Monday, December 27, 2010

GameLog 177 & 178

Batheo (15h) - New online game that has more focus on battles and tactical setup than simple time-based progression. Managed to jump into the start of the second server where they had a competition for the first 10 to get to the end of the second campaign. Managed to get into the top 10 on score, but was ~13th to beat Paris.

Fantasy Wars (14h) - Looked very similar to Elven Legacy, and turns out it's a precursor to it. Mechanics seem very similar, but the graphics have been smoothed over in Elven Legacy. Still worth a shot.

Minecraft (11h) - Took up most of the Christmas LAN building up an old settlement. With monsters and damage enabled on the server, it's a different, more exciting game (with even more potential for griefing). Built up Teldrassil

Reign: Conflict of Nations (8h) - Started a couple of times. First I missed where the tutorial was taking me, then had issues trying to go to war with someone who had already decalered war with me. In the end it seems less that Knights of Honor, which is less than Crusader Kings in dynasty management.

Dawn of War II (5h) - Bit more last stand while waiting for the LAN to kick in, as well as a few multiplayer games.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (5h) - Into Feralas.

Dwarf Fortress (4h) - Fleshymines, Pop 52. Broke through to the first cave, and managed to get out before opening it up totally. Dug down another route to get a barracks set up overlooking an entrance to the caverns.

Delve Deeper (3h) - Great little boardgame-like indie game picked up for Cameron.

Gran Turismo 5 (1h) - Played a little on the big screen at work on the last day.

League of Legends (1h) - single game at the breakup LAN. Pretty laggy for 5 people on the one connection.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Games of the year

That was ... wierd. I just finished voting in the AusGamers game of the year and, although I've played well over 50 different games this year, I found myself skipping almost all the categories. Shooters? Nup, only TF2 needs to be on my rotation to get my fill. Racing? Lots of that, but GT5 is leaving a sour taste in my mouth, and TM Nations is the only one I've been constantly going back to. Handhelds? No iPhone games in the list, and too many to really pull one out (maybe NinJump, but that's really because it's currently in the frontal cortex).

One thing I did notice was that of the AAA games I did own that made the list I felt a little underwhelmed by, which makes giving the nod to a game I didn't even buy seem overly optimistic about how they play too.

I felt the same way when surveying the roguelike game of the year voting over at ASCII Dreams. I played a handful, but really didn't have a standout apart from returning to the well of Dwarf Fortress again and again.

Maybe it's the whole indie scene that gets game of the year?

In a couple more days I'll do a time based summary of the year by tallying up the GameLogs. I'm of the opinion that the game that can keep my attention the longest is as likely a candidate as any for GotY. I'm guessing League of Legends will be one of the frontrunners, and I'm happy with that.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

AR Drone

MUST... BUY... !!!
.. Sandy says no :(

Monday, December 13, 2010

GameLog 175 & 176

Dawn of War II - Chaos rising (27h) - Picked up an 8 pack for all & sundry. Played through the first mission of the expansion beofre realising I'd rather go back and build up my chars through the original scenario. Just about complete now with most above the level 18 starting level for new chars in Chaos Rising. Winning most abattles , although somewhhat slowly, but losing defense missions badly. Finally got terminatr armour and that made the difference. Played a couple of Last Stand and comp-stomp multiplayer games too.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (18h) - Got very annoyed that the expansion had to download an additional 4Gb the day before it released (meaning ~10Gb for the month and additional limits paid for), then found out that it didn't come with any game time, then missed the launch because the login client wasn't responding. All in all a very poor launch and took the edge off my enthusiasm to get back into the game. Later on I found myself getting tired well before midnight. Not an obvious sign, but I usually have to wrench myself away from games to get to sleep by 2ish, so to me it means that the gameplay just isn't there anymore. It's definitely worth it for the co-op play with Sandy, but I give it a month, maybe 2.

Dwarf Fortress (8h) - New fortress on the laptop to take into work: Fleshymines

Patrician 4 (7h) - Steam sale. Plays pretty slowly and found myself falling asleep, or wondering what else is on sale.

Gran Turismo 5 (3h) -Finally got the wheel, but it's not that big of a difference. Couldn't get anywhere near my time on the Top Gear Elise challenge, but at least I wasn't sliding all over the place. Loading times are a killer though. They are long enough to look for other things to do, like flip over to TV, or play DF on the laptop.

Bejewelled Blitz (2h) - More matching mayhem.

Various Facebook games (5h) - After the lament about facebook games and the development of Notorious, I spent a while looking through lots of different facebook games for something with gameplay. Anything. Backyard monsters looked pretty interesting and very similar in concept to notorious, apart from being stuck in a number of FB tropes. Kongregate is still looking like the place for innovative games, but the just aren't making the transition to FB, or the search / broadcast is so weak that I'm not finding them.

A thing for Hematite

Ebalromek, "The Revered Length", a hematite coffer
This is a Hematite coffer. All craftsdwarfship is of the highest quality. It is encrusted with hematite. This object menaces with spikes of hematite. On the item is an image of "The Revered Length" the hematite coffer in hematite.
Wow, this dwarf had a thing for hematite ... and recursion.

Playing through Dwarf Fortress again as a lunchfiller at work and after losing 2 dwarves to madness, I finally have an artifact to grace the halls. We have a population of over 50 at the moment and are just getting into our second year at "Fleshymines".

There's been a little altercation with goblin thieves with VERY sharp knives (resulting in a number of reduced appendage dwarves), but apart from that it's been going pretty well. Managed to get an underground farm working fairly quickly as well as most initial services. There's only been one caravan so far though, so there's masses of mechanisms and toys clogging up the place. Opened out a large cavern directly under the trade depot so that most stuff is within easy hauling distance when one finally arrives.

Our position is slightly elevated abover the river too, so I managed to dig out an underground channel at river level to a spot under the new dining hall. Hit an aquifer layer on that level (and possibly higher) too, so the new hall has both aquifer and channeled in fresh water.

A couple of ghosts are making a nuisance of themselves so I might have to make a new area for burial. I wonder if they like recursion too?

Monday, December 06, 2010


A game where you build dungeons, raid the locals, and fend off heroes to become the most notorious in the land.

Facebook implementation:
The problem with most new games is that they either follow the social obligation path of Farmville or the energy-as-limitation with artificial missions akin to Mafia wars. I want to design a game where the interaction between players is a little more meaningful, and the interaction with the game is not as artificially limiting.

Even though the digging out of dungeons and conducting of raids takes time, the planning is freely available at any time, as well as the interaction with other dungeons through heroes and the rumour system. Matters still need to be addressed as things may not go to plan on the raids, diggers may strike unknown obstacles (monster pits / gold veins), or new areas need to be designated once dug out. There should be enough activity for new players and invested players to be able to play as long as they like, but players seeking only small doses of fun can still plan out a fair way into the future, and also have many things to do when returning from a period of time away.

Most monster contracts and built areas are designed to be replenished over time, so the dungeon will settle about a certain level of notoriety if left alone for an extended period. Heroes will attempt the dungeon at somewhat regular intervals (~1/2 hr?), and non-returning heroes will raise the notoriety of the dungeon, which in turn inspires higher level heroes to attempt the dungeon. Once a high enough hero comes through to wipe out all the monsters and take most of the gold / equipment away, the notoriety drops so that minor heroes will attempt it next time.

Things to do
Build a Dungeon
Conduct Raids
Hire Mercenaries
Buy / Sell Equipment
Ransom Prisoners
Bribe Heroes
Listen to Rumours / Spread Rumours
Replay events
View Highscores

Build Dungeon
- Pick starting location (allow restart / multiple dungeons?)
- Designate areas to be mined out
- Designate a room (Storage / bedroom / training room / patrol room / eating / vault)
- Start with dirt around entrance, but get into different types of stone further in, with gold / gem seams / caves / ravines / streams. Stone needs mining equipment and a lot more time to get through. Gold seams could take a long time to go through, so they provide a steady source of income

Conduct Raids
- Capture prisoners. Designate prison areas. If area contains digging designations, prisoners will also dig. Each prisoner has a name / occupation and a bounty that is used for notoriety
- Target equipment / gold
- Spreading chaos. Raises Notoriety. Increases happiness for chaos creatures.
- present 3 targets with easy / medium / hard options. Give percentage chance for success, appproximate time to get there and approximate rewards.

