Gaming Stories: Magic: The Gathering

I was surprised to see that my opponent was a married, bearded man my age from Williamsburg. I had prepared myself for the worst kind of loud, know-it-all teenager who had too much time but too little patience for an old guy like me. Instead, my opponent was a friendly guy who was seated to my left when I constructed my deck. We both asked for the same colored deck from the tournament organizer, so I knew that this would be almost a mirror match. We shook hands, and he was patient when he pointed out that the card I just played would come into the battlefield tapped, which meant that I had to turn it sideways on that turn and that I couldn’t use the resource it contained to do what I was trying to do. When he beat me two games to none and eliminated me from the tournament, we shook hands again and talked about how our respective wives would react to our tentative re-entries into this addiction called Magic: The Gathering. He said that she was fine as long as he didn’t play more than once a week; I said that I have to get rid of my cards at the end of the tournament because there was no way I could bring them home. We shared a laugh, played a friendly match (he beat me again), and we moved on, him to his next match, me to my wife and kid at home. And that was the summation of my very brief return to Magic: The Gathering, except it wasn’t.

Games on my iPad tend to have very short life spans. I haven’t loaded Civilization Revolution after a torrid three-month affair; even the promise of new buildings and units for various civilizations has not enticed me to return. 10000000 was a beloved game for the month it took me to escape the castle; I loaded it recently and could not find the emotional investment to play it with any seriousness. Puzzles and Dragons kept me up for hours past a decent bedtime and had my iPad glued to my hand for weeks until I decided that I was sick of grinding out money and experience points for my creatures and deleted the game. The only game that has had any success in keeping my attention has been the one with the most unwieldy title, Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. 
Thinking about Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering brings me back to my days in junior high school when my friends and I would go to a nearby comic book store, head to a windowless and starkly lit second story room, and try out our latest decks. I was not a serious Magic: The Gathering player; instead, my game of choice was Decipher’s Star Trek: The Next Generation Customizable Card Game, which is now known by a slightly less cumbersome and more accurate name, Star Trek Customizable Card Game (and which I’m going to call Star Trek CCG from here). I drifted away from Star Trek CCG for the same reason I was never willing to invest myself into Magic: The Gathering: the barrier to entry to being “good” was too high. Unlike some of my friends who also played Star Trek CCG, I was not able or willing to pay $125 for a copy of the Future Enterprise card or even more than that for the rare collection of deluxe cards, The Fajo Collection. So my interest tapered off as Decipher released more expansion card collections to Star Trek CCG and I eventually boxed my cards up or gave them to friends.
The object of my intense adolescent desire.
If I were unwilling or unable to pay what was to an adolescent a significant amount of money for some playing cards in a game that I was emotionally invested in, I certainly wasn’t going to invest a lot of money in order to play Magic: The Gathering with my friends. So I tried my best to create decks with their cast-off cards; I settled on a deck that utilized white and black knights as my creatures. I had some moderate success with it against other surface level players, but there was no way I could compete against players who were willing to spend thousands of dollars to obtain powerful cards like the infamous Black Lotus or Demonic Tutor. So, there was no reason to invest myself emotionally in Magic: The Gathering, and the interest faded away almost completely by the time I moved on to college.
Black Lotus: the world’s most expensive Magic: The Gathering card.
Except, as a recent article in New York pointed out, no one ever really leaves adolescence. This isn’t a case of arrested development, of “man-babies” or “man-children” who have been the subject of articles and posts in male-oriented magazines and Websites for years. Instead, we’re all traumatized on some level by our experiences in high school. While I wouldn’t say that my brief teenage forays into competitive Magic: The Gathering traumatized me, they certainly left their mark. Thanks to running head first against the financial barriers to entry in Magic: The Gathering and Star Trek CCG, I was (and continue to be) skeptical about paying to play massive multiplayer online role-playing games, to start collecting anything, or to even play free to play games, such as Puzzles and Dragons or Kingdom Rush, on my iPad that have In App Purchases. In those cases, I can see the appeal directly conflict with the need to pay more to either keep having fun or to have more fun. The process of learning to leave Magic: The Gathering and Star Trek CCG taught me that fun is a disposable commodity.
Years later, I thought that the original Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers on Xbox Live Arcade would be a good compromise between that ember of desire to play Magic: The Gathering and my unwillingness to significantly invest my money, time, or emotion into the game. For a while, it was a fine substitute; I even got all the achievements in the main version and one of the expansion packs. But the announcement that there would be a sequel with minor improvements a year after the original game’s release soured me again. It was a stark reminder that Wizards of the Coast was more than happy to make an annualized product that wouldn’t address some of my concerns about the player’s inability to modify the decks much, the slow pace of the game, and the game’s general instability. So I bailed on Magic: The Gathering a second time.
By the time I got an iPad and saw that Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 (which I’m going to refer to as DotP 2013) was available, I could price my willingness to even try the game at about $10. I downloaded the free version, and since the price to upgrade to a full version was less than $10, the satisfaction to investment ratio seemed to be in my favor. And it did pay itself off when I was able to spawn a gigantic creature to crush my opponents.
A Primordial Hydra grown to 128 power and 128 health splattered my opponents across the battlefield.
The satisfaction of growing a creature that large was almost primal.
Since my interest in Magic: The Gathering was rekindled by by DotP 2013, I wondered if there was a way I could dabble in the actual card game again. The recent release of the latest Magic: The Gathering expansion, Gatecrash, meant that there would be special events catered to old players like me who would come back to the game, even if it was for only a little while. A sealed deck tournament, where every player gets an unopened box of cards with which he or she could construct a deck, seemed like the friendliest format for a player who has been away from the game for almost a decade. 
While we were constructing our decks, some of the other players at the table asked me how long I had been away. When they heard that I had stopped playing after the fourth edition of Magic: The Gathering was released, they asked me why I came back. I’m still not quite sure. Perhaps I was inspired by Steve Heisler‘s article about his own brief return to Magic: The Gathering for The AV Club. Perhaps I was tired of playing against the AI in DotP 2013. Perhaps I wanted to recapture that little piece of my adolescence that I never had, of winning an actual Magic: The Gathering tournament, just so I could say that I had done such a thing. 
Unfortunately, my bearded, also married opponent put a quick end to that idea. I’ll admit that the ease by which he dispatched me was a little demoralizing, but he at least told me that I could take comfort in the fact that the last match would have been more competitive if I had one more turn to play one of the cards in my hand. I was treated well by all of the other players; while the crowd was predominantly male, it wasn’t aggressively macho. I wish I had an opportunity to speak with some of the women who also played in that tournament, but it seemed like everyone was at least cordial and well-behaved. At the very least, the experience was pleasant enough that I would consider going back to play one more tournament at some point.
Yesterday, my wife asked me what I was doing on my iPad, so I showed her DotP 2013. She was interested in playing, so I walked her through a match against the computer and tried to explain concepts like mana cost and creature abilities. She seemed interested in playing some more, and I mentioned offhand that I still have some physical cards somewhere if she ever wanted to play an actual game of Magic: The Gathering. (I never did manage to get rid of those cards from that sealed deck tournament.) In the meantime, I can still play DotP 2013, where I can create absurd scenarios that lead to my opponent’s defeat like this:
That’s a lot of very powerful creatures on my side.

