Think of the Children

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For the majority of last week I talked about games that I had played at PAX South, and in truth there are still a handful more than I want to discuss.  I think that is the real triumph of this years show, that I walked away with so many things that I found interesting enough to write entire posts about.  Granted in my super meandering way I end up talking about a lot of things other than the game during each of them.  Today is not going to change that.  In 2016 the most memorable game at PAX South for me was a game called Ultimate Chicken Horse.  In fact this was the sort of experience that I kept dragging people back by the booth to check out for themselves.  I don’t have a ton of opportunities to do the whole couch co-op party game thing, and it seems that when I actually do get that opportunity I want to take advantage.  I even wrote a couple of different posts about my thoughts talking about just how fresh and interesting the experience was.  Now I did not expect to find another game like this, but it seems like it found me.

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Ultimately I think I happened to stare a little too long at a booth as I was passing by, and within moments was engaged by someone talking about a game called “Think of the Children”.  Admittedly we had not shifted into “lets play all the games” mode yet, and this game was a good part of that mental shift for me at least.  The idea apparently came out of a recent game jam and was being groomed into a full game.  The concept was simple enough…  that you are parents and have to try and take care of a bunch of children.  The challenge comes in when you find out that the children are essentially lemmings.  They have no survival instinct and instead of simply slowly marching towards the edge of the a cliff… they are going to actively go find danger.  The kids might decide it is super awesome to go try and pet a jellyfish… and get stung to death, or mess with a bird…  and get pecked to death.  Essentially these little buggers are constantly trying to kill themselves and you as the parents are trying desperately to corral or distract them long enough to make it through the timer without losing any of your charges.

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This turns out to be exceedingly difficult, and just as you seem to have one group of kids under control…  another group goes off and does something truly horrible.  Essentially you have a few tools for managing the children…  you can either pick them up and move them away from danger… or shout at them which effects every child in range for a super short period of time…  before they go right back to doing whatever horrible thing they were planning on doing.  You can also temporarily distract children by setting up tables, or deploying a pinata.  I found myself largely throwing children away from harm while Rae who was playing with me attempted to set up the distractions.  Regardless I was an extremely bad parent and my first time out of the gate I got an F-…  and on attempt two I upgraded that to a D.  Let me just tell you that was the proudest I had ever been of getting a D in my life.

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Sure the game is morbid as hell, given that inevitably some of your children are going to die horrible and stupid deaths.  However the gameplay was so fast paced and frenetic that we spent most of our time yelling unintelligible sentence fragments at each other while desperately trying to keep yet another child from going and playing in traffic.  I mean there is a clear reason why I am not a parent of anything but animals…  because in truth animals have way more survival instinct than proto-humans.  Where the game shines is when you are sitting there playing co-op with one of your friends, and if I had an opportunity to do this often I would absolutely suggest this game in your rotation of what I term “party games”.  One of the cool things that happens at PAX in general is that you wind up striking conversations with random people while waiting in lines.  Each and every time this happened to me it ultimately got down to talking about our favorite games of the show, and this is the game that I kept sending people out into the world to find.  It was tucked into a quiet row and was ultimately rather unassuming, but man was it a great experience to play.  Even though I don’t have a lot of opportunity for couch co-op I am still going to pick this up for no reason other than to support what is ultimately a really cool game idea.  If you find yourself interested in this madness you can check out the official website, or do what I did and just add it to my wishlist on Steam.

Them Apples

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What has been bizarre to me has been just how different the three years of Pax South have felt personally.  During year one I was completely overwhelmed and did my best to hit as many panels as I could while also making a bunch of media appointments.  During year two we had roughly sixteen people roaming around in groups of various sizes, so my focus was to spend as much time as possible with as many people as possible.  I was also overwhelmed but in a completely different way, with trying to juggle meeting up with folks while also hitting scheduled media appointments.  Year three I completely cut the whole parking debacle out of the loop which greatly relaxed the entire experience.  Additionally we went from having sixteen to roughly seven… with two pairs of those largely roaming together and leaving me with a semi regular group of three people.  This opened up so many doors because three is not an unreasonable amount of people to sit down and demo something together with, and as a result I played way more games during the course of the show.  So many that I never actually made it off the main floor or attended any panels.  In truth this felt like the best possible thing because it gave me lots of interesting experiences to come back and shamelessly milk for blog posts.  It also let me spend maximum time with my friends while attempting to extract the maximum enjoyment.  It did nothing for my longevity unfortunately with me making my way back to the hotel around 6 or 7 both nights to hang with my wife and decompress from the days event.

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Of the really awesome games that I played, I think the very first that I sat down to play as a group is a card game called Wicked Apples.  At first I watched a couple of my group play it together, and when they finished the first round got dealt in for round two.  The idea is simple and the card game itself extremely small… I have not counted but it seems like maybe the card deck as a whole is maybe around 35 cards.  What I like so much about the game however is just how quickly it can be played.  One of the big challenges with most modern tabletop games is that they take a fair bit of time to set up, play and break back down.  In most cases you need a dedicated hour or more to really feel like you have enjoyed the experience.  At work I have been kicking around the notion of doing some tabletop gaming at lunch, especially since I have a coworker that is way deeper into the weeds than I am in the board gaming community.  However the challenge that is what sorts of games can you realistically play in a 30-40 minute window and get enough hands in to make it feel like you actually accomplished something.  When I saw Wicked Apples I immediately thought that this game would be perfect for this scenario because each hand seemed to last around ten to fifteen minutes depending on how much stalling from the players.

