games


It looks like Untitled Goose Game is a big hit.  It’s well deserved.  Being a horrible goose in a lovely English town turns out to be a universal aspiration.

goose

I bought it on Epic, because it’s not on Steam, and I can’t wait a year for Goose. Epic’s exclusivity deals are annoying, but the Epic store is pretty painless. You can set preferences so Epic doesn’t load on startup; remember also to exit it once you’re done goosing around.

By now you’ve probably heard what the game involves: pattering around town doing mild mischief.  You get the gardener wet, you honk at the boy who’s scared of geese, you shut the shopkeeper in her own garage, you ring a big bell in one yard to annoy the man next door. You have dedicated keys to honk and to flap your wings.

The controls are a little wonky, but I suspect that’s intentional.  You move by clicking a destination– you can also keep moving the mouse and the goose will follow. Double-click to move fast… I had trouble sometimes getting this to happen when I needed it, but I got better over time.

Some tasks are tedious to complete. One that defeated me was “do the washing”: steal laundry from the woman with the bell, and carry it and a bar of soap to the pond next door. You have to sneak items one at a time past the neighbor man, and the last bit of the trek is quite hard. And if he finds your cache in the pond, he will steal every item back from you. It’s fun for awhile, and then not quite so fun.  Fortunately, you don’t need to complete every area, so if one task is eluding you, you can skip it.

It’s not long: it took me about 7 hours, and that includes some of the extra tasks you can do once you’ve finished the game. I’m not sure how replayable it is, but I can see coming back to it now and then. The best comparison here is with Portal: there’s just enough game that you want more when it’s done, not enough that it ever drags or feels padded.

Most reviews find it charming, and it is.  It looks great, and the animations are inspired. The goose and the villagers are perfect. As you are a force of chaos, the villagers are totally dedicated to order. They will carefully seek out every item you’ve moved and put it back in place; you can use this behavior to your advantage.  Most of them will grab items back if you’re right next to them; a few will defend their little turf aggressively. They have short memories and love to go back to their routines, pretending that the little waddling force of chaos was never there.

The interaction when they’re grabbing something or pushing you away is amusing– the goose will flap its wings but then just stand there, insouciant as a cat.  Once you’re out of their space, they glare at you or shake their heads.

It’s curious to spend a whole game as, more or less, the villain.  But it’s the mildest form of villainy. No one can be hurt; only one item is permanently broken.

Impressively, the developers have implemented everything with physics and the villagers’ routines. So behavior is emergent, and often there are multiple ways to solve a problem. It must have been hell to test. Plus, there are extra behaviors that don’t have anything to do with the stated goals. E.g. your honk sounds different if you’re carrying something. You can have fun with the walkie-talkies though you don’t need  to. You will almost certainly ring the bell way more than you have to.

goose2

Something many people have noticed: the credits include a notice reading

This game was made on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to their Elders, past and present. Sovereignty was never ceded.

This turns out to be an Acknowledgement of Traditional Owners— something the government of Victoria actually encourages. The Wurundjeri lands are the northern part of Melbourne. Their language is Woiwurring, in case you want to find it my numbers list. It’s part of the Kulinic subfamily within Pama-Nyungan.

It’s curious that the Australian government encourages and sometimes even requires such acknowledgements (minus the “never ceded” part). It seems like a nice gesture, though probably that’s all it is– Australia is not noted for its progressive politics toward First Nations, and unlike the US there is no form of Native sovereignty at all, and no treaties were ever signed.  (If I’m not mistaken, this here was Potawatomi land, at least as of 1812.)

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I saw that PC Gamer has a list of their top 100 video games. This is a profoundly silly idea, since they change it every year, making it unstable even as a record of their own opinions. But making lists is fun and I thought I’d try it.

arkcity for blog

Big warning: this is strictly for fun and I may not be any better than PC Gamer at sticking to these opinions in a year.

Part of the amusement value is precisely in the absurd comparisons– trying to decide if (say) The Stanley Parable is better or worse than Fallout New Vegas.

Some reflections, and responses to your shocked protestations, after the list.

