Merry Christmas 2014
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 December 2014, 12:05 pm
Yadda, yadda.

Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 December 2014, 3:49 pm

GPU upgrade time: XFX Double Dissipation R9-290X-EDFD Radeon R9 290X
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 December 2014, 6:47 pm
It was 2009 when I last upgraded my computers GPU (aka video card) to an EVGA GTX 260.  That little baby has served me for over five years and is still ticking away without problem.  However, it was becoming extremely noticeable in games like Guild Wars 2 and Bioshock Infinite that I was playing on outdated hardware.  Even though I had more ram and a SSD speeding things up the message was all but clear as my machine continued to come to a crawl during intensive graphical encounters.

So I waited all Black Friday and no great deals surfaced (at least ones I could get to before they sold out).  I checked all weekend.  I checked all of Cyber Monday.  Nothing.  Then the day after, Giving Tuesday as it is apparently called, an R9 290X surfaced for $299 after rebate via NewEgg.  Not as great as the $249 R9 290X deals I missed on Black Friday, but good enough for me to pull the trigger.

Proud new owner of this:

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 November 2014, 10:39 am

Hell to the yeah.

Black Friday Gaming Deals
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 November 2014, 12:40 am
Its that fateful day of the year where our wallets scream in terror: Black Friday.

The fall Steam sale is already in full swing.  Check it out here.  General Steam sale reminders:
1. Don't buy a game unless its on the daily sale.
2. On the last day of the sale buy any game you wanted that was not on the daily deal.
3. Buy early as sometimes the number of copies of a game on daily sale are limited!
4. You can use to see if a game is on sale cheaper somewhere else with a copy that will activate on Steam.

Another great place for Black Friday game deals is Amazon, albeit not as organized as one would like.  The first place to start is on the limited-time (aka lightning) deals page here.  You can set the category at the right hand side to PC & Video Games or Toys & Games (for board games).  Note: these things sell out fast, sometimes within a matter of seconds.  Keep an eye on the sales coming up in the future so you know when to be there to try and snag a copy.  If you see "Join Waitlist" that means it was gobbled up, but if a clicker does not check out with the sales price the copy will go back in the pool.

For board/card gaming it is best to keep an eagle eye on Board Game Geek's Hot Deals forum.  Users post deals all day long to this forum.  On Black Friday it can move quick so keep an eye posted.  Keep in mind for board gaming, shipping costs will often kill any great deals.  Look for sites that have free shipping on orders of a certain size like Cool Stuff Inc that has free shipping for orders over $100.

For anyone venturing into the real world; may you go bravely and return safely.  Also don't punch any kids...

...unless its for the last one on the shelf.

Be Thankful
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 November 2014, 7:58 am
Have a great day everyone and be thankful.

Why am I playing Archeage?
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 November 2014, 7:54 pm
The question dawned on me last night: why am I playing Archeage?  I wasn't playing Archeage at the time.  I was playing Guild Wars 2 and rolling through the beginner Sylvari area as a level 59 Necromancer and I was having more fun than at any moment in 35 levels of Archeage.  I dinged 60 in short order, completed some more hearts (Guild Wars 2's version of quests), and tagged along with a few players running completing dynamic events.

Like Guild Wars 2 (GW2), I got into Archeage for the promise of the player contested end game.  In GW2 it was the end game World vs World vs World (affectionately known as WuvWuv).  In Archeage it is the end game promise of open sea pirating, castle sieges, home ownership, and exceptional breast physics.  The journey to get to these end game states was not going to weigh on me.  I am an MMO veteran since the days of MUDs.  Grinding is an accepted activity.  There is not game without pain first.

The actual truth of the matter is: I am an MMO veteran.  I'm sick of the grind.  I'm tired of chasing the plus one shiny.  Here is the heart of Archeage's problem.  There is literally not a game while leveling.  The questing and leveling is generic.  Quest givers are almost always situated within a split second walk of the end target.  There is no encouragement to explore off the beaten path.  In contrast, GW2 rewards me for every single thing I do.  GW2 guides players to explore everywhere and do everything and now with their megaserver technology there is always other people to play with.

Archeage questing and leveling is quintessential grind.  It serves no purpose.  I am not "learning the game" as so often is used as a defense for the leveling grind.  I don't feel like I am building towards anything.  I've been using the same four or so attacks since I first started the game.  There is no incentive for me to change up how I attack the content.  Target, 1, 2, 3, 4.  Repeat until dead.  It is mind-numbing.

All of this boredom is occurring while I read about rifts, and open sea pirates, and castles getting claimed and all of the things that I don't get to do because I'm locked into immortal grinding hell with the next exclamation point.  Compare to Guild Wars 2; at any time I am a couple clicks away from a world boss or WvWvW match or a random walk away from engaging content.  Everything, again, rewards the player in GW2.  I really don't have any reason to want to skip to level 80.  I am actually "learning the game" as I level.  Archeage, as a freemium game, really needs an option to pay up to get to the end game instantly.  I have (had?) enough interest to pay up once and get to a point where I could start what interested me in the game: housing, pirating, breasts.

The irony of all this is that Archeage has huge issues with a burgeoning playerbase seeking more land, more boats, more everything that is not the leveling grind.  All of the questing areas could just as easily be turned into housing areas and land would hopefully open to the masses.  Give players the ability to put quest givers in their home.  There are so many other ways for Archeage to present itself so that all of the cool things that it offers are part of the game.

Why am I playing Archeage? I really don't know.  It's fun from the perspective of promise but the actual journey is one I am thinking I'd rather not take.  There are other games, like Guild Wars 2, which does the "free 2 play" moniker better justice by asking for my money up front and giving me a good experience on the back end.

