Friday, January 31, 2014

Streaming Requirements

I said a couple weeks ago after watching the big speedrunning marathon that I needed to work out how they were streaming from a console to see if that was something I could do at some point. The first page I found (for speed running records) recommended getting a DVD recorder, recording a DVD off of your television screen, and then mailing in the DVD. Or if you had a high speed connection you could get the file off of the DVD and email it or something. I feel like I had actually stumbled across that page a few years ago and being surprised at how terrible an idea it seemed. And now with high speed being even more common it feels really crazy. Mailing DVDs to people feels so quaint. And is clearly not the way they ran their marathon since they were streaming the games live... They weren't sending me DVDs via Canada Post!

I did some more digging in some forums and the answer is actually pretty simple. You need a video capture card of some kind for your computer in order to get the video and sound directly from the console. Oddly enough I can remember doing exactly this over a decade ago. I had a TV tuner card in a computer left behind by a former roommate and I hooked my SNES up to the AV cable connection at one point. I think probably to play FFIV? That computer unfortunately caught fire a long time ago and I didn't salvage any of the bits from it.

Of course it turns out an old TV tuner probably wouldn't have done the job properly anyway. People seem pretty down on AV cable connections because they give terrible video quality relative to the other options. Also people who are playing games with 'frame perfect' button presses don't want to play with the lag coming through a capture card. So the recommended setup seems to involve getting a capture card, a powered splitter, and some extra cables. Then you can connect the console up to the splitter and connect the splitter to your tv and to your capture card. This way you get to play the game on your tv like normal but everything is copied onto your computer as well for recording and streaming.

Getting the picture into your computer is only half the battle because from there you need to pick up the picture and sound and record them. There's a bunch of software to do this and it seems pretty trivial to set up. Open Broadcaster Software is open source and seemed to work just fine for me. I was able to get it set up and was able to stream a League of Legends test game with it picking up the game, the game sound, and my microphone. Sweet!

What wasn't so sweet is my in game ping spiked up from 90ms to ~2000ms. I was still better at last hitting than the bot was even with 2 seconds of lag but it really wasn't very fun and wouldn't have worked for a real game. I checked the archived video afterwards and the quality was terrible. Something like 70 or 80% of the frames were getting dropped and coupled with the fact I was only able to input an action every 2 seconds it really wasn't very interesting. So there was some sort of problem going on...

Dig around a bit and find out that to upload even a decent quality stream requires about 1.5Mbps of upload bandwidth. Rogers account website was down when I went to check what I had but looking at their list of available packages the only one that made sense for what I could have says it has 2Mbps of upload bandwidth. Seems like it should be enough? But then I found a speed tester website which said I was only getting 440kbps. So either my package isn't on their list or I'm really not getting anything close to what they're promising. I went back today and my package just flat out isn't on their list. The worst one they have right now has 80GB of download cap and I somehow only have 60GB. I've often dipped a little over 60GB and they've been happy to charge me overage despite the fact that their worst package right now has a higher cap. Who knows when that changed but it feels like they've been taking advantage of the fact I don't handle confrontation very well and haven't bothered to look things up. Well, if they aren't giving me enough bandwidth to stream I'm going to have to do something about it anyway... Time to figure out what the best thing to do about it is. Probably I need to figure out what I can get from other companies and then put the screws to them. My cable tv has sucked recently too so maybe I can threaten to cancel both and get something out of them. I'll probably still cancel tv regardless but maybe I can let them talk me into keeping my internet for the right deal.

Other than figuring out my internet I'd also need to get a video capture card and a splitter. One that can handle the low resolution signal of a SNES. I did some searching on that too and it sounds like maybe Canada Computers sells these sorts of things. I may go on an adventure this weekend to check out what they have in store and see where things stand from there.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Insane in the Membrane

Here's something to think about... Come up with some adjectives that describe games you want to play. For me I think that list should include things like interesting, fun, awesome, and challenging. I feel like I should want to have a good time and flex my brain. Games like Alan Wake with an incredible story, or playing Final Fantasy with a single thief and needing to dig into the mechanics to figure out how to do it, or DMC which is just a lot of awesome mindless killing. Path of Exile has so many different crazy and viable builds to try out. Final Fantasy VIII with the fantastic music and plot.

Things that feel like they really shouldn't be on that list are boring, tedious, repetitive, and trivial. Those feel like things that shouldn't be part of games? And yet if I think back to the Insane in the Membrane achievement in World of Warcraft I can't think of ways to describe it other than those. Read a very small strat on how to get each of the reputations which typically involved going to one zone and killing the same monsters over and over again for hours every day for months on end. There was nothing interesting to figure out. Nothing really changed, though I guess there were a bunch of different reputations to get so it changed a little from week to week.

It took me about six months to get, though it wasn't the only thing I was doing in WoW at the time since we were raiding several nights a week as well. It also made me a fortune since one of the reputations required inscription to get the Darkmoon Faire reputation and I parlayed that into a lot of glyph and card related cash.

And I really liked doing it. Being able to just put on some music and zone out doing the same thing over and over again was actually really relaxing and enjoyable. So while I feel like I should want interesting, fun, awesome, and challenging sometimes I just want to be able to go onto auto pilot doing something completely trivial. It helps if there's an achievement for doing so, I guess!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Playing For First

I can remember a couple months ago talking with some people on Path of Exile about running their two hour races. In particular I was talking to Snuggles about why he preferred to play a Marauder and why I preferred to play a Duelist. His argument for why Marauder was better is it had more and better defensive options to pick up in the early levels. My argument for why Duelist was better is Marauder has more and better defensive options to pick up in the early levels.

Playing a Marauder is safe because you can get some pretty good defensive points at the start. PoE races are hardcore so if you die you're out. Putting a focus on not dying feels like the right thing to do since if you die you get nothing and if you survive at a reasonable level you get a good number of points. But I found by watching some people and by trying it myself that as I kept dropping defensive points I would be drastically increasing my killing speed and wouldn't be guaranteeing death by doing so. I'd die a good chunk of the time but when I didn't die I'd finish high enough to earn big bonus points. Perhaps most importantly if I played it safe I'd be guaranteed of never winning! Enough people are going to go the risky plan that even if 80% of them died off the other 20% would finish way above the safe play.

I've spent a lot of the last few days playing tower defense games while watching speed running streams on my tv. One thing I kept hearing people say during the AGDQ a few weeks ago was that people were playing 'safe' strategies and were for the most part focusing on being entertaining while still being pretty darn fast. Given that I only saw two games not finish (Fire Emblem and one of the four Super Metroid players) and that I had a great time watching I'd say they pulled that off. Super Metroid was run without trying to be safe and they brought in extra people to comment away from the games to let the players focus on racing. I was surprised that someone died in that race at the time but now I'd more surprised that three people finished!

Most of the people streaming on SRL are trying to beat the world record time in their chosen game. Thousands and thousands of runs have gone into some of these games and people are well aware that if they want to beat the best times they're going to need to throw safety out the window. I've been mostly trying to watch people playing Final Fantasy games and I've only seen one ending credits all week. Unfortunately that was right as I'd started tuning in so I got to catch the end of the final boss fight of a FFVIII run which just happened to break the previous world record. Pretty hot! After that has been a constant stream of people trying really risky things and failing over and over. Often while spending the entire time on stream swearing at the games. Especially poor FFIX which is apparently set up so the random encounter chance resets each time you change screens. It's possible to beat the game only getting a total of 5 random encounters if you get lucky enough! As far as I can tell there's no way to manipulate it to happen other than running to the next screen on the shortest path which makes getting a fast time pretty random. So much so that the timing program they use has a thing to input the number of random encounters you get!

Watching people manipulate random number generators is pretty crazy. I watched one guy playing the start of Lufia II and he must have done the first couple dungeons two dozen times. Apparently the RNG in that game is altered by player input so if you walk on a very precise path you can cause combats to work out in exactly the same way such that you exactly kill all the monsters you need to fight. But the guy is trying to go super fast and input a precise path through two dungeons including solving puzzles... He kept failing and rather than accept a time loss he'd just restart. Over and over and over again.

Then there was the guy playing FFVI who loaded a different saved game before his run. He did this over and over again a precise number of times in order to force the Veldt to spawn the right random encounters when he got there in his real game.

I watched one guy playing Pokemon Heart Gold who would reset his 3DS system clock to a specific time before starting each run. He does this because the game has a night/day feature and he needed it to change between the two at an exact point in his run and he knew how much time was going to pass before he needed it to happen.

