Summary Judgment: Jazzpunk

Comedy is a difficult beast to wrangle. Done too lightly and it misses the mark. Done too heavily, and it oversaturates itself and alienates the audience. In games especially comedy is rarely executed on a consistent level in a way that is unique and works.

So when something like Jazzpunk comes around, I pay attention.

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UNABASHEDLY BIZARRE

            Jazzpunk is sort of like being clubbed over the head with amusement. The density of it all, the sheer jokes per second value of the entire game is almost overwhelming at times, and it’s all wrapped up in the most unbelievably, shamelessly strange things in a game this side of Earthbound.

It’s a disorienting level of amusement at times. Each of Jazzpunk’s levels is packed with so many little jokes and so many more things that are just plain odd that it can feel overwhelming despite the game’s relatively short length. Like The Stanley Parable before it, Jazzpunk is a game that begs to be poked, prodded, and turned upside down at every turn.

In Jazzpunk, you’re set in the role of a questionably robotic spy named Polyblank, who is sent around the world to accomplish a series of increasingly absurd tasks of espionage. It’s a fairly simple first person adventure game at heart, and most of the action takes place in terms of the player walking around from point to point interacting with objects.

What makes it stand out, though is that all of this is wrapped up in a larger overarching sendup of noir and spy fiction that works fantastically well despite being mixed in with so much complete insanity.  I do sort of wish that the game got a little more into its own main story; the characters and events of the levels where the story gets center focus are well executed and hilarious, and I’d have liked for there to be more time for the main cast to breathe and grow a little.

In many ways, though, it’s a miracle Jazzpunk works so well. Comedy of this nature is so easy to screw up colossally. Wacky, zany, over the top randomness is so often ruined and run into the ground that it’s nothing short of incredible that Jazzpunk manages not to overstay its welcome. It’s a testament to the strength of the writing that almost all of the jokes stick their landing, and there are only very few instances of jokes seeming too off the wall or falling flat.  Everything is tied together just enough for things to feel slightly cohesive, and it helps the game feel like a unified creation instead of a simple stream of random non sequiturs.

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That’s not to say that the game doesn’t go all over the place for a laugh when it needs to.  The reward for doing the side quests is almost always just a laugh, but in my experience, that was all the reward I needed. From attacking pizza zombies with a pizza cutter to playing a first person wedding shooter named “Wedding Qake,” Jazzpunk never let me get too comfortable with a situation or a gameplay type.

Everything in the world has the very intentional feeling of being just barely held together, and things have a habit of simply breaking when touched, just as people tend to just fall over when attacked in any way rather than having any kind of death animation.  Jazzpunk feels hyper-aware of what it is and what you’re doing in it without ever really directly confronting you about it in the manner of The Stanley Parable.  It knows what it is, it knows you know what it is, and it just dispenses with all of the pleasantries to get right down to the weirdness and hilarity.

Jazzpunk doesn’t have any grand statements to make or points to emphasize.  It doesn’t try to shake up the medium or ask any important questions about what it’s trying to accomplish.  Jazzpunk is a game that knows exactly what it’s doing: making you laugh, making you amused, and bewildering the hell out of you. And on that note, it succeeds spectacularly.

Hero Worship: Dazzle

            I’ve been playing a lot of Dota 2 lately. In accordance with what I think is the most important thing to learn in a MOBA, I’m trying to go through one game as each hero as practice. Here, I’m going to write some noobish thoughts and impressions on some of the heroes I play, many of which will undoubtedly be comically misguided and we can all look back and have a laugh at them when I eventually actually know what the hell I’m doing in this game.

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DAZZLE (Dire, Intelligence)

            A support after my own heart, Dazzle has a wonderful array of disables and abilities that increase sustainability in lane while giving him good harassing options. As my Feeding Logs from LoL show, I tend to be a support player in MOBAs in general, and as such I’m pretty happy with what Dazzle has to offer.  He’s a bit squishy and lacks escape options per se, but the combination of the heal, his slow/mini-stun, and Shallow Grave makes him more tricky to get rid of than he first appeared.

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Q – Poison TouchCasts a poisonous spell on an enemy unit, causing damage and slowness over time, and eventual paralysis. Poison Touch mini-stuns on impact. Slow increases per level.

            This is a nasty little bit of harassing CC that starts off a little unimpressive but slowly grows into a really useful tool as it gains ranks. The damage is also physical, unlike a lot of similar abilities, which means it can synergize well with Dazzle’s armor reduction ultimate. The long duration requires a little bit of careful planning in terms of timing on the ability; it takes a bit of time for the full stun to set in at higher ranks, so it can’t be used as an immediate interrupt, but rather as a long term roadblock for anyone trying to get anywhere.

