Category: Games

MTG: Anointment Everlasting

It’s funny to me just how quickly I get bored of decks in standard. It’s probably a byproduct of standard being very big, but also the standard environment being full of small things that don’t work together too exceptionally well. I can’t play with all the things I want to play with in a 60 card deck, which means instead I make a bunch of different, interesting things.

When I sit down to play I tend to bias heavily towards extremely aggressive, or extremely passive. I don’t tend towards combo, and when I do, it tends to be a really well insulated, extremely safe combo that can be sort of hidden away in a shell of a different deck. I just don’t like trying to Assemble The Machine under pressure.

This obviously means I tend towards red and black as aggressors, since they have reach, and I love my green beef so I almost always play with that in some way, and all this means that when I do play an aggressor, it is inevitably playing anything but Blue And White. They’re not my thing, they don’t tend to have the kind of reach or aggression I really like.

Anyway, here’s a blue white aggressive deck I’ve been playing and enjoying lately.

Anonited Eternals

The Bodies (29)
Trueheart Duelist
Adorned Pouncer
Wharf Infiltrator
Vizier of the Anointed
Sunscourge Champion
Cloudblazer
Vizier of Deferment
Vizier of Many Faces
Aven Wind Guide

The Juice (7)
Anointed Procession
Farm // Market
The Lands (24)
Plains
11 Island
Irrigated Farmland

The last time I played Blue-White aggression for any length of time, I was playing a Return To Ravnica era Arrest-based Enters-The-Battlefield deck, spread out into modern to include the combo of Ghostway and Archaeomancer, and, of all things, Sky Hussar. Which I love. Don’t @ me.

This mainly taught me that for my tastes, a UW aggressor deck needs some way to really sustain itself. It needs something it can do to juice up later. In the previous deck, it was the ability to perma-vigilance your team and endlessly recycle arrest affects to keep opponents from necessarily slamming you down with superior creatures. Much like Lightning Bolts and Zulaport Cutthroats give you some way to break up a stall or go over the top, this deck needed some way to take over the board, some way to make early plays into really juicy late plays.

And thus we meet our buddy, Anointed Procession.

Double Trouble

I played with Doubling Season once; I played with Dual Nature in Commander and in Extended (it was a thing!). I played with most of these effects, and so far, I think this is the best use of this effect I’ve ever played. With those other cards, with the decks those cards had to fit into, Procession doesn’t care if you get the token-makers before it or after. Embalm and Eternalise feed into Procession elegantly, both before and after it on the mana curve. It’s not like the awkward math where you’re left wondering ‘wouldn’t the Mycoloth have just won this on its own?’

Procession lets this deck treat its graveyard like a second much scarier hand. I’ve had games end on the spot after I drop a procession and untap to Eternalize Adorned Pouncer times two onto the battlefield. It even lets you do silly things like copying two things at once with embalmed Viziers.

The deck’s threats, overall, are hard to counter – and I mean that as killing or counterspelling, and even creatures traded for a card typically to go to the bin and wind up embalmed or eternalised for more head count. There’s even a durdly toolbox effect where the Vizier of The Anointed can go hunting up other things – and if your opponent has a great big creature, you can steal it with your Vizier of Many Faces, then trade them, then bring back your vizier as two also-huge creatures.

The sad thing is, I sometimes feel like Cloudblazer – the reason I started making this deck! – might just not be a good fit for it, since at five mana is when you’re bringing bombs out of your graveyard! At the same time, though, it’s an incredibly juicy target to Vizier of Many Faces with a procession – four or five cards, and four life!

Still there is at least one critter that needs some explanation and that’s the Wharf Infiltrator. Synergy between the Infiltrator and Eternalize and Embalm is a tiny bit obvious; you can have a turn three of attack, ditch a Trueheart Duelist or Sunscourge Champion, and then you’re left with the possibility of making a 3/2 Eldrazi (for no real card loss), or embalm the duelist, or, say, make an Eldrazi, play a tapped land, and untap into something like Sunscourge Champion Eternalized.

Notably, the Infiltrator can make a 3/2 off any discard, not just their own, and if you have two of them, you can serve, discard one card and make two 3/2s or if you’re feeling saucy and it’s late in the game, discard two cards for four 3/2s. And that’s without their interaction with Procession.

Price

With a quick check at MTGGoldfish – and I use them because they have a tool that makes it easy and free to check, not out of any particular love for them – this whole deck costs eight dollars to make. The bulk of that price is five dollars for the Irrigated Farmlands – which, again, I will stump for: Buy dual lands if you cans.

