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Monday, November 3, 2014

UFS Design Breakdown: Kula/Maxima


First thing first, I have to apologize for the delay on that next article. I planned to finish it weeks ago but this...

This game is crack, you have been warned ...

happened.

Civilization 5 and its sequel Civilization Beyond Earth. If you plan on checking those two games, don't unless you are okay with having countless hours of your life siphoned into oblivion.

Anyway, despite their obvious strain on people's productivity, games from the Civilization franchise are great examples of games that allow the player to create a story out of their games. The amount of customization, events, decisions, and effects, all the ways to interact with those effects, and ultimately the overlying theme of developing a human civilization, all those are almost perfectly combined together.

Anyway, back to UFS. I will now finish the review of Team K' from the KOF XIII, after reviewing K' himself last time this time I will focus on Kula and Maxima. So, without further ado, let's get this started.

Maxima




I have to admit. Outside of characters like K, I have a fetish for Heavies in UFS. Learning that Hugo*** (gods I hate those stupid stars) was OP was a great moment for me, until I learned that the character essentially was just about hand manipulation...

I get somewhat wary of abilities given to characters with low handsizes. The problem is that the reduced handsize is supposed to be there alongside powerful abilities and a big health pool to compensate the smaller handsize. And now if you give the card drawing AND the powerful abilities and big health pool, together it produces the likes of Hugo***.

What's the point of the small handsize if he ends up with more cards than you??
Still, a character with a small handsize and plenty of hitpoints is an archetype I like to see succeed in UFS, unfortunately the few characters of that archetype have never really been that great.
Now, when you hear "Maxima", the first thing you think about is that archetype, you expect something with tons of hitpoints, and with a big-bang laser-like effect.

6 handsize and 27 hitpoints...

Since I have already shared what I thought about that 'same handsize, same health' thing in my last article, I will steer away from it. Still I persist in that it shows a pretty huge lack of... "taste" from the designers.

Now to the abilities.

The usual Breaker ability of the team is there, no surprise. Once again, analysis of this one has already been done in the last article.

As expected, the second ability makes you add a foundation from your staging area to your hand. What it also do is allow you to either boost an attack or reduce its damage. What I really like is the simplicity of the ability, no thousand of lines, an okay theme (he is big and will either hit harder or brush off your blows) and the added flexibility make for an okay ability.

The third ability is a lot less commendable. Although the synergy with the team's theme is there, there is one thing that is seriously wrong with it, the theme.
Card drawing hardly scream 'big and slow but powerful guy', I would say that the ability in itself does not fit Maxima at all. The ability do rewards hitting the opponent, which is a good thing at least.
But still I think the card drawing here was added certainly not to convey any kind of theme but probably to give Team K' some card drawing, which is a pretty lame reason as that card can and will exist outside of its team.

Pretty much, the card suffers from a recurring problem, yes I know you saw it coming miles away, a lack of theme, of a cohesive theme at that. Pretty much nothing in those effects really scream "MAXIMA", they somehow do their job, but overall the card is just... boring.

Compared to its teammate K', Maxima has dull effects, effects that do not represent him well in the slightest and that are pretty tame at that.

Kula


Now to talk about Kula. My personal and obviously exclusive waifu. The Anti-K'.

She is one of those particularly well-inspired characters in the King of Fighters mythos, her relationship with K' that has everything to have them be at each other's throat and yet have some many things that bind them together to the point where they inexorably become allies.

Anyway, here is the character in the KoF XIII block:

Ain't she a cutie?
So now that I'm done making sure you guys know I'm kinda fond of Kula. Now comes the hard part.

That character card is supremely terrible. It is by far the worst card in Team K' and probably in the set.

Why? Because it does ONE thing that a character card should never, ever do.

It depends on the opponent.

Now this is going to be a pretty long talk where I'm going to try to explain why this is such a bad thing. And we are going to first start by answering this question 'why does a character card matters?'.
If there are any fighting games aficionados around here, you probably know the answer. The character is what entices you to play the game, either by its looks, its style, its gameplay, whatever.
It's the same in UFS, the starting point of a deck is most of the time the character, the character signs the deck, its effect being the ones you will always have on your face, the ones your deck should care about, else why not take another character?
And from there the character will define what kind of game you are going to play, by taking Reese you are not going to play a Control deck (nothing wrong if you do, but it means you probably hate fun), Reese entices you to play aggressive, and that not just by its mechanics, but also by its looks and the feel of the character.

And this why RH was the best set ever, everything was so damn right... oh gods...
Some could say that "but Kula is about freezing and controlling things, so this character card works?!", and I think this is what whoever designed that character card was thinking too.
And I will answer to that that the ability she has is a terrible way to represent control and freezing on a character card and that for two reasons.

Self-Reliance and Signing.

Abilities on a character ought to affect the game. They have to do it in a significant and defining way. To go back to the example of Hearthstone I made in my first article, a character has to impact the game in their own little way and they have to do it often.
What prevents Kula from doing that?

