Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Celebration of Free Expression!!!

Although the process was extremely long, the video game I created has been added to the Elko County Library! You can now check the game out at my local library!



Honestly, I was shocked. I had already given up on the process and simply expected the title would not ever be carried by the library- but it is. It has a nice display right at the front desk where most people cannot help but see it. In fact, it may have the best placement in the library.

So many of my stories have been about censorship it is nice to have a story which is not about censorship but about the ability to tap into the communications infrastructure.

So if you are in Elko, feel free to check out Tore Loves Eliza. If not feel free to download it online.

Feel free to thank the library by phone or email! Although they host gaming nights, this is the first video game in their circulation collection.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kommune 1541

This blog has been an on and off again project for a few years. The blog is not monetized, but it is a lot of work. Lately, I've been struggling too much just to try to take advantage of the network tools that would allow me to reach a broader audience. I have been extremely disappointed by the recent decisions of several moderators, most notably on Reddit/r/gamernews and MTGSalvation.

Even worse, I find that the blog no longer feels like my own in many respects. Too many things have had to change in order to try to get the stories out to the public. I've talked to some degree about the problems of censorship on this blog and feel that it is always in the best interest of the reader to have some understanding of the constraints under which the blog operates.

I don't think people realize how much forum rules and network rules can effect off-forum/network activity like personal blogs and the like. Again, in order to take advantage of network tools, it is critical that smaller and independently run operations modify their content to meet third party rules. A great example would be the NSFW tagging at Stumbleupon or Reddit. My own blog, for example, no longer has comment abilities because it could offend third-party sites that I need in order to effectively communicate to wider audiences. A certain amount of self-censorship may also occur. As a result, censorship permeates the internet as people try to walk the line of expressing themselves and still being able to communicate.

This is a line I no longer feel like walking. This will be the last month of blogging on 1541K.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ratings



Is TF2 putting the voluntary back in voluntary ratings?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A list of ten helpful responses to internet censorship

A common experience on the internet is forum censorship. In the past, people had to rely on admins in privately run BBS. Admin abuse was a common problem on BBS, but there were also admins which were so committed to the concept of free expression that they let practically anything in.

Today, most forums are moderated. We've come a long way from the days in which a BBS Admin would fight to preserve the free flow of information. Now almost every board is sanitized by spineless mods. Increasingly most forums, are merely playgrounds for bullies acting under the mod banner.

The mods take a very heavy handed approach to filtering information and there is often little a forum user can do to correct a mistake by a moderator.

As a general rule, you want to find forums that have a general set of guidelines and not too many subject areas. The fragmentation of forums makes communicating information to different subgroups difficult. This is done intentionally to sandbag information and prevent information from becoming effective. An excellent example of sandbagging is the Steam users forum where each game gets its own forum making it almost impossible for gamers to talk about common problems with each other.

Forums that have subforums with their own rules get problematic because it is hard to keep up with all the rules from one forum to another. This again is designed to provide censors with the upper hand as it will be easy to trip people up on hidden rules. In addition to that, the more subforums there are, the more likely a person is to be accused of posting in the wrong forum and having their thread removed.

What follows are the typical reasons for censorship and possible responses.

Basis 1: Your post is against the rules.

Your post is against the rules. There are rules against what you are doing.

Response 1: Rules are often a pretext for censorship. Hide behind the rules mantra if you want, but it appears your interpretation of the rules is simply that the rules were designed to eliminate all thoughtful and critical discussions.

Basis 2: Your post is spam.

Response 2: A lot of things get called spam which are not spam to achieve a form of censorship. According to Wikipedia, “Anti-spam policies may also be a form of disguised censorship, a way to ban access or reference to questioning alternative forums or blogs by an institution. This form of occult censorship is mainly used by private companies when they can not muzzle criticism by legal ways.” The rule against spam is a facially neutral rule which is being abused. My post is relevent and provides supporting material that enhances the discussion at hand.

Basis 3: We do not allow the posting of links.

Response 3: The denial of the ability to link to relevant material is a form of censorship. According to the Wikipedia entry on internet censorship, this is known as "Blocking the intermediate tools and applications of the Internet that can be used to assist users in accessing and sharing sensitive material."

Basis 4: It was a close call, but we erred on the side of caution and decided that the post should be removed.

Response 4: This is the Twoface policy: Heads: Freedom of Expression. Tails: Censorship. I prefer forums that don't leave freedom of information to chance. Funny thing is, it always seems to come up tails because of erring on the side of caution. Try to err on the side of freedom.

Basis 5: You should have included an explanation for the link in your post,so the moderator can have more information before making a decision.

Response 5: All the mods had to do was click the link and determine there was no reason to remove it because the link was both relevant and included supporting material including supporting embedded video. The burden of censorship should lie with the mods, not with the poster to establish why the post is legitimate.

Basis 6: The thread is closed because of what other people say.

Response 6: Allowing trolls to sidetrack a debate or closing a thread because of what others say allows people to exercise a form of heckler's veto. The appropriate course of action would be to remove the post by the offending troll, not close the entire thread.

Basis 7: The topic is not allowed because we are afraid of what other people might say.

Response 7: The hypothetical response of the audience is not a legitimate basis for censorship.

Basis 8: We are not engaged in censorship.

Response 8: I think the mods should familiarize themselves with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights and understand that internet communication is now considered a human right.

Basis 9: We do not allow opinions only facts.

Response 9: This is viewpoint discrimination. What you call opinion, could easily be called viewpoint and the [companies/subject/forum] have a viewpoint as well. You just don't acknowledge it.

Basis 10: If you don't like it, find some other place to post.

Response 10: Forums across the internet act the same way. It will be censored no matter where I try to post it. Furthermore, I am not interested in participating in forums that censor my views, because I know that it will censor other peoples views as well. This means the forum itself is fake and will not provide me with access to critical and sensitive information.

Response 10: Bonus Material

The world-wide web was designed to try to promote and foster communications. It began as a government project and it still remains under US control. It is not clear to me why privitization would allow for the waiving of rights, as the rights being waived do not belong to the government. That is to say, the government cannot waive my rights unilaterally, through privitization. If they could, any rights would be entirely illusory. I should add that I focus primarily on Article 19, rather than the first ammendment, which is more global in character, because frankly the world wide web is more global in its effect and operations.


In Conclusion

The pretexts for censoring information are growing, so you might has well have some responses ready to go when you encounter censorship by the mods. Although many companies operate forums, few want truly critical discussions to occur. At the same time, co-opted forms of media are often given a pass, while independent voices are quashed. If I post a link to my blog, which is not monetized, I will have a greater chance of having my link removed than if I post a link to a mainstream commercialized site such as Gamespot or IGN. Unfortunately, Gamespot and IGN promote industry embedded viewpoints. They can be critical of games, but not too critical. They can pan a game mercilessly, but at the end of the day, they will also kick the hype machine into action when it is time to bolster the sales of a decent title. After all, their livelihood still depends on the overall success of the games industry. Their practices are short-sighted and counterproductive, however, as the elimination of constructive criticism will only slow the process of necessary change.

Hopefully, having a quick set of responses will help educate others about the problem of internet censorship even if your post is ultimately closed, the thread is locked, and you get banned.

Friday, December 9, 2011

House of Cards: Predatory Shipping

As I have been playing Magic lately, I have also been adding to my Magic collection.

One of the more daunting problems in accumulating Magic cards is the cost of obtaining them. It seems that various distributors of Magic card singles have pricing schemes which are suspect. Some Magic sellers choose only to cater to the rich players. The pricing of singles tends to be fairly high. I have seen cards selling for ten times their market value in some circumstances. People who sell at these prices are not catering to everyone. The effect of the price inflation creates artificial barriers to effective competition from low cost single alternatives and incentivizes the purchase of premium products.

Still, there are hidden mechanisms at work that may not be nearly as apparent as the outright price gouging that can occur in Magic card sales. Strangely enough, shipping is one of them. I have encountered shipping schemes that seem outright predatory in their characteristics. A merchant may overcharge for shipping until you reach a certain dollar amount. Let me be clear, I am not talking about sellers who charge actual shipping cost and then waive it after a certain dollar amount in purchases is reached- I am focused on those that overcharge for shipping and then waive shipping charges when a threshold purchase amount is reached. Predatory shipping in Magic the Gathering occurs because people who make smaller purchases overpay for shipping while people who buy more qualify for free shipping and will pay nothing at all for shipping.

