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ZOD777 Blog

Dude, You are Hacking!

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There are always going to be cheaters in life. There are those that cheat to get better grades in school, and those that cheat to get ahead in life in general. Is one form of cheating any less disgusting than the other? I would argue that cheating in any form is deplorable and devoid of empathy. But why should they be sympathetic to your plight? After all, if they are getting away with it without recourse, how are cheaters supposed to feel anything but euphoria? Of course those that cheat the stock market and other white collar crimes are absolutely dispicable, but for some reason, cheating in video games is more prevalent than most casual observers might realize. While I don't want to detract to far from the intended topic of hackers in video games, cheating in general has to be mentioned. Cheating is only sought after by those that have no regard for human struggles in general, and only personal gain. Why do they cheat? Is it because they cannot win otherwise, or is it because they can? I suppose every cheat has their own motives, but no matter the blackened reasoning, they are nonetheless dispicable people indeed.

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I have had many run-ins with obvious hackers. Now, the first kneejerk reaction is (by the accused), "Maybe you just aren't any good", or "How do you know I am hacking?". Well, truth be told, there is no ironclad reason to accuse anyone of hacking without fully ghosting the individual or watching them via kill cams or whatever other medium a game may provide such as a follow cam or full game replay video. Still, when you invest enough time into a game, you know what is lucky, and what is not, even if devoid of such avenues to procure an installment of the last match you just played. The irony behind the whole idea of hacking is that it is very self serving, and generally contributes nearly nothing to the full spectum of team oriented games. Mind you, I play mostly shooters online. I am sure that there are plenty of other games where hacking completely benefits the hacker regardless of the other players intentions, but generally speaking, when it comes to shooters, the hacker only cares about his/her own stats, and not the teams objectives or goals. I find myself often wanting to stay in the game rather than leave, just to kill the hacker once. That may seem like a sadistic tactic to some of you. However, often times my friends and I win the game in question because the hacker is more concerned about the K/D, and not the overall team objectives, so in the end, we get the last laugh.

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Some of you may be wondering why I titled this article with the latter part "Or are you?" Well, how many times have you been called a hacker just because you have a leg up on the competition? Honestly, I take it as a compliment when somebody calls me a hacker. That means that what you have been able to pull off in the match is inconcievably possible without cheating in the other's eye, and in my book, that means you are exeeding the accuser's expectations of what a normal human being is supposed to be capable of. I actually laugh and thank the individual that throws such accusations. Strangely, some people get sorely offended at such an accusation, which I do not understand unless they are being overly protective about being properly called out.

 

Hacking often ruins games and gives legitimate players greif to the point of quitting altogether, or maybe for some, looking for cheats themselves. While I applaud account bans and user banishment, it seems like there is a blind eye turned to most violations. I cheekily reffer to Punkbuster as "Punkallower" because there have often been cheats during Alpha and Beta tests of some games! Really? Well, other than leaderboards and stat padding, I really don't understand what the hacker really acheives from circumventing the game's anti-cheat software. What sense of accomplishment can you gain from using software to propel yourself ahead of the legitimate user? These types of questions can never be answered because every cheat has thier own motives, but I am yet to find an admitted cheat in any game. So are the cheats shameful, or do they just not want to admit that without the cheats, they would be popping pimples during prom night? Who knows who the cheats are, and why they do it, but the fact of the matter remains. Without the cheats, they would only be dust in the wind, and perhaps that is why they do it.

XCOM: Enemy Unkown

XXOM box art

First things first, I have played the original on PC several times and could not wait to see how this one would turn out. Sadly, it fails on a few levels with respect to the original, however that is not to say it is a bad game. There are a few welcomed changes, but some of the omissions are what causes my heartstrings to be pulled.

You are the commander of XCOM, a multinational organization that has been put together to try and quell the recent alien outbreak on earth. Your responsibilities are to direct the research teams, instruct your engineers on what they should manufacture/build, and manage and hire a team of soldiers. In the midst of all of this, you are required to keep panic levels down across the globe in order to keep nations funding your effort against the alien invasion.

