[Game: Slay the Spire, Mega Crit Games, 2019]
Someone Else’s Strategy:

On Mega Crit’s Slay the Spire, and the Occasional Heresy of Outside Help

 

Introduction:

The deck-building roguelike Slay the Spire is a well-designed, challenging, engaging game. Each of the game’s characters has a unique set of cards from which options are randomized and dealt to the player during each run, usually as a choice of one from three at a time. Each run begins with a small standard deck, which the player improves, expands, contracts, and (ideally) eventually uses to conquer 50-54 floors of the spire. On succeeding, the player unlocks a slightly harder version of the game for the character that won, up to a maximum of 20 difficulty modifiers (a system called ‘ascension’ in-game).

Deck-building games, like most games with card-based combat, are a subset of the strategy genre. The principal challenge of Slay the Spire—as in its broader strategy siblings—is, as the name of the genre implies, developing and executing an effective strategy. In theory, barring some truly horrendous luck, a person who has robust strategies should be able to beat the game a reasonable proportion of the time, even at high ascension levels. Figuring out which strategies work and which strategies don’t work forms nearly the entire gameplay loop and motivation structure of the game throughout nearly the entire time a player will spend with it.

I feel that these facts must be patently obvious to most players of Slay the Spire, yet I’ve encountered again and again people who give new players some truly objectionable advice which would never come from someone that understood those precepts. The advice in question runs rampant in the forums across the web dedicated to the game, and even feels implied in the words of the developers within the game’s graphics settings when they say that they “recommend Borderless Fullscreen for fast alt-tab.” The relevant advice is to make use of secondary resources—such as watching high-level players in order to “learn the game,” or having a wiki open while playing. I intend to argue here that doing so is tantamount to telling new players to skip the most engaging and valuable content of Slay the Spire.

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[Game: Slay the Spire, Mega Crit Games, 2019]
Someone Else’s Strategy:

On Mega Crit’s Slay the Spire, and the Occasional Heresy of Outside Help

was last modified: December 4th, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Dark Souls, FromSoftware, 2011]
Unchosen Undead:

A Thorough Existentialist Philosophical Analysis of FromSoftware’s Original Dark Souls

 

Introduction:

Dark Souls, FromSoftware’s dark fantasy masterpiece, is a seemingly impenetrable work from an interpretive and thematic standpoint. First, famously, much of its worldbuilding and story can be reached only by careful attention to environmental set pieces, optional character interactions, and item descriptions. Second, and more of an obstacle for our present analytical purpose, Dark Souls is a game which seems to be about death, decay, and annihilation—but which is simultaneously a game starring a prophecy-driven character who survives death, and in which souls are demonstrable realities.

But would-be Souls scholars should not despair. As for the subtlety and density of its worldbuilding, this is no rarity in the wider world of art. While it’s nowhere near as complex as a Modernist novel, I would contend that Dark Souls is similarly rewarding to careful attention and study as are, for instance, the works of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. So, obviously I don’t consider the difficulty of accessing its story to be an insurmountable detriment. And as for the seeming thematic contradictions of the game, these are not intractable.

A reading of Dark Souls as being in conversation with the canon of existentialist philosophical thought yields a relatively straightforward path toward interpretation: Dark Souls, especially through its story and gameplay mechanics, is an allegory for the human condition in an entropic universe with no inherent meaning. That might seem vague and insubstantial, but hereafter I intend to provide support for it (and eventually specificity) through careful attention to both the game and the relevant philosophy.

Dark Souls screenshot with Furtive Pygmy, Dark Soul, and First Flame - existentialist philosophical analysis of Dark Souls - FromSoftware - existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche

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[Game: Dark Souls, FromSoftware, 2011]
Unchosen Undead:

A Thorough Existentialist Philosophical Analysis of FromSoftware’s Original Dark Souls

was last modified: October 30th, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Puzzle Link 2, Yumekobo, 2000]
Integrated Game Goals:

On Yumekobo’s Puzzle Link 2, and the Potential Simplicity of Good Game Design

 

Introduction:

Puzzle Link 2 North American box art - Yumekobo, SNK - tile-matching puzzle game cardsYumekobo’s Puzzle Link titles are not well-known games in America (or maybe anywhere). Besides Puzzle Link having a Japan-only release for the original Neo-Geo Pocket, Puzzle Link and Puzzle Link 2 were released exclusively on a little-known handheld console called the Neo-Geo Pocket ColorPuzzle Link 2 - Yumekobo, SNK - tile-matching puzzle game cards, which was made by SNK. In fact, the North American release of Puzzle Link 2 preceded the console’s discontinuation in America by a mere two months. For today’s article, I’ll be discussing and recommending the sequel—because it is similar to the original, but with a few very important improvements (some of which I’ll detail below).

