Posts Tagged ‘gaming’

Completely Twisted

November 6th, 2012 2 comments

League of Legends has come to the end of its second season, with the Taipei Assassins taking home the mantle of World Champions. With this unexpected victory now behind them, Riot looks to the future of the professional scene and season 3, and begin to lay down their vision in the rework of LoL’s redheaded stepchild of a map, Twisted Treeline.

In a statement regarding the transition period between seasons, Marc Merrill (president of Riot) said that the remake of the map was one element they were introducing to change the nature of the game. Even though Season 2 had seen a lot of adjustments, including the Honor Initiative, Spectator Mode, Champion Remakes, and graphical fixes, these changes were merely the polishing of a game that was already very successful, by professional gaming standards. “But we’re still just getting started. In fact, we’re always striving to improve the game over time. With Season Three on the horizon, expect League of Legends to continue to evolve.”

If the rework of Twisted Treeline proves to be the standard by which Riot moves forward, I am very excited to see what comes next. In its previous incarnation, Twisted Treeline was a muddled mess of a map, too big to be comfortable for 3v3s, but too small for anything else. Its buffs were awkwardly placed, the layout of the jungle was snarled and incoherent, and when these elements were combined with exceedingly narrow lanes, the map gave too much power to teams with heavy control or pull elements like Blitzcrank/Nautilus/Ahri. It was, simply put, frustrating.

Twisted Treeline’s remake was released soon before Elise stepped onto the Field of Champions, and just in time for Halloween. While the various skins and themes of the holiday definitely influence the map, the balance that was once lacking from the Treeline is now closer to being realized. No longer does the TT feel like a sprawling tangled snare, but instead, a more streamlined and action oriented map, where two teams rest for control over altars, and the middle ground. The Elder Lizard and the Dragon are gone, their buffs switched around into two altars and one neutral mob.

If you’re looking for a significant short term buff (and you’re strong enough) head over to Vilemaw, the new boss creep of the map. A giant spider who may have eaten the last boss creep, Vilemaw is a significant threat, and a significant prize. He’ll give you the Crest of Crushing Wrath on his defeat, which may give your team that last rush needed to take the enemy’s Nexus. This isn’t too much different than Baron, and isn’t as interesting a change to the map as the altars are.

The altars are a great point of contention, one which doesn’t rely on a team fighting and getting weakened by a creep. Instead, the two altars are split on either sides of the jungle, one closer to either team. Control one altar, and receive a small gold on kill boost. Control both, and you get increases to your attack damage and your ability power. It’s a way to invest zones of control, and give something for the players to fight over other than towers and creeps. Control over the altars is governed by a small timer, and once you capture one, an altar cannot be recaptured for 90 seconds, making them both a valuable prize and something that isn’t game changing by itself. If your altar is captured, the enemy team gets a small benefit for a short, and then you get to try to reclaim it. It is only over the whole of the game that the bonuses have a decisive impact on your game: if you’ve held both altars for a more significant part of the match, then its buff will be felt in the end as you accrue more gold than your opponents.

The last significant change to TT is the addition of several items. Treeline has a host of new items meant only for it that were added because of the player count. In 5v5s, there’s more of an opportunity for everyone to do a bit of damage, and so the items tend to be a little weaker on the whole. With fewer players and the possibility of a really beefy team, the designed of the new TT felt that some heavily impacting items needed to be in the mix.

On the whole, the new Twisted Treeline is a fun, interesting place, and if we can see this sort of thought put into just a map, I’m looking forward to season 3 as it rolls out. When the designers listen to their players, you get a higher quality game, and though I don’t know what the future holds for League of Legends, I’m sure it’ll be a bright one.

See you on the Fields of Justice, Summoners.

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Hang that game on the wall. Next to the Picasso, dear.

February 20th, 2012 1 comment

I have long held that games are a new art form, but only very slowly gaining the acclaim that they are due. For too long, people have derided games as mere toys or diversions, unworthy of the status of being art. After all, since kids play these things, they can’t be legitimate works of art. They’re just things to keep us entertained for a little bit, and then they go away. But Psychonauts, if you’ll pardon the pun, has stuck itself in my brain, and will undoubtedly influence the tabletop games I run from here on out.

