Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On The Road Again

I've been called away on an unexpected vacation and will be away from the blog for another few days. Unfortunately, won't be going near Pittsburgh or Boston but I will be heading out shortly to watch the game(s) so that's about it from me for now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I Like To Barbecue

It did, in fact, not rain at all yesterday. Treacherous weather reports to the contrary. So we did wind up hauling out the grill at the last minute and cooking up a mesquite clouded storm after all. Went all out, in fact, with a more than tasty meal of bleu cheese turkey burgers with homemade mayonnaise, grill-roasted corn with herb flavored butter, and my take on my mother's famous potato salad. I'm not even going to talk about dessert because you couldn't handle it.

Kongai: Card Get (5/23/08)

I know, I know. I'm horribly late this week but for posterity's sake alone, I'm going to talk about the challenge I missed because of my vacation anyway. The challenge was to play the venerable Drone Wars. And the rward is the Necronomic Tomes.

The Necronomicon is a black-bordered item which all the black-borded characters can use. I've talked about it a bit before when running through Ambrosia's item choices but I'll go into a bit more detail again. It really is one of the best Necro items. Although that's like saying it's the best way to fall and break your arm in three places because those items are underwhelming to say the least.

When lugging around the textbooks it gives a character a 30% chance to proc a 10 hit point life drain. To me, the Necronomic Tomes are the Necros answer to the General's Insignia. A 10dmg, 30proc works out to +3 damage on average on all their attacks. Which pales in comparison to the General's especially when you take the restrictions that I haven't mentioned yet into consideration. But, in many ways, can be better for you because it also heals you for 3 health each time it procs, too. It's a 6 hit point swing, on average. Better yet, it's not happening on average, it's happening on the semi-regular proc of +10 for you and -10 for them. That's enough to turn lethal or to pull you out of the fire when it happens.

The drawbacks are that you can't count on it happening. While the General's Insignia is a constant, passive bonus that you're always going to get the Necronomic Tomes provide a random bonus that will or won't happen. Over the long haul, you'll average close to that +3/-3 but in specific instance you could be well above or below that mark and there's nothing you can do to affect it.

It's basic probabilty here. The more you use Tomes, the more likely it is to proc. As you pile up trial up trial the odds that it won't have procced at least once become vanishingly small. But, at the same time the chance that it's going to proc more than once in a row become increasingly small as well. Landing it once is a 30% chance, landing it twice is 9% chance and so on.

But those are over time. Just as when you have a coin to flip - you have a chance to get all heads in a row before you start but each time you flip you only have 50% odds to continue your streak. And a proc rate of 30% means that more likely than not, you're going to be disappointed because the Tomes won't go off.

But, hey, you rolls the dice, you takes your chances, and that's what you're signing up for with the Tomes. A more troubling restriction is that it only affects your Dark magic attacks. Which means two things. First, it doesn't work on skills that aren't Dark. So, if you're Constantine or Cain and you like relying on Pilebunker or Tackle then your item isn't going to be doing anything for you. Note, though, that this restriction is apparently being lifted in the next patch when the Necronomic Tomes will work with any attack, period.

Second, it only works on attacks. If you're Constantine again this means that when you Hypnotic there's not a 30% chance you'll steal some health there's absolutely no chance. Even on skills like Blood Burn or Bleeding Ritual that are debuffs and not necessarily "attacks" you won't gain any benefit from your item (I can't say I've tested this exclusively but I have run about 20 trialsof standing there and Bleeding off with my Thorn and that's enough to make the odds that I wouldn't see a proc on the order of 1x10^-12. I think. I've never actually taken a probability course. I just sort of work these things out myself.). And that won't be changing with the next patch.

At the moment, then, the Necro Tomes are best on characters that have a lot of attacks and a lot of those that are dark magic. You, under no circumstances, want to put it on Voss because she only has one dark attack and you're probably never going to use it. Constantine and Cain are likewise bad choices because their bars are a mix of dark and physical attacks. Attacks you will be using and there's a certain logic to adding a boost to your multi-hit Voidstreams instead of, say, packing the General's to buff up your single-hit physical attacks but I'd rather grab somethign that would help me all the time myself. So, really, it's best for Le Morte and Ambrosia who have very dark heavy bars. Putting it on Le Morte means he's going to be stealing even more health but you can put on a General's and get just as much if not even more of a boost to his single-hit steals. With Ambroisa, though, it helps out her single-hit drain almost as much as General's and adds that nice proc onto her Spectral. But the problem is it doesn't do anything for the Bleeding Ritual you'll probably wind up using more than anything.

With the new patch that changes everything, meaning it makes a lot more sense for Voss and Cain and the rest. So, yes, I like that change and I'd say pick it up and be happy with it because it's about as good as the Necro items get.

To obtain it, though, you'll need to play Drone Wars. A lot. Unlike last week's challenge which could only have been shorter if you'd only had to load up a game and fiddle with the options menu, this challenge is one that requires a bit of tiem invested.

Drone Wars is a game that's neen around for a while. And it's is a lot like StarCraft with everything that makes StarCraft so enjoyable removed. It's a resource managing, overhead RTS but that doesn't really translate well into Flash, if you ask me. The controls which are at the heart of making any RTS flow well are a bit of a muddle that makes it hard to look around the map and order your teams around - I was constantly having to cancel move that I didn't want to make while trying to select something else, for example. That could be just me and the fact that I'm used to having a right mouse button to click, though.

There's both a single player Tutorial mode that will take your through several scenarios teaching you how to use the game. And a Survival mode that will see you trying to fend off wave after wave of opponents. You'll have to play both if you want to get the card. That'll probably take you an hour or more. And that's if you don't have to restart at all because you messed up. To get the card you'll have to complete all the tutorials and then earn a set number of points in Survival. You get some for each technology you research and again for each wave you survive. So to get the card you only have to play through the first 11 or so waves, depending on how much you invest in research.

I didn't have much trouble with the Single-player campaign and, really, with the Survival waves either. I could have done much better if you'd been able to manage your resources instead of getting a lump sum at the end of each wave. That makes it hard because you have to balance repairs and upgrades and building new ships but I cruised past the card requirements and was well on my way towards the Hard Badge (Which requires you to jus play that Survival mode longer, basically.) until I glitched. One of the enemy ships I destroyed didn't quite fade away and remained on screen as a ghostly image. I couldn't attack it at all but it prevented the next stages from starting. Frustrating since I was on the next to last wave from getting enough points to get that badge but I had more than enough to quit out and pick up my new card.

If you're having trouble I'd advice you to invest in three things: Repair Ships, Hull Plating, and Cruisers, just like the challenge suggests. Repair Ships will, well, repair things and let you survive longer. It costs resources to repair but it's worth it. Hull Plating increases the hit points of all your ships (Or, at least, the ones built after you upgrade. You start off with several hundred gold or whatever the resource is so use a good chunk of that on the upgrades first.) and that makes them more likely to survive. Although it's more valuable to have them deal more damage and finish off their opponents faster so they don't take as
much damage in the first place the armor upgrades are cheaper than the weapon ones and the resources to build new ships are going to be few and far between; you want each precious ship you build to last as long as possible. Finally, you want Cruisers because not only do they cost exactly what you get for surviving each wave, they deal the most damage with the highest rate of fire. A group of massed Cruisers can finish off a Silo ship before it even gets a chance to launch a missle.

What I did was to build up, starting with a full plating upgrade and then building a single Fighter - the cheaper unit. Then I alternated between turns upgrading, turns building a repair ship and a control ship, and turns building new Cruisers until I had several strike groups I could use to interdict the enemy before it got too close to my base. It's not hard, it just takes a while.

And while the Necronomic Tomes aren't the best item ever, they're worth it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sports Blogging: These Are The Times That Try Fans' Remotes

The Wings and Pistons both play tonight. At the same time. Again. Happened on Saturday, it's happening again tonight, and it's going to happen on Wednesday, too. After that, fortunately, the NBA is on an every other day schedule while the Stanley Cup finals go Mon, Wed, Sat until they're finished so the two will diverge and I'll no longer have to decide which team I want to watch. Oh, sure, I can go back to the sports bar and catch one out of the corner of my eye while listening to the other that has its sound on or I could do the same in the privacy of my own home with picture in picture. But I can only watch one. Pay attention to it, follow it along, the anticipation or anxiety building and falling with the ebb of the play. Hockey and to a lesser extent basketball (At least, the parts I like to watch.) aren't like football or baseball, after all. The action isn't broken down into discrete units that make it perfectly suited to flicking away and coming back to a moment later. It's back and forth and up and down and one of the big reasons to watch is that you don't know what's going to happen.

So, I'm going to have to pick. And just as I did on Saturday, I'm going to have to watch the Wings and catch up on the Pistons later (I'm not alone, either. Keep in mind, too, that's just Versus. A lot of Detroit fans, including myself, watch the Candian broadcast from across the river. The CBC's only been doing hockey for 50 odd years now, they kinda know what they're doing and I can't resist listening to a play by play man who turns "Detroit" into a three syllable word.). The Wings are playing for the championship while the Pistons are only playing to get there. But an elimination game trumps that so I might be switching over to watch the Pistons try to avoid being brushed away in whatever it is they're called whatever replaced the Garden these days.

