MTG Arena Beta

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Yesterday was of course the ninth anniversary of the Tales of the Aggronaut blog…  and Wizards of the Coast got me a present.  Roughly halfway through the day I checked my mail and noticed that I got an email from WotC inviting me to the closed beta of Arena…  their attempt at making a modern Magic the Gathering client.  The truth is Hearthstone has been eating their lunch for several years now due to its extreme accessibility.  It also does the dual whammy of giving both a nostalgia buzz for magic the gathering and collectible card games in general…  while delivering a fatal blow of world of warcraft nostalgia at the same time.  It’s a good game… and honestly lately I have been playing quite a bit of the warrior rush deck, but even that said…  it is no Magic the Gathering.  There is just something about this game that causes me to follow the community and buy cards… even though I don’t get to play that often.

The biggest problem for me is that I don’t really have a LGS or Local Gaming Store to be spending my time at.  I live out in the burbs and the closest thing to me is on the opposite end of Tulsa from where I live…  making it not exactly convenient to go to in the evenings and play cards.  Where a game like Hearthstone or Arena comes in is it allows me to get that fix…  without the need to actually get hands on other players.  That said I am working on fostering a little community at work for lunch time gaming and am building up some balanced decks to sort of make an easy drop in and play environment.  All of that said… it is just so much easier to get online at the end of a day and get my gaming fix rather than trying to coordinate with other human beings.

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When you start up the Arena client you are given a handful of packs to start crafting your own decks with.  This assortment essentially encompassed the last two blocks of play…  Rivals of Ixalan, Ixalan, Hour of Devastation and Amonkhet.  I got a handful of decent cards and could have probably crafted together a serviceable deck from them.  I personally like these two blocks of play theme wise and together they give quite a bit of reasonable synergy.  I believe the plan going forward is to largely limit Arena to standard sets by default…  which seems a little if that were the case why Kaladesh and Aether Revolt are not included.  It was my understanding that when the Kaladesh block cycles out the Amonkhet block will as well in Q4 2018.  Quite frankly I struggle keeping these things in my head as to which sets are in and which sets are out because it doesn’t seem anywhere near as clear as it used to be.  I apparently am not the only person to think this because there is literally a website called What is In Standard.

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One thing that is going to be a challenge to get used to is that the pack structure is vastly different from live paper magic.  When you open a pack you get a grand total of 8 cards instead of 15 cards…  which I hope means they are going to charge a reduced price for the packs when the whole buying packs for money thing is eventually introduced.  You get a single rare/mythic, two uncommons, and five commons.  If you already have more than a play set of a card they replace it instead with a token as you can see underneath Samut in the above picture.  These can then be spent to fill out missing holes in your collection trading a rare for a rare or a mythic for a mythic.  At first I could not understand why I kept getting them since at this point in my head… I had only opened a handful of packs.

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Also in your collection are a wide variety of deck archetypes built and ready to go.  Personally I have been shifting back and forth between Golgari Exploration for which Green/Black has always been my preferred color set, and Legion of Dusk which similarly is heavy black and vampire themed enough to ignore the fact that I am using white mana.  I love the exploration mechanic and when it compounds with cards that do stuff when any card explores.  This means you can get some really big critters on the board that escalate rapidly.  Ultimately in a perfect situation I want a foul orchard out on turn one, Wildgrowth Walker on turn two, and then some combination of creatures that explore like Seeker’s Squire or Ixalli’s Diviner to pump up the Walker and start my assault proper.  What that works it is beautiful… when it doesn’t there seem to be enough alternate paths to victory to hang in for a very long time.

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For the most part the client itself plays exactly like you would expect a magic client to play.  It does a lot of things for you, like if you have no plays it goes ahead and skips to the next turn which is likely going to throw you off at first.  There is a way to flip the client into a more granular level having you verify each and every trigger that happens…  which would be important for more technical decks.  I do feel like the timeout is maybe a little bit long given how many phases you have to get through…  there have been times that matches have taken forever because the other player was just slow at evaluating their options…  or potentially just doing something else at the same time.  Unlike the Duels of the Planeswalkers clients I never felt like it was rushing me through things and causing me to lose card play opportunities.  It seems to have some intelligence built into the client and stalls anytime it thinks you might have a play option, and so far it has not missed a time when I needed to play a card in response to something.

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After each victory you are awarded a single random card, and there are various quests that you can be working on while playing matches.  For example you can see in the bar that I am at 8 wins of 10 needed for  my next pack of Rivals of Ixalan.  The pack quests seem to come at 5 victories, 10 victories and 15 victories…  and not sure if that trend continues on every 5 victories or if you are limited to 3 packs per week.  Similarly there are quests that I had already completed like Kill 13 of your opponents creatures or cast 13 white or blue spells, each of those rewarding 250 gold.  The in game pack purchasing mechanism allows you to buy a pack every 1000 gold, so essentially after doing four of these quests you can get some more cards.  I am assuming this gold currency will also eventually be used for drafting which sadly is not in yet…  but I believe they have talked about wanting that game play mode exists.

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The only real thing you need to know is the fact that I set up my account around 6:30 last night and the next thing I knew…  it was 9:30.  The game is extremely good and brought back all of the right nostalgia beats for sitting around playing magic the gathering and trying to figure out how to dig yourself out of a card draw hole.  There are times when things go extremely well…  then there are other times like the above match when things go south really quickly.  I just could not get the exploration cards I needed to power up my front line and managed to keep the other player long enough to get a recursive combo on the ground.  As a result they manages to gain up 183 life before finally finishing me off in a single round.  I could have conceded at any point, but I wanted to see how big they could manage to get their health pool.  Even in a horrible loss condition… I was entertained.  I look forward to seeing how this product evolves over time and I am likely going to start streaming it on occasion so you can laugh at me as I make obvious mistakes.

Aggronaut Ninth Anniversary

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These posts are always really weird to sit down and write, because how exactly do you summarize something you have done this long.  Back in 2009 when the blog formally started I was helping to lead a raid in World of Warcraft as a Warrior Tank…  and quite possibly in the worst job I have ever been in.  I didn’t feel needed or respected at work, and this blog… and all of my guild/raid-leaderly duties were essentially my way of dealing with the maelstrom of chaos happening in the workplace.  As my work condition has improved my game environment has also changed… and it seems like the more responsibility that I take on in my work and home environments….  the less I actually want in my gaming ones.  Liore and I used to joke about starting and old folks home for old raid leaders, but there are times that it feels like I am absolutely a candidate.  These days I feel like I almost actively avoid the concept of raiding in the first place.

I realize this is probably an odd start to an anniversary post, but after going back and crawling through the last year of blog posts…  I am realizing that this is the first year when I did not have some form of active raid going on.  Sure we attempted to get something started in Final Fantasy XIV around the Stormblood launch…  and in Destiny 2 but neither of those really stuck that well and developed into a proper regular raid night.  Instead I have largely opted for solo play on a broader scale this year than I have in the past.  June saw the advent of the Robosquid Armada…  something we are loosely continuing with our Mythical Nonsense nights…  but that represents probably the most serious content that I attempted in this past year.  I am not sure if this is sign that I have changed in what I am wanting out of games… or if this was just a situation where no one actually wanted wear that raid leader hat permanently.

