Friday, November 29, 2013

Building Sandcastles

Sthenno posted earlier this week about a clicking browser game he's recently started playing and about how the game is more obtuse than the previous ones like Candy Box and Cookie Clicker. I like building spreadsheets and watching numbers go up so I had to check it out. Numbers are certainly going up and there is certainly a spreadsheet being built!

It's also definitely weird. I've had to stop and think while building my spreadsheet. And not in a 'how do I make Excel do this' way but in a 'what in the world is happening and how can I model it' way. I don't think I have a good model yet and I fear my sleep tonight will be filled with XKCD pictures and Fibonacci sequences.

It's got my attention for now. I apologize, but it's probably going to get your attention too. I hope you enjoy building sandcastles in the sand.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Path of Exile: Crafting

One of the rewards you can earn this race season is an alternate art moonstone ring. There is no way to inspect other characters that we can find so having an alternate art ring didn't seem very useful. Then it was pointed out that these items actually all have an item level of 100 and can therefore roll all of the best affixes. Most of the rewards are unique items so that doesn't matter but for this one ring it does matter. I hit that reward plateau a while ago and the ring has just been sitting around waiting to get used.

There are two main ways to try to craft something really good. There's the complete reroll method and there's the iterative gain method. The complete reroll method involved using an orb of alchemy to turn a white item into a yellow item and then using a chaos orb on the resulting yellow item if you don't like it to force a complete reroll. The iterative method involves starting with an orb of transmutation to turn your white item into a blue item. Then you reroll the blue item over and over with orbs of alteration until you get the most important prefix and the most important suffix on your item. Then you use a regal orb to upgrade it to a yellow item and get an extra affix. Then you use 3 exalted orbs to add more affixes to the yellow item. This still gives you a bunch of random stuff on top of your really good stuff so you can also use an eternal orb to save the state along the way.

The second method is the one most likely to generate a really good item, but it's also more expensive. Really expensive. An eternal orb alone is worth 40 chaos orbs! 3 exalted orbs are another 60! I can't imagine this ring is worth enough to run that amount of money into crafting it. Could it even be worth tossing a couple chaos orbs at? Should I just try for one yellow item? Or make a really good blue and be done with it?

I should probably start by looking at what affixes I want to end up with on an idea yellow item and how those differ on an item level 100 item versus a 67 that I can easily find on a monster...


Energy Shield: 47 base or 22% VS 37 base or 16%
Increased Item Quantity: 24% regardless
Mana: 68 VS 59


Cast Speed: 22% VS 19%
Fire/Lightning/Cold Resist: 45% VS 41%

Realistically the odds of even hitting the top category of a given affix is probably pretty slim. I need to get IIQ on any ring I use because that's what my character does and the second most important thing is energy shield. Those are both prefixes so making a really good blue can't even get the two things I most want. The best would be a high resist with the IIQ and that's not going to be better than the yellow ring I have now with 32% IIQ and 32% fire resist. (It's a gold ring so it starts with extra IIQ. The moonstone ring does start with extra energy shield at least.)

So I think the way to go with this ring in particular is to just use an orb of alchemy on it and hope for the best!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Matt sent me an email earlier this week asking if I'd played the game Quadradius which came recommended by one Richard Garfield. The website opened up with a tutorial video and then some training missions against the AI so I figured I'd give it a shot. I roped Robb into signing up and playing a few games with me and off we went.

The game is essentially a turn based abstract game where you get to move one of your balls each turn. Balls move one space orthogonally on the board and if you jump on your opponent's ball they die. This sounds pretty boring to start so the game is set up so periodically spaces get lit up on the board. Move a ball onto one of these spaces and you get a power you can use on a future turn. You don't know what the power will be before you move onto the space and your opponent doesn't get told what power you gained until you use it.

This sounds interesting enough but in practice the power levels of the different abilities seemed really swingy. Some of the abilities changed the height of the terrain which made movement trickier. You know it's coming and your opponent doesn't so presumably you can set up favourable situations. Other abilities allowed you to kill all of your opponent's units in your current column, or row, or in the 8 spaces around your ball! Then there was the worse version of that ability which would kill off all units in that row/column/around you including yourself. So if you happen to get all acid powerups and your opponent got all kamikaze powerups you would just dominate them. Then there was the powerup which made your ball immune to getting jumped on, permanently. If your opponent doesn't have acid or kamikaze you just get to ravage his line.

One of the abilities would teleport you randomly to any space on the board. In the last game I played with Robb his random teleport put him in one of two spaces on the board that let him kill two of my guys. My random teleport put my invincible unit into one of two spaces on the board that prevented him from moving again.

I could see how there could be a good tactical game with the outline of the game but as it actually played out it just seemed really random. The website talks about how good bluffing can feel but if your opponent called your bluff and you had +1 terrain level as your ability instead of acid row you'd just lose. So maybe if you had a pool of abilities and got to assign them when you hit the dots instead of just getting dealt one at random? My first game against the AI had the computer get jump immune as his first powerup and I didn't get a way to deal with it until I was down to 3 guys. Good game.

The game can go up to 6 people which could be really crazy and chaotic. But would it be good? I feel like probably not. Maybe there are people out there who would enjoy this game but I don't think I'm one of them. I don't regret trying it out, though!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Path of Exile: More Racing!

In the last day I've played in three of the hour long races in Path of Exile. Two were for the Descent Champions map where you get to start with unique items and fight through an artificial dungeon outside of the main storyline and one which was a 'fixed' map game where everyone playing had the same level layout and got to see the maps revealed without having to explore them. I ended up finishing in the top 20 for my class each time (12th, 19th, and 14th) which was good for a bonus point along with the large number of points for getting to such a high level itself. 27 points total for 3 hours is a pretty good deal!

My plan for getting better at these races was to watch one guy who does quite well (he's currently tied for first in overall points earned) while I'm eating. Helman streams every race on Twitch and they're archived so I can watch them afterwards and see what he's doing. It also helps that the stream contains a feed from his voice chat server so sometimes I get to hear top players talking strategy. Mostly I get to hear them make fun of each other and call RIP when someone dies, but you take the bad with the good.

I don't know that he necessarily has the best plan (Scions in general seem to place higher than Duelists do) but he has a very good one and I've been able to piece it together and implement the basics of it myself. Being the best overall doesn't really matter that much, especially since I know I'll never get there. Most of the bonus points are for doing well compared to other people of the same class anyway. So focusing on one class seems like it makes sense.

To summarize the plan you rush as fast as you can to a point where you can get the leap slam skill and then you use that as both your movement skill and your area damage skill for the rest of the game. Pretty much every choice on the skill tree and for gear is focused on leap slamming more often and hitting harder with leap slam. So there's a premium put on attack speed (attack speed impacts how long you spend in the air with any given leap slam) and on ramping up the damage done with a 2 handed weapon.

Races are played with hardcore characters so if you die you get eliminated and get no points at all. So my first instinct was to spend my skill points on extra health. Lower the chances of dying and increase the chances of scoring points! This is definitely true, but it also pretty much guarantees you get no bonus points and get to a lower level. If it takes you 3 or more hits to kill an enemy you're going to engage fewer enemies to stay safe and you're going to level slowly. If you kill enemies in one hit you can take on as many as you can reach at a time because they die too fast to kill you back. The glass cannon may well be taking four times as much damage per attack but as long as they don't get bursted out immediately they'll kill all the enemies and just drink a potion to heal to full. Because you get flask charges based on how many enemies you kill you get to heal so much more by killing faster. There is definitely the danger that you do get bursted out in one round of attacks but that's what player experience with the different areas is for, right? Helman comes really close to dying all the time, but he knows the signs of danger and bails quickly enough that he survives a pretty high percentage of the time. And by running right up against that line he's faster than safer builds.