Although Puzzle Link 2—like its predecessor and like many other Neo-Geo games—was well-received by critics at the time, the combination of its timing and the Neo-Geo Pocket Color’s tiny little share of the North American handheld console market means that the vast majority of gamers in my country have never heard of it, let alone played it.

But I was part of that minority share of the market, and I played it quite a bit when I was younger. And I think more people should know about it, because upon reflecting I figured out what made the gameplay such fun. So I decided to write this article on how Puzzle Link 2 builds compelling puzzle gameplay simply by establishing three complementary, concurrent player goals.

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[Game: Puzzle Link 2, Yumekobo, 2000]
Integrated Game Goals:

On Yumekobo’s Puzzle Link 2, and the Potential Simplicity of Good Game Design

was last modified: May 18th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Defense Grid: The Awakening, Hidden Path Entertainment, 2008]
Towering Tower Defense:

In Praise of the Gameplay, Execution, and Aesthetics of Hidden Path’s Original Defense Grid

 

Defense Grid: The Awakening screenshot with mid-game challenge level - Hidden Path Entertainment - tower defense game

Introduction:

The topic of today’s article is a game which is roughly eight years old, and which resides in the curious genre of tower defense: Defense Grid: The Awakening. I call tower defense a curious genre because the formula of tower defense is a simple one, and yet one which is rather often poorly executed. For this article, I just want to talk about what that formula is, and how Hidden Path managed to impeccably nail it (in addition to doing other things right).

It is amazing to me that Defense Grid is almost a decade old now, as I first played it less than two years ago and, due in no small part to its economical aesthetics, the game still felt fresh and new. In short, it has aged incredibly well so far. Indeed, what is perhaps most striking is the fact that so very many tower defense games have been produced in the eight years since Defense Grid released, which by and large continue to make the same mistakes that Defense Grid so gracefully and thoroughly avoided.

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[Game: Defense Grid: The Awakening, Hidden Path Entertainment, 2008]
Towering Tower Defense:

In Praise of the Gameplay, Execution, and Aesthetics of Hidden Path’s Original Defense Grid

was last modified: July 11th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

{Guest Post} [Game: Soccer Spirits, Big Ball Co., 2014]

Recalling Soccer Spirits:

A Galaxy-League Player’s Opinions on its Successes and Shortcomings

 

Introduction:

On July 17, 2015, I offhandedly downloaded Soccer Spirits, a Korean mobile phone card game published by Com2us Corporation and developed by BigBall Co., Ltd. It was the latest of several card games I have played, meant to fill the void: Urban Rivals, Sword Girls, Rise of Mythos, Valkyrie Crusade, Chain Chronicles, and Devil Maker Tokyo.

Three days later, I began playing Soccer Spirits in earnest and was quickly hooked. The fact that I had a late start, as Soccer Spirits already had its first year-anniversary two months before, did not discourage me too much as I grinded my way up the ranks.

However, once I came to understand the mechanics and metagame, it became readily apparent that in spite all of its charms, my newest mobile app game had more than its share of glaring flaws.

Soccer Spirits Season 2 Homescreen - Big Ball Co. Ltd. - review

Please note that this review will gloss over the basics, as there are a multitude of beginner guides available, in lieu of highlighting my opinion of what Soccer Spirits has done right and wrong. Furthermore, the Japanese version of Soccer Spirits is a whole other beast, one foreign to me, and hence will receive minimal acknowledgement.
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{Guest Post} [Game: Soccer Spirits, Big Ball Co., 2014]

Recalling Soccer Spirits:

A Galaxy-League Player’s Opinions on its Successes and Shortcomings

was last modified: December 16th, 2016 by Joshua Fu