Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dungeons of Dredmore

So this morning I was looking for something turn based to play while watching Suikoden on the Crystals for Life stream. I looked through my list of Steam games and saw I'd installed a roguelike with Steam cards a while ago but never actually got around to playing it. Seemed like something to try!

Dungeons of Dredmore turns out to be more roguelike than other Steam based roguelikes I've played recently. FTL and Rogue Legacy both have some really out there twists; Dungeons of Dredmore seems to very much be an enter cave, fight, die game. Nothing is carried over. You're not a space ship. All you can do is try to use what you learned in your last death to make it a little further this time around.

What it does have going for it is the way you build your character at the start of the game. Rather than pick a class like in a normal game you instead pick 7 skills from a list of 35 options and those are the things you get to level up as you play the game. If you want to play a mage you can pick all 7 skills from spells and mana regen options. If you want to play a tank you can pick a lot of defensive skills. Maybe you want to do a little of everything? Just grab all kinds of things! There's even a random option if you want the game to pick 7 things for you.

I haven't played enough to be any good at all, but I am enjoying the different ways of building characters that ultimately die. I think my next guy is going to be a shield bearing, axe wielding, artfully dodging, berserker raging, master of arms, archaeologist burglar. He gets to start with a fedora!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

WBC Event List - Online Locations

This weekend the World Boardgaming Championships put up the list of games for this coming year's event. There were some changes from the tentative list earlier due to extra sponsors and a lack of GMs for some games. And by some games I think I mean just A Few Acres of Snow. It would appear I managed to make Robb happy and killed off that event with my attempt last year. 8(

I've been told of at least one mistake in the schedule so making plans right now is probably a little premature. Looking for event overlaps and such is definitely something I do, but it's something for a later date...

For now what I'm interested in doing is something that Randy made me think about in a discussion about my laurels post. Glen More was on the list of potential replacements for games that didn't get a GM (though it didn't get in this time around) and he wondered if you could play it online somewhere. I knew Yucata had added it in since last WBC and mentioned such. But it got me thinking about all the other games that might have online implementations that I just don't know about. Innovation has a really good one, but if Robb and Pounder didn't play on it a ton I would never have found out about it because it's a stand alone site. So I figured it could be useful to build up a centralized spot to list all the online games people knew about since I'm sure there are more out there that I'd like to play but don't know about. Crayon rails in particular!

Anyway, I built a spreadsheet on Google Docs and think I made it public for editing. There's probably more information that I should fill in that's specific to WBC once the schedule becomes more firm (prize level, heat times, etc...) but for now I really just care about places to play games online. And then I want people to play those games with me! Need more Through The Ages games!

Does anyone know of places to play games I've missed? Please let me know, or fill them in yourself! I'd really appreciate it!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Crystals for Life

Crystals for Life is a speedrunning marathon starting up on Tuesday night and running non stop for the next five days. It's being held in Edmonton and the theme for the event is all RPGs, all the time. They're opening up with Final Fantasy IV and moving on through a wide array of RPGs. Lots of Final Fantasy games, Star Ocean, Pokemon, Suikoden, Soul Blazer... If most of these games have crazy glitches like they showcased in AGDQ with Secret of Mana it should be awesome to watch.

As seems to be the case for gaming marathons they're holding this as a charity fundraiser. This one is raising money for a charity I'd not heard of before called JDRF which is working to combat Type 1 Diabetes. So if you have extra money and like RPGs and hate Diabetes this is the place to be! 

I expect to spend the next week just watching that stream and probably playing Civ V or FTL on my monitor. Maybe you want to do so too? Check it out if so!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 52

Board 52 - Dealer West - All Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Intermediate

My hand: T 9 3 2 J 6 5 4 K 9 4 3 3

West opens 1 diamond, partner overcalls 1 spade, and East responds 2 hearts. My hand is not very good, but I do have a fit for partner and 4 cards in their suits. Probably they have a club fit and I want to make it harder for them to find it. Partner should have 5 spades for his overcall so 3 spades seems like the place to be! West and partner both pass but East has other ideas and jumps to 4NT which is alerted as ace asking for no trump. I said my piece so I pass. West shows 1 or 4 aces and East settles into 6 diamonds. I don't think I can double, but I sure hope they bid too much and go down!

Partner leads the queen of spades.
A T 7 3 2
A Q J 9 6
T 9 3 2
J 6 5 4
K 9 4 3
1Ace asking for no trump
21 or 4 aces

Q-A-2-5. Declarer switches to a heart. 2-5-K-9. Now he draws trump. A-2-T-3. This method of drawing trump means I have 2 trump tricks; now I need to hope we have an outside trick too. He plays another round of trump. 5-8-Q-K. Dummy is out of trump so I guess I should play a spade. T-4-7-3 of hearts. Hmm. I don't know what declarer's plan is, but it seems to have backfired. I fire another spade through. 9-8-J-7 of hearts. Partner cashes another spade with declarer pitching a club from hand. Nothing makes any sense.

He does ruff the next spade, after I've pitched a club myself. He fires a club around which I ruff. I return a heart to declarer. Rather than draw my trump he plays another club. I ruff it too. Then I play another heart and it turns out partner has the J of diamonds!

They do finally get the A of clubs on the end. Down 6.
K Q J 7 6
9 8
J 8 2
T 4 2
8 5 4
A 7 6 5
K 8 7 5
A T 7 3 2
A Q J 9 6
T 9 3 2
J 6 5 4
K 9 4 3
Every other table made a contract from their side. 5 tables made 6 clubs, 1 table made 7 clubs, and one went up 2 in 4 hearts. They definitely had a club fit and I guess my preempt made them miss it? Huzzah! 14 MPs to the good!

Jack disagrees with my signal on the opening trick. He wants me to encourage since I have the T. I feel like my holding in spades is as bad as it can be for my earlier bid and I have no reason to encourage, so I stand by my decision to signal low.

Ranking after board 52/60: 1/16 with 61.4%

Friday, April 25, 2014

Civ V: Giant Multiplayer Robot

I was watching a Final Fantasy VII 100% stream this morning and wanted something to do while he was grinding up all of his limit breaks for every character. I haven't played Civ V in a while and looking at my 'most played' games last week brought it to the front of my mind. I gave it a go, and then ended up giving up when I found out the strategy I was going for had been nerfed and the resting point for all the city states with protection and the policy is now only 25, not 30. I'd sacrificed a lot to make that happen and decided I wasn't likely to win the long game on immortal with a bad plan and a ton of rust.

So I went down a difficulty to derust and had some fun. But I'm always frustrated with the way Civ games do difficulty settings. I realize that I'm way better at the game than an AI so if we're on even footing I'll demolish it, but it's very frustrating for me to never have a shot at wonders and the like as I work my way through outnumbered tactical battles where I eventually win because I'm better or lose because they just have too much stuff.

It got me musing about playing against people again. People don't cheat! But finding time to play always seems like a real issue, and the way it switches to asynchronous play when a war is running made me sad. I think Matt should totally be allowed to declare war and try to crush me, but I don't like that it makes people sit around with nothing better to do. There has to be a better solution, doesn't there?

I did some poking around and found a website called Giant Multiplayer Robot. The basic idea seems to be you install a client on your computer that connects to their servers. The servers keep track of ongoing games that you're in and notify you when it's your turn to make a move. Then you can download the saved file, take your turn, and send the new file back to the server. It'll notify the next person in line and so on.

On the one hand this seems like it turns the entire game into one big asynchronous thing which will undoubtedly take weeks or months to play. On the other hand it means you're never sitting around in a game waiting for someone else to make a move. You get to take moves when you get to take turns and if you're not up you can just go do something else. This sort of thing has worked out well for board games (Yucata, boardgaming-online...) so it seems like it may work out well for Civ as well?

It's set up to be a free service, but you can only be in 2 games at once. If you pay them money you can have more games going at a time. This seems like a pretty reasonable pricing scheme, especially since it tops out at $15 for all of the games. I have no immediate interest in paying them any money, but I do want to give it a shot to see how it actually works out.

So... Anyone want to play a big asynchronous game of Civ V? I'm thinking one slot for a smaller game of people who can take turns often and one slot for a big whoever wants to play and we just see what happens?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

League of Legends: 3s Musings

Yesterday Lino linked me to a Twitch stream from a team of 3 dudes who were in the middle of a 24 hour streaming marathon where they were just playing 3v3 League of Legends. Their goal was to hit challenger without losing and all three of them had been challenger last season so they're clearly pretty good at the game in general. I watched for a while in the hopes of picking up some tips on how the really good players play on the 3v3 map.

The first thing I learned is the super highly rated players have queue times of around 30 minutes before they can get a game. Normally you get a game in under a minute so this indicates there really isn't a big pool of highly rated 3v3 teams playing at the hour I was watching.

