Friday, June 29, 2012

Final Fantasy V: Accessory Choice

I just got my first guard ring in Final Fantasy V which means I now have 5 excellent defensive accessory slot items. I only have 4 characters which means one of the items has to hit the bench. The question I have is which one? I have 3 different choices: gengi glove, guard ring, or elf cloak. (I have 3 copies of elf cloak to bring the total up to 5.)

Elf cloak gives 1 agility, 1 magic power, 3 magic defense, 5% magic evade, 1 weight, and causes the wearer to dodge 33% of all physical attacks.
Genji glove gives 12 defense, 1 magic defense, 6 weight, and provides immunity to toad and paralyze
Guard ring gives 10 defense, 10 magic defense, 10% magic evade, 1 weight, 5 vitality, and automatically casts regen on the wearer.

Weight is used in determining how often you get to act. Every 8 weight on your gear costs you 1 tick each time you take an action. Essentially 8 weight is offset by 1 agility. The faster you are the more actions you get to take... Must go faster!

Vitality+5 sounds good, but it turns out it's actually mostly useless. Vitality does two things in the game: determine your maximum health and determine the amount of healing done by regen. Bonus vitality from gera is not taken into account when determining your maximum health so all Vit+5 accomplishes is making your regen ticks marginally bigger. Fortunately this is the item that grants regen otherwise it would be totally worthless. (Regen is not a spell I consider casting normally.)

Agility is pretty much only good for going faster. It should make some weapons do more damage but it's bugged.

Magic power impacts your maximum mana but like with vitality doesn't apply from gear. It also impacts how many times your attack spells hit which at high levels seems like it could be really powerful.

What do the defense stats do? They're flat out subtracted from the damage done from an attack for each hit. It looks like a typical mob (looked up gargoyle stats) attacks 9 times for 62 damage per swing. My samurai has 39 defense, so he'll actually take 23 damage from 9 swings or 207 total. (Ignoring misses for now.) With the genji glove on he'll take 11 damage from 9 swings or 99 total. That's a pretty substantial reduction. The 33% evade from elf cloak would only knock that 207 down to 138.

On the other hand my ninja only has 22 defense. She'd be taking 40 damage from 9 swings for 360 total. Genji glove knocks that down to 252 while elf cloak knocks it down to 240.

So it would seem a heavily armored dude might want to stack on even more armor but any squishies would rather have the dodge from the elf cloak. Elf cloak also has better other stats (go faster, cast better, have magic defense) so I like sticking with it. Guard ring is a little worse than genji glove when it comes to physical attacks but it's substantially better when it comes to magic attacks. It also weighs less and the free regen, while not great, is still something.

Gargoyles are reasonably tough enemies (they guard the entrance to the lithograph dungeons) but bosses and the like are going to hit even harder. As the damage number gets bigger the extra evade will get better and better. I'm pretty sure I'm going to stick with 3 elf capes and the guard ring. Makes me sad that I went to all the effort to steal the genji glove only to leave it in my bag, but thems the breaks I guess.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

League of Legends: Draven

The newest champion in League of Legends hit the free rotation this week and I've given him a couple plays against bots to get a feel for what he does. I like to do this before reading about a champion to build my own theories about how he works before I get spoon-fed opinions from random idiots on the internet. My feeling going into these games, from having played against him, was that he did a crazy amount of damage. Now, I never laned against him, so maybe he was just getting fed. And my sample size was pretty low. Heck, after the first game against him I thought he was melee! (He's a ranged attack damage carry.)

After playing him a couple times against bots I'm eager to give him a shot against people. I have a feeling he's actually a critically important champion to learn how to play. Not because he's overpowered or anything like that but because he has a unique mechanic that uses a really critical micro skill. It's a skill that's made MarineKingPrime an awful lot of money in StarCraft II. I'm talking about stutter-step micro.

The way I see most people play (and the way I play myself if I'm being honest) is they get into a fight with someone and they stand still and auto-attack them. If the enemy runs away they stand still until the enemy runs out of range and then they start following them. Assuming equal movement speeds that means you'll only have done damage in the time it took them to run out of your attack range and that's it. Optimally what you should do is fire one attack off at them, walk slightly towards them, and then fire off another attack. Because your attack animation is shorter than your attack cooldown there's a brief period of time where you aren't locked in an attack animation and could actually be walking forward with no loss of damage. The trick is to start attacking again the instant your attack cooldown has worn off. Walk too much and you lose damage. (Well, if you have identical movement speeds and an infinite plane you won't lose any damage but eventually they'll hit their base or their teammates.) For optimal damage you need to be scooting and shooting the whole way.

This is true of all champions, really. Even some of the melee champions (Singed especially) actually want to avoid attacking at all some of the time. They want to just keep running beside the enemy and wait for their good ability to cooldown in order to let their teammates kill the person running away. If Singed autoattacks he stops for the duration of the animation which can let the enemy get out of his poison which is bad.

So why does Draven make people better at this? Well, he seems to be built entirely around one ability. This ability causes his next autoattack to do significantly more damage (+85%, +a dot) and makes an axe fly through the air. There's a little target on the ground indicating where it's going to land. If Draven is on the target when the axe lands he gets to do the +85% damage again on his next attack. Catching an axe also refreshes his attack/movement speed buff. So it seems like to get the most out of Draven you need to be good at attacking once and then sliding to a nearby location. Attack again. Slide again. And so on. I think getting good at catching these axes will make someone better at attacking, then moving, then attacking again. You won't get the timing perfect right away, but you'll at least get started with moving between attacks which has to be useful!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Final Fantasy: Gender Mixes

Playing Final Fantasy V today got me thinking... My party now, and for the rest of the game, is Nick, Lena, Krile, Faris. One male, three females. I think this is the first time in this entire marathon where my party has been predominantly female. This is certainly the first game where the playable cast is mostly female. Thinking about it more, I think there are only 2 games in the entire series where that's true: FFV and the generally maligned FFX-2. I thought I'd go through and see if that's actually the case, at least of the games I've played entirely (so skipping XII, XIII, and XIII-2 for now because I don't want to look up spoilers)...

FFI - 6/0 - no real characters, but all 6 jobs are male
FFII - 3/1 or 8/2 - depends if you count the 4th slot subs or not
FFIII - 4/0 - the DS remake brought it to 3/1
FFIV - 9/3
FFV - 2/3
FFVI - 10/3/1 - Gogo's gender is unclear
FFVII - 6/3
FFVIII - 3/3 or 7/4
FFIX - 4/3/1 or 7/4/1 - Quina's gender is unclear
FFX - 4/3
FFX-2 - 0/3

FFL - your choice
FFLII - your choice
FFLIII - 2/2 or 5/4
FFA - 1/0 or 5/3
FFMQ - 1/0 or 3/2

It actually looks like 3 female characters becomes par for the course. Main character's love interest, little girl,  and uncharacteristically tough woman. I guess even FFV could fit that description. Krile is certainly young (Galuf is her grandfather and he's not made out to be too old. In fact, Galuf was friends with Nick's father, so one would think Nick is a generation older than Krile. And he's likely in his 20s himself...) Faris grew up pretending to be male and became captain of the pirates which would make her uncharacteristically tough. I don't think Lena is the main character's love interest but I've only played it through in Japanese so I would have missed that sort of detail the first time. I could see it happening. So maybe FFV isn't different because it has more female characters than male characters... Maybe it's different because it only has 2 male characters while keeping the standard complement of female characters.

I decided to look it up, and according to wikia Nick is 20, Lena is 19, Faris is 20, Galuf is 60, and Krile is 14. So Krile can definitely be the little girl in the party.

I don't have any real conclusions to draw here. I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone that 90's Japanese video game culture was geared more towards males and they included way more male characters in their games than they did female characters. I guess it's just a sad observation. Particularly so now that I see there were always 3 female characters in every game from FFIV through FFX-2!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Final Fantasy V: Move Over, Galuf

I'm most of the way through the second world in Final Fantasy V and hit a major plot point. X-Death somehow tricked us into unsealing 4 more crystals that were holding him back. Essentially we had to do a tough boss fight (turns out when you're fighting 4 monsters with brutal low health attacks you shouldn't cast berserk on your best guy... He ends up spreading out the damage!) and then hand them over to him. X-Death is about to use the crystals to kill off the party when Krile (Galuf's granddaughter) comes to the rescue! She manages to knock X-Death out with a single spell. Then she does what all stupid good-guys do... She didn't hit him with a coup-de-grace. Instead she turned her back on him and came to help out the party. Obviously he then stood up and destroyed her. Galuf got bitter and went all Tellah on X-Death. He got dazed enough to run off with the crystals and left us alone, but Galuf died.

This seems odd. If I hadn't played the game before I'd be concerned. I've spent hours farming AP for Galuf and he's almost mastered both white mage and time mage. I don't want to start over! It turns out Krile joins your party in his place and absorbs all his accumulated xp and AP. Woo! She is slightly different in that she has different base stats. She seems to have about 8% less maximum health than Galuf did but she gets her turn a little faster. Which was a little annoying in that it changed up the turn order (from Faris, Nick, Lena, Galuf to Faris, Nick, Krile, Lena) and Galuf/Krile have the healing staff so I want to be attacking my own team with them. I once made Lena attack someone who was low by force of habit and she sure killed them. Oops!

