Next-Gen Talk: More Power =/= More Polygons

Well, to rebound from my darker, previous entry, I figured it would be a good time to finish up on of my older unfinished blogs on some of the reasons why I’m looking forward to the next generational leap in console gaming. However, despite all the excitement surrounding Sony’s and Microsoft’s new systems, there are still many gamers out there who are not excited for, and in some cases angrily against, the arrival of these new systems.

The biggest argument I continue to see used against the arrival of newer console hardware is that the graphical leap will not be that great between this generation and the next and games look good enough already. Many point to games that already look amazing (Heavy Rain, Battlefield 3, Gears of War 3) while others point to games that don’t require top-of-the-line graphics to be fun (Minecraft, Journey, Fez). I’ll be the first to admit that we have seen some amazingly displays of graphical prowess and gameplay over the past several years. Even on seven-year-old consoles, Halo 4 has managed to look downright mind-blowing and the upcoming Last of Us is looking to show us what the power of the PS3 is capable of.

The problem is that in order for these games to look as good as they do, developers have to make sacrifices in other areas. Heavy Rain did not have a very large world, and Halo 4 never has very many enemies on the screen at one time. Even the most expansive areas in Halo 4 are not anywhere near a game like Skyrim. Speaking of Skyrim, in order for the game to build such a large and immersive world they had to resort to so many smoke-and-mirrors coding practices that both console versions of the games are bugged to hell (and almost unplayable on the PS3); bugs that aren’t nearly as apparent on the PC version of the game. Speaking of PC versions being incomparably better, it wouldn’t be right for me to not bring up Battlefield 3. Not only was the destruction of the game toned down so that consoles could run the game, the console versions themselves suffered great hits to draw distance (how far the game renders objects) as well as a very limited player count. In a game that is advertised to be an epic combat experience, the console versions of BF3 were stuck to a third of the number of players compared to what the PC offered; 24 players compared to 64. The difference became even more apparent when DICE decreased the player count to 16 on consoles just to be able to run the Close-Quarters DLC expansion. The Armored Kill DLC that followed is simply unplayable as there aren’t enough players to neither balance out nor take advantage of the vehicle-heavy maps. The Xbox version of Minecraft is nowhere near being called a graphically intensive game, yet it is still hampered severely from being on such an old system. The world is a limited-size grid instead of infinitely expanding, and getting more than four players together in a single world causes severe performance drops in areas loading as your travel. I could go on, but if you haven’t gotten my point by now then you should probably just stop reading now.

Games that come out on our current generation consoles are compromised versions of what they could be. They are shells of what we want. They are broken.

New consoles won’t fix this problem entirely, but the influx of more powerful technology will bring much relief to the pressure surrounding the industry. Here are a few things that next-gen systems will allow developers to do more of without them simply adding more polygons.

It’s Not a Small World After All

Skyrim is a pretty big place. Have you been there? Definitely worth a visit as it is an impressive sight to behold. However despite its size the game can feel amazingly small. Maybe it’s because the largest cities only have a dozen or so residents living there. Maybe it’s because the largest battles almost never involve more than ten characters at once. Maybe it’s because so much of the world is empty aside from the occasional wildlife. Maybe it’s because you can’t bring a friend in with you. Maybe it’s because every room, house, and dungeon is hidden behind a loading screen. For me, it’s actually a combination of all of them. The compromises Bethesda needed to make in order to display such a large world with such an interesting AI routine end up making a game both amazingly huge and yet so annoyingly small.

Next-gen systems will allow developers to not only make larger worlds for us to explore, they will be able to fill the worlds we already traverse with so much more life and believability. It is not so much about having a bigger world so much as it is about having a better one.

NPCs with College Degrees

While many gamers will consider NPCs in a video game already look pretty enough, I don’t think there are many that will disagree when I say that most NPCs (allied and enemy alike) in a video game are about as smart as a ham sandwich on rye. While there are exceptions to the rule, there are far more examples of the Artificial Intelligence running most gaming NPCs being done horribly wrong. Yes, much of it comes down to the talent of programmers behind it and the resources used behind them, but the hardware we currently have greatly limits where AI can grow. Far Cry 3 is a great example of the limits of hardware. The original Far Cry was an amazing looking game, but most people would not consider it to be an open world; you could see far, but your actual path was pretty small and linear. However the enemies you faced were pretty smart. If you were discovered they would fan out and hunt you in the jungle and were capable of being fairly sneaky doing so. Contrast that to Far Cry 3, which was a true open-world game. However the enemies were not nearly as smart. They have almost all the intelligence of a bag of bricks, or a bad guy in Call of Duty. The list of similar compromises includes most of the games that have come out in the past couple years; a list filled with games sacrificing smarts for some other feature.

