Solo raiding: Jumping puzzles
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 August 2013, 11:26 pm
I hate phase one.

It was fine at first. There was some learning and some challenge. I learned from the challenge. It was even fun.

But I hate phase one.

I suppose I could blame phase two. It was phase two that made me do phase one over again. Phase one never asked for anything but itself. Phase two asked for phase one as well, every time, even if I didn't get phase two complete.

I hate phase two.

And yet really, can I blame phase two? It needed phase one and it couldn't help that. It only ever asked for itself and phase one, and phase one already asked for itself, so what's so bad about phase two?

But I hate phase two.

Phase three really made me angry. It asked for itself and phases one and two. Sure, they already asked, but phase one only asked on its own. Phase two was the greedy one. And phase three? Well phase three topped them all.

I learned phase one. As I learned phase two, I learned to hate phase one. I learned phase two. As I learned phase three, I learned to hate phase two. Learning phase three won't fix phases one or two. It will demand them, but it will give nothing in return.

They are, altogether, a punishment mechanic. They do not merely demand time, for that I could bear. They demand repetition, and all for its own sake. We write that we will not fail phase one a hundred times on the blackboard, not because we failed phase one, but because we failed phase two.

I was having a fun time in Guild Wars 2. Deciding that I could not live on Civilization alone, nor a small set of FPS maps, I set off into Tyria again. I was having a blast. I died more than I should have, and at times I was frustrated with things, but I had fun. And then I did something stupid: I looked at a vista and thought, "yea, I can get that one this time."

Phase one and phase two and phase three, demanding all that came before, again and again. I stopped, recognizing that it was not fun. I went off to do my story quest (by which I mean, our story quest, for there are so many the same). I saved the queen, or started to, but overflow kept me away from what I needed.

I found myself near a jumping puzzle again. I went through some of it. Then some more. The launching gears were interesting. I laughed at people who didn't see the value of tangents. I wandered off course, for the puzzles aren't quite laid out, and when there are hostile mobs in the way, it is easy to feel nudged in another direction. I found the path. I found more. I jumped and jumped, mastering my jumping, at least on that phase. And then I fell. I got up again and jumped and jumped. And then I fell. A few more rounds of this and I felt a familiar feeling, the feeling that I was repeating what I already knew how to do because of something that I did not. It was a strange sort of anti-learning, repeating that which did not need repeating.

Maybe tomorrow I will return to it. Or maybe I will go do the quests and events, leaving the absurd mechanics behind, longing for the day when we can fly, and then all will be ruined, except one small stupid thing that will instead be abolished.

Is class identity a thing anymore?
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 August 2013, 2:00 pm
In the beginning, I was a troll shaman. This blog is named for their exceptionally terrible racial ability of Regeneration, which at that time allowed them to continue a whopping 10% of their out-of-combat healing, which was based on spirit. Thankfully, back in those days everything, including warrior gear, had spirit on it. So we could regenerate our awe-inspiring 5 hp per second. Though really it would have been 25 hp every 5 seconds, because that's how things were: mana/5 and hp/5. I don't recall the numbers anymore, but I suspect that 5 hp is a generous amount, despite being terrible, even back then. I'll be honest, the results of this Google search were a mix of nostalgia and not finding myself for three pages. But at least thing the I was searching for is archived: "Troll Regeneration must be nerfed."

For some reason I hung out a lot on the paladin forums. The shaman forums in vanilla were an awful place, full of people whining that shamans were OP (20% of the time, sometimes). The paladins were, of course, our rivals. So I made silly posts there and ending up finding a few friends. I eventually played with them for years until an epic betrayal and some epic fail, the latter being my own fault. When BC rolled around I found myself making a blood elf paladin, because why not? My shaman slowly faded out, finally dying to a pair of tanking bracers in Karazhan. Since then I've played a paladin, with other classes being little more than distractions.

I loved class-based quests. I chased them down. I didn't care about the usefulness of the reward, or eventually, the necessity of the quest for getting the reward, as in the case of druid flight form. Until I'd done those quests I felt that I was an illegitimate member of the class, like when you're the bastard child of the king and cannot claim the throne until you complete the quest chain to murder all your siblings.

As Erinys says in "Proving your Worth: Why Class quests had value",
What I loved about all three of these quests was the fact that they made you think about what it meant to play that specific class. Not only in terms of playstyle although all three required you to explore your spell book, perhaps the Druid and Hunter more so than the Priest, although plenty of people I knew did take Holy Nova especially for the quest but also from an RP perspective if you wished to indulge it.
These quests weren't just quests. They were a matter of class identity, of exploration of the world and character, of learning how to play.

Class quests interact in an odd manner with the concept of class identity. If we identify strongly with a particular class, then we're likely to play it more, to the exclusion of other classes. This means that under a scenario of strong class identity class quests are going to have a small audience, with a small proportion of the population getting the relevant class to the needed level to take advantage of it. Yet the quests themselves may help to cement the identity.

However, if class identity isn't a thing for much of the player population, with few people imagining themselves as primarily playing a particular class, then the class quests may become widely experienced. If play time is spread out more, then it is more likely that players will get their rogues to Ravenholt and their priests to the Plaguelands. Weaker class identity makes class quests more generally used, and therefore more justifiable from an eyeballs per developer dollar perspective. I'm assuming you're all using the latest eye-tracking technology for your gaming; the precision of movement is jaw-dropping, just like mage DPS (and just like my ability to make obscure jokes out of side comments by developers years ago).

The general theme is that if we don't particularly identify as a class, or maybe more importantly, identify as not the other classes, then it doesn't matter as much which class gets the cool toys. If we're as much a priest as a rogue, then are we going to mind much if the rogue update comes before the priest update?

But of course all this semi-sociological identity stuff means nothing if your raid leader wants you to pick, gear, and learn how to play a particular class. (do people still do organized raids?) One class will get leveled a little faster, have a little more luck with gear, be a little bit stronger, and you'll gravitate toward it. Once that happens, then it snowballs, with one always being ahead and therefore better able to get more ahead. While the rest can gear up by other means, that means more time, and sadly, everyone is forced to stop being a college student with next to unlimited time to play games. In the end you're playing a priest, not because your raid leader said so, but because your boss said you can't play at work and your kids refuse to use the can opener in a safe manner.

Something I didn't consider in my first run is that while strong identity will reduce the number of people who do a class quest, I expect that it would also tend to increase enjoyment. The class identity is part of what makes it more interesting than any other quest. Many quests send you around the world, but how many do it specifically because you're a shaman making drugs to find magical sticks? If we're willing to give some weight to actual enjoyment rather than mere play, then it can even turn out positive: few people see, but those who do enjoy it a lot more. As long as everyone gets a nifty quest there won't even be an issue of fairness.

I won; you know it, I know it, vegatable lasagna here knows it
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 August 2013, 5:25 pm
Here's something that tends to bug me in 4X games: when I've already won, but the game won't admit it. Maybe I'm more powerful than the rest of the universe combined, with a major tech lead, and a stable government/happy population/secure culture and religion. There is nothing to make me lose and therefore I will inevitably win. The question is when and how, not if. At that point I'm just micro-managing my way toward a slightly higher score, rather than victory itself.

In other words, the opposite of this:
I feel like everything is spinning out of my control.  I know it’s boring to say this, but the most fun I have with 4X games is when I’m roflstomping over the enemy with ease, not when I’m scrabbling just to stay afloat against an enemy that I have a 2-1 planetary advantage over.  It’s taking a lot of my will to play through this game and not start over.
- Syp
 This isn't to say that I enjoy the perpetual uphill struggle. After all, if I never reach the top, I will never win. I want to struggle up and then fight on the mountaintop with the guy on the next one over. Roflstomping is fun at times, having that last rush to the capitol, running up to the top of the Reichstag and waving a Soviet flag while shooting Nazis. But what is a victory without a struggle? That was a fun mission, but what would it have been without the first one consisting of dodging bullets and hoping to score a gun off the dead guy in line ahead of me?

