No Safe Place.

Spitting out machine gun noises from my mouth towards my neighborhood friends, from a catchbasin, is a thrill I remember well. Playing “Guns” when I was a kid was not just a game but an exercise in ambushing. I was always willing to take that extra risk to get the drop on my VC friends as they traveled the Ho Chi Minh Trail, that was our neighborhood sidewalks and alleys. The drainage systems around my neighborhood were my hunting grounds. I was the little boy version of the G.I. Joe character, Tunnel Rat.

Using the outstretched branches of high hanging limbs was always on the menu when it came to serving an ambush lunch to the enemy team but when all tricks were known, I knew I needed to resort to something more underground. The drainage systems of the burbs I lived in as a youth always seemed to have an abundance of entrances or, I was just really good at finding them. That ability to notice good cover and ambush spots has returned to me the more I play Battlefield 3 [BF3]. Battlefield 3, with its Frostbite 2 Engine, brings unparalleled destructible cover to a squad base combat game spread over large battlefields. BF3 also adds wanted anxiety to a FPS [First Person Shooter] by making almost no location safe from heavy artillery. This anxiety I feel in BF3 is similar but admittedly less frightening, than the anxiety that I felt come crashing down on me, while crawling around in drainage tunnels. No safe place.

I would regularly be caught in shorts and a t-shirt, minus an umbrella, as I walked home from school and a storm would roll in during spring or early summer. It was very common for me to go to elementary school in third grade decked out in sweatpants, only to be hating the decision during my 80 degree plus walk home that afternoon. The days I made sure I was abreast of the forecast however, were on days that I knew their would be, non-NATO Sanctioned, all neighborhood war games. I paid attention to the school videos and presentations that tried to convey the dangers of playing in drainage systems. I remember the stories of kids who drowned because a storm caught them off guard and swept them away to their deaths. I always remembered to check the forecast while watching Saturday morning cartoons. I didn’t go into the drainage tunnels unless the forecast was clear, but you can’t always predict the weather. No safe place.

The buildings in BF3 are huge. The majority of them are at least two or three stories in height and many of the buildings in BF3 are totally destructible. They can collapse and kill everyone in them, while you score the points. You can hear the creaking of a building as it teeters on collapse. You make desperate runs towards second floor balconies only to be crushed as you start to parkour over a railing. No safe place.

My childhood home during the time I was in Olathe, KS was near a housing development that included an abundant amount of drainage entrances. A 50 foot hunched over crawl, from the entrance of one of these drainage systems, would bring you to a large drainage junction box. It was large enough to house posters on the walls and even provided convenient concrete seating. It was my rally point for planning my final attack on the VC and a rally point for drug users, based off the paraphernalia discarded around the ground. No safe place.

An unburied, drainage junction box.

From this junction, you could either turn back and head through the four foot pipe, to the sunlight above, or push on. To get the drop on my VC friends’ base, located in a parents driveway and right across from a drainage inlet, would require a bit more effort. Pushing on was really crawling on. The only other pipe leading out of the junction was around two feet in diameter and you had to basically army crawl to get through it. The rest of my child army squad left, to prepare for the attack that would set the VC up for my knife in the back ambush. It was a tight fit, even for a lean 12 year old, but toy gun in hand and with a smile on my face, I crawled into the deep. No safe place.

There are some pretty humorous moments in Battlefield 3. Your squad may retreat into a  hotel room to resupply and heal up, only to be turned into gibs as an attack helicopter spots the scope of the sniper in your squad. Your friend may be providing suppressing fire on an enemy who is deep in cover, so you can flank him and knife him in the chest. Just as you take the virtual dog tag from your knifed victim your squad-mate yells into his mic as he meets the same fate. Realization sets in, both sides were providing suppressing fire so the other could get the knife. No safe place.

Motivated by anticipation, the twenty foot crawl it takes to get to the street inlet, opposite of the driveway base, goes pretty quickly. The combatants are engaged in a firefight with my squad-mates, just as planned. Waiting for a lawl in the machine gun mouth noises, I ready my plastic piper of death. “Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat!” echoes out of my mouth and, to the surprise of the whitest VC ever, out of the drainage inlet. Four verbal machine gun burst leaves four fictionally dead and surprised, neighborhood kids. No safe place.

Getting stuck in a building that is on the verge of collapse is an exciting moment in BF3. You can hear the warning signs of a pending collapse thanks to BF3’s brillant audio and sound effects. It gives you, on rare occasions, enough time to make an escape. Usually, you’ll hear one final shell from a tank or RPG rocket hit the building, the building will creak one more time and then you drown in the rubble. No safe place.

