c.e. taillefer

November 19, 2016

Catch Em All, Analogue Edition

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It could be argued that the core mechanic of Pokemon games is training up your pokemon so you can beat the gym leaders, the elite four, other players, team rocket, etc. etc. That’s certainly the tack that Pokemon: TCG takes.  However, Pokemon Go took a different look at the game, building the app around collecting pokemon in the real world. Like the Pokemon games, it’s also digital. What if there was a board game around collecting pokemon? What would that look like?

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The board would be made up of hexagonal tiles, similar to Settlers of Catan, allowing for different configurations of wilderness for players to search. Pokemon, hazards and helps are on a separate set of exploration tiles, the way sand tiles work in Forbidden DesertShuffle these and lay them out in the configuration shown in the rules for the type of board setting the players are using. (For ex: mountain map would have a heavier concentration of exploration tiles in the rocky tiles, beach map more exploration tiles in the water and sand tiles, etc.) Players take actions to either move, reveal exploration tiles, or capture revealed pokemon. Players can draw cards that either enhance their own abilities or add detriments or blocks to other players. The game ends when all the pokemon have been captured. The win state could be based on a number of different things: hazards beaten or avoided, number of pokemon caught, quality of pokemon caught. It would be easy to add expansions with new settings, or new pokemon to collect. It’s a prime marketing tool for pokemon and trainer figurines.

With Pokemon Sun/Moon out now, there is more than ever to do in the games. What do you play the most when a new game comes out? Are you catching them all, or rising to the top tier of trainer? Do you show off your pokemon’s superior fashion sense?

November 11, 2016

Couldn’t Bear It: Interactive Film

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I’ll be honest, the only game I’ve played that used quick time events at all was Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood – there was one that let Ezio hug Leonardo da Vinci, and I always hecked it up. JUST LET THEM LIVE, UBISOFT!

On the flip side, if by interactive film, we’re talking about things like Bear 71, then I suppose one major difference is I’ve never cried during the first thirty seconds of a game. So thanks for that, NFB! I’m exactly the kind of asshole who gets hit right in the feelings by “narrative is done by animal” stories, right down to when pet finder ads are written from the perspective of the dog who assures me he is a “very good boy, who loves cheese.” I feel like interactive films can be more effective than a game for stories like this one – if they’re meant to evoke a sense of helplessness despite bringing the player closer to the story than a traditional documentary. I’m not responsible for the things that happened to Bear 71, but by linking clips and narrative to my actions, it sure feels that way.

Horror games occupy a similar place for me – I love horror movies. I like to be scared, and I like they’re often one of the only filmmaking spaces where women can tell whatever story they like (and it comes closest to our own experiences despite – or maybe because of – being horror). I devoured a Let’s Play of Amnesia over a weekend night shift, and it was great. I downloaded the free demo, played for about five minutes, and then closed the program, deleted the game, and shut off my computer. Just in case. And bear in mind, I already knew it was impossible to encounter the monster for the first part of the game. It didn’t matter! Just the act of controlling my character was too much stress for my poor tissue paper heart to handle. Same kind of helplessness with not enough distance to protect my feelings – in this case, abject terror as opposed to just helpless sobbing.

Donald Glover yelling "My emotions!"

It’s just a bear but like, bears are chill. They like blueberries. They usually didn’t get mad at you like moose (those bastards). It’s like watching a huge dog get tranquilized! I can’t even spoil anything but the first five minutes or so of Bear 71 because I got too upset. So Spoiler Alert, I guess: they tranquilize a big bear in Banff, and put a tracker on it, and you can use the interactive map to track the bear’s activities, but Mia Krishner keeps talking in her serious voice as the bear and I had to stop. Sorry. I am terrible at games. But really good at emotions!

