You Don’t Like 2 Hour Swarm Host Games? Here’s One Solution

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Swarm hosts are not a bad unit. Let me clarify, though, before everyone stops reading this post: swarm hosts are a horrible unit for the current state of Starcraft 2.

I think most people would agree with that statement. Swarm hosts replaced broodlords as being the nightmare unit that Terrans and Protosses (and sometimes Zergs) dread. When swarm hosts first came out, they seemed interesting and everyone thought they could possibly change the meta of Starcraft 2; they certainly did, although currently not in a way anyone (except maybe Stephano?) is happy with.

What are the current problems with swarm hosts? Some would focus on the damage they do with free units, but I instead want to focus on the problem of mobility. Swarm hosts reduce the mobility of the game, consolidating the action to choke points via slow siege warfare. The hay day of TvT siege warfare looks spectacularly more interesting in comparison (even though many of us bemoaned the state of GOMTvT at that time). With static defense and endless swarms of locusts, games drag to a grind.

The slow siege is particularly painful in ZvZ (as evidenced by Stephano vs Petraeus at the Lone Star Clash 3) where spores shut down the most obvious harassment unit available to zergs against swarm hosts: mutas. Ground runbys are pointless as they will get destroyed by the locusts before they cause much damage. Looking at other match ups, in ZvP,  it might be a painful siege, but at least there are tempests to break the line, while in ZvT swarm hosts are largely ignored except when Zergs face mech; if zergs try to use swarm hosts against bio, they can expect disastrous drops all over the map.

So, how do you fix swarm hosts?

Like I said earlier, they are a horrible unit for the current game of Starcraft 2–the meta game at the professional level and at the higher spectrum of play. The tough thing that Blizzard has to do, and that we as a community tend to forget, is that they have to balance both for Jaedong and XxX666PoolRushXxX in bronze league.

My proposal is to make a change that will simply shake up the meta. Give the pros something to ponder that will spice up the game a little bit and, most importantly, open up new options.

Nydus worms. We were told there would be changes to nydurs worms in Heart of the Swarm; it was teased and then axed, much like the warhound (RIP). Whether it would be a deployable turret or spread creep or whatever, Blizzard said they wanted to do something with nydus worms and then never did. And I think now is the perfect time to try a change. A simple experiment that the community has requested for a long time: don’t restrict the number of nydus networks that can be built at one time.

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Think about it: in ZvZ, the biggest problem is that swarm hosts can just sit back and send out their locusts. There are no incentives to move them. Siege lines move because one person has more swarm hosts than the other, or there is some reason to divert some locusts away from the main point of conflict. Mutas are out of the equation because of spores, and the ground is pretty much dominated because of the locusts. Currently, if nydus worms are built in ZvZ, the enemy will spot them and quickly dispatch a wave of locusts or pull drones to kill the worm. If more than one nydus network could be built at one time, though, this becomes infinitely harder for the slow-moving locusts and swarm hosts. Suddenly, more army supply has to be reserved for mobile units, and swarm hosts can be used as they were intended: to supplement armies instead of being the army.

In general, buffing nydus networks is a long overdue change. Zerg is a race that’s all about mobility, and the swarm hosts destroy that for the most part. Nydus networks are still a low-risk threat to other match ups, as both Protoss and Terrans have higher mobility even in a swarm host-siege situation.

So, the pros as I see it:

1) In ZvZ, this will force Zerg opponents to invest in a more mobile army to counter possible nydus worm networks popping up on various sides of the map.

2) Swarm hosts themselves can be more mobile, popping up on different parts of the map, sieging for a moment, and then slipping away. This might be unbalanced and would require further testing, but it certainly doesn’t make for 2 hour long snorefests and might help balance the game in other ways.

3) More innovative play. Nydus networks are one of the most underutilized buildings/strategies in the game, typically only reserved for cheese play. The only building used less often is probably the fusion core.

Maybe instead of just making a change to the overall design of nydus networks, an upgrade ability (maybe available at lair, maybe hive) could be added to the game. This would allow further tweaking to nydus networks until a balance is found.