Let's say you play in a group of 6 players. One player makes a purchase of $50 and qualifies for free shipping. The other players each make a purchase of around $6.50 and are charged $2.50 for shipping- but the actual shipping costs are only $1.71. The five players who are overpaying for shipping are basically subsidizing the sixth player. Again, there is nothing wrong with charging the actual shipping costs or waiving those costs if a purchase threshold is reached, the problem lies in cases where there is a shipping overcharge.

In order to protect themselves, players should always be acutely aware of shipping policies and practices. Be on the look out for packages which ship with bar codes instead of stamps or clearly identifiable prices on the envelope. Sellers may conceal the price of shipping because they know most people will not check to see what they actually paid for shipping against what they charged for shipping. Most shipping rates can be determined by searching online or even visiting a post office to inquire about the actual costs.

What can players do to avoid being a victim of predatory shipping policies? Players can delay making purchases until they qualify for free shipping. Players can, of course, purchase cards as a group to meet the threshold purchase requirements. Nevertheless, players lose the ability to build decks that can surprise their friends this way. In addition to that, those techniques only means the players themselves avoid victimization and not necessarily other Magic players. The final option is that players may simply wish to avoid doing business with businesses that engage in predatory shipping practices.

Hopefully, you can find a Magic reseller which does more than simply cater to the rich or one that preys upon the poor. Once again, gaming is not what it used to be, a hobby. It's a business sadly and the only thing that will save games from the businesses is a basic sense of fair play between the gamers themselves.

Owing to a discrepency between an invoice that charged more for ground shipping than the postage should have cost, I contacted AdventuresOn about their shipping policies and practices. According to AdventuresOn, "If we were able to pay less in shipping we would obviously charge our customers less. We want to have an incredible combination of cheap shipping and inexpensive cards." AdventuresOn also stated that, "Our shipping charges should cover the postage, as well as packaging material. Our system estimates the postage amount by the approximate weight of the items, the destination, and the method of shipping selected."

I pointed out to them that the invoice only stated there was a charge for "shipping", not "shipping and handling". I also feel that the underlying card prices reflect cost plus profit in most cases. AdventuresOn also noted that they had to use larger envelopes for shipping with toploaders, but I explained to them my order came in a standard sized envelope.

Finally AdventuresOn replied with this response:

"Our experience is that with using the 'letter' class mailing rates for larger number of cards "approx 8 cards or more" they arrive with postage due. Or they get returned to us. My research in the past has led me to believe that the problem is the thickness.reaches over 1/4" so it moves the package to the "Flats" (2.1 General Definition of Flat-Size Mail) rate structure."

I sent them a video reviewing their shipping policies and practices, I received the following email:

"I have spoken with the owner and he has authorized a refund of your shipping cost on your most recent order ($2.50 refund should appear in your paypal account within 4 business days) and we are reviewing and updating our website and making any changes needed to reflect that the Shipping charge is our closest approxamation to actual postage, but that any overages should be viewed as handling and materials charges."

A few things should be noted: the overcharge was not actually $2.50. According to the post office, the overcharge (on my most recent order) would only have been 79 cents. I sent them a follow-up email correcting this.

(The order which began the discussion and triggered the investigation was referring to was a charge of $1.00 on what should have been 64 cents in postage.)

I appreciate the fact that they are open to reviewing their policies and practices and hope that the new shipping charges will be more equitable.

Pending this discussion, I should also disclose that I placed a new order with CCGHouse. My guess is it would have been cheaper to purchase from AdventuresOn, but in light of my investigation, I felt there were equitable considerations that justified paying slightly more for the cards. Here is the video of my investigation:



An MTGSalvation Moderator removed the link to this story.

The full email exchange with customer service can be found here.

AdventuresOn's indifference to my purchasing preferences, created the opportunity to explore purchasing from many alternative vendors including CCGHouse, AllCCG, Troll and Toad, Magic Inferno, Ideal808, and White Lion Games. Update: It appears that AdventuresOn now provides free shipping on orders over $19.99.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Taking a break from blogging...

...and perhaps the internet in general. Rather tired of the stupid "cute" animal pictures, the powermad moderators, the not so subtle product placement, the mindless memes, and the trolls. Frankly, the internet is just not what it used to be. I shouldn't ignore all the upsides to it- the streaming entertainment, the low cost of consumer goods, the on-demand entertainment. It's just that the social networking sites and online forums are pretty weak.

As for video gaming, it is not what it used to be either. Gone are the days when new players found inviting multiplayer environments to play in. Instead, it is mostly noobstomping or pay2win scenarios.

It's the holidays anyway.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Great morning for Magic

Although it was only about 16 degrees outside at 7:00 a.m. here in Elko, the group slowly showed up for a few hours of Magic. We played a few rounds of one on one and then moved onto the group play. My decks are performing a little better overall, but a few still need serious revisions. At least one deck was a complete failure and the entire deck needed to be reworked. One bright spot was the performance of my decks as supportive decks in the Captain's matches. It is much easier to build decks which are supportive in those settings. After the morning session, it was decided we would play again on Monday afternoon at my house.

Monday Update: So I rebuilt one of my decks but it faired no better. Including me, there were a total of four people at the Monday session. It was fairly balanced play Monday afternoon and I was able to win one multiplayer round- only the second multiplayer round I have won. The final team match was particularly close and made for an interesting end to the session. I'm guessing the Monday sessions might wind down during the holidays, but it has been a great time to get together and play and a good chance to make midweek adjustments to decks.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Racism in Online Gaming



The issue of racism sometimes arises in multi-player settings. It is easy to conclude that someone else's bigotry should not prevent any player from playing or enjoying a server. Many companies have de-facto language barring racist language as do many servers. Nevertheless, racist language will be used by players in game chats or VOIP talk.

Obviously, a certain amount of psy-ops occurs in many games, but the racist language seems over the top. The language is certainly distracting, but is also deeply offensive. In addition, there are certainly many ways of being distracting without resorting to racist language. Battlefield Vietnam contained an excellent use of psy-ops that matched the game with its broadcasting of anti-US propaganda in level without being racist.

When another player uses racist language, an admin might kick them or players may respond to them. Interestingly enough, in many cases I've noticed the team with the racist tends to lose and I'm wondering if some of the players on that team sabotage the efforts or simply do not fight as hard.

Jean-Paul Sartre did not necessarily view racist speech as an opinion at all. Sartre felt that prejudice cannot be an opinion since an opinion offers legitimacy. Sartre felt the appeal of the prejudice was in its impenetrability. Sartre felt the appeal was a simplicity that provided stability and certainty- the bigot does not have to struggle with thought.

In societies like the United States, freedoms of speech are generally protected under sunshine theories- that is society wants to know what other people are thinking so it can take actions it feels are appropriate. It is felt it is better to have an open awareness of prejudices so that we can monitor the prejudiced. Suppression of hate merely pushes it dangerously underground and lulls social systems into a false sense of security. In a day and age when so many environments are speech sanitized, the expressions of racism in games serve as a reminder that racism still exists- which may motivate anti-racist actions.

That being said, laws prevent public accommodations from any form of racism. A pub server is in many respects a public accommodation. When a server promotes racist sentiment, it is much more serious than if an individual player did it. Servers that promote racism also reduce the gaming environment as good players who are offended will not play there. There are enough places with racist expressions and gaming need not and should not be one of them.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Today's MTG issue (Kind of Yesterday's Issue).

Played MTG with the local group. One of my decks prevailed in a one on one round and showed modest promise in group play, however, the other decks were total failures. This happens. I was actually a little happy that one of the decks failed, since I want to build a new deck with some of its core elements anyway and now I can dismantle it without a second thought.

Today's discussion became quite heated on the issue of what can do damage to Planewalkers. I was hoping that a card like inferno might be able to do damage to both the planeswalker and the player. It appears that I was wrong.

As was explained to me on the MTGSalvation forums, I cannot do damage to both. Apparently, planewalkers are not "players" after all.

