Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2012 WBC Day 3 Summary

Monday featured three events I really wanted to enter. San Juan started at 10 and would go for likely 6-7 hours. A Few Acres of Snow started at 12 and would likely go for 8-10 hours, but I could skip the first 2 hours because of the mulligan round Sunday night. Through The Ages was at 10 and was the third heat. I already had a first and an incredibly close second (lost by 1 point) so ideally I should have been in a good way to make it to the semis already. Unfortunately the posted tiebreakers cared about your third best result instead of how close your second was and they were treating a last place as being better than not playing at all. This meant I would lose to any first-second-showed up combo. I was musing about this last night with Sceadeau and Randy (the GM) and thought that maybe I should just show up and use the honourable withdrawl rule to concede on turn 1 and get a third place. Randy immediately said he'd just give me a third place in the scoring system if I showed up instead of having me screw over a game. I don't think I would have screwed over a game but the fact that I 'should' have done so is a bit of a problem and letting me just get a third is certainly a good solution. Randy said he's going to change the tiebreakers next year to fix this issue by only counting your top two finishes.

I decided I didn't want to risk a Through The Ages game going more than 4 hours and causing me to miss A Few Acres of Snow which looked to be mine for the taking so I ended up showing up at 10 and getting my third place. I ended up being by far the best 1-2-3 record but that was only good enough for 19th place with top 16 advancing. If I'd gotten up to 1-2-2 I would have been the best of those and finished something like 14th and made the semis. Oh well.

What I did end up doing was playing A Few Acres of Snow at 12. The GM let me know that I could play round 1, lose, and still advance because I won the mulligan round the night before. Great! Maybe I can play someone good for a stupidly high bid and figure out what a reasonable bid is going to be. Not to be. My opponent had played once before. He let me have the British for 3 and then proceeded to never use any of the free actions. I did my only British opener (buy rangers, make 6 and buy governor, governor away Pemaquid and St Mary's, make money and buy guns, attack, win) and blew him up.

Round 2 put me up against someone who didn't understand the bidding system and didn't know the game but had been told a rudimentary British strategy. He thought we were bidding victory points instead of bonus actions and was planning on winning by taking Quebec so points wouldn't matter. This is true and is why points aren't the bidding currency. At any rate I ended up accepting a bid of 7 to play the French. After I accepted the bid he let me know that he had another event in 2 hours so he was going to concede just before he won. I think that's sketchy and would rather he knock me out and then drop. The game went about as expected except he screwed up pretty badly by not realizing he could put his ships cards into the fight. Oddly enough he knew he could buy the ships card for 6 and put it into the fight but never realized he could put Norfolk and New Haven in. He did put Boston and New York in and then either had weak draws or misplayed and consistently made 2 or 3 dollars per turn instead of 6. This let me keep up in military power during our Port Royal fight while disking out most of my board. I screwed up by putting Montreal on the fight before settling Fort Frontenac so I couldn't end the game immediately upon termination of the fight in Port Royal. He wanted to concede because he couldn't see a way the fight would end until I pointed out to him that he could put Norfolk on the pile. He promptly won the fight. He also beiseged and won in Halifax (I raided Port Royal away to slow him down from attacking Louisbourg) and managed to settle and disk up Fort Frontenac and Oswego before he won in Halifax. I then conceded the fight in Halifax and won the game on points.

Round 3 had me face off against Alex Henning. I'd been watching her and her brother (other Nick) play in the first round and saw that they'd both played, and won, as the French by going a hardcore disking strategy against people who didn't go hardcore attacking. She let me have the British for 2 and let me know that she'd only played like 4 games total and only as the French but had been told a good strategy by her brother. This let me know what her plan was, but it didn't matter at all. I have a very specific British strategy that I use every game. I used it this game and it worked as expected but it was actually relatively close to her disking out in time to win. The key was that I managed to siege Port Royal and Halifax before she could disk them up which both gave her two dead cards and which forced her to settle an extra two locations in the west before she could use up all of her disks. A close game, but not one any different than the games on Yucata where I win every time as the British.

Round 4 was against Nick Henning's friend and apparently the only person he ever played against before WBC. They're pretty good at games in general and had worked out a strong French strategy but I don't know that they ever used the full hardcore British attack. People kept referring to the British attack plan as the 'Halifax Hammer' because everyone seems to think you should take Halifax first. I ignore Halifax and kill Port Royal and it works just fine, thanks! I believe he let me be the British for 5 this game. He opened the game with a very fast siege of Pemaquid on turn 2. I managed to keep that fit going while I worked to governor away my bad cards and starting buying stuff. I did this by buying my siege artillery early on and throwing it into the fight. After I'd stabilized he ended up buying his siege artillery and throwing it and coureurs de bois into the Pemaquid fight to put me down by 4. I couldn't stop the fight but I could attack Port Royal with my regular infantry and my rangers! He won Pemaquid, I won Port Royal. He couldn't settle since Quebec was in the fight. I could settle and now had Port Royal. I started a quick siege of Louisbourg but hadn't quite realized I was behind in military strength (I lost a regular when Pemaquid resolved but he lost nothing when Port Royal resolved) and ended up losing the fight in Louisbourg. I bought a couple more regulars and went right back in and won this time. From there it was an easy trek to Quebec.

Round 5, the finals, was against Nick Henning himself. He bid me up a little more than the other two did but not by much. I got the British for 6 and pretty much knew he was going to use the same strategy I'd just beaten the previous two rounds. He again sieged Pemaquid on turn 2 but I had a better hand setup to deal with it this time. I had both Norfolk and New Haven on hand! Right into the pile they went! Good-bye mediocre cards! I governored away the really terrible cards and went to work making money. Pemaquid was tied up with 4 strength apiece and I had a fresh regular in hand (my deck at this point being rangers, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and maybe a regular) and he thought I was going to put the regular into Pemaquid to win the fight. Nope! I attacked Port Royal with it instead. I really like this plan since it ties up some of my bad cards and some of his good cards for the rest of the game or until he withdraws from the fight. Every single turn from here on was some combination of make 6 dollars, buy a regular, or put a regular into the Port Royal fight. Nick was doing a good job of ambushing my regulars with his 4 ambush cards but I really don't care. I think it's actually a new positive for the British to lose a regular in an ambush as long as they have a rangers to block and can make 6 a turn. Eventually I won in Port Royal and moved on to Louisbourg. He got me into a tricky position where I was going to lose the fight in Louisbourg unless I put one of my 4 good cards into the fight. I chose to put New York in and bought a ships card instead of a regular which surprised Nick and all the spectators. I then proceeded to keep making 6 a turn using the ships instead of New York and eventually was able to start buying regulars to put into the fight. He'd been working on expanding a little to the west and was trying to use Quebec and intendant to get all his disks into play before I could hit Quebec. Ultimately I won in Louisbourg and reserved my ships card. I actually like buying a ships because a siege of Quebec is hard to set up while digging for Louisbourg but being able to reserver ships (and not locations) lowers the constraints on the specific hand you can build. Louisbourg ended up being the last card in my deck after the reshuffle which was really unfortunate and let Nick get all but 2 of his disks in play before I could start a siege. He'd pulled off a couple ambushes while I was waiting for Louisbourg and I didn't think I had the stuff to take Quebec just yet. Fortunately for me the one starting location he had yet to disk was Trois Rivieres. So I started a siege there instead! I won that fight in relatively short order and settled it. By this point I'd cycled back into the Louisbourg card and launched an attack on Tadoussac. Nick had run out of money ambushing by this point and tried to trader with a bunch of western furs. I pointed out that he couldn't actually use those cards anymore since they had no support from Quebec once he lost the fight in Trois Rivieres. He finished the turn, thought a bit more as I won the fight in Tadoussac, and conceded. I was up on points and he had 2 functional location cards left (Quebec itself and Gaspe) and no real way to actually take actions anymore. Victory!

