Saturday, March 31, 2012

League of Legends: Better!

My ranked team has inflated our numbers up to 9 people which has caused us to play a lot of ranked games in recent days. I've found myself playing Nasus a fair amount of the time (one of our team set-ups has Yi jungling so we have no one tanky; other times they're playing champions Nasus fares well against) and have had some bad games but some very good games. It's felt like my Q has gotten to extreme values lately and I wanted to compare to the numbers the last couple times I posted to see if things are actually better...

After 20 minutes
Nov - 94 creep kills, +189 on Q
Jan - 123 creep kills, +237 on Q
Mar - 137 creep kills, +300 on Q
pro - ~150 creep kills, +~300 on Q

An even +300 on Q in the first game I looked at! (I looked a few more afterward and they were more around 230-270.) Goal achieved! My ability to focus on last hitting in general and with Nasus' Q in particular has risen to the point where I'm comparable to the pro we looked at oh so long ago. Of course he managed to put up those numbers while getting several player kills and not dying stupidly so he's still way better than I am...

Even when I'm not playing Nasus my creep kills have been up a lot recently. We had a game on Friday where Snuggles pointed out I'd made more money alone than the two top players on the other team combined! (I had the most CS in the game (157 at the 24:44 mark when they surrendered) and was 12/1/4 as Akali.)

But it's not all sunshine and roses. There have been obvious frustrations in the voices of some teammates at me in some of our losses. The reason, I assume, is that I get ganked a lot. It really feels like no matter who I'm playing as if the other team bothers to try to gank me I will die. I get so focused on killing minions that I ignore any sort of map awareness and explode if the come at me. I even tried putting wards down in the last few games I've played and they've pretty much just served to cost me money. I don't notice when the jungler gets to the ward in time. Or they take a different path entirely and avoid the ward. I'm frequently pushed up in lane which makes it easier to get ganked... Definitely something I need to work on next!

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

I'd been doing a lot of reading on the bus recently but having polished off the Ender's game series and the Hunger Games series it was time for another change. Nintendo recently gave me 10 VBA games through the 3DS virtual store (because I was an early adopter and they reduced the price a couple months after release) so I thought I'd play around with those. One of them was a Zelda game I hadn't heard of and I figured I'd give it a spin.

It feels a lot like a Zelda game. It's a straight port so it doesn't make use of the extra buttons or touch screen on the 3DS which is a little annoying (I have to enter the menu way too frequently to change items) but can be dealt with. I've already met Zelda (she is apparently the main character's best friend as opposed to just a strange princess), I've found my annoying sidekick (a talking hat), I've cleared out a dungeon, and acquired a cool item. It feels a lot like a Zelda game.

I've also gotten hopelessly stuck. I feel like I was told precisely where to go early one morning and have since forgotten what it was. (I'm not exactly awake on the bus in the morning.) I've wandered to every NPC I can find to talk to them but none of them are willing to let me know precisely what I need to do. My hat tells me I need to visit some blacksmith in the hills but I don't know where the hills are. The hat won't tell me. The map doesn't tell me. I've wandered completely around the world that I can currently access with no luck. I did recently acquire bombs so it's entirely possible that there's something I can blow up that I haven't thought to attack. Also I've uncovered some musical panels which which I can't find a way to interact.

I've spent 2 days stuck at this point (I've cleared out some side quests in the meantime) and am at the point of giving up. I can quit the game or I can turn to the internets for help. I'm leaning towards the internets but I hate looking up what to do in puzzly games since it really feels like cheating.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Theatrhythm Localization!

Four months ago I posted about a new Final Fantasy game I'd read about: Theatrhythm. The idea of the game is that you tap the 3DS screen (ala Elite Beat Agents) in rhythm to music from the Final Fantasy series. It looked absolutely amazing but was only scheduled for release in Japan. I'd searched around a bit at the time to see if I could find info about a potential US release but there was nothing. What I did find were a lot of critics and reviews on various gaming websites which were all neutral to negative. The comments on those reviews were even worse. A lot of people really, really hate the idea. Mostly they seemed bitter than FFXIII didn't meet their expectations and felt like Square-Enix was wrecking the series and just trying to milk people for extra money while having no good ideas. Things were even worse when it turned out to be the first DS game with downloadable content that you had to pay for.

And then the game came out in Japan and blew all the critics away. Apparently people lined up at stores in Japan to get their copies and many stores sold out on the first weekend. It's been out barely more than a month and only in Japan and is already the 48th most sold 3DS game. By pretty much any metric it was a success. I had high hopes that it might still get ported...

Then Andrew pointed out to me yesterday that they'd announced localizations! No exact date yet, but it will be out sometime this summer. I find it pretty unlikely I'll be at the end of my marathon by then... I don't think I'll care! Final Fantasy music is too awesome to delay.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Final Fantasy Concert

Today was a great day for discovering things about Final Fantasy music. I stumbled across two amazing discoveries but one of them is relatively time sensitive so that's what today's post is about. The other one will wait until tomorrow...

Distant Worlds is a series of Final Fantasy music concerts that have been going on since 2007. I don't know how they choose orchestras to do the performances but it looks like it changes based on location. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony did a show a month ago in Waterloo that I was tempted to travel to attend but I got apathetic and didn't get around to it. I found out today that they're doing a second show, in Toronto, this weekend. Even better, they've managed to get Nobuo Uematsu to come along, likely to play keyboards for some FFVI songs. That's insane! Nobuo is the composer for almost all of the music for almost all of the core Final Fantasy games. He's awesome and I now have to go.

There are still around 600 tickets available on Ticketmaster so I figure there's still a bit of time. I'll likely be buying a ticket tomorrow night. Does anyone else want to shell out ~$100 to go to an awesome concert?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

AD Kennen?

I played a couple of games yesterday where I first picked Kennen and then my team went crazy and refused to take anyone capable of going AD bot. AD Kennen had been used at IEM Kiev so I knew it was feasible and I'd wanted to give it a try. So two games in a row I was AD Kennen and we got blown out both games, but I don't think it was because I was AD Kennen. Both games the idiots who refused to pick a ranged carry fed the other team. One of the games Ryze was 11/0 and we lost our top inhibitor before we'd lost anything bot. But it did give me a chance to get a feel for it and it felt quite reasonable.

I look at his abilities and I see a lot of similarities with Tristana. They both have one ability that scales directly with attack damage and then a bunch of abilities that provide utility and scale with AP. Tristana has a jump, Kennen has a run fast. Tristana has a dot, Kennen has a nuke. Tristana has an AE knockback. Kennen has an AE stun. Tristana eventually gets longer range, Kennen has lots of stuns. I could maybe see the argument that they should both be AD, or both be AP. But that people seem convinced that one can only be AD and the other can only be AP seems a little odd.

Here's the thing... AP Kennen is pretty strong and probably better than AD Kennen. AD Tristana is pretty strong and probably better than AP Tristana. But the comparison should be between AD Kennen and other ADs. It should be between AP Tristana and other APs. And I think that comparison actually works out reasonably for AD Kennen. Having every 5th attack do an extra 80% damage is pretty strong when you have a lot of AD items. He has a lot of stuns in order to live long enough to farm up and to be a good part of team fights.

I donno. I think I'm going to try him again at some point and see if it doesn't work out in the late game when the rest of my team isn't incompetent!

Monday, March 26, 2012

What Is Gambling?

Something I've been mulling over for a while is "what counts as 'gambling'?". Does the level of skill matter? The level of randomness? The stakes? The expected return?

When I think of things that are certainly in the gambling category I think about the lottery. There's no skill in playing the lottery. There's an entry fee and the house takes a guaranteed cut. Buying a lottery ticket is a terrible idea from an expected value standpoint but every now and then someone does get very lucky and hit big. I buy a ticket every few months because I like to daydream about being rich enough to quit my job and having a ticket helps bring power to those daydreams. But every time I do I know I'm just pissing money away.

Roulette is the exact same thing. No matter what anyone with a 'system' may tell you there's no way to beat roulette. If you sit and play roulette long enough there will be only one winner: the casino. Some people will get lucky and swing into the positive realm but it isn't sustainable.

Bingo scratch cards are the same as well. What about actual bingo? It's impossible to be a great bingo player but you can be bad. If you're too distracted to stamp some of the numbers your odds of winning will plummet. Find a room with enough suitably distracted people and I suppose it's possible for the normal dude to realistically make money... Is he still gambling? Does it matter that the circumstances are hard to set up?

Along that vein, what about playing Barbu for money? I played a fair amount of money Bu in University (the stakes were practically peanuts but when you're a starving student peanuts can taste pretty good) and I won way more than I lost. It may be illusory superiority speaking again but I'd like to think I was really good at the game and certainly in terms of all the people who played in the Lounge if we'd been playing for real stakes I'm sure I could have made a living at it. Barbu has a lot of randomness (it is a card game, after all) but it also has a lot of skill. If you can be good enough to win most of the time does it stop being gambling? Is it possible for a game to be gambling for most of the players and not gambling for one of them?

On another line entirely, what about McDonald's Monopoly? You're getting tokens for buying food you'd be buying anyway. There's no cost at all to play and you might win a lot of cash. (Realistically although they don't charge extra for the tokens they expect more people will go to the restaurant and buy the specific things with tokens on them, like large pops. So while there isn't really an entry fee... They're not being charitable!) But it's all luck. Is this gambling?

