Monday, November 19, 2012

VG Talk #18 Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale Future DLC Characters that Need to Happen

Video game discussion.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is already out with a roster of 20 characters. You can check out the intro here: (Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale Intro) The entire cast is split into rivalries between two characters which means future DLC characters will most likely also come in pairs. I've created a massive list of potential candidates (20 more in fact) and paired them together as rivals for different reasons (you don't have to agree with these rivalries or characters since this was just made for fun).

Spyro the Dragon
Crash Bandicoot
These were two of the first "mascots" for the original Playstation. Neither of them are owned by Insomniac or Naughty Dog anymore (in fact, they gave up the rights a long time ago) but it'd be great to see these two come back solely for nostalgia. The chances of this happening? Very slim. Activision is keeping an iron-grip around both characters right now.

Nathan Hale (Resistance)
Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid)
To me, these were a no-brainer. I'm actually still confused why they weren't included in the game to begin with for the starting roster. Nathan Hale lends himself to a fighting game rather easily with his chimera abilities and Solid Snake has not only been in a very similar fighting game (you might have heard of it) but he's also a good polar opposite to Nathan. Both carry a variety of weapons for the job and both have a military background but they go about combat in very different ways. Plus, Resistance doesn't have a representative character yet which is just odd on multiple levels (there is even a Resistance themed stage to fight on for crying out loud).

Patapon Hero or a Patapon Army or... both
Kat (Gravity Rush)
I paired these up simply because they're the handheld (PSP and PS Vita) stars of Sony. Patapon already has a themed stage in the game so it only makes sense to put them in as a fighter and since the game is trying to sell the concept of cross-play with the Vita (it even comes with a Vita copy of the game for free) then why not show off your exclusive title Gravity Rush? The fact that the main character is a superhero with gravity powers makes her a logical choice for all kinds of fighting game fun and Patapon should have been an auto-include to begin with.

Dart (Legend of Dragoon)
Wander (Shadow of the Colossus)
Both of these are from Sony exclusive titles that have huge cult followings and both are sword wielding heroes that have had to face against all odds. This pair deserves to be added in for so many reasons.

Raziel (Legacy of Kain)
Cloud (FF7)
Two tragic anti-heroes that are known for their crazy swords. Cloud has already been in several other fighting games in the past and Raziel deserves to be in his first. As an added bonus, we all know this hypothetical DLC would sell like hot cakes if these two were added.

Isaac Clarke (Dead Space)
Pyramid Head (Silent Hill series)
Isaac Clarke was in the Playstation Michael commercial so it's actually not that crazy to imagine him in the game. With Isaac always on the brink of madness as his mind forces him to face horrific monstrosities, it would be an incredible match-up to pit him against the ultimate nightmare himself: Pyramid Head.

Sora (Kingdom Hearts)
Selvaria Bles (Valkyria Chronicles)
The keyblade wielder and the war witch that are both from franchises heavily inspired by anime. Both have unique weapons and access to other crazy powers which translates very well to a fighting game.

Ezio (Assassin's Creed 2)
Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)
Ezio is another character that appeared in the Michael trailer and Lara Croft has always been considered more of a Playstation icon. Both actively seek holy relics and artifacts hidden in remote locations so they surprisingly have more in common than most think.

Ellen (Folklore)
KOS-MOS (Xenosaga)
I seriously want to see this happen. They're both from Playstation exclusive games with one representing fantasy and the other sci-fi. Both were from RPGs and neither got the attention they deserved.

Ethan Mars (Heavy Rain)
Francis York Morgan (Deadly Premonition)
Yep. This is my joke rivalry but it strangely makes a lot of sense. This will never happen but the idea of it will always put a smile on my face.

This is Kylak signing out and wondering what your favorite rivalry would be.

Friday, November 16, 2012

VG Talk #17 Wii U Launch Guide

This is your ultimate guide for the launch of the Wii U.

The Wii U is launching Nov. 18 which is right around the corner with 23 games ready at launch and plenty more on the way (over 50 already announced). I'm still surprised that there is a lot of confusion out there about this: the Wii U is not just a tablet controller. It's an entirely new console. The stats on this console are up to par or superior to the PS3 and Xbox360.

Since it's backwards compatible it already has the entire Wii lineup that you can play if you missed out. Click here to see a list of some of the best Wii titles: ( You Don't Know Wii )

-Controller (options):

-Pro controller, Wii-mote, and Game Pad (tablet) controller.
You're not stuck with using the tablet controller or a wii-mote. Also, games are only going to be designed around needing a single game pad tablet controller so there's no need to worry about purchasing extras (the one that comes with the system will be enough). You'll probably want to pick up a Pro controller which you can take a look at here: (Pro Controller) Currently it's boasting an 80 hour battery life out of a single charge which is incredible. The PS3 and Xbox360 controllers are around 25 to 30 hours to give a comparison. The Wii U tablet also allows games to support up to five-players.

-Asynchronous gameplay (also known as asymmetric gameplay)
The biggest use of the game pad tablet controller is to allow asynchronous gameplay. It's an experience you won't be able to find anywhere else. To give an example, think of Pac-Man. Imagine that the person holding the tablet plays as Pac-Man while the other players are the ghosts. This allows players to have a different experience while playing the same game. ZombiU is using this to allow one person to summon and direct zombies while the other player controls their character trying to survive the zombie horde. Penny Arcade already gave the perfect example that we hope becomes a reality: Dungeons and Dragons U. Basically allowing a group of players to have a co-op experience in an RPG while the player with the tablet is the DM. We just need Bioware and Nintendo to join forces and make this a reality.

-Doubles as a TV
Something that doesn't get mentioned very often is that the tablet screen is like a mini-tv. If you wanted to play a single-player game and your significant other wanted to watch the TV, you wouldn't have to suddenly stop playing. You can just play on the tablet screen while they're watching cable on the TV simultaneously.

-Third-Party Support:
This is something that Nintendo struggled with on the Wii but this time around they already have a ton of major titles being released with exclusive content to give incentive to purchase it on their console and third-party support is going to continue throughout the consoles life cycle. That means every future third-party game will be released for all three major consoles instead of only on the PS3 and Xbox360. Some notable examples: Batman: Arkham City: Armored Edition, Darksiders 2, Assassin's Creed 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Mass Effect 3 Special Edition, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, Dragon Quest X, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, etc. etc.

These are some of the major titles that have already been announced with a few details on why they're awesome.


As you can see from the video above, one person controls the zombie horde with the Wii U tablet controller while the other player is thrust into a true survival horror experience. This is a game built around the idea of the Wii U controller and they prove it works here. For all the Resident Evil fans that feel betrayed that the game series is no longer about survival horror, don't you worry, Nintendo is waiting with open arms.

-Bayonetta 2
Bayonetta was an incredible action game that stood alongside Devil May Cry, God of War, and Ninja Gaiden at the top of the class. Strangely it didn't sell well enough to warrant a sequel but thanks to Nintendo stepping in and offering to publish this, it will become a reality. Thank you Nintendo!

-Pikmin 3
The beloved real-time strategy survival game is finally back! You'll be using the tablet to control and direct your formations of Pikmin. Here's some gameplay footage:!

-Scribblenauts Unlimited
The original Scribblenauts was insane in that it allowed you to type out any noun and it would appear in the game and interact with the world. Even Cthulhu could be called in to help you solve a puzzle. Then the second game added adjectives. You could make a werewolf car for crying outloud. The possibilities were incredible! Now, Unlimited allows the players to make their own creations and share them with a full console experience to boot. 

-The Wonderful 101
Platinum Games! We love you guys. This is kinda-sorta-ish similar to Pikmin but instead of controlling plant people as you struggle to survive in a hostile world, you're given control of 100 superheroes (you're the 101st) as you command them to turn into different forms such as a variety of weapons, objects, and whatever. Here's some gameplay:

-New Super Mario Bros. U
It's essentially New Super Mario Bros. Wii but with the added fifth player using the tablet to make platforms to help the others safely make their way through a stage. It's not as easy as it sounds.

-Game and Wario
Wario mini-games as expected but all of them are tailor-made to work with the Wii U's asynchronous control scheme. If you're looking for a crazy fun party game then this is where it's at.