Initial Impressions: Archeage
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 October 2014, 9:02 am
Whoa.  Where did Archeage come from and why did I not know about it?  It is has so many things I've wanted from an MMO.  Housing? Check and its non-instanced. Territory control?  Check.  Open world PvP?  Check.  Boats?  Check.  Pirates? Check. Beautifully rendered breasts?  Discount double check.

I've had a couple weeks now to play around with Archeage and I've determined two things: I'm going to like this game and I'm going to hate this game.  It is that sort of love/hate relationship one has with their spouse. On one hand you love the idea of them, but on the other hand there are some details and quirks that are going to drive you crazy which in an odd roundabout way are what seal the deal.
The first item to be noticed is the ! and ?.  I am still surprised to this day by this staple that seems to have been set by the behemoth World of Warcraft.  Yet, it is intimately familiar to me at this point in my gaming life and I fell right into the rhythm of hopping from quest hub to quest hub.  The quest design is basic: go here and kill X rats.  In fact, Archeage’s base quests make any quest in the original World of Warcraft look like a masterpiece in comparison.  Archeage quests are serviceable, but are uninspired.  They serve best as a guide from area to area and as a medium to introduce some game mechanics.  Past that the quests are painfully bland.  Fortunately I’ve yet to find a quest that takes more than a matter of minutes to clear.
While doing quests it does not take long for a player to run face first into the labor point system of Archeage.  Again, the love/hate relationship becomes apparent.  In simplest terms the labor point system is a tertiary “mana pool” which allows players to complete actions.  At first it seems like the system is limited to crafting and gathering as both require the use of labor points.  However, it doesn’t take long to realize that labor points are a means for Archeage to artificially slow down players; specifically those not paying to play.
For a non-subscriber labor points are only regained while actively online.  For subscribers, called patrons, labor points refresh while offline as well.  Labor points are used for gathering, crafting, and most unfortunately for basic loot acquisition.  Enemies drop coin purses which require labor points to open.  As a non-subscriber I have hundreds of unopened coin purses.  Labor points are a constant reminder that I’m not paying to play the game and are a limiting factor at every turn.
Yet, with all the negatives of the labor point system it is still conceptually brilliant.  In fact, I fully applaud the system in regards to crafting.  It makes gathering and crafting into a community project.  No single player has the labor points to drive an entire industry.  Time and number of participants is as important as actual components.  Losses incurred on the open seas or in defeat can have actual weight.  At a high level I cannot yet verify how the system plays out, but at face value it is promising and something I’d like to see developed further in the MMO sphere.
Another feature that new players run into fairly quickly is the housing system of Archeage.  Throughout the world there are plots where players can place houses and gardens.  An experienced MMO player will quickly realize these areas for what they are but I suspect newer players to MMO could wander through them without a clue in the world that what they are seeing is completely player driven.  I don’t have many details on how the housing system works, but I do know it’s one of my goals playing.  From chat channel spam about plots being sold to online arguments about hackers stealing plots it is evident that housing is serious business in Archeage.
Speaking of details; that is one of Archeage’s biggest weaknesses.  The game provides the little in explanation in either pop ups or in game feedback systems.  Yes, the basics are explained, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked something which cost me precious labor points which had I known would cost me labor points I’d never have clicked on. 
There are other things that don’t make much sense.  The Auction House is poorly explained and clearly subject to the abuse of bots that can outbid at the last moments of every auction.  There are vendors for everything which makes me wonder how weakened the end game economy is in regards to player production.  If everything I need can be purchased via a vendor and then grown in my own garden or a public garden somewhere then why would I ever look to the economy to provide me these items. 
I’ll be honest that there is A LOT for me to learn about the game.  I haven’t even touched PvP.  My experience of boating is limited to a single quest.  I don’t know why my mount has to gain experience.  I see folks rolling around in tractors and at a level I know they are performing trade runs of some sort.  I see flashes in the chat log that areas are going to war.  I see senior artisans proclaiming their 45,000+ crafting skill level and looking for work.  I watch Youtube videos of epic open seas warfare between pirates and non-pirates.  I hear there are castle sieges and I see LFG broadcasts for folks going to war.  I think I’m part of a certain faction but that’s not really clearly explained during character creation.  I have randomly seen “reds” in towns I’ve been to which has resulted in a flood of whooping and hollering.
There appears to be a lot of things I will like in Archeage.  I just need to get through the leveling and gearing up and determine how much I can enjoy as a free 2 play member of Archeage society.  If I am driven to subscription in order to capitalize on many of the features I want to enjoy then the deal is likely broken.  If through my moderate play time I can remain free 2 play then I am likely to stick around and drop a few dollars here and there on transactions.

Long time, no post
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 August 2014, 8:34 am

Good question.  What do I do here?  It certainly isn't anything to do with posting bout playing video games anymore.  Of course I haven't played much of any video game lately.  My time in Guild Wars 2 is just flipping items on the trading post to amass gold I will never spend.  My Solforge time is just for the daily rewards.  I've given up playing Solforge due to the rate at which cards are released and the inability to efficiently collect them to keep pace with the trending deck archtypes.  Ditto that sentiment for Hearthstone.

So what would you say I do here?  I'd like to know if anyone is still awake out there in blogger land.

Guild Wars 2: Trait Guide by Level and Zone
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 May 2014, 10:57 am
With the recent changes to Guild Wars 2 the process to acquire traits changed from a model of buying skill books at certain levels to gathering the traits from the world via various means.  The traits are available still from a vendor but they cost gold and skill points; both of which are sparse for the average player in Guild Wars 2.  Fortunately a reddit poster has put together an excellent guide for the traits broken down by zone and level.

