State of the Games

It’s Lunar New Year season, both online and offline.

Spring cleaning’s exhausting. There are a million and one undone errands. There are traditional customs and ritual celebrations that have to be prepared for and performed in the days ahead.

Adding on to the list of things on everyone’s mind over here: A very old relative just got discharged from the hospital after a big low blood sugar scare that had them comatose and kidney function that wasn’t terribly good to begin with going the wrong way. Surprisingly, after a couple days of IV drip and replacement of pretty much all necessary nutrients, kidney function returned, so the body can be an amazing beast, after all. Except now they have a bedsore to contend with, after the unavoidable hospital visit.

(Yeah, well, the whole family is already expecting this individual’s lifespan to be in the weeks or months. So it won’t come as a shock or tragedy. Said individual also has dementia and has been in decline for a couple years now. It’s just been making them comfortable and giving them as much quality of life possible, before their passing, for a very long time now.)

On a personal front, yours truly has also been on the tail end of one of those ubiquitous “winter” colds/flus/unidentifiable and highly annoying (but thankfully not fatal) respiratory illnesses that spread like wildfire through crowded offices and various forms of public transport.

After heroically attempting to brave it out with one’s own immune system and plenty of ginger tea and chicken soup, the darn infection proceeded to coat most of my lungs with thick phlegm of interesting colors and then spread to my eyes, presumably via the very clogged sinuses.

That would be the time I wussed out and headed promptly to a doctor’s for a whole bunch of antibiotics in eyedrop and tablet form, and mucus thinners, which fortunately, worked as prescribed.

It has, however, worked to create a bit -more- gaming time than normal, as being too ill and tired to leave the house or indeed, move from a seated or sleeping position, yields a whole bunch of sitting in front of the computer.

Which was good, because my previously nicely balanced trifecta of gaming – GW2, Minecraft and extra Steam game, sort of expanded suddenly this past week or so.

(Causing blogging to fall behind, but I’m trying to fix that with this whopper of an update post.)


Guild Wars 2 – Time here has cut back down to mostly dailies. Dailies, and more dailies.

Lunar New Year dailies involve a whole bunch of firecracker clicking and desultory Dragon Ball attendance (just to get the bare minimum of participation. The “wins” one is just insane and places stress on the wrong thing, imo. Especially when half the participants are ready to self-adjust and autobalance via quitting a losing match, and the other half has no interest in winning, are just here for participation, couldn’t care less to try, etc…

And don’t get me started on the AFKers, who have presumably developed the solution of “winning” through probability over a long period of time. Though how they eventually score a win is beyond me, since the opposing team tends to use them as free score punching bags, and the rest of their teammates quit, rather than fight an uphill battle – catching up is hard/impossible in Dragon Ball – or reward the AFKer with an improbable win.)

The red packet lottery itself isn’t too bad. For about less than a gold daily, I get a bunch of luck to up my magic find, some spare food and fireworks and stuff. I got the ram backpack on the second day, which was pretty lucky, I suppose, and that took off quite a bit of stress. Prices aren’t too bad on the TP either, I don’t think. The drop rates have been less insane for this particular red packet thing.

When I have time to kill, I pop over to the Silverwastes to score some additional magic find boosts before opening the 16 daily red packets. The difference between 300 and 500 magic find is probably mostly in my head, but hey, who knows, right? And Silverwastes drops champion bags and other loot, so the time ain’t wasted.


Evolve – Yep, still at it for an hour or two a day, give or take.

My multiplayer experience has been more than a little shaky, lately.

I think part of it is my geographic region, which probably dumps me into an Asian matchmaking server or something. So one is likely to play with players from all over this region, many of which might not even speak English, and are probably half my age.

Ok, straight up, not being a bigot or anything, I can tell you, there are cultural differences between NA, EU and the Asian regions. You can feel this in FPS games, MMOs, MOBAs, the works.

I’ve always really liked playing in the NA region. NA folks, in general, are fairly open-minded and cooperative and more tolerant. Casual communities form pretty quick. My best Team Fortress Classic days were spent playing in some West Coast servers, when I was residing in the States. Organizations like TTS to gather, figure out and subsequently teach a bunch of randoms how to fight Tequatl and Wurm are NA-originated constructs.

EU folks, again speaking in super-general terms, I find, are also pretty decent. In fact, sometimes MORE than decent. They’re good. They’re pretty damn pro and serious about their games. If you like playing with /good/ players, the EU is worth seeking out, but they also tend to take on a certain slightly more closed-doors elitist mindset, possibly partially due to language differences. The French are over here, Germans over there (and maybe the Swiss and Swedes, or whoever) the UK represents over yonder, and Eastern Europe and/or Russia are somewhere else, and you get these little cliques. That get a little hard to break into.

And then there’s their ping, which is usually great within their own region, shakier communicating with the US (sorta like the difference between Asia and Australia, ~200ms) and absolutely total crap when you try and hook Asia and Europe up (~350-400ms.)

This keeps my interacting with EU folks pretty limited in general, but I remember pretty good times playing high difficulty Alien Swarm with a bunch of random Ukrainians, and really good times in a WvW guild zerg led by a semi-open to PUGs who listen and don’t die EU commander when I was staying up like an insomniac.

Conversely, one tends to want to cry when stuck only interacting with an Asian playerbase.

Games are just not taken as seriously or accepted culturally over here. They’re for kids.