It’s been 7 years since the game was released, and I had always heard it was revolutionary, but no one could tell me why exactly. It was simply, “You have to play this,” from all corners of the internet. Then, Yahtzee came along with his review, and I was suddenly more intrigued. With all the attention on Double Fine because of their Kickstarter drive giving me the last push, I went on Steam and picked it up.

And I could not put it down. This is a game whose story is genuinely original and funny, a call to the days of old when humor meant more to a game than body count. It’s also profoundly moving. All of the characters are well detailed, because you have to help almost all of them with their psychological problems. There has to be literal depth there, as you go spelunking through their unconsciousnesses. If the characters don’t have story, then they don’t have problems for you to solve. Additionally, it ties in beautifully to the exploring element championed by Psychonauts; if you want to get more powerful, you have to achieve objectives within the “mindscapes” of the characters that involve uncovering their secrets and helping them with their (literal) mental baggage. As people hide their shame deep within their consciousness until it becomes a part of them, so too do the characters who you have to help. Secrets become things to search out and fight, or organize. Baggage becomes things to pick up and reunite. Every character has some secret, some shame, some hidden pain that you have to work out, or else you don’t progress. It is this depth that is truly refreshing in a game; I grew fond of every character, even the antagonist, though I have to say that the turning point for me was getting the achievement “I’m Sure She’s Over It”. I won’t spoil it for you, but she’s not. She’s just covering.

That’s what makes the game amazing. Its platforming blends into its story and back again. Because I took the time to explore, I found out a whole new level of depth to a major character. It changed my understanding of her interactions with everyone else in the story, and it is this level of seriousness and complexity which defines art.

When you can make a game go (ahem) levels deeper, and to change the way its players think, you cannot simply dismiss it as meaningless entertainment, devoid of any value other than wasting time. You have to give it more credit than that.

Buy Psychonauts. Play it, as it’s relatively short at 8-10 hours. Enjoy it.

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How Fine? Double Fine

February 11th, 2012 2 comments

Double Fine’s unprecedented success with its Kickstarter donation drive to produce a new game begs a question: Can this be a sustainable business model for the future of gaming? Before we tackle that weighty question, let’s start with some facts and observations, and wend our way from there.

For those of you who haven’t heard, Double Fine Productions, lead by Tim Schafer, decided that they wanted to start a new game. It is what they do, being a game production company after all, but still, they felt the itch. The being said, the problem with most independent developers (and Double Fine is one of the largest), is their inability to gain the financing necessary to produce their games. Many games that do get developed by indie teams are just labors of love, and any compensation for them comes at the end of the process, if it comes at all. Many actually just die on the operating table, and never see the light of day. Their producers are small 2-3 man teams, who need jobs to pay the bills. They can’t afford keep working all night in their garages, as they’ve got to get sleep at some point. The costs involved (the technology, the staff, the office space, and the energy requirements to name a few) in producing games like Call of Duty, Madden NFL, and Assassin’s Creed is the reason that Activision, EA, and Ubisoft exist at all.

So Tim decided he wanted to cut out the middle man. Enter Kickstarter. A website that accrues donations for creative projects, Tim decided to set up a drive there to see if he could get his game financed. He wanted $300,000 to fund it, and an extra $100,000 to film it.

He got that much in 8 hours. People didn’t stop. Currently, it’s at $1,521,422. For those of you busting out your calculators, that’s 3.7 times as much as he asked for. With 31 days left to go.

Unless something catastrophic happens, it’s easy to predict that this game will be a success. The talent is there, and so is the money. Gobs and gobs of money. But is this a sustainable business scheme for the future? That’s a little trickier to speculate on.

The buzz for this product may have really started when Notch tweeted “Let’s make this happen.” He was specifically talking about Psychonauts 2, but the internet noticed, and maybe Tim did too. It’s tough to say without interviewing him when exactly he got the idea to go to Kickstarter. It’s also tough to say if anyone else could have had the success in using Kickstarter that Tim Schafer has. He has the luxury of a great intro video, an impressive gaming resumé, and an amazing team. Though the games page on Kickstarter is full of projects that have been funded successfully, it’s tough to use that as a gauge to see the projects that have failed to be adequately funded, because they just don’t show up. However, there are plenty of games and other projects on Kickstarter that don’t have Tim Schafer behind them, and they get funded just fine.

