Tuesday, 1 December 2015


Recently I've had occasion to hear a lot of people hold up Uber as an example of technological and social innovation. I can't take it anymore.

If you don't know, Uber is a company that has a phone app that lets you get a car to drive you somewhere. The car is not a taxi, it is just someone who will drive you to a place. The city you live in is almost inevitably full of people who would like a ride somewhere, and full of people who would be happy to give rides for a price, right? So Uber connects those two things together, sort of like a cork board where people can post offers, but in real time. And the cork board takes twenty percent.

I don't think Uber has pulled off anything technically brilliant. The basic idea of how to connect people with cars can be lifted straight from the taxi industry, and it's a job that lends itself to automation given how cheap computing power is. They didn't really pull off anything socially brilliant either.

What they did do is find a gaping hole in employment laws. That's their real innovation - getting a bunch of staff to work for them without actually paying the staff so that they don't have to do any of the things you legally have to do for your employees. And they circumvent lots of other regulations too. Why don't Uber cars need the same kind of insurance that other commercial vehicles need? They aren't commercial vehicles. Legally it's just a person choosing to pick another person up.

But Uber walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck. While they claim that the people driving for them are just independent people driving cars, facilitated by their service, we all know they are employees. And Uber has already lost a legal battle in California over this, having had their drivers declared employees in that state. I don't know quite what that means in California, but if the same thing happened in Ontario it would mean payroll taxes, workplace insurance premiums, more insurance for vehicles, parental leave, and a whole lot of others things that Uber doesn't want to deal with.

Companies finding out that our laws are inadequate to cover certain types of relationships that are facilitated by technology, and they are abusing those relationships while they are unregulated. There's nothing to be lauded there.

Hey, I've got an idea, let's just take someone who has a lot of money already and give them 20 percent of everything. Very innovative, right? Actually, it's about the oldest idea there is.

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."


"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


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 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.

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.

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.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Perfect Games

Not perfect in the sense of the games being well made, but perfect in the sense that I have all of the achievements on Steam.

I posted a bit about my road to completing the Binding of Isaac. That was my second perfect game. I couldn't think of what my first was and did some searching. It turned out I didn't have another game with all the achievements. What I did have was Rogue Legacy, a game for which I completed all the achievements before they added some more. Apparently the "perfect" status remains under these conditions. So I guess that means I'll have a perfect record with Afterbirth the moment it launches.

Since the announcement of the release date for Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth, I've been looking for games to kill time with until it comes out. I thought I might try to pick up a few more perfects on the way. Unfortunately - from my perspective - a lot games require you to do a huge amount of grinding to get achievements, particularly where games offer online play. I had some fun playing Magic Duels, but I'm not going for 500 player vs. player wins for an achievement.

The game I zeroed in on as my best chance was Skyrim. It turned out that Skyrim doesn't have any extremely grindy or hard achievements, it just has a lot of achievements that cover parts of the game I hadn't really experienced. In order to get one of the achievements I needed to start a new game and level up to 30, and others involved doing very large questlines, but I think I probably rounded out all of the achievements I didn't have in about 50-60 hours of play.

Next I looked at finishing off King's Bounty: Dark Side, but even though there is nothing terribly difficult to do there, it takes about 100 hours to just play the game through, so winning with an orc would be a big pain.

I finally settled on Desktop Dungeons. I wrote about this game when it was in beta, and mentioned the alpha as well. The full release has been on Steam for a while now, and it is a really good game. The achievements looked a little daunting at first, but most of them just require some clever strategies, not huge numbers of attempts. I've only got three achievements to go now, one of which is within reach and the other two of which are doozies. It should keep me busy until Afterbirth anyway.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Crime Simulator: Rebirth

I've done a full rewrite of Crime Simulator including many new features for those who like to simulate the commission of crimes. The game, at it's heart, is still a game about soliciting men with the offer of sexual favours, killing them, and using their money to go to New York to kill Andy Warhol, but there is so much more you can do now. In particular, there are 13 achievements for you to obtain, ranging from nearly impossible to avoid to being so specific in their requirements that its very unlikely anyone will ever come across them without looking at the code.

The basic engine driving the thing is a lot less slapdash now, so it's much easier for me to add things to the game. Will I continue development? Who knows. But if you would like to see features, or if you encounter bugs, feel free to report them here or on the official Crime Simulator thread on Boing Boing's BBS. Enjoy your crime spree.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Archon Attack Speed Stacking

Playing archon is like rolling a snowball with some carpal tunnel thrown in for good measure. When you attack in archon you get a stack that gives you +1% attack speed. So your next attack comes faster, and the next one faster than that. Then when archon runs out you keep those stacks when you cast your twenty spells to get back into archon. Since your attack speed is 1.4 attacks per second, you get through those 20 attacks in 9.5 seconds if you have 50 stacks, 7.9 seconds if you have 80 stacks, and 7.1 seconds if you have 100 stacks. If it only takes you 7.1 seconds to restack Vyr's and cooldown Archon then you'll have almost 13 seconds of 100% increased attack speed when you go back into Archon, meaning you'll generate those stacks way faster.

I made a spreadsheet to figure out how many stacks you'd rack up if you were attacking a target dummy. With my current gear with 15 stacks on my Fazula's Improbable Chain and 11% increased attack speed from gear, I would steady state about 100 stacks of archon. Well, not quite, I'd have 100 when I left around, spend about 8 seconds out of archon, then build up to 80 stacks - so 180 total - before the old ones wore off at which point I'd keep going from 80 to 100 before Archon wore out again. Take off the 11% increased attack speed and it's only 96 stacks. If I had a 20 stack Fazula's chain then would stabilize at 100 stacks.

This speadsheet make doesn't match my real experiences well. For one thing I don't press buttons perfectly. For another, enemies rarely live through a full cycle of Archon so this model doesn't take into account travel times that shoudl be taken into account. This model assumes you'll never have to avoid attaks. Finally this model assumes you can't run out of arcane power, and I certainly get most of it done without worrying about arcane power, but when I have over 100 stacks and I actually can stand still and nuke at optimal speed I can run myself right out.

In reality in something like a rift guardian fight I usually have high 70's. Running around killing groups of enemies can produce well over 100 but that is largely off the back of the extra stack provided with each kill.