Well first, her ability depends on the opponent. Kula's ability counters enhances. Well that's nice, and quite powerful to be frank. But what if the opponent is not willing to have its things countered?

What if the opponent does nothing you might counter, what if he decides to not let you have your fun? You played Kula to be that player who would counter everything? Well he doesn't want you to have it your way, after all it would be bad for him right?
In that case you might as well been playing with a blank foundation as a character card. Those kind of character cards blatantly spit in the face of Self-Reliance and Signing.

Effects like countering are reactive, a character should be proactive, or better just active. It shouldn't care about the meta or be about destroying this strat or preventing things, something that affects the game in a direct way.
Unfortunately, UFS is littered with characters that suffer from blatant reactivenes and 'against the meta' themes.
Wooohh I don't like you drawing cards!!
One thing those character cards can be good at? Sideboard material. From there you know that if you are going to play that card it's because you know the card won't end up dead in your staging area, and seriously what business does a character card has being sideboard material.

One card in particular suffers from what is afflicting Kula, and one that also represents quite the popular character.
Why him?? WHYYYYY??!!!

At this point, it's as if the second E was not there. Not only will the opponent know that all he has to do is just... not play too much enhances and poof your damage and speed are gone.

Like Kula, I guess, they went with an idea ala "He is going to counter so many Es, when he plays his E he will have crazy damage", just that since they made that dependent on the opponent, well guess what?!...

So now what could have been done to avoid those mistakes.

First off, those effects would have made great Action cards. Why Action cards? Well, because for once the opponent would not be seeing directly that you have that thing hanging on his head. Again this show the distinction between what ought to be a character ability and what shouldn't, a character ability is something the player and character show proudly and publicly to all the other players, "this is what I am and this is what I do". Is it a good idea to make abilities that need the element of surprise be character abilities?...

For Kula, that ability would have to be completely replaced by something either active or proactive.

An action card that allow you to pump your damage if your opponent makes the mistake of over-committing on one attack? Not bad. Another that draws you cards when the opponent draws too much cards? Great sideboard material. Getting those effects on a character card? Stop right there!

The Team as a Whole


So now I will come back to the point I made about the Breaker ability that was shared by all members of Team K'. I argued that this ability was not the true theme of the team and thus was made even more useless and wasteful because of that. Now I will explain why.

The real theme of Team K' is obviously getting foundations back to your hand. Why did they decide that that theme alone was not enough for the team and then needed that Breaker ability added? Who the hell knows. What is sure is that because of that, team K' as a whole seems like a messy conglomerate of somehow similar but deceptively different characters. K' is the only one with a good, pleasant focus, Maxima is maximally meh, and Kula.... I'm just gonna go cry in a corner now.




Next time I plan on explaining why (4-5+) abilities are a bad thing for the game on character cards. Now that Civilzation:Beyond Earth ended up being the total disaster it is I will have more free time to get that article to you in a more timely fashion... unless I go back to BNW... ugghhhhh.

Until then, Don't Be Reactive!

Friday, October 3, 2014

UFS Design Breakdown: Team K'

I ended up having less time than I expected to get this one done but here is the second entry into this series, this time focusing on the character cards of Team K'.

But first, some trivia about our favorite hero team leader (at least mine), in french the Dash is pronounced "Prime", which made K' a lot cooler to pronounce. K Prime does sounds kinda cooler right?

Best WAIFU right here!

Anyway... Back to Team K.

So what I'm going to do is first analyze the team as a whole. KOF XIII, for all the ill I have harnessed for this expansion set, still had the great idea of making the teams matter either through the symbols, some shared abilities, or some team-only cards. And then I will finish the article with K'. The two other characters will be analyzed in the next article.

The Team


I'm sure they won't forever forget about Vanessa. she will be back, right??..


First off, I think the very first thing everyone will notice about that team is pretty clear.

6-27

It has to be a joke, right? Part of me want to believe that all members of the team having the exact same hand size and max vitality is simply a mistake done during the making of the spoilers, the other is seriously considering that this similitude was intended...

I won't linger too long on why this is silly as I expect that most here know why you shouldn't just copy-paste those values, but still I need to point that handsize and max vitality are the very first things that will define a character in the player's head. Mess those two values up, either by giving a bulky character a very low max vitality or the opposite, and you are well on your way to create a terrible card. And frankly, who could ever justify Kula Diamond having the exact same health as freaking Maxima!

Look at this giant cybernetic MONSTER!!!

The team also sports an ability that is shared among all its members:

"E(4+): If you block this attack, your block gains 'Breaker: 1'."

I kinda like and hate this ability. Love because the ability is about Breaker, a keyword that first came to the game with the first SNK set. Since it was a SNK set signature keyword, along with Desperation, with a pretty big push in Fortunes and Glory, the set where K' was introduced to the game. Thus having the team care about Breaker is kind of a nice touch. Hate because once again it does it in the worst possible way.

To begin, the ever-present (4-5+) cost... As I have said in the previous article, one of the biggest problems of the KoF XIII set is that the costs are all wrong.
Somehow, Team K' is supposed to care about Breaker. But now they shouldn't care for it enough to the point of a (4+) check being needed. The message being sent here is kinda schizophrenic.

