Gaming for dads

I have been a gamer literally all my life. I remember my dad’s IBM PS/2, it had a game that taught me to type, it was like missile command but letters were falling from the sky: a, d , s, f then later: j, k, l, ;. There was another that I was horrible at, it was a robot that turned into a jet and flew around in some underground cavern with enemies. Then came the Nintendo, the Gameboys. Final Fantasy and Mario Brothers. The second-gen consoles, then back to the PC and simulators. Practically taught myself to fly a plan for real — I have the video to prove it! — and still waiting for an opportunity to take a car out on a real track.

The height of VGA excellence in 1987. I was eight.

Anyways, I don’t have time much for games these days. Not with the side hustles and other projects going on. What I have enjoyed is playing games with the kids. I’ve managed to avoid most of the Candyland and Chutes and Ladders type of games, for the most part. I taught the older one to play Carcassonne. Not that she’s good at it, mind you, but she can at least get the hang of it. Forbidden Island was another that she likes to play, although it’s mostly me directing and doing most of the work. So of course I went out and bought Pokemon for eldest’s last birthday, and ran through a couple games. Takes practically 90 minutes with all the setup and stuff, which is hard to do with the little one wanting to have a hand in it. So I put on the computer version, and so far we’ve been pretty good with that. Safe, from a parenting perspective, but the Pokemon show, and the books, are about the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Not to mention the other copycat shows with things like fighting tops and whatnot that are all designed to sell crap to kids. Of course, G.I. J.O.E. and He-Man were just as bad, but we’ll leave that for another day.

So anyways, I decided to let the eldest start taking a play through some of the games on my Steam collection. I put on some simple, E for Everyone things that I thought she would enjoy, and she eventually took to Hexcells, a great logic puzzle game, and has been playing through that for the past couple weeks. Just an hour on Saturday or Sunday. Eventually she started getting up early during the week, doing her chores without asking in order to play for fifteen or twenty minutes before we go into daycare.

Well earlier this week I heard about WOW Classic getting released this month, and I thought I’d see how well she did with that. We had a bad experience with Minecraft where she kept getting killed by zombies and got really frustrated and I had to cut her time short due to a tantrum, so I wanted to keep a close eye on her and see how well she could do with a close eye on her. So I created an account for her, enabled parental controls, — no chat, time limits — and let her play Hearthstone while WOW downloaded. She got the hang of it after an hour. Not that she was very tactical about it, but she managed to play through the tutorial and and a few practice rounds with me peeking over her shoulder and explaining things. So I thought everything was cool.

We took a break and I told mom what we were up to, and BOOM!! Big fight. “World of Warcraft is not appropriate for a six year old!” “Well, maybe, but I’m gonna watch her and play with her and see how she does.” “World of Warcraft is not appropriate for a six year old!” “Well, I turned off the chat and put on a time limit so…” “World of Warcraft is not appropriate for a six year old!” And things just went downhill from there until I was repeating back “World of Warcraft is not appropriate for a six year old”.

So we were done with games for the day, so I cooked dinner, went outside with the kids to let them play while I read, and they went inside while I finished reading, cleaned up, and snuck in an ice cream sandwich. I went inside, to find the three of them sitting on the couch, watching Jupiter Ascending, with guns and shooting and blasting and torture and all kinds of other stuff.

I just sat on the couch and read my book till it was time for baths.

Game(r) development

So I’ve been playing a whole lotta HearthStone lately. A lot. I’ve been using Icy-Veins for basic decks and card descriptions to up my game, and although I haven’t gotten anywhere near legend ranking, I have been doing pretty well. I started tracking my game history in OneNote, tracking the cards my opponents have played against me to try and some good openers. I’ve been somewhat limited with my success as I refuse to pay for decks and have been spending all of my gold to buy Naxxramas wings, (I’ve just started the Construct quarter,) and I did find an interesting project that will automate that for me. It’s called Hearthstone Deck Tracker, and in addition to showing me which cards of my deck I’ve drawn and which ones remains, it will also record my opponent’s plays and will even allow me to export them into a deck of my own pretty handy. This tracker belongs to a series of programs which have sprung up that utilize Hearthstone’s debug log to pull this information. Another one is a tool created by Elie Bursztein and his wife used data collected from over 100,000 games to predict what card you opponent will play next. They gave a talk at Defcon where they demoed the tool as well as some of their research on valuing Hearthstone cards, but apparently someone from Blizzard was in the audience and convinced them not to release the tool for fear of ruining the game. One of the things that their tool did have was a tracker that shows card, hand and mana advantage between your opponent, and that does look like something that could be integrated into the Hearthstone Tracker, which is written in C. I’ve been delving into the source code to try and and figure out if I can make any contributions to it.

HearthStone was actually created with the Unity3D development platform, and I’ve been playing around with that lately, having finished several of the tutorial projects with it. I don’t really have too much interest in developing a full fledged 3D game, but it has real object-oriented scripting, unlike GameMaker, which doesn’t fully implement OO methods. Unity seems really powerful, and I’m looking forward to delving into it a bit more and seeing if any projects come from it.

I’ve also been inspired to add to my real life collection lately. Reading the blog on the site, I was inspired even more. Every time I’d go into Barnes and Nobles I’d drool over the Android:Netrunner and other strategy games, and a few weeks ago they had copies of Summoner Wars on sale for half off, and I had to go back and pick one up. It’s a cool game; I’ve only had a chance to play a few games with a few friends, including a 2v1 match that ran on way to late and ended in a draw. And I also caved in and bought A:NR off of Amazon and have played a few games with it. I’ve probably spent more time teaching it to other people than I have playing it, but I found that there’s a version of it on OCTGN, which is like VASSAL on steroids, and I’ve had a couple good matches on there. The best part is that OCTGN and the modules are open source, so I can look through the Python code to see how the game mechanics were implemented. Fascinating stuff.

Halfway between the polished gem of Hearthstone’s Unity engine and the arcane workings of OCTGN/VASSAL games is HEX, a Magic:The Gathering clone that is currently in beta. The mechanics of the game seem strong, but the graphics and the game flow itself seem rather clunky. I’ve only played two games against AI thus far, but the interface has a ways to go yet. I don’t really recall how M:TG online plays in comparision, but it seems like the amount of clicks passing back and forth between players each turn is way to much. One thing I’ve yet to figure out is whether all the cards in Hex will be available by grinding the game, such as in Hearthstone, or whether certain cards will only be available through real-money decks, as I hear was done with the latest Dual of the Planeswalker version.