Monday, 30 September 2013

Two-Player Dominion and Bidding

A colleague of mine just finished acquiring all the Dominion expansions and is planning a tournament.  The format will be two-player round-robin - though as with most round robins, one assumes that not all the games will be played unless there is a very small turnout.

Some time ago I was very big on Dominion.  I used to play a lot of solitaire three player games where I would have two decks go pure silver-gold-province and see how many points I could get with the third deck.  But everything I know about two player Dominion comes from simulation.

Two player Dominion is a very skewed game.  If you play a silver-gold-province strategy then the second player takes about 70% of the wins.  Note that this is very different than winning 70% of the time, nearly 30% of the games are ties, as you might expect.  The problem is that the tie breaker gives the win to whoever has had fewer turns in the game.  That means that if the second player is the second one to buy a fourth province then the game is a draw, but if the first player is the second one to buy a fourth province then the second player wins.  This means that if the second player acquires a fourth province before the first player, then the first player needs to buy a different point card.

By toying with different variants on silver-gold-province I concluded that the best I could come up with was for the first player to break estate or duchy parity when given the option and for the second player to match it.  That is, if you are the first player and you have five you should buy a duchy instead of a silver if you currently have the same number of duchies.  The second player should buy that duchy if the first player has more duchies.  The same goes with having two and buying estates.  There may be further refinement possible, but at the time I was looking for something I could easily program a computer to run ten thousand games of and the way I had built the code limited how complex the decision tree could be.

Anyway, by using that the first player/second player break/restore duchy/estate parity strategy, the second player only takes home about 53% of the wins and there are far fewer ties.

When one player has an advantage in a game, the World Boardgaming Championships will use a bidding system to equalize the advantage.  A player can bid a number of points and then the person with the higher bid picks their seat.  If the first player always wins a game, then the theory is that there should be some number of points that we could handicap the first player by to make the game fair or close to fair.

Of course the obvious problem with bidding systems is that there probably isn't a bid that makes the game 50/50 between players of equal skill.  Dominion is a simple example of this.  Let's add a bidding system to two-player Dominion.  We know second seat is better, but how much should you bid for it?  It turns out that answer is that if you bid any amount then second seat is downright awful.  Since second seat's advantage comes solely from the tie-breaker system, a bid of any size negates that advantage and gives the game back to the first player.  The first player starts taking 60% or more of wins and there are no strategies to mitigate the difference.  No matter what the second player does the first player can just ride their extra turn to take games.

53% is not really all that skewed the grand scheme of things.  Who wins the game with identical strategies is random to begin with, so adding another random element to the beginning is probably not breaking the game.  The point of bidding is that there should still be a point to playing after the coin is flipped, and if you are conceding with a 47% chance to win then you deserve to lose anyway.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Mad Myth Friday - And Cubimal Racing!

Who can say that the best things in life are free.  Billions upon billions died in terror and agony so that you could see that smile!  But that cost is paid for and done.  The dead will not walk again.  The memory of it is in your bones, must it be in your mind as well?  How inward must your eye turn to know of all those lives and yet not value them at a single penny.
Big announcement today, the cubimal racetrack is open.  You can drag an drop cubimals into their starting dockets and then start the race to watch them vie for the finish line.  I only put in a few of my own favourites, but if you'd really like to see more added, you can leave a comment on the cubimal racing page and I'll do my best to get them up there so you can watch them go.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Oracle Review - Cyclone, Desert

Here are a couple of cards that aren't really that hard to word, but I'm going to go on and on about one of them anyway:


Desert
Yeah, I'm going to do desert first. Desert is a weird land, but not terribly complex rules-wise. Basically there are two decisions that go into the Oracle text of Desert.
Tap: Add 1 to your mana pool.
Tap: Desert deals 1 damage to target attacking creature. Activate this ability only during the end of combat step.
First of all, the original has a single tap ability that has an "or" in it. Would that be any different than separating it into two different tap abilities? The answer is no, but presumably it would confuse a lot of people and make people think it was different. Mana abilities are abilities that generate mana, but those that have targets are excluded. Does an ability that has a target if you choose one mode but not the other have a target if you choose the mode with no target? Of course it doesn't. If it did then it would be countered on resolution for having no legal targets. So it would still have an ability that could be played as a mana ability but it would also be usable as a non-mana ability. Since it's all the same, why bother with that mess?