But I think it’s the beginning of a new era, certainly. As with book publishing, game publishing is being… well not crowd sourced exactly, but definitely crowd financed. The major limiting factors for the creation for books and games have been money and avenues for distribution. But these walls are being torn down in this digital age. Distribution platforms such as Valve’s Steam, Amazon’s Kindle Store, and Apple’s iTunes, the bars for both the cost to produce these goods and the ability to spread them are being lowered substantially. Anyone with a computer can create something and spread it as they like. The real limiter then becomes, as it always should be, quality. The things that do well should be intrinsically more valuable than those that don’t. Because anyone can make anything, the good things will naturally rise to the top as more people examine, use, and play these games. The ones that are worth it will be talked about and shared, and the ones that aren’t will be forgotten.

As gamers, I think we should promote these trends for two reasons:

1. Encouraging the distribution of games increases their popularity be definition, giving us a broader and healthier community.

2. Having more options to pick from in terms of games gives us stronger games, and lets the medium develop as a true art form.

I realize that not everyone can afford to pitch in to the projects they would like to. Times are tough, and money’s always been tight for a lot of friends of mine. That being said, if you can’t contribute monetarily, please spread the word. These kinds of things need to be endorsed, for the good of both our hobby and community. And if you’ve got the time, and the inclination, then do so yourself. Get on Kickstarter, grab some friends, get out there, and make something. Do us all proud.

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Under The Bridge

January 11th, 2012 2 comments

I have been playing a lot of League of Legends lately. Alliteration aside, I think it’s a solid game that’s let me reconnect with some friends back at home while I’m on winter break here in Korea. I won’t get to play quite as much with them once school starts, but I’ve deeply enjoyed my time so far. Except for one, small, tiny problem.


They’re becoming a more ubiquitous sort of problem in video game culture in general, and LoL and other DOTA clones are well known for the amount of trolling that goes on in the game. “Fucking retards”, “My team has downs”, “Oh God, it would be better if you just went AFK.” Actually, I got told that in a game I played just tonight. “Fizz, ur useless. just afk.” And I’ll admit, it hurt. I mean, it always does. That’s the point, and also the problem. A certain amount of teasing and ribbing is in line with competition of any kind. There’s a natural, primal instinct to gloat, to roar in triumph. I think it’s part of our ancestry, actually. To be able to cry out, to shout that you had achieved something gave you recognition, gave you status. If you could do what you said you could do, then you wanted to be known for that. In competitions that’s primarily “Beat the other guy”, and we celebrate it even today when we ask sports stars and athletes what they think of their performance in the game today, or how they trained to be so God Damned Fast.

But in games online, this sort of gloating is tainted and transformed by the medium that the sport takes place in. Before there were online games, there were online forums. Chat rooms, BBSes, newsgroups, where people could come together under the veil of anonymity and discuss their opinions. But given that safety net, people began to let their darker sides out. The more vindictive, angry, violent, and frankly cruel sides. We gave a name to these shadows of the Internet, who delight in getting a rise out of people.

We called them trolls.

For a long time, the advice was “Don’t feed the trolls”, and it was relatively sound. If you ignore them, then you beat them. You don’t give them what you want. If you can just hold your head, and not submit to their taunts and jeers, their threats and insults, then you can continue on this great big thing we call the Web, undisturbed. Maybe a little bloody, but unbowed.

Video games didn’t have this much of a problem in the early days, because they were often against a computer opponent. But games, particularly online games, require a certain amount of commitment to your teammates. Cordial behavior, teamwork, respect, and the same goal in mind. As the games we designed grew more and more social, then the inherent problem of anonymous assholes who get their jollies off by making other people feel bad bled into this new frontier. Suddenly, we had problems trusting our own teammates. We thought that we could at least count them on being civil, but “gg noobs” and “just uninstall the game fagtard” became part of our vocabulary.