Gaming Stories: Cook, Serve, Delicious! Restaurant Check-In

Well, I thought keeping a diary while running a restaurant would be easier, but it turns out that there just aren’t enough hours in a day to write a daily diary entry after cooking and serving delicious food all day, dealing with suppliers, handling the chores of running a restaurant, and making connections with my customers so I can create repeat, sustainable business. As it turns out, there aren’t enough hours for love either.

The business is running well at this point. For the first month or so, I was earning about $500 a day. Since my expenses are fairly stable, this wasn’t an issue. Things picked up when I earned a 2-star review in this year’s Michelin Guide; with the extra business, I started earning about $700 a day.

A two-star restaurant!

That review was informative, and I used the data from that review to drive some changes in my menu. I had focused on serving wine and beer, but the review pointed out that this was hardly appropriate in a mixed use building like SherriSoda Tower. I took that feedback and focused more on serving hearty foods, such as burgers, my grilled chicken plate, and salads. I experimented with serving lasagna, ice cream, French fries, and sopapillas, but they couldn’t stick to my menu. There were too many complaints about the smell produced by French fries and sopapillas; ice cream just wouldn’t sell enough, even on rainy days; lasagnas didn’t have the returns on investment I wanted from such a complicated dish. Furthermore, the likelihood of messing up a lasagna was too high.

Speaking of lasagna, I’m still astonished by the dietary habits of my customers. When I still served wine, I would regularly sell entire bottles of our cheapest house wine and the more expensive Cazu Marzu aged cheese wine to customers, and they would drink the entire bottle in one sitting. When I served lasagna, customers would order a full sized tray of lasagna and finish that in one sitting too. I hate to think that I’m contributing to health problems in SherriSoda tower, so I feel better about taking lasagna off my menu. Of course, people still ask for the Ryan Davis Special and the Heartstopper on days when I serve burgers, so I won’t be able to claim that I’m offering a completely healthy menu.