While the number of adults that play games (and openly admit to playing games) is growing over here, it’s just not growing as fast as in the West. It’s ironic that the selling point used to promote the digital media and video games industry over here is that they are multi-million dollar industries. Say the word, “games?” Instinctual laughter. Say “$$$” and oooh, people listen. Welcome to materialistic Asia.

Oh, and the adults that do play games? They have to do it in between their work, whose regular hours can stretch to 9-12 hours daily. Weekend warriors? You bet. Ever notice how the quality of GW2 Silverwastes or other such maps suddenly goes to absolute shit on the weekends?

Basically, most of Asia plays like that, all the time. (With maybe some exceptions for still-schooling students who can afford to devote a ton of time to one game, like LOL or something.)

And you can’t blame them because duh, they just aren’t getting the hours in to practice and then play any better. That’s just life. That’s HOW IT IS.

Culture here doesn’t really use mics. Can’t blame ’em, I don’t either. It’s rough to disturb one’s family doing that, and oh, there’s that whole ‘game-playing’ stigma that talking to a monitor is not going to alleviate.

So… no to little communication. Add on the possibility of not understanding typed communication if the opposite number doesn’t speak your language (or have an Asian keyboard that can type or even see Korean/Chinese/Japanese characters.) Add on a competitive afraid-to-lose competitive culture.

And you get a delicious recipe for tears and rage in any kind of team-based cooperative game that requires a little more organization or strategic thought beyond point-the-gun-that-way-and-shoot individual rambo deathmatch.

It’s really just my luck that I like games like that. Team Fortress. Natural Selection. Left 4 Dead… and now, Evolve.

Maybe my experience has been a little skewed because I haven’t been playing at peak hours for Asia either, but in the past few days, each attempted multiplayer game has either yielded an incompetent team of Hunters (where our medic ran off and got himself killed in all kinds of creative ways beyond our reach, despite our vain attempts to call him back to us) or less than a full team.

Whereupon I guiltily proliferate the problem and drop out as well, because if it’s just me, another random person I probably can’t count on and a monster player, I may as well play a solo game with bots and actually -enjoy- myself, rather than just feed the monster player’s ego.

Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been playing Evolve super-heavily, which keeps my level at the very odd middle point of being in the teens, making it much harder to matchmake. (I presume the supremely hardcore and good quality players are already level 20+ and probably 30-40 by now.)

In which case, I just need to continue on my slow road to progress, playing little bot games until I get out of the baby levels and into more of the big leagues.

The bot games, anyway, are pretty enjoyable. One can actually hotswap between the various Hunters, so I can, say, possess a Trapper and trap the Monster in the mobile arena, then swap over to Support to back up the bots, and switch over to something else if I wanted more fine control, etc.

It’s also a good avenue to work on some of the weirder requirements to progress and unlock other Hunters, since an actual game with players would mean actually using all one’s weapons to full advantage, while a bot game means you can just camp say, a harpoon gun and work on racking up as much harpooning of the monster as possible, dps be damned.

I’d really love to get some friendly games in with people I know, but I suppose that’s for later, when Evolve actually drops to an affordable price for more people. (Aussies were apparently screwed over by the starting price, for example. Which -may- explain why the quality of the Asian server has been so shitty. Oceania tends to be my little haven of occasionally cooperative sanity in this region.)


FORCED – Instead, my avenue for cooperating with known people has been this quaint little indie action-puzzler.

You know, for folks who miss the well-divided roles, the try-try-again aspect and necessity for communication of strategy and cooperation while implementing a plan of action, aka MMO raiding, they would do well to give FORCED a try and play it at a hardcore level.

Being that I’m mic-less and most of my friends are at a distinctly more casual level, we’ve just been dipping our toes into the waters and being just content with finishing each stage, rather than trying to beat any challenges or finish in record times.

It’s a fun game all the same. You can play solo, but you miss the added complications and give-and-take of playing with an additional 1-3 players.

So far, I’ve tried solo, 2-player and 3-player mode (the last courtesy of a game with Eri and another friend.)

There are four roles: a hammer smash damage melee type, a claw-wielding quick attack dps Wolverine-sort of melee user, a lighting bow ranged attacker with control and stealth options, and an ice shield control & tanky melee sort.

The goal of the game is to fight and puzzle one’s way through little arena rooms filled with both puzzles to complete and waves of enemies that get in your way of doing so.

You get a little ball-wisp-spirit mentor thing that each player can call around with Spacebar, and this wisp is crucial for solving various puzzles like breaking up or activating shrines, blowing up statues, interacting and pulling little crates around to fit on little pressure plates, rescuing you from enemy crowd control that pins you in place and damages you till you die, etc.

As -all- players can control this wisp, a certain amount of communication or situational awareness is crucial for making sure it goes where it needs to, in a good amount of time.

Our super-casual goes at it occasionally lacked this communication, which leads to amusing Magicka-like moments where the other players are more lethal to you than the computer enemies. Still, the unpredictability is part of the fun, I’d say.

I’ve mostly been camping the ice shield tank on my two cooperative goes at FORCED, but I do think the roles feel good and useful, without becoming codependent on each other.

The ice shield user has quite a lot of knockdowns, if not high damage, and tends to draw aggro when the character hits anything. This puts me in very comfortable territory as I race over and body block (there is collision detection in this game –  sometimes much to my dismay when I realize I can’t fit into the same space as two other people and die to an insta-kill laser) and push away enemies from my friends.

And it has a temporarily-turn-into-ice-and-be-immune-to-anything skill, which feels absolutely like a GW2 guardian block, insta-negating something painful. All kinds of tanky tricks like kiting and dragging around enemies to optimally place them appear to be very doable in FORCED.

