This Month in Gaming: March 2017

Getting serious about Overwatch

With my Overwatch hiatus in Competitive Season 3, my MMR tanked and I ended up at the bottom of the barrel bronze. Until that point, however, I wasn’t playing well anyway. I played a lot of D.Va as if she was Reinhardt, which is not an effective way to play D.Va. Towards the end of Season 3, my hubby got super into Overwatch, so having his involvement has been a huge help. He’s a high gold player so with his coaching, alongside Youtube videos, I decided to pick Ana as my main to push myself out of Bronze.

I didn’t think I would like playing a support, but Ana is a lot of fun. Depending on the team skill, I can also effectively solo heal fairly well. With some help from my hubby, I’m now out of Bronze elo hell and into Silver! Now I just need to get stronger on some other characters. I’m decent as Soldier: 76, but I really need to diversify my character pool.

Starting and Completing FFXV

I really enjoyed FFXV. The game did a really good job blending the open world elements without it being overwhelming, and I loved the magic crafting system. The characters were fun, the story was great, and it’s definitely in my personal top 5 for favorite Final Fantasy games.

In case anyone is curious, I did not continue the main story (Chapter 8) until I finished everything in the world that I wanted to. I completed all the main dungeons and got all the Royal Arms. The only thing I wish I did was finish the fishing quests, but I needed to beat FFXV before ME: Andromeda came out, and I was running out of time between the launch date and thesis work. Either way, I continued with the story at level 61 and I just pushed through the story to the end. It was a great experience and I felt prepared to finish the game after the story’s climax, even though it is possible to travel back to pre-Chapter 8 world state.

20170313_210604
The very best bros forever!

Did I actually write my thesis between all these games?

Yes! In fact, I recently defended my thesis, which means I did a small presentation in front of my committee and we had a Q&A after. I have some minor edits and then I will be good to go!

My post-graduation plans are to create a personal website and link the blog or rebrand the blog from the site. I would like to discuss portions of my thesis on the site as well. After all, it was a lot of work and I want to share it!

What about Hearthstone?

This month I didn’t really play Hearthstone, for various reasons. First, March was basically Shamanstone and I’ve never been big on Shaman’s play-style. Most of the classes I don’t like as much were super popular and combined with a really grindy ladder experience, I just got bored. I thought it may be nice to grind out the last 70 games towards my Golden Paladin portrait in Wild, but that’s just as bad of an experience.

With Un’Goro now out (since this post is kinda late), I’m looking forward to Rogue and maybe finally getting my golden Paladin, but we’ll see. I had a really bad experience opening my packs (which I will follow up on in a forthcoming post) and I’m not sure that the cost of Hearthstone is worth my time, especially since there are a lot of interesting games in the market right now. I really think Hearthstone needs additional game modes, or a revamp of ladder. At least the ladder floors are keeping my rating from completely tanking.

I will say that on launch day, before the patch went through, I had an excellent run with my Tempo Mage and went from 19-16 in less than an hour. It was a nice send off to a deck that was such a huge part of my game experience. FLAME ON! ❤

 

Why I Enjoyed FFXV’s Chapter 13

With the patch for FFXV coming out to “fix” the infamous Chapter 13, I feel like a lot of the complaints are misguided and the “fix” won’t really address the actual problems with the chapter.

Because I recently finished the game, I thought it would be worth sharing my experiences and thoughts. Before playing FFXV, I isolated myself from all reviews and spoilers so I went into this chapter without knowing anything.

To preface: I waited until I was level 61 before starting Chapter 8 and heading to Altissa. I went through all of the dungeons except for Pitross, collected all the Royal Arms possible, and completed as many side quests as possible from available quest givers (not monster hunts). When I set off for Altissa, I was ready to finish the game. My difficulty level was also set to Easy because I didn’t have too much time to play between writing my MA thesis and trying to beat FFXV before Mass Effect Andromeda released.

What I liked about Chapter 13

Chapter 13 intrigued me. A theme with Ardyn as the antagonist is that Noct is a child and isn’t capable of doing anything himself. Noct as a child is also echoed through Lunafreya’s goodbye vision after Leviathan, and in Gladio’s repeated scolding (which I don’t agree with but that’s a different discussion).

Chapter 13 is supposed to be Noct’s growing-up time. He’s all alone, without his usual weapons, and forced to wander through the enemy’s capitol alone. Noct putting on the King’s Ring is his acceptance of his role. As I played through Chapter 13, I responded to Ardyn’s creepy and suspenseful taunting, yelling at my TV that I was not alone, that I was capable, and that I was going to strangle him.

