Hey, I actually had the motivation to get in on one of these while they were pseudo-relevant!
1. I have probably been on DToid longer than you
People like it when you gloat right off the bat, right? Well, I am figuring its probably true, given how many people I recognize from my early days. I learned about the site through my roommate freshman year of college in 2006, so I have been a member at least 7 years. I remember Retroforce Go, Rev Rants, Rose Tinted, 2 reviewers reviewing one games, and drunken developers melting in the comments section after receiving a 1 out of 10 from 2 reviewers. It was good times, and for a while it really did feel like the soul of Destructoid has left. I do want to say that after the real talk moment from Dale, I have been enjoying the site a lot more. DToid has gotten me through many a boring day at work, school, and home! I have apparently written about 130 blogs, with my first being on 7/21/2008 (and it is currently hidden, due to my deep shame of my earlier works). I stuck around because there is a fantastic community, especially off the front page. I’m not super active in any part of it, as I live too far away from civilization for NARPs, Cons, and other such events, and I am too shy to get involved in the forums.
2. I worked in a Chinese Restaurant in High School
This is just because I like to talk about this job - it was pretty insane. The owner paid all staff under the table, so the job was 100% cash. Most of the reason why the other wait staff were around is because they owed money to the boss. Why did they owe money? One of the regulars was their drug dealer. I saw a lot of drugs in that freezer. I also learned a few casual phrases in Chinese to yell at the chefs, including “you don’t know me” and “I own you” as well as picking up some conversational Spanish from the other chefs - “your mother is a whore”, etc. We were constantly understaffed, even on critical days. One year for Valentine’s Day we had 2 waiters staffed for 50 or so tables, so 25 each. Eventually it stopped being service and started being triage. Oh yeah, the other waiter spent some time panicking in the bathroom while shooting up heroin. But at the end of the day, a good paying job and free Chinese food were well worth the cost of admittance, and I actually had a good time overall. If you want a link to videogames, the owner has an obsession with the band ABBA and would play it all the time. I would be forced to listen to it over break while playing the manager’s copy of...Ghosts and Goblins. It was two kinds of hell.
3. I voluntarily live in Des Moines (and its pretty great)
A picture of a small portion of the farmers market.
I went to school out in Des Moines and stayed because I found a job. At first, I was kind of sad because I didn’t get to know the town while on campus, but once you know the cool places to go it is really great. Small enough to not have gangs and crimes, and large enough to still have everything you need. We now have 2 barcades open, enough bars to drown an Irishman, and foods ranging from Italian Beef style street food to upscale cornfed Iowa Beef Steak and Cigar joints. Every Saturday in Summer they close down a section of downtown for a farmers market that is probably about 6 blocks wide and 2 blocks deep, and it is glorious. They have food vendors representing America, China, India, Ecuador, Mexico, Thailand...all of them delicious. It takes place on our stretch of bar streets, so most of the bars open up to serve early morning food and booze. There are a variety of bands, from piano players, to blues guitar, saxophones, acapella groups...and oh yeah, I guess there’s produce, too. Its in the middle of nowhere, but I actually really love the city and am glad that I have settled down in my house here.
4. I tried getting into stand up comedy
Airline food, am I right?
There is actually a bustling stand up scene in Des Moines, with an open mic night about 4 days of the week, I think. I tried getting into it, and you learn a lot about comedy and yourself while doing that. I wasn’t nervous at all about getting up on stage and talking to a group of strangers, and I didn’t even mind if no one laughed. Of course, I wanted my jokes to do well, and when I got any kind of boo or disapproval, I felt really bad and went over the joke in my head over and over to figure out what went wrong. At the end of the day, there is drama in the scene though, and a lot of large personalities and voices that wind up conflicting, so I didn’t want to deal with some of that. But they do have 1.50 beers….