The text is inserted after the jump:

Diessa Plateau (15-25)
1.IV Defeat Rhendak the Crazed (Font of Rhand mini dungeon, small group level 25)
Kessex Hills (15-25)
2.I Find the splendid chest in Earth’s Gap
Gendarran Fields (25-35)
4.III Find the grand chest in Provernic Crypt (Provernic Crypt mini dungeon, small group level 33)
1.III 100% completion
Lornar’s Pass (25-40)
2.VIII Find the grand chest in the Windy Cave (Windy Cave mini dungeon, small group level 30)
2.IV 100% completion
Fields of Ruin (30-40)
5.II Kill the Foulbear chieftain and her elite guards (group event)
3.V 100% completion
Harathi Hinterlands (35-45)
1.VI Defeat Kol Skullsmasher (group event)
2.III Defeat Ulgoth the Modniir and his minions (world boss)
4.IV 100% completion
Blazeridge Steppes (40-50)
1.V 100% completion
Dredgehaunt Cliffs (40-50)
3.I Defeat Fleshgrazer (Forsaken Fortune mini dungeon, small group level 42)
4.IX Defeat the dredge commissar (group event)
5.IV 100% completion
Bloodtide Coast (45-55)
5.IX Defeat Admiral Taidha Covington (world boss)
2.V 100% completion
Timberline Falls (50-60)
4.V 100% completion
Iron Marches (50-60)
2.IX Defeat the fire shaman and his minions (group event)
3.IV Defeat Victurus the Shattered and his army (group event)
5.X Defeat the Branded Devourer Queen (group event)
3.VI 100% completion
Sparkfly Fen (55-65)
4.VII Find the chest in Verarium Delves
5.V 100% completion
Fireheart Rise (60-70)
1.IX Find the splendid chest in Rebel’s Seclusion
5.VII Defeat Vexan and her golem in Vexa’s Lab (Vexa’s Lab mini dungeon, small group level 64)
3.IX Defeat Vidius Flame Tribune (group event)
2.VI 100% completion
Mount Maelstrom (60-70)
1.X Defeat the Terror-Seven Krewe Leader (group event)
5.VIII Defeat the Infinity Coil Commander and capture the Infinity Coil (group event)
4.VI 100% completion
Frostgorge Sound (70-80)
4.VIII Find the grand chest in Arundon Vale
5.VI 100% completion
Straits of Devastation (70-75)
2.XII Find the grand chest near Scholar Fryxx
4.XIII Find the grand chest in the Ship of Sorrows
1.XII Defeat the Risen High Priest of Balthazar (temple event)
Malchor’s Leap (75-80)
4.XII Defeat the Statue of Dwayna (temple event)
5.XIII Defeat the corrupted high priestess of Lyssa (temple event)
Southsun Cove (80)
3.XIII Defeat the Karka Queen (world boss)
Cursed Shores (80)
1.XI Discover Death’s Anthem
3.XI Find the locked door at the end of the forgotten stream
1.XIII Defeat the Risen High Wizard and secure the Promenade of the Gods (group event)
2.XIII Defeat the Risen Priest of Grenth (temple event)
3.XII Defeat the Risen Priest of Melandru (temple event)
Personal Story
3.II Level 50 “The Battle for Clorr Island”
1.I Level 55 “A Light in the Darkness”
5.III Level 59 “Retribution”
2.X Level 62 “Forging the Pact”
3.X Level 70 “The Battle of Fort Trinity”
4.X Level 80 “The Source of Orr”
5.I Complete Caudecus’s Manor in story mode (40)
1.II Complete Twilight Arbor in story mode (50)
3.VIII Complete Sorrow’s in Embrace story mode (60)
1.VIII Complete Citadal of Flame in story mode (70)
4.XI Complete Honor of the Waves in story mode (76)
2.XI Complete the Crucible of Eternity in story mode (78)
5.XII Complete the Ruined City of Arah in story mode (80)
World vs. World Edge of the Mists
1.II Capture Inferno’s Needle
3.III Capture Stonegaze Spire
4.II Capture Tytone Perch
World vs. World Obsidian Sanctum
4.I Complete the Obsidian Sanctum jumping puzzle
World vs. World Eternal Battlegrounds
1.VII Befriend the ogre camp
2.VII Befriend the hylek camp
3.VII Befriend the dredge camp
5.XI Defeat the Overgrown Grub

Guild Wars 2 MEGASERVER Impressions
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 April 2014, 3:53 pm
The Guild Wars 2 April 2014 feature pack (aka patch aka update aka the "new" shiny) hit clients this week and along with it Arena Net unleashed the MEGASERVER (yes; you have to type it in all caps because it contains the word MEGA).  Now, the technology has not enveloped all zones at this time, but a few zones got the early MEGASERVER treatment.  I was able to venture into the MEGA version of Brisban Wildlands and experience the technology first hand.  Here are my impressions.

"WTF!? someone just helped me back up"  The statement was odd for me to make in /map chat.  I had spent a lot of time in the Brisban Wildlands as of late eating dirt and it was fairly odd to have another player present to help me back up this time.  There simply wasn't supposed to be more than a few players in this zone at any given time and there certainly wasn't supposed to be any working on the event the same event at the same time.  Let alone was there supposed to be one there to save my warrior from a tough tangle with a veteran.

In fact, Brisban Wildlands was hopping.  It was a happening place, if such a thing means something.  I was absolutely in awe of the number of players moving through the zone and elated at the pace of events occurring.  My map was full of orange circles and rapidly depleting orange bars appeared in my notification area.

What kind of bizarro world was I in?  This wasn't Queensland!  This wasn't a living event zone!  This was the boring and forgotten Brisban Wildlands!  There shouldn't be anything more than those one or two newbie Asura players that don't know any better!  Truth be told I was learning very quickly that the MEGASERVER technology was at work ensuring my lonely adventuring was no more.

