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July 7, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»metroid_hunters

I'm Done

...with Metroid Hunters online. I might log back on for the ongoing tournament, but the game's frankly broken. I'm tired of playing only against Sylux because people use him to grab the deathalt first, or stay in his alt form the entire time. I'm tired of playing Combat Hall, where people exploit map glitches to snipe at me from the other side of the walls. And I'm sick of losing ranking points because people simply disconnect when I manage to get ahead.

The number of bugs left in the game code is pretty remarkable, honestly. Besides the map problems and the holes in the scripting system, there's also an error that lets Noxus use his freeze special from halfway across the map. It's just lazy programming, and it's a little unbelievable that they really thought they could put something with so many problems out on the Internet, drop it into a seething community of kids with too much time, and expect that it would remain playable.

Out of twenty or thirty matches tonight, probably half of them simply disconnected when they weren't winning. Most of the rest were breaking the game one way or the other--or they disconnected after using exploits because it became clear that (apart from the cheats) they weren't any good.

A lot of people are probably familiar with the David Sirlin "scrubs" article, which argues that there are no cheap ways to play a videogame, and you should do whatever it takes to win. According to that philosophy, the kids who are ruining my Metroid experience are just better than I am, and I should just suck it up. Hey, more power to people who feel that way. I can sympathize--I'm not that good. But let's be clear: I'm a working professional who holds down a second writing job. I have a life and a couple of crazy hobbies. I really don't have time to learn the countermoves to each of these exploits--and I don't really think I should have to. I just want to enjoy playing the game. Right now that's not possible.

Nintendo's got a pretty crappy track record with this so far. Mario Kart turned into a Snaking competition after only a month. Metroid managed to make it three months. In both cases, they don't seem to have tested their product enough, and they didn't build the architecture necessary to keep them moderated. For most companies, that wouldn't matter. But if Nintendo is serious about being the company that brings in new people to gaming, they can't let this keep happening to their online offerings. Because I guarantee you, as little tolerance as I have for people being jerks online, the average casual gamer is a lot less willing to deal.

So I'm done. Anyone who wants to meet up for a friends match online, I'd love to hear about it. But I'm not going to frustrate myself playing random matches anymore. I've got better things to do.

June 9, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»homebrew

D(rum) S(equencer)

Last night I finally got around to installing homebrew support on my old DS. Now I've got the DS Lite as a game machine, and the original DS as a music sequencer using NitroTracker. I'm loading files from the GBA Media Player (Lik-Sang), which uses cheap compact flash and is itself pretty inexpensive. A lot of homebrew supports access to the FAT32 on the GBAMP, so that's a gig of space on my DS for samples and songs if I wanted.

Here's the process I used to get everything up and running:

  1. Reflashed the firmware on the GBAMP to support homebrew (both .gba and .nds) using this firmware hack.
  2. Installed WiFiMe drivers on my laptop. WiFiMe is basically a PassMe device delivered over 802.11 to the DS, and it tells the handheld to load DS code from the GBA slot. You have to have a special chipset for the driver to work--I picked one up cheap from NewEgg about a year ago, and set up my laptop to use the hacked drivers (which can't use any of the normal networking functions) only when it's in the second PCMCIA slot. In the first slot, it's a regular network card. You can also use the drivers to capture and trade the downloadable demos, like having your own store kiosk.
  3. Using WiFiMe, I booted FlashMe, upgrading the DS firmware to run unsigned code from the GBA slot automatically. Once that's done, the DS will run homebrew on its own, without having to keep a PassMe plugged in or the laptop handy. It's not entirely clear to what extent this interferes with online games--and you can't install it using the 802.11 method on newer models, because Nintendo updated the firmware to stop WiFiMe. These are good reasons to find an old model to use for your homebrew. If you decide to try it on the newer firmware versions anyway, you'll have to buy a PassMe2 to get around Nintedo's changes, and it complicates the process quite a bit.
  4. Finally, installed the Mighty Max bootloader on the flash card, along with Nitrotracker, DSLinux, and a bunch of other toys. The bootloader brings up a menu for browsing through different programs--without it, the GBAMP can only run the file currently named _BOOT_MP.NDS.

If you try to do this with a DS Lite, you have to be careful, because it's much easier to touch the wrong contact during the flash upgrade and brick the whole machine. But on the other hand, at least you're not masochistically struggling against Sony the whole time, as with PSP homebrew. Nintendo seems to have taken steps to prevent this, but it looks like a half-hearted effort at best.

