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Monday, February 7, 2011

Swarm Arena Tournament, Other News

I want to apologize for the delay in posting about the tournament.  Unfortunately we've only had 6 people show interest in playing.  While this would be more than enough people for a fun LAN-party style evening, chances are it will be extremely difficult to arrange for all of us to be online and free in the same evening.

Given that there are so few people to play in Swarm Arena, I am no longer suddenly enlightened with ideas for strategy posts.  I'd be lying if I said that I could keep posting regularly.  However, given how much I have enjoyed writing about Swarm Arena and how many people have visited the Real Gaming Review, I plan on releasing a review for the strategy game Greed Corp, available on Steam, within the next week.  If there is some interest, I will blog about Greed Corp strategy as well.  For anyone interested, Greed is a turn-based strategy game where you destroy the land by harvesting from it.  This has some pretty interesting, different, and non-linear implications on the gameplay.  It's a good game, and it has a campaign worth playing.  I got it on sale, but I'm about 3/4 through the campaign and I've already got much more than the regular price of $10 out of it.

Company of Heroes Online is currently it its free Beta cycle, and it will be that way until March 31st.  There is a good chance I'll be playing more of it.  I missed the wave where CoH was popular, so now is my chance to learn and get some good competition for the next couple of months.  For those of you who don't know, CoH is the highest rated RTS of all time, and for good reason; it has fantastic strategic depth, excellent graphics (especially for 2007), and a great atmosphere.  It is likely that I will be posting about CoHO as well.

Lastly, I recommend visiting http://www.realgamingreview.com .  It currently redirects here, but soon it will be a different site with all currently existing content uploaded as well.  I plan on using it for many gaming purposes including news, finding other like-minded gamers, as well as a homepage for Clan RG (Real Gamers), a brand new idea for an open clan that anyone can join.  And, of course, I will be posting reviews and game strategy as a primary function.

Daniel Moniz

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Swarm: Arena #6 - Playing to Learn

Believe it or not, Swarm Arena is not the only game I play.  Indeed, I recently entered a Starcraft II tournament. It having been a long time since I've been in any sort of gaming tournament, the old feelings of excitement and nervousness are back! Given that I'm currently gauging interest in a tournament within the Swarm Arena community, I was inspired to write a post about 'sparring'.

Sparring is, as it sounds, practicing any game against an opponent. I think it's important that the match is competitive, or else it should be more accurately classified as "dicking around". Sparring is when we ask our friends to help us try out that new strategy, or perhaps to have a mock tornament best-of-5 match of some sort. This is when we're playing to learn.

This definition has some pretty profound consequences. I run into many gamers in multitudes of games who perform the same techniques/strategies over and over again and stunt their own learning.  We tend to brand these people with the pejorative term 'scrubs', but ultimately a scrub is only someone as above who also thinks they are competitive. Let's leave those fun-loving gamers alone and not brand them with mean names!

An extreme example of Pikaaa (Red) and myself (Green) playing to learn in an experimental fashion.

Playing To Learn

When we play to learn, we experiment with new techniques and play styles that we might not have otherwise discovered.  An excellent example is the following: two friends play against each other regularly.  Because neither of them can figure out shoot, they declare, "Circulate is better than Shoot."  If either of them would take the time to learn the physics - and through that the true potential - of the power, they would drastically increase their skill level.  Indeed, if either of them were to play a higher-level player on the ladder, they would be outmatched (to put it lightly).

Examples of more successful (and more interesting) plays, especially by Red (Pikaaa).

In actual fact, the first video contains some samples of the outcome of myself telling Pikaaa that we are going to play experimentally.  When then played as we normally do, and all kinds of experimentation still occurred!  The purpose of this experimentation is to find new techniques that we can perfect and use as standard moves on the ladder.  Leaving at that would be selling it short, however; discovering and trying new risky plays can leave your opponent guessing, especially at the vital beginning of each game.

I therefore finish this post with two recommendations:
1. Watch your replays!  Often I feel as though I played a game to the best of my abilities and saw no fault in my play.  Yet, when I watch replays, I see all kinds of room for improvement, especially on the tactical/strategic side.  Watching replays is useful and important in any strategy game.
2. Try new things on a regular basis to prevent falling into a rut.  Find what works, add it to your routine, and continue playing like Pandora on both Playful and Strong!

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Unfortunately we are getting very little interest in a Swarm tournament, but I have thus far only advertised on this website.  If you have any interest whatsoever in playing, please vote Yes, and let's have a fun tournament!  I'll be taking Steam IDs on both this site and the official Steam forum within the next few days.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Replays in Swarm Arena

DG_Simon says, "Enjoy replays."  And we are!  I'm already loving the new replay feature.  For those of you who haven't checked it out yet, the wonderful developer, with his "ask and you shall receive" attitude, has recently added a replay feature which saves games (both custom and ladder) automatically into a folder.  I said games, not matches, because it actually saves each individual game!  I was somewhat frustrated when first playing and learning the game against a friend of mine, and we had to wait until the end for discussion.  By then, we usually forgot what the actual issue was, and we'd just play another game.

