Monday, June 30, 2014

Civ V: Great People Generation

Building your capital beside a river in Civ V gives you access to a building that provides 25% more great person points in that city. If you aren't beside a river then you can try to build the Hanging Gardens wonder to pick up the building. Otherwise you're out of luck. There's no other way to get that 25% bonus. There are a few other 25% bonuses you can get but those all stack with the gardens bonus.

My question is how much it actually matters. If you can get a 'better' city spot that isn't beside a river what are you giving up? Along a similar vein, how important is it to build the national wonder with the same bonus? How important is it to stack other buildings in the city with that wonder? Heck, how important is it to build an early wonder with great person generation built in?

I built an early pyramids wonder in my quick asynch game and 67 turns later I got a great engineer out of it. That let me rush buy another wonder (Angkor Wat) that I had no hope of building otherwise. It also came with a great engineer point, so after 67 more turns I could have had another great engineer! With no other source of great people I could have turned an early pyramids wonder into 2 more wonders for free!

Or is it actually for free? It turns out great people are generated in a bit of a weird way such that there is a cost to getting a great engineer. There's a system in place such that each subsequent great person of a given type costs more points to generate. The first great artist costs 100, the second costs 200, the third costs 300, and so on. The twist is the scientists, merchants, and engineers all share the same cost pool. So if you get a great engineer for 100 it bumps up the cost of your first great merchant to 200. Get one of those and now the cost of a great scientist is 300. If you hadn't picked up that engineer or that merchant then those 300 great scientist points would have gotten you 2 scientists, not 1.

This is a big deal because great merchants are garbage. Money is really good, don't get me wrong, but the sheer amount of stuff given by an engineer or a scientist is a lot larger than the amount given by a merchant. I guess if you have a game plan around a lot of money (diplomatic victory) then getting great merchants can be a good way to get some cash along with some city state influence. I guess the big thing is just to recognize what you're going to want and then try to avoid getting the stuff you don't want.

The other weird aspect of the whole thing is each city generates great person points for each type of great person for themselves alone. The points don't get pooled together between cities. So you can get yourself into a situation like I'm in where I have 4 cities generating 3 great engineer points and another generating 2. So I am making 14 great engineer points and if they were all consolidated I'd get a great engineer in 14 turns. Instead I'll get one in 67 turns. I will get one 67 turns after that, and then 67 turns after that. Consolidated I'd have to wait 28 turns, and then 42 turns. One of those things is _way_ better than the other.

Of course the tricky part is you can't just go and consolidate it all in one place. You can get a few great person points out of wonders but for the most part you get them out of specialists. I have so many cities making small amounts of engineer points because all of those cities and manning workshops in order to throttle my population growth while I deal with happiness issues. So I'm not really trying to get great engineers. I'm trying to get 0 food and 2 hammers! It is conceivable to imagine stacking wonders all of the same type in a city though, and then making sure that city ran the right specialists too.

But what about gardens? Considering how the costs of the great people escalates, do they even help much? How should I work such a thing out? The easiest is probably to look at the non-pooled ones first. Great artists, musicians, and writers can only have points generated from one national wonder so they're restricted to one city each. Let's compare the number of great writers generated from a city with different amounts of bonuses... Assuming you fill up the specialist slots you'll be making a base of 7 GPPpt. Here's the turn number after building the writer's guild where you'll get the Xth great writer.

1st writer15121098
2nd writer4335292522
3rd writer8669584943
4th writer143115968272
5th writer215172143123108
6th writer301241201172151
7th writer267229201
8th writer294258

Going from base to +25% means you'll sometimes be even on number of great writers and sometimes be up a great writer. You're never going to get up a writer, at least not in the first 300 turns. And for the most part you're going to spend more time even than you are up a writer. On the other hand, if you get both a garden and a national epic and compare that to a city with neither and you'll get up a full great writer after 143 turns. What about if you do have a garden in both cities... How important is it to build the writer's guild in the city with the national epic? It's pretty similar to the first case. You'll never get up a full writer. You'll sometimes be ahead 1, and you'll sometimes be even.

Now, you are still getting something. Assuming you make a great work out of each writer you'll be up 168 tourism and culture over the first 200 turns when you compare base against garden. It's a 16% boost in culture and tourism.

But is that worth worrying about getting a garden? Well, you'll be getting the 168 tourism from the great writers but then you'll be getting a similar boost for great musicians. And for great artists. And you might get the boost for the pooled great leaders too, assuming you have a garden in a city with lots of specialists and/or wonders. Is your capital really going to have room for all those specialists? It needs 6 just for the artists/writers/musicians. Then to get even more specialists for all that other stuff too? Feels a little restricted.

You can definitely do it. A full tradition policy tree, a lot of food, maybe some internal trade routes... And if you're going to do it, you want it to be your capital, because of the monarchy policy which halves the unhappiness for people in your capital. And all those people will do good things for your science production too, so it feels really strong. It's not the only way to go, but it is a good way to go. If you do go that way you're going to want a garden. So I think if I'm going to be trying for a big capital I'm going to want to be on a river. Or I'm going to need to rush hanging gardens. The 6 food from the hanging gardens will help with getting a big enough city to run all the specialists, too!

My gut feeling is a 25% boost is nice, but it's not critical. But there are a bunch of them, and if you can stack up quite a few of them you do get a pretty significant bonus. I'd need to be getting a lot out of it to want to settle someplace that isn't a river with my great person city.

I can see building a city just for great people that isn't the capital. If I can't get my capital on a river and if I can't get the hanging gardens then founding a city somewhere else, on a river, and giving that city the national epic and all three guilds is pretty reasonable. You might even be able to stack an extra 25% boost in there by rushing a wonder with a great engineer or something?

But if I get a chance I will definitely keep trying to found my capital on a river. And I'm going to keep an eye on what cities have specialists in a market or a bank to try to cut down on my great merchants. I'd really rather get extra great scientists or engineers!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Conclusion

I wasn't sure what was going to happen when I went to play my bridge hand today, since I was pretty sure I've already played all 60 hands in the competition. It gave me a nice list of all 16 pairs by their percentage of MPs earned with Jack and I finishing on top with 63.33. Second place was only 56.31, so we won by a pretty substantial margin. High five, Jack!

As a reward for winning we got promoted out of Flight D and have moved up to Flight C. It then started up another round of 60 boards against presumably stiffer competition, if that's what I want to do.

I feel like I played reasonably well this time around but mostly it felt like we won because our opponents made some pretty big blunders along the way. I imagine that was part of being in Flight D, where the game forced the opponents to make mistakes every now and then to simulate playing against worse players. And I can't say I disagree with that tact... I played in a fair number of bridge tournaments at a local club with Andrew back before he had kids and I never walked away from a night feeling like we were awesome. But we did pretty well sometimes, and I remember feeling like we scored a lot of points those nights by snookering some poor old ladies with our crazy bidding. I remember one hand where I opened 3 clubs with 6 to the T and they just couldn't comprehend what was going on. Playing weak no trump almost felt like cheating! Other times the opponents would just hang themselves with mistakes and we'd get points by not stopping them from being insane. Of course the same is true in reverse, as there was the hand where Andrew didn't understand my cuebid and decided the best course of action was to pass, letting me play 4 hearts in their 9 card fit instead of making our spade slam.

I didn't get very many comments this time around, certainly not relative to the people commenting on my first match. But I guess a lot of the comments then were about how I was getting screwed by my partner being crazy and random and it's just not as interesting when I'm winning by the opponents being crazy and random. At the end of the day I like playing bridge hands, and I like having something short scheduled on the weekend, so I think I'm going to keep making a bridge post each Sunday. And while I'm tempted to go back to the IMPs format, this current one has a nice feel to it. Only 60 hands (I'll be done by next September!) and a sense of progression if I can play well enough to get promoted again! I may mull it over a bit more in the coming week, but I fully expect to start match 3 next Sunday in Flight C.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Talisman: Digital Edition

One of the games I'd had on my Steam wishlist for quite some time was Talisman: Digital Edition. It finally went on sale during the first day of the summer sale and I decided to give it a shot. Talisman is a board game from the 80s which is probably best described as a fantasy Monopoly with slightly more player choice than actual Monopoly. (You can move clockwise or counterclockwise each turn and you get a small number of rerolls to use over the course of the game but it's still just a roll and move game.) It has a lot of RPG elements where you level up and fight monsters and the like. I'd played it once or twice in high school with the Soulieres and have fond memories of the game. I'd also played it once or twice in University once I discovered that Watsfic owned a copy of the game but my memories of those were not nearly as good.

I suspect the difference is I was playing with a group of people who were used to playing strategy games where your success or failure depended a lot on the decisions you make. This isn't so much the case in Talisman, where if you go to town and roll a 1 you get turned into a frog which is a lot like being eliminated from the game except you have to sit around and pretend to keep playing. Also the characters were 'balanced' around making sense thematically and not at all around giving each player an equal chance of winning the game. So one of us got an overpowered character and won while Pounder got turned into a frog.