And this ability takes a slot on a character card that could use a more distinctive ability. Although I can commend the idea of making the member of a team share some kind of effects, this shouldn't be forced to the point of it either surcharging or worse diluting the character and this is exactly what this ability does to the members of Team K' as I will show.

This ability is also tied to another big flaw of the set, Theme. But I will come back to this later in the article.

Character Card: K'


Now, the flagship hero of the NESTS era, K freaking Prime!

K' has a special place when it comes to the KoF mythos in my opinion. I started playing KoF back in 1999 (yea time flies) and was introduced to the series thinking K' was its "main character".

It was quite the discovery to learn that he was actually the SECOND main character of the series, Kyo being actually the closest thing to a main character. After years of Ryu never aging up and Mr. Bison still going after him, discovering a fighting game series where the plot evolved to the point of the main character changing was an eye-opener.

Since that day I ditched Street Fighter for King of Fighters and to this day King of Fighters is the superior game in my book.

So yes, K' does have a special place in my heart and that to the point of him being the first character I wanted to build a competitive deck around.

Quite the great card!

K' and his support in Fortunes and Glory was quite the well designed character. He was able to empower attacks with low damage as long as you kept the momentum coming, and he could seriously hamper the opponent with his control check manipulation. Overall a fair character, simple, and with some depth. Although his Signing could have been better with a less expensive E, but nothing game-breaking here.

That plus the resemblance of the ability to an ability I've always liked in Pokemon, Technician. This ability in Pokemon allows you to empower attacks that are too weak to be viable but still had great effects like reducing the opponent's speed or attack. Thus with this ability some Pokemon were able to use attacks that did a great job at controlling the battlefield.

K' E allows him to do just that. Many attacks would hypothetically pay for a very powerful effect by having reduced damage. K' E allows you to make the damage viable and then profit from the potent effects without worrying about your offense. Quite the nice touch.

Pretty much lots of fun ahead if it was not for those two:

 

Now all you had to do was auto-include those two and call it a day...

But that's a story for another time.

Pretty much, Fortunes and Glory K' provides a pretty good standard to which we can compare RoT K',

HELP!! MY HAND IS ON FIRE!!!

Since we have already covered the two big elephants in the room, the max vitality and handsize AND the the shared ability, we could go straight for the last ability.

But before I will talk about what I consider the greatest thing about this card, its support.

RoT K' support is by far the best support I have seen on a character of the set.

  

Can someone say COMBO??

The focus on a theme, on a mechanic here is great, but more importantly those cards tell a story, a story about how you could pulverize your opponent in the most combotastic way possible.

That coupled with the natural affinity of the character for combo cards? What's not to love!

The foundations too are great and they do a way better job playing around the team's true theme than any of the support of the other members of the team, Kula and Maxima.

Oh shoot! You mean I have to get this foundation back to my hand?? The pain!
So overall K' support shows that the character's Theme IS combo, and it also shows something more that I will discuss later.

And now to the last ability


Unlike the other parts of the card, this one is pretty much okay. The focus on combo is well-made, the cost is a bit heavy but the effect provided here is potent enough to warrant such a cost, recursion being quite the powerful thing in UFS and the cost offering ways to play around it (let's bounce that face down foundation or that one that is super easy to play again) unlike a (4-5+).

But once again problems arise when it comes to sticking to the theme. Suddenly the need to have the next combo card have -3 difficulty, or -3 difficulty to its block modifier...
As much as the first one could be useful, the other part of the ability once again dilute the card.

Is it there to push the breaker theme? The theme pushed by a terribly gated ability? When the card screams "let me care about Combo only"... Even the -3 difficulty is unneeded there and if anything would have made a great second ability a better one than the shared E(4+).


E, discard 1 momentum: If this attack deals damage, your next combo attack this turn gets -3 difficulty.

E, Add 2 foundations from your staging area to your hand: Add 1 combo card with a difficulty of 5 or less from your discard pile to your hand. Playable once per turn.

And here we have a cleaner, simpler, more focused card.

Also notice that the new E allow for more Signing than the Breaker E.

As I said earlier in the article, the ability messes with the Theme of the card, and that with the best intention possible, trying to create a team's theme. In the next article I will discuss why even that attempt was flawed, as a hint, it had to do with the second thing K' support showed. Until then, keep Breaking!

+1 block and Breaker 2?? That one will leave a mark!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

UFS Design Breakdown: Start of a Series

First thing first, I used to be a pretty enthusiastic fan of UFS quite a while ago, I daresay I was probably among those who were the most interested in the game in Europe, but life happening and all that jazz I've been out of the loop for at least a year.

But then I heard about a Megaman set being released soon, then I learned that UFS was still around and they released 3 sets, about King of Fighters, about freaking KING OF FIGHTERS XIII???

Best game EVER, in the best series EVER!!! And no I'm not biased.
How the hell did I not stumble upon this sooner???

