Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ehrgeiz: God Bless The Ring

It took me several hours to figure out but I eventually found and installed all the pieces required to run a PlayStation emulator. It took forever to get it properly configured in part because it has a terrible UI. If you load up a game then you can no longer access any of the options menus, but it doesn't tell you why you can't do it. They're just greyed out. It made it seem like I needed to go install more plugins or something to configure my xBox controller and set it to windowed mode. (I have a wide screen monitor and therefore full screen mode is terrible.) None of the various Google searches I made were much help with the reason either. They'd all just suggest using the options menu which was disabled for me. Eventually one forum post pointed out that you have to do all this stuff before starting a game. Why I can't change my controls after a game is loaded I don't know, but at least I could launch the game.

Ehrgeiz was apparently an arcade fighting game made by another company entirely that somehow convinced Square to lend them some characters. Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII. Eventually it got ported to the PS by Square who added in some more FFVII characters and added in some sort of dungeon quest mode. I only tried the standard fighting mode a bit today and was pretty disappointed. It just seemed like a mediocre fighting game. It didn't help that I didn't know what any of the buttons were and how, if possible, to do any special moves. I did manage to beat several fights with Tifa before giving up. She is still unbelievably proportioned in this game which was more than a little off-putting. If I play straight fighting mode again it'll probably be as Sephiroth, though I think dungeon mode is probably the place to go for the marathon.

I found a FAQ for the different moves, and now know how to throw for next time. Seems simple... Hold guard, do a full 360 on the controller, then hit the top and bottom attack buttons! Yeah... Not really something I have the skills to do. I was rarely able to pull off Zangeif's spinning piledriver and this seems harder! My hand isn't good at hitting a trigger and two different buttons at once. Thumbo is great at some things, but not that! But at least now I know there actually is a guard button, and I know how to run and jump. And from the move list I see that Sephiroth has a 'draw sword' move and then lots of sword attacks. I feel like Tifa is a better fit for a fighting game since she just punches things but that chopping people with a sword has to do more damage than punching them. Man, that reminds me of Bushido Blade! CHOP!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A & C Games

There's a vintage video game store in downtown Toronto called A & C Games. They have a ton of cool stuff going on and when I checked out there webpage last month I found a spreadsheet listing their inventory. It claimed they had 4 copies of Ehrgeiz, 2 copies of Chocobo Dungeon 2, and a copy of Chocobo Racing. It did have a warning stating the list was last updated in September but what are the odds that they've actually sold 4 copies of an obscure game no one likes? I don't know, but it happened. I went downtown after work today and they didn't have any copies of any of the games I want for my Final Fantasy marathon. This makes me sad, and puts me in a bit of a quandry. All the other stores I know of are pretty much out of the PS1 business. This leaves me with three options that I can think of...

  • Skip these games and go straight on to Final Fantasy VIII.
  • Try to find a PS1 emulator.
  • Put the marathon on pause while trying to buy them on eBay.
I feel like the plan should be to spend a day or two trying to see about an emulator and then move on to the game I actually want to play on the bus. Oh man, do I ever want to shuffle and/or boogie...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Final Fantasy Tactics: Conclusions

I finally got back into playing Tactics on the bus after giving up on the Cloud quest chain. It turns out I was only about 10 story battles from the end of the game when I diverted myself to work on Cloud which I'm pretty sure was a big mistake. The 15ish levels I gained from random encounters coupled with getting all of the math skills pretty much trivialized the end of the game. Frequently I would win a fight before the enemy even got a turn. The final boss had a couple of different stages and his final super-powerful stage didn't even get to resolve an action. Ramza got 3 actions each of which was to attack with dual-wielded Ragnarok+Excalibur for about 800 damage per round. Add in a couple mathed up holys and it was all over rather quickly.

The combat in Final Fantasy Tactics was awesome. The combat in Final Fantasy Mathed Holy was really boring. Part of the strategic interplay in the early fights was working around the different attack ranges of people and trying not to get engaged on first. With the math skill you can kill anyone from across the map in one fast action. And by fast I mean no cast delay, not in terms of time spent in the fight. It took a non-trivial amount of time to pick the right math skill (I'd one shot my own guys if I chose anything that targeted any ally) and the holy spell animation wasn't exactly fast even with the PSP hack I was running. Often random encounters near the end of a Final Fantasy game get trivial but then you just hold down the attack button and win. Here it still took time and thinking but with no real rewarding payoff.

I love job systems, and this one is definitely better than FFV or FFIII. Character power levels kept fluctuating up and down as I'd switch to new jobs and get worse immediately but with the promise of getting better in the future. You learn new jobs not at predetermined plot points but as you level up other jobs which meant different characters would be in different spots on the power curve which was nice. It also meant you couldn't just switch everyone to a single job that trivialized a fight without putting in an awful lot of job point farming.

The plot was certainly different from a core Final Fantasy game, but was still interesting. There ended up being an ultimate evil dude trying to rise to power but it was buried beneath layer after layer of political subterfuge. We're talking fake princesses, patricide, manipulated wars, and backstab after backstab. For the most part you only get to find stuff out when the main character finds out, and he's a bit of a wandering doofus so he's pretty in the dark for most of the game. I guess Delita ends up actually being the remembered hero but for good chunks of the game he seemed to be either dead or evil. (And in a scene after the credits he's actually victim of a murder-suicide by his wife, the queen!)

The ending was nice and vague like all the PlayStation era games. The ending implies that Ramza and Alma survived the final battle where the gates of hell exploded around them, in an area with no escape. But other than one brief glimpse by Orran they're never seen by anyone ever again? And the rest of my party, which featured a lot of important people, also never turned up? I feel like they're probably all dead and Orran was hallucinating when he saw them wander by. And then when Orran tries to tell the truth and gets burned at the stake by the church because it might paint them in a bad light? So good. The game had a very anti-nobility/anti-church/anti-power theme running through it and it was nice to see it pay off in the end with even more murder for the sake of power.

Side quests were a big let down. Going on the Cloud quest and doing some of the errands made me frustrated with the game. The game seemed to time out pretty well in terms of hitting peak power right at the end of the plot assuming you didn't try to power up at any point along the way. But doing the side quests meant extra powering up which skewed the difficulty of the story missions, didn't actually accomplish anything of use, and weren't challenging in any way. I actually feel like the game would have been better without the errands in the taverns. Alternatively, remove random encounters from the world map entirely. You still want a place to go to level up for people who need it, so leave a couple spaces off in the wilderness to grind random dudes, but making me fight stupid fights over and over just because I want to go from Goug to Gariland was a really bad idea.

The music was pretty good, but unspectacular relative to the core games. Nobuo Uematsu wasn't involved, which may have something to do with it. Or everything to do with it. The music did feel like it fit the mood of a lot of the game, it's just missing that extra something to push it over the top.

The played time on my saved game was over 33 hours which is the most of any game thus far in the marathon. And that number is really deflated considering just how many times I died and had to reload on some of the earlier fights. And for the most part I was having a lot of fun while playing. Especially while dying! I think intentionally keeping my level down at the start was a good idea. I lost track of that plan in the middle when I started going crazy with shouting myself which eventually lead to being too powerful when I did those extra random encounters. I think the game makes a great puzzle game where you need to figure out how to possibly beat some of the fights. Like the fight very early on where black mages first show up! Or male thieves! I want to play again with a more strict rule set in terms of what I can do to make it really hard. I read one thing about beating the game at level 1, where pretty much you have to use a secondary character to spill off monk JP to your main party and then they run the counter strike ability to kill everything without gaining experience for it!