How about playing Diablo III? After you buy the game there's no cost to keep playing. You can sell items to other players for real cash so it's possible that you'll kill some boss and get a rare and valuable item. Is getting the item gambling? Is killing the boss? Is playing at all? It feels a lot like McDonald's Monopoly in that you can just be doing what you'd normally be doing (eating a Big Mac, playing a game) and suddenly you win some money.

Does it matter that playing and gearing optimally will increase your odds of getting fat loots? One could argue that investing more time into eating Big Macs is comparable to playing more Diablo 3. I'd certainly like to think video game skill is more meaningful than Big Mac eating skill but is there actually a difference between the two? Even if there isn't, is either one gambling?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

MLG Columbus Conclusion

The last game has been played and we have a winner! MarineKingPrime followed up his win at the winter arena with a win at the winter championships in Columbus. He didn't lose a match this weekend with an 8-0 overall record. (Having a bye into the pool play and then not losing in the double elimination bracket means not playing very many matches!)

The events had a pretty wide split in terms of winning nations:

StarCraft II - South Korea
Halo:Reach - USA
King of Fighters XIII - Mexico
Soul Calibur V - France
Mortal Kombat - USA

I was happy to see Johnny Cage get played in a MK match. He still has the crotch punch!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fighter Demographics

There tend to be long delays in the SC2 coverage between games at MLG events. It takes a few minutes to set up the next game in a match and between matches it takes even longer to get the casters into the next match. Normally I'd just flip to another SC2 stream but this weekend I've been checking out the fighter games which seem to have absolutely no downtown between games and a low amount between matches. As such I've caught a bit of talking about the fighting communities but not all that much...

One interesting thing I heard was that a bunch of players flew in from Thailand to play in the King of Fighters tournament. The casters mentioned this because no one had any clue what kind of players these guys were because they didn't stream their games on the internet so no one had seen them play. I watched one of these guys lose near the end of the losers bracket which I believe put him 5th place for a $1000 prize. Pretty sweet, but I looked at the price of a flight from Thailand to Columbus and it's a lot closer to 2k than 1k. And I believe the top 4 (which has not yet been played out) are all from the US. But I figured there were still two other fighting games to go so maybe those guys would be able to make more of that money back in those.

I've watched three matches of Soul Calibur today (I used to play a little of previous versions in the arcade so at least I have some understanding about what's going on) and was really surprised by the demographics of the people playing. 5 of those 6 players were African American and the 6th was an Asian woman. I've watched a lot of SC2 events in the last year and I'm struggling to remember ever seeing anyone who wasn't a Caucasian or Asian (mostly Korean) male. There was one Caucasian female in the open bracket of an MLG event last year but she didn't do terribly well. Obviously the Soul Calibur sample size is really small compare to the StarCraft one but it's still really a stark contrast.

Even looking at the crowds for the SC2 event (there don't seem to be anyone watching the fighters at the event) it's overwhelmingly male. It's almost exclusively Caucasian/Asian. 42% of video game players are female so it has to be something about the culture of an event or of SC2 in general that's keeping the women away. I don't have any ideas or answers here. Just sad observations.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lack of Gaming Desire

Recently I haven't actually played a lot of games. I have games I want to play but I can't find the motivation to actually play them. Other than a few games of League of Legends each night I haven't really played anything in a while. I have been re-reading some pretty good books, though, which have Game in the name at least... (Ender's Game series and Hunger Games series)

I used to look forward to the weekend as a time to play a ton of games. Now? I just want to sleep in. This weekend I also want to watch a lot of streamed games from the MLG Columbus event. In StarCraft II I'm going to keep rooting for the guys I cheered for at the winter arena... Huk, MarineKing, and Idra. Huk and MarineKing are already 3-0 in their pools and will only need to defeat the two people from the open bracket tomorrow to make it to the top 6. Idra is in the open bracket and has yet to play a game since he has 4 byes by virtue of playing in the winter arena. One interesting name, who is hopefully going to be Idra's first match, is TheLittleOne. I thought he'd retired from professional play but it seems he came out to this event. He was my favourite player in the beta since he played random! He doesn't play random anymore (looks like he's playing Zerg today) but he still seemed like a pretty cool dude. I hope he does well.

I've also watched a surprising number of King of Fighters games. It turns out there's just a ton of action in the fighting games! They were playing 3v3 matches and you played a best 3 out of 5 overall so there's a lot of fights per match. I don't know anything about the game or any of the characters but it was still pretty interesting to watch. I'm looking forward to Mortal Kombat tomorrow even though I doubt the game resembles the one I used to play on the SNES way back in the day. I hope Johnny Cage is still in the game and still has a crotch punch!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Star Wars The Old Republic: Free Pass

Personally I stopped playing Star Wars: The Old Republic a couple weeks after I started playing it. The game was actually pretty interesting but ultimately I decided I was burned out on the 'run around between quest hubs' style of game. Especially the running part. But some of you might not be so burned out on running around and might want to give the game a shot since it did feel reasonably slick...

They're apparently running a free weekend deal where anyone who doesn't have an account can sign up and play for free this weekend. I seem to recall it took years for World of Warcraft to start giving away free trial accounts so I'm not sure what that bodes for SW:TOR. Maybe it means free trials are just great deals? It doesn't cost them much to offer (they have to build the web pages and such but each individual account has no marginal cost) and it might get some people to actually buy the game after the trial. It certainly feels like a great way for people who are playing to try to snare some of their friends into playing as well.

Maybe it's worth checking out? The download is pretty substantial but it could be worth checking out if you haven't yet. Free is a decent price!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Few Acres of Snow: Deck Manipulation

We've covered most of the mechanics of A Few Acres of Snow thus far. All the ways of scoring points. All the ways of ending the game. There are a few cards available for purchase that don't help expand, develop, ambush, or raid. They don't help on defense. They don't really do anything concrete in terms of winning the game... But they're often critical in building a plan for the game. These three cards are key when it comes to manipulating the size of your deck and the cards you draw...

Home Support - Ancestral Recall is possibly the most powerful of the truly broken old school Magic cards. Drawing three cards in one card has always held a lot of appeal for me as a result in pretty much every game I've played since then. It certainly deserves a closer look. In Campaign Manager 2008 it's one of the keys to the truly abusive 'infinite' deck strategy. In Netrunner it was merely a decent card. In Netrunner you could always spend an action to draw a card and only got 4 actions per turn. Spending an action and a card for 3 cards is better than spending an action for 1 card but it wasn't overpowered. In AFAoS the home support card has the added bonus of not even taking one of your two actions! But on the other side of things you always fill your hand back up to 5 cards at the end of the turn. There are no other ways to draw cards so the best you can expect is to have a 7 card hand on your turn instead of a 5 card hand. But then if you spend 3 cards on your turn you'll only draw 1 card at the end of your turn in stead of 3. You net 2 cards right away but end up down 2 cards at the end of the turn. Since it didn't cost you an action and might give you more options that's still ok. Even better you might be able to spend more than 3 cards in your 2 actions and truly gain as a result. The French in particular want to set up a huge trader and home support can do that. It can also backfire when you end up with 7 cards without a trader and are stuck with bad actions while you try to get below a 5 card hand to draw more cards...

There's another thing to keep in mind with home support which is that the card got substantially nerfed with the version 2 rules changes. You can only reshuffle your discard pile into your deck at the end of your turn so if you only have two cards left in your deck when you play home support you only get those two cards. If you have no cards at all you can't even play it on Yucata. (It is unclear to me if that is the way it should work or not. I like the idea of being able to discard it for no action cost.) This makes home support worse if you happen to shuffle it to the bottom of your deck. You can't both get the full 3 cards out of it and reshuffle it into your deck to play it next time through. Probably you're better off just holding it until the reshuffle happens but even then you're playing your current turn with a completely dead card. Drawing it with no cards left in your deck is painful because there's no way to get around only have a 4 card hand for the turn.

Home support actually has an interesting use in a 5 card deck. It means you can buy a military card (going up to a 6 card deck) and be guaranteed to draw the military card on your next turn. (Assuming you play a card and therefore have to reshuffle at end of turn, anyway.) You'll only have one card left in your deck after drawing at the end of the turn and thanks to pigeonholes that card can't be both the military card and the home support! This is relevant because your opponent can't possibly ambush the military card if it stays in your deck. They now have to risk wasting an action to try to kill it off. And if you have a single blocker in your hand they're stuck with the choice of wasting an action, or spending two actions to kill it, or letting you play the military card next turn. All three of these options are bad for them.

Home support can be very useful in a small deck as well if you're lucky enough to keep drawing it early in the shuffle. Especially for the British who will often have a deck capable of a 6 gold merchant action if they draw up to 7 cards! Burning through your deck faster with home support can also let you redraw your best card more frequently than you 'should' be able to. (Typically if I'm doing this it's so I can keep cycling my rangers card on ambushes/raids/blocks.)

Home support does cost 5 bucks to buy so it's not a given that every deck should have one. It tends to make your draws smoother but sometimes actually makes them worse. That said, I do tend to buy one in almost every game as either side.