There's definitely a time and place for playing it safe, and a time and place for playing for first. It depends on what you're trying to accomplish at any given time. So Marauder could well have been the optimal choice for Snuggles while Duelist could have been the optimal choice for me and we were never going to convince the other one to switch. Which is just fine! I think I liked watching people playing it safe more than going for broke, actually. Though that may just be because AGDQ featured the best players of each game, doing things I hadn't seen before, and with extra people chiming in with commentary.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten

Last weekend seemed to be the weekend for tower defense games with Steam cards to go on sale. Lino told me about this one and even though it was three times as much as the last one it was still less than a bottle of pop so it had to be worth a try...

Defender's Quest has the twist that you don't have access to a limited number tower types. There are only six types of towers but each type of tower is a class of adventurer. Archer, healer, mage... That sort of thing. Each character has a level, and gear, and a talent tree. You can use two archers if you want, but you need to buy a second one and they will each need their own gear and have their own levels. You can spec them differently, which is interesting. I had one archer who put all her points into having a bigger range so she could attack more enemy paths. My other archer put all her points into doing more burst damage with crits and poison so she was better at actually killing things but got to attack fewer things. I had one mage who focused on freezing enemies and one who focused on doing massive area damage.

The game has a plot that isn't terrible and it has character interaction that I found hilarious. The berserker is awesome! I also like how the main character is female and super powerful. The first tutorial mission made her seem like just another damsel in distress for the berserker to protect but I was glad it didn't pan out that way. The goal of every level is still to keep the enemies from reaching her, but she is in complete control of everything your team does. She's the 'king' of the chess board, if you will. A 'king' with immense power!

I ended up beating the game today with 13 hours played since the weekend. This game was definitely worth picking up. It also has some hard mode achievements that I'd like to try out, so I'm going to keep playing it too. One class of achievement is to beat the game with only one of each character type which will make things a lot harder than my first playthrough where I was able to use 4 archers for damage and had extra healers so I could cover all of my towers. Being restricted to one little area or having to sell and rebuy my healer to move him around will definitely make things more interesting.

Each level has three different difficulties to play it on so there's a bit of replayability there since you can come back and do a level over for more rewards as your towers level up. You can also change how fast you earn experience in wins and in losses if you want to scale up or down how fast you level up. My first play I got to the point where I could do the hardest version of each story level as I reached it but I suspect a lot of that was having 4 archers since my characters were way under the level of the enemies. Or maybe the two levels aren't comparable in that way?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Super Sanctum TD

My brother linked me to a tower defense game, with Steam cards, on sale for 49 cents. I like tower defense games, and I like Steam cards, and for some reason I prefer spending 49 cents on a game than playing one that's free so I was all in on this bad boy. It looked like the game was on sale so cheap because the company had just come out with a new game in the same universe and was using this as a cheap source of advertising? I'll take it!

The game started off being a pretty interesting looking tower defense game. It is a mazer style game with the twist that you can slightly alter the mazing by building walls in very specific spots. After playing with it a bit though it basically just boiled down to a tax on your starting cash as you built in the required bits to build the maze.

I was having fun with the game, but then it crashed. Ok, one crash is fine. Then it crashed again. Annoying, but both times was in the menu so I just had to restart the game. It then crashed a third time in the middle of a level, costing me some time, and just made me really bitter. A little over an hour had passed, I had my 3 Steam cards, and it had crashed three times. It wasn't that interesting of a tower defense game that I wanted to put up with more crashes so I gave up.

That said... 49 cents for an hour of entertainment, 3 Steam cards, and a chance at a good game? No regrets.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 39

Board 39 - Dealer South - All Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Fair

My hand: K Q 8 6 K 6 4 2 K J 9 Q T

This seems like a pretty solid weak NT opener. Partner bids 2NT which is an invite to 3. My maximum with decent intermediates is definitely in for 3NT!

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

Well, this should be interesting. I have 2 hearts and 2 diamonds off the top. I can set up a spade, and a club. That's only 6 tricks. I can get anywhere from 0-3 more diamond tricks too, but 2 seems most likely. So I probably need a 3rd spade trick. And I need all this to happen before they realize how many clubs they have between them. I could also try to score the T of hearts. West should have 3 cards above the 7 for his lead and the only such cards are QJ98. So inserting the T is reasonably likely to work. On the other hand if I duck and East inserts the Q or J then I can win with the K and then finesse West later. East can actually foil this by playing low from Q5. And he knows it, too, since he can make the same deduction? Except for all he knows his partner has the K, not me, and I could get to score my J if he ducks. I think the key is I want to lead diamonds from board so I want to win this with the T so I'm going to try that. 7-T-Q-K.

I can no longer reasonably lead diamonds from dummy. So I guess I should start from the top in hand and see what happens. K-7-3-4. J-Q-A-2. Oh well. I give up a diamond. 5-3 of spades-9-T. Guess finessing wasn't going to work out well anyway. West shifts to a club. 6-K-A-T. Another club. J-Q-3-7. They have a lot of clubs set up when they get back in. I can cash out for down 2 or I can pound out a spade and hope they can't take 4 club tricks along with that spade. But the only upside is if they can only take 2 clubs with the spade? That requires the suit to be blocked or to have split 7-2 with the A in the other hand. That seems less likely than that they can cash 4 clubs so I just take my tricks and go home. Down 2.
T 5 2
A T 3
A 8 6 5 3
K 7
J 7 4
J 8 7
Q T 7
8 6 4 3
A 9 3
Q 9 5
4 2
A J 9 5 2
K Q 8 6
K 6 4 2
K J 9
This is a terrible result for our team. We only beat the pair that went down 3 in 3NT. We lost to the 2 pairs that went down 1 in 3NT, and the 2 pairs that managed to make 3NT, and the pair that made 3 diamonds, and the pair that went all the way to 6NT but only went down 1. I guess they cashed their aces and went home? Who knew overbidding could be so lucrative!

Professor Jack doesn't like when I played the 3rd diamond. He wants me to lead a spade instead. It feels like that's leaving 2 tricks on board in the hopes of setting up 2 in hand? But I guess it could set up 3 in hand if East has Axx, which he did, and hops with the A? And if he doesn't hop with the A then I get a spade trick and can then establish the diamonds. Ok, seems better. Clubs actually were close to being blocked, too, and could have easily been misplayed by the opponents. Huh.

Ranking after board 39/60: 2/16 with 55.13%

Friday, January 24, 2014

NWFL Finals Results

I played the finals of Duncan's FumBBL Blood Bowl league earlier this week. I posted about my different options for how to prepare my team and ended up deciding to cut my dwarf who was missing the next game and to also cut the niggled hobgoblin since I was really worried she was going to just get taken out. I also threw in 150k to get a wizard. I figured my opponent and his likely 220k would be getting a wizard anyway and especially against Khemri adding a wizard on would be a big advantage. He ended up spending his 370k on a wizard and 2 bribes which had the potential to let him foul his way to a man advantage but it didn't end up mattering as he didn't have a single player ejected all game.

My opponent chose to receive the kick and the weather was very sunny. Not that either of our predominantly 2 agility teams were planning on passing the ball but it did mean desperation plays would be a little more desperate. The game started off on a bit of a sour note for my opponent. The opening kick-off roll was a thrown rock which killed his only tomb guardian with block. He did regenerate but it meant he lost a 5 strength dude for the opening drive. He then proceeded to throw some blocks with guys who didn't have block and burned a reroll and then rolled double skulls to end his turn after knocking down one person on each team. I then badly hurt a second tomb guardian on my turn, who didn't regenerate, and moved some guys into position to go steal the ball if he didn't deal with it.

His second turn opened with another reroll burned on a 3 die blitz that came up skull/skull/both down. He did pick up the ball though. I then badly hurt a skeleton who also chose not to regenerate. My opponent only had a 12 man roster so he was guaranteed to be down guys for the rest of the game. His next turn didn't accomplish a whole lot. I KOed a skeleton, made a very risky and probably wrong positional choice, and then got kicked out for fouling. My risky play was sticking 5 of my guys into a little box where they could be hit by a fireball. One of the 5 guys got kicked out so only 4 could get hit. Only problem is those were my 4 best guys. Both bulls, my 3 skill dwarf, and a 2 skill dwarf. It did put my opponent in a really bad position and I was likely going to get a shot at his ball carrier if he didn't use his wizard. As a team with a 2 agility ball carrier I actually want to get the wizard out of the way when I don't have the ball so it might have been the right play? In retrospect I think I probably could have baited out the wizard with a hobgoblin in the box instead of my second bull. He did use the fireball and it knocked over my beatdown bull and seriously hurt my 3 skill dwarf. Fireball does have to roll to hit and roll to break armour so it is only 5% to take each guy out. It is 81% that he doesn't KO or better any of my 4 guys when he takes this action so it is probably pretty good to make him do it? But it does give him an out to get back in the game when I'm already ahead so maybe it wasn't worth the risk? Anyway, I used my apothecary and he came home so Colonel Mustard was back in the game for the next drive.