I definitely think there is a place for games where you roll dice and silly things happen. Tales of the Arabian Nights is exactly that sort of thing and I very much enjoy playing that game. But you need to recognize what you're getting yourself into and that particular gaming group was not looking for this sort of game at that time.

Anyway, the video game Talisman claimed to be a reproduction of the board game with AI so I wanted to give it a try. I have now given it said try and I regret the decision. The problem is the AI is both slow in taking their turns while not giving me information about what they're really doing. They'll draw cards and I won't be able to follow along what they're doing easily. Part of the fun of a game like this is the theme and the world and I just can't experience that against the AI. I also can't taunt the AI when bad things happen to them.

So really I'm left trying to play Talisman as a good game and it's really not a good game. If the AI randomly gets assigned the troll I might as well just quit since the troll is very likely to win even with the bad AI decisions. I can make what I feel to be good decisions but since there's so much randomness going on it ends up feeling like nothing I do matters. I'm sure if I played over and over I would win far more than my share of games against the AI because I am making marginally better decisions constantly, but it just isn't fun.

And when I have so many games waiting to be played it just doesn't make sense to keep playing something that isn't fun.

I probably should have seen this coming. I should have been able to remember enough about Talisman to know that I wasn't going to enjoy the game much against the AI. But I didn't really remember our games with the Watsfic copy until I'd played a couple games. (The troll showed up in game 2 and won easily.) Oh well. Live and learn! Not every game buy can be a winner, after all.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Steam Summer Sale

Apparently someone ran the numbers and found out that 37% of all games bought on Steam go completely unplayed. I suspect a lot of this has to do with the big sales Steam puts on a couple times a year. If a game you might want to play is on sale for a couple of dollars or 90% off how can you say no?

Personally I have 112 games on Steam and have ever played 41 of them. So I'm running at 63% of my games going unplayed. This seems pretty stupid! Only four of the games have over 100 hours played and two of those are free to play games! It feels like I should be playing some of the games I already own and are just sitting around instead of buying more games that go on sale.

And yet... I've already picked up 12 new games so far this sale.

Now, I don't actually need to get over 100 hours out of a game for it to have been a good buy. FFX needed to come in around that mark because I ended up spending over $100 for it, but when World of Goo was less than a dollar I only need like 3 minutes of fun out of it to make it better than going to a movie. So really I can believe that it was a decent gamble. Assuming I ever get around to even trying it, it'll be a great deal. So if I'll end up playing it for an hour even 5% of the time it's probably fine. More so if it ends up being good and I play it for many hours!

Some of those 12 games also came in bundles. I've always wanted to play one of the newer GTA games, especially after watching some speed runs of them, so getting 2 of them in a bundle for under $5 is just fine by me. I'll play one of them at least, and maybe both of them. A lot of my unplayed games actually came in a single huge bundle I bought several years ago. I definitely got my money's worth out of that bundle and if I end up playing more of those games it'll only get better and better.

So yeah... I'm sitting here with lots of unplayed games, but I still can't convince myself that I need to stop getting more games. I do need to play more games, to be fair, but the ones I'm buying are good candidates for that!

There's also this weird 'team mode' thing going on with the summer sale where you get randomly assigned to a team and then the team that scores the most points each day gets some bonus rewards. With 5 teams and 10 days it seemed like each team was going to win twice. The first five days all went to different teams so that all made sense. But the same team won days 6 and 7 and has a huge lead on day 8. So it seems like the teams weren't generated very fairly? It's a little annoying since I'm not on that team! Boo! Hiss!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Final Fantasy X-2: Plan!

I played Final Fantasy X-2 once, shortly after it came out back in 2003. (Or at least, shortly after I got it in 2003!) I played it a whole lot at the time, and I remember some things about the game but not all that much. I know it has a job system so right away it's awesome. It lets you tag in jobs on the fly sort of like how you tag in different characters in FFX. It went back to the ATB system but it was a little weird in that I remember being able to use a megaphoenix and then having my party get killed off but the megaphoenix would still resolve and bring everyone back to life. The game has a ton of sidequests and one short plot but you can play through the game multiple times while keeping a lot (all?) of your stuff between plays.

I also remember it has a completion percentage tracker and that something cool supposedly happens in the ending if you get up to 100%. I'm pretty sure I only got into the high 90s because I was trying to do it all without looking at the internet and I'm sure I was just missing something obscure. I eventually got bored or distracted or something and never did get around to finishing it off.

So what should my plan be this time? I definitely think my ultimate goal is to hit that 100% mark, but I don't think I need to ignore the internet to get there this time. I do want to see what I can do on my own though... So I think I'll probably end up playing through several times. The first time will be 'blind' and then after that I'll see how I feel about using the internet to find stuff I've missed.

I am also curious about what may have been added in the HD version. I started up a game yesterday and right away I got into a tutorial about a monster catching system that seemed completely new to me. I don't remember being able to use anyone other than Yuna, Rikku, or Paine in my party when I played last decade but I've already recruited Brother into my party as an uncontrollable monster. So either my memory is bad or I completely ignored this aspect or they added it in for the HD version. I'm expecting it's the latter, but I'm going to playthrough the game once before I go check.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Eternal Calm

The HD remake of Final Fantasy X and X-2 came on one disk with a game select menu that pops up when you launch the disk. This menu had 4 options on it instead of the 2 I expected, so when I first started playing I had to check out what was going on. It turned out the other 2 were extra cutscene videos and I declined to read much after that. I knew I wasn't going to want to pick Eternal Calm until I'd finished off FFX and that was good enough for me at the time. But now I have finished FFX and it's time to watch the extra video that comes between FFX and FFX-2.

I did some more reading and I thought this video was made to help explain the story between FFX and FFX-2 but it sounds like it was actually just bonus content they made to include in the FFX International edition. And it was the enthusiastic response to the video that caused them to make FFX-2, not the other way around. I find that to be pretty interesting.

Anyway, the video takes place 2 years after the end of FFX and is trying to show what life is like for the characters in your party now that they're no longer on a grand adventure to save the world. This is something I've always wondered about for games like this... At the end of FFX Rikku and Yuna were, for all intents and purposes, gods. With the way the numbers shake out I wouldn't be surprised if Rikku could kill everyone in the world without fear for her own safety. Especially if you let her cast spells! (I mused about the ending of FFII, actually, and how the 4th character in that game tried to conquer the world in the middle and then at the end he just wanders off to do his own thing and no one seems to care. By that point he really was strong enough to conquer the world!)

What would super powerful people do in a world where they don't need to fight evil? Well, in FFX, it would seem that Kimahri becomes a father figure and teacher for his race. Most of the adult Ronso were killed off by Seymour because he's a big jerk. That makes sense. Kimahri is a nice guy and trying to get what's left of his people back on their feet seems like a great thing to do. Wakka and Lulu settle down and make babies. I can see how that would happen too. Rikku goes off adventuring trying to find long lost machina and teach people to use them. This is basically the same thing she was doing at the start of FFX and I'd imagine all those levels I ground up for her can only help with that plan. Auron isn't even mentioned, presumably he stayed dead this time. Tidus is alluded to, but also isn't really mentioned. That leaves Yuna who is the focus of the video. While the rest of the party was there to help out it really was Yuna that saved the world and the people treat her as such. Everyone wants her to join their teams and solve their problems and listen to them whine. Yuna seems to be bored out of her mind and spends all her time trying to drown herself. (Ok, not really, but she's trying to increase how long she can hold her breath underwater. Turns out Blitzball players are just really good at holding their breath.)

Rikku shows up in the video with a sphere that has someone who sounds a lot like Tidus trapped in a jail cell. This makes Yuna want to go on an adventure to find out what's going on in the sphere. Wakka thinks that's crazy and wants her to keep at her boring life. So as soon as Wakka wanders off (to talk to Lulu) Yuna says screw it and leaves with Rikku to go on an adventure. Before they go Rikku muses about how Yuna's too much of a celebrity and they're going to need a disguise for her...

Which is apparently why Final Fantasy X-2 exists at all, and has the garment grid. Because people wanted to know more about this adventure Yuna was going on with Rikku and because Yuna was going to need a disguise.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Conclusions

On the weekend I went in and took out Jecht and Yu Yevon inside Sin. I don't know if those fights are ever hard; my party didn't get attacked in any of the stages. It was actually pretty tedious having to summon in all of my aeons one after the other, watch the animations, and then have them die in one attack from Rikku. Over and over, 8 times. All told my saved game ended up with something like 94 hours played on it. In some senses this is less than my previous plays which is weird since I actually filled the sphere grid and killed extra challenge bosses this time. But it doesn't track time spent in deaths and I sure died a lot in long fights or by getting surprised by unknown challenge bosses. I do think I played a lot less blitzball than it previous games, and I didn't get Lulu's ultimate weapon which takes forever. But this playthrough was definitely well over 100 hours of actual time spent playing, which is really good for a single player console game!

