Thoughts on the Titanfall 2 Pre-Alpha Test, and What’s Next

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Hey Readers!  Garrett here with another video game article.  Today’s topic is the upcoming Titanfall 2.  Respawn Entertainment opened up a “pre-alpha tech test” for players to help make sure the game runs without a hitch.  I’m going to discuss some of the things I saw, and what I am expecting from the finished game when it comes to consoles in late October.  So, let’s jump right in!

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Game Modes

The first Titanfall was a very fast paced game.  The parkour abilities granted to each pilot made zipping around the map fairly exhausting.  You almost needed twitch-like reflexes in order to do well in game.  To help counteract this however, the developers decided to cut down the number of players in each game and include AI enemies that were a little easier to kill.  This type of mechanic has returned, and the pace of the game has been slowed down.  Some of the enemies are tougher, like the Reaper mechs which have higher defense but less health than a full sized Titan.  In my opinion, this allows for more tactical thinking, where a player can somewhat analyze their environment when they spawn before making a move.  I rarely encountered spawn camping, and this was largely because of how the maps were designed.  The action was kept localized to certain areas, giving players the chance to get back in and not feel surrounded.  The game is still faster than even Call of Duty, which is kind of what separates it from others in its class, but it feels more manageable than the original Titanfall.

Respawn wasted no time allowing players to try out three new game modes for the sequel.  For these game modes you get to decide your faction, one of the two mercenary corporations in the game.  In Bounty Hunt, players fight off waves of different enemies to earn money, which has to be deposited back at two banks scattered around the map.  The AI-controlled IMC troops (Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation, for those not familiar with the lore of the game), earn a fair amount of money, but players can also steal other pilots’ money they earned by killing enemy players.  This was a very exciting game mode, since sometimes the focus was drawn away from fighting the other team and it became a balancing act of deciding who to fight.  In some waves, full-on Titans were dropped and had to be eliminated by the players, which made for some tough bullet hosing and clever teamwork.  To me, this was the most fun game mode to play during this pre-alpha.

One of the other modes they added was Pilots vs. Pilots.  This mode is very traditional FPS type team deathmatch.  There are no Titans to help you out, so the 6 versus 6 felt much like other shooters.  I played it only briefly, simply because it wasn’t anything special.  Parkour-ing in FPS games is commonplace now with Call of Duty doing a futuristic Sci-Fi theme for the last 3 or 4 games, so while I am sure it will be a nice stepping stone for those looking to understand how Titanfall gameplay works, I’ll be playing the other game modes.  In my opinion, the other game modes have a much greater identity to them though.

Lastly, we have Amped Hardpoint, a sort of king of the hill type game where players look to take control of 3 different points around the map.  These locations can be “amped”, which gives you double the points, but makes it easier for points to be recaptured by the enemy.  You simply continue to sit on the point to fully amp it.  This game mode was a bit different, but it is still king of the hill at its core.  Earning double points does make each round go faster, especially if you control the majority, but for the most part it wasn’t too special to play.

Overall though, these new game modes make me interested in the game for sure.  I am normally a single player guy; and I don’t mind giving up multiplayer for a good single player experience.  That said, I had a good time playing these new modes and for having played hours of Rainbow Six: Siege for the past 8 months, it was easy to pick up and start doing well in matches.  The first few will be kind of rough, but I think quickly you will find your groove and make contributions to the team effort.  I think this largely has to do with the relative familiarity of the game modes, so it shouldn’t be too intimidating to new players who never played the first game.

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Gameplay – Balance of Power and Mobility

It’s pretty obvious that the Titans are one of the things that set the game apart from others, even in the Mech shooter class.  Respawn did have to release a patch partway into the pre-alpha in order to allow players to get Titans, since the frequency was cut down pretty steeply.  After this minor fix, the game became a whole lot more fun.

