Christmas Network Difficulties – What They Really Told Us

If you were like many gamers last week, you probably tried to hop online to play some new game you might have gotten for Christmas; only to wind that hackers had DDoS’ed the networks of both major home online consoles. They were both down for two days before the engineers were able to get the networks reliably working again. This isn’t the first time the networks were taken down, by apparently the same group this year. And while this really is getting old, I think it’s becoming a sad part of playing games in the current console world.

It’s a part of having all the awesome new potential that the new online only consoles have. We now have to put up with consumers with technical skills that can take down the network for everyone, with little to no consequence. There’s no real way to truly combat them either, without really restricting a bunch of the freedom we have. I think what this has shown has just reinforced my thoughts on “gamers” across the board.

At their core, gamers are good – we like playing the games, want to share our experiences and find communities to play with. However there are plenty of other people within the communities that have other motives. If their goals aren’t being met, than they see it as a failing of the companies we support, and as a result they have to take in their own hands to “fix” it. That could amount to complaining about the ending of a game (Mass Effect 3) to taking more unscrupulous methods, like this past week’s attack. Ultimately, it’s really unlikely that these attacks will actually amount to any changes. Microsoft and Sony both have their courses set – any attack that they think would legitimately worry them would be dealt with much more aggressively than the recent DDoS attacks. The attack on the Sony executive’s plane is an example – the consequences of that attack will be much more dire than anything that comes of this DDoS attack. These gamers are the incredibly vocal minority – entitled, spoiled and loud – and as a result they get press time with their attacks. It’s like the GG fiasco earlier this year – change scares them, if it’s not the change they want, so they attack it.

There’s no real way to counter them, other than just suffer them gracefully. Unfortunately it’s part of life these days – hopefully in the new year there’s a better community spirit to counter these pointless outbursts.

Halo 5 Guardians Multiplayer Beta – Day One Thoughts

Halo 5 GuardiansYesterday marked the beginning of the new Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta on Xbox Live. While I haven’t exactly been impressed with 343 Industries as far as the Master Chief Collection has been concerned; I think that they’re doing a smart job with the Halo 5 beta. Unlike a lot of recent betas – in particular for shooters – this Halo 5 beta is running for a pretty long time. The current plan is to end the beta on January 18, which will give them about three full weeks of data to look at. With that said, I played around in the current settings yesterday for a few solid hours with friends, so I thought I’d offer up my thoughts on how it looks.

Visually, I really like the style so far – it looks like a pretty good mix of Halo 4‘s newer style Spartans, with some call backs to the classic games that we now have easy access to. My only issues right now are that in the Beta there’s no way to change the brightness, and with my TV setup it’s pretty dark. The other issue is that the Blue team is kinda saturated, which is really an issue on Truth, the Blue team blends in with the level too well, and can make it hard to pick them out sometimes. As far as actual gameplay for being a beta it runs relatively well – no crazy framerate issues, or major geometry issues yet either.

While the beta right now is only a couple maps and Slayer to play, I think they do provide a pretty good glimpse of the direction that the gameplay is headed in. Overall, the feel is still very much Halo, but the execution is pretty unique. I think it’s borrowing a lot from the general shooter market this year in that there’s a big focus on movement. Titanfall did it with double jumps and parkour, Call of Duty did it with the exo movement – Halo 5 is doing it with the booster pack that all Spartans now have. It makes close combat much easier to get into, and helps extend your life by getting you out of combat faster. There are a couple little tweaks to keep the game balanced – like your shields don’t recharge if you’re sprinting now, and taking fire while sprinting will stop your sprint; but so far it plays very much like Halo, just with the speed cranked up a notch or two. The new Clamber system, which I was curious to see in action, really changes the way I thought about map movement. Instead of seeing a ledge that normally might require a series of jumps to clear, I can now jump up to it and clamber over the edge – it opens up flanking routes and changes map flow, I think initially for the better.

One last area that I think people might be looking at closely is the new behavior of the weapons. Every weapon now has the ability to aim down sights, which makes every weapon more viable at mid-range. The assault rifle has gone from a spray and pray style gun to being much more consistent – while I still prefer the magnum for it’s ability to score a headshot, the assault rifle is now a decent starting weapon. As such, it’s even more important than ever to learn weapon spawns and control the map – especially in Slayer. The new streamlined maps which so far appear to only have one or two power weapons on them (which are called out before they spawn) are built to allow for areas to be controlled by teamplay, but still have ways to break the hold. All things considered, the current state of the beta has me much more at east with the state of Halo than the release of Master Chief Collection did. I think 343 might be on to something with this, and as the beta progresses, I think we’ll get a bit better idea of it.

