Bragtoberfest: Tower Defence Quickies

The refreshing thing about Bragtoberfest has been the opportunity to play a broader spectrum of games than the habitual rut I’ve fallen into – where I cycle between dailies in GW2, dailies in Path of Exile and then spend the rest of the night in Minecraft with no real idea of what to do next but jetpack around like a bee and dip a toe into the next branch of things-to-do, only to discover that it’s a lot more complex than one bargained for.

The impromptu bonus has been a sudden resurgence of interest in Tower Defence games.

I LOVE Tower Defence.

I don’t know why, but the genre has a great appeal to me. There’s something very strategically attractive about planning out a beautiful sequence of traps or a gauntlet of a corridor of death, and then watching the unthinking hordes wander through and die to it.

I wouldn’t say I’m very good at it though.

I tend to the simplest, whatever works strategies, and I rarely come back and revisit the level for more efficiency and better and higher scores.

That is, until Orcs Must Die, where the difficulty kept ramping up to the point that I was left without recourse and had to go read strategy guides for a while and had my eyes opened to what other people were doing, helluva lot more efficiently and effectively.

That brought me past some harder levels a few years ago, but I kind of lost steam with it again.

The other day, since I spied Izlain trying his hand at it, and wanting to get past it so I can play the sequel with multiplayer too, I cranked it up to try and refresh my memory as to how it all worked.

I got a bit too intimidated to take on the next level right away, so I scrolled back and looked for an easier level where I’d done poorly before.

I found two:

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Chaos Chamber was a bit tricky at first, but I rather surprised myself by seeing a potentially workable strategy and racing between portals to set it up. (Picked up a SG1 achievement for traveling through portals 20 times unknowingly too.)

I jumped from two skulls to five skulls earned. Oh yeah.

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Then there was Lunch Break. My score was the shabbiest of all my Steam friends at first, and again I managed to suddenly see a pathing route that could effectively channel all the orcs into one chokepoint – which I then turned into a lethal doorway of death.

No clue about the missing skull though. Why wasn’t it good enough for that one last skull? Gaaah, apparently there’s room to get better still.

My time was limited, so I couldn’t play much more than that for the night, but it was good rewarding fun for that 30-60 minutes.

As for Defence Grid, Doone’s first challenge is Ancient Research.

So I cranked that game up, having left it fallow for a good two years or more.

My initial strategy went all guns, all upgraded everywhere.

Ended up the same 55k or so score that I’d been sitting on for ages. Not enough to beat Doone’s.

Time to think more efficiently and use less towers for more bang for buck.

defencegrid

Woot.

It’s probably still not the best that can be achieved, but I’m reluctant to refine it any further unless pushed by someone scoring higher. :P

Bragtoberfest: This is My Mountain

Not quite Populous...

There are many like it, but this one is mine.

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I’ve watched it through warm autumn days and balmy summer nights.

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I’ve kept it company through snowy winter mornings and even snowier winter midnights.

Sometimes I play it songs.

(Though my limited musical repertoire means it gets to hear Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Happy Birthday and Do-Re-Mi (of the “Do, a deer” fame) a lot.)

Sometimes I look at it from another angle.

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Who says mountains need to be pyramidal in shape, anyway?

Sometimes I spin it like a top.

My mountain thinks deep thoughts and sometimes speaks to me of how it feels.

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And sometimes it wonders:

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Then I went for dinner and left it alone for an hour.

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And when I find the god who flung these things into my mountain, that bastard is going to pay.

Seriously, get your own damn mountain.

Anyone remember the pet rock craze?

Mountain reminds me somewhat of that.

Said pet rock was gifted by Doone, as I’m certainly not the sort to buy this sort of “program” (I can’t call it a game, because a game implies -some- interactivity.)

Is it a toy? I guess it could be, if you treat it like one.

Is it art?

There’s the caveat that all art is subjective.

My interpretation? Not so much in the sense of being impressive on a graphical or technical skill scale – I’ve seen much better landscapes, and much better pixel art for that matter.

Mountain very much gives me the impression that someone wanted to make something, a game, a Tamagotchi pet, whatever, but only had very basic 3D modelling skills – enough to code and cobble together a randomized mountain slope, dot it with procedural trees (same model, just rotated and sized differently) and rocks. A little advanced tutorial work for clouds and sky and stars and changing lighting to simulate day and night, another short exercise to create a winter snow landscape, yet another programming exercise to allow keyboard keys to play musical notes… and then with imagination running dry and idle hands, comes the sudden inspiration to toss premade 3D models like a ball or a gramophone or something equally incongruous into the mountainside.

