I like to think about things, and if I don't collect the thoughts somewhere then they'll all fall out of my head. Consider this my "spare-brain-thoughts farm".

Friday, 13 July 2012

Skylines and Rooftops, yeah.

In which we make a brief return to cards.
It’s odd that despite my addiction for the WoW TCG, I haven’t really gone near it in months. Not since the UK Realm Championships (In which I placed 14th), partially because I was planning for EUCCs. My EUCC plans did fall through, but now they may have been resurrected. In light of that, I thought I’d revisit the deck that netted me my top 16 spot at Realms.
Jaral of Gilneas
4 Garet Vice
2 Windspeaker Nuvu
3 Rufus Claybourne
4 Loriam Argos
4 Boomer
4 Grumdak, Herald of the Hunt
2 Koeus
3 Bella Wilder
3 Tesla
4 Magni, the Mountaing King
3 Yertle
3 King Genn Greymane
1 Dulvar, Hand of the Light
4 Avatar of the Wild
3 Aspect of the Wild
2 Spoils of the Hunt
4 Explosive Shot
3 Fordragon Hold
4 Seeds of Their Demise
Well, this hasn’t been update for Tomb of the Forgotten since I haven’t actually looked at Tomb yet.
So, this is what netted me 14th. I wish I’d switched out 2 Explosive Shots for 2 more Spoils of the Hunt, just to deal with Ediwn. It completely blanked me when I was constructing the deck, but now it seems incredibly obvious.
I think the ally base is aggressive enough. I included the two Koeus’ for Grand Crusader match-ups, but never came up against any in my 6 matches (4 other Blue Hunters and 2 Monster DKs).
Since the meta has slowed down slightly, I feel that favouring aggression might be what garners me those wins I’ll need at EUCC/DMF.
So, let’s examine changes I’d make.
-2 Explosive Shot
+2 Spoils of the Hunt
I’ve already outlined why I want to do this. Edwin still is a problem and he’s going to remain a problem. Explosive Shot might deal with Stonebranch and his allies, Winged or not, but it doesn’t deal with Edwin. Spoils can still hit Stonebranch, so it’s obviously the better choice.
-1 Yertle
+1 Other Stashing Card Or Quest
I’m still investigating other options. Yertle was a dead draw every other time though. He was frequently rowed in favour of keeping Boomer or Tesla around, but resources tended to be scarce. I’d probably swap him out for a fourth Fordragon Hold and see how that runs. I still want to keep 2 Yertles since he was beyond useful when I needed him, but it was easier to hang on to one in hand and row the other ones I’d inevitably draw.
-1 Dulvar, Hand of the Light
+1 Amani Dragonhawk OR Lord Darius Crowley OR Siamat, Lord of the South Wind
It’s more expensive, but Dulvar felt useless. He dropped once, swung a big hammer and then died off. I managed to win with a sudden 14/14 Genn when Dulvar inevitably died from too much fire. The Amani Dragonhawk will help in situational match-ups, whereas Darius will mega-boost an already beefy Genn should the situation call for it. Either way it means hanging onto a card for that precious turn 7/8 swing. Siamat on the other hand is a much beefier Al’Akir who deals with mirror matches and Grand Crusader. He’s the least likely one I’d include though, I’d probably favour the cheaper Dragonhawk in order to break their field.
Little changes aside, there are other things that could be done with this deck. If I could well up a bit more drawpower, then I’d love to throw 4 Concussive Barrage in for the ridiculous damage I could dredge up.
The Koeus’ could be dropped in favour of Jeishal, who can hit those Girdles that will be a staple of both Grand Crusader and Monster DK. The Koeus’ are useful for mirror matches, but if I can outpace them then I’ve already got it in the bag. That means I’ve got to be winning my dice rolls though.
The new Traitors! quest also has some potential. A tad better than it’s damaging equivalent, I feel. Definitely a more mid and late game card though.
The deck has a lot of potential still. I need to play around with Concussive Barrage and Jeishal to see how far they’ll get me.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Worth of Gametime

Once again, my nascent thoughts about the gaming world have somehow moulded themselves into written form.

Today's subject is one that I came across when I sat down to play ​Super Mario Sunshine​ the other day. Now, I'm a full-time gaming journalist, and I get paid very little; so to break even I have to spend a lot of time working. It's quite rare that I can sit down and actually play through a game throughout a long period of time, but last Tuesday I had quite some time to myself and coincidentally, the copy of ​Super Mario Sunshine​ I'd just ordered arrived.