If, of course, they don't win tonight. That'd put them down 3-1 with a decisive Game 5 in Boston (You don't get much more decisive than determining whether you're going to keep playing, after all.). At this point, though, I have no idea what's going to happen. I'd like to think that the Pistons, having once again learned that you can't really sleepwalk your way through the opening minutes and expect to win will come out strong and start looking like the team that won Game 2. But they could just as easily start off with Billups running on court during the introductions, tripping over a loose floorboard, and collapsing, clutching at his ruined leg in pain. In short, if the Pistons come to play with the desperation they lacked on Saturday, they can get this series tied up again. If not, well, I don't think they can keep it going much longer.

As for the Wings, well, the Penguins have tinkered with the lineups they've breezed through the rest of the playoffs yet. Game 2 is a little early for it but it strikes me as nothing so much like that time in the Finals against the Devils when Detroit was outclassed and turned to the neutral zone trap in the desperation. It might not be as easy as it was in the opening game (Especially now that the Pens opening jitters will have subsided somewhat.) but I'd expect the Wings to continue to roll. The key the other night was the special teams. Detroit smothered Pittsburgh's power play while theirs was tilting the game towards them. And that all starts with face-offs and puck possesion where the Wings have a clear edge.

Word is Franzen's going to be back, too. Even if he's not in the line-up for this game (And looks like he will be), he'll be there on Wednesday and that's even worse news for Pittsburgh. Because they haven't seen the Wings at their best yet.

Still Not Tired

I found another version. Not actually the one I was looking for. I remember on Saturday that the CBC showed it from a different - better - angle but I've been unable to track that down. At least, not a version I can embed here. Ah well...

I don't think I've seen a more emblematic sports moment yet.

It's Memorial Day

I'm not even going to think about blogging today. Instead, I'm going to honor the brave men and women who've fought for my freedom by using it to eat huge chunks of barbecued meat.

Or I would, if it wasn't supposed to rain. We'll have to do our grilling indoors it seems.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sports Blogging: The Wide World of Detroit Sports

Certainly had the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat last night. The Wings got their win while the Pistons...well, the Pistons didn't.

I didn't manage to watch the Pistons game except for what happened after the hockey was over but from what I gather, I didn't miss much. Whatever the Pistons had working on Thursday night had vanished by Saturday. Pretty much every thing I wrote here happened but only in some bizarro alternate universe where that game played out exactly the opposite of the way things went here.

Chauncey seemed still bothered by his hamstring injury and even Prince had an off-night. But the biggest difference was the production the Celtics got off their bench. Even Cassel, who'd been killing Boston with earlier in the post-season was playing well.

The Pistons picked a really bad time to fall back into their bad habits, in other words, while Boston came out primed to steal a game. Teams that go up 2-1 are prohibitive favorites to prevail in a best of seven series. Although, teams that go up 2-0 are even more likely to win and look at how well that worked out for the Pistons last year.

I thought going in that this was going to be a seven game series. I thought that before the playoffs even started that the Pistons and Celtics were destined to slug things out over a long, grueling series (One that the Pistons would eventually lose. I'd changed my mind by the start of the series if only because Boston had not looked very impressive in getting there.) and I see no reason to change my mind now. It'd been much better had the Pistons won but that series isn't over yet.

On the other hand, the Wings-Penguins series just might be. I mean, it's recklessly early to say so but, damn, the Wings were playing on another level last night. The Pens, on the other hand, followed the example of the Marc-Andry Fleury, their goalie, and stumbled coming out of the gate.

I'm never going to get tired of watching that.

Look, it's like this, even in the first period with things going more or less back and forth, the Wings had that game. Even after yet another goal got yanked because of Holmstrom's reputation for being....well, Holmstrom (That whole first period was just a mess of bad penalties and awful flow when you get right down to it. But, seriously. What a bad call. Holmstrom may have wacked him with his stick in the pads about a half second before the puck got there. Or he may have managed to control his stick enough to stop short of slapping him in the pads. Since this is a professional athlete I could believe it. But either way, he wasn't interfering with his ability to stop the puck and much worse things go on around the crease all the time - mostly to Holmstrom who's getting mauled by a defensemen or two. But first it was his butt that couldn't be in the crease and, now I guess, it's his stick. ) Detroit was the team generating chances and carrying the play.

And after that? They held the vaunted Penguins offense to seven shots over the last two periods. Seven. Total. They shut the door even before Samuelsson scored.

And, yeah, plenty of games left ot play and everyone looks bad in a loss, Pittsburgh has plenty of time to turn it around, but they're going to have to if they want to get out of this series.

Also playing yesterday and lost in all the shuffle were the Tigers who put up 19 runs on the Twins. And, perhaps, convinced a few more hearts that it might be okay to hope again. Their loss this afternoon, though, would seem to indicate that's not exactly the case. At this point, it's not that the Tigers need to turn things around. The season is a quarter over and they're languishing in the basement of their division. They've been shut out the most of anyone in the majors and certainly more than last year. They're second to last in terms of strikeouts. The big name free agents they brought in over the summer have been busts. Whatever magic existed in the clubhouse in 2006 and even last year's gone. There's no magic solution any more. There's no pretending that they miss Granderson or some other piece of the puzzle. There's something wrong with this team and I think it's that they're not very good.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

NBA Blogging: Why I Think Detroit Will Win (Tonight)

Now that Detroit has done the seemingly impossible and put a big stake in the heart of Boston's home court invincibility, it's easy to be optimistic about this series. It's by no means over and could change around in a heartbeat, but Detroit has both the home court advantage and also the better chance to win.

The reason is that Boston's been a different team on the road than it has at home. Three of the next four games in the series take place at the Palace, too, so now all the pressure is on them to get off their slide and to climb their way out of their hole while Detroit just has to keep doing what they've been doing (Which is to say, keeping that vaunted switch firmly in the on position. I don't think we're going to see another game like Game 1 out of them soon although you never can tell. Really, though, I never expected them to win that one, Game 2 was the one they were likely to steal. And as bad as they looked in that opening match, the lesson I took away from it wasn't that Boston was the superior team. It was that the Pistons played an awful game and they came awfully close to winning it anyways. What I saw in that game was that the Pistons can play with the Celtics. And what we saw in Game 2 was that at their best the Celtics can barely play with the Pistons.).

I don't care if Ray Allen has another great game or if he's somehow managed to steal somebody's else's legs. Reports of his demise were greatly over-exaggerated. Just as reports of his revival are being over-played. He's been having a rough postseason to be sure but last game was his third 25 point game of the playoffs. He can play well and it still won't matter.

Because the difference between Boston at home and Boston on the road has been their bench. The way they played at Cleveland and at Atlanta was the way they played in Boston during Game 2. Which is to say they've been non-factors in those road games while they've generally been egged on by their home crowd to something more. And as we saw on Thursday, Boston's Big Three can't beat Detroit's Significant Six (Or Magnificent Seven. Where the heck's Maxiell gone this series? I know McDyess is playing lights out but Maxiell was chipping in nicely as a sub before...) by themselves. Detroit's starters and Boston's starters had nearly the same exact point totals in Game 2. The difference was Rodney Stuckey. If their playoff history is any guide that's only going to get worse for Boston on the road.

NHL Blogging: Why I Think the Wings Will Win

Obviously, I'm rooting for the Red Wings tonight. It's a shame that the game has to be on at the same time as the basketball game. You'd think that a league struggling for ratings and recognition like the NHL is would at least have tried to move it up to the afternoon but, well, there are two critical playoff home games going on at the same time in and around thecity tonight. And I'll be watching the Wings, too, because the opening of a finals beats out a Game 3 of the conference for me.

But while the Pens have been on an amazing roll this postseason I still think the Wings have a better than average chance to win this series. I'd feel a lot better about it if Franzen were in the line-up starting tonight instead of potentially later on, of course, because that would give the Wings two excellent lines to throw on the ice. They could really use that because Pittsberg goes four deep. Like the Red Wings of yore, they come at you in waves. And they play the kind of team defense that makes it easy to overlook.

But I remember the last time the Wings went into the finals against a team from Pennslyvannia led by a gifted center who was supposedly the next big thing, whose team had rampaged through the playoffs, and who looked to be ready to continue that streak against Detroit. That team was the Philadelphia Flyers. With Eric Lindros and his Legion of Doom, the general consensus was that they were going to run away with the series and the championship - turned out they got swept away. It's not quite as clear-cut now but I am prepared for an unending torrent of Crosby love to flow from the broadcasters.

Still, put aside that Detroit has its own pair of superstars in Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Forget that their defense corps with Lidstrom and Raffalski and Kronwall and more is among the best in the league and certainly the best at the kind of tape to tape passing that ignites the Wings' offense. And that power play which has been so deadly so far.

