The Yu-Gi-Oh! Neuron app dropped a week ago, taking all of us by surprise. We knew it was coming, but with so much of the gaming world moving at a snail's pace right now due to COVID-19, nobody was expecting Neuron to just appear out of nowhere in app stores worldwide.
Yu-Gi-Oh players are a pretty skeptical bunch: if a new deck's coming up, we test the hell out of it before investing; if an incoming card gets a lot of hype, many of us hold off until it's proven; and if we ARE ready to commit to something new, we brace for potential short prints. Yu-Gi-Oh's a rollercoaster, and as a playerbase we're pretty tough to impress.
But Neuron got a great reaction. Maybe it's COVID-19 softening us up, maybe it's that Konami's been knocking it out of the park this year with releases, or maybe we all see the potential for what Neuron could become. Whatever the cause, people love this thing. It's got some bugs, sure, but Neuron answers a lot of asks that many of us considered pipedreams. And while it looks good, feels good, and has all the trappings of a finished end product, it's clear that Neuron could grow into something even bigger.
Everybody had their takes on Neuron the past week, and with so much going on, both in the app and in the conversations surrounding it, I wanted to see what some of our creators thought about the app; both where it is now, and where it could be headed We tapped Infinite writers Kelly Locke, Loukas Peterson and Zach Butler, plus long-time contributor and Yugitube mainstay Doug "dzeeff" Zeeff, and Paul McGee from the Team APS Youtube channel to get their thoughts on five topics.
And we didn't pull any punches.
Let's not mess around: some users had no issues booting up Neuron for the first time, while others reported stuff like login issues, mid-game crashes, and even the entire thing switching languages. Neuron's a big, ambitious bundle, so it was bound to have a few bugs right out of the gates. The first question we posed to our contributors was an obvious one: had they run into any problems or complaints with the app so far?
There was one topic that almost everyone commented on. Paul started us off.
PM (Paul McGee): "Neuron's been a very smooth experience for me so far, but I have found occasional hiccups and issues. The first is that the app sometimes prompts me to connect my Konami ID again, as if I'm opening it for the first time, despite already being connected."
Brief problems logging in were the most common complaint we saw users talking about in the wake of the app's launch, but in most cases just restarting seemed to fix them, and the problems weren't recurring.
PM: "I've also had instances of the app resetting Life Points whenever I switch to another app and back again. In those cases, it wasn't that I ever closed the app, but that it just didn't keep the data. However, it's only happened twice before. In all of my other cases, it's been perfectly functional."
That one seems a bit rougher, and hopefully it's not as common.
PM: "I did experience an occasional false connection problem too, with the app just failing to connect and prompting me to retry, despite my internet connection being fine otherwise. I want to emphasize that these aren't really issues within the app itself, but more like external things. Once you're in, I haven't had problems."
ZB (Zachariah Butler): "The only real 'issue' I've found is that the 'share' feature's currently buggy, so instead of sharing a decklist automatically I've had to take screenshots. That's not the largest issue, but it's something that could definitely be improved on in the future."
Some members of our roundtable didn't run into technical problems at all. But most of them did zero in on one big concern, and it wasn't actually a bug in the app's code. Instead, it had to do with the deeper user experience. Zach continued…
ZB: "Sometimes using the deck search feature isn't the most intuitive. I haven't found a way to separate TCG and OCG decks yet so that could be improved on with regards to ease of use."
A lot of our roundtable shared that sentiment.
KL (Kelly Locke): "Neuron has a lot of great features that are missing important options, or are a lot less useful than they could be. For example, the deck search function gives you a quick resource to get an at-a-glance view of community decks, but it's missing a filter to distinguish between OCG and TCG builds."
DZ (Doug Zeeff): "There isn't a way to see only TCG deck lists. At the moment when you look through the deck search you'll see decks from TCG and OCG Forbidden & Limited Lists. A lot of the time you can tell which game the deck is for based on the language used for the name, but that's not always the case. I'd love to see this updated so I can find TCG deck lists easier!"
PM: "The deck builder allows users to see decklists from other players, and it's a huge deal that Konami's finally offering an 'official' way of doing that, but I noticed that OCG cards create a bit of a problem. If a decklist from another user contains OCG cards, they simply appear as blank, with no text or image. For newer players who are unaware, that might seem confusing. I'm honestly surprised Konami would even allow them to be seen at all, given the company's traditional separation of the two regions."
It's tough to tell how quickly the TCG versus OCG issue could be resolved. It's possible that letting the deck search feature highlight decks from both games was purposeful, ensuring that the deck search wouldn't be empty at rollout. In that case it may be as simple as flipping a switch in a couple of weeks as the deck builder picks up steam with the TCG audience.
