Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wizardry Online: Free To Die

Yesterday marked the launch of (yet another) new MMORPG. This one is based on the old Wizardry franchise of single player dungeon crawl RPGs. I've only every played one Wizardry game (Wizardry V for the SNES) and it was brutal but fun. From the sounds of things Wizardry Online is aiming to nail down the brutal half of the equation. If it'll hit the fun half remains to be seen. Some of the taglines in the FAQ really get my blood burning...
"This hardcore MMO will be the ultimate challenge for even the best RPG players in the world."

It then goes on to talk about how the game claims to be the hardest MMO ever. You don't automatically heal. Or level. There are no safe zones, and the world is flagged entirely PvP. Oh, and death can be permanent. You can steal from other players and there's some sort of crime/bounty system that comes from that. It claims to have lots of dungeons, puzzles, and traps...

This all sounds very interesting to start. I can remember losing my party in Wizardry V and having to restart a level 1 team from town. Who then had to enter a dungeon with most of the low level quests and stuff done, so I pretty much just walked in a circle grinding levels. Until I reached the point where 5 of the new people were strong enough to venture down to where my original party had died... Search up the corpse of one of them, bring them back to town. Pay to resurrect them in the temple. Repeat. Oh, and your guys all got older and lost stats as time went on. Oh, and sometimes the priests in the temple would fail the resurrection spell and reduce your people to ashes. You could try a super resurrection on the ashes but if that failed your guy was gone. Kaput. And you couldn't use any save/reload shenanigans! So my memories of Wizardry are definitely pretty hardcore. I did eventually beat the game, and I remember needing to draw maps because this was mostly in the ancient time before internets. It was a good feeling to win through all the frustrating obstacles the game threw at me, and I wonder if Wizardry Online can pull off the same feeling.

I'm always wary of MMO launches (or I should be... I still buy in on the first day way too often) but Wizardry Online is free, so it can't hurt to give it a spin, can it?

About being free... There's been a recent trend for games to go 'free to play' with the ability to pay money for extra things in game. League of Legends works this way where you can pay money for faster leveling, a wider variety of champions to play, or new costumes for the champions you have. League of Legends is definitely 'free to play' and avoids being 'pay to win' since someone who doesn't pay a cent isn't disadvantaged while playing the actual game. They may have fewer champions to play each week, and it may take longer before they can start playing ranked games, and they don't get to wear a Megaman costume, Slash's top hat, or dress Olaf up as Brolaf but they're just as good at playing the game. Will Wizardry Online be 'pay to win'?

The first clue is in their banner at the bottom. The game is not 'free to play'. It's 'free to die'. On the surface this is probably just a clever little banner bringing to light the fact the game is hard and you're going to die a lot. But in a game that advertises the possibility of permanent death I don't know that you want to link 'free' with 'die'. The website doesn't list the contents of the in game item shop so I can't tell for sure if you're paying to be pretty or paying to win but there are some clues...

Here are the three example items they list for things in the shop: a healing potion, a bag, and a talisman of security. The healing potion calls out that people will need healing potions since the game has no ambient healing. That's probably a bad sign, but maybe that just means you need to group with a priest. The bag just lets you hold more stuff and is probably a fair/standard MMO item shop item. As long as the free bag space is small but reasonable it should be fine. If you can't feasibly carry any loot without the item shop bag then it's worse. The talisman is really scary. It claims to let you spend it to prevent an item from being stolen when you die. The implication to me is that I'm going to get ganked by some high level dudes and then be presented with the choice of giving them my best item or giving Sony some money.

Talk about lose-lose! If I give them my best item they now know I don't have any of these talismans and am therefore fresh meat. Gank me over and over for pure profit! And since the game description implies there's absolutely no safe place to go it's possible they'll just follow me around until they have everything I own or I give up. On the other hand if I pay Sony money I get to keep my item and these thugs might even leave me alone (potentially no tangible benefit from ganking me when they could get loot out of someone else) but I'm now fallaciously pot committed. Every time I die I need to spend another one of these talismans or the first one will have been wasted. Depending on how much these things cost (and I guess on how valuable loot is) I could be looking at a huge cash sink!

Beyond the cash shop you can also buy a more standard MMO subscription. It does actually list everything you get for doing so. In particular, you and your party get an xp and stat bonus for each of you with a membership. You get a free bag. You make more money and things are cheaper to buy. You get a real money discount on something called a 'Dimento Medal' which gives you xp, stats, better drop rates, and titles. Oh, and a free one of those talismans of security just to make sure you know how they work to entice you to buy more.

Titles are definitely 'pay to be pretty' and I'm on the fence about xp and drop rate boosts. On the one hand the game is probably about leveling and finding loot so someone with a boost to those definitely has an advantage over someone who doesn't, but those just replace time with money. I don't know that I care how someone hits max level (time or money). Stats are more on the 'pay to win' side of things. No matter how much I play for free or how good I am the person with paid for stats will just be better. In a PvE game that wouldn't really matter, it would just frustrate me. In a worldwide PvP game it seems like it could be a real problem. Especially when the winner of the fight gets to steal items from the loser! Especially when the loser might suffer permanent death!

Now, scale might well matter here. Maybe the stats on those Dimento Medals are actually pretty small. Something to reward people who pay without being unbalancing. The Aardwolf MUD I played on many years ago had little donation pins with a small amount of stats for people who paid to keep the game going. Those seemed fine. But you could actually opt out of brutal PvP in that game! And maybe PvP in Wizardry Online can't actually cause the permanent death they're espousing. Maybe stealing items after a fight is a rarity. Maybe they get a random item and not your best item (which would make buying bigger bags potentially a good investment!) Or maybe this is just a game for griefers with deep wallets.

I think I may install the client and give it a try to see what it's like even though it just launched. Get a feel for how often ganking happens and what the stealing mechanics actually are. Actually find out what the costs of these things in the item shop are. But on the surface I really, really suspect this is a huge 'pay to win' game and I won't actually be happy playing it for long. 'Free to die' indeed.

Maybe I have to keep myself from getting attached to my character or my stuff. But just like with my Blood Bowl team I don't know how feasible this will be. The MMO market is pretty much founded entirely on the idea that people grow attached to their characters and their stuff. I haven't really played my gnome warrior in World of Warcraft in many years but I'll always hold on to his wrath gear, his Quel'Serrar, and his gladiator mount. Those things have meaning to me, and I don't know that I'll be able to play another MMO without becoming similarly attached. Which is probably Sony's plan all along with the talismans of security...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Blood Bowl League Progress

The second week of the Blood Bowl league I'm playing in has finished up. My dwarves are 1-1 thanks to snowballing in both games. The first one saw my chaos opponent get the early hitting lead and it ended up with him getting 5 casualties to my 0 and barely winning the game 2-1. The second game featured my undead opponent making a 2 die block on the line on the first turn, having to reroll it, and still falling down. He was badly hurt. He didn't regenerate. So already, before I even took an action, I'd got more casualties than in my first game. The turnover from falling down coupled with a kick close to the line let me pick up the ball on his turn to receive, and him being down a man right away meant I was able to use my numbers to keep hitting his guys. The end result was a 5-0 casualty swing the other way and a 2-0 victory.

I was pretty frustrated after the first game because the dice just weren't going my way. Even with his early numbers disadvantage I was still able to set up way more advantageous attacks than he was. I threw 128 block dice to his 89, and knocked him down 32 times to his 29. But I only pierced his armour 8 times to his 15 and didn't get a 10+ on any of the injury rolls. When looking at 10+ rolls he had 15 of his 44 2d6 rolls as 10+ while I had 4 of my 40. So I felt really unlucky and was getting frustrated. I tried to keep from going on tilt but a little more luck my way and I think I could/should have had a draw.

On the flip side the second game was tilted in my favour. I threw 180 block dice to his 63. I knocked him down 63 times to his 12. I pierced his armour 28 times to his 2. He was 2 for 14 rolling 10+, I was 13 for 91. Which, actually, still is below average. The big difference this time, it looks like, is I rolled a lot of 9s and undead have low armour. Also it actually helped a lot that my whole team starts with block since we both rolled a lot of 'both down' results which helped me and hurt him. Like the turnover on the opening drive.

I could tell from his voice that he was getting frustrated similar to the way I was in the first game. I watched some guys play earlier today and the one who fell behind (by rolling a lot of 1s) got really frustrated as well. In this case he actually rolled a lower than expected number of 1s, he just rolled a lot of dice dodging/leaping/going for it and failed a few times as a result. I mean, he did fail 13 dodge rolls which is a lot of failed dodges, but he tried to dodge 34 times. That's a lot of dodging. There was one play in particular that he was frustrated about failing where he rolled blood lust, dodge, dodge, reroll dodge, leap, dodge, reroll dodge, dodge. He finally fell down on that last dodge. Now, this guy did have 5 agility but some of those dodges were into 2 tackle zones. The probability calculator in BBM indicates he had about a 65% chance to pull it off. Not terrible odds by any stretch but failing isn't that unexpected. But he was already on tilt and this seemed to throw him over the edge.

I don't really know that I have a point in here at all. It seems like the game has small numbers of dice and it's very easy to fail things, especially when throwing a lot of dice. On the flip side it's also pretty easy to go a whole game without any catastrophes at all. My second game I was ending halves with 3 rerolls left because I never had to use them. When your bad game lines up with your opponent's good game it's so easy to get frustrated and get tilted. Which itself will cause bad decisions to happen and let things spiral out of control.