Governor - I think this is the single best card in the game. It looks pretty tame on the surface... You have to spend an action to buy it. You have to draw it with your bad cards at the same time. You have to spend actions to use it. And then when all is said and done you're stuck with the governor in your deck and no way to get rid of it beyond discarding it or storing it in your reserve. It does a lot of the same things the chapel does in Dominion and I can remember getting demolished on Brettspielwelt by someone who made a super thin deck with chapel. Then I remember doing the same thing to my friends. Shrinking your deck down to a size where you can guarantee what your hand will be every turn is incredibly powerful. It lets you adapt to your opponent's strategy in a single turn while they have to cycle through their entire deck 3 to 5 cards at a time until they can reshuffle their new strategy into their deck. It's even more powerful in A Few Acres of Snow since you keep the victory points for locations you own even after purging the card from your deck. And since you can build up money and save it over turns you can even get rid of your money engine but keep buying things if it really comes down to it.

I think practically every deck and every strategy wants a governor. The French military strategy is the one exception since it can actually make use of every starting card in their deck as part of their invasion plan. (The only downside is the British with precise play can always repel a French military attack...) Every British strategy needs a governor. If you're going military you have to get Pemaquid and St Mary's out of your deck as soon as possible since they don't make money or attack. If you're trying to expand then you want to purge locations after you use them to move forward. There's no sense having a 20 card deck and needing to draw 1 specific card to keep going when you can have a 10 card deck and need that same 1 card! If you're trying for a raiding plan you end up settling some truly terrible cards... You need Fort Halifax or Kennebec from which to springboard your raids but keeping a literal blank in your deck is horrible. You only want the cube in play to raid from, the card itself is a detriment and you want to purge it.

A flexible French strategy with a lot of expanding also needs a governor. You need your deck to be slim enough that you can plausibly react to the British plan. A few locations need settlers and you only have the one (Quebec) so having a thinner deck means you'll draw it more often. I've toyed with buying the second trader card and just having a huge deck but you end up losing to any sort of focused British strategy when you have a huge deck.

Intendant - This is a French only card. I don't know how I really feel about it. I rarely end up buying it and tend to regret buying it when I do. The biggest problem with it is how much it costs for the regrowth effect. 2 bucks and an action is a huge price to pay! It does have some interesting uses. You can buy a card with your first action and then immediately pick it up with your second. (Only really useful with the military leader or a raid/ambush blocker.) You could have bought a military card in a previous turn (or had a fight just end), pick up your siege artillery, and go to town with it. You can use it to run home support a second time. If the French is trying to end the game with disks it can really help to be able to recycle a settler card. It's even quite feasible to take a new location with your first action and then intendant it up as your second action. Then next turn you're ready to disk a location you didn't even have a cube in the turn before! You could also use it to quickly launch invasions. Win a fight in Pemaquid for example, and you can pick it up with your first action and launch an attack on Boston with your second. Assuming you still have military cards in your hand after winning the first siege...

A lot of those scenarios sound cool and powerful but the reality is they just never seem to come up. I've tried to set one up before only to have intendant be the last card of my deck. I ended up reshuffling the turn I drew it which meant I had intendant in my hand and no cards in my discard pile to pick up. It was terrible! Even if they do come up you need to consider if the tempo gain is actually worth it. Do you really need to invade Boston the turn you took Pemaquid? Unless the opponent is going to end the game with another end game condition you almost certainly have enough time to wait.

I had one game where I was able to home support, intendant it back, home support, and then trader for 12. That was pretty sweet. And then I reshuffled my deck and drew the intendant but not the home support or the trader and had to spend several turns discarding cards and doing nothing. That was less sweet...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Twisted Treeline Monsters

I've been jungling a fair bit on the Twisted Treeline map recently and wanted to see how much the different monsters were worth. Monsters in the jungling on Summoner's Rift are worth more gold and experience as the game goes on and I wanted to know the progression for Twisted Treeline but couldn't find it anywhere. My assumption was that not as many people play that map and therefore it was less likely that someone had bothered to crunch the numbers. Well, I like crunching numbers! So I went into a custom game with an Excel sheet open to jot down some numbers and see if I could work out what was going on...

It turns out the reason there's no information on how monster experience scales on Twisted Treeline is because it doesn't. A few months ago they redid the jungle on Summoner's Rift to make up for the mastery tree changes (in particular that they moved the 5% experience mastery deeper in the utility tree so most junglers couldn't take it anymore) and it looks like they just flat out forgot to change Twisted Treeline. The minions in the lanes scale. The small wraiths scale. But nothing else does. My best guess is that they reused the small wraith and minion objects between the two maps but built different versions of wolves and golems and such for the two maps.

Riot had to buff the experience gained in the jungle after the mastery change in order to bring jungling more in line with a solo lane, and that's after having buffed the experience once when they made the change in the first place. This means that a jungler in TT is at a distinct disadvantage compared to the solo laners on their map. It gets even worse when you consider there's only enough jungle monsters on the map for one person to jungle at all! If both teams are trying to jungle then both junglers will fall behind quickly. I'd noticed this with Warwick. On SR I'll build a manamune first so I never have to go back to base. I can jungle forever and constantly gank and there are enough places to go I can constantly be gaining experience and gold. I don't fall behind and frequently get ahead. On TT I was falling way behind. Any team that bothered going into the jungle would wreck me. I'd started switching to building a wriggle's and not using my mana intensive spell at all. It started working better. In part because wriggle's lets me kill monsters faster which in turn means I get a bigger chunk of the jungle monsters. In part because I'm not good enough to buy wards and wriggle's has one for free. In part because I'm forced back to base when I run out of mana which seems to keep me from getting ganked...

I'm disappointed that Riot continues to run 3v3 ranked games on the map but have clearly not put any effort into balancing the map for the 'new' mastery trees.

Monday, March 19, 2012

League of Legends: Metagame Shifts?

The IEM Facebook page posted a link to an interesting article which looked a little bit about what happened to the League of Legends metagame during the most recent IEM tournament in Hanover. The sample size is pretty small (only 44 games played total) and the events were certainly not independent. (Moscow 5 didn't lose a game all event so the champions they may favour would have inflated win stats. Is that because the champions are really good or because the people playing them were really good?)

It's an interesting read at any rate, and there were a couple of particularly interesting factoids. Shen was picked or banned in 43 of the 44 games, for example. He was only 5-7 in games where he got to play (he was banned 31 times!) but the article theorizes that people may not have put in enough practice with him since his recent massive buff to really master him. Shen was one of my favourite champions back before he got buffed but never got to play him because just picking him would launch vitriolic attacks from teammates. So I'm happy he's now considered good enough to be frequently banned. (Though it now means I rarely get to play him because he's always banned!)

Sona went 0-9 and Soraka went 1-3. These numbers are really surprising! At the previous IEM in Kiev teams were often banning one of them and first picking the other one because everyone thought they were overpowered. I remember listening to interviews where people were saying Sona was unequivocally the best support and people were trashing Janna as being worthless. Janna went 26-10 this time! She was played 36 times compared to a combined 13 times for Sona and Soraka. Not only was Janna picked way more frequently than the 'best' supports her win rate was substantially higher!

The article doesn't give all the raw data so I'm not sure what people were picking as supports... With 44 games and each time likely having a support each time there should be 88 support choices. We only have 49 between the 'big 3' so what was left? I decided to manually sift through the games and see if I could put together who else was being used...

Janna - 37
Alistar - 14
Sona - 9
Nunu - 8
Taric - 5
Leona - 5
Soraka - 4
Blitzcrank - 3
Fiddlesticks - 1
Galio - 1
Yorick - 1

One game had a bottom lane of Alistar and Blitzcrank! I assigned the 'support' role of that duo to Alistar but I don't really know what the plan was. Those two together certainly have a lot of crowd control and could really lock in a kill when the jungler shows up but I can't really see either one making good use of the farm from the bottom lane creeps. That team ended up losing the game, but there is a replay for it which I'll probably check out tonight while I eat to see what went on.

The last point the article touched on that I found interesting was the advantage that can be gained by picking an 'ambiguous' champion. Support Galio, for instance. The team that picked him apparently won the game pretty much solely on the back of the fact the enemy team 'counter picked' the obviously mid Galio with a Talon. They then took another mid champion (Ahri) to slaughter Talon while they sent Galio down to be support. Having one champion that can be strong in multiple roles (typically jungle and top) and then switching where they go depending on opposing team comp seems really strong. In a format where your whole team has every champion and can trade appropriately at least... When you're like me and don't share champions with anyone else it's not nearly as strong.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

MLG Columbus Games

MLG has recently finalized the format and rules for the five events they're running as part of MLG Columbus. Starcraft 2 and Halo Reach are returning as per usual but they're going with a bit of a fighting theme for the other three events. Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur V, and King of Fighters XIII. I'm sad that League of Legends isn't around this time but am a little intrigued to see some fighting games since I don't believe any have run at any of the MLGs I've paid attention to.

The prize pools are interesting. 76k (and 8 full trips to the next arena) for SC2. 59k for Halo. 33.4k for MK. 16.7k for SCV. 16.7k for KoF. Starcraft is clearly the biggest draw but the fighting games combine for more than Halo and I have to assume that the fields for the fighting games are going to be softer than the SC2 field for sure and likely the Halo field as well since there have been a lot of MLGs with Halo. I'm imagining some decent fighting gamers around Columbus could have aspirations for some real cash next weekend. (They appear to have scheduled things so that you could sign up for all 3 fighting events.)

