Purple’s Heart

Purple's Heart

Ryan “Purple” Murphy-Root is determined to be king. But until that day, he’s content to play the jester.

“40 years from now,” Murphy-Root explains, “when I tell my grandkids what I did when I was in my 20s, if I said, ‘I was like the 7th best player in the world,’ they’d say, ‘What the f—k, you were 7th best? Loser.’ Gotta go for glory! You’re either first or you’re last.”

This quippy Canadian is the country’s brightest star in competitive Hearthstone. 16 of the world’s best players have come here to Los Angeles for the 2017 Summer Championship—but Purple is considered by many the favourite to win.

Born in Montreal and partly raised in the Toronto area, Purple left Canada three years ago to play full-time. He’s been a potent force ever since. To qualify for this tournament, Murphy-Root, 26, went undefeated in the Americas Summer Playoffs—though he’s not the type to dwell on the past.

“I won, I had like 17 drinks, forgot what happened, got on a plane, went home,” says Murphy-Root. “Who cares about the (tournament) I won; I want to win another one.”

A win this weekend—or at least a victory in the quarter-finals—would give Purple another shot at the World Championship. The staging ground for this test: the brand-new Blizzard Arena, a “world-class” eSports stage.

It’s an odd venue for high-stakes competition. The arena is positively cozy, transformed overnight into the game’s familiar tavern, complete with candles, a fireplace and barrels of ale. Fans are welcome to come down from the stands and sit on picnic tables set up right next to the stage, to play with pros and developers as the tournament continues metres away.

Purple's Heart 6
Ryan “Purple” Murphy-Root

“The community interaction, the community energy that we want to create in all of our eSports events, that’s just inherent to Hearthstone as a game,” says Che Chou, head of the globetrotting Hearthstone  Championship Tour (HCT). It’s been a challenge, logistically, “hitting the reset button” with every new country and venue. With this permanent, dedicated space, Blizzard eSports finally has a home.

The Summer Championship is a homecoming for Purple, too. Not only does his girlfriend live in Los Angeles, but his training partner and former teammate—Jon “Orange” Westberg of Sweden—will be competing as well.

“It’s pretty normal to have these online friendships and then see each other every two months,” said Murphy-Root. “Things like Dreamhack or HCT events, these are like meet-ups to see your buddies.”

Nevertheless, Purple is firm on his priorities.

“I want Orange to make the finals, of course,” he said, chuckling. “I don’t want him to win.”

***

Purple’s first day at the tournament goes poorly. He’s nearly defeated by a semi-pro before falling to Jason Zhou, a talented Chinese player he hoped to dodge in the group stages.

“Game one, I didn’t get a chance to play Hearthstone. Killed me on turn five,” Murphy-Root recalls. “Game two, I didn’t get to play Hearthstone  because my five best cards in my priest deck were in the bottom ten…. Game three, I just kinda cheesed him…. Got kinda lucky in Game four and got nutted in Game five. Didn’t really get to play Hearthstone  in most of those games.”

Purple's Heart 10
Ryan “Purple” Murphy-Root and Kim “Surrender” Jung-soo

Purple applies a somewhat fatalistic perspective to the game. Once you choose the best decks for the field, the only thing left is to play “optimally” and let the cards fall where they may. Take Game five, in which both players were using what is generally regarded as the best deck of the season, Highlander Priest, which relies on just a few key cards to combo its way to victory.

“I drew 26 cards, he drew 13, and his top 13 cards were better than my top 26. There’s four cards that do things, and 26 cards that don’t. So wherever those cards are located oftentimes dictates who’s going to win the game,” Purple explains. “No one’s better in that situation. It’s just one set of cards beating another set of cards.”

Murphy-Root always describes Hearthstone  in terms of odds—40 per cent lines of play and “coin-flip” match-ups—which he determines through extensive testing and simulations. But once he gets into the game, he puts all the math behind him.

“You’ve got 90 seconds” to take a turn, he explains. “If you consider all the factors, 90 seconds is not a long time. Basically what you’ve got to do is rely on your instincts a lot of the time.”

One might expect that believing in odds and instincts would mean Purple doesn’t practice much. After all, he says, he’s “allergic to hard work.” But in the months leading up to the tournament, Murphy-Root returned to training 10-12 hours a day. It’s worthwhile, he says, though he recognizes he’s putting in an enormous amount of effort for very little advantage.

