Tony’s 2014 Game of the Year – 2 Much Dota 2

We neglected to do “Game of the Year” posts last year. Previously we used to do “Fun Game of the Year” lists where we’d talk about the games we had the most fun with that particular year. We’re going back to our roots and posting our “Game of the Year” posts this year.

For me, my game of the year did not come out in 2014. It actually went into beta in 2011. Heck, it’s conception didn’t even happen in this decade — it’s a revamped version of a Warcraft III mod that was popular almost ten years ago. It went out of beta in 2013. And yet it’s the game that has held my attention longer than any other game not named EVE: Online.

I could spend a month’s worth of posts explaining why Dota 2 consumed so much of my time. The short list includes:

  • “Quick”, concise games – I know what I’m committing to when I hit “Play” in Dota 2. This isn’t going to be a marathon gaming session. It will be between 40-60 minutes. There will be no do-overs, no quick saves. Just me, my team and uninterrupted mayhem.
  • Over 100 heroes to learn and love (and hate) – It takes a while to get used to any one hero and it takes HOURS to get “good”. I would say I am “good” with about ten heroes. There are some I don’t care if I ever play. There are probably another 20-25 I’d like to get better at.
  • Never the same game twice – (Which is ironic to say because it’s the EXACT same game EVERY TIME) With two teams of five heroes each, the combinations are limitless. Add in varying skill levels and teammate competency and you’ve go the ingredients for infinite variety.
  • Free to play, pay to be different – This is actually going to be the subject of its own post, but I used to think free-to-play games that offer character customization (flair, if you will) was no way to run a free to play game. After having spent more on Dota 2 than I would buying a triple-A title, I have to say that Valve got free-to-play “right”.
  • The pro scene – I sometimes compare the pro Dota 2 scene to professional golf. Golf is a game that has a low enough bar for entry that just about anyone can play it, you can read an article about it at http://pixelboygame.com. At the same time, the level of play of professionals is so advanced, no weekend warrior will ever be as good. But they are playing essentially the same game. Other pro sports are not like that. Your yearly Turkey Bowl with you buddies is not and will never be the Super Bowl. Dota 2 enthusiasts can watch a Dota 2 pro match and understand the strategy and gameplay and think “I could do that”.
  • I am a collector and stats whore – See above about customizing your character for the collector part — I love my Dota 2 inventory. But if you’ve followed this blog since the beginning, you’ll know how much of a stats whore I am (Halo 3, for instance). There is a ton of data generated during each match of Dota 2, and there are great sites like dotabuff.com that will aggregate and present it so you can brag to your friends after that great 20-3-15 game.

juggernaut

Yes, the game has a community that is usually toxic but there are always pleasant little surprises sprinkled in among the dreck. If you find some dudes that don’t disparage your manhood nor question your ancestry (like the guys in the Buttonmashing Steam Group!), team up with them again. It’s safer to go into the Swamps of Sadness with some mates.

Even though there is a lot, this post is just scratching the surface. I’d really like to delve deeper into some of the games mechanics and concepts and the things that you can do around the periphery of the game as the year goes on. So I hope you like reading about Dota 2, because I sure like it as a game!

Unsolicited Mental Objects, Week of 11/16

Tony – Lately I’ve been able to drag myself out of the Dota Vortex (but with the new update, I’ll be heading back in) and I’ve had a chance to mess around with HEX: Shards of Fate. This is my first foray into a collectible trading card game, having never played Magic the Gathering or its ilk. I’ve previously professed my love for Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer (and its expansions) but that is a deckbuilding card game, where each deck you use is dictating by what cards are available in the center row, not how many booster packs you have. It’s simple and the mechanics are straight forward. But! But it’s also complex and the combination of cards and synergy between them gives it depth and any number of play styles. I have my own and I’ve played others that go their way. It’s enjoyable, quick and rewarding.

