Playonix // Games. And gamer culture. Thu, 06 Feb 2014 13:00:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag // // Thu, 06 Feb 2014 13:00:56 +0000 // This review covers the single-player portion of the game. Multiplayer was not played for this review and has no effect on the final score.

With the wind in your sails, and the salt air in your lungs, Ubisoft takes Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag to the high seas. With the story from the last several games being wrapped up, it was nice to see a fresh take with a new atmosphere. What better place to start than with the big blue ocean?

Like other entries in the franchise, the game still forces you through a tutorial. But it only lasts about ten to fifteen minutes, then releases you on to the larger world. For players who have been around the block with this series, this is a huge sigh of relief.

From the moment you become the main protagonist Edward Kenway, you are swept up in an adventure. At first, Edward himself didn’t seem very memorable or even likable. Leaving his wife ashore in England, Edward goes to carve out a piece of the new world for himself. Thankfully, over the course of the game his story is fleshed out.

Upon encountering the Templars, their Grand Master tempts Kenway into looking for the greatest treasure, The Observatory. This device created by the ancients allows its user to locate anyone, anytime as long as they have a vial of their blood. The Templars want to use it to of course, TAKE OVER THE WORLD, while the Assassins want no one to have such control. Kenway wants it purely because it would be the most valuable thing in the world.


Although the Observatory is the long term objective, the story takes a broader look at the pirate’s world; lawless, Kingless utopia of survival of the fittest. Or in Blackbeard’s case, the Craziest.

In Assassin’s Creed you would expect to be part of this mythical organization, but Kenway isn’t even a member. He is just some bloke from England. But with his time at sea it seems he has learned all the order usually has to offer, he is a free-runner, excellent climber and insane ease at killing. By not making he a “true” member, this allows you to be a lawless pirate and rub elbows with some of the greats, James Kidd and Edward Teach aka Blackbeard.

The world is vast, with a variety of things to keep you busy. What adventures do you want to have today? Sail across the seas to rob and plunder ships, we got you covered. Or do you feel for some treasure hunting, Indiana Jones type ancient raids? Aztec ruins are a treasure that is worth searching for. And there is so much more, this tropical open world paradise is yours for the taking.

If your sea legs aren’t up to snuff, land is a pretty familiar place. Several locations some being larger than others. This gives you even more feeling to how huge the game world really is.


From the smallest rocky alcove, to the largest cities with a populous to fill it. A staple of the series, climbing is back, giving you insight of what the area has to offer. Throughout all these places, there are things to help you along in the game. Sparkling treasure chests full of booty, shipments of sugar or rum, stores, side quests such as warehouse raids, assassination missions and best of all: shanties. In open seas your crew keeps you entertained with a song or two, that you will soon be singing along with yourself.

All this can keep you busy, always moving and searching for new ways to do things. These events closely resemble the original vision of Assassin’s Creed, but are much improved over previous installments. As in the warehouse raids, you have to scan the area for the person who has the key. You can either steal it from him dead or alive, then you must make it to the door without being killed. The controls for stealth have been perfected and it makes using Eagle vision mode (a feature that lets you track your foes through walls) during these events fun and a proper challenge. Although, having a blowpipe with sleep and/or berserk darts, does take away from some of the challenge.

Speaking of the weapons, Kenway’s arsenal has been trimmed down. Your basic guns and swords are there as well as the hidden blades. Not taking away from any of the combat, you can pickup and drop weapons and wield them. In each pirate fight from boarding ships or tracking down the next kill you feel that the combat is balanced for what you have. For a while I didn’t even upgrade the swords or guns, but as I got later in game, it was a must.


There is so much to do in Black Flag, beyond the island there is a whole ocean to claim. You will be sailing the waves on you ship called the Jackdaw. Although the ocean can seem overwhelming, the mini map will be your first mate, showing all the region has to offer. Diving, whaling, convoys, you can see all this.

This isn’t all paradise, the ship itself feels like you are riding a stiff horse. Wind really has no meaning, you can still sail the direction you want even if the wind is blowing at full speed against the direction you are going. It gives no sense of real push back. You can stop on a dime, but turning is a slow fight. During sea battles, this can cause a lot of anger and frustration. It isn’t an authentic sailing sim, even with all the orders Kenway shouts to his crew. Though this doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of sailing.

When you sail from place to place, hearing your crew sing a shanty, the camera pans back allow you to see the true beauty of this game. By doing this, you get the full immersion of the world. You will take the fast travel for ease, but you will still do the long travel to become one with the game.

Reeling you in further, you have to take your once frail beauty and upgrade her to become a beast at sea. Your ship has a wide range of weapons and defenses that allow you to progress further. Chain shot can tear down the sails of even the fastest ships, while fire-barrels from behind can become floating mines. Broadside cannons are as they sound, cannons on the side of the ship to deal some of the most damage. But how much damage you want to deal is up to you.


You can sink a ship and grab up the spoils, or take to boarding your enemies’ ship. The true pirate simulation comes into play here. Throw your grappling lines to their ship, in order to give a direct assault. Pull an Errol Flynn and land directly onto your foes taking them out in one shot. While nipping right on your heels, you crew follows you to victory.

With the spoils of your ship capture in hand, you can travel back to town and sell off your wares. Doing this will allow you to also do upgrades to yourself or the ship. Upgrading Kenway’s armor or outfits seems to have been borrowed from animal skinning mechanic of Ubisoft’s own Far Cry 3. This allows you to collect skins to upgrade your weapons or even make new outfits. This a good system that is designed to make it worth your while to use, rather than a chour.

In the end Black Flag has shown us that Ubisoft is capable of giving us a game that is a collage of events. There are strong ties to other games in their library. With all these tools at their disposal, they have brought it all together. A game with rich environments that sets you free to make your own way in the world. Follow the story as much or as little as you want. For me, the main story wasn’t the draw, the greatest reward was making my own story. Yo ho a pirate’s life for me!

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Objection! Sim City // // Thu, 06 Feb 2014 13:00:49 +0000 // Forward

Objection! is an attempt to look critically at “industry known issues” and play devil’s advocate. While I’m going to use my opinion as basis, the focus is going to be on speaking against popular opinion. Too often, only one voice is given. This can give gamers a hive mind response to more nuanced issues. The idea is inspired by one of my favourite web series, The Completionist’s “Defend It”.

