Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Maybe Actually Going to do Something

My idle browser game is coming along. I've just redone the tech tree to look like this:


I know the resolution is too low to read, that's because, you know, no spoilers, but you can see the scope of it at the moment. I know that Civ V is a soon-to-be out-of-date reference point, but I've got a spreadsheet tracking my techs and I'm up to 38 vs. its 81. What more, 16 of my techs don't even appear in Civ V. This is partly because I start at an even earlier point in history - you get to develop tools and fire.

One thing you might be able to tell from that chart is that I think my game is breaking novel ground for an idle game - it's non-linear. You don't buy the +10% upgrade to unlock the +15% upgrade. Everything is a huge jumbled mess. Playing it I find myself really struggling to decide which technology I need more urgently.

It's not all that playable right now because you are going to hit a brick wall after several days. Not because you've done everything but because doing anything further becomes next to impossible. I need to time out the pre-prestige game to a couple of weeks, and then get the prestige system working the way I want it to.

This is what I did when I was a kid. I sat around and designed games that no one would ever play but me. Then I played them a bit and got back to what I really wanted to do - design more. Back then they were written out on paper and mostly played with six-sided dice. Now it's javascript, but the point is basically the same. I'm not sure if you'll ever get to play this, but I'm sure making it.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Dumbest of the Dumb

Last year I wrote about how the portion of the electorate I revile the most is the swing voter. In a well functioning democracy where the government represents the people's interests fairly well, swing voters might be the wisest people out there. In our democracy they are the least reasonable and least sane of anyone.

If anything demonstrates this it is Trump's recent rise in the polls. Hilary Clinton got sick and had to take a break from campaigning so Trump made up a bunch of ground on her. She's back on the campaign trail and the polls are turning around again.

During that time there were some new reasons to think Clinton was a bad candidate. Getting out of criminal responsibility for violating national security protocols by claiming that a blow to the head made you forget those protocols is about the most transparently corrupt excuse I have ever heard. If I were living in the US, that might have been the final straw for me, I don't know if I would be able to vote for Clinton after that.

But that's not why this happened. People don't dislike Clinton because she is a warmonger - they love warmongers - they dislike her because she is a woman, specifically because she is the sort of woman who can feasibly run for president. They dislike her, apparently, because she is not immune to pneumonia. I guess Trump, not having pneumonia at this moment, might be. Never mind that Hunter from Daily Kos called it weeks ago, before Trump's huge media stunt for his new hotel:
New theory: Donald Trump ran for president only as a publicity stunt to boost room prices for his new Washington D.C. hotel, which is situated on the inaugural parade route and which opens its doors for the first time this week. Want to book the Trump Townhouse for a prime spot watching the parade? It'll cost you $100,000 per night, minimum five night stay.
Because if there were new reasons to not vote for Clinton, there were also abundant new reasons not to vote for Trump. These people are the reason you aren't allowed to campaign on election day - they genuinely might just vote for the most recent name they saw on a sign. I wonder how much having your name come first on the ballot affects the outcome. If it was a full percentage point I wouldn't be shocked.

What's weird to me is that people who make decisions this way are voting at all. Voter turnout isn't very high in the US or in Canada. If your opinion on who would do a better job changes with the wind rather than with any actual facts about the candidates, what is the value in casting a vote?

On one hand, it's a silly question, because clearly my entirely schema for decision making is irrelevant to the group of people I'm talking about. What I call a reason for something and what they call a reason for doing something are completely unrelated to one another. I'm ignoring my own advice and trying to be reasonable where there is no value in reasonability.

On the other hand, it's very easy to suspect that I do know the answer to the question. It's because they think they know just as much as I think I know. I try to use external indicators to confirm that I'm not a moron, but unfortunately they also confirm that it doesn't matter much.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

More on Fines

A week and a bit ago my bad feelings about frustrating others with my inability to remember appointments culminated in me giving up on everything, but in particular, on my relationship with my therapist. A big part of that was my dislike of charges for missed appointments, which I see as unjust insofar as they are a subset of fines.

Fines usually penalize you in inverse proportion to your income. Capitalism is discrimination against people based on how little capital they have and fines are a way of enforcing that. Fines tend to become more expensive the less you are able to afford them in an absolute sense as well. A wealthy person who has their car towed may be out a few hours of their life. A very poor person who has their card towed may be out a car, which may mean they are out a job, and you might have to throw in a job, a marriage, access to their children, and who knows what else. Capitalism tells us that a poor person's life is worth less than a few hours of a rich person's time, but I think it's fair to reject that as obviously monstrous.

In Finland fine amounts are determined by disposable income. Very poor people are asked to pay very small amounts that nonetheless affect them while very wealthy people are charged up to $103,000 for a speeding ticket. That's a considerably more fair system, unsurprisingly, from a considerably more fair country.