He ran his ballcarrier down the field and it was looking like he was going to get to score if I didn't use my wizard. I ended up doing 2 go for its to get assists in the right spot so I could blitz off a marking tomb guardian. I had to reroll to make that work. Then my utility bull centaur was able to make a dodge and 3 go for its in order to stand beside the enemy ball carrier. He has stand firm, block, and dodge so it's pretty hard to move him away. My opponent ended up deciding to dodge with his 3 agility blitz-ra to get an assist and the blitz with the ball carrier who has tackle. Skull reroll push meant he was stuck still beside me. He could take the 2 agility dodge and score or he could stand there and hope things got better next turn. He decided to dodge away, rolled a 3, and stunned his guy.

All this play had been taking place on the sidelines so I took the opportunity to ignore the ball and push his tomb guardian and his 3 agility blitz-ra into the crowd. Both got KOed. I also badly hurt another skeleton, but he got better. His turn didn't do much since he only had 4 guys in play and one was stunned. I had 3 turns with the ball deep in my own territory so I started running a dwarf down field as a scoring option, moved a couple guys back to watch the ball, and tried to pick it up with my bull and a reroll. It failed. And the ball bounced to a reasonable spot for my opponent. He didn't have a reroll but he did have a play to roll 5+ 5+ 4+ 2+ 2+ and score, with a reroll on one of the 5+s. He tried, rolled a 2 on the first roll, and kicked the ball out of bounds where the crowd threw it to mid field. I ran my dwarf down field some more just in case and decided to foul his piling on guy while I had the chance. It didn't work, but I didn't get kicked out either. I then failed the pickup through reroll. He did nothing and I again tried the foul on the piling on guy. It again failed, but I still wasn't ejected, so I got to try my desperation play. The pickup and 3 go for its worked, but the hand off didn't, and that was the half.

My plan going in was to try to minimize the impact of regeneration by winning 1-0 so being tied 0-0 at the half after kicking off was just fine by me. He failed all 3 of his KO rolls so it was 7 on 11 for the second half with his 3 agility guy out, all his guard out, and 2 of his 5 strength guys out. I still had my wizard. I didn't see how I could lose. The kickoff table was perfect defense so he got to make my hits a little harder and the kickoff landed exactly in the end zone which was about as good a start as he could have hoped for. But then my bull centaur managed his pickup in the end zone and it was pretty much over from there. He did decide to keep dodging and going for it with his 1 agility tomb guardian to blitz my ball carrier and it kept working but he never got a pow to take my guy down. I stalled until turn 8 while hitting the few remaining guys he had left and scored. He went 1 for 6 on KO rolls for his turn 8 so he was down to just 3 guys and Khemri really can't one turn touchdown with 3 guys. To rub a little salt in the wound the kickoff result was another rock thrown which stunned one of his 3 guys. The dirty player who was undoubtedly going to try to get some revenge. His final action was to roll skull/both down on a tomb guardian block and fall over.

Everything went my way this game. Absolutely everything. I think I played it reasonably well and had a solid plan and I even think baiting out the wizard was probably a good move though I didn't think it through well enough at the time. But I could have played like an idiot and probably would have won the game anyway with the way things went for my opponent.

To make things even sweeter my main bull centaur, Mr Boddy, skilled up and rolled his 3rd set of doubles in 5 skills. I skipped the first one to get block but I actually took stand firm with his 4th skill because I was planning on rolling doubles again with his 5th and wanted to combo it with diving tackle. (I also wanted to be able to play more on the sidelines without getting surfed and the ability to not get pushed off of a marked target was actually pretty key this game.) So now he has block, dodge, break tackle, stand firm, and diving tackle. He's a beast! He should help out against elf teams that can make desperation scoring plays. I had two other people skill up and the whole thing brings my TV up to exactly 1850. As far as I can tell the salary cap for next season is 1750 and I get bonuses of +20 for winning my division, +30 for winning my conference, and +50 for winning the championship. So my cap is actually 1850... Exactly where I landed with no cuts needed! I did cut two guys before the finals, to be fair, but I still like how that worked out. I need to light 440k cash on fire but I'm otherwise good to go for next season. Maybe I'll eventually roll doubles on a dwarf and get claw...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

More Hearthstone

I skipped out on playing Heartstone a bit last week after noticing that I only got one daily quest, not three, and that I'd therefore not be drafting every day. This week I decided I should probably play it again to give it a fair shake and saw that some quests had built up. So you get one per day and only need to play every three days to clear out the queue? I like that as a feature. It makes you feel less bad about missing a day while still incentivizing you to log in pretty frequently.

I've done a couple drafts since then and managed to even pull off a 9-3 record once which got me what I can only assume is this game's version of a foil along with more than enough gold to draft again and a pack and some crafting reagents. I haven't actually done any crafting but it seems like a way for you to crush a whole ton of cards you don't want into specific cards you do want. I don't know the ratios but it sure sounds better than the whole Zimus problem I had with SolForge.

Robb has been trying to tell me that Hearthstone is a better card game in part because it doesn't have the legendary issue that SolForge has and that the commons compare much better to the legendaries. Having played against a few legendaries today (one guy even had two of them in the same draft) I think that's a bit of hogwash. Ragnaros is way, way better than a common and will win a game on his own if the opponent doesn't have a stupidly good board position or a removal spell that can take out an 8/8. Even if he does Ragnaros will have killed something else too so he'll have been a 2 for 1.

Even ignoring the whole legendary thing (I actually beat the guy with 2 of them because I had a removal for his 8/8 haste and he played his broken 2 drop on turn 12) I just haven't been having much for playing the game. I'm finding it really rather boring, actually. Part of it is the pace of the game I think, which is really slow. It has lots of cutesy animations and stuff that just slow the game down. It reminds me a little of the Cyanide Blood Bowl client... Really cool to start but eventually I just don't want to see pass replays and guys slowly running down the field.

The other part is the game doesn't seem to have many interesting decisions. It works a lot like Magic does except you get a land per turn for free (and don't have to waste draw steps on land) and the attacker chooses blockers, not the defender. So if you have a 3/2 and I have a 2/1 I'm going to attack your 3/2 in order to trade. On the other hand you're going to attack me to do 3 damage if it's your turn rather than trade because I'm probably going to make the trade on my turn anyway and that's 3 free damage. Of course if you're about to play a 6/2 or something then you probably want to make the trade on your turn, and maybe you think my deck has a lot of pump spells or something? It's certainly a decision to be made, but it's one that I think has a blatantly obvious choice an overwhelming amount of the time.

I think it's obvious anyway... I play plenty of matches against people who make what seem to be incorrect decisions. I don't actually know all that much about the cards or the strategy but I keep identifying misplays and then beating those people so I feel like I probably have a decent grasp of things.

Because everyone draws one card per turn, and everyone has a 2 casting cost spell they can play once per turn, it really feels like games devolve into who can make the most efficient trades. If I keep getting 2 for 1s eventually I'll have cards left over and kill you with them. So the trick is staying alive long enough for those extra cards to come home. The majority of my losses seem to come against mage draft decks because they have access to a card that does 4 damage to all of my creatures. I've lost 3 times to decks with 2+ copies of that card in the last couple days. The mage passive spell also feels strong in that it does 1 damage to anything which completely invalidates 1 toughness creatures. You're often stuck drafting them anyway and it just results in the mage getting more card advantage on you.

What it boils down to is I rarely feel like I had any chance in the games I've lost. I'm often winning on my opponent failing to properly trade efficiently. And the games are taking a long time to resolve for what they are.

I still have more than enough gold to draft but I don't know that I'm going to bother. The act of picking cards in the draft is fun but the games to see how the deck works out feel like a chore. I have plenty of games to play that don't feel like a chore, so I think Hearthstone is getting axed.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Final Fantasy IV Speedruns

I've been doing some poking around on the Speed Demos Archive and Speed Runs Live ever since the Awesome Games Done Quick marathon and came across a listing of all 955 games currently being tracked in the archive. I just had to search for my favourite game Final Fantasy IV. I wish I'd made a guess for what I thought the top time would be but I bet I would have been a lot higher than the actual times!

