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World in Conflict Hands-On Thoughts

Stuff blows up I've only seen World in Conflict running on a couple of occasions. The first was at Nvidia's launch party in San Jose for the 8800-series graphics boards last November, and the second was during January's Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. Both places weren't exactly conducive to the job of sitting down and really getting into a game. However, I had a chance recently to dive into the multiplayer alpha test of World in Conflict at the luxury of my desk (which isn't that luxurious), and all I can say is, "Wow." The best description for the game that I can think of is imagine if Battlefield 2 were a real-time strategy game, because with its fast-pace, modern combat, and intense combat, this is going to be a crazy multiplayer throw down.

On first impression, World in Conflict seems like a very pretty-looking version of your standard real-time strategy game. Since the game is about World War III between the United States and the old Soviet Union, you've got a mix of modern tanks, artillery pieces, helicopters, infantry, and more that you can control around the battlefield. But then I started to toy with it and that's when its clutches grabbed me.

First of all, this isn't a simple one-on-one multiplayer RTS game. You can have up to 16 players on a server, divided into teams of two. That means up to eight players a side. And the beauty of World in Conflict's design is the division of labor in the game. There are four primary combat arms in World in Conflict, and when you join a multiplayer game you have to select one, and that determines the units that you can bring into battle. Armor gives you tanks, air gives you helicopters, support gives you artillery, and infantry gives you grunts. Once you've selected a combat arm, you can begin to requisition units. If you select armor, that means choosing between different types of tanks, with the cost increasing for the heavier, more advanced models, such as M1 Abrams tanks.

The main limiter to all of this is the number of reinforcements points that you have, and World in Conflict wisely limits it so you can only control three or four expensive units or a slightly larger number of cheaper units at any one time. Doing it this way means many things. First, players will need to take on different roles if they want to win. If your side goes overboard on nothing but attack helicopters, they'll get chewed up if one or two players on the other side simply choose the support arm and load up on antiaircraft platforms. So your team needs a good balance of combined arms. Second, this means that you'll really have to work together, because if you don't support one another on the battlefield, you'll be chewed up quickly. This aspect of the game is reinforced by the small numbers at each player's command. It's awfully difficult to overwhelm the enemy if you only have a platoon (four tanks) of M1s.

Once you've made your unit selections, you hit the deploy button and one of the cooler little aspects of the game kicks in. You'll see a huge, lumbering air transport swoop down out of the skies and airdrop cargo to the ground. Once the cargo lands, your new units instantly appear, ready for your command. Sure, it's not realistic, but it's cinematic and a neat way to quickly usher new units into battle. Plus, you can easily gauge that enemy reinforcements are on the way by seeing enemy transports swooping down in the distance.

Once you have units on the ground, you've got a lot more to worry about than just destroying the enemy. Each map has a number of key strategic points on it, and each point is defined by at least two different nodes. For example, in order to control a bridge you need to control both ends of it, so that's two nodes right there; seizing just one end of the bridge isn't good enough. Or taking control of a town square means seizing three nodes that border it. Unless you can put units in each node simultaneously, then you do not control the point. And controlling strategic points is important for a number of reasons, because it's how you basically win the game.Tanks for the memories

The longer you can park units into all of a strategic point's nodes and maintain control, the better, because you'll automatically dig in at that position. First, you'll construct machine gun positions that can take out enemy infantry. Once those are complete, next are antitank positions. And once those are complete, you'll construct antiaircraft positions. At that point, the strategic point is fully built up in terms of defenses, and you have a couple of choices. You can sit back and enjoy the defensive advantages at that position, or you can move on to the next strategic point and not have to worry about the enemy just waltzing up and seizing your point as soon as you leave. However, again this illustrates the risk/reward element of the strategy. Building up these defensive positions takes a long time, which means that as long as your units are parked in the nodes they're basically out of the larger battle. So what do you do? Sit back and wait to build up the defenses, or maintain momentum and initiative by moving out immediately and attacking the enemy?

I'm only scratching the surface of the game at this point, too. There's still plenty to talk about, such as how the reinforcement system works, the tactical aid system and how it can deliver everything from aerial recon all the way up to tactical nuclear weapons, the rock-scissors-paper nature between the units, and more. And then there's the game's wonderful graphics that brings all this destruction to life. Seeing a warm glow of a nuclear explosion or the smoke trails of a rocket attack arcing through the air is incredible. After participating in online battles all day, it's safe to say that World in Conflict has quickly rocketed up my chart of must-play games this year.

Another One Bites the Dust!

