Sunday, March 31, 2013

Lounge Day 2013 Games Played

Friday was Lounge Day which meant lots of games to play. In particular, these are the games I played...

DC Comics Deck Building Game x2
Tzol'kin the Mayan Calendar
Bridge (including back to back 5 spades doubled contracts making! I'll wait for my cheque in the mail, Byung!)
Quarriors x5
Tally Ho!

I heard a few people complaining this year about how the couches were worse than what we had back in the day. Playing games in couches on low tables was hurting people's backs, and it was hurting mine too. But I don't think it was the couches at all. Instead I think it's us getting old. My body can't handle all the bending over that playing on a coffee table entails now. Heck, one of the games I went and sat down cross legged on the floor in order to get the table at a quasi-reasonable height.

Also on the topic of being old... Actually seeing University age people is a shocking reminder of just how young they look, and by extension, just how old the people I do see on a regular basis are.

There were also too many kids around. Boo kids! Boo! People who have kids are old.

I ate out twice in Waterloo and don't seem to have gotten sick from either place. Yay! The server at Mel's knew about gluten allergies and knew enough to say the homefries weren't going to kill me. They weren't very good regardless, but they were still edible. The poor girl at Sunshine's, on the other hand, didn't seem to understand what the word 'wheat' meant. Or vegetable, for that matter. I'm not very comfortable talking to people in general so spending a couple minutes trying to explain what I wanted to eat was very taxing. Eventually I became convinced that the chicken fried rice probably wasn't made with soya sauce, and risked it. I asked for no vegetables, but when that got a blank stare I fell back to just no onions. I can pick around peas and carrots if I have to, but onion flavour is pervasive!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Lounge Day

I was going to make a Friday joke for Lounge Day this year, but then I did a quick search of my old posts and found I did just that last year. Man, Nick of 2012 was a witty guy. Or something...

At any rate, today is Lounge Day. A day full of board games in the math Comfy Lounge at the University of Waterloo. This is the 12th such iteration (always on 'Good Friday' every year) which means one thing: We're OOOOOOOOLD! Wow! Come on down and play some games, it'll be fun.

Remember... Byung is a cylon!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pro Golf Email Tournament

The Boardgame Players Association (the organization that puts on the World Boardgaming Championships each year) also runs some online tournaments throughout the year. These tournaments are worth laurels towards the annual Caesar award and look like they have plaques associated with them. Plus they're an excuse to get organized board games played, which is always pretty sweet.

There's a play by email event starting on Monday (April 1st) for the game Pro Golf. Pro Golf is one of the late night 'silly' games played at WBC, but it's one I haven't played. The description of the game didn't really make it sound terribly interesting and as a C class event there isn't even a demo to attend to see if I'd like playing it or not. I would need to show up and get taught during the game, and it's just never hit the top of my priority list. Chances are pretty good that either I'm playing in an overlapping event or that none of Robb, Pounder, or I are and we'd just eat waffles or open game instead. (Oof. Waffle House. I wonder if I should even eat there now.) But even if a game isn't really very good it deserves to be played at least once. This seems like a good chance to learn the game, and maybe it'll be a good time.

I read through the rules, and it really sounds like a golf themed snakes and ladders. Roll 2d6, look up the result on a chart. Repeat 70-80 times. It sounds like some of the time you get to make a decision in terms of what type of shot you're going to take but it isn't clear how often that comes up. That said, I may be missing something key here, which is why it's good to play everything once! It also doesn't sound like it would take a terribly long time, and it would let me learn a new online game framwork (ACTS, whatever that is), so it seems like a reasonable thing to do. You do need to be a BPA member to play.

The potential to collect more laurels can't hurt, either... It's a number to make bigger, and we all know how I feel about those!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Final Fantasy VIII: SeeD Rank

Final Fantasy VIII has a subsystem in the game that tracks how highly ranked you are in the mercenary group SeeD. I knew from previous plays that you made money over time based on how high your rank was, that there is a max rank, and that the best way to rank up is by taking little true/false quizzes. I also knew that the number of quizzes you could take is based on Squall's maximum level and therefore that my SeeD rank would likely be pretty low in a game where I never level. Is this going to cause problems? If so I could probably address the issue by maxing out my initial rank by doing well on the first couple missions. Is that worth worrying about?

The short answer was no. It isn't going to cause problems, and it really wasn't worth worrying about. Of course since I'd looked into it and figured out how to score highly I did the best I could (how could I not try to make a number get bigger) but it didn't really help out in any relevant way. All your SeeD rank does is gets you more money on each pay-day. And since there are other ways to make money, and since you could just run in circles to proc more paydays, it's really not a game breaker to make less money each pay-day.

One interesting thing I discovered was that you can actually kill the 'unbeatable' monster (X-ATM092) during the invasion of Dollet. Normally you beat it up a bit, it falls down, and you run away. You have a time limit so running away is how you survive the mission. But it turns out if you stand around it'll heal to full, and you can beat it up again. Do this enough times and eventually it stops getting up! Killing it is worth an extra SeeD rank, a ton of AP, and a powerful item. I actually gave this a shot and managed to kill it. Woo! Unfortunately it turns out that you don't get random encounters in Dollet while running from X-ATM092 but once you kill it they come back. And those random encounters are with humans (immune to the card ability) that are worth experience, and where you can't run from the fights. On your way into Dollet you have Seifer in your party and he can earn all that experience for you (after killing Squall and Zell off, which I'm sure thrilled Seifer to no end) but on the way out you have to eat that experience. I'm playing without leveling, which meant this was unacceptable, so I had to restart and go again without killing him.

It also turns out you can avoid a lot of the fights with X-ATM092. You can dodge him on one screen. If you use the walk button to move slowly you avoid him on another. A third time you can trick him into jumping over you to avoid a fight. And apparently there's a cafe you can hide in and he'll just run on by! I've got to say, I really like that all those things exist even if I never figured them out myself.

One final point on this topic... I think the idea of the SeeD quizzes is pure genius. What better way is there to teach the player about quirks in the game system. Just having NPCs talk about stuff (like how only physical damage will break sleep) is boring. But tieing that information into a system where the player gets to both make a number go up and earn more money over time by doing it is just awesome. And if you don't want to do it for some reason, you aren't harshly punished for it. Win-win!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Final Fantasy VIII: Dance!

I talk a bit from time to time about how awesome the PSX era Full Motion Videos are. Of all the videos in all the games, this one is by far my favourite. No other character in a video game makes me wish I was them as much as Squall does in this video. I wish the guy in this video had chosen the '...' response to Selphie, though.

If you find a PSX memory card lying around in my apartment (or possibly even still on Josh's or Byung's) you'll find a save game right before the start of this scene. I have one on my PSP now. So I can go watch the video when I feel like it!

The FMV starts at 1:45 in the linked YouTube video. I really like how they did Rinoa's facial expressions. The whole thing really shows off the power of the PSX.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Final Fantasy VIII Plan

Final Fantasy VIII may be the most controversial game of the series. A lot of people hate the game (especially compared to Final Fantasy VII), but a lot of people love it. I think the main reason so many people have a problem with the game is the magic and leveling system in FFVIII is so different than in any of the previous games. They took a chance for the sake of innovation and learned some harsh lessons. On the other hand the music, characters, and story in the game are all pretty great. I can experience all of those no matter how I play, though... Is there a cool way to play the game while skirting around some of the issues with the magic and level systems?

I guess the place to start is to look at the quirks in the system. To start, the magic system is essentially a consumable spell system similar to Final Fantasy Legend II. You own a set number of copies of a spell. You can cast it that many times and then you're done. The twist in FFVIII is the primary way to generate more shots of the spells. You have a 'draw' command that lets you siphon up to 9 copies of a spell from an enemy that can cast the spell. A given enemy will tend to have around 2 different spells you can draw and you can store up to 100 copies of a spell on each of your characters. Drawing 300 copies of a spell when you get maybe 5 on average means 60 uses of the draw command for practically every spell in the game. This unfortunately results in very long, boring fights with enemies the first time you meet them and then a complete disregard for them going forward.

But why do you want 300 copies of every spell? If you've been following along you know I rarely cast spells as it is. Even when you get all your magic points back by sleeping in an inn I'm more apt to have Rydia beat down than actually cast spells most of the time. So why bother drawing so many of every spell? Cure spells, sure... But do I really need 300 fire, and 300 blizzard, and 300 thunder? In some sense, no, I don't. But in two very real senses I absolutely do. The first sense is my desperate need for completionism. I have to catch them all! There's a number I can make bigger, and that has an absolute cap. Just the way my brain is wired this means I'm either going to completely ignore the number or I'm going to max it out. The other sense it matters, and this is a real one, is the junction system for getting more powerful.

The primary way you get more powerful in FFVIII is by getting the ability to 'junction' spells onto your stats. My base strength is 10. If I have 100 copies of the fire spell and junction it to my strength then my strength becomes more like 24. Each spell has a different ratio for improving each stat. Cure is really good for raising wisdom but not so good at raising strength. As such, if you want to optimize your power level (and I do) then you need access to 100 copies of a wide variety of spells. As the game progresses you get access to new tiers of spells (firaga is going to boost your strength more than fire did) so you need to keep collecting 100 copies as you move along to keep maxing out your stats. Possibly with a full list of spell-stat ratios you'd know in advance what spells to collect and which you could skip but that seems like a lot of work. It's just easier to draw 100 of everything for each character and then compare in the menus afterwards. More tedious, but easier.

A final problem with the leveling system follows from the above point. Your primary path to power is the junction system, but there is also a standard 'gain experience to gain levels' system. In what was likely an attempt to keep the game difficulty smooth the whole way through and make every fight remain relevant they decided to scale the monsters in every zone of the game to your character level. As you go up in levels, the enemies go up in levels. So wandering around in the forest outside Balamb will always be a comparable challenge at every stage of the game. This is contrary to something like FFIV where the imps outside Baron started off super easy and became trivial at all other points in the game. Or something like FFII where if you took one step in the wrong direction you would run into stupidly powerful monsters and die instantly. As the monsters level up they unlock new spells to draw, which made for a reasonable power progression. You gain xp, which levels you up, which levels the monsters up, which gives you access to higher level spells, which makes you more powerful. A nice idea!