In the past year I also experienced a work transition, but it was one of those things that I largely just eased into.  For years I have been the unofficial leader of the development team at work, starting with a sort of “team lead” title that didn’t actually exist but very much was the role of assigning projects and figuring out our workload.  Around the beginning of this past year I was given the formal title of Supervisor…  and then last December my actual manager retired creating a vacancy that I moved into.  Now I managed not only the development team, but also data analysis and gis…  giving me fifteen other lives to watch after on a daily basis.  In many ways it sort of feels like going back to raid leadership…  but this time in the real world where I am sorta tanking for these people by dealing with the nonsense and meetings that are required to get forward movement.  Guild and Raid Leadership is not exactly one of those things that I would put on a resume…  but I will say that the experience does completely equate.

On the home front we are still in the same location we have been since 1999 and we experienced no major upheavals in the occupancy of our home.  We still have three cats:  Allie, Kenzie and Mollie and one ferret:  Shiloh.  There was a period of a few weeks when we thought a dog had adopted us… but luckily we found its home because we are just not really dog people.  Mollie is still skittish as hell, but has reached a point where she is my buddy instead of running from me whenever I entered the room.  She more or less was found as a kitten and grew up in a dog shelter for the first part of her life and wound up scarred from the experience.  Now she sorta follows me through the house as I do things…  letting me know she wants attention at various points along the route.  Kenzie is just as crazy as ever and is currently sleeping on the desk beside me.  Allie is still doing okay… but she is definitely entering the autumn years of her life and we are just trying to make her as comfortable as we can for as long as we can.  Shiloh is a sweetheart and gets lots of attention anytime she is awake…  but ferrets sleep an awful lot of the time which means I tend to give her lots of loving before work, when I get home from work, and before I go to bed…  because that seems to fit her sleep schedule.

The other day Tobold wrote a post talking about the decline of his own blog, and while I am not trying to do the same… it is noticeable the slow and steady bleed of readers.  I think this is far less a case of people simply getting tired of my nonsense and more a case that tastes are changing.  Personally I don’t have near the time I used to for keeping up with blog reading.  There used to be a morning routine that I had without fail… and now I never know who is going to ambush me on the way to my desk with some hot button issue that needs immediate attention.  Looking my analytics, it appears like my readership dropped by about eight percent…  which sounds bad but between the 15/16 year and the 16/17 year I lost sixty four percent of my readers.  It maybe seems weird to be happy that the bleed has at least been partially bandaged but the truth is…  what keeps me doing this on a daily basis is so much more than simple need to see the numbers go up.  I have talked about this before… but I think blogging for me is a form of therapy.

I feel like the “death of blogging” as it has been touted so many times is just a shift in tastes.  Folks are turning to YouTube for their gaming information whereas they used to bond with a forum or gaming blog in the past.  This sucks for those of us who prefer to read their information rather than have to watch a five minute video to get thirty seconds of information.  I first started encountering this myself when I would start playing a newer game… and find it completely impossible to find any sort of a blogging community that I should be reading.  When I started playing Destiny heavily… I found I had to trade blogging voices like Syp, Rowan, Liore, Syl and Grace for Youtubers like Mesa Sean, My Name is ByfHoltzmann and Arekkz.  As the gaming tastes have shifted so have the communities and maybe you can find a Reddit for a game like Destiny 2, The Division or Monster Hunter World…  but you aren’t actually likely to find a proper blog for them.  The truth is the era of YouTube might also be coming to a close as a lot of folks are preferring to just interact directly with the personalities they are entangling themselves with direction over Twitch.

The trend seems to be moving towards more and more access to the person making the content, and while I dabble in streaming and have been adopted by the very amazing Moogle’s Pom stream team…  it is still very much an ill fitting glove for me.  Blogging is about opening yourself up to the world with a comfortable distance from the reader.  Sure I sit down each morning and write my thoughts for you…  but I am not having to interact with you directly as you read them.  Comments exist and so does pinging me over twitter…  but there is a layer of separation between what I am doing and what you are doing that makes the experience feel more cozy to me.  When I have encountered a reader before in a game or something like that… I never quite know what to do, how to interact with them.  The same is true on streams…  interacting real-time with people is fine so long as those people already exist in my monkey-sphere of people I am prepared to interact with.  When someone new enters the room I never know how quite to do things…  that they might also find entertaining.

As far as gaming goes this past year… I did a quick run through of what I seemed to be playing the most for each of the months since the last Anniversary…

  • April 2017 – Star Wars the Old Republic
  • May 2017 – World of Warcraft
  • June 2017 – Final Fantasy XIV
  • July 2017 – Final Fantasy XIV
  • August 2017 – Guild Wars 2
  • September 2017 – Destiny 2 (PS4)
  • October 2017 – Destiny 2 (PC)
  • November 2017 – Destiny 2 (PC)
  • December 2017 – World of Warcraft
  • January 2018 – World of Warcraft
  • February 2018 – Monster Hunter World
  • March 2018 – Monster Hunter World
  • April 2018 – Project Gorgon

Not shockingly I tend to be extremely MMO-Centric in my gaming habits.  I tend to have some primary game that is my central focus at any given time and then a bunch of other games that I am also sorta playing.  Weirdly enough I spend so much more time playing an MMO solo… than I ever do actually playing solo story games.  I think the core reason behind that is two fold…  firstly I don’t like when games end.  I find the ending of the game to be the most sad time because it is over.  MMOs never end…  so I can never need to worry about running out of ways to interact with that world.  Secondly I find single player story driven games to be a very lonely experience.  Even if I am not interacting with other people… I like knowing they are out there and changing my gameplay in sublte and interesting ways.  Just seeing chat scroll by in the background makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than the tiny window into the world I have carved out for myself.  In theory streaming single player games can provide a similarly multiplayer experience…  but I never know how to handle that.  I don’t like reading out all of the text outload…  and it feels weird to pause what I am doing to read text as it scrolls by on screen while there are other people “in the room”.

I realize this is a bit of an odd anniversary post but it is what happened to come out of my mind this morning as I sat down to type it up.  One thing that I completely have not addressed is the amazing artwork that I have above at the top of this post.  That is of course by the very awesome AmmosArt who is more or less the official unofficial artist of all of my en-devours.  Since I am a member of the Moogle’s Pom community,  I wanted a few streamer moogles to use for decoration elements… and having seen her moogles before I knew it would work out swimmingly.  I have not actually used them in the method that I was intending yet…  but regardless they are amazing and I thought I would use this opportunity to share them with the world.  It’s time for me to wrap this up and head to work, but I wanted to close with one last thing.  Rather you are a regular who reads my post religiously, or a random drive by…  thanks for nine years of this interesting experiment.  I do this each day…  because in some way I am having an open dialog with each of you and the fact that you are out there somewhere is very important to that formula.