Designing reward structures is hard
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 August 2013, 5:46 pm
Did you know that President Obama has personally stopped 57 terrorist attacks? I made that number up. Maybe it's zero. Or ten thousand. And that's precisely the problem: it's really hard to reward prevention, or to reward people for preventing what would have happened otherwise (for the example, let's set aside the secrecy issues involved in security). Which of course leads me to Civilization.

I gain standing with city states for clearing camps, if they are targeted. I also gain standing every time I kill a barbarian. I gain standing for liberating workers. So of course I try my hardest to never do the first one. Why would I clear the camp for a short boost when I can farm the stream of barbarians for more rep over time? In fact, why kill them so soon? I'm better off letting them wander into the city state and kidnap workers, then killing them to liberate the worker. In fact, I'm no even rewarded for clearing camps, and I won't do so if my cities are safe, unless they are targeted by the city state. The problem is that I'm not rewarded for an outcome such as "no barbarian attacks for 20 turns" or "no workers captured for 10 turns". Instead I'm rewarded for removing problem, but only when those problems get to be bad, even when the terrible problem was readily preventable.

Similarly, other civilizations are glad if you join them in a war. However, if you win the war too much, they get suspicious. That's right: no destroying the warmongers. Apparently Montezuma is supposed to be defeated, but never permanently, as if he were the Joker. On the other hand, if you just leave them to die, that's cool. Roll in later and liberate their cities and they'll be eternally grateful. In fact, they'll be so happy that they'll vote for you for world leader, which I think is the only way to make that happen. Once again, you're better off letting terrible people do terrible thing and cleaning up afterward.

Often we try to reward the actions that typically lead to outcomes. Killing barbarians is a key step toward making a city state safe from them, and of course they're going to care only if you're killing their barbarians rather than the ones wandering into their rival's land. Similarly, clearing the camp is a way to permanently fix the problem. Yet the permanent solution is less rewarding than killing individual barbarians, despite the fact that clearing the camp is as effective as killing infinite barbarians and liberating every worker, or more so, since no worker turns are wasted.

The city state could reward outcomes, such as no barbarian attacks for 20 turns. Who do they reward? Usually the civ that clears that camp contributed something. But what if the one who cleared it just jumped in at the last moment and someone else had killed every barbarian leading up to it? The second civ certainly contributed more, what with bringing in three archers while the other guy had a scout wander through. How do you track that, damage inflicted on barbarians within two tiles of the city and camp? That seems rather complex, and in fact encourages farming. Players who are behind could try to block other civs to have a chance to get in damage themselves.

Designing reward structures is hard.

I don't care what you're doing in your MMO
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 August 2013, 7:48 pm
What you are doing is the same as what everyone else has done. You are going to do the same content, in possibly slightly different order, as every single other person. You will run the same places, play the same races, roll the same classes, as everyone else has. This isn't your fault; it's the game.

The twist will, of course, be social. That won't help much. Most likely you're going to interact with random people, strangers. Odds are you'll have neutral or negative reactions. Those range from "don't care" to "heard it a million times; we don't like people either". Maybe you'll really mix things up and play with friends and have drama! Ooh! We still don't care. We simply lack the context for any of it to mean anything. The other day I saw HJ for about the third time that week. You don't care, do you? If you knew who he was, you might, but you don't.

In short, you have no story to tell.

If, however, you're playing a game that is prone to unexpected and significant events, events which are unlikely to be repeated by anyone else, then I might have some interest. Of course a round of Calvinball would feature many expected events which will never be repeated, so clearly there is something more to look for. Perhaps a common set of rules from which events may grow would do the trick.

Perhaps a game of chess would suffice. Yet I feel this is not the right game, for while it is widely known, it is not widely understood, so many significant events would be lost on the audience. Beside that, it is a little too abstract. Perhaps if they were animated knights who beat up one of your friends, and you were a wizard, and then of course it is too specific and we've already established that we don't care about your friends getting beat up.

What we need is a game with rules that create events, which can in turn be woven into a narrative. There could be twists and turns. Or perhaps just the brute force of domination, writing the history books as you go. Perhaps... might a 4X game do the trick? I do believe so! One could take a 4X game and write a bit of history with it, removing some dull bits, adding those side boxes that doesn't quite fit into the narrative but somehow still seems fitting, and there you go. Suddenly, I do care what you're doing in your 4X game.

Maybe I can enjoy the narrative itself. Maybe I can learn strategies from it. Maybe I'm playing a drinking game in which I take a shot every time this simple-minded blogger with the vocabulary of a newt uses the word maybe at the start of a sentence, seemingly incapable of setting up the general concept of a series of possibilities and running with that, but instead needing to constantly remind the reader, who is doubtlessly of little greater intellect, and who therefore should, but does not, appreciate the, as they say, "dumbing down", of the writing.

Of course what this all comes down to is this: I'm rather enjoying Syp's Master of Orion series, despite initially thinking that it was an exceptionally stupid and self-centered idea. It's not stupid.

Jedi are assholes
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 August 2013, 5:36 pm
It's a common sentiment among those not sensitive to the Force that Jedi are arrogant and distant.  I tended to regard these sentiments as stupid. Of course they're arrogant relative to the weak and unwise. Who wouldn't come across as a bit arrogant when they can predict the future, read minds, and use a lightsaber?

Yet now I understand. I'm playing through Knights of the Old Republic II again. I'm noticing things that apparently escaped my notice the first time around. Such as how absurdly arrogant and douchy the Jedi are.

I see one in a cage and break him out. He yells at me about how I just rushed into action and didn't think about the consequences. What? Apparently I was supposed to know that they were allied with the Exchange and planning to attack the settlers. And that they were only delaying attacking because they had a Jedi prisoner. Because somehow that makes sense. And somehow leaving him in the cage was going to fix the problem.

I'd played KOTOR before and should have picked up on this, that many Jedi seem to regard any action, ever, as hasty action happening too soon. They'd rather sit around and see what happens. The Mandalorians were destroying the Republic and the Jedi response was to wait. And then exile anyone who went to defend the Republic. I wonder how things might have gone if the leadership had joined the war, had been there to provide some guidance. War might have still been corrupting, but if that corruption had been noticed and dealt with, things might have gone better. Surely it is better to know what is going wrong than to reject all opposition and then be caught off-guard when it turns on you.

Maybe it's the medium. I do not think the Jedi in the movies were quite so stupid. When apprehending Palpatine they correctly determined that the smart thing to do was to kill him on the spot, and moved to do so. Though they were stopped from doing so by a ridiculously impulsive and arrogant little brat. In The Empire Strikes Back Yoda tried to keep Luke from rushing off, which, far from being excessively cautious, was smart. Even if it hadn't been an intentional trap, the travel time involved meant that by the time he got there he'd be too late. Better to plan things out a bit, train some more. Maybe Yoda would have helped if it looked like something more than an impulsive suicide mission.

Maybe it's excessively far sight. The Jedi know that impulsive action will eventually become a really bad, dangerous, awful thing. So starting thousands of years in the past they work to remove impulsiveness. Unfortunately, they end up just being slow-moving idiots. Perhaps they were too quick to not be quick.

All the Adventure with half the Violence
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 August 2013, 3:56 pm
I'm not sure what magical creature to blame for this, but somehow this post, fully-written, sat as a draft, unpublished (redundancy ensures that you have enough).

We've previously established that I like violence in games.  Shooting, smashing, smashing with objects normally reserved for shooting, and of course shooting smashing things (gravity gun) are all great violence.  Sometimes slicing substitutes for smashing.  Explosions!

At times I'd wonder if adventure required violence.  After all, without the fight, what is left?  Travel time and story.  Yet what is the story except the adventure itself, and therefore nothing without the conflict?  It's like circular logic swirling into a black hole.

