On Atlas Reactor

I played a stupid amount of Atlas Reactor this weekend. For a game that I once dismissed as a gimmicky esports wannabe, I think I can safely say that it’s my current go-to game. 

Atlas Reactor is a “synchronous” multiplayer arena-based 5v5 PvP game. In today’s atmosphere of fast-paced competitive action games like Overwatch or League of LegendsAtlas Reactor is more of a philosophical treatise punctuated by a spastic burst of flailing around, followed by some intense reflection. 

See, you have a roster of “freelancers” to choose from. Selections follow the standard “free to try” model which rotates every cycle, are available for individual purchase, or can be purchased in bulk. Each freelancer has four standard abilities, one ultimate ability, and three one-shot-per-match abilities. There’s also modifiers that can be unlocked and applied to each primary ability for customization. 

firepower-zukiGameplay is broken into four phases of activity: Prep, Dash, Blast, and Move. Prep phase handles certain buffs, as well as laying down traps if you have them. Dash handles certain abilities that allow for quick, short movement or teleportation. Blast is the main action phase and handles most attacking. Move is…movement. You can choose one main ability that triggers during prep or blast or dash phase; you don’t get one prep, one dash, and one blast choice so you’re forced to pick what you think is best for the round. There are some free actions for certain freelancers which can be added to one of those rounds, and there are three one-use-per-match free abilities that can be used which include self-buffs and healing. 

You have 15 seconds to make your decision, which is where the strategy comes into play. You have to choose a course of action based not on what you see, but what you anticipate. For example, throwing down a trap during the Prep phase (which happens first) will assume certain circumstances before those circumstances play out (i.e. anticipating that someone will move through the trapped area). In another example, choosing an ability that triggers during the Blast phase — like a melee or ranged attack — would end up hitting dead space if the target picked an ability that triggered during the Dash phase and moved them to another place on the map. You have to be quick, assess the situation, make assumptions, and make a choice before the round timer runs out, or else you forfeit your actions that round. Once everyone has locked in their choices, the action plays out according to some kind of internal initiative (which can be augmented by certain abilities), so not only do you have to consider phase, but you also have to consider the possibility that a target might die or take an action that will negate your action before your choice is triggered.

When I first looked at Atlas Reactor, I was overwhelmed by the GOGOGO of decision making. My spirit animal is the noble sloth, which means I rarely do anything quickly, so 15 seconds to get my actions locked in invoked panic. I put it on the “not for me” shelf until recently when a bunch of people in my timelines started talking about it. Most of us aren’t of the competitive stripe, but Atlas Reactor has an ace up its sleeve for people like us: progression versus bots. 

Unlike most other PvP-centric games, Atlas Reactor‘s vs bots mode is a fully realized option for progression. You can join up with friends (and get an XP boost!), strangers (and get an XP boost by deploying “GG” tokens), or AI team members to take on AI bots on the other side. You can tweak the difficulty of the enemy from one to four (maybe five?) stars, with more stars ramping up the difficulty. Then you pick your freelancer and go to town. You can even complete daily activities and “season” goals in vs bots mode once you reach certain account levels. 

This is a godsend for people like me for a few reasons. First, I’m not competitive. I don’t appreciate people who pin their egos on a video game screaming at me to “git gud” by their standards. I play to enjoy myself, which vs bots mode allows me to do. Second, it allows me to do something I don’t normally do: obsess over the performance of my character. Normally I’m only concerned with “bigger numbers replacing smaller numbers” in games, but this time I need to know what my freelancer can do and when the best time is to do it. Because there are only a few seconds to make a decision — which might include an action, a free action, and a movement, all in a very specific order which has bearing on other decisions, both mine and those of my enemies and team members — I can’t spend time hovering over the abilities in the match to read and decide. Thankfully, having only a handful of abilities means that I don’t have to memorize tables of stats and results, and vs bots mode allows me to take a new freelancer for a spin, relatively consequence-free. It also allows me to work on “git gud”, although against AI and not against superior players which doesn’t always translate 1:1, but that’s OK. Being able to earn XP is the best perk, though, since there are daily missions to unlock, and season tasks. Over the weekend I made it to level 5, unlocked both daily missions and season missions, and even accidentally joined a public vs bots group which was actually a pleasant experience. 

Atlas Reactor is free to play with rotating freelancers each cycle. If you’re interested in trying it out, you can sign up and download the game through Trion’s Glyph front-end. 