Smash Royale

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Sometimes I get something stuck in my head and I cannot dislodge it no matter how hard I try.  You as my readers occasionally are forced to indulge in whatever this nonsense is…  so that by hopefully sharing it I can move on with my life.  This mornings post is one of those cases.  Yesterday I talked about Radical Heights and how it would have been much more interesting were it to change the Battle Royale genre in some way rather than just attempt to hit all of the high points.  This is when I went down a path leading to… Smash TV would be interesting to reboot as a Battle Royale game.  What I mean by this actually is the concept of Smash TV which was a room based dungeon crawl with randomly spawning nonsense, big bullet sponge monsters and showers of cash and prizes.  After finishing yesterdays post this idea clung onto the brain and I started piecing together what something like this would look like.

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As a result you have the above nonsense which is my attempt at sketching out what the setup of the game would look like.  In this configuration 48 players spawn into the game in little rooms off of a grid of battle chambers.  There are four color based cohorts of players that are ultimately fighting to arrive at the purple central region.  The sequence of play looks a little something like this….

  1. Exit Starting Room
  2. Make your Way to the Key Room
  3. Collect Key
  4. Make your Way to the Mini Boss Chamber for your Color
  5. Defeat Mini Boss
  6. Make your Way to the Final Boss Chamber
  7. Defeat Final Boss
  8. Profit

Key Room and Grouping

The Key is a shared resource in that the first person who unlocks the Mini Boss Chamber unlocks it for their entire cohort.  Where things get weird is that each cohort has the option of either grouping together or competing against each other.  When a new player enters a room where an existing player is already at both are giving 5 seconds of invulnerability and are prompted to make a choice “Friend or Enemy”.  If both players choose friend they are dynamically grouped together and from that point the victory condition is shared.  If one player chooses Enemy both are flagged as targets to each other when the invulnerability shield drops and now they are officially competing.  This continues as players move through their own cohort with the option to set a match default of either a sort of Carebear mode or Ganker mode.  Important note… there is no way to group up after this flagging period so it is a fast decision that sets the fate of the rest of the match.

Battle Chambers

Now we move on to the battle chambers themselves…  each of them spawns a semi-randomized encounter.  It could be a spawner full of small easy to kill, but also easy to overwhelm you trash mobs.  It could spawn in a single champion and with a couple of minions that requires some measure of tactics to take out.  It could also be an agility room where you have to avoid a pattern of damage for a certain amount of time before the doors open again.  Regardless of what type of room it is… it enters a lock down within 10 seconds of the first player arriving there and then prevents any new players from entering or exiting.  After defeating the encounter you have 30 seconds to clear out before the room resets and signals that it has “reloaded” and will begin the cycle of a 10 second lockout and encounter spawn.  As you move away from the starter rooms towards the key room the encounters increase in difficulty, and similarly as you move towards the final boss room in the central area.

Mini  Bosses

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The Mini Boss rooms are some sort of large bullet sponge juggernaut that requires you to hit some sort of a weak area to deal damage to it, all the while avoiding its attacks.  I linked in an image of one of the Smash TV Bosses for reference but I wouldn’t necessarily say that these juggernauts look anything like this.  Basically the idea is to have an encounter hard enough that it rewards players choosing to group up together to try and take it down.  Similarly it needs to be largely avoiding a pattern so with enough skill and execution prowess you could solo the encounter if someone is feeling super murdery and decides to go it alone.  That is a constant tug of war… incentivizing both solo and group play in different ways.  After the mini boss room has been cleared the way to the central area opens for everyone in that cohort… with one caveat.  There can only be one group alive…  it is a dual condition of both boss down and only one active group…  before moving into the central zone.

Boss Rush or Buffs

Once you enter the central purple area you have two main choices to make.  Do you rush the boss and try and get it down before the other teams…  or do you go collect one of the buffs scattered in the four corner rooms of this area.  Each individual buff can be collected only once so there is a high likelihood that two teams may be going after the same buff given that there is no clear buff for each cohort to collect.  You can only collect one buff and it is an aura applied to your entire team from that point forward.  It scales based on the number of players you currently still have in the game…  so the fewer players you have it attempts to give you a buffer to compete against larger teams by making each player a little more bullet-spongey.  So if you clear your cohort with only five players alive… then chances are you are going to want to go for a buff.  If you instead have all sixteen players alive and well… then you are probably going to want to rush the central chamber and attempt to take down the boss.

Essentially there are two possible win conditions…  either every other player is eliminated or your cohort has taken down the Final Boss.  The only way the elimination condition can be triggered is if you are playing in solo play…  literally you have to be the last player standing and if you are grouped you are not the last player standing.

The Drops

So you are immediately thinking now…  sure there is one central path that you need to take to cross the least number of rooms possible to get to each objective and that is obviously the golden path.  Well that gets complicated in the fact that every time you take down a battle chamber you are getting loot and that loot is ultimately what is going to make you strong.  Each player enters the arena with a single six shot sidearm with unlimited reserve, giving them a fairly low damage but always available option.  As you traverse the map you start picking up weapon drops and buffs that make you stronger as you zero in on the objectives.  Since the rooms get harder as you go… there may be some benefit in farming a few of those early rooms to get kitted out before trying the harder encounters.  Loot starts as instanced to a specific player, but if for some reason they discard an item it becomes essentially free for all… showing up for all players regardless of cohort.  Here is a quick rundown of the sorts of things I thought would be drops.

  • Weapons – very obviously different types of weapons that have different damage to rate of fire mixtures.  There are no ammo drops but picking up the same weapon twice will refresh its ammunition back to full.  Players can carry three weapons at once and have to discard a weapon if they choose to pick something new up.
  • Auras – these items when picked up apply a short term buff to the entire cohort.  You can have three auras at a time and attempting to pick up a fourth aura item will simply fail and leave the drop on the ground.
  • Consumables – these are items that can be held in reserve and used on demand.  Each player can hold three of these and they range from granting auras to med packs to providing some additional effect to your weapon.
  • Cold Hard Cash – Since this is a game show when you kill anything it erupts in a shower of cash upon death, and this serves as both a scoring mechanism and a spendable resource.  Occasionally when a room clears a vending machine will appear allowing you to spend a bit of your cash to buy some of the things you could get as drops.  Each machine has six items for sale…  three weapons and three consumables… which are randomly pulled from the total number of those available in the game.  At the end of the game any cash you have still in your inventory gets converted to a sort of savings bond currency that can then be spent outside of game….  but there is a pretty hefty tax at the conversion.
  • Favor Chests – if you do particularly well in a specific encounter there is a chance of the viewers watching you fight… providing a favor chest showing how much they appreciate your prowess.  These are by nature fairly rare but directly reward some of the cosmetic nonsense that you can collect like outfits and weapon skins.

Changing the Genre

Ultimately this is all I was talking about with Radical Heights… is that they could have taken that Battle Royale formula and changed it significantly.  This concept of “Smash Royale” still feels like Smash TV, but is also still very much a Battle Royale genre game in that the playing field slowly funnels players towards a central showdown.  This one however throws in a heavy PVE encounter focus in that killing things rewards loot… which then makes you stronger as you make your way to the final boss showdown.  Once opened that Final Boss chamber remains open with no lockdown period…  so as you start the fight you could have the other cohorts showing up in the middle of it sniping you as you attempt to finish off the boss and collect the loot.  I also feel like maybe I have not given enough concrete reasons why you might want to go that final boss encounter solo…  ultimately it is greed.  The final boss might drop 2 items per player in a maximum sized cohort and this is a fixed point….  so the final boss will always drop 32 items in this scenario.