Arkham City
Overwatch
Saints Row IV
Civilization 2
Dishonored 2 (incl. Billie Lurk DLC)
Borderlands 2
Mirror’s Edge
Portal 2
Saints Row The Third
Arkham Asylum
Team Fortress 2
Katamari Damacy
Beyond Good & Evil
Borderlands
Empyrion: Galactic Survival
Dishonored (incl. Daud DLC)
Civilization 3
Half-Life 2
Fallout 3
Portal
Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell
Kings Bounty Armored Princess
Jade Empire
Conan Exiles
Oblivion
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
The Stanley Parable
Mass Effect 2
Fallout New Vegas
Tomb Raider (2013)
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Left 4 Dead
Arkham Knight
Sam & Max Hit the Road
Jazzpunk
Gotham City Impostors
Left 4 Dead 2
Bayonetta
Heroes of the Storm
80 Days
Kings Bounty Dark Side
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
Civilization 4
What Remains of Edith Finch
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Sim City 2000
West of Loathing
Superhot
Rise of the Tomb Raider
League of Legends
Viscera Cleanup Detail
Kentucky Route Zero
Gunpoint
Space Colony
Mass Effect 1
To Be or Not To Be
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
No Man’s Sky
Witcher 3
Arkham Origins
Telling Lies
Grim Fandango
Tacoma
Nier Automata
Singularity
Skyrim
Dragon Age Origins
Tomb Raider Underworld
Sim City 3000
Fable III
Hydrophobia: Prophecy
Gone Home
Tropico 1
Remember Me
Dungeons of Dredmor
Saints Row 2
Zeno Clash
Gorogoa
Sam & Max (Telltale)
Secret World Legends
Dead Space
Chronicles of Riddick
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Californium
Dreamfall
Bioshock
Bugdom
Fallout 4
Half-Life Deathmatch
Destiny 2
RAGE
Sunset
Monaco
World of Goo
Assassin’s Creed 1
The Longest Journey
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Sleeping Dogs
Max Payne 2
Torchlight
Kings Bounty: Warriors of the North
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Torchlight II
Agents of Mayhem
Don’t Starve
Grand Theft Auto IV
Dota 2
Dead Island
Silk Road Online
Kerbal Space Program
Black Desert Online
Braid
Cloudbuilt

Some explanations:

  • I rank replayability very highly. I’m not one of those people who say “I’ve played this game for 200 hours but it sucks!” If I’ve played a game that long, it’s doing a great job as a game— even if I have a list of complaints about it.
  • Contrariwise, if I liked a game but have no desire to play it again, it’ll be ranked lower than games that invite replays.
  • I’m a sucker for a really original setting or bit of gameplay.  This is mostly important in the middle of the list– things like VTM Bloodlines or 80 Days or Kentucky Route Zero are pretty high just because they’re so dang creative.
  • I tend to get bored with sequels. Some are far better than the original (note how far down Saints Row 2 is), but there’s a certain novelty that makes a game great. And with some series, like Civ, I played the earlier ones so damn much that I can’t even finish a game in the latest editions.
  • That goes for genre too. That’s just bad luck for a lot of games where I played something like it before.
  • I rank a game way down if I haven’t finished it. It’s hard to claim that a game is compelling to me if, y’know, it doesn’t compel me to keep going at it. In some cases, like Fallout 4, I could explain why I was disappointed; in others, like Witcher 3, I’m not even sure.
  • It’s hard to evaluate co-op and team games, because so much of the fun depends on your friends. Just on a gameplay level, I’ve probably overrated the Borderlands games, but I they’re up there because I had so much fun playing with my friend Ash. On the other hand, playing against your friends can be really painful when there’s a huge skill gap, which is why I soured on Left 4 Dead.
  • This list covers several decades.  As noted, I have no interest in Civ now, but I played the hell out of it in the 90s.
  • I really don’t like platformers.

You have to get almost to the bottom of the list before getting to games I actually disliked. If I really bounce hard off a game, I just don’t spend much time on it.

There’s a few games that I installed and tried, but either hated them so much I got a refund, or just realized they weren’t for me (e.g. Dead Souls, SpyParty). I didn’t put them in the list because I don’t want to imply that I have an actual judgment on them.

If you want to write a game that rockets to the top of this list, extremely neat gameplay might be enough (Portal 2, Mirror’s Edge), but balanced variety will really help. The mix of stealth and combat helps send Arkham City to the top, and it’s why games like Beyond Good & Evil and Saints Row IV are so high up there. They’re not only fun, they’re fun in different ways at different times. (The “balanced” bit is important: if you have two types of activities but one isn’t much fun, that’s not great.)

