Orisa: Setting a Dangerous Precedence

In terms of new characters, Overwatch has so far made some really interesting unique additions to the game. Both Sombra and Ana brought new things to the game and, whether they were viable or not, both brought things that weren’t originally in the game. I was quite excited for the next one.

Unfortunately, Orisa has not piqued my interest. In fact, she makes me worry for the future of Overwatch’s hero design if she becomes a standard among the cast. To understand my frustration, we have to go back to League of Legends and the earliest days of Riot’s design. It’s only in understanding their missteps that we can move forward.

Perhaps Riot’s biggest blunder in my mind was the bloat of characters in seasons one and two. During these seasons, Riot pumped out a new character almost every other week. It was impressive that only a handful came out so pathetically bad that there wasn’t any real problem with them existing, save for the space they took up.

But this problem was compounded by these additions not bringing new things to the game. They didn’t reinvent or introduce new concepts. They didn’t bring many new skills or ways to play. In many ways, the design of Riot was an incredibly safe cookie-cutter that was only changed by what you put into the mold rather than the mold itself. To go with the analogy, Darius might be an oatmeal cookie to Garen’s chocolate chip…but they’re both still cookies.

This is also partially why Riot has to make large-scale class reworks: The similarity problem has gotten so bad that those who are on top outshine those who aren’t in almost every category. The sins of the past have caught up to Riot and now they’re scrambling to fix this. Moving back to Overwatch, there are some similarities and differences to how they operate.

For one thing, Overwatch is taking their time with character releases compared to old Riot. Riot moved to this format as well, which means you don’t have to worry about roster bloat as much. However, this also means that a bad release will sit on the player’s mind for a while, much like what Orisa is doing to me right now. It’s not flawless but I see it as better than the alternative. The more important issue is Orisa’s kit and why I’m so disinterested in her as a playable hero.

Lore-wise, it makes sense for Orisa to have the kit she does. She’s the invention of an eleven-year-old genius who looked to the heroes she worships and copied much of their skills. I was guilty of this as a child as well, making carbon copies of Power Rangers because young me only knew what worked, not how to innovate the concept. The problem comes when you consider Orisa as an introduction to the game as a whole and not as something that exists in the universe as a living, breathing addition.

Orisa does not innovate.

Yes, she does things in different ways comparative to others, but she does not have any truly “new” mechanic to her. Perhaps the most interesting thing about her is the damage reduction/CC immunity spell but even that is quite similar to Zarya’s bubble or Torbjorn’s molten core. More importantly, when you compare Ana and Sombra, both brought tons of new things to the game. Sombra was an invisible, hacking offense hero who could disable heroes with strong abilities. Ana was a healing sniper who could boost up the power of her allies while also negating healing.

If you ask me, Orisa does not bring enough new to the table to justify her inclusion. No matter how interesting as a character she might be, she doesn’t really bring a fresh look to the table. What strikes me more than anything is that Orisa’s kit can be described in a pretty quick, singular word: Rushed.

Designated as an “anchor tank” (A tank that leads the charge and holds the line.), Orisa is meant to be a replacement for Reinhardt in certain situations. When you consider that, the situation with Orisa’s kit feels even more compounded; Was Orisa a character that was lovingly handcrafted to bring fresh life to Overwatch and to expand the roster with a new, fascinating hero or was she a character quickly rushed out the door to create someone who could stand toe-to-toe with Reinhardt so that he’s not the go-to tank in every situation?

My main fear when it comes to these situations is that this won’t be an isolated incident. Sure, Orisa isn’t a stellar release comparative to the two we had before in terms of gameplay, but overall we can chalk her up to just a meh release. What’s more concerning is if Blizzard is going to take her as a model of what a character should be. Blizzard could very well use Orisa as the model for solving problems of over-picking a hero; instead of buffing, nerfing or finding a work around for that hero, Blizzard could opt to make a similar hero of a similar role with just enough differences to warrant another inclusion.

Of course, not everything about Orisa is bad. I’ll likely play her a bit if I want a ranged Reinhardt or if I get some cosmetics for her. I like her character and while I don’t like the kit, I dig the lore reason surrounding it. There’s always the idea that maybe I’m just worrying about nothing. Maybe this article is simply the fears of someone who saw a similar thing happen in another game and doesn’t want to see Overwatch go down the same path. Consider this doomsaying or criticizing if you will, I merely wish to air my concerns with Blizzard when it comes to a new hero.