As well, when I refer to this game, I will be referring to it as SimCity.  I will be referring to previous iterations or the series as a whole as Sim City.  Mind the gap.


SimCity (2003, PC)

SimCity was released by Maxis, a division of EA, in 2013 for PC. Reviews before release were great, and anticipation was high. Over a million units were shipped in just the first two weeks. Since release, the game has reached over two million sales overall. According to vgcharts this makes it the 73rd highest selling game of all time.

If you’re unaware what happened after the launch of the game to make fans so angry, first welcome to the Internet. We hope you enjoy our kitten gifs and porn. We did work so very hard on them.

Launching an always-online platform

The launch of SimCity was not just a failure, it was a major failure. A catastrophic failure. I was one of the early adopters myself, and glitches happened. Server logins just didn’t happen. When they did, the city you worked hours and hours on might end up stuck in a state of eternal limbo. The city would keep crashing, and couldn’t be deleted. My poor, poor FreeBeer City now suffers in eternal limbo. New FreeBeer, gleefully, did not experience such issues.

In fact, for what it’s worth, I feel as if EA handled the issue relatively well. As I also suffered the annoyances Diablo III gave the world on opening night; I expected to be annoyed on opening night. I also expected the affordable healthcare website to have issues. I also expected Adobe Cloud to have issues. Over Christmas, I also expected all of the online major game retailers to go offline. Everyone else, when suffering server issues, just said we’ll be back as soon as we can. What did EA do to thank me for my time and grumbles? They gave me Mass Effect 3. Good guy, EA. For what it’s worth, I think they handled the fiasco with a certain amount of dignity left intact.

Was EA wrong to make their game always online? Well, that’s a mixed bag question, isn’t it? A lot of people complain that the always online thing is a sort of DRM-style prevention technique, something used to manage sales. I prefer to be optimistic on that. I’m not saying it wasn’t a reason, but I also do not feel it was the reason.

SimCity’s initial failure was a press magnet though. Certain websites dedicated entire sections purely to problems with the game. I can’t help but feel as if these issues were overplayed. Most of the major issues players experienced were resolved within either the first few days, or first weeks of gameplay. However, the debacle forever tarnished the good name of the game. Despite all of this, copies continued to sell. Perhaps the sound bubble of Internet opinion doesn’t go as far as we all believe.

Is always online such a terrible idea?

I ask you kindly, please put down the pitchforks, and let’s consider this from a rational perspective.

Dibalo III got a lot of flack for turning a single player game into an always online game. I admit, myself, I was a bit confused by this. However, I was reeled in to the dark side. Achievements kept popping up. I heard interesting things from my friends and their exploits. I started joining them more and more frequently. Now, if I play, I exclusively play the game in a multiplayer environment. It’s just not as fun when playing alone.

Can I say the same for SimCity? No, but that does not mean the possibility was not there. Perhaps with some tweeks, making how the cities work together a little bit more robust, it could have been better. But, useless appendages don’t make for a bad experience. In fact, I find it helpful that I can build multiple cities that independently benefit each other. It still feels extraneous, I admit, but there is value to it.

SimCity was a reboot, a chance at trying something different in a series that has grown stale and boring. There are only so many graphical enhancements that can be done, so Maxis’ big idea was to add a social element to the game. It’s obvious from top to bottom, the game was designed as a social game. I give them props for trying something different.

Perhaps, that wasn’t what you were looking for from your game. That’s fine. But there’s something that smells rotten about belittling a game for being something you didn’t want, but others might have. Ultimately, the game boils down to this. Is it still playable in a single player game? I think so. It does feel like something is missing, but it’s certainly not required to be enjoyed.

Microeconomics vs Macroeconomics

The other major complaint I hear time and time again is that you can only make your city so big, that you can’t have a sprawling metropolis as you did in previous iterations. I admit, the first time I played, I hit the boundaries of my city, scratched my head, and wondered what is there to do now.

Then, something very different happened from how I play most Sim games. I looked over this city I built, and started to see flaws. I bulldozed entire streets, rebuilding them with new purpose. I upgraded it, elevated it. The college began to expand, and as it expanded new things kept happening. I had to keep reacting; forming newer, bigger, and bolder plans.

I learned quickly, SimCity isn’t like the rest of the series. This is not a game about zoning and making sure the best resources overlap in the utmost beneficial way. When you hover over a city, it lays out what resources the city has. Is there a major coal deposit? Is it full of water? This information is vital, as each city on your map is going to be different. Planning your city from minute one is important. Are you going to be a mining city? A tourist trap? A gambler’s paradise? You can’t win the game anymore just by using the most effective grid patterns. If you try to play SimCity like Sim City, you will fail.

There’s a lot of strategy in SimCity that is very different from the Sim games I am used to. It takes far more cues from The Sims than it has other previous iterations of the franchise. Comparatively, every game of Civilization I’ve ever played, I’ve been caught up in expanding my borders. Holy Warfare is more of the same. I find it way more interesting to be caught up in the ebb and flow of a vibrant city. This, though, leads me to…

The AI

Here’s the problem. The Sims‘ AI has never been terribly intelligent to begin with. The games just went to more pains to hide it. Getting a little personal here, in college, I was enamored with the work of Will Wright, the original designer of Sim City and The Sims. This lead to me working with developing AI routines for Khepera robots. What I’m getting here is, I am a legit nerd for AI and AI routines, and every Sim AI has been greatly obfuscated. That is to say, made to look like it was doing things it didn’t.

SimCity, on the other hand, does not bother with pulling punches. You can tell, outright, that the Simlings are an abstraction. They go to the first house they find. They go to the first job that needs work. The first iteration of their AI was so bad it was causing traffic congestions and this was an obvious problem.

It was, frankly, months before they worked out the bugs with the AI, and made traffic congestion a little more sane. Is this wholly forgivable? Not really. However, it also was not entirely a game breaker either. It was relatively easy to work around the AI as it was in the beginning. Perhaps it’s because I had a bit more interest in learning their mechanisms. Perhaps it was because I had more experience. But, I never found the AI to be the big deal others made it out to be. As well, it’s certainly gotten far more accessible over time. That being said, I wholeheartedly don’t blame anyone that was initially turned away by this. I’d welcome you to give it a second look now.