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W – Shallow GraveAn ally blessed with Shallow Grave, no matter how close to death, cannot die while under its protection.

            I laughed when I read this ability description for the first time. The ultimate in fixing other people’s (and your own) mistakes, the ability to make someone unkillable for a short period of time is a pretty hugely useful way to bail someone out of a tricky situation or enable a clutch tower dive.  Granted, it doesn’t prevent any damage except for that last lethal touch, but it can still be a literal life saver if used correctly. As it gains ranks it gets a hell of a lot of range, too, so in a late game situation you can give people a stay of execution from pretty far away. A fun ability with a lot of tactical potential, but requires some thought before use as the duration isn’t THAT long.

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E – Shadow Wave: Shadow Wave heals several allies, which in turn cause damage equal to their healing in a small area around them. Dazzle is always healed by Shadow Wave, and it does not count toward the number of targets.

            Well, that ability description is a mouthful. This one was a little tricky to use effectively, I think. I pretty much used it as  a fire and forget group heal in teamfights, but like Poison Touch, it’s worth noting that the AoE damage on the healed target is physical, not magical.  Putting down Weave and then detonating a bunch of these in the enemy’s face is a pretty decent bit of group damage that I was probably far too stupid to use properly.  I think being a really good Dazzle player probably means being someone who can effectively get the full healing and damage mileage out of this thing every time it’s used, but it’s a little tricky to get a sense for that without much expertise.

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R – Weave: Applies a buff that increases allied hero armor or decreases enemy hero armor in the target area over time.

            This is a really important spell with an impact that isn’t incredibly apparent upon use. At its best level, it reduces a huge amount of armor off of the enemy and grants it to allies, so on a physically heavy team this thing can really turn the tide of a fight. It’s a pretty decently sized AoE with a huge casting range, so it seems like it’s meant to be a sort of soft initiate that you put down to weaken the enemy and bolster your allies before a real fight breaks out. A lot of supports in Dota seem to have big HOLY CRAP ultimates that cause some kind of huge, immediate impact, but I like the subtle nature of Dazzle’s ult. It’s flashy, but the effect is more a muted, enabling effect that a straight up initiation bomb or huge amount of damage. 

My Top Ten Favorite Industry People of 2013

I read, watched, and listened to far too much game related content in 2013 for my own good. Thankfully, there are a hell of a lot of great people out there to make doing that a wholly worthwhile endeavor. Here’s my list (in no particular order) of ten people in the gaming industry who really made 2013 memorable for me.

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PATRICK KLEPEK of Giant Bomb

                Patrick Klepek is the man I point to when I want to show people what a game journalist should be. He always does his homework, checks his sources, and makes sure he knows what the hell he’s talking about before he produces an article, and it shows. He broke one of the biggest stories of the year with the reveal of Microsoft’s Xbox One DRM backpedaling, and he did so in a way that was straightforward, to the point reporting.

                As if that journalistic strength wasn’t enough, the video content he started producing in 2013 was phenomenal, particularly the Giant Bomb Premium feature “Spookin’ With Scoops,” where Patrick plays horror games before a hungry chat audience for our amusement, offering not cheap scares and wacky reactions, but a measured, knowledgeable approach to the genre coming from someone who truly loves and understands it. Into 2014, he’s been knocking it out of the park with his daily Spelunky runs, Dark Souls streams, and always enjoyable morning shows with co-host Alex Navarro.  Patrick really is the exemplar of how to conduct yourself online (hell, he’s given a TED talk about it), and it’s always a joy to read and watch his work.

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ZOE QUINN of Depression Quest, Tidbytes, etc.

                Zoe Quinn’s work on Depression Quest really helped me gain some important perspective on my own life and my own issues, and for that I owe her more than I can express here.  She’s also an incredibly active advocate for getting people interested in making games. Few people really seem as committed to making game development a more common hobby or skill as Zoe is, and her Tidbytes are little hilarious mini lessons in game design each time a new one is released.

                She’s also a hilarious person to follow on Twitter, and is constantly showing the right way to deal with difficulties in life and in game development. Zoe Quinn, simply put, kicks ass, and I wish she didn’t have to deal with so much bullshit in the process.

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ANDREW GROEN of Red Bull eSports, formerly the Penny Arcade Report

                Andrew is, as far as I’m concerned, the undisputed king of long form eSports reporting.  I wish I had some of his PAR articles to link here (they’ve been tragically shoved off the internet), but the short version of what I’d link if I could is that Andrew has a real gift for making eSports articles that focus on all of the interesting aspects of competitive online gaming by adding in a clean, narrative drive to all of the action that contextualizes it in human drama.