All of these calculations, though, made me realize that attack speed is better than I thought. Attack speed stacks poorly with Archon stack attack speed, but it does mean you start from a higher number and that means you end up with more total stacks. The 11% increased attack speed I haven't shed from my sub-optimal gear nets me about 5 stacks in an ideal situation, so maybe 4 in reality. Of course Archon stacks account for so much of my damage that 4 more stacks is only about a 4% damage increase, but that's more than I would have expected in total from 11% increased attack speed. Of course better than bad doesn't make this good, and I will be getting rid of it as soon as I can.

I seem to have firmly entered endgame now, as the next tier of my Season's Journey requires me to complete a conquest. I wish there was some way to more quickly level a very low level legendary gem. When you complete a tier 40 rift and want to get a new gem started, it feels pretty bad to only get to put 3 levels on it. Maybe that will learn me to not level the wrong ones in the first place.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Archon Wizard Toughness Stacking

I've written before about how to maximize a formula of the form (1 + ax) (1 + by). There is a fixed difference between x and y that should be maintained. For example, if you could choose to put points into either "life gain A" which increased your life by 2% per point or "life gain B" which gave only 1% per point - but stacked multiplicatively with A - then if you had 100 points you'd want 75 in A and 25 in B. But if you had 1000 points you'd want 525 in A and 475 in B. With 1,000,000 points you'd want 500,025 in A and 499,975 in B. You want to keep them at a fixed difference of 50 points. In general, the difference is (a - b) / ab, or to put it another way, x = k/2 + (a - b) / 2ab where k is the number of points to spend.

What's a little weirder is that if option A gave a billion percent and option B gave one percent, the ideal difference between them would be only 100. You can try it yourself and see, though. Calculate (1 + 10,000,000 * x) * (1 + .01 * y) for x = 300 and y = 200. Then for 301 and 199, and 299 and 201 respectively. It goes down, not up, when you move a point from the 1% option to the billion percent option.

If you have an equation that goes (1 + ax) (1 + by) (1 + cz) then the formula becomes a lot more complex really fast, but the essential idea that this is a fixed level you want to get them all to before increasing them all equally is still there. That is, x - y should be constant and x - z should be constant. The magnitude of a, b and c only modify what the constant is. The nice this is that there is any easy way to solve for the ideal difference, and that is to simply imagine z was constant, figure out the difference between x and y, then imagine y was constant and figure out the difference between x and z.

This is the formula for Diablo 3 toughness, with four variables. You have vitality, percent life increase, armor and resistance. Each one follows the (1 + ax) formula. For armor, a = 1/3500. For resist all, a = 1/350. For percent life a = 1/100 and for vitality a = 20/79. Based on this, if you could assign points any way you chose, you'd put 1748 points into vitality, 1700 into percent life, 1575 into resist all, and then distribute the rest of your points evenly.

You don't get to just spend points, though. You certainly don't get to have 1700% increased life increase. Instead, you get to choose items with random stat values. Even if we set the randomness aside, we still have itemization values. A point of one thing is not the same as a point of another thing. On your chest piece, for example, you have have up to 595 bonus armor, 15% increased life, 100 resist all, and 750 vitality. And the value of some of these varies from item to item, but the value of others don't. Every item have have 100 resist all except weapons and off-hand items. Some items can have 15% increased life, and the amulet can have 18%. Some items have up to 595 armor others have only up to 397. For the most part those items that can have only 397 armor can also have only 500 vitality, but the pants slot has only up to 500 vitality and can still have 595 armor.

Let's take things easy and ignore all the different itemization. We'll look at the chest piece. We know how to choose if you have the choice between 1 point of each stat, but what about points in sizes they really come in? If we know that one item worth of armor gives 595 armor, one item worth of resist gives 100, one item of life give 15% and one item of vitality gives 750, then we can readjust our parameters.

Now, instead of use 1/3500 as the armor coefficient, we can use 0.17, which is 1/3500 times 595. Resist All 0.2857. Life percentage is 0.15 per item and vitality is 185.87 per item. Those numbers little misleading if we are talking in items, though, since you can't shed the 147 vitality you got from leveling up and you'll have 5598 armor for just wearing items. Instead we'll use 4.97 for a vitality item and count the 147 base vitality as base life, and we'll have 0.065 for armor since you actually need to get 9098 additional armor to double your toughness, not just 3500. If you are a wizard then you probably have at least 900 base resists, making the number to double your life with resists 1250 instead of 350, so that resist number should be 0.08. Now we have the following: You want 7.5 vitality items, 5.9 resist all items, 4.3 percent life items and then you begin taking them in equal numbers.

What if you are an archon wizard, though? If you have energy armor on then you typically have 100% or more bonus armor and nearly the same bonus resists. Suppose I add 110% more armor and 100% more resists, then what happens?

The effect might be a little counter intuitive. If you double the value of armor, you double the base armor as well. The amount of armor you need to double your life is the amount of armor you have plus 3500. If the value of armor is going to be doubled then instead it becomes the amount of armor you have plus 1750. That's because the armor you have is doubled just the same as the armor you are going to get. So the coefficient for armor - the 'a' in the (1 + ax) where x is the number of items with bonus armor - only goes from 0.065 to 0.082. And the coefficient for resists increases from 0.08 to only 0.093. That does make a big difference in the item count, though. You'll want 6.1 vitality items, 2.8 percent life items, 0.7 resist items and then add all items equally.

Let's see if that can be translated into practical terms. Vitality can be found on every item, percent life bonus on only 8, armor and resist all on 10. Since percent life is the scarcest of the modifiers and the second best, it seems that focusing on percent life should be the goal for toughness. It's also worth noting that you can get a full 15% increased life on rings which roll lower bonuses for most stats.

Of course the life component of toughness is not as good as the damage reduction component of toughness because damage reduction also increases recovery. There's lots more math to do.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Archon Stacking

Somehow I got suckered into playing some more Diablo 3. I think it's nearly ready for release now. The main things they have to do still are delete campaign mode and get rid of leveling to 70. I kid, a little. But given that they have seasons where people start over, it seems like they should do something, anything to the leveling game to make it not seem pointless.

Anyway, once an Archon wizard, always an Archon wizard, apparently. Archon with massive cooldown reduction seemed like a pretty good way to play with bad gear back before seasons and such started. This season it looks like Archon wizard is probably the best wizard build, or at least it is among the best. Plus it was the first set I found, so obviously I went with it.

Diablo 3 is basically a completely throwaway leveling game and an endgame composed of putting together item sets that multiply the damage you do by 20. That is more of an understatement than an exaggeration. If there were an item set that simply said, "Disintegrate does 20 times as much damage" then I really don't know if the Disintegrate build would be competitive. This seems pretty dumb to me as a concept, but I guess it's working okay as a game. It's almost like you have a skill tree that supports a few different builds, but instead it's gear you can just take on and off.