Actual spoiler beneath the jump:

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November 4, 2016

Con Petire, Right Now: Raiding in World of Warcraft

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It seems only fitting I should talk about WoW, on this the day of the Blizzcon opening ceremonies, right? Right! (Even if I suspect, along with the rest of the world, the big announcement will be about a new Diablo expansion, and maybe two smaller announcements about Sombra and a new Warcraft movie)(please jesus let it be about the Scourge)

In Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says: “What each person seeks is to actualize her potential, and this task is made easier when others force us to do our best.”  There are two reasons I started playing World of Warcraft back in ought five: first, someone showed me the Leeroy Jenkins video, which I argued on Wednesday makes a good satire of what happens when one person isn’t seeking to actualize their potential, whether PALS 4 LIFE meant to satirize flow or not. secondly, someone posted a video of their guild beating C’thun, a 40-person end boss in Ahn’Qiraj. Watching forty people effortlessly move together around eye beams, tentacles, getting swallowed, getting spit back out again and – most importantly – NOT get devoured by thousands of small dragons really made me sit up and say “I want to do that someday.”

Of course, it was a long time from that initial desire to actually accomplishing anything like a C’thun kill – a road studded with elite yetis (seriously – FUCK that yeti in Dun Morogh), failed guilds, new guilds, new failed guilds. Finally, towards the end of Wrath of the Lich King, I achieved a heroic Lich King kill with the raid alliance I was a backup for. It wasn’t without hiccups of its own – as a back up, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to run the fights compared to the others, so I caused a fair share of raid-wide deaths, prompting more than one “Does this mage even know how to play?” comments.

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who the fuck is scraeming “GIT GUD” at my house. show yourself, coward. i will never git gud

But when it clicked – it was magic. When the turtle shell kicker dies unexpectedly, and you jump in to kick a turtle shell and save the day – that’s flow. That’s being in the e-zone, as e-sports players say, presumably. When you brag about your pinch-kicking a turtle shell and someone knows exactly what you mean – it feels great. When you counterspell a move half a second before it murders everyone you know? Flow. But it relies on other people also being their best, to bring you up to your own best. And frankly, humans are fallible. They’re not always – not even often – at their best.

Maybe that’s what makes it so magical when it clicks.

October 6, 2016

Words words words: sharing ideas as a non-artist in a visual world

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Here’s my terrible secret. I can’t draw.

oh right, this was never a secret

oh right, this was never a secret

So how does someone who can’t do art communicate ideas in a clear, brief, visual way? Enter the Pixar Pitch: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Let’s try it with Dragon Age 2:

Once upon a time, the Hawke family escaped a plague known as the Blight, leaving their homeland to find refuge across the sea.  Every day, they struggled to gain entrance into the city of Kirkwall, along with hundreds of other refugees from the Blight. One day, Hawke accepted an offer of work from a smuggler in exchange for getting her family into the city. Because of that, Hawke joins a treasure-hunting expedition to fund her family’s rise from the slums, where she finds an idol made of strange material. Because of that, Hawke, along with her companions, gains power in Kirkwall, despite increasing instability in the leader of the templar and mage forces, caused by the mysterious idol. Until finally, Hawke’s companion blows up the Chantry to force a war between the mages and templars that will require people to choose sides.

Not very elegant, but hopefully hits the major beats of the game. It’s complicated by the fact that unlike a Pixar film, Dragon Age 2 features a number of branching pathways a player can take. There are a few other major plot points the player must achieve not covered by this framework: the death/loss of Hawke’s family members, one by one; the Qunari invasion and defeat by Hawke. But all of these relate back either to Hawke’s rise in influence and power due to the sucessful expedition, or the insanity plaguing the leaders of the city, due to the idol, also from the expedition.

But it still doesn’t tell us much about the look and feel of the game, does it?  Someone reading this could surmise that it’s fairly dark in terms of material, between a world ending plague and terrorists blowing up buildings full of innocent people, or that there are narrative elements that can’t be avoided no matter which path the player chooses for Hawke. But is it realistic? Semi-abstract? What’s the music like? How do people play it?  The Pixar pitch is good for brainstorming, but there’s not enough information in it to fully realize a games vision.

Thoughts? How do you explain stuff to people when you don’t do art?

September 22, 2016

So Hyped for the Destruction of Humanity: One year of Undertale

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I can’t believe Undertale has been out for a full year!  But it must be so; Toby Fox said it and I definitely remember getting my brain simultaneously busted wide open starting the game design program at the same time as my first play-though.

Spoilers for all routes of the game beneath the jump!