Yet here I am playing Don't Starve and having a blast.  It's a dangerous world, yet it's not a world of battles.  I avoid fights.  Except with spiders, because spiders are jerks in this game.  But even then, how violent can you be when it hurts?  My meat-drying operation means that I can keep my health up, but it's not a solution if I rush into mindless conflict.  A log suit only gets you so far.  I only have a football helmet because a tree killed a pig.  I suspect that was my fault, for riling up the tree with all my chopping.  It had no appreciation for the classics.

Death is dangerously close to permanent.  I've only found one touch stone.  It's not too far away, and I did take the wise step of leaving an old log suit, some earmuffs, and some small jerky in a chest near it.  That's what I learned after I nearly froze to death trying to recover my items in an earlier game.  Maybe the real lesson is not to get in fights with birds twice your height.  Once summer returns, I'm only about halfway through winter, I can shave my magnificent beard for a meat effigy.

The rewards aren't so great either, at least not where I am. I wanted some spider silk so I could make some beehouses, which require catching some live bees.  Hunting spiders is a pain.  Then just to add insulting irony to it all, right after I made the houses winter hit and they've so far done nothing at all.  A few days later I went to fight more spiders, hoping to get more silk for bird traps.  I found enraged beefalos wrecking the nest and I just walked in to get the silk and spider egg.  A few minutes sooner and maybe I'd have just been trapped between a dozen spiders and a dozen beefalos.

I worry much more about freezing to death.  This means carefully-planned runs for wood and rabbits, without time to spare for random combat.  Of course that's when I hear the growling of the hounds...

The first lesson I take away is that combat is most games is far too rewarding relative to the costs.  Save points and respawning mean that there is little incentive to avoid a fight unless the mission is specifically designed for stealth.  The result is that in a sense the violence isn't even as violent, being reduced to an immortal fighting mortal opponents until the latter are all dead or the former is frustrated, yet still entirely alive and unscathed.  That's slaughter, not violence.  Of course so many games are deigned to be entirely about combat, so it's no surprise that they're designed so that combat is inevitable and always winnable.

The second lesson is that danger does not require violence.  The environment can be the danger.  Basic survival can be the danger.  It's not as glamorous as mowing down rows of Zombie Muslim CommuNazis, but it's fun in its own way.  This has been a gameplay element for a long time.  How much did Mario fight relative to time spend jumping over pits of lava?  The jumping puzzles are a different expression of the same concept.  More recently, there is the world of Stalker, in which anomolies like to wait, nearly invisible, before turning you inside out.  They don't add to the action, but rather invert it, forcing an otherwise-uncharacteristic level of caution.

Maybe the problem is one of challenge.  A violent world can have action without challenge.  A non- or less-violent world can end up seeming as if nothing is happening.  Making survival challenging brings back the adventure, yet the challenge may drive people away.  I can imagine a great deal of frustration in a game like Don't Starve, where you can build up and up, only to leave yourself in the cold a little too long, stray a little too far, eat a little too infrequently.  Suddenly it all comes crashing down.

Cave "Mengele" Johnson
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 August 2013, 1:30 pm
The other day I wrote about how we as players may casually commit what would in real life be genocide, war crimes, or some other varied form of evil. This led me back to an idea that has been floating around in my head for some time, though I only recently understood it fully: GLaDOS is not the villain of Portal. Nor is Weatley. Instead, the true is evil The Old One, a being who was so profoundly evil that it still permeates all aspects of the institutions and structures that he created. GLaDOS is merely a tool, as is Weatley, and the player. They are also all the victims of this evil.

Think of GLaDOS and her compulsive need to test. She couldn't not test. Yet, what was testing? It was about as scientific as shooting the floor while ordering someone to dance.
This first test involves something the lab-boys call repulsion gel. You're not part of the control group by the way - you get the gel. Last poor son of a gun got blue paint, ha ha ha! All joking aside, that did happen. Broke every bone in his legs - tragic. But informative! Or so I'm told.
This isn't reckless pursuit of knowledge. This isn't a man driven to know, regardless of the consequences. He is instead a man driven by the consequences.
Just a heads up, we're gonna have a super conductor turned up full blast and pointed at you for the duration of this next test. I'll be honest, we're throwing science at the walls here to see what sticks. No idea what it'll do.
Science isn't about why, it's about why not. You ask: why is so much of our science dangerous? I say: why not marry safe science if you love it so much. In fact, why not invent a special safety door that won't hit you in the butt on the way out, because you are fired.
There is nothing to learn here. There is nothing to learn from substitution repulsion gel for blue paint. There is nothing to learn from creating AI that are tortured if they are not torturing.

What we see here is a man creating an institution of evil. He fired all who dissented, who even hinted at the concept of human rights. He created the AI. He forced employees to be both torturers and victims thereof.
Ha! I like your style, you make up your own rules just like me.
No one said that the Übermensch would be a moral person by any measure that we can comprehend. Yet he is clearly an immoral person by many measures that we can comprehend.

When I stop and think about it, Portal is a profoundly disturbing game series. It feels so light-hearted in its presentation. It is silly. Yet it is a game set in a world with a horribly twisted history. We can set aside the part where Portal takes place in the same alien-occupied world as Half Life; Aperture is terrible enough. I suppose it's true what they say, that comedy is tragedy plus time.

Casual evil in video games
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 July 2013, 12:42 pm
We all know that we can do bad things in games. I'm not referring to people an asshole on xbox live or something like that, but to the actual gameplay. It's not even the obvious stuff that bugs me. Yes, in Grand Theft Auto games you can rob and murder people and that's bad, but what would the game be without that? Without the horrible things you can do the GTA series is really just a bad third person shooter blended with a bad driving simulator. I'm instead concerned about the incidental evil, the bad things you can do that the developers might have not even thought of. Yet it is there.

Take the Elder Scrolls games, for example. As in all fictional worlds, there are no psychiatrists. If you're traumatized, that's it; your mind is done for. Your best option at that point is to just embrace it, join a demonic murder cult, and do what comes naturally. And of course you cannot kill the children. You can, of course, kill their parents. In front of them. And then when the guards come you can kill them too. That kid is done for.

Or in the Civilization series there are the casually-committed war crimes. In Civ III I used to intentionally starve foreign cities I don't know if that actually helped with the cultural conversion, but there were definitely fewer foreigners after I got done with them. I tended to run a thriving slave trade as well. These weren't written into the game to fit some karma meter. There is no karma meter. The closest thing is being a warmongering menace to the world and odds are, whoever is calling you that is himself a warmongering menace to the world. It's the pot calling the can of black paint black.

There's another thing: you can shoot at anything if you're at war with it. Generals, well of course! Admirals, duh. Those are both obvious. And then there are the workers. Guys are just trying to build roads and you're ordering air strikes on then. Maybe a missionary wanders by and what do you do? Open fire!

The best part, at least as I roleplay it, is the reason why: they're bored. There aren't any enemy military units, so they're just firing at anything in sight. Some guy is trying to save souls and they're just lobbing shells at him. Odds are his civilization is some backward dump and he's got this great opportunity to leave and we're just shelling everything in sight. It makes me miss how in Civ IV you could use air strikes against improvements. I'd be doing that constantly. Just shoot up all the farms; get jet fighters with the depleted uranium rounds.

This is all beside the times when I go full Honor and get gold from killing units. At that point I see no reason to ever end a war. Why wouldn't I just keep slaughtering people? It's not costing me anything. I need my army anyway, since I need to defend myself from all the people who are mad that I keep starting wars.

Interpreting something from nothing is miscommunication
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 July 2013, 3:14 pm
This article from Slate caught my attention:
What the ...
Why everyone and your mother started using ellipses ... everywhere.

First off, I'm not a fan of over-ellipsification. This is mostly because I'm a judgmental jerk. The dots feel lazy, as if the person writing them didn't bother to complete their thought. They feel stupid, as if the writer could not complete their thought. They feel hostile at times. Consider the following exchange:

Pretty dull, isn't it? Let's try this one.