Most of these builds are focused around a six piece set. Usually the six piece set bonus provides you with some kind of absurd damage increase, like Tal'Rasha's set that provides you with a flat 600% damage increase for jumping through a few hoops. The six piece set bonus of Vyr's, though, isn't a times seven multiplier. Instead it's a fairly good but not absurd multiplier most of the time, and a very strong multiplier against high health opponents, which is good. But if you put on Vyr's with a strong set of legendary gear to fill your other slots you wouldn't be able to do high tier greater rifts. The Archon build's damage comes from Chantodo's set instead, which adds a completely passive damage source to Archon mode. Other important legendaries include a belt - Fazula's Improbable Chain - the Swami hat, and the Obsidian Ring of the Zodiac. Clearly if you don't wear all six pieces of Vyr's you need the Ring of Royal Grandeur.

Put all that together and what do you get? You begin Archon with 15-20 stacks of the Archon buff which makes you deal 6% more damage per stack and increases armor, resists, and attack speed by 1% per stack. Every time you hit an enemy with an archon ability or kill an enemy, you get another stack. Also, every second you expel a 30 yard wave of destruction that deals 7000% weapon damage. When Archon runs out your Archon stacks continue to function for 20 seconds. During this time your job is to cooldown Archon by casting resource spending spells which, thanks to the zodiac ring, reduce the cooldown of Archon by 1 seconds. Before your stacks run out you have hopefully cooled down Archon and returned to Archon form at which point you will start a second stack of Archon buffs while the first one expires.

For example, if you get 70 stacks of Archon then every second you expel a wave dealing 7000% times 5.2 to your enemies. Then you leave Archon form with a 70% increased attack speed buff on your 1.4 second attack speed, allowing you to cast about 2.4 times a second, meaning you pass 3.4 seconds of your remaining cooldown per second. If you have about 50% cooldown reduction then you had 30 seconds left on your Archon cooldown when Archon ended, so about 9 seconds later you are back in Archon, starting with 15-20 Archon stacks and with 11 seconds of 70 more stacks around, allowing you to attack faster and restack.

But key to understanding all of this is understanding how all of these different benefits stack. Archon increases your damage by 20% and your armor and resists by 20%. Energy armor increases your armor by 35%, and possibly your resists by 25%, depending on rune. Glass Cannon increases damage by 15%, and Magic Weapon by up to 20%.

In Diablo 3 there are a few different categories of damage increase. Setting aside attack speed and critical hits, your damage is the sum of the damage listed on your items, multiplied by one plus Damage From Skills, multiplied by one plus Elemental Damage, multiplied by one my Skill Specific Damage (e.g. Arcane Orb does 13% more damage). Within these categories, all bonuses are added. So if you have one item with 20% increase fire damage and another with 20% fire damage you get 40%, not 44%. Magic Weapon and Glass Cannon both add to the Damage From Skills category, so 20% + 15% = 35% rather than 38%, though that's a fairly small difference. I don't think Glass Cannon is a real option for the build anyway, so that doesn't actually matter, it's just an example.

What does matter, however, is that the 20% extra damage from Archon form and the extra damage from Archon stacks are also in the Damage From Skills category. If you have 100 stacks of Archon, that doesn't multiply your damage by seven, it adds 600% to that category which already has at least 20% from just being in Archon form. Instead of dealing 840% damage you deal 720%. The more stacks you get, the more anything that adds to that category loses importance. For most wizard builds Magic Weapon is a 20% damage increase. For the wizard build that basically doesn't use it's main bar and for which passive buffs seem like automatic includes, it is much weaker.

Also weaker is Energy Armor. It turns out that the basic Archon bonus, the bonus from stacks, and that bonus from energy armor are also additive. So if you have 70 stacks then rather then that 35% more armor, 20% more armor and 70% more armor come out to a total of 125% more armor, not the 198% more armor it would be if they were each applied separately. We can compare this to the 600% damage increase buff from Tal'Rasha's set. That doesn't show up anywhere on your character sheet, instead it just actually multiplies your damage by 7 after the fact. If you also have the 300% increased Arcane Orb damage from Triumvirate buff, then your Arcane Orb is multiplied by 4, then by 7 for a total of 28.

But when your base damage is 7000% per second, you can do with worse multiplication rules. Of course it isn't really 7000% per second either. Instead, it is each second - really each 59/60 seconds - you do 7000% of your weapon's damage - really 6883% - with a chance to crit. Attack speed increases don't make the waves happen more often, nor do they get averaged into your damage beforehand. When you have 100% attack speed increase, that's a pretty big deal.

Attack speed is especially bad for this build. Not only does it stack badly with archon attack speed increase - 70 stacks and 15% increased attack speed makes 85% increased attack speed, not 96% - but it also doesn't affect your primary source of damage at all.

Basically Archon doesn't stack well with anything. Magic weapon provides only a 4-6% increase in damage with the Force Weapon rune. Energy Armor with Prismatic Armor gives only about 18% more armor and 13% more resist. But on the other hand you can't really do damage when you aren't in archon mode, no matter what you put on your bar. You also don't want anything with a cooldown because that interferes to the Ring of the Zodiac resetting your Archon cooldown. So I use passive buffs after all, because there just isn't anything else to do. All this stacking information is great for making a spreadsheet, but it is not great for making decisions about while abilities to use, because there aren't really decisions to be made.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Borderline Benefits

We react to a provocative interpersonal encounter with an affective response, which we experience in our bodies. We then try to make sense of this experience by creating a verbal/symbolic description. We also need to be able to sequence the experience, i.e. to connect our response to the initial provocation. As we begin to make these links, we can make reasonable attributions about ourselves and others, while relying on our memory of similar encounters, and finally come to a decision as to how best to respond. For example, when someone makes a demeaning comment, most people will respond by creating an internal dialogue, acknowledging to themselves how that person is making them feel. They may then perhaps question whether the demeaning comment is accurate or whether the person was making an unjustified attack and respond accordingly. 
A key hypothesized functional deficit of BPD is the ability to label and sequence emotional experiences. Persons with BPD often have a rich ability to employ abstract metaphors and visual symbols through poetry and art, but have much difficulty consciously linking language and other abstract symbols to their experiences. They often have difficulty interpreting their poetry or art, pinpointing a particular emotion, or even acknowledging words that they just employed.
I was with a person discussing their experience of reading Crucial Conversations, a book about how to handle emotionally charged conversations by a team of authors. A key piece of advice in the book relates to understanding the stories that you tell yourself. They remind you that if you think someone else made you angry, really you made yourself angry by telling yourself a story about that person and their motivations.

