The Beginner’s Guide

The Beginner’s Guide

*This post will contain spoilers for The Beginner’s Guide, because I truly know of no way to express my feelings about this game without them*

Tam and Bel have given their take on The Beginner’s Tale, so I guess it’s my turn.  Both of them identified a bit with Davey and Coda in this game, and in private discussions with them they feel it’s symbolic of the internal struggle of a creative.

I think that’s a fine read of the game, but it’s not mine.  At my miserable ugly core I am Davey, a “friend” who is desperately trying to fix his friend’s problems and ruining everything in the process.  It’s an old habit of mine, one that with lots of patience from my wife I have managed to bury that side of me, but the desire to “fix” problems is still always there, and if I am not on guard for it, it will resurface.

For me The Beginner’s Guide is an indictment of this behavior, as well as the way we project our own image upon our friends, and ultimately the damage caused when those projections become part of that friend’s identity.

My Great Anxiety

I have a group of friends that I have managed to acquire via interactions on the Internet, and they are incredibly precious to me.  In my life I have not always been a great friend. I’ve lost track of some, I’ve insulted others, and I’ve lost enough that I am always afraid of the ephemeral nature of any relationship. I struggle with knowing how to comfort a friend in pain, which is why I so often tried to compensate by fixing problems.

I have recently moved across country in part so I could be closer to some of these friends, and one of my deepest fears was once they met me in person they would realize what an awful person I was, and I would lose that connection that is so important to me.

The Beginner’s Guide is about a friend who does everything wrong, and ultimately loses the most important thing, the connection to the friend he values. It happens because he is so sure he can see what is wrong with his friend, projecting onto him based on the games he keeps making, and his own worship of him.  Davey has placed Coda on a pedestal, and worships at it, ascribing meaning and genius to things that has none, and these expectations are ones that Coda in turn incorporates into his own self-image, which causes him to lose the joy he once took in building games.

Davey tries to solve this depression by showing these incredibly personal games to others, to get others on board with this self-projected image of Coda as the brilliant auteur game dev, which is the opposite of what Coda wants or needs and the last level is the ultimate severing of their relationship, in which Coda explicitly tells Davey that he doesn’t want anything to do with him again.

At my core I am Davey, and yet as I struggle to not be that person, I couldn’t help but feel enraged that this person would make me complicit in his own ultimate betrayal of what Coda wanted. The game is called The Beginner’s Guide, and I took that to be The Beginner’s Guide to Friendship, laying out a cautionary tale from which lessons must be learned.

Like Tam, I don’t know that I can recommend this game, because it won’t be for everyone, but if you are looking for a work that will make you step back and do some hard, painful self-examination, this will do that.

The light at the end of the tunnel

Last night we spent a third of the raid time killing Ifrit which took us about 4 tries to get past all the pitfalls, and then the rest of the time was back into turn 9.

Turn 9 has taken a weird progression.  Every individual phase is this giant monumental task and when you finally get past it you hope “can we now just kill this stupid boss?”  We took about a month before we finally got the boss into phase 4, and the hope was very much “can we now just kill this stupid boss?”

Phase 4 is by far the most demanding thing I’ve ever been asked to do in a raid.  I have the job of marking dive bombs, which means in addition to doing an incredibly intricate dance around the arena to deal with boss mechanics, I am also expected to place the ground markers for dive bombs.  Dive bombs can take 3 different configurations and based on which one it is in, I have to mark different areas.

This is what we should do
This is the chart I keep on my second monitor so I can direct the raid to the safe spots

 

Last night we had one attempt where I had marked both locations in enough time and we had enough people up.  All we needed to do was get past dive bombs and everything was rinse and repeat.

We did not get past dive bombs, but what I did glimpse was the possibility of us beating this fight.  I saw the light at the end of this tunnel.

What we actually do
A diagram representing how our raid actually handles divebombs

We’ve been working on Turn 9 for almost three months now, and the fact that we are still playing this game and don’t hate each other is a testament to both the game, our leader, and our group’s resilience.

