Category Archives: hellgate

Why should love stop at the border?

I’ve just wrapped up a first play-through of Borderlands, and enjoyed it so much I’ve jumped straight into a second. It’s a splendidly quick dive-in loot-spewing RPG/shooter of MOAR DAKKA, and thanks to the spiffy new Steam UI that’s in beta at the moment I can see I’ve played it for about 30 hours so far. I’m not sure if I’ll play through the whole thing again, but even if not I feel like I’ve got my fifteen quid’s worth.

It’s heavily reminiscent of Hellgate: London, the loot-spewing RPG/shooter/MMOG of MOAR DAKKA, especially in the rarity-coloured guns with random bonuses that provide much incentive in both for blasting through hordes of foes. Hellgate went rather badly wrong, though, turning out to be a somewhat prophetic title as it opened up a gate to financial hell and dragged Flagship Studios through (not quite as prophetic as Bankruptcygate: San Francisco might have been, but still).

It’s a shame, as I rather enjoyed playing through the story of Hellgate, and it had a great setting in post-demon invasion London with humanity hunkered down in fortified tube stations; Borderlands isn’t bad, and has some strong NPCs, but its world of Pandora feels slightly generically Mad Max-ish with roaming bandits and hostile wildlife. Could just be a bias for London on my part, though. Going by fairly dim Hellgate memories now, I seem to recall its combat being more RPG-influenced than pure shooter, possibly with to-hit rolls going on in the background; Borderlands is more FPS, headshots and all, but modifies damage based on the level difference between you and the target making the two systems feel pretty similar in the end. If Hellgate had been pitched as more of a straightforward single-player oriented game I think it could’ve done respectably, but it had a confused single player offline/free online/subscription model. Seems fairly obvious in hindsight, but if a game works both as a single player offline game and persistent online game either the former is distinctly lacking or the latter is tacked-on, and in the case of Hellgate there never did seem much point to the persistence. Add on a tsunami of hype, and premature and buggy release, and it was too much to recover from.

Borderlands, in contrast to the heavyweight hype of Hellgate, was pegged by one analyst as being “sent out to die” against Dragon Age and Modern Warfare 2, but was well received and had strong sales, along with three DLC packs so far. It doesn’t over-reach itself, it gives you a big pile o’ guns, loads of stuff to shoot with them, and lets you do so with a few friends if you want. Looking at Borderlands and Hellgate rams home that “complexity” or “depth” don’t inherently equal “good”, especially when ambition outstrips available time or resources. Hellgate had six character classes with sprawling skill trees that had to be heavily overhauled at least once, Borderlands has four playable characters with more straightforward skill trees, each character just having one active ability, that seem to be pretty well balanced. You got the feeling that chunks of Hellgate had been rushed in justified by “we’ll patch it to work properly later”, and though the 360 and PS3 do allow patching, you can’t get away so much there which must focus things a bit more when developing for consoles.

Out of the ashes of Flagship came Runic Games and Torchlight, the success of which seems to demonstrate the benefits of keeping focused on core gameplay rather than shooting for the moon (and hitting London, insert Werner von Braun gag here). It’ll be interesting to see if the team can build on that with an MMO version, certainly seems like a more sensible approach than trying to do it right off the bat, and in the meantime there’s always more Borderlands. DAKKADAKKADAKKADAKKA!

