Jun 052014
 

Still around and kicking. Without going into too much detail, I’ve been selected for a new position in a different location that requires working with sensitive material. As such, I’ve been keeping things quiet until I get established at my new assignment and get the lay of the land. Don’t think anyone’s’ missed much, since as far as I can tell, WoW’s exactly the same as when I left it.  (I’ll quote Azuriel here and express incredulity that 7 million people are still playing a game that hasn’t seen any content updates since September.)

 

 Posted by at 4:43 pm
Apr 032014
 

Shortpost to let those who’ve asked know that I’m fine. I was about 1/4 mile away from where the shooting went down; the alert sounded, we locked the doors, sat down and watched the news like everyone else. Didn’t know the guy or anyone involved.

 Posted by at 10:16 am
Apr 012014
 

In case you missed it, Tinderhoof wrote the feral class guide for Wowhead. A good start for those who are new to the class. Really appreciate how it breaks down how X rotation is for new people, while Y rotation is for experts…too many people jump right to GIEF MAX DPS ROTATION PLOX with no consideration of the complexities involved.

 Posted by at 1:06 am
Mar 202014
 

Last weekend, my wife was out of town visiting family, so I had the unexpected chance to pretty much do nothing but play games all day. I played a good bit of Diablo 3 and realized two things: first, the changes made in ver2.0 fix the vast majority of what’s wrong with the game; second, the fact that it’s still permanently online for single-player (and laggy/flaky, when I was playing)  makes me still not want to play it. Eventually, I decided to attempt to trim down my Steam indie game backlog as much as possible by trialing as many games as I could. Here’s what I thought, in no particular order:

Sequence Okay, I cheated on the first one; I just replayed Sequence because I played it pre-Steam cards. Still an amazing game (it’s a DDR-like rhythm game with RPG progression) and you can pick it up for a buck during the current Humble Bundle sale. Highly recommended.

Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons This game reminds me quite a bit of the movie Lost in Translation–critics and auteurs call it a masterpiece, but I just call it a nice nap. Seriously, this game has a very distinct narrative tone and focus, but after finishing it (it’s short, took me about 3 hours), I didn’t feel touched, I felt “well, that’s over.” I admire the dedication to the setting to have the characters speak a gibberish language, but it sure didn’t help my immersion any. I’d rather go back and play Ico instead.

Gone Home Now, THIS is how you tell a story. The genre can best be described as “first-person story;” the story starts and ends with you exploring a house and learning about the lives of the occupants. The story itself is a bit trite, but the attention to detail is amazing; just about every object in the house can be picked up and examined, and has setting-appropriate art. There’s no action whatsoever, but if you love storytelling and/or metafiction, this game’s got it.

Bionic Commando Rearmed I never played the original, but after hearing it frequently referenced and seeing good reviews of the remake, I figured I’d try it. Not bad, but I have to feel comfortable with a platformer’s controls to have any enjoyment, and I was still struggling with the grappling hook after more than an hour. Uninstalled.

Thomas Was Alone This game doesn’t look like much, but it’s surprisingly well-polished. Sure, all you’re doing is moving around shapes to fit them into various holes, but they’re all voiced by charming English accents, and the play itself is solid. Definitely worth a look.

Guacamelee! Remember what I said above about solid platformer controls? Guacamelee nails it. One of the best Metroidvania-style games I’ve played in a long time. Fairly difficult, though.  Definitely a game I’m coming back to.

Starseed Pilgrim This game falls into the newish genre of “the game is figuring out how to play the game.” I figured out how to play it, and didn’t like it much. Worth a look if you’re into procedurally-generated stuff, otherwise, stay away.

A Valley Without Wind I think every game designer has this dream where they have unlimited time and money to add as many features into their games as they want, and never have to cut anything. This platformer  feels like the result of that dream. It’s kinda like Terraria, except there’s no building, and there’s no fun. Sure, there’s 27 million things to do, but if your game doesn’t pass the basic “is it fun?” test, there’s not much point.

