Monday, March 31, 2014

Upcoming Lounge Day

I kept getting complaints each year that people didn't realize when the annual Lounge Day was going to happen. It runs on Good Friday each year, but that does change wildly from year to year. This year it'll be on April 18th!

Lounge Day is a day of board gaming and reminiscing at University of Waterloo consisting mostly of Mathies a little older than I am, but anyone who can find their way to the Comfy Lounge is certainly welcome. I don't currently know how I'm getting there or how I'm getting back but I intend to be there for as much of the day as I can. I'm normally one of the first ones there (~noon, after eating at Mel's) and one of the last ones to leave (~1am, after eating at Sunshine's). I didn't get sick eating at either place last year so assuming Sunshine's is open I'll likely try to do the same thing this year. April 18th is pretty late though, so Sunshine's may well be off of the normal term hours? I don't know. I'm sure something will work out if it's closed!

Anyway... Almost three weeks notice had been given! Lounge Day! Woo!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 48

Board 48 - Dealer West - EW Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Doubleton
Opponents playing strength: Fair

My hand: 9 4 A K J 8 4 T 8 7 J 7 6

West opens 1 spade, partner passes, and East responds 2 clubs. I'm a little worried I'm going to get myself in trouble by bidding here, but I have a pretty good heart suit and really want partner to lead it. And the vulnerability is favourable. So I bid 2 hearts. West makes a competitive double, partner passes again, and East bids 3 spades. I'm done, and so is everyone else.

Partner leads the 6 of hearts.
J 8 6
Q T 3
A 9
Q T 9 8 5
9 4
A K J 8 4
T 8 7
J 7 6

Well, I got partner to lead through QTx on dummy. That has to be useful! 6-T-J-7. A-2-9-3. K-7 of spades-5-Q. Declarer draws trump. K-2-6-4. A-T-8-9. Now he switches to clubs. A-2-5-6. 4-K-8-7. Partner is in, and plays a diamond. 2-9-T-Q. Dummy looks pretty high to me... Except partner has the Q of spades. So he's able to ruff in and get his K of diamonds at the end. Down 1!

Q T 2
9 6 5
K 5 3 2
K 3 2
A K 7 5 3
7 2
Q J 6 4
A 4
J 8 6
Q T 3
A 9
Q T 9 8 5
9 4
A K J 8 4
T 8 7
J 7 6
Everyone played in some number of spades. One pair made 3S, one made 4S, and one made 4S+1. Then 4 tables went down 1 in 4S and we put them down 1 in 3S. I feel like declarer could have made 3 spades if he'd drawn trump and run clubs. These 'fair' opponents seem pretty bad! Anyway, we get 10 MPs.

Captain Jack doesn't like my heart bid. He wants me to pass. By clicking on the bid apparently I should have 10 points and 5 hearts or 8 points and 6 hearts for the bid. I have 9 points and a really solid 5 hearts so I think I'm in the clear here, especially with the vulnerability.

Ranking after board 48/60: 1/16 with 59.67%

Friday, March 28, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Blitzball

Blitzball is the primary mini-game in the Final Fantasy X universe, replacing the card games from FFXIII and FFIX. It's essentially an underwater soccer game where you have a team management aspect, a leveling aspect, and a game playing aspect. You can wander the world recruiting players for your team. As players play games they can earn experience and level up to get better stats. They can
also learn abilities by playing against opponents who use those abilities in a game. The games themselves are longer than a card game from the previous games but still reasonably short and it's not hard to start playing, lose track of time, and have played through a full tournament.

As an aside, I don't think they ever explain the physics of the game. You've got a bunch humanoids who walk on land and breath air who suddenly get completely submerged in a crazy magical sphere of water. Do humans in Spira have gills or something?

Anyway, I've been playing some blitzball. I lost the first story game, barely, 4-3 in overtime. I lose because I forgot how that first game worked and turned the ball over in the first half when I went up for to score and didn't realize you can't actually equip any abilities until the second half. If I'd played safer I would have won easily. So I reset and did it again and won 4-1. Woo!

I know the first time I played the game I didn't learn Tidus' best shot because I failed the quick time event on the boat and didn't know I needed to succeed. I still played a ton of blitzball in that playthrough and had a lot of fun. This time I beat the quick time event (first try!) and as such learned the Sublimely Magnificent Jecht Shot Mark III. It's stupidly powerful. Most people with good strategy can score against one defender, maybe two if they get lucky. With Jecht Shot you can trivially score against two defenders without any thinking at all. Scoring on three defenders is pretty easy, and four is entirely plausible. Considering you play 5 on 5 and the AI likes to actually cover the rest of the team too... Every time I get the ball I'm basically guaranteed to score.

When I first started out my team was so bad the AI was basically guaranteed to score whenever it wanted to as well. But sometimes the AI decided it didn't want to score. Instead of swimming the ball up right beside my net and scoring they'd shoot from mid field through a defender or something stupid and give me the ball. So I'd still win, because I score every time I get the ball, they score only some of the time they get the ball, and you alternate possession after someone scores.

And then my guys started leveling up, because it turns out you earn more experience when your team is doing things. So even though my team started with a bunch of losers (and a ringer) it's become a ridiculous ringer and a bunch of pretty ok dudes. I can expect to pass the ball through one defender now so I don't need to abuse the AI in order to score with Tidus. And sometimes I even force a turnover on the opponent because my defenders have gained 9 levels and their scorers have only gained 3.

In short... The game has become pretty trivial. There isn't actually anything anyone can do. I don't need to play perfectly to win. Not terrible is good enough. I thought I was going to play a ton of blitzball this time playing the game but I'm starting to feel like I'll probably just look up what exactly I need to do to get Wakka's ultimate weapon and do just that.

For now I actually can't play anyway. My worst player had his contract expire and I gave him the boot so I could go get someone new. But now I don't have enough players on my team, so I can't play any games. I need to find someone, anyone, to sign to a contract before I can play again. Oh well.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

More SolForge Bitterness

SolForge has been making some changes recently, and they haven't been making me happy!

I'm not sure when the first change came in but they added the ability to quickly flip through games that are waiting for you to act. Instead of having to leave your current game, go back to the menu, and pick a different game where it's your turn you get a handy button in the corner to jump to the next game waiting for your attention. This sounds good except they still haven't added a proper mechanism to easily see what happened on a previous turn so if you want to pretend that the game is a real strategy game you need to play it in real time to see what gets played. But plenty of people have built decks full of legendaries that don't care what their opponent does, and they don't care if they lose any given game to a silly mistake if they can play three times as many games in the same period of time.

What does that all mean? It means some people with awesome decks just create a lot of games and have a worse winning percentage than they used to. Which means they get paired against me, and that they take a minute between turns because they're flipping through the rest of their games. I spent something like 5 hours trying to get my first online win of the day! Every game was slow and against people with better decks. It was not fun. I didn't want to do it, but if I won an online game I would have enough tickets to draft. I still like drafting, and I hadn't figured out the problem, so I kept pounding away at it. And getting more and more bitter.

The next day I had my tickets for a draft. I don't get to draft constantly and I need those first online win bonuses to keep going. The way I make sure that happens as often as I can is I partition out my three draft games. Play one game the day I draft, win it. Stop. Come back the next day, play until I win. This way I can get multiple 'first win of the day' bonuses out of a single draft. This is not the way I want to play, as I want to just draft and play a bunch, but it's better than having to play constructed ESPECIALLY after that first change.

Everything went according to play. I came back the next day to discover that there was a new draft queue in the lobby for 4 games instead of 3. Ok, sounds like it's a good thing, but I have my current draft to finish up. Play a game... My opponent played a card I'd never seen before. It turns out they'd also released a new set and they'd decided the best way to deal with existing drafts was to make me play against the new stuff. This is ridiculous for many reasons!

  • Pretty much by default in a CCG the new cards are better than the old ones. They can't be worse or they wouldn't sell any packs!
  • In SolForge in particular the way drafting is set up the better cards show up less frequently because people learn to take them highly and the algorithm adapts to that. This means that my deck has a bunch of legitimate 5th picks in it because I was forced to pick between two terrible cards in all six of my packs. A new set has no such data and therefore the commons in that set will show up more or less randomly. This means a deck drafted right after a new set is released rates to be significantly better than a deck drafted at the end of a set's lifecycle.
  • I had no idea what cards my opponent could be showing up with and therefore couldn't possibly play around any of his tricks.
I lost both of my remaining games with that draft deck, which was actually a pretty good deck for the old set. I was destroyed repeatedly by multiple copies of the same powerful common against both opponents. I'm sure in a month no one will be able to draft as many of those cards in conjunction with a high powered deck. If I'd been able to play that draft deck out under the conditions I drafted it I would have likely earned 7 tickets and could well have earned 12. Instead I got 4. And no first win of the day.

