Monday, October 24, 2011

Skylanders:Spyro's Adventure

Penny Arcade have been doing a pretty good job of plugging the attractiveness of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, and they piqued my interest enough to check it out. After learning more about the game, and with my daughter's 7th birthday coming up, I thought "This is the perfect gift for her!"

R i i i i i i ght. For her. S u u u u r e it is.

Yes, you're right. It would make a better Christmas present for my 11 y/old son.

Riiiii... Okay, okay! Enough! Yes! I wanted it, too.

So what if the boy doesn't know it exists? When he does learn about it, he will want it. This, I know.

Last Sunday the cat woke me up early, as she does most mornings (even on my days off. Stupid cat. Don't you know it's Sunday?) so I got up, retrieved the Times from the doorstep (Hooray for early delivered papers) fed the cat, made myself breakfast, then sat down to read the paper. Which for me means separating the comics and mountain of catalogs from the rest of the sections, reading comics, then browsing the more important of the catalogs, Big 5, Best Buy, Toys R Us, etc.

And I saw that Toys R Us were running one of their "Buy Two, Get a Third Video Game/Accessory Free" deal, with a big "We have Skylander figures!" plug at the bottom of the page.

The Skylanders' Starter Pack retails for $70, which might seem a little expensive except that most new, full-price games sell for $60, so that's only $10 more, and you also don't get just the game in the Skylanders' Starter Pack. Included is a Skylanders Portal, which being somewhat (absolutely) necessary to play the game one could argue it should be included anyway at no additional charge (and I'd agree with you).

You also get three game figures (yes, actual figurines) which are also necessary to play the game. However, Activision could have done the bare minimum and included just one figure in the Starter Pack and still charged $70 for it, so if you factor in that those two figures would normally cost you $8 each now you're getting two "bonus" figures at a 33% discount. And I'm okay with that.

When placed on the Skylanders Portal those figures appear in the game as your playing character, and as each character has different powers they do add value & variety to even a single-player game. Additionally, there are numerous 'bonus' areas in the game which cannot be accessed unless certain characters are present. You can play through to the end of the game and beat The Final Boss using just the 3 characters in the Starter Pack, but you'll have to skip certain areas along the way because you won't be able to access them. Long story short, each figure/character belongs to one of eight different Elemental Groups, and certain areas can only be unlocked by characters from a specific Elemental Group. You don't need a figure from each Elemental Group to beat the game, but if you want to complete it 100% you will.

In addition to being your playing character, the figures serve additional purposes. They come with a memory chip inside them, and everything you achieve in the game for that character is automatically saved to the figure itself. As your character levels up & gets stronger & finds/buys new weapons, etc., those changes get saved to the figure's memory chip. And for the first time that I'm aware of (and I've been around for some time) these figures are cross-platform compatible, meaning you can take your figure to your friend's house, pop it on his Skylander Portal, and even though you've been playing on your Wii and he has a PS3, it doesn't matter; your character will appear in his game. Also by visiting your friend's house with your Skylanders' figures, or vice versa, you can help each other unlock those otherwise inaccessible areas.

Because I recently won the Office Weight Loss competition and picked up $400 for my trouble I had some extra cash burning a hole in my wallet, so with my mind made up I trotted off to Toys R Us and picked up the Skylanders' game. Because they had the Awesome! "Buy 2, get 1 Free" deal I also added two 3-character packs to my cart, saving myself $20 and reducing the price per figure to a shade over $3.

So now the Skylanders' game and nine figures/characters are waiting for a lucky young boy to open them on Christmas day. Except he doesn't know about Skylanders yet.

(And in case you're wondering I took my daughter on a shopping spree at Toys R Us. I am not a bad father.)

This weekend after a family outing we found ourselves at the local Mall, and while the wife went shopping the kids and I wound up at Dave & Busters. After playing several games and "winning" a bunch of tickets we cashed them in and entered the prize room. My daughter picked out one of those plastic echo-micophones but my son decided he wanted to save up his tickets. D&B also have a small selection of video games available at the checkout counter and while waiting for the cashier I was surprised to see they had a copy of Skylanders, for the Wii no less.