I also loved the storytelling of what happened with the Empire. I enjoyed that Ardyn converting everyone into daemons is a subtle thread, left for the player to discover and connect. At this point in the story, Noct doesn’t really care about the empire since it’s clear Ardyn is the main antagonist. With the way the story progresses starting in Chapter 9, I felt this was appropriate.

Chapter 13 isolates Noct, and the player, setting up the suspense and tension for the final battle. This section reveals Ardyn’s true character, which I was questioning throughout the entire game. It allowed me to begin formulating Ardyn’s motives, which were validated when I met Bahamut.

But in all of these things, the problem is that the player invests so much emotionally into Noct and Bros, but is ultimately unrewarded for that build up and emotional investment in this chapter.

The real problem: Noct never reacts or grows

First, let me just say outright: yes, Chapter 13 is too long. Take out the poison section, which had no bearing on the plot tension, and I think the rest of the level is fine. Second, hopefully Prompto’s story is fleshed out in his DLC because his reveal definitely left me confused.

The real problem with Chapter 13 is that Noct does not react to anything Ardyn is saying. When Noct finds that the Magitek soldier illusioned to be Prompto, he doesn’t react at all. Part of me, as the player, figured as much considering Ardyn has played with these illusions before, but no audible reaction from Noct doesn’t help. Additionally, he never reacts to any of Ardyn’s taunting as he makes his way through the building.

Like I mentioned above, I was thoroughly invested and reacting to Ardyn’s taunting. But I’m not Noct—I’m playing through Noct. In some narrative structures, the player imposing him or herself on the character can be intentional to create an immersive player experience, however I don’t feel that this is one of those occasions.

If the theme up until this point is that Noct is a child going through the motions of becoming a king (which he arguably is), then this is the chapter to show him grow up and consciously acknowledge and accept his role. But because he never reacts, never contemplates, and never responds, it feels like he doesn’t grow up at all. The frustration and rage that he showed on the train when slamming Ardyn into the wall was missing. This was a powerful moment character moment since we don’t usually see Noct react strongly to anything.

Because of Noct’s poor script in this section, players fail to connect with Noct in what should be a pivotal moment. We should be able to connect with him and see him rise up from a prince to a king, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. But with the current construction of Chapter 13, the jump to the next chapter is hard to reconcile. How has Noct sleeping for 10 years suddenly transformed him from a boy to a man? As a player, it was difficult to believe Noct grew emotionally and I had a hard time accepting Noct as “The King” simply because that’s what everyone called him.

The DLC Plans Won’t Change the Core Problem of Chapter 13

While I do agree with the Ring buff (I can’t imagine how hard it is to use the ring on tougher difficulties), I completely disagree with adding in spots with Ignis and Gladio. It’s pretty clear what happened to the Empire and I don’t think spelling that out explicitly will help alleviate the chapter’s issues. If anything, the chapter will just be longer and tougher to push through. Additionally, Noct’s portions aren’t changing and that’s really the core problem with the chapter.

Like I mentioned, I did enjoy Chapter 13 and I felt that it was great in building suspense and tension for the final battle with Ardyn. I just wish that, instead of making the level longer, SquareEnix addressed the lack of growth within Noct himself.

Tech Comm Corner: Patch Notes Follow Up

When writing my post yesterday on The Art of Writing Patch (Release) Notes, I tried to keep it general without going too deep into technical communication theory. However, I stumbled upon Disguised Toast’s video Hearthstone Needs Better Patch Notes while doing research for my thesis, so I can’t help but write a follow up to my initial article.

The video is dated for November 2016, so it’s fairly recent considering Karazhan is only one expansion ago. In the video, he describes how many user-facing game mechanics are updated but not documented, such as changed mana costs for previously 0 cost minions, interaction bug fixes, and the Restart feature in the Adventures.

Something that he articulates particularly well is that these issues are discovered by players and even when they are fixed, the patch notes do not properly address the root of the issue. The example he uses is the bullet “Addresses an issue that would prevent Faceless Manipulator from properly copying Moat Lurker’s Deathrattle effect.”

He points out that the problem wasn’t Faceless Manipulator, it was the mechanic of copying the Deathrattle, which also affected other cards, such as Mirror Entity. But no other cards are mentioned in the patch notes, and, rightly so, Toast suggests reworded text to address the issue as a technical problem, rather than an an issue with a specific card interaction.