I am not a Master-level player. I play Zerg at the diamond level on the North American server. I am not going to pretend that I know everything about Starcraft. But making things viable seems like a good goal. A change to the nydus network might help break up the monotony of play. I know I for one am extremely tired of swarm hosts and their current role in the meta. Maybe this will imbalance the game, but honestly, I think most of us would prefer shaking up the metagame than enduring more of these mind-numbing swarm host games.

What are your thoughts on the swarm host situation in Starcraft 2? Do you think the unit can be saved by rebalancing it or other units? Or do you think it should be taken out completely?

Totally Fair Axe Spins

Fair and balanced.

Mattchew’s Dota Musings: Moaning on Morality

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Do you remember the good ol’ days in school, when you were on your soccer/basketball/football/chess team? Don’t you remember when a teammate messed up a play, how you threatened to kill him and his entire family?

What? NO?!

Yet this seems to be the norm in treating fellow players in Dota.

Why do we do this?

And I don’t use “we” lightly. I’m just as guilty as the next person in dishing out the hate.

To better answer this, I think it’s helpful to first analyze a normal, in-person competitive team mentality. When you were on that club in school, likely many of the members were your friends, or you had some semblance of a relationship. Almost everyone had a sense of team mentality- if enough people were getting too down on each other, the entire team would suffer, which also harms the individual. Performance goes down, the chances of winning goes down, and thus the chances of you attaining those warm and fuzzy feelings when you beat a team in a game requiring skill.

I would say that is probably the biggest driving factor of why we treated in-person teammates well. We knew, consciously or not, that if we were too hard on too many teammates, we would suffer. Not only in the game, but out of the game. There was still a social life to be had, and not too many people would want to hang out with someone that was constantly berating them.

So passion and social acceptance are likely the biggest factors of what kept us (mostly) civil during and out of team games. And not wanting to get punched in the face.

But then, what happens when there is an environment that is almost entirely divorced from those two factors? CHAOS AND DESTRUCTION. You can now do the following!:

1) Punch the person in the “face” by trolling or feeding.

2) Tell your teammate how many times you had sex with his/her sister.

3) Go on a mentally raping rampage about how you feel about a teammate’s abilities (I mean, let’s be honest, that Sniper WAS a n00b).

All because there’s no relationship fallout!

And if we’re completely honest, some of us find that fantastically liberating.

Dota is, for a lot of people, a kind of psychological escape from real world relationships. This is not implying  that these people are necessarily lonely in the physical world or have no friends on Dota. It’s just that when you speak to a Dota stranger in a way that you would never speak to a stranger on the street, you’re likely doing it because part of you is always tired of keeping up that facade. Dota provides release (…not that kind of release, Michael Scott).

Some might say this is a good thing. Competitive online games that allow people to act in this way provides a kind of psychological purge. Better that people take their aggression out in a fantasy world than the real one, where damage can be done. In fact, there’s reason to believe video games actually have lowered crime rates (link), and that may be the reason why crime rates have been fairly low during this recession.

That very well may be the case. And, when it comes to violence, I’m glad if that’s reality.

However, I think that treatment of people is in a different category from violence when it comes to this theoretical purging. We’re always engaging with people relationally; we’re rarely engaging in violence. I believe we’re always on the bleeding edge of telling people what we really think in the bluntest terms; and, as a society, we’ve created manners to dilute that speech so there isn’t as many misunderstandings.

When we start to disregard those manners, they atrophy. It’s easier to spill over to that side that doesn’t care how we say things.

And I think that’s really, really bad.

We treat, for the most part, the random person on the street well because we would want to be treated well. If everyone just acted on impulse and passion, we know that would be the crappiest society to live in. And it takes constant work to maintain those “manner muscles”.

Not only for your own humanity, but for the Dota community, treat random pubs as if you were going to see them the next day. Remember that there is fallout when you treat random people harshly, even if it’s not apparent, and even when they deserve it. We don’t want Dota to be the poopiest gaming society to play in, because it’s one of the best games to play.

When all else fails, hit the mute button.