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The game consists of barrel cards, wicked apple cards matching each barrel color, and an assortment of unique apple cards that each have specific effects on them.  The game starts by dealing out barrels to each of the players… or in our case simply choosing whatever color you wanted to play.  That player the is handed the wicked apple of a color matching their barrel, as well as three random apple cards dealt face down.  The goal is to take these four cards and arrange them in any order in front of you face down… but at the same time memorize the position of each card.  The goal of the game is not to eat a wicked apple, be it your own or another players.  After setup the turn order is determined by the number on the players bucket from lowest to highest, but later in the game this will be determined by the top apple in each players bucket.  Each player can take one of two actions:  Peak or Pass.  Peak essentially means that you can secretly check to verify what apple is sitting in a given slot in front of you, and Pass means that you can take any one of your apples and give it to any other player.  After all players have either chosen to Peak or Pass, everyone has to choose an apple that they are going to eat that round.  If you are doing this right then all players reveal their apple at exactly the same time…  however we were pretty awful at doing this and wound up being a slow staggered reveal.  The eating order is determined by the number in the top right corner of the card, and each player performs the actions on their card if possible taking turns in ascending order.  The “if possible” is in there because there are situations where for example you have no apples… and as a result cannot say pass an apple as directed by the card.

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The game carries on like this until one of two things happen… either only one player is left standing at the end of a round where in that case they are the winner.  There is also the possibility that ALL players are eliminated in the same round, and essentially everyone loses.  Whatever the case, once you know the rules of the game it goes extremely quickly and I could see playing a bunch of round rapid fire in a short period of time.  There is functionally a lot of strategy and bluffing involved in what is essentially a game of memory.  Do you pass a good apple to the player beside you and think that ultimately they are going to assume you gave them your wicked apple?  Are you going to pass your wicked apple and then follow up by lacing it with the Candy Apple that forces a player to eat that apple next?  I absolutely did that last move, while also passing the poison apple to another player that round functionally executing both of them.  It is absolutely a game where you know every other players is going to back stab you and do so constantly, so the ramifications of this realization become greatly blunted and just part of the fun.  The individual decks at Pax South were $15, and I went back and forth on Friday about picking one up.  However one of the first things I did Saturday morning was run back and purchase one, and I am super glad that I did.  It seems as though they sold their last deck sometime early Sunday morning, and apparently this was their entire current stock as there are zero available through the website either currently.  So yeah… I guess it is probably cruel to tell you about a game that you literally cannot get at this very moment, but I still enjoyed it enough that I wanted to talk about it.  Like I said before I personally plan on taking my deck with me to work and trying a few hands over lunch to see how well it works.  It is easy to pick up and fast paced enough that I can see this doing really well with a wide variety of players.  If you have the chance to check it out in any upcoming shows I highly suggest you do so.

 

Tale of Dice Games

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It is bizarre to me how I went into Pax South thinking it would be largely about the Nintendo Switch for me… and it wound up becoming almost entirely about Tabletop gaming.  More so it was the tale of dice games… and my experiences trying three different ones.  There was King of Tokyo that I had never actually played, and while I found it enjoyable it wasn’t exactly the sort of game I was going to rush right out into the store and purchase.  Then there was Dragon Dice…  which sounded familiar at the time as a game that TSR once published… and it turns out that in fact it is the same game just self published by the creator now.  The problem is that I looked in the general direction of the booth and got sucked in by an extremely motivated salesperson in the form of what I can only guess was the thirteen year old daughter of the creator.  I sat down to play… and got Ashgar roped into doing the same.  So we played and tried our best to wriggle out of the booth as soon and as politely as possible.  It was bad…  and not just in a general sense of not fun… but bad in a sense of whoever attacked first essentially put the other player on the ropes for the rest of the game and since attack and defense is out of the same dice roll…  it made it extremely hard to ever recover.  As a result we avoided anything else that was dice related like the plague… that is until while waiting in the hour and a half long Dauntless line I ended up getting into a random conversation with the folks I was standing shoulder to shoulder with as is the way of PAX.  We started talking about our favorite games of the show so far, and one of these other folks mentioned Dice Throne.  So before the night was up we wound up making our way over to the Dice Throne booth in the PAX Rising area, where unfortunately no one was giving demos at that moment.  However they mentioned that in the tabletop area there was a completely different set up where folks had been playing nonstop.  Little did I know that essentially this would be the last thing I played during my time at PAX and would eat up my last few hours.

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c3tib3xumaajc_wI am of course swiping images left and right from the Dice Throne twitter and Kickstarter for the purpose of this post.  The game itself is a weird mix of dice battling, action RPG and Magic the Gathering starter deck duels.  Each player chooses a character to play from the current list of Barbarian, Moon Elf, Pyromancer and Shadow Thief…  with Paladin and Monk playable at the show but ultimately stretch goals in the kickstarter.  Each character comes with a unique play mat, card deck, five dice, and a sheet that describes their status effects that they can give to opponents and explains the chance of rolling a given symbol on the dice.  What made the game addictive to me was the aspect that as you move through the session you can play cards on top of your playmat and upgrade your base abilities.  Sometimes this is just a matter of making the abilities more efficient, or having a lower number of dice needed to trigger the effect.  In the case of the game where I played the Shadow Thief… some of the cards actually served as two completely different abilities that you could then choose from.  I personally only have experience with the Barbarian and Shadow Thief, but I think Ashgar and Paragon wound up playing Shadow Thief vs Paladin… in which I heard that the Paladin is completely brutal.

Regardless of the specific configuration the game is ultimately a game about duels… which admittedly is the part that makes me the most excited.  I love tabletop games… but I don’t exactly have a wide circle of people that I can play them with locally.  I mean I could branch out and just show up at a game shop and look for people to play… but that isn’t really my way.  I am way too introverted to ever make that work.  So instead I have limited opportunities usually one friend at a time to play things.  Dice Throne is absolutely perfect for this situation because it creates a completely meaningful experience with only two players.  In theory this game also works with any multiple of two, in that players can set up 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 scenarios and some of the cards would play perfectly into that situation.  The reason Magic the Gathering comes into play as a reference for this game is that it is set up in a number of phases:  Upkeep, Income and Draw, Main Phase 1, Offensive Roll Phase, Defensive Roll Phase, Main Phase 2, Discard Phase.