The second thing I learned is the matchmaker really gives up on making a good match and eventually just takes whatever it can find. These guys who were challenger last season were getting paired up against people who were silver last season. For those who may not be aware there are 6 tiers in League of Legends with silver being the 2nd from the bottom and challenger being the very best. League of Legends is very much a skill based game, not a luck based game...

The next thing I learned is that watching challengers demolish silvers is only marginally less frustrating than being the low ranked team getting stomped (which happens to us with unfortunate regularity). Having a 25 minute gap between games meant I gave up on watching after a couple hours because the games weren't interesting and there was nothing really to learn from watching them either. Apparently having better mechanics and better champion selection and better strategy and better tactics means you win.

One nice thing was there was a lot of downtime and they were answering questions from the Twitch chat. They were on hour 13 of their marathon and I imagine they were getting the same questions over and over so they were rather curt with a lot of their responses which got on my nerves but there was one good answer that I remember. Someone asked how to stop yourself from dying to ganks if you push your lane up and the response was that you need to push both lanes at the same time and then invade their jungle. They didn't elaborate or anything, unfortunately, but the idea certainly seemed to be you want to have your whole team capable of pushing early and then fight in their jungle for a while. It certainly stops you from being ganked if you're jumping on their ganker!

The last thing that was useful is they have a list of 'god tier' champions for the map. Now that's just a list that 3 guys made, but they seem to be 3 guys with a decent feel on the map. It had 23 champions on it, which seems like a lot for a 'god tier', but they didn't seem to put a ton of effort into their FAQ thing. 23 champions that are really good and then everyone else who isn't. My most played champion isn't in that 23 which makes me sad, but I can understand why. I feel like a lot of the champions they list are the ones that actually have a chance of blowing me up when I'm playing Ezreal and I can see how they'd be really good at pushing early and winning the 'invade their jungle' plan.

Evelyn, Yasuo, Lee Sin, Thresh, Syndra, Lulu, Leblanc, Kha'Zix, Wukong, Soraka, Darius, Udyr, Ryze, Leona, Pantheon, Jax, Renekton, Annie, Karma, Trundle, Lissandra, Cassiopeia.

Renekton is my most played 5v5 champion by far so maybe I should start playing him in 3s and see how that works out? I sure get to push the lane hard early! And the game probably ends quick enough while Renekton is still awesome, right? Right!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

World Boardgaming Championship Laurel Opportunities

Last Thursday Andrew came by after work to play some board games and escort Adam and I to his place in preparation for Lounge Day. Andrew arrived before Adam and we talked a bit while I was eating about WBC this year. Andrew is finally coming down which should be good times and he was looking at building a schedule despite the final list of games not existing at this point while they continue to scrounge for GMs. He asked me about what games I thought he had a reasonable shot at winning so he could schedule it and practice it.

I'm sure lots of people think this about their University crowd, but I do think the people I gamed with back in the day really were significantly above average when it came to game skill. This leads to things like Pounder and I making the finals in Puerto Rico in back to back years despite neither of us thinking we're any good at the game relative to the people we used to play with. So while Andrew loses a lot of games around here I think he's still going to be pretty good compared to the average person at WBC. But even then, there are some truly excellent players in a large number of games so identifying a decent game to work on seems like a reasonable thing to do.

I think the way to approach the question is to consider where a given game lies on the luck vs skill axis. Realistically it should be more of a 2d graph since there are definitely games with a lot of both luck and skill but I think simplifying it down to just one factor isn't too unreasonable. I feel like what I care about is how often an expert will lose to a pretty good player, and how often a pretty good player will lose to a relative rookie. Something like A Few Acres of Snow is going to end up way over on the skill side of the line even though when I play Nick Henning I feel like the result is going to be pretty random if we're not rusty. On the other hand something like Can't Stop is going to be entirely on the random side of the axis. I don't actually think you can be really good at Can't Stop. I think you can be bad for sure but if you stick a Can't Stop 'expert' at a table with 3 good players I bet they'll win 1 in 4 games.

But how to identify those games? We could go by gut feeling but I actually think a reasonable way to look at things would be to look at the list of people who have earned laurels historically and see how often the same people repeat over and over again. Taking Can't Stop, for example, the game has been played for 8 years at WBC. The top 6 earn laurels each year so there have been 48 people who have earned laurels at Can't Stop over the years. If we look at the laurel list for the game there are 47 unique people on the list. This means that only one person has managed to come in the top 6 more than once in 8 years! I think it's pretty clear that there's no consistency at all in the year to year performance of any given person, and that the one person who pulled it off twice simply got lucky. A Few Acres of Snow doesn't really have the data to look at since it's only been around for two years now but it did have the same top 3 both years. Can't Stop has 1 multi-laurelist in 8 years, AFAoS has 3 in 2 years. AFAoS also has a significantly smaller field as well which would need to be taken into account, but I think it's pretty clear that the two games are pretty far apart on the luck v skill axis.

I'm not really aware of an easy way to actually pull this info off of the BPA website (I may write a spider to go hunt it all down if I get really bored) but I don't know that we really need to. Identifying what type of game we're looking for and then using gut feeling to compare is probably good enough. Though if someone was actually just bored at work and was reading about the games anyway they could totally look into it...

So what type of game should Andrew be looking for? Well, the high skill games are certainly the best bet if one has the time to dedicate to really learning the game and high level opposition to practice against. But Andrew has a job and kids and probably doesn't have the right opponents on hand to pick up a game like Twilight Struggle and reach the top tier. A Few Acres of Snow is a possibility if it even gets a GM and comes back this year but I don't think any of the other high skill games are feasible.

Should it just be the high luck games instead? They tend to get a lot of players and the chances of winning are really more or less random. There's also not a lot to be done to get better at Can't Stop. Andrew's already as competent at the game as I think it's possible to be.

I think the proper area to be looking is the medium-high random Euro games. Something like a Vegas Showdown where there are a few viable paths to take and which one ends up winning is determined randomly by the order of the cards and tiles. The Theatre wins the game, assuming it gets to flip and be bought by the person who was playing for it. But that's not actually terribly consistent. I think it's still the right line of play, but you can't know if it'll win or not in time to make intelligent decisions about it. I feel like past me would argue with the statement that Vegas Showdown is really random at its core, but the laurel list makes a pretty good case I think. The game has been played for 6 years and has 29 different laurelists. (The webpage has 30, but it lists Mike Kaltman twice.) No one has placed in the top 6 more than twice. And it's not for lack of trying, because I know most of the people who have laurelled twice and I know they keep playing every year. Myself, Sceadeau, Randy, Eric, Cary, Mike, and an Andrew I don't know. Those are the sorts of names I expect to see high on the list, but when you compare this list to Twilight Struggle's list... It's pretty clear that one of these games has something keeping the top players from repeating year after year.

So I think ideally you're looking for a game that has some choices, and has some right decisions to make, but where something outside the choices works to determine who wins. A Euro where your choices have a strong correlation with the outcome of the game probably requires too much practice for someone with Andrew's schedule. Le Havre is what I'd call a low random Euro in this vein. 4 years at WBC, only 12 people have earned laurels.

There is one other category of game that's ripe for the picking... And that's the underattended game. If you can identify a game that other people aren't very interested in playing you may well be able to get into the top 6 just by showing up and being decent and/or lucky. In 2010 I remember winning a game of Factory Manager but decided to skip the semis because the Agricola semis were an hour later and I didn't want to risk Factory Manager not finishing in time. (It was scheduled for 2 hours so that seemed like a real worry, but then Agricola started late as we waited for (I think) Amun Re to finish and I was a really fast Factory Manager player so I probably could have pulled it off.) They only had 9 people show up for the semis. So 67% of the people who won either heat and bothered to show up for the semis earned laurels.

Trials are notorious for not getting many people (at least compared to Century events which have proven at least once before that they do get people) and keeping an eye on what they're up against could lead to a 'Caveman: Quest For Laurels' situation. Often people will put a lower weight on trials because they only have 1 prize instead of 3-6 but it's always top 6 for laurels.

But really there's not a great way to know in advance what events are going to be underattended or softer than normal. Maybe look for something like the Agricola semis which will have a lot of the really good Euro players and find something scheduled right beside it? Or look for new sponsor trials since those ones didn't even get voted in by the membership so there may really be little to no interest in the game.

That's all stuff to consider once the actual schedule comes out though. But for theorycrafting for now I think looking for Euros with a good amount of randomness and finding an online site with the game to get practice on would be a good start.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On Regression to the Mean

I didn't play in the Barbu game at Lounge Day, but when I came back from eating at Mel's after my Titan game I was greeted by Andrew yelling at me about how regression to the mean doesn't exist because Kevin won the Barbu game and Andrew thinks Kevin was the worst player at the table and therefore if regression to the mean was a real thing Kevin should have lost the game.