Charge of the Hellgate Brigade

Melmoth and I were cruising the underworld, as you do, searching for the head of some undead abomination called Neville Bamshute or something. Rounding a corner, we briefly glimpsed some glowing yellow text in the distance indicating Lord Bamshute was down the end of that corridor before about seven hundred flaming balls of death slammed into us. Turned out Lord Neville had company, a whole bunch of Bruisers or Maulers or something; whatever they were, they fired spikey balls of flaming death that exploded with a most alarming lethal radius. Being the veteran muhmorpuhguheristas that we are, we know the drill: pull the minions away to clear them, then take down the boss. Step one is a bit of a challenge, as The Bamshute and his posse are at the end of a long, narrow corridor about 41 metres away, and our demon-smiting rifles have a range of 25-30 metres. Each pull therefore consists of small-scale re-enactment of the Charge of the Light Brigade with me representing the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, Melmoth as the 8th and 11th Hussars and an assortment of bots and drones filling in for the 17th Lancers, zigzagging down the corridor wildly firing, hoping a few Bamshutettes will notice and lumber down the corridor to be picked off. Several deaths in, we pretty much get the hang of it, pulling away groups of three and four and gunning them down. There’s no let up in the barrage of shot and shell, though, so we pause to take stock. Are the minions respawning, or are there just hundreds of the damn things? It’s a bit difficult to tell, what with them all huddling around at the end of the corridor of eternal peril and not standing conveniently still for a head count (“Undead fiend one?” “Here, sir!” “Undead fiend two?” “Present!” “Undead fiend three? Has anyone seen undead fiend three?”) Melmoth volunteers to take a look, and in a series of impressive corpse-spawn-jumps gets close enough to report that they are, indeed, respawning. Fortunately Neville Bamshute didn’t appear to regenerate his health, so the encounter was merely a tedious battle of attrition rather than physical impossibility.

Time for Plan B, then. Unfortunately it turned out Plan B had originally been devised as a contingency plan for Hitler focusing on a Mediterranean strategy with the aid of Mussolini, Franco and Petain’s Vichy France, and thus wasn’t much use against Herr Bamshute. Plan C was a slight improvement. Codenamed “Yo! Bum Rush the Show”, Plan C involved firstly exclaiming “Yo!”, then proceeding to bum rush the show (where in this particular case, Neville Bamshute was “the show”). In the “Bloody April” of 1917, the average life expectancy of a new Royal Flying Corps subaltern on the front line was eleven days. For a participant of Operation Yo! Bum Rush The Show, the average life expectancy was eleven seconds. And that included the corpse run. That gave just enough time to knock down Neville’s shields and perhaps a sliver of his health, so he was being whittled away, but it was a slow process. After two and a half weeks, with his health bar still around 75%, we huddled up to formulate Plan D.

Some rummaging around my pack turned up a rocket launcher, a couple of machine pistols, a rocket pistol, a lightning gun, a toxic lance, a watering can, a complete collection of National Geographic magazines, March 1974 – February 1978 (apart from the July 1977 issue), a bag of strawberry bon-bons and an anvil. Not so much use… but underneath those, a sniper rifle! Something with enough range to hit Neville Bamshute without having to rush halfway down the corridor of eternal peril. Enter Plan D, “All The World’s A Stage”, wherein Melmoth and I are putting on a show for the world’s rowdiest audience. The moment they catch sight of you they start flinging rotten tomatoes (giant, exploding rotten tomatoes that do significant splash damage), but fortunately quite slowly, giving just enough time to get off a shot at von Bamshute before legging it over to the wings on the other side of the stage before the wave of devastation crashes past where you were just standing. A quick pause to get the breath back, then it’s back the other way to repeat the performance. I like to think we had a straw boater in one hand and a cane in the other and did a little dance (either side of the whole sniper rifle business), but the lack of an emote system in Hellgate put a bit of a crimp on that. Still, even without the dance, the health-whittling went significantly faster without corpse runs every eleven seconds, and His Bamshuteness finally exploded in a shower of loot. A couple more suicide runs cleared the now non-respawning Bamshute-groupies, and it was home for tea, cake and carting four slightly-dripping decapitated demon heads off to some portal somewhere to summon Neville Bamshute’s boss. What could possibly go wrong with a plan like that?

History is a guide to navigation in perilous times.

Welcome back! Or at least, it would be if you’d gone anywhere, but you didn’t did you? Hmmm, ‘Hello’ just doesn’t seem dramatic enough; ‘Well met’ is a bit too amdram, and ‘Ahoy!’ usually dictates that one’s next action is either a boarding of your galleon to plunder it for treasure, or the exchanging of rolling yarns about the fish that got away (probably Zoso trying to debug something) while smoking a pipe and pulling on one’s beard. How about Good Bloginsday? That’ll do.

So, a very good bloginsday to you all.

More about reasons for absence, apologies for such, whys, hows, do you mind if I don’ts, acceptances of apologies, invitations to tea, and excuses about stoves to avoid commitment, later.

