Thoughts on the Steam Controller

During the summer sale on Steam, Valve decided to put their hardware offerings on discount, and I’ve thought about purchasing a Steam Controller for a while now. Honestly, I dislike the Xbox controller very much, and always have. I know that is probably the most commonly used controller for PC gaming, but my distaste for it meant that I ended up buying a Logitech controller that was sort of a hybrid of an Xbox and Playstation controller. It has the same A,B,X,Y button layout as an Xbox controller, but instead of the skewed sticks, they are in-line like the PS setup. It was a fine controller and still works, but it is wired and the D-pad is shit. I found that I didn’t use it all that often, but some games simply feel better with a controller rather than keyboard/mouse.

I realize that you are able to use Playstation controllers on PC, but the last time I tried that you had to keep it wired, and I assume that is still the case so it’s not optimal. The Steam Controller is made for PC gaming, and made for Steam specifically (where most of my game collection is found outside of consoles) so I figured it was a good investment, and for $35 (on sale) it’s cheaper than buying most of the other AAA controllers on the market.

The controller finally arrived the other night, and I finally got around to giving it a whirl. It came packed in a nice box that you can see above, and here’s what comes inside:

I swear at some point I read that you are required to have the Steam Link to use the controller, but that isn’t the case. The Steam link is similar to an Nvidia Shield or other streaming device that just puts the display from your computer onto a TV in another room. Great concept, but not needed for me, so I just got the controller. It is battery powered and comes with a USB dongle that enables wireless usability. Installing the batteries was easy enough, and I assume if you use rechargables, you’d be able to charge them via the USB cord, but I could be wrong about that. Outside of installing the batteries, there was no other setup required, just plug in the dongle and start up steam. It will update the firmware automatically and then you’re good to go.

Big picture mode is not required though it makes navigating Steam a bit easier with the controller. Overall I like the construction of the unit and the feel of it in your hand. It feels like a great controller. In practice, it takes some getting used to.

I started off by checking out steam controller supported games in my library, and the first one I tried wouldn’t work with the unit. The second game I tried worked well, but it was a platformer and only used the one stick and buttons. The trackpads feel great, but they are hard to use in the case of FPS games. I tried one, and it didn’t feel very good to move the camera with a trackpad. Apparently you can push on the trackpad and swing the controller in various ways to help with the camera control, but I didn’t really figure that out until watching a video later on. People rave about the controller being great for any game, but I feel like it’s best saved for slower paced games or more simplistic ones. Those that require twin sticks will definitely require some practice, but I want to put in that practice because I made the investment. We’ll see how that develops over time.

My final verdict? It’s worth the sale price. It feels and looks great. Most games that you would traditionally think about using a controller for (fighting, shmup, beat-em-ups, side-scrollers, and platformers) are going to benefit. Those that use twin-stick camera and movement controls might irritate you at first, but I think once you get past the learning curve it can be great. I’d buy it if you dislike Xbox controllers and want something built for the PC.

The War Report: HoD and EDH Updates

The Pre-release weekend for the newest Magic: The Gathering set, Hour of Devastation, just passed. Due to some financial difficulties I was unable to attend, though I did see what my friends procured from the event, and it was a bit underwhelming. We’re all members of a Facebook group dedicated to EDH, and I saw all sorts of people posting pictures of their awesome promo cards from the weekend — we’re talking foil Scarab Gods here, while my buds got a couple of crappy artifacts. Well, they are okay cards but I’d prefer some of the others I saw posted. Still, I was bummed that I didn’t get to go, and hope to go to the next. I’ve been reading articles about the set all over and the consensus is that it’s not a very “good” set. The expected value is lower than any set in years, and most are pointing to a handful of chase cards though I think that’s the case for most sets to be honest. Despite these facts, there are some great cards that I’m excited to add to my EDH decks, and for that I’ll buy at least a handful of packs and then probably buy the singles I’m not lucky enough to pull. The set officially releases on Friday, so I’ll probably pick up a Fat Pack and call it a day. For now though, I’d like to go over the cards I’m excited for and then touch upon some updates to decks that I’ve already talked about (and some that I have not).

These are the three cards I’m most excited for. The Locust God is going to be made into an EDH deck and Izzet is a color combination I have yet to build. I’ve actually already put the thing together, and have many of the pieces, just have to wait for the release so I can get my hands on this guy and finish it off with some singles. The Scarab God is also begging to be used in my Dimir Zombie deck, though I was torn whether or not to use him or just add him to the 99. Gisa and Geralf is my current commander, and though I love the graveyard recursion per turn especially when paired with Rooftop Storm, it seems that the X scry + damage per turn along with being able to make 4/4 zombies while removing cards from any graveyard seems to be stronger. Lastly, Razaketh is going straight into my Mardu Angels & Demons deck, which actually just saw a couple of recent upgrades that I’ll discuss in a bit. He’s a beast that can be cheated into play and also tutors for extra goodies. So good!