On Wednesday I get to dive right back in with a pretty green group, so I look forward to learning the fight all over again.

Wish me luck!

Tactics and Strategy: Triple Triad

I have been playing a fair amount of Triple Triad this week, and I like to think I’m somewhat good at it.  I don’t actually know this for sure, and given the AI’s propensity to just throw games away, plus the fact that their decks are strictly better than yours, being able to declare myself as good based on wins seems dodgy at best.

All that said, here’s some of the tactics and strategies I’ve been employing to win games and get myself to 30 cards.

Opening Moves

For all of these games, I’m going to treat them as if they were all Open, meaning we know the opponents cards in hand.  In fact, even closed games we should know their card pool because it’s typically never larger than about 8 cards.  This lets us figure out what moves they can make in response to us.  I’m going to avoid talking about the Plus/Same game types because I’m still not very solid on those.

I keep going back and forth on how to recommend turn 1 plays.  I tend to play a soft card in the corner that I want play to proceed from. There is definitely an argument for playing a safe card and punting to the opponent, but I find your only safe card is your most valuable card and I want to save that for potential blowouts later.

When I say a soft card, I mean a card that has low enough numbers that I can reliably play a card on either side of it to capture it.  The plan here is let my opponent take it, and then I take it back.  This means that card can’t be turned anymore and I have a secure point on the board, and I probably haven’t spent any power cards to get there.

So the question becomes “what corner do I want to drop this card?”.  My suggestion is you pick the corner that best plays into your other cards.  If you have more high number on the top and right sides of your hand, open in the top right corner.  This is very much an “offense over defense” strategy, but you are playing against such higher card quality that aggressive trades, 2-for-1s, and being able to exploit the AI throwing a match are how you win.  Against the AI offense is much better than defense overall.

Mid Game

Mid Game really begins after the first card is played.  Hopefully you can capture that card.  If you can’t or it isn’t worth it, refer back to the previous section and try to re shift the game to a board state you can manage.  Just realize you are fighting very uphill at this point.

Other than that, moves become a matter of optimizing the difference between your turn and their turn.  Knowing their cards in hand helps quite a bit with this.

This means that you aggressively pursue moves that flip 2 cards even if it exposes you to having an easy card flipped.  If you have no available takes, you try to fill in holes on the board that would expose you to such attacks.  All you need to do in order to win a game is take one additional card over your opponent.  Once you are at that step, it becomes more important to go even than to try and aggressively pursue plays.

And as you are playing NPCs with much better decks, don’t despair.  If you are able to get an early lead, it’s entirely possible for them to just throw the game away.

Closing it out

Your second to last play is when it becomes most important to know how the opponent can respond.  In some cases, you might need to just put a card in a vulnerable spot to protect a lead.  Sometimes, you need to be able to take a card know that yours will be taken by something you can take in response.  This is when knowing what is in the opponents hand becomes most critical.

I hope this helps some folks out with the game.  I’m going to be streaming some Triple Triad today at my twitch channel, so feel free to join along and ask any questions or give any critiques.

 

Citizens of Earth: A Labor of Love

So by now you may have listened to the AggroChat podcast on our Game Club game for February, Citizens of Earth.  If not, you I’ve embedded it below.

We were pretty harsh on this game, and I for good reason, but since recording the episode I’ve felt a vague sense of unease about it.  Anthony Burch wrote a great piece for Kotaku that puts to words some of my feelings.  Someone put an incredible amount of effort towards building this game, and tearing it down like that is disheartening.

But I think one of the things that bugs me the most is that it’s the type of game that I would probably make if I was given the resources to make a game without the experience of a career in game development.  You’ll notice we compare it to Earthbound and Pokemon quite a bit, and it definitely has that feel of someone taking these two well beloved games from their youth and trying to pay them homage.  The jokes are definitely more centered towards a cynical jaded adult, satirizing politics and modernity, but the aesthetics and gameplay feel geared more towards a game I played as a kid.

