By the Numbers: Week 6, 2018

What an atrocious game that was on Sunday. Not only are the refs consistently screwing up calls (that first touchdown came off of a botched call, where it was pretty damn clear that the punt hit a Lion first, not the other way around), but our kicker cost us the game, missing 13 points worth of kicks. Mason Crosby has been pretty damn reliable through the years, but talk about shooting us in the foot on Sunday. It didn’t help either, that twice Rodgers went down and lost the football, but that still didn’t count us out of the game the way the missed kicks did. Whatever the case, at 2-2-1 on the season, we’re not too far gone so I’m not calling for heads or losing hope. I’m just frustrated with the way the first chunk of the season has gone so far. Perhaps getting back some of our better receivers from injury will help. Let’s see how I did with my picks for last week:

Patriots 27, Colts 14 – Correct
Broncos 24, Jets 13
Panthers 30, Giants 17 – Correct
Bengals 20, Dolphins 17 – Correct
Ravens 28, Browns 10
Packers 27, Lions 14
Jaguars 21, Chiefs 20
Titans 23, Bills 7
Falcons 20, Steelers 10
Chargers 26, Raiders 21 – Correct
Eagles 31, Vikings 21
49ers 20, Cardinals 13
Rams 31, Seahawks 17 – Correct
Cowboys 24, Texans 20
Saints 33, Redskins 21 – Correct

Ugh, a terrible week for my picks as well. I went 6-9, which brings me to 43-44 on the season… dropping my score back below .500, sigh. Oh well, the season is still pretty young. Time to make some better picks for next week.

Eagles 24, Giants 14
Jets 21, Colts 13
Bengals 26, Steelers 21
Chargers 27, Browns 21
Bills 20, Texans 10
Bears 21, Dolphins 20
Vikings 28, Cardinals 20
Buccs 24, Falcons 21
Seahawks 30, Raiders 24
Panthers 28, Redskins 17
Rams 21, Broncos 19
Jaguars 23, Cowboys 17
Ravens 24, Titans 14
Chiefs 27, Patriots 26
Packers 27, 49ers 13

I foresee the team getting back on track this week. The 49ers are in disarray due to their QB’s injury and they haven’t really been a force for a couple of years. I’m hoping at this point that the Bears drop a game, though I picked them to win this week, it would just be nice to get back in the lead of the division. Time will tell though, and I’m looking forward to seeing next week’s results!

Skybound to Finish The Walking Dead’s Final Season

Some good news broke over the weekend concerning the demise of TellTale Studios and what would become of its unfinished Final Season of The Walking Dead.

Skybound is Robert Kirkman’s publishing label and recently they opened up a games development branch. It makes sense for this company to pick up the title and finish it off, given Kirkman is the creator of The Walking Dead and will likely build a team familiar with the source material. That, and I believe the game was nearly finished anyway, and I’m sure the story has already been completely written. There hasn’t been an announcement yet as to when the final two episodes might be released, but as I wrote in my last post on the game, it was rumored that the third episode was already in the bug testing phase and some work had already gone into episode four as well.

I’m glad to see this happen, so we’ll able to find out what happens to Clementine after all. I’ll report back if I hear anything else about further developments, and will definitely share my experience with the final two episodes. I’m still hoping they show up before the end of the year.

The Council: Episode 4

The other narrative adventure game that I’ve been playing for the last few months is The Council. Episode four of this five part series released last week and I played through it a few days ago. With this particular title, there is no such thing as action, just a bunch of running around this island manor and discussing things or solving puzzles. It’s more about the political intrigue than anything else, or at least it was up until this episode. Before I go any further, this post will be spoiler heavy so avoid it if you’re still playing through.

You’ve found your mother and she has discovered that the spear that pierced Christ’s side by a Roman soldier hidden in the catacombs below the manor. You had opened this new section during the last puzzle of episode three, the same puzzle that cut off your mother’s hand. She also reveals to you that Mortimer is a Daemon. This Council of men is actually headed by a Daemon who is trying to sway humanity’s fate. An interesting twist, and a new take on history and the supernatural. Something that is almost believable given the current political climate of my country. But I digress.

