Category Archives: Gaming

#54 Gamescom 2016

Well met, my friends!

This was my fourth year in a row at Gamescom (see my impressions from 2015, 2014, and 2013 by clicking on the link on the respective year).

Since I’ve documented my experience via twitter this time, I shall imbed those tweets and add additional commentary.

I walked past the crowded entrance and used the eastern gate to get in shortly past 9. Unfortunately I walked around too much, instead of getting in line immediately.

Hence, I did spend two hours in line at the Playstation VR section. The demo itself was pretty cool – you drove a tank with the left stick and aimed with the right, all the while being able to look in every direction. The displays inside of your cockpit almost had a 3D look to them. I was very impressed and will most likely buy a VR headset for my PS4.

I could not believe the size of the farming simulator booth, so I commented “holycow,” which was even more apt, since they had people in cow costumes walking around…

CD Project Red only showed the Gwent multiplayer, which was very similar to the mini game from Witcher 3. I won with the Northern Realms against Beasts and then later on I lost with the Northern Realms against another Northern Realms player. Unfortunately there were no news, apart from “we’re still working on it,” regarding their cyberpunk game.

Hidden away in hall 10.1 is the Indie Arena Booth, which is always my highlight of the Gamescom. This year it was even bigger and the additional space made it feel less cramped than last year. I intended that to be a compliment, but worded it so poorly that the organizer probably took it as an insult – oops. Nevertheless, it was really really good and a lot of the indie games look very professional and polished. Here is a small selection.

Another reveal at the Indie Arena Booth was that the Holocafé opens its doors on the 10th of September in Düsseldorf. I cannot wait for that :)

I did attend the Role Play Convention earlier this year and was surprised to find a booth of their own at Gamescom. They provided phone chargers and some sitting space there.

Afterwards I checked out the Heroes of the Storm tournament. Since I do not play that game, I cannot appreciate the intricacies of what is going on. That said, it was easy to understand things – blue vs red and whoever gets a level lead and kills more enemy heroes seemed to win.

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The game I watched was casted by James “Kaelaris” Carrol and Jaycie “Gillyweed” Gluck, who I met at MLG Anaheim 2014 when I wrote articles for Misscliks. Sadly she had to run off to the commentary desk immediately after casting, so there was little time to catch up.

After this mini break, I went on to look for the Destiny expansion and Civilisation 6. On my way I came across Titanfall 2 and checked that out, since there was no line. At first it was the standard multiplayer fare, but with the extra ingredient of a mech. At the end something very cool happened that I have never seen before in another game: my team won and after the winning screen it said “epilogue mission, hunt down the enemy team before they can evacuate.” I did get two of them, but the others flew away in a shuttle. That was a pretty nice twist, especially since the map itself was about capturing and holding control points and not about fragging.

Destiny on the other hand was just like the Destiny demo 2 years ago, but with a new map. This time people were a lot better and I could not do anything. I did not like the demo at all, but will probably buy the expansion regardless, since that multiplayer demo does not mean anything.

On my way to Civilisation 6 I came across the Startrek Bridge Crew demo, but they had already closed their lines.

Civilisation 6 also closed their lines, after I got in, but instead of letting the last people inside play a bit longer they still kicked me out after a bit less than half an hour. I thought that was weird, since there was no need to make room for other people, but then again it was sufficient to give me an impression. I have not played a civilisation game for more than a few minutes since civilisation 1 and so I cannot say whether it has changed a lot from civilisation 5. However, it does look great and I will certainly jump back into the franchise with this latest game.

All in all a decent Gamescom – I got to try out everything I wanted, but there were no big surprises. Next year I will also just attend the industry day, as the regular days are too crowded and there is no point in going multiple days.

Pursue your dreams and see you next time,

Kai

#50 Gamescom 2015

Well met, my friends!

On Wednesday the 5th of August 2015, I attended the media day of Gamescom. Even though there are less people than on the other days, it is still very crowded. Both Anna Prosser-Robinson and Genevieve Livinpink Forgét were at Gamescom. I met up with Anna, who was live streaming from the twitch.tv booth, and gave her an Advance Review Copy of my novel “Age of Torridan.”

Unfortunately Livinpink was too busy, so it did not feel right to encroach on her time during her breaks.

