OGN APEX Season 4 Final.

On October 21st newcomers GC Busan faced season 2 runners up RunAway in the OGN APEX Season 4 final.

If you haven’t already I’d recommend reading our introduction to each of the teams.

The APEX Season 4 final is a best of seven series following the format of: Control, Hybrid, Assault, Escort, Assault, Escort, Hybrid. With the exception of the first map – which is randomly selected – the losing team chooses the next map from the available pool. This series was played on the 1.14 patch, post-Junkrat changes, but before the Mercy and D.Va reworks, and without Junkertown.


Map 1 Control:

  • Nepal – Sanctum

Despite the majority of this map taking place inside GC Busan chose to bring out the Pharmercy with Hooreg and HaGoPeun. Sticking to their dive composition that had worked so well for them in the semi-final, RunAway enter the first fight with no direct answer to Hooreg’s Pharah, and suffered for it. Unwilling to switch their heroes, as it would mean the loss of KoX’s Zenyatta, the targeted Defence Matrix use of JJANU on the D.Va simply isn’t enough to mitigate the incoming damage from GC Busan.

JJANU’s self-destruct kill onto HaGoPuen’s Mercy with 91% accrued for GC Busan finally allow RunAway to take the point. Pushing their opposition back to their spawn area, for a moment it looks like they might be able to hold on. In the end RunAway simply didn’t have the ultimates to keep up their defence, and even a late game switch to Soldier 76 for KoX isn’t enough to keep them in the fight. GC Busan take the first map.

  • Nepal – Shrine

Sticking with what worked, it’s Pharmercy again for GC Busan. Pharah has always been powerful on open maps like Shrine and RunAway’s stubborn adherence to a Genji, Tracer DPS combo seems like a mistake. That is until KoX takes Hooreg out of the sky with a headshot from his Zenyatta.

Unfortunately, off the point, Profit is winning the Tracer battle against Stitch, and GC Busan take control.

With over 50% given over, Haksal kills Hooreg baiting out HaGoPeun’s ultimate. During the resurrect animation Haksal draws his Dragonblade striking down HaGoPeun, Closer on the Lucio, and the just resurrected Hooreg. Still it’s not quite enough. Profit takes out Haksal before falling to a self-destruct from JJANU and eventually the tank line of RunAway, supported by some outstanding play by Stitch allow them to take control with 80% already on the board for GC Busan.

Bumper keeps fellow support KoX alive in the face of an aggressive Profit, but they are pushed off the point and GC Busan are able to build up to 99% before RunAway can retake. Their opponents now entrenched on the point, GCBusan’s flex-DPS Hooreg brings out the Doomfist – a hero he made a name for himself on earlier in the season.

At 99% to 99% Haksal once more triggers his Dragonblade, slicing through Gesture’s Winston and dashing forward to engage Hooreg. A Rocket Punch pushes him away, unfortunately for GC Busan Haksal was the right hook when they should have been looking out for the left jab. Stitch comes in taking out Hooreg and Closer, before finishing up HaGoPeun.

RunAway take Shrine and already it’s clear this series isn’t going to be over any time soon.

  • Nepal – Village

Village has always been a popular map for Pharmercy, and having already run it twice GC Busan see no reason to change now. Again, a headshot from KoX takes out Hooreg’s Pharah, and again it’s not enough to secure the point.

The layout of Village means that while on defence the Pharah has relatively free reign, any attempt to attack the point itself require a descent to nearly ground level. It’s exactly this situation that RunAway attempt to exploit, Stitch and Haksal rushing in to initiate a capture, drawing GC Busan into an engage. The rest of RunAway are not far behind, covered by the Transcendence healing of KoX. Hooreg drops out of the sky and uses his Rocket Barrage to try and deal with the members of RunAway. This makes him a static target, a well-timed Deflect from Haksal sees a good portion of the Rocket Barrage damage directed back. JJANU has already dropped his self-destruct and manages to finish off Hooreg while out of his mech

Seconds later the self-destruct kills HaGoPeun before he can use his own ultimate, and RunAway finally take the point with 99% already conceded to GC Busan.

65% to RunAway and a second Rocket Barrage from Hooreg takes out several members, JJANU responds with another self-destruct but a beautifully placed Barrier Projector bubble from a mid-leap Gesture contains it. GC Busan are the only ones left alive, and a trickle of RunAway members aren’t enough to successfully contest.

Village, and the first game go to GC Busan.


Map 2 Hybrid:

  • Hollywood

As the losers of the first game RunAway choose Hollywood for their Hybrid map. GC Busan defend first, using a high ground defence with Hooreg on Soldier 76.

Stitch’s Tracer is spotted during an attempted flank but RunAway look like they’ve found an opening of their own when Hooreg drops to the low ground. Diving on him RunAway are suddenly caught out as the rest of GC Busan counter-dive, trapping them in a corridor and wiping them out.

Despite it not being their choice, GC Busan clearly have a plan for this map and they are executing it perfectly. RunAway are starting to look out of their depth.

The upper floor of the café beside the point is the primary place from which support players like HaGoPeun can watch over their team. Coming in for another push and Stitch is able to use Tracer’s superior speed and movement abilities to get into the ground floor of the café without being spotted. He takes out HaGoPeun’s Zenyatta, while TiZi coming in after him is able to deal with Hooreg. A Pulse Bomb kill by Stitch onto Gesture takes GC Busan’s Winston out of the fight and RunAway are able to secure the capture and start the payload moving.

Denying GC Busan the time to form a cohesive defence RunAway’s constant aggression allow them to push rapidly to the second point at the studio doors.

Moving inside and Stitch definitively wins the Tracer battle taking out Closer, Hooreg, and Gesture. Keeping up the aggression he accidentally pulls off what might be the first example of a zoning Pulse Bomb, a missed throw nevertheless driving GC Busan into a corner where Haksal is waiting with a Dragonblade.

Pure aggression wins out and RunAway complete the push on Hollywood with nearly two minutes on the clock.

 

On defence RunAway stick with their dive composition, while GC Busan modify theirs to allow Hooreg to play the Sombra.

After a couple of tentative attacks, Hooreg gets an early EMP and uses it immediately. The resulting team fight is messy and GC Busan lose both Hooreg and Profit, but their tanks are able to stick it out and they take the first third of the control meter. RunAway have never been one to give away the point easily and Bumper drops his Sound Barrier to contest, unfortunately it’s too late for TiZi’s Winston. With one tank down GC Busan make short work of the rest of the defenders and take the point with a forty second lead on RunAway’s time.

RunAway commit to contesting every single meter. The results are messy, uncoordinated, successful. The timer draining with every fight. Eventually RunAway are forced back into the studio to regroup. What looks like some breathing room for GC Busan suddenly turns into another fight however as the six members of RunAway all dive back in. At this stage RunAway is not so much a team as six individual players all out to do as much damage as possible. It works.

Hooreg miss throws his Translocator and can’t get away from JJANU’s self-destruct, Haksal draws the Dragonblade, Stitch and KoX take down Gesture, and Bumper finishes off WOOHYAL. RunAway are able to stop the payload barely four meters from the studio doors.

GC Busan have two minutes left, and aren’t out of it yet.

Sneaking around one of the flanks, Hooreg targets the opposing Zenyatta with his EMP and takes him out immediately. Without a Transcendence to provide sustained healing on the side of RunAway this is GC Busan’s fight. Their coordination is just better; their target selection cleaner. They take the fight and push on through the studio doors.

Inside it’s another fight, and another EMP from Hooreg that once again sees KoX go down. This is a far cry from the KoX whose Transcendence timing were so good against Hooreg’s Sombra the last time they faced each. A follow up self-destruct by WOOHYAL takes out Haksal and JJANU’s mech. GC Busan keep the push going.

Scant meters from the end and RunAway stabilise through solid plays by Haksal and Stitch. Now GC Busan have little time remaining, and few ultimates to work with.

Working himself around behind GC Busan Stitch misses his Pulse Bomb, his teammate JJANU however doesn’t miss with his self-destruct and takes out both tanks and the Lucio.

Another messy team fight follows, GC Busan come out on top, finishing their push in overtime meaning RunAway only need to take one third of the initial point (one tick) to win the game.

 

On the attack again and Stitch gets spotted attempting to flank causing Profit to chase him down. Hit by an Orb of Discord from HaGoPeun, Stitch takes a lot of damage and looks to be trying to disengage. Profit follow him back around to point and straight into the rest of RunAway. JJANU’s Defence Matrix keeps Stitch alive while he melee kills Profit. Haksal cuts down Gesture and HaGoPeun. RunAway take the point, winning Hollywood and tying the series.


Map 3 Assault:

  • Hanamura

It’s GC Busan’s map selection, and wanting to avoid RunAway’s favoured Temple of Anubis they instead choose Hanamura. On the defence first, they opt for a long-range composition with Hooreg on the Soldier 76 and HaGoPeun on the Ana. This will allow them to stand further back and cover their tank line from the elevated positions around the point.

Sticking with what worked on Hollywood it’s another dive composition for RunAway. Through the main doors and around to the right RunAway use the cover provided by the building there to scout out GC Busan’s positioning. Rushing out again TiZi is able to take down his Winston counterpart Gesture and initiate a push onto the point. The following team fight sees GC Busan forced to attack down toward their own point. A fraught situation and one that eventually works out in RunAway’s favour.

Resetting on point B, Closers switches from the Lucio to Zenyatta, with HaGoPeun remaining on the Ana. The dispersed positioning needed to defend point B, along with the longer sightlines mean targeted healing is more reliable than the auras provided by Lucio. This support combination also means GC Busan will have both a defensive (Transcendence) and an offensive (Nano Boost) ultimate to work with.

With their ultimate advantage RunAway attempt to snowball their momentum into a rapid capture of point B. HaGoPeun hits a Sleep Dart onto Haksal before he can draw the Dragonblade allowing WOOHYAL to finish him off before he can do any damage.

The next few minutes devolve into one extended fight as RunAway are unable to gain a big enough advantage to secure the point, but are also unwilling to retreat and regroup either. GC Busan win out in the end, through some brilliantly thrown Biotic Grenades from HaGoPeun, and a Nano Boosted Tracer.

Half their time gone RunAway eventually pull back to properly regroup, only for their next push to be thwarted by a Nano Boosted Winston. GC Busan are holding, and doing so with very few ultimates expended.

Several attempts later a Dragonblade from Haksal and smart Winston play from TiZi see RunAway break apart the defence for long enough to take the point.

Hooreg switches again for GC Busan’s attack, opting for McCree hoping to deal damage at range and rely on his Flashbang to counter Haksal’s Genji.

GC Busan get onto the point early but at the expense of Gesture on Winston. With Profit also down, they don’t have the numbers to win a team fight so pull back. Their next few attempts are held off by RunAway until Profit is able to get a double kill onto TiZi and JJANU. The support duo of RunAway does their best to contest, but it’s a losing battle. GC Busan take point A, albeit with a smaller time bank to work with.

 

As with GC Busan on the defence, RunAway take this opportunity to change their support composition. KoX stays on the Zenyatta and surprisingly it’s Bumper who switches onto the Ana.

With both support ultimates ready GC Busan push in hard on point B, Profit diving into the backline in what turns out to be a futile attempt to take out Bumper’s Ana. KoX drops the Transcendence to help RunAway win the fight.

