Archive | November 2013

Feeding Log: Season 3 End

            So, that’s a wrap on Season 3! Alas, I didn’t make it to silver despite my last ditch effort to make a mad dash for it on the final day of the season, but I still feel pretty good about my personal progress in Ranked throughout the last few months. I made a good try of it and came pretty close, and that’s about as much as I can ask of myself. I’m improving at non-support roles and even managing to carry a few times along the way, and I think my general game awareness and knowledge has increased from writing this feature and looking back at my performances.

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GAME 1 – SUPPORT JANNA

            We got carried preeetty hard here! Vayne and I had a rough lane matchup experience against Varus and Soraka. It wasn’t a lot of kill pressure aside from Varus’s ultimate, but the unlimited mana and nearly unlimited sustain coming from Soraka really made Varus’s harass a problem. Jax, however, went absolutely crazy top lane and dumpstered Swain completely, getting a bunch of early kills and generally snowballing into ludicrous apeshit hypercarry mode. He eventually just became so much of a problem for the enemy team that we overwhelmed them on his back.  Yay!

What I did well: Well, we held on pretty well despite being against a combo of virtually unlimited harass + sustain, and I had a few carefully chosen ultimates that did some miracle work against the Jarvan IV ultimate. I’ve been getting a lot better at carefully using Janna’s ultimate lately; I think before, I was overly concerned with trying to make HUGE PLAYS with it rather than just using it for what it is: a hell of a knockback + heal combo. At any rate, we were able to hold on until Jax snowballed out of control, which is all we needed to do, really.

What I need to improve: I somehow managed to get bullied by a Soraka, which isn’t exactly the greatest thing on Earth. She and Varus make for a pretty nasty combo, as it lets him fire his Piercing Arrow around with reckless abandon while not really worrying about his mana costs thanks to Infuse. Vayne’s also not really equipped to deal with that kind of constant harass, so it was a tough laning environment. In general, I need to get a little bit more responsive with my shields and use them in anticipation of action on the part of either carry, rather than being purely reactive with them.

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GAME 2 – JUNGLE SHYVANA

            I was possessed by the red mist in this game and somehow got incredibly fed and became an unstoppable killing machine. Coupling that with getting Sivir going and the unstoppable inevitability of Nasus meant that this was kind of a stomp. The enemy team started to gain a little bit of traction as the game went on, but by that point the sheer force of gold we’d accumulated from all the kills, towers, and dragons meant that our tactical blunders were smoothed over by a huge amount of cash dollars.

What I did well:  Dragon jump on bad guy make health bar go boom. I used my ult really well here and had some really clutch dive moments with it where I leapt over a bunch of people to eat someone. Shyvana’s cleartimes remain stupidly fast and her ability to shove out a lane quickly makes her a great fit for the type of heavy pushing comp we had going here. Basically, every lane did their thing and it made my job really easy and honestly made my KDA appear much more impressive than it should have. I had some very timely ganks, though, and it helped the lanes to get rolling, especially mid lane.

What I need to improve: I probably spent a little too much time farming and I definitely stole way too many kills. Shyvana does a lot of damage, even with a fairly tanky build like mine, but kills still belong on carries, not on dragons. I don’t think a huge amount of the kills I got were ones that I stole out from under people, but still, I think I got the bloodlust a little too hard and started murdering too many people instead of letting the carries do it. Basically, I was TOO badass. Introspection is important.

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GAME 3 – JINX ADC

            Well, someone made the mistake of letting me carry, and worse yet, I didn’t pick Ezreal. But hey, it all turned out okay in the end! Also: we had a really awful team comp! Thankfully, we somehow managed to be, as my duoqueued support put it, “the most competent bunch of idiots I’ve ever seen,” and so despite our hideously bad picks and less than stellar start, we turned it around and won. I feel kind of bad about that, as I think we beat people who may have actually been intelligent.

What I did well: I was a dirty opportunist who stole kills with my ultimate and I didn’t feel bad because I was the ADC and I deserved this. TREAT YOSELF.

I managed to focus my damage intelligently and stay out of trouble most of the game, and I didn’t get rushed in teamfights despite having virtually no peel whatsoever on my teammates’ kits. I’m not sure if this was a function of my own positioning and awareness or if the enemy team just wasn’t properly focusing me, but either way, I felt pretty good about my ability to stay alive in fights and do cleanup.  I also felt pretty good about my lasthitting in lane, which is something I’m always hesitant about and working on improving. Someday I’ll just go into a game as Nasus and play whack-a-mole for 40 minutes, but for now, I’ll take the CSing practice where I can get it.