I just went and checked my post from when I played the game in my own marathon and apparently my game clock was only around 14 hours. For some reason I was thinking it was more like 20. Hmm. Maybe I would have gotten close to the current record with my guess if I'd known that? It turns out they track the game in 3 different categories. The fastest single segment run clocks in at 3:21. The fastest multiple segment run is only 3:05. And the fastest run that _really_ abuses glitches so badly it got its own category was 2:17. The version closest to the way I've played in the past would certainly be the middle one, so only about 21% of my time!

There are three main things that let someone speed things up beyond what I'd have done normally. They know the precise route to take (including what treasure chests are worth picking up), they don't read the text boxes (which makes me a little sad because reading the story is the best part of a Final Fantasy game for me), and they run from practically every fight. Oh, and all the glitches...

I sat down over the last couple days and watched the 3:05 run while eating. It starts out pretty standard with the only real differences being they run from every fight, skip almost every treasure, and have timed out the boss fights so they know what attacks to use when. It wasn't until right after the fight with Golbez in the dwarf castle that the glitches were busted out but there were three of them used that drastically change the game. I had read about them all before so it wasn't a huge surprise to me, and I'm a little sad there wasn't anything new to see.

Glitch 1: If you cast warp right after that fight with Golbez you get sent back into the crystal chamber from the throne room. There is still a dark crystal there, which you can pick up. Having this crystal in your inventory means you trigger the end of the sealed cave when you walk into it which means you get to skip a dungeon full of mandatory encounters!

Glitch 2: Any given action in combat can only proc one trigger. Presumably this is to stop counter attacks or reflect spells from chaining infinitely. What it means is that if you bounce an attack spell off of your own walled character the damage done to the enemy won't trigger any of the monster procedures. In particular this means you don't have to fight all four fiends in the Giant of Babel... If you kill off Milan with reflected spells the fight just ends. I think this gets used on the CPU core and on Zeromus at the end of the game as well.

Glitch 3: If you use a life potion on an enemy as the enemy is dying you get the experience and loot for 2 kills. The run I watched used this twice, right before the four fiends fight, in order to power level Rosa and Rydia. He got into a fight with one of the alarm monsters that summons in an enemy if it's attacked while alone. Then he got into a cycle where Rosa would attack the alarm for mediocre damage causing it to summon a dragon. FuSoYa would cast weak on it, knocking it to 1 health. Cecil would attack it, killing it. While that animation was playing both Edge and Rydia would enter in commands to use a life potion on the dragon. 3 dragons worth of experience per round of combat! He had it timed out so he knew how many cycles he needed to do in order to get Rosa to learn the white spell and to get Rydia to learn the nuke spell. The other 4 characters were killed off to focus the exact amount of experience into the two that needed it.

One other way the game changed when playing at such a low level and while skipping every random encounter is consumable items go way up in value. Casters also go way up in value since they'll always have mana to do their thing. (Well, not quite... Most of the treasures he looted were ethers to keep the casters going!) The melee characters were complete trash which is a big change from the 'real' game where autoattacking was awesome. He rarely got new weapons for anyone and never got armour for them.

4 hours actually seems like the sort of time that is entirely reasonable for one of their marathon things. Plenty of other games came in around that time. Maybe it's actually worth trying to get really good at speed running Final Fantasy IV...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NWFL Finals

Later today (10pm EST if you want to come watch) I'll be playing in the finals of the NWFL league on FumBBL. This is a league with a salary cap between seasons so I may well need to fire players after the game, especially if I lose the game since winning is worth a 50k bonus to the salary cap. Even if that wasn't true I want to win because I want to win! I'm up against the race I've always found hardest to plan around: Khemri. They have 4 guys with no in game negative and 5 strength which makes it very hard to just line up and punch. On the plus side the team is all slow and clumsy so they have difficulty actually winning the football game and I do have a bunch of heavily armoured dudes to stick in front of the big guys and slow them down.

As things currently stand, without cutting or buying anything, my TV is 1760 and his is 1560. We both have 12 players for the next game. He has 6 copies of mighty blow and one of piling on. He has a +MV throw-ra and a +AG blitz-ra so as far as Khemri teams go he's got a good plan for scoring. He only has 3 copies of guard, one of which is on a 7AV skeleton, and only two of his players have learned block. I'm pretty sure if I can get his big guys tied up with only 1 dwarf that I will really win the remaining 7 on 7 battle.

Getting that to happen is going to be tricky, especially since I only have 5 dwarves for this game since one of them is out with an injury. Not a permanent one, but he doesn't get to play this game. I also have a player who got a niggling injury two games ago and is certainly getting fired before next season if I have to make any cuts and probably even if I don't. A 7AV guy with a niggle doesn't get to last very long. So I'm trying to decide if I want to cut either of those guys. Cutting the dwarf costs my his 8 SPP and guard for next season but does get me a little closer to another chance at claw and it gives me a crucial 6th dwarf for the finals. Not having any skills won't hurt very much since his job is going to be stand beside a mummy and not die. I play pretty fast and loose with my hobgoblins, especially the ones with guard, so I suspect my opponent will be able to pile into her at the first opportunity. I could probably protect her, but why would I want to protect someone with guard? Guard is for standing beside people! I likely don't even need guard in this match since I'm not going to be hitting mummies and the rest of his team is flimsy. And I have 6 other copies of guard!

I could also buy more bodies to have a bigger bench, and I can throw in extra money to get some inducements of my own. A wizard is pure gold against Khemri in particular since they can have such a hard time picking up the ball. I don't mind getting a wizard to give him a wizard, and since he's already getting 200k in inducements he'll already have a wizard if he wants one! Wizards are pretty scary for me too, since I also run with a 2 agility ball carrier, but I don't see a way to deny him a wizard. I guess I probably want to steer clear of putting him up to 380k so he can't induce Ramtut?

I'm leaning towards firing Plum and Rose, rehiring them both as rookies (net +20TV) and getting the wizard. That'll give him 370k in inducement money which probably becomes a wizard, a chainsaw, and a bribe. If he gets either the chainsaw or the scimitar guy it puts my niggled person at even more danger so firing her and trading in block/guard for 50k in non-inducements is probably a really good plan. Alternatively 370k is exactly enough for him to get a wizard and a good 3 agility ball carrier which makes my wizard a little worse. Probably not enough worse, since I really like the threat of a wizard and I do have some guys who can move 9 spaces to take advantage? Maybe? I guess I can also throw away my 4th reroll to cut the inducements down by 70k, or not rehire the 13th player to cut them down by 40k. He does get second choice and can cut a similar number of skeletons if he really wants to.

I do find I use most of my rerolls, and I am planning on throwing -2d blocks on his mummies since they don't have block, so it's probably not a great idea to cut the 4th reroll. Eh, I have 5 hours to decide, maybe the right plan will come to me in that time!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Niagara 2014

Another year, another Niagara Board Gaming Weekend! They've changed their website for this year but it has somehow managed to be less informative than the previous one. This is a very hard thing because I'm not sure the last one gave any useful information at all! I seem to recall the last one actually mentioned that people would be playing board games... This one seems to leave that out! I have no clue from the webpage what to expect.

I've been twice before, though, and I have blogged about it in the past, so I do have an idea about what to expect. 4 days of open gaming from the 23rd to the 26th of January. I can also apparently expect to hurt my back, accidentally eat gluten, and have anxiety attacks. And be a cylon! That's probably good enough to offset the other stuff, right?

My biggest worry is actually being awake when everyone else is asleep. I have a floor to crash on, which is great, but it means having a bad sleep schedule is really bad. I do think a solution could be to just bring a big book (I've been meaning to relearn JavaScript) and find some place to camp in the hotel or something.

As far as food goes, I've gotten better at going on adventures without getting sick since last year. Both WBC and CastleCon went fine so I expect I can pull something off for this, too. Maybe I can find some gluten free mushrooms to bring along...

I figure I'll just take the Go Train/Go Bus combo to get down there which will make things work no matter when I happen to be waking up, which at this point is looking pretty sketchy. 8pm or so? Maybe I'll just stay up, take an early bus, and then go to sleep when I get there. I guess it depends on how late I end up sleeping the next couple of days.

I haven't played enough board games lately so I think I'm going to give it a go. It should be fun! You should go too!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 38

Board 38 - Dealer East - EW Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Fair

My hand: T 8 5 Q 7 2 J 6 5 9 8 4 3

East opens a powerful 2NT. I'm not surprised since my hand is complete trash. Partner and I do a bunch of passing and they settle into 7 hearts. I hope my Qxx of hearts is worth a trick, but it sure isn't worth doubling!