Color me impressed with the MEGASERVER.  It was my most anticipated feature with the patch (unlike the majority that were hyped on the wardrobe system which has turned into a complete mess post-patch) and it has lived up to my expectations.  It is a truly marvelous change for the game and Arena Net should make sure 100% of their effort is placed behind rolling this out to every zone in the game.  I can't help but believe there are players leaving every day because they get sick of boring game play in empty zones.  Dynamic events sell Guild Wars 2 and with zones full of people those events are almost always happening.

In conclusion, the MEGASERVER is MEGA awesome.

Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 April 2014, 3:39 pm

If this was posted on a April 1st I would have suspected shenanigans, but as it is now April the second and impossible for me to be tricked any longer I must declare that the Guild Wars 2 Megaserver is a real thing.  Traditional MMO servers are gone and in their place is one super megaserver that will host all users via various instances of each zone.  World vs World vs World will still be separated along old server assignments.  This is an exciting change for Guild Wars 2.

First it is worth noting that this is NOT equivalent to EVE Online's single universe.  In EVE there is only one copy of each "zone".  In Guild Wars 2 (GW2) the world size is limited so there will be copies of each zone which will be referred to as instances.  It would be crazy to even think about all GW2 players being stuck in the same tiny maps.

The biggest benefit to this systems is that lower popularity zones will now be more populated.  As I've recently returned to Guild Wars 2 after a hiatus from video gaming in general (and this blog if you've noticed my lack of 2014 activity) I immediately noticed how few folks were in the starting and mid-level zones.  Aside from the "champ trains" rolling over Queensland I was pretty much flying solo on my warrior and necromancer on the dynamic events.  That certainly doesn't feel massive or multiplayer.

The apparent downside is trying to get grouped correctly with your friends and guild mates, but Arena Net seems to have some plans to avoid this problem.  Players will be able to join parties and then get placed in the same instance of a zone as their fellow party members.  The overall system will aggregate data on players such as language preference, playing habits with guild members of friends, and every time a zone is entered those variables will be weighed to hopefully place the player in the most logical instance.  For a solo player like myself this won't really matter other than the fact I may actually see a friendly face and get to complete some of the harder events in the less visited zones.

There is a great chart from Arena Net's testing of the system showing the increase in player activity per map instance (yes that is +225% for each map instance on average):
Average population per map copy+225%
Player goes to the same map as his or her party+25%
Average population from the same party as the player on joined map+36%
Average population from the same guild as the player on joined map+5%
Average population from the same home world as the player on joined map+6%
Average population speaking the same language as the player on joined map+41%

Tagging along with that this addresses one of my biggest heartaches with Guild Wars 2 and it's dynamic events system.  So much of my playing time was spent in the same zone because that is where the players were and that is where the events were being chained together.  It was a terribly boring existence in almost any other zone.  Now at least there is hope that every zone will be packed with players as I suspect worldwide there will always be a good number of folks looking to be in every zone of the game.  It will be very cool to experience a new trip to level 80 on my new characters than what I experienced last time I leveled to 80 by literally never moving outside of Kessex Hills and Harathi Highlands.

The most amazing part about this change is that it is not the only big change happening for Guild Wars 2 this month.  There are several big system changes slated for the April 15th patch.  It is indeed an exciting time to be playing Guild Wars 2 (though I still maintain the combat is crap... but I can still have fun with it).

Viewed: Free 2 Play
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 March 2014, 8:37 pm
Long time, no post.  Yes, this is my first post of 2014.

Free to Play, Valve's documentary trailing the stories of various competitors from DOTA2's first global tournament dubbed "The International", is now available for viewing on Steam.  I had a chance to watch it this weekend and wanted to share some thoughts.

From outside view one might mistake this as just advertainment for DOTA2, but just a few minutes into the film it is very apparent that this is much more a human interest story about eSports and the athletes that pursue them than it is anything about DOTA2.  In fact, you would be hard pressed to find anything of interest from the actual game of DOTA2.

With the actual game out of the way we are left with a very well shot and edited  documentary that follows several of the players through the trials and tribulations of competing in the first million+ dollar tournament.  True to the name of the tournament, players from different countries are followed.

The film does an excellent job of giving watchers a glimpse not only into the lives of professional gamers, but also the culture surrounding those players in their home countries.  It is every interesting to see how the gaming culture is perceived in Asian countries vs countries in the west.  However, even with dramatically different cultural movements in regards to eSport gaming there was a consistent trend of doubting family members, specifically parents.  Yes, even in the gaming obsessed China the athletes mothers and fathers were just as disappointed in their children's investment into professional gaming at the cost of traditional education as the parents from the USA.

The core message of the film seems to be sacrifice.  The sacrifices are well documented throughout the film and whether its a lost girlfriend, a missed semester of school, or hard thoughts of a father no longer with a son they all hit home with the viewer.  These are real people pursuing a dream and I think most people can identify with that rare opportunity so few of use get to take that we can't help but cheer on those being followed in the film.

Of course it all comes crashing down for most of the competitors.  Most teams left The International with nothing more than expensive bills for plane tickets, hotels, and meals.  Unlike traditional sports there is no salary being earned by most eSport athletes.  If the team doesn't win, they don't get paid.  This adds up to interesting and heartwarming realizations from the participants after the tournament has come and gone.  There is in fact more to life than just games.

I can't recommend this documentary enough to gamers and nongamers alike.

Embedded copy below:

Broken hearts
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 December 2013, 11:55 pm

Christmas 2013
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 December 2013, 1:00 am

Out with a whimper
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 December 2013, 9:45 am
Warhammer Online is no more.  I have mixed emotions and debated over the end of this week what to post.  There is no game that I have ever invested so much time in prior to it's release only to give up playing it a short few months after release.  I never felt ripped off by WAR.  My money was well spent for the experiences I had.  However, the game just never lived up to any of it's potential.

