Why Do We Play Games Nowadays?

Anyone who reads this blog closely or follows me on Twitter would know that I am at a bit of an identity crisis of sorts in gaming. I made this blog and Twitter with the sole purpose of talking Hearthstone. Lately, I’ve had issues with Hearthstone, mainly precipitated by my not enjoying the changed Arena format. I actually did not realize that I liked the Arena so much. In my taking a sabbatical from Arena play, I can barely play the game anymore.

By sinking in less time into Hearthstone, I have opened up time for other games. Notably, I am playing three other card games in addition to Hearthstone. Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links is the mobile game I have played since January and podcast about. Shadowverse is the secondary card game I played probably once a week, now more regularly. Gwent is a new card game released in open beta that I am trying out. Playing all these games together has given me some ideas which lead to this post. Why do we play games nowadays?

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The changed landscape

Gaming has evolved tremendously since I was young. While I wasn’t around for almost all of the 80s, I can say I sampled my share of old games. And by old games, I mean titles from SNES and Sega Genesis. I didn’t really play games regularly until my family got a computer, and I have been primarily a PC gamer since. The main evolution in gaming, besides the obvious upgrades to gameplay, graphics, and design, is the ubiquity of the Internet, and the ability to play games with people you’ve never met physically. I admit that I was playing games alone for a really long time, and it wasn’t until I started playing Diablo III that I started to play games with other people.

The fusion of gaming and Internet has not only changed the landscape of gaming, and also the reasons why we play games now. Back when I was playing Operation: Inner Space in my cold basement or Syphon Filter 3 in front of the TV, I can say I did it for fun. Sure, I wanted to set high scores in Inner Space and unlock secrets in Syphon Filter. But now the reasons are more complex and varied. I will try to dig into the reasons why we game using the games I am playing concurrently as an example.

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I feel really old saying I played this a lot

For fun

The generic umbrella reason for why we play games. Games are a hobby and it is something we do for fun when we’re not doing something else (more important) in life.

I have played Hearthstone almost daily since December 2013. While I have taken breaks now and then (including now lol), my enjoyable experiences have kept me in the game for all these years. I have logged thousands of Arena games just because I found it so fun. Arena is known for not being the most generous when it comes to rewards. You don’t make the 3.33 gold/win you get in Ranked play and even in Casual. According to Hearthstone, I have 3710 Arena wins. This equates to 12,366 gold I missed out on because they were Arena wins. When it comes to my enjoyment playing Hearthstone, it lives and dies with Arena.

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Good times before Arena 7.1

As mentioned before, my relationship with the Arena is currently strained. The fun factor is mostly gone as the Arena revamp with Patch 7.1 coupled with Journey to Un’Goro cards has brought on never-ending reactionary play and big power creep on card quality. And truthfully, it isn’t because I’m losing significantly in the Arena now. It’s important to note that these are just my feelings (and some other players), and not those of the entire Arena community. I don’t know if most people share my feelings on the Arena changes. I’m sure people who enjoy Control decks are having a blast.

To fill the void in gaming fun, I have resorted to the other card games. I am having a really fun time playing Gwent,  mostly from the Casual game mode available to me. As someone who is completely foreign to The Witcher universe, I have no idea what the underlying story is. I don’t even know what the ubiquitous keg-opening character is called. A lot of the fun is derived from the game just being a new experience, and a break from the Arena. I am also playing Shadowverse a bit, though the game hasn’t gotten more fun than before. I’ll explain later.

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I have no idea who this guy is, but he opens the kegs.

For fame

Those who graduate past the notion of playing games just for fun are more ambitious in the hobby and want to make something of their gaming career. By playing a game at a high enough level, one can be known for something, and springboard off a new height. This is a new development in gaming, given people were not connected to the Internet to track scores back in the day. It likely started with the seeds of eSports, and have known people play games. All four of the card games I am playing have leaderboards, with your legend tiers, points, or high scores. And by playing at a high enough level, you get invited to participate in tournaments. In the end, you fight the final boss (real life person) for a trophy. Gaming is just like real sports now!

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eSports!

Alternatively, you can achieve fame by doing something with your gaming experience. All of the “creation” nowadays associated with gaming, your streaming, recording, blogging, podcasting, and drawing would all fall into this category. A lot of people I follow on social media and associate with would fall into this category.

In all honestly, I started this blog for a reason. I wanted to be known in the Hearthstone community as an all-purpose writer who talked about Arena a lot. I had ambitions that it would all lead to opportunities in my future. While those dreams are at a moribund state, I was able to meet and talk to a lot of people in the process of creating the blog.

For money

Those who become really famous for gaming may eventually reach the top tier of gaming for money. There are those who are full-time video game players for a living, making money through tournaments, streaming, endorsements, and donations. Others work for a living or go to school, and have supplementary revenue streams from gaming. Obviously, gaming for money didn’t happen for decades, and is just a recent development.

