Unsolicited Mental Objects, Week of 11/9

BLIZZCON! BLIZZCON! BLIZZCON! (Shouted to the tune of a monster truck rally)

Blizzard’s dog-and-pony took place this past weekend. There was much news and enticing reveals. Really, the only area of interest for me was any and all information about the upcoming Hearthstone expansion Goblins Vs. Gnomes, and more specifically a preview into some of the new cards. I am enough of a filthy casual to not absolutely need these cards; I still have many holes in my collection as it stands (Defender of Argus plz). But I was curious enough and aware of the meta enough to anticipate what Blizzard is cooking up. And what exactly are they cooking up? More RNG, that’s what.

Some of these cards are absolutely nuts on the randomness! PC Gamer posted 37 of these new cards, and I’m wondering (hoping, perhaps) if these cards are some of the more extreme cases. For example: Enhance-o Mechano, a 4 mana 3/2 minion whose Battlecry is (you ready for this?) Give your other minions Windfury, Taunt, or Divine Shield (at random). I don’t know if I laugh because of genuine giddiness or irony. This is one of the more extreme samples but other cards share in a lesser degree of this menagerie of functions.

I’m still not sure how to all the way feel about this. In a great interview with Blizzard senior producer Yong Woo, he says that this increased randomness is designed to heighten a player’s emotional amplitude and to mix up the meta. This is all well and good, but perhaps ultimately not for me. All this extra randomness, all this zaniness… I will be all about it at first. The new cards will help revive some of my lesser-used ones, find a new synthesis for them. Indeed. People are going to be constructing all kinds of creative and whacko decks. I just fear that overtime the Goblins Vs. Gnomes will (to steal from Mitch Hedberg) be like pancakes: You’re all excited at first but by the end you’re f#*@in sick of ‘em. All this RNG just sounds too dang slippery for me. I’m still up in the air about it. But we’ve also only seen, what, only 20-ish% of the new cards. I’ll bet there will be some sexy new silence cards somewhere there.

I am old. I remember stand-up arcade games like Zaxxon, Elevator Action and Joust. My kids do not. They have been raised on Minecraft, 3DSes and Wii-U’s. Is a history lesson necessary? I would like them to understand where games have come from and appreciate what they have now. So, thanks to the Internet Archive, I can let them play (read: suffer) through some old-school classics. I give you The Internet Arcade:

The Internet Arcade is a web-based library of arcade (coin-operated) video games from the 1970s through to the 1990s, emulated in JSMAME, part of the JSMESS software package. Containing hundreds of games ranging through many different genres and styles, the Arcade provides research, comparison, and entertainment in the realm of the Video Game Arcade.

The game collection ranges from early “bronze-age” videogames, with black and white screens and simple sounds, through to large-scale games containing digitized voices, images and music. Most games are playable in some form, although some are useful more for verification of behavior or programming due to the intensity and requirements of their systems.

The Internet Arcade can even detect and use a gamepad. Some of the games I played around with are a bit sluggish and clunky to control, but it was a fun little trip down nostalgia lane. I don’t think the kids were impressed.

I’ve only played a few matches of Dota 2 so far this week. Both of the matches I played were a landslide victory with the first matches having the other team rage quit. A rage-quit win can be satisfying, but the best is when you can dominate a team without any extra handicaps. This is where the second match comes in: EPIC WIN!

I really enjoy playing Centaur Warrunner because he has some really great burst damage with an area of effect stun and his ultimate can effect everyone on your team wherever they are. His ultimate allows all allies to run at a fast speed and they also gain the ability to run through enemies and in the process damage/slow them down. It is definitely a great ability when you notice someone trying to run away from an engagement that went bad or if you need to give a teammate a boost in speed to catch a retreating enemy.

I’m looking forward to playing some more Dota 2, possibly some Smite, StarCraft 2, or even Diablo 3 on Thursday night.


An unexpected arrival on my front porch turned my digital gaming experience this week into an analog one. Until recently Marvel Dice Masters, a dice based magic the gathering style game, had been unavailable to the masses due to a production shortage. They’ve recently released a second set to meet the demand and I couldn’t help picking it up.

It arrived on Monday and I couldn’t wait to rip it open of the box and play a few games against my wife. The gist: you work to acquire dice from a pool in the center of the table to build your arsenal of superheroes that attack, defend, and acquire more dice. It’s a great mix of luck and strategy and at less than 15 bucks it’s worth every penny. Amazon still has a few copies available.

The only downside is that it has roots in the CCG blind acquisition model. You buy booster packs that contain a random assortment of new dice and the heroes and villains that go with them. However, each booster comes in at a cool $.99. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw a game component sell for less than a dollar. It’s likely that I’ll pick up a good handful of them before all is said and done.