The second question was when the four card limit came into effect and it appears the answer was January 26, 1994 for sanctioned tournament play. Interestingly enough, playing well after that date, my friends and I continued to construct decks with more than four cards. However, as none of us entered tournaments, it is not surprising we were unaware of the change in rules. Still, I had a friend who played for ante at local card shops and they did not mention it either.

As a completely off-topic aside (but because I really have nowhere else to mention this), I recently found out that the Source Comic's and Games lost their lease in St. Paul as of February 2012, but is moving to a new location. It sounds like they will have plenty of space to continue gaming.

It sounds like another MTG session will happen at my house on Monday. I am looking forward to it.

Finally, my basic MTG 2012 deck builder arrived in the mail.



I used Amazon gift cards I earned to make the purchase. I needed some of the basic cards it included, but it certainly did not contain anything extraordinary. I have not really looked too closely at the cards yet- but it certainly cannot hurt to have a few more options. The cards are still sitting in the box.

Just in time for the holidays: Battlefield Nerf

Battlefield: Nerf

I went back to play Battlefield Heroes. Why? Well, around the holidays Battlefield Heroes has been having all sorts of promotions. The latest promotions involve the introduction of a “new” playmode- capture the flag. I say “new” because CTF has been around in Battlefield games since BF1942, but it is new to Battlefield Heroes.

In addition to that, some new weapons are being introduced. One of those weapons is an RPG known as the Dragon. The Dragon has not been well received by players and is now slated to be nerfed.

Before I get onto the discussion about the nerfing of the Dragon, I should note the really important news: Amazin Dave is moving on. Amazin Dave took over for Ben Cousins. A look at Amazin Dave's profile indicates Amazin Dave was a farily active BFH player. Amazin Dave leaves for personal reasons. Amazin Dave's tenure was short, but also marked by substantial changes. The addition of sponsorpay options, for good or bad, was added during Amazin Dave's tenure. A new mode, CTF, as well as new maps, such as Perilous Port were added. Amazin Dave acknowledged many problems in BF:H and had promised to change them. One area where Amazin Dave did not succeed, but had hoped to, was tracking down a very serious graphics bug in Battlefield Heroes. I wish Amazin Dave the best in his future endeavors.



Amazin Dave is being replaced by Pim (aka Starfighter). Unlike Amazin Dave, Pim is a self-described noob at Battlefield Heroes. I wish Pim the best.

Now on to the “controversy” over the Dragonzooka. There is currently a contest in which you can win a customized Dragonzooka if you get 400 kills and the Battlefield was flooded with Dragoonzooka's owing to free unlock codes.

Although, I like the fact that players were given free unlock codes as well as the ability to win the Dragoonzooka by playing with it, I don't like the fact that the unlock codes were hidden in an email entitled, “New game mode- Capture the Flag”. A lot of players are not going to see that unlock code. Worse still, was the posting of a short time code on the Facebook page. I don't check the Facebook page regularly and missed the code. Had I not missed the code, I could easily have gotten my 400 kills to unlock the FREE permanent Dragonzooka. As it is, I will have to spend some of my sponsorpay money to extend my time. I guess I do not feel that badly about giving the developers 100 BF from Sponsorpay for a new weapon as that is much closer to a microtransaction than most BF:H weapon prices, but I do not like the fact that the only reason I am doing it is because they play “hide” the unlock code. As a BF:H forum regular, I would prefer they simply post the code to the forums and not force people to seek codes out at multiple sites.

The Dragonzooka is not rentable with Vps. In the long run, this is also a shame as it seems somewhat unique as a weapon. I myself, am not convinced that the Dragonzooka works on all maps, but I am also not convinced it is overpowered. In other words, it may not be a great idea, but it is not OP.

I would recommend most free to play players to unlock the permanent while they can. The current contest requires 400 Dragonzooka kills before December 1st. These are kills, not assistant kills. Battlefield Heroes does not provide regular stat updates- the stats only update once every 24 hours. In order to know how you are doing, you need to keep a tick sheet of your kills. It's painful, but it will help you make the appropriate progress towards unlocking your permanent weapon.

If you do have to spend 100 sponsorpay BF points, do not feel badly about it. It's okay to resent EASY for making you spend the 100 BF because you probably missed the Facebook post, but getting 400 kills will take you about 24 hours of real time. You will be earning the weapon. Some players may not enjoy the marathon gaming that is required. Had the Facebook code not been a time sensitive code, the marthon would not be nearly as grueling. Most players will only have the one code from their email, which probably is not enough unless you want to stay up all night. There are many things which will keep you from earning your permanent weapon otherwise that should not. Hackers will “kill” steal from you. If you are not dying because of them, you are not killing because of them. The aimbotters won't have any problem getting a weapon, but you will. You will also have trouble maintaining play on some of the more popular servers if you are not a VIP. Other servers may have very low population counts or team imbalances which reduce your ability to get the kills you need. I have discussed the problems with BF:H before, and all of them will be very noticeable hinderances to getting your permanent unlock. Part of what you are “paying” for if you choose to rent the code is really just the price for dealing with aimbotters as well as the fundamental problems with the game's balance. Do not allow these BF:H short-comings to undermine your ability to earn something which you may need and deserve. Again, whether the weapon is nerfed or not, it is unique and not available for VP rental.

Now on to the nerfing issue. I wrote on the forums the following:

“Players can adjust their play style to meet the new challenges. I don't think the weapon is nearly as OP as people make it out to be. The radius of the damage is wide, but it does very little damage a lot of the time. You will hit someone, but for like 6 or 12 points of damage. Not really huge amounts when you rely on the the splash.

Again, I posted actual stats that showed that while it does more damage on average, its actually a bit less lethal than Bernie's Bone Chewer.

Some of the reaction is probably because the 400 kill contest and free codes flooded the environment with a new weapon before people could begin to understand how to adapt to it. Some of the reaction is probably also because any new weapon which is effective will be hated by players who have already invested in weapons (e.g. they don't want their stuff to become obsolete or be forced to upgrade). Some of the reaction is probably because the weapon is potentially widely available. 400 kills gets you a permanent weapon- with Sponsor Pay for a rental and a 24 hour unlock code- a lot of people could, in theory, get one of these. I"m still a bit surprised that the weapon is unavailable for VP rental at all as bounce is a totally new ability and this only exaggerates the options between play4free and pay2win players.

I do feel that the weapon presents different challenges on different maps. Then again, new playmodes are being adapted to old maps, and I'm not even sure if the appropriate balance is being struck in those cases either. I mean CTF on VV is pretty decent, but I can't help but feel it is a little easier to get into and out of the Royal base. (Fall off the cliff and your out of bounds on the Nat side). Still it's a bit early to make any definitive conclusions, just something to look into.

Again, I'm a bit surprised as few people seem to care about the overall imbalances in the game and the graphics glitches are a much bigger problem. I've had to quit playing on servers because of Graphics glitches, but not because of any dragon problem.

That being said, if they are going to nerf the dragon, I would hope they would adjust other OP weapons as well.”

- - -

Here are my stats of a simple Bernie's Bone Chewer versus Dragonzooka:



So that is how I feel about it.

I have often stated that EASY has ignored the cumulative effects of weapons and in this case, when the unlock codes hit the Battlefield, everyone noticed it. Many forum posts have suggested that EASY did not properly play-test the weapon, but then again, where are they going to find the play testers? A lot of the closed beta crowd moved on and the few who remain, like myself, are no longer active in the testing process. It is amazing how much players know about games and the technical process involved. If BF:H had not alienated so many of its players, perhaps a solution to the graphics problem would already have been found.

As for the subsequent “outrage” over the Dragoonzooka and its nerfing, here's another way to look at it:



I still like the BF:H players and enjoy the cartoony fun, but as most of you know, I've been moving onto the more level playing field of CS:S. If my system could handle it, I would probably be playing BF3 or BFBC. While I come back for some of these BF:H events, I don't think these gimmicks will prove enough to keep players, like myself, engaged. After all, I'm here to play, not pay.

Update: The following changes occurred:

Dragon's Fire and Drakes Fire Weapon Tweaks:
- Blast radius decreased from 12 to 8
- Projectile time to live decreased from 0.7 to 0.6

Here is a look at the post nerf Dragon in action. I did not think it was OP before the nerf.