I struggle to handle this. Is Andrew being intentionally obtuse? (Something he was rather vocal about disliking earlier in the weekend.) Maybe Andrew has absolutely no understanding about probability and statistics? (It may explain that history degree...) Maybe there's some other explanation for why he's being so vocal about ignoring what I see as basic facts about randomness, but I'm not seeing it. I feel like he's probably misusing this term because 'stats geeks' who follow professional hockey used it when his preferred NHL team, The Toronto Maple Leafs, got off to a good start to this latest season. They all predicted gloom and doom for the Leafs, and said gloom and doom came true with the Leafs missing the playoffs.

In the hopes that maybe he's just not understanding what is going on I'm going to explain what the term actually means. At its core regression to the mean is a concept which basically says when you have two independent events it doesn't matter what the outcome was for the first one; the second one expects to be 'average'. It's used when dealing with a large sample of outcomes, and is something experimenters need to keep in mind in order to deal with the innate randomness that may be going on under the surface.

With the Maple Leafs the 'stats geeks' were looking at the way the Leafs were actually playing at the start of the season and not on the actual outcome of the games they played. They look at things like how Phil Kessel shot 18% in the first 14 games of the season but shot more like 11% over his career. You can look at his hot start (9 goals in 14 games) and extrapolate that something happened to Phil Kessel this offseason that made him awesome. You could then assume he's going to put up 54 goals on the season and the Leafs were going to keep winning games and win the Stanley Cup and PLAN THE PARADE. The 'stats geeks' on the other hand looked at it, saw that he was probably just getting lucky bounces since his shooting percentage was significantly higher than expected, and that he was apt to cool off a little. I believe the same was true of their goaltending as well, who were playing better than they had historically. As far as puck possession, which the 'stats geeks' have found to be a better predictor of future success than goals or wins, Toronto was something like 29th out of 30 teams this season. The underlying stats showed they were really bad, and the most likely reason for their early success was simple dumb luck.

Now, it's important to point out that regression to the mean doesn't say we expect Kessel to miss a ton of shots so he ends up back at 11% shooting percentage again. He's not 'due' a cold streak to go with his hot streak. That's the gambler's fallacy. No, all regression to the mean is stating is that for the last 83% of the season we expect them to play around average. It just happens that average for the Leafs is worse than everyone but the Sabres and it wasn't likely that their hot start was going to salvage their season. All the hot start meant was that they were likely going to finish above their expected finishing spot. (Which should be a scary thought for Leafs fans, since they have the #8 pick in the draft with a team that's probably 'good enough' to have earned the #2 pick.)

So how should regression to the mean be applied to a money Barbu game in the Lounge? Realistically, not at all. There's a lot of randomness in any given hand of cards and you only play 32 deals total in a game of Barbu. Regression to the mean tells us nothing at all about how a given hand will play out except that we can expect it to be 'average'. But average in a game where one lucky card fall or opponent misplay takes you from scoring -252 to scoring +72? That's really not telling you a lot. What it does tell us is that should a 'bad player' get lucky in the first hard they do get to keep all those 'unjustified' points. Regression to the mean means they're apt to be average for the remaining 31 hands but they get to keep the good result from the first hand so overall they rate to finish higher than expected.

Nevermind that I'm not convinced that Kevin is actually the worst player at the table, let alone the worst player by such a large skill margin that he rates to be super negative. As far as I am aware the people at the table have played Barbu something like once every year or two; I'm sure everyone was making some silly mistakes which just serves to amplify the randomness. A bad player is less likely to get punished when the other players are screwing up. I don't think I've played a game of Barbu since Byung's bachelor party back in 2008 and while my brain is still telling me I'm awesome at the game I'm sure the reality is that I'm rusty and will make some silly mistakes rounding back into form.

We could apply regression to the mean if we set up a large enough sample size, though. Like, say, if we were to build out a money Barbu circuit. Tag me in with the 4 people who played the game on the weekend and let's play 50 games total with each player sitting out 10 games. Now we're talking each person playing 1280 hands. Now we're talking enough current experience to shake off a lot of the rust for most of the games. Someone getting lucky in any given game would impact their overall final result, but we expect the other 39 games to fall in line with the expected result and someone who is actually the worst player at the table really expects to finish negative and near the bottom of the pack.

I think if we actually did such a circuit I would finish at the top. I think Sky would also be positive. I think the other three would all be negative. I'm actually pretty sure that's how it would shake out. Because regression to the mean should kick in over that large a span of games and I am the best.

Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 Lounge Day Games Played

I don't think I played very many games on Lounge Day, but I definitely spent a lot of time playing games. I got in games of 10 Days in Asia, Eminent Domain, Titan, and Innovation.

The Titan game was a 6 player affair featuring a lot of very rusty Titan players. I believe the game itself lasted 6.5 hours and I ended up coming 2nd. In a game of Titan 2nd place really is the first loser since you were in the game the whole time and didn't get to win. At least Adam got to go play other games after he went out first in less than 2 hours! On the plus side I got to attack with a serpent so that really makes it all ok in the end. Overall I hit the top of every tech tree with recruits of 1 colossus, 2 serpents, 3 hydras, and some unicorns and rangers for flavour. Robb went the other path and recruited entirely points from the other players in the game and ended up with a size 18 Titan. That's ludicrous! And to think, Adam had a decent chance to kill off Robb's Titan in the first couple hours of the game. Oh well! Still fun!

Eminent Domain is a game I've played twice now, and each time I walked away really wanting to play again. I fear it's actually pretty degenerate since there doesn't seem to be a lot of variance between games but for now I really want to try out the different strategies to see how they shake out.

10 Days in Asia I played 3 times this weekend and I think I may be souring on it. It's an interesting idea but it seems to end up having a really random finish. I had I think 9 different tiles I could draw or have discarded by Andrew for the win and turn after turn went by without getting any of them. Eventually Andrew drew one of the 7 tiles he needed and won. I feel like we both made interesting choices early and then sat around waiting for someone to randomly win. It might be a better 2 player game where you can try to control discards for what your opponent needs, and it might be a better game if each player had their own discard pile or something so it wasn't so trivial to bury 'good' tiles. (Eventually you reach a point where 2 of the discard piles have complete trash on top of them and then if your players are any good at game they just use the 3rd pile. In one of the games I got totally screwed because the person on my left drew the tiles I needed and therefore I never got a chance to play them as they were quickly covered up.)

Innovation remains fun. This game was a 4 players game where Adam was my partner and did a lot of cool things and I just sat around scoring points until I could play my one high level card and force the game to end suddenly by drawing out all the 10s.

I missed out on the 'high stakes' Barbu game which wasn't really very high at all because I was playing Titan, but that's ok. There's always next year!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 51

Board 51 - Dealer South - EW Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Intermediate

My hand: Q J 9 A J T 9 6 5 4 3 7 4

Well. I have an 8 count with an 8 card suit and a void. If partner has a good hand (especially one with spades and top clubs) we could well be looking at a slam. Or if partner has a bad hand the opponents almost certainly have a slam of their own. So I need to figure out if I want to leave lots of room to find those slams or if I want to just take away all the bidding room. I think they're more likely to have the slam than we are, and they're red while we're white. I've heard the argument that white on red you should preempt up one more level than you normally would (and red on white you should go the other way) but I'm not sure I can talk myself into opening 5 diamonds. But taking away 4 hearts seems really good. Really, really good. Ok, screw it. All in. 5 diamonds. West immediately overcalls 5 hearts which gets passed back to me. I really can't bid more, so I pass too. At least they're stuck at the 5 level, which might be one too high (if they only make 4 hearts at other tables) or one too low (if there's a slam) so I like it.

Partner leads the 2 of diamonds.
K 7 5 3
J T 5 2
K Q 9 2
Q J 9

A J T 9 6 5 4 3
7 4

2-7-A-K. Would partner have lead the 2 from Q-8-2? I'd hope he'd have lead the Q if he had it so returning a diamond is probably safe. But it doesn't really accomplish anything either since declarer definitely didn't drop the K from KQ8. Leading any other suit is apt to help declarer out, but maybe not a spade if partner has the A or the T. But if declarer has both any spade I choose to lead gives up a trick. I guess a club is only pretty bad? I fire out the 7 of clubs. 7-6-T-Q. Declarer draws trump, I pitch a diamond, and my play of the hand is now unlikely to matter.

Said prediction was true, as declarer is really, really up. Partner had a 4-3-3-3 2 count and they _really_ had 6 cold.
T 8 6
9 6 3
Q 8 2
T 8 5 3
A 4 2
A K Q 8 7 4
A J 6
K 7 5 3
J T 5 2
K Q 9 2
Q J 9

A J T 9 6 5 4 3
7 4

Six of the tables played slam and made. In two cases they even made 7 (I guess they didn't lead a diamond) one of which they were actually _in_ 7. The last table played 4 hearts making 6. So we share the top spot with those guys and earn 13 MPs.

