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Road to Masters #2 – Mentality: A story of struggle

Our minds are the main reason why we do things and the main reason why we quit them. Recently, I’ve been reading quite a bit about mentality in sports training, learning environments and esports.

Many times, we think of practice as pushing through the rough days and “putting in the hours”. This however, is only partially true.

Having a well-structured practice routine is one thing. Having the right state of mind to approach practice, is its own brand of challenge to tackle.
There are many resources out there than can help reduce anxiety within the game. (I highly recommend watching Maynarde’s video on overcoming ladder anxiety.)

But seldom do we think about how to mitigate the issues generated from outside factors. Sometimes, pushing through is not the right answer. But in order to make wise decisions regarding our mindset, we must first acknowledge that it is indeed a factor that plays a key role in our performance.

It all depends on how we approach the game to begin with.

For some, playing StarCraft can be a way to detach from everyday life troubles; just like most games we play.
But for others, StarCraft can be quite a competitive experience. The stakes are higher and so are the pressures and strains that come with it.

Know What Triggers You

In order to keep disruptive emotions from messing with our performance in the game, we must first learn what they are and what triggers them.

For me, anxiety is probably at the top of the list.

As someone who struggled with anxiety unknowingly for many years, managing it is still challenging. During the last couple of years I’ve learned a lot about the nature of my anxiety, it’s origins and the situations that can spark a significant influx of it. (This is that moment in the article in which I recommend you to seek help and try therapy. We’ve all dealt with some hardcore stuff. There is no shame in asking for help.)

Most of the time, the issues that ail us have nothing to do with StarCraft and more so to do with everything that happens in our lives.

Identifying and naming the emotions that get in the way of achieving your state of flow can be of great help when trying to access it.

What does it look like in-game?

This one is a bit trickier. Watching my stream VODs has definitely helped me identify those moments of distress. If you don’t stream, I suggest recording yourself in the background during a ladder session. But don’t immediately jump to watch it after. Specially during a particularly triggering session. Your judgement is more likely to be clouded. Take a break, unwind and come back to it later.

By speaking to other players and watching other streamers’ content, I’ve learned that, for the most part, these heightened emotional states translate to either:

1. Autopiloting
2. Tunnel vision
3. Micro blunders/over spamming

Autopilot

Have you ever done your daily commuting from work back home and suddenly realized you’re not entirely sure how you got to your destination?

This is what autopiloting feels like. You start the game, queue up a worker, set the rally point, build that barrack and suddenly realize you meant to go gas first. Ultimately, this seemingly minor error makes you lose the timing to get that refinery after the barracks by a few seconds. In the end, you decide to wing it and hope for the best.
It is true that there comes a point of proficiency in StarCraft when you don’t even have to actively think about what you’re doing, but developing a strong understanding of the game along with solid muscle memory, look and feel very different from autopiloting.

For me, autopiloting comes from physical and mental exhaustion. Lack of proper sleep, hydration, feeling of hunger or being preoccupied by other matters can throw me into autopilot.
The proclivity to fall into this state becomes apparent when you ask yourself the following question:

How many times have you started a brand-new ladder session feeling like you’re already defeated?

Your life comes before StarCraft. If you use the game to cope with life’s perils, that’s completely valid. But if that is the case, surrender to the fact that your joy can’t come solely from winning, but rather from experiencing the game itself.
Same rule applies if you’re exhausted and are just looking to have a good time. If StarCraft is not that game for you, -a game of leisure and relaxation-, then go play something that is.

Personally, games like Moonlighter and Stardew Valley have helped me as a way to take a break from StarCraft. But there are plenty of activities besides gaming that can help you achieve this.

Tunnel Vision

This is so frequently mentioned in the StarCraft improvement communities because of how common it is amongst players. This feeling of trying to look away from that battle and to stop queuing up even more marines which you don’t actually need. But you just can’t stop looking at those four hellions that are about to die while your economy is being neglected.

Tunnel vision in my experience, is related to frustration. More specifically, frustration built up over time.

Tunnel vision is not that big of a problem in the first game I lose. But, ask me again on my 5th game of a losing streak and the answer will be very different.
There are many ways in which you can identify and manage these upswings in frustration if you know how frustration manifests in your body.
Shoulders bunched up against your ears, difficulty maintaining a steady breathing pattern (sometimes even breathing through your mouth in irregular patterns), a feeling of general discomfort in the upper body (feels like you want to jump out of your chair but something is holding you from doing it). You may even develop a fixation with jumping into the next game without even taking a breather.

When your mind and body are locked on and engaged in such a state, the best thing to do is to break the lock on. Much like a cyclone, you have one of two options:
1. Perform an action that breaks this state or
2. Slowly distance yourself from the target. In other words, taking a break.

Breathing helps us refocus on the present moment, what some would call a mindful state. Stretching will help your body disengage. This is not only about your arms, your entire body could be affected by this tension without you even knowing. Look to stretch your entire body before you continue. You can accompany this by trying to find a rhythm to regain a consistent and calm breathing pattern.