“Say you’re the best player in the world,” he explains. “Instead of having a 1-in-64 (chance), maybe you have a 1-in-32 to come on top.”

It’s not like when he started three years ago, when he was “10 times better” than his opponents.

“The skill gap has so caught up…. You are just working for tiny percentages. You’ve got to accept that beforehand—before you’re willing to do the work. In the grand scheme of things, I could probably pay what I would get in terms of prize pool from this tournament by working at MickyDs.”

***

As you might expect, not everyone sees the appeal.

“My brain would just melt,” says Julien “DocPwn” Bachand, when he thinks about the time Murphy-Root spends in front of a screen. “At least try to have diversity in your life.”

The Montreal-based player, enjoying the show from the audience, is nevertheless a big Purple supporter. And it’s not just because he wants a fellow Canadian to join him at Worlds.

“He’s creative,” Bachand explains. “He tries out new stuff. Even if it doesn’t work out in the end—because creativity doesn’t always pay off, right?”

It certainly didn’t in 2015, when despite being the self-professed best player in the world (“not close”), Purple was eliminated from his first World Championship after bringing what he later called stupid decks to bear.

At that time, Bachand was still a “nobody” on the scene. He skyrocketed to prominence in March by defeating last year’s world champion and punching his ticket to the big stage. Ever since, he’s resisted calls to turn pro. At 32-years-old, with a great job in sports and leisure with the City of Montreal, he’s not interested in casting it all aside to chase the dream.

“If I was 19, 20-years-old, of course I would,” he says—but Bachand knows Hearthstone  is a “game of young players.”

At just 26, Purple feels his own time growing short.

“There’s only so much travelling and partying you can do before you have to go back to the real world, get a desk job,” Murphy-Root says, laughing.  “I don’t think, in the long run, I can make enough money from Hearthstone…. Based on my last three years of income, it’d be very hard for me to get a mortgage because of how sporadic money comes in.”

Chou, the head of Hearthstone eSports, says Blizzard is trying to devise a system to keep the pros playing as long as they desire. But for now, without the responsibilities of children or car payments, Purple is content to go months on end without making a dime.

“I don’t really need that much,” he jokes. “Come Christmas, you need socks and underwear. Maybe a toothbrush.”

***

Cruising past Day Two, Purple finds himself at the final hurdle before earning his way back to the World Championship stage: the Day Three quarter-finals against Chen “tom60229” Wei Lin of Taiwan. And after enduring all the bad beats and “skill-less” matches of the first 48 hours, Murphy-Root is finally able to stop playing by rote—and start playing some Hearthstone.

In the final game of the match, Purple is forced to turn his strategy upside-down. Ordinarily, he says, “You hit people in the face; that’s how you play this game.” However, every threat Purple’s played so far in his aggressive shaman deck has been systematically thwarted by tom’s controlling mage build, and he is left empty-handed against tom’s full grip of cards.

The casters say things look dire, but Murphy-Root isn’t worried. He visualizes all the cards he has left in his deck and what tom has left in his, coming to a simple conclusion: “I’m going to win this game.” He realizes tom has expended all of his offensive options. With some careful play, he can prevent tom from generating more, leaving him with no way to actually finish Purple.

“I’m just done trying to kill you,” Purple recalls. “Half his cards just literally did nothing. Sure, he had eight cards in hand, but six of them didn’t do anything.”

The creativity that ruined Purple two years ago now ensures his victory. It’s only a matter of time before tom concedes.

Purple stumbles from his seat, collapsing to the ground before springing up and raising both arms in the air. As he basks in the applause and the rush of victory, his friend Orange bursts from offstage to embrace him, completing the picture-perfect moment of the tournament.

Purple's Heart 9
Jon “Orange” Westberg and Ryan “Purple” Murphy-Root

***

Not picture-perfect enough for Purple, however. No trophy.

Murphy-Root would go on to fall to the eventual winner of the 2017 Summer Championship, Kim “Surrender” Jung-soo of South Korea, in the semifinals. Even though Purple and Orange locked in their next reunion at the World Championship in Amsterdam, Purple is far from satisfied.

“That match against Surrender was worth $20K. $20K is a lot of money,” he says, laughing.