Next-gen consoles will allow developers to have many more features than they currently have and still not make the NPC interactions suffer because of it. Again, it doesn’t need to be a bigger, prettier world. It just needs to be a better one.

Making Sir Isaac Newton the Deadliest Sonuvabitch In Space

If you don’t get the reference, don’t Google it. Get over yourself and play Mass Effect. Simply put, physics is another place where developers can expand themselves. There is still too much inconsistency between games and from within a game itself to completely let this go. Too many games live in worlds that the player cannot influence. Sure, not every game needs to give you Battlefield powers to level walls, but why can’t I push a chair aside if I get stuck? Is rag-doll physics the only way a character can die? How much cooler of a physics puzzle can we build to unlock this temple? There is still much room for improvement and it is something that can get better simply by giving developers more room to work in and more power to do the lifting.

Next-gen systems with more power can very easily allow developers room to ensure greater uses of their physics engines to provide more believable worlds as well as new experiences and gameplay mechanics. Not bigger, better.

A Blue Pill

Our consoles are old. At their age it’s not uncommon for them to experience trouble performing like they used to. These past two years have shown us that our consoles just don’t have the same…virility they used to. They need something to help give them back their old pep and…uh…confidence. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to be done. The hardware is old and limited, and there’s no amount of console-enhancement pills that can fix that problem. Instead we need to wave farewell to the old consoles sitting in their lone tubs near the beach and call up some new stud systems.

Look, games don’t perform like they used to on these systems. Despite looking better than ever, they’re unable to maintain 30 frames-per-second through the whole game. There is screen tearing aplenty, they have lesser draw distances, and they are riddled with bugs caused by coding trying to do too much with the old hardware. I’m frankly tired of playing games that drop below 20fps at multiple points throughout. I’m tired of the horrendously long load times followed by delayed texture loading that makes everything look like a blob of color. I’m just tired of games trying to ask more than what the consoles can give.

If nothing else, new consoles will allow us to play many of the same games we do now but perform so much better and more consistently. I don’t need bigger experiences, I just want better experiences.

What’s Wrong with More Polygons?

Now that’s four pretty big examples of what developers can do with next-gen video games that have nothing to do with making games LOOK better. Each example is only asking for games to PLAY better. But really, what’s wrong with wanting better looking games?

Ask anyone who works in computer graphics (or any other form of art) and they will tell you that the difference between a good digital creation and a great one is the amount of detail in it. And really, the amount of detail to go from one end to the other is not as great as you think. By adding little bits of detail here and there they will eventually add up to quite a lot more substance. Take the amazing Watch Dogs demo shown off at this past E3. The reason it looked so good wasn’t because of some huge leap in graphical capabilities. It was the way he walked, the fact his whole coat moved fluidly as one piece and not a conglomeration of shifting textures, it was the fantastic lighting engine, and the number of particle effects thrown on the screen. It was several little pieces of detail that all added up to make something look amazing. I think many of you will be surprised at how amazing those few extra polygons are.

Thank You!

Well, there are a few reasons on why a more powerful console should get you excited. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay on track and offer up more reasons to look forward to these new systems. In the mean time, what are the things you’re most excited about with a more powerful console?

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The Xbox 720 Will/Won’t Be Always Online

I’m a pretty lazy blogger. Like, pretty bad. I’ve been sitting on a multi-blog series on next gen consoles since December and I haven’t published a single one. Well, nothing sparks up the flame of motivation like seeing something so ridiculous that you cannot sit by and idly let it go.

I’m sure many of you have heard about the Twitter post heard around the world the resulted in the departure of top Microsoft executive, Adam Orth. His inferred comments about an always-online next generation Xbox fanned a flame of Internet forum vitriol so large that either by force or choice (or as famed game designer Cliff Bleszinski suggests, unfortunate coincidence) he resigned from his position within a week of the post. Since then, multiple rumors have popped up both confirming and denying that the next Xbox will be always online. Yet out of all of that hubbub and shouting, none of that babble is actually spurring this blog together. Sure, I put ideas down and thought out potential posts, but I figured that would just be relegated my long, growing list of unfinished blogs. No, my motivation for this post comes from a member of the GameInformer online community, bunnyking.

