Anti-Deskbot Deck Construction #2

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Following on from the first post, here’s my attempt to build a deck that can hold its own against Deskbots.

Strategies

Given the high ATK values of Deskbots, attacking them head-on is almost guaranteed to go badly. Therefore the best approach seems to be a mixture of;

  • cards which can attack directly to avoid confronting Deskbot 003.
  • cards which can do damage outside of the battle phase to avoid Deskbot 009’s effect-negation.
  • cards which can prevent other cards from being destroyed by battle.

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Anti-Deskbot Deck Construction #1

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After losing countless matches to my friend’s Deskbot deck thanks to his ability to reach 15,000 ATK by turn 5, the idea of building an anti-Deskbot deck has been tempting me recently.

However, I’ve never built a counter- or anti- deck before, let alone one for an archetype this strong. Because of this, my first step needed to be figuring out the components of a Deskbot deck, in order to find what type of cards and effects may be useful against their traits.
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No Man’s Sky – Who was to blame?

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Just like the rest of the internet, I’m going to talk about No Man’s Sky...

More specifically, about the 1.1 update announced today.

1.1, known as the Foundation update, will add two new modes (Creative and Survival) to the main game, and will begin the Base Building feature, while adding features to existing mechanics like farming. Foundation also promises to improve multiple parts of the resource management side of the game, by making resources easier to store, automate and use. The patch list is one of the longest I’ve ever seen.
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Overwatch #2 – Learning Curves

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In case the last post didn’t say it loud enough, I’m a fan of Overwatch. Being able to feel myself learning new things while playing is a powerful motivator to keep going and play better, unlike the Russian Roulette gameplay of COD, where simply spawning in the wrong place can get you killed instantly. So, here’s what I’ve been learning so far.

Role Variety

As I’m not much of a PC gamer, and have never played any MOBA-type games before, I’m not very familiar with character types. While I knew that characters can generally be split into the roles of DPS (damage output), Tanks (taking a lot of damage), and Support (healing or buffing the team), I didn’t really know anything beyond that.

I expected Overwatch to follow that three-type structure, so finding that it actually has 4 main roles, as well as characters which overlap aspects of multiple roles, made it interesting for me. However, it also meant I played some characters really badly at first!

The most obvious difference for me was trying to play as Winston; at first, I assumed from his size that he was purely a tank character. However, trying to play him as a tank failed- trying to jump into a fight just meant I died very quickly, and even my Ultimate ability didn’t seem to help. However, talking to one of my friends about which characters we liked showed me how wrong I was. Firstly, figuring out that Winston wasn’t purely as a tank, but intended to be a disruptor – a role I never knew existed in character ensembles- helped me understand how his moves worked. This helped me figure out how to do better in Control and how to use his shield and his Ultimate; this meant my next game with Winston set my personal best for eliminations.

Another example is support-of-all-trades character Lucio. While I like playing as dedicated healer Mercy in short bursts, she’s at her best when she’s invisible, flying around the edges of the battlefield like a counter-Tracer. Being Lucio, on the other hand, means I get to both be part of the action and help my teammates out with extra healing and shields.

The same logic applies to a number of other characters, a common example being Tracer. FPS logic dictates that you charge in and make kills, but playing Tracer that way will just get you killed. Rather than straightforward attacking, she’s a disruptive, evasive attacker, hovering around the edges of a fight chipping away at everyone in turn.

Team Focus

Unlike in standard FPSs, and even like Battleborn where the objectives can often be ignored, Overwatch relies on playing to the objective. This means learning how characters work as part of the team is essential. For me, that learning curve has mostly been from my favourite character, Mei.

Playing Mei as a beginner, especially with groups of random players, meant running around putting walls in places that made sense to me, but not the rest of the team. Initially, she seems like a defender whose job might be to hide in a control point repeatedly blocking its entry points. However, that approach isn’t the strongest, and also gets pretty boring.

After a few matches of practice, it’s easy to have fun making cheap shots such as blocking the enemies running towards the team . However, as this blocks the team from attacking those enemies, an impulsive Mei player (like me) could easily end up making enemies of their own team.

Now that I’ve played as her more, and watched other people play her, her ability to help the team is much easier to see. For one thing, her walls aren’t just for blocking routes, but for accessing them too. They can act as temporary platforms, letting Mei and other less-mobile characters jump to alternate entry points usually reserved for more agile characters like Widowmaker and Lucio. (I discovered one use of this approach by accident, when I misplaced a wall;instead of blocking the enemy exit door, I instead pushed the friend stood in front of the door upwards which let him jump into the ledge above the door. So we’re going to test that in a future game, with him using Torbjorn or Bastion to create an early disruption.)