So, Tuesday I sat down and said to myself "Today, I will play through this game from start to finish". And that's exactly what I did, which is sort of how this blog came around. It took me 12 hours to complete ​the game, without doing all the additional content (I don't have time to find 200 more blue coins...), and I paid £10 for the game. Now, if I value the worth of a game as £1 = 1 hour of actual enjoyment, then I have profitted highly, and still have a game that has even more content for me to sit down and enjoy some day (Note, I do not advise using this system for solicitation (Double note: I do not advise solicitation)).

Now, if you're still reading; this is when it gets serious (Ha. Serious). A friend of mine recently told me that he'd spend 500+ hours on ​Final Fantasy X ​ on a save file he only started last month​. This kindof staggered me, mostly because it's been a very long time since I could devote myself so wholely to a single game. Now, I shan't be modest, my clocked hours on ​World of Warcraft​ number at nearly 1,000 total hours, but that's a game I've had a on-again/off-again relationship with over the last few years. 500+ hours in just under 4 weeks is a bit insane though, from my point of view.
So, now to the meat of the blog. The Worth Of A Game.

Let's consider my previous system, where a game should have as much enjoyable time as it does cost. Obviously, my friend has gotten far more time out of his game, but he's spent much of that grinding, whereas I had 12 hours straight. We've both gotten plenty of enjoyment out of our purchases, but has he gotten more worth from his?

Now, this creates an interesting dilemna. Since I don't have time to invest into games, but he does, there is a stark difference in how we might perceive the worth of a video game. We're both big fans of JRPGs, but in recent years I've fallen away from them since I can't invest a lot of time into one game (Hence the on-again/off-again relationship with ​WoW​ , I can come back to it whenever I want) in a short period of time, I often have to devote time to other games for reviewing purposes. If I had more free time, I'd go back to the likes of ​Final Fantasy​, ​Baten Kaitos​ and ​The Last Remnant​, but since I don't, I often find myself playing games with notably shorter campaigns such as ​Bulletstorm and ​Jade Empire​, or an open world game where I don't need to invest chunks of time into suchas the likes of ​Skyrim​ and ​Saints Row​.

To someone with more free time though, open world games and JRPGs might be more tempting because they can sink days into them, and still have more content to discover. ​Skyrim​ will constantly offer them places to explore and quests to do, and could take hundreds of hours of time. A person with less time can approach it in bits, but someone with more time can do it in just a few sittings. The same logic applies to JRPGs, but since they're more linear, it's harder to approach them in a multitude of small sittings since you may inevitably forget something, or a quest may drag on and on.

So, now the worth of a game becomes not about the amount of enjoyment taken from it, but the actual person's personal schedule. Now, that changes the scope entirely, and it makes a rather unfair system with which to judge a video game for it's worth. As a reviewer, that irks me, because if a game is good then it is my job to relay that to people with as little information as possible; and I cannot just start adding scheduling into the mix. So, we need to locate a common ground for identifying worth to gametime. Now, the obvious common ground is actually finding enjoyment in games themselves, which has a direct relation to the quality of a game.

So, relevance of quality aside. We still have to place a worth on gametime itself. Does the value of time increase as the amount of time decreases? I'm sure this is a problem that can be solved with a mathematic equasion, but damnit I'm a writer not some sort of mathematician. We need to talk about this in a rational manner.

Perhaps it's something that can only be judged on a personal scale, and not objectively. So does the worth of time spent playing games come down to your lifestyle? Or is it an objective based media that can be supported by a blanket theory. Can the value of a game directly tie to the worth of the time spent playing the game?

It might not be the hottest of topics, but it's certainly something that's worth debate. What do you think?

