Amazon Affiliates

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Administrativa

I don’t want to turn this space into a marketing blog or anything of that nature, but in the next couple of days if I can make the time you may notice some links from Amazon showing up. I am noticing that Google really doesn’t know what to do with the ads on my site: Geek 2 Geek dating? Ancestry.com? Those are two that I’ve seen show up on here when I check in a browser without AdBlock. Not that I’m terribly surprised, a blog that goes from talking about the minutiae of videogame mechanics and D&D campaigns to talking about politics & cultural issues doesn’t really fit easily into a niche of advertising. What sort of things could legitimately be advertised here? Videogames with culturally-relevant themes (maybe Pandemic)?

I haven’t exactly decided whether the Google Ads will go or not (I honestly doubt many people still read this blog, and if you do you probably use AdBlock because you’re no doubt savvier than the average web-user), but I’m thinking something like choosing selected products from Amazon will be a better route to go. In particular, this will allow me to recommend things that I feel are actually good, and hopefully become something that others can see as a resource rather than as an obstacle to using the site.

Brief Notes on Database Upgrades

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Administrativa, Technology, Wordpress

This blog is so old that the current version of WordPress wouldn’t even install on the version of MySQL that the blog was created using.

It took a bit of figuring out, but this is how I dealt with the situation. H/T Blogging Tips. This is mostly for my own future benefit but someone else may find this set of steps useful as well.

1. Backup Your Current Database

* Log into GoDaddy.com
* Go to My Account > Web Hosting
* Click on “Launch” Control Center under “My Accounts”
* In the Hosting Dashboard, Click on Databases > MySQL
* Find the Database Name you want to back up
* Click on Pencil Icon under “Action”
* Click “Backup” – This can take up to 2 hours.

2. Create a New Database

* You can start this while waiting for backup.
* Go back to “MySQL” and “Create Database”
* I recommend naming the description the same with a “2″ after it
* Make sure MySQL Version is clicked to 5.0 (default)
* This will now be “Pending Setup”
* You have time to go grab a latte or sometimes two or three.

3. Restore Backed-Up Database to New Database

* Refresh MySQL Database List
* If your new database is Setup, click Pencil Icon
* Click “Restore” Icon
* Click Old Database File Name
* Click “Restore”
* Click “OK” on pop-up confirming Database Restore
* This will now be “Pending Restore”
* Grab another latte (or use the restroom after the last ones)

4. Update wp-config.php file

* Use an FTP software – I use FileZilla (it’s free)
* Find the wp-config.php (you may want to copy/save just in case)
* View/Edit (right click in Filezilla)
* Change properties in file with the new MySQL database name, MySQL user name (usually the same), MySQL password and MySQL host name.
* Note that GoDaddy’s MySQL host name is never “localhost”, but an actual URL.
* Save/Upload.

Now to update the other blogs on here…

Dusting Things Off

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Administrativa

I am not sure if I’ll be returning back to blogging here on a regular basis, but I was recently informed this site wasn’t even accepting new comments on existing posts. Well, this kind of spurred me into making some of the major updates this place needed: Updating the database, backing up the database, installing the latest WordPress and plugins, finding a nice new theme, adding some ads (hopefully these are not too obtrustive – I personally use Adblock plus so I do not even see them. If you don’t use it and you find them obnoxious feel free to let me know here. I wouldn’t mind making back a little bit of the money that it costs to host the site, though.)
There’s still a lot of things that might need to be done and like I said – I don’t know if I’ll want to return to more regular blogging here, but at least it should be functional again for anyone who wants to comment on anything.

At the very least I will probably finish off some posts that have been sitting in the queue here forever. I do have a lot of ideas for other things I want to write about as well, the trick is finding the time to write in between doing all kinds of other tasks for so-called “Real Life.”

Starcraft 2 Most Desired Feature

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Games

I haven’t played Warcraft 3 since the year it came out, 2002. I have, however, occasionally played quite a few custom (or “use map settings”) maps for it. But the stock gameplay of Warcraft 3 never held me, probably because I’m not exceptionally good at it and therefore playing is an exercise in getting my butt handed to me in a hundred different ways.

I do enjoy the game, but I’m just not interested in learning the things that make good RTS players good RTS players – Build orders, timings, and extreme levels of unit micromanagement. In lieu of actually playing the game myself, though, one thing I really like to do is to be a game observer. In order to do this you create a “Custom Game” using a stock map and set it up to allow observers. Usually a bunch of people will join, then you have to work out who will actually play and who will observe, and then you’re set.