The issue here is that there are other ways to get spells other than just drawing them from higher level monsters. You can find spells in dungeons, for example. You even gain the ability to temporarily level up a monster, so you could power up a single random encounter monster, draw really high levels spells out of them, and then run away. Beyond that, you also gain the ability to refine items and cards into spells. Cards is the big one, since you can play the card game at any stage of the game and win really good cards as ante against some people. Refine those cards into top tier spells and suddenly you've picked up most of the power you can by leveling without going up in level at all! This means actually leveling up is a bad idea. The monsters will gain the full amount of their power boost from your leveling, but you only get part of the power.

This leads to the unfortunate conclusion that the way to twink out is to actually never level up at all. The game seems to be designed with this in mind... All bosses are worth no experience. You can run from most other fights, and can use the card ability or the stone spell to kill the other ones off for no experience. I remember watching Byung play a game like this once and was intrigued. I don't remember if he killed all the challenge monsters like this or not, but I'm going to give it my best shot. The challenging part of this challenge, I believe, is to not gain any experience. The fights themselves should be pretty easy since fighting level 7 monsters when you have ultima/tornado/firaga junctioned to your stats should be a bit of a joke. We'll see, anyway!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Blood Bowl: Efficiently Removing Opponents

I've been reading the forums on FumBBL for the last few days and a lot of people seem pretty bitter about one particular skill combination. They seem to think most of the rules in the most recent edition are pretty good, but that there's one combo that is so good everyone should be taking it if they're trying to be optimal. So the people who are trying to be optimal take it, and the people who don't care get ruined by the people who do and get annoyed. The Cyanide league I'm playing in doesn't have anyone with the full combo, and only one person who has taken one of the pieces at all. Are we all being inefficient or are the whiners on the FumBBL boards just whining for the sake of it?

The combo is a three skill combo where every skill helps to increase the odds of taking out an enemy player. The skills are claw, mighty blow, and piling on. Claw works by setting the target's armour to 7 if it was more than 7, which is +2 to armour rolls against most of my dwarves. Mighty blow works by adding +1 to the armour roll if needed. If not needed it instead adds +1 to injury roll. Piling on works by allowing you to knock yourself over to reroll either the armour or injury roll. How good are these things alone and in concert? I built a little chart containing the chance to at least knock someone out, as follows:

Skills7 AC8 AC9 AC9 AC(ts)

The table is laid out by armour value, with the last column indicating someone with 9 armour who also has the thick skull skill, which my dwarves have. Looking at the chart, piling on is actually the best of the single skills regardless of armour value, though claw is actually marginally better on a 9AC target without thick skull. For a 2-skill combo the best one against someone with 7 or 8 AC is mighty blow + piling on. Against someone with 9 AC it's claw + piling on. The full combo is more likely to KO+ someone than it is to fail to do so, which does seem pretty absurd. You're multiplying by 8.4 the chance of taking out someone with 9AC!

Piling on really seems like the best, so why is there only one copy of it in our league? Well, it does have some downsides. Putting yourself on the ground makes you vulnerable to being fouled, and it means you can't provide assists for the rest of your turn and the entire enemy turn. On the other hand it also means you can't get blocked or blitzed! Many people seem pretty reluctant to foul at all, which means putting your guy on the ground is actually the safest place for him. Falling down also means you have to spend the next turn standing up instead of blocking. I know my mental state put piling on in a category where I wanted to also have jump up, so I haven't even been considering it, but that is probably a leak in my game. Taking 3 movement to stand up is a big deal for my dwarves, though. Most of my team has 4 movement... Falling down probably puts that guy out of the play for a couple turns. My team is also built around massive amounts of guard, and having a guy with guard fall down is just terrible for me. That said, I do have a blitzer with mighty blow and +1 movement as his two skills thus far. Next time he levels, unless he rolls +1 agility, I think I should probably take piling on. And then do all my blitzing with him. I can never get access to claw, which makes me sad, but MB+PO is still a 58% chance at taking out a squishy dude! And since my guy has 9 armour and doesn't have guard it's not so bad if he falls down either. He's hard to hurt with a foul and I don't mind losing the tackle zone quite as much.

On a sad note my quarterfinals match will actually be against the one guy who has piling on. I'm considering keeping my Deathroller on the roster solely to foul that guy when he piles on. Deathroller has dirty player, see... And I don't mind if he gets kicked out. My cheapest player is 70k, so fouling out comes with a real cost to it for me normally so I try not to do it. But that one guy is more than 5 times as likely to take out one of my players than an unskilled dude, so getting rid of him seems important.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Last week the Cyanide Blood Bowl client went on sale over Steam. I tried to get some of the old Comfy Prime Blood Bowlers to buy in, but didn't generate much interest. Duncan is still playing a lot of Blood Bowl, but he's playing with a different internet client. He doesn't want to switch, and would rather I go play over there. It reminds me a lot of the League of Legends vs DotA 2 conversations I have from time to time with people. Both are fine games, both get better when you can play with your friends instead of random dudes, and both require such a time investiture in learning/experience that switching games is non-trivial. My life would be better if Drew played LoL. His life would be better if I played DotA 2. But neither of us really want to make that switch. Or maybe it's like choosing an MMORPG. Way back in the day I preferred Final Fantasy XI, but all my friends played World of Warcraft. It was better to play the 'worse' game with my friends than the 'better' game with strangers.

But while those pairs of games had potentially significant differences which really prevent playing both at once, this is just two different clients for the same game, right? It should be feasible to play both? At the very least it felt like I should give FumBBL a try to see what it was like in order to compare the two. I did the same with DotA 2, after all!

I created an account, made a vampire team, and played three games this week. Certainly not enough games to really get intimately familiar with the system, but enough to get a feel for things. Here's what it feels like the differences are between the two:

Graphics - Cyanide has a pretty board with animated models for the players. FumBBL uses tiny gifs.

Speed - Coupled with those animations comes the time it takes to watch the players move around. FumBBL can speedwalk the moves. Robb and Lino were able to play about 5 turns in Cyanide in the time it took me to play 9 on FumBBL.

Sound - Cyanide has top notch sound effects. It has colour commentators with amusing, though limited, phrases. Going to get Big Moot sandwiches in the stands, ("Now way, but little elf beauties... Yeah!") things like that. FumBBL has very short, cheap sounds when people walk, get hit, and get hurt.

Rules - They both ostensibly use the latest edition of the official rules. Cyanide added in some extra inducements and didn't implement cards or many of the star players. FumBBL hasn't implemented most of the cards but didn't add anything else in to make up the gap. They both seem to be lacking a bit, but it is annoying in the Cyanide game to need to make sure people don't use the wizard multiple times.

Rules Mods - FumBBL has a bunch of different options you can turn on when making a game. Things to nerf the overpowered combo, or to buff fouling for example. It may only have one guy coding it, but it's a lot leaner so those little things can actually happen.

Bugs - I haven't run afoul of any FumBBL bugs yet, and when they exist I suspect they get fixed a lot faster than in Cyanide. Cyanide has a ton of bugs, some of them pretty brutal. Sometimes it makes one of your guys invisible when you're setting up before a kickoff, so you only get to position 10 dudes instead of 11. Then the invisible guy magically appears somewhere when you kick. I remember one game against Robb where one of his better guys got helpfully placed on the line of scrimmage for me to hit! Other times it will let you field 12 or more guys. It wouldn't let me sub out my Deathroller one game. Apparently there's a brutal bug with leap and blood lust where the movement overlay goes away if you fail the blood lust roll. (One reason I was happy to try vampires on FumBBL instead of on Cyanide!)

Movement Planning - Cyanide has a really nice feature where you can declare a blitz, tell it the path you want to take, and then see what type of hit you'll be making. Or you can tell it what move you'll take and then see what the pass odds are. It doesn't seem like FumBBL does that for you, which means you have to be better at planning your move before starting it on there than on Cyanide. On the other hand Cyanide'd system is bugged, and there's one case where it doesn't account for an assist when it should and lies in terms of your blitzing odds. (If you dodge away from a guy you were marking, but end up walking back in beside him to blitz another guy it thinks you're still marking that guy.)

Community - The FumBBL site has forums that seem reasonably populated. Maybe this is just an issue where there's no quick link in Cyanide to their forums so I don't get visibility to it. But it really seems like there's more discussion and events and stuff on FumBBL than on Cyanide. Now, a lot of those threads seem to be complaining about fouling, stalling, cherrypicking, min/maxxing, or claw+mighty blow+piling on...

Team Mobility - FumBBL forces you to choose what style team you're making and has no way to change it afterwards. So my vampire team was set up to play in their pick-up game matchmaking system. That's all it can do. I can't transfer them over to an on-going league later on. I can't play personally planned out games against someone else. If they want a match, it's going to be with a randomly generated opponent. Oh, and it's going to only start a game every 15 minutes. If I want to play a game at 8:01, tough luck. I have to wait until 8:15 to see if maybe I get an opponent. Cyanide lets you quit and join leagues at will (though many leagues only accept brand new teams) and the matchmaking happens on the fly. Of course I still need to have a willing opponent also trying to find a game at the same time.

Spectating - Both games allow you to spectate games in progress, but with different twists. Cyanide forces you to start watching the game at the beginning but has a fast forward button. FumBBL has you tag in live and watch as things happen. I much prefer getting to the live action right away, but once there the added graphics make spectating in the Cyanide game feel better. In FumBBL you do get to chat with the players and other spectators, though. It's also easier to find a game to watch. And you can replay games after the fact from the website while you need a copy of the replay to watch a Cyanide game later.

