The Mighty Vincibles

Dabbling in Magic: The Gathering Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 (The Longest Game Title Ever?)

by on May.08, 2012, under Co-op

Can you really call it “dabbling” when you’ve committed over 50 hours to the game?  Probably not.

Anyway, just about anyone who has ever ventured into the realm of geekdom has at least heard of Magic: The Gathering.  If you haven’t heard of it … here is the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic:_The_Gathering    I can’t be bothered with explaining a game whose history spans nearly 20 years … because I would probably do it wrong anyway.

When I first heard about the ‘Duels of the Planeswalkers’, I was skeptical.  Skeptical to the point of never really giving it a fair shot.  I figured, “Why would I ever want to play some watered-down version of Magic where I can’t choose the cards and fully customize the decks?”  … Well, I was wrong.  While I never played the 2011 version, I finally took the plunge and gave the 2012 version its fair shot when Paul gifted it to me on Steam.  For me, it’s the perfect alternative to the real thing.

While it will never fully replace the physical cards in terms of overall experience (not to mention table-smack-talk with friends), it is a wonderful alternative for those who, like me, don’t have local friends who play regularly and have children and responsibilities that require lots of time at home.  The other benefit is being able to stop the timer and get up and walk away and deal with the kids or whatever needs to be done, and then I get to come back and pick up where I left off.  And really, the decks are pretty well made.  I have yet to play with one that didn’t ‘make sense’.  Of course there are some that I enjoy playing more than others, but they are all playable and each one has 20 unlocks available and then you can customize with the unlocks.

That being said, the computer cheats.  No, seriously.  Especially when playing in game modes like Archenemy (3 players with 20 life each vs. 1 player with 40 life and a ‘scheme’ deck which creates beneficial scenarios for the ‘Archenemy’ player each turn) the AI Archenemy will draw the same 2 schemes on the first turn no matter how many games you play, and almost always play the same combos early in the game.  Trust me, I’ve played some of the levels in the campaign 15 or more times before winning (evidence of my skillz).

The computer also rarely gets mana-screwed, and you will definitely find it happening to you more often than it happens to the AI player.  However, the AI player also does stupid things like attacking with creatures with a power of 0 and then doesn’t buff them … or buffing creatures that don’t make sense … using abilities that don’t make sense, etc.  So really, the fact that the AI opponent cheats doesn’t really matter, because you have the distinct advantage of actually having a brain.  I like to think that it all evens out.  Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but it isn’t bothersome enough to deteriorate my impression of the game.

The multiplayer is really fun.  You can play with up to three other players in free-for-all, and you can also play cooperatively or competitively in Archenemy.  There is also a 2v2 mode that I have yet to try.  It is really nice if you have friends who have an interest in Magic who are not geographically close to you.

Overall, I really like the game.  Obviously.

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My Break-Up with Jac-ob

by on Mar.07, 2012, under Co-op

Dear ME2 Diary,

     Oh Diary, what did I do?  I broke up with my sexy, horse-mouthed boyfriend (Oh thank you, Oxford comma) and now I feel so terrible!  What’s worse is that I told him the real reason why … I dumped him for a turian.  He was SO PISSED!  Whoever said honesty is the best policy clearly has never been in such a messed up situation.  At least he is still willing to help me fight the crazy ancient robot thingamajiggers … 

You know, I just couldn’t really help myself.  Garrus was laying it in thick with all that talk about “sparring”.  What was I supposed to do?

 

So, I initially started working my lady-mojo on Jacob because I wanted a human-straight romance, which is typically what I go for in games like this (because I am boring).  I did it in the first game, and I wound up with Kaidan … (whom I now realize I should have let DIE on Virmire … of course then I would have been stuck with Ashley.  Seriously, why wasn’t there a “Fuck it, leave them both” option?)  But then I was like, … well, Garrus is pretty awesome, let’s talk to him more.  So I did.  And it was awesome … and he was awesome … and dude I’m not even going to lie: ever since he got those messed up scars I find him at least 81.653% more attractive.

