Player 3 has joined the game!
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 February 2019, 12:41 pm
A little late to the blog but my second son has joined the game world as of Jan 18th!  For the astute observers; yes that is 9+ years since player number two (i.e. my first son).

I probably should say "player 4" as my wife counts but couldn't find an applicable image!



What's wrong with Artifact?
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 January 2019, 6:09 pm
It is no secret that Valve's new game, Artifact, is struggling; down from a peak player count of 60k at launch to just a bit over 5k a month later (a 90% drop).  The question is why? What's wrong with the game? 

Prior to the launch of the game the big areas of contention were around the business model; you have to buy the game, you have to buy tickets to play in prize modes, and there is a market to buy/sell cards.  The leading argument is that in a free-2-play world no one wants to pay up and thus Artifact is struggling. However, I would like to posit that maybe there is a different reason.  Maybe Artifact isn't any fun.

I defended Valve's approach to Artifact with a pay-up-front and pay-to-play model.  I still defend it.  I dropped $50 into Steam to spend on Artifact and early on I paid in happily for cards I wanted and tickets/packs I needed for game modes.  This was on top of paying $20 for the game to begin with!  As there are free modes for folks to play in the "buy an event ticket to enter" modes were just another option.  An option, in my opinion, that brought serious competition as no one was buying in without something on the line.  Combine that with the skill-heavy game that Artifact is and you have a recipe for a desirable competitive experience.

However, what I hadn't calculated in my early splurge of spending is that Artifact is, at it's core, not much fun to play. 

Cards represent actions and units within the game, but much of the rest is set up through the magic of a computer.  A paper version of this game would never exist. The sheer amount of random elements would bog a physical iteration of the game down to the point it would be unplayable and I have a hunch that any card game I wouldn't want to play in the real world is a card game I wouldn't want to play digitally.

A game of Artifact starts by a random placement of key cards on the battlefield.  Your three starting heroes are placed, at random, in a starting lane.  They are joined by randomly assigned creeps.  Your opponents heroes and creeps join the battlefield in the same random manner.  Then each hero and creep has a chance to randomly decide the direction of their attack if they are not opposite an opponents creep or hero.  Following this you are dealt a random hand of cards and a toss up on who goes first. 

The first act a player takes in a game is triage which I've found to put me immediately on edge. I had little say in getting to this stage outside of showing up with a deck.  There is no mulligan for the cards I drew and more importantly to me there is no mulligan to redo initial hero placement.  In most card games there are no cards that start on the board and the most random element is your starting hand which in most games allow for a mulligan to get a chance at a more favorable start.  Artifact is basically starting the players on turn six of any other card game with no chance of influencing how the game state was derived.

The game is only possible via the magic of a computer.  A paper version of this game would never exist. The sheer amount of random elements JUST TO START THE GAME would bog a physical iteration of the game down to the point it would be unplayable.  If this was a physical game it is very likely the game starts with a blank board state and the players drive each step of set up.  There is no reason not to take this approach in a digital game.  I cannot emphasize how NOT FUN it is to watch a game play itself before turning it back over to you as the player.

This would be recoverable if the game beyond the random set up offered some excitement, but the turns beyond that initial set up are equally sprinkled with randomness.  But at least in subsequent turns the player gets to decide the lane placement for heroes joining the fight!  Well excpet its still a random placement within the actual lane.  It may be a game winning drop into an open spot or it may be a flop into a death trap. 

The crazy thing is the random elements really don't feel game breaking or game deciding.  There is a ton of opportunity for player skill and it delivers a neat puzzle each turn which fires the thinking side of the brain. 

Unfortunately the options for solutions to those puzzles are not that interesting.  Item card (assuming you get past the random shop options); little impact when played and have to activate it later.  Modify a hero with a couple stat points?  That's anti-climatic.  Play a creep to fill a spot and watch it randomly decide a direction to attack (hope it was the one you wanted).  That creep may be useful.  Activate an ability on a hero that likely does nothing. 

About the only cards of substance are spells and only in the few cases where they actually have impact.  The majority are of little impact to play (like literally just change the direction of an attacker... which was randomly assigned in the first place).  The ones that are fun to play are pretty much no fun for your opponent and thus are what some may call "overpowered".  Take Annihilation for example; wipes an entire lane of all heroes and creeps,  That's fun!  Because once its not your turn you have no counter-play opportunity.  You just sit back and take whatever your opponent plays and if Annihilation was the play THEN THAT'S WHAT YOU GET.

No, I don't want to argue for "counter spell" in Artifact, but I do want to argue that there should be just as many fun and interesting options to react to the "overpowered" spells as there is in casting them in the first place.  Artifact is an asynchronous game with players passing turns back and forth with no interaction whatsoever with your opponents turn.  That is fine, but if the most boring of items, hero, or creature abilities are going to require two turns to realize and thus allow for maneuvers to get out of the way then the game-ending spells should also allow for some creative game play rather than just taking it up the butt each turn against mono-Blue decks.

Ultimately what I am trying to drive towards here is that Artifact is NOT fun because it never feels like you are in control of playing the game.  You are at best watching a series of events unfold and pulling some levers to control each scene.  Playing a card on a hope and dream it does what it is supposed to isn't much fun.  Sure; getting counter-spelled in other card games isn't any fun but at least I know what my cards will do if they make the table. 

Also most other digital card games represent things as cards.  Artifact can't even do that.  Cards turn into little flying discs if they are improvements and cards that are hero items disappear into little boxes on the hero cards they are played on.  Is it too much too ask to show cards as cards?

I hate that I don't find any fun in Artifact.  I've struggled this entire post not to mention another digital card game I am having a blast with even though it suffers from serious drawbacks in a digital best-of-1 game format.  I hate to compare the two but the game I am referring to delivers a very complex and synchronous gameplay experience in a clean digital package while Artifact totally avoids players interrupting each other's turns.  Throw in what feels like an eternity for a timer for your opponent to make a decision and I'd just as easily fall asleep as I would finish a game of Artifact at this point.

I am very worried that Valve will try the free 2 play route which won't address any of the less fun parts of the game which will do nothing more than speed the death of the game.   Valve; I never expected Artifact to be boring and no fun to play.  Please fix.





Happy Holidays 2018
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 December 2018, 8:00 pm
Happy Holidays or whatever.




Initial Thoughts: Artifact
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 December 2018, 10:24 am
Valve's new digital collectible game, Artifact, launched this past week.  I've had the chance to play a few games, craft a couple decks, and give the market a whirl.  Below are my initial thoughts on what I've experienced and where I would like to see the game improve.


When I first opened Artifact the game dropped me into a tutorial game against a bot.  The tutorial game advanced quickly and taught the basics.  Another tutorial game followed teaching more nuanced mechanics.  The tutorial did a good job of making me feel ready to play against other players.


After the tutorial I was dropped into a menu screen that was a bit confusing.  Having come from playing a good bit of MtG Arena lately it was a little bit of a shock to see so many options.  On top of collection/deck building options there was solo play (against bots), casual play (free modes), tournaments, social play, and a special event called "Call to Arms". 


I opted to jump into the casual constructed best of one queue.  I selected one of the pre-constructed decks given to new players who bought the game and a game was found within seconds.  The game started and after a couple turns it was obvious I was NOT ready to play against other players.  Effects were triggering, cards were being played, and I had no idea what was going on.  After following Artifact for the better part of a year, having watched endless streams, this came as a shock.


Artifact is a beautiful video game.  I emphasize video because Artifact has a lot going on visually.  This is not just a card game in a digital medium.  The board is an actual environment.  There are two animated imps that fly around carrying you and your opponent's deck and prompting you to take actions (or cringing/cheering at the action you just took). 


However, in this visual feast what is happening in the game is easily lost.  That card your opponent just played?  It disappeared and maybe you saw the animation on what it targeted.  It may not even have been a card; it could have been an activated ability or an item effect.  Add onto this confusion with a board that is really three boards (called lanes) and the fact that some actions occur in other lanes than the one you are focused on the player can lose track of what is going on.


This was the major wake up moment for me that Artifact was not just another card game.  As I continued to play and learn how to interpret actions that were occurring the more my thought on the game shifted from card game to strategy game.  After several rounds my mind was settled: Artifact is a strategy game that decided to use cards as a representation of units and actions in the game.


One could argue that Artifact is a card game taking full advantage of running on a digital medium.  There are a lot of random aspects; from random creep cards that spawn each turn with random directions they may attack to many cards with a percentage chance to do something.  These random actions happen seamlessly thanks to the power of a computer.  In a physical game this many random play elements would not work.