I interrupt all this PS3 attention to bring you the latest PC update. Above is a photo of my MacBook Pro, which I bought in June. Little did I realize then just how pervasive Macs would become in the GameSpot offices. Takeshi already had a MacBook Pro, then I got mine. Last week, Tim T. picked up a MacBook, and today, Justin Calvert got the latest MacBook Pro. I know that Brian has been lusting in his heart for one, too. We've started a revolution over here. It's only a matter of time before we assimilate the others, too. You may now return to obsessing over a PlayStation 3, but we true computing fans know where the fun is.

Things That Make You Go Boom!

Bethesda announced Rogue Warrior last Friday, a new military shooter based on the popular Rogue Warrior franchise by Richard "Demo Dick" Marcinko, a former Navy Seal. We got our first look at it earlier this month. And, as part of that look, we were taken out in the Nevada desert and shown Navy Seals (both active-duty and retired) in action.

The Rogue Warrior himself, US Navy Commander Richard "Demo Dick" Marcinko, retired. Founder of Seal Team 6.

Dan "T-Bone" Capel, retired Seal, gives us a briefing. Behind him is a simulated enemy outpost.

The Seals arrive and open fire.

But wait, the bad guys have an armored car!

And a 40mm grenade takes care of that.

Another guard suddenly appears and opens fire.

Until he's cut down by a couple of Marine snipers. Campers!

Back to the Future

Okay, this may seem odd that I'm going to pimp a print competitor, but this has been on my mind for the past week. If you haven't heard already, Computer Gaming World, the industry's oldest publication, is no more. That's because it's been renamed Games for Windows, The Official Magazine, which is a really lame name in my opinion. However, the folks at CGW did a magnificent thing by putting the first 100 issues of CGW on the Internet for free, in PDF format. The first issue debuted in 1981, folks, before most of you, I suspect, were even born.

I can't help but get flashbacks by looking at some of these old magazines. If I had to pinpoint it, I think I realized I wanted to have the job that I have today because of all the times I spent in the Monroe Public Library reading CGW. Every month, a new issue would come in and I would be there later that day, reading it in the library. I've tried to remember what the very first issue I read was, but it's tough. The "Loom" issue, though, certainly jogs some of the neurons in my head. I loved reading those issues and thinking that it must be the coolest job in the world to be able to write for this kind of magazine.

In those days, CGW was independent, and it was much more of a hobbyist magazine. Then again, the entire gaming thing was a hobbyist kind of thing. Check out some of the early issues and you'll see as many ads for games that a couple of guys made in their garage as you do for mainstream titles. But what I really love is the fact that you could write for pages and pages and pages about all sorts of things, like the best tank tactics to use in M-1 Tank Platoon.

The other great thing about this archive is that you don't quite realize just how much of a time capsule each individual issue is. For instance, TIME has made some of its old issues available in digital format, and it's fascinating to go through them. Everything from the articles to the advertisements opens a window to what life was like in the past. And if you're old enough like me, you'll be taken back to the day when that issue was new. I got the same feeling reading some of these old CGW issues. It's amazing just how much I remember some of the ads in these. And it's even more amazing just how great the games were, even though they are downright crude in terms of today's production values.

There's lots to admire in these old issues, and I smile at the "old" way of taking screenshots. You literally put a camera on a tripod in front of a screen and took a picture. With film, cause digital was still a couple of decades away. Those early days must have been a lot of fun.

@ After Hours

If there's a major GameSpot event going on, two things are certain. The first is that GameSpot Live is going to do an amazing job. The second is that I'm going to be walking around with my DSLR, snapping pictures of everything. So here's a taste of After Hours for ya.

Midnight Brown is in the house! Though this was taken during rehearsals.

Greg standing watch on a PS3. Yes, it exists. And yes, it's big.

The line builds outside of Pier 27. Inside, Rich and the gang were going through a walkthrough of all six hours of the stage show.

Walt of CNET IT showed up with his dog, Rosco. Cute little guy, he was an absolute hit with all the girls at the show.

The Stride CS Tournament underway. These guys were good, but the BF2 team on the other side of the show wiped the floor with us. That's what we get for not practicing.

Me and My Mac

This may surprise you, but I don't own a PC. Haven't for about four months, when a freak set of coincidence meant that my desktop and laptop both died at about the same time. Of course, I need to play PC games, but I took a very bold gamble and bought a Mac. Specifically, a MacBook Pro. And, four months into this crazy experiment, I find myself having no regrets whatsoever.

Sure, the guys like to haze me about it. When I suggest to Jeff that he buy a MacBook Pro, he says, without pause, "No, I need a computer, not a shiny toy." But I know I've got some of these guys interested. Brian's been inside an Apple store, lusting for a MacBook Pro. And Tim over in News is a closet Apple fan, too.