I think the game was relatively underbaked when it first came out, and releasing a “mostly functional” game, at the level of gameplay mechanics, isn’t cool. That being said, in all honesty, the problems here never made me want to punch babies. It was simply a nuisance to be dealt with.

No revert to save

I think save scumming is about an engraved in a Sim game as is Simlish. Perhaps it’s cheating, but any time I’ve ever seen a tornado coming in a Sim City game, I’ve reverted back to save.

As well, it’s ridiculously easy to plant something you didn’t want down, and blow a lot of work on a building you’re eventually going to have to rebuild. There’s something to be said about consequences though.

See, I never had to live through the tragedies that alternate versions of Free Beer had to go through. What did it look like after Godzilla wrecked a nuclear power plant? Who had to know? Not me, never particularly cared. This game, however, is a little more intimate than that.

I have to say, now that I’ve lived through a few tragedies, it also has forced me to live with a more interesting reaction when a tornado touches down. It gives you a new chance to experiment. If it weren’t for SimCity, I may not have realized how much fun I was missing by just reverting to save in past versions.

The difficulty of rebuilding roads is something that I will say is bit more annoying. If you wish to upgrade a road, you also have to rebuild all buildings attached to the road. That being said, my solution has ended up being always building high-density streetcar avenues regardless of immediate necessity. I’m sure there are better ways around this, but frankly, I never liked dealing with traffic to begin with. Just take a look at any SNES Sim City I ever built. All rail roads. Traffic management be damned.

That’s all well, but is it fun?

The short answer is, yes.

The long answer is, if compared to previous Sim Cities directly, you’ll come up short. Comparing this to another Sim City, or even comparing it to almost any other city or empire building game on the market, is like comparing apples to oranges.

All of the alternatives the game gives you are short term vs long term solutions. Bandaids can be applied, but the game isn’t about that. It’s about long term future-proofing. Every other sim game I’ve played, the world expands for you. Give hell to repercussions, the future can be save scummed and visited in the future.

SimCity requires you to play the game on its terms, which a lot of people don’t like. However, waiving it off because the multiplayer is a bit lackluster is ridiculous. I’ve revisited the game today by spending the whole day playing it, and I don’t regret a single hour of it.

Is it the game of the year? Definitely not, but I’d put it in my top 20 for 2013 without hesitation. There were poor design choices. The game was quite obviously rushed. Week one was a catastrophe that could have easily been avoided with more reliable servers. However, the core game play itself still makes me happy. The UI is fabulous and intuitive. The core structure of the game, once you get into it, is solid. As well, Maxis continues to work on, and announce, changes and updates to the core gameplay. Following along on their blogs, they have continued to be transparent in their ideology and design.

If you play it for what it is, separate of its lineage, there’s a wealth of fun to be had. It’s smooth, intuitive, and can perform in a variety of ways. Each different build feels like its own learning experience. There are certainly problems, some linger to this day. However, shutting it down because it is an EA franchise with some glitches is a bit short sighted.

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The Hearthstone Sage Continues! // // Thu, 06 Feb 2014 13:00:28 +0000 // If you read my previous inaugural piece about Blizzard opening Hearthstone to the general public, at least in beta form, you’ll no doubt have picked up on my excitement. As such you can imagine my reaction when roughly 3 minutes after the article published the beta opened for me and I finally got to jump into the card battling game for myself.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Opening with a fairly short series of practice bouts that explain the games systems in an intuitive and surprisingly charming way was an important first step to the game. During these tutorial fights you have to use the Mage class, which although it means nothing at the games outset is a pretty fair opener once you’ve battled the other 8 classes. I know that once the tutorial was done and I’d won all but one battle, my one loss being due to carelessness I won’t soon forget, I instantly went to the practice mode to play more full battles against each of the 8 classes to assess each one’s strengths and weaknesses and choose one or two who were for me.

Ultimately the Mage was one of these classes as she seems to me at least to be a middle of the road class without particular weaknesses or strengths and an ability that’s mildly useful in any situation. This is countered by some of the other classes who’s abilities are more useful in a very particular situation or when paired with a particular card set or style of play. Some classes are based entirely in shock and awe damage dealing, others are annoyingly defensive and some are healers. Each class’s ability is instantly recognisable after a while and their cards are easy to learn in terms of threat and usability.

Speaking of cards and deck building, this isn’t something I’ve gotten into quite yet purely out of inexperience. Despite having played quite a few practice games with my Mage class and a few with others to get a feel for them I’m still not sure what exactly my playstyle will be. Each time I log in to the game there are new challenges awaiting that award in game currency that can be used to buy a card pack full of random cards that can be class specific or for the use of any character, this currency can also be gained from winning pvp battles and likely through the use of the arena mode I haven’t touched yet. The cards are laid out in a fairly easy to grasp way based on class which make character comparison easier once you have a grasp of each character’s innate ability, which should make my inevitable foray into deck building easier for a card battling game virgin such as myself.

While I’ve talked about bits and pieces of the games that I’ve picked up from my play time what I haven’t explained is how exactly the game works. Basically a coin is flipped so one character goes first, this character starts with 3 cards while the enemy starts with 4 plus a bonus card which grants a temporary 1 bonus mana which lasts one turn. Mana crystals are what allows you to use cards, you begin with one and get one more each turn to a maximum of 10. These crystals fully refill each turn.

Obviously this slow increase in mana means that stronger cards take a long time to play and as such a deck of lower cost cards can be more beneficial than one full of seemingly stronger ones. Each class has certain specific cards that play to its strengths, for instance the Priest is all about healing. As such some of his minions gain bonus attack when they’re healed, each minion having an attack and health stat. The opponent can be attacked by any of your minions who’re free to act that turn and their attack stat subtracts from the enemy champion’s 30 base health. Similarly if your minion attacks an enemy minion the attack stat of your minion subtracts from the enemies health stat and vice versa. As such if your minion has a high attack but low health then even a low mana minion could take them out. You win when your enemy champion’s health is wiped out and lose if your own health is depleted.

Minions can have special abilities such as Taunt, meaning this minion has to be attacked before any other minion or the enemy champion or Rush which means they can attack on the turn they’re summoned. The terms the game uses are fairly basic and easy to grasp, pretty quickly you’ll be using all of the games lexicon.