Players start out with 50 Health, 1 combat point or CP and 4 cards from their deck with the ultimate goal of reducing the other player down to 0 Health to win the match.  Each round the players gain 1 CP during the income phase and draw one card, with the CP being spent to play the various cards they have in their hand.  Each character plays a little different in that the Shadow Thief seemed to be all about hitting the 15 CP cap as soon as possible and then striking from the shadows with critical attacks that scale based on the current CP number. The Barbarian seemed to be about healing back lost health and avoiding taking damage by simply overhealing the incoming attack…  all the while smashing with big attacks that can easily become unblockable.  Barbarian absolutely was “my thing” but it also sounds like the super defensive Paladin might have been a good fit for me as well.  Each round of attacks you roll your 5 dice and then take the symbols and numbers and try and make something with them.  You are given two rounds of re-rolls as you attempt to hone in on the exact thing you need.  There are also cards that shift your abilities so that you can make certain dice wild, or with “samsies” swap any dice to match any other dice.  These however take the luck of the draw and the CP to play them when needed.

What I found most interesting is that essentially you are having to look at the symbols and the numbers to see what the best course of action is.  All of the characters have something interesting that happens when you roll a small straight (4 numbers in sequence), and something interesting that happens when you roll a large straight (5 numbers in sequence).  Then again there are other things that are super powerful that can play off of the other attacks.  For example 2 swords and 2 “pow” symbols on the Barbarian gives you an attack that deals less damage… but becomes undefendable which when upgraded serves as an amazing way to finish off your opponent.  The Shadow Thief allowed you to shift in and out of the shadows… allowing you to be essentially untargetable until you exit on the next round.  Attacking from the shadows allowed you to roll an extra dice as you exited to deal a little bonus damage.  Every hero has an ultimate attack that is essentially triggered by rolling five 6s, but in truth I found these pretty freaking hard to make work unless I had a wild card or two available in my hand.  There is a lot more nuance that I feel like I cannot adequately cover after literally having only played two games.  Suffice to say there is a lot of meat on these bones, and I am sure more than enough to start to develop even a bit of a meta game among players.  I was not well suited for the Shadow Thief because the whole poke from the shadows thing is not really my deal.  That said I know players that would absolutely excel at that game play style since essentially the Barbarian and the Shadow Thief are playing two completely different games.  From what I understand each of the characters plays this way essentially with the Moon Elf focusing on dealing damage while defending for example.

The long and short of this is that as soon as I got back home on Sunday night I went out to the Kickstarter and backed the game.  I was completely and thoroughly sold.  As of this morning even though the page has not updated they have already hit the Paladin stretch goal so it will be included in the Champion version of the game.  Next up is an upgrade to Linen Cards at $35k, Vacuum formed tray at $40k, Thicker Box at $45k and finally the inclusion of the Monk Hero at $65k.  With 24 days to go they are already sitting at 200% of the original goal, and I have to think that Pax South is going to give them a lot of good exposure going forward.  There was a pair of guys who had literally spent about twelve hours over the weekend playing the game… and wound up serving as surrogate coaches when we had so many people wanting to play the game in the Tabletop area.  The rules are pretty simple and easy to pick up, and the game play while actually taking awhile to resolve itself… feels like it moves forward instead of stalling out.  I have to say for something in prototype form… the game felt really damned polished.  The cards and artwork all felt great… with the only complaint being sticker dice.  However the first stretch goal was to upgrade to engraved dice so that will in theory no longer be a thing.  I went with the $39 Champion edition which seems to be the point that the majority of backers are entering at, which in theory should give you access to all six characters and slightly nicer multi-tone dice.  The base game will include four characters: Shadow Thief, Barbarian, Moon Elf and Pyromancer which sits at $29… so I felt that extra $10 was more than warranted even for the shot at two more characters.  Dice Throne was definitely my tabletop game of the show… but in truth I think probably it was my game of the show as a whole.  I highly suggest if you have the opportunity to check this out at any conventions between now and the projected November release date that you grab hold of it with both hands.

Kickstarter Link

 

DAW2016 – Undead Labs

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Developer Appreciation Week is here!  For the uninitiated the concept of Developer Appreciation week dates back to 2010 and was started by Couture Gaming the Blogger formerly known as Scarybooster.  The idea was simple, spend a week talking about all of the things you love about various game development companies and studios.  As a blogger we spend plenty of time pointing out what is wrong in the games we love, and talking about ways that they could be better.  That said it is important to understand that for most of us this critique comes from being a huge fan of the games and genres as a whole.  So during this week we point out the things that are going right and make a point of mentioning all the things we really appreciate out there.  If you too are a blogger please feel free to join in by posting your own Developer Appreciation Week ideas.

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I was first aware of the existence of Undead Labs back in November of 2009 when articles started filtering onto the various MMO news sites that this company had spun off of ArenaNet to create a zombie themed MMO.  Firstly I am a huge fan of all things Undead, and I started watching any news about this upstart company to try and glean bits of information about the upcoming game.  Few things make me happier than slashing my way through hordes of the walking dead, and I’m enough of a fan of the George Romero movies that I have a vial of dirt from the graveyard that the original Night of the Living Dead was filmed in.  With time it was announced that they had set their sights on creating a really solid single player experience instead of an MMO, which honestly was probably a really solid move given that by the time the game would have released…  the MMO market was looking a little shaky.  On June 5th of 2013 the resulting game, State of Decay was released exclusively on the Xbox Live Arcade, and I bought it the moment it was available for purchase.  If you were to craft a perfect Zombie game…  you’d have State of Decay.  I loved everything about it… minus one little detail.  The game felt like it was originally designed to have co-op support if not a fully fleshed out MMO experience.  However as excited as I was about the game I took to my blog and made a post talking about my day one impressions.

Shortly after making the post I had Annie Strain the wife of Undead Labs founder Jeff Strain interacting with me on twitter.  This really told me that this game studio was a little different than the big polished institutions I was used to interacting with.  Everything about Undead Labs seemed like a big family, rather than a business.  I had the fortune to interact with a handful of them at Pax South 2015, as they were ramping up to launch both their pokemon-esc mobile MMO Moonrise and the State of Decay: Year One Survivor Edition.  Just talking with them really brings home this feeling of them all being in this together.  The best part however is that they really do make amazing games, and over the years since State of Decay has launched I have purchased it for so many of my friends.  I even purchased the disc copy of YOSE for my boss, when I found out he had just purchased a Xbox One.  While he is not a big gamer, he was a huge fan of The Walking Dead… and as a result is now also a huge fan of State of Decay.  Once again… the only problem with the game is that it begs to be a multiplayer experience.  We’ve talked about this before on our podcast, but if we could explore that game world with friends it would truly be one of the best games released on any platform.