Quite clearly one of those behind the “Microsoft is evil” band, bunnyking recently posted up a blog about his feelings on the matter. Now, I don’t mean for this to be a personal attack, but I cannot think of any way that I can describe his post without sounding like it. It is by far one of the most reactionary, ill-thought, derogatory, inflammatory, fan-boyish post I have ever read. Falsely advertised as blog on why the next Xbox will have an Internet requirement, bunnyking’s post is instead an eight-hundred-and-thirty-nine word bash of those who play on an Xbox console. Any claim he may have to being system neutral or of reasonable thinking is completely absent from post. His comments were so ridiculously awful and lacking of substance that I cannot in all good conscious sit here and not offer up some form of rebuttal. So without further ado, I present to you some reasoning on why the next Xbox will not require an Internet connection, and also why it will.

Why It Won’t

As many people are aware, the broadband Internet penetration in the United States (and most of the rest of the world) is not very great. Sure, more people are getting connected to the Web every day, but many do not have access to fast, reliable broadband speeds. Only about thirty percent of American’s are subscribed to broadband Internet, making a potential market for an always-online console much smaller than one that doesn’t need to be connected. Take away additional consumers who have access to said broadband, but do not want to have a device that becomes a brick when their ISP has a hiccup, and your potential audience has become much smaller. Microsoft would have less of a market to sell to.

And then there’s…well…that’s about it. I’ve been trying for several days to come up with other reasons why Microsoft won’t require an Internet connection, but for every reason I could think of why Microsoft won’t I found a counter on why they would that made more sense for Microsoft, developers, content providers, and a wider audience of consumers. The only legitimate reason why Microsoft won’t is simply that they will narrow their potential gaming audience, and as much as I hope that this is a good enough reason for an always-online console to not be launching this fall, I believe the “why it will” makes more sense for Microsoft, their partners, and their non-gaming customers.

Why It Will

 

I’m going to go ahead and split this second section into two sections. Sectionception!

Ignoring The Internet

No, I’m not saying that Microsoft doesn’t care about its customers. I’m saying that Microsoft cares more about its shareholders than the people who use their products. There is nothing Microsoft HAS to do for you the consumer beyond what is Federally mandated. Since video games are one of the most extreme examples of first-world privileges and nowhere near being an unalienable right, Microsoft has absolute jack (aka, zero, not some whiskey/vodka cocktail) reasons to listen to the outcry of a vocal minority on the Internet. Now, without customers Microsoft cannot make money for their investors/stock holders, so of course they have to be friendly to consumers and offer them something they want. I’m simply saying that Microsoft (and just about every single corporation known to man) will only make a truly consumer friendly decision if it will pay their investors at some point. If there’s no money to be made, or it’s too expensive to be considered a charity effort, then Microsoft won’t do it.

Let’s not forget, Microsoft has already made decisions like this. Back when Microsoft first launched Xbox Live in 2002, they made it a requirement to have a broadband connection just to enjoy their service. If you’re old enough to remember back then, broadband Internet was not a readily available service to consumers. In fact, if you take the numbers everyone has been spewing around for those without broadband or reliable Internet, you’ll find that the Internet situation has vastly improved since then. So really, it’s less of a risk for Microsoft to require an internet connection for their new console now than it was for them to require broadband just to access a peripheral feature ten years ago.

Besides, what’s Microsoft’s incentive to listen to the Internet? If you look at the top twenty best-selling games on the Xbox 360 you’ll find that fifteen of them are online-centric games. These games are built almost entirely around their online components; either by cooperative or competitive multiplayer modes. I can’t imagine that the number of players who buy Call of Duty for only the campaign make up more than 5% of its sales. Of the remaining five games, only 3 did not ship with any form of multiplayer; two of which are Kinect games. Bethesda’s Skyrim is the only Triple-A game to make the top twenty list without any form of multiplayer. So if the majority of Xbox owners only ever play games that are practically useless without the Internet, why is it such an unbelievable concept that it would now become a requirement?

You can even take it a step further. Look at all the hubbub over the recent online-only games Diablo III and SimCity. Despite all the outrage over the seemingly unnecessary Internet connection, both sold record numbers for their respective franchises. People have asked Microsoft, “Haven’t you learned anything from the Diablo III or SimCity?” I would say yes. Microsoft (and many other companies) have learned that despite having an always online requirement (and even a rocky launch), gamers are willing to buy your games by the pallet load. Why should Microsoft (or really any company for that matter) listen to the Internet when ignoring them has been so lucrative?