So I can play some more terrible constructed to get a chance to try out the new set and the 4 game drafts... Or I can get fed up and quit. I'm going with door number two for now, at least while I have puzzles to solve, FFX to play, and Path of Exile maps to run. This game is so very frustrating. It could be good and fun but they make so many stupid decisions. If they'd announced anywhere in the game that a new set was coming out I could have saved my tickets to draft then, not right before. Or I could have played out all my games. Maybe I could have read about the new cards instead of being thrust into a game against them without even knowing that they existed. And they really need to have a significantly shorter time limit option for constructed games so I'm not stuck waiting a minute between turns!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Another Distant Worlds: Final Fantasy Concert

Almost two years ago to the day I went to a Distant Worlds concert here in Toronto. I posted about it afterwards, but the basic idea is they get an orchestra to play music from the Final Fantasy games. Yesterday I got an email telling me that because I'd attended that concert I was able to order tickets now for the freshly announced concert in Toronto on December 6th. Last time around they also had a concert in KW (they used the KW orchestra after all) but either that isn't true this time or they haven't announced it yet.

I know there were some people last time who said they wanted to go if it ever came back... Well, here it is! I don't even know where I'll be living come December but I imagine I'd find a way to travel back to Toronto for it regardless. There are still tickets in the ~$36 price range, which seems pretty darn cheap. Sitting way up in the back wasn't a bad thing last time (there's a big screen showing the videos anyway and besides it's a MUSIC event) but I can see how people who would gain something from seeing the musicians up close might want to go down to the ~$130 range seats? Me, I'm pretty happy with the top.

So... Anyone else want in? It's unclear if this is a legit offer to returning visitors or if it's just how they worded an ad. Either way we should coordinate getting seats together if other people want to go. I intend on going alone again if that's what it comes down to, but I really think it's worth doing for other people too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Plan

Byung is awesome and his PS3 hooked up to my tv just fine so I was able to plug in my shiny new Final Fantasy X HD disc last night. It brought up a menu with 4 options, 2 of which I'd never heard of, so I was forced to head off to the internet before I'd even started to figure out what I was supposed to pick. It turns out they made some extra cutscene videos for after each of the games and that's what the extra stuff was. No problem! Into the game I went, and after the intro video I was presented with a choice of sphere grids. What? Ok, internet, help me out again... Turns out the 'expert' grid was added in the international version and is just a different layout with the same stuff on it or something. I didn't dig too deep, but I figured different sphere grid was a good way to shake things up so I went with it. I am an expert, after all!

Anyway... Do I have a plan? Do I even need a plan? Doing a solo character Kimahri challenge does hold some appeal, as does going fast, but I feel like a new sphere grid, way better graphics, and the extra hard bosses are probably enough of a shakeup. I still want to play blitzball and catch all the monsters and twink out my party. I believe I've played this game three times before with each playthrough clocking in over 100 hours so there's plenty of stuff to do without going with some crazy plan.

So I'm just going to play the game, likely collecting all the things because that's just who I am. I will be using Kimahri, but not just Kimahri. Who knows, maybe the expert grid actually makes him better than the old grid where he was stuck in the middle with no actual place to go. Everyone seems to start in the middle now... So maybe everyone is 'bad'? Who knows!

One thing I wouldn't mind doing is hanging out and watching other people play as well. I miss that about living with other people and FFX may be the game I most miss watching people play. So if anyone wants to just come over and give it a play and I'm awake that's just fine by me!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Toot Toot! Puzzle Boat!

This weekend I went on a bit of an adventure. I played board games at Sky's place on Saturday (fun, but not much of an adventure) but instead of going home I hitched a ride with Pounder and spent the night at his place. Then all day Sunday (where all day started at 2pm because Arizona sucks) we hung out in Snuggles' basement working on Puzzle Boat 2.

A Puzzle Boat is essentially a large bundle of puzzles that you solve by yourself or in a team of whatever size you want. You start off with a couple of presumably easy puzzles and each time you complete a puzzle you get a password to enter into the website which unlocks more puzzles! There are some 'meta' puzzles that use the answers to the base puzzles and then one big main puzzle that puts everything together. The ultimate goal is to solve that big puzzle first. There are over 100 individual puzzles and our team of 7 people solved 13 in 10 hours so it's not exactly a quick endeavour!

We have 13 more puzzles currently unlocked that are in various states of completion and like 80 or 90 more still to unlock after that. We have another day to puzzle away (next Saturday I think) but finishing it then seems pretty out there too. So we've decided we're allowed to work on the 13 we have now but not unlock any new ones until we meet up again which seems like a pretty fair way to do things when we're not trying to win. That way we won't meet back with all the really fun stuff done and a bunch of cryptic crosswords still to do. Not that there's anything wrong with cryptic crosswords... But the one that we unlocked so far had the cryptic crossword part completely ignored.

Winning seems like the sort of thing that could have been plausible in an alternate universe but it would have involved a larger team, with people who have done this before, and who didn't mostly have to work Monday morning. As far as I can tell no one is even close to being done yet so a team that could work continuously for a couple days in a row is a really important piece it seems. That isn't our team, and that's fine, because you don't have to play for first place every time. You can play for fun, and yesterday was tons of fun. Lots of little 'a-ha' moments that really make the person who saw the trick feel good without the people who were stuck feeling bad because we're all on the same team and there are SO MANY of those moments to go around. And while a bigger team would have a better chance of winning it also means each person gets to touch fewer puzzles and that's not necessarily more fun. One of the 13 we solved just sat there having people rotate in to look at it forever until Lino finally made the right leap of logic to get the ball rolling again so you do want a fair number of people, but not too many. One room of people seemed like a pretty good number, though I probably should have brought my laptop since I kept needing to borrow others.

What's also cool about this sort of thing is when you have 100+ puzzles there gets to be a little bit of everything. Some sudokus, a cryptic crossword, a diagramless crossword, anagrams, ciphers, some image lookups, maybe there'll be a book code at some point. Browser games! Song recognition! All kinds of logic puzzles! Woo!

It was a bit of an adventure getting back to Toronto this morning and I never sleep well away from home but it was all worthwhile. All aboard the puzzle boat! TOOT TOOT!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 47

Board 47 - Dealer South - NS Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Doubleton
Opponents playing strength: Fair

My hand: 9 3 K Q 8 Q J 4 3 Q J T 4

I open a weak NT and partner bids 2 clubs, Stayman. East decides the Stayman bid was meant for him and bids 2 spades. I don't have any majors so I think I need to just float this around to partner and pass. He jumps to 3NT.

West leads the 2 of clubs.
K 8 2
J 5 4 3
A K T 9 2
9 3
K Q 8
Q J 4 3
Q J T 4

2-K-A-4. Ok, I now have 3 clubs locked up. Oh, and diamonds are super solid with 5 guaranteed tricks there. I can easily set up 2 hearts as well, but I'll have to give up the lead. Spades could be a problem, and I bet if West had lead his partner's suit that they'd have set us hard. But he didn't, so maybe they won't. East returns a club. 8-Q-6-3 of hearts. Should I cash my 8 tricks and then play on the majors? My concern is that West has the A of hearts and shifts to a spade. If that happens they'll take 6 more tricks at least. If I cash out I'll be left with Kxx J opposite 9 KQ8 and then I won't have an entry back to my hearts. So I need to keep Kx Jx opposite 9 KQ8. I'm still going down anytime West has the A of hearts and East has the A of spades. I don't think spades are blocked so that's probably the best play anyway.

Unless by cashing out my clubs I set up club tricks for the defense. Then if West has the A of spades he gets to cash clubs in a situation where I was making. I don't have the entries to cash diamonds and then clubs either. Hmm. So probably I'm looking at cashing out for down 1 or taking a risk. I feel like the defense gave me an out to avoid down a ton and maybe that'll be worth a ton of MPs. On the other hand maybe they made the play they did because West has the A of spades and I make if they lead a spade and cashing out for down 1 will be a bottom. Ok, I'm doing well in the event and I don't need to take a mini-maxi line. If the board is set up such that we all go down a bunch, let's all go down a bunch and tie in the middle. I lead a heart.

8-2-J-6. Ok... Now I can cash out for making. That sounds awesome. Diamond to hand, cash the clubs, cash the diamonds, give up. They cash a club at the end on top of their two aces. Just in.
K 8 2
J 5 4 3
A K T 9 2
J 6
A 7 2
7 6 5
9 7 6 5 2
A Q T 7 5 4
T 9 6
A 8 3
9 3
K Q 8
Q J 4 3
Q J T 4
Everyone else played a contract and went down so once again we get a solo top board as the only team to make, though we made only because the enemy was _terrible_. Down 1 would have been worth 12 MPs, letting them take their 8 tricks for down 4 would have been a solo bottom. So it turns out maybe I should have cashed out once they failed to play spades the first time. Because most tables played diamonds, not NT!