Unfortunately, the window of gaming for money is closing for existing games, as the market is gets more and more saturated. Gamers who enter the game (lol) later are at a bigger disadvantage, as they have to compete with existing players and personalities. It is a more prudent idea to try to forecast the next big game, and become an established player in that realm. For example, it is much really difficult to make a name in Hearthstone, given it has been in existence for close to 4 years. Your big name competitive Hearthstone players are mostly making money with their streaming brand now. It has become really difficult to make a name for yourself, with so much competition. This goes for other forms of creation in Hearthstone. I doubt that a newbie bug-finder can dethrone Disguised Toast at this point.

It could be easier to game for money in newer games. Notably, Lifecoach has become the first professional Gwent player signed to a team. Right now, I don’t think there are any Duel Links players who play the game for money, but that could change, given the World Championships coming in August. I do not know if there are Shadowverse players who game for money. The challenge is knowing if the game will stick around for the long term, long enough for your efforts to come to fruition.

For community

Gaming has always had an occasional social aspect, as multiple people playing a console was a way to hang out. As a kid and teenager, I fondly remember going to friend’s houses to play video games for hours. With the availability of Internet, the social aspect of gaming has evolved into playing games with people online.

Hmm… I don’t remember girls being around

In the Blizzard world, Battle.net was once the site you used to connect to online servers. Now known as the Blizzard Launcher, it is a one-stop-shop with an instant messaging list to your friends, online news, etc. Hearthstone has quests for playing games with friends, and now allows questing to be done in friend games. Duel Links has the Vagabond sharing system with friends. Spectator mode is another aspect that gives a social aspect to gaming.

 

For rewards

In my card game carousel discussion, I mentioned I am playing more Shadowverse than in the past. This is because they are offering doubled rewards for completed daily missions. This means 2 free card packs for 4 Ranked Wins, or 100 rupies for 4 wins with x class. The rewards are so good that Shadowverse isn’t the second fiddle card game for this month. They also have the Freshman Lou promotion, so I am trying to earn those card sleeves.

Freshman Lou is quickly becoming my one of my favorite cards

Shadowverse has really exemplified the gaming for rewards aspect. We are playing games for in-game currency, so we don’t have to (or spend less) spend real money. This is something that clearly didn’t exist in older games. You bought your game at the store or online, and you paid it. That ended the spending. In the age of Internet and microtranscations, companies want you to continually spend money on a game, by adding more new features. It really is an interesting thought to think we are playing a game a lot because we don’t want to pay for it.

For experience

A lot of people play new games for the sheer experience of trying something new. Trying new games has numerous advantages, as you can discover really fun aspects of games that are not apparently obvious. Steam is now the go-to source for PC gamers to get access to a wide swath of games. Monthly Humble Bundle deals allow one to discover a lot of new games at a low price. One can also purchase old games online, though this is mostly a thing done on consoles now.

My fun playing Gwent is mostly a gaming for experience venture. Given all the comparisons to Hearthstone, I just had to play the game to see for myself. What I discovered is that Gwent is nothing like Hearthstone, and is just linked to it because of Lifecoach’s endorsement of the game. Part of the new experience is learning names in Gwent and trying to understand the unexplained rules in the game.

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An unfamliiar deck building interface

In climbing the Shadowverse Ranked ladder, the experience is turning less fun, as I start seeing the same “good decks.” I typically go in as a Tempo Runecraft deck, which is not a meta deck in a class that primarily plays the fun and interactive Dimensional Shift deck. However, I see a lot of Forest Roach decks, and Heavenly Aegis Haven, popular climbing decks. In Hearthstone, seeing the same variants of decks was always second nature to me, and something that was burned in the brain as normal. Going into a game like Shadowverse, the same emphasis on bringing the same good decks still applies, but I was just not inured to it.

For loyalty

By loyalty, I mean loyalty to a brand or franchise. It is unlikely that Hearthstone would’ve been the success it is without being under the “Heroes of Warcraft” title and Blizzard flagship. People who bought WoW, or Diablo, or Starcraft were willing to give Hearthstone a try since it was made by Blizzard. This is not unlike buying a brand of clothes or car. Trust is earned through reliable workmanship and satisfaction.

I bought into the loyalty to Blizzard games long ago when I first played Diablo when in 1997. Then I played Starcraft, Warcraft III, Diablo II, and flash foward to Diablo III and the Bnet launcher era. Who knew that entering the Cathedral, and spending hours and days walking (couldn’t run back then) through the labyrinth in Diablo would lead me to everything else Blizz has now.

Where it all started

The gaming for loyalty aspect is a also big reason for why I started playing Duel Links. @hsdecktech posted some screenshots one day on Twitter, and I haven’t put down the game since. My enjoyment playing the Yu-Gi-Oh TCG in 7th and 8th grade awoke, and I destined to relive the nostalgia I had playing cards. And this is allure to Yu-Gi-Oh is not a unique thing, as Duel Links is catching on like wildfire, hitting 45 million downloads recently. Konami created a great franchise, buoyed by a TV show and card game, and that loyalty now it is manifesting in Duel Links’ popularity.