Since this was Gamescom, I did get to try out a few games:

Battleborn

The game reminded me of Blizzard’s Overwatch due to the comic style and wacky heroes with different roles. A refreshing change that will hopefully hold true for the final release was that this was a 5 player co-op vs the computer kind of game. I played some sniper robot butler, which suited my play style. In the demo, the team shared 15 lives. You could play until your team ran out of lives or until you met the first boss. After defeating a semi boss, the actual boss showed up, but after a cutscene the demo was over. I guess that’s what they meant by playing “until the first boss.” Despite or because of that teasing I really enjoyed the demo.

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Skyarena

In the Indiegame area – which is a sort of a hidden gem at Gamescom, located in hall 10.1 – I tried out Skyarena. The game was a kind of confrontational Mariokart with jets. Unfortunately they did not implement the mechanic that the random upgrades are better, the worse you are doing in the game, as it is the case in Mariokart.

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Furthermore, the graphics shown here are probably not indicative of the final product. Still, this indie game ranks at or very near the top of the games I tried out at Gamescom.

Overwatch

Blizzard’s team shooter looked good and was fun to play, but it will depend on the match maker how well the game does. At Gamescom one played with randoms, so the other team happened to be much stronger. I liked that the game warned us when the whole team picked the same character – so grim reaper dude, who just looked cool. Later on I switched to a healer, but we still lost. The in my opinion broken part was that the other team had to defend, but still boxed us into our respawn zone. Two of our guys died and then it was 5 vs 3. When the remaining three died, the other two respawned, so then it was 5 vs 2.

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Hearthstone

Blizzard’s card game presented their tournament expansion. It was paladin vs mage and my paladin completely pummeled the mage. At some point I realized that I would have to leave and would not see any more cards, if I won too quickly, so I kept the other guy at 1 health and kept destroying his creatures. Unfortunately he picked up one of my spells that allowed him to attack one of my minions and die. Up to that point, the new cards were mostly creatures that compared a random creature from both decks and would get a boost, if your own random creature card had a higher casting cost.

Bad presentations

I did attend a particularly terrible presentation, so I will not name and shame the publisher here. It was just a surprise to see something like this, when the awesome Witcher 3 presentation last year already showed everyone how it’s done. Maybe the booth was paid for and they had to show something. Anyway, after a long waiting time, they announced that it is forbidden to take pictures. I thought publicity was in the interest of companies. The presentation itself was just a compilation of very gory headshots with almost no game play…

On a similar note, I wanted to play test a game and they told me I had to wait for 9 other people, because the demo is a 5vs5. This might work on a regular Gamescom day, but not during the media day. I decided to walk away. When I came back later on, 8 people were waiting, but just as I had traversed the maze to get in line, some guys must have jumped the queue and so I saw them disappear into the gaming area. Oh well.

Fable Legend

The demo was a 1 vs 4, with four people playing fantasy heroes and one guy playing an evil overlord, who can direct his minions in a top down perspective. The people at the booth claimed that it was easier with a game pad, but I actually did better with mouse and keyboard (surprise, surprise). The game looked nice, so I signed up for the beta test.

Homefront the Revolution

The last game I saw looked like a shooter, but the presentation was really well done. I stood in line in a fenced walkway. There were guards with (toy) guns walking around. When it was time for the presentation, one of the actors shouted “Ok, ten people, one, two, three, …” and pushed people forward with every count. Inside, an announcement that was repeated in chinese urged people to remain silent. Some inspirational video was shown that was interspersed with atrocities the occupying force commits in the game. Then the guards leave the room. Gun shots and a Wilhelm Scream can be heard. Afterwards the resistance fighters entered the room and showed a video about the mission. I dozed off halfway through, but if I had paid attention this video would have shown what to do in the demo. Consequently I did poorly when it was time to play the game and did not complete it in the time allotted.

Gametrends

Perhaps I’m getting too jaded, but there wasn’t something special or new this time around. The overarching theme seemed to be wacky team based first person combat action games with colorful graphics, like Battleborn, Overwatch, Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2, Orcs must die unchained or Paladins.

Final verdict

Despite my sometimes harsh words, I’ll definitely be back at Gamescom next year.

Pursue your dreams and see you next time,

Kai

#41 Gamescom 2014

Well met, my friends!

