To celebrate the fixing of my PC I fired up Call of Duty 4 again for a bit of online multiplayer fragging. I was pleased to see that there are still plenty of servers and players around.
I was vaguely aware that some patches had been released for the game but being more used to MMORPGs I assumed that my game was automatically being kept up to date. A quick google search however determined that the latest version of the game is 1.5 while I was still playing 1.1. It was a little surprising that I that could still play with an out of date client but I set about patching it straight away.
This turned out to be quite a nuisance to do. The game has no built in patcher so I had to find the patches on the net by myself. Then I found that the the latest patch (1.5 ) is an incremental one which requires that the game already be patched to 1.4. Finally I was frustrated to discover that neither Infinity Ward (the developer) nor Activision (the publisher) host all the required patches.
Some further googling and a few dud links later I eventually found the patches I needed. I manually downloaded and installed 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and finally 1.5. It was a surprisingly tedious process.
Once the game was fully patched I fired it up and started playing. Still plenty of servers and plenty of players but I was in for a rude shock. Previously there had been a good mix of experienced and new players. I am pretty inexperienced but I could still make the odd kill and get off the bottom rung of the score table. Now I am surrounded by many starred generals who are at the level 55 cap while I am still only a level 20 sergeant. I come last in almost every game.
The penny dropped when I read the patch notes. Different versions of the game are incompatible and play on different servers. Given the tedious patching process it is no surprise that there are still many people playing the vanilla version out of the box and of course this includes most new players. More serious players and more serious servers keep fully up to date for access to the latest maps and such. By patching my game I have moved from kindergarten into big school and I am struggling to keep up.
I don't know if this is usual multiplayer shooters. Team Fortress 2 kept itself up to date via the Steam system. I do think it is a very bad system. Some kind of auto patcher would ensure that every one is kept up to date. Perhaps the developer / publisher doesn't want to incur the expense of hosting patches. At very least they might have included a reminder which would inform players that their game is out of date and prompt them to patch it.
Now I have a dilemma. Do I continue to play on the harder 1.5 servers or do I reinstall the game in order to go back to vanilla 1.1? I guess I will try the harder servers for a bit longer. I might learn something. The huge level difference sounds intimidating but they don't really have any better gear than I have. They just know how to play better :(