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Member Since 11 May 2011
Offline Last Active Jul 29 2015 06:29 AM

Topics I've Started

A look at Survarium (F2P S.T.A.L.K.E.R. FPS)

23 July 2015 - 12:30 PM

(long post ahead, skip to the end for a short version if you’re lazy or busy :P )

So, I don’t know if you guys remember this one but a while back the people at the Ukrainian video game studio Vostok Games, many of whom are former GSC Game World employees (i.e. the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. devs), had a closed beta for their free-to-play multiplayer First Person Shooter  Survarium . Well, now it’s in open beta on Steam and here are my impressions:

The game is a spiritual successor to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series in many ways. Those of you familiar with it will definitely notice a lot of parallels. The backstory, from what I understand, revolves around the world’s forests suddenly getting out of control and essentially overgrowing many of mankind’s settlements. In addition to that strange anomalies have been showing up and inside those anomalies weird and powerful artifacts can be found. Sound familiar? That’s not surprising because except for the lack of a nuclear catastrophe it’s more or less the same except that the scale is now much larger ...

... which leads us to the game’s maps of which there are nine so far (here’s five, three others can be seen in the video above):


As you can see, a lot of them have a definitive S.T.A.L.K.E.R. vibe to them which I personally love. However, one big difference is their diversity. Since this calamity takes place on a global scale you have locations ranging from London to Germany to Russia and environments that can be jungle-like, bogs, grasslands or even a desert. What adds to this diversity are the day/night cycles and the weather system. So in addition to throwing you on a random map the game will also randomize the time of day as well as the weather which not only makes the maps feel more varied, it also influences the mood and even the gameplay to an extent (for instance, overcast maps have more dark, shadowy spots making it easier to hide in certain areas).
The map size is on the larger end of things. Smaller than most Battlefield levels but larger than pretty much all Call of Duty ones, they fall somewhere in between, maybe being similar in size to some Red Orchestra 2 ones.

Apropos Red Orchestra 2, the combat, too, is reminiscent of that game. It’s not that fast-paced and a lot of the time you’ll try to get a bead on the enemy while simultaneously trying to stay out of your enemies’ sights. Weapons are categorized as either long-range (e.g. sniper rifles), medium-range (e.g. assault rifles) and short-range (e.g. SMGs). Having used primarily the long and short range weapons as well as getting killed a fair number of times by each I’ve gotta say that they seem fairly balanced. The game hasn’t devolved into a sniper fest nor is it a twitch shooter if you don’t want it to be. Most maps accommodate all playstyles, be it close and personal or, uh, the opposite, and provide you with routes and spots for either one. The weapon damage strikes me as fair, too, with most weapons taking a relatively low number of hits to kill even higher-level players.

Speaking of which, the F2P aspect of Survarium is quite well done, especially when compared to some of the competition. Most gameplay-relevant things such as weapons and armor can be purchased with the regular in-game currency (let’s call it silver) that you earn through matches and missions (more on those later). In addition to that you have a second currency (gold, to stick to the naming) that you can primarily obtain by purchasing it with real money. With it you can buy many things that can be purchased with the regular currency as well plus some stuff that can only be bought with gold such as cosmetics, temporary EXP & silver boosters and premium memberships.
While I said that you can primarily get gold via real money it is also sometimes rewarded for certain missions and during special events. It’s not a lot but enough to get you some shiny new toy that you’ve been wanting to occasionally get but couldn’t without spending real money. All in all it’s a fair system and I hope that the devs can and will stick with it (or even make it more favorable for cheapskates :D ).

Let’s go over some of the game’s details now. This is what the main menu looks like:

In it you’ll see your (well, in this case my) character as well as some further menus. From left to right and top to bottom:

Player stats such as name, EXP, money and ranks // Character screen // Equipment screen // Shop screen // Play button with server and game mode selection // Clan screen // Workshop screen // Achievement screen // NPC Guild screen // Mission bar // Squad button // Friends list // Chat bar // Notifications

The character screen shows your skill trees (two out of five so far) where you can improve your abilities as you level up:

The equipment screen shows both your inventory and your currently equipped items. From there you can also go to the Workshop with your items to tweak them which means either upgrading them with resources and money to improve their stats or customizing their appearance with decals and textures:

The clan screen I haven’t really messed with yet but it seems like a neat way to organize an active group of people to play with and help you. Next, the NPC guilds. Initially you can join one of four NPC-run factions that will give you missions and in exchange reward you with not only cash, EXP and renown but also special equipment that you can more or less only get there:

Later you’ll also be able to switch factions though it is recommended to stick with one until you reached their highest rank before moving on to the next. Here are some examples of what missions can look like:

Depending on your play style some missions will come easier to you than others. But fear not, every 24 hours they reset for free and are replaced by new ones, whether you managed to complete them or not. Another more or less reliable way of getting some income is to sell old or unwanted items in the shop.