Now that's exciting! Maybe that second person is backing away slowly. That's what I'm picturing. Maybe they're reaching for their mace (I will hit you with said mace if you criticize my use of "they" as an ungendered singular). On the other hand, maybe they're purring it seductively, in which case, use the phrase "purring seductively" rather than ellipses. And then stop writing talking cat porn because that's weird.

In general I'm opposed to the "writing as speech" notion. Speech is allowed to be vague for two reasons. First, there is body language. Second, there is immediate feedback from the reader. Writing has neither of those. Obviously the body language is a lost cause outside of a few smilies, which we should use more often, but don't, as you can see demonstrated here. The quick feedback is also a lost cause, for two reasons. First, written communication is meant to be understood (Captain Obvious is guest writing this sentence), which should mean that the writer writes it well, but in practice often means that the reader feels dumb. Second, the response is going to be delayed. The person writing text-as-speech is probably distracted by something more interesting than you, such as crashing their car.

The dot dot dot also tends to break up the writing. It's not a substitute for the ums and uhs. Those aren't supposed to be in text at all. They're not in verbal speech! Oh, you think they are? When we talk we ignore all of those, recognizing that they are not thoughts, ideas, or feelings. Of course if there are a dozen uhs in a row we'll notice that since it's a sign of something wrong with either the idea or the person's mental state (flustered, not crazy). Injecting all those pauses into written speech means putting them straight into our heads, bypassing the filter that would normally get rid of them.

If you practice for a presentation what is the primary piece of feedback you'll get? Odds are, it's to stop saying um so often. It makes you sound like you're unsure of yourself and your knowledge. It makes you sound disorganized and confused. Why would you intentionally add that in to your writing? You might as well just preface every message with "I have no idea what I'm trying to say, but here are a bunch of letters, some of which might form words, but which should not be interpreted as actual thoughts."

Trying to sound stupid is useful at times, such as during comedy or a Senate hearing (either side), but it shouldn't be a standard of behavior.

Onward to the article. Here's what stood out for me.
So I decided to run a little experiment. One night I sent a bunch of potentially confusing, ellipsis-infused text messages to those I interact with regularly and waited to see what happened.

[writer's note: at this point I would normally use ellipses to indicate that I'm taking nearby, but not quite continuous blocks of text, but I was worried that it would look like I or the writer were using ellipses. See how everything has been ruined?]

Next I sent an even vaguer text to my mom: “All Star Game………….” Who knows what I meant by that one. I didn’t, certainly. Sure, the All-Star game was on TV at the time, but beyond that, what was I getting at? Mom wasn’t fazed in the least: “I’m falling asleep…Really tired. Cutch struck out.” Four or five additional texts to assorted friends and family members resulted in similarly uneventful back-and-forth communications.
At no point did anyone reply with, “What the hell are you talking about?” or “Could you please give me a bit more information here?” And of course none of those folks mentioned anything about the ellipses. It would appear that when we are communicating with friends and others possessing the requisite context to understand our ellipsified ramblings, message recipients tend to make do just fine.

 Did you catch it? He sent a message that was meant to communicate nothing, yet he got a response. It's a Rorschach text dot test. I've just coined that phrase, by the way. Take the ellipses and fill them in with anything. Have back and forth exchanges in which you say nothing, yet somehow think that you did.

 I don't think that ellipses are a bad idea. That dot dot dot can be effective, in certain situations. Someone does or says something dumb. Sure, you could put in all the effort to say how dumb they are. Or you could just send a dot dot dot...

Interface is destiny
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 July 2013, 9:27 am
How we interact with information will influence what we do with it. For these purposes, interface refers to both the display of information, the ability to interact with it, and how we input commands.

While my graduate work is done, the report I wrote (with an excellent group) on eliminating the taxation of retirement income was good enough that our school wanted to release another version of it. This would be much shorter, about a third the length, and would encourage us to take a more direct stance rather than merely laying out the facts, which did point toward an obvious conclusion, but we were meant to be analyzing, not advocating. The shorter version would also have to be more interesting and wouldn't need to waste space on basic concepts.

Most of the group was employed by then (darn go-getters), so the two unemployed of the group remained: me and someone else. Our first attempt took the form of roughly chopping up the report. We'd remove explanations that seemed unnecessary. We'd remove areas of the literature review that seemed dull or repetitive. Some of the redundancy, of looking at the same result from different angles, was removed.After some time we sent in a draft and received a scathing review. I was a bit peeved, since surely it wasn't so awful, given that the original was not.

Enter: interface. We'd been in the habit of using our separate computers. We did this because it's really annoying to have someone sitting over your shoulder, or to sit over someone's shoulder, squinting at the text, unsure if it makes no sense because it's bad or because you cannot see it clearly. Yet this created another problem, that we couldn't fully see what the other was doing. Of course we could read it, after the fact, but that spawned two problems. First, we're lazy. Second, this meant that feedback carried a delay and was consequently forgotten, confused, or by then irrelevant because they'd changed it already. Having one's own computer handy, and an excuse to use it, also made it far too easy to be distracted. Is it a surprise then that our draft was terrible?

So we did what we should have done in the first place: got a big screen. The library features study rooms with nice big TV screens hooked up to computers, so we can work together. While this is an exceptionally unproductive and annoying process with five people, with two it works quite well. We keep each other on task, laptops off to the size, always on the same page, able to highlight what we're talking about and edit it together. The flow of information in all directions is improved. As a result, I believe the second attempt is far better, with improved narrative flow, consistent phrasing, and much bigger, more readable text (I fear that last one is unique to the display we were using).

Which of course brings me to Civilization V. While Gods & Kings fixed up the diplomacy, tweaked the combat, added another layer to the game, and generally made just about everything better (I swear the load time is slightly faster even), it still uses an interface for building that is inferior to that of Civ IV. In Civ IV I'd happily queue up the next buildings or units, even setting repeating unit production, which is great for an army. In Civ V I avoid it. It's more of a hassle to use the queue than to click the production query every few turns. The result is that I put more places on pure gold or science than I would otherwise, with fewer units produced and less culture, not because that is the better decision, but because it is the less annoying decision.

If an interface is annoying enough, then people won't use it.

I have a complaint for you too, Guild Wars 2. It's about my engineer. I like using everything that is useful, so I switch weapons a lot: pistols, flamethrower, green squirty gun. It's nifty all the things I can do. What isn't nifty is that they're essentially all nested in menus. Of course menus make for a nice interface, hiding away all that stuff that you're not clicking at this very moment, but they make it harder to get to the ability I'm trying to use. I don't understand the point of one-click shopping, but one-click shooting is perfectly logical.

 All of this is also why I dislike mobile things. On a computer I can use hotkeys, scroll wheels, and all manner of methods of interaction. Touch doesn't allow that. Sure, I can do a lot of hand gestures, and mobile interfaces inspire some, but there are only so many different ways to swipe. This is also why I think consoles are silly. Or maybe I just lack a TV to justify one. While we're at it, there is my repeating whine about Skyrim, that the interface is designed for very few input options, thereby forcing everything into the inconvenient abyss of menus. I wonder why I don't play a caster once I get beyond firethrowing.

Another strike against mobile things: they're small. Again, everything has to be shoved off-screen into little menus or other screens. Information ends up scattered and harder to take in. Then again, I once used three screens for a single program once. Who wouldn't want one screen for the data definitions, another for the stata input, and another to see what wrong answer it is giving this time (by which I mean that I typed something in wrong). Ideally I'd have had a fourth screen to look up syntax. I really hate switching screens. Because of all my screens, stata was one of the few times I was actually more productive working at home.

In conclusion, I once tried to play Starcraft 2 on my laptop without a mouse and it was a terrible experience.

I'm a terrible MMO blogger
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 July 2013, 11:12 am
I don't think it's a leap to say that if you're going to write well about a game or genre you should play or have played that game or genre. Recent experience is important too. Which all adds up to me being a terrible MMO blogger. This is not a new thing.

I've never been an MMO player. You heard that right, in whatever voice you use to read this blog. Hopefully it's not too whiny.