This might seem simple to do, but often times players will stubbornly queue up more and more games to realize an hour and a half later of losing or winning by the breadth of a hair, that they’ve driven themselves to such a state of frustration that makes everything seem like a waste of time and where the most likely outcome is uninstalling the game all together.

Over spamming and micro blunders

This is a big one for me. Back in early 2020, I would still feel exhausted after just an hour of playing StarCraft. The reason? I was hitting those keys like my life depended on it. I wasn’t really warming up, but rather anxiously tapping my keyboard in the hope that this would make my anxiety go away.

Much like with biting your nails or other objects like pen caps, over spamming your keyboard can be a way in which your body projects that feeling of restlessness onto the game. And it is exhausting.

The biggest problem with this habit is that it over saturates your capacity to perform effective actions in the game. It forces you to try to squeeze making the right units, cycling through your structures and controlling a large army in between anxiety bursts.

Having an inner dialogue is something that has worked a lot for me during the game. Talk to yourself about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what is its purpose. This dialogue can be silent or recited out loud. The idea is to bring your mind back to the present moment and reduce the level of uncertainty within your own head.

You can’t control what your opponent does, but you can most certainly regain control of what you are doing.

Does all of this even matter?

Yes and no. It matters to the extent to which you have made StarCraft a prominent part of your daily life. At the end of the day, it is us who decide how important this game is to us and how much we’re invested in getting better at it.

It’s only fair that we don’t compromise our physical and mental health in the process. We’ve all witnessed time and time again how pro-players and amateurs alike will drive themselves to a breakdown point by playing StarCraft. I, for one have found myself binding my own sense of self-worth to my success in the game. Specially at times of great emotional distress, which for the most part, have little or nothing to do with the game itself.

The most important questions to answer are what do you want in your life and what role does StarCraft play in the bigger picture.
If these things are clear to you, giving the game its proper weight and measure in your life will make balancing out your emotions towards it, much easier.




What are your personal struggles in the game? Share it on the comments below!

Road to Masters #1 – The Road Ahead

It’s been five years since I started playing StarCraft seriously. I’ve been to tournaments (on and offline), met awesome friends and have made my way all the way up to Diamond.

Behind the scenes, I’ve faced several challenges along the way that have nothing to do with StarCraft. Changing cities, moving to my own place, managing jobs, freelancing, along with a dream of creating content about the games that I love; specially, StarCraft.

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably been here for most of it.

Recently, I’ve started working on going back to the good habits that brought me here. I felt at some point, that I was neglecting the continuation of my improvement in StarCraft because sometimes, practicing the same thing over and over again for hours can be quite dull.

I’ve tried different approaches to getting better at the game throughout the years. I’ve been given advice by many different people. Some of it has been extremely helpful. Some of it has been, well, not.

I feel at this point that I’ve learned not as much about the game as I’ve learned about myself and the way I learn.
As some of you might know already, I’ve been a teacher for the last five years. The process of acquiring knowledge has become of great interest to me. It had been in the past, but now, it has seeped deeper into other aspects of my life.

This has got me thinking a lot about the way I learn StarCraft and what could be better strategies to go about improving at the game.

A quick disclaimer, the following strategies are things that have worked for me. These are in no way ultimate truths or secret recipes that will work for everyone, but maybe the process I’ve gone through might be useful to you.

Deliberate Practice

One of the things that has helped me in the past, is to isolate the issues in my play.

Now, identifying and isolating them is only a small part of the process. What made this the most helpful was scaffolding these issues from the most basic to the most complex, and also, from the most fundamental to the most peripheral skills to perform at the game.

Based on this scale, I allocated time to focus on each skill. In my case, for example, practicing macro and multitasking is a priority over micro. So micro for me, gets less time when it comes to deliberate practice.
At the moment, out of the 100% of the time I’ve been devoting to pratice, 40% goes to skills related to micro (stutter stepping, splitting, focus-firing, spellcaster control, etc.) and 60% to macro mechanics (macro cycle, multitasking, continuous production).

Practice Partners

This is a very important aspect of practice that I just started implementing. Having people around you to exchange ideas is one of the most effective ways of building knowledge.
There are many ways in which we can gather information and accumulate it. But socialization gives us unique opportunities to process and build upon this knowledge.

Up to now, I have been practicing with protoss players. My current most challenging match up.
StarCraft is, quite literally, too dangerous to go alone. Even the best players in the world have sparring partners, teams and friends to exchange intel with and practice. They don’t have to be extremely knowledgeable or even at a higher level than you. They just have to want to commit as much as you do.

Create a Routine

One of the most important aspects of improving is to create a solid practice routine.
This is not just about the drills, the builds and the ladder. It’s also about the quantity and quality of time you are willing to invest.
Ask yourself, “when am I the most focused during the day?”, “when are there less distractions?”, “at what time of the day do I perform better?”