I also get really attached to my guys. None have suffered a serious injury thus far in the league but I'm dreading when it will happen. Because it will happen, eventually. I take such glee in watching other people's guys die (especially when spectating a game) so I think I need to relax a little and cheer my own deaths too. And approach each turn as a new puzzle to solve instead of dwelling on the dice that caused a given puzzle to arise. Easier said than done, though.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

FTL Anti-Cheating

The other day I was playing FTL and had a chance to buy a transporter device. This would let me send a couple members of my crew to board an enemy ship. I had some spare dudes so I figured I'd give it a shot. It didn't work out very well and my guys died. I killed the ship with normal weapons and considered my options. Even though I didn't need those guys I didn't like the idea of losing them. I'd just started playing for the day and had save/quit the night before right before buying the transporter so I figured I'd just quit without saving, restart the game, and reload my old save. Maybe it's a sketchy plan to save/reload when you get an outcome you don't like? But that's what I've been doing in Final Fantasy Tactics in order to keep from permanently losing some of my guys so it seems like I think it's a reasonable enough thing to do...

The guy who made FTL, on the other hand, disagrees. In fact, I didn't even have a saved game to reload. There is no save/reload in this game. You can save when you're done for the day and load to pick up where you left off, but doing so deletes your old saved game. Just like in old roguelike games! If you die to bad play or bad luck, well, guess you get to restart from the beginning.

I unlocked a second ship type and have been playing games with it, but it seems weaker than the first one. Or maybe I'm just playing it wrong, but I can't seem to make it very far at all. I find when things go downhill with the Engi ship they go downhill fast. I think the difference is the Human ship starts with missiles to keep fights from getting out of control right at the start (can take out enemy weapons with the first volley) while the Engi ship has to ionize the shields first before it can ionize the weapons which seems to buy the enemies enough time to land a hit or two on me. Damage the right systems and I'm boned. I wasn't dying every fight or anything like that, but every now and then I'd just lose. And in a game with permanent loss, well, that's a bad plan.

I think I'm going to play one more with the Engi ship and try to get an achievement and then move on to some other ship type. Without trying to cheat!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Niagara Games Played

I played a fair number of games over the four day weekend in Niagara. Maybe not as many as one might expect for the length of time, but still a good number of games. Some old, many new. In particular:

Gingkopolis x4
Dungeon Petz x2
High Society

Battlestar Galactica
Space Alert

Dungeon Petz was definitely my favourite of the new (to me) games. It has the same sort of campy flavour as Dungeon Lords while leaving out most of the brutal punishing mechanics. In particular it isn't an uncommon occurrence in Dungeon Lords to have at least one person get locked out of a card they played due to lack of room on the space (all 4 people played the same card) or due to the uncertainty of the gold costs on some of the early spaces. Am I spending money when I play the food card? Am I gaining money? It can be hard to impossible to work that out on some turns and people can get badly punished as a result. Dungeon Petz, on the other hand, has a pseudo-auction system for the action spaces so you can likely ensure you get what you need by paying extra for it. And if all the spaces you wanted go away your guys aren't wasted. You can pretty much just delay using them until the next turn instead. Scoring also made way more immediate sense to me. Dungeon Lords I still don't have a good handle on turning actions into points while Dungeon Petz just worked for my strange little brain.

Gingkopolis, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment. I say that despite having played it 4 times. I'll probably dig into the reasons more later but my current feeling is the game has an easy to implement dominant strategy that only works if you get dealt the right cards. So it's a bit of a crap shoot to see who wins. At least it's pretty short and it's obvious when you've already lost.

Battlestar Galactica was great. We played with most of the expansion rules including pretty much all of the ones that hurt the humans. We kept going out of our way to try to satisfy the conditions on the 'conflicted loyalty' not a cylon cards and I think it screwed us. One guy was acting sketchy because he wanted to get thrown in the brig to satisfy his card. Mine wanted me to collect titles (something I like to do anyway) so as Admiral Colonel Saul Tigh I declared martial law to become Mr President Admiral Colonel Saul Tigh. No CAG this game, though. This did make sense because I was convinced the current president was a cylon (he made a _terrible_ choice on a president chooses card) and didn't want that to happen again. Also, Baltar had previously looked at my loyalty card and knew what I had so I knew I'd have backing for my action. Baltar then executive ordersed me so I could get rid of my loyalty card and then play an action card. I intended to play an action to scout for fuel since we were down to 4 fuel at distance 3 but got dealt a new loyalty card that turned me into a cylon. Instead of revealing I launched a raptor scout and buried a planet that was 1 fuel for distance 2. A couple turns later I sabotaged what I thought was an important crisis card (pretty sure it was to subtract a jump prep instead of getting one while there were cylon ships in play) and got thrown in the brig for my hard work. Right before my turn to reveal, however, we jumped and hit the sleeper phase. I was dealt the sympathetic cylon card which let me escape the brig (and respawn on the cylon board) AND hand off my unrevealed cylon card to the new admiral/CAG. With Boomer as the other pilot in the brig the humans had no one to actually kill the cylon ships. And since I was the next player I went to the cylon fleet space and hooked us up with a cylon jump prep and flooded the board with enemies. My conflicted loyalty card needed the cylons to win with Galactica taking 2 or less damage. Not long after the cylons won, with Galactica at 1 damage and Pegasus at 2 damage. Is that a win? We went with yes since the card could easily had spelled out Pegasus being undamaged too if it mattered.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Final Fantasy: All The Bravest

An anonymous user left a cryptic comment on a recent post with a link to a youtube video. It didn't look like typical spambot spam so I went and checked it out. It turns out to be a trailer for a new Final Fantasy game that looks to be completely ludicrous.


The name is Final Fantasy: All The Bravest, or FF:ATB. ATB also being the acronym for the Active Time Battle system introduced in Final Fantasy IV where your characters got to take actions when their individual turns were ready instead of everyone getting one action per round. From the video I don't think that's a coincidence. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but this game looks to be more in line with Progress Quest than with an actual game since it seems like you don't make choices in combat and instead your characters just attack when their turn is ready. Which is probably a good thing since in some of the clips your party has FOURTY characters. 40! There's a clip at the end where the party was 40 dragoons, all jumping in a sequence. WHAT?!? This seems simultaneously awesome and mind blowingly stupid. Just like Progress Quest!

I took a quick search for information on Google and found some very cynical reviews. It sounds like your characters actually attack when their bar fills up and when you tap them on your iPod's touch screen, so it's a frantic screen mashing game. Ok, sounds reasonable. It is also, apparently a complete cash hog. It sounds like Square Enix took a page out of Zynga's playbook. First you pay $4 for the game. Then you can get iconic FF characters to join your party, but only if you pay a dollar first. And you get one of 35 at random. So while I really want Squall, I'm probably shelling out $18 to get him. Or maybe the full $35 if I'm unlucky. Then there are different iconic worlds to play in, but only if you pay $4 each. Oh, and in combat when the enemy attacks he knocks a guy out and you get to rez one character every 3 minutes. Or you can pay $3 to full rez your party 20 times.

Commenters who like the game point out that your party always rezzes to full at the start of a fight and you can run from any fight at any time. So really you only need to pay to rez your team if you really want to burn a boss down RIGHT NOW. If it actually works like that then it doesn't seem so bad. I don't know what you get when you buy extra worlds but that could be something worth paying extra for. Paying for a random iconic character seems super sketchy but if you think of it like a CCG then it's only pretty sketchy.

I donno. I don't have an iOS device so I couldn't play it even if I wanted to. I think if it has a good selection of FF music that I'd probably enjoy tooling around with it but would get bitter that I couldn't use Squall and would get frustrated with the potential 'pay to remove timers' aspect. That said, I think when I get to the end of the line I will have to borrow an iPod from someone to give this a spin. Even with all the bad points it seems tailor made for me so I'd have to give it a try.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Niagara Boardgaming Weekend

Two years ago I went to a board game weekend thing in Niagara that was pretty fun. 4 days of pure open gaming. It was a lot of fun, but I didn't have the vacation time to go back last year. Well, I'm up to 3 weeks of vacation this year and it's been a while since I've had any time off (Mists of Pandaria launch in Sept) so despite the hotel cost I'm heading back again this year. Today, actually, since it's running in January this year.

Last time around I brought a whole bunch of games which just kind of sat around unused since most people brought tons of games and I'm not assertive enough to get specific things played. Not that I really have a strong opinion one way or the other in terms of what I play. I've been rewatching Battlestar Galactica and it's pretty much the only game I have a strong desire to play. And I don't even own it, so it's not like I could bring it along even if I wanted to. I'm pretty sure Sara is bringing it though! As such, I'm bringing nothing at all except some clothes and my old laptop in case I really get a hankering for the internet. My tolerance for being around people seems to be dropping recently (and it started pretty low to begin with) so maybe I'll end up hiding in the hotel room for a good chunk of the time. I'm certainly looking forward to a lot of sleep!

I expect to be out of contact from now until late Sunday. No League of Legends, no Blood Bowl. Just board games, sleep, and maybe some Final Fantasy Tactics. I have posts all set up and (hopefully) scheduled to post automatically on the weekend so regular service here should go uninterrupted. Woo?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Final Fantasy Tactics: Shout

Two weeks ago I looked a bit at Ramza's tailwind skill which can be used to increases someone's speed by one. Using it gave up short term power for long term power but in a way that wasn't terribly action efficient. In a long fight, or if you had nothing better to do, then it was certainly good. But if you could actually go and chop someone in a relevant manner that was probably going to be a better plan. I did make one error in that post (your turn counter is not actually truncated at 100, so extra speed which results in ending up at, say 105 will leave you at 25 after taking a non-move action instead of at 20) which removed the need to hit specific breakpoints but is otherwise a fairly minor deal. Tailwind was good as a first action when the enemies are still far away, and is a great way to power level, but in terms of just winning fights it wasn't stupidly good or anything.