I’ve also found, through YouTube guides, many more ways to play Mei as a defender of other teammates rather than focusing on self-defense. In one video, the Mei player had quick enough reactions to put a wall in between a character hooked by Roadhog and Roadhog himself, which blocked the friendly characters path and prevented them from being stunned by Roadhog.

While Mei and Lucio are gentle introductions to team tactics, playing Mercy means being thrown in at the deep end. Even though the team may be able to scrape together some healing in Mercy’s absence, Mercy’s ability to escape danger relies upon seeing another teammate. Playing as Mercy, if you wander off, you’re target practice.

Character Combinations

While I doubt I’ll have the reaction times for blocking Roadhog’s hook, I’ve had some success using Mei’s walls to deliberately block off a friendly Bastion, giving him the 3 uninterrupted seconds he needed to self-heal. With friends, we’ve found “our” characters, so working out which combinations of preferred characters are strongest together will be our next step. At the moment, we often play Winston/Winston/Tracer when we’re on Attack or Control (although this can be risky) while favouring Mei/Roadhog/Bastion during Defence matches.

Looking for ways I can combine the effects of different characters is part of the game I’m finding very interesting, although having only played as 5 of the characters so far means I have little to go on for many of the others. So the best thing I can do to learn more about the game now is to try playing as everyone else. Well, that should be easy.

Overwatch #1 – First Impressions

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It may be a bit early to say Game of the Year, but if Overwatch isn’t my favourite game this year I’ll be surprised.

I wasn’t expecting to like the game quite as much as I do- I was expecting to get bored fairly quickly after hearing there was no campaign. Yet I’ve had more fun on Overwatch than I have on games promising more content and variety.  A major part of the fun is precisely because Overwatch contains “less”.
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The Year of (Less) Gaming…

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Follow-up to this post.

The previous post was at the end of last year, and my end of year reflection post kind of build on what I was already thinking in that post. In the last few months, where gaming was and where it should be is something I’ve been continuing to think about.

The main catalyst beyond the posts was in January. I had a conversation happen that was very much not what I’d hoped, and made me doubt everything, and feel pretty bad. This was right in the middle of January, while a few of my assignments were due.  I let feeling bad about it take over, and dealt with everything by isolating myself from people and gaming instead of doing my uni work.  For one of my essays, I didn’t put anywhere near as much effort into it as I could have, and ended up submitting it late. That meant the highest mark I could possibly get was the minimum pass mark- made more annoying by finding out later that it would have received a Merit.
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The Year of Gaming…

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Yesterday, Xbox sent out round-up emails with stats about our year in Xbox. Usually, I’m interested in that kind of thing, but reading these stats was uncomfortable.

I’m in the top 5% for amount played, at about 1500 hours in 2015. I honestly didn’t expect to be that high a percentile, more like 15/20%. That number annoys me- at least 1/3 of those hours happened as deliberate escapism or inertia. What could I have done with them instead?
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Itch.io Cyberpunk Jam

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Cyberpunk is one of my favourite genres both in fiction and in gaming, and telling me a game is cyberpunk-influenced is a good way of guaranteeing my interest (well, that or cel-shading). So finding out that Itch.io– a game-dev community that I’ve often heard about but never really investigated- had a whole section of cyberpunk games ready to try definitely got my attention.

Here are a few highlights; mostly from the 2014 Cyberpunk Game Jam.

VA-11 Hall-A

We’re used to seeing the heroes, villains, and morally-ambiguous characters of cyberpunk in action, but who are they when they finish work?
Who populates the world away from the camera?

VA11 Hall-A, described as a bartender-em-up, lets us look at the personal lives behind the often-impersonal world of neon, skyscrapers and megacorporations.
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The Psychology of Freemium Gaming: Social Interaction Required

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A cousin of the paywall and skill gate is the social fence. This is where a game, instead of requiring tangible goods for you to proceed, depends on existing or new social connections.

Like us on Facebook to read the rest of the article…

Gaming being enhanced by adding friends isn’t a new concept- multiplayer videogames have been around since 1958. Explicitly requiring friendships to progress through a game is, however, a much newer trend.

Social Network games such as Farmville and Zynga’s entire catalogue are the most well-known users of this mechanic; spawning multitudes of fans, followers, and imitators. Not forgetting the universal heart-seeking Candy Crush notifications.