Now the big question... Where should it fall in my ranking? This is a tough one, and one I wasn't expecting to find tough at all. It's a spin off game, how can it compete? Well, it turns out I really, really like tactical combat. The level system and combat in this game were the best of any played thus far by a mile. Sure, powering up made it too easy but that's true of all the other games too. Maybe not FFVII because it actually had stupidly challenging side bosses to kill, but the main storyline of FFVII gets really trivial if you power up at all. So while this is a strike fresh in my mind for FFT it's not one that's actually any different from other games. The character development and epic plot are weak points, though. As is the fact I had to hack my PSP to play the game without massive amounts of graphical lag. So while FFT wins in some categories that feel like they should be the important ones I think the overall picture drags it down enough to keep it below the major contenders thus far. I think it beats the last game with a job system, and therefore slots in at #4 thus far.

Next up, whatever Ehrgeiz is. I need to go out after work to the vintage video game store and see about buying a copy of it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Diablo III: Item Mods Per Slot

One thing I quickly noticed when trying to build an item set for the wizard build I found was how few slots actually have attack speed or crit chance as options for rare items. Frustratingly, legendary/set items can sometimes break the rules that rare items have for mods/slot but the auction house interface won't let you search for them! For example, The Witching Hour is a legendary belt with attack speed and is the only way to get attack speed on a belt. But if you don't know about that item and you just want to find a belt with attack speed you simply can't use the AH to find it. It also means you can't filter all of the available The Witching Hours to get one with a max attack speed roll. My current belt is significantly worse than The Witching Hour could be, and until I went looking right now for an example item I didn't know it existed!

I want to know which slots can have which stats so I can go about properly upgrading my gear. I feel like I need more life on hit in particular, and more max health. But a couple hours of internet searching on the weekend did little to actually find information in an easy to use form. So, I've decided to go through all the possible rare mods and all the legendary items to build a nice list of the mods I care about and build a bit of a shopping list.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Diablo III: Crafting

Now, I like to make things in video games when given the chance. Last time I played Final Fantasy XI I hardly killed any mobs at all. I played a lot, but I spent my time almost exclusively crafting. Diablo III has a couple of different ways to craft but they were all incredibly stupid at launch. I don't know if it was a problem with the AH being new or what, but it didn't make any sense to make your own stuff. The question is, does it now?

First stop, gems. Does it make sense to level up to the top tier of gems on your own, or would you be better off selling the gems you find and buying the best stuff on the AH? Does it make sense to crush your gems and sell them on the AH yourself even accounting for the 15% cut. I ran the numbers in a spreadsheet and for the most part you don't want to do either thing. The 15% cut makes it so it's not worth selling anything beyond the first level of crushed items, and then only if you want to sell off your gems/tomes. I don't want rubies, so I'm doing that. If you do want a high level gem you're better off making your own, which is nice.

Next, salvaging. Do you want to vendor all the gear you pick up, or salvage it for parts? Do you want to pick up blues? Well, it would seem that the salvaged stuff has settled into a nice spot where it's right to salvage the cheap stuff and vendor the expensive stuff (and then buy salvaged mats on the AH if you want them). I tried to do this for a while, but it was adding too much time to my 'in town' time. So for now while I need money I'm just going to vendor everything. If I run out of my stash of materials then maybe I'll reconsider. I'm also not picking up blues, but I think if I was salvaging everything I would.

Finally, crafting. Most of the stuff back in the day was too low level to be worth making, and I think that's still true of the old stuff. But they've added some new patterns in the last patch which are totally worth making if you don't have a nutty item in that slot. I actually think the int+5 bracer pattern I found is possibly best in slot. I made a really good set with crit chance which makes me happy. These are bind on account, and are made with a bind on account material, so I will probably make more just to use up the stuff I find in case I get a truly awesome thing.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Diablo III: Critical Mass

I did some browsing yesterday for wizard builds and found lots of sites that list builds with no explanation at all for why people are using the skills they use. One site seemed to data mine the armoury thing to determine 'popular' builds and every softcore wizard build it listed was a variant on the same idea. They all used the critical mass passive which has a chance to reduce the cooldown on your spells when you crit. Apparently 71.2% of softcore characters at low paragon levels use it, and 86.46% at high paragon levels use it. I don't have a drop of crit chance on my gear and had never given critical mass a second glance as a result. My gear is all int/magic find/defensive stats and the idea of branching into crit chance never really hit my radar. But can 86.46% of people be wrong? Maybe it's time to figure out what's going on there and look into how expensive some crit gear would be.

It also looked like most of the builds were running the wicked wind rune of the energy twister spell. I'd always thought that spell was abysmally bad. I tried it once, hated it, and never looked back. Now, this was all 9 months ago and I didn't really do a very thorough job of trying it out back then. So, it was probably worth giving it another look. I tried it out at MP1 yesterday, found I couldn't kill anything, and switched back to my blizzard build. Ike joined my game and his pets tanked for me and I just killed things with blizzard and hydra. It was awesome! We didn't get a key but we both gained a paragon level and got a bunch of blacksmithing recipes. Good times!

Not really knowing what abilities do and how they may have been buffed/nerfed makes me want to run a challenge James came up with where you're only allowed to use the most recent spell/rune that you've learned as you level up. This would force me to use every ability and get a feel for all of them. The only downside would be not gaining paragon levels on my 'main', but it could still be pretty fun I would think.

Another option would be to search around and try to find people actually willing to explain a critical mass build. Google was no help at all so I did something I'd have thought I'd never do... I went to the official Blizzard forums looking for coherent posts. And I found them! Someone did a very good job of explaining the goal of the popular build and what it takes to get there. In particular it seems that the energy twister/wicked wind spell ticks incredibly frequently. With a typical end game amount of attack speed every cast of the spell will tick on everything inside it 36 times, for example. That's 36 chances to crit for every mob trapped in the twister. The build then stacks up the 'arcane power on crit' mod on gear which lets it spam out twisters like there's no tomorrow. If you have 30% crit, and a twister ticks 36 times, and you get 21 arcane power back when it crits you're looking at spending 35 arcane power to gain 227 arcane power. Per mob in the twister. Yeah, I think that's pretty sustainable. But how do you keep the monsters standing in the twister for the full 6 seconds? Simple! Hit them with a frost nova. Frost nova has a 12 second cooldown so you can't keep it up all the time... Or can you? Critical mass knocks a second off the cooldown with crits. One of the above twisters will crit 11 times in 6 seconds. Per monster it hits. Yeah, that'll let you keep spamming frost nova. You also get to spam diamond skin for a pretty much permanent 10k shield. And you might as well add on a ton of health gain on hit since your twisters are hitting 6 times a second per twister per mob. Yeah.

Now, the gear to get that much attack speed, crit, arcane power on crit, and life on hit is not cheap. So it takes time and money to become an indestructible perma-stunning death machine. But it seems feasible, and like it could be a lot of fun. Of course, my current gear plan is pretty much perpendicular to the gear needed for this plan. I have the slowest weapon I can find, this spec wants the fastest possible weapon. I focus on int and magic find, neither of which this build needs to start. In fact, of the 2 guides I read there wasn't a single mention of getting magic find at all. I wonder if this means paragon magic find is considered to be good enough, or if just killing more things is better. I do have two items with attack speed on them, and my hat has arcane power on crit, and most of my gear does have defensive stats. So it's entirely possible that I can try this build out with just buying a new weapon, offhand, and cheap attack speed/crit rings. I also recently switched out my only item with life on hit and really noticed the change, so I was thinking of buying some more life on hit pieces for my blizzard spec. They fit here too!