Captain Jack doesn't like my opening bid. We're playing 12-14 NT, not 11-14, and I only had 11 points. Eh, fair enough, but I like my 11 points as being a lot like 12 since the honours are all touching and I have a working T. This is a fine weak NT I think. Way better than pass. Jack would also have cashed out for down 1. Or at least he would have started playing diamonds. I think maybe playing hearts right away made West think I had diamond issues which made him duck? Or he's just terrible.

Ranking after board 47/60: 1/16 with 59.42%

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kingdom Hearts: Conclusions

Today I woke up and finished off the last little bit of Kingdom Hearts. All that remained was two more challenge bosses (the desert thing in Agrabah and the flying thing in Wonderland) and the final boss of the game. In what should come as no surprise to anyone they were exceptionally trivial. It turns out when you power up to the point where you can beat the super challenge fight everything else pretty much pales in comparison. It's like how Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII is a complete joke after you've killed Ruby and Emerald Weapons. I'm just glad Sephiroth finally got some redemption and got to be the challenge boss himself.

The core of the ending video felt very familiar. You've got the female love interest waiting sadly at home wondering if the male hero is going to reappear after his battle with the final boss. Exactly the same as the ending video from Final Fantasy VIII. And the ending video from Final Fantasy IX. And, actually... If memory serves, it's going to be the ending video from Final Fantasy X as well. Huh. I guess it's a good tension device if you're not just going for a full on happy video?

This ending video also had little clips of various worlds getting 'fixed' after the final door was sealed. Pinocchio becoming a real boy, or Aladdin and Jasmine making out while Genie and Abu pretend to not watch. That sort of thing. One of them featured Cid (the one from FFVII) walking into a room where Squall, Yuffie, and Aeris are hanging out. (The four of them hung out together in the main town.) Cid brings in Cloud (who had been stuck in Hercules' arena trying to find Sephiroth) and there's a nice moment where he and Aeris react to seeing each other. If you were playing this game as a Disney fan I'm sure that clip meant absolutely nothing to you, but it was pretty cool from a Final Fantasy fan's point of view.

I also apparently completed all of the challenges required to unlock a special video at the end of everything. You need to rescue all the dalmatians, to have beaten the Hades cup, and to have locked all of the optional worlds. And maybe to have played the game on expert mode too? It's not clear. Anyway it turns out to just be a sneak peek at the start of Kingdom Hearts 2, which is nice I guess. It ended with a clip of a woman standing on a beach looking out longingly. The beach is clearly the one from the island in Kingdom Hearts and the wiki I found says it's the female love interest grown up (presumably indicating the main character never made it back, which is likely since the KH2 preview talks about going to look for him) but I thought the female character here was Rinoa who also looks out longingly from a beach in the intro/ending to FFVIII.

This game was a lot of fun. It had some aspects I didn't like (choosing a class changed the difficulty of the game to an extent similar to choosing a warrior or a hunter in the original World of Warcraft) but overall it was pretty good. The game controlled well, and it looked great, and it sounded fantastic. I don't know how much of the music was actually original but they had such a great library to adapt that it worked out pretty great. I hated the Little Mermaid world because it was 3D underwater combat which didn't mesh well for me, but I liked being in it because the background music was a take on the Under The Sea song.

They had a ton of material to mine for things like minigames and sidequests, and they made great use of it. Having Winnie the Pooh be a full fledged combat zone wouldn't have felt very good I don't think, but having a bunch of comic relief minigames that you unlocked as you progressed through the game was very good. The arena was excellent and sneaking in Sephiroth as the challenge boss there was a stroke of genius. Not everything worked out awesomely (the Tarzan minigame where you slide down a vine was just annoying for me and the gummi ship seemed pointless) but I think you need to accept that some stuff isn't going to work out in order to get a bunch of stuff that does.

Hooking up with Disney really worked out great for characters, worlds, music, and especially for voice acting. Square got a lot of real names for this game that I don't think they ever could have gotten on their own. I just went and looked up Final Fantasy X on IMDB and half of the 'stars' of the game had Final Fantasy X listed in their bio as their most known job. FFX doesn't really have bad voice acting, don't get me wrong, but they don't have anyone on the level of David Boreanaz, Gilbert Gottfried, Dan Castellenata, Mandy Moore, or even Lance Bass.

Where should this game fit on my ranked list? That's a really tricky question for me. I'm not even sure how I feel about this being a Final Fantasy game at all. It isn't a jRPG with turn based combat, though a lot of the other spin-offs I've played have been different genres too. It hardly has any actual ties to Final Fantasy. It uses some characters from FFVII, FFVIII, and FFX (why no FFIX I wonder). It uses the spell names too, I guess. But for most of the game you play a newly made up character teamed up with Donald and Goofy as you go to various Disney planets and play through riffs on Disney movie plots.

Most of the original stuff is pretty weak, actually. The plot tieing all the worlds together works well enough but it isn't very stirring. It's still not clear who Sora is or how he got stuck on an island with some FF kids. It feels like maybe the game was entirely a dream from a kid with an overactive imagination who watches Disney movies and forgot to play FFIX. But the stuff they pilfered from other sources is fantastic and there kept being little things cropping up as nostalgic throwbacks that were awesome and/or just there for the cheap pop.

But when it comes right down to it... This game was fun. The fights tended to have little tricks to make doing them easier which made me feel smart for figuring them out. The sidequests were pretty fantastic. It had legitimate challenge bosses. Awesome music and graphics. And I keep mentioning it, but the voice acting really does bump this game up some notches. But I think the less than stellar original story has to bring it down some, and I'm really not sure if I should be discounting it for not really being Final Fantasy. I don't think I should. Either it shouldn't be in the marathon at all, or it should be ranked on its merits once in. And 2011 me put it in. So I think it gets to go ahead of Final Fantasy IX for sure. How about V and Tactics? Kingdom Hearts is a really good game, but I don't think it's good enough at what it does best to push it over those job system games. So #7 it is!

Next up... Final Fantasy X (HD version) which is likely to push this down to #8. What else will it be pushing down? All?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kingdom Hearts: Sephiroth

For the early game in Kingdom Hearts I spent a lot of time dying and having to restart. Boss fights were killers but I'd often die to just random dudes. The game is non-punishing in that it restarts you in the previous room with all experience and loot gained from everything except the fight that killed you which is nice. Eventually I reached the point where dying was no longer something I could really do. Part of it I'm sure was getting better at the game and knowing how to avoid damage and when I needed to be healed, but part of it was also leveling up and getting more abilities. Second chance was the big one, where you get set to 1 health when you would die instead of dying which gave you a chance to heal up before taking another hit. There's a small delay in casting the healing spell but it was generally fine. Perhaps even more important was gaining inevitability. I learned an ability which gave me back mana when I took damage. Enough mana that I could constantly heal myself back to full after taking any damage at all! So playing safer and always healing coupled with not being able to get one shot coupled with experience with the game all combined to be essentially invincible.

Then I unlocked the Sephiroth fight. His attacks would hit me for about 60% of my max health and were essentially instant so there was no chance to respond. I could run away pretty well and it still took 3 hits to kill me but most of my time was spent running and healing and very little was spent trying to do damage. He also has an AE attack that hit everyone around him twice... That would put me to critical if I ever made a misstep and got caught in it. I played him a few times and eventually got the hang of not getting caught in it. I also learned his movement and attack patterns and was able to pretty consistently get in for a small amount of damage. I fought him for about 12 minutes and was starting to get cocky. I was on autopilot enough that I started writing a blog post about how easy he was. Then I got him down to a set amount of health (halfway through the pink bar I think) and his pattern changed. He teleported away, started chanting a spell, and then I got knocked to 1 health and 0 mana. My infinite play plan involves casting the heal spell which costs 1 mana... I can't cast it now! Oh, and Sephiroth immediately charged me after doing this and killed me.

Ok... Fine. Kingdom Hearts has items but you have to equip them before a fight and you're limited by how many item slots you have. I can equip 6 items so I put on 6 elixirs (full health and mana) and gave him another try. 12 more minutes and he changed phases again. I was able to drink my elixir and heal to full before he charged me. Yes! He was in a new attack pattern though, one that didn't seem to have the easily exploitable gaps for damage that the old one had. It also attacked much more frequently which was making it hard to stay healed and really gave no chance for offence, but that's fine... And then he teleported away and knocked me back down to 1 health and 0 mana. I'd been hoping it was just a phase change thing but no... He will repeatedly make me use an elixir over and over until I run out or I kill him it seems. And I was not going to kill him.

Was there some trick to this? I could turn to the internet to find out but I knew I could get a lot more powerful by gaining some levels and crafting some permanent stat boosts. So I wandered away to gather a ton of crafting materials and incidentally gain levels. In the process of doing so I had to look up where some of these things dropped and actually learned what some of the summons I'd never used could do. Turns out Bambi gives you infinite mana and drops crafting materials as you kill enemies based on what zone you're in! So I could just run in a circle spamming thundaga and get tons of loot. Most of the good stuff required some specific rare drops and one item required farming crazy mushroom dudes but I ended up making the Ultima weapon and something like a dozen strength and defense pots.

