True Dungeon, Gencon 2013

9 09 2013

A staffer stands watch before the entrance to the massive western wing of the Indianapolis convention center. The doors are held wide open but beyond there is only a stifling darkness. The staffer asks for an entry ticket and takes it with a soft grin and a nod. Carefully passing into the veil of blackness, your eyes soon adjust to the pervasive dimness and you find yourself standing in a lobby area of some sort, decorated to have the resemblance and ambiance of an inn or tavern that adventurers might visit to collect and steady themselves before venturing into more dangerous parts. Apart from this holding area, looking aloft you can tell from the expanse of ceiling that the room stretches hundreds of yards in each direction, and one can only ponder on what challenges and dangers are concealed in the sprawling maze of curtains beyond that makes up the expanse of the True Dungeon. There is an air of tension and excitement amidst the quiet, and several other patrons are here as well whispering amongst themselves, whether in anticipation or dread you cannot tell.

You approach the counter and offer your papers to the administrator. They glance at the paper briefly then speak the name of your waiting room and offer a small grey bag filled with what feels like sturdy poker-sized chips with little explanation. Upon finding your way to the room, you find a long table across which are strewn various laminated templates and documents. Taking a seat, you study the documents and find that some of them are named to be dungeoneering professions; fighter, druid, rogue, wizard to name a few which are chosen by the participants. Additionally there are templates depicting an adventurer’s body with various circular “slots” in each position on the body—head, left arm, right arm, ring, amulet, body, belt, etc.—where various items, weapons, and equipment seem to be placed. This is when you remember the grey pouch, and emptying its contents you find that indeed the various chips depict a random assortment of adventuring gear, protective vestments, and various weaponry which are the tools of the trade for dungeoneering. There are some that appear more effective and valuable than others, and those blessed with good fortune may have particularly powerful artefacts and relics to wield.

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A few more participants begin to trickle in, and also begin studying the sheets and instructions. A few of them set to work immediately, and apart from the small grey pouches of their own produce hefty bags of the chips which have been stockpiled from years of dungeons previous; it seems that veteran dungeoneers are allowed to accumulate their items from dungeon to dungeon and become more powerful as their hoard grows. Soon, the pool of participants begins to fill and the room is filled with cross-talk and banter as the team of adventurers evaluates their effectiveness. Classes are chosen and items swap hands as the party readies themselves. The more veteran dungeoneers assist newcomers, offering advice and sometimes even gifting to them a piece of equipment or two from their vast arsenal such that each member is competently prepared for the unknown dangers of the dungeon.

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Before long, a guide appears from the administration, and he assists in finalizing the party’s composition. He offers some coaching and advise to newcomers, and also notes down the selection of equipment each participant has chosen on a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will be taken through the dungeon such that the other guides can discern the party’s armament from a brief glance. Soon the time to enter the holding room for the entrance to the dungeon sounds from the speaker and the party gathers their effects and heads to the door. The classes that were chosen are worn around the neck via an elastic cord, and relevant items such as weapons and ammunition are kept at the ready. In the holding chamber, another guide briefs each participant on some of the potential challenges of the dungeon and gives a brief overview of combat and spellcasting.

When an adversary appears, the party must engage them in combat. The guide produces a large and long table with a polished surface, at the end of which is a silhouette of the enemy, in whatever monstrous shape it may assume. The silhouette is broken into distinct sections, each marked with a different number, with vital areas denoted with higher numbers. Each participant wielding a weapon may attack the foe using their weapon chips by fitting the chip into a slotted weighted coaster and then sliding the coaster down the table in a fashion not unlike the tavern game shuffleboard. Damage is determined by the position and orientation of where your shot lands on the opponent’s silhouette. Some melee specialists like the ranger and monk are able to fling multiple coasters at once, due to their mastery of multiple strikes. You would do well to aim your strike so that it lands true and strong, for if the foe is not felled, it will retaliate and some of the dungeoneers may take damage, or even be killed if they sustain too many wounds.