I'd been worried that there was a degenerate French strategy with a medium bid value which involved cycling into newly bought military cards for a quick win in Boston. I don't think anyone had tested such a thing (i only thought of it in the shower before the event) and I don't feel anyone really used their free actions to the fullest extent (by cycling extra times to force a key reshuffle). The entire event I kept hearing people talking strategy and everyone seemed to think there was an appropriate counter to any strategy and the game was therefore well balanced and there isn't a British problem. I think they're all crazy and maybe after the event people will believe me more? Though I guess really all I proved was that I can beat new players and the Henning strategy so maybe there really is a counter to my plan out there. All I know is no one has ever used it against me.

After the event Pounder thought I should go eat so went to Olive and Jasmin's Asian Bistro. It turns out it shut down in the last year since the doors were locked and the tables removed. Frowns. I ended up wating at Fuddrucker's again. I had a burger this time and it was ok. The bun was terrible so I just ate it with a knife and fork.

After food Pounder and I played two games of Innovation. He won the first one by getting into age 6 while I was still in age 1 thanks to a good combo of cards. I won the second one because Pounder ramped into age 10 while I was still in age 7 but I was able to trade my lowest card in hand for his 2 highest cards (both 10s) and both of those cards had winning clauses which won the game for me. Woo!

The night brought either Ra or Vegas Showdown. I decided I really didn't want to play a thinking game after a day of A Few Acres of Snow so I went to play Ra. I ended up at a table with Alex Henning again. Fortunately for her I'm terrible at Ra so I wasn't going to manhandle her in Ra the way I did in A Few Acres of Snow. The game went like most Ra games do where I call Ra super-aggressively and then lose when I'm forced to buy bad things by people who want to punish me for being aggressive. Round 2 I had the sun combo of 1-2-8 and actually got the best buys I think since the age ended with most people still having suns to go. Ultimately the scores ended up 40-38-36-26-24 with me being the 36 after having lost 5 points for lowest suns. Grr! Alex was the 38 and Dominic from Quebec was the 40.

Open gaming featured a 5 player game of Agricola with Robb, Pounder, Daniel E, and Winton. We borrowed the pimpest of pimped Agricola sets I've ever seen with ludicrous clay meeple things for all the resourced and families. I played the green player whose families was entirely redheads. Woo! I rarely play Agricola and we drafted the cards and I feel like I didn't know what was good or not. I ended up drafting 3 different cards that scored bonus points for eating pigs so I went that route. I managed to get 12 wood onto the basin maker! I ended up coming last thanks to tiebreakers with Robb but since Daniel gave Robb 2 points on the last turn in order to spite Pounder from getting 1 food I'm going to take a moral 4th place.

Off to Waffle House where I had an All-Star. Then sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep.

Monday, July 30, 2012

2012 WBC Days 1 and 2 Summary

Saturday started off with the long drive to Lancaster from Waterloo. I don't know if it was leaving earlier in the morning or that the civic holiday is next weekend instead of this one but the drive was pretty smooth. We ate at Cora's, Arby's, and Rita's which specializes in ice, custard, and happiness. I got a watermelon ice and was quite happy. We got in to Lancaster around 7:10 after a small detour where we couldn't remember the right road to take and went straight to the Texas Roadhouse. Robb even called ahead to reserve a table so we got to skip the long line. Woo! I wasn't famished so I just had a small steak but it was quite good. I was definitely happy I brought along Gas-X, though.

There were no events we wanted to play on Saturday so once we got in we played a 3er of Puerto Rico and then a 3er of Innovation+expansion. I should have won PR but made a terrible play by building a late wharf instead of the obvious guild hall I'd been setting up for. Innovation was fun and we had lots of people from WBC's past stop by while we played.

Sunday started off with a Through The Ages heat. People who brought a game get to play at their table and everyone else gets split up which has the minor issue that the good players tend to end up split up and not playing each other. I don't think there's a solution to this issue but it does exist. I don't have the game so I was off to play with a shark. Fortunately for me, I was not placed with a shark. The guy who owned the game I played with didn't even really know the rules and I had to correct him on multiple occasions. The third guy had never played before. I won by a mile.

Next up, food. We went to Fuddrucker's with Rich and Jason. I'd never been there before and didn't feel like a burger so I ordered the fish and chips in honour of the Olympics. Then I found out they didn't have vinegar. What! How you can have 15 barbeque sauces and no vinegar baffles me. It was passable and I'd consider eating it again though I'd want to smuggle in some vinegar.

Next up, heat 2 of Through The Ages. A Few Acres of Snow was 4 hours later which should be good enough and I decided to risk it. I was not at an easy table this time as I got to play with a game owner who knew what he was doing and Winton who I know is good at games in general. This game was very close and devolved a little into beating Winton like a pinata and scrambling to get the candy that came out. The game owner had Napolean and a modern army. I had an air forced conquistador. Winton had a transcontinental railroad and a warrior. Both other players spent the whole game commenting on how I had the game in the bag but I didn't see it. The problem was I was still a despot in age III and didn't have any food. I did have ocean liners and was the first to iron. I didn't draw a single good age III scoring event and the end result was the game owner won by a single point. All 4 final events scored him more points than me. 3 of them were seeded by Winton. Sigh.

The game was done in 3.5 hours which left plenty of time for A Few Acres of Snow. I tried to convince Sceadeau to learn it but he didn't like the sound of the game (I think it's auto-win for the British) and played Eclipse instead. They ended up with 16 people for AFAoS and I got paired up with an older gentleman who had played maybe twice before. He let me have the British for a bid of one. I promptly took Port Royal, Louisbourg, and Quebec. The game took an hour which was about 3 minutes my turn and 57 minutes his turn. My game was by far the first one done. I looked around and saw only one other game with a British player taking a military strategy, and he wasn't doing it well. No French players were going military. Maybe people were playing soft for the mulligan round. Maybe the sharks are all hiding for tomorrow. Or maybe this event is an auto-win for me. We'll have to wait for tomorrow to see. The GM told me that he figured the best way for him to find the ringers was to see who finished their games fastest so he pegs me as a ringer. I hope he's right!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Departing For WBC

I will be leaving this evening on the first leg of my trip to the World Boardgaming Championships. In an attempt to avoid brutal traffic on the way from Waterloo to Lancaster we're going to be leaving earlier in the morning and we're going to cut the side-trip to Toronto out entirely. Pounder is going to pick me up tonight instead of on the way tomorrow morning and I'll be crashing in his basement. Then we'll leave bright and early in the morning and hopefully get in to Lancaster before midnight this year!

As far as blogging goes I have scheduled the SNES and Star Trek posts so they should go up automatically. The internet in the hotel last year was terrible and I imagine it's only going to be worse this year so I'm not confident about getting posts up here in a timely fashion. I'll do what I can with WBC summaries as the week goes on and will have a couple extra posts scheduled up just in case I happen to go a day without internet access. And if I end up dropping the ball I imagine it won't be the end of the world for anyone but me.

I'm leaning towards trying to fit in a game of Titan this year. Maybe I'll even give the 2 player event another spin to try to get it back into the century! I've been feeling pretty mediocre physically so maybe I'll just sleep in a bunch? I guess we'll see what ends up being sacrificed in the early morning slots.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I found out earlier today that there's a League of Legends related website which is really serious about tracking stats for the game. It's called ELOBUFF and it sounds like it does everything I'd want in a stat site. Avid readers with a good memory may remember my post about positional statistics from a few months ago where I looked at the lolstatistics site and lamented a lot of glitches in their data. It was counting my Akali games in my jungler stats. It wasn't counting my Graves games anywhere. I play Ezreal both AD and AP. In both 5s and 3s. I had no way to possibly glean relevant data from what it was giving me.

ELOBUFF sounds like it solves those problems. It doesn't just look at the end result of a game. It looks at the items you built and the summoner skills you used in an attempt to more accurately determine your role. It claims to have a bajillion filters. It tracks most games, not just your games, and can give actual statistical 'counter-picks' based on the results of hundreds of thousands of games. It stays on top of current trends to let you know how the metagame may be shifting in terms of roles, rules, and items. It sounds fantastic.