So one thing to do to reshape a conversation is to question these stories you are telling yourself. Recognize that you might have things wrong, think about whether there is a different way to think about or interpret what someone else did. The person talking about the book said how hard this seemed. It was as if the book was asking them to have an out of body experience and look at a conversation from a perspective that was not their own.

Now, obviously this is a skill that takes practice, and it probably is hard for a lot of people starting out. But it isn't hard for me. It's incredibly natural. That's because I have a functional deficit in forming those stories in the first place.

Actually considering that I might be wrong about nearly everything and anything comes pretty naturally. My explanations, to myself, of what is going on around me are provisional and intellectual, they are not about emotions or attributing praiseworthiness and blameworthiness. To the extent that I am willing to admit any emotion, I require a justification. I don't get angry merely because someone did something cruel to me, I get angry because I can explain why it make sense for a person in my position to get angry. Or at least that's how I experience anger. I'm sure I get angry at other times, but I might not be aware of that at the time,.

This was interesting to me because it hints at an actual function for the difference in my way of thinking. If Borderline Personality Disorder makes it easier to observe conversations objectively then maybe there is some actual benefit to thinking the way I think.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Bizarre Campaign

Canada's Conservative party - that is, Steven Harper, because I don't think there are any other people who get a say in anything Canada's Conservative party does - decided it was a good idea to have an 11 week election campaign rather than a normal 5 or 6 week one because they have more money than anyone else, recently passed a law that says they can spend more money if the campaign is longer, and think that no one will be annoyed with them for such shenanigans.

Now, before they decided on this 11 week election campaign, they probably sat around and thought about what they were going to do with those 11 weeks. What would they announce week 1, what would they announce week 2, and so on.

Well, we are starting to find out. So far they have announced that they will make it illegal to travel to certain terrorist hot spots - that is, they will make it illegal for Canadians from certain parts of the world to visit their birthplaces and their families - and that they will pledge $9M to promote religious freedom in the Middle East.

That first one may or may not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It may or may not violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I'd say that it probably doesn't, from a very technical reading of the law sense, but given Harper's track record with our Supreme Court, if betting on the side of a Harper government in a charter challenge you should probably ask for odds.

But violating the human rights of Canadians in an effort to "fight terrorism" is nothing new for our Conservative government and wouldn't really be that novel for any government. On the other hand, $9M to promote religious freedom in the Middle East...

What the hell does that even mean? How is the money being spent or who is it being given to? Why $9M, why not $10M or $15M or $6M? If you want to solve all of the religious strife in the Middle East you're probably looking at more like $9T rather than $9M if any amount of money could possibly accomplish that. The Americans are trillions in the hole on creating democracy - and religious freedom - in just one nation and the results aren't fantastic.

Beyond my complaints, I just can't understand who that pledge is supposed to target. Who is going to vote for the conservatives based on them sending $9M abroad for this cause? Who will think $9M is enough and not too much? Who will think that "promoting religious freedom" is worth spending money on and simultaneously think that "their tax dollars" are the way to do it?

From what I've read, so far, no one. Sure, there are lots of people who would defend Harper no matter what he said, but they are mostly saying that left wingers are dumb, not actually saying why they think this is a good idea.

Usually when ruthless assholes win we say they are smart because we need to cling to some explanation of why that ruthless asshole won. I think reality is that people win elections because they are in the right place at the right time and that Steven Harper is not the master strategist that he is credited as.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Stupidest Guys in the Room

I'm not the only person I know who has some contempt for the 30-ish percent of Canadian voters who will vote for the Conservative party regardless of what they do. In the US and Canada, conservative politicians are people who use their own fantastically bad job of governing as evidence that government cannot be trusted in the hopes of getting themselves re-elected as the anti-government party. If you can't tell the difference between that and actual conservatism - the counterpoint to and balance against progressivism - then you aren't very clever.

To probably apocryphally paraphrase John Stuart Mill, conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservative.

But Canada's Conservative government isn't targeting those authoritarian personality types with their policies. Those people will vote for the right-wingyest party regardless of policy, so why waste a thought or a dime on them? No, the policies are aimed at the ten or fifteen percent of people who will consider voting conservative if the inducement is right.

So the scheme was to eliminate the existing Child Tax Credit and increase the Universal Child Care Benefit. They got rid of a tax credit for those with children under 18 and replaced it with a $60 per month payment for those with children under 18. Then, they got confused about how to actually issue checks for $60 a month and figured it out just recently, a few months before the election, meaning they gave six months of benefits out at once. They were so crass about this scheme that they referred to it as "Christmas in July" and touted it as the largest single payout by the government ever.

Of course because they eliminated a tax credit, the vast majority of the benefit will effectively be taxed back at the end of the year. The benefit itself is taxable to begin with. I've seen different people give different numbers, but it sounds like most people should expect to pay about 80% of that check back at tax time. So the "here's $360, please vote for us," is really just a veil over "here's $10-$12 a month, please vote for us." Not to mention that this change may well mean that a lot of poorer families go from expecting a tax return to having to pay taxes this year - something many people will not understand and plan for.

In the most recent poll, support for the Conservatives rocketed up. While they were previously showing second to the NDP, they are not showing a solid first, maybe back in majority government territory.

So no, my contempt should not be aimed at the 30% of Canadians who cling to the leader of their identified tribe regardless of how corrupt that leader is. No, it should be aimed at the 10% of Canadians who are such complete morons that they will choose who to vote for based on a shiny check with their name on it. Right wing authoritarians may be the bulk of the conservative movement, but these people are the make-or-break supporters that throw it over the edge. These are the selfish idiots who don't even understand how to be selfish right.

That's who all the politicians are fighting over. People with not particular conviction, no long term memory, no long term plans. People who can be bought cheap. Oh, and apparently most of them have kids.

I hope they choke.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Neo Exdeath

I skipped a lot of the endgame with my Four Job Fiesta party. I couldn't make use of more than three of the legendary weapons so I didn't bother acquiring them. Instead I just grinded a few levels and headed straight for the Void.