For fulfillment

Back in the day, playing a game for a new high score at the end was the goal. When my ship blew up in Operation: Inner Space, I wanted to get on that leaderboard. This isn’t lost in today’s games. In Hearthstone, competitive players have a goal of hitting Legend in Ranked Play. Some just want to do it, for the sake of doing it, and others have the goal of hitting it every month. This is playing games for fulfillment. You’re trying to hit a goal. Another common fulfillment goal in Hearthstone is getting golden characters. While getting Legend and golden characters technically result in rewards, it is more of a set goal, as the rewards are paltry.

As an Arena guy, hitting 12 wins for the Lightforge Key was a sense of fulfillment. I tracked my 12 win runs for a time with screenshots. I set a goal to hit 12 wins for every class, and that is something that still eludes me. I’ve never hit Legend in Ranked, but getting Golden Rogue was very satisfying.

Gaming for a sense of fulfillment really is a fascinating thing. Most of it is how one derives fun, by continually winning. I wouldn’t have fun if I lost a game many times. Some of it is fueled by competitive drive. Some of it is fueled by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. But you’re sinking in hours into a game for something that isn’t even tenable. And by not hitting the goal, you could become angry or depressed (usually both). Crazy right? But hey, it is the reason many play games now.

Well, that’s all I have to say about why we play games in these present times. There probably are a lot more reasons out there, but this post is long enough already. Why do you play games?

Getting to Know the Duel Links NPCs

Getting to Know the Duel Links NPCs

Yu-Gi-Oh!, being a fairly big money name with anime, movies, manga, video games, and card game, has numerous memorable characters. These characters are put through very dark and unforgiving storylines, which allow for much introspection into characters, and opportunity for character development. Duel Links, the new mobile phone game, has been rolling out these characters for use in the game, with Maximillion Pegasus coming out recently (lol), and characters like Mokuba, Bakura, and Marik coming down the line. While these legendary duelists are the characters you get to use, and provide opportunities to win good prizes, you can’t face them all of the time. You need to spend colored keys in order to face the brand name characters typically. So, a lot of the dirty work playing Duel Links involves fighting NPCs. The NPCs in Duel Links fill many roles:

  1. Quest Completion – You need to do a certain number of things each stage to advance to the next. Since the NPCs show up freqeuntly and respawn, their typical loss will allow you to check off requirements for questing.
  2. Experience Gain – Your characters level up, and you get good rewards for this. Grinding through NPCs will get you most of your experience.
  3. Resource Gain – Depending on what score you get in your duel assessment, you’ll get chests of rewards. The NPCs will always give at least 2 chests for a win, and you can prolong a game, to get more.
  4. Practice – Of course, they are the easiest competition around, so good for practice.

Now that you see that the NPCs are quite important in Duel Links, here’s the kicker: nothing is known about them! They have no backstory, and are just in the game. No guides online have any articles on them either. So, I am here to provide images and possibly provide some backstory for each NPC in this game. Cannon fodder have feelings too!

The NPCs can broadly be broken down into 3 groups, by possible age:

  • Children
  • High schoolers
  • Young adults

Children

No better way to remind the player they are playing a children’s card game than with actual children. These kids are likely less than 10 years of age.

  • Emma – A child with a limited vocabulary, speaking with very simple words. She is not very competitive, and appears to take the game casually. Likely has not endured the rigors of life.

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  • Bella – She is a more mature girl than Emma, in that she often thanks you for dueling with her. Actually, might be the NPC who thanks you the most. Owing to being a little child, she has a limited vocabulary and speaks slowly.

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  • Mickey – This kid is just a stereotypical boy NPC. A little cocky and talkative, but with not much substance to back up his words.

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  • Nick – The most interesting of all the little kid NPCs. Nick talks about homework and Duel School a lot, which means he likely spends some time training. He speaks better than the other children, so he might be older. He also never smiles, which gives him a sense of cool confidence.

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High schoolers (teens)

The teens are easily distinguished because they wear school uniforms that the better-known characters wear. The male characters wear a blue jacket and pants, like Yugi and Joey. The female characters wear a pink jacks and blue skirt, like Tea. Because of this, one can assume these NPCs go to Domino High School, and may possibly have outside interaction with the main cast.

  • Christine – One of the most competitive NPCs around, she seeks to be Duel World Queen. Her arrogance comes out bad often, and she just seems very pushy. Also has an annoying catchphrase, “Hecks to the yeah.”

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  • Jess – She is easily distinguished with the dark grey hair. Is apparently a big admirer of all the legendary duelists, as she often says “You are the one I look most forward to facing.” Comes off as timid and lacking confidence during the matches.

