Review: Alien Swarm


I lament, often on an almost daily basis about the lack of co-op support in our modern gaming society. So lo and behold what do the Valve Gods gift us with? An up to 4-player co-op game for free! Alien Swarm was originally an Unreal Tournament mod released in 2004. This release was actually developed by the original team after they had been scooped up by Valve (according to Wikipedia). It’s a top down 3rd person shooter with a sci-fi flavor. There’s not a whole lot in terms of plot, but that is not important. The only facts that need be known are that there are waves of aliens to kill on a space ship with your real life buddies.

You have a choice between four different classes and eight unique characters. Each player gets to choose a main and secondary item. You have 40 to choose from, they range from rifles, shotguns, sentry guns, to health and ammo packs. Most of the items are unlocked via a horizontal leveling system as in, you get more items at each level not better. Each class also has a unique class item. With two people playing co-op it took a bit of strategy in terms of what to pick. We had two people total playing last night and it took a bit of trial and error to figure out what worked for us.

Alien Swarm is a very nice looking game. The texturing is very nice, shadowing is very nice, the lighting is very nice. If there’s one thing that the Steam engine has always been good at it’s scalable graphical output per performance. Even with the graphics turned up to high and with the nice particle effects, I didn’t notice any slowdown or frame drop at all, no many how many mobs were on the screen. I will include a couple of screenshots at the bottom of this post so that you all can judge yourselves. If anyone wants video, I am sure that by now hundreds have been posted on YouTube.

The interface is for the most part very nice with a plethora of nice Steam touches: Steam stats, achievements, integrated voice chat, the ability to doodle on the map, etc. A few of the interface elements are confusing though. I feel as if there is probably a better way to handle the ammo and health notifications. Reloading confused me for a bit since you have to continuously glance down at the corner of the screen. There’s also little notification as to when you are reloading save for a small animation. I suppose I should know better. I mean, the party bars at the bottom are laid out in a WoW like fashion.

The controls are fairly straightforward: It’s a dual stick shooter. WASD for movement and mouse for aiming and shooting. Most of the weapon options are introduced as you play the game, though you may want to glance at them for reference. The keybindings are by default setup oddly. A few of them weren’t intuitive to how I usually bind things. It’s not that big of a deal, you just may want to check on all of the keybinding settings before jumping online to play.

Alien Swarm is short: It is one campaign with six levels. But fear not. Conveniently enough, the SDK was also released with the game so hopefully it won’t take people too long to jump on the player generated content bandwagon. Valve provided a sturdy foundation from which to build from; The rest is now up to us. Either way it’s not like one could complain too much, being completely free and all. Pick Alien Swarm up, grab a friend or three and play it. It’s fun and you have absolutely nothing to lose.

Winning, Losing, Death and Consequence

I was reading this article the other day and thought that it was interesting. This post was originally going to be a response, but it kind of went off on a tangent. So by, “Winning, Losing, Death and Consequence,” I really mean “Death and Consequence.” The other part of the title just sounded nifty. Anyway, gaming deaths should have consequences, given that they are appropriate to the nature of the game. The player should have to feel the weight of a bad decision as to not trivialize the game. At the same time, these consequences need to be reasonable.

I am not certain if it is because I have gone increasingly casual over the past couple of years, but as a working adult with relatively little free time (in comparison to uuh college), I don’t have that much time to enjoy my media of choice. I like a challenging game and I like my decisions, poor or not to have significance, but I really do not enjoy the time wasting aspect of a rough death mechanic. On any given week night I have about 3 to 4 hours of playtime after eating and what not. A half hour to an hour of time making up time after reloading a game after dying is a significant portion of my evening. I can personally do without arbitrary time wasting.

This exact criticism was one of my big beefs against Final Fantasy XII. In a long RPG, harsh death penalties severely interrupt the story, which is counterproductive given that the entire purpose of a role playing game is to progress the narrative. Sparsely placing save points and forcing players to traverse long distances after dying during a boss encounter doesn’t fit with the context of the game. It is an old mechanic originally used out of technological limitation; It doesn’t have a place within modern gaming.

Final Fantasy XIII handled death in a slightly different manner: Save points, though still used are placed with more frequency. If you die during an encounter, your party will load from the point right before you engage in battle, giving you time to rethink your strategy and swap paradigms and party members around. Many newer games follow a similar train of thought regarding death mechanics and I think that it is a good compromise. An encounter can be hard without being unnecessarily frustrating. Other than repeating a though fight x amount of times, there is relatively little disruption to the flow of the game.