I've also mastered my first two jobs. Lena mastered monk and Faris mastered thief. I'm not sure what to do with them now! I switched Lena to a ninja with the counter sub ability thinking that could do a lot of damage. I switched Faris to a knight with the mug ability so I can keep stealing things while being tanky. Nick remains a sorcerer and Krile is going to keep leveling white/time mages.

Monday, June 25, 2012

League of Legends Issues

A couple weeks ago League of Legends tried to update their North American servers with a new patch. It failed spectacularly and they ended up having to roll back the patch after a day of widespread connection issues. They tried again last week and it again failed spectacularly. I guess they decided another rollback wasn't going to be a good idea so they charged forward at full speed...

It turns out they'd made some sort of change to the way they were accessing their database and they did a very bad job of it. It couldn't operate properly under load so when 'millions' of people started playing at the same time disaster struck. Massive lag and disconnect issues forced them to put a cap on the number of concurrent users. This resulted in 3+ hour queues to get into the game at all.

But that's not the worst part... It seems whatever they did to the database also caused them to lose some of it from the production servers. Some people lost all their purchased runes. Some lost all their champions. Some lost all their built mastery trees. Which used to be saved locally but were recently changed to be stored online... Personally I lost all my champions and my mastery trees but kept my runes. Because I didn't have any champions I could no longer really play the game. I could use the 10 free champions but I wasn't allowed to do any drafts (6 champions get banned and 9 other people pick champions so you need to have access to at least 16 champions in order to guarantee an option if you're an unlucky last pick).

Over the weekend I was going through LoL withdrawl so Robb and I started new accounts in Europe. I was thinking my ping would be terrible but it turns out I have 90ms ping in NA and 120 in EUW so it wasn't that bad. I didn't own any champions there, either, but at least there wasn't a 3 hour queue. Also Robb couldn't even log onto NA even if we wanted to wait 3 hours. It was interesting playing again with no runes, masteries, ignite, or flash. At level 3 Riot gave me 400 RP which let me buy a champion so I got to play with Poppy instead of the free ones. POPPY!

At any rate, my account finally got restored late last night and I'm able to play again. They also gave everyone who lost stuff 1000 free RP. That's about $7 worth, so that's not nothing. I'm not sure it provides enough happiness to make up for not being able to play for a week, but it's not nothing.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ziggyny's SNES Adventure

While recently playing Final Fantasy Mystic Quest I found myself thinking that perhaps it wasn't as bad, relatively speaking, as everyone makes it out to be. It certainly pales in comparison to the other Final Fantasy games on the SNES but how would it fare compared to other RPGs on the SNES. I thought the same thing about the soundtrack which I didn't think was all that great but people seem to love. Maybe my problem was that I spend my time listening to Final Fantasy music on YouTube and forget the general sound quality for your average SNES game.

I've always been oddly drawn to reading about people playing old games. In particular I've 'followed' two different blogs purporting to play through every NES game. Some of them die out after a couple of posts. One of the NES ones is already into the Ks (he's going alphabetically) which is more than 300 posts! That's a lot of terrible NES games to have played!

Personally today marks the 466th consecutive day with a blog post. Some days have come easier than others, and some posts have certainly been worse than others, but I've managed to stick to having a post up every day. A couple years ago I built up a stash of posts in advance (the bridge hand series) but since that experiment ended it's been basically day to day. Oddly enough I actually find it more difficult to get posts done on the weekend than I do during the week. Part of this is because I sleep 12 hours vs 6 hours so there's less time in the day. Part of this is I spend the ~2 hours of transit time either playing games, reading, or mentally writing blog posts. Part of this is a weekday has easy breakpoints where I can fit in writing a post (right after work, say, or right after eating). Part of this is my 'awake day' and the 'real day' sync up better during the day than they do on the weekend. Always writing things day-of also makes things tricky when it comes to going out or having people over. I need to budget in extra time in the morning or make sure I get home before midnight which is a little annoying.

I've decided to put those three things together in the form of a new blog series... I'm going to play all the SNES games and make a little post about them! Initially my thinking was to put one post up per week on Saturdays and to revive the Star Trek blog and post it on Sundays. Then I found out there were 715 games on the SNES list and realized that at one post per week it would be 14 years before I got through them all! And then I looked at how many Star Trek episodes there are and there are 726! Hmm...

At any rate, I've got a couple posts written up for this weekend and we'll see where things go from here. I'm sequestering the new posts in a new blog. I believe I've got my Facebook integration thing set up so they should appear there like a normal post. Here's hoping!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Diablo III: Hardcore Day 2

When last we left our hero BuffyIV was level 11 and needed to get up to level 20 by the next Wednesday. She had a wide selection of banked gear from following people around in Act II and was seemingly positioned well to make it to 20. BuffyIV even started off light by taking on the Skeleton King quest at level 11 and easily smashed all the way through Butcher and into Act II.

Once in Act II BuffyIV decided to get revenge on the achievement which killed off the original Buffy. Not by charging ahead blindly but by quickly and efficiently mowing everything down between the two cultist lairs. No problem! Achievement earned! BuffyIV was up to level 18 and sailing smoothly when disaster struck!

Wandering into an open area a large number of monsters crested the horizon. BuffyIV knew the situation was going to be dicey so she implemented the brave plan 'run away and shoot backwards'. Or at least, she tried to. Hit tumble, no movement. Shoot forward, no arrows. Hit invisible, stay visible. The monsters had stopped moving at this point and it was clear that some sort of time warp was going on. BuffyIV quickly tried to take the blue pill and leave the world behind but it takes 10 seconds to digest and alas it was too late. The monsters suddenly came to life, teleported beside BuffyIV, and obliterated her in an instant. *sad trombone*

Ok, whatever. That sucked, but it's only a minor setback. I still had three days to go. So BuffyV started off with no gear set aside and no initial free levels. I did have a stockpile of crafting materials and made liberal use of my blacksmith training to stay reasonably geared. I ended up getting to level 17 by yesterday which is within 5 levels of the rest of the team so I was fine as far as staying away from the xp penalty. I also found a good weapon so I was able to contribute positively to the fighting. Hurray!

We got to Belial and I screwed up yet again. I decided the right way to try to live through his meteors was to use tumble to dodge around them instead of trying to time my invisible ability to ignore the damage. I ended up tumbling through multiple meteors that were landing at once. (I just missed diving from the one landing on me and ended up just rolling into another one as it was landing. And maybe eating a third in the process.) Kaboom! BuffyV was dead. Everyone else survived and killed Belial. Rejoining now seemed like a waste of time, so I headed out with the plan of tagging back in once they got closer to level 40. Monks are tougher than demon hunters anyway, right?

I was annoyed with D3, so I decided to go play some League of Legends instead. I waited in a log-in queue for about 45 minutes (playing some Pilotwings while I waited) and when I finally got in decided to check if the Megaman Ezreal skin was live yet. Turns out no. And oddly enough it wouldn't let me buy the existing skins either as it had them labeled with a 'need to own champion' icon, which is weird because I've owned Ezreal for months now.

Ok, whatever. Time to play a solo queue ranked game. Nope, can't sign up. I don't own 16 champions so I can't participate in the draft. Juh? Check out my profile. All my champions are gone. All my masteries are gone. Grrr!

I played a quick normal Dominion game with one of the free champions (Fiora) and then Brent suggested logging out to see if that would make my champions appear. Instead it made the server disappear as I wasn't able to reconnect. Grr!

Ok, no LoL. Back to D3 I guess? It turned out Ike and Snuggles had just started hardcore characters so BuffyVI came to life to join them. I think I got up around level 8 before we broke for the night. I believe Tom, Robb, and Adam are around level 30... Can I catch back up I wonder...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Favourite Game Candidates: NES Games 2

In the second NES installment I'll go over games I mostly discovered during the time I owned an NES, which was in University and was 14 years after the NES launched. I missed some of the 'classic' games that I'm sure other people really love (I'm looking at you, Zelda) but I didn't play them so they don't have a place on this list. I bought the NES after a scunt (my house was scunt headquarters and I think the guy who lugged it over didn't really want to take it back) mostly because it had a Final Fantasy cartridge in it. Best $10 I ever spent!

Solo ninja ho!
Final Fantasy - I played a lot of games at Comfy Prime. I watched a lot of people play games at Comfy Prime. The common area in the basement had three tvs with an NES, a SNES, and a Playstation. Josh left his computer in the room. And with all those games going on the one game that has the most memories for me is the original Final Fantasy. It spawned the nickname Bung. I remember one term Manders was working 20 hours a day and then would come home and play Final Fantasy instead of sleeping. Well, while sleeping. The game waits patiently for input so falling asleep wouldn't kill you. Buying potions one at a time with your foot so a party of four white mages could slowly beat the game? Sweet! The cartridge only had one save slot and I can remember people waiting to get their turn with the save.

Ice Hockey - I used to play this game a lot with Andrew. When my NES eventually got stolen out of the MathSoc exec office this was the game inside. *frowns* You had the option of choosing between three different types of skaters on your team. Skinny, medium, and fatty. You had 15 different possible team configurations but I'm pretty sure I only ever used two of them. Fatty, fatty, fatty, fatty or fatty, fatty, fatty, skinny. Fat guys were the best at checking and scoring. Skinny guy was there as the token fast skater to try to advance into the enemy zone. Penalties in the game only came about after a fight... Loser of the brawl gets a penalty!