After basking in my victory and talking to my friends through the inlet, I prepare to make my way back to the junction and on, to fresh air. I notice the sky is a bit darker than it was when I first entered my underground hunting lair. A third of my way through my victory crawl, an unmistakable noise echoes down the cramp pipe. The thunder is loud, even from my position underground. Though I couldn’t see them at the time, I knew my eyes where the size of laser disks. I breathed deep and froze. Head back to the inlet or push on to the junction? I try moving back and quickly realize I’ve never done this, nor was I any good at it. I let go of my toy gun. I had to push forward. No safe place.

After dying or causing a building to collapse in BF3, if you look at the upper left hand corner of the screen, you can see the list of people who you killed, or died with you. You can either bask in your killing spree or laugh, respawn and seek your revenge. No safe place.

Halfway through the suffocating pipe I start to feel my t-shirt, my chest and my jeans, getting wet. A mixture of fear and liquid lubrication quicken my tunneling pace. I am a human version of the Caddyshack gopher, scurrying away from Bill Murray’s flood. I’m scared shitless, as images of the warning videos from school flow through my mind. With the great motivator of not wanting to die, I disregarded all pain caused by my scrambling through a pipe covered by jaggedly formed concrete overflow. Now drenched, I could see the junction ahead, filling with water. No safe place.

Taking the high ground in BF3 is always a good strategy. You can almost view the entire battleground from some structures and in-turn, kill almost everything you see. Even at the top of indestructible buildings in BF3 people can still rain down death from attack helicopters and jets. The thunder coming from the canons of tanks below can still strike you down. No safe place.

When I reach the junction the water is at white rapid levels. I could here the thunders intensity echo in the concrete box. I attempt to get my footing and make my way to the light, that is not shadowed in darkness. I wasn’t really running through the tunnel now but sliding, picking myself up and sliding again. I was making it out. I came out of the entrance like I was coming out of a water slide. I splashed down into the stream and scrambled against the current, trying to get to the large filler rocks on the side. No safe place.

Getting to these tall buildings in BF3 is a dangerous game within itself. Some places can be reached via exposed ladders, that people regularly watch to try and get an easy kill. Others buildings require you to successfully parachute from a helicopter or splatter against the roof. You can exploit a Micro Air Vehicle [MAV], by standing on it and using it like an elevator, leaving you defenseless while in midair. No safe place.

Reaching for the rocks with bloodied hands I thankfully see my friends, my squad mates, playing the roles of saviors as they help pull me out. Wet and bloodied was a pretty normal way for me to return from playing outside so I raised no eyebrows when I got home. The next day was typical for summer, hot and humid and perfect for a kid on summer break. I peddled my bike around the neighborhood slower than usual, thanks to the bruises that encompasse my entire body. Passing by the entrance to the drainage system I stop for a bit. I look into the deeper than usual pooled water at the entrance to the pipe, that is now clear and calm in the summer heat, and make out my toy gun. Waterlogged and lifeless, it sets at the bottom. No safe place.

Building Camaraderie, One Defib at a Time.

In your headphones, you hear the screams of your fallen comrade,”Ahhh sh*t! Bring me back, bring me back!” after being sniped out from across the map. You pick out his position on your HUD [Heads Up Display], assess the situation and then decide to make a mad dash to his body with defibrillator in hand. Shots wizzing by your head and bullets puffing up clouds of dirt at your feet, you make it to your squad mate, hit him with the defib [defibrillator] and together, scurry for cover. A milisecond later, he would of been in The Elysian Fields and you might of gone with him.

The "defib".

The  Assault Class in Battlefield 3 is the perfect class for those who want to be the hero of Greek mythology. With the ability to bring back teammates from the dead, with an unlockable defibrillator, the Assault Class plays the role of savior in a four man squad. He can lead the charge into an enemy occupied room. He can drop medkits to heal squad members and teammates. He can provide cover fire as the rest of your squad sprints across the street and, if you don’t make it to the other side, he can clean up the mess and bring you back to life.

The more I’ve played Battlefield 3 the more I have come to appreciate the Battlefield medic in its form of the Assault Class. You may not reap all the kills of the Support Class or the vehicle destroyed points of the Engineer but the payoff gained from saving your friend, even in a digital sense, brings about a reward greater than points. It doesn’t hurt that a revive is worth 100 points, the same amount of points rewarded for a kill, and a squad revive is worth 110. What keeps me coming back for more is the thanks I get from a friend and the extra tic (life) applied to our total number left.

A chat connected squad, with all four members playing a unique class, already has an advantage over the competition. Communicating enemy movement and spotting threats, via game mechanics and chat, provides your squad a better field of vision of the ongoing battle. Throw in a player with a thirst for lifesaving heroics and you capture Ace Squad (awarded to the best squad in the match based off accumulated points) on a regular basis.