                Reading an article by Andrew is a way for me to instantly gain a grip on eSports scenes and players I’m not familiar with. I follow LoL mostly, but through Andrew’s work, I’ve gotten much more a sense of the Starcraft, fighting game, and Dota scenes, and I think he’s one of the few people out there today that’s really nailing eSports reporting in a way that delivers easy accessibility. His expertise goes beyond just the eSports angle as well, with work that shows an impressive ability to make the incomprehensible interesting.

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CARA ELLISON of Rock, Paper, Shotgun and more

                Cara Ellison is one of the most heartfelt, straightforward, and staggeringly funny people writing game-related content out there today. Her work has an almost unparalleled strength of personality to it, and I think I could pick out a Cara Ellison piece at a glance without any trouble.

                She writes about things that matter, she writes about things that are hilarious, and she writes about things that are hugely, painfully human. She’s also not half bad at the whole game writing thing herself, having made a text adventure called Sacrilege, a work of such sheer frankness that it commanded my mindset in a way that few AAA games could endeavor to equal. She’s recently taken to Patreon in a very successful project to perform embedded games journalism, and I have a good feeling she’s a very safe investment.

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RYAN DAVIS of Giant Bomb

                Fuck, Ryan Davis. Ryan was the heart and soul of Giant Bomb, a booming, laughing, larger than life man who made anyone feel instantly at ease. Losing him back in July was one of the biggest sucker punches I felt last year; going out at the top of his game, a master of podcast hosting, quick look hilarity, and generally just being instantly lovable.

                I spent a lot of time mourning Ryan Davis for someone who never met him. I felt like I knew Ryan, having spent time watching so many videos and streams of him and listening to him talk about games, movies, and everything else. All of the guys at Giant Bomb feel like they’re everyone’s friend at this point, and even though I never met Ryan, losing him felt like losing a friend. Rest in peace, duder.

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JESS CONDITT of Joystiq

                Jess Conditt is the queen of the animated GIF.  Her responses to misbegotten Joystiq comments via her Dear Trolls blog are some of the funniest examples of addressing internet belligerence around, and her work on Joystiq is constantly highlighting games, people, and projects that deserve attention.

                On top of that, she writes a heck of a review, and her teardown of Lococycle is about the only great thing to come out of that game’s existence. She’s been popping up in Joystiq’s new weekly streams lately as well, and like all of Joystiq’s crew, she has a great personality for creating video content, as well as for appearing in the Super Joystiq Podcast.

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SUSAN ARENDT of Joystiq

                If doubling down on Joystiq is wrong, I don’t want to be right.  Susan Arendt is what my brain defaults to when I think of an editor in the gaming industry; sharp, snappy writing, a great social media presence, and no nonsense. I don’t always agree with Susan’s opinions on games, but I have a hard time arguing, because she’s got a skilled, incisive way of presenting her opinions and a directness to her writing that makes it hard even for snarky bloggers with law degrees like yours truly to poke holes in her reviews.

                Susan and Ludwig Kietzmann run a hell of a tight ship over at Joystiq as Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief, keeping the site very straightforward and to the point in its content and design while still constantly cultivating a stable of intelligent, interesting, and likable writers. Joystiq rules, and it rules in no small part because of Susan Arendt.

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JOHN WALKER of Rock Paper, Shotgun

                The last true action hero of the PC gaming world, John Walker’s hilarious, unflinching honesty is a voice that’s sorely needed in the gaming industry.  I look forward to reading anything John publishes, regardless of whether I agree, disagree, or even know what the hell he’s talking about.

                A refusal to be bound by anyone’s expectations or standards when it comes to the way he criticizes games, John examines games in a way that’s wholly independent of his peers, and his work is constantly getting me to take a look at games that many others disliked. His piece on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning last year sold me on that game nearly single-handedly, and there are countless other situations where I’ve been made to try things out based on his writing.

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BEN KUCHERA of Polygon, formerly Penny Arcade Report

                The Penny Arcade Report might be gone, but there isn’t a force on this Earth that can stop Ben Kuchera’s pen from moving. Ben defined the video game opinion piece for me, and his articles have a way of asking great questions while simultaneously providing well reasoned, well written answers. Ben’s passionate energy for the hobby and all things it contains is infectious, and it’s partially because of PAR’s influence that this blog exists.

