12 May 2010

Today is May 12th

You know, in the spring?

01 April 2010

Dominion Review

Another set that Adam and I enjoyed:


Haven
Smuggler
Workshop
Throne Room
Gardens
Moneylender
Minion
Library
Upgrade
Witch

I didn't track the scores, but I won the first two games and tied the third, but Adam won because he had taken fewer turns!  We enjoyed this set because there were several different ways to achieve victory.  The fastest game was when we both took an early Smuggler and smuggled each other's Gold purchases over and over.

Never underestimate Haven or Gardens!

31 March 2010

StarCraft 2 Replays

Two games for you today.  Both are ZvZ match-ups with valuable lessons to learn.  I used to have a lot of trouble with ZvZ until I learned how to progress past Roach-fests.  The answer, as I've discovered it, is committing to air.  Pulling this off without alerting the opponent is key.  When you show up to the next fight, or his base, with 6+ mutalisks, you've probably gained the momentum -- exactly what a Zerg player needs.

Control the pace of the game so that you can tech to tier 3 while he's scrambling to assemble hydras.  While getting Hive and Greater Spire, pump out 2-4 Corrupters and harass Overlords.  When you can, upgrade them to Brood Lords and mop up!

http://www.sc2rc.com/index.php/replay/show/569

This next game is a little different.  My opponent was first to air, but I was anticipating it and had hydras ready to go.  He completely backs off from going air and lets me take over the skies with Corrupters.

http://www.sc2rc.com/index.php/replay/show/574

Dominion Review

Played three games of Dominion with Adam today.  Here is a brief summary.

Game 1

Village
Feast
Island
Militia
Upgrade
Ghost Ship
Council Room
Library
Adventurer
Nobles

Ryan - 53
Adam - 38

Halfway into this game, Adam and I both commented on how much we liked the set.  It was chosen at random, but we liked having Militia in a game with no defensive cards to limit the crazy Village, Nobles, Council Room combinations.  Adam was particularly fond of giving me bonus cards with Council Room, only to then play a Militia to make me discard down to 3.  We both loved the role of Island to let us remove Estates and Coppers early on.


Game 2
Village
Feast
Island
Militia
Upgrade
Ghost Ship
Council Room
Library
Adventurer
Nobles

Ryan - 48
Adam - 42

We elected to play the same set again.  This time I played an Upgrade heavy deck in order to shoot to Gold, Nobles, trash Coppers, and upgrade Estates.  While functional, clearly it wasn't as great a strategy as the first game.

Game 3
Village
Workshop
Remodel
Militia
Throne Room
Bureaucrat
Smithy
Moneylender
Mine
Library


Ryan - 35
Adam - 30

"Throne Rooms!!!" we both cheered, as the new random set appeared.  There was much Throne Room-ing.   We each had a hand of nothing but Throne Rooms and treasure cards at one point.  Fortunately for me, I caught on to Throne Room + Remodel before Adam did, allowing me to eek by and take the last Province before he did.  For the record, Throne Room + Mine to take a Copper straight to Gold in a single turn is amazingly valuable. 

StarCraft 2

I am loving the StarCraft 2 beta!!!  This third and most recent time that I've had to place into a ladder division, I made it into the Platinum ladder.  There currently isn't anything better than Platinum.  That means I'm awesome at an unfinished game. =/

I'm pleased with the overall balance of units.  With proper scouting and foresight, any race can prepare and counter any attack.  This game feels more hard-counter driven than some RTS games, especially StarCraft 1.  I don't know if that means the game has been harder to balance.  Because I play Zerg, I do feel like there are more limited starting options because of the Roach unit becoming such a staple.  

The interface is a dream.  I can do things I only complained about for ten years in StarCraft.  Mixed building/unit control groups, tab-able sub-groups, visible attack queue-ing.... oh how much easier it is to control the game!

I'm going to start posting replays of interesting games here on the blog.  I'll be using sc2rc.com to host them.  Feel free to view them and post your thoughts here or on the sc2rc.com page.

30 March 2010

PAX East

Overall, the first PAX East convention was awesome, but somewhat of a mixed bag.  I won't write about the negatives too much, so let me get them out of the way.

Downers
Each room of the Hynes Convention Center was undersized for its purpose.  The main event room only held about 5,000 out of the ~45,000 present each day.  The opening ceremonies (Wil Wheaton keynote + first Mike and Jerry Q&A) filled up and we still waited over an hour in line to get turned away at the door.  Panel rooms were so small that attendance typically required 45-60 minutes of queue-ing.  Tabletop gaming was split into eight rooms across two floors!

Coordination needs improvement.  The enforcers need team leaders with walkie-talkies.  The halls needed more signage about where you are going and what's nearby.  Panels needed better organization, like the track system Dragon*Con uses.