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  • Hailey – Her tone of voice is more confident than that of Jess, but she talks about having fun more than her. Overall, is fairly similar to Jess, as being a lot less uptight than Christine.

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  • Andrew – The male high school counterpart to Christine. He is apparently a tactician of some sorts, referencing probabilities and numbers he ran. Is overtly cocky and wonders why he isn’t a legendary duelist. Arguably the most bitter and angry NPC. Always has a chip on his shoulder.

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  • Josh – The overconfident but ultimately harmless NPC. Has a strong front, but loses confidence quickly while losing a duel.

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  • Daniel – A chill dude of a few words. He just says “Fine, let’s duel.” He might not wanted to have gone to Duel World with all his classmates, or he didn’t really care he had to go. Maybe he was the 6th best duelist in the school, and he was selected. He didn’t really care about the honor.

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Young adults

I have no idea what age these duelists are, but they look older than the high school students, and don’t wear school uniforms. These people could be of college age or young professionals. Likely in their 20s. These characters have the least personality, and were likely created in the last minute as filler.

  • Meg – She has a weird catchphrase of “let’s get the lead out.” I had to look up what this meant, and it is something you just don’t hear people say in public nowadays. Anyways she is nice, but not much personality.

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  • Ashley – She talks about having fun a lot, like the little children. She puts more emphasis on deck building being the fun aspect of the game, so she likes that. She also wears the same outfit as Meg, but a different color.

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  • David – This guy looks chill and just has some generic lines about dueling. Really no personality at all.

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  • Jay – This guy is very similar to David, but mentions being in the fantasy world, so he might be onto something. Wears the same outfit as David, but different colors. Lacks personality like the other young adults.

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  • The Vagabond – Nobody knows much about this guy, but I assume he is an adult. He has the special challenge matches, which are the hardest duels to do at any given time and stage. His style could be an homage to Red in the Pokemon series, or other nondescript player characters. He pretty much says nothing, until the end of the game, or if he wants to challenge your friends.

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Overall, the NPCs just get by, and shuffle along Duel World, waiting to get beat by you. Eventually they get their comeuppance, when they become difficult competition and not free auto-duel wins, when you hit stage 40.

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Nostalgia Trip: Playthrough of Diablo III’s Darkening of Tristram’

When I was young, I didn’t have a lot of games. We didn’t have a console in our home (until later), and I shared a computer with my sister that had a hard drive of 4 gigabytes. And the computer was in our cold, moist basement, which was pretty cold over half of the year. While this gaming experience left much to be desired, we did have an epic game in our childhood, Diablo. I can list a handful of games that were influential to me, but maybe the reason I still play various Blizzard games today, and have trust in the company, is because of Diablo.

You can imagine that I was excited when I heard of a Diablo I remake within Diablo III, The Darkening of Tristram. I played the heck out of Diablo III, but I haven’t paid much attention to the game in recent years. I decided to hop back into the game, just to play this nostalgia event.

Getting there

The Darkening of Tristram event is active in Diablo III during the month of January 2017. To get there, you just portal of Old Tristram, and there is a portal to Tristram. So you’re going to “Old Tristram” to take a portal to “Tristram” which is the current Old Tristram from decades ago. Cool!

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Town

Your character enters town (with companion), and you instantly serenaded with the classic Tristram acoustic guitar twang. You are treated with the reduced graphics experience of the remake, though it looks worse than that of the original Diablo game. You see a mix of completely new Diablo III UI, and a slightly modified version of the health and resource pools to look like old school Diablo UI.

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The town has the same map as Old Tristram, and is connected to the areas with Adria’s Hut and the Tristram Cathedral. The town is in shambles, presumably taking place around the events of Diablo II, when the town was newly destroyed. You see a bunch of dead bodies with Pepin, Farnham, Ogden, and cows among the victims. I think Wirt is somewhere, but I couldn’t find his body in my playthrough.

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Cow ghosts!
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This dude has been dead/dying for 20 years.

“The Cathedral”

The first four levels in Diablo I, known as Cathedral levels, fittingly takes place in the same Tristram Cathedral levels in Diablo III, as they take place in the same place.

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All the monsters you fight are renamed as creatures in Diablo I, but they are the same minions as they are in Diablo III. The gameplay is unchanged from Diablo III, and you use the same moves you would. There were questions about how your mobility will be compromised, but it isn’t really affected. You move around in an odd manner, which imitates the Diablo I walk, but is more of a run.

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Side quests you would see in Diablo I are replicated in Diablo III as zones, but not necessarily as quests. For example, the Poisoned Water Supply Level, is just a random outlet that leads to a Cave level.

You do get to fight the Butcher again, a much smaller version of the Diablo III Butcher, to scale for the Diablo I size. The room of butchered bodies was also recreated, which marks the most gore/bodies in Diablo III.