May 7, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»metroid_hunters

Say My Name

Every now and then I reluctantly dip a toe into the GameFAQs Message Board for Metroid Hunters. I say reluctantly because it's a seething hive of vicious junior high students in there, and the air is thick with ignorance and bile. But I persist because I am the only one who cares about you. And that's why I can mention this little tidbit: over the weekend, the kids figured out a glitch in the nickname code. Using the % character, followed by random characters, produces random strings of code with the possibility of crashing and corrupting not only your game, but likewise anyone who connects to you and sees the nickname. The message board monsters were mystified. Having a bit more background in coding, it sounds like a kind of memory leak to me, where using % is somehow directing a pointer to another place in the ROM. I'm guessing this because people not only get random gibberish, but also strings from the game like "Alt Form: Halfturret."

It's a Bad Thing, and Nintendo almost immediately fixed it by banning anyone from logging on if their nickname contains the bug-inducing character. So you are safe for now. Regardless, I don't want to fear-monger, but let's point out once again that the Internet is a wild place, and increasingly consoles are connected to it. It's not like games self-select for a mature and considerate population.

April 25, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»metroid_hunters

Hunter/Hunted

So there's this Spring Tournament of Bloggers thing, where a bunch of people (read: 6) will compete over the Internets in Metroid Prime: Hunters. And I'm signed up.

Granted, I can only see statistics for Brin and Seth, but it looks like I've easily got the most online experience of the group. I hope to parlay this into THE CRUSHING DEFEAT OF MY OPPONENTS. With that said, I'm not above jotting down a few observations that might help even the playing field.

  • Keep your options open: Every hunter has an affinity weapon, which gets special abilities and availability. Learning to exploit the affinity is important, especially since you'll be carrying it a lot. But note that at least half of my kills come from non-affinity sources. If you only learn to use that one weapon, you'll create a psychological barrier to the others, and then you'll be cornered by someone who can control the map better than you can. Also, just because it's your affinity doesn't mean it's perfect for all situations.
  • Deathalt: The deathalt is an item that locks you into the alternate form, but grants one-hit kills. It is obscenely overpowered. If you play on Ice Hive or Headshot, be prepared to race for this item, or to defend against faster players. Luckily for the tournament, in 2-player games it only spawns once or twice, and so it hopefully won't unbalance matches too much.
  • Ice Hive bites: That reminds me: because of the deathalt and the ridiculous spawn design for Ice Hive (i.e., all four are located right next to each other), it is the worst map ever. No fun to play. Please don't pick it.
  • Alt game: Alt abuse is one of those strategies that seems like a good idea at the time. In the lower levels of play, I've seen a lot of Kanden and Trace reliance, and the former is especially annoying. But strategies evolve pretty quickly to counter them, and it's hard to control the map as easily in an alt-form (although it's not impossible). The alts are also extremely individual from hunter to hunter. Some of them are offensive, and some are defensive, and they all have different movement speeds. What works for Samus will not work for Spire. Learn when and how to exploit your character's alt.
  • Secondary fire: Not just the charged shot, but also the different firing characteristics of each weapon, whether or not it's your affinity. For example, the Judicator and Magmaul bounce off level surfaces. Surprisingly, this makes them useful for not aiming at opponents. In the Judicator's case, you can even use it to frag out-of-sight enemies. In maps like Combat Hall, sending Judicator shots bouncing down the side tunnel can finish off a fleeing victim. Likewise, it's not immediately obvious that the Volt Driver is fully semi-automatic--I don't know that there's a top limit to its firing speed. The Shock Coil won't target alt forms. Knowing these quirks lets you fully exploit--or avoid--each weapon.
  • Headshots: Most weapons do anywhere from 150% to 200% normal damage with a headshot. A full burst (three automatic and one charge) from the power beam will do 70 damage as headshots. It is worth the effort, with beam weapons, to aim for the head.
  • Might as well jump (jump!): I'm not saying that you should spend the whole match bunny-hopping around--this isn't Counterstrike. But keep in mind that jumping can play a couple of important roles in this game. The jump pads scattered around can be used to reach unconventional areas using mid-air control, like the rock archway in Alinos Perch. Some levels also boast low-gravity zones, which can be exploited. Just be careful, because low-gravity jumping also makes you an easier target.

It may make newcomers feel better to know that Nintendo's ranking system is pretty easily manipulated. The overall ranking at Nintendowifi.com is basically a measure of your time spent online, and doesn't decrease with losses (although it may with disconnects). So while I'm ranked in the top 3000, that just means that I've played online more than most. Playing against friends and rivals still counts for points--so being better than your friends list is a good way to rank high on the consecutive kills or win percentages. Basically, as with just about everything in this hobby, it's biased towards spoiled 12-year-olds. We should probably be used to that by now.

Future - Present - Past