With just over two and a half minutes remaining Profit and Hooreg take out the tanks of RunAway and it looks like GC Busan are going to capture the point. Seeing a low health Stitch drop down toward the health pack below the bridge onto point B Hooreg follow him, throwing a Flashbang at his expected position. A smart play that Stitch saw coming. He’d held back rather than go directly for the health pack, coming in seconds later as the Flashbang is detonating to kill Hooreg.

Just a minute remaining for GC Busan, and Hooreg has switched onto the Soldier 76. They are able to force out a Transcendence from KoX and go into for the capture knowing that HaGoPeun has his own ready. Hooreg drops his Biotic Field on the point, only for it to be negated immediately by a Biotic Grenade from Bumper. Seconds later HaGoPeun initiates his Transcendence, but the heal ban from the Biotic Grenade is still in effect and they are pushed back.

Fifteen seconds to go and Gesture is blown up by Stitch’s Pulse Bomb while Hooreg’s Tactical Visor ultimate ends as he’s killed by KoX from the far side of the point. Haksal draws his Dragonblade to take out WOOHYAL and there’s no time left for GC Busan.

RunAway take Hanamura and a two to one lead.


Map 4 Escort:

  • Watchpoint: Gibraltar

Another win for RunAway, another map selection for GC Busan this time around it’s Watchpoint: Gibraltar. A common map in western Overwatch tournaments it’s a rare sight in Korea.

After back to back losses GC Busan change up their DPS roles. Profit moves onto the Genji while Hooreg takes over Tracer duties; they’re looking to compete with RunAway’s DPS duo like for like.

Attack Widowmaker is a common sight on Watchpoint: Gibraltar, for RunAway that means KoX. They sacrifice the support provided by his Zenyatta in the hope of rapid kills to clear the way and get the payload moving. With Widowmaker pressuring GC Busan from the front Stitch is able to get around behind them and take out HaGoPeun on the Ana. Whatever GC Busan’s plan is, it doesn’t appear to be working.

High above the hanger floor, a fight atop the shuttle sees RunAway forcing GC Busan to fall back. All the while Bumper remains on the ground keeping the payload moving to point B.

Now able to mount a static defence GC Busan stabilise. Holding off RunAway again and again. The proximity of their spawn room, combined with the high healing output of both Closer’s Lucio and HaGoPeun’s Ana mean that no matter how much damage RunAway are able to do it just isn’t enough.

Compared to Haksal, in a straight fight Profit is the less capable Genji. GC Busan know this, so they ensure he never engages without protection. A Nano Boosted Dragonblade, a triple kill and GC Busan’s decision to go to Watchpoint: Gibraltar starts to look justified.

Separately both Haksal and Stitch attempt to dive HaGoPeun and shutdown GC Busan’s burst healing. Both times they are driven back, Biotic Grenades and intelligence positioning keeping Ana in the fight. Unable to deal with the constantly healed tanks of GC Busan, RunAway just can’t find a way through. The timer runs out without a full completion.

 

Profit teases his own Windowmaker before reverting to the Genji, HaGoPeun is back on the Zenyatta making it dive vs dive for GC Busan’s attack.

Constant pressure forces RunAway onto the low ground where a Sound Barrier from Closer gives Profit the protection he needs to take out Bumper and JJANU with a Dragonblade. Confronting the chaotic aggression of RunAway with their own more focused attack sees GC Busan rapidly take point A, then keep the fight going into the hanger. Constant harassment from Profit, Hooreg, and WOOHYAL deny RunAway the time they need to set up a defence on the high ground.

Caught by both WOOHYAL and Profit inside the shuttle, Haksal somehow manages to escape and return to his team. KoX’s Transcendence restores him to full health and a Dragonblade causes GC Busan to pull back granting RunAway their first team fight win of this round.

GC Busan seem to be learning from RunAway and don’t allow them any time to recover, immediately diving back in with a Transcendence of their own. Under the constant healing of the Zenyatta ultimate Gesture and WOOHYAL are able to wipe out most of RunAway, letting GC Busan take point B.

A potential miscommunication on the part of RunAway sees them all rush back in after the point has already been secured. KoX uses his Transcendence in a fight they are forced to retreat from, and now they are down a vital support ultimate with Profit’s Dragonblade ready to be drawn against them.

Bumper drops his Sound Barrier too early, and now with no support ultimates to buy time RunAway struggle to mount a defence. Haksal tries to initiate a fight back only to be ruthlessly targeted by nearly every member of GC Busan.

RunAway have run out of time and space. GC Busan are able to push to completion, bringing the series to a draw once again.


Map 5 Assault:

  • Temple of Anubis

RunAway’s consistent performance on Temple of Anubis over this season mean it was always going to be their map selection.

On attack GC Busan open with Profit back on the Tracer and Hooreg on the Widowmaker, though the latter initially decides to advance on the low ground rather than adopting the usual sniping position onto the top of the arches. The damage threat from the Widowmaker sends RunAway into the buildings around the point to take cover. Close confines that allow Gesture’s Winston free reign to do damage. The members of RunAway fall rapidly as GC Busan take the first point after a single fight.

Immediately KoX swaps off the Zenyatta for Sombra, he wants to get the health packs around point B hacked as soon as possible, setting himself up for an EMP based defence.

On the GC Busan side Hooreg switches the Widowmaker to the Doomfist looking to get in close and deal with Haksal’s Genji. In what looks like it might be a repeat of their initial attack, GC Busan capture two thirds of point B during a single drawn out fight before RunAway are able to take down HaGoPeun and Hooreg. With the large health pack closest to the point hacked by KoX, Profit has to retreat from the fight allowing RunAway to recover.

His EMP available KoX sneaks around in an attempt to catch HaGoPeun with it, draining his shields and making him an easy target. Unfortunately for RunAway WOOHYAL is ready, body blocking the incoming fire and driving KoX back.

While RunAway are trying to engage GC Busan in the doorway Profit has already snuck around to the point and comes close to completing the final third necessary for a full capture. He’s waiting for KoX as he Translocates back from his failed EMP attempt, and quickly takes him out. Only the return of JJANU on the D.Va is enough to make Profit withdraw.

Another attack from GC Busan, another attempt from KoX to EMP HaGoPeun in the back line. This time he’s stopped by Gesture on the Winston. This tactic from KoX might have worked against GC Busan earlier in the season, but they aren’t going to fall for it again.

A Meteor Strike initiated attack from Hooreg’s Doomfist extends into an all-out brawl on the point that sees GC Busan finally capturing it with just shy of a minute and a half remaining.

 

Temple of Anubis was RunAway’s map selection because of their tried and tested attack strategy with KoX on the Reaper. Usually reserved for point B, they bring decide to bring it out here for the initial attack. Bumper speed boosts KoX onto the point where he’s protected by the tanks of TiZi and JJANU. GC Busan are caught between Stitch on the Widowmaker and the close-range damage of Genji and Reaper. Much as GC Busan did themselves, RunAway take point A in with a single fight.

Bumper has built his ultimate, and KoX is over half way to his own by the time they push onward to the point B, and it looks like it’ll be taken just as quickly. A Sound Barrier from Bumper helps get them onto the point and they start to capture it, but they just can’t finish off the members of GC Busan quickly enough. RunAway’s healing is gone after WOOHYAL manages to take out Bumper. Soon after TiZi falls to HaGoPeun, now on the Sombra.

With each failed attack the desperation builds for RunAway. KoX wastes his Death Blossom away from the point to kill Hooreg’s Tracer, and Stitch misses a Pulse Bomb stick onto Gesture.

Two and a half minutes to go and RunAway finally get back on the point, but they just can’t kill Closer. Wall riding around the point, only to come back in from the other side with his Sound Barrier ready just as the rest of his team are rejoining fight. RunAway get pushed back yet again.

Having hacked every health pack around the point HaGoPeun’s EMP is available for almost every fight and his targeting is much better than KoX’s, as is his teams coordinated response to it. RunAway’s attacks are shut down time and time again.

At the very last-minute Profit swaps onto the Bastion whose pure sustained damage is just too much for RunAway to handle. They can’t complete the point B capture. GC Busan take Temple of Anubis, and a three to two lead.


Map 6 Escort:

  • Dorado

Given GC Busan’s long range hitscan skill and comfort with Pharah, Dorado is a surprise selection for RunAway. Though their only other option is Route 66, a map against which GC Busan defeated them the last time they faced each other.

GC Busan on attack first, and it’s another full dive composition for both teams.

Back on the Zenyatta for RunAway, KoX gets a headshot onto Hooreg during a flank attempt, while JJANU takes out Gesture halting GC Busan’s first push.

Stitch goes for his own flank attempt, and manages to stick WOOHYAL’s mech with a Pulse Bomb. The play was good but the D.Va’s response makes it even better for RunAway. Dropping off the high ground to get away from the Tracer, WOOHYAL instead carries the Pulse Bomb directly into the path of his own Zenyatta, and HaGoPeun is out of the fight.

Over half the time has gone and the payload still isn’t even close to point A.

A Transcendence push from GC Busan, leads to duelling self-destructs from WOOHYAL and JJANU, but it’s Profit’s Dragonblade that does the necessary work taking out JJANU’s mech and letting his team push to point A.

Once more RunAway refuse to give up any distance. They immediately reengage with a Transcendence of their own. Under its protection TiZi and Stitch take out the supports of GC Busan and they have to regroup.

Stitch is on a mission to deal with Gesture’s Winston, another Pulse Bomb stick takes out the GC Busan tank and leads to another fight win for RunAway. It’s a short-lived victory however as the GC Busan spawn room is just around the corner and Gesture is back in the fight within twenty seconds.

Bumper and KoX keep each other alive in the face of an aggressive dive from Hooreg and Gesture, though in doing so they have to retreat from the payload and GC Busan are able to get it moving up.

Stalled just inside the power plant beyond point B, Profit dives in with a Dragonblade that’s completely negated by KoX’s Transcendence. Haksal on the other hand, supported by TiZi, has the space to take out both Closer and HaGoPeun. There’s barely twenty seconds left and GC Busan just can’t find a way in.

Closer manages to get back and contest but his wall rides take him too high, the overtime meter drops down rapidly and RunAway hold GC Busan half way to the final point.

 

Mirrored compositions again with Profit trying to prove his worth on the Genji. Initially he does with a double kill onto JJANU and Stitch, before slicing through Haksal’s Genji. The rest of GC Busan are trading kills back and forth and the payload stalls out briefly under the arches into the market place.

RunAway maintain the pressure, and a Sound Barrier from Bumper sees them dive in, catching their opponents in one of the side rooms. Stitch and TiZi make short work of GC Busan and it’s a full team kill for RunAway; the first of the series.

Mid-team fight Stitch lands a Pulse Bomb onto a Primal Raging Gesture and JJANU finishes him off. Another Sound Barrier from Bumper helps RunAway continue their push. The coordination of GC Busan is starting to fall apart.

Closing on point B and again Stitch lands a Pulse Bomb onto Gesture, taking the Winston out of the fight. With a man advantage, TiZi uses his own Primal Rage to clean up the rest of GC Busan and point B goes to RunAway with four minutes left to push the payload just over fifty meters.