The fire hammer is more GW2 warrior-like, more offensively focused. I could tell there was a distinct lack of damage in my two player game, as opposed to my three player game where Eri came along and was all hammer-barbarian on the various mobs.

It has a little charge-up mechanic where slow and steady swings deal hefty amounts of damage, and a number of AoE damage skills.

I pretty much think of the green claw weapon-wielder as Wolverine. It’s very mobile, very quick-attacking, and can pump an AoE heal if the said skill is chosen. It’s very possible to melee kite in a circle with this character, dancing around the enemy doing a seemingly insignificant amount of damage just looking at one float-up number alone but hitting so many times it becomes the death of a thousand and one papercuts in short order.

It can also contribute to a team role by very rapidly putting on ‘marks’ on all enemies that allow for finisher skills to do greater amounts of damage.

I’m least versed with yellow-bow wielder, not having much of a ranged preference. It does seem to suit a friend that -does- enjoy being ranged, and seems to have a charge-up sniper sort of mechanic. Knockbacks and other such controls appear to be also a thing, and the bow user can also invis the entire team for stealth moments when desired.

I especially enjoy the action combat for being fair like GW2. Mobs have certain patterns of attack that can be avoided if you know how and/or are good at hand-eye coordination.

A bull-like Taurus will charge, so once you see it start its animation, move off sideways because it’ll go until it slams headlong into a wall and stuns itself. (Which rather brings to mind a certain fight in the Crucible of Eternity dungeon in GW2 almost immediately.)

A brawler has a heavy broadsword swing attack, so attack it, back off a little before it swings, and then attack again.

Cleavers, on the other hand, have a really nasty axe swing, and moving in to attack first WILL get you hit by this attack. So let -them- attack first, get their axe buried and stuck in the ground, before moving in to hit them, etc.

A spit-using imp has acid spit to be dodged, and a certain exploding knockback imp is pretty much a melee user’s nemesis unless I get my ice-immunity skill up in time… except there was once when my friend on the yellow bow managed to get them all first and quickly, and then I realized… Ooooh, look, team roles! The archer can actually deflect the pain of this enemy. (And presumably if I took a ranged skill, I might be able to deal with it too.)

Looking forward to getting a few more games of this, whenever people are free.


Blackguards – I’m not sure what prompted me to install this and try it out. It was just another one of those games turning up in my ever-expanding Steam games list after buying one too many Humble Bundle deals and the like.

The blurb on the store page read, “What happens when the only hope of a threatened world lies not with heroes in shining armor, but in the hands of a band of misfits and criminals?”

And I went, hrm, I don’t know, maybe it’ll be fun to play a fantasy game where my characters are scum and villains, let’s see how this plays…

Turns out, not too bad.

One of the big hurdles, I feel, is that your expectations have to be set right with regards to Blackguards. It’s not a full-fledged heavy customisation RPG in the vein of Fallout and its ilk. It feels like a game that very easily can and will find its way onto a tablet or mobile near you.

That is, it feels a bit like an app game. Most of the in-between combat consists of a world map and a bunch of fast-travel points to click on to progress from stage to stage, or region to region. Sort of similar to Puzzle Quest, in that sense.

The story seems to be of average quality, the voicework so-so but conveys the plot and characters well enough that you’re not -totally- cringing at something that didn’t fit, but tends toward being somewhat corny in places. It’s interesting enough, in an “I want to know more, so I will keep playing” fashion.

Your character begins in front of a dead body, apparently framed for their murder, and thrown into prison. You bust out of prison with two unlikely allies, a dwarf and a southerner mage (somewhat reminiscent of the Forgotten Realms, which ain’t a bad thing in my book) with the goal to find out more about what’s going on and what the heck happened to you. Standard fantasy trope, really, but functional.

The fights themselves are… not horrible. They could, I suppose, be a little more interesting.

But in the early game, it’s mostly been alternating between normal attack and Power Blow attack (with lower chance to hit), with only one mage sporting a few more varied spells like a fire bolt, a fireball, a barrier and some buff and debuff spells – most of which you won’t be able to cast too much of, or run out of mana very quickly.

The environments are pretty enough, with occasional possibilities for interacting with objects mid-battle, with traps and mechanisms to figure out the purpose of.

I can’t help but wonder if there are other things I’m missing, so to speak. There seems to be some kind of cover system in play, where your chances of evading ranged attacks are better when you’re behind cover. There appears to be some kind of swarm combat bonus at work, but none of it is made terribly clear. Sometimes you’ll have 75% chance to hit someone, sometimes 45% and is it because of facing? Or maybe the armor the individual is wearing? Who knows.

But for a change of pace and a few turn-based encounters here and there, it’s decent enough… and I’d sure like to know what’s going on with the story, and so, I play on.


Minecraft – I’ve been alternating between the Agrarian Skies and Wanderlust Reloaded modpacks rather frequently.

Ag Skies is my comfortable, established, so-called ‘mid-game’ factory/automation mod exploration goto, but occasionally it feels too safe and a little slow and boring to progress further.

Somedays, you just want to explore a big world and actually have procedurally generated land that you didn’t place block by block yourself.

After dabbling with a ton of the other modpacks that have HQM (some of whom seem fairly intriguing), most of them end up too hard or too confusing for poor ol’ me at this stage of mod ignorance. Spatial IO? Ender IO? Buildcraft? Computercraft? Wtf are those?