No, the Wings are going to win this because of one simple thing: face-offs.

The Red Wings have been outstanding on face-offs this year and the Penguins have been atrocious. That's only a difference of 10 percentage points but that's an awful lot when it comes to winning face-offs. Especially because winning those draws is where the Wings play starts. The puck-control style they're so good at, the way they skate and pass around and deny the other team the puck to begin with, all begins with those wins. Against Pittsberg, I expect them to keep winning more than their fair share. And for that to translate into chokingly few chances for the Penguins to put their stamp on the game.

The Wind of My Passage

I've finally breezed back into town. Of course, with both the Wings and Pistons playing tonight I'm just about to breeze back out to the sports bar. The Techno Fest is going on all weekend, too, so I might just be stopping by Hart Plazza sometime soon.

As for where I've been, well, I took a week away. Good to get away from the computer and the television and just spend some time with myself and my notepad every now and again. I'm pretty much going to be traveling all summer, though, so things might continue to be spotty around here.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Mule Syndrome

Headed off to watch the Wings game. Stay excellent to each other and all (Including the tumbleweeds). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to score any tickets this time around (The Arena might not be full but the seats are sure selling out) so, instead, I'm just going to find a good bar to watch things unfold in.

I expect the Wings are going to close it out today (Which of course means they're going down in flames). They're been amazing at home this post-season. Undefeated, outscoring the opposition 3 to 1, the list goes on and on as to why there's no real cause for concern here. But, still, I'd feel a lot better if Johan "Goal a Game" Franzen was playing. He's out against with concussion symptoms for the 5th game in a row now. The Wings are a good team without him but having him in the line-up makes their second line a force to be reckoned with. And that makes their top line of Datsyuk and Zetterberg (Not exactly players to scoff at, either.) and the match-up problems they create all that much more deadly. Really hope he can make it back soon, if not for a crucial Game 7 then at least for what's looking like a Cup series against the Penguins. They need him.

But, we'll find out. Or at least I might if I don't drink myself silly while trying to steady my nerves. The resulting drunken stupor will probably mean I'm done for the day. And I should mention that I'm going to be doing some traveling for the next few days so you probably won't hear from me for a little while. I'm going to bring the old laptop around and maybe get some stuff done but, then again, maybe I just won't. Either way, should be back by Thursday or Saturday at the latest. Until then.


When people ask me just what it is about the continuing saga of the mayor named Kwame, it's hard to put into words, exactly. Which is why it's helpful when hizzoner goes and does stuff like this. A big part of his artfully crafted legal defense against the perjury charges brought against him, after all, is to willfully stick his fingers in his ears, stick out his tongue, and go, "Nuh uh, that didn't happen." To argue, in so many words, that the text message that got this whole sorry mess rolling were private and should not have been released. So, now, he's changed the rulebook to say that's exactly the way it is - it doesn't apply retroactively but I'd imagine it does bolster his claims that he can use government property for his own purposes.

It's exactly that kind of arrogance that got Kilpatrick into his current troubles. And that's exactly what angers me so much.

Kongai: Updates Abound

Not only have we gotten what in an MMO would surely be describe as an overhaul to the game's engine earlier this week. We're also going to be getting an update to rebalance the characters soon. As always, the patch notes can be found here.

And there's already discussion about them going on at the semi-unofficial Sirlin boards here.

I'll let you read what I thought over there (I'm sure I'll throw it up around here, eventually.) but I will point out that I was pleasantly surprised to see that several of the concerns I had with cards addressed. And even several of the ideas I had to fix them picked up. Maybe not in the same exact way as I went about it with my revamped bars here but close enough. That's also been updated although I'm waiting until the next patch goes live for the latest version of The List.

Kongai: Helene (v1.5)

Ah, Helene. I'll always have a special place in my heart for the long haired, leggy blond with a fist full of steel to die from. She is, after all, my first Amazon card. Since I play random I've managed to log some significant time with all of them, really, but Helene's always brought a smile to my face whenever I pull her out of the deck.

The Sword Misstress is a close-only character. She can only deal damage when the range is set to close. And there are several other characters like that, too. There's her fellow Amazon Ashi Scary, the imposing Ninja Onimaru and, I'd argue, even with the new Bleeding, Ambrosia is along the same lines, too (We'll put the Marquis over to the side in a special box labled "Lame Toys" for now, okay?). And which close-only is the best is, like which wine is the best, a matter of personal preference and fierce debate. I'm not going to upset any Adherents of the Axe Battler or Partisans of the Samurai Way by coming down on any side of those fences because I don't like Helene because she's good - which she is, make no mistake. I like her because she's the most interesting design.

Take a look:

Helene, the Swordstress
Amazon (Green)
Helene cannot be stunned.

  • Shield Bash. 50en, 8spd, 20dmg (Phys). 95hit, 100proc. If it hits first, it cancels the enemy's attack this turn. Close.
  • Frenzied Strikes . 40en, 8spd, 7x6(42)dmg (Dark). 90hit, 0proc. Slashes furiously, releasing her inner demons. Close.
  • Sword Slash. 30en, 5spd, 30dmg (Phys). 90hit, 30proc. Has a chance to restore 30 of your energy from increased adrenaline. Close.
  • Enchant Blade. 0en, 3spd. 100proc. All blade attacks are light magic and deal +3 damage for 2 turns. Both.

I should note that there's a patch winging its way into the game that will bump us from v1.5 to v1.6. Helene, so far, appears to be untouched, though, so don't worry about it.

But, if you can't see why that card is so appealing let me break it down for you. Helene can toggle.

By that I mean that she can flip a switch with her Enchant Blade skill and transform her skills. She gains damage, yes, but more importantly while that buff is active their damage type changes. Enchant sets them to Light (Although I should point out that they're still considered their original type, at least in some parts of the game. Leafy Trap will still be triggered by an Enchanted Sword Slash. Popo still has a chance to dodge. And so on. The only thing that seems to change is what resistance is applied when the damage is calculated. But, well, that's a big thing to change.) and since Helene already has both Physical and Dark that lets her deal all three of the types available. She can switch around her damage to get around her opponent's defenses.

I love that since it adds strategic depth to the game. When you play Helene you're always trying to figure out if it's to your advantage to press the attack or to spend a round buffing up to attack better. If your opponent has 4 dark resist and 3 light, is it worth it? Should you shift your damage over? What does that do to your output? What about if they have 2/3/3? Is it worth giving up 20-odd damage this turn to deal 30+ the next? If you don't think that's fun then, well, Kongai might not be the game for you.

What's even better is that not only does Helene have this nice little resistance defeating trick she backs it up with an impressive array of attacks. So, not only can she get around her foe's resist she can get in there and do a lot of damage once she does.

Her first attack, Shield Bash is probably the most overlooked. It's expensive at 50en and it's also not a "blade" attack. That means, unfortunately, it's not affected by Enchant. You only get to toggle with Slash and Strikes as if that wasn't already enough. What Bash is, though, is a lightning fast interrupt. At 8 speed you're beating most attacks. At 95hit, 100proc, you're blowing up anything that's slower than you. And at 20 damage you're putting a dent in your opponent, too. At least enough that you can finish them off when you follow with Frenzied or a sword thrust. Look at it this way, you have enough from a full tank to do two Bashes followed by a Frenzied. That kills most cards while leaving you unscathed. It also leaves you out of energy but, hey, those are the breaks. But even if you don't like the damage, what Bash does is take away a lot of the things that worry you. It's what turns Helene from being ToD-bait against Juju into stomping all over him, for example. Or keeps Constantine from Pilbunking her down. On and on down the list it creates good match-ups for her. Just don't try it against Ashi, although it's tempting - she's immune to interrupts.

Next, we have the big one. Frenzied Strikes. By itself it's a 7x6 dark damage bomb. That's a raw 42 damage for 40 energy which is already good because, being Dark, it lets Helene skip around the physical defenses that hinders her other skills. And, at 8 speed it's a high priority attack that's likely going to land before their blows do. But what really sets Frenzied off is Enchanting. Enchanting not only turns it over to light damage but adds +3 damage. That doesn't mean you get (7x6)+3 or 45 damage. No, it means you get (7+3)x6 damage. That's 60. And that's one of the hardest hitting skills in the game that, at the low, low cost of 40en you can swing a few times with. It's not quite as good as it sounds because of the range-changing we'll get into in a little bit but also because although being a multi-hit means it gains more benefit from those +dmg numbers, it also means it gets hit harder by resistance. Each point of resist that your opponent has takes away 6 points of damage and that can add up quickly, especially if they've got both decent light and dark resist that you can't get around (Really, only a few cards - like Higashi, Ubuntu and the aforementioned Juju do, though. And Frenzied does enough that you don't really care.).