Hire Mercenaries
- Set up contract with goblin camp to provide up to 5 goblins at 1 per hr for a wage of 5 gold per hr each.
- Contract with a Troll for modest lodgings and 40% of all loot found
- Mercs will take wage from whatever drops, or through trips to the vault. No payment angers mercs, granting greater autonomy to take their payment through other means.
- If mercenaries level up while in base, you can attempt to offer them individual contracts
- Provide a choice of 3-5 contracts at the "villians'r'us" trader. Go between for nefarious rulers of the world
- Make names and random stats for mercs. Light hearted like Majesty.

Buy / Sell Equipment
- Purchase goods through middle man
- Sell manufactured items and old items from heroes to black market

Ransom Prisoners
- Negotiate through ransom broker
- Ransom for prisoners continues to rise from their base level (set by profession/level), giving bigger rewards, more notoriety, but also more incentive for heroes.

Bribe Heroes
- Pay minimal cost to cast spell of seeing on hero so that you can observe what someone's dungeon setup is like.
- Can organise a more tougher hero than the dungeon warrants if you pay the difference. This should allow even level 1-2 players to see what a level 20 dungeon is like from both the hero and dungeon creators perspective. Negotiate deal to split profits for upfront cost.
- Cast spell of control to give player the choices the hero would have automatically made. (Move to grid coord / fight / search / free prisoner)

Listen to Rumours / Spread Rumours
- Find out what townsfolk have to say about your dungeon. Multiple perspectives available to hear different variants, plus a general consensus of notoriety.
- Choose rumours by dungeon (player) / monster / town / hero / prisoner / rumour type
- Heroes use the rumour system to pick their next targets.
- Information leaks through public interaction of your dungeon with the town, as well as returning heroes.
- Spread rumours allows the player to either agree or disagree with certain rumours (through a conversation with townsfolk, with chance of them believing) or make their own rumours up. Allows the user to control the notoriety of their dungeon (and other people's dungeons) and tailor the types and level of heroes that attempt to take on their dungeon.

Replay events

- review events hapening in your dungeon since you were away
- sort by time / level of importance / characters involved / room involved

View Highscores
- sort by highest level of hero killed (main criteria) / current notoriety /notoriety change / rumoured wealth / rumoured size

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

GameLog 173 & 174

Hegemony: Philip of Macedon (40h) - More Philip campaign stretching all the way down to Athenia, and more east toward the second port city needed for boats. Seemed to get bogged down in constantly monitoring 5 battles at once, but eventually it didn't seem to be too much of a callenge with phalanx and cavalry ruling everything else.

Gran Turismo 5 (10h) - Ordered a new force feedback wheel for this one when I pre-ordered a week ago, but the wheel still isn't here :/. Plays Ok on controller, but there seems to be no real direction as to what cars you should (or shouldn't) be using for the next challenge. What it really needs is a way to filter all cars in the dealership and 2nd-hand lot according to a challenge. Even worse, future challenges don't even show you what the requirements are until you're the right level :(. The game also is unbearably slow between races, even after clearing 8Gb on the HDD to "speed up loads". I didn't notice that much speed up. Lucky the Cricket was on at the same time and I could catch up with the score while it all loaded up in the background.

Bejewelled Blitz (3h) - More matching mayhem. New catseye gem is a bit weird. Way more powerful than the moonstone gem that seems to have dissappeared, and as it's shareable you can also more or less trigger it when you want rather than hoping a lucky moonstone lands when you have the cash to use it. I'm predicting scores approaching 1 million with cateye, although I've only got up to ~550K using it with other multipliers.

Team Fortress 2 (2h) - Twiddling time waiting for GT5 and Cataclysm to hit. Going through some of the older stuff as it might be a long time until they see the light of day.

MtG: Duels of the Planeswalkers (1h) - Another twiddler. Not sure why I put this one down, but after a few games I remembered the arbitrary nature of the interface. Almost always feels sluggish until you WANT to cast an interrupt, then there's no time at all. Lucky I didn't lose a game because of it, but it was frustratingly close.

Civilization 5 (1h) - Loaded up some uploaded scenarios and I finally found how to trigger the 'scenario' button, but they still seem end immediately with no opponents.

Ravenwood Fair (1h) - I'd heard that Romero was developing a facebook game, but was incredibly dissappointed to find it's another Farmville clone. In frustration I also dug through some more games and for the explosion that Zynga had back a couple of years ago, there's bugger all available. There seems to be either farmville clones, mafia wars clones, or travian-like web games shoehorned into the facebook juggernaut. Really dissappointed. I'm hoping Sid Meier can do better.

The lament had me put some time into designing a new game that allows a different type of social player interaction. Like all my games it's probably never going to get past the design stage, so I'll publish it up here once I've fleshed out the idea.

Monday, November 22, 2010

60Gb internode plan

After lamenting the previous internode offerings while mired deep inside Telstra's price squeeze, Internode have finally released their new plans for people still on the Telstra monopolized DSLAMs. Well, they're awesome. Going from $70 per month down to $60 per month and going up from 20Gb, to ~50Gb (60Gb, but measuring down and up traffic would equate to ~50Gb down for me).

In Simon Hackett's rant about the Telstra price squeeze, there's one thing that is painfully obvious:
This situation also underscores that a key and critical requirement for the future National Broadband Network, in whatever form it takes, which is that there is an ironclad legal requirement that the NBN Company must only be a wholesale provider – that it must not directly offer retail services to consumers.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Moodle 2.0 presentaion

Found a link to Martin's recent talk to a polish MoodleMoot on the new featuress of Moodle 2.0.

One of the main features that has me excited are the community hubs. Not only will it be easier to see good moodle courses, but I believe it quite possibly could be the silver bullet to bring about my vision of the future of education. The key will be to establish a framework of authorative tags to represent the skills that the course will teach, and the skills required for entry to the course. Once these are in place, there will be both an open market available using community sites (from the community hub model) and the easy contribution to the market by publishing sites. Even the ability of creating your own hub will mean that there doesn't need to be an authorative global tagging system. Each authority (Eg: Queensland Studies Authority, or the approaching national curriculum) can establish their own hub of approved courses, and set their own tagging practice up to allow the courses to merge seamlessly.

We're living / teaching in exciting times!

[Edit] More links
Community hub discussion
Learning Object Metadata
Australian Classifiication for Education standard (used in Moodle)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

USB memory sticks are good for transfer, bad for storage

Here in the IT department we would get on average a student a week with problems accessing their stored files on a memory stick. They are almost always attempting to retrieve a critical file for an assignment or presentation due today. Even though we have many options to recover damaged files, over half are simply not recoverable due to physical damage to the memory stick. Put simply, they die. Often.

The great thing about memory sticks is that they are very portable, and have a relatively good transfer rate. This makes them excellent choices to transfer files from one computer to another (Eg: from school to home), but their unreliability means that they are poor choices to store data for an extended period of time.

To offset this unreliability, it is recommended that you copy files to and from your memory stick, but never run or edit anything on it. Here’s an example:
Fred has started work on an assignment at school. He finishes up for the lesson and saves the file to his ‘My documents’ drive located on the server. He wants to continue working at home, so he manually copies the file to his memory stick. That night Fred wishes to continue work and inserts his memory stick. Instead of working directly on the file, he copies it to the desktop or an allocated space on the hard disk. From there he can work quickly and effectively on the file. Once finished he can then copy back the updated file onto the memory stick, possibly renaming it to another version. At school the next day, Fred continues his assignment by copying the previous night’s file onto his ‘My Documents’ drive and working on it from there.

In this example, the assignment will exist in multiple locations and have multiple versions. If at any point the memory stick dies, or even the home computer or school computers become inaccessible, the file will be recoverable with a maximum of a few hours of work lost. For times when you REALLY need that file, even copying it to multiple memory sticks is a wise choice. They don’t need to be super expensive, anything in the ~$10-$20 range should be sufficient for a simple transfer.

Monday, November 15, 2010

GameLog 171 & 172

Hegemony: Philip of Macedon (40h) - New steam pickup while waiting for GT5 and Cataclysm to hit. Very polished for a 5-man indie title, and has a good historical feel along with open ended play. Replaced it with Hegemony gold alpha as it handled a slower pace of recruits. Means less troop for me, but mainly allows taking out enemies in pitched battles then having time to siege the city before they regenerate. Still trying to come to terms with utilizing the population effectively between offense and defense, but at least it makes for an interesting game.

