Monday, 31 March 2014

Random Creation

Not too long ago I called video game forums collectively a cesspool of crybabies.  I think the dynamic that exists on these forums is a very problematic one.  First of all, only a small fraction of people who play games read or post on the forums for those games.  Secondly, the people who do tend to be the people who are most dedicated to the game.

So when a forum is full of posts saying that the developers have ruined the game and that the forum-goers are quitting, this is actually indicative of almost nothing.  For the most part those forum-goers are not really quitting and there is no way to know whether their comments are representative of the feelings of the larger player base or not.

But there is one thing that these posts do represent, and that is the feelings of the people who make them.  While the concept of "trolling" is often invoked, the majority of people who are called "trolls" are actually get people who are have different opinions or who have intense feelings that they aren't good are regulating.  I even suspect that the majority of people who would describe their own activities as "trolling" are just trying to cover up their own emotional involvement, sort of like a retroactive, "I was joking," after a stupid comment from a celebrity.  Similarly, I have to imagine the majority of people said to be "astro-turfing" political discussions genuinely believe in the position they hold.

And the feelings of the people who care most about the game are presumably something we can learn something from.  We all know that people don't like change, but it's important not to lose sight of the fact that people especially don't like stupid changes that make things worse and they are a lot more forgiving to brilliant changes that make things better.

I'm a huge fan of Zarathustra but the thing that Zarathustra got completely wrong is he didn't realize that the invisible graveyard of failures feeds the success of the Overman.  If there are a million stupid ideas and one good idea then it's a safe bet that the good idea would not exist without the stupid ones.  The fact of that situation is that the good idea is a random occurrence made possible by the million and one chances.

All of that fury on the forums is the pool from which greatness may arise.  Rather than a cesspool I should think of it more as a toxic primordial soup just waiting for the conditions to arise for the formation of life.  That doesn't mean you should spend your time reading the forums, and it doesn't even necessarily mean that the forums should even exist - good ideas could percolate through other media that don't give so much voice to so much of the chaff.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

A Liar and a Cheat

I used to cheat at card games, especially Magic.  A lot.  After searching a deck I'd see cards I wanted, or I would see them while cutting a deck while shuffling.  Once I'd seen a card it was very hard to completely lose it in the deck so I was put in a position of choosing where to put it.  Now I'm not a magician and I can't shuffle a deck and end up with a particular card 23rd from the top, but I can certainly know if it ended up on top or not, or if it had a good chance to end up on top of not.   The amount of shuffling it took to fix that - to make it so I genuinely had no idea - was a lot.

However I justify it or rationalize it, and whether I was cheating to make myself win or to make myself lose, or to just make the next turn play out in a certain way, it was still cheating.  I'm sure people I played against noticed this sort of thing sometimes because, as I said, I'm not a magician, but I never had anyone say anything to me about it and I don't think anyone went out of their way to cut or shuffle my deck any more than they did anyone else's.  Sometimes it was probably more subtle and sometimes it was probably quite overt.

I don't know what it says about people that they were willing to accept cheating at a game we were supposedly playing for fun as a non-fatal character flaw.  Then again, for all I know this could be part of why some people didn't and don't particularly like me.

I guess this fits in with my general pattern of lying a lot and affecting feelings a lot.  When you know the outcome of option A and option B it is hard not to choose between them without telling everyone to hold on a second while you flip a coin.  Pretty much everything seems like a cheat or a manipulation.  Sometimes that's a rationalization to go ahead and cheat because I can't avoid it, or for trying to make sure things are as equitable as possible, or for making sure I come out last.  I think a lot of people solve this problem by being themselves, and maybe a little bit by not paying enough attention.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Vertical Asymptotes

Nowhere are the bonuses for paragon levels so directly comparable as between armor and resist all.  Armor and resist have mathematically identical effects on your Toughness - formerly called effective health by people who analysed such things - except that resist all points are the equivalent of ten armor points.  That doesn't mean that one resist all and ten armor will have the same impact on your Toughness, but they would if your armor happened to be exactly ten times your resist all.  Because they have a synergistic effect, having a lot of one makes the other better.

