Sunday, August 30, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Have been watching a few of these every morning...
Lynch recently traveled X-country (twice) in a van with a small film crew to conduct interviews with random Americans in random towns. The interviews are nicely edited, often with music and backdrops of the local scenery. They are all quite short, less than 5 min each, which really isn't enough time for someone to tell their whole life story - but you do get a sense of what these people are like. Lynch asks them questions on their life-goals and regrets, how they'd like to be remembered when they're dead, what they're most proud of, etc. Many are fascinating. Here's the first:
"I ain't proud of anything except just bein' alive."
You can find all the interviews at Lynch's website.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
In my last post, I chatted a bit about Demigod, an action-oriented, arena combat PC game featuring a compendium of fantastical beings. Of the 8 demigods currently playable, I've spent the most time with Oak. He's a "general" demigod, which means that he can summon and control minions. You can play Oak in a support style, since one of his powers is a potent shield that protects a demigod from all damage for a short period of time. However, I have favored a more aggressive style of play with him, in which I try to maximize my damage/second by creating an unstoppable army of undead minions. For, you see, Oak is a necromancer.
Here's my typical skill progression, by level:
1. Raise Dead I
2. Penitence I
3. Divine Justice I
4. Raise Dead II
5. Surge of Faith I
6. Soul Power I
7. Raise Dead III
8. Divine Justice II
9. Penitence II
10. Surge of Faith II
11. Raise Dead IV
12. Morale I (or Shield I)
13. Morale II (or Shield II)
14. Morale III (or Shield III)
15. Surge of Faith III
Your killing power with this build comes from the combo of 1) having as many minions around you as possible, 2) Penitence, and 3) Surge of Faith. As a demigod approaches, hit him with Penitence, then autoattack for a bit. Wait for them to use their interrupt if they have one (Sedna's Pounce, for example). If they stick close in melee, it's time for Surge of Faith. The dramatic increase in damage from your minions will hopefully lead to a rapid drop in your opponent's health. They will likely panic and try to run, at which point you should have enough mana for a final Penitence. This may or may not finish him off. This Oak build does not excel at killing demigods, but when I have used him, I often end up being the assist leader in my games.
Raise Dead is a fun skill to use. When cast, Oak plants a black flag into the ground - if any unit dies within a certain radium of that flag, it has a chance of being converted into an undead spirit which will henceforth be controlled by Oak. Try to place your flags in "kill zones," which will evolve and move over the course of a game. Remember: you don't have to be physically present to generate spirits. Once created within the flag radius, they'll seek you out wherever you are. Here's a pic of Oak with a couple of his spirit guardians floating about:
As a general, Oak can also summon minotaurs, ranged-units, and healers to his side. Here's a pic of Oak at 4th level, already with an army of 11 units (5 spirits, 2 minotaurs, 2 archers, 2 priests):
If he faces off against Unclean Beast now, Oak's got a nice advantage. As stated above, the key to making the most out of this army is proper timing of Surge of Faith, an activated power that drastically increases the effectiveness of Oak's minions:
It's worth noting that Surge of Faith also has excellent synergy with Divine Justice. Wait until you're surrounded by creeps and let loose with SoF. Oak will gain health and mana from killing the horde, nearly paying for the entire cost of the surge. This will allow you to speed up your leveling between 5-10. Optimally, you want to be the 1st demigod to hit level 10 - Oak can really start causing damage at that point, and his devastation can lead to a relatively early win.
Penitence serves to slow an enemy demigod so that it's harder for them to escape, and it also increases the amount of damage they take per hit. A great combo with Surge of Faith. But without minions, this build suffers. Oak needs to constantly check that he has a full army of spirits at his command, and at least a couple healers. If he goes toe-to-toe with an assassin demigod and doesn't have a minion army behind him, he's going to get wasted.
When it comes to shopping and item choices, I typically try to get items that help both me and my minions. Here are two of the best, I think, for the early to mid-game.
Hauberk of Life not only increases you max health and health regeneration, but also your minions'.
I also love the Gloves of Fell-Darkur. Along with one or two levels in Soul Power, they make Oak's auto-attacks much more damaging. But the gloves also increase minion attack speed and damage, making these gloves priceless.