A number simply presume a baseline level that’s set a little too high for me to fully grasp. When I struggle with the first few HQM goals, that’s usually a good sign that it’s way beyond me for the moment.

Yet others are simply too hardcore lethal. The vanilla mobs hold no more terrors for these established Minecraft players, and so they turn up mob difficulty to 11… (or 13.) Mobs that ride spiders…that fly…and are on fire… that shoot explosive poisonous arrows… Uhhh, yeah. I’m not -that- well-versed with all the mods and stuff that I can tech up in the space of one day before night falls and be ready for mortal combat with buffed out zombies and creepers and skeletons sporting way too many hearts.

Wanderlust Reloaded is the only other modpack that I’ve managed to find -with- a nice HQM system to provide little goals to follow and learn new mods, while not being out to murderize you every minute.

It contains a couple of different mods from Ag Skies, like Botania, which is nice since I can learn a few different mods, but also has some similarities like Minefactory Reloaded, Thermal Expansion and Forestry, so that it doesn’t feel too alien and I can fall back on what I know previously.

(I do miss Ex Nihilo and Ex Aquilo though. I just love being able to produce everything from nearly nothing.)

The world it rolls up feels pretty great, more complex but still recognizably Minecraft. Just with more cool things –  plants, ores, and all, inside it.


Rollplay: Swan Song – Not precisely a game that I’m playing, but one that I’ve been finding really fun to listen to.

This has been my background accompaniment to playing around in Minecraft (since Minecraft’s audio/music sucks anyway after hearing it once or twice), having forgotten about it for several months and needing to binge to catch up with the storyline.

Man, it’s still good. And highly recommended.

Eavesdropping on a group of ruffians and ne’er-do-wells try to raise a burgeoning AI to not be a complete monster amidst a background of people perpetually dying after coming into contact with them and getting into serious trouble aboard the junker spaceship Swan Song, exploring a vast variety of planets created by the ingenious mind of Adam Koebel and the Stars Without Number tabletop RPG system, is great entertainment.

Evolve: Short Impressions

I really can’t be arsed to write reams of text about Evolve, because it would simply take away from actual playing Evolve time.


It’s glorious eye candy.

Both the monster and the hunters feel powerful, especially in a skilled player’s hands.

(Which, sadly, is not me. Suffice to say, every time, I feel there’s always more to learn, and lots more room to improve. It’s only been launched for two days, so yeah, alpha and beta players not withstanding, noobing it up is pretty much the expected performance right now.)

There’s plenty of room for out thinking one’s opponents, knowledge and use of the map to outwit one’s enemies, and loads of maps, hunters/monsters with entirely different skill sets. I believe this is called, “depth,” and I’m definitely only wading in the shallow end of the baby pool right now.

There’s a decent variety of game modes to suit different player types and preferences.

I like that they’ve built in a tutorial for both hunter and monster, and in-game videos that you can watch to get additional tips and info about each, because someone straight up telling you stuff was sorely lacking in the alpha. (And beta, I guess, but I missed playing that.)

Solo mode with bots is something that weird old me rather likes.

Y’see, I actually like playing the monster, but I’m really BAD at playing the monster.

So instead of ruining 4 players’ day with a pushover monster, I sit around and play solo games versus bots, aiming to get a little better and more used to the monster’s skills. Those bots, by the by, are no bloody joke, because their teamwork has a lot less holes in it than human players.

I still haven’t figured out how to get past them when they’re defending a power relay because the whole place is mined to hell, it’s a confined area to fight in, there’s a time limit forcing me to get to the power relay and engage in a fight, and the support bot shields the one I’m attacking like Guild Wars 1’s super-coordinated interrupt mesmer heroes, with split second picture perfect reaction times.

Multiplayer is a lot more varied an experience right now, due to really different skill levels. Some matches the monster sucks, or one or two crucial hunters are really really good. Some matches the monster runs circles around the world’s worst and most incompetent hunters.

Surprisingly, I seem to have stopped obsessing about needing to win and am pretty much enjoying multiplayer for its human variances. Probably because there’s a solo mode where I can indulge my ego and my need to immerse into some kind of story or role.

For an interesting ‘sandbox’ sort of campaign assembled from a bunch of maps and game modes, there is Evacuation – which is a campaign of five maps that will likely take an hour or so to play through.


With each monster or hunter win, the subsequent map gets a sort of rules tweak that gives an advantage to the winning team.

Conversely, if one team keeps winning, the other side gets a little autobalance help in the form of having their damage numbers a little more buffed.

Evacuation mode can be played in a variety of ways – straight up PvP, where it’s all players controlling monster and hunters, solo, where it’s you taking on one role and the rest run by bots, and co-op, where it’s human players as the hunters versus a monster AI.

I can see co-op appealing to a more casual group of players who want to play with friends as a team, but where no one wants to play the monster, or don’t want to deal with the unpredictability of a random human controlling the monster.


I gave it a go, and the monster AI gave our semi-inexperienced group of PUG hunters a fairly good run for our money. We won 4 maps, but it was pretty darned close and touch and go for one or two matches.

With set groups of Steam friends who want to play specific roles, I believe there is a custom mode where one person can play the monster and others can fight him or her. (I think, anyway, I have not personally tried it out yet.)

All in all, it seems pretty solid. A little something for everyone.

I can see myself just playing co-op and solo if multiplayer pvp ever gets too toxic or only filled with super elite veterans or alarmingly suspicious possibly-hacking pros.

For now though, PUGing isn’t too bad, if a little random and high variance.

