Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kongai: Massive New Update

Amazing update hit yesterday. I was, obviously, a bit too wrapped up in all the excitement but you can get a glimpse of it here.

That's right, the cards in your profile are now arranged in a nice little grid instead of one long stack. I can't tell you how long I've spent searching up and down - even with my limited selection - trying to find the card I was looking for. Now, it's all there in one quick, easy to read format. So awesome.

Oh, yeah, there were a few other things they improved.

What's new:
  • Levels
  • A 2% chance to win a card with every win
  • Improved animations
  • Music & sound effects (plus a mute button)
  • Lots of small interface improvements (instantly updating health and energy bars, same speed attack animations play at the same time, cards added to a deck in the deck builder are now flippable, attack type icons on attack buttons, etc.)
  • Interface bug fixes
  • Quick tips in-game for new players

That isn't even everything. There are just a bunch of small, subtle, but much-appreciated changes to the game. For example, rolling over your opponent's skills in the opponent tab now lets you see their hit and proc rates. Something that used to be hidden when they were out on the field before. Little touches that aren't flashy but go a long way towards making the game easier to play. Even the new pop-up help windows are surprisingly wll done and informative (I mean, they're annoying to me since I already know all of this stuff but I can see how they'd be really helpful to someone loading up the Practice mode for the first time. Oh, that's right, what was Single Player mode is now called Practice so maybe all those people expecting something more than practice dummies to beat up on can shut up.).

It's also hard to understate just how much better the game plays now that attacks with the same speed happen simultaneously. Or, for that matter, having health and energy values update on attack instead of at the end of each turn. It feels faster. There's not as much lag time, not as much waiting for attacks to happen. The game's tempo is racing now, at breakneck speed.

Not all is perfect, though. The new update seems to have ushered in several new bugs. I'd swear for a little while there that the RNG had slipped a cog somewhere - I saw Quickening Powder proc about as many times last night as I have for the entire time I've been playing so far (In other words, way outside the bounds of normal probability. Once or twice, sure. But three times in a row? Then again? And again? And even more besides? That's well past even million to one against and into freaky territory.). And, well, I've been tracking procs and crits and they were all well above their normal and expected values the other night, as well. Could be nothing more than a fluke because, you know, a few lucky rolls is the kind of thing that plays with your head and into the natural human tendency to look for patterns but, well, it's not like the code hasn't been savaged in this game before.

And while attacks animate simultaneously, debuffs don't. So if you've got a huge pile of DOT you have to sit and wait as each ticks off individually. They really need to compress them all into one big plus/minus number (The way it works in, say, Sonny.) because it gets old fast. The Game Log should tell you where all the sources that damage is coming from but the graphics don't have to show it.

Also, I could care less about the music since I'm fairly certain I can supply my own soundtrack and it's going to sound better - for me - than anything the game can provide. But while it's a nice little touch it's also a bit maddening that there's no mute button on the front screen - you have to get into a match and then realize there's an option tucked away in a pulldown menu before you can silence the racket - and that the game doesn't seem to remember your preference for silence when you load in again.

What's nice, though, is that along with this update a new wave of testers were let into the beta. What last week was an empty game where it was nearly impossible to find a match was turned, overnight, into a bustling place. Matches are happening all over the place, being formed and filling up fast enough to test your refleces if you're trying to click and join (This afternoon, there were enough matches going on for the list to stretch to 3 whole pages. I'd never even seen it get past halfway on the first before.) Conversation abounds in the chat rooms (And, yes, that's plural, too. There's so many people around that they won't all fit in one room and the Kongai chat's been split into multiple instances.). And the comment thread is full of...well, the less said about the kind of awfully ill-formed sugestions from people who've only been playing for a few minutes that work their way into the comment thread and eat away at the precious few bits of sanity and soul I have left the better.

There are people playing again. Not having to wait minute upon agonizing minute to get a match in alone makes the game so much better.

And don't think I haven't been doing my level best to get in on the action and train up some of those newbs. Because there's now actually a point to your win loss record.

Well, your wins at least. Because the more wins you have, the higher your level (Losses don't seem to enter into the picture. It's purely an additive measure of your success. So even if you have a 10% winning percentage if you get in enough games you'll eventually have a high enough level. Skill rankings - which are tantalizingly displayed next to your level on the welcoming screen - aren't in yet but will presumably take them into account somehow.). And, of course, the bigger your e-peen. Which was true enough before since you could compare your wins to someone else. But now the game tells you how many wins you have to go until the next level. It's the addictive power of the ding. Driving you to keep playing, to pump up that record. "Just one more game. Just one more game. Oh heck, I've got time for just one more." Until you look up and realize it's 2AM in the morning and you've got to get up for work in four hours.

At the same time, a new method of unlocking cards is also tied to how many games you play. You now have a 2% chance every time you win to unlock a card at random. Details are a bit hazy at this point and rumors are flying everywhere but, as I understand it, that chance is flat. There's no difference in your odds of getting a new card for beating one of the vaunted L12s (I'm, for the record, at the time of this writing an L6 with only a handful more games to win until I level up. It's somewhere around 100 wins, overall. And that's not bad, I think, since I have a pretty good win percentage even if you don't throw out those early losses and penalties from forfeits - you lose 2 games and your opponent wins 2 if you forfeit for some inexplicable reason.) or for beating up on someone who's playing their first game. 1 in 50 chance of getting a card either way. And the card you get is randomly selected. Word is that it's chosen from all the cards you haven't unlocked yet (And if you have everything from the cards you don't already have duplicated.).

When you get one, there's a little message at the end of the match telling you that you've won a card along with its picture. Which I can personally attest to since I've already managed to earn the Scroll this way.

Since some people seem to care about it, the cards from the victory slot machine are stamped with an embossed "K" in place of the "R1" for the first re-release that we're in the middle of now. Nothing like the original cards, then, which have gotten a facelift to look, well, awesome. They're exactly the same as the R1 cards in terms of what they do but the graphics of their borders and background have been touched up to make them really appealing. You can't see them in profiles yet but I can only describe them as looking like they're made out of velvet now. Doesn't matter when you're playing but it is a nice little touch of cosmetic appeal.

Now, you might think since I finally got that purple item to go with all my Ninjas (Only missing Yoshi who's not exactly keeping me up nights wondering where he's been all my life.) that I might be more than happy with the new system. You'd be wrong, in case I hadn't made already made my feelings plain here. I think I'll keep my powder dry for now but the basic answer is that it's too random. Variable ratio schedules of reward not what the game more of, after all. And for every Scroll I unlock, I'm just as likely to get a Jade Figurine.

All in all, although the random card unlocks are going to have me gnashing my teeth and rending my garments for weeks to come a great update that's brought back excitement, brought back players, and brought back the game.

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