Gaming And Beyond

This console generation is going to be very different from the last one. Really, it’s going to be different from every generation before it. Everyone in the industry is saying that the PS4 and Xbox 720 will be virtually identical in terms of power and architecture. The PS4 will probably have an edge over the 720 with its GDDR5 setup since I doubt Microsoft will match them there. However, the PS3 was more powerful than the 360 but you could only tell in first-party titles and most third-party titles were worse on the PS3 than the 360. Granted, that had a lot to due with the PS3’s Cell processor and partitioned RAM, but it still goes to pointing out that more power does not mean it will play better games. Power won’t be the decider, and exclusive games aren’t going to be the decider either. Despite Sony’s large catalogue of first-party titles, their total combined sales only ever match the total sales of Microsoft’s much fewer exclusives. A single Microsoft exclusive will outsell half of Sony’s games in a given year. Frankly, the only reason why the PS3 is finally outselling the 360 is because of the Japanese market. Either way, after seven years both consoles are neck-and-neck in terms of numbers. So if power, exclusive games, and architecture design are not going to be the big differentiator this generation, what is? Well, nothing gaming related!

This next-generation is going to be about moving beyond gaming. BEYOND gaming, not AWAY from gaming. Gaming will still be the foundation of these systems, but gaming will become a small part of everything these systems will be capable of. Even the ever stubborn Nintendo realized this to some extent by including universal remote technology in the WiiU. Both the PS4 and next Xbox will be adding in features to make their systems do more than simply play a video game. Music, movies, communication, and social media all contribute to these systems turning from dedicated video game consoles into multi-faceted entertainment boxes. From every rumor we can gather, Microsoft is poised to take the largest dive into that “everything” pool.

Microsoft will be working with every possible content provider that it can to work out deals and agreements to bring their content onto the next Xbox or to use the console as a direct interface into the providers’ infrastructure. Cable and satellite networks and internet based providers such as Netflix and Hulu will receive a level of integration with the next Xbox that will overshadow what we currently have on any other device. That integration will only come if Microsoft can guarantee the safety and profitability of the content provided by these companies. An always-online console would be one such way to fulfill that guarantee. It could give Microsoft a better tool to make modding a console more difficult (though probably not impossible to) as well as finding and bricking said consoles thereby reducing the likelihood of content being pirated. If Microsoft can guarantee that every system will have an internet connection, they could charge more for advertisements in that small square in the bottom right corner of the dashboard. More revenue from advertisements mean more money for Microsoft to throw at content providers, which in turn encourages more providers to show their content, which in turn attracts more consumers to a growing ecosystem, which in turn generates more ad revenue, which in turn makes its way into content providers, which in turn… You see where I’m going.

Now before you go on some long rant about the evils of advertising, let me say that the only way we will ever be able to move the entertainment industry to an a la carte method of consumption is through advertising. Want to only subscribe to HBO? Well, ads on your Xbox dashboard might be one way for that to be possible. “Why can’t I just pay $15 a month like Netflix for HBO?” Well, that’s because HBO has such high overhead production costs that every HBO subscriber could pay $30 a month and HBO would still lose money. HBO only exists because its productions are subsidized by the ad revenue of cable and satellite network companies. If paying a subscription to Xbox Live and having a small ad in the corner of my screen allowed me to subscribe to HBO without needed a huge cable bill, my purchase of an always-online Xbox would be justified. I think many consumers would agree.

As for the benefits to gamers? Well, I can’t really think of any. That’s not to say there won’t be, only that I lack the imagination to come up with something substantial. The only think I can think of is that the next Xbox will make Internet a feature rather than a peripheral. What developers can do with a system they know will always be online is anyone’s guess, but it’s something to think on.

What I Think Will Happen

I would not be surprised if Microsoft did unveil a system that required the Internet to work, however I do not think that is what Microsoft will actually do. I do think that you will be able to play Fallout 4 by yourself on the next Xbox without being connected in. However, 99% of all of all the other things the system will be able to do will require a connection. Video games will only be a portion of what the Xbox will do and will likely be the only thing that won’t require the Internet. However (there’s a lot of these) I would also see it likely that if you bought one of the reduced price, subscription models or a system that was bundled in with your cable company that those particular SKUs would require an always on connection. You would be buying a system well below the price Microsoft itself subsidizes at, so they will be wanted to ensure you make up that money through digital purchases and ad placements.

 Congratulations!

You made it to the end of my much longer than anticipated blog post. Trust me, I tried my best to pare down this writing and I still didn’t include numerous thoughts and arguments. So thank you for taking such a long time out of your day to reach the bottom. This took me several days to write up; not because I’m a slow writer, but because I’m a lazy one. Hopefully putting this out will finally spur me up to finish the half-dozen other blogs on next-gen that I have in production.

Almost Everything We Know About Black Ops 2: Single player

The next title in the Call of Duty mega-franchise is barely a week away. In preparation for the launch, I thought I’d bring together all the important bits of information about the game into three blogs to cover the three major aspects of Black Ops 2: Single player, Multi-player, and Zombies.

