Titanfall Hiatus

titanfall

Onward, valiant steed!

Starting since yesterday, I’m not touching Titanfall for a month.

My game play has truly plateaued, and the reasons for it are plentiful. I’ve had a few network issues since the last patch and now frequently have bad ping, probably due to the “missing token from Origin” issue I keep getting. My system is just too out of date… frame loss during up close fights has hurt my survivability. I’ve been stacked against a number of better opponents too. Or maybe I’m just too frustrated by it to think clearly.

My current generation requirements aren’t much help either. Explained, the game divides itself into 50 levels and 10 generations. At level 50, if you’ve satisfied all your requirements, you can promote yourself to the next generation, a respect worthy accomplishment. G3, my current generation, requires 75 Pilot kills with the R-97 Compact Submachine Gun, and 50 Titan kills with the Plasma Railgun.

Interestingly enough, the R-97 was my choice weapon for the longest time when I first picked up the game. Over time however, it felt increasingly outclassed by other weapons, namely the C.A.R. SMG. I keep letting myself get lured into open fields where the R-97 is at a disadvantage, or just my gun play sucks and I need practice. Too often, I’ve found myself on the wrong side of a close call. Like getting gunned down by a guy who I left with a meager 25% life left.

But nothing ached more than one particular Titan on Titan fight when I shredded the guy’s shields and nearly had him when I had to reload my Railgun. He got the better of me… with 1% health left.

It’s not that the Railgun is a bad weapon per say. It is quite powerful. A fully charged shot against the weak point of a Titan’s armor is devastating. The problem is that between the charges and the small ammo magazine, I either get shredded by multiple Titans, or find myself whittling the guy’s health just enough so someone else steals the kill I desperately covet.

If the game was more inclined to promote teamwork, then the Railgun will have a place supporting my teammates. A lot of Titanfalls‘ achievements and game play doesn’t center around working with others. Sure, you get some experience for assisting in the kill of Pilots and Titans, and there are a few achievements for riding the shoulders of allied Titans. But the rest of it is very self-centered. You have to get the kill for it to really count towards anything, especially generation progress.

Currently, I’m level 38. I’m 24 kills with the SMG and 13 kills with the Railgun before I’m ready for G4. Sure, I could grind my way through and get the last needed kills. But as I’ve gone from being a constant top three player to a consistent rank 6 (the bottom), it’s time for a break to fix my strategies, improve my rig and figure out my network problems. I’ll come back better than ever.

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Heat is On

Heat is On

Some news has come down the pipe… and as such I am preparing for the next few weeks with a new and aggressive writing schedule. The past few weeks, I’ve been lazy with writing, putting a few days aside to play Titanfall or hang with friends, then writing a little.

But I have a number of very large writing projects going on now. I’ve mentioned before about a few super hero novellas that my friends and I are working on. I got the thumbs up on what I consider a “starter” novel. And there are a few short story deadlines between now and the end of the summer that I have to attend to.

As such, I want to make an effort to write a little every day. Just an hour, even if it’s as little as plotting out the synopsis or doing some research or editing an existing piece. There are things that have external deadlines and others that don’t. My plan is to focus on grinding forward at all times. If I hit writer’s block against one subject (unlikely since just about everything has a complete or near complete synopsis) then I’ll fall back and try something else.

This means I currently have four writing projects on around the same time. Risky, I know. But there are red-and-green light moments between them. But here’s my usual break down:

Short Stories: Usually take 4 to 5 hours to write, plus up to 2 hours of research time, plus 1 hour to rewrite due to beta reader reactions and suggestions. Additional hour for the synopsis. So 8 to 9 hours, maybe 10 if the research is extensive (historical fiction.)

Novellas: Sketchy, but approximately 3 hours for the synopsis, 3 to 4 hours research time if needed, 8 to 12 hours writing time plus unknown re-write time. So no less than 17 real hours of work.

I don’t even know how long a novel really takes me. I’ve started two novels before. The first got fifty pages in with no synopsis before dying. The second got a filled synopsis and three chapters finished, but no green light to continue. My latest has a complete synopsis and the vast majority of my research finished, with about two and a half chapters in first draft stage.