These games typically work by connecting the energy mechanic I spoke about before with a social mechanic. If a player would initially need to wait 6 hours to continue after running out of energy, a social gate could be created as an alternative. This could be by calling in a friend’s assistance; having a friend start playing the game would cancel that wait.
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The Psychology of Freemium Gaming: Energy and Action

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You have full energy!…

While boxed game releases used to mean one large payment for one large game, that idea isn’t a certainty any more.  Episodic games often occupy the midpoint of the price-content spectrum, while some AAA games aim for everywhere on the spectrum at once; a full game for a full price, a season pass on top, then microtransactions on top of that.

For AAA games, microtransactions rely on keeping the momentum of playtime going- for longer, either by unlocking new items early, or by increasing rewards. However, major freemium games instead aim for “micro-gaming”- limiting people to short, regular chunks of gameplay. Transactions can act as  micro-monetisation -exchanging a little bit of money for a little bit of time saved.
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The Psychology of Freemium Gaming: Gates, Walls and Curves.

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Freemium games often have very low difficulty curves, and low barriers to success, as part of their casual nature. However, they will usually corner players with a paywall after the introductory rush of success has worn off.

Paywalls aren’t all created equal- some can block players from continuing easily, while others are used mainly to add extra features. A “soft” paywall might be something like the ability to unlock a bonus character or go to a new level for a fee. A “hard” paywall might be requiring hard currency for weapon upgrade, making characters progressively underlevelled without payment, or blocking their ability to resurrect themselves.

While a freemium game blocking progression outright is thankfully uncommon, many casual games will instead make progressing easy but perfection impossible for free players. Continue reading

Impressions | Destiny

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Two Thursdays ago, we felt invincible.

Our 6-man fireteam blitzed through the Vault of Glass in an hour, successfully enacting strategies honed over the past few weeks. Everyone knew their role and position in every challenge. More than that, we knew to stick together. We worked as one unit: spotting Oracles and broadcasting their location, looking after players rendered blind by screen effects, and synchronising our attacks to take bosses down as smoothly as possible.

It was frantic yet controlled; challenging but not overwhelming. It was some of the most fun on Xbox Live I’ve ever had, and a reminder of why I took the leap into multiplayer games.

Judging Destiny based on nights like that, it would be one of my favourite games of all time.  It encompasses so many things I enjoy in gaming; true co-operation and teamwork; challenging but just-achievable goals; customisable skills and weapons, and a great multiplayer mode. These all combine to make a compellingly playable and engaging experience.

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The Psychology of Freemium Gaming: DLC Edition

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To read the next article in this series, please download the “DLC Edition Blog Post Pack”…

Digital distribution and expansion packs have been around for a surprisingly long time: the Atari 2600’s GameLine (1983) let people download games via their phone lines, while the Genesis’ SegaChannel (1994) offered a subscription to play games through cable lines, like dial-up proto-xbox-live. Total Annihilation (1997) was the first PC game to gain an expansion pack.

Like many gaming nerds, I don’t have a problem with DLC, Expansion Packs, or even freemium games. The part I have a problem with is when it seems like developers and marketers are designing a game based on what suits their pockets rather than their players.Sometimes, these things work pretty well together. Joke DLC’s like Skyrim’s Horse Armour and services like the Xbox Live Avatar Marketplace are technically completely useless. However, they are entirely optional, and the players who spend money on these things are providing money that can be used to develop other servives for lower-cost. Voluntary money sinks designed purely for fun aren’t my thing, but they have a purpose and a fanbase.

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Game Optimisation, Part 2: AMD vs NVIDIA

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If you missed the first post, which was an overview of the different levels of optimisation a game can have, then you can find it here:

99% of all graphics cards are made by the duopoly of AMD or NVIDIA (NV). As well as controlling graphics hardware, both companies have expanded into software, creating a middle layer that goes between the graphics card hardware and the games software. Both companies have a similar box of tricks, and I’ll explain a little of what they both offer.

While they are similar in many regards, the major difference at the moment is how much influence the company can have both after a game is released and, more importantly, on the development process of a game. Current graphics card poster child Watch_Dogs is the game in focus today.
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The Psychology of Freemium Gaming: Economics and Exponential Growth.

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Have some bonus XP for reaching the second stage of the series! You are now Level 2.

The game of the day here is Mafia City, a business management game created by 68games. In Mafia City, the aim is to create a Mafia character and grow from a petty criminal to a master of the city.