Followup Update

Real quick, here’s the most recent build of the deck I’ve been playing when this article comes out. I like this deck a lot and keep playing it when I mean to go do other things, play other decks for other articles.

Anonited Eternals 2.0

Creatures (21)
Thraben Inspector
Sunscourge Champion
Vizier of Many Faces
Trueheart Duelist
Adorned Pouncer
Wharf Infiltrator

Vizier Toolbox (8)
Vizier of the Anointed
Sacred Cat
Anointer Priest
Glyph Keeper
Aven Wind Guide

Spells (7)
Anointed Procession
Farm/Market
Lands (24)
Irrigated Farmland
Island
13 Plains

Two quick notes: The Sacred Cat is there when you have other Vizier of the Anointed out so you can play a second Vizier, pay a single mana and draw 2 cards. Also, Oketra’s Monument doesn’t seem to work super well with this deck in testing, because A. There’s a better Monument deck, and B. this deck doesn’t cast spells as often as it Embalms or Eternalises.

Game Pile: The Samaritan Paradox

Let it never be said I fail to strike when the iron is gone. Remember how a few years ago there was that fuss about the kickstarter for Broken Age, a point-and-click adventure game that would Bring Back the point-and-clickers of the 90s, which were…

Yeah okay.

The thing is that time period of games isn’t some preserved bubble of media that lives back then and never extended. The point-and-click adventure game never went away, it just stopped being so high profile people were paying $120 for big box releases. The point-and-click genre kept moving, the tools became more available, and with it, we saw more and different approaches to storytelling. It stopped being the spoofy work of the Space Quest franchise, the storybook fantasy of Kings Quest, the high-cinematic weirdness of the Lucasarts franchises.

As it grew and it spread, we got to see stuff like this, The Samaritan Paradox, which I can only describe as an example of, say, European Cinema as an aesthetic in a point-and-click adventure game. So let’s all don our berets and smoke our clovey cigarettes as we delve into the thoughtful, cryptic differently structured work of The Samaritan Paradox.


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What Do I Think Of Visual Novels?

I’m a big fan of the Visual Novel. I don’t just mean that I have a fondness for the form borne out of a period of my life where they were a way to both get anime and smut at the same time when those were two things I very much needed in my life to feel connected to the world around me, I’m actually a fan of the structure.

There’s a lot to talk about here so let’s just dive in.

Accessible Moviemaking

I know a lot of people who want to make movies. For some of them, the cinematography of a videogame camera gave them that option, and you saw early demo-editing Quake levels and replays being made to play with those same ideas of echoing subtitled cinema.

I see the Visual Novel as a less kinetic, but more framing-based example of this same basic idea. Good cinematography, an appreciation of good cinematography, makes visual novels a good avenue to construct scenes as if one is thinking in terms of movies, in terms of what keeps people compelled.

So first of all, they’re a way you can do a movie-sized story on a very, very small budget.

The Point-And-Clicker

When it comes to the game elements of the Visual novel, I feel that as a game type, it inherits well the basic structures of the point-and-click adventure, those low-impact, low-action kind of games that wanted to give you the time to quietly and patiently sort your way through problems that are presented to you. Things like Monkey Island and Beneath A Steel Sky, where the point was not some focus on exciting action setpieces but rather a much more slow, wandering kind of puzzle hunting.

Now, there are four basic puzzles in point-and-clickers you can deal with, and there are two that Visual novels can do just fine, and two they do Not So Fine.

Good: Use Key On Door

Something impedes you from a path ahead. For good conveyance, you want that path to be in some way visible to the player. You need an object that you can carry to the impediment, and then that will get it to go away. Ie, it’s a key and door situation. There’s a door, you unlock it, you can continue on your way. This type of design is incredibly common. Sometimes you’re obscuring the keys, sometimes you’re obscuring the doors, sometimes behind the door there’s just another key, sometimes you’re just collecting completely obtuse keys – but that’s the basic thing. Take an object to an impediment.

Bad: Put Apple In Box

So there’s this thing that’s really tricky to do in Twine, and Visual novels as well, where you have containers. Containers are something some games can handle just fine – I’m told Inform can easily handle it when you put an apple in a box, then pick up and move the box around and then set it down wherever you like – the apple will still be in the box. In visual novel coding… this is trickier.