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Apart from rending enemies with weaponry, certain classes have other effects that they can call into play throughout the dungeon. Wizards and druids are required to memorize arcane symbology and shapes to represent their mastery of magic and lore and may be required to recite and recall these images when attempting to muster their powers. Rogues will occasionally have the opportunity to pick locks and treasure boxes by way of their own dexterity, guiding a metal stylus through a winding path without touching the edges to simulate their finesse in bypassing security. The bard of the party is informed that if he wishes to have his music bolster and enhance his allies, he will have to actually vocalize and sing for the duration that he wishes for the effect to occur.

After what seems like only a few heartbeats of frantic training and memorization, the party is whisked into the first of many rooms partitioned into a progression of chambers. The first of these rooms was a small enclosure, about 25 ft by 25 ft, handsomely decorated with its walls having a clockwork look to them with various bronze panels, pipes, and wiring. In the middle of the room rests a circular table with small round openings around the perimeter of the surface, each corresponding to an abstract symbol. Attached to the table there is a comically large switch like you would find in a madman’s laboratory. The referee in this room explains that you need to power the switch to successfully bypass the sealed door to the next chamber, and offers no further explanation. The rogue of the party notices a treasure box and sets to work in silent concentration. The rest of the adventurers, puzzled as to what to do with themselves, begin to inspect the decorum of the room itself. They discover that there are openings in various places on the wall about 3 inches in diameter, that seem to have some tube connected to them that leads somewhere out of sight. After a few moments pass, there is a peculiar thrumming sound, like a warning that something is about to happen. From one of the openings, an object issues forth and the adventurers watch in surprise as it plummets to the floor. “The orb impacts the floor and everyone takes 5 lightning damage!” the referee announces. The party quickly organizes themselves such that each member is assigned to a different opening to catch the falling objects such that this doesn’t happen again. Sure enough, in a few moments another orb leaps out into the room and is caught by a waiting hand, but this time the orb is different bearing a frosted blue appearance and being actually cold to the touch…It is at this time that the magic-users of the party recognize the symbology of the table to represent the various elements and infer that the correct orb must be matched with its element on the table to power the switch. In this fashion, 7 more orbs are caught and allocated to their spot on the table, and the door creaks open…

This is simply the first of many rooms you and your party must defeat in succession, with their skill and wits about them, to conquer the dungeon. A total of 7 challenging rooms with devious traps, confounding puzzles, and deadly enemies awaits for the dungeoneers. Not all parties make it through the dungeon intact, and indeed it is a mark of honor to have survived the gauntlet of chambers and survivors are awarded with a special badge to display proudly. After the party has cleared the final room (or suffered crushing defeat) the adventurers emerge into another common area where they are free to carouse and trade with the various merchants for valuable items for future dungeon runs. This adventure is but one of the four offered in a given year of True Dungeon and truly dedicated dungeoneers may attempt all of them, time and coin permitting. One thing to be certain of is that it is a truly unique experience of Gencon that is not to be missed.





EVO 2013, Paris Hotel, Las Vegas

26 07 2013

This year was my second outing to Las Vegas for the annual EVO world championships. Although the venue has changed, the energy and excitement has compounded from consecutive years. With over 6,000 attendees, this year boasted a record-breaking attendance. Seeing and feeling the electric energy of the packed grand ballroom, especially on finals day, is proof of the power of a long-standing international community that has made the pilgrimage and rallied to witness the clash of competitors that represent the pinnacle of skill and expertise over the course of 3 days of insanity. Additionally, this same community pooled their resources and goodwill to raise over $225,000 towards breast cancer research as a fundraiser towards the inclusion of community-requested games in the main tournament schedule, such as Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Tournament schedule aside, there were other attractions to be seen around the viewing halls and show floor. Double Helix’s Killer Instinct reboot had playable kiosks as well as the debut of a returning series stable character Glacius in his new incarnation. Glacius’ look has taken an extraterrestrial bent and his focus is on distancing himself from the opponent and trapping them inside his effective zone with long-ranged normals and keep out tools. Even the indie-produced Dive Kick had a show presence and I was able to get some hands on time with the game, which manages to be simplistic and elegant despite being rooted in satire. A release of August 20th was announced for Dive Kick with a set price of $10. Funds have already been set aside on my part.

