Thursday, July 9, 2009

Blood Bowl Multiplayer Thoughts

When I first gave my impressions of Blood Bowl, I wasn't yet certain how much I would be doing multiplayer... in general, except for games like Call of Duty, I'm more interested in co-op with friends than I am with competition with strangers. However, this is a game I suspect can never reach it's full potential unless played against other human beings. Even if the single player AI was awesome, which doesn't appear to be anywhere near the case, it seems you need human opponents to really learn the nuances of the game, since you'll encounter such a variety of different play styles and skill levels.

In fact, since I started playing online, I've only played a couple of games with my single player team... it just hasn't seemed quite as interesting. The main difference... besides interaction with so-called "real people"... has been the fact that you are forced to live with the results of bad decisions and events... and in Blood Bowl those results can be pretty disastrous. Now, in the single player game, the same things happen, but you can always revert to your last save if you want... nobody's making you try to recover your team from having its two best players killed by a rabid Rat Ogre. Is it lame to hit the "reset button" when you're losing? Of course it is. But when have I ever claimed not to be lame? For the most part I accept the consequences, but I admit to being so frustrated by my "bad luck"(read: bad coaching) that I've quit a game or... erm.. two... or, uhm, something like that... with no negative reprecussions. When you're allowed to do it, and nobody is watching you, it's hard to resist... at least for a person with low willpower.

So now that my lameness and lack of willpower have been firmly established... how is the multiplayer experience different? Let me illustrate with my first two games in the Penny Arcade Blood Bowl League. Game 1 was against a bashy Orc team... and it was going pretty well early in the first half... I scored a touchdown and had gotten some SPP(star player points - for leveling up) from hurting one of his guys... but then he loses his internet connection for a minute and the game ends. Kind of a hassle to have to replay it right? Well no, since he was defeated by his internets, I get a win and he gets a loss. I get both shares of the prize money, both of the MVPs, and two TD's assigned randomly(and the associated points). His injured guy? Still hurt. Pretty harsh right? Of course it is, since the idea is to dissuade people from pulling their internet connection when they lose half their players in a match. In this particular instance, since the guy clearly didn't do it on purpose, it was unfair, but that's sort of what Blood Bowl is about. What else? Well, one of my Blitzers leveled thanks to the SPP points from the disconnect... yipee! A pretty good haul for what amounted to about 6 turns of work... but what did I do? I picked the wrong skill... Grab instead of Guard (stupid G words!), where Guard is one of the most picked skills in the game because of it's utility... and nobody really even knows what Grab does since it sits in obscurity as one of those "Why did you pick that?" skills. In single player, I would have saved before I leveled up and reloaded to get what I wanted, but in MP I've got to live with "Grabby" the Blitzer who everyone is going to laugh at. Why is that a positive? Because once I was stuck with the skill I never would have picked, I had to think about what I would take next to try and make the best out of it... and I'm starting to get a little excited about the idea of putting Strip Ball on the guy, so that he won't just grab and pull players into squares they normally wouldn't be able to go, but also be able to get the ball out of their hands at the same time. Not what I wanted, but it could be handy... or maybe he'll die in my next match and I'll be free of his useless ass. Whichever.

My second game was against another bashy race... Dwarfs. This game however, was played to completion... and I won! 2-0! It was a pretty good game, though I was more lucky than skilled... but as you can see from the picture above, it was not a victory without cost. A dead Blitzer(pictured being fouled to death by meany-pants Dwarfs), one Lineman with a broken neck(-1 Agility permanently), and another with a damaged back(greater chance to be injured in the future). While still alive, both of the latter two player are out for my next game... leaving me with 8 players (out of 11) to suit up for it. Thankfully, the game will provide me with temporary replacements until I can afford a more permanent solution... and if those replacements have a really good game earning lots of SPP? As long a I can afford it, I can hire them after the match and they keep those SPP... which means my permanently injured Linemen get kicked to the curb... sorry, no injury settlements in Blood Bowl. Of course, now my Team Value has dropped to 900 from the 1000 start... despite the fact that I have a level 2 player. I don't think I would have bothered to try and climb out of that hole in single player, but now I'm fairly excited by the challenge.

So beyond playing with real people and accepting harsh consequences, how is the rest of the multiplayer experience? Fairly terrible, to be honest. The games themselves are great, but everything getting up to playing is poorly designed and kind of a pain. For example, the aforementioned PABBL is actually being administered by hand, not within the game's league system, since those "leagues" are in fact round robin tournaments... and thus you have a fixed match times with set opponents (I've not actually been in one of these leagues, so this is hearsay) which is a tremendous hassle with people in all different time zones, and not how the tabletop leagues are set up. In the "real" leagues, players play as often as they want against whomever they want... with the main stipulation that you can't play the same person more than twice in a row. At the end of some time period (a month in our case) the top teams based on some formula, like winning percentage times team value, will play in a tournament to crown the champion. Kinda strange that you can't set something up like this in the game, but you can't. So we had to create a dummy league, with fake teams we don't use, so that we would have a private chat channel to see if other players in the league were online... so that we can play games against each other with our real teams in the Public league (promising not to play games with randoms, but with no way to enforce it). Then, we have to PM the league commissioner with the results of our game so that he can keep track. Awkward, eh? The interface isn't any better, where even the simple act of challenging someone who announces they are "lfg"(looking for a game) in the chat channel involves: clicking a button, typing in the coach's name into a box, clicking the search button, identifying which of his teams he was talking about, and then hitting the "challenge button". I should be able to do that by just right clicking on his name in the chat window.

That said, I'm going to keep playing like mad, and hope they patch up the system, because the underlying game is simply awesome.