By The Numbers: Week 15, 2018

Apparently all it takes for the Packers to get a win is for the head coach to be fired and for me to not watch the game. I’m not sure which of these things is more responsible for the win, but I’m sure it’s most likely due to the fact that the Falcons are pretty shit this year and nothing more. The Packers are in rebuild mode, and at this rate it would probably be better for us to lose more games than we win just for higher draft picks, but at the same time, there are some stretch goals that could land us in the playoffs despite the fact that I doubt it will really happen. Basically we would need to win out for the rest of the season, and a few teams need to lose a few games for it to come to pass. I have my doubts about that miracle, but if it happened I’d still think that we wouldn’t make it past the Wildcard round. Whatever the case, I’m still mainly writing this column just to have a better overall score than last year, so let’s get on with my picks from last week:

Titans 27, Jags 21 – Correct
Bills 21, Jets 10
Panthers 28, Browns 7
Packers 21, Falcons 20 – Correct
Texans 30, Colts 17
Chiefs 35, Ravens 24 – Correct
Patriots 28, Dolphins 13
Saints 30, Buccs 21 – Correct
Redskins 24, Giants 19
Chargers 27, Bengals 14 – Correct
Broncos 28, 49ers 21
Cowboys 24, Eagles 20 – Correct
Steelers 31, Raiders 3
Rams 35, Bears 24
Seahawks 21, Vikings 17 – Correct

This week’s scoreline: 7-8
Season score: 115-101

My season score keeps getting closer and closer to a 50/50 split, because honestly it’s impossible to make picks that make sense. You’d think that shitty teams would lose to good teams, and then the shitty teams manage to get wins anyway. The Packers still have the same record as the Browns and what the fuck is going on in the universe?? Anyway, let’s make some picks for next week and see what happens, shall we?

Chiefs 28, Chargers 21
Texans 24, Jets 13
Browns 21, Broncos 20
Falcons 24, Cardinals 21
Ravens 23, Buccs 20
Lions 21, Bills 13
Packers 27, Bears 14
Bengals 17, Raiders 12
Cowboys 20, Colts 10
Redskins 19, Jags 14
Dolphins 17, Vikings 13
Titans 14, Giants 10
Seahawks 30, 49ers 16
Steelers 27, Patriots 20
Rams 35, Eagles 20
Saints 30, Panthers 23

I’m reaching with some of these picks, as logic tells me that some of these teams couldn’t possibly beat their opponents, but at this point you can literally roll the dice to find winners. Here’s hoping that my off-meta picks manage to be right. As I figure I’m still 14 correct picks over my incorrect ones, so if some of these longshots actually pay off, I’ll come out ahead. As I said I’m not holding my breath for my team to make it anywhere this season, so at least I can be a winner when it comes to this column. Fingers crossed an all that, we’ll check in again next week and see how I did. Maybe I’ll get really lucky and these off-beat picks will come true and my team will sneak their way into the playoffs? Time will tell.

Until next week.

I Went to the Danger Zone

Surprise, surprise! Another major multiplayer game is jumping on the Battle Royale bandwagon! Valve has implemented this feature to one of their flagship titles, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Like so many other games before it, the company is taking an established game in a different genre and adding-on this game mode to compete with the countless other titles that usually only focus on BR. CS:GO has been around for a long time, and the Counter-Strike IP even longer than that (20 years in 2019); with the success of the BR genre as a whole, I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise, yet it did for me. I suppose we should have expected this, given long-running series like Call of Duty (with Black Ops 4) having also thrown their hat into the Battle Royale ring. The funniest part of this is that the first game we saw introduce the Battle Royale concept was Daybreak’s H1Z1, and it is probably one of the least played games in the genre, with upstarts Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite Battle Royale having dominated the market since then. Despite not being a huge fan of the genre itself, I keep seeing games that I find interesting attempting to do things a little bit differently, and the “Danger Zone” is no exception.

While titles like Realm Royale added classes and others like Battlerite Royale gave this treatment to a MOBA style game, Valve has kept the core gameplay of CS:GO intact while also adding the BR elements to their game. It’s been a while since I last played CS:GO, and it appears that the menus and UI have been changed up a bit as well, I think it looks pretty sharp. It’s intuitive and responsive, so that’s a plus.