Back to Sephiroth... It turns out casting my protect spell to halve incoming damage along with having twice the max health and a lot of extra defense made a big deal to how much damage he could do to me. My first time around I had to spend a lot of time running away and healing. This time around I could take 3 hits without fear and then think about healing. I also seemed to be doing probably quadruple damage from the previous time so I could hit the phase change in a minute or two instead of a dozen minutes. It turns out power leveling your stats matters!

I was still having trouble dealing with running out of elixirs since I couldn't really find a good window to do damage in the second phase. Then at one point he teleported beside me to use his instant death attack and I attacked him while he was chanting. It interrupted the chant! And gave me a window to do a bunch of damage! Woohoo! Then I died a few times figuring out how far away I could be and still interrupt him. I was dead any time I failed because he'd knock me to 1 health and I'd be standing beside him which didn't give enough time to drink an elixir. So I ended up in a situation where if he randomly warped close to me I could hurt him, and if he randomly warped far away from me I'd lose one of my 6 elixirs. So I fought him over and over again until eventually he warped close to me enough times to trigger a transition to his third phase. Yes!

The third phase didn't seem to be anything special. I mean, Sephiroth was summoning meteors and flinging them around with his mind which was pretty cool, but I just tanked them all and healed up the damage. Eventually he stopped doing that and started trying to beat me down with his sword and some glowy balls and I was able to work out a pattern where I could just the balls and hit him with a jump attack. It didn't take too much of that to finish him off. I couldn't help myself... I ended up yelling suck it at the screen and went into the DX crotch chop. Oh yeah!

Expert mode Sephiroth dead! I guess I should go finish the game now. There are some other optional challenge bosses but none of those matter nearly as much as Sephiroth. And man, that introduction to the fight... I can remember that happening back when I first played the game and One Winged Angel started up before they announced who the enemy was and I marked out HARD. So good.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Final Fantasy X HD

Yesterday saw the release of the high definition remastered versions of Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2. Today I went to the post office to pick up my copy. They tried to deliver it yesterday at 4pm but I was asleep. I decided I liked these games so much and had interest in the collector's edition bonuses (an art book, some small posters, and the sound track) that I ordered it directly from Square-Enix since it isn't available in stores. In retrospect I think that was probably a mistake because it turns out I had to pay the post office an extra $21 to get my package. $11 in import taxes and $10 in service fees that I wasn't told about until today. This was on top of the $13 shipping and handling that Square charged themselves. If I'd gone and bought it at EB in town today instead I probably would have had to pay $45 for the games, $6 in taxes, and $6 for the subway for $57 total instead of the $114 it ended up costing me this way. Double the price to get the sound track and some cool art. I was ok with it for an extra ~$30, but the hidden stuff at the end is really annoying. I guess maybe they had to charge tax because this specific item isn't being sold in stores in Canada? It still seems pretty silly to me, but what's done is done.

I don't actually have a PS3 so I can't play it yet. Byung is going to lend me his PS3 next week which is going to be awesome! I'm not quite done Kingdom Hearts yet anyway, so even if I had a PS3 I shouldn't be playing FFX quite yet. Sephiroth still needs to die!

What I was able to do is pop the Blu-ray sound track into my computer and give it a listen. Each song has some video accompanying it, mostly concept art for the area or character featured in the song. One of the songs, my favourite one from the original sound track, has a FMV from the game playing instead of just concept art. The song is Otherworld and the scene is from the start of the game where Sin attacks Tidus playing blitzball in Zanarkand. It looks absolutely incredible. Now maybe it's just because it's a Blu-ray and I'm used to PS1 and PS2 quality graphics but the level of detail compared to what I normally see on my tv is insane. Obviously I don't know how the game itself will compare to this but it _really_ has my hopes up now. There was a second FMV for another song too, where Yuna is sending souls out from an ocean, so I don't think it's just that they made this one video really good for the 5th song on the soundtrack. But it could be that the graphics detail in the FMVs blow the gameplay away like I thought they did in my recent play of FFIX.

The game itself is a remastered version of the International release which means it has a bunch of extra stuff in it that wasn't in the version I've played. I don't know all the details, and I'm intentionally not looking them all up, but I know there's a bunch of even harder challenge fights because the really hard arena fights just weren't hard enough

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

World Boardgaming Championship: Playing For Second

A month and a half ago I wrote a post about playing for first which had the basic idea that if you got enough people taking a risky line of play most of them would fail but one of them would win. So in a world where everyone wants to win everyone just takes more and more risks. But not everyone wants to win at all costs; many people just want to play and have fun and those people are not going to be taking the crazy risks. Different people have different motivations and that's a good thing. Andrew commented on Facebook wanting me to take a look at WBC metagaming strategy with regards to how you should play in the heats if your goal is to win the event.

It all comes down to different people having different goals when they sit down at a game. I've been reading a poker tournament strategy book and he talks about how you need to figure out why everyone else at the table is playing and then take lines of play to abuse their plans. If you know someone is trying to get in the money, for example, you can raise them aggressively when you're close to the money cut as they'll fold every time. But if they're trying to accumulate chips raising them aggressively is super risky because they'll often just reraise you right back. If you can figure out who is trying to do what you can make smart (and different) plays against each one.

In some events I'm sure you could do the same thing at WBC. There's a Diplomacy tournament, for example, where I'm sure there will be people trying to get a solo win and people who will be happy tagging along for second. Team up with the latter and stab the former and you'll be putting up a pretty decent result. There are multiplayer wargames that probably work the same way, but I don't really play them enough to know. Something like El Grande or Dominant Species undoubtedly has an aspect of working out who to screw at what time in order to manipulate the board in your favour. Frontrunning against people who will team up to make sure you get knocked back is a good way to lose; doing it against people who will play for second once you get ahead is a super winning play.

Some people play in an event in order to learn a game. WBC has demos for most of the events and people can play a game after learning from the GM. Often these people don't care about advancing; they just want to learn the game. Similarly there are people who just want to play a game of something and use the tournaments as a form of open gaming. They just want to play the game. They may well still be trying to win, but they may not even be able to make the finals so they don't really care. I'm big into trying to win but I've played events in both of these ways in the past. I'm a shark at many things but when I sat down to play Manifest Destiny I was definitely not someone to worry about! I'm sure identifying someone obviously new to the game and setting yourself up to take advantage of their potential mistakes is a smart thing to do.

Of course there are actually 152 events run at WBC and they all have differences. There's no way for me to pinpoint how you should play in every event especially since I haven't even played in most of them. Even in a game you could find an abusive strategy it would undoubtedly depend on the other players in the game. One of them may well find playing for second to be extremely offensive and they'll gladly come last to make sure you come second last. That said, there are certainly some similarities I could discuss to make Andrew happy...

Single elimination events don't really have a way to abuse them. It doesn't matter if it's a two player game or a multiplayer game. Win and you advance. Lose and you're out. All you can do is try to win your table. These events tend to play all the games one after the other so there's not even a chance to become an alternate with a good second or anything. Single elimination means you need to win. Sometimes these events will have a mulligan round which you are allowed to play in and lose but not get eliminated but I can't think of any way to abuse that feature. It's a safety valve in case you lose your first game but you still need to win every other game you play.

Heats winners only events are set up so there are a few different entry points where you can show up and play a game. Anyone who wins gets to advance to the elimination rounds which are then single elimination. This format is generally only used for games that play well with a wide variety of players because the number of advancers is up in the air, and again there's not really a way to abuse it. You need to win a game in a heat and then keep winning in the elimination rounds. You can play in extra heats if you want to increase your odds of advancing but you still need to be playing each heat to win the game.

Heats most wins are the events most prone to abuse I think. Most of the games I play use this format because Euro games tend to play best with a very specific number of players. You want to have 25 people playing in your Vegas Showdown semifinal. You want to have 16 people in your Settlers of Catan semifinal. It doesn't matter how you accomplish getting to that exact number; you want to advance exactly that many people. No more, no less. This means that these events will end up building an ordered ranking of every person who played in a heat and when the semifinals start they'll take the 25 highest people on that list and advance them. If you want to guarantee you make it to the semis then you need to place highly on the list so you're in the top 25 but even if you're not there you might still advance if enough people above you fail to show up. Probably the best way to 'game' the system is to just show up to the semifinals for events you played in and hope people don't show. This will depend on the game and what else is scheduled at the same time. In 2011 for example the Ra event advanced person #98 on the list to the semis in order to hit their 25!