Profit draws his Dragonblade managing to kill Bumper through the extra shielding of his Sound Barrier, only for TiZi to leap on him and take him out of the fight.

Less than ten meters to go.

Profit changes to the Soldier 76 to try and deal with the members of RunAway from range only to be spotted by Stitch who harasses him, driving him back toward his spawn room.

With nobody to contest RunAway push the payload past the point that GC Busan reached to win Dorado. The series is tied once more and it’s going to the seventh map.


Map 7 Hybrid:

  • Eichenwalde

The mind games are in full force now as GC Busan pick Eichenwalde the site of RunAway’s game seven defeat against Lunatic-Hai in the season 2 final. On the attack first GC Busan are looking to not only defeat RunAway on Eichenwalde, but do so playing their opponents favoured dive composition.

It’s an aggressive first push by GC Busan, one that highlights how well Gesture is able to deploy his Barrier Projectors to protect his team. It’s his opposing number on Winston who goes down first, TiZi focused down with an Orb of Discord that allows Hooreg’s Tracer to secure the kill.

Even with their main tank down RunAway are able to win this first fight killing the GC Busan supports and forcing a retreat with no capture percentage accrued.

Profit gets into the backline with a Dragonblade and takes out KoX and Bumper, while at almost exactly the same moment Haksal is doing the same to his own supports, HaGoPeun and Closer going down.

With both support duos gone it’s GC Busan who managed to come out ahead. JJANU tries to hold the point for RunAway as long as he can, using his Defence Matrix to keep himself alive while he buys time for his team to rejoin the fight. In the end it’s just not enough and GC Busan complete the capture and start their push toward the castle.

The gates open, Gesture leaps up onto the battlements to take the high ground, only to land in the middle of the now regrouped RunAway. Unwilling to use his Primal Rage he drops back to the low ground and the safety of HaGoPeun’s Transcendence. Profit draws his Dragonblade again, finding nothing and protected by a Sound Barrier RunAway push GC Busan back.

Onto the bridge and TiZi triggers his Primal Rage leaping into the GC Busan backline to disrupt. At the other end of the bridge Profit is forced away by JJANU, only to be chased down by Stitch before he can find a health pack. Having won the fight, RunAway aggressively dive forward, JJANU providing cover for Stitch as he takes on the retreating members of GC Busan chasing them all the way back to their spawn room.

Down to thirty seconds, GC Busan choose to take the long way around. Profit dashing forward to keep the payload moving while his team engage. RunAway predictably dive in to counter attack, only for Closer to push both Stitch and TiZi off the side of the map. Suddenly everybody on RunAway is down and GC Busan have pushed right to the doors.

It’s Dragonblade verses Dragonblade in the castle, a brilliantly timed Sound Barrier from Closer means Profit comes out on top with two kills, while Haksal can’t find anything.

A last second dual kill self-destruct from JJANU looks like it might give RunAway some space, but it’s just not enough. GC Busan complete the push in overtime. RunAway will need a full push of their own or it’s all over.

 

On defence HaGoPeun and Closer have consistently provided the solid support backline that GC Busan need. It’s going to be a tough fight for RunAway, especially amidst the memories of what happened to them on this very map in season 2.

The first fight goes to GC Busan. RunAway’s second push has to be abandoned immediately when a perfect Pulse Bomb from Hooreg hits both Bumper and KoX. A third fight and Profit’s Dragonblade carves through the supports or RunAway, Bumper and KoX are down again and shortly after it’s a full team kill for GC Busan.

Half their time gone and RunAway have nothing to show for it.

As both support ultimates have been used GC Busan are at a disadvantage in the next fight and though Haksal goes down early RunAway are able to take the point. A miss-timed contest attempt by GC Busan nearly ends in tragedy for them, but they are able to get out again quickly once they realise their mistake.

As the payload rolls through the doors GC Busan initiate a dive from the high ground into the clustered members of RunAway. Sticth finds a perfect position but doesn’t have the Pulse Bomb ready to exploit it, fortunately Haksal is there and his Dragonblade does what Stitch couldn’t.

Halfway to the bridge and a targeted dive from GC Busan allows Profit to take out KoX, he then dies to JJANU but his job is done. With one support player out of the fight RunAway must disengage.

GC Busan now are following RunAway’s example and contesting every meter, draining the timer down no matter the cost. They push RunAway back to their spawn room, and there’s only a minute remaining.

There pressure is starting to show, Bumper drops a Sound Barrier after two members of his team are already down, and though they win the fight they won’t have that defensive ultimate for the fight at the castle doors. RunAway managed to take out GC Busan’s supports, but WOOHYAL and Gesture are much harder to deal with.

Both teams rush back in. TiZi gets killed early, and Closer wins the Lucio battle knocking Bumper off the side of the bridge. The timer drained, it’s into overtime, and if RunAway leave this payload it’s all over.

TiZi is back, but now he’s the only member of RunAway left. A burst of damage from his Tesla Cannon builds his ultimate. Primal Rage could be exactly what they need to close out the push to the doors, he triggers it leaping around the payload. He moves back against the doors onto the rubble piled there, leaps again. He goes too high, the overtime meter ticks down so fast that before he can land again it’s all gone. In an eerie repeat of their defeat in season 2 RunAway just can’t keep the payload in play.

GC Busan take Eichenwalde, the match, and the APEX Season 4 trophy.


RunAway managed to do what two time APEX winners and future Overwatch League team Lunatic-Hai couldn’t, and take multiple maps off GC Busan. In the end though it simply wasn’t enough, the superior support duo of Closer and HaGoPeun, along with some outstanding play by Gesture and Profit mean GC Busan are the new kings of Korean Overwatch.

OGN APEX Season 4 Final Preview – GC Busan.

Founded in 2017 and qualifying second in the APEX Contenders for season 4, nobody expected GC Busan to go as far as they have. Their first match on the main stage against first place qualifiers LW Red was solid if messy, showing only glimpses of the skill and coordination that would take them to the season 4 final.

It’s impossible to talk about GC Busan without mentioning their star DPS player Park “Profit” Joon-Yeong. “The best Tracer player in the world” is a category with fierce competition, and after his recent performance Profit has to be in contention. Given space to work he carved through the backline of Cloud 9 KongDoo (formerly KongDoo Panthera), cutting off their healing and swinging the momentum of team fights.

Though he can play other heroes, Profit is effectively a dedicated Tracer player. His DPS companion Lee “Hooreg” Dong-Eun on the other hand has shown a flexibility that many professional DPS players lack. Flexibility that has been vital to GC Busan’s success. From Pharah, to Widowmaker, to McCree, there are few heroes Hooreg isn’t competent with. After his prevalence in the early stages, the hotfix adjustment to Doomfist’s Rocket Punch hitbox has seen him used less as the tournament has progressed. A rare selection, it’s one that Hooreg can still pull out when required. Where DPS players usually focus on either projectile or hitscan heroes, Hooreg can make the most of both giving GC Busan a tactical depth that even some of the more established teams lack; Lunatic-Hai we can all see you.

If their DPS duo have a weakness to exploit it’s Profit’s tendency to be overly autonomous. Hooreg’s flexible hero pool and willingness to switch things up steer GC Busan toward a style that sees them attempt to catch their opponents between Hooreg’s long range damage and Profit’s backline harassment. Unable to directly protect each other, this formation can be punished if either of the two DPS players can be isolated and targeted.

Trying to ensure that doesn’t happen is the tank line of Hong “Gesture” Jae-Hee and Sung “WOOHYAL” Seung-Hyun. Where once it was common to see Gesture’s Winston leap in first and be punished for it, over the course of the tournament he’s calmed down, developing a more measured approach that has seen his first encounter survivability increase dramatically.

On paper the GC Busan sub-tank player is Moon “Ariel” Ji-Seok, though for their recent matches against Lunatic-Hai and Cloud 9 KongDoo it has been nominal flex player WOOHYAL stepping up to fulfil D.Va duties. The always smiling WOOHYAL has shown an ability to time his Boosters perfectly, knocking more than one opposing player to their death mid-ultimate; saving his team through an aggressive in your face play style combined with well targeted Defence Matrix use.

Up there with WOOHYAL for environmental kills is Jung “Closer” won sik on Lucio. Able to deal with more powerful opponents through smart positioning and use of the map, his Sound Barrier timing has also been lifesaving. Alongside Closer is Jo “HaGoPeun” Hyeon-Woo on Zenyatta. The support duo of GC Busan has shown a steadily increasing sense of coordination and timing. Smartly staggering their ultimates to give their team the sustainability to stay in fights longer, and win out against opponents with a clear numbers advantage.

Unrelentingly aggressive in attack, GC Busan are still able to maintain that momentum should matches go into overtime. Combining this “all in” approach with surprisingly conservative ultimate usage, and top tier support play, has allowed them to draw their opposition into using ultimates in team fights that GC Busan go on to win. Setting them up to enter subsequent engagements with an ultimate advantage that regularly snowballs into a map win.

Growth. Of their confident. Of their teamwork. Of their fanbase. This is the defining characteristic of GC Busan over the course of APEX season 4. They have grown steadily as a team while others have fallen back into too familiar, too predictable patterns.

It would be easy to make excuses for GC Busan’s season 4 performance: “Lunatic-Hai haven’t been playing well”, “Cloud 9 KongDoo underestimated their opponents”; however, excuses don’t explain their ability to defeat the two-time APEX champions Lunatic-Hai 3-0, not once but twice. A best of seven semi-final match was always going to be challenging for a new team, especially against season 3 runners up Cloud 9 KongDoo. Yet GC Busan made it look easy, taking the match without dropping a single map.

Since losing their first match, GC Busan’s only defeat this season has been a close 3-2 loss against fellow finalists RunAway; a team as skilled as there are unpredictable. The GC Busan that are gearing up for the final on October 21st look subtly different to the one that lost in September; more consistent, with a better sense of their own strengths and weaknesses.

Coming into the final having defeated two of the best teams in Korea, and without dropping a single map out of the last seven, GC Busan are the underdogs only because RunAway have been here before. As incredible a sight as it would be to see Runner lifting the trophy in tears, I have to admit that this is probably GC Busan’s year.

OGN APEX Season 4 Final Preview – RunAway.

From the lowest scoring team in APEX season 1, to season 2 runners up, only to be knocked out early in season 3. The pink jerseyed RunAway head into the season 4 final looking better than ever. There were some wobbles in the group stages, concerns that were largely put to rest after their 4-0 win over RX Foxes (formerly NC Foxes) in the semi-final.

With former off-tank player Park “Bumper” Sang-beom now their primary Lucio, DPS player Kim “Haksal” Hyo-jong has been freed to return to his beloved Genji, where his comfort level is evident. It’s been over a year since Overwatch launched, and professional teams have had hundreds of hours to practice against Genji. Despite this Haksal is still able pull off multi-kills with his ultimate Dragonblade, turning the tide of the fight in RunAway’s favour, or simply forcing the opposing team to retreat. Even when he’s not leaping in with his sword drawn, his confidence playing alongside his long time DPS partner Lee “Stitch” Choong-hui on Tracer can be seen in the way the duo position themselves before and during fights. Individually strong, they are formidable when working together. Coordinating attacks from multiple directions that divide the attention of their opponents, catching them between the Tracer on the ground and the Genji diving in from above.

