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Raging Chart On: The Ten Percent Boost
6:56 AM on 11.13.2013
Raging Chart On: A Tale of Two Swords
6:52 AM on 11.11.2013
6 things taterchimp is excited about
8:59 PM on 10.27.2013
Impressions of Updown, a new barcade in Des Moines
1:05 PM on 10.18.2013
Playing an Unwinnable Game
9:21 PM on 10.08.2013
I killed 10,000 ants this weekend...what did you do?
8:26 PM on 10.05.2013

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My Belmont Run for Dark Souls can be seen


I also did a blind run of the DLC, which you can view

And here

I also covered the progress of building my own gaming PC. I had no experience, and overall, it wasn't all bad! If you are on the fence about it, I suggest you read about my efforts

And here

The series never had a part 3, because I was having waaaaay too much fun playing it. Suffice to say that it does alright these days.

Thanks for stopping by my blawg!
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I was talking out loud to myself while playing a videogame, and I had an interesting question come up, one which could only be solved by using the worst of all demons:  Math.  So let me phrase the situation for you guys...You are playing an RPG.  At the beginning of the game (or whenever, really, but my numbers use a level 0 assumption), you can take a perk that offers you an extra 10% on every single experience granting transactions.  Is it worthwhile to take this perk?

All supporting data here

Tool tips can't lie, right?

Now, the gut feeling towards this changes day to day.  Clearly, the earlier that you take the perk, the more effect that it has, meaning you should take it is as early on as possible.  Second, that’s an extra ten percent, baby!  One tenth of each level is free!  However, what exactly does that imply...that means that I will not have a significant experience advantage over anyone who didn’t take the perk until level 11 - they will still be at ten.  This continues for each ten levels.  At level 20, I have only managed to eke out an extra 2 levels over my theoretical friend.  So would I have been better off to have taken another skill in its place?

Both of those arguments are easy enough to conceptualize, but the benefit that you are getting from either decision is actually pretty hard to quantify without using some math.  The reason?  We all know that RPGs are drip fed - the difference between level 1 and 2 is nowhere close to the difference between 20 and 22.  This is largely in part to the way that experience is curved out.  Because of this, I couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer and I had to do some math.  To start with, I had to design an RPG Exp curve, along with average monster exp.  Having no background in game design, this is something that has always fascinated me...how do they know how much gold and exp to hand out in any given area, but still maintain balance?  In my mind, there was some master spreadsheet kept in the back that told them, similar to an actuary table.  In reality though, calculating this is quite easy!  So I wanted to dedicate a lot of space to how I set up this example…

Or I could just...you know...plagiarize one.  But where's the fun in that?

I started messing around with each level being exponentially far away from the previous level, but wow, that gets out of control quickly!  I have never seen an exp bar go into scientific notation, so I clearly had to use a different approach.

I decided that first, the RPG system is a drip feed so the time it takes to reach a level should increase at each level.  After messing around with some models for a bit, I discovered that the time to level is probably the first factor that you want to decide on.  I figured that if you added an extra 15 minutes to each level, that would probably be enough to keep things balanced - 15 minutes to level 1, 30 to level 2, etc.  

Next, you have to know the average amount of experience you are giving out per level.  I decided to make an assumption that the exp per monster would also increase in a linear fashion - 50 at the first level, 100 at level 2, and 150 at level 3.  These numbers could be anything and it should all still work out.  Next, I made yet another assumption that each fight would take exactly one minute.  I guess you could replace the minutes with encounters and it would still be the same, but for some reason I was hellbent on using fractions of hours in Excel, so...it stays as minutes.

So what does that let you do?  Well, now you can take the total experience per encounter, and multiply it by the encounters to level up!  This gives the experience gap between levels!  In our case, it takes 750 to reach level 1, an additional 3000 to reach level 2, then 6750, and so on (spoilers if you figure out what ‘and so on’ means here, I suppose!).  Taking the cumulative values of all of these gave me an exp curve that starts at 750 for level one, and ends at 7 million for level 30, after a hefty 116.25 hour journey! 

Now here is where something happened that blew my mind...I had created an RPG curve that I was satisfied with, and wanted to know how it was modeled.  I took the data for cumulative experience and put it on a plot, tried some regressions, and nothing quite matched.  It looked close on one or two, but the fit wasn’t perfect.  Maybe it just wasn’t that mathematical.  Then, because I was bored/wanted to be thorough, I put a regression on the experience between the two levels, and discovered that it fit a 2nd order power regression perfectly.  Not ‘really really well’, not ‘pretty close’, but 100% perfection.  Then I thought about what that meant.  If I had the value between two points on a chart….and it was represented as aX^2+bx+c….then that is the integral of the experience curve!  And sure enough, the experience curve comes up as a 3rd power regression, with a 100% fit, whose derivative gives the fit of the exp between charts (+ c, naturally)!  Holy crap!  Thats awesome!  That also means that I can take the derivative of the experience between levels to get….something….related to the experience...I didn’t actually figure out what that would give me as it has been a while since I have performed a calculus, much less on a real world example.

Pretty much 'mfw'

After this, it becomes pretty simple to figure out how the scaling works.  Just slap on an extra 10% to the exp per fight, and do the division.  And what do we get?  Well, the initial assumption actually holds true...the player with the extra 10 percent hits level 22 at 57.5 hours of play, at which time the player without the perk is just barely level 20.  The comparison for 10 and 11 is 15 and 13.75, so it isn’t quite a clean cutoff, but the marginal gains are clearly there.  So it really doesn’t seem like much, does it?  Maybe you could take a perk that gives +20% damage which pays off at every single level instead of getting an extra level every 10 levels…

...Except the way that the levels are curved out showed me something different.  In order to reach max level, it takes the player with the perk 105 hours, and the player without 116 hours.  In fact, it is taking the second player an average of half an hour less past level 20 to level up.  So it isn’t what you are gaining in levels over another player, but perhaps the time you are gaining back from the game.  If a perk said ‘save you ten hours of leveling’, would that be worth it?  