What this tends to mean is that visual novel games often feature a bit less of characters interacting with the world as a place with a lot of material objects. This is also reflected in the genre – note that most games are not about carrying around tools, as much as they are about inner experiences.

Good: The Language Maze

This one’s a little more common for older games, back before we were voice acting everything. A language maze is – very simply – a series of conversation choices where you need to choose a particular sequence in order to find a point in the conversation that an opponent does something that the conversation would not normally do. Some mazes are really simple – you just ask a character a thing, and you’re given an object. Sometimes, you ask a character a thing, and that gives you some knowledge you’re now able to use later. Sometimes you ask a character a thing, and that gives your character some knowledge you’re now able to use later – like teaching your character to pick locks or something.

Bad: Freedom Of Movement

And now here’s where the point-and-clickers of the past are a little different. The typical form of the Visual Novel is a linear flow of time from A to B. You’re very much moving along a line of time, rather than necessarily having the means to travel between locations.  This isn’t to say that’s how things have to be, but it’s not uncommon for people writing visual novels to present them as a single long line of time with you moving along it.

This isn’t to say that visual novels are bad at this – you can definitely set them up to do it. But the default code structure of something like RenPy reflect the genre, where it is very, very easy for the game to just see each play as a series of sequences that check variables, rather than necessarily going to places and letting you move around them more freely.

Scaling Up

Then there’s the things Visual novels can do well that you can lean into and build on in your own projects.

Codeces

Hey, you know how you have all that writing about your game world, or your characters and you want to give people a place to go look for it and read it if they want to? But if you dumped that in the main space for people to read it’d slow everything down and be super boring?

Well, the Visual Novel is a game form where reading a ton of stuff is a thing. In Hate Plus, there’s a reference codex for any character. You find yourself confused by a name? Click on it and it’ll take you to a place where you can look at that character and look at what they’ve done and what you know about them so far.

The Inner Life

It’s almost a stereotype that visual novels have a first-person narrator, often a narrator who is ‘you.’ Doing things this way gives you an almost unprecedented level of access to a character’s inside thoughts, meaning you can see how they think before they act, how their inner dialogue contradicts their behaviour, their anxiety, their stress.

It can also be a fine opportunity to learn that a character is a total butthead, which is a problem that Roommates has.

Day To Day Life

You know that thing about how going to a place is something that VNs don’t tend to do? Weirdly, they do handle schedules well. Because that’s how you use your time, and you can even trigger or chain events based on what you’re doing with your time, today. These can get super complicated, too!

The Wrapup

I really like Visual Novels. If I was better at designing interfaces or had the knowledge of where to start designing interfaces, I’d probably have made some of them by now (Sorry, senp.AI). They let artists do small numbers of works they like, they allow for clean use of arts and assets, and they don’t require a lot of technical knowledge to get started on. They do need you to be somewhat clued in on structure and planning, which is pretty frustrating stuff if you’re not familiar with it – but you can find your plan in the making, too, and restart.

Look into Visual Novels, they’re a great little genre, and lots of fun to think about making.

Telling A Story Through A Game Pt. 1

Gunna have to go to the tank for this one. It’s more than one answer.

First of all I have to unpack that  me because my model of games and stories is intertwined. To me, games all tell stories, the question is just whether or not those stories are memorable or interesting or cool. Basically, everything can tell a story, the issue is up to the interpreter as to what makes that story interesting or good. I have a model of the universe that has room for crap stories, something that’s apparently resisted.

Another thing that’s strange is that we’re heavily informed by videogames these days which have lately taken to making it so that storytelling is done primarily in the form of unsolicited interruptions. The typical way to handle videogame storytelling is to segregate story elements in safer spaces, away from places that players can mess them up by interacting with them.

Unsolicited Interruptions. Yes, I’m talking about you.

This isn’t to say that removing control from a player to tell them a story is a thing per se – I mean, look at games like Undertale (spit), which deliberately tracks a lot of things you do or don’t do and is willing to trust you to represent how and what you do. This sort of storytelling is a little bit like  getting a report card at the end of the semester, but that isn’t to say it’s fundamentally bad. It’s a little primitive, but that’s okay.

Let’s say you’re making a storytelling kind of game – those are sort of inherently biased towards it. Some games, like FunemployedDear Leader or Once Upon A Time make it the job of the players to tell story in an effort to get from where they are to where they’re going (and hi, check out The Suits while we’re at it). Let’s set those aside, because in those cases, the mechanism of storytelling is what the players are induced to do by the mechanics. The game is presenting you wit hstory beats to move between and telling a story to other players is literally all the players are there to do. Those games create inspiration and sort of dose players with it, hard.