There is a tutorial mission or two at the beginning to get you started, but the tutorial missions are really boring because they basically force you to move to specific spots, but if you have never played a turn based strategy game before, or are just wanting to get a handle on the game mechanics, it is probably a good idea to be shoved along through it. One benefit to going through it as opposed to skipping it is the reward of a promoted soldier.

Promoted soldier, Heavy

Once you get the first research project and engineer build underway, the training wheels come off and you are allowed to manage things on your own. It is tempting to use up all of your funds on facilities for your base right away, but you may find yourself wishing you had saved some of the funds for other things if you spend too hastily. Sadly, there is only one base to manage unlike the original, and you get a bonus depending on which continent you decide to build your base of operations. Also absent from this installment is the possibility of an alien attack on your base. However, it isn't such a bad thing because in the original game, typically your second base would get the hand-me-downs as far as soldiers and equipment anyway, so having just one base isn't as bad as it may seem. Some of you may have tried to split your forces more evenly, but when crises arise, having only 1/2 of your best soldiers and gear to fill a Skyranger is a scary thought.

XCOM UFO DEFENSE SKYRANGER

Researching alien tech and performing alien autopsies is paramount if you are to sway the odds back in XCOM's favor since they have more advanced weaponry and armor, not to mention you are almost always outnumbered. This brings me to mentioning the squad size limit of 4 at the beginning of the game, but you can buy upgrades to your squad size at the officer training facility which is a build option for your base. Starting on normal, this building is already constructed, but on Classic and above, you must build it on your own. I was not very fond of the small squad size when I first read about it because of how easy it is for your soldiers to get their asses handed to them in the original, especially rookies. I believe the squad size limit in the original was 12 on a Skyranger, and bringing that many was often necessary to overcome the odds, especially in the beginning. However, having such a small squad isn't as big a detraction as it may seem since your soldiers have abilities that they can use depending on the promotions and class that they possess.

Alien Research

Intercepting ufos is somewhat of a lackluster affair. In probably over 100 missions played, I think I only had the chance to down about 12 ufos. This is probably due to the limited number of missions (70 I believe), so there cannot be a huge variety of crash sites to investigate since this game doesn't have the same randomness of the original. You can upgrade your interceptors loadout with heavier weapons, and can also buy a tracking, aim, and dodge upgrade to use in the little mini game that launches during an interception. There is also an improved interceptor that can be purchased upon researching some alien tech. Although you only have the one base, you can station interceptors on each continent in order to be able to respond to a threat wherever it may arise.

Intercepting ufos

Time units and crouching are gone in favor of a cover system. I was open to the change, and it works, but it does have it's downside. Rather than managing time units and being able to stock your belt, backpack and leg straps, you are only granted 2 moves, and are only given one backpack slot as well as a sidearm/rocket, main weapon, and armor. My biggest issue with the two turn mechanics is that if you make your first move just slightly outside of the blue 1 turn boundary, your soldier has automatically dashed there and cannot use any further action (barring special class skills such as Run and Gun for the assault class). If time units were present, you would still have left over time to at least pull off a poor accuracy shot, but the new system does not accommodate this.

soldier dashing

The cover system shows you a 1/2 shield when you are about to move to half cover, and full shield when you are going to move to heavy cover, and if the shield is red you are in no cover. I don't mind the cover system all that much, but it does somewhat force your hand as to where on the map you should move. Also, it seems as though the aliens have a much better chance to hit you when you are in cover, as opposed to when they are. It is not uncommon to miss shots that say you have 85% to hit (I've even missed a couple 96% shots) and rarely do you connect on anything less than 50% even though the percentages imply that you should hit 1/2 the time.