Sadly, I don’t think there’s any one solution that can ever beat out trolling. Which is not to say that we should give up, and just wash our hands of these games. It simply means that we must be ready to accept that there will be a period of time when our experience with it will be less than ideal. Even frustrating. But there are ways of dealing with trolls that are effective.

1. Don’t play with them on your team.

This is perhaps the ideal, and may be impossible in some cases, but is relatively manageable in team games. Do your best to find a community that you feel is worth your time and be a part of it. This may mean you play with your friends only, or it might also mean that you stumble upon a subreddit or a newsgroup concerning your game, and find that the people there are exceptionally friendly or helpful.

Once you’re there, play with them rather than (at least in League of Legends’ case) solo-queue. This has a couple of advantages of not only minimizing your contact with trolls, but also probably improving your game, depending on the size of the community. You learn how to perform your role better, and wind up enjoying the game more.

2. Combat trolling.

“Don’t feed the trolls” is not the same thing as combating trolling. In the former, you’re frustrated, probably angry, and just break. You start swearing, yelling, maybe you go AFK in your game. The troll wins. Even in the defeat of your team, he still gets the satisfaction of knowing that he beat you, and that’s all he wants.

But in the later, which is a bit more situation dependent, you can at least stem the tide. If the troll is on their team, you can report him through any means you have available to your game. In League of Legends, this takes the form of the Tribunal, a peer-reviewed system where other players make determinations on how the game played out based on final score and chat logs, and then Riot employees mete out punishments. I think it’s a pretty good system, and if the statistics gathered by Riot are to be believed, then it’s marginally effective as well.

If the troll is on your team, giving shit to the other players, ask him to stop. You might suffer a bit of your own hazing, but you let your other teammates know that that shit isn’t acceptable, and you fight it, just a tiny bit. It does work better if your teammates are people you know, since they might actually listen to you in that case, but we can’t all work with the ideal.

3. The ignore button.

This isn’t as effective a way to deal with trolls as I would like, but it’s pretty ubiquitous, and follows the internet’s oldest rule about trolls. Most games have some sort of function where you can ignore a certain user. This can be taken advantage of within the game to let you ignore them, and thereby, never deal with them again.
This is my least favorite way of dealing with trolls because it doesn’t actually solve the problem of their behavior in the first place, but there’s only so much to be done about that, largely involving actual remorse on the part of the troll. Really, it feels like you’re just pawning the problem off on other people, but it is an effective strategy, as about 25 years of being online has shown us.

I think as gamers, we have to adapt to the idea that there are people in our games who, just for the lulz, want us to be miserable. The first defense against such behavior is knowing it exists, and then dealing with the emotions generated by that behavior in a responsible way. If you’re just going to ragequit because some guy calls you a “fagtard n00b”, then you’ve lost, and they’ve won, and you wasted your time.

But if you can get the better of them, even when they are kicking you while you’re down, then you can appreciate the high points of your games much more than if you’re being so angry that you can’t see straight. So please, don’t feed the trolls.

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The More Things Change

April 1st, 2011 1 comment

Role-playing games are an escape from reality. We play to forget the hardships of a day, and to enjoy the company of friends. We play because we would rather be these other people, at least for a few hours. But the few moments we can steal away from the dreary day-to-day are still at the whim of Real Life. Sometimes, we can no longer make the commitments that we made when we started gaming. Sometimes, we’re no longer having fun with these characters, or this party, or this DM. And sometimes, Real Life says “Enough.”

And we stop.

It’s lamentable. It’s tragic even. With bittersweet farewells in character and mixed feelings out, we try to reconfigure the game to deal with the absence of characters and players who we had previously counted on.

And that’s the rub. We did count on these people. We counted on the storyteller to keep telling stories, or the tank to keep getting all those big, bad monsters not to hit us. We counted on the healer to keep us alive. We counted on the rogue to gank bitches and take names, damn it! We counted on our friends, and we can’t any longer.

So how to move on? How to deal with the absence introduced? Well, that depends on a lot of things, but mostly it depends on whether the person who is leaving was a mere player on a stage, or if he was the storyteller.