A Virus Named TOM I got a good chuckle out of this game’s art. It’s a puzzle game, though, with a mechanic we’ve all seen before (spin the tiles to connect the pipe…err, “circuits”). Not my thing.

Antichamber This is a Portal-ish first-person puzzler, and yet another game where you have to discover the rules (and then figure out which rules can currently be broken). It’s good, but at the time I played it, it just made my brain hurt.

Rock of Ages I totally dig the style of the game. The concept is simple; you and an opponent roll boulders down a steep hill, attempting to smash down their gate. While “reloading,” you have the opportunity to set up defenses to slow/shrink the enemy boulder. Sounds great; unfortunately, the decision to do everything in real-time makes it hard to get feedback on how well everything is going. When you’re rolling your boulder, you get a picture-in-picture view of your opponent’s boulder so you can sort of see how your defenses worked out, but you’re likely too busy dodging your opponent’s defenses to notice. I played a few matches, won/lost and had no idea why I won/lost, and then stopped.

Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians I like games with music/rhythm elements (Pata-Pata-Pata-PON!). This game – not so much. It seems like they started out trying to make a music-based puzzle platformer, struck out, and ended up with a music-themed puzzle platformer. It’s not terrible, but ir’s kinda generic, and I quit after one level. Definitely worth a look if you’re into electronic music.

Hack, Slash, Loot Install, Try, Uninstall. A very bad roguelike. I see no reason to play this when there are other strictly better roguelikes out there.

Paranautical Activity I’m not really into FPS’s, though I play a few from time to time. This is a roguelike FPS; pretty much first-person Binding of Isaac (which I greatly enjoyed, btw).  For what it’s worth, it seemed pretty well designed, but after dying on the (randomly generated) first level repeatedly, decided that this was not the game for me.

Master Reboot Of all the games on the list, this is the one that I have no idea how to categorize. It’s a first-person…exploration? Puzzle? Horror? Mystery? All of these. The sound design is GREAT. Unfortunately, the graphics frequently cross the line from “darkly symbolic” to “looks like shitty first-generation 3D” and it seemed pretty buggy. Good concept and story but could have used some more polish.

Retrovirus Hi, Descent! I’ve long wondered why nobody tried to make a modern Descent, which I had a lot of fun with as a kid (only the shareware version, though). Well, this is here, and this is pretty good, but the pacing/level design isn’t as tight as Descent and the sound is meh. As I write this review, I realize I have no idea what happened story-wise; something about a virus that I’m chasing through a computer when I started, then lots of shooting glowy pink bits. Okay, not great.

Space Pirates and Zombies My current jam. I’m massively conflicted about it, really; there’s lots of design nitpicks I could throw at it, but it’s in one of my favorite genres (top-down space shooter/adventure, aka Elite) so I let it get away with a lot.

Yay! So…20ish games down with one or two I’ll come back to, which leaves me with still more than 100. Whee.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 11:54 pm
Mar 092014
 

This is somewhat embarrassing. I’ve been gushing about Hearthstone, planning to write guides and things for it…and now, I can’t be bothered to log in. Just jumping on to knock out quests feels like a chore now, when a few months ago, I vividly remember staying up until the daily quest reset a few months ago to get one more in.

So what happened? Well, I thought about it for a bit, and there’s three main factors:

