Weekly Little Big Planet: my kingdom for a…

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New rule: designers who don’t bother to state explicitly that the level I’m about to play is a versus level should be smacked with a sackpuppet. I don’t know if such a thing as a sackpuppet even exists, but I’m willing to invent one for just this purpose. Jumping into a level and then being told, after the level loads, that it is really for more than one player drives me bonkers. That must have happened five or six times the last time I played, and given the length of my load times of late, it really is too much to take. You’re making me just want to ditch my PS3 controller in favor of grabbing my iPhone and checking my Ascension turns, something that will not take much to persuade me to do. You really want to do that?

LBP CUP 2011-William Tell Overture, does not have this problem. While it is indeed a race, you race against the clock so a versus tag is not necessary. What’s more, after you’ve galloped Fred Flintstone-like for awhile, the level becomes something totally other. Weird. Unexpected. Kind of wonderful. No tags needed for that. However I would love to be able to just bloop back, TiVo style, to where the shift occurred, because I can’t quite figure it. A quick replay would be nice.

Speaking of replays.

after the jump, what the hell just happened?

So today I’m going along nicely in a game of Ascension–the deck building iOS game that has had me in its thrall for weeks now–when something inexplicable happens. Inexplicable and upsetting. I can’t figure it out. I’m playing against a new Game Center friend and this is our rubber match. He waxed the floor with me the first time out, and I won the second game (albeit not as convincingly). I know from the first game that he loves him some Mechana, and given the opportunity will focus on lining up those constructs in favor of amassing military might. I decide for this third match to focus on Heavy Infantry in the early going. In the early rounds this starts to shake out nicely. As the luck of the draw would have it, the center cards are monster heavy, so much so that the baddest monster of them all, Samael the Fallen is out early. I’ve got the military might, and if I can get him this early this could go really well for me. At least I recall reading something along those lines somewhere.

I can’t beat him yet as he takes eight power to beat, but I’m getting close. I can, however, defeat the Ravenous Gorph which will enable me to banish the card next to it, which is the only card my opponent can purchase in the center. Maybe, just maybe…

Yes! I banish that card and it is replaced by another monster. A Sea Tyrant. Nice. Now the entire center row is monsters. My opponent has some power in his deck, but not that kind of power. His turn. Ha!

Wait. What?

What just happened?

I watched his hand laying out. Rune, rune, rune, rune, rune. Not a point of military might to be seen. Nine points of spending power and not a thing in the center row to do! This is gonna be sweet. Enjoy your three Mystics! I can already see my hand is going to enable me to–

Samael. Uh. Wait…where are you going? Samael!

Just like that, with no apparent military points in his hand, my opponent has snagged Samael the Fallen. What. The. Fuck. I blink my eyes. Did that just happen? Is that even possible? Did I just see that right? I can’t have just seen that right. But. But. But.

There’s nothing I can do about it. No way to check it. No way to throw a red flag and put one of my timeouts on the line. Nothing. Just have to move forward with my strategy totally blown out of the water. And I don’t even know how. For a second I consider screaming and tossing my iPhone out of the window of my car, but as I am parked in the shade outside my son’s school waiting to pick him up, I decide against this.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke of wishing the game had some kind of chat feature. Some way we could communicate after a match. Whether something as simple as a ‘gg’ or something more involved, like praise for a specific turn or a question about what exactly just happened. Even the strange comfort of a friend’s trash talk after defeat would be welcome. I’d like to add to that the wish for replays. This is probably impossible for an iOS game, but I wish for it nonetheless. I realize I’m probably in the minority here, but I love watching games sometimes, and love learning from them. I don’t have any experience with Starcraft to speak of, and what experience I have is not noteworthy in any way, but when a friend of mine introduced me to the world of Starcraft replays with commentary, I was fascinated. I don’t need something that involved here, but every now and then I’d really groove on being able to jump back to a particular hand and watch it play out again. Especially later in the game, when the hands can go on for longer and your opponent seems to be drawing card after card after card. Banishing this and that. Defeating monsters. Banishing more cards. Drawing again. I get lost in those turns, and I’ve even bothered to turn the animation speed down a notch. Being able to see them play out in replay, with some kind of point counter so that I could tell how this was affecting the outcome, would be really cool. When you’re playing the game in person you see all of this unfold and sometimes get a running commentary by your opponent as he works through the math and his options. This is a huge help in learning the game, and enriches the experience considerably.

Aside from this afternoon’s Samael setback, Ascension has been going well for me the last few days. I’m emerging from a bit of wilderness. It kicked my buttocks over the last couple of weeks since I bought the Return of the Fallen expansion. One of my most reliable opponents convinced me to leave the safety of the original deck and jump into the expansion. “It really is a better game with the expansion,” he told me. While that seemed nigh impossible to me, I decided to listen to him. I quickly found myself lost in the wilderness. Meaning I immediately went on a losing streak.

My first experience with Ascension was with the physical tabletop game, and I honestly think this gave me a leg up when I eventually started playing online. I was fairly familiar with the cards from holding them in my hands, and had a simple understanding of strategy from sitting at a table and talking through my moves with my friends, and watching them do the same. There are some advantages in playing the online version, of course. The game calculates your honor score as you go along, and it highlights what cards you can afford automatically, so if you’ve got some runes to spend on specific constructs you can tell without doing a bunch of mental math. It also keeps you from ending your turn before you’ve done all your possible actions, a feature I find invaluable and one I used to have in the real world until my mentor in the game stopped doing it. And rightly so. At some point the training wheels must come off, after all.

I had far less tabletop experience with the expansion, however, and trying to learn that on the fly in matches on my phone has been more difficult. I just wasn’t adapting my strategy for the new cards, because I wasn’t really getting the new cards. Luckily I play against some pretty cool people who took the time to explain a few things to me, but still, I find playing the real life version and then moving onto the virtual version to be a much more gratifying experience. I’m starting to come around–I just got back up to .500 yesterday–but I can feel that I’m still not quite getting it (Exhibit #1: today’s Samael debacle), and the fact that there’s another expansion to learn on the horizon has me a bit spooked. It looks like I’ll be able to sample that one in real life first, though. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

I don’t expect that replay wish to happen any more than I expect some kind of chat feature to be implemented. The game works just fine without monkeying with ancillary issues like these that could very well break the game for other people. Still, a fella can dream.

Which reminds me. I have one more image from this week’s LBP community level. I mentioned that the level shifted to “something totally other” as I played it; I’m not giving away what that is because discovering it is fun, and I’m not saying how it got there, because I honestly can’t remember. I cannot recall when the game shifted from the race it was, to what it became. Was it a dream? A hallucination?

I don’t know. I suppose I’ll have to replay it to find out. At least I have that option.

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