Second, when people used to play desert back in the day, at least some portion of them assumed that the damage ability was used before creatures dealt damage in combat, but that the damage wasn't done until later. That is, they assumed the ability was:
Tap: At the beginning of the next end of combat step this turn, Desert deals 1 damage to target attacking creature.
To be honest, I have a mild preference for this, but that's really just because that's how my friends played it back then. The wording they chose is equally consistent with what it actually says on the original card and is a lot simpler. I give Desert...
Sure, it's fine, but it's not a wonder to behold.
Cyclone
Here is a card that is a bit prescient. Let's take a quick look.
At the beginning of your upkeep, put a wind counter on Cyclone, then sacrifice Cyclone unless you pay {G} for each wind counter on it. If you pay, Cyclone deals damage equal to the number of wind counters on it to each creature and each player.
Alright, now lets take a look at the comprehensive rules on Cumulative Upkeep.  Rule 702.23a says:
"Cumulative upkeep [cost]" means "At the beginning of your upkeep, if this permanent is on the battlefield, put an age counter on this permanent. Then you may pay [cost] for each age counter on it. If you don't, sacrifice it."
So, why doesn't Cyclone have Cumulative Upkeep? Well, first of all, there is the difference between "sacrifice ~this~ unless you pay [cost] for each <blah> counter" and "you may pay [cost] for each <blah> counter.  If you don't, sacrifice it." Oh wait, there is no difference between those things.

Admittedly, Cyclone is unlikely to
acquire 13 or more counters
Okay, then, what about the fact that it has wind counters instead of age counters. That could make a difference if we were to give Cyclone another cumulative upkeep. But the original card talks about putting chips on it. It was printed well before they started naming counters anything.

There is also the fact that if you do pay, something happens. But there are lots of cumulative upkeep cards that do something when you pay or don't pay the upkeep. The difference, however, is that those cards all have a triggered ability. Balduvian Fallen has the ability:
Whenever Balduvian Fallen's cumulative upkeep is paid, it gets +1/+0 until end of turn for each {B} or {R} spent this way.
But that is a triggered ability, which means it uses the stack after the cumulative upkeep. Cyclone, according to the original wording, does not have a trigger based on whether or not you pay the upkeep. That means that if your opponent had some kind of damage prevention ability, for example, they would have to choose whether or not to use that before they knew whether or not you were going to pay.

Still, on some level this wording offends me. It bothers me that Cyclone doesn't have Cumulative Upkeep.

This isn't really fair to the wording of the card. They didn't go and retroactively give creatures lifelink when they were printed with triggered abilities, and it doesn't make sense to make a triggered ability out of what once wasn't. But they could have done something. They could have given it some kind of insane wording using a replacement ability that replaces not sacrificing Cyclone due to not paying the cumulative upkeep with doing damage. They could have done anything they wanted.  Instead they left cumulative upkeep aside and didn't give Cyclone its due. At the same time I can't really give it a bad rating out of spite, the Oracle text is basically just right.

It's only fair.
This is the saddest of all of my Oracle reviews. As the blog post is ending, this is a good time to take a moment for yourself if you need it.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Better than TV

The Let's Play phenomenon of recording yourself playing games with commentary seems largely terrible.  The major reason it seems largely terrible is because the bulk of the people who watch Let's Plays apparently want to see someone become very emotional in reaction to the game - either being scared by the horror game or getting mad as they screw up over and over again in the platformer.  Of course because this is what the people want this is what they get, and if you search youtube for "Let's Play Game X" you are likely to find a very annoying person playing Game X and pretending to get angry.

But the thing to understand - following that spectacular endorsement - is that Let's Plays are just like absolutely everything else every produced by humanity.  For every good thing there are a thousand downright awful things, half of which are more popular than the good stuff.  Music is a worthwhile endeavour and a good artform even if most of what floats to the surface is offal.

So let me direct you to the greatest of the great when it comes to playing video games and talking at the same time.  You may already know of supergreatfriend, but if you don't, it's time to go find out.

It isn't just supergreatfriend's affable manner, interesting commentary and mellifluous voice that make him great.  He also chooses the best of the best in terms of games.  That is not to say he plays the best games, but rather that he does Let's Plays of the best games to watch.  In many cases they are games that you would never want to play yourself, even if you could, which you likely can't.

It's tough to oversell this stuff.  I can understand that for people who just aren't interested in video games this might seem really weird, but I honestly think there is something there for everyone.  If you are not a video game player at all, I would strongly recommend checking out his Let's Play of MODE, which is incomplete but nonetheless won't leave you hanging.  If you liked Twin Peaks you owe it to yourself to check out his Let's Play of Deadly Premonition.  And if you actually like video games or Let's Plays then you might as well jump in the deep end and watch Ill Bleed.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Gaming Concepts for Real Life - Tilting

Reading Bright Cape you will sometimes come across posts about parenting and parenting decisions.  In these posts it is not uncommon to have it explained that parenting decisions aren't really all that hard if you are well-rested and fed and no one is screaming at you.  Unfortunately, challenging parenting decisions are made very often when you are tired and hungry and someone is very much screaming at you.