WizKids definitely knows what they’re doing.

Unsolicited Mental Objects, Week of 11/2

Unsolicited Mental Objects is a new feature we’re going to try out. The idea is pretty straight forward. Every Wednesday (except for today) the ButtonMashers who chose to participate will perform a brain dump concerning anything gaming related he or she has experienced during the previous week. These mental objects may comprise knee-jerk reactions to gaming news or reasons for abandoning a game’s campaign, analysis of a failed Dota match or musings about avatar creation. The goal is to be more actively aware during our gaming time and to present it in a way that is organic, engaging and current.

The overall idea being that these posts can be a seed-bed for discussion in the comments section and possible future ButtonMashing posts. Collaboration, if you will – Collaboration between readers and writers, and to possibly blur that line over time. Let’s roll…

NoMOBAvember was going to be a thing. I had the hashtag lined up and the marketing practically wrote itself. I had grand visions of digging into my steam library and actually finishing two or maybe three whole games this month. I sold myself on the idea that MOBAs are drastically changing the way I interact with my entertainment choices and not always for the better.

It was going to be a time for reflection.

It was going to be a time to appreciate what I have and what I’ve been missing.

Oh look, it’s November 1st. It’s 10 o’clock in the morning. Crap, I’m playing Smite.

While it was a weak way to start my week I decided that I wouldn’t let it hinder my plans to get back into my steam library. I started by jumping back into Skyrim bent on playing a character who wasn’t a stealthy bowman.

It’s not been a fantastic experience so far. I’ve been trying to enhance my return to Tamriel by loading in mods only to have my gameplay mired in crashes, glitches, and slow loads. So I think I’m going to give up on that approach. Later this week I’m looking to jump into a fresh install with no mods and take it from there. After all, the base game is the one I fell in love with three years ago.

Jason did indeed act on a ray of inspiration with NoMOBAvember. I embraced the idea but only because it was going to be no real challenge for me. I can stand on my ivory tower and glare down on everybody else. MOBAs haven’t really been on my menu lately. The last time I played Dota was the night several weeks ago when James and Tony kicked down my door and, before I knew it, usurped my dainty internet connection with their laptops. I relinquished, and the three of us sat in my dining room and played a few matches. Being physically in the same room like that was something we always talked about doing. Communication is much more effective. But screaming at my monitor at the two other guys on our team is still pretty useless.

But, yeah… NoMOBAvember continues to be a piece of cake for me. I too desire to dig into my Steam library and make the time for some of the more overlooked titles. This past week I played and enjoyed Gunpoint. I am currently romping around in Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers. This was a title I bought at 90% discount just days before this past Steam summer sale. I felt in my heart of hearts at the time that I would never get around to Tiny & Big; it would just get buried under everything else. But nay. I’m glad I started the game. It is a fun open-world puzzler with a quirky, silly vibe that reminds me of MDK. A breath of fresh air. And after Tiny & Big is complete I reckon I shall give Guacemelee a whirl.

As Jason said, part of the intent of NoMOBAvember is to appreciate what I have been missing. I have 24 more days of treasure hunting my own Steam library. Ta-Ta!

No NoMOBAvember for me!!!! Nah Nah!

I’m still playing Dota 2 and Smite as my main choices of gaming. If I am not playing and have a moment, I tend to stream some Dota 2 on my phone or tablet through a Twitch app. I’ve been meaning to get back to some Vita game time – finish off the Uncharted game I have for it or play some more Dragon’s Crown, but I just haven’t gone back to it.

Be on the look out for a lengthy post about Dota 2. Dropping soon!

I loved Jason’s idea for abstaining from MOBAs for a month, but I just can’t do it. Dota 2 is still my game of choice for many reasons, but right now my gaming time is constrained to the point that I have come to rely on a Dota match not exceeding an hour of time. This is huge.

I’m also doing things in Dota I’d never thought I’d do in a Free to Play game. I know there hangs a thread, which will be the topic of a future post. But Dota has grabbed me like no other game has in a LONG time. But I recognize I have so many other options. I will force myself to play something not-Dota this weekend.

(No) Limits: The Development of Limit Theory

The truth is that sincerity in art is not an affair of will, of a moral choice between honesty and dishonesty. It is mainly an affair of talent.