Kimahri was in my party for most of the game, right up until I started really grinding out stats. Then the fact I focused him on magic first made him terrible. His ultimate weapon, which I got, doesn't have 1 mp cost on it and spells cost a lot of mana. I would definitely make Kimahri into a beater next time (or maybe a thief) and probably ignore magic entirely. It just scales so terribly!

Eventually you are going to get max stats on everyone, so the real differences between characters are their ultimate weapons and their overdrives. Yuna is the only one who can summon, which is a thing, and Tidus/Rikku/Wakka are required to use in some fights, including one of the harder arena fights. Tidus and Wakka have the multi-hit physical overdrives so they're the best. So for end game stuff I feel like you should be using 3 of Tidus/Rikku/Wakka/Yuna. Rikku's overdrive does some awesome things but it costs consumables and I hate using those even when it makes sense to do so. Lulu is terrible because her ultimate weapon is stupidly hard to get. Kimahri has bad mods on his weapon, but the counterattack stuff is actually useful on Penance so he's not a terrible option. Auron has the only ultimate weapon with first strike and he has a powerful overdrive (inflicts armour break with 100% chance on anything that isn't immune) so you can't really go wrong with him either. He definitely helps to grind stats.

I didn't like a lot of what changed in the international edition. I hate the way they implemented the dark aeons. They were often put into positions that blocked useful items and there was rarely any indication they existed. Dark Yojimbo was fine because you could run away once he spawned if you didn't want to fight him, but most of the others were game overs with no warning. I lost a lot of capture progress by bumbling into some of the dark aeons and that frustrated me. I did like that they added in really hard fights that took some planning to beat. I like ribbons.

I still like the story in this game. I guess I don't really understand why Yu Yevon wants Spira to be such a disastrous world. I guess he has everyone living in fear and worshipping him as a god so that's something. Praise Be To Yevon!

The combat system is really where this game shines. It is the best. The hot tag to bring in the right character at the right time is a really good twist. No real time element is awesome. You get to see the turn order, you get to make a plan, you get time to think.

The music is also very good. I don't think it's the best sound track of the series but it's very good. I was actually sad how fast I killed Jecht because his battle music is incredible. So much so that I'm going to link it here so you can take a listen.

I'm a little sad that the ending really seems to be the same as the last two games. The main character and the female love interest get separated right after the final boss fight... Will they ever see each other again? Then you get a normal ending cutscene where you see the cities and the other characters and stuff. Then it looks over... But wait! There's the main character after all! Hurray! You beat the game so you get handed the princess! It isn't quite the same here since Tidus doesn't reunite with Yuna. But he was supposed to disappear entirely and they do show him being alive at the very end.

The graphics in the original game were a big step up as the first game in the series on the PS2. The remade HD version, on the PS3, also has graphics that are a big step up. This game is gorgeous.

As far as mini-games go there are a ton of them in FFX. Some of them are really annoying, like chocobo racing and lightning dodging. Some of them are awesome, like catching monsters to build challenge bosses and blitzball. I still think the card game in FFVIII is the best mini-game they've ever done but FFX might well have the second and third best ones. There's a reason I keep playing this game and always end up with over 100 hours played, and it's the mini-games. And the combat system, which plays a big role in the monster catching mini-game.

I am sad that I didn't get all of the PS3 achievements for the game. I didn't dodge 200 lightning strikes. I didn't get 5 treasures in the chocobo race. I didn't play enough blitzball to get all of Wakka's overdrives. I didn't find all of the Al Bhed primers (some can be skipped if you don't find them in Home before it gets destroyed). I didn't fill the sphere grid on all 7 characters. And I haven't watched the video that bridges the plot between FFX and FFX-2. I will do that last one, but the rest get left behind for now. Maybe Byung will want to finish up the other tropheys? It is his PS3, after all!

Where should this game go on my list? Well, I know for sure it's going above everything except maybe Final Fantasy VIII. VIII has the better story, the better characters, the better music, and the better mini-game. X has the better combat system, the better leveling system, the better graphics, and has more gameplay depth with the two awesome mini-games. And it's not like each game is really bad at anything the other is best at... (Except maybe the draw system in FFVIII.) So I guess really it's going to come down to if I want to give the edge to the combat system or to the story. It turns out I just identify so much with Squall that I have to go with VIII as the top game. So Final Fantasy X gets to slot in at #2. I can't imagine it gets knocked out of that spot ever, but who knows!

Next up... Final Fantasy X-2! It's a little out of order, but I want to play it on the PS3 and keeping it extra time without using it just to play a GBA game seems pretty stupid.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 60

Board 60 - Dealer West - NS Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Acol
Opponents playing strength: Intermediate

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

West opens 1 club, partner overcalls 1 spade, and East bids 1 no trump. I don't have spade support but I suspect this hand is a misfit and we have enough points to make things tricky for them. But not enough to feel like I can bid 2 hearts or double, so I pass. So does everyone else, and we play 1 no trump.

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

Q-5-4-A. Declarer fires back a club. T-3-K-9 of hearts. So partner has a club void and doesn't believe me that hearts is a good suit. Declarer plays another club. 4-9 of spades-8-9.

Decision time. Do I have another entry? If so I should force out the K of hearts to set up 3 tricks. Declarer has J2 of clubs left. So if he gets in his own hand he can finesse clubs by leading the J and I need to rely on Qx of diamonds to get in. But how is he getting to his own hand? Presumably a high diamond. So he would have 2 hearts, a spade, a diamond, and 4 clubs. He has all that on a spade switch too, unless partner has specifically the A of diamonds and 7 spades. I'd hope he'd have bid again with that setup. So I think I need to assume declarer doesn't have a diamond entry so I will get in with my Q. I return a heart. 2-K-7-3.

He plays a diamond to his A. But then he fires out the 2 of clubs! Clubs are blocked as long as I hop. But I guess since he still has the A of spades that also doesn't matter. He takes his 8 tricks and gives up a diamond. My hand is up. Except partner hops with the K to smother my Q. On the plus side partner is up too. Making 2.
K Q J 9 7
9 8 7 4
K J T 5
A 5
K 5
8 6 3 2
A K 7 6 4
6 4 3 2
A 3
A 9 4
J T 8 2
T 8
Q J T 6 2
Q 7
Q 9 5 3
6 different results happened this board. 2 tables played 4 clubs down 1. 1 table made 4 clubs. My side went down 1 in 3 hearts once, down 1 in 4 hearts doubled twice, and down 3 in 2 diamonds. So we actually get 8 MPs on the board! And since they sure have 8 top tricks (9 if they play clubs right) there wasn't really a way for us to stop them. Good board!

Jack disagrees with my play on the first club. He wants me to signal an even number by playing the 9. Throwing away the key 9 (when partner has, say, stiff J) is pretty stupid. I can believe I should have played the 5, but the 9 is reckless. He also wants me to play the 5 on the third club. Which fails when partner somehow has 9 clubs and never gains. So, I disagree again, Jack.

Ranking after board 60/60: 1/16 with 63.33%

Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer Games Done Quick

Summer Games Done Quick is a 7 day straight speedrunning marathon being held to raise money for the Doctors Without Borders charity. It starts up at some point on this coming Sunday. (The website says 2pm but there's no indication what time zone that might be. The event is physically being held in Colorado so maybe it's that time zone?) I'm going to be watching it all next week!

I've been watching a lot of speedrunning streams ever since I watched AGDQ in the winter. I've mostly found that I can't watch regular speedruns of games I don't really understand. A normal stream with a speedrun is trying to set a record time and involves a lot of resetting and not a lot of entertaining. Which is fine... Record times tend to be the goal and with games I do understand I enjoy this format. But the marathons tend to have a different focus. They don't involve resetting, they tend to involve 'safer' strategies which slow things down a little, and they also tend to involve extra people on the stream able to explain what is going on. This actually makes it so I prefer to watch marathons for games I don't know very well. There's more to learn and I'm not just getting fed information I already know. And while they may go a little 'safer' they're still going stupidly fast!

I think SGDQ is a lower key event than AGDQ so I'm not sure if there's going to be as many super cool moments like there were in AGDQ this year what with the blindfolded Punch-Out runs and the Super Metroid race and such but I'm expecting it to be pretty enjoyable. Maybe you want to check it out too?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Penance!

It turns out that Dark Yojimbo hides one of his 5 fights down a dead-end. I checked that dead-end this time through the sealed fayth cave and was able to unlock Penance. I saved and went to give him a shot to see what I was up against. I got obliterated! Penance fired off an attack that hit me for ~80% of my health on all 3 characters and slowed Rikku. He also has 2 arms that do their own attacks, one of which attacked everyone for ~70% of their max health. I hadn't had a chance to heal up yet, so I was dead.