Minecraft Monday: Mega Man 4 Rogues’ Gallery

Mega Man 4 Stage SelectWhile I haven’t exactly been working quite as diligently on Mega Man Land within my Xbox One Minecraft world over the Christmas week – especially considering my birthday was last week too – but I certainly have made good progress on it. In last week’s update, I showed, or at least tried to show, the two major sections of the Mega Man 4 area – the Title and Stage Select screens; as well as set up my plan for the Robot Master sprites.

Pharoah Man

The initial plan was to build them up vertically – and that plan quickly changed as I was working through building Toad Man. Going vertically – which may have looked real cool, but probably would have obscured the view of the bigger screens – was going to be a much slower process than I liked. The big issue boiled down to the fact that the RM sprites have so much diagonally set lines – which going vertically with no backer makes it more time consuming, since you have to frame it up. The other option would have been going through each line in the sprite, individually to build them, which again, would be real slow going.

Also I made a second and third addition to the “sprite sheet field” that has made it a bit more complicated/cluttered but in the long run I think will help it look even better. The original idea was to just put the eight Robot Masters initial sprites, in the order that I play them, along with signs with their DWN number, weapon, and weakness. While that is still the plan, I also added in a second sprite of Mega Man, using that RM’s weapon, along with the actual weapon sprite. Using the sprite of Mega Man actually firing the weapon results in a few changes across the board – the Rain Flush and Pharaoh Shot both are thrown weapons, while Flash Stopper is a full screen flash weapon (meaning the sprite is just Mega’s standing sprite) and Skull Barrier is a standing shield weapon. The rest are of course regular shooting sprites, but the variation in size within the RM’s also means that there aren’t quite perfect straight lines across the board.

Drill Man

The other addition I made, which will probably be changed around with the later games at least, was adding in the weapon tile in that same field. With Mega Man 4 they added in a full screen pause menu that featured all of the weapons, along with a small, 16×16 tile illustrating the weapon. I took that tile and dropped it into the field surrounding the Mega Man sprite. While they look fine there, again, there’s a lot of variation which makes the placement of the tile a little bothersome. Moving forward, if the game has a tileset for the weapons, I’ll probably break out the pause menu as a third screen project. That should work fine with the games after Mega Man 4, and I can probably finagle something for Mega Man 3, the first two games will be a little different.

Skulll man

As far as actual progress, I’ve got two more Robot Masters to build – Dive Man and Drill Man – along with their weapon sprites. Beyond that there’s the matter of cleaning up the whole Mega Man 4 field, looking at the blank space I have left and maybe making a few last minute upgrades to make it look even better. One thing I definitely want to look at is whether it’s worth taking a look at Ring Man, Drill Man and Bright Man’s portraits to see if the new dyed clay blocks would make them look closer to the actual art from the game. Anything else would just be extra fluff to make it look nice, and would also help me space it out on either side for Mega Man 3 and Mega Man 5. And as far as the next true step – I will be heading backwards through the series, starting with the Stage Select for Mega Man 3 – which I’ve mentioned will be a tricky deal. It’s a slow process for sure, but I always get a little surprised when I finish a section, fly way up to look it over and see it from above. It really does look pretty damn cool, and I am really liking the overall plan for sure.

Destiny Crucible Status – The Arena Three Months Later

DestinyThe last time I really sat down and looked at the PvP multiplayer in Destiny was way back around launch, and again for the Iron Banner. Well since I’ve been grinding out Crucible marks so I could pick up a new set of Future War Cult boots, I thought I would put down maybe some of my more recent thoughts on the state of Crucible play.

BUILDS
One thing that I think is really clear is that the Hunter classes are clearly the best PvP class. Either super really doesn’t have a true counter, aside from a pure headshot or another super. Golden Gun is all but a guarantee for at least three free kills, and Arc Blade can be just as dangerous, albeit with a little bit less protection. Add in the fact that Hunters can use Blink jump, which is pretty insane, and I don’t think it’s a surprise that there are tons of Hunters online. With that in mind I don’t really think too much has changed from my original thoughts on Hunter builds – for Gunslingers, Tripmine grenade is great, as a Bladedancer, I like the Flux grenade still. In general, you’ll want gear to get your super back quick, and actually melees too – throwing knife is great with Burn added, and Blink Strike is a good mid range melee.