                I got the chance to meet Ben at PAX last year, and despite it being deep into the incredibly busy convention, his enthusiasm and energy were contagious. It takes a lot to be that thrilled to meet some fans after undoubtedly working his ass off all weekend, and it meant a lot to me.

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TRAVIS GAFFORD of onGamers

                The war reporter of the LoL scene since time immemorial, Travis Gafford has made video interviews into an art form. His unique, friendly rapport with each of the different players he speaks with couple with the sheer ridiculous amount of content he produces made him the face of the LoL eSports scene for me in 2013; after every event, I could count on finding a Travis interview with virtually every major player involved in any of the games at the tournament.

                Travis also isn’t afraid to get to the point and ask important questions, and his participation in the creation of onGamers has created a fantastic centralized reporting source for eSports pieces. He doesn’t seem to be letting up in 2014 at all, as he’s been there in the trenches every week of LCS so far. Travis Gafford is an interview machine, and has really helped give the LoL scene some personality.

Top Five Game Mechanics of 2013

            Sometimes we get so caught up in the games themselves at the end of the year that we forget the little things in each one that made them so excellent.  So today, I’m going to highlight five specific mechanics in 2013 games that stood out to me. 

Thresh’s Dark Passage, League of Legends

            Thresh is a champion that, like Lee Sin, seems tailor made to be a giant Big Plays Engine.  The amount of times I saw a game won on the back of an unbelievable Thresh play from Madlife, Xpecial, or Edward in Season 3 is beyond human comprehension.

            The biggest catalyst for these is his W ability, “Dark Passage”, which throws a lantern onto the field that an ally can click to be pulled quickly to Thresh’s location.  This essentially gives all of Thresh’s allies the equivalent of a Lee Sin Safeguard; the lantern can be used to bail people out of tough situations as well as calling in unseen allies suddenly for a fight.

            From there, the dominos continued to fall and Thresh found his way into an overwhelming majority of pro matches, if only on the ban list. He found his way into my heart as well, and Dark Passage was the key to it, even if I had to spend the first two months of his existence constantly screaming for people to click the lantern in chat.  It was the Lightwell all over again.

            This is the kind of mechanic I love in MOBAs. It turns the game completely on its head and opens a huge amount of possibilities not just for Thresh himself, but for everyone on his team. It’s a great play-making enabler, synergizes well with the rest of Thresh’s kit, and feels great to use.

Coaching Mode, Dota 2

            While we’re on the subject of MOBAs, I want to highlight the best innovation for getting friends into the genre that I’ve ever seen.  Dota 2’s Coaching system is a brilliant way to let your friends watch and guide you through a game without the pressure of letting them down if you make mistakes.

            MOBAs are an inherently conflict-brewing genre. One player doing poorly weighs on all the others.  Playing with friends to learn the game often means screwing things up for them until you’re good enough to hold your own, and it was a huge barrier to entry to Dota 2 for many of my friends and myself.

            With Coaching, you can a friend’s undivided attention in a way that won’t end the friendship in the process.  Valve also went beyond that call by incorporating a huge amount of interface tools into the experience, giving the coach the ability to indicate all kinds of things to the player and see exactly what’s going on with the student’s cursor. The coach has full access to every aspect of the player’s experience and can guide them accordingly, which makes an enormous difference in such a demanding game and genre.

The Daily Challenge, Spelunky

            How do you manage to make something social out of a solitary game about delving into procedurally generated caverns with one life to live and a host of dangers to end it? How do you add permanence to something inherently mercurial, letting people have an anchor to latch onto in their social endeavors with the game?

            Spelunky’s answer is the Daily Challenge, a single randomly generated map that’s given to every single one of the game’s Steam or PSN players (thought different on each platform) that each player has only one shot at. The objective: get more money than everyone else you know, and while you’re at it, try to die later than they did, too. 

            On its own right, purely through the leaderboard integration of it all, it’s a fascinating and engaging social competition, with each player sharing stories of where they inevitably died and what it was that killed them. However, many people have taken it a step further, recording their runs or streaming them.

            It’s unreal how much fun it is to watch other people tackle a challenge that you did, each day presenting a new set of failures, successes, judgment calls and screw ups to watch. Spelunky was already a phenomenal game on the 360 last year, but the Daily Challenge has turned it into a community phenomenon.

Controlling Clones, The Swapper and Super Mario 3D World

            This mechanic gave me a ton of moments of Gestalt where I had the sudden realization of what it meant that I was controlling multiple equally significant people simultaneously. It was like one of those optical illusions that are two pictures at once; am I controlling the left Mario, or the right one?  I’m controlling both, of course, but my brain refused to process that. I like it when games make my eyes go crossed, and both of these titles that utilized this mechanic really put my head through its paces.