5. I have been programming games my whole life
Maybe not since I was out of the womb, but for a long time I have been typing code in front a computer. I actually started in QBasic transcribing code that my older brother got from who the hell knows where. Sometimes it would produce a super simple game, sometimes it would make an animation with different colored geometric shapes, and sometimes it just wouldn’t work at all. In high school, I learned another Basic language so that I could reprogram my calculator games more to my liking...adjusting variables to make the game easier/harder, changing strings so that instead of dealing drugs, you were fighting zombies, that kind of thing. In college, I studied to be an actuary, but took a course in programming my freshman year to fill some elective requirement. I realized soon into the year that being an actuary is pretty much impossible, so I switched over to IT and took more programming and database courses, and kind of fell in love. In a COBOL class of 12 with an average in the 70’s, I was the kid at the top of the curve with a solid mid 90 average. Suck it, classmates. Even today at work, I spend time writing up code to automate processes, or when boredom strikes, making my own games. Our computers don’t have Minesweeper installed, but you would be surprised what you can do with Excel and Visual Basic. I think this helped me appreciate games more, because of all the times I messed up while writing something as simple as Pong. Coding is complicated, and modern games are very, very complicated.
6. I built my own PC with no knowledge of what I was doing (and so can you!)
They grow up so fast!
Speaking of computer magic talk, I build my own PC last year and much my surprise, it hasn’t caught on fire yet! I started looking at getting a gaming PC two years ago, but I kept getting annoyed at the cost and the specs. I decided to be really diligent about the research at stores like Best Buy. I learned about the metrics that were important (MHz, Visual memory, RAM). I didn’t know what any of it meant, but I could tell you which pre built had more of one than another pre built, thats for sure! Eventually, I found a benchmark site that I would use to compare the specs. But I realized they all sucked, and I could build it for cheaper myself, if only I knew how. Protip? Real talk? YouTube is the best. There are thousands of experts at our fingertips for the most insignificant of all problems. Newegg had a series on how to build a computer, so I watched that multiple times. I settled on a build. As they shipped, I took apart an old laptop to get a feel for what a processor looks like, how it goes into the slot. Then I put together my entire rig with my laptop on instructions on my left, South Park on the Wii U on my right, and Seagrams 7 in front of me. It wasn’t easy, but I really think with enough research anyone can do it!
7. I know a joke for almost any occasion
I think over my life I have memorized thousands of jokes, but any time I get put ‘on the spot’ to say something funny, nothing comes to mind. However, if people are talking about almost any subject matter, I think I know a joke that is related to it. Recently in the comments there was a demand for a vampire/menstruation joke, and I actually know of one! As long as you can deliver jokes properly, it doesn’t matter how nerdy or awkward you are, you have something that you can do at parties. Some of my favorite memories from events in college were when we just had a group of us outside, sipping on beers, taking turns trying to outjoke one another. And yet is always amazes me when I hear a new one! I think my go to favorite is usually “a man walks into the doctor’s office. Can’t stop singing the Green Green Grass of Home. Doc says ‘well that sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome’ Man asks: Is that rare? Doc: Well, Its Not Unusual’. Its so esoteric. I love it.
8. I have a youtube channel.
Most of the video views are me
You can watch it if you want. I don’t like to advertise too much with it, but Ill probably throw more stuff up there if there’s love for it. I played through all of EDF: IA, most of Dark Souls (lost the passion in two separate runs right at the end), Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army 1 and 2. I think in my mind I want to be a ‘someone’ on the internet. There are a lot of big names, even on Destrucoid alone, and I just want to feel like I am one of them. But, as I said, I don’t like to advertise much because it feels pushy, so for now Ill just post the videos to all the twelve people who want to see them. Love you guys, forever and always! I also have a twitch, but that is really awkward. With youtube you know that someone will be watching, and wants to hear you talking. With twitch, it feels like you have to be ‘on’ the whole time, but you know that people aren’t watching and you are just talking to yourself. With momentum it could be good. I would like to get together with one of my friends to commentate scrub tier level DotA matches for fun, and I also would like to have a Destructoid radio game show going...but those require motivation and scheduling and man, that is a hassle!