 

Seriously though.  I wanted to take a moment to really talk about Bioware’s character development and dialogue.  They are incredible at bringing a character to life.  I LOVE some of these characters … and I fucking HATE some of these characters.  You know what that means?  *whispers* … It means it’s working.

Oh, and I yell at the screen!  ALL THE TIME!  Just ask Paul … I really am a freak about it.  ”OMG DROP THAT BITCH, SHE IS A STUPID HO-BAG” (guess who)  And I don’t know how many expletives I yelled at the screen when I first talked with Kaidan on Horizon.  What a dick.  I’m so mad that I slept with him.

 

In Dragon Age: Origins, (oh, you knew I was gonna go there) if you have a romance with Alistair (duh) and you get to the point in the game where he learns that he will likely have to take the throne (and you aren’t playing as a female human noble), he breaks up with you.  I’m not gonna lie, I seriously cried.  I am that nerd girl.  I’m the girl who cried because she got dumped by a virtual representation of a figment of someone’s imagination.  Yep.  And that is the power of storytelling.  (And sexy British voice-acting.)

At least in my opinion, the only form of media that even comes close to rivaling the story-telling (and character developing) ability of these games is books.  And, maybe that is even too much like comparing apples to oranges because books don’t involve direct interaction and you don’t get to decide how the book keeps going … unless it’s one of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books (that I realize I compare these games to way too often).  At least you don’t have to keep thumbing back through to find the right stupid page …

 

But really what I am trying to say, is that these games make you (me) feel the whole spectrum of human emotion.  That is what makes the gameplay so intriguing and totally captivating; and also why the replay value of these games are so high.  These decisions that I am making … I am invested.  I have real emotions about how the interactions between the characters play out, and every decision that I make; every word I “say” is weighted by that emotional investment.

I was sad when I broke up with Jacob … And I really didn’t even like him that much … But it still hurt me to break things off with him, because I felt like I was hurting someone else that I at least cared about to a certain extent.  I felt guilty and sad and hurt.  And that was eye-opening about the quality of games as a vessel for telling a story.  It’s not that I didn’t realize that games were great at telling stories, it’s just that a game like this one has a way of smacking you upside the head with it until you feel like you must have forgotten about it before.

 

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An addendum to Ep 18: @FrontierCorp can still suck it.

by on Mar.28, 2011, under @FrontierCorp, Podcast, Rant

If you’ve listened to episode 18 of our delightful podcast, you’ve heard me go off on a rant of epic proportions about my ISP, Frontier Communications. Our bandwidth problems have not changed in the slightest since and I don’t expect them to anytime soon. I’ve been wanting to get this information out there, so here are my last few speedtest results:

 

ISP Information

Frontier Communications Residential ADSL

Location: Spencer, NY

Rated Download: 3Mbps

Rated Upload: 320Kbps

 

3/26/11

12:30pm – speedtest.frontier.com (Rochester, NY)

Test 1 – 784kbps down, 355kbps up

Test 2 – 805kbps down, 324kbps up

Test 3 – 904kbps down, 344kbps up

avg – 831kbps down, 341kbps up


4:45pm – speedtest.frontier.com (Rochester, NY)

Test 1 – 621kbps down, 350kbps up

Test 2 – 1021kbps down, 349kbps up

Test 3 – 697kbps down, 339kbps up

avg – 780kbps down, 346kbps up


Total avg – 805.5kbps down, 343.5kbps up


3/28/11

5:45pm – speedtest.frontier.com (Rochester, NY)

Test 1 – 353kbps down, 330kbps up

Test 2 – 349kbps down, 351kbps up

Test 3 – 274kbps down, 331kbps up

avg – 325kbps down, 337kbps up


9:42pm – speedtest.frontier.com (Rochester, NY)

Test 1 – 752kbps down, 320kbps up

Test 2 – 790kbps down, 316kbps up

Test 3 – 543kbps down, 311kbps up

avg – 695kbps down, 316kbps up


Total avg – 510kbps down, 326.5kbps up


I also did a separate set of tests at the standard Speedtest.net site to make sure that Frontier wasn’t fudging any results(though I would think they’d try to do better if they were).

