Thursday, September 26, 2013

Molding eSports and the League of Legends Championship

My latest PopMatters article is now live: Molding eSports and the League of Legends Championship.

As you all know, I play a lot of League of Legends, probably in excess. It's my go-to game when I'm looking to unwind or kill time without committing to some epic fantasy RPG or the like. Additionally, I have also be really interested in the professional game scene. This week, I decided to write about the spectacle surrounding the event and what that can mean for the future of eSports fandom.

I actually spend most of the time talking about the exhibition outside of the actual games, but I should say, the matches themselves are fascinating and thrilling to watch. I encourage you all to give at least one match a view, even if you don't play League of Legends at all. Over the past couple years, the shout casters have really improved their ability to call games and analyze them as they happen. They've also done a good job of bring levity to the experience.

Watching professional matches between high-ranking international teams is unlike any other viewing experience. The skill these players bring the table is amazing. In the recent match up between two Chinese teams, Royal Club and OMG, team fights would break out in which both sides went in, dealt massive damage, played incredibly well, then broke away, leaving both teams alive but severely injured. Watching these bursts of calculated action was like watching two skills duelists attack in a flurry of swings and parries without ever getting a hit.  As the Championship games fast approaches, these types of thrilling matches are even more common.

There are also moments of fun and even touching moments of sportsmanship. When some of the teams already knocked out the tournament had to play anyway, they would often mix things up for fun. In one of the best matches of the tournament, 0-7 Phillippine's based Mineski faced the undefeated OMG. Instead of playing a traditional composition, they picked up champions you would never see in a tournament. Likewise, knowing the match was essentially meaningless, OMG played with a strange set of champions as well. It was an exciting match because everyone was rooting for Mineski, even the shout casters, and enjoying the fun of the game above all else. At the end of the match, even though Mineski lost, the crowd chanter their team name to honor their efforts.

These little moments make up the wider concept of League of Legends eSports fandom and it's fascinating to watch it happen live.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

EXP Podcast #243: Rogue Legacy Debrief

We've wandered through these castle ever-shifting castle walls for so long, but we've finally escaped. Actually, both Jorge and I are still fighting our way through Rogue Legacy, but after dozens of generations of fallen heroes, we decided it was time to share our experiences. Gather round for tales of martyrdom, mining, and magic.

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 34 min 17 sec
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Back to Basics

This week my PopMatters column is about getting back to basics.

Allow me to adjust my spectacles, hitch up my waist-high plaid trousers, and declare that games are damn complicated these days. It seems like most games have at least some combination of mechanics that have traditionally been mutually exclusive. I find this usually comes in the form of RPG aspects (character upgrades, different item abilities, etc.), but it is also applicable to aesthetics. Mashups are in high demand.

Far be it from me to call this a bad thing; more complexity often means the potential for more interesting decisions. But in an environment where games borrow a little bit from many different base styles, it's nice to have some games with a narrow focus on doing one thing extremely well.

I use Thomas Was Alone, Divekick, and Saint's Row: The Third as examples, but I wanted to expand a little on Divekick. Divekick is especially interesting because it distills the essence of a competitive game. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the wild combos and huge rosters in modern fighting games. Combos and be memorized and practiced; it's the positioning, contextual decisions, and meta game that constitute the core experience. Divekick takes a genre that has grown very baroque and distills it into its essence, which in turn makes it easier to understand the more complicated varieties. Basically, it helps you get your head around the fundamentals.c

It's always hard to understand highly competitive games as a relative newcomer, so I wonder if this philosophy could be applied to other genres? Is it possible to make some basic MOBA game that makes DotA less of an overwhelming mess? Is there some way to make a paired down version of StarCraft
This sort of thing doesn't happen often, but when it does, I think it helps us understand what exactly makes some games truly great.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

EXP Podcast #242: The Magnitude of Microconsoles

"Wait! Don't touch that... welp, you touched it."
Ouya might be struggling right now, but the concept of a cheap and adaptable home console alternative to the big three is here to stay. What does that mean for the future of gaming? And what does it mean for Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo? Stick around and ask Mr. Businessman! This week on the show, Scott and I go over the edge with the coming technological tide. As always, check out the article that inspired this week's podcast in the show notes below, it's a good one. We also encourage you to leave your thoughts and predictions about microconsoles in the comments below. Do you own an Ouya? Are you a believer?

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 40 min 05 sec
- "Snuffing out disruptive microconsoles won't be so easy for the 'big three'," by Kris Graft via Gamasutra
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Falling for Rogue Legacy

Scott played it last week, now it's my turn. This week I try to maintain my dislike of rogue-likes while simultaneously lavishing praise on Rogue Legacy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Tedium of War in A Few Acres of Snow

My latest @PopMatters article is now live: The Tedium of War in A Few Acres of Snow.

As an avid tabletop gamer, I love getting the chance to write about board games. Their systems are all out on the table, literally. They just invite analysis. In this case, the historical context of A Few Acres of Snow, coupled with a twist on both the deck-building genre and the war game genre, gives it particular appeal. These games necessarily address warfare in one way or another. Interestingly enough, A Few Acres does it by injecting in a circular system of self-destruction. Honestly, it's stunning.

One of the most interesting aspects of board gaming, which I did not discuss in this article, is the tangibility of the experience. Like other two-player games of its type, A Few Acres is built for each player to set opposite the other. To stare another player down from across a table is inherently oppositional, even confrontational. While surely influence by necessity, it gently pushes you towards "othering" the opponent. I firmly believe these physical design choices increase the likelihood you call out your opponent for being a cowardly Frenchman or imperialist Brit.

Moreover, perhaps to accommodate the seating arrangement, half of the text on the board faces the opposite direction. No matter which faction you play, half the city names are upside down and your opponent's discard and siege piles also face the other way. The table is hard to read, particularly as you settle cities closer toward's your opponents side.