Unfortunately there is no free lunch. They're running a subscription model with a $6 per month fee. It doesn't seem to have any sort of free trial which seems a little odd. I'd think letting everyone check out their data once would make sense. It did let me look up the info for the games played at the last MLG. There were 88 games played and Janna was played in 53 of them!

I found out about ELOBUFF because they're running a promotion with MLG for the Summer Arena. Anyone who buys an HD pass to the arena gets a free month on ELOBUFF. That pass is $10 ($8 for gold members) so it's really not much more than the ELOBUFF fee itself. I was planning on buying an HD pass anyway... Except the summer arena for LoL is during WBC. The internet in the hotel was really terrible last year and I can't imagine watching an HD stream would be feasible.

On the other hand I want to support MLG and I really want them to think League of Legends is a game worth supporting. So maybe I'll buy a pass anyway and just watch the VODs on the civic holiday Monday after WBC?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

WBC Team Challenge

Each year at the World Boardgaming Championships they run a team tournament. You sign up with a group of 4 people and each of you picks a different game as your team game for the year. If you manage to finish in the top 6 in your chosen game your team earns some points. Top team gets immortalized for all time!

Tacked on to the team tournament is a 'pick the winners' sweepstakes. Pick the 10 teams from the list of 86 that you think will finish in the top 10. Entrant with the most correct teams wins free entry to the next year's WBC. Last year Bruno won the sweepstakes on the back of picking my team! We came 9th for him! Well, mostly Jason came 9th for him with a win in Through The Ages.

Last year we were the 31st rated team with 78-1 odds to win the whole thing. This year we've tumbled to 35th on the list but dropped out odds down to 73-1. I feel like we're horribly underrated! Jason won his event 2 of the 4 years it's existed and is top of the laurel list for it. I've come third in my event both years it's existed and am second on the laurel list. Sure, Robb and Pounder have switched games again (Robb to a game that debuted last year and Pounder to one that is new this year) but they're good at their new choices, honest! Of course I've always felt like we're underrated and it's not like we've won yet so maybe I'm just being crazy. I do have high hopes for cracking the top 10 again this year. Pick us (Tell Me The Odds) on your sweepstakes ballot, you won't be sorry! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I got an email last week asking how I felt about guest posts since my friend Sthenno really wanted to write one. He found an incredible game and wanted to share it with my huge audience. If he didn't tell someone about it he was going to burst which is a feeling which which I can emphasize since I feel like my stomach is going to burst. At any rate I'd never heard of the game before but it does sound pretty sweet. And right up my alley! Here's Sthenno about La-Mulana!

Imagine that I find an old lamp on a beach.  I pick it up and polish it and out pops a genie who is willing to grant me one wish.  So I wish that I could make my own video game.  This game, created by a wish, would be absolutely anything I wanted it to.  Graphics cards and available RAM are no object.  Anything I wish for this game to be, that is what it will be, formed completely out of my best imagination.

My game would not be as good as La-Mulana.

For those who don't know, La-Mulana is an indie game that is a tribute to the MSX, but because the MSX was mostly popular only in Japan, La-Mulana instead conjured memories of the NES for many North Americans.  The remake, just released on July 13 for the first time in English, has all new graphics, updated to remind you more of the 16-bit graphics of the Super NES.

You play Lemeza, an archaeologist modeled shamelessly after Indiana Jones.  You've arrives at the ruins of La-Mulana and you are going to explore them.  Of course by "explore" I pretty much mean ransack, and naturally you are going to have to kill everything that moves along the way.

If you have fond memories of searching every corridor in Metroid, wondering what you are supposed to do next, La-Mulana is for you.  If you have fond memories of fighting a boss over and over and over and over until you learn all of its patterns so you can finally win, La-Mulana is for you.  If you have fond memories of being hit by a bat or bird mid-jump and having the knockback send you into a pit to your instant death, La-Mulana is for you.

Don't get me wrong, La-Mulana does not feature instant-death pits.  La-Mulana does have pits that will leave you wishing that they would just kill you and put you out of your misery.  La-Mulana has invisible trap doors that send you back five minutes of game play.  La-Mulana has save points that are eight screens of moving platforms away from the boss that you are struggling to beat.  And it does have instant-death giant crushing blocks.

As an adventure game, of course, it's not all action and precision jumping.  La-Mulana also has gut wrenching puzzles.  I've heard the game referred to as a cross between Castlevania and Metroid, but as you get past the first few stages of the game it starts to feel more and more like Bard's Tale or Might and Magic 1 and 2.  You feel as if you should be making your own maps and taking notes everywhere you go.  The clues you have to deal with can be very cryptic.  I don't want to spoil anything, but solving puzzles in this game has really pushed the limits of my ability to think of things to do and even to not do.

In case it haven't been clear in my praise, I'll admit that the game can be incredibly frustrating at points.  There are a few puzzles that might be described as senselessly cruel including at least one upgrade that permanently seals itself off if you don't do the puzzle right the first time.  About 20 hours into the game (not counting time spent leading up to numerous deaths, of course) I finally caved and looked at a walkthrough when I was desperately stuck, only to kick myself when I found out that beating a boss had opened a door in another part of the world and if I'd just visited every single room in the game again I would have progressed without the help.  Is it fun to wander every room in the dungeon looking for something you've missed?  Of course it's not... until you actually find something, and then it's the best.

La-Mulana is an adventure game that delivers real adventure.  It creates real tension.  Enemies don't do a lot of damage but over many rooms of the dungeon the damage adds up.  Making matters worse, it isn't always easy to get back to where you were once if you leave.  It's a real question whether you should go home to save or whether you should risk all your progress on one more room, one more puzzle.

La-Mulana does basically everything right.  The mood takes you back to the time when there was no internet to help you solve puzzles and reminds you that the fun is solving them yourself.  The difficulty takes you back to your first days of gaming, as if all of the skills you picked up over the years are necessary just to scrape by like a beginner.  It is non-linear, there are probably literally a hundred different upgrades to find, and it is the perfect reminder that video games are not about instant gratification, but instead about some of the most delayed and frustratingly earned gratification you will ever encounter.

La-Mulana targets a particular niche in the world of video games, it is for nerds with no sense of perspective - people who are willing to test their minds to the limit to solve obscure riddles for next to no reward.  If you are such a nerd with no sense of perspective, you really have to give this game a try.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Final Fantasy VI: Version?

The next game in my marathon will be the final SNES era Final Fantasy game: Final Fantasy VI. I've been looking forward to this game in particular since the start of the marathon. I'm pretty sure it's my second most played Final Fantasy game (after FFIV). The first thing I need to decide is which version of the game I'm going to play. Here are the different options:

Super Famicom
pros - The original uncensored version. I haven't played a game in Japanese yet in this marathon and it feels like maybe I should at some point.
cons - I don't speak Japanese. I don't know that I want to burn my playthrough of FFVI by spending the whole time trying to translate katakana though.

Super Nintendo
pros - The only version I've ever played and it's awesome. I can play it on the big tv.
cons - None. It's awesome

pros - I'd get it on the PSP so I'd be able to play it on the bus. A lot of the censorship was removed. A FMV for the opera scene was added. They added in a run button so you don't need to waste an accessory slot on sprint shoes. Perhaps most importantly, I can potentially play it at WBC during downtime/on the ride?
cons - This version has annoying load times before every battle. Supposedly the sound quality is worse. I don't currently own it.

Gameboy Advance
pros - Bonus dungeons added in, extra espers to obtain, different translation.
cons - Worse music. I don't own it, a console that could play it, and have no easy way to fix those problems. Also I'm not sure it's right to play a version with all kinds of bonuses.

I'm leaning towards playing on the SNES, but I think if I do that I should probably wait until after I get back from WBC before I start so I don't get into the game and then have to drop it for 10 days. On the other hand I did really like being able to play FFV on the bus and it suffered from the same annoying load times. It wasn't the end of the world there. And I am a little curious to see uncensored Siren... Oh my!

Friday, July 20, 2012

MLG StarCraft II Summer Arena

It snuck up on me, but apparently the StarCraft II summer arena is this weekend. This is great for me, since I can craft some stuff in Final Fantasy XI and watch top tier StarCraft games at the same time. Woo!

