Friday, May 31, 2024

Loving That Underwater VR Walkabout Mini-golf!

I truly would love to review every single underwater experience in VR I can get my hands on. (I'm going to make a new "Underwater VR" tag so I can start cataloging them. It's a strange genre and mostly filled with "submarine" games, but I've made a short list of games to look at. It'd also make a really cool YouTube series . . . you know, one of those weird subgenres of games that you'll probably never play, but some random dude on the Internet went on a quest to play them all. That's the kind of YouTube I can just zone out to.

Anyway, about a week ago, the Ruff Talk VR Discord channel had a meetup to play Walkabout Minigolf (WMG). Fortunately and unfortunately, it was just me and my buddy Amelia that showed up to the event. Unfortunately, because it's always fun to play with more. Fortunately, because Amelia offered up her entire WMG library of expansions and allowed me to choose our course. 

WMG is pretty great because it'll let anybody just play an expansion course on a guest pass. Meaning, that as long as someone owns the course, it'll let you play that course with them in multiplayer. The only downside to that is you can't collect any hidden balls or complete the hard course quest to earn a new putter, which totally makes sense from a business standpoint.

swimming up high and looking down at a few holes in the underwater golf course

Of course, I'm going to choose to guest pass the underwater Atlantis mini-golf course I don't own! Amelia obliged and we were soon putting around in an Atlantian underwater fantasy.

Rule one of underwater mini-golf, bring forth the mermaid statues and coral structures!

The course itself was good. I found it a fair bit less difficult than some of the newer courses I've played like the Meow Wolf course or the Venetian course. We didn't play the hard version of the course, but I didn't have any problems scoring under par on my first attempt around the 18 holes of underwater magic.


Even better, they made it so you could grab on to larger sharks, manta rays, and turtles and ride them around as they circled the course. I loved that little extra feature. It's things like this that make WMG one of the most well-thought-out experiences. It's not just a mini-golf course, it's an experience as well.

The sun shining through the underwater ruins of the mini-golf course was a nice touch

Of course, they didn't mess with the physics of their real mini-golf experience. It's all an illusion of being underwater. You're not going to smack a ball as hard as you can to only have it go 12 inches forward and start floating upward -- that'd just be frustrating. It is a pretty great illusion though. Little hexagonal graphic fish were darting around in small schools and the sharks were circling. I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing a mini-golf game with Amelia.

Six under par! Not bad!

Rest assured, this isn't really the only underwater experience you have in WMG. There's also, the infamous 20,000 Leagues under the Sea course, but that all takes place inside Captain Nemo's submarine. The only times you'll catch a glimpse of being underwater is through the submarine windows, on hole 18 where the Kraken has broken through, or if you fly outside of the course boundaries and take a look at the sub from an outside view.

I love my 20,000 Leagues putter. It's Krakentastic!

I own the 20,000 Leagues under the Sea course, but after last week, I'm pretty sure I'll pick up the Atlantis course on my next opportunity.

Happy Dueling!

Friday, May 24, 2024

Diamond Rank in Brawl Stars Achieved!

Brawl Stars continues to be my favorite mobile game, and yup, they got me to purchase the Battle Pass. I relented, but the reason why wasn't that I got a ton of skins and goodies, it was all about the gold!  

Gimme that 8000 gold! (and all the other stuff too)

As it turns out, this morning was the first time I had ever hit the Diamond rank in ranked PvP matches. I've gotten gold rank usually or silver, but the past couple of weeks I've been a bit more deliberate in playing ranked PvP. 

Gimme that Mythic Rank-up reward!

There was a bit of a rude surprise when I got there though, and that was to continue ranking up, you need to have a full squad of 12 brawlers ranked up to at least level 9 to play. To do that requires, a ton of gold that I just really didn't have . . . unless I bought that delicious-looking battle pass! So I went for it. I mean, it was only 7 bucks, and this game brought me through nights of unemployment.  You got my money, Brawl Stars!