What I need to improve:  I need to get a better handle on trading in lane as an ADC. It’s especially hard to pull off against Caitlyn and I think I managed to minimize the amount of needless damage I took, but I still don’t really have the concept of lane harass down on autoattackers yet.

Beyond that, I need to generally improve my decision making when it comes to choosing to farm vs. choosing to push as a team on ADC. There’s a lot of temptation to run off to a sidelane and zone out into creepfarming mode for a while, but you also need to maintain presence in teamfights and I sometimes have a hard time balancing the two. Still, it paid off here.

So that’s that for Season Three. No silver yet, but I’m well on the way to getting better at ranked soloqueue and steadily advancing. I’ll be transitioning into writing this about the preseason soon, and as Season Four starts I hope to keep this log going from start to finish. See you then.

Summary Judgment: Castles in the Sky

                I used to be an idealist. Maybe I still am, a little; a flame still desperately flickering against the wind and the dark. When I was younger, I made a point to always look for the best in things, to always believe that people could be better and that deep down, we’d make things work somehow. I used to always hold the thought that it would be okay to be wrong if it meant being happy, and that believing in something could be more important than being right all the time.

                I’m not really sure when that changed.

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                Castles in the Sky by The Tall Trees wants me to believe that it never did.  This is a small game, a simple game, with objectives that are loose and actions that aren’t really tied to a huge goal. The player is a boy jumping up through the clouds while heartfelt piano music plays in the background and a poem gently unfolds itself on the sky.

                The “message” here, if there is one, isn’t blasted from the mountaintops. The game isn’t trying to shove a moral in my face. It’s not trying to challenge me or make me think that the way I look at things is wrong or stupid. It is what it is. It’s a boy, jumping through the clouds. And the story that’s told is a straightforward one, the kind my parents would have read me as a child.

                I used to be this boy, once. I think I did, at least. Video games were right there with me, too. Every new game was a new castle in the sky, a new place to go, a new thing to see. It’s all I wanted, really; something new to see and do.

                It’d be easy for a cynical 20-something writer not unlike me to look at Castles in the Sky and say “That’s it?”  There isn’t exactly a ton of content here, although the game’s price is absolutely justified at $1.50.  I beat the game in less than an hour, if we can call what I did “beating” anything. This is a bedtime story, a poem, a song. Asking for more just doesn’t make sense. It’d be like asking to prolong the time before falling asleep once I’d gotten in bed. It’s a special time, but we all have to go to sleep sometime.

                I’ve noticed that there’s a sort of resistance to games like this building up in a lot of communities. This kind of indie game is rapidly starting to be viewed as “pretentious” in some way, or worse yet, “hipstery”, my favorite non-criticism. When I played Gone Home, when I played The Stanley Parable, I didn’t feel like I was playing something pretentious. I felt like I was playing something with a unified message and purpose, something we don’t often see.

                That’s what Castles in the Sky is. A unified thing. A simple, beautiful, heartbreaking experience that makes me wonder where I went wrong. A bedtime story told to the child who is falling asleep inside me, or perhaps has already been dozing for these last few years.

                 I’m hoping he doesn’t stay asleep long. I might be lost without him.

 

Castles in the Sky is available directly from the developer, The Tall Trees. It’s $1.50 for Windows and OSX via their Humble Store link, and comes with the beautiful soundtrack as well as some wallpapers, one of which I used for the above image.

Theme Party, Culture Edition: Level of Discourse

           One of the earliest mantras that anyone who creates content on the internet comes to adopt is the most hallowed: Never read the comments. Just don’t do it. Ever.  It’ll only make you want to stop what you’re doing and go over to a corner somewhere to cry the day away.

This is perhaps no more true in any other sphere than that of gaming content. We live in a world where David Vonderhaar received death threats for a slight balance adjustment to Call of Duty.  Reviewers are constantly beset on Twitter and in comments by people who are not only in disagreement, but are vehemently angry at the decisions a reviewer made in giving a game a certain score.

There are two central questions here, then.  Firstly, why do we in the gaming community have such a proclivity towards this kind of social diarrhea, and secondly, what can we do to stop it?

HATE CULTURE

            Part of the problem stems from the general culture that we’re cultivating for ourselves in game environments themselves. Take a five minute jaunt onto Xbox Live and see how long you can make it without hearing some kind of racist, homophobic, or sexist epitaph thrown someone’s way.  Jenny Haniver’s excellent blog Not In The Kitchen Anymore is a haunting gallery of the kind of treatment a woman can expect to receive for the audacity of daring to play a video game on the internet. Those of us who aren’t female have it easier, which nonetheless means constant threats, spewed hatred, and unrelenting hostility.