That's a great thing to keep in mind about parenting, and it is also a great thing to keep in mind about life.  We all know that we make worse decisions when we are tired and upset and yet when we are tired and upset we are least likely to remember that fact.  What's more, as it becomes apparent to us that we are making mistakes because we are upset we tend to get more upset at ourselves for being incompetent.  It's awkward.

Poker players, and gamers more generally, have a word for that, and it is "tilting."  You are tilting, or you are "on tilt", when your ability to make rational decisions has been overpowered emotions.  The concept is very important in poker because it is both a game that often upsets people - losing a large amount of money to someone specifically because they did something stupid that would have made them lose 90% of the time is upsetting - and because you actually can lose a large amount of money from one bad decision.  If you are risking huge sums of cash based on your assessment of probabilities, you better have that assessment right, and not be letting your anger or depression overrun your game.

As the fabled Gambler said, "You've got to know when to walk away."

Difficult parenting is done on tilt a very high percentage of the time, but most parents don't realize how badly they are tilting.  Unlike the poker table, you can't necessarily just walk away, but you can take a breath, reassess, or otherwise take a moment to be mindful of your feelings and how they affect you.  Importantly, you can check whether you are, in fact, on tilt.  This is not easy, but it is a very good practice.

What's more, if you are writing in a blog about parenting, instead of spending a couple of sentences explaining about being tired and upset, and how you make worse decisions when you feel that way, you can just say, "Now I was on tilt, big time."  But you can't say that, because the target audience of your parenting blog won't understand what you mean.  Of course you could just google it, the wikipedia article on Tilt (poker) is the first hit.  Actually, you should probably go google it now.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Cookie Clicker

Have you player Cookie Clicker?  You click the cookie to make a cookie, and then you use cookies as currency to buy buildings that make cookies automatically for you.  Solid gameplay.

Like other browser games of this genre, you can leave Cookie Clicker running all night while you are asleep or all day while you are at work and the currency just keeps piling up.  Of course this is only useful up to a point.  When you begin the game by buying yourself a 0.1 cookie per second income and eventually work your way up to billions, the idea of simply never logging in doesn't work as well as it does in a game like, oh, Diablo 3.

But also the most expensive things in the game are so outrageously expensive that simply waiting to acquire them starts to take extremely long periods of time.  Oddly enough, Cookie Clicker has an early game that makes you want to use your mouse to click things, a middle game where you might as well just leave it running for the evening, and a late game where once again you have to click, but this time you have to pay attention to the screen.

So lets start with the basics.  You generate 1 cookie every time you click the cookie.  For 15 of these you can buy a cursor that will automatically click the cookie every 10 seconds, that is, you can buy 0.1 cookies per second.  For 100 cookies you can buy a grandma who bakes 0.5 cookies per second.  For 500 you could buy a farm that grows 2 cookies per second, and so on.  Every time you buy a building the price of the next one of the same type increases by 15%.  As you might have noted, buying 0.1 Cps for 15 C gets you 1 Cps per 150 C invested, while buying 0.5 Cps for 100 C gets you 1 Cps per 200 C invested.  Cursors, in fact, are more efficient than all of the other building types.  But because the second cursor actually costs 17, the third 20 and the fourth 23, it rapid becomes better to save for a grandma.  This kind of math means that later on you'll buy an anti-matter condenser where you have to invest nearly 4000 C per Cps gained.

There are also upgrades.  For almost all the buildings - cursors and grandmas being the exceptions - upgrades are quite simple.  When you buy the building there are two upgrades.  One costs about ten times the base cost of the building and adds to the amount you get from each of the buildings.  For farms you buy another 0.5 cookies per second per farm, which means that if you have four farms then it would increase your Cps by 2, the same amount as buying another farm would.  Of course if you have four farms, the next farm costs 874 while the upgrade costs 5000, so you would probably just buy another farm.  At some point, though, the upgrade will be worthwhile, depending on the specific numbers.

The second upgrade double production of those buildings and costs 100 times the base price.  This one is easy.  Since the next upgrade always costs 1.15^n times the base amount and the upgrade gets you +n for 100 times the base amount, it is easy to see that when n=15, 100/n is less than 1.15^n, so you should buy the upgrade.