– Aldous Huxley

Josh Parnell is the sole creator/developer of the upcoming procedural universe realm Limit Theory, to be released sometime before 2015 is half concluded. Successfully Kickstarted, Parnell has been chugging away on the game now for nearly two years. And he is really on to something…

Part of his development routine this past year involves recording monthly dev updates and uploading them to his Youtube channel. These updates serve many functions. They are evidence of progression for that past month, which Parnell is almost skittish to provide to his backers, always hoping it is sufficient for them (which it always is). They are also a fascinating look into not only the evolution of the game but into Parnell’s thought processes as well. Each update provides the details, glimpses, modifications, restructurings of a game that is sure to be a work of art – and the most recent one is a whopper.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with LT, this latest update, update #20, is the perfect crash course. Update #20 includes two months worth of work (Parnell had to skip a September update) so naturally it is bursting with juicy details. Not only that but it is adopting a new format for presenting the game’s progress. As in previous updates, just about every angle is covered: Grahpics, UI philosophy, game theory, and, most importantly, the code.

Indeed. The code. The heart and soul – a term I am not using frivolously here – of Limit Theory is Parnell’s own Limit Theory Script Language (LTSL). Much of his efforts continue to be placed on perfecting this language and its utility. Now, I am not a programmer – my language ability takes on a more traditional function (although the structure of both code and written word can achieve similar effects of subtlety and beauty. A comparison that interests me greatly, and a possible ButtonMashing post later on). But in my ignorance I can still identify Parnell’s confidence in the motivations of creating LTSL, and of creating a procedurally generated universe game.

I can likewise sense and understand the trepidations of other Limit Theory followers. The main concern being this: Is there a game here? Parnell’s intense focus on LTSL is creating a fantastic and vast exoskeleton, one that will support easy modabilty. But, come release date, will there be anything of substance inside? I have pondered, and hoped against, the possibility of Parnell burning himself out on LTSL and then being forced to cobble together some form of rickety gameplay. This concern is legitimate and sound…

…But also incredibly short-sighted.

I trust Parnell. I trust that he will deliver because he knows the risks. But he is confident in the code he is creating. His confidence, and mine in him, rests in the very name of his game. Limit Theory is a philosophy which adheres to overcoming just that: limits. Intellectual limits. As a developer, LTSL is his way of overcoming the limits of game creation and grasping on to the ideas that spark as a result. This is how the development of Limit Theory has felt organic, personal and compelling. Parnell is riding high on the freedoms his work has created.

And his enthusiasm is contagious! I want to see just what I can do, what self-imposed limits I can overcome. I trust that the gameplay will mirror its own development in that same sense of freedom, space and creativity – a sort of call and response to a randomly generated virtual universe.

As can be gleaned from update #20, the technical foundations of Limit Theory are now fairly secure. Now is when the floodgates burst open. “Everything in time… as always,” he says. Now Parnell can focus his efforts on the creation of a game. No. Not merely a game. Something… higher…

Weekend Gaming: Reus, Crusader Kings 2

Amongst other activities which I have going on this weekend one of the highlights is that I will be sans family Saturday night into Sunday afternoon. And though I will miss them ever so dearly (yes, yes, of course) I am anxious – nay, revel – in the opportunity to be a bachelor even if it is just for one 18-hour period. There was a time some years ago when I would have made plans to use this time to go be, yknow, social, or looked up to see what bands are playing live in various watering holes around town. But I am old and fat now, and the motivation to do any of these things is equivalent to that of zero (0). Instead, I shall take advantage of being childless, having zero (0) expectation of being woken up early Sunday, and stay up until one million o’clock playing video games.

Two games are currently occupying my thoughts. Their genres are very befitting for my intention of playing for the long haul this weekend. Or, at the very least, the time enough to become actively engaged in a campaign that will carry on after Sunday.

Out from left field, the first is the God/Sim game Reus. I picked this up during the Steam Summer Sale of ’14. I’ve dabbled in it here and there since then, earned some achievements, unlocked additional resources, learned the ropes. The ‘ropes’ in Reus are many, and they crisscross and thatch and weave.Reus Reus doesn’t have a learning curve so much as the new player has a sort of… methodology curve. The other day I was studying the game’s wiki when my wife happened into the room, glanced over my shoulder at the screen and ultimately declared: “That looks like homework. Why would you want to play a game where you have to look stuff up like that? (No you’re not getting a second monitor…)” I asked myself the same thing. Reus at times does make me feel a bit stressed; there are always so many things to consider, so many well-balanced ecosystems at stake. But a weird ember of logical masochism deep inside me keeps me from turning my back on the game altogether. Mostly this is because I recognize that the game has a very, very cool concept at its foundation and, despite my struggles, it presents that concept well. Part of my weekend gaming activities is to fan this ember by honing my own methodology for achieving objectives in Reus.

The other game is a more familiar one but with some new branches of DLC I have yet to explore. Just around the time that I was finishing up the Iron Fisticle review I was feeling a hankering for some Crusader Kings 2. And then, as if reading my thoughts, Steam rolls out a weekend sale. Between Oct. 2 and Oct. 6 Crusader Kings 2 and the rest of the Paradox Publisher catalog is heavily discounted. Heavily discounted. Like, whoa, kind of discounted. Various bundles are now available and game collections are updated. For CK2 I picked up the Rajas of India expansion and a few character portrait DLCs. So, it is safe to assume that my weekend gaming regimen will include some medieval duplicity and zealotry.