If you don’t know the answers to these questions yet, GO FIGURE THEM OUT. Try practicing different things at different times of the day. Try weekdays, try weekends. Slowly but surely you will find a practice schedule that is right for your routine.

Design a routine that fits your lifestyle. There is no reason why you should set up unrealistic expectations at the expense of other important things in life or compromise other activities that might be beneficial to you.

It’s not all about the game. The mind and the body need care and nurturing. Practice shouldn’t make you ill, it should make you better.

Practice routines should include rest. PRACTICE. ROUTINES. SHOULD. INCLUDE. REST.
Burnout is a real thing and it can knock you back unnecessarily. But more importantly, it can ruin your motivation to go on. Having time away from the game will give time for the knowledge to sink in, and for that back, wrists, fingers and arms to cool down. Schedule that time and respect it.

Add variety to your practice

Pedagogically speaking, ladder is the worst environment for learning.

Let me repeat that…

LADDER IS THE WORST ENVIRONMENT FOR LEARNING.

The ladder is a highly competitive ranking system. The whole point of the ladder is to segregate players into different tiers based on how many games they win.

Ladder is no different from a standarized test. Playing in the ladder repeatedly might give you an understanding of how the ladder system works, but without any external information to aid you, you could be stuck in there forever. The other thing to note is that ladder doesn’t measure your skills in the game, it rewards you for winning. If you don’t win, you don’t move. The improvements you make everyday do not matter to it. Hence, you have to keep track of and appreaciate those yourself.

If you play a 100 games on ladder and never look at them again, analyze them, share them with other for feedback, chances are, those 100 games will take you nowhere.

What helps us move up in the ladder is not playing the ladder itself but what we do when we’re not on it. Analyzing replays, exchanging notes with other players, practicing a build order, going over a tutorial for a particular skill, watching how others solved the problems you are facing right now. Learning from others and teaching others what we know is what will eventually help us break the barrier between tiers.

Use the ladder not as a means to practice but as a tool to evaluate what your practice is doing for you.

Join a tournament once in a while. Tournaments are great places to connect with other players with similar goals and interests. They also give you a unique experience in that you face a same opponent for more than one game. Take this as a tiny test of knowledge, skill and adaptation.

In this video, I briefly discussed and shared some of the things I do for practice. Have other resources or suggestions for practice? Share in the comments what you do to become better at the game!






Content Creation Lab #4 An Important Decision

At some point in time, about ten years ago, the term “branding” started gaining traction. As it evolved, a lot of companies jumped on the hype train and started “branding” absolutely everything in their company. T-shirts, notebooks, bottles, coffee mugs, pencils.

How many times did you see these templates in a graphic design portfolio? Probably, a lot. How many times did you actually see said company use any of the branded items. Probably, very few in comparison.

Nowadays, the internet is plagued with ready to use templates and graphics to start basically any type of project.

This has enabled creators to get started with a professional look right out the gate. But bypassing the creation of a brand can have downsides you should be aware of when choosing what the right graphic design solution is for you.

The Pros

Templates and ready to use assets are, for the most part, created by top tier professionals in graphic design. There is little to no learning curve in order to use them effectively and have a high enough quality to be up to par with most of what’s out there. This helps creators cut time and costs when it comes to launching their content and helps them devote more of their time to content production itself.
For creators building a brand off of themselves, some of these solutions can prove ideal, since whatever graphics they choose to use are secondary to the development of their own online personality, personal development and charisma.

If you’re trying out content creation for the first time and you’re still not sure about whether or not this will become a thing in your life, then this is probably the best route to take.

Lots of streamers on Twitch were well-known and respected way before they slapped fancy graphic design on their broadcasts. So, who cares if we’ve seen their overlays before on a smaller streamer’s channel? In a different color scheme? Or if they have graphics at all. Right?

Well, yes and no.

The Cons

A lot goes into building a brand as a streamer and content creator on Twitch and it has very little to do with the amount of people who watch you. Contrary to popular belief, brands are brands before anyone knows about them. Some of the most successful brands in esports owe their success to a consistent and determined effort to build a solid reputation and this process starts from day one.
This consistency is heavily reliant not only on the people behind it but also, on things that an audience, followers and supporters can experience; visual design, the tone in communication, the quality of the content.

Every single aspect of it is a key part of the brand’s identity.

Creating a brand from scratch involves making a lot of the decisions that help shape its future.
Even if you fast track this part of the process with pre made assets, these decisions will eventually need to be addressed.

In the next installment, we’ll dive into the process of rebranding. What happens as your brand ages?





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Content Creation Lab #3 Brand Development

Consistency. This is on of the pillars of branding and it’s usually one of the hardest things to achieve. At some point, we’ve all made stylistic choices in our graphics that don’t necessarily fit with the rest of our visual narrative. It happened to us during the process of creating our subscriber badges.
In the end, we were able to correct our course and the final product was exactly what the channel needed.