Currently playing through the Philip campaign and have pushed back the Illyrians out of Diabolis and the Athenians almost back to the Thermopylae pass. Hopefully I can sweep up north and force the Illyrians into submission, then swing onto the peonians before moving east. Not sure whether I push further down the greek peninsula. Don't have ships yet and Athens is already raiding my shorline back near the capital

Civilization 5 (25h) - Finished off the emperor Mongol scenario in under 60 turns. Downloaded scenarios don't seem to be working? A little more on the Terra Australis map.

Dungeons and Dragons Online (6h) - Already picked up Cataclysm, but this was an interesting diversion to get back into the MMO space.

Bejewelled Blitz (2h) - Free multiplier weekend ended with a new record: 626,100

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Telstra monopoly?

Internode released some new plans recently and it looked like I'd get an extra 5Gb for the same price, but when attempting to sign up for it, the price jumped by another $10. Upon investigation, Internode buried this little gem in their press release:
Due to Telstra pricing that differentiates between exchanges in different areas, Internode has applied a two-tier price structure for its Home-Fast2 broadband plans. The prices for Zone 1 exchanges, where a Telstra competitor has DSLAM equipment installed, are lower than for comparable plans in Zone 2 and 3 exchanges, where Telstra retains a monopoly position.

Did they just specifically state that the price change isn't per region, but whether your exchange has competitors?? How is this not monopoly abuse?

Google Reader: Star, Like or Share?

My use of google reader has slowly declined since I have finished the uni course, but I still see the need to follow smart people, and google reader still gives me that instant hit of something to think about.

About a year ago Google Reader updated their social features to first let you star an article, then star or share, and finally star, like or share. It seemed a bit confusing when you would want to do each, so I generally found myself either checking all of them, or none at all. I finally figured out it's all about context:

Star - It's of personal interest: You might star something as a reminder to get back to it, because it's important to you personally, etc. I'll generally star things I've responded to so that they are easier to check followup comments, or make the whole conversation easier to find when I'm searching for a previous article.

Like - Attribution back to the author and other readers of that feed: This is an easy way to communicate simply with other readers of the same feed. Liking every single article on that feed doesn't really help you or the other readers, it's best used as a tool of discernment. I'm also far more interested in seeing who else liked the article if there are fewer names, and repeat names are worth investigating. Likes are one step above a comment as a way to easily engage with the audience of the article.

Share - Distribute the article to your friends that may not know about it: Share the link with others. Need to check the publicity settings before mashing this button to see where it'll go. I also send my shared feed out to a widget on this blog as a semi-kudos instead of writing up something specific about it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Teaching IPT

Firstly the news: I've accepted a position at St Luke's as a full time teacher next year. Mainly IT subjects, but a little splash of maths too.

To prepare for next year, I'll also be putting together a work program for 11/12 IPT as the syllabus for 11 has changed this year. It'll most likely change again next in a couple of years when the national curriculum comes in, but we'll tackle that one when it comes. So, for the next couple of research Thursdays I'll be reviewing the syllabus and sample work programs to try to build a work program that doesn't restrict all the things I have in mind.

First up is a work program for teaching a composite class with the same content. I'd wondered if that was possible because the current composite class has effectively 2 different subjects being taught at once. It's possible by designing a largely self-driven learning environment, but it would seem more appropriate in keeping both classes on the same subject, just modifying the assessment for either 11 or 12.

Lots of reading, lots of decisions ...

Monday, November 01, 2010

GameLog 169 & 170

Civilization 5 (70h) - Majority of the time in the SDK looking at making a mirror map and documenting stuff for the CiV Wiki. Recently the Mongol Scenario came out and plays very well. Really captures the spirit of a highly mobile army hellbent on burning europe.

Minecraft (20h) - Tinkered a bit with multiplayer, then started building some challenges for myself in single player to make it a little more interesting. First the one tree challenge, then a spelunking challenge where you have to find diamonds while only modifying the landscape by 1 tile (makes you explore open caverns rather than dig to the bottom). Took Ben and I about 1 & 1/2 hours to finally find some in a huge cave system.

League of Legends (4h) - Might shelve this one now, player base is getting too narky.

Bejewelled Blitz (4h) - Some light entertainment after work. Been using the musical method of training where you start slow and methodical for 2 runs, then fast as possible for 2 runs regardless of position, then settle to fast & accurate runs.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Minecraft: One Tree Challenge

After fiddling around with the single player, I was hunting around for a way to make the game a little more challenging. I had thought of a 'naturalist' challenge where you couldn't destroy any existing Flora or Fauna. Without wood from existing trees it severely limits your startup to scavanging seedlings and planting them in open caves, and using wool block housing for the first couple of nights. In the end it felt too much like a surface crawl instead of exploring the depths, but at least I found some awesome natural Wonders.

Massive caverns beneath a duck's head


Floating fire. I'm assuming there used to be a tree where the lava landed

Water and lava from the same rock.

So the next challenge I thought up was a 'one tree challenge': Spawn, find the closest tree and chop it down, then dig directly down where the tree stood and never come back up again. Since wood is needed for a workbench, the first pick, handles and torches, you really need to think about what you dig. Hardcore mode as well, death = regenerate the world.

The first attempt I dug around the shaft of light to the bottom of the map, but didn't hit any coal to get torches going. Tried getting a space big enough for a tree to grow at the bottom, but eventually ran out of handles.

2nd attempt I tried a shallow tree directly under the shaft of light to see if it was even possible to grow them underground, but I punched through the roof of an enormous cavern just below my starting box. There was a waterfall and pool right next to where the shaft of light landed, so I plonked a tree there and waited.

There was also some coal available, so risking some wood for a set of torches helped me explore the caverns a little as well as making night-time mining a little more fun. I'd also started spreading grass down from the top by rebuilding the staircase with dirt. Don't know if it's required for trees to grow, but it can't hurt (and digging out dirt saves the handles while I wait for the tree).

A couple of days had passed and I was getting worried about the tree. If it doesn't grow then it'll be a pretty useless challenge, but if you're able to build them anywhere it'll also be somewhat useless once you get going. I had one more seedling from the original tree, so I tried another spot just in case, and splurged another couple of sticks for torches to ring the seedlings. Please work!

Coming back from another spelunking expedition (groans are pretty scary when you have no equipment and only 4 torches to cycle through) I noticed the greenery. Yes! Trees! The bottleneck was more or less gone now, but I kept up preparing the initial cavern for more trees just in case there was an accident. I also splurged on a hoe to place some wheat next to the tree trunks. Not sure whether the grass triggered the trees growing, but it was essential to get the farming up and running. 1 chook had managed to fall through the hole, but pigs couldn't fit so I needed the bread in case the groans became serious.

Greenified the 2nd cavern and established a channel for the water to follow my journey deeper into the cave system. I'd seen some lava, and had learned from previous adventures that being on fire is lethal without water handy. Eventually made some iron armour for confidence to push further down, but died to a cave-in before it was put to the test. I'd followed a cave heading up toward the top and had simply placed a torch near some sand when it all came down on me.

Initial cavern with entry point visible up in the roof.

A view down past the 2nd cavern with viaduct and trees. Seedling in the bottom left is the initial landing point bathed in sunlight (and torches).

With trees able to be grown almost anywhere once you have torches, the challenge loses its teeth after the first tree grows. The initial resource limitations certainly helped give it a more desperate feel which carried long past the point of safety, so overall I'm pretty happy how the challenge went. It's a pity that Multiplayer has infinite health and no durability issues as it would have been an interesting challenge with a couple of people. Might try it again at the LAN anyway.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

GameLog 167 & 168

Civilization 5 (65h) - Steam clocked it at 80h, but there were a couple of times when Cameron had been playing as well as times when I'd left it on. Completing the Deity difficulty level took up the most of it. Currently I'm attempting an emperor 1-city challenge as the Indians. Culture victory still looks a fair way off and Montezuma and alexander are >10 cities, but I'm more or less winning the tech race.