But then this is where things get extraordinarily more interesting (or more  boring, but if you think that and you made it this far...uh...thanks?)  Because of the way that the experience scales, you save less time in the early levels as opposed to the later levels.  From levels 1 to 7, you only save half an hour by taking that perk.  From 23-30, you would save 5 hours, which is to say 10 times more time!  So this is where the final wrinkle of this puzzle is introduced..in fact, you do not get more value by taking the perk early, as logic might dictate.  While it is true that having it wouldn’t be a bad move at early levels, its effects are most pronounced in the late game.  This is again because of how the experience distribution curve is calculated - for lower levels, the difference between 1.1 and 1.0 multiplied by x^3 makes less of a difference, but for higher levels, it suddenly becomes a much larger gap.  

While discussing this with one of my coworkers, he actually brought up an excellent point, which I had not initially considered when writing this, but was actually the very thing that brought it to my mind:  In some RPGs, traditionally the western RPG, enemies scale with the player!  This means that you are actually inflating the difficulty at a rate which it should not be inflated, and losing a perk in the progress!  At level 10, you only have 9 perks working for you if you took the extra level, making you 1 perk behind the slower player!  So all of the sudden you are trading a decrease in time for an increase in difficulty!  Oh no!  The example that brought this to mind was actually Dead Island:  as far as I could tell, the zombies 'leveled' with you by gaining new abilities, such as increased mobility, better climbing, larger numbers, things like that.  So I constantly felt that, while I was better off in total exp, I was actually playing a much harder game than I should have.  And we call this the Ayn Rand paradox of game design, wherein the player who made the 'smart' decision to have more exp is punished by the unflinching machine of poor game design.

Now obviously, this is just an example of what an experience curve could look like, and most of the numbers were chosen by an arbitrary method, but the principles still apply.  So what can we draw as a conclusion?  Basically, taking the perk early isn’t actually that important...in fact, you get more value from it the later that you take it, on a per level basis.  As long as the early grind isn’t that bad, it is totally worth holding off.  And as far as being worth it in general, it comes down to a matter of the value of your time.  If the game is something like Final Fantasy where you are expected to grind out between levels, it is probably going to be worth it.  But if the game is something like Fallout where having levels is nice, but not required?  Maybe just enjoy the sights.  Certainly, dont waste your perk to make the game harder - most games have a slider for that!  In any event, you should now be more prepared each time you face that decision!

So a while ago, I was browsing some site on the internet, probably pornagrophy of some sort.  I guess I must have become side tracked, because I encountered a hypothetical videogame situation:  after slaying 1000 hyperdemons, you have been given a choice of rewards.  You can either select the Red Sword, or the Blue Sword.  The red and blue sword both deal the same amount of damage, but here is the catch:  the Red sword hits 100% of the time, Blue hits 50% of the time but can attack twice as often.  Which sword do you take, and why?

Now, obviously, this situation has 3 choices:

A.  The Nihilist Approach - “it doesn’t matter which one I take”

This seems like it should be obvious, right?  After all, you just have to do some basic math in order to come to this conclusion. Lets say both swords do five damage.  In 100 attacks with the red sword, I will do 500 damage, and with the blue sword I get half of 200 attacks by five, for - wait for it - 500 damage.  So, as long as its better than my other gear, my choice, much like every choice in life, has no meaningful impact.

B.  Team Red - “I have terrible luck”

Yes, you nihilist, on paper, given a large amount of trials, the two will be equal.  But this sword relies on a RNG when it decides to hit.  This means that in theory I could miss more than I hit with the blue sword, because this stupid game is rigged!  If I pick the red sword, I am guaranteed my 500 damage.  The blue sword is eventually going to fail me if I take it, it is only a matter of time.

C.  Team Blue - - “Maaaaaaybe”

There are a lot of maybes in the game. Maybe an enemy dodges.  Maybe I get lucky.  Maybe I crit!  Maybe I can buff the sword!  (For the purposes of discussion, neither of these are true.  Sorry.)  Bummer...well, at any rate, maybe every once in a while I can get really lucky and do some serious damage.

D.  None of the Above

Wait...what?  How did you….nevermind.  You know what?  You have to re-choose.  House rules.

So which option would you end up picking?  From what I saw, it was about 40/50/10 between A B and C.  What would I pick?  Well, the answer depends a lot on two different things:  Statistics and context.  Lets look at the former first.

If the odds of the blue sword hitting are forced to be 50%, then anyone who picked A would be correct in that it doesn’t make a difference.  But if we assume that the RNG behind the scenes runs an independent check before the next number, that means that a series of coin flips will be normally distributed.  However, because a coin only has 2 outputs, a graph of that looks pretty darn lame:

So lame, in fact, I'm not even giving it real data

Where it gets interesting though, is when you perform multiple trials of multiple coin flips.  So, for example, lets say you expected to be able to survive 100 turns against a monster.  That means that you get 100 coin flips throughout the course of the battle.  And you could say that you will fight, for the purpose of example, 500 encounters.  Some encounters will result in more hits landing, some will result in less hits landing.  But what is neat, is the pattern that these observations create.  Because all the coin flips were independent, we expect them to fall in to a normal distribution, along a bell curve.

Oh sweet Jesus, normal distribution.  

This is where things get amazing!  Because bell curves have already been analyzed to death, I don’t have to do any dirty work, and can just spit out numbers from any statistics textbook and/or website!  The average for this curve, based off 100 coin flips, is going to be at the center with a value of 50.  The chart can be broken down by standard deviations to figure out what percent of the area is made up by what values.  If we know the standard deviation of the data, we can figure out how much area is under each section of the curve, and so, how unlikely it would be to see that value come up.  As it turns out, for 100 random trials the standard deviation would be somewhere in the ballpark of 5. For the first 5 in either direction from the median, we cover 34% of the area under the curve, because math.  Neat stuff, right? (You can say no...I don't mind...but I think its neat)

So how does this affect our two swords?  Well, it means that there is only a 32% chance for us to be outside of 1 standard deviation of hits, so either above 55 and below 45.  It also means that there is only a .26% chance of being outside of the 45 to 65 range.  In fact, out of 10,000 simulated trials done in excel, only 360 were outside of +/- 10 from the average, as we would expect with the math.