In reflection I look back on my first level 40 ding from WAR:

Solforge grumblings
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 December 2013, 10:30 pm
Look, I really like Solforge.  No, I really do.  So you should probably just ignore this post.

But in the interest of typing out my thoughts: Solforge is utterly broken and imbalanced.  There is a two deck meta.  It is Steelforged Avatar decks or Nekrium/Tempys burn decks.  I'm not even sure if these are the best titles for the decks.

In the case of N/T burn decks the power comes from the Flameshaper Savant and it's ability to toss out ridiculous amounts of direct damage from every card that gets played.  Throw in cards like Master of Elements and Spark that allow for extra cards to be played each turn and it's trivial, at best, to win a long string of games against any other decks.

Well, except for Steelforged Avatar decks which are powered by, yep you guessed it, Steelforged Avatar.  The Avatar cycle is very simple: X Avatar gains plus health and attack equal to the number of same-faction cards in hand.  This is perfectly acceptable until you take into consideration that the Steelforged Avatar is the Alloyin faction's avatar.  The same Alloyin faction that happens to feature Ghox, Metamind Paragon and the free to play after level 2 Energy Surge which means you can roll out 30/30 bad asses for the same cost paid by any other deck for a horribly, not even fucking close, equivalent cost in cards and investment over the course of the game.

Throw in Alloyin's dominant control cards like Energy Prison and Metasculpt or even more insane, the out of play card leveling cards such as Technosmith and you very quickly can see how insane a Steelforged Avatar deck can get with just the Alloyin cards.  Throw in a splash of Chrogias and BOOM.

So whats at the root of the problem here?  Is it deck synergy winning out in a small card pool?  This would make sense as both Steelforged Avatar and Flameshaper Savants are part of their respective cycles and happen to be the only avatar and savant that gel perfectly with the current cards in game.  Yet, I can't really seem to convince myself this is the case.  It just feels like something else is amiss.

Tonight I think I've hit on the underlying issue.  It's actually mechanics combined with the way these cards are built.  Solforge does not have resources such as lands in Magic the Gathering or mana in Hearthstone.  Regardless of the power level of the cards being played, a Solforge player gets to play two cards per turn.  This means the cards that are chosen to be played need to always be high-value, best of cards because there is no "cost difference" between playing a level 1 Swampmoss Lurker and a level 3 Chrogias.  With the limitation for playing cards being only the number of cards that get played, then it is only obvious that the few cards that give "extra" plays are thus going to be the most powerful and empower the most powerful combos.

Steelforged Avatar doesn't break Solforge, but the likes of Ghox and Energy Surge do.  Both give draw advantage in a game where the player's deck infinitely recycles itself with stronger and stronger versions of cards.  Steelforged Avatars almost always have the right card to play and a hell of a bomb to drop at any time in the Steelforged Avatar that benefits from Alloyin cards in hand.

Flameshaper Savant doesn't break Solforge, but the likes of Master of Elements and Spark do.  Both give additional plays which in turn trigger additional direct damage hits from Flameshaper.  Since Flameshaper's ability can hit the player it only takes a couple in play to quickly burn down any opponent.

So the question and debate that needs to be had for Solforge is whether or not cards that give power through extra plays can exist in the game without fundamentally breaking the game by being the dominant strategy.  Right now, I can't even tell you the last time I faced a Uterra deck, let alone the last time I played a game that didn't feature Steelforged Avatar or Flameshaper.  This is not good to have such a stale metagame this early in the game's life, especially one that feels like it is stale because of flawed mechanics which can only get worse the more and more cards that are released to be abused by these flaws.

Black Friday Gaming Deals 2013
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 November 2013, 9:33 am
Video Game Deals video game deals (limited quantity, new deals cycling on all day/weekend)
Some of my personal picks:
EVE Online The Second Decade collector's edition (price reduced starting at 4:10p PST today)
Starcraft 2 Heart of the Swarm (price reduced starting at 8:10p PST today)
For those of you with Skylander-obsessed kids: buy 2, get 1 free Skylanders SWAP force characters

Steam Autumn Sale
General Steam sale rules:
1. Don't buy a game until the last day of the sale unless it is on a daily sale
2. Flash sales are often repeated
3. Don't hesitate to buy a daily deal as the available keys can run out
4. The best deals are usually repeated the last day of the sale

Board Game Deals still has their buy one, get one half off deal for board games.  See my previous post on the sales and my recommendations.

Target also has buy one, get one half off on their board games (slightly different selection than Amazon).

Cool Stuff Inc is running some good deals on board, card, and miniature games.

Miniature Market started their sale yesterday and had some really great deals (like Netrunner data packs for $7), but it appears a ton of their stock is sold out already.

Thanksgiving 2013
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 November 2013, 8:29 am
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Let the shopping commence.

Android: Netrunner is an amazing game
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 November 2013, 12:07 am
I am a huge fan of card games (one of my favorites of all time being The Spoils TCG).  I've played Magic the Gathering on and off since the 1990s in both physical and digital forms.  I've tended to prefer board games with cards more than those with dice.  There is just something soothing about holding a hand of cards and battling wits with an opponent.  Android: Netrunner itches all the recesses of my mind and is one of the most amazing card games I have ever played.

First, this is not your 1990s Netrunner; I am here to talk about Fantasy Flight Games re-release and reworking of Netrunner under the title Android: Netrunner.  Aside from theme, borrowed names, and a few core mechanics (corp vs runner), the two games can be separated from each other.  For all intents and purposes when I am referring to Netrunner, I am referring to Android: Netrunner.