As a match heads towards an end and the tic count for both sides are dwindling to single digits, an active Assault Class player becomes madly important. With an enemy T90 closing in on our position, like a wild boar running through the bushes, and teammates dying all around you from tank fire – bringing people back from the dead is a feat on measure with the Greek Gods. With one tic left for both teams and three of your squad mates dead on the ground you know what must be done. You are Aphrodite and your friends on the ground around you are your Adonises.

Bringing back the first will be relatively easy, thanks to the boulder his body ended up behind. Bringing back the Engineer, with his all important RPG, and the Support soldier (with the ammo for the RGP) lined up next to him, will require some luck. Thankfully the tank, disabled and housing the enemies last remaining tic, has his cannon pointed at the boulder, trying to keep my head down. He doesn’t know that I am not just any Assault troop but Achilles himself.

The bodies are in a row so it will be a straight sprint and the timing of the defib, as I run across their bodies, will make or break this feat. The tank fires at the boulder again and I am off. I come across the body of the sniper and my friend, zap, he is back. I am out from behind the boulder and I can hear the reload mechanism of the tank working to place another shell for fire. I cross the body of the Engineer, my friend, zap! He starts to stand. Just as I get done bringing back the “Engi” I am on top of the Support trooper, zap! I keep running however, drawing the anger of the driver and the shell of the tank. As the shrapnel cuts through the tendons of my ankle and the heart in my torso, I hear a rocket hitting home, followed by the thanks of my friends.

My "Band of Brothers".

Battlefield Brosephs: Battlefield 3’s Real Fun Happens With Friends

To start off, Battlefield 3 is fun, beautiful and after 23+ hours of play it is still regularly revealing ‘ah-ha’ moments (No, its soundtrack is not a continuous loop of Take On Me). Speaking of its soundtrack; the audio is spectacular and when played while wearing gaming headphones with surround sound it will sometimes cause you to duck as the whine of an RPG careens overhead. The real fun comes though, when you are playing in a squad with friends and you all have mics.

No, this is not a visual depiction of the sweet sounds of Battlefield 3.

When you are in a squad with your mates, Battlefield 3 really opens up. With constant communication that helps shape the battlefield, you and your squad have shared vision. If a teammate is pinned down by a sniper but can verbally reveal the enemy’s location to you, not only do you get to pick up an easy kill, you also get to sarcastically say “Your welcome.” as you dispatch the harassing foe.

With four classes in the game (Assault, Engineer, Support & Recon) that naturally support one another, moments of patting each others back on the battlefield are the norm. As an engineer barraging a tank with rockets as it closes in on your squads location, it is a relief to know that one of your squad mates will be able to get ammo to you soon. Did you just take out two people in an ambushing squad and watched as your mates cleaned up the rest? No worries, your sacrifice will not be forgotten nor go unrewarded as one of your platoon members will defib (defibrillator) you back to life.

I am still up in the air on the server browser/social community that is Battlefield 3’s Battlelog but even though done in jest, it is still fun to Hooah! (Battlelogs version of Facebook’s Like option) a friends new rank. It is also fun to Hooah! every remote action that is listed on the Battle feed (similar to Facebook’s Recent News section) so your friends will be greeted/annoyed by a plethora of notices when they next long in.

An example of Battlelog's Battle feed and friendly Hooah! spamming.

So you can play Battlefield 3 unaided by friends, in a squad full of unknowns, where your death goes unnoticed and actually still have a lot of fun. If you truly want to appreciate all that Battlefield 3 has to offer then join up with your brosephs and kill together, revive together and give out digital fist bumps via cheesy Battlelog sprinkled with vocal Hooahs!

 

This is Caspian Border and I am Prince Caspian!

I’ve not seen nor swam the waves of the world’s largest enclosed body of water, the Caspian Sea, but I have ran the ridges and tracked my jeep down the dirt and street roads of Battlefield 3’s Caspian Border. For its final week of testing EA opened  the 64 player map, Caspian Border, to everyone who had access to the Battlefield 3 [BF3] beta on the PC. For months, we all watched YouTube videos, caught press releases from video game conventions and heard, via word of mouth, from games journalist about the epic nature of the 64 player map. Those with any interest in the first person genre salivated at the idea.

The cruelty of the BF3 beta was that for the majority of the beta access was only allowed to the one map mentioned in my previous post, Metro. Again, it was a dirty fun crawl from one MCOM station to the next in Metro but it wasn’t the months of anticipated fun we imagined having in Caspian Border featuring lions (jets), tigers (helicopters)  and bears (tanks)… oh my. Adding to the torture was the fact that EA did have password protected Caspian Border servers listed on Battlelog.