Titanfall I think does a good job balancing out the firepower and mobility issue when you pit normal sized people against the towering mech suits.  Pilots have all of the parkour abilities, and are able to swiftly make it difficult to be taken out by one of the lumbering behemoths, and Titans have raw power and high defense.  If your team is coordinated enough, a Titan really isn’t much trouble.  The new pilot abilities make facing off against the armored hulks better to deal with, especially the grappling hook.  If you are in a Titan against a poorly unified or scattered group though, you can certainly lay waste to them under your cold steel toes.

According to Respawn, they are bringing in all new Titans for the sequel.  The pre-alpha showcased two, Scorch and Ion.  Scorch is a moderately heavy Titan, focusing on a more defensive style of play.  Its weapons rely on fire (hence the name).  I found that Scorch was tough to beat unless your team all focused on it.  Its handheld weapon is a single shot Thermite launcher, which was kind of tough for me to use.  I had a hard time really hitting anything with it unless I had time to place my shot.  Most of this Titan’s abilities focused on using fire to cause continuous damage, with it being able to drop a fuel explosive which had to be ignited to burn, and a massive fist smashing fire wave which made grouped up enemies into bacon.

The other Titan, Ion, is focused on laser weapons.  The Splitter rifle is an energy weapon that needs to be have a battery like piece replaced as part of the reload, and the Titan features laser trip mines for area denial, as well as a very powerful central laser for its special ability.  This “Laser Core” as it is called felt like I had activated a doomsday device, slicing through groups of enemies and causing a piercing red light to fill the map.  It wasn’t overpowered since it took time to cause serious damage to Titans and required powering up through points earning, but it certainly was making some folks crap their pants.

The last thing I want to talk about with the gameplay is the fluidity.  Titanfall makes it a point to show how each motion feeds into the next.  The slower pace of the game means players can really appreciate these tie-ins.  That said, I didn’t think it was 100% perfect, since embarking into your Titan’s cockpit sometimes looked choppy (with the player re-positioning for the third person cut scenes), but overall you could feel each move play into the next.

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What to Expect Next

I was actually very excited to hear that Titanfall 2 was going to have a single player.  Respawn Entertainment has also stated that it won’t be all combat.  There will be puzzles that require the use of the Titan and parkour movements to solve, in addition to a “not-grindy” level system similar to the most recent Wolfenstein and Doom games.  Hopefully this means it can open up tons of ways to play each level.  The game is going to focus on the relationship of Pilots and their Titans, which is not a new idea to showcase a human-AI interaction, but if the trailers are any indication the game will hopefully be full of good and sombering moments.  I am excited to play this game, but then again I’m a huge nerd for all things mecha, so who’s surprised?

How can I be so optimistic when the first game is generally considered a flop?  I think what happened is the first game was good fun (at least I thought it was), but didn’t have good staying power since it was multiplayer only and had a nonsensical attempt to build lore into the multiplayer.  This time around, they are really expanding the universe and opening up the lore for players to discover.  They aren’t really recycling much from the last game, other than the setting and core gameplay, so it will be a whole new experience.

This coming weekend, August 26th through the 28th, is going to be another test for the game and we will see what kinds of changes get made.  If you have the chance to play it, I suggest you try it out.  I’m having a good time for sure, and it has strengthened my excitement for the October 28th release.

– Garrett

Thoughts on the Yankee Hill Machine Keymod QD Mount

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I needed a QD sling mount for my KMR rail, so off to the market I went.  There is a sea of options, but I was on a budget and this was on a rifle that tempts me to measure it in grams instead of ounces, so it had to be light, cheap, and I was hoping for Made in the USA.  This is when I encountered the Yankee Hill Machine QD mount, and I decided to give it a go.

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Most Keymod QD sling mounts use 2 Keymod slots to fit in, but the YHM only uses one.  I snagged it for under $15 shipped, so thus far it’s winning all the way round.

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When they built this thing, they aimed to make it light.  The entire thing only weighs 5 grams.  As an added bonus, it also comes to your door with the tool you need to mount it.