This kind of writing is where technical communicators are invaluable. In addition to understanding user’s needs, we are trained to dissect technical information and document it so that the information is clear and easily understood. Asking why things behave in certain ways and how that behavior affects other parts of the system is part of our job. If we do not understand how a feature functions, and any quirks or issues associated with the feature, we cannot properly document the feature. This attention to detail is what allows us to break down technical content so it’s easily understood by non-technical audiences.

The Hearthstone development team is making great strides in community engagement and feedback, but it’s clear they still need someone with this kind of expertise. As Toast states in his videos, players should not have to take it upon themselves to validate all of the possible test cases after a patch is released. Putting that burden on players only cultivates poor communication which leads to negative user experiences.

As Team 5 continues to improve their community relations, I hope that patch notes get some much needed attention too.

Tech Comm Corner: The Art of Writing Patch (Release) Notes

One of my current responsibilities as a technical communicator is to write release notes for all of our business unit’s products. Release Notes provide technical information to customers about the product they purchased, so, as a writer, I always focus on writing for my audience. As such, writing customer release notes are an art form in themselves—it’s a marketing document based on technical information.  But despite that work, I’m not sure how many people read, or care about the release notes. They are always an afterthought that may or may not get communicated out effectively, which is beyond my control.

But in video games, Patch Notes are a big deal. Players LIVE off the patch notes, scouring for new information and updates about the game. For such an afterthought of a document, it has huge impacts on communication ans satisfaction between game developers and their players.

But as a devoted Hearthstone customer I am, yet again, frustrated by the latest patch notes. Here’s why:

So there’s this throwaway bullet at the end of the Bug Fixes list: “Fixed many minor visual issues and some card text inconsistencies.”

And then I discovered this:

poisonous

A new Keyword?! That’s a huge change! It implies that this mechanic will be available later in the future, but yet, this change isn’t listed anywhere in the patch notes!

Understanding what Users Care About

Here’s the thing, this may seem silly to you. So Disguised Toast figured out the new Keyword, who cares? Well, as someone who communicates technical information to customer’s it’s really important to understand what users care about and what they don’t.

Provides positive experiences

The first reason is purely business based. As someone making a product, it’s my responsibility to communicate new changes, features, and issues (bugs). Effective communication makes customers feel valued, even if they are unhappy with a particular issue. Think back to the last time you had to call Customer Service. Now think about how well you think the Customer Service Rep communicated information to you and how it made you feel. Were you happy with communication and satisfied with your experience? Or did you end up yelling into the phone screaming for a manager, threatening to cancel service? The same idea applies to patch (release) notes. Effective communication always improves customer satisfaction.

Prevents questions or concerns

The second reason is to keep customers comfortable with your product and prevent tickets to support. Here’s an example similar to the Poisonous keyword update. In our last website release, I changed the name of a feature from “Override Defaults” to “Change Upload Settings.” In the internal release note, geared towards support, I added a small line stating we changed the name. But in the customer release note, I had a full bullet point dedicated to this change and why we changed the name. Support doesn’t care about semantics, as long as it works the same.

But a customer may see the change and go, “Oh! That’s new. Is the functionality the same? How does this impact my work?”  By detailing the change, it eliminates any questions or concerns from the customer, which in turn keeps them happy. Happy customers = paying customers.

Recommendations

The Patch Notes for 7.1 are full of great information, but players care a lot about changes to game mechanics, and changing card text directly impacts game mechanics and player comprehension. Yet again, Blizzard is missing the mark on what information their players want to know about. There are so many bug fixes listed for cards that see little play, such as Knuckles or Bouncing Blade. While intersting to know about, I feel like that information isn’t as valuable over others.

In Sum, here is my list of overall recommendations for improving Hearthstone Patch Notes:

1. Better organization of headings

Longer patch notes should use multi-level headings and will greatly improve readability and comprehension, especially is people are skimming the notes.

For example:

  • New Features/Enhancements
    • New Expansion: Journey to Un’Goro!
    • General
    • Ranked Play
    • Arena
  • Balance Updates
  • Fixed Bugs
    • General (non-gameplay related)
    • Card Text Updates (and then list them)
    • Card Interactions

2. Use parallel sentence construction and be consistent in phrasing. 

A good example of this are the Balance Updates. Currently, they read as:

  • Small-time Buccaneer’s health reduced from 2 to 1.
  • The mana cost of Spirit Claws increased from 1 to 2.

The Spirit Claws bullet is actually harder to read because the sentence structure is inverted from the previous, similar statement. It would be much easier to read the sentence as:

  • Spirit Claw’s mana cost increased from 1 to 2.