User Base - It's hard to tell but my gut feeling from trying to spectate games in both clients is that there are more games going on in Cyanide than in FumBBL. Now, the games also seem to take half the time, so there may actually be comparable numbers of games completed.

Major Events - FumBBL apparently puts on big tournaments with crazy prizes every now and then that seem pretty interesting. You're never going to get a Cyanide team to resurrect a dead dude, or give claw to a saurus!

*EDIT* Statistics - Cyanide provides a log after the game and someone wrote a nice parser that pulls out how you fared on the different types of rolls (d6, 2d6, blocking). I haven't found any such thing in FumBBL and it's really sad.

Both clients seem to do a pretty reasonable job of playing Blood Bowl, and both have upsides and downsides. I feel like the reduced playing time and the extra silly league modifications make FumBBL a little better for me, but I guess time will tell if that pans out. On the plus side I don't think the two games are mutually exclusive at all the way LoL and DotA2 are, so I see no reason why I shouldn't keep playing in Sceadeau's Cyanide league while also playing FumBBL. I don't know that I have a strong desire to level up a new Cyanide team anymore, but I'm pretty happy playing my adorable little dorfs. At least once I fire that stupid Deathroller...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Scarlet Blade

Yesterday I'd started thinking again about gender mixes in the Final Fantasy series. I'm playing Final Fantasy VIII which has an even split, and I was wondering about how male oriented it was going to seem on this play through. I don't actually remember all that much in terms of details in the game, but I was making a mental note to try to pay attention while playing. Then last night while browsing for something or other (I think I was looking for Blood Bowl patch notes) I saw an odd advertisement. It was advertising the open beta for what it termed an 'adult MMORPG'. The picture featured a scantily clad armoured woman with a big sword, so pretty much par for the course in terms of a gaming ad. Even browser games with no graphics to speak of will stick a girl in a revealing outfit in the ad to draw attention, right Evony?

What, I wondered, is an adult MMO? Are we talking some sort of Sims style game with the sex uncensored? Does it feature a lot of colourful language and an epic amount of blood and guts? Cigarettes? I did some poking around and it sounds like, for the most part, a pretty standard MMO with a sci-fi setting. You have quests to go kill 10 monsters. You level up. You can group for dungeons. There are two factions with massively scaled PvP battles. (80v80, apparently? 40 per side in Alterac Valley was bad enough, though I guess computers have gotten a lot better since then!) There's a tank class, a healer class, and 4 DPS classes. It's also running under a 'free to play' model, with an item shop. The item shop seems to have gone in a good direction in that it doesn't seem to be 'pay to win' at all. There are things to increase your backpack size temporarily, or to give an experience buff, or non-combat pets, or new outfits for your character to wear. A lot like the League of Legends item shop, actually. Or the World of Warcraft one. Nothing at all like the one in Ultima Online where you had to pay real money to prevent people from stealing your stuff.

There is one item I've never, ever seen before, and which is the reason they're advertising it as being adult. It's the 'lingerie unsealer'. Which apparently does what it creepily sounds like. All MMOs pretty much have a base level of clothing your character has to wear. Take off all your armour in World of Warcraft and you've still got your underwear on. Pay $20 in Scarlet Blade and your character doesn't have to wear underwear anymore...

I don't know how I'm supposed to feel about this. On the one hand I was brought up to be quite prudish and the idea of nipples everywhere just seems wrong. But on the other hand there's actually nothing wrong with nipples. The game is going to get an appropriate rating to keep little kids from playing it if you think they need to be kept away. And really, you're on the internet. If you just want to see nipples, you can find them. Or you could just watch the Super Bowl or the Oscars...

Oh, and one other twist to the game... You cannot play a male character. Everyone has to play a girl. I'd say woman, but apparently one of the classes looks 12. Apparently there's quite the controversy since the publisher is changing the way that class looks, especially when naked, for the US version. Some people think it's sick that she exists in any version. Some people think it's appalling that it's getting censored. People on the internet... Angry about anything!

I read one blog that made the claim that this game is actually less sexist than other MMOs. The idea was that while sure, it's full of naked women, they're actually all awesomely powerful naked women. It's a game celebrating women, unlike most games which seek to set women up as worse than men. Pretty much every other game has sexist design choices. FFXI wouldn't let you play a sexy cat man. Mithran were exclusively female. FFXI wouldn't let you play an optimal female tank. Galkans were exclusively male, and they were the toughest by far. In WoW there were pieces of armour that looked to offer real protection on men, but had bare midriffs and exposed cleavage on women. Having it seem like plate armour is fully covering some of the time implies armour does something and makes it ludicrous when the female characters are all exposed. In Scarlet Blade everyone is exposed, so clearly something else is coming into play to protect people from grievous injury. League of Legends keeps coming out with cool skins for their male characters and revealing skins for their female characters. Doing some of both for each gender would seem to be more fair, but male gaze pretty much keeps that from happening. Did random blog have a point? I certainly think things would be a lot worse if Scarlet Blade just had the mage and healer classes be naked women while the tanks and melee attackers were clothed men, so maybe they were right and this, somehow, is a step in the right direction? I don't know, and I don't know how to find out. Anyone have any opinions one way or the other?

Apparently there's a real sci-fi plot going on that explains why all the player characters are female. I read a fair number of comments from people saying things along the lines of 'I only logged on to check out the boobs, but it was actually a pretty good MMO'. Part of me really wants to check it out. It's in beta which is normally a deal breaker for me, but I think there's an exception to my buying new games rant from last week. No, not the boobs. It's localization. This game has apparently been out in Korea for more than a year. I'm sure there will be bugs and translation issues with a localization, but the game shouldn't be an unpolished mess. It's not like the game isn't tested, or doesn't have all the features coded, or they haven't bought enough servers. All of these things presumably were solved in the Korean release. I recall that FFXI's US launch was a lot smoother than the WoW launch that happened later that year for these reasons. The FFXIV launch that was global? Complete disaster. Just like pretty much every other launch I've seen. Except Blizzard expansions.

Also it would seem that you can get an ultimate ability which transforms you into a mech... But for some reason instead of having your character inside a cockpit or something you're actually attached to the outside of the mech, exposed skin and all. This just seems really, really weird...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Final Fantasy VIII: Intro Video

My Kobo recently got itself stuck in a frozen state. I'm pretty sure the fix is as easy as finding a thin pin and hitting the hidden reset button on the back, but I'm lazy and haven't gotten around to it. I spent the last couple days on the bus reading an actual book Andrew lent me but I finished that off yesterday. I could have started rereading a different book I have, or actually fix my Kobo, but I decided what I really wanted to do on the bus was play Final Fantasy VIII. So, today, I started it up.

I posted a couple times about the full motion video cutscenes in Final Fantasy VII. I remember not being very impressed by them when I played the game back in the day, but was blown away this time around. I mused that maybe the reason for that is I initially played FFVII after watching many people play FFVIII and the videos probably weren't nearly as visually refined. Well, the first thing I was treated to on the bus today definitely points in that direction...

Now, the actual stuff going on in the video isn't epic in and of itself. You've got a woman wandering around in a field. You've got a couple of dudes sparring with swords. You get some brief flashes of a regal woman. There are some words floating around. But the detail in the scenes is amazingly crisp. The music is incredible. There are nice little touches, like when Seifer (one of the sparring dudes) pulls out the old 'bring it' hand motion. It later goes to show that Seifer fights dirty, and then there's actual blood spatter when Squall (the other sparring dude) gets cut open.

This intro video is awesome. I hope the rest of the FMVs are as high quality as this one!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Blood Bowl: Deathroller Revisited

Three 'weeks' ago I'd purchased a Deathroller for my dwarven Blood Bowl team. He's a massive dude, but a big cheater. Deathrollers are the strongest units in the game and don't have a standard big guy disability where he loses a sixth of his actions. Instead he gets kicked off of the field at the end of any drive. I'd never used one before, and it sounded awesome, so I gave him a try. Having now played three matches with him, how has he turned out?

My first match was against vampires. I lost the coin toss and my opponent chose to receive. The client then bugged out on me and wouldn't let me take the Deathroller off the field. I could swap my sub in for anyone else, and I could reposition the Deathroller just fine, but I couldn't take him off. This made me very sad. I was going to have to start him, my opponent was going to use his 2 5 agility dudes to score quickly, and I wasn't going to get to use him. My opponent certainly tried that plan, and went for a quick pick up + hand-off + pass + run way out of range. Unfortunately for him he rolled some 1s and ended up dropping the ball near the end of that sequence, before he could run away. So the ball was beside most of my team and not much of his team. I seized the advantage and ended up scoring on turn 8. My opponent stopped standing guys up to hit so the Deathroller fouled a couple of times and then was sent off. I won the game 3-0.

My second match was against wood elves. This time I got to receive and happily lined up my Deathroller. The kick went very deep and my backfield ended up exposed while I punched a bunch of his dudes. The ball ended up on the ground near midfield at the start of my second or third turn. There was an awesome opportunity for my Deathroller to pull off a 3 die blitz near the sidelines. With blood on my mind I charged into it as the first thing I did, and hit my 1 in 216 for triple skulls. I tried the reroll and loner didn't screw me. Hurray! Of course the very next thing I did was throw a 2 die block with a dwarf and hit my 1 in 36. Double skulls, turnover. The elves picked up the ball, passed it downfield, and got it into a position where I couldn't take it away. Next turn they scored, sending off the Deathroller. I did end up winning the game 2-1.

The third match was against khemri. He was receiving but I decided khemri weren't apt to score really quickly so I started the Deathroller to try to deal with some mummies. He ended up trying for a crazy play to get the Deathroller off the field. Crazy in that he passed to a 2 agility dude that I just neglected to cover. It worked, he scored, and I lost the Deathroller. But he did score quickly, and I was going to receive in the second half, and the Deathroller had taken out a mummy, so my way was good. Mediocre positioning coupled with terrible rolls made it so I didn't actually score and lost 1-0.

