Category: Gaming (page 3 of 73)

From the Vault: Theorycrafting

I am giving some serious thought to jumping back into the mix of tactical planning, visceral satisfaction, and utter frustration that is League of Legends. To that end, and since I’m not quite back on the review train yet, here’s a relevant post from back in the day that reflects what I’m doing now: planning builds and investigating new Champions. I am, once again, theorycrafting.

Courtesy Riot Games, Art by Akonstad

In this blogging space I’ve talked about writing and gaming in tandem. I’ve tried to give each a fair amount of time, but I’ve never really examined the connection between the two. Other than the overactive imagination, I think a big part of my inclination towards these activities is my tendency towards theorycrafting.

I haven’t been playing Magic: the Gathering that often in the last couple of weeks, mostly due to the hours I’m spending at the office lately. But I do love deck construction. I like seeing the cards available to a particular set or format and trying to find ways of putting an effective threat together, especially if it’s in a way that’s been unexplored. They don’t always work, of course, but that’s part of the appeal of experimentation: taking a chance to see what happens. I try to plan as many contingencies as I can before the game even starts.

The same could be said for the way I approach League of Legends. I spend some time looking over the abilities, statistics and build orders of various champions, toying with different sequences and combinations. When Nautilus was released a few weeks ago, I found his art, story and kit so appealing I picked him up and started toying with builds immediately. In fact, I’m still doing so, in order to find that balance between taking punishment and dishing it out. I may go more in-depth at another time as to why doing so in this game feels more satisfying to me than, say, StarCraft 2, but like my Magic decks, crafting and tweaking a champion’s progression long before I fire up the game is rewarding, especially when I manage to help the team win.

Part of this may be due to my experiences as a Dungeon Master. I delve into rulebooks and supplementary material, draw up maps, lay out stats and even stories for the NPCs and so on. I used to lay out elaborate and somewhat linear stories to lead my players down, but I realized quickly players want elbow room and freedom to choose for themselves. While this undermined my desire to tell a specific story somewhat, it also allowed me to plan more of those contingencies I like to ponder. DMs and players share these stories in equal measure, after all, there’s no reason for one side of the screen to hog all the fun.

This thread does carry through to my writing. It’s been said that writers are either ‘plotters’ who plan things out before pen hits papers (or fingers hit keyboard), ‘pantsers’ who fly by the seat of their pants, or a combination of the two. You can read more about the distinction here. For my part, I’m definitely more of a plotter than a pantser, with a great deal of time devoted to outlines, character sketches, expansion on background elements, and research relevant to the story. The problem with all of this theorycrafting, though, is that getting wrapped up in it can take time away from the actual writing that needs to happen. Then again, I know that if I don’t take the time to figure out where I’m going in the first place, I will hit a wall and sit looking at it for just as long.

Do you indulge in theorycrafting? Or do you jump right into things?

Goblinhearth vs. Gnomestone, Part 1

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

The first true expansion for Hearthstone, ‘Goblins vs. Gnomes’, has officially been released. I’ve picked up a few packs for it, thanks to some solid questing and saving up my gold, and I am already seeing changes within the meta. Quite a few of the decks remain the same: I can still spot a Zoolock or Handlock a mile away, and Priests are likely to stay annoying. However, since one of my favorite things to do in an CCG is build new decks, especially if I can test them in a competitive environment, I have some ideas, partially based on what I’ve seen and partially building on prior successes. I basically plan on having a deck for each class, which as of this writing, means 9.

Druid – A Natural Mill

This was a deck that until recently occupied my Rogue slot (jokingly called ‘Bouncy Bouncy’). I always felt that ‘mill’ decks (so named for [c]Millstone[/c]) are not what opponents tend to expect, and are the sort of deck you play when you just want to mess with some heads. The problem with the Rogue incarnation was that it relied almost entirely on [Coldlight Seer]. Sure, landing a [Sap] on a big threat when the opponent’s hand is full always feels great, but it felt like a very rare occurance. And by the time it did, I would be on death’s doorstep.