You also fight a number of memorable enemies, like Leoric, Gharbad the Weak, and Snotspill.

“The Catacombs”

The Catacombs levels are recreated with the Ruins of Corvus maps, which lead to longish levels.

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One of the more memorable sidequests, the Halls of the Blind is present with various Acid Beasts and Illusion Weavers in tow, making it a very deadly area, which is easy to die in. The Chamber of Bone is also recreated. Minions like Horned Demons and Illusion Weavers don’t give much signal that they are coming, which could possibly hit squishy characters really hard unexpectedly.

“The Caves”

The Caves are easily replicated with the generic cave dungeon levels in Diablo III, which have a boring circular map format. In Diablo I, the music  for this zone was always my favorite, so it was great to hear it again.

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There weren’t many  notable quests in this level, but you get to find Griswold’s Edge and the “Slain Hero.” But he just gives you a boring blue item. Magma Demons are especially dangerous in this zone, as they hit pretty hard from a long range.

“Hell”

Finally, the Hell levels are replicated with the Halls of Agony levels in Diablo III.

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Succubus minions are as dangerous as they are in Diablo I, much more than the ones in Diablo III. The Unholy Altar and Archbishop Lazarus parts were very well done I must say, with the leading cinematic with Lazarus.

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Hexagrams are no longer PC

Finally, you fight Diablo (in a scaled down size). They did correctly replicate the various levers you have to pull down before fighting the final boss. You kill Diablo, and get sent to the classic cinematic showing Diablo becoming the captured Prince, and your hero shoving the soul stone into his/her forehead.

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The main drop that you get for completing The Darkening of Tristram is a special gem, the Red Soul Shard.

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What I Liked

  • Having the same 5 music tracks in Diablo I was easily the biggest highlight of this event.
  • Decent attention to detail for sidequest mappings/mechanics.There honestly were a bunch of sidequests I had completely forgotten about, until this event. I guess the goal of bringing back some nostalgia was achieved.
  • Some minions like Acid Beasts, which don’t exist in Diablo III, were created well.
  • Getting hit in the dark unexpectedly was a plus for me. Diablo I had a ton of this, and Diablo III is known for being too bright and colorful. It was dark enough to make it look dangerous.

What Could’ve Been Better

  • Better attention to items/drops. You get some iconic items which have the old artwork, but nothing can conceivably be used at all. You also only get one transmog, with the Butcher’s Cleaver. Something nice would’ve been old transmogs of current items. An example would be old transmog of Windforce for bows.
  • More items would’ve been nice. You get a lot of generic blue “Godly Plate of the Whale” and staves, but no flashbacks to legendary item drops.
  • The levels felt more like Diablo III than Diablo I. While there are obviously limitations with using the same level/monster/character models as they are in Diablo III, I think more could’ve been done, given how much time they spent on this project. There was a lull in “sidequests” for a while in the Caves, and it felt like a bit of a drag.
  • Similarly, a lot of minions could’ve benefited by looking more like their analogs in Diablo I. Using a Goat Demon as a Horned Demon doesn’t quite translate well.
  • Some of the old UI could’ve been used easily. An example is the “broken item” symbol, which could’ve easily been replicated with the Diablo I icons, but chose to stick with the Diablo III version.

Overall, the whole thing took me an hour to complete, and I was somewhat satisfied with the undertaking. Though it was fun, it left much to be desired, in terms of creating a more memorable experience.

 

Duel Monsters: A Look at my Yugi-Oh Days

Yugi-Oh first came into my life as an edgy Kids WB cartoon in post-9/11 America. I officially stopped collecting Pokémon cards by then, and I wasn’t as interested in the show as I once was. While I did not follow the Yugi-Oh show right away, there were enough reruns on for me to catch up. Though the show brought forth (now comical) extremely dire situations involving the outcome of a children’s card game, it was the greatest show I remember watching at that age.

Months went by before the Yugi-Oh TCG was released on March 2002. Because internet was only used sparingly back in the day, I wasn’t really waiting in anticipation for it. Rather, I realized the TCG was out when kids started playing it in school. Kids had the Yugi and Kaiba starter decks, but I had my eye on the booster packs. Given I didn’t have a job in the 7th grade and didn’t get allowance, money was hard to come by. The booster packs weren’t cheap either, coming in $8 per pack, more than $1 per card! I scrounged up $16 one day for the class resident gamer, “Foss,” to get me 2 packs.

The next day, Foss had a bit of a deranged-excited look saying, “dude, you can’t believe what you got.” My 14 cards, opened from their original foil packs, resided in a transparent plastic deck case. The first card I saw was a rare 2000-defense fairy, Spirit of the Harp. I could tell that was a decent card, but I didn’t think it to be worth that much excitement. I slogged through a slew of literally unplayable cards (Yugi-Oh powercreeps by the first set). Then came the card my buddy was referring to. It was shiny and magnificent. Not only did I get the rarest card in the set, I got the rarest card I would ever get.