The beginning to a disappointing trend or just one not-that-interesting kit? Hopefully Blizzard proves me wrong in the future.

A Word Moving Forward

When I started writing this website, I wanted to make a ton of good articles and write a bunch of really great, thought-provoking/discussion-producing stuff. I also wanted a fairly often standard of writing articles. Something like one-to-two articles a week. As it turns out, I was waaaaaay too boastful of my own skills.

While I like writing articles, I’m not producing the quality I’d like on a two-a-week basis. With that in mind, I’m going to be reducing my article output by around one every two weeks. However, I hope to make these articles overall better written with a more concise point.

For anyone who really enjoyed my writing, sorry I couldn’t keep up the pace. Please be patient with me and I hope to write better, longer and overall more interesting pieces of work in the future.

Thank you.

My Time with Hacktag

Original Article on Fortiscore. Check it out here!

It often feels like co-op games are a dying breed. More and more often, we’re given games with PvP or extremely competitive situations where even cooperation is made in favor of smashing someone else’s team into the dirt. You can imagine my excitement when I was invited to test out Piece of Cake’s new game, Hacktag, at GDC.

Before I played, I briefly sat down with the CEO and Co-CEO of Hacktag to learn about their game. To them, there wasn’t really a game you could play with two people, especially a couples game. They wanted a challenging but co-op game for the both of them to enjoy (and even yell at each other about. Something I found both pretty funny and oddly adorable).

Thus was born Hacktag: A co-op game where two hackers are in charge in infiltrating organizations based on real-life corporations such as news stations and pharma companies. At a glance, everything is pretty stylized; Every agent and person in Hacktag is an anthropomorphic being based on some real-life creature. Wily cats, clever foxes and more are all represented here. You’ll be able to customize your character with a variety of clothes and races too. With the alpha, I slipped into the shoes of a cat-person with some pretty nifty clothing. Our target? Some valuable data in the corporation.

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Agent View…

Missions are divided into three types: A mass data-collection where you and your partner have to run around gathering a set amount of info, a mission type where you have to get to one major piece of info from a heavily guarded area, and finally a mission where you have to sabotage and hack your way through a series of tough challenges. You can customize special skills as well, though these are small benefits and won’t greatly impede new players versus old players. For the demo, we played a data-collection type twice…for a major reason.

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…and the Hacker view!

Hacktag is, interestingly enough, an asymmetrical co-op game. One player is the agent running through the real-world area of the corporation, ducking behind desks and quickly tapping computer screens. The other takes control of an agent hidden miles away behind a computer desk, hacking through the lines. It’s a fascinating change of pace and quite enjoyable, as the two play similarly enough to not get new players lost but enough to keep things fresh between the two modes.

Bérenger Dupré (The Co-CEO) and I played through the mission, with him tapping phones to distract guards while I’d run past and disable firewalls for him. Another major feature is that there is a slight element of competition in who can gather more data. It’s not enough to make you forsake your partner (as that’s a game-over for both of you) but it’s enough to make you pause and swipe some data before getting their door open.

The game uses hacking in a variety of minigames, where both players have to match lines, complete button sequences and rapidly tap. I was told there would be more to come in this department, so I can’t imagine these getting old anytime soon. Playing through both sides, I found myself greatly enjoying the world and gameplay as I helped my partner escape out of locked rooms, distracted guards and more while he disabled firewalls and bugged out security programs.

Of course, longevity is a questionable thing and boy does Piece of Cake have you covered. Hacktag will have online and couch co-op, along with a five-hour story campaign for each of the three corporations. In addition, there will be weekly challenges to beat the studio as well as a seed/procedural-generation system where you can share levels with your friends and foes.

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This only happened once or twice. Promise.

Perhaps the highest praise I can give this game is that, during my playtest, Bérenger took a moment to gather some data while I was being chased by an angry security system that caught me trying to sneak past it. “Ugh you JERK!” is what I said, but despite this, I still wanted to help. This wasn’t a co-op game where a partner acting selfish hurts you both and provokes spite. No, it made me think of smarmy, sarcastic hackers exchanging quips and one-liners while they had a love-hate relationship from movies and television shows. Piece of Cake Studios has done something amazing with this game and I really cannot wait to play it again with a friend of mine in the near future.