Super Powers

Super powers have been a major focus as of late in my work. And I’ve realized… When I introduce an element, it’s less about the intrigue of the subject itself and more about the rest of the world’s reaction to it. As I pointed out to my friends earlier today, it’s less Marvel comics and more like Metal Gear Solid for me.

What’s the difference you ask? Well Marvel comics has always had that sense of amazement surrounding the character. The Incredible, Hulk. The Amazing, Spider-Man. The Uncanny, X-Men. For some reason, comic book super heroes have tended to evolve towards these tiring black and white morals. They rarely make any attempt to accept a more down to earth grey, just trying to get by and perhaps discovering that the world, for whatever reason, won’t let them.

MGS2However, the genius of Hideo Kojima’s signature series (Metal Gear Solid) has been more around how such abilities would be applied to the real world. In Kojima’s view, the only place for such morbid and unusual talents tends to be the military. MGS is filled with characters bearing unexplained powers… a man who can summon hornets from his body or another who can heal from sunlight, a telepathic or one who is seemingly a vampire (only partially explained through nano-machines.)

These unbelievable foes are always part of special operations units, rare and unseen to the rest of the world. When the player encounters them, there isn’t much awe factor… just an X-Files like acceptance that there will always be strange things, and there won’t always be a scientific theory to explain them away.

This comparison and branch of thought came from an earlier source. Rather it was our buddy Alec who was the genesis of the idea, when he sent us a compelling thematic concept last week. His contribution to the project added something potent and memorable, setting us up differently than almost all other super hero stories I’ve read.

We’ve been borrowing each others’ ideas. Andrew, for example, came up with a number of characters that we each borrowed from. I’ve concocted an agency and have had no trouble letting other authors play with, creating a myriad of perspectives regarding it. From Jonathan, I’ve borrowed a faction and have carefully been modeling an intriguing philosophy with the involved villain. Alec has presented us with a universal theme that we’ll all find ways to use. Finally, Robbie has provided us with a brand of weapons and tools that will impact stories to come.

As it stands, we have enough material for the first wave of novellas. There’s plenty of world building elements in place to get started. I think the final product is going to catch some eyes for certain. But tonight, it’s all about the work.

Titanfall

The Question: Is Titanfall Revolutionary?

Titanfall is long out and I’ve sat down with the game for six hours of play. For some reason, I think a lot of people haven’t quite heard about Titanfall. I almost ignored it myself. Now I’m glad I haven’t. The game consists of two sides, each with six pilots (players.) They fight it out over the map for various objects like any standard FPS. The catch is that a timer counts down for every player, and once it hits zero, the player can summon a Titan, a powerful but disposable mech, from the skies.

My only regret was not naming my Titan "Sloth" and my pilot "Chunk."

My only regret was not naming my Titan “Sloth” and my pilot “Chunk.”

Let’s start with the basics. If you have a PC with minimum specs, you really should upgrade or go for either of the XBox consoles. I have other games with identical minimal requirements and they look great, but I assure you that it’s not true of Titanfall.

When they say minimum, they mean it.

I have a Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT with 512 MB, and that has worked great for a lot of games for several years. With Titanfall, I can get it to run smoothly enough for game play, but the graphics look less than impressive during the shooting and downright horrid during many of the epilogue cut scenes.

We’re on the cusp of a new generation of games.This should be a surprise to no one.

But perhaps there’s something good about that. The 90s and the early years of 2000 were filled with questions about the importance of graphics to a game. Even today, all AAA titles require a warehouse full of artists to make it look great. Without oohing and awwing the visuals, I could only focus on the only thing that really matters. The game itself.

And it is damn good.

Many have made comparisons to other games. Mechwarrior, Call of Duty and Brink tend to be the biggest three I hear, combining elements of all three of these games into one.

From Brink, they took the parkour elements and perfected them. Respawn must have figured that getting this element right would satisfy the worries of fans who were burned by Brink. And it so drastically changes everything you think you know about FPS games. The most skilled players are constantly on the move. Dashing across walls, finding ways to play with your radar. Double jumping their way across rooftops and through buildings. Never before has looking up been so important. Each pilots gets three weapons, an ability and ordinance (explosive). The weapons include an anti-personnel weapon such as a rifle or shotgun, a sidearm (a pistol) and an anti-Titan weapon.