The Void had a couple of really awful fights. In particular Calofisteri - translated elsewhere as "WoodSprite" - was a problem for my damage challenged party of Thief, Red Mage, Beastmaster, Chemist. It's possible I could have killed her with four Release commands before the battle even really started, but I wasn't preloading for every battle, and wanted to win without having to try again if possible. The big challenge she presents is counter-attacking with Drain every time she is attacked, and putting Old on characters. There seems to be a bug that leaves you very weak if you remove the old condition from characters, so I was left in a position of being unable to hurt her. My road to victory was to wait until her 1000 magic points ran out and then very slowly race her Regen.

Twintania was also a bit of a problem. I think I might have been able to Toad it when it was charging gigaflare, but I beat it with four Reflect Rings and it's own magic counter attack.

Necrophobe was basically totally out of the question. Again, probably I should have just used Catch and Release to obliterate him, but he's optional so instead I just left him alone.

Now Neo Exdeath is quite a final boss. His grand plan is to use the power of the void to unmake everything that is and then he too will disappear forever. As motivations go, I suppose it make about as much sense as anything else. He's got four segments that take individual actions which do a lot of bad things to you, and when you get him down to his last segment he goes a bit nuts and starts casting Meteor on you. Again, he's a problem if your damage is terrible, and this time Release doesn't appear to be a silver bullet.

Fortunately the chemist comes to the rescue. Chemists can put all kinds of weird status conditions on you, many of which persist through death. Chemists can mark you as a boss making you immune to the majority of status conditions. They can give you absorb lightning, fire and ice. They can increase your level, increase your magic damage by 50%, and double your maximum health. They can also resurrect characters to full health and magic and do full heals of living characters using extremely cheap mixes. Resurrection to full health and mana is Phoenix Down + Potion.

With all of these buffs I could ignore Neo Exdeaths most threatening ability, get healed by his occasional elemental spell that would otherwise do huge damage, and force him to kill me again and again and again until I finally ran out his health.

All in all, though, I wouldn't say I loved the four job fiesta. In a way it's nice to participate, but what I like about the job system is being able to do all kinds of interesting things. The four job fiesta forces you to find the one thing your combination does well and use it to beat every fight.

Anyway, I'm done, so I've started a new game where I will learn all the blue magic like I'm supposed to.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Binding of Isaac - d20

I'm still figuring out things about the Binding of Isaac. One I just figured out recently is that the d20 is up there with the most powerful items in the game. If that sounds like an exaggeration, watch this:

In this run things were made easy for me with a Card Against Humanity, but in another run I set off a very similar if slightly less infinite chain by just using an arcade to spawn a huge number of coins and wheel of fortune items.

The die rerolls all pickups on the screen. It also rerolls empty chests. So if you reroll enough pickups to make sure you spawn some chests then you can reroll those into even more pickups. Obviously this requires some way to refill the d20. In this run I have the sharp plug, which is obviously a little bit game breaking. In another run I had the 48 hour energy pill in my pill set - be sure to use the pill in another room so the extra batteries don't reroll. You could also do it with a habit and a fire. The damage doesn't matter much because there will be plenty of hearts to grab.

I thought that when the golden chest item pool was exhausted the game would start giving me Breakfasts, but for some reason after giving me everything in the gold item chest pool, including some of those things three times, the gold chests started containing treasure room and even angel room items. You can see me pick up Godhead in the video above. I don't really understand how that works. You may be able to tell from the giant laser circle that I have ludovico technique and technology I also have nearly every other item in the game, though I purposefully avoid doctor fetus just in case there is some weird interaction.

I should have made a video of my bombs going off. With sad bombs, death's touch, godhead, proptosis, and various other effects they were a sight to behold. That hardly mattered, of course, since the blue baby didn't live long enough for one to go off.

The above run put my Eden win streak at 7. One day I'll stop saying I suck at this game, but seriously, every now and then I get hit by Monstro and think, "I have no right to even play this."

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Final Fantasy V Stealing Algorithm

My insistence on stealing everything from every enemy came to an incredibly short end. Against some early monsters I put in 20 attempts at stealing with no success. Against one enemy I tried 40 times and didn't get it. I sort of wanted to just go until it worked, but I didn't know what the formula for success chance and I couldn't rule out the possibility is my chance of success was actually zero.

Fortunately for Final Fantasy games you can usually go to GameFAQs and find some pretty in depth guides to the numbers. In this case, the user instructrtrepe provides a guide to all of the games' algorithms. Given that most enemies in the game seemed to give up their steal item in a couple of attempts while others just didn't give it up at all, I thought there must be some bizarre formula. Maybe if I went up a level I'd have more luck, or maybe the chance of stealing was just fixed at 40%.

It's that second one.

For a moment I was going to take this as a lesson in not being fooled by randomness, but look at those numbers again. Against three or maybe four enemies I tried 20 times. Against one enemy I tried 40 times. Forty consecutive 60% rolls is starting to raise questions.

But what questions ought it raise? First of all, let's do away with the very common logical fallacy that people use to argue that there is a god. Statement A is that stealing has a fixed 40% success rate. Statement B is that I stole 40 times in a row from an enemy and failed every time. B given A is only about one in a billion. B is true. That allows me to conclude absolutely nothing about A. Basically, you cannot get A given B from B given A, you need an additional piece of information. You're very unlikely to win the lottery given that the sun came up in the morning, but someone wins the lottery every day and the sun keeps coming up.

On the other hand you can say something about the probability of A given B if you have B given A and the probability of A and B independently. Bayes Theorem says:

P(A|B) = \frac{P(B | A)\, P(A)}{P(B)},

and I know that P(B|A) is about one in a billion. In order to get P(A|B) I'd need to know what P(A) and P(B) are. Do I have any idea? Given that I got the 20 in a row result several times, I'm guessing off the top of my head that P(B) isn't itself something like one in a million. P(A) is harder to get a feel for: First of all, GameFAQs is a place people go for this sort of detailed information in text form for final fantasy games, or at least it replicates the information sources people go to. Second, this would be a giant glaring omission - to think I'm the only person who noticed that the chance of stealing from some monsters was not 40% at all would be a bit like thinking I was the only one who noticed that ISIS was marching in the London pride parade. Odds are that the guide wasn't wrong but that I was misunderstanding what the guide said.

Here is the algorithm for determining stealing: First, set chance of success at 40%. Next apply modifier to steal success. Get a random number from 0 to 99. If the number is greater than or equal to the success chance then stop. If an item has already been stolen from the target then stop. Get another random number from 0 to 255. If that number is less than 10 get a rare item. If that number is greater than or equal to 10 get a common item.