Update 2: It appears some of the graphics bugs have finally been addressed by the 11/30 update. Players are reporting fewer incidence of the major triangle bug.

Update 3: CTF mode allows players the opportunity to play without worrying about ticket bleed. Like Hoth and MM this helps players who may want to play without worrying about the impact of tickets on round outcomes.

Update 4: The Claw arrived on December 25, 2011. This is the first new innovation under Pim's (aka Starfighter's) tenure. The Claw provides all players with free item drops at 8 hour intervals. The drop is random and may be clothing, widgets, or weapons. Some items are temporary and some items are permanent. Players have reported they can get permanent weapons. It is not clear if this includes Tier 1 or ubers at this time, nor is the drop percentage known. This might be a small step in returning to an environment in which purchasing weapons is more convenient and free to play players have opportunities to get the weapons themselves, but not enough is known at this time to make that determination. Players can purchase additional chances. The Claw drops do not stack, it is use it or lose it, but you can redeem your claw at any point during the eight hour drop. So if you redeem a Claw at 7 1/2 hours after its eligibility, your next Claw will drop in 1/2 an hour.

Update 5: The Claw drops have been reduced from 3 to 1 per day. The Claw itself may or may not last-- they "don't have any plans on removing it unless we see any reason to." This whole episode is just another example of indecisions and reversals on the part of EAsy. I am rather tired of the whole Battlefield Heroes affair.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Awakening the Avatars

It's been a while since I've done a comic. Here is my latest comic using Battlefield Heroes for the characters. I used OpenDraw to create the comic.



The permalink for the PDF is here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Just the ticket

Went to the movie theater today. They were sponsoring a "Food for Flicks" drive. The price of admission was just four (or more) cans of food per person. The parking lot was as full as I had ever seen it. Weststates Manager Tony Lampo was at the theater and personally thanked everyone for their donations. By all accounts, it seemed like a very successful event.

It had been a while since I had seen a movie in the theaters but it was a nice way to start the day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another post on Magic? Yup.

Magic was fun again today. I lost the free for all rounds and did not have much success with pestilence at all this week. I decided to fix a few fundamental flaws in the deck and hopefully the next time I use it, it will work bettter. Last week, another players Gauntlet of Power, greatly boosted the effectiveness of my deck, but this week it was simply shutdown. Deck design is an on-going process and my decks are still in the early stages of development and losing usually provides you with key insights into a deck's shortcomings. Like most players, I occasionally misunderstand the effect of a card and have to tweak a deck. In some cases, I simply scrap the design altogether.

I have some new deck ideas which I am excited to put together.

Many of my cards are older cards. Sometimes older cards are nice, but other times, they feel a bit dated. New cards continue to pile on the abilities making a creature which merely flies or simply infects seem somewhat obsolete. I have been slowly adding to my collection and will continue to do so. As lame as it is, I have been earning gift cards on Swagbucks. One of the reasons I do this, is hopefully, to provide the other players with more competitive rounds. Some of the more valuable cards will probably remain out of reach, but that is okay. There has always been a tension between Magic's Duel nature as a collectors item and a game.

A bright spot in my deck building occurred during a captain's match. Captain's matches are a little like team matches where the teams are defined by damage inflicted to other players. I was not a captain, however, I played with a deck which was designed to support in a very defensive way, whoever claimed me. I was claimed a bit later in the round as most of my cards do not always appear strong at first. Fortunately, I played Gossamer Chains which began to arouse interest in me. My most effective combination was the use of Palace Guard and Guiding Spirit. Palace Guard was able to block all attackers and then when it went to my graveyard, I was able to use Guiding Spirit to put Palace Guard back on top of my library. This allowed me to help my captain in defense. Again, in a one on one situation, this deck would not be nearly as effective, but designed to supplement a team, it seemed to work nicely on defense.

A discussion was held about possibly having another Magic Monday after the last event fell through, but there did not seem to be much interest in holding one this week. Many people who play Magic are very busy with life events as the holidays appproach.

Other players had much more success in putting together extremely powerful combinations which were effective in free-for-all, but nothing I did seemed all that great today. There is always next week.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is Online Multiplayer FPS Even Possible? A critique of microtransaction gaming.

PennyArcade did a story trying to say free to play models could work. I feel the PennyArcade video is too positive on the subject of micro-transactions- it's still trying to say, this could work for players, when everything indicates it cannot.

If it is about giving players the opportunity to try games, there are other ways to give players the opportunity to try before they buy. Steam runs free-weekends on games regularly.

The Penny Arcade story seems to assume that the choice is between microtransactions and purchasing $60 game. I do not recall the last time I paid more than $40 for a game, but it was a long long time ago. It is true that I am not an early adopter of games and wait until they go on sale. Even so, most games I buy cost around $20 or less these days. In some cases, I have been able to purchase new games for the cost of microtransactions. BFBC2 was selling for $6.88 during last year's Steam sales.

It is not clear that PvP online gaming is actually possible, much less PvP microtransactional gaming.

PvP gaming requires a certain amount of “self-moderation” on the part of the players, something which players have not consistently demonstrated. BF:H's data suggests 19% of players believed it was okay to pay for a weapons advantage. This means nearly one in five players believe it is okay to pay to win and upset basic game play parity.

Even in games which have a foundation for a level playing field, like CS:S, players often encounter gaming environments in which all kinds of “advantages” are bought and sold. In some server environments, players can purchase the option to choose their team (making team stacking possible), or purchase purchase the ability to use additional unlocks or weapons.

Ask yourself as a player how often you encounter someone using a hack. I find it to be a fairly common occurrence.

The gaming companies do very little about the people that sell hacks. Seeking legal remedies is a costly uncertain process and companies do not seem inclined to continue to invest in pursuing these options. Instead they leave the players (most of whom are honest) at the mercy of the aimbotters. Worse yet, despite almost no benefit from the so-called anti-cheat software, legitimate players find their systems slowed by invasive scans. If technical solutions to this problem existed, they would have been developed by now. It requires a more evolved player base than the one we have. Again, the vast majority of players are honest, legitimate players, but enough players are dishonest to make regular PvP online play a bit out of reach. I have maintained that only an ethical solution is likely to solve these problems.

In many online PvP games, there is a huge amount of negativity in server environments. There are griefers who try to disrupt game play through things such as team killing or mic spamming. Many of the “self-proclaimed” leet players make new players feel unwelcome while they are trying to learn the game. Free to play does not make the gaming environment better. Many games have players which exchange insults of free-loading and paying to win.

Microtransactional gaming did nothing to improve game balance either. Adding the possibility that players can openly purchase game advantages makes gameplay worse. Even if you provide free-to-play players with the ability to earn what can be purchased, if the free-to-play player must grind endlessly to get to the same place, you end up creating new problems- like idlers.

Free to play is marketing newspeak. There have been truly free games before the microtransaction model came forward. RTCW:ET is an example of a truly free to play game. Pay to win, however, would not do as a model so the phrase Free to play was created. As implemented it has been Pay to win and it is a disservice to continue to use the term free to play.

For all the people cheerleading free to play models, ask yourself, have we even reached the point where traditional online PvP play is actually possible? I can play ten years worth of PvP FPS titles and encounter the same problems on all of them. Pay to win microtransactional gaming seems only to have introduced a handful of new problems to go with the old problems.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Winter Workout

As the temperature gets colder, I am returning to my routine of Wii Active Sports II workouts. I am starting on the hard setting. I should be in better shape after the summer anyway. Overall, I still feel very positive about the investment. I learned about a new bug though. Apparently, if you change your EA password, you cannot connect online or correct the password without deleting your profile or using the old password and then changing the password. I do not mind not being online for tracking, but others might find this a bit more troublesome.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Ungathering...

The scheduled MTG session at my place did not happen. It appears that too many people had scheduling issues.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Overdue at the Library

The Elko County library decided to not make a decision regarding the game Tore Loves Eliza. An endless myriad of excuses constitutes a constructive denial. It is not suprising that many low level government fiefdoms engage in gate keeping, but it is a sad surprise when that gate keeping is perpetrated by a library.

To be clear, I have given them a considerable amount of time to make a decision- as posts as old as September 9, 2011 demonstrate- which frankly was not that difficult to make. I even took my own computer down to the library and provided them with a demonstration of the game. After the demonstration, they indicated they wanted some additional labeling for purposes of installation. I provided them with additional information.