3/28/11
Test 1 – 5:50pm – speedtest.net (Clifton, NJ – Auto-chosen as fastest ping)

.15Mbps down, .33Mbps up

.28Mbps down, .34Mbps up

.21Mbps down, .29Mbps up – Link

avg – .21Mbps down, .32Mbps up

 

Test 2 – 10:00pm – speedtest.net(Syracuse, NY – Auto-chosen as fastest ping)

.16Mbps down, .36Mbps up – Link

.41Mbps down, .31Mbps up – Link

.21Mbps down, .29Mbps up – Link

avg – .26Mbps down, .32Mbps up


Total avg – .235Mbps down, .32Mbps up

 

As you can see, our upload speeds stay pretty consistent and around their rated speeds, while download speeds are in the dumper during the vast majority of the day, whether on the weekends or weekdays.

My apologies for only publishing links to the last 4 Speedtest.net results and none of the speedtest.frontier.com results, I didn’t think to click the “Share This Result” link until the third test, and the Frontier site doesn’t allow you to share the results(though I suppose I could have just taken my own screenshots. *shrug*).

In closing, I’m glad to get these tests out there so anyone thinking of subscribing to Frontier, Central New York residents in particular(though I’ve heard of similar stories from others across the nation), will think about it just that much longer.

This has been going on with us here in Spencer for at least four months, and I recall it going on for a month or so prior before I called to complain. I have gotten a total of $120 in credits from Frontier in the past three months, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that I’ve given them plenty of of opportunity and continued to pay my bill on time only to have my complaints ignored.

My contract’s up, Frontier. Fix it before Friday, 4/1/11, or I’m gone.

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SWTOR: Can it beat WoW? Or at least coexist?

by on Mar.23, 2011, under PC

As this is my first article, I think I’m going to try handling something that hits closest to home for me. The game I am most interested in, the game that has me frothing at the mouth in anticipation (other than Ikaruga), is easily Star Wars: The Old Republic. I probably talk about it in just about every podcast, and I was practically pacing to myself and laughing maniacally while imagining myself playing the game at PAX (which, incidentally, I was never actually able to do). So I think to myself, as a current player of the MMO juggernaut that is World of Warcraft, and a past WoW raiding-obsessed nut, what will it take for a game like TOR to succeed where so many others have failed? What does it need to accomplish in order to not only get the sales numbers EA/Bioware needs to make it profitable in the short-term, but to sustain the game population needed to keep the people there?

Now before I go any further, I want to bring up the fact that Blizzard was in a pretty unenviable position back in 2005 when WoW was being launched. I remember my excitement for that game back then. I loved Warcraft 3’s art-style and story elements, and I thought that if any company could enter the MMO space and survive, it would be Blizzard. But they were fledgling in that space, and Sony Online’s Everquest, the first truly mega-successful MMO, was coming out with a sequel of their own in Everquest 2. I can’t remember for sure but I think they both ended up launching within a few weeks of each other. No one thought Blizzard stood a chance. And they stormed through and obliterated all possible conceptions of how successful an online game could be, leaving Ever-who? in the dust. And they continue their ridiculous success over 5 years later.

So now Bioware walks in similar shoes. A company with a similar good-or-die pedigree of amazing, deep games, and a hardcore audience that just about anyone could envy, steps into the same space, and has to take down an even bigger goliath… or at least carve a hole in its innards to keep it warm in the proverbial Hoth-like MMO competitive environment. I don’t think anyone would have the audacity to say they would beat Blizzard at its own game (and Sony’s before it) but they need to get players, and not just get them in the Age of Conan way or the Warhammer Online way, (where up-front sales look amazing but population numbers rarely exist beyond the first free gaming month) but to KEEP them.