The core of Netrunner themed by a runner hacking the servers of a big corporation.  This is brought to the game mat through asymmetrical game play where one player plays the role of runner and the other player plays the role of corporation.  The corporation figures out ways of protecting their valuable servers via cards known as ICE while the runner figures out ways to break through that ICE (via icebreakers) to loot and plunder the wonderful rewards within.  Alongside the main icebreaker vs ICE there is a slew of card types that have immediate or triggered effects.  Cards are played through the use of "clicks" and paid for via the payment of "credits".  The end goal is to collect 7 agenda points; which are scored after being advanced by the corporation or stolen by the runner via various means.  An alternate victory condition is for the corporation to be run out of cards or for the runner to be dealt more damage than they have cards in hand (known as flat-lining).

What really sets Netrunner apart, in my opinion, is the play of the corporation.  The corporation primarily plays their cards face down to the game table.  Playing a card is know as installing.  ICE is installed face down in front of servers to protect them from "runs" (aka hacking attempts).  Agendas, assets, and upgrades are installed face down in the servers themselves.  The cards remain face down, generally, until the runner attempts to access them (either through a run or card effect).  ICE and most assets and upgrades have a "rez" cost that the corporation must pay to flip the card face up and reap its benefits.

The corporation is not forced into "rezzing" a card leading to a critical aspect of the game: bluffing.  The potential for the corporation to bluff a runner is there and many a Netrunner game has been lost to a bad decision.  At the same time, just like in Poker, a bluff is still only hiding an end result that can be broken down to a mathematical probability.  A good runner is going to be able to look at their cards in hand and in play and know when the odds are in their favor.  Between experienced players, bluffing does not play as big of a role as it does for new players learning the game, but the simple fact of having a bluff as a physical representation (face down cards) on the board is an amazing piece of the puzzle for this game.

By description it would seem that the game is tilted towards the corporation player, but that is anything but the truth.  The game, in my experience, slightly favors the runner as the idea of playing offensively is more natural and the defensive nature of the corporation is something harder to learn and execute.  The runner could always stumble into victory while the corporation will only find victory through appropriate planning.

The runner also has advantages in their favor, first being that they receive 4 clicks per turn to the 3 clicks of the corporation's turn (the corporation is allowed to draw a card for free every turn though as a compromise).  Clicks are actions that can be taken during a turn.  Secondly, the runner can "trash" corporation cards for a set cost after accessing them which allows the runner to really negatively impact the corporations play.  Lastly, the runner does not need to spend actions each turn advancing agendas to score the related points.  The runner simply needs to access an agenda played by the corporation to steal it and thus receive it's allocated agenda points towards their victory total (7 are needed to win).

The one big drawback to the runner is that their hand of cards is their life total in the game.  Run out of cards and take one more damage and the game is over, victory going to the corporation regardless of the state of agenda points scored.  This is a great mechanic which forces the runner to hold back cards and again opens up the bluff mechanic between the two sides.  Could the corporation player be holding a card that will do one meat damage and thus bring the game to an end if the runner chooses to end the turn with zero cards in hand?

To further cement Netrunner as an amazing game it also allows deckbuilding via a living card game (LCG) model.  LCGs, contrary to booster-pack games such as MtG, release sets of cards on a regular basis.  In each set is a complete play set of every card in that release.  There is no rarity or chase cards to worry about.  If a player wants to play a deck, all they need to do is buy the appropriate "data packs" that contain the cards they want.  Gone are the days of having 50 copies of that single common card while having only 1 of the rare.  In Netrunner all a player will ever need is sold in each data pack release.  Data packs average in cost about $10 to $15 and are released about every 3 months.  There is phenomenal value in the LCG model and at the end of the day the core set is plenty to start out with and try some of the deckbuilding without having to invest anything else.

Now there are a couple areas I think the game could improve.  First of all, the card layout and use of symbols needs work.  It is hard, at first, to differentiate cards or determine values such as influence for use in deckbuilding.  The card design appears to be artistic in nature more than driven by the need to present information.  This makes for some stunning visuals on cards, but can lead to some agonizing card pile searches looking for a card of a certain faction or value that is not easily visible.  Secondly, some of the terms used to describe aspects of the game are a bit hard to grasp at first.  For example: the runner's hand is known as their grip, but the corporations hand is known as the HQ.  While players adjust to these terms after playing the game, I am not sure what, if anything, is gained by calling a players hand (just one example) by another name.

Over all, Netrunner is a phenomenal game and quickly is rocketing up my chart of favorite card games.  It is not for everyone, but for the core gamer out there seeking a challenging and competitive card game there is nothing finer than Netrunner currently.  Add in the LCG model and it is friendly to the wallet.  If you are interested in the game, the core set is currently on sale for $29 on Amazon.

Board Games: Buy one, get one 50% off
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 November 2013, 10:02 am is running an amazing pre-Black Friday deal on dozens of popular board games: buy one and get one half off.

There are some great games on sale.  Here are a few of my picks for games worth getting.

Ticket to Ride


The Resistance

Castle Panic

The Settlers of Catan


Dixit Journey

Apples to Apples

There are also some add on packs (aka DLC of the board game world) for some popular games:

Munchkin Zombies 2 Armed and Dangerous
Munchkin 7 Cheat With Both Hands
Munchkin Clerical Errors

Battles Of Westeros: Wardens Of The North

Tannhauser Single Figure Packs: Gorgei

Solforge:OREIAN JUSTICAR incoming to shake up the meta
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 20 November 2013, 10:29 pm
The meta in Solforge currently is centered on the Savant cycle cards (Flamehaper, Darkshaper, Lifeshaper, Steelshaper), but a nerf was already incoming for the cycle in the next patch. Beyond the Savants, the meta was looking to be shaped by powerful cards such as Zimus the Undying and Everflame Phoenix who rely heavily on being able to come back on the battlefield. They both are very hard cards to deal with, especially Zimus which has very few reliable counters that can keep it off the board. Queue the Oreian Justicar; a beefy Aloyin card that causes any creature entering the field to lose massive amounts of attack power if they were not played from your opponents hand. Have a 14/7 level 3 Zimus coming back on the field? It is now a 4/7 with a level 3 Justicar in play.