I've also started fiddling with the modding tools. Tried at first to fix the wonder placement, but it doesn't look like it's in the XML or Lua scripts. Next up is to build a 'Conquer Australia' mod where everyone starts on a boat in 1770. AI and happiness mods to follow if it's successful.

League of Legends (6h) - Couple of big sessions. Keep going back to Rammus for high level play. Should really be looking at other chars.

Bejewelled Blitz (5h) - Couple of large scores to show for the time investment, but really just looking at the phychology behind the game and its interaction with your social graph. Once again the highscore table is king when it comes to getting me interested in repeat play...

Dwarf Fortress (2h) - about 25 pop now, but still no caravans. Tempted to dig deeper to open up any caves I find.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Civilization V - Flawless Strategy

After beating Civ V fairly comfortably on King, I cranked it all the way up to Deity to see what strategies were going to work, and whether the AI improved any more from a pretty lacklustre showing so far. The plan was to go for a diplomatic Greek victory on a duel map so that there were less city states to deal with. I had tried a number of starts, one going pretty well against Siam until a couple of city-states were mysteriously annexed without being attacked (is there a buyout once you get them past allied?). I had also noted that even on duel maps, the space allocated for each player's expansion is more or less the same, so the game doesn't compress that much apart from making the world a bit easier to totally explore.

In the new setup, I chose archapeligos to limit the land mass for the AI expansion, and add another AI as well as a couple more city-states. There was a danger that I may not be able to control all the city-states, but I was a little afraid that some might be culled or absorbed into the AI monolith.

I needed to restart a couple of times to get a feel for the archapeligo layout, and to look for a start that I thought would take me to the end (plus being one of the more enjoyable parts of the game, starting out afresh with optimistic hopes of what the fog would reveal). Finally settled on a small river with 2 fish, marble and silk in sight. Turned out later to also have 4 fish in total as well as whales. Really was an ideal location in terms of special squares for the capital.

With a good idea that I'd be on an island by myself, I went immediately for the worker and left the initial warrior to mop up any barbarians. Milked a couple of them for added XP, but eventually swept the island clear. I'd rushed calendar first to get the worker occupied in opening up the resources, then pushed through fishing and optics to get my lonely warrior out and about.

On the next island over was England, but I noticed a peninsula projcting toward me that had dyes on it. My settler was enroute to a somewhat ordinary 2nd site on my island, so I diverted him to the peninsula to pinch the resource. My philosophy is that any new happy resource is worth a city, a legacy tactic from Civ4 that still seems appropriate.

With me in their back yard, England wasn't exactly chummy. By the time I had my 3rd city placed back on my continent, England was amassing at the borders. I'd scouted a fair bit of the map through an early trireme and had met most of the city-states, but none close were militaristic AND providing a resource I didn't have. England had also bagged 2 allies by this stage and had 2 main cities (~12,8) with 2 new ones on a seperate island.

It was a little suprising that Siam led off the combat, but both of us were significantly down on England's score. I'd jumped in on Siam's request, but soon was alone after Siam bailed at the first chance. My peninsula city was regularly surrounded, but I always seemed to have enough to pick off the melee units with only 2 land units and the trireme. The peninsula worked in my favour as there was only space for 2 units at a time to progress down from London, and one space was holed up by an archer unit. This forced wave after wave of units into the water for a simple trireme cleanup. After about 50 turns we still had control of the peninsula city and had killed at least 1 unit a turn for the entire battle with our 3 units. England sued for peace a couple of times demanding I give away just about everything, so it may not have dawned on the AI that I'm actually pretty happy with the current war. I'm raking in the experience, I'm not in any real danger, and I know that England is spending the majority of their Deity bonuses on making units.

Seeking some allies I signed up one of the city-states, but it turned out to be a poor choice as it simply made an them easy target for England to pick on instead of me. England had just researched their longbow archers for additional devastation, but unfortunately didn't support with a serious melee army. Once the city-state had wiped out the solitary melee unit in the attack, the rest of the archers ringed the city and rained arrows from afar. The ring couldn't let any other units in though, so the City-state sat at a near-destroyed state for the rest of the battle (another 50 turns or so)

England finally came to their senses and gave very favourable terms for peace. I'd contemplated continuing the war, but the appearance of cannons was more a deciding factor in signing than the promise of 20 gold per turn.

With so much fish and the Colossus of Rhodes, I'd been highly cash positive throughout the war and had managed to snag a couple more city-states onto my side. Now with peace through the land I teched hard to education, then back to the technology dregs to push exclusively for the United Nations. England went on an expansion spree at one point, settling any outcrop of land to take them out past 9 cities. I'd contemplated restarting the war to puppet the 2 colonies on my island, but Siam wasn't interested in starting up hostilities again and I'm sure I'd have lost something somewhere else (likely one of the city-states) in the process. We settled for puppeting one of the hostile city-states that happened to provide ivory, the only resource I needed from England.

By the time I finally got the Scholasticism bonus from the Patronage social policy, I had all 6 remaining city-states allied away. Scholasticism more than doubled my research, which was by that stage par with the AI anyway. We hit Globalization by the late 1850's and had a capital primed to build the UN in 11 turns.

Once I had built the UN, I'd prepared for war as I was expecting some fireworks from the AI now that I was so close to victory. Alas the AI was happy signing up for more research while the final 10 turns of the game ticked by. The rigged election in 1878 proclaimed me diplomatic winner with little fanfare...

Overall I'm fairly happy with he game. The start was excellent and it certainly felt like the long battle in the middle should have wiped me if the AI had any tactical awareness. If I'd known how powerful scholasticism was to this type of strategy I'd have pushed a little harder to get it earlier and possibly had the UN by the late 1700's. The game was running really slowly toward the end (much slower than even some of the larger maps) so I'm not particularly looking for a repeat outing any time soon.

Now that I've got that game out of my system I feel better about checking out the modding sections. I have a partially complete huge map of Australia to polish up and release, but I'm more keen on modding up an enhanced AI, a storymaker / exporter, a random terrain generator, and a per city happiness mod.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bejewelled Blitz 75k > 50k

I've been working toward it for a while, but I finally hit the gold level of 75k before the 50k gold level. The significance is that the highest score is so random, and relying on a high score as feedback for good play is not enough. What is important is a high average, a consistently high score each time you play.

When looking at people's scores you can usually distinguish a bubble around a certain point (wins in each 25K bracket slowly increasing until falling away). Increasing that bubble point is more important than waiting on a massive score to land in your lap. Of course the more efficient you are, the more likely you are to take advantage of a lucky streak.

With each iteration of the game, the average scores have slowly increased. Initially it was almost impossible to land a 250K+ score, but now with the instant moving and bonus gems it's possible to get a 250K each week, and a 500K+ score to get onto the top of the friends list. This makes it hard to read exactly where long time players are at, but at least the stats are now visible. What I'd like would be a simple way to map your own graph against someone else's, or a way to compare your stats this month against last month to give a better indication of progression.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

GameLog 165 & 166

Civilisation 5 (53h) - It only came out on Friday, but it's been compelling to play and experience the new system. The game feels more like a new franchise than a continuation of civ 3 -> civ 4. It's not the hexes, but mainly the global happiness that changes the idea of how to construct an optimal empire. The game seems to lose something with this simplificaiton, as well as having no gold / research slider. Growing large empires still have their limitations, but they seem more arbitrary than before.

The directable expansion is a really neat concept, especially with the ability to "guide" the expansion through payment. Puppeting captured cities is the same choice of giving up money to have more direct control. Sometimes it's an interesting choice, but for the vast majority of cases it's simply not worth annexing.

The city-states are done well and seem like they could be good tug-of-war bags in the late game, especially if you're going after a diplomatic victory. It would be better if there were other ways of influencing them with, say, gifting research or bullying them for tribute.

The mods are looking promising so far, and with it built in to the system it seems like lots more exposure will inspire quality mods. I'd missed the modding episode of 3 moves ahead initally and only lisetened to it a couple of days before getting civ5. I was hoping for FFH2 discussion and was chuffed that both Soren Johnson and the FFH modder were on together. The discussion regarding more exposure to the mods and how to manage that from within the program seemed to parallel the model civ5 was attempting. I'm really tempted to mod up a city based happiness system and bring back sanitation, or work on a better AI

Played through as Hiawatha after a random choice on prince setting, and then campaign with the french romping through a pangea on King. King seem easier than in previous editions, but I think there's another level higher too. Next up in the steam achievement quest is emperor mode on an archapeligo dual map with the greeks.