So, how did the Deathroller fair? He directly lead to a bad turnover, but that was actually me misplaying the position. I could have moved some free dudes to surround the ball first. So him existing may have made me misplay, but that isn't my fault. In the other two games him existing caused my opponents to take risky lines of play. In the game against the khemri there was a 43.75% chance that he fails his desperation pass. If he does then the ball lands in range of most of my team and beside exactly 1 of his dudes. That feels like it would have likely been a dominant position for me. In the other game the risky line of play did backfire on my opponent, I did get the ball on his reception, and I did dominate the game. The Deathroller hasn't really made plays himself, but he has influenced the board position every time.

That said, he is also worth 160k of team value. What would inducements have looked like without him? Against the vampire team he got 100k which he used on 2 bloodwiser babes. Instead I could have had an agility potion. He made 8 KO rolls over the course of the game, and 3 of them succeeded because of the babes. That is actually a pretty significant difference. Against the wood elves he had 650k of inducements and got 2 bloodwiser babes, a wizard, a halfling master chef, and a reroll. He rolled 5 times for KO with 3 of them succeeding thanks to the babes. I believe the wizard is why the ball was loose to set up the early score which took the Deathroller off the field. Probably if I don't have the Deathroller he doesn't get the master chef and instead gets another reroll and an agility potion or something. In the third game my opponent had 40k of inducements, so he got an agility potion which worked, giving him a second guy with 3 agility, sure hands, and pass. Without the Deathroller I get 3 agility potions of my own which is huge. Some of my failed scoring rolls probably work if I have 2 or 3 dudes with 4 agility instead of none at all. I could also have targeted his one guy with 3 agility.

My feeling is the Deathroller is absolutely not worth the inducements swing if the values are close. If I'm way out in front, like against the wood elves, I think he's just fine. If I'm way behind he's also just fine, but then I could induce a freelance Deathroller for 190k. It really feels like I should just fire him and move on with my life. My next game actually has a massive TV difference so I'm going to keep him for that game and see if he doesn't get the MVP and level. If he does, and he gets block, maybe I'll keep him. After that, if I make the play-offs, I'll decide based on my opponent's team value whether I should fire him or not. The match will be against Mike's norse team if I make it. I feel like if the Deathroller doesn't have block he's probably a liability in that match, though I may need to buy a 13th real dude in that case. Maybe I should buy the extra dude before my game against the elves this week to give him a chance of skilling up?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Blood Bowl: Team Value Efficiency

Three months ago I posted about old guidelines for creating Blood Bowl teams from scratch for budding team designers. The guy who did the analysis basically concluded that dwarves and norse in particular are undercosted because they pay less for block than the formula dictates. In a starting team on starting team brawl this is going to make a huge difference which makes both those teams excellent teams at 1000 TV. Duncan commented on an earlier post that dwarves and norse both tail off in power as they level up. A recent thread on Facebook for my Blood Bowl league resulted in people chiming in with the same thoughts. As the coach of a high level dwarf team I'm forced to agree. It feels like the problem is that every other team, when leveled up, can replicate the starting dwarf power (most characters can get block on a regular skill roll, and do) but dwarves have a really hard time replicating other team's initial power. Dwarves have low movement and low agility so they're always going to have a hard time scoring, and they have no level up path to really get there. I'd be happier with my scoring chances if I'd rolled +1 agility on multiple blitzers and runners but I haven't gotten it on any of them. One blitzer did get +1 movement, but even that just brings him up to 6 movement.

Looking at the numbers a bit more, dwarven linemen are considered undercosted because they only pay 20k for block while every other player who starts with block pays 30k. But practically every player in the game with a normal level up also pays only 20k for block! On the other hand during player creation you only pay 10k for an extra movement (20k for specifically movement 7), but when you level up you pay 30k for it. An extra agility will cost you 20k during player creation but 40k when you level up. The 4th strength is actually worth 60k during team creation and only 50k when you level up. Any other strength is worth 30k on team creation but they all cost 50k when you level up.

Some skills only cost 10k when you create the player while they cost 20k or 30k if you level into them. Those skills are frenzy, horns, leap (3 agility or less), pass (3 agility or less), right stuff, stunty, thick skull, and throw teammate. Many of these are things you'd never dream of taking when you leveled. Frenzy, horns, and pass on a low agility dude are the only ones that I really see people take.

On the other side some skills cost 30k when you create the player. These are big hand, block, claw, dauntless, foul appearance, guard, leader, multiple block, regeneration, stand firm, strong arm, tentacles, and titchy. A pretty powerful set of skills, and some of them you can't level into. Undead teams pay a lot for regeneration, but they actually can't get it on the cheap later. Block is the big one that people can actually start with, and they all end up paying through the nose for the early power. But if you're playing the team value game, it can be bad to start with it.

There is an exception here. If your player is so expensive that they should be costed over 100k then any things they buy over 100k are half price. High elf blitzers, for example, should cost 110k when they pay 30k for block. Instead they actually cost 100k. (I guess they rounded down after halving!) So a high elf blitzer essentially only pays 20k for block. (They cost 30k more than a lineman and get +1 movement and block. Definitely a good buy!)

What this means is if you're trying to optimize the team value game you actually want to avoid most characters that start with block. On the other hand players that cost more than 100k are actually really efficient in terms of team value, so getting lots of those can be good. If you want to have frenzy then finding a player that starts with it is better than picking it up later. If you're a non-elf team that wants to pass the ball then it's cost efficient to have someone that starts with pass skill on your team. Dauntless, on the other hand, is a bad plan. You only pay 20k to pick it up from the general skill list but you have to pay 30k to start with it. Nevermind the fact that I almost never see anyone willing to spend the level on it! I've been reasonably happy with it on my troll slayers, but when you look at it closer the troll slayer had to give up an agility and an armour compared to my blitzer in order to get dauntless. That's just a bad trade! I'd much rather have the agility and armour and then use my first skill up on dauntless if I really wanted it.

There are a few other things to keep in mind. One is skill category access. It's easy to say that block costs 20k, but for some people it actually doesn't. If you don't have general skill access then it costs you 30k and you actually need to roll doubles. Anyone without general skill access would love to pay 30k to start with block! Now, no such character actually exists. If you don't have general skill access you don't get to start with block. The point is that while it's easy for me to say that anyone can just pay 20k to get the block advantage of the dwarf team it isn't completely true. Big guys and stunty guys are going to have a hard time finding block. When you look at other skill categories than general it also gets tricky. Strength skill access lets you pick up things like guard, mighty blow, and stand firm. A high elf team doesn't have any strength skill access at all, so while they can level up block to catch up a little to the dwarves they're not getting nearly as much guard or mighty blow. High elves can't realistically become as bashy as dwarves as a result, just like dwarves can't realistically become high flyers.

Another is the increasing scale for levels. Sure, you can give all of your zombies block and tackle as their first two skills. Then they're 4/3/2/8 block/tackle/regeneration for 80k compared to 4/3/2/9 block/tackle/thick skull for 70k. That's at least comparable. But their next level is going to cost them 15 SPP and they can't get strength skill access while the dwarf lineman only needs 6 SPP to level and can get guard. While the initial comparison is fairly comparable the dwarf guy is going to get better, faster. This is a huge deal at low TV, but it's also a real thing during a league as well. Guys are going to die and need to get replaced. The dwarf lineman starts off in a better place and is a much better replacement.

Finally, rerolls actually cost a different amount depending on the team. Assuming you end up with 4 rerolls a team that gets them for 50k each is going to save a whopping 80k in team value over a team that pays 70k for them. If you have someone with passing skill access you probably want to get leader for 20k to cut that down a little?

Here's the thing... I like my dwarf team, and I have fun playing them, but I also like being powerful and actually having a chance to suddenly score. I try to make plays with my dwarves, and sometimes it works, but it doesn't feel like it should work. I feel like I want to have guys with more than 6 movement, or more than 3 agility, or both. But I do like making with the punching too...

At any rate... What teams look like they might be really good for team value efficiency? The keys I'm looking for are guys over 100k, not guys with block/dauntless/stand firm, and lots of movement/armour since that stuff is way cheaper when you're just starting. Having a 4 agility is pretty cost efficient, but I don't know that I need a whole team with it. Getting down to 1 or 2 agility on linemen type guys is actually pretty hot I think. Looking a little closer, it seems sure hands sometimes only costs 10k. Every time it does, it's on a guy with 3 agility and pass which seems like a pretty good combo. I'm on the fence with strength. The 4th strength does cost 10k more than earning it via a level, but you only get it every 36 levels and it is only an extra 10k. So I feel like 4 strength guys are still quite reasonable. 2 strength guys are actually not terrible either. You burn off 30k worth of team value for a stat you might not care so much about? I guess I probably care about it an awful lot, and having 14 guys with 2 strength is really unacceptable, but I don't know if having a couple of 2 strength dudes is going to be the end of the world.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

MLG Winter Championships

It turns out this weekend was the quarterly MLG major event. The format seemed to change a fair bit. The last time I tuned in the MLG championships were pretty much a big open event. Top seeds would maybe get some byes or start off in a separate pool play while open entrants played double elimination, but the big thing was that anyone who wanted to show up and pay could play. This time around seemed different. They only had 32 people in the StarCraft II event, and it was straight single elimination. League of Legends ran 3 mini-events (12 standard LCS matches, a LCS qualifier from the minor leagues, and a 4 team exhibition event with a top EU team and a top Korean team against two of the NA LCS teams). I didn't watch any of the Call of Duty stuff, so I don't know how that worked. Fighting games and Halo were both dropped entirely. The crowds still seemed pretty big despite not being able to compete themselves, and the games all seemed to be pretty high quality. By getting rid of the whole 256 man bracket for SCII they were able to stream every game which was certainly nice, and they did it on only 2 SCII streams instead of 6 like last time.