These delightful little surprises

There’s also games that use ‘story’ as their framework, games like Dead of Winter where your storytelling is literally mechanised: Where in amongst the mechanically-generated story, there’s a chunk of systems designed to pull players sideways into a story that’s sort of structured and framed and bolts itself into the story.

This can sound like a criticism, but please, trust me it’s not. It’s just that this kind of system is easier with bigger games, where you can dedicate a component of the systems of the game towards Telling Stories. This system is wonderful, but to keep it from being boring, it needs a game of a particular scope. You can’t make a game that’s just a crossroad deck (well, you can) without players running it out with only a certain number of plays. You want some sort of mystery for people when these story elements jump out at them.

There’s narrative created by interplay of objects. Even abstract games do this – look at how people talk about the story of matches of Chess and Go, the narrative of how a game unfolds. Like I said, it’s not necessarily an interesting story to anyone in particular, but it’s still a story.

That’s our framework: There are lots of ways to tell stories with games, in games and around games, and there are some sort of ‘easy’ places to design. We’re going to talk a little bit more about methods for designing mechanics that tell stories next time and using mechanics to make players think of stories.


This blog post and subject was suggested, as above, by @Fugiman on Twitter. If you’d like to suggest stuff you’d like to see me write about, please, do contact me!

MTG: Improvise Approach

20:22 Talen Lee: I think for all that I like the things this deck does, I never want to play it ever again

It’s a good idea to know what you like when you play a deck. Maybe you like the varied math of making creatures and putting on pressure. Or perhaps you dig the way you change the rules of the game by imposing more force on your enemies. Sometimes you like seeing a mechanism, a device of the deck just working. It’s sometimes about watching a game’s mechanism working without those parts. It could be an elaborate combo of two parts that you wrestle into existence, and then bam they fire off and it’s spectacular or it’s safe or it’s redundant or – whatever.

Anyway, I tried to build a delirium and improvise-based Approach Of The Second Sun deck.

The Improvised Approach

Win Conditions (1)
Approach of the Second Sun

Controlling The Game (26)
Reverse Engineer
Commit // Memory
Cast Out
Farm // Market
Metallic Rebuke
Implement of Improvement
Descend upon the Sinful

Mana Augmentation (9)
Inspiring Statuary
Trail of Evidence
Wild-Field Scarecrow
Lands (24)
Irrigated Farmland
Desert of the Mindful
Desert of the True
Plains
Island

This game’s win condition – broadly speaking – is firing off an Approach of the Second Sun, then hold the game under your thumb for a mere seven draws, then do it again. The issue is that it’s designed to make sure your win condition is redundant and safe and protected – which means using Memory to reshuffle it if it’s countered, using your own counterspells to protect it, and firing it off after you’ve thinned your deck of things like Aftermath cards and put all the lands on the battlefield.

This deck is kind of fun.

Once.

Then, if you’re like me, you finish playing it, you set it aside and you never want to look at it again. Because how many times in one game can you want to cast Approach? I’ve had a counter fight and clue token accumulation result in one turn featuring three castings of the same Approach.

This is a surprisingly resilient casual control deck. You can buy the whole thing for ten bucks and you’ll have a deck that works just fine and the pices within it will even be somewhat redundant – you’ll have a use for other applications of the cards that cost more than a cent.

But oh my god am I done with it.

The Four Jaces

In Magic: The Gathering, there’s a character called Jace Beleren. You probably have heard of him. You really have if you’ve hung around me for any length of time, because I tend to make fun of him a lot. Yet for all that I talk about him, I very rarely talk about him. I tend to just make fun of the concept of him, and that’s meant to be funny in and of itself:

Jace is a character pulled between an unfortunate series of limitations and I think it’s worth my time to sit down and actually address them – because there is not one Jace that we talk about. There is a complicated, intricate web of Jaces. Come with me, beyond the fold, to the Jaceception. Continue reading

Game Pile: Transformers Devastation

In October 2015, a new Transformers Videogame hit the shelves and it read like the kind of thing a fan would have made up – a full-scale brawler game, modelled on the classic G1 aesthetic, rendered in tight cell-shaded styles and delivered to us courtesy of the minds behind such classics as Vanquish and Bayonetta: Platinum Games. It had a frightfully short hype cycle, too – it was announced in June 2015, and launched less than three full months later.

