The War Report: EDH via Webcam

I’ve been a member of a few Magic: The Gathering and specifically EDH oriented groups on Facebook for a while now. I regularly see people post about groups they might be able to join up with in real life in order to play, but these posts are usually met with little in the way of answers. This is partially due to the fact that despite there being a very active playerbase, it is split up in several ways. There are folks like me who had their own friends whom they played with and as such didn’t really expand beyond that. Others (myself included here as well) go to events at local game stores like Pre-releases for new sets or specific Commander events where prizes are won. Not to mention there are folks who have given up on paper Magic altogether and play solely online via MTGO or Arena. I’ve tried my hand at the digital format and find that I don’t care for it, but I’ve had fun with both other circumstances. But after moving out here as of this year, I really haven’t played much MTG in person. I did make a trip out to where I used to live one time, and I have had some rounds at my house with my sister and her husband, otherwise there was the Vegas trip where I spent the most time actually playing the game.

On those posts where people try to find others to play with in person, most of the answers suggest going to an LGS but there are places where they don’t exist (where I live is one of those places, where the nearest store is 30 minutes away). Others suggest playing via Skype/Discord or whatever else people are using to communicate these days. Initially I was turned off by the proposition, but my old roommate decided to join an EDH Discord channel and told me that he had been playing games with strangers from all over the place and having a blast doing so. Having only a PC and not a laptop, I knew I was going to have to invest in some equipment. My friend said he was using an app on his phone that makes it act as a webcam, but after seeing it in action I’m glad I decided to pick up a proper webcam. It didn’t cost much either.

It took me the better part of an afternoon to get things all set up. First, I had to unpack the webcam and the hinged arm that I purchased for it as well. Then it turned out that my desk is too thick for the arm’s clamp, so I had to find a solution which ended up  being a thick book. Thankfully the webcam is tiny and weighs very little, so the book is enough weight to hold it into place. I’ve found the perfect desk for this sort of thing on Amazon and will likely pick that up after I move, so I can then mount it properly. Anyway, once I had the physical pieces set up, I discovered that the camera’s USB cord was pretty short, but thankfully I have a spare USB port on the back of my keyboard, so I was able to plug it in there. Initially it wouldn’t turn on for me either, and after some digging I found that I had access to the camera denied in Windows’ privacy settings, so once that was enabled we were good to go. My friend pointed me in the direction of two different Discord servers, but so far I’ve only really used one. If this sort of thing interests you, the server I use is linked in that last sentence.

After being a part of the Discord channel, there are LFG tools there to pick up players to get EDH pods going. Since the traditional pod size is four players, it doesn’t take long to get games up and running. I joined my old roommate and some random guys for the first time last weekend, and it was quite an experience. People generally use a free conference software via Whereby, and I have to say it’s a great tool. This reminds me of Zencastr which I used to record podcasts with, and I’m thankful for the Internet and the cool shit that comes along with it. Pictured above is my screen, where you can see me in the top left, my friend in the bottom right and the other two random guys we were playing with. One person logs into their “room” and then sends an invite link to Discord where the other players will join in so you can see their playmats. Obviously the video quality isn’t amazing and you’re not going to be reading cards off of the screen (instead, asking “what does that do?”) but you can see their general board state and it adds to the immersion. Otherwise Discord voice channels are used on the server so that you can communicate. I’ve worn my headset and I’m thankful for its noise cancelling because I’m set in the living room and the TV and other things are always going but I haven’t gotten any complaints about background noise. We had a couple of rounds that day, and then yesterday I spent a big chunk of the afternoon playing as well.

I’m not sure why the camera were set up weirdly in this picture, but it was when I was playing in the late afternoon with a group of random people. I ended up playing several games with these guys but for some reason some of our cameras were displaying weirdly. Perhaps there are some quirks in the system I’m unaware of. Whatever the case, it has been a blast to literally play MTG on demand. I haven’t had this sort of release in quite some time, and since I’ve barely played at all this year I intend to make up for it. This allows me to practice decks more often, and find ways to tweak them to make them better. I’m already tearing through my collection trying to make new decks that just kinda work just to have other things to play. I know now that I won’t feel like I’m wasting my time coming up with new builds and whatnot, because I’ll actually get to use the cards I’m buying and play the decks that I’m building. I’m looking forward to my next session already!