-Rayman Legends
This is another platformer like Super Mario Bros. but it manages to use the tablet in more interesting ways. The player will be doing a variety of tasks to help out the other four players get through stages. 

-Lego City: Undercover
The Lego games are well known by now for being great titles and this is no exception. It's basically their version of GTA but with a lot of interesting ways to use the tablet. Gameplay right here:

-Untitled Super Smash Bros. sequel
Super Smash Bros. doesn't need any introductions. It's one of the most ridiculously fun fighting games imaginable and it can sell a console single-handedly. Be prepared for the next installment.

-Untitled Legend of Zelda
Zelda is in the same boat as Super Smash Bros. It's pretty much a guarantee that the game will be awesome and a must-own title.

We're still waiting on details of other third-party exclusives as well as the rest of the Nintendo staples such as Metroid, Star Fox, Kirby, F-Zero, Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, Donkey Kong, and Pokemon. Nintendo is off to a good start. Let's hope that they push themselves to do even better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Video Spotlight #50 RWBY "Red" Trailer

Sharing videos I managed to find scattered across the internet.

Just after ten years of Red VS Blue (yes, go watch all of it right now) we have a preview of the next web series by Rooster Teeth Productions. Don't worry, word on the street is that they aren't ending Red VS Blue just yet. This is extra sauce.

You may... might... possibly recognize the fight choreography as none other than the brilliant animator Monty Oum. Don't recognize him? He's the one that made Haloid (link here: Haloid).

"Red like roses fills my dreams and brings me to the place you rest
White is cold and always yearning burdened by a royal test
Black the beast descends from shadows
Yellow beauty burns gold"

RWBY (pronounced the way you would expect, like ruby) consists of the four main characters Red, White, Black, and Yellow. From this trailer it would appear they're based on fairy tale characters. Red is clearly inspired by Red Riding Hood. I don't think anyone is going to argue otherwise. The rest are currently being speculated so I'll throw my hand in. White could be Snow White. Black might be inspired by Beauty and the Beast. Yellow is possibly lifted from Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, or even Goldilocks at this point. Hell, she might be a combination of them all. Who knows? That's the one that's killing me.

This is Kylak signing out and grabbing my own scythe/rifle... scyfle for personal use.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Video Spotlight #49 Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale Intro

Sharing videos I managed to find scattered across the internet.

So... not gonna lie... I was drooling like a total fanboy during this. It's an incredible game intro in general (with style points to boot) and it's a huge love letter to a mass majority of Sony's franchises. The only thing that surprised me is that there are still franchises unaccounted for but they did mention there will be more fighters in upcoming DLC so that sounds gravy to me. Best of all? Third-party characters are fair game so we'll definitely see some fan favorites show up in the future.

If you're looking for the song then I've got you covered right here:
Finale by Madeon

This is Kylak signing out and Dante better have an alternate costume to look like his original design or someone's getting stabbed through the chest.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Video Spotlight #48 True Facts About Hedgehogs

Sharing videos I managed to find scattered across the internet.

The hedgehog does not mate for life. It mates for death. Which is why it's considered the best lover in the world. Which makes no sense... unless you've been fucked by a hedgehog.

This is Kylak signing out and captivated by the hedgehog's ability to sing in monotone.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Video Spotlight #47 OMG Cracklin' Oat Bran

Sharing videos I managed to find scattered across the internet.

Cracklin' Oat Bran cereal. It's like eating an angel. Cracklin' Oats are loved by fucking everyone and they're part of a balanced as fuck breakfast.

This is Kylak signing out to get me some of them oats.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

MTG Tips #13 Promoting Synergy

Tips and Tricks for Magic the Gathering players.

Disclaimer: this article is longer and scarier to handle than three ninjas taped together to make one giant ninja. You've been warned.

We've chatted about card advantage a few times and how important it is when building a deck. Another factor to consider is synergy. It's not just for bosses who are talking to corporate and directing workflow. Today we're going to go over one of the greatest examples imaginable: Caw-Blade. Caw-Blade was a deck that dominated an entire format (Standard) to the point it was the only deck capable of placing in the Top 8 of any tournament. It wasn't the fault of any particular card or designer of the set. It was a completely unexpected beast where every card worked together like an oiled machine. The last time this happened was wayyyyyy back when the original Mirrodin block was released and it was entirely the fault of the designers of the set. They underestimated just how useful the artifact lands were and they managed to break the format in half by making Affinity the only deck to play. This time around it was because of unexpected synergy. After the deck had dominated long enough, they decided to ban two of the key cards in the deck and guess what happened? It still kept doing well. It wasn't the only deck in the format anymore but the synergy was undeniable.

Here's a quick wiki on the basics (but we're going to discuss everything here):

So how did this deck work? Well to explain that we're going to have to take a look at every card (the beauty of the synergy here is that every card was a key card which meant the deck didn't have to rely on a single strategy to win).

Squadron Hawk was originally the only creature in the deck (keep that in mind) and was the reason for the Caw in the title (Originally it was called Caw-Go which is a play on the common archetype Draw-Go). Squadron Hawk's card advantage is insane. It gives you three other creatures in your hand, all with evasion, and it thins the deck by up to three cards. All of this for the low cost of 2CMC.

Stoneforge Mystic is already a broken card (as in... too powerful) on its own. It lets you search for any equipment card, play it for only two mana regardless of its CMC, and you can even drop it during the opponent's turn (giving all of your equipment Flash while making them cheaper at the same time). Why did they suddenly include the Mystic? That would be because of the next card.

Sword of Feast and Famine was considered weak at first glance in comparison to the other swords in its cycle (Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of Light and Shadow, Sword of Body and Mind, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Sword of War and Peace which came out after) but they didn't expect how this deck would use them. The deck carried one copy of each sword (each one in Standard, that is, which means zero copies of Fire and Ice or Light and Shadow) and the Mystic could hunt down the necessary weapon. It gave the Hawks or Mystic protection from whatever colors it needed at any given moment (making them immune to spot removal) and the Sword of Feast and Famine combined with a Hawk meant the Flying creature with protection (making it even more evasive) was almost always going to hit the opponent which would trigger the ability to untap all of your lands (and don't forget that free discard effect). That deserves a pause.

I did mention that originally this deck was called Caw-Go. Draw-Go decks were given their name for a reason. The strategy was that they would play everything at instant speed during the opponents turn. That way they could react to anything the opponent did and always make the best play. Each turn looked like this: Untap, Draw a card, annnnd Go! They would draw their card and pass their turn which is where the name came from. Now imagine a deck that could cast anything it wanted on its turn, get its mana back for free, and then play like a draw-go deck afterward. It would be like facing two decks at the same time. Caw-Blade got the title because it could use the Sword of Feast and Famine's ability to untap its lands and pull off that exact strategy. It could cast whatever it wanted on its own turn, swing with the Sword equipped to a Hawk, untap everything, and play like a draw-go control deck during the opponent's turn.

The scariest part about all of this, is that is only the beginning. Let's go over the basics of the control aspects. Mana Leak and Spell Pierce were the counterspells to handle any situation during an opponent's turn. It was also able to abuse Day of Judgment as board sweep because it could immediately replace the Hawk with one of the extras the original one searched for. Even better, it ran sleepers to ignore the board sweep entirely. One of those sleepers was the land Celestial Colonnade. Not only did the land produce the mana it needed but it could turn into a creature in a pinch and pick up the sword. For those not familiar with the term, it's called a sleeper because it typically "sleeps" by not being a creature until it needs to wake up and start hitting things. Let's not forget the control effects of each sword as they typically had extra effects that could change the outcome of a battle on their own. Then Preordain starts the first turn off right every time to add even more consistency to one of the most reliable decks ever built while Condemn gives the deck spot removal to give it the deadliest combo of powerful spot and mass removal (Day of Judgment). That covers another huge chunk of the deck but it keeps going.

Let's go back to those blades for a moment. Not only did you have 3 different blades for different protection effects and spell effects that could win or alter the game but you had another deadly equipment that came out around the time the Sword of Feast and Famine came out: Batterskull. The weapon choices were already putting the deck over the top but this skyrocketed them to the moon. Just try to imagine how scary this scenario is: Stoneforge Mystic is out, the opponent swings with their creature, you pay two mana for the Mystic's ability and you put Batterskull onto the field out of nowhere. You're paying 2 mana for a 4/4 Flash (thanks to the Mystic), Vigilance, Lifelink creature that destroys any plans your opponent could dare come up with.

