Esports spectating in the U-Bahn

DAC Grand Final in the U-Bahn

So it turns out that 3G over Blau in Berlin is good enough to watch a Twitch stream of the DAC finals between Evil Geniuses and Vici Gaming and allowed me to watch the amazing Storm Spirit performance by SumaiL in the last match.

The finals started at around 8AM (China Standard Time) and unfortunately were a clean sweep for EG so they were over pretty quickly. Most impressive was the fact that SumaiL, a fifteen year old kid from Pakistan, stole the show. Watch a summary below.

Counter Strike: Global Offensive

GeForce GTX AllStar Tournament

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend a NVIDIA sponsored Counter Strike: Global Offensive tournament in association with 99 damage at the Berlin Game Science Center.

CS:GO is an amazing team based sport where five terrorists try to set and explode a bomb on a bomb site (you can see sites A and B marked on the maps) while counter-terrorists try to prevent the bomb placement or defuse it. Players need to have a combination of mechanical aim/shoot skills combined with tactical insight at an incredibly high tempo. The difference between life or death in any of these games rests in a fraction of a second combined with an awareness of what is happening around the entire map. Esports are sports that are just as demanding mentally and physically as any other.

You don’t have to watch the entire video of the Dreamhack finale below but it can’t hurt to watch a couple of matches with the commentary (The walls are transparent for spectators. They aren’t for players.):

The culture around this particular game is its own and somewhat different from people who for instance play SC2 or MOBAs. Attending this tournament was a lot of fun and I got to see some high level play as well as a demonstration of case modding by a company with its own branded energy drink.

Panamax

Panamax time

This week I got to play the board game Panamax at a game night here in Berlin. Though it is slightly complicated I was struck by how good an adaptation of container shipping this game is.

The game is about getting contracts to move your cargo from one side of the canal to the other using either your own ships or the ships of other companies. The core mechanic of the game is the fact that canal locks can only contain 4 units of ships and if there is a ship behind you that won’t fit, it will push you out when it moves. This will cost the pushing ship a movement action but it will not cost the ship that is being pushed.

An interesting element in the game is that you as a player have private money and you are managing a shipping company with money of its own. The shipping company uses its money as working capital to perform actions. As a player you start out with one share in your own company and you can use your private money to buy shares in companies including your own.

The cost of a share is paid to the company in effect raising capital and the price of the stock is increased by one. At the end of each turn a company pays out dividends to all players who own a share in it if it can pay out to all of them. If the company does not have enough money to pay out dividends, nobody gets anything and the company share price drops by two. Shares are liquidated at the end of the game at their current vue to add to the capital of players (which are victory points).

This way of interweaving player interests with each other is incredibly interesting and has been executed really elegantly compared to the complexity it adds to the gameplay. Besides combining destinies using the shares, you can also load your cargo on somebody else’s ship. This way figuring out which actions benefit whom exactly quickly becomes intractable.

What’s also funny is that cargo that is stuck in the canal incurs costs at the end of each turn. If a company cannot pay all of these costs from its own capital, it will get it from the player managing it. This means that companies are not limited liability or that managing directors are fined for mismanagement both of which are interesting.

All in all Panamax is a very successful eurogame that actually fits fairly nicely with its theme. At each step it feels like you are taking important decisions for the company you manage.

Kış Uykusu (Winter Sleep) by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

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I watched Winter Sleep in the train back to Berlin and Ceylan is indulging himself with his movies becoming ever longer. Winter Sleep clocks in at three hours and fifteen minutes so by the time it was over I found myself well past Hannover.

The movie is about freedom—the bit with the horse and the guy on the motorcycle sort of gave it away—and in particularly the fact that however much apparent physical freedom people may have, they will not take advantage of it because their effective freedom is the product of complex social negotiation. At some point people become trapped both within themselves and by each other.

The script is based on writing by Chekhov which is apparent in the self-contained rustic scenes interspersed by the conversations of a family with deep seated issues. Maybe it’s just geographical proximity but Russian writers seem to be more accessible and prevalent in Turkey than I’ve found them to be in the Netherlands.

To close off the key scene with Ismail translated (mild spoilers):

Let’s see if we made a correct calculation.

If this much were for little Ilyas who put his life on the line to restore his father’s hurt pride.

If this much were for the self-sacrificing brother Hamdi forced to go kiss somebody’s hand by himself to restore his reputation.

If this much were for the drunk father Ismail who took a beating in front of his son disgracing himself and his family.

There would be a bit left.

And if that were for the heroic Ms. Nihal who by giving alms to people more unfortunate than herself tries to ease her conscience.

This would be exactly the right amount of money.

Caché and French history

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In my newly rekindled love for movies, this weekend I finally watched Caché. As expected the movie is excellent and I should watch more movies by Haneke. It plays out like a reverse and more refined version of the Dinner.

I was however stupefied to learn about the Paris massacre of 1961 from this movie. The French culture we learned in school did not really touch on colonial history instead focusing on the more touristic aspects.