3. When existing content is added to or changed, document those changes in the Patch Notes!

While these seem like technical updates, they actually impact player’s comprehension and technical understanding of the game. This includes adding quests and changing card text, which the Hearthstone team does not seem to document.

I would also argue that these are Features/Enhancements and not bugs. Changes to existing content that are not technically broken are just as important to note in addition to new features and content because it still changes player comprehension and/or mechanics.

Remember that Patch Notes are Technical and Marketing Documents

In sum, you need to be able to communicate the technical changes made while being aware that users care about certain changes more than others. This is definitely tricky, and most certainly an art form. When I write the release notes for my company, I always work with the Product Owner to ensure that I am documenting what our users care about and omitting information that they don’t care about or we don’t want them to know, despite the significance of the technical impact.

This kind of effort and attention to detail is even more important in gaming where patch notes are eagerly consumed by players. As a highly visible communication, you want to make sure that your content represents your company, and game well.

This Month in Hearthstone: February 2017

rank-10This month, I played seriously at the very beginning and at the very end. To start, I got to Rank 15 on Midrange Jade Shaman and went from 15-10 riding on Tempo Mage.

Tempo Mage has a special place in my heart. Back in GvG I got a taste for it with Mech Mage and when TGT came out, I switched full on to Tempo. Since Flamewalker is rotating at the end of March, I decided to play Tempo Mage again. I really enjoy figuring out the best plays to optimizing my swing/burst turns. It’s a deck I’ve grown with as a player and will definitely miss at the rotation.

Of course, I’m sure there will always be a variant of Tempo mage floating around, but it won’t be the same without those Flamewalkers! FLAME ON!

 Ladder Floors! Yay!

Out of the many changes coming to Hearthstone, I am really excited for the ladder floors. As someone who does not play consistently, the ladder grind and anxiety are real. If I decide to spend my evening on Hearthstone, and I teeter between 16-15-14, that doesn’t feel good. Additionally, it’s frustrating because I know I can play at a higher rank. The ladder floors will help players like me who are at that intermediate range by being less punishing in losses. It will be intersting to see if the deck variety changes, but I somehow doubt that in the current meta.

Welcome to the Jungle: Journey to Un’Goro!

I am really excited for this expansion and you should be too! We’re seeing three core ungoromechanics in this expansion: the Elemental tribe, Adapt keyword, and the Legendary Quests!

While Mean Streets is fun, Grimy Goons aren’t viable in the ladder meta, Jade Shaman is the only viable Jade deck, and control is limited to Reno. By providing variety to the core game mechanics (tribes, keywords, spells), more options become available for players. More options means more complexity, which in turn leads to less Shamans SMORCing you in the face. Kidding aside, I think that this set will be healthy for the game.

Hearthstone Marketing is on Point!

If you haven’t seen the Journey to Un’Goro announcement video- DO  IT! This is by far the best way they’ve introduced a new expansion. Not only is it cute, fun, and corny in Hearthstone fashion, but the announcement of mechanics and several cards are integrated with the trailer. In the trailer, we get Elise Starseeker instructing her Junior Explorers, which is a refreshing move away from the jingles. In my opinion, the jingles were getting stale, and none of them can beat The Grand Tournament. Overall, the video is fantastic!

Deck of the Month: Tempo Mage v2.2

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Deck Style: Tempo

Good Against: Midrange Shaman, Tempo Warrior

Bad Against: Dragon Priest, Miracle Rogue

Win Rate: 67%* 
*My deck tracker started bugging out and I played a handful of games without the tracker.

I love my Tempo Mage list! In version 2.2 I removed Yogg-Saron and one Cabalist’s Tome for Ragnaros and Firelands Portal. The single Cabalist’s Tome saved my skin so many times, it’s definitely a must-have in the current meta. I do not recommend 2 since they are costly to play in this deck style.

This Month in Hearthstone: January 2017

rank-9 Aka: How I avoided playing Shaman

January was an intersting month for me in Hearthstone. The farthest I got was Rank 8, but I ended up finishing the month at 9. One of these days I’ll decide to make a legit push for 5 again but it’s really tough at the moment.

Overall, I did a mix of Wild and Standard in January. For Standard, I played a lot of Miracle Rogue, which I’m decent at piloting, and Dragon Warrior because dragons are fun. I did fairly well with both decks in terms of ladder climbing, but I need to be more serious when I play Rogue; Miracle is difficult to pilot well.