To explain, I follow the Fighting Game Community pretty closely and especially when it comes to King of Fighters XIII.

And yet I never ever heard about UFS releasing KOF XIII sets....

But anyway, now what I truly want to talk about here is those new characters that came with the KOF XIII set and what happened when I saw them and examined them.

And for that I will need to surprisingly talk about Red Horizon.

Red Horizon, the Pinnacle of UFS design


Here is Lily, if you have been playing the game for a long time you definitely know her.

At the end of her gun, she sees dead people!...
Lily, in addition to being quite the foxy lady, is what I would consider one of the very best characters ever made in UFS.

Now, I imagine some of you are likely either rolling your eyes or trying to remember a Top 8 she has been in.

The thing is Lily is not one of the very best characters when it comes to power, but she is one of the very best characters ever made when it comes to Design.

The Design of Lily


So, what makes the card so great? Pretty simple, really. It will list some core aspects that make the card a well-designed one. I will later explain why those aspects are important.

Simplicity - the card is simple and yet has a strong theme, remember that because I'm going to reference this point a lot in the article.

Theme - the card has a great theme and convey that theme well. Lily shoots empty foundations in her enemy's card pool, and she enjoys doing that so much it makes her dish out more powerful attacks. Just her mere presence has an effect on the type of deck you play AND the attacks you play.

Self-Reliance - this quality is also going to be referenced a lot. Pretty much, the character has everything already in to function and that without depending on an opponent who is hellbent on making sure she loses... Her F allow her to trigger her E, and of course that E helps her to do what she has to do, get the enemy dead.

Signing - she signs her attacks. In a game whose uniqueness comes from attacks it is important to have effects that revolve around them, either through the buffing of them, or affecting them one way or the other. Not only that, the character has great signing in that her abilities are playable often and affect the game often.

Depth - despite the simplicity, the card is more deep than it seems. Her abilities plays well with Reversal, even though she doesn't rely on it, her E also allow to enhance a lot of attacks and thus plays well with Multiples or rushs.

Overall, she is a fair and solid package, full of synergy, simple and yet deep, with a strong theme, and she allows for plenty of deck creativity around her (Reversal, foundation control, ect...)

Now the truly great thing about the design of Lily is that every character in Red Horizon was designed that way!

  

As you can see, they were all quite simple and had effects that not only were Self-Reliant, but more importantly "signed" their attacks, and where still deep enough to allow plenty of deck ideas and interactions in play (trying to get around Kaden's Stuns and Breakers...)

The notable exception among those characters is Nehtali, and that because she lacked a real cohesive theme. That could be seen through all her cards, sometimes they care about control checks, sometimes about zones, sometimes about literally control, etc...

Anyway, now comes the fun part, let's compare Lily to a character in the King of Fighters XIII set.

KOF XIII Characters


Unfortunately MANY of the KOF XIII characters are lacking in multiple of those core aspects. It seems like somewhere after the release of Red Horizon, UFS decided to a total u-turn in the way they design cards and proceeded to discard many of the great things Red Horizon did right.

So now I'm gonna show you one of the worst offenders. But bear in mind that essentially ALL characters in the KOF XIII set , save for some notable exceptions that I will list later, are in the same boat. Due to her similarities with Lily it will be easier to see the major differences between KOF XIII and Red Horizon.

Here is King.

She used to be a bad gu... girl.

As you can see she shares the same mechanic as Lily, she wants to send cards in her opponent's card pool and if you do so, she likes it.

Except that, unlike Lily, she does it in all the wrong ways.

The R


First off, the way she sends cards in her opponent's card pool is horribly gated. It's dependent on a quite high control check combined with a condition (playing kicks, which in itself is okay). Those costs alone would be okay but combined together they would function ONLY if we were talking about a finisher-like ability. Together they are certainly not suited for something the character is expected to do often and dependent upon to do her things! This reduce King self-reliance a lot in that she is dependent on other, better cards to do that job well enough.

Compare that to Lily who has a clear, simple and yet quite hefty price to do her thing! Lily will have multiple occasions to do what she wants to do and that when her user wishes so. King's user will have to go through the frustration of setting up that ability only to see it fails.
And this shows the first problem with a lot of KOF XIII characters, the costs are just wrong. They impede Signing and Self-Reliance in that they don't allow the character to impact the game his or her way or worse are just essentially worse-than-foundation redux when they should be the opposite. See the members of Team Fatal Fury for other examples, or Clark and Ralf, and if you don't see it, do not worry I plan on discussing those in details in future articles.

The First F


Second,  something you should have noticed is that odd First F. Gain 1 vitality, and if you happen to be at max vitality, you increase that max vitality...

What is that ability even doing there??? Simple, it's filling the "resource-quota".

Let me explain. As you can see the ability is quite inconsequential, which IS quite a problem when we are talking about a CHARACTER ability. How is it inconsequential?

- Again as with the R, the ability is horribly gated. Reduced to a once per turn First keyword, and that for what? You'd think something powerful, with some impact? Nope, 1 more vitality. If you look at the characters in RH you will notice that all "once per turn" effects have an impact.