Whereas in other teams the dive (the aggressive leap onto the opposition, for which the current Winston, D.Va, Tracer, Genji, Zenyatta, and Lucio meta is named), would generally be instigated by the Winston, here it’s all on Haksal’s Genji. Winston player Hwang “TiZi” Jang-hyeon tends to stay back, leaping in only after the engage has been initiated. Dropping a bubble to isolate the fight from long range damage and splitting the opposing team’s focus even further. A stoic presence on the team, TiZi’s willingness to let Haksal take the lead in engages has seen him survive longer than other Winstons, keeping RunAway in fights their might otherwise lose.

Supporting this aggressive front line is either Bumper, or Choi “JJANU” Hyeon-woo on the D.Va. While one uses their mech and Defence Matrix to block and absorb enemy fire the other switches onto the Lucio to provide sustained team fight healing. Recently Bumper has adopted the more consistent support role where he brings the same defensive mindset he exhibited as D.Va to his Lucio play. Able to consistently peel (force attacking players away from their intended target) for his team, he keeps his fellow support player Kim “KoX” Min-soo alive with smart use of his speed and healing auras, along with clutch “boops” from his Soundwave to push attackers back. KoX for his part brings the aim of a DPS player to Zenyatta. Able to headshot flankers while supporting his teammate’s dive with skilfully targeted Orbs of Discord and Harmony. As with several other Korean teams it’s the support player KoX who moves onto the Sombra when needed, co-opting his own awareness of support positioning to locate and eliminate the opposing Zenyatta with targeted EMPs that strip the Omnic monk of his shields, removing a three quarters of his health pool.

Though the individual players of RunAway’s primary roster are highly skilled on their preferred heroes they have long shown a willingness to switch up their composition when needed. Haksal’s tracking making for solid Zarya play in defence, while Stitch’s hitscan skills transfer smoothly to McCree. KoX meanwhile is always ready to step up to a DPS role, whether that be long range hitscan from Soldier 76, or a more brute force close range attack with Reaper. Triple DPS isn’t really a style favoured by RunAway but they have the players to pull it off.

Always a team of high individual skill and flexibility, where RunAway suffered in earlier seasons was in their coordination and patience. Two aspects that were above reproach against RX Foxes where they settled into an aggressive counter dive style that looked near unstoppable. No longer did we see Haksal initiating his ultimate and diving in alone. In multiple instances he held off using it entirely, instead letting his teammates Stitch and TiZi finish off the opposition. Sacrificing the crowd pleasing plays to ensure his teammates could build their own ultimates. A more mature, selfless mentality shown throughout RunAway, one that has seen their consistency rise steadily over the course of APEX season 4.

Though these six players form the core roster of RunAway for APEX season 4, should the need arise their have a pair of substitutes to call on. Technically his role as a main tank means he’s also a Winston player, in reality Ryu “KAISER” Sang-hoon has one hero: Reinhardt. That’s hardly a weakness when you’re as good a Reinhardt as he is. His sense of exactly when to be aggressive and when to stay back and protect his team is superb, and his Earthshatter timings are pure .gif fodder.

RunAway’s true secret weapon though is to be found in the form of their founder, manager, and technically still active Lucio player, Yoon “Runner” Dae-hoon. He’s not been in the starting roster for the last several matches, yet he’s always in the booth until the last possible moment encouraging his team. His passion is palpable, from the tears when his team win, to the sheer unrestrained joy that saw him accidentally break part of the booth after one match, and headbutt his teammates Stitch after another (fortunately no long-term harm was done to Stitch, Runner, or the booth). A popular streamer in Korea, Runner’s tactics and ability to analyse other teams are the reason RunAway seem able to adapt to opposition plays even before they make them. Originally the team’s Lucio player, and honestly not the most reliable in that role, he’s stepped back from that this season, and instead serves as the team’s real-world Lucio, pumping them up emotionally and psychologically before every game.

If RunAway have a weakness it’s here, their performance is feast or famine. On roles they enjoy, with momentum on their side, they make a good case for being considered one of the best teams in the world. If the necessities of role switching mean they have to play out of their comfort zone. If they get tilted to the point that even Runner himself can’t break them out of it, their coordination falls apart. Though a strong performance can rally them again, often not even the individual mechanical skill of Haksal, Stitch, or KoX are enough to grind out a win.

It’s telling that their only loss so far in this season of APEX was against the defending champions Lunatic-Hai. Having suffered a reverse sweep defeat against them in the season 2 final RunAway seemed overly wary of Lunatic-Hai and suffered for it. For their own part Lunatic-Hai have had problems themselves this season, and were eventually knocked out by the other APEX finalists GC Busan, a team RunAway themselves beat 3-2 in the round of sixteen quarter finals.

Going into the APEX season 4 final on October 21st, Runner and his team need to remember that despite GC Busan having knocked out both the defending champions Lunatic-Hai, and season 3 runners up Cloud 9 KongDoo (formerly KongDoo Panthera), they are a team that RunAway can and have beaten. If Runner doesn’t try to over complicate things with new tactics and team compositions, if he allows his team to play their comfort picks, it could well be their time to lift the APEX trophy.

Reading Netrunner: Factions.

Note: With this series I’m specifically interested in the way Netrunner expresses fiction through the interactions of its rules. These articles are not intended as analysis of cards in terms of their utility in competitive play.

Now we have an understanding of the rules we can explore another elements important to the expression of fiction in Netrunner, the way personality and context is supported by factions, identities, and influence.

For both runners and corporations, the cards available in Netrunner are divided into two types: faction cards, and neutral cards. Every faction has a number of identities each with a unique ability. These identities represent the individuals or corporate divisions that you will play as. Decks are usually constructed around the ability of a specific identity, with this choice also serving to determine your faction.

There are three runner factions and two corporation factions; there are also three additional mini-factions on the runner side that come with their own specific identities and cards. Faction cards can be used freely by any identity within their faction, and come with an influence value (between 1 and 5 points) that indicates how costly they are to include in a deck of a different faction. Influence costs are only taken into account when constructing a deck, once a game has begun all cards in a deck behave as normal. It is from these faction specific cards that the strengths and weakness of the various factions emerge, where their personalities are defined.

Neutral cards can be used by anybody and provide generic abilities, such as reliable economy and card draw. Neutral cards exist to compensate for each faction’s weaknesses by offering straightforward alternatives to including, the usually more powerful, out of faction cards.

Along with their unique ability, each identity is defined by their minimum deck size and influence limit; the standard being a 45 card minimum deck size and a 15 point influence limit. Corporation decks needs to include agendas worth at least 20 points (rising by an extra 2 points for each additionally 5 cards). In general runner decks will stay at 45 cards, corporations will extend this to 49 allowing them to keep to the 20 agenda point limit while having 4 extra cards with which to decrease their agenda density. Some identities have different minimum deck sizes, 40 cards grants a more efficiency deck as each card has a slightly higher change of being drawn; while a 50 card minimum leads to the reverse. Larger minimum deck sizes are reserved for identities with particularly powerful abilities.

By expending their influence with other factions, runners and corporations can gain access to abilities that compensate for their weaknesses. NBN might be able to tag runners with ease, but they need to rely on Weyland to do something once they’ve found them. Criminals are out to make money, and sometimes that means exploiting their influence with Shapers to gain access to the powerful ICE breakers needed to breach a corporation’s HQ.

Though deck size and influence limits impact deck building, the ability is the primary factor when deciding on an identity.

The original identity for the Haas-Bioroid corporation, “Engineering The Future”, has an ability that means the first time you install a card (be that an asset, agenda, upgrade, or ICE) each turn you gain a credit. This is a powerful ability as you gain a credit for taking actions you want to be taking anyway.

On the runner side the original Shaper identity, Kate “Mac” McCaffrey, lowers the install cost of the first program or piece of hardware installed each turn by a credit. Again, a strong consistent ability, you gain a discount for doing something you want to be doing a lot.


Runners:

Anarchists and revolutionaries, Anarchs are the all or nothing faction. They have some of the most powerful abilities in the game, but these come with significant drawbacks Though originally card draw was a challenge they now have some of the most consistent and reliable draw options in the game; the world changed and anarchy is starting to look like the best defense against corporate fascism.

Anarchs can burn through cards quickly, fortunately they also have ways of retrieving them once trashed. Cards represent both the things a runner can make use of (other people, their rig, their programs), and their own health; Anarchs will gladly burn through anything if it means getting what they want. Notably, they are also the only faction that has the ability to return a specific card of any type from their heap to their grip. With an Anarch nothing is wasted, even old friends.

Powerful, cheap, but with inherent limitations Anarch ICE breakers usually require support cards to work effectively. When facing ICE their strength is in dealing with barriers, they are the faction who tear down walls.

Faust is possibly the most pure distillation of the Anarch mindset. An AI ICE breaker than can interact with any form of ICE, it costs 3 credits to install and comes with a base strength of 2. By trashing a card from your grip you can increase the strength of Faust by 2, and trashing another card will break a single sub-routine. With Faust, and enough cards, Anarchs can get through almost any ICE they want to at the cost of trashing cards, and putting themselves within range of being flatlined. Software, hardware, friends? Doesn’t matter, Anarch will use you to get what they want. Fortunately, Anarchs have multiple in-factions ways of lowering the strength of ICE they are encountering, decreasing the number of cards that need to be trashed.

A deal with the devil, powerful abilities that might get you killed, that’s the Anarch approach.

The runner faction with the strongest connections to the physical world, Criminals are all about action and exploitation. They have some of the most impactful events in the game, supported by numerous ways to make money. Though their software can be expensive to both install and use, they have several ways of manipulating ICE that don’t require the actual breaking of sub-routines. Through expose effects Criminals can reveal what an unrezzed card is without having to interact with it, letting them either avoid it or wait until they have the means of dealing with it. They can also bypass ICE entirely, or derez it, forcing the corporation to spent credits if they want to rez it again.

Criminals are tool users, not engineers, their ICE breakers are expensive, and they lack the means of returning them to play if they are trashed. Criminals lack Shaper’s consistent card draw, in return for better filtering options. If they want something they know exactly how to get it. Combined with their ability to reveal hidden information through expose effects, good Criminal players need never worry about facing a problem they can’t already deal with.

Where Shapers deal best with code gates, and Anarchs with barriers, Criminals have an affinity for sentries, the most directly punishing type of ICE. Sentries are usually represented as entities able to observe and identify runners. A consistent theme among killers (anti-sentry ICE breakers), is their ability to disguise a runner’s identity or otherwise trick the sentry, (Mimic, Alias, and Femme Fatale being three popular killers). Unsurprisingly Criminals have the most experience at identity theft and deception, their killers are some of the best in the game.

The nature of their work means Criminals accept getting located as an inherent risk, so they have several ways of either avoiding, or removing tags. These usually come courtesy of their various contacts throughout the criminal underworld, including corrupt politicians, and corporate employees.

A classic Criminal card is Account Siphon. For 0 credits you initiate a run against the corporation’s HQ, if successful instead of accessing cards you force them to lose up to 5 credits, then you gain 2 credits for each credit lost and take a total of 2 tags. The economic swing enabled by this card is dramatic and can be the difference between winning and losing, especially if you are able to perform multiple in a game. Taking 2 tags is a risk, though as each tag can be removed for a click and 2 credits you will have more than enough after a successful Account Siphon to deal with them. Usually though, manual tag removal is not necessary given how many ways Criminals have to remove tags at a reduced cost. An event that targets HQ, Account Siphon also synergies with other in-faction abilities that reward making runs on the corporation’s HQ.