Purple's Heart 7
Kim “Surrender” Jung-soo

Not to mention, he knows he’ll have some stiff competition come January. “I sort of think I’ve made a terrible mistake, because Orange is really good at Hearthstone,” he jokes. “By helping him, I’ve … probably decreased the chance of me winning Worlds.”

While Murphy-Root says his journey won’t be complete without that win, he also feels like this could be his last run at the title. Regardless of whether he wins or loses, he has no idea where he’s going from here. “Do other people know what they want to do in life?” he asks. “They’re just lying to themselves. Let’s be honest.”

Instead, he’ll keep doing what he’s always done in Hearthstone: take his chances and follow his instincts. “Easier to do that than actually think about what you’re doing.”

EDIT: Edited for clarity and accuracy.


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Toren Preview

Toren Preview

With its large, vibrant and increasingly wealthy and learned population, Brazil may soon be a wellspring of great games. But that’s mostly a dream at the moment: as it stands, the nation has very, very few developers. One of them is fledgling indie studio Swordtales. Its website proudly states, “We believe that the dream of making really cool, relevant and captivating games in Brazil is possible.”

Not content with making some match-three mobile clone, Swordtales’ first effort is a puzzle/adventure game called Toren, and it’s an ambitious one. The game aims to be “an introspective and captivating journey using the most deep concepts…  Built around an epic poem, the game takes the audience in a torrent of discoveries about the greatest myth of all, the meaning of life.” The developer’s blog asks all kinds of abstruse questions, like, “What if a little girl could interact with a tree during her lifetime?” Toren, it says, seeks to be Braid meets The Legend of Zelda, although comparisons to Ico may be more apt.
toreninsert1Judging from the demo we were given, Swordtales has a way to go to reach their grandiose goals.

The demo begins with the player character, a wild-looking girl with a magic sword in hand, facing down a dragon on a bridge. She’s no match; the dragon’s very aura turns her to stone. Then we briefly control her as a baby, crawling toward the sunlight.

The gameplay begins in earnest with the girl attempting to scale a bizarre structure — Swordtales’ subversion of the archetypal fairy-tale princess trapped in a tower. Over the demo’s 30-minute length, we engaged in some light combat and puzzle-solving, grew a tree, faced off with the dragon a few more times and took in some rather bizarre sights.

The game’s greatest strength is immediately obvious: Toren boasts rich colour, great atmospheric lighting and coarse, earthy textures. The tower’s strange architecture would look at home in a Hayao Miyazaki movie. While the presentation stumbles a bit technically (the girls’ hair, in particular, could use some work), Toren has top-notch art direction.

The message of the game is, at this stage, completely inscrutable. I came across a spyglass early on that let me see scraps of poetry on the horizon, floating next to a huge figure of some kind. However, the lens shattered almost immediately. A second spyglass lasted only about 30 seconds, denying me time to read and ponder the messages. Later on, the child protagonist spontaneously became a young woman, leaving behind a pool of blood. (Perhaps Toren will be gaming’s first in-depth look at menstruation?) And of course, only time will tell what the child, tower, dragon and tree are all meant to represent.
toreninsert5The presentation and intriguing metaphor will certainly draw people to Toren. As it stands, however, everything else is a mess. The combat is terribly wooden and imprecise, the puzzles are rudimentary, the translation is awful (“Press any key down button”) and the bugs are many. One time the game locked up after I fell off the tower, forcing me to reload a checkpoint. The dragon was especially unstable, grabbing me from 20 feet away or freezing or sliding across the map. Once it simply disappeared. Sometimes my jump would have too little momentum, and I’d just hop in place. Sometimes it would have too much momentum, and I’d float for 10 feet. Sometimes I couldn’t jump at all. This all occurred in the span of 30 minutes.

It feels wrong to be too harsh, since this was just a demo from an inexperienced developer that is obviously bursting with ideas. And it’s always more admirable to try and fail than to settle for mediocrity. But looking at this project as it stands, I fear Swordtales may have bitten off more than it can chew. That said, we’ll all be richer if I’m proven wrong.

Toren is set to release sometime this year for PC, Mac and PlayStation 4.

Top Five Most Monstrous, Vile and All-Around Evil Villains in Gaming

Top Five Most Monstrous, Vile and All-Around Evil Villains in Gaming

Even more than in movies, television, books and plays, villains are crucial in video games. Stories can be about anything, but in a video game players need something to do and a reason to do it. Nothing creates motivation like a villain — and the more despicable they are, the more levels you’ll beat, the more monsters you’ll slay, the more experience you’ll grind to find them and put them down.