- And more importantly, the ability has a very very weak theme. King can hardly be associated with life gain, if anything she is a pretty dark character (or at least used to be) which is defined by her fluid martial art (Water is a nice match here), but that's not the crucial point, the thing that need to be noticed here is that the ability was likely added because King has the Life symbol of Women's Team and for no other reason.
This reason right here is the cause for the weak theme of the ability, it has no real reason to be there other than the "resource-quota". The "resource-quota" has been the cause of many bad cards overflowing with useless abilities in UFS history. I plan on devoting an article in the future about all the cards that have been its tormented victims... Anyway, as you can see I do consider that a problem, and that for a very important reason in design, "Less is More". I will talk about it later, but pretty much, that ability could have been removed from the character and King would have been a better, more focused character thanks to it.

- And finally, the ability is under-developed. There is zero synergy in either her cards or her others abilities with it. And to better show that here a version of King where this life gain could have been possible and where it would not only have impact but a strong theme:

R (5+): Unchanged

E Commit: If this attack deals damage, you gain vitality equals to the amount of cards in your opponent's card pool. If you end up at maximum vitality, increase your maximum vitality by the amount of cards in your opponent's card pool (up to X).

Now the life gain gives a strong theme to King but it also has synergy with the R, it becomes something core to the character instead of just something tackled on with no real purpose.
But now the real question would be, does King needs Life Gain? That's something I will leave you to decide.

Again compare that to Lily which has no useless ability added in just because she has 3 symbols, whose abilities are cohesive and synergistic...

The E


And now for the third ability... Now the problem here is pretty simple again, the cost, a recurring problem with KOF XIII.

A "Commit" here means that the ability is less likely to affect the game, which is NOT good for a character ability and I will give plenty of reasons why in the next section. But since the ability has quite the impact as it can be used as a finisher the problem wouldn't be that bad if it wasn't for the fact that the other ability of King is also gated by that control check and condition...

Let's compare that with Lily's E and the difference is pretty clear here, Lily can affect gameplay way more often, she has more presence and that directly thanks to her character card. In the end it's all about making the character card feels like the character card, as something profoundly defining and I will explain in the next section why this is important.

In the End


What we have with King is... a mess. A mess of theme, abilities, costs, and gameplay... And the problem is that she is far from the worst of the bunch, I picked her because she is the closest character to Lily, all members of Team Fatal Fury suffer from those problems at a significantly higher degree...

King is merely a glorified foundation, funny enough all of Lily's cards do a better job than her at what she is supposed to be about...

 

Why Are All Those Things Important?


So why does Signing, Theme,  Self-Reliance and all that jazz matter?

Because of a little game named Hearthstone.

Hearthstone? More like RNGStone! Amirite??
Hearthstone is an interesting game, and for sure one of the most inspired things Blizzard has pulled for quite some time! The game is a Magic-redux if anything, but one that has been made with simplicity and readability in mind.

Sure, the game can barely compare to Magic or even UFS when it comes to depth and demonstration of skills, the absence of Instants or Responses, the lack of interaction when it's the opponent's turn, etc...

But still the game is played by Hundred of Thousands! And tournaments are becoming more and more popular. So Blizzard must have done at least one thing right here?

That thing, or actually those things are Simplicity, Signing, Self-Reliance, Theme, and Depth (maybe not that much on that last one).

Simplicity - Hearthstone is simple, each card is really easy to understand and concise to a point. You will rarely see cards that do too many things (looking at you King) and when they do they are synergies between those effects (for example Abomination's Taunt and it's Deathrattle effect). But overall every card in is simple, even the most powerful ones (Malygos for example).

Signing - The Class powers are the best example of how signing benefits a game. Each class is defined by a once per turn power they can use for very little mana. For example, The Hunter can deals 2 damage to the opponent for 2, The Warlock can draw a card for 2 life and 2 mana (OP I know!), and The Warrior can gain 2 "temporary" life (Armor actually).
Now what is REALLY fantastic about those powers is that despite their simplicity and low power, they do a GREAT job distinguishing each class to each other, Warrior's power makes the Warrior enduring, Warlock's power is a control's player best friend, Hunter's power screams for an aggro deck.
With simple BUT frequently usable powers, Blizzard managed to give a distinct gameplay, theme, game style to each class! From there all cards in each class arsenal play around those powers, for example a card will allow the Warrior to deal damage equal to the amount of temporary life he has. The power is essential to the character, the gameplay, AND power of the class. And it frequently affect the game to further convey all those aspects.

Self-Reliance - And we come back again to the Class Powers. Each one of those is self-reliant in that they are not directly dependent on the opponent. This makes sure that whenever the player feels like using the power he can do so with the assurance that whatever result that will come out of it, it will take HIS performance into account instead of leaving it into the hands of the opponent.

