A Meeting With De Vaughn

The warm light from the lamp drew her shadow long and high up onto the amber ceiling.  She reached down to caress the grip on the handgun, and then swept it up as if it were weightless.  A few beeps and whirs followed, as the gun’s mechanisms syncronized with her palmlink implant.  Her vision hazed for a moment, similar to what one would experience after standing too quickly — an infinite fractal checkerboard gradually phased in and out before her eyes.  And just as quickly, her vision returned, now with a reticle that scanned over objects in the room, attempting to determine their hostility, as if the lamp would strike out and attack.  The cobalt blue text scrolled at the bottom left edge of her vision, aprising her of status updates to her internal systems.  One final blur of text, like a binary waterfall, and all that remained was the word “Ready.”

She holstered the weapon.

She knew she would have to set out soon.  The contact would not be kept waiting for long before disappearing back into the faceless void of the sprawl.  He had called himself De Vaughn.  It was a code name.  Like all names these days.  But it was a lead, and she knew she couldn’t afford to pass it up.

She reached up and pressed the stud on her neck.  Her vision was once again clouded, but this time, a map appeared, hovering like a digital overlay over everything her eyes fell upon.  Using the stud as a pointing device, she pressed it twice to double click the folder icon which appeared at the bottom-most edge of her peripheral vision.  She dragged a folder of files onto the map and GPS data spilled into her living room.  With a flick of the stud, she minimized the map and folders.

She drew her jacket over her shoulders and slipped her arms into the sleeves.  It was time to go.  De Vaughn was waiting.

League of Ancients: Why League of Legends is better than Dota 2

What is a MOBA?

As you may or may not know, League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2) are competing games in the same Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre.  They have a bit of history between them.  The original creators of the Dota experience (Guinsoo and Pendragon) went on to found Riot Games and created League of Legends.  IceFrog (as he is known) was left to continue supporting Dota after Guinsoo and Pendragon left, and was eventually hired by Gabe Newell at Valve to create Dota 2.  Because of this, it’s easily arguable that both games offer the original MOBA experience.  And they both certainly hit the mark in terms of what they offer.  Let’s take a brief look at what makes them similar.

The Field

The competitive map features 3 “lanes” down which minions will constantly spawn and fight each other in an attempt to push to the enemy base.  Each lane also has a series of turrets which protect against simple minion pushes.  There are three turrets in each lane, with the home base protected by an additional two.  Both games feature a set of minion controls (one for each lane) that, when destroyed, cause stronger minions to appear in the lane.  In Dota 2, these are called barracks, while in League they are called inhibitors.  Both games end in victory for the team that is able to push all the way to the enemy base and destroy the final structure.  Throughout both maps, each game offers a variety of neutral monsters that will not move or interact with the map until destroyed.  These jungle monsters are worth increased gold and experience in both games.  For all intents and purposes, the maps in both games are identical, and intentionally so.  The reason for this is what they call “emergent gameplay.”  I’ll explain this a little later.  Finally, both maps feature a special elite monster that provides very powerful benefits for the team which is able to kill it during the course of a given match.  For Dota 2, teams will often fight over the rights to kill Roshan, while in League of Legends, Baron Nashor is hotly contested during every match.

The Heroes and the Treasure

Both games offer a large selection of heroes for the players to select and play with.  These champions start at level 1 at the beginning of each match, and progress through the game by earning gold and experience by killing enemy minons or heroes.  The experience is used to learn and upgrade a small selection of unique abilities.  The gold is used to purchase items from a shop to enhance that character and/or his or her skillset.  Both games draw from the traditional “holy trinity” of fantasy role-playing and offer a series of warrior tanks, agile damage dealers, and powerful wizards.  This wide selection of characters to choose from can often lead to interesting team compositions of disablers, carries, pushers and nukers.

The base set of items in both games is fairly similar.  Most heroes will want a set of boots which grant increased movement speed and other enhancements.  Basic potions for mana and health are available.  Wards that grant normal vision and invisibility detection are important for revealing enemy intentions at important objectives (such as Roshan or Nashor).  In both games, basic items enhancing a particular stat will often combine into more powerful items for a recipe cost.  Items are wildly magical in both games, offering a range of fantastical abilities to add to a heroes repertoir.  These amazing items include the ability to teleport short distances, become invulnerable but immobile for a short period of time or even provide a short burst of speed for the entire friendly team.