This feature is going to allow us to do a number of things.  First, everyone can better analyze specific games to see what went wrong and what worked out.  I highly recommend resisting the urge to watch your own player and instead focus on your opponent's play.  I'm already learning from Pikaaa's replays.  Second, I'll be able to more easily post compilations of games and plays (see below!).

Video includes games of all different settings!

Lastly, TOURNAMENTS.  We finally have the ability to monitor who wins and who loses a match that we didn't actually play.  I can also post the tournament matches so that people can watch them.  I'm even willing to shoutcast games to add to the excitement.  I'll be posting shortly about signing up for a tournament.  It will be a small one, but I think we can all have quite a bit of fun.

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I hope you enjoyed the compilation.  If anyone has any specific games they'd love to see online, let me know about it and I'll do my very best to upload them here.  I'm interested in experimenting with some shoutcasting, but I feel weird shoutcasting my own games!  Help a brother out.  I have to watch the Global Starcraft 2 League (GSL) finals now.



Thursday, January 27, 2011

Swarm: Arena #5 - Advanced Techniques 1 - Staying Alive (1)

I want to discuss survival tactics, and how to more effectively (and tactically) dodge your opponent's aggression.  For those of you who have seen the matches with myself and Pikaaa, staying alive and coming back in a long game is one of my strong suits.  I've uploaded another match between the two of us.  As always, Pikaaa plays a solid game and there is much to be learned from his play.  However, in this game I want you to watch my (Evilmeat's) dodging.  It's important to note that it doesn't always work out in my favour; some luck is indeed required.  Being more tactical about dodging will allow you to survive in those cases where Lady Luck has a little something waiting for you.

Pikaa has, in the past, accused me of being "dodgy".

Technique

You'll notice that there are dozens of times in the above video when I almost run into a drone.  You may also notice that I am significantly better at dodging drones when I have very few of them under my own control!  Why is this?  The simple answer is that I have a lot less to concentrate on.  The technique I actually use is not one with my fingers, but mine eyes!  A useful skill in a game with an excess of information - potentially hundreds of drones on the screen at one time in our case - is to "phase out".  Essentially what I'm doing is focusing on a large area instead of my character specifically.  This allows me to notice powerups very quickly which is vital to survival in nearly every case.  Note the instance in the above video where I literally nudge Pikaaa to ensure that I will be the one receiving the drone powerup: I would have surely been there second if I was a split second slower.

Don't expect this to come quickly; it takes many hours of practice.  I've practiced similar things in other games (eg. 2v2 Pong) and it works wonders for me.

Dodging 'Aggressively'

It's worth noticing that as soon as Pikaaa temporarily removes his aggression against me in order to pick up a powerup, I tend to follow him.  This isn't because I'm suicidal; rather, as discussed in a previous entry, I am simply maximizing my chances of picking up the next powerup.  There is even an instance in the above match where I follow Pikaaa and end up in between two large groups of his drones (see below).  If a powerup shows up anywhere on the right two-thirds of the arena, I will be the first to it, and I may even be able to remove some of his inactive drones along the way.

 Two powerups are nearest to Red due to aggressive survival tactics.

Taking a Hit / Be Decisive!

When absolutely desperate to win a game, any powerup can help, even if it requires dropping a power level or losing your powers altogether.  If your opponent has only a handful of drones more than you, getting to a drone powerup can be vital.  Too commonly I see players (myself included when I slip up) go for a powerup, put themselves in a bad position in order to do so, and retreat without the powerup.  Be decisive!  A player is invulnerable to more hits after being hit for a small period of time.  This is often enough to run through an opponent's wall of drones, retrieve a powerup (even the number of drones, for example), and be safe again.

The above advice becomes especially useful if a player already possesses a level 3 power and is able to pick up another powerup of the same type shortly after being hit.  This completely negates the hit.  In a slightly less favourable case, picking up the opposite powerup directly after being hit is still useful because it instantly maximizes that player's Circle of Influence (COI).  Often it is not the lack of a high level power, but the lack of a proper COI, that causes a player to be put in a bad situation.

Evilmeat (red) taking a hit in order to even the player's drone counts.

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There could easily be more said about dodging, but I hope that by watching videos of myself and Pikaaa's play you are able to pick up much more than can be said.

An abrupt change of topic: Pikaaa is desperately looking for non-Evilmeat players to play Swarm with.  Add him as a Steam friend and play!  In how many online games do you get the chance to practice with the best in the world?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Showmatch, Hardcore Settings!

Pikaaa and I played a handful of games tonight.  After an epic 10-9 game, we decided to play around with the 'Dangerous Powerups' mode of play that is fairly difficult to unlock.  The setting forces a player back to level 1 if they pick up the opposite powerup.  For those of you who haven't heard, this is apparently how the game was intended to be played, as it allows for 'throwing' powerups at each other, and therefore adds yet another level of complexity to this seemingly simple game.

This is a best-of-5 match (ie. first-to-3) with the aforementioned settings, otherwise using Title Rules.  I recently purchased better video capture software, so I've got sound as well as much better quality now.  Enjoy!


If you see us taking our time near powerups, remember that they can be dangerous under these settings!