 

Rollercoaster of Love — Planet Coaster

As much as I like MMOs, and RPGs, I really love sim games. There’s no pressure to perform, they allow for creative expression (most of the time), and there’s a real sense of satisfaction that pure progression-based games can’t possibly offer. On the downside, it’s easy to be willing to get lost in a sim, meaning that anything less than 30 minutes spent in the game is going to hardly be worthwhile. 

I was pleased to see Planet Coaster arrive on the scene. I’d never played a Rollercoaster Tycoon game to a point where I’d say I was a fan, but A) building stuff, and B) it’s made by Frontier, creators of Elite Dangerous, so now that their catalog is book-ended in such a bizarre manner, I can sleep easy. 

As with Tycoon games, you have to build and maintain a theme park. That means you get to build rollercoasters, but also bathrooms. I bought the Thrillseeker Edition which included beta access (although the game launches this week) and tried a few modes this weekend. There’s a campaign mode which has you taking over established parks and trying to hit milestones, and there’s also a sandbox mode where you’re given unlimited money and a wide open, empty space to build a park. 

Naturally, I gravitated towards the latter, because who wants a second-hand park?

BEHOLD! My…eh…entrance!

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There’re no rides, but we’ll still charge you admission!

And that’s really as far as I got before I realized that I have no idea how to build a theme park. I’m not a theme park kind of guy. I don’t like rollercoasters, and I rarely ride any rides in general. However, the cool thing is that my entrance is a fully customized building made from walls and windows and roof tiles and decorations. There are a few pre-made buildings included for things like refreshment stands, rides, and even full-blown coasters, but there’s really nothing like the feeling of constructing your own, sitting back, and saying “meh, it’s just OK”, especially when you look through the Steam Workshop at some of the things other people are building. But take heart! You can totally download those things and make your park as awesome on the screen as it is in your head. 

At $44.99 (for the Thrillseeker edition with beta access) or $40.95 for the base edition (which will increase to the $44.99 price when it launches), you can’t really go wrong. The amount of options inherent in being able to build vast swaths of your own park — buildings, terrain sculpting and landscaping, and of course the rollercoasters — makes it a pure steal at that price point, so if you like sim games and want to move beyond neighborhoods, then Planet Coaster is a no-brainer.

Arachnophobia

The party opted to spend the night in the forest. They had just witnessed someone — suspected to be Galin the village warden — awaiting a rendezvous with what could possibly be a dragon, only to leave disappointed when no one showed up. Hedging their bets that a meeting might still happen, the party split into two groups and camped in the dark recesses of the massive trees of the Misty Forest. 

Daybreak. No unusual activity that night, except for the incessant hooting of an owl somewhere in the boughs of the trees. Making their way back into the village, the party took Galin aside and violently confronted him about his nocturnal activities. Despite trying to keep a low profile away from the preparing throng of villagers, Galin’s bird Kalthan became agitated and drew the attention of those nearby. Galin refused to admit to any wrongdoing until the ranger made mention of his wife, whom the warden had seen killed right before him during the cult raid. He then told of how he begged the dragon-rider for his life in that moment of weakness, promising anything to be spared. The rider tasked Galin with providing information on other villages, and then the cult departed as quickly and mysteriously as it had arrived. The warlock of the party seemed intent on ensuring that Galin suffered for his betrayal, but Galin gave them one more bit of information: Kalthan had been enchanted by the rider to carry a message between them whenever Galin wanted to meet. He didn’t know where the raven went when he flew, but he always flew towards the southeast. 

As the villagers departed their ruined home, the party set out to the southeast, accompanied by the raven. Galin gave them the code word that would send him off, in case they needed the assurance that they were headed in the right direction. 

After a few hours in the woods, the party heard a sudden crack and a call for help. They found an elven elder who had become pinned beneath a massive tree-trunk, and was calling for the party to assisst her. As the group got into position to heft the trunk, the tree moved on its own, freeing the elf who stood up and brushed herself off. She thanked the party and congratualted them on being kind souls, and offered them each a garland of flowers. Everyone took one, except for the warlock, but the woman didn’t push the issue before she transformed into an owl and flew off into the woods. The ranger cast Detect Magic on the wreaths and found that they contained a blessing of bravery.

At dusk, the warlock stumbled through the woods and suddenly felt something on his face. Upon investigation, he could find nothing there to remove. Then the same thing happened to the ranger, and then to other members of the party. Calling for an immediate halt, the ranger lit a torch and raised it high. As he did so, small tendrils of fire curled away from the flame as if something was set alight. Spiderwebs.