The Core Experience

There’s no question that both games offer a very similar experience and follow much in line with the game design concepts that gave us Chess or Poker.  Much of the base game is written in stone, beyond which the game can grow laterally.  This is where much of the emergent gameplay takes place.  If you’re not familiar with the idea, let me try to explain it.  Take Chess, for example.  The board, pieces, and the movements they can make have been solidified in the rules since the game’s inception.  Beyond that, it has been up to the players to determine strategies, counter-strategies, and methods for victory.  As it turns out, Chess is very condusive to that kind of player interaction.  There have been great innovators for Chess’s meta-game, and many people have given their lives over to understanding, memorizing, and adapting the great strategies that have evolved, or emerged, from the game’s highly mutable yet stringent set of rules.

And this is where the games begin to move apart from each other.  This is also where my opinion will factor into much of what is to come, for the rest of this article.

The Dota 2 Meta

In Dota 2, there is only one prevailent meta game.  That is, only one real strategy has emerged in competitive play, due to map and hero constraints.  The 4-protect-1 meta is fairly standard at higher levels of play, and rarely sees any deviation.  The idea of this meta is to have a single “carry” on the team, and four other champions dedicated to defending that carry at all costs.  I believe this single meta has evolved out of one of the biggest and most damning features developed for Dota 2 to set it apart from other MOBA games.  You see, in Dota 2, when a hero dies, a portion of their accumulated gold is lost.  This swing-action in the gold streams allows for two things to happen that you would never see in League of Legends.  First, ultimate snowballing (and this is where the 4-protect-1 meta comes from) occurs when a player is able to repeatedly kill and consume a part of the enemy gold stream.  To my knowledge, there are no diminishing returns for neither the gold gained by a player when killing the same player over and over, or from the gold lost when that feeding player dies.  I’ve seen games where a player who has died a few times becomes a 6th gold stream for the enemy team, simply by virtue of the whole team circling around the feeder, looking for a chance to cash-in on that poor player’s forced stagnation.  As he/she is unable to purchase items to become more survivable, so too does the enemy team constantly become more able to defeat him/her.  This is a never-ending cycle.

In competitive play, all efforts on both teams culminate in an attempt to get this snowball started.  Most games are decided very early on, with the victor of those early team-fights establishing a 6th gold stream (a portion of the enemy team’s 5 gold streams).  The other 4 members of the team will do anything they can to keep the 1 alive, even as much as sacrificing themselves to allow the carry to escape.  These suicide missions are very common at the higher levels of Dota 2’s competitive scene.

The LoL Meta

Currently, League of Legends also has a single prevailent meta-game.  But it is important to note that the current meta is the inheritor of the lessons learned by at least a dozen meta-games before it.  In League, the game constantly shifts the balance of power, and new methods for gaining advantages are found, practiced, proven, and adopted.  I could go into great length about the “roaming tank” meta, or the “double ap” meta, or even more recently, as a newer meta just beginning to emerge, the “jungle support” meta, but I won’t.  Currently, League is in the era of the “0 CS support” meta.  Whether that meta transitions to the “jungle support” meta or not remains to be seen.  There are other new metas being developed and practiced by the best teams in the game and every new tournament offers a brief glimpse at these new strategies (the “double teleport promote” meta is among my favorites, so far).

The “0 CS support” meta is a fairly standard setup.  A bruiser will head to solo top lane, an AP (ability power) carry will travel to mid lane, a jungle champion will head to blue or red, and an AD (attack damage) carry along with a support will travel to bottom lane.  The support in bottom has two objectives.  The first is to protect the friendly carry by whatever means possible.  Secondly, the support must attempt to prevent or limit the amount of gold and experience the enemy carry is able to gain in the lane.  And the support must do this all while having no gold income other than the base amount earned over time.  This creates some very interesting play/counter-play for the supports in the bottom lane.

Conclusion

So, in the end, why do I feel League of Legends is a better game?  I would pin the tail on two donkeys here.  And one of them might seem a bit backward to you.  I hate the graphics in Dota 2.