It is worth noting for anyone equipped and interested that Crusader Kings 2 is free to play all weekend. The game is a refreshing departure from the standard top-down map domination strategy game. It takes strategy, yes, but if you can incorporate just a tiny bit of imagination – just a titch of role-playing – the game will wisk you away. Such crusades. Very Dynasties. Wow.

What are you playing this weekend?

Iron Fisticle, review of.

Iron Fisticle asks the question ‘How well can you keep it together with your back against the wall?’ Developed by Confused Pelican this game is a dual-stick top-down carnage fest whose gameplay and visual style hearkens back to the glory days of blowing two weeks’ worth of allowance money in a single afternoon at the video arcade. It is claustrophobic, tense, bombastic, and worthy of a critical look. Button Mashing turns the table and now asks the question: How well can Iron Fisticle keep it together with its back against the wall?

Mechanically, the game is straight forward and familiar. The player controls an armored knight and uses his default battle axe and other various weapon power-ups to carve his way through waves of ever-pursuing enemies, enduring and maneuvering through the levels of the game.

The level design, though modest, is deliberate. The game map consists of only four floors. Each floor contains battle chambers, increasing in total number with each higher floor, wherein the main carnage occurs. Each chamber is a single screen, no panning or roaming around, and has its own structural obstacles which can help or hinder your gameplay: make one false move and you will yelp with horror as you find yourself suddenly cornered; make one smart move and you will mow down your enemies without mercy. Between the patchwork of chambers are different types of connectors which host either a ‘bonus stage’ or a shop for power-ups or nothing at all and you just move right on to the next chamber.

Come at me, Bro!

Come at me, Bro!

Know this: Iron Fisticle is not a dungeon crawler. Exploration has no place here. Literally. There simply isn’t room for it. The arrangement of chambers is clustered instead of labyrinthine. Your end goal – the boss – is clearly labeled on the map of every floor. The game will even stymie your attempts to wander through each floor (no back tracking!) as if to flush you out into the presence of the floor’s boss. Chambers are not grand arenas nor do they house hidden nooks with super sweet loot. This choking sense of immediacy smothers out any need or desire or thought for exploration.

Iron Fisticle’s narrow, claustrophobic scope is its greatest strength. It doesn’t try to be more than it is, washing out the potency and crunch of the gameplay. It doesn’t try to be anything else, though some extra effort into the presentation would help the game stand out – more on this later.

Indeed, part of the challenge of battling in such a claustrophobic space is trying to maintain both a microscopic and macroscopic view simultaneously. Each chamber quickly becomes clogged with enemies. So, while you are hacking away at the immediate threats you must at the same time keep an eye out for minute openings and empty pockets which you can use to maneuver the mindless mob, and position yourself to best utilize your timed powerups.

There is also just the right amount of types of enemies. The game balances quantity and differentiation very well, prompting you to make realtime decisions in movement based on how much of what is coming at you. Enemies are not in a frenzied rage but are still persistent, so persistent.

Focus fire these little pricks ASAP

Focus fire these little pricks ASAP

Most of the time the safest place to be, whatever the situation, is with your back against the wall, skirting the perimeter. Overtime a satisfying momentum is established; once you get rolling it’s hard to call it a night.

A major speed bump to this momentum is the ‘bonus level’. The bonus level switches gears from top-down slaughterfest to sidescrolling jumper. The obstacles and loot are randomly generated and the controls are laggy. These levels are not only pointless but botches up your mojo, your tempo, your pulse. They kill the momentum. They are not very bonus-like: You will see 5X more coinage in a regular slaughter chamber than in the entire run of the bonus level, and the rewards for completing it are also rather piddly. There is very little motivation to take the bonus levels seriously. More often than not, as my veins are still pumping neon adrenaline from playing a previous chamber, I take the first opportunity to perish in a bonus level just so I can move on to the next chamber.

Though the claustrophobia is practically palpable while in the chambers, the game gives the player a gratifying amount of elbow room when it comes to the metagame – another one of the game’s strong points. Once you beat a boss and enter a new floor, that new floor is now available for you to jump to from the title screen – a design that is sure to make any roguelike purist scream to the heavens. Likewise, some of the connectors between chambers are shops where, from four randomly generated items, you can purchase ability upgrades or health. Some of these ability upgrades are permanent, carrying over into the next game. These options – these freedoms – provide an opportunity for players to tailor their experience with Iron Fisticle.

