells us a few things.

  1. You feel it is content worth paying for, and is compelling.
  2. You feel that it will drive sales.
  3. You feel that if you released it three months later you’d lose your customer base.

Ostensibly, you should have just put it on the disk and charged $65.  You’d get a lot less pushback.  By doing it the way you did it, you’re admitting that your content is not going to last three to six months, and you want to get your money up front.

DLC can be for anything, but the successful models typically are ones that add value to the original product in a way that rewards players for continuing to stay with the game and play it.  The unsuccessful models are the ones who attempt to fleece money from the userbase immediately after launch for things that should have been in the box in the first place.  Not to beat a dead horse, but horse armor is probably the easiest example that comes to mind.

But it is worth noting that you’re charging extra money for access to another feature in the game.  This is no different than if you had locked out Co-Op and put a five dollar bill slot next to it on the main menu.  What if your game had Create-a-Player?  Would you have decided that was worth an additional five dollars?  Do you see where I’m going here?  You can’t just decide that a featureset is worth an additional five bucks and attempt to tack it on, or with-hold it from the player.

Well, I mean, you can, and you most certainly did, but the biggest mistake you can make here is take the high ground, defend your decision, and then wonder why you’re left holding your empty hand out while everyone else is running to the competitor’s product who gives their customers free updates, not to mention new features, maps,  and gametypes.

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Silent Hill Art?

by Steve Bowler on March 15, 2009 · 4 comments

in general

No time for a real post right now, but I found this just doing some old fashioned weblink surfing.

Is this some kind of Silent Hill art?

Found here.

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Times Are Tough.

by Steve Bowler on March 4, 2009

in general

How tough?  Look, if Ken Levine has to start moving real-estate to make a living, we might as well all just give up.

Saw this while visiting some friends.  Had to snap a pic and share with the class.

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