Jack disagrees with my opening bid. He wants me to open 4 diamonds, which is fine, but his reasoning is absurd. He thinks 5 diamonds has a conventional meaning and isn't a preempt. Somehow 5 diamonds is 'Gambling 3NT' which is weird since I'd think that convention would involve opening 3NT. I feel like my bid earned us a lot of MPs Jack, so screw you. (In fact I tried bidding 4 diamonds to see what would happen and they easily get to 6 hearts where assuming I lead my A of diamonds we still get 6 MPs.)

Ranking after board 51/60: 1/16 with 60.64%

Friday, April 18, 2014

Off to Lounge Day

You know, I really haven't played board games in an awfully long time. I played a little bit at Andrew's for his anti-valentine's thing back in February and once at Sky's last month but otherwise I don't know that I've played board games since December. Part of that is being sick during the Niagara event. Part of that was the disintegration of the online board gaming group I used to plan playing games. And probably a big part of that is entering into a hermit death spiral? It's hard to say.

Anyway, yesterday Adam came into town and Andrew took the subway up after work and we played board games at my place and then again with Sara at Andrew's place. Thunderstone Advance, Innovation, Augustus, Seven Wonders, 10 Days in Asia, and Smash Up. I won some, I got blown out some. It was fun.

Today is Lounge Day and there will be lots more games. Hopefully some more hardcore stuff... Like TITAN! Or maybe just a lot of bridge? I could handle playing a lot of bridge. Maybe a high stakes Barbu game. I haven't played Barbu in forever... How rusty can I be? At least I won't have to worry about my queens doubling library getting me into trouble... Thanks Andrew!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Time Spent on Games

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how much time I've spent on various games. Steam is awesome for this in that it tracks the total playtime for every game in my library! I could probably even go back through my email history to find out how much I paid for each game to look at the dollars per hour situation for each game. I took a look at that sort of thing back in 2010 when I mused about how paying to play an MMORPG was actually a pretty fine deal.

Going just from my games on Steam my all-time leader is Path of Exile which is coming in with 775 hours played. Considering it is entirely free to play and that it's only really been out for ~5 months that's a pretty big number. I did give them $20 at one point, I think, to unlock some extra stash tabs, but even still that puts it at ~39 hours per dollar which puts it at one of the best values of any game I've ever played. Even if you discount the hours some because I've left it running way more than any of the other games on Steam it's got to be pretty good.

Next up is Blood Bowl, with 439 hours on record. A lot of those hours weren't actually me playing games, though. I spent a lot of that time watching other people play games in our leagues. That was good times! I'm getting my Blood Bowl fix out of FumBBL now, and I've played 225 games there at probably an hour per game so it's got a good chunk of time too. FumBBL has been completely free, and I'm pretty sure I paid like $70 or $80 for the various Cyanide Blood Bowl games. So FumBBL would be awesome, and Cyanide would be only ok.

Civ V is next with 225 hours played. I'm a little surprised this number is so low, since I really like Civ V and I thought I'd played it a lot. It's got a real game price tag on it, and I've bought both expansions, so it's value is only around 2 hours per dollar. Still a better entertainment value than practically anything else, but not top tier as far as games go.

SolForge surprises me as the next one on the list, with 163 hours played. I guess I do like the idea of the card game and really like drafting, and it took quite a while for it to really push me over the edge and give up on it. I paid $10 so I could start drafting, so it's actually over 16 hours per dollar which puts it really high up on the list. Maybe it would be a fine idea to buy some more tickets in order to draft more consistently? It might not be a great use of that money, but it would average out to still a really good value? Something to think about.

The next game is the game I was actually curious about. FTL, with only 73 hours played. I really like FTL, and I think I only payed $7 for it, so it's in the same tier as Civ V. And it's a game I'm still actively playing (I've been taking some turns during downtime of the LCS).

Below that is sadly a bunch of games that just haven't been played very much at all. Dungeon Defenders (37 hours), Rogue Legacy (34 hours), Magic 2014 (25 hours), Guns of Icarus (20 hours), Defender's Quest (19 hours), Alan Wake (14 hours), Antichamber (14 hours), DmC (12 hours), Awesomenauts (11 hours), and Forced (11 hours) round out the games above 10 hours played. A lot of these games were really good, but I guess just didn't have the replayability of something like Path of Exile?

And then there's Final Fantasy X HD, which is currently sitting at around 65 hours on my save file. I've died a bunch of times though, so actual time played is probably more like 70 hours at this point. And I'm nowhere near done! And when I am done there's still going to be Final Fantasy X-2 that came on the same disk. I ended up paying $114 after all the stupid import fees and handling charges and taxes and junk so it's probably not going to get much better than 2 hours per dollar. But even at that cost it's still as good as Civ V and FTL and way better than any other entertainment option, and that's ignoring the value gained from the awesome soundtrack that came with FFX.

So I guess even though I'm still bitter at those extra fees in reality they're still not dragging the value for the game down below other excellent games I've been really happy to buy. So I guess it really wasn't much of a disaster after all, huh?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

League of Legends: Last Whisper

I've been watching the midseason playoffs for the LCS the last couple days and one of the commentators today made an offhand comment insulting one of the players in the game. Genja has a habit of building unorthodox items and people love to rag on him about it. In this case it wasn't even that he'd built anything weird in this game, as it looked pretty standard to me. No, he just wanted to insult Genja for some reason. At any rate, he was bringing up a game in the past where Genja declined to build the item last whisper and he said that not bringing the percentage armour penetration from that item was going to give the opponent three, four, or even five times as much effective health. That seemed like a patently absurd claim, but I wanted to check it out. Especially since I sometimes get yelled at in ranked games when I don't build an early last whisper. I get told I don't do any damage with just bloodthirster, infinity edge, and phantom dancer against a team without a lot of armour. I don't like getting yelled at. Why must people yell?

Anyway, there's actually a lot of variables at play when working out just how good last whisper is going to be. Some champions like Corki, Ezreal, and Varus do a reasonable amount of magic damage which will reduce the power of armour penetration. Some enemy teams won't build much armour. Maybe you've got teammates who have armour shreds themselves to help you out? I'm going to try to simplify all of that and just assume all of your damage is physical and your team isn't going to help you at all. I will vary the enemy armour, especially because I want to see just how much armour it takes that building a non last whisper item will quintuple their effective health.

There's also the question of where it fits in your build order, or what you'd have to replace it. I'm going to assert you'll be building berserker greaves and bloodthirster first and will be adding in phantom dancer and infinity edge after that. Looking at a straight auto attacker like Caitlyn (who actually has 2 magic damage abilities, but they're not really used for damage) where are we standing? I'll assume she's using max rank peacemaker on cooldown and otherwise not doing damage with anything but auto attacks and that she's level 15 for the AD and attack speed gains per level. AD quints and armor pen reds will be the damage related runes, and pretty much all of the damage masteries are in play.

I built a spreadsheet to compare the different item options and it was actually pretty interesting. At an enemy armour value of 100 if you're only allowed one more item the most efficient item is last whisper. But if you're allowed two more items you actually want infinity edge and phantom dancer. The way those two items compound with each other pushes them over the top of last whisper with only one of them. But in both cases it was all pretty close. We're talking a difference of 5% or 7% in terms of damage done, which is small enough that I don't think anyone should be yelling about one choice over the other, especially since the 'right' choice varies depending on how long the game gets to go.

How about if the enemy has more armour? 200, say? Well, then last whisper is the big winner. It's 33% better as a single item and 7% better when combined with the phantom dancer.

What about less armour? The two people you're most likely to be fighting in the mid game are the people in your own lane and neither of them are too likely to build any armour. They might have, say, 60 armour? In that case last whisper is the worst single item and should be kept out of the duo items. Starting phantom dancer is 16% better and adding on infinity edge is 19% better.

So it seems pretty clear to me. If you'll be hitting someone without any armour items you don't want last whisper early. If they have a fed tank who built a ton of armour and will be in your face you need last whisper as soon as possible. If neither is really the case then it doesn't much matter. It's probably 'right' to build it first, but it depends on how much fighting you'll do at the one extra item mark compared to the two extra item mark. Oh, and while it's the most gold efficient item against the 200 armour people it's actually still the worst actual damage item. It just gets to win because of how comparatively cheap it is.

Now what about the ludicrous statement that skipping last whisper will make the enemy take FIVE TIMES as long to kill? How much armour do I need to give the enemy to make BT+LW+IE+Doran's Blade do five times as much DPS as BT+IE+PD? (The gold difference is 500, so I'll add in an item worth about that much to even things up.)

There is no such number. Even with 10^300 armour I can only make the last whisper set do 16% more damage. Maybe doran's blade is that abysmally bad? Or maybe I should be using PD instead of IE? It was the better set at 200 armour, though it has an even bigger gap of gold. I guess I can balance out that 1500 gold with an extra BF sword? That's pretty fair. So comparing BT+LW+PD+BF against BT+IE+PD I end up with the first set doing 4% more damage at 200 armour, and at ludicrous numbers of armour it still only ends up at 24% more damage.