But it's hard to know which events will work out in this way and which ones won't. Twice now I've been the #2 alternate for Vegas Showdown and didn't get in. But then one of the years I advanced legitimately they had a bunch of people not show up and some guy who happened to be sitting in the next room got to advance. Most of the alternates hadn't bothered to show up because normally everyone makes it to Vegas Showdown I guess so this guy way down the list got in. Agricola is notorious for having everyone show up, but Le Havre is the opposite and has never managed to get 16 people to bother coming to the semis. They keep having to run 3 games and advancing the top second place finisher to get a 4 player final. (I lost in the finals to someone I beat in the semis and yes I will remain humourously bitter about that until the day I die.) Last year when I won the event I think my best heat result was 3rd place, but I showed up so I got in. There's actually been some talk about changing Le Havre next year to entirely 3 player games which will both boost the number of winners and restrict the number of semifinal slots to make winning more important. In 2012 all 3 of the other finalists had failed to win a heat but advanced as alternates because winning a Le Havre heat was apparently completely irrelevant.

I think the year Pounder won El Grande he advanced to the semis off of the back of three 2nd place finishes. This may be what Andrew was looking for... El Grande is a game with a lot of throwing points to other players and it's theoretically possible that if your goal is to come exactly 2nd that you'd be able to do so with reasonable regularity. It also advances a full 25 people, which is good for alternates. Apparently they had 20 winners last year and 3 of those didn't show up to the semis so 8 people who didn't win a game got to advance. Playing for 2nd might be enough to get you into the semis? You'd need to commit to playing all 3 heats and you'd need to succeed at least twice, but you could probably do it. On the other hand you could also play all 3 heats and try for first. You only need to succeed in that goal once and it has the potential fallback of still getting a couple of 2nds. And you will need to win in the semis and the finals anyway, so being good at doing that seems right. So while I guess if you just needed to make the semis of something you could probably do so in El Grande with a 2nd place plan I'm not sure it's actually a very good idea.

You may need to look for one of the games using a crazy format to find a real winner for this plan? Dominion and Seven Wonders both have wacky advancement plans that reward finishing highly but not necessarily just winning and heavily punish losing. For Dominion there isn't enough direct interaction with specific other players to actually matter I don't think. You can't force someone else into last which is probably the best way to make sure you aren't last yourself. I wouldn't be surprised if the Seven Wonders format from last year was such that certain strategies just became better than others. Fighting for greens and reds is probably a big loser in a format where you're playing a 6 player game and top 3 advance. Spite drafting the greens from a single green player is also less of a big deal since you don't care that that guy is going to win. Good for him. Play for second or third, don't throw your own game off to spite him.

In conclusion I don't think there is really a place for 'playing for second' at WBC because it doesn't feel like the payoff really exists for it in most events. But I definitely think there are things you can do to increase your odds of playing in the semis. Play in lots of events, especially those with lagging player numbers, and then show up for the semis in case you're an alternate. Being friends with the GMs is actually probably a good advantage since they may be able to tell you historical information about their event and can let you know where you stand on the alternate list. I wonder if some sort of event wide alert system via smart phones or twitter or something will be evolved at some point to help notify alternates. Within an individual game knowing who is a shark and who just learned at the demo can provide clues to how you should be playing in order to maximize your odds of winning. Some games let you choose opponents or seating order and knowing when to sit on someone's left or right is probably a bigger factor than people care to admit. You desperately want the guy on your right to call craftsman in Puerto Rico so if you can sit to the shark's right you should do so.

Oh, and in some events owning a copy of the game is the single most important thing you can do. Queen's Gambit has it blatantly as a high tiebreaker for advancement and I got into the elimination rounds the year I won solely because I own a copy of the game. Other games are less blatant about it but in a heat you still get to set up your copy of the game and get random people assigned to you. It's a pretty safe assumption, I think, that someone who owns the game is more likely to be a shark and less likely to be a stuffed animal than someone who doesn't. So you expect to get an easier heat game by owning a copy yourself than by just showing up. I take this the other way and show up without a copy of the game hoping to get paired against someone good and get a good game! Last year I was hoping to get randomly assigned to Sceadeau's table because he was playing he 'own a game' gambit and I wanted to mess with it. Of course I don't own that game and the odds I got into his table were pretty low but I wanted to do it anyway! (It didn't happen. I ended up at a table where the game owner needed a refresher on the rules and blew them out. *sigh*)

So it all comes back to motivation. Last year I could only play one game of Through The Ages (the rest conflicted with A Few Acres of Snow which I was GMing) so I wasn't looking to win an easy game. I was looking to play a good game (and within said good game I would be trying to win because I always want to win). If I could knock my friend out, all the better! Even if I'd owned a copy of TTA I wouldn't have set it up because I wanted to increase my odds of a good game. But on the other hand if I didn't have anything else to do then I may well have been thrilled to get in an easy win and increase my odds of advancing. Different people have different motivations!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Path of Exile: Melee Support Gems

This latest expansion for Path of Exile added in two new things to find in zones in the ambush league. Lockboxes full of a wide variety of valuable things and corrupt zones which are the only way to get the items to spawn the end boss and complete three of the t-shirt challenges. So obviously I want to find a lot of these things! I tried to search them out with my summoner but summoners walk slowly and have a hard time with just skipping packs of monsters. I don't have any real focus on attack speed, cast speed, or movement speed so I can't even really use movement skills to get around.

What I could do, however, is level a new character designed solely to cover ground quickly. Then I could run around through zones searching for map/gem/currency boxes and for corrupt zone spawns. Such a character would need to use a movement ability and focus heavily on using it more often by spamming attack speed or cast speed. They'd also need to be able to live while skipping through zones while also being able to kill the bosses of the corrupt zones. I decided to go with a melee build using leap slam to move around and double strike to actually kill things too tough for the leap slam.

I've been leveling up a duelist for this purpose the last few days in a group with Tom and Snuggles. Tom is spectral throw, Snuggles is fully aura focused, and we have so many buffs! I'm leveling a bunch of red support gems but I'm never quite sure which ones I should be using. Especially in this group, where spectral throw will kill all the dorks, I feel like my best use is burning down high health or high priority targets. Allies can't die totems, or necromancers, or bosses. My current setup is in a 4 link item and has multistrike, melee physical damage, and life gain on hit. I'm blood magic specced and definitely need to keep the life gain on hit as a survival tool, but I'm not so sure about the other two gems. Melee splash is an option as is added fire damage. I also could consider changing socket colours and busting in faster attacks. What do each of these actually do for me in general and for killing a specific target in particular?

Melee physical damage is 41% more physical damage. More is good because it's a straight up multiplier. Only affecting physical damage is less good since Tom's two auras add in a significant amount of magical damage. I feel like about 75% of my damage is physical, so melee physical damage is a straight ~31% damage boost.

Added fire damage takes 32% of your physical damage and adds it in as extra fire damage. This is a lot like more physical damage except it doesn't get amplified by hatred. So this is way worse than melee physical damage since it's a smaller number and it doesn't get as buffed. It missed out on a 1.32 multiplier from hatred, so it's probably around a straight ~18% damage boost.

Faster attacks is a 32% attack speed increase. I already have 38% attack speed increase from the skill tree and may well have ~25% more from haste aura if Snuggles runs that. Adding on another 32% increase would either be a 23% damage increase or a 20% damage increase. Extra attack speed has the added bonus of giving more life gained on hit with the added detriment of paying the life cost more frequently. Regardless these numbers slot this gem as being worse than melee physical damage and better than added fire damage.

Multistrike has four components. It gives 36% less damage, 99% more attack speed, 33% increased physical damage, and the attack gets executed three times in a row. That last part sounds like it triples the damage of the ability, but since I'm just going to keep using the ability over and over until the enemy is dead it doesn't actually matter when it comes to damage. I'll only pay the cost once and get the life gain on hit thrice which is definitely good, but it won't do triple damage. In fact because of the way the AI works I may well actually be doing only a third of the expected the damage. The reason for this is multistrike chooses random targets for the two extra attacks so I may end up hitting random dudes instead of the high priority target. In most cases this damage is going to be completely wasted since Tom's spectral throw will kill all the dorks anyway. Ignoring that for now though, against a single target, how does this gem amplify my damage? I already have 211% increased physical damage so the extra 33% from this gem is a 11% physical damage boost. With the prior assumption about damage split this is just a 8% boost. So the overall boost from this gem is .64*1.99*1.08= ~38%.

Melee splash is 33% increased physical damage, 16% less damage, but the attack becomes area of effect which does 61% damage to everything else. So the main target ends up losing 9% damage but everything beside it takes 66% damage. So if there's even one extra target this is by far the best gem so far. Assuming the damage done to the extra target matters, anyway. This means while soloing I expect I should always be using melee splash. (Added bonus: so much extra life gain on hit!) What about in a group where someone else will kill all the dorks?

I feel like my choice is between melee physical damage and melee splash. So I can either hit a single target for 131% damage or hit one guy for 91% damage and everyone else for 66% damage. Assuming I'm using multistrike here and there's one extra target I actually expect to hit the real target and the extra guy with one of the bonus strikes each. So in 3 attacks the main guy will take 262% damage with the extra guy taking 131%. Or the main guy will take 248% damage with the extra guy taking 223% damage. Give me 5 extra targets and swing 3 times so that they each expect an extra swing... Main guy takes 524% damage with each extra guy taking 131% damage or main guy takes 694% damage with each extra guy taking 619% damage.