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September 16, 2016

I Was Not, In Fact, Prepared: Exploration in World of Warcraft’s Legion Expansion

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My history with World of Warcraft over the past two expansions has been… not good.  I quit in Mists of Pandaria, tired of raiding and overwhelmed by the factions with daily grinds.  It was a job, not a game anymore, and I hated it. They also fired a huge chunk of the Creative Development team, and the seams in the writing were showing.   For the first time since playing any MMO, I played different ones – Wild Star and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn both took over my life for a few years, as well as offline games.  I played Warlords of Draenor for a bit, only because I could finally pay for my subscription time with gold, and because the expansion itself was on sale for 12 bucks.  Friends were getting really excited for Legion, and I did a lot of stuff solo in my other MMOs because people were all resubbing to WoW.

Turns out, it was for a good reason – Legion is flippin’ fantastic.

It’s like a dress that looks horrible on the rack, but makes you look like a superstar when you put it on.  Illidan is coming back, and he’s bringing Demon Hunters? The Burning Legion is a threat again? Whatever.

Blizzard’s taken the best parts of all their previous expansions, and melded it into something really cool.  Players finally feel like they’re the hero of the story, can change things in Azeroth – something FFXIV: ARR was great at.  Demon Hunters are fun to play, and get great cut scenes:

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But most of all, there’s an element of surprise and discovery to the exploration of the Broken Isles that I haven’t felt playing WoW since Vanilla.  I’ve been max level for a few weeks, and I am still finding quests in areas I never discovered – despite being the kind of person Bioware complains about on Twitter. Dungeon quests are slotted at the very end of the zone’s main story so you’re not held up from progressing due to waiting in hour long queues as DPS, but in addition to that, there are tons of quest hubs hidden all over the five Broken Isles zones that you can just pick up and do any time.

Still not convinced? How about small, hidden caves all over the coastline filled with orbs that players need to click in a specific order to unlock a world boss? Or that the artifact weapons (upgradeable legendary weapons based on class-related lore) all have hidden appearances and effects that players will have to figure out how to unlock? It’s pretty hard to make discovery exciting and fresh in a post-Wowhead world, but the way it’s been established so far in Legion has made me excited to at least try things on my own as much as possible, to occasionally sad and/or hilarious results. (For example: poisoning nobles on behalf of the Revolution in Suramar City, only to find out that I was poisoning my own allies at the behest of a loyalist. HECK!)

The addition of World Quests to supplant dailies as the end game mechanic was also a great choice – World Quests each have their own individual timers, from a few hours to a few days, compared to the daily mechanism, which changed all dailies, every day at the same time.  It keeps things fresh, and sends players all over the region hunting down the quests with loot or materials that they want, before the timer runs down.  Half the time I begin my World Quests for the evening, and only finish hours later, because I got caught up in fishing, or rescuing a baby bear from an attacking Tauren.  Especially because of rescuing baby bears…

I don’t know what my plan will be any more when I sit down to play WoW.  I’m excited to see what new thing I’ll discover when I log in. Like rescuing a baby manasaber? Or a baby fawn… look, I really love baby animals.

 

March 18, 2016

Just Star-Do It: a Stardew Valley post

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Unlike most who played Stardew Valley right from launch day, I hadn’t been following it’s progression over the past four years at all.  It came up in my Steam queue as a suggested title, and I bought it on a whim.  Looks cute, has farming, supports indie development? Sure, why not.

200 hours later:

what is sleep? what is food?

There’s a few reasons why SDV sucked me, and so many others (it’s currently 3rd on the Steam top seller list) in.  One major one for me is I don’t know when to quit sometimes and SDV capitalizes on that – not in a malicious way, but the mechanics of saving are tied directly to going to bed at the end of the day.  You fall into your little pixel bed at the end of a long day, get a progress update on your farm’s productivity, and the game saves.  Before logging out, however, the cheery 6AM music entices you to just check your mail.  Maybe see if that chicken hatched? All of the sudden it’s 10PM in-game, and another hour of your life is gone.

The simple tasks – farming, brewing, raising livestock, mining for ore and treasures, fishing – are compelling enough to keep players on their own.  But it wasn’t until I started investing in the community that the game really got its hooks into my tender heart.

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October 30, 2014

#GameOverGate

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Gamergate* is dead.  Indeed, it’s been dead in the water since it began.  I’m not going to cover the genesis, or the long arc of harassment and continued misunderstandings about what words like “ethics“, “games” or “journalism” mean. That, as you can see, has already been extensively covered.