Thankfully, no one’s had a heart attack as a result of eating one of these yet.
One of my favorite burgers to make.

I’m not sure who this Crazy Dave fellow is, but I enjoy taking his money whenever he approaches me via e-mail with another of his asinine bets. He bets against my success, and I have proven to him time and again that he should not underestimate my talents. He can challenge me to put items on my menu that I would normally never serve and maintain my standard of excellent service, and I will answer the call. More importantly, I will continue to take his money.

A lot of my food preparation relies on sound. I can tell how many burger patties I put on the grill based on the sound of patties hitting the grill. I can tell if a chicken breast has been properly prepared based on the sound of mallet hitting meat. That’s another reason I don’t like serving lasagna; it doesn’t sound right from dish to dish when I prepare a lasagna tray.

Since my last entry, I’ve celebrated my 1000th and my 2000th customers. I can remember vividly what the 1000th customer ordered (a salad with thousand island dressing, cheese, carrots, and greens), but I can’t remember what my 2000th customer ordered. Time just flies by.

Like all new businesses, my restaurant faces peculiar challenges, but I have determined that I have a significant competitive advantage that defies economic theory. Simply stated, my customers are very insensitive to pricing. When I upgraded my chicken plate to use a higher quality meat, I raised the price of my plate. However, demand does not seem to have suffered as a result of this price increase. Instead, the clientele that I had when my restaurant was unrated in the Michelin Guide and paid for a lower quality but cheaper chicken dish continue to come to my renovated and Michelin-rated restaurant to buy a more expensive chicken dish. Even stranger, my customers are willing to pay as much for a small cup of water with ice as they will for a jumbo-sized cup of grape soda with a flavor blast. I’m not complaining about this unusual customer behavior, and I’m afraid of jinxing it by even thinking about it.

Frank, an old regular, rubbing elbows with Dwyght, one of my new regulars.  I enjoy my diverse clientele.

I received another review recently, and I was promoted to a 3-star restaurant, which was very exciting.

A three-star restaurant!

I now make about $1000 a day thanks to my slightly revamped menu, which offers a high quality chicken breast plate, coffee, soda, burgers, salad, and steak. I also started to cater parties in SherriSoda tower, which has provided another source of revenue.

I get the burgers, but who eats whole trays of lasagna at a party?

This improved review also brought me back to my mentor’s attention, and he surprised me with an invitation to appear on a test episode of Iron Cook at the Iron Cook Studio. Walking into that battlefield was a dream come true; I hope to make it back as a full-fledged competitor soon.

I completed the Iron Cook burger and ice cream challenge without a hitch.

Unfortunately, though I have found some measure of professional success, I have been unable to find romantic success. I recently signed on with an online dating service at the behest of my friends, and I’ve been set up on a couple of dates. Because running this restaurant is so demanding, I’ve had to hold my dates at my own restaurant. Though I try to schedule these dates on days where I don’t have to run the business by myself, I inevitably have to help cook, serve, and clean, which makes these dates rather tense. It’s especially annoying when I get the sense that these women are only dating me because I can make a certain dish; one woman would only agree to a date at my restaurant if I served lasagna. I tried to explain that I had very good reasons for taking lasagna off my menu, but she insisted. So I indulged her and invited her to sample my restaurant’s lasagna. Word must have gotten out because almost everyone ordered lasagna that day, which made the whole experience much more stressful than it should have been. The worst part was her insistence on texting me after the so-called date. While I was answering her texts, I couldn’t run my restaurant. We went on a couple more of these so-called dates, and then she e-mailed me that she was leaving the country.

At that point, I decided that I have to focus on the restaurant for now and have to stop dating.

Bad romance.

I continue to work to improve my restaurant. I’m facing another restaurant review soon, and I hope to at least maintain my 3-star rating, if not increase it to a 4-star rating. We have a pretty good rotation of dishes now to keep my menu fresh, and I’ve started exploring a third revenue stream by investing in some products that any restaurateur would appreciate, such as improved toilets and dish washers. Hopefully, things continue to hold. I’m really enjoying the experience of running this restaurant.


Gaming Stories: Cook, Serve, Delicious! Week 1

When I first opened my restaurant, I set my definition of “success” to mean survival. After more than a week in the restaurant game, I think that I can redefine “success” to mean more than just mere survival.