Switching to Intel was perhaps the smartest move Apple has finally made. I used to own a G3 Powerbook. Great machine, but the software selection was horrible. Apple bet on a bad architecture that not only couldn't match up with Intel and AMD, but that also relegated the platform to being a wallflower at the software prom.

Now that Macs use Intel processors, I can boot into Windows and play all my games without any issue. And games are the Mac's Achilles heel. (This despite the fact that Steve Jobs got his start with Atari!) But now I get the best of both worlds. My speedy, sleek, stylish Mac, and awesome PC games like Company of Heroes and Battlefield 2. Not bad for a shiny toy.

THQ and Relic, Companies of No CD Heroes

There are so many wonderful reasons to love Company of Heroes. If you haven't played it, you're really missing out. One of my old bosses used to say that the Holy Grail of gaming was to create a completely realistic and destructible environment. Well, it really looks like Company of Heroes has achieved the Holy Grail, and the result is one of the best games of the year.

Yet as much as I love both the wild multiplayer and the intense single-player gameplay, there's one thing about Company of Heroes that I love above all else: You don't need a CD in the drive to play the game. I can't emphasize just how much I love this feature. If I'm traveling, I can launch the game without worrying about having to pack the CD with me. Or if I've got 15 minutes to kill, I don't need to hunt around in my bag for the CD. It's as simple and easy as launching any other application on my PC.

The entire point of CD checks is to discourage "causal piracy," or the idea that the real danger isn't the organized crime rings out there that make millions on ripping off Hollywood and Silicon Valley, but rather the mainstream user who might be tempted to copy a game for their friends. However, at this point CD checks have become an annoyance to legitimate customers who play by the rules. Why do I have to have a CD when the entire game is installed on my hard drive? Why do I have to keep all my discs out of the box and available if I want to play games? If casual piracy is such a problem, then why don't software publishers who make much more valuable products use them as well?

The reason you don't have to put a CD in the drive to launch Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop is because the general consumer would scream bloody murder. It's inconvenient, it's unnecessary, and it's illogical. The only PC programs out there that require a CD check are games. Yet, as the rest of the industry has shown, it's possible to battle piracy without having to resort to CD checks. For instance, as annoying as product activation can be, it's a lot less hassle over the long run than having to haul out a CD every time you launch a game.

So why don't we scream bloody murder? I suspect it's because we've become used to CD checks over the years, not to mention all the conditioning of console games. If you want to play an Xbox or PS2 game, you put a disc in the console. However, PCs aren't consoles. Just because you need a disc in a console doesn't mean you should have to put a disc in a PC. It's time for PC publishers to wake up and smell the coffee. If they want to make PC gaming vibrant again, step one is to make better games. But step two should be to make the platform as user friendly as possible, and part of that means getting rid of the CD check. And hopefully Company of Heroes will blaze the way on this, too.

Rip Van Winkle

Jeez, has it really been nine months since I last posted in this thing? I've never been good with journals or diaries, but I'm really getting back into a bloggin' mood, thanks to my new digital SLR. So let's just pretend that, in this blog, I fell asleep under a tree and woke up nine months later. Shall we?

RIP, Mr. Scott

I know that I get unfairly labeled as the Trek nerd in the office. (Brad is about as big a Trek nerd as I am, and an even bigger Star Wars nerd). Anyway, it's a down day for me, because James Doohan, aka Mr. Scott from Star Trek, died this morning in Redmond, Washington, which is just south of my home town of Monroe.

I had a chance to meet with Mr. Doohan a decade ago, when I was on my college newspaper. The Pacific Science Center was opening up a Star Trek exhibit, and since he was the resident Trek cast member in Seattle, he came over to talk with the press and meet people. It was an awesome experience for me, because this is Scotty we're talking about. He told me some stories, as well as showed me his hand, which was missing a finger. Turns out that he was one of those guys who actually landed on a beach during D-Day, and the finger got shot off during combat. My respect for him went up 10 fold, after that. Here was a guy who had seen it all, put it all on the line, and been a real hero, as opposed to the celebrity heroes that we worship today. The only "bullets" that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt have dodged have all been fake. If you carefully watch old Star Trek episodes, you notice that they always manage to hide his maimed hand.

Anyway, rest in peace, Mr. Doohan. You've earned it.

Hunkered Down

Right now, I'm hot, tired, hungry, and trapped in a room filled with lots of noise and people, and I wouldn't have it any other way. There's something awesome about E3 prior to the show, where people are rushing to get the booths complete and staff (including booth babes) are getting their instructions. It's almost a pity that we'll actually have to open to the rest of the industry tomorrow. It's like our own little world in here so far.

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