Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Few Acres of Snow

Earlier this year one of the more popular current board game designers (Martin Wallace: Age of Steam, Brass, Automobile...) came out with an interesting game that I'd heard nothing about. It was added to Yucata earlier this month and I've played a few games of it (mostly against Andrew) and really like the game. It's a deck building game, like Dominion, except it simulates the France/Britain conflict in North America circa 1700ish. So it's a wargame where you build your deck as you play!

It's a two player game with very asymmetrical starting positions. The French start with a lot of points on board and have more immediate military power in their deck. The British start with a smaller deck, more cash, and their starting cards tend to be more powerful. The cards you can buy as the game progresses are different for the two teams, too. The British have more military power available for purchase. The French have better access to the Native American cards which allow for ambushes/raids to do damage outside of the main combat mechanic. There are cards to take to try to counter what your opponent is doing if they're singularly focused on one thing.

The game has multiple end conditions as well which can have people building different decks. The British win by conquering Quebec. The French win by conquering Boston or New York. Alternatively if either side places all of their colonies or towns the game ends and the highest score wins. Finally if one side kills/raids enough colonies or towns from their opponent the game also ends with the highest score winning.

Multiple end conditions is pretty cool but potentially degenerate. The French start out with more points on the board but if the British plan is to take Quebec that doesn't much matter. They flat out win by taking Quebec so as far as they're concerned the French could start with a billion points and it wouldn't matter. (Of course, if the French did start with a billion points they'd focus entirely on defending Quebec so it should matter, right?)

It turns out the way the game works as printed there's a brutally degenerate combo for the British. They have a path to Quebec that is, by all accounts, unstoppable. We're talking 95+% chance to win if you're playing Britain and know what you're doing. (You get down to a 5 card deck pretty easily and then get into a position to spend your turn making 6 dollars, buying a card for 7, drawing the new card immediately, and playing it into a fight. This keeps your deck at 5 cards so you're guaranteed to be able to do it again next turn. You lose a dollar per turn but you can spend a turn making 12 dollars instead of buying a card if you feel like it.) Eventually you win the fight and all those cards you bought go into your deck so your deck is no longer degenerate. Unfortunately for France you now have more strength in your deck than he can ever buy and you're one step from Quebec. Guess what's going to happen...

On Friday the designer came out with 'patch notes' for the game in an attempt to balance things out again. He made 4 rule changes which are pretty much entirely focused on stopping this one strategy. The game was a lot of fun when I didn't know about this strategy (I did something similar to Andrew but didn't get my deck to 5 cards so I was slower) but my interest in playing had waned. Now I want to give it a go again! (Yucata did an update with the new rules changes very quickly!)

The changes are:

- Remove the worst card from the French starting deck. They started with a 10 card deck while Britain started with a 7 card deck which made it easier for Britain to build a degenerate deck quickly. France can still buy the card for no money if they want it. (It will take one of their two actions for the turn to buy it, though.)
- Nerf the 'reserve' which was an area you could store cards temporarily between turns. The idea behind the reserve in the first place was you often need specific cards together and this would let you store one piece of a combo until you drew the second one. How it was actually used is people would just shunt their worst cards to it and never retrieve them (which is how Britain could get down to a 5 card deck so easily). Now you can't store the location cards in the reserve. (Location cards tend to be worse than other cards but you start with some and you get more as you get points on board. It would be like if you could island away all your victory point cards in Dominion as your first couple turns!)
- Indian raids get an extra square of movement for free. This buffs an underused strategy in general and in particular opens the door to stopping the degenerate British opening by allowing a raid of Halifax before they can use it as a springboard to Louisbourg (and then Quebec).
- Home support got nerfed. Home support is a card which lets you draw 3 cards without using either of your actions for the turn. This was how the British could buy a card, draw it, and play it all in one turn. The way it works now is home support can't trigger a reshuffle. If you don't have 3 cards in your deck then you don't get 3 cards. You can have as many as are left in your deck and then you can wait until the end of your turn to shuffle. So when you buy a card and put it in your discard pile there's no way to draw it in the same turn. This fits the theme of the game (troops from Europe take time to arrive) and makes the card really bad in a 5 card deck. It's still good in a fair deck, though!

It's a pretty great game (I will probably buy it if I see it in a game store sometime) and I'm happy with these rule changes. I'm a little worried that raids are going to end up really overpowered but since they were useless in games where people knew what they were doing it's probably good that they got buffed.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic Initial Thoughts

I got started on the game yesterday and played for about 6 hours after work. I'm pretty sure that's more time spent in one sitting than I played Final Fantasy XIV and Star Trek Online combined. Time will tell if it manages to keep my attention but for now my reaction to the game is positive and I think a lot of the people I played World of Warcraft with would like this game too. Here are my first few thoughts about the game...

Looting monsters in the game is done very well. Final Fantasy XI had the best looting system in an MMO that I've played (you didn't have to loot any corpses as the stuff just appeared in your inventory or in your group's loot pool for rolling) but SWTOR is a close second. The closest comparison is WoW where a monster with loot would have a little sparkle appear on its corpse. Right click on it to open the loot window and then click on the loot. Someone made a mod to remove the last stage so you just had to right click the corpse and you'd automatically take the loot. Blizzard eventually added that option to the client. SWTOR comes with that option as well, and a second one beside it in the option menu: autoloot all nearby corpses on right click! AE down a bunch of dudes? One click will loot all the corpses instead of needing to click each one individually! I think back to farming Dire Maul for librams to get the Insane in the Membrane achievement and wish so badly that this option existed in WoW.

There are a couple other good things about loot, too. In WoW you know a corpse has loot when it sparkles but the sparkle was designed to be pretty unobtrusive and therefore could sometimes be missed. SWTOR punches you in the face with the knowledge that loot exists by making a giant pillar of light shine out of any corpse containing loot. The cool part of that is the pillar of light is coloured based on the quality of loot on the corpse. There's no way you'll ever miss a magical item now! I can remember playing my hunter in WoW and having to walk up to every corpse in case it had good stuff... In SWTOR that isn't going to happen. If I don't feel like looting everyone that's fine since I'll always be able to tell when a corpse has good loot from a distance. The other great thing with loot is you can send your 'pet' on a trash run where she'll take all of your vendor trash items from your inventory and run off to vendor them for you. Talk about convenient! I again wish I had that option when farming in Dire Maul.

I like how the control system is customizable and can be made pretty much identical to WoW. One of the worst parts of playing a new game is relearning how to move around in the world. Final Fantasy XI was particularly bad for this but really any change at all takes time to overcome. (I remember playing Ocarina of Time and Dead Rising 2 at the same time and dying a lot when switching between games since they aimed differently.) At any rate in SWTOR I can walk forward by holding down both mouse buttons. I can steer with the mouse. I can strafe with A and D. Jump with the space bar. Just like I moved around in WoW! (The only downside is my character refuses to do a flip when I jump.)

A neat thing with rotating the camera is it made the sound come through different parts of my headphones depending on where I was looking. Maybe I'm just really out of touch but it made me smile when I discovered it.

The game actually feels polished. It's certainly not as smooth as a WoW expansion launch would be, for example, but it feels like this is actually a product ready for sale. (Contrasted with Star Trek Online, Final Fantasy XIV, and Magic Online v2 none of which felt like a product that had even been tested let alone ready for sale.)

The voices actually help a lot with immersion.

My character has a nice butt. This seems silly, I know, but the game is played in 3rd person view and you spend most of the time watching your character run around from behind.

I don't know if I can resolve the tension between the gamer part of me that wants to twink out my dark side points and the moral part of me which doesn't want to do evil things. At one point I was given a prisoner as a guide, and was given a shock collar control so I can shock her if she gets out of line. She was being snarky to some dude I was killing which I think is awesome. But I knew that if I was nice to her I'd probably gain light side points so I kept choosing the option to shock her which gave dark side points. She didn't understand why I was torturing her for no good reason and I don't understand it either. Maybe I'm just not cut out for being evil...

The difficulty seems a tad on the easy side so far. I wandered into a quest hub for level 7s when I was level 4 and was able to clean it out without much trouble. Well, I had to use my self-heal button after every fight... (Which in and of itself is awesome. Out of combat I can channel a heal on myself which fills me up in a few seconds. No need for bandages here!) Everything, that is, except the two group quests which murdered me. I came back and 2-manned one of them at level 8 with another level 8 and did the other one when I was level 10 with a pair of level 7s.

I still don't know anything about what the end game is going to be like. I don't know that I care. The game is certainly fun and I'm really liking the cutscenes and such so playing this as a short term game seems entirely reasonable. Diablo 3 is coming out presumably in the next month or two so I'd be switching to that anyway. So the endgame is pretty much irrelevant!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Star Wars The Old Republic: Defenestrator!