Her last attack is Sword Slash. This is a hefty single hit attack that deals 30 physical damage. As a single hit it plows through resistance much better than Frenzied. It costs only 30en, too, but pays for it by being only 5 speed. That's slow enough that you can get it reflected back on you or beaten by other skills. But one of the big things to consider when playing Helene is that your opponent can change ranges. By spending 50 energy at the start of a turn they can step back to Far and out of reach of all those weapons you bring to bear. Helene, then, has to burn a lot of energy herself to get back (Or stay. Dueling range changes are weaksauce, kids. Get ahead of the game, don't let your opponent push you around) into the range where she can be effective. A 40en skill like Frenzied isn't as sustainable, then, as a 30en skill like Slash.

Say you have a bar full of energy and are sitting at distance. Stepping close cost you 50, then a Frenzied will cost you another 40 for a grand total of 90 spent in one round. You'll get back 20 from natural regeneration so you'll have 30 at the start of the next round. But your opponent, if they have any brains, will have made sure to have at least 50 to shove you away again. You'll rest, but that'll leave you with only 70 - in other words, enough that you'll have to rest again before you step back into range because you can't attack with only 20 energy. With Slash, on the other hand, you'll spend only 80 energy that first round, leaving you with 40 by its end. If you get pushed away you can rest for...that's right, another 80. Allowing you to step back in and swing again. The energy curve works much better if your opponent is trying to bleed away your energy.

It even works better if they're just going to stand there and let you pound on them. You can swing 10 times with Slash as opposed to only 5 for Frenzied (The important part about a skill's cost isn't how much it takes you to cast it, after all, but how much it takes away from your ability to cast further skills down the line. It's the net loss to your energy - the skills cost minus the 20 you'll get at the end of the round - to which that you really need to pay attention. Slash is only -10 while Frenzied is double that at -20.). You do less damage per swing but you'll deal more damage in the long run.

On top of that, Slash can also restore your energy for you. It has a 30% chance to proc 30 energy into your bar every time it connects. On average, then, you gain 9 energy per use and can sustain swinging away with it even longer. Realistically, it doesn't really matter since if you're going to be able to land 10~15 Sword Slashes your opponent is already in trouble. But that energy engine helps, too, since it gives you that energy not just to swing again with Slash but - with regeneration - the 50 energy you'll get is enough to use any of your other skills, too.

Helene's final skill is the Enchant Blade that I've been talking up before. I've mentioned how it increases your damage and lets your skip over resistances but another important point to consider is that it lets you do something when you're pushed to Far range. Enchant works at both ranges so while you're cooling your heels waiting to get your chance to step in and attack, it costs nothing to cast so you can buff yourself up and still gain energy (Not as much as you would if you rested, of course. But instead of seeing 0 energy when you click on Enchant, you should mentally substitute +20.). And that means, unlike Ashi, you actually have something to do rather than wait for your opponent to slam you.

And they will slam you. Although, personally, I think the best thing to do when you've got Helene away from you is to make sure she burns enough energy that she can't Frenzy when she gets back, plenty of people will take the opportunity to hit you with an attack as well. But, thankfully, Helene has 85 health to absorb those blows. That's the highest hit point total in the game so Helene's better able to shrug off damage. She shares that total with Onimaru and, like him, she has pretty strong resistance as well. 8/1/1 which gives her a little bit more protection against light and dark while still being stout against physical damage. She's a well-protected character, then, who can deal a lot of damage. But because she can only attack up close, she really needs it.

Her innate bears mentioning, too. Helene is immune to stuns. They just won't apply when they're used against her. So, if Rumiko tries to Eviscerate her she'll take off a bit of health and then stand there blinking because Helene's not going to notice it as she rages all over her face.

I'm not sure, though, whether her immunity extends to the Paralysis that Higashi and Yoshiro lay down with their slaps. If it does, well, it's good for Helene but a bit puzzling since there'd be no functional difference between Stuns and Paralysis. If it doesn't, well, it really should. Breif testing seems to indicate that it does, in fact, affect Paralysis as well as Stun. Althoug my faulty memory seems to indicate that it didn't used to, so maybe this was changed with the latest update. A minor point in an otherwise great card, though.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Kongai: Helene Get (5/16/08)

The current challenge is a quick one. And the card you'll get is a good one. So, it's probably the least time you'll ever spend in order to get something that makes you happy.

Seriously, Music Bounce cranks up in difficulty right around the level 12 that the challenge mentions but levels 1 through 10 are a cakewalk. Took me like five minutes when I woke up this morning and saw that it was up.

Music Bounce is a wonderfully simple little idea, beautifully executed. The aesthetics are, perhaps, a little on the bland side but that doesn't bother me - I'm a spreadsheet player, I don't care what it looks like as long as the gameplay is compelling. And, in Music Bounce, the gameplay is very nicely done.

Basically, it's a puzzle game. You have a row of gates and clicking on them releases a ball to fly around the screen and take out any blocks that it strikes along the way. Once you clear all the blocks, you move on to the next level.

Ah, but it's not quite that easy because, as the name suggests, it's a game about tempo. The blocks you hit will regrow over time. And the gates you open are timed from 1 to 8 - every time the game cycles over a new ball is released to travel along its set path. When you hit a block, you get a musical tone so when you complete each level it's like putting together a little song.

The difficulty comes in figuring out which gates to open. And when because you'll need, sometimes, to clear away certain blocks before you can hit others. The more advanced levels take a certain sense of rythmn and timing that I, well, lack and lack badly. But the first few levels are an easy introduction to the game that shouldn't take long at all to figure out.

Your reward will be Helene. The sword swinging Amazon who finally gives me a green card to go along with my collection of green items. Along with the Scroll I picked up the other day I now have at least one item for every group. And with the impressive Helene added to my list I now have 8 out of the 20 characters to work with and at least one representative from each of those four groups. I guess it's time to start thinking about putting some decks together.

I'll try and put up a more thorough analysis of Helene - who's a card who definitely deserves it - in the fullness of time. But, for now, let me just say that there are several close-only character. Cards like Oni or Ashi who need to be up close and personal but, when they are, can take people apart. They're nice for beginners since they're relatively straight forward. But they're also nice for more experienced players because using them well against people who know how to play the range game takes a skillful hand. And of those close-onlies, Helene is by far my favorite. She might not be the hands-down best any more but she's a solid card that you'll be glad to have.

Kongai: Patch v1.5 (And v1.4 updated) (4/16/08)

Yes, I'm well behind the times here. But since I was, perhaps, unduly harsh on the last patch, I just wanted to say that Patch v1.5 was a good one.

And not just because the developers feel into my plagiarism trap. That's right by taking my ideas for Helene and incorporating them into the game soon I'll be the one owning Kongai and...wait, what's that?

Ahem, my minions inform me that the law doesn't work that way. Let's just move on, shall we?

Here's the patch notes:

Helene, Frenzied Strikes no longer have a chance for energy regen
Helene, Frenzied Strikes damage up 6x6 -> 7x6
Helene, Sword Slash renamed to Adrenaline Thrust
Helene, Adrenaline Thrust energy reduced by 5, now does 30 damage for 30 energy.
Helen, Adrenaline Thrust no longer has the 10% bleeding proc, instead has a 30% chance to trigger a 30 point energy gain.

Rumiko, Eviscerate energy down 70->65. This allows her to do Eviscerate, Ninja-Port, Shuriken Barrage in a row without needing Scroll of Inner Focus.

Ambrosia, Bleeding Ritual power removed. Now it's a speed 2 attack, initial damage 0, triggers a bleed that does 8 damage each turn for 3 turns. 30 energy.
Ambrosia, Spectral Choke hit percent down 100% -> 95%

Higashi, innate ability makes his intercept do 60 rather than 70 damage.

So, Helene is rounding into form, Rumicans got more sane, Ambrosia got amazingly better, and I'm still scratching my head about the nerf to Higashi. It doesn't matter in the end since it's still influentially lethal but I guess I don't see the point. Makes me realize what it must feel like to read one of my posts. And I don't like that.

Anyhow, the big change is to Ambrosia who has gotten much, much deadlier now and is, I think, approaching my ideal of being the character who'll rip up cards like Onimaru and throw them back in their owner's face in a cloud of twisted scraps drifting lazily through the air. And since I thought she was close already, it confirms my suspicion that all she needed was a little bit of range to maul those close-only bangers and cause problems for everyone else.

I think, now, she has the same problem as Ashi - too many good options some of which are bound to be better/worse than the rest. I wouldn't mind making at least one of her other attacks cheaper and even tossing out one to add in another buff/debuff of some sort. But, I think that's something to ponder for down the road. Right now, I think she's sold and I want to see how the change plays out for a while longer.

