Cyanide

I Win at RNG

I think most gamers have a love AND hate relationship when it comes to Random Number Generators.  The entire MMO genre is built upon RNG and I remember the old camping structures in EQ where you could spend hours, days, or weeks waiting for a specific mob and/or specific drop. We are largely playing large Casino style games in the background, with invisible dealers. Instead of leisure suits we dress as elves and orcs and wield swords instead of cigars, and beer glasses instead of shields. (Can you tell I was in Las Vegas two weeks ago?)

The Grumpy Elf talks about his recent spat of terrible luck and I agree with him on a lot of points about WoW. When I was playing WoW I most enjoyed it because I was able to advance my character through dungeon runs and grinds, doing activities that I personally enjoyed. Bad luck and RNG is an outcome for him that is causing a lot of frustration in his goal to advance and improve his in game character.

I have spoken the random nature of our games in the past, even talking about the Star Wars PnP game and how they introduced awesome random elements:

SW was played with all d6 – and on your rolls you always had to had an off colored dice. That dice was the “special” dice. We called it the fate dice. It may have officially have been called the ‘Force’ dice. I’m not sure. Its been 15 years. The crux of it? You rolled real bad on that dice, even if you rolled all 6’s on the others, and crazy things would happen. Crazy bad. It also worked in the reverse, where a good roll – on that one dice – would make amazingly incredible things happen. Out of the ordinary. At least, that is how I remember it

I have always been a fan of randomization for the ‘surprise’ effect it can have. Good or bad – when exceptional things happen is when good stories happen. Nothing truly great would happen if the outcome was always measured and expected. This lead to some awesome gaming and story moments in Blood Bowl – here is the outcome of the story (click on it if you want to read the whole thing):

Without going into too much level of detail, with a lot of luck and some well skilled players I won the game 4-1. At the end of the game, I only had 2 players left on the field that weren’t Injured or KO’d (KO’s happen for temporary out of game injuries. After the ball changes hands they get to roll to see if they come back in or stay down for another drive). He had all 11. Goes to show what you can do against a frustrated player who wasn’t used to the Movement and Dodge ability of the Wood Elf team.

With a little lot of luck, some skill, I was able to beat all odds. Try doing that in your Raid team if 3 healers go down.

In that article I was against the predictability of raids in WoW where if someone dies it is gameover. That design makes only predictable outcomes fun and leaves no room for unpredictability. Move X, mash Y buttons on sequence, rinse, repeat, win. Nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary can, or will, occur.

Love it or hate it RNG is here to stay and I believe games can be better built around that fact. If the systems are built to be supportive of RNG (and not make RNG an automatic failure state) it can make for great gaming memories. At the end of it all, those memories and experiences are what keeps us all gaming to begin with, right?

Last week I was at a NHL game and decided to support a charity event by buying  50/50 tickets. When I gave over my $20 (for 20 tickets) I didn’t for one moment actually believe I would win – who actually wins those things? What I believed is that I was supporting a Children’s Hospital and that the money would go to good use.

So yeah, that is me (in the middle) and I won. When I was reading the ticket I didn’t actually believe it at first! The girl (on my left) who sold me the ticket told me that after she sold me the tickets she turned to her friend and told her that “that guy was so nice – I really hope he wins for good karma!” and on my right is David Desharnais, #51 from the Montreal Canadiens. He was a really nice guy and I’m a big fan of the team so that was a nice bonus. So thankfully my credit cards will now be gone along with some other household debt. I will treat myself a little as I need a new set of goalie pads (I still play twice a week) which will cost me a couple thousand.

My point here isn’t to gloat in my good fortune, but to instead point out that I wasn’t playing to win – I was playing to support charity. Winning was just a very lucky, very random, very unexpected side effect of participating. If you focus on why you are playing more than the outcome of playing you may just find some happy surprises along the way.

Our games used to mean much the same way when they felt more like virtual worlds instead of the achievement based experiences we are left with today, but that is for another post.

Death, Taxes, Gaming.

“The only guarantees in life are Death and Taxes” is one of those old quotes that stand the test of time. Having been playing a lot of X-Com lately I caught myself doing something that I regretted afterwards which made me think about death in gaming a lot closer – and I realized I didn’t like what I found (with my own behavior). The stage is set.