For anyone interested, the damage focused build of this spec is here. It doesn't use a signature spell which I guess makes sense when you have enough gear to turn wicked wind into an arcane power gain!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Diablo III: Monster Power Details

Last night I went to give Diablo III another shot around games of Blood Bowl (my TMNT themed Nurgle team won two games in a new mini-league!) without really knowing what to expect. I knew broad strokes about the new systems from reading the patch notes and talking a bit with Randy but I didn't really know details. What monster power level should I set? Not knowing what it would do beyond make things harder and drop more stuff I didn't really know what to expect. Randy was saying he plays on MP5 and his gear seemed considerably better than mine so probably something lower, right?

I decided to try MP4, but my first attempt didn't work at all. It turns out Blizzard buried the ability to even use monster power in one of the option menus and you need to go turn it on outside of a game before you can change the setting. You can also only change the slider outside of a game (so no farming up a full stack of the Neph buff on MP0 and then powering up to MP10 for awesome loot) which seems reasonable enough. My second try worked, but MP4 was rougher than I wanted. Even with being very rusty I couldn't really die (force armour and teleport refreshing on damage are still awesome) in Act 1, but the monsters had stupid amounts of health and my disintegrate just wasn't doing enough damage. I also didn't realize MP0 was an option at the time so I thought I was moving the dial up 3 levels (from a base of MP1) when really I was going up 4 levels. On the plus side I did get an upgrade from the first elite pack I found on MP4.

Next up, MP2. This seemed a lot more reasonable and felt a lot like how I remember the game from launch. It felt like I was killing monsters at around the same speed I used to (with both my disintegrate build and a blizzard/hydra build) but the monsters were doing less damage (to the point of sometimes not proccing my teleport refresh) and were definitely dropping more stuff. Having the Neph buff apply to loot from resplendent chests and add a new stack was also nice! I found I couldn't really kill a treasure goblin with my disintegrate build on MP2 but could barely do it with blizzard/hydra. This makes me think MP2 is probably the top of my range with my current gear and a blizzard spec, that my disintegrate spec is terrible, and that maybe I should research some actual builds and see if I can find something even better.

But now that I played around with it a little I want to see some real details. What exactly is changing when you turn up the monster power dial. I found a couple nice charts on the Blizzard site but they only show the initial 1.0.5 launch numbers and not the tweaks that have happened since. The first thing those charts showed me was that monster power does apply to pre-inferno difficulties (a question Ike asked me in game yesterday). It works a little differently and the scaling isn't nearly as brutal (MP10 on normal is 4x monster health. MP10 on inferno is 34x monster health!) but you can definitely turn up the dials and level faster if you can mow through tougher dudes.

On inferno the scaling is more extreme and it also does three additional things. The first is the MP level determines the drop rate of keys and organs for the infernal machine event. It sounds like MP0 is 5% and every other MP level is 10% per level, so on MP10 you have guaranteed drops. The second thing is normal monsters that drop an item (apparently 30% chance) have a chance of dropping a second item. It doesn't seem like a big deal but it does mean you'll get more stuff when clearing trash packs. The last thing is the monsters in Act I and Act II are leveled up to level 63 if you're running any MP level above MP0. This means every monster has the same ilvl loot ratio so you can actually fight anywhere you want and get the same value stuff. It also means the monsters in AI and AII get a bigger bump by going from MP0 to MP1 than other monsters do because they get both the +50% health boost from the MP1 and get more base stats by leveling up from 61 to 63.

I couldn't find an updated chart anywhere consolidating all the patch changes so I went through the patch notes and built my own. Enjoy!

One thing that really jumps out at me is that monster health drastically outpaces the rest of the rows. So if you aren't just murdering regular dudes then you don't need to bump up the monster power, with a couple exceptions. Getting into MP1 is really worth it if you're fighting in AI or AII by bumping up the drops to the top of the curve. And if you're trying to farm infernal machine pieces then it can be worth ramping it up. There's only one guy who drops each key, and you need to stack your Neph buff up before you can get a drop off of him. So it can really be worth increasing the time it takes to kill that guy to bump up the key odds. (Also, the XP, MF, and GF rows are an addition so the gains aren't as big as they seem. MP2 isn't twice as good as MP1, it's 20% better. (1.5/1.25)) MP5 is 5x the odds of a key drop and only ~4x the health of the monsters compared to MP1, for example.

For people who may be curious (I certainly was!) it sounds like the system was tuned such that the old difficulty is about the same as MP2/MP3. I couldn't find specific details but I would guess for AI and AII that MP2 is about the same with the two boosts and for AIII and AIV that MP3 is about the same. I remember AIII being pretty rough but doable with my gear so I should be able to smash things on something like MP0 or MP1 now.

I figure it's probably in my best interest to farm drops/xp for a while to power up my gear a little and then shift to a higher MP level and go after infernal machine keys. So I think I may give MP1 a try tonight and see if it's too easy. On the plus side I already got a paragon level last night. Woo!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Diablo III Patches

Last night I was hanging out on Vent watching Snuggles and Mike's Blood Bowl teams stand in a pile and punch each other. An unrelated conversation broke out at one point between Sceadeau and Randy about the current state of Diablo III and how after 9 months it may actually have iterated into a good game. Randy gave some examples that sounded pretty good so I figured I should go check out all the patch notes to see if my interest was sufficiently piqued to give Diablo III's tires another kick.

I'd last played the game in patch 1.0.3. I had actually posted about patch 1.0.4 (which brought in the 'new' endgame with paragon levels) but wasn't interested enough to actually play at that point. Patch 1.0.7 came out last week, so there's 3 major patches worth of notes to browse on top of the standard Blizzard hot fixes. What have we got?

Patch 1.0.5 brought:

  • Monster power. This is basically a dial you can turn to tweak the difficulty of the game. Make the monsters harder and get rewarded with more items. The more items comes in the form of a magic find multiplier which can exceed the standard magic find cap, which seems pretty great. Diablo II let you make the game harder by telling it how many players were in the game and this sounds pretty similar. A difficulty dial is awesome, as is a small but tangible reward for moving up in difficulty. Maybe now hell won't be trivial while inferno is practically impossible!
  • Infernal machine event. Kill a bunch of bosses to get low drop rate BoA reagents. Combine three of them to open a hard boss event. Collect stuff from the hard boss events to build awesome BoA items. This sounds like a nice time sink with a real reward that can't just be bought on the AH. This is again exactly what a Diablo endgame needs. Eventually they added similar things to Diablo II and I can remember having a lot of fun running around with Tom and Byung trying to get the unique charm thing.
  • They completely redid the diminishing aspects of crowd control! I always hated that spells/mechanics just stopped working properly on harder difficulties and it sounds like they built a new system to keep CC from getting out of control without making it always useless. There's a great post on the topic here.
  • Legendary and set items drop more often, which is nice. Even if I don't want to wear a set I still like collecting all the bits!
  • Tons of bug fixes and skill balances.

Patch 1.0.6 brought:

  • Nothing. It talked a little about infrastructure changes. PLEASE LET THIS MEAN GUILDS ARE COMING! I fear it was more to upgrade for the StarCraft II expansion, but I'm willing to be optimistic. I WANT GUILDS! Or at least a chat room. Can I have a chat room?