 

SINGLE PLAYER

I’m not really going to go over the story much. Most of the game takes place in 2025 with about a third taking place in the 1980s. There’s a bad guy who takes control of America’s drone armies in an effort to turn a cold war (between China and America over Rare Earth Elements) hot. There are lots of explosions, at least one building will fall down, and you’ll fly (and fall out of) a jet. ‘Nuff said.

I want to talk more about what Treyarch is doing differently within the single player, not just what new, globe-trotting adventure you’ll take part in.

 

CUSTOM LOADOUTS

For the first time in the CoD franchise (you’ll hear this phrase a lot), players will be able to select their loadout prior to entering a mission. Not only do players now have a choice in what they bring along with them in their missions, but they can also complete challenges within each mission just like in multi-player. Certain challenges can only be completed using certain weapons or equipment, and completing challenges further unlocks more weapons, attachments, and equipment for you to play with. So not only do you now have more control over how you play out a level, but you’re given more reasons to revisit the campaign for more than achievement hunting.

 

STRIKE FORCE

Strike Force is another first in the series and aims to help diminish the sense of linearity of the series. After every few missions in the campaign you’ll be given a Strike Force mission to complete. You’re dropped into a semi-open/sandbox world and given a number of objectives to complete. You’re given a number of troops, drones, and other assets to complete your objectives, which you can use one of two ways. You can assume a sort of “commander” top-down mode where you can command your units similar to an RTS-style game. You can also choose to jump into any of your units and control them like you normally do during the campaign. If the unit you inhabit gets killed then you can choose to jump back into another unit or resume the commander role. If you do not complete every objective before your assets run out (a.k.a. everyone got killed) then the mission is failed. Rather than take you to a “load checkpoint” screen the game carries on and the campaign is in some way shape or form affected by your failure. Which brings me to…

 

PLAYER CHOICE

Call of Duty is chock-full of moments where you’re manning a turret, sniping from a building, or assaulting a beach, but what if you didn’t have to do that? At several points throughout your adventures you’ll be given a choice as to how you want to approach a certain objective. The most commonly used example is choosing to stay up on a freeway overpass and conduct over-watch via a shoot-through-walls sniper rifle, or you can rappel down to the streets to “locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, and to repel the enemies assault with fire and close combat”…for all my 03’s out there.

You will also be making choices throughout the campaign that will contribute to your ending. Both your success (and failure) in Strike Force missions and other choices made during the campaign will determine which ending you get. That’s right, you now have multiple endings. I would bet that you’ll probably have a choice at the end to side with the bad guy.

 

So those are the big changes we have to look forward to in Black Ops 2’s single player. What are you excited for most about the upcoming blockbuster?

 

 

ALSO CHECK OUT:

Multiplayer

Zombies

Almost Everything We Know About Black Ops 2: Multiplayer

The next title in the Call of Duty mega-franchise is barely a week away. In preparation for the launch, I thought I’d bring together all the important bits of information about the game into three blogs to cover the three major aspects of Black Ops 2: Single player, Multi-player, and Zombies.

I’ve already talked about the bulk of changes coming to Black Ops 2 multiplayer and gave my thoughts on them, but since then we’ve gotten more information about what we can expect on November 12.

WEAPONS

When you now Prestige your weapons will no longer reset themselves. Any progress you’ve made with each weapon (challenges and attachments) will hold over whenever you prestige and reset your progress. Instead, weapons will have their own Prestige system, allowing you to manually reset you weapon’s progress. This means that you can reset your weapons multiple times without going Prestige with your character, and you can also go several Prestige levels without once resetting your weapon’s progress. While Treyarch did not say so, you can bet that certain weapon skins or other customizable options will be locked behind each weapon’s individual prestige level; such as the infamous Gold paint job. One reason why weapons now have their own ranking system is because…

PRESTIGE

…pressing the Prestige button no longer resets your progress! That is…you still return to level one, but you don’t have to lose your challenge and weapon progress just because you press a button. Prestige-ing now gives you several options on how you want to continue your play. Every Prestige level will give you a token you can use to permanently unlock weapons, perks, and equipment so that you can access them no matter what level you are. In addition to those tokens, you’re also given one of three choices: unlock another Create-A-Class custom slot, reset all of the Prestige tokens you’ve spent (so you can re-spend them on other items), or classically reset all of your progress like usual (except weapon progress). At Prestige level 10, everything will be unlocked for the player, which is a big deal since you can’t unlock every weapon, perk, and equipment in a normal playthrough.