So with that somewhat explained, how does it apply to the situation at hand?  First, you would need to know how many rounds you have against each monster, and how much health they have.  Then, you have to figure out your level of risk.  So assuming that we are only fighting monsters that kill us at exactly at our previously selected arbitrary limit of 100 turns.  If they have 500 health, in the long run, it doesn’t matter which sword we pick... but half the time, we will probably die.  Not looking great for the blue sword.  It can take out enemies with 45 health 85% of the time, though, but that is nothing compared to Red’s 100% win rate!

...but what happens if a monster has 505 health?  Red’s win rate drops to 0%, while Blue’s is just barely under 50 percent.  Suddenly, we made up a ton of ground.  Or if we have to deal the same damage within a shorter time limit?  Again, Red suddenly has no choice but to resign to never beat the game without better gear, whereas Blue can suddenly begin to shine.  In fact, if we had infinite time, we could kill a monster that has a full 1000 health!  It would be like winning the lottery while getting eaten by a rabid shark that was just struck by lightning, but theoretically...it could happen!

Maybe just as likely as seeing this exact arrangement of cards

Now, you won’t always get 100 rounds against your opponent, which affects some of these numbers.  As the number of rounds increase, the effect of the variance decreases thanks to the Law of Large Numbers.  This means that as the number of turns decrease, the variability is more pronounced. So lets look at what happens with ten turns instead of 100.  The average damage is still where we would expect it to be at 5, but the standard deviation changes to be 1.5.  This means that our 68% is now within 3.5 to 6.5, and our .26% is now at .5 to 9.5.  Suddenly, it doesn’t look like quite the best option yet.

Now here is one final thing to consider about the two swords, and is something that I have yet to mentally reconcile, to be honest.  If you have 2 attacks at 50% to hit, the expected result would be that, on average, 1 attack hits each time.  But consider this:  each turn has 4 possible outcomes, each with equal odds of happening:  both miss, only the first hits, only the second hits, or both hits.  3 of the 4 outcomes are equal to or better than the Red sword, so you have 3:1 odds of Blue being the same or better!

But ultimately, math cannot make this decision.  In the end, you have to go with your gut as to what ‘feels’ the best, and a lot is to be said for the context.  However, I hope that this has helped in your consideration when encountering similar scenarios.  Or at least you’ll have an ethos.

When I was young, I played a lot of Battletoads, and somewhere along the line my young brain mixed up The Beach Boys with Battletoads.  Seeing some weird bearded dude instead of a anthropomorphic frog just seems weird to me.  Anyway!  Picking up where others have laid it down, I wanted to get some good vibrations going through here.  Also, googling 'good vibrations' might not be safe for work.  Word of warning.  Lets get started!

1.)  Sniper Elite Nazi Zombie Army 2

The original Sniper Elite was one of my favorite little unexpected treats.  It was like driving down the road and seeing a hole in the wall place called “Ted’s Smokeshack”, and ordering the heart attack express only to find that it didn’t make you sick, and also wasn’t half bad.  I am almost ashamed to admit that I purchased the game on name alone, but it turned out to be rather enjoyable.  It had a super campy soundtrack, plot, and well, everything.  The really odd thing was that it elevated the mechanics of the original game into something more.  A lot of features in the first were redundant or just useless - why would I need to plant and shoot dynamite as a sniper?  

With the sequel, I figure that they probably will miss more than they hit, but hopes are still high.  They need to fix the balance that absolutely didn’t exist in the first (more ammo is better ammo).  The levels all lasted a little bit longer than I would have liked, and there were only five of them, so maybe doubling the level count and halving the length this time around.

But overall, it was a game that you couldn’t go wrong with.  It was sniping at its finest without any of the stealth that made the original release so cumbersome.  It plays up the blood and gore and camp or the game instead of trying to have some serious plot about subterfuge and missiles.  It lets you shoot zombified testicles in slow motion.  And its cheap.  What more can a man ask for?

2.)  Deadly Premonition PC Release

Speaking of budget games...Deadly Premonition exceeded my every expectation when it released on the 360.  A super budget game, mostly marketed for its quirky sense of humor, odd cast of characters, and seemingly terrible acting and non sequiturs.  Playing through the game though was an incredibly interesting experience.  It dabbled in the world on the strange, but found itself often rooted in a reality that many games miss.  It has odd ‘easter eggs’ thrown in the entire game that tie everything together in a way that no one would expect.  It has several scenes that are some of the most emotionally gripping I have seen in recent years.

And now it is coming to PC!  When I beat the game however long it came out ago - probably about two years - I knew that it was a ‘one of’ kind of game.  The skydiving, eel eating, college streaking, kind of experience - you do it to say that you did it, and that should be enough.  However, I found myself going back to Nier (the game that I played immediately afterwards), and enjoying that quite a bit more the second time around, so I am excited to go back through the town.  Like I said before, knowing how everything ties out means that all the small clues left behind can be traced back.  

Plus, I know how the mechanics work, and I feel no guilt playing on easy.  Fun story from the first time around on the game:  I didn’t know what the cigarettes did, and learned that you can use them to advance time.  So I sat outside of my car and lit up a cigarette.  After a few short seconds, a cutscene played.  The skies turned red.  A dog, 8 feet tall, barking, with saliva soaked jowls started to leap at me.  I thought this was an anti smoking PSA until I realized the game had a ‘curfew’.  Set me straight, tell you what.

Plus, this comes out about the same time as SENZA2:EB, so its going to be a fantastic Halloween!

3.)  Dark Souls TWO

Oh my god guys.  I love Dark Souls.  If I were to make a list of top ten games of this generation, Dark Souls would easily make the list.  Not sure on ordering.  Demons Souls was hyped up beyond belief for me, mostly because I didn’t have a PS3.  It sounded like a  really cool concept, with an incredibly challenge that I wanted to sink my teeth into.  When the sequel came out for the 360, I knew what had to be done.  And I absolutely hated it.  No paths, unpredictable traps, blatantly impossible sections, and obfuscation of essential mechanics.  It wasn’t hard, it was crap.  Each rage quit had me coming back, guide in hand, to tackle the next section though.  I was good enough to beat it, and with my own rules.  I didn’t want to use any noob play styles, so I swore off the FDS for my first playthrough.  I went with full Havels and the black knight’s polearm.  After 36 hours of grinding, torture, and cussing, I had emerged victorious.  Then something strange happened.