The library does provide patrons with gaming options. They are currently taking a grant to do so.

Not a single person involved in the decision making process should keep their job.

I have tried to support this library by purchasing some of the has-beens they sell to raise money. I participated in their bland "pets-caught" reading contest. I attended and publicized their game nights. At a minimum, the library staff lost my support over its bullshit "indecision".

UPDATE: THE LIBRARY IS NOW CARRYING THE TITLE. I will stop calling for the mass firings and can start supporting the library again!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Four Magic

It was time for Saturday morning magic again. Turnout was decent with six players. We did not have as many as we had in the past, but the games were fairly manageable and even. I did manage to do my most damage ever in a round- 95 points in total, but still lost. It was with a deck I called S&M, in part because it did damage to me as well as other players. The deck relies heavily on torture, binding agony, and pestilence to rack up quick damage.

Today's MTG discussion centered explicitly on the four-card rule. I have fairly mixed feelings about the four card rule. Many of my early decks and cards were procured before the 4 card rule took effect. From a deck design perspective it was easy to find relationships between cheap common singles that could be competitive with more expensive cards. As noted in this detailed historical discussion:

"Richard didn't like Steve Bishop's idea of limiting the number of each type in a deck," remembers Elias, "because it killed many deck types, like Plague Rats. There was no reason to limit Plague Rats—or most other cards, for that matter. We were going to have a separate list of restricted cards, each with different numbers, but eventually it was decided that the simplest thing was to have a general limit of four of a particular card per deck and to move the deck size up to 60 cards from 40."

As someone who ran plague rats decks and owned a lot plague rats, the new rule certainly hurt. I used to be able to build many effective combinations of common cards that were highly competitive when the four card rule was not in place. In many respects, you might still be able to, but it would certainly cost me more to try to replace the older cards with newer cards to achieve the same effect. It begs the question: If not simply to sell more cards, why is the four card limit in place?

To put it in clearer perspective, the afforementioned article notes:

"He notes, however, that in time, he recognized that some of his original concerns could be addressed by simply making many types of Goblins, Merfolk, or Rats to make deck types that had been destroyed in the short run viable again in the long run."

In other words, Plague rats are out, but Relentless Rats are in. You can find two differently named cards that achieve approximately the same effect. Thus players like me, are simply required to repurchase the newly named cards to achieve the same effect. But again, to what end?

I also feel that changing the rules after I make the investment constitutes a constructive taking of the value of my cards. In fairness, if you are going to limit the plague rats but then reintroduce a new version called Relentless Rats, shouldn't I be able to simply trade my cards one for one with WOTC? I collected other cards in excess of four prior to the limit. What am I supposed to do with all my Vision Charms?

In addition to that, there are many cards which penalize players for having multiple copies of the same card- so if you did decide to run more than four cards, you might be exposing yourself to greater risks as well. An example would be a card like "Hint of Insanity" or "Cranial Extraction".

The one upshot to the four card limit was that it encourages a certain amount of trading between players. In MTGO, I simply sort my cards in light of the four card limit, and then can trade with other players.

I suppose a cynical view would simply assert that increasing deck size from 40 to 60 and the four card limit merely benefits WOTC (now Hasbro) in their ability to sell cards.

Something else I found particularly fascinating was this suggestion:

"The second reason the game had broken and imbalanced cards, Garfield believes, was because "I expected playgroups to moderate themselves. This is the way it always is in hobby games—no one played by all of a game's rules, and every playgroup tweaked it to meet their own group's tastes." Therefore, Garfield reasoned, if a playgroup contained a player using a 40-Lightning Bolt deck, its novelty would wear out and then be weeded out by the others in the group who no longer wanted to play against it."

The idea of self-moderating groups seems great to me. The local group plays by a first no penalty mulligan which seems effective as people use it in good faith. Initially the group had a free mulligan policy, but it was abused and so they engaged in some "self-moderation" and changed it to one free mulligan. This is slightly different than it works in MTGO where there are no free mulligans but it works for the local group of MTG players.

Now, going back to when I started playing MTG, the decks were sold in 60 card boxes for $8.95 and contained a mix of cards- including uncommons and rares. Therefore, my old cards include some theoritically valuable and effective cards in addition to the multitude of cheap commons. In MTGO, the basic common deck is only $4.99 but includes no rares or planeswalkers- which effectively skews the game. Likewise, the games contains few format restrictions, meaning it is very difficult for players who only have core common cards to ensure they are not over matched by players who have spent more on their decks. An unbalanced round is not merely a problem for a player stuck with common cards, but diminishes the fun for players who have spent more money building strong decks. Those players deserve competitive rounds.

Assuming MTGO is not going to address the issue, we can still find a solution in "self-moderation". MTGO does allow players to ban each other and you will not be matched against that player again. Therefore, if you encounter a player who is an overmatch, you can simply ban them. Still, this ad-hoc solution is both time consuming and a bit overbroad.

At the local level, the group play keeps some players in check. In any given round, if one player gets too powerful too quickly, the other players can all attempt to respond to that threat. It is not a flawless system, but it does not seem broken either. I am not sure if the same can be said for MTGO given the unregulated nature of the environment and the disparities that exist. Interestingly enough, I win more games in MTGO.

Update: More than a four card limit, dramatic disparities in deck costs appear to the real issue. Without moderation, with or without a four card limit, the game will remain imbalanced. Some spending controls should be put into place to restore competitive play.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Source

Owing to the continued negative trends in pay2win gaming as well as my low-end gaming rig, I've been taking a fresh look at some of the older titles in my collection. My biggest problems with my older Battlefield series games is a consistent lack of server choices in my region.

One game which does provide me with a lot of server choices, decently populated servers, and a more level playing field is CounterStrike:Source.

Counterstrike: Source provides players with legacy systems like mine, an alternative to the pay2win environments of Battlefield Heroes or Battlefield Play 4 Free. The game is currently retailing for about $9.99.

Counterstrike: Source rewards players for cautious team play. Unlike many shooters, you cannot respawn. However, relatively quick rounds means that it is not likely to be a major issue for most players.

Although Counterstrike: Source is known primarily for smaller maps, there are servers in my area running larger custom maps. Here is a short video in which I play on a larger custom map.



Permalink for video is here.

Okay, so my shooting still needs a bit of improvement.

A lot of players in many games get caught in map ruts. Many servers either run the same map or players choose to play only one or two maps. Although custom maps can take some time to get used to, they are a nice break from the vanilla office/dust2 offerings.

Modding was once a core feature of many FPS titles. Counterstrike Source map making is made possible largely with a SourceSDK tool called Hammer. I've started to explore Hammer and it seems friendly enough, though the process of map making requires a serious time commitment.

Unfortunately, with many companies moving towards models that emphasize revenue streams from downloadable map packs (most notably COD), I am not sure if players will be provided with the support and tools they need to continue map making. This is really a shame as many of the custom maps are extremely professional. It is also nice to have servers which run a variety of maps. Hopefully, when Counterstrike: Global Offensive launches, it will include modding tools. (According to the forums, Hammer will still work.)

For many players, simple clean FPS play without pay to win problems, a strong community. modding tools, and relatively low hardware requirements will continue to make CS:S enticing despite the splash of newer FPS releases.

CS:S suffers from the same problems most other online PvP games suffer from. There are the drawbacks of few servers for new or inexperienced players, too many servers running just one or two maps, and hacks. Like most games, there is a lot of noob baiting and servers are full of outrageous smack talk which does not add to the game. A lot of games are being criticized for their unfriendly environments and CSS is not for thin skinned players. Fortunately, Valve has exceptional in game mute features. You will need the mute function. CS:S players produce some truly horrifying in-game chat and it is nothing to be proud of. CS:S gives players the control they need to deal with this problem. You can disable VOIP functions totally or mute specific players to meet your own needs. Round imbalances can be reduced by scrambles, but one will encounter some team stacking. Some servers may sell player advantages. The hacking problem is present in just about every online PvP game and makes one wonder why anyone would bother buying a new game when they are going to just experience the same old problems.