Observers can only talk with other observers, and cannot message people outside of the game at all (to prevent cheating). About all you can do is sit and watch the game and chat with other observers. But yet, I find it strangely appealing. Not only is it low-pressure, but you can enjoy a drink or a meal while watching. And although the average level is play is probably a bit under ranked matches, you still get some fairly entertaining matchups. The strategy becomes quickly apparent, and little nuances in play like positioning units, hero or skill choice, and so on start to take on more meaning.

The downside to observing matches is what I’ve already discussed — Setting one up. It’s a hassle to create matches specifically for observing, and it doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to force it to be that way when there are no doubt hundreds of ranked matches going on all the time. So why not just allow players to select or randomly observe ranked matches? Concerns over cheating potential could be mitigated by giving the actual players the option to allow observers or not — Basically set your game preference to private or public. You’ll definitely get people who just disallow observing in all their games, but most decent players play so much anyways it’s doubtful they care if anyone sees their games. Seeing it and beating it are two different things.

Why not just watch replays on YouTube, such as HDStarcraft, HuskyStarcraft, or Crota? Well, I enjoy doing that too but a replay is quite a bit different than actually being in the game. Recorded replays are only going to show you what the commentator is looking at, while in an observer game YOU control what you’re looking at. YOU comment on the game, along with other players observing, making it a much more active and social experience than passively sitting down and starting up a replay. That’s both good and bad: If you’re new, you may not understand the strategy. But if you’re an experienced observer you’ll tend to understand what’s going on. And if you don’t — you’ll learn. It can definitely beat hearing a commentator interject their own opinions into the game — There’ve been many, many occasions where I’ve been watching a replay and found myself disagreeing with a commentator and wishing I could voice my thoughts. Well, with observer games you’re totally free to.

Towards a New Equilibrium

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Games

This is a response to Shamus’ post here, this was originally meant to be a comment but it kind of grew and I felt guilty at neglecting this place when I actually wrote something fairly substantive.

It’s pretty undeniable that there’s significant market forces at work in [causing game developers to minimize investment in the PC]. But I think the bigger factor is just the structure of the studios / game market as a whole.

The console/games market these days seems to be in a trend towards monopolization. You just can’t create big budget titles and play with the big boys without being one of them. At the same time, the gamer demographic these games are all going after is the same, so there can only be so many “winners” even in the remote chance that all games in a given set are good. It really is a winner-takes-all kind of situation because games just take up a lot of time and those of us with jobs and families only have so much time to spare.

I’ve been saying this for years now, but the trend towards making every game into a movie-like cinematographic experience is really contrary to games-as-games. The games that I still play 10 or 15 years after their release don’t need to feel like a movie, they just need good, solid gameplay. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite jive with the lowest-common denominator games-as-junk-food mentality we see taking hold in an industry that needs to encourage gamers-as-gluttons in order to be able to sustain its own massive bloat.

When I first started noticing and complaining about games turning into longer, poorly written and acted direct-to-video movies I felt like I was out on a limb. Yet every year the new game releases get less and less actual gameplay and more and more like a semi-passive movie experience.* With Halo “ODST” or COD6 the singleplayer is going to last you four hours — That’s about the length of Return of the King extended cut.

*Ironically, we are also seeing movies now moving closer to videogames as well. Can anyone deny that Transformers series is hilarious mess whose entire terrible existence is predicated on the acceptance of cringe-inducing filmmaking by the videogame-addicted teen/twenteen boy segment of the population?

And, not to put too fine a point on it, how much work does multiplayer take when most are just recycling mechanics from SP/previous games? Sure, it’s not trivial, but I am surely not impressed when Halo releases a new game with the same set of weapons with maybe tweaks and new bling mapping on the SPNKR’s rocket tubes. And don’t get me started on all of these WW2 or modern combat games that endlessly recycle the same set of bullet-spraying weapons whose only significant differences are in rate of fire and spread. Do we really need another AK-47 or M-16 in a game in order to feel fulfilled?

I really feel like this trend is unsustainable. There really aren’t any huge graphics jumps on the horizon, yet graphics is what has been driving the last couple generations of games. For a long time now, there hasn’t been anyone making the games I really want to play. And I think that is going to get worse before it gets better, because the bigger the game studios get, the more and more they will focus-group their games into targeting the subhuman pleasure centers of the average consumer drone. Those of us who are not content to mindlessly buy whatever has the biggest explosions will be underserved for quite some time — Unless the indie games market can reach us.

Fortunately, with all the distribution platforms these days … Maybe they can?
And that gives me hope. Heck, maybe we’ll see a resurgence of gameplay instead of this constant graphics overload coupled to the same stale game ideas that were cliche even a decade ago. Or maybe some of these companies will realize that cultivating an enduring game community & experience for many years can be as profitable, or maybe even more profitable over the long haul, than releasing sequels every two years and then leaving everyone in the lurch.