Experimenting is great when you’re starting your project, but when it comes to consolidating our initial set of brand items, it’s important to start laying down a foundation to create your brand’s visual landmarks.

Stream Graphics – The Chocodile

Pro tip: Identify which graphic element has the highest visual hierarchy and says the most about your brand.

In the case of StarCraft streaming, there are two items that set the tone for the entire set of graphics because of how rich they are stylistic elements as well as in information display: the console overlay and the lobby overlay (also known as out game view) and the console or in game overlay. These two pieces tell the whole story of what your brand is all about, both during your broadcast and off of it.

Stream Graphics – Loginn

It isn’t just about the logo, it’s also about the streamers and the games that they play. If you specialize in a game, you’ll most likely want some of your graphics to reflect that. Maybe even create something that would fit in the game’s universe.
If you stream variety though, this may not be as important and most of your decisions will gravitate towards a more neutral aesthetic.

Regardless of it, identifying and creating these visual landmarks will help you not just for the present interation but for other iterations to come.

Pro tip: Remember nothing is permanent. The first iteration of your brand is meant to be updated and changed as time goes by. New technologies, new games and the growth of your content will play a critical role in making these decisions: When and how those changes will occur.




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Side Quest – #7

– By Aecium


Islanders is a city building game developed and published by GrizzlyGames, and it’s not just another SimCity or Cities Skylines clone. It takes a different approach, one that’s more laid back and less hectic. It’s minimalistic in its visual details, the scoring system, and its currency.

islanders

Visuals 

The art style is simple yet descriptive. You can quickly identify what is what without needing a lot of explanation. You can easily tell what is grass, rock or sand, something that is important to the placement of some buildings. Similarly, the look and feel of the buildings remind me of plastic toys I could have played with as a child (or an adult, for that matter) which again lends itself well to easy identification. This also reinforces the fact that Islanders is just a game, and not something you need to worry too much about while you play. You are presumably playing it for fun, after all, a fact that many of us can lose sight of while playing some of the more involved city sims out there.

Mechanics & Game Play

Islanders sets you up to focus on the placement of buildings on its procedurally generated islands to earn points and unlock the next set of buildings or the next island. How many points you need is something that’s easy to track with the circular progress meter in the lower left, which displays how many more points you need. 

points

When you fill up the progress meter in the lower left you get a plus sign indicating you can pick the next set of buildings; normally you get a choice between two categories of buildings. 

pickone

Categories include but are not limited to, Farming Pack, Brewing Pack, City Pack, Seaweed Farm, Logger Pack, Fishery and many more. Another progress indicator in the lower right is a faded island icon that fills up as you earn more points.

islandicon

When it is full you can choose to move to a new island or keep playing the one you are on. 

As you place a building/structure (such as a mansion, fishing platform, fountain, or many others), a point value is shown along with a radius indicating which buildings affect the value. Placing a lumberjack near trees increases its value but if you place a second lumberjack within range of the first, points will be subtracted from the total placement value. But keep in mind that as you place your sawmill you get more points for each lumberjack that is in range of the mill.

 And the pluses and minuses of buildings get more complicated as you play on. For example, the shaman gains points for being by flowers or trees, but losses points for being near the city center. Houses and mansions get plusses when being placed next to a shaman. This may sound complicated to keep track of but the game helps out by showing the potential value before you place anything. There is even an undo button that lets you take back your last placement. This is another feature that helps create the low-stress environment.

My Take

To be honest, at first I was not impressed but as I played on (mostly haphazardly) I started losing! I was like, “What the hell! They show me how many points I need and how many I’m going to get for each placement, how can I be messing this up?” Well, as I started to pay more attention, I realized that you need to apply strategy and forethought to each placement. You need to plan what you are going to use each space on the island for, and make sure your spacing is close to optimal along with keeping in mind what building packs you might get to pick from next. It all adds up and if you pick wrongly it can be a detriment to your score and the likelihood of getting to the next level. As I play more and more, the skill is in learning the buildings and how they can boost your next set of buildings. Even though the game is laid back and chill, I find that there are times when I still worry about not being able to earn enough points with the buildings I have left to place. When this happens, you get a game over screen and the option to try again. 

Final Thoughts

The creators of the game highly recommend you watch the video explaining how the game is different than a normal city builder, as they want you to have an understanding of what you’re buying before you do. I agree with them on that point. Islanders in not your standard city sim and you should know that going in. Then again, at US$4.99 price, I would find it hard to go wrong with this deceptively easy to learn and hard to master take on the city sim.

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Side Quest – #6

– By Aecium


CypherCon 4.0 is the fourth year of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s very own hacker convention that takes place each April. I was hooked from the first time I attended the event for CypherCon 2.0 and this year’s con exceeded the expectations I had from the past two years.