I lead the 9 of clubs.
A Q 4
K J 9 8 6 3
J T 2
T 8 5
Q 7 2
J 6 5
9 8 4 3
1Transfer to hearts
2Ace asking for hearts
30 or 3 aces
4Asking for Queen of trumps
5No queen

9-2-5-K. Declarer decides to draw trump and somehow he guesses right about which honour to cash first. A-7-3-5. He then takes the finesse. 4-2-J-T. Ok, partner had a 2nd heart so declarer didn't have a choice. He just got lucky. K-9 of spades-2 of spades-Q. Declarer draws more trump. I'm going to hope partner's high spade means he has those covered so I'm going to pitch my spades. 6-7 of diamonds-7 of spades-5 of spades. Now over to diamonds. 3-8-A-5. 2-6-8 of hearts-T. A club back. T-6-A-3. Ruff another diamond. 4-J-9 of hearts-Q.

I wish the AI could claim, since he is up and has been every since he guessed that heart right... And since partner pitched his 4th diamond for no reason. Though he could have just ruffed an extra diamond instead of running the extra trump...
K 9 6 3
T 5
Q T 8 7
7 6 5
A Q 4
K J 9 8 6 3
J T 2
J 7 2
A 4
A K 9 4 2
T 8 5
Q 7 2
J 6 5
9 8 4 3
This is a solo bottom board. Turns out 6 of the tables only made 12 tricks in hearts and the last one made 12 tricks in NT. One other team went all the way to 7 hearts and they went down. I don't see how all these people failed to take 13 tricks. The only way to stop it, I think, is to lead a diamond to start and have North protect his 4 diamonds. Actually, even then they just need to ruff a diamond before drawing trump. Yeah, it's guaranteed as long as south has the Q of hearts and diamonds split 4-3. Which they do at every table...

Professor Jack doesn't like my club lead. He thinks I should lead the 3, not the 9.

Ranking after board 38/60: 2/16 with 56.2%

Friday, January 17, 2014

Insane Speed Runs

I spent most of last week watching Awesome Games Done Quick 2014. I've spent a good chunk of this week going back and watching games I missed the first time around due to sleep or not knowing about the event soon enough. There were lots of really cool things going on and someone on Reddit was nice enough to compile a list of all the runs along with Twitch links directly to each thing.

This is the first time I've ever really heard of the concept of speed running the way these guys do it. One could argue that the Path of Exile races are a kind of speed running, and that's what I thought would be going on here. People playing the same games I play, but having practiced so much they'd just be way faster than I would be. Like how Helmann knows what weapon types to pick up, and how he tracks his inventory faster than I can, and how he can move his mouse fast enough, and how he knows the hotkeys and the talent tree. There's tons of ways he's faster than me, but we're both still playing the same game. These speed run guys were rarely playing the same games I'd be playing. They certainly do shave time off by being precise and knowing exactly what to do but they would also abuse game bugs to do ridiculous things. Glitching through walls to skip entire zones. Getting infinite money by selling null objects. Abusing the precise location of event triggers to skip them or do them out of order or any manner of other ridiculous things.

It was really awesome to see the way they completely destroyed Secret of Mana, for example. Normally in that game you level up all these different types of weapons and are constantly switching as a new weapon becomes your most powerful. In this run they only used two weapons: sword and spear. They leveled sword to 2 and spear to 1. Then they'd start charging an attack and use a second character to swap between the two weapons to bug the game. You'd end up with a level 1 spear equipped while charging a level 2 attack and the game didn't know how to handle it so it would just super charge your attack. This let them hit for max damage with a single low level weapon attack. They played the game with two people but they still used all three controllers. They just had one guy run two characters at the same time to use this glitch! Later on they skipped most of a dungeon and several boss fights by saving the game, quitting, starting a new game entirely, and then soft resetting to load the first game. Because they'd landed next to the save point with Flammie the save was glitched and they were able to instead zone into the start of the game (because that's where they were when they soft reset). This made their characters become invisible which somehow meant they could walk through walls. They also made infinite money with a different glitch.

A ton of work goes into doing one of these runs because of all these glitches and things. You need to have people finding the glitches. Then you need to have people who figure out how to use the glitches to build and optimal path through the game. And then you need someone who can actually mechanically pull it all off. In many cases the glitches involved hitting a button in the exact right spot on the exact right frame and if you didn't do it right the first time it probably wasn't worth doing.

It got me to thinking about if I could realistically try to speed run some sort of game. My typical games didn't seem like they'd fit in very well but they did run a few RPGs in this event. (Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Paper Mario, Pokemon Soul Silver, Fire Emblem on the GBA...) Fire Emblem was the only game I saw that got cut off due to time though so I don't know how well it fits. People were often talking negatively about 'RNG' in games and a game like Fire Emblem with permanent death and random crits has a ton of it going on. The Pokemon guy had to catch Mewtwo with something like a 4% chance per ball thrown so there was a lot of variability in the length of his game too, but he got lucky and caught him on the second fight.

At any rate, that's something to think about for another today... This post is about some of the cool things I saw during this event. (That happened to raise more than a million dollars for their charity... That seems like a really insane number!)

First up, I promised a link to blindfolded Punch-Out...

I recommend going into the link I posted above and going to watch both punch-out sections (they're one after the other) but I couldn't find an easy way to embed the Twitch stream here so I hunted down a YouTube video of the first one.

One of the things I really liked was the SNES F-Zero run they had. The guy who was running it was talking about the game and all these jumps to skip parts of the race and optimal locations to use the nitro boosts and how he was pumping the gas on specific turns to optimize his speed and stuff. At one point he was talking about a specific double jump that hardly saves any time and is super risky. He mentioned how he only knows of two people who have ever done it to his knowledge. He tried it on his race and pulled it off in 2 of 4 tries but died the other two times. What I found really amusing about that discussion is I know of two people who could do that double jump more than 20 years ago. F-Zero was one of the first games my brother and I had on the SNES and we spent a lot of time trying to jump over sections of the track. We also used to do all the other things the guy was talking about, though we were more focused on getting a top lap time by using all 4 boosts in one lap than on a full speed run of any kind. But I suspect if the internet had been a thing when we were 13 that we may well have become F-Zero speed racers.

For a bunch of the games they actually got the game developers into a Skype call to talk about the game and to the guys running the game. I found it really interesting to hear the developers when they saw the ridiculous things people were doing. One of them was for The Mask where apparently using an attack on a previous level slightly increased the range of a future attack which let the runner skip an entire level by touching a trigger on the other side of a wall. The developer was flabbergasted. I thought it was really cool that they were able to get developers from 20 year old games on, and ones from current games like Borderlands 2.

They also had some pretty sweet prizes donated from big companies. Blizzard gave them a really cool limited edition StarCraft 2 statue to raffle off. Nintendo and Microsoft gave consoles with games being played in the run. Definitely cool.

Some of the runs they ran as races where they'd get two people to play side by side and see who would win. Apparently one of the two websites putting on this event is focused on races? The coolest one was probably Super Metroid where they had 4 people playing at the same time. One guy died and had to drop out but the other three were incredibly close the whole way through. That's another game where they made a creative use of game mechanics in order to do things out of order, but they all play it so often and with the same people that they all did everything in the same out of order. The one currently believed to be fastest!

One guy played Mario 64 with only one hand. The N64 controller is almost designed to be used that way, I guess? He beat the game in a little over 22 minutes thanks to glitching through a door and being awesome.

I haven't played a Grand Theft Auto game since the very first one, but they ran Vice City and it looked interesting. I may look into getting one of the newer ones if I see it going cheap at some point.

They do a section they call 'Awful Games Done Quickly' and one of the game was ET! I liked ET back when I was a kid. I sure didn't know that the random seed was generated based on when you started the game and the very first frame is very fast so if you hold down the button when you turn the power on you can win very quickly. Like, you can legitimately beat the game in 53 seconds.

One of the prizes in that section was a modded Atari 2600 where someone put in component cable outputs so you can use it on modern televisions. Makes me want to check out how that happened... I also need to figure out how they were streaming from a console and from a handheld...

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Often after I post something about SolForge I'll get someone talking to me about how Hearthstone does it a little differently and asking how I feel about the differences. I do my best to avoid playing betas so I haven't been able to contribute to that conversation as I've never played Hearthstone, or watched anyone play it, or even read much about it except what Sthenno has posted about it. Over the holidays my brother finally convinced me I should sign up for the beta (the day after they'd invited everyone who had already signed up) by giving me an interesting comparison between the two games...

Basically he told me that SolForge is clearly a game made by CCG players while Hearthstone is clearly a game made by video game developers. So SolForge is a better card game while Hearthstone, despite being in beta, is by far the more polished game.