Getting setup with an account and getting the software for SWTOR took a bit longer than I would have liked yesterday. I guess I shouldn't be terribly surprised with how long it took to download and patch the files after buying it online. What was annoying is how the client wouldn't let me even start downloading files until I'd finished signing up for an account. Including a bunch of stupid 'security' questions! It didn't help that Chrome was throwing a hissy fit the whole time about invalid HTTPS certificates. (It turns out my system clock was reset to Jan 2010 and Chrome was _not_ happy about people trying to provide security from the future.)

At any rate I finally got patched up and able to log in just before I went to bed. I didn't create a character or anything; I just checked to see what the server picking window looked like and then went to bed. It gave name, population, type, and time zone. I'm pretty sure I want a light, PvE, east coast server but there were a bunch of them. I found a server status page on their website with the same information and there are still plenty of servers that fit my criteria so I need to pick one based on name. And what a choice that is turning out to be! The server names in this game are insane. Final Fantasy XI used summoned monsters as the names for their servers. Final Fantasy XIV used towns from the various games as their names. World of Warcraft used all sorts of Warcraft based lore as their names. Star Wars? It seems to just be crazy words thrown together!

What is a Firaxan Shark? Who is The Fatman? (As an aside, I googled 'The Fatman' to try to find out who that might be in the Star Wars universe and ended up on a pretty neat philosophy website...) Why haven't more people signed up to play on Drooga's Pleasure Barge?

Maybe Star Wars just has crazier lore than Warcraft. I don't know. What I do know is I want to throw people out of windows so I'm going to create a character on The Defenestrator. Why not! (Unless I get home and have an email from the Old Man telling me to play somewhere else.)  (EDIT: We're playing as sith. My character's name is Polemical.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Civ V Revisited

Yesterday I finally got around to trying to fix my desktop which stopped working over a year ago. (I wanted to play Star Wars: The Old Republic and didn't think my laptop would be able to handle it.) I thought it wasn't starting up at all but when I gave it a shot yesterday it spun up for a little bit before randomly cutting out. I thought I'd decided the motherboard was dead but that didn't seem to be the case after all. With it getting into the ram check and the bios before turning off I figured it was probably a power supply issue which is easy enough to fix... Buy a new power supply! So I went out in a blizzard to a nearby computer parts store, bought one, and brought it back. Hooked it up and was able to boot into Windows! Victory! And then it turned off again...

Hmm. I did a little random googling and found out this might be an overheating issue. My bios has a CPU temperature gauge so I booted into it after letting the computer sit for a bit and it came up at 90 degrees. And then slowly got bigger and bigger until the computer turned itself off at around 110. Which is really, really hot. Clearly my fan wasn't cutting it, probably because it had been disconnected for over a year and wasn't making proper contact with the CPU anymore. The store was closed by this point so I went out after work to find some thermal paste. Got some, put it on... Victory! The bios showed the temperature at a mere 60 degrees which is certainly workable.

Two problems solved... Would any more crop up? I booted into Windows and tinkered around a bit with no crashes. I went and bought SWTOR and started installing it. No crashes. I installed League of Legends at the same time. No crashes. And then I gave in to temptation and clicked on the little V on my task bar... If anything I had was going to overheat the computer it was going to be Civ V while installing two games. No crashes! Woo!

I believe Steam had auto-patched Civ V for me as it seemed a lot different than when I played it a fair bit back when it first came out. I don't know if embarking was a thing that I didn't use, or a thing I forgot, or a thing they added in but I like it! I'm kinda screwed in my current game as I didn't learn about it until all the islands were taken but what are you going to do? This is a learning game! Next game will be for keeps!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vacation Board Games

I just got back from my little trip out east and thought I'd note what games I played while I was gone...

Curling Bonspiel
Backgammon x3
Hive x6
Through The Ages
Roll Through The Ages
Hunger Games: Training Days
Le Havre
Settlers of Catan

Not a bad group of games!

Monday, December 26, 2011

League of Legends: Katarina

I brought my laptop with me to New Brunswick and even brought my power cord along this time so I've been able to play some League of Legends after everyone else goes to sleep. I normally play on a fancy gamer keyboard which I didn't bring with me so I've been stuck using my laptop keyboard. I figured with that handicap I'd be better off just learning a new hero in normal games instead of tanking my rating when I hit the wrong key by mistake.

The hero I chose to learn is Katarina, a hero that has always blown me up on the rare occasion she gets played. I didn't really know what she was doing to be awesome and figured a good way to learn would be to read a bit and then just give her a spin. She plays very differently than the other heroes I typically play and preliminary results seem to indicate I like the way she plays. Now, these games were normal games so it could be that I was playing against particularly bad players, or that Kat is good against the way normal mode players tend to play. (No wards, rarely a support character, sometimes not even a jungler...) I've gone 6-0 in the last couple days with her. Kill scores have been a combined 56 kills/21 deaths/69 assists. Pretty sweet!

So, what does she do? Well, she's a melee character which doesn't want to auto-attack very much. She has a few brutally powerful spells that scale well with ability power so the basic idea for her is to make her abilities awesome and her melee attacks terrible. She also doesn't have any secondary resource. No mana, no rage, no energy... Her abilities just have cooldowns so they can be spammed at will. What are those abilities?

Q: This ability is a ranged attack that hits multiple targets. It chains to an extra target per rank of the skill (so 6 targets total when maxxed out) and does 10% less damage after each bounce. The damage on this isn't great at any level but it has a fairly short cooldown. (9 seconds at rank 1, 7 seconds at rank 5.) It's also a ranged ability that does a reasonable amount of damage so you can use it to kill creeps for gold in the early going of the game.

E: This ability is a blink-strike attack. Basically you target something within a pretty big range (the range window actually doesn't fit on my laptop screen!) and teleport to it instantly. If the target is an enemy you do a ton of damage as well. It also has a fairly short cooldown (10 seconds at rank 1, 6 seconds at rank 5) and can be used early game to kill creeps for cash. Or you can use it jump on the enemy hero for some damage, hit them with your Q, and then run away and wait for the cooldowns to come up. Repeat until they have to go heal!

W: This ability is interesting. It starts off as a passive which adds a small amount of damage to every attack Kat makes. Auto-attack or ability. Then you can also activate it to modify your next Q or E cast. If you buff your Q then it does full damage to all targets and applies a mortal strike debuff for 5 seconds. If you buff your E then you take from 15-35% less damage for 3 seconds. This is pretty great when you're blinking onto them to harass them! If they try to counter-harass back you take less damage. And they're probably burning their limited resource when they do!

R: Her ultimate is absurdly insane. When you use it you become rooted and start throwing daggers wildly. You'll throw up to 30 daggers over 3 seconds which only hit the 3 nearest enemy heroes. Each dagger does a ton of damage. It can be interrupted with pretty much every CC known to man but if they don't have something ready right away you murder people. It also has a relatively short cooldown (60/55/50 seconds).

Now, it looks like from just those abilities that she'll be really great at the start of a team fight but if she gets CCed or if the fight goes wrong she won't be very good. She's in melee range without good attacks and will probably get murdered, right? Well... Turns out sometimes yes and sometimes no. And the reason why is her passive...

Every time Kat gets a kill or an assist she gains 25 gold and the cooldown on all her abilities is lowered by 15 seconds.

This is absolutely absurd. I've run into fights where some enemies are low. Hit one of them with my two normal damage abilities and kill them. They both instantly refresh. Turn and use them both on the next guy. Kill them. Refresh the abilities. Smash! I've had situations where I jumped in and ulted, killing two people. That knocks 30 seconds off of the 50 second cooldown on my ult! Chase for a bit and you're good to go again!

So, how do you deal with Kat? Well, I've had the most trouble when people are good enough to switch to me. If I go in first and get hit with practically anything I'm dead. But if the fight gets started and then I sneak in and they don't switch to me they get obliterated. Also in smaller skirmishes it's all over. She has so much front-end damage that you can pretty much turn any 2v2 into a 2v1 in a real hurry. I had a game where I started in top lane, got level 6, and then switched to a 2v2 lane bottom. I was up against two enemies with no ability to interrupt my ult and they were still level 3/4. The game pretty much ended right there. Those two could no longer get money or experience since if they ever wandered out of their own turret they were in danger of dying. I actually rarely killed them since they'd start running as soon as I jumped in but each time I'd knock them so low they had to go heal and they didn't do enough to me to make me leave. Not having mana meant I never ran out of steam!

But if you're a hero with any interrupt ability at all and you're smart about saving it for Kat's ult she's actually pretty weak. Interrupt the brutal ult and then focus her down while she has no abilities left. (No ult tends to mean no immediate deaths which means no crazy ability spamming to get away.) In big team fights you just need to turn and kill her as soon as you see her.

So I think she is particularly well suited to beating bad players. Is she worth running in ranked games? Well, I think I'm going to give it a shot when I get home to my good keyboard and see how it ends up. (She's free this week so I may have to buy her to do this. But she's a lot of fun and I'm liking the assassin style so I think I should buy her anyway.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Favourite Game Candidates: Pre-NES Consoles 2

In this post I'm going to cover the other two systems I played in my youth. These were owned by my uncle John-Boy but he sometimes loaned them to us and I'd get to play them some when visiting my grandparents. They were the Intellivision and the Colecovision!