But it doesn't stop there. This deck ran two Planeswalkers. One of which was Jace, the Mind Sculptor (the most powerful Planeswalker ever printed). Jace worked perfectly with the deck. At bare minimum he could adjust what cards you were going to draw or give you extra cards every single turn. That's already powerful for any control deck but this deck already had more than enough card advantage with each card working so efficiently together. This helped seal the deal and make the deck even more consistent. Between the card draw and search effects, luck was never going to hinder you. Jace could bounce a creature in an emergency and was even an alternate win condition. One thing that people didn't expect was that Jace would be used to "Fateseal" the opponent with his +2 ability. You'd effectively be controlling what your opponent would draw so you could screw them over each turn. The craziest thing however that proves just how deep the synergy would run is that Jace could use his draw ability (draw 3 and then put 2 back) and put back the Squadron Hawks into the deck since they could be searched for again and it would give you the extra cards you didn't have access to. You were even abusing Jace's basic draw ability here. Mind blown!

The other Planeswalker was Gideon Jura. While Gideon isn't the most broken Planeswalker to be printed, he's exactly what this deck already wanted. Both Planeswalkers make the player that much more untouchable but Gideon takes the cake for protecting the player. The +2 can screw over your opponent's plans, he can tap out their creatures to let your Hawks or whatever get through with the different Swords (to get their bonus effects), and he can setup a kill with his -2 ability. Him having the -2 at all makes the opponent afraid to attack which gives you even more protection. Gideon and Jace working together makes most creature decks just cry in despair. The best part is the last ability that can be used at any time you need it. Gideon can turn into a creature, pick up one of the Swords, and be almost unkillable. The deck was already abusing the swords but the fact that it has a Living Weapon equipment, sleeper land, and sleeper Planeswalker really just push the sword wielding to another level.

Every card was already powerful individually and most were capable of generating card advantage (sometimes excess amounts of it like Jace or the Hawks), it could employ the greatest strategies of an aggro deck and a control deck, the equipment meant its creatures were superior to the opponents, it played the best control cards in the format and had access to the best spells in general, it had every angle covered no matter the situation, it was crazy consistent, and above all else, every card mattered and worked in unison with the other cards in the deck. Remember when I mentioned how powerful the Affinity deck was at the beginning? How it was the only other deck to ever pull off what Caw-Blade did and ruin its Standard environment as the only playable deck? It still had a weakness. It was like most decks. Once you figured out how crucial the artifact lands were, you would destroy those lands (with artifact and/or land destruction) and it would fall apart. Caw-Blade didn't have a weakness because all of the cards worked with one another. There was no key strategy and the deck could adapt on the fly to any situation.

Even if you somehow got past the counterspells, draw-go style of play, the free spells it got to play thanks to untapping, and all of the other factors to take out the Sword of Feast and Famine and the Stoneforge Mystic, the deck didn't care. It was already a winning deck when it was just called Caw-Go. Feast and Famine and the Mystic just made it that much scarier. They were the icing to an already delicious cake. Even if you could take out every Hawk, it had several backup Sword wielders and a couple of alternate win conditions. If you were playing Aggro it would outclass your creatures, if you were playing Control it would outplay your every move, and Combo didn't stand a chance.

The most interesting thing about this entire story, to me personally, is that the pros loved that it dominated the format. You might think that sounds crazy but this was a deck that rewarded skilled players. It's definitely true that it gave non-skilled players a winning deck from the get go but that's not looking at the bigger picture. Most tournament players are already netdecking regardless and the top players of the world were able to abuse this deck better than any amateur that would pick it up. Everyone was wielding the same weapon but only the true pros could master it. It's just the strangest tale of the best and worst thing to happen to Standard simultaneously.

So how was that? You got to learn about synergy, deckbuilding, the history of a notable decklist in tournament Magic, and a few random trivia facts along the way. It's as if I planned the synergy to work together in the article. *gasp*

This is Kylak signing out and thanking you for sitting through all of my ramblings.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reverse Dungeoneering #23 Talking about the Talk

Dread Gazebo... look it up.

Improving your D&D experience. For Dungeons and Dragons Players and DMs.

Today we'll be discussing the single most threatening core aspect of D&D: talking. It's an interesting concept when you give it more than a second thought. D&D is founded on talking. Everything about D&D is verbal communication. You can get rid of the miniatures and grid and still play D&D (1st and 2nd edition players know what I'm talking about since imagination used to be a bigger focus and minis and grids are a newer concept). You can get rid of the dice because it's just a method of creating chance (a coin or any other object technically works even if it's less exciting). You can get rid of the books (several groups don't even play with official D&D rules). You can literally just have a room of a few gamers and still play D&D because the only tool necessary is the ability to communicate.

It's not a very good business model that's for sure. So what do I mean by threatening? Well, humans are social animals by nature. We seek human interaction but we're also incredibly terrible at it. We increasingly have things stacked onto behavior with laws, culture, morals, religion, societal norms, personal preferences, biases, peer pressure, fear, ideologies, social identities, conventional standards, personal problems, feelings, emotions, and the list just keeps on going. We have weaved such a delicate maze of non-univesral rules for ourselves and have such limited ability to express ourselves in a way that others can automatically understand clearly that we're utterly terrible at communicating with one another.

Communication is a two-way street. One person can say something and another can misunderstand them. You can attempt to pay someone a compliment and another person can take it as rude or be confused as to how they should feel about what's been stated. The person attempting to say something might not even be able to express themselves in the way they're attempting and can come off as odd or ignorant when they might otherwise be a bright individual.

To make matters worse, D&D is constantly having to contend with players leaving to play video games for the very reason that talking is the core game mechanic. Let's break these facts down shall we?

-Talking is the gameplay.
-You have to describe what your character is doing.
-The entire game is comprised of actions and reactions via verbal communication between players and the DM as each attempts to describe, in turn, what is occurring in the game. 

Video Games
-Controls are the gameplay.
-Using keyboards/controllers will show what your character is doing.
-The entire game is comprised of actions and reactions via the control scheme between the players and the video game as it visually represents, simultaneously to all players, what is occurring in the game.

You can play an entire video game in silence and still play through a compelling experience. It sounds like a no-brainer but it's kind of amazing when you think about it. Books and Movies can generate this experience as well but Video Games have come the closest to creating a dynamic, interactive experience (which is what D&D is) and Books and Movies aren't capable of this feat. Games are increasingly trying to offer players more choices and options to the point that two different players can play the same game and have an entirely different experience. As crazy as it sounds, once game designers have the right techniques under their belt and the right tools at their disposal, we'll probably see "D&D the Video Game".

So why is talking such a problem for D&D? Well for one, D&D's core experience is its own worst enemy.

D&D can be broken down into three core aspects: gameplay, social, and roleplaying.
-The very core of dice rolling and choosing what your character is doing is the "gameplay". Another way to think of it is anything relating to the actual rulebooks and products of the game that change how you play D&D.
-Some people play to spend time with friends and hang out. That's the "social" aspect. Another way to think of it is simply the way you would naturally act around your friends or in public.
-Anything from an elaborate description of a room, to exploration, to two characters talking to one another in the game, etc. is the "roleplaying" aspect. Another way to think of it is this is the character itself talking or doing something that you can't in the real world that isn't dictated by the rules of the game.

All three of these require talking: 
Gameplay - If you want to explain what your character is doing (such as casting a spell).
Social - If you're talking about something interesting (maybe talking about Borderlands 2).
Roleplaying - If you want to actually roleplay your character ("Good morrow to you stranger.").

It gets even more complicated. Whereas a video game can take everyone's input (button presses) simultaneously and give them an exact output (what you see on the screen) simultaneously as well, D&D can't do that. Players have to listen to each other and the DM and vice versa to know what is going on at any given moment. The players have to take turns giving their input and the output is going to be different for everyone at the table (thanks to their imagination and how they interpret what's going on).