At any rate earlier this morning I got an email from Blizzard inviting me to the Hearthstone beta. It's almost like they read my post from 2 days ago where I swore off SolForge and decided it was time to capture me into their market. I got it installed and played a little bit this morning and was definitely impressed with the polish of the environment. It's integrated with Battle.Net for one thing so I already have a friends list and chat features with people playing WoW, SC2, or DIII. But the tutorial missions featured characters from Warcraft lore, and sound effects as well. The speech from a peasant finishing a job in WC2, or the sound of an archer being constructed in WC3. Probably the best thing was the final fight in the tutorial which was against Illidan Stormrage (who I'd swear should be dead... My druid has his skull!) who opened the fight with the ominous voice saying 'YOU ARE NOT PREPARED'!

Which made me unreasonably happy, though I suspect it will also make other people who played World of Warcraft during the release of the first expansion, The Burning Crusade. I just had to go dig up the intro video from that expansion...

So good!

Anyway, Hearthstone didn't seem like that interesting of a game, unfortunately, but it deserves more time before making a final judgment on it. I did get pranked by the tutorial and ended up buying packs with my first 200 quest gold. It's 150 for a draft, so I didn't get to do a draft today beyond my first free one. On the plus side the draft format is a lot better than the one in SolForge. In SolForge you get 3 games per draft, period. In Hearthstone you get until you get 3 losses or (I think) 9 wins. So you get at least as many games in, and you almost certainly get a bunch more. I went 5-3 in my free draft which I think is pretty good for not having a clue what I was doing.

I think the daily quests give out enough gold on average to be worth a draft per day on their own, ignoring what you might win, which is a lot better than SolForge where I was looking at getting a draft per 3 weeks or so ignoring prizes. And on the bright side just playing games for the quests will be interesting while I still have stuff to learn about the game so I won't mind grinding for draft gold for at least a while!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Path of Exile: Revisiting Challenges

I started playing Path of Exile again now that my sleep schedule has me awake during the evenings when other people are playing. It's been a month and a half since I last really looked at my challenge progress and there's only a little over a month left to get everything done if I want that t-shirt. So it's time to look again to see if this is still viable and if I want to really bear down and enter crunch time...

I ran a scion in the week long race and got a lot of stuff done there. I cleared out the last rare monster I needed to kill, I killed the last nemesis mod I was looking for, and I hit level 65 with the scion class. So I now have 3 of the 8 challenges finished up! Vendor recipes and currency item usage still looks trivial though I need to actually buy an eternal and an exalted because neither have dropped for me. That said there's no way either of these will be the sticking point. If I need them, I have them.

I also spent some time recently leveling new characters and now have 4 classes up to 65. I have a 48 templar (who really sucks, but maybe I can find a new build or get dragged or something), a 21 marauder (who is too low to really suck but probably does), and a 44 hardcore duelist who actually looks to have a good build but I'd have to worry about dying before I hit 65. I can get these done for sure, but it'll probably be a week of my remaining time to do so.

That leaves the two tricky ones. Kill all the bosses, and get all the unique items. I've killed 13 bosses in a month and a half and still have 22 more to go. We actually successfully ran a 76 map last night which gives me some hope that we're powerful enough with existing characters to kill all the map bosses. That leaves the 3 rogue exiles I haven't killed yet, which is a bit of a problem. Apparently they're very rare and incredibly powerful. I don't actually have any really powerful characters (maybe my race scion) and I'm worried that if I do hit the lottery and have one of them spawn I'll fail to kill them

The last one is to collect all the uniques. I've only found 7 since I last posted and there are 37 still to go. But I still don't have any of the really valuable ones. I learned more about the trading system in the race as I bought and sold some stuff but I don't know that I know enough about the value of high end items to actually make enough to buy what I need. If I'm going to get this challenge done I'm going to have to dive into this sometime over the next couple weeks. I will not be completing things on my own, that much is certain.

I'm not giving up yet! But it's starting to look a little bleak.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Done With SolForge

A couple weeks ago I came to the conclusion that playing constructed in SolForge is a bad idea. The number of legendaries in a deck seemed to be a very strong indicator of who was going to win a given constructed game. I have a large number of legendaries but not as many as someone who would have paid a lot of money. This means I found myself in games where I didn't feel like I could win (people with 3 phoenix and 3 Zimus) and in games where I didn't feel like I could lose (the average person). Neither of those were terribly fun for me. Just like how I don't like playing League of Legends against a team full of diamond players, and I don't like playing against a team full of silver players. It just isn't an interesting challenge to stomp or get stomped. This does mean I need to lose some games, and I don't like losing a given individual game, but I accept that I need to lose some of the time to make winning a tight game something that can happen.

Unlike LoL SolForge doesn't have a good matchmaking system. It doesn't matter if I play in tournament or just random online matches... A large number of my games will not be interesting. So constructed is out. Drafting is still pretty fun though. Most people won't have any legendaries at all in a draft, and most decks will be of comparable power. Some people will draft badly and be easy wins, and sometimes I'll draft a sick deck and stomp everyone, but I expect to have fun games a pretty good chunk of the time. Enough that I want to draft more right now!

Unfortunately I can't draft right now. The system is not designed to let people draft constantly. SolForge drafting essentially uses the same content gating system that other free to play games use... You can spend a bunch of money or you can waste a ton of time to get what you want.

Now, I'm someone who is more than happy to spend money on a good game. I'm also someone with a ton of spare time to spend getting what I want. So why am I so unhappy with SolForge? It's the scaling involved. A draft costs 7 event tickets and will on average return 4.125 tickets. So each time you draft you need to come up with the missing 2.875 tickets. A ticket is about a dollar, so you can spend about 3 dollars on a draft. Alternatively you can sometimes get a free ticket from one of the 3 daily quests. I don't know the exact odds but they seem to be pretty low now compared to when they first launched. I had to play for 11 days to get the 3 tickets I needed since my last draft, and one of those was by cashing in 40k silver. So I can spend 3 dollars, or I can win 3 matches every day for a week and a half per draft.

When constructed still had some appeal to me winning 3 matches per day didn't seem like such a terrible chore, but now when I don't want to play constructed I really don't enjoy feeling forced to play for a week and a half per draft. On the other hand spending $3 per half hour seems pretty excessive too. I could sign back up for World of Warcraft and only need to play for a couple hours per month to have a better deal.

There's also the problem of needing a sufficiently large bankroll in order to actually keep paying 4.125 tickets per draft. The 4.125 only works if you get your 3-0 early in your stream of 8 drafts. If you kick off with the 0-3 or a 1-2 you're set way back. This is what happened to me. I went 1-2 a while ago with a pair of incredibly close losses. Then after I finally scrapped together 3 more tickets I went 1-2 again today. I'm now looking at needing to play a game I don't want to play every day for 2 weeks before I can get my 30 minute draft fix in again.

I'm not interesting in doing that, so either I spend a bunch more money or I'm done with SolForge. It would be so easy for me to keep spending money. Once I get started I'm unlikely to stop. I'm very prone to addiction and once those floodgates open I don't know that they get to close. I know from my Magic days in my teenage years that I am the whale these payment schemes are targeting. So I need to stay strong and not give in. I hate this payment scheme. Hate it. So even if I would have reasonable fun per money buying in for more drafts I just can't let myself do it.

So I'm done with SolForge. Maybe when trading comes in I'll be able to liquidate some cards for more drafts and I'll come back and draft for a couple weeks. I do like drafting. But I will not pay them any more money, and I will not continue to log in and annoy myself playing a game I don't want to play.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Magic 2014

I saw that Magic 2014 was on sale during the Steam holiday event and that it had Steam cards. I'd heard good things about the game series though I didn't know anything about it except it was based on Magic the Gathering in some way. It hit pretty much all of my game splurge buying criteria so I picked it up. It made it to the top of the heap of things to try, actually, and I played it some last week.

You basically start off by playing a theme deck. They don't seem to be the actual M14 theme decks, but the idea is pretty similar. Win a game against the computer to add a new card to your deck. The cards that get added seem to be predetermined and aren't more basic lands so you need to go in and edit your deck every couple of wins or you end up with a land light deck. But it does give the feeling of having a game plan in mind and then getting to refine it as you play the deck more and more.

You can also play sealed deck where it opens you some random packs and you build a deck. Win a game or two and you get to open another pack to add it to your sealed deck. I don't know if the cards are fixed across computers or not but the cards I opened were pretty sweet. I had 2 time warps, a tutor, 2 guys who let you regrow a spell, and 2 gravediggers. I didn't have any big creatures but I kept winning by getting a couple 2/2s into play and then just taking 3 or 4 turns in a row and slowly whittling my opponent down. Fun times! And it gives people a taste of what it can feel like to crack open a booster pack...