            The Swapper especially challenged the way that I looked at my identity as a player character within games by using this mechanic.  I could never look at things on a macro level of controlling everyone; I always had to focus my eyes on a single character, accept him as the “main” guy and then treat the others as henchmen.  When I needed to focus on another one, he became the “real” main character and all the others were graveyard stuffers. It was bizarre, as it’s an incredibly unrealistic way of looking at it, given that all of them are the main character, but it’s the only way my head could wrap around it.

            When it came to having to do it on the fly in action sequences in Super Mario 3D World, I was hopeless. My fleet of Marios was often a liability more than a help, and I sent many innocent Marios to their deaths in service of Mario Prime. Despite my incompetence, though, the mechanic was just as compelling, and always felt like it was making me work on my brain muscles a little.

Two Brothers, Two Halves, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

            This one’s gotten a hysterical amount of (well deserved) praise as a storytelling mechanic, so I’ll refrain from echoing what I’ve already said before on this blog about the genius of it as an evolution of the medium. But in a similar vein to the above mechanic of duplicate player characters, the need to do multiple different things at once between two characters as only a single player is really made me think about the controller differently.

            On top of that, the subtle ways in which the brothers interacted with things differently characterized the two halves in the controller in a unique way, and it made puzzle solving not just a matter of figuring things out, but also of getting your head screwed on properly enough to use the correct side of the controller at the correct time.

            Thankfully, the times that required me to actually use both sides to do something time sensitive were few and far between, and well executed when they came about. There was a lot of potential for frustration with this mechanic, but Starbreeze implemented it well and managed to keep it fresh for just the right amount of time.

Five Things I Learned From Games in 2013

            It’s a new year and I’m back in the saddle here again now that my holiday travel is all over and done with! I’ll be kicking off the new year in belated fashion this week with five lists of five things about 2013, one each day. After that, it’s back to somewhat regularly scheduled programming, although I may make some changes to the structure around here.  It’s my blog, I can hideously ruin everything if I want to, dammit!

 

FIVE THINGS I LEARNED FROM GAMES IN 2013

 

1. I’VE STILL GOT A COMPETITIVE STREAK IN ME

            Before 2013, I’d pretty much written off the idea that I’d ever get heavily invested in a competitive online game ever again. I played a fair amount of Starcraft, Warcraft III, and Counter-strike back in the day, but I hadn’t really gotten into something super competitive since those games fell out of favor and I didn’t really feel compelled to change that.

            Ten months later, I was furiously spamming ranked League of Legends games in a desperate attempt to achieve a certain rank before the end of a competitive season.

            What the hell happened?

            Peer pressure, for starters. I got into League of Legends because everyone got into League of Legends, and when you’re in a team game with competitive friends, the drive to improve yourself becomes an almost physical force. It’s remarkable how much of a motivating factor the need to meet the expectations of others is, and a MOBA especially applies hefty consequences for failure.

            I’d missed that drive for improvement. Single player games can lob extreme difficulty at you and demand adaptation in order to overcome challenges, but there’s a different kind of personal satisfaction that peer competition creates. I need to get better because getting better is its own reward; the leveling up takes place mentally.

By the end of the year, I was heavily into Hearthstone and am now falling back into old habits with CS:GO, and I’m eyeing Starcraft II suspiciously as is approaches me menacingly. Here’s to another year of getting mad at myself and converting that into motivation.

2. LOSING IS FUN

            This is a time honored mantra of the Dwarf Fortress community, but it applies to a lot of things I played in 2013. The roguelike and all its various derivative genres absolutely dominated this year, and it’s in large part because death can be such a powerful educational tool in a game.

            When I play Spelunky, almost every single death is a cautionary tale of What Not To Do the next time you embark into the grand dungeon. Rogue Legacy was a constant exercise in spinning failure into success by using one life to build on the next. Eldritch, Tower of Guns, FTL, all of these experiences are brilliant because your anger at losing is surprassed by your feeling that next time you can do better because of what you learned.

            The crowning achievement here is Dark Souls, which I looked at earlier in the year in review form more closely. Dark Souls is a game about embracing failure and death as being as much of a mechanic as that which enables you to succeed. The game is at its best when you’re applying lessons learned in failures and turning those lessons into successes. Conversely, it’s at its worst in fights where death doesn’t really give you a sense of education or mental progress (see: Bed of Chaos.)

            Like it or not, the rapidly evolving landscape of procedurally generated high difficulty experiences is here to stay, and I couldn’t be happier.