But my dislike of having people pay for mistakes goes beyond the income inequality unfairness. Fines for parking and traffic violations are a significant part of municipal revenue where I live and in a lot of other jurisdictions. This National Post article from a couple of years ago talks about traffic fine declines in Toronto and speculates about the cause. While politicians speculated that police may be issuing fewer tickets as a retributive action for having their budget frozen, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police service had alternative explanations:
She pointed to a number of factors, including the declining number of police officers and the fact that officers have been encouraged to issue warnings instead of writing a ticket on a first offence. The service also has new computer system that has taken some getting used to. It takes longer to process a ticket, leaving less time to issue them, according to Mike McCormack, president of the police union.
Police putting public safety in the back seat so that they could make a point in response to budget cuts was a plausible theory. Changes in police behaviour, new computer systems and fewer police are another.

In a story about a mysterious decline in revenues, though, no politician, police officer, reporter or editor thought to themselves, "What if people are just committing fewer traffic violations? What if the threat of receiving a fine affects people's behaviour and people are trying to avoid them?"

There are a number of things people take into account when they decide whether to obey the law. Generally people obey the law to the extent that they buy into the fairness of the law.  Possibility of getting caught plays in there somewhere. Severity of punishment is somewhere down on the list, but as we've seen from failed "Law and Order" agendas, it's pretty far down.

In fact, apparently the City of Toronto can't possibly afford to have people start obeying traffic laws. They can't afford to have people stop parking illegally. This isn't much different than regional or state governments that can't afford to have their citizens stop smoking or to stop gambling. When we have sin taxes for dangerous behaviour or fines for bad behaviour we create a situation where the government doesn't actually want the behaviour to stop, or even to decline by 10%. We supposedly created those financial disincentives to reduce the behaviour, but the real result is implicating the public in the behaviour. It's the equivalent of catching someone running a scam and demanding a cut instead of reporting it to the police. You smoke, you gamble, you drive recklessly and everyone gets a kickback. When I walk down the publicly paved street or go to my publicly paid doctor I am doing so on the back of a fatal car accident that hasn't happened yet.

The only part of this that relates back to paying for missed appointments is the discrimination based on income part. Payment for a missed appointment is there to directly cover loss of income that resulted from the behaviour. That's why in my earlier post I said that me being upset about it wasn't really about experiencing injustice even though it is unjust.

Still, can't I be upset about it about unjust things that happen to other people? It's not like systems are fair just because they produce desired results.

I'd like to know whether charging for missed appointments even does produce the desired results. Or does it, like traffic tickets, just become another line item on a budget while the problematic behaviour just continues?

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Hearthstone Difficulty

I was just about to leave a comment on Bright Cape Gamer's post on the most recent round of Hearthstone heroic encounters when I decided I my comment was going to get too damn long. I've done just a few of the heroic encounters so far, and I agree with the assessment that they are easier than they used to be, but I guess I have an issue with the whole idea of making a Hearthstone encounter "hard".

What does it mean for something to be hard? In Hearthstone it seems to mean two things: 1) Having to come up with a good strategy and build a deck to execute that strategy; 2) Restarting the game over and over until you get the right cards at the right time. (1) is fun, (2) is tedious, but unfortunately, you can't have (2) without (1).

Hearthstone is not an I Wanna Be The Guy fangame. It's not a game where you can face a challenge that is "Play on the razor's edge of human skill for 6 minutes." The moment to moment decisions you make in the game tend to be extremely straightforward, and the game is heavily governed by randomness.

The pinnacle of this kind of encounter was the Grim Guzzler heroic from Blackrock Mountain. In that encounter each turn your opponent uses their power to put two minions from their deck and one from yours onto the battlefield. If their deck was full of River Crocolisks then this wouldn't be hard, but it is full of pretty big dudes, so you can't just get minions that out muscle theirs. I didn't have all the cards I might have liked but I did have Kel'Thuzad, and I did have the rogue spell Gang Up from beating the Guzzler on normal difficulty. So I built a deck of 29 spells and Kel'Thuzad and simply restarted the game until I could Gang Up on my second turn. When you get a Kel'Thuzad every turn, you don't really need to worry about the fact that there won't be a fifth one.

From Karazhan we have the Illhoof heroic. Illhoof can only be hurt by killing his imps. When an imp dies it does 2 damage to him and comes back. On heroic these imps are 2/2s for 1 mana, and he even has spells in his deck that summon two imps for 2 mana.

So on your second turn you are often facing three 2/2 minions that respawn every time they are killed. This would be problematic even if Illhoof wasn't going to do anything else in the game, but his deck is half-filled with removal, so if you think you are going to stop those imps with taunt creatures you likely have another think coming. Even if you are killing every one of his imps every turn, he starts with more life than you, so the imp attacks will kill you before the imp deaths kill him.

The only solution I can think of is to get some imps of your own. If you steal an imp you get the unkillable creature and it still hurts Illhoof when it dies, not you. The mind control class is also the best silence class, which lets you remove his imps.