I’ve probably reviewed most of these games on my site or on the blog– use the custom search feature on zompist.com.

Finally, most of the fun of these lists is in disagreeing with them. So I encourage you to take some time to make your own list!

This is a new video game which sounded really interesting.  And it is!  I just finished it.  Or “finished it”.  More on that later.

This is from the creator of Her Story, which I haven’t played, but if you have, it’s like that, only with more characters and a bigger budget.

tell-lies

All these people are totally [redacted].

You don’t get to shoot anyone; you don’t even get to walk around. You watch video clips from a database, and you eventually piece them into a story.

The clever bit is that you choose the search term in the database.  The game starts you out with the search term LOVE, which returns five videos. You can watch them, and you probably will. Or you can choose a different search term and see what you get.

Now, this is rather close to a project I was working on. For the Verdurian game I’ve been working on approximately forever, I wanted to have dozens of dialog options, and my initial idea was to make the user actually type them. E.g. Ticai finds that her husband is missing, and she could ask her maid about her HUSBAND. But if you could find better search terms, you could get more information.  E.g. you suspect he has a MISTRESS, or you ask if he is CHEATING. If the maid says (say) he is with a mane named ZONVURAN, you can ask about him. As you can imagine, this involves a lot of writing and debugging, which is why I haven’t finished it.

Well, that’s how Telling Lies works. Watching a clip will give you leads to pursue: names, locations, code words, topics. You will probably need to take notes, especially at first, when possible topics proliferate.

Now, because of this, I can’t give you details about the story, even simple things like the names of the characters, because part of the game is finding out these things yourself. You don’t even know what you’re after, at first.  Are these just random recordings? What sort of story is being told? The title of the game is relevant too: some of the people are telling lies, elaborate ones. When, if at all, are they telling the truth?

You also don’t know who you are, except that you’re someone. At the start we see a woman going into a house and booting a laptop, and you see her reflected dimly in the screen from then on. So the idea is that you are that woman, who is doing the search.  (She never comments or helps out in any way.  At intervals, however, the reflection is enhanced and something happens in the house she’s in.)

A key concept: the keywords are tied only to the words spoken in the video. E.g. that initial search will find videos where someone says “love”. This can help you narrow things down, because there’s no need to search for “that long-haired girl” or whatever– only things people say can be searched. On the other hand, one search term gives you a maximum of five videos, so (say) searching for a character’s name will not give you every video where they’re mentioned.

(The game marks videos you’ve seen, which is a help.  So later searches will often give you only a few new clips.)

The end result is that you explore the database in little jumps, for several hours. I never had trouble thinking of things to search for. Intriguingly, every person’s experience of the game will be different, because they’ll see clips in an entirely different order. One player might find a given secret very quickly, another may see it much later, or never.

I’ve read a few rapturous reviews, but this one is closest to how I feel about the game. They call it “flawed but fascinating,” and that’s about right.

First, the fascinating part.  I really did get into the search.  You get to know the main characters and quite a few minor ones.  The overall outline of the story becomes clear soon enough– though getting a grasp on its chronology and even its outcome is much harder. The clips are all well acted and almost everybody has an interesting backstory.  There’s a nice range of tonal variation, from the everyday to the romantic to the dramatic.

More than that: this is about the best experience of detection I’ve ever had in a video game. Most adventure games, even if they have mysteries, don’t let you actually detect; they simply dole out the mystery in the order the developer sees fit; you’re about as useful as a toddler handed a magnifying glass to gape at the clues thrust in your face. Here, even though all you’re doing is watching videos, the game makes you feel like an investigator.  You have to identify the clues, pursue them, and try to piece together the story.

It’s about the best dialog system ever, even if all you’re talking to is a database program. The reason is, you’re not given three options and occasionally an extra one if your Speech skill is high enough. You have to come up with keywords yourself.  This is a trick to an extent, because most of the keywords are obvious, like the names you hear. But you feel like you’re doing work.  Plus, to make any sense of the clips you’ll probably have to take notes on what happened, what the relationships are, whether someone seemed to be lying, and so on.

If all this sounds interesting… well, go and get it! It’s a really different type of game, and quite well done.