Patch 1.0.7 brought:

  • PvP. I imagine this means way more to other people than to me, but I could see tooling around with this. Right now it's just a way to do little duels of up to 4 people.
  • Quality of life/balance buffs to the end game systems. Monster power 10 is now worth 610% experience instead of 260% which is a pretty big deal and makes me suspect the monster power rewards weren't actually good enough in 1.0.5. The Neph buff now persists across acts, the base pick-up radius was increased, and you don't get an escalating rez timer if you die a bunch. All little, nice things.
  • A new BoA reagent that drops from end game stuff and can be used to craft ilvl 63 BoA gear. Anything that makes farming for yourself a better way to power up than shopping at the AH is fantastic in my eyes since it encourages people to play the game instead of playing the economy. If I wanted to play the economy I'd play Eve. 
  • New recipes to create awesome BoA gems.
  • Legendary items put an icon on the map when they drop to make it harder to miss them. 
  • More skill balances and bug fixes.

It sounds like they actually have a reasonable end game now. Rather than a single (brutally hard) difficulty with grinding gold being the only realistic way to power up for practically all players there's now a difficulty slider and a decent selection of non-AH paths to power. Paragon levels, the infernal machine, and the new BoA crafting materials all seem like fun things to chase that require you to actually run around, kill things, and take their stuff. It sounds like a reasonable guild system is still a pipe dream which makes me sad.

That said, I'm intrigued enough that if I don't have Blood Bowl matches to play tonight I think I'll patch it up and give it a spin. Most of the changes are focused at max level so it seems like I should probably play my wizard despite having like 8 months worth of skill changes to learn. Man, I hope laser beams are good! But even if they aren't, I can almost certainly still use them on a lower monster power level. I think I had reasonable enough gear when I quit so I'm really hoping that's true!

Ooh, there's an armoury for Diablo III now! Apparently I have 1274 int, 125% magic find, 500 vit, 1468 armour, and 223 resist all. Is that good?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

League of Legends: New Players

Last night Robb convinced Sceadeau to give League of Legends a try. It was an interesting experience and brought with it a reminder about how brutal the metagame actually is when you're forcing the game to put someone at level 1 and someone at level 30 in the same game. The teams ended up being 30-30-30-30-1 vs 30-30-30-20-20 in the first game and 30-20-17-17-2 vs 24-17-15-12-5 in the second game. If it was just experience levels at play those might be balanced games but since levels bring actual in-game power along with them it's not the case at all. In the second game I played support and my level really didn't matter. Supports don't really scale with stats so having a bunch of free stats didn't help all that much. In the first game Robb got way ahead, possibly by farming one of the low level guys, and was a wrecking ball. It certainly helped that the enemy team kept focusing our level 1 guy in team fights!

But I was thinking about it today on the bus from work... How big a deal was it, actually? If I'm a level 30 Twitch with full runes/masteries and Sceadeau is a level 1 Twitch with no runes or masteries how big an advantage do I have?

Well, at in-game level 1 Sceadeau would have 469 health, 14 armour, 59 damage, and attack .679 times per second assuming he buys a doran's blade with his starting money. I would have 475 health, 29 armour, 75 damage, and attack .706 times per second (+4%). I would also have 17 flat armour penetration and 8% armour penetration. I would do 2% more damage all the time and an extra 5% damage when he falls under half life. I would also have access to the ignite and flash summoner spells while he would only have heal and ghost.

When he attacks me he'd do 46 damage per shot. When I hit him I'd do 77 damage per shot until he fell below half health when I'd do 80 damage instead. This is assuming I can't knock him into negative armour; I'm not clear on whether runes/masteries can do that or not. I may be doing more than that. So he'd kill me in  11 attacks, which would take over 16 seconds. I would kill him in 7 attacks, which would take 10 seconds. This ignores summoner spells and the healing of doran's blade, both of which would swing the fight more in my favour.

I'd say that's a huge deal. He's probably looking at needing to earn 3000 gold to make the fight even. A full black cleaver might turn it into an even fight! Couple the huge stat advantage with the significantly better early game and the general gameplay experience which makes earning money easier and it seems pretty inconceivable that he'd ever come close to me in power if we faced off against each other.

This seems like a big problem. I like the League of Legends metagame system, and I think having the restricted pool of champions when you start, and the lower overall power level of characters are good things. But for those things to exist you can't be teaming up with a max level player. Otherwise you'll be playing with many people who just have huge statistical advantages and a bigger pool of available champions.

But what is the solution? It seems like there are a few options...

  • Don't play together at all.
  • Start a new account myself (and thus be forced to split my IP gains between accounts).
  • Suck it up and have terribly unbalanced games. (Possibly by having the low level character focus on playing support since they don't scale with stats as much as other people?)

None of these seem particularly great, and I'm open to other suggestions. I wish LoL had a 'level matching' system like some MMORPGs do. I'd gladly play without runes and masteries on my main account as long as I could keep earning IP to buy new champions.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Battle Ball

Andrew recently picked up a board game, Battle Ball, which is essentially a Milton Bradley version of Blood Bowl. It's immensely streamlined and wasn't designed to sell more miniatures but it seemed pretty fun. Instead of taking a turn to move all of your guys you only get to move one guy every turn which cuts down on a lot of the planning involved in each turn. The goal is pretty much the same, though. Move some miniatures around, roll some dice, try to kill the other team and/or score touchdowns.

The game had a really elegant mechanic to determine where a player fell on the 'agile/strong' spectrum. Each player has a size of die associated with them. Roll it to work out how many spaces they move when you move them. If you fight another player you both roll the appropriate die and the highest roll gets knocked out for the half (or the whole game if the low roll was a 1). So the tackle unit would only move 3.5 spaces on average and the running back would move 10.5 spaces on average. But if they ever touched each other the running back would get removed from play 87.5% of the time. The tackle would only leave play 17.5% of the time.

The game had zones of control, so you couldn't just give the ball to a running back and keep trying to roll a 20 and score. Instead you had to fight a bunch to open up a hole for him to eventually run through. Or maybe just give the ball to the guy who rolls a d6 and hope he'll kill everyone in his path!

It seemed fun, and short, and relatively thematic. It didn't have nearly the depth of strategy that Blood Bowl has, so I think I'd definitely rather play Blood Bowl than Battle Ball, but Battle Ball seems like a good game to have existing. (And I smoked Andrew! My 2d6 choose guy killed his 2d6 choose guy as the first action of the game and it was all downhill from there.)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

League of Legends: Crystalline Flask

I was playing some Twisted Treeline games with Robb and Snuggles last week and we had a bit of a discussion about the crystalline flask. It was changed in a recent patch to cost more and return more health/mana, and I liked the new version more. Snuggles used to buy the old version and won't buy the new one. I didn't really know what had changed, so I wanted to take a look and see what's really going here.

Old flask - cost 225, 3 hits of 100 health, 40 mana over 10 seconds.
New flask - cost 345, 3 hits of 120 health, 60 mana over 12 seconds.

The old flask was definitely more cost efficient, and was the same amount of healing as 2 healing potions and 1.2 mana potions. So each time out to lane, assuming you could use all of the health/mana, would be worth 112 gold. So it would break even in pretty much two trips to lane. The new flask is worth 2.4 healing potions and 1.8 mana potions. So it breaks even at 2.3 trips back to lane. The old flask broke even faster, but the new flask was worth a little more every time you go back to base. They're both worth the same amount of health per second, so spamming it in combat is equivalent for the first 30 seconds of the fight (which is really all that matters).