Other items I like to get: Nimoth Chest Armor (to make Oak more durable) and Unbreakable Boots (for a health and mana boost). Trade in your Nimoth for Platemail of the Crusader (which gives a huge boost of health and armor to both you and your minions) when you can afford it. This probably won't be until after you hit level 10.
With regards to Favor items, it really depends on your skill level. If you're relatively new to the game, or are generally interested in increasing your survivability, go with the standard Blood of the Fallen (+800 health, +5 health/sec). It's every player's fail-safe. However, if you really want to focus on minion damage, try the General's Favor item, Ring of Divine Might.
This build of Oak can periodically suffer from mana-deficits, especially if you forego any helms which provide boosts to mana regeneration. The solution to this is to maximize use of Divine Justice; this skill grants you and all nearby allies an increase in health and mana every time you kill a grunt. So if you're low on mana, go farm some creeps and pretty soon you'll be ready to jump in the fray again. If you find yourself spamming Penitence and need more mana, you may need to save up and buy Vlemish Faceguard - the best helm for your money.
A couple final points. One nice thing about this build is that once you get Divine Justice, you shouldn't have to return to the health crystal very much (at least not until you want to shop). Most of your time in the early-mid game should be spent holding lanes, farming creeps, and helping your fellow demigods when they get into a bit of trouble. Because you have staying power, you should level up a bit faster than other Demigods. Second, you should send out your spirits for various hit-and-run missions whenever possible. By default, pressing "i" selects just your spirits, allowing you to give them specific movement and attack orders. Proper use of this hot-key is fairly important in maximizing Oak's effectiveness as a general. Attack squishy enemy heroes (Regulus, Torchbearer, etc.), attack enemy towers, attack the enemy Citadel after you hit level 10. Just be sure to replenish your spirits, as they're likely to die fairly quickly once they're on their own. But don't worry about feeding your opponents more XP and gold: minions don't provide these!
Once I have a descent minion army, I mostly focus on pushing - especially attacking enemy towers. Extra gold I have is spent on citadel upgrades and idol upgrades (siege engines are particularly useful mid-late game - set them to attack various towers along with your spirits, and you don't even need to be there). I don't typically have enough cash to buy expensive artifacts, but if you find yourself with lots of gold and want to be selfish, go ahead and buy some Godplate or the legendary Ashkandor. And, of course, don't forget to have fun.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Sorry for the hiatus. What with summer heat, Lolla & Lyme and all that jazz, blogging has been far from my mind. But it's time to jump back in, and what better way than with a nerdalicious game review.
My latest obsession is Gas Powered Games' Demigod. It's a lovely thing, all action and special effects and big noises. Perhaps its greatest strength is that it is not easily definable. It surely falls into the real-time strategy category, since time does not stop and you need to make quick decisions on the fly. But it's not like the typical RTS wargame where you collect resources, build a base, create multitudes of units, and attempt to overwhelm your opponent. Rather, you control one uber-powerful unit: the Demigod. Every game is team-based, and you can choose to play anything from 2 vs. 2 to 5 vs. 5. You and your teammates must coordinate your actions in an attempt to capture and hold strategic locations on a map, assassinate enemy demigods, and eventually destroy the opposing citadel. While playing with and against AI opponents is moderately amusing, the real meat of Demigod is online. This has its pros and cons.
There are currently 8 demigods to choose from, with 2 more planned for an upcoming (free) expansion. Here's the absurd Queen of Thorns, who is great fun to play but is sadly among the weakest of demigods:
Each demigod plays quite differently, with varied strengths, weaknesses, and special powers. To the game designers' credit, the demigods are also fairly well-balanced. The Unclean Beast seems to win more times than it should, and as stated, the poor Queen of Thorns probably needs some kind of boost in a future update.
After you choose you demigod, you can pick one of several maps, which vary in size and structure. From an artistic standpoint, these arenas are stunning:
These birds-eye views are available to you at any time during the match. With a turn of your mouse-wheel, you can also zoom in to watch your demigods in action. Here's one of the gigantic Rook facing off against the Unclean Beast:
As you capture and hold flags on the map, your team's "War Score" will increase. Higher War Scores allow you to upgrade your citadel, enhance your defensive structures, and call in stronger reinforcements. This latter feature, in particular, is crucial to eventually overwhelming your opponent. Thus, map control is a central aspect of success in Demigod.
