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Black Ops: Silencing the Whiners, Boring Everyone Else
by Alexander Jhin on 11/10/10 05:14:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I devoured Modern Warfare 2 (MW2) competitive multiplayer, playing it for over 300 hours. But after playing Black Ops (BO) competitive multiplayer for just a couple of days, I simply don't feel like playing it anymore. It's almost as though Treyarch tried to remove all the "pain" from Call of Duty and in doing so simply created a numbing experience. Here's what I think MW2 did right and BO does so wrong:


1) CoD Points Homogenize Progression. In MW2, unlocking every attachment to every weapon required some strange gameplay choices as well as skill with undesirable weapons. Why would I put an ACOG on my light machine gun? Well, to unlock the thermal of course! Why would I want a thermal on an LMG? I wouldn't but it's fun to get anyway. BO robs this experience by homogenizing the entire skill economy around CoD Points (CP) and XP. You don't unlock equipment by demonstrating specific skills -- rather you gain generic CoD points and XP by simply playing the game. Arguably, you could unlock almost everything in the game using one weapon in one game mode. Sure, some of the killstreaks cost thousands of CP but it's nothing like trying to get sniper kills with a drifting ACOG sight in MW2. A good game incentivizes various styles of play and challenges players to do different things. BO's "one way to get everything" CP system fails miserably.

2) Perks No Longer Matter (Nor Do Attachments). In an effort to balance the gameplay, Treyarch weakened all of the perks. They stripped out perks that increase damage. They lessened the footstep sound effects, making Ninja almost useless. And who the hell uses Gas Mask or Flak Jacket? They introduced redudant attachments, such as reflex sight and red dot sight and extended mags and dual mags. They added completely cosmetic extras like custom red dots and gun graffiti. All this adds up to... a game that plays the same way every time. With MW2, Infinity Ward gave us Lego Blocks to build strange and wonderful vehicles. Treyarch gave us all the same match box car and some cosmetic stickers.

3) Killstreaks are Boring. In BO, killstreaks no longer stack (that is killstreaks don't lead to more killstreaks.) This means choosing good, deadly combinations of killstreaks no longer matters. But not only that, gaining killstreaks is homogeneous again -- the path to my next killstreak is shooting more people and high level killstreaks rarely happen. In MW2, getting high level killstreaks had a unique narrative: "Remember the time I called a Harrier which killed two people that got me a pavelow that got me a chopper gunner?" BO's narrative is always, "Then I shot two guys and got my next killstreak."

4) The Maps Lack Character. Each multiplayer map in MW2 had personality -- both visually and in terms of gameplay. There were "set pieces" everywhere, each of which had its own gameplay puzzle. What's the best way to assault the Fun House? Should I snipe on Wasteland or assault the tunnels? BO lacks this character. There are simply too many maze like maps, each with similar gameplay. In urban maps, there are simply too many non-descript rectangular rooms with four deadly corners and multiple entrances. Equally prevalent are too obvious sniper's nests, which are random raised platforms that don't make any logical architectural sense. There are too many short distance view lines and grids that allow for too much flanking and no choke points. This makes every map play similarly, with short and mid range automatic weapons ruling the day, every day, every where. Sniper rifles are nearly useless.

MW2 maps are like quirky friends who, once you know them, you can manipulate to your every whim. BO maps are like bland cocktail party strangers. You can carry a conversation about work and the weather but you won't want to talk with them again anytime soon.

In the end...

To please vocal fans, Treyarch tried to create a balanced game that focuses on one style of play. Instead, they created a homogenous, boring play experience. Sure, Modern Warfare 2 fans complained loudly and passionately about unbalanced noob tubes, the commando perk, overpowered killstreaks, silenced UMPs, shotguns and quick scoping sniper maniacs. MW2 was "unbalanced" in a dozen different ways that drove people passionately crazy. But people only complained because there were so many different ways to play, some of which ran counter to certain other styles of play.

Black Ops inspires neither the complaints nor the passion of Modern Warfare 2. Treyarch has quieted the whiners by providing only one way to play. But everyone knows, you don't steal the oil from the three silent wheels to quiet the squeaky one.

Postscript: Wager Matches

I should mention that wager matches are a delightful short term aside to the "standard" competitive multiplayer matches. Of course, wager matches side step a lot of the problems with standard competitive multiplayer progression: there are no killstreaks, everyone uses the same weapons and perks, everyone starts at the same level every match and CoD Points are simply currency for betting.  Of course, what you do with the currency, which is unlock new weapons and perks, is still not very interesting in the long term. And the maps are still boring. (Nuketown is the most amusing boring map as it plays up it's own artificial boringness. Call it a meta-concept map?)


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Comments


JB Vorderkunz
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I haven't played the game yet (next week) but on the face of your 'arguments' i have to say - QQ moar!



"But people only complained because there were so many different ways to play, some of which ran counter to certain other styles of play." huh?