A Wild Hawken Appears!: A Review of Hawken

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Image from hdwallpappers.com

“Hey dude, you should try out Hawken.”
“What? Hawken? That’s not Dota.”
“Do it or I’ll SACRIFICE YOUR FIRSTBORN!”
“Geez, not that again. Fine.”
And that is the truthful tale of how Josh Duke introduced me to Hawken, a Free-to-Play Mech FPS developed by Adhesive Games.

My hesitation was real; there are a myriad of fantastic Free-to-Play games currently released, and Hawken was just not catching my fancy. But since my friends were enjoying it, and peer pressure being one of the most powerful forces in the universe (and threats to my nonexistent children), I decided to give it a go.

First impressions weren’t the best. The game thankfully runs you through a tutorial before being allowed to join any matchmaking, and it does its job well, but it definitely needs some polish. The graphics are overly bright in the hologram map, and the voice acting of the trainer is sub par. However, even though those aspects were a turn off, I was rather impressed with some of the game mechanics:

Unlike most shooters, you do not need to reload. That’s right, no reloading. I mean, you’re in a futuristic walking death machine- why the heck would you need to reload? Instead, it uses a heat system. Your primary weapon uses a small amount of heat, while your secondary weapon (usually a missile) uses a moderate amount. If you overheat, weapons are completely disabled, usually meaning a quick death from your opponents. I LOVE this idea. After playing a lot of shooters over the years, I feel trained to mash “R” whenever I find cover. It’s nice that a game found a balanced way to remove that feature.

Next up is the healing system. No regenerating shields, no health packs. When your mech has taken a beating, go find yourself a place to hide and hold down “C”. A cuddly little repair drone will pop out of your exploding carcass and restore you to full health overtime. WHAT! Awesome! “But Mattchew,” you might ask, “how is that fair or balanced?” Well sirs and ladies, when you are in repair mode the mech is completely disabled. Not only that, you can’t see the minimap. That means if you try to repair when an enemy is chasing you down, you’re going to die. I honestly think this is one of the best heal systems in a shooter in recent memory. The only similar mechanic that comes to mind is the Heavy eating his Sandvich in Team Fortress 2. That means no long fire fights with regenerating shields, and no worries from map creators about balancing issues because of health pack placement. The only downside is that if your team loses a big fight, and the enemy team is basically dead, it doesn’t matter. They’re going to be back to full health. That only stresses the need for teamwork and focusing down single targets, instead of everyone doing their own thing.

Finally, fuel management. Every mech has a fuel bar that allows several actions. Think of it as a glorified sprint bar. Holding shift activates jets which make you move faster (although you can’t shoot while sprinting), and certain combinations allow dashes (which are essential for dodging opponent’s missiles, and general positioning). Fuel is also used to do a quick 180 degree turn, in case you need to suddenly run away, or in an ambush. Oh, did I also mention every mech can fly? Because the mechs can freaking fly.

It was about three hours in when I finally decided that Hawken had something special. I had just been in a team fight where I almost died horribly several times, and I think I killed Josh’s eardrums fourfold from my school girl screams of terror. I pushed my mech to the absolute limit, used about every trick in the book, and got a triple kill- all against opponents with fancier mechs than my walking TV. That’s when I said through Steam voice chat “This made me feel like I was in an episode of Battlestar Galactica.”

That’s right. A land-based mech game made me feel like I was in an epic space-based flying shoot out. All of my opponents felt smarter. All of my enemies were better equipped. But through skill and guts we defeated them all, ready for the next challenge that awaited us.

On that positive note, it’s time to kill the mood with what I don’t like about this game. The class unlock system is stupid. Just plain ol’ stupid. I get that it’s Free-to-Play, and that funds have to come from somewhere, but I think Valve nailed that formula in games where a vast amount of customization is possible. The mechs are insanely expensive to unlock with the free Hawken Credits you receive for playing (it’ll take about ten hours to earn enough for the higher tier mechs), and you can only test drive a small sample periodically. Mechs you test drive don’t receive experience, so it doesn’t give you much incentive to stick with those freebies. Also, there is a lot of customization available in this game, so I can’t help but wonder if Adhesive would make more money by just having all mechs available, and thus more opportunity for people to customize. Team Fortress 2 is probably the best apple to apple comparison of how it should be done.