Criminals are in it for the money, and they’re not above exploitation, manipulation and straight out brute force to get it.

Shapers are the artists, engineers, and academics of the Andorid world. Theirs is the faction of powerful software and hardware, and the means of mitigating the cost (in both clicks and credits) of getting them into play. Representing both their mastery of technology, and the diverse communities they inhabit, Shapers have a lot of options to draw cards, but limited means of filtering that draw to ensure they get a specific card. Shapers make friends easily, though those friends can’t always provide exactly what they need.

Hackers in the classic sense, Shapers understand the systems they are manipulating on a fundamental level, they can change ICE from one type to another, or find the exact tool for the job at a moment’s notice. As befits their position as masters of software the Shaper ICE breaker suite is most efficient at dealing with code gates; the most variable of the ICE types.

Not as obviously engaged in illegal activity as the other runner factions, Shapers are able to maintain strong relationships with academic institutes; a lot of their resources coming from universities and religious organisations.

Test Run is an example of a typical Shaper card. For 3 credits you can search your stack or the heap for a program and install it for the rest of the turn. Once this turn is over that card is returned to the top of your stack, where it can be drawn again during your next turn. With Test Run not only can you search for a specific card, but you can install it at a potentially reduced cost. Being returned to your stack after the turn mitigates some of its power, but now you know exactly where that card is, information that alone can be worth 3 credits. When targeting programs that have usage limits Test Run allows you to use those card more times than normal. Some programs need to be targeted at a specific server, and with Test Run you can try out a card against one server, before targeting it at another when you install it later.

Shapers are problem solvers, when they need a particular tool they find it, or just change the problem until it fits one of the tools they already have.

Corporations:

In the world of Android: Netrunner Haas-Bioroid are responsible for the construction of synthetic bioroids, artificial humanoids used for labour. Thanks to this reliable and cheap workforce Haas-Bioroid has become the corporation of labour and manufacturing. They are masters are performing multiple tasks at once. If a sudden need arises to work extra hours just throw some more bioroids at the problem. This absolute control of time management can also be seen in their ability to waste the runner’s time, draining them of clicks and limiting their ability to get anything done.

Their in-faction bioroid ICE have good strength to cost ratios, but come with the downside that their sub-routines can be broken by spending clicks. With enough time even the most dangerous bioroid can be reasoned with, or circumvented.

Haas-Bioroid is about progress, their core faction ability support a mindset of constantly installing. Not only do they have powerful assets and ICE, but they also possess several ways of returning cards to play if they are trashed. They may lack consistent means of inflicting physical damage on runners, but that doesn’t mean they are unable to take direct action. Officially, bioroids can’t harm humans. Unofficially, destroying software and melting the mind of any runner who attempts to access a secured server is much more efficient – not to mention cleaner – than blowing up their house. Because of this Haas-Bioroid are the faction of program destruction and brain damage.

The quintessential Haas-Bioroid card is Biotic Labor. For 4 credits you gain 2 clicks, meaning you get back the click you used to play Biotic Labour and an extra click. If played as your first click this means you now have now have 4 clicks total instead of 3. These clicks can be used for anything, though the classic example is to play Biotic Labour as your first click, install a 3 cost agenda, then advance and score it using the remaining clicks.

Bioroid’s provide an efficiency and reliable labour force, one Haas-Bioroid exploits to the fullest.

Jinteki are a vast bio-tech firm, responsible for both software development and medical research. Jinteki produced clones are an organic alternative to the bioroids manufactured by Haas-Bioroid. Through the Nisei project they have even begun to develop rudimentary psychic abilities.

With medical research taking priority, Jinteki’s software development is geared toward cyber-security. Their ICE suite is one of the cheapest and they have several in-faction ways of rezzing ICE at a reduced cost. Despite this, Jinteki have a hard time keeping runners out of their servers through sub-routines alone. What they can do however is make any runs costly, even potentially deadly. They are the de facto net damage faction, with the greatest number of in-faction trap cards and damage dealing ICE.

As their creator, Jinteki also have access to psychic clones, along with psi based ICE, that forces the runner to attempt to read the corporation’s mind. Failure allows the corporation to leverage abilities that might otherwise be too over-powered. Through these psychic clones and other bio-tech research Jinteki are masters at gaining information on their own future, and adapting to events on the fly. They can see which cards are coming up in their own R&D, and even rearrange the order and placement of ICE to better adapt to threats as they emerge. Jinteki are the only faction with the ability to swap the position of any installed ICE. They can even force runners to face different ICE than they expected, or cause them to end their run on a different server than where they initiated it.

As a mega-corporation with a historical link to Japan, Jinteki also have connections within the Yakuza. These provide limited ways for them to take direct actions against runners.

Project Junebug is an asset that can be advanced like an agenda. The idea is to bait the runner into attempting to steal what looks like an agenda only to suffer the consequences. When the runner accesses Project Junebug the corporation can pay 1 credit to inflict 2 net damage per advancement token. At 3 advancement tokens this is enough to kill a runner through a full grip, but even at 1 or 2 the loss of cards can be game changing. Project Junebug can be especially deadly given how runners are likely to have had to get through damaging ICE before they reached the stage where they can access it. Even if the runner is able to avoid the net damage, or access Project Junebug while it is not advanced (such as from HQ or R&D), the presence of one in a deck can change their behaviour. All advanced cards now have to be treated with caution.

With Jinteki what you see isn’t necessarily what you get, and that poorly defended server might just be bait.

NBN are the media and communications giant of the Android: Netrunner universe. Specialists at locating the runner, tagging them, and using these tags either for their own benefit or as a means of draining the runner’s resources. With access to a vast wealth of information NBN have many abilities that allow them to draw cards, meaning they can get to what they need faster than any other faction; though their ability to filter for specific cards is limited.

Their ICE is not the strongest or most damaging, but often comes with difficult to avoid “on encounter” effects that must be resolved before the ICE can be interacted with at all. These let NBN tag and tax runners even when they cannot keep them out entirely.

Through news broadcasts and entertainment shows NBN are able to saturate the world with their own messaging. From advertising to straight theft, NBN has various in-faction ways of gaining money. They can very rapidly swing the economic game in their favour, with devastating effects for the runner.

If the runner has made a run during their last turn, NBN have ways to find them. For 2 credits SEA Source allows them to initiate a trace with base strength 3 (the corporation can then pay further credits to increase the trace strength, the total of which the runner must match to avoid the trace being successful). If this trace is successful the runner receives one tag. SEA is the Space Elevator Authority, NBN have their sources everywhere, even miles above the surface of the earth.

NBN known everything about you. They’ll either use that to stop you, or simply to make more money.

The Weyland Consortium is a giant faceless conglomerate, even their CEO is never identified; instead their operations are directed by the mysterious Weyland board. Constituting multiple divisions and subsidiaries Weyland’s focus is on construction, security, and banking.

Weyland have their fingers in everything, they can get whatever they need when they need it. Of the four corporation factions Weyland are the only faction to have multiple ways to look for and draw specific cards.

Though their ICE suite heavily prioritises barriers and uncomplicated “end the run” sub-routines Weyland can increase the power of their ICE through advancement tokens. Investing time and money in something makes it stronger, that’s the Weyland philosophy.

Weyland are ruthless, willing to sacrifice their own scored agendas for future gains. The game isn’t over until it’s over, and whoever is left standing at the end is the winner, nothing else matters.

Like criminals, Weyland relies heavily on their presence in the physical world, here their various black and grey operations allow them to inflict meat damage, and destroy runner hardware. Owners of banks and a private military, Weyland are the experts at making money and inflicting damage upon the runner and their associates. Their reliance on sheer brute force is balanced by their lack of a consistent in-faction means of identifying and tagging the runner.

Like Weyland themselves, Scorched Earth is straightforward and blunt. For 3 credits, and provided the runner is tagged, you can inflict 4 meat damage. One of these played against you is painful, multiple are lethal. Any runner facing Weyland has to be mindful of dropping below 4 cards in their grip if they have no other means of meat damage protection. Scorched Earth is (at least before the release of its younger sibling BOOM!) the most common cause of runner death in Netrunner.

Weyland’s approach to problem solving is simple, remove the problem, and if necessary the entire city block the problem is in; then make money on the reconstruction.


Mechanics, factions, and identities. These three elements, supported by flavour text and card art, form the narrative foundation of Android: Netrunner. Understanding this foundation we can now explore how the Andorid universe is developed over time – through new cards and interactions – and how the player developed story of each individual Netrunner game can support a fictional reading.

Preying On My Mind.

Playing the PlayStation 4 demo of Prey resulted in me quitting in anger, hurling my controller at the floor, and deleting the demo.

Getting around to playing it on the PC, I have reached a point seventeen hours in where I encountered a bug that, though it didn’t prevent my progress, would result in a bunch of things being messed up were I to keep going.

Both of those things are true, as is this: Prey is one of best immersive simulation games I have played; I even prefer it to System Shock 2. There are only two games I could make a case for being better at this style of game: Deus Ex and Dishonored.

I was already hooked, even before I found this retro-future GoPro.

It’s been a difficult time for me recently for a plethora of reasons I don’t want to dwell on. Prey was a game I had largely discounted, what Arkane Studios were saying sounded too ambitious, and in terms of a spiritual successor to System Shock 2 I’d already been burnt by BioShock. A game I generally like but one whose connection to the earlier “Shock” games seemed superficial at best. I had struggled with Dishonored 2, a superbly made game that I should have adored, but one I just never felt I could connect with. So when I played the demo for Prey and my immediately reaction was aggressively negative I resigned myself to just never being able to enjoy these types of games again.

I am nothing if not stubborn, I decided to try the PlayStation 4 demo again. I took it slowly and, instead of trying to rush in and smash the scuttling Mimics as quickly as I could, I treated them with respect. I made sure my attacks were deliberate. It was a revelation. Once I stopped trying to approach the game with the assumption that these were cannon fodder enemies that I could easily dispatch I realised what this game was. It’s slightly too clunky. It’s slightly too difficult. It’s also incredibly smart, both in terms of systems design and writing, and confidently erudite without being patronising. It builds on everything I found compelling about System Shock 2 in well thought out ways, and makes small but significant changes to certain core tenants of the immersive simulation style that are so obvious in hindsight it’s shocking nobody has attempted them before.

It’s also subtle, I joked that it was probably going to be too subtle for some (reviews appear to have borne this out). There are no caricatured characters spouting philosophy at you for ten hours. It’s a game about scientists and corporations and technology, but it’s handled with a deft touch. The TranStar corporation is engaged in some incredibly unethical experiments on board Talos 1 and the people involved know that. They argue about it, they attempt to justify it to themselves and others. Their responses are entirely, tragically, human. There are people who totally buy the corporate line about the benefits of the work they are doing. Others who are willfully ignorant regarding the extent of their complicity. Even some who are attempting to lift the lid on what’s going on and reveal it to the world at large. Each of these people have their own motivations, none of them are cackling super villains. Even your brother Alex has clear reasons for his actions, reasons that might even convince you.