Perhaps that’s why, despite a nagging reputation as a pastime for children, gaming has built up a rogue’s gallery packed with wretched abominations. Selecting the five worst was no easy feat.

First, some ground rules:

  • The game must have seen a commercial release in English in North America.
  • No text adventures or visual novels without gameplay.
  • No characters pulled from real life or originating in other works of fiction. That excludes, for example, Hitler from Persona 2/Wolfenstein and AM from I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.
  • No avatars of evil, eldritch abominations, beings created to be evil or members of an all-evil race. Acts of evil must be a choice.
  • Insanity is acceptable, if only because it is difficult to draw the line between what does and does not count.

Now, these are not necessarily the best, most memorable or most interesting villains. These are the most sadistic, inhuman and all-around reprehensible, so be sure to steel your stomach (and avert your eyes if you’re afraid of SPOILERS). With that, here are the five most evil villains in video gaming history:

5.Curtis Blackburn (Killer7)

mostevilinsert1
Who knew Colonel sanders was so evil?

Seconds after your introduction to Curtis Blackburn, he shoots a prostitute in the face. He then proceeds to enter an office building and systematically kill everyone inside, except for one girl. It’s later revealed that he trained her to become a murderer.

That is about as merciful as he gets.

Blackburn is an assassin that works in the organ-harvesting trade. It is also, incidentally, the orphan-harvesting trade. He handles the kidnapping, murder and gutting of female orphans, while his partner, Pedro Montana, handles the boys.

He’s eventually betrayed and robbed by Montana, who wants to escape his life of crime. Blackburn responds by killing Montana’s entire family. He first rapes Montana’s wife in front of their son (a “sissy” who didn’t try to defend her) before shooting them both. Finally he tosses the daughter’s disembodied head in front of Montana before burying three bullets in his skull.

Even worse, Blackburn’s interest in little girls goes beyond business. He’s implied to be a pedophile that enjoys his victims prior to harvesting. In either case, he definitely makes use of them afterward: Blackburn practices taxidermy on their corpses as a hobby.

And he’s only #5 on the list.

4. The Good Incarnation (Planescape: Torment)

On the plus side, he has a great set of abs.
= On the plus side, he has a great set of abs.

 Planescape: Torment begins with the Nameless One waking up on a mortuary slab, undead, with no memories at all. Over time you discover that he’s immortal — that every time he’s “died” until now, he’s simply lost his memories. This has resulted in numerous “incarnations” over the ages. Sometimes he wakes up, a blank slate, and becomes a lowly cutthroat; other times a brilliant madman.

One such life is usually called the Practical Incarnation. Nothing was off limits for him in the pursuit of his goals. He tricked a woman into loving him, then left her to die so her ghost could aid him in death. He capitalized on a man’s crisis of faith, manipulating him into an oath of eternal servitude. He got a blind man drunk enough to sell his soon-to-be dead body into slave labour as a zombie.

None of these deeds come close to the crimes of the Good Incarnation.

Near the very end of the game, it’s revealed that the Good Incarnation is responsible for your predicament — and so much more. He is the Nameless One’s original form, and he committed crimes so heinous it’s implied that the universe is slowly dying because of them. The forces of hell have never been so eager to get their claws on someone.

The reason he’s known as the “good” incarnation is because he subsequently devoted himself to a life of virtue and charity. He became desperate to escape hell, to try to balance out the damage he caused. But he quickly realized that there aren’t enough days in a single lifetime to undo that much evil. He needed more time, far more time. An entire second life devoted to good would not suffice, nor a third. For a crime that great, he needed to become immortal.

It’s never specified exactly what the Good Incarnation did to get a reserved seat in hell, corrode the universe and make a mockery of the concept of repentance — but whatever it was, it’s earned him the #4 spot.

3. Yuna (Breath of Fire IV)

mostevilinsert6
Oppenheimer’s BFF.

The mild-mannered Yuna is a horrifically unethical scientist and sorcerer responsible for the Carronade, a weapon of mass destruction.

Every part of this weapon’s operation is completely abhorrent.

In order to fire the Carronade once, a person’s life must be sacrificed. The result is a poison gas called Hex, the potency of which is influenced by two factors: the love shared between the targets and the sacrifice as well as the anguish experienced by the sacrifice before death.