It was at the end of their glass cabinet so we could see the back side of the box, and my son's eyes lit up when he saw it. It's a big box, maybe 12"x18" in size, and it's colorful graphics are very eye catching. It is a boy magnet. It was also 15,000 tickets and we have just half that. The cashier took the box out of the cabinet so we (the boy ;) could look at it a little more closely. She also said she thought it looked pretty cool (or maybe she was just being a good salespeon), and said how much fun we would have playing the D&B games together and saving our tickets up.

To his credit the boy was financially savvy enough to recognize that buying the game outright was a better deal than paying $20 every few weeks to "win" 1,000 tickets. He was also sharp enough to notice that while the game box contained 3 figures, the pictures on the box showed a whole lot more.

We stopped at Gamestop on the way out of the Mall and after viewing the small display they have there (it has nothing on the wall of figures and adventure packs at Toys R Us) the hook was well & truly set. The boy knew Skylanders existed, and he wanted them. Like I knew he would.

Later I told Liz that the boy had seen his Christmas present, he just didn't know it. Then again he's pretty smart. Maybe he does ;)

He'll also possibly talk Skylanders up among his friends. Some of who may get it before Christmas, some for Christmas, and some may miss out altogether. I'm anticipating it to be a hot-ticket item this Christmas, in demand not just by young boys but those young-at-heart, and from talking to salespeons in both TRU and Gamestop that IS what I'm hearing, that 20-30 y/old gamers are buying it for themselves. This 42-year old gamer did...sort of :P

If Skylanders is the hot potato that I expect it to be, come Christmas time demand for the cross-platform compatible figures alone is going to be through the roof. And in the weeks after Christmas, maybe even more so.

"Daddy! There's a locked room in my game, Daddy! I can't get in without a Fire Skylander! Daddy! I need a Fire Skylander! DADDY! I WANT FIRE SLINGER, DADDY!!!"

Well played, Activision. Well played, indeed.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Magic: Steam review (Demo version)

I'm running Windows XP SP3 and playing Steam's Demo version of Magic:Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 on an Athlon 2600+ w/ 2GB of RAM and a 512MB AGP (*Edit* not PCI as first thought) GeForce 6200, and it runs like a 15 y/old dog with Hip Dysplasia.

Seriously???

It's MAGIC:THE GATHERING!!! It's a CARD GAME for Pete's sake!!! Even Wizard101 runs better than Steam's Magic:TG. If my experience is anything to go by, don't bother trying to play it on anything more than a few years old.

The game itself looks good. The layout of the playing field is well designed and everything fits on the one screen without it getting cluttered. The cards are colorful and look just like Magic cards, with the exception that they're on your monitor and not in your hand. Then again this IS the computer version so I can't really fault it for that. The UI is very user friendly and I thought it rather intuitive, and I liked being able to mouse-over cards and use the scroll wheel to zoom in, which is how you activate your cards' abilities.

Except...one of my creatures had an ability that if I Tapped it and one Plains Card I was supposed to be able to Tap an opponent's card. Despite having a Plains Card untapped I was not able to access this ability. I wanted to Tap my opponent's sole Untapped Creature so he couldn't defend but the game pushed me straight from the Play a Land phase into the Attack Phase. Attacking with that card (a 1/1) was certain death as the Computer opponent had a 4/5 Defender. Instead I was forced to wait, then Block him (& die, but not lose Health) instead of being able to Tap his Attacker first. I still won that particular match but it was literally a "sudden death" game where I won with just 1 HP left.

That leads me into something I really didn't like: the Tutorial.

I played the Tutorial just to get an idea of how the UI worked (although as I said it was fairly intuitive), and I did not like how the Tutorial frequently forced me to Attack immediately after drawing a Card from my Deck. Before I even played a Land card the Tutorial insisted I Attack.

Now in my books the correct order of play is Untap any Tapped Cards, Draw a Card, play a Land (if you have one), summon creatures/cast spells/play Equipment, etc., THEN Attack. And I find that a very logical order in which to do things.

Why? You might have a creature with Haste, which does not suffer from Summoning Sickness. If you Attack prior to Summoning your Creatures then this particular Creature cannot make use of its Haste ability, and as the only time Haste comes into play is the Turn in which a Creature is summoned it seems extremely stupid to summon it AFTER Attacking.

No! You can't play a Land right now. OR Summon that creature. Why Not? Because I told you to Attack! Stop clicking that damn Land card!