As much as I like winning, I don’t like Shaman’s play style. Unfortunately, Shaman is the best class for the Jade mechanic, which I love, so I foresee more Midrange Shaman in my future (ah well, at least I get to play a decent midrange deck).

In Wild I kept trying to make Fetch happen with Grimy Goons Paladin because I’m less than 100 wins from my golden hero portrait! I really, really, REALLY want my shiny Blood Knights (Silver Hand Recruits).

grimy-goons
One day… one day…

What happened to weekly posts?

My Master’s thesis happened. And Uncharted 4… and WoW Legion… mostly my thesis. I decided that at this time I’m not playing enough Hearthstone consistently to justify a weekly post, and that it was more manageable to commit to a monthly schedule. I’d like to post on other topics intermittently (I have a draft sitting around right now!), but my Hearthstone updates will go to a monthly schedule until I graduate in May.

Deck of the Month: Dragon Warrior

dragon

 

Deck Style: Midrange

Good Against: Aggro

Bad Against: Reno Mage, Renolock

Win Rate: 21-14

This deck got me from Rank 15-8 and is my MVP for the month! Originally I included a Grimy Gadeteer but it wasn’t very good so I thought I would sub in an Execute. I haven’t really played enough games to determine whether or not I like the Execute, so more to come on that.

 

 

 

 

Wild Flavor of the Month: Mean Streets Paladin

In case you wanted to see my Grimy Goons decklist, here it is! I used the deck recipe as a base and then made adjustments from there. Grimy Goons are super fun when they work well; when they don’t you end up crying in the dirt at Dr. Boom’s feet (which, I should really add D7 to this list).

Side note: I didn’t realize how insanely OP Naxx and GvG were until I went back into Wild. I like my Shielded Mini Bot, but I’m really glad it’s not in Standard anymore.

buff-pally-wild

This Month in Hearthstone: December 2016

rank-13What do I even play in this meta?

The new expansion finally hit the streets and I’ve been struggling to find a deck that fits my style. I really tried to make Grimy Goons Midrange Paladin work, but it just doesn’t. The deck is too slow and Warrior and Shaman have too many good early game weapons. I love midrange decks and unfortunately they just aren’t good against the hyper aggro and hard control.

I tried a Jade Rogue that I think can be fun in the N’Zoth variant but I haven’t played with shadowcaster.gifit much. I think it could be a lot of fun, and I enjoy making decisions about when to use Unearthed Raptor and Shadowcaster. Renolock is also a lot of fun. It’s a good deck and there are a lot of decisions to make. The downside is that it’s really slow to take on the ladder.

Another fun oldie, but goodie, is Dragon Warrior. I need to tweak my current list a little, but it still relies on the dragon interactions. The deck is aggro enough to beat out control in the early game, and survive aggro Shaman.

Fun Deck of the Month: Jade Golem

best-friend-jade-rogue

I say fun because while I had a great time with the deck, it’s not refined and you will lose. But I had more fun with this deck than anything else recently so I thought I would share the deck.

Overall the deck is too greedy but there’s no backbone to support it. Still, when you Unearthed Raptor Aya or the Jade Swamers, it is super fun. Throw the Shadowcaster in there for another Raptor or Aya and it’s even better. After all, Golems are a Girl’s Best Friend!

 

What happened to Heroic Karazhan?

I can’t beat the chess match. The  last time I tried, I played three games in a row I had lethal the following turn, and the AI always managed to wiggle it’s way out. I haven’t tried it since. I’m sure I will try again considering it’s my only barrier to the card back, but for now I’m heading back to constructed.

Tampa Esports WinterWonderLAN!

This weekend I participated in my first real Hearthstone Tournament. It wasn’t for HCT points, and was relatively small, but it had prizes and a double elimination bracket. I had a really hard time picking decks that I was comfortable with, which considering the fluctuating meta was pretty much my only game plan. I ended up with a weird Shaman list, and Dragon Warrior with no Pirates, and Renolock. The decks performed okay, but they hurt me later on in the tournament.

Regardless, I still managed to end up in 4th place! I won my first match, lost the second, won the third in the loser’s bracket, and lost the match after. Fatigue is a big issue too. Playing so intensely repeatedly wore me down. While I think my decklists hurt me in the last match, I also know I was tired. I wasn’t making as optimal plays or thinking through everything. Still, it was a great experience and I enjoyed the competitive environment!

Here are my decklists. (Yes, I spelled Renolock wrong. I didn’t notice it until I was in the middle of the tournament lol.)

winter-wonderlan-lineup