On Saturday the 16th of August and Sunday the 17th of August, I visited the Gamescom in cologne.

Initially I wandered around all the halls, just to get an idea of what to do and see. There were many cosplayers around like these guys:

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Or those guys. Who you gonna call?

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Last year at Gamescom I met some of the “Spieleveteranen” (Heinrich Lenhardt, Boris Schneider-Johne and Anatol Locker). This year I saw Jörg Langer by chance, who is also one of the “Spieleveteranen” and the initiator of Gamersglobal. Since he was busy filming stuff, I did not want to interrupt.

After they were done, I introduced myself and one convention visitor was nice enough to take our picture. From left to right, it’s myself, Jörg Langer, Christoph Vent and Benjamin Braun.

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On Saturday I tried 4 different games (Farcry4, Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Borderlands the pre-sequel and Call of Duty Advanced Warfare) and saw one presentation (Assassin’s Creed Unity). On Sunday I only played one game (Destiny) twice and saw one presentation (Witcher 3).

The game demos were of varying quality – it really is an art to rip a portion out of your game and still aim to provide an entertaining experience in a limited time slot. Typically there were long lines of about two hours for usually 15 minutes of game play. All of the games I saw were presented on consoles, which made it more difficult for me, as I am used to mouse and keyboard controls and did poorly on the gamepads. Case in point, when I played the Call of Duty multiplayer, there were two rounds, one of 5 minutes and one of 10 minutes. I died 11 times with 0 frags in the first round and did slightly better at 18 deaths and 6 frags in the second round. It’s a steep learning curve with those controllers.

Farcry4:

In the demo, you had the option to select sneak, ride or fly at the beginning. The map was always the same, but if you selected ride, then there was an elephant that you can mount. I picked fly and had a gyrocopter at my disposal. I am not sure what happens when you chose sneak, but glancing at other people’s screens, I had the impression that they gave you a sniper rifle in that case.

The map consisted of a military base and you had a machine gun and a grenade launcher to wreak havoc. Since this was the first game I played, my non-existent gamepad skills were quite apparent. At some point I decided not to run into the base and fight, but instead take the gyrocopter to bypass the base and explore. Unfortunately there was an invisible line with a message popping up to turn around or be destroyed in 10 seconds. Oh well, so much for that idea.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue:

This demo was really well done: They had a short intro and then tell you that your task is to sink 5 enemy ships. When a ship is destroyed, you can salvage the cargo. Apparently it was also possible to board other ships in the demo, but I did not manage to do so. I only saw that on other people’s screens.

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Borderlands the pre-sequel:

This is the demo that I liked the least. The mission said “Enter Drakenburg, get AI core.” There is no time to waste, so I started running towards the Drakenburg. Then one of the guys working at the booth told me that I had 22 skill points to assign. Really? You give people 15 minutes to form an impression about your game and you want them to assign skill points? I thought that was an odd design choice.

Destiny:

Bungie’s Destiny impressed me the most. While waiting outside, they had a screen that showed game play footage and behind the scenes stuff. There was a different line to take pictures on one of the hover bikes. I snapped a picture, when a guy in a master chief suit dismounted from it.

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Inside, they showed a 15 minute video with different game play scenes and commentary of the game designers. This was followed by a 15 minute multiplayer match. Since they used similar controls to Call of Duty and their damage system is less realistic, I fared much better. In Call of Duty, I was pretty much immediately dead whenever someone shot at me. In Destiny, it is a bit more noob-friendly: You can survive several hits, so that you have the option to shoot back or retreat. Also, nobody seemed to realize that close combat in Destiny deals significantly more damage, so I typically ran up to people and one hit melee killed them, as they tried to shoot me. At the exit, they also gave you a T-shirt.

The demo was so good that I decided to queue up again, when it was time to decide, which was the last game to try.

The presentations of Witcher 3 and Assassin’s Creed Unity were quite impressive as well. The lines were also long and you didn’t get to play yourself, but having a competent player showcase the game allowed them to go through an entire quest chain and really demonstrate what’s cool about the games. They both looked awesome and I’ll certainly buy them, even though I did not have the time to play the earlier games in both franchises.