3. COROLLARY: SUCKING IS FUN

            Alternate title here: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Knowing Fuckall About Dota 2Something important I learned in 2013 as a result of playing so much of the MOBA genre is that I really, really like learning new game mechanics through practice. I don’t really like reading about what Dark Seer can do, but when I jumped in a game as him or any other Dota hero and felt just how different he was, it was exciting. It’s exciting every time: when I learn a new hero, buy a new item, wipe on a fight in an MMO, screw up a mechanic in a card game, any of it.

            So the natural result of this, then, is that I get a lot of enjoyment out of playing games where I don’t know very much, which of course means that I get a lot of enjoyment out of being a crippling, miserable liability in those games to all of those unfortunate enough to be on my team. I love not knowing. It’s why I love MOBAs, where there are 100+ utterly different heroes to learn and play.

             That moment of “WOW” when I’m killed in a way I’ve never seen before is great, and 2013 helped me realize that failure isn’t always a bad thing, and it can be fun to not be great at something, because it means you have so many triumphant teachable moments to come. A nice bonus is having patient friends willing to be the teacher.

4. I’M NOT COMPLETELY EMOTIONALLY DEAD INSIDE

            Not even law school could completely blast the humanity out of me, and this year had a slew of game experiences designed to go for the emotional jugular. The chief culprit here was Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. I knew where things were going, I had a good feeling how we were going to get there, but I still got totally punched in the gut at the end and it shocked me.

            Then I almost immediately thereafter played The Stanley Parable and laughed like I’ve never laughed at a game, and it was all the result of aspects of the medium that I’d become so attuned to. You hear a lot about how The Stanley Parable plays so heavily off of genre tropes and is a send up of game design in general, but the really great thing about it is not that it riffs off of game design, but that it riffs off of game players.

The game’s joke isn’t that games are designed in such a way as to contain humorous tropes; it’s about how the player reacts to them. I was laughing at so much of the narrator’s condescension not because I’d seen it in games before, but because I was laughing at myself. I’m the doofus who clicks a door a certain number of times for an achievement, or tries to climb out a window, or goes and hides in the broom closet to see what happens.

I’m the punchline of The Stanley Parable. I’m the nexus through which the story of Brothers runs. I’m the one who drives all of the investigation in Gome Home, That’s what made them work so damn well, and that’s what reassured me that games still have ways to pull a genuine, new, unique emotional reaction out of me.

5. WATCHING GAMES CAN BE AS MUCH FUN AS PLAYING THEM

            This really was of the year of the stream, wasn’t it? I watched an unholy crapton of streams of various kinds, and I got hardcore into the eSports scene for LoL, as well as starting to dabble in various others. It was a big year for learning to be a spectator, and when the console launches came, I was able to feel like I was a part of them even though I wasn’t getting one.

            The real lesson here was that there is an unbelievable number of funny, entertaining, talented people out there producing games content in video form, and that eSports is a rapidly growing enterprise that I’m excited to be on board for. There’s a huge amount of enjoyment to be gained from seeing games played at the highest level, and I’ve been introduced to a large amount of games from watching people playing them live.

            This year is looking to be even better on that front, with my beloved Loading Ready Run starting near-daily streams every week, more streaming content coming from the ever-lovable folks at Giant Bomb and Joystiq, and the imminent return of the LoL League Championship Series to accompany my normal OGN viewing. It’s going to be a hell of a ride, both to watch and to play.

            

MONDAY (THURSDAY) MORNING MATCH ROUND UP: STUFF I WATCHED

So it turns out I’m pretty bad at resisting the urge to write about this stuff.  MOVING RIGHT ALONG:

ALLIANCE vs. DIGNITAS

GAME 1: ALLIANCE

            This was hard to watch. Dignitas couldn’t have asked for a better team composition, with Qtpie getting Sivir, Shyvana and Olaf together, and Scarra on one of his signature champions mid with Gragas. Alliance let all of these picks go through and then proceeded to totally smear every single one of them all over the map.

            Crumbzz got completely outclassed in jungle presence, Scarra gave up every single one of his blue buffs to Froggen, and the security of Zilean’s ultimate meant that the Olaf/Shyvana blitz never really came to fruition against a priority target the way it needed to.  Alliance completely controlled this game from the outset, and by the end of it, Wickd was able to virtually solo the entire Dignitas lineup inside their own base.  Just a total mismatch. Kiwikid definitely needs to work on his synergy with QT and every member of Dignitas needs to step up their game if they hope to be able to compete outside of NA.