Graphics

The simpler graphics of League of Legends offers several advantages over Dota 2.  The baseline for computer performance is leveled so that more players are able to play competitively, the game itself is crisper and lends itself to easier and faster interpretation of action occuring at any point in the game.  There is no day/night cycle in League of Legends.  The shading is consistent througout any given match, and harkens back to the idea of a Chess board.  The immutable nature of the map itself provides consistent grounds for the game to take place upon.  Where my experience is concerned, the night cycle in Dota 2 causes the beautiful game graphics to become little more than a splotch of gray wherein the heroes, and even the action itself, becomes a blur of shadows and fog.  No such limitations on player perception are found on any League of Legends map.  Surely, the stylized and often cartoony graphics in League of Legends is criticized, but I believe Riot Games has the right idea.  Consider for a moment one of the contributing factors to the success of World of Warcraft.  The simple graphics platform allowed for a much greater audience to contribute meaningfully to the game.

Persistence and Customization

I don’t discredit Valve for even a moment for attempting to monetize certain aspects of their game, but I don’t approve of the way in which they do it.  Randomly (it seems) a player might be given an item at the end of a given match in Dota 2.  This item (for me at least) has been a locked chest 66% of the time.  These chests can only be opened by buying a key for $2.50 on the Dota 2 store.  And even if I were to buy a key, it is a gamble on what the chest itself it contains, as it may contain a number of items, most of which are of common rarity.  And even if I were to get lucky and receive a rare item from one of those chests, I can only customize 25% of a champion with it, as there are four “equipment” customization slots for each hero.

In League of Legends, the skins are certainly more expensive than what is offered by Valve at it’s Dota 2 store, but a) I can customize 100% of a given champion, and b) I know exactly what I’m getting.  There is no gamble.

Additionally, the battle points system offered in Dota 2 is useless.  Utterly and completely useless.  In League of Legends, my online profile gains persistence experience to a level cap, which in turn offers deeper, player-level customizations in terms of runes and masteries.  With three tiers of runes available, and new rune slots unlocked with each summoner level, I am able to grow as a player.  In Dota 2, I just get a nifty progression bar indicating my next guaranteed locked chest.

So, the following is my open letter to Valve, with regards to Dota 2.

“Fuck you, Valve

Are you fucking kidding me, a death penalty in a MOBA game?  What the fuck were you thinking, you stupid shits?  Why the fuck would you punish someone for dying in a game where death is fucking inevitable?  Are you fucking retarded?  Seriously, how goddamn stupid can you be?  Did you honestly think this kind of shit would fucking add to the game’s depth and complexity?  Think again, you herp-a-derp motherfuckers.  Where the fuck did you get your educations at?  Fucking Walmart?  Get with the fucking program.  Riot Games is breaking it’s own records after every tournament because the game is consistent, and the core game is fixed.  What the fuck is so hard about that?  Poke yourselves in the eye with your fucking printer cartridges, you brainless fucking twits.  A fucking death penalty.  Un-fucking-believable.

Fuck you,

sz.”

Neverwinter Gate, Baldur’s Nights and the Mask of the Sword Coast

And thus ends my tour of the BioWare RPG portfolio.

A few weeks ago, I decided to return to Baldur’s Gate and finish what I never had before.  To me, it was always a crime to never have completed what is universally applauded as one of the greatest classics in the genre, of all time.  It was a seething sort of guilt that hung in the back of my mind and nagged me whenever I would happen across nostalgic threads about RPGs on reddit or other forums.  It ate away at me relentlessly until, finally, I found a copy of the game for cheap and set about making things in the universe right again.  Not only that, but it would provide an excellent opportunity for me to research the RPG tradition and observe it as it grew.

Once I was done cringing at the sight of the graphics, I went about my adventure like any completionist would.  Every map uncovered.  Every nook, cranny and crevice explored.  The game was engaging despite the clunky and obtrusive interface, out-dated gaming systems and irritating character sound-bytes.  I was so irritated by Khalid’s whimpering and Jaheira’s incessant nagging that I actually murdered them.  Yes.  I did.  I sent them headlong and gearless into the hands of eager gnolls, and never resurrected them.  I cheered when Khalid got insta-gibbed.  I was relieved to be done with them.  Of course, this wasn’t until about half-way through the game.  By the time I commited this atrocity, my fledgling mage had already amassed a decent array of spells and protections and could weather the storm of a few attacks before unleashing certain doom upon whatever enemies dared cross her path.  But all-in-all, my experience was a good one.  I made my way slowly, carefully, thoroughly to the final encounter with Sarevok and finished the game.  I was redeemed.