It’s been this way for as long as I can remember.  Penny Arcade wrote a comic regarding the unusually civil online community of Links 2001 in relation to what they were used to.  That comic was written over a decade ago. It’s a shock whenever you wind up in a civil, positive community in a game on the internet. This kind of culture grew up in the Petrie dishes of Counter-Strike, Starcraft, and Quake, but in that primordial soup of many young people bashing their heads into each other competitively, we lost sight of what it meant to try not to make the experience about ruining someone else’s fun.

This carried over into message boards. We imported our behavior from all over the internet, creating toxic forum threads, toxic chatrooms, toxic screennames. It was who we were.  Even now, a response to objections to this kind of behavior will often be “It happens to everyone, grow thicker skin.”  Thicker skin is what got us here in the first place. Our skin got so thick we lost sight of what feeling anything meant. So let’s all take a nice moment to breathe deep and look at ourselves in the mirror.

What the hell is wrong with us?

I’m being very purposeful in my pronoun use here.  It’s “we,” “us,” “our” that I’m talking about because I’m as much a part of this community and hobby as anyone else. I’m proud of that, but Christ, it’s harder and harder to be proud of that every day. Journalist Leigh Alexander often writes and speaks about how she doesn’t feel any inclination to consider herself part of “gaming culture” or a “nerd community,” and I find it pretty difficult to blame her. Our culture is more than a walled garden, it’s a garden with barbed wire fences that’s manned by armed guards.

We’ve created a weird opinion Thunderdome wherein discourse isn’t a dialogue, it’s a fistfight, and whoever punches hardest and drives the other person away crying is the winner. Those that attempt to make measured assessments of matters in the gaming industry are met with verbal punches in response to their thoughts. It’d be like if we all got a chance to kick the President after every State of the Union. Did Roger Ebert get this much hate mail when he didn’t like a movie? I somehow doubt it.

Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek recently gave a TEDx talk on this subject and made it very clear the kind of situation we’re dealing with here. The biggest part of the problem, as Patrick makes very clear, is the difference in volume. Trolls, jerks, haters are all often much louder and more relentless than those with positive voices in the community.

A POSITIVE COUNTERBALANCE

            So what the hell do we do about all of this?  We’re stuck at the bottom of a very deep hole, and anyone with a shovel is generally encouraged to use it to dig deeper rather than trying to dig up.  There are a few satisfying ways to deal with trolls on a personal level; Joysitq’s Jess Conditt runs a stingingly effective Tumblr entiled “Dear Trolls” that acts as a fun conduit for hilarious dismissal of these kinds of attitudes. Patrick himself often uses similarly troll-marginalizing .gifs on his own Tumblr as well.

But these are coping mechanisms, individually hilarious and satisfying ways of highlighting the insanity of so many commenters, but not designed as ways to improve the general level of discourse. Journalists and writers need things like Dear Trolls to keep some semblance of sanity, but that’s as a result of the fact that their jobs by definition involve improving the level of discussion already. What can the rest of us do?

Well, for starters, we can try to make it clear that the kind of unrelenting verbal diarrhea that sprays all over any kind of internet gaming community isn’t acceptable. It needs to stop being a matter of having “thicker skin.” If someone starts throwing balls of poop around, our response needs to be to make them knock it off, not to get a better poop shield.  People need to learn that they’re allowed to have an opinion without it being a personal matter, and that reviewers can differ on that opinion without making it into some kind of blood feud.

Secondly, we need to start being more willing to give glowing feedback. Comment sections are oftentimes a wholly negative affair because negative feelings prompt a response more often than positive ones. So from now on, when I read something online that I like, I’m going to make an effort to say so.  Most comments are civil, and the negative ones are but a loud minority, but nonetheless, creators need to know they have fans. In a perfect world, there’d be some kind of internet task force dedicated to fostering intelligent positivity in comments sections to offset the rampant hatred.

So that’s my two-pronged approach. Eliminate the tolerance of this kind of thing, and foster the opposite.  Is it doable?  I have no idea. I think, by nature, some level of insane vitriol is likely to exist and it’s always going to be more difficult to feel good about something you’ve made than it is to doubt it. But I’m going to try to make it better. We need to try to make it better. It’s the only way we’re going to be able to evolve and move forward.