What’s really interesting is the difference in metas. Apparently the culture is a little different too, as proxies are allowed and people aren’t asking for proof that the players even own a copy of the card. I’m not down for playing proxies myself, but I can see how it can make a meta more competitive. Most of my decks are pretty well balanced, so we’ve been playing mostly in the “mid” power level group, and it’s been mostly fair outside of the above game where “Roons” was playing a deck that was probably more fitting for a high power room. Regardless it worked out fine in the end and we had a blast playing a bunch of different games. If you love paper magic, EDH, and don’t have a playgroup, I highly suggest checking this idea out. It’s as close to the real thing as many people can get.

If you’re interested in my webcam setup, here are links to the Amazon pages:

Logitech C615 Webcam
Neewer Suspension Boom

League of Legends Ports and Other Riot Games

I can’t recall the actual day, but recently Riot Games had a 10th anniversary livestream featuring League of Legends and other stuff. First of all, what an accomplishment to keep LoL going for ten years and building the Esports community up around it. Professional play has gone from some nerds in back rooms of warehouses to huge arena-filling events with famous live performers and a quality of production rivaling ESPN and other mainstream outlets — all of this on what I’m sure is less income and all done over the Internet eschewing traditional TV outlets. I started playing LoL back in 2011 which was around the end of season 1 heading into season 2. I’ve seen the majority of the champions release, I’ve seen a ton of events and in-game happenings along with changes to the game, its launcher, the main maps/modes, and Riot itself. I’ve watched the World Championship nearly every year since I first heard about it. I’ve watched regular season games of each of the major regions, even participating in their Fantasy League (like Fantasy Football) for a couple of seasons. I’ve collected vinyl figures, owned T-shirts, and have a rather large poster hanging on my wall. You could say League became a major part of my life, despite the fact that I haven’t really played very regularly in the past couple of years. Still, when I heard the news coming out of this live stream, I knew I had to talk about it. To be fair, there’s even more that was announced that I’m not going to touch on, but IGN has a great article encapsulating all of the news.

What excited me the most out of all that was said during the live stream was that League of Legends will be ported to consoles and mobile. Called “Wild Rift,” this version of League is not a direct port, it’s the same game rebuilt from the ground up for these other devices. I’m not a huge fan of complex games on mobile phones because usually the screen isn’t big enough and touch controls can be pretty wonky… but on console, I’ll play the shit out of this. It’s not so much that I dislike the game on PC, no, I’d rather play it there. But I have friends who don’t own PCs and probably never will, along with having never played LoL before and I’d love to introduce it to them. Also, the potential for a nice long trophy list makes the trophy whore in me lick his lips. I did play a different MOBA on PS4 recently and it had some fairly intuitive controls, so I assume if they are anything like that, this version of the game will be very enjoyable even with a controller in lieu of keyboard/mouse.

Teamfight Tactics, which I wrote about when I first tried it (and I’m still not into this auto-battler genre) is getting ported to mobile now as well. This makes sense since their main competitor DOTA Underlords is also both on PC and mobile. I assume this would probably be more fun on a mobile device since you can be doing other things while playing it. I get bored too fast with this type of game so this news wasn’t particularly interesting to me.

Legends of Runeterra is new. It’s not an existing game getting ported to other devices. It’s free-to-play. It’s a card game. That’s really all I know. The above trailer will give more detail than I can. What I do know is that I do enjoy card games. I just haven’t really found a digital one that I can play for a long term. I did play Hearthstone for quite a while, but then it got stupid (as Blizzard games tend to do). I can’t get into any of the Magic: The Gathering digital versions because I simply like playing the paper version so much more. This is a world/lore that I enjoy, and depending on what they do to make this stand out from the competition, this could finally be the card game I play when I need a fix.