Hex, on the other hand, is overwhelming me. There are A LOT of cards to learn and I’m still trying to grok the basics. There are five resource types and two factions (with four races each) with their own strengths and weaknesses. Not to mention the six classes of heroes you can choose from. Each of the races can feed/compliment off each other and each is different in its on way. I am trying to learn them all, trying to wade through the tutorials and beginner decks, but I’ve also got a decent sized pool of cards to build my own deck from (thanks to the Kickstarter rewards) and I seriously have no direction which way to take this game. Are there too many mechanics? Too many cards?

And let’s not even get into how a TCG such as this needs expansion decks and cards to stay relevant and interesting. I can’t even wrap my mind around the cards I already have!

And yet I am excited to learn more. I’ll learn as I go and work on a deck that I enjoy playing (I think I can safely say that Dwarves are not my favorite race). HEX is starting to dig its claws into me but good.

Nick – I was thrown to the wolves this past week. I secured a temporary teaching job in, what I’ve come to learn is an actual classification, an Urban School. It continues to be a tough assignment, still fighting against the current. Taking it day by day. It has been pretty much all-consuming, especially at home where I have to cobble together lesson plans and stress about meeting academic requirements and just getting these students to shut up and actually do some work. Unfortunately, because of this, I have had little desire or motivation to get my game on. I look at my steam library with shameful apathy. I do not have the capacity at the end of the day to play any of them; except for one for title…

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger has been my outlet during all this. It fulfills that very niche requirement I have for the times when all I want to do is be a cowboy and dual-wield my way through streets and saloons and canyons clogged with bandits. My accuracy rate on the arcade missions is abysmally low, but I don’t care. I’ve got two fast-loading revolvers and ammo aplenty; I’m gonna shoot the guns just because they sound great. I’m gonna aim for the sky, twirl in place and fire round after round because, dagnabbit, I am a cowboy, and cowboys do what they want. I also love the sound of lumber, both in this game and IRL. I dunno, there’s something wholly distinct about the sound of cowboy boots on a saloon floor, both in this game and mine IRL.

James – Played some Dota 2 and stayed up too late with Tony trying to win a game against a super fed Huskar. It was a close one though…

I have also been attempting to download HEX to play, but it suuuuuuch a big download that I haven’t just let it finish before turning my laptop or desktop off.

Someday. =)

Unsolicited Mental Objects, Week of 11/9

Nick:
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.

Tony:
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.

James:
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.

GAME ON!

Jason:
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…

JASON:
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.

NICK:
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!

JAMES:
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!

TONY:
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…

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.

EU4

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Transistor

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

On Gaming and Linguistics

While visiting London, Gamasutra contributor Leigh Alexander, American, noticed how gamers in the UK assign a different linguistic value than what she’s used to hearing to the term used to express that he or she has completed a game in its entirety. I almost said ‘beat’ the game but it looks like that expression is mainly used by us Yankees. She postulates, however briefly, about the cultural difference between ‘beat’ and the UK usage ‘finish’. So she took her thoughts to Twitter and posted some interesting replies on Gamasutra. The link below could be just the beginning of a legit anthropological linguistic study. Very cool.

Beating’ Games Around the World

Scrolling through her post brought to remembrance some recurring thoughts I had while playing Eve:Online last year. The MMO is home to over 5,000 playable star systems. A majority of the systems are named. How exactly are these names generated? Some are quite sharp and eloquent (Hakodan) while others, if sounded aloud, sound like drunken mumblings (Penirgman). Across the central cluster of New Eden you’ve got the likes of Sehmy, Keproh, Barira, Ishkad, Goni. Each name  seem to follow a loose root-and-pattern template – they do not spiral out of control, and yet, sounding some of them out can be quite the phonological workout. Being an MMO, this a fun little quirk of the EVE universe. I was on a teamspeak channel with my fleet while out on a roam, the fleet commander would call out which system to jump to, and, whoa doggies, this guy from Minnesota pronounced ‘Sasiako’ way different than I have been all along.