2x4s and High Schools, together at last
River City Ransom - Truth be told I didn't really play this game. Josh bought it from a used game store for the house and I mostly just watched people play it. It was a pretty decent side-scrolling brawler game. I remember it had a cash system for upgrading things? It was sort of a sandbox/RPG/Double Dragon style game.

Blue wizard needs food BADLY!
Gauntlet II - This sequel to Gauntlet featured 100 levels and a bunch of different power-ups that made you really powerful. I remember spending a day pounding away at the game to beat the 100 levels. Only to discover, sadly, that there was no end to the game. It merely scrambled the order of the 100 levels and made you start again. But you kept all the power-ups so there really wasn't much point in playing. You couldn't possibly die or get better. I guess you could keep making your score bigger by collecting tons of treasure but after playing through a little over 100 levels of Gauntlet I gave up.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Diablo III: Patch 1.0.3 Notes

The servers are currently down to patch up to the new version of Diablo. I found a list of patch notes on this site. Tons of details are available at the link but in some cases they're a little vague. Damage in Inferno Act II, III, and IV is being reduced, for example. To 99% of previous value? 75%? 50%? 10%? Who knows! It'll take some playing around to see. I've been playing around in Act III the last couple days and there have been mobs who can still one-shot me through force armor despite having 22k health and vastly improved resistances. Hopefully that'll change tonight!

Other interesting changes that I saw...

  • Elemental affixes on monsters will no longer give resistances to those elements.
  • Some brutal monster affixes got nerfed. Mortar has a bigger dead-zone. Invulnerable minions will have fewer health on the main guy.
  • The Lyceum can spawn again! I should be able to close out several achievements now.
  • The enchantress won't turn Robb into a chicken.
  • ilvl will now be shown on all high level items. I'm glad for this since my contention has been that I simply couldn't feasibly find upgrades from hell/Act I. Now I'll be able to see for sure if that was true or not.
They also posted specific post-patch drop numbers. Previous Inferno Act I and Act II loot will drop as far back as Hell Act III. The best stuff will drop from the entirety of Inferno. In all cases you'll get better stuff if you fight in a harder zone.

Sky, Tom, and I were musing on the way back from Andrew's place this weekend about the best way to get loot post-patch. Elites at the start of Act I will die significantly faster than elites at the end of Act III but will only have a 2% chance of dropping the highest ilvl item compared to 8% from the Act III mob. For the second tier of items it goes from a 7.9% chance to a 16.1% chance. And for something that salvages into Inferno quality materials the difference is 17.7% compared to 24.1%. Then there's the added trouble of actually finding elite packs to kill, time spent sifting through everything that drops, and how long it takes to build up a 5-stack of the buff and the worry of dropping it. My gut feeling was that just plowing through Act I over and over was going to be the best but I'd like some way to quantify things.

I'm thinking the idea might be to plot out a few potential paths to run. Keep a count of how long it takes to do the entire path, including loot sorting, and a count of how many yellow+ items drop on the run. Keep in mind that bosses are only guaranteed to drop one rare with a full buff stack and every elite pack is also guaranteed to drop one rare. What paths should be tested?

An advantage to starting early in an Act is you get to fight all the story bosses and they tend to be pretty trivial compared to random dudes. The advantage to starting late in an Act is you have a bunch of waypoints to hit should you get stuck in an area. Personally I can't get stuck in Act I, I don't think, but Act III has been a real problem. The areas there are pretty linear so if I run into a pack I can't kill I have to abandon the area entirely (or try to teleport hop to the exit).

For Act I my path should probably start with the north-west gate story point. Doing Haedrig's dirty work for him doesn't feel like it drops enough stuff and this way I should get to kill the Skeleton King, Warden, and Butcher along with practically every elite that spawns in the whole act. It will take a fair amount of time to complete but most of that time will be spent with a full buff stack so it should be reasonably optimal.

For Act II I think I want to kill Maghda at least. The plot points before her aren't terribly useful I don't think and I have to clear out most of the world map to get my buff stack pre-Maghda anyway. As things stand I wasn't able to kill Belial but I think with the infinite teleport passive I might be able to pull it off now. And if I can't, no loss, as long as I can kill the elites before him.

What about Act III? I haven't actually done most of the act, getting the plot point at the end from a game with Tom and Sky. So I can either start at the beginning or I can start at the end and cherry-pick zones without bosses. I'll probably try one of each just to get the rest of the plot points actually done on Inferno. I suspect I'll end up getting stuck behind an unkillable pack at some point, but it's certainly worth trying to see.

My initial money is on Act I being the best, especially since I should be able to switch back to my disintegrate spec and just murder everything. Playing with blizzard and piercing orbhas let me kill things in Act III but it really hurts my hand with all the frantic clicking everywhere. Anyone else have any paths that could be good? Any bets on which will work out best?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Final Fantasy V: Stupid Idea

Over the weekend I watched the fourth crystal get shattered. On the plus side this gave me the rest of the jobs (except Mimic). On the minus side this released the big bad (X-Death) from his prison. On the plus side he didn't seem terribly interested in my planet and made a beeline for his home world. On the minus side his home world is also Galuf's home world and Galuf wants to go stop X-Death from doing evil things there. There's only enough power left in our meteorites to warp between worlds one more time so Galuf heads back leaving the other three members of my party behind.


Clearly my party has no idea of the concept 'Never Split The Party'. If we'd all just gone together we probably could have stopped X-Death right away before he powered up again. Of course, it seems like it would have worked out this way, too. Galuf mustered an army and was in a great position to take X-Death down...

Unfortunately for him the rest of the party had other ideas. Without Galuf around we turned to Cid and Mid and got them to power up the meteorites for 'just one more' warp in order to send ourselves to Galuf's planet. (If we'd just gone in the first place then Cid could have brought us back and everything would be fantastic.) So of course we end up getting captured by X-Death and he uses us as hostages to buy enough time to power up his super shield and survive. So many stupid ideas from the characters.

Maybe a stupid idea, maybe just a way to make the game hard, but with Galuf gone from the party you don't run into any random encounters but you do have to fight three different and difficult boss fights. Galuf also took all his gear with him, so if you'd loaded him up with unique items you're just down those items for the boss fights. (He had my healing staff and one of my elf cloaks.) He was also the character I had leveling white and time mage which meant he was pretty much all of my utility. I was left with a sorcerer with 2-handed, a monk with +10% hp, and a thief with flee. Not the best for winning a long fight...

First boss fight is against 6 bombs. They sometimes explode for 3 times my max health. When you kill one, if any other ones are dead, it brings them back to life. There are, I think, 4 ways to win this fight. You can run them out of mana so they can't cast arise, you can hope they all explode without ever casting arise (and you rez up between explodes), you can use the trainer control action to make them explode each other, or you can kill them all at the same time. The no-healing, all single target damage party? Not able to win. I came back a second time with everyone as a fresh black mage and just nuked them all down with ice2 over and over. They all died at the same time (thankfully I burned them out before they started exploding) and I won.

Second boss fight has a death attack which does 500 damage to everyone. Most of my people have less than 500 max health. Fortunately I switched Lena back into a monk with +10% hp so I won this fight without having to try a second time.

Third boss fight is against a boss with two massive AE attacks and a pathetic melee attack. I had a white mage and a red mage for this fight and that wasn't enough healing so I died. I came back in the second time with two white mages and beat him up.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Playing For Second

I was playing a game of Through The Ages in the 3 player league this week (against the Mons of Mons' Goblin Raiders fame) that had an interesting conclusion. I'd played an early Genghis Khan to build up a bit of  a point lead but he'd since died. The score was something like 70-20-16 but I no longer had a material advantage in any real sense. I felt like I was in a good position to win but it wasn't guaranteed. The player with 20 points had in his hand the International Tourism card. This is a pact you can propose to another player as your political action for the turn. If they accept then both players score points each turn equal to the number of wonders the other one owns. The guy with 16 points had 2 wonders and the other two of us had 3 each. There were probably going to be around 3 more turns in the game to score points off of it. Who should he propose the pact to?

If he proposes to me then I rate to score 9 points and he rates to score 9 or 12 points (depending on age IV timing). If he proposes to the other guy then other guy will score 9 points and the proposer expects to get 6 or 8 points. Which should he do?

If he's looking at purely maximizing his own score then he should propose the pact to me. If he's trying to win the game he has to propose it to the other guy. Realistically the only way I'm going to lose is if the other two guys focus on taking me down together with big military plays or by throwing points to each other. If instead they throw points to me it's going to be all over. If he's playing for second place then he should absolutely propose it to me. He can give up on passing me and just work on powering beyond the other guy.

So really it comes down to what should you do in a game when you probably can't win. Do you maximize your individual score, do you maximize your individual placement in the game, or do you go for broke and take the slim lines to try to win anyway? Ultimately he proposed the pact to me, I accepted, and both other players stopped even trying to hit me with anything. They went after each other instead and I coasted to a very easy victory.