My contention will be that Artifact could have represented all components of the game via 3D models.  The game board could have been a top down battlefield map without a "board game" feel.  Units could have been 3D models.  And the game would likely feel exactly the same!  Why it was made as a card game I don't know and I'm not sure if it helps or hurts in the long run.  Thus far I am not convinced that Artifact should be treated as a digital card game or compared to games like MtG Arena.  It is much more comparable to it's source, DOTA2, than MtG Arena.


One thing I can say though is I'd love to see some key UI concepts lifted for MtG Arena and applied to Artifact.  MtG Arena does a masterful job of distilling a complex rules set from paper MtG into an understandable user experience that doesn't require years of MtG experience to understand.  One of the best features when playing MtG Arena is that every card or effect that is triggered does two things very well. 


1) It stays open for long enough for the opposing player to register and allows for the player to acknowledge the action (or respond if applicable)


2) The game displays arrows that show what card/effect targets what.  If there are multiple targets/sources then there are multiple arrows.


While the arrows and stack of actions can grow large and complex it helps newer players navigate a very complex game with little trouble.  In fact; I'd say it makes MtG look like a very simple game.  Over time as a player grows comfortable with MtG Arena they can skip through most of the actions.  Plus there is the option to flip into a full control mode whereby every small action is taken manually which allows for advanced players to execute some of MtG's more complex plays.


Artifact really needs some sort of equivalent.  When a card or effect is played the game should pause, show the player what initiated the action, draw arrows between targets and initiators, and then let players click to allow the game to proceed.  While there is no ability for an opposing player to "interrupt" an action as there is in MtG there is still the need to allow the opposing player to process what just occurred.  Especially as a digital game where the player can't point or indicate what they are doing.  The player is completely reliant on the UI and the current state of Artifact's UI is mixed.


On top of needing to improve the UI to show interactions better the games iconography could use some polish.  As mentioned above; Artifact is very much a video game.  The eye popping visuals, voice acting (every card's lore snippet can be voiced out loud), and 3D board are very well done.  But many times that comes at the expense of being able to quickly ascertain what is what.


The biggest "huh?" of this category are the Improvements cards.  These cards, once played, establish a permanent effect for a single lane on the board.  However, instead of representing the played improvement as a card it is instead converted into a TINY (relative to the rest of the game elements) floating disc with very hard to distinguish symbol.  The disc then fires out, visually, it's effect (if applicable).  As many of these effects happen at the start of the turn in the lane right after the sweeping camera pans over the board they can be easily missed.  And good luck new player if you don't have initiative and your opponent drops a card or triggers an effect right away; you will have a heck of a time trying to figure out that improvement. 


Improvements should be represented as cards in a second row next to the tower in the lane.  Period.  Get rid of the floating discs.


Also of concern is the icons on cards that indicate what card type they are.  With the almost full-art approach of the cards (art takes up majority of what you see of a card) the icon can quickly get lost in the background.  Especially item cards where you are trying to determine what slot they go onto heroes (fortunately the game warns you if you are about to accidentally play one item over another slotted item).  I'll also briefly mention the color of the rarity symbols on some COMMON cards make them look exactly like the RARE color.


Artifact needs to improve the user experience.  Not only for the players playing, but for streaming (which is now a key piece for games of this nature).  As I mentioned I watched a lot of streamers play before the game released.  I am shocked (baffled even) how many core concepts I missed because they simply don't come across on a stream.  Having played now there is so much more that I understand about streams but still have a hard time actually tracking either in game or in a stream.


Underneath the UI is a decent game.  I've enjoyed the matches I have played thus far and Artifact is the first "card game" where I've felt I am not directly reliant on the draw of cards.  The game offers so many other decisions to make that whether you drew the right card to play or not is not as impactful.  This is helped by each lane of the board having its own resource pool (mana) which eliminates the need to draw basic "land" cards. 


One area I was nervous about going into the game was the random elements, but after playing matches the random elements don't sway the game very much.  For cards with percentage base effects I never felt like they were priced (in regards to in game resources) in a manner where they felt broken.  Yes, there are times where Cheating Death (arguably the most disputed "random effect" card) is going to result in a "really!?" moment, but if you look at the cost to play and the set up required to benefit there is no other way I see the card existing.  If the card was changed to a more specific effect it would either be completely useless or so expensive to play that it becomes a fringe card. 


The other major random components are the creeps that spawn in the lanes each round and how placement occurs for those creeps as well as heroes.  Players select what lane a hero enters but not what specific spot they enter in.  They could be placed against the opposing players best hero, placed against a creep, or land in an open slot with a free shot at the opposing tower.  This can result in some frustrating moments where a player's hero is put in a no-win situation, but more often than not the placement just changes the way the player will approach their turn.  It really becomes a strategic component for better players to adapt to the environment. 


Also randomly assigned is the direction a creep or hero attacks.  It may be straight ahead or to the left or right.  This means a player could play a strong creep into an open lane only to have it randomly attack left and miss an opportunity to hit the opponent's tower for damage.  Frustrating when it happens, yes, but it is also part of the strategy in each lane and rewards strategies designed to go wide and push out creeps/heroes so they have no other option than a straightforward attack (the random attack direction doesn't apply if there is no other target).


Randomness is part of Artifact and it's neatly woven into the strategy and tactics of the game.  It will bite a player every once and a while, but if player's focus on the right decisions rather than banking on random results they will win out in the long run.


The game being split into three lanes also opens the door for creative planning.  Players have to win two lanes by destroying the tower in each or win a single lane twice by first destroying a tower and then beating a stronger tower (called an ancient).  I have now played in enough games to know there is legitimate opportunity to build decks and play in ways that either prioritize the first lanes or focus on the last lane in some regards. 


Just last night I had a game where I gave up on the last lane knowing that if I could win the first two lanes I could beat win before my opponent won twice in the last lane. That was not my strategy going into the game but my switch to a focus on the first two lanes paid off as I ended up with just enough damage to finish the middle lane and win.  The key moment was on hero re-deployment my opponent chose to double down on the last lane to finish the game while I opted to not defend and risk being able to take the first two lanes.


That game made me feel good.  It made me feel like I outplayed my opponent.  At no point was I waiting to draw the right card.  My opponent made a choice and played towards it.  I took a risk and played towards it.  Looking back at the game I realize what felt like a risk at the time was actually the right play.  With what I had I had a good chance of winning the first two lanes.  My opponent had a guarantee to win the game in the third lane and likely had plans to deal with any defense I threw in.  That win still feels good a day later.


And that is the magic I've found with Artifact at this point.  That game was with a deck I constructed myself from cards I got from packs and a few I bought off the market because I thought they'd be fun to try out.  Playing the game and realizing my choices during the game matter as much as my deck construction is a good place for a game to be at.  I can get past the poor UI experience if the underlying gameplay is rewarding.  Throw in the other game modes I've not tried yet and I think Valve has a solid game on their hands.  It won't be for everyone, but for those that enjoy tense gameplay with rewarding decision making then this is the game.


I feel remiss if I don't mention the monetization model for the game.  The game costs $20 to get in the door and then the competitive modes cost tickets ($1 each) to play in.  The keeper draft modes cost tickets plus the purchase price of packs.  Players can also buy and sell cards on the market (top end cards are going for $20+).  There are free versions of all modes to get players comfortable before committing to spending event tickets.  None of the free versions reward cards or resources and are just for practice purposes.  There is also a special event (and assumed to be more) where players can play with decks they don't own. 


Ultimately the core gamers that stick with Artifact will end up paying to play and I think most will feel validated with the experience they have in the game.  There will be a subset of card game players who don't adapt well to Artifact's more-strategy-game-than-card-game approach and thus will feel jilted by having to pay to play in some modes, but those folks wouldn't likely stick around in a free-2-play model either.  Either you will like Artifact or you won't.  If you do you can play the free modes or you can pay to play wherever you want to be at.  The market will give those that want to the ability to buy the deck they want to play. The market will also give players ways to pull value (in the form of Steam wallet cash) if they are winning more than losing (event ticket modes pay the winners in packs which can result in excess copies of cards to sell on the market).


I need more time in Artifact to determine where it fits in the long-term (I'm still really, really liking MtG Arena), but right now I've found myself enjoying the game and feeling good paying up for some cards I wanted.


Things I want to try next:
1. Draft (casual phantom first; then keeper)
2. Competitive constructed
3. Play more Call to Arms to see how different deck types play out (without having to source the cards)



Types of gamers
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 November 2018, 7:13 pm
This article title over at PC Gamer caught my eye today:  "Destiny 2's mysterious Black Armory expansion doubles down on putting 'hobby' players first." Specifically the term hobby player.  This prompted me to think of the way I classify gamers as I'd never considered "hobby" as a type of gamer.  Gaming itself is a hobby, but classifying a gamer as a "hobby" gamer?  I am not sure that makes sense.  In my view gamers come in three main types.