The website also changed a bit. It used to be that MLG had their own combination stream thing where you could watch all the streams at once in a tiles layout. This time all of the streams were done through Twitch and the MLG site essentially just had tabs to select the 4 different streams. No way to watch all 4 at once easily. I guess I could have opened 4 web browser windows. It seems like the loss of functionality would be bad, but I actually liked it. MLG events have always had streaming issues in my experience, but this one went very smooth. Maybe that was the switch to Twitch. Maybe it was preventing all the viewers from watching all the streams at once and overloading things. Whatever it was, I liked it.

I didn't really know what was going on in the SCII games. They're using the new expansion that just came out and I didn't have a clue what most of the new units did. Also apparently you can build reapers without needing a tech lab now? Most of the matches seemed to be TvZ which makes me sad as an old Protoss player.

The LCS games were actually pretty great. Lots of the matches pitted a 'top 4' team against a 'bottom 4' team but the bottom 4 team won several of those games. I think maybe all the experience of playing professionally for a month and a half is finally starting to come home for some of these guys.

At any rate, I had a great time just sitting back and watching games all weekend. I also got some tax stuff done during pauses between games, so this may have been the most productive weekend I've had in a long time. Woo!

Friday, March 15, 2013

State of the Blog 2013

The last time I missed making a daily blog post was March 14, 2011. Every single day since the 15th I've managed to put a new post up here, on my SNES blog, or on my Star Trek blog. 731 straight days. Woo! The initial plan when I split off to those two other blogs was to run them on the weekends. One of them is dealing with 22 year old video games, the other with a 46 year old television show so neither were dealing with particularly time sensitive posts. As such, it should have been easy to build up a nice backlog of posts in order to free up my weekends from needing to worry about putting a post together. Reality worked a little differently. I've almost never had any done in advance, though I have been able to do the posts on Friday if I already had weekend plans. The SNES posts are still coming through but I fell off the Star Trek wagon. I went away for most of the weekend and just didn't feel like spending 2 hours watching Star Trek when I got back. I really wanted to just play League of Legends and Blood Bowl. Since then I've restarted playing Diablo III and the StarCraft II expansion on top of those and have had lots of things I wanted to post about so I haven't really felt the need to go back to Star Trek.

That said, I do still like the idea of building up a backlog of posts. Maybe that will mean Star Trek again, but I actually think I want to start a new Jack bridge series going. In preparation for this post I started way back at the beginning and have been reading all the old posts here. I've only made it up to 2010, but that's partway through the last bridge series. I feel like it took up too much space at the time because I was leaning heavily on it as a source of content but I really liked the discussions that came out of those posts from the people that were interested in them. Most of my posts are either anecdotal or authoritative in nature and neither of those lends themselves very well to an ongoing discussion. But posting about how I played a bridge hand seemed to solicit lots of input on different ways to play the hand, or different conventions, or just ranting about how hard Jack seemed to be trying to screw me. I think a once a week type of schedule would work just fine, so my intention is to start playing a matchpoints series on Jack Bridge and see how it pans out.

The SNES adventure has been a lot of fun, even if I find myself disliking many of the old games. I really like that they're fairly short to put together (though I think I need to block off like a week soon what with A Link to the Past coming up). I'll definitely keep it going for now.

The Final Fantasy marathon is slogging along. Being able to play the last few games on the bus was nice, and I suspect I'm falling behind now because I can't play Ehrgeiz on the bus and really would rather play the new StarCraft II campaign when I'm home instead of completing a mediocre 16 year old game. I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually. I am very tempted to skip ahead to the next PSP friendly game, though, and come back to the console one when I get a chance. I really want to play Final Fantasy VIII! But I also know that I'll never actually come back to Ehrgeiz if I skip it.

One change I've recently made to the blog layout is splitting all the post labels down into a few buckets. I have the generic post categories by themselves up at the top of the sidebar. Then I broke out all the board games into a cloud further down, and all the video games into a separate one, and then everything else into a third cloud. On top of that I relabeled all of my old posts (I don't know if labels didn't exist way back then or if I just didn't use them) which bumped up the World of Warcraft numbers a fair bit.

My blog stats have become pretty worthless in the last year. For the longest time my blog was mostly viewed from Canada, then the US, then a little bit all over the place. Lately the most people have come from Sweden. I use the term people there pretty loosely since I'm pretty sure it's just a spam bot. I'm now getting dozens of spam comments every day. They pretty much all get caught by the spam filter but the bots don't seem to care. I tried turning on comment moderation for posts older than 14 days and immediately dinged a couple of legitimate comments on older posts. I've tried going back and turning comments off entirely for the most frequently spammed posts, but it just seems to shift which of the older popular posts get hit. And I'm not even sure those posts are popular. It could just be the same bots hitting them again and again and again. My post about City of Villains going free to play back in June of 2011 was my 4th most popular post last month with 266 hits. I can't fathom that any of those are legit. Especially since my 'top 10' search keywords list actually only has 9 entries with more than 1 hit, and none of them are related to CoV.

I'm not sure what to do about it. Should I turn off anonymous comments? Many of my legitimate comments come from anonymous sources and doing anything to make things harder on people seems like a terrible idea. If there was some way to block Sweden entirely at this point I think I just might. I can't imagine anyone who is running these bots is profiting in any way from their activity here since it all just gets caught in the spam filter. Maybe I need to research SEO optimization more to see if I am actually helping these bots out in some way so I can change it. I just want accurate stats for my own curiosity!

Here's to another 731 days of gaming!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

WBC Orphan Events

Tomorrow is the final deadline to get an event running for this year's World Boardgaming Championships. The voting and such has all finished and the 151 events have all been chosen. The problem is some of the events don't currently have a gamemaster. If no one steps up to GM those events by tomorrow the event will get cancelled (and replaced by a game from a waiting list). I haven't paid attention to previous years so I don't know just how many last minute GMs they manage to find but there are currently 9 games without a GM: Carcassonne, Commands & Colours Ancients, Commands & Colours Napoleonics, A Few Acres of Snow, A House Divided, Manoeuvre, Stone Age, Cavemen Quest For Fire, and Copycat.

Most of those are games I wouldn't play, so if they got kicked out and a new trial came in to replace them it really wouldn't be the end of the world for me. A Few Acres of Snow, on the other hand, may be a big deal. It's not a stretch to say that it's my favourite game on Yucata. I've only played one game more than it, and that's the very fast game Roll Through The Ages. I've played it the third most times of anyone on the site. I won the event last year at WBC and had every intention of coming back for a repeat performance. It may just be ego talking but I'd like to think I really am the best at this game and I may dream of having a shot at getting onto the 'longest current championship streak' box on the WBC stats page. That can only happen as long as the event keeps being run at WBC and if no one steps up in the next day that's not going to happen.

I took a look through newsletters in years past to see if events often get dropped. In 2012 there were 46 potential orphans but they weren't listed so I can't check to see if any actually got dropped. In 2011 with one week to go there were 34 events in danger of getting dropped. All but one of them got picked up. 1960 was the lone casualty. In 2010 there were 21 events in danger with one week to go and three of them (Monty's Gamble, Nuclear War, War of 1812) got dropped. 2009 had 25 potential orphans with 10 days to go. Three of those events (Battlelords, Vinci, and Diplomacy) got cancelled. For some reason I'd thought Diplomacy disappeared because it didn't get voted in. Apparently it got voted in but no one stepped up to GM it and it ended up languishing as not an event for 3 years.

There are three solutions to this problem that I see. I can cross my fingers and hope someone steps up in the next day (accepting that the event probably doesn't happen), I can try to badger someone else into GMing it, or I can volunteer to GM it myself. The second option is included mostly for completeness since I don't really know many people who want to GM things in general and don't actually know anyone else who's going that even knows the rules of the game.

GMing it myself sounds almost reasonable. This will be my 7th year at WBC and maybe it would be a good thing to give back a little. Strikes against would be the perceived impropriety of winning my own event, the lack of potential assistant GMs, and the fact I'd probably do a pretty terrible job. I'd think I'd be fine with logistics and reporting (even though I was told I could submit a Lord of the Rings event recap and didn't) but I hate dealing with people. I really like being able to just walk away if just being around people starts to bother me, and I can't do that if I'm the one in charge.

Pluses in favour would be that I'd ensure the event I most want to play actually gets run. I used to run/judge Magic tournaments back in high school and they didn't go too terribly. A Few Acres of Snow also has the advantage of being fairly short and I'd want to be there the whole time anyway if I was going to win, so it wouldn't actually be too big of a time imposition. Having to run a demo would be the biggest time problem, and I could always make it an A event if I was really against a demo. But I think demos are good in general, especially if you're trying to keep a game in the Century.

I feel like if I'm ever going to try GMing something, this is the one to try. Screw perceptions of impropriety. I will GM my own team game and win it if I have to! The optimal outcome would certainly be to have someone else GM it, but looking at the numbers it seems having an event get cancelled is a very real possibility and I don't know that A Few Acres of Snow is popular enough to get saved. I never would have thought something like Diplomacy would fail to get a GM so nothing is safe! I'd probably even take a 75% chance that someone else would GM it, but at this point I'm feeling like the odds are more like 10% that it gets saved without me and that's not cool. I can probably just sign some subset of Robb, Pounder, and Andrew up as assistant GMs, I'm sure they won't mind... 8P

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Blood Bowl On Sale

Steam is having a sale for the most recent computer version of Blood Bowl. It's now down to $10 until 4pm PST Thursday. The implementation has a few bugs but I've found it to be pretty good thus far. I don't regret buying it at all and play it a couple times a week so I definitely think it's worth picking up if you want to play the game.