Customers Served
Perfect Orders
Average Orders
Poor Orders
$ Earned
$ Tips Earned
Positive Buzz % Earned
Most Popular Item
Grilled Chicken Breast
Wine and beer

I started with a menu of beer, wine, salad, and grilled chicken breast, but I’ve expanded my menu in the past week. The menu expansion took place a little faster than I would like, but I hadn’t expected that my clients in SherriSoda Tower would grow tired of the chicken so quickly. I have to cycle it out of my menu every couple of days. At first, I introduced a soda fountain, which I eventually upgraded to include flavor blasts. That has been a big hit, and it remains a staple of my little restaurant. I then added lasagna to my menu, and it  too was fairly successful. But it was a time intensive plate, and more importantly, it’s a labor intensive dish, since it requires creating three layers and adds more dishes to be cleaned. Even worse, it suffers menu rot just like my grilled chicken breast. I’ve since cycled in ice cream, a staple menu item, as my occasional replacement for chicken.

Since my business has been steady, I’ve begun to invest in the quality of my menu offerings. I first upgraded the quality of my beer from the cheapest beer my distributor would sell me to a more pleasant and expensive microbrew. Incidentally, I was able to increase the price of my beer from $5 to $8. As I mentioned, I’ve also introduced flavor blasts to my soda fountain, and I’ve also added thousand island salad dressing as an alternative to ranch dressing for my salads. Ranch dressing remains the more popular choice though.

I am beginning to have concerns about my clients. I love them because they pay me for my goods, but I am beginning to wonder if I am feeding their alcohol addictions. Frequently, I have customers who come in at 9 a.m. for a beer or a bottle of wine. I understand that SherriSoda Tower has workers in the night shift who may come in at 9 a.m. at the end of their shifts for a drink, but I don’t vet my customers. I am becoming very uneasy about this. The law of unintended consequences is hitting my conscience.

I’m also uneasy about how simply unhappy many of my customers look when they enter my restaurant. They are all satisfied by my food and my service; the positive buzz I’m accruing and the occasional praising e-mail from customers I receive can attest to this. However, there are no smiling customers, no customers dining in groups. My only customers are lonely, possibly depressed.

A typical customer. Note the stained clothing. He dines alone, like all my other customers.

That said, one of my customers won the lottery and gave me a $250 tip, so not all of my customers are in dire straits.

I’ve also increased my restaurant’s efficiency by investing in table foods and a better air conditioner to increase my customers’ patience, a dishwasher to cut down on the amount of time I spend washing dishes, and a garbage disposal to decrease the amount of time I dedicate to hauling trash to the dumpster. In a different time, I probably would have just more staff. Instead, I invested in technology. So much for the idea that a small business owner is the country’s job creation engine.

I’ve also passed two safety inspections. I’m grateful, but I’m not exactly sure what the inspectors are using for criteria. Thankfully, I don’t have a rodent infestation, unlike some other parts of SherriSoda Tower, and I have yet to fail to clean my toilets, take out my garbage, or wash the dishes in a timely manner.

Finally, I’ve discovered some alternate revenue streams. When all my orders are executed perfectly, my mentor rewards me with $200, which seems to me right now like a sizable amount of money. I’ve also taken bets from an eccentric fellow named Crazy Dave about my performance. I’m not sure if he’s rooting for me to fail or to succeed; he’s certainly gambling that I won’t succeed. This is why I gladly took his money on his bets that I would not be able to serve 15 consecutive customers perfectly or that I would be able to serve 20 consecutive customers perfectly while I had salads and ice cream on my menu.

I still lack a grill, a stove, or a deep fryer, so my hot food options are limited to grilled chicken and lasagna. My strategy for now is to concentrate on raising funds so I can upgrade the quality of my wine and ice cream. They’ll generate revenue so I can begin to buy meat that I can then add to my lasagna or buy toilets that flush automatically.


Gaming Stories: Cook, Serve, Delicious! Days 1 & 2

It’s hard to open a business in the current economic climate, and it’s common wisdom that it’s especially hard to open a restaurant. While the commonly cited statistic of 90% of all new restaurants fail is a myth, even if we accept that 60% or even just 30% of all restaurants fail in the first year, a new restaurateur still faces an intimidating set of challenges. Naturally, my new year’s resolution for 2013 was to open a restaurant and manage it until it is a success. Unfortunately, I haven’t defined what “success” in this case means in the long term, so for now, survival will equal success.

I had spent the past few months studying the biggest pitfalls a new restaurant faces. As I understand them, they are:
-lack of a unique selling point that is unrelated to food and service (for example, Sonic offers “nostalgia” as its selling point)
-the menu is too large, which lacks focus, requires large inventory, more equipment and personnel, longer ticket lines and keeps customers inactive for too long;
-inability to manage logistics;
-poor pricing strategy;
-no marketing skill;
-poor negotiation skills with suppliers.