Meanwhile, over at the Steam forums, I'm being labeled oversensitive in responding to criticism about posting a link. Am I oversensitive or just experienced?

Here is an update to include yet more custom map gameplay.



If you look closely, you might see a picture of the x-mas presents that are so controversial in CS:S.



Anyway, there are a lot of well made maps to play in CS:S. The hardest part is finding an environment for new players. As a personal matter, I prefer the culture of BF:H. BF:H is much friendlier. To be honest, CS:S is perhaps one of the unfriendliest environments in gaming. In fairness, other games also have reputations for unfriendly and hostile environments and this has been a source of disappointment to developers as well as players.

The Gathering

I spent the early part of the week dismantling and building decks. The later part of the week, of course, is when I get down to the serious business of making sure I can make the event.

Lately, my biggest problem has been fixing flat tires. A horrible seed with terribly effective thorns punctured another tire.



I am replacing my tubes with self-healing tubes in the hopes this helps. It has been an unexpected expense. Having taken the "beaten path" to my detriment, it makes me wonder when dedicated bicycle lanes will ever be a reality in Elko. Elko has a rather mediocre bicycle infrastructure.

There are many plans to add bicycle paths in Elko. According to the draft of the Elko master plan, "Elko’s transportation system should provide opportunities for residents to choose a variety of transportation modes including driving, bicycling, and walking. The complete street concept recognizes that transportation corridors have multiple users with different abilities and mode preferences. Approximately one third of Americans do not drive; providing for all modes creates access for children, seniors who do not drive, individuals who have a disability that limits their ability to drive, and those who do not have access to a vehicle. In addition to providing access, providing safe and comfortable facilities for all modes creates active, livable streets and contributes to a high quality of life."

Despite being included in other plans with objectives, the recent upgrades to fifth street did not include any addition for bicycles. The Elko Daily Free Press reported, "Assistant City Manager Delmo Andreozzi said this system is much like the one in place on Fifth Street between Pine Street and Spruce Road, although bike lanes could not be factored into that design due to space constraints."


The issue of bike lanes was further discussed at the Elko City Council on February 8, 2011:

"Councilman Rice referred to the bike striping; it was his understanding it would not be an actual bike lane, but a stripe that designates there could be bike traffic there. He understood Staff‟s concerns but there has been lot of talk about bike routes. Councilman Rice questioned the possibility of doing some striping, as a safety precaution, similar to what is seen all through downtown Salt Lake City; it serves to tell motorists there is bicycle traffic in the area. Councilman Rice stated there is bicycle traffic on Idaho Street. Mr. Fasana acknowledged with the striping configuration there is room for bikes; but we aren‟t encouraging bike riding on Idaho Street due to the high volumes of traffic through the downtown area. The new striping configurations referred to by Councilman Rice are done in communities that want to encourage bike riding and to let people know they want bikes and vehicles to comingle. Councilman Rice stated that was exactly his point; with redevelopment that type of traffic is something the community is encouraging. Councilman Rice saw this as an opportunity to embrace what is going on down there; this is a big bicycling town. Mr. Fasana acknowledged Council Rice‟s point but advised it is not part of the City‟s designated bike plans in the master plan; which may be in conflict with the RDA at this time. The reconfiguring we are doing now will make it easy for change in the future."

Finally, at the meeting, a citizen noted that the lack of bicycle lanes in some areas is a concern for children's safety concerning a different development.

"Kathleen Avery was opposed to the development and expressed her opinion it created a lifesafety concern for children walking to school; they will be at risk daily from traffic traveling at speeds of 45 to 55 mph, large trucks, mining equipment and flying debris. There is no sidewalk, safe bike path or walking path for them to get to school."

There are obviously a lot of reasons to increase the bike lanes throughout Elko. My own focus is simply to have paths that reduce my exposure to these somewhat seasonal seeds, nature's caltrops, on my studded kevlar lined tires.

Many local businesses do not have bicycle racks- including the Starbucks we hold the event at. I'm surprised they don't share one with the Gamestop next door as presumably many customers of both stores would use one. Smiths does have one, but the rack is across the parking lot. Walmart recently added a bicycle rack.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

MTGO THE ON-GOING ASSESSMENT

I continue to explore MTGO. The hardest part is still trying to avoid the occasional round of pay to win imbalances. While my decks are more competitive, there are times, especially in the case of Planeswalkers, where the imbalances seem most pronounced.

Planewalkers provide players with more abilities and are limited to being targeted as players. As far as I know, planewalkers cannot be purchased in the cheap decks, but must be obtained through more expensive upgrade options.

Although the prices for common cards are reasonable, it seems that planewalkers are reserved for people willing to pay more. The only format that bars planewalkers (for now) is pauper. However, pauper has so few restrictions in deck content, that the differences in deck strength almost seem more pronounced because pay to win players can buy more for their money.

I maintain that new players need an inviting atmosphere to get involved.

A regulated MTG league with spending caps would improve deck parity and keep the game competitive for everyone. If players were limited to spending on only 1 deck per month and started a season and ended a season together, play parity would be maintained. In my experience, players leave if play imbalances (owing to perceived pay to win outcomes) reduce player interest.

Another concern is the planned obsolence of some Magic Cards. It seems like more and more powerful cards with fewer drawbacks are being released as a method of inducing players to purchase the new "must have" cards at the expense both of the value of older cards and the gameplay. I mean, who needs a Dwarven Warrior when you've got Invisible Stalkers? Who needs Venom, when you've got a plethora of creatures with death touch?

I've played enough MTGO in a completely unregulated environment to feel that I am wasting my time in it. I might respect players who on some level of parity could build a deck, but not those who simply stack their deck with the uber cards no one else can afford. I think, if I am not mistaken, MTG used to sell deck packs that contained a mix of cards- not just common cards- at the outset. Now, they've clearly gone to a tiered system which favors money over any kind of talent.

There are other gameplay issues as well.

I've had a disconnect or two and my opponents have had several.

The most common complaint remains the mana situation. It is nearly impossible to avoid a certain number of rounds which are lackluster owing to poor mana draws by players. In the local game settings, we allow one courtesy mulligan without a card penalty, but in MTGO there is no such luxury. Each mulligan requires you draw with one less card. I see arguments on both sides of that issue. With cards that can give 2 or 3 turn wins, free mulligans could be abused substantially. However, too many cards ditched to overcome a bad mana draw, also puts players at such a functional disadvantage that the effect of the mulligan is more detrimental than beneficial.

I continue to meet players in MTGO who are very good sports though. When my flash block did not work because of the user interface, my opponent acted as if flash block had worked and sacrificed the creature the next turn- though I was still without some life points I would have had.

Finally, we come to the issue of "natural" play. Some players complain about the shuffler and other effects in MTGO being subpar. The reason for this is probably that most random number generators in computing are simulating randomness. That means everything feels slightly less natural than the real world where the game is the result of truly random occurrences- a real dice roll.

Gold Town

Elko is a gold town, but like any market in America, consumer competition is only one click away thanks to the Internet. People in Elko who are used to local businesses which charge unfair prices and/or provide poor service will seek alternatives. Elko residents are used to shopping on the internet or driving to other communities (like Salt Lake and Twin Falls) for better shopping.

A lot of brick and mortar stores ignore internet competition until it is too late, such as Borders and Blockbuster. The internet often provides customers with cheaper buying alternatives. Most customers are cost-conscious and many are willing to wait for products. Some businesses can get away with charging more because customers are willing to pay for the convenience of same day purchases. This is probably because their customer base consists of businesses that may not be able to afford to wait if a vital piece of equipment breaks down or they run out of supplies. In addition, the tax code allows businesses some offset for their purchases. Such is not generally the case with consumer purchases such as video games, comic books, or other forms of discretionary spending.

Likewise, some Elko businesses assume their monopolistic status in Elko will insulate them from local competitors. This is not the case. There is only one “bike” store in town, but I was able to find alternatives to service my bicycle when it became necessary to no longer support that store.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I won the Playdate contest!



So, the results are in and yours truly apparently won the Playdate contest. Now I have to pick some games!