If the storyteller’s gone, then nine times out ten it’s the end of the game. It’s a little different in a LARP, where players have a lot of investment in the games themselves, but if it’s a tabletop game, or if it’s a raid, that might very well be the death knell of it. You can kiss that game good bye, and those stories probably finish without ending. Maybe that’s the greatest tragedy; the game got started because the people around it wanted to tell a story, and they’ll never have that chance any more. The sour feelings and wishful thinking that the game could be resurrected someday almost pale in comparison to the story having never reached a “the end”.

It’s far more common, and far more muddy, if it’s a player who leaves. If one player leaves, usually the person in charge (the ST or raid lead) will try to fill that place in, try to get someone new to pick up the slack. This usually works, but doesn’t usually work well. New party dynamics have to be figured out, new relationships have to be established in an already established order. Can it work? Like real world relationships that have problems, it’s really only possible if everyone left tries to make it work. The new player has to do their best to fill the role expected of them, and the rest of the group has to try and accommodate the new. It’s more disastrous if one person’s leaving triggers an exodus, and suddenly, a noticeable percentage of the game just isn’t there anymore.

In either case, if the remaining people want to save it, they have to make the decision to try to save it. They have to be willing to put in the effort to do the heavy lifting, and to deal with the new that has taken the place of the old. It’s hard for the people who don’t make the decision to leave, but instead decide to try and rebuild, knowing they’ll not only be a little sadder, but that the game they’re now playing is not the game they agreed to play when the game began. All games change over time, but rarely do they change so radically.

On the other hand, the players might not want to save the game. They might just want to reform, with a new idea. Play a different game, raid with completely different characters. Moving on from what was to what will be, what could be. The possibility of having something new to take the player’s mind of the old is a very alluring concept. Since the old game failed, after all, you have all this free time to fill it up with a new game.

There is also the decision to just tough it out. Maybe you don’t need that person in the way you thought you did. Maybe you can get on, ignoring the limp, the phantom character sensation as it were. It doesn’t always apply, of course. You need a storyteller, and you need a couple of players, but you can sometimes make do with less. Maybe you had more than you needed to begin with, and it’s actually a blessing in disguise. Your games are faster now, streamlined without that extraneous part of the group.

But ultimately, the problem isn’t with the person who’s leaving. They’ve made their peace, and their decision, and carry on with their lives. They knew what they were doing, and when the finally put their foot down, there isn’t a lot that another people can do about it.

No, the problem is with who’s left.

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A Helping Hand

February 3rd, 2010 No comments

I want to take some time out of your busy gaming schedule to talk about a couple of things: Child’s Play and Heroes Without Borders.

“Tabor, what are these marvelous things?” This is what you would ask, if you called me Tabor. I would reply thus: they are organizations worthy of your charity, attention, and resources. Too often, gamers and nerds have bad reputations. Anti-social, misanthropic, disorganized, and all around dysfunctional people. These stereotypes have by and large created a need in us to defy them. Challenges and conceptions be damned, my friends are among the most generous and interesting people I know, and so I think you should take a look at them and consider helping out.

Let’s start with Child’s Play, because it pertains more to this blog than Heroes does. Child’s Play started in 2003, and is a charity devoted to helping children in hospitals worry less about their time there. In order to entertain kids and distract them from all the scary parts of a hospital visit (pain, fear, questions you can’t answer when you’re 10), Penny Arcade started raising money to donate to the Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle. It got a lot of press then and continues to do its mission, and do it well, consecutively raising more donations
each year the charity has been in existence. It’s even expanded into Egypt!

That’s neat, and kind of takes us close to the other charity: Heroes Without Borders.

So, my friend Jenn decided she would give several years of her life to other people, and joined the Peace Corps. When she was accepted, she was sent off to Rwanda, which is not actually close to Egypt at all. Her job there is teaching English, and as a secondary project, she focused on making English more accessible to the children of that nation. She needed a way to make reading fun for them, and more importantly, cheap for Rwandans, and came up with a brilliant solution: comic books.

Comic book stores often have lots of back stock of comics, you see, and are dying to get rid of them. They are still entertaining however, especially to people who have never read them, and they can be purchased in bulk rather easily. This, combined with the number of geeks she knows, means that comic books are actually quite the practical solution to her project.

So please, please please please, pretty please: Get in touch with either of these great organizations, and try to help out.

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