So many of the problems with this game feel like the result of love, not laziness. The people building this game were clearly deeply in love with the game they were building, and that made them attached to parts that needed to be cut.  When reality crept in they attempted to salvage what they needed to kill.

Tam and I use to chat about casual game design ideas, and one his personal disciplines he practiced was attacking his own ideas as hard as he could, and determining if there was anything worth salvaging from them before he presented it to anyone else. The concept that there is no sacred cow in game design was very important. Citizens of Earth feels like it is full of sacred concepts that the devs were too attached to do what was ultimately necessary to make a good game.

I think Citizens of Earth failed not due to laziness, or ignorance, but because of love, and personally that makes the whole affair that much more tragic.  I hope the team takes the lessons from this project with them into their next one. I look forward to playing it.

Great is the enemy of Good

Or really anything at all.  I don’t know that I thought this blog as anything that was ever “great” or even “good” but I sure do know that part of my slump lately is that I look at my peers blogs (Belghast, Tamrielo) I see a bar set so high that I feel incapable of even failing to achieve it gracefully.

I am terrified of failure.  I am ever more terrified of failing in such an embarrassing way.  This is something I need to work to overcome, because if I’m ever going to grow as a person, the path is probably going to be through constant failure, not constant success.

Dragon Age and Racism

Boy this is a topic I’ve wanted to write about but I gotta preface it with this: I am scared.  Racism is a big topic that I feel like no one wants to talk about and generally gets angry with me when I do.  When it comes to privileged classes I am near the top: White, male, cisgendered, heterosexual, college educated, born into an upper middle class family, employed at a job that offers a salary and benefits, married.  Social justice is something I care about a great deal, because I am offended by any statement that “the world isn’t fair” that isn’t followed up with “but we should strive to make it so.”  I am acutely aware that trying to talk about any of these topics from a position of authority is foolish, so I’m not going to.

I’m going to talk about what how Dragon Age offers me a brief glimpse into the life of someone less privileged.  I have played as two characters in Dragon Age: Origins: A city elf rogue and a elf mage.  I quit my rogue around Lothering because I was frustrated with the gameplay.  I’m currently in Orzammar on my mage.  Both of these characters show you the story of two characters trapped by circumstances beyond their control.  It’s been too long since I played a city elf, so I’m going to mostly talk about my mage.

As a mage, I open the game being told that my lot in life is as an effective prisoner of a religious order of Templars.  I was likely taken from my family at a young age as soon as it was revealed I was a mage.  I start the game going through a semi-mandatory rite of passage that would have ended with me being executed had I failed.  I got a chance to strike up a conversation with my would be executioner, who expressed happiness that he didn’t have to kill me.  Everything you do in the intro reminds you that you exist at pleasure of the Templars, and they will end your life if they feel it necessary.  The sense of oppression permeates the scene, and I couldn’t help but gleefully take my leave when the Grey Warden offered it.

It’s funny, my first playthrough I remember hating Duncan, but that’s because the circumstances as a city elf are a bit less cheerful.

It is funny, as the game started I felt the oppressive weight of anti-mage sentiment.  As the game continued I realized that while the Templar were generally awful, at least they didn’t seem quite as prejudiced against elves as nearly everyone else is.

Elves are the outcasts, servants, beggars and slaves of this world.  City guards call us Knife-ears, a slur that actually hurt me when I first heard it.  My authority as a world leader is consistently questioned because of my heritage.  As a human, guards will treat you with immediate deference.  As an elf I constantly hear “I don’t really know how I’m supposed to treat you.  I mean, you are an elf.”

Even my close companions are not immune.  Leliana approached me one night to talk about my childhood, and she ended the conversation attempting to explain how elves in Orlais are so much better off as slaves than as free elves.  Morrigan, who was my one time lover, would sneeringly refer to Zevram simply as “elf” when she wanted to dismiss him.

My own rage against the world is a product of my personal upbringing.  I was never required to live the life of someone with less privilege.  My reaction to the game is that I wish I could just let the whole world burn for it’s crimes against my people.  And I also realize that if this wasn’t a fantasy game, a game where I am expected to win, the people would revolt against that.  The power structures I am unifying would unify against me, and I realize the trap that this is.  I feel hopeless, and I don’t know what to do.