The most important freedom the game gives you is the option to erase all progress data. Because, admittedly, once you’ve maxed out your avatar the game quickly looses steam. You are so tremendously OP that there is little challenge left. So, reset that sucker back to level zero and experiment with your own self-imposed restrictions during another playthrough. Yes. The replay value is subtle but quite tremendous.

Aside from the lame-duck presence of the bonus levels, the only other area of improvement involves the lack of attention to details in the rest of the presentation. Particularly, more love could have been given to the audio which could bolster stronger, more confident gameplay and add character to the game overall. There are times when the game gets delightfully chaotic, a mishmash of activity. During these moments I’d like to hear more from my avatar, something other than the indiscernible grunts when taking damage and disgust when you pick up certain loot. The ‘taking damage’ soundbyte needs to be more pronounced, so I can hear just how much heat I’m taking and can try to GTFO. Hoots and hollars, taunts and jabs, praises to GabeN. Something! The same goes for footsteps. It is just this robotic clunk-clunk-clunk, regardless of the frothy viscera that is smeared all over the floor. Let’s hear some sqishyness!

This may seem nitpicky, but attention to little details like audio and health bar and bonus bank placement can really go a long way. It can ultimately help raise Iron Fisticle above the din and come into the focus of many more perspective gamers – a place where the game belongs.

Held up against the wall, Iron Fisticle does indeed keep itself together. It is unadulterated arcade action but could have been more outstanding with just a little more attention to details in the presentation. It recognizes the focused scope it which it operates and does not overextend itself. Solo or co-op the game is an absolute blast to play, just as were the arcade boxes of old.

(Couldn't resist)

(Couldn’t resist)

Weekend Gaming: Hearthstone, Anathem, not Divinity: Original Sin

For this weekend I foresee myself giving a disproportionate amount of attention between Hearthstone and Neal Stephenson’s tome Anathem.

Not a video game.

Not a video game.

Somewhere around the time when my tooth pain (as can be read in the previous WG post) was getting the better me and when I was growing weary of Divinity:Original Sin I decided that I needed an upheaval – or, a restructuring, if you will – of my leisure time activities. I was in a gaming slump. And when things get like that I take it as an indication that I am in need of some Analog Time. I’m not going full-on Luddite; this is not a post decrying technology. But every now and then I need to tip the scale in favor of the printed word. Anathem continues to be just the book for the job. The book’s length and subject matter demand a heady dedication if there is any hope of making it through to the end. Which means that, on many evenings, this requires me to power down the computer and burrow in with my reading lamp.

Although the Gaming & Book scale has been tipped, do note, as indicated, that the whole contraption has not toppled. Hearthstone is the perfect game for filling in those semi-brief blocks of time when I’m not reading Anathem. Currently, I’m not so much concerned about the ladder climb than become better acquainted with the classes I’ve yet to play, namely Paladin, Warlock and Warrior. I eased into the Druid pretty well this past week, and I still hate opposing Mages. Hunters are all the rage now but I’ve been able to manage and tame the majority I’ve come up against. I still have to give Arena a serious try – Maybe this weekend, maybe not. I’m amassing a decent chunk of gold so maybe I’ll buy into a Naaxramas wing. What to do. What to do. So many possibilities.

Concerning Divinity: Original Sin… Too often I would think, Man, this game really makes me want to play XCOM. Indeed. I enjoy the tactics, even the inventory management. But I am not all that invested in the story (I rarely am in video games). This apathy combined with the game’s lack-of-hand-holding (which I do not bemoan) does not sync well over time. I’m not quite sure where to go next, and the thought of fishing through lines of dialog with NPCs to trigger a quest that points me in the right direction makes me grunt. So, Divinity and I are in a stalemate right now. Man, this game really makes me want to play XCOM. And wouldn’t you know it: XCOM along with select other 2K games are on sale this weekend on Steam.

What are you playing this weekend?

P.S. The cause of my tooth pain was never really identified. I heard three different answers from three different dental professionals. And yet, the pain originating from my second molar persisted. The dentist subscribed an antibiotic and a pain killer, which was completely ineffective. We tried a root canal, which was a bumbling failure. At my wits end and contrary to professional advice I decided to just have the stupid thing pulled. The process was Medieval and awesome and horrible and brief. And now, three days later, this is the most comfortable I have felt in a month.

Not a video game.

Not a video game.

Weekend Gaming: Monday Report – Hearthstone, Divinity: Original Sin

I am going to just go ahead and break convention by doing a Weekend Gaming post on Monday. Look at me. I am so defiant. You can’t control me, patriarch!