  1. Lack of extrinsic progression. Otherwise described as “nothing-to-do” syndrome. WoW players are intimately familiar with this; once you’ve ran all the content in the current tier and gotten most of the drops you need, there’s no real reason to keep coming back. (Excepting raiders, who have a whole set of group dynamics that non-raiders do not.) Same thing for Hearthstone; once you’ve unlocked the majority of the cards, there’s no more meaningful progression. That would be fine, except…
  2. Lack of skill progression. My progression in Hearthstone reminds me a lot of my progression playing online poker. If you study, you go from being completely clueless to being reasonably good pretty quickly. However, further improvement past that point gets more and more challenging, and becomes extremely hard to quantify. For Hearthstone, once you’ve figured out the basic flow of the game, researched deckbuilding (or Arena drafting for value) online, and made all the the common newbie mistakes, there’s not really anywhere else to go.  I’ve realized that any further progression on my part revolves around anticipating draws (both mine and my opponents) and adjusting current play to account for that, but that’s pretty fiddly. I’d still play anyway, though, if it wasn’t for…
  3. Speed. The current turn limit is pretty slow. There are a few turns where you need 90 seconds (either due to a complex situation, or just waiting for all the animations to play out if you have lots of moves to make) but for the most part, 30 seconds is plenty. I’m not sure how to change this, though, as I did need that time as a new player to read card descriptions and things. Currently, I’m doing something else in a second browser window or on the phone while I’m waiting for the opponent to take his turn. When I’m enjoying that other activity more than playing Hearthstone, that’s a problem. My way of fixing this in online poker was playing multiple tables at once; that’d be really cool for Hearthstone, but will never happen.

Note that I’m not really complaining – I’ve definitely enjoyed my time in Hearthstone, and it’s completely unrealistic to consider a game that has still not been officially released unworthy because it can’t be my go-to game forever. I do hope that the upcoming patch with the live release addresses at least the speed issue, though, and gives me something else to work towards. (Grinding out Legend rank seems off-putting to me with the current rapid rank resets.) I’ve got about 2000 gold and 3000 dust saved up hoping for something new to come along.

In the meantime, I’m dabbling in a bunch of games. I’ve gotten hooked on Marvel: Puzzle Quest on my phone; if you liked the previous PQ’s at all, give it a shot; it’s F2P, and the limitations of playing for free aren’t that restrictive. I may write up a one-off guide post for it, as there’s some interesting depth to the mechanics of the asynchronous multiplayer. I’m also working through my Steam backlog, though I have no hopes of ever finishing that. :)

 Posted by at 10:57 am
Feb 282014
 

WoW Insider announced today (though we’ve known for a bit) that a large budget cut is coming, which means all the freelancer class columnists (like me) have been cut loose from writing. Truthfully, I haven’t written anything for WoWI in a long time, but I had always been planning a comeback somewhere in the back of my mind. Now that that door has been closed, I’m somewhat at a loss. I’ll get back to that point, though; right now, I’m going to reminisce a bit.

My first post

One of my favorite screenshots.

It was January of 2011, Cataclysm was in full swing,  and as you might have expected, it was a feral DPS guide. I do so like writing guides, for some reason. Skim it if you want a blast from the past– Keep up the Mangle debuff! Spec 0/32/9! We can bearcat! :) I was much more into WoW then; I hadn’t hit burnout, my family was still doing okay, and I wanted to know all the things so I could be the very best that ever was.

Believe it or not, I actually deployed to Iraq during this time period. Somehow, I managed to keep churning out a column for WoWI every week or two; I was in a part of Iraq that had reasonably good internet (in context) and I was actually able to keep playing the game. I got kicked from one PUG because they didn’t believe me that my AFK was due to ducking and covering from artillery fire. :) As things ended up, Iraq was pretty dull for my unit once we got settled, and being on my own meant plenty of writing time. I actually hacked out my first attempt at creative writing for the Blizzcon writing contest in 2011; it’s here, if you want to indulge yourself in some bad fanfiction.  I also put in hours upon hours before finally successfully soloing Kael’Thas in Tempest Keep; he’s a pushover now, of course, but he was no joke at level 85 in Firelands gear.  I also knocked off Naxxramas and Ulduar later in the expansion, though my attention was quickly distracted by the new shiny; monks.

Sleep, write, work; pick two

I played monks extensively during the MoP beta, and enjoyed them a good bit. (All the druids were busy arguing about whether Heart of the Wild and Symbiosis were the end of the game as we knew it, or something.) I got this crazy idea; I’ll start up a monk blog! It’ll be awesome! I’ll be the go-to guy for monks and feral druids! Yeah.