The warlock pulled no punches, and launched a fireball into the forest canopy. The flaming missile seared through a thick net of webbing, and the sounds of canopy inhabitants could be heard from all around. The party quickly found themselves surrounded by several giant spiders and their ettercap keepers, although the forest creatures weren’t much of a match for the group in the end. 

+   +   +

This was an interesting session. The party seemed to have a whole lot of options in front of them. Originally they wanted to stay in the woods to see if the dragon would show up, then they wanted to use the raven to summon the dragon to the meeting spot where it could be ambushed, but in the end, they opted to track the dragon to its lair — hopefully — using the raven as a compass. 

I think it’s fairly obvious how the module plays out, since the party ran into the druid, and that the encounter with the spiders was on deck and waiting for the players as they march through the forest. Of course, (META-ALERT!) using the raven to lure the dragon and its rider to the forest clearing would have worked…it would have possibly shortened the chapter significantly, but where’s the fun in that. 

Two Cents From The Peanut Gallery #Legion

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I am one of the least qualified people in the world to write about World of Warcraft, but I also represent a segment of World of Warcraft players, which qualifies me to nominate myself as Speaker of the Peanut Gallery* and talk about my experience with the Legion foundation patch.

Time Lapse

I own all of the expansions to WoW, save Legion at this point, and have visited them all in various forms over the years. WoW was never my game of choice. I got into it at launch because friends were playing, and we had just come off a string of UO and SWG group outings, back when everyone I knew cared about MMOs and not just shooting things in their faces (in games). I received the WoW CE for Christmas that year, actually: after opening the presents, I was dismayed that I hadn’t seen a WoW box in my gifts, until my wife pulled it out from behind the table. Awwww…

My latest foray led me to level 100 and through a good chunk of WoD, but I quit when the main story was complete and all that was left was to complete the quests and all of those mindless nuggets of activity that developers like to throw in as a way to keep people playing. This was before the shipyard addition, so it’s been a little while.

…The Confusion Sets In

I had no idea what the hell was going on when I logged in on the day before the foundation patch. I had to open my shipyard, and struggled with that, dying every five minutes with my BM because for some reason, IDK. I gamed it, though, sneaking through and taking a legal shortcut, but later found myself stuck in another no-win scenario with Exarch Yrel. I logged out in the middle of this, hoping that once the patch hit I might be in better shape to take on the situation.

In fact, things were worse. Talents were reset, and class changes were applied. I was assaulted with choices I hadn’t made since two years prior, so I huddled in a corner with Yrel while I investigated what the hell was going on. I tried my best, but death (to me) was swift and merciless. I ‘stoned back to the garrison and opted to just focus on the kiddie quests that littered my journal. Not glamorous, but at least I was making some progress.

It’s Been Written that returning to a game after an absence isn’t really handled very well in MMOs. Ideally, a game would tell you what you’ve missed as a way to help you get acclimated to all of the changes since you decided to go outside for a while. WoW is particularly bad at this.

Maybe it’s because of its age, the number of significant changes, or because of the massive contingent of people who have kept up with the game over its lifetime, but WoW suffers from what I call the “Math Teacher Effect”. Remember back to your school years (which may be recent, or distant) when you moved into a new math class at the start of a new year or semester? Ever notice how all math builds on previous math? If you aced last year’s math, then the new year’s math should be a piece of cake, and most math teachers teach to this assumption (in hindsight, as they should). But if you faltered at all during previous studies, you’re going to become increasingly lost as the class rockets ahead at full speed, building on what they assume you know.

Looking for information that might help a lapsed player was difficult, if not impossible. I thought I was missing abilities, which might have been a bug. I didn’t know where certain NPCs were. I had no idea where I should be, where I should go, how I could get there, or what to do once I did get there. And I’m not even talking about foundation patch content; I’m talking about just picking up from where I left off since my last subscription window. This morning, the lack of any kind of codified timeline for where to go and what to do made me question why I was even bothering with this game when everything was turning out to be an exercise in frustration.

A Graceful Recovery and Enthusiasm

Although without the distraction of the game itself, I did some extended digging and managed to locate my missing ability. I learned a little bit about the wardrobe system, changes both good and bad for my class, and some additional information on what Legion means for someone like me who doesn’t do group content or raid or even, you know, pay attention to changes when I’m not subscribed or about aspects that don’t immediately concern me.