L4D2 Demo

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Games

Despite being underwhelmed with the amount of content in L4D, I went ahead and pre-ordered L4D2. What can I say, the game cost $30 and at that price point it’s hard for me to pass up a AAA title that I know I’m going to like.

My first impressions with L4D2.

Do not buy this game unless you enjoy L4D1.

My second impressions with L4D2.

Do not buy this game unless you can get it at a $30 or less pricepoint.

Back when I purchased L4D1, I was pretty disappointed with the game because it was shockingly lacking in content. Although L4D ended up being a good game a couple months after release once Valve finished the game and added in melee cooldown to prevent it from becoming entirely about tedious corner camping, it was still a shallow and flawed game. Anyone who paid full price for it (like me) probably felt a little bit ripped off (especially when the day after you purchased it for $50 Valve decided to offer it for $25, which is more along the lines of its actual value).

Could L4D have been a great game? Sure, if Valve had decided to continue to support it in meaningful ways. Instead, they decided to make L4D2. Is L4D2 worth it? That’s the question we all want answered. From what I’ve seen in the L4D2 demo, it’s more of L4D1.3 than L4D2. If an incremental upgrade is what you seek, then you may be willing put put down the money for this expansion pack. If you wanted some real improvements and not just finishing touches that should’ve been in L4D1, then you might want to keep waiting.*

* Note that the biggest changes to the game are going to be a result of how the new maps and new SI work. Neither of these are really displayed in the demo, I am just talking about what I have seen from that.

L4D2 incorporates some new gameplay elements:

Pros:

  • A couple of new weapons. Many of the old weapons have been reskinned.
  • You can now carry a medpack or a revival pack
  • In addition to pipe bombs and molotovs you now can pick up and throw vials of boomer bile. These work exactly as you’d expect.
  • Instead of pain pills you can now carry Adrenaline Shots, though the function of these is not obvious (presumably you perform certain actions faster)
  • In lieu of pistols, you can now carry a melee weapon.
  • There are some other upgrades like laser sights, incendiary and explosive ammo.

Counterpoints

  • Basically, all of the guns feel more similar to each other than ever. It’s not even clear which guns are supposed to be superior to other guns.
  • Almost all of the guns feel much weaker, both in look and feel, and in functionality, than their L4D1 counterparts.
  • In addition, there have been some questionable balancing changes. For example, the T1 pump shotgun in L4D1 had 128 + 8 ammo, yet was certainly not overpowered. The T1 pump shotgun in L4D2 has a whole 56 + 8 ammo, which means one of the weakest weapons in the game lost over 50% of its ammo carrying capacity.
  • The revival pack, boomer bile, adrenaline shots, laser sights, and ammo upgrades are gimmicky additions, most of which exist currently in L4D1 as mods. I expected something more from a commercial product than a mod.
  • The melee weapons are a big gimmick that I never understood at all. Melee combat in FPS games almost always comes down to mashing down the LMB, I don’t expect anything different here.

Some additional observations:

  • The UI for L4D2 is almost as bad as the Epic failure of UT3’s interface. It’s that bad.
  • The new characters, from what we have seen, are nowhere near as interesting or entertaining as the original characters. Ellis is the only character who seems to have a distinct personality, and it’s one I dislike strongly.
  • In the demo, the FOV and positioning of the weapons on the screen is terrible. I hope they return to L4D1 style.
  • The maps displayed in the demo are during the daytime. And while L4D has never been a “horror” game, more of an arcade shoot-em-up, it just loses a lot of its charm and atmosphere when it’s set during the day and you realize that the only thing you do [in Campaign mode] is run around and gun down tons of helpless, braindead AI opponents.
  • The new style of crescendo event is a dramatic improvement over corner camping, but I’m also concerned they are going to be consistently too difficult when it comes to expert campaigns and particularly Vs. mode. This is especially tricky because campaign mode now has melee cooldown.
  • The charger and the spitter are really powerful. The spitter is probably too powerful, as she can easily dish out 20 damage in a second or so with no assistance from other SI and at seemingly low risk to herself.

In summation, a lot of L4D2 seems to be gimmicks, and improvements that are going to mostly improve the singleplayer / co-op experience. And while Co-op is fun, the meat of the game is in Vs. mode. Since Vs. mode is not available in the demo I can’t comment on much beyond the new maps and SI impacting that. I am really hoping that they improve the Vs. experience by completely changing the scoring mechanic or at least offering a new mechanic. The scoring in L4D1 is such that you can basically wipe out the entire enemy team down to 1 hp, but that doesn’t impact their (or your) score at all if they find a couple of medpacks before the end of the level. A scoring system that valued good play and not semi-random health pack spawning would drastically improve the game. Some kind of system to discourage or penalize rage quitting and griefing wouldn’t be bad either (or maybe, encourage good play instead of penalizing the jerks).