It turns out when you get to chapter IV in the game Ramza learns a new ability which trivializes tailwind. This ability (shout) can only be used on Ramza himself and gives +10 brave, +1 physical attack, and +1 magical attack on top of giving +1 speed. Now I can make future actions come faster and be more powerful. Does this change things in any way? Well, I've also been rotating Ramza through different jobs to see what I can unlock (I could just look it up but I mostly play on the bus and figure it'll be easy enough to unlock them all this way regardless) and I happened to have him as a black mage during a random encounter in a river. The enemies all spawned far away and slowly made their way up the river. Rather than run up to meet them I just stood around shouting at myself while my other characters cast buffs on each other for experience. After 4 or 5 shouts an enemy finally got into range, and I killed him in one shot with a black magic spell. Not just killed him, massively overkilled him. Kaboom! The next fight I was playing as a chemist, shouted 4 or 5 times, and then was able to autoattack with my gun for about 12% of the enemy's max health. Huh.

Do black magic spells scale in a stupid way with extra magic attack? Are guns just really bad? Would a dragoon scale up to one-shot land faster than a chemist? Is it worth just shouting up at the start of every fight in order to become an awesome killing machine? One thing to note is that the extra speed actually didn't help my black mage very much at all. I'd start charging a spell and then get 2 more turns before it would resolve. Taking an action during one of those turns would have cancelled the charging spell. So maybe the solution there would be to learn the really fast spells and scale up my magic attack more? Or find the ability which removes charge time on spells!

The formula for spell damage is MA*Q*{faith modifiers}. The faith modifiers are basically a reduction in damage based on both your faith and the enemy faith. Multiply the two together and divide by 10000. Since faith goes from 0 to 100 this can't be an increase and will almost certainly be a decrease. Especially for non-Ramza characters since if they get a faith of 95 or higher they quit your party and run off to join a monastery or something. Q is a constant depending on the spell you're casting. It ranges from 14 to 32 for the basic series of damage spells. Comparing Q to the charge time makes it seem like the high level spells are actually worse damage per time than the lowest level spell. Fire 4 does hit a bigger area, but that's dangerous given how long it takes to charge anyway. So if I'm boosting up my speed it seems like going back a tier or two makes sense. Assuming I use tier 2, Q will be 18. Assume I have 90 faith and my target has 50 faith and every point of magic attack will add 8 damage to my attack. So I don't really see how I was scaling so absurdly... Maybe the enemies in that fight just had really high faith, or were the right zodiac sign? I do think I was using an ice staff which multiplies my MA by 1.25 when casting ice spells, and I was casting ice 4 with the 32 Q. So I guess each MA was adding 18. It doesn't take too many 18's before you start exploding enemies with 200 health! Especially if the spell starts doing 144 on its own. Or if they have high faith.

Looking at guns the formula for damage done is WP*WP where WP is the listed weapon power of the weapon. So neither the physical attack stat or the magical attack stat are used here. No wonder it didn't seem to scale very well with shout!

Spears, on the other hand, do damage of WP*PA, so every point of PA will do an extra WP damage. My current spear has 11 WP, so this will scale better than black magic spells do at high speed values where the 4th tier won't resolve before you get another turn. Jumping does an extra 50% damage with a spear, and charges based on your speed instead of a flat value, so a dragoon seems pretty absurd with shout.

Punching, it turns out, is even more absurd. It does damage of PA*PA*{brave modifier}. Brave modifier in this case being 1 because shout maxes brave. So going bare handed will quickly scale into stupidity. For the most part it would require you to be in melee range which is worse than the dragoon but it turns out if you jump without a weapon you do PA*PA damage anyway. You do lose the 50% bonus for using a spear, though. Oh, and all the monk abilities do PA*PA damage too... And the monk heal scales off of PA. So being a shouted monk just seems really good. (It's no surprise this may be the best path to beating chapter 3 Wiegraf... There you have to use different abilities to get +1 speed or +1PA or +5brave but you can totally do it.)

But is it worth doing all this or should I just shout once to start the fight like I used to do with tailwind? Well, assuming you never move you'll be spending 80 speed every action you take. Assuming a base speed of 8 (it does go up as you level) and a base PA of 12 (just a guess) then a monk with X applications of shout will do how much damage per clock tick?


In order to use shout X times you need to spend 80*X speed worth, but the number of ticks that'll take is complicated because your speed changes as you progress and does work in discrete chunks. So I just did a spreadsheet to work out the damage done in Y total ticks given X shouts. I used increments of 10 ticks (the time to take one action with no shout stacks) and looked to see what value of X maximized the damage done for that value of Y.

Number of TicksOptimal Number of Shouts
10, 20, 300
150+25 (or more)

Of course, some of these values are just silly. 25 stacks of shout means you're punching for 1369 damage per go. I'm pretty sure damage in this game is actually capped at 999, even! And even if it wasn't, most enemies seem to have max health in the 200-400 range. 8 stacks alone is enough to one shot someone with 400 health. And really there's not much difference, if any, between an attack that hits for 50% of the enemy health bar and one that hits for 98%. Either way it takes two hits to kill them. Getting from killing them in 2 hits to killing them in one hit is a big help though, and if I only had one character killing the enemies it probably makes sense to shout them up to that point. I do get to bring 5 people into each fight so in a sense it seems like I shouldn't only have one killer but in practice it often feels that way. Ramza is high level thanks to the Wiegraf fight but the rest of my team is pretty weak. This means the enemies tend to be able to kill my other guys in 1 or 2 hits themselves. My plan for the most part involves three people standing around casting raise spells on each other, Ramza being awesome, and a dragoon/thief who just kinda stands around and sometimes jumps for a third of an enemy's health bar. And I'm not sure what else to do at this point. I could make Ramza into a dedicated rezzer and just whittle the enemies down with someone else but that'll probably take way more time than just shouting 8 times and then killing off the enemies!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I'd heard some pretty good things about the game FTL: Faster Than Light in general and Sceadeau had recommended it on Vent while playing Blood Bowl at some point so when it went on sale a couple weeks ago I picked it up. I'd heard it was a roguelike in space and I like both space and ZAngband so maybe I'd like this too? I finally got around to giving it a go this morning (I woke up early with a sharp pain in my eye and couldn't get back to sleep).

Now, after playing it a bit, I'm not sure it's really a roguelike game. But it's definitely a fun game. The basic idea is you own a ship with a small crew and you fly around space blowing up bad guys for loot. You use that loot to upgrade different pieces of your ship, or to buy new modules for your ship, or to repair the permanent damage your ship takes. Your crew gains experience with different tasks (shooting the weapons, repairing things, punching boarding parties, etc...) as they perform them. So it is very much roguelike in that way. You kill things, eat them, and take their stuff.

The difference, to me at least, is in how combat presents itself. My idea of a roguelike has you opening doors in a dungeon and fighting gobs of enemies at a time. In FTL it seems like you only fight one thing at a time, and combat is more strategic. You choose where your guys stand, you choose where to aim your guns, and fights last a while. There's no standing behind a doorway chopping kobold after kobold. There's no shooting fireballs into a crowd of orcs. FTL seems more like a series of encounters than a full on dungeon crawl, and I'm ok with that. It actually reminds me a little of an old Win 3.1 Star Trek game I used to play way back in the day but I can't remember the name of it. Whatever.

At any rate, FTL seems pretty good on the surface, and I'm looking forward to sinking some more hours into it. I discovered an interesting aspect of Steam today, too, where it's willing to show you how much time all of your friends have spent playing a game. I have a friend with 97 hours of FTL played, and 4 more with over 30 hours played. If you consider I only have 11 Steam friends (Ziggyny is my name there) that's pretty impressive. Clearly FTL is a reasonable fun game according to my friends. It's no Civ V (398 hours, 388 hours, 267 hours...) but it's got a lot of playability.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Another of the games I picked up in the big Steam bundle a few weeks ago was a game called Symphony. This is a top-scrolling space shooter with a unique approach to building levels. You feed it a music file from your computer and it builds a level with monster waves timed to the flow of the music. Soft period in the song, fewer enemies. Hectic period, tons of enemies. It's an interesting idea and I like listening to music so I gave it a go. The game is ok, but it has one fatal flaw that's kept me from getting hooked and I probably won't play it again: difficulty levels.

Having variable difficulty levels makes a lot of sense in a game, I think. You want people with poor motor skills, slow reaction time, or just a lack of desire to 'try hard' to be able to have fun and make progress in your game. You want hardcore people to have a challenge that really pushes them as far as they want to go. Symphony has 6 difficulty levels which seems like it should be a pretty reasonable spectrum of difficulty, and I suspect they cover most people with them. The problem is you can't access the harder difficulties without playing for a fair amount of time on an easier one first. I needed to play something like 15 songs on difficulty 2 in order to unlock difficulty 3 which is still way too easy for me. I'm pretty good at these sorts of games so it's likely I want to be playing on difficulty 5 and maybe even difficulty 6. But the prospect of needing to play another 30 songs or 4ish hours to get to the difficulty I want is daunting. I have so many games I want to play that the idea that I might need to spend a couple days playing a game I don't want to play in the hopes of unlocking a game I do want to play is a little silly. I'll go play a game I want to play the whole time, thanks.

This seems like such a stupid design decision. Why do I need to prove I'm good at a game before I can play it on hard? Trust me to know how good I am and make the decision on my own. Especially in a single player game with no DLC! You have nothing to gain by locking me out of the harder difficulties. I guess you have nothing to lose either since I've already bought the game. I guess all I can really do is shell out some bad publicity to the few people who read this. So consider this bad publicity. I don't recommend buying Symphony. It's an interesting idea but a flawed execution.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Blood Bowl: Inducements

Blood Bowl is currently running with a system in place that attempts to even out a match between two teams regardless of how leveled up one of teams might be compared to the other one. There's a formula to work out what each team is 'worth' and then the worse team gets free money to spend on inducements before the match in order to bridge the gap. On top of this if a team happens to have fewer than 11 active players the game also gives them free linemen to use for the next game to make sure they start with a full team on the field. (Note these free linemen do come with a detrimental skill, loner, and their value is assigned to your team value before calculating inducements.)