I started it up again.  I didn’t try the magic.  Then I had to try the bows. Then the miracles.  Then an int/dex build.  The ideas just kept on snowballing, and challenges started to appear.  The game, at its core, is possible to beat with any of the equipment.  The greatest challenge is learning how to think while playing it.  After 200 hours, I felt safe to close the chapter on the game.  Until I could buy the DLC on PC for 7 dollars.  This was my chance for redemption.  If I could beat the DLC blind, I would truly consider myself a master.  And I did.  Easily.  Now with 300 hours under my belt in the game, I am more than ready for the sequel.

What new challenges await?  What tricks, what secrets, what bosses, what magic?  Which invaders, which weapons, which unexpected build will be the best?  And just to be part of the community that is discovering all of this is exciting.  The messages on the floor will mean something again!  Every wall will be tested, every jump will be made, every chest will be attacked, every phantom summoned, and every spirit broken.  It will be glorious.

4.) Path of Exile is addicting!

Here, have a skilltree.  No, seriously.  Crazy, right?

I saw that Path of Exile was on Steam and free, so I decided to give it a go.  I had played Diablo 2 in the best of all possible ways before:  A pay by the hour computer bar.  Those early years of the internet man, I tell ya.  Eventually my brother and I split the cost of getting it on home, and played many, many characters throughout the years.  I am a frugal gamer, so I haven’t picked up 3, but did try out the demo and liked what I saw.

Now, Path of Exile is actually pretty interesting.  I have a character who regens something like 15 health per second, saps another 20 health per enemy hit, and deals 50 whenever he gets hit.  Add in 50% dodge, 50% evasion, and 30% block, and I feel marginally invincible at the end of act 2!  I am really interested to see how act 3 goes, and how the other classes are.  Right now I’m running a tanky str/dex build, and really liking what I see.  A lot of the mechanics are really well done compared to how I remember Diablo, but a few things are odd.  No gold is one strange thing.  Not earning actives by leveling is also very, very strange.  But overall, it is a super cool game, and I have put in 10 hours since Thursday!

Did I mention that its free?  All the microtransactions are cosmetic, so there is just pure, unadulterated, dungeon crawling in here.  Next to TF2 and DOTA, this game is setting a hell of an example.  Plus, the community is pretty great.  I have found myself thinking that 'this chat room has a cool game attached to it'.  DOWNLOAD IT!  And create an FNF crew for it.  I would, but...you know....effort.

5.) Deep Silver Loving

Deep Silver had its sale this weekend on Steam, so I was able to finally complete the PC trilogy of Saints Row games!  I had been meaning to replay through each of them, but have been clearing out the other games from my backlog.  But I have high hopes for Saints Row’s dick jokes, superpower fueled romp, along with visiting what made SR2 so special, and SR3 so mediocre.

I also picked up Risen 2 for a few dollars, on the recommendation from a cblog that I read the other week (sorry, forgot who!), which I am interested in. I also have had both Metro games in my backlog for a while as well, but I don’t think I can muster the courage to go through 2033 a second time, so I will probably just move over to Last Light first (when there’s time).

6.)  Emo Games!

I have 2 games in my backlog that I have been looking forward to:  Papa y Yo (which I have owned for about 2 months now) and To the Moon (about the same).  I recently came off the high of Dear Esther for the first time, so I am interested to go through these games as well.  Not to be too negative, but the narrator for The Stanley Parable just really didn’t do it for me in the demo that they had, so I don’t think I can jump in on that at least until there is another sale.  I also have Little Inferno (which I hear gets good), and thomas was alone, but Ill be honest:  those games are not for me.  I think that its good that the games are hit and miss though, because at least people are trying something and not always landing on mediocre.  I have heard a lot of love for those games, so they seem to be making a risk which is paying off, just not for me.  


So, fellow dtoiders, whats got you riled up lately?
Photo Photo

I mostly just wanted to raise awareness about a new place that opened in Des Moines to anyone in the Midwest community, and also brag about how awesome this place is….although, I’m sure anyone on coastal areas has twelve of these within walking distance, but whatever.  So Des Moines just had a barcade open up downtown, and I took the time to visit, and wanted to give my impressions.

All photos courtesy of: http://www.eatplaylovedesmoines.com/2013/10/up-down-vintage-barcade.html.  They clearly went during 'daytime' mode, as it was much darker when I was there.  And louder.  And drunker.

First of all, their outside is trendy and hipster as all get out:  you can take a stairway down, marked with their materials, but there are only 3 metal doors with no markings that you are entering an establishment as opposed to a place where a seedy man will sell and/or harvest organs.  You can tell just by the doors you are about to walk into a club, as music thumps quite loudly.  I walked to the street entrance, which is the same deal, but without doors (just openings to the bar).

As mentioned before, the first thing I noticed was the music - its loud.  It isn’t like an arcade should sound.  They were blasting music, rotating through contemporary club music, and self aware mid 80’s to early 90’s music.  It is rare that you can hear the cabinet you are playing on through the music, but few games are ones that you shouldn’t have heard to bleeps and bloops of so far.  Continuing with the bar side of things, they have a fairly large central bar island.  Probably around 30 seats in total around the bar, with booths to the side, all of which are build on table based cabinets.  Awesome!  They have a pretty wide selection of beers, but they offer less mainstream stuff on tap.  During my stay, I had a Fat Tire, Stone IPA, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, and a Sam Adams Octoberfest, all from draft.  They had a few others on draft, and some more standard things in bottle (Heiniken, Stella, etc).  They also had hard liquors, and the staff seemed pretty knowledgeable on drinks that the people were requesting.  Overall, as a bar, this place ranks fairly high on my list for selection.  Only downside?  15 dollar minimum for tabs.  I didn’t want to stay that long, but I could manage somehow.  