L4D Tips: Smoker

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Games

Smoker – The Smoker is the odd man out of the special Infected. When I first began playing L4D, the Smoker was by far my favorite Special Infected. These days it is my least favorite. The Smoker’s main role seems to be to incapacitate and separate the Survivor group.

Basic Gameplay:
Left Mouse Button (LMB): Tongue lasso. Pressing LMB by default will cause the Smoker to “shoot” out his tongue at the crosshair location. Note that the actual tongue attack only occurs if the Smoker’s crosshair is hovering over a Survivor (this will be indicated by the crosshair turning red).

The tongue lasso is dead-simple, but there are a few things that bear mentioning:
First, the crosshair will light up within say 15%screen of any Survivor. This means that closely packed Survivors mostly cannot be individually targeted. Whoever you grab is up to the pseudorandom computer algorithm to determine.
Second, Survivors can continue to move for the first second or two of being hit with the tongue. If you try and grab someone as they run past an obstacle the chances of your tongue breaking on that obstacle are very high. Additionaly, Survivors can shoot at you during this period, often allowing them to kill you.
Third, there are two types of cooldowns for the Smoker tongue. The first is the “miss” cooldown. This takes approximately ~3-5 seconds. The second is the “tongue broke” cooldown, which is ~15-20 seconds. If you experience the latter in an intense situation you may decide it’s better to run in and attempt to claw the Survivors since dishing out 10 claw damage now is probably going to be more useful than waiting 20 seconds to dish out 6 more tongue damage (in addition to being out of position). The context is important though, you don’t want to die as the Smoker in a critical area.

The damage done by the tongue itself seems to be 3 per second. This increases to 6 per second at the point where the Smoker begins clawing the Survivor. Overally his damage output is quite low by Special Infected standards, so if you are playing as the Smoker do not expect to do major damage unless you are in very specific environments (certain map segments) or the rest of the Survivor team is entirely occupied with other Special Infected. Your main goals in almost every situation should be attempting to separate one lone survivor from the group, or to create a distraction for a Boomer or Hunter (however the Smoker is quite weak at doing this since his tongue can easily be melee’d off or shot, so use at your own risk!).

Right Mouse Button (RMB): Claw attack. Negligible damage (~4-6 damage).
Hit Points: 250. You can take a few bullets, but you will be killed outright by a shotgun blast or sustained automatic fire.
Sound Cues: The Smoker makes a loud hacking cough when he is spawned in the game. The location of the cough itself can be somewhat difficult to pinpoint, but don’t expect to sneak up on any Survivors. There is a delay between coughs that you can use strategically to maneuver, but overall you should expect Survivors to have a good idea where you are. The one exception is when a Tank is in play, as his footsteps and grunting can disguise your own sound cues.

Advanced Properties:
Body Blocking: This is a fairly basic tactic but many people do not understand it. When a Survivor is disabled by the Smoker tongue their body itself can serve as a shield to protect you from a shot or two. This is most effective when the other Survivors are otherwise tied up (such as by a Boomer horde) and cannot close on you. Unfortunately, the Survivor will not take friendly fire damage, so sadly you cannot use this tactic to force Survivors into a choice between freeing their comrade and damaging their comrade.

Tongue Noose: When a player is suspended by a Smoker tongue they take marginally more damage than they otherwise would. The damage seems to increase from a terrible 3 per second to a tolerable 6 per second. Use this to your advantage when you can, but also keep in mind that smoking Survivors from elevated positions often makes you an extremely easy target.

Falling Damage: Your most signficant chance for damage as a Smoker is to utilize falling damage to your advantage to severely damage Survivors. One key example is the scissor lift in No Mercy 3 by the gas station. The Survivors must all run along a roof of a warehouse building. This is the quintessential Smoker location, and it is very nearly your only chance of doing anything productive in this level. Your one goal here is to snag one of the last Survivors and drag him off the roof and down to the ground. Doing this is important not only because it deals additional damage and exposes the Survivor down below to the horde triggered by the crescendo event, but it also separates the group and usually forces a difficult choice: Survivors can either defend the grounded Survivor from their location, risking further attacks by SI as the lone Survivor attempts to make his way back to the group, or the Survivors can rush forward and attempt to open the warehouse door. All in all, this is a win-win situation for Special Infected if executed properly.