To make this even crazier, most groups prefer to have some mixture of the three things mentioned. Most groups like to play the game, hang out, and roleplay (to varying degrees for each). Due to the fact that all three require talking, you can only choose to do one at a time. You can't do them simultaneously. This is simply a fact we have to come to grips with.

Video games on the other hand allow the player to control their character while talking simultaneously. For example, in World of Warcraft, all of this can occur at the exact same time: you can have a full conversation with your friends or leaguemates via voice chat while moving your character around. Not only that, you can move your character and attack at the same time. Not only that, your friend can be moving and drinking a potion while you're attacking. Not only that but the other NPCs are moving and firing arrows at you at the exact same time you're doing all of the previously mentioned things. To top it off, all of this is being seen by each player on the screen at the same time. Your character actions are independent of your ability to communicate and this allows for a variety of simultaneous actions.

It's astounding how simple it is for a game and yet impossible for D&D to do the same. Try to imagine that World of Warcraft example in D&D terms. You can't even move, slash an enemy, or talk at the same time in or out-of-game. You would do them in steps. It would play out like this with each comma being a separate action (which of course means this next section is going to be grammatically incorrect): You declare to everyone that you're taking a move action and move your miniature on the grid, then you declare your attack against a target, roll your dice, add your modifiers, you state what your total is, you might have your character say something in-game, "Where did these things come from?", another player might respond in-game or out-of-game, the DM lets you know if it hits or misses, if it hits you roll your damage, the DM marks the damage for the enemy's HP, then the next player takes their turn, takes a move action, then another action to use a consumable, then he makes a remark in-game, "That was a close one.", then he makes a comment out-of-game that this was the second time in the campaign he's almost been killed, everyone laughs, then someone points out that he wouldn't die so often if he'd stop being so reckless, he agrees to stop being reckless but only because the healer isn't doing their job, the DM patiently waits for a bit (about five minutes), then she decides to finally break it up and get them back on track, then the DM tells you that arrows were fired at you and from where, she rolls, checks your AC, it hits, she rolls for damage, and so on.

Mind blown!

It's the exact same example but one game has to break down all of those actions down into parts and those actions are done verbally which means you have to complete an action by saying what you're doing before you can talk as your character or to your friends to goof off. I think we take this for granted honestly. Some games have even developed roleplaying techniques as game mechanics so that you can roleplay and chat out-of-game at the same time as well. Even World of Warcraft has the most basic version of this with emotes. That's not even considering other titles out there in regards to roleplaying features. D&D on the other hand will always be stuck with you choosing to use your speech at any given moment to roleplay or to socialize.

So what was the point of this long and borderline insane ramble? What's the tip or lesson to take from all of this? Just be more aware of it. Just be aware that out there, there is someone desperately trying to communicate with you and you have to do everything in your power to understand them even if they aren't making any sense. Help them so you can understand them rather than discarding their opinions or thoughts. If they feel that their message isn't being understood then it probably isn't. Be aware that D&D has a system that can't handle certain actions happening at the same time which makes it a slower system that needs to be treated with more care and focus than you might be used to. Be aware that everyone at the table is equally important and they're all just trying to speak but all of the rules mentioned earlier just make that exact process more complex than a Rubik's cube. Most importantly of all, be aware that sometimes you really aren't recognizing that the DM is telling you that the thing in front of you is a gazebo and it's not actually something you need to attack. Communication is key.

This is Kylak signing out so I can eat the gazebo before it eats me.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

VG Talk #16 How Darksiders 3 Could Learn from Past Mistakes

Video Game Discussion

Darksiders came out (Jan 5, 2010) and it was essentially one-part God of War and one-part Legend of Zelda. It wasn't just "similar" to them. It was an homage. It even included a tribute to Portal. It created its own style of badassery as far as aesthetics and storyline (you play as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse) but it mostly borrowed from the other games to show its love for them.

The problem came with that borrowing because the main complaint about the game was that it wasn't as tight of a performance as either game. For example, God of War has a fluid yet complex combat system that manages to be intuitive while also a challenge. Darksiders on the other hand can be completed by spamming the basic sword attacks. Another example, Legend of Zelda has dungeon-crawling with elaborate puzzles that build upon the mechanics of new items. Darksiders on the other hand makes the puzzles too easy (they practically solve themselves) and strangely repetitive rather than building up the player's knowledge for more complex and interesting puzzles.

That isn't to say it's a bad game by any means. It was just very obvious that they were attempting a tribute to two incredible games but it couldn't quite reach the heights those games have brought to so many gamers. Then Darksiders 2 came out recently (Aug 13, 2012) and it tried to shake things up.

So this time around we're not only giving tribute to God of War and Legend of Zelda but also Diablo and Prince of Persia. There are RPG elements, loot drops, wall running, and climbing/swinging/jumping/whatevering. This is a game that wears its heart on its sleeve but it seems to run into the same issue again. It does a better job of trying to imitate its collection of games this time around but it never fixed the original issues and added a few minor ones as well. Bosses are fantastic but the regular enemies might as well not exist due to how easy it is to shred through them. Puzzles try to shake things up at times but ultimately you still repeat the same basic puzzle scheme over and over. There are a load of ideas taken from Diablo but then the entire game is literally a series of fetch quests. The Prince of Persia environment running is here but with glitches and issues that mean you'll be falling to your death when it was completely avoidable. The environments and world were remarkably massive this time around but completely barren without anything populating them. Basically we're ten steps forward in the right direction and five steps back all at the same time.

Again, not a bad game by any means. It's still a blast to play through but it's obvious that it could have been so much more.

The next game in the series is almost guaranteed to give us even more tributes to gaming in the form of new gameplay elements but the biggest thing that Vigil Games is going to have to overcome is raising the ladder for how high these mechanics can go instead of falling into the same trap. We don't need another jack of all trades, master of none scenario. They have two games under their belt with an even larger studio and staff now. If they're able to polish each section of the gameplay, on top of whatever they're adding, then Darksiders 3 could easily be a must-own title.

What are your thoughts on the Darksiders series?

This is Kylak signing out and wondering if the four horsemen have to deal with saddle rashes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

MTG Tips #12 Card Evaluation

Tips and Tricks for Magic the Gathering players.

Evaluating cards is tough. Writing about evaluating cards is also tough. I've rewritten this article a million times. Originally it was based around examples but then the comparisons became too harsh against a particular card and let's be honest with ourselves here, you don't come to me for that.Then I attempted to write this about the current Standard but decided against it because even though it had some great examples, Standard is a thing defined by time and those examples would be given a lifespan rather than being timeless. Another thing we should be honest about, you don't come to me wondering about my process for writing these articles so let's just stop right there and get on with how you can evaluate cards for MTG like a majestic manatee. Trust me, that example will make perfect sense by the end of this.

Disclaimer: This isn't the only method of evaluating a card and I'm probably even forgetting certain factors because I internalize all of this instantly when looking at a card rather than in steps soooooo please forgive me if I've left anything out.

Step 1
Converted Mana Cost (CMC)
Always check the CMC of a card first. See if the card sings to you. Is what you're getting worth the amount of mana you're paying? Is it above the curve or below the curve? That's fancy talk for comparing a spell to the average effect or power/toughness you should expect from it. Not sure if it's on, below, or above the curve? Go to step 2.

Step 2
Color Pie
Look at what color it is. If it's Green then you should expect the power/toughness to be higher than the average creature for its CMC. You have to understand the general color pie to be able to pull this off but it's not very difficult. Just learn what each color is known for or what it cares about the most. For example, Black is known for discard effects, creature destruction, graveyard manipulation, and draining life among other things (the list is pretty extensive for each color) and it cares about ambition, death, and darkness (and playing in a rock band on the weekends). Keywords and abilities work this way as well. Flying is an ability Blue has mastery over while First Strike would be more commonly seen in White. Each color has primary and tertiary traits. For example, Flying is tertiary in White. If everything I'm saying is gibberish then you need to learn about the Color Pie first before you attempt any of this (head over to the official MTG website and read). Not sure how it stacks up in its color? Go to step 3.