Before we get to my three types of gamers I want to get the concept of "hobby" gamer out of the way.  The article never explicitly defines the term but quotes from the Destiny 2 developer help frame the use: "...people who live and breathe their hobby playing a videogame..." and "...a community that wants a hobby more than something that comes and goes over the space of one week..."  Based on that context my take is "hobby" = hardcore.  Now on to my types.

My three types are Casual, Core, and Hardcore gamers.  A quick description of each:

The Casual gamer
  • Plays occasionally; contrary to popular belief they don't make up a large segment of any game's population with the exception of mobile games
  • Plays mainstream games; especially free 2 play
  • Not likely to monetarily invest in games unless it buys their way ahead in the game
The Core gamer

  • Plays daily; makes up the bulk of a game's players
  • Plays mainstream games and willing to dabble in non-mainstream games
  • Likely to monetarily invest in games they like

The Hardcore gamer

  • "Plays" doesn't begin to describe what these gamers are doing; they are "living and breathing" their games day in and day out (hence my association to the hobby term in the article)
  • Plays any game, any time, any where if it piques their interest
  • Invests monetarily in games (likely to pre-order and buy special editions of games)
  • At the same time they are willing to invest in games they are the most likely group to grind out free 2 play games to avoid paying

I don't think there is much discussion to be had around the hardcore gamer type.  They are easy to pick out of a crowd and there is no doubt about who they are when playing an online game.  This is a desirable audience for every game to attract as they become the word of mouth that carries games into popularity or helps stem the tides of negativity when the plebeians rise up against a game.

Of more value is discussing Casual vs Core gamers as I feel they get confused as one and the same.  And more importantly is how often developers miscalculate these gamers and that is exactly what I read-between-the-lines in the PC Gamer article that prompted this post.

From my outside observer point of view; Destiny 2 missed for many Core gamers but the game carried forward a key Hardcore audience from the Destiny 1.  In the article the discussion of satisfying "hobby" gamers is placed against a message of "disappointed about the financial results of past Destiny 2 expansions".  Those messages conflict when you take into consideration that the Hardcore (aka hobby) gamers aren't what drive population in a game.  Core gamers are the key in that regard.

Core gamers are gamers like me.  I used to be hardcore (and then I got married, got a job, and had a kid).  I get confused as still hardcore (duh, I have a gaming blog!) because I can talk to the talk and on release of a new game I may indulge myself a little bit (staying up to 2 am a couple nights in a row isn't that hardcore).  I generally play games daily and am willing to part with money for the experience.

As a Core gamer I am looking for simplicity in my gaming choices; how do I get in and make the most of my time.  Games that deliver on that are likely to attract my attention.  This is why I am enjoying MtG Arena and looking forward to Artifact.  MtG Arena is a generous free 2 play game where I don't have to invest money while Artifact is a mostly pay-to-play game.  Both of them actually end up getting into my wallet for the same amount.  Neither one is out there looking to please the "hobby" gamer.  In fact; they really hit Core gamers pretty spot on.  MtG Arena through the free 2 play generosity and Artifact through the no-shame fact they are charging players to play the game and will allow players to buy to exactly the spot they want to be at.

That is where it feels like Destiny 2 misses.  Just reading the article and hearing about expansions and free seasonal updates and then paying for season passes; my Core gaming mind is gone to other games.  I was almost pulled in when Destiny 2 was free on Battle.net, but it was so confusing to know what I was getting into.  Like; do I need to buy expansions or not?  Do I need the pass?  Was this a Guild Wars 2 type experience where I can buy once and jump back in whenever I want for no cost?  Or was this something else where I was going to have to tap that pass each time?

Ultimately what I am getting at is that as far as types of gamers go Core gamers get confused to one side or the other and in that light its easy to see a developer to miss us.  I probably would have picked up Destiny 2 if the updates/expansions made any sense to me and it was clear how I could play the game with or without paying (again, as a Core gamer I'm not opposed to paying).  But reading an update going towards the "hobby" player makes me turn away.  I don't plan to live and breath any game anytime soon.  I am sure the Hardcore Destiny 2 players have already paid up and will keep paying up but no doubt we'll keep seeing the "disappointed in Destiny 2 financials" as the Core gamers are missed.







Something Something Artifact Something Something Valve
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 November 2018, 11:54 am
"I've never gone from 100% hype to totally deflated so fast" Uh oh!  Something is afoot in Valve-land with their now-in-public-beta Artifact digital card game.  The NDAs are lifted and people are speaking their mind.  Not about the game play or that some totally broken card/combo, but about Valve's audacity to actually charge players to play the game.  A tough pill to swallow in a universe of "free 2 play" competitors.

As the veil of the NDA came down and Valve released an updated FAQ concerns started to flood in about the "Artifact paywall".  Essentially; everyone is upset that Valve plans to charge players to buy tickets to get into common events.  Specifically is the requirement to buy "tickets" along with the packs to participate in draft modes. 

For those unfamiliar with drafts within card games; players buy a a set number of card packs and then spend turns picking cards (drafting) from those packs to play a game.  In real life paper card games; this means you get to keep the cards you draft (because once the packs are open there is no putting the cards back).  Draft modes where players keep cards are often called "keeper drafts". With digital games there is the ability to have phantom drafts where players do not keep the cards.  Often times these phantom draft modes allow "free 2 play" games to give their "free" players a way to enjoy draft.  Alternately, some games like Magic the Gathering Arena, allow "free" players to acquire free credits that can be redeemed for a draft.

Valve has decided to eschew the "free entry" model for their game modes and are instead charging players a number of tickets to participate in the game modes.  This includes keeper draft modes; players have to pay for tickets and packs.  Valve's reasoning for the tickets is due to the events rewarding tickets and packs (the better you do the more you get).  Also for phantom draft modes the requirement to pay for a ticket (or use one you earned) also helps solve the issues of 100% free drafts where players quit after a poor draft (i.e. they didn't get good cards).

There is no way to play Artifact for free.  Players have to buy the game ($20) and have to buy tickets to play in modes that reward new cards.  There is no method where players can grind for free cards just by playing the game.  Caveat; if you are a really good player you can go "infinite" whereby you always win the events and thus receive more rewards than needed to join another event (and thus after your first purchase you never have to buy into an event again).

This is a distinct difference from the other major players in the digital CCG market.  Specifically both Hearthstone and MtG Arena offer completely free methods to enter their draft modes.  Combined with the feedback from the Artifact beta testers that draft is the best way to experience Artifact it sets the stage for the hype to die.  Essentially lots of folks assumed Artifact was just going to be a free 2 play game.

On one hand I can see where players would assume the game would be free becaus Artifact is based on DOTA2 and DOTA2 is 100% free 2 play.  On the other hand I can point to the fact that Valve has always stated that they intended Artifact to replicate a real life card game where players can buy, trade, and sell cards just like they were real cards.  Thus it should be no surprise that Valve was going to charge an entry fee for events since the rewards (cards) have tangible real world value.

Another concern was that the hero cards in starter decks were also in packs which means they are dead cards with no value (everyone gets the starter decks and thus would never need to trade/buy a copy).  Also Valve clarified they will be taking a 15% cut of market sales which many felt was a high take.

All of this has cascaded in a torrent of "Artifact is doomed" and "Artifact's paywall is stupid" type posts across the Internet. Those sort of posts are my area of expertise as I am usually the pundit screaming the loudest about this sort of thing.  I love me a good doom and gloom post! 

However, all I can do is sit back and wonder what the heck these folks expected.  More importantly I struggle with not giving Valve the benefit of the doubt.  There were many people, myself included, who doubted that a 100% free 2 play DOTA2 would ever work or that a bunch of silly community-created content could drive a robust economy in Team Fortress 2 or that players would drop hundreds of dollars on barely recognizable skins in Counter Strike GO.  Valve has made all of these "different" models work in their major games and for the most part executed them in the face of "that'll never work" punditry. 

The bottom line is that Valve has never looked at the market and said "we're going to do what everyone else is doing".  They have always forged their own path.  Some things have worked; some have not.  Valve has taken a calculation with Artifact that there is an audience out there that wants a close-to-paper recreation of a card game in digital form. 

Personally I am one of those players.  I want to be able to buy, sell, and trade my cards.  I want to know that other players have bought into the game.  I am done putting credit cards into slot machines hoping the magical number overlords deem me worthy of the specific card I need.  I am done with dusting and wildcards.  If there is some stupid low power common card I want; let me buy it for a few pennies.  If there is a high power rare for a top tier deck, let me make the decision to keep hitting the slot machine for it or just take that money and buy it out right from the community (or better yet, let me trade up to it without having to expunge the cards from the community pool). 