This is starting to make sense now..

This is starting to make sense now..

I hope this all makes sense because it didn’t take too long to adapt to the games battle system and the tutorial likely does a much better job of explaining the rules than I ever could. What I can tell you about though is the charm that surrounds these systems. For instance the battle area you play cards on is strangely interactive and shows a level of attention to detail that is unnecessary but appreciated. If you start to play try clicking on the towers, fields, bushes or any other number of decorations that surround you or your opponent’s champion and see what happens.

While I’m not quite as far into the game as I’d have liked to be at this point I find myself playing a quick game or two anytime I have a chance. The games can be pretty quick and a good win is a great feeling, a loss can often be understandable and not as angering as I’ve experienced in some games, I’m looking at you League of Legends.

Tune in next time for the inevitable anger when I start really playing the PVP and lose continuously!

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Impressions: Broken Age // // Tue, 28 Jan 2014 19:02:43 +0000 // Disclaimer: I backed the original Kickstarter. As such, I’ll only be providing my initial impressions of Act 1.

As a genre, “Point-and-Click” Adventure games have been largely pushed out of public view. Indies carry the torch. And now ex-Lucasarts auteur Tim Schafer has returned with the independently-made, independently-published, crowd-funded Broken Age.

Broken Age is, frankly, pretty damn gorgeous. It’s unapologetically 2D. The “Bagel” art style has always been unique and it adds, in my opinion, to the charm and character of the game. Sound Design is solid and appropriate and the voice acting is top notch. The music is gorgeous — you want the soundtrack. Just trust me on that.

Gameplay is buttery, and while I’ve grown up playing point-and-clicks, I often had a guide or walkthrough of some kind nearby. I purposely didn’t have that for Broken Age, and only got hung up on two puzzles. The story, half-finished as it might be at this point, is compelling and the ending of Act 1 definitely leaves me curious to see how Act 2 will continue.

The original Kickstarter goal was $400,000 USD but ended at some $3.5 million. The fact the devs have essentially blown through that money and have publically delivered a half-finished game makes me extremely curious what Double Fine had in mind for the title when they started their initial crowd-funding campaign.

That said, the game is half-finished, with the second half expected (and promised) to arrive later this year.

Broken Age is a solid bit of adventure. It doesn’t rely on nostalgia.

A classic (still) in the making.

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History of the World Part 4 // // Mon, 27 Jan 2014 15:00:57 +0000 // It’s funny. It really is. People talk a lot about the video game market crash of 1982 in hushed voices, as if it was a black hole in gaming culture. Teeth were gnashed, the plague spread, Gilead fell. Atari slowly faded from the minds of many, for at least the following if not more reasons:

  • Trying to take it far too safe with betting on the 2600 over the vastly superior 5600

  • Producing too many games, having vastly overestimated the hardware’s shelf life

  • Not footing the development budget required to remain up to current specifications

  • Finally the lack of quality control (see our review of atari adult games on youtube) made for a nervous customer base.

It wasn’t that there were no games, but, there were too many possibilities in the market.   There was no way for the average consumer to figure out which was ultimately the best choice.  As well, with the rise of the home PC, the public assumed the gaming console was a flash in the pan. In today’s article, we’re going to discuss the alternatives, why they gained traction, and why they ultimately failed. Keep in mind all of the headliners today had their fair share of market success, but could not stay in the public eye.

Magnavox Odyssey 2

Part one of this series covered the original Magnavox Odyssey in great detail, as it was the confusing grandfather of the home console world. The Odyssey 2 (originally produced in 1978), is remarkable, and forgettable, for a number of reasons all its own.

Magavox Odyssey 2 commercials

The Odyssey 2 was historically interesting for a number of reasons. First, the unit had a full built-in keyboard on it that could plug into a computer monitor, making it one of the first home computer/console hybrids. It also had a hardware expansion port, popularized with the addition of the voice synthesizer unit. It was also moderately priced at $200 USD in 1978, which I believe roughly translates to $1 billion currently, plus or minus a billion here or there given current inflation.

The downsides for the console, however, were manifold. The biggest being that the Odyssey only had 16 colours compared to Atari’s 128. While the design of the console allowed for sprites to be more fluid and expressive, it was still very limited. Secondly, the company lacked third-party support for most of its life, leading Magnavox to develop several ham-fisted ports such as Alien Invader and Invader from Hyperspace. The final nail was that the Odyssey was primarily sold as an educational tool. While this has historically been good for an initial consumer base, it rarely serves the credibility of the console.  While the console cannot ultimately be considered a failure, it still balked in the shadow of the 2600.  An Odyssey 3 was planned, but lawsuits caused enough delays that the Odyssey 2 became Magnavox’s swan song to the world of gaming.

Mattel Intellivision

The Intellivision was Mattel’s first and only foray into console gaming until the release of the Hyperscan in 2006.  This lead many critics to call the Intellivision Mattel’s only foray into console gaming.

I’ll address the purple elephant in the room first. The Intellivision stands out for a number of reasons, but the thing that people remember was the controller itself. The keypad on the controller resembled a touchtone phone, over which an overlay could be inserted to designate the actions of each button in a game. There were two action buttons on either side to accommodate either left or right-handed players. There was also a disc in the center capable of registering 16-directional movement. However, the controller was an ergonomic nightmare, as it was impossible to hold it comfortably and still reach all the buttons required without constant shifting. In addition, it was nearly impossible to tell when using the directional disc whether you were going left, or left and slightly up. When your controller is already confusing, this can easily alienate your target audience.

However, the Intellivision had an awful lot going for it. Released in 1980, the Intellivision can be considered the first 16-bit home console. Despite using a 16-color pallet, the games were capable of using the entire pallet at the same time in a smooth intuitive fashion, leading to the main comparison between the Intellivision and the sales leading Atari 2600 to be based on the games’ look and feel. This sparked what was possibly the cattiest home console marketing war until the 16-bit wars of the 1990s.

Mattel Intellivision commercials

The Intellivision also had several other interesting and unique features up its sleeve. It was the first console to have downloadable content (eat that, Wii store) using cable connections. There was no way to actually store the content at the time, however, so the game was gone once the console was turned off. It also featured an on-board chipset capable of making sounds that far more closely resembled human speech than the Odyssey 2’s add-on module. As it was baked into the console, not requiring a plug-in was a major score for the console.

