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You Can’t Stop The Pissing Match

You Can’t Stop The Pissing Match

Another E3 is coming to a close, and as an event that’s fueled by hype and spectacle, many people feel the need to issue a “scorecard” tallying up the advances and fumbles of the presentations to ultimately be able to declare a “winner” of E3. And just as the sun rises in the East, there’s a contingent of contrarians who wish people wouldn’t do that, because we should all just be happy that everyone is happy and so on and so forth.

I’m an equal opportunity gamer and while I don’t prefer to play partisan when it comes to platforms, really, I enjoy the drama of this score-keeping every year, and truly believe that people who finger-wag need to get over themselves and take a look at the culture we’re talking about. Deciding who “won” the event is a rational, safe endeavor for several reasons:

  1. We’re talking about video “games”, and games are naturally about competitionI’m not a competitive person when I’m actually involved, but I can appreciate watching titans duke it out by trying to out-do one another. It’s fun to see the lengths to which each company will go to impress us. They appeal to what the products they make appeal to: our competitive streaks. Competition is the core of the games industry. Even the most benign games we play pits us against time, quantity, AI, or other players. It may not be hands-at-throat competition, but it’s what the industry peddles, so it shouldn’t be surprising that so many people do see E3 presentations as being about competition.
  2. It’s pointless. Come next week, it won’t matter “who won” because we’ll be left with mostly nothing in-hand except video recaps and memories, so we’ll be in no better position than we were before E3. And once the adrenaline pumping spectacle of keynote presentations are in the rear view, everything that was announced will get thrown into a bucket and meted out over release schedules between now and the next E3, and no one will care who “won” this year.
  3. There’s no title belt involved. Who “wins” this year doesn’t earn the winner any benefits or advantages. They don’t get to parade around at other conventions with an entourage and a gaudy title belt to rub in people’s faces. At most, their PR people get a fist bump for a job well done, and then everyone goes back to work.
  4. The companies themselves do it. As I pointed out in another post, two years ago (as of the writing of this post), Microsoft was fucking up so bad that Sony could have brought out an interpretive dance troop to perform a rendition of their financial earnings and they’d still have been in a better place than Xbox was. Instead, they pulled no punches with underhanded digs at their main competition. To us, choosing a “winner” is academic; to them, it’s business, and they most certainly keep track of “who won” because it’s all about the PR. But they have to because the “loser” needs to work that much harder to win back those whom they might have been disappointed. That is a win for us as the consumer, for the industry moving forward, and for the companies who have to step up their games.

I’m not ignorant to the fact that there’s vast quantities of people out there who are always eager to promote their platform in order to justify their investment, and that they do so by denigrating the competition. In the end, though, how much does their posturing matter? Often times they’re preaching to the choir, and when the Sharks meets the Jets in an even sillier choreographed fight than anything that’s found in West Side Story, the eventual outcome doesn’t mean jack squat anyway. Not everyone who partakes in this “who won” exercise are doing so strictly to promote their platform of choice. Yes, people tend to play favorites, but if you’re not following people who are level headed enough to consider the pros and cons of all participants and put partisanship aside, you might want to consider reviewing your social media roster.

As consumers, we’re not as privy to the inner workings of the gaming industry as our Tweets and forum posts and blog posts would like people to believe. We speculate, and that in itself is a game…a game with zero consequences. What’s the worst that can happen? We’re wrong? Who gets hurt in those situations? No one. Same with choosing a different “winner” each E3. Not everything has to be a crusade, especially in this case where the results are ephemeral and without ramifications.

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When Hype Does Good

When Hype Does Good

Hype is one of those love/hate things. No one wants to feel pressured by PR, and there’s always someone in the wings muttering about “sheeple” under their breath, trying to make us feel bad for some petty and selfish reason. But we can’t help liking what we like, and it’s not something we should ever feel ashamed of. When the hype train rolls into the station, we’re all aboard for Funtown.

What I do feel ashamed about is lagging behind. I’ve written ad nauseum about my inability to finish games, my predilection to jump to new games, etc etc. That leaves a lot of incomplete journeys in my wake. Some of them I simply don’t feel bad about, like how I sat my only character in WoW in her mid 60s for the longest time, or any number of the seemingly millions of other MMOs I’ve played and never capped in and can’t remember at the time of this writing.