While I might find this frustrating in other games (theoretically they could have printed city names facing both directions), in A Few Acres of Snow, it completely resonates with the themes and the systems. War is difficult and unkind, particularly given this geography. The rhetoric of tedious war becomes physical as you attempt to accurately pronounce strange city names while craning your neck to the side. The unified experience is a fascinating act of systems-induced boredom.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

EXP Podcast #241: Listener Mail 3

Thanks to you, the EXP mailbag is once again full of questions! This week, we dig through your emails, comments, and tweets, trying our best to sound like we know what we're talking about. Fourth-wall etiquette, the "indie aesthetic," steam sales, Angry Birds: it's all here. Thanks again for your questions and please keep them coming!

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 40 min 05 sec
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rogue Legacy: Investment Advice

Scott checks in to show off his progress in Rogue Legacy and Mr. Businessman does some back-of-the-napkin investment calculations.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Enjoying the Social Death

Image from PopMatters
This week at PopMatters, I write about death and failure. Don't worry: it's not as depressing as it sounds.

While I focus mainly on roguelikes, it bears repeating that we're still in the midst of a renaissance of challenging games. FTL Dark Souls, Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, X-COM; the list of games with harsh challenges and long-lasting consequences is a long one. There's certainly some sort of ebb and flow effect here in terms of popular opinion, but I think we could be coming to a more homeostatic point where hard games maintain their mass appeal.

The reason behind this is social: not only is it easier than ever to share the knowledge required to overcome obstacles, it's also easier to share failures. What was once a quiet, isolated defeat is now a shared story between you, your friends, and whoever was watching the stream when you decided to get cocky and look before leaping. Even if you're not playing for an audience, many single player games have created social connections through leader boards and latent multiplayer dynamics. Seeing how other players fared or watching their final moments makes death a shared experience, which helps keep the game fresh. When you're connected to other people, there's an opportunity to learn, improve, and simply laugh after shared misfortunes.

Finally, I just wanted to point out The Binding of Isaac League Racing because it's amazing. Competitive speed runs in a game with randomly generated levels? It's more likely than you think.

Yet another reason why the combination of challenging games and capture technology makes "the social death" a good death.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

EXP Podcast #240: Gamescom 2013 Debrief

Gamescom 2013, the enormous yearly gaming event in Cologne, Germany, wrapped up about a week ago. While there were no huge splashes this year, we spend this podcast visiting some of the most noteworthy news items. Join us this week on the show while Scott and I discuss Nintendo's scaling back of dimensions, Ghost conspiracies, console launch dates (which we chatted about before Microsoft's announcement today), and more! As always, we encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Also, don't forget to submit your questions for our upcoming mailbag episode! Any questions, game related are otherwise, are appreciated. You can reach by email or twitter by checking out our contact info on the right!

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 33 min 59 sec
- Mew-Genics Trailer
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

On the State of MMOs

So I have been playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, the reimagined MMO from Square Enix. Er, that is to say, I have been trying to play Final Fantasy XIV. Since launch, the game has been plagued by server issues. Actually, since before launch. Even those who pre-ordered the game and should have received early access to the game had trouble logging onto the game servers. Worst of all, this entire experience is normalized. Based on conversations with friends who frequent MMOs, like a bee buzzing from one flower to the next, the early chaos of an MMO is entirely consistent across the landscape.

In the case of FFXIV, Square Enix critically underestimated the demand on their server, particular from their European and North American audiences. They failed to implement reliable methods to boot idle players from games, many of whom hunkered down to avoid the very problem plaguing so many players. They also never bothered implementing a queue system, which means players barred from servers have had to manually try to enter the world, again and again, until a space was made available. Naturally this left many MMO players, including myself, exasperated.

That being said, persistent players can find, I'm sure, compelling experiences in FFXIV. But for new players, could these be anything but a horrendous experience? For awhile, at the peak of my World of Warcraft days, I believed MMOs marked the culmination of social play. They create whole worlds in which to adventure. Friends, committed to a long term experience, could build legends. Now, with Square Enix as my latest foray into the genre, MMOs seem aged and desperately out-of-date.

In a recent PopMatters article, G. Christopher Williams laments the state of MMOs today, particular their emphasis on solo play. He right asks, "Has player convenience and a lack of need killed any hope for long term commitments to persistent universes because they have killed commitments to our fellow players that occupy those universes alongside us?" I think the answer is a resounding yes, and it's not just the increasing ease of solitary play. In a world where social gaming on my phone is as easy as ever, MMOs seem to erect barriers and remove pathways towards finding friendship in the digital space.

The evidence is both in and out of game. Befuddling landscape design, particularly the design of hub locations, like cities and towns, can make meeting up with friends a chore. Troublesome UI can make navigating your friends list, guilds list, raid lists, and all your other lists, a pain. And yes, day one server issues, when some of your friends can hit max level before you can even log in, can soil the social experience.

Of course not all games are guilty of this each and every sin, but I have yet to see a modern MMO that makes social play as easy as the numerous free-to-play casual games on my phone (unless of course the MMO is also a free-to-play casual game). For me, MMOs are fundamentally about finding and maintaining friendships. As access to social experiences grow stronger in other genres, I too question the long-term health of MMOs.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mail Call 2013

It is that time again readers and listeners, time once again to open our mail back and answer some of your questions. We always love hearing from you kind folk out there. Seriously, I'm pretty sure you're all some of the best friends a little ol' podcaster can have.

If you have a question or topic in mind, feel free to send us an email (experiencepoints AT gmail dot com), message or reply to us on Twitter (that's @JAlbor and @SJuster), submit a comment on this post! We may not answer all your questions, but we will read each and every one. Anything goes, so send them our way!