Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Clash of Heroes Impressions

Might & Magic Clash of Heroes is an Ubisoft creation with something in it for both puzzle and strategy game fans.  I stumbled across the demo in the Xbox Live Arcade, but the game is also available on PSN and Nintendo DS.

The basic premise is a match three puzzle game where army units are the things being matched.  Match 3 vertically and they become an offensive attack.  Match 3 horizontally and they form a defensive wall to block incoming enemy attacks.  The player is limited by the number of moves in a turn before the opponent gets to respond in kind.  Completely drain the opponent's HP with attacks and you win the battle.

It's a simple enough premise, but it quickly gets complex in a fun way.  Experience points, leveling up, gear, new units, and new skills all show up in the course of the game.  I've had a great time tweaking my army as I progress.  Personally, deciding between using giant treants or acid dragons was especially difficult.

The main game is split between multiple characters who have different units in their armies.  As such, they all play differently.  I'm finding that as soon as I got a little too comfortable with a character or army composition I'm thrown to another character and immediately got hooked again.  The pacing has been excellent so far.

The game isn't twitch based at all, which is a nice change of pace from what I've been playing lately.  It's not hard to jump in and play a short session because battle length is fairly short.  Overall, it's a good break from the shooters and real time strategy games that have occupied most of my time in recent months.

So, you want my recommendation?  If you're a puzzle fan you can find enjoyment in this game.  If you're a strategy fan you can find enjoyment in this game.  If you're both a puzzle and strategy fan then you really can't go wrong here.  Even though it's not too expensive, make sure to try out the free demo on XBLA or PSN before you buy.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mental Combo-Breaker

 I've been working 60+ hour weeks between multiple jobs lately and when I get home I've been having trouble getting my mind out of work mode.  My thoughts are still on the projects of the day and what I have coming up tomorrow.  I've found one of the fastest ways to successfully get my mind out of work mode is to play a video game.

Watching TV, movies, and just hanging out are relaxing activities but they don't usually require my full mental attention.  But when I jump into a game it requires me to strategize, pay attention, and act.  It uses up most of my mental processing power and is definitely a mental combo-breaker for the day.  It helps get me into a mental state where I can fully enjoy my time at home.

I'm realizing that games can be a great tool for attitude and mental state if used correctly.  Has anyone else found that to be the case?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Chance to Play

Games have goals.  Save that princess, kill ten rats, level up, defeat evil.  We all know and accept that these goals are set for us by the game developers. We take it for granted that the goals will be presented to us and we will try our best to accomplish them.

But trust me, there is another way.

Look at the success of Minecraft: a game with no goals.  We're given a tool set and told to have fun.  It's like being given a stuffed giraffe as a kid.  We can make up epic adventures for the giraffe to go on.  He can explore his environment and interact with other toys.  He can befriend a tiny tiny elephant or become bitter rivals with a cake.  Or maybe you'll just choose to chew on his head (like my daughter).  It's all up to us and our imagination.  We are given a toy and what we do with it is up to us.

 Delicious choice.

How many games like that are out there?  Not many at all.  Minecraft is the only one that readily springs to mind.  But why can't more games have player created goals?  Why haven't we moved closer to a virtual world?

Well, as a developer it must be terrifying to not give the player a goal.  To simply say, "This is my world, have fun in it."  In this age of highly scripted experiences it takes a special kind of developer to do that.

But oh, the adventures we can have.

A virtual world is what we all dream of.  I remember thinking about it all the time as a kid.  I couldn't wait to put on a future technical contraption and actually feel like I was in another world.  But a huge part of having a virtual world is not having explicit goals.  That's the way we function in the real world, we have to make our own goals.  As soon as we're given a goal by an outside force it changes the entire texture of the experience.

Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since I was born and I've played games of every make and model.  But rarely, so rarely, have I felt a sense of wonder.  Maybe that's something I need.  Something that lay dormant for years but has finally resurfaced.  Maybe, sometimes, I need the chance to just play.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Strategy and Execution. Friends or Foes?

I have an itch to play strategy games at the moment.  StarCraft 2 has been fulfilling the need but I'm running into a problem.  I love the high minded thinking that goes into the strategy.  The clash of minds draws me in and keeps me captivated.  The dream of inventing a brand new strategy staggers me with it's awesomeness.  I want to invent a new strategy that wows and amazes.

But then I go play the game.

I get annihilated.  Absolutely demolished.  I go on losing streaks and just can't understand where the weak point in my strategy is.  The truth is, my strategy is fine but my execution is lacking.

I only have so much time to devote to gaming in a given day.  I have two jobs, a wife, and an 8 month old.  They take priority over gaming.  So let's say, on average, that amount of gaming time is 2 hours per day.

Is there any possible way for me to compete with master level players who devote 12+ hours to the game each day?  No.  There's no way that's going to happen.

But what about the people who play 4 hours a day?  I want to get to their level.  I want the execution skills of someone with a little more play time than me.  That's good, it's something to strive for.  It's a goal.  As time goes on the whole population playing the game gets better, so I had better keep up.

I started this post with the need to vent about my losing streak but the writing took a weird turn on me.  It's made me realize that getting a little bit better is actually a good goal.  I should stop feeling bad that my execution isn't perfect.  I have a good life and I like my other responsibilities.  I don't need to be a master level player.  All I want to do is keep getting better, one game at a time.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Crossing the Divide: From Mediocre to Master

It's interesting to watch the evolution of a gaming community around one specific game.  Things begin to change after the hype and excitement of launch.  People play through the game and discuss it with friends.  They revel in the shared experience.  And then it slowly fades from mainstream attention.  But, for some, they cling to a game and never let it go.  This poses some challenges in competitive multiplayer games.

The divide between mediocre players and master level players increases as time goes on.  No longer is there the full spectrum of players be paired against.  Instead, most of the player population has gotten good at the game and they are the only competition left.

If you're looking for some specific examples, think along the lines of the Halo or StarCraft series.

Where there is a lot of competition to be found.

As the total population playing the game decreases, the average skill level of each player rises.  The longer the game has been around, the higher the average skill level will be.  Not everyone will be a master of the game, but everyone will continue to get better.

The ramification of this is a huge barrier that a new player must conquer to enjoy the competitive portion of the game.  It's no fun getting annihilated every single round but that's the prospect a noob faces when entering a long established game.  We all want to match minds with opponents of equal skill level, but when the general population of a game is really good it becomes much more difficult to find even matches on the low end of the scale.

There needs to be a way to teach new players about the game without them getting destroyed repetitively.  A mentor system with rewards for both players can go far.  Tutorials on advanced concepts are also a welcome addition.  No matter how it's done, there needs to be a way to bridge the gap between masters and the mediocre, otherwise the population of the game with dwindle until it disappears completely.