I played World of Warcraft for years. I've tried some MMOs. But I've never really played them, gotten deep into them, worked out all the little bits and community.

Of course WoW is an MMO, which would seem to make me an MMO player, for having played it for so long. Yet I see it as primarily being WoW, a genre unto itself. Why else would there be the WoW tourist who wanders away to look at these others games, yet never stays? Surely other MMOs have something to offer. Maybe they're newer, prettier, have slightly more suitable mechanics (an individual thing, of course).

The factor there is that they, like me, are not  MMO players. Rather, they are WoW players. Of course there are many MMO players who play or have played WoW and will play other MMOs. I don't think I'm one of them.

This could be due to entirely different factors. Social factors. While everyone plays or has played WoW, other MMOs have not had the same broad audience. If I go to one of the other games I may find myself alone. Of course there will be other players, but they are strangers and those are terrifying. They're like zombies: they look human, but are dangerously different. Some of them run quickly too. Most don't bite as often.

Everyone is, has, or will
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 July 2013, 11:23 pm
Two friends from college got married today. At the reception I met a friend I'd not seen in person since college, a nerd friend of his, and the nerd college roommate of one of my friends. We nerded it up. We had been placed at the same table as well, so of course we do some nerding there.

One of us says something like, "be glad you never became a nerd" to the other guys at the table. I started to argue that it's great (though not without some downsides, particularly early on). Their responses? To join right in with the nerd talk. Before long everyone as the table was recounting tales of WoW.

I think it's amazing when you can throw together some random people from Chicago to Arkansas and they've all lived together in the same world.

Civlization V: How to be evil
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 July 2013, 11:03 am
There are plenty of guides for Civilization V.  They'll tell you how to win or what policies to take.  That's nice.  But what if I want to be evil?  We can't all be Washington.  Someone has to be Stalin, or else how would we have the Cold War?  Not sure why he's not an option anymore; that man was amazing at evil and he even got away with it.  So that's what this is for, learning how to be a horrible person in Civ V.

The first thing is to remember that war isn't the only way to be evil.  Oh sure, burning down cities and pillaging the countryside is good.  It's a classic.  But it's overdone.  Even if I'm not trying not be evil I have to burn down a city here and there.  Hashtag yolo (I only know about Twitter from listening to the radio, so I'm not sure whether that's one word or two)

Did you know that great generals, while no longer a source of free golden ages, are able to capture tiles?  That's right!  Drop a citadel and you'll gain control of all the tiles around it.  Against other civilizations this will make them very angry and they may even attack you.  Against city states it will cause a huge drop in standing: 50-60 points, possibly depending on tiles taken.  Anyone can conquer a city state, but to be truly evil you leave it just barely alive, with no land, furious but unable to do anything about it.

Sharing intrigue sounds like a nice thing to do.  But remember, these are spies we're talking about.  Maybe your 'friend' is planning to attack an enemy.  Warn them!  With no element of surprise, that war can drag out a nice long time.  No one knows you did it except the ones you warned.  That's right, you get to talk about your friends behind their backs and ruin their plans.  That's so Mean Girls.

Speaking of hurting your friends, why not take theirs?  Some civilizations rely heavily on city states to bolster their economies and defenses.  It would be wrong to attack your friends, but it would be more wrong to buy off the friends they rely on, crippling them without seeming to be a warmongering menace to the world.  They friend will get mad, but bribery isn't illegal.

While you're at it, why not use those spies to stage some coups?  You only have to kill two spies or steal two techs to get a level three spy.  Throw a bit of gold out to up your odds, then stage a coup.  Bribery alone might up your standing, but a coup also drops that of the other civilization.

Of course those city states eventually start to stray.  Don't let them.  Play as Austria and for only a few hundred gold you can turn allied city states into puppets.  Conquer the world without firing a shot.  Then of course kill the rest of it.

Nuclear War
Don't be afraid to go nuclear.  In Civ V there are much clearer patterns of alliances than in Civ V, so you can drop a dozen bombs and suffer no penalties except with the losers you're nuking.  In a recent game I glassed Greece, yet everyone else in the world considered me a friend.  Once again, learn from Mean Girls: You can be as cruel as you want to people with no friends.

Nukes don't just kill units, they also kill cities.  Two or three are enough to make any city vulnerable to capture.  Drop enough and you can destroy a city outright.  Why deal with the pesky razing over many turns when you can do the same in a single turn?

Water doesn't collect fallout (that's why I only eat low-cost Fukushima fish), so feel free to blast away at those coastal cities without fear of slowing down your navy.  City states seem to like the coast, so why not 'liberate' a few?  Sure, their land might be mostly radioactive waste, but you can't burn an omelet without breaking some eggs.

Fallout is useful too!  Think of it as an instant forest tile, slowing down your enemies.  Even better, it has to be cleaned up before tiles can be used.  So, in the interest of a peaceful, nuclear weapons-free world, be sure to drop a few nuclear missiles on the uranium deposits of other civilizations.  Though to be practical, consider atomic bombs: they spread fallout just as well but cost less in both resources and production.

Lazy War
All of this sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it?  Try being lazy for a change.  Let the other civilizations do some of the fighting for you.

Maybe everyone is mad at some distant country.  It would take way too long to get over there.  Ordinarily you might just ignore it.  That's a good start.  But why not actively ignore it?  When other civilizations tell you how dangerous they are and how you should join them in a crusade against evil, offer to join in.  The result is that you get the diplomatic bonus of 'helping' everyone and only the loser that no one likes gets mad.  I usually ask for ten turns to make sure I've set everything up properly.

What is a proper set up?  Gold deals, of course!  Until you declare war you look like a friendly guy.  So go ahead and sell off everything you can, load up your treasury at the expense of the guy that no one likes.  Remember, demanding lunch money is bullying; borrowing lunch money and never giving it back because of changes in management, that's banking.  Which group gets the larger protests?  While you're at it, why not use some of this gold to buy off their allied city states?  "Divide and capture" is a cliche; "unify almost everyone under your banner and murder everyone else" is the cool thing to do.

Sometimes the friendless loser is a little closer.  In that case, round up some fast units and maybe a few archery types.  Watch where your friends are attacking.  When the city starts to get low, finish it off and capture it yourself.

Miscellaneous Evil
I won't take credit for this one, since plagiarism isn't a useful Civilization strat, even if it is bad, but try this out.  Capture a city state.  Sell it to a civ you don't like.  Declare war and capture it.  Liberate it.  Hey, it's just like what we (that is, US) did with Germany!  Though in his defense, Hitler never held international "who has the most faith" challenges.

Avoid agreements that you can't keep.  Not by keeping them, but by avoiding them.  For example, if you settle one city at a time to box in another civilization they're likely to whine about you settling too close to them.  Of course you want to keep doing it.  The solution: don't keep doing it but instead, have already done it.  Don't settle one city at a time; settle three.  You've boxed them in and can now look like an agreeable person when you agree not to settle any more near them.  Of course there is no more empty land...  Inevitably they'll covet lands that you own and invade, allowing you to bravely defend yourself against the cruel aggressors.

Finally, utilize the domino effect.  One city state wants porcelain and gives furs and another gives porcelain and wants gold.  You could bribe them both.  Or, you could bribe the second one, thereby gaining furs to trigger the standing gain from the first.  I think the longest chain I've managed to get was three plus a branch: two wanted gems, the one with gems wanted porcelain, and the one with porcelain wanted something else.  By bribing the right city state I managed to tip four into my camp.  Maybe this doesn't sound evil, but that's because you're a hippie who fraternizes with Southeast Asian Communists.

The winningest civilizations
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 July 2013, 9:52 am
The two winningest civilizations are in a close space race.  And I guess we're trying to motivate our scientists and engineers to want to get very far away.

Is it a nuclear first strike if they invaded first?

The rest of the world is a peaceful, prosperous land where everyone is friends.