They seem to like shaking up the format each arena and the twist this time is they're running two different double-elimination brackets with the two winners meeting in the grand finals. This is different in that there could be someone who only loses one match but still doesn't win the whole thing. I'm not sure I really understand why they're making this switch but it's interesting.

They also let the top 16 players choose their first round opponents. My initial feeling is that this is going to make for some bad opening round matches. A Zerg player who is really good against Protoss is going to search out a Protoss player who isn't so good against Zerg and then stomp them. But I guess this will only really be true for the first few people who are picking their opponents and the #1 seed is likely to stomp the #32 seed in a normal system anyway. Now, the seeding system isn't perfect (often the top players are from Korea and may not have played in a previous MLG event to build up a high seed), so this does have the advantage of letting the top seeds dodge an underseeded player.

When I look at the roster I'm a little sad. No HuK. No Idra. No MarineKing. On the plus side two of their race specific commentators from the first Spring arena qualified this time around. I made a snide comment about thinking if they were that good they'd be playing in the arena... Well, they are! I can't help but think that the opportunity to go to an arena and break down all the games was a big help for them and I'm really happy that they're there. Qxc, Sheth, and Grubby were all commentators at the first spring arena and are all playing in this event. I like having someone to root for so I'm going to cheer for these guys. Especially Grubby since he plays Protoss!

Perhaps the best part of this arena is they've got Day[9] to do cast some of the games. Woo! Also pretty cool is they've made the standard definition feed free so if anyone is curious they can check it out themselves.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Final Fantasy V: Conclusions

I finished up Final Fantasy V on the bus yesterday. X-Death was a complete joke. I'm not sure but I think he  got to take one action across both of his phases. Maybe he autoattacked and I just ignored it? I don't know, but all I remember is one petrification attack. Having a cutscene with a phase change but letting me keep my buffs was a little silly. It meant each of my characters got to attack twice before he got to go in phase 2 which was very bad for him. Double Bahamut, mimic the double Bahamut, and two people with flare enchanted weapons attacking 4 or 8 times. Kaboom!

The game was fun. I don't know if the original game was as campy as the PSOne translation but there was some really cute/silly moments. Faris talking like a pirate the whole time was an odd but nice touch. The sprites had some good animations (similar to Mystic Quest, actually) especially in the scene where Butz and Krile leave Faris behind in a princess outfit. She catches up to them and they try to pass the blame off on each other solely with finger pointing and head shaking. I liked it.

As far as the plot goes it was decent but not spectacular. There's a pretty constant big bad, he has a pretty reasonable take on being evil, and he isn't excessively stupid with letting the party live. The first part of the game has him waking up from a 30 year sleep/prison sentence and I can convince myself it took him some time to power up and he couldn't have just murdered us at level 20. The whole two worlds become one thing was interesting but again, not mind blowing.

The music was great but it doesn't quite stay with me as much as the music from FFIV or FFVI. I'm not sure if that's a nostalgia thing with me having played those games a lot as a kid or what. Way better than Mystic Quest, though!

Gameplaywise this is hands-down better than FFIV. They tweaked the ATB system enough to make it really great. Job systems in general are awesome and they really improved upon FFIII's take. Being able to mix and match abilities from different jobs, especially in end game, is really powerful and really fun.

Not being able to pick up sidequests you missed in the end game is annoying. I couldn't summon Shiva because I didn't learn the spell on the first world and that castle just didn't exist in the third world, for example. I'd forgotten that some of the cities were going to get sucked into the void or I probably would have done something about that before I left for the second world.

The important question is, where does this game fit in on my ranking scheme? I enjoyed myself more playing FFV this time around than I did FFIV. I had no immediate desire to replay FFIV when I finished it but I want to play FFV again for a couple of different reasons. I'd like to play a mage-centric party and maybe use some of the jobs I skipped this time like dancer and bard. I'd like to play again at level 2. I liked the game system more in FFV, but I really liked the music, plot, and characters more in FFIV. The characters in FFIV actually developed over the course of the game. Cecil went from the hand of evil to a pure paladin. His relationships with Rosa, Kain, and Rydia evolved as the game went on. Even Edge had some character growth moments and he joined the party pretty late. By contrast, Butz started the game as a free spirit on a chocobo. He ended the game as a high level free spirit on a chocobo.

I'm going to have to give the edge to FFIV I think. It's a worse spreadsheet game and I honestly may have played it too many times to really love playing it anymore, but the fact I played it so many times does say a lot. And it's not like the game system in FFIV was bad or anything. It's actually pretty good and was a huge evolution at the time. FFV definitely gets to slot in at #2 thus far. I fear it's going to see that position tumble in the coming games though...

Next up: Final Fantasy VI!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Final Fantasy V: Omega

Final Fantasy V has two challenge bosses. Shinryu, who I beat on Friday, and Omega. They're both brutally powerful with a multitude of actions to wipe out your entire party. They're annoying because unlike most challenge bosses which are hard to find these guys are hard to avoid. Omega is wandering around on a 3x3 grid of the dungeon and if you end up adjacent to him you have to fight him. Thankfully there's a save point right before him, but I'm pretty sure he wipes out every single person who makes it to the final dungeon and doesn't know to do everything possible to avoid him. Shinryu is inside a treasure chest that looks like any other. There's a save point right after that chest, and I'm pretty sure almost everyone dies to Shinryu as well.

At any rate, it was time to give Omega a spin. He started off with an attack that hit my team for a little over 2k. Most of my characters had a little under 2k health and died, but one survived and got everyone back up. Omega had a few things he could do that were rough but the worst was a 2-step combo. First he hit everyone for half their health plus a constant health drain. Then he knocked everyone to single digit health. The dot killed them off before I got another action. I tried a few different times and he only pulled that combo off once so it wasn't all that likely to happen but it sure put a timer on the fight since at any point he could just decide to win in 2 actions.

Another issue is I had a hard time finding a way to actually hurt him. He had up a reflect shield so I couldn't hit him with very many spells. I tried meteo but it hit for about 800 damage total. My melee members did an ok job with flare enchanted weapons (Nick would hit for about 8k and Lena for about 16k) but another problem quickly arose... Any time he took damage he'd counter-attack three times. With brutal spells. It seemed like he'd chose one of three spells for each counter and could choose the same one multiple times. They were a single target attack for 3k (guaranteed death), a single target attack for 50% current health + confusion (not so bad, I can just esuna it away), and a single target attack for permanent removal from the fight. Gone for good, no way to bring them back! This is an actual timer on the fight since there was a pretty good chance he'd just take out one of my damage dealers every time he took damage. Also with fewer people around it was harder and harder to keep a rezzer alive to come back from his brutal normal attacks.

Eventually I gave up and decided I really needed to level up a little bit. One of his often used attacks hit everyone for a little more than their current max health and I figured a couple levels might give them enough health to survive a hit. Also, Nick hadn't mastered monk (just knight) so he could get some more health from that. And maybe summoner could actually do big damage to him without proccing his counter attacks? So I went off to an area worth both xp and ap (but low amounts of both, sadly) and killed things for a while. It was pretty boring (defend, defend, defend, summon leviathan to kill everything).

Then something clicked in my mind on the bus home yesterday... Omega is a giant robot... He's probably weak to lightning! Maybe I could do more damage by enchanting bolt3 on my weapon instead of flare? Also, maybe I should at least cast some summons at him before going through all the effort of mastering the job to see if it is helpful. So I saved up and gave him another shot.

Turns out the giant robot is vulnerable to lightning so Nick was hitting for 16k and Lena was hitting for 32k. Turns out he takes hardly any damage from Bahamut (maybe 1600 total from a double casted Bahamut). Turns out he still counter-attacks three times if you hit him with summons. Turns out getting a little more health helped a lot when it came to surviving. Eventually I decided hitting for 16k wasn't good enough and only had Lena ever attack him to minimize the number of times he counter-attacked. Everyone else just used phoenix downs or cast healing/arise spells and desperately tried to survive while Lena killed him off. It worked! Looking now the internet claims he only has 55k health. Maybe Lena killed him in 2 hits? (I play on a PSP and got home partway through the fight. So this morning when I turned it on I was in the middle of the fight and didn't know how many times I'd hit him.) I feel like it took more than that but I may be crazy. 55k sure doesn't sound like much, though.