Step 3
Take the spell you're looking at and compare it to a similar spell/effect/creature/sea cow/whatever. Is it a Red direct damage spell (burn spell)? Then compare it to whatever basic burn spells are in the current Core Set. As of the time of this writing, M13 is the current Core Set. Lightning Bolt is no longer the standard for burn spells (they're much weaker right now). That's because the color pie is constantly fluctuating for what should be the standard. Cancel is still the standard for a hard counterspell in Blue. Knight of Glory is the current standard for a White 2CMC creature. Not sure about the card's usefulness? Go to step 4.

Step 4
Contemplating Format
Rarely is a card completely useless. Even if a card looks sub-par, it's usually more effective in a different format. Most cards in a set are designed for Standard Limited, some cards are designed for the multiplayer formats, some Legends are designed strictly for EDH (Commander), some cards are designed to fix a problem in a particular format, and the list just keeps going. Even if you think a card is bad in Standard, it might be amazing in Limited or another format. Not sure how amazing it is for a given format? Go to step 5.

Step 5
Considering it Outside of a Vacuum
The biggest mistake I see made about card evaluation is this right here. Too many players compare a card inside of a vacuum where it's untouched by other cards/decks/strategies. Cards aren't played that way. When you play a card, your opponent will interact with it in some way. For example, many thought that Skaab Ruinator looked like one of the greatest creatures of all time (inside of a vacuum). For this very reason he was initially very expensive to buy as a single. The reality of course is that he isn't as effective as anyone thought. His additional casting cost of exiling three creatures from the graveyard meant he wasn't actually 3CMC. He's closer to virtually being 6CMC with a drawback. What if they just return him to your hand or destroy him as soon as he comes into play? Sure, you can cast him from your graveyard but you're going to need another three creatures to exile. Once people realized this, his price plummeted. Initially he cost over $20 for a single copy and now you can get him for less than a $1 (and he's still in Standard when prices are typically at their highest). The hardest part about this step is there are so many factors to take into account. Just start by thinking about the most common things that could hurt the card or the most common tactics someone might use against it and then decide from there.

I hope this info helped and that the manatee metaphor makes perfect sense now. It's obviously so clear that I don't even need to explain it.

This is Kylak signing out and hoping that you will float like a sea cow.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Reverse Dungeoneering #22 Best Point to Stop a Session

Improving your D&D experience. For Dungeons and Dragons Players and DMs.

This is more of a quick tip for today (would you guys prefer more of these?) rather than a full article but it's something important for all Dungeon Masters to consider. When is the best point to stop a session?

Sure, there is no such thing as a "best" way to do anything (almost everything imaginable is subjective... except for the wonderment of cats throughout the internet... I suppose that's just fact at this point) but I have noticed a trend that could be improved.

I've seen a lot of DMs decide that they prefer closure for their group as a good stopping point.They wait until things are wrapped up story-wise or when the characters take a moment to rest (sleepy time). This is when they'll end their D&D session for the night before meeting up a week later.

I'm going to tell you to avoid this. Avoid it like the plague.

Instead, try ending on a cliffhanger. They've just stumbled upon the final room in a dungeon and something crazy goes down? End the session there. The group finally discovers the source of why the water was poisoned? End it. Found a dead body? End it. They're captured by a demon sorcerer with a hilarious accent and a strange affection for musical numbers? End it.

The group will be incredibly excited out-of-game to figure out what happens next and they'll be thinking and talking about it until the next session begins. Try it out.

This is Kylak signing out and ending the session here for now.

Monday, October 1, 2012

VG Talk #15 PSP Vita Conundrum

Video Game Discussion

This is a pretty strange topic for this week because I don't typically discuss handhelds but this dives into a much deeper rabbit hole that is affecting the entire video game industry. It's better to approach the subject rather than leave it in the dark. So let's take a look shall we?

The PS Vita launched back in February of this year and it has only managed to generate 3million sales worldwide. That's abysmal. For comparison, the 3DS topped over 19million sales a few months ago. The Vita itself is quite literally the most powerful handheld device currently available (even outside of video game handhelds) and by a long shot. It supports cross-platform play with your PS3 so you can play a game at home and then bring it with you on the go, it has front and rear touch screens as well as motion controls for interesting game mechanics (such as in Gravity Rush), and it even remembered to bring dual-analog sticks (which is something Nintendo forgot and is attempting to tack on late as an add-on) which allows for certain genres to be played on a handheld that normally wouldn't exist. It seems to do a lot of things right and yet it does one absolutely major thing wrong: games. There are barely any games at all but you see, it isn't quite as simple as just "go make more games". That seems to be the suggestion around the internet except if it were that simple, it would have already been taken care of right?

The actual problem is that the video game industry has to make these games for a handheld that isn't selling well which in turn makes them think, "I'm not going to make any kind of profit on this investment." At the end of the day, video games are still a business. If a company doesn't think it's worth taking the time and money to make a game for a handheld that's only in front of 3 million users (which means their target demographic is even smaller than that number) then they just simply aren't going to do it. I know this sounds crazy because this becomes an almost unsolvable dilemma on the surface but that's the current conundrum the Vita faces.

From the consumer's perspective: The Vita isn't selling because it doesn't have many games.
From the industry's perspective: The Vita isn't selling so they aren't going to make any games.

There are actually solutions but most of them involve multiple companies taking insane risks in the hopes that something will change. Something that Sony recently announced may actually be a brilliant maneuver to start cutting into this problem. They're beginning what they call their Cross-Buy program. Basically, buying the PS3 version of a game means it will come with the Vita game for no additional cost. The games that will start this trend off: Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (aka Sly 4), and Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault. It's a huge incentive to buy a handheld if multiple games are giving you the Vita copies for free. This won't fix the main issue by itself but it's a good start. What are your thoughts on all of this?

This is Kylak signing out and waiting to see how this plays out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

MTG Tips #11 Cards to Ignore (Punisher)

Tips and Tricks for Magic the Gathering players.

Last time we discussed cards to ignore that included Win-More and Lose-Less types of cards. We also examined when there were exceptions to the rule of ignoring them (such as how Dragonstorm wouldn't be a successful card in a typical Dragon deck but someone was able to build a combo deck around the card for tournament play). Today we'll be looking at "Punisher" cards (that would be their unofficial nickname).

(This can be a touchy subject for those that are fond of these cards so I won't be making jokes today. I'll just be explaining as rationally as possible why this is typically a card you should ignore adding into your deck.)

Dash Hopes is a prime example of this type of card. When looking at the card it seems like it's incredibly powerful. Two mana to counter a spell is the cheapest type of hard counter that Blue can create and here it is in Black. Two mana to make an opponent lose 5 life is also a lot of bang for your buck. Red can't even do 5 damage for 2 mana with burn spells. So on the surface it seems like this is too good to be true.

The importance of a "hard counter" is that it will stop your opponent from playing a key spell. The importance of a burn/loss of life spell is that you you're dropping their life total down to achieve victory. When you give your opponent the option of choosing one or the other (which is what this spell does), then they're always going to pick the option that doesn't matter to them.

If they play a finisher that will win them the game and you cast Dash Hopes, they'll just take the loss of life and win. If they play something they don't need then they'll just take the counter option and you will have traded one spell for another. It's always an option that gives them the most benefit and it never generates actual card advantage. Dash Hopes only has one moment where it's useful: when the opponent is at 5 or less life, you're already winning, and they're trying to cast a spell that would win them the game. That's oddly specific and we're still talking about a scenario that doesn't generate any card advantage or get you any closer to winning the actual game.

This is very similar to the problem that Lose-Less cards have (which we talked about last time). These cards will help you lose-less in very specific situations but they aren't helping you win the game and there are other options out there that can take the place of these cards.

It's important once again to explain that in Magic the Gathering there are always exceptions to every rule. Some decks can abuse the downside of certain options to make a card useful 100% of the time. The problem with Dash Hopes is that the very deck that can abuse it the most is also just a very ineffective deck. Remember that all decks can fall into three categories: aggro, control, and combo.
-Aggro decks shouldn't be leaving mana open to play reactively when they could be casting threats. An aggro deck that attempts to play reactively will only be slowing itself down and giving the opponent more chances.
-Control decks aren't able to use it to control the state of the game when they need it most and it doesn't generate card advantage. A control deck doesn't concern itself with racing the clock (trying to deal direct damage) because it gets an advantage the longer a game lasts.
-Combo decks just aren't going to look at this (to be fair, they aren't going to look at most cards).