The flawed bit mostly has to do with the time limit.  You see,  after five hours you’re out of time– you have to upload your videos and finish the game.  You get some cutscenes and a very terse report summarizing what you were doing.  (At least you learn ‘your’ character’s name, if you hadn’t learned it already.)

To be honest, I pretty much hate this feature. I can see the idea of limiting your search, because after all they couldn’t film an infinite number of clips, and at some point the process would probably become frustrating or tedious.  But, well, I feel like I wasn’t done. I have a good picture of the story– maybe I even have all the big pieces, I don’t know.

But that picture feels incomplete, and I don’t feel any closure. The final report says I found “just under half” of the clips. Another review mentioned the same phrase, so that’s probably normal. But, why do you they want to limit you to seeing half of the game?

Now, it’s completely possible to go back in and keep searching the database!  I did, a bit, but it doesn’t feel the same.  I feel like the game told me it was over and I was done, and shouldn’t it know?  At this point I kind of want to know how far I actually got and not just carry on filling in details.

I could also start over, but that sounds completely unattractive. The clips are well done, but not so amazing that you’ll want to watch them over and over.

A couple of minor cavils.  One: clips often record just one half of a conversation. Often you can find and watch the other half. The process is fascinating for the first few hours, then slightly annoying. E.g.– not infrequently, by using a good search term and seeing clips with the same length, it’s clear that I have both halves of the convo in front of me. But there’s no way to watch them at the same time.  Why not?  The actors are good at actively listening, but in effect we have the watch the same conversation twice.  (You can fast forward, though.)

Another: the database will start clips at the point when your search term is spoken. But generally you want to see the whole clip, and there’s no way to start at the beginning without a slow process of rewinding.

The game includes an in-game notepad, but this is a missed opportunity. I have 13 pages of notes, and it was easier to flip through the pages than to use a computer file. What would have been really useful would be the ability to create a pin board like in detective movies. E.g., a character portrait, room for notes, a place where you can pin the actual video clips. Another place where you can record searches still to be made.

One last discussion point: would this story have worked better as a movie?  That is, is the whole database search an extremely eccentric way to make you watch what could have been presented as a straight story or TV series?

Overall, this is answered by my point about detecting. I think the gameplay works great as a process of exploring a story. About the only thing that compares is an in-person mystery RPG. The idea is good enough that (again, for the first several hours at least), it’s easy to forgive the occasional unexciting clip. Some clues in a good mystery story are red herrings.

That said, I think I like the characters and the themes better than the actual story. But as I can’t tell you what the story is, and as I’m not even sure if I got the actual story, there’s not much more to say about that!

 

 

 

 

This has turned out to be my favorite so far in the new Workshop-created modes.

ow infection

The idea is simple: it’s deathmatch, but whenever you kill someone they switch to your character. And you can’t damage that character, so you make them your ally (you infect them). The round ends when everyone is one character.

It’s really fun, not least because it’s fast and often hilarious. Unlike regular deathmatch, there’s a team aspect, since each character forms a faction and can work together. But your team allegiance can switch instantly if you’re killed. Not infrequently, there’s a matchup that results in quick mass switches. E.g. Junkrat can get multiple kills at once; so can Moira.  Sometimes there’s a sudden unexpected winner.

The original workshop mode was broken, score-wise: you gained points for kills, lost them for being killed. That meant, in effect, that only the last round or two counted. So as my first Workshop change, I fixed this by eliminating the death penalty. I also increased the time when enemies are revealed (since people love to troll by hiding), and restored Ashe’s ult (come on, people, Bob is hilarious). So if you want to get in on the fun, create a game with code 8H7NT.

(If you’ve never done this: Create a custom game. There’s an icon under Settings that lets you import a code.  Type or paste that code.  Set your game to everyone, if you want  randos to join, otherwise friends-only. Start the game. That’s it!  Sometimes I’ve had to wait for a bit for people to join, but not too long.  You can also find another Infection variant, but try to spread my score fix!)

As each hero wins, they’re removed from the available choices, and the game ends when all the characters are done.  It’s interesting how people choose characters: the DPS heroes generally go first, then the tanks, finally the supports. So one advantage is that you get practice on more heroes, without the annoyingly awful comps of Mystery Heroes.