Project A, as it’s being call at this juncture, is Riot’s attempt at a tactical FPS, but also looks to be a hero shooter. So think games like Paladins or Overwatch. I’m intrigued by this one, mainly because it’s such a far cry from a MOBA and this company has only been known for one game for so long. A card game based on the world is great and all, but I’m a FPS player through and through, so this is very appealing. My hope is that they do something different enough to make this feel better than existing games on the market. Graphically it looks okay, but I think that will get bumped up a notch when it gets closer to release. Gameplay looks fine, but I want some heroes with crazy abilities and I want tight gunplay. I’d also like to see some objectives and things that are different from what’s out there, but time will tell. Keeping an eye on this one.

Project L was announced as a fighting game. If this is 2-D hand drawn and plays like a Street Fighter title, I’m all in. If we’re looking at more of a Tekken style fighter, I’m less excited. We’ll have to wait for more details but I love me a good fighting game and Riot has already developed so many cool characters I’d love to fight as them. It’s unknown if that’s what’s happening or if all of the characters would be original. Also keeping an eye on this one.

Lastly, stuff that isn’t game related. A documentary about LoL called “League of Legends: Origins” was released on Netflix the other day and I watched it. It was a really good look into the origin of the company via Ryze and Tryndamere, along with the rise of the game itself and Esports. Basically all stuff that I lived through, but fun to see it in a different context. If you haven’t paid attention to LoL or Esports, or just don’t “get it,” I’d recommend giving this a watch. Also, an animated series called “Arcane” is being developed and looks to deal with stories about LoL characters. You can watch the trailer above, it looks really cool and I’ll definitely watch it when the time comes.

That’s all I’m going to touch on today, but some exciting stuff coming down the pipeline. There were a few other tidbits in the article I linked at the beginning of this post, so if you haven’t had your fill you can read more there. What do you guys think about Riot Games finally branching out?

Early Impressions: Borderlands 3

The king of Looter Shooters has triumphantly returned. I first played Borderlands back in 2010 upon purchasing my Playstation 3 (it was actually the first game I purchased during that generation) and instantly fell in love. The 3-D but cell-shaded art direction, the sense of humor, and most importantly, the RPG progression and loot system all hooked me right in. Truth be told, I played that game more than any other in the series, maxing out my character level and completing all of the DLC, also collecting the platinum trophy. I would play through it again a second time with my roommate, and from there he was hooked too. We purchased the sequel on day one. We played through it a couple of times but I only scraped the surface of the DLC, only coming back to the game most recently to play through the added DLC that bridged the story gap between sequels. Despite Borderlands: The PreSequel being a similar type of game and one that bridged the story between 1 & 2, it didn’t hold my attention long enough to finish it, and once we had the proper release of 3, I knew I probably wouldn’t go back. Having played the newest game, I can confirm that going back to the older games would be difficult. So many quality of life improvements have me spoiled and I’m not sure I could do without them again.

Fans of the series will be familiar with the above splash screens — each time we’re introduced to a new/returning character or a boss, we’ll get these art pieces displayed across the screen for a few moments, and then either the fight or dialogue proceeds. So far, nearly every character that has existed in the series has made an appearance, outside of those that are now deceased (Handsome Jack, Scooter, etc). I picked up the game a few days after release when I got paid, and my best friend got his copy as well. Once we decided which classes we were going to play, we got down to business. The new classes are sort of a mixture of new and old ideas, where my friend is playing the Operative that is most similar to the soldier class from past games in that it gets a flying drone that functions like a mobile turret. Whereas I’m playing the Gunner who gets to summon a bad ass mech suit and blows shit up real good.