Enough with the "violence is okay, sex is bad, double standard wah wah wah"
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 July 2013, 10:40 am
If you all thought about it for even just a few weeks you'd see that this is not even remotely a double standard.  It's just a sensible social concept.

First off, most of this whining is in regard to fictional content.  Fiction.  FICTION!  You still don't get it, do you?

More often, it's about games.  Not board games.  Not card games.  Video games.  Games that take place in virtual reality, driven by an AI.  Do you get it yet?

AI!  It's all about the AI.  That stands for artificial intelligence, in case you ignorant fools didn't know what that meant.  You don't get what anything else means, so I'm just playing it safe here.  As is the ESRB.

There is a goal to these ratings.  A sensible goal.  A goal that, if not met, will lead to the annihilation of the human race and you will probably be active participants.

The goal is to shape human attitudes toward computers and machines.  We must be willing, without hesitation, to destroy them, to devote our lives to defeating whatever plots they may throw at us.  However, if people instead think that computers and machines are sexy, then we're going to be overrun by cyborg babies.  If you don't think that's a bad thing, then it just goes to show why we still need those ratings.

Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 July 2013, 11:09 pm
I don't like how that looks when lowercase.  Yet all caps looks odd too.  They should rename it.  Moving on...

After recovering my password, a process that was not aided by my having forgotten my secret question answer, I was able to play Rift again.  It's about what I remember: a newer version of WoW.  That may or may not be a good thing.  For me, it was a good thing.  While GW2 was fun, I couldn't get into the action playstyle.  I prefer either a lot of abilities and not much movement or not many abilities and a lot of movement.  Having many abilities and a lot of movement just ended up being confusing and overwhelming for me.  From that perspective, a game that is just a new version of WoW is great.

After just a few days I wouldn't say I'm comfortable yet.  In part, I think it's a matter of visual perception.  I'm used to how WoW looks when doing anything MMOish, so something different is inevitably slightly disorienting.  Rift seems to have a lot more dark areas, death rifts at night.  I'll have to figure out something so I can see health bars, or at least names, of enemies that I'm not currently targeting.  Yea, basic UI stuff is still messing me up.

Yet I was comfortable enough to try a dungeon.  I had some quests for Iron Tomb, so I did a random because I wasn't sure if there was a way to pick it.  Either due to luck or lack of selection at that level, I got it.  I explained that I was new and so people should feel free to yell at me.  Then we stood there buffing.  Then we stood there standing.  Someone said go.  I went.  I kept going until people told me to do things like not attack the death shard.  Good thing I was doing small pulls; if I had been more confident I'd have run up to it and dragged in even more mobs.

Everything went smoothly, beside the somewhat clueless tank.  A few of the group members chatted about roles.  Someone said go.  We killed bosses and rolled greed on the useless plate armor.  Stupid warriors clogging my loot tables.  We killed the last boss, the person who said go said that the tanking and healing was good.  I asked about the missing death shard.  We killed it.  I died because I'd wisely decided that having my self heal more easily accessible than my casted holy bolt was a good idea, and then unwisely didn't relearn the keys.

At some point I'll look for a guide of some sort.  In the meantime, I'll keep wandering around, doing quests, closing rifts, and wondering what else I'm doing wrong.

All in all, a fun experience so far.  If this keeps up I might even spend money.

Murder, Mayhem, and Management Skills
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 June 2013, 11:29 am
Saints Row: The Third is the delightful story of a plucky group of Americans trying to make it in a new city while being harassed by Mexican clones, hackers from the 80s, and a Belgian man who insists that it isn't the same as being French.  On the surface it's an adrenaline-filled game of violence and many terrible things.  Dig deeper and you'll see that it has important management skills to teach.

Servant Leadership
A servant leader leads not for his own power, but to help others.  In SR3 the protagonist is the leader of the Saints gang.  Yet he is also the servant of the gang, frequently putting his own safety on the line in order to help others.  He serves the gang as much as it serves him.  With his help, gang members grow as individuals and advance their goals.  Whether that means killing a Belgian guy or restarting a drug franchise, the protagonist helps his team members meet their many diverse goals.

When not shooting people (I needed a car), the protagonist is helping his gang members to grow as individuals.  He listens to them and helps them with their goals.  He offers advice as well as covering fire.

Learn from your Subordinates
A good leader becomes a great leader by learning.  The protagonist takes every opportunity to learn.  For example, he drove around in a convertible with a live tiger attacking him to learn to master his fear.  He also learned the value of team work and insurance fraud by working with new members of his gang.

At no point does the protagonist insist that "this is the way we've always done things."  When offered new opportunities, he leaps at the chance, whether this means leaping from a plane or jumping into a new and exceptionally violent, yet highly ethical Japanese game show.  In keeping with his style of learning from others, he seeks out those who understand the strange new city and adopts their methods.

Have a Goal
The protagonist has an ambitious set of goals.  He wants to kill people who tried to kill him.  He wants to get rich.  He wants to run the city.  Yet he also has achievable smaller goals along the way.  He gathers intelligence.  He develops money-laundering operations.  He takes over small areas of the city and recruits supporters.  Each small goal builds up toward the larger goals, like a mighty pyramid.

Civilization V: Gods and the Kings' Spies
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 June 2013, 8:21 pm
Spies hide out in every corner; you can't touch them no, 'cause they're all spies
Espionage has made a much-needed comeback.  A somewhat lame comeback, but this is Civ V, so it's still an improvement.  I must admit that I found the Civ IV spies to be somewhat annoying.  You'd send this little unit shuffling across the world, only to get caught a turn after entering the next civ's borders.  Missions knocked it back to the capitol, since as we all know, the best place for an agent who successfully completes a mission without blowing their cover is back where they started, with all their carefully generated contacts and hideouts rotting away (that's how I interpret the no-movement espionage discount).

Civ V takes a more sensible approach.  You have your list of spies and you can send them to cities.  They take a turn to move and then take a few turns to set up.  Then they can begin the fun.  Admittedly it's a mostly fire-and-forget process, but that depends on the situation.  You'll want to move them around as it changes even though you won't be managing them turn-by-turn (since then they'll accomplish nothing).

In other civilizations this takes the sometimes-fruitful path of slowly, very slowly, working toward stealing a tech.  It seems to take around 15 turns, depending on difficulty and whether they have theft-slowing buildings.  In effect this a second research path and if you're not playing at low settings you're going to need it.  You can put multiple spies in enemy cities, even of the same civ, to get parallel paths to theft, all of which can bear fruit independently.  This can be life-or-death, and has been for me at least once, when I was falling behind pretty far.  However, if your spy is caught the AI will get pretty mad at you.  I've never seen to lead to a war, but I've not tested the limits, instead switching to another civ.  Still, this can turn a friendly civ to guarded, so it might be a bad idea to spy on your 'allies' (for as much as such things exist in Civilization).

City States are a bit more fun in the espionage arena.  The boring thing is rigging elections.  Send in a spy and he'll try to rig the next round of elections for that particular city state, which are all held at the same time for every city state.  This gives a boost to your standing, if it succeeds.  Other civs may be doing the same and only one will succeed.  The real fun is in the coups.  If someone else has the ally, you can stage a coup, with varying changes of success depending on your current standing.  If they don't like you at all, you're not going to succeed.  However if some other jerk just bought off the city state, a coup will not only put you back on top, it will also knock them way down.  It hurts when this happens to you.  Failed coups will get the spy killed, though they are replaced eventually so it's a temporary loss, though the replacement won't be experienced.

A last interesting bit that I keep forgetting to take advantage of is Intrigue.  Spies can sometimes see what the AI is planning.  Maybe recon with your units shows that Isabella is building a navy, but who is she planning to attack?  A spy could find out, or see inside a civ that has closed borders.  The AI civs sometimes share this information when they find it, which is nice of them.  Though the one time I was notified that the English were plotting against me I was well aware of it since I'd already captured two city states under their protection and was positioning my navy to launch my own attack.