Trying to keep up two class columns on WoWI and two personal blogs took its toll; the quality of my work started falling off significantly. Even so, I had a bunch of things prepared for when MoP was to go live…then this happened. That was pretty much the end of my freelance writing career. I kept it going for a while, but after that incident, I was burned out and just going through the motions, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I don’t want to rehash that again, so I’ll stop there – instead I’ll say that some of the internal email WoWI threads were incredibly epic/funny discussions, usually spurred by epic/trolling comments or “suggestions.” (The suggestion box? Whatever you sent in to WoWI was visible to every writer on the site. If you said something extremely foolish in there, we were likely all talking about you. :) Some highlights (of course, none of these are verifiable and could’ve been someone trolling, but still):

  • The MANY people who confused WoWI with Blizz and sent in personal info/CC #’s to try to get their accounts restored/fixed/etc
  • The people who wrote in saying “writer X should be fired because (insert poorly-written rant here)
  • The girl who wanted to be a booth…”model” for Blizzcon
  • The guy who complained because he was being shown diet pill ads on the sidebar
  •  The guy who repeatedly asked us to feature his website/stream which was nothing but him ganking newbies (and when we refused, created several false identities to also suggest his site)
What now?

I’ve pretty much come full circle; I loved WoW, hated WoW, and am now coming back around to thinking about resubscribing. :) Now that things have stabilized in the family life some, I’ve got a chance to come back and do some things; I just have to accept that I can’t do everything, which is really tough for me to do. I’d like to reconnect with my guild, re-make some friends, and just generally rejoin the community without being focused 100% on “raiding or GTFO.” I’m not sure I’m at the point where I can do that, as I have a huge overachiever streak in games. We’ll see – garrisons are looking mighty interesting…

 Posted by at 12:03 am
Jan 262014
 

The Cult Master.

Great card…in moderation. I just won a very satisfying arena game (Mage vs Paladin) where both sides were playing extremely well. The game stayed roughly even up until turn 12ish (me at 25ish life, him at 30) when I play a Sen’jin Shieldmasta to counter his 3/3, 2/3, and 2/1. 2 for 1 for me, right? Yes, but he drops double Cult Master and suddenly I’m looking at 2 Cult Masters, an Aldor Peacekeeper, and a 1/1 recruit with him at 6 cards to my 2 and an empty board. Game, right? Nope! I manage to delay his Cults via a Cone of Cold and pick off enough recruits to put him into fatigue. He drops several cheap minions to powerup a big Frostwolf Warlord; I kill him via Fireballs to all the little minions, with him dealing the coup de grace to himself with the draw fatigue damage to start his turn. :)

Out for a bit – heading to the field for two weeks. Good luck with your cards! This is a great time to jump into Arena – with open beta going on right now, the player pool is large and there’s lots of inexperienced players out there. I’ve been running about a 70% winrate, and am on a 6-0 run currently with this Mage deck.

 Posted by at 3:41 am
Jan 172014
 

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been working on a “metarankings” project, that attempts to come up with a better set of arena rankings by averaging multiple ranks. Well, still working on it; I’ve had to go back and update all the base data. Since Trump just published a big update to his Arena rankings on liquidhearth, I figured I’d go through and see which cards have changed rankings the most. (For reference, here’s his rankings from 3 months ago on ihearthu.)

Risers

Scarlet Crusader (Old: 35th New: 8th) I’m pretty sure that if you ask Trump to look back, he’d have no idea why he ranked the Crusader so low. My speculation is the drop in value of silence (and silencing minions, which you’ll see shortly). The common wisdom used to be that an Arena deck was incomplete without at least 1 silence. Now, though, people are viewing silence like spellpower; nice-to-have, but not worth sacrificing any stats for.

Earthen Ring Farseer (Old: 34th New: 11th) With the new meta highly valuing buffing creatures in order for them to trade and live, the Farseer has much more value when he can heal a card. Previously, his heal was frequently “wasted” on the hero.