When it comes to systems design, Prey is maybe a little too late 90s, though it updates the interface and presentation of those systems in ways that make them more comfortable to engage with. Combat can get awkward if you are overwhelmed but at all times you have a myriad of options with which to approach each situation; though your character build choices will push you towards a sub-set of those. I’ve already seen dozens of people citing very different  – and often mutually exclusive – ability combinations and weapons as being “over-powered”.

Prey is also rough, Patch 1.2 has just been released fixing a bug that was corrupting save games and preventing further progress. My own bug is less severe but still frustrating. I’ve been assured a fix is coming soon, and yet I think I’m going to restart the game. Seventeen hours in, I’m going to restart a game I’ve not finished yet. A game that is reportedly 20-30 hours long, and I’m really excited about it. To me that tells me all I need to know.

I really like Prey. It might be my favourite Looking Glass Studios game.

A trip down the Skill Rating rabbit hole.

I really like Overwatch, probably too much for my actual level of skill. I watch professional games, like the recent OGN APEX Season 2, and discuss the character selections and tactics used. I’ve used videos, articles, and podcasts to try and improve my game. I also  just like talking about Overwatch, from its convoluted and occasionally contradictory fiction to the design of its characters; I can talk for hours about how fascinating I find the design of my favourites like Ana, Zarya, and Zenyatta.

I avoided playing competitive Overwatch for the initial season, I wanted to wait until the quirks were worked out. I finally started playing with my Overwatch group mate in season 2. We’d queue as pair, one of us tank the other support; usually D.Va and Lucio; I got shouted at in team chat for picking Ana on Dorado attack during one match. It was a thrilling if occasionally frustrating time, and after only a few hours of play we topped out with a Skill Rating (SR) in the 1800s (high Silver) by the time the season ended. I felt confidant that with some work we could break the 2000 barrier and reach Gold tier.

With the changes to how SR functioned in season 3 it was no surprise that we placed lower initially, around the 1200 mark (Bronze). Again playing mostly as a tank and healer pairing, we finally reentered Silver, but the games were a little more frequently frustrating. We’d also ended end up playing more often when the other wasn’t available. Together we closed out the season with an SR in the 1500s (low Silver).

Former Olympic weightlifter Aleksandra “Zarya” Zaryanova uses projected barriers on herself and her allies to channel incoming fire into increased damage.

Since season 3 I’ve really started to focus on a core of characters, ones I find: mechanically interesting, enjoyable to play, and that can be useful in most compositions. Those are Zarya, Ana, and Zenyatta.

Zarya is a secondary tank, she projects barriers around herself and her allies that can absorb all forms of incoming damage. These barriers last for 2 seconds or 200 health before dissipating, each point of damage absorbed is redirected into increased power for her particle cannon. At 100% charge the particle cannon is one of the most power weapons in the game, able to burn through nearly 200 hit points per second. Her own hit points are made up of 200 health and 200 shields, the latter of which recharges after a period of taking no damage. She plays best as with an aggressive style, taking a few hits to her shields before deploying a bubble and using the redirected energy to burn through the enemy. Her Ultimate ability, Graviton Surge, is a launched projectile that pulls all enemies within 8 meters together into a single point, setting them up for a multi-kill. This is especially powerful when paired with one of the direct damage Ultimates of the rest of your team.

A support sniper, Ana uses her rifle to shoot health into her allies and inflict brief damage over time to her enemies. Her Biotic Grenade can be thrown to increase the healing applied to any allies it hits, and prevent healing on any enemies. Many characters in Overwatch have self-healing abilities and being able to shut them down allows Ana’s team to focus fire and kill them rapidly. She can also fire a Sleep Dart that will knock out an enemy for 5 seconds, this can be used to cancel an enemy Ultimate, take opponents out of a fight temporarily, or as a last second defense when Ana is being attacked. The victim of the dart will wake again if they take any damage, making it a risky proposition when you cannot communicate your target to your team. Ana’s Ultimate is a Nano Boost that can be fired at a teammate to increase both their damage output and damage resistance for several seconds. When used on the right target this can be game changing, allowing a team to push through an entrenched defense or repel a dedicated attack.

Zenyatta is a combination of support and DPS, his standard attack is a projectile that flies fast with a flat trajectory and low spread, making it easy to target enemies. In addition he can throw out an Orb of Harmony and an Orb of Discord. The former attached to allies healing them for 30 hit points per second, provided Zenyatta can maintain line-of-sight. The latter attaches to enemies and increases the damage they take from all sources by 30%, again provided Zenyatta can maintain line-of-sight. Targeting an enemy tank with an Orb of Discord can be devastating, causing even a Reinhardt to go down quickly. His Ultimate, Transcendence, makes Zenyatta immune from all damage for several seconds while increasing his movement speed and healing all allies within 10m for 300 hit points per-second. This Ultimate can also be used to block line-of-sight for enemies, any damage that would be inflicted on teammates behind a transcendent Zenyatta will instead be absorbed.

For a variety of reasons we weren’t able to maintain our group for competitive this season, though we still play quick play and arcade. So I entered the placement matches on my own. Ana is a difficult character to play, but I’d worked at it for over thirteen hours and felt that I was above average for the level of play I was at. So she was my focus. I lost the first placement match which wasn’t the best experience, but then followed a win, and a draw. Eventually with all ten placement matches done I had another several hours on Ana, alongside time on Tracer and Zarya when needed to rush to a point or provide a tank that could help keep our DPS heavy team alive. By the time the game revealed my SR for season 4 I was sitting on three losses, one draw, and six wins, which resulted in starting Bronze with an SR of 1191, a full 500 lower than my final rating at the end of the previous season. Disappointing, though I understood that Blizzard’s desire was for people to start low and work their way up to their “true SR”.

A support sniper Ana Amari (mother of Fareeha Amari, aka Pharah), literally shots health into her teammates. She also looks like a Metal Gear Solid character.

My first few games went about as expected, there were some losses, a larger number of wins (some unfortunately due to leavers on the opposing team), and after a day I had reached an SR of 1323, still Bronze, but closer to where I had started last season. Furthermore I had received praise from several other players about my Ana play. I never got a Play Of The Match, as a healer that was entirely expected, but my general stats for Ana were good for the level of play. Also I had never had a single person complain about my selecting Ana.

I can’t say I was playing the best I have, but there were some games where I really do feel I was working as hard as I ever have. This is especially true of one game on Route 66 where one of our team left a few minutes into our attack. Somehow our team of five managed to push the payload all the way to within 20m of the final point. Then we had to defend again as a team of 5 verses a team of 6. At the request of my team, who had earned my respect with their tenacity and been polite and calm in team chat throughout, I switched to a DPS so we could build our 5 person team around a pair of tanks, a pair of DPS and a single healer. I picked up Pharah, the DPS character I have most experience with, and we did what we could. We forced the enemy team into overtime but eventually failed to stop the payload. An incredible game with one of the best teams I’ve played with, it was still demoralising to lose in a situation like that. But, I didn’t let it affect me, or so I thought.

Then, something happened.

The next day I started playing again and everything seemed to go wrong. Each match was a loss, often in what felt like one-sided fights. Team mates would shout at each other in the chat, complaining over character picks, and tactics. Everything seemed to spiral downward. I wasn’t immune to this urge to blame others, especially during one match on Lijiang Tower. As Zenyatta I was matched with our Roadhog for the most eliminations on our team after the first round. It was only 4 but that just made it feel worse as this was on a team with a Soldier 76 and a Genji, two dedicated DPS characters. We changed our composition but still managed to lose that match.

The next match I tried to make sure I selected a character that would fit our composition, so with a Reinhardt, and several defense and support characters on Dorado defense I picked up Soldier 76; a character I’m not great with but which I felt fit best for the composition we had. The moment we’d begun setting up our defenses our Reinhardt switched to a Mei leaving us without a tank. We struggled to defend the first two points, and by the time we were pushed back into the final area I checked my statistics for that game and found I had the most healing of anybody on our team, at a meager 900. This was with a Zenyatta on our team, a character who had been instantly picked when the game started. I lost it, I shouldn’t have, but I tilted. I typed an angry message about it in the team chat passively aggressively berating the Zenyatta for never healing. It was particularly frustrating as somebody who’s spent hours trying to learn how best to play Zenyatta; I would have gladly taken that role if they hadn’t wanted to be a healer and said so. Our team dissolved into a mess and another loss.

I should have stopped playing, I should have taken a break and calmed down. I didn’t. I kept playing, and kept losing, and unsurprisingly I was always able to find a reason for our loss besides myself. By the time I finally quit out of the last match (yes, I had become the very thing I hated), I had dropped to an SR or 924.

Omnic monk Tekhartha Zenyatta uses buffs and debuffs to support his team. He can also deal a fair amount of damage, but has the lowest health of any character in the game.

I don’t usually care about numerical indicators in games, numbers getting bigger holds little sway. Unfortunately, I want to get better at Overwatch. This investment has caused a lot of emotion to become wrapped up in my SR rank. I’m aware enough of my own abilities to never expect to make it to Platinum or Diamond, but I feel that I should be able to reach low Gold, or high Silver at the least.

I might conceptually understand how the game is played at a high level, but that’s not where I’m playing. What I feel are the correct choices are leading me into plays I don’t fully understand, that simply don’t work without the full support of my team. This desire to apply “collective wisdom” to a situations where it doesn’t fit is a theme in Bronze. A lot of people will request that a team form a 2-2-2 composition: two tanks, two DPS, and two healers. Yet usually when we would lose it’s to teams that weren’t running that composition. At this level Junkrat and Mei (both defence characters) are devastating, yet whenever anybody picked one they’d provoke somebody’s ire. The “meta” of Bronze is very different to that of higher level play. This has been the biggest shock to me, the difference in play between Bronze and Silver is significant. The best matches I had in Overwatch were as I was approaching Gold , getting back there is going to be a slog, and may not even be possible.

More “common wisdom” is that if I simply wanted to gain SR I should focus on playing a character like Pharah, or Junkrat. Both character who are very difficult to deal with at this level of play. I have experience with both, but it’s hard to bring myself to play somebody simply to gain SR rather than to improve at that character. I enjoy the game most when I’m improving with a character I find mechanically interesting. But a win for me, is a win for everybody else on my team too. So, in the end does it matter if that’s a win as Pharah, or a win as Ana? Can’t I just push to get out of low SR so I can focus on Ana again once I’m out at a place where the style of player is conductive to it?

Ana is a complicated hero to play, possibly one of the hardest to master in the game. Her kit is all about providing utility to others rather than inflict damage herself. I enjoy that sense of responsibility, the need to multi-task. Sadly, as with many of the support characters she operates best in a team that understands how she functions. As an Ana I can heal from a long distance provided I have line-of-sight, which means that I can’t heal the Genji who keeps running off behind a wall. I understood that not everybody has gone as deep on the mechanics of Overwatch as I have, I know it can be necessary to switch characters mid-game, and I do. Though it’s hard to escape the notion that my very desire to switch my character to fit the team composition has had a negative impact on my own SR. Overall I have five hours of play on Ana this season, and a 60% win rate; compared to an overall win rate of 46% after ten hours of play. It’s hard not to see that and think I should just focus on Ana regardless of the team composition.