What tips have I picked up from my stream watching and experimenting myself?
  • Chest armour slows your movement speed down. 8% for a strength or strength/int chest and 4% for any other chest. The solution? Don't wear a chest until you get leap slam. It's right to carry one around for hard fights (Brutus in particular) but wearing a chest while walking through a zone is a big mistake. Shields do the same thing, but wearing a shield really slows down your killing speed so it's a double whammy. Don't wear those either!
  • You can CTRL click on things as a shortcut. At a vendor CTRL click will move an item from your inventory to the vendor. On the skill tree it will lock in the selected point without needing confirmation. This lets you skill up as you walk if you're fast enough!
  • Logging out and back in will respawn you back in town, and is faster than a town portal scroll. So unless you need to go back through the portal the other way, just log out. You get the waypoint after a boss when you kill them (like Brutus) so logging out and taking the waypoint is faster than walking out, nevermind that you need to go to town to claim the leap slam quest reward.
  • You can sell an unidentified blue item for 2 transmutation shards. You can sell those for 2/5ths of an identify scroll. Identify scrolls let you buy critical items from a vendor! Things you wouldn't buy in a normal game like a small mana potion or a white ring/amulet/belt but that you need to buy in a race. Belts are only 2 scrolls each, the others are 3. So if Hillock drops the right stuff and I get 5 scrolls in town I can open with iron ring + rustic sash for more damage! Later on I'll buy some potions if I didn't get the right ones to drop.
  • You need a two red link item early because you want to connect added fire damage to leap slam as soon as possible. You need a two red link and a green link to add in double strike. I used to take life on hit as my support gem because it would keep me alive but it also made the mana cost go up too much and I can stay alive better by doing more fire damage and one shotting the enemies! If you don't have the 3 link you can make do by using a R-R and a R-G and swapping the added fire damage around for bosses.
  • If you're fast with a mouse you can input a move command and then rearrange your inventory as you walk in order to swap gems and gear around or use orbs. I am not good enough to do this. I think it's growing up with a SNES controller instead of a mouse but I simply can't make those precise movements. It's also why I'm mediocre at StarCraft II!
  • Your weapon is the most important thing. You want to constantly be on the lookout for white 2-handed weapons above your level that you can pick up and use if you level up without finding a good weapon. Use an alch, or a chance, or a transmute on it. The stats you want are IPD (improved physical damage), attack speed, or added elemental damage. Until you have leap slam you need to stick with a sword or axe for cleave.
  • Resist rings are really important. Cold resist for Merveil, lightning resist for chambers of sin 2/3... Boss fights are sketchy regardless. Run up, double strike a couple times as you chug your best potion. When you get knocked down low enough that you'll die in one hit you kite the boss away as you drink to full then you can leap slam back in and double strike some more. With a good enough weapon you probably only need to do this once or twice. With a worse weapon you probably need to be cheezy and use a portal scroll to refill your flask.
  • Once you have leap slam and some attack speed you don't need movement speed. So you can throw away quicksilver flask and movement speed boots! Skipping the flask quest is therefore a really good idea.
  • The really early zones just aren't worth enough experience. Run through them. Maybe stop and kill blue packs? I think you want to be level 3 by the time you get into upper submerged passage so you need to kill enough to make that happen? I know I kill too many things but I just can't help myself! 
  • The +2 range on Master of the Arena does not help cleave, sweep, or leap slam. It turns out it only helps cyclone and actual single target attacks. It's still good to have on double strike for bosses, I think, but it isn't as nutty as I thought it was.
  • Thinking on the fly is bad. Having a mental checklist of things to do and a precise build order has helped me by removing some of the things I need to think about and letting me focus more on just running through zones killing things quickly.
For my own reference, here's a list of all 2-handers base types so I know what to look for. Turns out axes are always one level higher in each chunk. I think that means axes are probably better? I think the axe nodes are closest to the berserking build path too and 30% damage for one point sounds really good.

1 - axe - Stone Axe
1 - sword - Corroded Blade
1 - maul - Driftwood Maul
8 - sword - Longsword
8 - maul - Tribal Maul
9 - axe - Jade Chopper
12 - sword - Bastard Sword
12 - maul - Mallet
13 - axe - Woodsplitter
17 - sword - Two-Handed Sword
17 - maul - Sledgehammer
18 - axe - Poleaxe
22 - sword - Etched Greatsword
22 - maul - Spiked Maul
23 - axe - Double Axe
27 - sword - Ornate Sword
27 - maul - Brass Maul
28 - axe - Gilded Axe
32 - sword - Spectral Sword
32 - maul - Fright Maul
33 - axe - Shadow Axe

Monday, November 25, 2013

Path of Exile: Guild Gems

Path of Exile has 160 different skill gems available for use. Many of these gems are found through low level quests and can be easily obtained by playing an alt for 10 minutes or so. Others require you to basically beat all three difficulties and some can only be found by killing monsters. Monsters can drop every gem, even the starting ones, so unless you've put in a lot of effort to look up or memorize all the quest rewards you don't know what you've found when a gem drops.

We have a guild bank with 8 144 slot tabs. Most of us are pack rats, so we pick up every skill gem that drops and then stick it in the bank if we don't want it ourselves. Which resulted in a bank full of absolute trash with a couple of potentially useful gems mixed in for good measure. I wanted to clear it up, but wasn't really sure how. I cleaned up the currency tab earlier by sorting it according to market value at that time but doing that for gems is a lot trickier. For one thing, most gems are worth nothing at all. For another, gems don't stack. Which makes it really hard to know if a given gem that dropped is 16th in value, or 142nd, or whatever if we didn't already have one. And if we did already have one we probably didn't want any more of them. Certainly not if it was an easy to quest for gem.

My first try was to sort the gems by colour, type, and then alphabetically. All the auras on top, then all the skills, then all the support gems. This worked reasonably enough, but other people didn't seem too interested in figuring it out when adding new gems so they just shoved all incoming gems off to the side. That's still an improvement over what we had before! I went through the mass of incoming gems again yesterday to resort and decided I wanted a better way to know what stuff I wanted to store extra copies and which stuff I could just vendor all but one copy. (Maybe someone really wants fireball RIGHT NOW, or maybe people eventually want to see a list of all gems?)

I ended up taking my spread sheet of gem slots and colouring it based on first quest. If the gem is found in act 1 of normal it gets coloured green and I vendor all but one copy that shows up. If the gem is found in act 2 or 3 of normal it gets coloured yellow and I vendor all but two copies. If the gem is found in act 1 cruel I coloured it red and keep at least 3 copies. Sceadeau also found me a list of really valuable gems and I bolded those ones to make it easier to know at a glance which ones to really keep extras for.

Maybe having these spreadsheet screenshots somewhere will help other people know how easy a gem is to quest and which ones we really need? It looks like elemental hit is fairly easy to get but we don't have any yet!
Green Gems

Blue Gems

Red Gems

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bridge Match 2 - Board 28

Board 28 – Dealer West – NS Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Adequate

My hand: Q 9 4 K Q 7 4 2 9 7 2 J 5

West opens 1 club and partner doubles. I never know when I'm supposed to jump when responding to a takeout double. 8 points and a 5th heart probably make this a good time to do it so I bid 2 hearts. East passes and partner continues to 3NT. Ok then!

East leads the 7 of clubs.

A K Q J 4
A K Q 8 2


Q 9 4
K Q 7 4 2
9 7 2
J 5

West North East South
1 Double Pass 2
Pass 3NT All Pass

Well then! Nice 20 count, partner! West should have pretty much every point in the deck for his opening bid since we have 28 between us. We have 8 tricks right off the top in the minors. They have 3 tricks off the top in the majors. We almost certainly have a 5th diamond trick and might have a 5th club trick. I have no dummy entries once the J of clubs goes away which will actually make it a little tricky to get a major trick...

Probably my best line of play is to win this trick in hand, pound out the A of hearts, and then take my minor tricks. They get 3 tricks when they want them so 10 is my max and this seems like a safe line to 10.

I implement that plan. West wins the heart trick, cashes one spade, and throws me back in with a heart. Clubs split 3-3 and diamonds split 3-2 so I get 10 minor tricks and that heart to make 5.

♠ J T
A K Q J 4
A K Q 8 2

A K 7
A J T 8
8 6 5
9 6 4

8 6 5 3 2
9 5 3
T 3
T 7 3

Q 9 4
K Q 7 4 2
9 7 2
J 5

2 other tables played 3NT+2. One played 3NT+1. One played 2NT+1. (How do they fail to take 10 tricks?) One tried 6NT and went down only 1. (How did he not cash his 3 top tricks?) One played 3 clubs+2 and one played 5 diamonds-1. So we tied with two other tables for the top which is worth 12 MPs.

