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...)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Swarm: Arena #3 - Circulate Strategy/Technique (1)

Having basics of the underused Stop command out of the way, we can now move into proper usage of the actual powerups.  Circulate is a powerful and versatile ability (the blue powerups).  I say that it's versatile because it can be used effectively for both attacking and defending.Let's start with the very basics.

The Physics

Circulate effectively takes the drones in your circle of influence (COI) and nudges them into a counter-clockwise orbit around your player.  The fact that the drones only go in one direction is actually quite important.  It means that your opponent knows which way the drones will be coming from, which means that moving in certain directions is safer than others.  This is a little advanced, so we'll get to that later.  Drones that leave your COI will become somewhat unstable and begin to fly around in a small area somewhat randomly before they become inactive.  You can use it to pull drones behind you in much the same way as you can with Shoot, or even without a powerup (see article #2).  Simple enough!  Let's get into some of the uses of this power.


Level 3 circulate in all its glory.  (Tap Enter)

The Bludgeon

The Bludgeon is one of the simplest tactics in Swarm: Arena.  The idea is that if you possess more active drones than your opponent, simply moving toward them with Circulate will start the process of trading drones.  This accentuates your drone advantage and allows you the chance for a hit.  But be careful!  A hole in your circle could mean that you're opening yourself up to attack.  This move works especially well with level 2 or 3 Circulate, which cause the drones to move fast enough that holes aren't nearly as much of an issue.  Players of all skill levels should be using this move, as it is *the* standard method of winning a game.

Red firing through the hole in Green's circle!

Behind Enemy Lines

This often refers to an early state in the game, but it can occur at any time.  If an opponent chooses to widely spread their drones (eg. with an early Shoot), it is often possible to simply wade through them.  This can lead to you have more active drones than your opponent, and with some pressure, this can quickly force them into a bad spot.  This generally requires quick and decisive action.  Don't be afraid to experiment with this, even if it seems suicidal!  On a strategic level, the major advantage of your opponent having drones all over the arena is that we should be scared to move around.  If we can turn that situation into a 2-1 active drone count in our favour, it becomes clear that this is an obvious counter to the move.

With a little pressure from Green, the red player is in a bad spot.  (Edit: Is that a heart???)

Maintaining an Active Lead

I keep mentioning advantages gained by having more active drones than your opponent, and it's no coincidence; this is arguably the main advantage to using Circulate.  Unless we're going for a kill, the best way to keep this lead is to take it easy on the Enter button.  This is because we lose control of drones when they leave our circle, and because the circle itself shrinks when a power is used.  Most players using Shoot end up with drones all over the arena throughout the course of the game.  Make sure to take advantage of this!  This is where patience comes in.  While Shoot might allow us to suddenly gain an unexpected advantage (to be discussed in a future article), Circulate is for pressuring an opponent until their knees collapse and they lose the game.

Green about to lay the smack down on the red player for being sloppy with Shoot!

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Those are all the techniques/strategies I'll discuss today.  For those observant enough to read the title of this article (clever you!), this is Part 1 of the article on Circulate.  Given that there are an infinite amount of positive integers, I can write as many of these as I like (without running into naming/numbering issues; see Y2K scare).  I plan on getting into much more difficult techniques soon.  If you have any techniques you'd like to see discussed in the future, or you disagree with me on any point, make it known in the comments below.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Swarm: Arena #2 - Using the 'Stop' Command

There seems to be some demand for uses of the 'stop' command.  It turns out that it's almost impossible to use Shoot effectively without it!  Stop also has a number of other uses which are great to have in your arsenal of moves.


Using Shoot Effectively

First off, it's important to understand the mechanics of Shoot.  It doesn't simple spread drones everywhere; instead, it accelerates drones in the direction that they're moving at the time that you hit the button.  This means that if we can get our drones moving in one direction, the drones can be fired like a cannon in the direction you choose, often powering right through your opponent's defences.  Let's take a look at a couple screenshots.

First, we tap Stop while moving in one direction in order to get our drones behind us.  I'm the green player, moving right in this picture:
 Pull drones behind you...  (by tapping Stop)

Note that Stop must be pressed less often when Shoot is at a lower level.  This is simply because you'll leave your drones behind if you stop them too often.