As for Helene, I like the changes, obviously. I agree that she felt a bit weak at 7x6 and, as I think I've mentioned (Or maybe not, it's getting hard to keep track of what I've said and what I've meant to have said already.) hitting her multiplier is the way to go. It's really the high multiple that makes Enchant/Frenzied so scary, both are fine by themselves in isolation. 36 was too weak, 42 feels about right. But I really want an Enchanted Frenzy to top out in the mid 50s range rather than the low 60s, though. A hit of 60 kills cards like Popo and Amaya right out and is an automatic killshot against everyone else on a crit and considering Helene has access to the Sharpening Stone, that's a problem. Really strong, in so many words, and while you have the opportunity cost of having to push up to range to pull it off, I don't think Helene should be a character who can one-hit. Damage of around 55, on the other hand, lets characters like Onimaru and another Helene survive - as they should if they're going to have so much health and means low-health characters have a better chance, too, while still finishing off weakened characters on a normal hit. So, what about 8x5 for Frenzied? That's 11x5 Enchanted and a still strong 40 normally.

My other concern is that the energy proc on Slash (Which, yeah, don't change the name. Please.) is too low. My idea for that is that having the energy engine on the alternative to Frenzy should create two viable prongs in Helene's attack routines. A situation where she can go for the big damage of Frenzied which is easily countered by resistances (And then you can get into toggling around and having fun tactically with that) or she can go for the weaker attack with a chance to be more reliable. Basically, I think the energy you get from Slash needs to be enough that, when it happens, you can have enough energy to push into close range again and swing with Slash again, even if you've pushed the round before. Going Frenzied means you're playing the keep-away game while Slash is what will let you keep yourself in someone's face hammering away. It needs to be 40 to do that (Say you start at far with full energy. That's 50 to change ranges, plus 30 to Slash. Add the natural 20 to the 30 you gain now, and that leaves you with 70. Not enough to do anything with if you change ranges. At 80 you can push yourself to close regardless of what your opponent is doing and still have enough energy left to attack with.) and it might even need a higher proc rate. It also means you can use it to switch tracks, too, and switch over to a Frenzied bomb as a finisher if your opponent can't shift. I'll have to play around with it at 30 and see if it works well enough but that's the point I wanted to get it at.

As for Rumicans, I'd rather have seen the reduction gone to her Ninja Port since it's more flexible than Eviscerate - having it cheaper means you can use it in more situations than just after you've stunned or missed stunning someone but, then, that might be exactly why it should be kept where it is. But, yeah, making her combo work without a Scroll goes a long way towards making her a better card.

All in all, though, good patch. And on to the next one...

Before that, though, the v1.4 patch I spoke about earlier went through a few changes before going live:

Marquis, Vampiric Touch energy cost reduced 70->60
Marquis, Life Drain energy cost reduced 50->45
Marquis, Life Drain speed reduced 6->3 (note: this is a buff)
Marquis, Teleport damage increased 0->10

Voss, Double Slash damage reduced from 18x2 to 16x2

Ambrosia, Vamp Kiss speed reduced 5->3 (note: this is a buff)

Ashi, hit points reduced from 85->80
Ashi, Bleeding Slice damage reduced 40->36

Helene, Frenzied Strikes changed from dark magic-type to physical-type. (slash out)
Helene, Frenzied Strikes damage down 6x7 -> 6x6.
Helene, Frenzied Strikes now has a chance to return 30 energy rather than 50.

Zina, Tiger Frenzy energy cost decreased 35->30
Zina, physical armor up from 0->1
Zina, innate ability that triggers on killing blow now powers up 15% for 3 turns rather than 10% for 2 turns.

Yoshiro, innate ability's now also gives a 10% chance to avoid intercepts (in addition to physical attacks).
Yoshiro, Open Palm damage increased 10->18
Yoshiro, Open palm energy increased 10>15
Yoshiro, Chi Blast energy cost reduced 70->65

Changes from the initial version are set in bold.

Helene's Frenzied rightly keeps its dark damage type - that means Helene has a way of causing every kind of damage in the game and can toggle around resistances. Losing that would have lost a big part of what makes her special.

Instead, Frenzied lost its special proc of dumping energy back into your bar. It shuffles over to Slash. But Frenzied was already an impressive skill. Dealt a lot of damage. Dealt damage on Helene's off-type. Worked wonderfully with Enchant. That energy proc was just gravy, it really didn't matter but to Slash, it really does. A lot more than a weak chance to cause bleeding, anyway. So, I like it, and not just because I was the one who suggested it.

Yoshi's Palm creeped up but not to the original 20en. At 15 you can still use it to attack while getting energy back at the end of the turn even without a Scroll. It's pretty fair for 18 damage, too. I'm less keen about the new innate. Yoshiro now has a weak version of Popo's innate and a weak version of Rumi's. It was unimpressive before and it's not really setting the world on fire now. And it's the same old problem: Yoshi's innate is what he has to rely on in order to survive long enough for his fast but wimpy attacks to tell but it's too randomly inconsistant for that. For every time that it saves you there's going to be plenty when it doesn't. The result is a very swingy ability on a card that doesn't really benefit from it - Yoshi's all about the slow and steady.

I'm even less fond of Zina's innate. An extra turn and a bit more damage (woo! Eye does 2 more damage now!) don't really make it any better. At this point, I think, the mega-buff on death idea really just needs to be scrapped and reworked into something better. She gets a bit more armor, too, which she sorely needed since she had - and still has - the weakest protection in the game.

Kongai: Squaresville

Kongai: Squaresville

A few days of grinding out victory after victory and I've incremented my level. For the record, at 105 wins you earn L7.

And you know what that means. Celebratory video time:

L8 is 140 wins. L6 is somewhere around 80. I'm sure *someone* will track them all down before long.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

NBA Blogging: No Such Thing As Magic

Unlike the Wings, the Pistons managed to close out their series strong. Putting away the Magic in only five games. They looked to have stumbled a bit in the first round against Philly but they're now the first team past the post and onto the next round. Everyone else is mired in even series and tough match-ups. Boston and Cleveland will go at least another two games. And that's time the Pistons can use to get Billups back rested and healthy. Which he should be.

It's hard to overstate just how huge that is. Just as it's hard to overstate just what an awesome win it was in Game 5. With Chauncy out, Stuckey was amazing. No turnovers in a tense playoff game for a rookie point guard? Now that's an accomplishment.

And I know Rip got most of the attention from the networks after the game for his outstanding showing on offense but you know what was all over the Detroit papers? Tayshaun.

That block of his at the end of the game was what sealed the deal. One moment it looked like Magic were about to drive in for the go-ahead basket and put the Pistons in last second shot territory and then Prince just rises up and the ball smacks off the backboard and caroms off the rim. A lot of what Prince does doesn't show up on the stat sheets but it certainly shows up in the hearts and minds of the Detroit fans - we love that kind of hardworking, gritty, grindy stuff from our players here.

After all, we all remember that other time Tayshaun had a crucial block in crunch time:

The Pistons went on to win the title that year, you know...

NHL Blogging: Flight Delayed

Grumble mumble...

Stupid Stars.

It's like they weren't content to roll over and play dead while the Wings coasted into the Finals. It's like they actually wanted to win.

Right, the Wings lost and the world isn't ending so it's time to stop whining as if it is. I mean, I halfway expected it since everyone had already written Dallas off and the Wings had been on a great streak only leaving them ripe for it ending. At home, in front of their fans, they weren't going to get swept away easily. And Turco picked a good time to regain his form and put on a goaltending duel with Osgood.

But you have to think that game would have turned out differently if that goal hadn't been called back because of Demolition Butt Syndrome. Seriously, I half expected Hasek to come leaping over the boards and grab the nearest official and scream at them - in heavily accented Eastern European English, of course - that if that wasn't a goal then what the hell was Brett "The Arse" Hull doing when the Stars stole the Cup from Buffalo? And then to rampage up into the boxes and get into an old-fashioned brawl complete with security trying to breka it up with Hull (Who's the Stars co-GM).

But, as I've said before, it was a bad break but it didn't mean the game was over. The Wings might have had a much better chance to win if they'd grabbed that early lead instead of Dallas getting it first (Not just first in the game, mind, but pretty much their first lead in the entire series) but we'll never know. They could have played through it and they certainly had enough chances to win it even after what was, admittedly, a blown call. And they didn't. You can't blame that loss on the refs. You can't even blame it on a make-up call from earlier in the series and the Dallas whining afterwards because, let's face it, Holmstrom plays with fire all the time in front of that crease and he's gotten lucky more than once.

But, all is not lost. The Wings are still up 3-1. And veyr, very few teams have come back from that hole. They still have 3 games in which to close it out. And two of them at the JLA where Turco turns from a brick wall into a thatched roof for some odd reason. The Wings are still the better team with the better player and have the better chance to close this series out.

I'll panic if they loose the next game, though.

Kongai: Massive New Update

Amazing update hit yesterday. I was, obviously, a bit too wrapped up in all the excitement but you can get a glimpse of it here.

That's right, the cards in your profile are now arranged in a nice little grid instead of one long stack. I can't tell you how long I've spent searching up and down - even with my limited selection - trying to find the card I was looking for. Now, it's all there in one quick, easy to read format. So awesome.

Oh, yeah, there were a few other things they improved.