The torture ended for the last weekend of beta testing when EA announced they would open Caspian Border to all PC beta testers – on Saturday October 8th, 2011 I got my first taste. My first foray into Caspian Border was a mixed bag. I got into a server fairly easy and was instantly mesmerized by its scale. I stood in my teams spawn area watching people takeoff in the F-14 modeled jets from a dirt runway, as were a couple of other people in my squad. This was my first true experience of being part of an audience in a game… just watching the game.  The other side of the equation here was the lag. Not enough lag to make it unplayable  but just enough to be a thorn in a lions foot. I spent about 2o minutes in this sever, acquiring my first tank kill with the help of a couple of well placed mines and a final tap with a rocket propelled grenade and then searched for one that hopefully didn’t suffer from any lag.

Just a small sliver of the huge map, Caspian Border.

My second venture into Caspian Border was everything it should be (thanks to a server ping of 40). I joined Mother Russia in defense of her lands and my squad and I set out in a jeep to take a capture point atop a mountain/hill. By the way, the  topography of Caspian Border is feast for the eyes in its own right. Everything is very far away from each other so vehicles are a must and the highs and lows of the land make trekking by foot a long process. Once we got our off road Jeep clone to the point we captured it, set up to defend it  by placing mines around the dirt road access points and hunkered down for an assault – we didn’t have to wait long. The first attack was deflected well thanks to an early kill of the opposing tank but what ensued was a knock down, drag out fight. We ended up holding the point, thanks to a team member staying prone in some vegetation so we could continue to spawn off of him after we died, but we lost the overall battle. Even in a pretty overwhelming defeat I totally enjoyed the experience and took some pride in being the best squad on our team.

My last time spent in Caspian Border (out of eight visits) was the most enjoyable and will keep me looking forward to Battlefield 3’s full release. After capturing a point early in the game our squad moved on to a more forward point that was fairly close to the opposing teams main spawn. We secured the point and then moved into gorilla warfare mode by setting up ambush points from within the buildings surrounding the capture point. With mines staggered across the most likely entrance point we braced for the oncoming attack. It started off great with just an opposing squad with no armor and/or aerial support walking right into our trap, they were wiped within minutes. It was the second attack that we felt the full force of the enemy having a very close main spawn area.

A tank rolled up the main entrance to the small town that housed the capture point and stopped just prior to the mines. Those mines were aligned directly next to my perch in a two story building. I could see the tank clearly from the second story balcony and when I stepped downstairs quickly to take a peek I could see there were infantry in support. The tank must of spotted my fellow squad mates because it open fire just I started heading back upstairs. From above, I open fire on the two opposing infantry men next to the tank taking them both out. The death of those two men brought the attention of the tank on me as I saw it aim its barrel up a few notches to were I had just reigned down lead. I went prone and crawled to the interior of flimsy building and braced for impact. Honestly, I was at my computer and could feel my body clinch, I was completely immerse. The shot rang out and the sky opened up to me but my little soldier buddy was still kicking, hurt but kicking. I popped up and launched an RPG at the tank, hitting it in the side. The tank inched forward looking for a better shot. BOOM! That inch forward was just enough to set off the mines I had laid on the street 5 minutes prior. The tank was still operational but stuck in place. It was a stick in the mud. I then saw the crew exit the vehicle in a desperate attempt to avoid avatar death. I crouched around the new hole in MY building and like Peter Pevensie himself I slaughtered King Miraz and his men and watched as the last few tics of the opposing force left my hub and Narnia, I mean Caspian Border, was won.

So yeah, I’m looking forward to the games full release on October 25th, 2011.

Beta For the Better: Will Battlefield 3 See the Changes it Needs?

With 15+ hours worth of beta experience I have become very intimate with the Battlefield 3[BF 3] beta and overly familiar with the one map it offers for play, Metro. I’ve also become very aware of the issues that need to be resolved prior to the games full release on October 25th, 2011.

For starters, the process to get in a game and start playing is tremendously tedious. The process goes as follows:

1) Start EA’s online store Origin

2) Launch game out of Origin

3) Launching the game then launches the internet browser Battlelog

4) You use Battlelog’s server browser to find a game

5) A plugin, Game Manager, starts its connection process to the server

6) The game connects and you click Join Game within Game Manager

7) The game launches in a windowed form

8)  You hit alt + enter to put the game in full screen

9) You start playing

A fellow beta companion and friend compared the process to Inception… a game within a game within a game, and I completely concur. The hoops one must jump through is like a scientific experiment on how much one will endure for the satisfaction of playing. A recent video (below) explains what Dice (BF 3 developer) is trying to provide to the gamer but I think they are missing the point. Gamers what to play and the more obstacles you put in their way the quicker they will migrate away from a game.