The Intellivision also had one of the strongest first-party production teams of the time.  An interview with the department for TV Guide resulted in this development team being dubbed the Blue Sky Rangers.  This one interview sparked the imagination of the consumers of the day, compared to the unnamed developers for Atari at the time.  Giving a name and face to the developers made the interesting, unique, and identifiable.  This began the trend of games being sold on the strength of the programming team involved.

The biggest coup most gamers of the era will remember for the Intellivision was the ECS (Entertainment Computer System) add-on. There’s a bit of back-story here. When the Intellivision first launched, it claimed that a keyboard add-on (which would turn it into a full home computer console) was coming soon. Due to technical limitations, this project was scrapped. Despite the cancellation of the add-on, multiple copies of the home console were sold primarily with the concept of using it as a home computer.

The Federal Trade Commission took note of this, and pressed a $10,000/day fine on the company. This Mattel to scramble and produce the ECS in 1982. This allowed for re-writeable RAM to be stored for the console and, most interestingly, the first Atari 2600 emulator module.

Ultimately, the Intellivision would sell some 3 million consoles, and be the Sega Dreamcast before the Dreamcast was cool.


Turn out the lights. Flip the switch. Allow a few seconds of humming. The screen flickers, and those three notes play.

Classic Game Room – Vectrex review

The Vectrex is a very unique console. The console had its own built-in CRT monitor, measuring 11 inches high and 9 wide. This emulated the arcade cabinet design of the time. It also gave it one of its biggest selling points to parents: no more kids hogging the TV! Send the little rugrats off to their own room so daddy can enjoy his football.

The console only displays in vector graphics; instead of the standard collection of squares, the game runs entirely with dots and lines that the console constantly redraws. This gave the console a smoothness otherwise unheard of outside of the arcade, as sprites were no longer restricted to pixel by pixel movement with this type of hardware.

As the CRT was purely black and white, each game came with its own screen overlay to give the games some amount of colour, similar to the original Odyssey. Furthermore, as the system came with its own built-in speakers, it could directly manipulate digitally without storing an analog sound. The games were capable of a wide arrange of sounds that overshadowed what its contemporaries were capable of.

The console also released with a slew of popular third-party games, including Berzerk, Scramble, and Space Wars! The last feather in its hat would be the addition of a 3D overlay used for a handful of its games. Using a spinning multi-colored disc that synced with the refresh rate of the game, different colors hit the brain in such a way as to mimic a 3D experience, a major innovation of the time.

Would the console have done better if it had not released in 1982, just in time for the post-Atari gaming crash? It’s hard to tell, but with so many similarities to the Virtual Boy, it’s hard not to be cynical. At least playing the Vectrex for a half-hour didn’t lead to migraines. Either way, no official games were made for the Vectrex after 1984, though the console has a homebrew fan base that continues to produce new games to this day.


There are other failures that came and went in 1982, and are easily forgotten. Bally Astrocade and Arcadia 2001 came and went rather quietly. Yet Coleco broke ground with a technological marvel in the Colecovision, a console that almost never was.

Playvalue’s review of the Colecovision

Coleco had a hand in the gaming market for nearly a decade. They created the hugely popular Coleco Telstar, one of the best pong consoles to be created. They also created multiple handheld games. They had working prototypes for a home console. Unfortunately, the ideas they had were way too expensive to produce at the time. So, they held back until 1982.

The Colecovision itself was way ahead of the curve, using the same graphics processor the MSX would eventually use; modified versions would also appear in Sega’s Master System and Game Gear.

The Colecovision would initially launch with Nintendo’s Donkey Kong built in. This nearly scrapped the entire launch, however. Atari made a stink over the game, which was initially licensed for the 2600, and now appearing on the Colecovision. Ultimately, however, it was Universal Studios that brought Coleco to court. It would be an industrious lawyer at Nintendo that would keep every copy of Donkey Kong from getting scrapped. Seven years previously, Universal had claimed in a court case that the movie King Kong was considered public domain. This little hole was enough wiggle room to make the Kong/giant monkey connection an agreeable one.

Coleco mostly launched on the strength of Donkey Kong, and continued to gain rights  to arcade games that Atari had missed.  With games such as Boulder Dash, Miner 2049er, and Mr. Do, Coleco made a good name for itself in this market.

The comparisons that could be made to the Intellivision are numerous. It uses the same style remote with a number pad with overlays, and in place of the disc was a short arcade stick with a wide top. It also had a 2600 emulation adapter, continuing to irk Atari, but got away on the technicality that the adaptor was made with off the shelf components.

But the biggest comparison – and biggest flop – for Coleco was the Adam computer add-on.  See, the 1983 crash came for a second reason. At the time, the new thing was the home computer, and Coleco wanted in. So, they released the add-on module of the Adam computer to be packaged with the console. However, at release, over 50% of these add-ons were defective.

Another point to remember is that Coleco made its entire name off of ports. While these were the best, most-polished arcade ports, the lack of first-party releases weakened the consoles perceived value.  Coleco just had no Blue Sky Rangers. The number of Atari 2600 games that it could play greatly outshone its native library. While the publishers pushed the developers to create knock-off clones like the Odyssey attempted, the developers argued this would decrease the perceived value of the consoles.  While true, it may have helped to have had some original content rather than none.

Between the failures of the Adam computer and perceived value of the console’s original titles, the Colecovision sank into obscurity in 1984.

All of the bickering, in-fighting, and lawsuits could have very easily lead to the PC overtaking the lion’s share of the video game market.  However, 1983 would bring a game-changer to the market, and the stability of home video games would be unquestionable.

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Press A to Listen – Episode 92 // // Mon, 27 Jan 2014 15:00:55 +0000 // Featured image is by Futurilla and used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Press A to Listen is a weekly Xbox-centric podcast brought to you by three guys, @RareBishop@PantlessSteve, and @Sm1ttySm1t. From news updates and game impressions, to their feelings on the new Xbox One – this is a casual (if explicit) show with three friends talking about all things Xbox. And thanks to a gentlemen’s agreement, Playonix is cross-posting podcast updates on our front page.