Captain Jack agrees with me all the way!

Ranking after board 28/60: 3/16 with 55.10%.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Path of Exile: Glass Merchant Build

Typically in any sort of combat RPG there's a spectrum of builds that looks like a line. On one end you have the people who put all their leveling and gear into doing MORE DAMAGE. These people are typically called a glass cannon because they do a ton of damage when left to their own devices but if they get attacked by the enemies they very quickly die. On the other end are the people who dedicated themselves to staying alive and ignore damage dealing abilities entirely. These are the tanks and they're highly desired in a game with a solid aggro mechanic. In a game with smart or even random AI they'll find they can't keep the glass cannons alive and aren't all that much use either. A more effective character in these sorts of games would be somewhere in the middle. They do pretty good damage and can keep themselves alive from reasonable incoming attacks. But they aren't as flashy so most people don't gravitate towards those sorts of builds right away.

Path of Exile has a couple of mechanics that combine to open up what I've termed the 'glass merchant' build. I don't do any damage, and I die the second anyone looks at me, but I drastically increase the amount of loot awarded to the party thanks to the way magic find and culling work in the game.

Magic find is broken into two distinct components. Improved item rarity (IIR) which makes a given item more likely to roll as a unique, rare, or magic item instead of just a regular item and improved item quantity (IIQ) which makes more stuff drop altogether. Grouping up with other people adds an extra 50% to the quantity of items dropped and whoever gets the killing blow on a monster gets to use their IIR and IIQ to modify the drops from the monster. Diablo III normalized magic find across a group so it didn't matter who was wearing the gear or who was killing the enemies but PoE has made it so only the killer's magic find stats matter. My character casts a spell that does 1-11 damage while other people are probably doing tens of thousands of damage which seems like it would be a problem getting the last hits...

Culling is a modifier you can apply to an attack which makes the attack instantly kill any enemy if they would end up below 10% health. So it doesn't matter that my attack does 6 damage... If Tom did 90% of the enemy's health and I sneak in a hit I'll kill the enemy and my magic find stats will be used!

Having a character who doesn't help kill things and spends the whole time running away from enemies doesn't sound terribly useful. (I actually summon zombies that do reasonable damage when I'm soloing but they have a hard time getting in range when Tom just kills everything before they can shamble on up.) But how much of an impact am I having on the drops compared to not having me there at all? I'm currently running at +59% IIQ and +183% IIR. Tom alone would get X items to drop while having me in the group getting the kills takes that to 1.5*1.59=2.385X items to drop with 2.83 times the chance of getting a unique on each item that drops. So if uniques are what he cares about he'll see 6.75 times as many of them if I kill all the monsters than if he runs alone.

Of course the monsters will have 60% more health and I only chop off 10% of that end result so he does have to beat through at least 44% more enemy health to get those extra drops. Even adjusting for that he's still going to get 4.69 times as many uniques with me along.

I'm also not going to kill every single monster, especially when I have to hide so often, but I can certainly kill most of the rare and unique monsters which drop the higher level stuff anyway.

Apparently there is some sort of unexplained diminishing returns which might be hurting those numbers. And some sources are saying IIQ gets shared the way it did in D3 and only IIR cares about the killing blow. I don't know if either of those things are true or how they work. But it does seem like this is at least a plausibly viable build. I can kill things (slowly) solo and I think just getting the last hits on things is a net positive to a group. I probably need to focus more of my gear on survivability so I can get closer to the fights without exploding...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

League of Legends: Preseason 4

Today marked the release of League of Legends patch 3.14 which marks the start of the preseason for season 4. The patch brought in a bunch of big changes to vision, supports, globals and jungling which all look to be pretty interesting and have me looking to stop playing Path of Exile 18/7 and switch back to at least some League of Legends.

First up they've changed the jungle so there are more monsters to kill and so the rewards scale based on your level and time to make it easier to catch back up if you're a jungler who fell behind. The claim is this will also allow for carry style junglers to exist again but that's what they said before season 3 and I feel like jungling was entirely about early gank pressure and not at all about farming. I doubt they'll succeed this time either but I hope they do. I think it would be good for the game if early lane pressure and late game farming were both reasonable options, but I worry that the line there is too fine and one or the other will just end up being significantly better and the 'only' way to play.

Global gold and experience from early game objectives (including local gold from player kills) has been reduced with the goal of curbing early game snowballing. I liked being able to help out the team by pushing my tower down early and I'm a little sad that it's going away but it seems like it could make pro games more interesting to watch if every game doesn't just have Caitlyn 2v1ing a lane to push down a tower.

Vision is getting changed by switching the burden of map vision onto the entire team. They're doing this by limiting the number of wards on the map to 3 per player so if you want more than that you need to get other people involved in warding. They're also giving all players a 7th inventory slot just for a vision trinket and making those free at the start of the game so everyone will have the ability to place a ward, or sweep for a ward, or scout ahead. Vision does win games so I like that they're 'forcing' everyone to get involved by making it free to start into. Maybe more people will see how good it is and buy extra wards?

Supports got drastically changed as a result of the vision change. It used to be that the support spent their gold on vision, period. Now they can't do that so much. So they changed all the supports to scale their CC up with ability power while reducing their damage from ability power with the goal of giving supports something useful to do with their new gold without just making them killing machines. They're also changing the way passive gold items work to switch up the way supports play. You can get one which encourages being near minions getting killed by some else, or one which encourages team fighting, or one which lets you last hit for your friend and they get the gold. I like this one in particular because it opens the ADC doing some harassing in lane without worrying about missing a minion because the support can go pick it off for them.

They've also announced a bunch of new features to be coming eventually. New map modes to shake things up for fun like a map where everyone has to play the same champion! They're also adding in a World of Warcraft 'dungeon finder' equivalent where you get to declare your champion and role in advance and get matched up with a team that fits your desires.

Initially my gut feeling was that this queue would take a long time to launch as people wait for supports to show up like tanks in an MMO but I'm not sure that's actually going to be the case. I frequently was in games when I was pushing to get platinum (I succeeded!) where someone aggressively wanted to play support and I suspect the new changes might make that even more true. I end up focusing too much on the situation at hand to like support very much (I have bad map awareness and like offloading that task to someone else) but I like that other people like to do it.

I can't wait for the pro season to actually start up again because I miss watching LCS games while I eat!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Josh's Song Game

Earlier this week Sthenno posted about a 'game' my sleep Yoda Josh Bennett introduced him to. The basic idea is to come up with a list of your top 10 songs with the restriction that the songs have to be the first song on the first album by the band in question. This seemed like an interesting excuse to go listen to some music especially since I had no idea what the first song on the first album was going to be for pretty much anyone since I think I've only ever bought 4 or 5 albums total. (And two of them were the same one; it is a first album and I know the first song on it will make my list.)

I've decided to work through a huge list of bands and I'm still adding to it when I think of someone I want to listen to so I'm not sure when I'll actually get this done. I've taken to listening to songs on Youtube while searching for rare monsters in Path of Exile and it's been quite enjoyable. I encourage other people to do so! (Make a list, play Path of Exile, or both together!)

As a little spoiler here's one I had to check on to make sure it was a first song, and it totally is... ENJOY!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Path of Exile: Awesome Gear

I've managed to level one character up to the start of the 'end game' of Path of Exile. I ran one map with Sceadeau and have found a zone in which I can safely grind experience. I had to find a safe zone because there are enemies who would kill me in one attack from off screen! The problem was I had ignored all defensive points on the sphere grid and hadn't upgraded the defensive stats on my gear in an awfully long time. Items have so many different ways they could be good and I had really good items for one of those ways so I never really felt a need to upgrade them. Until this weekend, anyway, when I would lose 10% of a level on death to a monster I couldn't even see!

I still don't really have a handle on the open market so trading currency for gear with other players is beyond me at the moment. But this game feels so great because you can use the currency on your own to upgrade parts of your gear. Well, to try to upgrade them, anyway! Does it make much sense to be trying to build my own items? What are the different aspects of an item and how can I make them better?