Enter [Grove Tender] for Druids. Between this new card, the original but rarely played [Naturalize], and Naxxramas’ [Dancing Swords], there are plenty of ways for the Druid to fill the enemy hand. Druid also has more ways to stay alive until the late game. There are neat ways to capitalize on an opponent with a full hand, like [Goblin Sapper] and [Clockwork Giant]. With a few of the Druid’s old tricks, and new ones like [Tree of Life], this might actually be viable for the ladder.

Hunter – Beasts, Marks, or Survival? WHO CARES BEAT FACE

I feel very torn between a variety of Hunter decks. There are three specializations for Hunters in World of Warcraft: Beast Mastery, Marksmanship, and Survival. To me, Beast Mastery speaks to aggression, Survival to control, and Marksmanship is more midrange. I’m more inclined towards control-style decks, as they make for longer, more interesting games, but aggressive decks make for faster trips up the ladder. So which would be best when it comes to Hunter?

Honestly, when it comes to Hunter, I’ve had the most success when I eschew the greater themes and just build something shamelessly aggressive. There are a couple cards in the new expansion, as well as Naxxramas, that will make this sort of deck both viable and fun to play. I mean, I crafted those golden [Webspinner]s for a reason, right? I still am leery about using [Unleash the Hounds] as a core of any Hunter deck, even one revolving around Beasts. I will revisit a “themed” Hunter deck after climbing a few rungs, but for now, I’m going to do something less esoteric.

Mage – Mechanomancy’s All The Rage

‘Goblins vs. Gnomes’ (or GvG as it’s often abbreviated) has a very strong sub-theme of mechanized minions, or ‘mechs’ for short. The synergy between minions like the [Mechwarper] and [Spider Tank] is pretty nasty, in and of itself, but Mages in particular got a potent addition to their stable of possible helpers: the [Snowchugger]. In addition to decent stats – 2/3 for 2 is already above par – these little monsters also freeze whatever they damage, or anything that damages them. Combine this with, say, Spare Parts like [Whirling Blades] or the old favorite [Defender of Argus], and you have an incredibly strong deterrent for the early game.

There aren’t a lot of threats that can deal with it, either. Mages are stocked to the brim with removal as it is, from their traditional standbys of [Frostbolt] and [Fireblast] to newcomer [Flamecannon]. It can be very difficult for aggressive decks to get a handle on a Mechanomancer, and control decks suffer from early damage if they cannot themselves remove the threat of multiple mechs rolling across the field. Put it all together, and you have an extremely potent weapon for climbing the ladder.

Paladin – The Silver Hand Wants YOU

This has been my pet class in Hearthstone for a while, now. At 500 wins on the ladder, the hero for your class and his hero power turn gold. I want [Reinforce] to give me golden [Silver Hand Recruit]s, dangit. I’ve been after this since the previous iteration of my Paladin deck. With GvG, the goal has become even clearer, for two very distinct reasons: [Muster for Battle], and [Quartermaster].

In the early game, Muster lets you respond to aggression, or deal out some quick damage. Later on, when combined with the Q man and, for example, [Knife Juggler], you’re presenting your opponent with a serious game-ending threat. Now, there are ways around this, from board clears like [Flamestrike] to underhanded moves such as [Mind Control Tech], but even so, it takes some doing to get around that sheer amount of firepower. For a while, I was running this deck with [Captain Greenskin], since a 2/5 weapon is nothing to sneeze at; plus, on occasion, I’d get a [Truesilver Champion] that could take out Yetis in one swing. However, I recently switched up for a build closer to Strifecro’s, and this is my go-to deck for struggling towards the twin goals of 500 paladin wins, and Legendary rank.