Next step, X-Death and the end of the game!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Final Fantasy XI: Crafting Away

It took some doing but I managed to figure out how to transfer my characters to Asura. (It turns out I had a second character in order to get more storage and 7 more auction house slots.) It costs $25 but you can't actually pay Square-Enix the money directly. You can either use Click & Buy or you can buy Crysta via some other third party payment system. Click & Buy is apparently a scamming network (they keep charging your credit card for all kinds of miscellaneous fees with the hope that you don't notice) so I jumped through a ton of hoops, bought Crysta and got my transfer on.

It turns out when I'd last quit I was in the middle of crafting stuff. My inventory was completely full of random stuff. What was I going to use it for? I decided the best course of action would be to just start leveling my crafting skills. I've picked up 24 levels in cooking and 18 levels in woodworking. I got started on gardening. I joined the cooking guild and have turned in items for points for a few days now. I'm well on my way to making sushi!

I haven't actually gone out and fought anything. I don't have any of my old macros since I'm on a new computer and I'm wary about trying to find a party without knowing anything about what I'm doing or having any buttons to push. Maybe I should start a new job fresh? Only problem there is I don't have any jobs at level 1 so I'd need to unlock one. Eh, I'll figure something out. Or I'll only craft things forever... I may run out of money though...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Final Fantasy V: Shinryu

Friday on the way home from work I got a little bored of grinding up AP without getting XP (it turns out the final stage of the final dungeon gives tons of AP but no XP at all). So I decided to go give Shinryu a shot to see what was going on there. Nick and Lena were capped out and ready to roll (though it turns out 'magic sword' capable weapons are few and far between and I wanted 3 of them so Lena had to use a pretty mediocre weapon), Krile was only missing monk, and Feris was missing pretty much everything. I made her a bare class with white magic and 2-handed.

At any rate, Shinryu's first action was to hit my whole team for ~7400. My largest max health was 1999. This seems like a bit of a problem... Fortunately Krile was wearing an aegis shield (33% chance to block a spell) and it procced. She promptly quicked out an arise on Nick and a haste2. Shinryu seemed to either do an AE spell that one-shot my team or two melee attacks that almost killed the target. Or would cast a terrible spell for low damage. My physical avoidance was pretty high so the melee attacks weren't really a problem.

The fight progresses and it became pretty clear that only Lena was going to do relevant damage. Nick and Feris existed pretty much just to get rezzed and take hits. At one point I ended up with everyone but Krile dead, and Krile very low on mana. Mimes don't get the item ability so I couldn't even use an elixir. I barely had enough for one raise spell, so I cast that on Lena. And then she got killed and I had no mana at all. Fortunately mimes can just copy the last action (raise on Lena) so I did that. And Shinryu killed her. Repeat over and over and over. Eventually Lena survived a round with Krile at very low health. Pop off an elixir! Quick out an arise on Feris and a haste2! Stabilize and go back to the slow beatdown with Lena.

Several times Shinryu cast a spell to kill everyone, and every single time Krile blocked it with the aegis shield. Yay, 33% chance! He ended up going down like a ton of bricks on my first try. Woo!

Next up, Omega!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Toronto League of Legends LAN Event

I did some poking around today in an attempt to find some sort of organized league thing for League of Legends. There was a reasonable response to my post about playing in the MLG event (and I suspect with more notice we would have gone and gotten stomped) so I wanted to find something else maybe a little closer to our skill level. I may have done just that, but unfortunately the notice is about the same as last time!

It turns out there's a LoL LAN event being held at Yonge/Wellesley tomorrow (Saturday the 14th) at noon. This event is the second of two qualifiers that the e-Sports Championship is putting on to lead into their $15k final event. I gotta say, a $15k local event was not something I was expecting to run into when I went searching today!

They got 5 teams out to the first event and are shooting for 8 teams this time around. Apparently Riot is kicking in a lot of RP to the top 4 teams if they manage to get 8 teams to show up. $100 a team with half the money going into the prize pool. I imagine the other half is to pay for the venue, to fund the finals, and to make them some money which seems reasonable to me. Especially with the stuff Riot is kicking in.

The replays from the first event are actually up on youtube so I thought I'd take a look and see what sort of ratings the people who played in this event had. The winners seem to have mostly changed their names but I found two that still existed and they were in the 1800-1900 range. I checked out the team they stomped in the first round and they were entirely unrated. (If your rating is below 1250 it doesn't get listed at all.) My rating is 1364, Robb's is 1380, Ian's is 1318, and the rest of the people I team with are sub-1250.

What does this mean? Well, assuming the ratings mean something I expect Mathletes would get dominated by the team that ended up winning but we'd actually have a good chance of beating the first team they played. At the very least I'd expect we'd have a chance! (I looked up the other first round and match and it featured a team with a 1700 vs a team with a 1900...) Maybe we could win the first round and get some prizes? Who knows!

So... Anyone in on super short notice, probably going to lose action?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Revisiting Final Fantasy XI?

Tom sent me an email last night letting me know he's starting to play FFXI again and asking if I wanted to join in. Apparently a few things have changed since we stopped playing a year ago (in particular the really hard level cap quest got nerfed) so it's entirely possible the issues that caused us to quit are solved. He's also started over on what I think is the biggest server (Asura) which may make it easier to find a lowbie guild if we want.

FFXI is probably my favourite MMO so I'm always willing to give it another shot. I started the install last night (had some issues because I'm running 64-bit Win 7 on my current computer but I just had to find a new PlayOnline installer). I have a wired X-box controller hooked up to my computer now so I can try and see if the controls are more intuitive this way. (The game was designed for play on the PS2 console with just a controller, no keyboard or mouse.) I found an ad for an FFXI expansion coming out in 2013 for xBox 360 and PC. Not for PS2. Which means maybe they'll be able to add new zones and increase bag sizes above 80...

Starting on a new server can make sense in some ways but in others it's a disaster. I read through my previous posts on FFXI today to try to get a handle on what I might lose if I rerolled...

- Advanced jobs, including corsair which was pretty tricky to get.
- All accumulated spells, including invisible which was a pretty rare drop.
- All tradeskill progress. I don't know how far I went, but it wasn't trivial.
- My chocobo.
- Reputation grinds (I think I maxxed out the 4 base reputations with hours of corn turn-ins while watching BSG).
- Bigger bags!
- My ~level 30 race specific equipment which is awesome.
- All my cash moneys.

Not to mention that new accounts have restrictions placed on them as far as mining for fish and gardening among other things.

I don't think I could handle starting over. Especially since I intend on playing League of Legends a fair bit at the same time, I doubt I'd get a lot of those time sinks done in any reasonable amount of time. On the plus side, if Tom rerolls and I don't then I won't fall far behind him right away!

I went to the Square-Enix website and it looks like server transfers do exist for $25. I'm pretty sure that's a lot more than it would be for WoW, but on the 'plus' side you get to transfer all characters for the one fee. I don't think I had more than one character, though.

I figure I'll finish the install tonight, patch up, and see if Asura is a valid server transfer destination. And then probably bite the bullet and transfer over. Anyone else interested?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Final Fantasy V Progress

I've made it into the final dungeon in Final Fantasy V and am closing in on the end of sane job builds. I say sane because they're the sort of things you'd take to beat the final boss but there are two brutal challenge bosses which likely need crazy builds.

Krile has mastered black mage, white mage, and time mage. That means as far as abilities go I'm set. She's going to turn into a mime and slot all three types of magic in as her abilities. The problem is mime gets its stats from the jobs you've mastered and those three jobs have terrible stats. I can gain 14 agility if I master thief. I can get 26 strength if I master monk. I can gain 26 vit if I master monk. I can get 2 magic power if I master summoner. Thief and monk seem reasonable so I can act faster and have more health. Currently Krile is a really terrible thief in an attempt to get that extra 14 agility.

