Sep 292011
 
Battlefield 3

Now that the “early” access for pre-orderers is over, the Battlefield 3 “don’t call this a demo” beta is open to all, on the platform of your choice. All the juicy details are here, and if you’re playing on the PC, be sure to update your drivers, as described here.

I had a chance to check out the beta, and can say the gameplay is mostly what you’d expect from the next BF game, with some pretty great visuals.  The Battlelog stuff, as I previously speculated about here is a mixed bag, but has a lot of potential assuming DICE can streamline and optimize the experience.  Now’s the time to stop taking everyone else’s word for it and decide for yourself, no strings attached.  Get downloading, soldier!

Aug 202011
 
Battlefield 3

Much has been made lately of BF3 moving some key features that normally appear in game to a web interface.  Things like friends lists and the server browser.  PC gamers are a fickle bunch, and when they hear things they’ve been used to a certain way for 20 years are now changing, internet outrage ensues.  Before you start to rage, listen to DICE developer Alan Kertz, who  makes the argument on why it will be better that way:

Why Battlelog in a browser? Battlelog let’s you check your stats, your friends, your feed from Any Where. Work, the toilet, the pub…

Battlelog on the web also makes it easier for us to support you the players. We can build a better Server Browser on Battlelog.

Finally, you can use all the features of Battlelog while playing via alt-tab. So you can check stats or browse servers in play (unlike BC2).

In case you’re late to the party, Battlelog is the name for the all-in-one website that will serve not only as your server browser when you launch the game, but as a social media hub for all things BF3.  Much like what CoD MW3 is doing and will be charging a subscription for, except Battlelog is free with your purchase of BF3.

While I’m part of the fickle PC gamer crowd, I don’t necessarily think the sky is falling with Battlelog.  Let’s face it, previous BF games, and especially BC2 had notoriously bad server browsers, and terrible friends list support.  Remember after a patch, your whole friends list disappeared, and then you had to re-friend everyone?  Then remember when it happened again?  Remember how horribly sluggish the server browser was the first 6 months BC2 was out, only to get marginally better later on?  We’re not exactly losing the pinnacle of in-game multiplayer support.

It stands to reason that a web interface for all those things would be much easier to build, and then easier to maintain than building it in the BF3 codebase.  Changes to the browser and other aspects of Battlelog can be done independent of gameplay changes and be completed more quickly — so I really do believe they can build a better server browser on Battlelog.  Will it be a hassle to Alt-Tab to get to those things that we got to in game previously?  Possibly, but usually to get to those things before, you had to quit a server (or whatever you were doing) to get to those menus. Now an Alt-Tab might be an improvement, since you can stay connected, browse for a different server and then have friends follow, without having to navigate clunky/non-responsive in game menus.

We’ll see how it plays out, but Battlelog has the potential to actually offer a better experience, assuming it’s done right.  Keep your pitchforks and torches in the closet for now.

Aug 082011
 
Battlefield 3

The BF3 hype machine is in full effect now.  A little over two months out, DICE is claiming that BF3 is the “deepest” shooter they’ve ever developed, and promise unlocks that could take years to achieve.    Now before you start to rant that you don’t want to have to invest insane amounts of time just to unlock competitive weapons, gadgets and attachments in the game, keep in mind that DICE isn’t simply referring to in-game hardware unlocks.  They’re also talking about elusive service medals and pins too.

Battlefield players are among the most loyal out there. Our games are literally played for years by our hardcore fans, and we want to actively support that. There should always be something left to achieve in Battlefield 3.

However, they also address hardware unlocks too.  That was one thing many felt was lacking in BC2 — you could unlock every weapon and gadget fairly quickly, diminishing any sense of game accomplishment thereafter.  They’ve got that covered too:

Compared to Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3 will have more than 10 times the hardware unlocks spread over weapons, weapons attachments, gadgets, and a huge unlock tree for vehicles alone.

So it sounds like you will have your fill of in-game items, awards and cheevos if that’s your thing.  If that isn’t your thing…well, you’re pretty much going to hate most games that come out now anyway.

You can read the full blog post over on the official Battlefield Blog.

Jul 282011
 
Battlefield 3

Yesterday, DICE and EA expanded their BF3 multiplayer alpha test by inviting a seemingly large size of previous BF players (DICE/EA likes to call them “veterans”).  While giving explicit details about the alpha test is strictly forbidden, it’s been widely reported that if you were one of the few who did get an alpha code and invite, to participate in the test, which runs through August 1st, you are compelled to install Origin and link your EA account to the Origin store.  This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a publisher force a brand new download service and client on gamers just to get a highly desirable piece of content.  Remember Steam and Half-Life 2?