Hard Separations: Hard separations is a natural tactic that arises due to the environments in some maps where a Survivor who falls behind literally cannot catch up with the rest of the Survivors. A hard separation is a guaranteed, or mostly-guaranteed kill. For example, in No Mercy 3 the Survivors must drop into the sewer, but there is no way out of the sewer to save a teammate who gets smoked at the last instant before dropping inside. Similarly, there is a small cliff in Blood Harvest 5 that requires all the Survivors to jump down, but offers no way back up. Hard separations are places where the Smoker can really do some good, so always try to maximize them.

Witch Hookups: A witch hookup is another natural tactic that arises with fortuitous positioning of a witch in a level. The Smoker can pull a Survivor into the witch, disturbing her and potentially allowing her to do something useful other than die instantly. If you hear a witch and you are the Smoker you should always plan on attempting to take advantage of her, as the Smoker-Witch synergy can be uniquely effective. One thing to keep in mind though is players will also expect you to attempt to drag into the witch, so at times it can be useful to drag the last person away from the group (which, in effect splits the group into 3, and can be quite powerful if a horde is triggered by the Boomer and the Common Infected spawn in the right locations).

Hunter Setups: Another good trick that you might be able to use with some coordination is that of setting up Hunter pounces. A high-damage pounce by a Hunter can be difficult to pull off, but is much easier when the Survivor is stationary and being attacked by the Smoker. At the same time, a Hunter is a much more efficient damage dealer than a Smoker, so Smokers should usually be willing to give up their prey to Hunters. In short, if you have managed to drag a Survivor away and a nearby Hunter can instantly deal a good 20-25 damage with a pounce, this should generally be encouraged. This also frees up the Smoker to attempt to grab another Survivor, although you will have the long tongue cooldown, so you may be better served rushing and attempting to claw.

Horde Blocking and Horde Assists: When you have Smoked a Survivor, the Survivor must pass through both the world geometry and any zombies that intervene if you want to execute a full tongue-to-claw drag. This is something you must be aware of when playing as the Smoker, as you should always try to drag away from a Horde if possible (although you rarely have much control over this, and less time to react). Doing so ensures the smoked Survivor is separated as much as possible from the rest of the group. However, one slightly good thing about intervening Common Infected is they will give you assists if you have smoked a Survivor and they begin attacking him – Good for your score, and adds a slight bit of DPS, but it’s usually nothing to get excited over unless you’ve got a huge swarm on the guy you smoked and the other Survivors are somehow out of the picture unless you’ve already won.

Play Tips and Tricks:

The Smoker is by far the easiest Special Infected to begin playing as, and in my opinion the Smoker often contributes very little to the Special Infected team. If it weren’t for certain key map locations where Smokers can utilize fall damage or hard separations to their advantage, Smokers would be almost useless. Three well-coordinated Hunters and a Boomer will frequently be more effective than the typical 2-Hunter-1-Smoker and Boomer combo.

The Smoker, like the other Special Infected, will benefit from the Survivors being in open “risk zones.” However he receives the least amount of benefit of all from these locations. The Smoker’s true utility comes in areas where he can drag Survivors down heights, off buildings, into fire, or hard separate a Survivor. A typical risk zone will be more effective than an indoor corridor for all the usual reasons, more attacks from more angles, easier to separate Survivors and keep them tied down with Common Infected, but since the Smoker’s damage is so low and Common Infected have a penchant for getting in the way you will rarely capitalize much on the damage potential offered by these areas.

In many ways, risk zones for the Smoker must have a certain level of obstruction within them that will allow the Smoker to drag the Survivor out of immediate line-of-fire of other Survivors. So overall he probably requires general risk zones the least, but also benefits from them the least. You can expect the Smoker to perform mediocre across the board, except in key areas. Learning these spots is pretty quick once you have played through a couple matches, and there really aren’t a lot of successful ways to handle them, so once you’ve played a few public games you’ll probably quickly plateau as the Smoker.

L4D Tips: Hunter

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Games

Hunter – The Hunter is typically the main damage dealer of the special Infected. It is also probably the single most difficult thing to play as in L4D. Effective Hunters will pick off isolated survivors, dealing damage that will further slow down the survivor’s movement, or force them to delay by healing or picking up incapacitated teammates.