I hope this ramble makes some sense.  I’m going to avoid any further line drawing to real life and just say that Dragon Age: Origins, a game I hated, has made me reconsider my own upbringing and that of my fellow humans.

I can’t wait to play an elf in DA: 2.

What’s that?  Humans only?

/sigh

Speaking up

(this post contains spoilers for Halo: Combat Evolved, Destiny and Bioshock.  You should play or have played at least Bioshock before continuing)

I’ve spent the majority of September in silence, partially because Blaugust burned me out something fierce, partially because every time I had something to talk about I saw it discussed better elsewhere, and partially because I have been trying to come up with something to discuss the #gamergate brouhaha.  I keep trying to write about it but I get depressed and quit halfway through.  So in the spirit of getting back to writing I’m gonna just talk about games, starting with Destiny which I’ve been playing quite a bit through the month of september, and I’ll do so without retreading any of the gamergate drama.  So let’s get started.

Destiny is a first person shooter game that subversively promotes xenophobia.

…Damn, that didn’t last for very long.

Destiny and Context

Destiny is a game about shooting things, which is fine, lots of games are about shooting things.  Where Destiny fails is it doesn’t impress upon you why you are shooting these things.  You wake up by a floating robot, who guides you to a gun and instructs you to start killing these aliens.  The first moment you meet these aliens, you have a gun trained on them.  This isn’t an optional thing either, the game forces you to get a gun, and forces you to have it aimed.  It makes perfect sense that they would attack you.  The game then instructs you to kill them, and keep killing them.  I regularly come out of a mission with over 100 kills to me name.  I just checked my Legend and it says I have over 4000 kills of sapient creatures on my hands.  That is a lot of blood that I killed, and I honestly didn’t even think about it.  This game is very good at just telling you to go shoot these dudes because they look like dudes you should shoot.  They look different from you, they sound different from you, so you should kill them.  I don’t have any visibility to what they’ve done to me, or to my faction.  There is a singular neutral city, and I don’t see them besieging it on all sides.  What I do see is us, the “good guys” going out into these remote locations and killing as many of them as we possibly can.  And then we get a score for that.

Remembering Halo

In many ways Destiny reminds me of Halo: Combat Evolved.  In that game, you know that you are at war with Covenant, but your enemies motives are completely unknown.  As a result, you kill your way through hundreds of these aliens without really knowing why, and eventually you awaken the Flood, unleashing an ancient horror across the galaxy.  In the later games you find out that what you just did is exactly what the Covenant were trying to avoid, and maybe if you could have communicated without shooting each other this whole bloody mess could’ve been avoided.  Halo still has a lot of contextless killing in it, but it couches that with the mid game turn that you are responsible for awakening this cosmic horror.

Would you kindly

The whole thing reminds me of Bioshock, which is as much a game about video games (and FPSes specifically) as it is about objectivism.  At the end of the game it reveals that the character you are playing has been mind-controlled to follow the instructions of anyone who asks them ‘would you kindly’ do something.  This is enforced by the game requiring you to perform those actions before progressing, but that’s not a specific thing about Bioshock, that’s true about all first person games, and when you don’t understand the in-game context for why you are doing this, I can’t help but feel like I’m being controlled by the game.  This is especially true of Destiny, and a regularly imagine the Ghost asking me if I would kindly go kill those aliens.

What’s the point?

The point is that games are about something, even when they aren’t supposed to be.  I really have concerns when a game asks me to turn my brain off and just accept what’s happening, for the same reason I’m not thrilled when shows ask me to turn my brain off and then show me advertisements.  When you aren’t actively thinking about something you are more suggestible, and especially when you are a younger you aren’t equipped to critically think about things.  This is why I take big offense to the current trend of demanding games not be about anything.  Games are always about SOMETHING whether or not you want them to be or not, and I would much rather play a game that the developers consciously knows what they are trying to say.