While it’s been confirmed that BF3 will be available for purchase from other downloadable services like Direct2Drive and Impulse, EA and Steam have been at odds which may lead to BF3 not being available on Steam.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen EA titles disappearing from Steam, most notably Crysis 2, the delayed appearance of Alice: Madness Returns and now Dragon Age II.  Both Crysis 2 and DA II were previously available and now have been pulled completely.  EA’s official word is:

“Unfortunately, Steam has adopted a set of restrictive terms of service which limit how developers interact with customers to sell downloadable content. No other download service has adopted this practice. Consequently some of our games have been removed by Steam.”

Valve hasn’t said much, if anything on these accusations, and we’ve yet to hear similar complaints from other publishers or developers (aside from standard Steam complaints).  What this almost sounds like, is Apple’s App Store guidelines for selling in-app content or subscription services.  Is it that Valve has a similar policy in place?  Could it be the DLC has to be made available through Steam, and not link through to a different marketplace which requires a separate checkout process?  You could make an argument that streamlining the experience through a single storefront benefits both the customer and obviously the storefront — but that’s a debate for a different day.

For many gamers, this issue may not matter much.  Steam isn’t exactly a perfect service and has its share of problems.  However, no matter how you feel about it, Steam is the biggest PC game storefront on the market, and as of right now, there is no indication that the one of the highest profile PC games to come out in a while (BF3) will make an appearance on Steam.

Jun 142011
 
Battlefield 3

Pre-order bonus are nothing new.  The fact that it’s a trend that upsets many gamers doesn’t seem to be decreasing the wide-spread usage of pre-order bonuses.  Many games, you’d have to buy multiple copies from both brick and mortar and online retailers to compile all the various extra weapons, levels and perks being offered, which is obviously a non-customer friendly practice.  Even stranger, it’s not uncommon to see codes for bonuses sell on eBay for $10 or sometimes much, much more.  Now that details of BF3’s “Physical Warfare Pack” and “Back to Karkand” have been fully explained, many gamers have been fighting back against DICE and EA on these practices, claiming that if you don’t pre-order the game, you’ll be at a disadvantage online because you won’t get the extra weapons pre-orderers will get.  Also, you’ll have to pay extra to get the “Back to Karkand” pack, which includes some old favorite maps like Strike at Karkand and Wake Island, that any BF veteran will want access to.

What kicked it off was a threat of boycotting the game over at Reddit, which then prompted a response by DICE.  Of course, gaming boycotts rarely work — and we all remember the CoD:MW2 Steam boycott group (over lack of dedicated servers) who many of which were found to be playing the game on release.  However, the internet reminds us it was Sarcastic Gamer who promoted a boycott of the original (console only) BF Bad Company game, which tried to pull a similar stunt on pre-order exclusive weapons scattered about various retailers.  After hearing the outcry of the internet, DICE and EA backpedaled on the idea, and everyone was happy.

This time around, DICE doesn’t seem as willing to compromise, stating that pre-order weapons won’t imbalance the game, and will just offer a “more varied arsenal.”  As far as “Back to Karkand” — well, if you don’t pre-order the game, you can still get it post-release at an undisclosed extra price.

I’m definitely not a fan of pre-order shenanigans like this, although I have been known to pre-order games, mostly at Amazon.  My main motivation for pre-ordering is usually monetarily based, due to the plethora of $10 and $20 credits offered pre-release on high profile titles.  I usually won’t pre-order a game that only offers exclusive content as it’s usually just throw-away items — most developers won’t offer “game changing” items because it throws the whole balance of the game out of whack.  DICE says they are most definitely not doing that here, almost alluding to the fact that these extra weapons are worthless.   However, the extra map pack, offering some highly desirable maps, could save you money by not making you pay full retail for the game ($60 on all platforms) plus conceivably another $10 or more for the Karkand pack which includes Karkand (duh), Wake Island, Gulf of Oman, and Sharqi Peninsula which represent the best maps from the previous BF games.

Who’s pre-ordering this one?  I’m still on fence, but don’t appreciate DICE explaining the pre-order bonuses as “rewarding our core fanbase.”  We know what these incentives are for, please don’t insult us.  A better way to reward your core fanbase is to offer these 4 map remakes to all purchasers of the game, included in the base price of $60.