Monday, 30 November 2015

Dark Souls

Dark Souls came out a long time ago now, and I bought it a long time ago, but I finally got around to starting it just last week. What drew me in was the fantastic exploration element. What had kept me away for a long time was that it was advertised as being very hard.

As an elderly person with responsibilities, I just can't devote the time that a new hard game would need from me. I don't really want to practice a fight for dozens of hours to get it right, I worry that my reflexes may be degrading and I won't be able to keep up. Still, Dark Souls seems like a fantastic game with a compelling-if-threadbare story, awesome environments, and really cool challenges.

The good news is, it's not that hard.

If I had a readership figure of more than a dozen then I would probably get pilloried for that. Dark Souls - and From Software - is very popular, and part of what its fans love is that the difficulty. People love the idea that you have to earn your win. It is hard, and you do have to earn it. But it isn't that hard. It isn't so hard that you should say, "Ugh, that game is not for me."

In Dark Souls when you die you lose your accumulated souls and humanity and most of the enemies between you and your chance to recover those things will respawn.

On an old arcade box game when you died you lost not only the entirety of your progress, but also real money in the real world, and possibly you also lost your turn at the machine to someone else - you might have lost your ability to play again for another week.

In old ASCII roguelikes when you die you lose the entire game world and have to start again with a completely new randomly generated scenario, even if you'd been playing that character for ten, twenty or even one hundred hours already.

In old Atari games victory was rarely even an option - it just got harder and faster until you died.

Dark Souls isn't as hard those old arcade boxes or roguelikes. It isn't as hard as high level competition in PvP games. It isn't as hard as Yogg-Saron with zero keepers, Sartharion with three drakes or heroic Arthas were with appropriate gear levels. And it isn't as hard as a relatively easy I Wanna Be The Guy fangame - the entirety of Dark Souls likely isn't as hard as some of the easier screens of I Wanna Kill the Kamilia 3.

I'm not saying Dark Souls isn't a challenge. I just get the idea that people describe a game as "hard" when what they mean is, "you will have to practice in order to win." Sure, I've died dozens of times and I'm only a fraction of the way into the game, but if that's "hard", is "normal" breezing through the game with almost no chance of failure at any turn?

I've read that Dark Souls usually takes a new player about 50-80 hours to beat for the first time and about 6-8 hours to run through if you know what you are doing. That's about 90% practice and 10% success. That seems to be on the easy side of hard to me, but hard nonetheless. I think it's being just the right level of hard that gets Dark Souls such a devoted following - well, that and the scenery.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Expletive-Filled Christmas Rant

"Don't dance on the chair."

"Why?"

"Well, what do you think could happen if you dance on the chair."

[Bursts into tears] "Santa will put me on the naughty list and I won't get any presents."

"Santa is not going to put you on the naughty list, Santa knows that sometimes people make mistakes."

[Sobbing uncontrollably] "But Santa said if I was bad I'd go on the naughty list."

"There is no naughty list."

[Screaming] "Santa said!"

"Listen, if Santa thinks you are naughty and you shouldn't get presents, then I'll go get you those presents myself. You are great, if Santa doesn't think so then he's wrong."

[Still crying] "If Santa doesn't get me presents I want you to get me presents."

"I will, you are not naughty."



So fuck Christmas. Fuck Christmas for making my little girl think of herself as a bad person rather than as a person who does the wrong thing sometimes. She doesn't need any help in that department.

Fuck Christmas and it's stupid fucking Christian cultural origins that are all about dividing people into good and bad people. That shit causes massacres and wars.

This isn't just about Christmas or Christianity. Humans collectively have had a multi-millenia project to divide ourselves into insiders and outsiders and to kill the outsiders. We've decided that violence is sometimes what people deserve, and that answering violence with violence is the only way to make other people learn, even though they don't learn and we very obviously don't learn.

We're kind of on track to try to stop acting like that. We're figuring out different ways of conducting ourselves and different ways of raising our children. We're trying to do better. Christmas as a cultural tradition could come along with that wave, I suppose. The idea of a nice person who brings everyone presents every year is hardly a destructive one - sort of.

But even if Santa was just a present bringer rather than a tyrant-god for children, what the fuck does it say to kids of less-well-off families that Santa brought them some $20 toy and Santa brought their classmate a PS4? What does it say to kids of impoverished families that Santa doesn't bring them anything at all? It's fucked in half. If we are going to have a benevolent figure give gifts to all children then society has got to get itself together and give gifts to all children, because otherwise it isn't going to happen. Those toy drives aren't going to cut it.