EVO is also a time when fighting game developers will often reveal new announcements, perhaps even more so than E3 considering that they have in that moment the interest and attention of their entire dedicated demographic. Among the most notable and groundbreaking announcements was the inclusion of Black Canary and Martian Manhunter as additional DLC characters for Injustice, but also yet another iteration of Street Fighter IV: “Ultra Street Fighter IV.” This upcoming version will feature even more refinement and rebalancing based on community feedback as well as the inclusion of a few new characters, namely the 4 warriors from Street Fighter X Tekken (Hugo, Elena, Rolento, Poison) as well as a yet-unrevealed 5th warrior who is said to have never appeared in a main-line Street Fighter game before. The game will be available both as a full retail disc and as a reduced price digital upgrade.

If ever there was a day to make an appearance at EVO, it would have to be the tournament finals on Sunday. Within these 24 hours the absolute best on earth compete in an all-out showdown to determine the world champions in their respective arenas. The immense tension, excitement, and HYPE within that crowded main hall has to be experienced firsthand.

The first game of the finals was KOF XIII, and while I know precious little about the game watching battles at the absolute highest level of play was enthralling. In the end Reynald took 1st place as the 1st ever American player to be the grand champion of the game.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was undoubtedly a huge draw for the crowd and likely contributed to the record-breaking attendance. Some of the competitors came from as far across the globe as Sweden for the sole purpose of going head-to-head with the very best in their game of expertise. While the expected top-class picks Falco, Fox, Marth, and Sheik were certainly present, there were some unexpected entrants that captured the attention of the crowd, namely an Ice Climbers player “Wobbles” who took 2nd place.

The Injustice finals were interesting to watch but took an unexpected turn; Superman has become so universally reviled as an overpowered character in this game that the crowd unanimously booed whenever he won a match (even in the very last match of the grand finals). Something is probably wrong when the community reacts with such “anti-hype” towards witnessing the highest levels of play in a given game.

The end of the evening was reserved for the most hotly anticipated games, the first of which was Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. UMvC3 is widely regarded as being the most frenetic and insane game to watch during finals where anything can happen. Although he didn’t take 1st, the hero of the top 8 was undoubtedly Justin Wong, an long standing veteran and celebrity in the fighting game community who has been making a marked comeback of late, fighting his way through the bracket and knocking out several dangerous and reviled players through savvy, intelligent, unorthodox play. Justin managed to take 2nd but he really won the heart of the crowd. Another crowd-pleaser was the player Angelic whose inclusion of Shuma-Gorath was highly unusual and instantly won the approval of the crowd for his amazing utilization of an obscure character.

Finally to conclude the procession was the finals for Super Street Fighter IV: AE 2012. Some of the most respected players had ended up in the top 8 and every single match was a guaranteed clash of titans. There was not a single match that was uneventful but for me the highlight was Infiltration’s Hakan counterpick against PR Balrog. Infiltration’s usage and win using this extremely underplayed character is a testament to his skill and adaptability as a player, exploiting PR Balrog’s unfamiliarity with the match-up and pulling out a seemingly unlikely win. Other memorable moments include the birth of a meme within the packed main hall of the finals during Infiltration and Tokido’s match. Both players are known for playing Akuma, and the repeated launching of aerial fireballs caused the crowd to imitate the grunting noise of Akuma’s signature attack amidst uproarious laughter. It was a special moment that broke the tension of this intense match because it really solidified the idea of an entire community that had a shared sense of the humor of the situation. But perhaps the most significant takeaway from the finals was the winner overall; the player Xian with his dominant performance using the somewhat-obscure character Gen and his decisive victories are proof that expectations can be shattered and anything is possible in EVO finals.

Overall this EVO has been one of the most successful yet, and I hope to return next year, as will the many thousands of players that congregate yearly for the love of the game and the thrill of the battles that unfold within.