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Tri-Horned Dragon is a card that likely has never seen competitive play, given it is powercreeped by the well-known Blue Eyes White Dragon in the same card set. But what did I know? I slotted him in my first deck, and any iterations I had, while playing against friends and other kids.

Eighth grade was pretty much dominated by Yugi-Oh from the get go. While we talked about our new acquisitions through the day, the daily action took place in the lunchroom cafeteria. I found myself dueling regularly, even participating in 2-on-2 game once. Yugi-Oh was so addictive that I even briefly retired from playing recess prisonball (a tradition since the 4th grade) to talk Yugi-Oh with Foss. I acquired a number of booster packs from the Labyrinth  of Nightmare and Pharaoh’s Servant sets that year, and I typically was known as a trapmaster, who ran a deck with a number of trap cards or restriction-based cards.

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By the time high school rolled along, nobody was visibly playing Yugi-Oh at school. Maybe it was a product of keeping an image at a new school. Maybe people tried hard to be cool. Maybe people lost interest. Anyhow, I never played Yugi-Oh in my high school. I still bought packs every so often for myself, with the hope that the game would come back some day. But it didn’t. Eventually, I found out of one of my good friends in high school collected Yugi-Oh cards as well. He had collected card sets a little past any cards I ever purchased. I wound up trading a Don Zaloog and holographic Nobleman of Crossout for a whole trove (100 or so) of cards. My Yugi-Oh TCG collecting career pretty much ended after trading 2 holographics for that whole lot of cards. I may have been content with where I was, and didn’t really have interest in collecting any of the new cards.

The Yugi-Oh TCG was the first card game I played to a decent extent. Eventually, my obsession with card games manifested itself into Hearthstone.

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Some holographics, 3/4 acquired from my big trade.
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Necrovalley deck, pretty strong graveyard interactions.
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Other holographics I found on my own.
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Pot of Greed? What does that card do?
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At some point, Harpie Lady was “nerfed.”
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This game had some weird cards. I guess there’s room when 100+ cards a released every few months.

Stomach Check: A Spree of Graphic Violence

Stomach Check: A Spree of Graphic Violence

I purchased a Humble Bundle deal in July, which included a whole package of games on Steam, primarily to play Borderlands: The Pre-sequel. With some time freed up not catching Pokemon, I decided to play a couple games included in the package. The games I decided to play were Spec Ops: The Line and The Darkness 2. I did not really know what I was getting myself into, but I experienced the most graphic violence I ever have in my gaming career over a short span.

Spec Ops: The Line – Willie Pete

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Spec Ops: The Line doesn’t look very impressive on the outset, as seemingly “another war game set in the Middle East.” It is a third-person shooter, with a 2 weapon setup, and grenades. You can shoot things, take cover, use turrets, etc. You also command 2 other US soldiers to help you in the game. Some cool gameplay elements include using sand to kill your enemies.

The gameplay overall is what you’d expect, but the story is very compelling. You spend the game hunting for a bad guy (another American), but the whole time your character starts doing more and more atrocious things. It touches on mental illness, and in the end, you learn that your character was disassociative the whole time, basically killing a lot more people than you should’ve, through a deluded mind.

Through the regular shooting and granading, you don’t see too much extraordinary gameplay gore. You see pits of rotting bodies, hanging bodies, etc. But the kicker comes from victims of white phosphorous. You first see white phosphorous used in the battlefield, and you dodge it for a time. Then you are forced to use white phosphorous on your enemies, who turn out to be good guys escorting refugees. The constant shots of causted flesh and the crawling dead really set the scene of “what the fuck did I just do.” They really hammer a tableau of a mother holding a child, both melted to death. While your character doesn’t continue bombarding people with white phosporous, those 2 scenes of it’s usage are just disturbing enough to make me look away every so often.

The Darkness 2 – Vengeance and Evisceration

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I didn’t know much about The Darkness, other than that I knew Mike Patton voiced The Darkness. The setting is that you’re the head of a Mafia, who just lost your girlfriend in The Darkness. And you get attacked in a restaurant (with chick getting shot in the eye in front of you) and almost killed. You unleash The Darkness, a pair of tentacle arms, and are aided by a Darkling, a British imp. It’s a first-person shooter, where you can hold three guns, and dual wield often.

The guns provided in this game aren’t remarkable at all, but that is because a lot of the heavy lifting is done by your tentacle arms. A default move to regain health is eating the hearts of your enemies. So your tentacle head goes right in an eats their hearts. Your right tentacle can also whip in melee range to death. You can throw objects like metal poles, fan blades, and car doors, to impale or slice enemies to death. And of course, wounded enemies can be grabbed by your tentacle arm for execution. Executions provide benefits (and currency!) and are harder to perform, but they include ripping people in half (wishbone), eating their hearts, and popping their heads off (daisy pop). Since executions provide much more benefit than just shooting someone to death, get ready to see a lot of ripped up bodies.