I hate our stupid fucking consumer culture. I hate that my daughter associates receiving shiny gifts with being loved. But she's not crazy for making that association, it's natural to make that association. Like a friend of mine once said: "Most of us have eating issues, if you don't learn to associate food with being loved when you are a baby then you have a development disability."

For a lot of kids this kind of stuff would roll right off their backs. For my kid Santa's naughty list means that if she does anything she's not supposed to that might mean she is just plain unlovable. I know what it's like to feel like no amount of good you've done can ever outweigh the bad you've done. And I am trying my best to not raise my kid to follow in my footsteps - not that I have any idea what I'm doing. Then this fucking Santa shit happens and fuck ass fuck shit damn hell fuck.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Reality Testing Part Two

I read today about a video on YouTube. It was made by a professional YouTuber with about 190k subscriptions. It was a video that went massively viral of him performing a "social experiment." He disguised himself as a blind person and went out on the street with a hidden camera. When he encountered someone, he would ask them if they were able to make change for a five and hand them a fifty dollar bill. Every single person he encountered gave him change for a five, walking away with the money.

Let's stop and reflect on that video for a second.

So the reason I read about the video and the reason I haven't linked to it or to his channel is that every person in the video was an actor. Real people on the real street when met with a real blind person and given the situation above will behave honestly almost every time. In reality even a fairly dishonest person, prone to theft, will probably usually correct the blind person in the scenario above. Or at the very least they will look over both shoulders before cheating them. Being on the street in the day gives us the impression we are being watched We behave ourselves when we are being watched.

I think that if you saw that video and believed it, you need to work on your reality testing. The idea that you'd meet multiple random people in a day who would all do this - that none of them would be honest, is really just too improbable to believe.

Ordinarily I would say that if you encounter a new piece of evidence that seems to contradict your existing beliefs, you should really think re-evaluate. But when that new evidence is a viral YouTube video, you should weight it appropriately.

But also, you have to keep in mind the point the source of the video is trying to make. People generally project themselves into the world and onto other people. When a person tells you that people generally are honest, it probably means that the person telling you that is honest. When a person tells you that people are generally dishonest, it probably means that person is dishonest.

So I think it might be reasonable to be more suspicious of evidence that would tend to suggest that people are dishonest. This wasn't exactly rigourous science with good checks against bias built it. Whatever a person is advancing, it is probably their agenda. And advancing the idea that people are dishonest should make us wonder about the honesty of the person doing the advancing.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

999 Problems

Unlocking the new hidden character in the Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth required some pretty insane puzzle solving, but you didn't have to do any of it. The summary of the event can be found on reddit. Somehow Edmund McMillen traveled back in time to hide a clue in a movie from the 80s.

But now that that's all done all you have to do is download the most recent update. Well, that and fill up the Greed Machine.

100 Greed Machine

The Greed Machine is a lot like the donation machine but it appears after you beat Ultra Greed. You put any leftover coins you have after winning into the machine. You'll need to put 1000 coins into it to make it explode and unlock the Keeper.

That's no problem because it's pretty easy to break Greed mode and end up with a ridiculous build plus full money. But wait, it is a problem, because every 5 coins you donate with any character increases the chance the machine will jam with each coin by 1%. So after donating 50 coins with Judas, every coin you donate with Judas has a 10% chance to jam the machine, meaning you'll only average 10 coins per run. Until you get to 100 coins at which point you'll only average 5 coins per run. This jam percentage is tracked individually by character but carries over between runs.

So assuming you always get to the machine with infinite coins, your first run averages 29 coins. If you get 29 coins in, the next run averages 13, then nine, then seven and a half. At that point you are at 59 coins donated and can expect to get six or seven coins in per run, making it about 11 runs to get to 100 for a character. You can do that with ten characters for 110 runs, but that would involve playing a lot of times with some very weak characters. You could instead play each character to about 50 coins and then work out the rest on a strong character like Judas or Lilith, doing about 100 more runs with whichever one you choose after getting everyone to about 50 coins.

People certainly play more than 100 games of the Binding of Isaac. People play successful win streaks twice that length. But it's an awfully big grind for those who aren't professional Isaac streamers.

There is a short cut. Basically you break the game to get infinite money in one of many ways, then buy every item in the game until you get the Glowing Hourglass. You'll also, somewhere in the middle of that, want to pick up a Chaos card. The Glowing Hourglass resets you to the beginning of the last room as if you had done a save state, but it doesn't reset the coins donated to the Greed Machine, which are persistent between games.