I found the rules to be interesting as well. Mortal Kombat has a character and two maps banned. Soul Calibur has a fighting style and original characters banned. (I don't even know what those are.) King of Fighters doesn't seem to have any odd bans. Are these things banned because people perceive them to be overpowered? Unfun? Too complicated? Just the fact that they've even had to ban some things made me question how appropriate those games may be for a big event...

But then I got to thinking about Starcraft and how the tournament community has impact the maps used. GSL and MLG both alter the maps that can be used in some pretty significant ways. If a map has some spawn points which aren't symmetric they ban those starting locations. A lot of maps have been altered to include neutral submerged supply depots at the bottom of ramps. (This prevents Protoss players from building two pylons at the bottom of a zerg ramp which would keep them from expanding.) And they've pretty much universally removed all of the gold mineral patches from their maps. (They did this because Terran mules were too good on the gold bases.) Blizzard even nerfed mules by making them only return a normal amount of minerals from gold bases in response to these map changes!

So maybe having the tournament ban things is actually a good step toward balance? The people who play the game competitively probably have a better idea of game balance than the people who design the game. As long as they're able to objectively approach the things they ban for the good of the game instead of for the good of themselves, anyway.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Virtual Villagers: Extinction

Things in my village took a decided turn for the worse on my third day of playing. It turned out the honey supply didn't replenish so my villagers actually didn't have a source of food to gather while I was at work. When I came home most of them had died of starvation. There were only three survivors at that point. All of them sick, and all of them had been children so they had no skills. One man, one woman, and one little kid. That's enough to rebuild a functioning civilization though, right? Right!

The first thing that happened was a random event which asked if my only remaining female wanted to drink a weird potion she found. Why not! It ended up cloning her into three identical people (though only one remained chief of my village) which was amazingly good for me. I quickly got to work making babies on all three of my newly cloned women. Genetic diversity isn't going to be a thing in my village, but at least we'd have three more kids!

I then discovered a new source of food. My chief could visit the food storage unit and make a lot of food appear by magic. (I was trying to make her eat some of the mushrooms I'd gathered.) She could do it once per day and if I'd done that the first two days I might have had enough food for my people to survive the third day... Die and learn I guess! I couldn't try to work out any of the puzzles since I didn't have anyone with any skills. So I made my babies, hoped for more food, and left.

And then forgot to come back for a couple days. It was really bad. Once again my people had run out of food and all the adults had starved to death. I was left with only 3 people: the 3 babies from the last go. All male. All very sick. All still children. The fruit tree had hundreds of food on it so I did have a source of food if I'd had a functioning adult society. But with no adults to gather that food and no potential for making new villagers my society was done. One of the three died within a minute of my starting to play. I let the other two die off a short time after and the experiment was done.

I now have some ideas for how to better feed my people. The honey isn't renewable. The fruit tree is. My chief can make food appear by magic. It's also possible I should check in twice a day (when I get home from work and when I go to bed maybe) in case disaster has struck and I can mitigate some of the damage. And going 3 days between checking in is probably going to doom my little tribe...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Intel Extreme Masters: Hanover

Last weekend was the IEM championship event in Hanover. I wish I'd known since they had a League of Legends tournament streaming and I have to assume the games were awesome. The videos are online though, and can be watched at the League of Legends website. And I tracked them down on Facebook and liked them so hopefully I'll get notification that a big event is going on before it happens!

Unfortunately the very first page you go to when you find the videos is the finals so it's a bit of a spoiler about the previous matches. I decided to just watch from the end since presumably two pretty good teams made it that far. The first game of the finals started off insane! Moscow 5 was in it and started off with a crazy set-up. They had their bottom lane start with the blue buff while their jungler took red. Then their AD carry soloed bottom lane with blue while their support just ran around being crazy. It's the sort of thing that I can't help but feel like could be countered if you knew it was coming but if you have the balls to try it and it works you just win the game. Which is how I felt watching M5 play at the last IEM event! I'm looking forward to watching the rest of their games over the weekend. I should really cancel my cable tv...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Diablo III Release Date

Well, Blizzard has finally come out and given an exact date for the release of Diablo III. It's been pushed back a lot and I believe they've been stripping features out but now that there's an actual release date it starts to feel more real.

The date is May 15th, 2012 which is exactly two months from now.

Now the question is do I want to take time off work in order to play a whole bunch right at launch? May 15th is a Tuesday and the game is available for online purchase so I imagine it would be possible to start right at midnight. So if I was going to take time off I'd want to take the whole week off and skew my sleep schedule such that I'd be waking up right at midnight and then going gung-ho all week.

But do I actually want to go gung-ho? The game looks interesting and I really liked D2 so I'd imagine I'll end up playing a lot of D3... But do I need to play it all right away? I've taken time off for WoW expansions because I wanted to charge for realm first achievements and didn't want to be the one lagging behind preventing my guild from being able to run dungeons or raid. None of those things are true for me in D3. There are probably achievements (Blizzard put them in SC2 so I imagine they'll be in everything going forward) but I have no reason to believe there are any time sensitive ones and even if there are I have no reason to believe I'd be able to get any. As far as grouping goes I've always treated D2 as a solo game and I imagine the same would be true of D3. I'll group up if it makes sense, of course, but I don't feel any obligation to make sure I'd always be in a good condition for grouping.

It's also possible that playing a lot early is actually going to be worth money. You can sell rare items to other players for cash but I don't believe items get consumed in any way. So the first few awesome items rate to go for substantially more than the millionth awesome item. I have no intention of 'making a living' by farming virtual monsters but the opportunity does exist for an early windfall and I think that window is likely to be rather narrow. Spending 5 hours sleeping, 2 hours in transit, and 8 hours at work each day is probably enough to close that window pretty firmly...

Finally there's always the possibility that nothing will work for the first few days and I'll end up wasting my vacation days staring at a log-in queue or constantly crashing. Taking time off for Star Wars: the Old Republic would have been bad. Taking time off for Final Fantasy XIV would have been a disaster. Blizzard has a decent track record and have been pushing the release date back so one would hope the odds of disaster are pretty low but they do exist. But then I can probably just play something else with those days off, right? What else do I spend vacation days on other than games?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

League of Legends: Ranked Team Advantages

I mentioned last week that we've started playing ranked team games on the 3v3 map (Twisted Treeline) in League of Legends. While we first gave it a try pretty much solely because Lino suggested it there are some reasons why I want to keep playing it and they don't have very much to do with the map itself. Instead the reasons deal with the differences between playing a ranked team game instead of a normal team game or a ranked duo game:

  • Teamwork - Both teams are preset in advance which greatly increases the likelihood of communication and coordination on both teams. This is important because I don't think it's that much fun to win a game against people who can't work together.
  • Sportsmanship - Trash talking amongst teammates is an all too frequent thing with random teammates. It isn't enjoyable when it happens on my team and it isn't enjoyable when people on the other team start ranting at each other either. It's not completely gone, of course, and teams will still trash talk each other. But it is reduced.
  • Seriousness - People tend to care more about winning in ranked games which tends to result in better played game. At the very least people are more apt to play champions they know how to play. Don't get me wrong, I have fun playing new champions and think everyone should try new stuff frequently. But it's nice to have games where everyone is going gung-ho. 
  • Matchmaking - We haven't really played enough games to get to a stable rating but I feel like matchmaking has to be better for ranked teams than for the solo queue. There are so many variables in terms of team composition and if people's styles mesh together in good or bad ways for the matchmaking system to have a good shot at splitting 10 people into two balanced teams of 5. It does a decent enough job of it but it feels like it has to do better with only 2 real variables instead of 10.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

More Virtual Villagers

I got home from work today and was curious to see what my little village of Trekkers had accomplished in a day. It turned out 5 years had passed and both of the babies were running around as children which freed up the female members of my tribe for other tasks. My people had done some research and cleared out the bee hive of honey but had otherwise not accomplished much. They didn't get much work done on the building under construction and barely stayed even food-wise despite strip-mining all known sources of food. I hope it respawns!

Tooling around a little in game I found a second source of food (a tree I'd planted had started bearing fruit) and forced some villagers to 'embrace' until another baby showed up. I tried for another but it turns out 10 people is the max until I finish construction on that building. I also found out that Spock had leveled researching enough to start collecting some junk on the map and once I'd found all the bits he built an alchemy lab. Now I can send my children around gathering random herbs. Then McCoy can combine 3 herbs into a potion which lasts 5 minutes and does crazy things. I didn't jot down the first couple that I did but then I decided that tracking potion results would be a reasonable thing to do.

I put a couple together that really made sense once I thought about it. Three bits of a cactus that looks like aloe? A healing potion! (Which I think just meant I couldn't level up healing skill by fixing up my slightly wounded people.) Three roses? A love potion! (It made any adult that drank it run and 'embrace' someone else.)