TRAINING

The original Black Ops introduced Combat Training, a feature that allowed players to play multiplayer game modes, but substitute real players for AI-run bots. Absent in Modern Warfare 3, Combat Training returns with a few extra features. Combat Training can now contribute to you multiplayer progression, allowing new or less talented players to safely build up their character to level 10 and start multiplayer with custom classes, challenges, and Scorestreaks unlocked from the start. Combat Training that contributes to your progression is split into three major parts: Bootcamp, Objective, and Bot Stomp. Bootcamp is a 6v6 team Deathmatch mode that pairs three human players with three bot players on each team. Objective is unlocked after playing Bootcamp and follows the same human/bot split but includes Domination, Demolition, and Capture the Flag game modes. However Objective will only give the player half of the normally accrued. The last mode is Bot Stomp and it trades the human/bot split in favor of six humans versus six bots. However, Bot Stomp does not reward multiplayer XP and is designed more for practicing gameplay tactics with friends.

MATCHMAKING

There are two major aspects of how you will connect to other players in Black Ops 2: skill level and ping/latency levels. Firstly, your skill as a player will determine the type of players you will be consistently matched against. As you win and lose matches and your K/D slides around, you will be bumped up or down tiers of players with similar skill. So hopefully that should reduce the number of times you will get matched into a group of players who are ridiculously more talented then you, and also preventing you trolls out there from continuously jumping into groups of less talented individuals and lording your K/D over them.

Secondly, you will now be connected to players based on their connection, not by your region. Now, you’ve always been connected to hosts the game thinks you will fit best in, but it has always been restricted to hosts within your reason. This will most likely not be that noticeable to most of us American players, but those in Europe, Asia, and Australia will benefit more because of their more diverse region coding no longer restricting who they connect to.

However, if Treyarch does not fix whatever happened with the lag compensation of MW3 then I doubt these features will really help. The lag compensation was one of the biggest reasons why esports players turned from Call of Duty…

SHOUTCASTING

…and esports is a big target of Treyarch. Included in Black Ops 2 is a shoutcast feature for multiplayer. You can enter a multiplayer game as a spectator and will be given a whole host of options on how to view the game. You can juggle between first- and third-person views of each player, view an overhead map showing the teams, view player scores, or a number of combinations of each. You can also listen in on a team’s conversation and add your own voice commentary as well. You will then be able to stream your view of the match over the interwebs without the use of video capture hardware or software. All of it is built into the game. There is no official word about how it will be done, you can bet a partnership with twitch.tv or justin.tv is in the works. I would also say that the same shoutcast features will be included in the revamped Theater (which allows you to combine multiple edited clips together and new camera options to create insanely long or complex productions), though I was unable to find a direct statement or reveal saying so.

 

So those are the big changes we have to look forward to in Black Ops 2’s multiplayer. What are you excited for most about the upcoming blockbuster?

ALSO CHECK OUT:

Single Player

Zombies

Almost Everything We Know About Black Ops 2: Zombies

The next title in the Call of Duty mega-franchise is barely a week away. In preparation for the launch, I thought I’d bring together all the important bits of information about the game into three blogs to cover the three major aspects of Black Ops 2: Single player, Multi-player, and Zombies.

Zombies is a staple of the Treyarch versions of Call of Duty. Introduced as a bonus game mode at the end of World at War, Zombies has grown into a full fledged game mode alongside the story campaign and multiplayer. Treyarch has expanded the game mode into three separate (but hopefully equally) fun modes.

SURVIVAL

As far as Treyarch has said (or at least as far as what I call research turned up), nothing has really changed about the classic mode. There will be new zombies and new weapons. If there’s anything else, Treyarch has either not said so or I haven’t found it. Basically, all of the new stuff is built around the new modes.

GRIEF

A twist on the Survival mode, Grief pits two teams of four-player survivors against each other. Now don’t get excited and start shooting the other team when you see them, you’ll just waste ammo. Only Zombies can kill player characters, so the whole point of the mode is to outlive the other team. While simply outlasting another group of players would be fun, Treyarch named this mode Grief for a reason. While I could not find any specific act of griefing mentioned, you will be given a number of ways to make the other team miserable. You can imagine things like zombie-bait grenades to lure the masses to the other team, or beating the team to a certain point and kicking out a ladder or shutting a door to force the other team to take a longer, more dangerous route. Maybe you can even mess with the other team’s power supply and deactivate their traps and upgrade machines. I don’t know for certain, so please don’t take those examples as gospel. You get the idea; make the lives of other players miserable and outlive them. Shouldn’t be difficult a concept to grasp for many veteran CoD players.