So -1 points for poor AI/programming.

How many points is that? -1? Huh. That can't be right, because aside from the stupid lessons taught to you in the Tutorial, Steam's Magic:TG actually seems like a decent game, or it would be if I was playing it on a machine which could run it smoothly. That's probably my biggest complaint. It's a card game, and yet it seems to require a reasonably new machine in order to run smoothly.

The Full Version of the game on Steam costs $10. Would I pay that for it? I don't know. Probably not. That $10 would buy me 3 Boosters of real Magic cards, and I'd buy them before buying the Steam version of the game. I only downloaded the Demo version to see what it was like. Would I pay $5 for the full version? Yeah, I probably would, but only after buying a $500 PC that will actually run it :D

*EDIT*
I installed the Demo on my other PC, which is now the wife's PC. It's a dual core Athlon 4200+ and like my archaic PC it's also running Windows XP SP3 with 2GB of RAM, but unlike the older box it's equipped with a GeForce 8800GT. On this rig the Magic:Plainswalkers Demo runs as smooth as silk.

I need a new PC.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

285 Magic TCG cards for $20? SOLD!

A few weeks ago my son and I were in Target with the wife, so while she wandered off to do her thing we stopped by our favorite section (or maybe it's the second favorite, after the video games) of Target, being the Trading Card aisle.

We saw the 2012 Magic: TCG Fat Pack, which comes with two deck boxes, 80 Land cards, and nine 15-card boosters, being 215 cards total for $40! That's a lot of cards for $40 (at $3-$4 each the nine boosters alone are almost worth that) and I was seriously contemplating getting it. Then we saw the 2011 Deck Builder's Tool Kit.

It didn't have any deck boxes (meh), but it did have 100 land cards, another 125 random Spell cards, and four 15-card boosters, for a total of 285 cards. Woah! Even MORE cards! But unlike the Fat Pack it did not have a price sticker.

"It's got to be at least $40," I said to my son, "maybe even $50. Let's see how much it is."

So we picked it up and walked further into the store until we found a price scanner, and when it rang up at $20 we could not believe our eyes. It has a third more cards than the 2012 Fat Pack, but for half the price. Crazy! So of course we bought it. (Yes, it's the 2011 series. So what?)

We didn't get any OMG! Awesome! Foil cards from the Booster packs, but using the strategy recommended by the booklet (and some of our other spare cards) we did throw together five 60-card decks, being 24 Land cards plus 36 Spells, Creatures, etc. to go with them.

And then we Dueled.

I went with a poison-filled Black/Red Deck, while my son chose a Blue/Green Deck with several Elementals and Wyrms. The Wyrms are High cost Creatures but they're hard hitting game changers and when they get into play an unopposed Wyrm can kill you in two-to-three Turns.

So far we've played 7 games with these two Decks and he has been kicking my arse, and when I say he's been kicking my arse I really mean it. Out of those 7 games I've won just 2, and one of those was really just due to the luck of the draw (as in bad luck on his part) where he had a bunch of Green Spells/Creatures in his hand and nothing but Blue Lands. So he couldn't summon much of anything, and whatever he did summon I quickly shut down. I finished that particular game completely unscathed, still at full health.

In the other game I won it seemed like everything finally came together for me. I got the right cards out at the right time, I was able to weaken his stronger Cards, and I didn't steamroll him like he's been doing to me, but it was still a decisive win.

I also thought I might have him in the most recent game we played as I'd used a spell to Destroy his 4/4 Creature (the strongest he had on the table, at the time) and after a pitched battle we had one Creature each in play and mine was the stronger. Yay!

Then he summoned a Wyrm.

On his next Turn he cast Sleep and Tapped my solitary Creature so I couldn't Block even if I wanted to, and on his final Turn used an Instant to return it to my hand. I have to give him credit where it's due, he does know how to use his cards effectively and strategically.

I still think I need to tweak my deck a little though, so I can be more competitive against him. You could say we've Dueled two times, playing four games the first time, and three the second, and I won just 1 game in each of those two sessions.

My Deck's strength appears to be my Black Cards which can Poison (-1/-1, or worse) and debilitate his Creatures, even his 7/7 Wyrms. When it works, it works well. The problem is I don't seem able to get my cards into play fast enough, and when I do I'm overwhelmed.