The first aspect of an item is the base item type. This determines the base stats (weapon damage or armour defensive stats) of an item along with the stat requirements for putting the item on. There is no way to change the base item type of an item and rarely a benefit to using a lower base item instead of the best one. As long as you care about the base stat of an item you want to go as big as possible. I believe my current zone can drop all base item types so I'm set there.

Next up is the item level of the item. This is determined solely by the level of the monster that dropped the item which is determined by the zone with magic and rare monsters having level boosts. There is no way to change the item level of an item and it does not depend on the base item type.

Then there are the number of sockets on the item. There is a maximum number of sockets set by the item level of the item and the slot for the item. Boots, gloves, and hat can have 4. Chests and 2 handers can have 6. One handers and shields can have 3. But the item level also puts a cap on there and it needs to be at least 50 to get 6 sockets and at least 28 for 4 sockets. You can modify the number of sockets on an item by using a jeweler's orb. The odds of getting a max roll aren't known but it's rumoured to be around 1 in 300 or so to get 6 sockets if the item can get that many.

Each of those sockets gets a colour. Colour is important because it determines which skill materia you're allowed to put in the item. An item with a strength requirement is significantly more likely to get red sockets and the same is true for dex/green and int/blue. You can change the colour of the sockets by using a chromatic orb. Again the odds aren't known but it seems to be 5% for a socket to come up with a specific 'off colour'.

Sockets can be linked which is very important for support materia. The sockets can have little groupings or they can all be linked together to make one huge ability. You can change the links on an item with an orb of fusing but supposedly the odds of linking are similar to the odds of rolling that number of sockets in the first place so you're again looking at around 1 in 300 to get all 6 sockets linked together assuming you even have an item with 6 sockets to begin with.

Items also have a quality stat which increases the base damage of a weapon or the base defenses of armour. Quality can max out at 20% and can be added with armourer's scraps or blacksmithing whetstones. Using a jeweler's orb or an orb of fusing on an item supposedly consumes the quality to increase the odds of a good result but no one seems to know exactly how it helps. It does sound like people think it's a good idea though?

Items also have a rarity which gets displayed by what colour it is. A white item has no special ability. An orange item is unique and has fixed abilities based on the unique item. The tricky parts come from the blue (magic) and yellow (rare) items. A blue item gets 1 or 2 mods on it with one being from the prefix pool and one being from the suffix pool. A yellow item gets up to 3 of each. A given affix can only be assigned to an item if it has a high enough item level from above. My zone is a 67 zone which means the item level of the items I can find are in the 67-69 range. My primary defensive stat is energy shield and I can up to an average of +90 on the 67 or 68 items and up to an average of +121 on the 69 items. If I could find an item of item level 75 or higher that average could go as high as 140. That's more than 50% better than the 67 item which shows me that while my current item options are better than what I'm wearing they're not the best possible at this point. Elemental resists are in a similar boat except all my potential items are the same and the top end stuff is only 18% better.

There are tons of items to fiddle with affixes. You can turn a white item into a blue one and get 1 or 2 free affixes in the process. You can turn a blue one into a yellow one and get an extra affix. You can add one affix to a blue item. You can add one to a yellow item. You can completely reroll the affixes of a blue item. Or of a yellow item. You can reroll the stat range of all the affixes on an item. You can turn any item into a white item. There's a way to dupe an item. Many of these could make the item worse than it was before you use the item so there's even an item you can use to save the state of an item so you can undo the damage you did.

All of these options, coupled with the socket options, provide a stupid amount of ways to try to make an item better. If you have a bad item you can make it better without a ton of expense. But taking a mediocre item and making it good is hard and taking a good item and making it awesome is really hard. Our guild has a whopping 58 jeweler's orbs in it which sounds good until you realize the expected number to get an ideal result is something like 224. Ditto with orbs of fusing except there we only have 8!

I want to make really good items. Especially since some of my stuff sucks. But in order to make a really good item I need to get a good base item type to drop, and I need it to be high item level, and I need it to have the maximum number of sockets, and I need them to be the right colours, and I need them to all be linked, and I need the item to roll the affixes I want (energy shield, resists, magic find), and I need those affixes to roll big values. Egads! And I probably need to make a good set of items out of the zone I can farm so I have the stats to play in maps where the really good stuff drops and have it all happen again... I'd better start farming!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Path of Exile: Monetization Strategy

Path of Exile is a free to play game. Anyone can download it and play any amount of time without paying a dime. The developers of the game, thankfully, are strongly against the concept of 'pay to win' so they're not letting people spend money on super powerful items or free levels or whatever. But clearly they do need to make money somehow, right? So what are they doing to get people to toss some cash their way?

They have an in game shop where you can spend cash on things (well, you spend cash on points and points on things but that's the standard scam of getting a little more of your money than you expect to pay and not putting an actual price on anything). You access it by hitting M, or clicking the $ button in game, or by hitting escape and selecting the shop from the menu. This is a fair number of ways to open the shop but it's pretty unobtrusive. It's a very tiny $ button and there's nothing really calling out that you should click it and give them cash. I hate the way Facebook games in particular throw BUY ME buttons on absolutely everything. It leads to a cluttered UI and to me leaving the game. That's not the case here, and that's refreshing. In the shop are a number of tabs leading to a bunch of different categories of items.

First up, non-combat pets. Little critters that don't impact the game in any way but look nice and follow you around. I had an awesome sunflower pet in World of Warcraft that I liked having around but I got that by doing a quest. I'm not the target for this sort of thing and am honestly astonished when I see they're selling a lightning scorpion for $110 but I'm glad they exist. They don't hurt me in any way and they get the company some money. They're not all stupid expensive either as you can get an insect thing for 50 cents.

Then you have item modifiers. These don't change the stats of an item; they change the appearance of it. So you can make your sword glow green for $2, or make your boots leave a trail of fire footprints for $12. These modifiers aren't consumed so you can swap it out when you get a new pair of boots which is nice. You can also buy a consumable for 60 cents that lets you make one item you have look like another item you have. WoW offers this transmogrifying service free of charge and it was pretty sweet to dress up in the wrath set while using new gear. I like that these exist because people get attached to how their character looks and giving them a way to spend money to look different is great. I bought a lot of League of Legends skins and I'd buy some of these if any really appealed to me.

There are also skill modifiers. So instead of raising zombies I could raise mummies. Or I could turn my fireball into a dragon. It just changes the graphics, not the mechanics of the spell. I like this a lot. They even went so far as to put rare monsters in the game that use alternate skinned player skills on you! Interesting content to fight and free advertising rolled into one! Very clever.

Many games have ways to make your avatar dance for you. In PoE you have to pay $4 per class to unlock their dance. Seems like a reasonable enough thing to take out and offer as a sale item.

For $1000 you can have the company build you a unique item. Well, you get to give direction for the art and mechanics of an item and they'll put it in the game for you. You don't get the item yourself or anything. But if I really wanted there to be Ziggyny's Monocle in the game and I was willing to blow a month's rent I could totally make that become a thing. This seems like a pretty good thing to have in the shop, and it can't give an unfair advantage or anything.

Then you have what would probably be best called convenience things. You can buy more character slots. You can buy more tabs in your stash. You can buy more tabs for your guild stash. You can buy more slots in your guild for more members. The default is 24 character slots and 30 accounts in a guild. Both of those numbers are definitely enough to play normally for most people I think so the ability to buy more is definitely a convenience. Players start with 4 stash tabs and guilds with none. I'd say getting a few guild stash tabs is more than just a convenience but you could manage without them and if you actually have a bunch of people playing enough to trade items around constantly then the $5 per stash tab is a pretty reasonable deal. And it's not removing an irrational annoyance or giving you extra power so I'm just fine with this existing too. We've already had people chip in to buy 7 guild tabs which is great for us but still less than the cost of a single copy of Diablo III.

I've read grumblings from some corners of the internet that the extra personal stash tabs are 'pay to win' because there are crafting recipes that become more feasible to use if you have access to a large amount of storage. The claim is that someone with 80+ stash tabs can make way more money than someone else and can use that to buy powerful items. That's probably true, but the time and effort to manage that many stash tabs makes my head spin a little and I get pretty obsessive about things. Maybe if I knew more about the economy I'd have a better handle on it and would think it's worth doing? I did run 4 alts in WoW just to keep my glyph selling operation running so I'm not above that level of insanity... But even then if I wanted to do that I could do it just by creating extra accounts and using their free stash tabs. So this would be paying for time and convenience, not power.