This has been a pretty political blogpost, and I wouldn’t expect most of them to be like this going forward.  I’ll probably still post occasionally about the issue on twitter, but in the future I’ll try to be less specific.

 

This is the end, my only friend

Today we celebrate the end of Blaugust.  At first I figured I would try it because it was a great way to challenge myself to blog some more, but over the course of it the thing I feel most appreciative for is the amount I learned about writing.  I tend to overwork whatever I’m writing and never get anything done.  This month made me get something out there, even if it was raw and emotional and maybe not what I wanted to write.

But often it was what I needed to write.

Thanks for all the fish

First, thanks to Belghast, for organizing this whole crazy thing.  We’d never have gotten started if it weren’t for him.

Second, thanks to Ashgar, who kept riffing with me on a number of posts.

Big thanks to both Cannot Be Tamed and Alternative Chat for their questionnaires which gave me some structure to post my thoughts into.  It was a huge help and I had a blast with both of those questions.

Finally thanks to everyone who commented on posts, retweeted me, and all my new friends on Twitter.  The new social circle is the prize that is most valuable to me out of this whole exercise.

Moving Forward

I’m probably going to start blogging on a twice a week basis, with probably more cogent blog posts.  I will be trying to keep up writing in general, but I have enough things I need to sit down and work on that I am not short of projects.

I’m sure there will be something going up for the end of Blaugust, so should definitely check out the Nook.

 

Games I have been playing

So, I’ve been playing a crazy amount of Final Fantasy XIV.  Enough that I haven’t had much to really talk about on this blog on the topic of games, because I’ve been mostly just doing the grinding elements of the end game to get geared up.  I am now geared up.

STUPID FRIGGING BELLY WINDOW
Pictured: Me geared up

I’ve been playing this game for a solid two weeks, and I’ve still got content to work through, but between Hunts and Roulettes it’s felt kinda grindy.  I’ll probably dial down my play over the next week just in time for me to have my life consumed by Destiny.  That said, in an attempt to get some other games in, I purchased last weeks Humble Bundle and started to play through some of those games.

Ready, Fight

One Finger Death Punch was the game in the bundle I was the most interested in.  It looked very pretty, and is ultimately a pattern matching game.  I like the rhythm games it shares it’s DNA with so I tried it out.

That’s a video of me completing on of the standard levels.  All I do is press X or B on my controller when an enemy or object is in my reach.  This actually has more game to it than you might realize as some mobs will dodge attacks and require specific patterns to fight, and some weapons work in different ways.  In the middle you will see me kicking a ball at enemies that instakills them and keeps coming back so long as my timing is good.

It’s a great game and makes for a hell of a spectacle.

Enemy Mind

I loaded this game up and played through the first level.  It feels like an old arcade style shooter, but with the gimmick of constantly changing your ship for an enemies.

Tyrian is the only one of this genre I ever really got into, and enemy mind doesn’t really sway me either.  I had some fun, but the short duration I could keep any given ship meant I kept ending up back in ships I didn’t want.  I’ll give it another try, but this one didn’t work for me on my initial playthrough.

Home stretch

One more day of Blaugust to go.  I’ll probably post some sort of wrap-up on this whole thing tomorrow.  Thanks for reading throughout this month, and once again, check out the Nook for related posts.

Loss of identity

So, this week has been really really weird.  We entered it in the middle of a twitter shit storm over Zoe Quinn, and then Feminist Frequency released her newest video, women as background decoration, part 2.

(Warning for anyone who might watch that, it’s full of graphic depictions of violence against women.)

Anyways, that sparked off yet another tidal wave of internet bile, leading to her staying with friends after a particularly credible rape/death threat, and then something really interesting started to happen.  Big names in video games started standing up against this trash.  The counter push was on, but the overwhelming narrative I got was that “this is what gamers are.”

That made me sad.  I’ve said a couple times on this blog in the past month that I identify as a gamer, to the point that I feel trapped by that identification.  Heck, I just realized I put the stupid label in my brand.  And I’ve been kicking around what that means for me and my identity.