   

My B-tier list features a couple of cards that look awesome but haven’t yet found a home. I am planning an Oloro led lifegain deck that I feel the Crested Sunmare is a shoo-in for. Overwhelming splendor will also likely end up in that deck, because it slows the game down allowing me to build up life for various win conditions. Hell, even Torment of Hellfire could be useful, but I feel like that belongs in a different deck, but which one I don’t know. There were a few other cards I thought about mentioning here, but they are maybes and only if I decided they were going to fit into an existing deck or could be a build around.

Next up, I’d like to talk about some of the decks I’ve just mentioned, and maybe shed some light on other decks that I’ve built and have been playing. I try to share all of my decks because I know people who build decks find joy in dissecting others’ work, but also to keep a reminder around of what I thought was good and how I’ve grown as a deckbuilder. So like I said, that Razaketh is going into my Mardu Angels and Demons deck, and it’s actually just been upgraded. A while back I mentioned my playgroup picking up the Commander Anthology, and that we were going to pick up another, and that has happened. Just yesterday I paid for my second deck, and now I’m the proud owner of Kaalia of the Vast!

Honestly, when I built the deck I built it with her as the commander in mind, but she was $35 by herself and the deck was selling for around $100. That’s ridiculous. Instead, I got a better deal by splitting up this reprint and she’s actually worth more money than before because this reprint is a foil. Regardless, she makes the deck work even better, as you can cheat in the ridiculously expensive Angels and Demons in the deck. It turns out though that I bought nearly all of the same angels and a couple of the same demons, though I have many that are better includes for the deck than the precon. However, the precon came with a bunch of Dragons and some useful spells and mana rocks that will be used in other decks, so it’s not a complete wash. I did add these cards to my existing deck as well:

Anger is great in a graveyard to hastily use Kaalia, or anything that I play, most of which doesn’t have hast. I like the kicker on this otherwise normal artifact removal spell, and Reiver Demon is a nice board clear especially if you cheat him in. I dropped a couple cards that I felt weren’t bringing a lot of value in my time using the deck, and also dropped Tariel (the former commander) into the 99. I will have to make room for Razaketh, but I’m sure that will be easy enough.

The first deck I bought from the Anthology was Freyalise, and I have since removed her and a couple of cards to add to my Molimo Ramp deck. I think there is one HoD card that I want to add to that as well, but it’s not really imperative. With her remaining deck pieces I added a couple of other Elves and made Ezuri the new commander. I think it will still work well enough, but I’m not a huge fan of Elves in this game (or any game for that matter) so it’s likely I won’t play that deck much.

My Zombies deck has seen some revisions, and will receive another once HoD releases when I swap in The Scarab God as a new commander. Otherwise I think it’s done. My Orzhov Enchantments deck has been done for a while, and I think Molimo and the elves are good to go as well. My Temmet deck has also seen some revisions, most recently by adding in a couple of Populate options, and I think it’s finished as well. Reaper King which I don’t believe I’ve mentioned seems pretty well rounded out of the gate, people in my play group have even said it’s the best one I’ve made. Lastly, I just put together “Sramtron” which I mentioned recently, so I’m hoping that one works out well. All in all I’ve come to love the deckbuilding aspects, it just sucks that it can be such a money pit.

Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough for one post. Toodles.

Finding Life’s Balance

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about my personal goings-on, and since I’m lacking anything else of substance to write about I figured I’d do so now.

I’m partially inspired by Belghast’s recent post about needing a break. I’ve never been on any sort of regular schedule, and his ability to go for years posting every day is admirable, but as he noted in his post, sometimes you start to feel like it’s a job, and that’s no good. Also, it seems that more you post, if it feels forced, the content isn’t really all that great. I’ve had plenty of times during my twelve and a half years writing this blog that I wasn’t putting out the greatest content. Recently I’ve read over some of my older blog posts and have found some gems, where I was really hitting my stride and there was a bunch of community feedback as well. Lately, I’ve been talking about games and Magic, and though most of my audience is familiar with the former, I seriously doubt many are interested in the latter.

That comes down to the notion that I write for myself, not for an audience. However, writing for myself still brought about an audience, and that was multiplied through my involvement in the NBI, along with having run a podcast for a couple of years that helped to feed the blog. From what I know, the NBI didn’t happen this year, and my Podcast has been dead for almost a year. It’s clear that both of those facets had an impact on my traffic and involvement with the community, because blog stats show that I’m back to pre-NBI numbers and the decline has an effect on the desire to continue.