On day two of the beta release, the last day before the beta became public, I experienced the most widespread clipping issue ever encountered in a beta. One person coined it as Batttlefield Clipping 3 in the all team chat and it was hilarious and accurate at the same time. Clipping is the act of players, vehicles etc… not being bound to the generated parameters of gravity or world objects, such as the ground or walls. The issue was not that clipping was occurring in a beta, that happens and can almost be expected to some measure. The worry was how widespread the clipping was. Matches were unplayable in many cases and the same issue was prevalent from one server to the next. A good example of the clipping problems experienced can be seen in the video below.

Thankfully within a 24 hour span Dice seemed to have corrected the majority of the clipping issues but on occasion it has reared its ugly head, especially (all jokes aside) when your soldier is in the prone position.

The most frustrating aspect of the beta, that has been constant throughout, is the inability to join seamlessly with your friends in a squad and even within a server. Battlefield 3 is heavy on squad level tactics like covering fire and flanking, which means communication is key. So joining with your friends in the same squad is essential to a successful and enjoyable experience. This would be less of an issue if the voice chat system was up to par so you could communicate basic information with strangers. BF 3’s voice chat system, based out of its Battlelog server, is already inconvenient and the, admittedly, limited experience I’ve had with it has been ear damaging. Heavy static and background noise is not beneficial to a squad trying to take a MCOM station while under heavy suppressing fire. As I have done with many chat heavy games before, I’ve have resorted to the highly effective services of Skype.

This is the beta, which I tell myself regularly as I run into the above mentioned issues, so I can let go of some of the frustrations I have run into ‘prone’. I do hope that the beta will lead to better… The moments of pure joy are there; like having a friend attach his C4 to my EOD robot and then driving it up on some unsuspecting enemies and then telling my friend to detonate. Or lying prone in the exit/entrance of a metro, providing suppressing fire, while RPGs careen over head and echo behind me in a tremendous immersion of sounds and dust. The beta is fun, the frustrations are not, but lets hope the suffering of the beta is for the better.

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.

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.

Giving a Book a Good Cover (Pt. 2): Effective Game Play Trailers

Some of the questions that were left unanswered in the launch trailer should be answered by the game play trailer, but not all of them. The trailer should peel back the consumer’s eyelids and let them read chapter 1, tempt them enough so they want to read chapter 2…and cause them to purchase the game.

What persona will the player be immersed in when he or she sets down to play? Game play trailers should attempt to open up more clues to the games actual storyline. It should expose the player to playable locations not seen in the launch trailer. Most importantly it should show actual GAME PLAY. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed “Cello” trailer (below) did all this well and successfully intertwined music with game play to provide an atmosphere the viewer wanted to return to.

Game play and how it is presented in a trailer can make or break a games success. All the teaser trailers and launch trailers presented prior will not make a difference if the game play shows poorly. Game play chosen for these trailers should include a broad range of in game action but should highlight the more unique aspects of the game play. As in Assassin’s Creed “Cello” trailer, the more unique game play definitely benefits from being cued in with the music. Keep in mind trailers are creative spins on the final product so, as was the case for some with Assassin’s Creed, don’t purchase the game purely from game trailers or you might find yourself a little disappointed. Game reviews and word of mouth still hold the most clout over a games commercial and player embraced success.

If you see a game play trailer that shows very little game play, be wary, and hold off on a purchase until more is revealed. Hiding actual game play from the gamers should be a sign of a poorly made game. This also holds true for game trailers that misrepresent their game play by only showing climatic gaming moments.

When a game is bold enough to release trailers that are made up entirely of in game footage/play then you can assume it will be a quality product. The developer is no longer teasing you with possibilities or brief glimpses of what will end up in the consumers hand but is showing game play you will be missing if you decide not to buy. Strictly game play trailers should immerse the player in the games world and attempt to connect you to the story – make it feel personal. The upcoming Battlefield 3 (due to release Fall 2011) has successfully been presenting game play through episodic trailers with the most recent (at publish) provided below.

Just like a drug dealer, Battlefield’s episode 3 trailer presents you with intense moments and tries to create euphoric feelings within the viewer with the hopes they return for more.

Although we shouldn’t judge a game entirely by its “cover” we should pay close enough attention to what they present so we can decide if we want to “read” more.

*Thanks to GamingNerdHerder’s board of consultants for insight on this post.