Along a similar vein, I played some (for fun) games of Hold'Em at Andrew's birthday party last night. We ended up playing 4 times and I finished with a record of 1st, 1st, 3rd, last. Sky had 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd. Sky mused about which of those records was actually better? Clearly both are very good and would be +EV if we'd been playing for money no matter what the payout scheme was. If it was winner-takes-all then I'd be better off. If it was a 'double up' format where half the people get the same prize then Sky's would be better. So really which is better depends on what sort of weighting function we assign to the different places.

I watch poker coverage on tv when I notice it's on and often they talk about playing for a specific position. Someone with a smaller stack will try to avoid confrontation in the hopes of surviving while a couple other people lose out. Especially when they're 'on the bubble' where all but one of the remaining players is going to win money. A lot of people tighten up and do whatever they can to survive while someone else loses out. Playing passively in this way has to give an advantage to the bigger stacks at the table who can now have an easier time bulling people around and stealing pots.

If it's acceptable in poker shouldn't it be acceptable in board games? There are board games where you're often making plays to give other players points or to hurt other people's positions. (Think El Grande, Diplomacy, or Advanced Civilization.) A game of El Grande with all people playing solely for first is a very different affair than one where people are happy with second place. In the first game getting an early lead is very dangerous since everyone else is going to gang up on you. In the second game an early lead is game winning. People who are playing for second will just keep feeding you points because you simply don't matter anymore in their utility function. They have to give points to someone, and they're allowed to lose to someone, and they're probably going to lose to you anyway. So they might as well give any points to you instead of to one of their competitors.

I donno. I hate the idea of playing for second place. But if what I'm content to come 6th in an event and someone gets out to an early lead in the semis shouldn't I switch focus and start playing for second? Even if it's not a sand plaque on the line... In 2010 when I came 2nd in Tigris and Euphrates you could say my line of play was for second. There was an obvious leader and it would have taken a coordinated effort from the rest of us to take him down. We really could have done it if we'd been willing to spend a blight each. But none of us were willing to be the first one to use our blights and kept fighting amongst ourselves instead.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

WBC Sand Plaques

Each event at the World Boardgaming Championships gives out a number of plaques as prizes to the top N finishers of an event. N is a number between 1 and 6 and is determined by the number of man-hours spent playing the game at the previous year's event. Trials always give out just 1 plaque while century events always give out at least 2. Each plaque is a different colour and they have different shapes as well. 1st place is a shield and the rest are progressively smaller rectangles. The rarest plaque has to be the 6th place one since it's only ever given out in an event where the other 5 are also given out. That plaque is called the 'sand' plaque although I'd call it pink.

I want a pink plaque! The problem is in addition to being so rare they're also pretty hard to get. In many cases you can't even know what you have to do in order to get one. For example, one year Puerto Rico was big enough to give out 6 prizes. I know what I have to do in order to get 1st place. Win and keep winning! 2nd place? Make it to the finals and barely lose. But what do you have to do in order to come 6th? The way the PR GM at the time handled it was the closest 2nd place finisher in a semi-final game gets 5th and the next closest 2nd place finisher in a semifinal game gets 6th. So if my sole goal was to come 6th I would need to make it to the semifinals and then try to come a close but not too close 2nd place in that game. I'd somehow need one and only one of the other 2nd place semifinalists to come closer than me. That's an unknowable moving target!

Power Grid would be easier. They play a 6 player final. In that case the 6th place prize is 'easy' to earn... Make it to the finals and then play abysmally bad. Woo!

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) for me I'd never be able to do either of those things. Playing a game deliberately to lose is just not the way I roll. Frankly I'd be pretty bitter if someone else in a game was trying to lose (and therefore likely threw the game to whoever happened to be in a good position to capitalize on their ineptitude) and wouldn't want to do that to other people even if I didn't have the strong internal desire to just win, baby.

So what's a man who wants a pink plaque to do? Well, I guess the only real thing to do is to play in events which will grant 6 prizes and just 'hope' I do badly enough to come 6th. I certainly don't win all the games I play! I've been going for five years and only won two things, after all, so even though I say it's easy to know how to get a 1st place I don't mean it's easy to actually do! Ultimately I guess my goal should be to practice 6 prize events enough to become good but not great at them and then just play them and see what happens. Winning would actually be better than coming 6th anyway, since winning an event with over 600 man-hours of playtime in their formula has to be pretty cool regardless!

What are those events this year? From the spreadsheet I built a couple months ago it looks like:

Axis & Allies, B-17, Empire Builder, Hannibal, History of the World, Paths of Glory, Power Grid, Settlers of Catan, Through the Ages, Victory in Pacific, and World at War.

Well, I've played five of those games! I'd even say I like to play three of them. Every single one of those games, except Through the Ages, is an A class event so there isn't even a demo to learn them at the tournament. This list even goes so far as to provide one more reason to play Empire Builder... Maybe I'll have to tweak my schedule a bit to fit it in somewhere... It's also giving me even more desire to play TTA instead of A Few Acres of Snow this year. TTA seems to be such a heavily skill based game where I may be able to make the semis but then really expect to lose. If I can pull out a second place...

Friday, June 15, 2012

PSP Purchase Adventure

Last week I decided to buy a PlayStationPortable system in order to play Final Fantasy V. There were alternative console options for playing the game (I could play it in Japanese on my Super Famicom, I could play it on an emulator, or I could track down a PS or GBA copy) but I was going to want a PSP to play Dissidia and Dissida 012 eventually anyway. As an added bonus I'd been looking around at an EB a month or so ago and saw they had new copies of both Dissidia games at pretty cheap prices ($10 and $20). I looked up the price of a new PSP at Future Shop ($130) and headed out to see if I could find a decent used one at an EB. (I wish I could have gotten a PSVita for this purpose but despite promising PSOne emulation 'soon' it still isn't available.)

Now it turns out GameStop has pulled PSP units/games from a lot of their stores in the US and it seems EB has followed suit in Canada. The first EB I went to had no games or consoles. The second one I went to had no consoles but had a few games left. This was the place with both Dissidia games and fortunately they had them still so I bought them without having a console. The third EB I went to had a single 'refurbished' PSP 2000 unit for $70. It's an older version but I figured I wasn't likely to use it all that much anyway and it was going to be $60 cheaper. I verified with the guy that I could use the PSOne system on this version and bought it up. I was offered an extended warranty to replace the 30 day one and I remarked that as long as it worked right away I'd be happy.

I get it home, plug it in, and get rolling. First step, connect to the internet so I can buy a copy of FFV. Unfortunately it turns out the PSP needs a memory card and EB didn't include one with the system. And the guy didn't tell me I'd need one. *frown* Fortunately I bought a Sony camera a few years ago to use on my trip to Japan and it uses the same type of memory card. I swapped it in and got started. Connecting to my router was spotty at best but after many tries it finally detected it and stayed connected long enough to connect to the PSNetwork. But when I went to enter in an email address to sign up the emulated keyboard thing would instantly close. I found that if I held the cancel button down when I tried to enter into the keyboard that it would pop up a message asking if I wanted to cancel and keep the keyboard on screen. At least, until I said no, at which point it would disappear again. *frown*

Ok, time to turn to Google. Someone suggested resetting to factory default. Nope, that didn't fix it. Someone suggested busting it open and cleaning all the keys in case something was stuck. Aha! Is there a key that would show the behavior I'd been seeing? I played around a little bit and ultimately figured out the start button was stuck. I tried picking at it from the outside but couldn't get it unstuck. I checked EB's hours, found they were still open for another 30 minutes, and decided to see if I could take it back since it clearly doesn't work. I bet I could have fixed it myself but if it's showing busted behaviour right away I didn't have a ton of faith in the refurbishing job done on this particular unit. The guy at EB took it back as defective and gave me a refund. He would have done a swap but they didn't have any other units. He suggested I go to the Gamerama store in the basement of the same building but that I should make sure they didn't rip me off because they have spotty pricing sometimes. Ok, sounds good, though I had no intention of haggling. But if a used console was much more than $70 I'd just go get a new one from Future Shop.

Off to Gamerama. Turns out they had two used PSP 3000 for sale. For $60 each. With a 1G memory stick. And a free game from their limited selection of used PSP games. Ok, not getting ripped off then! I didn't recognize any of the games (except Dissidia which I just bought and a version of the original Final Fantasy which didn't have the disk) so the guy chose a random puzzle game for me. The way I looked at it I was getting a better unit and a memory stick for $10 less so the game was really irrelevant. It looks interesting but I doubt I'll really want to play it.

The PSP itself has worked great thus far. Better than great, even. Turning the power off puts my current emulated PSOne game in stasis and it resumes right where I left off when I power it back on. I even powered it on without the memory stick in (I'd knocked the PSP off my desk onto the floor and it kinda exploded), realized my problem, and tried again with it in. And the game still resumed! Sweet!