There’s a few, though, that really make me sad. The Secret WorldStar Trek Online. Guild Wars 2. I love those games, but I always drift away from them because Reasons. But every now and then something comes along — a video, news, an expansion — that makes me all excited to return.

I suspect that it’s the momentum of the social-sphere that helps. I watched the GW2‘s Heart of Thorns guild hall video this morning and when the pre-orders went live I jumped on it (the basic package…for now). That made me remember that my character still needs to complete her second season Living Story. It’s not mandatory, but GW2 is one of the few games with a level capped character (and the only legit leveling I’ve done — without instant-boosts or offline leveling), and I have an itch to continue with “completion” at this stage before the expansion arrives.

Often times I wish there was more hype, more momentum, surrounding some of these games because it’s proven to be a serious anchor for me. Hype is hype, though; it’s not the status quo, and if there was always something going on to keep the excitement high, it’d end up being the norm, and it’s the norm that I apparently have trouble with.

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What I Think I Want In An Online Game

What I Think I Want In An Online Game

There’s as many ways to skin a cat as there are cats, which is a disturbing epiphany, even if it’s only a metaphor. Even in the vast and conventionally homogeneous realm of MMOs, they’re not all as similar as people’s hyperbolic spewing would have us believe.

I think the observable trend has long been that MMOs are sold on the idea that the “massive” in “massive multiplayer online” game refers to the number of people you can have online at the same time, but I’ve come to think of it in terms of the size of the game world itself. I’ll blame fast-travel for this expansion, since being able to portal from one end of the continent to the other makes the game world size pretty meaningless. There was the recent flap over flying in Draenor that to me is the difference between zig-zgging through the landscape and taking a straight line route to a destination. I was reading one player’s suggestion about how Elite: Dangerous should offer nav beacon to station “mini-warps” to cut down on travel time. It seems that in the haste to “fix” travel systems, MMOs have become too damn big for some people.

I am some of those people. Look at Star Wars: The Old Republic as an example. Step into Coruscant and you’ll get that feeling of scale, of being a very small and insignificant creature in zones that feel like they expect millions of people. The buildings are so massive that I’m surprised clouds aren’t forming in the rafters. This always bothered me. On one hand, I understand the designers wanted a proper feeling of epicness, but in practice it seems utterly ludicrous to be in such a massive environment. It’s not just Coruscant — a lot of SWTOR‘s environments are like this — and it’s not just SWTOR. I watched a video for the Pathfinder Online game, and I immediately got that same feeling: a whole lot of unused space that’s present simply to provide a visual sense of scale.

Really, it’s wasted on the experience. When a player steps into a new zone, there’s that “ohh and ahh” factor as they check out the art work, the vistas, and the layout. They notice things like the colors and the shapes, the density of obstacles, and the dynamic nature of the environment (water rushing, butterflies butterflying, and so on). Once they get their bearings, however, it’s down to work. Quest givers in a lot of MMOs tend to be clustered, and the jobs they hand out rarely take players far from their little mission hub, at least until they give out that one mission that has the player moving to a different mission hub. I’d guess that in the average MMO, there’s between three and six different mission hubs, connected by a “progress mission” per distinct zone. I’m just pulling that guesstimate out of my ass, but that’s what it feels like to me.

At that point, players are too invested in their tasks and on their progress to notice the environment as anything other than an obstacle. The visuals fade into a backdrop for the busy work, and players will rarely raise their head once they feel that they’ve gotten a handle on the zone and it’s aesthetic effects. Of course, should the player empty out her mission journal and opt to take a breather, then there’s really nothing but the environment to focus on. But that’s not the point of the game, is it?

I think about smaller environment games, or at least games where you’ve got the feeling that your in a smaller environment. Maybe just that you’re boxed out of the larger zone and are fed additional land in smaller doses. I think there’s two ways of doing this:

  1. Don’t let the player stop working: You see this in survival games like ARK: Survival Evolved where you always have to bee on the lookout for resources to keep yourself alive. You rarely have time to look at the world around you, and when you do, you tend to focus on what you can exploit.
  2. Narrow the opportunities: I’m thinking of Landmark, Daybreak’s sandbox voxel farm. Their foliage density is impressive so that once you get into a valley your vision is obscured so all you can see and really care about is a small section of the map at any one time. Same with some areas of World of Warcraft, where the landscape provides a really intimate feel that you might never know how big the zone is if not for the world map.