Destiny Hunter

Warlocks are a tricky beast – they’re not quite as powerful as Hunters, but a close second thanks to a couple really nice abilities. For Voidwalkers, you’ve got a real solid class that’s based around big damage in short bursts. Axion Bolt is a fantastic grenade, and Nova Bomb is a great AoE attack to clear enemies, that adds in pretty solid damage resistance while tossing it to keep you alive. But all things considered, I actually think I prefer a Sunsinger in PvP. Radiance’s Phoenix ability lets you revive yourself instantly, which can get you a quick shot at revenge. You’ll want a discipline build for sure, so you can just throw tons of grenades while Radianced. I think really any of their grenades work, but the Solar might be the best bet. Finally, Scorch turns into a one-shot while you are Radianced, which really helps your survivability in close range.

Destiny Warlock

Finally, we reach my chosen main class – the Titan. When I say that they’re underpowered in PvP, I don’t mean that they’re weak. They have some really powerful weapons on their hands, but compared to how certain parts of the other two classes, they underperform just a little. Super-wise, Fist of Havoc is still great – you get a nice defense buff while using it, and Aftermath and Shockwave both are viable, although I really prefer Aftermath for sure. Pulse and Lightning grenades are great for area control, and can catch people off guard to get some “cheap” kills. The problem comes when we talk about melee – Storm Fist is not a one-hit, and has no extended range unlike either of the other two classes. It may sound like whining, but when my best melee attack is one that I have to sprint for a few seconds first to use, its usefulness is really limited. It just needs a little buff, and it would be fine. Defenders are a bit different – Ward of Dawn is nice, but having the Helm of Saint-14 is almost required to really make it worth using. Their melee attack, Barrier Strike, is nice since you get an overshield out of it, which might keep you alive; and having Magnetic grenades is a great option.

Destiny Titan

WEAPONS TO BRING IN
This is where my thoughts on the Crucible have really changed. At launch, I was all about particular weapons, partially due to my lack of having a lot of Legendary or Exotics. Things have changed a bit, and my loadout has definitely changed since then. With the latest patch, hand cannons have become beasts in PvP – Thorn and The Last Word in particular. Thorn is almost a two shot – if one is a head shot, it is with the damage over time. The Last Word is just a pure power weapon, with the ability to fire it really fast – it’s a three shot kill regardless, so that boost helps a ton. Obviously Vex Mythoclast is still a crazy weapon for PvP with its behavior to fire super fast and deal insane damage; you just have to get the drop luck in the Hard Vault of Glass. Special weapons are where I get a little off with what I see people using a lot. I don’t care for Fusion Rifles, but they definitely shine online – their damage output at mid-long range is insane right now. Plan C is great, Murmur is a beast and Light of the Abyss is definitely good with a quick charge time. For my Special slot though I run with Found Verdict – the Vault of Glass shotgun, or Invective still. My mid-long range is covered with my primary, so I have to make my shots count – if I want to use Specials, I have to push to close range, which fits with my Striker build. Sniper-wise, Patience and Time is great, Praedyth’s Revenge is too thanks to high rate of fire and low recoil. Icebreaker is a good choice, just for not having to worry about ammo. Heavy weapons I’ve also switched my loyalties – I used to be a Machine Gun guy, but I like Truth or either Gjallarhorn or Hezen Vengeance now more so.

Destiny Thorn

My former thoughts on weapons were more on controlled damage output – decent rates of fire with high stability. Now my thought is more about quick damage in as few shots as possible. High impact shots – scout rifles like Another NITC, Vision of Confluence both are solid choices; any hand cannon is great now too – help your time to kill drop, and keeping you alive. The Crucible hasn’t changed a ton, but since it’s been active for three months now, you’re going to see a lot of high level weapons. With Christmas noobs right around the corner, just keep that in mind before stepping into the arena.

Mega Man Monday: Mega Man 4 – The Title and Stage Select Screens Are Done

With this week’s Minecraft Monday update, I’m able to share my progress with the Mega Man 4 Stage Select and Title Screens. Each screen is 256×224 – pretty typical for old NES games. While that doesn’t sounds like a lot considering YouTube videos run at a way higher resolution nowadays, what that number really means is that each screen features over 57,000 blocks. This is easily the biggest scale thing that I’ve ever worked on in Minecraft, in Survival or Creative.

I went ahead after completing the two screens and made a clip on my Xbox One showing off the hard work. The video can be seen here, thanks to OneDrive not letting my embed the file right now. Without knowing 100%, since I never actually timed it, I would guess that those two screens took about 20 hours total to make.