Next, I suppose I should talk about the actual fun part:  the games.  On one side of the floor, there are non arcade games.  This includes a Jenga tower using blocks that are probably an inch or so thick and maybe 8 inches long….a larger set, for sure.  There was also Connect 4 with chips the size of a rather small personal pizza.  Pretty cool stuff.  They had a projected set up, connected to an N64 which was playing Mario Kart at all points throughout the night on that side as well. On the other side of the wall was set of 3 skee ball machines, all occupied.  This area was full of business men wearing ties and drinking beers.  It was odd.

Rotating around the room, there are more classic cabinets lining the entire wall.  Note that every single game listed here is 1 quarter per play.  No slugs or tokens!  Quarters!  There were Asteroids, Ghosts and Goblins, Tron, Burger Time, Dig Dug, Gunsmoke, Ms Pac Man, Donkey Kong Jr, Galaga, Punch out, and several others.  I managed to set the high score on Ms Pac Man on my first run, alternating between clearing boards and sipping beers.  Every single cabinet has a spacer between them that has a beer shelf - a wonderful idea.  Also in this room were two of the high profile token takers:  The Simpsons arcade cabinet and the TMNT cabinet.  In the second room, there is also the 6 player XMen cabinet, the beast that uses 2 screens.  I have to say, the highlight of my experience were these cooperative machines.  I started to play the TMNT game by myself, and after I had cleared a level, 3 strangers all bought in and played through 4 levels with me before expending their massive 75 cent investment.  I paid attention to the Simpsons cabinet and saw 1 guy playing it, and I joined right in.  Turns out he had stopped in from Philadelphia for a while, and decided to come down.  People are generally friendly in the midwest, and in my brief time there, I felt a lot of that in the air as people played together.  It was….well, it was an arcade!

In the next room over were the fighting game cabinets:  Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter 2, Marvel Vs Capcom, Virtua Fighter, and the XMen cabinet..  Next to all of these were 6 pinball machines, including an XFiles, South Park, and Austin Powers machine.  On the back wall of this room were House of the Dead, Crusin USA, and Guantlet (among a few others that I know I am forgetting).  In the corner sat an SNES with Mario All Stars in.  As the night went on, I saw levels 4 and 5 gets cleared out by a rotation of strangers (and myself, naturally).  The final cabinet that I noticed, and had to laugh at, was the Aerosmith shooter.  Just...why?

All of the machines worked great, and I never had any problems with them.  Granted, this is their first week to open, and I hear drunks and machinery go together very well, but I have really high hopes that it will stick around for a while.  It is odd because I don’t think I really like it for either role that it tries to be:  as a bar, it doesn’t feel right to just sit down and get drinks.  As an arcade, you can’t hear your game, and most of the games are bad at suckinga way money.  I don’t think I would go out there regularly, but if I had a group of friends and a flimsy excuse, I would be more than willing to make the trip.  One of the best parts?  Because it is a bar first, there are no children running around!  I wholeheartedly recommend stopping to this place if you get the chance.

There were a few realizations that I had while there.  SNES controller?  Much smaller than I remembered.  They are incredibly comfortable, but man alive, I could have sworn they were twice as big.  I beat Ghouls and Goblins on the Gameboy Advance, but those skills have aged incredibly poorly, and I couldn’t even make it past the first demon.  Marvel Vs Capcom, despite being my jam years back, has also become much harder to play than I remember.  The frame right on Street Fighter 2 is just plain abysmal.  Simpsons arcade game is more fun than it has any right to be.

Mentioned below, Zombie burger is just down the street, and it amaaaazing

I want to end this impression with the other things that are in the area.  Updown is in the East Village area of Des Moines, which has some trendy spots.  One is called Zombie Burger, and it serves insane hamburgers.  One burger has grilled cheese sandwiches for the buns, another has fried macaroni and cheese.  The chefs aren’t afraid to try something new, and the bar is insanely good.  There is also Miyabi 9, one of the towns best sushi restaurants, pretty much just across the street.  You can also find a Lebanese cafe, a bar that has live bands and free open mic comedy shows, and a blood center.  If you want to venture another mile or so west, there is Court Avenue, Des Moines line of bars.  You can pretty much find whatever you want as far as a bar in that area (hipster dive, club, German bar, English pubs, brewery), along with another one of the cities finest food spots, Fong’s Pizza.  They have Chinese pizza and tiki drinks.  Chinese pizza includes things like crab rangoon pizza and kung pao chicken, along with honey alfredo, corn and bacon pizza, and other such weird combinations.  Basically, I really like Des Moines as a city.  There are lots of interesting and trendy restaurants, nice people, a large downtown, but without the issues of a ‘big city’...and the new barcade adds some more charm to it.  I encourage you to come and visit the city if you get a chance!
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It is interesting all of the things that we take for granted when we sit down and fire up a game.  You expect a game to have rules that have to be followed, controls that allow you to control your character, some kind of difficulty that you have to overcome in order to reach a ‘win state’.  These hold constant across all games.  While games like Halo have all of these clearly defined, even a game like Dear Esther has a world where you are only allowed to walk a snails pace, the difficulty of figuring out which path to take next, and a win state of the final cutscene.  However, there is one rather curious thing that not all games have in common:  the ability to win.  Just because a game has an end state does not mean it is physically possible to get there.

Now obviously, there isn’t some kind of new super DLC that I am talking about that gates the ending of a game unless you pay for it...yet (although from what I’ve heard, Asura’s Wrath has come pretty close.  Wait!  Changed my mind.  StarTropics).  But rather, there are some games where it is impossible to get to the win state.  Think about a game of capture the flag where your team of 10 all ragequits, leaving you against 10 highly skilled player controlled characters.  Do you still think you can win?  I would argue that situation is still technically winnable.  What I am talking about is one level worse than technically winnable:

Magic The Gathering.