Thankfully, although the higher tier mechs are a lot better, they’re not so much better than your starting TV-with-a-windshield-wiper mech that you’ll feel the opponents have an unfair advantage. A player with a lot of skill will overcome those Pay-to-Win fiends (and it feels REALLY good to wipe the floor with them).

Overall Hawken has been a solid, solid experience. I wouldn’t say it’s as polished yet as some other shooters, but it has an insane amount of potential and is a lot of fun for free.

You can’t ask for much more than that.

Davvic and Duke Play Hawken

Continuing our spotlight on Hawken, we’ve made a Let’s Play video. Enjoy the adventures of Davvic and Duke as we romp through the beautiful world of Hawken. We’ll be making plenty more of these videos for Hawken and other games, so stay tuned.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel by clicking here.

A Murder of Hawks: A Nooby Guide to Hawken

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Hawken has been out for a while now, but it seems that there has been a resurgence in interest since it popped up on Steam, and for good reason, too: the game features fast-paced mechs, interesting game modes, and a team-based focus (unless you’re playing free-for-all Deathmatch).

With new blood entering the beautiful, free-to-play mech combat arena, it’s important to understand that Hawken isn’t a traditional shooter. Lone-wolf style running around will only get you killed most of the time, unless you run into someone else who has strayed away from his squadron. And unlike other shooters, you always want the odds on your side. While winning a 2-on-1 is possible with some good juking, it’s much easier to stick with your team and ensure the numbers are on your side, particularly if you are new to the game.

If you still find yourself on the wrong end of a TOW missile too many times, check out our tips, which might just save your life and help your team to victory.

1)      Pay Attention To Your Team’s Position

Positioning is key in Hawken. A corridor or an open area with little cover can become a killing field. It’s all about knowing the maps and understanding where your mech excels and where it fails. A quick agile mech like the beserker doesn’t want to get shoehorned into a tunnel; he wants plenty of room to zip around and nuke down his opponents.

2)      Know Your Mech and Your Opponents’

When you looked at the scoreboard, pay attention to the symbols next to your teammates’ and oppoennts’ names. This conveniently gives you an at-a-glance look at the classes of your opponents. From there, use common sense: you don’t need more than one technician on your team (with a few exceptions), nor do you want your entire team to be composed of big, lumbering mechs or burst damage light mechs. Exploit the weakness of your opponents’ line up.

3)      Find The Mech That Suits Your Playstyle

Yes, mechs in Hawken cost more money than they should, but instead of buying internals that don’t do that much, save up your credits and buy a new mech. And while mechs might cost a pretty good amount of money, the game does a pretty good job cycling out which ones are available for test drive. Even though you don’t gain experience on the mech, test driving a new mech might give you something to work towards and completely change how you play the game.

4)      Know How to Play Siege Mode

Siege is a fantastic game mode (and you can also earn a ton of credits to buy new mechs), but if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be confusing. Siphon energy from designated energy points on the map and then return them to your base to launch your battleship. Your battleship does damage to the enemy’s base, and shooting down battleships is easiest by controlling the AA battery on the map. So with that in mind, figure out if the enemy team has control of the AA site before launching your own battleship or else you’re dooming your progress in siege mode before it starts. Also, take note of the amount of energy your team has already collected instead of just rushing to energy sites. If your teammate is already on his way back to base with the required amount, head to the AA, but don’t rush in if the odds are against you.

5)      Flanking Is Your Friend

While this may seem counter-intuitive to point 1, flanking can completely change the tide of battle when done correctly. If it’s going to take you more than a handful of seconds to get around the enemy, then it’s probably not worth it to flank your opponents as the fight would already be over by the time you get there. However, if you’re in position when a fight breaks out, consider moving in behind enemy lines. Sure, sometimes you might get killed, but if you’re good, you could take down one or two people before you go down. Just focus fire down either the mechs in the back or any mech that is close to death.