Run from the blue alien demon thingy!
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - This is the first game that I ever recall generating an emotional reaction in me: fear! I believe this was the first video game to make use of the 'fog of war' concept. You'd get into a room and see the ways out of the room but you wouldn't see what was down the passageway until you went and checked it out. The game gave clues as to what you might find nearby. Those little footprints in the screenshot indicated a demon was nearby. There were cow skulls which would indicate a dragon. There were little turd droppings which if I remember correctly were from rats. On top of the visual cues there were also audio ones. Snakes hissed. Bats beat their wings. (And couldn't hurt you. They existed solely to mask other sounds!) Dragons snored or roared. I think demons were silent which was particularly scary for a 5 year old or however old I was. The game made use of the Intellivision numpad to aim your only attack: bow and arrow. You could shoot in one of 8 directions. If the arrow hit a wall it would bounce off it (which often resulted in pegging myself in the face with an arrow). A good way to scout for demons was to just shoot an arrow down an unscouted hallway and hope it didn't bounce back! (They may not make normal sounds but you'd definitely hear an arrow make contact with them!) The downside to this plan is you had a finite number of arrows. The way to tell how many arrows you had left was interesting... There was no visual display. You had to hit the 'count arrows' button on your control and then it would click at you. One click for every arrow you had in your possession. Gameplay involved moving around on an overworld map. The goal was to get from the start to the Cloudy Mountain to recover the golden crown. To get there you'd have to get through forests, rivers, and locked gates. Passing each of these obstacles would require getting the right item from a dungeon. (You can see the boat which is found in the blue dungeon. It lets you cross over lakes.) The game had 5 difficulty levels which was pretty revolutionary for the time I think. I remember beating this game but I couldn't tell you what difficulty I did it on. All in all a fantastic game! I now want to see if I have this game and play it...

Disc ho!
Tron: Deadly Discs - Like AD&D, this game had you move with the disk controller and throw your deadly disc with the numpad. So you could be moving in one direction and attack in another direction. The way the game worked is enemies would open a door in the wall and come charging out at you with their deadly discs which they would throw at you. Your goal was to hit them with your disc while avoiding their discs. One of your buttons allowed you to block if you were holding on to your disc. If you managed to block their attack their disc would shatter which would render them impotent for a period of time. On top of trying to hit the enemies with your disc you could also hit the doors they opened up which would wedge the door open. Wedge open two doors on opposite sides of the screen and you could walk through them like Pac-Man! Eventually the game would get bitter at you and send out a giant robot to repair the doors. Like with the pterodactyl in Joust you could huddle in the corner and let this guy do his job or you could risk life and limb to try to take him down for bonus points. Guess which one I'd do!

Terrorists make note: this bomb is hard to stop!
Bomb Squad - You're a member of the bomb squad and need to take specific steps in order to diffuse a bomb. You get a circuit board and need to make the right modifications in the right order or KA-BOOM! How do you know what to do? The game tells you! You needed to have the Intellivoice module which would allow the console to actually synthesize speech. This module was a commercial failure in almost every definition but I thought it was really cool. No other game could talk to you! They only made 5 games for it total. My uncle had three of them. Bomb Squad, B-17 Bomber, and Space Spartans. This was my favourite of the three. Cut this one first!

It's a sausagefest!
Burgertime - A cute little platform game. You needed to walk along the pieces of the burger to knock them down and ultimately build burgers out of them. Hit the walking fried egg with the pepper spray so you can avoid him!

What a nicely dressed dealer!
Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack - This was the game bundled with the Intellivision so it is technically the highest selling game for the system with over 2 million copies 'sold'. There were several different types of poker to play, in this screenshot I believe they're playing 5 card stud. You'll note there are three hands there. One for the dealer and two for the players. If you wanted to look at your hole cards you had to push a button on your controller. You had to get the other players to look away before you did! The best part is sometimes the dealer would get shifty eyes and if you looked at your cards while he was shifty he'd take a peek at them too!

Dolla bills, yo!
Lock 'n' Chase - This game was basically just a Pac-Man clone but I'm pretty sure my only exposure to Pac-Man was the cereal and the cartoon show so I wouldn't have known that as a kid. The twist was instead of power pellets you could build walls in the maze after you went by to block off the stupid coppers who were trying to stop you from stealing things.

Where are the mines!?!
Sea Battle - I loved this game but it had the problem of being a 2 player game and my brother didn't like it very much so we rarely actually played it. You're both in charge of a huge fleet containing 8 different types of ships. You could build mini-fleets with 1, 2, or 3 ships in it and they'd appear on the map as little blips. Your opponent had no idea what was in your fleet because you built it secretly by hitting buttons on the numpad. Is your minelayer in that fleet? Do I need to go slowly with my minesweeper if I'm going to take that path? The goal of the game was to get your aircraft carrier or troop transport into their harbor. If two fleets collided you'd switch to a tactical battle map and try to sink each other there. This is the first game I ever played with a strategic world map and a tactical sub-game to handle combat.

Tron? Is that you?
Snafu - This game was a real hit in my house. Move in one of four directions and leave a tail behind you. Try to strategically cut off a big enough chunk of the map to live in while forcing your opponents into smaller sections so they'd run into a tail and die. The really cool thing about this version of the game is there were a bunch of different settings you could choose when you started the game. Want to be able to move diagonally? Sure! Want dead people's tails to disappear? We have that too! There was even an option so your tail had a finite length and the goal was to eat the other person's snake by running your head into their tail over and over again. Maybe the best part of the game was the music. When you got down to 2 snakes the music would change into this dramatic showdown music that was really surprising for a game of this era.

It's like shooting womp rats in a barrel.
Star Strike - The thing I remember the most about this game is the awesome graphics of the planet Earth slowly moving out from behind the moon to the center of the screen. You have to destroy the green spaceship thing before it gets close enough to the Earth to destroy it. If you fail there's a little animation of the Earth blowing up which is pretty sweet. The game was fun, too!

Welcome to the S&M dungeon version of the Matrix.
Night Stalker - You start this game in your little bunker thing and need to run out and grab your gun which has a limited number of shots. You then shoot at the spider, or the bats, or the scary robot thing to score points. The more points you score the more robots spawn. Later robots even gain special abilities, like invisibility or being able to destroy your bunker. It had a really tense background music to it as well.

B.C.'s Quest For Tires - The only Colecovision game on this list. This game was a side-scrolling obstacle course game. You have to jump over rocks, and  duck under tree branches. Later on you need to time jumps onto little turtles that sink in and out of a lake.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Favourite Game Candidates: Pre-NES Consoles 1

Initially my plan was to lump all the pre-NES consoles into one post. My thinking was that I'd almost certainly played more notable SNES games than all of these games combined so it might keep the post lengths at least comparable. And then this one post just kept getting bigger and bigger... Too big, in fact. So I'm splitting this one up. And when I get to the SNES, well, I'll probably have to make a bunch of different SNES game posts. We'll see!

I'm going to start with the two systems my family owned when I was a small child: Atari 2600 and Atari 600XL home computer!

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial - This game is frequently cited as one of the worst games of all time. A lot of the blame for the 1983 video game crash is placed squarely on this game. The heavy losses from this game sunk Atari as a company. The game went from design to production in 5 weeks and was done by one programmer! It sold 1.5 million copies which is an awful lot, but 3.5 million copies went unsold which is pretty ridiculous. Atari made several critical mistakes with this game and it cost them. Despite all that, I loved this game as a kid. I didn't know about any of that stuff. I didn't know that games could be so much better. I didn't know that levitating out of a pit only to fall right back in over and over was unacceptable. It was just the way the game worked and I had to deal with it if I wanted to make a flower grow and help ET phone home.

Realistic Wartime Violence!
River Raid - This game for the Atari 600XL was played a lot in my household. I don't recall personally liking it all that much but it was definitely a family favourite. Reading a bit about it now I'm amazed at the history here. This was the first shooter ever to scroll. It was also programmed by Carol Shaw who was apparently the first female video game designer. There was no end to this game. It just got harder and harder to collect enough fuel to stay alive. The goal was just to score as many points as you could. Interestingly the game apparently had a rating discouraging minors from playing it since it promoted violence. Your plane is shooting at a helicopter, after all!

I hate you, snake!
Q*bert - I don't even remember what system I played this on. Atari 600XL maybe? I liked this game a lot. Some of the levels the cubes would toggle between hit and un-hit so you had to make a plan to hit every cube an odd number of times. I remember having the Q*bert board game, too!