You need . . . 12 of them?!

The next interesting surprise was that at Diamond rank, PvP is a bit more intense . . . not just the competition, but you can choose heroes to ban the other team from choosing. I think I'd actually have to start looking at the meta if I were to make happy choices for my teammates, but I typically just choose the characters that are annoying to play against.

PvP at the higher rank also involves a more Overwatch style of winning matches. Honestly, it feels like overkill, but it does make the game different.  Once you play 2 matches against a team, you start to get the feel for how your opponents play and, if you're a good player, you can swing the game based on this knowledge.  Spoiler alert, I don't think I'm that good of a player.  I'm trying though!

At least the battle pass gave me some new fun skins and a Brawler I can't wait to play.  He's a fairy-turned-mosquito and just looks crazy enough to love.  

Angelo is super charming in an ugly way

I don't know if I have the wits about me to make it up the ranks of PvP post-Diamond, but it certainly was fun getting there! I'm really loving Brawl Stars still for my go-to mobile game.

Happy Dueling!

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Fast Leveling for Southern Gents in Diablo 4's Season of Loot

The duo of Montgomery and Leufroy once again delved into Diablo 4, but this time we straight up skipped the story, plunked ourselves in Veteran 2 difficulty, and hit the seasonal quest line. It turned out to be a solid decision for our southern duo. You might say it was truly a "butter my backside and call me a biscuit" moment.

The seasonal quests ultimately centered around the helltides, and let me tell you ... the exp from said helltides flowed like Montgomery's sweet southern drawl. It was kind of crazy. 

Melting the blood maiden

We were gaining levels super fast. We went from level 19 to level 30 so fast it was like a powerleveling session. Not only that, but a full swap out of new gear was happening every 30 minutes or so. If it wasn't gear drops from the helltides and chest, it was gear from the new quest tiers. Oh, you just got some new legendary gear five minutes ago? Well now, as they say in the south, "Today you're a rooster, tomorrow a feather duster. Here's more loot. Enjoy!"

As you gain honor from defeating enemies in a helltide and completing quests, you gain tiered rewards that are actually pretty great.  At Tier 4 I got a pretty sweet unique bow. It's official, I'm really liking this new season of loot. 

Earning all the wolf's honor I can!

I can't wait to play the Montgomery and Leufroy duo again. I'm pretty sure we'll be breaking into Tier 3 in no time at all. Then once all these demons are cleared out, Leufroy can finally show Montgomery the perfect piece of Sanctuary property that he could claim for his own. Shh, Leufroy doesn't really know where that is just yet . . . but if we keep playing, I'm sure a piece of land will show that it's "high in the cotton."

Happy Dueling!

Monday, May 20, 2024

Season of the Southern Gentlemen in Diablo 4

I've been playing a little more Diablo IV now that the new season dropped. My friend Dylan and I all but abandoned our surfers and rolled up a couple of fine Southern gentlemen. Yes, we're milking our tropes for all they are worth.

I am Leufroy and my companion is Montgomery. As the story goes, Leufroy is a bit of a French Explorer type, and Montgomery is a rich southern real estate mogul. Leufroy is taking dear Montgomery on a tour of Sanctuary in search of fertile land he might choose to claim as his own ... for resale purposes, of course.

The dashing duo of Montgomery and Leufroy

Oh yeah, it's incredibly goofy, but I don't think I've laughed quite as hard while playing Diablo IV as when Montgomery found some new gear to cover his "uppers" and his "lowers." Truly, the slow, gentle Southern accents from our role-playing are legendary. I really should be streaming this nonsense.

As for the new season of Diablo IV being game-changing and all that, Leufroy and Montogomery's official opinions are "yes, quite." It's pretty great. Aspects unlock without pain. Gold grinding is needed for gear rerolling, and customization of gear is truly possible, but at our level, you probably wouldn't want to go too crazy.