Unlike most Counter-Strike maps, it’s a rather large island with plenty of points of interest. This map is called “Blacksite” and encompasses some rural areas along with some industrious ones. Since it is an island you’ll be confined to its landmass, but running from one corner to the other will take several minutes. There’s plenty of places with hidden loot, including buildings, towers and caves. The varied terrain has plenty of places to hide, though the traditional gas cloud will slowly shrink in size forcing you to keep moving and find firefights to eliminate other players. At this point the map only supports 16 players, which is far less than most other Battle Royale games, but it seems to keep match times lower, which means you’ll get more games in more often.

Instead of a flying bus or dragon or whatever else the other devs have come up with, where you fly over the map and jump when you care to; instead you’re presented with a map and can select your starting location. This has its pros and cons when compared to other BR titles, as you have the advantage of seeing where others are planning to spawn, but don’t have the choice to drop out and then vastly change direction while in air. In this sense it’s most similar to H1Z1, as in that game you’ll just be randomly spawned in the air and can control your decent in a limited fashion. The map looks gorgeous and I’m glad to see that CS:GO has ultrawide support built in at this point. There is a brief warm up period where you can run around and gain your bearings while also being able to kill other players, and then the map opens up to allow your placement for the match. You’ll still drop in via parachute from a chopper, but you’ll won’t be able to move too far off of the starting point that you selected. Some major differences between this game mode and other BR games: you will start with a moderate amount of currency, find cash about the map along with more dropping from players that you kill, all of which can be spent with a buy menu. There are limited options for purchase, but these can be bought at any time and will be delivered via flying drone. This is also something you can use to track other players, as their drones will follow them around and give away their position. Also, given the “shoot from the hip” nature of CS:GO, there are no iron sights to be found though this doesn’t really change game play all that much.

So far my best match has been a #2 finish, which should have been a first place victory, but I accidentally hit Shift+Tab which brings up the Steam overlay, at precisely the moment that I spotted the only other surviving player. Of course they shot and killed me at that exact moment, but such is the way of things. It seems that a top 5 finish is much easier in this game over the other BR titles I’ve played, but it’s still a very skill based game from my experience. As you complete matches, there is a separate account level for this mode, and you’ll earn rewards as you level up. Weapon skins aren’t new to CS:GO, but you can earn them as you go with the Danger Zone.

My inventory is fairly limited because I spent the majority of my time playing CS:GO on the Playstation 3 back when it first released. I haven’t played the PC version for many hours so I don’t have access to things that more dedicated players may have earned. I constantly see myself being killed by people with various colored weapon names, of which I assume are different rarity skins. Of course these don’t make much of a difference overall, but if you put the time in I’m sure you can be one of those people who kill me with cooler weapons than I have. Nonetheless this seems to be a pretty awesome BR experience and definitely better than the shitshow that is Fortnite (apologies if you actually enjoy that hot garbage dumpster fire).

One bit of controversy that I should mention: The game has now become free to play, after what, 6 or 7 years of being a paid title? This is for obvious reasons, as the company is trying to bring in new blood to the franchise but also because BR games are generally free to play and the new hotness so they want to try and compete with the others that are out there. There has been a flood of negative reviews on Steam due to this, and though I understand that people are upset because they paid money to play CS:GO and now anyone can jump in for free, but given that it’s an old title, I don’t see how they can expect refunds and/or more free stuff after paying for it years ago. I paid for my copy (two, if you count the purchase on my PS3), and I’m not upset that this old ass game is now free. Valve could have easily given us some sort of in-game reward that would have pacified these folks, but even then I suspect that people would still bitch and moan. Whatever the case, new blood is never bad for an older title, and it doesn’t deserve the negative press. Honestly I would rather that they made a new version of Day of Defeat (even with a BR mode) because it was my preferred mod from back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, but to each their own I guess. People will always find something to complain about, and this is clearly no exception. Still, being free to play, now is as good a time as ever to check out an excellent game if you haven’t played it before. I’m happy to join up if you want to play, just drop me a friend invite on Steam (I’m Izlain there like most places).

Let me know what you think about the game in the comments if you do try it out. As always, happy gaming!