Episode 92 – I didn’t fight my office chair:

This week Pantless Steve has the flu, so we’ve upgraded. Pantless Dan Amrich, of One of Swords is, how you say, in the hizzy. We talk about dumpsters diving, video games, playing guitar, and I go all fanboy on Shadows of Mordor – video here:

Visit to check out Dan’s blog and subscribe to his new podcast feed.

Visit to join the community, contact the show, or leave hate mail.

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Impressions: Chess 2: The Sequel // // Mon, 27 Jan 2014 15:00:07 +0000 // Ludeme Games developed Chess 2: The Sequel in association with designer David Sirlin, and has released it as a timed exclusive for the Ouya. I was invited to take a look, and I’m glad I did.

No longer is a checkmate the only way to win – the updated game is about territory, with a new “midline invasion” contingency. Either side to get his or her King on their competition’s side of the board claims victory, meaning fewer draws. There’s also a new blind-bid “dueling” mechanic. Land a bishop on a rook and you’re guaranteed to take your opponent’s piece. But in a duel, your opponent might take your bishop down beside his or her rook. Now taking an opponent’s piece is a risk.

Players are able to choose from one of 6 “armies”, each playing differently than the rest. The most familiar set is named appropriately enough, “Classic” — and it plays via the standard move set. Another army, “Animals”, has replaced the rook with a wild elephant. Able to trample any pieces in its way — including its own army — a player is no longer blocked by his or her own pawns. “Two Kings” swaps out the Queen, sacrificing her movement for double the chance to claim a midline victory. The rest are Empowered, Nemesis, and Reaper. Different move sets mean you can’t assume you know how your opponent’s pieces will move.


Finally, a chess set for furries.

The game looks nice, with each army having several custom pieces. These are rendered in both solid 3D and, helpfully, 2D if you move the camera to an overhead view. The detail on each piece is nice, and I’m happy to have a freely rotating camera. That said, I’d like to see the ability to unlock different boards the vein of the old Chessmaster games just for the sake of variety. And while some of my favorite classical pieces (Moonlight Sonata, anyone?) can be heard, it would be nice if there was an option to turn off the music. And while you can play against the computer or with someone sitting next to you on the couch, online play is the real draw.

Waiting for a match didn’t take long at all. My opponent had 65 games to (I assume) his name, and this was my first. It was then I first noticed a few niggles I have about the online mode. First, players have up to 25 minutes to move a piece – and there’s no way to change that. And because this is played with a controller, there’s no chat box or any way of alerting each other if you’re suddenly interrupted. If, for example, you have a baby and it requires a sudden diaper change, there’s no way to say “Hey, wait, be right back.” Instead there’s just a silent count down.

As well, when the match is over there’s no way to say “good game!” or something to that effect. Maybe that’s possible on the Ouya itself and I missed it? Those minor quibbles aside, I experienced no noticeable lag in the match and experienced no disconnections or hiccups. Pretty solid all around.


GG, mariogoo. GG.

I’d be remiss in not mentioning the pay model here. Like every game on Ouya, Chess 2 is initially offered as free-to-play. Online matches cost “crowns”. New players start with enough for 30 matches, which is definitely more than enough to decide if he or she likes what they’re playing. Players can re-up at any time, with the cheapest option costing $1.99 USD for 120 tokens. (Or, 15 games.) I’m not sure how I feel about this payment model, to be honest. On one hand, local play is unlimited and Chess 2: The Sequel is a solid game that cost exactly nothing to download. On the other hand, online multiplayer is the real draw, and if you get hooked you’ll end up shelling out. Then again, that isn’t so unheard of for those of us who remember playing in arcades.

I’m not sure I’d call Chess 2: The Sequel a system seller. But if you have an Ouya, dust it off and give this game a play. I think you’ll find it exciting in a way you never thought chess could be.

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EVENT: MAGFest 12 // // Mon, 27 Jan 2014 15:00:02 +0000 // I had the pleasure of attending MAGFest 12 this year. This was my 6th time going, having attended the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 10th, and 11th prior. It’s truly amazing how large this convention has gotten. Back in 2002 there were only about 265 of us in attendance. This year? Over 12,000 attendees.

I arrived at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Fort Washington, MD at about 9:30 pm on Thursday, January 2nd. After picking up my badge, I headed to the bottom floor where the Vendor and Arcade rooms are located. In the previous 2 years these were two separate, but adjacent rooms.This year the vendor room and arcade room were merged into one. I’m not sure what the reasoning behind this decision was, but I didn’t care for it. Firstly, and most importantly, it took away the noise barrier between the two rooms. Secondly, while there may have been the same number of vendors and arcade cabinets, it didn’t feel that way. This isn’t to say the amount of arcade machines isn’t awe-inspiring, just that it didn’t feel as impressive as last year.

The front half of the giant room was dedicated to shops, with the quality of vendors seeming to be higher than the past two years. There were several traditional and digital artists selling prints, as well as crafters selling fleece items and sculptors selling handmade charms and statues. There were vendors selling the shirts made by artists usually seen on daily deal websites, as well as ones selling various Japanese tchotchkes. Of course, there were also vendors selling retro and import video games.

The back half was dedicated to every kind of arcade and console machine you can think of. The arcade machines were roughly organized by type, with the music and rhythm games lining the back wall, and the other sorted into rows and islands. The consoles were set up closest to the vendor section.

There was an additional room of equal size that was split between a few specialty games and an additional con room that was used for signings. One the eye-catching things that happened here was Johann Sebastian Joust (, where all the players were given a Playstation Move controller, color coded to represent their team, and as selections of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenberg Concertos plays at varying speeds, the players attempt to jostle their opponents controllers without shaking their own, with the sensitivity determined by the speed of the music. Once a controller was shaken too much, it would flash red, and it’s owner was out.

MAGFest12 - JSJ

The teams grouping up for the next game

Another big thing in the additional room was Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator ( This is an amazingly interesting multi-player game that is intended to be played by all players in the same room, heavily relying on communication as each player has a very specific role and view on their respective monitor.