Update: I opted out of the prize and ask that people look at my game if they wanted too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Magic Monday



I was able to connect with several Magic Players today at the house. Three people showed up to play MTG in real space with cards. The event was set up after a consensus with the other players at the last meeting. It is very hard for everyone to get together as people have busy work schedules and unanticipated conflicts arise. Overall, my decks did somewhat poorly and I feel many need to be reconstituted to be more competitive, but I managed to win one multiplayer round and a single player match. My island denial deck is probably the most competitive one on one deck I have. Still it was fun.

Everyone won rounds. Hopefully, everyone enjoyed the rounds. We played for about 5 hours, so it was quite a Magic marathon.

We held a drawing for a Saviors booster pack and a few simple items were given to players who showed up. The somewhat phallic art on the life counter card proved to be a constant source of amusement.



Despite schedules, we will try to meet again.

I also set up MTGO in the living room. I felt if we had a large number of players show up, it might be nice to provide people with something to do while the match resolved, but with the group that we had, it proved unnecessary.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bitfighter Big Battle 7- AKA Another Reddit Playdate

I was just about to login to play some CS, when Steam Playdate group notified me of a Reddit Playdate for Bitfighter. Apparently, Reddit was promoting with a small giveaway for participation as well. In any case, players can actually win things in the BBB, though I tend to find that prizes do not always enhance gameplay experience. Since I knew nothing about the game, it took a while to get a feel for the controls and the playstyle. Also, the BBB streches over a few hours. Anyway, if you are interested in seeing Bitfighter or looking at the BBB7 files, Sam6861's youtube channel contains some footage. Here is a later round I participated in. I was getting a bit tired by then. You will probably see my name R-ToreSimonsen flash on the screen a few times. The R was to designate a Reddit player.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Battlefield Play4Free to sell up to 10 training points.

Recently, Battlefield Play4Free announced that players will be able to purchase training points for their soldier. In addition to cold hard cash, players will be able to purchase the items with credits at a rate of 1 per 75,000 credits.

There has been considerable outcry over the changes at both the Battlefield Heroes forums and the Battlefield Play4Free forums.

Some people are worried that Battlefield Heroes will follow suit and sell Hero points.

Battlefield Heroes led the way. Ben Cousin's explained this in his long good-bye, "Paying to Win".

When it began, BFH was never going to sell pay to win advantages, but made the decision out of misplaced fear and statistical misinterpretations. BFH alienated a huge number of its fans and many players left, but EAsy just shrugged it off because they knew enough players would simply keep playing- and they did.

Emboldened, BFP4F is now beginning to slowly move down the same road. Interestingly enough, they are trying to promote it as a leveler between hardcore players and busy players who can't "keep up". If that was the case, a simple XP boost would usually do... but an extra tp point is a tp point. This move comes shortly after they rearranged the TP abilities with tier 3.

The only good news is they are at least selling the permanents for credits. 75000 credits for 1 training point is admittedly fairly high. I currently have around 90000 credits, so I could qualify for 1 training point so far (3 slots @ level 20). I guess you could save your credits- best done with medic classes as they can use default gun and heal themselves to slightly compensate for weapons advantages. Might take a look at the credit per hour return to get an idea of how long it would take to grind.

The situation in BFH isn't really much different. If you buy one of the Tier-1 weapons, you get advantages in damage, experience, and/or accuracy. All of this allows you to level up faster. By doing more damage, you can reallocate your hero points from things like piercing strike to your poison or stealth and gain even more advantages over your opponent.

My guess is EAsy is looking at this and saying, the players will complain, but they'll stay and they'll spend.

As for me, I enjoyed the recent giveaways during the BF:H Halloween. If looks could kill, my characters would still have a chance, but as it is, I keep dying at the hands of Ubers and Tier one's. I've tried to experiment with using VP weapons as a leveler, but can't maintain a steady stream of VP, so I've had to pick and choose when to use VP weapons. You might be able to be competitive if only 1 or 2 opposing players has the upped weapons, but when entire teams do, it is not really possible. EAsy likes to ignore the cumulative effects.

Lately, my mando gets killed by pistols that have the same range and do more damage... so I'm off to play CS and BF2142 (when a low ping populated server is available- not often sadly). I get owned in CS and feel "enclosed" in the levels, but at least it is to a player who spent the last 7 years developing skill at the game. My skills in 2142 are rusty, but they'll get better again.

EAsy would rather have customers than fans anyway.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Introducing Goetia

So, I spent a few weeks making an early alpha of a realspace CCG called GOETIA.



The CCG is still a bit rough at this time as I only have 20 creature cards and 11 spells.

As this is really a very early version of the game and completely untested, I have no idea how it will "play out" so to speak.

The game is probably best suited for 4 players or more.

On the artwork, I used MakeHuman for modeling many of the people. The creature artwork might be provocative to some people as my creatures are not censored. If make believe creature nudity offends you please do not download the game. Historically, however, monsters have been portrayed in this more natural context and I felt no reason to betray that history merely to satisfy prudish elements.

In making the game, I used many separate programs- Fragmotion, Blender, Makehuman, Sculptris, OpenOffice, Irfranview, FontForge, and Gimp to name a few. I also found the use of several freely available fonts to be helpful. A free version of Elder Futhark was used to title Goetia on the cardbacks as well as M. Klein's freely available Deconstruct font. I used Fontforge to make the Goetia symbol.

The zip file should contain the necessary files to play the game as well as a readme instruction file.

Update: Oops. Forgot the champions, but fixed that. Now the necessary files are in place. I am not entirely sure whether this project is going to go anywhere.

Whether to publicly release my alpha or not?

I have an alpha for a real space CCG finished. It needs testing. I'm debating the issue.

Pay to Win is Poisoining the Gaming Community

There is no better way to say it than pay to win sucks. The idea of selling players advantages ruins gameplay and takes the skill out of gaming. Unfortunately, too many gamers are being screwed by pay to win games and the pay to win model.

Ever since Ben Cousin's "Paying to Win" presentation, it has become undeniable that gameplay advantages are being openly sold to players who are basically being shaken down by the companies. Just today, I checked to see if there were any low ping 2142 servers in my area to try to escape the bullshit that is pay to win gaming.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Library Update

As most people know, I have been in discussions with the library to try to have them add the game I made, Tore Loves Eliza, to their collection. I began the process of contacting the library in early September and gave them a personal demonstration of the game in mid-October. Apparently, they will finally have a staff meeting on Friday, approximately two months after I began this process. At the local level, it seems one deals with endless delays and indecision.

In any event, I cam across a nice article on libraries and censorship which I shared with the director.

Jeanette M. Hammons is the director of the library who is overseeing the process of inclusion.

More Battlefield News...

The Battlefield Heroes Halloween is wrapping up today. The team at Easy gave away many free items of virual apparel and the like with its Halloween rewards program. All 6 of my Heroes received at least one permanent this way, mostly hats. I also earned my Halloween t-shirts. Coupled with the earlier promotions, such as Minecraft shirt and birthday drops, my Heroes have some choices. As I have collected all the available Dr. Pepper codes for my Heroes, my Heroes now have a decent selection of clothing accessories.

Overall, the Halloween treats were a welcome event. The downside was not being able to match the item with the Hero of your choice, but still it was nice to get the unlocks. I did not participate in the Golden Machette contest as that required an investment of BF. My BF purchases have primarily been the charity santa suit last year, slot unlocks, and taunts.

My experiment with VP weapons showed that using VP weapons a player could offset, but not eliminate the pay to win advantages provided by the sale of BF weapons. Overall, I could not maintain a steady supply of VP. Likewise, whenever a VP item expires, you have to reset ability skills. It is a pain. For the most part, I am using default weapons. In the case of the Mando, that really seems to put the Mando at a disadvantage.

I do not think it is a coincidence that BFH had one of its most generous Halloween give aways, the same time that BF3 came out.

The addition of the infantry friendly Perilous Port was a nice bonus. The rumor is that the map will go to daylight mode post Halloween. Since server maintenance is scheduled for Nov. 1, my guess is the night map will be changed. It took a while, but I became acclimated to the night setting.

Even though a friend offered me a free copy of BF3, I simply do not have the hardware for the game at this time. I did, however, send him a spare Dr. Pepper code so he can start unlocking the Dr. Pepper gear. I'm all tapped out of Dr. Pepper codes for now.