I can see room for really professional teams to go versus each other too – there’s probably significantly more depth in Evolve than in GW2’s sPvP at present, if you’re the “eSports” sort.

As for the hue and cry over the day 1 DLC stuff and in-game store, I can only roll my eyes.




Here you go. 3 screens worth. Duh, they’re COSMETIC SKINS.

How is this any different from what League of Legends or DOTA2 or other games do for some extra revenue? Appeal to players’ vanity to look all prestigious and speshul for a couple extra bucks?

The people likely to buy the stuff are people who probably think they’ll be playing the game for a significant time to get their money’s worth out of the skin.

The one thing that is not a skin is the Hunting Season Pass, which was advertised and bundled into the preorder for cheaper if one so desired to get it. The game was built to expand gameplay via more and different hunters and monsters. I see no problem with choosing to buy more gameplay options as long as the balance point is that the base hunters and monsters are equally good and competitive.

If the price ain’t right now, then wait. Steam is notorious for 50% and 75% off DLCs eventually.


Anyway, that’s enough talk from me.

Convince yourself one way or the other, I don’t really care.

-I’m- enjoying myself.

And it’s time to hunt.

*cue monster roar in the distance*

Evolve: The Big Alpha – First Impressions, Part 2

On the second day, I debated with myself whether I wanted to give Evolve another chance, and ended up saying, “What the hell, why not, it’s free at the moment, with a time limit for this experience.”

This time I purposefully set myself to a completely Random role preference, hoping that this would help the currently not-quite-perfected matchmaking match me with players a little more at my current level of play, and giving myself the opportunity to play all the roles to understand them more.

The Medic, whom I managed to randomly roll first, was quite understandable. The character of Val has a sniper rifle – landing hits on the Monster with this yields zones of critical damage that your teammates can use to increase their own damage done. She has a medic gun that essentially acts like the TF2 medic’s healing gun and an AoE healing burst skill, both of which I spent a lot of time with that game, keeping all the Hunters alive. Finally, she has a tranquilizer gun that slows the Monster and also keeps it targeted for the Hunters. I was a little less adept at landing this on a regular basis (my twitch aim has never been the greatest and ping does play a part too.)

Our Monster for that game managed to hit Stage 2, but his defeat, I felt, was a moot point. He never managed to pick me out as a threat, and I did a -lot- of healing of anyone else damaged, so no Hunter ever died. He eventually died from attrition over time.

I also got Markov the Assault again and watched the intro video a little more closely, finally figuring out the lightning gun and finding it much easier to get up close and personal with the grounded Goliath – who also needs to be in close melee range to fight – than with the Kraken.

I spent a little time as the Trapper Maggie, and mostly spent my time following my pet Daisy follow tracks, while failing to successfully trap the Monster – missing by a couple feet because I kept misjudging distance and hadn’t yet worked out how to catch up with the Monster – which was busy running away most of the time.

Meanwhile, the rest of my team had dispersed in who knows what direction, so that wasn’t a very satisfactory game at all.

The Monster was too busy being pursued to stop and eat and level up, the Hunters were spread out and unsuccessful at cornering the Monster. After ten minutes of this, I rolled my eyes and quit, being perfectly happy to sit through a minute-long “quitter” penalty than put up with another 10-20 minute stalemate while the Monster eventually stole enough meals on the run to get to Stage 2 or 3.

Then I had a quick run as Support, where I mostly never had the opportunity to use much beyond the basic damage gun, and an experimental cloak or two, because that game was most notable for a not-terribly-experienced level 7 Monster and a super-experienced level 23 Hunter.

The scenery's pretty great if you have the machine for it.
The scenery’s pretty great if you have the machine for it. Too busy to remember to take screenshots in game though. I was the level 4. The level 23 kicked major ass. I don’t even know what the level 10 and 13 were doing, they eventually caught up later.

The Hunter immediately zoomed in on its tracks the moment the game started, while I merely faithfully followed in the Hunter’s footsteps. He seemed to have a radar equivalent to Daisy’s given how skilled he was, despite him being a Medic. The Monster got caught in Stage 1, constantly filled full of Tranquilizer Darts leaving him easily trackable, ran in easily predictable straight line directions while I was finally figuring out the art of the double-tap-space jetpack forward leap to catch up with the Monster more effectively, and ended up full of bullets, standing still near the end because it had entirely given up.

I never much had any opportunity to use a shield for allies, since the Monster never really attacked anyone successfully, nor did it ever occur to me to figure out how to use some harpoon line mines because the Monster was standing still anyway and I was mostly reflecting on how asymmetrical this matchup was, and how it might be theoretically possible to “grief” games by voluntarily not putting up any kind of fight, while emptying entire clips into it.

Finally, after a lot of Hunter experience and seeing how not very effective Monsters played, I was tempted once again to select Monster as a first priority and try my hand at it once more.

This time, my new strategy was just to test out evasion and sneaking -everywhere-, since running in a straight line away from Hunters wasn’t that effective.

Sneaking gave me a little more time to feed, but I still wasn’t very good at it since feeding attracted carrion birds, which signals to Hunters immediately where you are. By the time I hit Stage 2 and was ready to evolve, the Hunters would usually find me, and I kept having a hell of a time losing them once they caught sight of me and had me on their radar.

I did however have one very memorable moment while being filled with bullets and trying to do some damage to them while getting away, and managed to scale a cliff near to the map limits. It so happened there was a big pillar I could hide my bulk behind, and I could keep track of the Hunters by sniffing my surroundings with right-click.