But the paragon options are not at all equivalent.  One gives 0.5% more armor per point, the other 5 more maximum resist.  If you are level 4 with 40 armor, then the resist all option is transparently superior.  Picking armor will reduce incoming damage by a little under tenth of a percent, resist all by twenty percent.

At level 60 it actually continues to be rather obvious.  My wizard is now using all patch 2.0 equipment, the majority of which is unique with a few rares - particularly crafted rares of intelligence.  I play on Torment III because I can easily butcher things on that difficulty with very little slowdown, but I'm sure I could handle a higher difficulty if I wanted to slog instead of slaughter.  I'll admit I'm a little bit glass-cannony in my item selection, but I have nearly a million toughness so I'm not all that flimsy.  At this gear level I have 3755 armor and 580 resist all.  So increasing my own armor by 0.5% would reduce damage taken by 0.3% while 5 maximum resist would reduce damage taken by 0.6%.  It's not as ludicrous as it was in the low level example, but it's still a pretty big difference.

Of course the break even point is very easy to calculate.  We know that if your armor is ten times your resist all then they ten armor is the equivalent of one resist all.  If either the armor option does not provide ten times as much armor as the resist all provides resist all, or if the armor total is higher than ten times the resist all total then resist all will tend to be better.  That's a pretty fine line to walk.

A half of a percent of your armor is 50 - that is, ten times five - when your armor is ten thousand.  Thus if you have 10,000 armor and 1,000 resist all, the two are equivalent options.  Of course that's not a realistic break even point with current gear levels so let's look at the graph:

That vertical line coming up from nowhere is a sign that excel doesn't deal too well with functions that have a vertical asymptote where they approach negative infinity from the left and positive infinity from the right.  At 700 resist or lower, at level 60, there is no armor value which will make the armor better.  But forget any amount, lets talk about realistic amounts.  With 750 resist all and 60000 armor, you would be better off boosting armor at level 60, but you can't have 60000 armor.  You can't really have 12000 armor either, so 950 resist is out.  Basically, armor is never going to be the right choice.  I'm not that familiar with the best possible gear, but right now it seems unlikely to me that there is anyone who should invest the first point in armor before the 50th point in resist all.

Assuming the formulae don't change, level 70 doesn't change the numbers that much.  You need at least 650 resist all to go through negative infinity into the possible range, and we know that 1000 resist all and 10000 armor will always be a break even point at every level.  The question is, can we read anything into the choices of these numbers?  Should we hazard a guess that we will have about 1000 resist all and 10000 armor is we are tough at level 70?

That's well within the realm of possibility.  For the value of affixes to double seems plausible, and that would put us into the approximate range where we have to do math to make a choice rather than knowing it is resist all every time.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


The eastbound streetcar normally stops on the west side of the intersection but because of temporary construction it picks people people up on the east side.

When the streetcar stops the traffic behind it has to stop too, so every time it goes through the intersection one too many cars follow it, the last one getting stopped in the northbound lane of the cross street.  Usually it takes long enough to load and unload the streetcar that said car is still in that northbound land of traffic when the light changes and cars are blocked by it.  Sometimes it is there for the entire cycle of the light and northbound traffic doesn't get to move at all.

On one occasion, a driver waiting to go north decides to continuously sound his or her horn for the entire duration, from the time the light turns green until the time the car vacates the intersection, about 15 seconds after the light has turned red again and the northbound car has missed its chance.

Slamming their hand on that horn for a little over two minutes sure helped, and was not at all the equivalent to a tantrum thrown by a toddler who wasn't getting their way.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Oh Belial, You Big Idiot

I think the Diablo III story isn't as bad as I thought it was.  By that I mean I came up with a charitable way to interpret it.