So you would need a mono-black aggro/control hybrid that wants to shutdown cards while forcing life loss via threats that can also amplify how devastating the life loss actually is and having a reason to have permission cards simultaneously. You could build it but you'd be building a deck that's shooting itself in the foot. That's the other problem associated with these types of cards.

Let's look at another example: Breaking Point.
Breaking Point is interesting because a common deck type already exists for it. I'm pretty sure most Magic players have heard of or seen a "burn" deck at some point. This is a card that can deal 6 damage for 3 mana (that's better than almost any other burn spell in the game) or wipe out all creatures on the board which is always useful for a burn deck. The problem comes in giving the opponent the choice.
-If you play it in the early game, they will choose the creature wipe for two reasons. They won't be losing a lot of creatures (or any of their main threats) and they will be keeping you from dealing damage. Remember that a burn deck needs to deal damage every turn to win the game as fast as possible or else it loses the match because it has no staying power.
-If you play it in the mid to late game, they will take the damage because they know that they're going to win with their creatures when they swing next turn and you won't be able to stop them. 

Once again it comes down to a very specific scenario for it to be useful: they have 6 or less life, you're already winning, and they have no backup plan for their creatures being wiped (as in, they over-commited and have no cards in hand, they don't have a way to get them back, they don't have a spell that could protect them, and yadda yadda yadda). Even in that scenario, the best case scenario for playing this card, you could have just had a burn spell in your hand anyways and just outright won the game.

Let's end with a punisher card that seems to know what it's doing: Temporal Extortion.
The biggest reason this card actually works is that the two choices aren't at opposite ends of the spectrum. That's the key. Imagine this scenario: you're playing an aggro deck and you cast this spell. Your opponent can either choose to let you get the extra turn (letting you swing with your aggro deck for yet another turn on top of the card draw and extra main phases which is better than casting Overrun) or take a huge chunk of life-loss which is what the aggro deck wants anyways. Unlike the cards mentioned earlier, the options your opponent has when you cast Temporal Extortion is either Damage or Damage. It's a win/win situation every time for an aggro deck.

Bottom line: if you really want a punisher card for your deck, go with one that you can utilize that will never force you to make a bad play. Make sure that no matter the scenario, it's consistently a useful card for your deck and both options work for you 100% of the time.

This is Kylak signing out because it's the best option after typing this wall of text.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Video Spotlight #46 Gangnam Style

Sharing videos I managed to find scattered across the internet.

This speaks for itself... except for the fact that it's in Korean. For those confused about what the hell "Gangnam Style" is, it's basically referring to upscale fashion and a classy lifestyle. There's your context. That's all you're getting. You didn't need it to begin with to enjoy this though.

This is Kylak signing out and reminding you that this has nothing to do with Gundams. That's Japan. Don't be racist.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

VG Talk #14 Short and Sweet

Video Game Discussion

It feels like it was only yesterday that we all wanted our games to be long spiraling epics and the amount of time you could invest in the game was one of the bigger selling points. Legend of Zelda games have always been incredible but they were also praised because they allowed you to sink tons of hours into them before even touching the sidequests. The same goes for the Final Fantasy series. Remember when Final Fantasy 7 was on three separate discs and everyone freaked out at how amazing that was? You were getting your money's worth and a great experience to go with it.

Then we had to obtain steady jobs, attempt regular social lives, and possibly grow up (that's debatable). Now we barely have time for those kinds of games. There's a reason the "save" function was invented. We might have to leave at any moment and we want to be able to come back to where we left off. We used to be able to get through a 40+ hour game in a weekend but now it could take us months if we don't schedule in a couple of hours of game time each night. Worse yet, we might only be able to play on our days off. *shudders at the thought*

That's not even mentioning any games that are grind heavy. We have learned to despise a heavy grind because it's pointless repetition to get to our end goal. It's unnecessary time wasted and we're busier now than ever. We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more! Except for all the times that we do but that's not the point.

A new breed of games has been emerging and I'm a huge fan of this direction. Games like Portal 2, Journey, Limbo, and Dear Esther are all actually rather short. This used to be an insult in the gaming community except now it's a blessing. Each one of these titles deserves your time and each of them has also managed to push game innovation on top of being a stellar experience packed into a tiny package.

Let me clarify and say that I don't want every single game to dare be this short. I want variety and it's something we're seeing more of in the game industry. There are plenty of times where I want a game that takes more than a few sit-downs to get through but I'm also a fan of these short games that don't suck up all of my time to experience something fulfilling.

It's also crucial to note that some games aren't allowed to be too short. The Darkness 2 came out and was overall enjoyed by many except for the fact that it ended way too soon. The only complaint about Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was that it cut out most of the exploration the series is known for which also cut down the game time rather severely. As you can see, it's going to depend on the type of game and the narrative.

Rather than this just coming across as a short article where I'm praising a few games, the point I'm trying to get at is this: game length has always been neglected as an aspect of game design. Some games do worse than neglect it and ignore the concept entirely during the design process. Hopefully designers will work toward fine-tuning the experience depending on what the game wants from the player and what the player is going to expect from the game.

What are your thoughts? Does game length matter to you? Do you prefer the variety of short and long games we are starting to see or do you have a preference? What are your favorite games that happened to be short experiences?

This is Kylak signing out before I take up too much of your time.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Reverse Dungeoneering #21 Putting Away the Tech for D&D

One of the few exceptions to this article.

Improving your D&D experience. For Dungeons and Dragons Players and DMs.

This isn't the first time this topic has been mentioned (here's the first: Speeding up Combat of 4th Edition) but it's the first time it will get its own article so that's something right? I suggested previously that one of the best things you can do for your campaigns is to put away the technology. Those computers, laptops, cell phones, and maybe you have an N-Gage to be ironic or something, are actually standing in your way. Today I'm going to expand on why.

I imagine there are plenty of Dungeon Masters that use a device for .pdf files or a handy app or whatever. Tech devices are a handy way to store info and access it rather easily so the logic line would normally dictate that it's a better way to play D&D except I've never seen this be the case. We're not only going to look at how it grinds the game to a snail's pace or the horror stories that come up way more often than they should but the single biggest reason you shouldn't bring tech to the table as well as some alternatives to tech or even books for that matter.

A Snail's Game
Common scenario #256: You need to look up a rule, the stats of a monster, the particular wording on a spell/power/whatever. What do you do? If your answer is to look it up in the middle of the game then you need to reconsider. You're going to have to pull the file up, wait for it to load, get to the exact page, find and read the section you were looking for, make sure the group has the info as well, then translate that to the game and get the ball back to rolling. Even if you manage to do this in half a minute, you're causing a lot of damage to the game. Every second wasted is wasted for everyone at the table (not just you which means it's multiplied). You aren't in a vacuum. Let's not even go into the fact that the second you break from the game to look something up, that forces everyone else to find something to preoccupy themselves with which wastes even more time and then has the chance to spiral out of control into just a "hang-out" night where very little D&D is actually played.

The actual math formula:
X = Every second you waste.
Y= The time wasted due to distractions that are caused by "leaving" the game to look this info up.
Z = The time it takes to get the game rolling full speed again.
G = The number of people in the group.
T = Total time.

(X * G) + (Y * G) + (Z * G) = T

Plug in half a minute for X, two minutes for Y, a minute for Z, five people for G, and you'll get this:
(30*5) + (120*5) + (60*5) = 1050 seconds. That's over 17 minutes wasted for the group and that's punching in very polite numbers. I've been with dozens upon dozens of entirely different groups and the numbers are rarely this kind.

Then you have to ask yourself: what else could I possibly need tech for? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Any "useful" app can be replaced with pencil and paper and be done just as fast (if not faster). Any info that you might want to look up can be looked up AFTER your session is over.

Unreliable Tech
Common Scenario #576: Device has to load, is running low on battery power, there are no outlets, it needs an update, the lighting isn't good for the screen, or any other number of issues that could and will come up when working with an electronic device. What do you do? The answer is you can't do anything. You've relied on the technology and now you're at the mercy of it.