That is just in time to unlock the next upgrade.  When you get more copies of each building it unlocks more doubling upgrades that cost 1000 and 10,000 times the base amount.  These are more efficient than buying another copy of the building when you have 27 and 40 of the building respectively, although since the latter doesn't unlock until you have 50 copies of the building it is more of a buy-immediately type of thing.

So basically you sit on your farms until you get your mines, ride the mines until your factories, factory your way up and up until you get the better buildings.  When your Cps is only 0.5 clicking the cookie a couple of times a second to make 1 more cookie per click is your main source of income.  When you Cps is 10,000 it hardly seems worth doing.  Even after you get the upgrades that allows you to add 4% of your current Cps to each click, the numbers still look awefully small and increasing your overall production by 8-12% is not worth the effort of click - nor is increasing it by 20% worth the effort of clicking really fast.

But then there are golden cookies.  Every 5 to 15 minutes a golden cookie will appear at a random spot on the screen.  If you click it you will get one of a few different bonuses.  There actually four different golden cookies, but the odds of getting two of them are very low.  Also, there is something that prevents you from getting the same one as you got last time 80% of the time.  Naturally this means there is only about a 10% chance you will get the same one since not only does it have to be not removed from the list, but it also has to be chosen over the other likely candidate.  For the most part, you alternate between lucky cookies and frenzy cookies.

Frenzy multiplies your production by seven for seventy-seven seconds.  Lucky cookies increases your current holdings by 10%, up to a maximum of 20 minutes worth of production.  So if you get one of these every ten minutes, and it mostly alternates, then with 462 seconds of cookes from frenzy and 1200 seconds of cookies from lucky every 600 seconds, the combined effect is to increase your production by 137%.  You really have to click those cookies.

The problem is it is not realistic to get 1200 seconds of production from the lucky cookies.  Suppose you have 100 Cps.  At this stage you are able to access building and upgrades that give you about 0.3% to 0.4% of their purchase price in Cps.  For example, by spending 10,000 to buy a mine you get 40 Cps.  So by saving up 200 minutes to make sure that 10% of your current cookies is 20 minutes of production, you could get 120,000 cookies every 20 minutes, or 100 extra Cps.  But instead of saving up for just over three hours, you could have bought ten mines for around 200,000.  Basically it is never worth it to stockpile cookies because you can spend those cookies to increase your Cps by more than the stockpile does.

After after you click 7 golden cookies you can spend some millions on an upgrade that halves the time between the cookies.  And after clicking 27 you can halve the time again for some billions.  Then after clicking 77 you can double the duration of the golden cookie effects for some trillions of cookies.  What's more, when you have your production up a billion per second, because of the exponential cost of buildings, you are going to be hard pressed to increase your Cps by more than a ten thousandth of a pecent - that is a millionth - of what you spend.

So now frenzy gives you 924 seconds of production.  The time for a golden cookie to spawn is only 75 to 225 seconds which means a little more than half the time the lucky cookie spawns while you still have seven times your normal production, letting you get up to 2 hours and 20 minutes of production from that one click.  So you could be increasing your current production of 1 billion cookies by about 1000 per second - and that increase would rapidly decrease, or you could stockpile 84 trillion cookies to make sure that when you get that frenzied lucky cookie you can collect your rewards.  This is a very different decision.

If you don't stockpile you are probably going to accumulate a few trillion cookies at a time, so we'll say a lucky cookie will be worth about 200 seconds of production.  That means that every 300 seconds you are getting a 924 seconds of production frenzy and a 200 seconds of production lucky cookie.  So golden cookies are effectively increasing your production by about 374%.  If you have the stockpile then every 300 seconds you are getting 924 seconds of production from a frenzy and 4800 seconds of production from a lucky cookie, a 1908% increase over your base amount, and a total of over four times as much production as you would have without stockpiling.  Because of the meagre returns from buying buildings, that same 84 trillion cookies would only increase your production by about 10% to 15%, a far cry from four times.

So golden cookies always have the potential to make a big difference, but when you only have so much attention to pay to the game, going to sleep for eight hours is going to increase your horde far more than paying attention to the screen.  In end game, when golden cookies can multiply your production by 20 times, paying attention can really matter, just like clicking mattered a lot when a click gave you more than a second of production.