Ok, this is really not looking like much of a choice. Unless I know there's not going to be adds (like on Warden, say) it really seems melee splash is winning out over melee physical damage. But this is because of the randomness involved in multistrike. What if I blaspheme and stop using that gem entirely? I want to burn out exactly one guy... What if I use just melee physical damage and faster attacks instead of multistrike and melee splash?

The first one is going to be an attack at 131% damage and 123% attack speed. The second one is going to be three attacks with 1+2/X hits on the main target and 2-2/X secondary hits on the main target. The main hits will do 63% damage and the secondary hits will do 46% damage and they'll come in with 199% attack speed. With just one target that works out to 125% damage from the second combo and 161% damage from the first one. With 3 targets the main guy will take 110% damage and each extra guy will take 99% damage for a total of 307% damage.

So it all comes down to the value of the damage to the extra guys. If it has even value then multistrike and melee splash reign supreme. If it has no value then I want to drop multistrike. I can imagine situations where that's true, but they're pretty rare. Pretty rare, but pretty important. So maybe it'd be worth being worse most of the time to be really optimal some of the time? In a group of 6 where I was the 'boss killer', for sure. But for this character who's end game is to search out more boxes? Multistrike is still king. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 46

Board 46 - Dealer East - None Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Doubleton
Opponents playing strength: Fair

My hand: T 8 4 3 2 T 8 6 7 4 3 T 2

Wow, a 0 count! So tempted to psyche here... Especially after East opens 1 diamond. But I can't bring myself to do it. West bids 1 heart, East bids 1 spade, West bids 1NT and then partner gets frisky with a 2 diamond bid. I have no idea what that means. The delayed cuebid? I have to think it's actually a natural diamond bid. East doubles for penalty and now it's on me. Well, if partner meant something crazy he can run by himself now, so I pass. Partner pulls to 2 hearts. East bids 3 clubs. WHAT IS GOING ON? I should have psyched because at least then I'd be the one causing the confusion. I pass. As does everyone else.

I lead the T of hearts.
K 6 5
Q J 5 3 2
J 9 8 6
T 8 4 3 2
T 8 6
7 4 3
T 2

T-J-K-7. Partner cashes a spade. A-7-2-5. Then he exits a club. What is going on? Why did partner set up their K of spades? I'm still so confused. 4-3-T-J. Declarer draws more trump. 6-5-K-2. He shifts to a spade now. 9-T-K-8 of diamonds. Now back to drawing trump. 8-7-A-3 of spades.

Over to diamonds. 5-3-9-J. Now partner cashes a heart. A-6 of diamonds-6-2. Why is no one ruffing anything? Now a diamond. A-T-4-9 of clubs. Heart pitching a diamond, heart losing to partner. Partner cashes another diamond and then declarer ruffs the last one.

I don't understand the trump use in this hand at all. But we put them down 2... Maybe that's good for something?
A K 9 4
A K J 8 2
7 5 4
K 6 5
Q J 5 3 2
J 9 8 6
Q J 9 7
Q T 6 5
A K Q 3
T 8 4 3 2
T 8 6
7 4 3
T 2
Everyone other NS pair played a contract (3 diamonds, 2 diamonds doubled, or 1NT) and went down. So we get a solo top board.

Captain Jack disagrees with my heart lead. He thinks I should lead the 8 if I lead a heart (probably right) and that I should have actually lead a diamond. Also probably right.

Ranking after board 46/60: 1/16 with 58.54%

Friday, March 14, 2014

Kingdom Hearts: Gummi Ships

Kingdom Hearts takes place on a series of unconnected worlds. You fight in the Aladdin world, and then The Little Mermaid world, and then the Pinocchio world. You get between these various worlds by flying through space. They could have done this with a simple point and click mechanic but instead they decided to add in a space shooter mini-game connecting every planet. It's not optional and a very different genre from the core of the game which is a little suspect. On the plus side they made it very easy with no boss fights or anything, but on the down side that makes it pretty boring...

They did put a lot of work into the mini-game. There's a whole subsystem built around designing your own ship. You have a 6x6x6 box to build a little ship out of all these bits you acquire through the space mini-game and through treasure chests in the main game. There are patterns of ships you can find if you don't feel like designing your own that look cool and have different strengths and weaknesses. I can see how someone who likes designing cool looking things could have a lot of fun with this aspect of the game; I am not one of those people...

They added a whole bunch of different pieces that make your ship more manoeuverable in a variety of shapes, colours, and sizes. I'm pretty sure the idea was to give you enough different bits to make the ship you had in mind. Me? I just stuck them all into the box anyplace it would let me. The ship doesn't have to look nice... It gets extra agility just by having more triangles somewhere on the ship! Fill the front up with guns, stick some engines on the back, and put ugly triangles wherever they'll fit. I am not playing the build a pretty ship game. I am playing the build a twinky ship game, and boy is my ship twinky.

I kinda wish there was something to do with my awesome ship. I just looked up a FAQ to see if there was something I was missing but no. Apparently you can get a 10x10x10 grid near the end of the game to make even cooler ships but there's never any reason to build a better or prettier ship other than to say you did. Which is a shame, really.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Path of Exile: Experience Farming?

Path of Exile is set up such that there are penalties for fighting monsters lower level than you. If you fight stuff more then 2 levels lower than you then the enemies drop fewer currency items. This is to keep people from just AE farming super low level zones, and I can see how it makes sense. They've put a cap on this penalty as well, so if you're higher than level 68 you're treated as being level 68. In this way a level 66 (or higher) zone will always drop full loot no matter what level you are. Since the level cap is 100 and the highest level zone is 78 you can see how that cap is a good thing. You don't want high level players to be unable to get loot!

There's also an experience penalty for killing monsters lower level than you. The level difference before the penalty kicks in changes based on your current level and it lets you get full experience from any monster within 3+rounddown(level/16) levels of you. I'm level 80, so this means I get full experience from monsters between levels 72 and 88. The experience penalty gets harsher the further you get away from that range. A level 66 monster only gives me 35% of the normal experience. That's a pretty big penalty! All gems equipped to your character earn 10% of the experience you do, but this experience actually isn't hit by the level difference penalty.

What I've been wondering is where I should be fighting if my primary goal is leveling up my raise zombie gem. How does monster experience scale relative to speed of killing the monsters?

Unfortunately that information doesn't seem to exist. Anywhere. I just spent a couple hours searching Google, and Reddit, and the official forums. Neither monster health values nor monster experience values could be found. This makes me sad, because I like when there are numbers I can crunch.

Why don't I just go do some testing and get these numbers myself? Well... I can't. I have NO IDEA how much damage any of my stuff does. I can summon zombies, and skeletons, and specters, and these weird flaming skull things. I can add on gems to multiply the damage they do. But nothing will tell me how much damage they do base, or after multipliers, or anything. I've stopped using the flaming skulls... But I have no basis for that decision. I just wanted to clear up space on my bar and didn't like the looks of them I guess.

I guess what I should do is start tracking the clear times and gem experience gains for different maps to at least get some sort of data going.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Path of Exile: Summoner Decisions

Randy commented on yesterday's posting saying how much he liked eldritch battery+mind over matter and suggested also taking a look at the skill arctic armour. For some reason I'd confused that skill and tempest shield and thought it was going to reserve 25% of my mana and that's all pretty much committed to auras making my zombies better. But now that I see that it doesn't reserve any mana at all I'm pretty keen on giving it a spin. I don't really need to cast spells so my mana regen can go to keeping that up without much trouble at all.

So I slept on it, and I decided to give it a spin. Then I went and actually took a look at what I'd need to do to make the changes and it wasn't looking good. I only have 5 respec points left and would need at least 10 regrets to get rolling. I don't have that many, so I'd need to go out and buy some. Even if I did have that many, 10 regrets is actually worth a fair amount. Saving up to get a Tabula Rasa item is probably a better move than changing my spec at this point and 10 regrets is about 20% of the cost of that item.

Tom also pointed out that having access to double curses is actually a big deal on some of the harder map boss fights. My problem is I didn't think I'd be able to survive long enough to cast the curses in the first place. Looking over my gear it's still pretty terrible, and I am still near a bunch more life nodes if I wanted to pick those up instead of running all over the tree to get mind over matter. The really big concern is if it doesn't work out well I'd end up being out more than an exalt to get back to my current state and that doesn't actually feel very worthwhile. So I'm probably better off just leveling a new character with the right build. That actually wouldn't take all that long!

At this point there are four ways to make my character better. I can level up my gems. I can level up my character. I can farm better gear. And I can change my spec to something better. Two of those things my current character could actually be doing for a new character. I do feel like my gear is pretty bad right now, and it could very well be that with better gear (and with arctic armour) my current spec will end up working out just fine. Even if it isn't good enough, the other spec definitely needs better gear too so time spent getting better gear now is not wasted at all. And the gem levels are really important for my minion power.