A disadvantage is that if you allow anyone to join, some people will inevitably troll the rest by hiding at the end, as Sombra, Lucio, or Wrecking Ball.  If absolutely necessary you can kick them. But the best way to avoid this is to let one of these heroes win, so they’re removed from the game.

I’ve been replaying Conan Exiles, and I’d like to highlight (again) its most sophisticated feature: the utter lack of quest handholding. E.g., take this body:

conan-body

I discovered it randomly near the Nameless City. (Which has a name, by the way.  It’s called “Nameless City”.) The little bag next to him is a manuscript; the dead dude explains that he’s going to jump to get away from the undead and it may kill him, but he’s left some treasure nearby.

Now, in almost every other game, you’d get something like this.

  • There is a board where people post quests.  Despite there being hundreds of people in-world, you are the only one who ever reads the board and accepts them.
  • One quest is about finding someone’s cousin or friend or whatever.
  • A marker appears on your map, pointing you to precisely the location of the cousin’s corpse. (In really advanced games: it only points you to a 20-meter circle containing the corpse; but the corpse is highlighted in detective vision.)
  • You go find the corpse, read the note.  There is now a marker to the treasure.
  • You go find the treasure. This may involve some platforming or monster-killing, but you can easily see where the goal is at all times.
  • You go back to the board and hand in the treasure, receiving a new weapon or something.

Unless it’s Skyrim, in which the quest inevitably involves going into a dungeon and killing everything in it.

Now, I’m only mildly mocking the idea of waypoints and handholding. I’m not saying it’s wrong, only that the Exiles approach is very different. There is no quest journal, no waypoints to follow, no indication that this is a quest at all. You randomly run across the corpse or you don’t.  If you do, you may or may not find the treasure.

And this is only one instance of a general design philosophy. There are dungeons, boss monsters, high-level weapon recipes, a few rare friendly NPCs, Conan himself, and an entire main quest in the game… and there is no UI to point you to them. You could spend your whole time fairly enjoyably in the game, near the river, building castles and defeating the local cannibals, and never realize that these things are there. The only thing that can drive you is curiosity: what are those weird ruins over there?  where does the river go? can I climb these mountains instead of avoiding them?

There are hints here and there, but even they are hidden. E.g. there’s a rare friendly NPC you can find by the river, and he’ll mention a city of relic hunters “up north”.  Sure enough, you can go find it: a fairly large city where, strangely, not everyone is trying to kill you.  Of course, eventually you realize that you get massive XP by discovering things, and strike out in new directions just to see what’s there.

Again, I don’t want to get all Dark Souls on you and tell you that this is way better or more realistic or more immersive or whatever. I do think it can be a good model, however. An open world where every item of interest is highlighted is just railroading in a different form. One where you can discover things just by exploring feels more like a real world, and it makes the player feel like they’re doing things, not being led along on a leash.

Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas sometimes come near to using this approach, though only in their early stages. E.g., in Fallout 3 you come out of the vault and no one tells you where to go.  The level design nudges you to the nearest city, and it’s hard not to find Megaton, but you feel like you’re discovering them, not being pointed at them. Similarly, I still remember seeing the giant statue in FNV and going toward it just to see what it was.  But both games soon become far more railroaded.  (FNV almost fatally so; in the last hours you can hear nothing but the creaking of plot points.)

The main quest in the Dishonored games is railroaded, but it still gives you an unusual amount of leeway. Its levels are small, but you really can traverse them very freely, obstacles can be circumvented in three or four ways, and the ultimate target can be dispatched in many ways. Plus, a good deal of story is conveyed by runes and other things you have to hunt for.

For instance, here’s Mindy Blanchard:

dish-mandy

This tough-looking dame calls you over if you’re near the Black Market in the first Karnaca mission, and asks you to steal a body.  “Don’t worry, it’s already dead,” she assures you. She wants you to steal it from the Overseers’ outpost nearby.

Well, it’s on the way to where you’re going, and choking Overseers is always a good time, so you go find her friend. He turns out to be a tattoo artist– the Overseers have a broad definition of heresy, and it includes tattooing. You carry the body over to Mindy, who’s been digging a grave. There are a couple of dead Overseers in the basement she’s in.  She declines to explain a thing, but does do a favor for you.