Theme - And again each Class has a well-defined and unique theme. Warriors are about damage and mid-range, Warlocks about control and cards in hand, etc... and then you have the Class Cards, cards that can only be used by the corresponding class, which makes sure each Class has its own unique ways to deal with the game. 
For example, both Warrior and Paladin have cards that deal with 3+ more minions/creatures, but where the Warrior will make ALL creatures fight to the death until one random lucky survivor is out, the Paladin will make all creatures power reduced to 1, allowing its power that summon a tons of 1 power creatures to shine. 
Again here theme is preserved to the point that even if two classes use the same neutral cards they will do so in different ways (a more aggressive or a more control-ish way).

Depth- Finally, despite that simplicity, the game has plenty of depth. Although the prevalence of Legendaries makes it difficult for beginners to thrive in high-level play, still players are confronted with plenty of decisions during a game, and thank to the simplicity of said decisions and results, making the right choice becomes that important and it becomes that hard to outsmart the opponent.

Pretty much Hearthstone is the proof, if Magic was not enough, that simplicity and gameplay design have a lot to do with the success of a card game. People enjoy the game's simplicity and the easy to relate to classes and cards. Magic was already a strong advocates of all those strong aspects with its reduction in complexity started after Time Spiral and the addition of strongly-themed Planewalkers, and the Colors and their well-defined identities.

Back to UFS


Now the sad thing is that UFS also shared that adherence to those core aspects and that thanks to what was by far the most well-designed set that has ever graced UFS, Red Horizon.

Red Horizon was the first time in a long time where UFS has succeeded in making characters that were charismatic, had a strong cohesive theme, were SIMPLE and also for once did not sacrifice everything in order to adhere to their resource symbols. Lily's abilities are far from Death-like and Reese's ones are far from Good-like, but still they each did their best conveying what their character was about and defining them better than the resource symbols ever did.

Pretty much, everybody was having a lot of fun until that guy showed up:

President of the US of A and also Destroyer of Good Design!
But that's a story for another time.

Back to KOF XIII. The set suffers from a resurgence of the problems that plagued the game since its inception, messy characters, resource symbols diluting or messing up everything, and again a vibrant lack of theme. I hope I've given enough proof of that, but if that's not the case I plan on making more articles that will further develop my point.

But now everything is not doom and gloom. If anything the game seems to be back to more sound designs and that through the new Megaman set:

Pixel Art!! Yeah!!

Wait! It can't be that simple, there must be a 5 lines R ability with a 5+ check hidden somewhere!!??

I just hope this is a trend we will get to experience for the next Red Horizon and King of Fighters sets.

So now, I plan on further examining more cards from UFS's history and expanding on how those core aspects apply to those cards and UFS. This is only a part of a series of articles that I hope will last and will make ways for a lot of interesting discussions.

If there is a subject you would like me to tackle on next time feel free to ask. If you think all of this is a bunch of bollocks and KOF XIII is the best design ever, please do tell me about it!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Missed Utility

Most of the changes planned  for Season 4 have been revealed by Riot during this last week. Among those are a total revision of the Support role, a change to the Jungle, the flow of the game, and the introduction of Trinkets, an 1-per-player item that is to be used in the vision game.

Although most of those changes can be commended, there is one in particular that really grind my gears: Those affecting Supports.

Why? After all, they are finally doing the one thing people wanted, giving the ability to have gold and spend it on items. So everything should be fine?

Well the problem is that by giving so much gold to the role they have effectively destroyed it.

Hint: They won't give you any...

Let me explain. First thing first, we have to agree that the Support role is a role that was and is defined by gold starvation, or more precisely by gold deprivation in that they are the only role without a source of income naturally provided by the map. It is this deprivation of gold that made people choose level-dependent, utility focused, or protective champions for the role, champions whose primary source of power in their kit was utility not scaling power (for example the buffing auras of Sona), utility that only needed levels to become better.

Now, of course the role suffered for a long time because of the 'ward bitch' (and 'heal bitch') aspect of it. Supports for the whole of S2 and S3 were expected to cover the entire map in wards, and they did, mostly because nobody else would! This made them unable to get items and get into the building game with other roles, the gold being spent in wards.
S3 tried to change this with the addition of Sightstone and an increase in the gold Supports received. But what happened is that Supports now had enough wards and gold to cover even more of the map AND buy some pink wards and then cover the map with them! In the end no items were ever bought.


Now then, in S4 will come a huge change that will fix this problem. Each player can only ever have or put 3 wards on the map. Now this will have Supports buying items. All that was needed then was the gold to do so.

Again, Supports are defined by gold deprivation. One way they get around not having a direct source of gold is through GP5/10 items, items that give gold each set amount of seconds and have stats that can only be desired by Supports. Unfortunately, those items have been left in a bad shape for 2 seasons, with the best but most toxic one, Heart of Gold, being removed and Philosopher's Stone being the only one viable but with a need to be upgraded into a nice item with no GP5/10...

Now those items needed some love, and they did get some in the incoming S4 changes. Supports will have 3 gold income items that will fulfill all their needs.That plus the inclusion of Assist Sprees, rewarding players with a lot of assists. Support have a strong income of gold, and this is where things are going very wrong. That income of gold is strong, too strong, to the point of allowing any champions to fill the role that was defined by gold deprivation...