Ever since then I’ve had this nagging, musing wonder if someone has done some kind of phonology study across New Eden. 500,000 players from all over the world, different regions producing different phonetic practices, trekking across these 5,000 named virtual star systems. From a testing standpoint, the stage is already set: It’s a closed system with quasi-control groups and each player already has a microphone. The amount of raw data a student could collect from this would be staggering. Staggering, I tell you. From this, what could be deciphered about the Eve universe?

A Warning to the Makers of Candy Crush Saga

Two years ago, the three of us at Stoic set out to make an epic viking game: The Banner Saga. We did, and people loved it, so we’re making another one. We won’t make a viking saga without the word Saga, and we don’t appreciate anyone telling us we can’t. King.com claims they’re not attempting to prevent us from using The Banner Saga, and yet their legal opposition to our trademark filing remains. We’re humbled by the outpouring of support and honored to have others stand with us for the right to their own Saga. We just want to make great games.

The above statement was issued today by Stoic to Kotaku.com. As stated, The Banner Saga (released 14 January 2014 for PC and Mac) is being targeted by King, creator of Candy Crush Saga, the wildly successful mobile ‘freemium’ puzzle game.

Earlier this week news spread throughout the internet about King’s endeavor to protect its intellectual property by trademarking the word ‘Candy’. This action has far-reaching implications, beyond mobile games, and has caused all kinds of knee-jerk reactions from many different camps. The PR department has been scrambling ever since to mop up the slippery slop that has uncontrollably squirted out of the behinds of, ultimately, the company’s legal advisers. Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Even so, recognizing the fallout of such foolish decision making, you’d think the decision-makers at King would tread forward but lightly so. As of yesterday, this doesn’t appear to be the case because, in a boneheaded move, now they are pushing to claim the term ‘saga’, and, in the end, are filing against Stoic’s The Banner Saga, which could force the independent developer to change the current (and any future) game’s name.

It is a common and thorny situation in gaming. Part of what makes it so interesting is that the gaming industry is charging forward with such fervor that the laws simply can’t keep up. So we have this perpetual gray area, this wild wild west of intellectual property where companies like King are seeking to stake a claim on whatever they can – Especially now in the months preceding toppling off the treacherous summit of mobile gaming. YEEEEHAWWwww!!!! Did you hear that? It’s a death rattle.

But, again, just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Sure, King can throw the book, but what’s going to bite them in the butt is this PR mess. Earlier this week I paid little mind to those who may be affected by the ‘candy’ situation. But now the saga advances forward to PC gaming, and this hits a little closer to home. Not that I’m taking this knuckleheaded move personally, but I do believe that heavy-handed money grubbing actions like such coming from a 15-minute spectacle like King can slow the ebb and flow of innovation. Even King’s released ‘justifications’ for its actions against The Banner Saga, posted and critiqued with vehemence on so many gaming websites, are only hurting the company’s ability to not only rebound from this mess but to gain any traction for anything they do in the future, which, isn’t it funny, is exactly what they’re aiming to protect with these trademarks.

So listen here, King. And listen good:

Walk away, Son. Walk away. Even by so much as meddling with The Banner Saga you are provoking forces you will not be able to control nor recover from, no matter how many loose-bowel lawyers you’ve got standing downwind. Frankly, you were fine pursuing other glitzy mobile games but now you are poking the bear. Go out now with some semblance of dignity or your precious trademarks will be smeared with your own guts and flotsam. Don’t mess with the PC gaming community – especially the indie titles. They are the gems of what it right and true about gaming. They are the future and they will be defended with utmost voracity. You have chosen to flaunt and misuse a confusing branch of intellectual property law, one that has a proclivity to trigger adverse emotional responses. Even if the implications of your legal endeavors are not fully understood you are antagonizing an enemy whose abundance of modes and avenues will be used to swarm and pummel you from every direction, the book be damned.