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I'm Still Only in Saigon

"How many people had I already killed? There were those six that I knew about for sure. Close enough to blow their last breath in my face...." - Captain Willard, Apocalypse Now

Yeah, you are probably already thinking that this is gonna being an Apocalypse Now-themed entry.  Not really (hint: it's actually gonna be a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3-themed entry!).  It's just that I spent the weekend watching that classic war movie and realized I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed it.  I mean, I used to watch a VHS copy of an ABC broadcast of it over and over again as a kid.  Couldn't get enough of it!  What fascinated me then, as now, is how Francis Ford Coppola took the Vietnam War as turned it into a moody, nightmarish and almost science fiction-y trip into metaphysical madness.  To this day, the opening sequence of that film gives me the chills:

The foreboding jungle, the dream-like sound of the helos, the weird colored smoke, the Doors singing about "the end" is thematically perfect!

What a great movie.  To bad we never got an open sandbox PC game based on it!  Imagine how cool it would be to accept missions and explore the weirdness of Coppola's Vietnam from a FPS perspective, while slowly unraveling the campaign that is Kurtz. 

 Anyhoo...Call of Duty.  I guess it sort of is like Apocalypse Now in that it is a story of war and madness.  And just like how the audio recording of  Kurtz really "put the hook in" Willard, the frenzy of this shooter has really put the hook in me over the past three / four months.  I know, PC gamers are not supposed to like this game; it is only for console kiddes...yada, yada, yada.  Let me tell you something: that is BS.  There is a reason why the CoD franchise has such a massively rabid following (and rabidly massive, for that matter): it is a solid gaming experience that is meticulously crafted to keep you playing.  There is a wealth of game design wisdom in CoD, the likes of which game designers will be studying for years to come....

"But it is so game-y!" I hear many of you exclaim.  "It's not realistic at all!"  

And who said it was supposed to be realistic?

Maybe back in the days when CoD was focused on WWII recreations, but I think it is quite clear that Activision/Infinity Ward/Treyarch have long since moved on from that modus operandi.   These days CoD is all about effortless fun where a new player can just jump into the single player campaign, or the multiplayer portion for that matter, and be off and fraggin' people in seconds without so much as a glance at a manual.  It's for this reason alone that when I encounter a timid new gamer interested in trying their hands at a shooter I don't hesitate to recommend the latest CoD.  Now, once they have their shooter legs I will slowly usher them towards the more complex fare of, say, Battlefield 3 (only Arma 2 if they have the requite masochistic personality traits), but when it comes to a first shooter, CoD is where to start.

But even for non-newbs, CoD can be a great experience.  Despite my love for the larger battlefields and team-based objectives of the Battlefield franchise, I am finding the tightly-focused MP sessions of Modern Warfare 3 to be a wonderful experience in its own right (but only on hardcore mode - it's all about the stripped down, slower paced hardcore mode for me).   I think the reason why I am getting such a kick out of it is because like Blizzard's Starcraft II, Call of Duty is more about being an e-sport than it is about trying to be a wargame.  Once you realize this, the game really hooks you as all the little "non realistic" facets suddenly fade into the background and you start to focus on improving your performance more than anything else (this is why I think the openly 'death sport' take of SOE's Bullet Run is a clever, and long overdue, twist).   

Take me: I am a dreadful shooter player.  Even after putting in more than 160 hours in Bad Company 2, I only rarely ever broke into the top 3 on the session score list.  Hey, what do you want - I am a no longer young guy playing on a no longer young PC!  My reflexes are slow, and my aim...well, isn't!  Nonetheless, while the MP can be unforgiving in the extreme, it still encourages you to try to be better and better by offering little Pavlovian rewards, like weapon upgrades and killstreaks, as well as an electronic guitar riff when you level up.  The encouragement works!  LOL!  What is more, despite CoD's "team deathmatch" nomenclature, the truth is that CoD works best as a a lone wolf experience.  This is yet another important reason why I recommend CoD to new/casual players: they don't have to worry about being griefed by the "l33t" for not pulling their load and harming the team.