I want to get better at playing Ana, but that’s difficult to do in games where my team is so spread out that I can’t even see them, let alone prioritise my healing targets. I am getting better at using Ana’s Sleep Dart though, as without the support of a team it’s the only defence I have against being flanked.

My play times for Season 4, as of April 16th 2017.

For now, I’ve managed to claw my way back up to 1067. Thanks, in no small part to a good team, and some hard work as Zarya and Winston, that helped us win a match on Dorado while down a player. I’ve barely played Ana since I dropped into the 900s, but I have spent time on both Zarya and Zenyatta. The former is very strong in Bronze, I’ve encountered a lot of players who either don’t understand how her abilities work, or who simply underestimated her damage output when charged. Every D.Va I’ve encountered has attempted to block my primary fire with their Defence Matrix only to see their mech destroyed in a matter of seconds. As enjoyable as this brutal efficiency can be, I don’t feel I’m getting better with her, merely exploiting the fact that I’m facing opponents who don’t know how to deal with her.

Losing 300 SR in a few hours is not a pleasant experience. It shouldn’t matter. It does. At Bronze and low Silver, 300 SR can make the difference between being able to work with a team who understand and appreciates the power of an Ana or Zenyatta, and one who makes those characters all but impossible to play.

Reading Netrunner: Introduction.

Note: With this series I’m specifically interested in the way Netrunner expresses fiction through the interactions of its rules. These articles are not intended as analysis of cards in terms of their utility in competitive play.

Maya (art by Adam Schumpert, click for artist’s Art Station page), console of the Shaper runner Jesminder Sareen, Maya allows you to return a card being accessed from R&D to the bottom of R&D, preventing the corporation from drawing it during their next turn. A powerful but highly situational card.

Netrunner is a two player competitive card game that takes place within the Android universe, a fictional setting created by Fantasy Flight Games and originally devised for the game Android. As a living card game – with predetermined cards entering the available pool every few months – Netrunner is able to consistently build on its mechanics over time, allowing it to change and grow in ways that not only develop the game’s possibility space but also its fiction. This linking of mechanics and fiction is one of the strengths of Netrunner, and something that has kept me playing even through periods of stagnation in the competitive meta-game.

The ways in which runners and corporations use their assorted resources to wage cyber warfare, and the narratives thus created, help expand the fiction of the larger Android universe. This is further supported through the card art and flavour text. Specific characters can appear on multiple cards, where their presence helps contextualise not only the underlying fiction, but also the mechanics and card interactions themselves.

I am interested in examining the ways Netrunner represents its characters and organisations through mechanics; how it develops the fiction of the Android universe through card interactions, and the addition of new mechanics over time. To be able parse this fiction, to read Netrunner, we first need to understand the game’s core mechanics and foundation fictional elements.


Android: Netrunner is an asymmetric game of cyber-warfare waged between a runner (hacker) and a mega corporation. Corporations build servers protected by ICE (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics) and attempt to advance their agendas; or simply remove the runner threat through direct action. Runners in turn construct their rigs, establish networks of resources, and deploy ICE breakers to breach corporate servers and steal their agendas.

Play unfolds sequentially with the corporation and the runner taking turns until one side wins. Only in a competitive time-limited game is a draw possible. Outside of card abilities players in Netrunner have a fixed number of clicks per-turn. Each click is spent on an action, from playing a card, to making a run on an opposing corporation’s server. Fictionally each turn is equivalent to a single day, while runners keep their own schedules and can take four actions per-day, corporations operate primarily during business hours and are therefore limited to three clicks.

Cards are draw from each player’s deck (known as R&D for the corporation) into their hand (grip for runners and HQ for corporations). By paying their associated cost in credits, cards can then either be played directly, or installed by placing them onto the table. Installed cards have a degree of permanence and in some cases can remain in play for the entire game. Cards that have been installed can be trashed, removing them from active play and sending them to either the heap (for runners) or the archives (for corporations). For the corporation each of these three locations is treated as a server, meaning that runners can access the cards within if they successfully make a run on it. These central servers require as much, if not more, protection than the remote servers the corporation establishes over the course of the game.

Parasite (art by Bruno Balixa, click for artist’s Art Station page), an Anarch card able to corrode and eventually trash ICE. It is one of the more powerful cards in the game, and forms the core of ICE destruction deck builds.

Runners:

Runners cards are divided into four different types: programs, hardware, resources, and events.

Programs are your software, they take up memory – of which four units are available as standard – and have abilities that can be executed for a cost. Most programs perform actions during a run on a corporation’s server: from Icebreakers that directly combat ICE, to cards that will allow you to perform some action when you access a server. As software that only exists within the cyber-realm, programs are some of the easiest cards to trash, but also have numerous ways of being returned to play.

Broadly speaking hardware represents your actual computer, your rig. As these are physical objects in the world they have a permanence that software lacks. Hardware is difficult to remove from play, and also almost impossible to bring back once it has been removed. If part of your rig gets trashed you’d better hope you have an actual replacement.

Resources symbolise the people, organisations, and non-physical utilities that runners can call on for support. Representations of people and organisations, resources are second only to programs in their susceptibility to being trashed. If the corporation can “tag” the runner, identifying them and their location, then any resource can be trashed for a single click and two credits. When the corporations knows who you are even your friends are at risk. Like hardware, as most resources are objects in the real world, there are very few ways to bring them back into play once they have been trashed.

Events are specific actions a runner can perform. These are most commonly ways of allowing you to perform more actions in a click than allowed by your standard abilities, or to perform those actions under special circumstances. With events you can draw multiple cards, installs cards at a reduced cost, or initiate a run on a server ignoring certain ICE.

While the cards in play are the tools available to the runner, the cards in their grip also serve as a conceptual representation of the runner themselves. Cards in your grip can be trashed through damage, which comes in three forms: net, meat, and brain. Each card trashed in this manner absorbs one point of damage, if more damage is inflicted than can be absorbed then the runner flatlines and the corporation wins.

Net damage is frequent and  lightweight, it is damage inflicted to the runner in the cyber realm. Net damage is most commonly inflicted by ICE sub-routines, ones and two points at a time. As it is a form of non-physical damage there are programs and hardware that can negate or absorb net damage.

Meat damage is slightly less frequent, but can often be enough to kill the runner outright; flatline through meat damage is the most common form of runner death in Netrunner. Meat damage represents direct physical damage to the runner themselves, as such it usually requires that the corporation has been able to identify and tag the runner. Meat damage can only be negated by hardware or resources that exist within the physical world. Software cannot directly absorb meat damage, though it can prevent or otherwise restrict the means by which that damage is inflicted.

The most infrequent type of damage is brain damage. This generally only occurs in small quantities but it differs from the other types due to its persistence. When brain damage is inflicted cards are trashed from the runner’s grip as usual, and their maximum hand size is reduced by the same amount. Runner’s can die directly from brain damage if more is inflicted than they have cards in their grip, but they can also die to brain damage if they are ever left with a negative hand size at the end of their turn. Brain damage is inflicted most commonly by ICE, and there are few means of negating it.

House Of Knives (art by Alexandr Elichev, click for artist’s Art Station page), a Jinteki agenda that when scored allows the corporation to inflict one point of net damage during a run. A strong card in a “death by a thousand cuts” net damage build.

Corporations:

Corporation cards are divided into five different types: agendas, ICE, assets, upgrades, and operations.

Agendas are the varied goals of the corporation. They are at the core of Netrunner, and constitute its primary win condition. Corporations need to execute on these plans by installing agendas in a server and advancing them by spending a click and a credit. Each agenda has an advancement cost and is worth a specified number of agenda points. When scored agendas grant the corporation abilities that different in utility and power depending on their advancement cost. If the runner is able to access an agenda before it is scored they can steal it, earning the agenda points for themselves. The first player to reach seven agenda points wins.

ICE are the means by which corporations protect their servers. They are obstacles the runner has to overcome in order to access the cards in the protected server. ICE can do a variety of things from simply ending the run, to inflicting damage, or destroying programs. ICE are defined by their type (barrier, code gate, sentry), their strength, and the number of sub-routines they possess. Each sub-routine that is not broken by a runner’s icebreakers resolves, and the effect it specifies is carried out. Though as a runner you want to get past ICE, sometimes it’s not possible or necessary to break all sub-routines, allowing a sentry to trash one of your programs might be worth it.

Assets are the divisions, subsidiaries, and executives the corporations rely on to operate. Installed one each to a server they operate much like resources do for the runner, providing consistent per-turn income and increasing the range of actions available. Though representative of organisations and individuals within the world, that these assets have to be installed in servers indicates they are less physically extant than resources. They represent the corporations current use of these assets not necessarily the assets themselves. As such, once a runner access an asset they can pay a cost to trash it. Corporations in turn have multiple ways to bring trashed assets back into play; the sever might have been destroyed but the asset itself remains.

Upgrades function in a similar manner to assets, with the exception that they can be installed in any server alongside an asset or agenda. The same mechanical and narrative rules apply to upgrades as to assets.

Operations are to corporations what events are to runners, ways of taking direct action and performing more actions per-turn that allowed by the standard abilities. Through operations corporations can: attempt to tag a runner, gain extra clicks, or advance cards at a reduced cost.

In order to allow corporations to carry out their business with security and secrecy, assets, upgrades and agendas are – with a limited number of exceptions – installed face-down. With assets and upgrades needing to be rezzed, for a cost, before they can be used. This allows the contents of a server to be hidden information. Furthermore, certain assets can be advanced using the same rules as advancing agendas. These advanceable assets usually perform stronger abilities than standard assets, and sometimes their strength is proportional to the number of times it has been advanced. In this way runners don’t know which, if any, of the cards the corporation has installed might be the agenda they want and which might be a harmless asset, or even a trap.

Though it is not possible to inflict damage on corporations they way you can against a runner, there are other restrictions on their behaviour that lead to their own loss conditions. At the start of their turn the corporation must draw a card from R&D, if this is not possible because there are no cards left then the runner wins; they have been able to outlast the corporation, draining them of assets and preventing them from advancing their agendas.


Though not an exhaustive breakdown of the rules of Netrunner this should help frame the rest of our analysis. Next we will look at the game’s different factions, and how the influence system helps differentiate and define them through delineation of their strengths and weaknesses.

Design By Example: Reactive Takedowns in Dishonored 2.

Stealth play exists on the tenuous edge between concealment and conflict. Between avoiding NPCs and actively confronting them. When the player is detected most stealth games shift into a different style of play, one focused on either combat or rapid disengagement. Multiple styles of play with skill sets that don’t overlap cleanly, forced to exist within the same game.

This divide is a soft-boundary within the simulation. The models of detection and combat operating at different levels of fidelity, causing a disconnect when you shift from one to the other. This boundary is most obvious when crossed in the other direction. After transitioning from conflict back to concealment AI controlled NPC will eventually “forget” the presence of the player despite potentially having seen one of their friends killed in front of them; behaviour inconsistent with their aggressive search and combat routines. There are many good reasons for handling the simulation in this manner, unfortunately that doesn’t make the state change smoother. Games of the Immersive Sim genre have traditionally provided for a less messy transition between these states. Built around a consistent simulated world, the state change alters the means and motivation for engaging with the possibility space but not underlying rules themselves.

