November 2013 Archives

Hearthstone Beta: Thoughts

I've been playing Hearthstone for a few weeks now, and Blizzcon brought up a lot of game design decisions about simplifying the collectible card game genre.

I loved Magic the Gathering: Online, and while it definitely had issues, Hearthstone corrects many of those issues and invigorates the genre. I believe that Hearthstone is to Magic Online what World of Warcraft 1.0 was to Everquest -- a good spin on an old genre.

Hearthstone uses the flavor of the Warcraft universe for the theme, and it's not hard to envision other variants using other Blizzard properties.

My main gripe with Hearthstone is that it's very turn based; unlike other Blizzard games where you're constantly in the action, Hearthstone is turn-based, and doesn't have responses the way MtG does with Instants -- the only Instant like action is in the form of secrets, which only three of the eight classes have and auto-execute when conditions are met; while this speeds up Hearthstone considerably (no more waiting for the other player to see if the move is ok, like in MtG), it also makes it so that there's no real reason for the player to pay attention when it's not their turn.

Unlike MtG, where any player can use any card to construct their deck, in Hearthstone there are class-specific cards and neutral cards -- class specific cards can only be used for a hero of that class, and neutral cards can be used for any deck. This creates some interesting dynamics, as not everyone uses the same cards in their deck.

One of the more interesting aspects is that Hearthstone is a Free-to-play game; the portions that cost money are buying additional packs and buying entry into the Arena, but these can also be paid using in-game gold. The Arena is similar to Draft (which is my favorite style of MtG), except that it doesn't rely on other players being present for the card selection. This makes it so that you can make an arena deck and you aren't committed to a 3 hour long tournament as you are in MtG. Additionally, playing in the Arena grants gold, packs and materials to create cards.

The cards used in Arena don't belong to the player (so there is no need to pick for rarity), and any cards in your collection can be used for constructed play. The money required currently looks like this: Constructed Play is Free, and 3 Wins nets you 10 Gold. 100 Gold will buy you a pack, and 150 Gold will allow you entry into the Arena. The Daily Quest will grant anywhere from 40 to 60 gold (or more depending on what the objective is) This structure is what makes it possible for players to never spend a dime on Hearthstone.

The only game mode I actually care about is Arena, though, as without the rare cards to construct a solid deck, constructed feels a little too random, since one will likely be missing some very common utility cards. Since it takes forever to get enough dust to craft cards, the packs won through Arena play usually includes cards that will make your collection bigger overall, and more competitive over the long run.

Review: iPad Air (Late 2013) (5th Generation)

When Apple announced the iPad Air, I wasn't even considering upgrading from my 3rd Generation iPad with Retina Display.

The Air moniker is due to the weight reduction, which is substantial, trimming off nearly half a pound from the iPad. The weight reduction is due to the change in dimensions of the iPad, the frame around the iPad has been narrowed, and the batteries are now lighter. The processor has been upgraded to an 1.4 Ghz Dual-core A7 (up from A6X in the 4th gen, and ARM Cortex A9 in the 3rd and 2nd generation iPads), which results in a very snappy response time. The improvements to the processor should help with a lot of those 3D apps. Additionally, the Air now has a M7 motion co-processor.

Setting up the iPad Air was extremely quick, and once I connected it up to iTunes, there was an option to restore the iPad from a previous backup (in this case, my 3rd Gen Retina iPad). Using the backup, reduced the amount of available capacity substantially, and within a few hours, I found myself out of drive space. My guess is that using the backup, it copied over all the application data, without checking if the application was still in the library. In my case, I had several apps from an old iPad that were no longer in the App store. Additionally, the new apps included with the iPad are pretty substantial in size, totalling about 3GB in total.

I cleared the data and reset the iPad Air to factory state, and reinstalled the Apps one by one -- while this worked for my iPad Air, users which have more data on their iPad may want to consider making sure they have their app data backed up before reseting after a restore. I'd also suggest that 16GB (12.8GB) may be too small for most power users, and that they would benefit from one of the larger capacity iPad Airs.

Battery life still seems to be very good with Apple advertising 10 hours, which is for WiFi/Surfing/Video and Music. Some reviewers have reported 12 hours or more.

Apple includes a 12W USB Lightning charger.

I did find that even though I had no trouble charging the iPhone 5 through a Lightning cable connected to USB hub, using that setup did not charge the iPad Air.

The new iPad Air is a good deal lighter than it's predecessor, and with all the improvements, there's only a few changes I'd like to see in the upcoming models -- the inclusion of the fingerprint sensor found in the iPhone 5S, and a bigger base capacity.

It's definitely a evolutionary change, and while I suspect it won't change the landscape of tablets or apps much, I think I will enjoy the new faster, lighter iPad quite a bit until the next revision.

Amazon knocks 15% off 3 of their Kindles - One Day Only!

To celebrate the use of electronic devices in airplane mode from take-off to landing, Amazon is discounting three of their Kindles by 15% for today only. You'll need to use the promo code: ThnksFAA to receive the discount.

Specifically, these discounted Kindles are the basic Kindle($59), Kindle Fire HD($118) and Kindle Fire HDX ($195).

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