Hacktag is currently on Steam Greenlight, with PS4 and Xbox One support in the future. I highly recommend you give it a go, as co-op games of this caliber should be supported and loved. Even if you exchange some harsh words with your friend who skulked with data while you nervously paced in a prison cell.

All pictures credit to Piece of Cake Studios.

On Thematic Unity and Galio’s Rework

Understandably, a lot of people are upset about Galio's change in terms of (if nothing else) color design and model design. What we have to make note of, however, is that thematic unity is something Riot has been trying to achieve for a while now with reworks and model updates. So, real quick, let's go over some examples:

Noxus

Noxus, from an aesthetic point of view, has very dark and often muted colors. Swain’s cloak might be green but it’s not a bright, neon green or a brilliant jade. Rather. it’s muted and reflects Noxus. Noxian champions have dark, permeating colors.

Ionia

While Ionia has more color variation, colors that stick out are often soft pastel colors that mix with the darker or lighter shades. It reflects Ionia’s nature as a peaceful place that prides itself on balance and duality. (Bright pastels vs. basic colors.)

Rather than tug out more pictures and bloat the page, some quick additions:

  • Shadow Isles: Ghostly teals and blacks. Made to look horrific and spooky.
  • Piltover: Muted colors and lots of industrial greys/browns.
  • Zaun: Whatever you find in the gutter.
  • Freljord: “Cool” colors that are darker and reflect the icy climate.
  • Shurima: Brilliant and bright golds/silvers.

So now we get to Demacia. Demacia, as a country, is a “holy” place. Bright whites and complimenting colors like blue, gold, etc. It’s where you think a paladin would be born. Current Galio looks like this:

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Now, does that really fit Demacia?

Before people go “well duh” hear me out: His colors are a teal blue and muted gold. He doesn’t look like a statue carved to fit with Demacia’s architecture nor the general style of how Demacia makes things. When you put him in a line-up with Garen’s bright blue/silver, Lux’s sparkling white and Jarvan’s gleaming gold? He stands out as the outcast. Even Poppy, who is more a visitor, represents Demacia better even if she’s trying to emulate Demacia rather than actually emulating it. (Hence why she has some gold/white but it is muted comparative to Garen/Lux/Xin/etc.)

In addition to this, people are focusing too much on Galio from the perspective of our world. In a fantasy setting, the idea of a gargoyle/stone colossus would look a bit different form our definition. While Galio does have aspects of a gargoyle, he does have more Demacian-centric things about him; Gold highlights, angelic wings, white marble instead of stone, so on and so forth.

All that said, I do think Galio should have a chroma or something to better mesh with his original color design. But if you really compare to those who are meant to be his city-state peers and allies, this Galio makes far more sense as a Demacian golem than the current Galio.

Multiple Versions: Archaic Mechanic or Useful Expansion?

Since picking up Pokemon Sun for my trip next week, I started thinking about how some game companies still do multiple versions of a single game. I felt the need to dig into this and to further explore if this system is something archaic or something that is still necessary.

As an Archaic Mechanic

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Perhaps the biggest criticism one can make about games with multiple versions is that they’re no different than the board game example I linked above: The same game sporting one-or-two unique features and a handful of cosmetic fluff that doesn’t warrant the price tag of an entirely new game.

Pokemon in particular is pretty bad with this; When you consider the differences between Sun and Moon, the most you can attest is that there are a handful of different pokemon in each. Sure, there are some mechanical nuances such as starter gender or otherwise, but the games are fundamentally the same.There are rarely unique mechanics that you can find in either that don’t carry over.

To further exacerbate this issue, these games are often sold at the same price. Meaning that sometimes if you want to catch an extra ten pokemon to complete your pokedex, you need to either find someone to trade with or drop another forty on the same game. It’s no fun to have to buy the same game twice for minute differences…

As a Useful Expansion

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When done correctly, different versions can serve as impressive expansions or differences that make the two games truly unique, even if they use the same mechanics. The perfect example would be the two fire emblem games. Despite having the same mechanics, each path is radically different.