Bring it on, Terry!
Joust - I think we had this for the Atari 600XL. I remember having a lot of fun with this game as a kid. Bouncing along on that left-middle platform to rocket out the crack on the right side? Sweet! I think this game more than any other game showed how I approach games differently than other people. I can remember early on at University a time when Josh and Jer were really into playing Joust. I'd watch them play a bit and ask why they weren't killing the pterodactyl. They looked at me like I was insane. And everyone else around agreed with them! They thought he existed to encourage you to finish the levels faster and was to be avoided at all costs. I thought he was a challenge that needed to die. He was worth a lot of points! I can remember spending a lot of time as a kid getting good at killing him off for points. (Good here being relative of course since he'd often kill me... But I'd get him some of the time! At least I was brave enough to try!)

4 Player Arkanoid!
Warlords - I remember this game only because it used the paddle controllers. You got two paddles per controller port so you could play this with up to 4 players. Really the game itself is nothing special. The cool part is the early multitapesque set-up from the paddles.

How much for the flute?
Raiders of the Lost Ark - This game was my introduction to adventure style games. Having to pick up the right stuff at the right time and use it in the right spot. Figuring out to avoid the dud items. Properly timing when to use the parachute to slide under that stupid branch... This game was pretty sweet. And I beat it! Woo!

Uh, say what?
Yar's Revenge - I'll be honest here. I don't remember playing this game. I recognize the name and I know we had it. I vaguely recall my brother really liking this game. It was referenced in a lot of the articles I was reading about earlier games on this list, though. Apparently it was the highest selling Atari game. It was programmed by the same guy who did Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET! Apparently he spent 7 months on Yar's Revenge. 6 months on Raiders of the Lost Ark. And 5 weeks on ET. No wonder people think it's 'unpolished'!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Forced Grinding

Grinding is a fairly standard part of RPG video games. Maybe it's for levels so you can actually beat the random encounters. (Like in, say, The 7th Saga, which I finally beat a few years ago after deciding to just kill the same mobs over and over for hours on end until I was powerful enough to win.) Maybe it's for reputation so you can buy new gear. (World of Warcraft is a prime example of this one!) Maybe it's for a rare item drop. (I've still never gotten a pink tail in Final Fantasy IV, though I have certainly tried!) Final Fantasy V can have you grind AP to level up your jobs. Final Fantasy X can have you grind in an attempt to capture every monster type in a zone.

But is it fun? In some of these cases I'd say it is. In others I'd say no. In each case you're being forced to repeat some task. Running in circles spawning fights in order to capture all the monsters would at least appeal to some people. The task is related to the goal. You want to catch them all? You need to find them all! In other cases it seems a little over the top. The 7th Saga was just not balanced properly. You didn't gain nearly enough levels by just playing the game and therefore had to spend a lot of time doing nothing interesting. Reputation grinds in World of Warcraft were sometimes fun and were sometimes a real chore. It mostly depended on how interesting and varied the ways of gaining that rep were.

Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals has a very interesting take on level grinding. It's an action-RPG and they seem to have made a real concession that some people will just be better at controlling an action fighter than others. The fights aren't super hard and I'm pretty sure just gaining a lot of levels will be good enough for most people to win. But the game is primarily about solving puzzles and a great plot. Why should some people have to run in circles grinding mobs?

Instead what they did is abstracted grinding levels away entirely. You still gain levels normally by playing the game but if you get wiped out you're presented with the following three options:

  • Restart game from previous checkpoint. (Basically an auto-save feature.)
  • Reload a previous saved game.
  • Restart game from previous checkpoint and gain 5 levels for free.
Did you die because you weren't used to the boss pattern and want to give it another go? Choose the first option. Did you die because you forgot to stock up on potions? Choose the second option. Do you just think you need some more levels before you'll be tough enough for the fight? Choose the third option and get those levels instantly. No need to wander around in circles doing something tangentially related to the game!

Part of me looks at that option with disdain. Gamers these days are being coddled! Cartman had to kill boars for 2 experience apiece in order to be tough enough to win his fight and you should have to do so too! Stupid easy mode! Personally I haven't chosen that option yet (I have died a few times but I've figured out how to beat the fights eventually without just powering over them.) but I think it's existence is actually a really good thing. Without that option some people would just go grind levels without enjoying it. Some people would work at getting better at the mechanics of the fight. And some people would just quit.

Personally I belong in that second camp. I want to find a way to get better and don't mind doing some pretty silly/boring stuff to pull it off. But why should everyone be forced to play games the way I do? Games in the past happened to be set up in a way I like (or do I like doing things this way because of games in the past...) but that doesn't mean they have to be set up that way forever. Perhaps most importantly I can still play my way! Especially in a game with a good story that you want people to see it just makes sense to have different paths to victory.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lufia: Ancient Cave

I've recently restarted playing Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals for the DS. I picked this up shortly after its release last year but quickly ended up getting stuck. It's an action-RPG game with a heavy emphasis on puzzle dungeons. (I believe it's essentially a remake of Lufia II for the SNES which was a standard RPG with a heavy emphasis on puzzle dungeons.) You may think I got stuck because I couldn't figure out a puzzle or wasn't nimble enough to pull off an action combo or such. No, I was actually stuck because you needed to use a charge attack to destroy a big rock. In order to charge up an attack you had to hold down the R button and my DS had a broken R button.

I bought a 3DS earlier this year (yay functioning R button!) but never got around to getting back into Lufia. I had other games to play and I've actually done a lot of reading on the bus this year. I was randomly looking through a pile of game cases and saw Lufia and figured I'd give it another shot. It's got some interesting concepts to it but the best by far is taken pretty much directly from Lufia II: the Ancient Cave!

The Ancient Cave is a side dungeon with 100 levels. I've never actually completed Lufia II since every time I'd play I'd get to the Ancient Cave and just spend all my time in it. It's such a unique concept and I wish more games would put something like it in since it's fun and highly replayable. Each level of the dungeon has a few randomly generated rooms with monsters and treasure chests in them. One of the rooms has stairs down to the next level. There is no way to go back up to a previous level. The game doesn't have random encounters so there's a finite amount of xp you can earn as you go down the dungeon. Every now and then (once every 10 levels or so) you get the option of leaving the dungeon. Doing so will force you to restart it from the top if you come back in.

All of that seems pretty standard so far. The twist is that when you enter the dungeon your characters are reset to level 1. You lose all of your equipment and items. The levels and items are restored when you leave the dungeon but you lose everything you found inside. Doesn't seem like there's much point to doing it, eh? Well, you lose almost everything you find inside. There are some rare treasure chests which are coloured blue. Inside these chests are items with blue names and those items persist between the Ancient Cave and the real world. So you can find a few good items and leave. Save the game. Go back in from the start but with the blue items to help you out... Probably you can make it a little deeper this time since you've started with some good stuff. On this trip in you probably found some more stuff... Repeat!

I just found the Ancient Cave in my game. The first blue chest I found had an awesome sword in it. How awesome? Well, it was three times as powerful as my real world sword and five times as powerful as my Ancient Cave sword. Maxim is now a brutal killing machine! I could take that sword and go smash through the plot for a while... Or I could try to get deeper into the Ancient Cave! Yeah, I think I'll do that...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

League of Legends: Tears Stacking

Robb left a comment on my Facebook post about Manamune asking if it would be worth it to get the first piece of Manamune (which builds up the stacks of extra mana) and then wait a while before spending the rest of the cash upgrading it to Manamune (which turns the extra mana into damage). My gut response was no since I didn't think it would stack up fast enough on the characters I've been trying it on. But what good is a gut response if you don't justify it with some math? So, lets look at how the items gain stacks... (Throwing in Archangel's Staff as well. It also builds from tears and turns your mana into ability power instead of attack damage.)

Tears of the Goddess - costs 995g - each time you use an ability you gain 4 maximum mana - at most 2 stacks gained every 6 seconds
Manamune -  costs an extra 1115g over Tears - each time you use an ability you gain 4 maximum mana - at most 1 stack gained every 3 seconds - each time you autoattack you gain 1 maximum mana - at most 1 stack gained every 3 seconds
Archangel's Staff - costs an extra 1860g over Tears - each time you use an ability you gain 4 maximum mana - at most 1 stack gained every 3 seconds

Take Tristana to start. She has 4 abilities she could use to add a stack on. Her Q has a 20 second cooldown and costs 80 mana. It increases her autoattack speed. Her W has between a 22 and 14 second cooldown depending on how many points you put into it and also costs 80 mana. It jumps her across the map and does damage when she lands. Her E has a 16 second cooldown and costs between 50 and 90 mana. It puts a dot and a mortal strike debuff on the target. Her R has a 60 second cooldown and costs 140 mana. It does big damage to a target and knocks them and all nearby enemies back a fair distance.

Some things to note... The mana costs are all substantially higher than the permanent mana gained from using the abilities, so spamming them is going to run her out of mana pretty quickly. Most of the abilities have a pretty long cooldown and will have no beneficial game effect if used at random. (Unless you're shooting an enemy champion you don't care about your attack speed. Ditto with putting up a dot or blasting them back.) In the case of the W it's actually detrimental to spam it since that's how you get away from a gank. Having it on cooldown so you could get 4 mana back is really bad when you die...

