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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!






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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The GrizzlyGaming Journal – Entry #0

-By Grizzly

What drives GrizzlyGaming forward more than anything else, is the great passion and commitment that this rather small but hard-working team puts into gaming and sharing our love for it.


As you know, the past year has been crazy for the bears but despite the turmoil, we’ve been able to regroup and move forward with this journey.

Our goal this year is to attend Blizzcon for the first time. This has the primary objective of having fun but also, of getting closer to the community, the games and the creators that we admire and are passionate about.

Thanks to your help through subs, donations, design commissions and viewership, we are past half way there. This is a huge accomplishment for us which also makes us appreciate every single one of your words of encouragement, your memes and the friendships we’ve built together.

Rest assured that this year, GrizzlyGaming will continue to grow as a community where friendship and gaming are the connective tissue that bonds this crazy dream together.

This blog has been long in the works, but we’re very proud of what we have accomplished. This is the content that you’ll find here:

  • Grizzly Gaming Journal: Once a month, a member of the Grizzly Gaming team will be posting an update on current relevant projects and ramblings.
  • Side Quest: Once a month, Aecium brings us on his journey as a person and as a gamer and gives us an insight into this amazing project and all that came before it.
  • Game Reviews: The Grizzly Gaming team share their thoughts and fe Content
  • Creation Lab: For the content creation section, we’ll be posting short (or long) tutorials or guides related to different aspects of content creation.
  • Design Portfolio: All design projects will be curated and shared in our blog.

 

In the meantime, stay tuned on stream and on this blog for more on our projects and the things that we’ll be sharing with you in the upcoming months leading to November.

 

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