 

Once you master these basics, the next best thing to do is find a group of friends to gather up and play. Preferably 6 people. Hawken is one of those games that’s far better with a team that you can trust than with random people that may or may not know what they are doing.

Pokemon X and Y Review: Pokecrack

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Here I am again, crawling through the grass, looking for a trainer battle, willing to do anything just for one more fight—anything, I mean anything. Someone has to tell me to stop, to move on to the next route. There’s no more Pokemon you haven’t seen here. But I can’t stop, I’m digging through the dirt, just hoping that maybe I can catch a wild duduo—is that even possible?—and suddenly it’s 2 AM. I got the Pokemon fever, and I got it bad. In fact, it hasn’t been this bad since the original Pokemon in 1998.

A lot has changed since the original 150 graced Game Boys everywhere and began printing money for Nintendo. Some of the changes feel disorienting—quite literally, the change of perspective from top down, 2D sprite to full 3D took some getting used to. But the new animation, sound, and forward-thinking design really sets both X and Y apart from former entries in the storied series. For example, you get a faster method of transportation (rollerblades in this case), a town map, and EXP share within the first hour or so of the game. EXP share that early in the game is a true game changer, as it’s much easier to keep your party closer in levels. In previous games, it took concerted effort to not have one Pokemon shoot up past your other party members. I’m not sure why that always bothered me, but it just did, and now that’s fixed and I have played so much in the last few days and this is my cry for help.

The improved graphics are such a huge change. I try not to be vain when reviewing and playing games. I tell myself that graphics don’t matter, that it’s really about gameplay, but what happens when the gameplay is already addicting like crack and suddenly the graphics jump from 1999 quality to 2013? Disaster, that’s what. This game has obliterated my free time. Even when friends convince me to do something else, I have my 3DS with me with Pokemon installed on its SD card. Play the Battlefield 4 beta? When I die, I might just stay dead for a bit as I finish a fight. Queuing up for Dota 2? Sounds like a perfect opportunity to explore a new route.

Pokemon X and Y Frogadier

Some people have criticized the character designs of some of the new Pokemon, to which I say: did you just chug a bottle of stupid pills? Yeah, a pile of garbage might not be the most interesting design, but look at those starters—look at Frogadier. I know I just did. And I just took 15 minutes from writing the previous sentence to this one because I started playing again.

In all seriousness, this game brings back what made the first game so addicting to me. I have been away from the series for quite some time, so seeing a ton of new Pokemon is both overwhelming and exhilarating. What type is that Pokemon? I found myself wanting to both look up wild Pokemon on a wiki and avoid it at the same time. Surely, it’s more interesting to capture one for yourself and update your Pokedex. Add to the formula the ability to customize your appearance, and you have Pokecrack all over again.

Of course, not everything is perfect about this game. If you don’t like RPGs, leveling up characters, and minimal storytelling, Pokemon hasn’t changed in those departments. In fact, the story in Pokemon X and Y I think is its weakest point. The cast of characters surrounding the main character are kind of pointless and don’t add anything to the game; without spoiling anything, there have been some “moments” that are trying to have some impact on the player, but they don’t pay off because no one cares about the characters, just the Pokemon. Also, the inability to control the camera in certain segments can make moving around tricky, particularly since the turbo for the rollerblades active whenever you push a direction. I ran into trouble moving around Lumiose City on occasion, but it wasn’t enough trouble to put down the game, clearly.

The biggest problem? For me, the game is too large to review properly. I can’t go into the ins and outs of high-level battling. It feels weird to even mention as a footnote how great the online system is, too, but it is great and it is awesome. A few taps of the lower screen and you can trade and battle anyone in the world or give them a temporary buff. Did I mention Mega Evolutions? No? There, they’re mentioned, they add another level to an already deep fighting system, and make badass Pokemon look even cooler. Everything that was awesome about previous Pokemon games has returned and the majority of it has been improved.

What can I say? This is the Pokemon game I always wanted as a kid. When talking to a friend about this write-up, he said, “I’ll start it for you: Best Pokemon ever. Oh wait, that’s all you need to write.” I think he might be on to something, but I don’t have time to bother. I have to get back to Pokemon X.