My goal is to make a browser game that you actually play to play.  The late game of cookie clicker fits this nicely because one hour of play almost as important a as a whole day of non-play.  The mid game, however, is all about doing something else while the cookies pile up.  I have some ideas of how to make this work.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Mad Myth Fridays - Individual Freedom

The idea that everything must have a container is self-defeating.  Without it we are lost in a sea of existence, there are no boundaries to existence, no boundaries to us.  We associate "no boundaries" with a removal of limitations: we hate our boundaries.  We associate "no boundaries" with a removal of security: we love our boundaries.  We understand the paradox of individual freedom.  We see there is a trade off between freedom-from and freedom-to.  Which had the greater freedom?  All of the universe together as a whole has the ultimate freedom to act on its predetermined course.  A complete lack of anything has the ultimate freedom from responsibility to the other.
I used to go out to a lot of shows to see local bands.  If you like a local band and start going to their shows you inadvertently begin dating them.

Oh, and a quick note.  Someone alerted me that my tendency to accidentally click "publish" when I don't mean to do so can cause problems for people with blog readers and feeds by showing them fragmented posts.  I recognize that, but I assume I am going to continue to mis-click and more generally mis-think things.  But also, while the above may have inadvertently appeared on a reader last night, it is actually a full post, just posted at the wrong time.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Oracle Review - Nafs Asp, Shahrazad

Here's a couple of cards that do odd things, one of which seemed extremely clearly defined in the rules and one of which is was a bit of head-scratcher. Guess which is which.


Nafs Asp
In case you were exposed to this card, as I was, at an earlier and more naive age, take note that it is a "nafs" asp, not "Naf's" asp. The asp does not belong to Naf, it is an asp of the nafs - which can be vaguely translated as pysche, soul or ego though that probably really doesn't do justice to the concept. Why the ego asp does damage to you the turn after it hit you should be obvious: it is poisonous.
Whenever Nafs Asp deals damage to a player, that player loses 1 life at the beginning of his or her next draw step unless he or she pays {1} before that draw step.
Looks simple enough. But when exactly do you pay that one mana? Is that an activated ability that cancels the delayed trigger? Do you just put a mana in your pool and say you are paying? If your opponent passes priority to you after hitting you with the asp and then you pay the one mana, does your opponent even get priority back before the phase ends?

It took me a bit of searching but I finally found the relevant rule by doing a text search on "priority" through the comprehensive rules.
115.2c Some effects allow a player to take an action at a later time, usually to end a continuous effect or to stop a delayed triggered ability from triggering. Doing so is a special action. A player can take such an action any time he or she has priority, but only if the ability or effect allows it.
So paying for Nafs Asp is a special action that you can do any time you have priority. You retain priority if you do, even if you are not the active player, but when you pass priority after taking it the active player will get priority again. It does not use the stack.

What's really disappointing is that they did not maintain the change made in the fourth edition printing of the asp. Of course that was actually an error, not a revision of the card, so naturally it hasn't been maintained.

For teaching me about special actions, Nafs Asp's wording gets...



Shahrazad
Subgaaaame!
Players play a MAGIC subgame, using their libraries as their decks. Each player who doesn't win the subgame loses half his or her life, rounded up.
Yes, a subgame!  In order to avoid confusion they have replaced the phrase "player who loses" with "player who doesn't win" but in the rules they actually mean the same thing.

Rule 715 (Subgames) tells you all about playing a subgame of Magic. I don't know why MAGIC is in all capitals in the Oracle text but not in the comprehensive rules.

Not to beat a dead horse, but this is really just further reminder of how disappointing the False Orders and Silhouette wordings are. Rule 715 is complex and is broken into many subsections, but it is all there to support the effect of a single card, an effect that surely never again be used. The effects of False Orders and Silhouette are both re-usable if they chose to do so, but don't get their own section of the rules to let them be what they should be.

For getting it right, and for being just being Shahrazad, Shahrazad's wording gets...

What a great day for the Oracle!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Theros Mechanics

Wow is Theros weird.  Apparently the returning mechanic we've all be asking for is Scry?  Maybe it's Chroma, but that seems crazy.  I would have lost a lot of money betting that it was going to be levelling.

Anyway, first of all, let's take a look at rule 110.6:
110.6. A permanent's status is its physical state. There are four status categories, each of which has two possible values: tapped/untapped, flipped/unflipped, face up/face down, and phased in/phased out. Each permanent always has one of these values for each of these categories.
Okay, so phased in/phased out already sort of violates the "physical state" idea of a permanent's status, but I'm kind of wondering if monstrous/non-monstrous is being added to the list of statuses or not.  For those of you who don't know monstrous, it reads as follows:
Cost: Monstrosity N. (If this creature isn't monstrous, put N +1/+1 counters on it and it becomes monstrous)
Many creatures with monstrosity also have triggered abilities that trigger on becoming monstrous.  Impressive things like destroying three lands on each side of the board, permanently tapping down four creatures, or - on the flagship mythic - casting Forked Bolt.  The game needs to know whether a creature is monstrous or not, and it is not an ability of the card, so it sure looks like a status.  Unlike other statuses, however, there really is no physical state that corresponds with it.  Tapped and untapped are directions a card is facing, as are flipped and unflipped.  Face up and face down is a physical alignment of the card as well, and presumably you are doing something physical with cards that are phased out like setting them to the side.  Monstrous isn't like that.  You put +1/+1 counters on  but there are other ways to do that, even within this set, and there are also ways to remove those.  Anyway, I doubt it's easy to forget which creatures became monstrous, so I'm not that worried.