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YHM doesn’t list the metal it’s made out of or its coating, but judging from the weight and markings along the inside I would say it is aluminum, and the finish is phosphate or maybe even something cheaper.  Thus far though, it’s held up well and hasn’t given me any problems.  It easily supports the weight of the rifle, and the QD seats solidly enough that I can’t yank it out.

If you are in need of a cheap American made QD mount that is light weight, this is an easy choice.  It’s not the best made QD I have ever seen, but I feel more than comfortable using it to support a very pricy AR with no fear it will release the QD or remove itself from the Keymod.  I’d recommend it as a solid buy for the weight-conscious on a budget.

-Kyle

Why You Shouldn’t Overlook the Black Scorpion IPSC & USPSA Pro Belt For Airsoft

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I recently found myself looking at IPSC/3 Gun style belts as a new gun belt solution for my airsoft needs.  After exploring several other options, ranging from as cheap as the Big Dragon airsoft belt which you can find on Ehobby Asia, and as expensive as Double Alpha or Super Ghost, I went with Black Scorpion for a few reasons.  They had a lot of color choices available, I like supporting smaller companies, and lastly their prices were very reasonable for what you get.  I spent about $50 total, including shipping, while Double Alpha for example is $55 base (depending on size, color, and where you buy it) and that does not include shipping.  They also only offer 4 color options, those being blue, red, grey, and black.  So of course I had to hit up Black Scorpion to grab this excellent purple!

When you receive your Black Scorpion belt, you get the inner belt, outer belt, and the securing loop with the PVC Black Scorpion logo.  The belt is very rigid, and can definitely handle anything you throw at it.  The inner belt is also very rigid, which I guess can be a pain when putting your pants away, but it just adds another layer of security in use.

In the month I have had this belt, I have found you can use the belt in two configurations.  Either you can loop the inner belt in your preferred pants or shorts and run it as intended as shown in this image:

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Or if you are like me and like wearing basketball shorts that are not as hot, especially during the latest heat wave, you can run the outer belt independently just over your shorts like so:

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These shorts act like loop velcro gripping to the hook velcro inside the outer belt, holding it secure to your body so it doesn’t ride up or shift around when contorting your body in strenuous movements.  Results may vary depending on your choice in shorts brand and material.  These are All Star shorts (in case you were wondering) and they work great.

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Securing pouches and other gear to the belt can be a bit tricky.  MOLLE systems will not work a great, but can be made to work.  Pouches that have 2″ velcro loops or IPSC/ 3 gun pouches that are intended for this type of belt work much better.  Here I have chosen High Speed Gear belt-mounted Tacos, an HSGI belt-mounted  Mag-Net dump pouch, and a JR Micro speed holster.  These pouches attached easily and work great.

In conclusion, I’ve greatly enjoyed running this belt.  It’s well made and holds everything I need in place perfectly.  If you are looking for a great IPSC/ 3 Gun belt, or just a great belt for BB warz and want to stick out from the crowd make sure you check out Black Scorpion for their belt, and their other great products.

Hope you enjoyed!

-Andre

No Man’s Sky: Initial Impressions

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This game is perhaps the most pure concept of an open world style game we could have possibly asked for.  I may be mistaken, but I believe this is the biggest in-game world probably by 100 fold as well.  This generated tons of hype, followed by a leaked copy of a pre day-1-patch game going on Reddit which turned down the hype train a bit, but also confirmed it is as wide a universe as people claim.  The game is out for the masses now though, day-1-patch and all, so now that it’s here, what can we say about it?

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I started the game with a busted ship on an ice planet.  Said busted ship is in need of repairs to become operational so you can leave, and also so you don’t freeze to death or run out of life support.  When this first kicked off, I imagined this was basically going to be a quick little tutorial, and then off to the massive regions of space.  I was wrong; it was actually a straight drop into the game with no explicit instructions on how to do anything.  The game wants you to figure it out while not freezing, running out of life support, health, etc. and figure out to how to get all the supplies efficiently off the surface so you can get off this cold abomination of a world.  In reality, all I was missing was a soccer ball named Wilson to coach me through the hard times.  That said, it’s not horrifically hard to figure everything out and I did manage to get things figured out and repaired before reaching frustration.