I’d really like an online game where it’s not possible nor even feasible to go very far, very fast, or a game which doesn’t push you through the landscape. I remember back in Ultima Online I refused to use the runebook, and spent the majority of my time in the town of Vesper…and by “majority” I mean that I ventured to Britannia once in all the time I played. It was a big deal when I did: although I was ready for the trip, it was like taking a vacation. Aside from that once-in-a-lifetime decision, though, it was another gameplay opportunity to do something new, but something I was totally in control over. When I felt I had nothing left to do, I could travel and see the world I had never seen, and it was all brand new.

I don’t know if there’s any games like this, or even can be games that are designed like this. It seems that while we can use fast travel, it’s up to us not to give in if we want that journey of discovery. It’s something I think I prefer, and enjoy spending my time localizing myself for longer periods of time these days, as opposed to covering as much ground as possible in as little time as possible.

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Reversal Of Fortune At #E32015

Reversal Of Fortune At #E32015

It always seems that no matter what the community anticipates, every E3 boils down to the eternal struggle between Microsoft and Sony.

You may remember that fateful E3 a while back when the two juggernauts were at each others throats prior to the launch of their respective next gen consoles. It was a fantastic time for Sony because it was a terrible time for Microsoft. The Redmond giant couldn’t get any announcement regarding the Xbox One to fire with the community, from “disc in the drawer DRM” to a purported requirement for the Kinect to be present, there was nothing that Microsoft could say or do that wasn’t picked up on by Sony, who filled their keynote with unambiguous jabs at their competitor’s gaffes. That year, it was widely agreed by all but the most diehard Xbox fans that Sony “won” E3.

Now with some water under the bridge, the consoles have been coasting along thanks to their respective fan bases. The skulduggery of console exclusives has helped each camp gain more followers: The Playstation gets some exclusive content for Destiny, while it was announced that the Xbox would get the next Tomb Raider, for example. A lot of games we’d fawned over in the past, like The Division and The Order 1886 were either pushed far into the future, or fell flat on release. Since the consoles release dates, consumers had fallen into a kind of a lull, put to sleep by a dull buzz of a tepid release schedule through 2014.

The writing was on the wall for E3 2015 was that either camp could announce almost anything and get a decent response, so I think this year’s E3 hype train left the station well in advance of the actual event. Personally, I got tired of the countdowns and the previews, but when the only way you can go is up, anything and everything is magnified. It was a “hold your breath” day yesterday as Microsoft started out in the morning, and Sony followed up in the evening.

This time, Microsoft wasn’t pulling any punches. They didn’t say anything about “television”, or even talk about “Kinect”. The social media community was giving Microsoft the thumbs up for having women presenters on stage. The biggest bombshell was that the Xbox One was getting backwards compatibility, allowing users to verify ownership of a physical Xbox 360 game and to download a version to their next gen machine. They also announced a preview system — [edit] which is very much like Steam’s “Early Access” program — for some high-profile titles. We saw Hololens in action, as they demoed a new version of Minecraft that floated above the stage ad provided a gods-eye view of the blocky world below. Of course there were the games: Halo 5: Guardians, Fallout 4, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 Siege, Gigantic, a new Gears of War, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. The audience learned about an upcoming collection of remastered Rare titles, and a look at a co-op PvP pirate ship combat games called Sea of Thieves. It seemed like everything Microsoft pushed out onto the stage resonated with the crowd.

Sony had a big act to follow. We know they’ve got bravado, having outsold the XB1 early on without breaking a sweat. Did they have enough this year to top Microsoft’s game? In short, no. They opened with The Last Guardian, a long-awaited title that really struck a chord with the crowd and on social media. They followed that with a strange but compelling new monster hunter style game called Horizon which featured a paleolithic-esque hunter stalking robotic wildlife on a post-apocalyptic Earth. People seemed to really like that one. Then it slid downhill. Another Hitman game. Street Fighter V. Some weird acid-trip of a game from Media Molecule (Little Big Planet, Tearaway) called Dreams that looked like a claymation studio tool. Some gameplay from the long-awaited No Man’s Sky that didn’t impress as much as I think people hoped it would. This was followed by an announcement of DLC for Destiny, and a sales pitch for a Shenmue 3 Kickstarter campaign which sent the social media world into a fit of irritation, anger, and snark. The bright spot for a lot of people was a brief teaser for a remake of Final Fantasy VII in what looks to be full-on 3D, on par with the most recent Final Fantasy offerings. Sony closed by showing a glitchy preview of the next Uncharted game, and that was that.