You can find out just a bit more, by exploring. You can find the dude’s apartment, with a note from Mindy. You can find the Overseers’ notes on torturing him to death. (Have I mentioned that the Overseers are nasty people? And what that implies for you, the Empress?) In a later mission you can find Mindy’s tattoo parlor, as well as a photography studio where she apparently has a habit of having pictures taken and never paying for them.

It’s a neat little vignette, though I have questions, like why Mindy couldn’t do this task herself, and why she was so confident that a stranger would do it that she hung out in the cellar digging a grave. But I like that fact that much of the story is implied rather than told. Mindy cares about this tattooist for some reason, and the story tells us indirectly about the totalitarian callousness of the Overseers more than simply finding a dead body in a room.

I should add that a game had better decide if it’s going to be exploratory or railroady and not mix it up too much. Not knowing what to do is unpleasant, and all the more so if you’re in an open world rather than a level you can explore exhaustively.

Oh, another nice thing about Conan Exiles: it’s a seemingly rare example of a big company which used the Early Access model and made it work. It was quite playable even at the start, but the final game had three times the territory, filled out that hidden main quest, added a nice climbing mechanic and a much better map, and greatly improved combat. Other games, like Anthem and Destiny 2, have instead crunched their way to a major release without really, y’know, being done.

First the good news: if you own Skyrim, you already own this: a free mod that’s its own game. It’s made by the same obsessive Germans who made Nehrim, and it’s the same sort of deal: new continent, everything hand-made, fully voice acted (in English too this time), and all the mechanics reworked. The bad news is that I bounced off it pretty hard.

enderal

Yes, you can have a D.Va tattoo

I didn’t finish Nehrim, but I appreciated it. The tutorial dungeon, for instance, was way better than Oblivion’s, the side dungeons did seem hand-crafted, and there were some nice UI changes.

Enderal’s tutorial, by contrast, is terrible.

  • It’s full of cutscenes.
  • It’s divided into scenes, each of which forces you to the next one. Whatever you could do as a player against an enemy, even as a noob… well, you can’t do it, the cutscenes make the enemies win. There is no respect for player agency at all.
  • Not once but twice you meet a character who explains something to you, then for his pains gets killed (in a way you can’t influence).
  • There’s very little combat. The one thing a tutorial should do is introduce the basic mechanics! This one is focused on story… and it’s not even the game’s main story, it’s just how you got to Enderal.
  • There’s a lot of dialog, but no real choices, not even the usual Bethesda style of insulting the questgiver.  The final dude you meet basically forcibly enrolls you in the next quest.

So, finally I’m on my way.  I do a couple nearby side quests, I pick up a mess of herbs and such.  And then the murders began. Three wolves quickly wiped me out.

Fine, I’m not good at the game, or at wolves, but give me a break: I’m completely new to the game, I don’t know the mechanics yet, and I have trash weapons.  I tried again, defeated the three wolves, walked about ten feet, and was attacked by three more wolves.

Recall, this is a few hours into the game, so I have no health potions or any magic besides My First Fireball™.  Plus, the game is made by people who think Bethesda’s gameplay is way too easy, so there’s no health regen. And magic is evil somehow so using it makes you sick, though if you chomp certain herbs you’ll get better.

I guess somebody in Germany got a copy of Dark Souls. But I feel like they’re wasting my time. If they’re so proud of their quests and lore, why are they keeping me from it by placing wolves every ten feet on the road before I even get to the first quest marker? You’re not deepening the game or making it more Grim N Gritty by sprinkling in generic monsters like parmesan cheese, you’re just making travel tedious. And really, if you can’t make the game fun in the first three hours, it’s really hard to believe it gets better.

Now, if all this sounds great to you– you really want a game where you fight endless wolves and then flail around to find something to restore your health, and did I mention the inscrutable skill system?– well, more power to you.  Can’t complain about the price!

(And just to be clear, I don’t want tips on dealing with the wolves.  What I want is better damn design.  I gave up on Skyrim for similar reasons: I’d try to ride to another city and get waylaid by a dragon. Three times. Unless you’re writing Doom, just adding more of the same monster rarely makes your game better.)

I do feel a little bad about being so negative, because these guys are working hard for free, and that’s awfully nice of them. But I think it’s fair to say that it’s a step backwards from Nehrim.