Now, if inducements are overcosted then the 'better' team should still have an advantage in the game, just not an overwhelming one, and leveling up is a good thing. If inducements are perfectly costed then leveling up or not doesn't matter at all which seems like a bad thing. If inducements are undercosted then leveling up is actively bad. Your opponent will be able to induce his way to a better team than you! Thankfully the guys who designed the rules understood this and went out of their way to make sure inducements were on the pricy side for what you got. For example, you can use inducement money to buy a mercenary player for your team for any position you haven't maxed out. These guys cost 30k more than a normal guy and come with the loner skill. If you want to buy them another skill you can, for 50k, where a normal guy who gains a skill is worth only 20k more. So to get a level 2 dude via inducements you have to pay an extra 60k and you get the detrimental loner skill. This clearly falls into the category of worse than leveling up but better than nothing. You can grab extra rerolls/apothecaries for double the normal cost. Stuff like that. It all makes perfect sense.

The video game people, for some reason or another, decided that rather than just use the carefully balanced inducement items that they'd exclude some (the random cards you could buy) and add a bunch of their own stuff. This stuff was not painstakingly play tested or balanced, and I've read a fair number of complaints that some of it is pretty silly. My dwarf team in the league that just started is intentionally under the cap in order to get one of the new inducements (a 58% chance to give one of your players a bonus agility which is a pretty big deal for dwarves). +1 agility to a player is worth 40k and this potion costs 40k and doesn't always work so it does seem overcosted like the other stuff. But this is something I can't easily get normally. A player only has a 1 in 18 chance when they level up to get that +1 agility. I did roll one on my dwarves, but it was on a guy with 2 agility base and I didn't feel the need to bump that up to 3. But giving one of my runners a boost from 3 to 4 seems really strong. It would be preferred to do it by leveling up and rolling an 11 but until that happens I'm happy with running a lower valued team and getting a potion instead.

Is that the only powerful extended inducement? I doubt it. I think it's worth checking out the full list to see...

Star Players and Mercenaries: Extra guys you can recruit for one game. They all have loner, and the mercenaries are all quite overcosted. Star players vary from team to team and some are better than others. As I understand it they're a reasonable way to spend inducement money but all cost so much they're definitely not worth sandbagging to pick up.

Wizard: 150k gets you a wizard. Once per game, at the start or end of your turn, you can use the wizard to cast a fireball or a lightning bolt. Lightning bolt targets a single player and injures them 5/6ths of the time. Fireball targets a 3x3 grid and injures any players in the grid 3/6ths of the time. This can often result in turning an opposing touchdown into one of your own. Wizards are a core inducement and are awesome.

Cheering Fans/Rioting Fans: Ok, that whole bit about getting to use a wizard once per game? I lied. No one is certain exactly how it works but after your wizard casts a spell in the online game he starts charging up to cast another spell. Cheering fans supposedly increase the speed at which he charges up. Rioting fans decrease the speed for your opponent's wizard. Base recharge apparently happens when you roll on the injury table (the bigger the injury the more the charge) and when you score touchdowns. I really wish I knew how it worked and am considering playing the single player campaign to test it out. All fans cost 20k to induce and you can get up to 4 of each. Depending on recharge rate this may well be overpowered. The first wizard at 150k is a good deal. Getting a second one for 20k would be obscene.

Wandering Apothecary: 100k gets you an extra apothecary. You can get two of them. If you're an undead team you can instead spend 100k on an Igor who lets you reroll a regeneration roll. Not a great use of cash since the base apothecary only costs 50k but it does give you the flexibility to apothecary a KO roll without too much fear of someone dying later, I guess. Could be better for a team early on without an apothecary at all?

Bribes: 100k gets you a bribe. 5/6ths of a time when the ref sends you off for cheating you can use the bribe to stay on the field and not cause a turnover. Bribes let you foul more liberally but seem pretty expensive for that purpose. They also let secret weapons get used more than one drive which could be hot. Goblins, who have most of the secret weapons, can induce bribes for only 50k and it's probably a pretty sweet deal for them. You can get up to 3.

Bribe a Player: 40k lets you try for a 41% chance to reduce the movement speed of an opposing player. +1 movement is worth 30k to their team value so if it always worked it would be a tad pricy but not unreasonable. As is it seems pretty terribly unless they happen to have a guy who can score in a single turn!

Bodyguard: 10k lets you hire a bodyguard for a single player which counters the above bribe. This could happen if the better team decides to toss in some of their cash reserves in order to get some inducements of their own, but bumps up the amount of inducements the other team gets. Trading 10k for 40k seems pretty fantastic. Heck, even if they induce something else it's probably worthwhile on your single turn scoring dude.

Extra Reroll: 100k gives you a reroll. Overcosted if your rerolls only cost you 50k normally. Not as bad if they're 70k normally. Not a terrible way to spend small amounts of inducement money though. You can get 4 if you want!

Bloodweiser Babes: For 50k you get a babe who feeds your KOed dudes beer. This gives you +1 to your KOed dudes when they try to wake up. You can buy two of them, and for squishy teams against bashy teams they've worked out very well in my experience. Keeping dudes off the field is how my dwarves try to win games, so if you can recover from KO more reliably that's great for you. And they're cheap.

Bad Habits: For 100k you can remove a reroll from your opponent. Against some teams who are reroll light this could be really good. Way better than giving yourself an extra reroll if you already have a decent number of them, anyway.

Halfling Master Chef: For 300k you get the ability to steal rerolls from your opponent. Each half you will steal between 0 and 3 rerolls, adding to your total and subtracting from theirs. Considering you should steal 1.5 on average this is costed in line with both extra reroll and bad habits but is way swingier. Halflings can get this for 100k where it's insanely undercosted. Good thing halflings suck at everything else, huh? Halflings desperately need to run 100k behind their opponent so they can get this. For everyone else it just seems ok.

Potion of Strength: 60k gets you a 27% chance at a strength on a player of your choice. You choose before you know if it will work or not. You can buy 3 of them. Extra strength is worth 50k in team value so this is a little more expensive if it worked all the time. At 27% you're looking at wasting a lot of money on null results but will sometimes have a good day. Extra strength is good and all, but I'm not sure it's really cost effective as an inducement. Certainly if you have a lot of money you can just induce a star player with high strength.

Potion of Agility: 40k gets you a 58% chance at an agility on a player of your choice. This seems way better than the strength one to me. It costs less, it is much more likely to work, and for many teams getting one more guy with one more agility is crazy good. While your whole team will tend to be hitting/getting hit and therefore your whole team likes strength generally only a small number of guys will ever interact with the ball. This means fewer people want agility and makes a single agility on the player of your choice that much better than a single strength. You can buy up to 3 of these.

Drug Testing: 20k convinces the ref to drug test one of the opposing players. If they're on drugs they get kicked out of the game. Drugs in this case being the above two potions. I don't know how it works for sure. Does it kick people out if the potion didn't give them a stat? Can it kick people out who don't use a potion? Can it fail to kick people out who did? I wonder if it's worth spending 40k to drug test my two runners if I'm set up to drug them. We could play drug chicken since you could then turn that 40k around and buy an agility potion of your own if you assume I'm going to spend the 120k somewhere else instead.

I need to test out wizard recharging but other than that and the agility potions everything else seems pretty in line with the general idea of having inducements be overcosted relative to leveling up. And since you can only buy 3 agility potions, they might fail, and there is a potential counter to them I guess it's not so bad. Leveling should still be good!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Blood Bowl: Snow Removal

I was randomly browsing around a Blood Bowl message board looking for stats on cheering fans and stumbled upon a thread which fixes a problem I've been having with the Cyanide client. The problem is one of the 10 stadiums in the game is played in the snow. Bright white snow. With the text in the chat window and the log being written in a white font. So not only do my eyes get strained trying to look at the screen I can't read the text at all without hovering over the chat window to force the opaque background of the chat window to show up.

I'd complained about this with both Robb and Snuggles and we mused that it had to be possible to overwrite the art files for that stadium with something else but I never actually went digging into the files to see if I could find anything. Good thing I didn't since they're buried in a deep directory structure and use some weird file format I can't trivially open. Fortunately someone else actually put in some time to figure it out and find the exact files that need to be replaced in order to remove the snow from the field. Details are in the thread (they're for an older version of the game which didn't use Steam but the basic principles still apply). In particular, I had to go to the folder:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps\common\Blood Bowl Chaos Edition\Data\3d\Level\Level_08\Textures

And then replace the three grass files.,, and Level_08 is the Norse stadium which has all the snow. I replaced it with grass from the Level_01 folder. I had to rename the files (Grass_D -> Grass01_D, for example) but it worked great. I tested it out in a single player game and the snow has been removed from the playing field! Woo!

I know other people are going to want to do this. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

League of Legends: New League System

Riot announced yesterday that they're revamping their overall ranked ladder system for season 3. They spell out why they want to make a change and explain how the new system will work. They haven't given enough information into the nitty-gritty details to really work out what's going to happen but after thinking about the new system a bit today I fear there's going to be some pretty big problems with the way it's set up.

To start the new system feels on the surface to be like the league system in StarCraft II. You get put in a league with a precious metal name indicating about how good you are. Win a bunch and get promoted up. Lose a bunch and get demoted down. There's a little ladder in your individual tier which lets you compare yourself to other people similar in skill to you. On the surface this all makes sense, and especially it looks like it satisfies the primary stated goal for the change which is to give people short term goals that seem meaningful and attainable.

The difference with SC2 comes in the details. SC2 leagues are purposefully sized to include a precise percentage of the population. People get promoted/demoted as they cross the barriers between being in the bottom 20% of people to being in the 20-40% range. I haven't played SC2 in quite some time so I don't know if it's changed or not, but I think it also tried to match you with people in your own division when possible and certainly paired you within your own league the vast, vast majority of the time. LoL is going to work differently, and in ways that I don't think Riot considered.