There's also the fact that none of my gems have any quality on them, and one way to get max quality on a gem is to take a max level gem and reset it to level 1. So my current plan is to keep playing my current character. If I die a bunch then I die a bunch. The gems will keep getting experience regardless! Then when my gems hit max level I'll make a decision on how the spec is working out. If I want the different one I can start a new character with the level 1 gems and level them organically on a new character with max quality.

And this way the guild keeps a high level dual curser around just in case it's needed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Path of Exile: Summoner Build

When I started my current character in the new league my plan was to pretty much do the same thing I did last time, except to go life instead of energy shield. My thinking was that this would give me more armour to survive hits and would let me use instant healing flasks to survive some of the fights I'd just watch myself die on last time around. So I did pretty much the same build just with some random life nodes along the way, and I spend a bunch of respec points intentionally in order to be slightly more power from levels 30-60. After all, I knew my end game, so I wasn't going to need them for anything else...

Well, it turns out things aren't quite that simple. I don't really have more armour since, at least for now, I'm still stuck with plenty of energy shield gear to get the right colour sockets. Perhaps more importantly I'm sitting on 4 worthless gear slots (my minions wear my shield and I have the magic find gloves/belt/boots) so my ability to actually get a bunch of armour is pretty compromised. Having access to flasks has definitely saved my life several times so far, so I like that part. But getting more health is going to be hard, and I really don't have enough as it is.

One thing I could be doing, to get more armour, is to do the thing I think pretty much everyone should do but which I never really considered on a summoner... Going way down to the bottom of the tree to pick up the iron reflexes node. This lets me use grace as an armour aura and also puts me really close to the mind over matter node. Couple that with eldritch battery, which I am beside, and I can actually use energy shield as a kind of life that I can flask up during fights.

The problem is I'm 13 nodes away from getting that done, and that's not even counting the 5 nodes I need to invest in auras so I can reasonably use grace at all. I'll get 23 more skill points as I level, but that takes me to level 100 and that's not very plausible. I want to be able to survive in higher level maps right now, not after I've farmed them for months. So I need to rip a bunch of nodes out of my tree, and I don't exactly have nodes to get rid of. The builds I saw without all the minion damage nodes are starting to make more and more sense...

I do have a couple of easy cuts if I go this route. I can get rid of the curse master section of the tree. That's 5 points to get a second curse and it's not super important to my build. I have it because I had it last time. I can also cut the two 30 dex nodes since I have to pick up nine 10 dex nodes if I do this. I can save 2 more points by changing the set of nodes I use to circle the tree. Note that I already spenta bunch of respec points making this change the other way once, so I'm really sad if I have to do it and will need to use a bunch of orbs of regret.

Mistakes were made is what I'm saying. It seems to be my Path of Exile motto.

That gain of 9 points puts me 6 away from getting iron reflexes and getting on the way. I can reasonably gain a few more levels on lower level maps. But I probably need to rip out a few more minion nodes. I saw more because I've already taken 4 of them out! Minion instability was bad once I started running super minions. And I took out the 2% block nodes because those felt pretty weak. But I guess the thing is I can take the nodes I rip out later on in my high 80s to ramp the damage back up again, right? So the goal is probably to find the weakest of the minion nodes?

10% damage and 1% life leech is probably the worst one. I don't know how much the life leech matters but I'll still have 3% so I'm only losing a quarter of the life leech. 6% attack and cast speed is probably pretty bad too. I'm sticking support gems to make that stuff better on them anyway, so they're a drop in the bucket.

Actually, I have a 30 strength node I don't really need until I get a much higher level vitality gem and I can probably put on gear to cover that gap instead. So I can rip it out too. Which means I'm pretty much there, if I want to be.

So now I need to decide if I want to get there. Do I want to throw away double curses to dive into iron reflexes? The alternative I guess is just picking up some more life nodes and staying the course. I really like the idea of trying out a eldritch battery/mind over matter/almost all the aura nodes build. But if it doesn't work out I'm really screwed in terms of respec points. There would be no going back. well, or it would be really expensive to go back...

I like having 2 curses, but right now I'm not casting any curses most of the time. And I am having trouble getting up to some bosses in order to curse them. I feel like maybe mind over matter might be good enough to make that happen.

And what's the worst that happens? I could just level a new summoner anyway. The real power spike for a summoner is when they get a max level zombie gem, and I can just trade that over!

I'll need to sleep on it, but I think throwing some regrets away and trying something new is probably going to be fun if nothing else...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kingdom Hearts: Voice Acting

One of the first things I noticed when I started playing Kingdom Hearts again was Squall Leon's voice. It sounded really familiar. Like it was Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Turns out it actually was Angel from Buffy as they got David Boreanaz to do his voice. He had the perfect mix of "yeah, I'm awesome" and "I don't care a bit about what you think" to make the perfect Squall Leon.

A little later on I got to the Agrabah planet which featured characters from the movie Aladdin. Jafar's parrot Iago came on screen and started talking and it was definitely Gilbert Gottfried. This got me really pumped up, because it made me realize just how powerful it could be linking a Square video game up with Disney. Getting access to the real voice actors from their movies is a really big deal. Even if Iago has only one line in the whole game it was still really awesome that they got Gilbert in to do it. And the genie in that movie? Robin Williams! Oh yes!

And then Genie showed up, and it didn't quite sound right. That isn't Robin Williams at all. What a blow out. It sounded like they got a voice impersonator in, because it was close to the right sound, but not quite there. In fact it sounded like Homer Simpson pretending to be Robin Williams. I wanted to rant about it today, so I just went to look up who actually did the voice of Genie in the game... Turns out it actually was Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson. Not only that, but he was the voice of Genie in the animated series from the 90s. So while it wasn't really the 'right' voice, it was actually a very close second.

I did some poking around and they got the original voice actress from The Little Mermaid (Jodi Benson) to do Ariel in the game. Even the characters new to the game got some pretty big names with the main character voiced by Haley Joel Osment and the 'damsel in distress' voiced by Hayden Panettiere. Heck, Lance Bass is the voice of Sephiroth! (Man, I really want to kill that guy now...)

So, yeah, it's pretty great that not only did Kingdom Hearts get access to Disney characters, but they were able to leverage the link into some fantastic voice acting as well. Voices in video games are often pretty sketchy so this was a really nice twist for me.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 45

Board 45 - Dealer North - All Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Doubleton
Opponents playing strength: Fair

My hand: K A 9 5 4 A T 8 6 K 5 4 2

East opens 1NT in 2nd chair. They're playing strong no trumps. My hand is pretty good, but I don't have a bid over 1NT. Neither does anyone else. Let's play 1NT!

I lead the 4 of hearts.
Q 6 3 2
8 7 3 2
Q 9
Q T 9
A 9 5 4
A T 8 6
K 5 4 2

4-2-6-J. It would appear I chose poorly. East decides to attack clubs. A-2-9-6. But then he goes back to hearts. T-5-3-4 of spades. Q-A-7-4 of diamonds. Partner doesn't like spades, or diamonds. Declarer cashed the A of clubs. I feel like we're not getting anything anywhere. But maybe partner doesn't know his diamonds are useful. I might as well lead through dummy and hope. T-9-K-7.

Partner switches to a club. 3-7-K-T. Declarer now has 7 tricks since my spade K is stiff. They also can get a diamond trick. Maybe they'll set that one up before attacking spades? I don't know what to do. I'll return partner's clubs. 4-Q-2 of diamonds-8.

Huh. Declarer cashes his heart with partner pitching the 8 of spades. Declarer then plays a diamond to set that trick up too. 5-A-Q-3. Declarer then cashes out, discovering my stiff K so he gets the Q of spades too. Making 3.
J T 9 8 7 4
K 4 3 2
6 3
Q 6 3 2
8 7 3 2
Q 9
Q T 9
A 5
J 7 5
A J 8 7
A 9 5 4
A T 8 6
K 5 4 2
7 tables played 1NT with 5 of them making 3 and 2 of them making 2. The other table played and made 3NT. So we get 6 MPs.

Captain Jack disagrees with a couple of things. I signaled an odd number of clubs, not an even number, which is probably why he fired back a club when he got in. Doh! He also didn't like the diamond shift and wants me to just play passively and fire back a heart. I thought about doing that but decided to hope partner had the KJ of diamonds for some reason.

Ranking after board 45/60: 2/16 with 57.62%

Friday, March 07, 2014

Path of Exile: Minion Snapshotting

Sceadeau found a couple of unique items that slightly buff zombies but are pretty terrible for anything else. An amulet with no personal defensive benefit at all and a two handed weapon that would keep me from using a shield. I have a passive that makes my zombies wear my shield instead of me, so it seemed a lot better than the small boosts from the weapon. He told me to check out minion snapshotting since it may well let me have the best of both worlds. Ok, some homework for today!