Dwarf Fortress (17h) - Turns out I was a little hasty to call my fortress a cursed death trap as the immigrants have dribbled in for the next 3 seasons. Still no caravan though. I now have a very solid fortress, but still feel hesitant on breaking open anything lower. I like the tension of wanting to explore deeper, but not wanting to open up a can of whoopass on my stunties.

League of Legends (10h) - Went up north for Jemma's baptism and this seem to be all that's played up there. Add a couple of LANs too and it's stil alive and kicking.

Elemental: War of Magic (5h) - New patch, same bugs. Arrrgh.

Friday, October 01, 2010

No one even considered making the journey to such a cursed death-trap this season

Inspired by the new Minecraft uploader, I re-downloaded Dwarf Fortress to have a look at building a new fort for it. Since it's been a while, I had also missed some neat changes that makes the game more like, well, a game.

- Major work done on the map design and history. Now cities are connected with roads and villiages with fields are commonplace. Makes the place feel more alive and had me generating a couple of maps just to check out how well it was doing. Unfortunately adventurer mode still seems underdone, and once you start a fortress the outside world seems a distant memory. Recently I've been keeping the map of the world open as a backdrop to the game.

- There seems to be no lava tubes anymore (or very rarely) and there's no method for searching for them on the expedition setup screen. I found out later that every map has lava if you dig deep enough. Great! at least it's now opened up way more sites to build.

- There's most likely to be underground caverns too. Big, 5-10 level caves with seperate rooms, columns, pools, and nasties. In my first real excursion down I bumped into one and had a fun time looking around the cave system, but some crocs and trolls quickly destroyed my bearded populace.

- The caves offer muddy ground, a new prerequisite for underground farming. I'd built out my typical subsurface farm system, but no planting choices had appeared. Thinking it was just a glitch, I ignored it and finally set up a farm on the surface as the new maps had done. Once I'd broken into a cave, I'd seen the muddy floor and twigged on the change. Natural cave farming was ultimatly my downfall as I really wanted to keep the cave open. Should have sealed it off until I had my military ready to go.

- The new fighting and reporting system toook a little bit to get used to as there were no main messages as to how things were going. The reports are way better once I found them, but I stil haven't found a way to have the reports open as the fight is going on. Seems to be an unpause / pause / read reports type of staccato battle.

I embarked again into a new world with an aquifer layer instead of a running stream (usually a mandatory requirement for fishing and early channeling) and set about designating the new fort. Our random expidition name turned out to be "The Balded Machine", a name I can do something with later on. I missed the fort name though, so "Fortresssearched" it is. I'm hoping it's a practical joke on Dwarves with lisps.

Season 1 passed and we'd set up most of the critical areas for the first 7 adventurers, but no migrants or caravans were a little worrying. We pressed on and, apart from a little food crisis, built out the fort though season 2 with no real concerns. As far as fort progress, I feel we're way further ahead than previous attempts, and have even begun strip mining some seams for more lucrative rocks.

Then I got the message. "No one even considered making the journey to such a cursed death-trap this season". Another missed migration? Usually dwarves are clamboring to get inside my undefended,ill-provisioned,infested hovel. Why don't they like this place? It's ROKKIN! My suspicions turned to the caravans. No caravnas means no exports or new (meaty) provisions. I've checked the depot access an it seems to be fine, but no civilisations appearing on the civ list might indicate that there's no-one around. The island is quite small, so I'd be surprised if no-one knows where we are. I'm sure there were some farming areas on the same startup screen as out place. Hmm, might need to read up a bit on migration. There may be some serious changesthat have jeopardized our expedition.

It might just be and unlucky season too. The changes to buildings means I've gotten crossbows and bolts relatively easily, so I might stick it out a couple more years and work on upping my trapper into a fighting machine. Once he's there I can go digging for any caverns. Dogs are breeding well too, so our army is going to be mainly 4 legged.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Working alone

Client: So, you're the King of the castle today?
King: Yeah, but I have to be the peasants too...

Monday, September 20, 2010

GameLog 163 & 164

Mount & Blade (17h) - Built up to 19, but reminiscing with Ben regarding the old M&B modifications made me dig up some mods for warband, particularly autolooting. Tried Diplomacy first, but it looked like the autoloot stuff was only once you set up your own feifdom. A little more digging revealed the open source project that combined Custom Commander with Diplomacy and others. Just getting started again and have picked up most of the companions and horsified them. Didn't notice a huge speed increase when they all had horses, so there might be a different travel calculation ?

Elemental: War of Magic (15h) - Dominions had me hankering for Civ5, but having a dig for something similar reminded me of this Stardock game that had just come out. Picked it up with some credit left over on impulse, and started playing before reading the reviews. Yep, it's pretty bad. Lots of little interface issues and barely any documentation. Went digging for a way to kick in the dynasty system and found out a lot of people were having the same issues.

Brad Wardell apeared on a recent Three Moves Ahead podcast to 'face the music' and I can sort of see where he's coming from, but the mistakes are amateurish. Coming off a very in-depth game of Dominions 3, I felt that this title was a long way behind even indie titles. It reminds me of Hinterlands in ambition and execution.

Downloaded the new version and I'm still getting interface issues like cities being named another city on the map, or images of heroes chinging between turns. Still feels early beta ...

League of Legends (10h) - Social game now. Had some epic 1Hr+ games on the 3v3 including a 1Hr 10 games last night with ben. We started off Ok, but got behind by level 6. Once againa rampaging Xin was dominating mid game. Eventually we turtled up and managed a couple of clean kills. In the last 20 minutes we were on top, but still almost lost the core to a desperate push. Luckily an inhibitor came back and locked it off just as it was about to fall.

Dominions 3 (10h) - Playing as Caelum, I raged all over the guys through the tunnel that had declared war on us. Wiped them out and now looking at either going further west or down through a peaceful neighbour to protect a weak link of my empire. Even though there doesn't seem to be any diplomacy, I've noticed in the last game that if you don't build up on the border of a neighbour, they will tend to leave their border undefended too, a sort of pact through demonstration of motives? Happy with that if it's the case, makes the AI a bit smarter than I'd thought.

Bejewelled Blitz (2h) - Filler after work before tea ...

Monday, September 06, 2010

GameLog 161 & 162

Mount & Blade (37h) - New char pushed out to about level 14. I'm a member of the Kergit clan at the moment, but lost my given villiage. Looks like you really neeed to go far into the game to get a castle & eventually a kingship.

League of Legends (10h) - Back to playing casually

Dominions 3 (10h) - Ran into an old savegame that turned out to e a pretty good start. I pushed a little too hard and imploded. Restarted with a less interesting map, but better traits.

Sims 3 (5h) - Progressed the next generation a bit, but not significantly. Aaron is going to school and I have the 5 kids now (just need to wait for them to mature).

Worms Reloaded (3h) - Didn't download correctly (which was VERY frustrating) but evemtually fixed with a validation through steam.

Bejewelled Blitz (2h) - new levelling system, but I'm more interested in looking at what it takes to map out 500K scores. Hope it's not just luck ...

Trackmania Nations (2h) - More nascar league with cam.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Factor Friends

Factor Friends is a simple game that can be played by 2 people with pre-made cards, or even 3 pieces of paper. The game uses a skewed list of associations to provide strategic depth, as well as meta-game elements to enhance continuous play.

Factor Friends plays on a 4x4 grid (16 squares) where each player attempts to place as many number cards as possible. Players take turns to place a unique number card in any free square of the grid, however adjacent numbers must have one number being a factor of the other (EG: a number card played adjacent to a 6 could only be a 1,2,3 or 12).

Create 2 different coloured sets of 16 cards (EG: one set blue, one set red) and label them with the numbers 1 through 16. Create a 4x4 grid as a play surface where each square in the grid is slightly larger than the size of a card.

- Players start by choosing 8 number cards from their set of coloured cards. This becomes their "hand" for one round.
- Choose who plays first (or alternate starts if playing multiple rounds)
- The starting player places any card from their hand into a grid square on the play surface
- The second player may then place a card from their hand onto the play surface, while maintaining that adjacent cards need to have one number being a factor of another.
- If an opponent plays a number that you have in your hand, discard it as it is no longer unique
- Play alternates between players, each placing a unique card in a legal position or passing.
- Play continues until both players pass.
- Score the round by counting who has the most number cards in play. In the event of a tie, the player going second wins.
- Continue to play a pre-arranged amount of rounds to find an eventual winner of the match.