Conquest is the more traditional, harder route. Tough maps, limited gold/experience and overall more traditional fantasy units. Birthright features easier maps, the ability to grind and units inspired by the nation of Hoshido, which in turn is heavily inspired by ancient Japan. These two games, while similar, offer radically different paths and gameplay despite using the same core gameplay.

But most importantly: The other edition won’t set you back by much. Each additional story path (including a third not pictured) will set you back only a fraction of the cost of the core game. Meaning that your initial purchase can remain your initial purchase. Any content you miss out on is merely an entirely different game with different rules, maps and units that you have to work with.

Earnestly, it strikes the feelings of an old RTS expansion pack: Additional content at a reduced price that radically changes the game.

My Take

In earnest, there are things you can’t really replicate. The necessity multiple versions creates where you have to find friends to trade and communicate with. The requirement that you’re going to have to step out of your game to finish everything, if you’re a completion. The need to check a list before your buy one version in case you’re missing something important only one copy provides.

When done well? I think it’s fantastic. But I do think that most versions these days are not really worth keeping around. Doubly so when games like Pokemon often create a third, “best” version that has everything you missed from the opposite version and more. Versions and editions are not something conducive to gameplay anymore, something that we don’t truly need to worry over.

While I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for these games, take the two versions and slap them together. I’d feel far more confident buying “Pokemon: Eclipse” than I would buying either Sun or Moon.

How “Unhappy Reunion” in Fire Emblem: Conquest exemplifies the entire series.

Picking up Fates again after a long hiatus, I discovered something. In replaying the map “Unhappy Reunion”, I came to realize just how this single map compresses every aspect of Fire Emblem into a single map. Be warned: There are VERY slight spoilers but don’t worry too much. It’s only chapter ten so there won’t be any shocking reveals here.

The Premise

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“Unhappy Reunion” takes place in chapter ten of Fire Emblem: Conquest. In this map, you’re leaving to meet the rainbow sage before you encounter your blood brother, Takumi. As it turns out, he’s more than a bit upset that you sided with Nohr over your kingdom of birth. You’ll have to hold out and defend the town until backup arrives or else risk losing a valuable port town to Hoshido.

The map itself is a bunker-style map. Takumi sits in the lower left corner, sending waves of his troops to assault you while your meager party of ten hold out against what seem to be overwhelming odds. That said, there are turrets which can change the tide…but that’s getting ahead of the real glory of the mission.

How the Mission Proceeds

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Up to this point, Conquest has been stingy with good units. From an unlucky champion of justice to an frail, smarmy mage, good units are at a premium. Along with that, experience has been low for Conquest so every kill counts. Likely at this point, the player has been relying on Corrin to get by. Further still, it doesn’t help that there are houses you can visit to gain valuable items like gold, a dracoshield and more. Even worse, your fastest units are Elise (who is made of paper) and Silas (a tanky knight). Things seem stacked against you.

That’s when this mission throws you the first (and only) bone: Camilla, Beruka and Selena appear to aid you. While Selena is another useful swordswoman, Beruka and Camilla are likely your first flying units. Camilla is also the first “godly” unit you get. A flying powerhouse known as a malig-knight, Camilla can easily tank scores of units provided you don’t send her suicide diving into her weakness of archers.

Yet as the mission progresses, things become more dire. The units keep coming as you struggle to hold out. Walls break and new paths are open. Perhaps the biggest “Oh shit” moment comes when Takumi taps a dragon vein, evaporating the water and making it even easier to assault your position. It’s a hard map, especially on harder difficulties and even more so when you try to get out without a casualty and with all the items.

Exemplifying Fire Emblem

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Fire Emblem is a game series about strategy, choice and sacrifice. It’s a series built around taking risks and maximizing resources so you can hope to make it past the later stages where the difficulty ramps up significantly. You’re often given a powerful unit early but one that degrades in value as a handful of good units often outweighs one god-tier unit. This is where “Unhappy Reunion” truly shines:

  • You have to make tough calls. Do you bumrush Takumi so he can’t tap the dragon vein or do you turtle up so it’s harder to get to the tiles?
  • You can’t rely on godly units. Corrin and Camilla might be amazing but you need your team to strengthen for later maps.
  • Planning requires thinking ahead several turns. Can Niles hit the pegasus units if they get close enough? Can Odin hold down a choke-point despite being a mage?
  • Risk-taking is rewarded. In a mode where gold and items count for everything, can you afford to miss the gold? More importantly, would losing Felicia be worth that item?
  • It’s hard. Even on the easiest mode, the game will kick you in the teeth if you make even a slight mistake. Enjoy losing Mozu to the wrong crit at the wrong time.