At this point, notice that if I release all buttons, my drones will be moving toward me, ie. toward the right side of the arena.  Thus, holding shoot will fire them in that direction!  I've used a higher level of Shoot (and a ton of drones) in this shot to make it more clear:
...And release!  (by holding Shoot)

If this is aimed correctly, few drone setups will prevent this from striking your opponent.

Setting Up Walls

This is a handy trick that can be used to block an opponent in or to safely hold the center of the arena.  I recommend using Stop to clump up your drones in a similar fashion to what was done above, but instead of firing them, be ready to stop them in the desired position.  I've used circulate below:
 Genesis AI had to bust my wall to get to me.  Temporarily safe!

The above picture actually shows Genesis swinging his drones counter-clockwise through my wall.  If we pretend that all the powerups were on *my* side, this would have been a worthwhile move!  Let's move on to my final example.

Drone Control Without Powerups

If you've ever had more drones than your opponent, but been completely out of powerups, there's a chance you still feel pretty helpless!  This is, in most cases, very unnecessary.  Having significantly more drones allows a player to take the center of the arena even without powers.  The trick is to tap the Stop button in the same way as above to get drones to follow you.  If you mess around with this, you'll find that you can lead drones to the center, and sit behind most of them.  Since drones are less controlled, your opponent needs to be careful about running into individuals, and is often contained.
 Just keep those poorly controlled drones in his way!

This works best when, for example, you have far more drones, even if they have level 3 powers.

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That wraps up today's basic tutorial.  As always, leave comments and questions if you have any!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Swarm: Arena #1 - General Strategy

Here I am, 11 days after my review of Swarm: Arena, still playing the game.  It's fast, tactical, and fun; why wouldn't I be playing it?  Combine that with a regular sparring partner (some people call them 'friends') and a desire to improve my rank on the ladder, and it's easy to see why I'm still satisfied with the game.

Here begins the first post of a long (I hope) series of Swarm: Arena related posts.  I'm going to try to hit every part of the game over time, including single-player survival modes and how to achieve the Steam Achievements.  Let's jump right into it.  For a review and explanation of the game and its rules, see the previous post.  Lastly, I'll summarize the points at the end for the busy (lazy?) readers out there.

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General Strategy

Everyone that plays the game knows the object of the game: be the last ship (that's what I'm calling them) alive in the arena.  But how to go about doing this?  We need a plan.  I'll give you the first Fundamental Theorem of Swarm: Arena*:

1. Take. Your. Time.

Plan to win, but don't plan to win now.  This is one of the most important rules in just about every strategy game.  The fact is that impatient players don't win games.  The guy who's willing to outlast you, and has the skill to do it, is going to beat you time and time again.  What does this mean in Swarm: Arena?  To keep it general, it means that we want to develop an advantage over our opponent.  We can then either use that advantage to get a 60% chance to win, or we can use it to develop an advantage so big that we (almost) can't possibly lose.  Which sounds better?
Myself (green) versus Pandora AI.  I've got less powerups, but more drones and control of the center.  What's the rush?

The main advantage to gain in Swarm can be found in the form of powerups.  Having more drones than your opponent means that you can trade drones and still have some left while your opponent has none.  Since each drone takes out exactly one other drone as it makes contact and dies, having a few more drones than your opponent can be a big deal.  Similarly, having a higher level of power means you can control your drones more effectively.  We therefore need the best possible way to gain access to the most powerups.  This leads me to the second Fundamental Theorem of Swarm:

2. Gain map control!

Map control is usually used to describe real-time or turn-based strategy games.  But it's the same as board control in Chess, and it's the same thing exactly in Swarm.  It means that we want to position ourselves so that we have access to more of the playing area than our opponent.  Consider the following:

- Swarm is played in a rectangular area.
- Powerups randomly appear.
- Generally, being closer to powerups means you can get there first.

Thus, whenever possible, we wish to corner our opponent.  When impossible, taking the center is enough to ensure that we are closer to the majority of powerups that might appear.  I was inspired to write this during a ladder match where my opponent hung around the sides of the map most of the time.  I beat him 3-0, simply because I took my time, prevented him from getting powerups, and choosing to beat him when I had a clear enough advantage.
Who's in a better position?  Red may be safe, but green knows where it's at.

