Friday, May 20, 2011

Maintaining Gaming Groups - Out With The Old, In With The New(bie)

Seriously, man, it's not that bad!

Whether it's a handful of people that gather around your kitchen table, a student gaming club, an FPS (first person shooter) team, or a raid guild in an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, e.g., World of Warcraft, Rift, Age of Conan, etc.)...
...the ultimate secret of maintaining any gaming group is the same simple secret of maintaining any social group - sustaining the group population in spite of the ebbs and flows of individual participation.
People are people.  Gaming groups are simply collections of people who like to play a specific game.  As with any activity, you need to figure out how to keep that group alive over time.  Veteran members WILL leave.  New members WILL join and need to be integrated.

If you cannot handle these transitions well, your group will die, whether it fractures and splits or slowly dies by attrition.

So, there you are, a brand new person is in the group.  What next?

What is a Newbie?

I am talking about anyone that is new to your group.  They may be masters of the game being played, but that does not mean they know your house rules (gaming group), social structure (gaming club), raid strategies (MMORPG), and formal and informal social norms.

A Good Buddy is Key

When you have a newbie to integrate, get a volunteer (or choose one if your group members are unwilling to volunteer) to be their buddy while they get integrated into the group.  That person will take the priority for filling in the blanks for them on whatever is needed.

If there are specializations, keep those in mind.  For example, let's say you are running a Shadowrun campaign.  If you have a newbie that wants to play a Mage (good luck!), then knowing the magic system is important.  Try to team them up with a Mage (ideal), Shaman (next best), a Physical Adept (at least they know something about Magic), or someone who has extensive experience with the Magic system from prior play.  If it's a gaming club, maybe there are subgroups by gaming genre; if so, pick a buddy with the same genre focus.  If it's an MMORPG, and the newbie is a Healer, then team them up with a Healer, ideally one with similar class mechanics; every role experiences the game differently, so it's beneficial to group them with folks that will see the game from the same perspective.

Don't School Everyone When You Are Teaching One Person

I am reminded of a scene back in Season 1 of Star Trek, The Next Generation when Picard instructs the crew of his Federation Starship that "maximum warp" means they are going to go really fast.  Think about that for a moment.

A starship.

Full of Starfleet personnel.

He needs to explain to them what "maximum warp" means?

You know that most of that ship's crew had to be thinking something akin to, "what f'ing n00b doesn't know that?"

Similarly, you generally don't want to belabor reviewing strategies, rules, etc. that should be common knowledge for everyone just for the sake of the newbie(s).  You aggravate your veteran members and they are righteous in their aggravation.  They have been working hard to keep up, do their part, etc.  After months of doing this reliably, the last thing they need is to be held up while you school the new person.

Once again, the buddy comes into the picture.  If it's a small TTRPG (tabletop role-playing game) group around the kitchen table, then the buddy can take the newbie off to the side and get them up to speed while you work out stuff with other players, set up your notes, get a drink, etc.  If it's a gaming club, then there are numerous opportunities for the buddy to help.

If it's a raid in an MMORPG, you likely have some form of voice chat with channels which the buddy and newbie can use to slip away and discuss things at length while you kill trash mobs (the non-Boss fights between the big bad bosses), leaving you to keep leading the raid without holding up everyone (or they can use "whispers" in game to resolve such things).  When the big, complicated boss fight starts, the newbie follows the buddy and does what they do, raising questions to the buddy if they don't understand specific aspects of the fight.

Be sure to keep the buddy engaged.  If the newbie starts asking questions that are due to their specific ignorance and are not generally beneficial, try to engage their buddy.

Momentum is maintained and the impact of the newbie on performance and the progress of events is minimized.  Fun is had and the newbie gets integrated.  It's full of win!

Don't Wear Out Buddies

Be careful that you do not wear out buddies.  It's very easy to become comfortable with picking the same people over and over because they do it well.  Trust me when I say, just because you are good at something does mean you want to do it all of the time (or maybe even at all).

If no one likes being a buddy, then be sure to rotate as much as needed.  It's good to provide as much continuity as possible, but if it's a chore for everyone, then be sure to share the load.

Ideally, you should foster a group-focused mindset in your group so that everyone is willing to be a buddy to a newbie, in the interest of the group (or perhaps brain washing them to be their servant monkey).

Oh, And Don't Call Them Newbies

You know how it's ok for *you* to talk smack about your family, but if someone else does, you'll likely take offense?  Well, it's kind of like that with newbies.  When you are a newbie, it's cool for you to describe yourself as one, but it can be insulting to have others call you that. The good news is that it's pretty easy to find ways to describe people without calling them newbies, n00bs, etc.  Try "new member" or "new recruit". :)

Integrate or Die

If you can't integrate newbies well, you will increasingly place pressure on your group.  That can mean:
  • Plummeting morale due to delays/setbacks from inadequately-supported newbies
  • Formation of cliques that result in group fractures because of poor social integration
  • Slow death due to attrition because you don't bother with new people
So, integrate or die.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sony's Shoddy Security: Was It Inevitable That the PSN Would Be Attacked?