- This game is all about controlling space on the board, and predicting what your opponent has in their hand.
- The low numbers have many factor relationships, so they are ideal for leaving toward the end of the game where the available space may be limited from multiple sides. However, leaving a low number card toward the end may expose you to your opponent playing the desired number card before you.
- Playing prime numbers (or numbers with very low factor relationships) can limit the adjacent space available for your opponent to play.
- Construct a hand with cards that can create limited space that only your cards can fill.
- When playing multiple rounds, be observant of what numbers your opponent favours. Either get those number cards and play them before your opponent (thus eliminating a card from their hand), or avoid those numbers so that they do not have an opportunity to clobber your cards.

Factor Friends can also be played with only 3 pieces of paper and 2 different coloured pens. Draw the 4x4 grid on one piece large enough so that a number can be written in each square. Players write down their 8 chosen numbers on their own piece of paper, then mark them off when "playing" them or when they are no longer unique.

Criteria for selecting a competitive game

For a game to be selected for inclusion into Competitive Computer Games, it will need to be strong in these 4 areas:
1. Be Competitive – The game itself needs to have an aspect built toward competitive, multiplayer play. Any game could be used competitively, but certain games lend themselves toward fostering a competitive environment.
2. Be Internationally Competitive – The game should have some recognition by major esport organizations at an international level. This gives weight to the competitiveness of the game and ensures an existence of a competitive culture independent of Competitive Computer Games.
3. Have content appropriate for a school environment
4. Ease of installation – This would include the cost of the game, the cost of hardware / software peripherals to make the game work competitively, the effort to set up, etc.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reaching Out

(So) drink up Jesus cup, drink it to the end ...
Reaching out by Robin Mann

On Friday I had the pleasure of officially welcoming the dignitaries as we opened the new multi-purpose hall at St Johns School. The official opening followed the regular school service of a Friday, as well as being Grandfolks Day and book week!

The service had a theme of community, and the call to love others as God loves us. Jocelyn had prepared a short video of how current members of the school see our sense of community and our response to this call to care. We finished with Reaching Out, an apt choice for the service, but the words to start the final verse really struck me: Take up Jesus cup and drink it to the end. Being greedy? 'Drink it to the end' certainly conveys that sense of thirst and desire for more. And we do! We would dearly love o sit at Jesus' feet day in day out. That's the promise of heaven anyway isn't it? But the kicker is the next few lines:
Love, give, start to live. We are Jesus' friends
May we care with our actions and our prayers
We've been given so much, people, let's all share

If you drink up Jesus to the end, I dare you to NOT love. It's a natural flow-on effect from basking in the grace given to us.
Reach out. Reach out with open arms!

Monday, August 23, 2010

GameLog 159 & 160

Sims 3 - (30h) - Picked up this as a trade for fixing a PC after being inspired by Alice and Kev and Troy Goodfellow mentioning there's something in it for the strategists. Turns out he's right and I love the new wish system as an optimising mechanic. Built out a computer whiz with a dream of a large family, but got caught up in the music business for a but too much of his life. Finally managed to get the ring out and pop 3 kids before everything dried up. 2nd generation is still interesting too, but it's suffered a bit recently with LoL taking out the nightshift.

League of Legends (20h) - level 30!!@! - Finally got back into ranked matches, but it wasn't as entertaining as the initial launch. Might have to revert back to SC2 for my RTS competitive urges.

King's Bounty (5h) - level 10 - More diggin' and lootin'

Starcraft 2 (2h) - Stalled mainly to keep LoL going.

Alien Swarm (1h) - Smal LAN trial. Thught it was a bit more complex in terms of finding gear.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ranking vs Matchmaking

Sirlin wrote up an interesting post regarding the new Starcraft II ranking system with insights from his discussions with Rob Pardo about the merits of different systems such as Elo and TrueSkill. The focus is whether the ranking system used for matchmaking should be different to the displayed rank for player satisfaction. I like a lot of his conclusions, but found this quote a little odd:
Microsoft [through TrueSkill] makes another good point here that ONLY winning and losing can be allowed to affect these stats. You can't adjust the matchmaking stat by "experience points" or even by any skill-based stats such as headshots, number of kills, time to finish a lap in racing, etc. All those stats can be gamed, and you will end up trying to get more headshots or something instead of winning. Any formula that equates number of headshots (or any other stat besides wins/losses) with how likely you are to win or lose introduces a layer of imperfect simulation. If we want to know how likely you are to beat someone, we should only consider your wins and losses, and not any in-game stats.

When looking at a mathematical ranking system this makes sense, but it doesn't make sense if you are purely interested in efficient matchmaking. Here's an example:
Starcraft starts off and all players have no wins or losses and no stats. Legionnaire (pro player) gets drawn against a scrub in his first round and wins comfortably; the scrub had not even managed to get out of his starting area. Analysing the statistics after the game also indicate a cakewalk to even casual observers. Quick game time, aggressive economy expansion vs staggered economy graph, little waste vs high average waste, etc.
Another game is played between 2 average players which happen to be closely matched. The game includes a number of pushes, each player's expansion being demolished and culminates in a pitched battle at the 40 minute mark. The statistics show a variety of interesting observations for astute players, but a big dip in army count for the loser is probably the only giveaway as to who won.

In TrueSkill these 2 games would both have winners on 1-0 and be equally ranked. For their next match they would be as likely to be matched together as it would be for Legionnaire to be matched against another starting pro player. If there was a pool of 50,000 starting players (first day numbers), it would take ~10 matches before the top ten would even play each other, and many more before the win/losses settled into a nice 50/50 pattern indicating you're playing at your level.

If a human were in charge of looking at all the matches played and given the task of suggesting new evenly matched pairings for the next round, they would be easily able to break up the whole group into, say, 10 pools of varying skill level by looking solely at the stats. They may even pick up on the fact that the 2nd match documented looked to be pretty even, and would be worth a rematch immediately for added context to the players. Repeating this process only 4 times should have people within the top 10 getting matched up together to get right into those super-fun, closely matched games.

It would seem that additional statistics can be useful in terms of matchmaking, so why the intolerance from mathematical systems such as TrueSkill? To me it comes down to a couple of issues: differing goals of ranking vs matchmaking, ignorance of bias inherent in matches, and the need for objectivity.

Ranking vs Matchmaking
To me the main issue is that TrueSkill is both a ranking and a matchmaking system. If you replaced "matchmaking" with "ranking" in the above quote I'd agree wholeheartedly; you DO need a very rigorous way of ranking people. If you brought in anything else other than wins / losses you give advantage to those who play a certain way (finish quicker, headshot more, etc). As an aside this would also reduce the potential for innovation and metagames.

A good ranking system requires an independant, unbiased method of delineating between players of different true skill (the player's inherent skill that ideally would be on display in each match, but can be clouded by a number of factors) so that each player feels as though their attributed rank is in line with their perceived rank. There needs to be justification for your rank so that if someone questions why another player is higher or lower than them, there is evidence available to alleviate their concerns. Any biases in the ranking process detracts from the validity of the entire system.

Matchmaking, on the other hand, has a goal of maximizing entertainment to the competitors (and spectators). The premise is that closely ranked players are more likely to play epic battles with high engagement and player satisfaction. I have long supported this notion and have built it into a number of leagues and tournaments, however it's not the ONLY thing. Sometimes players enjoy playing above their rank for that underdog win feeling. Players may get more out of playing with/against friends. Players may enjoy certain matchups, or certain maps.

In one of the grand finals for Australian Warcraft 3 I had an interesting conversation with another tournament organiser. 2 of the favourites for the title who were long-standing rivals had been drawn in seperate pools, but were to meet in the semi-finals of single elimination rather than the finals. The pool allocation was seeded as much as possible through prior matches in the tournament, but as these players were from different states, there was no justification in placing them over and above other state winners. The other organiser was just trying to see the best match in the finals and wanted the pools reorganised. This is a classic case of conflict between ranking (through merit) and matchmaking (for entertainment).