9. I’m a Dane (ish)
A lot of people, myself included, think its pretty silly to be proud of your heritage, but I figured this would be something interesting to talk about here. My great grandfather, and I think my grandfather, moved over from Denmark and brought a lot of traditions with them. There was a lot of odd Danish phrases thrown around in my youth, but mostly its just down to using it for silly arguments. We still carry over a lot of strange traditions, especially around the holidays. There is a cucumber dish that is basically pickles, but not quite pickle-y enough to be real. And plenty of stink fish that no one really eats. Overall though, it has gotten me into a few tasty foods (pumpernickel bread), a few fun words (frikadillers), and some tasty alcohol (kijafa), so I’m pretty content with it.
10. I used to swordfight in High School
In choir, nonetheless. We had a medieval dinner kind of thing for choir, so we included all kinds of juggling and swordfighting things to amuse the people who showed up. We had the bamboo swords to go over what it would look like with real steel swords later, so it was really common to good off with those. We played a game where if you got hit in a limb, you couldn’t use it for the rest of the fight, and you were dead if you were hit in the chest. It was super fun. We also had some foils, so we did a smaller amount of fencing as well, but not in any kind of professional manner. That kind of one on one fighting has really made me appreciate tournament fighters, because it reminds me of those days. The biggest similarity that I see between the two is that the technical execution is significantly less important than the mental aspect of it...reading your opponents, knowing the right counter at the right time, being one step ahead. Although, I never could get past the technical aspect of those games, so I mostly like to sit on the sidelines and pretend like I’m knowledgeable.
So recently I was put on some medications that made it so I couldn’t drink, so I decided to do the next best thing and fantasize about drinking! I like to be a thorn in some bartender’s sides by asking for some kind of strange drinks, or asking for normal drinks in a strange way - i.e. Ordering a Cuba Libre...the bartender wasn’t too happy after he looked that up in his little black book, but that is like bartending 101. I got some advice from a family member that you shouldn’t drink to get drunk, you should drink for the flavor of the drinks. While I don’t always agree with that mindset, I do think it is kind of sad the state of some bars...bars where you can only get a drink if the ingredients are in the name. So I did some research over the past 5 years of old school drinks that still hold up today, and I figured I would share a few of my favorites with everyone.
Preparation: 5:2 parts Bourbon to Vermouth, dash of bitters. Cherry garnish. This is non negotiable. Chilled, and served up.
Why you should drink it: I’m going to start this one out with why I started drinking them. The first one I had was when I turned 21, with drink tickets from a hotel. It was the worst thing I ever had, but I kept drinking it because darnit, it was cool. Eventually I started introducing myself to the wonderful world of whiskey and realized that there is a drink where you water down whiskey with fortified wine. More importantly though, I sought out the advice of my elders, and would ask anyone that I met who was over the age of 50 what they used to drink when they were young. My grandfather said he drank Manhattans and my dad drank 7 & 7’s. I know its probably stupid, but I like to honor them with my drinks when I am out, so I usually think of them when I get one.
As for the drink itself, it is really potent, and if made well with good ingredients it can actually mask the taste of the alcohol quite well. That isn’t to say it won't taste like bourbon...it will. Quite a bit. But it won’t taste like burning. As much. Some places add some cherry juice to the drink, and it usually makes it a slightly different, but still good, drink. Of all the drinks I will list, this one is the best one to spend more money on the main ingredient. Maker’s Mark or Crown Royal are the preferred brands for me, leaning towards Maker’s. I will also throw out that most places will make this drink ‘up’ (served in a martini glass), but I really prefer it to be served ‘on the rocks’ (with ice) and ‘short’ (10-14 oz glass instead of a 20 oz...I did once get a tall Manhattan at a full pint, and wound up pretty well smashed after that. Only got charged for one drink, too!) If you can find a place that knows how to make this, and makes it well, you can probably be confident they can make most classical drinks.
Preparation: Gin, citrus, soda. Served in a collins glass - yes, they are related! Cherry, orange, lime, or lemon garnish.