This leads me to believe that Dutch kids are the happiest in the world (a widely cited statistic) because in school they don’t learn how fucked up the world was and is. It is however a very Dutch thing to be proud of being oblivious.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

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I rewatched Once Upon a Time in Anatolia last week with my parents and it was even better than the first time. I usually think that movies shouldn’t be longer than two hours but here even a second viewing did not bore.

What I learned is that it at one point the convoy moves out of the Kırıkkale area into the administrative part of Turkey that we are from (map).

The idle chit-chat of the people in the cars is still funny but now it was easier to keep track of the interleaving stories. Pared down they rend flesh. Arap’s story about why you need a gun or the piecewise telling of a woman’s suicide are incredible. The point where Clark Gable swallows his words being one extreme example.

My memory had exaggerated the appearance of the angel halfway through the movie. It is still a key moment but not as magically-realistic as I had remembered.

The movie as a whole is about the utter insignificance of human action on all levels. Or as the poet said: ‘years again will pass and I will leave no trace // darkness and cold will encompass my weary soul’.

I am immensely looking forward to seeing his next movie Kış Uykusu which is playing in cinemas right now. And I am still eagerly awaiting Nuri Bilge Ceylan to make a movie adaptation of one of Pamuk’s big books (The Black Book or Snow).

Console gaming after the fact: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an extremely questionable game catering to the war fantasies of American hawks. I played the fully German version and having to make sense of a war scene where people are shouting stuff at you in German only adds to the weirdness.

Every time you die also you get quotes about war and peace by such notables as Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gandhi. I have no idea what the people who made this game were even thinking.

In the German (and Japanese) version also the “No Russian” mission is weird. You’re in a terrorist group that is massacring a Russian airport but any time you hurt a civilian the mission restarts. It turns out that this is something region specific.

For the rest it’s just a bunch of shooting around the world with a questionable (and increasingly incoherent) neo-terrorist plot straight from a Steven Seagal movie.

Console gaming after the fact: Mirror’s Edge

Not so much a game as it is a parkour simulator with some combat thrown in. It is absurdly difficult which isn’t even the problem. The real problem is that every time you restart it takes too long and puts you in a place where you have to replay large segments of the game. This may be fun for some but not for me.

I’m also not convinced that it is useful to have a parkour simulator where you don’t see where your feet are and as such cannot time your jump really. There are better parkour games out there (Assassin’s Creed II comes to mind).

The aesthetics of the game are special and that is more or less the only reason I was told to play this game.

Console gaming after the fact: Journey

This is just a lovely experience. A small, beautiful, near perfect game with graphics that have held up excellently over time. Are there more games like this? If not there should be. This has such a broad appeal and playability.

Journey which is an absolutely lovely game

A photo posted by Alper Cugun (@alper) on

Some of the transitions are among the most beautiful things I’ve seen in gaming. The sunset sand surf through the mountain in shimmering gold (video on YouTube) stands out but most of it is excellent.

What comes to mind with regards to aesthetics and also breaking out of the ‘gamer’ confines is this year’s hit Monument Valley but we could use a lot more.

Console gaming after the fact

I have found myself in the custody of a Playstation 3 console and have borrowed a couple dozen games to play over the holidays. This came to be after I mentioned to my local game design support group that I hadn’t played anything on a console for over ten years and that I was quite happy with that state of being. They thought that this was unacceptable.

Their reasoning was:
1. That consoles get the best games these days. (I’m not so sure about that.)
2. That I should have played some of these games to have an idea what I’m talking about or against. (Fair enough.)

Gaming rig for Christmas

A photo posted by Alper Cugun (@alper) on

The big screen is back home because we have emptied our office in Berlin and are awaiting the new one. The biggest impediment to me getting a console in fact was the fact that we didn’t have any screens at home and buying a console would mean having to get a tv/projector as well.

And Markus Kaikkonen agreed to hook me up with his old Playstation 3 since he had just gotten a PS4 and was going to play some stuff on that over the holidays anyway. Many thanks to Markus for that and I do agree that it can’t hurt to play a bunch of these games but now that I have nearly two dozen of them (thanks also Peter Bihr and Simon Cubasch) to go through it does feel a bit like work. I will post my findings here.

Somme preliminary stuff that isn’t very game specific:

Console games are a huge deal. This may seem obvious but I hadn’t fully realized it before. I think it is fair to say that most males below the age of 40 own a console, owned one or have wanted to own one in the past decade. Being a contender in the console wars and releasing AAA games have huge entry costs but they also carry with them the potential for gigantic upsides.

I had noted the fact that there weren’t any good action franchises anymore. The only stuff we get are Bond movies and a Bourne episode every five years or so. I am now wagering that most of the audience and the budgets for these things have gone into AAA shooters. A FPS game is more fun, about as poorly written and more cost effective (for the consumer) than going to the cinema for a similar ‘shoot stuff and blow stuff up’ experience. For the same price as a current AAA game you can go to the movies 3-4 times.

I am surprised at the amount of grinding in AAA games. Playing parts of a game over and over again because of poor design or balancing. Especially egregious are situations where every death means a lengthy reload and resumes you somewhere back before. Also I’m spending a lot of time in geometric first or third person games walking around looking for the clue to the next stage. They may have higher production values than mobile games but the amount of grinding seems to be about the same.