MAGFest 12 - Artemis

Each of the monitors on the bottom of this picture belong to a station that in some way controls the spaceship above

After trying to not spend all of my money and play all of the video games, I stopped by was the MAGProm, where con-goers were encouraged to wear tuxedos and dresses. The theme was James Bond and the band that played was Love Cannon.The setting was complete with smoke machine, blue lights, and a projected slideshow of Bond-related images. Love Cannon is a bluegrass 80’s cover band that consists of Jesse Harper on Guitar and Lead Vocals, Adam Larrabee on Banjo and Vocals, Darrell Muller on Bass and Vocals, Andy Thacker on Mandolin and Vocals, Nate Leath on Fiddle, and Jay Starling on Dobro


The next day the first panel I attended was the OC ReMix: Honoring/Cuddling Video Game Music since 1999!!! This panel was about the history, previous projects, and future endevors of the OC Remix community. OC Remix (, founded in 1999 as the panel name indicates, is a community dedicated to the appreciation of video game music via covering, arranging, and remixing it. All music on the site is free and has been approved by a panel of judges. At the end of the panel, Overclocked University, a band consisting of OC Remix members, performed.

MAGFest12 - OCR panel

The OCR crew

New this year were the Brainspace panels, which were attendee-run, round table discussions. While definitely worth attending as it’s a great way to meet like-minded folks and make new friends, I found that I didn’t really walk away from any of them with a lot of new knowledge. I attended two such panels: Women in Game Development, and Is Good Writing Important for Game Design?.

On a lark I stopped by the Akira Show and Tell panel. This was one of the best decisions I made all weekend. This panel was hosted by Joe Peacock, whose knowledge and obsession with Akira knows no bounds. He proudly owns the largest private collection of original art from the film and took us through a detailed analysis of just the first few minutes of the film. The movie was paused very often, during which Joe would give a breakdown of the art, techniques, and lore surrounding this iconic film.

I ducked out of the Akira Show and Tell panel a bit early to catch Groovin with Smooth McGroove. During this panel Max Gleason, better known as Smooth McGroove, answered various questions about his process, inspirations, life, and of course his cat, Charl. He came across as a very introverted, cheerful person, and it was quite a shame that Charl couldn’t be in attendance.

The 3rd day I had the pleasure of checking out the Lonely Rolling Stars concert. LRS consists of: Ailsean, formerly of The Smash Brothers, cubosh of Arm Cannon, finbeard, norg formerly of The Smash Brothers, and Stemage of Metroid Metal. This show came across as very laid back and fun, where these musicians could just jam out and play whatever they felt like and the crowd absolutely loved it.

Immediately after LRS the The Washington D.C. based Triforce Quartet was up.

MAGFest 12 - Triforce Quartet

Note: Floor-sitting is NOT optional for this show

They were impressive as always, with their classical medleys from the Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Mario franchises arranged by Chad Schwartz. The quartet was started in 2007, and is made up of Chris Ferrara on 1st violin, Jacob Roege on 2nd violin, Rebecca Hannigan also on 2nd violin, Stanley Beckwith on viola, and Chad Schwartz on cello.

Their concert wasn’t long enough for their tastes, so afterwards they took to the halls and performed some more. This is one of the amazing things about MAGFest. Not only is it a place to go to appreciate video games and their music, but they also heartily encourage participation. People will set up little mini concerts or dance parties everywhere and anywhere in the convention center, and the convention itself even has a stage area set up and loaner instruments for jamming out with new friends. At one point during the weekend I was invited to check out Kris Huber ( perform some of his video game covers that are on his Kroth – Blademode album in said space.

MAGFest 12 - Kris Huber

Kris jamming out

It was a great, with the unusual element of just a drummer performing with all of the other instruments being played back via a laptop. This was of course done because Kris actually plays all of the instruments on the album (with the exception of a few special guests).

Next up was Building a Prototype with Unity: The Solo Person’s Pipeline, hosted by A_Rival. He stepped us through the process of going from concept to bare bones prototype in Unity, but also covered topics and gave advice that would be applicable to the same process using any program or language.

MAGFest 12 - A_Rival

After that was Creating Audio for the 8 & 16-bit generation. This was run by Tommy Tallarico, who has written music for over 250 games, but is probably most well known for his music from Earthworm Jim. He also is the co-creator of Video Games Live, as well as the co-host of The Electric Playground and Reviews on the Run/Judgement Day. He spoke at great length about the challenges faced by composers and tricks they used back in the early 90s. At that point, music in games was marginalized, the first thing on the chopping block if space became an issue, which it often did.

MAGFest 12 - Tommy

My favorite of all the panels I attended MAGFest weekend was without a doubt the OCRemix HOW I CAN MAKE VIDEO GAME MUSIC REMIXES?!? panel. The attendees picked from a list of 5 well known video game songs, the most popular piece would be remixed by OCR veteran Zircon on the fly as he and others answered questions about workflow, applications, music theory, and other subjects pertaining to writing remixes of video game music. It was my favorite mostly because I walked away with it from the most new information.

MAGFest 12 - Remix Panel


There was quite a lot of cosplayers to see and photograph. It’s another place where this con has exploded. The first year I believe there were 2 of us in costume, now it seems like at least a third of the attendees dress up.

MAGFest 12 - cosplay


Just a small sampling of some of the costumes I saw during the con

All and all I kept myself very busy this weekend and had an absolutely fantastic time. I can’t wait for next year!

Also, have this:

MAGFest 12 - Marlboro

Bad Breath

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Antepiece 6: “Gamer” // // Fri, 24 Jan 2014 13:00:44 +0000 // Before we continue, I’d like to direct you to a page on tumblr. Bear with me for just a second on this, since it’s important for context:

I’d say that it’s amazing to see how integrated gaming is in the mainstream, but truthfully, it was bound to happen. Better, well-applied marketing combined with games that appeal to everyone helped propel gaming into, generally speaking, mass acceptance, which is pretty damn cool. There are all sorts of games for all sorts of people, and having this kind of variety is a great thing for the industry and us gamers. There’s no arguing that point.

None of us growing up in the 80′s and 90′s could have seen this coming. Face it – despite Nintendo trying to hock Zelda’s appeal to the ‘cool kid’ demographic, you were more likely to get your ass kicked in school if you admitted to playing videogames (or, worse, if you tried to rap the song to your peers). Nobody was putting up with that nonsense. Gaming was a hobby gleefully pursued by geeks, and this wasn’t something you wanted to admit to the public at large unless you truly desired getting your ass handed to you (verbally, physically, or both – take your pick). Gaming was an outlier, something to be shunned. What others thought about your hobby determined whether or not you’d be taken seriously, so for the most part, you stayed silent about it.