I also spent my research points on my first tech upgrade. I decided to take a level of nature which supposedly increases the return on food collecting. My feeling is if my village is going to die it's going to be from starvation so anything I can do to increase my food stash has to be good! (And it was the cheapest tech.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Virtual Villagers

I've recently been tipped off about the game series Virtual Villagers while reading the Iron Man Mode site. The basic idea seems to be it's a 'god' sim where you direct the lives of a small village of cavemen. You teach them how to gather food, and build houses, and research stuff. People get old and die and you need to repopulate your village as time passes or go extinct. Random weird collections, puzzles to solve... Seems pretty interesting, right?

There's a twist added in. The game keeps playing while you're not playing. (Well, I imagine it just simulates time passing when you next log on.) So if you don't set your village up with a solid plan for survival you'll go away for the weekend and come back with everybody dead. I don't know just how long it takes for time to pass but I imagine if you don't have lots of babies you could come back with everyone just dead of natural causes!

The downside is when the game can easily handle 16 hour gaps it seems there isn't a lot of stuff to do in the game. I set up Spock in the research lab and Scotty to build things but if it's going to take them a day to do stuff... What is there for me to do? There are these little thingies that spawn randomly that I can send my children to collect but for the most part it seemed like I wanted to set some wheels in motion and then check back later.

One thing that is a little annoying is the tutorial made me get one of my female tribe members pregnant and now she spends all her time walking around taking care of a baby instead of building huts! I mean, I guess I need babies for the tribe to survive but I'm down to 3 functioning adults along with 2 mothers, 2 babies, and 2 children. The 3 year old girl (Janeway) found a cool robe which made her the chieftain of my tribe. Now instead of doing normal little child things like build a sandcastle she stands around and makes the adults better. Since she had nothing productive to do anyway that seemed great! Better her than one of my three functional adult males!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Final Fantasy Legend III: Classes

So it turns out there are 6 types of classes in the game and each character can end up in 5 of them. There's a spectrum between monster and robot that goes monster - beast - human OR mutant - cyborg - robot. If you eat meat you slide towards the monster end of the spectrum. If you install a spare robot part (dropped from robots after fights) you slide towards the robot end of the spectrum. You keep your level earned from experience no matter which class you have, and you get a subclass within that class based on some weird elemental algorithm and your level. Each class has something they're particularly well suited towards:

Monsters - Don't need gear, have good stats, and get potentially awesome abilities from the specific monster they are
Beast - Do 50% more damage with martial arts, get to wear gear and use monster abilities
Human - Do double damage with weapons
Mutant - Do double damage with spells
Cyborgs - High stats, get to use roboty abilities
Robots - Can drink stat potions, 50% more damage with roboty talents

Thinking back to what I disliked about monsters before the problems were that they scaled not based on anything except planning out a meat path. You could get to almost maximum power on the very first world if you planned things out properly. And if you didn't you were screwed since a lot of meat progressions actually lost you power instead of gaining it. In this game it sounds like the type of monster you turn into is based on your character level.

Robots in this game get the stat potions than humans got in the first game. This sounds like you might be able to get really twinky if you spend a ton of cash on it but that power is only there while you stay as a robot. So maybe if I have a lot of extra cash I'll switch into a robot but I don't want to head there early. Beyond that everything seems useful so I think I'll just switch things into things by eating everything that drops and see what happens. Worst case scenario I just switch back into something else! Experimentation with no long term consequences? I like it!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Final Fantasy Legend III

Not knowing anything about the game except it's the third game in the Final Fantasy Legend series I booted the game up today to give it a spin. I'd been thinking what sort of characters I'd want to play assuming it worked like the last two and would need to pick my classes from the start. I didn't care much for monsters in the first one and really liked both mutants and robots in the second one so I was thinking I'd lean towards those this time around.

I started up the game, got a little back story about how the world has been flooded by some monster from the past, present, and future. Some dude in the future sent three kids back to the past in the hopes of stopping the flooding and they're going to team up with some old guy's granddaughter. Then it asks me to enter a name for a 'Hero'. Then for a 'Boy'. Then for a 'Girl'. Then for a 'Heroine'. No class choices this time! Also interesting was the even gender split which hasn't been the case in any other game played thus far in the marathon.

I start the game and it turns out the boy and girl are mutants and the other two are humans. Ok, sure. The female mutant started with a spell. No one else did. I end up with a 5th party member standing in a different box than the rest so I'm guessing they'll end up rotating as the game progresses. He has way more health than everyone else and starts with three spells! I'm thinking he's just there to make sure I don't lose to an early random encounter - which I then proceed to almost do. I end up running away and barely make it back to town to rest in the inn. On the plus side people who die in combat come back with 1 health after he fight!

I was also given a radar which I can use to scan the time period I'm in for units which I think I use to upgrade my time traveling space ship thing. Seems like a collection quest like in FFLII. I just hope it's a real collection quest where you don't have to find everything but get cool bonuses if you do. I like those a lot more than fake collection quests where you actually have to get everything to progress like the magi in FFLII. 

After finally winning a fight I earned some experience and my living characters went up a level. Sweet! An actual level system! This doesn't seem like Final Fantasy Legend at all. Then I won my second fight and the enemy dropped some meat. What could possibly go wrong? Eat up, Jo! Which caused my female mutant to turn into a beast broomer, whatever that is. Beast broomer seems to have 4 talents - kick, scream, resistance to paralyze, and resistance to fire. She kept her character level, health, and maximum mana. And her spell. Intriguing...

I explored the town and found item, weapon, armor, and magic shops. With nothing to indicate what any of this stuff does or if it's better than what I have equipped. I have no idea if my new monster wants gear or not. It doesn't seem like I have an easy way to find out in game since there are no tooltips or explanations. I think I'm going to end up turning to the internet already at level 3 to try to get a handle on what's going on. I will say the game seems interesting so far and I have high hopes...

Friday, March 09, 2012

StarCraft II MLG Winter Championship Format

There is a big MLG event coming up in 2 weeks time. They recently announced the format for the SC2 tournament and I found it to be intriguing. They have 256 competitors so my first instinct would be that they'd just play a big seeded double elimination bracket. But it turns out that would be _far_ too simplistic. Instead they're running 4 brackets and a round robin pool section with people entering at various times.

To start with the 32 people who played in the winter arena get byes. The top 16 from the winter arena get to bypass the first 6 rounds and start in the pool section. The bottom 16 get to bypass the first 4 rounds and will only need to win 2 matches to make it to the pool section. The remaining 224 players play a double elimination bracket with the 16 people with byes slotting in during round 5. Eventually you stop the open winners bracket when there are 8 people left and send them into pool play. Similarly with the open losers bracket you get down to 8 people and then stop.

Pool play now has 24 people which are broken down into 4 groups of 6. Each group plays a round robin and then they get ranked 1 through 6. There are 4 groups so you have 4 #1s, 4 #2s, etc... Advance the #1s to the championship winner's bracket semifinals. These people have to win only 3 more matches to win the event. Then build out a championship losers bracket with the 8 prior losers playing in 4 matches in round 1. The winner of those matches play the #6s. The winner of those matches play the #5s. The winner of those matches play the #4s. And so on and so on with the #1 losers dropping down as appropriate to fit the bracket. Winner of that bracket plays the winner of the championship bracket in a best of 5 or best of 9 for all the marbles.

What I find interesting about this is that someone can lose in pool play, still end up #1, and win the winner's bracket with a loss on their record. That's not something that could happen in a straight double elimination. It also means there will be a lot of matches amongst the 'name' players. Top 16 from the winter arena along with 8 more who play well at the start of the weekend each play 5 matches with no chance of elimination. The winter arena was great but there were only 2 Idra matches, for example. He's not guaranteed to make pool play but he only needs 2 wins to make it there. Then they're all guaranteed at least one more match in the loser's bracket so the top names all get 6 matches streamed. This has to be a good deal for MLG and for fans.

It's interesting that anyone could have signed up for the open bracket if they were willing to buy a pass. Show up, go on a run, win some cash. The thought is alluring, much like the Magic Pro Tour used to be. Clearly not something I could do, but intriguing nonetheless. Of course they have pretty bad odds of making it very far. After winning 4 matches against other open players they'd then have to beat two of the winter arena competitors to make it into pool play. And there's no bomb draws or mana screw to save you in StarCraft II!

They also posted rewards for finishing well at the event. Top 8 get byes into the spring arena #1 and the 9th through 80th players get to play in the qualifiers for it. Which gets me thinking about how hard it is for someone to fall out of the events. Everyone at the winter arena gets a good number of byes. By the time they could get into the loser's bracket 182 people will have been eliminated. They're guaranteed to be in the top 74! So going to the winter arena and then showing up at the championship is enough to get you on the fast track to qualifying for the spring arena... I think this is a good thing since it allows people to get to know the same players and develop people to cheer for.

On the flip side, one good event is good enough to get rolling. This is particularly useful considering a lot of the best players live on the other side of the world and don't make it over to MLG events all that often. Come over once, do well, and you're on the fast track to getting free flights back. Seems pretty sweet!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Few Acres of Snow: Raiding

We've previously covered the mechanics behind ending the game through expansion and through military conquest but there remains one final way to trigger the end of the game. If either player starts their turn with no fight in progress and has stolen at least 12 points worth of stuff from their opponent the game ends and the highest score wins. But where are these 12 points coming from? Primarily by raiding which is today's topic.