How about standard use? Well, if I engage on an enemy hero I'll generally use all 4 abilities in quick succession. Use W to get the jump on them, E to dot them, R to knock them back into my friends, and then Q to attack them faster. Even though I use 4 abilities I'll only be able to get 2 stacks because they'll all be used within the same 6 second window. (If it seems odd that I'd use my escape to engage you should note that W's cooldown refreshes immediately on killing/assisting on an enemy champion, so I can use it to get in, kill someone, and get out.)

So in standard fights I'll be getting 8 mana. And maybe doing one of these every minute or so? So it would take over 2 hours to stack up to full mana. Now once I have a reasonable amount of mana I'll start using abilities on the creep waves but even then unless I burn my W I'm only going to get 8 mana every 20 seconds. That's still more than 40 minutes until full!

What about Manamune? I lose the ability to stack up twice in 6 seconds but 3 seconds will have elapsed before I W back out of the fight so I should still get 8 mana per big fight. The difference is I gain 1 mana every 3 seconds I'm autoattacking which will be most of the time. Even when farming creeps I'll likely be attacking at least every 3 seconds. Take into account walking around the map and delays between the cooldown refreshing and I'm going to ballpark it at 1 mana every 6 second from autoattacks on top of the above 8 mana every 20 seconds from abilities. Which is still 30 minutes until full. Upgrading to Manamune shaves off about 25% of the time but it's still painfully slow.

Warwick works almost the same way. The only difference with him is his Q has a 6 second cooldown and I buy some cooldown reduction on him. It's a lot more palatable to spam it since it's a self heal along with doing good damage. He should be getting 4 mana every 5 seconds or so while engaged so probably more like 4 every 8 second accounting for running around. This is better than 8 every 20 but not by all that much... It should be noted that Warwick will hardly get hurt at all by the change from 2 every 6 seconds to 1 every 3 seconds since he doesn't spam a lot of abilities in a short window. His long cooldown ability is a self stun so I can't even spam after using it! So Warwick gets a bigger boost out of upgrading to Manamune than Tristana.

That said, I don't think it makes sense to buy it with Tristana. I simply don't want to spam her abilities in normal laning. With Warwick I actually do want to spam his abilities because I'm jungling with him and can use the healing. Looking at how I play them without Manamune I'm spamming with Warwick and not with Tristana. Warwick normally solves his mana issues by taking the massive mana regen buff but if you have Manamune you can give that away to someone else on your team who will love you for it. Tristana doesn't want to be dotting up creeps!

So I think I'm going to keep building it on Warwick and just not build anything mana related on Tristana. Her abilities are almost entirely fixed cost so while she has real mana issues at low level it's not so bad at higher levels. She can't go from big fight to big fight without a Manamune but winning a fight and then going back to base isn't the end of the world. It's certainly better than losing the fight and being dead! That puts you back to base too but with less moneys!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic Launch

Today is the official launch of the new Star Wars MMO: The Old Republic. I'm not currently playing this game - though I am considering starting up - and I wanted to get a feel for how the launch was going. I did a quick Google search for 'SWTOR login queues' and found a 13 page thread on their forums. That's not so bad... I read it a bit and found that it was only 13 pages long because it was closed by a moderator. The moderator directed people to post in the official 'queue complaint' thread. (It's easier to ignore whiners when they're all in one spot!)

I went to check out the official thread and it turned out they'd actually hit the forum limit on posts in a thread and had to start up a second one. Which is currently up to 415 pages. And is growing faster than I can keep up. For the most part it seems to be pretty standard MMO-launch trolling. I paid for my free month and need access now... I'm already level XX and don't want to re-roll on another server... People are botting to stay connected so they don't get stuck back in the queue... I want more PVP-RP servers... Bioware is the devil... Bioware is awesome, noobs are the devil... Etc... I'm pretty sure I've gotten involved in this sort of thread for things in the past and it makes me weep for myself. And then I find a post that I'm sure is wrong and feel a need to make an account and reply! And then I weep some more...

From what I've been able to gather a lot of the problems are arising from the way Bioware chose to help out hardcore players. They let people sign up quite a while in advance to create guilds. These guilds would then be assigned a server during the early access period and the people who signed up would then get to create characters on those servers to play with their guilds. On the surface that sounds like a good idea. Having to arrange what server to make your characters on is a real pain. Even with FFXI when we played earlier this year it was tricky making sure everyone was on the same server. If I could have just filled out a web form and sent some email invites to my friends to guarantee they join the right server and automatically join a guild? That's pretty sweet!

The problem that's arisen is Bioware didn't properly divide up those guilds. They created a bunch of servers for the early access period and sent all the guilds to those servers. That makes sense, since the people likely to sign up early for a guild are also likely to be the people who pre-ordered well in advance. So you need the guilds set up during the early access period if you're going to get any benefit from the sign-ups at all. Then the game launched for real and they needed more servers. So they put up a bunch of new servers. From what I can gather those servers don't get any guilds on them because they were all assigned to the first wave of servers. This creates two big problems...

First of all anyone joining now who signed up for a guild is locked into one of the first servers. Bioware needed to make more servers because the existing ones were filling up but they're now funneling new players onto those servers so they can play with their guild. Clearly this is a good idea for those guilds but it means already full servers are getting filled up even fuller. This is causing huge queues for anyone on those servers.

Secondly all of the hardcore people are all on that subset of servers which I imagine is going to hurt the communities on the newly created servers. They're going to be populated by people with no existing ties to anyone who got early access to the game or who were keen enough to start a guild before the game launched. This isn't necessarily going to be a bad thing but having spent the last 4 years playing World of Warcraft on a low-pop backwater server I can see why people would want to avoid getting into that situation. It's harder to find enough people whose schedules sync up and who are on equivalent skill levels to enjoy doing endgame content together. It was really hard to find pvp teams, for example, and nearly impossible to find enough people to raid with who weren't either bad or mean.

Of course, as someone with no existing ties to anyone hardcore into SW:TOR and who has no real intention on getting tied up in endgame stuff this actually seems like a good deal for me. Many people who are trying to play now have to wait 3+ hours to log in to their servers while there are servers up with no queues at all. I was on the fence last week on if I wanted to give it a shot or not but I'm definitely going to do so now. Especially since the Old Man said he'd play too!

I don't think my laptop can handle the game so I'm going to have to finally get around to fixing my desktop. I'm also going to be in New Brunswick from the 22nd to the 27th and I imagine there will be board games to play! So I'm thinking I'll probably try to buy the parts I need on the 27th when I get back to Toronto and then start playing on some low population server on the 27th or 28th.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Entertainment Top 30 Under 30

Forbes just came out with their top 30 people in entertainment under 30 years of age. The name that brought this list to my attention is Sean "Day [9]" Plott. He's a webcaster who is really into Starcraft 2. He's my favourite commentator at the MLG events. He has a daily webshow about Starcraft 2. Sometimes it's silly and funny. Sometimes it really breaks down a specific part of the game in detail. One thing it always is is awesome.

I haven't actually played SC2 in many months. But I'll still turn on the Day[9] Daily every now and again because I find it highly entertaining. And when an MLG is running and I have a choice between streams to watch I'll pick the one with Day[9] doing the commentary regardless of who the players are because he's just that good.

What surprises me about his getting put on the Forbes list is it's putting eSports into a somewhat mainstream light. Movie stars, singers... Those sorts of people seem like the sort of people they'd put on the list. That a guy who talks about Starcraft 2 on the internet got onto their list is pretty sweet!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

League of Legends: More on Manamune

I played a bunch of games yesterday where I built the item Manamune based on yesterday's post. I built it on Tristana and Warwick with the following results:


Loss - 3/8/4
Loss - 1/5/2
Win - 6/1/6
Loss - 1/9/8


Win - 1/2/5
Loss - 5/5/16

So, not the best records with the item. One thing I noticed is I was never even close to maxxing out the mana bonus so that assumption in yesterday's analysis was quite flawed. I'm probably lucky to get 300 bonus mana out of it, not 1000, which knocks 14 damage off of it even in end game. This makes it significantly worse from a damage perspective than any of the actual damage options.

But how did it change gameplay? Well, I wasn't getting it early enough on Tristana to notice. The laning phase was generally done when I had it which meant using the extra mana for harassing was less useful. It would let me keep going if team fights were working out in my favour but it feels like they'd be more likely to work out in my favour if I had a better damage item.

On Warwick it was more useful. I pretty much never had to go home for mana and never needed to take my blue buff so I could give it away. At one point in the game I lost I was 5/0/2 and went on a run where I just ran up the map helping every lane in turn kill off all the enemies. I actually feel like the loss in that game was more because my team was terrible than that I was less effective with Manamune. Since Warwick has a couple good ways to heal himself with mana it feels like having access to infinite mana means I never have to return to base. Tristana still has to go back to heal (unless she spends a lot of money on lifesteal items and she can't do both early).