Ok, try again, this time without wasting time hasting Rikku. I used some defensive stuff and decided to try to burn down an arm by using a bunch of overdrives. It worked! Woo! But the other arm and Penance himself burned down the Magus Sisters that I'd busted out to overdrive. And then the arm I killed came back. I threw everything I had at it, and it came right back!

Clearly I was not strong enough to win this fight. Rikku getting slowed is too big of an issue. With the arm respawning so quickly after death this fight is going to be a DPS race and not having 3 hasted characters is game losing. So I'm going to need to build her a different suit of armour that has auto-haste on it. Oh, and none of my people could even hit any of the arms. So now that I've killed almost all of the challenge bosses that require high luck I should probably grind up a bunch of luck. Because I don't think I have time to bust out 15 uses of stat buffs in order to start killing arms.

Killing all those dark aeons actually got me a lot of master spheres which can be use to activate luck nodes. So I mostly just needed to grind up luck spheres, not luck spheres and fortune spheres. I was so close to a full sphere grid achievements so I just went and finished that off. Mostly with luck, but also with some more health. I bribed up the materials to add auto-haste to a suit of armour for Rikku (I ended up going with break hp limit, auto-haste, and auto-phoenix which was not optimal). I also looked up a list of Rikku mixes so I could actually use her limit break effectively. (One of the mixes actually gives 5 uses of aim and cheer! So for the time it would take to put up 3 buffs I could do 10.) Another mix restored everyone to max health which unfortunately isn't the case for a normal elixir. Elixirs only restore 9999 health which isn't nearly close to max when I have 620000 max health!

I also finally used some of the consumable buff items. In particular I used one that doubles my max health and one that made all my spells and abilities cost 0 mana. The second one was particularly relevant because Penance has a second form that drains all of your mana with every attack.

I did a little bit of reading on the fight and the wiki said every 19 times Penance attacks or that you attack Penance he'll cast an attack that is guaranteed to kill your party. But it doesn't dispel auto-life, so I can just put that up and hope to recover with some Rikku mixes. I did the fight a couple times learning the patterns of things and found it wasn't so bad. With 5 stacks of aim on and the luck I grinded I could reliably hit the arms all the time with Tidus and Yuna and most of the time with Rikku. It only took 6 quick hits to kill each arm and if I killed the arms right away I would have enough time for 3 actions before they respawned. Mostly that could be attacking Penance, sometimes it would have to be healing up from his attack. I have plenty of megalixirs to burn so healing up from his phase 1 attack wasn't so bad.

Note that Penance has 12 million health and I attack for 100k per attack. So if I average 2 hits per cycle I need to pull off 60 cycles to kill him. That's a long time, but it's at least plausible.

Then I hit phase 2 which had him change what attack he uses. Now instead of hitting my team for 7k each he'd hit one person for 10k and inflict a bunch of breaks on them. These breaks meant that the next time he hit the person they'd be killed. Dying is bad because I need those aim and cheer stacks and even if I had infinite overdrive power I wouldn't do any damage if I had to mix those buffs up every 2 rounds. You can remove the breaks by casting dispel on your own character, which is good. But that also takes out protect, which is bad. Without protect his attack hits for 20k and suddenly I'm stuck taking 3 actions per cycle to counter his attack. I only have 3 free actions per cycle and can no longer make progress.

Ok... I can actually generate more time per cycle if I delay killing off the arms. Final Fantasy X gives you the exact turn order for each actor in a fight. I can save the 6th hit on an arm for immediately before it would get to attack! Since it seemed to take the same amount of time to respawn the longer I can keep it alive (without letting it attack since its actions were brutal) the longer it will take to respawn. This let me stretch things out such that I'd get more like 7 free actions per cycle that weren't dedicated to killing arms. It did mean the boss would get more actions per cycle too, but it was a net gain for me. Especially since if I could set up a situation where all of my party was injured I could condense some of my healing actions together by using megalixir or Rikku's full party heal mix. I don't know if there's a window to recover from that super attack thing, but on my attempt after the one where I figured out to build longer cycles I decided to count out every single attack so I could time it out...

As an aside, this fight really reminded me of raiding in World of Warcraft. A fight that initially seemed insane but once you got the gear to overcome the DPS check and a timer to time out the powerful abilities you could work out a strategy and then try to implement it perfectly. I do miss that.

Anyway, fight away... I wasn't sure what was going to count as an attack or not so I counted things out separately. I hit Penance 32 times before he changed form, and then I hit him 47 times before he used his super move. In that time he'd used his immolation ability 23 times, I'd counter attacked him 7 times, and I'd used one purifying salt on him to dispel his haste. That seems like a lot more than the 19 I was promised! But considering I'd done more than 8 million damage it would probably be ok, assuming I could recover from all my characters being dead. It was truly terrible timing for me too, since his second arm had just respawned. Dying and coming back to life with auto-life seems to add a delay to your characters too, so his arms got to do their things right after my party died. On the plus side they used single target attacks on Yuna but she got right back up thanks to the auto-phoenix ability on my armour. It was tense to work out how to recover (I had to pop 2 megalixirs and let everything live another round in order to have the health to survive a combo arm AE attack + immolate, but the other arm wouldn't go until I got to go again and finish it off), but I did it! One of the great things about the FFX combat system is you can actually take the time to think through a plan given the turn order. I managed to stabilize and get back to hurting the boss.

And then it all came crashing down. I hit him 13 times, he hit me 12 times, I countered him 5 times. He was now under 2M health left. But he used his kill everyone ability, again with terrible timing right after the second arm had respawned, and this time I couldn't recover. Because the arm didn't autoattack Yuna, it autoattacked Rikku, and apparently it has a petrify component to it. Tidus and Yuna have ribbons on so they can't get stoned but Rikku could. And in this game if an attack both stones and kills you then you're permanently removed from the fight. In a DPS race situation, losing one member permanently is the end of it. I decided to try to burn the boss down because there was no other chance but it turns out Anima's overdrive does less damage than an autoattack. I'm sure I got him under a million and it's possible if I'd stopped attacking arms entirely that the extra 700k damage I wasted on them at the end was the difference.

Blerg. The fight lasted an hour and thirteen minutes! And I didn't win!

Ok, do I need to farm Rikku a ribbon? And what's the deal with that ultimate ability anyway? I tried summoning out an aeon to block it when I hit a 19 count near the end of the fight but he didn't use it and it just wasted time to bring it out. If I could get an actual counter on when it would happen then I could survive it easily. But even with a ribbon on Rikku it's no guarantee that I'd be able to recover from a single use of the ability. I had to get lucky to not have an arm use an area attack and kill me off instantly as it was!

So I turned to the internet to see if I could find a timer or something. And found someone who posted that he only uses the super powerful attack if the counter is at least 19 AND both his arms are alive. So it wasn't bad timing that caused him to use it twice when both arms were alive... It was a game mechanic. If I could have just kept going without him getting a turn with 2 arms alive I would have won. And since it turns out the amount of time it takes for an arm to get an action is exactly the same as the amount of time it takes for a dead arm to respawn I could manipulate the setup such that every time I killed one arm the other would respawn. I could make it so, if I didn't make a mistake, the entire fight would eventually take place with exactly one arm alive.

I went to sleep, got up, and got to work. I changed how my overdrive was charging just in case I needed to use extra mixes (I was on 'charge when you take damage' and switched to 'charge when you deal damage') and set to work. I screwed up counting a little at the start because I was still a little sleepy but once I got into the groove of things it was 'easy'. Just play perfectly for a little over an hour! No problem!

So that pretty much puts a cap on that. Time to beat the game I guess.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Home Stretch

Byung reminded me yesterday that I'm not actually playing FFX on my own console. It's a loaner, so maybe I should pick up the pace a little bit. That was all the prompting I needed to put my nose to the grindstone and finish off catching all the monsters. This unlocked Nemesis who was the hardest fight in the original game. I killed him on my first try. I killed Omega Weapon, the second hardest fight in the original game, without him getting a turn. So, yeah, I'm pretty powerful.

I assumed that power level was going to be enough to kill off the rest of the dark aeons. I was wrong. I started by trying Dark Bahamut because I really want to get Tidus' ultimate weapon. But then Dark Bahamut shattered Yuna and I was no longer able to win. So I needed to build a better suit of armour for her. Ok, fine... Long grind, here I come. I decided to at least try the rest of the dark aeons to figure out what else I'd need to put on the armour. The first one I fought was Dark Ixion, who was trivial, and he actually dropped a ring for Yuna that already had ribbon, break hp limit, and two more slots for customization. Thanks Dark Ixion! You may well have saved me 20 hours of grinding!