The spectrum of powers and abilities available to you in Dishonored 2 – along with the underlying simulation rules – don’t entirely resolve this conflict either, though they go some way toward smoothing the transition. What Dishonored 2 does do is play with that threshold between concealment and conflict. Allowing you to remain within that liminal space even in the face of mistakes and sudden occurrences that would otherwise result in fight or flight.

A successful block will stagger an NPC, allowing you to initiate a reactive takedown.

When detected there is a limited window where, if close enough, you are able to punch and then grab an NPC, restraining them in a chokehold. Traditionally when discovered by a patrolling NPC your options are limited. You can attempt to kill them which can be both noisy and messy, or you can accept detection and make a run for it. In Dishonored 2 this moment is extended, stretched out into a window of opportunity. Barely a few seconds but long enough to act, to regain the advantage, rendering the troublesome NPC unconscious and remaining in a concealment state rather than fully breaching the boundary and initiating conflict.

You deal with the immediate concern of being detected, replacing it with the new one of what to do with the body? Having prevented an alert, you now have time to deal with the next problem on your own terms.

If we consider the shift from concealment to conflict as the failure state of stealth, then this ability to incapacitate enemies in your moment of discovery provides partial failure. You have not been entirely successful at remaining hidden, but you have managed to avoid entering outright conflict. The strength of partial failure comes from the way its consequences can spiral outward effect all future decisions while not directly forcing you into either a different style of play, or a complete restart.

You’ve avoided detection for the moment, but now you need to do something about the unconscious body. Carrying it around means you won’t have access to your sword, and makes movement slower. If you can successfully hide the body you may be in a better position as there will be one less NPC available to potential discover you in the future. Unfortunately, NPCs in Dishonored 2 can adjust their patrol routes to compensate for missing companions. Removing one might well make things easier for you but not necessarily in the ways you were expecting.

Partial failure such as this also exposes you to more of the game’s systems, as the world state changes so too does the possibility space. An unconscious NPC is an extra element to deal with, a new entry point into the games systems to explore, certain opportunities are available now that weren’t before.

Unconscious bodies can be thrown at other NPCs, staggering them for long enough to grab them in turn.

These reactive takedowns are not only limited to the moment of initiate discovery, you can trigger one any time you are able to stagger an NPC. This can be achieved either by throwing something at them (including another unconscious guard, in what rapidly becomes a comedic escalation), or blocking their sword attack. A way of allowing you to engage in combat, if necessary, without being forced to resort to directly lethal violence. This further extends your ability to take back the initiative in the few seconds before everything spirals out of your control.

Games built on offering players a range of solutions require not only a rich possibility space, but also the time necessary to parse the potential options and choose an appropriate one. If the options available are logical and readable that window doesn’t need to be large, about as long as it takes to stagger and choke an NPC.

The tension of the stealth genre comes from the constant presence of the boundary between concealment and conflict. By allowing partial failure, and therefore partial recovery, Dishonored 2 keeps this division intact by extending the threshold. It creates a liminal space where your failure to remain entirely undetected has consequences, but ones that can be resolved using your existing stealth skill set rather requiring a state change into using those skills necessary for combat or evasion.

Design By Example: Secrets and Upgrades in DOOM.

On its face the concept of collectibles in DOOM is counter intuitive. This is a game about combat. Fast combat. Moving and shooting distilled to their essence, then exploding in geysers of demon blood. It’s not uncommon for collectibles to provide some consequential benefit when obtained, but the way in which this has been handled in DOOM feeds back into the core combat loop though multiple overlapping systems. The various collectibles don’t simply encourage exploration of the game’s physical spaces but its systemic ones too.

The collectibles you can locate in DOOM fall into three broad categories. First there are the pure collectibles, the tchotchkes: small portions of classic Doom levels, and UAC MarineGuy toys. Serving primarily as Easter Egg, once collected these allow you to play maps from the previous Doom games, and view in-engine models of the various enemies and weapons.

The second form of collectibles are the Argent Cells, Praetor Tokens, and Field Drones. These are objects that when collected either directly provide, or allow you to purchase, permanent upgrades. Argent Cells will boost your Health, Armour, or Ammunition capacity. Praetor Tokens are used to purchase upgrades for your suit, providing benefits such as reducing the amount of environmental damage you take. Finally, by locating Field Drones you can obtain a weapon modification which grants a secondary fire option that provides additional functionality; two modifications are available for each weapon (excluding the Pistol and Super Shotgun).

The third form of collectibles are the Rune Trials. Each trial leads to a separate challenge level where you are required to perform a set task under specific constraints. If successful you are rewarded with a rune, of which three can eventually be equipped at a time. These runes provide a bonus ability, such as increasing the range at which you can perform a glory kill. Each rune ability can be upgraded by performing a task associated with that ability a given number of times. Upgraded runes provide a more power version of their base ability.

Once first introduced all these collectibles – with a few exceptions – are located only within the secret areas of each level.

There are purely narrative collectibles which don’t feed back as neatly into the other game systems. Usually located along the critical path they are easily grabbed while passing through areas and rarely require you to actively go looking for them.

Throughout the course of DOOM you can unlock a series of Weapon Upgrade Points, these can be obtained either through combat performance, completing a set of level specific challenges, or locating secret areas. Weapon upgrade points are used to add additional abilities to your weapon modifications, increasing their power and utility. There are between two and three initial upgrades available for each weapon modification, they can be purchased in any order with the cost increasing for each subsequent upgrade. These weapon upgrade points are at the core of where the collectibles feed back into the combat system. Finding all the secrets in a level grants one weapon upgrade point, finding them all of will provide another.

In order to increase your potency and proficiency in combat it is beneficial to equip runes and suit upgrades, the act of locating these also goes toward gaining you a weapon upgrade point. Upgrade points that can’t be used except on weapons you have already modified, for which you will need to have located a Field Drone.

You might not care about collecting all the MarineGuy toys, but if that’s all that stands between you and finding the secrets within a level, and you are one weapon upgrade point short of upgrading your Plasma Rifle, taking a few minutes to find that last MarineGuy is likely time well spent.

Your weapon modifications aren’t just useful for the abilities they provide, like the runes they can also be upgraded through specific use. Once you have obtained all initial upgrades for a weapon modification you have the ability to upgrade it one last time. These final upgrades offer significant improvements, but you cannot even begin progress toward these final upgrades until you have first purchased all previous upgrade levels.

These overlapping systems not only encourage exploration but also experimentation, the abilities available when you have fully upgrade a rune or weapon modification are substantial, such as being able to fire some of the game’s most weapons effectively indefinitely. These can only be obtained from using the weapon modifications and runes in certain ways. Not always in line with your standard approach, the reward for performing the rune and weapon modification specific challenges are potentially worth changing up your play style for. This is also the case with the per-level challenges that provide additional weapon upgrade points. Not only does this type of “get better by doing” approach naturally reinforce the game’s combat systems, it also highlights some of the ways in which these systems can be used that you may not have been aware of, and encourages you to experiment with them.

As you can only equip three runes at once, it behoves you to think carefully about which you want to take. You only gain the abilities of those you have equipped. So, while sticking with three you have fully upgraded makes sense given the strength of their abilities, doing so means you will not be able to upgrade any of the others. Nor take advantage of their abilities. You can personalise and define your own play style based on the runes you equip but swapping them out can lead to interesting systemic interactions. You might want to equip the rune to allow you to engage in a glory kill from a longer range (Seek and Destroy), however if you are taking this it would make sense to also equip the rune that gives you armour from performing glory kills (Armored Offensive). If you are getting armour rapidly you will have an easier time upgrading the rune that requires you to be at full armour (Rich Get Richer). This rune when active means that once you are above 100 armour firing your standard weapon uses no ammunition, the benefits of which are obvious. This rune is especially useful if you are now getting armour from every enemy you glory kill, and potentially picking it up from much further away because of another rune (Vacuum).

Weapon Upgrade points can also be obtained through combat; however, you will only ever be able to obtain five (half of those available within a level) without completing the additional challenges or discovering secrets.

 

Exploring the levels for secrets and investing in upgrading your weapons and runes means that by the closing stages of DOOM you could be wielding a fully upgraded Mobile Turret which can do 660 damage-per-seconds, go through multiple targets, and never overheat (fully upgraded Mobile Turret modification). While also having two chances to come back after death (upgraded Saving Throw rune), be facing enemies that can drop ammunition for your BFG (upgraded Ammo Boost rune), and be able to fire your standard weapon for free if you have over 75 armour (upgraded Rich Get Richer rune). All while taking reduced environmental damage (Hazard Protection suit upgrade), and gaining a full health refill every time you activate a power-up (Healing Power suit upgrade).

The very heart of DOOM is movement and weapons, and though the hunt for secrets can feel slow and incidental doing so will directly improve your combat abilities in dramatic ways.

Design By Example: Intelligence Dossiers in Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol is fictionally a game about being an intelligence operative, a spy. Separate from the aesthetic trappings culturally associated with espionage, the way in which it deals with information itself reinforces this theme of intelligence gathering and exploitation.

In-game fictional collectibles are not uncommon. From books to audio logs, these often exist to provide context, or to help with specific puzzles. An audio log in one level can detail the code to a locked door or foreshadow an ominous plot reveal in several hours’ time; they are either explicitly useful or narrative colour, occasionally both.

Events in Alpha Protocol can play out differently depending on your actions and your relationship with particular characters; knowing how to placate or off-balance others is an important skill.
Events in Alpha Protocol can play out differently depending on your actions and your relationship with particular characters; knowing how to placate or off-balance others is an important skill.

In Alpha Protocol one of the resources you can collect are Intelligence Dossiers. Obtained either by talking to other characters or finding them in the world, each Dossier unlocks additional information on a particular individual or organisation. This information is presented in the game as contextual narrative: descriptions of characters, their history and relationships. Where these Dossiers differ from similar collectible information in other games is in the influence they can have upon your actions. A particular character’s Dossier will rarely state explicitly how they prefer to be spoken to, though by reading between the lines you can ascertain their likely reactions to a given approach.

Organisations that you can find yourself in conflict with over the course of Alpha Protocol are differentiated by their clothing, weapons, and tactics. All of these things can be learnt from their Dossier, allowing you to identify potential enemies and friends through observation. With this knowledge you can determine their likely allegiances and goals, and the most beneficial way in which to interact with them. Even if you chose to always take the same approach to each situation knowing how particular individuals and organisations are liable to react can allow you to prepare for the consequences of your actions.

Dossiers can give you intelligence on the appearance and tactics of a given organisation allowing you to plan your interactions with them, or react to their sudden appearance.
Dossiers can give you intelligence on the appearance and tactics of an organisation, allowing you to plan your interactions with them, or react to their sudden appearance.

The decision to search a room or hack a computer is one that occurs at the moment-to-moment level, though because of the information you can obtain these low-level choices can have a substantial impact on your high-level plans. Choosing to explore an area and hack a computer hidden in the basement might provide you with the specific piece of intelligence you need avoid getting into a gunfight with somebody several hours later; you now know exactly what to say, or what not to say.

Intelligence Dossiers in Alpha Protocol are beneficial not simply as collectibles but for the increased options they provide. In Alpha Protocol “intelligence gathering” is more than a fictional justification for your actions, intelligence itself is one of the most useful and valuable resources you can obtain.