Each time you destroy one of your opponent's cities you get to keep the item destroyed. Each cube you steal is worth 2 points. Each disk you steal is worth 4 points. One of the ways to destroy your opponent's stuff if via military attacks. Win a fight in a location and not only do you get the chance to settle it yourself you also get to keep what your opponent had in that spot. (This means he doesn't get set back in terms of ending the game by playing all his cubes since the lost cube is not returned to his supply.) If you're winning a military game you won't be getting up to 12 points of stolen stuff as you should be able to conquer a capital for the instant win long before you get a chance at 12 points. If you're going to end the game in this manner you'll need to do a lot of your destruction via raiding.

The mechanics of raiding are fairly straightforward. Point to an enemy location which you want to raid and count how many spaces away it is from your closest location. (Raiding can make use of rivers, lakes, wagon trails, and the dotted paths on the map.) If that number is 1 or 2 you need to play a single raiding card. If that number is 3 or more then you need to play an extra card for each space beyond 2.

Your opponent now has two options for a response. He can block the raid or can concede defeat. Blocking a raid is similar to blocking an ambush: just play a card that says it blocks a raid. These will be native americans, rangers, coureurs de bois, and fortification cards. In addition they can play the card corresponding to that location to block the raid as well. Conceding defeat of a location with a cube means you take the cube. Conceding defeat of a location with a disk means you take the disk and he puts a cube down in that location. The disk is worth 4 points instead of 2 which is good for you, but he gets to keep using the associated card going forward which is good for them. You do get 2 actions a turn so it is possible to spend both of them raiding the same place twice. First for the disk and then for the cube! 6 points!

Raiding is a tricky thing to evaluate. It costs a lot of money to pay for all the native american uses you need to beat through anything resembling a competent defense. A meticulous opponent can actually become immune to raids entirely since you can't raid a fortified location and you also can't raid beyond a fortified location. I don't like focusing on the raiding game as I find it bogs your deck down if it fails and it can be too easily countered. That said, sometimes your opponent doesn't position himself to counter it quickly and you can deal a crippling blow to your opponent.

A strategy Andrew came up with for the British is to quickly expand towards Quebec and try to successfully raid it twice. If you manage to do so you turn the Quebec card off which has the only settler icon in the French deck. If you follow that up by buying the two neutral settler cards the game is practically over. The French can't put any disks into play which limits their scoring options. They can't settle any locations with a settler icon on them which further reduces their ways of scoring points. Most importantly they can't settle Pemaquid or Albany which means they can't attack a British capital. Since he told me about it I've managed to pull it off a couple times and my opponents have conceded after a couple turns when they realized they have no chance to win anymore.

Another thing you can try to do is raid away Trois Rivieres. Because of the way connections work down there everything west of Quebec connects through Trois Rivieres so you end up turning off every card in the French deck that branches west. Sometimes this will be half or more of your opponent's deck!

Just like with ambushing the French have a large advantage in the raiding game. Their militia can block raids. They have an empire specific native americans card. They have two priests to the British one indian leader. Another advantage the French have that isn't immediately obvious is they start with more points in play. Raiding, if it works, is one of the fastest ways to end the game and they start in a position that wants an early end to the game. I have been in a position as the British where I could successfully raid a location but would lose the game if I did since I'd trigger end game while having fewer points than my opponent.

I do frequently find myself getting into a raid based endgame as the French. Games I play will often have a long, drawn out siege in one location. We'll both have a very thin deck and my opponent will buy neutral native americans cards to try to stop my ambushes. I'll buy a priest and work to take all his native americans. Eventually the siege will end (typically in a British victory) and my back will be against the wall. The British will have a huge military deck and I'll have a huge native americans deck. So I'll ambush a few times to get him under control and then raid with the rest of them. It seems to work reasonably well. You just have to be very careful to have a huge stockpile of cash leading into that stage of the game. I have lost games where I have no money and a hand full of (now useless) native americans cards.

It's very important to track your opponent's hand and deck contents if you're going to try to pull this off. Wasting time and money on raids when they have the location card in hand for the block is painful. Sometimes tracking their hand can help in that you want to make them block with a location! (If they need that location card to launch a siege on Quebec, for example, and you just want to buy some time!)

Like everything else in the game raiding can be very powerful if your opponent doesn't make the right moves to block it. Raiding might even be the swingiest of all the strategies since it can completely destroy your opponent's ability to play the game if implemented properly but is also the easiest plan to counter. Fortification cards are cheap to buy and relatively cheap to put on the map. It's worth playing around with for sure but personally I've found it's a little too easy to block.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

League of Legends: Twisted Treeline

For a variety of reasons which I may get into in a future post my team has started playing ranked games on the 3v3 map in League of Legends: Twisted Treeline. There are a number of key differences between this map and Summoner's Rift (the default one) and I wanted to muse a little about those differences and how they might impact champion selection strategy.

The first change is that the map is significantly smaller. I decided to test out exactly what the difference is by timing how long it took to walk in as straight a line as possible in each dimension on each map.

SR- 39 seconds horizontally, 39 seconds vertically, 62 seconds diagonally

TT - 36 seconds horizontally, 21 seconds vertically, 43 seconds diagonally

So the usable area of the map is a little smaller east to west and about half as big north to south. This means 'global' abilities which cover the entire map are less potent since they're cutting down less distance. Summoner teleport, Gangplank's ult, etc all feel less powerful. On the flip side abilities where large but not infinite distances matter should get better. Twisted Fate and Ziggs have ults with a huge range and they're probably always going to be able to connect with them on TT while they have to walk a bit to use them on SR.

The second change is the map is 3v3 instead of 5v5. This means massive area of effect abilities are devalued relative to single target abilities. Amumu's ult is awesome because it shuts off 5 people for 2 seconds each. If it can only hit 3 people it's still pretty good but not as fantastic. On the flip side single target heavy damage characters should be better.

Dedicated healers should be worse since you're giving up a larger percentage of your team's damage in order to get them. Self healing, on the other hand, gets better when the other team can do less damage to you. Someone like Dr Mundo could be unkillable with 2 or 3 people on him! In a 5v5 game he's not great because you get the whole team to focus him or no one hits him and his massive healing doesn't really help out. Warwick seemed somewhat similar though not nearly as extreme.

The third change is in the number of turrets on the map. In SR each team has 11 turrets across 3 lanes and typically they all have to get killed before you win the game. On TT each team has only 5 turrets in only 2 lanes. Again they'll all tend to get killed but it still means a lot less pushing to get a win. Winning a team fight generally nets you a turret kill and you only need half as many of those to win at TT than at SR! This means games should take less time to complete which means champions which start weak but build into a strong late game feel worse. If the game never reaches the same 'late game' then that champion will simply never be strong at all. By contrast champions which start off strong and then tail off seem a lot better on TT.

The fourth change is a substantial rework of the neutral monsters in the jungle. Perhaps the biggest change is the complete lack of a blue buff. SR has two blue buffs, one for each team, and teams will often choose their junglers and caster champions based on the existence of this buff. It gives a huge mana regeneration buff which is what allows some champions to function. I can't imagine Amumu killing at anything resembling a reasonable speed without access to blue buff, for example. Dragon and Baron got combined into a single monster that's between the two in difficulty, grants global xp, and gives a 1% damage per level buff globally. There's a single red buff monster that spawns incredibly close to the bottom lane making it a bit of a rsiky proposition to go for early. Beyond that there are 6 smaller camps which actually spawn randomly between two options. There are 3 tiers of camps and the highest one has two new short term buffs. One gives 30% movement speed and the other gives 20% attack speed and 10% cooldown reduction. Both are useful but not game changing like blue buff.

With all these changes should you even have a jungler in 3v3? It's a similar question in 5v5 where if one team has a jungler and the other doesn't then you get a big advantage in terms of available gold/experience for your team but have the disadvantage that one of your team has to fight 1 against 2. Being able to take and use the blue and red buffs in the standard game are so strong that the metagame has evolved to the point where every team has a jungler and you just have a second 1 against 1 lane. 3v3 so far has been different in that we have yet to play against a team with a jungler. There's no blue buff to control and the single red buff is right beside a lane so buff control isn't a reason to run a jungler in TT. On the other hand the experience and gold advantages still exist assuming you have someone capable of surviving 1 against 2. Even if you don't have someone jungling it still feels like having someone running smite helps a lot. I've only played a dozen games or so and already I've stolen both dragon and red buff from the other team with smite.

Lately we've been running a jungler and it feels like we're a little weaker in the early game (the 1v2 lane has to play really passively until they get pushed back to their turret) and often fall behind in player kills while staying ahead in creep kills. Then in the mid game we seem to surge forward and come back. I'm sure there's more going on than just having a jungler of course but it feels strong.

A fifth change between the maps is how mazey TT is. There are trees and cliffs all over the place making it take longer to move from one spot to another than it would seem. Unless you're playing a champion that can ignore walls in which case you have a ton more mobility than other champions. The first game I played on the map I was Tryndamere and his ability to spin through walls was huge. He's been banned in pretty much every game since but it still seemed like a really strong ability to have. Shen, Kassadin, Ziggs? Can they make it through the same walls I wonder? We played one game against a Fiddlesticks who was ulting over the walls from seemingly nowhere which seemed pretty good.

