Category Archives: YouTube

Auto Chess and Dota Underlords

Somebody tell SynCaine I actually tried a new game.  And not just a “new to me” game, but something actually new on the market as well as being new-ish as a genre.

In one of those “plate of shrimp” passages of time, last week the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2 and the games that have spun off from it started popping up repeatedly for me.  Various news stories, mentions on Twitter, an Honest Game Trailers video, and Valve pushing their game at me on Steam all combined so that when my daughter came over to ask if I had heard about this new game she and her friends had been playing, Dota Underlords, the Valve spin on the concept, I could tell her that I had just run through the tutorial.

I don’t understand what the hell is going on half the time in the game, but I’ve been trying to figure it out.

As I noted above, all of this seemed to have spawned from the DOTA 2 mod DOTA Auto Chess.  I didn’t even know you could make mods for DOTA 2, but I guess you can for most Valve games, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

The name “Auto Chess” breaks down, so far as I can tell, as:

  • Chess – because the game takes place on a 8×8 board, like a chess board
  • Auto – because you have no control over the actual battles

My live experience of the genre is made up of a few hours playing Dota Underlords, so your mileage may vary, but this is what I have seen so far.

The basics of the game seem fairly straightforward.  I came out of the tutorial knowing the basics, even if I did stumble a bit.  The game goes in rounds, at the end of each you gain some coins.  You use the coins to buy new units to use in battle or to increase the number of characters you can commit to a battle.

Going into round 1, use your coin to buy one

You start round 1 with a single coin with which to buy a unit.  You get a few warm-up rounds against NPCs during which you earn some coins to expand your group as well as collecting a few special items to improve their performance.

The units have levels, so to speak.  They start at level one.  If you can buy 3 of the same unit, they combine into level two, which makes the stronger.  You can also get to level three by combining three level two unit, but that takes some luck.

In fact, luck seems very much in play, akin to some card games like Gin Rummy.  You decided you’re going to concentrate on a particular unit, only to never see another one while multiples of another unit appear in the buy options with every round.  So you switch, only to have the next round go the way you were originally headed.

After the NPC rounds, the battle begins in earnest.  You are grouped up with seven other players and each round has you battling one of them.  You all start with 100 points, and with each loss you lose some points based on how badly you lost.  There are further NPC rounds at intervals, but the game itself is to be the last one left with points.

Sometimes victory, mostly not

This is where I begin to fall down.  In addition to luck there is also… well… more luck… and some knowledge that I do not yet posses.

Each of the units also has a type, and having more of the same type can improve how they play fare in battle.  Again, you have to invest in the right units.

And then there is unit abilities.  Some counter other types or work well when mixed with certain units.  However the tutorial is pretty vague on that and, while you can get some basic information about units, the rounds run on timers so you’re always pressed to pick and move on or wait for the next round.

My battles over the weekend indicate that I am not alone in lacking unit knowledge.  I am never the first one knocked out and, as time wore on I was able to get into the final three survivors.

On the flip side though, there are clearly people who have figured out which units work better together and what to concentrate on.  In several matches there was that one guy who went undefeated, winning with their 100 points still intact.  They clearly have played enough to have figured out the meta, while I am still struggling just to upgrade a few units and hope for some cross-unit bonuses.

The problem for me is figuring out what went wrong in a given match.  Sometimes if it easy to figure out, like if I just have unlocked more units on the field or if I have clear superiority in level two units or some such.  But sometimes the other person wipes the floor with me despite my having more units on the field or having parity or superiority in units that have been leveled up.

So this week I need to find a wiki or a unit guide of some sort to help me find tune which units I am buying and upgrading and which I am leaving behind.  Also, I am not certain how various formations lend themselves to units.  You can place them however on your half of the board, but whether being in columns, line abreast, spaced out, or bunched together makes much of a difference I cannot yet tell.

Overall the game seems interesting, though the randomness and hands off battle method makes it feel a bit like Hearthstone to me.

Meanwhile, if the genre appeals to you, there are other options.  In addition to the DOTA 2 mod, there are two other major contenders for the Auto Chess (or Auto Battler as the genre may be called) stand-alone rip-off throne.

Riot Games has added a mode called Teamfight Tactics to League of Legends, which is their own take on the Auto Battler idea.  Unlike Dota Underlords, this is not a stand alone game, so you have to log into the League of Legends client. (Expect LoL MAUs to go up I guess.)  My daughter’s boyfriend likes Teamfight Tactics because he used to play a lot of LoL and it uses the same units as LoL so game knowlegde transfers.

The unit thing may also apply to Dota Underlords, but nobody I know played DOTA 2, so really have no idea on that front.

Then there is the upcoming Autochess Origins, a stand alone game from the team that developed the mod for DOTA 2, which is rolled into a fresh IP, so there is most certainly no pre-knowledge of units giving people any advantage.  From what I understand, Autochess Origins will be available from the Epic Store.

Dota Underlords is still in Early Access on Steam, which means whatever it means these days.  It is also available as a mobile, which reinforces the Hearthstone comparison for me as well.  As of now there is no cash shop or monetization scheme in place for it, though there are plans for a battle pass of some sort and I am sure other things to spend your money on are in the works.

And speaking of Hearthstone, how soon before we see a Blizzard version of this, either as a battle mode for Heroes of the Storm or a spin off with a name like Heroes of the Board or OverChess or some such?  It feels like Blizz ought to have all the pieces in place so that they shouldn’t need two years to get something out the door.