Priest – If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…

Oh, Priest. My love-hate relationship with you is well-known, among the five or so people who actually pay attention to my Hearthstone rants. To me, playing Priest on the ladder is like playing in Magic: the Gathering events with a deck that is almost entirely blue, mostly with counterspells and cards that steal things from your opponent or otherwise completely lock them out of what they want to play. I can respect that style of play, as I have done it myself on occasion, but in Hearthstone having such tactics used on me makes me inconsolably angry.

I can definitely get behind little combinations like [Auchenai Soulpriest] and [Circle of Healing] for a sudden and potent board clear, and while I don’t necessarily like getting smacked with a minion that’s been built up to 22 health and then given [Inner Fire], I have to give it the traditional “Clever Girl” response. I don’t know if I’ll ever play Priest on the ladder, personally; I do my best to meet the challenge when I’m there, but in Casual games, I tend to concede immediately when I see my opponent is a Priest. Unless I’m playing Priest myself.

But yeah, Priest players? Much respect, and you can all go to hell.

What are my thoughts on the other classes? What does the future hold for Hearthstone? Tune in next week to find out!

From The Vault: Tabletop as Brain Food

I’m working on some board game write-ups and reviews, and it’s worth remembering why board games are an awesome way to spend our time.

SmallWorld with the 'rents

I’ve put myself on a path to improve my physical well-being. Being more mindful of what and how much I eat, walking with the intent to start running, looking into a local gym, and so on. Mostly, I fear the atrophy that comes with a sedentary day job and an equally low-impact life at home, and if I’m honest, I’m unhappy with the amount of flab I currently have on my frame. However, making such a change is relatively easy. The body can adapt to adjustments in schedule and activity rather well, all things being equal, and it’s really a matter of establishing and sticking to habits than anything else.

But what about the brain? The most vital of organs also needs maintenance and attention as we age. It’s important to keep the mind engaged and not just feed it something distracting or shallow all of the time. I mean, I won’t begrudge people who really enjoy “Dancing With The Stars” or “Two And A Half Men”, some people do need to unwind with that kind of fare. I’m simply not one of them. As much as I like the occasional campy pleasure like Flash Gordon, more often than not I look to have my brain fed, to keep it trained, to present it with challenges it must overcome.

That, in part, is why I enjoy tabletop games so much.

It took me a while in my youth to really grasp how important it was to me to keep playing them. For a time, I simply enjoyed spending time with my dad, even if I would sometimes let myself get bored between moves rather than studying his strategy and planning my response. Nowadays I can’t imagine sitting entirely idle during an opponent’s turn, though I do occasionally get distracted. Not only is it necessary to pay attention in order to look for victory, it’s an exercise in putting yourself in another’s position, or imagining the other as a complex being instead of just someone to beat. That, to me, is just as important as winning.

I am quite fortunate to be in a place where I can spend time around other gamers who are engaging in this way almost constantly. My co-workers play and even design games on a daily basis. A fantastic store is within easy driving distance to present all sorts of challenges. My father lives a bit further up the road. When I get home, I have the option to play something like Civilization V, Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers, or Blood Bowl with other human beings. And on rare occasions, a game of Chez Geek or Dungeon Roll might break out.

To me, the important factor in this is that other people are involved. No programmed response or solitaire experience really throws a wrench into your thought processes like another live human being. It makes the problem solving more complex, and thus more rewarding, even when you lose. On top of that, being in a situation with another person as your opponent builds character and social skills. Trite as it may sound, we learn more from losing than from winning, both about how we play and how we act. It’s one thing to gnash your teeth and swear at something like Super Meat Boy or Hotline Miami; doing so at a stranger or even a friend is quite another issue. Fun as it can be amongst people who know you to engage in name-calling for the sake of in-game banter, when it comes to playing with strangers or in a competition it’s important to know your limits and when and how to gracefully bow out of things, or the optimal way to accept and celebrate victory in front of those who’ve lost. You can only get that through this sort of play, and you learn it as your brain is trained.

Boring as it may seem to some outside observers, when I’m engaged in a game like this, I assure you, I’m never really bored.