On top of that there are some challenges where you need to figure out how to win from a given board position like the old puzzles from Skrye magazine. All but the last one were what I'd call trivial but I have a bit of experience with Magic board positions. I liked that it existed in the game.

Every now and then the game would basically spam me to give Wizards more money. But they didn't do it the way most games do by offering in game items or by blocking my ability to play... Instead they were advertising Friday Night Magic events. Links to webpages to search for nearby stores, that sort of thing.

All in all Magic 2014 seemed like a pretty good way to try to get people to start playing Magic. I had fun with it for a couple days but it was really very easy for an experienced Magic player. I'm glad I bought it and I think it's a good game for Wizards to have existing because I'm sure it will get at least some video game players to start playing paper Magic.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 37

Board 37 - Dealer North - NS Vul

Opponents convention card: Majeure cinquième
Opponents playing strength: Fair

My hand: 6 A J 8 7 5 A 6 3 T 9 4 2

Partner opens 1 spade and East passes. I bid 1NT. Partner retreats to 2 spades. With him having a minimum and us having a misfit I don't see any reason to keep bidding. Everyone passes.

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

I have a diamond loser, 2 club losers, and 2 or 3 spade losers. The extra spade loser goes away on a 3-3 split. I may be able to pitch a diamond on the long club, but only if I draw trump first. I guess I should do that. Entries are potentially an issue too. I think I want to lead a trump from dummy first, so I win this trick there. Q-A-7-9. I play a spade. 6-5-T-Q. East returns another diamond. J-3-4-K. So much for pitching on a club since they've got a diamond set up now. Oh well, nothing I can do about that. Draw more trump and hope they split 3-3 I guess. A-7-5 of hearts-8. J-9-6 of diamonds-K.

They cash a diamond then lead a high heart. I win on board and lead clubs eventually getting my Q. Making 2.
A J T 4 3 2
T 3 2
K 9 8
Q J 6
K 8 5
K Q 6 3 2
T 7 5 4
Q 9 7
9 4
Q J 2
A 8 7 5 3
A J 8 7 5
A 6 3
T 9 4 2
This ends up being a mediocre result worth 6MPs. 4 other pairs played 2 spades and they all made overtricks. Did all the other tables cash clubs first or something? Or somehow get the stiff K to drop? We beat the two tables that passed out the board and the EW pair that went down 1 doubled in 2 hearts.

Captain Jack agrees with me all the way!

Ranking after board 37/60: 1/16 with 57.72%

Friday, January 10, 2014

Punch Them All Out!

I've spent all week watching the Awesome Games Done Quick speed run marathon charity event. I was planning on doing a post about all the awesome things I've seen after the event ended but I just watched the most amazing thing I've ever seen in a video game stream...

I just watched someone beat Mike Tyson's Punch Out on the NES followed by someone else beat Super Punch Out on the SNES. That doesn't seem so strange considering I've only watched one game run all event that didn't end in a beaten game. They didn't even use any glitches or cheats or anything that have made some of the other games so interesting to watch. What did they do to be so amazing?


Many of the fights in both games are very scripted and performing an exact sequence of actions will guaranteed win the fight. But for someone to be able to perform one of the those sequences using no visual cues at all, just auditory ones, is crazy. And then some of the fights aren't nearly as scripted and require adaptation to the enemy... So they need to listen to the sound of the enemy punches to know how to react.

Both guys called out the exact time of some of the fights. Presumably the exactly scripted ones but it goes to show how much time they spent practicing that they were able to know the exact time it would take to pull off a given sequence of punches.

The room was also as packed as I'd seen it for any of the games and the cheering when they managed to win a fight was by far the loudest I'd heard. For many games it isn't clear to a layman watching the game how hard a given move actually might be to pull off. But I feel like everyone was able to appreciate playing a timing game without your primary timing sense.

The NES guy had to take his blindfold off to beat Mike Tyson but just making it that far was incredible. The SNES guy had to continue on one of the final guys but managed to beat them all while blindfolded. It was awesome to watch and I'll try to dig up a VOD of it to put in my post next week.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Thunderstone Advance

Thunderstone is a deck building game that came out in 2009 shortly after Dominion kicked that whole craze off. It's a game where you build a deck of adventurers by going to town and playing Dominion a bunch and then you go off to the dungeon to beat up monsters for victory points. I like the game and have played it a ton online but we rarely busted it out when people come over for games because it's very unbalanced. The online version on Yucata actually altered the rules to remove the most unbalanced part (some monsters could kill all of your starting adventurers which was an incredibly deck thinning technique only available to the starting player) but I'm not a huge fan of house ruling games. If the developer changes the rules in a new printing or something like what happened to A Few Acres of Snow, sure. But while I'll happily play Agricola with a new official deck I'm not a big fan of banning cards. I'd rather play a different game than house rule a 'broken' one. There are too many games to play as it is!

My brother gave me a copy of Thunderstone Advance over the holidays and it's essentially a reboot of the Thunderstone game using the knowledge gained from the last 3 years to make the game better. They made a ton of minor changes to the game that all seem to combine to make it feel more interesting. The basic overview of the changes is they buffed all the cards that start in your deck, fixed the rule that made the above trick work, and added extra incentives to fight in the dungeon early. The end result is there's often a decision to be made about if you want to go to the village and play Dominion or go to the dungeon and fight a monster.

I've only played a couple of times so far but it definitely seems worth playing some more. Most of the village and monster cards are different so it's got that newness going on regardless but it really feels like the rules have changed in small ways that add up to be significantly for the better.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Bravely Default

Bravely Default is a new jRPG coming out next month by Square-Enix for the 3DS. They've put out a demo in the 3DS store and my sister told me I should go check it out. I don't really believe in playing betas but a demo for a completed cartridge game is actually more likely to be a finished product than most online releases. Plus I feel like I should actually make an effort to try games people think I'll like, at least until they suggest enough lemons that I stop listening to them.

The demo starts off by telling me that it isn't just a crippled version of the start to the real game. The stuff you do in the demo doesn't exist in the actual game and they build a bunch of missions just for the demo. There's some stuff that will carry over for you if you eventually buy the game and played the demo but it sounds like it's just some free consumables. I like this idea, a lot. It means people who skip the demo aren't going to be very far behind and people who play the demo aren't stuck replaying the same stuff all over again when they play the real game.

I've played a few hours and the game itself feels an awful lot like Final Fantasy V. You have 4 characters in your party and there's a job system. I haven't unlocked any jobs beyond the starting 9 but there's a wheel with 15 blank spaces which presumably get filled in either through plot or through leveling up a combination of other jobs like in Final Fantasy Tactics. The game doesn't have the Final Fantasy brand on it anywhere but three of the starting jobs are white mage, black mage, and red mage so there's certainly some influence from the past. The character models in combat are the same as those from the remade Final Fantasy III on the DS. So I'm guessing it was a deliberate choice to not use Final Fantasy branding but they liked enough of the ideas from those games that they used a bunch of them.

Combat is turn based like the original Final Fantasy with a twist. On your turn you can take the 'default' action which is basically the standard useless defend action except it lets you take an extra action on a future turn. So you can take half damage this turn and then attack twice next turn. Seems good. You can actually borrow turns from the future which seems broken right in half. On the first round of combat each of your characters can use the 'brave' action 3 times to borrow 3 turns from the future. Combined with your action this turn you get to attack 16 times in the first round. Awesome if you kill all the enemies! If you don't kill all the enemies they get to take 3 rounds after this one where you can't do anything at all. And if they took the first turn off with the default action they can all take half damage and still get their own solid 4 rounds of attacks back. I'm not sure how to feel about this. It's certainly busted for trash fights and Square-Enix seems to have accepted that since you earn bonus xp for winning the fight in one round and bonus jp for winning the fight without taking damage. But boss fights seem trickier. I can't burn them out and they save up a few actions and then kill multiple people at once. My plan has been to have my white mage just default over and over so I can bust out multiple raise and cure spells after the boss decides to blow my team out.

They've also tacked on a bunch of social networking features to the game. You need to street pass other people with the game in order to have them show up in your games. You use these people to build a town. I'm currently excavating some land for my town and it will take 10 hours for to do on my own. But if I street passed 9 other people I could get it done in 1 hour. Real time, ticks while the game is off. The sort of thing that made me stop even trying Facebook games... If there's some way to pay them for friends it's going to be terrible.

Friend are also used for two other purposes I think. I don't have any friends so I can't actually test any of these things out. There's a way to pull in your friend's characters as a summoned monster in a fight. And there's a way to link one of your characters with one of your friend's characters in order to use their learned job abilities. So I don't have to max white mage and black mage... I can max a white mage, Byung can max a black mage, and then we could link them together to both have someone who can use max white and black magic. You can only link one character per friend so you need at least 4 friends.