Towards the end of Sunday, I caught the last bit of the LiquidRet vs Grubby Starcraft 2 show match. It’s good to see that Starcraft is still around, even though the big e-sports event at Gamescom was Counterstrike.

Out of the two days, I felt that Saturday was better, since it had longer opening hours. The amount of people is roughly the same, which means that waiting times are around 2 hours no matter when you go. With that in mind, having those extra hours is quite important. Looking forward to next year’s Gamescom :)

Pursue your dreams and see you next time,

Kai

#40 MLG Anaheim

Well met, my friends!

In June I attended MLG Anaheim (Major League Gaming) and Vidcon, which will be covered in a separate blog post. On previous trips to the USA I learnt that taxis are expensive and that there is hardly any free parking in L.A.

Since I would be at the convention center for most of the duration of the trip anyway, I opted not to get a rental car. Thus, I ended up booking with supershuttle to transport me from the airport to my hotel and back (18$ per ride).

Without planning this, I ended up meeting up with some people from the Day[9] gatherings (see my blog posts from May 2013 and March 2014). First, I ran into Jeff at Starbucks. His brother Andy managed to snag a competitor pass for Starcraft 2. The spots in that competition were filled up with up and coming talents as well as a lot of the professional players, who did not qualify directly for MLG.

Later on I saw that Chris “Kobayshi Maru” Negrin posted on twitter that he and his friend Mark were heading to MLG as well. I saved some seats and we did get to hang out and catch up throughout the weekend.

At some point early on I found the Misscliks people: I also write articles for Misscliks.com, which focusses on the achievements of women rolemodels in geek culture and gaming. However, so far I hadn’t met any of them and had only interacted online. To the side of the group, I saw Geoff “iNcontroL” Robinson and Stephanie “Missharvey” Harvey. Since they were having a conversation, I did not want to interrupt. Still, I positioned myself next to them, in order to introduce myself once there was a lull in the conversation. This is where Anna Prosser Robinson impressed me: apparently she recognized me from my tiny profile picture and greeted me by name. She proceeded to introduce me to everyone there, the aforementioned iNcontroL, Missharvey, Stephanie Powell and Neil Sharum. In the evening I met the rest of the group, Neal “Koibu” Erickson and Geneviève “Livinpink” Forget, as well as some other cool e-sports people like Jaycie “Gillyweed” Gluck, Matt Wiltshire, Michael Young and Matt Marcou.

Since I was there for leisure and not work I opted to watch some Starcraft (II). Perhaps Blizzard should consider enabling an offline mode. It’s an old game now, there is no need to worry about piracy. I bring this up, because when the internet at the venue gave out, all the other games like Call of Duty and Super Smash Brothers Melee continued, but due to the always online “feature” of Starcraft, its matches were interrupted. On the bright side, it gave everyone the chance to check out the other games.

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To me, one of the big surprises of the event was the popularity of Smash Brothers.

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It was entertaining to watch and the Smash fans cheered even louder than the Starcraft crowd.

My brother is making fun of me for being very selective about my time whenever I am in London. The thing is that I know several dozen people in London and I couldn’t even manage to meet up with everybody, if I am there on a weekend. Thus, when I am there, I plan out different time slots, which I then assign to people. Often times, I also prioritize, leaving the Friday and Saturday night slots for good friends, whereas I’d meet up for lunch with people I am less close with. There are exceptions, of course – people I see on every trip won’t be disappointed, if it only works out for lunch every once in a while. This time I was on the receiving end of this, as a friend of mine was extremely busy and had to juggle around his breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings. Due to scheduling conflicts, I ended up meeting my friend, who is also one of my Alpha readers, for breakfast to talk about game design, magic the gathering and the discoveries I made, while revising Age of Torridan.

Back at the venue, the Starcraft matches were pretty crazy – the best moment was when Scarlett switched from Zerg to Protoss for a game and received standing ovations. I loved the atmosphere and the spectators’ energy. Earlier on I had used up all of my credit on my pay as you go phone. I had one more code to charge another 15 Euros, so I decided I would only use my phone in an emergency. However, when Scarlett switched to Protoss that counted as an emergency, so I enabled roaming to post on twitter about it.