The Only Constant is Change

Another chapter in my life’s journey is coming to a close, with a new one being penned as we speak. My output here has been reduced a bit and I thought I would take the time to let you know why. A couple of months ago, I was presented with an opportunity to move to an area of California in which the cost of living is lower than my current location. I ran this idea past my woman and son, and after some deliberation they agreed that the change would be good for our family. Ironically, the place I am going to be moving back to is the same place that I left almost five years ago, and one in which I had said I would never return to. Life is funny that way, isn’t it?

In a “the grass is always greener on the other side” situation, I have come full circle. I have lived between a couple of locations my entire life due to having divorced parents, and as such have traveled between the two areas countless times. I’ve lived in both for stretches of time, and though I had no intentions on going back, my partner and I had decided that we didn’t necessarily want to live in this particular area forever. Cost of living is high and without top notch jobs we have been living paycheck to paycheck. We have been fairly comfortable in our time living together (about 1.5 years) but we would like for our money to go further, and this means leaving the Greater Los Angeles area. Our plan initially was to wait until we got our tax returns and then use that money to relocate to somewhere that still had a fair amount of industry but didn’t cost as much for rent and things. We have been paying $1500/month for over a year and have this new opportunity to pay less than half of that. So the move is happening, and it’s happening soon.

We’ve already put in our notices with our jobs and have already begun training our replacements. We’re due to move on the 29th, but in the meantime I have been travelling back and forth when given the opportunity, not only to help get the new place set up but also to look for work. I have put in countless applications and I’m pretty positive that I will be able to get something secured before we move, but in the worst case scenario, we have some money saved that should get us by for a couple of months. Ideally, I will be able to get her a full-time job and part-time work for myself so that I can get back to my education and finally finish off my Bachelor’s degree. Then I should be able to find something even better. Either way, I have an amazing partner and we are the penultimate team, so I don’t doubt we will pull out of this situation ahead.

As such, my posting around here will most likely be limited for the month. Oftentimes I was able to make blog posts at work during my down time, but since I’m training my replacement I can’t really get away with it anymore. Much of the time when I get home from work I either don’t have the time for blogging or don’t feel like it, so you can expect that I won’t be as active here. I do have some drafts in my folder that I’m working on though, so there will still be new content here, just not the 15+ posts I usually manage. You can expect a better output from me come January though.

Some things I’m working on for blog posts: CS:GO‘s new Battle Royale mode, The Council‘s final episode, and of course some new MTG brews that I’d like to share. I should be able to get out the once-a-week By The Numbers column as well. So bear with me for the duration of December, and expect more from me come the turn of 2019. Thank you all for your patience with me during this time.

As always, happy gaming, no matter where you find yourself!

Clash Royale December Update

I’ve been playing Clash Royale for a couple of years now, and each December brings a large update. Last year, it was the addition of a new arena along with new chest options (with the big Clan War update happening a couple of months later). This year, we have a few new features that change up the game pretty significantly. Supercell put together a couple of videos that break things down, and since the update is now live, I’ll provide some of my own feedback afterwards. Check out the videos:

I’ve checked out the new features, and can confirm that having been King level 13 for a while now, I did end up with quite a few star points with which I can upgrade max level cards. At this juncture, I only have a max level Balloon and Zap, and the points I had accrued I used for leveling up my Balloon twice. Zap will have to wait a bit.

Currently, if you upgrade a card one star level you get a gold border around it, but I leveled my Balloon twice so I’m not sure what the difference is between 1 and 2 star levels. In-game the star level 2 Balloon appears with gold colored patches and gold lettering. I have seen what I assume to be star level 1 cards, they have a different colored level marker above units’ heads; red as opposed to blue for my level 2 Balloon. These are simply cosmetic differences and nothing amazing.

The other major feature released with this update are “Global Tournaments.” These seem to be a tournament that you don’t have to organize (unlike the tournament system that existed prior, where you would have to sign people up to have it go off). On the main screen, the bar is listed near the middle and you can play at will. You’ll earn medals for wins, so crowns don’t really matter. You have 4 losses, and can compete until you hit that amount, but earn prizes based on the amount of wins you accrue. What’s a little strange though, is that you earn “free” rewards for hitting particular milestones on your way up the leaderboard, but then there are “bonus” rewards that you must pay 500 gems to unlock. Current pricing on that many gems is $5, so it’s not a huge investment to get some extra rewards but it’s probably not worth the money unless you are placing high enough on the leaderboard. To boot, there are “exclusive rewards” for those who place high, but that probably won’t be you or I.