Friday was an awesome non-gaming day. I’m glad that Demolition Derbies have pretty much become an annual family tradition. But , it was Saturday evening before I the opportunity to load any games, and even then the circumstances and motivations were quite unique. Indeed. So, long story short: I have some dental discomfort going on for a couple weeks now. The one tooth in the bottom left hand side is chipped and may have a partially exposed nerve or infection or something. But like a dummy I had just kind of ignored the discomfort (and the phone number of the Endodonist). That is, until Saturday afternoon while our family was at the zoo when the discomfort jolted into pain. We were able to get hold of our family dentist, and she called in some meds. Therefore, my Saturday evening was spent playing Hearthstone while feeling all droopy on pain killers. Likewise, I also needed to do something to keep my mind occupied, away from the abated pain and frustration at myself for waiting to get this problem resolved.

Perhaps it was this slightly altered state of mind but I decided to finally begin climbing the Hearthstone ranked play ladder, one of the modes of competitive play. Again, I do not know why I had waited so long to do this (Clearly I have an issue with dilly dallying) because this has been the most consistent fun I’ve had. For the first time I feel like the game has evenly matched me with other players, as opposed to the ‘Casual’ mode where the match-ups feel very hit and miss.

Perhaps because of this slightly altered state of mind, this weekend also witnessed other changes in my Hearthstone routine. I decided that I need to play the game in 3-match clumps with some downtime inbetween. This way I don’t get all tilted and can think constructively about my losses, which is much-needed while building a Shaman deck. Another change I made concerns the music.  Quaint as the in-game music is, this weekend was also when I decided to drop that options bar all the way to zero (0) and then stream in some righteous stoner jams from my favorite Youtube channel. This keeps me in the zone, keeps me from getting upset, keeps me on top of what is current in the scene, and it doubly kept me from singling out the excruciating pain in my tooth. I love win-win-win-win-win situations. Overall, during the course of Saturday and Sunday, I managed to climb seven positions in the ladder without too many embarrassing losses.  Now I just need to work up the minerals to try the Arena. I might need stronger pain killers for that.

On other fronts: After an awful and near-sleepless Saturday night, I was able to poke around for a little bit in Divinity: Original Sin on Sunday morning. I was not in the mindset for battle or exploration, which was well-timed because my characters’ inventory was out.of.control. and needed addressed. So, when I learned that you can place empty treasure chests in your inventory (did you know you can place empty treasure chests in your inventory!?), I made haste to the church yard in north eastern Cyseal. Scattered there amid the toxin seeping ground are maybe half dozen chests.  I plucked those up and took them and the rest of my inventory-loaded/pack mule party members to the one empty house in town. There, I set up a base of operations which now includes a stock room of treasure chests stuffed with items for future use or – more likely – to be sold. Good stuff. One of my favorite aspects of this game is discovering little quirks and conveniences in the mechanics. I’m sure Tony has thoughts about the game as well. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear from him?

Hearthstone and Sucesses in Fatherhood

Parenthood. Ain’t it something? I am 6.5 years into my parenting venture now. Never before have I valued quiet as feverishly as I do now, nor have I before been aware how frustration can reach such a severity that vision will actually blur. When I was a young man I’d giggle whenever Homer Simpson would grab Bart by the throat: “Why you little…” – tee hee, such a silly cartoon. I can now attest that those feelings are real. So, so very real. But, this post shall not be a sounding board for the ills and hardships of parenting. It shall instead be one of gratitude and praise to a collective experience I share with my 6.5 year old.

Mitchell and I play Hearthstone. We play Hearthstone a lot. We’ll pull up chairs and play it on the desktop. We’ll crowd around on the floor and play it on the iPad. We may play separately. We may play together, tag-teaming against our foes. One may play while the other spectates, then we’ll switch seats. Sometimes we quibble about what card to play next. He gets upset when he loses a match. He is a sore loser, a trait he gets from his old man. But, for a kid who is only weeks away from entering the first grade he sure can hold his own in a given match.

Yes, Hearthstone has been a terrific learning tool for Mitchell. I see him calculating basic arithmetic on his fingers, making sure he can eliminate the highest threat priority while still maintaining board presence. He is developing the skill of knowing when to strike face versus minion. His reading and vocabulary skills are honing; he now and forever knows what ‘adjacent’ means. Not only is he working on comprehension of card functions but he also devises strategies from these functions. Sometimes the strategies work. Sometimes they do not.

The game is helping him develop analytic skills along with emotional skills. I made the mistake of showing him the Concede button in the options menu. So, every so often whenever his strategic idea blows up in his face, he wants to bail on the match: “I’m gonna lose anyways!” I feel his frustration because, when I am playing, I too so often want to throw my arms up in early, bitter defeat. When Mitchell get this way I try to raise above this – above my own tendencies – and be that idyllic wise father and salve his angst, to encourage him to take another turn, draw another card, to work with the surprises and upsets that come from luck and randomness. You can’t control everything, but you can certainly choose to control what you do have.