The reason it's so important to have armour for Yuna is that most of the dark aeons have limit breaks that are guaranteed wipes. They do max damage and dispel auto-life so there's actually no way to avoid dying to them except to summon an aeon of your own to take the blow for you. It's a pretty silly mechanic, but it is what it is. Theoretically I could use 3 other characters and just tag Yuna in right before they overdrive but in that strategy she still needs to be hasted and have max agility... If I'm doing that then she might as well be one of the people actually fighting, too.

With my new armour in hand (I added on auto-haste and deathproof) I went around and killed off the rest of the dark aeons. Some of them were pretty annoying but ultimately having auto-life/auto-phoenix on my party and summoning in an aeon to take the kill shot was good enough to win. I got punished for not maxing my luck stat and as a result had to spam aim and luck in some of the fights in order to actually hit the enemy. You need to use each one 5 times and dying resets your buff count so some of the fights went rather long. I was never really in danger of running out of aeons so I guess they didn't go long enough for the enemies!

Supposedly there's one more challenge boss that I can access now that I killed all the dark aeons but I didn't see it. I think I only killed Dark Yojimbo 4 times and you're supposed to need to kill him 5 times. I'm not sure where the 5th fight would be, but my next step is to go back there and see if I can figure that out. Then I just need to see if I can kill Penance and then maybe I'll be able to take out Sin. Do you think I'll be strong enough to bring him down?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Final Fantasy V: Fire Crystal Job

So far my little Four Job Fiesta party has monk and red mage as the available classes. As I was saying yesterday both are pretty strong early on but are either uninteresting or bad as the game progresses. I was thinking I might need to grind a bunch of levels to get the monks up to a point where they could win the game for me since the red mage sure wasn't going to. Red mages have a great ability but it doesn't do anything good on its own and needs to combo with something else. Something else that I wasn't going to have, since I'd already missed my chances for (I think) all the spell casting jobs. Red mages have terrible stats and I was going to be stuck with one regardless of what else I rolled up. So I either need a good stat transfer ability (I already have max strength from monk if I want it, to be fair) or I need a good ability that doesn't care about stats.

I cleared out all the Karnak stuff and got the next slate of jobs. What was Gilgabot going to hand me? Something to enhance my already awesome early game? Or something to pull me through to the end of the game? The answer? Bard.

In my conclusion post for my Final Fantasy V playthrough in my marathon I actually called out bard as a job I hadn't used but that I wanted to play again right away in order to try it out. So I don't have bard experience, but I wanted to play with a bard, so right off the bat this is an awesome selection. Thank you, Gilgabot! But what do bards do? I did some reading and it turns out bards are weak early but transition into late game monsters. Just what I want! They eventually have access to 8 songs they can sing which vary in uses from stopping all the enemies to charming an enemy to continuously buffing one of your stats. Agility so you get all the turns, or strength so you do more damage, or magic power so you do more damage... Or level! One of the options is level! I wanted to grind levels to turn my monk into a killing machine? Well, I can just sing this song to level them up in fights that matter!

But wait! There's more! When you max out the bard class you get the ability to transfer the sing command to any other job. Almost all of the songs completely ignore the stats of the caster... So that's something my red mage can do with her life. Heal up out of combat, sing up a storm in combat. I can imagine setting up my bard and red mage to singing up my agility and level and watching my monk destroy things. I won't learn those songs until near the end of the game, but it's something to look forward to!

Bards are also awesome for random encounters it turns out. I'm actually running into enemies that take a few rounds to kill because monks have started falling off. (Enemies are gaining armour faster than I'm gaining levels so I'm actually doing less damage as I progress!) But the bard can just sing a song that hits all enemies for a 99% chance to stop them. Then I can just punch away to my heart's content. I even set brawl up as the bard's secondary ability to get the max strength transfer from the monk. So my bard does more damage than the monks do! (He's allowed to use a weapon.)

On the downside he has garbage vitality so he has a lot fewer hitpoints than the monks do. Oh well!

Now the question remains... What will I get from the last crystal? There's only 4 options possible... Samurai, dragoon, dancer, or chemist. Two beaters and two more weird jobs I've never used before... If I don't get a beater I'm really going to be all in on buffing up a monk to win all the fights. Could be fun!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Final Fantasy V: Four Job Fiesta Start

The Four Job Fiesta event started up this weekend. I'm giving it a shot because I'll take any excuse to play a really good game! The idea is you get assigned one job from each of the four crystals and then have to play the game using only those jobs and keeping at least one of each job in your party at any given time. You can swap around who is which job in order to mix and match abilities and such but you need to keep all the jobs active.

I'm playing the fan translated version of the Super Famicom version on emulator. I think that may end up being a mistake since it doesn't have a run button. It also doesn't have bad loading lag like the PSX version so maybe it all shakes out in the wash? On the plus side I can watch LCS on my tv while playing FFV on the emulator and that pushes this format over the top for me I think.

I got to the wind crystal in short order and tweeted to the bot to get my first job: Monk! Monks tend to fit my style of play in a Final Fantasy job system game quite well. They have a lot of hit points and they're good at physically attacking things. They also have a support ability which transfers the highest strength boost in the game which may or may not come in handy when I get later jobs. It doesn't really lend itself to fun combos that I know of, but it's an autoattacker that does lots of damage and scales well with levels so I should be able to beat things by grinding if I need to.

It is also, it turns out, awesome in the early game. I've watched a few streams of people starting out as a thief or a white mage and they spend so much time healing up (often by drinking potions) that I'd just sort of assumed that was the way things worked. I did one early boss fight where the boss attacked for 3 potions worth of health. So I spend a few rounds using items with 3 of my 4 monks and attacking with the 4th one. Then I realized that the people I was watching were attacking for 12 and I can attack for 200. So I stopped healing and just punched the enemy to death. Pretty sure I could have just damage raced the boss right from the start. The next boss has a phase change where she turns undead and becomes immune to physical damage but you can hurt her with potions. I killed her before she changed phase. Thieves have to fight her for many phase transitions! Monks just murder her.

I let my strength go to my head and tried to kill Shiva before unlocking my second job. Turns out she can cast a spell which hits my party for 60% of their max health, and she has 3 friends with so much health it takes a full round for me to kill one of them. And I'm dead in 2 spells? Yeah, not going to happen at this level. Oh well!

Off to the water tower where I got my next job: Red Mage! Red mages get to cast white and black magic spells, and they get to wear armour and use swords and stuff. They also have one of the most powerful abilities in the game when you max out their job level as they get to cast two spells per turn instead of one. On the downside they can only cast the first three levels of spells. So while they're awesome early on they're really bad in the end game. If I had black mage instead of monk they'd be awesome since I could give them the black magic ability and then they could double cast high level spells, but I don't. In fact I think every other class that could combo with a red mage is from the first two crystals so I don't think I'll ever have a good combo for them.

On the plus side I now have a healer, and I have someone who can equip (and therefore break) rods. So my team is really awesome now. Punch things for big damage, use my healer to heal up. I may well fall off in the late game? Maybe just buying all the rods and having my red mage break them will be good enough? And who knows what I'll be getting from the next two crystals...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 59

Board 59 - Dealer South - None Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Acol
Opponents playing strength: Intermediate

My hand: J T 7 6 4 2 K T 7 3 9 4 3

Partner opens 1 heart in 3rd seat. East overcalls 2 diamonds. My hand is too bad to take an action here so I pass. Partner continues on to 3 clubs and East moves to 3 spades. My hand seems to hit the opponent, not my partner. I understand he's probably got a pretty good hand but I just don't mesh with him at all. I wonder if I should double? I have a trump trick and they've got to be as misfitted as we are. I really don't want partner to bid again. Eh, I also don't want to double them into game. Partner then bids 4 hearts. Fine partner, you win. Everyone passes.

East leads the K of spades.
9 5
A Q J 8 7 6
A K Q 6
J T 7 6
4 2
K T 7 3
9 4 3

Well, I sure have 3 losers off the top and I'm missing the K of hearts. Way to bid game all on your own with only 16 points partner. They cash 3 tricks off the top and then lead a 3rd round of spades. I have to ruff it but then I can't even try to finesse hearts. I'm actually going to lose a club, too, unless they split 3-3 because I have no way to get to board and take my K of diamonds. Nothing crazy happens in hearts or clubs and they get those tricks.

Down 2.
9 5
A Q J 8 7 6
A K Q 6
A 3 2
T 5
6 5 2
J T 8 7 5
K Q 8 4
K 9 3
A Q J 9 4
J T 7 6
4 2
K T 7 3
9 4 3
One table played 3 spades doubled and set them 2 so apparently that would have been the winning play from my side. 1 table played 3 only hearts, down 1, for second place. 3 of us went down 2 in 4 hearts and 3 went down 3 in 4 hearts. One of those last ones was even doubled. So we do get 8 MPs out of this. Hurray?