All of this to say; KEEP GOING VALVE; I'M WITH YOU!  Contrary to the "I'm canceling my pre-order"; I am taking this opportunity to pre-order Artifact.

Also shortly after all this hub-bub; Valve mic-dropped a beta update invalidating many of the concerns.  In summary; excess cards can be recycled into event tickets.  This means there will be a minimum value for all cards (i.e. at some point it is better to recycle than to sell on the market).  It is a simple and brilliant solution and while it brings in a form of "dusting" it is acceptable for the problem it is solving  (worthless cards and a race to the bottom for card prices in the market).  In addition to the recycling of cards they are prioritizing a couple game modes to help bring more options for draft modes.  Oh and most of these changes are going into the live beta right now vs some dubious "future" release (take that as a lesson MtG Arena devs!).





Magic the Gathering Arena; thoughts
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 October 2018, 3:28 pm
I have played Magic the Gathering (MtG) on and off since the 1990s.  I began around the time the Portal starter sets and Tempest card-set (part of the Rath Cycle).  To this day, the Sliver cards remain some of my favorite.  Post 2002 I shifted from paper to MtG Online (MTGO) as my gaming habits moved from physical games to the digital space. 

About this time my gaming focus became dominated by MMOs and my MtG cards were boxed (digitally and physically).  For years my only interaction with MtG was to wax nostalgic at players in my local game store while I played the new hotness of the moment (Dreamblade, World of Warcraft TCG, The Spoils TCG, etc).  In the late 2000s, MtG: Duels of the Planeswalkers (DotP) made its way onto the PC and it drew me straight in with the promise of a better interface (MtGO was not the best digital representation of the game at the time) and limited decks (i.e. you didn't have to know how to build a deck; you just focused on playing).

DotP was followed by additional versions in 2012 and 2013 and that annual trend of a yearly Duels versions continued in 2014 and 2015.   Each bringing a couple more features and continuing to nudge MtG into the digital realm further and further.  Duels was very much a quick to play version of the game that limited deck building so the focus was on playing the game.

After 2015 a shift was made to Magic Duels which was as close to paper magic as it seemed that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) was willing to get (remember, MtGO has been in existence since 2002!).  It featured its own unique rules (differing it from paper MtG) and there are over a thousand cards, deck construction, in-game purchases of cards, multiplayer modes, and a slew of single-player modes to play decks against the computer.  It seemed like Magic Duels was the go forward strategy for the casual player (specifically mobile gamers) in place of annual DotP releases.  It was the happy middle ground between MtGO and paper. 

Then up comes MtG Arena, a new digital offering that is 1-for-1 with the paper game rules and a plan to have simultaneous releases for new card sets going forward (cards will be limited to sets in the current Standard block as to avoid the idea that Arena is replacing MtGO which supports almost the entire MtG library).  Arena features a slick new user interface, speedy games rules engine, and a slew of bonuses for streamers to stream games via platforms such as Twitch.  Players can buy booster packs, play in sealed/draft events, construct decks the same as they would in paper, and there are discussions of opening the door for non-Standard game types (such as Singleton).

All of this to say; I am playing MtG Arena and I have some thoughts on it from the Open Beta.

The first thing that struck me about MtG Arena was the ease at which a new player can get into a game.  In fact; the game drops the player in a series of tutorial games before they ever see an options menu.  This feels like the right move as once a player is on the main menu they are on to playing competitive games against real players or dropping into a Deck Editing screen for a fairly complex game.  The current Standard block for MtG is no slouch when it comes to variety of mechanics and card interactions (heck there are keywords and card types I wasn't even aware of)!

The second feature that jumped out was how smoothly the game plays.  The games rules engine (being called GRE in the community) is a work of art and is supposedly built to read and interpret card keywords and rules and thus be able to adapt to any new cards added to it without having to program how each individual card should work.  The end result is a very quick to play game that handles one or a hundred token creatures with ease.

With that efficiency comes a problem though.  There is no way for a new player with no MtG experience to have any chance to understand what the heck is going on during some of the more nuanced parts of MtG.  The "stack" is fully and faithfully represented and players will spend time going card by card, effect by effect through it.  In many cases a new player will barely have the time to be able to read the rules text on some of the more common cards before they are overwhelmed with a "stack" of card effects waiting to be resolved.  Throw an Enchantment - Saga or a Planeswalker at them and good night my dear new player.  One of the things DotP did well was to limit some of the more complicated combos making it into the game and thus ensuring a new player didn't have to fret over some of MtG's more nuanced possibilities.

With that said, MtG Arena is clearly aimed at the serious MtG player.  While the game has cleaned up many of the laborious parts of MtG to make it bearable on a stream it has done nothing to eliminate the high complexity that is current state MtG.  MtG has 20+ years of development behind it and every new set digs into that backlog to bring forward bits and pieces.  This what makes much of the current MtG scene so exciting, but is also what can make it really, really hard to get into.  What is good for the veteran is not always good for the new player.  In paper MtG this is mitigated a bit by any number of custom play variants so I am hoping that Arena is able to execute on some more play modes to help step new players into the game (for example; a mode similar to Magic Duels where mythics, rares, uncommons are limited in a deck).

Now for the experienced MtG player; Arena is the dream digital representation of the game.  I cannot emphasize enough how well it handles the "stack" and walks the player through it.  Its not perfect (I would love to have a bulk resolve option for big stacks where no action is being taken), but it is light years ahead of any other digital version I have played (and from what I can remember of MtGO it puts it to shame).  Arena also does a great job of reflecting chains of effects; where they came from, what they are targeting, and if they tie into the stack somewhere. 

Anyone that has read my "Why Artifact has me excited" article will note that I was excited by the Richard Garfield statement about Artifact supporting any number of cards on the digital table at once.  I reaffirm my statement here.  Arena is great at handling any number of cards on the table at once.  I have played games with 30+ token creatures out at one time and it was easy to manage and didn't bog the game down; that is unless you get into effects that add an item to the stack for every card (see next paragraph).

Resolving large quantities of effects/cards in the "stack" can be a problem as there is no bulk option.  Players have complained of being "timed out" and thus forced to concede a game because it was taking too long to make assignments of blockers (which I can see happening with some of the token creature generating decks that are out there). 

Also having an audit log of cards/effects played would be useful as it is easy to click through whatever may have just been played and it can be hard to reverse engineer (just last night I had an opponent down to 1 life and the next turn they popped back to 16 and I have no idea how or where they did it even after exhausting a time out to read through all cards/token creatures they had in play).

Another area I would like to see Arena improve is the portion outside of playing the game.  There is no way to go back and see the last card or pack of cards you opened.  A stray click and it is easy to miss the rare/mythic you just received.  A "most recent cards acquired" log would be A+ awesome.

A big gap seems to be the inability to add or play casually with friends (something Valve is advertising as a differentiator for their upcoming digital card game Artifact).  Currently in the open beta for Arena players can only compete in competitive modes (single game ladder, best of 3 matches, special events, or buy-in sealed/draft formats).  Along these lines you cannot talk with other players or send them messages.  While this cuts down on the need to police such transactions it really kills the social aspect of the game.  I would love to be able to ask some of my opponents on how they built their deck, why they played a card in such a way, or to just pass time.

The deck edit screen also needs a lot of love.  It feels like it was built for a mobile user instead of a PC user.  Simple features such as hovering over a symbol to see what it means or "do you really want to remove this card from your deck?" messages are missing (seriously; whoever designed the Edit Deck screen to remove a card from your deck when clicking it should be shot... I click things because I want to see them!!!!).  This goes back a bit to the new player experience with MtG Arena.  I would be so pissed as a new player if I clicked a card to see it in my deck only to have it be removed and not having the knowledge to add it back. There is also ZERO explanation anywhere of what the symbols mean when trying to filter cards (fine for the experienced, terrible for the rest of us).

The jury is still out on other aspects of the game such as card acquisition rates, cost compared to paper, and the ability to stay "free 2 play" as a player.  It will be interesting to see in the long run how players feel about having their monetary investment in the game go to the wayside as card sets cycle out of Standard.  It is also not clear how a player that takes a break can quickly get back into the game at a later date without an expensive buy in (right now you get 10 starter decks through the New Player Experience).  I am hoping they will provide starter decks for new expansions at a discounted (or free) rate for returning players.

In my view; Arena is a natural progression from Magic Duels.  It takes the final step to put MtG into a modern digital format.  The game plays like a dream, the streaming integration is top notch, and all the cards and deck building capability that Duels/DoTP lacked is present.  The hardest of hardcore will continue with MtGO but for the on again/off again player such as me Arena will be the best option.