I’m not sure what my restaurant’s unique selling point is; I can’t come up with anything that matches the attractive location I secured in SherriSoda Tower, where the local economy is beginning to pick up after some tough times. I hope that my previous work experience have provided me with management, marketing, and negotiation skills. I suppose I’ll find out whether I’ve priced my goods properly.

I was able to secure the crucial liquor license, so I will be able to sell beer and wine at my new restaurant. I plan to use my beer and wine sales to form the backbone of my menu while I find actual food items that will work in this location. After all, the actual mechanics of serving beer and wine are relatively easy, and both provide opportunities for tips later down the line. I am concerned about the clientele and reputation that my restaurant will attract because we sell beer and wine from opening until closing.

For now, I’ve decided to also offer salads and grilled chicken breasts, which are both simple to make and should be in fairly high demand during lunchtime. Also, neither salads nor grilled chicken breasts require additional equipment, which should help me keep my opening costs down for a while.

I settled on simple, staple items for my opening menu.

Day 1: Soft Opening
Because we didn’t have the budget to advertise widely, I employed a soft launch strategy for my new joint. I’ll have to rely on my skill to build the buzz for my restaurant.

We opened at 9 a.m. Sunday morning, and I’m already distressed by my customers’ dietary choices. Who has a salad with just ranch dressing and cheese at 9:15 in the morning?

One of many salads I served today.

I think that I had a pretty good day; at this point, the first few days will serve as the baseline for future days. I served 55 customers today, and I only screwed up 2 of them, and only 1 of them badly at that. At one point, I completed 35 orders perfectly in a row. I earned $361 by the time we closed at 10 p.m., which seems like a pittance, but at least I can feel like I earned every cent with my labor. My service and food have begun to earn my little restaurant some praise; my messed up order created some negative buzz, but my restaurant earned 26.5% positive buzz overall today. Thankfully, there wasn’t a huge run on beer and wine in the morning; I’d think that would reflect poorly on my business and on SherriSoda Tower. I was glad when the last order of grilled chicken breast was served though. I’m beat.

I hadn’t anticipated how often I would need to clean the dishes, take out the garbage, or flush the toilets. Who are these people who don’t know how to operate a toilet? Washing dishes has quickly become my least favorite part of owning and operating a restaurant.

Taking trash out is simple compared to washing dishes. Oh, those dishes.

Day 2
The soft launch continues, and I’m pleased that we picked up some new customers today. In total, we served 64 people, and I completed 40 orders perfectly in a row and 62 orders in total. I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting a handle on the cooking side of this business.

I was able to install a tip jar for today, which added to my daily earnings. Today, I earned $414 and $18 in tips. It’s a little disappointing considering how much beer and wine I served today, but I hope that my customers will become more forthcoming with their tips in the future.

My grilled chicken breast has been the hit item on the menu so far; there was definitely a run on chicken from morning until the afternoon.

I wonder if I’m ready to explore more difficult items. People love burgers. Maybe I should consider adding burgers to my menu? I’ll admit that the idea of adding foods to my menu that will generate more dish-washing intimidates me because I hate washing dishes.


Gaming Stories: Aliens Versus Humans

When all of my friends were firmly entrenched in the world of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I found that I was intensely jealous that I could not participate in the conversation because I couldn’t buy the game. So far this year, I’ve been relatively firm on not buying new games; the only moments of weakness were when Borderlands 2, SSX, and Spec Ops: The Line were released and when I bought Episode 1 of Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead on my iPad so I could play with my wife. This means that I can’t help but feel like I’ve been left out of the larger gaming conversation of the year. I can’t very well comment on whether Halo 4‘s Spartan Ops mode matches the greatness of Halo 3: ODST‘s Firefight mode, whether Binary Domain‘s supposed experiments in storytelling worked, or why it seems like many of this year’s spate of sequels (Darksiders II, Max Payne 3, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, Resident Evil 6, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Prototype 2, Ninja Gaiden 3, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, even Halo 4) seemed to have underwhelmed.

Let the cleansing fire do its work.

Gripped by this jealousy and looking for an inexpensive alternative, I settled on Aliens Versus Humans for iOS. Reviews, such as Owen Faraday’s for PocketTactics, described Aliens Versus Humans as a clone of the original X-COM: Enemy Unknown/X-COM: UFO Defense. Though Julian Gollop, one of the creators behind the original X-COM game, touted Hunters 2 as the tactical turn-based RPG that gets many of the elements crucial to such a game right, the aesthetic similarity of Aliens Versus Humans to the original X-COM game drew me to it.