This is a great for Solforge and indicates that developer Stoneblade Entertainment (SBE) is on the right path for balance. This is very much a "counter the overpowered with a direct counter" instead of an outright nerf (though there are still situations like the Savant cycle which clearly scream the need for NERF, but thats OK for a pre-release product). The Justicar is an exciting card and I think will push the Steelforged Avatar decks up a notch to the cream of the crop of meta decks. However, Justicar can be splashed in many different decks to be effective and can even be used in a deck it is specifically meant to counter which offers players wielding powerful Zombie themed decks that rely on reappearing creatures an excellent counter in a mirror match.

Well done SBE, well done.

Judged: Guild Wars 2
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 November 2013, 3:56 pm
Better late than never. Right? Right? Tap tap… is this thing on. Ok, there we go.

After a few restarts, I’ve reached level 80 in Guild Wars 2. (pause for applause)

This push was with an Asuran Guardian and in less than 40 hours /played I was level 80. (pause for applause)

I enjoyed my trip to 80. Leveling in GW2 is a simple process. Every action a player takes, from harvesting to crafting to killing to exploring, results in experience that contributes towards leveling. Each zone is broken down into “hearts” and dynamic events that also result in experience bonuses when completed. Zones scale players to the level of zone allowing players to play in any level zone they choose. In combination this makes leveling in Guild Wars 2 very easy and players can feel rewarded, experience-wise, for everything they do no matter where they do it.

However, with the ease of leveling and being rewarded based on their actual level in any zone, the system erodes the motivation to explore the world. Once I hit Kessex Hills and Harathi Highlands I was completing events in chains and gaining 3-4 levels per play session. Plus the current live event, Tower of Nightmares, was centered in Kessex Hills which meant that the frequency with which the events in the zone completed was increased exponentially. At one point I was literally just running from spot to spot and collecting enough experience for 25% of a single level. It seemed crazy at the time that I would move away from that gravy train of experience since the leveling curve in GW2 is flat.

I leveled to 70+ by playing in the aforementioned zones which are meant only for level 15-35 players. In terms of world completion I only hit 19%. This is all possible because of the level down mechanic which balances the player’s level (and thus reduces their inherent strength) to match the content in the zone, but it continues to provide rewards consistent with the player’s actual level as the content is evenly matched by the downgraded player level. This was a refreshing mechanic considering how most MMOGs like GW2 are designed the complete opposite and aim to punish players that don’t play in the zones that are on the cutting edge of their level range.

Yet, even though I was generously rewarded for doing what I wanted, I found myself feeling cheated once I hit 80 and I started exploring many of the zones I had not visited during leveling. There were so many events and story lines I had missed and at level 80 the progression goes from vertical to horizontal so there was little incentive for me to go and visit.

Experience is still worth gaining as each level of experience after 80 generates a skill point (which in turn can be turned into skill unlocks or converted to other rewards). However, experience gain is not a driving force at level 80 and outside of gaining karma from unfinished hearts or going for world completion I found nothing to push me towards investigating the 80% of the world I had yet to visit.

And looking further into the horizontal progression model of level 80 GW2 I quickly realized that the “path of least resistance” was the dominant theme. This pushed me further away from visiting the higher level zones as I found out about min/max things such as the Queensland champion trains. Basically, one of the most efficient gold and karma gaining methods is for level 80 players to just repeatedly complete the event chains in the level 1-15 zone (this is possible because, again, the level down mechanic balances power levels while maintaining the level appropriate rewards regardless of zone level). This simply was not appealing to me even though I’ve been known now and again to get my farm on in many an MMOG.

Some experienced GW2 players may try to point out that it is actually dungeons where the real “time vs reward” battle is won and I would probably not argue with them. However, for my tastes, I found the dungeons in GW2 to be Boring with a capital B. For the most part dungeons come down to one mechanic and one mechanic only: damage per second. DPS is king in GW2. Group healing and tanking are replaced by individual player mechanics. Every class has its own self-heal and group-based heals are weak and ineffective in dungeons. Tanking is non-existent as damage mitigation is all reliant on dodging by each player individually.

On top of this the damage-focused combat, the dungeons have been min/maxed to the extreme and outside of the occasional group looking to complete the story modes, players are looking at speed runs aimed at knocking the dungeons out quickly for maximum gain. That means even further min/max to the damage per second making everyone, regardless of class, shooting for the same exact berserker based equipment. It is just a terrible model and depletes dungeons of any sense of awe or adventure. They are simply a numbers game.

Unfortunately the poor dungeons just highlight the underlying problem with GW2: the combat system. It is fun when playing solo and makes complete sense one on one versus a creature or another player. In fact, avoiding other players for the majority of my leveling (outside of the Kessex Hills events), was the key to me lasting until level 80 this time around because once more than a couple players show up the combat breaks down and becomes devoid of feedback to the players. The sheer number of times I’ve randomly died in a group of players without a single clue as to what was about to or actually hit me is insane. Throw in champion boss enemies that are all just about standing around and beating on them and you may as well just throw the action combat out the window because it’s pointless in a game meant for players to play together. I didn’t even bother to mention the completely insane over use of area of effect skills and spells.

Fortunately World vs World vs World saves everything. Right? The Wuv d Wuv, the WuvWuv, the WvWvW, the promise of Guild Wars 2! Wrong. It’s crap. It’s so crap that I hate to even waste time typing about it. The combat problems from PvE are simply multiplied out tenfold as even more players are crowded into even smaller areas where even more AoE can be dropped. Defense? Impossible. WvW is all about zerging from point A to B to C and hoping your zerg doesn’t meet a bigger zerg that will wipe it out. It’s more efficient to let a capture point be lost than it is to attempt and defend it. Even if a good defense is put up, the doors to the keep are going to fall in a couple minutes and the keep’s champion even faster. There is no hope for a smaller defensive force to prevail. If you aren’t in the zerg you are just wasting your time.