But like a rapidly transmitted virus – say, the flu – the reach of Gamergate went far beyond the borders of the nation of ManCavelandia to find coverage in the mainstream media from the likes of NPR, PBS or the New York Post.  In no particular order, the death of Gamergate:

1) Actually…

No one actually buys the ethics in games journalism defence.  It was a slapdash bandaid applied to a bitter ex’s angry blog rant about a claim of collusion that is provably false. More than a few minutes spent in any of the forums for pro-GG posters show that a) they’re primarily concerned with punishing women who critique the game industry status quo and b) they have no fucking idea what ethics in journalism actually means, since they feel like games coverage shouldn’t be critical or negative of a product when that company also advertises with you.  No, really.

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The smokescreen of ethics probably makes the next point so infuriating.

2) Mainstream media coverage:

In a setting where “fair and balanced” coverage means giving both sides of the story equal play, even if one side is completely ridiculous (looking at you, climate change “debates”), the MSM has been unequivocally critical of Gamergate. New York Times coverage focuses on GG as a movement devoted to silencing feminist critics of games, Forbes ran an article criticizing Intel’s decision in pulling advertising based on the campaign, and big name stations like CNN and the BBC covered the Utah State massacre threats because, well, obviously.

In fact, the only thing GG appears to have been remotely successful at with regards to mainstream media is getting Anita Sarkeesian interviewed on everything, including the Colbert report:

(In a cute piece of irony Alanis would love, most GGers seem to believe this is a coop for the movement because Stephen Colbert argues for boobies in video games.)

3)  Everyone knows it’s about hating women.

Chris Kluwe took basically an enormous verbal dump on Gamergate hydra-like head, and nothing happened. (He made a few people cry, maybe.) Nerd idols like Joss Whedon, Wil Wheaton and Greg Rucka have all spoken against the toxic nature of the movement.  And yet, it’s Anita Sarkeesian, Felicia Day, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu – all relative small potatoes, until they got national attention for being targets, anyway – were the ones threatened.  Those threats were widely reported on, which led to a number of reporters looking into men who have criticized GG, and why they weren’t threatened.  Considering this is the media that was hesitant to talk about the Isla Vista shooter’s misogyny, don’t you think that’s a little telling?

4) Games are changing.

Anita covers it a bit in her talk, but the truth is that interdisciplinary programs are gaining ground in universities and colleges, and many media labs and incubators have computer scientists who are artists as well, visual artists who can code, writers who can market.  This isn’t just meant to double-dip and save money, but rather reflect the flexibility and diversity of the world in the people who make games, so that games can grow beyond the linear narrative structures and kill-to-win models that dominate a lot of major game studios’ portfolios.  Sandbox games like Animal Crossing, Tomodachi Life, the Sims, and Fantasy Life are immensely popular, entertaining and fun.  You can’t beat them them.  The only way to win is the satisfaction of enjoying the game while playing it.

Same.

Olaf gets it.

What’s more, you get games like Fold it, where the satisfaction and enjoyment from the game can also be derived from the sense of purpose that succeeding has applicable, real-life benefits.  Check out the latest puzzle, for example, where players need to find a way to bypass a cap on the ebola virus that prevents a cure from binding before the virus can bind to a human host. Terrified of ebola? Be the actual change here.

Gamification has gotten a bad rap because it’s used so poorly in most cases. rewards based systems only work so long as the reward is high enough value for you to press through doing your homework, or chores, or job.  But gamification done well broadens the scope and arena of gaming to be pretty much limitless, which is terrifying for Gamergate.  How can it be a special club if everyone enjoys it?

*not to be confused with gamergates, or reproductively viable worker ants.