I heard of a group that the DM literally saw that there were no outlets and said, "I guess we aren't having D&D tonight." That should NEVER happen. I've also seen people bring their laptops to keep track of their character sheet, powers, items, and spells which means they have to scroll through multiple word document/adobe acrobat pages and read through all of that text to figure out what they're doing next. That's a terrible waste of time.

No machine is perfect and even in an ideal scenario where info loads almost instantly and you know exactly where every file is and how to open it faster than I can finish typing this sentence, you're still doing the equivalent of page turning and that's just going right back to the earlier formula I handed you. Books and tech are for before and after the game. Not during.

The Biggest Factor
Common scenario #1: You take a moment away from the game and it pulls everyone out of the actual game you were playing in the first place.
Say it with me everyone: Immersion!

Immersion is crucial in a D&D campaign and every time you use technology in the middle of a session, a dragon loses its wings. Using that tech takes you out of the game completely and every other person at the table with you. In a mere instant, everyone is no longer thinking about the campaign or what their character should or was doing and instead they're thinking about the device that's being used or what to do while you're on that device or it gives way to breaking out inside jokes or out-of-game talk. In my experiences, sticking to pencil and paper never seems to have this effect but the second someone whips out a cell phone to use an app or looks at a monitor to check info in a .pdf file it's all lost. The players go from being in character and ready to adventure in a fantasy realm to being brought back to the real world and no longer playing the game.

Have you ever had a game night where everyone slipped into their character's shoes, they took pauses to make decisions because they were invested in their characters and fellow adventurers, the stakes were actually high, they roleplayed out scenarios you never expected to happen, the combat was intense as everyone was making the decision they would naturally take rather than staring at spell or power lists, and people couldn't stop talking about how great that session's events were afterwards as they retold them like they were from a book? You'll never get to that point if you keep killing the immersion factor. That's what immersion is capable of.

The bottom line: don't kill the immersion because you think it will "just take a few seconds to look this up really quick".

There are so many alternatives to using books, tech, or anything else that could become a distraction.

For Dungeon Masters:
- If you're going to need any stats for monsters, items, or anything, have it written or printed out before hand. Worst case scenario, just have color tabs in the Monster Manual so that you can look the pages and stats up as quickly as possible without wasting time.

- Maps for combat should be made ahead of time. Each map can hide underneath the first so that you can simply pull off the first layer and keep playing.

- Have a sheet solely for the purpose of keeping track of initiatives and status effects. Keep this on the table for all eyes to see.

For D&D Players:
-Try sticking to just a character sheet. Look for custom character sheets online because the official ones seem to have a strange layout that makes it take longer to find info than should be necessary.

- If you're playing 4th edition then make your own power cards (or purchase the actual product). It's so much easier to keep track of your abilities if they are physically right in front of you. The best part is, if you use your Daily or an Encounter power, then you can just flip the card over and keep track of what you have left.

That should cover everything. If you're just looking for more tips to speed up your game then I recommend the link at the top. If you need a more specific answer on how to avoid tech then simply leave a comment or email me.

This is Kylak signing out and hoping you do the same when you're at the table.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

MTG Tips #10 Cards to Ignore (Win More and Lose Less)

Tips and tricks for Magic the Gathering players.

When building a deck, there are certain cards to be wary of that might as well be traps. Admiral Ackbar isn't here to help you since he's in a galaxy far far away so I'll be his temporary replacement. The two particular types of cards we'll be looking at today are "win-more" and "lose-less" cards.

Win More

A win more type of card is one that is only truly useful when you're already winning the game. These are essentially traps because they look powerful and shiny at first glance and make you want to drool on them and include them in your deck when in reality you could be putting a more useful card in that works 100% of the time (rather than less than 50%). The hardest part is deciphering which cards would qualify for this award and you'll find that it's rarely black and white. It usually comes down to looking at your own deck and making that decision for yourself.

You may have noticed Dragonstorm hangs above to wave the banner of win more cards everywhere. This is a card that costs 9CMC and loves to brag about how explosive it can be "potentially maybe in a vacuum on a Tuesday if it doesn't rain". You could have played a powerful dragon on turn 5 or 6 and have been swinging with it and winning before you got the mana for this bad boy. Let me repeat: you could have already won. That's not even mentioning that it will actually cost you more than 9 mana since it wants you to play cards before it thanks to the storm mechanic.

Before the pseudo-tournament players jump on my back, you have to understand, the reason I use Dragonstorm is it's also the perfect example of an exception to the rule thanks to it working in a very very particular deck. Tourney players will tell you of the days of the Dragonstorm combo that could cast Dragonstorm on turn four consistently in Standard and summon four Bogardan Hellkites to instantly win the game. As I said before, it's never black and white. Dragonstorm is going to be a terrible card in more than 95% (totally accurate made-up statistic right there) of the decks that try to play it because they could have been playing an actual consistent card that had a better effect for a cheaper cost. That being said, the Dragonstorm combo deck had all of the right pieces to abuse the storm mechanic and the only reason it was successful was because of how fast and consistent it was. It was the backbone piece of a single combo deck but for everyone else it's just a win more type of card.

Lose Less

A lose less type of card is a bit different but I'd say it's easier to spot. These types of cards are at their best when you're losing the game. They never actually help you win the game which at best means you're only delaying the inevitable and at worst you're bringing a knife to a gun fight (maybe a Jellyfish to a Dragon fight?). The hardest part that some players have in figuring this out is those that are still learning about Control decks. Control decks don't use cards that simply delay the game. They use cards that control the board in their favor and give them superior card advantage to win the game.

Take a look at Guard Gomazoa. That is some hefty defense right there but it doesn't really do anything else. You could have just as easily included a flying creature that can actually attack. If your opponent pops out a Baneslayer Angel then yes, Guard Gomazoa is going to help you lose less often but it's never going to actually win you the game. Baneslayer Angel on the other hand is going to win a lot of games and generate more virtual card advantage by being a better threat on the table than any jellyfish.

Compare this to Wall of Omens. It's one of the only walls that has been used in tournament play in quite some time and there are actually a lot of reasons for it. It manages to replace itself immediately with another card which lets you dig deeper into your deck to find your actual threats, it's below three mana which means you can drop it at the most crucial time to place a wall (the first couple of turns), and it has four defense which not only means it's out of Lightning Bolt range but it blocks just about anything for quite a few turns. It combines card advantage and virtual card advantage (if you don't know what I'm talking about then read this article: All About Card Advantage) into one tiny cost-efficient package.

Just to clarify so that I don't send the wrong message: it isn't walls that are the problem. Cards that simply delay without giving you any kind of advantage in the game are the real trap. There are plenty of great walls that do more than just "exist" on the field and there are more than enough non-walls that are about as useful as a dead body.

Ignore the traps my friends.

This is Kylak signing out and helping you bring the right weapons to the table.

Monday, July 16, 2012

VG Talk #13 Games need Character(s)

Video Game discussion.

For those not getting the low down on the down low, there happens to be info about a new PS3 title known as Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale. It's essentially Super Smash Bros. for the Playstation. If you've never heard of Super Smash Bros. before then I need you to hit yourself a few times. No fibbing. I'll be able to tell if you're lying. That being said, today's discussion isn't about the game itself but rather something that I've been churning in my head for awhile (churning is the secret word of the day so expect the room to start screaming at you). Today's topic is about characters. You see, for me personally, the character(s) of a video game can sometimes be just as important as the game itself (if not more important at times). Sometimes I feel like I'm alone in this but then I simply have to look back at the existence of Super Smash Bros., Final Fantasy Dissidia, Kingdom Hearts, Marvel VS Capcom, and other crossover titles and realize that others are in the same boat as myself (now with open bar... and I don't even drink). That's not even considering characters that have their own on-going franchises by virtue of the character alone. Some of which will never die. Never die....

Something that I couldn't quite put my finger on for this console generation has been the sheer lack of character. Nintendo has actual iconic characters it can leverage that stick with us until the end of time, the Final Fantasy games that still existed in the single digits have characters we will forever love, and Capcom to its credit has built up entire universes and mythos around its major characters that have already become household staples. The list can definitely go on but let's face it: this current console generation has barely provided any new characters for us to latch onto. There's a reason we still want Ratchet and Clank games (and it's not just the gameplay).