X-Com is a tactical game where the goal is to defend the Earth from alien invaders. As you play you encounter new aliens and start learning why the invaders are there in the first place. Slowly but surely I have been piecing together the puzzle and while doing so, doing a pretty good job of keeping Earth away from panic. I have lost Mexico as a supporting state of the X-Com program but the rest are pretty safe and secure. (Sorry, Mexico). One of the great parts about X-Com is that the soldiers you use on field missions can improve with experience, and gain ranks and access new skills and strengths. They also die – permanently. All that being said they are generally devoid of any personality and the skill trees are standard – so you can have the exact same soldier where the only difference is name and nationality, plus some stats that influence how they behave in game. My favourite squaddie (short form for squad mate, I’m not sure if that’s standard terminology but that is what I use!) is “Pitbull”. She is an American support specialist. I don’t even know her real name (if squaddies live long enough, they are granted a nickname). Pitbull has saved my other squaddies and often has single handedly changed full outcomes. She is max rank now and never, ever misses a shot. She is amazing. I love seeing her lead missions and is the closest thing I have to a “super soldier”.  She has helped me advance so far in this game. She died yesterday, and I did something I never thought I would.

I reloaded the earliest saved game so I had her again.

This was perplexing to me. Reiterating here – I don’t even know her in game name, she is a “tool” in my toolbox to stop the alien invasion. She has no personality outside of her shared and easily copied skill set. The reason why this perplexes me is I was reminded of death in other mediums and comics, for example, I HATE when people are killed off and they are always brought back. It sours the experience. With that long winded intro I am going to look at a few games where I have experienced death, and some observations (and questions).

Comics

Thalen’s post “On Retcons” popped up on Anook this morning and it reminded me of my own views on death in the comics medium. I hate it. When Superman “died” the first time it was made out to be a HUGE event in the DC universe. I was a Marvel comics guy through and through but I still bought that edition so I had it preserved – a moment in history! It was in 1992 and I thought it was a brave, bold move and that the comic world would be shaken up forever. Think of the stories they could build off of this! The other heroes picking up the slack, how the DC Universe would change without Superman.. wait – what?

The death of death having meaning, you mean.

Superman taught me one thing. Death is temporary. Death lasts exactly three months in the DC Universe. That tainted comic deaths for me forever. Of course, Marvel is equally (if not more) guilty of this – my favorite comic book character is Colossus, from the X-Men. He has always been my favorite since I was a kid. Sure enough, read through his “life” here at the Marvel Wiki and its a disgusting ruin of an amazing base character. Deaths, rebirths, alternate realities, blah blah blah. I’ll never buy another comic. To me, there is nothing wrong if you run out of content and much like Thalen’s article (where Nick Fury was sun-setted quite nicely for his character and then brought back in a poor way) just let the stories end. Harry Potter ended. The world is fine with that. If you tinker too much with your assets they aren’t assets anymore.

Gaming

I have four instances in gaming that stand out to me with gaming and death. The first is the aforementioned X-Com and “Pitbull” eating a Muton sandwich. The second is going a bit further back but very similar – to Blood Bowl, another turn based game that you can improve your characters and I had a whole post based around the antics of my Wardancer. I ended up losing her to randomization eventually – but she had to stay dead because it was a live game vs another human being.

The third instance  is in the Walking Dead – when the protagonist died (we all saw it coming) It clearly felt like a part of the narrative and the introduction of the true protagonist all along (the little girl). It felt satisfying how he died, and how he kept her safe for so long.

The fourth is in Mass Effect 2 – at the ending attack on the Collectors depending on what actions you took your squad mates would live or die. I cheated on this one too (shame on me) because I was emotionally invested in the characters I had spent so long developing with.

Inconsistent behaviors to me considering my comics stance? At the same time since they are different mediums, can I be excused? The Comics rant is pretty consistent with my Walking Dead experience – the narrative. At the end of it all I react to death in games on different motivators and in the above examples of X-Com and Blood Bowl I had ties with my characters through achievement. They weren’t fleshed out or personal but they helped me achieve things in gaming and because of that I wanted to protect them.