I think I need to go back to the drawing board with Tristana. Warwick on the other hand can make use of infinite mana but I might be able to get to infinite mana with a cheaper item? I think I want to try an Eleisa's Miracle on Tristana and a Soul Shroud on Warwick...Soul Shroud is actually more expensive than Manamune so I don't know how smart an idea that is but at least it adds some tanky stats instead of some damage stats that I don't need as much?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

League of Legends: Mana Items

I've noticed that many of the champions I've been playing recently aren't traditional spell casters but still use mana to use their abilities. A lot of mana. I'm building either strictly defensive or strictly melee attack items on these characters, therefore not increasing my mana pool or my mana regen in any way, and therefore I'm running out of mana. I find I keep running out of mana in the middle of big fights, and therefore not being able to use abilities I think I can use, and dying as a result. I need to come up with a solution to the problem, and I believe my options are...

  • Get better at monitoring my own mana and the cost of my spells and pull back from fights earlier.
  • Start buying mana potions.
  • Switch my runes back to mp5 runes. (I bought some tanky runes which I've been using instead.)
  • Change my item build to include a mana item.

The first option could well be the right one, but I think as long as I'm playing with puggers it isn't a good idea. I can't expect them to know when I'm going to pull back and I can't tell them over voice chat. So they're going to end up committing to a fight we can win if I have mana. I'm going to hang back. They're going to die and get bitter at me. Bitter I could handle, but it's also going to feed the other team and decrease my odds of winning which is bad.

So I think I'm going to have to sacrifice something for some mana. Maybe it's going to be cash and an inventory slot for potions. Maybe it'll be 'worse' items. Maybe it'll be 'worse' runes. But at least with these three I can crunch some numbers to see what exactly I'll be giving up.

Seals: I can have 13 armor or I can have .585 mp5 per level. Assuming level 10 as a baseline that would be 5.85 mp5.
Potions: A mana potion restores 100 mana over 15 seconds and costs 40 gold. 
Items... (Ignoring the ones that obviously have no place on these types of heroes like an archangel's staff)

Eleisa's Miracle - 20 mp5, 25 hp5, 35 tenacity for 1300 gold
Soul Shroud - 12mp5 + 10% cooldown reduction as an aura, 520hp for 2285 gold
Nashor's Tooth - 10mp5, 50% attack speed, 55 ability power, 25% cooldown reduction for 2885 gold
Philosopher's Stone - 8mp5. 18hp5, 5 gold per 10 seconds for 800 gold
Chalice of Harmony - 7.5 mp5, 30 MR, 1% extra mana regen per 1% mana missing for 890 gold
Fiendish Codex - 7mp5, 30 ability power, 10% cooldown reduction
Manamune - 7mp5, 350 mana, 20 damage, 2% of mana becomes damage, extra 1000 mana eventually for 2210 gold
Meki Pendant - 7mp5 for 390 gold
Tiamat - 5mp5, 50 damage, 15mp5, auto-attacks become splash damage for 2070 gold
Doran's Ring - 5mp5, 15 ability power, 100 health for 475 gold
Faerie Charm - 3mp5 for 180 gold
Banshee's Veil - 375 mana, 375 health, 50 MR, counters one incoming spell every 45 seconds for 2715 gold
Frozen Heart - 500 mana, 99 ac, 20% cooldown reduction, enemies attack 20% slower for 2775 gold
Sapphire Crystal - 200 mana for 400 gold
Sheen - 250 mana, 25 ability power, after using an ability your next auto-attack does 100% extra base damage for 1260 gold
Trinity Force - 250 mana, 30 damage, 30 ability power, 30% attack speed, 15% crit chance, 12% move speed, 250 health, 25% on autoattack hit to slow the enemy for 35%, after using an ability your next auto-attack does 150% extra base damage for 4070 gold

For starters, lets compare the seals to some items. I can get 18 armor for 300 gold. The runes were 13 armor, so lets pretend that would cost 217g. Faerie charm is 3mp5 for 180 gold, so if we could spend 217g on faerie charms we'd get 3.6mp5. Which is worse than the mp5 seals at level 7 or above. So given the option of cloth armor + mp5 seals or faerie charm + armor seals we should choose the cloth armor at level 7 or above.

But what if the mp5 seals aren't enough? Then we're going to have to give up some damage for the mana by changing items. A good damage baseline is probably the BF Sword, which is 45 damage for 1650 gold which is 37 gold per damage. Manamune is probably 57 damage on top of what amounts to infinite mana for 2210 gold. Which is 38 gold per damage. Worse than the sword, barely, but not by a whole lot. Manamune actually seems pretty reasonable compared to the sword!

What about a top end damage item? Bloodthirster is, fully stacked, 100 damage and 25% life steal for 3000 gold. That's 30 gold per damage plus some added life steal which is really good. It's harder to keep fully stacked than manamune is, and it's 50 gold per damage after you die. 

How about my personal obsession, Tiamat? At 50 damage for 2070 gold it's 41 gold per damage. This is worse than the other options but it does do an extra 35% damage in a big splash radius. Sadly it's only 5mp5 so it's not even good enough I don't think... Bad mana and bad damage? I should probably stop buying this. 8(

Ok, so Tiamat is out. Manamune is probably in. I'm going to try it out and see how it feels!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic

In somewhat recent times (the last couple years) I paid extra money for the collector's edition of a couple of new MMORPGs. In both cases (Star Trek Online, Final Fantasy IV) doing so got me early access to the servers. To the laggy and buggy servers. In both cases I stopped playing the game before they opened the doors to the general public which one would assume would only make things even laggier.

Star Wars: The Old Republic entered their pre-launch launch period in the last couple days and I am not a part of them. I've been tricked too many times to play an MMO at launch and just been frustrated by it to the point where I didn't really even consider playing the game.

I haven't read a whole lot about it, but from what I have heard the launch seems to be relatively smoothly. To be fair they have heavily restricted the number of people who got early access to the game. Instead of it being everyone who paid extra it's everyone they feel like letting have access with some murky preference given to the order people preordered the game. So it's still entirely possible that while they can handle the number of people they've let in so far that it'll all crash and burn when they let the unwashed masses in on the 20th.

That said, what I've been reading has certainly piqued my interest. People complain that it's just World of Warcraft with lightsabers, voice acting, and cutscenes. But I played WoW for 6 years so clearly I enjoy the gameplay at least somewhat. I like good voice acting and cutscenes. Lightsabers are cool. And if playing all the Final Fantasy games shows anything at all it shows that I like playing the same basic game with some flavour and mechanical differences...

I'm still wary and waiting to reserve judgment until after the game launches for real to see how the servers hold up but I'm thinking of giving the game a shot after I get back from New Brunswick. So the question is... Is anyone else I know playing the game? Planning on playing the game? Willing to give it a shot if I do? Let me know!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Final Fantasy IV

I'd been debating in my head which version of Final Fantasy IV to play when the time came and had not yet made a decision. Last night I finished Final Fantasy Adventure which put FFIV on the docket. I woke up early this morning and finally made a decision... I'm going to play the NA release of the game for the Super Nintendo. I'm also going to play the DS version as well to see the differences first hand, though I am going to play it through completely on the SNES first and likely only play the DS version on the TTC.

I ran into my first problem when my SNES wouldn't acknowledge that a game was plugged into it. I tried Final Fantasy IV, Gradius 3, and Final Fantasy VI with no luck. So I resorted to the old standby... I blew into it. I vaguely recall reading that blowing is actually a bad idea since you're likely to force the dust in deeper to the connectors but whatever. In retrospect I probably should have used the can of compressed air that was sitting on a nearby counter... At any rate, it loaded up a game after that, though nudging the cartridge sent it to a black screen. I gave it another quick blow and made sure to not bump it and it seemed to work fine. I don't have any working SNES controllers so I'm using a Super Famicom controller which ordinarily wouldn't be a problem but the cord is really short and I'm a little worried that I'll end up yanking on the console when I turn to get a drink or something and reset the game. Guess I need to save often!

I played through the game up to the end of the first dungeon before hitting the showers before work. Mist dragon died really fast and only got off one shot of her brutal counter-attack AE.

Perhaps the neatest thing is I changed the main character's name to Nick (of course) and got referred to as Nick, Captain of the Red Wings. Hmm...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Final Fantasy Adventure: Conclusions

Jo, the Baby Tree of Mana!
I just beat the final boss of Final Fantasy Adventure who was sadly a bit of a joke. I don't know if it was my stat build or if I'd just figured out how to be awesome but basically I just had to stand around and mash attack in order to win. Here are my final thoughts on the game...