That means if you go into that final encounter with fewer players…  then each individual player serves to benefit significantly more from the win condition.  It becomes a balancing act…  how many players do you really need in your group in order to be effective in the final encounter.  Only one group can emerge from the cohort area… but while in that area you could for example form 8 individual 2 player teams…  or 3 4 player teams.  Ultimately you as a player need to determine what your best course is when it comes to the Friend/Enemy decisions and how many additional players you need to make the final push.  There is no betrayal, but also no second chances…  from the moment you make that first binary decision you are locked into a specific path.  This is my idea for a Battle Royale game…  and I think it would ultimately play extremely well given that there are a bunch of points where a meta could develop.

I think to add pressure… there would be global callouts when an event has happened…  for example Red Mini Boss Down would tell every other cohort how much progress that they had made, or if Green picks up the buff.  I think even something like a “Blue Team Finalized” might be interesting because it could be one of two things…  either all of blue team decided to band together or one group managed to eliminate all of the other players in their cohort.  Since monetization is so damned important in a game like this right now…  I think the best option is a mix of limited time direct purchase cosmetics along with the ability to purchase directly the savings bond currency allowing players to buy anything currently “not on sale”.  The savings bond currency also serves as something that players can gradually save up over a large number of matches and be able to purchase the same “cash shop” cosmetics through copious amounts of grinding in game.

Those are my thoughts on how to tweak the genre and make it more interesting while also wallowing heavily in nostalgia in the process.  If you have actually made it this far down in the post… I thank you.  Mostly I just needed to get this out of my head and onto paper.

 

Its Too Late

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I don’t really have a ton to talk about this morning.  I played some Gorgon last night but was in truth mostly out of it.  I feel like maybe I am coming down with something, either that or it is simply just allergies going nuts with the start of spring.  Whatever the case I have been sitting around in large part numb and hazy.  None of these make for great writing fodder.  Instead I am going to talk a bit about Boss Key productions and the track record they are starting to develop for creating uninspired “also ran” titles.  Lawbreakers was not a great game…  it wasn’t horrible but it also really didn’t add much in the way of unique and interesting game play that made it stand out among the already large pack of “Arena Shooters” or whatever you want to call the “Overwatchian” genre that seemed to evolve rapidly and then quickly devolve into Overwatch and everyone else.

The above is a clip that my friend Ashgar loves to link when we start talking about derivative games in a genre… and it is bookmarked to the important part.  For those without YouTube access when you are reading this I will do my best to quote Graham Stark from Loading Ready Run.

The Following is a public service announcement for any game publishers trying to get in on the Battle Royale craze now…  you are too late.  If you’re already in progress you might be okay if your game has a compelling hook like the team at automaton promising a cloud-based server structure that could support up to a thousand players on a map larger than Skyrim…  but if you’re just starting it will be too late and we need only look to the multiplayer online battle arena genre for proof.

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Why this is all coming up this week is that Boss Key after failing to gain traction with Lawbreakers…  set its sights on the next big thing the “Battle Royale” genre and cranked out a game show based 80s inspired game called Radical Heights.  The problem I see however is that it doesn’t really seem to offer something new that Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds or Fortnite are currently offering.  Fortnite became popular for two reasons… it added a Minecraft aspect to the already popular Battle Royale genre and was free to play allowing players to hop in quickly and start playing with zero cash outlay.  Radical Heights is free to play and available through steam…  but seems to lack the “building stuff” hook.  The 80s/90s hybrid theme feels lazy as well…  because there are ways to do genre nostalgia that are amazing…  Blood Dragon for example…  and then there are ways that feel like cheap neon colored pandering.

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The most frustrating thing about the “Gameshow” trappings that the game seems to be draped in is the fact that it is a giant missed opportunity.  1990 had an amazing battle game that was inspired by the moving The Running Man, and pitting players against waves of oncoming enemies for cash and prizes.  Smash TV seems like a game that is just begging to be converted to the Battle Royale genre, and could also serve to change it significantly in the process.  Imagine that each player or group of players starts in their own room and are slowly working their way to the center of the maze.  The rooms all start off as PVE encounters as you have to face waves of encounters and varying obstacles, then as you get further you may or may not start encountering other players where you have the choice to group up and split the loot or take each other out.  In both of those scenarios to make it interesting you need to present palpable reasons why you might want to group up, and other reasons why you might want to go it alone and try and take out the interlopers.

Not all of the rooms need to be mindless waves from a spawner… some of them could be puzzles that need to be solved or crazy environmental effects that are going on that you need to survive a certain amount of time before the door opens.  All of which happening in a behind the back/over the shoulder third person shooter interface with the rooms being large enough to make that not feel completely claustrophobic.  In the end you wind up creating something that is a riff on the battle royale genre that comes at from a different direction…  rather than just cranking out another game going after all of the same beats.  The best thing about this specific formula is it would allow for massive boss battles similar to how the original Smash TV did… and tweak the “map gets smaller” thing into something infinitely more interesting.  Additionally it could hit all of the 80s/90s nostalgia beats without feeling like a costume that your game happens to be wearing.

Regardless of all of this…  I think the core of my frustration comes from having a lot of hope in Boss Key when it was initially founded.  Unfortunately it feels like the Cliffy B brand doesn’t mean anywhere near what it used to.

 

Half Priced Books Sale

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This weekend was a bit of a crazy one, but also extremely fun.  So for those who know my wife is a Teacher, and has been at the State Capitol building every single day this past week protesting.  Originally the legislature was supposed to be out on Friday so I decided to take that day off myself so we could go do something to relax from the madness.  Unfortunately the situation at the state house is a very fluid one and they opted to have a very short session on Friday morning.  This left my wife in a bit of a dilemma wanting to go and be there for all of her coworkers…  and also not wanting to cancel our weekend.  In the end we compromised because Oklahoma City can in fact be on the way to Dallas if you go the Highway 35 route.  So around 1 pm…  much later than I had intended on doing so…  I found my way through the nonsense that is 30,000+ educators inhabiting the Capitol grounds and picked my rain soaked wife up and we went about our weekend trip.

The drive up to OKC was a bit of a nightmare in itself and took significantly longer than I had originally expected.  There were several times where I was just driving based on the lights of the vehicle in front of me because we had white out rain conditions where so much was being blown up into the air by the big trucks that I could not see the route.  In fact I accidentally turned into the midway area of the turnpike…  just because I followed the semi in front of me and I had no clue that it wasn’t the way the road was naturally turning.  However once we cleared OKC the weather improved greatly and by the time we got down to the DFW area… it was 84.  We however apparently brought the cold front with us because by the time we checked into the hotel and prepped to go out for the evening… it had dropped down into the 40s.

