A Two and a Half Hour Beta Session With Battlefield 3.

The best way to describe my first 2 1/2 hours with the Battlefield 3 [BF3] beta is through a time line. An up and down ride, mostly down, that ends with bliss and wide eyes of hope for a great beta experience that will lead to an even better full game release. The beta is running from September 27th to October 10th so there is plenty of time for them to tweak the problems I ran into with my initial experience and those that will present themselves later in the week.

9:45 AM – Received BF3 beta key via email.

9:46 AM – Logged into EA’s Origin (that is in beta as well) and imputed beta key and started download.

10:30 AM – Download complete. Start BF3 beta and automatically launches Battlelog; EA’s website dedicated to the BF 3 community.

10:32 AM – Install “Game Manager” who I will soon learn to hate.

10:32 AM – Use server browser headquartered within Battlelog to navigate potential servers to join, all RUSH* style maps are full.

10:33 AM Find a server with spots open for the Operation Metro rush map. I attempt to connect.

10:35 AM – After waiting on Game Manager for 5 minutes in queue I abandon my attempt. I just want to play.

10:38 AM – I find another server with a low ping. Attempt to connect.

10:39 AM – Game Manager informs me that the, “Server is changing maps and I should try again soon.” I withdrawal my attempt and search anew.

10:40 AM – Click the Quick Match button and watch Game Manager inform me that it is “Matchmaking…”

10:45 AM – Game Manager still showing “Matchmaking…”

10:55 AM – Game Manager still showing “Matchmaking…”

11:00 AM – Game Manager still showing “Matchmaking…”

Game Manager (lower left) showing "Matchmaking..." message after clicking on the Quick Match button (upper left).

11:05 AM – Game Manager informs me that it, “Could not join server because server could not be found.”

11:06 AM – Take a break from the screen and grab a cup of coffee. Try to calm frustration by repeating, “It’s in beta. It’s in beta. It’s in beta.”

11:07 AM – Browse running servers and find a hopeful listing; US Multiplay # 079 TX 0/32 Players Rush Operation Metro Ping 61.

11:08 AM – With fingers crossed, I attempt to connect to the Texas based server.

11:10 AM – Game Manager shows “Server queue…” message.

11:11 AM – Game Manager shows “Server queue…” message.

11:12 AM – Game Manager shows “Server queue…” message.

11:13 AM – Game Manager shows “Server queue…” message.

11:14 AM – Game Manager shows “Server queue…” message.

11:15 AM – Game Manager still shows “Server queue” message… and I have to poop. Not just any poop, but post workout protein and morning coffee poop.

11:17 AM – I “RUSH” to the bathroom.

11:19 AM – I return victorious from my real world “RUSH” map, sufficiently wiped. Game Manager still shows “Server queue…” message.

My, at one time, hopeful listing; US Multiplay # 079 TX 0/32 Players Rush Operation Metro Ping 61.

11:21 AM – I start reading EA’s FIFA 12 Manual for the PS3. Game Manager still shows “Server queue…” message.

11:22 AM – See section in black and white manual entitled “Accessing The In-Game Manual” and realize what I am holding amounts to a book mark. Game Manager still shows “Server queue…” message.

11:24 AM – Game Manager still shows “Server queue…” message.

11:28 AM – Message Sp0d (AKA my friend Wyatt) through Origin chat that I am still haven’t actually played the beta.

11:29 AM – Game Manager, more like Game Missmanager! Game Manager still shows “Server queue…” message.

11:30 AM – Remind myself this is a beta. I relax. Wait. Game Manager still shows “Server queue…” message. I wonder to myself if people listed in the server browser as being in game are actually in game or are just waiting in the server queue like me.

11:32 AM – Debate closing Game Manager and starting over.

11:33 AM – Close Game Manager… Realize I am unable to close Game Manager!

11:34 AM – Close Battlelog website, restart beta, click “Quick Match” button – note that is doesn’t false advertise and say “Quick Play.”

11:38 AM – I am manic. I close the Game Manager and return to the server browser.

11:39 AM – I try my luck with a UK server. I immediately receive a NVIDIA driver error. Close down everything and search for a driver update.

11:48 AM – Driver installed along with four Windows 7 updates. Restart CPU.

11:50 AM – Warm up a light lunch, Campbell’s Vegetarian Vegetable – I laugh to myself as I realize how redundant the name is.

11:57 AM – I launch the beta again.

11:58 AM – Receive “Generic game error” message from Game Manager upon an attempt to enter a server.

11:59 AM – Try another server. “Server queue..”

12:00 PM – Receive Game Manager message “Changing Maps, Try Again Soon…”

12:01 PM – I threaten the lives of my cats. They scatter.

12:02 PM – Receive most hopeful message yet from Game Manager, “Joining Server…” This is immediately followed by and NVIDIA driver error “Current driver 280.26 min req 285.27.”

12:03 PM – Quit beta.

12:14 PM – NVIDIA does not list driver version 285.27 as an available driver.

12:19 PM – Search NVIDIA website and locate dirver version 285.27…beta. Yeah, the driver I need is in beta as well. Here goes nothing.