I can't help but think this directly relates to the DMC reaction, even if I hate retreading that ground for the millionth time. Dante is a real character. He's already made himself iconic among fans and non-fans and the Dante shown in the DMC trailers isn't the same Dante. He's some Bizarro version where fun is replaced with angst and his need for parties is replaced with a nicotine addiction. If the character wasn't so loved, the game would have never received that reaction.

Rather than actual characters, there has been a shift in focus on three things for this generation: gritty realism, the player being the character, and sequels of sequels. Games like Skyrim don't actually have a main character with a story or dialogue. You're simply the one taking control and everything revolves around your decisions. Even if your decisions just involve you crafting shit for three days in real-time. I'm fine with these kinds of games existing for the people that enjoy that type of escapism but creating actual stories and characters has fallen to the wayside.

When studying story crafting you learn that it's not the actual story that sets a book or other piece of media apart. The real answer lies in the characters and how they interact with one another. The characters will create the story themselves. Their push and pull is what generates the tension and driving elements that make you invested in what is going on. There's a reason Final Fantasy 6 (the actual 6 in Japan but originally our 3 in the States until that was fixed later with the re-release in Final Fantasy Anthology... except for... oh screw it) is still considered the greatest.

So what does all of this have to do with All-Stars (full circle!)? A concern. Does Playstation have enough "characters" under its belt to warrant this kind of game? They did mention there would be third-party characters (that was obvious though) but that doesn't automatically dodge the question. We don't have a finished roster yet but I remember laughing uncontrollably at one of the first names to be made public knowledge: Mael Radec. If you have no idea who that character is then guess what: You're allowed to laugh uncontrollably as well because I imagine there aren't that many gamers that could easily recognize his name either. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that picking an antagonist from a niche title in only a single game of a series probably wasn't the way to go. That being said, I see why they did it. Killzone is one of their properties and it's not like it gave us any memorable characters to speak of so Radec was probably the best fit (even if he's only from Killzone 2).

Super Smash Bros. Brawl already had 35 characters and there are still hundreds of other characters that players want them to add into the next installment. All-Stars on the other hand may only be the first installment in its own series but can you really imagine such a rich history of characters to draw from for the future? I can see it now already, when the sequel comes out and almost the entire cast is from decade-old franchises and nothing really new to speak of exists. At least it's a better situation than Microsoft/X-box trying to attempt the same thing. Can you imagine that fighting game? The only three playable characters would consist of Marcus Fenix, Master Chief, and the dog from Fable. Who am I kidding? It would just be another multiplayer shooter.

Let's hope the end of this console generation brings back a focus on actual characters in our games. Sadly though, with the success of Call of Duty, Skyrim, and a million sequels, I can't imagine it happening for awhile.

This is Kylak signing out but not losing hope.

Monday, June 11, 2012

State of the Articles

Wow! We’re nearing the two year mark and there are over 200 posts on this site! Everyone, give yourselves a pat on the back. You deserve it. You’ve had to put up with me for that long and I’m not going anywhere so we’re in this for the long haul. Yeah I’ve been kind of quiet and posts have been sporadic lately but I’m working on that. So let’s discuss one of the many issues holding this site back at the moment that needs more attention than a dog that’s been sitting at home all day waiting for its owner: the articles.

There was one constant on this site that’s been true since the beginning and that is geeky related posts that fit into some coherent series of articles (just because my words can be incoherent doesn’t mean the posts need to suffer the same fate). This was a sweet deal because it gave everyone something to look forward to while giving me some kind of ground to stand on and build upon. If a reader stumbled upon Reverse Dungeoneering #10 then they might want to read the entire series and then have a suggestion for a future article. This helped us all stay organized and on the same page. If you wanted a post about Video Games then you wouldn’t be looking through the MTG posts in the first place. Easy enough right?

So now we have a new issue glaring over our heads. What if one of these series couldn’t be worked on? Dun dun DUUUUUUNN! The horror! It’s more likely than you think. Let’s take a look at what’s going on with each series:  

Leak Sauce (News posts)
Status: Cadaverific
You may have noticed that I haven’t made one in quite some time. That’s because I’ve found less and less of a reason to waste energy on these. News posts require that I tackle the geeky news and post about it within seconds of it being released. I also need to have a reason to post about it and my own original spin or take on the topic. Otherwise it’s just a regular post you could find anywhere else on the web and I’m not a fan of that. There are enough blogs out there and far too many “news” sites that already do this. Unless you request it because you want my opinion on it, it’s probably not gonna happen.

Decklist Ex Machina (Magic decklists)
Status: In cold storage
Ever since I left the college grounds I’ve had other things to concern my time with. I’ve also had an infinitely less likely chance of being able to play magic with anyone. I can’t actually test decklists out right now so the reliable lists are shot in the foot. The other lists that I post that are just fun ideas taken to the extreme can still be posted but ideas are typically formed when I’m actually playing the game. I can’t play at all right now so I can’t form crazy ideas. If you have a crazy idea then I’ll make it into a real decklist for you and post it but other than that… these posts are taking a break.

MTG Tips (Magic advice)
Status: Jogging slowly
This one has been slowing down in what usefulness I can bring to help Magic players out. There was a huge focus on intermediate level Magic so I can still help the beginner level and discuss strategies and deckbuilding. I imagine this one still going on for at least a year (maybe two if I’m lucky) before I run out of ideas but I can see an end to that tunnel and I’m not fond of that.

Vorthos Trainwreck (Magic story humor)
Status: In the Laboratory
This is an oddball in that it was created from one of the first posts on the site. It’s been transformed actually into a modified version. For those wondering: this is being made into a video series now. It’s no longer going to be purely written articles. The biggest problem with that is I have to rely on an artist’s time schedule (artists are always busy). The script is written and the opening scenes are already drawn but that’s about it. After I’m given the finished scenes to work with, I can synch the images up with the voice work and then edit the finishing touches before posting it. My artist is away for over a month right now so don’t expect to see that anytime soon.

VG Talk (Video Game discussion)
Status: Alive and kicking
This is currently the only video game series of articles on the site (that needs to be fixed… any suggestions?). There will always be things to discuss but I find myself killing off article ideas faster than I can write them. I’ve had around 20 ideas for this article series buried for different reasons but at the same time I have 10 more that I could easily write and so this will continue on.

Wicked Anime Reviews (Anime reviews)
Status: It’s allliiiivve!
This is one of the few that I’ve found a system for after a lot of experimentation and even if the Anime Industry were to turn to dust, I’d still have thousands of Anime to cover for this. It’s the only Anime series on the site and I plan to fix that in the future. The only reason it might go away is if I create an entirely new format that would basically be the same thing (anime reviews) but with a different look.

Reverse Dungeoneering (D&D Advice)
Status: In your face!
As long as there are problems at the gaming table or ways to improve the D&D experience, there will be a Reverse Dungeoneering.

Critical Playtesting (D&D Classes and Races)
Status: Hmmm... probably dead
Between D&D Next discussion and D&D fans being more separated than ever thanks to the “editions war” going on, I have less and less reason to write these. At this point, if there happens to be a class you want me to write about then let me know but otherwise I have no need to continue on with these.

D&D Story Seeds (D&D Adventure Hooks)
Status: Slow and steady
These will continue to transform and roll out but not in a very Michael Bay kind of way. My plan is to take my time and reach the 100 mark (to clarify: 100 story seeds which would only be 10 articles total due to them each having 10 seeds in them) before I figure out if people care enough for it to continue. So far they aren’t that popular but they also don’t have a lot of eyes on them either. I imagine they could gain ground in the future but for now let’s just get to that number ten.

To summarize: 9 Series total. 2 are dead, 2 are inactive, 2 are going slower now, and 3 are left running at full steam. The future is one thing but that doesn’t leave me a lot of options for the present.

So if you have suggestions for these articles or an entirely new series then PLEASE comment below.

The future: I want to work on more than just written work and focus on audio and visual as well. I’d like for there to be webcomics, podcasts, and videos on this site that myself and others have worked on but that does require teams of people. If you want to be a part of something then let me know and we’ll discuss it. I’m leaving this post up for at least a week or more to get the message out there so thank you for being patient everyone.


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