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Future of MMOs

I know I don’t post these opinion articles too often, but I wanted a place to touch upon my thoughts on just how MMORPGsa work and where they are going. Unsurprisingly I am going to mention World of Warcraft a lot in this article, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The business model of MMOs is a widely decried one. The “Why should I have to pay more to play a game I’ve already bought?” argument is thrown around at every opportunity, particularly by people who don’t play MMOs. Now, these people are welcome to their opinion, but it’s very unfortunate for them that their opinion isn’t likely to be considered valid by most MMO players. It’s not that they can’t understand the whole MMO appeal, but it’s because they’re not willing to experience it because they don’t want to pay for it. For many MMO players, it’s an expensive but affordable hobby, but unlike other hobbies it’s far, far more to them than that. It’s a whole second life to many, many people; They’ve got guilds full of friends and they’re constantly connected to a world full of people that they’re very unlikely to ever meet in real life.
There’s a real level of disconnect between MMO players and the many people who won’t play them which is very obvious to outsiders; MMOs are a completely different class of games.
If you’re confounded as to why MMOs seem to continue chugging along long after people should have got bored of them or stopped playing, then it’s because of this disconnect. The business model is centered around not giving people an incentive to play, but an incentive to communicate with their fellow gamers. It’s a separate experience from the game itself, and it’s all alongside a co-operative gaming experience.
So, moving away from why the work: Just how are they going to continue working. The business model is sound, and whilst it can continue indefinitely, it can become unprofitable. Every year you need to bring tons of new content to stay ahead of your competitors to keep people in your game, and every year more and more competitors get announced. Just in recent months we’ve seen RIFT and Star Wars: The Old Republic both as the big contenders for the King Pin title held by World of Warcraft.
So, you need to constantly employ people to make new content and you need to constantly maintain huge servers capable of holding your audience. Not only that, but you’ll need to do mass technology updates; your servers are going to run out of steam eventually and will need replacing and updating. It costs a serious amount of dosh to keep an MMO running and keep it on top of it’s game. People say that Blizzard are money moochers, but they still employ hundreds of employees and have to maintain their offices, subsidary companies, GMs, servers and keep their game running smoothly. Sure, they’re raking money in, but they’re spending huge amounts of it.
This is where the future of MMOs kicks in.
There is never going to be a unified MMO. It’s too lucrative a market for other companies not to try jumping in.
So, where is the MMO going? It’s going to Blizzard, that’s where it’s going. And, I don’t think it’s going to be mystery-project Titan, either, I think it’s going to be World of Warcraft for many years to come. It is sheerly too difficult to overcome such a juggernaut now, and I think that it’s completely out of Blizzard’s hands anymore. When you’ve got 10 million players and more, you’ve got just too many people to answer to. Imagine just what might happen to the gaming market if World of Warcraft just vanished off the map; If even half of those players continued to play MMOs, every single other MMO would receive such a huge influx of players that they’d be completely revitalised, they might even completely change for the better.
It’s because of this that I’ll never understand the concept of a “WoWKiller”, as SWTOR was meant to be. We are currently at the point where it just can’t be done. Even if you can get the entirety of WoW’s playerbase behind your MMO, they’re always going to remember the MMO that bought them together as a community and if you give them the chance they will return to it.
Many MMOs have turned to the Free 2 Play route, such as Aion. Others have resorted to giving out their game for free like RIFT. Some have introduced a permanent free trial far too early in their lifecycle (*Cough* SWTOR *Cough*). But these tactics aren’t dragging people to their MMO, they’re pushing them away in many cases. RIFT lets you know that you can pick it up whenever you want, you don’t need to now. SWTOR has very early in it’s life said that you can play it for free up to level 20, so you don’t need to invest in it. They’re trying to adopt a business model to bring in more users, but they’re only trying to appeal to MMO gamers, and those people are busy with WoW. You can’t take the WoW playerbase, as unfortunate a truth as it is.

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Multiplayer Problem

Now, I'd like to start this by saying that this is not an article designed to complain about the current state of the video game industry and its domination by multiplayer games. Instead, I want to talk about the actual design concept of multiplayer itself.

Many won't see the same issue that I see with multiplayer games, but in my own opinion; there is a rather rampant one. Whilst some may consider the market-domination I mentioned to be a problem, I instead see it as an opportunity.
The issue is how homogenous multiplayer design has become. The actual concept of how to approach multiplayer gameplay has become stagnant and repetitive; it's a rut that gaming as an art form hasn't actually progressed forward from in nearly a decade. The biggest advance in multiplayer in the past ten years has been easily available online play. Prior to that? Co-operative multiplayer gameplay.

Now, it's a very basic concept. Multiplayer should be either a co-operative form of the singleplayer experience of the videogame, or it should be a competitive one. Be it splitscreen at home or done over the internet, those are the two staple features of a multiplayer game.
The problem lies in the very simplicity of this concept though. Whilst complexity is often a two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach, it hinders things as often as it introduces innovation.

What got me thinking about this conundrum is one of my favourite games of all time that you may have seen in another article earlier this week: Perfect Dark. For its time, Perfect Dark was one of -the- multiplayer games. It had splitscreen, programmable bots with a variety of difficulties and a large range of maps and weapons. Hell, it had more options for weapons than most games do today.
The thing that set it apart wasn't the challenge mode (Also multiplayer accessible, I might add) or the bots, but a unique gamemode that I've not seen since its release -twelve years ago-. This gamemode was simply called "Counter-operative" and was found right next to the co-operative gamemode. Instead of playing a side-character supporting the main character through the singleplayer campaign, the counter-operative took the place of one of the random enemies scattered throughout the level whose job it was to stop the main player from completing the mission.
It introduced a level of difficulty that isn't available in normal singleplayer campaigns by making the enemy think on the same level as you. You couldn't exploit AI glitches or set patrol paths, because one of those enemies was out to get you and could ambush you in ways that you couldn't possibly expect from normal AI baddies. And if you kill them? They respawn and continue their onslaught.

