How to sabotage a highly anticipated game

It’s no secret that Battlefield 3 was the most highly anticipated FPS game of this year. It’s also no secret that the game has had its share of server, multiplayer and various online issues. Now, this is to be expected because DICE doesn’t exactly have the best reputation with producing games that are flawless on launch. It is also to be expected because EA and DICE are testing out a new digital distribution system. However, that’s not exactly the whole story.

What’s Good

The “real” focus of the game, the multiplayer, is fantastic. Many players and reviewers have reported various connection problems including massive server issues with the Xbox 360 version of the game.  Also, the game has required many people to upgrade their hardware and upgrade their drivers to even run the game at decent frame rates. To be clear, I haven’t noticed many of these problems, but that may be because I’ve been playing on a powerful PC system with an internet connection that typically runs between 40-60 Mb/s.

First of all, the game is simply beautiful. The background, textures, and the sheer size of the maps are all incredible. The game sounds amazing, with every gun shot, explosion, jingle and crunch sounding as realistic as I can imagine based on never seeing actual combat. Just laying prone and listening to the game is an amazing, scary, and eerily realistic experience.

Secondly, the game play is fun and yet somehow different in all the right ways from your normal team-based FPS. You have Team Deathmatch, Objective-based “Rush” matches, and your standard Battlefield-style Capture-the-Command-Point “Conquest” games. You try to fight the other side, finish the objectives, and gain upgrades and unlocks as you gain points during combat. You can also form squads and bark orders to your team mates in order to form some semblance of an organized unit. You even have a wide swath of vehicles, now including Jets and Helicoptors as well. If that sounds familiar, then it’s because it’s been more or less the standard formula for every Battlefield game since 1942.

That’s not exactly a bad thing, but DICE has managed to do what Battlefield games do best: modify the environment and situation to make the game radically different. The game paints a small blue or green indicator on allies while painting nothing on enemies (except those that are being targeted by your allies). That makes it quite difficult to see enemies in the tall grasses, the darkness of an abandoned building, or the ruins of a war-torn city. That makes tactics that have been hated for years in FPS’s: camping being the obvious example, suddenly more legitimate. Objectives are more difficult to get to, but that has only forced players to think smart and fast and hone their reflexes to destroy entrenched positions.

To summarize: nobody complains about campers in a war, they just figure our how to kill them.

The Bad

Unfortunately, there’s a lot in this game that drives me nuts, and it drives me nuts primarily because I know why these things are there. I’ll start with the very first experience for the player: the installation.

Arguably, the installation is the most important part of a game. It is the first impression. If the first impression does not go smoothly, then the player is already creating an association with the game and frustration. This is unfortunately one of those cases.

Origin

In case you missed it, Origin is EA’s attempt to grab the digital distribution market away from Steam. Considering how public EA was at removing Battlefield 3 from Steam, there is no reason to believe that EA will even release a single game on Valve’s platform ever again. This is a little sad, since Steam is a fantastic and mature platform, but oh well. Besides the fact that there would be yet another program to start up with the computer in order to make sure I can play a game, I didn’t think much of it, that is, until I saw this:

beta

Really? The only platform that EA is willing to release the most highly anticipated FPS and the biggest game of the year is a BETA? Certainly this would explain some of the issues some people have had, and would also explain why origin has crashed or refused to open when I click on the Battlefield 3 icon. But generally Origin isn’t a problem because most of the time you won’t even be using the software. Unlike Steam, all Origin seems to be used for is a slightly plain looking store.

Downloading Games Is Still Annoying

So after going through 20 minutes of resetting EA account passwords trying to get into Origin, and then going through the seemingly pointless “Release Date Check,” I was finally ready to install the game. As I said before, I’m normally on a wonderfully good internet connection, but it just happens that for the release day of the game, I was stuck in Loomis, CA with a terrible end of the line DSL connection. I obviously wasn’t expecting to play multiplayer, and I figured the servers would be blowing up anyway. I figured that since the game came on 2 DVDs that I would be able to install the game and try out the single player at least.