Heroic seems a little odd at first, then makes sense, then still seems odd.  Heroic creatures get some kind of bonus when you target them with a spell.  It's a neat implementation of the idea of being a hero because what it does is makes it more attractive to make the creature more than it is with the plentiful auras in the set.  Creatures with heroic aren't heroic but there is a reward for making them heroic.  On the other hand, there is also a reward for targettomg them with your own negative effects.  Like casting Pharika's Curse on your own heroic guy to make it bigger.  And sure, you could say heros face adversity too but facing adversity from your opponent doesn't help them.

Gods have the devotion mechanic, which is Chroma, but also generally have the is-an-enchantment mechanic, also with Bestow which allows a creature to be an aura for a while.  Bestow seems sweet on some cards and terribly expensive on others.  And the expensive ones are kind of sweet too but at that point your opponent can be activating monstrosity on their creatures so I don't know if bestowing is going to keep up.  The cheap bestows for your heroics seem a lot more interesting to me, although the resulting creature is usually pretty paltry.  I didn't see any Bestow that looked aggressively costed enough to get constructed play.

Given the massive mana costs on creatures Theros had better be pretty slow.  I haven't done a good analysis of it yet, but one thing I have done is what I will now dub the Ronson test.  Basically, if you play a red creature on your first, second and third turn using at best two commons and an uncommon, how far on the back foot can you put an opponent who doesn't have a play until turn four?  The answer in this set is not that far.  Starting on your fourth turn you can really get things going by playing a 4/2 that does four to their face or by putting a cantrip firebreating enchantment on your 1/2 double strike creature, but until then there isn't much that would let you develop a crippling board, and your opponent is pretty much always going to be able to make a comeback from such an aggressive start.

Well, I don't actually play these sets, I just watch them get played.  I also don't see a lot in the way of really wacky rares - those show up in base sets more often for some reason.  The online release won't be for a little while yet, so we'll just have to wait until then to see how it plays out.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Ding Dong the Auction House is Dead

Apparently they are shutting down the Diablo 3 auction houses on March 18, 2014.  That seems like plenty of notice, and probably gives us a clue as to when we might be seeing the expansion.  I don't mean I expect the expansion on that date, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the beta for the expansion right around then.

I felt a little bit like the auction house ruined the game.  While a tiny, tiny percentage of players went on the forums to complain about massive inflation of prices in gear, the rest of us saw such incredible deflation that what was worth a million gold a few months ago was work 10k now if anyone was even bothering to sell it.  I've said before that I thought that by far the most efficient way to advance your character was to just log out.  That's disheartening even if you don't care about competition, even if you just wanted to kill some dudes and take their stuff.  After all, the game's updates are all crafted around people who are playing at a level that you will be at for sure in a couple of months but that you can't get to any faster except by playing eight to ten hour days.

I decided to play the game in a way that the auction house was irrelevant and so that it wouldn't ruin my game.  At the same time I went on the auction house and bought good enough stuff for my first level 60 character to do Inferno on Monster Power four or five so that I could do the infernal machine questline.  Ultimately I never did the infernal machine and I have only gotten through two characters with random abilities.  Diablo 3's appeal is fairly limited at this stage.

So I'm not sure I agree with closing the auction house.  Why not just let people who want to play that way play that way and let people who want to play without it play without it?  I guess it's partly because there is no way to tell one from the other so in open games you can play with an auction house monster when you would rather play with people who play your way.  Maybe it's also because the best possible way to play the game is just to run the auction house and never kill anything.  It might be because the ship has sailed for anyone joining the game and making items rare enough that you can't buy them dirt cheap on auction means that they are so rare that anyone who starts playing now can literally never acquire one.  Basically with the auction house in the game they just can't help themselves - they have to build the game around it.