Another huge boon about Undead Labs is the insanely hard working Sanya Weathers.  If you have been around the MMO industry since the early days, there is a large chance you know that name.  I became aware of her during my time playing Dark Age of Camelot, and always appreciated the job she did trying to wrangle the crazies and help out the folks who really needed assistance.  Within the community management circles she is a bit “infamous” for her blogging days.  Regardless of how you might remember her, she is one of those forces that it wouldn’t matter what company she was working with… I would pay attention to them from that point on.  I am hugely thankful of my own interactions with her during the lead up to, and after Pax South 2015.  I would not have actually had the interview with Undead Labs were it not for her reaching out to me on twitter, and that sort of proactive nature is just awesome.  It was heartbreaking when the Studio announced that they would be cancelling Moonrise because I was right there with them pulling for it to be the next big breakout hit.

One of the folks that I met with during Pax South was Geoffrey Card the Lead Designer for State of Decay.  Since the convention I’ve followed his movement a little more closely and found that he does this amazing series of live streams.  What is awesome about these streams is that he tends to grab various folks from Undead Labs and streams over the pacific timezone lunchtime.  The thing that I find valuable about them is the way that the various folks end up breaking down the games as they are playing them, and deconstruct what elements are really well done and what elements could use improvement.  A lot of the games that I have seen him play are other zombie genre titles, and it feels like he is trying to grok everything that is going on in the title so that he can absorb it like a sponge and burn it down to the purist element to use for inspiration on State of Decay.  As someone who has always been a bit of an armchair designer myself, I find the process valuable and it also serves to give the watchers a bit of a glimpse into the inner workings of the game studio itself at times.  If you are into that sort of thing, I highly suggest you check the stream out sometime.

The best thing about the Developer Appreciation Week construct, is it gives me open season to write love letters to the various companies that I really respect and appreciate.  Undead Labs is one that I knew without a doubt that I would be touching on during this week, and I am really excited to see whatever the next thing is that they are working on.  Part of me is crossing my fingers hoping that we finally get either a co-op experience or a full fledged MMOized State of Decay.  Regardless I will be watching any news about this great studio with interest.

FPS Evolved Genre

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Thoughts for Motiga

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One of the aspects of Pax South 2016 that felt strange for me, was the complete and total lack of Motiga and Gigantic.  I cannot fully express how much of my experience this game was in 2015.  I had a great time hanging out with the Motiga crew thanks to Lonrem brokering a connection, and then kept dragging people to the booth to play Gigantic.  It felt like the sort of MOBA experience I had been looking for.  When I played a tanky character, it felt like playing an MMO tank.  When I played a ranged character, it felt like playing a really good ranged shooter.  I feel like hands down they were the belle of the ball last year, and when I heard about their layoffs in december, and the fact that they were not on the roster for 2016… I started to get concerned.  Since coming back from Pax last year I have been lucky enough to have access to all of the alpha and beta events, but I have to admit I didn’t really play much of it.  For the longest time it just played lousy on my then Geforce 750ti video card…. and now that I have at least upgraded to a 960 I am wondering if maybe it would perform a little better.  As of yesterday however I am really starting to worry for the folks at the company, because according to a Gamasutra article the just underwent some pretty significant staff reduction in a last ditch attempt to get more funding to finish the game.

Now that the NDA has lifted I don’t have to worry quite so much about how I talk about Gigantic.  I really need to reinstall the game and see what its current state happens to be.  The biggest problem  that the game had was that its back end systems were not quite as polished as the front end game play.  Matchmaking was a big issue, and the fact that in order to get valuable feeling matches… you realistically needed to hang out on testing ventrilo and and form some sort of a custom game.  The last time I attempted to boot up the game I sat in a matchmaking queue for thirty minutes and then finally gave up.  My friend Rae apparently has played it more recently, but ran into a pretty elitist player base… with her catching shit for not doing the right thing at the right time.  This is one of those games that is so damned close to really good…. but I worry that maybe they missed their window by a year.  I’ve always said that in order for this game to be really popular it needed to be first to market, since it is essentially launching an untested IP.  The awesome thing is though, that the characters…. well… for lack of a better term have character.  They are interesting and are animated in a way that they spring to life.  This game has what League of Legends has… but so many other games in the MOBA genre have lacked…  personality.  I really hope that they can pull this off, but as always I worry about the folks that were just let go.  This game deserves its time in the sun, and I think it will flourish on consoles….  quite possibly more so than on the PC that already has a fairly entrenched first person MOBA genre.  The critical date however is that they HAVE to beat Overwatch to launch, or they are pretty much toast.  Even thought those two games are vastly different in feel… players are still mentally lumping them all together in this “fps evolved” genre of folks taking the FPS template and doing new things with it.

Overwatch Beta Returns

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Speaking of the 500 lb gorilla that Gigantic has to beat to market…  as of yesterday the Overwatch Beta is back on, and with it has also returned much gnashing of teeth as more folks failed to get in.  At this point I am pretty much resigned that I will not likely get to play until open beta testing at some point.  For a brief period of time I thought that maybe I had access, because in the launcher the install button suddenly started showing up for me.  The only problem being that it was grayed out, and not clickable.  I am guessing this was a temporary glitch because later that evening when I popped into WoW to do my garrison gold farming… it was back to hiding the install button again.  The truth is…  even if I had beta access I probably would not be playing it much.  My recent return to Elder Scrolls Online has taught me that… maybe I am just not a good beta candidate these days.  I absolutely blame the almost two years of regularly ESO testing for my diminished desire to play after getting to the veteran ranks.  I quite literally had burned myself out on all of the newbie content, so that the thought of alting my way through it again just felt painful.  I poured my heart and soul into that testing experience, because I wanted that game to be the best damned game it could be… and honestly judging it today through very clear eyes…  I think it turned out pretty great.