Last night we played 4 games with the team Ahri, Sion, Warwick and won them all. Ahri slots in as the high damage early on character and takes a 1v1 lane. She has a good CC ability in her charm and has an ult which allows escaping from 3 man ganks which seem particularly prevalent in TT. Sion goes 1v2 and tries to survive by farming at his turret with his shield. He also has a good CC ability with his stun. Warwick hangs out in the jungle giving the team the early experience advantage and seems well suited to the map in general. His attack speed buff makes for relatively quick turret destruction after a team fight victory or even if the other team is just out of position. His ult destroys a single target which is stronger in 3v3 than in 5v5. And he has a lot of self healing which also works well in a smaller format. I'm still building manamune (especially with no blue buff on the map) and it seems to be working out fine.

I am curious about building a full pushing team. Run someone like Heimerdinger and just keep the pressure on non-stop at a turret. You'd probably need someone with a taunt to protect him so maybe Shen who can also split-push and then ult in? He could also jungle maybe? And then round out the team with someone who does physical damage and can be a tanky pusher? Shyvanna maybe? Nocturne? Warwick even? Irelia? Tristana? Maybe skip the physical damage and just run Morgana in one lane and Heimerdinger in the other? You'd want wards to make sure you don't get ganked by 3 so maybe Teemo's mushrooms? (Or just actually shell out the bucks for wards...)

I'm really liking the map. The games are quicker and it's enough different from the standard game to be interesting while still having enough in common to have skill transferal.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Final Fantasy IV: Zeroedmus

Last night saw the conclusion of my Final Fantasy IV game. I cleared out most of the final dungeon (I don't know of any paths I skipped but I didn't get all the treasure so I must have missed something) with relative ease. I did almost die to the mini-boss which puts a 10 second Doom timer on the entire party but I barely took him out with 1 second left. Hurray for the Nuke spell!

Zeromus himself came close to winning once but ultimately the fact he has no physical attacks spelled doom for him. He was beating the tar out of Edge and Cecil with his spells but was barely hurting Rosa and Rydia and they're the ones with the healing spells. Cure4 wasn't good enough to keep up but Asura was a full heal. Edge didn't even run out of ninja stars to throw at him before he died and I didn't buy more of them so I just used what I found in chests over the course of the game. I would have been annoyed if I'd died since the save point was so far away but ultimately the fight wasn't all that hard.

I think the game clock in the game was around 14 hours when I finished. I died once to Bahamut but that means I couldn't have spent more than 15 hours total playing the game. 82 days to put in only 15 hours. That's a long time to plow through what I've always said is my favourite game. This time around I often found myself falling asleep while playing! I got frustrated with the ATB system multiple times as well. Did the game just not age well? Have I been spoiled by the iterations that came later?

I don't know. It's been around 8 years since I last played the SNES version but even then I'd played FFX and all previous games. Maybe I've been subconsciously comparing it to the DS version?

Maybe there's just nothing new to experience? There's no console RPG I've played anywhere close to as many times as I've played FFIV and there's not exactly a lot of deviation in how the game plays out. There are a few side quests that can be done but the characters are always the same and I mostly do everything in the same order.

That said the story is awesome. The music is awesome. I love the character and enemy designs. It was my first RPG as a kid and will always have a special place in my memory as a result. I'm slotting it in as #1 on my marathon page so far. But will it be able to hold that spot for long? Coming up shortly is a run of games featuring V, VI, VII, and Tactics which all could compete for the crown I'd just assumed would stay with IV when I started this up last year. But first we have Legend III and Mystic Quest!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Marking Schemes

If you're a true gamer at heart you're constantly looking at life through a particularly odd lens. How do I play? How do I win? It doesn't matter if normal people could possibly imagine something as a game... To you everything is a game and you need to win!

MITx's first course, Circuits and Electronics, started today. The first thing I did after logging in to the system was check out the syllabus and find the marking scheme. This was always the most important thing to do for a class back when I was still in school. It lets you know what the professor thinks is important and where you're likely to need to focus your energy.

I can remember having a class with 10% for assignments, 20% for the midterm, and 70% for the final. There were 10 assignments so each was worth only 1% of the final grade and they were each likely to take 10ish hours to complete. By contrast studying for the final was only likely to take 10ish hours on its own and would be worth 70 times as much. These numbers are really out of whack! It's here that you need to figure out what exactly you're trying to accomplish with the class. Are you trying for the highest mark possible? Do you just want to barely pass? Do you want a merely good mark? Is your goal to learn the material? Will pounding away at long assignments help understand the course or will it merely occupy a lot of time?

Personally I found I learned things just fine from a book and didn't have a lot to gain from doing overly long assignments. It depended on the class, of course, but the one referenced above? I didn't do those assignments. I wish I could say I spent the saved time on something more valuable than sleeping and playing bridge but that would be a lie. On the flip side I remember spending a lot of time on low value assignments for some of my programming classes because I enjoyed doing them and thought I did have something to gain by slogging away at them.

At any rate, what is the marking scheme going to be for 6.002x? 15% assignments, 15% labs, 30% midterm, 40% final. There are 12 each for assignments and labs where they're only counting your top 10 scores. The claim from the announcement is that the whole course should only take 10 hours per week which includes the assignment, lab, watching the lectures, and reading the book. This seems like a split more in line with actually forcing people to do the work each week than my anecdote. The assignments should be substantially shorter and worth more. The final is worth significantly less. And the threshold for success is higher, I think. You need to get at least a C to get the credential for the course. I don't know how they're translating numbers into letters but I think 63-66 is a C. (Looking at the course profile it seems 60 is a C.) So it's not possible to pass with only doing the final. Midterm and final combined could do it but they've come right out and stated that problems from the assignments/labs will be on the midterm and final. Also everything is being marked by a bot and not real people so there's a lot to be gained by doing the work to see how the bot will mark things. So even if I was interested in just doing the least work possible to get a credential I'd probably want to do some of the assignments anyway.

Of course, I am interested in actually playing around with their lab environment! So even if optimally I should game the system by skipping the labs I'd be trying them out anyway. I'm just happy to see that's probably not the case. The assignments can be done with other people and the exam is a solo affair so it makes sense to have it be worth proportionally more per time invested but the 70:1 ratio from some of my older courses was just too much. This course feels, on the surface at least, like it has a better ratio. Time will tell if I end up wanting to do even 10 assignments let alone all 12.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

World of Warcraft: Questing on Rails

The questing experience in World of Warcraft changed drastically with the release of the Cataclysm expansion. Back in the 'good old days' most quests were self contained. There's a dude who wants you to kill some deer. As soon as you're in level range he wants you to kill some deer. After you kill some deer for him he gives you some experience and then just stands around looking stupid. Nothing changed because you killed some deer. Every now and then you'd run into a long chain of quests that had to be done in order but the deer killing guy wasn't involved in those and didn't care if you did that chain or not. With Cataclysm that changed and they made entire zones into one huge chain. There'd be a guy who wants you to kill some deer but he'll only ask you to do it after you do a seemingly unrelated quest to kill some fire elementals. Further along is a guy who wants you to sift through poop but for some reason he only wants the poop sifted through after the deer have been killed. Blizzard also made heavy use of 'phasing' during these chains so it's entirely possible you can't even see the poop guy at all until you've killed deer.

On the one hand the idea is pretty neat that you'd be playing through a single contained story. With phasing the world actually changes (for you, anyway) as you complete quests. Some people like it, some people hate it. I've leaned on the side of not liking it. Up until today, anyway, when I've seen how rails questing can impact my Ironman character. Now I'm firmly against the whole rails concept as there are two consequence which are going to hurt me in my journey.

The first problem is the inability to skip dangerous quests. Maybe my poor undergeared and untalented shaman simply can't kill deer at all. Maybe they have nature resistance or something, I don't know. In the old way I'd just abandon the deer quest and move on with my life. Go and sift through some poop or something more appropriate for my skills. Now? I risk my life trying to kill the deer or I find an entirely new zone to quest in. I lose everything in my current zone after the deer quest because for some reason they're all dependent on killing deer.

The second problem is the inability to just drop in on the middle of a zone. My thinking is that once I gain a few more levels I'm going to have to search for quests that are barely green in order to find things I can plausibly do. This shouldn't be a problem since the game is filled with tons and tons of quests. But if I can't access most of those quests because they're behind other quests I could run into a problem. Some quests could be locked behind dangerous quests I want to skip. Others are locked behind quests that are too low to be worth experience at all.

I haven't leveled a new character since Cataclysm launched (well, other than solely in dungeons) so I don't know if the rails problem is going to infest every zone but it is certainly the case in Azshara so far. I was given stealth in order to do a quest today which really worried me. I had to sneak past some elites which were 5 levels higher than me. If they saw me I was dead, guaranteed. But I didn't know how good the stealth was going to be. A druid trying to stealth around would be screwed for sure, but is this stealth better than that? Maybe this quest was designed to teach people how bad stealth can be so they stop whining about 'overpowered' rogues? But if I didn't do the quest I was done with the zone. I could probably try the Barrens instead? But I was right here! Ultimately I decided to risk it and lived so all is well. (And all that stealthing made me crave playing Metal Gear Solid again...)

I'm up to level 15 which slots me in as the 89th highest living shaman. Woo!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

World of Warcraft: Drnickiron!