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Upon taking to the skies, I left that planet and made my way over to a nearby space station.  On my way, I did not see a single other vessel in the great expanse.  I also found out the game has a strange mechanic.  If you use the boost mode, your screen seems to fill with random rocks you pass by which are usually filled with Thalium 9 for your pulse jets that make interplanetary travel take only a few minutes vs. a half hour or hour between worlds.  I personally feel this is an easy mode for poor-planning space adventurers so they don’t end up stuck out in the middle of space dying or stuck with a long commute.  I wish they would have left that feature out to make people actually think about how much fuel their ride has in it, but it’s not a deal breaker and I can see how it would be useful.

Oh, that giant space station?  It had a single alien on it, and I tried to talk to it only to learn about another feature of No Man’s Sky… You need to learn the language of the four major species.  He said something to me, and then he didn’t like the answer I chose.  About 4 hours in, I am up to 35 words now so I usually get one word out of a sentence these days, which still doesn’t help much.  It leaves me with a strange riddle the game summarizes for me, and trying to learn a new language.  The language they use isn’t just garbled though, and they do have assigned words, so it’s possible someone could make some kind of a translator if they felt dedicated enough, or you can begin to learn words in context with the summaries.

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After my space station run, I went about visiting the rest of the planets in the system, collecting resources, discovering things, learning words, finding strange creatures, and eventually running into space pirates who promptly beat my face in.  Good times overall, minus the hole where my face used to be.

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Eventually I got enough resources to build and fuel some hyperdrive plans I acquired, and it was off to the next system!  I had endless options, or so I thought, until I realized that my 20% fuel gave me a total range of about 100 light years which actually gave me about 15 options.  I could follow the path the Atlas (a strange orb that asks for your allegiance near the beginning of the game) had laid out for me as what I presume is the most efficient way to the center of the galaxy, but then I had another idea.  I could track down my Gun Gamers brethren and we could blaze a path across the stars together, naming every planet Nuptup (watch ProJared’s Fire Red Nuzlocke) and making immature jokes the whole way.  It seemed like a great idea, but there is one major problem.  I couldn’t find any of the sectors any of them were currently placed in.  If you want to meet up with your friends, it will probably be at the endgame when you blaze your way to center of the galaxy, which is a bit disappointing, and that’s if you even can see your friends when you’re in the same place.  What I feel this game is really missing is an easy to use interactive map of the galaxy which allows you to search up discovered sectors, or even planets, and plot your way to them.  Basically I want No Man’s Sky to have MapQuest to better roam the stars with friends or just to wander to strange spots in the universe.  I’d also love the ability to meet up with friends, but Hello Games seems to be a bit unclear on if that will materialize.

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If you are looking for stunning scenes of alien worlds in this game, you will be impressed by what you will find.  Despite occasional glitches, clipping, and floating objects, the procedurally generated worlds, flora, and fauna are generally impressive to behold and interesting to discover.  If you are looking for good graphics though, you will be disappointed.  Everything in this game looks great at a distance, but if you get up close you will find yourself staring down early to mid-level last gen console graphics.  The trade off to this is endless worlds with no load screens, but you will always catch rendering while cruising a planet in your spaceship.  That said, the impressive draw distance and artistic design mean I have no qualms, but a graphics whore may find themselves staring down 18 quintillion giant nightmares of technical infidelity.

Although this is technically a multiplayer game due to the shared universe, it’s really a single player game in practice.  The game is not overly challenging, but you are also not immortal.  I have found nothing I could spoil even if I wanted to about the game, and anything I can tell you will only help you learn how to play the game better.  It’s an endless sandbox where you will see things no one has ever seen before, hell not even the devs have seen more than a fraction of the universe.  Those same things are also things that no other person will probably ever see again.  With 18 quintillion worlds, not even the entire human race could process every sight to behold that this game offers within the lifetime of our children’s children.  That makes this game both really exciting, and almost sad in a strange way to know that so much will forever go unknown.  For now though, Gun Gamers is having a good time blazing a path across the stars and naming things ridiculous names, because no one is going to call it Sir David Attenborough when they give us the keyboard.