Your mother sends you on the mission to figure out which spearhead is the correct one, and there are an assortment of clues you’ll need to find around the island. I’m unsure if you have to be correct with this choice, or if it will only allow you to pick the correct one. I cheated a little because I knew I would be annoyed with the running around for these clues, so I looked up the answer and picked what the general consensus was online. As such, it shows that I failed to find them all in that chapter’s summary which you’ll see below. People in the comments on one post I was reading were saying that the story takes a turn after this, and some people even quit when they got to the twist. Having finished the episode myself, I can say that picking the spear I chose didn’t affect anything in this episode, but I also believe that it won’t make a difference until the finale. So are you ready for the big twist?

You’re a Daemon too! Mortimer is your father, and Sarah isn’t really your mother. She’s technically your sister, as she is also Mortimer’s daughter. Obviously you’re a little taken aback by this. The other face painted gentleman is also his brother, your uncle. Mortimer reveals that Daemons have been around for centuries, and that there are several families that still exist, but yours is the most powerful, hence this whole council thing. He wants to sway the countries of the world towards democracy, yet your Uncle believes monarchies are easier to control. However, Daemons aren’t supposed to outright control humans, yet Mortimer teaches you how to read thoughts and later how to possess bodies, which they call “envelopes.”

I’m skipping over much of the plot here, but that was enough to make me much more intrigued by the whole thing. You have various confrontations with the cardinal (including possessing him to forge a letter), Napoleon (he believes you’ve stolen something — it’s the spearhead) and Emily/Sarah (turns out I got the real Emily shot and her sister wanted to kill Sarah — I also got pissed at Sarah for hiding so many truths from me and somehow made a selection where I killed her). Here are my results from the chapters:

It appears that the story will conclude in episode five but I have no idea where its going to go now. I look forward to finding out.

The Walking Dead: Final Season Episode 2

I’m as surprised as you are that I’m even able to write this post, but here we are. A couple of weeks ago, TellTale announced that they were essentially bankrupt and that they were laying off all but 25 employees. This came after the release of the Final Season of The Walking Dead, where we would finally see the end of Clementine’s journey. The first episode released a while back and I wrote about my experience. Another story from a few months back says that TellTale and Netflix were teaming up to create a Stranger Things game (for other platforms) along with some Minecraft interactive thing on the streaming service. It sounded like the company was doing fine fiscally at that point, but apparently things were different behind closed doors. During the layoff announcement, the company admitted that episode two was ready and would still release, so that’s the only reason we get to even talk about it today as it came out last week. Episode three was due out in November and the finale would be released in December. At this point it’s unclear if those two episodes will see the light of day. Rumors state that the third episode was basically done but very little work has been put into episode four, and that the company might be shopping around to get those finished. I suppose we will see what happens — I really hope it gets finished because I’d love to have played through them all and see how the story ends.

This episode was a little different than some of the prior seasons in that there were some third-person shooter elements that haven’t ever really been present in these interactive novels. The game is still on rails but there are segments that are a bit more action packed than the norm. When I had left off at the end of episode one, AJ had just shot and killed Marlon, and we were basically being asked to leave. Things were put to a vote and we left. One the way out, we’re attacked by raiders, one of which is a character from way back in season one, a character which I (playing as Lee) had left behind once we got on the train. She took a little bit of pity on me, delaying capture and then some of the kids from the school attacked and enabled our escape. AJ was unfortunately hit by some buck shot, and carrying him became an issue as walkers were alerted by the skirmish. This meant a fight scene with walkers, before one of them (clearly wearing a mask) stops me and leads me off to his camp. This guy doesn’t play too integral a part in this episode but I have a feeling he would have been back. He helps me with nursing AJ’s wounds and then helps me back to the school. The school kids know that the raiders will be back and grudgingly accept my help in fortifying the school. I’m welcomed to stay for a while. The attack happens, people die, and at the end a couple of them are captured. We vow to go after our comrades, and can do so with the help of one of the wounded raiders still at the school after the larger group retreats.

Normally this is where I would slot in some screenshots of the results. They displayed after I had completed the episode but I didn’t take screenshots because usually you can check your choices from the main menu. For some reason things bugged out, and I was unable to see those results. I assume this has to do with not being able to connect to TellTale servers, which usually display the stats for choices and perhaps those servers are down due to the company’s recent actions. Whatever the case, I hope this is something that is fixed going forward if they do end up making the final two episodes, but again we don’t know if that’s going to happen. Whatever the case, I have enjoyed the season thus far, it’s just a shame that we may never know how Clementine’s adventures end.