The con should be open a full three days.  Doors did not open until 2pm on Friday and things wrapped up around 6pm on Sunday.  I would like to see doors open at 10am on Friday.  There just wasn't enough time to do everything.  Heck, I didn't fully explore the Expo Hall or even SEE the console and computer game rooms.  I elected to skip panels altogether in lieu of better time management.  I only briefly saw the Rock Band room, but would have liked to play a song or two with friends.

OK, enough dragging PAX East down.  They are moving to a bigger convention center next year and will have all the feedback they need from this year.

Gaming
We brought an entire suitcase of games to PAX East.  Not kidding.  3x Dominion games, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Race for the Galaxy + expansion, Hoopla, We Didn't Playtest This + Either, Battlestar Galactica, Mix-Up, and some Magic: The Gathering decks.

Mostly, we played Dominion, but there was also a game of BSG and some rounds of Hoopla and RftG.

Josh and I entered the Puerto Rico tournament.  To prove how much we've played the game, we took second and third, respectively.  About 25 players signed up, half were scrubs, and two significant players didn't make it to the final game of four.  Josh and I both played Factory games in our first two matches to great success.  In the final game, I took an early lead as a Corn Baron but lost momentum towards the end.  The guy who took first place played a similar Indigo Baron strategy, but when pressured by coffee and tobacco ship blocking, responded with a Wharf where I responded with Harbor and crop diversification.  In retrospect, I should have gone Wharf over Harbor.  No regrets, though!  We had a blast and I even got my medal signed by Wil Wheaton!

We befriended Chris from Asmadi Games and he played some games with us Saturday night and Sunday.  Look forward to meeting up with him again at Dragon*Con this fall.

The classic console game room was a little eye-watering.  They had several stations setup with functional consoles from Atari to Dreamcast.  A vast library of games could be checked out for all the systems.  So cool to see folks playing classics like Armored Core, Mario Kart SNES, Battletoads, Goldeneye, and so much more.

Concerts
Oh my God, the concerts.  First off, I was sure I wasn't getting into either night of concerts based on the size of the event room.  However, I got insanely lucky and was able to walk into the room on both nights, just in time to see the acts I wanted to play.  Both nights, technical difficulty and other delays turned into brilliant timing for me.

On Friday, I saw The Protomen and Anamanaguchi.  I had heard The Protomen's self-titled album once or twice and figured they were worth checking out.  Holy hell, they were.  I was completely blown away by The Protomen's showmanship.  Make-up, costumes, atmosphere, choreography... total mind blowage.  I've never seen so much fist-pumping in my life.  Definitely check out their work and see their show if you like their style.

Anamanaguchi was fun to see live, but I think the sound levels were off.  My favorite part of their act is the chip tune music, but on stage their guitars were way overpowering.  The front man was very cheerful and it was easy to tell he was as happy to be there as we were.  They played some new tunes and it's clear they have a bright future.  Absolutely check out their cheery chip tune rock if you haven't yet.

On Saturday, I showed up just in time to see Paul and Storm hit the stage with Wil Wheaton for this magical sketch- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_IRwTtkZEI  I had never seen Paul and Storm or Jonathan Coulton live before.  It was definitely a treat.  Paul and Storm are superb musical comedians who write catchy folk music.  Their ability to engage the audience was inspiring and entertaining.  I've been listening to JoCo songs for years now, but seeing him live was also a treat.  I didn't get anything super special outside live performance of his work.  OK, OK, the Distract-a-tron was cool.

Wil Wheaton
As most of you probably know, I'm a big fan of Wil Wheaton.  I've been reading his blog for years and love him to death.  I won't call him the Jesus Christ of Gaming, but he is absolutely the King of Gamers.  Even though I missed the keynote, I did get to see him every day of PAX.  He walked right in front of us in line for the keynote on Friday.  He came through the Sheraton lobby as we were playing Battlestar Galactica and talked to us for a bit about the game.  Then on Sunday, I waited in line to see him and get my Puerto Rico medal signed.  Lisa had a slightly different experience with him...


Like I said before, we all had a great time, the con was a blast, we will certainly be going to future PAXs, but this new one has some kinks to work out, which I have full faith in Penny Arcade to resolve.

02 February 2010

Guitar Hero chief exec boo'd off stage

I was originally going to tweet this with a short comment, but it deserves more than 140 characters.  First off, skim the LA Times article to catch up.

I'm in a tricky position to discuss the state of the Guitar Hero franchise.  I haven't purchased a GH product since GH3/360 in 2007.  That's a long time and there have been almost a dozen releases since then.  Being such a proponent of music games, why haven't I purchased any more of the Hero games?  Because I'm a Harmonix fanboy.