CypherCon has something for anyone who uses tech in today’s world. Whether or not you consider yourself a geek or a nerd, this con is accessible to anyone willing to ask questions, make mistakes and try new things. If you’re willing, you can learn everything from picking locks, cracking safes and decoding ciphers. You can also learn just how easy it is to exploit some of those Internet of things (IoT) devices everyone seems to have their homes these days, such as your smart thermostat, wireless printer, even your wireless light bulbs, and many others. And that’s just scratching the surface of the skills you can explore. Each skill has its own village set up with everything you need and specialists just waiting to help and break it down so you can understand how it all works.

While you’re learning new skills you also earn points toward the Capture the Con, an overarching contest that works to gamify learning and encourages socializing with your fellow con-goers. All three of the cons I have attended provided each attendee with a social QR code used to gather points by asking to scan other attendees’ codes in trade for scanning your own. Every point you collect puts you that much closer to winning some great prizes including cash, hard to get electronic badges from previous and even a coveted red badge that grants you lifetime entrance to future CypherCons.

This year the organizers took encouraging social interaction to the next level with the con’s interactive badges. This year’s badge, like all the previous years, was made by the amazing Tymkers (Toymakers) and was a working data tape reader.

cyperCon4badge

To get the data tapes you had to find codes hidden around the con and submit jobs to the badge village. The catch was that each badge only had a certain number of tabs that would be punched out for each job you submitted, meaning you needed to find and talk to other people to trade data tapes in order to collect all the codes. As you scanned good codes, a row of LEDs would light up on your badge letting you keep track of how many correct codes you had scanned.

In addition to all the villages and the interactive badge, there were three information-packed presentation tracks that covered everything from digital forensics, remote wireless penetration testing, and even foraging for food in your own backyard. All the presenters I saw were passionate about their topics and excited share their knowledge.  

While the con is over, its effects are lasting. I’m still thinking about the new things I learned and the great people I met. I have a list of areas that I want to explore and deepen my knowledge including hacking old hardware and making sure the code I write is safe and secure, all the while knowing that sharpening my skills for my own sake will also give me a leg up at next year’s CypherCon.

If you’re up for a technological adventure or just interested in the history or future of the tech around us be sure to follow @CypherCon on Twitter to get all the updates on CypherCon 5.0. I hope to see you there.

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Content Creation Lab #2

If you haven’t read the first part of this series, make sure to check it out here.


I assume by now, you’ve been pondering your project long enough. You answered the questions and did your research. You’re probably already browsing through Reddit looking for the best stream setups, configurations, and equipment.

Now, the question is, “should I design something for myself? or should I let someone else do it for me”?

This is an important question to answer. I can say from personal experience that designing for myself back when I started Grizzly Gaming was extremely gratifying. It gave me a sense of ownership that is unique to creation but this is not for everyone to do.

If you choose to design for yourself, chances are the process will happen naturally (especially if you read the first installment of the Content Creation Lab). If it doesn’t, though, there are always some common places that we can search for clues as to what’s going on:

1.- Doodle like you’ve never doodled before.

Before designing the logo for Grizzly Gaming, I went through a myriad of sketches and doodles. There are a couple of reasons for this:
1.- Create different options for yourself to choose from.
2.- Flesh out an idea that’s already very clear in your mind.

Regardless of what your motives may be, going through this process can help you boost your confidence in what you’re creating.

Pro Tip: Always keep your sketches in one place. Doodles of the past can be the great ideas of the future. Personally, I like to use sketchbooks but I sometimes will use loose sheets of paper. Set aside a folder or binder to keep them safe. Revisit your sketches from time to time to find any hidden gems of the past of just for inspiration.

Esports Logo

2.- My obsession with perfection gets in the way of me moving forward.

If you’re already starting to sweat, take a deep breath. This happens to a lot of people. Demanding excellence from yourself can be beneficial to the process of developing a strong work ethic. But being too hard on yourself can also lead you to kill your project before it even seeing the light of day.

One of the things that took me the longest about starting my stream, was overcoming my insecurities with regards to the quality of the content I had to offer and the quality of the skills I had at the time.

Once I started though, things began to move forward quite fast. I got my first donation not long after I started streaming, my viewership started to grow and I also made new friends.

“Obsessions make my life worse but my work better”, is one of my favorite quotes of all time. But I don’t take it as a motto, but rather as a warning to keep my obsession with perfection in check in order to be able to move forward with my projects. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

Let’s all make a conscious effort to live a little…

Pro Tip for: For some people, validation from others is very important in order to make decisions and empower their vision. But don’t just go out on the streets asking random strangers. Ask your viewers and community members, as well as mentors and other professionals that you trust and could point you in the right direction. (Hit me up on Discord for input or feedback on your project!)

3.- What if I’m not ready?

Committing to a logo can be nerve-wracking to some. It’s ok to postpone this part of the process. Getting comfortable on camera, learning to speak fluently while you grind through ranked play and testing out your gear are much more important things than having a logo so, take your time! And revisit that idea when the time is right. It will come!

In the next installment, we’ll discuss how to create a consistent brand throughout all of your social media outlets, broadcasting channels and even apparel.