I want to be able to walk into Overwatch and have the game feel free and exciting, and be able to experience the new player rush along with everyone else.  Sure I would love to be able to play the game when the whim hits me right now, but I am not going to be the sort of hard core tester and bug reporter that they really need right now.  In this sort of game, balance and gameplay statistics are key… and they need a sheer volume of data to sift through to be able to shape their design decisions.  So for me… who is going to maybe play the game once a month…  I am not exactly a great resource and if you replaced me with someone who is going to stream the game every night… you would be far better off in the end.  I’ve developed this aversion to playing games before they are officially released.  Now granted… I still do regularly…. but I have begun to learn my lesson.  Torment: Tides of Numenera for example is absolutely available to me to test because I backed the project…. but I have zero desire right now to do so.  I want to play the finished version of the game, when it is “ready for primetime” and not have to sift through crippling bugs.  Maybe my tolerance for “broken games” is less than it used to be… or maybe there are just so damned many things that I want to be playing that spending my time on an unfinished product feels like a waste.  In any case… I am a bad beta tester, and will continue to be super happy for those who are getting invited and enjoying their time playing games like Overwatch.

 

Shamen and Pax South

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Prepping for Pax South

Tis the beginning of the year, and we are now roughly three weeks away from Pax South, and I have to say…. I am a bit concerned.  It is going to be an awesome time no matter what because right now I know of like a dozen friends that are going to be there… so going to have plenty of people to hang out with.  What concerns me though is it seems like Pax South as a whole is a much less hopping place.  By this time last year, all three days of the show were down to “low” rating, and Saturday and the Three Day Passes had been sold out for a very long time.  Additionally they had already posted a picture of the convention floor and who was going to be inhabiting what booth space.  As far as the passes, Saturday was still available on Friday… and just looking at the schedule there don’t seem to be as many “big name” presentations as there were last year.  Last year after all we had the world announcement of Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns happening, as well as I believe the first real information about Sid Meier’s Starships.  Now…  what I see instead is very light on the game content and very heavy on the youtube and stream celebrities.

All of this said I am going to have the best time this year…. because what made last year so much fun was running around with Ashgar and Rae.  This time around I will be running around with Ashgar, Rae, Thalen, Dallian, Damai, Lonrem, Helkim, Paragon, Tick, Rylacus, and hell probably several others that I am failing to rattle off on the top of my head.  It is the people that make the place awesome, and it is my hope to meet up with as many people as I can over the two days I am going to be there.  So if you are planning on going to Pax South please let me know.  I did a poor job of actually connecting with people last year and I hope to fix that.  The other thing that is going to make this year awesome is that I am no longer going to have to worry about somehow abandoning my wife.  Last year she went running around during the day, utilizing the hotels shuttle service, and by all accounts had a lot of fun, or at least enough fun to want to come back again this year.

The problem being that I always felt guilty for leaving her at the hotel and felt the strong pull to rush home at night so we could go out to dinner and such.  This time around we are also bringing one of her friends so she now also has someone to run around with and wander San Antonio.  What is hilarious is… she feels like I am being awesome, and I think its awesome because I will feel less guilty all the time.  This also means I will probably experience a lot of the nighttime content of Pax and go to the concerts and such, and maybe some of the after parties.  Granted on Saturday night I don’t want to be out too late… given that I will be driving the eight or nine hours home on Sunday.  In any case…. if you read the blog or you listen to AggroChat, drop me a line and it is my hope to catch up with as many people during that weekend as I can.  I will be getting into the hotel room late Thursday night, and I am staying about six miles away from the convention center out by the airport… in part because we had a great experience there last year…. and the whole free shuttle service to various destinations thing was awesome for my wife.  So yesterday we did a bit of juggling to change our arrangements, and now have a double suite so it should be awesome.  There was talk last night about maybe trying to get in together and see Force Awakens as a group while down there… since supposedly there is a theater a few blocks away.

Shamanism

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One of the things I am really enjoying about World of Warcraft right now is the ability to fly.  I realize that I was heavily in the “no flight in draenor” camp, and for the most part I still am.  That said… having it makes everything so damned much easier, and questing through the zones is greatly improved.  I feel like WoW content however desperately needs the grounding of players at the beginning of an expansion to keep folks from just blowing through everything instantly.  In the past once you had a single character at the new level cap you could purchase flight for your other characters, and that was a great option….  but an extremely expensive one.  I think personally I like the Draenor Pathfinder option because even though it was a pain in the butt to complete…  now that I have done it the benefit can be used by every single character on my account.  As a whole I am a huge fan of account wide unlocks and they actually make it far more likely for me to play other characters.  In Final Fantasy XIV everything that I have exists on a single character, and as a result I am completely disincentive from trying any more characters.  Same goes for games like Rift that while I have alts…  I always tend to play the same main character because he has the best toys.

I feel like playing an Enhancement Shaman is a little broken…. in a good way.  After having leveled several other characters, this one seems to be the easiest.  I can just straight up shred most mobs without my totems, or heroism….  but then I always have those things waiting in reserve for big mobs and elites.  The speed of killing things is just so damned fast, and since I have crafters that can feed me gear….  walking around with a pair of level 630 blue weapons really makes a huge difference.  I still don’t fully understand why the crafted blacksmith weapons start at 630 unlike the 640 that all of the other gear seems to start at, but in any case I am fine with it…. it is a huge dps boost over the weapons I am getting in the zones.  The thing that I cannot wait for in WoW however is the new transmogging system.  WoWhead, being the awesome folks they always are has put up a preview system to show you all of the transmog gear your characters are going to get granted from quest completion.  I am really really hoping that the new system is account wide like Diablo 3, because there are certain characters like this shaman that simply don’t have a lot of cool gear to work with yet.  I guess I should farm more old world content to get him a decent set to run around in.