3. Stay with your drones.


Your drones keep you safe.  There are very few cases when you want to leave your 'army'.  An obvious exception is when you're desperate to stay alive, and that might require leaving drones outside your circle of influence.  It's fairly straightforward to cut a player off from their army once they're separated.  This leaves them with fewer drones to defend you with, and you can even turn back and destroy their inactive drones!
I left my drones behind!  Red is going to eat me alive.

*Numbered importance of rules subject to wild fluctuation based on my whim.
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Summary:
1. Take your time.  Use your advantage in powerups/drones to gain more of the same!
2. Gain map control.  The centre is a great place to be to have access to first pick of the powerups.
3. Stay with your drones.  You're vulnerable when you leave them, no matter how good that Shoot powerup looks...


In the future I'll be getting into more specifics in the very near future.  For now, I wanted to give people a general idea of how they should approach playing the game.

Post questions and they will be answered!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Swarm: Arena - Short Review

It's been a while since I've posted anything.  But Christmas is a wonderful time for video games, namely because of the holiday deals that Steam offers.  I picked up Swarm: Arena through Steam for $2.50, and I find myself playing it over other major titles that I've purchased (eg. Mass Effect 2).  This won't be so much of a review as it will be an explanation and a recommendation.  I'll jump right in.

EXPLANATION

Swarm: Arena is a simple, arcade style 'shoot em up' game without any literal shooting.  Each player is a simple circular object in a rectangular arena, and the object is to kill your opponent.  Each player begins with a number of 'drones' orbiting around their ship (for lack of a better word to describe a flying circle).  These drones are essentially armies; when two opposing drones touch, they kill each other and disappear.  If one player's drone touches the other player's ship, that player either loses a power level, or dies if they have no powers.

There are only two powers: 'Shoot' and 'Circulate'.  Using the Shoot power accelerates drones in their current direction, which tends to have the effect that they launch outwards from a player.  If used correctly, they can be launched directly at the opponent.  The Circulate power causes nearby drones to orbit the ship.  This can mainly be used defensively, as a player can create a wall of drones surrounding themselves.

Lastly, there are powerups to get these powers, as well as powerups to get more drones.  There are also force fields which randomly enter the battlefield and allow for a temporary safe place to hide.

 MY THOUGHTS

This game is simply awesome.  Although I've dabbled in the genre forever, I've never really sunk my teeth into a game the way I am with this one.  For starters, the single player is addictive and challenging.  In fact, the game includes an AI that learns from its successes and mistakes and grows along with the player.  You can even set the AI to try crazier strategies, play against it for a while, and then set it back to normal to see what it's decided on.  There is also an AI that I have only been able to beat twice in at least 30 games.  It's hard; trust me on that.

I've never been a big fan of achievements in games, but Swarm: Arena only has 15 of them, and they all seem to actually be indicative of skill (instead of an "I've played 500 hours of this game" badge).  They are also pretty interesting.  In one of them, the player has to train the Pandora AI (the one that learns) to be able to beat Genesis (the really hard AI).  I think this is just downright cool.

The game has a surprising amount of depth, as far as skill levels go.  There is an obvious element of dexterity; if you can dodge almost anything, you'll survive almost anything.  However, there is also a major strategic element.  If you can force your opponent to one third of the arena, say, then you're more likely to be able to pick up the next powerups that show up.  Using these powerups, you can continue to press an advantage, instead of going all out for the kill.

I also failed to mention that each player only has a finite area of influence over their own drones, which shrinks as they use powers.  Drones outside of this area become inactive and will not hurt the opponent or his/her drones.  It also disappears temporarily if you hit an opponent.  Thus, a smart player will notice when their opponent has a small area of influence, and can cut that player off from their own drones.

Lastly, there is both local multiplayer and an online ladder!  I'm a sucker for competition, and I find this game to be quite thrilling when facing a human opponent.  This greatly adds to replayability.

RECOMMENDATION

Get this game, especially if it's on sale!  It's fun, fast, and nicely tactical/strategic.  I've already got my $2.50 out of it, and I imagine I'll play the game a whole lot more.  Until Mass Effect 2 becomes impossible to ignore, that is...