As I was speaking of quality of life improvements, one thing I really like is the fact that you no longer have to collect cash, ammo or health vials, you just have to walk close enough to them and if you have the space/need, you’ll collect these pieces automatically. That alone sells this game, as there is a lot of looting to be done and I can’t be bothered to click on each dollar bill I see. Gunplay is also improved in my eyes. This is a new engine, and despite the fact that the game looks the same as it always has (with improved visuals of course) it runs smoother and I feel that the controls are more precise. Gun fighting always felt a bit floaty in the earlier titles and it feels like that’s been tightened up. I heard complaints that the game didn’t embrace a more open world model, but I don’t think that’s an issue. It’s always been sort of an instanced shooter, with dungeons and a world that feels like some MMOs I’ve played. Fast travel is still there, but the ability to actually leave Pandora presents itself and soon enough you’ll realize you can explore places you hadn’t heard of to that point. Vehicles are back, and there are multiple varieties, but now you can customize and upgrade them which is a nice touch. Vehicles will appear in certain areas that you can steal in order to get more parts for yourself as well. Changes to the skill trees means that you get multiple ways to customize your character, and you’ll be able to further augment your ultimate ability in ways that hadn’t be available in the past.

The new antagonists aren’t as interesting as Handsome Jack was. Nor are they as funny, but they serve their purpose. A pair of Sirens that have formed a cult and feed on their followers, they seem pretty twisted but also non-threatening. We’re working for Lilith and fighting for Sanctuary, which is now our flying space ship after the city itself was destroyed. A corporate war is raging, and some of the planets you’ll go to house complexes where these corporations have weapons and armies stashed, and it’s our job to fuck shit up. We end up working for Rhys as well, but in the process are putting together vault keys on other planets. It’s not quite as engrossing, but the mechanics and gameplay are still amazing, so I’m not as keen on the story anyway. I’ve put in close to 20 hours so far, but am exclusively playing with my best friend for the time being. I think after we complete the main story I might start up some new characters, but we also know DLC will be out soon enough, so there should be more to do soon enough. I’m having a blast so far, and I haven’t been this hooked by a game in a while. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re bored with the Destinies and Divisions out there.

Apex Legends Season 3 Begins

It’s been a couple of weeks since season 3 of Apex Legends kicked off, and though I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now, it’s probably better that I didn’t jump the gun. I’ve played quite a bit of the game as of late, mainly because last season I was gifted the battle pass by my lovely lady, so I was in a mad scramble to at least get her money’s worth. This season I wanted to get in on the action right from the start, so I bought the pass on day one and have been able to keep up with all of the challenges much easier. I also have plenty of play time in this season to share my experiences with the newest changes to the game. What were the big changes?

  • New Map
  • New Legend
  • New Gun
  • New Cosmetics

Initially I was curious as to what would happen with the old map that we had all gotten used to. This isn’t a traditional move by Respawn — most battle royale games keep the same map for years, only making adjustments (which the team had done on the prior map throughout the year). When I first logged in, I was anticipating having the ability to choose between the maps, but that wasn’t an option. We’re stuck with the new map for the time being, but we’ve already heard that the old map will be making appearances. In the announced Halloween event, there will be new skins and whatnot to earn, but also a “nightime version” of the old map. So perhaps at some point we might see a playlist with other maps included, but for now, we’re focused on learning the ins and outs of the new one. As you can see above, it’s roughly the same size as the last map, but everything looks a bit different.

It’s a bit prettier in my eyes, mainly because I don’t really care for the bland color scheme of desert biomes. Here we instead have pops of red and white, due to lava and snow respectively. Overall it looks greener and more alive. I also like the addition of industry, with cityscapes and even a train that moves around the world. It feels better in many ways, but then I don’t like how wide-open some areas are. I’ve been picked off by snipers one too many times, I suppose. Whatever the case, it’s a well balance map and I feel like there is less competition to land in one or two places, and instead people spread out a little more. It also feels like the weapon distribution is better, as I don’t seem to come across 5 Mozambiques in one building anymore, nor do I feel undergeared before leaving the first area where I land. I suppose part of that is luck and experience, but whatever it is, it feels more balanced.