On the other hand, it could have more to do with deep structural issues in how Neuron works. In that case it may be a while before we see a fix. Regardless, with the deck search function standing front and center for so many Neuron users, the dev team's probably aware of the difficulties caused by the mixing of TCG and OCG decks. It's a glaring issue keeping players from getting the information they want, that Neuron's designed to give them.
People like it! The Neuron deck builder's easier to use than most of us expected, and it really goes the extra mile with additional features. While deck builder websites are plentiful in Magic, the choices are almost nonexistent in Yu-Gi-Oh; when TCGplayer closed its public-facing deck builder years ago it disappointed a lot of players. (We still get people asking when it's coming back – don't worry, we hear you!) Most competitors get pretty invested in their decks, so the chance to create a unique strategy and then show it off on a global basis is huge.
We asked our roundtable three questions: is the Neuron deck builder practical? If not, what does it need. And how's the card scanning utility?
DZ: "I think the deck builder's practical, yes!"
KL: "It takes very little effort to put together a deck list whether you're using the text or camera search, and the 'related cards' function lets you quickly find all of the cards in a particular theme. For a portable non-text deck list I don't know if you can find a better alternative."
PM: "I've found the deck builder to be pretty easy to work with. It's been very responsive and intuitive."
LP: "It's practical and it's easy to search for cards, but I'm a dinosaur when it comes to technology. I like having decklists in my pocket as reference material, but I don't like searching and typing with my thumbs. So for anyone that, well, likes using their phone, it's more than adequate. Way better than writing everything down in a notepad app."
Nobody really had suggestions for additions to the deck builder, but most of the feedback from our roundtable revolved around one of the app's most popular, and surprising features: test hands.
ZB: "Being able to run through hundreds of opening hands instantly is great."
DZ: "I especially enjoy the test hand function. When events start up again I definitely see myself drawing test hands while waiting for a flight, when I don't want to get all of my physical cards out."
KL: "I love that you can test hands and check your next draw, and I think the ultimate goal is to have a fully simulated space to play out card effects and run through combos from your phone. I think it's great for testing when you're on the go, or for quickly prototyping builds."
If players were immediately skeptical of any one feature in the app, it was definitely the card scanner. It's integrated into the deck builder, so in an ideal world you'd scan every card in your deck and generate your full list in seconds. Our roundtable had some thoughts, and some tips to get the most out of it.
PM: "Card scanning was surprisingly accurate for me, assuming good lighting. The app can scan multiple cards in one frame, which I know a lot of players will like, but that does make it less reliable. I suspect it's just because there's less resolution per card to work with, so that's not too much of a shock."
ZB: "The card scanning utility's not the best, with a lot of reported issues with card recognition. That said, overall I think it's a great add for both tournament play, looking up translations easily, and deck building, since you can simply scan the card you're looking to enter without having to type up a ridiculously long card name like 'Endymion, the Mighty Master of Magic'."
DZ: "The scanner works perfectly almost every time, except with Ghost Rares. I believe [Neuron] scans the card artwork to help determine what card it is, so Ghost Rares give it a lot of trouble. Other than that though it's been good! I uploaded an entire Main, Extra, and Side Deck and the only card it had trouble with was an Ultimate Rare Solemn Strike. Depending on the lighting the foil on that card hides a lot of the artwork, so I'd imagine it had trouble for the same reason Ghost Rares can be difficult."
DZ: "I think that with Ultimate Rares it's important to scan them at the right angle in the right lighting so the scanner can see the card's artwork, but I'm not sure there's a good workaround for Ghost Rares right now."
Overall the card scanner's a lot stronger than expected. The problems with identifying Ultimate Rare and Ghost Rare cards is real, but not knowing precisely how Neuron recognizes cards it's tough to see how the developers might be able to fix that. As it stands though, Ultimates and Ghosts are usually a fraction of any decklist. The card scanner isn't perfect, but it does save you a lot of time.
Until now, official tournament protocols have been very clear, and very firm about the use of calculators to keep Life Points: you're not supposed to. Tournament players have been discouraged from relying on calculators for over a decade, and told to keep a full record of Life Point changes with pen and paper.
There are a lot of different reasons for that. Since most calculators don't allow for historic review, a written record allows for accurate backtracking if a judge needs to weigh in on a conflict or rewind your game. In addition, the integrity of a calculator with a review function could never be assured. And even if it could? Calculators just die sometimes. A simple battery failure could wipe out not just your log, but your current Life Points as well.
I've seen it happen in Championships. It's really dumb.
Phone calculators bring in another host of issues with concerns of shady text messages, pranks from friends and so on. There are so many problems with electronic record keeping that it was tough to tell where Neuron was going to fit into tournament play, if anywhere.