Whilst I'm not pretending to be some hipster-guru-know-it-all who has the divine answer to this problem, I do think that there are some simple changes that can be made that could potentially change the face of multiplayer gaming as we know it.
For one, Counter-Operative was a brilliant gamemode. It should be revived in some way or another. Imagine playing the latest Call of Duty title, going through the singleplayer campaign. AI get predictable and boring, but what if one or two of those random mook enemies could think on the same level as you? It adds an entirely new level of difficulty, forcing you as the player to think on your feet and prepare for unknown danger rather than blasting your way through room after room.
As another, singleplayer and online multiplayer can be blended into one experience. I feel that Journey deserves an honourable mention here, as does Dark Souls. If you have access to the internet, then why must your singleplayer experience be so lonely? Receiving hints from other players ala Dragons Souls or actually meeting other players going through a singleplayer experience ala Journey can be huge gameplay features. Multiplayer doesn't have to necessarily mean a competitive experience.
How about the multiplayer juggernaut, World of Warcraft? You spend a lot of time levelling a character, and you can interact with other people but you never actually have to invest any actual gameplay with them. Or you can take the opposite route and level a character exclusively by grouping with other players.
Speaking of MMOs, what about EVE Online? A game that over time has literally become all about the player and their multiplayer experience.

There are other examples, but pointing out where to look for new experiences isn't the point of this article. Rather, to talk about the homogeneity that multiplayer gaming has come to. Many developers are afraid to experiment too wildly in case they go too far and stray into the realms of insanity, all the while tarnishing their image.
I'm not saying that this is the case for every studio though. However, as a community there does need to be innovation at some point in order for gaming to evolve.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Game over.

In which we mourn the dead.

So, straying away from the whole cards thing for a while (Fret not, I have a Horde Mage to share), I wanted to talk about some other things going on in the world of geekery. Specifically some things that are affecting the UK gaming market.

I speak of GAME and Gamestation, the UK high street retailer. Now, I've been covering the story for the websites I write for, and since the start I've been saying that it doesn't look good for them. With the Royal Bank of Scotland intefering for their own purposes, and companies that could make a difference not putting bids in; the situation has gotten worse and worse by the day.

Now, GAME have gone into administration and taken Gamestation with them. Just under 300 stores have already closed, including my local GAME. More than 2000 staff have been made redundant. The CEO has stepped down and handed the company over to the administrators.

Admittedly, as a PC gamer, it's kindof difficult to feel sorry for GAME. They were almost abusive to developers to get discounts and threatened developers in order to make sure that their PC games were exclusive for a short time. Since I buy most of my games via Steam, it's annoying to find out that things I'm looking forward to (Space Marine, Saints Row 3 etc) are being held back for months at a time because GAME wanted exclusivity so they could attempt to cash in on a market that didn't like them in the first place (PC gamers and GAME do not go hand in hand).

Whilst they clearly haven't been virtuous paragons fighting in the name of gaming, I realise now that they're not being terrible people either. The past 2 years have been very difficult for them, and now we stand to lose our only major gaming retail chains.

The UK gaming scene isn't in trouble, but this could mean that there are dire consequences coming. If supermarkets step in to fill the gap in the market, then prices are going to bounce around as they compete with one another. If independant stockists can't stem the bleeding, then what will happen to the UK gaming scene?

We do have online retailers, but that is an almost specialist thing. What of parents who take their children out to buy new games for their birthdays? What of non-gamers who fall into the hobby? They are left with the supermarkets, with tech stores, with trade-in centres.

Those of us who market ourselves as real gamers will continue to buy online, but because of the declining physical trade, prices online will eventually suffer.

To say the least, I'll be upset if GAME do eventually go under and cease to exist. Thousands of people are out of jobs because their parent company made stupid decisions. The UK will lose a lot more than just it's retailer.

Monday, 12 March 2012

There. Are. Four. Lights.

In which we taste the rainbow.

I've been playing Grand Crusader a lot more recently since I got my playset of the delicious ability card. If you remember my previous blogs, then you may recall that I'd built my Grand Crusader deck with a twist: Dragons, Dragons and Dragons.