For all we know, maybe Mountain really -is- someone’s school project or programming / graphical art practice exercise.

I suppose what I’m more impressed with is the capacity of humanity to invest -anything- with meaning or to construct some kind of story or narrative out of it.

The act of choosing to run the program and watching the mountain change over time rather reminds me of the ongoing discussion on the GW2 Reddit about the Lion’s Arch changes (“No other game welcomes returning players with their favorite city in ruins.”)

What’s interesting in that Reddit thread is that the top comment shares the story that this scene that they’re seeing now is the -improved- version of the Lion’s Arch ruins. Yes, Lion’s Arch was even more ruined before (and on fire, besides.) Following it are comments that lament missing the occurrences, the events, the changes, as well as serious nostalgia from the players who were THERE, plus some expressed fascination with hearing these veterans’ stories.

The act of change over time creates HISTORY.

And because I’m sort of a crusty cynical pessimist on the outside, with a hefty helping of paranoia, I have this sneaking suspicion that my mountain is not going to stay the same forever. Even in geologic time, mountains erode. Or explode. Or something.

And I suppose the time invested into “growing” this mountain (in the sense that starting ProgressQuest is leveling up a character, anyway) will result in some kind of attachment and feeling of loss when the mountain eventually goes away.

Inasmuch as Mountain can provoke these sort of reflective thoughts, I daresay from a certain angle, one might call it art.

(But not art I’d personally pay for, to be honest. If someone gives it to you for free though, it won’t hurt to adopt a pet mountain for a while.)

Path of Exile: Bragtoberfest Get-Together

Path of Exile played host to the second Bragtoberfest event that Eri kindly organized for us.

As per last week, it was good fun to meet and play with a whole host of other bloggers – Simcha, Jaedia, Syl, Doone and of course, Eri and Izlain.

Also, I had my eyes opened as to some aspects of a game that I rarely get to see – the multiplayer partying and group aspects, which I never really get the good fortune to see in detail, since that requires finding a group of people all interested in the same game and playing at the same timezones as me.

(Of course, 5am is not really sustainable for me either. One more meetup for TF2 next week and I’ll have to surrender in the name of getting normal sleep again.)

Path of Exile is interesting in that it allows up to 6 people to group.

That’s quite sizeable, with only the late and much-missed City of Heroes topping that at 8 (within my limited knowledge, anyway.)

There were, however, some more inconvenient aspects that made grouping a little less smooth than it could have been.

1) Are we in the same map? The same league?

The Twilight Strand is an initial introductory area that separates a new character from the first town.

While racers know that they can run through in a couple seconds past all the zombie mobs and beat on Hillock with a held down left mouse click and be in town in no time flat, the average individual encountering the map for the first time will want to actually play the game – that means hitting a few zombies, getting a level, opening some chests, and eventually meandering their way to Hillock and figuring out how to deal with him.

Each person completes this at a slightly different time and pace, making it a little tricky to meet up when everyone was still new and confused.

(Not to mention, our dear host Eri successfully joined the wrong league twice! Cue deletion and re-making of character. Twice.

Can’t blame ya though. Rampage league IS fun, and we should play more of that too. The more mobs you kill in a row, the more killstreak rewards of all shapes and size rain down from the skies, hence “Rampage.”

The good news about going standard league though was that I got to twink out my character later on, from my personal bank stash.)

Fortunately, someone hit on the good idea of creating a guild.

This was an effortless procedure.

Simply pressing S for “Social” and flipping to the Guild tab, allowed one to type in a guild name and voila, guild created. Once everyone’s assorted characters were invited, at least there was a shared communication channel for the future.

2) Where IS everybody anyway?!

Y’know, sometimes I don’t get games that start you off with the weirdest default settings ever.

Strife locks your camera down and refuses to let you scroll away from your character in the center. Path of Exile makes it all ridiculously dark and shadowy and doesn’t even give you a minimap to play with.

Seriously? What? Why? Are there really going to be people terribly confused if you offered them more vision?

Especially since these are UI options that can be set.

Our Path of Exile newcomers sounded very lost until I realized, courtesy of Syl griping to me about a missing minimap, that they didn’t have one.

It’s “Show Corner Map” in the UI tab of the Options… but really, you’d think this would be a helpful option to preset for newbies.

It took us a while to figure out how best to meet up. There seemed to be multiple instances of the town, and being that I’m not familiar with the whole grouping thing either (nor do I trade with anybody), I didn’t have offhand knowledge of how to hop instances until one met up in the right one.

We eventually did get ourselves over to the map after the town, The Coast, and there the whole party shebang sorted itself out quite nicely and naturally, with all the invited persons finding their way into the same map instance opened by the first person to enter, without any extra excessive effort on our part.