12:25 PM – NVIDIA driver 285.27 beta installed. Launch BF 3 beta again…

12:27 PM – Click to join a UK server. Gamer Manager message reads “Joining Server” followed by “Logging In”! Game Manager updates again and reads Loading Level then Game Ready and finally Go to Game!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

12:28 PM – I click on Go to Game.

12:29 PM – I’m in. I die. I get a kill. Another kill and another!

12:36 PM – I am promoted!

12:39 PM – I am feeling okay with my 5 to 7 kill to death ratio.

12:40 PM – Promoted! Our team loses but I lose as a Private 1st Class.

12:53 PM – Burst fire is effective. Placement seems to matter more than in Battlefield Bad Company 2 [BFBC 2]. Yes, it is beautiful, even in its beta form. Guns, when fired, have a satisfying feel to them and they appear to be a more accurate then BFBC 2.

12:57 PM – Your Team Won! I’m hooked.

1:00 PM – I log out, with 2 hours of frustration wiped away by just 30 minutes of game play – that is a pretty good sign of things to come.

*Rush maps involve an attacking force trying to destroy MCOM stations and a defending force trying to, well, defend the MCOM stations from the attackers.

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Master Beta: Battlefield 3 Beta is COMING!

“First comes Alpha then comes Beta, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” This sing-song holds somewhat true if you consider the baby in the baby carriage to be a finished game being “born” on release day. On September 29th (Septemberr 27th for those of you who preordered through Origins) the Battlefield 3 beta will be released for testing and I am just as excited for the beta as I am for the game… until the game actually releases on 10/25/2011.

As the name implies, as does the sweet song above, beta game versions come out after extensive alpha testing. Alpha testing of a game entails running a version of the final product (usually not the complete game with all of its features enabled) through the ringer and the testing is usually done extensively by the developer of the games employees. Betas of games are a more finalized and polished form of the alpha that usually include more features that will end up in the final version.

An even bigger and more important aspect of beta testing is the increased number of testers. Betas are usually made available to all those who have preordered the game, do beta testing for a living or, through a “friends and family” connection to the developer. The sheer number factor involved in beta testing is what makes it such an important step in the development cycle. It is important to have more eyes on the product and more importantly, eyes that are not that of the developers. Beta play (also another way to say frapping I guess) gives the developer the chance to have thousands of players test their product, usually at little direct cost to the developer, that are looking at the game for the first time. Fresh eyes spot fresh mistakes.

By the time the beta is being tested the game is almost complete. It gives the players a chance to try to find and make use of exploits and it gives the developer the chance to fix them before final release. Balance questions like “Is this weapon/class overpowered?” or “Do we need to limit the range of this spell/tanks cannon?” can be answered during beta testing because if something in the game provides an unfair advantage, then you can be sure players will take advantage of it.

For the master of all betas that is Battlefield 3, one of the biggest issues that will be certified will be EA’s [Electronic Arts] server ability. With 64 player maps (that include simultaneous action via jets, helicopters, tanks, Humvees, ATVs, ground troops etc.) being a major bullet point to the game, server quality will definitely need to be verified and stress tested extensively. With beta testing you enable the developer to test their servers under game day release conditions and cleanup any hiccups that present themselves prior to final launch.

Starting the beta provides that wee bit of relief for a gamer who is pent up with tension and needs some release before the final version comes. It also provides the developer and publisher some extra, late in the game, marketing vibe. Here’s to the master beta and to its success at providing us with a happy ending and a smooth release.

Take Heed and Bare Witness to….Paul Eiding.

I recently downloaded EA’s online gaming social network and store known as Origin. It is meant to compete with Steam and with EA releasing Battlefield 3 soon (the reason I downloaded the new Origin app), it will do just that. I think it will be one of many competitors to Steam and I wanted to be an early adapter and familiar with the new platform when everyone else are just wetting their toes. It was the early adapter aspect that helped me pick my focus of this week’s post.

Paul Eiding is a household name in video game voice acting. His name/voice has been attached to an ongoing string of video game blockbusters (Diablo, StarCraft, Metal Gear Solid, Diablo II, God of War, Fallout 3, Dragon Age: Origins, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty) and even ones not deemed blockbusters (Tenchu 2, Escape From Monkey Island, EverQuest II, Jade Empire, Advent Rising, Ratchet & Clank series, Ninja Gaiden II), still received critical and commercial success. His resume of voice acting dates back to when the industry could finally fit enough data on a disk to enable it. It was that fact that put him out front of the nerd herd of voice actors: his early adaption to a developing industry.

Paul started on the stage and still calls it his true home but his commercial success came from his voice. His career started to develop by doing cartoon voices for the likes of Gobots, The Jetsons and The Smurfs (see his career start up story, in his own words, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Igcj9shVXfI). His jump from the obscure to mainstream can be narrowed down to his voice role of Perceptor in the 1980s version of Transformers.