I have been playing a mono-white deck that I've pieced together from the few booster packs I've earned and the starter decks.  I also cashed in a few wild cards (MtG Arena's way of allowing you to pick a card instead of playing the booster pack lotto forever).  I'll post the deck if time permits.

I am currently playing open beta under "heartlessgamer" (not that you can add me).

And a quick shout out to my favorite card of the week:






Why Artifact has me interested
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 September 2018, 9:18 am
Artifact is an upcoming digital card game from Valve.  My initial reaction was that Valve was cashing in on the Hearthstone trend (the same reaction as the audience booing the game during it's original reveal at The International 2017).  While there are similarities it is becoming clearer that Valve is looking to differentiate Artifact from the Hearthstone-a-like crowd.  A quick look at the differentiators:
  • It is NOT free to play; players buy the game and buy the cards and packs
  • Focus on playing with friends and social gameplay; not on "grind" modes
  • Steam Marketplace integration for trading, buying, and selling individual cards
  • Lane-based gameplay (i.e. there are three game boards active at one time)
  • Any number of creatures in play
  • Any number of cards in hand
I want to tackle the "it's not free to play" first because it sets a tone for the rest of the items.  Valve could have made Artifact free 2 play and integrated numerous methods for players to "grind" away at gaining cards all while dangling a cash shop with loot boxes booster packs.  But Valve didn't and its evident that the other differentiators result from that decision.


Integrating with the Steam Marketplace enables the capability to trade and sell individual cards which brings Artifact closer to cardboard TRADING card games (TCGs) that made it's designer, Richard Garfield, famous.  Yes, there is a word in all caps there.  I am firm believer that the trading and collecting of single cards is a key component in the enjoyment of these games; physical or not.


Trading cards is just the first part of a return to more social-oriented gaming that Valve has planned for Artifact.  They are also very talkative about their social gaming approach.  They want to focus on players playing with their friends and not beholden to "game modes" in which players feel forced into the most efficient method to "grind" for cards.  This is why the ability to trade/sell/buy individual cards is key.  If players are going to play with their friends then they need to know they aren't losing out on progress that could be made towards something else.


The last three items on the list do not wrap themselves into the free to play or social aspects, but none the less are important to peaking my interest level in Artifact.


Lane-based gameplay is not new.  In fact; upon seeing Artifact's lanes it immediately made me think of another digital card game Richard Garfield was involved with; SolForge.  SolForge was played across five lanes and enjoyed moderate success after it's Kickstarter campaign (and is still going in an unofficial capacity). 

Artifacts approach to lanes is a step above SolForge's approach.  Where SolForge only offered a single card per lane; Artifact is offering an entirely new gameboard within each lane where any number of cards can be played to "win" in that lane.  This appears to create three games within one which means every match of Artifact will feel like three separate games.  This will really up the strategic level; especially as more cards are released with mechanics that influence other lanes.


Lastly I just wanted to touch base on the idea that "any number of cards/creatures" bullet points.  YES!  Finally; a digital card game that takes advantage of the ability for a computer to manage any number of cards for the player while still keeping the game organized.  In physical card games sprawl can be a real issue (as anyone having played a Magic the Gathering squirrel token deck can attest to).  In the digital space sprawl can be managed via a clean user interface and good mechanics that keep players moving along each turn.

Artifact is shaping up to be a Valve classic and like DOTA2 before it; Valve is taking a tried and true genre and giving it the Valve polish and common sense we've all come to expect.



Games Made Me: THAC0
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 July 2018, 10:48 am
Back in 2013 I had this idea to blog about gaming experiences that "made me" the gamer that I am.  I posted the first "Games Made Me" post and then failed to create any other (even though my mind is swimming with topics).  Real Life has gotten in the way of blogging for the last... oh... six years or so, but a recent jaunt back into Dungeons and Dragons with my son resurfaced a Games Made Me topic.  That topic is THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0).

THAC0, in it's simplest explanation, is a calculation to determine whether an attack hits or misses in 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).  Read more about THAC0 in this excellent Reddit post detailing it's history.  That post does it better justice than what I could write here.

Armor Class was a carry over wargames played by the creators for D&D; applying the "armor" of a ship or tank to the "armor" of a fantasy hero.  A method was needed to determine whether an attack could breach that "armor".  THAC0 was the answer and also a simplification of previous iterations of  "to hit" tables from those wargames.

As a simplification it to it's wargames origins it made sense.  Tables in the D&D books helped outline baselines across class and level.  Math was not required as the expectation was that THAC0 was a value that was written on the character sheet and referenced against the tables.  When rolling a D20 for an attack; players would know what they needed to hit.

The challenge comes in when you take into consideration the amount of shifting that occurs during a typical D&D encounter.  The player character's values as well as the monster values were subject to constant change.  Player's would receive buffs that increased attack strength or that changed armor class values for their target.  With each change in number came a new change in THAC0 calculation.  A good D&D group needed a proficient player that could calculate THAC0 reliably through any number of variable situations.  Otherwise the session would bog down as pencil and paper were whipped out (a hard to imagine scenario with the current state of tablets and smart phones).

For my D&D group in high school I was the THAC0 calculator.  My mind was built to focus on detailed rules like THAC0 and to ensure they were executed correctly.  A major difference between classes in D&D was their calculated THAC0.  It ensured priests were not going to be as effective combatants as warriors.  Screwing up THAC0 calculations (often purposely) allowed classes to be the combat hero.  Enforcing THAC0 correctly ensured that classes that were not meant to be hack'n'slash super stars relied on the other defining aspects of their "role".  The benefit being better "role"playing.

My THAC0 calculator mindset extended into other aspects of the rules.  I was known to crawl through class, weapon, and other rules to "keep the table honest" (as I was known to say).  With that approach I became known as the "rules lawyer".  That moniker followed me through numerous editions of D&D and even as THAC0 became a thing of the past and was replaced by much simpler "base attack bonus" modifiers I found other places to focus.  Most recently with D&D 5E and playing with 8-12 year olds (father/son group) I've stepped right in to make sure the barbarian is using rage in every battle, that the bard is providing inspirations, that players are using that inspiration when applicable, or that our rogue isn't forgetting to apply advantage on attack rolls.

This rules lawyer (or alpha gaming) approach has been part of who I am as a gamer.  It is likely evident to anyone that has followed this blog for any amount of time.  While video games don't require someone to stay on top of all the calculations and rules there is always the analysis of what is best combination of things that result in the best outcome.  I have the tendency to insert my opinion in those combinations from time to time.

It is hard to say whether having to be the THAC0 expert for my group made me into this style of gamer or whether I was destined to be this way.  I would bet on the latter, but at the same time I can trace my gaming roots back to THAC0 as it influenced my view on where I fit into games.  THAC0 made me the gamer I am today.





Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review - The Pictures
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 January 2018, 7:33 am
In part one of my review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi I will use the following pictures to describe my thoughts:

In part two I will put down some words.  Until then; happy new year (apparently my new trend will be to post Star Wars reviews as the first post of the year).



How I would change The Last Jedi (Spoiler Alert)
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 December 2017, 8:11 am
Warning; rambling and poorly organized thoughts below.  Lots of spoilers (duh!).

Top changes I would make to The Last Jedi (and that I honestly think could have been made keeping most of the key plot points and footage).  End result would have been a passable movie.

Lightsaber toss is changed into Luke handing it back to Rey and walking away.  Luke is really just testing Rey's patience as Yoda originally did to Luke.

Leia dies in space sparking Luke to cut the Yoda-crazy-act and train Rey.  Bonus points if Luke is lead to believe Kylo Ren pulled the trigger (even though he didn't).

Rose never happens.
Canto Bight never happens.
Dreadnought and bombers in space never happens.
Hacker guy never happens.
Slowest space chase in history never happens.
Super-super Snoke star destroyer never happens.  How about the First Order shows a bit of set back from having lost a planet-sized base!
Yoda never happens.
Frog people never happens.
Universe spanning mind link never happens.
Luke flashbacks to trying-to-kill Kylo never happens.

Resistance escapes directly to the salt planet and activate the defenses.

Rey/Luke sensing the impending doom of The First Order having the remnants of the Resistance trapped on the salt planet fly off to save the day.  However, due to being cut short on time to train together they have a disagreement on how to proceed.

As they arrive at the planet Rey jettisons herself from the Millennium Falcon.

Snoke sensing Rey's arrival tells Kylo Ren to bring her to him.

Luke and Chewie are forced to escape to the planet and meet up with the resistance.

Snoke pits Kylo and Rey against each other.  First, he trigger's Kylo's teeny-angst by planting false lies about Rey's parentage and how Rey is his better.  Second, he trigger's Rey's emotion by telling her that her parent's were nobodies and that she is just a pawn to the force filling a vacuum.