Maybe the commentators are thinking Genja took the 2300 gold he could have spent on a last whisper and instead spent it on hookers and blow? Maybe if we just give out a free last whisper we can reach five times damage done? So let's compare BT+LW+IE+PD with just BT+IE+PD. In this case the first option does 52% more damage at 200 armour and 81% more damage at 80 million armour.

So getting a free last whisper is pretty good! But it doesn't cause you to do double damage. It certainly doesn't cause you to do quintuple damage.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Damage Scaling

Last week I talked a bit about agility in Final Fantasy X and how if I spent 18 levels worth of stats on Rikku that I could get her to take 33% more actions in the same span of time. I mused a bit about how I could probably take 18 levels worth of strength and probably do more than 33% more damage for the level investment. So I went to look up the damage formulas to see how true that was going to be. Just as a gut feeling Rikku seemed terrible for the longest time (except at killing robots and getting me the stealing achievement) even though she got to take the most actions. Even black mage Kimahri was significantly outdamaging her!

Anyway, it turns out that there's a bunch of complicated calculations in how much damage is done on a given physical attack but strength only factors in one spot so it's pretty easy to compare the damage done with X strength and the damage done with X+Y strength as a relative matter. The damage formula cubes your strength. CUBES! In the original Final Fantasy your strength was a linear factor in terms of damage done. Cubing is... Insane? It explains why Wakka seemed to be so much worse than Tidus and Auron despite only having a little bit less strength than they had. If Wakka has 20 strength and Tidus has 25 strength then Tidus will do twice as much damage. Not 25% more. Not less than that, which would be expected if weapons had any game effect.

So what happens if we give Rikku 72 bonus strength? Well, it depends on her current strength but it's always going to be _way_ more than 33% more damage. If she started at 10 strength then she'd do 552 times as much damage. If she started at 50 strength then she'd do 15 times as much damage. Even if she started at 183 (the highest she could have and still get benefit from 72 bonus strength) she'd just do 2.7 times as much damage.

This formula is completely ridiculous, and it goes to explain why my damage always seems to get out of control in a real hurry. You go through most of the game doing reasonable damage, but then around the time you unlock the ultimate weapons you find yourself starting to run into the 9999 barrier. Break that limit with a weapon and it isn't much longer before you're doing 99999 damage. It feels like a big difference and like there should be a more gradual growth between the two but there really isn't.

Magic damage works similarly, except your magic stat is only squared, not cubed. It's divided by a smaller number too so it works out pretty comparable at lower levels, but the insane scaling at higher stat values isn't quite as insane. Still pretty insane, but not as off the charts. Magic is also gated by having the magic sphere boss be significantly harder than the strength sphere boss. (Mostly because he's immune to physical damage entirely which shuts off being able to use the magic break skill while the strength guy can be hit with the armour break skill.)

I've reached the point where I've gone off the rails in terms of power. I farmed the strength sphere boss until I was able to hit 255 strength with Tidus and Rikku. I'm struggling with coming up with a way to max my magic without it taking forever and I think I've settled on just power leveling Yuna and letting her get all the magic on the real grid first. Kimahri does way more damage because he's already done most of that but he doesn't have 1MP cost on his ultimate weapon so he's actually a terrible caster. His spells cost 90 times as much mana so he runs in 4 or 5 rounds while Yuna can double cast ultimas all day long. So what I'm doing right now is farming a fast boss for money and dark matter. One-Eye dies in two attacks, so I can have Yuna wait and still kill the boss before he takes an action. This lets her score up a silly amount of experience since I built her a triple AP, triple overdrive, overdrive->AP weapon. (One-Eye drops 2 or 3 socket weapons with triple AP so it's easy to build an experience gaining weapon as long as you don't need it to break the damage limit.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Give Them What They Want?

League of Legends came out with a joke game mode for April Fool's this year. URF mode, where everyone had infinite mana and stupidly short ability cooldowns. It was meant to be a silly thing, up for a week. It was rather popular and they extended it for another week on top of that. It went away earlier today and people are not happy. Reading comments on any big internet post is probably a bad idea in general... Reading the comments on the removal announcement was not a terribly productive use of my time.

My first instinct is that removing it is a fine idea. Riot has an established policy of bringing out new game modes for short periods of time and then rotating them out. All for one where everyone on a team played the same champion, or hexakill where you played 6 on 6 instead of 5 on 5. The justifications for that policy make a fair amount of sense. Only putting these wacky game modes out for a short period of time puts the focus on them when they're up, increasing the number of people playing at once and reducing launch times for individual people waiting to play. Having 20 or 30 different game modes would risk fragmenting the user base to the point where the least popular ones might not launch. Rotating game modes out also gives the development team a chance to 'fix' any problems with it before they relaunch it. And limiting the number of modes available at any given time limits complexity when it comes to how other changes to the game engine might impact them. It's bad enough that they need to finesse the numbers for 120 champions on 3 maps as it is. Running 30 different maps with different durations for Singed's ult on each of them would be a bit of a nightmare.

On the other hand there seem to be a lot of people who want to play a game. This game exists. But these people can't play the game because the game owners just turned it off. The idea that games I want to play can just disappear on the whims of other people is one that makes me sad. I play lots of games that aren't necessarily popular (and that are often quite old) and that couldn't happen if the companies behind them could just make them disappear in order to further their other business interests. Why let me play Final Fantasy IV when they could try to make me pay them a bunch of money and play Final Fantasy XIII-2 instead?

Though in that case I own Final Fantasy IV in cartridge form, having paid for it already, and there's nothing Square needs to do in order for me to play it now. Here no one is paying Riot for a specific game mode and it is costing them bandwidth both real and developmental...

Maybe it's just a problem with online games in general. I don't know. Maybe I'm just getting old and crotchety. Back in my day I could play any game that I had in my hands!

Regardless, Riot gets to do what it thinks is best. Apparently that is to remove URF mode for the time being. So I went and played 4 ranked games today instead of URF mode, and I had fun. Woo!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 50

Board 50 - Dealer East - NS Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Intermediate

My hand: Q T 9 6 5 4 A 9 6 2 Q 9 6

East preempts 3 diamonds. I wanted to preempt spades but that sure isn't happening now. I wonder if I should double here? I don't have nearly enough points to justify it, but I have a really nice distribution. I worry partner has a good hand but too many diamonds to take a sensible action when it gets around to him. I think if the vulnerability wasn't truly terrible I'd go for it. I pass, and so does everyone else.

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

Q 9 6

East wins the opening lead with the A of spades and fires back a club. 2-6-A-4. Then he cashes the K of spades from board with partner dropping the J. Shift to a diamond. 4-2-A-5 of spades. Declarer throws a spade through. 7-9-5 of diamonds-7 of diamonds. Partner plays a heart over to my ace. 4-3-A-5.

Ok, should I be giving partner pitches now that dummy is out of trump? I think that's probably a good idea. I play a spade with both dummy and partner pitching a club. Declarer draws trump. 6-6 of spades-7 of clubs-J. Partner cashes a heart. K-3 of clubs-2-7. Partner plays another heart but declarer ruffs this one. Because he's got all trump left, but partner still has a high one. Down one.
J 2
K T 8 4
K J 7 2
K 8 4
K 3
Q J 7 5
5 4
A J T 7 5
A 8 7
A Q T 9 8 6 3
3 2
Q T 9 6 5 4
A 9 6 2

Q 9 6
Six of the tables played 3 diamonds, with 2 going down 1, 1 making, and 3 making up 1. One EW pair somehow played 3 clubs instead and went down 2. And one pair went all the way to 5 diamonds doubled and went down 2. We do better than average, and get 9 MPs. Doubling would have been worth 2 MPs if we'd played in 3 diamonds doubled and still set them? But considering most people made 3 it's probably not worth the risk.

Captain Jack doesn't like my opening lead. He wants me to lead the 6 of spades if I lead a spade at all, but would rather I lead the 6 of clubs. I don't think I like underleading Qxx. And I don't think I should play so low if I lead from my 6 card suit either. Screw you, Jack!

Ranking after board 50/60: 1/16 with 60%

Friday, April 11, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Crafting Weapons

Final Fantasy X actually has an equipment crafting system where you can spend items (mostly stolen or bribed by Rikku) to add abilities onto your gear. Each character can equip one weapon and one piece of armour and each of those can have up to 4 abilities on them. The abilities range from the mundane (do 3% more damage) to the absolutely incredible (break the damage cap so you can deal 99999 damage per hit instead of 9999). Of course the incredible stuff is really hard to come by, but with enough farming you can totally get it done.

