There’s been precious little in the way of competitive video games that have interested me recently. Whilst I’ve spent time in competitive games of Halo Reach, Street Fighter 2 HD Remix, StarCraft II and even Gears of War 3 lately, none are quite perfect to my taste or are lacking in some way to my gaming design ideals of how I’d like them to be implemented as online games. Other games I’ve read about or even trialled seem to be just hopeless; all doing something massively different from my personal taste, and worse, generally always being afflicted by varying degrees of grinding stupidity which is annoying in challenge videogames, but as I’ve covered before, downright offensive & ass-backwards for a competitive game. Sure I can have fun with a lot of competitive games – but the kind of extra fun I get out of taking them relatively ‘seriously’? Not a chance with most of what’s out there today.
Instead, the most interesting thing I’ve come across recently in terms of competitive games is something I’ve been following from afar for years – David Sirlin’s Fantasy Strike series of games. What’s stopped me from ever getting into them before now is a combination of factors; time, the fact they were mainly physical products (which I would be slightly difficult to acquire from overseas, and more importantly I’d have no easy way to get others to play with me in real life), and also it has to be said for me, a lack of character & flavour appeal.
However now all of these factors have been countered by the online “live” release of Fantasy Strike, including online playable versions of both Yomi and Puzzle Strike, and by the new information appearing on Sirlin.net regarding much more details about the flavour and background of the characters, coupled with less interesting games elsewhere – well, something just clicked with me and it all started to become much more interesting. Oh and one other thing was clear to me – if this stuff ever does make it into an actual fighting videogame, it will most likely be world-beatingly outstanding (as long as the combo system doesn’t get crazy to execute!) which really encourages me to pay more interest too.
I’m yet to really get started with Fantasy Strike though. I’ve just attempted to read some of the rules of Yomi & a few of the threads and additional information that is lying around online & I’ve one test game vs a bot under my belt, as well as running through the tutorial a few times.
My practically pre-initial impressions though are as follows:
1. The wealth of information & understanding to get into before playing the game is rather intimidating! Whilst this is also in many ways really appealing to me, when I’m strapped for time (as I often am these days) it is a bit of a concern. I also definitely feel eventually a far more comprehensive tutorial and solo play teaching methods will be invaluable for things like Yomi to attract more players. I personally would like to “dive in and play” to learn the actual rules really; but there doesn’t seem to be a sensible & effective way to do so, yet. It maybe a mistaken impression of mine, but it definitely has the feel of something like Magic the Gathering as “difficult to learn, difficult to master” rather than something like say, Kongai, which is more the classic “easy to learn, difficult to master”.
2. I think the tutorial needs quite a bit of work to help out first time users, especially ones like me that are not really used to browser games and are therefore probably a bit dim when it comes to some of this 🙁 On my first forays I didn’t notice the Menu button – and when I did, I missed a lot of the basic commands. I didn’t realise it at the time, but first time through I’d even failed to read most of the tutorial text, because it was placed in the “Match log” rather than on the screen, and I’d switched that back to the chat window, without realising it I was missing vital info – I was just blind guessing what the actual tutorial was trying to teach me from taking the only actions available with a ! icon. Probably the next worst thing I missed first time around was that I couldn’t figure out how to read all the information on the cards – they were tiny. I tried mouse wheel and other commands I was used to from other online card games (such as Magic The Gathering: Duels of Planeswalkers) but nothing seemed to work. It was only when I went back and dug through the forum threads that I discovered there were commands for enlarging the cards to a readable size (Right Mouse or Space). Whew! I did feel quite dumb, especially when I even later realised these commands were explained on the Menu too. What had thrown me off the scent though was that I’d wondered if the cards weren’t readable on purpose because the online Yomi site was perhaps only intended for people who already owned the physical cards. In retrospect, very silly me – online Yomi is obviously intended for new players too. But I think it would be a lot nicer if all the of basic commands were explicitly gone through as part of the tutorial – including the menu button & how to enlarge the cards to read the text.