Is it enough to keep the game going? I sure hope so. I've definitely played enough that I feel like I should buy something at some point if something shiny catches my eye. Or maybe I'll buy more guild tabs if it turns out I think we need more than 7. I like the way they've gone with the options though and I hope that, like with League of Legends, it's good enough for them to thrive.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bridge Match 2 - Board 27

Board 27 – Dealer South – None Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Adequate

My hand: K Q 6 3 2 9 7 5 4 2 Q T 8

West opens 1 club in second seat. Partner overcalls 1 spade and East makes a negative double. I don't think I have anything interesting to tell partner so I pass. West bids 1NT which gets passed around to me. I still have nothing to say.

Partner leads the A of diamonds.


T 9 6
A T 9 8
6 3
A 9 6 5

Q 6 3 2

9 7 5 4 2
♣ Q T 8

West North East South
11 Double1 Pass
1NTPass Pass Pass

Am I supposed to encourage here? This is our suit for sure but I don't know that I have an entry and I certainly have no honours. On the other hand I don't want partner shifting to a different suit so discouraging seems wrong too. I guess I should play fairly high. A-3-7-T. Partner continues diamonds. K-6-2-Q. Oh my. If partner still has J8 left in his hand then I do have an entry! The 9 of diamonds! Partner comes back with the 8 of diamonds. Oh well. I guess maybe I should win to play a spade? 8-6 of spades-9-3 of spades.

Yeah, ok, so partner does in fact have the J of diamonds left but blocked the suit. Who replaced Jack with Andrew?

Ok, so now the question is... Pound out partners diamond so I have a trick to cash if I win one of my Qs? Or actually play my spade? Maybe Jack has a plan and wanted me on lead before cashing my diamond because he's going to be squeezed or something? I think this is where I shake my head, sigh, and play a diamond. 5-4 of spades-J-9 of spades. Partner plays a high spades. Q-T-K-A. Declarer plays a heart. 7-5-A-3. And a club. A-8-2-7. Now a heart. 8-2-K-4. Declarer plays one more heart for me. But wait... If I win this trick and cash a diamond I then have to play a heart to dummy which lets him finesse my clubs... We take 2 tricks and they make. What if I duck this? He has to lead a club or a spade. Presumably partner likes the spade and the club lets me set them. I like it! J-2 of spades-9-6.

Declarer plays the J of clubs. J-4-5-Q. I cash my two red tricks and give declarer his K of clubs. Down 1!

Q J 8 7 2
5 4
A K J 8
7 4

A 5 4 3
K J 7
K J 3 2

T 9 6
A T 9 8
6 3
A 9 6 5

Q 6 3 2
9 7 5 4 2
Q T 8

We were the only NS pair to get a positive score, so we get the full 14 MPs. Other results include NS playing 3 diamonds 5 times and going down 1 every time, EW making 2 hearts, and EW playing 3NT making 5. I don't know how that happened!

Professor Jack disagrees with some things. To start he wants me to discourage diamonds because I don't have an honour. He then wants me to duck when the 8 of diamonds comes around. And finally he disagrees with my heart signal. He wants me to play high to show an even number. I played the 3 for that very reason, but I guess that really isn't as clear as the 6 so my bad on that one.

Ranking after board 27/60: 4/16 with 53.97%.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Path of Exile: Race Season 5

The new race season in Path of Exile started up today. It looks like the season is going to run until Dec 28th and will feature 160 distinct events. The longest of those looks to be 3 hours and the shortest is 12 minutes (with 3 of these run in an hour window counting as a single event). There's a list of rewards that you can earn over the course of the season by picking up cumulative points. The first reward comes up after 7 points earned and I just so happen to have earned 10 points in the three events that ran today. So now I have a low level tanky ring that I can assign to any league I want. I'm pretty sure it's going onto my hardcore character because if there's anyone that needs to be a little tankier at low level it's him. I also imagine the value of these rings is going to bottom right out if it had any at all before today since 2869 of these things were given out today.

I did not do very well in any of the three races today but they were definitely learning experiences. I died in the first one to the same guy who killed Sceadeau in our preseason party race. Freeze lock until dead. It's a bit of a problem and I'm thinking skipping that zone entirely is probably a good idea. I like the reward for killing him though, so maybe you just need to roll the dice and hope you don't die?

We learned that you can share the guild stash during solo races. Then we learned that they just forgot to set a flag turning that off and have fixed it going forward. We learned how the endless ledge and original descent races work. In all three races we all got blown out and we need to figure out why. Initial thoughts lead to thinking that we need to start skipping more monsters and just running to higher level zones. Working out the risk/reward for doing so should be on the to-do list! I may try to track down a stream from today to see how the top people got started each time.

There's another race at 4am... I could stay up and do that one. Or I could go to bed and try to wake up for the ones at 8am and 11am... Really I think I'm just going to go to bed when I'm tired and do the ones that happen to be running while I'm awake. I'm going to be away in New Brunswick for a good chunk of this season and I don't know if my laptop can even run this game so I don't think I can make any sort of run at a lot of points this season anyway. 

Even despite not doing so well I did get 10 points which is tied for 715th place overall. Also interesting is the ranking site shows how many challenges people have completed towards a t-shirt and 3 is the most I saw. There's still tons of time, of course, but I'm a little surprised some of the really good racers haven't done more than 3 by this point.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Path of Exile: Economy

Path of Exile was explicitly designed without a standard currency. There is no gold that drops from monsters or is obtained by vendoring items. The idea was they wanted to force people to actually interact with each other and make barter trades. Sure some people would get scammed but it sounds like they saw that as a feature of the system, not a flaw. They want someone who knows the value of things to be able to fleece the rubes.

As a rube I'm not such a big fan of this. Especially if I'm going to need to be making trades to win my t-shirt! So I can take a bath on bad trades or I can give up on my t-shirt or I can learn the economy. I'm trying door #3 for now...

The game has no real currency but people are not actually happy making one for one trades so the crafting materials have become a de facto currency. So much so that one of the challenges is named 'use these currency items'. There are websites ranking the different bits in terms of how much each is worth relative to each other and items get traded not for each other but for some number of these bits. The main standard seems to be the chaos orb. Converting other things to chaos orbs is something some people will do but like any currency exchange system they take a cut along the way. So while a chaos orb is 'worth' 10 chromatic orbs good luck actually finding someone to make that exact trade either way. It's still useful to know what things are worth though, I think, because you're probably going to lose a similar percentage either way?

Knowing what stuff is worth also helps in knowing what stuff to pick up and what stuff can be used without worrying about how much money you're throwing away. You can get 160 orbs of transmutation for a chaos orb which means using them to upgrade an early white item to a blue item is something you should do without worry at all. But an exalted orb is worth 22 chaos orbs so using one of those on your first yellow item is probably a mistake. You could trade it for all the decent things!

So, what are things worth according to some webpage I found a few days ago? (Things might have changed!)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Path of Exile: Skill Gems

You can obtain skill gems (materia) in Path of Exile in three ways. You can get it as a quest reward, you can get it as a loot drop from a monster, or you can trade for it with another player who got it one of the above two ways. They never bind to your character so you could use a materia for a while and then trade it to someone else. The problem is there are 160 different materia right now and some of them come from low level quests and some only come from the quest for beating the game on the hardest difficulty. If you get one of the latter ones to drop you really want to pick it up. If you get one of the former ones to drop you probably want to leave it on the ground. But how do you know which is which?

No one we play with knows and everyone has taken the stance of pick up every gem that drops and stick it in the guild stash or the personal stash for later. Which is a bit of a problem when we end up with dozens of a starter gem 'just in case'. I didn't really know how to tackle the problem though because there are so many gems and so many different ways to approach categorizing them. I found a couple web pages that tried to put a value on them but those get out of date pretty fast. I ended up deciding to just rank gems by the first quest that drops them. I also added in the value from a week old post, maybe that is useful too. He only plays standard so the league we're playing probably has values 4 times as high? I know I saw multistrike being sold for 9 chaos orbs and bought for 5 chaos orbs in the terrible trade chat when I turned it on this morning.