The highlight of the trip proved to be the after party at Matt Wiltshire’s and Michael Young’s hotel room. They nailed the important ingredients for any party and I ended up leaving at 7 a.m. when we were down to six people. Even though I was the only person above thirty, I did not feel out of place – everyone was just so friendly and awesome. Thanks for making me feel welcome, I had an absolutely terrific time!

Hopefully MLG Anaheim and Vidcon will be on consecutive weekends next year as well, as I would love to attend them both again.

Pursue your dreams and see you next time,

Kai

#35 Day[9] Meetup March 2014

Well met, my friends!

I just came back from the Day[9] meetup at the Hae Jang Chon Korean BBQ. Repeating the ritual of the first meetup, we went to the dessert place Haus afterwards (thanks for the coffee and waffle, Sean!). Again, I did not manage to tell my story of how I almost got mugged in London or about that funny night out on my UK road trip in 2011, but since the conversation developed into other directions there wasn’t a good opportunity to share it. In general I’ve found once more that I am a lot better in one on one situations than I am in group conversations. For example, I met up with Michael, who organized the meetup (again, thanks for that!), for lunch and we had a good time talking about anime, computer games, game design and other topics until we met up with Jeff and Melanie later on (EDIT: Where we also had a good time – but I was a lot quieter then, by contrast).

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However, at the BBQ I took myself back and faded into the background, mostly listening and only interjecting a comment here and there.

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From left to right (I apologize for any misspelled names): Travis, Heather, Kevin, Jimmy, Melanie, Michael (in front of Melanie), Sean, Brit (in front of Sean), Jeff, Jason, Evanne, Kai, Kevin, Chris, Ross.

At the BBQ, Sean greeted me with “Good to see you again. How is the book going?” I was pleased that he remembered my novel, since I brought a copy for him. It’s still in the raw alpha stage, but I am convinced that with the feedback from my alpha (and later beta) readers, I can shape it into something worthwhile and entertaining. That said, I hope Sean and my other alpha readers do get some enjoyment out of the book in its current incarnation.

Of course I’m still not ritzy enough to justify flying in for dinner and dessert, so I actually arrived in the USA a week ago and went on a little vacation. I’ll have a blog up with the highlights from that California trip, soon. Nonetheless, just like last time, this was the highlight of my vacation – it was really great to meet everyone (or meet again in case of one third of the attendees) and hopefully I’ll see you all some other time (MLG Annaheim, perhaps?).

Until then,

pursue your dreams and see you next time,

Kai

#17 Gamescom 2013

Originally I wanted to go to the Gamescom in Cologne on Saturday, but unfortunately the tickets for Saturday were sold out. Since I already have plans for tomorrow (Friday), I decided to go today. As an additional incentive, I knew that the masterminds behind Chip Power Play would be at Gamescom today as well.

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The event is running from 10 in the morning to 8 in the evening. I arrived at around 16:30, which meant I only had to pay half the regular admission price. As you can see, it was still quite busy.

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First I headed to the retro gaming area – nice shirt, dude! For any of the new releases it was standard to queue for hours in order to play for a few minutes. In the retro area long lines weren’t really a problem.

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Chip Power Play

Eventually I found the “Haus der Computerspiele” booth, with the old games magazines on display.

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The chip power play journalists were there. From left to right: Sebastian Sponsel, Stephan Freundorfer, Heinrich Lenhardt, Michael Hengst, Boris Schneider-Johne and Anatol Locker.

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It was a pleasure to finally meet all of them, after reading their magazine as a kid and then finding and listening to their excellent computer game focussed podcast “Spieleveteranen” (apart from the occasional special episode, it’s entirely in German) as an adult. I hope I did not annoy them too much with my fanboy ranting – the podcast really is excellent, especially when there are guests like Smudo or Guido Henkel.

Talks

Apart from trying new games, there are also talks at Gamescom. I happened to walk by when Naoki Yoshida, the Producer and Director of Final Fantasy XIV, talked about the latest Final Fantasy in front of a massive audience.

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At some other stage near the retro area some guy told a story how he used to play Paradroid on his C64. Next year I should have a look at the talks and pick the interesting ones to attend.

The Titan Fall trailer looks impressive and so does this huge mech that they had on display.

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The head with the lights actually moved around. I thought that was pretty cool.