The 7 day trial offer from Blizzard expired yesterday so I finally signed up for it. Everything seemed strange on my old main, Recolada, so I quickly logged out to start my ironman character. All my character slots on Vek'Nilash are full and I didn't want to worry about deleting one so I went back to my first server, Zul'Jin, to start up. I'd decided to play a shaman so the first question was which race to play. Passive and active damage buffs seem like they'd be important when you're playing without talents or gear and I ultimately decided the 1% haste that goblins get coupled with their free blink-like escape and free rocket strike were too good to pass up. As an added bonus I've never started a goblin before so I'd get to see a new zone and quests. 

Even in an area where I'm supposed to be in mostly white gear I found myself playing paranoid. I had a quest to kill a named monster at the end of a town. After killing him most of the town had respawned. Normally this would cause me to just run for the entrance. Probably I wouldn't die, right? And even if I did I'd probably still get to turn in the quest faster by dying and ghosting back than by clearing my way to the start. This time where death means game over I took it slow. I waited for the mobs nearby to finish respawning (so they wouldn't spawn on top of me) and then slowly made my way to the entrance killing everything in sight. As an added bonus I'd get more experience per quest which should result in being overleveled as time goes by. Which is really important later on when I should be in blues and greens but remain in whites.

I've made it up to level 12, which is good for 152nd place on the live shaman list, I think. (I had to count manually!) I worry that searing totem is going to end up aggroing something and getting me killed. Apparently I have to wait until level 30 to get totemic recall!

One cool thing I noticed is that my health bar would fill up with a teal colour when I started a heal on myself. This way I could see how much health I'd expect to have after the heal finished. Assuming that appears for people in my party/raid as well this seems pretty great. It would stop multiple people from healing the same person and would also let me know, as a Death Knight, if I need to worry about healing myself or if the healers have me covered!

Friday, March 02, 2012

A Few Acres of Snow: Ambushing

As discussed last time a very strong strategy in A Few Acres of Snow is to focus on military power and just conquer the other player's capital. The British have an advantage because their available cards simply have more strength combined than the French cards. Given infinite money and time for both sides the British will just win any military fight. Those may seem like extreme givens but the way the game plays out they're actually pretty reasonable. In a straight military fight it takes pretty much the same amount of time and resources to defend as it does to attack and the British can manipulate the game state such that they can get a powerful money engine going quickly. The French can try to compete by making money and buying military too but they're guaranteed to lose that fight since they have no way to get an edge and their available cards are just worse. They can try to compete by ignoring military and trying to expand but if you don't try to defend you lose every fight the turn they announce it and there's no way I can see to expand in time. There is one other option to combat military power: ambushing.

The mechanics behind ambushing are really quite simple. As one of your actions you can play a card that says it can ambush (like the Native Americans card above), pay the cost to play it (1 buck), and announce an ambush. Your opponent then has three possible responses:

  1. They can reveal a card which is vulnerable to ambush (indicated by the Indian head shown on the regular infantry card on the right) and return it to their supply. They can buy the card back later if they have the money and want to spend and action but for the time being they lose access to that card. Any card in their hand or reserve can be hit.
  2. They can reveal their entire hand and reserve to prove that they don't have any ambushable cards at the moment. You don't get a refund of your card, buck, or action. They're just wasted. On the plus side you do get to know he precise contents of their hand.
  3. They can play a card which blocks ambushes. You'll note the Native Americans card above also says it can block ambushes. Note there is no cost to do so. They don't have to pay a dollar. They don't lose an action on their next turn. The only potential cost is they'll only have 4 cards in their hand for their next turn.
This seems like it could be pretty powerful, right? The only to fight a deck full of ambushing cards would seem to be a deck full of blocking cards? Well, not quite. It turns out there are another class of cards which help out and there are some negative side effects to the whole ambushing game.

First of all, what is the other way to fight ambushes? Priest for the French and Indian Leader for the British. The two are functionally equivalent. You play one as an action and then if your opponent has one of the green Native American cards in their hand they have to give it to you. Otherwise they have to show you their hand. Both can be useful things to have happen especially since there is no monetary cost to playing the Priest. They can also be used in raids which will be covered in the next post. 

What about negative side effects? Well, they clog up your deck is the biggest problem. The British deck functions best when it can draw a full merchant action every turn which uses up 3 of its 5 card hand. The French deck earns most of its money from the trader action which is best with a full 5 card hand of optimal cards. Every ambush card you draw reduces the chance of having an optimal money action which sets you further and further behind your opponent. Especially when you consider that the ambushes rarely even get you ahead in the first place...

What do I mean by that? Well, assume an optimal British engine. They make 6 bucks with their first action each turn. Their second action is to either buy a regular infantry for 7 or to play it into the active combat. Pretend you're the French and have unlimited access to ambushing cards. You spend an action and a buck to kill off their infantry every time they buy one. It took 1.14 actions to make the money and 1 action to buy the card so they're losing 2.14 actions when you hit an ambush successfully. Assuming you're making 5 dollars per action that's only costing you 1.2 actions which is a pretty good gain. Keep this up long enough and you'll have enough spare actions to actually win the game some other way. But now give the British a single blocking card. Now it costs you 2 actions and 2 dollars to kill their infantry. That's 2.4 actions which means you're actually losing ground! There is one ambush card which is free to play so you can get that down to 2.2 but it's still not helping your cause at all. Ambushing against a properly set up engine doesn't help. You can ambush after they win a fight, though, which can help.

How do the different sides approach ambushing? Well, this is one area of the game where the French have a huge advantage. They have a blue Native American card which means that it can't be hit by the Indian Leader and that they have access to one more ambusher total. The French have access to 2 Priests compared to the 1 Indian Leader the British have. The French Militia cards actually block ambushes and raids while the British Militia are vulnerable to ambush. Beyond that they each have access to the 5 neutral Native Americans and they each have an ambusher that is free. (Rangers and Coureurs de Bois.)

Ambushing is a great way for a wise French player to abuse the mistake a British player makes but I have yet to find a way for ambushing to actually beat a top notch British plan. It can slow them down a little for sure, and I definitely need more experimentation to see if I can find a way to use that extra time to end the game as the French, but as it stands right now it doesn't seem good enough. The constant drain on gold by ambushing over and over just seems to be too much of a cost. 

Ambushing does also give hand information and someone who properly tracks the contents of the opponent deck and hand will make better use of it than someone who doesn't pay attention. I keep playing against opponents who buy an Indian Leader when I don't have any neutral Native Americans, for example. Or people who ambush when I don't own a vulnerable card in my deck. Maybe they're doing it to gain the information themselves? More likely they're just making a mistake.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

World of Warcraft Updates

Thinking about the Ironman challenge has sparked a bit of interest in actually playing World of Warcraft again in a real way and not just in a silly 'do something crazy' way. Sthenno commented yesterday about upcoming (or maybe current?) changes to the priest class which are altering the way you get psychic scream which got me thinking about what else had changed in the game in the 10ish months since I'd quit. I've made a bit of a point of avoiding reading about the game after I quit playing for two reasons: I have lots of stuff to read about that impacts the games I am playing and because it could well suck me back in.

Well, I'm on the path to getting sucked back in anyway, so I figured I'd go and read some patch notes to see what was new. There are a lot of them so I decided to skip the class specific stuff (except for Death Knight) and just see what cool overall stuff might have changed. Here are some of the highlights that I've run across:

Stratholme - Postboxes no longer require keys to open, because really, who locks their postboxes anymore when they're all undead? It's just people sending coupons for brains anyway.  {I just found this to be really amusing.}

Bind on Account stuff - Apparently can be mailed to other accounts on the same Battle.Net login which is cool. And you can mail stuff to different factions too?

Archaeology - Added new rare items (I wonder if I should look them up and add them to my post?) and made it so you're less likely to get dig sites if you have all the rare stuff. Making it more likely to get the Tol'Vir stuff I guess!

Crowd Control - Many crowd control abilities no longer cause creatures to attack players when they are cast. The creature will not attack the player when the crowd control wears off, and nearby creatures will not become hostile to the player either. {AWESOME!}

Raids - Holy cow did they ever nerf the raids we were running when I quit. For example: Nef adds falling over after 33 seconds instead of 50 seconds is such a huge change to the difficulty of that role. The kiter had to pretty much play perfectly to win before but now they'd never stack up enough damage to kill you if you just turned around and ran the whole time. Of course with Nef himself having 20% less health and doing 20% less damage that wouldn't really matter.

Items - If a player wins a Need roll under the Need Before Greed system on a Bind on Equip item, the item will become Soulbound to that player. The item will remain unbound if won via a Greed roll. {Nice. Now someone ninjaing all the BoEs can only vendor them and can't get a lot of cash on the AH.}

Call to Arms - Apparently they set it up so the rarest role in a 5-man group gets extra loot for signing up. So if there aren't enough people who want to tank a heroic the game starts bribing tanks to queue up. If there are enough tanks but not enough healers then the healers get an extra something for playing. It sounds so simple but it seems fantastic. Apparently it reduced queue times for DPSers from 45 minutes to 15 minutes when it came in because more people were willing to tank if it meant more stuff. Like a very unlikely shot at rare mounts! I don't know that it would have worked on me (I hate people so much) but it probably would have tricked me into going a few times for points as well. And I can really see how less antisocial people would really fall for it.