In particular, Elo rating isn't going away and will continue to be the sole factor used in matchmaking. Someone with an abnormally low Elo for their league will never get to play against other people in their league. If leagues can be easily seen on the loading screen this is going to be a huge problem, I think. Having a gold league player always playing with silver league teammates is going to cause strife since the gold league player will think he's better than his teammates by virtue of being in a higher league when really he's around the same skill as them. This won't be a problem if promotions/demotions are properly handled, but it really sounds like they won't be.

From the sounds of things you'll earn 15 league points with a win, and lose the same with a loss. Fall too far below 0 and you get demoted. (Except you can't get demoted down a full league type, only down a division in that league. Get gold once and stay there forever!) Get up to 100 and you earn the right to play in a promotion series. Win 2 of your next 3 games and get promoted. Lose at least two of them and get dumped back in your league with 70 points to try again.

Here's the problem... It's a personal zero sum system (wins are worth the same as losses) so you'll only ever get a shot at promotion if you go +7 in games won over a period of time. Then when you get that chance some people will get promoted and others will tumble back down and need to win 2 more games to get the chance again. Note that you could be going -1 in the promotion matches and need to go +2 to try again, so some people will get promoted after going +8 and others could actually go +50 and stay in the same league.

Also note that while your Elo rating is below your equilibrium point you rate to win more games than you lose but once you reach that point you should be hitting a 50% win rate. As such, people who have deflated Elo ratings expect to get promoted quickly while those who are at equilibrium expect to stay stagnant pretty much forever unless they get appreciably better. Coupled with the above point someone who gets lucky enough to always get promoted on their first try will end up far above someone who gets unlucky and has to keep trying over and over again. They may both have started at the same Elo, have won the same percentage of games, have ended up at the same Elo, and end up far apart just based on the timings of their wins. Some 3 game windows are way more important than others in terms of getting promoted but not in terms of Elo which will cause skewed results.

Another problem occurs because the system is actually quite open to abuse. Let's pretend I really want to get into the Challenger league. Also, let's pretend I'm currently at the bottom tier of the gold league. I am going to intentionally lose 60 games in a row. Maybe I'll take this time to learn a bunch of new champions or to try stupid tactics. Play badly enough to lose but not go AFK or be an obvious troll. Or maybe I'll just let someone else who's worse than I am play my account for a while. This will end up massively deflating my Elo rating while keeping my league position the same. I will be at 0 points in the bottom gold division. Then I'll start playing for real. I won't win every game down in 'Elo Hell' but I will rate to win significantly more than I lose. In fact, I should pull off +60 wins vs losses by the time I get back to my real Elo. After the first 7 of those 60 wins I'll get a chance for promotion. Win 2 of those games (and since I'm 53 losses below my real rating this is pretty likely) and get up to the second gold division. Repeat 4 more times for all 4 gold divisions.  I'm likely to only use up 45 of my 60 win buffer in the process and will get promoted to the bottom division of the platinum league. Where I can never be demoted again. My Elo rating is still lower than it should be, and lower than it was to earn access to the gold league, but I've made it to platinum.

Repeat. Turf another 60 losses (with the commensurate loss in Elo and no impact to my league standing) and start trying again. I will eventually make it to the challenger league. Heck, I could even repeat at that point! I could top the ladder with a pathetically low Elo just by properly timing when I lose.

But since your listed league doesn't mean anything except bragging rights, why bother with all those losses? Well, for one thing, bragging rights on the internet are a big deal to some people. For another, you get a shot at turning pro if you do well enough on the 5v5 ladder. And while I'm not good enough to be on a 5v5 team that has a chance of winning the tournament at the end of the ladder this path to abuse isn't just open to bad players like myself. Any team with a shot at doing well in that tournament would be a fool to play the 5v5 ladder game legitimately. They should absolutely all sandbag their team Elos upon hitting challenger league and then make a strong push against worse teams right before the qualification period ends. Because that gets them in the door to play in the big event where anything could happen.

And if you don't think pro teams wouldn't take sketchy lines to benefit themselves you haven't paid enough attention to the conduct of some of the current pro teams and the cheating they've done. A team recently got disbanded by their sponsor when it came out that they abused a bug in spectator mode to get a friend watching their tournament match live who then fed them ward placement information during the game.

Is there a way to fix the problems while keeping the core idea around? Well, you could matchmake by league primarily instead of by Elo. If I have to keep playing diamond players once I cheese my way into diamond league it won't matter that I went -60 to start there. I won't get the +60 off the backend because I won't be playing terrible people in the 900 rating bracket. You could give up on letting people stay in their current league and actually demote me back to silver once I lose 60 games in a row at gold. You could make those losses count against me, and have me sitting at -900 points in the gold league and have to earn 1000 points to get my first chance at promotion.

I also think games that matter more to the league system (ie: promotion matches) should make a bigger impact on your Elo rating. So if you lose 2 of your 3 placement matches you actually end up down 2 losses worth of Elo. This way someone with bad win timing doesn't end up in an artifically low league as a result. They get a couple 'easier' games to get back into their placement matches and catch back up to their doppelganger with better timing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pompeii: Omen Distribution

Pompeii is an interesting board game on the website which can be played with 2-4 players. The game has a mechanic which seems to make the 2 player game very swingy. The outcome is sometimes determined not by good play but by who pulls the majority of the omen cards. There was a thread on their message boards a couple months ago complaining about the issue and some people blew it off because they didn't think omen distribution was apt to be terribly skewed. Some of these people also mostly played the game 4 players where the impact is markedly reduced. I decided I wanted to actually quantify how likely it is for omen cards to heavily favour one player or the other.

First off, the basic idea of the game is you spend the first half of them game populating the city of Pompeii and the second half running those people away from an erupting volcano. Winner is whoever saves the most people and while positioning the people near exits and away from initial lava floes is definitely important it's generally favourable to have more people heading into the second half. In the first half on your turn you play a card to add from 1-4 people to the board (generally 2) by playing a card from your hand. Then you draw a new card and end your turn. 25 of the cards from the deck at this point are normal dude adding cards. 7 of them are omen cards. When you draw an omen card you get to immediately kill any person on the board and draw a replacement card. In a 4 player game these will generally target the leader or particularly well placed dudes. In a 2 player game these will always hit your only opponent. So while drawing no omens in a 4 player game is bad it's pretty likely the other players will be hitting each other with them when they draw them anyway. In a 2 player game they're always hitting the same person so if one person draws 5 of them compared to 2 they're just up 3 dudes going into the second half which I've found is a pretty insurmountable lead. But how likely is that to happen?

Your first instinct is to think that the split is going to be relatively even but because you get to immediately draw another card it's not so simple. Because omens don't take up space in your hand you can end up snowballing them. In bridge if someone accidentally dropped 12 cards and they were all spades you could be pretty sure they didn't have the 13th spade since they only have 1 more card left in their hand and there are 39 non-spades to go with the last spade. Here if they drop 6 omens from their 'hand' it just means their hand is 6 cards bigger than their opponent and says nothing about the location of the last omen.

It gets a little more complicated too because the first round ends at an unknown time, with somewhere between 0 and 15 cards left in the deck. So you may have a game with no omens at all!

At any rate, my first thought for working this out was to use Markov chains but when I started planning out what sort of states I'd need I quickly realized there were way too many states to work this out in an evening that way. Then I thought this would be a great use of combinatorial enumeration if only I still remembered how that worked. I really should sit down and pound away at that again some day, but that day is not today. Next up... Just write a program to iterate over every possible configuration. I wrote a VBA script, started it running, and then thought about just how many configurations there are going to be. It turns out 32c7 is actually a really big number. Over 3 times the number of rows in an Excel spreadsheet! I'm letting that run while I make food because I'm curious if my recursive function will eventually crash VBA before hitting the millionth row but it's not going to solve my problem. Time to think things through logically...

First off, let's start with a full deck and no early termination. In fact, let's just pretend there's a huge number of cards and we're just going to go until we get 7 omens. Someone has to get the first omen. At that point each player should have a 50-50 chance of getting the next omen. This can continue on until all 7 are given out, with the following odds:

1/64 - 7-0 split
7/64 - 6-1 split
21/64 - 5-2 split
35/64 - 4-3 split

Now, I'm of the belief that a 5-2 split is swingy enough to pretty much be the determining factor in a game and it (or worse) is going to happen more than 45% of the time with an 'infinite' deck. The person who goes first also has a chance of going last (if there's an odd number of turns then one person gets an extra one) and that person has more chances to proc omens. That you might cut out half the deck with the end condition actually reduces the chance of a 3+ difference by virtue of having fewer omens total. When you're splitting up 6 omens there's a 3+ difference only 22% of the time. With 5 omens there's a 3+ difference only 38% of the time. So you've got one factor pulling one way and another pulling the other. Which way will come out on top? Barring a way to work out the precise numbers I'm not sure. What I do know is that any game which has a nearly guaranteed winner 45% of the time isn't high on my list of things to play. Especially with how many turns actual exist in a game of Pompeii.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Risk Legacy: Impact of Defensive Buffs

Over the weekend we played many games of Risk Legacy which is a Risk variant board game with some pretty wacky rules. The specifics of those rules are unimportant for the time being (and contain spoilers for anyone who might want to play in the future) but one of things that happens is some of the time the defender gets to modify their die rolls. These modifications are unambiguously good or bad (adding 1 to your roll can't be worse than not doing so, after all) but the question really is how big of an impact do they have. Sky had a few turns where it seemed like he couldn't hurt Pounder at all... Was this just a result of Pounder rolling high on small numbers of dice or did his defensive mod actually make the attack sketchy in the first place? I want to find out!