To me, Harmonix is the reason America was swept up in music game frenzy, dating all the way back to 2005's original Guitar Hero game.  These guys just get music and what it means to enjoy it as a game.  When they left Activision to pursue Rock Band with EA, my heart and wallet went with them.  Activision replaced them with Neversoft, a brilliant developer, but one or both teams lost sight of the Harmonix mantra.

Oversimplifying, Activision makes music games for people who like video games.  Harmonix makes music games for people who like music.  There is absolutely market space for both to co-exist.

Fast forward to 2009.  We're in a damn recession and newcomers to the music genre are faced with spending $99 to $199 in order to enter the domain.  It really is equivalent to purchasing a new game system.  It should surprise no one, especially the market analysts at Activision, that the music games genre was going to take a hit when people started cutting back their budgets.  That's not even taking into account the saturation of the genre.

There's too many different games now!  Once you've established a sale of your platform, be it Guitar Hero or Rock Band, it's time to hunker down and continue the cash with attractive songs in downloadable add-ons.  It's much easier for me as a consumer to justify song additions in $1 to $20 increments than $60.  I also get to pick and choose which songs to add to my collection.  Harmonix and EA grasped this concept better than Activision.

Let's talk about Rosensweig.  It could have just been bad luck with the recession, but how does this guy think they are going to make great sales when they have too many games?  Smash Hits, GH5, Band Hero, Metallica, and Van Halen are all add-ons to an existing platform (World Tour), but have the costs associated with a new game.  Can't you see where this is wrong?  Rosensweig was picked to make the right decisions for the franchise.  Looking back at his year, I can't see any other option than to let him go.  I only wish I knew more about Activision's brass to know if Rosensweig is even the right person to punish, or if he is just a scapegoat.

Oh, but Ryan, what about The Beatles: Rock Band?  Touche, but Harmonix took the add-on pack to a new level with The Beatles.  I don't see any of those other games come with custom instrument replicas, impossible-to-find fan services as bonus materials, and exquisitely faithful reproduction and homage to the source material.  Harmonix did it right and justified their separate product.  Activision's only innovation to the space has been DJ Hero, which is a fine game and not "just another Guitar Hero game."  I don't see how 789K units sold is paltry either, when the total Activision music game sales for Q4 amounted to ~1.4M units.

To sum up, it wasn't as great a year for the music game genre as years past, but with such high precedence to follow, a publisher over-saturating the market/clogging up store shelves/confusing customers, and an economic downturn, what was supposed to happen?  So long, Rosensweig.

27 January 2010

Apple iPad Impressions

You must really like me or respect my opinion in tech if you're reading this in addition to or instead of the dozens of tech/gadget blogs.  So... thanks for reading!

What kind of device was I expecting today?  Based on the plethora of rumors, the device in my head was a 10" touchscreen Macbook.  A device running an OSX kernel with a modified interface modeled after iPhone OS.  The purpose?  A handheld extension of your desktop environment.  Priced around $999.

The iPad is not that device.

Revealed today was a larger iPod Touch.  A device for casual Internet surfing and media consumption.  Great for travel.  Great for e-mail.  Great for entertainment outside of the home environment.  And that's where the device gets into trouble.

Steve Jobs made it painstakingly clear that the iPad fulfills a role between that of the smartphone and the desktop/laptop environment.  It should fulfill it's role better than the efforts of the iPhone to be a computer and the laptop to be mobile.

In my best sarcastic and cynical voice, it sure does a great job of not being a smartphone or a computer.

I am positively struggling to identify the demographic for this new device.  Who is iPad for?  The only person I can think of who it really fits is the consumer without a smartphone AND a laptop.  Owning one or the other distracts from the feature gain.  Particularly the 3G if you own a smartphone; it's completely redundant to pay for 3G service twice.  Why can't I tether my iPhone's 3G connection to an iPad over Bluetooth?  What a great reason to own both devices that Apple is missing out on.

No multitasking.  I.e. no simultaneous chat apps or Pandora while you surf or read.
No USB port for your own keyboard or flash drive access.
No camera for video conferencing.
No wireless extension of your desktop.  Media must be dumped to the device via cable + iTunes.  In this regard, ORB might make a kick-ass way to access your desktop media.
Book pricing looks more expensive than Kindle books.