Montgomery and Leufroy talking about business plans before hacking through hell

We're bulldozing enemies pretty good right now with the two of us. The game itself feels really good. Leufroy is a dashing rogue full of traps and tricks, and Montgomery is a sorcerer, casting bolts of lightning with his southern wit. We're having a great time. In fact, several times we've said to each other that it feels like this combo is way more powerful than our last team. All good signs.

Happy dueling.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Roguematch: A Nekomancer's Match-3 Love Letter

 A year ago, a dev from the Starstruck Games team reached out to me over Twitter and sent me one of the sweetest messages I'd ever heard. I wrote about it at the end of this post titled "Thank you, Readers."

To sum it up, they had read through my series of blog posts where I went on a quest for a good match-3 dungeon game and felt a sense of camaraderie. They too were in search of something amazing and kept falling short with what the world was offering. My blog was there for them at the right time, cheering them on.  Because of this, they gave me a free copy of the game with no demands for review or anything other than to say thank you. I got you.

That said, a review of Roguematch: The Extraplaner Invasion is overdue. As of today, I've put about 22 hours into the game, and it's pretty great. Now, is it without bugs? No, I mean, even with a larger team, we still had our fair share of bugs in Animal Cove. But I have to say that for a three-person indie team, Roguematch is pretty freaking clean, and it's a fantastic game worthy of a best-in-class study for a dungeon-based match-3 game.

Time to delve into the dungeon of many matches!

At its core, Roguematch feels like the answer to the question, what if you combined Binding of Issac's storytelling, dungeon crawling, and item building with the classic match-3 mechanics akin to those found in Candy Crush?  Bam, that's Roguematch!

Feya is all about moving fast and jumping out of danger

Each room you enter in Roguematch is a match-3 board where you not only move your character around on the board, shifting pieces as you move, but also you can make color matches to damage enemies that are definitely out to get you.

You have a health bar and each character you play has a different set of skills they can use. If you spend too long on a board, chaos pieces drop and increase the difficulty of the game, bringing a five-color matching system to a six-color matching system.

Sonya the nekomancer vs. the evil snail boss and his mini snail minions!

In addition, there are boss and mini-boss fights that have special conditions surrounding them. These are challenging fights. Some have really tight boards and rely on you pulling out all the stops with the items you've collected around the dungeon.

When you defeat a boss, you'll be presented with a stairway leading down further into the dungeon where the stakes are higher and the puzzles are meaner . . . where the questions remain: How good is your gear? How good are your matching skills? How lucky are you feeling, punk?

Each dungeon features all the dangers a harsh, extraplaner environment can dust you with

When you lose all your life, you're thrown out of the dungeon and graded on your performance. How many turns did you take, which bosses did you fight, what new items did you discover, and what stage did you make it to?

Sad Sonya is sad at her defeat

Of special note to me is the fact that one of the characters, Sonya, is a friendly "nekomancer," who went dungeon-delving in search of the "Nekonomicon." Any friendly nekomancer can be a friend to the Friendly Necromancer!

As originally posted on Twitter a year ago

The art style is extremely cute, very much in the style of anthropomorphized chibis, which I understand is a turn-off to some, but to others . . . well, it's just warm and inviting. Don't let that art look fool you though, cute does not equal easy by any means.  It's legitimately a hard game. In all of my 22 hours playing, I've never made it past the second dungeon. I've only ever unlocked the first two characters.  I got close once, but I failed on the final boss fight.

I have to say that since the beta that I played a year ago, Roguematch has really streamlined the story beats at the beginning of the game. Where once I was a little confused as to what was going on, now I fully understand why I'm heading into the extraplanar match-3 dungeon. Props to them for clarifying the story and getting the tutorial shaped up.

If you're up for a complex, but fun match-3 experience that meshes Roguelike and the matching of gems, I can confidently say this is a great game that belongs in your library . . . and that's coming from a guy who's reviewed a lot of match-3 games in my day.

Happy Dueling!