[I didn’t cover everything each company presented. Check out the recap for Microsoft and Sony if you want a bullet point list]

I haven’t seen anyone claim that Sony “won” anything this year. Their presentation started off strong and continued until they slipped into the doldrums, and emerged with some really head-scratching moments. The interlude of Final Fantasy VII was a sigh of relief, but the sad technical problem during the Uncharted presentation — the only technical issue I think either company had on stage this year — ended Sony’s show on a sour note.

Just a few years ago people sunk their teeth into Microsoft’s exposed neck and refused to let go for weeks after E3 had ended, dogging the company across the Internet for their policy decisions. Sony sat back and laughed, secure in knowing that they had “won” E3 that year. Now the pendulum swings the other way. People are happy with Microsoft’s presentation, the titles that were announced, the show they put on, and the spectacle of their technology. Sony, on the other hand, seemed passive and content, like they took the stage after a Thankgiving feast and would have rather been on a couch watching football.

In the grand scheme of things, however, both presentations were pretty good in terms of content. Sony had a few more “updates” to titles we’ve been waiting for than Microsoft did, but Sony also had some tricks up it’s sleeve with The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy VII which mean a lot to some people. What goes up must come down, and while people are still scratching their heads over the Shenmue 3 affair, remember that Microsoft was on the losing end of E3 2014. The Internet likes expressing it’s snark but has a short attention span, and by this time next year we’ll have reset the scoreboard for E3 2016.

Footnote: Obviously we don’t have Nintendo covered here. They’re traditionally scheduled apart from Microsoft and Sony, and Nintendo in general is often held apart from the other two simply because they’re Nintendo. People expect different things from Nintendo than they do from Sony and Microsoft, and are generally only considered to be “in contention” when they achieve a very high “wow” factor. In a nutshell, expect the usual: more talk about Amibo, additional teasers about the Legend of Zelda game, and social media lamenting over their favorite Nintendo games they wish the company would revisit.

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Single or Multi Thread Blogs?

Hanging around the ol’ dashboard here on LC.com, wanting to look through the drafts to see if there’s anything worth publishing (answer: no), I checked in on the stats graph that’s included with the default WordPress install.

ArkSpike_LCcom

Like a ziggurat!

Looking at stats is fun, but this post isn’t about the specific numbers; rather the happenstance of blogging about something in a timely manner, and the mission of your blog. Using the data above as a springboard, on June 3rd I posted my “Surviving the ARK” write-up, which was essentially a recap of my first “day” in the game. As you can see, it didn’t gain much traction until a few days later, when people started searching for things related to ARK: Survival Evolved. I’m pretty pleased with the spike shown up there, although you can see that the searches that found the “Surviving the ARK” post are all in the vein of “how do I progress”, or “how do I survive“. There’s some SEO hocus-pocus going on here, with “ARK” in the title, and the post residing under “ARK: Survival Evolved” tag that puts me on the front page of a Google search for “ark survival evolved fortitude”, for example.

ArkSrvEvoFort_LC_Google

Hey, I know that site!

Levelcapped is a multi-purpose blog. I don’t stick with one game, and I tend to make a lot of conceptual posts that deal with games as a hobby, as a business, and as a culture, so it’s pretty much a grab-bag up in here, and is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. That makes it really difficult to keep an audience, and almost impossible to show up in search results with regularity, unless I’m writing about something very niche, or something very timely. Add to that the fact that I nuked the site around the beginning of the year, and the state of readership here at LC HQ seems pretty much all over the place.