So obviously something happened in that "apply modifier to steal success" step. But it turns out that step is as follows:

If the Attacker is wearer a Thief Glove, Hit% = Hit% * 2

No help there. What could be going on?

What's missing is a second algorithm that determines which message to provide to the player. Clearly, if an item was generated then it provides a message saying what item was stolen. But if no item is generated then it can either say, "Nothing to steal" or "Couldn't steal".

Note that the choice of message is not generated by the termination point of the steal algorithm itself. It checks if you miss your steal attempt before checking if an item has already been stolen. So "Nothing to steal" could mean that an item had already been stolen, or it could mean that there was no item to steal in the first place - that is, the monster has nothing for both its common and its rare steal. That message can be provided whether you hit or missed.

But what about monsters that have nothing for a common steal but have something for their rare steal? Yes, those exist on the list of monsters. It may go through the algorithm, get a hit, and still provide no result. But the monster does have something that could be stolen, so it says "Couldn't steal" instead of "Nothing to steal".

The chance of a rare steal is 10 in 256. Since the chance to hit is 40%, the chance to hit and get a rare steal is a neat 1 in 64. So if a monster has a rare steal but no common one - giving you a 1 in 64 chance of stealing something - you'll get the same message as if the monster has both a rare and a common steal - giving you a 40% chance of stealing something.

This isn't very helpful feedback from the game, and it appears to run through nearly every stage of the game. Fortunately the difference between 4 in 10 and 1 in 64 is pretty easy to detect by experimentation so it isn't necessary to constantly check the guide. Unfortunately this scheme doesn't guarantee that the item you steal will be worth it. Those monsters I was failing to steal from in the first cave could have yielded potions if I had stuck with it.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta

I picked up Final Fantasy V for iOS, so I thought I might as well do the four job fiesta. I don't think the rules are very well spelled out, so I'm not sure if I'm technically not supposed to be playing the iOS version. I'm sure I'll be able to avoid any extra content for this run anyway.

The basic idea, though, is that you get one job per crystal and can only use the jobs you were assigned.

I tweeted my registration to their bot and got my first job: Thief. It's hard for me to imagine going through a final fantasy game without the ability to steal, so this is the class for me. On the other hand, it means I will not have white mage or black mage, and it means that there might be a lot of leveling up in my future. At least until I get to the second crystal whether or not I can beat a boss will entirely depend on whether or not I have enough strength and health to just attack them down.

Naturally I can't stream this because I'm playing it on an iPod, and I'm not really set up to stream anyway. Still, the thing goes until September 1 and I think I should be able to find enough time to finish it by then, especially being able to play on the subway when I go back to work soon.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Platinum God, For Real Now

I found the d4, completing both Real Platinum God and Platinum God at 9:27 this morning - thanks Steam for time stamping that for me. In the afternoon I finished beating hard mode boss rush, chest and dark room on Eve, rounding out everything there is to do in the game. This is the second game on steam that I have all the achievements for.

Maybe I have to upgrade my claim of sucking at the Binding of Isaac to say that I'm not all that good at it. My highest wins streak, after all, is five.

On one of my runs to complete everything on hard mode with all characters I got an unexpected combination of items that was completely mind blowing. I know I had picked up Sacred Heart before because it was checked off on my item collection screen, but I didn't recall it. It turns out greatly increases your damage, reduces your tears and gives a homing effect. I also had polyphemus, which greatly increases your damage and reduces your tears as well. Most importantly, though, I had rubber cement, which makes your tears bounce off of enemies and walls. The bouncing seems to extend the range of the tears - I don't think it's a full reset when they bounce, but certainly with many bounces they can stay on the screen much longer than they normally would.

The powerful homing effect of sacred heart meant that sometimes after bouncing off an enemy the massive tears would turn around and hit that enemy again. The second time they would be moving slower and bounce less, and then they'd end up just resting against the enemy, killing it very quickly.

My tear rate was very slow, but I was clearing nearly all rooms with only a few shots. I cleared some rooms with a single shot - rooms that don't seem remotely possible to kill with a single shot. Killing a a boss with a lot of health with one shot is one thing, but killing three super sloths with one shot seemed just plain weird. The giant white ball of death homed over to one of them, killed it very quickly, bounced off, headed to the next one, bounced off, and headed about halfway across the room to kill the third. I killed two fallen with one shot. The shot simply hung around the first fallen until it split, bounced back and forth to kill both the small fallen, then headed over to the other fallen and killed both of them as well. The Lamb, with it's massive health pool, managed to take three tears to defeat.

It's pretty neat that even as I was rounding things out I still found a new brutal combination of items, even if it involved Angel Room items that you'll almost never get. I think that the expansion is due in the next couple of months, and I'm sure I'll be playing the hell out of that - and being not all that good at it by some absurd standard.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Platinum God, Almost

I took a break from King's Bounty: Dark Side because it turns out the latter half of winning on impossible is a horrible slog. I've got the units and the magic strength to basically beat anything, but sometimes beating anything takes a long time, and there are a lot of things to beat.

In the meantime I've been playing Fallout: New Vegas, Borderlands, Dead Space, and The Binding of Isaac. Amazingly, I am very nearly a Real Platinum God at Isaac, despite the fact that I will still insist that I suck at it.

How can I say I'm bad at Isaac when I've beaten ???, the Lamb and the boss rush on hardmode with the Lost? Partly, I'm really not sure if I could do that again. I only played about a dozen games with the Lost before I came across two completely absurd sets of items - the kinds of items sets that you could only dream about - that allowed me to accomplish these feats.

To beat ??? I had Epic Fetus, the Holy Mantle, Dead Cat, and Pyromaniac. For those who don't know, that means I got to ignore the first hit of every room, I had 9 lives, my tears were replaced with airstrikes that do tremendous damage and can blast open doors, and I was immune to explosions - protecting me both from my own missile strikes and from Mom's stomps.

To beat the boss rush and then move on to the Lamb, I had Brimstone, the Ludovico Technique, Dead Cat and the Stopwatch. Brimstone and the Ludovico Technique combine to give you a red ring of death that extremely rapidly kills anything it touches, especially with numerous devil deal damage up items. The Stopwatch is probably the most unfair item in the game, slowing all enemies and their projectiles to extremely slow speed, which also reduces the range of enemy projectiles dramatically.