My first problem is I've never actually crunched the normal Risk attack numbers. I used to play Risk a fair bit way back when I was a kid and didn't really care about precise odds. 3 is bigger than 2, so attacking is good. Defender wins on a tie so that's good too. Those two good things OBVIOUSLY cancel each other out so it doesn't matter if you attack or defend, right? Right? The only thing that matters in that mindset is getting more guys. I've since been informed that the attacker actually has the advantage but I still have no idea how big an advantage that actually is. Therefore it is definitely time to crunch some numbers!

The numbers displayed below are how many troops the attacker expects to lose while killing 1000 defenders. So, not small numbers of dice at all, but it shows some trends. For reference, an ammo shortage subtracts 1 off of the defender's highest die (with a min of 1). A bunker adds 1 to the defender's highest die (with a max of 6). A fortification adds 1 to both defender's dice.

Normal RiskAmmo ShortageBunkerFortificationBunker+Fortification

So it turns out attacking 1 on 2 into a bunker and a fort is a terrible, terrible idea. Who knew?

More seriously, the times when the attacker has an advantage are 3v2 normally and with an ammo shortage. 3v1 normally and with an ammo shortage. 2v1 normally and with an ammo shortage. And 1v1 with an ammo shortage. In every other situation the defender has the advantage. When you combine a bunker with a fort it's a huge undertaking to take it out. A bunker alone more than doubles your expected losses. A fort alone more than triples your expected losses. 

I think you'll want pretty good numbers, or a really good incentive, before attacking any of the defended positions. Being able to defend the spot yourself is a decent reason if you can win with enough troops remaining but that seems pretty unlikely if they had a decent force to start. Probably you'd be better off going someplace else. A good incentive would be a chance at straight up winning the game. The actual game is still played with small numbers of dice and maybe a slim shot is the best you're going to get. But I was more than willing to attack a defended position willy-nilly yesterday and that no longer looks like a terribly good idea. And I suspect if I look at how missiles impact things it'll look way worse for the attacker!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Final Fantasy Tactics: Treasure Hunter

Final Fantasy Tactics has 4 different types of abilities you can learn from each job. You have active actions you use in battle, passive reaction abilities, generic passive abilties, and passive movement abilities. Each character can equip two jobs worth of active abilities (their current job and one other one) and one of the other three types of abilities. Most of the movement abilities are pretty straightforward but there's one that I've always found frustrating. Known in the original game as move-find item it was rebranded for the PSP release as treasure hunter. The basic idea behind it is when you move around on the map you have a chance of finding hidden items. Are these items worth searching for? I'm not really sure, so I'm hoping the internet will tell me.

First off, how does it work? It turns out you don't really have a chance to find items when you move around. Instead some squares on each map have been tagged as containing items and if you move specifically onto those squares you get an item. Each square has two different options (one rare, one common) and the chance of getting the rare one is higher if you have a low brave stat. Apparently this is the only reason in the game to want a low brave stat so right out of the gate trying to make treasure hunter good is going to make you worse at actual combat. (You won't have a real movement ability and you'll do less physical damage and your reaction abilities will proc less often.) Once you get either item from a square you're done and can't get the other one. So if you want a specific item, you'll need to reload if you get the wrong one.

I hate moving in general (it delays your next action), I hate walking to every square in the hopes it's an item square, and I don't have access to item maps while playing on the bus. So, treasure hunter seems like the sort of thing I should pretend doesn't exist and move on with my life. But the idea of leaving stuff behind makes me sad, especially if it isn't replaceable stuff. So I figure it's probably a reasonable idea to go searching for info on what can be found to see if I really want any of it or not.

Looking through the info in the only PSP FAQ on gamefaqs makes it clear that for the vast majority of maps the common item is a consumable you can buy in the store and the rare item is a piece of gear you can buy in the store. So rather than worry about picking those up I can just go buy them. And if I needed more money I think I'd run around using steal gil or running errands instead of picking up store bought gear in fights. It does, however, list some exceptions:

Invisibility cloak, healing staff, blood sword, materia blade, javelin II, escutcheon II, sasuke's blade, nagnarok, 15 elixirs, and loot in the challenge dungeon that I don't think I ever did. None of this stuff happens until late in chapter IV. I only just started chapter III so it's still nothing I really need to worry about. But is it something I ever want to worry about?

Invisibility cloak is the only one in the game, but you can get it by repeating fights on the map and while it is unique it doesn't seem like anything I'd miss if I didn't get it.

Healing staff can be obtained in other ways and lets you attack your friends for health. They'll still dodge/counter attack though. And as I discovered when trying to cure doom with an auto-attack today, the first strike counter-attack actually prevents the initial attack from going through when procced. So I don't know that I'd even use one of these. Nevermind that you get one for free before you can treasure hunter it. I really doubt I want two of them!

Blood sword can apparently be poached, whatever that is, and could have been stolen earlier if I'd cared. It isn't very strong so I can't see why I need to search this thing up either.

Materia blade is apparently used if you recruit Cloud to unlock his abilities. Sounds good, but you can steal it while recruiting him apparently. And you only need the one.

The next four items are all found on the same map. This seems like a good place for treasure hunter, assuming I remember, but they aren't unique. The map is Nelveska Temple somewhere in chapter IV.

Elixirs I really don't care about.

Challenge dungeon stuff I'll look into if I feel like doing it near the end of the game.

So, the bottom line is I can pretty safely ignore the treasure hunter ability. If I remember I'll try to give it to someone with low bravery before I do Nelveska Temple but even then I won't be too sad if I forget.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

More on Dungeon Defenders

Over the past couple days I've gotten in some multiplayer games of Dungeon Defenders. There are four classes in the game and there were four of us so we each took a different class. It turns out the game is much more tower defense than first person shooter and the 'best' class is the one with the best towers: the wizard. Snuggles is our wizard and he always gets the 'most valuable player' award at the end of a level because his turrets kill practically everything. Certainly all of the cannon fodder that exists solely to make single target damage dealers worthless all gets to die to his fireball towers.

That said, the game is pretty fun and the other classes do have things they can do to help win the fights. They just don't do the things that score points most efficiently so they never get to top the meters.

I'm playing a knight that most deals with being tough and building walls. One of the things that I noticed while playing a solo wizard is my towers kept dying so I had to put some of my stat points into tower health. In our little team Snuggles can pretty much ignore tower health and focus on the three tower damage stats. I ignore the three tower damage stats and just make my things tougher. So my stuff gets beat up and Snuggles' stuff kills things. It seems like a pretty good combo thus far.

Lino is an archer which doesn't seem to have turrets that can compete with wizard or knight turrets. What he does do is a high amount of single target damage. Most of the time this is pretty irrelevant (everything will just die to turrets anyway) but every now and then flying monsters or huge monsters or bosses will spawn and it's really useful to have a mobile ranged attacker who can take them out.

Robb is a monk that doesn't actually seem terribly useful. It's listed as being the most challenging class but I'm pretty sure that just means it isn't very good. Monks seem to mostly have buffs and debuffs that might actually multiply very well on hard difficulty levels to allow the specialists to do their things even better. But then I don't know what else he could do. Because the game is set up so anyone can upgrade/repair other people's stuff there's really no need to have more than one person building attacker towers. There's no need to have more than one person with a lot of points in tower health. I guess a second generic damage dealer is fine, and that's probably what monks actually do. (One of the constraints in the game is a limit on how many things you can build, and I don't know if building random auras is worth skipping out on more damage turrets.)

I am definitely enjoying the game. It has lots of little tricks to make you want to keep playing with levels and gear and scoreboards and such. Definitely a good inclusion in the bundle thing I bought.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Final Fantasy Tactics: Tailwind

Speed is an RPG stat that is rarely balanced. Frequently it's practically worthless (it determines who goes first in a round of combat but you get equal numbers of turns overall) or it's stupidly powerful (it determines how often you get to act and therefore is a power multiplier). In Final Fantasy Tactics it definitely falls into the stupidly powerful camp. For the most part speed is powerful but fixed. Your characters (at least at this point in the game) have 6 speed and that is that. I just found an item in the store which adds 1 to speed so some of my people have 7 speed. Ramza can also learn an ability, tailwind, which lets him increase someone's speed by one for the rest of the fight. This is pretty great and I open fights with it when I can't reach enemies to punch, but I've been thinking... Maybe I should open with it regardless? How long does it take to recover the time spent using the ability?

First, it's important to understand how turns work in FFT. Everyone has a counter that goes from 0 to 100. if someone's counter is at or above 100 they get a turn. If no one is at 100 then everyone adds their speed value to their counter and you check again to see if anyone is at or above 100. When you take a turn your counter gets reset based on the action taken. If you pass completely your counter goes to 40. If you move or take an action but not both your counter goes to 20. If you move and act your counter goes to 0. Note that you don't get to keep any extra above 100 so if your counter was at 99 and you gain 6 it'll go to 105 and then get reset to 0 when you take a full turn. So there is rounding involved which can impact how good specific amounts of speed might be. Also, generally speaking, one of the big flaws in the AI is it likes to move and act even when it doesn't need to. It should skip moving a lot of the time to get reset to 20 instead of to 0 but it doesn't because it's bad. *sigh*

At any rate, pretend I can walk up and punch the enemy right now or I can stand still and use tailwind. What are the ongoing game states, assuming I started with 6 speed? With my counter at 0 it'll take 17 ticks to get another turn. With my counter at 20 and 7 speed it'll take 12 ticks to get another turn. Then assuming I have to move to punch going forward I'm looking at 15 ticks with 7 speed so I gain 2 more ticks every action. So after 6 full rounds of combat I've caught up to status quo and start profiting after that point. That doesn't actually seem terribly good, but one thing to keep in mind when moving faster is sometimes you get to take 2 turns in a row. Not only is this great for tempo it also means you don't need to take the move action on that round, gaining an extra 3 ticks right there.