Using Drax Felfuse for his attack boosting ability and a range of cost 1 & 2 dragonkin to boost him and run with Grand Crusader, this deck can put together a formidable field. I've included Trade Prince Gallywix since he works with Grand Crusader as well as providing resource readying ability for him and Drax. Exxi is still in this build, but I remain unsure about her usefulness. Whilst managing to swing twice with a buffed up Drax Felfuse is very, very deadly; she remains a dead draw most of the time since she doesn't gain the +2/+2 from Grand Crusader.

Rohashu, Zealot of the Sun

4x Drax Felfuse
2x Azure Magus
4x Emerald Captain
4x Ruby Stalker
4x Bronze Drake
4x Bronze Warden
4x Ruby Flameblade
3x Obsidian Drudge
4x Trade Prince Gallywix
2x Exxi the Windshaper
3x Cairne, Earthmother's Chosen

4x Grand Crusader
4x Censure

4x Etched Dragonbone Girdle
4x Bottled Light

4x Twilight Citadel

2x Challenge to the Black Flight

I'm missing Cairnes and Twilight Citadels still, but if this is the deck that I end up taking to the Realm Championships next month then it's either going to need improvement or some money being spent on it. 

I'm playing around with the idea of dropping the Challenge to the Black Flights and Exxi the Windshapers in favour of Hammer of the Zealot, Vindicator's Shock or Lordann the Bloodreaver.

I've recently got my MWS working again, so now I can playtest more often. Joy.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Luna ex Machina

In which we appreciate aberrations for their inner beauty.

Since the update to core making it a 2-block system, I've strayed from playing Druid. I was always a fan of Gwon Stronbark, Arturius Hathrow and Kauno Stonehoof in the previous meta and I had a great number of decks surrounding them. Whilst I had a particular penchant for token decks, it was my Goblin Druid rush deck that I mained. When the Drums and Icecrown blocks rotated out suddenly, I found myself lacking a lot of the cards I used: Starshot, Krixel Pinchwhistle, Natural Order, Nature's Reach, Report to Goldshire and several others.

Since I've been rocking Grand Crusader for too long, I've been building other decks to mix things up at my local card pit. Whilst looking through my Alliance allies, I noticed Braeo Darkpaw and Aleksei Brandai. A quick scan of my available Alliance Hero cards bought up Wildseer Varell, an attachment searching Worgen Hero. Having already played a Worgen Druid in the previous meta, so I knew some of the staple allies I'd need. The only thing the deck would require is a stable base of attachment cards and it should be complete.

So, a cursory build looked like this:

Wildseer Varell

4 Kelsa Wildfire
3 Loriam Argos 
4 Aleksei Brandai 
2 Faithseer Jasmina 
4 Davius, Herald of Nature
4 Braeo Darkpaw
3 Rolan Phoenix
4 Genn Greymane
4 Aileen the Thunderblessed 

4 Mark of The Ancients
4 Favour of Nature
4 Mark of Elderlimb
2 Mark of Goldrinn
2 Wrath
3 Earth and Moon 

3 Gilneas 

4 Seeds of their Demise
2 If You're Not Against Us

Playtesting revealed a few things that needed to be removed and others that were severely lacking.
First changes were the removals:
-4 Aileen the Thunderblessed
-3 Earth and Moon

These 2 cards in particular were holdovers from the previous iterations of this deck when Nature Worgen were a lot stronger. Most games they would be dead draws and dead weight, so they're gone now.

-2 If You're Not Against Us...
Whenever it was played, it attributed very little to the game.

-2 Wrath
Because it was rarely playable.

-1 Mark of Goldrinn
Because I never needed it when I drew it. I decided that running 1 and searching for it when it would be more useful seemed like the stronger option.

-1 King Genn Greymane
4 was too many.

-1 Favour of Nature
It's just wasn't as useful as Mark of Elderlimb.

As for additions:
+4 Magni, The Mountain Beard
He fills the roles of being resourceable and being a protector I occasionally needed around turns 4/5 before I dropped Genn.

+2 Faithseer Jasmina
+3 Mark of the Untamed
Jasmina got boosted up because whilst she makes a rather pale Turn 2, she was excellent in later turns when paired with a few cost 1 attachments. Playing her on Turn 4 with any 2 cost 1 attachments made for a 5/5 who was hard to kill.

 +2 Lord Darius Crowley
I was frequently playing Genn on turn 6 rather than 5. Following this with a 1-off Crowley that I used during a playtesting match meant that I had an 18/18 Genn ready to swing. Running 2 seemed stronger than 1, so I'm trying that out.

+3 Energize
Frequent lacking of draw power made for a sad Pandaren Worgen. I'm going to try out the Energize in the hopes that it will work well with an already established Faithseer Jasmina, and I hope that it won't just be a dead draw.