But even when you build the steal and silence deck there is a very good chance you will lose. Like I said, he'll often have six power on his first turn and spells that let you take control of his minions are random and expensive. I cast a number of Mind Control Techs while facing boards of two imps and two other minions and lost my coin flip. I got an absolutely shocking number of Demonfires from first turn Mind Visions.

If the encounter were tuned in such a way that you could easily recover from getting a useless card from your Mind Vision and then failing to take an imp with a Mind Control Tech, though, you wouldn't need Mind Control Tech. If he couldn't put you under so much pressure that you needed these things to go your way then there would be numerous strategies to win.

It's just like the WoW encounters that these fights are based off. Ignis the Furnace Master in Ulduar was supposed to be an encounter about carefully controlling his minions and exploding them away from the party and so on. It turned out that the easiest way to do the fight was to tank the minions and just kill Ignis before he beat you. Sartharion with three drakes was one of the hardest encounters ever designed in WoW at appropriate gear levels, but by the end of the expansion people were farming its special mount drops by simply burning down Sartharion. The difference between being able to do N dps and 0.9N dps (for some value of N) isn't winning 10% slower or faster, it's playing an entirely different game.

If Hearthstone Illhoof had 20 life instead of 40, you could try to race him with your taunt minions. If they had made the encounter harder by making the imps only do one damage to Illhoof instead of making them 2/2, you could live long enough to play more powerful minions and spells and open up new avenues.

I had to restart Illhoof a lot of times, but the time I won I simply crushed him. Sky used Kel'Thuzad and Moat Lurker to beat Malchezzar on heroic. On normal mode I used a 33 power C'Thun - he simply died on my first turn against him. On heroic you'd need that C'Thun to have 72 power, so it's a considerably less viable approach, and if you want to take it, you'll need to have a fair bit of luck to make it happen. There are a number of strategies that can be used to beat Malchezzar, but all of them are going to require restarting until you get the right combination of cards at the right time.

So I'm not sure I love challenge in Hearthstone heroics. Raid bosses required solving puzzles of what to do and when, and then executing your plans very well. Hearthstone bosses usually have a single puzzle to solve, and the rest isn't execution, it's just waiting for the dice to come up your way. I haven't found the puzzles hard. As for reshuffling, I guess I shouldn't disparage the skill it takes to actually do that until you win, but I finding it hard not to today.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Making Bad Decisions

On Tuesday I decided to stop seeing my therapist. I've been missing appointments a fair bit in the last year, that is, I've been forgetting about them and just not showing up. My therapist has been mostly understanding, but the last time I did it I could hear in her voice that she was getting frustrated. I almost decided to call things off right then, but I went in to see her again. After our regular appointment she talked to me about missing appointments and about whether there was a reason and told me she might have to start being more of a hard-ass about it, possibly making me pay for missed appointments.

About a year and a half ago I forgot about an ophthalmologist appointment. They also had a policy of having people pay a fee for missed appointments. I never went back.

It's not that I can't afford the fee or that I think there is something really unjust about it. The fee doesn't put me off because I'm out money. It puts me off because it quantizes how badly I'm treating the person whose time I am wasting. I feel very bad about frustrating people and making people angry, I don't want to do it. Making someone so frustrated or angry that they require $150+ compensate them for that feeling seems very frustrated or angry to make someone. By way of comparison there have been a couple of times I have taken a taxi home from work because I just couldn't bring myself to be in a crowd of people on transit that day. I think of how bad I have to feel to be willing to spend $15 to avoid the feeling. Multiplying that by 10 would be unbearable.

There's something very, very, very wrong with the math I'm doing and how I'm looking at it. Then again, maybe considering how much I'm willing to suffer for small amounts of money this all makes perfect sense. I don't present this as a reasonable point of view or something that can be argued with. I'm not even truth here, let alone reason. The truth is I don't know what is so upsetting to me about anything.

But somehow when I'm told I have to pay because an appointment was missed, the whole missing an appointment thing becomes unforgivable. What would happen if I didn't pay? Presumably at some point they would drop me as a patient for not complying with their rules. They have already hit the point that they are ready to drop me as a patient if I don't get my act together, and I have no way of getting my act together.

Would I forget my appointment again? Yes, almost certainly. What can I do other than make sure there is nothing to forget. So I wrote to her:
I think I need to put our relationship on an indefinite hiatus. I don't know why I've become so disorganized as of late but I have no reason to think it will change.
And she wrote back:
What's up?  That doesn't seem a reason to stop coming - that certainly wasn't my intention.  Do you feel guilty about forgetting appointments?  Or was today's session difficult?
I'm sure it wasn't her intention, and it's not my intention to use unhappiness about being called out for being bad to try to negotiate a future where I don't get called out for being bad anymore. It's also not my intention to become more and more frustrating and feel worse and worse about myself over time until finally we end at the same result. All things end, I didn't want to dwell on the specifics of how or when or why. Like I said not long ago, the only reason to have a reasonable discussion is if you are open to changing your mind. I feel really bad about this, but I was going to feel bad about it one day.