Still I'm looking forward to the expansion.  A little disappointed there is only one new class, but I bet they are planning more than one expansion.  Basically Blizzard hooked me.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Progress on Piggy Petter Alpha - Sort of

This weekend I made a lot of progress on an early alpha of Piggy Petter, by which I mean nothing about it changed.  When the weekend started I had a browser based game where you could pet a piggy to gain imagination and spend imagination to learn two different skills that affected how the game played.  At the end of the weekend I had the same thing except that one of the skills no longer had a game effect.  Progress!

What I did this weekend was eliminated a lot of lines of code that could be written better and that were actively doing nothing and rewrote the better half of my animation code.  The piggy will no longer risk blinking out of existence if there is an internet hiccup when he is turning around - loading one larger sprite sheet seemed a lot better than repeatedly loading multiple smaller ones unless the large one is really large, which is it not in the case of the piggy.

I've done nearly all I can with rewriting the code for now.  I still find that javascript does some things I don't understand and that sometimes I write something that looks like it should work to me but ends up not working at all, only to work when I change something that doesn't seem to make it any different.  I honestly think that in one case it was javascript behaving insanely, but there are really things I think I just don't get.

As always, my problem with coding is wanting to have perfect code.  Of course my code is very far from perfect, especially by the criteria that code ought to be judged on, but I have this concept in my head about how programs should work.  It's not based on efficiency as real world applications should be, but instead on a pure-math aesthetic.  It's not whether you win, but how.

Of course with an interpreted language this is even more stupid than it is with a compiled one.  Optimizing for compilers is a real thing for sure, and it's a skill I certainly don't have, but when the full text of your code is going to have to be read every single time it executes - and people are going to have to download the code over the internet every time they want to use it - it seems extra important to cut that code down.

All that said, I hope to have something to show you soon, though the definition of soon here is totally up in the air.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Mad Myth Friday!

I have a strong preference for blogs that are on very narrow subjects.  If I start talking about everything at once then I get totally lost.

That being said, I recently found some old notebooks where I used to write things to myself, and I'd like to present some selections of it here.  A lot of it was about games, but that stuff I can't really reproduce meaningfully since it is mostly calculations and equations.  Instead, I'd like to provide for you some of the musings I used to have while working retail.  In my new feature, Mad Myth Fridays, I'll let myself drop the affect of being a gaming blog and provide nonsense instead.  And to help, I have brought a friend:

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Oracle Review - Personal Incarnation, Jandor's Ring

Today a mismatched pair. On one hand, a card with simple enough rules but a crazy turn of phrase in the wording and on the other a card with a simple enough wording and a crazy rules result.


Personal Incarnation
I do find it a bit sad that Personal Incarnation was a victim of versioning. Like Gaea's Liege a bit of fun was lost as they clarified what they meant from version to version. Well, maybe it's for the best in this case. The game doesn't really know who the "caster" of a card is, and even if we put that in the rules, I'm not sure that would make the card closer to the original intent. Sure, it's not theoretically impossible that you cast a personal incarnation that you don't own, but on the other hand there are even more ways to put one into play without casting it, in which case it's abilities would do nothing. Anyway, on to the Oracle text:
{0}: The next 1 damage that would be dealt to Personal Incarnation this turn is dealt to its owner instead. Any player may activate this ability, but only if he or she owns Personal Incarnation. 
When Personal Incarnation dies, its owner loses half his or her life, rounded up.
So first, let's talk about what I don't like about this wording. No printing of the card had the damage redirection ability as an activated ability, and I don't care for it becoming one. An effect could increase the cost of activated abilities and you'd have to pay to use it. A Personal Incarnation could be equipped with Illusionist's Bracers to strange effect.

I'd personally prefer that the activated ability be a replacement ability that lets you replace damage to the incarnation with damage to you. Because of that, you'll see I won't give this wording a great rating.

On the other hand, the fact that it is an activate ability means they got to write, "Any player may activate this ability, but only if he or she owns Personal Incarnation." Wow! Any player may use the ability as long as they are the one and only player who is allowed to do so.

Anyway, fun aside, I think they messed this one up a bit, I'm giving it...



Jandor's Ring
Another terrible artifact from Arabian Nights. If this cost two and had no activation cost then it would be worthy of consideration in limited. Oracle doesn't say anything too different than the original card:
{2}, {T}, Discard the last card you drew this turn: Draw a card.
But the kicker is when you look in the rulings section you can find at the bottom of Gatherer.
If you do not have the card still in your hand, you can't pay the cost. There is currently no way to prove that it was the card you drew except to get a judge or 3rd party involved, or to put cards you draw aside until you decide whether or not to use this.
Yeah, this card doesn't work and they can't make it work. Instead of trying to find a way to make it work, they just make a ruling clarifying that it doesn't work. There is another ruling that says, in a round about way, that if you draw a bunch of cards at once you'll have to make sure you keep track of the order you drew them in if you want to use the ring, since you can only use it on the last one.