In Mass Effect 2 I wanted to protect them because I had developed a relationship with the characters and wanted to preserve that. Like protecting your little brother from harm.

In the Walking Dead I accepted the death as part of the overall narrative and that death actually improved the experience overall. Great story, great sacrifice.

So I ask you – do you go out of your way to save your protagonists or let the dice fall where they may? Is it different depending on game or genre? We all know MMOs care nothing of death or penalties, but what about other games when those deaths are more permanent?

 

I Am Alone In My MMO

Amazing things have happened in MMO advancement. Graphics, systems, play styles, game modes, etc. etc. etc. We have come a long, long way from multiple week grinds to get a level and losing all of your items (and even levels) upon death. Most of us, while we may look fondly back on the memories of those times, never, ever ever want to go back there again.

It was good when it was good. It was all we knew.

It forced us to need each other.

Not just EQ, with it’s punishing death penalties and XP bars that wouldn’t move for days.

I’m talking DAOC as well. In that game if you didn’t have players you didn’t really do anything. And when you were doing anything you had to always be on your toes in case there were other players.

Both had their own special magic because of the other player component. Both of those games made ties that have lasted the test of time, wow clones, and free-to-play bonanzas. Is anyone making them now?

GW2 – beautiful game. I leveled to 40 on it without being in a group, and barely working alongside other players. Granted, I went into that game solo, but wow – trying to talk to people in that game left blank stares and worse. After 40 levels of solo content, I just stopped logging in.

Even WoW – in a guild there, but WoW is so antisocial now. Log in, solo dailies, do a 5-man heroic, logout – all without typing a word. There are people there, but they might as well be NPC’s. It’s like I’m dancing with myse-elf. And sadly, I’m in a guild. What happened to epic guild chat? Green /gu flying up and down the screen? Too many buttons, and no downtime happened.

The only conversation I have had with anyone is my foray back into Blood Bowl. Matchmaker online puts you 1v1 and there are 2:00 min turns – turn based. So you have 2 minutes to chat to your opponent while he is making his moves, and he chats back while you are making your moves.

Downtime = Chat. Chat = connecting. Connecting = sense of belonging/camaraderie. Which all equals paying the monthly fee, continuing to play, contributing to the community, etc.

Maybe I am doing it wrong, but what I wouldn’t give for some downtime.

Tempting Tesh

C’mon Tesh, just try to fight it – you know you want to!

Bought Blood Bowl: Chaos Edition (66% off – or 10 bucks – for players who purchased an earlier version) and recalled how amazing turned based strategy games can be.

Which lead to me remember how perfect a MechWarrior game would be in that format.

Which lead me to much googling, and finding that linked site.

Chomping at the bit for this one – need to investigate a bit more but heat sinks, custom build outs, tonnage limits, and hex spaces are all in. They manage to take away the ~300 dice rolls per turn and its a match made in heaven.

Online Reputation

A little bit of frustration is settling in with Blood Bowl my past handful of matches. No, not the gameplay (which can be punishing) No, not the randomness (which I love) – but Yes, the weak network programming.

BB keeps a “reliability rating” with your account. Basically it is a percentage based score of matches played vs matches completed. My first 17 games I had a rating of 100% and proud of it. Players who challenged me knew I would stick through to the end no matter how poorly, or how brutal, the game was going.

It is now down below 80% – none of which I have control over. Since the last patch I have been getting funky network sync errors and random disconnects. Strange, and very frustrating.

Final frustrations after the jump…

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Blood Bowl Part 2 : When Doves Cry

Online play is pretty spectacular in Blood Bowl. No, not the interface or lobby (needs a lot of work) or the random connection errors (before starting matches – I haven’t had it happen during a match) and the matchfinding needs work too. It updates slow. After a little nudge from Syncaine from Hardcore Casual (the only other blogger I read lately who is playing BB) in the online space, I learned a few lessons.

A few neat things happened when I started playing online. I’ll share them with you after the bump.