-Kyle

Should MilSim Events Use Real Capacity Magazines?

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Recently, American MilSim posted a question on their Facebook page, asking players what they thought of using real capacity magazines for MilSim.  Of course there were various answers to this with various reasons, and I understand and respect the desire of players to use whatever magazine they feel is most appropriate for their games (provided it is within the confines of the rules of course).  I also certainly won’t sit here and argue that any game provider shouldn’t require whatever magazine creates the best experience for their players, but I do wish to analyze and discuss the reasons we use certain magazines, and how different restrictions affect gameplay.  I think there are more factors that help determine the ideal magazine than may be expected.  Concerns pertaining to game design, airsoft technology, and player experience all factor into the ideal choice of magazine.

There is no doubt right now that the most popular magazines on the MilSim market are non-winding mid-capacity magazines that hold anywhere from 60-200 rounds.  While this is not a realistic magazine capacity for most weapons platforms (with the exception of support weapons, though these usually carry anywhere from 1,000-5,000 rounds in airsoft form), this has been traditionally deemed “close enough” for much of airsoft’s history.  Why is that?  Well, one obvious factor is that you do have to reload by physically swapping magazines in a realistic manner more frequently than with high capacity magazines, and the magazines do not utilize a winding mechanism that adds an unrealistic function in order to carry even more ammo per magazine.  Of course, reloading is still much more infrequent than with 30 round magazines, and players are able to carry much more ammo in relatively few magazines, meaning that each player is capable of a far greater volume of fire from just a couple mid-capacity magazines than another player may be with a full loadout of real capacity magazines.  So why is this “close enough?”  The harsh reality is, as much as we love realism, airsoft needs to be fun, and airsoft guns are largely incapable of effectively utilizing such limited ammo in a manner that is fun to play.

Think about it, a real M4 pattern rifle is capable of accurately engaging targets out to 500 yards or more, while the majority of airsoft guns have difficulty engaging targets to 50 yards out of the box, and even the most accurate of airsoft guns rarely exceed 70 yards effectively.  Combine these paltry effective ranges with significantly slower moving, lighter weight, less aerodynamic projectiles and you have a ballistic nightmare.  Simply put, airsoft guns have a harder time hitting human targets at shorter ranges, especially moving targets.  As a result, more ammo becomes necessary to compensate for relatively poor accuracy at longer ranges.  While you should have no trouble hitting a man sized target with a single shot on a windy day at 50 yards with a real M4, that same shot with an airsoft M4 may take a few rounds to connect with a stationary target, and many more for a moving target since BBs are so easy to dodge.  Thinking about it practically, it would get very frustrating very quickly to dump an entire 30 round magazine at a target that, according to your aim, you should be hitting, but your gun just isn’t capable of getting the rounds there accurately or quickly enough to connect.  You’d end up wasting entire magazines just to eliminate one target at range.  This is why mid-caps are generally the popular magazine for popular MilSim games, because more shooting has to make up for less range.

However, there are ways to make real-cap magazines more fun to play with.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask any gas blowback user.  The added recoil and sound of a gas blowback gun makes for a different shooting experience from your typical AEG, which in turn makes shooting more challenging and more fun.  The added challenge of recoil (as relatively slight as it is) and restricted magazine capacity makes for a different style of play, one that emphasizes picking shots carefully and maneuvering into the best possible firing position before throwing rounds down range.  While these should be considerations of any MilSim player, they’re far more greatly emphasized when your ammo is restricted in addition to your range.  While other players may become frustrated by such poor returns for ammo used compared to kills earned, GBBR users are willing to trade raw performance for the tactical thinking and realistic shooting experience that gas rifles offer.  It’s an alternative type of fun to the raw shooting oriented conventions of most airsoft, where performance matters less than immersion.  That’s not to say gas rifles and other guns using realistic magazines aren’t performers, but there’s no denying that a gas rifle that can effectively utilize a 30 round magazine would even more effectively utilize a 130 round magazine!