Now to take you through the game itself: After equipping yourself with the weapons, armor and items of your choice you get dropped in one of three game modes. As of now this can be either TDM, Cap-the-flag Research-the-shit-out-of-something, Steal-the-batteries or any combination of the these (as you choose). Pretty standard in terms of gameplay but hey, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke, right? Depending on the objective of the mode you’ll have different roles to fulfill. In TDM that’s obviously killing as many enemies as possible without dying too often.
Their CTF version relies on knowing when to reinforce certain points and when to give them up. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to hold ALL points unless teams are just grossly imbalanced (which, due to their level-based match making, shouldn’t happen) so prioritizing is of the essence. Lastly, capturing the batteries revolves around finding, charging, retrieving and guarding large batteries in this post-apocalyptic world. Since you can steal the enemies’ batteries from their base some teams might find it more interesting to let the enemy do all the actual work just to steal it all from them.

During the match you have a variety of things at your hand to help you fight more effectively. There’s medical supplies of various kinds which you can use to alleviate the detrimental effects of wounds (stop bleeding, treat limb damage - which, by the way, impairs related functions such as movement or aim - and so on), there are aforementioned artifacts which, for the duration of your current life, can get you bonuses such as improved armor if you manage to obtain them as well as equipment such as traps or a range of grenades. With the exception of artifacts those things cost money though so better make them count!
One more thing about the randomly appearing anomalies and artifacts: While the latter provide you with cool bonuses it is hard to get your hands on them unhurt if you are not properly equipped with specialized armor to navigate the former. As such, most players do not seem to bother with them and wherever anomalies appear players have to make a decision: Is the health that I’ll probably lose going straight through this area a good enough trade-off for the tactical advantage that this rarely used and somewhat inaccessible passage will provide me? Definitely an interesting mechanic that I hope the devs will further build upon.

After such a match you’ll get to see how you fared and will then be prompted to raid one of five(?) stashes. This minigame is a little bit addicting since it can net you some pretty rare loot, ranging from large sums of silver to powerful equipment and even some usually gold-only items. The catch? While the game displays what is hidden among all stashes you don’t know which one contains what. The offered solution? Just buy treasure maps with gold to loot all of them. Once that is done you’ll receive some silver, EXP and renown based on your performance while also being billed for possibly pending repairs and restocks (if you made it so that these are paid automatically).

To summarize:

+ many beautiful, large S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-inspired maps with day/night cycles and a weather system
+ decidedly not P2W and fairly fast in terms of progression for non-paying players
+ large array of weapons and armor which you can customize
+ RPG-ish skill system
+ incentivizing loot and monetary system
+ clans and squads to play with friends and organize matches
+ additional things to do while playing via the guilds and their missions
+ “realism” (no bullet sponges, a limb damage system, plausible fall damage and movement speed, ...)
+ nice graphics and animations, good sound
+ interesting mechanic provided by anomalies and their artifacts
+ few hackers and a solid report system (at the end of the match)
+ you can see your feet :D
+ ranked matches and regular leagues (for those interested in determining their e-peen and earning awesome prizes)

- still a bit buggy at times (the game crashed for me about every two hours although you can reconnect to a match if you log back in while it is still going on)
- only three game modes so far, more are said to come but with no real ETA
- higher-tier ammo, repairs/maintenance, consumables and items (e.g. grenades, medpacks etc.) cost silver which can be a bit annoying since those costs will eat into your winnings after each round
- kill cam (super annoying for snipers like me)
- health regeneration to a certain degree (e.g. you regain some HP but limbs stay damaged), I’d have preferred none to make medical supplies all the more valuable

So after about a week of playing I can say that Survarium is definitely an interesting and worthwile entry to the F2P FPS pool that deserves your attention at least for as long as it takes you to decide whether you want to spend more time with it or not. I for one am looking forward to where the devs will take this game as additional improvements (and possibly a PvE mode at some point) have been announced.

tl;dr: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. meets Red Orchestra 2 in this fun, uniquely complex F2P FPS - now available on Steam*

*take its score with a grain of salt and form your own opinion, most people seem to bitch about hackers which (during my 20+ hours of playing) I have encountered only two or three times

@Lucian04 Have you played this yet?