And with that, I booted up Baldur’s Gate II.  Immediately, one could see the improvements from it’s predecessor.  The graphics seemed to be more crisp.  The interface was cleaner.  Even the method for delivering story was refined.  The first stride out of the gates and already, this timelessly classic franchise was ahead of the pack.  After breezing through BGI, however, I felt as though I needed to step up the challenge a notch.  So, my elven thief/mage was chaotic evil this time.  And yes, Jaheira was left to rot in her cage.  It’s really too bad Minsc was able to break free.  I would have preferred to leave that hamster loving pervert to die as well.  I went so far as to murder or shun every possible companion in BGII that I was left to utterly solo the entire game.  And it was actually pretty challenging, up until…   Up until I learned Mislead.  Combined with invisibility (on the glamer) and Improved Haste the game became a joke.  I would enter a room cast my combo and proceed to score sneak attacks on hordes of enemies.  The only enemies that really presented a challenge were Liches with True Sight and even they would go down eventually.  The game got pretty boring after that, right up through to the end of Throne of Bhaal.  I think I reloaded at least 100 times in my fight against Draconis at Abazigal’s Lair.  At some point, I just gave up.  I simply couldn’t continue on.  The game could not be solo’d at that point and my companions had all been neglected to the point of being completely useless.

As I look back on Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II, two things in particular stand out as resounding truths about the series and these two truths stand testament to the direction games in this genre eventually took.

1) The story was deeply engaging.  No matter how you look at it, the incentives for the player to continue progressing the story were consistent and almost always rewarded the player meaningfully.  That carrot was too orange, and too delicious to ignore.  Whatever formula they discovered, BioWare had unearthed a gold-mine of intelligent plot design and immersive story telling.  They had to keep that part of it right.

2) The rules systems were unforgiving.  I would even go so far as to flat out accuse the game system of hating the player.  These games were merciless.  These core systems had to change.

And they did.  As my adventure progressed, I loaded up the original Neverwinter Nights and allowed myself to once again be swept up by the lilting voice of Lady Aribeth and to be filled with seething hatred for Desther.  It’s interesting to note here that NWN almost completely eschewed the companion systems from the BG series in favor of allowing the player to adventure confidently alone.  Sure, there were henchmen and hirelings, but they were entirely unnecessary.   The game system was also a lot more forgiving.  There were tough fights, absolutely, especially in the beginning of a multi-class character’s career.  But they were do-able.  Not like the previous games (I’m looking at you, Draconis).  The fight with Morag was almost frustrating, but fun nonetheless.

Neverwinter Nights II was next.  I don’t remember my first time playing through very well, but I’m almost certain I didn’t blaze through it as quickly as I did this time.  Perhaps it was my character choice.  For NWN2 I took a path that had previously been taboo for me.  A cleric.  And it was deliciously fun to be lawfully good for a change.  Although, I tried my absolute hardest to stay Lawful Neutral to stay in keeping with my chosen deity, Kelemvor.  When I look back on my fight with the King of Shadows, it occurs to me that the game had become far more forgiving than BGI or II.  Additionally, I didn’t feel compelled to murder any of my companions (and thank God for a lack of Noober).  Perhaps taking the healer/tank spot in the party allowed for a stronger DPS core with Khelgar, Qara and Neeshka.  Whatever it was, I’m sure the core game systems also had something to do with it.

So, the story telling has remained in tact, and the game systems have become more and more user friendly over time.  It’s just sad that they didn’t know when to stop.  I mean, look at Dragon Age 2.  Too far, guys.  Too far.

 

Thanks for reading,

SZ.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution in review

After about 40 hours of playtime during my first playthrough, I believe I’ve got a good grasp on Deus Ex: Human Revolution and what it has to offer.  It was only a week ago that I was counting the number of “sleeps” left until I could play the game, and squeeled with delight when it finally released on Steam.  My first impressions of the game were good, as the opening music, menus and cut-scenes had me hooked right away.  In fact, not even five minutes into the game and I was already overwhelmed with the amount of detail and loving care the team at Eidos Montreal had put into the game.  If you’re not aware, DE:HR is a game where you play the role of Adam Jensen, the security manager for a company called Sarif Industries in Detroit in the not-so-distant future of 2026.

Graphics:

Throughout the game it is quite apparent that the developers cut no corners with the environments in which the game would be set.  Minute details abound, there is never a shortage of things to simply stop and stare at in wonder.  The world we’re presented with is a dark and gritty cyberpunk setting in which technology has become so integral, so pervasive, that it is omnipresent.  No matter where you turn your eyes, there is some evidence of technological influence.  I can’t say enough times how graphically marvelous this game really is.  The attention to detail in the world is unparalleled in my gaming experience.  The only baseline I can give is Mass Effect 2, and DE:HR makes that game look bland in comparison.  The first time I set foot on the streets of Detroit I was immersed in a living breathing (albeit digital) world.