I never got into watching sports much.  And I still don’t! But it turns out I like watching esports, namely, Overwatch League and other high level play.  It’s back for 2019, and in just the second week we got the upset we’ve been waiting for since forever: the Shanghai Dragons won.

dragons-win

If you’re not quite sure what that’s about: Shanghai had the worst record in the first season, 0-40. And despite a near total change in team roster, they seemed to continue it last week with two more losses. Yet they’ve been a fan favorite, largely because they have the only female player in Overwatch, Geguri.

(Not the longest drought for a team I’ve supported though.  That would be my alma mater, Northwestern U., whose football team lost every game during the four years I attended. Well, as we always said, our SATs were higher.)

If you know nothing about Overwatch, the rest of the post may well be undecipherable. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tonight’s match was pretty decisive, though: 3-1 on maps.  The first two maps were close to blowouts; the third was a nailbiter. It was a capture map, Horizon Lunar Colony.  Shanghai and Boston each capped both points, for a score of 2-2. But Shanghai had nearly 5 minutes more time going into the next round… still, they lost a lot of that time advantage, and both teams capped again.  Now it was 4-4.  Third round: Boston didn’t have much time, but they got 2 of 3 ticks on the first point. Shanghai had to beat the capture percentage of 79.5%… and they did, in a chaotic fight that lasted all of one minute.  (They had 1:17 left on the clock.)

The crowd went wild; whereas there are few things sadder than the panning shot over the Boston team just after their loss.  (“Someone had the break the streak… but why us?”)

The outstanding player of the match was new: Dding, on Sombra.  He was constantly behind the enemy scouting and hacking, and his timing on her EMP was spot on. This was particularly fun to watch since I sometimes play Sombra.  I’m trying to learn the playstyle: hack and shoot till you start to lose health, then teleport back to where you left your translocator.  Unless I forget to set it up, which I do at least once per game.  Needless to say, Dding does not have this problem.

Matches so far this season have been full of surprises. Last year’s top three teams were New York, Los Angeles Valiant, and Boston. As of tonight, New York is still on top, but the other two are in the bottom six; indeed, Boston is the team that Shanghai just beat. London, which won the championship last year, is also in the bottom six.

The eight expansion teams have done surprisingly well: right now five of them are in the top eight in the standings.  Matchups have also been startlingly non-transitive.  Dallas, which I also support because of streamer/coach Jayne, is 1-2, but one of those wins was against third-place Seoul. Hangzhou slaughtered two teams last week, but lost tonight to #14 Houston. Seoul has beaten Chengdu, which beat Guangzhou, which beat Dallas, which beat Seoul.

Probably things will sort out soon enough. But I’d say that at this level of play, Overwatch is not quite predictable: the game rules provide a final ranking that does not necessarily correspond to team skill.  These are all really good players who fight as a unit, and most team fights begin with a single kill.  Somebody’s gotta go, and it may be semi-random. At my level, a 5×6 fight is far from definitive, but at the pro level, it generally means a lost fight. And ults are a huge wild card whose success depends on split-second timing, and very careful tracking of enemy ults. I’ve watched a lot of team fights where you’d really have to watch several times at slow speed to figure out why it went the way it did.

Lots of people have been complaining about Goats, or 3-3 as the casters call it: the three-tank three-support meta that’s been dominant since last summer. I think most people don’t like it because you have to be pretty high level to play it, much less appreciate it. Most people want to play DPS, and as Jayne says, all but high-level games are usually played as DPS deathmatch. At my level, it’s hard to even get two tanks per game. If you play DPS, you watch pro play and don’t see anyone playing your hero. (I don’t mind so much, because my main characters are tanks, D.Va and Orisa.)

Thanks to some recent game changes, Goats is slightly less dominant; some teams have ran a Symmetra, and some games tonight featured Reaper and Soldier. A few teams have tried a one-tank strategy, that tank being Hammond, which seems really weird.

It’s been kind of cringey listening to the casters trying to pronounce Chinese names. You’d think they would have someone they could ask, like the players. If you want to do better than most of the casters do:

  • Guangzhou = gwahng joe
  • Hangzhou  = hahng joe
  • Chengdu = chung do
  • Shanghai = shahng high

The -ang has the same /a/ vowel as in hot, father, taco; it doesn’t rhyme with hang or hung. For an even closer pronunciation, see my book.

Anyway, hoping Dallas can pull it together tomorrow afternoon…

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