Check out this story about testimony on the PSN break-in.  It sounds like the technological equivalent of buying a lot of expensive stuff for your house, but moving into a highly visible, poorly built home, with lots of windows, no curtains, and leaving doors unlocked.

When I read about it, I think, "Wow, that would be a crafty plan to catch hackers, like those bait cars the Police set up to catch car thieves."  But it's not a crafty plan.  It's apathy at best and incompetence at worst.  Firewalls are good, m'kay?

I won't waste your time regurgitating the article, just check it out.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gears of War 3 Beta - Guide for Newbies (by a Newbie)

I freely admit that I had never played Gears of War until last week.  I had always been interested, but the combined I could never find the time, until recently.  So, I put in my pre-order at Gamestop, along with my pre-order for L.A. Noire, and fired up the Gears of War 3 Beta (GOW3B).

It quickly became apparent that I had some stuff to learn.  My biggest criticism of the GOW3B is that there is no tutorial.  I realize that it's a beta, and probably most of the players have experience from the prior game, but it would be cool to have the moves explained.

Fortunately, I found the time to play through the story campaigns for GOW and GOW2.  That helped a lot and if you want to refine your skills, that is a great place.

This video of the GOW3B includes commentary from Rod Fergusson, Executive Producer of GOW3.  It's a short video, but in it we see a couple of interesting moves which he describes variously as the mantle kick, bag and tag, and the hopper.  I'll touch on those too.

How to Get Into Cover
See that nice low chunk of rock, or balcony, or door frame?  Well, you can take cover behind it by simply getting near it and tapping the A button. The cover mechanics of the GOW series are really cool ideas.  Being a Jedi master of getting into and out of cover easily will serve you well.

How to Get Out of Cover
Depending on the situation and cover, you can do different of things.  The good news is that you will see pictures indicating what you can do.
  • No other cover nearby? Then you can simply pull back on your left thumb stick to move back from the cover.  Or you can push your thumbstick into the cover (which should pull up a diagram showing you moving out of the cover) and tap A to move forward past the cover; if the cover is short and there is space on the other side, you will hop over or mantle.
  • Cover to the side? You can push your thumbstick towards that cover (which should pull up a diagram of you moving from cover to cover) and tap A to hop over to that cover
How to Roadie Run
The "roadie run" is a crouched, high speed run; however, you turn *very* slowly, it's like driving a boat.  To execute it, just hold down the A button.  If you run into cover, you *should* automatically move into position to take said cover...but it seems like it does not always work, so be ready to tap A again to get into cover.

How to Tumble, Dodge, and Leap
Once again, the A button is your friend.  If you are not near cover, pushing the A button will execute a tumble in whatever direction the D-pad is pointing.  It may seem silly, but leaping around like an idiot can save your ass, especially if there is lots of cover or the person trying to shoot you has issues with tracking targets.

You can also use this to close distance while minimizing being shot, as the army of Sawed-Off Shotgun-obsessed people are more than happy to demonstrate.

How to Aim and Shoot
You aim with the left trigger and shoot with the right.  If you shoot without aiming, some weapons behave differently.  For example, you will simply toss a grenade right in front of you a short distance if you do not aim first.

Aiming takes different forms.  Most guns pull up a simple sight box.  The grenade (and digger launcher) pulls up an arcing projectile path that you can adjust for perfect placement.

How to Melee
You melee by hitting your B button.  That usually results in a butt strike or punch, etc.  If you have a grenade equipped and a target in range, you stick the grenade to them, which does not work out well for them.

If you are using the default rifle, the Lancer, then you can hold down the B button to activate your chainsaw.  If you connect with someone, they will likely be killed.  If they have a Lancer and turn to face you, then it becomes a test of who can punch the B button the fastest as you duel.   The slower button masher gets gutted.

How to Charge With a Retro Lancer Bayonet
If you are using the Retro Lancer, which has a bayonet instead of a chainsaw, then you can hold down your B key and charge.  If you make contact with an opponent, you will skewer them with a one-shot kill.

Sounds pretty daunting, but I find that you can back up, dodge, and gun down such folks.  So, be sure to keep looking around. :)

Tagging A Wall or Person With a Grenade
This is pretty simple, just equip a grenade and use the B button for a melee attack.  If you are facing a wall or person, and in melee range, you will stick the grenade to it/them.  In the case of a wall, it will remain there as a trap in waiting for the next enemy passerby.  In the case of a person, it will blow up shortly thereafter.

How Reload and Actively Reload

The right bumper button is your reload.  However, as you learn from playing the game, there is such a thing as an active reload.  When you click to reload, a little meter/bar appears under your weapon icon and a slider starts progressing from the left to the right of the bar.  It's a reloading minigame and depending on when you click, you can realize certain special effects from it:
  • Perfect reload - If you click at the perfect time, right when the slider is over the slim 100% opaque white bar, then your character usually says something to convey their thrill as you get a slight damage increase and/or other special effects, such as increased range, an extra explosion, etc.  If I understand it correctly, only the rounds that are reloaded are affected, though, so don't fire off one shot with your Lancer, execute a perfect reload and expect to tear everyone up.  That said, for those single shot weapons with long reload times, like the Longshot and Torque Bow, there is really no downside.
  • Active reload - If you click when the slider is over the gray portion of the bar, then you simply reload quicker, typically about 25% faster, which is still nice
  • Regular reload - If you ignore the minigame and the let slider progress to the end, resulting in a regular reload time
  • Failed reload - If you click at the wrong time, when the slider is anywhere but the gray area or the thin white line, then your character swears as your weapon jams (sort of).  A failed reload generally takes about 30% longer.
Check out the Gearspedia page for more detailed information on this, to include images that show exactly how the bar/slider looks for the each case noted above.