Keys are a real problem in the game. In two different dungeons near the end of the game I ran out of keys and was stuck with a locked door between me and the boss. Early game a lot of enemies dropped keys which got me into the habit of ignoring my key count. I even vendored some keys at one point because I was looting too many from the mobs. But dungeons went from being filled with guys who dropped keys to having maybe one enemy who might drop keys.

I certainly could have solved this problem by just going to a town and buying a lot of keys. I had limited inventory space but I ended the game with my bags full of elixirs that I didn't need to use so I could have afforded the space for a few more keys. I'd advise anyone playing this game to carry around 5 or so stacks of keys at all times. If I play again I know I will.

The puzzles were interesting the first couple times around but it felt like they ran out of ideas and just recycled the same tricks over and over. Needing to bust down a wall to make a secret passage is fine and all, but having to poke every wall of every dungeon in case it's the way I need to go got tiring. I eventually resorted to a description of the last couple dungeons on gamefaqs instead of bothering poking walls. Needing to turn enemies into snowmen to use as weights on pressure plates is the same thing. Really neat the first time. Interesting when it comes up a couple more times as they keep you on your toes. But it felt overdone by the end. I eventually put a few points into wisdom in order to have more mp to cast ice spells for these puzzles.

The blood sword is stupid. It lets you heal when you do damage with sword swings but it seemed like the numbers were off. The big scary dragons at the end of the game would hit me for 1 with their fire and maybe 6 with their claws. I had 503 health. Each time I attacked I gained 13 health. So as long as I hit the dragon once for every 2 times he hit me I'd stay at full and he'd be dying. Follow the boss around mashing attack? Doesn't seem like a very deep strategy but it worked.

Some enemies were immune to physical attacks. Others were immune to magical attacks. So I was forced to constantly switch between my thunder spear and my morning star if I wanted to keep killing enemies. This required a lot of menu interactions which was annoying. Secret of Mana improved on this game greatly with the advent of the menu ring system. Hit one button to show a ring with all your weapons on it. Use the d-pad to rotate the ring so the weapon you want is on top. Hit one button. It also has item rings and magic rings which really worked.

The music was better than the music in the Final Fantasy Legend games I've played thus far but it was still a little tinny. I'm pretty sure the blame for this is with the Game Boy's primitive sound capabilities but that doesn't make my head hurt less. Having to keep the sound on so I could find the hidden walls was annoying and is part of what led to turning to gamefaqs for help.

The plot existed and made sense. There was an obvious villain that you grew to hate as the game progressed, you had a rough idea what he was trying to do, and the stories of the main characters wrapped up in the ending.

Overall this was a pretty good action-RPG game. You can tell it was made 20 years ago for old hardware but it was fun. I don't think it was better than any of the core games in the series thus far but it beats out the Legend games thus far for sure.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Final Fantasy Adventure: Traces of Final Fantasy

The Final Fantasy Legend games have pretty much nothing at all to do with the Final Fantasy franchise. They were originally released in Japan with another name and were rebranded when released in North America. They weren't designed with any features of Final Fantasy universes in mind and as a result don't really feel like Final Fantasy games. That doesn't make them bad by any stretch, don't get me wrong. It just means they are really Saga games.

Final Fantasy Adventure, on the other hand, was developed as a Final Fantasy game. An action-RPG game instead of a straight up RPG, to be fair. And one with its own very distinct world. But it was still created as a Final Fantasy game and there have been a few things I've noticed so far that make you really think you're playing a Final Fantasy game. Here's what I've noticed so far...

First and most importantly to me is the existence of chocobos in the world. One of the adventuring companions you can find in your travels is a chocobo. When you ask the chocobo for help you ride him around which lets you travel the overworld map at a fast speed while ignoring all enemies. It even plays chocobo riding music when you do!

At one point in the game your chocobo saves your life but gets seriously injured in the process. Fortunately for him you happen to be in a town with a mad scientist who uses machinery to upgrade your chocobo into a -- wait for it -- chocobot! Which lets your chocobo run across water! I guess since the Game Boy wasn't in colour they couldn't just have you find a blue chocobo like in later games...

The next thing that brings a Final Fantasy feel to the game is that some of the NPC sprites are essentially from the original Final Fantasy game. I've run into white mages and red mages thus far and there's really no mistaking them for anything else. One of your companions is even a red mage and he casts fireballs randomly in combat to help you out.

Finally the enemies can apply a wide variety of debuffs when they hit you. Most of these are standard RPG fare... Blind, poison, stun... But one of them, the most crippling of all, is to turn you into a moogle! This prevents you from attacking (though you can still move) and lowers your defense to nothing. I go from being able to take a couple hundred hits without dying to getting killed in 3 hits. It's brutal! I actually think this was the first game to have moogles in it (FFIII on the DS had moogles but I think they were added in with the port and weren't in the original game).

Pretty much all that's missing is a guy named Cid, an airship, summoned monsters, and maybe 4 elemental crystals!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Galaxy Legion: Permafrost Sub-Network

I mentioned yesterday that there are currently two holiday missions available in Galaxy Legion. The second one is called Beneath the Snow and has returned from, I believe, last year. I wasn't playing the game at the time so it's new to me. It's a mission with a pretty fantastic experience ratio: 65 experience for 25 energy. There are a few missions in the game which are better but not very many so it's worth considering doing the mission just for the experience even if it had no reward.

As for a reward... It takes 50 rounds to get a reward and you can get the reward 15 times. The reward is a planetary structure which takes up 1 space and provides 1 research, 50 cloak, and 50 population. These bonuses get doubled if built on an icy planet. (Note: If you build one of these on an icy planet and then convert that planet to an oceanic with a mass surface melter it will retain the doubled bonus.)

Any building with a 1-to-1 ratio and an added bonus is pretty good. A building with a 2-to-1 ratio and a pretty substantial bonus is amazing. You really want to have one of these on every icy planet you have with a reasonable research boost on it. Beyond that there isn't a huge need to get extras to put on other planets but they're still good to have on practically anything. A little cloak can go a long way towards protecting a planet, after all.

Given the great experience return on the mission and how good the building is I think everyone has to get one of these for every research icy they have. Beyond that I think it should be a relatively high priority to finish the mission off completely. I already have!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Galaxy Legion: Scruuge X-Deflector

Galaxy Legion recently added two new temporary missions. These aren't typical temporary missions which form a chain that will come into the game permanently. Instead they are special winter holiday event missions. I would guess they'll come back next year but that's going to be a pretty long delay if you want the rewards. On the plus side these missions last 3 weeks instead of 2 weeks to give people a better chance to collect them all.

The first mission is called Avarice of the Scruuge and is worth the standard 55 experience for 25 energy. It takes 90 rounds to complete it and can be completed up to 4 times. The reward is a fight with an easy NPC which drops a module. It's size 13 for 30 defense and 60 hull. Neither of those amounts are especially exciting but as a reader pointed out a couple months ago the upkeep cost on special modules is really small. For this module it's 3400 credits per day. Assign half of that value to the defense and you're paying 57 credits per defense per day. Compare that to my main defense module which has an upkeep of 107200000 per day for 626 defense. That's 171246 credits per defense per day which is more than 3000 times as much. My main modules are more space efficient but cost a ton more.

You do also get some hull. 60 hull is not a very big number. It probably doesn't even give me one more shot before I have to repair, but a bunch of small amounts do add up.

This module adds to two stats that I don't have a burning desire to max out but they are both also useful for almost everything I do. Given the small upkeep cost I think these modules are no-brainers to pick up and use. Especially given the fact that you only have 3 weeks to scoop them up before they disappear for at least a year and maybe forever and I think you should definitely get this done if at all possible.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

All-Time Favourite Video Games Criteria

Mark commented last week that Final Fantasy Adventure was in his top ten favourite games ever. It got me thinking... What would be my top ten? What criteria could I even use?

I looked up the definition of favourite and it wasn't a lot of help. "(prenominal) most liked; preferred above all others" Should an all-time favourite game be a game that to this day remains a favourite game? Should it mean a game that was at some point at the top? Clearly the whole thing is going to be subjective but I don't want to just pull things out of a hat. Is it based on time spent? Times completed? Can a game that was a lot of fun but has practically no replay value count? I really liked the Professor Layton game I played, for example, but I'm not going to play it again. On the other side of that coin... I play Freecell every now and then. Does that make it awesome? I mentioned that I thought Secret of Mana was one of the best games all-time... But I actually have little desire to play it again. Should that lower it on the favourite-game-o-meter compared to something like Actraiser which I'd probably plug in and play right now if I owned it? What about innovation? I thought Portal was really cool! But I've only spent a few hours playing it. Compare that with the time spent on World of Warcraft...

I think what I want to do is go over each generation of video games and think about what games I preferred above all others at that time. A game may not have aged well, but it can still have a place as an all-time favourite. And then come up with some way to rank them after I've identified them all. The biggest problem I foresee is identifying all the potential candidates so taking some time and methodically going over things in small time periods should help with that problem.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Final Fantasy Trading Card Game

Did you know there is a CCG using characters and summons from the Final Fantasy games? I sure didn't, until very recently! It appears to be a Japan only CCG that came out early in 2011 and has already released an expansion set. I don't know why I'm surprised that new CCGs are still coming out or that they made one for Final Fantasy but I really wasn't expecting to find one.