Why you should drink it: I once dated a girl who was raised by her farmer dad, who was probably in his mid 60’s. Again, I asked what he liked to drink and he told me a Tom Collins. After a trip to wikipedia to figure out what it was, I ordered it at the next bar I was at and had the best one I ever had in my life. This is a drink that can be made several different ways. The ideal method is squeezing a lemon or lime into the glass, muddling some sugar or adding syrup, then pouring in gin, adding ice, then adding soda. You can’t beat fresh with this. If you can’t get fresh, it is usually just sweetened lime juice, gin, and soda. Some places put grenadine in there, which makes the drink a frilly pink, so I advise you request it without if they prepare it that way. The drink itself, if done right, winds up tasting like a soda shop Sprite. If they mess it up, you can usually taste the herby flavor of the Gin more than the citrus, but that isn’t a huge problem. You can also omit the soda and wind up with a gimlet. You can then sub out gin for vodka, and have a gimlet. And gimlets are pretty great.
Preparation: equal parts Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Campari. My personal taste is for a little bit more Campari. Chilled and served up. Orange rind garnish.
Why you should drink it: I would be a liar if I said I didn’t just like the color of Campari. It winds up being a neat shade of red. This is definitely a drink to be enjoyed on its own...after a meal has finished, before a meal has started, or as the last drink of the night. The campari has a very odd flavor to it - at no point do you not taste an herby bitterness to it, but as soon as you look past that you get a super sweet fruity taste. It offers a lot of complexity, or at least enough to finish a glass. Plus, if you already have the Campari it goes really well with soda on its own. Overall, there isn’t much you can do with the drink except buy better gin, but it will be overpowered by the Campari no matter what. This is a good test of a bar’s knowledge and ingredients. If they stock campari, and if they know why they stock campari (its used for all of 2 drinks) then they are probably reputable.
White Russian (AKA: caucasian)
Preparation: 2 parts vodka, 1 part cream, 1 part Kahlua.
Why you should drink it: Because the dude abides, man. I actually held off on having one of these for a while just because I never thought to order one at a bar. Then we had a company outing to a bowling alley where drinks were free flowing, so I figured I would go with my bowling instincts and grab one. These are a drink that is really easy going...I haven’t met many people who don’t like it, and it is difficult to taste the alcohol through the cream. When I first started going out to bars to drink, this was my chaser for well whiskey shots, and it is really easy to remember the guy who starts off his drinks with a shot and a white russian. There are a few variations that work really well: first, you can replace the vodka with chocolate or vanilla vodka to give it a little bit more character. My favorite though is replacing the cream with Rumchata, thus making it Cinnamon Toast Vodka. Kid’s cannot see why it is so delicious. Also, if a bartender serves it to you stirred (cream already distributed thoroughly) feel free to judge them.
Preparation: 2 parts scotch, 1 part Drambuie. Cherry garnish.
Why you should drink it: To preemptively answer your question of “Drambuie..what is it?”, Drambuie is whiskey mixed with honey, herbs, and spices. It is cloyingly sweet on its own, with an almost cinnamon like taste. Oh, and its 80 proof. So you take scotch. Add honey and herbs to it. And mix it with scotch. This whole cocktail is 80 proof. And that is beautiful. And you would not believe how good it tasted for that. Normal scotch on its own has a musty quality that some (like me) enjoy, but the Drambuie overpowers most of the scotch taste with how darn sweet it is, while the scotch cuts down the sweetness of the Drambuie. I won’t say that you can’t taste the alcohol, because you can, but you would be surprised at how easily drinkable this stuff can be. It feels a bit thicker than a normal drink, and it gets a lot of the honey and spice taste more than the whiskey taste. This drink isn’t complex. It isn’t subtle. It isn’t polite. You can be a girl, and this one will still put hair on your chest. It is 80 proof, though, and it is darn tasty.
Honorable mentions: Harvey Wallbanger (screwdriver with Galliano), Moscow Mule, Dark and Stormy, Sazerac, and the Corpse Reviver #2.
During one of the Steam sales, I decided to pick up a game that had some good buzz, but I knew almost nothing about: La Mulana. I know it is supposed to be a hard as nails, oldschool experience, and I am totally down for that. The only experience I had with the game was watching a Let’s Play episode or two of the game years back, and it seemed alright enough for me. So what is La Mulana? Well, its Spanish for “The Mulana” if that helps.