Could it be a "Rock beats Scissors beats Paper" kind of thing? That my Black/Red Deck is just not strong against his Green/Blue Deck. Does that exist in Magic TCG? I assume it does, else everyone would just try to have THE Uber Pwng Deck that nothing can beat.

I don't have powerful Creatures like his Wyrms, which usually require 6-7 Lands to Summon. Most of my Creatures require 3-4 Lands and some need just 2, or even just 1.

It's not that I don't have Lands in play because we both have the recommended 24 Lands in our Decks.

Actually, maybe I don't have enough Lands.

With a majority of low cost Creatures in my deck maybe I should increase my Land count to 30 cards, with the strategy being to be able to play one Land every Turn (and never stop playing them), meaning after the first, uneventful 5-to-6 Turns have passed I'll be able to Summon more than just one Creature per Turn. That's assuming I have Creatures in my Hand and it's not filled with Lands. That's definitely something to think about.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to crush the boy. He's only 11 and he has a lot of fun playing Magic with his old man. Likewise I'm enjoying the time we spend together, too. (Who knows how long that will last?) It's not even that I mind losing to him; one of my favorite time wasters on my phone is Solitaire, so I can accept losing game after game after game. I don't mind losing to him, but I'd at least like to go down fighting.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Proof is in the Pudding

After slaughtering 50,000 damage worth of lvl 22-24 Ogres (being approx. 75 Ogres @ 650hp each) in Duskwood's Vul'Gol Ogre Mound, my level 20 Arms Warrior armed with the 2H Reef Axe from Blackfathom Deeps averaged 82.5dps, as seen in the below screenshot. (Yes, I cut & pasted the Recount Window into a second screenshot.)

After repeating the experiment and terrorizing the Ogres a second time, this time as a Fury Warrior but still with the exact same gear, I averaged 94.6dps. As you can see from the second screenshot the passive buff from the Fury Tree's "Precision" skill, being +3% to Hit and +40% to Autoattack, provides a significant boost to my base/white Damage, and definitely helps to explain the almost 15% increase in overall DPS.

I ran Shadowfang Keep as an Arms Warrior in between the two attacks on the Vul'Gol Ogres, and with all of the group buffs and the passive buff from using the Random LFG Tool I managed to pull 100dps, being the same as what I managed on my own as a Fury Warrior.

After respec'ing Fury, traditionally a dual-wield Build, I first equipped two Baron's Scepters and slaughtered a dozen or so Ogres, just to see how well Fury worked when dual-wielding. In short, it didn't. Using what are probably the best two 1H weapons a level 20 Fury Warrior can get my DPS averaged in the mid-70s. It did jump into the low 80s when I got in a string of Crits, but would just as quickly slide back into the mid-70 range when my Gnome went nose-to-kneecap with the Ogres for longer than a few seconds, which as a dual-wielding Fury Warrior it usually did.

In fact fighting the Ogres as a dual-wielding Fury Warrior felt almost exactly like fighting them as an Arms Warrior, with combat usually lasting at least 5-6 seconds. I noticed I missed many attacks, and also got Parried a lot. Even with the combined +4 to Hit buff from wielding two Baron's Scepters, the lower damage output meant I was still in combat for a lot longer than when I equipped the Reef Axe (as Fury). The bonus to Hit from not dual-wielding meant a lot less of my attacks got Parried, and thus a lot more of my attacks landed, and when you're hitting Mobs with the Reef Axe they know they've been HIT!!! As a Fury Warrior wielding the Reef Axe it was not uncommon to rush into combat and lay out an Ogre within 2-3 hits, and with the first three attacks being Victory Rush, Autoattack, and Bloodthirst, those 3 attacks could all land within 2-3 seconds. If even one of them was a Crit it was usually lights out, but if the Ogre was still standing and Execute hadn't lit up I'd throw in a Heroic Strike and that would inevitably get the job done.

The end result from terrorizing the Vul'Gul Ogres is what I've argued all along, that at lower levels Arms is a sub-par DPS build to Fury, and that even if you have two of the best one-handed weapons available for your level you're still better off using a comparable 2H weapon instead of dual-wielding. In my case, 15% better off.