What could Bioware do to sustain demand, and keep these players permanently in their gaming world? I know that in games past, when I have inevitably gotten tired of an MMO, it’s not because the game is bad. In fact, in some instances (like Lord of the Rings Online), I thought they were better experiences as a whole. What they didn’t have that World of Warcraft had was my friends. My guild is essentially a permanent member of the WoW universe, and when the honeymoon with a new game ended, I found myself wandering the world ostensibly alone, wishing for my old guild buddies. WoW is my monthly subscription instant messenger. And while that may sound like a negative (and it sort of is) it is also a convenience that is hard to crack for a new game.

Not only that, but when WoW came out, it was buggy. It didn’t have a real PvP experience. The endgame was an aggravating, swear-laden grind-fest of death. Games that come out now almost always start better than WoW did. But if they were being compared to the original copy of the game that I bought in 2005, there wouldn’t be as much of a problem to get numbers. Unfortunately, they are being compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars, multiple expansions, and years’ worth of content and balancing patches that WoW has had in the 5+ years since.

So essentially, a game needs to come out with a polish so shiny that I can see through time and a pre-existing population of friends I already have, as well as the lore and enjoyment of years’ worth of playing a game that makes it feel as comfortable as a multi-year ass-groove in your favorite couch cushion. “Well that’s easy!” you might be thinking. And seriously, please stop thinking. Your mind-feces is offensive.

So SWTOR has to meet these lofty demands to survive a financially successful option. AND it has to innovate. AND it has to kowtow to the Star Wars purists as well as the MMO junkies craving a new fix. So far, judging by the ridiculously long lines I saw (and never dared enter) at the SWTOR booth on the PAX floor, with 6-8 hour waits to get their hands on the game, the agonizingly slow but consistent trickle of new data via the internet, the nigh-impossible access to the game, and the Fort Knox-impenetrable beta invites; they all bring about one supremely important first step: DEMAND. They have 1.5 million people signed up for a chance to enter the beta of a videogame. They have been hovering around so long with bits of previews and videos that it seems like I’ve heard of this game for longer than the OTHER game that has been around so long it has “forever” in its name, Duke Nukem Forever. And those lines on the PAX floor. And the Blur-crafted trailers that have stunned us. You can bet your nerd-enhanced virginity they have that demand now.

When WoW came about 5 years ago, a lot of people complained about how similar it was to EQ, and how it didn’t offer much of anything new. And yet, it won the internet. SWTOR is aiming to do the same thing: offer the same thing, but in a different universe. To top it off, it’s adding just enough difference from its predecessor that you have to be provoked by interest. The story elements in the game look to enhance the MMO experience to offer a personal one. And Bioware is an expert at that, with their amazing lineup of story-driven games in the past like Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur’s Gate. That will get the dollars flowing. And thus far the amount of content Bioware is putting in might bridge the gap between new game and multi-expansion old game.

But one element left: how do you keep the butts in the seats? How do you get the subscription moneys to drive the game forward, as well as the community to keep the dialogue, both logical and meme-related, flowing through the forums? How do you keep people using Facebook instead of going back to their precious MySpace, where all of their friends are (were)? A robust forum community is a helpful start. And one thing I think is an amazing idea is pre-creation of guilds, which the SWTOR website is now allowing. So if you can get people to group up and find their friend bases even before they spend a penny on the game or an instant playing it, you might have a lot of folks by the short-and-curlies. That isn’t so much something that interests me but I’m sure a lot of people are getting those guilds created, making friends, and setting up Ventrilo servers. Obviously it’s imperfect, as you don’t know how your experiences will be until you’re in the game playing with fellow guildmates, but it’s as good a start as there can be.

So will that all be enough to make the game a success? Well so much money is being pre-spent on this game without a penny of revenue to show for it, it’s hard to say. Who knows how many people need to exist in this game for it to be profitable. But I know I’m a day one buyer. And I also know that I’m compelled by the world. The only real question is if I can find an engrossing personal experience with friends, or make new ones, to sate my social needs. I don’t think that can be answered until the month after launch. But until then, I’ll keep my eye on the slothful unveiling of content on the internet, and continue pacing to myself, laughing maniacally.