Besides capturing flags and facing off against opposing demigods, you also need to level up and acquire new powers. This is done by "farming creeps." On each map are a number of portals that release reinforcements at periodic intervals. These "creeps" march towards the enemy base in a predetermined path. If left alone, they'll likely run into enemy towers which will easily destroy them. In this sense, Demigod has borrowed quite blatantly from the Tower Defense genre of games. As a demigod, you can interrupt the path of the enemy creeps and easily slaughter them, gaining experience in the process. Eventually, you'll level up and be able to choose a new skill or power.
Each demigod has several skills they can focus upon - indeed, too many to maximize all of them - so players should have a particular "build" in mind as their demigod grows in strength. For example, the Rook can be molded into a pure damage machine by focusing on his powerful Hammer Slam and the amusing Boulder Roll. Or you can create a more subtle Rook that excels in lane control - one in which he grows tower farms that slowly advance towards the enemy's base.
A great joy of Demigod is planning these builds offline and then testing them out in real games (this site has been incredibly useful for this purpose). Besides choosing your powers as you level up, you also need to go shopping periodically. Literally. Each side has a shop where demigods can purchase armor, helms, magic items, and potions. You can choose items that ameliorate some of your demigod's weaknesses (like Boots of Speed for the Rook), or you can try to maximize a particular strength by stacking a number of items that all provide similar bonuses (like choosing a number of items that all increase health regeneration). Your choice of items during the game should be informed by the "build" you are developing. If you want your Torch Bearer to spam Fireballs all day long, you probably need to invest in a couple magic hats than increase your mana and mana regeneration.
So you maneuver your demigod on the map, farm creeps, gain levels, try to team up on enemy demigods ("gank" them), buy items, and eventually force yourself into opposing territory. You'll need to knock down those pesky towers mentioned previously and eventually upgrade your reinforcements from simple grunts to powerful giants. You need to pay attention to what your teammates are doing, and whether they need your help, as well as where your opponents are at all times. The worst thing that can happen to you is you overextend yourself into enemy territory and suddenly 2 enemy demigods appear right behind you, cutting off escape. The strategic use of teleport scrolls is especially useful, for both ambush and escape.
There's a lot to like here. I typically hate online RTS games but I love playing Demigod, even against idiots. Games are the perfect length (~30-45 min usually). You get a real sense of seeing your demigod evolve into a powerhouse without having to suffer through hours of mundane back-and-forth play. Coordinating attacks and feints with your teammates is great fun, although if you have a weak player on your 3-man team, you're likely doomed.
However, if you've heard anything about Demigod since its release, you probably know that it didn't receive the best reviews right off the bat. The primary reason for this was internet connectivity issues. It was very difficult for players to form online games, and when they did get started, oftentimes the game would crash or players would get dropped. Not surprisingly, this did not enthrall reviewers. Since its initial release, Demigod has gone through a number of updates and patches and, for the most part, those issues have been resolved. I've played numerous online games and have never been dropped. Devastating lag can happen, if one or more players' pings are particularly high. In those situations, there's not much you can do but quit.
Rage-quitting is also an issue, as with most online RTS games. By this I mean the more general phenomenon of a player quitting a game part way through. This player's demigod will get taken over by the AI, which nearly always results in a loss for that team. There are rumors that in a future update, players will be able to adjust some of the features of the AI substitute (making it a bit more challenging, having it provide less gold to the opposing team, etc.) which may help alleviate this problem. Another feature I'd like to see instituted is better match-making. All too often, teams are unequal because of a particularly strong or weak player on one team. Demigod tracks all your stats (including win/loss ratio), so it should be fairly easy to group players of similar experience and ability.
Possibly a bigger issue at this point is the lack of a vibrant online community. Here's a screenshot I recently took of the available online games in the lobby:
Only 3 games open! Now, I should say that this is somewhat abnormal and I rarely have problems finding an open game when I want to play. But I suspect the early bad press for Demigod really hurt the potential playerbase. Part of the reason I'm writing this blog is that I hope some random people read it and decide to give the game a chance. It truly is a blast to play. Furthermore, the support this game has received, and will receive, from its distributor, Stardock, is strong. Updates and fixes occur regularly, often in response to consumer feedback, and the playing experience is improving all the time.
In my next post, I'll outline my favorite demigod build right now: minion Oak. Stay tuned.