The campaign of MC didn’t get off to the best start for me, as it initially consisted of a lot of handholding. Single-action commands, bright flashy “click here” arrows, continual rewards, you name it. My main reason for continuing in the campaign was the sense of achievement I got from succeeding at the practically failure-proof early missions, which produced so much XP that I reached level 20 on my second day.

For completing the first paragraph, you receive 50XP.

Photo courtesy of http://www.wpcentral.com

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The Psychology of Freemium Gaming

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Time for some cross-disciplinary nerdiness today! And also for the next few weeks, as today is the beginning of series on the mechanics, and psychology of freemium games.

Before we begin, I’ll explain some of the terms I’ll need to use in the series:

Freemium: a business model where the basic product is provided for free, but upgrades and customisation is charged.

Mechanics: the separate working components of how exactly button presses are translated into action and gameplay, that fit together in a game. For example, the speed at which characters run, the delay between pressing an attack button and starting the attack, or the radius of where a sword swing will connect with an opponent, are all choices of mechanics.
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How Not to Play Mass Effect 3 (or, the joys of truly co-operative multiplayer) :P

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Note: This post works better with its associated video here or opened in another tab so you can see both video and text at once. If that’s not possible, there are time tags for every rule, to keep things on track.

As you can tell from the title, the subject today is Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. Which is probably my favourite and most-played video-game-related-thing ever. It’s not the most original game in the world, but it is very well done- there’s something incredibly compelling about the multiplayer even two years and 650 games in.

Part of the reason for this is the sheer variety of characters and powers. However, just having loads of characters isn’t enough to make a game good:  ME3 multiplayer got it right because every character can be of use in a team. It’s replayability is mainly a function of the incredible amounts of team synergy that can be created. That’s something you don’t see in a lot of shooters- even when it says co-operative multiplayer, many are basically competitive multiplayer instead, just with a few less people shooting at you, rather than modifying the fundamentals of how you play the game.

While I’m planning to put some videos of good runs up, with my typical team. I’m putting up this one basically as a “what not to do” video, and a view of  why maybe some people don’t find this game as long-term interesting as we do.

So, how not to play ME3 :P


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Game Optimisation, Part 1.

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First things first, what is optimisation? The general definition is “the process of making a strategy maximally functional; removing deficiencies in a system or process”. In gaming terms, this means a game making good use of the resources it has been given to run in.

In consoles, optimisation is often not a big deal, due to standardised parts. Because all Xbox 360s (for example) have the same resources as each other, a 360-specific game will be developed on the exact same system it will be played on, meaning the game can be set up to work well on the hardware supplied. Of course, some games still don’t run properly even then, but that’s normally a fault of design or programming at a more basic level.

Optimisation can sometimes be an issue when a game is ported from one console to another without fully taking the differences between systems into account. Games released for the 6th and 7th generation consoles concurrently often had issues on the Wii that weren’t present on other consoles, due to the Will having technical specifications lower than the other 7th generation consoles. Games released for the 7th and 8th generation concurrently have the same issue with the Wii U. (For a look at the minor flame war about the Wii U port of Mass Effect 3, look here)

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Watch_Dogs

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I’ve finally got my hands on Watch_Dogs and had time to give it a fair play-through, so thought I would post up my first impressions. I’m currently on Act 2 of the 5-act story, and at approximately 20% game completion.

The most obvious queston when talking about Watch_Dogs is of course, what is the hacking like? Thankfully, it works really well, and is fully-integrated into the game rather than an afterthought:  it actually is the backbone of the game, as the trailers claimed.

Simple elements, such as switching traffic light colours and opening gates, are hacked by pressing X, while more complicated challenges such as important plot-related hacks require solving a hacking puzzle, such as in the picture below.

An early-game hacking puzzle

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Game Dev Tycoon

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This week I’ve been celebrating finishing university by playing Game Dev Tycoon. This is a Steam game, developed by Greenheart Games and available for £6.99.

Progression

When I Initially loaded the game, it seemed quite linear and simple. The first stage of levelling – going from a one-man-band in my garage, to moving into my own office – went well, and made it seem like the game would be quite easy to complete.

Once I got to the middle stage of the office, and started employing people and making larger games, the game opened up a lot more. So much more, in fact, that I then realised I was only looking at a narrow area of the game. Levelling up staff and unlocking extra elements to include in created games are both set up by the same thing, Research Points: as it isn’t always clear how to get more research points, I didn’t have enough to unlock many things that in a real-life scenario would be company-destroying.

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