I was wrong.

I still have no idea why, but Origin decided it was necessary to download the game rather than install from the DVDs. Furthermore, it would not install without an active internet connection. Also strange is that half-way through the downloading process, it asked for the 2nd DVD, but stopped downloading until I put it in. Once I did, it started downloading again. I know that it was downloading because, well the client said so, also because it took several hours to “install/download” the game.

Even if you think that perhaps Origin downloaded while installing, here’s some evidence for you:

so...

 

It downloaded 15.4GB of data total. A quick look in the Origin Games directory shows:

Untitled

The game takes 11.3GB total. So the reason why the game came with 2 DVDs rather than a CD with an installer or simply just a download card is unclear. EA won’t even let you install the game offline, so what gives? I would even be understanding if it were downloading the latest version of the game client, but as soon as the 15.4GB download was completed (several hours on my connection, possibly longer for some but still at least a couple hours even on a good connection), there was a 500MB update to download still.

Update..

Yet another hour until I can play…

What is this? Facebook?

So, finally, after 8 full hours of downloading and installing, it’s finally done. I’ve been willing to forgive the baffling process of downloading a game that is supposedly on disc. Since it’s primarily an internet based game, maybe EA figured that people playing it would have great internet connections etc. So I went to try out the single player by opening up the shortcut installed on my desktop. Then Origin popped up, and then this popped up:

launch from web browser

My internet browser? I’d heard that the beta used the “Battlelog” web-based launch system but I was hoping it might be integrated into Origin. This system is simply atrocious. So instead of having their software people work on implimenting all this information into a UI within the game like normal games, Battlefield 3 has to have a web based game launching system which relies on flash add-ons for things as important as match-making, connecting to servers, and pretty much anything to do with getting the player to the game. Oh and by the way, Opera, my primary internet browser, isn’t supported by this game apparently.

To date the only way I’ve been able to play the game online is through the “Quick Match” feature. Custom matchmaking either takes too long, or the add-on is screwy, or something, but only the Quick Match works for me.

But another thing I noticed, which suddenly make the web based gaming make more sense, was how much this website looks like a Facebook game page. There are even EA specific advertisements all over it and a way to “update your status.” Every time you get an achievement, or unlock, it appears as a status update.

So not only is EA going after Steam, but they are also going after…Facebook? Or maybe they’re trying to bring Facebook people to BF3? Or what I imagine is that they are trying to bring a social aspect to BF3 and using a popular standard in social networking, Facebook, as a template for their “Battlelog.” It really is sickening and tasteless. The idea that the user has to open up Origin, then open up a web browser, then fight through the flash-based add-on and then finally does the game open up…that’s just rediculous. And will any serious gamer use anything like Facebook for a social medium? Heck no, they’d talk on headsets or use Ventrilo, or use IRC chat rooms or something like that. This whole venture seems pointless and annoying.

Oh yeah, there’s single player too…

By now it’s been well documented how much the single player campaign sucks. I’m convinced it’s because DICE tried too hard. They wanted to meet and beat Call of Duty, so what do they do? They take a Call of Duty style campaign and inject it into Battlefield. The game play and storyline are so linear it feels like a rail shooter.

All DICE had to do was continue the typical Battlefield style. Include the multiplayer maps in the single player with bots, so that the players can get practice before going into multiplayer. But no, DICE gave us a terrible storyline, a game that has nothing to do with the multiplayer, and a terribly inconvenient way to get to the single player campaign. But at least that’s a saving grace. If the single player were actually fun, maybe the web-interface would be even more annoying.

But my bitching about Origin and the Battlefield Facebook web page is a bit petty, I know. For all intents and purposes, DICE did actually do what they set out to do: create a great, fresh and challenging multiplayer experience. It’s just unfortunate that everything around that great experience is a pain in the butt.

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