So, looking at the numbers, the flask definitely seems to have gotten worse. I think, however, that I was undervaluing it in the past and not overvaluing it now. It's still worth 2 ruby crystals of health in a prolonged fight (which most early game lane matches are) which is a really fantastic value. I should have been buying it more often back in the day, and do think it's right to buy it now. However, you really need to be able to make use of the extra mana from the new flask as it makes up a pretty significant amount of the value for the item. So it feels like anyone who would consider buying early mana potions or mana regen items is probably well suited to grabbing a flask. Anyone who doesn't really want the mana should probably just buy a couple healing potions and move on with their life.

Friday, February 15, 2013

League of Legends: Championship Series

Riot has implemented something new and pretty cool for the pro scene in season 3. It would seem they've basically hired 16 pro teams to work for them like a pro sports league. All things consider it's something like 4 days a week for 6 months of games between the best of the best in North America and Europe. They've got studios set up (one in each region) and they're bringing in 6 teams per region each week to play a ton of games. Every game is being streamed live, in HD, for free, and videos are going up within hours of the day ending. The website with all the games is available here, and actually has a spoiler protection feature you can turn on so you don't know who won a given game before you start watching it.

This is a huge step towards making 'pro gamer' into a 'real' job. I can't find details about how much they're actually paying these guys but one guy said it was in the 20-30k range. That's not great by any means, but they're paying to fly the teams to the big tournaments like MLG and they're putting the spotlight on the teams which opens up the opportunity to make more money through streaming or sponsorships. And it's a steady income which is pretty clutch. On top of just wanting to watch lots of top tier games I'm excited to see if this sort of thing pans out and becomes a reasonable way for some people to make a living. It feels like if it works for League of Legends then they'll have laid down the infrastructure to allow other games to tag along. They're using the NA studio for 2 of the 7 days in a week, it only seems logical that subcontracting it out a couple of days for a pro Halo circuit or something could be feasible.

They've also announced an all-star game in mid season, and a way for teams to get promoted/relegated at the half-way mark. The top 32 teams on the public 5v5 ladder will get to play in a tournament to potentially get promoted into a salaried position. This feels like the sort of thing that might really keep people at the top of the game interested in pushing hard to get better. It's one thing when you might be able to fly yourself to an MLG event for a slim chance at making money. It's another when there's a guaranteed payoff for doing well without having to play the giants of the sport. The 4 qualifier teams have started off the NA season a combined 0-7, but they're still getting paid, and they're getting a chance to play matches that count against top opposition every week.

I'm a fan.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


At the end of my week 3 Blood Bowl match against Randy I found myself with 200k in the bank. My team already has 4 rerolls and 12 players so I didn't have any pressing needs on which to spend money. But there is one thing I've always wanted to have for me time, despite not really having a good plan for how to use it: Deathroller! The Deathroller is 4/7/1/10 with loner, break tackle, dirty player, juggernaut, mighty blow, no hands, secret weapon, and stand firm! That is a lot of skills, and only three of them are negatives! And all for the low, low price of 160k.

Now, obviously having a 7 strength guy has to be good, but he seems like a tricky guy to use. Secret weapon means he only gets to play for one drive which I think means ideally I want to receive in the second half and play him then. The other option is to try to use him when I kick, because with break tackle and 7 strength he's actually really good at disrupting a cage. That feels dangerous because if they just score fast then I lose my 160k guy after like 2 turns. I feel like having him around is just letting my opponents induce up the equivalent of a wizard for no reason if he's only playing for 2 turns. Heck, even at 8 turns it still feels questionable. Awesome, but questionable.

Ideally I want him to play in the second half for fielding a full team reasons. If I play him and 10 dudes in the first half and two guys get injured then my second half will only have 10 guys left. If instead I play 11 normal dudes in the first half and two get injured then I'll have a full 11 guys for the second half. Also, it's possible to earn a bribe through kick-off results so I want as many kick-offs to happen as possible before fielding him. (A bribe can keep him from getting kicked out.)

One advantage to starting him in the first half if I'm receiving is having an extra mighty blow guy in play to push people around. Grinding out a first half with tons of casualties is my whole game plan and it feels like that has to work more often with the deathroller in play than not. He also has the awesome dirty player skill and fouls late in the first half will be more impactful than fouls late in the second half. (I don't really mind if he gets kicked out for fouling because he was going to get kicked out at the end of the drive anyway.)

The final issue is coming up with a name worthy of such a powerful unit. My team is named after bands/musicians and I tossed around a couple of death related ideas. Megadeth, perhaps? Or some sort of death metal band? Those had the problem that I don't really listen to those genres so they wouldn't really fit in with the rest of my team. I ended up going with Rammstein because a steam roller is kinda like a battering ram, industrial metal is kinda like death metal, and Josh got me hooked on Du Hast back in University.

I don't really know how it's going to work out, and I don't like having dudes without block on my team, but it just seemed too cool to leave off my team. Maybe after it costs me a couple games I'll fire him and regret the choice. But for now I'm really looking forward to throwing 3 die blocks on some thralls!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


A couple months ago I bought a big bundle of games on Steam. Some of the games I recognized, most I didn't. One game I didn't recognize but which tipped the scale in favour of buying the bundle was a game called Awesomenauts. I didn't know anything about it, but with a name like that how could I say no?

Today Awesomenauts was advertised as being on sale when I logged into Steam which convinced me to actually install it and give it a shot. It turns out to be a very streamlined MOBA game, based off of DotA. It's 3v3 with not a whole ton of farming going on. I've only been playing with bots so far but games seem to last in the 15 minute range instead of the 45 minute range for League of Legends.

It has some interesting variations from the standard MOBA games. You do gain levels but it's unclear to me what that really accomplishes. It doesn't make you do more damage or get new abilities. Maybe it gives you more max health? While playing you can get new abilities, but you get it by spending the gold you earn by killing monsters. Before each match you get to pick 3 modifications for each of your three abilities and 3 generic abilities. Those 12 things are the stuff you can buy in the store. Each character has 28 things they could have picked, so even when two of the same character are in a game they could actually be drastically different.

The character I've recently unlocked is a healer, and one of the ability modifiers he can buy is to make his healing spell generate gold when you heal someone. It's a clever idea that I wish would show up in some form in LoL.

When you die you get a standard death timer, but the actual time out of game is very short. Instead you respawn far away from the action, with a bunch of gold pick-ups to collect between you and your base. This means you're removed from the fight for about the same amount of time as in LoL but you get to take useful actions (collecting gold) for some of that time instead of just staring blankly at the screen waiting to respawn.

Most importantly for me, the game is designed to work with an xBox 360 controller. I like the feel of playing a game with a controller instead of a keyboard/mouse. Interestingly it seems to allow multiple people to play the game from the same computer, so theoretically someone could play with the keyboard/mouse while I play with the controller. Not that I have anyone to play with, but this sort of thing would have been awesome 18 years ago when my brother and I would compete for computer time.

The game is 2D like every other MOBA game I've seen, but it uses different dimensions. Awesomenauts has a jump button and each of the different characters I've played has a different twist on jumping. One guy could double jump. One guy could hover like Princess in Super Mario 2. One guy had a jetpack.

Turrets are brutally powerful, but the minions seem to take reduced damage from them. So it seems like you want to use the minions as a meat shield while you burn out a turret. The healer actually seemed really good at siegeing turrets since he could just stand there healing the minions while they whittled the turret down. I imagine against human opponents that wouldn't work as well since they'd presumably come kill me. (The healer starts with no ability to do damage!)