It's a huge list, coming after the jump...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Path of Exile: Challenges

Path of Exile has achievements like every game does these days. There are 44 'regular' achievements and 8 'challenge' ones. The challenge achievements can only be completed in the limited duration leagues that expire Feb 23rd and you get rewards if you manage to get them all done in time. They had a similar system for the last 4 months of the beta and only 61 people managed to get all eight challenges done. The challenges are different this time around but they still seem a little crazy and the reward if you get all 8 of them done is a free t-shirt. I like free t-shirts! Challenge accepted!

What are these 8 challenges? Some of them seem like just play the game a lot. Kill a rare monster of each of 188 different types. Touch all 17 shrine types. Hit level 65 with all 7 classes. Kill a rare monster with each of the 22 new mods added in the hardcore league. Use all 23 crafting items.

Then there are the three that seem pretty insane... The first one is to own 65 specific unique items. You need to actual own them all when the event ends so our initial plan of find them across the guild and get everyone the achievement is out the window. There is a trade market so it's possible buying all 65 of them will be the way to go? I don't know that I like the idea of figuring out the trade economy...

The second one is to make something out of 33 cube recipes. Some of these recipes require spending a large amount of time managing a large inventory of end game rare items. Doable, but probably time consuming?

The last one is to kill all 116 unique bosses. I've done the 47 that go with the main plot but that leaves 69 more that seem to come from end game stuff. There are 67 different 'maps' that can drop from super high level monsters. These maps open up extra dungeons and it's in these dungeons that most if not all of the remaining bosses reside. It sounds like most of the maps can only be found in other maps which means an awful lot of time grinding in end game dungeons trying to get all of the maps. It sounds like a pretty neat system for generating end game stuff to do, actually. But I don't know how plausible it is to kill every last one of them. Presumably these can also be bought on the trade market so filling in the last couple might be expensive but not hard?

On the weekend I was all gung-ho about doing these because I like achievements and I like free. But actually looking at what they entail seems a little crazy. I guess I should probably see if I like the end game map system before getting too involved in planning to work on this? Oh, who am I kidding... A couple of them seem easy, I'll go do those anyway because I like achievements! There was no t-shirt waiting at the end of the insane in the membrane achievement in World of Warcraft and I did that one...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Path of Exile: Party Race

I didn't set an alarm but I still managed to wake up for 3pm on Sunday in order to run the party race thing. It was set to be an hour long and was both hardcore and turbo. Hardcore meant if you died you were eliminated; turbo meant that all of the monsters moved, attacked, and cast spells 60% faster. This didn't seem so bad for the most part but it did make it a lot easier for cold damage mobs to stun lock someone who wandered off alone...

The max party size in Path of Exile is 6 and we ended up having exactly 6 people show up which was convenient. 1286 characters gained experience this time which was a big dip from the more than 4000 in the first one I did. The party did much better than I did as I finished in 445th place on my own but our little team had Tom in 48th, Robb in 50th, Snuggles in 56th, me in 57th, and Kilan in 58th. Oh, yeah, and Sceadeau in 516th, and 695th, and 1179th, and in dead last at 1286th. Turns out getting stun locked and killed is bad news and catching back up is not plausible.

We did learn, however, that the guild gets a shared stash during this thing. So Sceadeau was able to run around in his own game picking up crafting materials and sticking them in the bank for us. Which makes me wonder if this is possible in the solo versions or if the guild stash is disabled there. I feel like it should be, but maybe not? It also makes me wonder if the winning strategy is going to end up with lots of people not trying to go fast but trying to find loot to prop up the main team of players. Maybe that team should be a single person, even? I don't know if being in a group is a net benefit at the highest tier of play. I certainly did better in a group but I did have a lot more personal experience with the game in general by that point, and I'd even planned out most of my skill points in advance. I did have to read the quest rewards though which has to be wrong.

I decided to take a look at the points for these things to see how it worked last season.  I found a 1 hour party with a bunch of weird mods but it had a scoring table... Finishing first overall is worth 3 points. Finishing in the top 20 for your class is worth from 10 to 1 point. You get bonus points for reaching a certain level with 13 being the highest. (Kilan was 12 but the other 4 of us did make it to 13!) Then there are points for being the first person to do certain things. Kill a boss first or clear a zone first, that wort of thing. They get announced in game which is nice.

There is also a table of unique loot that was awarded at the end of the season based on your total points earned. Getting just 7 points would have been worth an awesome low level amulet!

Looking at the class standings it looks like we all would have gotten 12 points except Kilan who would have gotten 9 (level 13 seems really important) and Sceadeau would have gotten nothing at all since none of his characters actually lived. There were 162 events last season and the overall winner had 1290 total points. So assuming we could have somehow played in all of them we were on pace to win! (Playing in all of them seems really inconceivable.) I did notice that there were some races last season that lasted a week which seemed really interesting...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bridge Match 2 - Board 26

Board 26 – Dealer East – All Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Adequate

My hand: ♠ K 6 8 4 2 A Q 4 2 A Q J 9

I open 1 diamond in second seat. West overcalls 1 spade, partner bids 2 diamonds, and East doubles showing hearts and clubs. I move on to 3 diamonds which gets passed out.

West leads the K of hearts.
J 9 4
A 6
J T 9 6 5
T 4 3

K 6
8 4 2
A Q 4 2
A Q J 9

West North East South
Pass 1
1 2 Double1 3
Pass Pass Pass

I have 4 diamonds, 1 heart, and 3 clubs. I need to find one more trick somewhere. It can be picking up the K of clubs, or the K of diamonds, or by getting my K of spades, or by ruffing a spade in hand. As far as losers go I could end up losing a diamond, 3 spades, a heart, and a club. One spade is easy to get rid of but I need to get one of those Ks to work to get rid of something else. Or I guess I can pitch a heart on the 4th club if things really work out well? I decide to win the first trick. K-A-7-2. I need to draw trump; might as well finesse it. J-3-2-K. West shifts to a club. 8-T-K-A. Well, that makes things easy. I can now draw trump and run clubs to pitch that heart loser. I do just that and West pitches two spades in the process.

I'm not going to be stuck playing spades myself I think. I could give up a heart to force them to lead spades by ruffing a heart, playing a diamond back, and exiting a diamond. But that feels bad. West bid spades so they should each have 3 spades left. East showed a bunch of points with his double and has only shown up with 3 so far. He probably has the A of spades? So I should probably ruff a heart to board and lead a spade through East. I do that and East hops with the A. I'm up. Making 5.

J 9 4
A 6
J T 9 6 5
T 4 3

Q T 7 5 3 2
K Q 9
K 8
8 2

A 8
J T 7 5 3
7 3
K 7 6 5

♠ K 6
8 4 2
A Q 4 2
A Q J 9

3 diamonds up 2 is a solo top board. 1 EW pair played and made 2 hearts. The other 6 tables played 1NT. Half made just in and the other half went down. Chalk these 14 MPs up to playing weak NT!

Captain Jack agrees with me all the way!

Ranking after board 26/60: 7/16 with 52.20%

Friday, November 08, 2013

Path of Exile: Races

Path of Exile has a game feature where they periodically start up a new league that lasts for 1 or 2 hours. There's a set starting time and you can register in advance but your character can't move until the start time. Then you have until the time limit to earn the most experience possible of all the players competing! There seem to be a wide variety of different options. It can be forced solo or it can allow parties. Most seem to be hardcore. Some take place on an endless map instead of the normal story mode. There's a 'cutthroat' variant where you can invade the games of other players and kill them for big experience!

I logged in today to try out a different character and got a message popping up indicating that there was going to be one of these races starting in half an hour. I figured I'd give it a shot! What's the worst that could happen? It was a 2 hour solo hardcore game. (Hardcore is a little different here than in Diablo... Dying in hardcore removes you from the hardcore league but it lets the character and their gear exist in the standard league.) I'd made it to level 8 with a duelist but figured it would probably be wiser to start a witch since I've played that a little more and know the sphere grid around that starting point better.