What was at first a role that favored utility through levels will now allow any champions that scales with AP or AD to come and play what is essentially now the 'lane partner that doesn't last-hit' role. No longer will utility be favored, on the opposite there is now a strong incentive to bring what will be a semi-carry (AP or AD) to the bot lane.
To counter that Riot will buff the current Support champions by having their utility 'scale' with AP or AD aka with gold. But what they are not seeing is that due to the very nature of the game, nature that favors damage, people will naturally flock toward champions that will bring the minimal amount of utility needed and with damage that scale well.

Plus the only way they can really counter that is by making the utility scaling of Supports champions way off the charts, and I think we all have an idea of how badly this can break the game (watch Janna's Shield become the OP thing ever).



What could have been done to avoid that? Make sure the role retains its trademark characteristic, being the role without a natural source of gold and with the slowest acquisition of it.
Although Assist Sprees are a good thing as they reward players that do things that are of paramount importance to the success of a team, they run the risk of giving out too much gold. GP5/10 items and the way they have been streamlined are a welcomed and needed addition, so there is no way I would ask for those to be removed (maybe toned down).
Then with the role having less gold than others, favoring utility, what do you do to make the role not an inferior version of the others (especially now that their 'ward bitch' aspect has been removed)?

You add utility items! Cheap, GP5/10-related, with a strong focus on actives, vision effects, CC, buffing, aka utility! Items that have poor scaling stats like AD or AP, favoring instead stats like CDR, Armor, Magic Resist, Regen, but with strong actives, actives that could turn a match around when used with smarts.

She is better than Sona, deal with it!
This would be a model that would closely resemble the one of DotA 2, with the actives of the items bought defining a hero and the game. Supports would have their utility scale with gold, that because of the accumulation of active items, with masteries that would favor their uses or reduce their cooldown. That plus their focus on utility increasing through levels from their kit, the role would be complete.

This is something that a lot of players would have enjoyed, a role that is more focused on thinking and overall strategy than Damage or Click-Per-Minutes.

Unfortunately right now, with the poor amount of such kind of items, this is something that is hard to do and that will be ever harder to justify in the eyes of other players, each one of them seeing you as someone who went for a bastard build between damage and utility.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wrath of Heroes: The addition of Felicia

As I'm talking to you, the first phase of the open Beta for Wrath of Heroes is concluded. The outcome of the Beta is truly average, all in all people have noticed several bad points the game currently has, they also had to endure a very unfun play experience through teams filled with burst ranged dps, "1-pull you are dead" Volrik, and a scarcity of healers. In the middle of all that, Mythic announce the future comeback of another hero, Felicia!


 

 
For those of you who have been around for a long time, you without a doubt remember Felicia. And you also remember the carnage she used to wrought down on the battlefield. Shortly after, after much whining, she was removed and the developers said she would come back in a better, improved form. Well, as you can see, she is the exact same. From the first look, nothing in her has changed. But hey who knows.

Although I can commend the addition of new heroes in a Beta that is suffering from the low number of heroes, I regret that among all the ones they had they chose Felicia, a ranged DPS, and by that one of the most obnoxious there is.

Why? Simply because the game is full of people stacking Ilyana. Why would they? Because she is the character with the most burst, thanks to her abilities favoring crits, and has a passive that increases her damage by +5% per other Dark Elf like her in your group. To put it simply, alone she has good damage, with 3 others like her, she has +15% more good damage. And to boot the other Ilyana get the bonus too. Pretty big boost for a team if I may say.

This has led to lots of Ilyana swarming the game. Not only can you get kills easily with her (which is important in this game), but you have the range advantage. This with the fact that the only healer in the game is better away from melee, Ilyana is set to dominate.

What could counter her?

First, what is the eternal enemy of a ranged "cloth" DPS? A pure "tank" melee DPS of course. Aessa being THE melee DPS of the game right now, she is bound to be a good character to counter Aessa? Well 1v1, sure! If you have the intelligence of faking a pounce and make them waste their 4th ability then use it to close the gap, you can bash her good. However ,even then it will be a close match because she can just burst you down.
Now let's put this in a more "realist" context, 6v6. Since this game is hardly a game where individual skill alone matters (since some heroes are made to dominate some others in the easiest/scrubbiest way possible), you have to judge a character in how he will interact among and against a group.
Aessa when facing a group of Ilyana will get slaughtered right now. That simple. Her only hope is if the warband is fully dedicated to melee, which would mean at least 1 Glowgob, 2 Volrik to pull people in melee at a reasonable rate, and the rest being Aessa. Using that you can all use the 5th ability of Aessa to survive the gap between you and the enemy team. I tried this strat with a player (Grakulen) that was streaming for MMORPG.com, and we lost 2 matches, each struggling to survive. Unfortunately this spec is not the best for dps since Volrik dps is far from optimal, which lead to a lack of kill points, However you have a good chance of surviving if your Aessa use their 5th ability well!
In the last match we did, we decided to just go for a full Ilyana team, and guess what? We won.