Normally I'll craft some armour because there is no other way to get really good armour, but I don't think I've ever tried to craft a really good weapon. The reason for this is each character has an ultimate weapon that can be earned in the world by obtaining three items and combining them at a quest globe thing. These ultimate weapons come with 4 really good abilities on them and also let you ignore enemy armour. So while they may not be perfect, they're really strong and you don't need to worry about making enough money to bribe up a ton of crafting materials. The pieces for the ultimate weapons also tend to involve doing some side quests or mini games and we all know how much I love to do those, so I'm probably going to end up with the weapons anyway. Especially since there's an achievement for getting them all!

Anyway, yesterday I complained about the really powerful dark aeons that were added in this version of the game which keep showing up in random spots and ruining me. I looked up where they all were so I could avoid them going forward, which is fine. What isn't fine is that I didn't pick up a piece for Tidus' ultimate weapon when I first had the chance to pick it up. (You need to backtrack right after killing Yunalesca.) That shouldn't be a problem since I can just go back in and pick it up now. Except Dark Bahamut lives there. So I can't go get the piece to make Tidus' ultimate weapon until I'm strong enough to beat one of the hardest fights in the game. My whole plan this playthrough was to kill the hard stuff with Tidus! I'd sent him down the tree to get quick hit and he's the only character I have right now who could hit for more than 9999 damage if he had his ultimate weapon.

I've even done the hard part of getting his weapon! I got super lucky and beat the chocobo racing minigame! Now I just need to go pick something up off the ground. But I can't.

I was lamenting this fact on Facebook. What can I do now? I could power someone else up, someone who I could get their ultimate weapon. I already have Yuna's ultimate weapon, and I have all the pieces for Kimahri's. Realistically I think I could get them all right now except for Lulu's. (Dodging 200 lightning bolts... *shudder*) So I could do that. Also apparently Yojimbo's top attack will one shot the dark aeons. That seems cheesy and stupid, but if doing so lets me play the game the way I want to then it may be a reasonable thing to do. Last night while sleeping I came up with a third option... I could actually craft Tidus a weapon! It'd be worse since it wouldn't have the armour ignoring aspect but maybe I could choose 4 abilities that really make it close enough? It certainly seems like I should look up what it would take to do, anyway.

As an aside, it turns out the quick hit plan wasn't as good as it used to be. It turns out they nerfed it pretty badly in this version! The mana cost tripled (from 12 to 36) and it now has a base speed of 2 instead of 1. This means that in the old version you could use quick attack 3 times in the span of a normal attack. Now you can use it 1.5 times. That's a pretty big difference and maybe means building a caster with double cast and ultima is a fine plan. Or having Yuna murder things with a really twinked out Magus Sisters summon or something?

Anyway... What can I add on to a weapon that would be really, really good?

First Strike - go first in a fight
Deathstrike - insta kill any enemy that isn't immune
Strength +20% - 20% more damage
Strength +10% - 10% more damage
Strength +5% - 5% more damage
Evade & Counter - lets you dodge attacks and hit them back
One MP Cost - lets me actually use quick attack without running out of mana
Triple AP - tons of experience
Overdrive -> AP - Tons of experience
Triple Overdrive - TONS of experience
Break Damage Limit - do 99999 damage max instead of 9999

What would Tidus' ultimate weapon have on it? Break damage limit, triple overdrive, evade & counter, and magic counter. That actually doesn't seem like a terribly interesting list of abilities. Magic counter means you counter attack when they hit you with a spell so I guess this weapon means you just keep hurting the enemy on their turn if they try to hurt you. That could be really good. But many of the other ultimate weapons have double AP on them, which would let the user level up quicker instead of counterattacking which is probably good for everything until you're really super twinky.

So maybe it's actually for the best that I can't go get the item from under Dark Bahamut? The counter attack weapon feels really end game. I'm only at mid-end game... Maybe I should look into building the ultimate leveling weapon? I'd need break damage limit so that I can do good damage but beyond that using the 3 leveling abilities might be a really good idea. I think if I was going full on damage I'd probably want break damage limit, one MP cost, strength +20%, and evade & counter? I guess it probably depends on if I'm hitting the 99999 damage cap or not with max strength? If I am then strength +20% and strength +10% are bad. If I'm not then they're pretty good. Though One MP Cost could well be seen as '50% more damage' if it lets me use quick hit.

One crucial thing to point out is break damage limit costs 60 dark matter and this version of the game added ribbon back in for armour. It costs 99 dark matter and is something I really want on everyone's armour! How would I go about getting me some dark matter...

Turns out you get given 99 dark matter after catching 5 of every monster in the game. Beyond that you can get more rarely from blitzball tournaments, or as a rare drop from killing the challenge bosses in the arena, or as a drop from killing the dark aeons. So realistically I can make one weapon, or I can make one ribbon armour, but I can't do both until I'm strong enough to farm some of the bosses in the arena. It sure seems like a good weapon for Tidus would go a long way to making that happen though... But I shouldn't be planning on making a leveling weapon and a damage weapon since that amount of dark matter just isn't going to come up. His ultimate weapon is a fine damage weapon though... So leveling weapon it is!

What do I need to add on triple AP, triple overdrive, and overdrive-> AP? Triple AP takes 50 wings to discovery. Triple overdrive takes 30 winning formula. Overdrive -> AP takes 10 doors to tomorrow. Two of those seem to have no other good use, so that's fine. 30 wings to discovery are needed to add break HP limit to armour which seems like it's really important eventually, but right now no one is even close to that cap anyway.

Unfortunately it looks like while most of that stuff is trivial to get a starting number of, wings to discovery you can only get 30 from a quest. Getting the last 20 is hard. It's a drop from one of the challenge bosses I can't beat. Or you can bribe them from a monster in the world for an amount of money I can't possibly fathom at this point, but I can see farming it up if I really need to.

Well, the bottom line is it's going to take a bunch of work to build a really good weapon, but it seems feasible. Probably more feasible than killing Dark Bahamut, anyway, and I don't really want to give up on using Tidus, so it's what I've got to work with. The first step is going to be capturing at least 5 of every monster in the game to get my free dark matter. I was going to want to do that anyway, so no worries!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Frustrating 'Game Over's

The HD version of Final Fantasy X is a remake of the international version of the game, so it included a bunch of content that never made it to North America the first time around. I knew some of the new stuff revolved around new even more challenging challenge fights but I didn't know what they were going to be and intentionally kept myself from looking it up so I could work it out on my own. I was expecting something like a new challenge dungeon or something like that. At the very least I was expecting some kind of warning that I was about to get obliterated...

I got the airship yesterday and decided the first thing I was going to do was go back and capture the monsters from the starting areas. I'd go through the zones pretty carefully to make sure I hadn't missed any Al Bhed primers or other stuff since I didn't want to look that stuff up either. So I went back to Besaid and killed everything on the way back to town. I actually hadn't even talked to everyone in town at the start of the game so it's entirely possible I missed something in there. So I walked into town and was immediately thrown into an encounter with a scary looking version of the first aeon, Valefor. He went first and attacked someone for 9999 damage. I tried to run, realized I couldn't, and tagged in Yuna to cast life on the dead person. Valefor then killed my whole party with one attack. Game over, man. I actually hadn't saved in quite a while (why would I save when I was just going to the starting town to capture enemies that can't kill me?) and I had a lot of cutscenes to get through before I could even get back to flying around on the airship again. At least I'd saved right after the Yunalesca boss fight since that thing took a long time!

Ok, fine... So the challenge bosses are twinky versions of the aeons? The guy who brought Valefor out made it clear he was from the temple (which is inside the town of Besaid) and they were out to get me for being a traitor. Ok, makes sense. I can see making twinky versions of the aeons. I probably would have put the fight in the temple itself to let me go back to the town of Besaid but I can live with this. I was annoyed I hadn't saved in a while but it's time to move on. Later I found a second twinky aeon, inside a temple this time, and I'd saved right before I went in. Shiva also blew me up, but I was expecting it and had saved so it was all good.

Then I ran into a third one... This one was on the thunder plains, and it was triggered by just walking up (and maybe talking to) a guy standing under a lightning tower. I wasn't anywhere near a temple. There was no indication that this was going to be a challenge fight (except maybe that the guy was dressed up like a temple monk I guess). I exploded. I once again hadn't saved in a while. Why would I save when I was just running around the thunder plains catching monsters? I'm really annoyed because I'd caught a full 10 cactuars.

I then found a fourth one, this time just on a road at the end of the Mi'hen Highroad. I had thankfully just saved so I didn't lose any progress this time, but it was still a little frustrating. This time it was a twinky version of an aeon I don't even have myself! It was the Magus Sisters, and one of their attacks hit poor Rikku for 599994 damage. She has around 2500 health, so I was overkilled by a factor of 240. I don't think you needed to be quite that twinky, Magus Sisters!