I don't know that the game is better than LoL (my gut feeling is no) but it's interesting enough to be a good diversion at least. And it definitely has the better name!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Blood Bowl: Assist Mechanics

Cyanide very recently added a new feature to their Blood Bowl client: the ability to watch games live. Most of the games in our little league are played by people chatting on Sceadeau's Vent server and I've tried to watch all of the games each week while listening in to the games. And cheering for debilitating injuries! One of the things I like to do is try to figure out how I'd play a given position before people start moving. Then I can see what they actually do and try to compare the differences. This gives me a way to learn good moves, and a way to find potential weaknesses to exploit.

Last night I watched a game where one of the players didn't really understand some of the game mechanics. I would predict some moves and then he'd go off in a completely different direction. Sometimes he'd make moves that actively hurt his position. Sometimes he made anti-two die blocks when he could have set up differently for a one-die block. (Or just not attacked at all.) He dodged into multiple tackle zones without regard for the odds. I tried to figure out if there was a strategic reason for doing so, and couldn't. But the conversation on Vent eventually lead me to figure out what was going on...

You see, the client does a _terrible_ job of explaining why things are happening. For example, the log says every dodge an elf tries to make is (3+) regardless of where you're dodging. Then later on in the line (if you don't roll a 1 or a 6) it will list the modifiers to the roll. +1 for making a dodge, -2 for dodging into 2 tackles zones. The end result is you actually need a 4 to make that dodge, and a 2 to make a dodge into the open field. But both dodges say (3+) at the start of the line! I find it a little confusing to read and I've played ~20 games on the board and ~100 on the computer!

I can remember a couple months ago teaching Robb and Snuggles to play over Skype and running into similar issues. The computer handles everything for you and isn't super clear for what the odds actually are a lot of the time. It's hard to make optimal probabilistic decisions when you don't understand the implications of your choices! Especially when you've got a timer on your turn so you can't even stop to parse it out manually from first principles. Learning on a board with infinite time and someone willing to let you take things back when you realize the implications of what you've done is pretty useful, I think. I find explaining some concepts over voice chat and without the ability to move things around to make examples hard, I can't imagine how hard it is to actually understand the explanations.

The biggest issue is how to work out the number of dice thrown in a block. I don't think I did a terribly good job explaining it to either Robb or Snuggles and knew I shouldn't even try last night during a league match. But I think the job absolutely needs to be done because it's something every single new player I've listened to playing games online has had issues with. I'm not sure this is the best format either, but I feel like at least I can make a lot of example pictures!

Monday, February 11, 2013


I recently learned an interesting board game that felt really cool but feels like it doesn't actually have a lot of play due to a dominating strategy. The game is Gingkopolis and I wanted to talk a bit about it to try to quantify my issue with the game. I have only played it four times so it's possibly I'm missing something and it may be better (or just random) when everyone uses the right strategy from the get-go.

The basic idea of the game is each player has a hand of 4 cards. Draft one, play it, pass the other three to your left. Everyone then draws a card from the deck to fill back up to 4. Repeat. Playing a card means taking one of three actions, dependent on the card chosen. There are three different types of resources in the game, and they're pretty interchangeable in terms of how you acquire them and what they're worth. Raw materials are probably worth the most points over the course of the game, but you can only spend as many of them as your card allows so you can't just stock up on them. Tiles are mostly used to facilitate using raw materials but extra tiles can be converted into points near the end of the game on a 1-for-1 basis. The third resource is victory points and they just seem worse than tiles until the very, very end of the game. You need to built up a good balance of raw materials to tiles and topping up with points is just fine, but I'm going to pretty much ignore the distinction between them and just refer to how many total resources an action gains or loses.

The first action you can take is exploit. It doesn't cost you anything at all, and gains you at least one resource. The type of resource depends on the colour card you drafted, and the number you get varies based on how developed the space represented by the card is. For the most part this number is going to be one, but sometimes you can get 2 or 3 resources.

The second action is expand. This costs you 2 resources, lets you put a new tile in a specific spot on the board (based on the card drafted) and claim it for potential end game points. Probably 1 point. In addition, you get to exploit every adjacent space that exists beside your new tile. This is guaranteed to be at least 1 space and is sometimes 2 spaces. On a very rare occasion it will be three spaces. So compared to exploit this is mediocre with 1 adjacent space (spend 2 resources, probably get 1 resource and in both cases you exploit one tile). With 2 adjacent spaces it gets better than the exploit.

The third action is the overbuild. This lets you upgrade the tile listed on the card drafted up a level which makes it more likely to score extra end game points. Doing so costs you n+1 resources where n is the new level of the tile. It likely scores you n points, and could be even more depending on the end game area control stuff. It does not let you exploit a space, so for the most part this is a way to spend your stockpile of resources to earn points. Oh, except for one other bit. Because you overbuilt a tile it wouldn't make any sense for that card to go back into the deck of draftable cards. Instead, you get to keep that card and put it in front of you. About half of these cards have a good amount of end game points on them. The other half give you resources for performing specific actions. So you might get an extra tile every time you exploit, or an extra raw material every time you overbuild. You also get to start the game with 3 of these powers.

There are two ways to score end game points: controlling leveled up spaces on the board and collecting bonus point cards. Both of these require you to take the overbuild action. So the point scoring strategy has to involve gathering enough resources to overbuild frequently. It might seem like exploiting a bunch would be a good way to do this, but gathering a bunch of overbuild related powers seems really strong. Compare, for example, someone who gets one of each type of power vs someone who has 3 overbuild powers. When the first person exploits to get some resources they'll spend nothing and gain 2 resources. When the second person overbuilds they'll spend 3 resources, gain 3 resources, 2 likely points, and another power card. The second option is way better! And if those 3 overbuild powers happen to be specifically a tile and 2 materials they can take this action pretty much every turn for the whole game while accumulating more and more powers.

Two of the four games I played featured someone starting with 3 overbuild powers and quickly getting extra ones. The game was pretty much over at that point.

Now, if everyone started the game with the same number of overbuild powers, and everyone knew to always draft overbuild power cards, then maybe the game becomes interesting. At that point the decisions on how to split up your different types of resources, or how to build areas on the board for end game scoring, might matter. Or maybe all the overbuild powers that get added to the deck will just get dealt to one person over and over again and it won't really be a game.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Niagara Non-Gaming Stuff

Two weekends ago I spent 4 days in Niagara at a board game convention. By my best guess the gaming room was open for around 60 hours. From my tally last week I probably spent about 20 hours playing board games. That's a really low number and many other people noticed and commented on how little time I was actually spending in the room. Now, part of that is I took the time off work more as a vacation in general instead of a board game vacation so I put a priority on getting enough sleep instead of on playing games but there was more at work. I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading in the last few weeks and was taking the time to test out my natural inclinations. I have a few health conclusions that I want to post about, but it's really not game related so it'll be stuck after the jump.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Final Fantasy Tactics: Bored of Cloud

The original version of Final Fantasy Tactics had an easter egg cameo character added in from Final Fantasy VII: Cloud Strife. I hadn't found him in previous playthroughs and wanted to see what he was all about this time around. I tried just wandering around for a bit trying to find him, failed, and looked up how to do it on the internet. It turned out to be not very complicated but it involves going to a specific set of towns on opposite sides of the map in order. I set out to do so, but it turns out when you wander all over the world you get into a lot of trivial random encounters. And unfortunately trivial in FFT doesn't mean over in a couple attacks. It means I can't lose but the fight is going to still take 15 minutes.

For a while that was fine, because I was still leveling my dudes up. But now both of my casters have learned all of the math skills. My dragoon has the best jump skills. My monk unlocked ninja and now has nowhere else to go. Pretty much all I have left that's interesting in the job system is to stumble into whatever it takes to be a dark knight and a dancer/bard. And even then that's not going to make me any better, it's just going to be a little bit of completionism.