February 21, 2014

It was the blurst of times?: Twitch Plays Pokemon & Infinite Monkey Theorem

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Unless you’ve been surfing the internet the past week from a cave on Mars, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears, you’ve got at least a passing familiarity with Twitch Plays Pokemon. If not, a brief summary: someone decided to stream Pokemon Red/Blue via Twitch tv, and program it so that chat commands (up, down, left, right, a, b, select) correspond to the player character’s movements in game.  Basically:

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What’s exciting about this is, aside from the hours of entertainment watching Red navigate Giovanni’s tower maze, is that the program essentially allows us to watch and participate in a simplified version of the infinite monkey theorem.  Not only that, since someone set up a competing stream called RNG Plays Pokemon, we can compare how the keyboard smashing gestalt of 80K humans hammering away compares to a computer controlling it all.  (Sort of: Twitch is playing Red/Blue, while RNG is playing Silver).  All the same, gestalt beats singularity by 1 badge currently.

Obviously, with only 6 key presses to complete a game compared to the infinite monkey theorem of 26 key presses to complete a play, we’re looking at probability many magnitudes larger in favour of Twitch.  Plus, to be fair to the monkeys, they’re probably not as familiar with Hamlet as most of the under-40 set is with Pokemon.  Even so, completing simple tasks in Pokemon has been taking anywhere from hours to days. The length of time required to watch until something significant happens is so prohibitive, it’s baffling in its popularity.

At some point, the creator added in a new form of play in addition to the chaos of the PC responding to every keypress, called democracy.

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Players vote by either typing in “anarchy” or “democracy” into chat to move the bar in one direction or another. Democracy mode only moves the character after a key has received a certain number of votes within a 20 sec period – for example, if ten people type “down”, and five type “up”, the character will move down.  It’s slower, but progress is surer.  A lot of viewers (myself included) feel that anarchy mode is the purer method of play.  Think of it as a Nuzlocke challenge for thousands of people at the same time. Released your Charmander? Tough nuts, only Pidgeot can save you now.

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Art by vgstorytime.tumblr.com

Here’s the really fascinating thing about TPP, though.  Not only is the game progressing, but people are weaving in narratives and stories relating to the canonical journey of the player character.  The aforementioned release of Charmander (nicknamed “Abby”), really did happen.  An attempt was made to evolve an Eevee into a Vaporeon to enable Red to use surf, but due to a series of unfortunate spending events, he was unable to acquire a water stone, and they ended up with Flareon instead. When trying to deposit Flareon to withdraw another pokemon capable of using surf, Abby was released, and the myth passed into legend:

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Image by walrusmanipulator.tumblr.com

The Helix Fossil, due to its inability to be used or thrown away, gained a great deal of favour, as did the Moon stone.

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The deep-seated philosophical urge to narrate the progression of Red in the game echoes the concept of existential angst, as Sartre saw it, where human recognition of the utter indifference of situations and objects.  There’s no sense of consciousness in them, which can cause great distress to the soul.  We might not think of it so much when looking at a stapler, but it’s certainly present when gazing out at the infinitely expanding universe – a panicky fluttering of uselessness.

Some of this is alleviated by the nature of the game – there is a defining end, a sense of accomplishment in beating the game. (Whether that’s beating the elite four, or catching every pokemon varies from player to player.) despite the fact that most of the situations in the game result in no proper “progression”, so to speak, there is still a heady sense of freedom in being that dick who types “down” instead of “up” to consult the Helix Fossil. Again.

But all of those individual situations of themselves are not linked in any meaningful way.  They’re the immediate expressions of actions taken by others, and expressed through an object (in this case, a computer program.) In between watching Red circle loops through Team Rocket HQ, there’s still a powerful need to extract meaning through connecting these actions via narrative.  Hence, False Prophet, Bird Jesus, and so on.

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It’s also hell on a date (courtesy of xkcd.com)

Twitch plays pokemon is fascinating because it’s an 8-bit representation of all that German philosophical bullshit about the nature of being that you strained to wrap your head around in undergrad. How do we tell our stories? What is the meaning of our lives in a cold, uncaring universe? When we’re on our deathbeds, we can look back at the journey, all the ledges we fell of off, the hours spent in a dark elevator alone, and say to ourselves, “At least we beat Blue.”

In Pidgeot’s name, amen.

November 2, 2013

Down the Video Game Rabbit Hole: A Silence in Three Parts

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(Don’t hurt me, ronan wills!!)

