Musings: The Loss of Features (IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT)

As of this past Tuesday, the open beta for Battlefield 3 has been available to the masses for some hands-on time with the first major Battlefield release since 2005. The game itself doesn’t come out until October 25th, but the beta has the dual purpose of letting the developer sort out remaining issues with the game, while allowing diehard fans an early look at what they can expect. As I have frequently alluded to in the past, Battlefield 1942 is my favorite multiplayer game of all time and has only ever been rivaled by its sequel, Battlefield 2. Needless to say, I have been very pumped for everything concerning Battlefield 3.

Now that I have had some time to play the map that is available in beta many times, I can happily say that there are a lot of amazing things about the new game. For instance, it looks amazing, the gameplay has a much heavier, visceral feel than it’s elder cousin, Bad Company 2, and DICE has thankfully returned some game-changing features, such as jets and the ability to go prone.

With all of that said, some choices they’ve made just don’t make sense, like forcing players to load games through a web-browser, instead of in-game like every other game ever made. More importantly, and what I would like to discuss today, is the ways in which it has taken some steps back from previous games, and on a larger scale, how some of my other favorite series have similarly left features behind for no apparent reason.

First on my list for the Battlefield series is the downscaling of interactive vehicles. In Battlefield 1942, for example, you could essentially control everything. Landing craft? Sure thing, but you’ll have to manually lower it from the ship first. Aircraft carrier? Take it around the island to make it less susceptible to attack. Submarines? Of course, how the hell else will you take out that newly hidden aircraft carrier.

LET'S ROLL BABY.

In the more recent Battlefield titles, this type of total immersion has been stripped away. Although the battles are still large scale, the available vehicles consist mainly of some sort of jeep, two types of helicopter, a small boat, and a tank. If there is an aircraft carrier, you sure as hell won’t be driving it. As I will repeat many times, if it was possible to do in 2002, why would you suddenly stop doing it in 2005 or 2011? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Next on my list is the map situation. Although this may change from beta to full release, it looks like in BF3, there is no option to view a full game map while playing. By contrast, BF1942 not only had a nice full map, but also had a scalable mini-map that made planning your next move on the fly a cinch.

'Can you see everything? Yeah, me too. WE MUST DESTROY IT.'

Furthermore, BF2 had a really nice, semi-3D map that you could zoom in on during the game. Again, if you’ve done it all those times before, it’s not like it’s technically impossible. So why screw us all? WHY? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Speaking of BF2, the last full Battlefield installment implemented squads, squad leaders, and a team commander. In that game, squad members could spawn on a squad leader and the leader could also give commands to his squad. This has partially been implemented in BF3, with leaders still issuing commands, but squad members being able to spawn on any squad member, not just the leader. This much makes sense to me from a gameplay perspective, even if I sort of liked the old way better.

What I don’t understand is why DICE has gone with the Bad Company 2 way of things and capped squads at 4 members, whereas BF2 allowed 8 person squads. For those of us in clans, it is a sincere pain in the ass to join a server with 5 people and have to either leave one man alone or have two squads not at full strength. It never created any huge balance issues in BF2, so I don’t see what the big difference is here. Why would they do it? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Moving along in their quest to irritate me for no reason, BF3 also decided to leave out the team commander role that they had added into BF2. In that game, the commander was in charge of dropping supplies, calling artillery strikes, and directing the overarching movements of their team. I understand that the first two of those features are now covered by assault and recon players respectively. Still, for organized team play, it was an invaluable help to have a single person watching and orchestrating the greater strategy of their entire team. I know why they left it out of the console-friendly BC2, but why leave it out of the next real Battlefield game? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Lest you start to believe that I’m just easily irritated by changes to the Battlefield series, I’ve stocked some other examples of this phenomenon in other series that I enjoy. In Mass Effect for example, Bioware took a reasonably deep RPG mechanic that involved customizing armor and weapons, and replaced it with an incredibly dumbed down system with preset options. I’m pretty sure it was done to make the game more approachable to casual audiences or to remove clutter, but I honestly could not care less.

Thank god for these presets options. I HATE picking what I actually want.

Go ahead and make a “simple” option for the casual, but why screw over existing fans who enjoy the wonderful system you’ve already made? Why just throw that away? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Finally, the Elder Scrolls series really dropped the ball in this regard in the transition from Morrowind to Oblivion. Morrowind, another contender for my favorite game ever, was a huge, quarky, intimidating game. If you wondered into the wrong place, you’d get your ass clobbered instantly. There was no fast traveling, so you’d often stumble upon wonderful things while getting lost in your attempts to follow crappy street signs (hey, like Baltimore!). There were so many individual pieces of armor, classes of armor, and weapon types that you could deck out your character in a million different ways. You could go Moonwalker if you wanted and wear a single glove. You could mismatch your pauldrons. YOU HAD THE OPTION OF MEDIUM ARMOR, NOT JUST LIGHT AND HEAVY. YOU COULD USE SPEARS. AHHHHHHH. IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Just think, an entire class of armor wiped off the face of the Earth forever. Sounds like genocide to me.