Rey and Kylo have an epic fight before realizing that Snoke is playing them.  They turn on Snoke to kill him but have to go through the red dudes to get it done.  Snoke is greatly amused by the fight assuming he can kill the weaker of the two and keep the other.

After Rey and Kylo finish the red dudes Snoke utters a bad ass one liner like "good, use your anger".  Then Kylo realizing he is forever limited by Snoke (the same as he was limited by the weakness that was his father, Han) turns and kills Snoke.  Before Snoke goes down he utters "if you strike me down I will become stronger than you ever could know" setting him up to return in the next movie.  Kylo slices Snoke's head off.

Rey can't convince Kylo of her viewpoint and vice versa Kylo can't convince Rey of his.  Kylo traps Rey and finds out Luke is on the planet.  In a rage he takes an invasion force to get Luke.

Rey escapes and heads to the planet.

Luke fearing that Rey has been turned to the dark side fights to the death on the planet surface. Kylo and Luke have the most amazing lightsaber duel all the while Kylo is taunting him about Rey.  Kylo takes a wicked face hit forcing him to forever keep his mask on in future movies.

The Resistance hope-o-meter goes bankrupt as Luke falls on the battlefield and they escape into the tunnels.

Surprise, Rey is OK and saves the day.  The Resistance's hope-o-meter is full again.
Ending scene is Kylo donning his mask and going "Noooooooooooooooooooo!!!!" as the Millennium Falcon zips into hyperspace.
End credits.

Where are Finn and Poe during this movie?  Keeping the bromance going and working to keep the remnants of the Resistance from imploding under the doom and gloom.

Phasma?  I actually sort-of-like Phasma being a running meme in each new Star Wars movie.  A slow roll of her trying to squash out the "bug" that is Finn would be epic.






Rolling Dice in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 December 2017, 5:42 pm
Looking for my insight on The Last Jedi?  Sorry, haven't seen it yet.  In the interim my Star Wars time has been spent playing the tabletop role-playing game (RPG), Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), with my 8-year old son.  I made the purchase to bring in a change of pace for a father/son Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) group we participate in.  I have not yet brought it  to the table with that group, but after a few hours of game master (GM) practice with my son running multiple characters I am excited to give this a go.

The first thing to note is that this tabletop RPG is not a D20 (20 sided dice) based system like D&D.  The dice are custom dice specific to this system and function in a different manner than a D20 based system (or a D6 system for that matter).

The unique dice

In the D20 system the narrative culminates with a single dice roll deciding the fate of an action.  Then, more dice are chucked to derive a number for things like damage or how much gold was found. 

For example; "Reed decides to attack the goblin."  The player playing as Reed rolls a D20 to determine if they hit/miss.  "Reed hits." The player now rolls more dice to determine damage.  Any number of interesting things may have happened leading up to this point but ultimately it all came down to that attack roll hitting.

In the FFG custom-dice system the roll (of multiple dice) is ahead of the narrative and decides the choices that the players and GM get to make.  Each roll results in multiple outputs; first the number of success symbols compared to the number of failures.  If there are more success then the action is a success; more failures then it fails. 

Success/failure is not the end of the roll as there are also symbols for threat and advantage.  As with success/failure both threat and advantage cancel each other out.  If there are more advantage than threat then something good can happen for the player or GM rolling; alternately more threat means something bad may happens.  This allows for the possibility that someone could be successful at a task but have something bad still happen because of it.  Or alternately they could fail at a task but have a positive side effect. 

This opens a huge opportunity for narrative choice for both the players and GM.  For example; "Reed decides to aim and attack the stormtrooper."  The player playing Reed rolls a dice pool and fails (more failures than success) with three advantage (three more advantage than threat).  The roll has now opened a door; the attack misses but Reed has a choice (or the GM has the choice) to decide how that advantage impacts the narrative.  It could be a "game" element such as recovering a point of strain.  Or it could be a "story" element such as "Reed is surprised when the blaster bolt ricochets off the wall and still hits his target." because it was important to the narrative for Reed to hit in this situation.  (+3 advantage is like rolling a natural 20 on a D20... and anyways Han didn't shoot first... he rolled a failure with advantage!).  Like the D20 example any number of interesting things could have happened before this roll and those interesting things could influence choices for either success/failures or threat/advantage.

The D20 aligns more with a "game" while the FFG system aligns more with a "story" and for a gamer that leans more towards the role playing side of tabletop RPGs I find the FFG system a better option.  It does put the onus on the GM being good at thinking on their feet and not defaulting to the same result for rolls (i.e. every failure with advantage can't be a ricocheting blaster shot).  The system also moves the narrative forward in new and interesting ways instead of the static this/that way of the D20 system.

In the next post I will cover my thoughts on how the unique dice mechanic translate to the rest of the game and compare combat, movement, and abstract vs exact representation of the game world.





2017 Black Friday Gaming Deals 2017
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 November 2017, 7:08 am
It is Black Friday once again and that means we all go about spending money we've saved up all year on the games we love to add to our queue and never get around to playing.

A few gems from the Steam sale (which technically has been going on all week):

Stardew Valley $10.04
Firewatch $7.99
Just Cause 3 $7.49
Tabletop Simulator $9.99

Board Game Deals
Note: friendly reminder to keep tabs on BGG's Hot Deals forum.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers $57.90  -- This is an exceptional price for a game that is not regularly discounted.  There is easily $90 worth of components in this game alone!  With the savings here I'd get the box organizer for this game from Broken Token.

Planes $19.99 -- Another exceptional steal and appears to be going fast.

What do you meme? $20.99 -- If you have a Internet-geeky circle of friends then this is a great party game.  This is on the daily deal via Amazon so limited time offer.

Barnes and Noble is holding a buy one/get one 50% off sale on board games and puzzles.





Why I'll probably buy Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 September 2017, 6:52 am
Arena Net is counting down towards Sept 22nd and the launch of Guild Wars 2's (GW2) second expansion; Path of Fire.  The game continues to be the last-game-standing of the post-World of Warcraft AAA MMOs (and deservedly so).

While I have not played GW2 in a while (PLUNKBAT having stolen much of my time recently) I am still likely to buy this expansion.

Why you might wonder?

The answer is simple; there is no subscription or "pay 2 win".  I can come back to GW2 whenever I want and pick up where I left off.  Sure I may have to invest some time in reading up on the most recent meta builds or grind out some mastery skill, but for the most part GW2 is pick up and go-go-go for any returning player.

This is the number one redeeming quality about GW2 and reminds me of days gone by when games were games and not just a series of money-sucking crates, DLCs, keys, etc.  So I will likely buy Path of Fire and jump back in for a few dozen hours and then I'll shelf GW2 as I always do.  Then I'll wait for the next expansion.

I would encourage anyone else pining for the days of MMOs gone by to do the same.  Companies like Arena Net deserve our support for making quality games with upfront costs in a world of get-your-first-hit-free-but-pay-up-in-the-end.



Star Wars: Rogue One Review
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 January 2017, 9:58 am
Since seeing Rogue One (twice now) I’ve been thinking about Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), the ill-fated Star Wars MMO.  A key moment in my history with SWG was in response to a comment from the developers stating that “no one wants to play a moisture farmer”.



As a longtime poster on the SWG role-playing forum I argued that this mentality was wrong.  There were tons of players that wanted to exist in the Star Wars universe as something other than a Jedi, smuggler, or bounty hunter.  Players wanted to be that moisture farmer.  I wanted to be that moisture farmer. 



I was and continue to be a Star Wars expanded universe junky and this is why I found Star Wars Rogue One to be my favorite Star Wars movie of all time.  With it’s menagerie of characters, locations, and fan service indulgences Rogue One is a movie that diehard fans can place themselves in.  Maybe you are one of the protectors of the Jedi temple on Jedha?  Or a two foot tall member of Saw’s rebellious band? Or maybe you are one of the various imperial roles featured on Scarif?  Maybe even a black armor wearing Deathtrooper!  Personally, I am the space farmer being bothered by some imperial bigwig.



As much as Rogue One is a movie for the want-to-be moisture farmer, I can see why casual fans and regular movie goers would be less enamored with it.  I could write a lot about this, but it’s easier for me to point you at Red Letter Media and Mr Plinkett’s thoughts on the matter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJgfxlgUIZY  In short, for a movie review, I agree with Mr Plinkett.



However, as the Star Wars super fan, none of what makes for an underwhelming movie matters. The feel and look of the movie is consistent with the originals.  The acting, while not perfect, doesn’t detract from the experience (case in point; go back and try to watch the acting in Episode 1,2, or 3).  The movie delivers an expansion of the new cannon that fits right into the old.  Basically, they didn’t screw it up and that is what matters for me.