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PAX East panel: Building Game Worlds as Main Characters (feat. Ken Levine)

by on Mar.22, 2011, under Uncategorized

Bioshock Infinite: Building Game Worlds as Main Characters PAX East 2011 Panel (c/o: Gamespot)

This was an awesome panel I saw at PAX East where Ken Levine and the other folks at Irrational Games discussed the making of the Bioshock Infinite world, as well as past ventures, and how the world of Columbia is created as a living character, shaped by time. It’s a wonderful discussion. And Ken Levine pretty much can say and do no wrong. Enjoy!

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Dragon Age II: A Thought or Two

by on Mar.19, 2011, under PC

Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II

As of this writing, and according to Steam, I have put in 39.8 hours playing Dragon Age II. My first playthrough was a warrior and now my second playthrough I am working on a mage. I have crawled and cussed at every possible quest I could find in the game. I have bought and sold and scoured for everything I could purchase. I am still not done.

Dragon Age II is the sequel to Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins that hit shelves in 2009 and became a huge hit. It had received a 91% score for the PC version on Metacritic as well as a 9 on IGN.

I am approaching this review as an established fan who played through the XBox 360 version about 6 times with addons.

I had unintentionally stayed away from news about Dragon Age II. I knew it was being made, I knew I would play it so there was no reason for me to read any news or rumors. As it got closer and closer to the release date, it became apparent that I could not stay away from it all. It was in various magazines and websites I visited, so I could not fully escape it. I knew in advance they went a more Mass Effect 2 route for the voice acting of the main character and how the dialogue choices are handled. As I am a fan of Mass Effect 1 and 2 I was alright with these changes.

The night before the game came out I finally settled on the PC version, yes I was cutting it close for any kind of pre-order goodness. When the game launched and I got home from work I settled in and began my journey.

As my hero made his way into the city of Kirkwall and I began questing I had noticed that the game had gone more MMO in it’s questing. In particular, more World of Warcraft’ish with the exclamation points over heads which has become standard fare these days. It worked for me, I understood what they are and so the learning curve for the new game was lessened.

Things began to change for me as I advanced into the fourth hour of the game. I suddenly began to feel like something was missing. It did not take me very long to figure out that there was not some deep foreboding darkness over my head. The game was about me being a refugee and doing odd jobs in the town to fund an expedition to the Deep Roads in an attempt to make vast amounts of money and improve your situation in the town of Kirkwall. It was not about me traversing the lands to unite the races of Fereldon and push back the blight.

The overall story was rather mundane compared to the first game. Oh sure, you cannot have a blight every year, however was there some dark prince gathering the remnant of evil? Was there some new creature or force at work? No, instead we are given a vast story of politics and we all know how well that worked out for the Star Wars franchise with Episode I. People don’t want to deal with politics in the quantity we find in our escapism. The ideal situation is to weave the adventure around these kinds of situations.

The lore we got in the game on the other hand really fleshed things out without resorting to making us feel stupid. The Qunari went through a radical graphical change since the first game and the character of Sten from the first game did not have horns, however in DA:II we find the Qunari have horns. So what about Sten? If you read the lore, the books and notes and you pay attention to what is going on you see the Qunari accept people into the Qun, or their culture. So Sten? Was he born of parents you joined the Qun? Or did he accept them? Oh and the name Sten? If you pay attention to the names of the characters throughout the game you might see the name Sten on more than a few Qunari, which led me to believe that Sten is a title.

The graphics in the game are absolutely breathtaking. You walk down a corridor in a mine and it felt confined and when the room opened up, at times it opened up to some breathtaking view. This also proved to be a problem as they reused the same corridors and caves over and over again. I am not talking a copy and paste of a segment of a mine or 1 single room, instead they copied and pasted the entire dungeon on numerous occasions and just have you zone in at different points to try and trick your senses into thinking you are in a new dungeon.

In the city, this copy and paste mentality is fine. Houses have similar floor plans and layouts, however in a mine? The same mine equipment in place? The same carts and the same picks? It snatches you immediately out of the game and left me arching an eyebrow and muttering “lazy”.