Starcraft 2 show matches

Eventually I ended up at the Blizzard section of the Gamescom. I caught the last part of a series of show matches between WhiteRa and LiquidRet.

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WhiteRa is one of the only (perhaps even the only?) professional Starcraft 2 players that is older than 30 years. Hats off for still being able to compete with the young ones! In the matches, I learnt a few new things: WhiteRa kept his sentries in the mineral line at his 2nd expansion, so that he could force field block incoming zerglings. LiquidRet eventually moved spore crawlers across the map, which I did not understand, until the commentator mentioned that the vipers are able to leech off health from buildings to replenish their energy.

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It was also very cool to see them switch races for the last game.

Hearthstone

Unfortunately the line for Blizzard’s new game Hearthstone was too long, so I did not get to try it. From what I have seen during Day[9]’s Day off, it looks a bit like Magic the Gathering. They’ve fixed a few issues that Magic had: For example, in Magic you need to draw land. Land produces mana, which is the currency that allows you to cast spells. If you don’t draw land, then you basically just lose the game, better luck next time. In Hearthstone, you always increase your currency to cast spells by one each turn, so this unnecessary luck element has been removed.

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Because Magic started out as a card game, the computer version feels clunky, since you have to wait for an opponent’s reaction to things you do. In Hearthstone, they’ve removed this interrupt ability, so that you can play through your turn in one go. The only way to interact during the opponet’s turn seems to be with so called secret spells that trigger when your opponent does a specific action as described by the secret spell. Those are just two things that came to mind, there are probably more improvements they’ve come up with by not being constrained with traditional cards. Day[9]’s demo certainly looked interesting, so I’ll check it out once it is released.

The verdict

The Gamescom did not impress me as much as the Spiel in Essen does, but it was interesting enough that I’ll come back next year to take another look and hopefully try one of the new releases that they are showing.

#10 Meeting the Day[9] community

On the 18th of May, I flew to London to hang out with friends, but left for Las Vegas on the 20th of May. I can see why people, who don’t play cards, tell me that Vegas is only interesting for a day or two. However, if you are playing poker, it’s great fun. Tournament poker can be a cruel game sometimes, so by mid thursday my profits amounted to an impressive two dollars…

That said, I am fairly happy with how I played. Besides, the most important thing is to enjoy the time spent, which I did, with winning merely being a plus.

On Friday the 24th of May I flew to Los Angeles and met up with some people from the day[9] community for korean BBQ. I actually made the mistake of walking all the way from my hotel near USC to where the BBQ place was – one and a half hours and some sun burn later, I arrived at the place, the Haejangchon Korean BBQ.

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Since it was still early, I continued walking around the city a bit, stopping at coffee shops and fast food places to A) get something cold to drink, B) cool down inside an airconditioned place and C) use the free wifi there to check facebook and twitter. I did manage to go all the way to the walk of fame, but took the subway to go back. No way I am walking again.

When I got to the place at 17:45, it was packed. There were a few people sitting outside and one of them looked familiar, so I asked him “Are you Chris by any chance?” Fortunately he was and so I had just found the early arrivals of the day[9] group. By the way, if you do not know who day[9] is: He is a celebrity shoutcaster / commentator / video producer, mostly known for his involvement in starcraft with his webshow, called the “day9 daily”, running Monday to Friday. A good introduction to what he does is the often quoted daily #100. He has also got over 150k followers on twitter – for reference, as of writing this, Boris Becker is shy of 200k followers.

Anyway, we chat a bit and eventually everyone gets there, including Sean “day[9]” Plott himself.

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Despite having a reservation, we still had to wait and were then spaced apart on several tables. The place is just that busy, which means that it is pretty damn good. Originally Megumixbear, another Starcraft celebrity, was supposed to join us, but alas her car broke down. Ah well, maybe next time. Here is a picture of me with some of the other attendees. Funny thing, at this table we’re two computer scientists, one electrical engineer, one aerospace engineer and one physicist.

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I’m not exactly sure what the thumbs down was about, as everyone had fun and the food was great as well.

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Here is a close up of what the barbecue looks like, although this was the more exotic stuff. We had “normal” types of meat, too.