I can handle the conflict when I agree with critical reviews such as Mr Plinkett’s and still make the statement that Rogue One is my favorite Star Wars movie.  I don’t believe for a second that Disney intends to make Star Wars movies for fans like me.  Rogue One is a happy accident for fans like me and I am comfortable with my love for it.


A quick thought on The Force Awakens and Starkiller Base

I never wrote a review for The Force Awakens.  If I had, one of my chief complaints would have been that of Starkiller Base.  While I loved the movie I could not bring myself to rationalize Starkiller Base.  The Death Star (1 and 2) were big deals, not just from the perspective of the rebels, but from the perspective of the story and plot.  Starkiller Base, while a big deal to the “new rebels”, is nothing but a stolen plot point from the original trilogy and multiplied by three (ITS BIGGER AND SHOOTS MULTIPLE BEAMS!!!).   It did NOT fit the story and did nothing more than fill a spot in the “soft reboot” formula which is why the wise Mr Plinkett dinged TFA in the story category.




With Rogue One in place I have an even harder time buying Starkiller Base.  Rogue One provides incredible depth to what seemed silly in A New Hope (a moon sized super weapon taken down by a shot to an exhaust tube).  The movie goes a long way to show the struggle and loss endured to start the wheels in motion for The Rebels to be able to destroy the Death Star.



Looking at TFA; Starkiller Base appears, fires, and then is subsequently destroyed through an even harder to believe series of events than the exhaust port.  A series of events that has no way to ever be explained in a clever way as Rogue One was used to flesh out the weakness of the first Death Star. 


This is because TFA goes out of its way to plant explanations in the movie: Finn having worked on the planet and knowing how it can be destroyed, Phasma being able to turn off the shields, the Millenium Falcon warping through the planet’s shield, and Starkiller Base having the same functional weakness as the Death Stars.
 
Rogue One really ruins TFA for me because of this.  However, I know it doesn’t ruin it for the average movie going public.  Just as I love Rogue One because I want to be a Star Wars space farmer I know that the rest of the general audience loves TFA because it’s a good movie.



Overwatched Overwatch
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 June 2016, 2:12 pm

Overwatch, Blizzard’s first foray into the shooter genre, is the best team-based shooter since Team Fortress 2.  It is also a brand new intellectual property; a rare and dangerous thing in a world of annual sequels. 

Overwatch was not a guaranteed success (even with Blizzard behind it).  Gamers don’t need to look any further than EA Bioware and “the game that shall not be named” to know that studios with even the best pedigree can drop a stinker when venturing into a new genre.  I say this all up front for the simple fact that no amount of advertising, hype videos, 9.5+ million open beta players, or past history with Blizzard games was going to convince me to care about this game. It was a shooter from an RPG/RTS company.

However, then came the word of mouth via live streams (something I’ve really only recently started enjoying since Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns launch), podcasts, and a myriad of Youtube videos.  Before long I had overwatched Overwatch to the point where I figured I was better off playing it than watching it.  Then I found out the basic game was only $40, came with all the heroes, and had no plans of a League of Legends style monetization scheme.  I couldn’t enter my Paypal information fast enough (yes, I use Paypal for purchases).

Like most Blizzard games it takes only a few minutes to realize how much a player is going to enjoy the game.  On first load the game drops the player immediately into a tutorial that is quick and efficient at getting the player oriented.  After the tutorial the player is given the option to continue to a practice match against the AI or to skip to the real deal.  I opted for the real deal.

Before making it to the “real deal” I quietly enjoyed the snappiness of the main menu screen.  I was able to quickly jump in and out of settings, the heroes gallery, loot box screen, and other menu options.  This minor feature did not go unnoticed by this gamer.  After my experiences with the Star Wars Battlefront open beta where the slow-loading menu screens locked up repeatedly and more recently with the work-in-progress Tastee: Lethal Tactics problematic menu it is refreshing to launch a game where the menu just works.

A couple clicks and I was in a game via the quick play option.  I noticed that I was dropped into a game already in-progress.  Overwatch is very good about refilling empty team slots that open during the middle of a game due to disconnects or rage quitters.  Players that end up filling these vacated slots receive a nice experience bonus for finishing out the game.

Feeling overwhelmed by the number of hero choices I settled on Soldier 76 which is the character used during the tutorial.  I felt familiar enough with 76’s abilities (sprint, rocket, and machine gun) to have confidence I would be helping and not hurting my team during my first game.  Overwatch does not lock players into a single character choice for each game.  While in the spawn area players are free to change their hero which results an ebb and flow of team composition throughout the life of the match.

I nabbed a couple quick kills and I was hooked on the game.  In a couple minutes the game finished out with our team securing a victory.  I noticed a +1500 EXP “first win of the day” bonus and watched as my profile leveled up.  I played several games back to back and make quick progress through the levels.

I noticed while leveling up that I was earning loot boxes.  I took a break in the action to navigate to the loot box screen.  From my DOTA 2, Guild Wars 2, and TF 2 chest experiences I had expected the need for a key to unlock the loot boxes.  To my surprise there wasn’t any key requirement in Overwatch.  I was allowed to open the loot boxes free of charge. A bunch of voice lines, sprays, and icons popped out as I opened the boxes and after about four loot boxes out popped a new skin for Soldier 76.  These small trinkets really don’t intrigue me, but it was a pleasant surprise to land a new skin for a hero I was playing regularly (not to mention that there was an equip now option on the loot box menu saving me from having to click around the hero gallery; another small touch of polish in the menu system that did not go unnoticed by this gamer).

After a couple dozen games I am enthralled by Overwatch.  Blizzard has “done it again” so to speak.  It’s amazing how Blizzard was able to take on the massive undertaking of a new game genre (for the company) combined with a new intellectual property and be this monumentally successful with it on day one.  The open beta hit 9.5+ million players.  I can’t even fathom how many players are in at launch. All of this with none of the trappings of the “free 2 play” standbys.  Pay once and play; the way games have existed for decades.  Count me in.

A couple wrap up items:

Overwatch has an astounding eSports grass roots campaign already.  Blizzard is not new to eSports and it’s obvious they intended for eSport leagues to feature Overwatch as a primetime feature.  Yet it is amazing how the eSport community has dived in head first all the way back into the beta periods.  Overwatch is an immediately watchable game as a spectator and I look forward to where the scene goes.

Secondly the game runs like a dream.  Whether on my four year old desktop gaming rig (AMD CPU and Radeon graphics card) or on my several-years-aging Alienware laptop (Intel CPU and Nvidia mobile graphics card) I’ve experienced zero glitches or performance hitches which is a welcome surprise as I’ve been traveling since the game’s launch and have had to play on my.  My only hiccup has been the game not saving my preference to launch in fullscreen (which I think is related to having multiple monitors).

A quick note on the hero Bastion: he is not overpowered.  However, I will agree that Bastion is a problem.  In my view Bastion is simply not interesting.  He is a strong solo character that doesn’t spur any sort of interesting teamplay dynamics.  For this reason I think something has to change, not because he wrecks newbs and steals plays of the game from more deserving players, but because he doesn’t fit in the structure of the game in my opinion.

Favorite heroes to play

Zenyatta – I have a mixed history with support characters.  Towards the end of my Dark Ages of Camelot career I had gotten comfortable with the Migard Healer class becoming an invaluable player for many solid groups.  In Shadowbane I primarily played support hybrids.  In World of Warcraft I played shaman but grew to prefer the DPS shaman playstyle instead of healer.  In Warhammer Online I took a step into the tank role as an Ironbreaker.  In Team Fortress 2 I often found myself playing engineer or medic preferring to stay out of the chaos.  All of this history to illustrate that I have a penchant for support roles in games so it should not be a surprise that I fell in line with Zenyatta in Overwatch.

I would classify Zenyatta as a “buffer/debuffer” support class.  He is able to apply a passive heal buff on a team mate or a damage-increase debuff on an enemy.  The buff only lasts while the target is within line of sight which keeps Zenyatta in balance (in previous iterations the healing buff persisted even outside of line of sight which allowed the Zenyatta player to hide while still providing a strong healing presence on the front line).  Additionally Zenyatta is equipped with a strong, yet slow firing and slow traveling, attack.  Between the buff/debuff and strong attack it makes for a very enjoyable character to play.

Add onto this Zenyatta’s ultimate ability which turns him invulnerable while healing everyone within the immediate area and it is easy to see how key this support hero is to your average team.  I’ve had my most memorable games while playing Zenyatta and teaming up with a tank character.