Speaking of completionism while wandering all over the world I've been doing some of the errands in the inns. I'm nowhere near done them all, and they really don't accomplish anything. And they have the same random encounter problem.

It's gotten to the point where I'm almost done the Cloud quest chain, but I'm bored of the game. I've even stopped playing on the bus while I've been reading some illuminating books instead. I'm beginning to think that I should just abandon Cloud and get back to the plot missions. At least those ones tended to be challenging. But I have gained a lot of power since I was doing those with all this wandering around so maybe that won't even be true anymore. Regardless, I do want to see the rest of the plot. And I really want to play FFVIII. Oh, and whatever that Ehrgeiz thing is, I'm sure I want to play that too. Honest.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Stupid Trademarks

Games Workshop (the company that made Blood Bowl) has apparently convinced Amazon to take down the book Spots the Space Marine: Defense of the Fiddler because they've got a common law trademark on the term 'space marine'. Now, I don't know enough about trademark law to know if they actually have a case or not. What I do know is Amazon believed them enough to stop selling the book. And I firmly believe that they shouldn't have a case. Patent/copyright/trademark/ip laws are absurd and the whole system needs to be reworked. It's absurd that someone could even think that the idea of a 'space marine' in science fiction is something that should be limited to one company. And even if it wasn't absurd Games Workshop didn't invent the idea of a marine in space!

I read a law blog (Popehat) that calls out frivolous lawsuits and their post on this situation asks for gamers and/or science fiction lovers to yell at Games Workshop and/or spread the word on the story. I only play the one Games Workshop game and I've already paid the full cost of that program already so there'd be no substance behind any threat to boycott them (though my biggest problem is with the system that lets them do this) but I can certainly try to spread the word.

Oh, and it turns out Kobo hasn't taken down the nice lady's book, so I also bought it. I like science fiction; maybe I'll like this book. I certainly would never have been exposed to it if Games Workshop hadn't been so mean.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

League of Legends: Barrier vs Heal

Over the weekend I was playing a ranked game where my team wanted me to go mid. I didn't know who I was going to be up against and took Karthus since he doesn't really beat anyone anyway. He just wants to survive to the team fight stage and win there. I haven't played Karthus since season 3 started patching a couple months ago when I would take either exhaust if the enemy mid was melee or heal if they were ranged. I ended up facing off with Ziggs so I took heal. As time was expiring I suddenly remembered that barrier was added to the summoner's rift map and wondered if I should have taken that instead, but it was too late to really think about it. But I do want to know which I should have taken, so it's time to think about it now.

Barrier works by giving you a 2 second damage shield. Heal works by healing you and all nearby allies. Which is better than the other is going to depend on a few factors: the comparative size of the shield to the heal, the cooldown difference between the two abilities, if you can expect to take enough damage to use the whole shield in 2 seconds, and how relevant the heal will be on your allies. I don't know the numerical differences right now and I thought it might be informative to think about where the tipping points might be before looking them up.

First off, think about how relevant the splash healing is going to be. The S3 patch changed heal so it heals everyone it hits for the same amount. (It used to splash heal for less than the main heal.) This makes it so the heal spell is pretty good for someone who isn't likely to be the primary target in a team fight. It lets a support character use their summoner spell to help keep a damage dealing ally alive. On the other hand if it would be optimal for the enemy team to focus you down then you'd want whichever one gives you the biggest personal healing. Even if you don't get targeted your team is probably better off if you let your ally die while killing the enemies yourself than if you worried about trying to position yourself to get off a useful heal. The enemies are already making a mistake by not targeting you; take advantage of it by killing them! In the middle of those two extremes lie people who will care about the relative sizes. Karthus in particular is frequently focused first and wants to be in the enemy lines, not with his own team. These are strikes against heal.

Next, 2 seconds is almost certainly long enough to use the full shield amount. Maybe not at the highest of levels when people have the reaction time to target someone else when the barrier goes up but at my level of play there's no way the enemies are going to be good enough to switch away. If I'm taking damage already then I can reliably count on continuing to take damage for the next 2 seconds. Against Ziggs in particular you can see his ult coming as it has a long travel time. You can guarantee a good barrier against him.

Does cooldown matter? If it's a small difference then I don't think it does no matter which way it goes. If either has a longer cooldown than flash then it starts becoming relevant, especially for Karthus since he really wants to have his defensive ability up when he flashes in to the middle of an erupting team fight.

Now, what about the different sizes? If heal is bigger then it's no contest at all. Splash healing an ally and the complete removal of shield expiring risk makes equal sizes tilt heavily in heals favour as well. Down at 50% of the barrier it's certainly no contest the other way for anyone who can realistically expect to get hit early in a fight. My feeling here is that even at 80% of the barrier I'd rather have barrier on any carries. 90% is big enough that the splash healing is likely to be more relevant than the little bit extra on yourself.

What are the real numbers?

Heal - 85 + 15 per level healing, 300 second cooldown
Barrier - 95 + 20 per level shield, 210 second cooldown
Flash - 300 second cooldown

If you bother putting the points into the respective masteries you can get an extra 5 per level on the heal, an extra 20 flat on the barrier, or 15 seconds off the cooldown of flash.

So without the masteries heal is the same cooldown as flash and heals for 87%-78% of a barrier depending on current character level. With the masteries flash has a shorter cooldown but the heal is for 78%-94%, depending on character level.

Huh. The mastery really makes a big difference for heal, not so much for barrier. Without masteries I feel like barrier is probably the right choice. If I have the point to put into the defense tree then heal seems pretty good. The cooldown might become an issue if I also have the flash mastery but since they're in different trees and I'm probably putting 21 points in the third tree I won't likely have both of them anyway.

Monday, February 04, 2013

League of Legends vs DotA 2

Over the weekend I hung out a bit on Sceadeau's Vent server to watch/play games in our Blood Bowl league. I watched Sceadeau win his game and then went to play Randy afterwards. (Spoiler: Elves die, dwarves win.) Sceadeau watched our game for a bit and then was distracted by a pair of Mikes who wanted to play DotA 2. This prompted a small conversation about DotA 2 vs League of Legends but was quickly lost as they went to another Vent channel to focus on their game and we focused on Blood Bowl. But the question does still remain... LoL or DotA2? I remember having conversations on this subject with Drew and Sky last time Drew was in town but not actually getting anywhere. I'm incredibly biased since I've been playing LoL for around two years and it's clearly in my best interest to have more friends playing the game to increase the odds of being able to play with a full team of non-randoms. But what is actually different about DotA2? What tangible, objective reasons are there to choose between one or the other? I could try DotA 2 out, but unless I'm willing to put in thousands of hours to build the same level of competence I don't know that I'd really be able to suss out the nuances between the two. The other option is to try to find dudes on the internet who aren't biased and get information from them. This seems unlikely to work, but it's at least something I can do in an hour!

I should also point out that I used to play a lot of the first DotA back in the day, and it really sounds like DotA 2 worked hard to be faithful to the old game, for better or for worse.

At any rate, here are three comparison webpages that seem to be only moderately biased in attempting to compare the two games...

The general gist I'm getting is that DotA 2 is more 'hardcore'. League of Legends was designed to be a more forgiving take on DotA and that design decision plays out in quite a few ways...