From The Vault: Why Take This Matters

I’m still shaking off the doldrums and getting myself back on track. While I make more steps towards that, please feel free to read over this post about one of the best initiatives I’ve ever had the pleasure of helping with, even as a source of moral and financial support. It’s important.

Courtesy Take This

It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.

Some of the earliest, most indelible memories some of my generation has when it comes to video games involve taking a sword from an old man who just spoke those fateful words. “It’s dangerous to go alone.” The world is going to try and kill you. Monsters prowl in the shadows, ready to destroy your body and devour your dreams. Perils you won’t see coming are fully prepared to swallow you whole. You need to defend yourself. You must be prepared to combat your challenges and overcome your obstacles. “Take this.”

We didn’t know it at the time, but this wasn’t just advice that applied to the world of Hyrule. It applies to our world, too.

We may not have to deal with the extant threats in many video games, but the world is still going to try and kill you, spiritually if not physically. I’m not talking about religion specifically, but rather in terms of the human spirit. The singular and the extraordinary are far, far too often pushed and held down by society at large, and it’s easy to fall into a pattern of conformity and ‘normal’ behavior, just to get by. But not everyone can pull off acting ‘normal’. For some, it’s a daily challenge, and some days, it’s an hourly one.

I’ve both faced this struggle myself, and done my utmost to help others cope with it. It’s easy to think, in our darkest hours, that we’re facing these challenges alone. And it’s dangerous to go alone.

The fact is, however, that we are not.

Take This is, according to their site, “a charitable organization founded to increase awareness, education and empathy for those suffering from emotional issues, their families and greater institutions with the goal to eradicate the stigma of mental illness.” While not exclusively dealing with the gaming community, the founders work within that community, as journalists and organizers, and so focus a great deal of their outreach to gamers, through sharing stories via their website and holding panels at events like PAX.

I’m a little lucky, when you get right down to it. I share my stories all the time. I have some skill at articulating myself and the means to do it. I let myself take the time to breathe, to contemplate, and to share. Not everybody is so lucky. Not everybody feels they have a safe place to unburden themselves of the pain and anxiety and uncertainty and loneliness they feel.

And the fact is, everybody should have that.

That’s why Take This matters. They’re just getting started, and I want to see them grow. Their first PAX Prime panel last year was a great success, as was their first ever at PAX East 2014, and they’re returning to Boston next month (EDIT: it was another AMAZING panel). Their site is full of stories that have needed to be heard, they’re going to be looking to grow as much as possible, and they can’t do it alone. None of us should be alone in this fight. Our chances of survival are much greater if we face our challenges together.

The world is a dangerous and cold place. Emotions and mental imbalance can topple even the best of ideas when the world gets involved. It’s dangerous to go alone.

But you don’t have to be alone.

Take this.

The Truth About #GamerGate


“It’s actually about ethics in games journalism.”

To some, it’s an argument against inflammatory, despicable behavior that arises from and is associated with the GamerGate movement. To others, it’s the punchline of the bad joke the movement has become, in the light of threats of rape, damage, and even school shootings in protest of women speaking out. Evidence suggests that the movement has all of the markings and makings of a hate group. But hate groups tend to have a unified vision that, to the deranged, make perfect sense. Normally, you don’t see two narratives in a single group. You don’t have some saying the goals are one thing, and others acting in ways that completely undermine the legitimacy of the first. To this writer, it made no sense.

I backed away from the issue and looked at the bigger picture. What makes games journalism different from regular journalism? Reporters have had a very long tradition of seeking the truth, being offered rewards for hiding the truth, and risking a great deal in pursuit of the truth. Asking for ethics in journalism of all kinds is part of that tradition, and it hasn’t gone away. Even through the lens of comedy and satire – The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – people are on the lookout for peddlers of corruption and misinformation. But there’s not a lot of groundswell for that sort of lookout in general. Not with the sort of momentum GamerGate has had.

So, I put the question to some of those people. I was, frankly, surprised with the answers I got.

