Tuesday, April 27, 2010

loud casual gamers

I went to hang out with a friend at the local college here. I was told there were some magic players in a corner. They could be heard yelling halfway down the hallway. They were playing some board game. They were dressed almost exclusively in black. One of them had wrap-around sunglasses, despite it being overcast and dreary outside.

Don't be those players, please.

holistic game update analysis

That title makes this look academic as fuck. Let me ponder this whilst stroking my beard.

This is another post inspired by Starcraft 2; specifically, this unbelievably nerdragey post on the TeamLiquid forums.

For those not versed in competitive Starcraft, a bit of background: the engine for the game had a lot of bugs and quirks to it, and similar to how speedruns and tool-assisted videos for old video games are a nearly incomprehensible barrage of bug abuses and engine tricks, high-level Starcraft play involves the abuse of the way that movement and attack animations in the game work as a fundamental part of it. It's essentially a shitload of arcane busywork that almost no one could figure out on their own that allows certain units to operate at around twice their intended effectiveness. Obviously, the fact that these bugs aren't present in Starcraft 2 sends Brood War players into a tizzy. This isn't a unique phenomenon.

In any game, whenever something is updated, certain hardcore players immediately focus on what cannot be done any more, such as the removal of damage on the stack. Removing anything that could previously be done (usually backed up by an example of a cool play the old system allowed) is immediately thought of as BAD, and therefore the new update/new game as BAD. Instead, players should look at both games in their entirety, rather than thinking of the older system as the norm and the new one as a deviation from it.

Similarly, the loss of something skill-testing is not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, yes, it's incredibly special that it took you four years to perfect Mutalisk micro or how batch effects worked, but that difficulty doesn't make it a good system. Quite the opposite, in fact; chances are, there's absolutely no reason for such a high learning curve to be needed. No one wants to have to multiply random sequences of ten-digit numbers in their head before declaring an attack on turn three of a Limited game, despite how skill-testing it would be. It's just busywork.

New game systems, even if they're simpler, can still be good.

This has been part two of my series of strategy-less articles while I'm too broke to play tournament Magic.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

your set review sucks

Almost all set reviews are terrible.

People read articles about anything for a few reasons. Usually, it comes down either to be entertained, or to learn something new. When writing a set review, hopefully you should be doing both of these, but very few of them do. They're usually rather dry, with some terrible attempts to nickname cards thrown in if you're Evan Erwin or somewhere approaching as dumb as he is. But more importantly, they don't tell people jack shit, despite how absurdly common they are.

Everyone has kneejerk reactions. That's why they're kneejerk reactions; you don't need to do any research or put any work into anything to have them. People (with the exception of the truly soulless, such as market researchers) don't care what others' kneejerk reactions are- they have theirs already, what do they need more for?

If you're considering writing a set review, please do the world a favor and think in advance about what you're giving the world by writing it. Do you have some unique insight into a format that gives you more authority than most, and thus better-than-average kneejerk reactions? If no, have you done the slightest bit of work to determine whether your hypotheses were accurate at all? It would be a hundred times more useful if, instead of mashing your keyboard to tell us which cards seem good in some vague archetype that will probably never see the light of day, put that time into researching one card in one archetype, and report back on the results.

For example, the new card All Is Dust looks pretty cool. Some people think it might see play. Will it? I haven't the slightest idea. I haven't cast it or seen it cast, personally, so you tell me. However, I've thrown together a GW deck and played against the world's worst players on mwsplay, and can confidently report back that Vengevine is as good as people think it is. See how much cooler that is? I confirmed my hypothesis! Holy shit!

Conclusion: stop writing set reviews unless you have something to say.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

starcraft 2 and magic

Well, here's your standard apology-blogpost for not updating. I moved across the country and haven't been playing much Magic- there are a few guys here that are interested in learning, so we'll see what that brings. I'm hopeful.

Before I moved, I was playing the Starcraft 2 beta. Obviously amazing. I've been watching a bunch of videos about high-level strategy and play in it, and it's really fascinating to see all the perspectives and ideas on an entirely different competitive game, with its own jargon, metagame shifts, and general ideas.

What's really interesting to me is the lack of theory there is about the game- in video games, it's just not needed. You don't need to come up with elaborate concepts; things happen in real time, units take X time and Y resources, which are harvested at Z rate. If a player kills someone else, you can watch the replay and see exactly why. Pretty straightforward. There is one broad concept that's interesting to me for its application to Magic, though: the idea of a "timing push" ('push' basically just means an attack). The idea is to do your attacks at a timing that is either very convenient for you- such as when you're throwing down an expansion, or a key upgrade just finished as you're waltzing across the map- or extremely inconvenient for your opponent, such as when they're teching to something incredibly powerful, but either don't have it yet, or don't have them in any significant number, or when they just finished an expansion and haven't broken even on it yet.

How does this apply to Magic? When you're thinking about how matchups work, especially sideboard cards, don't just think of what your cards are doing, but when. Okay, that card is a fantastic hoser for your opponent's entire strategy... but it comes out when you're two thirds of the way to dead. Instead, you should try to fill in the gaps in your own tempo, and look for points where your opponent isn't doing that much that's very powerful, or they have to do a bunch of awkward things and can't react to what you're doing. This means you want to look for cards that come right at the moment when your opponent has to tap out for some spell that's usually safe to cast, and you want to play three-drops against decks with Cryptic Command or Thirst for Knowledge (so that they have to decide between countering it and drawing cards). Say you're playing an aggressive deck or Elf combo against scapeshift. Their two most important "timings" are turn three for Firespout (post-board, sometimes pre) and Cryptic, and usually winning on turn five. This means that you'll want to cast small guys (hopefully disruptive ones) after their turn three to put them in a maximally awkward position, and they can't stop your entire turn with Cryptic.

This is drifting toward very traditional theory, but I'll write more as I think more.