Pax South Excitement

Excitement Grows

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Last year Pax South was quite literally the first gaming convention I had ever been too.  Granted I have been to comic conventions and scifi fan conventions over the years…  but never a gaming one.  I didn’t really know what to expect but Liore gave me some advice…  that as soon as you get in the doors the anxiety fades away because you realize that these are “your people”.  I didn’t really believe her until the convention was actually underway… and absolutely I had this overwhelming feeling that everything was going to be just fine.  I never strike up conversations with strangers, yet I found myself idling chatting with people while standing in the queue room like a pro.  There was just this aura of acceptance that I felt, when quite literally anything anyone was into was awesome.  The only problem was that it was quite literally an overload on my senses and while I technically knew a bunch of people at the convention, I only actually managed to meet up with the AggroChat folks that I had planned on meeting up with… and Lonrem from Anook.  Well I guess that is not entirely true because that Friday I had a bunch of press meetups scheduled to talk with various game devs.  At the end of the two days I attended, I was worn out beyond belief… but I was pretty damned happy with my experience.  I had originally decided to try and attend as many local conventions as I could… but ultimately that fell through for one reason or another.

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After having done a Pax I realized that the highlight for me was not necessarily the show, but getting to hang out with people that I do not normally get to hang out with.  It felt like this giant summer camp for gamers and geeks… and it was fairly magical.  With this in mind I set my sights on Pax Prime…  but nothing really went as I had hoped there.  Firstly I missed out on getting tickets, and second we were not accepted for press passes.  Then thirdly…  August is a really bad time for me.  My wife is a school teacher and Pax Prime happens exactly at the beginning of our School year here in Oklahoma.  It would have been extremely rough on my wife for me to have been away during those first weeks of school, when she ends up having to rely on me the most because she is simply stressed beyond the point of coping.  So while I was sad that I didn’t get to attend, I still had hopes that I could con more people into joining me at Pax South this year.  Since I know what is important to me now…  I know what to focus on, and that is planning on meeting up with people.  The problem we ran into was that on the convention floor the cell service was complete crap.  So my theory is that we will need to figure out meet up points ahead of time this year, rather than trying to rely on some sort of impromptu thing.

More People More Fun

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The above picture was hands down the highlight of my Pax experience, not because I we were playing Gigantic really, but more than the three of us were playing together.  The gravy on top is just the fact that we happened to be beating a YouTube celebrity in the process.  Now we zoom forward to yesterday…  they opened the flood gates and started taking sales for the 2016 Pax South in San Antonio Texas.  This time I managed to get in on the three day passes, which there are actually still a few left.  As of right now I know that myself, Rae, her brother, Ashgar, Thalen, Dallian, Lonrem, and Helkim are confirmed going… or at the very least have their tickets in hand.  I am sure in the coming weeks I am going to start hearing of more people going, and I plan on starting up something to keep track of who is going and on what days so that maybe we can meet up and hang out.  I need to start doing some research into what eating options are there in the Riverwalk area, because I absolutely do not want to try and go to that Chillis again out of desperation and hunger.  I am also hoping we can maybe coordinate hotels, because I really liked the one I stayed in last year… but it was out by the airport.  However if there are many of us it would not be an issue at all to carpool into the convention each day.  I feel like I have the whole parking situation under control after having done it last year.  I have to say I am extremely excited, and hoping this one is going to be bigger and better than last year.  I mean this is the only Pax that does not sell out in a matter of minutes…  so honestly I am fine with that.  The concept of trying to get tickets to any other Pax seems like a stressful situation.  I realize it is still months away, but I want to try and make the best of this coming years show.

 

 

In Mourning

So It Happened

statesman_dead A couple of days ago I talked about the present rumor that AOL would be shutting down all of its enthusiast press websites… as far as we are concerned that was Joystiq, Massively and WoW Insider.  Yesterday I first saw that it was officially in reading Brianna Royce’s touching announcement on Massively.  I have to saw that as well written as it was… it was breaking my heart to be reading it.  At this point I am not really sure how much of meaning I have to say about it.  It just flat sucks, and seems to follow the model that everything AOL lays its hands on goes to shit.  The most frustrating part is that it seems so senseless considering that from what I could tell all of the publications were doing swimmingly, in spite of draconic and ham-handed budget cuts.  I feel bad because I really did not follow Joystiq at all, but I did however read Massively and WoW Insider on a near daily basis.

While I didn’t always agree with every article, I felt like the site needed to exist.  There is a blogger that I am not even going to dignify by naming, that seems to be dancing on their grave with their “I Hope Massively Shuts Down” post.  I am done with that site and anything associated with it, and I think it was the last straw for a lot of people who had long only half heartedly followed it.  In fact I am officially done with rant blogs in any fashion.  But all of this is side tracking me from the purpose of today’s post.  I feel strongly that all of these writers will find homes either in community work or on another gaming website.  Today I compiled the list of twitter accounts for the writers that had them, for Massively and WoW Insider.  I figure this is the best way to follow people and see what they end up doing over the coming months.  February third will be the final day of all of the Joystiq connected sites.

Massively Cast

WoW Insider Cast

Pax South Panel Rundown

I had happy things to talk about in Final Fantasy XIV… but quite honestly after writing the first part of today’s post I am really not amped up and prepared to write them.  Instead I am going to close out today’s post with something I have been working on over the last few weeks.  One of the cool things about the age we live in is that sooner or later most things end up on Youtube.  For those that did not have the benefit of travelling to San Antonio for the inaugural Pax South show… or if you are like me and missed a bunch of the panels because you were doing other things…  I thought I would compile a list of everything that I could find online.  I did not record any of these and as such I do not take any responsibility for the quality… but this is the best of what I could find.

Game Panels

Conversation Panels

I am still missing a LOT of panels, but as I find them I will try and update the list to include them.  One of the big problems that I saw was that Gearbox and Bioware were pretty much doing their own things… and NONE of their panels were listed on the official Pax South registry, making it really hard to catch them.  I am really hoping I can find recordings of some of the ones by Bioware, but for those I don’t even know the name of said presentations to go off of.  If you know of any obvious ones that I am missing, I would appreciate a comment below to let me know.  In any case, I hope you have an awesome weekend and that you go out and do awesome things…  to help us forget that our gaming ecosystem is suffering a loss.