Elven Archer (Old: 71st New: 47th) Directly tied to the rise in Scarlet Crusader (and Sunwalker, to a smaller degree). It’s still not a great card since the overall value of 1 drops is so low, but being able to ping off Divine Shields is becoming more important.

Bloodfen Raptor (Old: 40th New: 22nd) It’s a boring 3/2…but it’s still a 3/2. Since 2-health minions are so rare these days, the upside of 2/3’s is mostly gone; 3/2’s are where it’s at now.

Wolfrider (Old 51st: New 33rd) / Bluegill Warrior (Old: 48th New: 32nd) These charge minions are basically minion-based removal spells, and help you regain board control at the cost of card advantage. Less taunts means these “missile minions” have a better chance of getting to their target.

Fallers

Ironbeak Owl (Old: 18th New: 58th) How the never-mighty have…fluttered? As I said above, less things to silence means it’s less valuable, with the Owl being the prime example. Spellbreaker dropped as well, but not as much since it at least has some decent stats to it.

Amani Berserker (Old: 6th New: 42nd) Fewer Northshire Clerics, Novice Engineers, and other 1-drops means less chances for Amani to enrage and still be useful. He’s basically a River Crocolisk at this point.

Novice Engineer (Old: 24th New: 49th) That nerf. Dropping to 1 health means it basically dies instantly, so much less chance of it getting ignored and scoring a buff to trade up with something.

Dragonling Mechanic (Old 28th New: 48th) The old ranking pretty much just looked at her raw stats; the new ranking reflects that the 2/1 is getting killed immediately 90% of the time, leaving you with a poor 2/4 body.

Flesheating Ghoul (Old: 16th New: 35th) The growth mechanic is fun, but this card dies to 2-mana 3/2’s far too often to be ranked that highly.

That’s the top 10 (plus a bonus), but feel free to check out the lists for yourself and see how they match up with your perceptions! I was surprised to see Dark Iron Dwarf still in the Top 3; if he stays that popular, I could see him dropping to a 3/4 (or even a 4/3, if they really wanted to nerf him) in the future.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 2:32 am
Jan 142014
 

nerfbat1So, Zeriyah dropped a minor bomb today when they announced balance changes going live later this week…and as my wont, I’ll take a look at what’s changing and give you my thoughts. (Original source here.) Overall, I think they nerfed too much and buffed too little; there’s still lots of cards that are pretty bad.

Unleash the Hounds’ mana cost is now 2 (down from 4).

Hunters needed a good bit of love, and this was a good start. The original Unleash the Hounds was too good; the current version was terrible; this is right on point. It’s basically a different version of Arcane Explosion, with different strengths and weaknesses, and helps prop up the Beast synergy a little bit. That said, Arcane Explosion still isn’t a very good card, so improving from terrible to meh isn’t doing much.

Pyroblast’s mana cost is now 10 (up from 8)

This is probably too much of a nerf, but Pyro fell into the same reasoning that Mind Control did; it was too powerful, too early. I really didn’t have a problem with Pyro, honestly, I would’ve much rather seen Ice Block be changed. This change hurts aggro mage quite a bit, though mage still likely remains the best class in Arena.

Blood Imp is now a 0/1 and now reads: Stealth. At the end of your turn, give another random friendly minion +1 Health. 

Wowza, what a nerf! It’s basically a more crappy Young Priestess now, which means…it’s not that good. (No, I don’t think the Stealth makes up for the loss of the 2 attack; at least with Priestess, you could trade her off with a 3/2 frequently when you weren’t going to be able to save her.)  This should help chill out all the warlock rush decks some, but it won’t affect warlock control decks much. This will hurt arena warlocks considerably as well.

Warsong Commander has been reworked and now reads: Whenever you play a minion with 3 or less Attack, give it charge. 