Jack disagrees with my third pass. He thinks I should have doubled them. And I guess I was pretty sure to have at least 2 tricks and partner has been bidding like crazy... He might have 3 tricks? The big thing was East only had 4 spades which surprised me. We probably get to tap them in clubs and then run hearts...

Ranking after board 59/60: 1/16 with 63.44%

Friday, June 13, 2014

WBC Team Tournament

A post went out recently on the WBC Facebook page reminding people that preregistration for the World Boardgaming Championships ends on June 30th. You can't join a team without being preregistered and they were using that fact as a way to prod people to preregister soon. But I'm more concerned about the team tournament itself. The deadline for signing up for that is July 20th so there's still plenty of time for that, but that is what I said around this time last year and we ended up being lazy and missing that deadline...

I went to check out the actual results for last year's team tournament and the first place team scored 22 points. It isn't entirely clear what games we would have chosen if we'd managed to sign up but if we'd gone with the same games as in 2012 (which I was certainly going to do) we would have scored 24 points. If Robb had switched to El Grande as he was musing then it would have been 29 points instead. Last year was our year for sure, but we didn't sign up. Blargh!

Anyway, this year is fast approaching... After taking a year off when my team would have won it only makes sense to join the tournament this time and fail spectacularly, right? Especially now that I can't get my bonus point in Le Havre which I have to pick as my team game again, right? Unless I finally make the switch to crayon rails in order to force myself to play it... Nah!

But I guess the important thing is to see what the interest might be about forming a team or teams. I know more people are driving down from the Toronto area this year, but do any of them want to enter the pretty irrelevant team tournament?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Civ V: Diplomatic Vote Requirements

I posted last week about the inevitability of a diplomatic win when you lock in an early council lead and get all the bonus votes available by being the only player in the game going patronage. But I didn't know how the number of votes needed to win was actually calculated. This is a problem because there's a big difference between an inevitable win at 22 votes needed and one at 34 votes needed. From the comments to that post I pieced a little more together, like how the patch notes from the last big patch mentioned an increase in the number of votes needed to win and the increase was based on the size of the map. The implication is certainly that the base number of votes was also from the size of the map. Snuggles suggested I play a single player game emulating the circumstances of my multiplayer game and see what happened as players/city states were eliminated. I found some time last night to do just that.

First of all I decided to run some tests to determine the initial number of votes needed to win. I tried varying all kinds of different things, looking at the victory screen, and then starting a new game. I changed game speed, difficulty level, number of players, and number of city states. Not all of those actually change things up. Can you guess which will alter the number of votes needed? The list is after the jump!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Final Fantasy XIV: Marriage For All!

Apparently this week is E3, the huge video game media convention thing. I originally found this out when a streamer I was watching was complaining about how Twitch was all unstable because of the extra load from people watching streams from E3. Anyway, Square had a stream announcing various things as would be expected for an event like this and part of it involved a Q&A session with Naoki Yoshida (the director and producer of Final Fantasy XIV). One of the questions had to do with the new marriage system they're implementing for an upcoming patch. I was linked to a Kotaku article about it, but the question was just asking for more details and here's what Yoshida had to say post translation:

"We discussed it and we realized: within Eorzea, why should there be restrictions on who pledges their love or friendship to each other?"

Back in 2012 when they were talking about features to be added later to the relaunched Final Fantasy XIV (the original game was so terrible they had to bring in a new team and redo it) and marriage was one of the things they had planned. But initially they said they would only do straight marriage to start. I guess a lot has changed in two years!

One can't help but wonder if the concern around Tomodachi Life woke someone up inside Square Enix and made them take notice. As my friend Humbabella pointed out it's not like it's actually easier to implement just straight marriage in an existing video game. You do have to go in and make an explicit point while implementing any sort of pair bonding system to restrict it to one male and one female. It wouldn't be easier to 'test out' only straight marriage and I'm glad to see they walked away from that particular stance.

The guy in the video asking the questions didn't even seem terribly concerned about the potential for gay marriage, or for a cat person marrying a rock person. He only really perked up when Yoshida mentioned potential rewards for getting married. Gotta get an exclusive 'married' mount!

I haven't played FFXIV in a while, but it was fun when it relaunched. Maybe I should patch it up and give it another spin at some point...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tales of Maj'Eyal

Lino mentioned yesterday that there was a roguelike on sale on Steam for under $5 that had 1306 achievements in it. That seemed like a really, really big number. He did a little digging and I believe it's the game with the most achievements on Steam by around 600 more than the second highest. That's a serious achievement lead! How could I not check it out?

It does cheat a bit by having the same achievement get repeated over and over again for different difficulties. That's pretty standard, actually, but they go above and beyond by having 9 different difficulties floating around. And Lino mentioned that it doesn't give you credit for easier ones which is pretty terrible. I hate feeling obligated to play a game through on easy for any reason if I can beat it on hard.

The game does have some good things going for it. It seems to have a really wide and varying class system a lot like Dungeon of Dredmore had, but it doesn't just throw it all at you at once. Instead you start off with a small number of premade classes and then get quests as you're playing the game to unlock more stuff. So I can now play as a summoner because I did a quest. I did a different quest to unlock poisons so now if I start a rogue he can use poisons.

They also added in a bit of a difficulty twist for a roguelike that I _really_ like. Normally a roguelike has permanent death. I view it as being a pretty fundamental part of the genre but it really ratchets up the learning curve for the game. ToME added in a twist such that you have a limited number of lives and earn more lives as you level up. When you run out of lives you're still permanently dead but this way you get to make some mistakes and immediately learn from them instead of making a mistake and then hoping you get into a similar situation later to see if you actually learned from it or not. And by handing out more lives as you level up they make it so you can't just zerg something down early game and you'll always feel like getting a little further in the game will give you ability to get a little further even if a crazy twist comes your way and blows you up.

I've got 8 achievements down. 1298 more to go! There's no way I'll come close to getting them all but I'm enjoying playing the game so far so it was definitely worth picking up regardless.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Civ V: Diplomatic Victory

I was chatting yesterday a bit with Robb about the game state in one of our asynch Civ V games. The one where the evil Dave eliminated Robb early. I have a plan for trying to win in a tricky fashion in that game, but I'm pretty sure it's bad. I'm going to try it anyway because it seems fun and I want to see what happens but it just feels like suddenly making 28 tourism per turn isn't actually going to be a realistic threat. Robb was wondering how the other people would react when I grab the final piety policy and unlock that tourism ability and my gut feeling is Dave wouldn't care because he's in a dominating position to win diplomatically. We talked a bit about how that works because Robb wasn't aware of a couple of mechanics that ultimately snowball the council into an inevitable win. I don't really know how it all works either... So it's time to look into it and figure out just how inevitable the inevitable is. Do Matt and I have any response beyond trying to sneak a faster win or somehow trying to kill Dave off despite being on different continents?

The first thing to dig into is the inevitability factor. Eventually you reach the point in the game (when 1 civ hits the atomic era or half the civs hit the modern era) where the council starts letting you vote for someone to win. There's a flat threshold of how many votes are needed and if no one gets that many votes then the top two get given 2 more votes for all subsequent council actions. Including the next victory vote. We're playing a quick game so I believe that means a victory vote will happen every 13 turns once they start happening. I honestly have no idea how many votes are needed to win. I read 60% of base votes from living civs/city states which would put our game at needing 22 votes but I loaded up a saved game from a single player game on a huge world and it only needed 22 votes so I really don't know anymore. And I can't seem to find out! I even went and installed an SQL plug-in for Firefox and went digging around in the core database for the game to try to find the formula but couldn't find it. I did go load up the game and the victory conditions screen claims 34 votes to win. That's a lot more than 22. So something funky is going on... (I also checked a 6 player game on a larger map and it needs 40 to win... Maybe it's based on map size and gets lowered as civs/city states die?)

And I think this all means there are lots of ways to get extra votes that don't increase the number needed to win. Hosting the council is worth +2. Owning the Forbidden Palace wonder is worth +2. Getting a world religion is worth +2. Getting a world ideology is worth +2. There's a tech far down the tree that gives you +1 for each of your diplomats. Dave already has the Palace so right now he has 4 votes to my 1 and Matt's 1. He also has the most city state allies so when they start giving votes he will likely continue to have more than we do together. This means he gets to pass whatever he wants, in particular the world religion and world ideologies. So when we hit the atomic era I fully expect him to have 12 votes on his own, 2 per city state, and 2 per time he fails to win. So if he has 11 allies he's apt to win the very first time the council meets to vote a winner. He has 8 right now, so he's not really going to need to get the late game tech or many of the pity votes.