Besides, why does time need to be the only method of punishment? And for the record, WoW’s punishes in the form of a hit to equipment durability. Repairs cost money and time = money (same thing :P). Death should be fun or at least more creative. Ideally, I think that character death should have a lasting effect in the game environment. I love persistent gaming environments that embrace this idea, which is what fascinates me about Dwarf Fortress (I still intend to play more of this game if I ever get over the learning curve).

You will die horribly in Dwarf Fortress. Your civilization will crumble and fall, overrun by enemies and social unrest. But losing in Dwarf Fortress is just the beginning. When you die, you can reclaim your fortress as well as your previous fortune should you chose or start a new. Either way, the efforts of your first campaign are now an active part of the gaming world. The big picture is that every event, be it winning or losing contributes to the overall story. You still lose, but your loss is a part of the game. No time is ever lost.

Death should add to the uniqueness of your particular story, instead of representing yet another tedious element of gameplay. Or rather, instead of dying and restarting from a saved game, what about just having characters that permanently die in a dynamic fashion? You could of course just reload a saved game, but I think that players should be encouraged to face the consequences of their failure within the context of the game. The goal of a game is to be challenging AND fun, not frustrating. Neither goal is mutually exclusive.

Bioware has the idea. Mass Effect 2 for example (spoilers ahead):  Towards the end of the game I was given the chance to travel through the Omega 4 Replay to rescue my crew or to delay the rescue mission for the sake of preparing myself. It was not a forced option, it was a location within the galaxy map (that I accidentally clicked on…). I chose the latter option, not knowing that my crew, including the lovely Kelly Chambers would be dissolved in a vat of acid before my eyes. I sacrificed my crew for the sake of dicking around. I really wasn’t expecting that to happen, I wasn’t expecting there to be a consequence.

A part of me still wants to reload the end of Mass Effect 2 to replay it for the sake of getting a perfect ending (I also lost Legion during the last mission). Another part of me though feels that doing so would be cheating. I think I will just stick with my original outcome. I will be missing a few buddies when the third game rolls around but that should at least make it a little bit more interesting, right?

StarCraft II Beta: Better Late Than Never


Hah, a StarCraft II beta invite dropped into my inbox over the weekend while I was out frolicking with my dearest male unit. I was about to delete it thinking that it was a scam; I didn’t think that the beta was still active given that we are a mere two weeks or so away from the supposed retail release. But what harm could come from at least entering the serial number into my BNet account to check (I view most emails on my phone).

It is a shame that the email didn’t arrive earlier in the week, the beta phase ends tomorrow according to Wikipedia so I don’t think that I will be getting any “testing” time in. It’s nice to actually get an invite for once, usually I’m the one who is left out. Oh hmm, I should probably pre-order the actual game.

Epic Gloves


I was going to compose another entry about the Read ID debacle and Blizzard’s redaction, but that topic has been beaten into the ground. I mean, it’s dominating my entire WoW feed. But whatever, there are more important items to post about! So fat loot arrived in the mail earlier this week from (pictured above). Now, it has been years since I have purchased a frivolous, no, awesome ornament for my desk. $60 would have purchased a new game or steel gauntlets; Easy choice!

The gauntlets themselves aren’t too heavy but they do have a fair amount of weight to them being well, steel plate and all. The site says that the gauntlets are one size fit all, which I assume are man sizes. They will fit better (and won’t chafe as much) after I pick up a pair of heavy leather gloves from Home Depot this weekend. Unfortunately, the only pair of gloves that I was able to dig up were an ultra small pair of chick sizes leather gloves. Well, not that I really plan on wearing them all that much. For the moment, they proudly sit on my desk at work.

The Real ID Forum Shitstorm

Now, I am not all that paranoid of a person, but the new Real ID Blizzard forum announcement just reinforces the fact that I have no plans on ever posting on the WoW forums ever again. All though I am not overly concerned about my real identity there are many WoW players who are and with good reason out of concern for their profession, their families or out of concern for internet stalking: Military personal, medical professionals, legal professionals, government workers.

First of all: I do like and have always liked the idea that all relevant characters on a single account should be visible on any forum post from that same account. Though there are a couple of good gems on the WoW forums most of that shit is either a level 1 trolling or a level 80 trolling about the level 1 not posting on their level 80. If you are that ashamed to post on your main just don’t post it at all.

But that said, I definitely do not feel comfortable with having my real identity attached with my forum account. I have always made some sort of an effort to keep a division between my personal life, my professional life and my gaming life. I am already iffy on Real ID’s in general but this change just steps way over the creepy line. It is unrealistic and I hope Blizzard realizes that sooner than later.