But once Neuron dropped, the official website immediately started touting it as "Supported at official Yu-Gi-Oh! tournaments." That's led to a lot of questions, and it's not clear what that means long term. As of this writing the most recent addendum to KDE Europe's policy docs includes the following new provision:
You may use your Smartphone at Tier 1 events with the understanding that you will use it ONLY for the purpose of:
-Life Point Tracking
-Use of Card Database to check card text
As a refresher, Tier 1s are OTS level events, chiefly local tournaments, and right now this policy only applies in territories administered by KDE Europe. Neuron isn't even officially named in the policy docs yet, so everybody's just sort of inferring. Still, there appears to be groundwork laid for higher level use, and that raises our next question: how do people feel about that? We asked our roundtable if they think Neuron will be used at bigger events, and if that would raise any concerns. That question drew a wide range of responses.
DZ: "I think it's cool! I know lots of players like to use dueling calculator apps for their casual duels so it'll be nice to see an official option. Using the scanner at tournaments will help out with translating cards in different languages, too! It'll be difficult separating veteran players from their TI-84 calculators and calculator cases, but I think the average player will enjoy using the app during official duels."
KL: "I'm not at all concerned about the usage of the calculator app, especially since it has a log for tracking changes. I think we'll see more widespread adoption by players who rarely attend tournaments beyond the local level, but I imagine most dedicated YCS and Regional players will stick to pen and paper for recording Life Point totals in serious duels. I personally wouldn't use it outside of local events because I'd be worried about the drain on my phone battery."
LP: "At first, I had some hesitation that it could lead to foul play, but honestly I don't see it being a problem if the phone's set up between the duelists for the duration of the match. Squarely in the middle, there isn't much room for any malfeasance.
LP: "Personally, I've seen enough pens explode in backpacks and bad handwriting abound to know an officially supported app will be preferred to the old fashioned way. Sure, people can misclick on the calculator just as easily as someone could do math wrong on paper, but with the Life Point log feature, Neuron should eliminate more problems than it makes."
PM: "I'm honestly mixed. Given my experiences with tournaments, I actually don't think I want Neuron to be an option. I know that sounds extreme, but it's just not quite reliable enough. Pen and paper will always be the most trusted way to go. It shows every step of the action, it's easily traced and backtracked, and it makes cheating or mistakes much easier to contain."
PM: "Neuron does offer a log, which is nice, but I could still see scenarios where it causes problems. What if the app crashes? Or a phone battery just dies mid-match? Or maybe somebody accidentally hits reset? Heck, I even think the music and sound effects (which are awesome features on their own) could be a big distraction, especially if everyone's using them. Sure, players would probably just be required to mute them, but at that point we'd have restrictions in place that make this Life Point tracker app no different than the competition."
One of the biggest concerns was how Neuron could wind up butting heads with other basic functions of the phone running it. Doug and Zach both chimed in on that.
DZ: "My main concern is that you can receive messages on your phone while the application's active. I know right now there's a policy in place for EU locals where they're allowed to use their phone at Tier 1 events if they only use it for Life Points and the Card Database, but I'm curious how strictly messages will be enforced at larger tournaments."
ZB: "I think if Konami can update the app to automatically block incoming text messages, or social media messages, it would be fine. Otherwise, I'm firmly against players being allowed to have access to their cell phones during games. Asking players to use the airplane mode on all devices is a hard thing to ask, and enforce, since the staff would have to go around looking at everyone's phone which is a huge time sink and would delay tournaments too much. I think for a Tier 1 event it's great, but Tier 2 or Tier 3 it shouldn't be able to be used without significant oversight and changes."
PM: "I'll say this: it's a perfect app to use casually. My friends and I have been having a lot of fun with it that way. And I feel like it would work well at locals, where the level and intensity of competition is just lower on average. But I just don't see any way for this to be a reliable tool at a regional or YCS event. One mishap could throw everything off and create some very negative experiences."
The logistics keeping Neuron out of higher level tournaments operate on a lot of levels, which makes them tough to tackle. For now, it's difficult to imagine the calculator function in a form where it wouldn't threaten tournament integrity. But it's actually pretty easy to see a compromise in future tournament policies to allow stuff like the database reference. Players are still cautious of future possibilities here, for good reason, but some features may scale up pretty quickly.
For an app that everyone sort of guessed to be a calculator and not much else, Neuron was packed full of surprises. Heck, even the way it released was a bit of a bombshell; Neuron basically dropped out of the sky, with the app's global release hitting most platforms nearly an hour before the press release announcing it.
So I wanted to know – did anything about Neuron surprise our roundtable?
PM: "The most surprising part of the app for me was just the sheer polish. I love that when Konami makes an app, they really do go all out in terms of making it look and run well. Having the live, animated background and clean, techno aesthetic gives it character compared to all the Life Point tracker alternatives, and it feels reminiscent of Duel Links, which also has a very modern, polished look."