Then again, this is Blizzard.  BlizzCon 2019 announcement or no?

Anyway, for those interested, Kotaku has a piece up about the emerging genre, and then there is the Honest Games Trailers take on it as well.

Are wee seeing a new genre emerge here, or just a passing flavor of the month?

The Rise of Azshara Update brings Flying to Battle for Azeroth

The long discussed 8.2 update for World of Warcraft, the Rise of Azshara, goes live today in Azeroth.  The servers might even be up by the time this goes live.  There was an extra long downtime scheduled. (Also, too much stuff happened today, so now I have my fourth post of the day here.)

The 8.2 update splash screen

This is a pretty major content drop for Blizzard.  There is a lot of stuff coming, practically enough to qualify as a full on expansion for some other MMORPGs.  The update notes go into things in detail, but we were given a brief summary a while back.

Rise of Azshara Features

That ought to be enough to keep people busy over the summer as we wait for WoW Classic to show up.

Of course, new zones and new raids aside, the big item for me is the second part of the pathfinder achievement which, when unlocked, will grant you the ability to fly on your flying mounts in the Battle for Azeroth expansion.

Flying is Coming

You even get a flying mount for unlocking the ability to fly in BFA… and the bar doesn’t seem so high.  At least not for me.  They tweeted a little video about what you had to do to unlock flying.

Since I have done all of the part one pathfinder tasks, it looks like I just need to get two factions in the new areas to revered standing and I will be there.

In the process there are two new zones to explore and a raft of quests to complete.  Blizz even has a survival guide video for the new content.

 

It is time to set aside my alts, with whom I have been tinkering for the last month, and get back to focusing on my main.  My summer goal for Azeroth is set.

Symphony of Lance

As I was hoping, somebody was filming the Keepstar shoot in M-OEE8 about which I wrote earlier in the week.  So you can see a video of the mass of titans jumping into the system and unleashing their doomsday weapons on the target.

 

I was somewhere off to the left of the screen on a citadel watching this, though I was able to put my camera on the citadel and watched the whole show from the other side of the structure.

Doomsday beams of many colors

As I understand it, the blue glow comes from the phenomena generators that were fit on the titans specifically to make the whole scene that much more interesting.

Carbot DiabLoL

Carbot Animations has made their mark on YouTube doing cute, funny little videos based on the Blizzard properties.  They’ve been successful enough that items based on their work have been featured in the Blizzard Store. (Alas, the Carbot plush zergling is no longer available.)  I highlighted their World of Warcraft series about five years back.

They have a new-ish series that I really like based on the original Diablo.

I find the mix of their animation style, the effects and music straight from the game, and the recognizable situations from the game to be quite charming.

But there was an additional aspect to this.  The series was announced around BlizzCon, which ended up being a bit awkward due to the Diablo hype that was ruined by Blizzard’s Diablo Immortal announcement.  It seemed like bad timing for a series based on that IP.

But then Blizzard and GoG.com released a version of Diablo that would run on today’s machines, which I have mostly played through, making the timing of the series seem incredibly spot on.  I am not sure I would have enjoyed it half as much if I had not just been playing the game.

Zero Punctuation does Anthem

Not being a fan of the “loot shooter” sub-genre, when EA launched Anthem it was just “the other game” they released in February along with Apex Legends.  Of course I wasn’t going to play Apex Legends either, but at least it was an interesting diversion in the battle royale genre.

Also, if you Google “Anthem logo” you get a lot of different results.

Used without permission

So I would have ignored Anthem the way I have pretty much ignored Destiny, Borderlands, and The Division, save for the fact that the internet seemed quite obsessed with Anthem.  But it was hard to tell if the game was just bug ridden, something that can theoretically be fixed over time, or a genuinely bad design.  Reviews seemed to not like the design, but couldn’t stop fretting over bugs.  The PC Gamer review probably focused on design more than most, but a lot of the frustration was still about bugs.

Despite a reputation than leans on humor and quick pacing, I think Yahtzee Crowshaw might have the most design-centric review of Anthem, focused pretty much on game play design without a mention of the software problems.  Also, he makes fun of EA, something most of us can get on board with.

 

The upshot was Anthem is BioWare trying to make something that really isn’t in their wheelhouse.  And I would have left it there had there not been the giant How BioWare’s Anthem Went Wrong story over at Kotaku.

Holy moly.  I mean, I’ve lived some of that.  Ill defined goals, misidentified competition, and  corporate dictates about what platform or tools are allowed regardless of their fitness for the current development purpose are all daily occurrences in any larger organization.  I spent most of last summer dealing with the fact that our 2018 continuous integration dictate was not compatible with our  2015 platform dictate, both of which came from some senior exec who either used the same thing at their last company or saw a cool demo and decided to bet the company on it.

But the Anthem story… well, it just shows that when you have an entertainment property there are a lot more ways things can get completely screwed up.

And then there was the EA/BioWare non-response to the article, posted minutes after it was posted, meaning it was a pre-formulated deflection that feels a bit like it is refuting some other article about the game.

All of which I could have ignored, but it seems like a moment in gaming that might be a tipping point for change.  Not good change, of course.  More like EA laying off more BioWare staff or retiring their brand or something.  We shall see.

Burn Jita 6 Video in 4K

I was away last week, through the weekend, which meant I completely missed Burn Jita.  This is the first one I missed out seeing.  But there is some video up from the whole thing, including this MiniLuv production.

I love that point when CONCORD blows up all of the Coercers in on pass, lighting up space with a string of explosions like holiday lights.