Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Space opera via superheroes

Well, the new Star Wars is all set to come out very shortly.  My wife and I have tickets to see it on Thursday evening.  However, for a variety of reasons, my excitement in space opera is in settings that are more like the Cosmic Marvel arena.  If you've never read the entire saga of Vulcan and the stuff that follows, you should.  Although the now-famous Guardians of the Galaxy make an appearance in some of the crossover stuff that appears in War of Kings, it's really more about the Starjammers, which I would easily have called more well known (and more interesting!) than the Guardians prior to the release of the unexpectedly excellent movie last year (or was it the year before now?)

Also, I got a new phone recently, and on a whim, I installed a small handful of games (three).  However, I've only actually played one of them, because it was sufficiently engaging that I haven't bothered clicking on an of the others yet.  This one is Marvel: Contest of Champions, which takes place in the "battle-realm"—a pocket dimension created (I presume) by the Collector, for him to pit champions that he's collected against each other.  You play the role of a "Summoner" and you collect your own stable of champions (which are drawn randomly, with some qualifiers).  You go through a loosely told (and somewhat incoherent) story; but really the point is that you fight duels in a game that's a little like a simplified version of Capcom's old Marvel Superheroes line of video games.  These battles earn you stuff that allows you to improve your champions, and expand your stable of characters, as well as improve your own ability to play the game at a somewhat meta level as well.

While I find the game as an RPG of sorts with a story of sorts to be dreadfully lacking, and as a guy who grew up on the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat series, I don't find the actual fighting to be particularly tactically rich necessarily, the game provides just enough of a lot of fun elements that it's been quite engaging to me for over a week now.  Collecting and improving your heroes, and managing the resources necessary to actually play the game, combined with the fighting itself, has been reasonably fun.  And, of course, half the fun is that these are Marvel characters, and I've been a Marvel guy for as long as I've been even halfway interested in comic books.  Because the movies have been so spectacularly successful, pretty much everyone knows who a bunch of these Marvel characters are, even formerly really kind of bizarre and esoteric ones like the Guardians of the Galaxy.

So it makes it easy when I've got two space opera settings under development to turn to the superhero-themed one rather than my 1,000 years after Jedi Star Wars one, even though the Star Wars movie is literally right on the horizon.  Plus, my STAR WARS work is fairly complete, at least in terms of what I want to do with it right now—I've got a complete rule system in place, and a setting outline.  Until I'm actually playing it, why do I need more?  My AD ASTRA which is more Guardians or Starjammers like in intent is nothing more than a high concept: superheroes in space.  So, it's time to turn to that one and get some development done!

First, though—let me quickly review what I've got on this Contest of Champions game, just because I'm kinda interested right now.

Characters are ranked from 1 to 5 stars.  I'm not really at the point where I'm expected to have any 5-star heroes, and sure enough I don't.  If I'd been more lucky, I might have 4-star heroes, but as it happens, I haven't been lucky enough (my son has only 1 himself; he got his game the day after me, and has probably spent more time on it already.)  I've long ago divested myself of any 1-star heroes, but I've got a big pool of 2-star heroes and five 3-star heroes—a pretty decent roster given how long I've been playing.  Advanced 2-star heroes can be significantly better than newbie 3-star heroes, but no hero can ever acquire more stars than it starts with, and of course, 3-star heroes can be advanced to well beyond the capability of a 2-star hero.

Characters come in one of six classes: Cosmic, Mutant, Mystic, Science, Skill and Tech.  This refers to the source of their powers, for the most part: a cosmic hero has an alien source (black Spider-man's alien symbiote suit, or Drax—who is an alien, for instance) while Captain America, Spider-man and the Hulk are science heroes, because their powers came from a science experiment; either gone awry in the case of Spider-man and the Hulk, or working as intended in the case of Captain America.  There's also a rock/paper/scissors aspect to the classes; while certainly no class automatically beats another, each class has an advantage against another class (and is neutral against all others.)  When you have the opportunity, which is most times, you need to make sure that you position yourself for the class advantage.  If you can't get advantage, at least make sure that you aren't putting yourself in a position where you're disadvantaged; fighting against a class that has the advantage against you!  If you can't swing it, well all isn't lost—it's a nice thing to have advantage, but it usually doesn't make or break a match.  The pairings are as follows:

  • Cosmic champions are advantaged against Tech champions.
  • Tech champions are advantaged against Mutant champions.
  • Mutant champions are advantaged against Skill champions.
  • Skill champions are advantaged against Science champions.
  • Science champions are advantaged against Mystic champions, and
  • Mystic champions are advantaged against Cosmic champions.
In addition, many quests have "gates" that can't be passed unless you have a character of the correct class in your "adventuring party."  So it's clearly to your advantage to have characters of every class at a reasonably competent level (or at least parity with the rest of your group.)  Of course, since the champion drops are randomized, this is much easier said than done, and you sometimes have to try an awful lot of times to get what you need.  I can make do, but as I said earlier, I've only got five 3-star heroes.  Luckily, they're all of different classes, but that still means that I'm missing one of the classes in 3-star format (Science, in my case) and I have to make do with a 2-star Science champion when I need to have a Science champion.  This kinda sucks sometimes, especially as some of the characters that I'd most like to have are Science characters (Hulk, Abomination, Captain America (in his WWII outfit), Spider-man, Spider-Gwen).  But I'm lucky to have one 3-star of every other class, even if I don't necessarily have the champion that I'd pick if I could pick.  For instance, my 3-star roster is:
  • Daredevil (Netflix version)—Skill: My first 3-star, and a decent character, I suppose.  I'd prefer to have Moon Knight, the Punisher or Winter Soldier, but I do have 2-star versions of the Punisher and Black Panther.
  • Ms. Marvel—Cosmic: My second 3-star champion.  She's actually pretty cool, although given the options in Cosmic characters, I'd probably have preferred Drax, Spiderman (black suit), Superior Iron Man (wearing a silver liquid suit of adaptive armor, so he's basically wearing a Terminator from T2) or even Thor.  I had a 2-star Black Bolt, which I ditched before I realized that I needed to keep hanging on to my 2-stars for the time being, and I have a 2-star Superior Iron Man.
  • Magneto—Mutant: The next 3-star I got was Magneto—sadly, the original suit version, not the Marvel Now version.  For whatever reason, I've got a ton of 2-star mutants: Cyclops, Dead Pool (red suit, not white X-force suit), Storm and Wolverine.
  • Hulkbuster—Tech: While it isn't necessarily obvious, since in the comics, Hulkbusters have been all kinds of things, this one is basically Iron Man in his "Veronica" suit from the second Avengers movie.  He looks really cool; he's arguably my first choice for a tech hero, although there's a lot of good choices in this class. I've also got a 2-star Iron Man and Star Lord, but there's at least six other champions in this class that I'd love to have.
  • Lady Thor—Mystic: I got this one most recently for free as some kind of in-game reward for something or other.  It actually wasn't quite clear what I had done to win it (my son just got two random hero crystals that give you 2-4 star heroes—obviously much more frequently two-star ones.)  I guess I was lucky to get it, and I'm not exactly complaining, because I certainly need a 3-star Mystic, but Lady Thor?  C'mon, the character offends me with how it was developed.  The concept of another character having a hammer and the power of Thor alongside Thor isn't necessary a bad one (Beta Ray Bill, anyone?) but the longer Marvel decides to run Jane Foster as the Thor (while actual Thor is a powerless, one-armed cripple) who spouts anti-male sexist feminist talking points while fighting, the character might as well not even exist in Marvel at all. Do they want to actually sell Thor magazines, or have they given up caring what happens to the actual comics since the movies are where the money is?  I've also got several 2-star Mystic heroes: Iron Fist (in his regular green outfit), the Scarlet Witch, Juggernaut, and the Unstoppable Colossus, which is Colossus with the Juggernaut helmet and a few new moves.
  • I don't have any 3-star science heroes, but I've got 2-star Ant-Man, Yellowjacket and Rhino.
I'm also engaged in a quest which gives, as a reward when it's all made available and I finish it, a 3-star Groot, which is presumably a Cosmic champion.  There's a few other characters in the game; or at least, their models are in the game and avid tech nerds have managed to extract them and show us, and I think the plan is to have characters roll out at a measured pace, probably somewhat indefinitely; because why not?  It gives players something to stick around for.  There's also a handful of non-player characters, like Thanos, Kan the Conqueror, etc.

Anyway; enough about that.  When I come back next to this topic, let's get the rules system completely worked out and put all together in one place for AD ASTRA, and then I can start working up some setting elements.

UPDATE: No more than about three hours after posting that, I earned a 3-star Champion crystal, and as luck would have it, it spun out Spider-man!  Although the WWII Captain America was my first choice for a Science hero to fill that last gap, Spider-man, Hulk and maybe the standard Spider-Gwen were all in a three-way tie for second place. (Abomination, Electro regular Captain America and Rhino in a four-way tie for third place, and Joe Fixit and Luke Cage in a tie for fourth place.  Although I would have reasonably happily taken even Ant-man or Yellowjacket.  I'm also almost done with the first Act of the Story Quest, which gives a Premium Hero crystal (usually turn out to be 2-stars, but who knows? I might get lucky and get a 3-star or even a 4-star champion) and a 3-Star Crystal.  Anyone else at this point is bonus; and if I get a repeat of what I already have as a lower level champ, I can sell the lower level and use the proceeds to start leveling and ranking up the newbie.

UPDATE 2: I mentioned that I haven't been playing very long yet, so I'm still discovering what is probably pretty basic stuff: the masteries have tabs!  I've been putting all of my effort into Offense, but there's a defense and a Utilities tab too.  D'oh!  Now I've got plenty of work ahead of me to get those built up.  I could recover, but I'm starting to feel the pinch on gold, so I'm not going to, I don't think.  I also wasn't really looking at the Daily Quests much, but now that I'm in desperate need of Catalyst, I've discovered it rather belatedly and just in time.  Because over the last couple of days they've had Catalyst quests for the Skill, Mutant, Science and now Mystic classes, my Magneto, Spider-man and now Girl Thor are my best characters.  Tomorrow and over the weekend, I'll presumably have Tech and Cosmic and can rank up Hulkbuster and Ms. Marvel (as well as my Superior Iron Man and regular Iron Man, who are in need of moving up and require class catalysts and this point.)

I also still have a problem remembering the rock, paper, scissors nature of class advantage, but here's a screenshot of the scheme.  Probably easier to read than my list above.  The teal Saturn is Cosmic, which beats the weird circuit board diagram in blue which is Tech, which beats the yellow DNA which is Mutant, which beats the red fist, which is Skill, which beats the green beaker which is Science, which beats the purple... whatever that thing is, which is Mystic, which beats Cosmic.

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