The PSOne library is pretty impressive too. I don't think I have a copy of Tactics so I'll be picking that up on the PSP. I may well get XenoGears to play on the bus at some point too. Heck, I may buy VII and VIII even though I have them to play on my PS2 so I can play them on the bus!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Diablo III: Hardcore Day 1

We got 4 people on last night to start hardcore characters which is a perfect number since that's the maximum party size. We ended up with a barbarian, a demon hunter, a wizard, and a witch doctor. Robb, Tom, Adam, and I smashed a bunch of monsters and had some good fun. We got into Act 2 when insanity took over. In a misguided attempt to get a speed achievement I took off on a frantic search for the second cultist dungeon in the desert. One bad tumble got me stuck in a dead end with no discipline and completely surrounded by dudes. I did get out of that with a potion chug and finally pooling up enough for a tumble but I was one hit from dead with an army chasing me. I found the entrance to a dungeon which would save me from the masses chasing me down. I jumped in only to discover 5 monsters right at the entrance who killed me before I had a chance to hit a button.

Let's have a moment of silence for poor Buffy the demon hunter. We only knew her for 3 hours and 15 levels but she will be missed.

Losing a party member leaves me wondering what should be done in such a situation for a hardcore team. There are five options that I can see...

  • Dead guy is kicked out of the party. Other three people keep playing without him until they eventually die off and then restart everyone from scratch.
  • Dead guy is kicked out of the party and someone with an appropriate level hardcore character tags in permanently.
  • Stop playing for the night. Dead guy has a week to level a replacement character when everyone will resume.
  • Other three people keep playing for the rest of the night. Dead guy has a week to level up a replacement character to tag in next week.
  • Dead guy makes a new character immediately and rejoins the party at level 1. 

I took the fifth option last night. I pretty much died immediately on respawning to terrain (the wall spit poison at me and killed me). I restarted again and died when a lacuni huntress thing jumped on me and one-shot me at level 3. BuffyIV played super carefully and actually managed to survive. Leveling up seemed slower than I expected and I ended up at level 11 with everyone else at 19 or 20. I'm going to (hopefully) get the last 7 levels on my own before next week.

One thing I noticed was I seemed to be getting a lot less experience than other people. I had Robb track his experience gain for a period of time and he'd gained 9k while I'd gained 3.3k. He had some +xp on his gear and I was naked so I thought he should be getting a little more than me but not that much more. I did some poking around and it seems that while you get an xp bonus for fighting higher level things you also get a massive penalty for having a high level friend helping you out. I found an interesting post detailing the level vs mob bonus/penalty. It turns out if you're 6 or more levels higher than the enemies your +xp from gear turns off which is certainly good to know, but it doesn't go into the grouping penalty. In fact there doesn't seem to be any concrete data for that penalty anywhere. Supposedly it kicks in with a 5 level difference and hits a -95% penalty at 10 level difference but I can't find anything verifying that. I certainly believe that something like that is going on since I was getting substantially less than Robb was. Note that quest reward experience isn't penalized and I didn't know about that last night so it's entirely possible most of that 3.3k came from quests.

Given that information I think the option I chose where a new level 1 dude tags in is very flawed. I can see it working if you're still in Act 1 normal but even where we were at the start of Act 2 normal it didn't seem to work terribly well. I was of no use to the rest of the party while causing the enemies to have an extra 75% of base health. The only plus side really is I'd get my share of drops which could then be split to the people who could use them. Catching up is pretty hard and that gap will only widen as the group gains levels. Not to mention that it will be harder and harder to stay alive as a low level hardcore character in higher zones. I believe eventually there's even a minimum level for zoning into higher difficulties so there's no way it would work once the group is in nightmare mode.

That said, what is the better alternative? I like the idea of subs but since there is no effective group communication in the game it actually seems really impractical. Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Final Fantasy V: Stealing

One of the first 6 jobs earned in Final Fantasy V is the thief job. I've always been drawn to thieves in games. Even when they're absolute garbage like in the original Final Fantasy or early D&D I still want to play a thief. Maybe I like being sneaky? Maybe I hate leaving treasure behind? (It could be in a locked chest I can't open or on a monster I can't steal from.) Maybe it's the one fantasy role I could actually see myself doing? I donno. For whatever reason, I made Faris into a thief and she hasn't changed yet.

I vaguely remembered from a previous playthrough that there was a good item that could be stolen in an early dungeon (the mountain where you save the dragon) but I didn't remember from who. So I stole from everyone in sight! It turned out to be a set of glasses off of a tombstone monster and wasn't actually that good. It's pretty much the worst item for the accessory slot but you can steal it before obtaining any other accessories so it is a strict upgrade if you bother farming up 4 of them. (I didn't, this time.)

It has me thinking though... You can clearly steal useful gear from monsters. Is there anything else I should be trying to steal? Is there anything I absolutely need to steal? (Final Fantasy III had the best dragoon weapon available only by stealing it, for example.) I decided to go through the list of all monsters and make note of any that drop particularly interesting stuff for future reference. Note that when you steal you have a 40% chance to get something and then have a 10 in 256 chance of stealing a rare item and a 246 in 256 chance of stealing the normal item. Note the glasses were a 'normal' item so it isn't necessarily bad. You can only steal one item per monster and can raise your success chance to 80% by equipping the thief gloves (which also give 4 defense and 2 agility so you want to equip them anyway).

Note I don't really know when these enemies appear so it's possible this stuff is actually obsolete by the time you can steal them?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Final Fantasy V: True Colours

I had a thought while playing Final Fantasy V last week that really shows the way I approach games... I'd just reached the second castle after the first crystal had shattered. We were on our way to warn the king that his crystal was going to shatter as well and terrible things would happen. We show up and start talking to him and he blows out concerns off. "Just because your crystal blew up doesn't mean mine is going to! My people like the power they gain by abusing the crystal." My party tries to talk some sense into him when suddenly a meteor crashes into the ground near the tower in which they store the crystal. The ominous sense of urgency music starts playing. A guard runs in and tells the king what happened. The kings freaks out, tells all his guards to come with him, and runs off to the tower. It's clear from the music and the story that I'm expected to rush after him too. Maybe if I get there in time I can save the crystal from the meteor!

Instead I think to myself "The king and all the guards are gone? Time to ransack this place!" and run off to scour every inch of his castle for fat loots. Must get all of the stuffs! (And I thought I might be unique, but in order to get the right sound clip I found a "Let's Play" for the game at this spot and the voice over from the guy playing it also immediately mentions looting the castle after the king runs off.)

A little further on you get stuck in an exploding castle. You have 10 minutes to get out but there are tons of monster-in-a-box treasures to get. I ended up playing through 3 times on the bus this morning to make sure I got all the relevant loot (skipping some elixirs). I only would have done it twice but the game actually locked up on me after my second try. (I had learned a hard to learn blue mage spell in that run as well so I'm a little bitter the game froze.)


Monday, June 11, 2012

Final Fantasy V: Job System

Final Fantasy V uses an evolved version of the job system that started in the original Final Fantasy and was refined in Final Fantasy III. It has significant changes over the old systems which I feel are vast improvements. Here's how things changed...

In FFI you could pick a job at the start of the game and then make no other decisions. This meant you had lots of different potential parties you could play with, but couldn't adapt on the fly to interesting challenges. You could evolve all of your characters at once with a sidequest most of the way through the game but there wasn't really a choice there. The upgrades were all strictly superior (well, except for a stupid monk bug) and locked in. A white mage became a white wizard, never a black wizard.

In FFIII you could change your job at any time you weren't in combat. You acquired jobs at different times so often you'd want to change jobs to try new things out or to set up for specific challenges. Unfortunately they built in two mechanics that punished changing jobs. There was an overt punishment where you sucked for a number of fights after changing jobs, and there was a subtle punishment where how good you were at a job was directly related to how many levels you had in the job. Switching around to try different things out was just a bad idea. You also got no benefit for spending time in another job (unless that job had high vitality) after switching out.

In FFV they fixed all of that. Now there's no penalty at all to switching jobs. You might need to juggle a lot of gear sets, I guess, but you don't get a big stat penalty for switching. And there's a benefit to switching jobs! Each job has a blank ability slot which can be filled in with an ability learned by leveling any job. Maybe it's from your current job. Maybe it's from some other job. Want to be a fighter who can heal? Add white magic as your secondary ability. Want to be a white mage who can steal? Level up thief a little, learn the steal skill, then switch to white mage and set steal as your secondary ability. There are tons of different abilities you can learn along the way. As an end game bonus if you've mastered a bunch of jobs you can switch to the bare or mimic job and get the benefits of every mastered job.

The really awesome abilities are all learned after mastering a job, so there's still an incentive to stick with one job. A reason to specialize and a reason to diversify? Sweet!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Diablo III: Hardcore Night

Ok, Blizzard won't give us communication tools in order to actually communicate with people in game. So I'm just going to throw a plan out there and maybe it'll stick. Who knows...

Wednesday at 8pm eastern I'm going to get on Diablo III and create a level 1 hardcore demon hunter. My intention is to ignore the auction house with this character and just use gear I find/build with the blacksmith. If other people should happen to also create level 1 hardcore characters at the same time and join my game that would be just fine by me. Preferably a barb and a caster so we can use all the stats!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Diablo III: Defensive Stat Weightings

The last few days I've been working on getting all the Act 1 achievements in Diablo III. I've been making a fair amount of money doing so and have been buying upgrades on the AH. With the announcement that farming Act 1 will drop the best stuff (at a reduced rate) I've been focusing on picking up magic find gear. My logic here is that I can't really buy gear to do more damage (my spell doesn't seem to crit and attack speed will be getting nerfed and really causes me to run out of arcane power) so I should make the stuff I can kill more lucrative. I can get gear with high int and magic find values to nudge my damage up a little and make the stuff I kill drop more stuff.