I would have very much preferred if the ID’s were based off of a global avatar, linking your WoW alts and gaming accounts together while retaining anonymity in regards to your real identity. Since it is probably not all that feasible to have several million people picking unique avatars all at once with out uuuh some collusion occurring, what about binding your Real ID name to an existing gaming character? Like for example, Keiya <Proudmoore>. I wouldn’t mind that being my ID across all Blizzard games. There needs to be some sort of middle ground to prevent trolling, something between what we have now and what is proposed.

Edit: Since posting this, Blizzard has responded to a couple of concerns. Article at Also, can we blame Facebook? I am sure that the extreme rise in Facebook usage is at least partially responsible for this decision be it direct or indirect.

Thoughts on FMA: Brotherhood and Anime

I hope everyone’s 4th of July weekend was filled with lots of booze, explosives and marginally legal fun :P. I feel a strong urge to post something well, can’t really think of much to post about. In lieu of the holiday, we called off the weekend raids and other than a couple of rounds of WipEout HD I didn’t really do a whole lot of gaming. I did though, play with the server quite a bit so uuh, if anyone noticed, it kind of went down for about 5 minutes then rolled back to a restore point earlier that morning. Whoops. Oh, there is also a footer at the bottom of this site now if anyone cares…

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood finished up its 64th and final episode this weekend. I don’t know if it is because I am fairly oblivious or if it is because I haven’t been actively into anime fandom in uuh years, but I didn’t notice a whole lot of buzz going around for Brotherhood, given how many people are watching it. I guess everyone got it all out during the first television series?

Anyway, FMA:B follows the manga’s story line. It thankfully rushes past the overlap and splits off at around episode 16 or so. Past that point, it is a very different show than its predecessor. The early parts of FMA:B are still kind of heavy on the dumb short jokes but not to a grating degree. The manga’s storyline is well paced and plotted out as expected. It is probably one of the best new anime series that i have seen in a while for whatever that is worth.

The animation, particularly the combat scenes retains its quality throughout the entire series which is notable given its length. In fact, the pacing and the story quality in general were right on track for all 64 episodes. It never at any point diverged off into a filler story or degenerate into a clip show. It’s still worth seeing the first series. I think FMA:B assumes that you have seen the original show based on the amount of content that was cut from the first part of the series in order to cut down on the repetition. Awesome show, definitely recommended.

Does anyone have any good suggestions as to what we should watch next? Other than a half-assed viewing of Durarara I really haven’t picked up any new anime series in several seasons. It’s about that time of the year where the new summer season series start to come out anyways so I might just do the, “download the first and second episode of anything interesting” bit again and see how that goes.

Anime Expo was this weekend. You know, for as long as I have lived in Southern California I have never bothered attending that convention. I would say maybe next year, but we are tentatively planning on attending PAX next year (I formally announced it on the internet so it will happen right?) so I don’t know how my vacation and the con schedule will be.

To the two people who signed up for Linode via my referral code: You both rock.

Real ID and Privacy

Apologies to anyone whos comment was blocked or unpublished. A significant amount of comment spam was bypassing the CAPTCHA module so I swapped over to Mollom, an anti-spam service similar to Akismet. It works like a champ but unfortunately, it seems to be blocking a few legitimate comments as well. Which, kind of sucks because it is not as if a whole lot of people bother visiting or commenting on this site >_<.

Anyway, Real IDs: I was kind of hoping for something similar to Steam’s community chat system. Or rather, I was kind of hoping for a chat system promoting a global avatar linking social communities across games. For security reasons, I’m not comfortable with just doling out my login email, which is unfortunately needed in order to add Real ID friends. I don’t like the fact that my real name is shown in game and on friends list, I don’t like how people not on my friends list are able to view my name on friends lists and I really don’t like how there is no way to control friends list visibility.

Being able to link your game identity with your real identity within the game isn’t a very good idea. It’s mildly creepy and breaks immersion. I know that it is not that big of a deal (hint: if you don’t like it don’t use it), but it makes me very reluctant to add anyone to my Real ID list who I am not directly associated with outside of the game. I assume that was Blizzard’s original intention, but as mentioned above, I was really hoping for more of a community system.

But all of that aside, I have quite a few co-workers and real life friends scattered across servers. It’s nice being able to contact them in game without having to roll a social alt on another server (talking out of my ass since I don’t think I have ever RL whispered anyone off server yet :P). On the other hand, it is not that hard just to uuuh send someone a text message or IM outside of the game…

Oh, people who are purchasing the new iPhone upgrade: Make sure that you unbind your authenticator so that you don’t get locked out of your account. The authenticator app is tied to the phone’s serial number.