If you happen to have good ranged attacks and never plan on moving then you're looking at 14 ticks to get a turn with 6 speed and 12 ticks to get a turn with 7 speed. That's still a gain of 2 ticks per action.

What if I don't want to move on my first turn? Compare taking no action at all to using tailwind. With no action at all I get to go again after 10 ticks. With just tailwind I get to go again after 12 ticks, plus I'm saving 2 ticks per turn. This is obviously awesome. Ramza should never skip his action phase. If he has nothing better to do he should tailwind himself (or someone else I guess) instead of waiting.

How about even higher amounts of speed? Here's the tick gain from each additional point of speed based on a full turn or a half turn:

New SpeedFull TurnHalf Turn

Note that because the base number of ticks per action is dropping the time it takes for an investment to pay off does drop as well. If you're taking full turns it's pretty big to go from 9 to 10 speed. Instead of taking 12 ticks per action you drop down to 10 ticks per action and it only takes 5 turns to make up that gap. If you don't move on that one turn it only takes 8 ticks to get the action back and therefore it only costs 4 turns to make up the gap.

In the long run this is certainly awesome, but do we actually have a long run? I feel like the answer for most fights is going to be no. Giving up a useful action in order to tailwind is going to be wrong during most fights. Use it when you have nothing better to do (and if you're trying to power level you can absolutely just stand around spamming tailwind for tons of xp/jp) but don't give up a good attack to use it.

Getting speed from other sources is silly good though. I'd skipped getting the speed hat for my mages because I wanted to keep an extra spell power and some more max mana but I now think that's wrong. I should go buy more hats when I get to a store that sells them. And when I eventually find a store selling the accessory that adds speed you better believe my whole team is getting a set of those. Acting more frequently than your opponent is awesome, especially when you're smart and don't move unless you have to and they move all the time because they can.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Final Fantasy Tactics: Errands

Throughout the course of Final Fantasy Tactics you'll end up recruiting a lot of different characters to your team. You start with 6 extra dudes, more join from different plot points, and you can recruit extras for cash if you want. For the most part you get to use 3 or 4 of them in a fight which means you have a lot of people on your team just sitting around. Like poor Kimahri, they need experience but you can't get them into your fights. What are you supposed to do with a small army of people who can never get into fights?

Well, first off if you're in the habit of letting people die then you need some replacements on the bench. I am not in that habit. I make sure that most of my team has access to some sort of resurrection spell/ability/item in order to keep that from happening and I'm more than willing to reload if someone dies. So, I don't need extra for that.

Next, theoretically you could want different characters specialized in different roles and sub different ones in depending on the fight. But since you can only level the ones you're using at any given time and since the game uses a job system you can just change your current team into a new team if you really need to bring a different formation into a battle. So, no actual need for extra here, either.

The actual use for them unlocked for me today when I hit chapter 2. You can send extra guys off on errands in each town. The exact details are unclear but it seems you pick an errand, pay some cash, send some guys off for a predetermined amount of time, and wait. You can't use them for anything else while they're gone and they might bring back some sort of reward when they return. I know this system was used again in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2 and I seem to recall it let you know who might be good at a given errand. This time there seems to be no indication of potential rewards or chances of success. This makes me sad, so I decided to turn to the internet for answers.

The first thing I discovered put my mind at ease. While you can fail these errands there is no permanent consequences for doing so. You still get a small reward for trying and the errand respawns again in a month. Some errands are only available in a given month but if you wait an entire year you can try again. (Game years, where every movement on the map takes a day, not real years.) So even if I screw things up and send the wrong people off it just costs me money, not access to rewards.

Determining success is actually pretty easy, though only if you have a guide on hand. Basically the job, level, and bravery/faith levels of the people you send help determine if you succeed or not. Rewards are always JP and gold, and may also give some random tokens with story background information. So skipping these seems like a fine thing to do, but since I have extra guys just lying around I might as well send them off for more gold. You can send 1-3 people but it seems strictly superior to send 3 since the contributions of each character add together. I only sent 2 on my first one so I bet it fails. Oh well!

I've been really appreciating the new translation on the PSP so maybe I'll try to get all the wonders and artifacts from these errands so I can read more background plot. It can't hurt to try, anyway, since I wasn't going to use these dudes for anything else!

Monday, January 07, 2013

Dungeon Defenders

Over the weekend I was browsing the Steam featured sales and saw a game (Deponia) that looked interesting. It was on sale, or you could buy it in a big bundle that was even more on sale. It's like making money! (Only not even close...) I looked through the rest of the bundle, saw a few things that I'd heard good things about (Cave Story, Orcs Must Die! 2, Super Meat Boy, Thirty Flights of Loving) and decided to throw some money away.

I then picked a game pretty much at random to try out. It was Dungeon Defenders which it turns out is a tower defense game built out of a first person shooter engine. I've been a big fan of tower defense style games ever since spending a lot of time playing them with my brother in WarCraft 3. I'm always interesting in seeing what kind of twist people are going to put on the genre and Dungeon Defenders has a pretty good one. There are a bunch of different character classes in the game that can build different types of towers which is to be expected, but you can also play the game as more of a FPSer instead. The game has all the standard RPG things going on with levels, classes, talent trees, equipment, and an upgrade system. You can choose to spend your levels making your towers better or you can choose to level up your personal killing power instead. Add in the fact you can play in a group of 4 people and there's lots of reasons to specialize one way or another. One person can play a tower defense game and some else could play a hack and slash, loot acquisition game.

I started playing in offline mode just to see what was going on and ended up playing 7 hours over the weekend which does bode well for the game. It turns out you can't earn achievements in offline mode (I think it's open for modding) which is a little disappointing and means I should probably restart in online mode. On the plus side then I can play with other people. On the down side most other people are jerks. Eh, you win some, you lose some.

I browsed around a bit today to see if I could figure out how scoring works. There's a leaderboard after each mission and I found my score was a lot lower than other people's scores at the same level. It turns out I spend a lot of time just wandering around picking up terrible loot to vendor and you don't actually need to do that. Any loot you leave on the ground gets automatically vendored for you at the start of the next wave. The map also highlights loot which is 'better' than your current loot in green so you know where to go to pick up potential upgrades. There's also big multiplier score bonuses for not taking any damage to your base crystals and for not taking any damage on your hero which coupled with higher time bonuses would probably help a lot.

So I figure I'm going to restart in online mode. The question is do I play the class I've leveled to 29 already and know how to play or do I go with something new?

Friday, January 04, 2013

Final Fantasy Tactics: Save Early, Save Often

Final Fantasy Tactics differs from other games in the Final Fantasy series in that it isn't a traditional turn based RPG. Instead it's played on a grid with relevant positioning. It is still turn based in the sense that every unit has a timer and takes actions when that timer fills up, and it's still Final Fantasy in the sense that you're choosing between fight actions or Final Fantasyesque spells and abilities. It uses an evolved job system continuing on from FFIII and FFV and does a pretty darn good job of it. It also tends to put you into actual even fights a lot of the time. 6 guys on 6 guys with comparable abilities. Where it takes two hits on either side to take a guy out. And where death is permanent if you don't raise them fast enough...

This means every fight matters in the game, even random encounters. In a normal Final Fantasy game most fights are irrelevant. They give you some experience and gold and drain some of your mana or potion supply. Bosses can be deadly but no one (except a solo thief) loses to a couple imps. In FFT the first fights are not jokes at all. I started up and lost a character in the first fight. I didn't save the game and immediately lost the next fight. I chose to defend stupid Argus and he went and charged deep into enemy lines and got taken out. Game Over. Start over from the beginning, idiot person who didn't save.

I like games that are hard. I like that all the fights matter more than in a normal game. I don't like how long it takes to reload a game, or how often I need to save. I feel like the game would be better if it used a 'try again' feature like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest did, but because it doesn't you need to save all the time. All the time. And even more often than that!

In other news, it turns out someone did put together a hack to fix the PSP animation slowdown issue. I had to find and install a custom firmware thing in order to run the hack, but it seemed to work just fine. And the fact that it was so easy for this guy to hack it just makes me more bitter at Square for having the issue in the first place. Boo!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Final Fantasy Tactics: Version Choice

Last summer when I went off to get a PSP in order to play Final Fantasy V on the bus Mark commented and suggested I keep my eye open for a Final Fantasy Tactics remake on the PSP. Not long after I found a copy for $10 and it's been sitting on my floor/shelf for 6 months waiting for this day to come. It's a little odd that I've had a PSP for almost 7 months but have never put in a PSP disk since everything I've played thus far has been a PSOne game downloaded off the network. I probably should have gone looking for version differences before I started playing but I figured I'd give it a go and look things up later. I played a bit, was quickly reminded of the golden rule for playing a tactics game (see if you can figure out what it is before I post about it later), and decided to look the differences up on the internet. One thing I had noticed right away is the game seemed to be lagging a lot when spells were being cast. Was this a problem with my PSP or is the game just bugged?

It would seem the PSP version is a pretty faithful remake. They added a few things in to make it a little different (2 new jobs, 2 new story characters from FFXII and FFTA2, 3 new quests) but kept pretty much everything relevant the same. The plot is the same. Combat is the same. The way you level is the same. It definitely feels like the same game and therefore it's quite reasonable to play it in this slot of the marathon and not look to play the game twice.

On the plus side they completely redid the translation. This is a very good thing since the original translation was pretty terrible. I don't remember even caring about the plot at all when I played the original version because I didn't understand it. I just went places, killed things, and leveled up. And that was great, don't get me wrong, but I'm looking forward to understanding a bit more about why I'm doing the things I'm doing.