He exploded on to the voice gaming stage by landing a gig with Blizzard in their tremendously successful role playing, top down, click fest versus demons game Diablo. Every time your warrior class in that game uttered, “I gotta pawn some of this stuff,” because your inventory is too full, it is Paul Eiding letting you know. When Pepin the Healer lets you know about a potion he wants you to give to the witch, Paul Eiding is uttering those words. Diablo was one of the first games to be packed with a full audio experience and when you look back at that game and wonder why it scared you so much it was because the sound and the voiced lore was new, fresh and downright pee your pants scary. The voice acting for Archbishop Lazarus and the lore you read throughout the dungeon….Paul Eiding. Two fine examples of his fear inducing voice can be listen to/viewed below.

Blizzard was a pretty good company to get in good with regarding a future in voice acting. Soon after his success in Diablo he showed his range by voicing Aldaris in StarCraft and its expansion StarCraft: Brood War. If the following doesn’t bring back memories and the frustration that comes from not having enough pylons, then you probably didn’t play StarCraft.

 If the picture to the left looks familiar then you too enjoyed sometime with Solid Snake of the Metal Gear Solid series and more importantly you enjoyed the voicing of Paul Eiding as Colonel Roy Campbell (pictured left). The Metal Gear Solid series success was due to the original PlayStation’s ability to use Compact Discs, new to gaming at the time, which enabled game data and rich sound. That rich sound enabled the US version of the game to hire Paul Eiding as the voice of Colonel Roy Campbell. It of course didn’t hurt that the game play of Metal Gear Solid was fun and great at creating tension.

In Blizzard’s follow up to Diablo, aptly named Diablo II, Paul voiced one of my most memorable cinematic scenes in a video game thus far (below). Funny enough, even Marius (the meager human within the scene) points out the voice of Mephisto. Who is voicing Mephisto you ask? You got it, Paul Eiding.

More recently Paul has lent his voice acting talents to Fallout 3 (voicing over 10 characters), Dragon Age: Origins (multiple characters), StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (multiple credits) and Halo: Reach (Spartan Commander). His most recent video game credit to date, via www.imdb.com, is his reoccurring role as Zephyr in the recently announced Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. I can only hope that another credit will be announced soon for the highly anticipated Diablo III.

Where many have had Hollywood success and then played their hand at voice acting, Paul invested early into a new and highly rewarding (commercially and personally) career of video game voice acting. Interesting enough Hollywood noticed and Paul has had voice acting roles in the animated movies Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Up and Wall-E. I know Paul’s heart beats for the stage and more blockbuster movie roles will surely come calling from Hollywood. I just hope he keeps his toes in the video game water so all us nerds can continue to enjoy his talents.

Young, Dumb and Ready to Gun

In my younger years, I couldn’t purchase the next triple-a first person shooter [FPS] quick enough and most of the time I would purchase them without reading a single review. All it would take was a Michael Bay like game trailer with explosions and in-game footage of heavy firefights to convince me I needed to buy the advertised game.

What it took to sale a game to me in the mid to late 90s was fairly simple. To get me to spend a little money all you had to do was make sure the FPS was visually appealing, show that visually appealing aspect in a trailer and make sure when people/monsters died, they died with plenty of giblets (giblets in the video game world are the chunks of body parts that are the repercussion of you, the player, shooting a person/monster – see video below). It also didn’t hurt to be a FPS game with gun heavy box art that was conveniently positioned next to a triple-A shooter that had an “oh shit” trailer – it would get purchased merely by association.

My haphazard purchasing based off game trailers with a nice pair of fake tits (i.e. visually appealing) and triple-a marketing showmanship came to an abrupt end with the purchase of the now infamous Daikatana. Daikatana was John Romero’s personal baby. Coming off his successes with id Software and the likes of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake, John Romero started his own development company  Ion Storm. Daikatana was supposed to be the first blockbuster game out of Ion Storm’s Dallas office (finally released in May 2000 after the initial plans of releasing Holidays 1997) and was meant to be their flagship, instead it was the torpedo that started their company to take on water. A marketing campaign started to tout the game as the second coming and journalist got caught up in the hype. For me, it was another potentially exciting shooter that I wanted to get my hands on and create giblets with. It ended up being the game that instigated a change in my buying habits. It was a dated looking game once it came out, the enemy and sidekick AI was horrid and frustrating (see video below) and the game just wasn’t any fun.

Looking back, Daikatana served a much greater purpose than just being a disappointment. It demonstrated to the gaming world, and especially to the reporters who worked in it, that hype could poison their industry too. It also sparked change to how the gaming  industry did their marketing and increased the appreciation of game critics amongst gamers. The most relatable change, however, was the one it had on me. I became a more sophisticated purchaser of CPU games and I also started to delve deeper into the video game world of critics, E3s and gaming publications. Daikatana, one of the hugest disappointments in video game history, made me a better PC gamer.

Soon after the Daikatana failure there was a shift in how games where presented to the potential gaming public. Commercials became smarter, funnier and better at capturing the attention of the young and old. The first game I noticed to market in a new and exciting way was Diablo II from Blizzard. Its commercials (see below) were more than just a Michael Bay trailer and the story aspects of the game were focused on creating interest without having to show giblets and death set to heavy metal music. Daikatana may have sucked more than Tonya Harding at the Olympics but at least it served a greater purpose in its failure.