GAME 2: ALLIANCE

            Still a decisive win, but not nearly as one sided as the previous game’s was. Getting rid of Zilean in the ban phase meant that there was at least a bit of a stopgap in the insane jungle bullrushing from Shook, and Kiwi definitely managed to get more mileage out of Karma this time around. Karma and Shyvana is a very potent combination if it gets going, as Shyvana synergizes really really well with anyone that can give her a jumpstart in movespeed (Orianna, Zilean, Karma, etc.) 

            Alliance was still definitely in control here, though. Wickd still manages to make the Malphite pick work, and his build managed to get around Shyvana’s defenses thanks to the Sheen procs on his Triforce doing physical damage instead of magic.  Wickd likes tanky champions that let him dictate when fights start, and so Malphite still fits the bill perfectly.

            Bot lane was pretty evenly matched this time, and Crumbzz was able to influence the lanes far, far more than he ever did in game 1.  The only obvious folding here was again in mid, where Froggen more or less took Scarra to school in Gragas 101 and showed why even the nerfed Gragas is a frighteningly versatile pick.

Team Solomid vs. Lemondogs (nominally)

            This match was a pretty good show of the flaws in the current way the LCS is structured. This was envisioned as a #2 NA vs. #2 EU throwdown, but given the fact that the Lemondogs roster has undergone massive changes, this turned out way more one sided than it should have been.

GAME 1: TSM

            And that’s why you don’t give Bjergsen LeBlanc if you’re not really sure of your ability to beat him in lane. Bjergsen just completely owned the mid lane here, getting first blood extremely early in a straight up 1v1 assassination, and it enabled TheOddOne to command the other two lanes at will.  I was really impressed by the improvement in TSM rotations in this game; Bjergsen gets the kill mid lane, and INSTANTLY thereafter, a tower is being pushed top. TSM cleanly moved from kills to objectives, and it really showcased improvements in their communication since Worlds.

            Bjergsen is a natural fit for this team and it shows. He has a similar champion pool to Reginald and similar aggression, but he’s more skilled than Regi and his champion pool goes a bit deeper. On top of that, I have a feeling he’s easier to work with than Regi and his playcalling skills are probably more honed as a mid laner after his time in the EU LCS last split, a region dominated by talented mids.

            TheOddOne really shined in this game as well, showcasing improved mechanical skill and a great sense of map awareness. Oddone’s Elise play showcased a new level of mechanical prowess that served to complement Bjergsen’s aggression; Oddone missed almost no Cocoons and was able to pull off some great escapes with timely use of his abilities.

            In general, a very one sided game, though not as much of a stom as Alliance vs. Dig’s game 1 was. TSM showed why they’re such a consistently great performer in LAN events, and the inclusion of Bjergsen seems to have done wonders for the team’s communication.

GAME 2: TSM

            A closer game, but ultimately LD’s awful Sion pick came back to bite them and TSM hugely outscaled them into late game. I really don’t think there is any scenario in which Sion is a viable option; he has to work too hard for results that can be achieved much more easily by other champions, and his scaling is total garbage. 

            The Vi build here was also just pure soloqueue. Got fed? Better build a bunch of expensive damage so I can carry! Without a tanky build, Vi just got blown up whenever she tried to initiate into the late game, like every glass cannon bruiser will at a professional level. This game really was just a matter of very poor decision making on LD’s part; they had the skill to hold their own against TSM, but their lack of experience and bizarre choices in terms of team comp and item builds really hamstrung them in the long run.

RELEGATION

 

Ninjas in Pajamas vs. Kiedyś Miałem Team: KTM 3-0 NiP

            This sure was a shock, wasn’t it? I’m not sure what the hell the team that showed up was, but it sure wasn’t NiP. Even with a fresh roster composed of a bunch of EU’s most talented players, NiP just totally lacked any kind of cohesive strategy or confidence at all.

            I’m not even going to go into the individual games here because NiP’s failure was so consistent on a strategic level.  They completely failed to adapt their team comps to any of the strategies that KTM showed, and while KTM were inferior mechanical players, they simply starved the games out to the late game point and then won on better teamwork and team compositions.

            As much as I love hyrqbot, his Amumu pick in game 2 after it failed so much in game 1 showed that NiP’s ability to change tactics was just nonexistent.  On top of that, the stress of the relegation process really showed; NiP had everything to lose, KTM had everything to gain, and NiP played the entire set like they were scared.

            In the end, their lack of confidence and strategic flexibility was their downfall, and they weren’t even able to take a single game off of the up and comers. The irony of this all isn’t lost on me; NiP’s roster is composed of teams who all left organizations that were guaranteed entry in the LCS next split in favor of what they undoubtedly assumed would be an easy requalification.  Oops. We’ll see if that same sort of punt pays off for the Evil Geniuses in the NA promotion tournament.