And all of that is why I felt disappointed with some of the NPC animations.  Their jittery, unfinished animations felt garish against the velveteen backdrop of the world of DE:HR.  It’s almost sad, in a way, because even the NPC character models were consistently showing signs of clipping issues and awful texturing.  Such a dichotomy could not be fully ignored and I feel the game would have been flawless except for this one aspect.  If as much attention had been paid to the NPC characters, especially in their delivery of critical plot information, as had been paid to the world itself, I dare say that I could continue existing in the real world — my immersion in the game would have been complete.  Sadly, that was not the case, and found myself being bounced out of my reverie every time I came to another plot exposition.

There were so many more visual delights in the game that would have gone beneath my notice, if it weren’t for how well they were done.  Just a few examples off the top of my head are: the blood spray patterns when scoring a headshot on an opponent that is near a solid surface; the wisp of wind-swept debris carried along the ground; the bright glow and ashen fade of a cigarette as it is smoked; and so on.  As I said before, there were simply so many beautiful aspects of the game’s graphical presentation that I would wager at least an hour (possibly two) was spent gazing at my monitor, mouth agape.

Sound:

Where to start?  I guess the most outstanding aspect of the sound design in DE:HR was the ambient soundtrack.  The only way I can truly describe it would be to say that it was an “organic masterpiece of trance electronica.”  There was never a moment where the music in the game seemed inappropriate for whatever activity I was doing at the time.  It was ever-present; and yet, at the same time, completely fluid and unnoticable.  Mixed with ambient sound effects such as the backdrop of urban streets or the frantic staccato of a tense fire-fight, the music in the game was, I dare say, perfect.

And that brings me to the foley work.  All of the weapons were well designed, from the resounding blast of the shotgun to the satisfying snap of a taser shot — there weren’t any moments when I questioned the audio impact of the weapons I used.  Mind you, I never even took the opportunity to fire the laser rifle as my first playthrough focused almost entirely on the use of a silenced 10mm.  With that said, however, I’m certain that it would not have disappointed me.

Beyond the guns, grenades and the muffled screams of a guard being rendered unconscious by a chokehold; the panicked shuffle of his sneakers as he seeks a foothold; the subtle swiff of clothing as he gasps his last breath — the rest of the world was as detailed and life-like as it could possibly be.  At one point, I came across a basketball court in Detroit.  A ball on the ground beckoned me to pick it up and toss it into the eager net above…  The tap and pang of the inflated ball on the court was audible reality, as far as my senses were concerned.  I stood there for at least a solid 10 minutes trying to score a basket, but alas, I could not.1 [Edit: During my second playthrough for the “Pacifist” achievement, I scored a basket and unlocked the corresponding achievement.]

As I mentioned before, the only aspect of the graphics that I felt let down by was the lack of detail in the NPCs.  Thankfully, the voice acting done for them helped offset their poor presentation.  No two characters were the same.  Most games these days will “double-up” on a particular voice actor’s roles.  Not so, for DE:HR.  If they did, I didn’t notice.  Altogether, the cast was well played and high-calibre.  I was even happy to hear Susan Boyd Joyce play the mother of Jensen’s love interest.

Gameplay:

For my first playthrough, I focused simply on achieving objectives without any regard for a specific methodology.  Sure, I tried to use stealth and hacking whenever possible, but I was no slouch if it came down to doing some wet-work.  I mentioned earlier that I used the silenced 10mm almost to the point of exclusivity.  Any opportunity I had to line up a headshot on an unsuspecting guard, I took.  And whenever I was unable to kill them with the pistol, I would first use the taser or nerve darts and put them to sleep before executing them with a coup de grace in the safety of cover or a dark corner.  The stealth mechanic could not have been done better.  There are games in the genre which bring decent competition, but all of them seem to fall flat at the feet of DE:HR.  Most notably, Metal Gear: Solid, Splinter Cell, and Theif all paved the ground work for DE:HR.  Their influence is clear.  But Deus Ex has taken those initiatives and remade the stealth/espionage genre in the 21st, to a brave new degree.  Although nothing really groundbreaking or new was done, there are elements of all the best stealth concepts remade here to the fullest effect.  Splinter Cell’s mark & tracking, Metal Gear’s audio-aware guards, social alarm systems, and so on.  In fact, there are even a few aspects of the awareness of the NPCs in the game that suggests that the genre has in-fact been evolved.  Although that is certainly debateable it is still absolutely clear that DE:HR will be a classic among classics.