TRANZIT

Tranzit is the story mode for Zombies. Players will be given a bus and an “expansive” world to travel around in and explore. The bus provides transportation and some protection, but it’s pretty tight inside, and if you want to explore the world, you’ll have to get out of it. Exploring the unknown is a must to replenish you supplies, gain new equipment, and remove obstacles out of the way of the bus so you can carry on. Tranzit will also feature “Buildables”, items that you can craft from things you find in the world for offensive or defensive uses. You can still be attacked when you’re in the bus, so if you have any desire to actually survive, you’ll have to leave what relative safety it provides and go out into the hoard.

Tranzit also has connections to the last Zombies DLC in the original Black Ops, Moon. Decisions you made in that map will have some sort of affect on how you world will play out.

MULTIPLAYER ENGINE

Treyarch has talked much about them building the new Zombies mode using the multiplayer engine and that it allows them to do a number of things that could not be done using the single player engine. The inclusion of the multiplayer engine means that you can now record and edit your Zombie experiences using the Theater feature. Everything that you can do with the Theater for multiplayer video can also be done to Zombies. Hopefully that means that the shoutcasting feature will also appear in Zombies mode, allowing players to magically stream their progress without the need for expensive video capture hardware or software.

The change in engines also allows for continuous stat-tracking, leaderboards, better matchmaking, and custom game modes. Don’t want magic guns? Turn them off. Want only headshots to count? It’s your funeral. Just because you’ve already beaten these modes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go back.

So those are the big changes we have to look forward to in Black Ops 2’s Zombies, at least what we know about. While Treyarch has been pretty open about mechanics and features in the single player and multiplayer modes, they’ve decided to hold back several bits of information for players to discover on release day. What are you excited for most about the upcoming blockbuster?

ALSO CHECK OUT:

Single Player

Zombies

SmartGlass Is Not Microsoft’s Wii U

After several months of almost complete silence, Microsoft has finally launched SmartGlass alongside Windows 8. SmartGlass is an app for W7/8 and Android phones (iPhone app to be coming soon) that allows users to interact with their Xbox with their PCs, tablets, and smart phones to navigate menus, browse the internet, and augment a video game. Having only just been announced during the middle of this year at E3, many have said that SmartGlass is Microsoft’s attempt to copy Nintendo’s Wii U (which was announced over a year ago), much like how the Kinect was Microsoft’s retaliation to the Wii. Well, I’m here to say that SmartGlass is NOT simply a copy of Wii U and has been in Microsoft’s plans long before Nintendo first showed off the Wii U controller.

Way back when, during the olden days of 2009, Ray Ozzie (former Microsoft Chief Software Architect) talked about Microsoft’s vision of “three screens and a cloud” at tech convention and an interview with JP Morgan. He talked about how people in the future would rely less on a single device for their content creation and entertainment consumption and would instead store and process everything in the internet (cloud) and just use multiple devices (three screens; PC [now tablet]), TV, and smart phone) to interact with each other and access that content from anywhere at anytime. SmartGlass is a program for computers (tablets) and phones to interact with their Xbox or consume media content from your Microsoft account. It’s not as functional as what Ray was talking about, but it is a foundation for Microsoft to work and build upon to get them closer to that goal.

Eons later, during the middle of the 2012 year, a presentation document was leaked to the internet. The document was said to be from 2010 and was intended for an internal Microsoft meeting talking largely about the company’s plans for the upcoming Xbox successor and their plans for the few years after it.

Now let me take a moment to silence the nay-sayers and tell you that the document was legitimate. It leaked the Surface (though not by name) before Microsoft announced it and talked of using a foundation of Windows 8 for all of their products (720 included) before that had likewise been announced. It even talked about moving toward streaming games and bypassing hardware limitations, which was later confirmed when Microsoft partnered with the streaming company Agawi to bring console and PC quality games to W8 tablets and WP8 phones. If none of that convinces you, then how about Microsoft issuing a take down order to every site that had the document, citing copyright infringement and illegally possessing Microsoft property? If you didn’t catch that, Microsoft said that the document was legitimate. So now that we’ve got that settled…

In that document Microsoft went it to detail describing an app for phones, tablets, and PCs that would allow users to interact with their Xbox to interact with a game, view video content, provide supplemental information for both games and video content, listen to music…pretty much everything SmartGlass has been advertised to do. It also stated that the features (now known as SmartGlass) would launch late 2012, which it has.

Now let’s look at the timeline: In 2009 Ray Ozzie spoke about having multiple devices interact with each other to enhance experiences, in 2010 Microsoft was discussing literally every feature shown off by SmartGlass, in 2011 Nintendo debuts the Wii U with a faux-tablet controller, and Microsoft announces and launches Smart Glass in 2012. If I read that right, it means that Microsoft was concocting SmartGlass at least two years prior to the first announcement of the Wii U! So can anyone explain to me how a feature that has been in development for over three years is a response to a feature that was announced barely a year ago? Well, you can’t. SmartGlass is not a response to the Wii U; Nintendo just happened to talk about something similar before Microsoft let the public in on their secret software.