  • DotA 2 has creep denying. This means you're allowed to kill your own minions to decrease the gold and experience earned by the other team. Having this feature gives 'good' players access to another tool they can use to beat their opponent. This is great when you're the better player, and frustrating when you're the worse player. It makes things more complicated and opens up extra edges to exploit. LoL, on the other hand, does not. You can't impact your own creeps in any negative way. You can heal or buff them to make them better if you want, but you can't make them worse.
  • DotA 2 has harsher death penalties. When you die you lose some gold and have a timer before you can respawn. LoL has the death timer, but you don't lose gold. As such you can always feel like you're making progress in LoL even if you only make a little money between deaths as you can save that up to buy items. Dying over and over is pretty much game over in either game, but in LoL you can still pretend you're doing things. In DotA 2 you're just blown out.
  • League of Legends has a higher level of ambient gold income. Again like above, this means someone who's doing poorly can still make money and buy items. And likely still lose.
  • DotA 2 has a larger and more complicated map. The jungle between lanes is more complicated and you can buy items or use skills to chop through trees to make your own paths if you want. DotA 2 has meaningful terrain height where having high ground gives you substantial advantages. (25% chance for attacks from low ground to miss, no line of sight going up the cliff but you can see down.) League of Legends has bushes you can hide in where you're invisible unless you attack out or the other team walks in.
  • DotA 2 has a wider range of available champion archetypes. They seem to have gone for cool and powerful and it's apparently pretty easy to find a 'hard counter' to an opposing champion. League of Legends went for more streamlined types of champions and has tried to do a better job of balancing them out. As such, someone who puts in the effort to learn all ~100 champions and who counters who will be in a much stronger position in DotA 2 than the comparable person would be in LoL. 
  • DotA 2 gives you access to every champion right from the start. League of Legends lets you play 10 of the ~100 champions for free and requires you to earn the rest through playing the game or paying cash. The 10 free champions rotate each week. On the one hand this restricts your options and some people have a big problem with that. On the other hand it makes learning the game significantly easier, I think, since it means your early opponents will likely also only have the same 10 champions to choose from.
  • League of Legends made a big deal of differentiating champions from minions and such in the UI. This is the sort of thing that makes it easier to pick up a game from scratch but once you're an expert I can't imagine it matters as much. 
  • In DotA 2 your barracks don't respawn. If your opponents get off one good push and take one out they're at a permanent advantage for the rest of the game. In LoL the inhibitors eventually respawn so if you manage to defend for a while you can make a comeback. 
  • DotA 2 has a higher level cap and it sounds like they have more expensive item builds relative to gold income. In LoL it's possible to be behind, but then have your opponents run into a level or gear cap which lets you catch up. That doesn't seem to be a thing in DotA 2.
  • League of Legends gives you a little recap when you die, showing you what enemies hit you, what they hit you with, and some generic tips for how to handle the guy who killed you going forward. DotA 2 doesn't seem to try to help you out at all. It does let you click on other champions and read their abilities, though, which is nice.
  • League of Legends uses obviously colour coded faces on the mini-map so you know who's nearby. DotA 2 uses obscure colours (derived from the WC3 client) and no faces. 
In terms of business model they both seem pretty similar. For the most part you just pay money for shiny, non-gameplay upgrades. LoL does let you spend extra money to replace the in-game currency you earn for just playing which most people use to get more champions. I'm not really sure why, but there seems to be a barter system in DotA 2 where you can trade cosmetic stuff back and forth. I gather it's a business model that works for Team Fortress 2 but I don't know anything about it. It reminded me of the old Magic Online trade room so I had to close it fast lest I lose what little sanity I have left. Also apparently 

It's also worth noting that LoL is an actual released game and DotA 2 is still in beta. In the short term this tends to mean LoL is going to have more polish and it certainly has a more established player base. Both games have frequent updates with new champions, balance fixes, and game modes coming in all the time. DotA 2 apparently has a mode where you can only play one of your least played champions which sounds like an interesting twist! Also, you apparently need a beta key to play DotA 2. Robb gave me one, but I don't know how that helps anyone else!

From everything I've been reading it seems the really hardcore gamers prefer DotA 2. There are more ways to get a lead and it's easier to snowball that lead into a win. LoL has more catchup mechanisms which makes comebacks more likely. People who are newer to the genre, or who don't play as often, or who like 3v3 games instead of 5v5 games are more apt to prefer LoL.

I tried playing a game of DotA 2 and the graphics seemed significantly worse than LoL's. They also don't seem to have been built for a wide screen monitor. The zoom in was weird, and the controls were off. Everything seemed jerky compared to how smooth LoL is. Now I'm sure I would get used to the controls in time, and eventually I'd learn to mentally map colours to champions in every game so I'd know who is who. But that's one more thing you have to keep track of. Which, I guess, is why DotA 2 is more hardcore. Layer upon layer of things that need you to pay attention to them or you'll screw up.

Now, I'm pretty good at games in general, and I was a master denier back in the original DotA, so it feels like DotA 2 should be my kind of game. But I don't think denying is actually good for the game. I might be good at it, but I think it's a frustrating mechanic. I don't like games that snowball out of control. DotA 2 also has a bigger emphasis on crowd control. I'd say I went from full to dead without being able to hit my brutally powerful ult in 75% of the team fights in the game I played. But in those other fights, where they CCed out someone else on my team and I got to hit my ult? Game over, we won. 

Here's the thing... I think League of Legends is actually pretty complicated as it is. Compared to DotA 2 it's pretty simple, and I can see why people who have a ton of time into these sorts of things would want the more hardcore version. It's good that it exists. But I don't think it's for me.

Friday, February 01, 2013

League of Legends: Season 3 Launch

A big patch went out last night and Season 3 has finally started today. Lots of stuff changed in the patch; most importantly the new league system went in. As Snuggles pointed out in the comments to my post on the subject Riot claims to have put in some rules to prevent the abuse I was talking about. Apparently you'll earn significantly fewer points if your hidden matchmaking rating is far below where it 'should' be for your current league. This will stop people from scumming their way to the top which seems good. On the other hand it now really seems like there's nothing new with this system. It's likely to be the same as the old one in terms of ranking up with the need to win 2 out of 3 every now and then.

And yet, the new system still makes me want to play. I got seeded into the silver tier, Ashe's Dawnbringers, division 2. Robb is silver tier, Ashe's Dawnbringers, division 1. That dog won't fly! Must grind away and catch up!

Also interesting and possibly terrible is they added badges which get displayed in your league summary. There's one for being new to the division (joined it within the last 14 days), one for being on a hot streak (won 3+ games in a row), and one for being stuck in the same division (100+ games in the same division). That last one seems odd to include. It's interesting information to have and likely means you've really reached your equilibrium point, but it also seems like a negative thing (you aren't good enough to advance) and people normally don't take too kindly when you point out their flaws.

The patch had some other interesting changes in it. In particular...

  • Queue dodging in ranked has a shorter timeout, but you lose league points when you do it.
  • Annie has a new model. Woo!
  • Shaco got nerfed. He was actually played in a big tournament recently and I guess they needed to put a stop to that. When the invisible assassin guy is good enough to beat pros you know he's going to be stomping terrible players. 
  • They put in a cheap AP+AC item. In that same tournament I frequently saw teams taking entirely physical damage dealers and I guess this is a way for actual AP casters to survive mid in the early game?
  • They slightly nerfed the big health items. Again in that tournament all practically anyone was buying was giant's belt and things that build out of giant's belt. The S3 changes to the way penetration works seem to have convinced people to just build health now. I wonder if they'll manage to find a balance...
All in all, very interesting. There's another big IEM tournament this weekend. I wonder if it's on the new patch or not. I feel like the tournament started before the patch came out so I'd imagine they're playing on an old patch tournament server. Still something I'm going to pay attention to this weekend regardless!