Responses from Twitter

Now, it wasn’t the content of the answers that surprised me. It was the tone. I wasn’t expecting respect from people who use that hashtag. It got even stranger when I started putting questions to a young woman who is very proud to be a part of the movement.

Answer from Vivicool

Answer from Vivicool

I experienced what can only be described as a colossal amount of cognitive dissonance in the wake of these exchanges. This made sense. This was reasonable. This was, dare I say it, positive. I looked at the words in front of me, and then I looked at the words of others, from Chris Kluwe to Felicia Day, and I started to get a sinking feeling in my gut.

Are they talking to me like a human being because I’m a white heteronormative male?

Once the idea got into my head, I couldn’t shake it. It colored the majority of my interactions and I had to question everything I had just experienced. Too many people associated with the movement are rampant misogynists. I could not just ignore that fact and take it on good feelings that what I experienced was how they really behaved when they weren’t threatening to shoot up universities because they don’t like Anita Sarkeesian.

Answer from Vivicool

I must confess that, for a moment, I wanted to believe this. I really did. It seemed like there might be hope for the notion that this is, in fact, about ethics in games journalism. But I couldn’t hold onto that. Not for long.

Not when just one day later, I saw David Hill reporting on a teenage girl talking about her interest in game design. She had written about how GamerGate and other groups made her afraid to follow her dream. She was forced to delete her Twitter account and the article she’d written because of messages telling her she’s the problem, that feminism is at fault, and she’s irrational because GamerGate has had zero negative effect on things around them. A girl likely the same age as the one with whom I’d interacted.

The argument will likely be made that it wasn’t true Gaters saying those things, that the movement isn’t about harassment, so on and so forth. And that is if any argument is made in response to this article at all. Because it’s been written by a white heteronormative male. Even if I am a journalist, and a games journalist at that, I am not the target of GamerGate. I have not been doxxed, threatened, or even treated badly.

Somehow, that is even worse. If my question had been met with accusations of being a social justice warrior (I’m actually a social justice wizard, thank you very much) or implications that my mother performs sex acts for cash, at least that’d be consistent. But no: I was treated very differently from a Zoe Quinn or a Susan Arendt.

The origins of the movement are public and available. Its impact is palpable and overwhelmingly negative. Some in the community feel betrayed by the movement’s behavior, and many have an empathetic feeling of outrage at its treatment of women. So where does that leave people who are legitimately looking for ethics in journalism, and refuse to give up the tag?

It pains me to think that someone truly intelligent, truly well-meaning, and truly compassionate has been roped into the hype used to try and whitewash the movement. To such an individual, propaganda should be obvious and deplorable. Conspiracy theorists would put it that there is a deliberate smokescreen being used to try and obfuscate the true nature of every single person who uses that hashtag. I think the truth is far simpler, and far more terrifying.

Since human beings are complex and nuanced creatures, the movements they perpetuate are also complex and nuanced (for the most part: organized hate groups are not very complex). So, there is room for disparate narratives within a single polity. Especially when said polity is a disorganized, ill-defined, and relatively aimless one united under a label proposed by, at best, a very vocal and prominent public figure with inflammatory and very subjective opinions. The terrifying part is that some are so entrenched in their own intentions, positive though they might be, they will not divorce their quest for ethics from the majority of a movement. And the fact is, that majority behaves in a way that is not only unethical, but downright disturbing and deplorable. There are truly people within GamerGate who do not do this. Their intentions are good. They believe they can change the movement from within. And I want to believe in them so much that it breaks my heart.

It’s important to look at the facts. Look at where the movement started. Investigate the origins of its hashtag. See the results of the actions taken by those who carry its banner. Yes, there are some who speak in a positive way and convey earnestness in beliefs that are not objectionable. But the vast, vast majority speak and act in despicable ways, and their outlook and behavior casts a pall on the minority who do not, to the point that even an outside observer has to question positive interactions. This is not how gaming, and gamers, should be. This is wrong. This is dark. And it has to stop.

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