The trick here is that I'm used to playing with 2 schools of magic available. None of my other characters were really magic users at all... In order to actually have access to haste2 and healing spells I'd need to switch someone else into a magic role at least temporarily. Both Nick and Lena are deep into their own builds but Feris was just kind of taking random things. She'd mastered monk, thief, and knight. Other than knight those actually look like magical jobs since they're the two I want to pick up on Krile... So I switched Feris to white mage and will likely follow that up with summoner and red mage.

Nick has sorcerer and samurai mastered and is very close to mastering knight. His plan is to swing a giant flare enchanted 2-handed sword while being tough. I'm considering possibly picking up ninja or hunter or both to dual-wield and attack 8 times... But his agility will be mediocre unless he gets one of ninja, hunter, or worthless thief.

Speaking of that, it's Lena's plan. She'd mastered monk, ninja, and is working on hunter. Maybe she'll pick up sorcerer to also swing with a flare enchanted weapon?

As far as challenge bosses go I stumbled into Omega today. Good thing there's a save point right before him! His first action, before I got to go, was to hit everyone in my party for more than their maximum health. Guess I have some work to do before I can think about brawling him!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

TrueSkill vs TrueSkill Mean

I finally got suckered into reading the Yucata.de forums about the recent change to the metagame system. Or rather, I read a couple of the numerous threads with countless posts on the topic. The Yucata forum is more civilized than most of the gaming forums I've read over the years but it doesn't make my head hurt any less. For the most part it's people making up numbers they think furthers their point of view and talking past each other in an effort to make their point known. I got dragged into it partially because I can't stand that someone might be wrong on the internet and partially because I truly believe the system is flawed and want somehow to convince the people in charge so they change it. So I parsed some data from my recent games and went flying in headfirst to provide my own made up numbers. *sigh*

At any rate, on the bus ride home I actually had an epiphany on my biggest issue. I was trying to talk myself out of starting a new account when I figured out just what it is that bothers me so much about the new system. I even talked about it a little bit in my post last week when I mentioned that no one is ever overvalued so you never get to take advantage of someone else's TrueSkill being inflated. This is the big problem! New players start off super-deflated and everyone slowly works their way towards where they should be. Two people who are where they should be can play just fine and have positive metagame EV. The problem comes because you sometimes face someone deflated and never face anyone inflated so if you keep playing random people you get hurt. The core issue is that the new ranking system compares TrueSkill values instead of TrueSkill means. I'm going to go into some details about the two and why I strongly feel the wrong one is being used.

I intend to post this on their forums tomorrow, assuming no one finds any flaws in my reasoning between now and then...

The basic idea behind TrueSkill is some engineers at MicroSoft wanted to find a way to boil down how good someone was at Halo to a single number. The reason they wanted to do this was threefold: better matchmaking in online games, bragging rights among the players, and so they could award invites/byes to big events. It's a great idea, and not really anything new since chess and Magic had a similar rating scheme going (Elo rating). The problem with using Elo was it was designed as a two-player system and Halo can have huge free-for-all games. So the MicroSoft guys crunched their numbers and came up with a new system that would work for multiplayer games and which actually gave each person two relevant numbers, not one. Instead of the system giving someone a single definite rating it gives each person a range of ratings where their actual rating is likely to reside. This range is a Gaussian distribution (bell curve) and is defined by an estimated average rating (mean) and how certain the system is that your actual rating is near the mean (sigma or standard deviation).

If you play a game for the first time the system knows nothing at all about you. As such it assigns your TrueSkill mean to be the average of the entire population (an arbitrary number defined by the system, on Yucata that number is 1200) and gives you a huge sigma since it has no clue how good you might actually be. This value is again arbitrarily defined by the system and determines how big the range of ratings will actually be. On Yucata sigma starts at 400. Because the range is a bell curve we know that there's a 99.7% chance that your actual rating will lie within 3 sigmas of your mean. On Yucata this means that 99.7% of people will have an actual rating somewhere between 0 and 2400.

Now, numbers tend to confuse people. I'd expect people who play board games online are less likely to be confused than your average person but they're still confusing. As such, leaderboards don't want to show you two numbers and expect you to understand Gaussian distributions. People want a single number to look at and brag about. People like to see numbers that go up! Having half your population go down from the starting value (which is expected; half the people are below average) isn't cool. So while the TrueSkill system behind the scenes knows about the mean and the sigma you still want a single number that people can look at and see get bigger. As such, for leaderboards, the system is designed to spit out the very lowest value of that 99.7% range. In formula form, TrueSkill = mean-3*sigma.

Note on Yucata this value for a new player to a game will be 0. And will tend to get bigger, even if someone is bad at a game, because the system will become more and more sure of their actual rating as they play games. Someone with a real rating of 600 could expect to see a mean of 700 with a sigma of 50, for example. This still gives a TrueSkill number of 550 (we're 99.85% certain they're at least 550) but they're really subpar at the game.

This is fantastic for getting people to keep playing the game. They're bad, but they won't get discouraged by having their shown TrueSkill value keep sinking. Instead it will actually creep upwards as the system hones in on just where they should be. It's just fine for leaderboards as well since in order to get a really high value you need to play a lot of games (to shrink your sigma) and win a large percentage of them (to grow your mean). I really like it for both of those reasons.

It's really important to note that the formulas used by the TrueSkill system behind the scenes don't use this displayed TrueSkill number for any reason. After a game ends it uses the old means and sigmas of the players to compute the new means and sigmas. Those are the values that actually mean something as far as how good someone is. Knowing what their extreme lower bound is doesn't actually help a whole lot. Comparing two extreme lower bounds is really of questionable use.

It's this piece of information that I think is key to my problem with the new metagame ranking system. In order to determine how many metagame points are earned after a game the system compares the leaderboard TrueSkill number instead of the TrueSkill mean. This sticks three times each person's sigma into the mix and a new player's sigma is so massive it dominates the entire formula. My sigma in Roll Through The Ages, for example, is 18. A new player's is 400. That's a difference of 1146! Let's look at the difference of the two different comparisons:

TrueSkill mean:

u1-u2 = 1394-1200 = 194

TrueSkill leaderboard value:

Do note that in the first formula we're not very confident in the 1200 and that's not being taken into account at all. We're assuming the new guy is average when it comes to how he'll impact the metagame ranking. In the second formula we're actually assuming he's one of the worst players on the planet. 99.85% of people rate to be better than this guy!

If the first formula was used sometimes we'd punish the new guy. Sometimes we'd give him a boost. And his opponent in that game would sometimes get a boost and would sometimes get punished. In fact, since we're starting with an assumption he's exactly average, these two will cancel out in the long run. Short term there will be some fluctuations but those sorts of things are expected in this sort of system.

If the second formula was used we'd almost always boost the new guy. Only one person in 667 is actually worse than we're assuming here. The other 666 people are getting a big boost from this formula. And by extension, the people they play against are getting a big penalty.

I believe the new metagame system is quite reasonable when two people with established rating play against each other. It isn't a coincidence that the two formula above actually approach each other in that situation. bk375 (the #4 guy on the RTTA leaderboard and someone who has started a new account) only has a sigma of 15. Compare me to him using the two formula again:

TrueSkill mean:

u1-u2 = 1394-1418 = -24

TrueSkill leaderboard value:


Comparing me to the new guy resulted in 194 vs 1340 or a 590% increase. Comparing me to bk375 resulted in -24 vs -33 or a 38% increase. That's a fantastically huge disparity!

My question is, why does the system use TrueSkill leaderboard value instead of TrueSkill mean value? Is there something I'm missing that makes one want to benefit people with a high sigma? (And, by extension, punish those with low sigma who play against them.) I was trying to figure out why starting a new account felt so appealing and it's this one issue that's why.

Monday, July 09, 2012

MLG Summer Arena: League of Legends Qualifier

An interesting item popped up on Facebook today from Major League Gaming. It would seem they're holding a League of Legends arena this season and are running open qualifying tournaments. It looks like they're advancing one NA team and one EU team from these qualifiers but I can't find any information about how else might be qualified for the arena already. Are any of the top notch teams excluded from the qualifiers? Just how good do you need to be to play in this thing?