Mega Man 4 Title ScreenWhich brings me to the plan for the next step in Mega Man Land. Screen-wise, I have completed my Mega Man 4 screens – the only other MM4 things I want to do is create each Robot Master’s sprites as massive statues, along with Mega Man himself using each weapon in the game. The size on the sprites won’t be quite as big as for the full screen images, but each one will still be pretty tall. While I could scale them up a bit, instead I want to make them 1:1 scale still. The hardest part of this next step is that I’m building them vertically – as opposed to horizontally along the ground. This means I really have to make sure each line of pixels is exact, in order to minimize the amount of going back and re-working things.

But the next true major section of Mega Man Land that I will begin work on this week is starting the Mega Man 3 screens. Like I did with MM4, I’m going to start with the stage select screen; I’ll most likely start with Top Man, just because it’ll be easy to start with a middle side portrait.Megaman 3 Stage SelectThe real trouble with this stage select screen is the detail in the background – that repeating Mega Man III isn’t going to be fun to deal with. In general, I think this screen will be more complicated, in all respects, than MM4. The portrait frames aren’t exact squares, thanks to those lights on the corners. There are three Robot Masters with red as their color scheme – which is the worst color for working with in Minecraft. Hopefully the newest console update, which added dyed clay, might offer some extra options. The good news is that the other Robot Masters use pretty simple colors that work well in Minecraft – blue and green. This might be a slower go than the MM4 screen, but in the long run might look pretty damn cool after it’s done.Mega Man 3 Title ScreenThe other tough part is the Title Screen for MM3 – it’s a whole ton of black. While that might seem easy, in truth it makes it really easy to mess up. All things considered, this is the game that I definitely want to make sure I get a timer going whenever I work on this one. I honestly fully expect this to take longer than the last game, so I might go with the MM4 sprites first – we’ll see.

Let’s Talk About Internet Pressure

Sony PSXThis week I’ve actually been paying a little attention to the Sony hack, since the group allegedly has threatened the opening day showing of the new Seth Rogen movie, The Interview. Today most major national theater chains pulled support for the movie, saying they won’t show the movie. Whether or not the threat was ever legitimate isn’t the point anymore – it worked. And while this isn’t directly related to gaming, it does get me thinking about similar situations in our world.

Mass Effect

The first example I always go to is the Mass Effect 3 ending situation. I never understood the complaints for the ending – it was open ended on purpose to make the player think about just what the ending entailed. But because it wasn’t a clearly defined ending, a large number of players took umbrage with it and pestered BioWare to the point where they had to address it. Which I thought set an incredibly dangerous precedent. Game developers lost a lot of control of their story direction, because if the internet fan uproar is enough, they’ll have to address it, potentially even changing it.

Halo Master Chief Collection

The other major example that I’ve been keeping my eyes on lately has been the fan reactions to Destiny and Master Chief Collection. In particular, I’ve seen a pretty common thread with Halo players wherein they say that the best course of action moving forward is to boycott 343’s Halo 5 when it comes out next year. While boycotting might actually serve a purpose detailing unhappy fans, the likelihood of it actually happening on that scale is slim. The same sort of sentiment is pretty prevalent within Destiny discussions – complaining that Activision made Bungie pull major sections of the game to sell later as DLC; which, while there’s absolutely no evidence to support that, isn’t outside the realm of possibility. A good chunk of the DLC lives on the disc right now, so I don’t see it being crazy to think a lot of that was originally set to appear at launch. Whether any sort of boycott response to DLC or future Destiny games would change anything is ultimately a moot point. Activision and EA, both seen as the evil corporations in gaming, have a pretty decent track record of not bowing to fan pressure, generally. Activision in particular is used to hearing this thanks to Call of Duty.

Ultimately, I know that this sort of reaction is not going anywhere – it’s a part of the anonymous web culture. For better or worse, the power of the web allows this – the strength in the communities, the websites that let us share our thoughts about the games are also places for dissent. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it either – I’m not saying that. I’m saying that we need to be more responsible with it. I don’t think at all that the Sony hackers are in the right here – exposing controversial private emails is one thing – threatening public terror attacks is on a whole different level. I just wish that people would use a little more common sense with these sorts of things.

Destiny: The Dark Below – Crota’s End Raid Thoughts

Destiny The Dark BelowIt’s been just about a full week since the release of the first Expansion for Destiny, The Dark Below, and within that week my fireteam was able to squeak out a completion of the new Crota’s End raid late last night. I went over the Vault of Glass after our first completion of that raid, so I thought the same idea was in order for this new raid. There’s still stuff to learn with it, including whether there’s a third raid chest that appears, but in terms of the general content of the raid, I think there’s some good stuff to talk about.