Highlights of Pax South

The Day After

sleepybelondrivehome This mornings post is coming out super late because…  I slept in.  After feeling like I had worked the last few days, I was super thankful to have taken Monday off.  The positive is that since I had gotten up every morning at 5:30 it should not be too hard to shift back into work mode tomorrow.  To the left is a photo I took yesterday when we were gassing up at the altar of excess… the New Braunfels Buc-ee’s.  We decided since it was a short distance from San Antonio that we would stop there for breakfast and gas up for the trip.  So here you have a very sleepy Bel who had not slept terribly well the night before.  When I came back to my hotel room I was kind of riding an adrenaline high from day two.  This meant that nothing that I did seemed to be able to calm my mind down enough to sleep.  Normally this is the point when I get up and play some game, but our hotel internet connection was fairly slow, and I did not really want to go through the process of having to verify to WoW or FFXIV that I was connecting from a foreign IP…  also I had already packed up all of my gear in preparation for getting up early the next morning.

Because all the pre-packing we managed to get on the road about 6:30 am and drove through to Waco before taking our first stop (other than Buc-ee’s) which bought us quite a bit of time.  One of the things I want to ask my Texan friends…  what the fuck is with the lean beef sausage?  I thought maybe the BBQ joint in Austin was an aberration, but upon stopping at Buc-ee’s I got two Kolaches and both were this super lean, super dense beef sausage.  Firstly sausage should be pork, but even that aside it should be a FATTY meat… because otherwise it is just like eating this dry meat log.  That said compared to my beloved QuikTrip I was not terribly impressed with either my or my wife’s breakfast choices.  They got a massive strike from my wife in that they did not have any donuts…  they had EVERYTHING you could imagine, but no donuts.  Anyways lackluster breakfast and fairly insane prices aside…  we had a pretty chill trip back.  I think in part it was the desire to get home that kept me going.  So we stopped in Waco, Allen, Durant to hit a Gas Station, Atoka to hit an old school non-supercenter style Wal-mart and then pushed straight through to home.   So we were on the road from 6:30 am until somewhere between 4:30 and 5 pm.  Considerably better time than the trip out.

Highlights of Pax South

ashgarandpip I have to say hands down the best thing to come out of Pax South was getting to meet my long time friend, guildie, and podcasting compatriot Ashgar in person.  There are always those awkward moments when you see someone in the flesh that you already know their vocal mannerisms as your mind adjusts to seeing a body attached to them… but that faded extremely  quickly.  I snapped a photo of him dominating a cool indie game, and I believe it was snapped without him really knowing I took it… but considering he didn’t seem to mind the picture from yesterday going ahead and posting it anyways.  For the last several years this man has been one of my closest friends, and I cannot wrap up the magic that was meeting him in person and realizing that yup he is in fact exactly like how I expected him to be in the flesh.  I am of course sad that we only got to hang out that one day… but it was a pretty awesome day.

oldgregWhile I didn’t stop and take pictures of many of them… I have to say seeing all the people dressed up as things they loved was another huge plus of the experience.  The entire convention has this entire vibe of “everything is awesome”.  The past year has been a rough spot for gamers as a whole, and I was pleasantly surprised that I did not witness any creepy or reprehensible behavior.  I did witness a socially awkward kid addressing a woman dressed as Teemo as “hot teemo” but a random guy from the crowd stepped up to say “man you are being a little creepy” and the socially awkward kid apologized and walked away.  The thing that made me the happiest were the pairs of fathers and daughters roaming around the convention… when you could tell the daughter was the one who was really excited to be there.  Pax South gave me a lot of hope for the future, and I am sure there were bad things that came out of the con, like there are anywhere…  but it did not at least seem to be super prevalent.  The photo to the side was so spectacular that I stopped and asked the guy if he minded me taking it.  For those who are not familiar… this is a spot on “Old Gregg” from The Mighty Boosh.  To make things even better… he pretty much nailed the Old Gregg voice and mannerisms as well.  Was kinda bummed that he did not offer me warm baileys from a shoe.

Another moment that was absolute magic was sitting in the crowd waiting for the Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns announcement.  I am not even a fan of Guild Wars 2 really… and I even felt pumped to see what was going on.  They had left these inflatable “thunder sticks” with the Guild Wars 2 logo on them.. and folks were using them to great benefit.  The noise was deafening so I attempted to take a video to give folks an example.  Moments before Jennifer Hale took the stage the crowd had started a slower rhythmic thump which was awesome.  I’ve seen a number of expansion announcements before but it is difficult to grasp the hype of the moment while watching a twitch stream from the comfort of your home.  I was roughly six to eight rows back in the dead center of the auditorium and the excitement was just infectious.  I have no clue if I will play Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns at launch, but having Jennifer Hale come out to work up the crowd was an awesome choice.  She as always is a badass.  Even if I don’t play the game, I am happy I got to participate in its announcement.

Belle of the Ball

I have to break this photo out again, because it makes me so happy to have a picture of Rae, Ash and Me playing Gigantic.  This game was really my own personal “best in show”, in part because it was not something I expected to like at all.  They really did an outstanding job both in the staging of the product, their booth, and building buzz around the convention.  They also had what looked to be a pretty awesome party Saturday night.  I swung by for a bit to say hi, but knowing I had a long drive ahead of me I simply did not stay for long.  That party honestly was the only time during the entire weekend that crowds got to me… but that was in part due to the fact that it was quite literally standing room only.  Finding enough free space to move around between the various areas of the room was a bit of a challenge and folks had spilled out onto the nearby balcony as well. giganticbooth Everyone I dealt with from Motiga the company behind Gigantic was simply awesome and welcoming.  It was so many things that made them my pick of the show, for starters it is a game I had no real interest in but only sat down to play it due to my personal connection to Lonrem who was helping them out that weekend.  The booth downstairs was impressive, and really dominated the floor which is saying something considering both Twitch and Intel had some pretty intense booths as well.  On top of that… the lines to play this game were insane.  At one point Saturday the line almost wrapped around twice.  I’ve never been one to watch other people play games… I don’t watch a lot of twitch unless the caster is a friend of mine.  While my circle of friends are big into watching the LCS play in League… I get bored within a few minutes of a match starting.  However at various points during the weekend I found myself hanging out upstairs in the scrimmage room just watching the various teams playing.  I found myself drawn to this game in ways I can’t quite grasp.