Though Aliens Versus Humans brought the same sense of masochism and vulnerability that anecdotes about XCOM: Enemy Unknown conveyed, the way that the game is stacked against the player began to wear on me. Aliens could shoot at my soldiers from shadow without revealing themselves, which meant that I had to recruit sacrificial scouts for every mission to scout the map in order to find the enemies for my better armed and more experienced soldiers to kill. There were no costs associated with recruiting these sacrificial scouts, Once I solved the game’s core combat challenge in a way that made combat seem rote, a lot of the game’s appeal was lost.

The enemy variety never really seemed to change. Though there were hopping green blobs, skinny grey aliens in blue suits, skinny grey aliens in red suits, and alien cyborgs, they all seemed to use the same weapon and had the same reactions to my soldiers: shoot on sight regardless of how exposed they were. This only added to how rote the game seemed.

I think it was a night mission that broke me and forced my hand to try to break the game. I took a group of relative veteran soldiers into town to find some aliens to shoot. I lost four soldiers to an ambush that I couldn’t see. I tried to send my six remaining soldiers into a building; three of them made it. One climbed to the second floor to try to at least find the shooters; he was shot through the window before he could find the aliens. I tried to wait out the enemy in the building; they shot out the walls and eventually killed me. I quit the game and couldn’t think of it without getting angry for a few weeks. I finally beat that mission by abusing the game’s save and load functions to maximize my soldiers’ opportunities.

I have to acknowledge that I only played the original game’s missions, which were called the Training Missions, and I haven’t tried the new Onslaught mode yet. I’ve read enough about the game know to convince me to at least give the Onslaught mode a try.

Gaming Stories: Civilization Revolution

December 31, 2076

And with my last move, I nuked Calcutta and wiped Gandhi from the planet, completing our absolute domination of this world. That is justice for all the little nagging wars that Gandhi would start beginning when we first encountered his envoys in 111 A.D. or the several times he tried to hold our settlers hostage, forcing us to pay exorbitant fees to have them safely returned. Before we conquered Athens and subjugated Alexander and his Greek nation to the unstoppable American way of life, we had paid them to occupy the Gandhi’s attention by starting a border war. Unfortunately, like other previous allies, Alexander did nothing with the funds we supplied him. And in an ultimate show of disrespect and what would ultimately prove to be his undoing, three turns after we gave him money to start the war with Gandhi, Alexander turns around and declares war on me because my economy is booming. So we had to steer a portion of my forces away from the Indian/American border so we can bring the Greeks to an understanding, rebuild their cities, occupy their lands so that we may resume our good war with Gandhi.

The history of the world started out so well too. I founded Washington, my capital, on an ocean coastline with access to bountiful plains and productive mountains. I built the first buildings in Washington with my bare hands. We sent my warriors to survey the land, and they encountered friendly peoples who supplied our fledgling nation with soldiers, trade caravans, and persons with unique intelligence skills. Some of them even offered to join our nation, which brought pride and, more importantly, resources. We encountered some barbarian nations and clarified to them that the new world order had no place for them. As they fell, they gifted us gold and a ship with which we could begin to explore this world.

Let us remember the brave Pikemen who defended Boston.

Our view of the world expanded when we encountered envoys of Bismark of the Germans. There was some tension when our settlers founded Boston near the German border, but we ignored their demands for technology. Providence ensured that we found an advanced war machine, called a Sherman Tank, and we used it to smite the warriors and catapults that the Germans sent to conquer Boston. Sufficiently impressed with American might, Bismark sued for peace, which I gladly gave them. To ensure Boston’s continued success, we settled Plato there. I will never forget the look on Bismark’s face when his people in the city of Hannover chose to join the American nation. This was the sweetest victory of all, an act of self-determination made because of how appealing the American culture and the booming American economy were, not at the tip of a spear or the receiving end of a big rock. Perhaps that is why the German declaration of war in 1970 A.D. seemed so half-hearted; after Hannover defected, they knew that they had already lost. I gladly accepted the German nation into the American melting pot in 1993 A.D., when they joined the English and Japanese nations under the American banner.

Because of Boston’s location, the Germans were effectively bottled in their archipelago, which allowed me to continue to expand. American cities are, by design, founded on coasts to utilize economic and military advantages. This was critical when our little ship, which was a prize won from barbarians, was sunk without provocation by the Japanese navy in 1780 A.D. That steered our powerful research and development academies to uncover the secrets of steam power. Cruisers carried our riflemen and cannons to the Japanese islands, and we engaged in a protracted island-hopping campaign that led us to their capital, Kyoto. Emperor Tokugawa sued us for a ceasefire, and our government faced a moment of crisis when Congress vetoed my rejection of this plea. I argued that to stop now would mean that the Japanese nation would have an opportunity to rebuild and threaten our nation once more. Furthermore, the continued existence of a separate Japanese sovereignty would trouble the Japanese citizens who already voluntarily joined the American nation as they recognized and approved of America’s Manifest Destiny. With a heavy heart, I suspended that Congressional session, dismissed the Senators and Representatives, and continued the campaign to ensure American safety against future Japanese aggression. I continue to intend to restore Congress; I take no joy from claims that I am the Mad King Lincoln. As always, I work to better the American nation and its dependent peoples. This is why I build aqueducts and granaries in every city to ensure that my people are fed. This is why I install courthouses in every city to ensure that justice is not forgotten. This is why I limit the production of arms to only certain cities.