Anyway... While the hard fights were in a challenge dungeon I was fine with not looking them up. If they were contained in the temples I could accept losing progress once and then avoiding them. But if they're just going to stick them on a road, or in the middle of a zone I need to play in, I have to know what to avoid. So instead of playing the game right now I'm going to go look up the changes in the international edition. That makes me sad, but what else can I do?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Count Time Battle

For a long time (6 games in a row, going from FFIV to FFIX) the Final Fantasy games used a combat system called ATB (Active Time Battle) where characters and enemies would charge up a meter in real time and could then take actions when their meter filled up. While that action was going on, or while you were thinking about what to do with that action, or while you were manually entering the commands to take the action everyone else's meters would keep charging up. In theory this was a system that was designed to make character speed matter (the older games gave each character exactly one action per round and speed only determined order in the round if anything at all) but in practice everyone's bars would just fill up while you were entering in commands anyway. Unless you played on a slow speed I guess, or are really fast at entering commands, or cheesed the system out by pretending to use an item since the ATB bars would pause when using an item in some games. I liked the idea of the ATB system, and liked it when I was a kid, but when you really dig into how it works it gets a little disappointing.

Final Fantasy X switched it up and went to a system more like Final Fantasy Tactics. In FFX the game pauses when it's someone's turn to take an action. You can use all the time you want to think about what you want to do, or to enter the command in, or to doze off. That happened to me the other day and in an ATB game it would have meant game over. Here the game just assumed I was thinking really hard about what to do with Kimahri. (What am I going to do with Kimahri?!?) When I woke up I was able to finish the fight, meander to a save point, and go to bed. Perfect!

But I digress... The system works by assigning every action in the game a number from 1 to 8 indicating how fast it is. Then you multiply that number by a value determined by your agility. That's how many ticks will pass before you get your next action. Monsters work the same way. The game has a nice list ordering all of the upcoming turns so you can see who is going to go next and what the ordering will be assuming everyone takes a standard speed action. I'd assumed agility was going to be a linear relationship with how often you get to go but it's really, really not. Early on the steps are in increments of 1 or 2 agility but the later steps are huge. There's no difference between 44 agility and 61 agility, but that 62nd agility gives you 20% more actions! The 98th agility is worth 25% more actions and the 170th agility is worth 33% more actions! But is it really worth spending all the levels to go from 98 to 170? Even if every node was a 4 agility node that would be 18 levels worth of agility, and they're not all going to be 4 agility nodes until you've reached the point where you're destroying the monster arena. Aiming for 44 or 62 seems pretty reasonable but if Rikku has hit those breakpoints she really needs to teleport out of her agility area and go find some strength or something! She can probably spend 18 levels on strength and end up doing more than 33% more damage per action...

There's one other aspect to the CTB system used in FFX, and that's the ability to tag in characters from the bench. Any time it's your action you can swap out the current character for one of the four characters not currently on the field. They come in and get to immediately take an action. Anyone who participated in the fight gets full experience too, so there's an incentive to tag in characters to do something, anything, in order to keep leveling up. This also let the game design monsters that are really hard to deal with, with one critical weakness, since you're guaranteed to have that tool in your toolbox. There are robots that are pretty tough, except if Rikku steals from them they instantly die. If this was a normal Final Fantasy game and there was a chance Rikku wasn't in your party this would be a bad design, but here it's awesome. It always feels like there's a reason to use each person, which makes you use your whole team for the whole game, which is a really different change of pace.

Everyone except Kimahri. All 6 other characters have something they do best. (Tidus hits evasive ground monsters, Auron pierces heavily armoured monsters, Rikku kills robots, Wakka hit evasive flying monsters, Lulu casts elemental spells on super tough monsters, and Yuna is the healer and can summon in aeons to deal with tricky fights.) Kimahri has no niche. He's the jack of all trades in a game where you can make the hot tag to the expert in every situation. He's the second best at piercing armour, sure... But when Auron one shots the enemy why do we need the second best one? I frequently send him down the black mage area since he starts with an ability that restores his mana, but then he's strictly worse than Lulu for pretty much the entire game. Maybe you make him into a healer? He's terrible compared to Yuna though, and do you really need two healers in a three person group? (It actually can help to have a second person with the life spell, but eventually you get some white magic spheres so that person could be anyone!)

I still use Kimahri. He needs experience because he never gets tagged in to do anything and I feel bad for the guy. And in a normal system he'd probably be the best character! He can do a little bit of everything so he'd be able to deal with the huge variety of problems the random encounters can throw at you. But the tag in system obsoletes the jack of all trades and that makes Kimahri sad. Don't worry Kimahri. I'll still use you.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Calm Lands

Sometimes people complain that the later Final Fantasy games are too much 'on rails' meaning that you don't really have any choice in the matter on where to go or what to do. The story tells you to do something, NPCs block the way to walk in any other direction, and you go do it. FFX has definitely been like that this far, but I've never really understood the complaints. For the most part Final Fantasy IV was every bit as 'on rails' as this game, it just also gave you the option of meandering around aimlessly accomplishing nothing until you found the right way to go. Sure, when you unlocked the hovercraft you could go towards Fabul, but you'd get stuck behind a wall of ice until you went back, saved Rosa, and had her give Rydia a pep talk to learn fire and melt the ice. (Hilariously, if you use a game genie and gain max levels Rydia will naturally learn fire 2 and fire 3 but won't use those to melt the ice!)

The way I see it, as long as the plot is interesting you shouldn't mind being 'on rails'. And if the plot isn't interesting in an RPG maybe you should put it down and find some other way to spend your time... I understand the allure of a good side quest, don't get me wrong, and having some 'open world'ness going on can be pretty good. But to this day I still don't know what was going on in Oblivion because why would I bother trying to do the main plot when I could become The Grey Fox and the head of the assassins guild?

Anyway... Yuna has finally visited all of the temples (that we know of) on her pilgrimage and it's time to head to Zanarkand. Along the way we need to pass through the Calm Lands and Auron makes an ominous remark about how so many summoners lose their way here even though it just seems like a nice peaceful reminder of a previous battle with Sin. I don't know if they threw that line in as a warning to people who get trapped doing side quests or not... But that's what always happens here! The Calm Lands has the chocobo riding side quest to get a piece of Tidus' ultimate weapon, and it has the extra temple with the Magus Sisters summon, and it has the extra temple with the Yojimbo summon, and it has the monster arena. Oh, the monster arena! I think this may be the greatest side quest of all time. Why don't you go to every zone in the entire game and grind random encounters over and over until you catch 10 of every single monster that can spawn? If you do we'll unlock challenge bosses you can fight... Challenge bosses that are the only way to really, really twink out your stats... I know you like challenge bosses. I know you like maxing out your stats. I know you like collecting things...

Big battle to save the world from evil? Screw that! I want to collect some things and kill some hard dudes and max out some stats. Sin can wait.

The game was on rails, but now it's not (well, as soon as I go through another zone or two and get my airship, anyway), and the very interesting plot is now a thing of the past. So I don't know... Part of me thinks it's fine that a game is on rails, but as soon as there's a way off of them I'm grabbing my capture sword and jumping clear. I'll be back, rails. Promise. But first I need to catch all of the things. Oh, and maybe play some more blitzball...

Monday, April 07, 2014

FTL: Advanced Edition

Last week apparently saw the release of a free expansion for the game FTL. It brought in a new race, some new ships (including a C version of all previous ships), some new events, and a ton of new ship parts. It has some balance fixes for some of the truly terribly or overpowered parts in the original game. And it has a third difficulty setting for the really hardcore player. Apparently they also released the game on iOS at the same time. This game is awesome and totally worth picking up if you're someone with one of those devices.

I found out all this stuff not through Steam or email or anything, which seems a little poor. This seems like the sort of thing that Steam should be able to tell me about in some way. Instead I found out when I was looking for a Final Fantasy speedrun stream to watch on the weekend and saw someone streaming the new FTL. Tuning in to watch one of the experts at the game play was quite the eye opener. He was doing things like knowing the attack patterns of enemy ships just by seeing what the weapons on the ship looked like. He knew the timings of the attacks so he was able to use his shield drone thing to block missiles instead of laser shots by toggling it on after the lasers and before the missiles. He also ran short on reactor power because he was able to turn down his base shields when he knew he didn't need all of them based on what weapons the enemy ship had. Plus he had every event memorized so he knew what the possible outcomes were going to be.

That all seemed pretty crazy, but then he talked a bit about a balance mod that he made for the original game and how a lot of the balance changes in the expansion were pulled from his mod. I guess it makes sense that someone who has actually hacked the game to make it fairer would know what the events and stuff are, but it was still really impressive. And goes to show just how bad I am at the game! I only buy things when I can power them on, and I autofire most of my weapons, and I was never big in boarding the enemy ship.

One of the changes (and I think central to all of the new ships) is they added a different healing bay. Instead of being a room you could go to in order to get healed it's a room that passively heals your entire crew each time you jump, but can't heal more than that. Oh, and if any of your guys die they respawn in the cloning bay at full health but with a loss of skill points. This includes if they die by being on an enemy ship when it explodes, or in melee combat over there, or by GIANT SPIDERS in the stupid evil giant spiders event.