It turns out gear that has tons of int, vit, and magic find costs a fortune. At least, I assume it does, because I never see any in my price range. So either it costs a fortune or it doesn't exist. This has caused my health to slowly and steadily drop as I buy new items. The thing I've been noticing is I haven't been at any more risk of dying even with only 16k health. I'm sure part of this is because I'm getting gear with armor and resist all on it in addition to the int and magic find. I have 6855 armor and 275 resist all. 403 physical resist! Compared to my post last week I'm down 8500 health but up 3600 armor and 90 resist all. Part of my thinking is that the force armor passive gets better the less max health I have, within reason. But is that actually true? If I was going to add one of the three defensive stats (health, armor, resist all) which one should I add?

As things currently stand I have a combined damage reduction of 83.5%. With the way force armor works, incoming damage actually gets reduced as follows:

Base DamageActual Damage

Now, what's the best stat boost you can find on a rare? As far as I can tell... 278 vit, 397 armor, or 80 resist all. The vit is worth 9730 health and I get an extra 65% armor so the armor is really worth 655 armor. With each stat the matrix changes to...

9730 health
Base DamageActual Damage

655 armor
Base DamageActual Damage

80 resist
Base DamageActual Damage

A max resist item is clearly better than a max armor item, but what about vitality? A vitality item will drastically increase the 'safe' range where damage is capped at 35% of my max health. But what if the raw damage isn't in big chunks but instead in constant chunks like fire chains or desecration? Then it may be best to look at 'effective health'. I'm going to include drinking a potion and using a diamond skin in these calculations since I can pretty much always do those at least once in a big fight. Realistically I get to kite a while and keep pounding diamond shield but if they're really that kiteable it doesn't matter what my gear is as I'll win eventually anyway. 

EH(base) = 241k
EH(vit) = 300k
EH(ac) = 257k
EH(resist) = 274k

So if the damage is small I want more health. If the damage is really big I want more health. If the damage is in the 'safe' range it really doesn't matter what I do. More health is slightly bad if I am pounding out the healing in that case. But I really don't know how often I'm in that range. 

The bottom line is the next item I buy should probably have a large amount of vitality on it instead of bonus armor or resist all. And possibly I should really switch to the +40% resistance rune if I'm really spending most of my time in the bottom range of these tables. I need to do some more searching to see if I can find raw damage numbers for monsters! (Though those numbers will change in the next patch for Inferno Acts 2, 3, and 4.)

Friday, June 08, 2012

Diablo III Patch 1.0.3

Blizzard recently posted a list of upcoming changes to Diablo III. They're addressing a lot of the issues I've had thus far. In particular:

Current Act 2 Inferno gear is going to start dropping, sporadically, in Act 3/4 Hell and Act 1 Inferno. The very top gear is going to start dropping in Act 1 Inferno. This will remove the current absolute requirement to buy gear on the AH when you reach endgame. They're going to make the bets stuff drop more often in the higher difficulties so you will still be rewarded for being able to legitimately beat the toughest stuff. I have a feeling your best bet is going to be farming Act 1 Inferno now, but...

They're going to nerf Act 2, 3, and 4 Inferno. They're going to be lowering damage and health to make it more of a difficulty ramp than a giant set of difficulty stairs. There can certainly be numbers chosen where it will make sense to farm higher difficulties for the increased top gear drop rate. For now my plan is certainly to focus on MF gear in order to farm Act 1 Inferno after the patch.

They're destroying the combine costs for the blacksmith and jeweler. They didn't post any details about blacksmithing but the jeweler is having the gold cost reduced by a factor of 200. Yeah, that's quite the nerf. They're also cutting the number of gems needed to 2 from 3. I don't think that change is needed (gems are dirt cheap as it is and it did feel like you found a reasonable progression of gems with the 3-for-1 crushing) but I think it's a lot better for the crafters to be too cheap than too expensive. As someone who used to pick up all chipped gems and all runes in Diablo II in order to crush them together I really like that crushing might make sense.

They're removing the damage scaling from grouping! This is totally excellent! As it currently stands I shudder when someone joins my game. The monsters do more damage and my quasi-tank NPC helper disappears. If the person joining my game isn't able to tank we're probably screwed. Removing that damage multiplier makes everything that much smoother. With that change I'll be happy with any number of people joining my games and might even feel comfortable joining other people.

They mentioned in passing looking into how attack speed impacts spell costs. Also nerfing attack speed since it's the best thing right now.

The only big thing they didn't mention at all that I'm really annoyed with is the lack of guild support. I had an awesome item drop yesterday and I really would have liked to link it to a bunch of people at once. Also I still want to start a hardcore group up at some point and it would be a lot easier to put that together with a guild system. Or even just the ability to create a chat room!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

MLG: Anaheim

Major League Gaming is holding their spring championship event this weekend with coverage starting tomorrow at 8:30 pm. I get pretty pumped about watching these events in general because of StarCraft II. It turns out this time around they're also running a huge League of Legends event. 19 teams with a $40k prize pool! They've apparently even built 5-man sound-proof booths to use in order to be able to show the games to the big crowd at the event site.

The fact the event is in Anaheim makes me happy, too. The times are PST this time around, which means the Saturday broadcast schedule is from 1pm until 4am. I'm sure for some people this is unfortunate but for me it's awesome. I get to sleep in reasonably late (probably still have to set an alarm) and then have something to watch all day long.

StarCraft II and League of Legends aren't the only games being played this weekend. They're also running events for Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters, and Soul Calibur. I watched some of those games during the winter championship and found them to be interesting enough. They had the real advantage that the games are fairly quick and the whole match gets played out one after another. I find there's a fair amount of downtime between games of SC2 and a ton of downtime between games of LoL so having a quick thing on another channel available to switch to was pretty useful.

If anyone wants to swing by this weekend and watch some pro level video games on the big screen give me a call or shoot me a message somewhere. LoL is going to have priority but I'm sure some of all the games will get watched!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Final Fantasy V

Final Fantasy V was the last of the core series to be Japan only for its initial release. (Joining FFII and FFIII.) Square didn't think the US gamer could handle the complexities of the job system in FFV and sent us Mystic Quest instead (which has certainly never been accused of complexity). It took seven years for the game to eventually get an English port when it was released in a Playstation bundle along with FFVI. The first time I played the game was on an emulator using a translation mod for the original game. The first (and only) time I've beat the game is in Japanese on my Super Famicom. Using the internet to direct my every move, of course, since I don't speak Japanese. I remember making little notes of what the symbols meant for commonly used things like !White and Yes.

The game is pretty universally reviewed as having an awesome combat/leveling system and subpar plot/character development. Which actually made it sort of ideal for playing in a foreign language. When I was considering how to play the game for this marathon I had to decide if I wanted to do that again. The only copy of FFV I own is the Japanese one, see, and I'd need to quickly find another way to play if I didn't want to muddle through it again. Ultimately I decided not to muddle around and instead went out and got a PSP. It turns out you can actually download and play a ludicrous number of PSOne games on the PSP and has the huge advantage of being portable so I can spend my almost 2 hours of transit time per day playing FFV. And as an added bonus I'd need a PSP for some of the later games (Dissidia in particular) anyway.

So now I have a copy of the game. The next question is what is my plan going to be? I could just play it through normally since I haven't actually done that in English. I could try for a low level game. I could try for a no job game. That last one seems terrible since the job system is the shining jewel of FFV. I started a level 2 game once upon a time but someone ended up saving over top of it. Level 2 with 50+ hours played... Down the drain... That can't happen this time since no one else can play my copy of the game! It can also get a little boring waiting for Galuda to run away but if I'm doing it in small chunks on the bus that doesn't seem so bad. Also apparently there are better ways to level your jobs than just that...

I haven't done anything truly crazy in a while. I think it may just be crazy time...

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Conclusions

I wrapped up my playthrough of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest last night with a little over 8 hours on my save file. I spent more time than that playing the game given the large number of party wipes and reloading that occurred. (I think? I guess the game doesn't actually reload so it could keep the clock running when you retry a fight.) Here are my final thoughts on the game:

I enjoyed the final dungeon. It had a floor for each of the elemental zones which was guarded by a souped up version of the boss of the earlier dungeon. Each floor made minor use of the puzzles used in the original dungeon. (Sword to open the special statues, hook shot, falling down pits...) What I didn't like is how they didn't run a full palette shift and upgrade of the monsters from those zones so I would sometimes run into trivial monsters.

The ending cutscenes were surprising to me. You beat the big bad, you save the world, and you have two pretty young ladies who helped you save the world. I'd think the story would have the hero want to settle down with one of them. You know, really celebrate? Instead the hero asks the captain of the boat if he can 'borrow' it for a while. Defeating the big bad wasn't enough adventure for our hero and he sets out all by himself on the open sea. Then it turns out someone stowed away on board the ship to be with him... Was it Phoebe? Kaeli? Turns out neither! It's Tristam the treasure hunter who just wants adventure too. I'm not saying I don't blame the hero. I'm just surprised that the final cutscenes don't feature romance.