Basic Gameplay:
Left Mouse Button (LMB): Nothing.
Crouch (C): You crouch. Your hunter will begin audibly growling when you are crouched. You will also notice the circular progress bar in the bottom right hand corner begin to fill up. When this bar is full, you can pounce.
Left Mouse Button while Crouching: Your hunter pounces forward, letting out a really lound scream. The angle you are looking when you begin your pounce determines your trajectory. The further/higher you go, the more damage your pounces will do. Maximum pounce damage is 25. After you have successfully pounced a survivor, he is temporarily incapacitated while your hunter automatically follows up with repeated rake attacks.
Right Mouse Button (RMB): Claw attack. Negligible damage.
Hit Points: 250. You can take a few bullets, but you will be killed outright by a shotgun blast or sustained automatic fire.
Sound Cues: The Hunter is actually the stealthiest of all the special infected, and he does not seem to make any sound when he is simply walking around. However, when crouched the Hunter will begin growling which makes him audible. Pouncing Hunters will let out a distinctive scream that will make it obvious when you leap. However, no distinction is made between successful and unsuccessful pounce “screams” so the other players do need situational awareness to determine a Hunter who is threatening them versus actively attacking. Since Hunters semi-frequently use the RMB claw attack, hearing the telltale “random scratching” effect is also another way that Survivors can identify your presence.

Advanced Properties:
Angular Hitbox: While pouncing, whether your pounce connects or not is often determined by variations in your hunter’s hitbox that occur based on the angle of your pounce. For example, if you pounce on a perfect horizontal, you can land a successful pounce even if you miss the survivors by a body length or so. On the other hand, if you pounce on a near-perfect vertical, you can miss the survivors even if you land directly on their heads. Most amateur hunters always try for the highest damage pounce possible, but because of this factor they can often miss pounces that should have been successful. Keep this in mind when planning your pounces.

Wall Jumping: When a Hunter pounces, if you are nearby to any non-collision-volume object, you can attempt to pounce off of that object for more distance or height by pressing LMB. The key to this is learning that you need to have your back turned to the object you are going to wall jump from. So, for example, if you are facing a building and want to wall jump off of it, first pounce towards the building, then rapidly turn around so you are facing away from the building and press LMB. You can only attempt to wall jump once per pounce, so if you screw up that’s it. Mastering wall jumping is the most difficult skill to learn as a hunter, but allows him to attack from many more angles and areas than would otherwise be possible.

Pounce Hit Detection: When you are pouncing, and particularly if you are setting up a high damage pounce, it’s good to scope out the area between you and the Survivors. If there are any pipes, bushes, rocks, tree limbs, catwalks, or other obstructions in your way, unless you have practiced the jump before, go for the safest and most reliable angle of attack. I cannot count how many times I have set up a perfect 25 damage pounce, only to land on top of a pass-through bush on Blood Harvest, or hit a 1 inch pipe running along a wall on No Mercy.

Bile Synergy: As of this writing, the Hunter currently does substantially more rake damage (the claw attacks after the pounce) when a Survivor is covered in Boomer bile. This is actually an interesting change, because prior to the change I would always specifically attack the players who had not been covered in bile (since their view is not obstructed at all). At this point in time it can be quite productive to attack players who have been boomed, though, as the extra damage can really add up if the other teammates are not on the ball. There’s no hard and fast rule on who you should attack anymore, so what you do here needs to be an in-game tactical assessment.

The Hunter has two main uses: DPS and incapacitation. It also has a third use, threatening.

Damage Per Second. This is fairly self-explanatory. A well-played Hunter can simply rack up much more damage than the other special Infected in most circumstances. In a Risk Zone, a Hunter starting off with an effective pounce and leading into multiple rakes on a boomed Survivor will quickly drop his HP by a good 30 points or more. If the Survivor had already been worn down at all then you’ve likely put him in the yellow, slowing his movement and making him think about using a medkit or pills.

As with all special Infected, knowing the maps is one of your best assets. There are several areas in No Mercy (NM1, NM2, NM3, NM5) that are effective pounce locations and can net you 10-25 damage regularly without high risk of failure. Always strive to take advantage of these locations, but you must also understand that Survivors expect you to do this as well. Mixing things up and attacking from “safe” but unexpected venues can catch the Survivors off guard and net you more in rake damage than you could have gotten with an excellent pounce and just a few rakes. This is particularly true if the Survivor you’re raking has been boomed.

Incapactitation. Although the Hunter is frequently the focus of DPS-strategy in L4D, there are some areas where providing cover for the Smoker or Boomer can frequently result in much more effective damage output as a whole. For example, the rooftop after the lifts in NM3 is an incredible location for the Smoker. If Survivors fall down off of the roof, they take additional damage, and the other Survivors either have to split up to rescue their comrade with minimal damage, leave him to take tons of damage but move together, or all backtrack in order to rescue one guy. These are not good choices for the Survivors to have to make, and so the Smoker is a key piece in an effective Infected strategy here.

Incapacitation refers to using the Hunter in order to stop Survivors from firing at a more valuable teammate (Smoker, Boomer) momentarily. In this NM3 example, assume that one Survivor just got smoked and is about to be dragged off of the edge of the roof. The nearest Survivor will attempt to shoot the Smoker and save his teammate — If you are working together you will pounce that Survivor and temporarily incapacitate his offensive ability, allowing your Smoker buddy to do his job. This may also serve somewhat as a distraction, as the other Survivors on the roof will probably stop to shoot you first, buying a few more seconds for the Smoker to deal damage.