The new race also doesn't need oxygen to survive, and actually drains rooms they're in of oxygen. So I've taken to beaming two of them over to the enemy ship to attack the oxygen generator. They quickly empty the room of oxygen just by being in it which means they'll win any 2v2 fight unless the enemy has a bunch of extra guys to rotate in or an excessive number of mantis or robots or something. It's fun! I finally got the achievement for completely draining the oxygen out of an enemy ship.

I heartily recommend checking out the expansion if you liked the original game. Steam will auto download it for you and you just need to toggle on 'advanced edition' when you pick a ship in your hangar. And if you haven't played FTL yet... You should! Get it on iOS or through Steam or whatever. It's great! And you'll lose a lot!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 49

Board 49 - Dealer North - None Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Intermediate

My hand: A 9 7 3 2 A 9 6 4 2 J A 6

It gets passed to me in 3rd chair and I have a 5-5 hand with 13 points but no intermediate values at all. I have to bid, but I'm not terribly happy with doing so after partner passed. I open 1 spade. Partner raises to 2 spades which is where we play.

West leads the 2 of clubs.
K 8 6
7 6
Q T 6 4 2
T 9 8
A 9 7 3 2
A 9 6 4 2
A 6

Well, I have 1 club, 1 heart, and 3 spade tricks. For losers I only have 1 club, 1 diamond, 1 heart, and 1 or 2 spades. But setting up extra tricks seems really hard. I guess I probably need to cross ruff the red suits? I might as well lose my club tricks now to cut communication later in the hand? 2-T-Q-6. 4-A-5-9. I duck a heart. 2-T-7-3. West catches on and returns a spade. Doh. 5-K-4-2. A heart back, ruff a heart. Hearts split 3-3 so my last two hearts are now good.

I guess I should just draw trump and lose a diamond, huh?

I do exactly that. Spades split 3-2 so I make 3.

K 8 6
7 6
Q T 6 4 2
T 9 8
J 5
K T 5
A 7 5 3
K J 5 2
Q T 4
Q J 3
K 9 8
Q 7 4 3
A 9 7 3 2
A 9 6 4 2
A 6
Five tables made 3 spades in a spade partscore. One table made 2 spades. One table made 2 spades but bid up to 3, which is better than the table that bid 3 hearts and only made 1. For our 5 way tie we get 10 MPs.

Captain Jack doesn't like my pass over 2 spades. He wants me to bid 3 spades. Given that partner is a passed hand and that I have no good values I think my pass was fine. But I guess we made 3 and partner only had a 5 count. If he had 9 maybe we could have missed a game with my wimpy bid? But I also feel like we got very lucky to make 3 since I needed hearts to split 3-3 and spades to split 3-2. Besides, the right game try is probably to bid 3 hearts and hope we're double fit!

Ranking after board 49/60: 1/16 with 59.91%

Friday, April 04, 2014

Wheel of Chaos 2014

It's that time of year again... FumBBL's Wheel of Chaos is starting up and if I want to join in I need to figure out where I want to apply. I posted about it a couple times last year and ended up deciding to just roll a die to figure out which group to join since that seemed sufficiently chaotic. In retrospect there was a 'soft' group that didn't get enough people signed up to it, and it was the group I thought would be softest, so maybe I should be using some logic this year?

This year the mutation prizes are horns, disturbing presence, two heads, and tentacles. I only have one box team high enough to really join up, which is the same human team that lost in the first round last year. My TV is much higher though, up at 2010, and the team is a lot better since I'm not dragging around a +AG Ogre and instead have 5 real players with +AG. I joke that they're my half-elf team. The only downside is my killer died in my last game so I don't have anyone with mighty blow+piling on anymore. Probably I should play some games to level up the new blitzer and hope I don't lose too much in the process. But either way this team should be guaranteed a spot in whichever qualifier I want to join.

How do I feel about the rewards? Horns is still pretty sweet on a killer if I build a new one of those. Disturbing presence is complete trash. Two heads would be particularly good with my odd focus on bonus agility. Tentacles would be super fun, especially since my current Ogre is really set up for it with block, guard, and stand firm as his skills thus far. Tentacles on the surface feels like it wouldn't have many people really interested in it since most strong teams have mutation access anyway. Elves really have no use for tentacles so I'd expect them to go somewhere else. Two heads has been under represented both of the last two years and I sorta expect that to keep happening this year too.

So I guess I should figure out how I feel about playing against elves. If I get a killer back I think my elf game is pretty good. I have the bonus agility to fight their positioning game and can whittle their numbers down. I also have really good one turn touchdown possibilities with my catcher having an extra movement and an extra agility. On the other hand I have a lot of guard and can really run circles around the stupid bashy teams. So I feel like I don't really care one way or the other. If I really wanted to avoid elves I'd join the tentacles group. If I really wanted to play them I'd join the two heads group. But if I don't care... I should flip a coin!

Or maybe I really want to avoid Khemri? They seem like they really should be joining the tentacles group. I hate playing against Khemri in general, but this team actually seems well built to match up against them. I have dorky linemen to throw on the mummies and I have lots of agility to dodge the key guys away to make them move very slowly up field.

Ok, I've convinced myself. I went random last year and lost in the first round... This year I want tentacles. 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

WWE Network

The World Wrestling Federation Entertainment company recently put out what boils down to being their own version of Netflix. Except instead of old movies and television shows they have old wrestling pay per views and old wrestling television shows. WWE bought up the WCW and ECW libraries a while ago so they've got all the PPVs from all three big wrestling federations from when I was a kid. They're also focusing on putting out a bunch of new content like Netflix does, in particular all of the new PPVs are going to be streamed live on the WWE Network. This has made some cable companies pretty bitter since a lot of the demand for the $60 PPVs has gone away now that people can pay $10 per month and get all of them. 1/6th the cost, no hassle with the cable company, and a bunch of other free stuff on top? I have to imagine a lot of people look at that deal and have a hard time saying no.

If they live in the US, anyway. The service is only available in the US and they don't expect to have it up in Canada for a year. I hate this sort of thing. I don't understand the need, in this day and age, to have restrictions based on where one lives. I have to imagine it's a copyright law issue of some kind because those laws are stupidly outdated. It makes me sad because Wrestlemania is this weekend and I wanted to give it a watch. A quick search on Rogers website doesn't even turn up anything about it, so I can't tell if I could even order it the 'old' way.

Anyway... I did some internet searching of other varieties and it turns out I actually live in Kentucky, which is in the US. Who knew? My computer is still in Canada though, but I found a free trial of an IP converter thingy so now it's down in the US somewhere too... The last couple of days while making food and eating I've been watching old Royal Rumble matches. It's pretty sweet, I have to say!

Wrestlemania is the first PPV they're running on the Network so I do fear it'll go wrong in some way. Probably server overload as more people try to watch than they're ready to handle. The claim is it'll be starting at 7pm on Sunday. If anyone wants to risk that it works and come on down to Kentucky to watch you're welcome to; if it's busted then I'll hopefully just end up watching it at 3am or something.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Achievements

One of things you can count on being added to a remade version of an old game is achievements. Everyone loves achievements, right? Little things to give you some added direction on what you could be doing. I took a look at them to see if there was something I should be doing and they mostly seemed like things I was going to do anyway. Collect all the ultimate weapons, beat the new challenge bosses, follow the plot...

There are two, however, that seem both easy and like things I was not going to do. Steal 200 times, and bribe for a large amount of money. These are both things that center around using Rikku and are the ways to get lots of items to power up her awesome but spreadsheet heavy limit break. Now, I normally like stealing things, and I really like Rikku as a character, but I've never really used her in this game. I think it's probably because she's abysmally bad at doing damage when she joins up and I'm dragging the distinctly mediocre Kimahri around because he wants experience. Well, I must do any achievement that's even vaguely feasible so I'm now stealing from all the fights on top of using Kimahri. I've reached the point where by feeding him all the experience and basically ignoring Lulu entirely that they do about the same amount of damage. That's something, right? Anyway, I don't like rotating everyone in on every fight so I pretty much only level a few people at a time. Now that Rikku's in the rotation I'm using a rotating 4 person party with Tidus and Yuna. Auron is the big loser here, since normally I use him because he's pretty awesome too.

As far as bribing goes I decided to go read a guide about it and it sounds like I can get the achievement in one fight if I want to since you can bribe any amount of cash at once? So I just need to have a ton of money and learn the bribe skill? I guess Rikku can use all these levels I'm generating and try to head towards bribe. I feel like it should be somewhere in her section of the expert sphere grid. Apparently you can bribe up some level 3 and level 4 keys, too, so maybe bribing is something I should be doing anyway. But if not for the achievement I probably wouldn't have known. Hurray achievements!