I’d love to update y’all saying my life has been SOOOO busy with my cool new dog, and how I went jetskiing in Cuba, and then maybe saved a whole bunch of babies and kittens from a fire, but the sad truth is, I’ve just been sucked into a bunch of video games, which has leeched my brain power just so that doing normal things like cooking or updating a blog has been tough.  But who am I, if not someone who has learned since kindergarten that sharing is caring?  In order of time suck, here’s what’s been occupying my life:

#3 – Tie between Pokemon Soul Silver and Flight Rising:

This one is weird, because they’re really only tied as a result of being my last-resort games, depending on location. Flight Rising has limited registration, I’m assuming to reduce the load on its burdened servers, but most of what you can accomplish in FR is limited to daily-type efforts – gathering, breeding, trading, etc. are all for the most part limited to daily, or hourly events.  Once you’re done for the day/hour, there’s not much you can do.  With one exception: the coliseum:

coliseum flight rising

The Coliseum isn’t limited by anything other than the breadth of your patience for a laggy, clunky, turn-based combat system. Leveling is incredibly slow (for example, I play it fairly regularly, and my dragons are only level 17), often crashes or hangs up, and actions don’t play through when you’re tabbed into another tab. (HINT from a friend: it WILL if you’ve moved the coliseum to its own window, though since your monsters have no auto-attack abilities, that doesn’t mean much in the end.) Why bother at all? It’s one of the only consistent ways to get treasure that aren’t limited by the daily/hourly limits mentioned above, and also one of the only places to get familiars for your dragons without paying for them. For a perfectionist collector type like me, this presents a problem.  But the tedious nature means it’s limited to playing only while waiting for something better, like a queue to pop.

Pokemon is my Flight Rising for when I’m already in bed.  This is especially a problem because I just reached Goldenrod City, which means:

voltorb flip

Even worse than the Coliseum because it a) requires counting and b) the Pokemon you can buy with the coins gathered from playing Voltorb Flip are otherwise difficult ones to catch in the wild. Then of course, I saw a picture of a Dratini and there I go, counting and muttering to myself.  There are, of course, online calculators you can use to determine locations of payouts, but as I’m usually playing in bed, I’m at the mercy of my own dubious math skills.  We’ll see if I change my tune when it comes to getting the items worth tens of thousands of coins.

My interest in Pokemon lies pretty much in two things: I like cute monsters, and all my friends were playing Pokemon X/Y, and I felt left out.  I own… three Pokemon games, none of which have I progressed beyond beating most of the gyms.  On the other hand, you can pretty much pick up any Pokemon game much later and still have a reasonable idea of what you’re doing!

I also really resent the kidnapping scam the day care dude and lady are running.  “Hey, let us watch your Pokemon for you, we love those lil darlings. Oh, you want your slowpoke back? That’ll be 1080 gil/gold/key thingies, thanks.” Elderly scammers :C

#2: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn:

I joined the beta with friends back in the early summer when it was open, and enjoyed the pretty graphics a lot. As a lifelong gnome irl, I am totally in love with the Lalafell:

Finally, when I found out that the backstory to FFXIV: ARR was the absolute failure of the initial FFXIV game, as told via the in-game NPCs, I had to have it.  It was well-timed; as much as Mists of Pandaria was pretty and compelling, it had maybe too much going on.  Leveling alts became almost impossible, and that was one of my favourite ways to while away the end of an expansion; there was simply too much to DO on my main character.  FFXIV takes this inclination and builds it into your character – she can be any of the jobs and classes in the game all on her own, simply by changing her weapon.  So my thaumaturge is carrying around a scepter, a bow (for Archer), a spinning wheel (weaver), a hatchet (botanist), a fishing rod (fisher) and a skillet (culinarian).  That’s not including the classes I haven’t yet even dabbled in!  Because it’s all on one character, it doesn’t feel super overwhelming – if I need some stat food made, I just equip my skillet and add it myself.

Bank alts are built into the system – at a certain point in the story, you’re granted the opportunity to hire retainers, which hold your excess items and allow you to post things on the Market Board (aka the Auction House).  You can even design them to look any way you wish, and in the future (I think), you’ll be able to dress them too.  The retainer system can be a little clunky, because you have to be in a major city to access them, but once you get used to it, it’s not so bad.  The only other downside is in order to access gil you’ve made from selling items, you also have to go to your retainer.  (Buying items from the Market Board puts the items directly into your bags.)  This can be a problem when you accidentally spend 20K gil on fishing lures.