How can this be stopped? Well, we can take his city state allies as a start. But he declared war on us which means the city states also declared war on us. We can't just do quests and pay them money anymore. There are really only two ways left to remove his allies. We can kill them, or we can stop using our spies to catch up in tech and start using them to try to rig elections. Killing the city states doesn't even help much. We deny Dave 2 votes but we (maybe?) knock 1.2 votes off the number needed to win. It's a gain, but it's not much of one. The best bet there would actually be for me to conquer a city state and then let Matt conquer it back and liberate it. That would restore it as a city state but with Matt as the ally, not Dave. So it would deny Dave 2 votes and keep the number needed to win constant. But I think it forces Matt and I to fight, which kills trading, and that's really bad. So maybe that could be a desperation move, but I don't like it much. Besides, if I'm going to actually beat up a city state, I want to own it myself!

How about rigging elections? How does that work? I know you can park them in a city state and then every so often (15 turns in a normal game so probably 10 turns in a quick game) the city state will hold elections and the best spy present will get to get some influence for his civ and lower the influence of everyone else. If we lower Dave below the alliance level then presumably we can make peace and spend the cash to buy the city state as an ally ourselves. But when you're at war you're always listed at -60 influence... So does rigging elections in this case even help? Will we stay at -60 after peace is declared or will we go back to our real amount? I don't know. The other thing you can do is try a coup. It has very low odds of success but if it works it flips your influence with the other player's influence. So we'd become the ally straight up instead of Dave. Failure kills off your spy. You get a new one again after a few turns but they lose any levels they might have. It seems like a bit of a desperation play but I guess it'd be worth a shot if it came right down to it.

Another possibility is to attack the other sources of his votes. Conquer the city that built the Forbidden Palace. Use an army of great prophets to convert away all his cities so he's no longer following the world religion. Bring Robb back into the game to increase the number of votes needed to win. (If that is even actually part of the formula... Man I wish I could find it!)

Or we can try to win even faster. It seems inconceivable to win a science victory because of how deep you need to go beyond the atomic era to pull that one off. Even if Dave needs 3 or 4 failed votes to win he gets that to happen in ~50 turns. You need 15 techs in atomic or above era to get a science victory, and then you need to still build the last part. No, science seems right out unless we really cut down on his external sources of votes. Culture might be possible, and it's certainly where my hat is hung, but Dave makes so much culture per turn I actually can't imagine winning this way. Not without the internet, anyway, and it's also far in the information era.

That just leaves military. It doesn't much matter if it's a full military victory or just removing Dave and then having Matt and I duke it out for science/culture. But it feels like keeping the status quo means Dave wins a diplomatic victory.

I'm not sure if I like this. I hate board games with a front runner issue. Dave did well early so now he needs to die? Do we really need to play Civ V in a way that we never seem like enough of a threat to be ganged up on? Do we need to be in 2nd place so when the world gangs up on the leader we can swoop in for the win? Do we need to always be capable of winning a defensive war against all the other players?

Though for all I know there's something going on such that Dave won't just win a diplomatic victory. For all I know his massive tech lead actually means he _is_ capable of winning a defensive war against all the other players, especially since all the other players in this case is just two people on different islands. And if beating up a city state doesn't decrease the number of votes needed he may actually be barely containable, though he will still get to decide all the council votes on his own.

I am a little less worried about Dave instantly winning now than I was when I thought it was going to be 22 votes to win. But I am just as worried about the inevitable win because 2 extra votes every 13 turns will close the gap between 22 and 34 in only 78 turns, and I think he was going to overshoot 22 easily. We'll just have to wait and see what happens I guess!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 58

Board 58 - Dealer East - All Vul

Opponents convention card: Dutch Acol
Opponents playing strength: Intermediate

My hand: J 9 4 3 K T 8 6 A Q 9 J 3

I open a weak NT in second seat. Partner responds 2 clubs, Stayman. I bid 2 hearts and partner jumps to 4. Easy as pie.

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

Well hello there double fit. And partner has a 17 count? Shouldn't we be considering slam? Anyway I have a club, 3 diamonds, and 5 spades. They didn't lead a club so I don't have to worry about that loser for a while, either. So all I need to do is deal with the trump suit and I'm up.

I feel like I should know how to properly handly this suit, but I don't. Am I supposed to float the J of hearts? If I had the 9 that's probably right, but as is there's a very good chance I lose a trick to the 9 if I do that and East covers with the Q. So probably I should win on board and just lead up to the T. Then lead up to the K? Sure. I win the diamond on board and lead a low heart. 3-9-T-2. Interesting. Now am I supposed to go back to board (risking a spade ruff in a 4-0 split) to repeat the finesse against the Q? Or just give up 2 heart tricks now and be done with it. The problem with giving up 2 heart tricks now is they can set up a club at the same time. Maybe the right play is going to be ruffing a diamond to get back to board? That's only a problem on a 7-1 diamond split which sure feels like it should be less likely than a 4-0 spade split. Ok, run it.

Blargh. East shows out of hearts after I do that so there's no finessing him anyway. But he doesn't fire back a club when he gets in so they only get the 2 heart tricks anyway. Making 5.

A K Q T 5
J 7 4 3
K 4
A 5
8 6
A Q 5 2
J T 8 2
7 6 2
7 2
7 6 5 3
K Q T 9 8 4
J 9 4 3
K T 8 6
A Q 9
J 3

All 7 other tables played in 4 spades, not 4 hearts. 2 of them made 5, 4 made 4, and 1 went down 1. So we get 12 MPs.

Jack disagrees with my opening bid. I only have 11 points and we're playing 12-14. Sure, but I like bidding! Later on he disagrees with my play of ruffing a diamond. He'd rather I pitch a club. Ruffing high only makes sense when East has the remaining hearts and only 2 diamonds which isn't very likely but was what I was playing against. Pitching is better in all other situations. Because then I can safely use the A of clubs as a board entry without risk. Yeah, that sure would have been better. Even if East ruffs with a little heart I'm only in trouble if he then leads a spade to his partner's void. Which is possible, so my play wasn't strictly inferior, but it's really not very likely.

Ranking after board 58/60: 1/16 with 63.55%

Friday, June 06, 2014

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest: Infinite Seeds

I hooked my SNES up to my computer in order to see what the image would look like and in order to do some testing off of my old saved game. The image, unfortunately, looks like garbage. I remember reading someplace that the standard connectors are really bad and if you actually want to get an SNES image into a reasonable format for streaming you need to get s-video cables. My capture card has an s-video input so that's all good, but I don't think finding s-video cables is an easy thing to do. I remember asking around at some local vintage game stores and they all looked at me like I was crazy. So just now I did a search and found a seller on Amazon willing to sell one for $2. With a $10 shipping charge, of course. But if it works that's still a steal for me, so I bought one.

While I had the SNES connected I figured I'd try the infinite seeds bug I'd read about in only one place on the internet and which I haven't seen anyone using in a speedrun. I know the current route people use has to buy seeds twice and really pays attention to how many seeds they have left. (Seeds restore maximum spell points to one of your characters.) So I loaded up my game from my marathon and went to the first town that sells seeds. I used all of the seeds I had on me and then bought 0 seeds from the store. It turned my blank seed spot into a seed picture with a 0 on it. I used that icon and it overflowed and gave me 99 seeds in that slot and oddly enough a bunch more seeds in the next slot over. If I ever wanted to use that item I'd be in trouble but since all it does is dispel temporary debuffs I don't think anyone ever uses it.

So... I already have a way to make the current route more efficient. Huzzah!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Civ V: Spending Happy Faces

Something I've been trying to think through recently is how to make optimal use of my happy faces. Should I be forcing some cities to stop growing in order to grow other cities instead? Should I found more cities? I could leave the happy faces around and try to pick up a golden age or potentially sell some luxuries to other players.

By default you have 9 happy faces to work with, plus 1 for each natural wonder you find, plus 4 for each luxury good you have. Then you can also get some extra happy faces through policies or through local city happiness buildings. Every city you found knocks 3 happiness off of your bottom line. So in a sense every city you found kills off the potential for 3 people in your capital. People in your capital tend to be better than people in other cities and right now we're replacing them with just the base tile of a new city so this is a pretty terrible trade. If the new city gets you a luxury that's actually a net positive though since you get the city and the first population completely for free.

Another difference comes from the whole local happiness thing. If you're able to build a colisseum, a circus, a pagoda, and a mosque in the new city then you've got the local happiness to pay for 7 people in that city that you couldn't otherwise pick up. So you subtracted out 3 people from your capital and got 7 people in return. Each individual person may be worse but you've more than doubled how many of them you can have. You do tack on a 5% science penalty and a 10% culture penalty for each new city but with just a library, monument, and the two religious buildings you will be bringing in 7 culture and 10.5 science from the city. It feels like that has to more than cover the extra cost unless your capital is really insane.