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Side Quest – #5

– By Aecium


Magic: The Gathering – three powerful words that transport me to a simpler time. One where most of my concerns revolved around what homework was due the next day, how many days until summer break and how long it would take me to save up allowance and birthday money to buy more packs of Magic cards.

I started playing Magic after a friend introduced me to the game in 1994 when Revised Edition was the newest release. I had never played anything like it. Magic gives you the chance to be a creature-summoning, lighting-wheelding, magic-slinging, death-spreading, counter-spell-casting mage. It was amazing! To be fair, you can do or be all those things in many role playing games, and I had. But Magic boiled it down to just the fast action packed spell-casting battles, which in my opinion were one of the best parts of any role playing game. Magic made it so that now all you needed was a deck and someone else with a deck to challenge.

When I was in high school, the first place I looked for someone to challenge was a gaming store called Wonderess Realms. They sold games of all kinds but Magic seemed to be the mainstay for them. They had a small back room, that smelled of unwashed nerd and stale Cool Ranch Doritos, with several tables, a soda vending machine, an arcade game and the best pinball game ever: Star Trek: The Next Generation. I dropped many quarters into that game in between Magic games. But the main reason to be in the back room of Wonderess Realms was to meet up with friends, open new packs, build and improve decks and play against whomever else happen to be there. I can still remember the feel of the glossy plastic wrapped booster packs and the crinkling sound they made as I carefully opened them. Many hours were whiled away playing in that back room. But really anywhere that was protected from the elements and had a flat surface was fair game – high school lunchroom, mess hall at camp, or just a picnic table on a calm day. It was rare back then to find me without a deck on hand, ready to accept the challenge of a fellow mage at any time.

Somewhere between the years 1998 – 2000, amidst homework, getting a job, preparing for and starting college and life just generally getting more complicated, I stopped playing Magic. It was not an abrupt thing at all, it just sort of faded from being an everyday activity to every now and again. and then not at all. Oh, every once in awhile I would come across my cards and all those fond memories would come rushing back, but finding people to play with was hard. For most of my friends, Magic had also faded from their everyday life. Still, now and again a few of us would go out and buy a starter deck of the newest expansion and a few booster packs and play for a bit, but keeping up with all the new expansions and rules changes proved too difficult.

Magic had truly become just a game I used to play.

That is until the end of September 2018, when the open beta for Magic: The Gathering Arena on the PC was announced. Sure, there had been other attempts at digital versions of the game, like Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers in 2002 and Magic: The Gathering Online in 2009, which were the only two I ever tried playing. But they were both riddled with bad interfaces and lacked polished features which prevented them from ever really rekindling my interest.

But Magic: The Gathering Arena is leagues ahead of its predecessors. That’s not to say that it is perfect. It is worth keeping in mind that it’s still in beta and has some bugs, and some of the interface interactions are still clunky and a bit frustrating. However, the game is definitely playable and they are making changes and improvements all the time. Up until recently you could not play against your friends; it was all just random players that you would get matched with, and the matchmaking and ranking system had no meaning. You could win four games in a row and a progress bar would fill up, seemingly randomly, then lose one game and all your progress would drain out of it.

After a recent update, you can now play your friends. This is a major and much needed feature. Having the ability to play against your friends is great for more than just the fun of playing. No more hoping your deck plays out just right. Being able to play with a friend means you can have them “play nice”, maybe not attack at all, giving you time to practice and get the cards you need to try out that new combo. Or… maybe it’s time to go toe to toe with the friend who taught you everything you know about Magic, and possibly even prove that the student has become the master.

Another improvement is with the ranked ladder system. The solid progress bar has been replaced with a segmented bar so that you can now easily see your progress. It fills one segment per win or empties one per loss, making it easy to see your progress. And more importantly, you can see how many more wins you need to rank up.

Even though the beta still has a few bugs and some of the features could be made smoother (finding newly acquired cards and adding a friends list being the ones that jump to mind), the game is very playable. So much so that it has not just rekindled my passion for Magic, it has set it ablaze.

Magic: The Gathering Arena has removed the main barriers to playing. I can always find someone to play with at the press of a button. I can play with my friends no matter how far away they live. The game client knows all the rules and won’t let me or the other player do something wrong. And best of all, you can play for free! That’s right free! When you first start out you get some prebuilt decks and you earn more decks just by playing. You also earn booster packs, single cards and gold (one of the in-game currencies) used to buy more boosters. You can also spend real world money to get cards faster or buy gems (another in-game currency), which are harder to earn than gold. You can enter constructed tournaments with gold or gems but you can only use gems if you want to play draft tournaments.

