Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Doing What's Right

One of the joy of playing FPS games is making progress, whether that's improving one's skill online or seeing your progression through ranks and achievements.  Several games offer a way of keeping track of one's progression while playing online against and with other people.  Perhaps the first official system in place that track people's performance was through DICE/EA's Battlefield 2 game.  Its system employs a closed method by which people can earn points through a variety of methods.  However, because the system is closed, the only way to host a server by which the information is then sent to the master stats server is to rent from a licensed provider.  This is sometimes an unnecessary expense for those who wish to play around with the server software and configuration.  As a way to protect the system itself, certain properties of the server software itself remains closed and inaccessible to the public.

Other games that employ a centralized database of players' performance statistics utilize the same concept of a closed system.  After all, why jeopardize the one feature that helps build the playerbase and keeps the players in?

In Call of Duty 4, all the numbers are stored locally on the player's hard drive.  This is the biggest and dumbest mistake Infinity Ward ever made when they developed the game.  Because of this, it opens up a way for people to modify one's profile to inflate their score and numbers in order to rise up in their ranks.  There is no way to officially check against this and there is no method to safeguard the profile's integrity when a system becomes corrupted or unstable.  If an error occurs, the profile is zeroed out and the numbers reset.  You start back from scratch and one needs to go through the process of earning your points all over again.  This is all because your profile is stored locally.  When the one file that houses it becomes corrupt, you lose whatever achievements and performance numbers you earned on it.

Of course, when the next game in the Call of Duty series arrived, named World at War, Treyarch, the developers behind the current game, decided to utilize the same engine that powered Call of Duty 4.  While this is fine for the most part, they did next to nothing to address many of the issues that plagued Call of Duty 4.  Again and like before, World at War stores your progressions and numbers locally on your hard drive.  However, instead of a utility that was able to modify the profile directly, there is a new method that enables people to rise up in ranks effortlessly without utilizing the player's true skill.

It was discovered that due to a loophole in the Quality Assurance (QA) process the server software did not lock out certain variables from being set.  This resulted in modifying the server's defaults on earning points to values much higher and beyond any reasonable limit.  This introduces a number of servers called "Power" servers.  These servers provide substantially more points than one get, which enables people to effortlessly rise in ranks.  Because of this, many of the players who sought to earn the highest level of Prestige (seen here) can get there faster than a person can earn the highest rank (Level 65: Commander) through normal means.

For the playerbase, this ought to be considered a serious issue that require immediate fixing and a prompt release.  However, the issue is lumped together with other issues and bugs that the developers themselves have set aside to deal with after the holidays.  In other words, an update may not be released until the start of the new year.  Well shit...

Screw the holidays.  I'd rather forsake the holiday vacation to address that issue as a top priority than to hand myself an early vacation so I don't have to worry about it.  What utter bullshit that was... but I digress.

Having experimented around in order to gather data and information, I found that it took me less than an hour to go from Level 1 to Level 65, regardless of which level of Prestige I am at.  It became clear that those with the 10th Prestige level got that using the aforementioned servers.  It then became clear that those who did got the 10th Prestige did not earn it at all but rather took a shortcut to get it.  It's pathetic that they would resort to using such a method just to get a fancier icon.  Yet for what?  To say "I'm higher rank than you?"  Or to get what benefits Prestige also bestows upon people -- additional custom class slots?  A random player innocently asks on what the point is in going Prestige.  As one who is honest in answering such questions, I gave the person 3 points on why:

  1. Boredom.  When you're bored, and you want to put all those extra points you earn to good use, then going Prestige will help in making sure that no earned points will go to waste.
  2. You have serious management issues.  By default and once you've unlocked them, you are given 5 custom class slots.  They are enough for you to utilize whatever weapon that you are comfortable with and there is room to set a class for a particular role, such as a power-sniper, a grunt, or anti-tank.
  3. No life.  Grinding away to get to the next Prestige level first is by no means an achievement.  It just shows you got no life in playing the game.  There are other things besides playing the game 24/7 and trying to become the best.  If you must become the best, then you're better off in trying to be a professional gamer instead.

I have no respect to those who took the shortcut to achieve such a rank.  Those who did it legitimately, I have nothing to say for.  If they have earned it through countless hours of playing on the server, day and night, night and day, then they earned it fair and square.  And for that, I have nothing to say against them.  It's by their choice to achieve this level of Prestige in such short time using legitimate means.  So there's nothing for me to argue against that for those who also have Prestige 10.  Yet when you are faced with those who potentially got far using a Power server, you are left to wonder if they suck or if they don't have the balls to do it the old fashioned way.

But why blabber on about this here?  It's because I've been to those servers before.  I've seen it.  I've played on it.  And I've gathered data on it.  But while I didn't completely blow my Prestige level over to the maximum possible, I only wish to see on how fast and how far.  After a few days of being Prestige 5, I have given this a second thought.  I could have gone all the way to get all the custom slots unlocked.  But where would the fun be in doing that without any effort?  Instead, I opted for doing the right thing instead.  I took my profile and wiped it.  No numbers remain and I start back from square one.  It's no easy decision, as I could easily have the upper advantage in being able to use whatever kit that is needed and appropriate for the given situation.  It means I lose all the numbers of kills I've had, the score, the deaths I've had, and my highest kill streak.  Everything would be wiped.  I would start back being an infantry all over again and earning everything all over again.

But what would I have to gain by doing that?  Easy.  There are times when I want to play just one more round just to get to the next level and potentially that next weapon unlock.  There are also times when I'd take the time to learn the weapons and find out its advantages and disadvantages.  The road is long and winding, yet the scenery along the way is nice.  The shortcut is plain, and nothing seems to be there.  I felt that by doing the right thing that I would redeem myself in making my profile truly prestigious.  By wiping my profile, I then set a goal: Prestige 5 or for however long my tolerance can take me.  Perhaps there is hope in really achieving that yet.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Living up to the name

Little by little I proliferate myself into a variety of places: this blog, in forums, at Guild Wars wiki, and in online gaming.  Since I do not strive to become the best, all I want to do is to see where I stand, how far I can go, and what my limits are.

In Battlefield 2, it got me as far enough to gather everything needed to have all the weapons to choose from.  In Battlefield 2142, it got me as far as your plain ol' Brigadier General, the final destination for everyone who gathers points via normal progression.  Some other games do not track a person's profile and progression for the world to see.  Sadly this is the case for both Call of Duty 4 and Call of Duty: World at War.  Both of these games have similar progression systems found in BF2 and 2142.  However, the numbers and data are all stored locally.  Due to this, it is easy for others to manipulate their numbers to gain the highest tiered rank possible for the game.  It's deplorable that some of these people would do this just to be on top of others... whereas there are many who are still struggling to get themselves up to the next rank/level.

There are times when the situation just turn out to be so good that hardly anything can go wrong.  As a player who has experiences in using tactics to one's advantage, I find myself having a blast without realizing just how high my score is compared to others.  And when the round is finally over, the game displays how much points I have gained as well as some other information.  The numbers I really wanted to see was how many points I scored before all the bonus and extras, how many kills I got, and how many times I've died.  A spread that large is not too surprising even for those with higher skill caliber than my own.  But I personally call it a good achievement given that I run recklessly around finding unsuspecting victims to shoot and slay.

I doubt I'll ever achieve something like this again.  I just do not have that kind of consistency nor am I all that motivated to maintain such a thing.  I guess for that one brief moment, I lived up to the namesake that I have chosen for my online identity.