I ended up living about an hour and a half or so before dying to a boss. I'd built my character around frost nova for faster killing of monsters which seemed like a good idea but it left me without much of a chance against a boss that could freeze me. I really don't know what I should have done to deal with her. Level more? Actually look for defensive stats on gear? Maybe I was supposed to just go toe to toe with her and hope I had enough healing potion charges? I think I was on the final boss of Act I, and I think there were already people in Act III when I made it that far, so clearly I was way behind the people who have played the game a bunch. It didn't help that I got disconnected by desync errors three times and was forced to walk the same stretch of land four times before I finally found the next waypoint!

I ended up at level 15 and finished in 445th place. 1st place made it to level 33. 4112 characters gained some experience over the course of the race so I did end up beating an awful lot of people. I had fun and can see trying to do a bunch of these... I can imagine trying to optimize out the sphere grid and the right materia to use...

I love the idea of an experience race. This is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to exist in Cookie Clicker to see who had built the better spreadsheet. A game enforced race from scratch!

At 3pm on Sunday there's a 1 hour hardcore turbo party race starting up. I don't know how many people are allowed to be in a party in this game, or if a race requires you to have a full party, but I plan on trying to be awake and online to give it a try. Turbo apparently means the monsters move and attack 60% faster so it could be really insane! Give me a shout here or in game or something if you want to join the party and we'll see how it works!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Path of Exile

Sceadeau got me to give Path of Exile a try today by telling me it's free to play but not pay to win and he'd group with me. I'd heard pretty good things about the game when it was in beta many months ago so now that it's live and I have people to play with I figured it was worth a shot.

Path of Exile is essentially a Diablo clone in that you run around, kill things, and take their stuff. It has a couple of twists in the leveling system that remind me an awful lot of Final Fantasy games. Your personal levels give you a point to spend on a gigantic talent tree. It reminds me of Final Fantasy X and the sphere grid in that game. It even has 7 different starting locations on the grid! It has some weak nodes and some strong nodes and you need to pick and choose which strong nodes you want to have for this character and grab the right weak nodes along the way. It's pretty insane just how big the grid is and I can imagine some really hefty number crunching going into plotting out what you want to do.

The next aspect is how you learn spells. FFX had the spells on the grid itself but PoE instead takes a page from Final Fantasy VII's playbook and has spells as items that drop from monsters or as quest rewards. In order to use a spell you need to socket those items into your equipment. It's pretty much exactly the same thing as the materia system in FFVII with the materia leveling as you do and with support materia that you can junction in a linked node with another materia in order to make the second one better in some way. There are 7 different classes but it seems like any class can use any ability if they get their hands on the right piece of materia. Your class determines what shows up from quest rewards which seems to be a key way of getting new skills at low level at least.

I started as a witch which gave me the fireball spell to start. So I headed down the sphere grid to enhance my fire damage. My next quest reward spell was one that summoned some zombies and I've since spent my time trying to get to nodes to make my zombies better. Unfortunately I skipped picking up the skeleton spell from the next quest which makes me sad since all the zombie buffs also buff skeletons. It makes me want to start over to pick up skeleton instead. I think all your characters share a bank so maybe I should make a new witch and just play to the point where I get that quest and transfer the materia over...

I don't even know if zombies and skeletons are any good. I'm playing in a 3 person party right now with Sceadeau and Robb and it felt like I just wasn't very good compared to them. I do have a mana regen aura which seems to help them a lot so it's probably a net positive to the team having me around?

Loot is 'interesting' in that items drop on the ground for everyone to see like in Diablo II but anything good gets rolled to have an 'owner' who has something like a 5 second window to pick it up. If they don't bother then anyone who wants it can have it. I think I'd prefer an actual loot window of some kind for rolling instead of this since it means people have to be quick to run over to an item or they risk losing it. Especially since my highest damage ability required me to stand still and channel it! Also apparently you can body block people away from items which I managed to do to Robb once. On the plus side our group of 3 have each chosen a different primary stat so it's pretty unlikely for more than one of us to actually want any given item anyway. Except the crazy crafting materials, anyway! There are items to reroll or resocket or add mods or all sorts of other things.

It feels a little like they decided to throw balance out the window and focus on letting people do fun and crazy things. I like doing fun and crazy things so I suspect I'll keep playing this game for a while. Maybe it'll get old fast (graphics are really mediocre and it did crash twice on me) but maybe not!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Aardwolf Wealth Sinks

I was talking to a couple people sitting at superhero level in Aardwolf yesterday while they power leveled me up to 200. They talked a bit about some of the new things that have come into the game. In particular there are apparently three new ways to get even more powerful by sinking tons and tons of in game currency. Apparently they start off being a pretty bad return on investment as far as power goes and then get even worse since they suffer from two different kinds of diminishing returns. You have to pay increasingly more per point of improvement and each point gets worse as you get more of them.

I came back to what I thought was a lot of currency (65k quest points, 60 trivia points, 4M gold) so I thought I should look deeper into what these new sources of power are. It turns out I'm really not very rich at all...

The first, and most boring, of the three is potential. Potential costs just quest points to buy. It starts at 100 and increases by 25 more each point you get. What it does is increases your maximum stat cap by one per point of potential. It doesn't raise the individual cap for each stat at max level. Instead it just lets you max out more stats. This is certainly good, but it isn't terribly exciting. It also is of pretty much no use to me right now. Maybe I'll sit and max out at superhero again in the future and maybe it will be worth buying at that point in time but when you're leveling it doesn't seem like it has much impact on anything.

Next up is mastery which is a percentage increase to damage done. Mastery works for an individual damage type and there are therefore 20 different mastery levels you can buy. The first point costs 100 quest points and 2M gold and the cost goes up by 20 qp and 250k gold per point. Apparently to do 5% more damage you need to pay a total of 4420qp and 68M gold. To do 10% more damage will cost 17860qp and 251.75M gold. I don't have the cash to do that in a single damage type let alone all of them! It feels like figuring out what damage type you do most often and sinking a couple points into it would make a fair amount of sense. For a warrior that's probably bash damage since that's the damage type of hammering blow? I also have a lot of fire typed weapons... And only 21M gold. So it may be a good idea to sit at max level and grind cash for a while to at least buy a couple points in fire and bash?

Finally there's instinct which uses a type of currency I wasn't expecting: trains. Trains are typically used to increase your stats as you level. Instead of doing that you can spend 200 of them and 2M gold (increasing by 25 trains and 100k gold per point) to buy a point of instinct in a skill. Instinct lets you increase an individual skill up above the default 100% maximum. When a skill is over 100% it gets better. It isn't clear how much better. (I have 1% in enhanced damage and have no idea what that does for me... Maybe it procs more often? Maybe I hit harder when it does proc?) On the one hand trains spent on stats while leveling up are thrown away when you remort back to level 1. On the other hand the faster I hit level 200 the faster I can start back at level 1. Saving up for instinct is a definitely short term pain for long term gain kind of thing. You can save trains up in chunks smaller than 200 so it's possible to just bank 40 or so from the last few levels and eventually make gains. I didn't know this at the time so I didn't raise any stats for my last 40ish levels in order to get my 200 for a point in enhanced damage. Knowing how it works now I probably would have waited another 20 levels or so before starting to bank them. You do earn trains while at max level so presumably that's the real way to buy instinct anyway.

So one of the three new wealth sinks only really does anything at max level and the other two are really only earned at max level but help the whole time. It feels like I should probably sit at 7x max level when I get there and power some of these things up...

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is a game I picked up a year ago in a huge Steam bundle. It has Steam cards so I eventually got around to installing it and giving it a shot. The idea behind the game, I think, is that you're a hitman for hire in Miami. Each mission starts with you at home getting a cryptic call to go help someone out somewhere across town. You have to leave your house and get in your car. You get out of the car outside another building without actually controlling the driving. Once there you have to kill everyone inside using your bare fists or weapons off of their corpses. Then you have to backtrack out of the building to get in your car. Drive to a bar, or a convenience store, or a movie rental place. Go into the building a click something for no apparent reason. Repeat.

I don't understand how this is a game. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of strategy to employ, or any discernible plot. It really seems to just be a game about going around murdering people for fun. I don't find that to be terribly fun. Don't get me wrong... I play lots of violent games. I don't know why this particular brand of killing seemed so wrong, but it did. I played it long enough to get all the Steam cards out of it, and have no intention of going back for more.