3) What do you get when you pour water onto six cats?

For a moment there, I could see why other games limit their team size to 3 or 4 people, because there were six individuals fanning out like a star, going their own separate directions. Some were chasing the next mob for xp, some were getting stuck by very deceptive ramps up and down and blocking walls, some were trying to chase after someone else, and pretty much nobody was following the same person.

It was, in fact, kind of funny.

This was not helped by Path of Exile’s limited design – in which one has the option to toggle on health bars over other party member’s heads, but lacks any option to actually tag anyone with a name tag like MMOs unless you hover over them and/or target them with your mouse.

Also, no handy party member arrows on your minimap if the party members are out of sight.

If you lose track of the party member indicators on the minimap screen, it’s going to take some detective work (possibly bringing up the larger map overlay) and communication (screaming “where the hell is everyone, someone give me a direction, no matter how vague, here!”) to find the party again.

The good news is that the Social screen at least showed the map each person in the guild or party was in, so I had it out fairly frequently, keeping an eye on everyone’s relative whereabouts.

The six souls eventually did find each other and the big zombie killing party started.

Zombie-raising too.

We had a whole bunch of witch classes with us, and not a few of them could resist the Raise Dead gem, so as zombies died from getting their faces smashed in, they got called up again into un-undeath and formed a friendly throng.

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Feeling very safe here with the friendly zombie army tanking for us.

We smashed through the Coast, did a circle around Tidal Island and walked over Hailrake like he didn’t exist, ran south-ish then north-ish through the Mud Flats (with folks losing each other through the more open map), got into the Fetid Pool and did a full clear of that map, as per the quest.

Sometime amid the Lower Submerged Passage and the Flooded Depths where the Deep Dweller lurked, it started to get late for our EU folks and most took their leave.

I’m curious to know how the lag / latency / ping times were for our EU bloggers, playing on the PoE NA server. Path of Exile is known to have some sync issues, which do cause some freezing or lag in some situations.

I was doing quite well despite 224 ms latency, with only a few instances of freezing for a second at worst, which was better than I’d feared. Perhaps no one owned one of the more infamous lag-causing skills just yet.

Izlain joined us after that, and the remainder of our cohort finished up with the Submerged Passage, headed over to The Ledge (where Doone and me had a little sorta-kinda-Endless Ledge party while waiting for the two slowpokes to catch up with their quests) and went through the rest of Act I.

We took on the new and improved Brutus in the Prison, with his groundslamming that was almost actually threatening rather than a cakewalk, and then Merveil, the crazy siren in her lair.

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Of course, it’s not so easy trying NOT to kill her while waiting for the last person to get into the room.

Merveil had lots of opportunity to show off her low hp emergency skills – summoning other mobs, summoning bosses, summoning a ridiculous number of tornadoes, etc.

All good though, it needed to feel a little bit challenging… even for a party.

Grouping-wise, the scaling felt pretty good so far. I was afraid of excessively hard or tanky mobs, but they still seemed to die fairly quick.

Rewards-wise, there did seem to be a somewhat increased quantity of items dropped, with more varied currency coming out of chests (orbs of transmutation, chance, even an orb of fusing and one or two alchemy orbs dropped.) Quality-wise, I’m not sure. There were one or two rares per boss or elite type mob, I think. Nothing too drastically out of the curve, but certainly not miserly either.

There was a comment from Izlain about the style of loot that was dropping. Very oldschool, in that everyone could see the loot dropped.

Apparently in Diablo 3, it’s all individual loot now. Which I gather is more like the old City of Heroes or a system like GW2, where each person gets their own private loot and can’t see or be tempted by anyone else’s.

From my quick perusal of PoE’s partying options, there are three kinds of distribution systems. Permanent allocation would have been the closest to the new style of loot drops, something like GW1, I suspect, where the loot that drops is permanently assigned to a person randomly.

Short allocation was the default, that I left it at for the most part. The loot is temporarily allocated to a player, who can pick it up before anyone else, and then after a while has passed, anyone else can grab it.

And of course, there’s free for all, which I swapped it to when it was just four folks left being friendly and rivalrous. (Then I spent most of my time plaguing Doone by ninja looting currency under his nose, with double the ping that he has. I’m sure he’s going to thrash me at Defence Grid for that!)

All in all, good fun.

I’d love to play more Path of Exile with folks. Especially in the higher levels, at the harder difficulties. (I have two characters stuck in the 60s that aren’t going anywhere! I can wait! And play alts!)

Just have to figure out those timezone matching blues.