 

Remedial Dungeoneering: Molten Core

            In addition to putting Monday Morning Mid-Laner on hiatus for the time being, I’ve decided to take a break from the Feeding Log and ranked LoL in general until Season 4 gets a little more settled in and I have some time to sit down and really figure out what the hell I’m doing.  In the meantime, I’m going to focus on learning Dota 2 behind the scenes and will hopefully be able to deliver some content on that in the coming weeks. 

            For now, though, I’ve been playing a lot of WoW and looking for a way to write about what I’ve been up to in Azeroth, and the idea came to me to do a temporary column about my favorite thing to do in MMOs: shameless tourism! In this case, it’s the old raids and dungeons that are getting my attention, and so for the next stretch of time I’ll be writing articles here where I go into some of the lore, gameplay history, and current impressions of the places based on my own experience and research.

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Uh, I’ll just show myself out.

            Given that I’m doing this in order, then, the first and most obvious destination is the granddaddy of all traditional raids, the long storied Molten Core (40).

            Molten Core’s lore is rather simple. Ragnaros is the Firelord, and this is where his slaves essentially call him into the normal world from his home plane. Majordomo Executus is his chief lieutenant, and is required to call Ragnaros out in order to beat him up and take his lunch money. The players invade Molten Core, bully Executus into summoning Ragnaros, and then give Ragnaros a black eye, forcing him to retreat back into the Firelands.

            At the time, this dungeon represented the pinnacle of PvE in World of Warcraft. Featuring general mob design that required an enormous amount of stacking of a particular stat (fire resist), a 40-player requirement, incredibly powerful loot and bosses that required a heavy degree of coordination, Molten Core was everything that a high end raiding guild wanted out of an endgame dungeon.

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Bad move, Executus.

            The loot in particular remains somewhat legendary and difficult to obtain to this day. Chief among the items to be gotten by running Molten Core were the two legendary weapons Sulfuras and Thunderfury, ridiculous and garish looking items that will provide a player with a degree of nerd cred to this day if obtained and transmogrified onto the appearance of current level weapons. The quests involved in obtaining Thunderfury in particular remain very onerous and time-consuming, and at the time, having one of these weapons may have been the greatest accomplishment in swag acquisition in the game.

            Mechanically, there’s a fair amount here that’s novel, if not a little blunt. Stacking fire resist has a kind of nostalgia to it in and of itself, as there are no fights in current content that require players to amass a huge amount of a particular stat. That kind of gameplay concept is as much a forgotten relic as this dungeon itself. Some elements of the trash design remain in raids to this day; mechanics like the Core Hounds’ revivals requiring players to really pay attention during certain trash fights are echoed in modern raids like Throne of Thunder. On top of that, the requirement of leaving Executus alive during his fight in order to keep him around to summon Ragnaros is a unique mechanic that hasn’t really cropped up in much content since this.  From a design perspective, Molten Core was the WoW design team’s magnum opus at the time, a creation of the sum of all their PvE sadism and cunning.

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Pictured: Pretty much everything you’ll see in Molten Core.

            If only the look  and feel of it were a little more interesting. Molten Core may as well be a jumbo-sized carbon copy of Ragefire Chasm in appearance, featuring nothing but brown caves and lava. Given that this dungeon is essentially the core of a volcano this kind of aesthetic makes sense, but as the pinnacle of PvE content, it was a bit disappointing to engage in a raid that was far less artistically interesting than many of the 5-player dungeons that preceded it. The Core Hounds at least are a very iconic looking enemy, and Ragnaros himself is still a fantastic model, but their surroundings simply don’t deserve them. For the first truly epic encounter of the game, they could have done a bit better than “fire cave.”

            Presently, there are still a few decent reasons to run Molten Core. Like all old raids, there’s an element of catharsis to running in and obliterating things that used to take hours and dozens of players to clear, and it’s pretty funny to go swimming in the lava, as its damage was a flat amount and doesn’t scale to modern health amounts. There are also three mini-pets that can drop from various bosses, added in patch 5.1 as part of the “Raiding With Leashes” achievement. The addition of transmogrification to the game has also made it useful to come here to accumulate pieces of Tier 1 gear for a visual set, and of course, there’s always the allure of assembling the components to the great Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker.

            Molten Core might not look like much, but it’s still the pinnacle of original raid content, and keeps a special place in many long-term players’ hearts. It can be found at the bottom of Blackrock Mountain, and is worth checking out for anyone above level 70 or so who wants to take a stroll through history.