3. The “character select” art isn’t nearly as appealing as it could be. I’m not sure why, but the images selected for the main “character” cards, are fairly naff in the majority of cases to me, compared to the absolutely marvellous stuff on the regular cards themselves – especially the ‘special move’ cards like this one for example:
4. I’m still very worried about the fact it uses a normal pack of cards, or “poker cards” as they are often referred to as the basis of it’s decks. My trouble with that is, I’ve never fully understood, played or enjoyed any regular card games, to the extent that this inclusion really puts me off! I have no frame of reference and I’ve got no internalised knowledge of what a deck of cards even contains. If I think about it carefully, I realise I do know a bit, like the four suits, etc. But I’m extremely poor at this, and I know most people are the complete opposite, and I fear this might put me at a major disadvantage in learning, and eventually playing, the game. I would much prefer something that my geeky brain did have some frame of reference to – like, say, Magic. At least there is a clear conceptual link in Yomi to actual fighting games though, but I fear that relying on that too much may be a big mistake. Basically everything Sirlin says here about using established conventions to convey information quickly does not apply to me. I have absolutely no instinctual feeling for probabilities of a normal deck of cards. Reading that section of the article is probably the number one thing that puts me off trying to play Yomi sadly. 🙁 I don’t think I’m a self-defeating type by nature, but this gives me a feeling that’s somewhat similar to the one I get when I see a new fighting game that has execution requirements that are clearly way beyond what I already know I’m capable of, from years of practising on other games. In both cases, while I know it’s not intrinsically impossible for me to learn, but the enormous practice investment I know I’ll need to even get to an ‘average’ standard makes these elements of design just look like a daunting uphill struggle for me. I should note that, despite the comparison I’ve made of my feelings here, picking up some deck probabilities is far, far less of a concern to me than the frankly ridiculous execution requirements of all modern fighting games!
5. The cards themselves, especially the normal cards, seem rather “busy” to me. I know it’s because of all the complexities, and as I figure out a bit more of the game through reading the rules, it’s starting to make sense why some of the busy-ness is vital the the design – for example why single cards need to have multiple uses by flipping them over. But they still seem initially quite daunting – there’s so many numbers and icons and things – and it’s all exacerbated rather than assisted by the Poker card stuff for me! Compare to something like basic, or even complex Magic cards visually, you’ll see what I mean (even though some Magic cards get so extremely complex in their actual use that pages and pages of extra rules about them need to be written!). I wonder if as a teaching aid some kind of special “simple decks” might be useful; as this is exactly what I used to do to teach people Magic, so they could grasp the basics, and some form of strategy & tactics, whilst still learning all the mechanics etc. (And I know I did a far better job of teaching Magic than DotP does!). Some of the ‘confusion’ issue with the card information feels like it would probably be reduced a lot by playing with physical versions. Being able to easily turn cards around in your hand and re-sort them etc in physical form would do wonders for it I think; and I didn’t realise I could do some of that digitally through playing the tutorial – again, as it wasn’t clear to me it took me a few goes to figure out that I could do some things to my hand to make it more readable. I should note that this is the same problem Magic has when going from physical to digital versions. This made me wonder if perhaps I would be better off with one of the simpler Fantasy Strike games than Yomi, and Flash Duel really does appeal to me too, but sadly there’s no online version of that yet. Puzzle Strike for various reasons just doesn’t appeal to me in the same way though.
6. I also find myself partly wishing this was a team game. Whilst I really like competitive games and 1v1 games too, I have to admit I am so much of a social gamer in my tastes too, that nothing beats playing with a team of friends for me at times. Whilst I plan to hopefully try to play against my friends to learn Yomi more, it’s a much harder ‘sell’ and far less appealing in some ways than being able to play with them some of the time too. Again, Sirlin Games does have this covered with Flash Duel – but again – not as a digital online version (yet).
7. Remy77077 wins! Great, I won the tutorial 😉 Now let’s try playing against a bot, umm.. how do I exit the match and start a new one? I couldn’t figure out anything that worked other than closing my browser and starting again. Not a big deal, but I suspect it’s not the best thing for the “experience” – just when a new player is getting interested, you really want to be led, breadcrumb style to the next step I think. Maybe add a lot more help & advice text in the tutorial text? I realised after a couple of vs bot games there was a tiny X button that actually ended the match – and didn’t close everything down as I thought it would.
I don’t want this to sound negative though – overall impressions are still very good. I’m excited and intrigued to know more. I’ve already found my brain starting to buzz with ideas about the game in idle time away from it, so I can easily imagine this is type of game that will get in my head – playing close to bed-time could be dangerous, as it might stop me sleeping! That’s a rare and good thing for a game to have though.
I’ll hopefully be able to write more about Yomi as I continue to play it more over time.