What's new:
  • Levels
  • A 2% chance to win a card with every win
  • Improved animations
  • Music & sound effects (plus a mute button)
  • Lots of small interface improvements (instantly updating health and energy bars, same speed attack animations play at the same time, cards added to a deck in the deck builder are now flippable, attack type icons on attack buttons, etc.)
  • Interface bug fixes
  • Quick tips in-game for new players

That isn't even everything. There are just a bunch of small, subtle, but much-appreciated changes to the game. For example, rolling over your opponent's skills in the opponent tab now lets you see their hit and proc rates. Something that used to be hidden when they were out on the field before. Little touches that aren't flashy but go a long way towards making the game easier to play. Even the new pop-up help windows are surprisingly wll done and informative (I mean, they're annoying to me since I already know all of this stuff but I can see how they'd be really helpful to someone loading up the Practice mode for the first time. Oh, that's right, what was Single Player mode is now called Practice so maybe all those people expecting something more than practice dummies to beat up on can shut up.).

It's also hard to understate just how much better the game plays now that attacks with the same speed happen simultaneously. Or, for that matter, having health and energy values update on attack instead of at the end of each turn. It feels faster. There's not as much lag time, not as much waiting for attacks to happen. The game's tempo is racing now, at breakneck speed.

Not all is perfect, though. The new update seems to have ushered in several new bugs. I'd swear for a little while there that the RNG had slipped a cog somewhere - I saw Quickening Powder proc about as many times last night as I have for the entire time I've been playing so far (In other words, way outside the bounds of normal probability. Once or twice, sure. But three times in a row? Then again? And again? And even more besides? That's well past even million to one against and into freaky territory.). And, well, I've been tracking procs and crits and they were all well above their normal and expected values the other night, as well. Could be nothing more than a fluke because, you know, a few lucky rolls is the kind of thing that plays with your head and into the natural human tendency to look for patterns but, well, it's not like the code hasn't been savaged in this game before.

And while attacks animate simultaneously, debuffs don't. So if you've got a huge pile of DOT you have to sit and wait as each ticks off individually. They really need to compress them all into one big plus/minus number (The way it works in, say, Sonny.) because it gets old fast. The Game Log should tell you where all the sources that damage is coming from but the graphics don't have to show it.

Also, I could care less about the music since I'm fairly certain I can supply my own soundtrack and it's going to sound better - for me - than anything the game can provide. But while it's a nice little touch it's also a bit maddening that there's no mute button on the front screen - you have to get into a match and then realize there's an option tucked away in a pulldown menu before you can silence the racket - and that the game doesn't seem to remember your preference for silence when you load in again.

What's nice, though, is that along with this update a new wave of testers were let into the beta. What last week was an empty game where it was nearly impossible to find a match was turned, overnight, into a bustling place. Matches are happening all over the place, being formed and filling up fast enough to test your refleces if you're trying to click and join (This afternoon, there were enough matches going on for the list to stretch to 3 whole pages. I'd never even seen it get past halfway on the first before.) Conversation abounds in the chat rooms (And, yes, that's plural, too. There's so many people around that they won't all fit in one room and the Kongai chat's been split into multiple instances.). And the comment thread is full of...well, the less said about the kind of awfully ill-formed sugestions from people who've only been playing for a few minutes that work their way into the comment thread and eat away at the precious few bits of sanity and soul I have left the better.

There are people playing again. Not having to wait minute upon agonizing minute to get a match in alone makes the game so much better.

And don't think I haven't been doing my level best to get in on the action and train up some of those newbs. Because there's now actually a point to your win loss record.

Well, your wins at least. Because the more wins you have, the higher your level (Losses don't seem to enter into the picture. It's purely an additive measure of your success. So even if you have a 10% winning percentage if you get in enough games you'll eventually have a high enough level. Skill rankings - which are tantalizingly displayed next to your level on the welcoming screen - aren't in yet but will presumably take them into account somehow.). And, of course, the bigger your e-peen. Which was true enough before since you could compare your wins to someone else. But now the game tells you how many wins you have to go until the next level. It's the addictive power of the ding. Driving you to keep playing, to pump up that record. "Just one more game. Just one more game. Oh heck, I've got time for just one more." Until you look up and realize it's 2AM in the morning and you've got to get up for work in four hours.

At the same time, a new method of unlocking cards is also tied to how many games you play. You now have a 2% chance every time you win to unlock a card at random. Details are a bit hazy at this point and rumors are flying everywhere but, as I understand it, that chance is flat. There's no difference in your odds of getting a new card for beating one of the vaunted L12s (I'm, for the record, at the time of this writing an L6 with only a handful more games to win until I level up. It's somewhere around 100 wins, overall. And that's not bad, I think, since I have a pretty good win percentage even if you don't throw out those early losses and penalties from forfeits - you lose 2 games and your opponent wins 2 if you forfeit for some inexplicable reason.) or for beating up on someone who's playing their first game. 1 in 50 chance of getting a card either way. And the card you get is randomly selected. Word is that it's chosen from all the cards you haven't unlocked yet (And if you have everything from the cards you don't already have duplicated.).

When you get one, there's a little message at the end of the match telling you that you've won a card along with its picture. Which I can personally attest to since I've already managed to earn the Scroll this way.

Since some people seem to care about it, the cards from the victory slot machine are stamped with an embossed "K" in place of the "R1" for the first re-release that we're in the middle of now. Nothing like the original cards, then, which have gotten a facelift to look, well, awesome. They're exactly the same as the R1 cards in terms of what they do but the graphics of their borders and background have been touched up to make them really appealing. You can't see them in profiles yet but I can only describe them as looking like they're made out of velvet now. Doesn't matter when you're playing but it is a nice little touch of cosmetic appeal.

Now, you might think since I finally got that purple item to go with all my Ninjas (Only missing Yoshi who's not exactly keeping me up nights wondering where he's been all my life.) that I might be more than happy with the new system. You'd be wrong, in case I hadn't made already made my feelings plain here. I think I'll keep my powder dry for now but the basic answer is that it's too random. Variable ratio schedules of reward not what the game more of, after all. And for every Scroll I unlock, I'm just as likely to get a Jade Figurine.

All in all, although the random card unlocks are going to have me gnashing my teeth and rending my garments for weeks to come a great update that's brought back excitement, brought back players, and brought back the game.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yet More Tragic

Yeah, that massive earthquake in China. Seems like the world is out to get us sometimes, doesn't it?

NHL Blogging: Winging Onwards

I forgot to mention what happened while I was at the Joe for Game 2. When it was announced that Franzen was out of the line-up with signs of a concussion shortly before the game my stomach filled with that particularly aching pang of something about to go dreadfully wrong. But, still, the Wings pulled out the win in one of the most boring nail-biters I've ever seen - it was tense but it never seemed like the game was in real doubt.

Franzen remains out. He might play game 4 but, the way things are going, I doubt it. The shame is that if the Mule wants to set the playoff goal record now (He's only 7 back) he'll have to hope the Wings don't sweep.

A sweep seems likely - although not assured - after a devastating win in game 3. Datsyuk (Who got the Wings third hat trick this postseason) and Zetterberg were all over the place and were definitely the best players on the ice. Which was good since without Franzen and with the Stars presumably fired up by the Osgood Rebeiro thing and pumped up on their home ice, it seemed like the Stars' game to win.

About that, Osgood completely wacked him in the face. There's no denying it here - it was a dirty, cheap shot that shouldn't have been taken especially in the dying moments of game the Wings were about to win. But turning around and chopping at him with a stick in retaliation is completely unacceptable, too. They both should have been fined and maybe even suspended (Although at this point in the postseason you pretty much have to murder someone on the ice for that to happen). But the key, though, is that is show how rattled the Stars are. They're the ones who've been blowing chances and taking dumb penalties while the Wings have been skating circles around them.

This series is over. It might take a few more games to play out - the Stars don't want to go out in a sweep, after all - but the Wings are just too good. So, it looks like they're headed back to the Finals.

Maybe that will put some more butts in the seats because, while it looked to my eyes to be much better on Saturday than it was on Thursday, the arena was still shockingly sprinkled with missing patrons.

NBA Blogging: Chauncy! Stay Away!

In the second round of the playoffs, the home team has won 15 out of 16 games. The lone exception? The Pistons. Game 4 in Orlando. They took what I thought was surely a game they were going to lose with Chauncy out. Goes to show, I guess, just what a veteran, experienced team they are but, really, the Magic played that game away.

The Pistons could very easily be in a tied series now and while the team that goes up 2-0 first tends to win overwhelmingly (It's something like 83% of the time, I think, that the team that gets that early lead moves on.) I'm glad they're not. Winning 1 out of 3 is a lot easier than winning a best 2 out of 3. And, now, with the Celts and Cavs tied up, the Pistons have a chance to close out the series tonight, at home. And then another. And another.

If they can win this game then there should be plenty of time for Billups to rest and recover. But even if they don't, there should still be plenty of time. It's no longer crucial, in other words, to get him back in the line-up as soon as possible. Instead, the Pistons can take their time and let him get back to full health.