Now I’m just angry as I type about the aspects I don’t like about Guild Wars 2. I could continue on and break down the Trading Post that makes ZERO logical sense related to the game or I could bash the completely one-dimensional crafting system but that would just grind my gears even further. In conclusion the same things that caused me to stop playing GW2 the first few times around are the same reasons that I’ve stopped playing it again after finally reaching level 80 with a character. The “action combat” makes combat feel floaty and unpredictable. Horizontal progression is just a clever way of saying grind. The use of AoE is completely out of control.

The game is absolutely gorgeous from a world design perspective, but it does nothing to encourage the exploration of or use of that world on a regular basis. Over all, the concepts of GW2 are great on paper but they are all poor in execution. I would love, and would pay handsomely, to play the game that GW2 was on paper before it launched.

The 3 MMOs you should NOT have paid attention to and the 2 NEW games TO pay attention to
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 November 2013, 1:45 pm
In a follow up to my post from May 2012, I wanted to point out the three MMOs that you probably really didn't need to pay any attention to.

First up there was Dominus which actually had shuttered its doors prior to me even posting it's name in my 2012 post.  This was clearly a game that didn't need any attention paid to it.

The next was Salem which closed its doors in June of 2013 before ever getting to a launch phase.  Amazing ideas wrapped up in a pretty terrible game.  Please look the other way.

Lastly there was The Otherlands based on Tad Williams' novels of the same name.  This is still kicking around in Closed Beta and still has all the premise that it had last year.  However, Wildstar has pretty much come along to promise almost all the same features in a much more promising package.  I still am interested in The Otherlands, but doubt it will swing many heads it's direction when (and if) it ever launches.

Basically I suck at picking niche games that will make it big (though I still maintain I was an early adopter and fan of Minecraft before it exploded).  Instead I should probably focus my time on games that have broken out of that initial phase of skepticism and have begun proving themselves on the market.  So I present to you faithful reader the two games you should probably get up to speed on if you are not already.

Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone

If you have followed the gaming media over the past couple of weeks it would have been hard to miss the news coming out of BlizzCon 2013.  Not only was another World of Warcraft expansion announced, but Blizzard also put on display two of it's more niche titles: Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone.

Hearthstone is a digital card game that has exploded exponentially since it's initial announcement.  The BlizzCon tournament was streamed to more than 100,000 peak concurrent watchers.  The game is only in early beta and is taking the digital card game scene by storm.  It absolutely puts to shame the focus on digital card games such as Solforge and Hex that were the Kickstarter darlings of this genre.  Hearthstone is poised to dominate and dominate quickly.  The Blizzard polish is present and the "easy to play, hard to master" mantra is on target.

Heroes of the Storm (HotS) is Blizzard's take on the MOBA genre.  They went back into the hopper with Blizzard DotA and out comes HotS which at first glance looks to be an amazing overhaul of a genre that has been, in my opinion, completely stale and unwilling to change.  League of Legends took a tiny step forward out of the hardcore insanity of what the original Defense of the Ancients was while DOTA2 from Valve copied it wholesale.  HotS is a giant leap from both.

The immediate draw to HotS is that it destroys the "learning wall" that is present in other MOBA games.  The game looks immediately approachable and understandable for the casual gamer.  Matches are on smaller maps with clear goals.  Different maps offer different ways to victory with some pretty neat graphical displays such as a ghost ship firing it's cannons to down one of the two sides defenses.

However, just as with Hearthstone, there is a very clear "easy to play, hard to master" vibe going on.  The Heroes all seemed simple enough to play without deep concerns about certain Heroes serving no purpose in a casual game.  At the same time there appears to be higher-level tactical decisions to be made.  Items and shops are gone in favor of decision trees after leveling up.

The presentation of the game also looks to be friendly and has the classic Blizzard polish.  The game is not even in a true beta form and it is being displayed and shoutcast live at BlizzCon.  This is classic Blizzard. This is why their games are amazing and leaders in their respective genres.  I've often said that World of Warcraft has spoiled me.  I have not played a game outside Minecraft, let alone an MMO, since World of Warcraft that can grab me within minutes.  I suspect both Hearthstone and HotS will be immediately familiar once my fingers set down on WASD.

WAR, finally free 2 play
Posted by [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 November 2013, 9:22 am
WAR is finally going free 2 play.  Unfortunately it is only until the game will be shutdown come December.
"To give Warhammer Online a proper sendoff we are opening the game to anyone free of charge that has or had an account in good standing starting October 31st, 2013," said the Warhammer team in an announcement on Friday.
I don't have much to comment on at this point.  I will probably have more to say once the game shuts it's doors for the final time.

· Older Entries >>


Updated Today:
A Green Mushroom [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Joystiq MMO [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Massively [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Reign of Gaming [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
The Server is Down [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Zen of Design [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Updated this Week:
Bethesda Blog [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
GWJ Conference Call [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Lineage II [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Lost Garden [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
MMO Gamer Chick [HTML] [XML] [FULL] [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Sweet Flag [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Terra Nova [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
World of Warcast [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Write the Game [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Updated this Month:
Cloth 5 [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
kfsone's pittance [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Lost In The Grind [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Low Elo [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
mmocam! [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Morphisat's Blog [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Mystic Worlds [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
No Prisoners, No Mercy [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Raph Koster [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Split and Defiled [HTML] [XML] [FULL]
Star Wars: The Blog Republic [HTML] [XML] [FULL]