So what came of this? Did the game actually deliver on its incredibly strange, moment-in-time development? Was it a cheap cash-in on a license that was in the news? Was this just another attempt to mine our nostalgia?

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Notes: Secrets

  • Hidden identity small-box game
  • The materiality. Tokens can’t be mistaken for cards can’t be mistaken for the mat for the arrows.
  • Observing it seems too much of the game is invisible
  • Ways to keep people engaged in the off-turn
  • The draw-and-share cards mechanic is appealing based on games like Secret Hitler too, I like that
  • Can the game be handled with a low-material tool for agreeing/refusing?
  • Think about this in light of HMS Dolores
    • Oh they made Dolores
      • Well then
  • Aesthetic is super important, lots of cool, vibrant art, minimal background work
  • Giving people positive/negative score cards/trying to force busts/breaks
  • Alternate mechanism ideas?
  • I expect I’ll try doing something with this – the secret identities/common pool of cards thing is very desireable, but it needs to have some extra way to get some teeth

Designing A Puzzle

Some games are designed to be about setting up a play space, where you can sort of simulate a thing interacting with another thing. Games like Wobbegong-12 are about that very pure experience of a thing, in a place, doing stuff. Other games, though, are much more about a puzzle.

Recently I designed a game called You Can’t Win. The game got its start as originally, a conception of a bunch of villains siting around playing Russian Roulette, flipping cards from a small deck of 6 cards and shooting themselves. My efforts to refine this, to make the rest of the game engaging, required a more and more elaborate game, until finally, I realised, I had a puzzle that didn’t need the Russian Roulette mechanism.

What I was left with was a trick-taking game, and I found, my original idea to play it was breathtakingly hard to win. That sort of played into the idea of You Can’t Win and eventually gave the game its name.

The nature of You Can’t Win is one where, the first time you play it, nobody wins. Probably. It’s very, very easy to knock out all the playable numbers the first time you play. The tactical choices aren’t obvious – and in a game of say, four people, you only ever get to make four or five choices of what to play, which means your options are very limited.

Most players play a round or two of You Can’t Win and decide they think they know how hard it is, how difficult it is to play, then decide they’re not interested. That’s fine. It’s a cheap little game, it’s meant to be something niche. But, but.

For a particular type of player.

I’ve watched it happen. It’s that special character of that one person at church youth group, the teacher, the guy who remembers all the tiles in Carcassonne. It’s the mindset that you look at your card, you look at your hand, and you start trying to map the puzzle in advance. As the game gets played, more components of the puzzle play out. You know what’s in your hand. You know what’s not in your hand. You know you’re less likely to see a concentration of numbers, you’re more likely to see them spread out, but you might not. You know there are guns in the pool, too, making wild cards.

And for that kind of player, it is wonderful to sit there and chew on the puzzle. To grind it in their head. To try and properly solve the game… and watching as those players fight against one another and adjust the puzzle is fascinating fun.

It’s okay if what you’ve crafted is a nasty little knot of a game, basically.

New Shirts! Paragon City College Shirts!

Hey there friends! Do you remember City Of Heroes, and its many different university campuses, where you could go to craft inventions in a relatively peaceful environment, without fear of being shot at? Well, we have some cool t-shirts designs you can wear to signify your affiliation with one of those places!

Founders Falls University t-shirt

Founders Falls was the oldest suburb in Paragon, and apparently, one of the snootiest. It had canals and bridges and arches, and was proud in the esteemed age of the area. It also had snipers in suits on the rooftops, which was a thing.

Steel Canyon University t-shirt

Steel Canyon was your lowest-level University you could access, heroside. It was a region full of skyscrapers and powerful businesses, with a self-image about being forward-thinking and recovering after the Rikti War.

Croatoa OSA University t-shirt

Did you know that City of Heroes had a Creepy New England Town? And that town had a whole university in it? Check it out!

Cap Au Diable University shirt

Blueside didn’t have the only Universities in-setting. Also, redside, Cap Au Diable, the personal domain of an evil super-scientist named Doc Aeon, had a university too!

Kings Row Community College t-shirt

And finally, here’s a little special one for the Kings Row diehards. Sure, we didn’t have a university, but we had spirit, damnit!

These designs are available as shirts, mugs and stickers on my Redbubble store. Please, do go and check ’em out!