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?

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:

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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!

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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.