All in all, this single eleven turn map puts the entirety of Fire Emblem, a series spanning decades, into a single scenario. It tapped into everything about the series, good and bad, to create a great encounter. Tropes, commonalities and even overarching strategies all culminate in a single, really amazing fight against your blood brother.

Regardless of how much you like the series, one has to admire the quality and skill it took to put the entire series down into a single map.

Blizzard and Riot’s Lack of Help for Writers

Perhaps this article might come off as more of a rant. I’m ok with that. To be completely honest, I often feel slighted by these companies as a content creator because of the medium I chose: writing. Yes, from articles to fan fiction, writers are just as much a part of the creative community as anyone else..but good luck finding support.

Dying Art Form

The reason for the ignoring is pretty obvious: Writing as an art form is somewhat dying. With movies, games and more all muscling out books and the written word, companies generally don’t help these types of people. That’s not to say they don’t appreciate your contribution…well, I think.

Art contests are abound such as polycount. League features a nexus for fan art where you can submit your drawn art and show it to the world. Blizzard regularly features art on their twitter as well as having a wall in the Overwatch studio dedicated specifically to fan art. You’re not going to find writing here, however. Companies don’t do these sorts of contests with writers because the time and effort going into analyzing a good story is likely more subjective and more questionable than art itself.

Along with that, the main medium of sharing art in recent times is twitter and reddit. Two websites that focus greatly on short, quick, easy-to-consume content for the masses. One time someone posted one of my fan fics to the League subreddit and it got something along the lines of four hundred positive votes. Comparatively, a quick shitpost I did (with wrong information, mind you) nearly garnered eight hundred. It felt demoralizing to know that jokes I can make in five minutes are far-and-away more well received than stories I pour hours-to-months-to-years of work into.

The Bouncer at the Club

Perhaps the moment that truly tilted me was when I saw Riot sending a care package to a cosplayer for creating content for League of Legends. I thought it was awesome and showed that Riot really cared…and then I remembered there was no possible way I could earn this as a writer. Above all else, it stung because many writers put just as much time, effort and otherwise into their work comparative to artists, cosplayers and movie-makers for youtube.

Blizzard regularly releases Overwatch hero maps for people who wish to cosplay their character. For writers they can’t even get a straight story to stay canonical. Riot regularly hosts content creator workshops with youtubers, cosplayers and more. Writers are never going into that. The only writing content I remember for League was done by a rioter (Bioluminescence, bless her soul) who took it upon herself to read, review and otherwise categorize everything on her own.

This sort of thing is also poison for people who wish to create for your game. If I don’t have a basic place to put my work and share it with the community, what’s the point? Writing a story for yourself is all well-and-good but people want to share their work with the world. They want feedback, praise, criticism, critique, acknowledgement. Artists and video-makers are afforded this luxury. Why must it be a challenge for a writer?

A Box of Scraps

This is usually the part where I list what I think could be done to improve things for writers but, honestly, I don’t know. I’ve spoken with friends at both Blizzard and Riot about finding ways to acknowledge great writers and those who pour their heart-and-souls into the work they do. My advice has either fallen of death ears or applied in an ironic way. I’ll leave you with a story:

One of my ideas I spit balled at a Rioter was the creation of a subset in their “Nexus” (lore form) for writers to submit their ideas and writing. They asked how I would do this in a way to include everyone. I said that’s not possible and that it would be subject to rigorous standards, testing, etc. They told me that wouldn’t happen, as the divide between have-and-have-not-writers would be far too great.

About a week later, Riot unveiled a system where artists could submit their artwork to a grand database after a rigorous review process for recognition and praise. The very system I wanted to writers was applied for artists while writers were told that there was still no place for them in League of Legends. It was yet again another avoided inclusion of writers and yet another time I felt that my form of content creation did not matter to Riot.

Situations like this make me want to put down my keyboard and say forget writing.