Though I regret the crisis that the war against Japan brought us to, I believe that we are stronger for it. That crucible forged the American nation into a nation capable of facing all obstacles, particularly those presented by the insidious English culture. Their religious fundamentalism threatened modernity, and I was not surprised that they violently opposed the values that we projected. We tried to engage them in trade, but they seized our trade caravans at every opportunity. There were moments when I thought the English people would reject their trajectory; I had high hopes when they threw down the religious fanatics from power and chose to create a democracy. I regret that we did not do enough to support their blossoming democracy before it fell to religious fanatics again. For the safety of the American people, I had no choice but to take them under the American banner. It was a humanitarian act.

America’s greatest minds led to our victory.

Our nation faced its greatest trial when Gandhi uncovered a trove of advanced technology and threatened us with tanks and advanced artillery. I marshaled our resources to uncover these secrets as well, constructing the Oxford University in order to gather our finest minds to lead the way. Providence again guided us; for all of the Indian nation’s might, they could not break through the stalwart defense posed by our veteran riflemen. They were the rock, and the Indian tanks and artillery were the wave. Eventually, we were able to unleash the full power of the American economy and manufactured tanks, artillery, and bombers. We also discovered Leonardo’s Workshop, which allowed us to quickly upgrade our existing soldiers’ equipment. The unconquerable veteran riflemen replaced their rifles with machine guns. That was the turning point of this protracted war.

Our hope for the future.

But I am tired of war. Now that Gandhi has joined Bismark, Elizabeth, Tokugawa, and petty barbarian lords in the realm of the unenlightened, we have a chance to ensure to improve our world. With global safety assured, I believe that unrest in the former Japanese, English, German, Indian cities will be relieved by expanding education, by building more universities, by ensuring that they have easy access to food and good jobs. One day, we will be able to disband our rapid reaction force and send those veterans home to the heroes’ welcome that they have earned. But most of all, I hope that our colony ship successfully finds a new world where we could start fresh and leave the mistakes of this world and its history behind.

America’s humble servant,
Abraham Lincoln


CSR Racing Gets Freemium Right

CSR Racing is a drag racing freemium game that features licensed vehicles that you can customize an upgrade. The game’s story and world have a Fast and the Furious meets Saints Row vibe to them, as you compete in a variety of race modes and try to take down racing gangs in a progressively more challenging series of levels.

I downloaded the game when it first debuted on the iTunes Store back in June mostly because a friend of mine was the game’s writer. Boss Alien, the studio behind the game, also had some pedigree, as some of its members worked on the underrated Split/Second at Black Rock Studio before it closed in 2011. But while I spend less than an hour total with most freemium games, I’ve put at least ten or twelve hours into CSR Racing, and I’ve kept coming back to it as my default iOS game over the past few months.

CSR Racing gets a lot right about a mobile game experience and a good example of what freemium can mean. The gameplay on a moment to moment basis is designed to be bite-sized, while each session of gaming can go on for about a half hour. Races take under 30 seconds to complete, and each race costs you gas, of which you have a limited supply. Of course, you can pay for more gas with real world money, or you can just wait for your tank to refill naturally, which is what I do. So, I usually spend south a half hour at a time with the game, but I might have two or more sessions with it in a day, and several over the course of a week.

Where the game also shines is in its balancing, and there are two main components to it. First, the game’s leveling and upgrade system is pretty much perfect. When I don’t win a race, it’s either because I made an error in my driving, or my car needs to be upgraded. Each upgrade actually makes a tangible difference in terms of performance, and you see results immediately. So, you can be a lousy driver and progress by making your car better than everyone else’s, or you can drive well and only upgrade when you need to (which is what I do). Secondly, you can truly play this game without paying for anything, and you can make progress on a consistent basis. I did pay a couple of bucks for some in-game currency to purchase a car when I was at the first level, but it was more of a donation to support the game. I haven’t once paid for gas, and I’ve been able to upgrade just by playing through races or challenges. Granted, if I wanted to go all out purchasing cars or upgrades, it would take quite a while. But, I am making my way through the campaign with no problems.