Junk Rat – This hero is equipped with a grenade launcher, trap, and remote-detonated mine.  Junk Rat is geared towards defense, but can be extremely effective during aggressive pushes thanks to his ultimate ability that can clear a room in a heartbeat without putting the player in danger.  After executing his wheel of death ultimate the player is warped back to the initiation point and can continue with the push.  With practice a Junk Rat player can land direct hits with the grenade launcher for devastating direct damage.  Add in the trap and remote-detonated mine and this is a very competitive character. 

Junk Rat is also one of the few heroes where I don’t feel like there is a hard counter.  If an enemy shows up that can hand Junk Rat his junk a skilled player can adjust their play style to counter.  This is not to say Junk Rat is overpowered, but simply well-rounded instead of specifically focused.

I’ve had some amazing “play of the game” moments captured with Junk Rat.  In one play I was able to thwart a team push by diving in dropping my trap and mine just in front of the push and detonating as soon as the rush tripped the trap.  This activated my ultimate which I was able to quickly pop in the middle of the mayhem and a short hop later detonated for a double kill.

Torbjörn – The TF2 Engineer reimagined in Overwatch.  Torbjörn builds and upgrades turrets and then spends the match chasing spies and snipers… err… I mean Tracers and Widowmakers away from destroying them.  Properly placed turrets, just as in TF2, are a lynch pin of defense.  And unlike Bastion, Torbjörn brings a host of interesting team dynamics from the ability to provide armor upgrades to his dual purpose ultimate either providing a critical turret boost at a critical moment or allowing the player to unleash massive direct damage OR DO BOTH!

I have to admit though, honestly, the only reason I play Torbjörn is when I am stuck on a bad team and am sick of the backline getting cut up by highly-mobile characters.  A turret placed just behind the frontline can do wonders for keeping harassing offensive players out of the backline.

 

 

 



What I'm Looking Forward to in 2016
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 January 2016, 7:50 am
2015 is gone, 2016 has arrived.

Here is a quick list of a few things I am looking forward to:

1. Green Bay Packers play off games.  The packers are in the play offs once again and I am hoping for another magical run.  This year's team has been in  funk to end the season, but I truly believe in "any given Sunday".

2. Progress on Kickstarter projects I've backed.

Camelot Unchained (CU) is progressing; slowly.  I am looking forward to the work that Mark and team get done this year and hoping for my beta access by year's end.

Crowfall feels like it is moving along faster than CU, but that may just be the "making of" documentary style of communication that Crowfall is using to keep us up to date.  I am looking forward to many of the concepts behind Crowfall.  Another hopeful beta by years end.

Secret Hitler is, by all accounts, an impressive party board game that solves many of the faults of games such as The Resistance.  This is pretty much a guaranteed 2016 delivery and I look forward to playing it with friends alongside rounds of Good Cop/Bad Cop and Batman Love Letter.

3. Back into Minecraft.

"We found a giant cave in Minecraft!" The quote, from my six year old son, warms this gamer's heart (pun intended).  I am back into Minecraft as my son begins his journey into a game that is as magical for him as it was for me when I first picked it up.  Minecraft is one of the best games I've ever played and I am stoked to be sharing it with my son.

4. Guild Wars 2 wealth building

I tipped over 4,000 gold in Guild Wars 2 (GW2) in 2015 and thats just liquid gold.  If I counted total account value of what I've dumped into ascended gear, gem purchases, and general non-frugal spending I am sure its in the tens of thousands of gold.  Maybe in 2016 I will get back to actually playing through content (I've only done a single zone of the expansion and still have yet to complete my personal story and have not unlocked any of the full spec lines).

I hear that there is a huge World vs World (WvW aka wuvwuv) update coming.  As WvW was my first passion in Guild Wars 2 (and my first heartbreak) I am interested in what Arenanet pulls off.  From some of the leaked information (sorry no links to the leaks) the approach using Guild Alliances instead of arbitrary servers that no longer exist (due to the megaserver tech used now) is interesting and exactly what I've recommended for over a year to bring the "Guild Wars" back to Guild Wars 2.

I am also interested to follow the PvP leagues.  I am not dedicated enough to make any decent progress in the leagues myself, but I do pride myself in so far having a > 50% win ratio in the lowest bracket.  The PvP balance of GW2 is interesting and best equated to watching the pro Magic: The Gathering (MtG) scene.  There is overpowered team comps currently just as there is overpowered decks from time to time in MtG.  Casually observing the developers as they fix these situations has always fascinated me even if I am not "in the meta" myself.

5. Maybe blogging?

I may blog a bit again in 2016.  Anything is possible in a new year!



No Man's Sky with Colbert
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 October 2015, 7:20 am

Easily the best video game preview on a late show ever. Love the idea of this game; hate the name.



Town of Salem is fun
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 June 2015, 10:10 pm
Hidden role games; I love 'em.  But mostly for the social aspect at the gaming table; not inside my PC over the magical tubes that make the internet.  The main draw is a randomly assigned team that has "perfect information" playing against the uneducated masses.  In Town of Salem that means its the mafia out to get the town.  It works surprisingly well considering the limitations of what is essentially a chat room with rules.

Games set up quickly with three players being assigned roles as mafia and being identified to each other mafia member.  The rest of the players are divided amongst various town or neutral roles (including a serial killer who is out against everyone).  At that point the premise is simple: mafia kill townies, townies figure out who the mafia is and lynch them.  The fact the mafia know each other and the townies don't know anything other than their own role opens the doors for all kinds of social shennagins.  Is that guy saying he is the jailor really the jailor or is he the godfather laying waste to townies at night?  Throw in a handful of neutral roles such as the jester (who wants the town just to lynch him) to the aforementioned serial killer who is out to kill everyone and you have a very unique game of "who's who" and "who dun it?".

The game is available via Steam or their website.



10 years, 2 days
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 May 2015, 5:00 pm
Wow, I've had this blog for 10 years (+2 days due to my procrastination).
I suppose this warrants something bigger than just an obligatory "one post a month", but I'm tired and am still treading water in the gaming world due to real life.  So it is what it is and ten years of doing anything is still impressive IMHO.





Raph Koster bleeds
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 April 2015, 11:55 pm
This is an amazing read: Raph Koster revisits the fabled time of game development that lead up to the launch of Star Wars Galaxies(SWG) and it's initial game systems for attaining Jedi status.

I've never really gotten over SWG, what it could have been after launch, and its eventual collapse.  Reading this article from Raph I get the sense that he was as heartbroken as we were as initial forum goers and beat testers. Raph's words bleed a passion and intelligence that is absent in today's game design.  They are what hooked us then and what I think will let us close the book on the SWG chapter in our MMO careers.



Battlefield Heroes to close
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 April 2015, 8:17 pm
Sad news; Battlefield Heroes is set to shut it's doors this July.

This is unfortunate news alongside EA's other announcements about shuttering the rest of their Pay 2 Win ... err... Free 2 Play titles.

Personally I felt that Heroes was one of the better games of the Battlefield line up right behind Battlefield 2 and the original Battlefield 1942.  Heroes was easy to get into and offered an amazing amount of game play for free.  Unfortunately that is likely what has done it in over the long run.

At it's peak Heroes had reported player numbers of 10 million (geez, remember when we thought 250,000 was A LOT when talking about online games), but I suspect many of those millions were non-paying entities.  Eventually more and more "pay 2 win" aspects crept into the game.  Before long and about the time I stopped playing players had to pay up or go home.

In my opinion I don't think free 2 play has much to do with this closure at all.  EA is well known for closing down old games and shutting off the servers.  Heroes will just be another on the pile of games long abandoned by EA.  The real question for us to be asking is what, if anything, EA will change in the future to mitigate their constant disappointments with maintaining games with online components.  As a regular player of free 2 play titles and other online games these moves certainly don't give me any confidence in EA's ability to provide any decent long term investment.

EA is basically death for most of what it touches.



Obligatory Feb post
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 February 2015, 8:18 am
It is the last day of February 2015.



Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 January 2015, 12:25 pm
Via the Twitters: Guild Wars 2 expansion, Heart of Thorns, announced.

To which I say:





Acceptable to be unacceptable?
Posted by Heartlessgamer.com [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 January 2015, 6:47 pm
As a Packers fan I just don't know what to say.  First, it is acceptable to lose in the NFC Championship game.

However, the way in which the Packers just lost the NFC Championship game is unacceptable.  It is unacceptable to lose when you have a 12 point lead with less than 5 minutes remaining.  It is unacceptable to botch special teams plays.  It is unacceptable to play an entire half of football in the National Football League like you are trying not to lose.  Go out; win the game.  Don't turtle in and mutter "how the fuck did that just happen" when the other team plays to win and does in fact win.

I have never been physically ill after a game.  I can't eat dinner right now.  I can't even determine if this is real.  Someone pinch me.

Thank you Green Bay and Seattle for an amazing game.



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