Saturday, April 16, 2016

Being a Hero of The Storm

Play Journal Entry #5
As part of the Games and Learning course and study with University of Colorado Denver Information and Learning Technologies Master’s program, students will participate in both shared and individual play sessions. These play sessions are part of “learning by doing” and reflection necessary to understand what it means to be a learner through playing games. The play journals are a synthesis of scholarship and reflection on play per the chosen game.

How would you describe the social context of Heroes of the Storm, and how did this inform what it meant to play?

Game: Heroes of the Storm
Platform: PC (battlenet download)
Genre/type: RTS, action hero. Free to play microtransaction.
Players: Multi-player online or with AI players
Game familiarity: I have watched media about this game for a few years. I have only played it infrequently for 6 months. I still consider myself a “newb.”

I have not played this game with other players, only AI players as teammates and opponents. I would like to explore multiplayer matches with humans and a means for voice communication at some point. I don’t really feel comfortable doing this however until I explore more of the game and learn the shortcut keys and various nuances. I would also like to watch some YouTube video tutorials and read some articles about strategies and other game mechanics. The game does a pretty good job at guiding the player through a match, however there is a lot going on simultaneously so it’s relatively hard to follow all things.

The game universe is centered around Blizzard entertainment products. If you are a player new to Blizzard you may wonder how this odd combination of heroes and villains came together. I think Blizzard addresses this by providing a trailer for each hero or villain. For veteran Blizzard fans the game serves as a fantasy mashup with humorous elements. To play this game you should be familiar with the class types or roles, which are rather typical for Blizzard. Players may also need to have a basic understanding of the objectives of each battleground. Some knowledge of the maps helps as well. The website ultimately suggests to play the tutorials in game first before seeking too much information via the Heroes of the Storm website. Like any RTS, especially one developed by Blizzard who has a history of successful RTS games like Warcraft 1-3, players expect a solid tutorial experience which I believe Heroes of the Storm delivers.

What - if anything - did you learn during this particular play of Heroes of the Storm, and what lessons (more generally) does the game teach?

During this play test, I played with AI set to “adept” setting. I played as E.T.C in the Dragon Shire. I like to play E.T.C. “Rock God” because he is rated high in the survivability category. Otherwise I probably would have died more. The respawn timer can be long at times so it’s annoying to wait for resurrection. In the Dragon Shire players have to hold the two dragon shrines (north and south sides of map) then a player has to activate the dragon in the center of the map. This is hard with AI players because I cannot tell the AI to stay at one shrine or another to defend while I take the middle, or devise any sort of strategy. Instead I have to predict what my AI teammates will do then fill in the gaps. I did not get to activate the first dragon in the match. The opposing team did and I defended it fair enough. I did however win the other two dragons and I won the match on the third dragon spawn. I thought for sure I was going to lose after I lost the first dragon because I could not communicate with the AI. However I didn’t give up, perseverance lead to victory.

So what did I learn?
  • To understand strategies to win map objectives
  • Reminded of short cut keys by in game tutorials
  • Predictive play based on AI
  • Basic talent building as leveling
  • Basic ability rotation based on cooldowns and various types of skirmishes

Critique Heroes of the Storm: What established constraints, or "game mechanics" (such as specific rules systems), inhibited alternative forms of learning or creative expression? Yet why do these constraints matter?

Heroes of the Storm has many constraints based on the battleground and hero talents and abilities. These are important because it helps pace gameplay and balance team progression through a map. Understanding how these mechanics work are critical to successful advancement. I did not read up on any talents for E.T.C. but I picked what felt right to me at the time. When a hero levels up during the match, a player can choose talents to gain abilities. This happens quickly and frequently in the match and in the middle of action. It is hard to read about these talents and continue with the action simultaneously. It would be strategic to read up on talent specifications in combination with other heroes as teammates. I also forgot the short cut keys since last I played so I kept forgetting to mount up with “Z” and hearth back to my base with “B.” The in game tutorial kept on reminding me to mount up. This was mostly helpful and mildly annoying. I also don’t feel like I had set ability rotation down, I just used my abilities whenever they were not on cooldown. I’m sure with more practice and time to understand these abilities I could be more effective.

From our second or third cycle of course readings: What one reading - and specific idea - do you find most relevant to playing, and perhaps learning with/from, Heroes of the Storm? And why?

The primary reason why I wanted to play Heroes of the Storm was to compare my experiences in a modern, action packed, arcade-like RTS versus what I can recall from RoN and Warcraft II and III in comparison to Gee “Situated Language and Learning” (Gee 2004). Gee describes his experiences in RoN and Warcraft III and ultimately admits his failings, yet describes how incredible RTS games are at capturing learning scenarios. He describes game play in RTS games like moving through a “supervised fish tank” and how information is always given “just in time” (Gee 2004). I experienced this while playing Heroes of the Storm in a ways that were very appealing for learning. Such as, the game reminding me to mount up by using the shortcut key “Z.” The button would flash and “Uther,” the tutorial narrator, would also emote this with voice. The use of auditory and visual feedback in combination with play at the right time, allows learning to be reinforced in ways not necessarily possible in typical learning scenarios. Gee also discusses game experiences in contrast to typical schooling scenarios. Such as players being able to self assess in very formative ways on time and task, versus in school, you may have to turn in your homework before any assessment is given (Gee 2004). I would recommend this game to anyone who wants to experience the ultimate action packed in-game tutorial.