They must have somehow lost sight of me, possibly from their attention being taken by neutral monster attacks during the time I broke off. I hunkered down and stayed -absolutely- silent. They stood around in a group of four, looking around, seemingly extremely puzzled because the Trapper’s dome was up and I couldn’t have gone far.

They moved around to the sides to look around, while I kept sneaking and strafed left and right to keep the pillar between them and me, and completely failed to come around to where I was.

The dome came down. I stayed super quiet still.

Eventually, they moved off.

I got a BIG thrill from that.

Outsmarting my opponents through clever strategy is one of the things I do enjoy in my FPSes. That’s why I can stand to play Team Fortress occasionally as an engineer doing horrible things to people with my turret placements. Or aiming to, anyway.

Unfortunately, they managed to catch up with me rather quickly again once I got on the move and tried to hunt and feed, and I died from attrition damage as expected. But that was a game where I felt that they weren’t a super-experienced group of Hunters and that I was actually fulfilling a role as a fair enough challenge for their level, while getting some valuable personal experience as a Monster myself.

I dare say that given time and effort, most players would be able to climb out of the newbie stage and get to a passably average level of play.

An interesting question then arises: Is there sufficient motivation to?

I’m still on the fence about that myself.

On one hand, I do like the whole alien vs humans premise. I do expect that if I spent time playing the game every day, I’ll be able to move with the launch crowd playerbase, from the point where nearly everyone starts as newbies and eventually gains more skill over time.

On the other hand, I do have a main game I’m playing called Guild Wars 2. I’m not sure if I have enough time left over to devote to Evolve.

I’m not sure if I want to pay $60 for the privilege of playing with the launch crowd, and I highly doubt I’ll have a good time paying a discounted price later if everyone else left playing it 6-12 months after launch has become super skilled.

There are also some questions about the game’s longevity. Evolve is essentially about the monster vs hunter experience. Twist and turn it how you like, eventually it tends to boil down to “If the Hunters can catch the Monster at Stage 1, the Monster is likely to lose. If the Monster can get to Stage 3, the Hunters are in serious trouble and will probably get torn to pieces.”

How many variations on that count can you play before you get bored of the premise?

That answer probably differs from person to person – what they’re getting out of the game experience, if they’re playing with a regular group of friends, how competitive a level they’re playing at, etc.

There are some hints that Evolve will include more game modes and maybe even a single-player experience of some kind, so that might affect perceptions of longevity down the road.

Some people have also expressed concern that it’s possible to “grief” matches by either not putting up much of a fight (which can be rather hard to tell apart from a true newbie) or by artificially extending the length of a match by intentionally leaving Hunters alive while murdering them one by one and letting them respawn from their dropship singly to get picked off again.

Still, I presume there will always be the standard FPS options of dealing with trolling players, by either vote kicking them off the server or quitting yourself and finding another match, so I don’t personally find this a major issue.

I’m mostly just trying to decide how long I’m liable to find Evolve interesting – given my personal preferences of not really liking uneven playing fields and one-sided matches, but really liking strategic fights and alien vs human combat – and if it’s worth $60 to me personally to play at launch.

So far, the magic 8-ball says: Reply hazy. Please try again.

I suppose I’ll keep an eye on it, give it another try in beta if given the opportunity to and see how it develops.

Evolve: The Big Alpha – First Impressions, Part 1

Evolve is the upcoming game by Turtle Rock Studios (of previous Left 4 Dead fame) where one Monster player gets to pit themselves competitively against four Hunters with different roles like Medic, Trapper, Support and Assault playing cooperatively.

Premise-wise, it sounds really fun.


Looks-wise, it doesn’t have anything to be ashamed about.

Being rather cheap and unwilling to pay a box price sight unseen, I was initially perfectly content to wait until after launch and pick it up when it got discounted, following prior established pattern for all these FPS games like Left 4 Dead or Natural Selection 2.

Then the Evolve Big Alpha announcement dropped: all players who own XCOM have free access to the current ongoing alpha.

Oh. Well. That changes things.

And I have a new computer that is just asking to run these sorts of graphically intensive games.

Downloaded it, tried a few games and now I’m caught in an even bigger dilemma – do I pick it up at launch, pick it up as intended much later on when it is discounted, or maybe I shouldn’t even bother to pick it up at all.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad game. Even in alpha, it’s extremely functional and does what it says on the box. Pits one monster player against four hunter players.

But after two days of very light play, I’ve suddenly realized that there is an inherent flaw in multiplayer PvP-only games.

(It’s a flaw to me, others might find that it is the very -point- of why they enjoy multiplayer PvP.)

The level of challenge (and resultant enjoyment or frustration) faced depends very much on the players themselves and their level of skill and where they are on the learning curve.

Any asymmetries in the matchup produce something less enjoyable as a result, and the variance in encounters can be exceedingly high.

I guess part of the reason why I got bludgeoned in the face with this fact is that Evolve, being in Alpha, still has room to improve on its matchmaking and learning tutorials/tips/safe learning grounds (such as bot games) for new players.

At the moment, though there are in-game tooltips and an introduction video when playing a new character, there still seems to be gaps where an unsuspecting player can accidentally skim through and miss something.

For example, in my first game, I had selected Monster as my first priority of character, followed by Support, Trapper, Assault then Medic. Then hit the automatic matchmaking.

Somehow, I got thrown into an already in-progress match, skipping all the initial load and introduction screens that I saw in later matches, and got presented with one character in a drop ship with the cryptic message “Press E to take over BOT.”