I guess I probably have a reasonable chance of winning with the Lost if I get the Stopwatch and very good damage items. I have a lesser but non-zero chance of winning with the Holy Mantle and very good damage items. Dead Cat very much helped my ??? run, but actually didn't get used when I had the Stopwatch. Without extremely broken items, my chance of winning is very close to zero. I think that I can beat boss rush only with Stop Watch and a stupendous damage combination, and I still felt extremely lucky to beat Mom even with that - I am so bad at Mom.

But I guess that means I don't suck completely.

So why don't I have Platinum God or Real Platinum God yet? Well, in order to get those, you have to get a touch on all of the items. Some items really don't show up very often in the game. I was extremely surprised, however, at how few of the items I actually needed. I had touches on more than one Angel Room Only item that I had no recollection of at all - The Sacred Heart, the Dead Dove. I also don't recall ever finding the Skeleton Key, I guess I have.

In fact, after finding Godhead, there were only a few items I'd never found. A couple of them weren't that rare at all. The Razor, for example, has shown up in my games plenty of times but I guess I just never picked it up - it seems terrible, so I never bought it from the devil. I had never bought the Red Candle from the shop either. These items and one or two others were remedied in a dozen or so playthroughs before I actually completed the hard mode lost tasks.

This left me with one item left to find, and it turned out it was one I hadn't even unlocked. You unlock the d4 by destroying 30 slot machines. It's hard for me to comprehend how I never did that, but I managed to do it pretty fast once I found out I needed to. It turns out the last obstacle in my way to becoming a Real Platinum God was an item that most people probably unlock before they even know what the Lost is.

Of course, this will only put me in with about the top 3% of Isaac players on Steam. It's amazing how dedicated people are to this game.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Impossible: Creation

Baby ear infection time is over, and hexagon tactics time is back again.

Creation is a spell that recharges the charged abilities on your units. At maximum level it can affect units of up to level four and gives three charges to each ability.

For example, Heresiarchs can cast resurrection twice a fight. Cast creation on them and now they can cast it three additional times. Necromancers can cast magic lock once, animate dead three times, and plague once. Cast creation on them and they can use each ability three additional times.

This spell is dumb as hell. When I first played the game on the succubus, one 16 mana creation on my stack of heresiarchs gave me three resurrections, each one about twice as powerful as my 30 mana resurrections spell, and able to target level 5 units, which resurrection was not. Used on units with summoning abilities it seems even more ridiculous.

And then there are some abilities that really were not meant to be used more than once. Here is me beating a fast moving enemy force with a wolf.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Impossible: AI

At some point in a tactics game you are gaming the computer player's decision making process instead of directly engaging. You know that the computer will always choose to move and attack if that is an option, so you can use a summoned unit just inside the movement range of an enemy unit to walk them back across the field. In theory if a unit has to move down one row and over three columns to get to you, they could go down that row at any point during their movement, but the computer will choose the point pretty consistently, so you can predict that and put a trap on the first hex they enter.

This isn't really showing tactical superiority so much as it is abusing the flaws of a predictable opponent. One of my favourite units is so good precisely because it is so good at abusing the AI.

Shamans are a pretty strange unit. As an orc unit they use the adrenaline system - whenever they attack or take damage they gain adrenaline that they spend to use their abilities. This is an issue for the shaman, a unit that is supposed to be standing back and casting totems rather than engaging in melee.

In a previous iteration, the shaman had an ability that gave it adrenaline whenever another orc unit gains adrenaline. That gave it some ability to use its totems and magical attacks but some rounds it couldn't. In Dark Side they gave the shaman a really bizarre adrenaline generation ability.

At the beginning of the shaman's turn the shaman has a chance to be restored to a full 100 adrenaline. The chance this happens is one hundred minus the shaman's current adrenaline as a percentage. If you are mathematically inclined then you are probably thinking you read that wrong right now. But no, if the shaman has 65 adrenaline then there is a 35 percent chance it will fill to 100 at the start of it's turn. If the shaman has 10 adrenaline then there is a 90 percent chance it will fill to 100.

That is even more bizarre when you find that two of their three abilities cost 25. Since that divides evenly into 100, I can always keep using them forever. The other costs 15, so after many failed rolls it is possible to end up at 10 and actually end up with a turn when you can't use any ability, but that's pretty unlikely. Even if I was trying my hardest I'd only manage to avoid having an ability to use it would take me almost 240 rounds to get one round off.

So shamans can basically just use their abilities however they want. One of the abilities deals damage to an enemy and heals allies, the other two make totems. The totem of life gives increased defense to allies and heals them each round, the totem of death reduces the speed of enemies and deals damage each round. These effects affect those within two hexes of the totem.

While both of those sound potentially useful, neither is necessarily fight winning. What makes both of the totem abilities very powerful, though, is the AI. The AI has a great fondness for attacking totems and seems to do so above all other options. A well placed totem can divert all melee units on the opposing side. Because the totem of death reduces speed by one, when it comes to speed two units, any number of units can be defeated by a single shaman.

There isn't much to say about this fight. Turn on yakety sax and watch some peasants foolishly chase totems to their death. Sure, those peasants might not have done terribly well even if they played smart, but it's still pretty great to be able to beat them all with just totems. If you are wondering why I cast poison skull instead of chaos missile in thsi fight, it's because there is a medal for many poison skull casts that will increase my maximum mana. Basically, I'm just increasing my cast count because I know the fight is already won.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Impossible: Impossible

When I first started playing on impossible difficulty it seemed to be literally impossible. That dwarf fight I posted last time probably didn't look all that bad - it's the elf fight that's the real problem.

A battlefield from the game, showing the beginning of the battle with the elven guardian of light.

The wolves in that picture aren't wolves but werewolves, as are the elves with the blade on their hands. Like vampires, they have two forms, also like vampires they regenerate and their fast form has four speed. You may guess from the image that the fairies out front have five speed and a high initiative. The archers suffer no damage penalty for shooting across the entire arena, and the fauns are a ranged unit that can cast sleep.

So this, like the dwarf fight, is a battle against a very stacked opponent, but this time the opponent has high speed than you and have excellent ranged units. But that's not all. Wolves, and werewolves in wolf form, have a howl ability.

Howl: Lets loose a long, terrifying howl, frightening all living enemies of level 1-2. These enemies have a 50% chance of being forced to skip their turn. Charges: 1/1

That sounds pretty bad. But let's look at the description of the effect that Howl actually places on my imps:

Fear: Units are filled with fright and don't obey orders. They are afraid to attack the enemies of a higher level than itself.