Incapacitation is most obvious when the game gives you 3 Hunters and either no Boomer or no Smoker. You can have 3 Survivors knocked down and unable to help the others, while one final guy has to free all three teammates.

Threatening. Threatening refers to the use of the Hunter in much the same was as a Boomer can stall opponents. However, threatening is only likely to work against new-moderate players or uncoordinated public game teams. Threatening takes advantage of the fact that a pouncing Hunter is a very audible threat, and most players psychologically feel a need to hunt down every last special Infected they see or hear, even if that special Infected is not in a generally threatening position. You can actually lure players toward you in many cases. If you’re especially lucky, this will be a lone Rambo player, and you will be able to pounce on him and get serveral rake hits on him before his allies turn around and free him up. In any case, you can often make the Survivors backtrack and delay by providing them with a known threat behind them, which gives your teammates more time to spawn or set up. If I know the Survivors are approaching a risk zone where a Boomer or Smoker is crucial, I may attempt something like this just to buy another 5 to 10 seconds.

Play Tips and Tricks:

Unlike the other Special Infected, the Hunter is really challenging to use and requires more than simple map knowledge to be good. The only way you will get good is by playing one a lot, practicing jumps and finding the ones that you can pull off with regularity. It also helps if you are able to read your opponent’s movements. Pulling off high damage pounces is almost always a result of assessing the situation and knowing what they are going to do. That guy with an Uzi? He is probably going to crouch and fire if a swarm comes. You know he won’t be moving for several seconds, so pounce him if you’ve got a clear shot.

As with all the special Infected, you really want to keep the Survivors in risk zones and outside of mostly-enclosed areas where they are usually relatively safe from pouncing. However, if you’re in a location where you have no other choice, you can potentially run up to the Survivors and melee them (which might be more effective than attempting to pounce and instantly getting knocked off). Places like NM4’s elevator are typical locations for this behavior. Another thing to keep in mind is that Survivors who are nearby to the Survivor you pounce are temporarily incapacitated for 0.5 seconds and knocked away. Although you cannot often use this to your advantage, it is potentially useful if the Survivors are near a ledge, as you might be able to push one off with the knockback from your pounce.

Another trick for enclosed areas to be aware of is that forced-crouching (when you are on top of something but there is not room to stand upright) will not trigger the Hunter’s growling sound cues. Use this to your advantage if possible when setting up close-quarters ambushes. This is probably the only truly stealthy attack the Infected can pull off, so it will most likely catch your enemies off-guard.

One last tip: When playing with a Tank, your primary role changes from doing DPS to simply incapacitating the other Survivors. The Tank needs the cover you can provide by disabling that Survivor’s gun, or the extra second delay that will allow him to get into the face of the enemy. If you can incapacitate the Survivor with a molotov at the ready, even better.

L4D Tips: Boomer

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After reading Shamus complaining about how there is no instruction to playing as the Infected (zombies) in L4D, I figured I would write up a bit covering some of the basic tactics and important things to consider while playing.

Boomer – The Boomer is, in some ways, the crux of the special Infected strategy in L4D. Unless the survivor team is incompetent, or just randomly extremely unlucky, all successful Infected strategies tend to revolve around the Boomer.

Basic gameplay:
Left Mouse Button (LMB): Shoots a stream of bile. Survivors struck by the bile glow purple, and will attract a small horde of zombies to directly attack them. The attracted zombies will specifically target the puked-on target(s). Targets who are puked on get the “my-screen-is-blocked-by-puke” effect that Valve decided was a great idea to use even though my back was turned.
Right Mouse Button (RMB): Claw attack. Negligible damage.
Special: When the Boomer dies, he explodes. The explosion has an area-of-effect status the same as the Boomer’s LMB. Additionally, it will “knock back” or “stun” nearby Survivors for approximately 0.5 to 1 second.
Hit Points: 50. Unless the survivors are using Pistols, you can safely assume that you will die instantly as soon as you are targeted. This can be both a good and a bad thing.
Sound Cues: While the Boomer is alive, he will repeatedly make digestive sound noises that make him very easy to anticipate. Always try and hold your spawn until the last possible second so that Survivors are not aware of your presence until it’s too late. Due to bullet penetration through walls in L4D, even hiding behind corners will not protect you if the Survivors know you are there.