Sandra Bland: video released from inside county jail leading up to hanging

21 July 2015 - 07:08 PM


To recap since for some reason there was no thread here when the story first broke:

Sandra Bland was a black 28-year-old woman who was active in, among other things, the Black Lives Matter campaign. On July 10th she was driving around in Texas when she got stopped by the police for failing to use her turn signal while changing lanes. According to her family’s lawyer the cop initially wrote her a ticket, then asked her to put out her cigarette to which she replied “Why do I have to put out a cigarette when I’m in my own car?”. The cop then asked her to get out the vehicle which she only did after he open her door and drew his taser. Next, according to eye witnesses (and two videos), the cop slammed her head on the ground and put his knee on her neck.
Skip forward and she’s put into jail for allegedly kicking one of the officers. Three days later, at 9AM on July 13th she’s found dead, hanging in her cell. At around 7AM she told the jailer that she’s fine and fifty-five minutes later she’s still alive, asking for a phone.
Her friends and family (some of whom talked to her during her short time in jail) are calling bullshit ’cause they believe that there was no indication of her being depressed or anything. For one thing, she recently got a job she was applying for.

Another three days and a lot of uproar later the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety announce that they launched an investigation into Sandra Bland’s death, with the county district attorney saying on July 20th that it’s being investigated as a possible murder.

tl;dr: Black female activist gets pulled over during a traffic stop in Texas, is handled roughly, then gets taken to jail where she’s found dead hanging from a garbage bag three days later.

Mount&Blade II: Bannerlord soundtrack preview

18 July 2015 - 11:56 AM

Based on this dev blog post regarding the music of Mount&Blade II: Bannerlord someone made a video compiling the sketches and final versions of some of the soundtracks for the game’s various factions:

As some of you might be able to tell, they tried to rely exclusively on “authentic” instruments that would have been available to the musicians of the time and ethnicity that they’re going for with each faction.

Thoughts? I think it sounds awesome and presents a major improvement when compared to their previous games.

The Witcher 3: Patch 1.07 due this week, free DLC delayed

07 July 2015 - 04:35 AM

So because CDPR pushed extra hard to get this patch done as fast as possible we won’t get our free DLC this week. However, next week the schedule resumes as normal so we lose nothing, we just have to wait a bit longer for it.

• A new, alternative (optional) movement response mode for Geralt.
• A player stash for storing items, available in various locations throughout the game. Stash locations are marked on the player's map.
• Crafting and alchemy components no longer add to the overall inventory weight.
• Books are now placed in a dedicated tab in the Inventory and books that have already been read are properly grayed out.
• Multiple sorting options are now available in the Inventory.
• Alchemy formulas and crafting diagrams can be "pinned", meaning all components and ingredients required to make them will be conveniently marked in the Shop panel.
• Dozens of fixes for quest related issues, both major and minor.
• A few performance enhancements, including the optimization of FX, scenes and general gameplay.
• Various improvements to horse behavior.


Lots of good stuff. The storage in particular is something that I have been looking forward to and the reason why I haven’t finished the game yet. Inventory improvements (such as more categories and sorting options) were also desirable so it is nice to see those included, too. The weightlessness of alchemy and cracting components is gonna be bullshit though, especially with the new system in place.

“I am or AI am?” - Mathematician Edward Frenkel on AI

04 July 2015 - 08:07 AM

“There has been a lot of controversy lately on the subject of Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, some important elements appear to be missing in the debate so far. Professor Edward Frenkel will talk about the issues surrounding AI from the perspective of a mathematician, and a human. To what extent is it possible to represent reality by numbers and algorithms?”

In his own words:

Edward Frenkel said:

I argued that the current debate about Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a "litmus test" for our humanity. Who are we, who do we want to be? Am I a human or a machine? Do I see a difference? These are the questions that no one can answer for me. Not even a 10-billion-dollar supercollider! I have to find the answers myself... But we can all share our experiences and help each other find our answers. [...]

I also gave a mathematical argument of the impossibility of the kind of AI that people like Ray Kurzweil and Dmitry Itskov are talking about (transferring our bodies and minds to a computer). In fact, I believe that anyone who takes seriously Gödel's incompleteness theorem and quantum mechanics should see right away the fallacy of these "ideas."

Interesting talk although I think Kurzweil et al. wouldn’t care all that much (if they accepted his argument) that they cannot REALLY transfer our minds to computers. I think they just might go “Eh, close enough, it’s not me but something very similar to me” and plow on ahead.