Age and Treachery

I’m getting old.

My interest in optimizing my keyboard-input profiles for given video games is progressing from a matter of comfort (in the effort of making a game immersive) to a matter of accessibility (in the effort of making a game playable). I not only don’t have the reflexes of my teens and twenties, but I don’t have the endurance for key-mashing. On the bright side, my mouse buttons will last longer.

My pacifistic approach to my piloting / command carreer in Starpoint Gemini 2 may have stemmed from this. While combat wasn’t impossible for me, it was problematic enough firing deflection to hit common enemies that I decided to avoid direct engagement whenever possible. (I haven’t yet tried capital ship combat, what with fighter squadrons, though. Maybe that’s more strategic and easier.)

With Batman: Arkham City, Fighting in the game is about button mashing. No surprise, really, since the game was built first as a console game, ported to PC. I hit the attack button to punch someone in front of Batman, and I hit a block button to, well, block incoming attacks. Batman is nice enough to counter automatically with a successful block. Given I’m often fighting more than one goon at a time, there’s an awful lot of rapping on both buttons.

Oh, there are fancy maneuvers and takedowns some of which have their own keys, and some are situational. Then there are gadgets (e.g. the batarang) that Batman can utilize in special circumstances (respectively to stun someone at range). An upgraded Batclaw can snatch a gun.

I’ll get to guns momentarily.

At first this seemed like a good way to adjust difficulty in game. Young and spry with nimble digits? You can handle a mob of ten or fifteen! Don’t want to work so hard? Stick to the shadows and rooftops, and pick off outliers one by one until the remaining gang is few enough to dispatch in a brawl. (I can handle four or less confidently. After about eight mob together I start looking to Bat-grapple to a high place where I can loom.)

Guns force the game into stealth mode. A small mob with one gun requires special management to keep the gunman stunned or disarmed. (The gun doesn’t go away, either: Opportunist goons will pick up a dropped weapon.) Two or more gunmen is crazy difficult. Too difficult for me at least. So gunmen have to be handled by stealth and ambushes, at least until there’s only one gunman left. None, better still.

But then, Arkham City threw me into a boss fight featuring a room full of guys and no way to escape and rally. All elevated Bat-grapple positions had vanished. A trapdoor to under the floating floor (another retreat option) just ceased to exist. It didn’t lock, the interface just didn’t acknowledge it as a door anymore.

This reminds me of the quick-time-event boss fight against Buck in Far Cry 3. The developers obviously had a vision for a given sequence, they wanted the player to have an intimate knife fight with a jackass bad-guy. These designers wanted the player to hit specific buttons at specific times and they were willing to suffer no player ingenuity.

The same thing happened in this room full of clowns (goons with clown-faces). Someone on the dev team decided Batman just slogs through this mob, so rather than whittling them down from the shadows, Batman had to flee from them in circles like Curly Howard (or Benny Hill, if Curly is too old-school). I got my bearings to occasionally wade in, but the whole fight was not very Batman-like at all.

If the developers are going to make my bat-tools inconsistent because they have too specific a vision as to how a boss is to be fought, then I can refuse any sense of guilt implementing my own unique solutions.

That said, I created two hotkeys: One will spam (repeatedly and rapidly mash) the attack key. The other will spam the block key. The first one tells Batman to just beat the tar out of whoever is in front of him, and I only need to steer. The second one blocks and counters all incoming attacks, and I just need to keep Batman in the center. That way, I only need to decide my stance, and change up when appropriate.*

It’s notable that in this game, these keys sound more…cheaty…than what they’re based on. In shooters, spamfire keys are commonly used for those games that insist on one shot per click. In some games, it’s an artifact from 80s era coin-op games (e.g. Asteroids). As a result, special (non-standard) controllers for SNES and later consoles would include an option to turn spamfire on or off. Since then, many games differentiate between automatic weapons and semi-auto buy requiring one-click-per-shot. And all (most) Left 4 Dead enthusiasts have bound a key for spam-firing the hunting rifle.

In Arkham City spamfire makes sure old-man Batman can still dispense justice, Gotham style.

* I tightened up these attack stances even more by making them do the other thing upon releasing the key (so the attacky stance concludes with a blitz of blocks. The defensive one finishes with some punches.) That way, the change-up is often done automagically with just releasing the key a moment. I don’t usually have to switch stances.

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