What We Know About BO2 Multiplayer (so far) And How I Feel About It (Pt 2)

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Perks And Weapon Attachments

What It Is:

Yet another staple system since CoD4, Perks and Attachments are ways for players to customize their style of play. As a player ranks up in levels they unlock Perks they can apply to their character to alter their characteristics, such as reducing their hipfire spread, reloading weapons faster, or hiding the player from the enemy’s UAVs. Since MW2, Perks have also included an unlockable Pro version of the perk. By completing certain challenges for each Perk, the player was able to unlock more abilities within that perk to further its specialization. As a player used their weapons they unlock attachments for said weapon. Attachments have ranged from simply replacing the gun’s iron sights with a red dot to increasing the magazine size and attaching a grenade launcher. While perks and attachments have varied and increased with each iteration of the game, the basic principles of the systems have largely remained the same.

In BO2, the Perks and Attachments will become more independent from one another. Perks will no longer affect the capabilities of the player’s weapon, only attachments will. So instead of picking the Hipfire Perk to reduce your hipfire bullet spread, the player will slap on a laser sight instead. Slight of Hand, the Perk that reduced the reload time of your weapons, will instead be replaced with Fast Mags.

Perks will only apply to the player’s character and will be far less “absolute” than in previous. The example they gave is that the Ghost perk, which has traditionally kept the player invisible to enemy UAVs and other spotting equipment will now only keep the player hidden when they are moving. If they are sitting in one spot, the perk will not be active. The Ghost perk has also been split across three different perks now. Ghost keeps the player hidden from UAVs, Blind Eye is necessary to keep AI controlled Killstreaks from targeting them. The third perk, Cold-Blooded, rounds out the old perk by providing the player a resistance to enemy lock-on equipment, but does not make them immune to lock-ons. Treyarch is hoping that by splitting up these Perks into multiple abilities across different tiers will help balance the game more and prevent the use of traditional “Power Perk” setups.

What I Think:

I can’t say that I’m particularly thrilled about these changes, but I’m not really opposed to them either. I think that this will be one of those things that I’ll get more comfortable with as I play the game. Looking over the list of Perks and Attachments Treyarch is including, I do worry that it may be more difficult to fill out a class to fit a particular role. Maybe that’s Treyarch’s intention, but I’m not seeing a great “anti-Killstreaks” setup I can put together. I’m just going to have to reserve my judgment until I can get my hands on the game and put some time into it.

Progression and Unlockables

What It Is:

The progression system introduced in CoD4 is viewed by some to be CoD’s biggest draw outside of solid gameplay controls. As players racked up kills, defused bombs, and killed other players with their own explosives, they earned experience points. When the player reached a certain number of experience points they earned a level. Every couple of level the player unlocks a weapon, a perk, or a piece of equipment. The original Black Ops is the only title in the series to change up this mechanic. Players unlocked weapons and perks at various levels, but they could not use them until the player bought them with the in-game currency Treyarch added. Treyarch still wants to stick with the idea of purchasing items you’ve unlocked, but have ditched the currency system. Instead, each level the player gains gives them a point (up to 55 max) which they can then use to unlock perks, weapons, and equipment. There are more than 55 items for the player to unlock, so they will have to pick and choose what they want to have available to them in their arsenal. Players will need to Prestige in order to reset their points to unlock other items.

What I Think:

At first I was pretty upset about this. CoD has always been about being able to change up your playstyle whenever you feel the need. After thinking about it though, I cannot list any CoD game where I’ve used 55 different weapons and equipment at any given time. Heck, aside from World At War, I ignore the sniper rifles almost completely. I also tend to stick with one or two styles of play with each Prestige and don’t change it up until I Prestige and start over. So ultimately I think this will have little effect on my play, and probably that of most other gamers out there. And if Treyarch really want to stick with this unlock-then-purchase type of system, I’d have to say that this is a much better implementation than the CoD Cash from the first BO (which was horribly imbalanced and became useless way too soon). Here is a complete list of all the unlockables Treyarch has said will be in the game.

So that sums up all the major changes Treyarch announced for the upcoming BO2 game. They did also go into some detail on the shoutcasting and streaming integration into the game, but, as it doesn’t apply to the gameplay of BO2, I’ll talk more about that separately. So what do you think? Is Treyarch doing enough to keep the series fresh? Are they changing too much? Will this bring back any of you that have left the series or avoided it so far?