Which is where they need him, after all. They might be able to get past the Magic without Chauncy but they won't go much further. Without a healthy Billups I don't care how banged up the Celtics or Cavaliers are, the Pistons odds of beating them without Billups are all too low. Better to keep him out than to risk putting him in at anything less than 100%.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I Need A Vacation From My Vacation

It's almost my birthday and I'm having an existential crisis. You know, looking around my life and wondering where it all went...well, I wouldn't exactly say wrong since even the tragedies have led to the choices which have become the triumphs. But, you know, I realized over my morning cereal today that it's been nearly a year since my cat died and almost six months since my dog passed and I still miss them. And how not very far off from where I was when those sad days attempted to jar me from my rut. That sort of thing.

In short, I'm rather out of it and I'd expect me to become really lazy about things in very short order some time soon. Not saying I'm going to stop posting while I hunt down a remote woodland hut to meditate in while wearing a tinfoil helmet or anything but I have been known.

Today, though, I managed to put aside my imaginary expansion set that's been so captivating me lately in order to hammer out another update for the List. Which is now getting capitalized because I need to personify my hatred for what my past selves got me into. It's got some corrections and a new section and blah blah blah selfpromotioncakes.

Honestly, though, I've seen people linking it and using it and I've managed to track some interesting referrals and nothing could tickle me more. It's, you know, nice to see the work I've put into it being appreciated. I'm just not in a good mood at the moment. Spending a half hour trying to figure out which misplaced bracket was screwing the damn thing up hasn't helped, by the way.

Speaking of those new cards that I've been working on so diligently for a while now, they're really rounding into form. I finally took the time today to set them all out in a spreadsheet where I could play around with the numbers because they're past the point of being interesting concepts and half-hearted designs and into the stage where there are concrete values that need balancing (I know, I'm insane. It's wonderful, isn't it?). Not every card is working as well as I'd want but every card has its stats and a unique innate and four distinct skills and it's a matter of figuring out how to make the ideas work and the numbers feel right. But the design is there and, mostly, I think they're at least interesting and some are even pretty strong.

Also, I was joking before about heading off to make up some items but, apparently, my muse wasn't listening. Haven't gotten all 20 yet (I'm skipping adding any new general items although it's tempting) and the ones I do have are sketchy at best but they're coming along. I'm proud of one, for example, that procs a burning DOT if the range is set to a certain distance. It should work beautifully with one of my cards whose skill list goes berserk when that DOT is in play - but I think it's still fair because the proc happens at one range while the card is better played at the opposite.

Putting it all down in a spreadsheet, though, brought some things to my attention that I hadn't noticed before. Especially in comparison to the existing cards. My cards, for example, average 68hp and 3/2.5/2 resist (Well, okay, those are the median values for resists. The averages get weird because, well, I've done something really cool or really stupid that makes the averages rather messy.). While the original cards are at 70, 2.5/1.5/2.

When it comes to innates, I've got a lot more that focus on raw damage improvement and energy engines. Nearly half of them, in fact. Almost half of them, in fact. While, in the original, the most numerous were what I call "armor innates". Those that, like Ashi's imperviousness to stuns protect a card from something. I'm much more likely to make things difficult than I am to just rip away some part of the game - although since I also tried to make sure none of my innates was duplicating existing ones (I mean, sure, I ripped off a few. I've got one that's Ubuntu's with the serial numbers filed off. One that works on energy costs just at a different part of the combat round.) and the original cards covered those bases, perhaps it's not as surprising. Also showing up strongly in my cards were innates that centered around healing. Which makes sense considering I've got a line of priests wandering around being defensively lame.

When it comes to skills, I'm much less fond of multiplicative skills (XxY) that the original. Skills that cost more than 50 energy, too. Although I suspect both of those to change as I try to balance it all out. It's easy to tone the power of a skill by splitting its damage into different packets - makes it weaker by bumping into resistance more, makes it easier to creep up the power by adding in more damage, too. And, I think, in general, I've been pretty generous with skills and the costs could creep up so I'll get a few more 70~80 heavies in there somehow. One thing, though, is that my cards tend to have fewer attacks. Most cards in the original are loaded with attacks - averaging about 3 each. Mine hover around 2, with the rest being filled up with buffs and debuffs. Since I'm working on a set that rewards more skillful play and I think effective use of juggling buffs and debuffs is one of the signs of a skilled player, I find that fitting. There are also several cards in the original that are restricted to a single range. Either by, like Ashi, having no options or, like Andie, having laughable ones. I've, however, tried to make sure that every card has at least something to do if they're stuck at a certain range. Some cards are designed to get to a certain range but everyone has something useful to do besides hit the rest button - and most have at least some way of causing some damage in their off-range.

Just weird, I guess, and the sort of thing you don't plan for or notice until you look at the grand weave. But, really, I think it's pretty much the way I would have gone if I'd been thinking about it in the first place.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's Mother's Day

Go give the woman who raised you a hug or, failing that, a call.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Headed to the Straight

This is me in the past saying that I'm heading off to go watch the Wings. With the game today and Mother's Day tomorrow I expect things will be a little quiet around here for the next few days. Stay excellent to one another.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Kongai: Card Get (5/9/08)

At first it seemed like we weren't going to have a challenge after all this week thanks to some dirty pool. Fortunately, I've been using the Kongregate Sidebar Firefox Extension for a little while now (Short review: Works like a dream although I need to grab the latest version. It has no auto-update features yet.) and swiftly noticed that there was, in fact, a card up for grabs this week.

But thanks to temporal fluctuations or a prank gone horribly, horribly wrong the challenge for this week is for the appetizing Sharpening Stone. It's another green item so, yes, it's like they're trying to drive me insane at this point. I now have every green item (Six of them, in fact, since I have two Breastplates thanks to April Fool's Day.) and not a single character to use them with.

You might think I'd be frustrated by this but I'm really not. I play random decks so the cards I have or don't have don't matter to me in the slightest. And I'm probably going to continue to play random decks (At least, I will when I can find a game. There's tumbleweeds blowing through the game right now.) until release or at least until I have a lot more cards than I do now. Doesn't mean I'm not concerned about the schedule of card releases just that I'm not personally inconvenienced by it at all.

But while we get yet another green card than can only be used with green characters it's at least a good one. In order to obtain it, though, you'll need to play through the first 14 levels of Chronotron. Which is a game a lot of people like but that I'm personally indifferent towards. It's a little bit buggy with sloppy controls for my tastes - it only came out a short while ago, unless I'm mistaken, and I just don't get why newly released games that might benefit from a bit more polishing get all the attention and traffic from these badge/challenges when they could be used to spike up interest in older, more established games.

Chronotron, though, is a cutsey platformer with a lot of charm. You play as a little robot who needs to work through each level to find a missing part to your vehicle so you can move onward. The big trick is that you can travel backwards in time - most of the stages involve multiple play-throughs and co-operating with previous iterations of yourself as you work to hold switches and open doors in the right order and then get back to the start. It's a pretty neat little gimmick but, as I said, the controls get a bit maddening and the behavior of earlier robots can get a bit weird and/or laggy. Far from perfect but I can see the appeal.

Be aware, though, that it's a significant increase in difficult (For me, at least, your experience may, as always, vary.) over the last few challenges. Which is something I actually like to see. But I was actually worried that, for the first time ever, I wouldn't have the card in hand by the time I finished writing one of these things. I got stuck on level 10 - the one with four switches and a bomb. I knew exactly what I had to do but I didn't have enough time. The window was so short and the jumping so frustrating that I nearly called it quits right then and there. The only reason I made it through was by bugging my way through the collison detection. Fortunately, if you get stuck, there's a comprehensive list of walkthroughs over at the developer's.

You'll want to make use of them - if need be - because while the Sharpening Stone might not be the best item around, it's definitely a solid one. I mark the Stone down a few points Stone because, at this point, for all the Amazons I'd slot another item first (Valkyrie's for Ashi and Andie, General's for Anex, Stoneheel for Helene, Candle for Pheobe, for example although that list is by no means definitive and certainly subject to change.) but it's a strong contender for second choice. What it does is very simple: it adds 20% to your base chance to critical hit. Wearing it, you will crit 1/5th of the time more often.

Now, I've been dreading this card coming out for a while because to explain just why that's good, it's going to take some messy, complicated math as we delve deep into the game's mechanics. Not exactly my strongpoint, as much as it might seem otherwise. But before we even get to that, just what is a critical hit anyway?