Fast forward to today. In the United States alone, over half of the population plays games. There is a wide gamut of games available, and the genres are pretty far reaching. From mainstream FPS triple-A titles to obscure indie games from Brazil, there really is something for everybody. And it’s easier than ever to find or create a community of like-minded individuals who share the same enjoyment out of your title(s) of choice. It’s looking pretty good, culturally speaking, when this kind of community seems to be getting better and better.

Except when it isn’t.

I want you to ask yourself something, and be honest with yourself: “Do I really care if someone is a ‘casual’ gamer? And if so, why?”

One of the fundamental aspects of gaming that I think gamers (and I’m referring to us ‘hardcore gamers’ here) tend to forget is that games are novelty items. They are relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. They’re toys. Unless you are making your living through the creation (or, if you want to stretch it a bit, the critique of) games, they really should be low on your “what to give a fuck about” priority list.

I’m a gamer. I spend hours with titles like Mass Effect, Bioshock, Left 4 Dead 2, and yeah, even the dreaded Call of Duty series. But I also spend time tweaking my town in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Does that make me any less of a gamer?

And if all I played was Animal Crossing – or Facebook games, or Android apps, whatever – would you still call me a gamer? And if not, why not?

Hell, the term ‘gamer’ isn’t even a “badge of honor” anymore, if we could ever even call it that. The immediate world outside of gaming certainly doesn’t give a shit. And who can blame them, given that all people on the outside see is the loud minority of dirtbags associated with gaming?


Remember this? Even Nintendo got tired of the “gamer” label – and this is a commercial for their flagship IP!


Truth be told, I suck at most games. Unless it’s an RPG (which I always managed to claw my way through), I’m actually kind of terrible at games. Hell, one of the main reasons I loved Metal Gear Solid so much was because it was the first action title that I was halfway decent at as a kid. And, honestly, it’s no better now.

One of my best friends goofed on me, light heartedly, because I couldn’t handle the shooting in Bioshock Infinite. I frustrated other friends because I was having a hard time tagging things in Jet Set Radio, since I wasn’t used to the Xbox’s controller. It takes me a while to learn new (or new-to-me) game mechanics, and it’s worse when I’m around friends. Generally, it goes like this: because I get anxious about friends seeing how much I suck, this in turn makes me play much worse than I usually would, which results in my feeling worse about myself. This causes a tremendous anxiety and failure loop that could very well have been avoided if only I didn’t pick up the fucking controller in front of people in the first place.

I’m letting the opinions of others dictate how I should have fun. Sound familiar?

And take a close look again at the linked ESA pdf above. About 19% of the games people play fall under the ‘causal’ category; that’s a pretty significant amount. If we’re making the attempt to belittle these so-called ‘dirty casuals’, who in the hell are we really spiting, here? (Answer: family and friends who just want to play a game without dealing with ‘gamers’ busting their balls.)

We’re turning into the people who hated and bullied us. The term ‘gamer’ – hardcore or otherwise – is meaningless these days. Next time you start separating people into these odd categories, consider the people you’re leaving out in the cold. Consider the people who want to enjoy their games without feeling like they’re assholes for not liking the same things that you do.

See you next time. And tell me what you think about the ‘gamer’ label in the comments below!

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The Hearthstone Saga BEGINS! …Almost // // Fri, 24 Jan 2014 13:00:01 +0000 // Hearthstone has been a constant thought in the back of my mind for a while now. Quite a while if truth be told. When a game starts being talked about in hushed tones by game developers and journalists on twitter and rather than fade into obscurity but instead become more and more talked about I tend to pay attention. Especially with the praise the game seems to be garnering. However the Blizzard developed turn based card game has been in closed beta since first I heard of it. Until now!

Yesterday it was announced that the free to play game was finally going into open beta as soon as the announcement was made. For North America at least. As a European gamer I am unfortunately left waiting a little longer and staring at the game launcher, just waiting for the PLAY option to light up.

My interest here may seem unfounded I understand. I’m not usually the kind of person to get obsessively involved with one game and one game alone and play for umpteen hours to get better. Sure I’ve spent plenty of time playing League of Legends but that’s more of a social experience than a hardcore one. As it stands though, I work a 9-5 and do plenty of college work outside of that. Now more than ever may be the time to buckle down and learn a game the way I never have before and I’m giving Hearthstone the first shot at my undivided attention game-wise.

So enough rambling, now that I’m so tantalisingly close to finally playing the game: What is Hearthstone? Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is an online, free-to-play digital card battling game based on the Warcraft universe. While only on PC now it’s expected to see an iPad, iPhone and Android release this year (although this open beta has been delayed already so further delays are a realistic possibility). Since entering closed beta in August 2013 the game featuring a current 382 cards, with more incoming, has seen a number of wipes of player’s cards and progress to keep up with difficulty/balance reworks in each update.

I have no idea what's going on here...

I have no idea what’s going on here…

Extensive reading up of previews on a number of sites is a difficult feat since this game like many in the same genre has a system best understood with practice and actual use. Youtube videos of established players have highlighted the nature of the game that most appeals to me, a depth of understanding of not just your own deck and abilities but also your opponents which rewards long time players who invest in the game. Rather than just being based on your card collection there are also seem to be character traits depending on the race you play as, meaning an investment of time into a single class may not benefit you as much as learning a few classes to understand your rivals.

And herein lies a singular worry of mine. If I’m awful at the game I can easily deal with that, I’ll keep trying and learning and hope I improve. That is, as long as I find the game appealing and more importantly fun. What I can’t deal with though is if the free-to-play nature of the game too heavily rewards people who choose to invest swathes of money in the game rather than their time. I’ve played games where a single person paying for features in the game unbalances everything in a way that seems unfair and if Hearthstone seems to be turning out that way I doubt I’ll hesitate to stop playing.

So here after a mini tirade of hope and fear I stand, checking the login of the game one more time and still seeing that I can’t play.

Check back soon for my first impressions of the game and after that for final impressions of if I’ve decided the game is worth my time. If you’re on the same track as me, looking for another player to start the Hearthstone journey with, feel free to leave a comment or tweet at me. Looking forward to battling you all!

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