Decision Autopsy: The Walking Dead: Episode Two

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              This one really escalated the self loathing factor when it came to looking back on the things I did and why I did them.  I was a bit annoyed because I figured out the twist of this episode ahead of time and still couldn’t really pre-empt it at all, but I guess Lee just didn’t see the writing on the wall as clearly as I did. At any rate, I wound up in the pretty large minority on a few of these, so without further delay…

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                Yeah, I axed the guy’s leg.  I didn’t even really see an alternative here, but I guess I could’ve hesitated, or found some kind of miracle way to free him without dismembering him, but the pressure kind of forced my hand. 

                Goddamn did they ham this one up, though.  That cutting sequence was torturous and gruesome, and I started to seriously question myself somewhere around the third dirty swing. In the end, this turned out to be pretty fruitless at best and arguably damaging at worst. At least I know the axe is still sharp?

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                This one confirmed what I was already thinking about Danny.  If I’d been given the chance I probably would’ve shot Danny on the spot, as I pretty much instantly spotted the cannibalism angle after this.  Danny got reaaal shifty when this situation started escalating, and the fact that he just puts a bullet in Jolene’s head unprovoked sealed the deal.

                You’d have to be a hell of a snap decision maker to shoot Jolene here, I think.  If you’re the kind of person that believes in shooting first and asking questions later when put down to it, I could see why the SHOOT HER INSTANTLY option would be appealing, but I was already extremely suspicious of the St. John family and this just drove it home. Again, it’s a bit disappointing that I didn’t get a chance to call out the St. John family earlier, as it felt like I was kind of railroaded into “falling for it” until I was in a vulnerable position where some narrative tension could erupt. 

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                Well, this is the big one.  Remember last week when I said I was going to throw Larry under the bus as soon as possible?  I wasn’t joking.  The second the game gave me a “kill Larry” button, I jumped on it, because if there’s one thing I can’t forgive in a scenario like this it’s, you know, attempted murder on me.  Larry tried to kill me in episode one and failed, so I made sure to be a little more competent when I returned the favor.

                That being said, I think the risk factor here was too high to screw around.  Episode one made me pretty sure that Larry will die without medication, and we didn’t have any medication around in the meat locker. Larry was going to die, and he was going to turn when he did.  I think Kenny may have jumped to conclusions a little hastily here, but the end result was the best possible outcome.  Larry had it coming after the shit he pulled in episode one, and I wasn’t about to let Clem be locked in a room with a zombie that’s built like a brick shithouse. Sorry Lily.

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                Ironically, my vindictiveness above sort of waned here.  I didn’t kill either of the St. John brothers, as much as I may have wanted to, for one simple reason: Clem was watching. I don’t want Clem to see me doing monstrous things, so I try to be restrained if she’s nearby.  I knew if I’d thrown the pitchfork through Danny’s skull it would’ve immediately cut to Clem making a horrified face, and I didn’t have the heart for that one.  The kid has to believe there’s SOME goodness in the world still. 

                As for Andy, the game gave me a perfect opportunity to cinematically embrace my remaining humanity, and so I jumped on it. That setpiece was bloody brilliant and I couldn’t resist the dramatic climax of walking away from killing Andy at the last minute in the rain.  Besides, the zombies (including his now undead mother) almost certainly finished the job on both brothers for me. 

                Given what I just said about Larry and revenge, this probably makes me look like a huge hypocrite.  Still, that situation was a high pressure do or die kind of moment, and these two were both just straight up cold blood murders with Clem and the rest watching.  The two guys were doomed, and my soul is better off for not having done it with my own two hands.

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                On a similar note, I thought it was important to clutch to what humanity we had left and decline to steal supplies from the car we found.  We didn’t take any time to wait and see if the car’s owner would return or what kind of situation they were in, how many people they had, if any were children, etc.  I didn’t feel comfortable draining someone else’s survivability for my own in that situation; if that’s the kind of person I am, I’d be no better than the St. Johns. 

                I lost some points with Kenny for being sanctimonious on this choice, but Clem seemed to approve/agree with me, so Kenny can shove it. If the rest of them want to throw empathy to the wind, that’s their problem, but I’m going to at least try to hold on to some vestige of hope for the future. I’ll just say I got all my ruthlessness out of my system with the salt brick in Larry’s cranium and be done with it.