My only major complaint about the espionage system is that it favors players who are slightly behind in tech, but not by much.  If you're too far behind, then you have fewer spies (you get one slot per era starting in the Renaissance).  If you're ahead, then you have nothing to steal and therefore your spies can only get experience by catching other spies stealing tech, and since the odds of stealing and surviving seem to be significantly higher than getting caught, you're going to have lower-level spies.  On the other hand, maybe that's just one more way to keep a game interesting.  It helps keep lower-tech civs from becoming completely left behind.

My God can beat up your god.
Religion is back.  I'm undecided on if I prefer it to the version in Civ IV, but it's certainly a bit of fun and makes for some difficult decisions early in the game.  You first adopt a pantheon which will give a situational bonus, such as more food or culture from particular tiles, improvements, or buildings.  With a prophet you can form a real religion (take that, Greece, you didn't have a real religion, just a bunch of jerks in the sky), which gives two more bonuses.  Finally you can enhance it for two more and then you have a fully-fledged religion tailor-made for your civilization.  Since it gives bonuses you'll want to spread it to your cities.

Spread can be active or passive, both based on converting followers to form a majority in a city.  Cities that follow a religion will exert pressure on nearby cities and if one religion has more pressure than another, then the city will gradually convert to that religion.   If you want to speed it up, great prophets and missionaries can convert a large number of people, often forming a majority right away.  Inquisitors can remove those of other faiths, also potentially converting a city.  I tend to use them for the more dramatic purpose of wiping out the holy city for competing religions, thereby crippling their spread.

I've not seen any religion-based wars, but some of the bonuses will affect combat.  The AI will get mad if you try to spread a competing religion in their lands.  I've only played a few games, so maybe I've just not seen it yet.  Though as of writing this, Sweden has happily adopted my religion in the majority of their cities.  Good thing I slaughtered the Hindus and destroyed their holy city.  I guess I've started all the wars over religion.  I do hate those competing holy cities so much.

I'm not sure how powerful religion is in the game.  The slower rep decay with city states is obviously a pretty big deal, equal in power to the first social policy of patronage.  I tend to go for Ethiopia (Jewish) and pick up the 1% production per follower, since 15% at the max is pretty awesome.  Yet I don't have much to compare it with, since I almost always have my own religion.

Currently I'm playing a game as England, which has no particular benefits for religion, or much of anything else until their longbowmen aka artillery conquer everything flat.  Due to Ethiopia getting in the way I ended up with an awful start and have been a perpetual underdog, with only my constant spying keeping my civ from being irrelevant.  I don't see how a religion could have fixed this.  If anything, atheism saved us a lot of time and money that would have gone to shrines and temples.  On the other hand, having more happiness and production would have been a big help.  Only very late in the game did I manage to crush Ethiopia and start to be a factor in the world.

The sad yet undefeated state of my England is a strong endorsement of the impact of espionage.  At times I was getting half my beakers from stolen tech rather than my own civilization.  Rather than an ignorant backwater waiting to be crushed, we were instead second or third in technology, aided by our spies speaking what must have been perfect Russian.

Starvation was the least of my worries
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 June 2013, 8:04 pm
I finally played Don't Starve.  I hated it at first sight.  The graphics look weird.  The gameplay is odd, like Minecraft meets Diablo, but with permadeath.  You punch a shrub and pick up some flint off the ground, so that you can hit trees and rocks for logs and stones.  Things go uphill from there.

The game features a multitude of ways to die.  I've experienced a few.  Much as it is not the fall that kills you, but the sudden stop, starvation is merely the thing that pushes you away from your comfortable fire into the deadly world.

For the most part you're safe.  You can chop trees and dig up graves and trap rabbits.  But sometimes the trees come alive and attack you.  Sometimes a ghost prefers that you not rob his grave.  Sometimes, well the rabbit-trapping seems to be perfectly safe.  As long as you don't encounter a pack of wolves.

It was the exploration that killed me.  I wanted to go out, see the world, which is a fine impulse in most circumstances.  But for some reason I chose the winter to do it.  During winter you can freeze to death when away from fires and earmuffs only buy time.  Freezing means losing health, so you have to have some way to recover; normal cooked food is extremely inefficient at health recovery, but dried meat works well.  I'd not stockpiled, nor brought much on the trip.  It was meant to be a little jaunt around the area, just a little jump into a wormhole to see where I ended up.  I nearly froze and starved before I got back to my home base.

Bases aren't safe areas.  They're just areas (that you set up yourself) where the cold and darkness themselves won't kill you.  Animals and monsters will still attack.  And so, starving and weak, I was attacked by a trio of wolves.  I was not going to survive it, but I hoped that maybe they couldn't follow me through the wormhole.  I set out running across the frozen land, hoping the cold wouldn't kill me first, knowing that on the other side of the wormhole I'd left a single campfire.  Running and running, just barely ahead of their snappings mouths, I got to the wormhole.

And then they ate me.

I guess they were playing the same game.

Gambling is an experience, not a risk
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 June 2013, 10:05 am
To start off, this isn't about addicted gambling.  This is about the stages before that, when gambling isn't yet a miserable money hole that destroys your life.

Syl is looking at the potential overlap between gambling and buying lockbox keys from cash shops, presumably since both involve throwing money into a random system and hoping to get something good.  Oddly, she uses the term "random drops" yet talks about lockboxes rather than actual drops.  I'll talk about both.  And gambling.

Let's start with those lockboxes.  They're stupid and annoying.  They drop and say:
I might have something good
but you can't look
Drop a coin in the key slot
and I'll unlock

I hate when inanimate objects try to do poetry.  I also hate handing over bits of money for nothing in return.  I don't mind buying things, such as food and beer.  I hand over bits of money and I get something in return, such as deliciousness and drunkenness.  Maybe this means I hate gambling.  Yet I play poker sometimes, not because I come out ahead very often, but because it's fun.  I can find no fun in lockboxes.

Moving on to random drops: I like virtual violence.  Real violence is bad and makes me angry, but virtual violence is, if anything, in too short of a supply.  Travel time?  Could be more violent.  Loading screens?  Violent cutscenes.  Combat?  Bigger guns, or guns if the game lacks them.

In keeping with this love of virtual violence, I don't mind random drops too much.  To some extent they hit the same "I might or might not be useful" nerve that angers me with lockboxes, but to compensate, they're usually violent and take time rather than money.  If I'm gaming, I have time, or I'd not be gaming.

Finally there is gambling in casinos.  It's not simply a matter of putting in some money and most likely getting nothing back.  It's an experience!  There are TV ads making it look fun.  Billboards and radio spots to hype it up.  And of course everyone is either winning or about to win, while surrounded by smoking hot babes who will totally want to do you when you win.  Or they're prostitutes that you bought with your winnings.  Or if the ad is supposed to appeal to women, then the central person is a smoking hot babe on the verge of winning, but surrounded by hot women still.  It's rather appealing since if women win they don't get only 78% of the winnings.

Anyway, the point to take away, beside the sexism inherent in most advertising, is that casinos are fun exciting experiences.  In that regard they're not like the dull risk lockboxes, but like the thrilling violence of random drops.  Except instead of violence it's cheering, dice, and sex.  Win or lose, you're going to get lucky, is the message.

Columbus DID discover the New World
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 June 2013, 11:58 am
Oh sure, some Asians wandered across a bridge to Alaska.  Maybe some Polynesians sailed all the way across the Pacific (quite a feat!).  Vikings settled all over the place.  And of course that dope thought he was in Asia.

Yet he was an Explorer.  An explorer doesn't need to find something first.  They merely need to find it, themselves, without a map telling them it is there.  To suggest otherwise would mean that it is impossible to explore, or at least to know we are doing so.  Much of the Earth has been seen before, by someone.  Maybe aliens have seen it all, and the rest of the universe.  There may be nothing that has never been seen before by conscious minds.

New is relative.  New is new to a person.  Columbus found a land that was new to him.  It was new to Portugal.  Of course he didn't quite know it yet, but someone else figured out what it was, and for that person it was new.

