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Design Impressions: Hearthstone

September 7th, 2016 3 comments

I’ve been playing Hearthstone since the iphone release. It’s obviously an extremely well-crafted game, though it can be baffling or frustrating at times. My favorite experiences have been the Solo Adventures, especially Blackrock Mountain and League of Explorers. But i’ve also played my fair share of Ranked, Arena, and tried virtually every Tavern Brawl to date.

Hearthstone logo     Gameplay
• Luck is a huge deal. There’s no way to win consistently against anyone remotely close in skill level.
• Random turn order, shuffled card draw, and blind opponent class selection ensures occasional/regular losses, amplified by RNG mechanics and limited access to valuable cards.
  ○ This is obviously intentional design, to level the playing field for casual players who take longer to grasp nuances and learn matchups, or don’t bother looking up strats on the internet.
  ○ Everyone wins sometimes, even in late stages of Arena runs.
• High level constructed games are often 75% luck, 20% knowledge, and 5% critical thinking.
  ○ Outplaying opponents is rare, especially in aggro meta. All you can do is play the hand you’re dealt and avoid obvious mistakes.
  ○ It may be dumb gambling, but there’s still an adrenaline rush before/during matches, especially in Ranked/Arena modes. I can see how people who’ve never played a real skill-based competitive game can get hooked.
• A more positive spin is that Hearthstone is a game of probabilities, which shift dramatically based on whether you’re winning or losing – and being able to determine whether you’re winning or losing is an expert-level skill.
  ○ Since so much of the game is hidden, winning consistently at high ranks requires strong familiarity with your own deck, your opponent’s class, and the current meta. You’re basically expected to deduce what deck your opponent is playing within the first few turns!

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Design Impressions: Kiai Resonance

August 3rd, 2016 No comments

I happened to find Kiai Resonance on sale during Steam’s last winter sale, and decided to buy it despite never having heard of it. Luckily my curiosity paid off, because it turned out to be a pretty fun game with a distinctive and memorable art style.

Kiai Resonance logo     Combat System
• Simple, straightforward core rule set.
• Three sword stances provide a loose RPS advantage framework with a few situational nuances, while smooth movement and fluid timing add analog granularity, uncertainty, and tension.
  ○ Starting from defensive stance (called Forward Position) with steady neutral auto-block and a slow attack …
  ○ Countered by aggressive stance (called Up Position) with quick blockable and slow unblockable attacks …
  ○ Countered by reversal stance (called Back Position) which can beat predictable attacks with a properly timed dodge/counter.
• Any successful attack or counter ends the round, so there’s no need/space for combos.
• Sword struggle/push interactions are left out of Tutorials and unexplained, despite being featured in a Challenge trial and being essential for dealing with overly passive Back stance.
  ○ Whoever presses Hit first during a Duel struggle gains frame advantage, but the loser is forced into Forward stance and can block any incoming attack simply by not attacking.
• Judging attack recovery is essential for weighing followup options, but feels a bit muddy due to smooth anims; could use sharper breakout.

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Design Impressions: Torchlight 2

July 20th, 2016 No comments

Torchlight 2 picks up where the original left off, featuring creative new character classes, new environments, and more polish across the board. Endgame content is still a bit lackluster, but itemization is better tuned and more engaging overall.

    Gameplay
• Knockback is a legitimately serious mechanic.
Torchlight 2 cover   ○ Some common enemies send you flying back 5+ meters on heavy hits, or 2+ meters on basic attacks.
  ○ Knockback reduction gear actually has some value, but only affects close range melee builds which are somewhat rare. I didn’t care about it at all while playing Embermage, and it only matters for Engineer while grinding levels to unlock Ember Quake.
  ○ Repeatedly Onslaughting into a Sand Spectre’s pushback sandstorm is pretty fun though.
• Onslaught is such an awesome Engineer skill!
  ○ Feels great on impact.
  ○ Travels extra distance when it has a valid target.
  ○ Passes safely through most projectiles.
  ○ Works surprisingly well as a tanky opening attack – due to slowing enemies instantly on impact (and Force Field making Engineer practically invulnerable in winnable encounters).
• Thunder Locus is a pretty cool Embermage skill.
  ○ Forceful summon animation, splendid VFX, and versatile tactical utility.

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Design Impressions: The Order, 1886

July 6th, 2016 No comments

The Order: 1886 was a highly anticipated PS4 exclusive title developed by Ready At Dawn Studios. Upon release, it was criticized mainly for being too short. It’s not hard to imagine the game being much more satisfying with a few extra levels to give the characters more time to develop at a natural pace. Still, it’s a fun shooter built around an interesting premise.

The Order: 1886 cover     Gameplay
• Gunfights feel solid, although melee combat is extremely basic.
  ○ Why not have custom close-range attack strings instead of instant kill on a single button press?
• There are a couple of creative instances of forcing players to use handguns: once while dragging a wounded officer to safety and once while holding a lantern.
  ○ The first felt surprisingly good, possibly because it was so short.
  ○ The second seemed like a good idea, but started to feel a bit clunky the longer it went on, especially as taking cover seemed to be arbitrarily disabled too.
• Quicktime boss fights are kinda lame.
  ○ Non-randomized quicktime events are silly and pointless in general.
• Lock-picking mini-games can be surprisingly rad, as it turns out.
  ○ The rumbling sensation changes with just the right balance of subtlety and clarity.
  ○ Plus they’re quick enough not to get annoying through repetition.

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Design Impressions: The Last of Us

June 29th, 2016 No comments

I don’t have a whole lot to say about The Last of Us, but i enjoyed playing it for the most part. It’s a pretty amazing interactive narrative experience, where gameplay usually takes a back seat to storytelling and spectacle – which is a fine choice if that’s what you’re into. Personally, i didn’t like the forced false choice at the end, but i’m sure it was meant to be controversial.

    Gameplay
The Last of Us cover• Melee combat is simplistic, but smooth and visually polished.
  ○ The sheer number of environmental interactions is staggering, and transitions between contextual states are seamless.
• Having to pick up the same items and crafting materials every time you die is the worst part of extended battles, especially those involving caution and stealth.
  ○ Obviously you can’t just keep those new supplies after you die and reappear at a previous checkpoint, because it would alter the ensuing battle progression and potentially muck up ammo counts.
  ○ But why not make it easier to reclaim the stuff you’ve already discovered? If showing found item locations on the map is too much, even having a checklist would save time and avoid that weird feeling of being unsure whether you forgot something the third time through.

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