Let me start with my background with MtG:  I love it.  I have been playing since 7th edition, which puts me at 12 years and counting of slinging cardboard.  I started just playing with friends, then eventually started playing in constructed tournaments (where you can build a deck of your own to play against everyone else’s deck).  Generally speaking, a tier 1 constructed deck costs a few hundred dollars - not exactly pre high school money.  What I’m saying is I lost a lot in my earlier days.  These days I have avoided that problem by switching over to drafts instead - in drafts, everyone opens a pack of cards, selects 1 card from the pack, and passes the rest on to the next person over.  This is repeated for all 15 cards in the pack, and for 3 packs.  Then, with what you drafted, you build a 40 card deck.  This cuts out on the money issue, but does raise the ‘randomly getting screwed over’ aspect a bit:  sometimes people just open up really good cards and you could never hope to beat them if they draw that card.  But you can still build a strategy, and take whats best, so more often that not a good drafter will beat out a lucky drafter.  

Now that I have been committing myself more to my work (I just threw up in my mouth typing that sentence guys, sorry), I have been exhausted each Friday meaning that I haven’t had time to go down to the shop to play in any tournaments.  I have about a dozen decks built for a fun side format (EDH), but I rarely get a chance to play these days.  So when I saw Duels 2014 on sale this weekend I figured eh, what the hell, might be fun.  I have a lot of problems with the game - you can’t build your own deck, the precons are woefully underpowered, the games generally don’t require any advanced strategy, there are DLC unlocks, and there are so many advertisements for real products that it makes me sad that I actually paid for it.  EA could learn a lesson from how Wizard advertises.  As a quick sidenote, however, the game has been wonderful for the community.  I have met dozens of people at my shop who got their start on Duels and decided to stop in and play tournaments, and they actually know how the rules work as they are more strict in the PC than most tournament level players.  At its core though, it is still the Bud Light of the Magic the Gathering universe:  a watered down, unappealing offense to something that can be rich and complex.

I googled "Crappy Beer".  First image.  Fun fact:  This is in the Miller High Life Longue in Des Moines (where I live).  It isn't often that pride and shame coincide.

By far my biggest problem with the game though is that sometimes you literally cannot beat the AI, and I don’t mean it is because they are unfair and read your hand, things like that.  Sometimes they just have, as the poker players say, the nuts:  a super powerful creature with an ability that says you can’t block it if you wanted to, and you are dead in two hits.  Now, that isn’t to say this is common, and also not to say it isn’t your fault - you can sort of tune your deck, but bigger than that, you can throw away your starting hand and draw a new one with 1 less card.  However, this still leaves you at a disadvantage.  Also, your opponent could just have all answers to your cards, leaving you dead in the water.  So what are your options?  Play again, or choose a different deck.  As a gamer, this concept is completely foreign.  

Just imagine:  You sit down, start Dark Souls, you go to Anor Londo, go up to the side window where the dickhole archers live, kill them, then find out that yeah, they patched that path so now its blocked for you.  Sorry to have wasted all of your time, but you just can’t win this run.  Ah well, always next character, huh champ?  

Also, and this is more off topic, but still applies:  The penalty for taking a mulligan is having one less card, leading you to lose the game.  What does this cost you?  Nothing.  Nothing but the time you spent losing.  So in theory, you could mulligan down to 1 card, then just restart.  With some decks in the real world, this would be an optimal strategy.  Even in the game, it is occasionally viable to search for an explosive start.  However, as someone who appreciates the skill of playing the game well and identifying when a weak 7 could be worse than an ok 6, I often go along with it.  I even had a moment where the AI played an absolute trainwreck of a card for me - literally unkillable the entire game.  I almost conceded on the spot because if the AI played it right, and drew decently, it would crush me in a matter of turns.  It was at that exact spot where I felt that the game had transformed into strictly unwinnable.  I had no cards in my deck that could deal with it, and I wouldn’t be able to outpace the computer.  Maybe that was the ‘plan’ for the AI all along, or maybe that was a lucky draw off the top of the deck, but it turned a game from practical to seemingly impossible at the drop of a hat...actually a card, but whatever.  Looking back at this, it is interesting to note that a game can be winnable to a certain point.  Say, if you get down to 10 health in Serious Sam then you  might be ok, but the moment you have 1 health, 0 armor, and an army of space monkeys, it feels like you are wasting your time by not reloading checkpoints.  If a single hit kills you, can you really dodge your way for who knows how long to a health pack?  As one last point on this, someone solved checkers  Yes, solved.  There is an AI that not only cannot lose, but can tell you the exact moment the game went from a tie to your imminent loss.  So basically, while playing a game with an unwinnable scenario, the only thing you can do is try to make the best moves possible to put yourself into an absolutely hopeless scenario.

Going back to my card game, there were only a few things I could do in this situation, and two of them are absolutely fascinating in this context:  First, I could hope the AI is dumb enough to throw the game.  This isn’t anything new to the ‘unwinnable’ situation, as many games have been thrown out of love for player 2 or out of nerves mismanaging a nub.  This does happen occasionally in this game, as the AI doesn’t really have an understanding of the next two principles.  Sometimes the computer plays too defensively, and rarely too offensively.  Maybe this is a kind of balancing, but it seems like sloppy AI. Basically it waits until it can use its cards to an effect that it feels is worth it - only attacking when you have no profitable blocks, or holding back to defend against a potential 2 damage.  So you question:  what isn’t the AI doing right that I’m am doing?

Besides cheating

The first idea is trying to play to the highest Expected Value (EV).  Basically, within the context of the game, you are given resources and you have to determine the best time and target to use those values.  This applies to every game:  in blackjack, hitting on 19 is an incredibly low EV in every situation.  Hitting on a 16 may be the highest EV, if the dealer has a 7 or higher showing.  In this sense, hitting on a 16 isn’t the ideal move, as more often than not you will lose.  But then you have to ask yourself:  Could I have won anyway?  If the dealer hits into a 21, I lose no matter what, so might as well try and beat them, right?  Back to videogames, in Counter Strike, the highest EV move may be to throw a flashbang into a room before entering.  You may get the positioning wrong, there may be no players in the room, or the sound of the grenade hitting the floor may alert an enemy nearby to your position...but nine times out of ten, a blind terrorist is a dead one, so you toss it in.  Finally, the Magic example it basically equates to maximizing the potential of each card that you draw - only trading your creatures for your opponents when you have something to gain out of it, or playing a spell that kills a creature...of course, there are juicier targets as the game goes on, so maybe your highest EV move is to simply hold on to that resource.  Now, we get to where an unwinnable game is interesting:  at no point do you know that you can’t win.   If you know that victory isn’t assured every time you play, I think the opposite of what is to be expected happens:  instead of giving up and playing carelessly, we cling to every resource to prove that we could win this instance if we are good enough.  You can go back over every card you played and see if you can mentally turn back 10 turns to view the effect of you trading your first turn creatures for another 5 life by throwing it in front of their seemingly undefeatable monster.  Maybe you will get lucky and draw into something that lets you win, or maybe you can use a card in a certain wait to turn the tide of battle and grind out a victory, but either way, every resource is suddenly precious.

