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


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


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.