The other thing that I feel like I should talk about… is that apparently we brought a Tornado with us…  or at least that is what the DFW area thought.  We need to talk about the difference between the National Weather Service in Oklahoma… and the National Weather Service in Texas.  For us a Tornado Warning is not called until there has been a funnel cloud spotted….  and shortly after checking into our hotel a Tornado Warning flashed across our phones and the sirens started blowing.  After flipping on the local news and listening to a weatherman…  he kept stating that conditions were favorable for a Tornado…  which should have been a Watch not a Warning.  Whatever the case the storm had passed where we were and being Oklahomans very used to Tornado time…  we went on about our business and headed to IKEA to hopefully get that in while the store was less busy.  The folks at the hotel however seemed fairly rattled.

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The real focus of the weekend however was a big Half Priced Books sale happening at the Arlington Convention Center, which is another tale…  when you tell me something is happening at a convention center I look for the largest building in an area.  The Arlington Convention Center however is probably the smallest building in the surrounding area flanked by the Texas Rangers and AT&T Stadiums.  After passing the building the first time… we looped back around and found that quite a line has formed of folks trying to get into the parking lot.  After paying our $5 for parking we walked through the wind and rain to find ourselves in a giant Half Priced Books clearance sale.  The photo does not really give it justice as to how much was there laid out crudely on tables garage sale style.  Everything there was priced between $0.50 and $2 meaning that there were a ton of folks loading up entire shopping carts full of stuff.  On either side of the main area there were boxes of books that had yet to be put out on the tables, so in theory you probably needed to come all three days of the dale to really feel like you saw everything.

Now one of the reasons why we love Half Priced Books so much is how amazingly organized it is.  For the purposes of this sale…  that largely went out the window as things were lumped into giant categories like Fiction, Non-Fiction, Coffee Table books, etc.  One of the things I tend to focus on are the pen and paper gaming books…  which were occasionally sprinkled in with art books, music tour folios, and other large format coffee table style books.  My wife was looking for educational resources…  which were in this large heap called Non-Fiction and a few in the Science section… that turned out to mostly be computer books.  Now something of note…  another great thing about HPB is that they seem to shift their inventory around quite a bit.  In each store there is a Clearance section that we often make a beeline to as soon as we get inside the door.  This sale appears to be the dregs of whatever didn’t sell on potentially multiple last chance clearance aisles.

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We spent about an hour and a half in the sale and this is the only thing that I personally walked away with.  Even then I only made the purchase out of sheer nostalgia for Dark Age of Camelot…  because this was a far bigger compendium than I had ever seen for that game.  The book is about three inches thick and covers Darkness Falls as well as the core of the three realms.  I have a handful of these MMO guide books that I never actually used, but have kept because they are little snapshots in time when the game existed in that form.  I find them interesting to flip back through and remember just how things were before later patches changed them.  My wife however walked away with a half dozen books meaning the trip was largely worth it.  It was one of those things that I am glad we did so we know what to expect, but maybe wouldn’t make a special trip for in the future.  It felt a lot like a book sale that a local prep school has every year, which is fine but if you go to it looking for a specific thing you are likely going to walk away disappointed.  I kept asking myself “do I actually need this” and if I do get it “what exactly will I do with it” which kept me from picking up many things.

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From there we plotted a course out of Dallas hitting up several of the Half Priced Books on the  way out…  first going over to the flagship store and then to Richardson and McKinney before finally getting back on Highway 75 and heading home.  I feel like most people won’t understand our attachment to this store chain, but whatever.  They have lots of interesting stuff and you never quite know what you are going to find when you go to one.  Each and every store has a vastly different flavor to it, and tends to be really good at carrying one or more specific things.  The other part of the equation is that we have none of these in the Tulsa area.  There are three in Oklahoma City which gives us hope that maybe just maybe they will make their way to our neck of the woods…  but even then a few times a year we make a trek to OKC just to hit the ones there.  This is literally the first thing we look for when we travel to a new area…  have have visited most of the HPB locations in Dallas Fort Worth Metro, Kansas City Metro, St Louis Metro, Austin Metro, and Madison Wisconsin area.

The reason in part why we are so attached is because they carry a wealth of educational resources.  Even though my wife has spent the entire week protesting at the State Capitol for more educational funding…  she is still always thinking about her classroom.  She is one of those teachers that never recycles her curriculum.  Each summer she essentially tears down every single prep she has and builds up a new structure based on the best ways she knows how to teach each of the concepts.  This year she knows she is going to be teaching Geometry again, and as a result is on the hunt for new resources to help explain concepts.  Granted in her office at home we have five massive bookshelves full of materials…  but she is constantly looking for new and novel ways to explain things.  So as a result we keep hitting bookstores looking for the next great concept she can glean.

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While it was a lot of driving condensed into a very short amount of time…  there are always interesting things to be seen along the way…  like a graveyard of past editions of Warhammer 40k for example.  I have both of these in my bookshelf here at home but it is always cool to see them in the wild… or in this case several of them.  It was a fun weekend and I was glad we managed to get back in time on Saturday night to record aggrochat.  However the whole having multiple people able to record thing meant that the show could in fact go on without me.  We have also started time boxing our shows trying to shoot for 90 minutes of recording time…. which after editing comes down to roughly an hour.  I think this week might be one of the better shows we have recorded yet because compressing things into that time frame seems to help the conversation and keep us from zoning out during the second hour of recording.  I highly suggest you check out this weeks show and let me know what you think about the shorter format.

Project Gorgon

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I am not entirely sure why, but this weekend I decided to buy into Project Gorgon on Steam.  Now in theory I could have been playing it for free all of this time given that based on the titles I have…  I played both in Pre-Alpha and Alpha.  I remember picking up the game in the past and finding it undeniably charming… but also very raw and unpolished…  which was not something I was looking for at that time.  However with several games either out or on the horizon that seem to be vying for the “Everquest Nostalgia” demographic…  I thought I should probably give it another shot.  Knowing how shoestring of a budget the game has been lead me to just go ahead and purchase it on Steam even though in theory I could have still logged in via my original account that I linked to while setting the game up.

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Part of the charm of this game is that it plops you into the game with no real warning or advisement about what you should be doing.  This can be a bit maddening if you are not in the right mindset, but in doing so the “newbie island” helps to set your focus on how this game works.  There are clues and directions out there…  but you need to spend time pouring over quest text and scribbling down notes as you go.  Which is handy because they do in fact give you an in game notepad to do so with.  One of the sequences on the island involves going around and scribbling down coordinates that you will ultimately need later on, and not writing down the correct coordinates could have dire consequences.

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I am extremely late to the game, because I know that some of my friends have been playing for ages.  However I still felt like I needed to talk a bit about it this morning to try and explain why it is so damned charming.  Compared to modern MMORPGs this is going to feel extremely spartan but I believe that is in large part the point.  This is a game where everything has an equivalent skill that can be raised, including death…  and a game where you have no classes or true levels to speak of.  You go out into the world and do things, and those things ultimately give you skills…  which you then blend together into something resembling your own personal “class”.

For example everyone can have a primary and a secondary combat skill.  I’ve chosen sword for my primary and bow for my secondary allowing me to play a EQ ranger sort of flavored character starting combat off with ranged attacks and finishing it up close and person with sword slashes.  I could have gone with other options which would have had their own leveling system and their own sets of attacks.  I’ve not actually encountered anything that would come across as traditional magic in the game, but I am certain it is in there…  just has to be discovered and unlocked like everything else seems to be.