I think freemium still gets a bad rep, as there are still some examples out there of abuse. But overall, freemium has taken a big step forward, and CSR Racing is a shining example of what it can do. It was recently announced that the game was pulling in over $12 million a month under its current model, and yet it remains fully playable for free. The game deserves the success it’s had, as it not only got the business model right, but the model was built on a foundation of excellent gameplay and balance.

FIFA 12 Proves the iPad Is a Legit Gaming Console

by Brian LeTendre

“Hardcore” gamers like to eschew claims that mobile devices, particularly Apple’s iOS devices, are legitimate gaming platforms. What a lot of gamers don’t realize though, is that developers absolutely consider these devices gaming platforms, and they are working harder than ever to create content for these platforms that will be able to stand toe to toe with other platforms that gamers consider more “hardcore.”

IGN posted a video this week of EA’s FIFA developers showing off a version of the upcoming FIFA 12 for iPad. This year’s iteration of the game will allow players to use other iOS devices (iPhones and iPod Touches) as controllers for the iPad game. The video also demonstrated how the game looked on a big screen, using the iPad’s HDMI connector.

In other words, the devs demonstrated how they can turn the iPad into a traditional console via the software they are developing. This has already been done with other games and apps on a smaller scale. But, it’s easy to imagine that if FIFA 12 will have this capability, other EA games will end up having it too.

I’m not suggestion that my iPad/iPhone combo will replace my current consoles, but when you look at how consoles are trying to incorporate some of the best parts of mobile tech, and mobile tech is starting to provide console-type experiences, the lines between the two are starting to blur. Personally, I for one can’t wait to see more games with this functionality, because it pretty much means I’ll have a portable console made up of devices that I already carry around with me on a regular basis.

And that’s perhaps the most interesting thing about what’s happening right now with iOS devices and gaming. It’s like a spy movie, where the assassin gets past event security because he’s broken down his weapon into multiple pieces and then assembles it once he’s inside.  Apple has basically snuck a new game console into iOS users homes piece by piece. First the iPod, then the iPhone, and finally the iPad. Then they bring them all together to form the console.

Crazy stuff, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming down the road.  One thing’s for sure–I’ll be buying FIFA 12 on iPad on day one.


Hardcore No More?

by Brian LeTendre

Something strange is happening to me. Maybe I got bit by a radioactive spider, perhaps I’ve consumed too many artificial sweeteners or colored dyes–I don’t know. But something is going on, because my tastes in video games are rapidly changing, and the change is leading me to ask myself:

Am I not a hardcore gamer anymore?

Over the past four years, I have been a console-dedicated gamer of the RPG and FPS variety. Modern Warfare, Battlefield Bad Company, Left for Dead, Dragon Age, Mass Effect–these were my games of choice. I’ve spent countless hours unlocking everything from chainmail armor to red dot scopes, and for the most part, I’ve loved every minute of it.

Recently however, I’ve not found myself craving 40+ hour RPGs, or multiplayer shooters that require the dedication of a professional sports player.

Lately I’ve been getting my gaming fix with bite-sized, mobile games that feature simple mechanics and aren’t bogged down with elaborate storylines and overly detailed game worlds. These games allow me to come and go as I please, and don’t pounish me for not spending enough time with them. They’re like ‘friends with benefits,’ as opposed to a more committed relationship.

To answer my own question, of course this doesn’t mean that I’m not a hardcore gamer anymore. That’s a stupid term anyway, mostly used by gaming snobs to put themselves above someone else. In fact, this recent change in my tastes isn’t so much a radical departure, as it is a return to my roots. The games I’m enjoying now are the same types of games that I grew up with. I was an Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 kid. I grew up in arcades and roller rinks. I didn’t care about the lore behind why Mario cared so much about Princess Peach, I just wanted to break bricks and stomp on mushrooms until my limited lives ran out.

I think what’s changed is with the explosion of smartphones and tablets, that type of gaming is back in full-force. It started because of the infancy of the technology–there was only so much developers could do when they first got their hands on the tech. We’re already seeing that evolve, as many mobile developers have been able to craft much deeper experiences on those platforms–MMOs, level-based shooters and more. But the marketplace is also filled with smaller, simpler experiences that have struck a chord with mainstream consumers, and that means they are here to stay. For a gamer like me, that means I get to enjoy the renaissance, and get back in touch with my gaming roots.

I know I’ll be picking up the next Mass Effect, and I’ll probably grab at least two or three shooters this holiday season, but much of my limited gaming time will continue to be spent with smaller games that remind me of why I fell in love with the hobby in the first place.

And that’s just fine by me.