I started off my rookie online career in the public league, with a spectacular 0-1-7 record before realizing how wrong I was playing my chosen team (the agile, pass happy Wood Elves). I had a few players die, a few injured, and although I was getting destroyed I was having fun – but most importantly – learning how to play the game. Since the dreadful start, I have had a couple great things happen to me, some good roll of the dice, some strategy improvement, and hey, some wins! My record after tonights match is now 4-2-8. Still nothing to write home about but I am really finding a comfort level.

I ran with one Wardancer (one of the best Elf players in the game)- great movement allowance and great starting skills – Leap, Block, and Dodge. The way characters work in BB is based on 4 stats: MA (Movement allowance, how many squares you can move in a turn), ST (Strength, guaged for blocking (attacking) and defence against blocks), AG (Agility, used for dodge rolls) and AV (Armor Value: Used to see if you get injured or killed when blocked (attacked)). Wood Elves have high MA, Average STR, Good AG, but low AV. In a straight up fight-em-up match you don’t only lose, you get maimed. Besides the core stats that every player has, there are skill sets as well. For the Wardancer the base three (as mentioned) allow you to leap over players (Against a wall or cage, you have to go through your opponent typically), Block saves you from going prone on a “both down” roll, and Dodge allows you a reroll on a failed dodge as well as a pushback instead of a ‘defender stumbles’ roll. All of that basically means they can get around the field very well, and are hard to knock down. A player down is a useless player.

Doing things in matches gets you SPP (I don’t know the acronym – Stat Purchase Points? Star Player Points?) which can then be spent. The dice rolls, and if you are lucky you can increase one of your 4 main stats by one (which is huge). If you are unlucky you get to add other skills (which are still huge) – such as Pro (50% reroll chance on a failed roll), Sure Hands, Frenzy, etc. There is a long list and you can tailor your players to your style or team needs.

Back to my Wardancer, the first one I had was injured the first match and lost a point in her AV. That is bad news, meaning she is more likely to get reinjured or die. Regardless, because of how much that player costs I kept playing with her, and I became really lucky. I received a +1 in Agility (already very high), and a +1 in Movement Allowance (she can cover more ground on the field than any other player in the game that I have seen – besides the Wood Elf/Skaven Catcher who is base 9 MA). I also took Pro with her. I ended up saving up and bought another Wardancer, and on her first skillup she got +1MA as well. Now my team has 3 players who cover more ground than anyone else in the game. Needless to say (and Syn will confirm) that is pretty sweet for a 1400 rated team. (Teams are rated by the value of its players.)

I dare EA to put a lust contest on this asskicker. Double dare.

I dare EA to put a lust contest on this asskicker. Double dare.

The main reason why I am writing this tonight is I just had a crazy fun match. I played against a Chaos team (they have horns – and hurt). I kicked off first and it was shallow – on the kickoff event was a Blitz! That means I get to move before the receiving team does. I was able to position myself under the ball I just kicked, dodged a couple rolls and got a quick score. Bad news is, the Chaos guy managed to injure one of my players. Injury roll was “Badly Hurt – no long term damage” which is good – what is bad is that I couldn’t afford any subs. For the rest of the match – 2 turns into 16, I would be down a player (He has 11, I have 10).

Since I scored I kickoff again. It was a decent kick, and his front line injured 2 more players (both no long term damage – but out for game) before he even picked up the ball. He then positioned his players next to mine that were in range (forcing me to either block them, or a dodge roll success to move away from them) and then the rediculous happened. He failed a pickup roll. I ran in my 9 MA Wardancer – she failed a pickup roll. He failed his next pickup roll. I failed my next pickup roll. Finally, he picked the ball up and threw it accross the field to a lone runner, and it was caught – ran it in, Touchdown – but not before he injured ANOTHER one of my players (broken shin, -1MA, miss next match). And then it was my turn to receive a kick.

For those keeping track of players to this point, on the field it was 11 of his players against 7 of mine, at 5 of 16 turns. NOT a good sign, and with the score 1-1 with 3/4 of the match to go, I was starting to worry more about having a team left instead of winning the game. His players were pulverizing mine.