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Surviving Unemployment with Peridot and Brawl Stars

So as this recent story goes, while I was unemployed, I honestly didn't have the stomach to play any PC or VR games at all! For me, that's pretty much the weirdest thing that's ever happened. The feeling I had was that I just lost all joy in doing the things I typically love. I know that sounds depressing, and yeah, it was. But that said, two mobile games helped ease the pain. 

Every day while unemployed I had a pretty strict morning schedule. I'd go to a morning meeting at 8am about job hunting, at 9am I'd go for a walk, and when I got back home, then it was time to hit the networking and resume circuit. If you're unemployed, I highly recommend keeping a schedule. This little routine gave my day some needed structure.

While I was out on a walk, I would pull out my phone and start up a game called Peridot, which is made by Niantic (you know, of Pokemon Go fame).

My Peridot waiting at the end of the sidewalk, ready to play catch with me

Peridot is a super cute AR game where you hatch cute baby pets and grow them into adults. It has the whole Tomigatchi thing going for it, but without the constant annoying real-life, real-time electronic whining. Basically, you care for your Peridot, feed it, play with it, do daily quests, and it grows up and becomes your best friend. But you don't want just one! You want a whole generational tree of Peridots.

To be honest, when I first discovered Peridot, it kind of made me mad. WIMO had tried to do the same kind of hatching game with inherited DNA traits in our mobile game Unnatural Selection. I saw this and was like, man, why didn't we just do this?  You have one body with morphing of parts -- a peridot can look like any number of four-legged creatures. The art savings must be huge!

In fact, Peridot plays into that morphing by giving badge hunters an assortment of Peridot body "archetypes" for you to hunt after.

So many archetypes!

For instance, if you hatch a peridot with the Bee Wings Plumage, Fuzzy Material, Bee Stripe Patern, Antenna Horns, and a yellow and black body, you unlock the Bee Archetype.

What's the buzz about DNA?

. . . and the resulting Peridot has a little bee flare to it.

His little robin hood hat adds the perfect flair

For a while I didn't even care about the Archetypes, I was just after hatching the rarest 4-star genes to see if I could get something crazy. The best I got was four of the 4-star genes. At the time I was surprised they didn't try to steer collectors into having higher gene ratings with an achievement system.

In fact, the big thing I kept thinking to myself over these six months or so of playing Peridot was . . . man, how does this thing even make money? It just felt like there was no motivation for players to spend. I mean, you could buy a few outfits or get an extra nest or two, but all those things come in time if you just play the game.

It's been interesting to watch the folks at Niantic bend and tweak and balance the game to be more profitable, and I think they may have actually arrived at something brilliant with the latest patch.  Now Peridots can have "chaos traits," which elevates the DNA to a really new and crazy level.  Chaos traits are basically elongated or extreme body features that you get to name and personalize.

Two chaos traits in one!

Now you have a solid reason to use the Eggs Ray consumable (to see a baby's DNA before you hatch it) because the sub-game is now trying to get as many crazy Chaos traits on your Peridot pet as possible. It's kind of genius.

I honestly can't wait to see what they come up with next because the stuff they're adding just keeps making this game better and I feel the pull to purchase more often. I'm actually proud of what they've done with this game vicariously for them. 

So, to sum it up, Peridot was just a nice comfort moment I had during my 9am walks while unemployed . . . as much comfort as I could manage between freaking out about the situation I found myself in as a 52-year-old game designer who was out of work and not making progress with employment.


The other mobile game that provided me some comfort was one I've talked about before on this blog: Brawl Stars

I didn't start playing Brawl Stars until about 2 months into unemployment. This was my "late at night" comfort game after I had done all the job hunting I could during the day. 

Unlocking Mythic stars is the best!

By the time I was 2 months into unemployment, I had finally stopped beating myself up for the situation I was in and accepted that I had done everything right in my career to this point and it wasn't my fault for being in this situation. It just . . . was.