One night a couple of weeks ago I was working as a stagehand for a local awards ceremony. It was overall going to be an easy gig because these types of programs practically run themselves. Knowing this beforehand I brought the iPad with the intent of situating myself in utility room, close enough that I was able to maintain a presence should I be needed but far enough away that, when the time was right, I could inconspicuously play some Hearthstone. The program began a couple minutes late at 7:05 PM. I performed my light responsibilities during the early parts of the program and then retreated to the utility room. At 7:30PM tapped the Hearthstone app. I was few turns into the match when Battlenet disconnected me and presented this message, “This Battle.net account just logged into Hearthstone from another device. This client was disconnected because only one connection is supported at a time.” I grinned from ear to ear. I looked at the clock and inferred from the given time that everybody at home had finished dinner, finished chores: Now is the leisure hour before bedtime, and Mitchell is playing himself some Hearthstone! I didn’t want to interfere. I closed out the Hearthstone app. Some twenty minutes later my wife texts me:


Mitchell excitedly explained

to me how he won

and all I got out of

it was 16 healths and 6

something’s. He also

just asked me to pray

he could beat somebody.

I told him we don’t do

that, but he won anyways :)


I gushed with pride at this. GUSHED! This text is the perfect summation and confirmation of one of my few successes in fatherhood. It also shows a work in progress. For as mind-numbingly frustrated that this little boy can make me I am glad that he and I find common ground in Hearthstone. I probably wouldn’t play it as much if it wasn’t for our collective experiences with it. The experience for me is more than just playing Hearthstone – more than just playing the same game as Mitchell, sharing it with him – but it is in standing back, keeping an attentive distance and just observing my son’s brain grow and develop in both hemispheres. I am grateful that Hearthstone can provide so much for us.

Polite Declines During the Steam Summer Sale ’14

As of Monday, 30 June 2014, 1 P.M. EST, Steam returned to its normal self, and so swiftly too. It is odd seeing the storefront as it once was, and with nary a sign of the frantic ten days of summer sales. There are no more little green discount rectangles, no more timers counting down until the next flash sale. The dust has settled. Seeing all these games without a discount tacked next to the price tag seems profane. Nonetheless business moves forward, and life moves on. While Valve retreats to prepare the world for The International so, too, do the Steam gamers retreat to their little cubbies and nuzzle up with all their new games.

I continue to do my own nuzzling, yes. I am pleased with my purchases and with my overall behavior during this sale. Indeed. I practiced discretion, deliberate purchasing, and had only a single instance of impulse buying. My wishlist was the framework for what I did and what I did not purchase. Yes, I acquired a few games that were on my wishlist and a handful of others that were not.

But there are a select few which I decided not to buy – I could have, but I didn’t. With games made available at such a heavy discount, why the devil not? The answer to this varies from game to game, and it was not because I thought the prices would go lower. Below are two of the more thoughtful lines of considerations among the group of games I decided to pass up.







At a 75% discount EU4 would have cost me $10.00. That’s very attractive, not to mention generous. And considering the robust number of hours that I have logged into EU3 proceeding forward to its successor only seems like a logical step. In due time, I will. But when EU4 popped up in a flash sale last week, the time was not time and I did not purchase. I attribute two factors to this decision. An admirable quality of Paradox Development Studio is their focus on community; the developer acts on suggestions made by fans. From these suggestions expansions are developed and released – Expansions that do just that: They expand and add worthwhile content and mechanics to the base games, adding new layers of strategic experimentation and implementation.

EU4 was released during August last year. Since then, two expansions have been released (with a mini-expansion soon the land). On the other hand, Crusader Kings 2, released by Paradox during February 2012, has had the benefit of time to mature and expand. To date, there are seven expansions for CK2. Of these seven I own four. Of these four I have truly burrowed to the mechanical guts of only two. I have much to do in CK2 (and the game’s concept is slowly percolating in my mind as one of the awesomest in the universe ever). To jump into EU4 – even if it is only the base game – from my standpoint would be premature. I like the idea of showing up late to the Paradox party and branching out to different expansions at my leisure and readiness. Perhaps in a year I shall be able to do so for EU4.








Let it be said that the decision to not buy this was never based on the price tag; I am totally willing to pay the twenty bucks for Transistor. I would be willing to pay more. Even at a 20-25% discount during the summer sale I still felt perplexed, like I was in a sort of quasi-ethical quandary. Why? Part of the perplexity stems from recalling my experience playing Bastion, Supergiant’s previous game, and how I loved nearly everything about it. It maintained a singular stylistic vision and the gameplay was a blast. There was something honest, almost pure, about Bastion. The game made me feel like a kid. I have all the trust in the universe that Supergiant will deliver another well-directed, focused effort.