This brings us to the question of how to achieve this type of fun in our game design, and create a MilSim event where 30 round magazines and severely limited ammo aren’t just another restriction lumped onto players, but actually an integral part of the experience.  To start, everyone would need to be on the same playing field.  Even if it wasn’t a gas blowback only game (much like GBB Central is running soon in Texas) every player would need to use physically limited 30 round magazines, and a rate of fire limit would have to be enforced to keep the volume of fire each weapon is capable of more realistic.  SAWs and automatic weapons would need to be similarly restricted as well, since it wouldn’t make much sense to have a 5,000 round box mag on an M249 when everyone else is using 30 round magazines.  I’m not certain how SAWs could be restricted to 100-200 rounds, as most box mags won’t even reliably feed those, but a method would need to be enforced.  Managing ammunition could also be a more integral part of the experience if ammunition wasn’t just limited with loading restrictions, but also by supply chain concerns.  MilSim West has already dabbled in this arena (albeit without as severe a magazine restriction as we’re discussing) by restricting the amount of ammunition issued to players and creating the need to use a supply chain to acquire more.  This encourages greater team cohesion since the chain of command is also in charge of your supplies, which furthers the role play and immersion.

If you can’t tell already, I think a big part of the experience for a game like this would be an emphasis on role play and team tactics rather than constant action.  A well-established chain of command, evolving and open ended objectives, and enough time and incentive to allow the scenario to evolve into a large scale chess game rather than a series of loosely organized skirmishes would be crucial to creating the type of MilSim environment where such severe ammo restrictions would be fun to play with.  The presence of civilian role players, or a volatile populace would also help create shoot/no shoot situations where ammo restrictions would be a further consideration on top of the ramifications for the scenario.  This wouldn’t be your typical 2-3 hour rotation game, this would likely need at least 4-6 hours per rotation to evolve, or ideally to run continuously without break (again, MilSim West style).  The game would be slow, and likely very boring to traditional airsoft action junkies, but if designed properly and run with players who are looking to role play at least as much as they are to shoot, I think it could be an awesome time.

So, to answer my title question: Should real capacity magazines be used for MilSim?  My answer is yes, but not within the context of most current popular MilSim events.  Just dropping a 30 round mag limit on action heavy games would be create too much hindrance due to the performance issues of airsoft, and players looking more for organized direct action than role play would end up frustrated.  The event should be designed from the ground up not to treat the realistic ammo restrictions like a restriction to be worked around, but as an integral part of a realistic experience where ammunition management, chain of command, supply, and risk management are all heightened factors compared to most direct action types of games.  I think it can be done, and with the advent of better and better systems that help make the limited shooting experience more fun, such as GBBRs and ERGs, the timing has never been more perfect.  As I said earlier, GBB Central is running an event in Texas soon that will be gas guns only, and thus effectively real-caps only, so I hope to see some glimmers of the potential I’ve outlined in this article on display there from afar, as sadly I will not be able to attend.  Hopefully it starts a wave though, and events like this will be coming your way soon.

-E House

8/10/2016 Editor’s Note:

Wow this article is getting shared around a lot!  Just to make sure I’m clear, I’m not advocating the elimination of traditional MilSim and mid caps, or attempting to demean or insult anyone’s preferences.  If anything, I think I explain pretty well why mid caps are better for most games.  I’m simply exploring ways that we can expand the scope of the traditional airsoft market, and the ways that real capacity magazines would need to rely on altered game design to be fun.  I think all of this is pretty clear if you read the article all the way through instead of just reading the title and making assumptions.  So if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! – E House