Did I mention the game is really pretty??

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There are also some small cosmetic changes that are so glaringly simple, you wonder why WoW doesn’t have it already – for example, when marking creatures in dungeons, your choices are 1, 2, 3 etc. Normally not a problem in WoW, save that I’ve been in raids where skull actually meant DO NOT ATTACK rather than ATTACK ME FIRST and that did not go well for me. Similarly, monsters out in the world are labelled with letters, so that you can similarly note which target to attack first if need be (say, in a FATE).  I’ve not seen the latter done before, but it’s an option, which is handy.

Bag space: not only do you have your bags, you also have an armoury chest, where items you can equip go automatically, a key items bag where quest items go automatically (and which opens automatically when handing in a quest), and a crystals bag, where your crystals for crafting go. Your retainers have 9 bags apiece, in addition to a crystals bag of their own.  This is good because there are a lot of items. The one potential downside to being all things in one character is you keep everything in case you need it for some class, somewhere. The major complaint I have about all this bag space is that there’s no search feature, and keeping your bags organized can be a hellish chore.

#1 Tied (for now) Hearthstone and Puzzle and Dragons:

I only received my Hearthstone beta key a week ago, so it’s hard to tell at the moment whether my fascination is novelty, or if it has staying power compared to PAD.  But for someone who’s never played a TCG before, Hearthstone is surprisingly accessible, easy to learn and hard to master, and an interesting soundtrack.  Beta is a great time to try weird and daring things since everything will be wiped come release day.  My main concern so far has been in the versus competitions, it seems like the most common/viable strategy is to just place as many minions as you can and overwhelm the other player – which doesn’t seem very fun to me when you have cards like Flare, Blade Flurry and Angry Chicken to play with!

angry chicken

The nice thing about Hearthstone is that there are no chatrooms.  You can only communicate with your opponent via a small group of pre-set sayings, like Greetings, Thank you and I’m sorry. You can also disenchant cards you don’t want and use the subsequent reagent to build the cards you do, taking out the card bloat that can plague TCG.

The bad thing about Hearthstone is it’s very easy to want to play a few games and earn a little gold towards a new card pack, and suddenly realize it’s four hours later.

See also: Puzzle and Dragon, albeit with a caveat.

PAD is a f2p/microtransaction game that is essentially Bejeweled meets Pokemon.  It hits all my weak spots: cute monsters! deceptively simple game play! semi-hard “time to quit now” limits! gambling!

bastet

 

The tutorial walks you through most of the how-tos, so I won’t bore you here, since you’ll clearly be downloading it after this post.  Basically, you enter dungeons, doing damage or healing by matching 3 or more orbs.  Damage can be multiplied through multiple combos or monster abilities. While there’s an in-app transaction mode, you can progress quite well through the game without ever purchasing the currency, with a little luck and perseverance.

My first game, I started with an Archangel. The auto-heal ability was good, but there came a point in the game progression where I got stuck.  I recommend any new player start a game, move forward with whatever they get at first and see how they like it.  If they luck out with a good starter, they can keep going. If not, you can do what I did, and re-start the game.  In the Android version, this requires going into the task manager, deleting the game data, and starting over.  THIS IS EXTREMELY TEDIOUS so I don’t recommend a new player go through with this unless they’re sure they’d like to keep playing, either for free or with game purchases.  Keep running the tutorial and using your five free stones at the rare egg machine until you roll something truly excellent, like one of these:

kushinada lucifer kirin horus

 

(From top: Kushinada, Archangel Lucifer, Kirin, Horus)

 

There are others worth starting with too, especially since some of these (like Horus and Kirin) require making multiple combos each match, which can be challenging for a new player.  My two accounts (shh) started with Haku and Artemis, and both have served me very well.  Besides, LOOK AT HOW CUTE.

If you do start playing, and have a facebook account, I highly recommend joining “Puzzles and Dragons Global” They have very useful FAQs for beginners and more advanced players, are extremely active (great for when you want to know when a new event is starting!) and excellent rules. (“Avoid using offensive racial/ethnic slurs or terminology relating to sexual orientation/acts.” “No harassment towards other members.”)

All set? Good, I guess we’ll see each other in a few months.