Ascension: Long Drags are a Drag

ascension_logoAscension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is a deckbuilding card game that’s been ported to iOS (iTunes link) and is on its way to PC and Android. If Dominion and Magic: the Gathering had a baby, this is probably what it would look like.

If you’re not familiar with any of these, that’s okay. The point is, it’s a card game that has a lot of stuff on the screen – there are a lot of moving parts. The developers are trying to take a game that is played on a table and squish it into an iPhone, and that’s not always an easy task.

Ascension, like a lot of games, only displays in landscape mode. It has made me realize just how wide my iPhone 5 is. This is because depending on how I’m holding my phone, certain drag actions in the game are really difficult to pull off. Let’s dig into an example.

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Worst Map Ever Contender: Lord of the Rings Online

lotro logoI recently started playing Lord of the Rings Online (also known as LotRO), an MMO from Turbine that was originally released way back in 2007. I really don’t have very much experience with MMOs – I played a little bit of the first Guild Wars back in the day, but I didn’t get real far.

I do, however, have a lot of experience with world maps – see posts on Final Fantasy XIIIMass Effect 2Borderlands 2The Witcher 2, and even one on different ways to access the world map. Despite the game originally coming out 6 years ago, I’m still nominating Lord of the Rings Online to have the worst world map ever.

I’ve limited myself to three major beefs with this map:

  1. The quest markers are barely visible
  2. Places that are zoom-able aren’t labeled at all
  3. The various hint texts on the map aren’t consistently located, and zooming out isn’t real intuitive without it

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Civ V: Apparently You Can’t Save the Tutorial?

Civilization V (Steam link) is the most recent iteration of the legendary Civilization series of turn-based strategy titles. I have a soft spot for the series, but I haven’t played many just due to my inability to stop the “one more turn” syndrome. They are epic, complicated, and detailed, and have the incredible ability to destroy large blocks of time in one shot.

Since this was the first Civ title (excluding Civ Revolution) that I’ve played in a long time, I figured I would play through the tutorial. While the tutorial is for sure a tiny version of a real game, it isn’t like a 5-minute romp – there’s lots of text and details to read, which I thought was a good idea. But strangely enough, despite what could be a relatively lengthy affair, Civ V doesn’t support saving of the tutorial. At least, that’s the conclusion I came to, because the game sure doesn’t make that clear.

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DOTA 2: I Need A (Random) Hero

Dota 2 is the Valve-produced sequel to a Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients. The original DotA is credited with being the first in the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre, and I give it credit for many long nights in the computer lab in college.

MOBAs are known for a lot of things, but one of them is definitely not friendliness to new players. The genre is complicated, and competition is serious. League of Legends has a championship series, and its Season 2 finals were the most watched e-Sports event in history – featuring a $1 million prize to the winning team.

That said, even e-Sports superstars were new once, and it sure wouldn’t hurt for Dota 2 to show a tiny bit of love to noobs like me. While there are lots of complicated parts of the game that are just inherently complicated, one that shouldn’t be is the hero selection screen. It assumes that you must be a pro if you’re picking a hero at random, but it would be an easy fix to make the game a little more accessible.

I need a hero

Dota 2 is a five-on-five game, with each player picking a hero at the start. As of the moment, there are over 100 heroes available! Here is the hero selection screen:

Hero selection screen in DOTA 2

Hero selection screen in DOTA 2

The upper-left is one team’s heroes, and the upper-right is the other team’s squad. Easy enough. There’s a nifty “Cover Flow” like structure in the middle with what looks like baseball cards for each hero. It’s not the most efficient way to display heroes (even Apple has given up on their Cover Flow), but there’s an option for a grid in the lower-right if you prefer. Let’s look a little more closely at the hero though, that’s what we really want to focus on.

Selecting a hero

Selecting a hero

In the upper-right, the hero’s primary attribute is listed. Strength, intelligence, or agility, this part is pretty straightforward. The one pictured here is strength, so there’s a fist, no big deal. Underneath the primary attribute, there are a few icons that list other general attributes of the hero. This hero is listed as “durable”, that he will “last longer in a teamfight”. This is great information to know, although the icons are something you’ll need to learn for sure.

Finally, each hero has thumbnails of their abilities listed at the bottom. This is what makes the hero unique, and it’s critical to playing them successfully. If you’re a pro, the tiny images are probably helpful, but for everybody else, these images are rather pointless. “Oooh this ability looks like an explosion!” You’ve got to hover over each one to get an idea of what it actually does. It seems like this information could have been fit on the screen somewhere.

Something not explicitly listed for each hero (although it is in a filter at the top) is if the hero is ranged or melee. If you ask me, that’s a good, basic piece of information that I want to know.


Anyway, that’s not even the point of this article. For me, I like to experience a variety of heroes, so I make use of the “pick a random hero feature”. You even get a bonus 250 gold if you’re letting the game lock in your hero for you at random. So when you pick a hero at random, here’s what you get:

A randomly selected hero

A randomly selected hero

Notice the distinct lack of information here about the hero. The only way to even get the name of the hero that you got at random is by looking in the log. All that information that was listed above, it’s not on this page anymore. You can put items on your hero, sure, but that’s all.

Suddenly, being able to hover over those ability thumbnails seems like an awesome feature. You need to click the “return to browsing” button to get back to the screen with those details on it, though it was unclear to me exactly what ramifications that action would have. As it turns out, you can return to browsing heroes as much as you want, no big deal. I was a little nervous the first time I saw it, being afraid that I would lose my selection.

The “Pick” button with an X in it does NOT mean “lock in my pick”, however – it means let me select a new hero while taking a gold penalty. It does tell you that while hovering over, but a little more descriptive text right on the button wouldn’t hurt my feelings any. Like, “Repick”? Or maybe “Remove Pick”?

Okay, so maybe I’m the only person that was confused about these buttons. The point is though, I would appreciate a little bit more information on the random hero selection page.


It’s worth mentioning here that randomly selecting a hero is a terrible way for new players to get good at this game. It’s way more effective to pick one hero, and learn all the mechanics of that hero and the game at large (there’s a lot to learn) before branching out to more heroes. Also, there’s a “spin to random hero” action that just selects a random hero and doesn’t lock them in. This lets players have a chance to inspect the hero first, but there’s no gold bonus for this.

That said, I’m sure even expert players would appreciate a little easier way to see what abilities are on the hero that they just randomly selected – there are a lot of heroes, and unless you’re on the e-Sports tour, you might not have every ability memorized.

What do you think? Is selecting a random hero a “pro” enough feature that it shouldn’t need to contain niceties like a big hero name and ability list? Express your opinion in the comments below!

Hotline Miami: Meaningful Backtracking

Cover of Hotline MiamiGiant Bomb defines “backtracking”, in part, as the following:

“Backtracking is often a derogatory term used to describe a situation in a game where the player must return to previously encountered locations in order to continue advancing the game”

Most of the time, backtracking is annoying, even when realism-wise it’s a little dubious how the game’s hero is able to make it all the way out of perilous situation X while off camera. But as is usually the case, the real answer on backtracking is “it depends”. Sometimes, in small doses, it can be very effective.

Hotline Miami (Steam link) is a super-violent action game that has earned a lot of attention as an indie PC title released in October 2012. It uses backtracking in a brilliant fashion – to really hammer home the game’s own meta-commentary on violence in games.

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