                I’m excited to see where episode three is going after this.  Tension is definitely mounting amongst the group and I think it’s probably going to come to blows between Lily and Kenny in the next episode.  Personally, I think only Carley is fully level-headed and reliable, so it’s going to be tough to take sides if a civil war of some kind starts.  As long as they keep Clem and me out of it, I’ll probably remain on the sidelines, but I have a feeling the game won’t give me that luxury.

Feeding Log 11-5-2013

BRONZE I, 42 LP

                This is starting to feel like the kind of journal you’d find on a dusty corpse in a game like Mass Effect, chronicling a man’s slow descent into madness before his inevitable demise.  This week was a reminder of why I didn’t play ranked in the past, and my frustration with the player experience of the league system is starting to take away my ability to see the forest for the trees.  At any rate, I at least had some interesting opportunities this time.

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GAME I – SHEN TOP

                Holy shit, someone let me top lane! So, full disclosure, we probably only won this one because the enemy jungler disconnected.  I sort of got dumpstered by Riven top, although I was able to keep up with her in CS pretty effectively despite the amount of pressure she put on. Whatever, a win’s a win, even when it’s a 4v5, so I guess I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth, eh?

                What I did well: SHEN PRESS R TO MAKE TEAMFIGHT GO BETTER.  The whole “split push and then teleport into fight” thing is a lot more fun for me than I’d like to admit, and I had a good time pressuring the hell out of top lane only to appear right at the crucial moment in a teamfight and dashingly taunt the entire enemy team.  Shen’s sheer tankiness and resistance to pressure in lane is always impressive, and I felt like I contributed a lot to fights with good taunt accuracy.

                What I need to improve: I need to teleport a lot earlier, in anticipation of heavy damage rather than while it occurs.  I think Shen is great practice for global map awareness in the same way that Karthus or Twisted Fate are, and it’s a good way to make yourself be constantly checking to see if there is somewhere that needs your presence badly at any given time.  I think I had a pretty good sense of that, but there were definitely a few moments where I could have prevented some loss by having better awareness and timing.

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GAME 2 – NAMI SUPPORT

                This kind of sucked a lot. We did pretty well in lane, but boy did the other lanes and the jungle completely buckle and cost the game.  Our matchup against Vayne and Sona actually played out extremely well, and we secured some early kills despite some pressure in the lane.  Lucian and I synced up pretty well and we were able to make plays, but wowzers did the other lanes collapse. Alas, another loss.

                What I did well: I hit some good bubbles and I feel like Lucian and I had some great synergy in lane.  I think I’m getting a lot better at putting Tidecaller’s Blessing on people at the appropriate moments and generally just keeping a better handle on Nami’s abilities.  Her ultimate is on a shorter cooldown than I’ve given it credit for in the past, and I feel like I’m getting beter at being less hesitant to fire it out at an appropriate time. I’m getting a little better at leading the bubbles and compensating for the giant wind up on them, which increases Nami’s usefulness by a huge amount.

                What I need to improve: Being willing to dodge games with a Master Yi on my team, I guess?  I don’t really know that we got to a point of the game where my performance really negatively impacted anything, so I have a hard time feeling bad about how I performed, despite the loss.  Lucian and I kicked ass and then got dunked by the rest of the fed enemy team, so it’s hard for me to get an accurate metric here.  I’m not super pleased with the Twin Shadows in my inventory, I suppose.

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GAME 3  – LEONA SUPPORT

                Ah, the Caitlyn/Sona lane.  We got crapped on pretty hard in lane here because of a general incapability to deal with the insane amount of poke coming from the pair we were against.  Leona wasn’t my first choice, but my carry requested an aggressive support with CC, and no one fits that bill better.  Anyway, this was the tale of the snowballers in the jungle and mid. Katarina and Rengar both got incredibly fed off of mid and the jungle and pretty much steamrolled us. Coupled with getting beaten in lane, this was a lost cause.

                What I did well: Not a whole lot. I had a good kill or two with some clever rolling of my crowd control, but in the end, Leona is an all in and can’t afford to get behind.  Once we got behind, it was pretty much game over for us bot lane, especially once the fed carries from other lanes started to leak into our own.

                What I need to improve: I need to be more willing to get in people’s faces when I play Leona.  If I’d been more gutsy and willing to get up in Sona or Caitlyn’s business, we probably could have outduelled them and forced them out of lane, but instead, I hesitated and let them get the advantage with their insane amount of harass. Leona should be a counter to poke oriented compositions, but it requires a mindset that’s willing to go a little crazy for kills or pressure, and I’m not great at the all-in engage.  I need to get a little less fight squeamish and a little more willing to go a bit crazy for the sake of a trade.