So no problem, with a Chaos card you can kill ultra greed every 30 seconds or so. If you get to donate 5 coins per kill then 100 kills will only be about an hour of grinding.

Random numbers in Isaac aren't generated on the spot, though, they are pre-seeded. The rolls the Greed Machine will roll to see if it jams are determined when you start your run, not each time you enter the room. So if you go in and donate 5 coins after killing Ultra Greed, assuming your jam percentage is already maxed, you will donate 5 coins every time. It might not be 5, it might be 4 or 6 or 10. This is determined when you start the run, but you have no way of knowing until you reach the last floor.

Setting up this combo isn't a short process either. It took me about an hour and a half to get everything together, and that was after two failed attempts at about 20 minutes a piece. When I got to Ultra Greed, I didn't get 10 coins, or 6, or 5, I got 2.

At least it wasn't 1.

So two nights ago I killed Ultra Greed about 100 times in a row. Last night I killed him about 220 more times in a row.

I wasn't exactly thrilled with this mechanic for unlocking the new hidden character. Unlocking the Lost took less time and was a lot more interesting and skill intensive. This reminded me Dragon Warrior.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Iceland

Ran across an interesting headline the other day about Iceland sentencing five bankers to prison in connection with the global financial meltdown. Of course, it didn't say five, it said five more. In brings the total number sentenced to 26. A quick search turned up this article in Iceland Magazine that helpfully lists the names and sentences of each banker convicted.

Some of those sentences have elapsed, but based on the durations given, right now 15 bankers are in prison in Iceland in connection with the collapse. That might not sound like a lot, but I think it might be more than the rest of the world combined. And also, it is actually a whole lot.

Iceland has a population of 323,000. It has an incarceration rate of 45 per 100,000. More than one in ten people in an Icelandic prison is a corrupt banker.

That is a staggering statement about the values of Iceland as a nation, and a pretty embarrassing statement about the rest of the developed world.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fun Isaac Layouts

Monstro's Lung and Technology make for some fun laser spraying. Would probably be better with rubber cement:


And then there is an even more bizarre load-out. The damage wasn't that extreme, but as you may notice, I'm essentially invincible:


Thursday, 5 November 2015

5 Hushes Down

I have the Hush down with five characters. I posted a video of the layout that I won on with Isaac on Monday, so you can check that out if you like.

Next I did Magdelene who got a Sharp Plug, Blank Card, Sun Card combo for unlimited health.

Third was Cain with a good old fashioned Chaos card.

Next was Lilith who amazingly won with just a whole bunch of really good items. I had a very high damage tear build with Tech X and 12 hearts going into the fight.

Finally there was Eden. Unlike the others I couldn't restart until I got something good to facilitate my run. First game was Forget Me Now, Quarter, The Fool and only one red heart. I died in basement 1 to a room full of spiders. Second game was d6, Whore of Babylon, a Bad Gas pill, one red heart and one soul heart. I killed myself on the second floor because I hadn't gotten a single useful item between that and the first XL floor. Third run was Wafer, Soul Converter, two red hearts and one soul heart. The curse room had Guppy's Paw so I walked out of it with 9 red hearts and a half soul heart.

I then picked up a couple of tears up items, Cricket's Head, Blood Clot, Dead Eye, and Cancer the trinket. Then I got Pound Cake - which is surprisingly good with the constant Godhead and Holy Light procs. Then I got what was a really broken combo - Head of the Keeper, Sack Head and Satanic Bible. I ended up beating the Hush with max health and about 10 batteries on the floor of the room.

Unfortunately my 20-ish Dead Sea Scrolls activations in the Chest didn't get me an open Mega Satan door, but it was a good try.

Just a few more left to go and then I'm going to be back to Lost runs. 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Meritocracy

Meritocracy is a sham because someone gets to choose what "merit" is, and they are going to choose a meaning that favours themselves. But perhaps more foolish than the idea of a meritocratic society is the idea of a merit-based selection process for Cabinet ministers.

Justin Trudeau, Canada's new, super sexy Prime Minister has announce that his new Cabinet will be 50% men and 50% women. This has caused quite a number of columnists to wish that Canada's Cabinet ministers were chosen for their talents rather than their sex. The sometimes lucid Andrew Coyne laments this as a kind of slippery slope away from a fair system that is blind to gender. He laments this after noting that Cabinet selection has never been anything like merit-based. It takes into account regional representation, language, name recognition and good old fashioned cronyism. But now that we are going to have gender equality in Cabinet it is time to start worrying about whether we are heading towards merit-based selection or towards ticking boxes.