This is why I passed on Transistor during the Summer Sale; I do not want to betray this focus of Supergiant by crowding Transistor together in my attention with all the other games I just bought. The act of buying, downloading and installing Transistor should be an event all on its own. I recall the afternoon when I had finally saved enough allowance money to buy Super Mario Bros. 3. After I bought the cartridge, I made my Dad run red lights because I was so freaking excited to get home to play it – nothing else mattered. I want to feel the same focused anticipation as Transistor slowly trickles its way from the Steam servers onto my harddrive… and perhaps get a ButtonMashing review out of it.

It’s Gonna be a Showdown: Steam Summer Sale 2014

In this way gales have their own [characteristics]. You remember them by your own feelings… some cling to you in woe-begone misery; others come back fiercely and weirdly… others, again, have catastrophic splendour; others are severe like a visitation; and one or two rise up draped and mysterious with an aspect of ominous menace. In each of them there is a characteristic point at which the whole feeling seems contained in one single moment

Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea

Brothers, sisters. The Steam Summer Sale event is near – so, so very near. Its nearness can be felt, measured. Just the same as the moon causes the oceans to heave and roll, so the proximity of the Summer Sale affects us, churning about all sorts of emotions. A Steam sale is indeed a mighty thing. Each sale carries with it its own intricacies and ingredients, systems and patterns, facets and surprises. We may perhaps recall our experiences with a specific sale – how we braved or floundered – and share them with other salty dogs of the PC master race.

The universal effect of Steam sales on the community’s pathos fills me with wonder and awe. The leveling factor can and should be studied. It is a freaking phenomenon. And here we are now, en masse and anxiously awaiting for this king mother beast to drop. You and I may have different playing styles and game-type preferences, different attitudes and tendencies – These differences may create a rift, or chasm, case depending, between us during any other time of the year. But it is during this time of anticipation that you and I are not so different. I can thereby declare with certain confidence that we are experiencing a similar wash of emotions as we await this summer’s bounty.

The first is excitement. Such giddy, child-like excitement. Oh, isn’t it precious? All those little green boxes next to the title’s price tag. There are so many, and the numbers are so close to 100. Steam will even do the math for you, will strike-through the original price and shade it while the discount price gleams like a promise. Let us envision ourselves skipping and tra-la-la-ing down the digital lanes, fancy-free and grateful for this marvel, this digital mana. Add to cart. Add to cart. Add to cart. Add to cart. Purchase for myself. Purchase for myself. Purchase for myself. Purchase for myself.

But, stop! Cease this ignorant dream of economic distress. The sale has yet to come and we are already mindlessly adding to our gaming backlog. When the Summer sale dawns let us be more measured in our purchases. Yes. The second emotion we feel is resolve. This is prompted by our reminisces of certain sales’ past, as we shudder coldly at our behavior. For shame. Look at that transaction history; Look at your library backlog – What a stain on your dignity. Let us resolve to be more deliberate in our purchases this summer. How badly do you want this title, really, truly? How will this title add to the patchwork of your gaming preferences, styles, and experiences. Yes! How will this sweet, succulent, Flash Sale discounted title further define you as a gamer?

But, that involves too much thinking! The Steam sale is a cultural phenomenon, an event! Look at all those youtube videos. Scroll through /r/pcmasterrace/. I mean, why should we have to practice discretion? Look at those discounts! Soooooo many games. Part of what makes these sales so awesome is the collective (playful) despair we feel. This is one of the reasons we are PC gamers in the first place. While the console peasants claw over each other in Gamestop stores and Wal*Mart electronics departments to use their allowance money to buy used copies of last year’s major titles we delight in the delicacies of heavily-discounted games without ever having to leave our plush computer chairs. So, nuts to deliberate purchasing – I mean, WTF, man? The third emotion is tactlessness

Once you have regained some composure from that last little outburst, you take a deep, cleansing breath. Your mind may still be abuzz with aswirl of emotion but you nonethess take an objective look around. It has been six months since the winter sale. There are mysterious “Mystery Trading Cards” all of a sudden floating around the Steam Marketplace. E3 has concluded; the meta-table is clear. This week’s list of Weeklong Deals contains a mere seven titles, a trite count compared to the regular 25-ish sum. Gaming blogs and websites are fidgeting with anticipation. Yes. Forces are in motion, brothers and sisters. The fourth emotion you feel is acceptance. However you conduct yourself when the time comes, the sale is indeed coming – like, this Thursday.

And so, lastly, we shall not cower in the face of this mighty force. We shall not crumple under the weight of our own personal shopping decisions. Now is the time to celebrate the possibilities and to steel ourselves against… ourselves. May we stand on the bow, with arms thrust to either side and greet this Steam Summer Sale headon. The fifth and final emotion is exhibited below.

I’ll see you on the other side…