Growing up

Yesterday I went on Omegle to chat with strangers about video games.  It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, but I like the random chats that sometime sprout up in that environment.  I would typically ask what games they played.  I kept getting responses of Call of Duty: Ghosts, or GTA 5.  I haven’t played a Call of Duty game since modern warfare 2, and I haven’t enjoyed a GTA game ever.  It got me thinking, maybe I’m less of a gamer than I think.

This led me to look at other media.  There may have been at one point a universal culture that existed around movie goers, but that is not the case now.  All of my friends have at least some movie they like, and some of my friends like movies enough that they want to be more invested, but those movie buffs tend to have genres, or subcultures within movies they subscribe to.

Maybe that’s the way we’re going with video games.  Gamer is too ubiquitous to be valuable now.  Heck, just today Destiny announced a newsweek magazine for the game.

newsweek

 

We’ve seen figures from the mainstream insert themselves into the gaming conversation.  Games are growing and they are becoming accepted and that’s what we should be so happy for.  But as I watch, I have to prepare my identity for the new shifts that this will bring.

Belghast talked about this in his blog today, but our identities are going to be diverging.  I might wear the label of “Games Blogger”, or “MMO Gamer”, or more likely “Indie Gamer”.  I’m probably going to find myself looking for the arthouse style games, trolling the humble bundle sites for those great little morsels.  This thought gives me new life, as I watch the old label consumed in a fire of hate, knowing that there is at least a path forward.

First Turn Advantage

So this week’s Extra Credits did a great discussion on First Turn Advantage in turn based games.  It’s pretty solid and you should definitely check it out.

Today I’m going to talk about this issue as it presents in the My Little Pony card game.

Presenting the problem

So the win condition of the My Little Pony card game is to be the first player to reach 15 points.  There are a number of ways to do this but the most straight forward is by confronting problems.  There are at any given time two problems available on the board.  The problems require you to play friends to those problems in certain quantities in order to score points.

pony_problems

 

That card in the middle is the problem.  On my side it tells me I need 2 Orange and 2 Purple power to confront.  On the other side it tells my opponent he needs 6 total power to confront.  On our turn, when we have this power threshold met, at the end of the turn we score 1 point.  If we are the first player to confront that problem, we score additional bonus points, in this case 2 points.

You play friends to these problems by using action tokens.  Action tokens trickle in at a steady rate at the start of your turn.  This is sort of the core issue with the game.  At the start of the game, the start player gets to play with a board state where they are 2 Action tokens ahead of their opponent.  The next turn, his opponent is playing in a board state where he has the equal number of action tokens.  For the rest of this game, the start player has effectively 2 bonus resource tokens on their turn and the initiative.  This is pretty huge.

That said, at the GenCon nationals, the advantage was definitely with the second player.

Explaining the contradiction

So in ponies, for the most part you can score points in small increments.  Whenever you do a move that scores a large amount of points, it typically changes the board state to a position where your opponent is able to easily counter that large gain.  This leads to a lot of standoffs where neither player is doing much out of fear that a big play will cost them the game.

In close games like this usually come down to a single faceoff for all the marbles.  However, at a tournament if the game goes to time, the second player is granted a massive advantage.  If I am the start player and time is called, my options for gaining points is still limited, because whatever big move I make will allow my opponent to counter.  However, if I am the second player, since the game must end with my turn, I am able to act freely without concern that my opponent will be able to take advantage of the amazing board position I open up by whatever I do on the last turn.

This means that if I am a control deck, and I have locked my opponent out, I can spend my last turn clearing my villain (scoring 2 points), double confronting (scoring 2 more points) and then winning that faceoff (for another 1-3 points).  In a normal turn I would never do this, because I am score 5-7 points and opening my opponent up for a juicy 10 point turn, but in the weird ‘player 2 ends the game’ I am free to get as many points as I can.

So I guess what I’m saying is that first turn will typically have an advantage, but if a game does not always end with a decisive victory, and the second player is ensured the last word, second turn may be more valuable than one thinks.

For more on Blaugust, check out the Nook!