In Diablo the hero went down into hell, killed Diablo, and put Diablo's soulstone in himself in the hopes of being able to contain the evil.  Diablo 2 tells us that plan failed spectacularly and the hero became the Dark Wanderer who went east to free his brothers Baal and Mephisto.  The heroes of that game killed Andariel, Duriel, Mephisto, Diablo and Baal.  The gameplay only explicitly contains the destruction of the soulstone of Mephisto, but since the heroes acquired the means to destroy soulstones, one presumes they destroyed those of Diablo and Baal off camera.

So in Diablo 3 we discover that this was basically all part of Diablo's plan.  Diablo fathered a human child with Adria to be the vessel for his eventual return.  The black soulstone was to house the spirits of all the lords of hell so they could be combined into a single body powerful enough to battle heaven.  Presumably Adria ensured the loose souls of the five lords of hell already in Sanctuary made their way to that stone.  All that was left was to find someone powerful enough to kill the last two lords of hell and imprison them in the black soulstone as well.

In Magda's lore entry, she indicates she took over the coven by poisoning the leaders with the assitance of another witch.  Clearly that witch is supposed to be Adria.  The coven, though, is in the service of Belial while Adria is secretly in the service of Diablo - supposedly Belial's opponent in the civil war in hell.

So here is the part that is up to interpretation: Is Belial in on the whole thing?  One suspects that the seven lords of hell are not all on board with falling completely under Diablo's control by being imprisoned in the body of the Prime Evil or they would have been able to get that done without so much run-around.  But Belial acts in a manner that suggests that either he is a complete moron and a terrible liar, or that he is backing Diablo's plan to take on heaven.  Maybe he hopes to retain some influence when the lords of hell are one - or maybe he's just so big on taking down heaven he's willing to pay a steep price to do so.

What does Belial do in Act II?  He draws you away from Caldeum by sending Magda to Alcarnus.  He uses that distraction to capture Leah.  Stupid Belial then doesn't kill Leah for absolutely no reason.  Devious Belial wants you to think Leah is in danger but really just feeds her information about where to find her mother.

Adria sends you off to get the black soulstone.  Belial contacts you as Emperor Hakan to give you advice on finding the black soulstone.  Stupid Belial does this because he's futilely trying to convince you that he's not Belial and keeping and eye on you.  Devious Belial does this because the whole plan rests on you getting the soulstone.

Once you have the soulstone and thus the apparent means to defeat Belial, he launches an attack on Caldeum.  Stupid Belial does this because... I don't know, he's bad?  Devious Belial does this because he wants to force you to attack and trap him in the stone.

If it weren't for the generally terrible writing in the game I might have realized all of this much sooner.  It makes far more sense to interpret Belial as a master of deception with a long-term plan than as a big stupid lout.  Azmodan would be the big stupid lout in this story, tricked into attacking Sanctuary by Belial so that he could be killed and imprisoned.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Future

Today the CBC had an article about what student debt loads are doing to graduates.  It was the story of a woman in her mid-twenties who is having her wages garnished to pay for a student debt that, years after graduation, she has only managed to pay back 4% of.  Her remaining debt is over 80% of her annual salary.

Naturally the comments on this story were people talking about how they paid off their debt without a problem and saying that if this woman picked an education that wasn't going to lead to a good job then she deserves what she gets.

But it isn't really what she gets, it is what all of us get.  We get a generation that won't buy property, may not even rent property because they can't afford to live anywhere but with their parents.  They won't buy cars - and we lament our struggling auto sector.  They will indefinitely postpone having kids for fear that they will still be paying down their own student debts when their children get to university.

Of course its not the whole generation, just maybe 10-15%.  We sacrifice 10% of the productive capacity of the next generation to the banks for interest payments.  And our payment for that is the illusion that if we are successful it is because we deserve to be.  Sweet deal.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Talking About Video Games Again, Sort of

Diablo 3 is ready for release for real.  I'm ready to accept Blizzard's apology and enjoy the game.

I'm not sure they actually apologized, but getting rid of the auction house is hard to take any other way.  I never got a beta invite so I don't know much about adventure mode, but have some kind of mode designed with infinite playability in mind is the right idea.  Hey, and no level cap.  If only they had listened to me back in the original beta.