The music in the game does it’s job. It provides the bed for the entire experience. The problem I personally had with the music is that none of it was memorable. Let me take that back, there was a part in the game when the Dalish Keeper comes to the Alienage of Kirkwall to help out with a quest. During her arrival as she stops and gazes upon the tree in the town square, there is an incredible portion of music that plays and then is immediately silenced ruining this moment they were attempting to establish. They were so close too, it was almost a perfect mood moment. If they had let it linger for about 3-4 more seconds and faded to black it would have been a more appropriate transition to the next scene.

It was as if the music really wanted to be let out to flourish. That it was just there under the surface, but never given a chance. Was this the designers fault or the composer? If I can hear the soundtrack all alone I might be able to give a better answer to this.

Combat in the game had improved in many ways. There is weight behind your blows and when you cast a spell it seems to be that you are rending the very fabric of reality and controlling powers you should not toy with. Animations are fluid, full of passion and energy. When you are battling a horde of enemies you feel like you could lose this battle if you are not careful, that it is on the line and every action matters.

I only had a single complaint about the controls, I had a problem with the targeting. If it wasn’t for the space bar pausing things so you can set up attacks, this would be a mess. There is no clear indication of who you have targeted. Beyond the issue with targeting, the game’s controls were natural for anyone who has ever played World of Warcraft, Rift or a million other MMOs out in the world. I appreciate when the controls are universal for these kinds of games. I am not one to sit around and get frusterated with a control scheme. I want to get into a game, wear it like a comfortable shirt and get things done. Dragon Age II does a really great job doing this despite the targeting.

Make no mistake, I really enjoy this game. With my complaints about the story, there is a big climax to the game. It does not just up and die out as if it got bored with itself. The story is fully fleshed out at the end and you get an understanding as to why the Seeker was interrogating Varric at the start and why it matters to the entire world. With my complaints about the copied and pasted dungeons, the visuals are breathtaking and the spell effect gorgeous.

I discussed this game with my wife, she is not a gamer and so her views and thoughts are from a fresh perspective that I appreciate greatly. I laid out everything I mention here and I told her I really do like the game besides the faults I presented. I really do like the story and I really have a good time playing in this world. Without missing a beat she told me that it sounded as if Bioware is going to try and do an MMO themselves. I was momentarily caught off guard as she had quickly summed up exactly how I was feeling about the game. From the way questing is handled, to how combat is worked, down to tightening up of the lore and politics of the land. It is as if Bioware sees the potential for an MMO and used this game to toy with some ideas and some worked and some fell flat.

She might be on to something.

Paul also put it well when he suggested that perhaps the lower scores on Metacritic for this game from the players was that the players felt that their expectations had been betrayed. I felt his statement is probably more true than not. How would I have felt about this game had I read every preview and followed every scrap of news that came out? Would I have been disappointed?

As it stands, this is a very good game in my opinion and if you can set your expectations aside and just play it then you might see it as well.

If I were give the first Dragon Age a 9 out of 10. This would get an 8 out of 10.

 

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It’s almost here!

by on Nov.11, 2010, under Uncategorized

See? Work DOES get done round these parts! Podcast list up soon!

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Holy crap, an actual podcast!

by on Sep.09, 2010, under Podcast

Hey folks, apologies for all the delays. We got together the other day and recorded a mini-episode to help tide you over until the work for the website is complete, and here it is! Enjoy, take care, and there’s more to come VERY soon(Promise!)!

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Work, work, work.

by on Jul.22, 2010, under Uncategorized

Don’t worry, all. Content’s on it’s way, I promise. With any luck, sending off our 360 for repair this week will light a fire under my ass due to reduced distraction. Thanks for your patience, everyone. I can’t wait for you to see what we’re working on!

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Welcome!

by on Jun.24, 2010, under Uncategorized

Hey all, welcome to the official site for The Mighty Vincibles! Right now it’s a simple blog that we’ll use to feature events and, of course, the podcast. As time goes on we’ll add new features and whatnot, some already in the planning stages.

I realize there’s not much to look at right now, but there’s a ton of content in the works. Keep an eye out and thanks for visiting!

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