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The crux of being the guy with the camera is that you don’t get too many pictures with yourself. For a while Sean joined our table and we ended up talking about various stuff – I bothered him with my excitement about the new XCOM and my work in progress. To my surprise, he said something to the effect of “Oh yeah, send me a draft when you’re done.” The first draft isn’t even ready and then it’s going to take a while until a half way decent, polished version is finished, but I’ll take it at face value and have added him to my list of beta readers :)

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After the BBQ we headed over to “Haus” for dessert and talked some more about all sorts of things.

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This went on till about 22:30 and then Michael, who actually organized the meeting (thanks for that!), me, Jeff, Andy and Alex still lingered and talked for another hour. Jeff and Andy kindly gave me a ride to my hotel. All in all a fantastic evening with great food and awesome people. Definitely the highlight of my USA trip so far.

#7 XCOM ate my weekends

03. Apr. 2013

Hey everybody,

the last few entries were all about writing in one way or another. In an effort to balance this out a bit, here is a blog entry about games. Unlike blog #2, this one doesn’t deal with the mechanics, but simply with the fun I had playing computer games :P

From the games I’ve recently played (Transformers Fall of Cybertron, Transformers War for Cybertron, Bastion, Starcraft 2 Heart of the Swarm, Faster than Light, Crysis, The Cave, XCOM Enemy Unknown and probably a few others that I cannot remember right now), one stands out: I’ve spent the most hours playing XCOM, which is pretty much the bench mark for a single player game. If it weren’t fun, I wouldn’t have played it for so long. Steam tells me that it has been forty hours… It certainly doesn’t feel that long, which is another plus, despite seeming like “lost time” when I look at just the figure. On that note, I usually play games on “easy” now, because I don’t have time to spare, but for some reason I started XCOM on normal and had to restart once, which explains some of the invested time.

Before I delve into what makes the game so awesome, I’ll lay out the premise: The game is set in modern day Earth. However, extra terrestrial forces have appeared on the planet. Since they are abducting people, the governments of the world have banded together to form the XCOM group. Its mission is to fight off the alien threat. You play the role of the commander of XCOM. Depending on the number of member states under the protective umbrella of your satellite network, funds are allocated to you every month. These funds can be spent on various things, like better equipment for your extraction teams, more satellites, additional compartments in your underground base, hiring new recruits, etc. Some of these require salvaged parts from the alien pieces of technology. However, the same items are needed by your scientists to reverse engineer the aliens’ gear.

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Your extraction team, customized with some late game equipment.

Throughout the game you are faced with decisions like where to stop alien abductions. They might appear in New York, London and Tokyo at the same time, but you can only make it to one of those locations, so where do you go? Wherever you don’t help, panic spreads. If there is enough panic, then the affected member state will pull out of the project, leaving you with fewer funding.

Apart from the base management and the decisions at the events, the main part of the game consists of tactical turn-based combat. Initially your team has 4 slots and successful missions look like this:

 130330 beginning missions success

As you can see, three of the four crew members got a promotion, even though one of them was injured. Promotions are what’s “leveling up” in role playing games: Your character receives more hit points, better stats and a new skill. Most of the time you can choose between two different skills. This simple levelling up mechanic combined with the new alien tech that your scientists develop, provides a nice incentive to play on and see what’s coming next.

The injury means that this soldier is probably not available during the next mission.

Later on, successful missions might look like this:

130329 X-Com Mission success

That’s another thing, which I enjoyed about the game: In most games, you either win or lose. In XCOM, it isn’t so clear cut. You may “win” the mission, but at the cost of losing most of your high ranked troops. Since you control many soldiers at the same time, the emotional investment (compared to losing a Diablo hardcore character, for example) per character isn’t as high. It certainly adds to the game that nobody is safe and that you may lose a guy or two even on successful missions. That said, I had to restart when it became obvious that I couldn’t win anymore with my beaten down crew.

Another nice touch is the use of the Unreal engine, which is usually associated with 3D shooter type of games. Every once in a while, for instance when sprinting, the game switches to a closer camera angle (you can see a “reaction shot” in the picture below) from the isometric view. Of course, this looks a lot more impressive in motion.

130401 reaction shot

I’m on the last mission now. Hopefully I’m able to finish it this weekend, to put that time sink to rest. Nevertheless, I can highly recommend it.

130401 tactical combat

Catch you all later,

Kai

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