It would also seem the original version was pretty heavily nerfed compared to the Japanese version. Square still thought at the time that the US gamer was a moron I guess. All those nerfs have been removed which sounds like it should make the game a fair bit harder. Your story characters have their stats lowered. Some bosses have their stats raised. It takes more JP to learn abilities. It takes more JP to level jobs. The job tree has harsher prerequisites. This all seems fine. They also nerfed one fight, and I bet anyone who's played the game can figure out what fight that is. The first time I played I actually had to restart from the beginning because I simply couldn't beat that fight as I was set up and there was no way to level up from where I'd last saved.

They added in some more cutscenes and added in voice acting to some of the old ones. This is the sort of chrome I like so this is pointing towards wanting to play the new version.

There's really only one downside, but it's a pretty big one. That lag I noticed isn't a problem with my system; it's a problem with the game. Apparently the Japanese version had really bad spell lag and they somewhat fixed it for the US release. This boggles my mind. Clearly that means they were aware it was an issue, couldn't actually fix it, and launched anyway. I hate this sort of thing. I'd rather have no spell animations than have jarring delays when they go off. Maybe it's worse because I played the original and now how fast these things should be? But even then the sound isn't delayed, just the graphics. I fought some enemies on the bus today which charged up a lightning attack and then zapped you. The zapping sound went off while the energy was still swirling around the skeleton and then the animation finished with no sound at all. It's really immersion breaking. Even worse is multi-target spells. I cured two people at once and had to watch the slowed down animation twice in sequence.

I want the new translation and I already bought the PSP version and not the PSN one so I guess I'm going to suck it up and give it a shot. Maybe there's a fix or hack or something that turns the animations off so I don't go crazy. Or maybe I'll get used to it. I found the tinny sounds in FFVI annoying at the start but got used to them eventually, right? (But maybe that helped FFVII pass it!)

I also wasn't sure if I wanted to do something crazy or not. A single character or single job challenge, that sort of thing. I don't think I want to put up with grinding out with the lag though, so I'm just going to go straight and narrow. I don't even think I'm going to stand around beating myself up for xp unless I reach a point where I feel I need to do so to progress.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Blood Bowl: Fan Factor

Sceadeau's league is looking to get started on Saturday which means it's getting down to crunch time as far as finalizing a team to fit under the starting salary cap. I was talking with Robb yesterday about different ways he could pare his team down to 1500 TV. His modified stats right now are 1600 which means he has to purge off 100k worth of stuff. One easy cut is my primary punching bag Lestzh, his level 1 lineman suffering from a smashed hip, a smashed ankle, and a serious concussion. I love beating that guy up and it makes me sad that he might get retired instead of getting straight up killed. That's 50k and he could just light 50k of his cash on hand on fire. But the thing that got me thinking was his 3 fan factor. He could also throw away 90k worth of cash and 1 fan factor in order to keep Lestzh! (Well, really, he should retire Lestzh and spend 50 of that 90k on a replacement but that's not nearly as fun.) But what is that fan factor even worth? My dwarves have 6 fan factor... Is that a good thing? Note that there's no easy way to gain fan factor (you need to win/draw and roll high to gain it) but it's trivial to lose fan factor (concede a match on turn 1!)

First off, what does fan factor actually do other than inflate your team value? Well, at the start of each game you roll 2d6 and add in your fan factor to determine how many of your fans showed up to the game. Your opponent does the same. Then you compare results to work out the FAME rating. If you tie, no one gets any FAME. If you're not tied the higher number gets 1 FAME. Unless they at least double the opponent, in which case they get 2 FAME. The only other use for fan factor is determining whether you gain/lose it at the end of a match and that can be pretty much ignored here. In the long term a winning team will have high fan factor, a losing team will have low fan factor. We don't care about the long term at this point in time. All we care about is if fan factor is worth the salary cap hit for entering the league.

Ok, so the only thing we care about is how fan factor impacts FAME rating. What is FAME rating good for? Well, the first thing it does is it makes you money at the end of the game. You earn 10k per FAME rating. I don't know how useful this is actually going to be. My dwarves could enter the league with 6 fan factor or 60k in cash on hand. It would take 6 FAME cash bonuses to make up the cash on hand I could have had to start with, nevermind the 60k worth of inducements I'm giving up every game by having the fan factor instead of the cash. For some teams this will matter more than others. My halflings make way more money than they could possibly spend, for example, so they really don't need the fan factor or the cash on hand. My dwarves want to save up for a deathroller because they're cool... Maybe the fan factor is a reasonable way to do that. I suspect no. End game cash is nice, but really not worth the cost. What else does FAME do?

FAME also comes into play on 4 of the kick-off results. Two of them are pretty common: cheering fans and brilliant coaching. Each one has you roll a d3 plus your FAME plus your cheerleaders or assistant coaches. High number gets a free re-roll. One of these will come up 5/18ths of the time and you'll probably have 5 kick-offs per game so you're looking at more than a re-roll per game on average being up for grabs. Some of these kick-offs will be so late in the half that the re-roll won't matter, but it's not nothing. On the other hand, my dwarves could trade in 5 fan factor for an actual re-roll in TV and that gives me a re-roll each half with no randomness involved at all. Now, the kick-off re-rolls also have the advantage of denying your opponent the free re-roll which definitely has uses. Let's look at some numbers after a break...

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Final Fantasy VII Conclusions

So I wasn't sure if I wanted to power up really hard or just go kill Sephiroth. I knew that a piece of materia I needed for twinking out was found in the final dungeon (it would let Yuffie morph all enemies with one attack which is useful for maxxing speed and luck) so as soon as I got to disk 3 I went into the final dungeon. I figured when I found the master all materia I'd decide what to do at that point since I'd need it for either of my paths. And then I ended up running into Sephiroth before finding the materia. I guess I missed a turn or something. At any rate, despite him using the most over the top move in the history of over the top moves, I won easily. Yuffie attacked for 20k each turn. Since it turns out he only has 80k health the fight didn't last very long. Pretty sure the animation on super nova was longer than the rest of the fight combined. And yes, the move super nova does cause the sun to go super nova and destroy the solar system. I don't know how we keep fighting at that point, but fight on we did.

I guess I had twinked out a little since I did farm up 50ish power sources for Yuffie and got her ultimate weapon but it's nothing like what I could have done. I didn't even get enough AP into my 2-cut materia to turn the ability into 4-cut! At any rate I beat the final boss so I guess I'm done? I still had a bunch of stuff to write about, but I guess that's what a conclusion post is for, eh?

I did manage to date Yuffie in the amusement park. She was so cute... And Cloud was such a jerk. Made me feel bad for her. Yuffie is awesome, though. Tifa would be awesome if she wasn't so... disproportioned? I've never been a fan of Aeris but maybe that's just because I know she's going to die so there's no need to get attached? Also she's terrible at beating down and my default mode in these games it to attack first and cast spells later.

I didn't get around to raising or racing chocobo. I didn't play in the battle square. I only got one ultimate weapon and didn't learn any of the level 4 limit breaks. I didn't kill ultimate weapon, emerald weapon, or ruby weapon. I hardly did any of the fort condor battles. I left a lot of stuff on the table here, and still got a lot of play-time in on the game. Around 29 hours worth. That's a fair bit more than I put into either IV, V, or VI and I did practically everything in all of those games. I'm sure I had at least 10-20 more hours of other stuff I could have done in VII.

Of course, you didn't need to do any of that stuff to beat the game... But they put in challenge bosses to make powering up mean something. That's always been one of the annoying things about IV and VI. I could get to max level and manage my stat growths and such but at the end of the day it didn't matter. Tight play could beat Zeromus and Kefka at practically any level and they were pretty much as good as it got for bad guys in those games. The same is pretty much true of Sephiroth in terms of how easy he is to beat but not in terms of the side bosses. Emerald and ruby weapons are hard. If I hadn't beaten them the first time I played I'd feel more obligated to reload before I went into the final dungeon and go beat them up. As is, I think I'm ok with skipping them.

As far as the ending goes, I remain convinced after beating it again that the humans actually lose. I don't know how Red XIII's race manages to come back to life and regain control of the planet but I don't think any humans survived the clash between planet, holy, and meteor. I wouldn't be surprised if the planet needed to kill all the humans to generate enough spirit energy to beat off meteor. The humans could then all go to the promised land and live in the lifestream of the planet where they couldn't build any more mako reactors going forward.

The question of where to rank this game on my list is a tricky one. I feel like FFVI did absolutely everything it could have done with the constraints of the SNES hardware and cartridge. I feel like FFVII did some things less well than FFVI did. But I feel that the extra power from the switch to the PlayStation really helped it out. I prefer the music in VI to VII, but it sounds better through the PS. The addition of FMV sequences really made my day, but I think I would have preferred FFVI FMVs if they'd existed. The skill system in FFVII is awesome, though having some materia be missable sours me a little bit. I never could get the added effect materia because I missed it the one time I was allowed into cosmo canyon's dungeon. The plot and bad guy in VI were better than the ones in VII. But VII has so many extra things! It's a longer game just in terms of the game itself and then it has all this extra stuff you can go do. FFVI couldn't have had minigames the way VII did. But is it fair to take that into account? I feel like I should be looking at the game as a whole here and that includes all the stuff VII could do that VI couldn't.

I never really liked VII in the past, but I think that was my contrarian behaviour shining through. I was living with a house full of people who loved VII and found VIII annoying. I saw VIII before VII, liked it, and therefore took the opposite stance. But when it comes right down to it VII is a pretty fantastic game. There's a reason VII remains the highest selling game of the Final Fantasy series. 14 year old Nick is really mad that I'm putting any newfangled PS game ahead of the awesome FFIV and FFVI, but I think I'm going to have to. Welcome to #1, FFVII. I don't know how long it's going to last, but you've earned it for now.

Next up, Final Fantasy Tactics and then whatever this Ehrgeiz thing is. I don't own that second one yet, so I guess I should probably get searching.