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I am currently in a mode where I am just not sure what is useful and what is not.  It seems like everything that drops can in theory have a use…  but I may not be able to discover it yet because I lack the skill to do anything with it.  I spent a large amount of time yesterday learning how to cook and garden so that I could ultimately create some hashbrowns…   to gain favor with an NPC to be able to do something else.  Similarly there are half a dozen combat quests that I am slowly chipping away at as I go out into the world and take down mobs.  There is a significant amount of learning the lay of the land going on…  which of course has its own skill associated with it called Cartography… that increases as you clear the fog from various areas of the map.

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Like I said literally everything seems to have a skill associated with it that can be raised and that will ultimately unlock abilities if you get them high enough.  Combat right now can be extremely challenging because there is no formal “con” system like Everquest or DAoC had to guide you.  In theory you need to fight something… before you can really determine if you are strong enough to be able to hunt them regularly.  Since Death is its own skill…  dying over and over to something eventually makes you heartier and raises your maximum health and in theory doesn’t seem to have much in the way of negative effects.  There is some sort of a hardcore mode that acts more like Everquest or a similar game…  but that is not a thing I will ever be enabling.  What makes it even more entertaining is that you gain “Bonus Death Experience” for dying in new and interesting ways…  turning it into a bit of a mini-game to see if you can figure out new ways that you can shed the mortal coil.

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Anyone who played Everquest during the Shadows of Luclin expansion will recognize this scene…  with lots of vendors lined up in an area that looks very reminiscent of The Nexus.  The positive here is that each of these stalls is an NPC that can be rented by the players allowing for a much better shopping experience than players having to AFK all day to sell their wares.  One of the things you are going to need to get used to in playing Project Gorgon… is that it is a much slower paced game hearkening back to an era where there was plenty of time to throw out chat messages in between attacks in combat.  As a result from what I hear there is an amazing community that has grown up in the game and based on the forums at least… I would say they are more than willing to help new players get started.

There are certain aspects of the game that really lend to this…  for example it uses an EQ item drop system allowing players to just throw something on the ground that anyone else can pick up.  As a result there are often tons of viable items just laying around in town that high progressed players have discarded because they are not actually worth trying to sell.  One of the concepts that is hard to get used to is the fact that vendors have a limited amount of gold on them, and each of them will only buy certain items.  There is one vendor in town that will buy pretty much anything…  but you are going to run her out of gold very quickly and have to wait seven days real world time for her funds to regenerate.  This means that you need to get to know which vendors are the best options for buying which items…  either that or just drop it on the ground for someone else to use.

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Another really interesting system in the game is that you can “Hang out” with certain NPCs while offline, allowing you to do some measure of progression while not logged into the game.  You can only have one of these activities selected at a time and as far as I can tell you don’t need to be anywhere near the actual NPC when you log out to make it happen.  For example in the first image of this post there is a little note at the bottom the screen saying that I finished hunting Myconids with Mushroom Jack, which was a 4 hour long Hangout I chose before logging out for the evening.  Generally speaking you need to get to a certain faction level before these start opening up with NPCs, but doing so gives you an interesting way to push up their favor and also potentially gain items.

It took me awhile to figure this out, and in my sluggishness at arriving at this conclusion…  it lead me to miss out in a very important item on the newbie island that I am deeply wishing I had.  In fact I am starting a second character just to try and get said item…  and in theory will swap it over via the extremely expensive shared account storage.  The only problem I see with the game right now is that since I seem to be able to eventually learn how to do everything…  I question the need for alts.  At some point during my play through I decided to drop unarmed combat as my secondary attack and pick up a bow…  and even though it was grossly behind in skill I seemed to be able to catch it up quickly.  If you have the time and money… you seem to be able to do every possible tradeskill…  so I question what the hook is for running up additional characters?

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Over the course of the weekend I played eight hours of the game, and in doing so have become hooked.  While doing this Tam was apparently playing Shroud of the Avatar, which I myself booted up last night to see how the two compared.  They are both vying for that 90s era early MMO nostalgia… and quite honestly Project Gorgon scratches the right itches for me personally.  Shroud was extremely well funded and had a relatively large development crew to create…  but comes off as this extremely janky product.  Project Gorgon however has at its core a husband and wife development team, and a composer…  and a relatively low funded kickstarter…. and comes off as this completely charming and competent version of that Everquest era game that ultimately FEELS better to play.

Sure it needs more work, for example the game consumes a ton of system resources… far more than it should for the level of graphical fidelity.  However client optimization will come in time, and based on the little note you see before logging in the team realizes that is a problem.  However what is there is extremely sticky, and extremely impressive for such a small development team.  I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of the game because each time I play I figure out something new.  Hell there are entire areas of the first major zone that I have not explored…  and with it likely NPCs that I have not talked to or encountered.  Ultimately this game is not going to be for everyone…  but if you ever wanted to see what playing Everquest felt like back during the early days Project Gorgon is a great starting place.

Mythical Nonsense

Once again I do not have an awful lot to talk about this morning.  I’ve been having some insanely detailed dreams the last few nights.  For example this past night I was in an office building that they purposefully hid the elevator in, and I remember thinking in the dream that this is so bizarre given that most buildings essentially direct you there.  The reason why it was hidden is because each time you shifted between floors you shifted between decades in time, so as you traveled up you were going back in time.  Essentially the staircase was of the utmost prominence in the building because if you rode the elevator up, taking the stairs back down allowed you to exit the building that existed in that time.  This is one of those cases that most of my dream was consumed on the setup of this premise and then we never actually did much of anything with it because the alarm went off.  The thing is I either tend to have no memorable dreams at all… or wildly vivid ones like this one.

As far as gaming news… I spent most of my night working on either faction in Argus or catching up my Orc Deathknight.  One of the things that happened yesterday is that more or less we assembled a team of mythical madness.  At this very moment it looks like we have…

  • Protection Paladin
  • Unholy Death Knight
  • Mistwalker Monk
  • Fury Warrior
  • Frost Mage

While a little heavy on the melee that sounds like a perfectly reasonable group as far as I am concerned for pushing Mythics.  I originally had planned on playing my Orc Warrior which is my best geared character…  but then that would have lead us to have two Fury warriors.  As a result I swapped to my Death Knight to in theory provide a bit of battle rezzing if we need it.  In theory this is going to work I think… we just need to sort out a good time to actually start.  The thought is a one night a week thing and start pushing up keys as far as we can get them.  The idea is to ease into this so we don’t need a ringer, and in theory maybe get some gear along the journey.

This is honestly as close to raiding as I think I want to do for now, and I am interested to see how this process goes.

 

Opening the Patio

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While I got in a fair bit of gaming this weekend… it was far from the major mission at hand.  We had decided some weeks back that over spring break we would rehabilitate our lawn.  We had been putting this off for some time as evidenced by the mountain of yard waste that is now sitting waiting for the city to pick it up.  Our city has two options for lawn waste the first being get a red bin and then in essence pay rent on it all year round.  The other option is to go to a local QuikTrip store and buy some very pricey special bags emblazoned with the city name on them that denote that the it is going to some sort of a yard waste recycling plant.