OldLCStats_2014

People USED TO like me…

This isn’t a “yay me!” or a “boo hoo me” post either, but one concept I’ve kept an eye on is the multi-purpose blog versus the single purpose blog, and which idea might be the more “successful”*. Each mode has its strengths and weaknesses, and a lot of that relies on the nature of the person writing the blog. For example, I play a lot of games and rarely stick with one for very long. Even the ones I do tend to stick with (Elite: Dangerous currently) are constantly interrupted by other games, which leaves me at a loss for a steady and reliable stream of ongoing experience needed to fuel a single theme blog. On the other hand, there’s a bazillion blogs focused almost exclusively on World of Warcraft, and bazillion – 1 blogs that cater to other games like Final Fantasy XIV, WildstarSWTOR, and others. I would tend to believe that the operators of those sites focus exclusively, or at least regularly, on those games to the point where their knowledge of the title allows them to write about them with authority. Me, I’m more a “seat of the pants” kind of gamer, and admittedly my knowledge of any game can be summed up as “I know about as much as I need to in order to not die every five minutes”.

Which blog style is best? That’s a loaded and subjective question because it depends on the author’s preference (duh). I’d guess that a blog that focuses on a single topic — a single game, single theme, single class or role — would draw more regular readers due to the fact that once someone who has interest in that specific topic finds the blog worthy, they’re more likely to return. Of course, if the author stops playing that game, moves to another genre, or becomes burnt out on that role, the entire concept of the blog is shot. A multi-focus blog is a crap-shoot that might pull some people in via a single post, but lose them as a regular reader if they can’t find anything else surrounding that post that they care for, but from the author’s perspective it gives them a lot more leeway in what they can write about, and there’s less chance they’ll stop blogging because a single game or role falls out of focus.

It’s a long winded way of saying “blog what interests you”, whether it’s a single game, single role, or a whole scattershot of topics. Being a slave to the numbers usually isn’t why people start blogging, and a lot of the time people will opine that bloggers shouldn’t be focusing on the reader count. It’s it’s not something we have to ignore or sweep under the rug either. Obsessing over winning or losing readers is a fools errand, but analyzing your stats allows you to parse out what works and what doesn’t. At it’s worst, stats are an interesting barometer to see what works (posting about a hot topic at the right time) and what doesn’t (haranguing people for being assholes…for example), and shows that link-bait isn’t the only way to get people to read your stuff. At best, it allows you to possibly find topics that people seem to like with regularity, allowing you to decide if you want to chase those leads, or stick to your personal preferences.

 

* Of course, not every blogger’s goal is to have massive exposure and garner all the eyeballs, but no blogger is 100% blase about his or her readership. Success is a personal measurement, and while I’m pretty happy with my recent spike in readership, I miss my old following.

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The Hardest Decision To Make

The Hardest Decision To Make

On Monday I wrote about Powerplay, the big update to Elite: Dangerous, and that post was based on my cursory experience with the system’s details as provided in-game. I had watched the introductory video about the system, and while informative, didn’t really drive home the depth and complexity of the system. I was linked to this player-created presentation by a friend, and on Twitter, that goes over the benefits and ramifications of throwing your lot in with one of the factional powers, and it’s an excellent guide for anyone interested in what Powerplay has to offer.

For the tl;dr crowd, here’s the rundown:

  • Factions own control systems and influence exploited systems.
  • These systems generate control capital (CC) which is used to pay upkeep on these systems and to expand influence.
  • There’s three phases of controlling a new system:
    • Preparation: Players undertake actions in-line with their power’s Ethos, and vote on which prepared systems to expand.
    • Expansion: Players attempt to influence the system while other players attempt to thwart their expansion
    • Fortification: Players undertake actions to fortify the system, while other players attempt to undermine their fortification
  • Players earn merit points from participating in these phases. Merit determines the benefits players can claim from their powers, and how many votes they get during the preparation phase.
  • Powers can enter into CC debit and can be eliminated from the field if they lose control of enough systems due to an inability to pay the necessary CC upkeep.
  • Players can withdraw support and keep their goods, or defect, keeping their goods and some of their merit points.
    • Defection will earn a bounty from the previous faction lasting for a period commiserate with the amount of merit the player left with.

I’m not sure which faction I want to join, if any. The Federation is heavy-handed about their capitalism, while the Empire is all about taking a page from ancient Rome…including slavery. The Alliance is a middleman, and the independents are really just flavor as foils for the Feds and the Empire. All of them have different benefits, though, in terms of discounts on goods or bonuses on bounties, special trading commodities and ship equipment, and other do’s or do not’s.