gigantic_scrimroom2 Largely I think this is in part because the game is visually exciting to watch.  There is constant action and the characters are animated beautifully.  Every attack you perform feels important, because there is weight to the animations that make them feel epic.  Another huge thing for me was just how “at home” I felt with the controls.  During the first match I picked up the controls of The Margrave within a few seconds and landed the first kill of the game.  It felt and controlled exactly like I thought that character should.  In my second game I wanted to try a champion, only to find it was already taken… so picked Roland on a whim.  I don’t normally like ranged characters, but I felt Roland’s mid to short range game play compelling with the hookshot escape mechanism to get away when things went bad.  So there I was playing a ranged character and loving it, in spite of it going against everything I traditionally like in games.  I have a feeling I could probably pick up ANY character and find something I liked about it.  The skill sets just seem to have a lot of depth to them, and the various specializations give players way to tweak them and make them their own.  I am really looking forward to seeing more of this game as it moves forward towards the planned late 2015 release.

AggroChat 41 and Pax Day Two

A Tale of Two Days

PaxPlaysPokemonIt was not until today that I realized that yesterday at Pax was a bit of a downer.  I had a lot of fun playing around with various games that I had media appointments with, and I am so happy I caught moments like “Pax South Plays Pokemon” where a guy in a costume was accepting and mimicking commands just like Twitch Plays Pokemon.  The problem is I mostly focused on the four appointments I had, and treated the day like I was working the convention.  In theory I guess I was but the biggest thing that lead to this feeling was the fact that more or less I was completely alone.  Sure there were people at the convention that knew but since I was so focused on making sure I was on time for the four meetings I didn’t really focus on mingling much other than with the random strangers I stood in line with.  That was one of the things I found most interesting is just how comfortable I felt around strangers.  I think part of it is that I knew if conversation did happen… it would at least be about something I was probably knowledgeable.  It was like the entire weekend was this safe little bubble of geeks and dorks… and we all inherently sense we were among our own kind, and somehow safe.

gigantic_aggrochat_trio Today however was a completely different experience.  Upon arriving there I got into the line for the Guild Wars 2 expansion reveal, and immediately after that I met up with Ashgar who was also watching the panel but had arrived late.  Shortly after that we met up with Rae and her brother and from that point on at least two of us were together at all times.  This completely changed the entire dynamic of the show for me.  Instead of being about milling around looking for something interesting… it became about having this grand adventure with friends.  I of course had to sho them everything I thought was cool from day one, which involved trying to get them a play session of Gigantic.  Sure enough the folks were amiable to the idea of having two more members of the podcast playing.  While I wasn’t really expecting to play along as well we all ended up on a team opposite Angry Joe of the Angry Joe Show.  It seems like the Gigantic Live twitter feed caught us playing, and while it was an extremely hard fought match our team pulled ahead in the end and seized the day.  For those playing at home… faces right to left at the machines are Myself, Ashgar, and Rae…  with the every awesome Lonrem beside Rae offering words of advice.

Heart of Thorns

This morning of course was the big announcement of the Guild Wars 2 expansion pack.  The fact that it was happening was of no real surprise because apparently the ending of this most recently living story episode concluded with some heavy hints about the expansion.  What was a surprise to me at least is that Arena Net seems to be shoving aside the MMO tradition of releasing an expansion and raising the level cap.  Instead they are introducing an alternate progression path called Masteries.  This system will apparently be account based so once something is unlocked it is available to all of your characters.  Some of the unlocks will be quality of life things like a new hang gliding skill, and others will be as game changing as brand new specializations.  The only one that they gave examples of is that the Ranger will apparently be able to specialize into a Druid giving them access to staff weapon type and brand new druid abilities.

gw2boomstickhype The other big announcement for me at least is that they are adding a third heavy armor class to the game.  It seems their flagship character Rytlock has gone through a transformation turning him a warrior to the brand new revenant class.  It seems the revenant focuses on channeling the mist and gives access to retelling certain legends that give it special abilities.  In the video above it shows him summoning a giant dragon spirit, or dashing around the battlefield striking all targets.  I have to say both the trailer and the expansion content sounded cool, but at the same time I know my history with Guild Wars 2 in general.  I am not sure if the revenant is enough to make me care about the game, but it is at least a step in the right direction since I love me some “shadowknight” style classes.  They plan on trickling out information between now and the expansion about what will await players in Maguuma.  I had to share the above photo because people were pumped for the show… they gave us these boom stick things and folks were putting them to good use.

AggroChat 41 – AggroChat Game Club

Since we will be on the road super early in the morning I am writing this post after coming home from my last day at Pax South.  I had a phenomenal time and spent the day hanging out with some of my favorite people on the planet.  However since myself, Ashgar and Rae were all at Pax this weekend… we were unable to do our normal aggrochat recording thing.  We actually got our shit together and planned ahead for this eventuality and recorded double episodes last saturday night releasing the first as AggroChat 40, and then I have just published the second episode tonight through the magic of “publish on date” functionality.  With the second part we are announcing a new idea we had.  The idea is relatively simple… we have a book club but with games.  We will pick a game, play it through a given month and then record a show where we spoil everything allowing us to tear into the game completely.  We did this some time ago for Transistor, where we recorded a very non-spoiler show first… and later recorded a deep dive show about the plotline.

Leading up to this show we each compiled a list of games we wanted to nominate for the inaugural game club game.  During the course of this show I made the folks who posted each game defend their title, explaining why they thought it would be a good pick.  At the end of the show we arrive at title, but I am not going to spoil what our pick is just quite yet.  You can of course skip to the tail end of the show and find out for yourself really quickly, but where would the fun be in that?  In any case whatever game we chose… on Saturday February 28th we will record a game descending into the title and picking it clean.  From this point on we will figure out a more equitable scheme for picking games, to make sure we also get some “non-consensus” titles but I figured for the first pick it was probably good to grab a game we were all wanting to play.  As we play the game I encourage our listeners to play along and then share your comments about the game, but I will give more details on that later.  In any case… I am going to close down this evenings post and start packing up.  It was a great weekend at pax, but I am amped for life to return to normal, so see you all soon in the regularly scheduled social channels!