And that gets to the second interesting strategy:  playing to your outs. This is actually a really cool mental exercise for any situation.  The concept is basically to visualize how you will beat the game / get the job / save the girl / save the world, and work backwards from there.  In order to beat the flagship in FTL, I’m going to need teleporters and drones. In order to buy a teleporter, I need to find a shop and have enough scrap.  In order to have enough scrap, I need to destroy ships.  Then I have to power it.  The entire game then stops being a series of instances, but a culmination of events that you are planning in order to overcome the adversity and stand triumphant. And how awesome is that!  Looking at a game like Zelda, there are a series of temples that you have to make your way through, but the game gives you the structure in such a way where you can never screw yourself out of success.  Then, take a step further:  Half Life.  You can run out of bullets or health.  BioShock Infinite:  What if you wasted all of your money on powers that don’t help you get past this room?  XCom Enemy Unknown?  That still gives me shudders just thinking about playing it for that very reason.  What if I don’t pick the highest EV move?  What if I back myself into a corner?  All that progress.  But maybe there’s a way to build myself out of it, if I just start hunkering down and making smart decisions.  See, all that does is make you more invested into thinking about what you are doing, because there is an persistant cost of actual failure.  Maybe you can stop it, maybe you can’t.  Its the difference between a high school course and a college course!  Er...playing and caring!  Liking and loving!

In the case of my game against the computer, I knew that my card had two copies of the card ‘Overrun’ - it grows all of  my creatures and gives them the ability to push damage through blockers.  I figured in order to win, I would have to play as defensively as possible, putting all the creatures I have on the board, and just wait to draw that one card to win.  In the meantime, I had to discourage the computer from attacking.  

A less viable threat in a digital environment

Remember the Serious Sam example?  1 health remaining?  I played that out, actually, just the other day.  I wound up assuming there would be a health pack a few rooms over, so I figured if I sprinted through the room filled with those stupid monkeys, I could pick that up, turn and fight.  Turns out, there was ten health not too far off.  Then 25 armor.  Then another 10 health.  After about five minutes, and some incredibly close calls, I had actually farmed myself back to about 50/50.  

Similarly, in Magic, I drew creatures that could block his creature long enough to draw into cards that could somewhat profitably block the opponent’s creature (I think it was just really, really bad AI, but Ill take it), so he held off on his attack.  I eventually drew into a few of my decks better cards, and was able to stabilize.  Finally, I drew a card that I hadn’t accounted for that was able to clear out about half his board and give me the win anyway!  It was actually really exciting to be so far behind, to think that he had won a dozen turns ago, and come out victorious in the end.

So a funny thing happened while writing this:  I initially thought I was really mad at Magic for being randomly impossible.  In my heart of hearts, it still feels incredibly lame to start up a single player game and know that no matter how well I play I could still lose.  It just seems to defeat the purpose as a whole of playing a game.  Thinking about it though, many games can set up these situations - they are just a little less transparent about it.  You can screw yourself out of victory in any Roguelike, and who knows, maybe there could be an impossible board for it.  But to an extent, it could still be really interesting to go through the experience, holding on to life for as long as you can.  In fact, I really want to see an impossible horror game that relies on the same core ‘feelings’ as a card game now.  Having limited resources, pitted in a world that constantly throws threat after threat against you, never explicitly telling you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  How often does that happen in horror films?  A group of plucky protagonists go out to an abandoned cabin, and a crazed serial killer/ plant / alien/ redneck or combination of any of the above kill all the campers except the two that tell the tale.  Who is to say you are always going to be the camper that gets away?

So what do you think?  Is an unwinnable game interesting or frustrating?
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Not every achievement is a ‘good’ achievement.  The first achievement that this immediately brings to mind is the one to look up Juliet’s skirt in Lollipop Chainsaw.  Similar to the act of going on a date with Pamela Handerson, the achievement pop quickly transitions from accomplishment into a deep, deep shame.  This weekend, I fired up Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, and hours later received the titular achievement for having killed 10,00 ants, and I immediately realized that I had sunk some serious time into this (rather silly) game.  I purchased it way back during a Steam sale with a strong sense of nostalgia towards my time with the game on the 360 - 40 hours well spent - thinking it could be fun to play through again on my PC.  Then it sat there, cold and alone, until I started clearing out my backlog.  Before I knew, it, I had  murdered an army.  Get it?  Army.  Ants. Ahh….I crack myself up.

So what makes a game so compelling where I would abandon my social life to hermit myself away and play it for 12 overs over the course of two days?  It isn’t much, because my social life doesn’t exist!  But if it did, EDF would have some kind of mindless, visceral, old school charms to it.  The core gameplay pits you (and 2 AI teammates) against a horde of robotic nightmare fuel in the form of 10 foot tall ants, 15 foot tall spiders, and 20 foot tall robotic wasps, generally attacking in the hundreds per level.  I would say, on average, each level had me killing about 400 enemies.  Carry the four...that would mean about 25 distinct levels played, if the only enemies were ants, so maybe that achievement isn’t that bad.  Or my math is off.  Either way, you get two weapons to face off the horde.  Is there cover?  No.  Does your health regenerate?  No.  Do you move super slow?  Man, I literally have rockets on my ankles, no.  This is an old school feeling game all about managing which enemy you kill first, using health pickups to manage your ever depleting life, watching your ammo cooldown (different than DOOM games - you have unlimited ammo, but you have a meter that governs your reload and your secondary powers, in my case: flight).  You constantly have to be aware of your own positioning, enemy spawns, and splash radiuses. What I am saying is, the gameplay is pretty solid.