Paying to get more cards is not a must. So far I have only spent US$5 on a beta only deal. The rest of the cards I have earned through playing. The game has quests you can do each day to earn gold, which you can complete without winning a single game. The majority of the daily quests will be something like “Cast 30 blue or red spells” or “Attack with 25 creatures” and so on. There are weekly quests that you can earn gold, a single card, or packs for winning but the bulk of your gold will be earned by completing the quests that don’t require winning.
At the time of this writing I have ranked up to Mythic, the highest level in the constructed ladder. I was able to build the decks that got me there only spending US$5 and earning the rest my cards by playing. The majority of what I have spent is time, and I don’t mind that at all. I’m really enjoying the game and the journey very much.

Magic: The Gathering Arena has enchanted me with nostalgia, sung the most perfect siren’s song, and has summoned out of its fallen predecessors an online version of Magic that has me once again under its spell!

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Content Creation Lab #1 – A Brand is Born

Logos come and go. But a brand, a brand that is loved and cared for, is meant to last. Creating a brand is not only a creative exercise. It’s also an exercise of visualization. 


When a new project begins, it’s hard to know exactly where the journey will lead you. This happens to everyone who decides to embark on an entrepreneurial journey. 
For some, it’s easy to have a sense of direction and to navigate the waters of uncertainty with confidence. For others, it’s much more complicated than that and external validation can play a huge role for them.

Regardless of what side of the spectrum you might be on, one of the first steps entrepreneurs take is creating a logo.
Logos give us a sense of identity, something to rally behind and use as our banner when subjecting your project to public scrutiny for the first time, so it’s normal for us to resort to it.


When it comes to creating anything, I always involve paper and lots of notes.
I like to keep track of my creative process and ideas for future projects.



Although this would seem to be the most obvious approach, the fact of the matter is, that before we can go anywhere near a blank page, it’s important to figure out a couple of things:

1.- Why are you starting this project?
2.- Do you have a vision for the project’s future? And if so, describe it briefly.

It’s useful to write your answers in order to organize your ideas and have greater clarity. This isn’t by any means, unchangeable. The passing of time will most likely change your initial expectations. 

Your vision is probably the most revealing part of this exercise, as it will help you take the first steps into your project. 
It’s ok if these questions turn out to have an “I don’t know” for an answer, this will tell us that maybe our project needs a bit more time before we commit to a pretty icon.


More important than a logo, are your goals and dreams for the future.
What kind of content creator or esports professional do you want to be?



I don’t believe a logo can make you or break you as this statement is too simplistic and ignores a lot of factors related to a project’s success. But it is an element of great importance in the process of building a brand.

Let’s take the example of Team Liquid. If there’s a team that has created  longevity for their brand, it’s this top tier esports organization. 
From its early beginning, Team Liquid’s logo hasn’t actually changed much. But the strength of its brand has grown throughout the years.
From mere observation we can infer that Team Liquid has great clarity of what their values are. This is something that permiates their branding (web design, apparel) but also their choice of players and esports professionals. 

Could you imagine some of their most iconic players like TLO, sporting any other jersey? Probably not. The return of Taeja to StarCraft happened under his former team’s banner. 
When you see a Team Liquid jersey on a Team Liquid player, a lot of things come to mind. Victory, honor, commitment, work ethic. The elegant lines, the bold color blocking paired with a sober color palette. This is not an accident, these are deliberate choices. And said choices seem deliberate to the spectator because of that clarity of ideas. 

This is what we want to communicate from the very beginning. It doesn’t matter if Day 1 is just one or two nerds with a dream. Having a clear sense of identity from the get go will naturally influence your decision making and take you to make better decisions.

Once our vision is clearly stated, individually or as a collective, it’s easier to brainstorm what your logo will look like.

There are many factors to consider beyond aesthetic. Things like personality and character are often overlooked and this is something that well developed brands know very well from the get go. 
It’s useful to think in terms of adjectives when trying to define what you want your brand to be.

But Grizzly, what if I’m the brand?

In the case of branding for individuals as opposed to organizations, the approach is a little different. When the brand is conceptually linked to an individual, the inspiration will be drawn from his/her personality traits. Careful, though. There’s a difference between who we are and who we wish we were. Our goal here is to make of this project something sustainable in the long run. Being true to one’s identity helps achieve this goal. You brand should reflect you as honestly as possible. 

Ready to get started?

In the next post, we’ll discuss the process of creating the right logo for your brand.



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Side Quest – #4

– By Aecium


Here we are. At the tail end of another year. Over the next couple of weeks we will all be inundated with “best of 2018” lists: the best news bloopers (one of my favorites), best books, movies, games, and of course, the best of the worst. I thought of going full meta and creating a “best of 2018 best of lists” but I couldn’t fully get behind that idea. So instead I created a list of some of the programing games that I have played, none of which are from 2018. But I figure now would be a good time to share them with you; with the holidays coming up you may have some time off and be looking for something to help fill the void.

I have a soft spot in my heart for programing games. There is just something about solving a level by piecing together a set of instructions or processes, pressing the play button and watching it run. If it succeeds then you’ve beaten the level and can advance (or just keep running it and marvel in your work). If not, you have the chance to review what went wrong, rework it and try again. Programing games tend to be low pressure, allowing you to play at your own pace and take all the time you need, and try as many things as you want. Regardless of how long you spend working out your solution, there’s not going to be a horde of zombies, mutants, or aliens trying to kill you while you work. I find that refreshing.