Different types of violence

In the Darkness 2, I actually felt okay eviscerating bodies. The bad guys do lots of atrocious things to your people, including murdering your aunt in front of you, and killing innocent people. The violence was just so commonplace and occasionally comical, so it didn’t bug me. It was just a vehicle in getting through the game. In Spec Ops: The Line, violence and the reality of war is the overall theme. The game made it feel okay shooting various troops and civilians. Violence was not only a vehicle for getting you through the game, but it was meant to make you disgusted.

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I Joined a Pokemon GO Meetup Today

I Joined a Pokemon GO Meetup Today

I haven’t been blogging much lately. It’s possible that the Hearthstone meta is somewhat stable and predictable now, and we know what to expect. It’s possible that I have been bogged down by work. It’s more likely though that I have been dragged into the unbreakable grasp of augmented reality game Pokemon GO. If you don’t know what Pokemon GO is, it is likely you truly live under a rock, but it is basically a game that involves capturing Pokemon with your smartphone. In the real world, Pokemon GO has become a tremendous cultural phenomenon in it’s short lifespan. While the game has clear public safety implications with distracted driving and walking, it has had numerous tremendous benefits from getting people to walk outside more, to helping autistic people interact with others. The sense of community and connection that Pokemon GO has brought to the world is one that I will focus on here, as I joined a Pokemon GO Meetup by accident today.

Artscape 2016

Artscape is an annual arts festival/event that occurs in Baltimore. I have gone the last few years, primarily to check out the Gamescape event, which features lots of indie game designers showcasing their games in develop for the public to play. I first noticed something was up, when I was going to Gamescape, in that a statue of Edgar Allan Poe was decked out with Ash’s Pokemon hat and Pokeballs.

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When I left Gamescape, I noticed a gathering of people staring at their phones. There were also a number of lures around connected Pokestops, meaning that people were catching Pokemon.

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Hey look! A big yellow sign that says Pokemon GO! Event. Apparently it was organized through Facebook. When I arrived, a raffle was wrapping up. The organizer mentioned that the group would be taking a walk through the festivities before stopping for another raffle. Given that I came to Artscape alone and had nothing else to do, I decided to join the Pokemon GO group.

Taking the streets

With the group moving on, I walked around directly behind the big yellow sign.

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Walking around with a big yellow sign is sure to draw a ton of attention in an outdoor arts festival. Given I was so close to the action, I was able to see a whole spectrum of reactions from passersby. And they were pretty predictable from what you see online.

Supporters

This Pokemon GO meetup got a lot of love. People were yelling “Team Instinct” a whole lot given the yellow theme of the organizer and sign, or whatever team (Valor / Mystic) they favored. The group was actually growing as we walked through the festival, with people who had nothing urgent to do joining the movement. A lot of people who were working as vendors lamented that they had to work at the moment. I heard a lot of whispers of people saying if they should join the group.

Haters

People who make fun of people playing Pokemon GO online are predictably vacuous in their reasoning for hating the game. And you saw these reactions from people who saw the group. A whole lot of eye rolling and “oh god Pokemon” phrases heard.

Ambivalent

The ambivalent crowd were mostly older folks who understandably don’t really have a reason to take a side in Pokemon GO. While you would expect people who don’t understand to hate, a lot of people were just like “oh that’s neat” without being disrespectful.

The Raffle

We went around and couldn’t find a place to stop, so we circled back to where I found the group to begin with. It was time for a raffle!

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I got the second ticket given out. We were playing for a number of things like decals, buttons, and grand prizes of 3D printed Flareon and Hitmonchan. I wound up getting a button fairly early, and I got to pick my team, which happened to be Mystic.

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I joined Mystic before any group had any reputation! I am mostly team-neutral.

Catches

Most of all, this event was organized to catch Pokemon! And in this meetup, I was able to catch some of the highest CP Pokemon I have ever seen, and plenty rarish Eevee.

 

All-in-all, I was glad I joined the Artscape Pokemon GO meetup. I believe they are still doing activities now, but I was pooped and left shortly after the raffle ended. I thanked the organizer for setting it up. I experienced the great sense of community that Pokemon GO has brought to the world first-hand. This game is not only really fun, but has the ability to bring people together of all types, uniting us with a common interest.

The Main Reason I Don’t Have Overwatch

The Main Reason I Don’t Have Overwatch

Overwatch made a predictably huge splash when it was released a few weeks ago. While there are no official sales numbers, indications are good, and Activision-Blizzard reached a new high in the stock market (thanks Blizz!). From a personal perspective, I immediately saw the hype regarding Overwatch light up Twitter, and the regular complaints of not getting in at launch day, and people showing off fancy loot box openings. On my Bnet friends list, I saw a bunch of people reemerge to play Overwatch. While I did thoroughly enjoy playing the game that one day I did for a beta invite, there are a few reasons as to why I currently am not playing Overwatch.