I am even finding real value in CoD's theater, where you can watch video replays of your performance (again, another great e-sport facet!).  Like using PGN to get better at chess, the theater is a great way improve your game.  Or just to admire yourself. :)

I am also finding CoD to be a great way to relax when you are dog tired and just want to get some unthinking, effortless twitch gaming in before going to bed.  Strangely, I seem to perform much better when tired than awake!  Like the other night, where I noticed a strange uptick in my dreadful play.  I mean, I didn't get good, but I did start to perform better than usual.  Take, for example, this session where I unlocked more than my usual amount of killstreaks and kill confirmed rewards:

For that performance, I was using this:

I know I am probably doing it wrong, but I like to spread my usage of weapons around just to keep things fresh and challenging (as if I needed more of a challenge!).  

While I still went a lousy 7:11 K/D, it did represent an improvement...ugh.  

Soon after, I enjoyed an even better performance, this time with a newly unlocked light MG (I always seem to do better with light MGs, both in CoD and BF):

I really like this weapon as it sounds really cool and seems much more accurate than the MG36:

I love Predator missiles.  And you might not have been able to see, but I still managed to zap a bad guy despite being blinded by a flash/bang.  That was a good match for me: 11:6 - but I still placed near the bottom.  :(

Last vid: this wasn't such a good game, but I was trying out my new weapon:

I really like this one, too.  In fact, I like all the weapons in CoD as they all feel sufficiently different and challenging to me.

I also did seem to get an unusual number of kills with sticky grenades:

Eh.  Nothing special.  Just my usual awful best.  

BTW:  I think the MW3 maps are really cool.  I have purchased the last two content collections and was surprised just how high quality they were.  

So, if CoD is this much fun, polished, and gets lots of quality DLC...why does something like this happen:

 The five franchises with the most votes for “Getting Worse” were Call of Duty/Modern Warfare, Dragon Age, Diablo, World of Warcraft, and Mass Effect.

Or, for that matter,  how do you reconcile the above with this:

“With Call of Duty Elite, we’ve had historic successes combined with some important learnings,” he continues. Moving on to Elite numbers, Hirshberg states that “at least 2.3 million premium members and over 12 million registered users are remarkable achievements. When taken in combination with the record engagement of the Call of Duty franchise overall, there is strong evidence of tremendous continued engagement with the franchise. That said, we still feel we have a long way to go.”

Those numbers are nearly double EA's new Battlefield Premium service, by the way.

I think what is going on is the old "familiarity breeds contempt" syndrome.  The truth of the matter is that Call of Duty is the world's first video game celebrity in the ultimate sense: a game that has transcended its hobby status and has come to represent a cultural milestone (i.e., the "Call of Duty Generation").  As such, like any other celebrity, it has become popular to mock and hold in contempt, even by gamers themselves.  And even as they (sometime secretly) play it!

[Heard an interesting story the other day: somebody was eagerly watching the latest trailer for CoD: Black Ops 2 when their brother walked in on them.  What did they do?  Switched to porn instead because it was less embarrassing! LOL!]

In short, CoD has become the Brittany Spears of video games.  :)

I think what is happening here is analogous with the debate on homosexual marriage.  How may polls have you seen where a majority of respondents claim to support it?  Well, if that is so, why has same sex marriage been defeated 31 out of 31 times at the ballot box?  Because people often say one thing in public to fit in, but do something different in private where honestly need not fear blowback.  Same thing happening here:  money doesn't lie.  While CoD might be fun to hate in public, it clearly is still a franchise highly valued by gamers, otherwise Activision wouldn't be raking in billions of dollars with the launch of every title (a strange phenomenon considering it was just voted as getting worse with each iteration!).

However, while "haters will hate", I am concerned that all this largely baseless negativity about CoD will eventually kill a great franchise.  Why do gamers like to look a gift horse in the mouth?  We complain about shoddy products and about about the lack of dev/pub support, but when we finally get a high quality, high support franchise, what do we do?  Try to kill it because it is too popular!  Sheesh!

Whatever happens with the future of CoD, I think I finally understand Cpt. Willard's predicament:

When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I'm here a week now... waiting for a mission... getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker, and every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger. Each time I looked around the walls moved in a little tighter. 
Yup, sounds like CoD addiction!


  1. Here we go again:

    CALL OF DUTY Past It’s Peak? Analysts Predict Decline

    "It’s not like its the end of the earth for Activision, while they aren’t selling 25 million copies anymore, they’re still pushing over 20 million. It’s not time to ring the death knell yet as they still have this huge user base, something not before seen in mainstream console gaming."

    Again, it's not that something is really wrong with CoD, it's that the naysayers want something to be wrong with CoD.

    Boy, I am starting to sound like a CoD fanboi!


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