I've been playing chess on and off for as long as I can remember. I always fell in the habit of getting into it for a year or so, and then not playing for several years. I used to belong to the Internet Chess Club, and found it to be a lot of fun. But I haven't had the chance to join a physical chess club because of my work schedule.
Since we now have three Americans in the World Top 10, and two very strong contenders to compete for the International Title next year, I decided to get back into it. It's always a great distraction from writing because it takes total concentration.
I decided to join Chess.com, which is the big alternative to ICC. And wow, am I impressed.
I pay the most expensive dues, which are about $100 a year. But you can play on the site for free if you want, and they have cheaper subscription packages as well.
I pay for the top package because I've found that their learning tutorials are excellent. They have tons of them, covering every aspect of the game. They give you a lessons rating that dips over time if you don't take more lessons or do tactic puzzles. This gives you the incentive needed to keep learning.
The best feature of the site is their analysis computing. They have a motto: There is no losing if you're learning. I love it. After every match, whether against a human opponent, or the computer (whose rating you can set), you can choose an analysis depth (the more in-depth, the longer it takes, but they only take minutes), and the computer will go through the entire match and show you your mild discrepancies, your errors, and your blunders. It will tell you what the better moves are, and show you why as it'll explain the lines of play. It's absolutely fantastic for learning.
The site also does an excellent job at broadcasting tournaments. I watched the final round of the Pro Chess League, and I'm now watching the early rounds of the U.S. Chess Championships. They have chess analysts that discuss the moves in depth. It's very fun to watch, and much more professional than I would have expected it to be.
I hope that my work schedule will someday allow me to join the local West Valley Chess Club. But, for now, I'm very happy with Chess.com, because I feel like they have the tools to not only make me a better chess player, but to allow me to understand the game at a deeper level so that I'll gain a better appreciation of watching the Grandmasters play.
If you haven't played chess in awhile, I highly recommend checking out Chess.com. It's a terrific place to learn.
It's been a couple of years since CD Projekt RED released The Witcher 3, a game which won multiple Game Of The Year Awards, and was my favorite video game of 2015. I still play it regularly.
There's a card mini-game within The Witcher 3 called Gwent. It's an outrageously fun game that is a bit more complex than similar card games because players utilize three ranks: a close combat rank for swords, pikes, etc, a ranged combat rank for archers and such, and a siege rank for catapults, ballistae, etc. Players can gain weather cards that affect different ranks, use leader cards that can give bonuses, and start the game with one of five different decks, each based on a group (like a kingdom or monster) each of which has unique abilities. There's a nice, but not an overwhelming amount of complexity to it.
It's a tremendously well-thought out game that is very fun to play. Once you sink a hundred hours or so into The Witcher 3, you kind of run out of challengers to play. Thankfully, CD Projekt RED announced that they were going to make a stand-alone Gwent game, that would have a free-to-play aspect to it. It was supposed to come out late last year, but was delayed. This week, the closed beta came out. When I first tried to play it, I was able to get through the tutorial, but it would lock up every time I challenged someone to play. Today, I tried again, and was able to play a few people.
CD Projekt RED has taken an excellent game and has expanded on it, making it even better. There are many more types of cards. So when you first start playing, it goes a bit slow, as each new player has to figure out what the cards do. I'm sure that after playing for a few days, the cards will be thrown down at great speed. Overall, it works smoothly, and it's fun to see the strategies that actual humans use when playing a round or two.
I can't overstate how fun this card game is. I can't wait for the actual game to come out. I'm assuming you'll be able to win better cards and buy packs of superior cards. I'm probably going to be one of the guys forking down a little money on this one.
The beta is cross-play between Xbox, Playstation, & PC. They have to bring this to Android soon. It'll be a blast of a game to play on a tablet, or even a large phone. I'll definitely write another post once the final product comes out. But, by the looks of the beta, CD Projekt RED doesn't have much polishing left to do before releasing what should be a huge hit with the Hearthstone crowd.
The history of weapon balance in video games has been fascinating to me.
In the early days, there were large variations in the balance of power and effectiveness of weapons. Think Counter-Strike. From its inception in 2000, there were ridiculous differences in the various guns—so much so that the vast majority of players only used the slight few of them that were most effective. As video games evolved, more balance was found, and guns started to become adjusted after the game release to find what developers considered to be the sweet spots.