Now, I can definitely envision ways to have your capital be really insane. If you go completely down the tradition policy tree your capital's people will only cost half an unhappiness each instead of the full unhappiness in a regular city. This means you'd need to trade 6 people in your capital for 7 in another city. Your capital is also likely to build a bunch of multipliers unavailable to the rest of your cities (like 50% more science from national college) which can really make the 6 people in your capital worth an awful lot. I can see settling more cities to pick up luxuries since those are happy face positive and the extra safety you get from being able to produce more military units is likely worth the policy and tech hikes. Especially since unless your capital is making 200 science or 70 culture you're eventually going to be outpacing those cost multipliers.

In my current four three player game I started making lots of cities early before I could stack in any local happiness for them. I'm pretty sure that was a mistake since I ended up unhappy and unable to grow for quite some time. A couple of the cities I built 'near' luxuries, but not right on top of them, and the cities took forever to border expand those resources in. It was definitely a mistake and a learning experience. I do now think I'll be getting the tradition opener in almost every game to get the faster border expansion even if I then switch to full liberty for lots of cities. I feel like I stunted my growth in lots of little ways through bad play and I may well be too far behind to make a comeback. But looking at things now, and seeing how much local happiness I can now get (and I don't even have zoos yet), I'm thinking the more cities I can build the better. Letting a city grow bigger than the local happiness is probably not wise without having a really good reason because I could spend those 3 people on a whole other size 5 or 7 city. Assuming I had more space to put them down, anyway, which is really not the case. I definitely think my land mass was designed for a full tradition build. Oh well!

For example, I think a policy with a single city would cost me 413 culture. I'm making 16 culture in my (terrible) capital so that's 26 turns for a policy. Each city I found adds an extra 41 onto the cost of the policy. So each city has to make at least 1.6 culture per turn to offset the 10% culture cost. Considering they're guaranteed to make 1 culture per turn because I have the liberty opener... I should have as many cities as I can get my hands on! Build a monument and go! Especially with a religion like I have with the ability to buy 2 buildings for 3 happy faces in each city.

I don't think I can get any wonders because I don't have any single city that's any good but I have lots of cities that are decent. I expect I should be able to hold off any invaders by just setting all of my cities to build units. But I am last in hammers, so maybe that's not even true. I really need to get some policies in the exploration tree. Unlocking 3 hammers per coastal city and 3 happy faces per coastal city (that has built a light house, harbour, and seaport anyway) looks to be really, really good. Then I can get most of my cities up to size 10 for no extra unhappiness! Snag a zoo and I can get up to 12! Of course most of these cities don't have anything resembling 12 tiles worth using. Maybe I'll eventually build buildings for specialists so I can do better than 'unemployed dude for 1 hammer' which I've had to use a few times already this game. (That population growth was a mistake!)

I'm not sure about saving up for a golden age. It would be pretty sweet but it takes so many happy faces and I'm really not that far above zero. I could stunt all my cities growth instead of just most of them to try to force it to happen. 20% more production and culture would be pretty sweet. Maybe that's how I get the policies together to work on exploration... Hmm...

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Final Fantasy X: Dark Shiva Down!

I've had a lack of motivation to play Final Fantasy X lately. I was at the point where Tidus had 99 levels to spend but I didn't think I had any other useful spheres to farm up for him. He had max strength, agility, magic, defense, and magic defense. Because I couldn't get his ultimate weapon thanks to Dark Bahamut I had to spend a bunch of hard to get crafting materials on his weapon. This meant I didn't have them available to make a good piece of armour so I was mostly grinding easy to kill arena bosses for cash and a chance at dark matter drops. But when he stopped earning experience because the game only lets you store 99 levels up I got a little depressed and moved on to other things I guess.

Today I finally turned the game back on. It had been over a month since I'd last played which is sad. Final Fantasy X is such a good game, why would I leave it for so long? Anyway, instead of farming arena bosses when I turned the game back on I decided to go catch some more monsters in order to unlock the boss that drops hp spheres. Eventually I'd break the limit on his max health and having useful spheres to plug into the grid would be useful. I did so, and it turned out that boss counterattacked with a big damage attack (even into my max defense) and I realized I'd ignored evasion. Farming up some evasion spheres would give me something to fill in the grid with too, so I went to get those. Turns out evasion sphere guy is hard to hit and I'd also ignored accuracy. So I killed accuracy guy a bunch and then evasion guy a bunch and filled in a good chunk of the grid with those two types of nodes. Along the way I finally hit 99 dark matters (every arena boss has a 1 in 8 chance of dropping 2 of them) and was able to put ribbon on a piece of armour. That was the motivation I needed to finally sell off all the weapons I'd found and bribe a few marlboros to break my max hp limit and finish off my good armour. Ribbon/break hp limit/auto-haste/auto-phoenix. Woo!

I plowed through all the arena bosses I had unlocked and that ended up filling Tidus back up to max level again. My other characters managed to spend their banked levels down because they either gain tons of experience or do tons of damage. Tidus does both at the same time, so on 'real' fights he still gains levels while everyone else doesn't. All I have left in the arena is the guy who unlocks for catching 10 of everything I think, so I headed off to do that. One of the monsters could only be caught right outside where Dark Shiva hangs out so I decided to pay her a visit. Tidus now has max strength, agility, magic, defense, magic defense, accuracy, evasion, over 20k max health, and ribbon. So I should be good to go, right?

Wrong! Dark Shiva blew me up over and over again. Each time I'd learn something new about the fight. Eventually I made an actual plan to win and took her out. I tried lots of ways to mitigate her limit break (which hit my whole team for 80k) and eventually decided that couldn't be done and just summoned an aeon of my own for her to kill when her limit break bar filled up.

After she died I took a look at the things she can drop... For me she dropped armour for Tidus that breaks the hp limit. A little late for that, Shiva! It also only had 3 ability slots instead of 4 so it's bad. But it looks like she can drop 4 slot items with ribbon and break hp limit for all characters, or a weapon with break damage limit. Either of those things could be really useful for building up other characters. I can't fight her again unless I reload the old save... Is that worth doing?

Considering how long it took to build the items for Tidus I absolutely believe it is worth scumming Dark Shiva for drops. If I want to play with other characters. At this point I've decided the reason I got burned out was my assertion to get all of the achievements. A couple of them look to be really, really hard (possibly not even possible for me with my tv) so my motivation fell off the charts. I think I'm just going to throw that aside. Beat the challenge bosses, maybe max out just Tidus' grid so I can finally say I've done that, and beat the game. Now that I've killed one dark aeon I'm probably strong enough that with good play I can beat the rest, right? Right?

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

League of Legends: One for All: Mirror Mode

Riot has their latest 'temporary wacky map' option up and running. It's the One for All mode back for another spin (One for All being the mode where all 5 members of your team played the same champion) with two twists this time around. The first is that the enemy team also plays the same champion as your team so you have 10 copies of a given champion running around. The second twist is the game takes place on the ARAM map instead of the normal 5v5 map.

I like the first twist. One of the problems with the original One for All mode was when one team picked something fun and one team picked something good. Most teams simply couldn't compete against a team of healers and the games ended up being complete stompings. You did get to ban some champions out and Riot also disabled champions that were particularly problematic and you did often get fun matches. Changing it so both teams play the same champion fixes that issue. Which isn't to say all matches are fun (Nidalee is pretty stupid) but you never have one team not have the tools to have a chance since both teams have identical toolsets. (As long as all 10 people play the whole game... I've had too many games with a leaver.)

I strongly dislike the second twist. One of the things I really liked about the original One for All mode was how different teams would handle jungling. Do you jungle at all? Do you throw someone into a 1v2 lane? How about supporting? On the ARAM map all those decisions are thrown right out the window. There are still ways to play better, of course. Knowing how to time your deaths so your team doesn't lose turret pressure and knowing to wait for respawns before charging in 3v5 over and over and over again are real things. They just aren't things I find terribly interesting. Mostly I find them frustrating.

There are certainly some neat interactions going on. Vayne silver bolts stack up with each other so people take a lot of damage in a real hurry if they get focused. Playing with 10 Zacs meant there were a silly number of blobs in play. It's definitely silly and fun but I'm pretty glad this mode will be rotating out soon.

One thing that really annoys me is the mode is buggy with regards to skins. If you end up playing a champion you own but didn't nominate (each player has a 10% chance of getting to pick the played champion) it defaults you back to no skin even if you own a skin for that champion. I don't change my champion skins ever, but I do own a few. It normally defaults to using your last used skin which is just fine by me. I've played all my champions with the skin on them and never need to look at the skin selection window again. Except for now, where two of my favourite skins (Mega Man Ezreal and DDR Sona) have been turned off by this bug. So now when I play those champions I won't have a skin until I remember to manually change it before a game with them. And I probably won't notice until the game has started at which point it will again be too late. So annoying!