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Building certain types of buildings adjacent to one another if they are of the same type grants you small bonuses, and you have to plan accordingly for power, lab space, and workshop space, all the while keeping enough satellite uplinks available in order to maintain satellites above the countries that are part of the council if you want to keep them funding you, and the panic level down in that area. You will most likely not be able to keep all of the nations involved since you don't have the assets required at the beginning, so don't fret if one or 2 nations drop off of the council in the first month or 2. It is important to launch satellites over nations that are near the breaking point, or if there is no imminent danger of a council nation dropping out, launching a satellite above a nation that will provide more income makes the most sense. There are also bonuses for having satellite coverage over every council nation on one continent. You will lose the game should you lose 8 or more nations, but that is probably not very likely unless this is just not your type of game.

buildings and adjacency

The mission types include city invasions, ufo landings, ufo crash sites (should you intercept and shoot one down), bomb defusal, and escort/rescue missions. They are all slightly varied enough encounters to keep you somewhat entertained, but if you play enough missions, you will get repeat missions, ans sadly the enemy positions are always the same if you recognize the map. City invasion maps require you to try and rescue as many civilians as you can before they are killed by the aliens, and the more you rescue, the larger the panic level decrease you are provided for that nation. Without trying to spoil to much, there is a particular alien that makes these levels very difficult until you have a decent squad and gear because they don't just kill civilians, they turn them against you! Ufo landings are just what the name suggests, a ufo lands, and you must send in the squad to investigate. A crash site is no different than a landing other than the fact that some of the ufo's equipment will most likely be damaged unless you shot it down with an upgraded EMP weapon for your interceptor. Bomb defusal missions can be rather annoying because you are forced to rush and switch off power nodes to extend the number of turns before the bomb blows, but this forces you to be much more aggressive and at times compromise the safety of your troops. And finally the escort/rescue missions usually just require you to find some high value individual and bring them back to the skyranger.

There are only 4 class types, including sniper, support, heavy, and assault. When your rookie soldier gets promoted, they are randomly assigned a class type, but from there you can choose between different class skills after each promotion. It is disappointing that you cannot decide which class the soldier gets promoted to, because there will come a time when you are in need of a particular class, and you just have to hope that upon promotion, you get the one you so desire. Each class has special abilities that are beneficial, so taking at least one of each class into a battle is a good idea. You can purchase an upgrade which allows all soldiers that are hired to have already earned their first promotion which makes life much easier. You no longer have to trudge rookies out into the field and not only hope they survive, but hope they acquire the appropriate class promotion. When your soldiers gain ranks, not only do they gain more perks, but they are also less likely to panic when faced with adversity due to a higher will capacity.

Once you have upgraded your soldiers ranks, and have researched everything there is to research, the game becomes very easy on normal. You may be tempted to go back and revert to a previous save whenever your favorite soldiers die, but if you chose to play on "Iron Man" mode, there is no such luck. Dead soldiers are dead as they come. Classic is pretty brutal, but it may be more suitable to you if you like a challenge. I did not dare go above that since classic kicked my butt the first hour or so. Still, playing on normal provides a slight challenge, but it pales in comparison to the original when it comes to difficulty on normal.

There are a few bugs here and there, but they aren't overwhelmingly prevalent to the point of frustration, though they are evident enough to merit notice. Scaling the map to different heights sometimes causes cursor convulsions and building transparency to flutter. Occasionally there are freezes for no apparent reason, and I even had a soldier get stuck in the ceiling after using the jetpack on the archangel armor. The cursor will wobble back and forth at times and when it does, you may find yourself moving a soldier where you did not intend because of it. Also at times when you blast an alien off of a ledge, the camera will pan down to an apparent abyss where all you see is black, then when he hits an invisible floor, the camera pans back up again. There might be a couple others that I am forgetting, or that I haven't experienced, but there are bugs.

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Overall, the game is good, but other than a difficulty swap, there isn't a whole lot of replay value. The original was so varied and random that no 2 playthroughs are alike, but the missions in this installment don't lend themselves very well to more than 2 plays. The cover system feels a bit broken, and the small squad size is disappointing though it doesn't detract from the game as much as it could have had the maps been bigger and more random. It is still a good representation of the original in many respects, and is worth playing, but I wouldn't count on this game keeping you busy through the holidays. A pretty stellar effort, but it could have been so much more.