I like job systems and the whole storing/burning actions is interesting. I worry that not even street passing anyone is going to be a problem that makes the game unplayable. If I rode the subway to work every day I'd pick this up in a flash when it comes out next month just from the little bit of the demo I've played so far. But as an at home game? I'd need to see how crippled I'd be by not having friends.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Awesome Games Done Quick

Sthenno posted yesterday about a speed gaming marathon being streamed this week. It looks like it's 24 hours a day for 6 straight days of people playing games absurdly fast. It seems like they've got all these people gathered in a convention hall of some kind to play games while raising money for a cancer charity.

I started watching this morning and caught the end of a Bucky O'Hare playthrough that blew my mind. I don't remember much about the game or the show but some of the things this guy was doing to win quickly were really amazing. Stop on a dime, crouch as an enemy falls out of the sky, leap jump over the enemy landing on a slim pixel and then jump over a pit. Over and over. You'd need to play the game a silly number of times to learn all of those placements. I'm sure training is done on an emulator so you could just reload tricky spots but I'm pretty sure all of the games being streamed are being played on the original consoles so they'd need to have a lot of live practice too in order to play games without failing.

On top of it, the guy doing it was holding conversations about what he was doing and why! Explaining how he was using Willy for a lot of the stages because he does double damage compared to the other characters and has a chance for double again if you hit a precise pixel on some enemies. Then he'd go and do a boss fight and demonstrate that pixel and how to know if you were hitting it based on the rate of screen flashes. Crazy!

Then there was a bunch of later Mega Man series games. X, X3, X4, Zero3. The X one had two people doing speed runs at the same time side by side in a race. It was great because they did it slightly differently and were talking about why they each do it slightly differently. One way is theoretically 7 seconds faster but requires you to pull off a much harder jump where you have 1.5 pixels to wall jump off of and then a 2 frame window to hit a second wall jump...

That they've done these runs so many times that they have times down to 7 seconds difference is insane. In this race the guy on the faster path failed his jump 3 times and ended up barely losing the race. They talked about a bunch of other stuff as they played as well, like how you want to jump off the screen as you kill one mini boss because if you can see him when he dies you get graphics lag which costs you a second and a half. Also there's a power up you can only get if you do the end of a stage 5 times and the fastest way to do that is to die at the end so you can respawn in the middle. But you don't have enough lives to do that so you need to pick up one extra life somewhere along the way. Obviously they worked out which extra life would require the least time to pick up and both commented on it when they did that stage.

Anyway, I've found it very interesting to watch and I definitely think it's worth checking out. There's still 4ish days of games to go and some real winners to come like a lot of Zelda games, the StarCraft 2 expansion campaign, and Portal among others.

Monday, January 06, 2014

More On Cheating

On Thursday I posted about a situation that came up in Path of Exile where a streamer used his wealth in the nemesis league to buy a powerful item in the one week race. I said I didn't like it, but that it was only going against the spirit of the rules and not the letter of the rules so there wasn't much that could be done about it. I took that stance by listening to Helman's discussion with his programmer friend on voice chat where the programmer didn't know about any rules forbidding it but thought it was super sketchy.

Well, it turns out that it wasn't so much against the spirit of the rules so much as it was flat out against the rules. Back in October they posted about how exchanging currency between types of leagues is flat out forbidden. You can't trade into a week long race was even an explicit example in the post outlining what you could and couldn't do. (You are allowed to trade between nemesis and domination apparently, and between standard and hardcore, but not anything else.) Not only is it against the rules but an awful lot of people complained about this specific instance so the two people involved had their accounts suspended for 5 days. The head GGG guy said something like it probably should have been a permanent ban but because of the confusion with the programmer they're just locking the accounts until the week long race ends. Helman promptly made a new account and while he's passed me I don't think he'll get into the top 40 unless a bunch of people in front of him die.

Helman was pretty vocal about being against the punishment. His argument took the stance that lots of people were doing it and he was told it wasn't an illegal action by someone who works at the company. But I was listening to that call and he really, really had to browbeat even that much out of the programmer. It felt a little at the time like he was trying to set up an alibi and not that he was trying to figure out the actual rule.

I'm not sure how I feel about the whole thing. On the one hand I'm a big, big, big fan of black and white rules. I strongly believe people who break the rules should be punished. So from that point of view I'm happy that he got suspended. But on the other hand I look at this rule and recognize how completely unenforceable it actually is and I get angry. To be blunt, Helman didn't get suspended for cheating. He got suspended for cheating stupidly. All he needed to do was turn off his stream while he worked out the details of his trade and it would have gone off without a hitch. He only got in trouble because he did it all in such a public manner. But since he's getting people to pay him money for streaming I wouldn't be surprised if he's fine with this outcome anyway. He certainly had a lot of viewers during the whole debacle as people were tuning in to figure out what was going on with the item.

I hate people who cheat, and I hate bad rules, and I hate inconsistent enforcement of rules. I lost a lot of interest in NHL hockey when they didn't suspend Malkin in the 2009 finals, for example. I don't know how GGG could have handled this thing differently. The problem here is they can't police smart cheaters. Not with their current tools and I don't know how they could do it with any new ones either. People are allowed to give stuff to each other. If Sceadeau had been playing a flameblast witch in the week race and had one of those maces drop he probably would have given it to me. And I've certainly given him stuff in other leagues in the past and will again in the future. So any sort of automated monitoring to check for this sort of cheating is going to require a lot of intervention or is going to hit innocent people as well.

It reminds me a little of the way to cheat in Magic Online from 8 years ago or whenever it was. You could spam invite someone to a trade to keep them from interacting with an ongoing match in order to time them out. Obviously cheating but I had no way to monitor things to keep people from doing it. Eventually the developers added in a toggle so you could auto block people from trade requesting you to keep it from happening but there was a while where there was nothing that could be done. What I tried to do when someone complained about it happening was talk to the person they claimed was doing it in the hopes of scaring them off. It generally worked because they didn't know I couldn't tell what they were doing but if they'd called my bluff I would have been screwed. Though at least there just getting them to spend time typing to me would generally be enough to let the other person break out of the lock. (They've changed clients twice since then so I'm sure this doesn't happen anymore.)

At any rate, I do hope GGG can come up with some solution other than just getting people to cheat less obviously. Because people are going to cheat if they think they can get away with it.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Bridge Match 2 - Board 36

Board 36 - Dealer West - All Vul

Opponents convention card: Standard American Yellow Card
Opponents playing strength: Adequate

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

West opens 1 club, partner passes, and East reponds 1 spade. My hand is decent but unexciting and certainly isn't allowed to bid after they bid a major. They end up settling into 2 diamonds. I don't think I could have bid at the second turn either? But maybe the right MP spot to play is going to be 2 hearts for our side and I'm going to be sad.

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

9-Q-2-7. Lead through strength indeed! West gives up a spade, presumably so he can start ruffing them on board. 5-Q-7-4. Partner returns a club, presumably hoping I led a stiff and we can ruff things first. Sorry Jack. J-8-5-K. Now declarer draws trump. 6-8-A-4. Ruff a spade. 2-3-9 of diamonds-6. Cash a club, pitching a heart loser. A-3-7 of hearts-7 of diamonds.

I'm in, and I have nothing useful to do. I still don't think leading a heart is a good idea. So I make him ruff a spade. T-K of diamonds-K-8. He plays another club. 4-T-J of diamonds... Should I overruff? I'm going to get thrown in with it eventually and that seems bad. Might as well win it now while I have an 'exit'? I win and make him ruff another spade. He cashes a club, ruffs a heart, and is up because I set up his spades.

Oh partner, why didn't you play a heart when you got in? Lead through strength! Or draw trump? They were clearly setting up to ruff a lot of spades. Oh well. Making 3.
K Q 6
K 8 6 4
8 5
J T 3 2
T 3 2
K T 9 6
A K Q 6 4
J 9 8 7 2
J 7
A J 3 2
8 7
A T 4 3
A Q 9 5
Q 7 4
9 5
I didn't like our chances of getting a good result here but we actually managed to get 8 MPs. A couple EW made 4 diamonds and one NS pair went down in 1NT. Two other pairs made 3 diamonds. And then 2 EW pairs actually played 2 spades and went down.

Professor Jack disagrees with cashing the A of spades at the end. He wants me to play a low heart. Cashing the spade is wrong when declarer has 5 of them but is probably fine if he has 4 and still has Kx of hearts in hand? I probably could have figured that out from partner's signaling. Oh well.

Ranking after board 36/60: 1/16 with 58.13%