Unfortunately I just looked up on the city website….  and it appears that yard waste collection will not resume until April 9th meaning these bags will be hanging out on the side of my house a little longer than I expected.  It was a pretty weekend however and allowed us to get things under control before the real growth seasons starts.  The funny thing about this is you can see all of the leaves that make up this mess…  were gathered in a lawn with no trees.  Our back yard seems to be the catch all for all of the houses that do have trees.

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The real mission of the weekend however was to reconstitute our back patio that opens out from our bedroom.  This is my wife’s happy place and I wanted her to at least be able to spend some of her spring break out there reading.  This was in fact something she managed to do a good chunk of Saturday given that I took Friday off in which we did most of the work.  I will admit I like hanging out here too but mostly in the evenings when we have a very long shadow hanging out and covering the patio area.  I am rather fond of hanging out and listening to the wind chimes while watching the birbs.

This year I do plan on spending a good deal of time out here either playing the Switch or 2DS XL, both of which are really solid outdoor gaming options for me.  I had originally hoped that the WiiU would have been functional for outdoor gaming but unfortunately the receiver was not strong enough to penetrate the door to the bedroom where I had it hooked up for awhile.  I am still grumpy about how lousy the range on the handheld unit is, but with the advent of the Switch it was essentially what I was hoping the WiiU was going to be.

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While it is still a little early to set out the “flower babies” we did set up a feeder for the birbs and within a day our backyard was humming with activity.    We’ve seen a nesting pair of mourning doves pictured in my hastily zoomed in phone camera shot, a pair of cardinals, a male blue jay and a myriad of smaller birds that I don’t know the names of.   We had a fungus infect our two red tipped photinias last year and while we attempted to fight it with some spray…. we lost the battle and ultimately had to take out the two dead bushes that had grown into the size of small trees.

I was afraid this lose of cover would decrease the amount of activity we saw in our back yard, but weirdly enough it seems to have actually increased the amount of time the birds are out and roaming around visibly.  The focus seems to have shifted away from hanging out in the bushes to hanging out on our back deck, which would probably a problem…  if we actually used that back deck.  It is way too far removed from the house to really be convenient and you have to cross over to the other side of the pool to even get up on it.  So as a result we tend to mostly forget it exists other than our old set of lawn furniture being up on it.

A good chunk of the weekend was spent happily watching the birbs hanging out in our yard and also watching them completely drain one of the two feeders we have this year.  I can already tell that we need to find two things this year…  firstly a proper bird bath so they have a place to get a drink or wash off.  Secondly we need some sort of a ground level vessel for water because we traditionally have bunnies in our yard quite a bit given that we are not likely to chase them off.  Nothing depresses me more than having to fish a dead animal out of the pool because they were trying to get a drink.  So my hope is to place something else to get a drink from more prominently… and I will just fill it when I am watering the flowers in the evening.  All in all though, happy to have the patio back open for business.

Meow Meow Meow Rogers

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This is going to be a really odd post but one that I sorta feel like I want to make.  I have a deep and personal bond with Mister Rogers Neighborhood that I am not entirely sure if I can put into words.  I grew up the only child of two very busy parents with no other children within easy access distance to me because we lived just far enough out of the city limits to make everything awkward.  For the most part I say I was raised by my grandmother, because she was my babysitter and playmate as a child.  The problem with that however is that she was the anchor of a very busy rural household, which meant there were larger swaths of the day where she was out doing chores.  I mean this is a woman I can regularly remember going out to chopped/split wood for the stove to keep the house warm while grandpa was out tending to the cattle.

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As a result there were large swaths of the day where I was left to my own devices, and essentially had to learn how to keep myself entertained.  I was the first person in my family to get cable television… and even then I did not get that until I moved to college so as far as programming went I was limited to the four over the air networks.  It was at an early age that I developed an affinity for PBS or the Public Broadcasting Service and regularly would sit there in the floor of my grandparents living room soaking up everything I could find while doodling and inventing nonsense.  Without a doubt the only show I never missed however was Mister Rogers Neighborhood, because it had a way of bringing me into that world.

I felt like I was friends with Mister Rogers, Handyman Negry, Mister McFeely, or Lady Aberlin…  as well as X the Owl, Henrietta the Cat or Daniel the Lion.  For thirty minutes I was sucked into this other world where not everyone looked the same as me but still managed to get along perfectly.  This was deeply important to my upbringing because I lived in what you might say was a quietly prejudiced world and thought Mister Rogers neighborhood it allowed me to build up a bit of an immunity to having any of those thoughts root deeply in my brain.  His mission to drill into our brains that we were all the same inside and that we should celebrate the interesting differences is something that served me well and that I have tried to never betray.

Then the other night after a normal day in the office, I sat down to start doing what I sorta refer to as “checking into the world”.  One of the things that crossed past my eyes was the above trailer for a new movie about the life of Fred Rogers called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and as I sat there watching it…  I started tearing up to the point of just water pouring out of my eyes.  Hell as I sit here writing this post this morning I am teary eyed as well.  It is impossible to put into word accurately how much this man meant to me… and how much the show Mister Rogers Neighborhood did.  He took what was an otherwise solitary childhood where I sat alone for hours at a time finding ways to entertain myself…   into a constant voyage of discovery as I anxiously awaited the moment when the show would be on again and we could do more interesting things together.

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I made a comment to this effect the other night on Twitter and my friend Gryph commented that there was a Mister Rogers Neighborhood marathon going on over on Twitch.  This was a night when my wife had gone to Dallas and I was ultimately waiting up for her to get home safely before going to bed.  So from about 10:30 until around midnight I sat there watching old episodes of the show reliving moments from my childhood.  By the time my wife got home I had to explain why my eyes were so teary because there were so many moments that just hit me in the gut.  Example the above image is from when Lady Aberlin forgot to come pick up Daniel Lion for a party, and he thought she didn’t love him anymore.

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These were important lessons to talk about with kids, and to help them work through complex feelings of frustration and abandonment…  giving us ammunition for dealing with those things when we experienced them later in life.  I am far from normal, but I feel like I am a better person because of the lessons we learned every day after school from Mister Rogers and the crew.  The role Betty Aberlin played has to be highlighted and appreciated because she had this way of treating those puppets as though they were the most real people in the world with their own complex needs.  Without her and her presence in the land of Make Believe it would have been harder to get sucked into the world because of the way she carried the interactions with the puppeteers.

Watch live video from MisterRogers on www.twitch.tv
If you were too young to experience Mister Rogers Neighborhood… which is a realistic concern given that I am 41 almost 42 and was part of the prime viewership…  I highly suggest you check it out.  There is something magical and timeless about the experience and it has been interesting to see the outpouring of goodwill and support on twitch chat.  This is normally a community that can be offensively toxic, but instead everyone is reveling together in just how pure and good the experience is.  There was a mystical quality in the primitive nature of the show and its extremely low production budget…  but in many ways that also is what sells the experience and makes it so easy to let your imagination fill in the gaps.  Excuse me while I try and find something to dry my eyes.