After several years, as people got better with sniper rifles, it became harder to keep a good general balance. The problem with sniping is that a small percentage of gamers got really good at it (including quick-scoping), so it worsened the flow of games, because it was too easy to die quickly after respawning. Nerf the sniper rifles too much, and they're of little use to people who haven't sniped for years.
Although I loved sniping in the first three Halo games, it wasn't until Black Ops 2 that I started pouring dozens of hours of sniping into a current-day-themed first-person-shooter. That was in 2012, which was many years after most gamers fell in love with the sniper rifle.
Fast-forward to today, and I really love what Respawn has done to weapon balance in Titanfall 2. The main guns are more or less balanced. But the sniper rifles are slightly weaker and/or slower compared to other games. Since you unlock a pro-screen (which shows lifetime kills with the weapon) once you regen it, you still want to attempt to level up every weapon. But since the sniper rifles are much harder to use effectively than the regular guns, it's never a snipe-fest, so the flow of the game isn't negatively affected often.
This also goes for the Titanfall 2 cannons (which they call grenadiers). They're powerful, but they're unGodly slow. It's almost impossible to get the first shot off. But, this lack of balance creates a challenge for the better players, who are going to sink hundreds of hours into the game, and who are going to want to regen every weapon at least once.
I see a sniper rifle maybe every two rounds, and a cannon maybe every ten rounds that I play Titanfall 2. I've regened all of the guns except for a couple of the sniper rifle and cannons, which are a fantastic challenge at this point. I love the fact that they're so hard to compete with.
So we've come full circle. At first, pure weapon balance wasn't important in FPS'ers. Then it became too important. Now we're settling into a time where the longer-range and the more powerful weapons have to be nerfed or slowed down so that they're underbalanced. It's been a fascinating history.
The Hemlok BF-R, to me, is by far the most effective weapon in Titanfall 2, like the M-16 was in so many FPS'ers. But, to my surprise, it isn't used much more than the other weapons. I think gamers have advanced too. As K/D ratios become ever less important, and as developers work on giving us nice goodies for regening weapons, variety of weapon use is alive and well, and that's great for gaming. The overall gameplay of FPS'ers keeps advancing, and weapon balance is a huge but oftentimes understated part of that.
I'm glad developers have gotten it right over the twenty-five-year history of the first-person-shooter. For all that I loved about Counter-Strike, all those hours that I sunk into it, it got to a point where I never wanted to see an AK-47 or a Desert Eagle ever again. Thankfully, in modern games, we rarely run into that problem.
When I think of my favorite songs of all time, they all tend to have a few things in common:
1. A relentless beat.
2. A mighty guitar riff.
3. Dark, powerful lyrics that tell a narrative.
In my previous post, I mentioned some of my favorite Metallica songs. They tend to all have the above attributes. Whether its Creeping Death and its dark tale of ancient Egypt, or Blackened and its frightening tale of nuclear war, for some reason, these types of narratives tend to really engage me when incorporated in music.
I'm not a fan of happy, pop music at all, especially that which has a weak or missing narrative.
Every now and then, a rockish song that is far from being metal, does hit those requirements. Usually it's something that has lyrics which aren't easily understood by most people listening to it. Third Eye Blind's Semi-Charmed Life is a good example. I don't think most people listening to that song realized what it was about.
Another good example is Weezer's Hash Pipe. It has some of darkest lyrics I've ever heard. That wasn't a song about a Hash Pipe. It was about a Crack Pipe and some horrible stuff going down on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. What a bold narrative to hide in a top 40 hit, though.
Watch the video below, then click HERE to read the lyrics, and see if you'll ever hear the song the same way again.
There are numerous 'Best of Metallica' lists on the internet, and they are all utter crap. Every single one of them.
So I thought I'd take the time to write the real-best-of-Metallica list, once and for all, including music off of their latest album. Here is the only definitively true Best Metallica Songs Of All Time list that exists:
15. Broken, Beat, & Scarred
14. Moth Into Flame
13. Spit Out The Bone
12. Invisible Kid
11. Atlas, Rise!
10. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
9. Fade to Black
5. Leper Messiah
4. Creeping Death
3. Master of Puppets
1. Disposable Heroes
And that is the definitive list of best Metallica songs that currently exist. Notice that there isn't any off of their off-track The Black Album, Load, Re-Load period. Thankfully, they're back in true form, and we should expect more absolutely fantastic classics off of future albums.