The game is _really_ easy. Monsters frequently had instant death attacks (petrification in particular) and those are a real problem for a two member party. Except when I got hit with one I'd just lose the fight and get to try it again. The difficulty of individual fights was actually pretty unbalanced and was really only salvaged by getting to redo a lost fight immediately. To make things even easier apparently a lot of the bosses are tagged as undead and can be killed with a single life spell. I didn't do this so I can't verify the authenticity, but it is what I read.

It turns out you don't need to run the battleground for the Gemini crest. I think it just lets you warp around the map to cut down on a lot of the excessive walking I ended up doing. I wanted to test the veracity of the wiki article I read stating it was mandatory. It isn't. The two pieces of armor you can get from them aren't really mandatory either since they do get superseded by a purchased item later in the game.

The monster AI was pretty good in some spots and thankfully not too good in others. An enemy with a heal spell could be counted on using it every single time there was an enemy below half, which was good. I did run into two enemies that liked to spam sleep spells. Thankfully they didn't intentionally abuse the power they had, though the did sometimes randomly do it. First round sleep both my party. Second round punch one person and then put them back to sleep. If I ever wake up on my own, sleep both people that round. I'm pretty sure they have a near guaranteed victory if they do that (I was underleveled and therefore slow so I always went last each round). It did get boring when they opened with a sleep on both people and then continued to spam sleep for no reason.

I think a mark of a good game is how much I want to immediately play it again. Final Fantasy III, for example, I wanted to try again with a different job focus. I actually want to play Mystic Quest again with the goal of avoiding absolutely all combat that isn't directly needed to advance the story. I want to see just how low a level I can be and still win. I'm pretty sure the restricting factor isn't going to be power level since my buddy can handle everything I think. It's going to be how much experience I can skip by avoiding fights. (Possibly which side treasure I absolutely need to get? Having access to the top end armor could be clutch.)

On the other hand, I had no such desire upon completing a game from the Final Fantasy Legend series. I think that means I should be ranking Mystic Quest higher than them. Is it better than Final Fantasy Adventure? Final Fantasy II? I think the innovation of cycling items with L/R instead of needing to go into multiple menus pushes it over the top of Adventure. I suspect if I'd played the original version of FFII that Mystic Quest might even come out on top there, too. But I don't think it quite has enough to get there. It's just too short, and too linear, and too easy. But I definitely don't regret playing it. It slides nicely into the #5 slot as the best offshoot I've played thus far.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Preliminary WBC 2012 Schedule

I'm an eager beaver this year as I've already managed to massage the WBC event schedules into my spreadsheet format and have built out a preliminary plan for this coming year. Considering that in 2010 I barely got my plan done as we were heading out the door and that in 2011 I was less than a week early. Now I've got almost 2 whole months to second guess myself and make changes!

Click to view an enlarged version!
I didn't schedule a single demo this time around. It didn't feel like there were many new games added this year. I'll go through the event previews again closer to the event and maybe something will jump out at me but as things stand I didn't really see anything I wanted to learn.

I took a step back this year and only scheduled 4 finals! Last year I scheduled 5 finals and managed to make 2 of them. Two years ago I scheduled 4 and only made 1. Scheduling finals is certainly a crap shoot for me!

Once again I left Empire Builder off the table. This makes me very sad. I remain tempted to make it my team game in order to force myself to slot it in.

Ir turns out that on top of my annoying Monday scheduling problems with San Juan, Through The Ages, and A Few Acres of Snow it's also when Innovation kicks off. And Vegas Showdown. I think my solution to the problem is going to involve skipping San Juan entirely and hoping I get done my second TTA heat in 4 hours so I can play AFAoS mulligan round. I'm not sold on this being the best plan, though. I really want to play AFAoS because I feel like it's the sort of skill-high & luck-light game that can turn into a run of victories and I may be good enough to be the one on top? Maybe I'm just beating up on chumps when I play on Yucata though and the great players will stomp me at WBC.

That said, with the scheduling concerns I don't think I can pick either San Juan or A Few Acres of Snow as my team game this year. I'm leaning towards Le Havre again. Maybe this year I can finally beat Daniel in a 4 player game? (I doubt it, since I haven't put any practice in at all.)

This year's winner for random game that fits into all my holes and I probably will skip is a tie between St Petersburg and Ingenius. I don't know that I've ever even played Ingenius (maybe a couple times on BSW 12 years ago)?

Not a single Stone Age heat! I think they've changed the format from last year but it really made me bitter forcing me to play a second game immediately afterwards which wasn't scheduled.

I didn't put either football game on. Mostly because I can't remember which one I liked by name... That may be a thing that changes closer to the event itself when I read the previews again.

I also don't appear to be interested in eating this year. That could be a problem...

PS: DIPLOMACY! I can't imagine how waking up really early on Saturday morning after a week of staying up late eating at Waffle House could possibly go wrong.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest: Music

One of the things that was mentioned a lot in reviews for Mystic Quest is how fantastic the music is. Time after time I'd see people lamenting that such a great soundtrack was stuck on such a terrible game. Now, I don't think the game is quite so terrible and it turns out I also don't think the soundtrack is so great either. I found a list of the soundtrack and could find all the songs on Youtube but I couldn't find a playlist containing just those songs. So I built one myself!

Don't get me wrong, I don't think the music is bad. It's just I spend a fair amount of time listening to OST's for the other Final Fantays games and they blow this one away. Nobuo Uematsu wasn't involved in this game (presumably he was working on Final Fantasy V at the time) and maybe that's my problem. I spend so much time listening to his awesome music that it may be clouding my judgment? I don't know.

Maybe the same sort of logic applies to the music as to the game itself. I hypothesized that Mystic Quest may actually be one of the better RPGs on the SNES but that it pales so much to the core Final Fantasy games that no one can look at it objectively. It could well be the same thing with me and the soundtrack. It could be the fourth best soundtrack on the system for all I know, but it's way behind IV, V, and VI that it's hard to judge.

Here's one of my favourite songs from the soundtrack. It's the theme song for one of the allies who joins your party. He's not a thief, he's a treasure hunter! His name in the US game is Tristam, but in the Japanese game it's Lock. Hmm...

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Improperly Tuned Content

I've been thinking a lot the last few days about content which isn't properly tuned. By this I mean content that the developer thinks should be a particular difficulty but ends up being far easier or far harder than intended. In those situations what should be done?

When content is too hard I think the solutions are fairly straightforward. Adjust the numbers/fix the bugs such that it falls in line with what you intended. Not everyone will be happy with this solution, of course, but even the unhappy people don't have all that much to complain about. Some people would have been able to beat the harder version and will be annoyed that now other people get to trivialize their accomplishments. However, the hardcore people in this case did get the rewards earlier. They got to use the power thus gained in other areas, getting a head start on the competition. And they get to brag about being able to beat the pre-nerf content. Maybe some people were very close to beating the harder version and will be annoyed that they don't get to finish it up but if my experiences with people are any indication they'll ultimately be happy to have the fight beaten, to finally have the loot, and to be able to move on to other things. People who weren't even at the content yet should be thrilled. Clearly they aren't intense enough to have gotten to the fight at its hardest and can actually fight it as intended when they get there. In general, a good thing.

Now, that isn't to say starting content out too hard is wise. The straw that finally broke my WoW camel's back was the tuning on heroic Atramedes. The fight had some bugs, and it had some really stupid numbers, but some people were still beating it so in general people didn't see it as a problem. We bashed ourselves into it for a while and I simply couldn't see a way where I could get better to avoid the instant kills I was eating (flying chasing lazer beams that started on top of me when I was already running and killed me before anything could be done) and really couldn't see a way for some of the other people in the raid to get good enough to avoid the instant kills they were eating. I got fed up and quit. Maybe if that fight was tuned a little saner I wouldn't have gotten fed up and would still be playing WoW to this day.

What about when content is too easy? Here you have a very sticky situation for the developer. If they keep it too easy then their grand vision gets ruined. If they make it harder then the people who got there first will have earned illegitimate rewards that other people simply can't get with the same amount of time/effort/skill. Depending on the rewards this could be a small problem or a game changing catastrophe. One infamous example of this is Kerafyrm the Sleeper from Everquest. This guy was supposed to be an event which rampaged through multiple zones killing everyone in sight, and could only happen once per server. A couple years later a server which still had him sleeping decided to try to kill him. He could only be damaged by a couple of spells in the game (probably someone forgot to toggle him as immune to mana burn) and had multiple instant death attacks. Unfortunately for him he had no AE death spells so it turned out that if you simply had enough people present when he spawned you could resurrect people faster than he could kill them. Three guilds on one server worked together to do this. After fighting him for over 3 hours Sony despawned him! (And this is a game where death caused permanent loss so graveyard zerging something for 3 hours had a very real cost.) Eventually they decided to reset the event and let the guilds kill him off but not after a lot of sketchy explanations. Fortunately for Sony nothing really broke by letting them kill this guy but the fact they despawned him rather than let him die shows just how far developers will go to prevent people from doing things they "shouldn't" be able to do.