[SPOILER ALERT]-----------------------------




Okay, I swear, Pikaaa beats me regularly.  In fact, he beat me 5-1 tonight.  The game was such a one-sided massacre that I elected to pick another game.

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I'm hoping to post about opening plays shortly.  Feel free to let me know if you have a preference as to what I post about!  Given that only a handful of people read this blog, you might be surprised just how important your input is to me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Swarm: Arena #4 - Shoot Strategy/Technique (1)

The last strategy/technique post was about Circulate, so it only makes sense to discuss the Shoot power this time around.  The wonderful thing about Swarm: Arena is how diverse these two abilities are.  There are clear visual differences between the two powers, but they play differently in less obvious ways.  Once again, let's start at the basics.

The Physics

Though I've explained how Shoot works in an earlier post, it causes enough confusion with beginners that its worth touching on again. The Shoot mechanic simply accelerates your drones in the direction they were moving in at the time you press the button.  This explains why players find their drones being launched everywhere.  Unlike Circulate, Shoot makes us work to get the full value of the power, but it may be even more versatile than its counterpart if used correctly.  Let's go over some techniques and the sweet names I've given for them.

Does anybody know how to use shoot??

The Punch

This technique is titled as above because it allows us to punch a hole in our opponent's defenses.  This is the Shoot equivalent of Bludgeon (see previous post) due to its simplicity and effectiveness.  The player needs to gather their drones behind them to ensure that they are moving in vaguely the same direction, and release toward the enemy.  This can cause your opponent's Circulate ability to become less effective, as they'll have to deal with a large hole in their circle of drones.  If done correctly, it also matches nearly 100% of your drones against whatever is in front of your enemy!  The chances of a hit are that much greater for this reason.  See the quick demonstration below for a level 3 example.

video
Fire and forget!  Then remember and go collect your drones.

Blocking Powerups

Let's say a powerup has just appeared, you have the Shoot power, and you want to beat your opponent to it.  Even if farther away, this can often be done quite easily by firing drones toward the powerup.  This protects the player since the drones are guarding where you're about be, and it prevents your opponent from getting there without serious risk.  In this way, Shoot can be used to move about the map gaining an advantage while the player using Circulate feels immobile.  The effectiveness of this ability is increased as your power level increases, and it works very effectively with the next technique!

The Wall Bounce

The Wall Bounce is an under-used, underrated move.  It is exactly as it sounds: bounce your drones off of a wall using Shoot in a controlled manner.  Physics-wise, its usefulness comes from two facts:
1. Drones bounce off walls at a surprising velocity, and
2. Shooting drones against a wall actually allows us to keep our drones within our COI for up to twice as long!
Let's consider that for a moment.  Drones are accelerated while using Shoot, and accelerating drones for longer should mean that they move faster.  Combine this with minimal loss of speed when making contact with a wall, and suddenly Shoot becomes a whole lot scarier.

Now let's analyze the actual movement of the drones, when we're protected, and when we're not.  If shooting against a wall, the bulk of the drones should be behind the player (that is, if 'forward' is the direction the player is moving).  It is likely, then, that the player is actually protected while the shoot is taking place!  This is unusual; I can't count how many times I've accidentally walked into a drone because I was hoping to fire at someone with my drones behind me.  Then there is a tiny window of vulnerability while the drones pass the player, hit the wall, and begin to come back.  Once they pass the player again, the player can follow an army of ultra-fast moving drones.  Take note of how long the player is vulnerable in the short sample video below.


video
Didn't see that coming, did you?

But wait; there's more!  Actually, it's more accurate to say that there's less.  The Wall Bounce is incredibly useful in certain circumstances, but it should not, not, NOT be overused.  It's easy to get carried away and forget the Second Fundamental Theorem of Swarm Arena: Take the center!  Never forget that being near a wall reduces the likelihood of receiving that next vital powerup.  The Wall Bounce is a situational technique only, and should be treated as such.

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That's all for today.  I feel a bit behind in my posting because I've been working on a handful of posts simultaneously instead of focusing on one at a time.  Hopefully that means that we'll get a post about advanced techniques pretty soon!  I will do my best to have one out by Sunday night, but given that I'm celebrating my birthday this weekend (happy birthday to me!), it may be a short post.

Any other Shoot techniques you think I'm missing?  Make sure I hear about them!  Post below for a chance to win absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pikaa (#1 on Ladder) vs. Evilmeat Showmatch

I am proud to bring you the world's first Swarm: Arena show match.  I'm honoured to have Pikaaa, the world's current #1 on the ladder, do battle against me (Evilmeat) and allow me to record it so that the community can see some top-level play.  Enjoy!

Green: Pikaaa
Red: Evilmeat


Notice the different styles of play: Pikaaa, always solid and controlling the centre, and Evilmeat, tending to be forced to use Shoot and Circulate more wildly to gain an advantage.  (hint: play like Pikaaa!)

(Note: Currently without sound until I figure out how to get sound only from the machine and not the microphone.  If anyone has an idea as to how this can be done, please let me know! You don't want to hear me hammering on the keyboard...)