I vaguely remembered on skim-reading the Evolve website that there was some kind of robot character that was a Support, and assumed that I’d been given my next priority choice. Being my first game, I had no clue that this was an in-progress match – for all I knew, this was the standard introduction screen.

Pressed E. Pressed E a few more times. Eventually something happened and I parachuted out of the dropship by myself and landed in some dark jungle somewhere.

No intro tutorial, possibly because it was a mid-match join up, which left me rather lost and confused and inventorying my guns by myself.

Press 1 – Some lightning gun thing comes up. Press left click. Sparks fly around the end. Nothing visible seems to happen. No bullets, no big zap, no nothing. Wut.

Press left click to hold and charge, maybe? Released left click. Nuthing. No big boom. No massive zap. Huh.

What kind of dumb gun is this? Maybe it was for close range fights, was my next thought, though it seemed a bad idea to get up close and personal with a Monster when I was all new at this game.

Ok, next gun. Press 2. Ok, looks like a more standard Assault Rifle. Left click, and get bullets flying out. Ok, I know how this works.

Press 3. Looks like mines. That looks quite standard. Press left click, mines get laid, presumably Monster runs over them and there’ll be a big boom. Great.

Press 4. Hmmm. Some kind of personal shield thing. With a cooldown. Ok, I can deal with that.

All this, while desperately trying to catch up with two other players, who had run ahead and hadn’t bothered to wait for the rest of the group. For whatever reason, my jetpack seemed to be running out of fuel at a much faster rate than the other two.

The last player had wandered off somewhere else by himself.

I suspect you might be able to immediately tell that we were a shit group of Hunters, with no coordination whatsoever.

Me, I was so disoriented, it took me a couple minutes to figure out that I wasn’t playing a robot, that my character’s name was apparently Markov (given the context of the voice-overs that popped up when I pointed my target reticle at something) and that maybe I wasn’t the Support character I’d been expecting to play after all.

(For the record, Markov is an Assault. I know that now.)

Meanwhile, our Monster opponent was a Kraken – a flying beast with ranged attacks, which is apparently unlocked through progression, after playing a grounded melee Goliath.

Naturally, that suggested that this player was of quite a high level, and as you might expect, he proceeded to wipe the floor with us for most of the game. He went through the weak Stage 1 in under a minute or two, while everyone was still running in circles trying to figure out what we were doing. Not a good sign for the Hunters, that.

In Stage 2, the Monster is about an even match for the Hunters and in Stage 3, it gets OP. The Kraken player pretty much controlled the entire pace of the game, indulging in fly-by bombings and tearing through Hunters like tissue paper. The only reason we didn’t immediately lose the game was that we were so spread apart, the Kraken couldn’t find all of us before someone respawned after two minutes.

We only managed a temporary stalemate when the Monster happily evolved to Stage 3 and we all decided independently that we’d camp out by the power reactor that was ostensibly the Monster’s main target and let the Monster come to us.

At first, the Monster player was not exceedingly keen on entering entrances that were loaded down with Arc Mines with four rather panicky Hunters aiming and spraying in its direction the moment it showed its face.

Eventually, when it got bored, it decided to barrel through and massacred everybody.

Yeah. Well. Inexperienced Hunters. Learning curve. These things happen.

My next two games were from the perspective of the Monster. Except I didn’t get a flying Kraken, I had to start with a Goliath. Big, strong and clumsy. Mostly melee.

In my first Monster game, everything was unfamiliar, I was still learning what all the controls did, via very quick pop-ups that I barely caught. Hell, I didn’t figure out how to climb up vertical surfaces until the second game, when I finally managed to read the pop-up tip.

I can only take comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one who had trouble with this – if this forum feedback is anything to go by, that it feels very cheap when the poor Monster player is forlornly jumping at the edge of a cliff, trying to figure out how to scale it, while the Hunters just stand at the edge, zip around with the jetpacks, riddling its large bulk with bullets until it dies, none the wiser about how it was supposed to get up there.

(For the record, it’s pressing SHIFT while one is climbing.

Nor is it still very clear which walls are climbable and which are not, despite the tool tip proclaiming that the Monster can climb pretty much anything. Not true, very tall faces seem to be off-limits, despite me wanting very much to take advantage of verticality to evade Hunters.)

Conversely, all four hunters I faced stuck like glue together and didn’t wander off by themselves.

For all I know, they could have been a pre-made team that knew each other and were linked by voice chat. (Pre-made groups in the Big Alpha were limited to Hunter teams only. So it would make a lot of sense that a lone individual selecting Monster as a first priority might be paired up with a Hunter team ready to go.)

You can expect that I gave a really poor showing as a Monster and made easy prey, getting cornered very quickly while I was still working out how to feed, entangled by what seemed like a million holding cables and zapped by tranquilizer darts, then trapped by the Trapper’s dome.

Mostly, I think the only challenge I presented for the Hunters was being cowardly as hell and trying like dickens to run away and hide.

Not very well, since one’s first impulse at escape was just leaping away in a straight line, which tended to just collide you head on with the map limits in front and the Hunters in hot pursuit behind.

In my second game, I finally figured out how to climb, which made evasion slightly less pathetic, and how to break the cables by aiming my reticle at them by left-clicking.

I was also working on my absolutely disgusting aim – it’s not easy to actually target any hunter while they’re so small and wriggling around. There was also always the big question in the back of my mind, exactly what kind of ping do I have versus theirs? If they have better ping, that might explain why they’re able to see my intended attack and evade it faster than I can make contact, for example.