I was also trying to figure out how to make use of all the skill gems I want to use. They added some new abilities that buff minions and I was trying to figure out how to put those on my bar and in my gear considering my old character that didn't have access to those abilities was full up. So far I'd been playing without curses and with the crazy vaal arc instead of a real spell but that was going to have to change real soon. It turned out that the snapshotting homework was going to provide the answers to this problem too...

The basic idea is that when you summon a minion the stats for that particular instance of the minion are locked in. So if I summon a zombie while wearing the Sidhebreath amulet that particular zombie will have extra movement speed, extra life, and extra damage. I can take the amulet off and it doesn't change. That zombie's stats are locked in. If the zombie dies and I need to summon a new one the new one will be worse if I'm wearing my real amulet instead.

It turns out there is one and only one exception to this that I could find. Necromantic Aegis, the skill point that lets my zombies wear my shield instead of me, applies on the fly. So switching in a shield changes their stats from the shield. They still keep everything else that was locked in, but the shield boost carries over.

It gets even crazier... If you remove the zombie gem from your item all your zombies die. But if you remove the support gems they don't die. They stick around, and they keep the supports. So if you have a 6 link chest you can summon up some 6 linked zombies and then take out 5 gems. Put in 5 other gems and you now have the ability to run with a 5 linked skill while still having a bunch of 6 link zombies running around. Maybe you use those 5 links to summon up your specters. Then take those support gems out and run around with 6 link zombies, 5 link specters, and still have a 4 link skill. And since you're never casting zombie or specter again until you manipulate all your gear you don't need those spells on your bar anymore. Which makes room for all these new spells!

But that's not quite crazy enough... Here's the real kicker. You know how all the zombies die when you take the gem out of your item? Well, if you're back in town when you do it the zombies don't die right away. As long as you put it back in before you leave town in the same spot they'll stay alive. And same spot is defined here as same physical location in the same item slot, and in the same 'group' of linked sockets. Note I didn't say the same item.

So if you have the Tabula Rasa item, which has 6 linked white sockets and no stats, you can summon up some 6 linked zombies and some 5 linked specters. Then you can go back to town, put on your stupid 4 link chest, and as long as you put the gems back in the same physical spots you get to keep all your zombies and specters! WHAT? I can have an awesome team without actually getting a real 5 or 6 link item?

Of course you need to actually have summons that survive because if they ever die you're not going to be able to get them back. So these people run a bunch of defensive auras and use the new defensive offering spell. And then are awesome. I want to be awesome!

It turns out they also summon up their minions by using remote mines and traps. Because remote mines and traps have a MORE damage multiplier on them instead of an additive damage modifier. It's tricky to use these to make minions on the fly, but since they go through a big ordeal anyway it's not much of a stretch to go the extra step to get bonus damage. Insane bonus damage. So much bonus damage that one guide recommended not taking any of the minion damage nodes in the tree because those are additive and simply don't do much compared to these MORE multipliers. They can use the extra skill points to get more aura points so they can run more defensive auras and keep all their minions alive.

So now I've got more things to think about. Do I want to respec out of damage nodes? Do I want to go buy a Tabula Rasa? Are they even very expensive? (Looks like yes, they're worth 3 exalteds.) Can I make my zombies tough enough that it's worth trying to minion snapshot them?

This game has so many odd interactions... It's awesome!

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Path of Exile: New Challenges

At the end of the Path of Exile they had 8 challenges and gave out t-shirts to anyone who could do them all. 61 people managed to do them, which seems like a pretty small number. The game went live with 8 new challenges and only ended up giving out only 23 t-shirts. This despite it being a released game and therefore presumably having a larger user base. I wasn't playing in the beta so I don't know if the challenges were a lot harder the second time around or not, but some of them seemed really insane. One required farming a stupid amount of money (every person I read about doing it was a _hardcore_ player and still had to borrow a lot of the items) and the one that really put me off required getting very lucky on a character capable of killing a really powerful, really rare spawn.

Another set of 4 month leagues brings with it another set of 8 challenges. An initial glance through them makes me think this time around it going to be significantly easier than last time around. That may not actually mean it's viable, but it doesn't seem as out of reach as the last one did. But then some of it revolves around mechanics I haven't seen yet, so it may actually be silly hard. What do we have?

Carried over from last time there's an achievement for using all 24 currency items and using 33 of the vendor recipes. I didn't get either of these done last time, but only because I didn't bother to do the last bits of each one. I could have easily bought the stuff needed to do it, but I was waiting for a good time to do them where I could actually use the results. But if I'd just needed them done, they were done. Definitely trivial in my eyes.

In a slight twist from last time you no longer need to level every class to level 65. Now you need to level 2 characters to level 90. One in softcore, one in hardcore. This is way harder than the last version. Getting to level 90 in hardcore is not trivial. Only 675 characters hit level 90 or above in the nemesis league last season. My highest character last season was level 84, and that was in softcore. That said, this seems... Doable. Hard, yes, but not impossible and I can see the steps to get it done.

There are two achievements for doing the new stuff in the leagues. The softcore league is for opening a strongbox with each of the affixes. You can use reroll currency to get new affixes, and you're going to be running into an awful lot of these boxes getting up to level 90. The annoying part is you need to be the one who physically opens the box, being in a group when Tom opens a box doesn't give credit. It's possible one of these affixes is stupidly rare, but it seems really easy at first glance. The hardcore one is for killing all of the unique invaders that can show up in zones. I haven't played any hardcore yet but it sounded like these were linked to zones and therefore you could grind the ones you're missing. So it sounds easy too.

The final three achievements are related to the expansion content. Clear all the corrupted zones, kill the final boss, and collect all the corrupted items. Most of which only drop from the final boss. The corrupted zones are all linked to real zones so they can all be farmed. So it's just going to come down to how often you can run the final boss for the loot, or if you can buy the ones you're missing. I have no idea if this is going to be feasible or really expensive or what, but at an initial glance it doesn't seem unreasonable.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say I think they'll be giving out significantly more than 23 t-shirts this time around. Will one be headed my way? That remains to be seen, but I'm not ruling it out!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Path of Exile: New Guild Bank

With a new league launching later today all organization of the guild bank is wiped out. The new league will have a brand new stash with 13 unnamed bank tabs in it. The question I have is what should we do with those 13 tabs? How did we use the bank last time and how could it be better this time? What do other people want out of the bank?

Gems: Personally I really liked having a lot of space dedicated to gems. At least while I was actively playing and staying on top of it we tended to have at least one copy of most of the skill gems sitting in the bank in case people needed something specific. It was awesome when I wanted to create a trapper guy and was able to just take most of the needed gems from the bank, and I was able to do that because for the most part people loot and quest for gems they don't need, but someone else might. Storing them all in one spot seems really good because it reduces the need for personal stash overlap (I'd keep one of everything myself otherwise) and spreads out the luck factor of who gets what stuff to drop. I don't know how the vaal gems are going to screw with things, but if we went with 3 gem tabs again I wouldn't complain.

Currency: Maybe it's just me but I feel like having currency in the guild bank was a bit of a disaster. One of the cool things about PoE is how you can spend a stupid amount of money trying to randomly make a specific item better. Different people are going to have different ideas of what items are worth pimping out, and that's just fine. The issue that crops up when everyone pools all their money is it's so easy for someone to end up spending it all trying to pimp out something that other people think is silly. I kept getting myself into a situation where I wanted to try to make a good 5 link item but didn't want to waste other people's currency so I never did it. Eventually I switched to just storing my own currency in my personal bank and used it to make my 5 link and was happy. So I feel like everyone should store their own currency and do with it as they feel best. (I also think when running in a group we should do permanent allocation loot so the people playing ranged characters can get their share of the currency.) So I feel like using a couple guild tabs for different types of currency is probably not a good use of space. I'm not going to stick any currency in the bank, and won't be taking any out either, with the exception maybe of map enhancers when running maps in a big guild group.

Loot: I feel like leveling items and niche uniques are the real things that make a guild bank so useful. Having a bunch of resist rings, and damage rings, and belts, and 4 socket items, and life/resist/resist/resist items seems really strong. Being able to walk up to the bank and compare your current belt with a big selection of other belts of various levels seems really good. When I was playing hardcore and basically had the guild bank to myself I wanted a tab for each inventory slot, basically, so I could easily compare with all the gloves we had at that point. When I found a new glove upgrade I'd store my old gloves I wore in the bank so next time I died I could use them again. I feel like that's the sort of thing that could come in really useful.

So we have 13 tabs. How would I use them? Well, 3 for gems, 1 or 2 for incoming stuff so people could just dump them in, 1 for a selection of flasks and dinky stuff like some portal and identify scrolls, 1 for good 5+ link items, 1 or 2 for build defining uniques, and 4-6 for slot specific stuff. Maybe? I don't really know. What would other people want in a guild bank? Should there be a tab for maps? I feel like maps should probably be personal like currency. What about vaal fragments? I don't even really know what they do other than summon a big boss fight. Are they even tradeable? Who knows!