If you don't know anything about the game it's a turn based miniatures game where you're playing football with fantasy creatures. There's a lot of punching and a little bit of passing. It's more like rugby than football, really. Really bloody rugby. Your characters can level up and get new stats and abilities. They can also suffer permanent injuries or straight up die. You roll small numbers of dice with auto-failures, so the game tends to come down to risk management and recovering from critical failures. You need the temperament to handle having your guys die, or failing your 1 in 1296 roll. But it is very fun if you can let those roll off your shoulders.

The computer game has a couple of different ways to play. There's a single player campaign mode where you can take a starting team and compete in a bunch of tournaments against the AI. This is how I played the first version of the game and it was pretty fun just as a solo game. The AI is not very smart, but neither are new players to the game, so it's probably a pretty fair fight. The other way to play is to join one of the many online leagues and play against other people. There are a couple of 'open' leagues where anyone can join up, hit play, and get matched with a random comparable opponent who is also looking. Alternatively there are a bunch of private leagues you can sign up for which may have scheduled matches or open play. A recent patch to the game made it so you can spectate games live, which is actually pretty cool.

I'm currently playing in a private league that Sceadeau is running. We're almost into the last 'week' of the season, and then there's going to be three rounds of play-offs. After that it'll be time to start a new season of the league! Some people are going to keep playing their old teams. Some people are going to switch what team they play. Some people are going to quit entirely. Other people are going to join the league who didn't play this season. Maybe you're one of those people? If you're at all interested let me know here, or on Facebook, or by email, or something. There's a private Facebook group you can join if you're interested.

The setup for the league is one scheduled match every 2 weeks. Most of the games are played in the evenings but the people matched up are free to pick any time that works for both of them. People have seemed pretty flexible so far for the most part. Most of the games feature both coaches getting onto a Vent server for communication/trash talk and sometimes people use spectate mode to kibitz. And yell for blood. Everyone must die! Except my team, of course. Don't hurt the dwarves!

Existing teams in the league get to carry forward with whatever they have. New teams to the league are allowed to play pickup games to level up, including having games conceded to them for quick experience if needed. There is a 'salary cap' for new teams of 1500 TV. On the one hand this means a new team is going to start off with a lower value than the existing teams, which is bad. On the other hand new teams are in a position to actually fire people with permanent injuries and just play more games to replace them. New teams can concede games to burn off their excess fan factor if they want to. (Note: I tested it and this version of the game does not have your super stars quit when you concede. Or at least I did it 4 times and didn't lose my guy with  more than 51 SPP. Considering you get a concession when your internet dies it would be a pretty terrible rule.) A team at 1500 TV is also not going to be very far back, and the first couple inducements are actually pretty cost effective. Wizards are awesome, agility potions are undercosted, and bloodwiser babes are actually pretty useful. I'm strongly considering switching my team to a 1500 TV team so I don't think it's going to be a very big penalty and my gamer senses are tingling enough to make me think it might be the 'right' play. I'm just a little attached to my music themed dwarves!

If all the matches finish in a round the next round starts right away. You do get 2 weeks to schedule your matches in any given round, but if everyone is quick then we move on. It's taken about 8 weeks to play the first 6 rounds of this 7 round season, to give a rough idea about how fast things have moved. It moves slowly enough that it's not a huge time commitment like WoW raiding would be, but it still moves quickly enough that you can see your team making progress round to round. A given match is somewhere between 40 minutes and 2 hours. I'd imagine with newer players (or Robb) it would lean more towards the 2 hour mark.

If you don't know how to play but want to learn please let me know. I taught Robb and Snuggles to play over Skype before this season started and it worked out ok. I'm more than happy to play random games and talk strategy as we go to try to help people get up to speed either with the rules of the game or the rules of the interface.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Buying New Games

Last week saw the launch of the newest SimCity game which had great reviews from the gaming media. The launch ended up being a complete and utter disaster. SimCity is designed with DRM requiring you to log in to the EA servers before you can play the game. You need to stay connected or you won't be able to save your game. The servers were completely overwhelmed. People couldn't connect, they couldn't find out how long it would be until they could connect, and even once they did connect they had problems playing. I heard about how you could lose connection to the server without knowing it. You'd play happily for hours but as soon as you tried to save the game you were screwed. EA has been scrambling to try to fix the problems. They've been adding more servers, they've been throwing free stuff at the masses. But the bottom line is they got most people's money on launch day and they're not giving it back so I have to believe the suits interested in the bottom line are content.

I've had discussions with a few people about it, and in each case I've been reiterating my stance that buying a new game right away is a trap. Video game companies, especially PC game companies, have seemingly given up on selling finished products. Even games that are reasonably fun at launch (once you get beyond any server issues) aren't done. Diablo III and Civilization V, for example, have both seen huge content/balance patches which made them significantly better games. The way I look at it I have plenty of games I want to play and not nearly enough time to play them all. So why should I spend time waiting for a server to let me in? Why should I play a game before they iterate it into a polished state?

Now, anyone who read yesterday's post will know that I went out and bought StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm even before it launched. I've preinstalled it and I can't wait to get home and play it. This is seemingly at odds with what I just said. Part of this is going to be that I have no willpower/am a hypocrite I'm sure, but there is a bigger thing in play. My experience has been that Blizzard expansions launch in a polished state. World of Warcraft, as I understand, was a bit of a disaster at launch. Not nearly enough server capacity or copies of the game in stores. I started playing that game a few months later so I missed the problems. I have been there, at launch, for all of the subsequent expansions. The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria. All of them have been fantastic. Not perfect, mind you, and MoP in particular had a brutally bad quest right at the start. But even that problematic quest only cost me what, 45 minutes of frustration? I spent longer than that trying to log into Ultima Online!

Why have all those expansions had solid launches? Well, part of it is going to be a willingness on Blizzard's part to wait until the expansion is actually done. But part of it is also going to be their ability to really test most of the new features. How? They launch them in pieces on the live servers in advance. How did we know the new talent trees were going to work in Cataclysm? They had everyone on the live servers using them for a month before they launched Cataclysm! There are also some people are also really committed to killing bosses first. So when they put them up for a 2 hour window on the test servers you know they're going to get tested by some really dedicated players who see that 2 hour window as potentially the key to a world or server first kill.

Which brings us to StarCraft II. It actually had, if memory serves, a super smooth launch itself. Why? A combination of the above coupled with an offline mode. Blizzard had every intention of making StarCraft II a huge thing in eSports, and part of that intention required them to launch a polished game. Not just polished in the sense that you could play the game without crashing. No, they needed it to be polished in the sense that every race, every unit, was balanced. The game wouldn't have taken off as an eSport if the Zerg won every game with a zergling rush and they knew it. So they were more than willing to iterate in testing until they got it to a good state. They ran big tournaments on the test servers. There was a lot of prize money up for grabs for people who got good in the beta. This meant they got a lot of dedicated testers who were willing to find balance issues and abuse them for cash. On top of it all, the one thing you couldn't test in the beta, the single player campaign, didn't require a permanent online connection. You couldn't get achievements if you played offline, but you could totally play your single player game without an internet connection if you wanted. So even if their servers had gone down during the launch a lot of the players would be able to play just fine.

So, yes, I am pretty much done with buying new games at launch. I may well pick up the new SimCity in a couple months if things smooth out, but maybe I just won't feel like adding it to my huge list of things I want to play. But I had faith in Heart of the Swarm being a good game at launch, and one I do really want on my list of things to play. So I got it right away. I didn't take the day off work to play it, but a quick internet search makes me think I could have done that without worries. I searched for a variety of crash related terms for Heart of the Swarm and didn't find a single complaint from anyone. Contrast that with the deluge when searching for SimCity crashes!

Monday, March 11, 2013

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Tomorrow marks the launch of the first expansion for StarCraft II. I haven't actually played StarCraft II in over a year and haven't really paid any attention to news about the expansion. Robb's been trying to hype me up for it, and over the weekend he sent a line about how SCII is adding support for clans to the game in this expansion. Now, that piqued my interest. Maybe not so much because I want a guild system in SCII itself, but because I really want one in Diablo III and this may well be a step in the right direction.

I just had to go look up more details about it, and also looked into what else they're adding in for the expansion. It sounds like the following things...

  • A new single player campaign focused on Kerrigan and the Zerg. Similar to the first campaign but with a different leveling system than spending money/research on upgrades. Something about mutations and experience or something. I didn't dig into it at all because I want to be a little surprised. The first campaign was awesome and I have high hopes for this one.
  • Clans and groups. These seem to be essentially the same thing except you can only be in one clan, you get a tag in your name for the clan, and a clan can only have 50 people. Groups you can be in 20 of them and they can have infinite people. In both cases you get a chat room for just the clan/group. This is all I want for Diablo III! Come on, Blizzard. Make it so!
  • A pointless leveling system. Play ladder games and earn experience toward the race you're playing. It doesn't sound like leveling this up does anything except give you a bigger number and achievements. Wait, I like bigger numbers and achievements...
  • Apparently they're adding in unit skins and dances that you earn by leveling up.
  • The ability to watch replays with other people in the same game with one person controlling the replay. Interesting for getting better I guess.
  • The ability to tag into a replay! Even one you weren't initially part of! This has huge potential for teaching people to play better. It also lets you play the 'what would have happened if...' game. Let's pretend I scouted your incoming drop and see if that would be good enough to win.
  • This also lets them resume tournament matches by having the players load the replay of the crashed game and tagging in when the problems started. This has to be better than a remake in a lot of situations.
  • You can build a custom UI for observer mode. I won't be using this but I am interested to see what someone like Day[9] or the MLG observers do with this.
  • New stats are being tracked for ladder games breaking things down for you by matchup and map. I like stats!
  • New units and maps for the ladder.
  • Upgrades to the map editor to make for even cooler 'use map settings' games. It sounded like they were also making infrastructure upgrades to potentially allow for selling maps made in the map editor? I didn't look too far into it since I haven't used the map editor.
  • 'Players Near You' is a feature that has the server suggest other people who are playing SC2 on your local network. The examples they gave were people at the same University or in the same internet cafe. I wonder if it will go further and include people in Toronto with Rogers as their ISP or whatnot. This seems like it has some real potential for helping to meet other nerds.
  • You can play on any server now with one account. So if you really wanted to play on the Korea servers you don't need to buy a new copy of the game.
  • New training missions that break down step by step how to play the game against an easy AI opponent. This seems like a great way to help newer players to the genre figure out what they should be doing. 
I watched a few preview videos for the new stuff and for each item they explained why they were adding it and what it would do. I was never left thinking that a feature was a bad idea, or wouldn't be great for at least some people. Some of the stuff is really groundbreaking, too. Those replay features in particular are things that other games are going to feel required to graft into their systems. Getting the ability to redo a team fight in League of Legends with it fresh in everyone's mind that they shouldn't just blindly chase Nidalee and leave some of us to die would be fantastic!