What’s more, the levels are short, so I never feel any time pressure.  I could always just squeeze in a level or two while I wait for [Nachos/New Youtube video/new DToid article].  But the gameplay gets kind of old on its own, so I usually space out with Last.FM playing and try to find some new music to listen to.  So far, I have found a mashup of Metallica and Lady Gaga, a band that sounds like Mindless Self Indulgence, and a cover of ‘The Power of Love’.  So a pretty good haul.  But it is nice to have a game where you can just sit back, chill to some music, kill some bugs.  Maybe its just the DOTA and Serious Sam stress speaking, but I do enjoy me some Heroin Hero games.

On that note, the difficulty curve for this game is pretty cool as well - there are 3 difficulties, accessible anytime.  You can level up to a level cap for each difficulty, but the harder ones give more experience.  So if you are are bored on easy, restart on hard.  Bored on hard?  Restart on Inferno.  Can’t pass a level on medium?  Grind out some gear in hard.  You unlock tiers of weapons that you can use, so every time you level up you get to reevaluate your life/gear.  There is never a point where a tier doesn’t have a strict upgrade, but other times you will find new hilarious weapons.  See, part of the trademark of EDF are weapons that do something...unexpected.  Examples:

A grenade with an explosion radius larger than the distance you can throw the grenade.
A gun that fires missiles that travel as fast as you run.
Missiles that target carbon based enemies (all enemies in the game are silicate based)
Homing sniper rifle

Of course, the granddaddy of all of these weapons are the pesticide/insecticide guns, only obtained at tier 8:  the most sacred of tiers.  Let me give you an example of why these guns are amazing - at level 7 I have a grenade launcher.  It deals 6,000 damage across 3 projectiles, each with an explosion radius of 50 units (feet/meters - I forget which it uses). I forget the exact numbers, but I believe the insecticide gun for the soldier class I had on the 360 dealt something like 30,000 damage in a 2000 unit radius.  This meant that you almost could not fire it without killing yourself.  You have to target the opposite side of the map to use it properly.  The screen turns pure white for several seconds.  Then it takes 30 seconds to reload.  There are no survivors.  So I am working towards that gun for the jet class - which is a sniper rifle.  I have no idea what it does.  I’m scared.  Hold me.

The game currently goes for 10 dollars on the PC, 12 if you get all the DLC (weapon packs whoooooo).  There are 4 classes - the one that flies, the one that revives people faster, the one that has...a shield?  I think?  And one with turrets and stuff maybe?  Look, I have only played the first two, but it is a lot of fun.  Also, to keep selling this game, it would be perfect for game-curious people.  Many of the weapons in the game have an auto lock on included, so you dont even have to know how to aim to enjoy it.  You can just spray and pray, lay down some AoE effects, or just sit and wait to be revived.  I played 2017 with my brother in law, who doesn’t game much, and we still managed to have an absolute blast with it.  I think that this game has some good changes over the previous to make it more accessible (the levels, the ability to get downed teammates back up, tiered weapons, less ‘gag’ weapons but still some genuinely fun ones).  Basically, this game is a darn fine romp.  I would love to see the next EDF game make it to PC as well, if possible, so feel free to support these guys.  A budget fast paced shooter?  People love that stuff, right?

Also, because I had beaten the game to death previously, I wanted to do something to entertain myself while playing it, so I decided to do one of those Let’s Play things I have heard so much about on the internet.  I plan on showing each level off, and the level 8 gun, in beautiful 480p because I don’t understand how the software works.  

Allow me to expand on that:  You can get a free software called MSI Afterburner.  This software includes a frame counter and video capture.  Neat!  It has no watermarks or any other ‘trial version’ limitations.  So what makes it difficult to use?  I tried to do a Dark Souls playthrough with it...well...I did do the playthrough, but I tried to upload it.  My half hour clip takes up about 4 GB with the base compression from Afterburner, which is pretty good all things considered.  However, the audio comes as dual channel, meaning there is one track from my microphone, and one from the game background.  For people with good software this would be nice as I imagine you could mix the levels or something.  For me though, it meant that only one track would upload to YouTube at a time, which was a problem.  I could mix the tracks, but then I got a free pass to the S.S. Stuttering, so that wasn’t an option.  So I looked up Fraps, and people complained that it didn’t have split channels, so I knew I was set.  All mixed, all the time.  After double checking that the demo worked, I got a license.  And a half hour clip (recorded at some weird resolution no one should ever use) took up 13 GB.  Which takes about 1000 minutes to upload to YouTube.  And then some to process.

Huh.  Well, I clearly needed to compress the video, which I figured would make it look like garbage.  Fortunately, I had VIrtualDub, another piece of software from the internet that required me to run an .exe file that I didn’t know about previously on my computer.  Awesome.  Protip:  Always run .exe files on your most beloved computer.  They are always not viruses.  VirtualDub had some built in codecs for compression.  I tried one, and the quality was terrible, I tried another and the size was still bloated (about 8 GB).  Not to say it is a problem to wait for ten hours while a video uploads, but I just don’t want to.  So I googled some more and found a video compression codec (x264vfw) that people apparently use.  So I went to a website with a link that told me to download an .exe file to run on my computer.  Awesome!  Naturally I ran it as fast as I could, right before sending my credit card information to this nice Nigerian man.  As far as I know it was legit, and it must have some kind of witch magic installed in it, because holy cow does it work.  It takes 8 GB files down to 500-750 MB files, without a major loss in quality (YouTube kills the rest of the quality).  Also worth noting that between Fraps and VirtualDub compressing, my framerate would drop beneath 20, and this game does not deserve that honor (although chrome is currently running at 8 according to the ticker I didn’t turn off, so maybe…).  So I couldn’t record while compressing videos, which lead to more grinding, which lead to more levels, which leads to more grinding.  So all in all, 3 programs to get game to YouTube in 480p.  All in all, an interesting process to walk through!  You can see the fruits of this labor below if you want:

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