 

 

Toys R Us Kid

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The news about Toys R Us closing is not shocking given the rapid slide over the last month or so…  but still hits me fairly hard.  The truth is I didn’t go to the store that often anymore because quite frankly it was inconvenient.  I did however take the opportunity on a regular occasion to visit them while roaming around other towns.  I’ve been to at least one Toys R Us in San Antonio for awhile while we were down there for Pax South, but in that case it was largely because it was beside a Container Store my wife wanted to go to.  I think ultimately everyone stopped going to the store for their various reasons, and this is yet another step along the chain to the loss of brick and mortar retail as a whole.  It does however make me nostalgic about the Toys R Us from my past.

I found this image online, and decided to use it because more or less this represents the Toys R Us I remember from my childhood.  The closest location for me was roughly an hour from my home and it was a destination location for whenever I had birthday money to spend.  The reason why is that because as a kid it felt like Toys R Us had literally everything we could ever want to play with.  You would go there and see toy lines that you didn’t even know existed, and for the ones you did know about…  they usually had one of every figure in the line along with all of the accessories you had only heard about.

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As my passion for Star Wars, GI Joe and the Thundercats turned to Video Games…  Toys R Us became in a way more elevated in my mind as a destination for glory.  During the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System they stocked what felt like every single game available for the system.  For those who were not around during this era I found an image online representing how games were presented to us.  There would be essentially the cover of one of the games with maybe some information about it on the backside hanging on a rack with some tickets.  You would dread getting to the store and seeing an empty envelope hanging beneath the game you were looking for.  I remember a few sad trips up to the redemption booth to ask if they maybe had one more copy of whatever game I was wanting somewhere in the back.

Regardless any time I managed to save up enough money to get a new game… I was immediately pestering my parents to see when we could next make the hour long slog to Tulsa and visit Toys R Us.  I remember feeling like the Ticket Booth was a magical portal that had a copy of everything ever in existence…  rather than just the entrance to the stock room.  The core problem with the Toys R Us equation is that they made their name on being the “Biggest Toy Store There Is”.  That meant to keep the promise they needed to stock more of everything to be that go to place when someone can’t find something anywhere else.

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The problem is the “Children’s Bargain Town” slogan was mostly a lie, because as soon as I understood the concept of money… I understood that everything cost a little bit more at Toys R Us.  In my market for a good chunk of my childhood there were was a single Toys R Us location.  During the late 80s and early 90s they built a second location in what seemed to be the next up and coming area of town.  However at no point was Toys R Us the bargain option.  On the value for your money spectrum you had Walmart as the cheapest place you could buy anything followed fairly closely by K-Mart and Target being roughly the same.  From there you jumped up to the Mall offerings of Circus World and KB Toys…  and in a far distant end of the spectrum you had Toys R Us.  I remember when Nintendo was king, a game at Toys R Us cost roughly ten dollars more than a game at Walmart for example.

Since they could not compete on price, they had to compete on the sheer nonsense amount of stuff they carried…  but in the mid to late 90s that equation changed to.  They started clearing out sections of the store to hollow them out and make room for the Babies R Us Franchise.  In our store this meant that no longer did they carry products that you had never heard of…  or in most cases even the entire product line for the ones you had heard of.  Also it was around this time that the Video Game section was ejected from is prime real estate and shoved into a cubical in the far corner of the store the furthest location from the door.  Additionally they shifted away from the ticket system and started carrying far fewer items meaning that they lost their sheer selection advantage over other stores.  I remember trying Toys R Us first a few times like when Final Fantasy III (VI) came out…  but finding them completely out of stock and having to move on and ultimately pick it up from Target.

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As they lost selection advantage it felt like they started pushing more and more for product advantage by strong arming producers into creating a plethora of “exclusive” lines available only at Toys R Us.  The problem is that this was ultimately a losing battle as well because for example in my metro area at our height we had 2 Toys R Us locations.  On the other hand we have around twenty Walmart stores and about half that number of  Targets.  If you expand that out to the United States as a whole…  the amount of products that discount retailers purchase and stock as compared to specialty toy retailers has to be staggering.  So following on the heels quickly similarly exclusive product offerings started showing up in Target and then not long after Walmart diluting whatever advantage you once had.  Sure you could get a collector into your store to buy that one product, but it was likely they were ONLY buying that and then moving onto another location where the money stretched a little further.

The up-swell of GameStop and Best Buy during the 90’s put a nail in the coffin in product offering advantage Toys R Us might have had on the video games front as well.  Why would you go to Toys R Us for what was already a limited offering from their glory days… when you could just go to GameStop and find the return of carrying every available product offering for each console?  Every one of these missteps hurt Toys R Us long before online retailing came in to take the final chomp out of it.  Unfortunately the “biggest toy store there is” crown now belongs to Amazon.  Why would you drive from store to store to find the one action figure you want…  when you can just place an order online and get it shipped to your door in two days time?

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On the video game side we have a wide array of digital store fronts allowing us to plunk down our money…  and get a game within a few minutes rather than needing to throw pants on and drive to the store.  For me personally the convenience is king over anything else.  I could in theory purchase some of the games cheaper in physical form from Amazon and have the discs shipped to me in two days.  However I would rather just have the game installed and always “on tap” rather than needing to fiddle for the disc or figure out which case I shoved which game into.  In truth I am having a hard time remembering what the last game I purchased in physical form was.  More than likely it was World of Warcraft Cataclysm collectors edition, and even then only because they had not yet started offering digital collectors editions of their games.  From Pandaria onwards I happily gobbled up that digital CE and went on with my life rather than trying to hope and pray that Amazon would ship the game on time for me to hit the midnight start.

On consoles it is even more important to me personally to have games digitally, because when I take my switch or 3DS somewhere I don’t want to juggle a bunch of awkward cartridges…  nor do I want some sort of a “cozy” that I carry around with me to keep them organized.  I want the ability to flip to the game I want, hit a button and boot directly into it with no muss or fuss.  Since at least 2007 I have been 99.9% digital in my game purchases, and each one of those sales is in theory one that could have gone to a retailer like Toys R Us.  I am part of the problem and I am absolutely part of why this store is closing.

I have a deep nostalgia about my experiences with Toys R Us as a kid, but the adult version never quite lived up to those memories.  While I would like to think I am still a Toys R Us kid at heart and can break into song singing the theme…  I never had kids of my own to continue the tradition with.  Additionally shopping at the physical store is inconvenient and requires a trip to a completely different area of town than I visit on a regular basis.  Before the second store closed a few years ago… I used to go to that one occasionally because it was easy to get in and out of without a lot of hassle.  I remember semi-regularly visiting when I was looking for Lego Minifigures blind bags and even finding some ones stashed from an ancient series.

The problem is…  I maybe went there once a month if that and prior to the blind bags… it had been maybe five years since I had darkened the door of that store.  I will miss the Toys R Us from my memories, and this absolutely feels like one of those “end of an era” moments.  However it will join the same memory bin where Babbages, Software Etc, Media Play, Hastings, Circuit City, Computer City, Comp USA, KB Toys, Circus World and countless other stores I liked going to… but no longer exist.  Part of getting older is remembering fondly things that don’t exist anymore…  and I guess after a decline that started decades ago…  I am okay with adding Toys R Us to that stack.