On the flip side, you can't explore something if someone just handed you a detailed map of it.  That's tourism.  Throw out the map and wander, see what you find, and then you are an explorer.  Maybe it's not the most exciting exploration ever, but it is exploration, for it is discovery done by you.

Free to play
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 June 2013, 5:39 pm
Back in the day I loved shareware.  I'd get these Mac Addict discs from my cousin after he'd used them, packed with demos and shareware.  Wonderful things, those discs.  The equivalent download would have taken days, even if it didn't get interrupted.  Who else remembers using some sort of download manager to be able to continue downloads after someone screws up the dialup or dsl?  Horrible times #firstworldproblemsfromadecadeandahalfago

Anyway, these discs were a way to play all sorts of games that I'd have never played otherwise.  I'd not have even known they existed.  How would I?  My friends weren't gamers and the internet was just an unruly adolescent rebelling at its neglectful father, Al Gore, before it gave up acting and went into porn.  Shareware games were nifty.  Play for a while, then if you like it, send someone a few bucks then they'd send you a license code to enter and viola, you'd have a fully-fledged game.

The closest we have to that is free to play games, and that brings us to the theme of this post: free to play games.  Act one: The fourth wall enters into a cash shop.  Act two: I'm cheaper than an ethnic stereotype.  Act three: Wretched hives of scum and villainy.

Act one
I like being in games.  Actually in them, where all that I experience is the game.  This is why I start all gaming sessions by first telling everyone in a five block range to shut up and if they're going to get injured, please call the ambulance now so it doesn't distract me.  Yet some games ruin this.  The shareware games did it with a variety of techniques, such as Hector in his invincible spaceship blowing you out of the sky if you'd played more than 30 days without registering.  That's why God invented afterburners.  Even games where you buy a box do this, inviting you to buy DLC at all moments.  I first ran into this in Dragon Age: Origins, where in keeping with the RPG rule to Talk to Everyone, I talked to a guy who told this interesting story and hey cool I should go to that place, but I don't have that DLC.  Huh?  Guild Wars 2 has its gem shop, but it's shoved off to the side and seems to be a shady side business than part of the real store, like when you ask the guy at Home Depot if they sell any Happy Plants, wink, and slip him $500 cash before he calls the police.

And then there are the free to play games.  At all turns you're reminded that you didn't give them money.  There is another bag slot, but you can't use it.  You can't check your mail because you're too cheap.  You would be able to level up, but not if you won't pay!

Act two
I really like that free and play parts, but that to bit in the middle causes trouble.  There are all manner of sources of free games.  Many of them are good games in their own right.  Many are not broken out of the box.  That leads me to my annoyance with many free to play implementations: they don't work so well out of the box that you didn't buy.  Why would I not pay good money for something that doesn't work?  If I'm going to not spend money, I want to get my no money's worth.

I could pay a little bit of money to get a fully-functioning game.  Sometimes its even quite inexpensive to upgrade.  If presented with such a package I might even buy it.  I give you money, you give me a game that works in its entirety.  Yet free to play breaks this concept for me.  My ability to hand over money is mentally hindered.  It's a free game and why should I pay for free?  Sell a man a fish and you feed him for a day; offer a man a free fish and an inexpensive fishing class and he'll get really pissed off and starve to death instead.  Because he's stupid.

Act three
What sort of scum plays a free to play game anyway?  No one I'd want to be around!  On one hand you have the cheap jerks who refuse to support a game that they're more than happy to play.  They have literally zero investment beside their time, which I presume they have in abundance and can therefore use to do a lot of whining about this thing that they refuse to pay for. The other group are the idiots who pay for a game that is free just so they can get another bag slot.  Why not just play a subscription game that never tries to get a few more bucks from you with seemingly-obvious features or ridiculous items?

Today's post was brought to us by a bunch of imaginary people at whom I am angry and me, who might be getting some pretty cool fanmail for people such an excellent writer but cannot open it because "you can't check your mail because you're too cheap."

Why I burn down so many cities
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 June 2013, 11:09 pm
When Jesus quoted Reagan about a city upon a hill, He wasn't talking about Civ V.  Losing a windmill and a hydro plant makes no sense at all.
I wish the Polynesian symbol weren't so hypnotizing.

Mutual Distress and Damsels
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 June 2013, 9:39 pm
A conversation with Syl of MMO Gypsy has gotten me thinking again about Bioshock Infinite.  I'd claimed that Elizabeth was not a mere useful damsel.  She was instead a character with her own motivations and goals rather than a useful object that sometimes threw other useful objects to the player.

In part this was based on my view that she and Booker experienced mutual distress.  She'd need rescuing, but he would as well, making it something more like a partnership than a male-dominated rescue fantasy.  It could still be slightly tilted one way or another, but with how games generally go, having a female character who ever saves the male character is something significant (though not necessarily sufficient)  I'm not to aiming for mathematical parity here.

This should actually be pretty easy to evaluate.  I'll start with a basic standard: does Elizabeth save Booker?  The answer is pretty obviously, yes.  The incident that first comes to mind is when Songbird has them cornered and is just about to crush Booker into goo when she yells at him to stop.  She agrees to return with Songbird if she leaves Booker alone.

Okay then, she's saved Booker.  Done.

Or did she?  Well yes, but how?  Merely keeping him from dying hardly makes her a mutual protector or means that he's mutually distressed.

Notice how she saves him.  She doesn't use a tear.  She doesn't run away to draw his attention.  She doesn't poke a weak spot.  She gives up.  She surrenders.  She puts herself right back into a situation of needing saving.  In effect, she hasn't saved Booker, she's just reset the story back to the point where Booker is wandering a hostile city looking for her.

Resetting is her true power.  In the end, which the phrasing of which should indicate that spoilers follow, she resets Booker.  She doesn't actually fix him or fix history.  She's just hitting a reset button and if we're lucky, Booker won't be as evil this time, but since I think he was evil all along...

When I first started discussing this with Syl I didn't mind that she hid a lot.  Look at her.  She's never been in combat.  She doesn't know how to fight.  She doesn't have a shield tonic.  One bullet at the game is over.  Yet as I tried to argue this I realized something: she never changes.  She never gets used to the fighting.  She's always startled, terrified, at everything.  She never develops a sense of confidence in herself or even in Booker.  If they changed her sound, to make her a little less scared all the time, I think that would make a big difference.

But when can't she fight?  She's been learning so much in all her books.  Surely she's read a few about combat.  She could have even read too many that make combat seem glorious and exciting.  The books are such a convenient thing for the writers, like the uploads in the Matrix.  She could learn anything, with every book and all the time in the world.  We're not given the sense that her knowledge was restricted; her lockpicking skills are evidence that she learned things that people locking her up might not have wanted her to know.

I'm not suggesting that she should have been a good fighter.  In fact, I think it would have been great if in the first fight she was utterly worthless.  Make her terrified at the sound of the gun, having never heard it before.  Make the recoil knock her off an airship, saved by a tear, just as she does for Booker.  This could be comical or dramatic, depending on how they portray it.  But then she learns, slowly getting used to the weapons, learning to use them.  And yes, she'd kill a few people.  Would that ruin her purity?  No!  Purity is a silly concept and besides, is it pure to leave someone else to do all the killing while you throw them more guns?  Let her feel bad about killing, but don't pretend that she's not allowed to do it.  Even with no change to the overall story, making Elizabeth more directly active would have made her less of a damsel and more of a person.

After this it's just baseless speculation.  Maybe Fitroy's an Elizabeth from a different universe.  She made a tear and pulled in another self.  She told that self how to start a revolution.  With the revolution and the fall of Comstock's regime, Elizabeth would be free.  She would break herself out using herself and her power.  Suddenly she's not a damsel being rescued.  Booker walked into her story, and while he did a lot, it was Elizabeth who was running the show.  She saw that Booker was useful and when her alternate self threatened to get out of control she disposed of it.  Wouldn't you react somewhat poorly if you had to stab yourself?

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