There are other aspects of gameplay that were just as satisfying.  Gunfighting was well designed, despite the fact that I can hear Yahtzee saying “cover based shooter” already.  The hacking mini-game was a special delight for me.  Way back in the day I played a tabletop role-playing game called “Shadowrun” by Fasa.  I was reminiscent of that game as I hacked the various computers and terminals in DE:HR.  The concepts of nodes, IC (Intrusion Countermeasures, or ice), and program-based attacks against the system were all present.  I’m curious as to whether the “matrix” hacking concepts in Shadowrun were repurposed for Deus Ex.  But I guess I’ll never know.

The exploration or customization options in DE:HR were also outstanding.  To be brief, the world is an open book, only the will to turn the pages is needed.  There are so many side-passages, dark alleys and hidden avenues in the game that I believe there are probably at least 10 different ways to approach each and every single objective.  The best part is that the game constantly awards the player regardless of the path he or she chooses.  I never felt like I was missing out on potential loot or exp by taking alternative paths through a mission.  Regretably, however, so much experience is rewarded throughout the course of the game that I was almost able to get every single upgrade and augmentation available.  The only augs I had left to activate were my social enchancement chip and a few leg and eye upgrades.

Story:

For me, the story of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is probably the hardest to really evaluate.  In the tradition of the Deus Ex franchise, the story is a complex spaghetti maze of major, minor and even red herring plots.  There is only one NPC that I knew I could trust.  I won’t say who, but her role in the game really kind of made her loyalty unquestionable.  But that was it.  I never really felt as though I could trust anyone else.  Everyone had an agenda and no one was willing to do the dirty work.  And that was where Adam Jensen came in.  The quintessential errand boy.  One thing I felt was a nice change from the pace of other RPG games lately, was the total lack of a morality meter.  Other games recently have taken the black and white nature of their scruples to such a fragrant point as to measure them with the Halo vs. Horns Meter of Vicissitude.  It’s all grey-area in DE:HR.  There is no right, wrong, evil, good, or even neutral.  It’s all about perspective and personal agenda.  Sure, some characters will imply that one point of view is evil and that their own is quite benevolent.  What really matters though, is the judgement of the player.

Other:

Which brings me to my final point about Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  As a long-time fan of cyberpunk sci-fi, I’ve been exposed to concepts of transhumanism, religious dogma surrounding evolution, and pervasive technology at the most fundamental societal levels.  This game brings home one of the most important questions of our generation: how can we keep up with the break-neck pace of technological progress?  Whether you have an answer for it or not doesn’t really matter.  The point here, is that it is a real issue.  Population, food production, waste management, and “green” technologies are all serious social concerns in the 21st century, and unless you have your head so far up your own ass that these things have never crossed your mind, this game is sure to grip you by the cajones and shake them a bit.  I consider myself open and welcome to change, but the ending I got in the game disturbed even me.  Take a look at this last screenshot and tell me this: would you welcome a world in which babies were no longer born, but rather, grown?

1: There is actually an achievement called “Baller” for scoring a basket on that court.

League of Legends: IEM Grand Finals

So, I actually ended up taking a day off work and woke up early enough to watch the IEM Grand Final match between Team Solomid (TSM) and Counter-Logic Gaming (CLG).  I have to admit right off the bat that I am a CLG fan.  A friend of mine that I met in-game (thanks Daggrosh)  introduced me to General Wiser‘s youtube channel, and I would like to say I’ve learned quite a bit from watching HotshotGG play (even though I certainly wouldn’t be able to say that I’ve been able to put that learning into practice).

Before the games started, I was worried that CLG would repeat their performance from Dreamhack even though they completely dominated Group B.  I was also afraid that Reginald would end up with yet another reason to be the stout dickweed he’s proven himself to be.  I wish I could find a quote, but I read on the forums that, when asked about the outcome of the IEM tournament, he actually had the gall to say “Anyone can win, except CLG”.  Like what kind of douchebag would say that kind of thing publicly?

Anyway, this is not a blog about Reginald McHomotron.