This isn’t an “I quit” blog post. Despite having written those words before, I always end up coming back, and I have faithfully posted a minimum amount of posts per month since my full-fledged return to blogging about four years ago. Granted, my return coincided with a period of unemployment, so I had more time to devote to writing, and in turn more time to devote to creating and running a podcast for two years. At this point I don’t have the same amount of time, having a full time job along with other life responsibilities, a girlfriend and a weekly Magic group. At the end of the day, my time has to be split between many things and I can’t focus on everything all the time. This means less time for gaming, so there’s less to write about and so on. It’s a cycle that has been on-going for my entire blogging career, and generally I don’t mind spending less time on it, though I still want to keep it going.

Going forward, I think some changes are in order. First of all, I have paused my Humble Monthly subscription. The service is a great value, but I keep getting games I already own or games that I’m not interested in to the point where it feels like it’s not really worth it. I’m just piling games onto the collection where they won’t get played. I may unpause if the next early unlock is worth my time, but otherwise I think I might be done with it. I’ll still be getting free games from my Playstation Plus subscription, so it’s not a total loss. As such, you can count those monthly posts out. I will be keeping my War Report (MTG) and State of the Game (gaming roundup) posts going, on no particular schedule, because they are long running and I feel like they serve their purpose. Of course there will still be filler posts in between when something comes up that is worth writing about.

There is something on the horizon that might change up the amount of free time I have. I have also been in talks with a friend about the whole Podcast thing, as I really want to start a new one but it’s been something I’ve procrastinated about. If the big change happens, it’s possible that it will come to fruition, finally. I should also have more time to devote to my hobbies, which include gaming and writing, so you may see more activity from me in the coming months. If not, you can expect the handful of posts that I’ve stuck to for the past few months. Needless to say I’m not going anywhere, just wanting to be open about what is to come.

I’ve also spent some time cleaning up the blog a bit. There were some dead links on my sidebar and I’ve added some new bits to the top navigation, which will allow you to see my major columns without any of the filler. I’m only leaving the Couch Podtatoes stuff up for the time being until I figure out the next podcast, and then those bits will be updated. Perhaps if I get back to paying for hosting, I’ll upload the old episodes so they are back online again. Time will tell.

I spent more time cleaning up my Steam and Playstation libraries. I’ve gone through and deleted a bunch of games I’m simply never going to play. There were a lot of those — games that I picked up on sale with the intention of playing but never got around to it. I used to get hung up on making sure that I beat every game I purchased; at this point it’s easy for me to realize that I’m not going to play something, or that I simply don’t like it and away it goes. With nearly 350 games on Steam, it’s clear that those that have been beaten can be removed from my hard drive, and those that won’t ever be played should also be parted with. There are games that I want to play through that will stay, but I’m going to make efforts to start clearing them out because it’s time to stop spending the money and not actually enjoy the games I’m buying. I’m also spending more money on Magic than I’d like to admit, so that cuts into gaming funds, so perhaps this will keep me from buying new games and just play the ones that I have. So perhaps a new series about clearing the backlog is in order. We’ll see what I come up with.

Just wanted to touch bases with everyone. Glad to see that some familiar faces are still around, and I hope that you all find enjoyment in your free time. Happy gaming!

State of the Game: Too Hot For TV

The Steam Summer sale has come around once again, and this year things are unique as they usually are. The discounts are there just like each year before it, but this time around the gimmick is a bunch of sticker packs that you can use to fill up pages of a book and presumably get some sort of prize. Collecting the cards to craft the badge nets background images for your profile, which in turn are the same pictures used in the sticker book, so it’s unclear what the purpose is. Perhaps it is explained somewhere that I missed, but presumably it’s just a time waster and a way to convince you to spend more money, as if the massive discounts weren’t enough.

So far there have been games on my wishlist that were on sale, but none that I was really looking to pull the trigger on. My backlog, as ever, is filled to the brim and some games probably won’t ever see the play they deserve. That didn’t stop me from grabbing a couple items though. I’ve been toying with the idea of picking up a Steam Controller for some time now, but it’s never been something that was a necessity. I have a Logitech gamepad for my PC that suits its purpose, though I don’t use it all that often. I thought that I might lean more towards controller schemes in particular games, so I finally ponied up for one as it was on sale for $35. I also bought one game off of my wishlist — Everspace.

It’s a rogue-like shooter in space that has a feel similar to Faster Than Light, in that you have a map and you move from zone to zone trying to get to an end goal. Death is permanent, but money is spent on perk points that give passive benefits, theoretically making future runs easier. The gameplay consists of flying around these zones, collecting various materials for crafting along with destroying enemy ships. This is done in real time, in either first or third person view. It’s a gorgeous game and runs at max settings very smoothly on my rig. I’d recommend it if you enjoy space shooters with rogue-like elements. The controller hasn’t arrived yet, it should be here next week. I’ll report back on that after I test it out.