Not a perfect localization, I'm sure, but you get the idea. The feared creature doesn't have a 50% chance to miss it's next turn, it acts without your control, attacking enemies equal or lower level than itself. This effect lasts two rounds, and there are two stacks of werewolves, so you don't actually get to control any level 1-2 units you have for the first four rounds of combat.

Four rounds of not controlling your army against an army twice the strength with faster, higher ranged units than you have. You can forgive me for thinking this was unbeatable.

A huge part of the problem is the units you are stuck with. The shelter has a selection of six units to recruit. It has a level one and two orc unit: Goblins and Furious Goblins. It has two level two demons, since there are no level one demons: Imps and Scoffer Imps. It has a level one and a level two undead unit: Skeletal Archers and Zombies.

But wait, that last one isn't for sure. There are some things in King's Bounty - a lot of things, actually - that are random. While the shelter alway has the same Orc and Demon units, the undead army has two level one and two level two units. The choice between zombies and decaying zombies isn't a big one - you can see from the screen shot above I didn't recruit them anyway. But the difference between skeletons and skeletal archers is the difference between a fragile ranged unit and a fragile melee unit. Guess which one of those is about a five times as good.

Because undead are immune to fear, this is an even bigger difference. If you only get to control one unit, do you want it to be the one that basically stands there and hopes to get to fight at some point or the one that is shooting things down?

But that's not the only thing in King's Bounty that is random. When you begin playing, you get a quest.

So talk to Clarissa, get some experience, a couple of potions and a scroll of Frost Grasp. It's a breadcrumb quest to get you going on the story.

The thing is, I didn't recall having Frost Grasp. You start with Poison Skull, which has a huge damage range and inflicts poison. Frost Grasp has a more predictable damage range and inflicts freezing, which deals damage like poison does, but which also reduces speed. You can see how that's better, but I still didn't see winning.

I tried starting again and got the above quest. Here are a couple of others I saw:

So the spell you get is random, as is the amount of experience you get. That seems crazy to me. Especially since the spell choices appear to have a very wide range. Frost Grasp would be handy, Fire Arrow would be as well. Magic Shackles is a great spell, and Time Shift is downright broken, but neither will do anything in the early hard fights.

So I was restarting hoping to get Fire Arrow because it has the best damage to mana spent ratio in at level two, which is the best you can do for those fights. I would also have been even happier with Trap, which does more damage and ends an enemy unit's turn so long as you can successfully place it in their path.

But instead, I got Chaos Missile, which I had no idea was even an option.

Let's take a look at Poison Skull.

These are the damage numbers with fairly low intelligence, but everything scales by multiplication, so the relative power of the levels stays the same. So rank one is about 20 damage per mana, ranks two and three are both a little over 25 damage per mana with increasing chances to poison.

Now let's take a look at Chaos Missile:

Rank one the missiles to 5 per mana, then they do 5.5 per mana, then they do 5.33 per mana. But, also, the number of missiles goes up from 3 to 6 to 9. So actually the damage per mana is 15, then 33 then 48. Plus, since the cost scales up faster it does even more damage per round, which is important for getting rid of units before they are able to do serious damage to you. 300 damage is a lot more than 170, and when you are able to scale it up to level 3 it's a huge asset.

So my second attempt at impossible I not only a massively more powerful spell, I also got random experience rolls that allowed me to hit level 5 before fighting the elves, and I swear the stacks in the human army were just 15-20% smaller by chance as well. Impossible turned to quite possible.

I'm pretty confident that having gotten past the guardians of light and the fight following that the game won't actually be all that hard on impossible mode, and so far the game has been proving me right. Next time, the trick I used in the early game to get units that could win fights.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Impossible: Vampires

The very early game of King's Bounty is pretty rough. Really, the biggest challenge of the game is probably beating the three "Guardians of Light" that appear right after you first meet the spirit of darkness. You are level 5, have access to only a small selection of troops, haven't been able to search for artifacts or spells, and don't yet have rage abilities.

These are very poor conditions to take on an army much larger than your own. One thing that helps a lot is that you start the game with two vampires.

When you start a battle, Vampires are in Vampire form, but they have the ability to change into bat mode. That doesn't take their action and they can continue their turn after transforming. Transforming clears negative status conditions and heals the vampires to full.

So you can choose between two speed and better combat stats or four speed and worse combat stats. But there is a lot of other text there. On the left side there is Regeneration, which heals the vampire to full at the beginning of each of its turns. That doesn't matter much in the late game when it is healing a few percent of their total health, but in the early game it lets vampires take on substantially more than they ought to be able to. On the right side there is Vampirism, which returns health to the vampire based on how much damage they do and can resurrect dead vampires.

But the most important text on each side is "No Retaliation." When a vampire attacks, the victim doesn't get to strike back. Because of that, and the speed of the bats, the two vampires you start with can beat out large numbers of slow moving units, which is awfully handy to get through at least the dwarf fight.

I haven't made much use of vampires, or even the improved version, Ancient Vampires, after those initial fights yet, but I always keep them in mind should a fight arise that requires some kind of extreme kiting.

A couple of notes about this fight: My leadership is just under 400 - Skeleton Archers are 13 each, Imps are 40. The enemy stacks average 890 leadership, so if this were zombie on zombie it would be my 13 against their 29, and that's with unfortunate rounding for them.

The dwarves move two, but have a one charge ability that lets them move an extra two, which is why they cross as much of the field as they do on the first round. The foreman - the dark bearded fellow - has an ability that makes the slowest dwarf unit on the field gain two speed and initiative for two turns. It gets the dwarf who runs down the right side. Because of that foreman ability I consider him to be the greatest threat, but at the same time he has very high initiative and uses the ability before I can stop him, so I work on the fast dwarves first before turning my attention to him to make sure he doesn't get a second activation. I don't manage to get the vampires in place fast enough to distract the second set of dwarves so I have to melee them a bit but it works out fine thanks to the no retaliation ability on imps. By round five the fight is essentially won - all the enemies are either not dead before their next turn or completely controlled. Between rounds 7 and 9 I do a very clumsy job of turning around, missing two attacks. On round twelve I finally drop the vampires out of bat form, confident that the miners can't do the required 70 damage in a single turn to beat them. I could have done that sooner, but was playing fast instead of doing math.

The furious goblins were basically brought in to soak damage, so losing just them was a result I was perfectly content with. The dwarf fight is the easy one, but on my last attempt to run impossible I'd lost my entire army aside from the vampires to it. I'll explain why next time.