Let’s first hit the level requirement – in order to really have a chance at beating the raid you need to have a team that’s at least on the track to level 31. Bungie had said that in order to launch the raid your fireteam leader had to be 30, but you can enter it at lower levels – I entered the raid at 29, but I don’t know quite what the low end is. The nice part is that the first checkpoint (actually entering the dungeon) is incredibly quick – just create the bridge and jump down. The real good part about this is that the first raid chest is just beyond the landing – meaning that you can grind it on three characters really quickly. While it is a raid chest, the current thought is that the chest doesn’t have raid armor in it, aside from the class item; but it is able to drop radiant material as well as possible exotics. With that in mind, and taking into account how easy it is to grind, there’s really no reason to not grab it on all three characters, if you’re able.

Moving on to the meat and potatoes of the raid itself, I think that the Vault of Glass had more in the way of novel gameplay ideas. The first major section of that raid – inside the dungeon – is the Templar fight. You’re tasked with defending confluxes, then clearing Oracles before using a relic to fight the actual boss. With Crota’s End, the first section is much more straightforward. Your team must make their way through massive section of darkness – which adds the debuff Weight of Darkness, limiting your mobility – while being onset by waves of thralls. To combat the debuff, your team can use large lanterns to pull the darkness off you, before the lanterns explode. The best way ultimately is to just keep pushing forward – watch out for holes in the floor, but just always move forward. After you finish the lanterns, you’ll have to group up and extend a bridge – this is where a Defender helps to give you a bit of a break from the onslaught coming your way. Finishing up this part grants you the first true checkpoint, and loot drop.

Crotas End Darkness

Which brings us to the first real puzzle section of the raid. To cross the expanse, you’ll need the bridge extended – but to cross the bridge you’ll need to carry a sword across. This requires you to kill a Knight Ultra with one, cross the bridge and kill the Gatekeeper Knight that spawns, all within the time limit for the sword. At the same time, your team has to keep two totems from flipping red and wiping the team – while watching for swordbearers, and making your way across the bridge, one at at time. It’s a section that is pretty intense from start to finish – and every enemy is level 31 now, so you might start seeing some damage drop off. But it’s a super cool area, visually, and the actual puzzle/challenge isn’t super difficult, once you’ve got a pattern down. It’s all about team work and communication. After everyone is across the bridge, two Hallowed Ogres spawn – killing them gives you the checkpoint, and a loot drop. While you’re in transit to the next section, you’ll fight a couple Shriekers along with tons of Thralls. There’s some discussion as to whether the second Shrieker or a specific Cursed Thrall triggers the door closing, which shuts out the second chest. Either way, as you progress through the hallway, you should have someone sprint forward toward the chest in order to grab it and open the door for the rest of the team.

Crota

Which now brings us to the final two sections – first we have to clear out Ir Yut, the Deathsinger. There’s not really anything too clever with this fight – you essentially just have to kill everything, and kill them quickly. Ir Yut will sing her Deathsong after 3 minutes, wiping the team. The timer starts when you first shoot at any of the enemies in the room. You’ll need to kill her two wizard guards, two shriekers that open after the wizards die, then kill Ir Yut, all while dealing with the other enemies too. This is where you’ll want lots of level 31 players, since enemies have reached 32 now. Maxed out weapons are all but required here to deal enough damage to Ir Yut – she had a massive amount of health. But once you’ve cleared out the enemies, you’ll be ready to finish the raid. Your team gathers around the crystal, which then spawns Crota – who has a few tricks to deal with. First, he has a shield that protects him, and when it drops, he drops to a knee and can only be hurt with a sword picked up off a Swordbearer. Second, should any player die, he will summon the Oversoul – the huge planet looking thing behind him – which wipes the team after 10 seconds. The good news is that a level 31 with the sword can deal just about a quarter of his health in one attack phase – which is good because you probably will only manage four rounds before his enrage timer ticks off and it gets unwinable. The final issue to deal with, which currently does have a workaround, is that Crota prevents you from regenerating health. In order to do that, you’ll need to hold the Chalice of Light – which only one person can hold at a time.

All in all, I think Vault of Glass is a more complicated raid, which requires a bit more outside the box thinking in certain parts; while Crota’s End is much more combat focused. All section in Crota’s End put you up against ridiculous odds, and the margin for error is pretty slim. Both raids in general are the shining elements of Destiny‘s game design, and continue to be a lot of fun. While the RNG for loot can be a bit frustrating, the actual content of the raids make it fun to still play them.