Ilyana is a problem right now, one that is exacerbated by the lack of melee heals, and heals in general.

Now you can really question the motivation behind adding another ranged dps to this mix. With Ilyana already dealing massive damage from afar, now you are going to have solid CC in the ranged field! Felicia, with Conflagration of Doom, Rain of Fire, and Fiery Blast, will bring solid CC and make it even more difficult for the rare people trying to rock melee!

Either the developers are massively unaware of the situation in the game right now. Or they have more heroes coming for the next session, which would be most welcomed. Or worse they are just capitalizing on the 'selling' factor of Felicia, after all she is a chick and seems to have less daddy issues than Ilyana!

In either case, we can only hope for Mythic to realize that the situation is dire, the ranged problem and the gold problem are showing a pretty bad picture of the game and its starting to get some media attention. If the game is branded as a bad that early (which will happen really fast if the game is deemed as devoid of depth or Pay2Win), it will die in the egg.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Wrath of Heroes: Not much hope!

The Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes Beta started. As one who has followed this game since the very first Beta, and even invested some important amount of time trying to better understand or promote this game I have to say, I have now few hopes for the future of this game.

This game is riddled with problems from the ground up. But more importantly, the team behind the game is severely lacking:

1. The team doesn't understand what Free2Play really means, they basically just saw an opportunity to milk people out of their money, the ridiculous prices are a good indication of that. They -want- you to feel obliged to buy characters.

2. The gameplay is not the team's priority. They are more busy taking care of superficial aspect of the game instead of focusing on the REAL aspects that will get people to play. The fact that the game is zerg'y and simplistic is a good indication of that. They -want- people to feel like 'winners' when all they are doing is farm kills in group and counting on their friends. (I can't wait until they realize people who don't/can't find good warbands won't stick with the game).

3. The game design is an afterthought. The fact that tactics/masteries introduce a Pay2Win element, the wasted/broken perks that could have saved the game from the 5 abilities boredom. The fact that they can't realize that the variety in heroes was their advantage and decided to start a Open Beta with only 5 heroes! Those guys have no clue what they are doing, they are too busy thinking of all the money they will get from those addicted MMO PvPers.

This game has a long road ahead, even if they introduce more characters. It will just become a giant zerg farm where time and who you know is more valued than skills.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hollywood vs. The Internet! The War on Ideas!


So I think it is important that people kinda realize what is at stake in the whole SOPA/PIPA/ACTA vs Internet thing. We have two worlds facing each other right now, one based on an old model where ideas had owners, and another based on the frictionless exchange of ideas.
At its very core, this is a fight between two philosophical takes on the concept of ideas. One that focus on ownership, while the other one focus on circulation.

The old model made billions and acquired power copyrighting everything left and right, the new model needs everything left and right to be able to create value, and unfortunately technology has given the advantage to the new model.
But hey, what is the most effective way to stop technology, as the dark ages have proved, political power!

The old model is using the law as its weapon to stop a technology that is against it interests.

However this technology have proved to be insanely useful to humanity (Arab Spring, ect...).
So the choice is either we side with the likes of Hollywood (the 3 laws were backed up by the MPAA, I wonder why :P) to enable them to keep their power and to continue contributing nothing relevant to society with their copyrighted shitty materials, or we side with the Internet which means an abolition of copyrights as it is (as painful as it may sounds), the creation of a new economy/model, and an increase in technological and potential power for humanity.

The choice is simple!
Oh and just to elaborate a bit on the abolition of copyright thing. Pretty much it would mean that when a studio releases a movie, the images and stuffs enter the public domain and therefore can be freely used, captured, redistributed, modified by people. Same with TV, books, and blogs, ect...

In the case of movies, YES they will lose money because someone who see one on the Internet and realize it is a shitty movie, as most of what Hollywood produces right now, will not waste $5. Hollywood will have to realize that what they are truly selling is NOT a bunch of images and sound, but AN EXPERIENCE. You will have to focus on making theaters an unique experience, with 3D, or Odorama, or whatever, things that would make people go there even after seeing the movie!!!

Same with music, instead of focusing on making money though albums, focus on concerts, lives, events. Hell Madonna already understood that it was the future! Your album will be more a promotional goodie that will make people come to your concert and stuffs, and if your album is shit (like your movie) well you can be damn sure nobody will come instead of you making money out of being a self-sufficient egocentric, promoted but stupid asshole (targeted at pretty 90% of actual rappers).

What's in in the long run for humanity? Hollywood, the music industry, and the entertainment industry going back to making things that actually matter in people's lives! Once again focusing on intrinsic quality instead of superficial marketing campaigns and teasers that try their bests to make all those shitty movies look like they are awesome.

So yeah, either a new model or stagnation! The Old Guard will not and cannot understand that they are defending something that is detrimental to the potential of humanity, and all that for short-term profits, most are on their way to the grave anyway, like the chairman of the MPAA, they could care less of the impact their actions will have on us (and by the way, the Internet is creating WAY more jobs than Hollywood right now, so yeah...).

Again the choice is simple!