Some of the targeting also felt very console-y. For example, I kept overshooting the distance from which to “eat” from, which led to me always having to start the eating process, then getting stuck halfway as my monster leaned down to eat and backing away for proper distance, then eating again.

Or there’s the rock throw on the Goliath, with which I’m still trying to figure out exactly how it works – it seems like I generally get better results firing the skill the moment the targeting reticle is over a hunter, where it then tries to automatically lock on and land the boulder after the whole animation is complete… except in cases where the boulder doesn’t land, because I don’t exactly know why one Hunter was able to evade it by moving while another couldn’t.

By virtue of just ignoring survival as a criteria and just focusing on “I am going to learn how to attack people in this game,” I managed to down one or two. All that while taking fire from two other Hunters sniping from all sorts of vantage points, so that’s not exactly good overall either.

Eventually, I got attritioned to death and died, realizing after the fact that I’d been going in circles in a very small part of the map, and that I could have run a lot further away, had I –actually- been familiar with the map, which I wasn’t.

Learning curve, yet again.

I don’t have issues with learning curves per se. All games have learning curves, some easier than others.

And I do think that Evolve is potentially a very fun game when Monsters and Hunters of roughly equivalent skill are having a go at each other.

However, my first day newbie experience rather rubbed my face in the fact that -while- players are going through these learning curves, the game as presented isn’t really fun for either party.

Newbie Monsters are a boring pushover, say the experienced Hunters who know their weapons and how to work together. That it almost feels cheap and isn’t very challenging to face such a Monster, and the only thing they can do is end the game quickly, say in 3 minutes or less, and move on to another hopefully better game.

Meanwhile the newbie Monster is faced with rather impossible odds of trying to break up a coordinated party of four, or get away long enough to feed and get powerful, which is rather hard to achieve if the Hunters are good and more experienced than thou. The experience becomes a rather frustrating tempting-to-ragequit moment, because you start weak and never are given the opportunity to become on par with the other side to get a fighting chance.

Or conversely, the opposite scenario can also occur. Wow, this Monster is OP, say less experienced Hunters who get their face wrecked by someone who actually knows how to play a Monster, who took advantage of their inexperience to get valuable time gaps in which to feed and power up.

It strikes me that in a contested game where player skill level determines the difficulty, these sorts of asymmetrical matches are going to be very much more the norm than the ones where player skill is perfectly matched.

Yes, there is such a thing called matchmaking.

Yes, the goal of matchmaking is to reduce as much as possible these sorts of uneven situations.

Yes, the game is in Alpha, and Evolve devs have shared that the matchmaking priorities can be tweaked a little more so that the game prioritizes player skill levels a little more over player-selected role preferences.

I was the level 2. I followed the level 20+s like glue. The poor level 3 became the Monster. It wasn't what you might call a close match.
I was the level 2. I followed the level 20+s like glue. The poor level 3 became the Monster. It wasn’t what you might call a close match.

(Which very much explains why my Alpha experience tended to end up with level 1 or 2 players mixed in with level 21 to 23 players… It’s very obvious that the higher levelled players have spent more time with the game and know more of the tricks.)

I do worry, though, that matchmaking tends to fall flat if there aren’t enough players at all skill levels to evenly distribute out, to say nothing of geographic region matching too.

This may be less important for a game like League of Legends that has a playerbase of millions of players, which suggests ample critical mass at any one point in time, but smaller population games may face a challenge with this.

The big question I’m asking myself is: Do I personally find this sort of inherent asymmetry fun?

Truth is, I’m leaning towards “Not really.”

I liked Left 4 Dead because it was a cooperative game where the computer “Director” was given the responsibility of entertaining the players.

If the players sucked, the computer would ease up on the amount of zombies sent their way.

If the players were a cohesive team, the computer would raise the stakes and tension by challenging the players with more special zombies, more hordes and so on.

This adaptive difficulty level creates flow. The perfect amount of challenge to produce player engagement.

Too little challenge produces boredom. After the hundredth easy Monster pickings, I doubt a skilled Hunter player would be interested any longer, beyond the schadenfreude pleasure of bullying a real person. Ditto the opposite situation where Monster and Hunter roles were reversed.

(I suppose in a contested multiplayer game, there -is- a substantial subset of players who are more griefing/trolling oriented than fair fight-competitive PvP per se, and this would appeal to them. Being able to dominate another player without much real challenge faced.)

Too much challenge produces frustration. Frustrated individuals, who don’t feel there’s any more value to be gained by investing time and effort to learn to get better, quit.

Is there any way around this?

There’s a few I can think of, with some onus on the player, and some on the developer.

From a developer perspective, they can definitely work on better matchmaking to hopefully give the most number of players an even balanced match.

And they can work on creating smoother learning/tutorial experiences where a newbie player has more safe opportunities to learn the game to the minimum level needed for enjoyment.

Ideas along this line would be things like single-player tutorials or games against bots, where their newbieness won’t spoil any other real player’s experience and they’ll have more time to find their feet and get familiar with all the controls.

Or more contextual tool-tips, so that the poor Monster humping the cliff will actually get a pop up telling it to “Press SHIFT to climb this,” or the Assault left-clicking vainly with his lightning gun will get an out-of-range message or indicator or some other kind of visual feedback to suggest that it doesn’t work well at long range, rather than taking home the message that this gun is broken.

Of course, some effort and time investment on the player’s behalf is required too. One generally gets more familiar with a game by playing more matches and playing different roles.

Continued in Part 2