On Horizontal Progression

A little over a month ago, I first jotted down some thoughts about the upcoming MMO Torchlight Frontiers, a game many of us thought would never see the light of day. I signed up for the beta, which we have no idea when will happen, but this also means being subscribed to their newsletter, and the first new tidbits of information have started to trickle through. The email I received linked to a post on the Arc Games website, which makes sense due to this being a game produced by Perfect World, and Arc being their launcher.

The article in question is about how Torchlight Frontiers will have “horizontal progression.” You can read the full story there, but I have cherry picked some interesting points because this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. In most MMOs, or RPGs for that matter, there is always a sort of vertical progression, in that you’ll gain levels of experience opening up new gear and new areas of the game, but this all comes to a screeching halt once you’ve hit the level cap. Then we’ll be subject to the developers’ ideas of what “end game content” should be. Sometimes these activities can be amazing, and other times things are too systematic and boring. In games like the original Everquest, the level cap stayed the same for a very long time, and things like Alternate Advancement points could be earned to still give a sense of progression, but without negating parts of the end game once a new expansion came out. In other titles like World of Warcraft, you’ll see things like Garrisons or Artifact Weapons being introduced just to be thrown in the garbage bin during the next expansion. Echtra Games is attempting to get away from this model.

We’ve come to call the approach “Horizontal Progression.” Horizontal progression is not a specific feature, it’s a way of looking at power growth that creates a great game for the long term. For each feature we think about how it will grow both vertically and horizontally. When this works, there are some big benefits: ​

  • New content doesn’t invalidate past progress
  • Players can specialize characters in a wider variety of ways, for a wider variety of content
  • Players have fun reasons to play all over the world, not just the “end game”
  • Players at different levels/progression have lots of ways to play together that are rewarding for everyone

These bullet points are key, and I think they have the right ideas when it comes to trying to build a world that has progression, but doesn’t throw other bits out the window just for the sake of a level cap increase. It sounds like specialization will equate to having some sort of alternate advancement system, most likely skill points in various trees. There’s also some scaling tech being used to help these systems to work and allow people new to the game to play with veterans.

We achieve this with the magic of dynamic gear scaling. It’s a trick I first saw in Guild Wars 2 and I loved how it kept the whole world interesting and rewarding to play in for me even at max level. In Torchlight Frontiers your high level gear is dynamically scaled down in power when you enter lower level zones. You keep your skills and affixes, but your stats come down enough to keep the gameplay entertaining.

Scaling is also used to reinforce the “different progression” feeling when playing in different Frontiers. Gear that drops in Goblin Frontier is aligned to that Frontier (you can see it clearly in the tooltip) and it scales favorably when moving around that Frontier. You’re a bit ahead of the monsters’ level.

Take that same gear to the Hyvid Frontier and it scales worse – you’re behind the monsters’ level. You have some useful stats, but it’s clearly better to start collecting gear from the local Frontier if you want to progress at a good pace.

Gear scaling is an interesting idea, but scaling isn’t something new. Clearly they have drawn inspiration from Guild Wars 2, but we’ve seen similar concepts in games like The Elder Scrolls Online. I like the idea of “Frontiers” which sound sort of like Diablo III‘s end game content, but where each is dependent on different stats and thereby different gear so each Frontier will feel like it has its own progression without needing to scale arbitrary levels. The post goes on to tease about other ways these systems will work together to fulfill the horizontal progression goal.

I mentioned earlier that there’s a bunch of big features and details about the game we want to share. At this early stage we want to get the vision for the game across so players can see where we’re going with things like “no levels” and Frontiers and dynamic scaling. The next few features we reveal will build on this foundation I’ve just laid out. We have so much more to tell you! It’s not just gear that we’re designing to support “different power”; we have lots more ways you’ll collect tools to help tackle the challenges of Torchlight Frontiers.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. I’m curious to see just what other features they are looking to implement, but thus far it all sounds very promising. This is also wrapped up in an Action-RPG package, and these games tend to be pretty addictive in and of themselves. My only concern here is if there will be enough to set Torchlight Frontiers apart from other successful ARPGs — Diablo III does feel like its nearing the end of its lifespan, but games like Path of Exile are still going strong and have dedicated playerbases. If they can find the right mixture of new features and exciting gameplay I think we might have a damn fine game on our hands. We’ll have to keep an eye on it.