I already bought the game, and it claims to have downloaded all the content just by starting up the old StarCraft II client. The official launch is super early tomorrow morning (midnight PST) so I won't actually be able to play the new campaign until after work tomorrow. Oh well!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Diablo III: More Hardcore Action?

Ike asked me the other day if I was at all interested in forming a regular hardcore group in Diablo III. I'd been thinking of starting a hardcore character in order to get more achievements, so the answer was yes! The last hardcore group fell apart mostly I think because most of the people involved got bored of Diablo III in general and not because of an issue with playing hardcore. It didn't help that I kept dying, but I figure that was mostly a problem with choosing the squishy class and having never played it in normal. As such, I figure I'm going to play the only class I've really played before, wizard, and see what happens.

So, the question is, does anyone else want to come along? The plan is likely to play a couple hours on the same night each week. Maybe something like 9pm-12pm EST on Thursday? I'm certainly open to suggestions one way or the other. Let me know!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Ehrgeiz: Dungeon Mode

I gave the dungeon mode of Ehrgeiz a spin the other day and it didn't seem to have anything at all in common with the arcade fighting game mode. Arcade mode was a pretty standard 3D fighting game with combos and moves and such. Dungeon mode uses the same 3D movement but otherwise doesn't seem to have a lot in common. It's more of a full on action-adventure-RPG. Walk into a room, kill the enemies that spawned in the room, pick up the loot they dropped. Repeat. You start off as a guy and if he dies you restart back in town as a girl. At level 1. With no weapons or healing items. And with a cleared out dungeon. I saw all my guy's loot drop on the ground where he died so it seems possible that I could get down to it Wizardry V style and get all my gear back. The first time this happened she just died right away. The second time I got lucky and had a weapon drop off the first random respawn.

The game has the interesting and/or terrible game mechanic where you have to spend in game currency in order to save. I guess this is try to curve save/reload shenanigans but it was a huge problem when I wanted to go to bed shortly after being forced to respawn in town as the girl who had nothing at all. I eventually found a room with a lot of mushrooms growing, filled my inventory up, ran back to town, and sold them for enough money to save. But it feels like if I want to save in order to turn the console off (and not to save/reload a hard fight) that it should just let me.

There wasn't much of a plot thus far. My two characters were going on an adventure, got knocked out by something, and woke up in a strange town near a dungeon. Now we're crawling the dungeon. It's not really enough of a hook to interest me, and the 3D combat is actually pretty tedious. Find a long range weapon like a spear. Hit attack until all the enemies are dead. Hope they don't stunlock you.

I feel obligated to keep playing it because of the marathon, but this is a pretty offshoot game and doesn't seem very good at all. I think I'll give it another spin on the weekend and see if I can't get into it more because I don't want to just skip it.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

League of Legends: Attack Damage vs Armour Penetration Runes

Robb's been talking a bit while we've been playing League of Legends about how armour penetration runes are 'bad' now and attack damage carry characters should be running all attack damage runes instead. I've been using attack damage quints and armour penetration reds for an awfully long time but I do have attack damage reds (I got them to use on Yorick who did a fair amount of magical damage that scaled off of the attack damage stat). Should I be switching my ADC rune page around?

First, note that from masteries you get 5 flat armour penetration, 3 attack damage, and .67 attack damage per level. Base stats for someone like Caitlyn are going to have no armour penetration and 50 attack damage. Most people buy a 10 ad item to start (doran's blade or long sword). So at level 1 we're looking at attacking with 63.67 attack damage and 5 armour penetration. The enemy is likely to have something like 30 armour. (Caitlyn starts with 16.5 armour and could have 12.69 from yellow runes.)

I made a little spreadsheet to calculate the damage done with an autoattack and a Q activation for each of the 40 possible combinations of reds/quints between AD and ArP. Autoattack damage at level 1 is maximized for Caitlyn by running entirely AD runes. Her Q damage is maximized by running entirely ArP reds and AD quints. The difference between best and worst combination is 3.0 damage on autoattack and 1.2 on Q.

Level 1 isn't the only useful spot. What about level 6? At this point you probably haven't gone back to buy yet, so you're just gaining the 3 AD per level while your Q gets 80 more base damage. You also get an ult. Your enemy gains 3.5 ac per level. In this configuration her autoattack remains optimized with entirely AD runes. Her Q changes and lines up with her ult, however, and are both optimized with entirely ArP runes. The damage differences swing here as well. The autoattack is now only up 2.1 damage, the Q is up 8.4 damage and the ult gains 23.0 damage.

How about level 11? By this point you probably have some attack speed (which only helps to change your attack mix by tossing in more autoattacks, it doesn't change the absolute power of any ability) and maybe, say, a bloodthirster. At this point the numbers swing entirely in one direction. All abilities are made better by stacking entirely ArP runes. Autoattack is now up 6.9, Q is up 23.7, and ult is up 54.4.

Ok, well, maybe we need to get some armor pen from somewhere else to make up that gap. Lets make the next item we buy a last whisper. Level up to 14 and add that on to our build and what happens? Nope. No go. It's still all ArP runes and the difference just keeps widening. I can give the enemy 100 bonus armour, and take away the last whisper penetration. ArP is still better. Caitlyn even has pretty good ratios on her abilities, with a 1.2 on Q and 2.0 on ult. It doesn't seem to matter. At the very beginning of the game you might want attack damage, but later in the game there's no contest. You want to have armour penetration.

Based on how Robb was talking I was expecting to come out of this with a need to build a good page with all attack damage on it. Now, I think I need to buy some armour penetration quints.

But wait! Caitlyn is probably the best champion for armour penetration since all of her abilities that scale on attack damage also do physical damage. What about someone like Ezreal or Corki? Ezreal's ult does magic damage, so armour penetration won't help it at all!

Well, at level 1 EZ wants all AD runes for his autoattack just like Caitlyn, but actually wants all ArP runes for his Q. His Q has a higher flat bonus and a smaller AD ratio and I guess those are good enough. At level 6 both of those remain true, and his ult obviously wants straight AD reds. At 11 with the bloodthirster he wants straight ArP for both his autoattack and his Q, and he more than makes up the difference from his ult with a single Q. At level 14 with the last whisper it's all ArP again, and this time a single auto-attack makes up for the difference on his ult and his Q has almost triple the gains of his ult.

Looking at this closer it seems that while Caitlyn may be awesome for ArP since she does all physical damage she's also awesome for AD because her ratios are so good. Corki actually only scales with AP when he does magical damage except his ult which only has a .2 AD ratio so I can't imagine it's actually different for him either. It's entirely possible he wants hybrid penetration instead of ArP, but he definitely doesn't want AD into the late game.

I guess if you're trying to get a kill at level 1 with a very aggressive support or a gank then maybe stacking AD makes sense. And maybe if you can't last hit well enough the extra 2.8 damage is relevant. I can see sticking with AD on some of my top laners who do try to snowball early. But for an ADC who really wants to come into power in the late game it feels like all ArP is the way to go.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Diablo III: % Elemental Damage

Diablo III has a very poorly worded item mod: "adds X% to {element} damage". Any reasonable interpretation of that ability would indicate that it would amplify your {element} damage. Adding to your fire damage should increase the amount of fire damage you do! It turns out it doesn't do anything of the sort. What it actually does is amplify the physical damage of your equipped gear (including weapon) by tacking on some bonus {element} damage. It does not amplify any elemental damage on your weapon. It also doesn't actually do damage of the listed element if you use a skill with an innate element! So it's all kinds of counter-intuitive. Wizards have a passive that makes lightning damage stun people. It doesn't work with my storm crow hat if I'm casting blizzard, for example, because that added lightning damage is actually cold damage.

Ok, so the ability doesn't do anything resembling what it says it does. It does have a game effect, though, and the question then becomes how good it is. My current build doesn't make terribly efficient use of it (my weapon comes with a massive elemental boost on it, and it's pretty much the only option for me to use with my budget) but would another build with a pure physical damage weapon (apparently these are called 'black weapons' because they have a black background) make it an awesome ability or just an ok one? What about other sources of this mod? What are they, and could they be worth building around?

Assuming I had a black weapon then the 8% on my storm crow hat should be a straight 8% damage boost. For comparison I have 2177 int, so in order to get a similar 8% damage boost I would need to add on 182 int. That's a pretty good boost. Most items can only roll 100 int in a single mod, so adding on almost twice that is good. And if I already had, say, 30% elemental damage then adding 8% more from storm crow would only be a 6% damage boost and would be the equivalent of 140 int. Still good, but going downhill. For comparison adding on 50% crit damage would be worth 278 int in my gear according to d3up. So, a good mod, but not the best option by any stretch.

At any rate, what are the level 60 elemental damage options? I am going to skip weapons which aren't black.