After the first match, I was disappointed.  TSM came out strong (they always do, I will give them that) and showed why they were able to sweep Group A.  TheRainMan’s Irelia was especially strong and made an amazing initiation on HotshotGG at the dragon late in the game that (I believe) clutched the match for them.  The push that followed would not be repelled.  Chaox’s Kog’maw had blue and was spamming his ulti all day long.

The second match left me in higher spirits, however.  CLG baited TSM into a fight at baron and I believe the match really turned around with HotshotGG’s clutch flash/ult combo with Galio.  As a some-time Galio player myself, it was especially fun to see him in high-ELO action, at his very finest.

During the break between the second and final match, I had a chance to sit on my porcelaine throne and consider what kind of bans I would like to see CLG make.  My reasoning was as follows:  XSpecial with Alistar is just too silly to think about, so he had to get banned.  I also wanted to see Janna get banned, because Reginald was just scary with her in the first match.  And TheOddOne was particularly vicious with Nocturne, so I wanted to see him get banned as well.  But these bans would make Zilean available (which is also something I don’t want to think about, the vulgarity of it causes me to wretch — Reginald is just that good wtih him).  When it finally came time to see the bans/picks, I have to admit, I laughed out loud at HotshotGG’s Eve troll.  I was also relieved to see Nocturne get picked up for SaintVicious, forcing TheOddOne to jungle with Gangplank.

At the start of the match, I was concerned for Salce.  Vlad had no way to whittle down Udyr.  I was also relieved to see Reginald take top with Nidalee vs. HotshotGG’s Cho’Gath.  Sure, Nid is a tough top lane, but Reginald belongs in mid and TheRainMan belongs up top.  The position switch (I honestly believe) is part of what caused TSM’s eventual loss.  It’s clear to anyone that watches that Reginald is the team captain.  From his vantage point in mid, he can organize and rally the team.  Being in top lane, tied up by Cho’Gath’s inexorable push was a detriment to the team’s perforamance in general.

The game went on without first blood for the first 15 minutes, and the first team fight (and subsequent push up mid by TSM) caused my heart to sink in my chest.  Even though the gold and CS was fairly even, the 3-0 score and huge turret advantage put (in my eyes) CLG in a bad place.  But just as quickly, CLG made a great comeback and evened out the score at 4-3 and their own push up the mid-lane.  And that was it.  From that point on, CLG had firm control of the map, lanes and buffs.  As far as I’m concerned, TSM was in a bad place, and it was all but over.  And then the stand-off that caused stopped the hearts of nearly 100,000 fans on the stream.  Bot inhib was down, mid turret and inhib were just taken out and then…  Nothing.  Silence.

Would they give the match to CLG?  Would they remake after a 45-minute nail-biter?  No one knew, and everyone was furious.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  Or rather, not seeing.  CLG, so close to winning the IEM Grand Final, was in position to be stymied by a hiccup in the interwebs.   During those moments I think I started gnawing on my finger flesh, since the nails had already been chewed off.  What was going to happen?  Would CLG be stripped of a clear and undeniable victory?

And then, just as quickly, the stream was live again.  All had been saved and the game was in a similar state (not exactly, but definitely better than the alternative) than it had been when the stream died.  A quick teamfight near baron ensued and a clutch ultimate from Urgot saved the day for CLG.

Well, after all that, I’m happy for CLG and the outcome of the IEM Grand Finals.  A well-deserved and hard-won victory for HotshotGG and his teammates.

Thanks for a great show, to both TSM and the rest of the teams that competed.

-V.

League of Legends: A Lack of Urgency

Lately, I’ve been playing ranked games almost exclusively.  During the course of my experience I’ve learned a few things about the game and what it takes to win.  Even though I believe my Only Strategy still applies to a good percentage of games, I have witnessed a few occasions where a team has recovered from a very serious early deficit.  Those games which last long enough offer both sides a better chance of success, and stronger team compositions and cohesion will win by gold advantage alone; regardless of the number of turrets which still stand.  I’ve even seen games won after a break-out ace in a team-fight at the nexus by a team whose nexus turrets had been destroyed .  The enemy team was incapable of defending their own nexus and still had 10-15 seconds on their respawn timers when the battle was ended.

But this is not a discussion about the Only Strategy.  Although it is somewhat related.