Maximum efficacy is reached through torture. However, most subjects die before reaching optimal potency. Yuna’s solution to this problem is to make his next victims functionally invulnerable, so that they can endure a limitless amount of suffering. The perfect offering is Elina, a princess beloved by the populace. Yuna’s experiment is a success, though it mutates Elina into a massive pile of exposed organs. The heroes find a way to put her out of her misery before she can be used to kill others.

The worst part of it all? Yuna gets away without any consequences whatsoever. He’s last seen during the credits, ready to begin his work anew.

2. Mankar Camoran (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion)

Mankar Camoran thought the party was dull until everyone started drinking the Kool-Aid he brought.

Mankar Camoran a vile cultist, founder of the Mythic Dawn. He believes that the world was originally another realm of Oblivion, a hellish plane populated by demons, before it was unjustly “occupied.” Therefore, it is only proper that his demonic master Mehrunes Dagon return, purge it of life and rebuild it anew. Camoran envisions this new world as being solely for the strong, a place where “the weak will be winnowed, the timid shall be cast down.”

In order to summon his lord, Camoran orchestrates the assassination of the emperor and all his legitimate children, whose blood maintains the barriers between worlds. Gates to Oblivion begin appearing everywhere, and demons pour forth to butcher the populace. He then has an entire city razed in an effort to kill the emperor’s final, illegitimate child.

Even Camoran’s own followers are not spared his wrath. Those that die in his service are lumped in with the rest of the “weak.” They are granted an eternal afterlife in the idyllic-looking gardens of his Paradise — as promised —but are tormented night and day by demons, unable to escape or even die. Those that express dissatisfaction with this fate are sent to a fiery grotto, where they are kept in cages and periodically dunked in lava.

However, attempting to purge the planet and eternally torture one’s allies isn’t enough to earn the #1 spot.

1. Yuri (Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2)

Yuri loves long walks on the beach, sunsets, puppies, and mind control used for world domination.

Yuri first appears as a psychic aiding the Soviet Union in its attempt at world domination. He pioneers the creation of psychic troopers, which turn brother against brother on the battlefield, and psychic beacons, which are used to brainwash entire cities. He then assassinates his own leader and frames a general in order to seize control of the faction. He later betrays the player when his or her continued success is perceived as a threat.

After the Soviets’ defeat, Yuri reveals his true plan: to use his improved psychic dominators to completely enslave Earth’s population. He largely succeeds in creating a world with no will but his own. However, a lucky disruption allows a few enemies to go back in time and destroy the psychic dominators before they’re finished.

Now Yuri has to get his hands really dirty. In addition to his psychic manipulation, Yuri works to assassinate and replace world leaders with loyal clones; unleashes nuclear and chemical weapons; and mutates people into savage brutes whose only thoughts are of violence. He gains the minerals for his war effort through slave labour but gets the organic materials through “grinders” — devices that break human beings down into spare parts.

To sum it up: this is a man who walks brainwashed civilians into meat grinders in order to fuel horrific genetic experiments in a bid to eradicate the concept of free will. Ladies and gentlemen, there is no greater evil in video gaming than Yuri.

Interested in more monstrous villains? Check out the Horror Issue of CGM

10-Year Game of Civilization Devastates One World, Inspires Another

10-Year Game of Civilization Devastates One World, Inspires Another

A trio of decade-long events: the American war in Afghanistan, the reign of Vladimir Putin, and now a single game of Civilization II. While the scope of the 1996 computer game is larger than most, following a nation from ancient history to interstellar travel, a match is normally won or lost in less than 10 hours. However, last week Reddit user Lycerius became an instant celebrity on the social news site by detailing his 10-year stalemate, which has drawn many comparisons to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four:

Read more10-Year Game of Civilization Devastates One World, Inspires Another

Exploring the Diablo III marketplace

Exploring the Diablo III marketplace

The changes Blizzard made in Diablo III have received a lot of hate, much of which stems from a decade of nostalgia. But whether you prefer the necromancer to the witch doctor or skill trees to runes, no one misses Diablo II’s economy. Hyperinflation made Sanctuary look like fantasy Zimbabwe, leaving a system of bartering or community-based “forum gold” the only valid options for trade. When players found themselves further aggravated by scammers and bots, they turned to third-party sites offering virtual goods for actual cash.

Read moreExploring the Diablo III marketplace