Warsong maybe needed a change, but this isn’t it. This just makes the card terrible. You want chargers with high attack so you can do a surprise kill or board trade; the only charger with low attack/high toughness I can think of is Stormwind Knight, and that’s not a very good card. Since the stated reason was “nerf OTK,” a better change would’ve been “give the first minion played this turn charge,” like the Pint-Sized Summoner.

Charge (the spell, not the keyword) has been reworked and now costs 3 mana. The card’s new power reads: “Give a friendly minion +2 Attack and charge”.

What a crap card. It would be balanced at 1, maybe 2 mana (compare Blessing of Might). Together, these changes murder most Warrior OTK decks and nerf a class that was average at best.

Abusive Sergeant now reads: Battlecry: Give a minion +2 Attack until end of turn.

Meh. You get a bit of extra synergy with Big Game Hunter, which is nice, and Shadow Word: Death (priests).

Dark Iron Dwarf’s buff now only lasts until the end of the turn.

Decent nerf to DiD. Still an okay card and good in Arena, but not top-tier like it was.

Defender of Argus is now a 2/3 (down from 3/3)

Same thing here as with the Dwarf; this buff brings it down to an appropriate power level.

Novice Engineer is now a 1/1 (down from 1/2).

I’m undecided about this change. It’s essentially a freekill for mage/rogue/druid now (you pay 2 mana, get a card; they pay 2 mana, remove your card) so you’d only run this as filler. I think it stays in aggro decks, but gets traded off for Bloodmage Thalnos and/or Nat Pagle in control decks.

That’s it! Very surprised to see no nerfs to Molten Giant, but we’ll see what happens. With mages and rush decks getting nerfed, the meta pendulum should swing back towards control; druids and paladins should be stronger again, along with control warlocks. Hopefully, they consider a change to giants at some point before release.

 

 Posted by at 1:00 am
Jan 122014
 

I was super excited after my 12-2 Paladin run (and a subsequent 9-3 Mage run) last weekend. I told myself “This is it! I’ve turned the corner! I’m really good at this game now!”

Then came this week…and splat. I didn’t do badly, in an objective sense: 19-12 over 4 runs is still a 60% win rate, and 3 of those were with classes I’m not as familiar with. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that things were just getting more generally difficult. Eager to find someone else then myself to blame for failures, I decided to go digging for some stats, and voila: Arena Mastery. (Excellent, excellent site. Please submit stats to them or Hearthstats if you don’t already!)

My theory is simple: due to the holidays, the rate of new beta keys going out dwindled rapidly, which has thinned the new player pool considerably. With fewer of those newer players setting forth with their free entries/initial achievement gold (and getting crushed), all the better arena players are playing each other more often, which kills win rates for everybody. Now, Arena Mastery only started logging stats on 10 December, but it does give me some options for splits. Let’s see what the average # of wins is for more recent splits: If it’s falling, my theory may be correct. Remember, these are stats for Arena Mastery users, who presumably are more invested in the game (and improving) then the average player.

  • Since 10 December: 4.96 average wins (27272 games logged)
  • Since 18 December: 4.93 average wins (22708 games logged)
  • Since 04 January: 4.77 average wins (6811 games logged)
  • Since 09 January: 4.70 average wins (2874 games logged)
  • Since 10 January: 4.63 average wins (1060 games logged)

Even though I’d be wary of the last few splits due to sample size, the trend is pretty clear. Some quick math shows that from 10 December to 04 January, the average win # was 5.02; it’s dropped a quarter-win since then.  Whether it’s keys or another reason, people are getting better at Arena, and going “infinite” (meaning averaging 7 wins per run, or 70% winrate) is harder than ever. Thankfully, this should smooth out soon once things hit open beta and an influx of new players shows up, but if you’re getting frustrated with your performance right now, this might be a good time to take a break. Now that Test Season 2 has started, I’m considering playing some ladder games and just saving gold for a bit. We’ll see – I’ve still got that Steam backlog to work through as well.

 Posted by at 12:35 am