PM: "I was also very shocked at how quickly the app released here in TCG regions. I expected to be waiting at least a full year after the release in Japan, but we got it much sooner and I appreciate that. It's really a shame that we don't have tournaments right now. It'd be the perfect stage to put this app to the test. Still, I'm seeing players excited and using it already so the impact's still there."
DZ: "I'm surprised by how fast we got it. I know Neuron's been out in the OCG for a little while but I thought we wouldn't see it in the TCG until the end of 2020 or early 2021."
LP: "By far the biggest surprise was its authorized use at official tournaments. The app was made to support the player base, yes, but integrating the app into organized play makes the experience in general better. Simply put, the fact that something like this even exists is a surprise, and a welcome one."
ZB: "The duel log and calculator log features pleasantly surprised me. As someone who uses paper and pen almost exclusively, it always gives me pause when I see a player use a calculator and not paper. Being able to see each change to Life Points is a great addition for both players and judge staff. I also like the UI, it's simple and clear which is a great thing when the app's geared towards tournament play.
KL: "The duel log feature's also incredibly surprising [since it can keep records of so many games at once]. It's very handy for keeping track of your matches during a longer tournament so you can compile your thoughts into a report later. It keeps track of your Life Point changes automatically, so you can even look back after the fact and recall the exact changes that were made to each player."
ZB: "The part that surprised me the most was being able to draw hands in the deck making section. That was a feature I wasn't expecting at all, so when I saw it, I immediately took notice"
KL: "I'm actually shocked that they had the foresight to include a test hand feature. With so many decks available to check out–and no rating system to curate them – a test hand is the best way to get a quick sense of whether a deck's actually well crafted or worth building. It's easily one of the most important features for any deck list database."
All in all, Neuron feels a lot more ambitious than most of us expected. The app came packed with lots of features and a slick UI, so despite a few bugs it feels like a really thorough package. That all said it's just the beginning, so our last question rested on…
The state of Neuron today is pretty impressive. But the biggest point of conversation in many circles, and really the most exciting thing about the app, is where it could go in years to come. And time and time again, we've seen one big hope from players: more tournament integration.
PM: "I think Neuron will become more and more useful over time through updates. My brain's already buzzing with possibilities. The biggest for me would be tying Neuron directly to tournament registration. I'd love to be able to submit my decklist and, given security measures, even make payment through the app instead of waiting in line at an event. Heck, imagine being able to check rankings or the now-defunct UDS points, just with the app. Right now we can only store our COSSY ID on Neuron, which is nice, but it could be much more helpful.
ZB: "I could see it becoming even more popular as time goes on. Hopefully within a year they can begin to include a feature to submit decklists virtually, or via a QR scan? That'd be a great addition for players and would also cut back on the need for so many pre-reg staff on Fridays before a YCS. I'd also love to be able to look up pairings via the app and a QR scan or URL provided by staff at events. If there's enough interest and follow up, I could see the app becoming a core part of competitive play in the future. Neuron just requires some serious work for it to get to that point."
LP: "While it may not have all the features right now, I see the app experience being more comprehensive as time goes on. If duelists could register for tournaments, check pairings, and submit decklists all from the app, the whole tournament process would be almost seamless. If the app likewise gets player to player interaction as well as desktop integration, what's left to do - holographic projections?"
Tournament registration and round to round support is a popular ask, but some members of the roundtable did see other opportunities for growth. Neuron also has the potential to become a powerful tool for communication if the developers decide to take it in that direction, and many players are eager to see its simulations expanded. Kelly shared some ideas.
KL: "I think Neuron could become the mobile news hub for the physical TCG and a powerful tournament assistant for competitors. I think we'll see a line-up of product news, upcoming releases, event details, and strategy content from Konami begin to populate the app's news section. I think we're all looking forward to the day when Konami launches an official duel simulator for Master Duels, and Neuron might begin to lay down the groundwork for a mobile version of that simulator."
DZ: "It's difficult to say. Realistically, I'm not sure how much can be added to the app other than updating it when new cards are released. I don't think Yu-Gi-Oh! Neuron will ever have a simulator, so its success relies on how much people enjoy the calculator and deck builder. I've seen a lot of hype for both of those things from the community so far, though, so it seems like people are interested in using it!"
Yu-Gi-Oh! Neuron's one of the most exciting things to happen to the game in recent years, but its viability will depend on frequent updates to keep it growing. If this is it, it may be relegated to the role of a fancy calculator and novelty deck sharing platform. And that would be fine. But if the powers that be double down, it could become so much more.
The sky's the limit for what this thing could do, and what it could come to mean for the player community. Keep an eye out for another article next week, because I'm going to go hard exploring what the future may hold for Yu-Gi-Oh! Neuron.