Battlefield Play 4 Free has announced tier 3 updates. This means that they reordered many of the skill attributes requiring players to grind more to get some skills they already enjoyed. I played for a few mintues to check out the new tier three and then moved on. Coincidence during BF3 launch? Again, I think not.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Phase I- Complete.

I spent the last few weeks working on making a CCG game. The project is now at the Alpha phase, which means I think I have the minimum number of cards necessary to test play the game. I used a lot of different programs to create the cards and artwork- ten separate programs.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Brief Battlefield News

The release of Battlefield 3 is imminent. It has received a lot of hype. I enjoyed my time playing the pre-release versions, but do not have the hardware for the current game. The trailers look good though.

Meanwhile, over at Battlefield Heroes, the community is buzzing about a possible new feature which would allow players to earn Battlefunds. Some players claim there are geobarriers to participating in the process, as is the case with Dr. Pepper codes. I have not had a chance to check it out yet.

Battlefield Heroes also released a new map Perilous Port. The map is extremely dark. Wear dark clothes or you will stand out. This is a fairly compressed map.

The Heroes of Halloween celebration is also going on. The machette contest seems a bit lame as you have to basically buy the machette to get the golden machette... The HOH supply drops are very nice though. I have obtained a few new hats.

Magical Musings

On the Magic Front

The weekly get together in Elko continues to grow. Playing in a large multiplayer setting requires a completely different mindset from one on one games. The group continues to express concern about the location. As a group, we are putting together quite a few tables and we are concerned both about the ability to obtain enough space for playing as well as the impact on other customers. Alternatives to the current location will be discussed at the next session.

In MTGO setting, I continue to try to work with the few cards I have to build decks which are competitive. As other players have undoubtedly invested more money in their decks, it is not always easy. Still, I enjoy building new decks and getting a feel for the new cards. Many players continue to discuss the absence of older features, like mana burn, and its impact on the game. I routinely include Pristine Talisman in my current MTGO decks since I can life gain without worrying about mana burn at all.

I have been contemplating Oblivion Ring and its impact on the game as well. Oblivion Ring allows you to counter an opponents permanent without mana saving. Essentially, you can deal with the problem the next round if you don't have the mana. You can cast creatures freely during your turn knowing you can use the oblivion ring on your next turn. Spells like cancel, psychic barrier, or mana leak, require you to save the mana to cast them during your opponents turn. In my opinion, these typically island spells, required more discipline and strategy on the part of the player than spells like oblivion spell.

For an example of a blue counter/mill deck in action, you can watch the following round. (BTW, my opponent had some incredible cards and he explained many of them to me during the round).



As a technical matter, MTGO is simultaneously amazing and disappointing. On the one hand, it does do an excellent job of providing a completely immersive environment in which to play MTG including deep deck building and trading features. On the other hand, joining a round is a bit clunky, but even worse is the occassionally tedious tasks of activating abilities, like Jace's Erasure. Once the field gets full of cards, the game tends to bog down a bit. A few cards have not worked as well as I had hoped and you really need to take your time when playing to make sure your cards work properly.

Finally, with the new release of the Innistrad series, more decks are appearing with new cards. New cards always put players in the uncomfortable position of feeling the need to upgrade their decks just to stay competitive. For now, I'll continue to muddle through with the cards I have. Since the real space game is more social, I continue to invest in real space cards. I would certainly be interested in a crossover product of physical booster packages that contained MTGO unlock codes.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Magic

Played MTG again. Most players are showing up at around 7:30 am. Still a lot of new cards to get used to. My decks are a bit more competitive, but my favorite deck idea failed as Tempest Efreet can only be used in ante matches. I'm not a huge fan of ante anyway, but I like the way Tempest Efreet can turn the most valuable cards into a player's greatest weakness. Guess I'll have to look at more cloning options for another deck.

The attendance was fairly good. Two new players showed up, meaning the group took up quite a bit of space at Starbucks.

Afterwards, some of us went to the comic book store in town. Gary, the shop owner, was nice enough to give me a fifty cent discount, which makes me feel a bit like a bar regular who is getting a free pour. I've been struggling with my mountain decks, so I figure I'll try to reinvigorate a mountain deck. Since the play-style is free for all or team variants, the deck style should be for group rather than one on one play.

I have also been playing MTGO to brush up on the newer cards and refamiliarize myself with some of the more obscure rules. My MTGO decks are not very competitive at this stage, but playing gives me plenty of deck ideas.

As a side project, I am making some creature cards primarily to improve my rendering and modeling skills. Unlike my last project, which emphasized low-polycount models, these models can have a much higher polycount.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dr. Pepper Codes back in stores

The Dr. Pepper under the EA game caps have reappeared in stores in my area. They appear to be promoting Battlefield 3 on the bottles. I never know how long the caps will be in my market, but it beats waiting for the codes to arrive in the mail. They even have it on the diet bottles.

Like most people, I received my beta invite to BF3 this week. Unfortunately, my system cannot even play Bad Company 2, so BF3 is out of the question.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Magic in Elko Week 2

I went to the weekly session of MTG in town. Many regulars were unable to attend, but those of us who showed up had a very good time. I won a round and feel my decks are getting better. I am still adjusting to the "new" rules (new to me) and learning about many new cards.

My fellow MTG players were extremely prepared with well designed decks. Despite the intense play, we had great conversations before, during, and after the event. Some of the discussion focused on player retention in Magic. Of course, just as interesting is what keeps people from starting MTG. I think MTG can be daunting. Most of us probably started with a group of friends who were all new to the game and we learned together. As time went on, some people spent more time and money than others and eventually people drifted out of play.

Regarding MTG, a lot of special considerations must be made. An easy mistake for new players is to try to compete with the established players who have more cards and superior deck strengths. New players need an inviting atmosphere to get involved.

It is critical to provide new players with their own events. Of course, a regulated MTG group of casual players with spending caps could improve deck parity and keep the game competitive for everyone. If players started with a couple of core decks and then were limited to spending on only 1 deck per month and started a season and ended a season together, play parity would be maintained (maybe store MTG boxes at the local store with names on them to prevent players from supplementing their decks). In my experience, players leave if play imbalances reduce player interest.

A special note about competitions is worth making. Competitions can bring out the worst in player behavior. When an award is made for winning a competition, any in-game slight can create bad feelings. To avoid this, it is smarter simply to reward players for playing, not necessarily winning. An example might be to hold a drawing for a booster pack for all players who attended X number of events instead. This encourages participation.

As for me, it has been very nice in the casual environment where I do not to have to worry about ante or foils.

Of course, the 7 a.m. time frame might also prove a bit problematic for other players. Although it meets the needs of the current group (and I have adapted), many players might want to play at a time more convenient to them. Certainly Elko has several coffee shops or perhaps the library conference room, where play options could be explored. Playing in public increases MTG visibility.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Magic Morning

I was able to connect with local Magic players in Elko, Nevada this morning at Starbucks around 7:30 a.m. We played until about 11:00 a.m. My decks were suitable, but I did not win a round. The play style is casual with various forms of playing. It was great meeting other Magic players in town and I look forward to playing again.



The group meets at the Elko Starbucks near Smiths on Saturdays around 7:00 a.m.

Friday, September 23, 2011

NEW! Comic book/Game Store opens in Elko

Okay, so it's apparently been in town for 6 months now, but I'm sure a lot of people, like me, did not even know it existed. Elko is a small town with an economy insulated by the mining companies. I noticed a while ago that it did not have a comic book/gaming store. I was rather shocked and considered this to be one of the best opportunities someone might undertake. Well, someone did.

I know what you must be thinking, "Comic book/Gaming store in Elko? Pic or I don't believe it..."



Moving out of the saturated California market comes Frank-N-Freds Comics and Cards. The store is located at 443 Idaho Street- which is basically just down from fifth street. They are expecting to add to their collection of role playing games next week. They also sell CCG games, like Magic cards, in store, including singles. There are comics too. While many businesses have suffered during the construction on Idaho street, Frank'n'Fred's seemed to benefit from foot traffic. It was nice to have a place to talk about Magic and Comic-con in town.

I have also been told that local Magic players are meeting at the Starbucks near Smiths on Saturday at 7:00 a.m. I thought the timing was a bit early, especially for gamers who are often known for FNFFs, but was informed that the group consists of many day sleepers.