In my time playing in ranked games, I’ve noticed an important shift in my early-game paradigm.  Before now, I had always felt rushed to a certain extent.  The urgency to score kills in my lane and push the turret was a desperate priority for me.  I would often see what I perceived as opportunities to fell an opponent that had retreated under their own turret, only to find myself dead and ultimately feeding those very enemies  which I had assumed were weak and vulnerable.  The same goes for undefended turrets.  I used to see a mobbed turret (one being swarmed by minions) as an excuse to leave myself out in the open without map vision or egress.  I’m dismayed to recount the number of times I was caught in those situations with my proverbial pants around my ankles, scrambling for brush cover as I was set upon by far more enemies than I could possibly handle.

I suppose I’ve matured in some sense with regard to the way I percieve those early game “opportunities”, insofar as I now take them with a seriously tangy grain of salt.  What’s more important is my perception of the early-game as a whole.  Although, in the back of my mind, I always knew that last-hitting and turret defense were priority, I never really took it to heart.  Granted, on some champions (especially Kassadin, who is notoriously difficult to last-hit with for me, espcially if I’m laning against a ranged opponent) I still don’t fully embrace the proper pace I should be playing at.

So what am I trying to say here?  Well, I’ve noticed that the early game has only one real consequence.  Whether the lane is won or lost.  The time that it takes to win that lane is usually pretty fixed depending on the lane opposition.  In normal play, lanes can be won or lost in a matter of minutes — the skill disparity is outrageous sometimes.  In ranked play, on the other hand, a trend I’ve observed is that lanes will stand in contention for at least 10-15 minutes.  It is very, very rare for a turret to fall before then.  Teams tend to work better together when ELO is on the line and well-defended lanes will often quickly move to defend a turret that has been exposed.

And what does that all mean exactly?  It means that lately, I’ve started my laning phase with a little more of a disconnected approach.  Falling into the twin traps of greed and anxiousness is something I’ve started to try to avoid.  Patience is key.  With a steady approach to the early-game, and keeping a strong, determined perspective with patience and a lack of urgency, I’m better equipped to distinguish false or misleading opportunities from the real clutch gameplay that often makes or breaks my ability to sustain throughout the mid- to late-game.  This also often works to my advantage, especially when solo-mid, because my nonchalance often incites impatience and irritation in my foes.  That aggrevation is a method of harassment all in it’s own.  Eliciting careless mistakes due to the very same urgency and greed that I actively avoid has often been an important factor in my lane victories.

Naturally, I still struggle with these issues from time to time.  Early game failures to adhere to the tenets of patience and determination commonly result in a measure of frustration and desperation.  Also pitfalls to avoid, to be sure.

If there’s anything I can pass on from these hard-won lessons, it is this: Bide your time and watch your opponent carefully.  When the time comes that a mistake is made, it is your perogative to capitalize and punish those failures.

Good luck and have fun.  See you in game.

-V.

Pre-review: Risen

Recently, I decided to get back into Risen, and took the path to the bandit camp rather than becoming a mage.  It’s really difficult to say which experience is better when all things are considered.  For the mage path, I remember feeling as though I were really in a school learning to cast spells, make potions and write scrolls.  It truly was an academic experience.  The path of the fighter/rogue, however, has its own ups and downs.  On the positive side, the combat system in Risen is much like one would experience in a game like Age of Conan, wherein all combat is decided by skill and timing.  With that said, however, even while the system requires the player to learn all of the various monster tactics it does tend to get very frustrating as there is never really any indication of determining whether an enemy is too strong.  Because of this, there are several occasions when the game must be reloaded due to having adventured too far into dangerous territory.

One aspect of the game that is universally excellent is the world in which it is set.  Although the entire game story takes place on a single island, the island itself is huge, fully explorable, and seamless.  There are dozens upon dozens of caves, hidden groves and secret passages to explore.  What’s more is the magic system in Risen lends itself to creative interpretation, and sets itself aside from other games in the genre.  Rather than focus on the traditional fireball and icebolts that are all too common, Risen puts emphasis on those magics which bend the laws of physics.  Levitation, polymorph, and telekinesis all become invaluable tools to further the exploration effort.  For example, one can levitate across perilous chasms, or use telekinesis to manipulate a distant lever.

The spelunking in Risen is top-notch.  But so is the role-playing.  The voice acting and script are prime examples of what other games in the genre should strive to achieve.  Humour, sarcasm, perspective, and morality all come into play with the myriad of people one will meet on the journey.

Finally, the game world is simply breathtaking.  I have been set aback on multiple occasions by vistas that stand testament to the wonders and beauty of real life nature.

Risen is a hidden gem.  A must-play for any dungeon-crawler-at-heart.