Before all that, today’s question: where’s the satellite navigation for my corpse runs in Hellgate?

Zoso and I have been pottering around slaughtering zombies, beating off demons through the persuasive employment of rounds and rounds of explosive-tipped military hardware, it’s the standard thing for a couple of guys with time to kill on a Saturday evening:

“Any plans for tonight? I thought we’d go out for a beer and hit the pool tables.”

“Well we could do that. Orrrrr! We could run around in the local forest, open a bunch of random crates in the area until some Class 1 military hand cannons ping out of one, then search through some underground tunnels, hopefully encountering a rift in the cosmos that takes us into one of the tiers of Hell, and then slaughter all the minions of Lucifer Morningstar that we find there, until we’ve either killed them all and looted their demonic hides, or we run out of ammo and are overwhelmed, and hence spend the rest of all eternity writhing in unbearable agony as our skin is flayed from our bodies while imps rub salt and lemon into the wounds and demons sing Cliff Richard’s number one singles at us. What do you say to that, eh? EH?!”

“Well… I was sort of hoping for a quiet evening, just have a pint, play some pool, perhaps catch a film, maybe meet-up with the rest of our folks, you know.”

“Orrrrr! We could run around the London Underground, equip ourselves in hi-tech armour and weapons, fight our way through hordes of undead and flesh eating monsters which, if we survive, will allow us to travel through a portal in space and time and find ourselves face-to-face with a mega demon of the highest tier of Satan’s army. We can then pit our nigh-on useless weapons against his infinite powers of damnation, and possibly stand a chance of gaining untold riches, but more likely find ourselves being used by him as toilet paper, experiencing pain and suffering beyond belief in the few moments before we are incinerated by his unholy fiery arse. Eh? Am I selling it to you? EH?!”

“Look, I really don’t thin… toilet paper for a fiery-arsed demon, you say?”

“As hot as the sun, and as hairy as a yak that’s overdosed on Regaine!”

“I’m in! Just give me a few minutes to strap myself into an impossibly tight leather suit with a few token pieces of plate armour on the joints that offer no protection whatsoever!”

“Right-o! I’ll grab my demon slayer!”

“That’s a small pencil”

“I know! It’s as much good at slaying demons as anything else; these are otherworldly uncelestial beings, do you really think a gun is going to harm them?”

“Man, you could at least sharpen it.”

Five seconds in to the post and I’ve lost it already. Zoso! I’m blathering again!

Anyway, we were playing Hellgate and I’d run off like a loon in entirely the wrong direction while Zoso methodically made his way through the map. I inevitably gained the attention of several (hundred) members of the flesh-eating fraternity of Epsilon Alpha Tau Pi Epsilon Epsilon Pi Sigma; you’d think that they’d pick a shorter frat. name considering half of them don’t have lower jaw bones. Suffice it to say, I died. Now, Hellgate is an interesting beast in that it doesn’t provide any indication on your mini map as to where your corpse might be when you’re very far away from it, so you have to rely on memory and luck to get back to it, especially since some of the maps in the game are bloody huge. However, you might just be lucky enough to have a friendly Zoso around, so that when you’re lost and running around like a… like a… well, like an incorporeal spirit without its corpse, I suppose, your friendly neighbourhood Zoso can find the corpse, and then guide you in because you can always see other team members on the mini map, even if they are a clueless ghost.

So Zoso’s directions were warped upon entering my mind (who would have guessed that of me) and went something like this:

“Turn left at the next canyon”

“Continue straight on for five hundred yards.”

“In two hundred yards, keep left.”

“Keep left.”

“In three hundred yards, go around the hill, second exit.”

“Take the exit.”

<Melmoth takes the wrong exit>

“Turn around when possible.”

“At the hill, go all the way around, third exit.”

“At the swarm of Epsilon Alpha Tau Pi Epsilon Epsilon Pi Sigma members, turn left.”

“In three hundred yards, you have reached your destination.”

“You have reached your corpse.”

So there’s your answer; never go out into the field of combat without a Zoso: the satellite navigation of Hellgate corpse runs.