I can always stay unaligned, of course, which allows me to move freely though any system (NPC pirates notwithstanding), but then I don’t get the benefits from any of the powers, or the driving force that Powerplay really provides.

There’s two sticking points. The first is the lore-alignment. Not super important, but I’d like it to be part of the consideration. I have Fed rep already, but they seem too self-absorbed. The Empire seems more egalitarian, but is built on slave labor. The rest of the options aren’t really fleshed out as much, so they’re pretty much a blank slate. The second is the benefits. This is more nebulous, and plays into what opportunities present themselves for gameplay. For example, the Alliance seems more geared towards traders, while Archon Delaine of the Independents is a pirate king, allowing for impunity when selling black market items.

I’ve heard tell that a lot of players (and developers) seem very gung-ho for the Empire for some reason, but I’d rather not simply choose the popular side. On the other hand, because the features of the system require a lot of people working towards a common goal, I don’t want to be the only resident of a ghost town either. I would fathom that a lot of open play players will be siding with the pirates because institutionalized griefing and all. I can’t see why anyone would focus on the Alliance, Sirius Corp, or the Utopians unless there’s some meta-benefit to the perks they grant that I’m not seeing.

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TESOMG! Putting The Training Wheels On

TESOMG! Putting The Training Wheels On

TESOMG!

Today is the day that The Elder Scrolls Online launches on consoles. Unless you had a code last night, at which point yesterday was that day.

Long about 5PMish Bethesda sent out the codes to us folks who upgraded and transferred our progress from PC to console. I headed over to the ol’ paperweight, logged in, and entered my code, allowing me to “pre-load” the game. I didn’t come back until five hours or so later, after hearing the gates were actually open.

So I associated my game account with my PS account and lo! There were my characters, in the same state of disarray as I had left them months ago, standing around aimless and…earth-tone-y. I logged in with my highest level character (a paltry level 20 something) and found myself in…some city-town. Wayrest, I think? Is that a place?

Of course, the first thing that I think anyone does when they return to a game is to figure out the controls. Making matters more complex was the fact that I was playing with an unfamiliar input device, one with a lot of buttons. I saw another player who was apparently also testing buttons, so I started mashing things and observing the results.

One of the first buttons I found was the hotbar activation, and I knew this because I saw my character launching a fireball at a nearby NPC. It didn’t dawn on me what happened until the NPC sprinted over and started whacking me with a stick. I was forced to defend myself, killing the poor person in the process. It wasn’t long before one of the town guards came over, saw the corpse and my flaming hands, and elevated me to Public Enemy #1. I figured there wasn’t much I could do, so I let the guard kill me.

This morning while waiting for the “opportunity” to head out to work I fired up the Vita which I actually found and charged for this special occasion, and logged into the PS4 via the Remote Play option. The Remote Play feature is pretty good for simple games, but the much touted back-touch-screen is actually a poor analogue for the shoulder buttons of the normal PS4 controller. I had ventured out of town to see what I could see, captured a butterfly and harvested some plants, but I got a little too close to a spider who decided to expectorate on me as a way of saying “hello!”, so I was forced to throw down…the Vita, because TESO combat using that hardware is infuriating, especially considering I hadn’t yet mastered the control scheme in general.

Putting the Training Wheels On

Because nothing says enjoyment like inviting repeated kicks to the crotch, my friends and I opted to jump back into Heroes of the Storm last night. We started out wondering if last week’s slaughter was a fluke, like solar flares or the popularity of Nutella, but also like Nutella, we found that we still suck.

On a whim, one of my friends suggested we try a custom game, and there we found that we could tweak the AI settings. We started all of the AI (even our own) at the lowest level possible, and then moved them up the ladder of difficulty with each match. We learned that we’re only good enough to take on AI who are set at levels below Adept, which is like saying we’re only competent enough to have conversations with third graders. Although we were buoyed by our stunning victories on the first two lowest difficulties, we were saddened that we didn’t get any benefit from playing a custom game. Of course, no XP or gold is awarded in this mode in order to prevent farming, so it looks like our only recourse is to return to the normal mode and subject ourselves to a firm beating in exchange for payout. So, kinda like getting a job.

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