It actually sort of makes sense for all of these games, but it drives me freaking crazy. As far as I can tell, once a studio has a big hit, they’re determined to make it bigger and better. Except “bigger” doesn’t mean keeping all the awesome features from before and adding to them. It means thinking up new mechanics and throwing out what they don’t see as absolutely necessary. Squad commander? Meh, not too many people will get pissed. Medium armor? Eh, split the difference, not too many people used it. In their determination to make a masterpiece that appeals to the masses, they try to streamline the experience, cutting many of the little things that diehard fans loved. The worst part is that I don’t see it changing anytime soon. As annoyed as I am about these lost features, I will still buy Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, and Skyrim. Why? Because I love the overall experience enough to justify a purchase, even if I am far from 100% satisfied. For the studios, the sales numbers speak loudest, so if they added a ton of casual fans and the diehards still buy (which we always do), they’ll keep doing it. Unfortunately, with every unnecessary downgrade, I become more annoyed and less accepting. It’s an awful feeling too, somewhere between being ecstatic about a new release and the bitter disappointment of a million little losses. And you know what? IT MAKES NO SENSE DAMNIT.

Stuff That I Like: PC Gaming (Part 2)

As my freshman year or high school wore on, I continued fervently playing BF1942 on my PC. In addition, I started playing some other titles, such as Morrowind, which have sculpted the way I view games forever.

For instance, I learned that not all cats suck.

By the time I entered my sophomore year, social obligations, swimming, and various other activities were eating more and more of my time. This, coupled with a PC that was very expensive to upgrade, led to a slow migration towards gaming primarily on my PS2. I still played with the clan, but popped in less frequently. It wasn’t until my computer actually broke sometime over the ensuing year that I made a partial system upgrade.

It was at this point that my standard PC procedure was established. It went something like this:

  1. Upgrade PC with whatever parts are necessary to get it working.
  2. Salvage all the old parts that still work
  3. If it cannot play a game you absolutely NEED to play, consider striking a deal with your parents to give them your computer to help finance new parts

Since I wasn’t gaming too heavily on my PC at this point, this worked out fine for a very long time too. By late high school, it was rare that I used my computer for gaming; however, I would occasionally be sucked back into it by a major release. In 2005, for example, Battlefield 2 launched and I was back to full time gaming with my clan. I utilized the above procedure to acquire the parts necessary to make the game even remotely playable.

In 2006, once again, I became extremely excited for the followup to Morrowind, which was Oblivion. A technically demanding game, it required me to make a somewhat significant upgrade to my computer to be able to play it. After logging about a hundred hours in Oblivion (cool, I know), I went on a pretty long computer hiatus. Once I was at college, I continued to play BF2, but more with my roommates than with the clan. I drifted slowly from the computer again, primarily playing console games with friends, and returning only on vacations to put in significant PC time. It was just too expensive to keep upgrading for such limited bouts of PC gaming. Aside from Portal 1 and Portal 2, I didn’t play any new PC games for a few years.

This brings us Christmas of this past year. I caught wind that Battlefield Bad Company 2 was getting an expansion based on the Vietnam War. I’m extremely interested in the history of Vietnam and became pretty excited about giving it a whirl. I asked for a copy of BFBC2 for 360 and spent the majority of my break playing the hell out of it.

Suck it hippies, you don't even have your own game.

The only downside was how frustrated I got over having to play alone in a teamwork-heavy game. In early spring, the PC version of the game went on sale for $7, so I decided to see if my old clan was still around. I bought a new mic, popped on to chat with the guys, and decided it was totally worth it to get the game for PC. I sold my 360 copy later that day.

The more I gamed with the clan, the more I remembered how fun it was. I was suddenly taken back to being 15, playing BF1942. It was also fitting that I got back into PC gaming when I did, as Battlefield 3, the first official sequel in the series since 2005, is set to release this October. Furthermore, Skyrim, the sequel to Oblivion and Morrowind, is set to release in November. Both titles are anticipated to be amazingly beautiful, which is cool, but also equates to being technically demanding of ones computer. For this reason, I decided to start a computer fund.

If there is one nice thing about working full time, it is that you have the ability to earn enough money that you can organize it into budgets. For the past 8 months, I’ve tucked away all my extra money into the computer fund, looking forward to finally building my first top of the line machine since 2002. As of Monday night, the money had accumulated in my account and I was face with the extremely stressful decision of whether I could actually go through with it.

WWSMD?

You see, I like having nice things and all, but I feel incredibly guilty for buying them. I can’t help but think if I’m being selfish or if I could be putting the money towards something more productive. My default mindset is to put it into savings or use it for an awesome trip. It took a few hours for me to convince myself of three things. First, I reminded myself that I needed a new computer if I wanted to play those games. Second, I realized that I didn’t have the vacation days available to take a big vacation at the moment. Finally, I accepted that it’s the perfect time for a tech upgrade.

The worst thing about buying computer components is that something better always comes out almost immediately. It’s incredibly frustrating to buy a premium product, only to see it go on massive sale and be replaced by something far better at the same price. Although this will undoubtedly happen again eventually, I’m content knowing that the next big processor and video card releases aren’t until an unspecified date in 2012, well past when I’ll need the new rig. This realization finally pushed me over the edge. I swallowed hard, braced myself for the punishment my bank account was about to take, and started adding to the cart.

A few of the components arrived today and I’m extremely excited. Over the next few days, the rest should arrive, and I plan on doing a little rundown of the whole thing. Specifically, I’ll explain why I picked the components I did and then do a little how-to on system building for anyone interested. If I suddenly stop posting over the next few days, it probably means the new parts didn’t work and I’m without a computer. Wish me luck!