Even if you think programing games aren’t for you, I encourage you to give these a try. Each game teaches you by building on the previous levels so you learn the steps as you go. And there are plenty of videos and hint guides out there to help you along. If you are stuck, and it’s either stop playing or get a bit of help, I encourage using hints. With the internet no one needs to play in a vacuum.

In the past there weren’t too many entries in the programing games genre, however, Zachtronics has become a beacon of hope for the genre and all three games I’m covering here are from them (there would be more but I’m only listing the games I have played). These games will have you create solutions to the various problems by dragging and dropping predefined actions or blocks of machinery, or by typing out specific instructions to solve a problem.

SpaceChem was the first programing game I played that did not have you writing actual code to solve the presented problem, which in this game is to create designer molecules. You create these in reactors by drawing out a path and placing instructions like grab, rotate, bond or unbond on that path for a circular atom manipulator called a waldo to follow and execute.

spacechem

The goal is to use the incoming atoms and molecules to create the desired molecule, which must match a given pattern. You also need to be careful to prevent any collisions as the waldos move the bits and pieces around. If there is a collision the reactor will stop and you’ll have to modify your design to fix that flaw. There’s a story alongside the levels which gives context and a bit of drama to what you’re doing as you go, and the creators have even released a stand-alone version of the story incase you don’t beat the game but still want to know what happens. I have not personally beaten the game yet, but have picked it up several times and always enjoy playing until I get stuck. *Shrug* I’m sure I’ll play it all the way through one of these times.

I like to think of the next game, Infinifactory, as a 3D SpaceChem. In this game you are an abductee that is put to work by aliens that don’t speak your language and don’t really seem to care that you don’t understand what they are saying. They also don’t seem very concerned for your safety, as you are expendable and replaceable. Like SpaceChem, Infinifactory has you building a product to match a desired blueprint. However, you are now working in a 3D space and each level has its own shape, which adds to the challenge. Conveyor belts are the main way you get parts from the inputs to the many stations where you will be welding, milling, rotating, stamping or destroying unneeded parts, all before sending them to the output where they will be checked against the requirements. To get the full story you’ll have to do some exploring. In each level you can find a log recorder which contains the story and wisdom from someone who has gone down the path you are on now. Infinifactory satisfies a very specific desire of mine to build a factory line that moves raw materials from station to station, each one building on the last until you have your final product.

Infin

I don’t know, maybe I’ve watched too many TV shows that show how things are put together from start to finish. Regardless of the reasons, I find constructing these autonomous factory lines to be quite fulfilling.

TIS-100 is the final game on this list, and it’s the first one that actually has you typing out code to solve each level. Now please don’t let the word ‘code’ frighten you off. In TIS-100 you only need to use 15 commands to move and manipulate data that can be moved or loaded from 6 locations (registers) per node (more on that later). In this game your uncle has died, and your aunt has sent you a strange computer that your uncle had been working on along with the user manual for said computer. The manual has parts highlighted and some notes that your uncle had jotted down. While all progress that had been made seems to have been lost, you do find notes and musings that your uncle stored in otherwise unusable nodes in the TIS-100. You progress through each stage repairing the antiquated computer by rewriting its missing/corrupt programs. As you continue to find these notes, you start to piece together what it is you’re working on. Each level has 12 nodes arranged in 3 rows of 4 nodes. In most cases not all the nodes are usable, which adds to the challenge. There are set locations where the input comes in and set locations where the desired output needs to be moved to. In the simplest case you just need to move the given input to an output with no change to the input value. You can see an example in the screenshot which shows the first level with the game’s example code in the leftmost column.

tis100

While the TIS-100 is a fantasy computer, the steps you take and the solutions you come up with are nonetheless programing. And more specifically it is most like assembly language (albeit a simplified version), which is a class of low level programing language that all computers and smart devices run on and is only one step above the raw zeros and ones of binary programing.

All three of these games have an added challenge that you can take on. They all track statistics from your solutions like instructions/blocks used, cycles needed to complete, foot print of your design and they show you how you stack up with your friends who play, as well as with the global user base. If you solve a level and then see your buddy solved it in fewer cycles or using fewer blocks, you can, if you so desire, rework your design and try to beat or at least tie their score. Each level has a best case solution that you just can’t surpass due to parameters of the level.

I hope that if you do find yourself with some down time, or maybe you’re just looking for your next game to play, that you consider any or all of these great games. Even if you don’t fancy yourself a programer, these games might help you discover that you actually enjoy a bit of programing. After all, programing is not just for creating the games you enjoy, it can be the game itself.

While all three of these games are worth their face value, you can always snag them at great prices during sales on your favorite game delivery platform like Steam or GOG.

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