Storm Crow (wizard only) - 7-8%

Frostburn Gauntlets - 5-6%, also 15-30% more damage from cold skills (but no stats of any kind)

Inna's Favor - 7-8%

Zunimassa's Trail - 7-8%

Tal Rasha's Allegiance - 5-6%

Stone of Jordon - 5-6%, also a massive 20-30% damage to elites

Triumvirate (wizard only) - 15-18%

That's actually a fair number of slots covered by this mod. Triumvirate in particular looks potentially insane. 18% more damage? That's worth more than 400 int. That it also comes with 150-169 int, 8-8.5% crit chance, a ton of physical damage and a random mod makes it all the sweeter. Frostburn seems terrible except maybe if you're only using blizzard. Stone of Jordon can't have any stats at all which makes it seem pretty odd, but I guess 30% damage to elites could be sweet. The witch doctor and wizard set pieces with this mod both seem fantastic. (Boots/amulet.) Assuming you don't want arcane power on crit (say, you're running archon) then dropping storm crow for a better hat would be reasonable. Getting 32% extra damage from 3 slots on top of their built in stats could be pretty awesome. So I think I'm going to keep an eye out for Zunimassa's Trail, Tal Rasha's Allegiance, and Triumvirate to see what the prices are like...

I spent some time last night browsing the auction house between games of League of Legends and found some reasonably cheap items to go into this sort of build. The tricky thing with a lot of these legendary items that start with some good mods and can only roll 1 or 2 other things is the versions with relevant random rolls are actually really expensive. I wanted to get a set of Inna's pants for an extra 12% movement speed (apparently really important for an archon build) and it only has one random mod. Getting one with int was stupidly expensive. It is the pants with attack speed (and therefore awesome for the stunlock build too) so pretty much every high level wizard wants a set of them, despite it being the monk set. And with every wizard wanting them it isn't terribly surprising that pairs with int are expensive. I ended up buying a pretty cheap set that has armor instead. Similarly I bought a Tal Rasha amulet and a Triumvirate that had +gold find on them instead of useful stats. I figure gold find is better than something completely worthless like thorns or fire resistance and will eventually pay for itself! I also bought a fairly cheap socketed black weapon with crit damage on it. I made an 80% crit damage emerald and stuck it in the socket so my weapon alone is worth 124% crit damage. Yay pumping up my best stat!

My listed damage number has gone way up on the character sheet with the new items, but I know that's a bit of an illusion. Archon is pretty much a straight 3x multiplier from character sheet damage to actual DPS while the wicked wind spec was more like a 6x multiplier on a fight after ramping up. So I feel like this build is going to do less sustained damage, but is going to be significantly better at killing lots of things in a row. In other words, absolutely perfect for farming experience on a low monster power! I haven't tried it out yet, but it should be fun. I do feel like getting the Inna's pants will help with stun locking on the infernal machine bosses as well, though I may well need to spec for surviving instead of doing damage in order to use them.

I tweaked my spreadsheet a bit, because I want to see what stats are worth assuming a straight archon beam killing everything. Is crit damage still the best or do I have enough of it now? Generally because all the different damage stats stack multiplicatively you want a nice balance of them all. I went whole hog on crit damage (partly because my awesome crafted gloves and ring rolled it) and may need to double back and get some other stats now.

100 int = 21397
6% crit = 44215
50% crit damage = 33264
.1 base attack rate (switch from wand to dagger, though that has the issue that the dagger should have less base damage) = 31728
9% attack speed = 30286
4% damage to elites = 17084
8% damage as elemental = 27127
33 min damage = 7579

Ok, these numbers are all way bigger than they were for my other spec, even though it had such a high damage scaling factor. My current top stat is crit chance, which doesn't surprise me since I'm critting for +360% damage now. % damage as elemental still looks pretty good despite having 30% already.

My two worst damage items, according to d3up, are the two slots that have 12% movement speed on them. I guess that makes sense. Assuming I can play at a monster power where I murder everything then the ability to run to more things is going to be worth giving up damage and tankiness. I stuck two vitality gems in the pants so they're actually a fine tanky item compared to a lot of what I have. The Triumvirate looks to be as sick as I thought it might be. And that's one with gold find as the random mod!

I may still try to pick up a Zunimassa's Trail to replace my current boots. My boots are really good for tankiness with vit, armour, and resist all on them but maybe I'll be fine with doing more damage instead. It'll depend on how archon actually plays out.

Interestingly I plugged in what would happen if I replaced my worst ring with a Stone of Jordan and it was a 19% damage boost to elites and an 8% damage loss to everything else. So if I can find a sweet spot where I'm still killing trash trivially but could use some killing power on elites that might actually be a viable choice. It also chunks 8% off of my effective health. They were dirt cheap when I looked. I wonder if I'm missing something about them. Or maybe my second ring is just garbage and I should replace it with something better than both it and a SoJ?

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Diablo III: Bonus Experience

On the weekend I picked up three rings with +35% bonus experience. I debated a bit about how much killing power I was willing to lose in order to get 70% more experience and was leaning towards all of it. 70% is a really big deal! It then turned out you can only wear one hellfire ring at a time (legendary items are unique equipped even though it doesn't say so in game) which made the debate a little moot. And now after reading some more I'm starting to wonder if the first one is even terribly good. You see, bonus experience stacks additively, not multiplicatively, and I already have an awful lot of bonus experience.

First, apparently at some point the Nephalem Valour buff got changed to include experience on top of gold find/magic find. (Looks like it was patch 1.0.4 when they added in paragon levels, which makes sense.) So with a 5 stack of the buff as my only source of bonus experience the ring would take me from 175% to 210% experience, or a gain of 20%.

Next up, the monster power boost. This last patch massively buffed the bonus experience gained for fighting on a harder difficulty level. I've been fighting on monster power 7 recently which gives 375% normal experience. Tack on the neph buff and I'm up to 450% experience. The hellfire ring on top of that brings me up to 485%, which is only a gain of 7.8%.

Now, apparently you can stick MF/GF/XP items on your follower and get 20% of the bonus as spillover from them. Sticking one of my three rings on my scoundrel friend has to be right. That's only a 7% additive bonus, which along with the MP7 buff and the neph buff is 457%. My own hellfire on top of that is 492%, or only 7.7%.

You can also get a socketed helmet for more bonus experience. My current hat doesn't have a socket, but what if it did? I could probably afford something like a 27% ruby, which brings my pre-ring number all the way up to 484%. Hellfire makes it 519%, which is only a 7.2% boost.

Now, don't get me wrong, 7.2% extra experience is still something. But it's not the massive 35% I thought I was looking at. I can totally imagine situations where a real ring would be better than a bad hellfire ring when fighting at MP7. Fortunately for me one of my three rings is actually insane. Randy pointed out an interesting stat website that breaks down your stats by item and it turns out it thinks my hellfire ring is my most damaging non-weapon slot item. It's more than twice as good as my other ring! And it has better defensive stats than my other ring. And it has an empty socket I haven't made use of! It doesn't have attack speed or crit chance which hurts my stun locking ability but I was able to play in MP7 with it so I can't be that big a deal.

Assume now that I want to efficiently farm for experience, not infernal machine keys. Getting more paragon levels to get more stats and more magic find is going to be pretty useful. Also assume I find a build with better initial damage so I can actually kill trash mobs. (The wicked wind spec can lock down and kill MP7 elite packs but it takes time to get going each fight. I know there are better initial damage specs like archon, meteor, blizzard, or maybe even disintegrate to play with.) What monster power level should I play on for optimal efficiency?

There are going to be two factors at play in this calculation. The first is the amount of time spent just walking around finding things to kill, or loading new games, or clearing out my inventory. The second is the ratio of monster health to experience earned. Raising the monster power level isn't really going to increase the downtime from doing a single run. (Well, you get a bigger magic find multiplier so I guess you'll spend a little more time dealing with items?) It is going to increase how long it takes to actually kill things. The formula for experience per time is then going to be X/(D+H*Y) where X is the experience multiplier, D is the downtime constant, H is the monster health multiplier, and Y is a constant based on how long it would take to kill things at MP0. I have no real idea how to estimate D and Y but the absolute size of them doesn't matter at all. What matters is the relative values of them. Estimating is even harder when I don't know what spec I'd be doing it in and have never played it! I feel like it should probably be well above half my time spent killing things? I'm going to pretend 30% downtime and see what shakes out?

Even with the hellfire ring this function maxes out at MP0. Ok, how much downtime do I need before a better MP level makes sense? Well, with D=.9 MP4 becomes the best. With D=.8 MP1 is the best. So, yeah... Unless all my time is spent running around looking for stuff to kill I should stick to the lowest level possible. Note that if your primary goal is finding keys then you actually are spending a lot of time just running around. And the key odds function increases much, much quicker than the experience function does. (Going from MP2 to MP4 will double your key odds but only gives me 24% more experience.)

The thing to point out here is that sometimes increasing monster health doesn't increase time to kill things. If I kill most everything on MP0 instantly then giving them all 50% more health probably doesn't slow me down much at all and the 10% experience bonus is going to be worth it. So realistically the 'optimal' choice is going to be finding a point where I can still trivially murder practically everything in my path. I feel like my gear is starting to get good, so I wouldn't be surprised if an archon or disintegrate build would be doing just that at something like MP2 or MP3. With my wicked wind spec giving all the monsters more health gave me enough time to ramp up my damage and get infinite resources back, which is another factor to keep in mind. I feel like with that spec I want to find the point where I can lock in a freeze, cast a bunch of spells for a bit, and watch everything explode. MP6 is probably right for that. But it's almost certainly going to be faster to use a different spec with no ramp-up time at a lower MP level. And my poor hand will love me for it!

The hellfire ring also gets relatively better at lower MP levels because it's adding in with a smaller MP bonus. Basically, it is going to add 35% of the base monster experience no matter how much health it actually has. So the more wimpy monsters you can plow through, the more experience the hellfire ring is going to add. So it feels like if you're playing on a low MP level then you really want to get a hellfire ring (and a ruby in your hat) but if you're playing on a high MP level then you probably just want whatever gives you the most stats. Or you want to get lucky and get a hellfire ring that happens to have a ton of good stats too.