Monday, November 04, 2013

ALL of the games!

This weekend was the Extra Life gaming marathon where people play games for 25 straight hours to raise money for children's hospitals. Sara and Duncan converted their one bedroom apartment into a boardgaming haven by moving most of their furniture to other places in the building and bringing in extra tables and chairs. I believe there was something like 17 people there for the full 25 hours with a handful of other people popping in for brief periods of time to play games or make food. The group ended up raising more than $4300 for SickKids Foundation! That's currently 85th among all groups that took part. Woo!

Getting people to want to play games for a while is easy but actually getting people constantly playing games is not. They ended up running with a system where they'd pick people's names out of a hat and force them to pick a game to play. Then when enough games were picked the rest of the people would play those games. This solves a lot of problems that people like me create in that we don't like making decisions that other people might not like. I don't like picking games to play because I get worried that other people don't want to play that game and won't be happy. I'd rather play something I don't particularly want to play than risk making someone else do the same thing which doesn't make a whole ton of sense but there you are. Setting it up like this forces me to pick a game to play every now and then, which was good. Having 17 people meant no one was really forced to play a game they didn't want to play. Really don't want to play Thurn and Taxis? That's ok, you could instead play Kings of Air and Steam, or Battlestar Galactica, or the other copy of Battlestar Galactica. I think almost everyone got to pick twice so most people got to play the games they really wanted to play and tended to have a decent selection of games to play.

I ended up playing Battlestar Galactica, Through the Ages, Bruges, Power Grid, Battlestar Galactica, Battlestar Galactica, Galaxy Trucker, DC Deckbuilding Game, Bamboleo, Bamboleo, Battlestar Galactica, Dominion, and Jamaica. The astute among you may notice that's probably more than 25 hours worth of games. That's because some of us didn't see any point to stopping at 25 hours! MORE GAMES! Some of those are games I really, really like. A couple were new to me. One is a game I don't particularly like but other people wanted to play. A good mix, I think. My two game choices were both BSG because I just don't get to play it often enough and I figured other people would end up picking the other game I really want to play nowadays (Galaxy Trucker) and that risk paid off. The TTA game was a little silly. I got an early Napoleon, and I got the only classic army card, and a very early air forces card. The other two air forces were the bottom two cards of the deck. I resolved brutal wars against all three players. The first was a war over culture for 50 points that pretty much ended the game but then I threw holy wars at the other two players to be fair. Jack ended up getting back up to third despite the 50 point steal. I ended up with a score of 303!

I played BSG 4 times and I was a cylon in all 4 games. Maybe people should start throwing me out the airlock on principle? The games were a 2-2 split in terms of which side won. One of the human wins came when I got completely bamboozled by the other cylon. My reveal ability was to throw someone in the brig and I chose him because I was completely convinced he was a human president and I wanted to keep him out of the quorum chamber. I thought this because he was Baltar, had looked at Boomer's loyalty cards, and declared her human so people would try to break her out of the brig. I assumed this meant he was also human since claiming Boomer is a cylon seems like a straightforward thing to do. It turns out one of the other players was Cally and would have executed Baltar if he'd said that so I guess it was a good plan for him. Cally ended up executing the admiral instead because he didn't use a nuke. That made Cally the admiral and I assumed that meant Cally was the other cylon. If instead I'd thrown the newly respawned pilot in the brig things might have worked out better. Instead my cylon buddy used a quorum card to execute Boomer in the brig which let them start drawing crisis cards again. He never ended up taking an action as a revealed cylon. I think we could have won if we were both on the same wavelength but we weren't and lost as a result. The other loss had my cylon friend as the president and he also didn't reveal right away in order to play more quorum cards. Maybe we could have won if he was taking real actions, maybe not. We also could have used the cylon leader's help but he had to draw lots of different coloured cards and not play them which consumed too much time. Both of these games featured a below average number of jumps as the humans drew multiple 3s both times. One of my wins came about the turn before the humans were about to win. They lost on a 10+ skill check where they only managed to get a total of 9! Talk about close! This was in a game where both cylons revealed early and the humans threw 40+ value of cards away on a mistake. Playing the game with so many different people was definitely interesting to say the least!

I opted out of eating with other people to keep things simpler because of how picky I am. I ended up just bringing a bag of carrots and a 2-pack of steak so I could make the only meal I eat twice over the course of the day. It worked out quite well, I think. I drank lots of Coke which is something I haven't really had in a long time. Not caring about when I go to sleep and when I wake up has meant caffeine isn't needed. I was able to stay up for 36 hours with the Coke so that worked out pretty good too.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Bridge Match 2 - Board 25

Board 25 – Dealer North – EW Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Adequate

My hand: 9 4 A J 9 8 A Q 2 9 5 4 2

East opens 1 club. I don't see what I could bid so I pass. West bids 1 spade and East bids 1NT. Do I want to bid now? My hand is still flat but we probably have half the deck? I guess if they sit here they probably don't have a fit, so we probably don't have a fit. Setting them in 1NT may be our best outcome. I pass and West bids 2 hearts. East retreats to 2NT. The claim from looking at what their bids mean is that West has 4-9 points with both majors and East has 13-15 points with no majors.

Presumably they're going down unless they're both at the high end of those ranges. Have they goofed enough that we can get a top board just by having them in 2NT instead of 1NT? Or should I double? I expect the double to convert an average to a top when we set them and an average to a bottom when they make. I think if I had a 4th diamond or if partner was on lead I'd probably double them. But I'm probably going to screw up the lead so I don't.

It does get passed around. Am I supposed to attack 'our suit'? Play low and give up having an entry to partner's hand in the suit? Play high and give up my tenace? Play a different suit entirely (probably clubs) and assert partner has an outside entry to lead diamonds himself? But if he has that entry anyway then pounding out diamonds is probably good anyway. It's only going to really hurt if declarer really needs the K of diamonds as his 8th trick. But leading up to his clubs is probably going to help him too...

I decide to lead the A of diamonds.

K Q J 7 3
K 7 5 2
T 4
8 6

9 4
A J 9 8
A Q 2
9 5 4 2

West North East South
Pass 1 Pass
1 Pass 1NT Pass
2 Pass 2NT All Pass

A-4-3-7. That 3 is low, so partner is discouraging diamonds. What does that mean? If he had an honour I have to assume he'd want to encourage. Could he have something like KJ93? Then declarer would have 8765 and chose the 7 presumably at random? If declarer is bad and played his lowest diamond then partner could have something like 9653. Declarer would then have KJ87? In almost any layout I want to delay and not set up declarer's J.

Dummy does not have strong hearts, so I guess I should switch to that. 9-2-Q-6. Partner fires a diamond back. 9-J-Q-T. Ok. Maybe partner discouraged diamonds because he wanted me to switch suits? Back to hearts! J-K-T-3. Declarer is in and attacks spades. J-A-2-9. Partner is in and switches to clubs. 7-Q-2-6. Declarer cashes out. Making 3.

A T 5
9 8 6 5 3
T 7 3

K Q J 7 3
K 7 5 2
T 4
8 6

♠ 8 6 2
6 4 3
K J 7

9 4
A J 9 8
A Q 2
9 5 4 2

6 of the EW pairs played in 3 spades with 4 of them going down, one of them making, and one of them making doubled. The last pair played 3NT making 4. We beat that table and the one that were doubled into game so we get 4MPs. Holding them to just in would have been worth 2 more but we needed to set them or convince them to play spades to get a good result.

We could have set them if I don't lead a diamond. If I lead a heart and we manage the suit properly (9 to the Q, T to the J) I can pound out the K of hearts before partner loses his A of spades. Then a diamond back to my hand gives us a spade, 3 hearts, and 2 diamonds while they only have 5 tricks. *sigh*

Captain Jack wants me to double 1NT. He wants me to lead the 2 of diamonds. When I switch to hearts he wants me to play the A or the 8, not the 9. And when I get in a second time he wants me to play the 2 of diamonds, not a heart. It turns out if I'd played the 3rd diamond partner would have had his suit set up while he still had the A of spades. So we could have taken 3 diamonds, 2 hearts, and a spade to set them. Doh!

Ranking after board 25/60: 9/16 with 50.29%