  1. It costs $60 – This is the typical price for a new release, “front line” game nowadays. I would spend $60 for something I am truly hyped about (D3 Collector’s Edition, sigh), but that time has yet to come. Also, it is not a free-to-play game like other Blizzard stalwarts Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone.
  2. There is only 1 game mode – This is another biggie in my book. Overwatch is setup as a 4v4 6v6 team game. While there are different objectives for each game, it is cemented as 812 players duking it out for something in a closed arena. Single-player story modes are something that I enjoy, but Overwatch currently has no role-playing element.
  3. I missed the hype because of Hearthstone – True fact.

Okay, those 3 reasons are important reasons as to why I currently don’t own Overwatch. But the biggest reason is because there is unlimited ammo.

Personal gaming history

Despite having played video games for most of my life, my repertoire is rather limited. Here are a sample of shooting-related games I have played to some extent:

  1. Syphon Filter series
  2. Halo series
  3. Grand Theft Auto series
  4. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series
  5. Mafia 1 and 2
  6. Borderlands 1 and 2
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A gun that nags when you reload.

Ammo system

Every game has some way of preventing you from using your best attacks all the time. Typically big weapons/moves have limited ammo, cost a lot of resource, or have big cooldowns. Let’s take a look at the ammo system from the list of games I played.

 

  1. Syphon Filter series – This game series taught me the importance of ammo conservation and reloading the full clip. While SF 1-3 had an “unlimited backpack” system, ammo certainly runs out. Certain objectives could only be completed with the limited number of shotgun rounds or grenades they give you. Ammo and armor are looted off bodies and crates.
  2. Halo series – Guns and melee weapons run out of ammo rather quickly in Halo. Of course you were limited to just two guns at a time. In Halo, guns are chucked rather quickly in a level and constantly swapped with something else.
  3. Grand Theft Auto series – GTA features the unlimited backpack system as well and they typically give you enough ammo to think about worrying about conservation. If you get arrested though, you lose all your weapons.
  4. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series – The STALKER series is a true survival grinder that really puts a draconian tone on ammo conservation. While your backpack can store an enumerable amount of objects, everything has an assigned weight. So your guns, body suit, gas masks, ammo, food, bandages, etc all could not exceed your max weight. So there are things to consider like whether carrying armor piercing rounds is worth carrying an extra bottle of Cossacks Vodka. Because ammo conservation is so important, needlessly shooting to annoy a ranged enemy is typically a bad strategy.
  5. Mafia 1 and 2 – Mafia 1 has a rare system where reloading would waste the remaining bullets in a clip. Like GTA, getting arrested will result in confiscation of all weapons. Also like GTA, it is hard to use all your ammo.
  6. Borderlands 1 and 2 – Borderlands features upgrades to storage space and ammo capacities for cash or eridium. It is typically difficult to run out of ammo, as ammo loot boxes are everywhere, though against certain raid bosses, ammo regeneration is a must-have.
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No cover and almost shot ally.

No true ammo system in Overwatch

From what I can tell in Overwatch, there are ammo and cooldowns. Gun characters (almost everybody) do have different ammo sizes in their weapons, forcing them to reload periodically. However, the players tap into an unlimited number of magazines, making the reload penalty just a pause in the action of sorts. There are no implications for ammo conservation. The closest thing to conservation is managing the cooldown for your abilities.

Because of my personal gaming history, especially with shooters, I am very drawn to the concept of managing ammo. The idea of just unlimited ammo is a bit radical. Though in defense of Overwatch, there are likely a few reasons as to why this is:

  • Unique characters and weapons – Notably, heroes cannot use each others weapons. No corpse looting can occur to have any benefit. Further heroes have different ammo needs. For example, Junkrat will need to reload on gun ammo and mines/traps. Other characters like Tracer, only have one type of ammo. Then you get muddled into reducing cooldowns in lieu of ammo and it gets confusing.
  • No adventure/story mode – Ammo conservation is something more geared for a story/role-playing mode. Given that Overwatch appears to be only a closed PvP game, the point of having ammo conservation is lessened.
  • Easier for new gamers – This is probably the main reason why there is unlimited ammo in Overwatch. The fuss of worrying about ammo conservation could be an extra layer of difficulty to those not familiar with it.

Recharging stations or ammo crates

I’m not sure if anyone else out there is not drawn to Overwatch because of this one particular issue. Not sure if anyone has thought of fixing in strategic reloading stations on the map that could be contested or destroyed by the opposition. Or the concept of “parachuting” ammo crates that could drop onto the map. Without an ammo system, I just see a free-for-all of unlimited, brainless shooting in a game.

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All those shotguns on the ground could be a tripping hazard in the battlefield.