It's tough to know whether the general anger with Diablo 3 helped or hindered this process.  I'd imagine what made them decide to change direction with the game was a dwindling number of people playing it rather than any complaint anyone made in the forums.  I'm not saying the complaint didn't matter at all.  I'm sure that when they wanted to make some changes the things that people had complained about shaped those changes.

I don't think that the people on the original Diablo 3 design team were morons.  Making a game like this is complicated.  I'll use the example of the auction house.

It is easy to blame the auction house for the game's problems, and I went ahead and did so on numerous occasions, but having played the game in its current state, I think it is fairly obvious that the auction house wasn't ruining the game all on its own.  If you sit down and play a character through to level 60 right now, you wouldn't even think to go to the auction house when you got there because there is no brick wall where you feel like you can no longer progress.  Instead, an auction house for this game would be what they probably wanted it to be - a way to facilitate item trading.  Basically, I think if they had done loot better in the first place, the auction house might have been fine.

What the auction house did, though, was provide an awkward patch over a fundamentally flawed game.  If it were not for the auction house, some of the changes that came in patch 2.0 might have been made within weeks or months rather than waiting for the expansion.

Despite a lot of pre-release complaints about always online requirements and the real money auction house the game sold a staggering number of copies immediately.  Despite the screaming in the forums about how broken everything was, a lot of people played the game for a very long time.  Even though complaints are a very useful source of information - even though we should all consider what the haters have to say - picking the signal from the noise in complaints is exceedingly difficult.

It is much easier to figure out if someone has a valid complaint than to imagine every problem on your own, but it still isn't easy.

So for a synthesis of these complaints and the worthwhile ideas of the original developers to take two years seems fairly reasonable to me.  We can't expect much better from the world.

On the other hand, the writing is still insanely terrible, and I can only imagine there will be more where that came from in the expansion.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Tough Times

Times are tough, apparently.  The economy is under-performing and unemployment is high so employers are taking the time to have tough negotiations with their employees and reduce their costs.

It makes sense, wage costs go up in good times and come down in bad times.  Or at least they go up more quickly in good times and freeze in bad times which is the same thing since the value of money declines constantly.

One of many problems with this is that tough labour negotiations, whether with a collective bargaining unit or with individual employees, hurt morale.  Employers and employees really should have a symbiotic relationship rather than being at war with one another.  It is tough for employees to realize that their wages are being lowered because their employers our of stupidity, short-sightedness or political expediency and so they feel it is being done out of malice.  That doesn't help productivity.

I shouldn't be so negative about this, I mean, I'm negative about everything, but in reality the economy and good times and bad times go in cycles and things will get better.  It's just hard for me to see things getting better any time soon.  The society that made my parent's generation rich, being of no more use to that generation, was discarded in favour of a society that would keep them rich at the expense of their children.  It may take more than one generation to recover, if current nations manage to recover at all.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Brutal Humour

The Buckwheat Groats are a rap duo whose song "Take Yourself Out Tha Game" advocates suicide to the loser who is listening.  The first comment on the YouTube video - as of right now - is someone who finds the idea of advising people to kill themselves really upsetting and distasteful.

Now, it is obvious to anyone that the Buckwheat Groats are a comedy group.  Their other songs are equally ridiculous.  At the same time, "Can't you take a joke," is a pretty lousy comeback to someone who is genuinely hurt or offended.

We shouldn't stifle creativity just because it could offend people, but we should tell people not to be upset by something that may remind them of their own very painful experiences.  It's easy to think that humour is just humour when you find it funny and easy to think it is offensive when you don't.

Progress requires both those are transgressive - to find our faults and find new ideas - and those who are reactionary - to push back against new ideas and thus raise the hurdle they have to get over to be implemented.  That these two forces butt against each other and cause each other emotional pain is a sad consequence of the only way that things can be.

It isn't the comedian who is bad or the person who is offended by the comedian.  It is that the world is drenched in pain and getting better is the most painful thing of all.