Matchmaking for entertainment becomes a bit wishy washy. How do you know that someone is going to enjoy the match you just created? For a start you could give opportunity for the player to select certain traits before the game starts (initial team etc) that the player KNOWS they want, but you could also give opportunity for players to rate their enjoyment of a game after the game has finished (or after watching a replay for spectators). This needn't be an exhaustive analysis of the game, a score out of 10 or even a thumbs up / thumbs down would suffice as this would give rise to a new method of optimisation: to matchmake games that maximize player/spectator satisfaction. Could it be gamed? Sure, but the eventual loser would be the players themselves. The more accurate information you can give as to why it was fun, the quicker a system could deliver games that increase your entertainment.

Objective vs Subjective matchmaking
Putting the idea of matchmaking for entertainment to the side, let's revisit the intial premise; do you only need to wins/losses to adaquately matchmake? Yes, if you want to maintain objectivity. The example of using a human to view the game and statistics to more efficiently separate people requires having faith in a 'gut feeling'. A human can look at a short overruned game and see that the opponent was outclassed, but it's not just because of the game's length. A human can see that a better player can outmaneuver troops to maintain a winning advantage, but that's not a hard and fast rule for winning either. There is, in fact, many opportunities through the game that pro players can demonstrate their skill and these build up to give a general feeling of confidence that one player is superior over another.

When building back propagated AI networks in my uni days, we would continually use problems like these. You can't quite put your finger on what are the hard-and-fast rules to follow that led you to a decision on who is better, but you're pretty confident of giving a judgement either way. With the volume of statistics available after Starcraft matches, it should be achievable to devise an AI that delivered, say, 7 levels of superiority (totally pwnd, much better, better, same, worse, much worse, totally outclassed). After many games I'd hope that the system would be delivering 'same' players all the time, but the ability to recognise a large discrepancy in skill can help the initial setup as well as tracking large changes in behaviour (rapid improvement in play, returning from a long absence, etc). Would it deliver better matchmaking? yes. It would also be objective, but not justifiable. Without justification you'd have a hard time convincing others that the system is rigorous enough to provide a rank, but it might fly if rank and matchmaking were seperate beasts.

Controlling Bias
Another issue that a pure win / loss ratio overlooks are the biases inherent in the games played. If, for example, Terrans are heavily favoured in a TvZ matchup, then this should be reflected in the prediction of who is more likely to win. There are 3 different biases common to tournaments and ranked games, the player's playstyle (race choice and preference for certain strategies), the map bias (some maps are more suited to certains race / playstyles, or more well known than others) and the individual head-to-head bias (where someone just seems to have the wood over someone). In tournaments you also have a tournament bias where some players perform better or worse depending on the importance they place in a specific tournament (homeground advantage for international events). These biases are once again somewhat subjective, but could be deduced from large samples of games played. It is also a moving target as the biases could change through the metagame, direct patching, or sustained effort from players to eliminate weak points in their game.

Biases do not have to mean that the game needs fixing; biases can add strategic elements to play (zerg rush will always be faster, but weaker). It does mean that matchmaking needs to consider any biases if the goal is to ultimately produce epic, engaging games that are desirable for players and spectators. Placing a higher ranked player in a weaker position could still achieve this.

Wow, this went a lot longer than I meant and it feels like it needs a wrap-up. To me, matchmaking is about providing entertainment to the player and spectators. Players of close rank can LEAD to entertaining games, but I don't believe a rank based solely on wins and losses provides the most efficient method of matchmaking.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Faith in God's Promises

More sermon notes and recording from last Sunday's service:
Faith in God's Promises.mp3

Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16
1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for.
3By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he[a]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.


- Jimboomba to Brisbane, running late, Browns Plains
- Where are you headed? Ipswich
- What's in Ipswich? Work
- So you don't own a car? No, I'm a christian and know that God will provide.
- You don't fear that you'll be late for work? Have been sometimes, but I've been doing it for more than a month and I get there eventually.
- Exchange pleasantries, and dropped him off where our destinations parted. I offered to drive him further if he wanted, but he insisted he will be fine.
- Why was I late? Why did I stop? Am I being an instrument of God to this hitchhiker?
- Feeling challenged by this outward display of faith. Do you? Is this Faith? Is this putting the Lord God to the test? We pray for God to provide us this day our daily bread. Is getting to work by faith the same as daily bread?

Hebrews 11:8 - "By faith Abraham, when CALLED TO GO to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. "
- Abraham had faith in a promise of God
- Covenant between God and Abraham
- Scene of the Heifer, Goat and Ram cut asunder.
- Covenants of the day.
- "What you do to these animals, you can do to me if I break my promise"
- Getting late, getting scared.
- God alone passes through the dead animals.
- This is my promise to YOU. This land will be yours, your descendants will be as countless as the stars.
- Abraham just had to believe that what God said was to come true. He obeyed, sort of. Hagar.

Hebrews 11:7 "7By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family."
Genesis 6:13-22 "So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it:" ...
Gen 6:22 "Noah did everything just as God commanded him."

- Noah's faith was once again to follow the command of God, to expect that what God had said will come true.
- Evan Almighty
- Looking silly, News sensation.
- Noah feeling the same?
- Journey of faith may not be the easiest path to live through the world, in fact it's almost guaranteed not to be.
- Noah's actions are rewarded however, quite literally through survival. God's word did come true.
- God then set another covenant with Noah to never flood the earth again. A promise from God.

Listening to God
So how do we hear God's promises to us? Listening to His voice through the Bible. Is there time set aside to hear God?
- Faith 5
- Highs & Lows, Read, Talk, Pray, Bless
- 5 minutes. Enough?
- How about church attendance too?

Not enough for God, he wants to be with us more than that. He loves us more than we love our children, more than newlyweds. When you're in love you can't think of anything else better than spending time with your loved one. It doesn't even cross your mind that 5 minutes should be enough. God wants to be with us, to talk to us and share our lives every second of the day. He's there when we go to work, when we're eating dinner, when we're sleeping, even when we're in the shower. God wants us to walk with him.
Genesis 6:9 "Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God."

Hebrews 11:5 "By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death;"
Genesis 5:24 "And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him."

God's Promise
There is a promise of God to be found for us. It's there in the Bible for us to read, and up on the front of St John's church for the rest of Bundaberg to read.
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes shall not perish, but have eternal life".
God's new covenant prepared for us also required the ripping of flesh, but not animals, Jesus life. This is how serious the promise is. Paid in blood.

God's love for us is so great that he would suffer the humility and pain of crucifixion just so that he gets the chance to spend eternity with us. Us, the ones drenched in sin.

Our faith starts with believing this promise. Holding it as a certainty in our lives. It's a promise God intends to keep so that we may be free to respond in kind and love God and one another with no bounds.

We join with the giants of our faith written in Hebrews, Abraham, Enoch, Moses, Noah:
Hebrews 11:13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are longing for a better country—a heavenly one"

Hold in your heart the promise of God.
"Whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life"
This is most certainly true.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

GameLog 157 & 158

LoL (20h) - level 28 - Lots of LANs and late night sessions looking for that last win before bed. Suffered a bit with SC2 being close-but-not-quite UI, but it won out in the end.

King's Bounty (15h) - Had a hankering for this one again, but couldn't find the save so I rerolled. Still had an odd question like last time; what's the rage for in the beginning? I knew the answer this time, but I still had to look up how to get the rage box started. Needed to be brought to the fore much earlier or have the rage meter hidden ...

Starcraft 2 (12h) - Moderate way through the campaign and it's feeling really good. Reminds me a lot of the dawn of war II campaign. No multiplayer yet, LoL fills that gap atm.

East India Company (2h) - Yeah, as poor as they made it out to be. Just no real feel of trading.

Alien Swarm (1h) - managed to get a few games in, but really haven't been around for LANs with it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Head to the Heart - Register ActiveX

I've continually come up with an issue while building the Head to the Heart powerpoint slides in my MSOffice 2007 Virtual Machine. It keeps complaining when I open it that an ActiveX is not registered, but doesn't say anything else past that. There are shockwave flash objects used in the powerpoint, but they visible on the slides as flash objects and listed as registered in the developer tab of ActiveX items. Seems tied to them though as the music or filmclips they should be bringing in disappear if you save the powerpoint once opened with the registration error.