The announcement was put up on the 5th and matches start on the 10th (tomorrow!) so there hasn't been a whole lot of time for teams to sign up. There's room for 32 teams and I'm really wondering how competitive the bottom chunk of this bracket is going to be. If Mathletes signed up would we get trounced or would we get thoroughly trounced? There's a $50 registration fee and prizes only for first place (free trip to New York to play in the arena) so signing up would be a lot like pissing $10 away... But getting to play at least two games in a serious (and possibly streamed) event actually sounds like better entertainment value than going to a movie, for example, and it's in the same price range.

Of course, jumping right in at the MLG level seems a little crazy. Do I really want to be the blackcat08 of LoL? I wonder if there are any more minor circuits kicking around to check out first. I remember playing in some scrub league for DotA many years ago with Robb and my brother. Those sorts of things have to exist now, right? Gamezilla back in New Brunswick is holding a LAN event in a couple weeks and I wonder if similarly things exist around here...

At any rate... Anyone else tempted to make a fool of themselves? Enh? Enh?

Friday, July 06, 2012

Yucata Rank Changes

Last Saturday the people running the Yucata board game site completely revamped one of their two ranking systems. They kept the TrueSkill system where each game is rated individually in an Elo style. They massively changed the metagame ranking system which had flaws and was fairly open to abuse.

Before last weekend the way the metagame system worked is you earned or lost metagame points after winning or losing a game. The size of the change was based on the difference between your ranking and your opponent's ranking and completely ignored what game you were playing. In the old system if I played someone at a low rank I'd gain 1 point on a win and lose 18 on a loss. Gain 45 points to advance in rank. Lose 45 points to get demoted. Note that in order to stay even against the beginner ranks I'd need to pull off a 95% win rate. My record in A Few Acres of Snow is absurdly good. I'm 232-14. Which isn't good enough to stay even! I simply couldn't afford to keep playing my best game against low ranked people.

Now, you could say that it would all shake out in the long run. Those low ranked people who beat me would earn 20 points with a win and lose 1 with a loss. So they'd hit the 45 point threshold and get promoted pretty quickly, right? Then I'd need a lower win ratio to maintain parity against them. (The system is set up so you lose 80% of the points the other guy won so everyone should be upwardly mobile as a whole.) The problem is there were other restrictions on getting promoted. You had to win 3 different games, for example. That's not a big deal for anyone who plays a bunch of games. But some people, who didn't care about the metagame system, would just show up and play one game. A Few Acres of Snow in particular had a bunch of very good players who only played that game. So they'd just sit at very low rank and destroy other people's metagame ranking.

On the flip side there were also people who shot to the top of the metagame ranking by playing very few games. If you're really good at an abstract game you could start a new account, bash people in a single high skill game (while playing a few other games to hit the different win requirements) and rocket to the top. Again, this would all shake out in the long run except these people would quit once they hit the top and start another account. The top of the Six leaderboard, for example, was littered with accounts created by a guy named onel.

The consequences of this system for me were I stopped joining invites from anyone with a low ranking. I stopped creating open invitations myself for any game I wasn't _really_ confident in my chances of winning. (A Few Acres of Snow, Rapa Nui, and Stone Age mostly.) I stopped playing games I enjoy but which have large amounts of randomness like Can't Stop and Roll Through The Ages. I did this because I wanted to be at the top of the ranking charts and I had to choose between playing games I liked and games I was good at.

They haven't released a lot of details about the new system (making the case that it's 'fun' to explore) but they have made clear the basic change to the system. You earn ranking points not based on the difference between your rank and your opponent's rank anymore. Instead you earn ranking points towards promotion/demotion based on the difference between your TrueSkill and your opponent's TrueSkill in the specific game played. This has a few consequences:
  • You can't just play one game you're good at and scoop up tons of points. As you win a lot your TrueSkill will end up near the top of the list and you'll earn fewer and fewer ranking points per win. 
  • You can play a game you're bad at without too much fear. You're not risking much in terms of ranking points if you lose and you're due for a big payout if you win. 
  • Playing games where you've hit your TrueSkill equilibrium point is not a great idea for ranking points. If you keep playing other people who are at their equilibrium point you're likely to stay pretty even. (Since the loser only loses 80% of what the winner gains you do still rate to go up slowly.) Unfortunately if you often play against people who are below their equilibrium point you rate to lose ranking points. Conversely if you play against a lot of people above their equilibrium point you rate to gain points.
  • Since TrueSkill starts off at 0 and has almost everyone rate to be above 0 you can't expect to play people above their equilibrium point. You can expect to play people below their equilibrium point, and lots of them. In other words once you've played a game enough to stabilize your rating it's a bad idea to play it in terms of ranking up unless you're also getting better at the game yourself. Or you cherry-pick and only play against other people who have stabilized!
Personally I've played most of the game I like an awful lot. I'm finding it very difficult to actually rank up in the new system because they didn't reset TrueSkill at the same time. I'm debating how much I care about the new ranking system compared to how much I care about my existing TrueSkill values. I'm contemplating just starting a new account. The alternative, I guess, is to learn some of the games I haven't played yet and hope they're good enough to power me to the top before I stabilize in them. I certainly gained an awful lot from my first game of Alchemist earlier today!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Theatrhythm Difficulty

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy has three different game modes. It has a series mode where you play through 5 songs from a specific Final Fantasy game. The prelude, the ending theme, a battle song, an overworld map song, and an event song. It has a 'dark note' mode where you take the fight to Chaos. You play an overworld song and a battle song with the aim of accumulating all the treasure from the monsters. (I believe this is where character stats really come into play.) Finally, it has a challenge mode where you can play any previous beaten song on your choice of difficulty level. Easy, medium, or hard.

On the surface this all seems great but there's a real problem here. Series mode is entirely on the easy difficulty level. Dark note mode is entirely on the medium difficulty level. If you want to play on hard you have to go song by song in the challenge mode.

Now, I'm not a god amongst rhythm gods but I'm at least in the pantheon. (Especially in what essentially boils down to a one button game. Go Thumbo!) Easy mode is very boring. I love the songs so it's not the end of the world that I have to play them on easy to unlock some things but it feels like bad design. I should be able to play through all the songs from a game on any difficulty that I can handle right from the start. (I'd pick hard and lose some of the time for sure!) On the other hand, forcing dark note mode to be medium difficulty could be terrible for someone who likes the music but isn't very good at the game. I'm not sure what I did to unlock the Dancing Mad song but I did it in dark note mode. It's possible someone bad at the game can never get access to that song. And now that I'm getting practice with the game medium is pretty easy for me. I'd set dark note mode to hard if I could and it would be a lot more fun.

I want to be challenged. I want to risk failure and be rewarded for good play and getting better. I feel like I can't get that out of this game. I can only play the hardest versions of the songs by completely ignoring all of the extra frills and stuff which doesn't feel good. *frowns*

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Theatrhythm Characters

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy was described to me as Elite Beat Agents with Final Fantasy music and some RPG elements. That description is pretty accurate thus far, but it's the RPG elements that have most impressed me thus far. You build a party of 4 characters from the main characters of each of the 13 Final Fantasys featured in the game. Each character has a different stat progression (you have 6 stats: hp, cp (used to equip abilities), strength, magic, agility, and luck) and learns different abilities as you level them up. The game describes what the stats and abilities do but it's a little unclear how relevant they actually are. (I switched from a party with levels 30-23-23-21 to a party of levels 30-1-3-1 and didn't really notice a difference.)