I feel like I’m in a better place right now than I was last night, although I realize that the respite is only immediate: I should be able to get a handle on my character to help with the active concerns, but there’s a lot of content I need to catch up on that people have already completed and put to bed (like Draenor flying) and are no longer talking about or writing about. I’m going to have to piece together snippets of potentially now-outdated information in order to get a picture of what I’m missing, or to understand what people are talking about now (in terms assuming everyone already knows it, a la your high school math teacher).

But I am liking what I am seeing. I enjoy enthusiasm. I enjoy happiness, and I like it when people are having fun. I want a piece of this Legion fun too, and not stress about the fact that I’m so far behind. I don’t have anyone to play with, so the small blessing is that I can do things at my own pace, and don’t have to worry about the removal of content that I haven’t done because I never knew it existed in the first place.

I suspect that when Legion hits, I’ll try some new classes for a fit, and boost someone to 100 just because. With the region scaling, that’ll help somewhat in the new areas, but I’ll be able to “tourist” my way through the original lands just to say that I did at some point in my life. I might even take a class or two through manually, like they did in the old days. Or I might get through Legion and decide to brave the downtime between this expansion and the inevitable return for the next one.

 

* Insofar as folks on the Internet are known to nominate themselves as representatives of people who wouldn’t elect them if they actually got to vote on it.

A Weekly Grab Bag for Apr 18, 2016

Because I don’t have anything specific to fill a page with, I’m writing a weekly digest just to let the authorities know that I’m still alive.

Guild Wars 2 Mega Patch

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From more simple days.

I’m kind of sad that the GW2 mega-patch addressing Heart of Thorns didn’t get more play on my SocioScope. The patch notes were apparently quite sizable, and I saw a lot of folks saying that many philosophical issues they had with HoT were being addressed in the update. I would have liked to see more of the old guard returning to GW2, because I think we all had a great time getting from 1 to cap, visiting all the dungeons, and completing the story. It’s such a good game! I don’t know why it doesn’t get more re-traction from the Elder Wombats.

I logged in briefly on patch day and wanted to see if I could actually progress past the point where I was stuck. I had to reach a story point, but there were too many enemies that were just too powerful. Turns out they were still there, but another player happened by and helped me out, allowing me to get on with the process. I found that I was a bit rusty when it comes to this game, because I died a few times while I was derping around trying to figure out how to kill stuff.

The Elder Scrolls Online

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Pete and Scott of the Pete and Scott Show have been talking back and forth about their forays into TESO on XB1, which has forced that game back to the forefront of my consciousness. I have it on all three platforms, but for some reason it just never gelled for me on any platform for very long. I liked Skyrim well enough, but I only got to level 19 with one character before I was drawn away to…something else.

With my restlessness being what it is, though, I thought I’d fire it up on XB1 and see what’s what. I created a new character, a high elf Templar of the Daggerfall Covenant, and once again started through the initial load of quests.

That’s pretty much about it!

LAN Party

LANTASTIC!

LANTASTIC!

We’ve got our annual LAN of Confusion scheduled for April 30th. We try and have one a year because it’s semi-historical, and because it’s an excuse for everyone to come over to my house and drink if nothing else.

Of course this year we’ve got The Division to spend time with. We’ll be having six people, which means we’ll have to break out into two groups of three, although we have two people who have level 30 characters, and the rest of us are at or under 15, so we might end up with two high level players in one group, and everyone else in the other group.

We have a few other options, of course, but folks are so enthralled with The Division that I think everyone would be OK to get hammered and shoot firearms. And play games.

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here

AbandonAllHope

Really, the only person who had hope was me, so I guess it’s “abandon all hope, ME who enter here”, and by “enter” I guess I mean “that project I had wanted to work on”.

After the on again, off again attempts to keep the “In The Car” series going in the wake of local hands-free driving laws enacted in my state last year, I had the bright idea of creating a video series that I could do at home. With a more static production environment, I thought I might be able to inject an additional layer of production value into the project.

So I rigged a green screen up in the basement, and employed my HD camera on a suitable placed tripod. I redirected the lights in the room to project properly against the screen, and set up a few additional lights to avoid casting a shadow on the screen itself.

All in all, the process went smoothly. Except for the part where I decided I hated both my voice and how I was showing up on camera.

So that put a nail in that coffin. I’ve since repurposed the rotator widget above to display “Featured” posts from the blog. But looking at it after this morning’s post, I guess not even THAT is working correctly.

So the re-branding of the site is off for the time being. I’ll continue to work along the same lines as I’ve been working along until such time as I get another bright idea for some way to enhance my offerings.