How to Down and Revive

Most of the time, you inflict damage on an opponent until they fall down.  Then they begin to crawl around crying for help.  You can help yourself in this situation by smashing the A button while you do your best to stay in cover or try not to be in front of someone trying to execute you.  You can help a downed (but not dead) friend by running up to them and clicking "X", but they have to be right in front of you and if you are in place being cover, you will need to step out to do this.

How to Execute a Player
Let's say it's your opponent that is down.  Well, you have some options. The simple one is to simply stand back and keep shooting, as that will eventually kill them.  Your other option is to step in close and hit the X button to use them as a meat shield, the Y button to execute them (each weapon has a different animation).  You can also hold down the Y button for a prolonged graphic execution but it is time consuming and thus makes you vulnerable; if you do it to me I hope you get your head blown offense. :)

Looking for the curb stomp?  I have read that tapping Y is the new curb stomp.

How to Get a Meat Shield in Gears of War 3 Beta
Simply put, you are using an opponent's downed body as a meat shield.  As stated above, step in close to a downed opponent and hit the X button to use them as a meat shield.  The biggest drawback to this is that you are forced to use a pistol while doing this.  The next drawback is that you shuffle around quite slowly.  However, if people shoot the meat shield, it takes the brunt of the damage.  I think it even saved me from a bayonet charge (he speared the meat shield instead of me).  So, do your very best to keep your enemies in front of you.

Once you have a meat shield you have some options:

Meat Shield Finisher 1: How To Neck Snap
Once you have a meat shield, you can end them with a quick simple neck snap by hitting the X button again.

Meat Shield Finisher 2: How To Bag and Tag
With a meat shield in hand, all you have to do is push up on your D-pad, as if selecting a grenade as your weapon.  This will tag the meat shield with a grenade and push them slightly away from you. There is no need to melee the character as with normal grenade tagging, but that does do something...

Meat Shield Finisher 3: How To Do "The Hopper"
...and this is that something.  This is not my name, it's what Rod called it in his video.  This starts just like the Bag and Tag, with you pushing up on your D-pad to select a grenade.  That automatically tags them with the grenade and pushes them away from you.  A quick follow-up press of the B button kicks them away from you and, ideally, into a cluster of enemies.

Fair Warning: Meat Shields Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
The reduction in mobility and firepower can be a real pain in the butt, and mucking about with special meat shield finishers can be very dangerous.  That said, if the stars align, you can end up with some memorable kills.  But appreciate that it can be a gamble and use it wisely.

Drop It Like It's Hot
You can also just drop a meat shield by swapping weapons.  Something to keep in mind on Capture the Leader if you don't want to drop it.

How to Mantle Kick
The mantle kick is actually very simple in concept.  Remember that you can mantle over cover?  Well, if you do that when someone is on the other side, you kick them and briefly stun them if they are not already downed.  If they are downed when you do this, it kills them.  This makes the move very dangerous.  When you first die to it, you will think it's overpowered.

Apparently, the reason for the mantle kick is to avoid people living behind cover.  Personally, I am cool with that.  It's a lot more realistic.  I know that when I was in the Army, taking cover was preferred. :)

But, that aside, it's in the game, so you should be comfortable with using it to effect.

So, how do you defend against a mantle kick?  Two obvious choices are to get out of the way or gun them down as they approach cover.  You could also mantle before they get to cover and possibly turn the tables on them (it reputedly works on folks not technically in cover, provided they are close to it when you mantle).

How to Spot Enemies
This is a very useful ability.  You aim at someone and press your left thumbstick.  This puts a marker over their head that you can see through obstacles.  It's handy for focusing fire or keeping track of that guy that keeps trying to flank you for a one-shot kill.

How to Share Ammo
Aim at a team mate and press the Y button to share ammo with them.  This is great for Capture the Leader so you can keep them stocked...since they won't need to die (and respawn) to get more ammo.

How to Trade Weapons
Aim at a team mate and press the X button.  They have to press the B button to accept.  This could be a dangerous thing to do with enemies bearing down on you.

How to Use Tac/Com and See Through Walls
If you press your left bumper, it will show where your team mates are.  You will see them through walls, obstacles, etc.  This is very handy when you are trying to determine where to go to support or receive support.  Safety in numbers and all that jazz. :)

Additional Resources has a number of teaching videos that describe a lot of concepts to consider to improve your game.  I especially recommend their video on positioning.  They were even deemed stickie-worthy in the GOW3B forum. :)