Advanced Properties:
Bile Delay: As of this writing (March 24th 2009) there is a 1 to 1.5 second lag that occurs after LMB is pressed before the Boomer actually begins to “shoot” bile at the survivors. Furthermore, the bile will only “connect” with Survivors if the stream reaches its full extent (which takes another 0.5 to 1 second). If you are interrupted at any time during this process your bile attack will fail.

Bile Hit Detection: As of this writing (March 24th 2009) Bile hit detection is extremely problematic and can be the source of many ruined games. If you are playing as the Boomer, do not assume that your bile will reliably pass through minor obstructions like random decorative plant-matter in Blood Harvest or other miscellaneous objects. My advice here is to always go for the “safe” shot, and to take this into account when you position and spawn yourself.

Melee defense: The Boomer is “disabled,” meaning you [the controlling player] lose all input control, for an extremely long period of time when struck by a Survivor’s melee attack. For example, a Survivor player can melee a Boomer, take a bathroom break, and return and find the Boomer has still not recovered from the initial melee attack. The actual length of this recovery period seems to be approximately 3 seconds, and the Boomer is knocked substantially further backward than the other Special Infected. In short, if you are the Boomer and you are meleed, your attack has most likely failed. If you must spawn in melee range, try to do so in tight quarters.

The Boomer has two main uses: Stalling, and distraction. It also has a third use, DPS.

Stalling. The Boomer can usually stall the progress of the Survivor team by blowing up in their faces, which forces them to crouch down and melee spam for the next several seconds until their vision clears and the common infected are mostly cleared out. Stalling is most effective in close quarters where the common infected will form a literal wall of bodies that make it difficult to proceed. Stalling is usually not productive but can be productive if your other 3 teammates are dead. For example, if the enemy team is inside a building and is about to exit the building into a wide-open area (aka, a “risk zone,” usually a very good location for hunters to perform pounces), it might be worthwhile to stall the enemy team in order to give your teammates time to spawn and set up their pounces.

Distraction. The Boomer’s most valuable use is in distraction. When survivors enter a “risk zone” (risk zones vary by map but almost always are larger spaces with an elevation change that allows Hunters to pounce effectively and Smokers to either hang or drop Survivors) an effective Boomer attack can provide cover for one of the other Infected to do their job. One thing to keep in mind is that when a Survivor is hit by the Boomer bile, they temporarily lose the colored outlines typically allow them to see their allies. Thus it is often most effective to use the Boomer to initiate an attack, and then have the other Infected target players who weren’t slimed. This usually results in at least a second or two of attack time before the other Survivors can react. If you get more than a second or two out of this you are ahead of the curve. Distraction also encompasses use of the Boomer to simply create another threat that players must react to. If one player is pounced, and then the Boomer contaminates the other Survivors, if they are in a risk zone they may be forced to hunker down into defensive positions instead of immediately moving to rescue their ally. Although Boomer hordes are usually not effective at all, in risk zones where you can get surrounded they do pose a threat and can also be physically difficult to wade through (see: Stalling).

Damage Per Second. Although the Boomer is not primarily a DPS class, the fact that it can summon a horde of 30 zombies means that it can cause a lot of accumulated damage if the players are in trouble. However, one reason why this is not listed as a primary use of the class is because if you are using the Boomer as a DPS source then you are probably already winning. That said, using the Boomer to puke on an incapacitated survivor is one of the best ways to kill them. The other Infected should almost always try to take down the functional survivors before going in for the kill, but the Boomer can and should attempt to finish off downed survivors. Keep in mind though that incapacitated Survivors can still shoot you with pistols.

Play Tips and Tricks:

The Boomer is all about knowing the map, and, in particular, knowing where the risk zones in maps are. My simple guideline is this: If the survivors have to defend one area from which zombies can attack, then do not waste your time trying to boom them (unless you have no other option, such as in NM4 at the elevator). If the survivors have two areas where they can be attacked from, then it is probably not worth your time unless you need to stall them. [One thing to keep in mind here is that if you purposefully try to stall weak teams, their psychological reaction is most often to take things slowly and methodically, which means your stalling tactics can actually become much more successful than anticipated.] If the survivors can be attacked from three different directions (ex. Foward, behind, and above) or four directions then you must attack. Keep in mind though that it can be tricky to spawn in areas that are too open. The Boomer must always spawn within a certain proximity of the survivors to be able to successfully contaminate them — Too far away is vulnerable to gunfire, too close will not allow you to spawn, or is easy to predict and melee away.

One technique that can help as the Boomer, although it is very situational, is to have another Infected melee you. This will lower your HP so that when a Survivor attempts to melee you, you blow up instead of rolling away. This can be a guaranteed boom for you, but unfortunately due to the Boomer’s extremely obvious sound-effects, you usually don’t want to spawn so far in advance that you could actually use this tactic.