MW2 doesn't have a bunch of ways to play, it has: n00bing, mando-ing, and camp sniping (admittedly a part of every shooter). People complained because the game was clearly tilted toward 1337holes who wanted a win button - "my buddy is care packaging glitching so i can run up killstreaks and pwn these non-glitchers AWESOME!!" The skill set required for MW2 is not tactical in the true sense of the word, rather it is "exploit the current glitch" - which is poor game design and poor support and the reason why the game had serious attrition after 6 months - whereas WaW maintained a large player base right up to the release of MW2...but it was IW that was soooo awesome, huh?



As for deriding the increased level of customizability as trivial - ever heard of Bartle's Player Types? I emphasize the plural on Types. If you think that MW2 was alz liek the bestest, you are likely in the minority in terms of player demographics and your "everyone else" is not really everyone else...

Alexander Jhin
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I agree the glitches were a problem, but those were bugs not design decisions. Black Ops also has glitches, including an infinite care package glitch: http://www.gametrailers.com/video/care-package-call-of/707268



As to Bartle's I would argue that MW2 satisfies more player types than BO. MW2 satisfies explorers, wide variety achievers and imposers. Explorers in exploring different weapon types and perk combinations and cool maps. Achievers in unlocking every weapon through different skills. And imposers, the 1337 do everything to win players that you mention. BO tends to satisfy the type of achiever who likes to excel in one thing, because the achievement tree is a single branch. It leaves out variety achievers. Explorers lose a bit in BO too because the perk combinations aren't as drastic and the maps are more boring. (Though if you look at BO as a whole, with Zombies, Zork, the top down arcade game, BO is pretty cool for explorers.) And imposers are also out in the cold because there are no longer "cheap" perk/weapon combos that can be "exploited" to cause other players distress.



I do agree that BO seems to be more of a skill based game -- there's a more clearly defined skill set you need to win. In that way, it reminds me of Quake or Unreal Tournament. Some players like that, but in some ways it makes it more 1337. Personally, I'm a variety achiever and an explorer so I like MW2 better.

JB Vorderkunz
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good points well made - i just didn't like being called a whiner :)

David Valepato
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Glad someone feels the same.

Christopher Wragg
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Hrm, I can see why you feel that way, but thoroughly reject your conclusions.



1) Allowing players to play they want to, rather than forcing them to not is a bad thing how? If people want to try silly combinations, the option is still available

2) As to redundancies, in MW2 who used the blast shield or hardline? I'll take perks that alter my playstyle over perks like commando and stopping power that break balance.

3)Ok, I miss stacking killstreaks, it was one of the things that made killstreaks meaningful. That said, now they're more of a bonus rather than a necessary leg up to the next killstreak, and besides, with less broken builds interupting killstreak chains with low skill kills (noobtubers/quickscopers and witches oh my) it becomes less necessary.

4) MW2 maps lacked "character" AND lacked "design", Of roughly 50% of the maps, more than 25-75% of their area was never used. Of the maps that had character...they were from CoD1, except maybe skidrow.



Your overarching conclusion seems to be "because players can now play the way they'd like to play, and because the game is less broken, MW2 is better". I'm sorry, but you sound like a chap who thinks of MW2 through a rose tinted quickscope.

Alexander Jhin
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I like "rose tinted quickscope." That's awesome.



MW2 and BO seem to satisfy two different audiences. Those who like wild variety and those who prefer a more skill based, balanced gameplay experience. The thing is, variety players tend to be a lot more quiet than skill players. Can you imagine someone posting on a forum, "I like the unbalanced killstreaks because they let me own when I get lucky and don't have enough skill to own otherwise?" Or, "I like running around and knifing people with commando. It's so much fun!" Few people will admit to using unconventional tactics because skill players will consider them cheap. Some people even complain if you use "drop shots" which are arguably a skill move!



So to me, BO is broken because there isn't enough variety. For others, BO is fixed because there's less variety. But, variety players are the quiet group and I just wanted to speak up for them.

Mark Harris
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Thankfully in Black Ops you can actually put a rose tint on your quickscope.

Matt Cascio
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I'll preface this by saying I have not logged any time in Black Ops yet. However I have logged 100s of hours in MW2. I have to say I was never very excited for Black Ops to begin with, but I can still comment on the design choices.



1) The COD Points - I think I might agree with you on this. I haven't played the game, but I think you make a good point, it allows you to level up and get everything with only one weapon/attachment/perk combo if you so pleased. However I think for the overall goal of the customization and progression in my mind, this was a necessary design decision for them.



2) I can't really comment on the perks, I haven't played Black Ops yet.



3) Killstreaks - Oh how I couldn't disagree more. This is one area of the COD series that keeps me away from it. I can't stand the killstreaks in general, however I accept that as part of the design. As part of that though, I think Treyarch has it right by having killstreaks not lead to more killstreaks. This created in MW2 a "rich get richer and poor get poorer" experience, and caused many people to "stack" killstreak in almost the same way (i.e. 5, 7, 11 anyone?....or for the more ambitious, 7, 9, 15?). Also the way some of the killstreaks were automated, and some were far too overpowered, it took all the skill out of getting kills. Countless times I'd watch even myself get a predator missile, then get the 7 killstreak (cant remember what it was), and then get the chopper gunner, all without pulling the trigger again after getting the predator. It was too many free kills. Also a sidenote, the Nuke being gone as I've heard, is the best decision. The Nuke killstreak simply encouraged camping, and the ending of an objective game mode being caused by a kill-based killstreak, is asinine, no matter how "challenging" or "epic" it is.