This has come up a few times so far in Diablo III. There was a resplendent chest that could spawn in Act 2 that wasn't guarded by anything tough at all. People would start a game near the chest, run to it, open it, and repeat. It was a way to introduce a lot of potentially powerful loot to the game at a rate that was unmatched by actually killing things. In addition a couple of class abilities (in particular force armor) allowed people to survive in inferno more easily than anticipated. In all cases Blizzard let people 'exploit' the issues for a few days and then patched them out of the game. (I use exploit in quotes because I don't know that there's anything exploitative at all about using a survival class ability to survive.)

Here's the problem... You can't really play in Act 1 inferno with loot you found in hell. You need a high damage weapon and good defensive gear that realistically comes from Act 2 inferno. You certainly can't really play in Act 2 inferno with loot from hell or Act 1. The jump in difficulty and in loot is really extreme. (Possibly this content is tuned too hard.) There were ways around the difficulty (like force armor) and there were ways around the loot rarity (like the easy to reach chest) but those ways were only available to the early few who got to the front and thought of them in time. Someone who didn't read about easy ways to get loot or who leveled slowly has no chance of survival.

Except, that is, by buying loot from the people who did. It's entirely plausible to farm the end of hell for cash. Spend that cash on the auction house for inferno quality loot. Use that loot to survive the early part of Act 1 inferno and farm that for cash. Maybe even find an item or two to sell to the people stuck in hell. Use the new cash for Act 2 loot. Use that loot to progress further in Act 1. Repeat. It's certainly a way to play the game, though it isn't the same game you were playing up to 60. My wizard is wearing one item I found myself (a set ring) and everything else I had to buy. Even then, as Sky points out in yesterday's comments, my gear is trash. Despite buying almost exclusively items with int and defensive stats I don't have enough defensive stats to survive and I don't really have enough int to do damage. If I want to keep playing I need to farm more and more money and buy better and better items. Items that I can't feasibly generate for myself. I may hit the jackpot again and get another set item to drop but realistically I'm going to be geared out in rare items and those items are going to be from Act 3 or Act 4 and not from anything I can actually kill. My place on the pyramid scheme is to find items to sell to people barely able to play in Act 1.

I want to play a game where I kill things with my laser beams, look at the loot that drops, and think about putting it on. I don't want to play a game where I need to look at the loot that drops and think about how much I could sell it for. I don't want to play an economic game. (Especially not one with such pathetic data and communication tools as D3. I should play EVE if that's the sort of game I want.)

Perhaps the biggest problem is I can't see a way to possibly catch up to the people ahead of me. Because I can't improve my character's gear on my own I'm stuck relying on those ahead of me to generate loot I can use and price it at something I can afford. But this drains my money and adds to theirs. So when the really awesome stuff from Act 4 drops who gets to buy it? It's certainly not me. I don't have my money anymore, people in Act 3 do. And people in Act 3 don't even have my money anymore, because people in Act 4 do. Indeed, the only ways to catch up that I can see are to find my own undertuned content and 'exploit' it while I can or to spend cash when the real money auction house opens up. In that way I can bypass the in game gold limit where I'll never have more than the people I buy from and jump ahead.

Which makes the cynical part of me wonder if the content was really undertuned at all in the first place... In order for people to play in Act 1 now we need people in Act 2. But how does anyone ever get to Act 2 in the first place if no one can play in Act 1? Well, we let them sneak through some holes we built in to the game! Insert some loot at the start of the system to prime the whole thing!

Blizzard was pretty clear from the get-go that inferno difficulty was going to be really hard. The monsters were going to hit like trucks. How did a wizard spell that reduced all incoming damage to 35% on their max health ever get into the game? As soon as I saw that ability while playing in inferno I could tell it was broken. (As for why I didn't do this right at the start and become one of the lucky people ahead of the curve? I didn't have advanced tooltips turned on so I didn't know what it did.) Either a lot of people at Blizzard are really bad at knowing how things work, or they didn't actually test anything in inferno at all, or they left this rune in on purpose to allow loot to start getting generated. I don't even know which of those options I want to be true. No matter which it is my desire to play the game isn't very high. The issues with chat, the AH, server stability, and account hacking are all contributing to this feeling.

Getting back to the topic... How should Blizzard have handled undertuned content? I honestly think they needed to catch the 'easy' ways to play/get loot in inferno mode before launch or they needed to leave them in for everyone to use. Especially in a game where loot isn't soulbound in any way! World of Warcraft wouldn't have had such an issue. Some people would have more stuff and be further ahead but that wouldn't actually impact the way other people play the game. In Diablo III it does drastically change the way I'm able to play the game. Now, without the early priming of gear they'd probably need to tune down the difficulty curve in inferno or ramp up the gear at the end of hell. I think those would have been better options. But the fact that status quo makes buying gear on the real money AH almost a necessity for anyone who wants to catch up makes me really suspicious...

At any rate, I can see wanting to start a hardcore party up. I can see trying to grind out some more achievements (2590 points and counting!). But I just can't see actually playing the game at level 60. It's just more frustrating than it is fun.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Diablo III: Combo Breaker

I got home from work yesterday really eager to try out my broken combo from yesterday. There was a small patch which mentioned how one of my skills had been previously hot-fixed with a tooltip update in yesterday's patch. The tooltip wasn't actually updated (of course) but a little searching revealed (and was later confirmed by Sky in the comment thread) that the amount of damage absorbed per swing is capped at your max health. This means you absolutely can't ignore health or mitigation stats since any hit for double your max health is going to kill you. Even if you were running a full diamond shield a swing for 28k into someone with 4k health would kill them instantly instead of chipping off 7% of their shield. Considering I'd been hit with a 58k swing with pretty high mitigation stats that's really pretty likely.

But is the combo killed off entirely or merely nerfed? I built the spec and headed out to see. I was still running 24534 health, 3270 armor, and 183 resist all. Not a ton, but not completely worthless either. I'd been able to make progress in A2 with that gearset (thought admittedly without glass cannon). I headed on out and my first elite pack was a group of ranged champions with vortex and molten. I'd get vortexed in and die practically immediately to the molten. I couldn't walk out fast enough to survive if diamond skin wasn't up when I got vortexed. I didn't have time to cast diamond skin to save myself, even! Stupid familiar dude wasn't much help either (and doesn't give 12% damage since that's a different rune entirely and not part of his base package). I did eventually beat the pack but it was with a massive amount of cheeziness. (Graveyard zerg one down, let my rez timer and the rest of them reset, repeat.)

Slogging on, my next pack was with jailer/plagued dudes. I'd get jailed and then die to the pool of goo thrown down after the jailing. No chance at all to escape. I again burned them out with the super graveyard zerg plan, but it wasn't fun.

The question I now have is how do these pools of goo work? Molten, plagued, desecration, arcane enchanted, and fire chains... Do they do a ton of damage in one shot? Do they do miniscule damage constantly? Old force armor would have been awesome against the first and useless against the second. New force armor is pretty bad against either one but could be ok if it ticks in very precise intervals for your current stats. From my experience it doesn't tick in a useful interval for me. Frankly, I just explode.

Even when up against dudes that aren't using a brutal combo to own me I was having trouble. Probably they were cracking for more than 33k in a swing and therefore were breaking the absorb cap on my shield. The spec was clearly not all I was hoping it would be, at any rate. I was still fine with diamond skin up and pretty much dead when it wasn't up just like with my old spec. Worse, this spec didn't have teleport so it was harder to kite while waiting for diamond skin to refresh. Teleport also helps with a lot of the goo on the ground (you can teleport out of jailer or vortex to escape goo) and the clones I get out of it still sometimes accidentally take a hit or two. (Why the clones insist on hiding behind me is a special frustration...)

So I altered my spec a little. Familiar didn't seem to be doing enough. With the force armor nerf I was no longer guaranteed to even have familiar proc before I would die. So I swapped it out for teleport. I also removed glass cannon which put me back up to 3634 armor and 204 resist all. I tried out making disintegrate a 20% slow but it didn't seem great so I'm falling back to taking 20% less melee damage. Assuming the monsters in act 2 are level 63 my mitigation would change from 69% with glass cannon to 72% without. 77% on melee attacks.

Is force armor even worth it at this point? I could use a resist buffing glyph instead. With the extra 40% from the glyph I'd get up to 76% against specials and 81% against melee attacks. Either way it's a 14% reduction in damage taken. All damage taken. What does force armor do? Nothing to hits below 35% of my maximum health. Damage between 35% and 40% of my max health gets reduced more by prismatic armor. Bigger hits get reduced by larger and larger amounts. That is, until I start taking swings for more than 8 times my max health, when prismatic armor takes over again. Of course, I'm guaranteed dead at that point so it doesn't much matter!

So if I'm taking large numbers of smaller hits I want prismatic armor. If I'm taking large but not immediately fatal hits then I want force armor. The trouble is I'm not actually sure what it is I'm taking! The lack of a combat log in this game is _really_ frustrating. How often does molten or desecration tick? Does it ever actually 'hit'? Can force armor even impact it at all? What happens if I start buying more resist all gear? I can raise the bar higher. What happens if I stack on more health? I again raise the bar higher. Maybe monsters will keep swinging for such ludicrous numbers that force armor will stay reasonable. But I actually question my desire to play a game where all the incoming damage is more than half my health no matter what my gear is...