I did a rudimentary search for information and it doesn't look like it's really for sale in Canada. And by really I mean at all. I found one guy out of California selling some opened packs on eBay but that looks to be it. I did a search of a couple generic 'import from Japan' sites with no luck. And wow... There are some really creepy things available from Japan. Like this lap pillow...

At any rate... If anyone happens to know of a way to get some cards for this game or sees them in a store somewhere please let me know. It doesn't look like a terribly good game but I figure since I love CCGs and I love Final Fantasy that I should at least give it a try!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Final Fantasy IV: Different Versions

Looking ahead to the next step in the marathon we have my all time favourite game: Final Fantasy IV. There have been many different versions of the game released and I need to decide which version I want to play this time around. I currently own 3 different versions of the game and would consider tracking down another one if it suited my fancy. So I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what actually changed between versions.

Original Game - This version is only available in Japanese for the Super Famicom. I'll use it as the base version and compare the other ones to it.

North American Release - This is the version that was released in English for the Super Nintendo under the title Final Fantasy II. (Actual II and III weren't released over here so in order to reduce confusion they renumbered this game. And now it creates confusion!) Many things were changed from the original version. A bunch of spells and abilities were removed to simplify combat somewhat. Most of the consumables in the game were removed. The status removers were consolidated into one item and the damage items were just taken out. Items were cheaper in stores. Weapons did more damage. A lot of violent/religious imagery was toned down or removed. A lot of the story was cut out due to space limitations on the cartridge. Also: YOU SPOONY BARD!

EasyType - The NA version was easier than the original and Square made another Japanese version based off of the easier NA one. It has almost all of the NA changes except the censorship. A lot of the gear got buffed which made the game even easier.

Playstation - This release was essentially the original with a couple minor tweaks like a run button and a memo save. The English versions of this release got a completely new and more complete translation.

WonderSwan Color - This was a Japanese only hand held system which got ports of the first few Final Fantasy games. The graphics were changed to account for the worse hardware and some bugs were fixed/added.

Game Boy Advance - This version is a remake of the WSC version. It got another new translated script but the big changes are the ability to change who's in your party and a couple of challenge dungeons.

Nintendo DS - Yet another new translated script. Cutscenes with voice overs. The airships can move in 8 directions instead of 4! Removal of limited inventory space. Some mini-games were added to buff a new summon added for Rydia. An augment system to make all your characters better was added. The difficulty was really ramped up by giving enemies more health, better abilities, and better AI. The loot changed. You can't change character names and Namingway is a sidequest instead of just a dude who changes names. There's a mini-map for dungeons. A lot of the abilities which were removed in the NA version are back but with different affects than in the original. Spells were rebalanced to be more useful. Two challenge bosses were added. And a New Game Plus, whatever that is.

Mobile Phone - This version sounds like the DS one except only in Japanese and on the phone. It readded the ability to swap party members and a bonus dungeon.

PlayStation Portable - Comes packaged with the sequel to the game and a mini-game to bridge the two. It went back to the script from the GBA. It keeps the party swapping and bonus dungeons from the GBA as well. Apparently it lets you choose to play the SNES or the DS versions of the music.

I currently have the original version, the SNES version, and the DS version. The reason I need to decide this now before I've even finished Final Fantasy Adventure is the PSP version is very tempting. I need to get a copy of the sequel at some point and this would come bundled with it. But I don't have a PSP and I have a feeling they'll drop in price when the Vita comes out... I'm leaning towards playing the SNES version since it's the one I grew up playing but I'm not sure...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Help With Correlations

I've been playing a lot of Roll Through The Ages on Yucata recently. It's a short dice game with a few reasonable paths to victory. I've cycled through some different plans as I've played games with reasonable success but I don't know what the optimal plan is. When I get beat I try to figure out what I did wrong and adapt my play in the future but I'm not sure what really works.

One of the neat things with Yucata is you can replay any game you've played in the past. I was thinking it would be useful to build a spreadsheet or database with the key parts of every game I've played and then crunch some numbers to figure out which choices correlate with winning.

One of the things you do in the game is spend turns building infrastructure for better future turns, but the game is really short. When is it right to shift from building more cities into scoring points? At 5 cities? 6? 7? Does it depend on what your opponent is doing?

If you had the choice should you choose to go first or second? There are definite advantages to both. Personally I like going second but I can't justify that stance. (Some aspects of the game are first come, first served so going first is good. But the end of the game is variable and the person who goes second can often end the game if they'll win or extend it one more turn if they won't.)

How about techs? Quarrying into engineering seems good. Quarrying into empire seems good. Agriculture and masonry seem good. But which wins more often? Does it matter what the opponent is doing?

If your opener is 4 goods and 3 food should you buy a 10 cost tech or save up? What if your opener is 2 goods, 3 food, and a coin?

I know from my sports nerdery that this sort of analysis is possible. (Did you know in the NFL that defensive penalties have no correlation with winning percentage? Offensive penalties on the other hand are negatively correlated, especially false start penalties.) But I don't know how to do it. I'm sure I could have taken some third or fourth year stats course that would have taught this sort of thing but I didn't take enough stats courses it seems...

So, my question to anyone reading this... Anyone know of any books I could buy that would help out?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Final Fantasy Adventure: Leveling System

When I think of the action-adventure genre I tend to think of the Zelda series of games. You wander around with a variety of weapons beating up a variety of monsters and solving some puzzles. Maybe you can get better by getting better gear or some extra health but that's about it. So I was a little surprised when, after killing a bunch of monsters, I leveled up.

I did some reading (on Wikipedia, mind) and it claims there's a different genre entirely called action-RPG. Which is basically the same thing as action-adventure with a leveling system. I guess in retrospect I shouldn't have been surprised at all. What is Dead Rising, after all? Or Devil May Cry, which I even mentioned a couple days ago!

At any rate when I leveled up in Final Fantasy Adventure I had a choice to make when I leveled up. There are apparently four stats in the game (stamina, power, wisdom, and will) and you get to choose a focus stat each time you level up. You gain 4 stats each level - always a fixed 2-1-1-0 split with the 2 and 0 determined by the stat you choose.

Stamina - 2 stamina, 1 power, 1 will, 0 wisdom
Power - 2 power, 1 stamina, 1 will, 0 wisdom
Wisdom - 2 wisdom, 1 stamina, 1 will, 0 power
Will - 2 will, 1 stamina, 1 will, 0 power

So you're guaranteed to gain stamina and will every level. You can only get one of power or wisdom each level. I found all this out with some trial and error in game, but the question then was what do these stats actually do? There didn't seem to be anything in game that would tell me, but I did my first 14 levels without looking things up. My best guesses for what the stats do:

Stamina - increases maximum health. I knew this for sure since my max health got bigger when I took a stamina level.
Power - increases physical damage done. I knew this was pretty likely since I could start killing mobs in 1 hit instead of 2 after leveling up. That could have been a function of just level but it seems more likely to be based on power.
Wisdom - I never took a level in wisdom and my maximum mana never went up. I'd guess the two are linked.
Will - I have no idea here. My guess would be it makes your spells more powerful.

I also definitely took less damage as I leveled up so some stat likely impacts damage taken. Which one? Stamina seems likely but I could see will doing it too. And maybe even power!

At any rate, after 10 power levels and 4 stamina levels I decided to turn to the internet and find out what the stats do. Power does exactly what I thought it did. Stamina too, except it also impacts damage taken. Wisdom increases maximum mana and the potency of spells. Will impacts how fast that silly little bar on the bottom of the screen fills up.

What does that bar do? I didn't really know before looking that up either. From Secret of Mana I remembered that you could charge up a weapon to do a special attack with it. This bar fills constantly and is depleted when you hit the attack button so it seemed likely to be powering up my attacks. Once I even threw my axe across the screen which came as a bit of a shock. (And meant I couldn't attack until it fell off the edge of the screen which sucked!) It turns out that's precisely what the bar does. Attacking with a weapon is different based on weapon type and how much charge you have. None of the abilities seemed terribly interesting and the axe one actually seemed detrimental! The sword one looked like it could have uses if only because the default sword attack is so abysmally bad. Part of me wants to experiment with the sword attacks but I actually vendored my starting sword already. (I hope this game isn't like the Manders RPG!)

At any rate, now that I know what the stats do, I'm quite happy with my stat up choices. Will seems like it actively hurts the way I play so I don't want to pick it. Picking wisdom means I don't get power (and vice versa) so it feels like I should focus on one or the other but not both. I haven't seen a reason to cast a spell that wasn't cure and even then I'm selling off consumable healing items so I don't need more mana to cast more heals. So I mostly just want stamina to survive more and power to beat down harder!