What most interested me was the 13 main characters picked to be in the game. For me I feel there are 11 obvious main characters and then 2 which are up in the air:

FFI - Generic warrior of light
FFII - Firion
FFIII - Generic onion kid
FFIV - Cecil
FFV - Butz
FFVII - Cloud
FFVIII - Squall
FFIX - Zidane
FFX - Tidus
FFXII - Vaan
FFXIII - Lightning

FFXI is a tricky one since it's an MMORPG. Everyone who played the game built their own character and chose their own leveling path as they played the game. You could screw around like with FFI and FFIII and go with some generic 'hero' but at least in those games you had to be the same race! In FFXI you could be a TaruTaru (cute little midget) or a Mithran (cat woman), or a Galkan (huge male ogrey thing) or a more generic elf or human. What they ended up doing is taking one of the major plot NPCs (I think she had an expansion pack designed around her on top of being one of the starting Windhurst quest givers) and slotting her in as the main character. Seems reasonable enough. And since our first 11 choices were 10 males and 1 female we clearly needed to bring in a female from FFXI in order to hit our quota.

FFVI on the other hand is a game where I feel there are a few different characters that all compete for the glory of main character. I think there are three real contenders:

Terra - first character you see in the game, a focal point of the plot since she's half-human and half-esper
Locke - first character you actually get to name, is the central organizer of the party in the first world
Celes - first character you control in the second world (Terra and Locke actually don't join your party for a long time in the second world and have pretty involved side-quests to get them back)

I've always thought of Locke as the main character since he's the one I named Nick and clearly as a male gamer the main character should be the one that represents me. This is something I'd thought about a fair bit over the years and I'd mostly come around on Celes being the main character of the second world for sure. And since she does play a pretty important role in the first world as well... I could see her being the main character. Especially for a compilation like this where we're on the short end of the female spectrum.

They ended up putting Terra in as the main character. I can somewhat see it in the context of FFVI as a whole but I'd put her in 3rd of the 3 choices I think. However, Shantotto from FFXI fills our 'little girl' quota by virtue of being a Tarutaru. Lightning fills the uncharacteristically strong bill. So we need the third archetype for Theatrhythm and that's the role filled by Terra. Also she has green hair so she'd stand out more. (Assuming you don't mix her up for Rydia, anyway...)

At any rate, my starting party was Squall and the three ladies. You get a scoring bonus when playing a song for using the right character for that song so I've been cycling around a little bit. I tagged in a team of Squall, Warrior of Light, Cloud, Onion Kid and was surprised to see an 'all male' scoring bonus. I wonder if there's a similar 'all female' bonus? There are only 3 female characters to start but I've been accumulating crystals to unlock more characters and maybe some of those are female... You get a shadow outline of the character (so you can guess who is coming I guess) and I think one of them might be Eiko from FFIX. Which would really surprise me since I can't imagine there are a lot of Eiko fans out there and there are so many other characters that could be added... Like Kimahri! He needs experience you know!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Final Fantasy Theatrhythm

Today brought the release of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy for the 3DS. I randomly remembered it came out today and convinced Andrew to have lunch at the mall so I could buy a copy from the EB Games there. Turns out they had copies in. And it turns out that they had more copies of the preorder version than people who preordered it so they hooked me up with the bonus stylus/stickers! Woo!

I'd stopped taking my 3DS to work (I'm playing FFV on the PSP) so I couldn't play right away. But I needed to decide if I was even going to play at all. It would slot in at the very end of my marathon, after all, and I haven't been letting other new (to me) games cut the line. Dissidia is sitting in a pile on the floor just begging to be played, for example, but I've held strong because I need to play everything in order or I'll just never play things like Final Fantasy Adventure or Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. That defeats the whole purpose of playing everything and I had a lot of fun playing them. On the other hand I've really been looking forward to this game and _really_ want to play it.

I got home and immediately popped it into my 3DS. Screw my ideals, I want to listen to Final Fantasy music.  It would seem the basic part of the game involves playing 5 songs from each of the first 13 core FF games. A prelude and the ending theme for each game and then an overworld map, battle, and event song for each game. I started with FFI, of course, and then took a trip to FFVIII. The battle song from this one is The Man With The Machine Gun which may be my favourite FF song. Woo! My sister will be happy to hear that Ronfaure is the overworld song for FFXI.

One thing I discovered is that it shows clips from the ending of all the games when you play the ending music section. This is great for something like FFVIII where it actually played Eyes On Me. It might be terrible for something like FFXII or FFXIII where I actually haven't finished the games! I'm now debating if I should leave those sections unplayed...

Monday, July 02, 2012

State of the Blog 2012

It's been another year so it's time for another review. 2012 was a leap year so there were 366 days from last July until the end of this June. There were 362 posts on this blog, 3 on the SNES blog, and 1 on the Star Trek blog. 1 post per day, every day, for the entire year. Woo! I didn't really solve my problem from last year about finding a way to combine all the posts into one super-blog of sorts. Instead I decided I didn't care. I found a Facebook app which gathers RSS feeds from multiple places and posts them automatically and decided that was good enough. It seems Google has since integrated Blogger into G+ so they're all getting sent there as well.

In the last year there have been 354 comments. Down a little from the 1 per average of last year but still pretty close. I don't believe I had to overrule Google's automated spam filter a single time all year. All the nude celeb links and SEO optimizers ended up in the spam folder never to be seen by anyone. All the real posts made it to the blog in real time. I'm pretty happy with the filter and see no reason to turn on any bot catching passwords or the like for the time being.

Interestingly, to me at least, random people I don't know started posting comments. Mostly in the Galaxy Legion posts but there have been a few elsewhere. Woo! For the most part it's still just people I know who are following along but it's good to know that some other people have stumbled their way here. Most of my posts seem to get in the 10-20 hit range. The Galaxy Legion stuff was getting a couple hundred each. Of course, I was also seeing big traffic spikes from automated crawlers while I was posting about GL so maybe it wasn't real people making it at all. Alas, I stopped playing that game so those posts aren't happening anymore.

The top search results are exclusively from World of Warcraft and Galaxy Legion. The top 6 are still variations on archaeology. I think the stats are starting to fail me here since my options are last month or all-time. My top viewed post remains the archaeology post but it only has 3866 page views. Last year it had 3627 so it's really only picked up 239 hits in the last year. That said, my 7th most viewed post only has 181 hits, so a gain of 239 would almost certainly still make it very high for the year. Snidely seems to have fallen out of interest. (Hey Google! Modify the Blogger stats to show stuff from the last year, will you!)

What games were tagged in posts this year?

video - Final Fantasy II, X-Com, Galaxy Legion, League of Legends, Zelda (Ocarina of Time), Dead Rising 2, Final Fantasy Legend, NHL 12, Dynasty Hockey, Guitar Hero, Mystic Warlords of Ka'a, Glitch, City of Villains, Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy Legend II, Zork, Romance of the Three Kingdoms III, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy Adventure, Final Fantasy IV, Star Wars: The Old Republic, StarCraft II, Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, Civilization V, Torchlight, Band Hero, Final Fantasy I, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy Legend III, Virtual Villagers, Diablo III, Minish Cap, TSN Predictor, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Final Fantasy V, F-Zero, Gradius III, Pilotwings

board - Through The Ages, Le Havre, Queen's Gambit, Can't Stop, Football Strategy, Innovation, Paydirt, Vegas Showdown, Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation, Sudoku Moyo, King of Tokyo, crayon rails, Agricola, Kingdom Builder, Puerto Rico, Roll Through The Ages, A Few Acres of Snow, backgammon, Campaign Manager 2008, Red November, Dungeon Lords, Ricochet Robots, Liar's Dice, Hacienda

other - Magic the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, Werewolf, Final Fantasy Trading Card Game

That's quite a few games!

I once again re-read the posts from the last year. I actually skipped most of the Galaxy Legion posts since they were mostly crunching numbers I no longer care about. I cared about them at the time so I'm definitely happy that they exist but I don't really care to read them again. A lot of the anecdote type posts were nice to read again.

It did seem like some of the more commented posts were Magic drafts. I should get back into playing Magic Online again to get a few more such posts up. I also vaguely recall hearing there's going to be a GP in Toronto later this year? I should practice for that!

All told I'm pretty happy with the way things are going. I think the change to posting on SNES and Star Trek blogs on the weekend will be a positive one. The Final Fantasy Marathon continues to churn along at a reasonable rate.