Then there are the mechs.

Rise of the Machines . . .

People make comparisons about the Titans to other fictional mechs. I’ve heard them compared to Landmates from the Appleseed series or good old Gundams. But in my opinion, the closest and most comparable examples have to be from Armored Troopers Votoms or Wanzers from Front Mission with just a dash of Zone of the Enders tossed in.

The Titans themselves are very dangerous, but far from unbeatable. Large, but not gigantic at about two stories tall. No built-in weapons but a hand held gun and an external mounted missile system. They’re fully capable of punching and smashing opponents, and sport up to three varieties of powerful shield systems. A Titan needs but walk over a player to step on them, killing the pilot instantly.

In Soviet Russia, Titan rides you! ... Not even joking.

“In Soviet Russia, Titan rides you!” … It’s only funny until they actually try.

But intriguingly, they’re disposable if they have to be. Sure, it’s not encouraged (or maybe it is, considering you earn a little experience for every Titan dropped… hm.) But it’s not like Zone of the Enders or Mechwarrior where losing your mech meant game over. Hell, Battletech (the name of the extended Mechwarrior universe) has a lore point called the dispossessed who are warriors who have lost their battlemech and are very unlikely to get a new one.

A Focus on What Matters . . .

One point I noticed got me thinking that Respawn is, first and foremost, a company of programmers over artists. Many shooting games have come to reward players with visual options like new outfits. Brink or Space Marine have done so. But as a result many of these games tended to only have male character models to the point of some controversy, and I suspect that having to make options for both men and women would be a large artistic undertaking.

But Titanfall doesn’t bother with it, instead giving you the option to choose between a male and female model for all classes and nothing more. Kudos to Respawn for letting the girls play. And I actually prefer it this way, as although some visual choice is a fine reward, I’d rather the focus and effort be on the game itself.

The jury is still out on the game's "doll collecting" feature aspect. This player, for one, doesn't look to happy about it.

The jury is still out on the game’s “doll collecting” feature. This player, for one, doesn’t look too happy about it.

A recent interview at IGN confirmed that it will be a long, long time before we ever see any new mech designs. Personally, I don’t care. And that’s far from a bad thing. The three Titans we got are very balanced. I never feel like there’s any model I cannot beat, whether suited up or on foot. Adding more models would be either a slight reshuffling of speed and durability, or adding a new feature or ability that risks destroying core game-play. That latter point is something they’ll likely have to do one day, probably in the sequel. For the time being, three is enough.

Psychology has to be the game’s best hallmark. Most of the time, game developers focus on creating a satisfying experience through the single player game, providing that play variety that keeps it from getting boring. Multiplayer games always run that risk of being tedious. But Respawn has made a breakthrough in cracking the play-variety code for multiplayer. What begins as man vs man becomes machine vs machine, and even man vs machine. When the mouse can beat the cat, things get interesting…

The Verdict . . .

I think all this brings us to our final question. Is Titanfall revolutionary? Sort of. In a sense, there’s absolutely nothing about Titanfall that hasn’t been done before. The parkour, the objectives, the story driven multiplayer elements, the mechs. Even the whole rodeoing, or jumping on and riding mechs, occurred in MechAssault 2 almost eight years ago.

Titanfall is a success not because it does anything new or innovative (it doesn’t), but simply takes a huge helping of elements from other games, blends them together and delivers them in a polished and balanced product. We’ve seen parkour and deep maps and mechs before, and on paper the combination sounds both awesome and a technical disaster.

But against the odds, it works wonderfully. Titanfall itself is not a revolution. It’s the murmuring discontent with the authorities, the resulting product of true gamers fatigued with the industry standard. People will play it and enjoy it, and they will compare it with games to come and know that there is something better out there. Titanfall is like the philosopher whose writing foretells a new way of thinking, who makes people less satisfied with the way things are and want more.

No, Titanfall is not a revolution… but it’s sure as hell going to start one.