That's all I've got to say on the matter. What it seems like is you're upset that they fixed what was broken about MW2, and that just seems like an odd complaint to me. Well, time to get back to MW2...BAZINGA...just kidding, I'll be sticking with Halo Reach.

Joel McDonald
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I think you'll find in time that perks like Flak Jacket and Gas Mask (especially the Pro versions) are extremely useful, possibly even OP.

Alexander Jhin
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Thank you for the heads up! Scavenger Pro + Tactical Mask Pro is a very powerful combination. I guess the thing about BO perks is that they're less about helping to directly kill people as they are about offering peripheral advantages. I agree there are some cool combinations in BO but they're a little more subtle and don't fundamentally change the way you kill people the way commando, sleight of hand, danger close, stopping power, etc work in MW2. Whether that's a good thing or not, depends on your taste I suppose.

Joshua Sterns
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About two days on one game and 300 hours on the other. Are you even giving Black Ops a fighting chance? Seems to me you are out of your comfort zone. Perhaps the war is too cold for you-ha ha!



If the changes actually balance the game, then this is a good thing. I enjoyed MW2, but felt like each patch released a new OP weapon. I never seemed to use different guns outside the RPD, P90, M16, and Striker (after the nerf to the 1887 duel shottys). I almost always used Marathon, Deep Impact or Cold Blood, and Commando. Killstreaks, as someone mentioned, resulted in a lopsided scores and killed objective game types.



Change is good.

Alexander Jhin
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Yes, I agree I need to give BO more of a chance. I hit the iron while it was a little too hot. However, I was addressing the fundamental design decisions which the Treyarch stated in interviews and are immediately upfront in everything from the menu design to gameplay.



Ok, I'll come out and say it: I like seemingly overpowered weapons and combos. It makes the game more fun for me -- I like trying to find "unbalanced" combos. I like ridiculous killstreaks like Pred, Harrier, Chopper Gunner. But when people are mad that there are four or five overpowered combos, are they really all overpowered?



Though I may complain when someone knifes me with commando, I can also go play with commando and have some fun. If I want a pure skill shooter without the wild variety of perks and killstreaks, I'll just play barebones or play Arma or UT.



I guess from all the responses I'm realizing I'm in the minority. I like wild variety and creativity more than skill based games. I guess I should just go play Minecraft or Magic the Gathering. =)

Bisse Mayrakoira
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Those things aren't mutually exclusive. Marvel vs Capcom 2 has wild variety and withstands high-level play. Same goes for Magic: the Gathering, which makes me curious why you would cite it in this context.



When you play opponents bad enough, most tactics can be at least somewhat successful, which makes it feel as if there's room for creativity. If the game is random and unfair enough, good players will leave, or only play under specific rules which cut out the bad stuff. Bad players will be left. Ergo, randomness and unfairness promote fake creativity. I have a feeling that is what goes on in the COD series.

Jason Wilson
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There were plenty of things a bit broken in MW2, outside of unintentional glitch exploits. (No doubt BO's problems will surface in time.) MW2 was enjoyable for a time, but I find myself playing MP in the series less & less with each iteration. I maxed out but chose not to prestige in MW, playing long enough to have maxed out at least once more; never maxed out in WaW and I believe I played MW2 even less.



What I find personally find appalling, is the inclusion of auto-aim, aim-assist or sticky aim (whatever you want to call it) in a multiplayer FPS (console or otherwise). Traditionally, I disable aim-assist in all FPS immediately, whether I'm playing SP or MP. I find average success in MP and prefer to aim for myself.



The last two nights, I was being sighted and killed way too quickly, IMO, for it to be a skill difference -- so I broke down and enabled auto-aim...that explained a LOT. The difference between having the feature disabled vs. enabled felt more pronounced than ever.



I understand that the developers feel the need to compensate for the loss of precision that comes with analog sticks (vs. a mouse)...or the unnatural effects on enemy movement/animation due to lag...or the desire to dumb a game down to meet the lowest common denominator. However, as frustrating as it is to get instantly sighted and killed by opponents using auto-aim, it didn't feel too satisfying to win exchanges with it enabled.

Matthew Mouras
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I'm enjoying Black Ops so far. I'm a solid FPS player, but I probably haven't logged more than 150 hours into the entire Call of Duty series. The changes in Black Ops appeal to me. I've run into less squaky, incessantly offensive heels on BO than I have in MW2. I would have to agree with Christian above, Bad Company 2 strikes the best balance of any 360 shooter at the moment.



Some of the true hardcore liken MW2 to the days of Quake and all the fun exploits in that game, but I just don't see it. Whether it's the gameplay or community, it comes off as more mean-spirited and less fun to me. Black Ops does feel a little more inviting and fun (so far) - I like that.

Mark Harris
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For me it breaks down like this:



If I'm going to lose, I'd rather lose because the other guy is better than me than because the game is unbalanced. Sooooooo, I'm enjoying Black Ops more than MW2. It's more fun for me.


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