A World With Only Digital Games

Since I am a PC gamer, digital only doesn't bother me nearly as much as I am sure it would those that play on consoles since there isn't a large market for used PC games anyway. Still, I prefer having the discs in some cases, because having an alphabetized bookshelf of games is kinda cool to look at. I can go and read the manual if I want instead of looking online or for a PDF file in the root install directory. I feel sorry for console gamers if everything does go 100% digital like EA is hoping to do, as well as a few other publishers.

Sure it is easier then going to the store and being harassed by some dude in a ponytail that pretends to have played every game in the store, and tries to push preorders and sign up for this or that on you. But when everything goes digital (if it does) the consumer loses all control of thier gaming inventory and basically is at the mercy of the publishers. As soon as they want to pull the plug on the servers for the game, bye bye. That is one reason I buy games that have a strong single player aspect to them. At least if multiplayer is gone, I can always run through the campaign again, and if I have the disc, I can install it whenever I want.

Let's not fool ourselves. Digital distribution is convienient in that you don't have to go anywhere, and it costs the publisher less money to distribute, but to me, that is where the benefits end. In the long run, you now have nothing physical you can trade, lend, or give away. Imagine if every time you bought a car, the title to it is digital and never actually given to you. When you want to sell the car, you can't!

I left consoles behind a long time ago in favor of PC gaming, but I am totally against digital only. If it goes that route, I will never buy another console again, not even for my kids. Trading in games that suck or have no replay value is half of the incentive to owning a console. If I am not going to be able to barter with some of the titles in my collection, I might as well stick to PC where the used market is pretty much dead anyway. Let us all hope that companies that go digital only will crumble and fade away as a result.

SOPA and Government Cheese

So no more going back and downloading a game from 6-10 years ago because you lost the CD/DVD? No more downloading a game because you lost the manual that has the CD key? No more trying out a full game to see if it is worth buying and playing online? I don't feel all that sorry for these companies that are upset about piracy because they have become super greedy. The worst part of this whole thing is that these are some of the roughest times in our country's economy in years, yet games are releasing at 60 dollars instead of 50. Then a month or two later all sorts of DLC and expansions come out to try to suck you dry even more. While I think that it is not fair that they should work so hard to develop a product, only to have it pirated, it would not happen nearly as much as it does if prices were more reasonable and incentives for buying games new rather than used were better than a weapon or costume.

So many games lately are hyped up so much that they often fall flat when they release because of all the anticipation and suspense build up. It is like a joke that never seems to end, so that by the time the punchline is delivered, it is not as funny as it could have been had the joke been shorter. There were several really good games released in 2011, but so many of the highly anticipated titles fell short of expectations by a huge margin. That is another reason piracy is so prevalent today. Who wants to pay 60 dollars for a pre-ordered game (because if you don't you don't receive char skins/weaps etc.) only to find out that the game is basically broken when you play it. Then even after it is patched, it sucks despite all of the hype and previews and interviews.

I think it is time to start writing better software, and to start rewarding longtime customers of certain IPs or developers by giving free access to more than just Betas. How about some free DLC or even a buy 10 EA games get 1 free for example? Or thanks for buying Mass Effect 1 and 2, here is all the ME 3 DLC for free! SOMETHING! Until more is done to reward customers for purchasing software legitimately, this whole SOPA bill and any and all that mildly resemble it are only going to continue to leave a sour taste in my mouth toward the corporate greed that is flowing through the gaming industry.

The government already has it's greedy little paws in every jar that it can, and sees more cents on the dollar than you realize. It is obvious that the government sees pirating games as stealing, but really what they see is the lack of tax revenue. It is no doubt that they would love to put a stop to piracy. Thank goodness they cannot write a bill without asking for far more (of your money) than what would be needed to get it passed, which often times results in a faliure to get it passed. Given that these game publishers can go out on thier own to sue individuals or websites that host their copyrighted material, I don't think the government should get involved whatsoever. This is the equivalent of the gaming industry tattling on pirates in the hopes that they can just sit back and reap the benefits of federal punishment over being proactive. What a shame.