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The Infinity engine games are also on sale, included Baldur’s Gate Enhanced + the expansion that came out last year, BG2 Enhanced and the newly released Planescape Torment Enhanced. Sadly I already own copies of the originals on GOG, but I found that many didn’t play well with the newer versions of Windows. It seems that the enhanced editions are revamped ever so slightly and would probably be a better way to experience those titles. I’ve added them to my list as well, but I doubt I’ll buy them, mainly because I’ve got too many recent RPGs to play through but I would love to add them to my collection.

Sony’s Playstation Store also has a sale going on, though it has weekly sales that rotate year round. It does seem like there are some bigger discounts on offer at the moment though, probably to coincide with Steam. Most digital outlets have quarterly sales that save you some bucks. I found more titles that I was interested in on their store, and ended up buying two new games: The Dwarves and Worms W.M.D.

The former is a strategy RPG where you have a team of various Dwarves whom you can assign actions to, and you fight against hordes of enemies. Picture the heroes of LOTR during the battle at Helm’s Deep. You have a handful, they have hundreds, but your elite skills keep you in the fight regardless. There is a pause function that allows you to give all of your heroes commands to be executed at once, but during the live action you can only control one hero at a time while the AI handles the rest. Overall it seems like a novel concept, but I haven’t gotten too far in to add much more.

The latter is exactly what you would expect. Worms is a long running franchise and the various iterations over the years have added new features, while graphically it hasn’t changed much. The last game I played in the series was a few years back on PS3, and I enjoyed that one as much as some of the older versions I played back in the 1990’s on PC. Where this one differentiates itself from its predecessors is with the addition of vehicles and turrets. There have always been a ton of weapons and customization options for your team of worms, but now they can jump on machine gun turrets or pilot a tank to victory. Apparently there were changes to the Forts sub-game, and a bunch of people can play in multiplayer battles. There is also a ranked system that has been implemented, so I suppose this is more feature complete than past installments. It did release last year though, so I imagine there are already new titles in development. Overall it’s a good buy for people looking to blow up worms alone or with a friend or two.

That’s about all for now. I’ve been spending more time doing IRL stuff than gaming, but I will hopefully have some time over the long weekend to log more hours. Until then, happy gaming!

The War Report: Commander Anthology

A recent release, the Commander Anthology is part of a series of products designed to relive the past of the game. A bundled experience that is playable out of the box for four players, it reprints four previously available Commander pre-constructed sets, that are in some cases pretty rare, and pretty expensive. Having a four player group meant that we could pick this up and everyone would get a deck, but the MSRP is $160, and the decks themselves are worth varying prices. As such, the argument persisted past the release date, as to how it would be fair to pick who gets what, and what each deck is actually worth. You can see the full product list here along with the going rates for each, and see what I’m talking about. Not only is Kaalia worth more as a card, her deck has more expensive cards in it than the others. Freyalise ends up being the second most valuable though Meren isn’t far off. Derevi however, doesn’t even hit $50 worth of card value. It was a difficult thing to divy up, but then something magical (pun intended) happened.

When we were discussing our meet time for the past week, it turns out that one of our members said that he had a surprise for us, so he was really pushing for our fourth to make it. Everyone showed up and it was revealed that he had in fact picked up the Anthology. It turned out though, that he only had to pay $120 for it, as someone at a shop was willing to sell it cheaper for cash money. Score! Access to the product for less cost seemed to put everyone in a good mood, and we were able to amicably decide how to split up the box.

There are the four decks that come in their own thematic boxes, 4 spinner life counters that could come in handy, though we typically use an app on one of the guy’s iPad. Of the decks that are in the box, I was most interested in Kaalia, followed by Freyalise. Two other players also wanted Kaalia, and one other wanted Freyalise and Meren. The last guy didn’t care at all, and we ended up giving him first pick. Due to the price cut, it was agreed upon that Kaalia would be worth $60, and the others worth $30 each. I only brought $30 with me, and that seemed to be all anyone else wanted to spend, so the guy who picked the box up stuck with Kaalia, and our less picky player picked out Darevi. Myself and the last remaining player both wanted Freyalise, but I convinced him that he should pick Meren because he actually wanted the deck and to let me have Freyalise and that’s how it ended up.

We broke into the decks and played one very long game (that was interrupted plenty) that I ended up winning with the Elvish tribal deck. It was fun, and I’m looking forward to taking some of its pieces to put into my other mono-green deck, where I can already see a better commander and some other additions for a straight up elvish tribal deck. We all agreed again before the end of the night that it would be cool to pick up another box for the same price and let everyone get another deck, and I agreed to be the larger purchase this time around, so soon I will have a Kaalia that will be taken apart to use in other ways, but just having her in my Angel/Demon deck will be sweet. I feel that most of her pieces will be well used.

Overall I think the product is great if you either want an instant collection of four decks for yourself, or if you have a dedicated group that wants to get into Commander. Even at $160 it’s a pretty good value, but if you can find a deal it’s even sweeter!