To me, this wording has chutzpah. Forget the rules, do what the cards says. I give it...


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Javascript is Ugly, Ugly

So I'm working on a full-page Piggy Petter that will have a little more game to it - although no more game than Candy Box or Cookie Clicker.  But let me tell you something, Javascript is a terrible thing to code in.

You leave a semi-colon out in the middle of some code, or put a semi-colon in, or put brackets beside a function name when you aren't supposed to, and it responds by simply not executing any of the code at all.  I can't find any reasonable way to debug.  Basically I put in alerts for nearly every function saying that the function has been executed and then build new functions through tiny little baby steps, adding one line of code at a time and test running it with each line - often adding more extraneous alerts to let me see if it got to the line where it is actually supposed to do something but where it currently doesn't do anything.

I'd like to thank random internet tutorials for turning me on to Notepad++ which is significantly better than notepad for writing html.

Anyway, I currently have a piggy who will wander back and forth inside a prescribed box and will stop in his tracks to respond happily whenever you pet him.  That's probably four or five hours of work and it's probably coded in a terrible way that: 1) runs inefficiently; and 2) won't allow me to expand in the way I want.  As I alluded to before I also have all my piggy graphics on white rather than transparent backgrounds so I can't put in a nice looking background.  I'm not even sure javascript is a good idea, and it's possible I should be doing something completely different, but it seems like that's the thing that people use.

Well, I've put up the scripts and images on my Google Drive so you can put them up on whatever page you'd like, if you'd like.  I also put up an instructions page.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Watching Hearthstone

I watched Hearthstone streams all weekend. It was the third most popular game on Twitch at most points, which is a pretty popoular game to watch. Of course this is just because people can't access the beta - I think most of those watchers would be playing instead if they could.

It is too early for me to say this, but Hearthstone is far-and-away the best of the lot when it comes to digital collectable card games. If I could play it I would be going nuts.

First of all, it's got the asynchronous thing, which makes games take far less time to play. Secondly, it's got the best resource system I've seen so far - it may sound simple, but just having one more mana each turn than you did the last without having to dedicate cards to it works brilliantly.

But the system for limited play is just plaing brilliant. You make a deck by repeatedly being given a choice between three cards. The three cards appear to always be the same rarity, so you aren't making non-choices between a bomb and a bear - although I'm sure there are tons of non-choices if you actually know what you are doing.

Once you have a deck you can play by going into a queue. When you accumulate three losses you get prizes based on how many wins you had. I think you also stop if you get to nine wins.

Because there is always a constant tournament running for everyone to join in you never have to still and wait for a tournament to start. The queue to find an opponent may not be instant, but it's a lot faster than waiting for a round to end in Magic.

The game also has a crafting system instead of a trading one. You can think of it as trading with the house. Because the house takes its cut you get a "bad" deal. On the other hand, you can trade a hundred worthless commons for the legendary card you wanted to fill out your deck with, so you can't really complain about unfavourable exchange rates. In Magic there is no number of truckloads of commons you could trade for a playable mythic, or any mythic, or pretty much any uncommon.

In fact, in Magic there are probably many people who would prefer to give you the uncommon you want for nothing rather than take whatever commons you could offer in trade. I once tricked someone into taking ten thousand commons from me and then refused to take them back.

There will never be a "Magic killer" in tradeable card games, but this game is going to attract a lot of attention, and I can't wait to start giving them my money.

As usual, the thing that really bothers me is people. People have already decided which classes are the best and which are the worst, and what decks win and what decks don't, and what cards are overpowered and what cards are unplayable. But another great thing about a digital card game with random queues and a communication system based entirely on preset emotes is that I can just pretend there are no people.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Piggy Petter

The blog has a great new feature that you can see just to the right. The piggy would be very happy if you would gently pet it with your mouse cursor. I'm looking to make a more fully featured piggy petter, but I'm having some technical problems. If you are or if you know someone who is good at changing images with white back backgrounds into images with transparent ones without weird jaggy halos, please let me know.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Having Done Quite Well

Well, I have posted every week day, holidays excepted, since I started.  But this week I am moving and will be losing my home internet connections temporarily.  I don't want to spend an excessive amount of my workday typing blog posts, so this is all I'll be putting up this week.  Next week I'll be back with more esoteric commentary on games and reviews of magic rules.