There have also been some tweaks made to the trade token system, and this is one part of the update that I’m unhappy with. Prior to this update you were able to trade with clan members as long as the person offering the trade had a trade token. Trade tokens were introduced a while back, and come in common, rare, epic and legendary flavors. You can trade 250 commons, 50 rares, 10 epics or 1 legendary per token. Anyone who had the cards requested was able to trade with you. Now, they are requiring each party to have a trade token, so if you want rare cards, you have to wait for someone to earn a rare trade token and be willing to trade the particular card you want for whatever it is they want. Before you could basically blindly trade with people who wanted cards you cared nothing about, and only really pay attention to the trades you wanted to make. This benefited me in maxing out my Balloon and Zap, while getting rid of cards that didn’t matter as much. The trade off was supposed to be that you’ll earn more trade tokens since the update, but in a couple of days I haven’t noticed a difference. We’ve been earning the majority of our trade tokens via Clan Wars, and the only other way I’ve had them was by buying bundles that come with them, so I don’t see where we’re really getting an increase, unless you’re counting the “bonus” rewards that I have to pay gems for. I assume we’ll probably see further tweaks to this system after community feedback, because trades should be happening more often than they do, particularly when you’re requiring a token from each party to do so.

Some other minor features include Emotes being on sale for Gems, meaning those of you who have the patience to save up can grab some emotes if you haven’t already dumped some cash on them in the special offer bundles. Emotes are kind of a dumb idea, but I still use them nonetheless. You can also speed up some features for gems, like card requests and quest reset timers. This is nothing new to the mobile genre, but still a nice bonus if you have some banked gems and can’t stand a particular quest or want to speed up your card progression.

Overall I’m happy with the direction the game has taken. I may spend some time with other mobile games, but Clash Royale has definitely held my attention for the longest period of time. I’m also looking forward to Supercell’s newest game Brawl Stars, and will report on that once it’s released. I’m pre-registered, so I should be among the first to know when that happens.

By The Numbers: Week 14, 2018

I still had a slight bit of hope for the season going into this week’s matchup against the 2-9 Cardinals. Then, somehow or another, we lost yet another game. The Packers are pretty much guaranteed to be sitting at home come January, so the season has lost its appeal for me. After the loss, the team parted ways with long-time coach Mike McCarthy, and though I have my doubts that he is the problem, I also know that sometimes change brings greatness. Perhaps we end up with a damn fine coach and we finally get a few more rings with Rodgers at the helm before moving onto the next amazing quarterback. In reality I’ll take just one more and be happy, and I doubt we have another QB like Rodgers anytime soon.  Let’s check my picks for last week:

Saints 30, Cowboys 20
Ravens 27, Falcons 17 – Correct
Broncos 21, Bengals 20 – Correct
Rams 35, Lions 20 – Correct
Packers 27, Cardinals 13
Texans 28, Browns 21 – Correct
Colts 24, Jags 14
Dolphins 21, Bills 10 – Correct
Bears 23, Giants 16
Panthers 24, Buccs 19
Chiefs 40, Raiders 20 – Correct
Titans 20, Jets 13 – Correct
Patriots 28, Vikings 20 – Correct
Seahawks 27, 49ers 14 – Correct
Steelers 30, Chargers 27
Redskins 24, Eagles 16

This week’s scoreline: 9-7. Better than last week.
Season score: 108-93

I’m doing okay still for the season. At least I’ll finish over .500 — I wish I could say the same for my beloved Packers. Let’s make some picks for next week:

Titans 27, Jags 21
Bills 21, Jets 10
Panthers 28, Browns 7
Packers 21, Falcons 20
Texans 30, Colts 17
Chiefs 35, Ravens 24
Patriots 28, Dolphins 13
Saints 30, Buccs 21
Redskins 24, Giants 19
Chargers 27, Bengals 14
Broncos 28, 49ers 21
Cowboys 24, Eagles 20
Steelers 31, Raiders 3
Rams 35, Bears 24
Seahawks 21, Vikings 17

At this point I’m just pinning this column on having a better score overall than last year. I’ll try to keep my predictions hot, so that I can feel better about a dismal season for my team. Until next week, goodbye!