Anyway, I was surprised that Brawl Stars had grown its hero roster so wide! Where once I had unlocked pretty much all of the heroes save for a couple Mythic characters, now I had tons of catch-up to do.  After months of not playing the game, I was happy to see them add all these new skins, emotes, sprays, and unlockable items. New events were hitting the game on the regular. All in all it was just a way more fleshed-out experience for me.

I decided to choose a new character and just take it all the way up as far as I could.  When I found Lola, I really liked her and decided, yup, she was going to be my new number one.

I'm a dirty Lola main!

What I like about Lola is that you could use her power to duplicate her and just completely wreck face with her double attacks.  In addition, you could use that same duplicate shadow character to get out of tight situations by shielding it while it stood in place and you run away. It's actually a great decoy as well!

Side note, my wife hates this game because of the music and the look of the characters. *insert sad face* I guess she'll never know why I found comfort in a silly little PVP experience on mobile, but to me, it's always been a well-designed experience with a lot of smart decisions. Unlike Peridot, I get why this game is successful. The pull to purchase is strong. Battle passes always do that to me. I love this little game!

Of course, it's not just Lola I like to play . . . gotta play them all! FRANK SMASH!

So, there you go. I'm giving it up to Peridot and Brawl Stars today for helping me through unemployment as the only type of game-playing I could stomach. Thanks for being a couple of nice distractions.

Happy Dueling!

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Diablo 4, Season 3: Surf's Up, Satan!

 About two weeks ago, tragedy and mercy struck me simultaneously in a weird way. 

1- My mom's house was diagnosed with a case of black mold, and come to find out, I had been breathing in some nasty stuff for a couple of weeks while living there.

2- My real estate agent and her husband, Dylan, who are also really good friends in Utah from way back, invited me to stay in their basement apartment while everything got sorted out at my mom's house. 

This was great news for me for a few reasons. I was in a better, safer place that was also closer to my work here in Utah. Even better, my buddy Dylan plays a lot of the Diablo IV . . . and thus I'm once again delving into the magical game known as Diablo IV!

Coolest Necromancer Shield eva!

Dylan decided to play a Druid and loved how his character looked like a big burly, surfer dude. He was dubbed Hanzel the surfing druid, and I made a necromancer surfing sidekick for Hanzel named Kelp.

Hanzel and Kelp, Surfing Outcast Buddies Against Demons (SOBAD)

As the story goes, Kelp got caught in a most unrighteous undertow and, koo koo kachoo, ended up almost dying in the ocean. When Kelp washed up on Hansel's surfboard, he mysteriously could summon skeletal surfer buddies to ride the waves with him.

If you read that last paragraph in a stereotypical California surfing voice, you've got the basis for our entire role-play while playing Diablo IV. Cha, Dude! It's totally like that!

Hanzel, the Bronze Legend.

We're currently level 30-32 playing Veteran II and Chilling in Act 4. Good times! It does definitely get out of hand with surfer terms and role-play. My surfer voice sometimes slips into a quasi-Bill Clinton. I'm working on it! 

 Chat GPT just served up 10 great suggestions for battle cries that I'm going to have to use next play session:

  • "Shred the Shadows" 
  • "Hang Ten on Hell's Waves" 
  • "Demonic Wipeout" 
  • "Barrel Roll with Beelzebub" 
  • "Radical Exorcism" 
  • "Soul Carve" 
  • "Demon Dunk" 
  • "Demon Tide Takedown" 
  • "Surf's Up, Satan!"
  • "Wicked Wipeout Wraiths" 
Unfortunately, Season 3 is just about to wrap up . . . or I guess you could say fortunately, it will wrap up. The word on the street is that Season 4 is going to be game-changing for Diablo 4.  I can't wait to check it out.

Kelp's ride is appropriately themed.

It is great to be able to enjoy playing a game again. Saturdays are all about doing laundry and "Shredding the Shadows" with Hanzel. Hopefully, we'll be able to do some fun stuff with these characters before the season change puts them back into the eternal realm. 

Happy Dueling!