Negatives aside, why *is* the iPad still an attractive device?  Compared to netbooks and e-readers in the price range, it has a lot of desirable functionality and a package without being too much more expensive.  Less than 2x the price of Kindle, 100x the functionality.  Less than 2x the price of netbooks, better mobility.  There's enough here to be attracted to, for sure.  I just don't know who's buying.

iPad has more interest to me in terms of what it means for the future.  Steve Jobs' vision for the device is not just another platform for the same old media, but a new way to present media.  Newspapers with instant delivery and context-rich data association, like related videos and stories.  Books with links to inspired art, music, poetry, movie adaptations.  Games designed with a multi-touch interface in mind.  The bottom line is that iPad is poised to be the device that ushers in a new paradigm in media interaction.  For that reason alone, I'm happy iPad is here.

I'm definitely up for discussing implications and impressions of the iPad.  Leave a link in the comments to your blog or email me at theryanburke(at)gmail.com.

06 January 2010

Too Many Games

The other day I had to sit down and compose a list of games I've missed that I've wanted to play.  It took me awhile and I don't know when I'm going to get around to them!  In no particular order-

Games to Play
Uncharted 2
Demon's Souls
Wolverine
Resident Evil 5
Prototype
Infamous
Batman Arkham Asylum
Killzone 2
Assassin's Creed 2
Darksiders
Wet
Ghostbusters
Star Wars Force Unleashed
Valkyria Chronicles
Devil Summoner - DS
Eternal Sonata
Bayonetta

Games to Play More
Left 4 Dead 2
Modern Warfare 2
Republic Commando
Mario Kart Wii
Torchlight
Borderlands

All of these games either got stellar reviews from press, from friends, or had demos that had me wanting more.  The games in the second list I presently own and need to play more of.  Has anyone played through any of the titles above and recommend I not even bother?

This topic brings me to a bigger picture complaint of mine.  There's too much media!  I'm currently working one weekend a month and I can't put a dent into playing through all this stuff.  And that list is mostly the big-budget, AAA-titles I've missed.  What about all the great indie stuff that is under my radar?  Without actually playing the games, how do I know which ones I can safely disregard or live without?  As an example, the general reception of Brutal Legend was only OK, but the game was basically designed for me specifically.

The light side of this problem is we are just now pulling out of the heavy winter season of game releases.  After January, only a couple must-have games will come out between then and next winter, giving me time to catch up on all the gaming goodness.

Multi-season television series are a problem of a greater magnitude.  I need a Time-Turner.

04 January 2010

12/31/1999

Keeping up with Katie inspired me to write about what I was doing on the eve of Y2K.

I was at my high school best friend's house watching TV until the ball dropped. We definitely held our breath as the clock struck 12:00, with the notion that the end of modern society was an ever-so-slight possibility. Then, we wondered how much some company had to have paid to have the first advertisement at 12:01 and marveled that it didn't even start with "whew, glad we're still here! now let me sell you something..."

Quickfire Challenge

Happy New Year to all!  I haven't yet written the date with 2010 in it, I know it's gonna be weird when it happens.  I can't seem to fall asleep and I've run out of tweets and RSS feeds to catch up on.  Rather than type out a proper detailed post, all I can bring myself to do is some quick updates.

Christmas was great!  It was wonderful to see my family and get to spend some quality, leisurely time with them and Lisa in Poland.  Interesting country, too.  Couldn't help but wonder why my entire seventeen years of education skipped it over with the exception of being invaded in the war.  Warsaw and Krakow are spectacles in their own ways and I consider myself lucky to have visited them.

My big Christmas present this year is guitar lessons.  I've been meaning to dedicate time to learning an instrument since last Christmas.  Lisa knows me well and understands that we both benefit from the structure of a lesson and I look forward to starting up the rocking soon.

Borderlands is a slightly different approach to both the RPG and FPS genres.  I only recommend playing it if you can secure a few friends for an entire campaign.  I enjoyed the mix of gear hunting, talent progression, and use-based skills with the Halo-esque tactical assault missions.  Good stuff.

Steam's annual holiday sale was again splendid this year as the year prior.  Games added to my collection:  the complete Star Wars collection (mostly secured for Jedi Knight series and KOTOR), Beyond Good & Evil, the Space Quest series, the Max Payne series, Torchlight, Indigo Prophecy, and the guilty pleasure that is Zombie Shooter.  Most of these games I've played through before, but for whatever reason don't currently own.  The sale prices were so good that I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to own them now and through such a robust system as Steam.

I was poking around the archives and thought this post was funny for one reason:  the hardly-mentioned Felicia Day.  It was my first exposure to her work and I had no clue I'd be standing in line to meet her at Dragon*Con in 2009!

The house is still coming along, but not yet worthy of pictures.  I have some cable management to complete, we need a few more items of furniture, and some stuff needs to go on the walls.  Once we accomplish these goals, we will be very happy to show your our home!  I used a power drill to mount something to a wall today.  First time I've ever done that, but I can build a computer from parts in under sixty minutes.  Sigh.