Turns out Flash is NOT registered in Internet Explorer (since it's a custom VM just for Office), so the fix was to simply reinstall Flash into IE.

Monday, July 26, 2010

GameLog 155 & 156

Civ4: BtS (20h) - Fall from Heaven II game with the Grigori. Took a while to claw into 1st place, but fell by the wayside once I got there.

League of Legends (20h) - Picked up an 8/5 win/loss record in Season 1 before they tossed out everyone under level 30. Picking up a couple of games a night to run up the XP.

Cosmic Supremacy (15h) - another Free-to-play web based strategy game. Has a really interesting AI builder to help administer the planets & fleets, but was a little too sanitized to keep me going. Was in 2nd of 20 probably due to the AI programming.

Puzzle Kingdoms (15h) - Sandy managed to finish it, so apart from helping out Cameron, it time to move on. Bit disappointed you don't get to build an army larger than the 60 points initially given. Seems an arbitrary limit and I'm not sore whether we just missed something. Playing the quick battles there are MUCH lager point armies that are fielded.

King's Bounty (10h) - Got a hankering to play through this one again. More or less done the first island again with little to no losses.

East india Company: privateer (8h) - Another cheap steam purchase. Seems very lightwweight for a Paradox game. Even the expansions offer a different game type on top of the core game rather than cleaning up the interface.

Team Fortress 2 (2h) - Tester for the megapatch.

Trackmania nations (2h) - Back at TrackMania for Competitive Computer Games at School.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thresh and Fatal1ty in Hall of Fame

Fatal1ty and Thresh have been inducted into the gaming's Hall of Fame amongst a assortment of American-centric gamers and games.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

lol season 1: interview

Lotta hype, but the league structures (especially draft mode) are shaping up to be awesome. I really hope it catches on for large scale leagues and tournaments (like the upcoming WCG demonstration event), but I also hope mini tournaments are able to be pumped out to whet the appetite. Simple ones like 8 team beginner tourneys with a new skin as a prize (or simply riot points). Getting very VERY interesting.

Monday, July 12, 2010

GameLog 153 & 154

Civ4: BtS (33h) - 1 LAN while LoL servers were down, but I've been keen on getting Fall from Heaven II mod working in the steam version. Started a couple of games, but I'm very pleased at the moment about a Grigori campaign ona tiny map with 6 other AIs and barbarian cities. The place feels more alive right from the start.

Uplink (22h) - Whole introversion pack for $5? done! Mainly wanted to play multiwinia, but uplink downloaded first and it's been great getting back into it. More or less setup at the moment apart from a beefier system to crack LANs before being booted off.

League of Legends (15h) - Game of choice for LANs and multiplayer over the net.

Grepolis (8h) - Helped in a merc war, but an analysis of the 'fantasy of Labour' by Naomi Clark in 'Another Castle' made me sit up and take notice on what the game meant to me. Seems like showing up is all the skill you need in it too if you're not attacking or being involved in an alliance.

Puzzle Kingdoms (7h) - More fiddling around with Sandy and Cameron

For the Glory (7h) - Tinkering more, but fallen by the wayside to ffh2.

EVE (5h) - Victim of a massive steam sale.

Trackmania nations (2h) - more Cameron making maps than actively racing.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix (1h) - Showed Ben how to win without the other player having a go. took a bit to remember the exact sequence, but managed to beat every ship he had without him getting a turn.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010 to put real names into forums

Blizzard announced earlier today that their RealID system will be even more integrated and will enforce people to use their real names (first and last name) when posting in their forums. Initially RealID was posited as a way to have all Blizzard related games combined under one account, but recently expanded to allow a mutual swapping of RealIDs to see your real friends playing on any game or any toons. Now the net has spread to make your real name your default public handle on the only outward-facing part of the game (so far).

Reminds you of Facebook-like failure of privacy? That's funny, they just announced facebook integration a couple of weeks ago.

Amidst the outcry, a moderator showed it was Ok to post his real name and got eaten alive by 10,000 posts in 6 hours detailing just how easy it was to get to his facebook page, his phone number, his address, a streetview of his house, what he paid for his house and what it's worth now, his recent felonies, etc.

For all the hullaballoo about stalkers, prospective future employers digging up their posts, etc, for me I'm more concerned about a degeneration in our ability to communicate...

Establishing an Online Identity

Ever since I set up my handle on IRC back in 1990, I have made a deliberate distinction between an online identity and my real life name. I have been fortunate that no-one's ever used my handle online, so I can maintain the same 'name' throughout many games and online communities. My handle IS my online identity, my real name is nothing online.

This isn't to do with anonymity, quite the opposite. My handle remains more or less unique while my real name would not be. There are a select few times when these 2 identities are interchangeable, and that is only while playing with my immediate family online while skyping. Even attending LANs I'd rather know people by their handle than by their real name.

Facebook's insistence of using your real name has been the start of the rot, and with Google profiles following suit, there's definitely a move to quash online personas. While there are certainly asshats happy to hide behind an anonymous nick to troll away, the vast majority of people I know have used the ability to have different handles to promote different aspects of their life. This more directly mimics what our intent is within our minds, and as such is a BETTER form of communication than just simply plonking your real name onto something. Think of the conversation style, the attitude and social context used while at work compared to at home, and at the golf course with mates, and online inside forums. Many may wish to lump all these together (as I do for all my online presences), but there remains no need to mandate it. You're destroying something that's important to the conversation, an idea of identity within context of the conversation.

Next thing you know they'll require people to have their own pictures as avatars. Some people do already by choice (hi trog), but forcing everyone to do it limits people's ability to emphasize their identity in a new space. Allowing people to express themselves more easily means that I don't have to read as much to get an impression of whether someone's worth following, or is simply a troll.

Identity is relative?

This news comes in only a couple of weeks after another article I read that identity is relative on the internet and that too many people place too much trust in the personas people create. Right, you may not know if BobTheBuilder is a guy or a girl, a troll or someone genuinely looking for answers, a person being truthful or someone intentionally being deceitful for the lulz, but to say that we should not trust people on the internet is once again ignoring conversation's greatest assets; context. We assume many, MANY things while having a conversation because it allows for a more efficient flow of ideas from one person to another. We don't always get it right, but we have also adapted many verbal and non-verbal queues to aid in conveying whether there has been too much or not enough information provided to set the right context of the conversation for optimal transmission of information.

In an online space you miss out on a number of those tools, but a consistent name and avatar aids in the bonding of those cueues to your impression of who the person is. I'd more likely start out at a higher level of conversation with someone called ProfessorX because even though their handle could have been chosen by anyone watching X-Men, the people who would choose ProfessorX over, say, Wolverine are unconsciously (or possibly consciously) placing more emphasis on scientific reasoning and thought. I would be surprised if they turned out to be a teenager who could not spell, but not shocked.

Trust is more or less the same as building assumptions. We trust that the sun will rise tommorow as it has a lot of evidence to point to that being the case, but it is still an assumption about a future event. People may be intentionally deceitful online, but our experience with people offline and (more importantly) in other online areas should give us an appropriate starting point for how much we can trust what they say will be correct. To say we should not trust at all would mean that every conversation would start with pure, verifiable facts, and be built from there. No conversation is like that, not even scientific ones. There is ALWAYS context to aid in the quicker transmission of information. Even in programming (a conversation between programmer and machine) there is context. Do the assumptions come back and bite us? Sure, but the benifits of quicker coding vastly outweigh the failures.

So back to Their problem is that trolls are ruining their forums, and they believe that they will remove all the trolls by forcing everyone to use their real names. By doing so you also toss out all that expressive context associated with a handle and avatar and replace it with all the baggage that comes with people's real names (like gender & race).

Everyone right now has the ability to call their avatar after their real name and project their actual identity into the forums, but I see none. It would then seem that this option would place EVERYONE at a disadvantage by commnicating under a non-preferred handle.

I'm currently not a member as my WoW account has lapsed, but these issues really are questioning whether Cataclysm and SC2 are worth the pain of putting my name out there. It's not just the forums that I'm worried about, but the pace at which it's spreading to everywhere else.

From the Facebook integration official post:
This new functionality will START OFF by allowing you to quickly import Facebook friends into your friends list, and ADDITIONAL FEATURES will be added over time.

DO .. NOT .. WANT!