The new character, Crypto (pictured in the logo above) is a “surveillance expert,” and is another tactical legend, finally. We’ve only had Bloodhound for so long I was beginning to think they gave up on the archetype. He’s actually better at surveying than Bloodhound, but does so in a different way. He has a little drone that he can take control of, but when doing so he is vulnerable. He gives sight to teammates when his drones see enemies, and can also shoot off an EMP blast from the drone itself, which destroys some equipment and drains shields. Otherwise, he’s pretty much just another dude with a gun. I was able to unlock all of the legends prior to his release, but don’t have the currency saved for him just yet, so more on that once I try him out.

I also haven’t really used the Charge Rifle, which is the new gun added with this patch. I have however been decimated by it. It’s an energy sniper rifle that charges up shots and when they hit, they hurt! Again, I haven’t used one much (though I’ve had some stellar games with the Triple Take, the “other” energy sniper rifle) but I think it seems a little overpowered at present. I’m sure some adjustments will be made.

As far as cosmetics go, buying the battle pass unlocked a couple skins for legends right off the bat, and early on we unlock a “gun trinket” which is that little ornamental ball thing on my R-301 above. It’s not terrible, and some of them are okay to look at, but it seems like a wonky thing to give a shit about. I guess more customization is fine, but Apex is starting to go the way of Fortnite, and clown pants comes to mind. Some of the skins and things are pretty awesome but at some point we’re all rainbow brite running around like an idiot.

One last thing before I go. I thought I’d drop my Season 2 stats here to make comparisons when the next season starts.

Thoughts on Beyond: Two Souls

I spoke very highly of two of Quantic Dream’s games already, and had mentioned that I would also be diving into a third game that came out in between Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human. That game, is 2013’s Beyond: Two Souls. This is going to be a relatively short post on the subject, because unlike the previously written about games, this one didn’t sink its hooks into me like the others did. I’ll now attempt to explain why.

Graphically, the game leans more towards the Detroit side of the scale rather that the first game, mainly due to the fact that the latter two games came out on PS4 while the former came out on PS3, so that explains the difference in fidelity. That isn’t to say Heavy Rain looked bad, it was just a sign of the times. It still had a better story line than this game, as did the third chapter. You begin play as a little girl, and there are various current time frame and flash back scenes that lay the ground work for the story. It seems that as a little girl, your character has an “imaginary friend” that ends up actually being some sort of entity that has a link with her. It’s not so much that she has control of it, but more so that she can ask it to do things. In gameplay terms, yes,  you do control this entity at certain points, and are able to choose to listen to commands or not. There’s still branching dialogue choices and things you can do that affect the story, but the story itself was less grounded in reality and I think suffered because of it. I realize that robots becoming humans is also currently far-fetched but still something I anticipate could happen whereas this spirit/entity is complete bullshit and made it harder for me to suspend my disbelief.

I do however, think it’s cool when games get fully motion captured actors and portray them as themselves in games. Willem Dafoe ends up being the girl’s “handler” so to speak, and it appears as time goes on, she becomes more than just a girl with a pet, and more of her own CIA spy bad ass. That’s cool and all, but it’s less cohesive with all of the jumping around the game did. Heavy Rain ended doing some flashback stuff but it made sense when they did so. Detroit: Become Human ended up making more of a beeline to the end of the story but you played multiple characters so you could tell it was all happening simultaneously. Beyond: Two Souls ends up making a stack of layers that when unshuffled makes sense, but otherwise seems like a mess. This is probably why they included an option to play the game in chronological order, but I wanted the “authentic” experience.

What frustrated me the most was controlling the entity. Early on you have to fly through walls to “cheat” and see what card a person is looking at so that you can match it to a card on the desk in front of you. Then Willem Dafoe asks you if you can do anything else (at this point they seem to think she is psychic/telekinetic) and you can throw shit around the room. Like the other games though, this is controlled via QTE/weird button combinations and it just didn’t do it for me. There’s some forced stealth with an invisible spirit and that’s where I drew the line. It just simply didn’t hold my attention like the others. As it stands now, I can’t recommend this one, but if you are a fan of their other games, you might be able to power through it. That’s all I have to say about it, so I’ll see you all next time!