Look, crits are awesome. I can argue against them from a design standpoint but from a pure, bathing in the blood of my enemies standpoint, you can't beat bigger numbers. In Kongai, every time your character lands an attack they have a chance to do extra damage. That's a critical hit. Although there are some skills that alter the formula somewhat, when you critically hit you'll do 1.5 times your normal damage or 50% bonus damage. So, if your skill causes 20 damage normally, when it scores a critical hit - complete with screen rocking and flashy graphics and bigger numbers - you'll take 30 health off your opponent's bar. I'm seeking to confirm this through running a lot of observational trials and jotting down the results but the game's guide says that the base crit rate is 3%. I don't have nearly enough data yet to say one way or the other but it wouldn't surprise me given the numbers I've got already. So, for most attacks you will score a critical hit 3 times out of every 100 swings. On average. There's nothing stopping you from scoring a critical hit three times in a row or not landing one at all in a thousand swings, it's just odds and probability at that point.

When you score a critical hit, it seems that your opponent's resistence is taken off after the raw damage is calculated. So, for example, against someone with 4 resist that earlier 20 damage skill would deal only 16 damage. When you crit, though, instead of get 50% of that 16 damage for a total of 24 you would get 26. Or 1.5 times the 20 minus the 4 instead of 20 minus 4 times 1.5. This works with multi-hits, too. Say our skill did 7x3 damage instead of 20. Raw damage from a crit, then would be 33 (Rounding up, which I'm not sure the game does) or 11x3. Against a resistance of 4, that crit should be 21 (Or (11-4)x3) instead of 14 (Or ((7-4)x3)x1.5) although I've yet to really confirm this.

There are some skills for which this is different. Popo's Slingshot, for example. Which not only has a dramatically increased chance to crit but also a larger multiplier. A slingshot crit will hit for 3x instead of the normal 1.5x. But even skills like Voss's Double Slash and everything else that says "high chance for a critical hit" are different. The actual crit chance for these skills is undocumented (I'm working on it.) but the tutorial says to assume they're around 25%.

Okay, so, to review, critical hits make your attacks stronger - although they won't do it every time - and while the normal rate for this to happen is a paltry 3%, certain skills have a 25% chance (Or are over 8 times as likely to land a critical hit). What Sharpening Stone does, then, is turn any normal attack skill into a skill that reads "high chance for a critical hit." There's a difference between 3+20% and 25% but it's negligible (And, from what I can tell, yes, the bonus is additive rather than multiplicative. In other words, with a Sharpening Stone it's 23% not 0.03x0.25 or whatever. You get one chance to crit and the Stone just shifts that number higher.).

It makes those high-crit skills even better, of course, but there's only one of those in the Amazon line - Andromeda's Trueshot and good luck getting that one off during a game. So, really, it's all about making your normal attacks crit about a forth of the time. And that means your card is doing more damage.

It's not as straightforward as slotting a General's Insignia, though. Not only is it a random chance instead of a straight bonus - again, the Stone isn't doing you any good if you get on a streak of bad rolls but, then, it could be doing you a lot more good than normal if you're lucky - but you also don't get as clear a picture of how much extra damage you're causing. The Insignia gives you +6. Although, the Sharpening Stone works on both multi-hit and single-hit skills and is, therefore, better that the General's in that regard, to understand how much damage it's adding requires you to do a bit of mental arithmetic in order to figure out your ideal damage, you expected damage, and just how much the Sharpening Stone is raising that. Because when it comes to damage, it's not important what's listed on a card's backing but, instead, the amount of damage you'll actually be causing. And that means you need to think in terms of averages.

Let's start easy and say you have a skill that hits all the time and deals 30 damage. Each and every time you spend whatever energy it costs it will connect with your opponent and cause 30 damage a hit. That's your average. All the damage you do divided by all the times you do it, no matter how much or how many rounds it'll always come back to 30 (And you in the back, shut up about switching. We're assuming a training dummy here that's not going to do anything but get hit.). Simple, right? Okay, now what if instead of having 100hit it had, say, 90hit? You'd still deal 30 damage when you connected but your blows wouldn't land every single round. You'd miss a tenth of the time and, over time, that hurts your overall damage. In the long run (Thanks to the Law of Large Number) you'd average not 30 damage but, instead, about 27. Or, another way of putting that is your base 30 multiplied by that 90% rate. Your expected damage, then, is your actual damage controlled by the rate at which you can expect to hit.

Okay, now forget about missing. That lowers your damage. Instead, add in a crit chance which will increase that damage. Say our skill is weird and crits 10% of the time. Every tenth hit you don't whiff but, instead, you smack them for 45 damage or an extra 4.5 damage over that long haul. You might think this means your average damage raises to 34.5 but you'd be wrong. You'd be saying you're deailng your raw damage of 30 plus 10% of your critical damage of 45. But each critical hit replaces a normal attack so what you want to count, instead, is not the crit damage but the bonus damage that each crit adds on top of your normal damage. Which, in this case, is 15. A 30 damage skill that hits all the time with a 10% chance to crit for 150% damage would average 31.5 damage. Or the base 30 plus 10% of the 15 bonus damage.

A 3% crit rate, by the way, on our imaginary skill would work out to about 30.5. So, as you can see, the natural crit rate might swing a particular battle your way but it's not going to be making much of a difference overall. The extra damage from a 25% crit rate? About 4. Which actually might. It's not as good as the raw damage off a General's and most of the Amazons don't have the multi-hitters that would really take advantage of it, but you have to take into account the difference between the steady pressure of consistent damage versus the lethality of a burst of damage - the extra damage from a crit arrives not in packets of 4 but in large chunks that can carve into your opponent's life bar. It's the difference between signing up for an investment with a steady interest rate and one where you might double your money or you might wind up with nothing. General's lets you pound on people. The Stone lets you kill them, every so often.

It gets a little more complicated than that, though. Because not every skill in the game has a perfect 100% hit rate. You will miss with most of them sometimes and you don't score critical hits when you miss. Let's go back to our 30 damage skill and say it, again, has 90hit to go along with 10crit. Now, you still average 31.5 damage when you connect. But you don't connect all the time so your actual damage output slides downwards again. Just like before, you can take that raw damage of what you can expect to do if you hit every single time and multiply it times your hit rate in order to figure out what you should actually be doing. In this case it's that 31.5 times 90% or about 28 damage. And that 10% crit has added only a single point of damage overall (Again, it's a bit misleading to think of it this way since crits are not best over the long haul but, instead, in discrete units where they're outperforming their expected probabilities. You might add only 1 damage as your games played stretches out into infinity but if you land three crits in a row then you've added 45. And that's a lot.). If our skill hit only 75% of the time then your damage would fall even lower and so, too, would the added value of each crit (The relative value, though, might actually go higher but this is where the math gets confusing for me.). So, adding crit chances are best on skills that have a high percentage to hit. More hits equals more hits which equals more damage.

This difference between expected damage and actual damage (Along with the lack of multi-hit skills in the Amazon line) is the reason why I think it's better to stick with General's instead of slotting the Stone - you might get the occasional eye-popping number but the Insignia will be adding objectively more damage to a card like Ashi. A Helene, an Andromeda benefit more from it but I think you can make a case that they'd benefit more from other things. I haven't run all the numbers and calculated the differences on each and every skill but my gut feeling is that 20% is a little too low to be better than the Insignia (My gut also says that anything higher gets ridiculous so it's fair where it is. Again, it's the difference between rolling the dice and playing it safe. The Stone is a little more swingy and making it proc even more crits so it's equivalent to the General's makes it even more so.)

Got it? Well, don't worry if you don't. The only thing you need to know is that more damage is good and Sharpening Stone adds significantly to your your damage. How much depends on what skill you're using - skills that hit more often are going to crit more often and, therefore, get that bonus damage more frequently.

Now, go out there and get it.

Guild Wars: Keep Ruining the Game, Please

Makes it so much easier to stay away when the game's turning into a flaming wreckage of its former self.

Anyhow, I was getting all set to rage all over this Monty Hall update for to make glorious and improved rank flashing because, well, I hate titles and hope they die a horrific death involving lighter fluid and spiders.

And then I saw this.

Yeah. Fuck it, I'm out.

NBA Blogging: Chauncy! Come Back to Me!

I have this British friend and the way she pronounced Billup's name the way it sounds like to me is "Chancey." As in "Boy, it sure is chancey whether he's going to be back or not in time for Saturday's game". Okay, I really don't have a friend like that but wouldn't it be cool if I did?

You know what else would be cool? If a healthy Billups played Saturday.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a monumental disaster if he has to spend a game or two getting back. There were some encouraging signs to be drawn from game 3. Maybe not so much he final score, of course, but the team battled back from yet another early deficit (Which in and of itself isn't a good sign - they get down early far too often.) and closed to within striking distance by the end of the 3rd period. They couldn't close the deal out but it shows that even without Billups they can play with the Magic. And with time to prepare a gameplan without Billups (Which, I know Saunders isn't exactly at the top of the coaching class but he's got to have prepared two schemes for this next game - one with Chauncey and one Billups-less - right?) they should do even better.

But, really, it wasn't a good game at all. Billups is the Piston who makes the entire engine go. Without Chauncey that have - maybe - a shot at beating the Magic. But that's about it. If he can't play or he plays below his standards then, well, it's time to start penciling in a finals trip for the Celtics, I guess.