Left out of columns like the one Coyne wrote is that Trudeau hasn't actually announced who is in the Cabinet yet. So the criticisms of having a non-merit-based selection process are based on the assumption that a cabinet that is half women is not a cabinet selected based on merit.

The argument that would more likely be made would be that with 50 women and 134 men, it is more likely that the best qualified people are men. But that logic doesn't actually work unless we assume there is no bias at all in the process of electing MPs. If being male is an advantage in being elected and if we assume there is no reason to think a man or a woman would be a better Cabinet minister, then basically the best qualified 28 people would be, most likely, 14 men and 14 women.

Of course being qualified to be a Cabinet minister isn't a quantifiable trait. Assessments of merit are inherently subjective, Coyne admits this. So what he, and others, are really saying, is that in the 50 women elected to parliament as members of the Liberal party, no more than 13 could even be perceived to be qualified, that it would be plainly foolish to think that any of 37 of those women would be able to do the job well. If people are going to make this claim, they ought to be listing the 37 women that they don't think are qualified.

But what I'd really like to know is if any of the people who wrote these columns noticed that they weren't the only ones who suddenly had their thoughts turned to merit by the appointment of women to Cabinet. Did any of them think to themselves, "That's curious, what made us all think of this at the same time?"

I came across an article that seems to note this trend on a website called The Beaverton: 50% female cabinet appointments lead to 5000% increase in guys who suddenly care about merit in cabinet.

Amazingly, Coyne talks about how when assessing merit we need to address our unconscious biases. Apparently not when writing newspaper columns.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Afterbirth First Impressions

Binding of Isaac: Rebirth: Afterbirth came out on Friday, and I played it as much as I could over the weekend, including a few extra hours facilitated by a fortunate illness that kept me from work on Friday.

More Binding of Isaac is more good, straight up. I am very happy with this expansion, and I only wish it were bigger. That said, I'd better start complaining about everything.

Greed Mode
Greed mode is the new game mode which was specifically designed to have players balance risk vs. reward. Or, rather, it is a game mode designed to balance the number of times you make it past the first room with the number of times you win. Balance in that they are equal. I've won it with every character now, and I have actually literally only lost on the first eight waves of dorks. When I did it with Azazel - my first character to go through it, so I had no idea what to expect - I accidentally hit my fool card as Ultra Greed's death animation was playing and had to fight him all over again, no problem. I will admit my Lazarus run came down to my final heart post resurrection, but I had an especially bad layout.

I guess I don't mind. Greed mode is fun. It is disgustingly easy to break, though. Get an IV Bag and a Piggy Bank and you can go off. Those lucky pennies you keep picking up start giving you enough nickels and dimes to go infinite in short order, and soon you'll add a Fanny Pack or Gimp to the roster.

Ultra Greed has plenty of health, and if you have low damage you can be in trouble if he summons wave after wave of minions, but it's pretty easy to have high damage because of the way greed mode is set up.

Lastly, the fact that you get an item charge for every wave, but waves don't end effects that only last one room, has an awfully silly impact on Lilith.



Crashes
Let's say I wasn't super impressed when my game crashed the first time I tried to walk into the Hush. And I wasn't super impressed when I recleared the floor and it crashed again. Nor was I terribly happy when, having given up on that, it crashed yet again the next time I got a character to the opening to the Hush. And that, too, turned out to be repeatable. At this stage, I had no idea what was through that opening in the wall. I really wanted to know. Between this and the difficulty-tuned-for-six-year-olds greed mode, I was starting to wonder whether the expansion was actually playtested.

The Hush
Well, it turns out that the crashes, whatever their cause, did not apply to all games. I got to the Hush for the first time last night, and I had quite the loadout.



It's a good thing too. That thing has a really, really absurd amount of health. Despite the fact that minutes later I was clearing most rooms in the chest with a single shot, that fight took quite a while. Now I have to try to beat that thing with all the characters? That sounds like I'm going to be resetting for good items a lot. I'm going to have to beat that on the Lost one day, aren't I? Yeah, never going to happen.

Balance
My ability to win the hardest challenges of Isaac - that is, the Lost runs - are highly dependent on me getting some of a fairly limited pool of items. Epic Fetus and Brimstone being chief routes to victory, along with broken defensive items like the Stopwatch.

That ability seems to have been reduced by the expansion. It looks like there are some items that are potentially extremely broken, but not as much in a find-it-in-your-first-treasure-room-and-win way. I'm going to have to be distinctly better than mediocre or substantially more lucky going forward. It is nice that Doctor Fetus bombs actually do bomb damage now, though. That stuff that is never going to happen will have to happen eventually.