He kicks off to me, and leaves a hole on the left side while stacking the right side of the field (where my two Wardancers were – I had my Catcher (another MA:9) on the left hand side). A “hole” is when there is 3 movement spaces between two defenders. If you move within a “Tackle Zone” of a defender (the 8 squares surrounding him) he gets a free swing at you (Dodge roll to avoid). Because there was three spaces between two defenders I could sneak a player through without the chance of harm. I send my Catcher long, pickup the ball with a Wardancer, run my MA, hand it off to my Thrower, run until I have a clear passing lane (to avoid interception rolls), and Pass the ball to the Catcher. He catches it, but can’t make the endzone in 1 turn (no players can). With my remaining moves I stack a row of defenders around him, including my other Wardancer. If I can stave off his block/attack turn, I can make the endzone on my next turn.

He has a few players near where I am, and surrounds the ball carrier and the defender. The basic way group blocking works is this: if he has 3 players in the Tackle zone of my one player, he gets to roll three dice and choose the best result from the three (modified by Strength). Now, if I have defenders around my ball carrier, the surrounding players in adjacent tackle zones can cancel out the extra dice roll – giving him a much lower chance for success. If he has three blockers, and I have three attackers around the ball carrier and we have even Strength he only gets one dice to roll, and must take the result of that roll (be it good, bad, or ugly). There are skills that help you defend even if a player is in your tackle zone, but I will stick to basics here so it doesn’t get too confusing.

With his defenders around my ball carrier, he blitzes (you can only block ONE player per round from distance – the rest have to be in your tackle zone – so use that blitz wisely!) and knocks down the ball carrier – forcing a dropped ball. After bouncing around a bit, it ends up in the hands of my Wardancer. He has one player in her TZ (tackle zone) so gets another chance to knock her down – it fails, and pushes me back a square. No other player is in my TZ now besides the last attacker (who has the default option to “follow” a push to stay in the TZ – but since he has used up his action for the round cannot reattack). He gets the rest of his in range players to form a cage (Box) around my Wardancer – so next round he can pummel her good and force another fumble. Except, now it is my turn.

I use my Leap skill, hop out of the box, and bam, in for a touchdown. 2-1 for me. Yay. Except, I forgot to mention he Injured (no long term effect) another player. it’s now 11 Chaos, 6 WE on the match. He has double my players. My slim lead won’t hold. I manage to play out the half, 2-1 score and do not sustain any other injuries (yay). At halftime it’s just like football – if you received the kickoff at the start of the game, you kick off to begin the second half.

Without going into too much level of detail, with a lot of luck and some well skilled players I won the game 4-1. At the end of the game, I only had 2 players left on the field that weren’t Injured or KO’d (KO’s happen for temporary out of game injuries. After the ball changes hands they get to roll to see if they come back in or stay down for another drive). He had all 11. Goes to show what you can do against a frustrated player who wasn’t used to the Movement and Dodge ability of the Wood Elf team.

With a little lot of luck, some skill, I was able to beat all odds. Try doing that in your Raid team if 3 healers go down.

As a quick “prologue” here, I have had several matches go the complete opposite way – where I felt I did everything right but couldn’t buy good dice rolls for the life of me. I didn’t get frustrated though, because that is the magic in this game. ANYTHING can happen, and it does, and will, when you least expect it. While my gaming time is still very limited, I manage to squeeze in a quick 30 minute match or two a night when I need that break from work – it has been a great escape. I am curious how private league play works, and may start looking into it after I hit .500.

I’ll Take the Red Pill

One thing I loved about the Star Wars pen and paper game was the concept of the ‘red’ dice. SW was played with all d6 – and on your rolls you always had to had an off colored dice. That dice was the “special” dice. We called it the fate dice. It may have officially have been called the ‘Force’ dice. I’m not sure. Its been 15 years. The crux of it? You rolled real bad on that dice, even if you rolled all 6’s on the others, and crazy things would happen. Crazy bad. It also worked in the reverse, where a good roll – on that one dice – would make amazingly incredible things happen. Out of the ordinary. At least, that is how I remember it – and I was reminded of it while trying out Blood Bowl.

To hell with ordinary and predictable. While I can’t recommend this game to everyone, it has brought to my forefront that despite pretty graphics and neat mechanics, the predicatbility of gaming is killing me. So I kill my enemies on the Blood Bowl pitch. More chatter after the jump.

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