In all seriousness, I started the game this weekend and found myself rather liking it. It is an SNES game, but it just feels a bit bigger or more modern. You play as some dude with a whip in a world where everything can kill you. After Dark Souls, this sounds right up my alley! I wandered around for the first fifteen minutes, unable to find which way was forward. I tried to memorize patterns of very simple enemies, as to minimize my odds of death. I failed. I died. A lot. Then I started to get the hang of things, and explored all around the starting camp. There were birds and trees and rocks and things, and I had learned how to kill most of them, except the condors. Then I fall off a waterfall and drowned. I decided to explore to the left, where I found a healing spring and snakes, and a giant about twenty times my height who can kill me in two hits. Man. This game reeks of Dark Souls! A confusing beginning with no direction, minimal narrative, and a world that hates the protagonist? Check, check, and check.
Turns out, I missed a very important feature...going into buildings. In my defense I tried and failed, so this wasn’t all on me! After I learned how to do that, I finally got a quest, and more importantly, opened up the Hidden Temple, which I had heard many legends about. Then the game started becoming….obtuse. There are signs and stones that you can’t actually read. You need an item that lets you read. Fair enough. Then, they are in a language you don’t know. So you need to buy an item that lets you read them. Ugh, alright. You also need to buy an item that lets you use the map, which you have to find in a chest anyway. So its a little confusing, but I managed several trips in and out of the temple getting money enough to buy all these things. I was finally ready to explore!
As I mentioned above, I was given no direction, just ‘go for it!’, so I wandered wherever the game would let me progress. Until I couldn’t wander back. See, the game has weights as a consumable item. You need weights to trigger certain pedestals, and they are often placed in areas that are gates to other levels, or hell, even where you came from. So I got myself stuck in a pyramid, in a tomb, in a waterfall, and generally had a poor time. I tried really hard to make progress, but with minimal health and no way to restore it, I was a little bit annoyed. So I had to revert back to a previous save, grind out money, and buy stones. Now I was ready! Then I still would get lost, forget the way back, and die in the cold depths of the temple. I felt like I was missing something. I was.
I decided to take a turn for the archaic and find the games Wii release manual and do some research. There were a few interesting tidbits in there, but the most important one was the White Whale. Er...Holy Grail. Not figuratively, either, it is actually The Holy Grail, and the manual said you should encounter it early, and that it lets you warp around the map. Wow. Such utility. Much useful. Very want. Must have. Using my map.exe program, I found a room in the temple called something like “Holy Grail Room” and began solving puzzles. After some rather cleverly put together puzzles, I finally found the Holy Grail, which lets you warp between almost any save point, including the one at the surface, with the shop and healing area. Now we were in business! I found a smattering of odds and ends, including more health, a grappling claw, The Reverend Stabby McShankerton (my knife), and some other trinkets. Now I was making progress!
So I have been exploring the caves, slowly but surely, trying to solve the mystery of what the hell I’m doing here. I have the holy grail. I am a very rich man. But apparently I want more. Most notably, I solved the entire pyramid level, revealing an enormous monster boss, which I have yet to best. I have discovered many chambers with their own treasures, secrets, and monsters, and I can’t wait to keep exploring!
I also wanted to follow my friend’s advice, and use La Mulana as an experiment in some software dabbling. He told me I should try out streaming, so I figured I could give that a shot. I have the software set up now, along with an account, and a classical rock playlist to serve as the background noise. I am going to try to start streaming most of what I play when I play because what the hell, why not, basically. I will probably be streaming after 7:00 pm Central on Weekdays, and pretty much whenever I feel like it on Weekends at twitch as taterchimp_twitch (http://www.twitch.tv/taterchimp_twitch). Feel free to stop by if you want!
In a sentence that will surprise no one, I absolutely love Dark Souls. It is my most played game of...ever. On PC alone, I have put in 120 hours, after putting in nearly 200 on XBox. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot compared to people who really like games like Civ 5 or Skyrim, but for me, that is some serious dedication. So basically, I know a thing or two about the game, and hold it near and dear. With that, I wanted to talk about the preorder bonuses that everyone has been ranting and raving about, and why they don’t matter. At all.
1. The Game Isn’t About Your Gear
This isn't my accomplishment. I am not that masochistic
There are a lot of ways that you can prove this point to yourself. Consider level one runs where the character doesn’t have the stats to wield anything too strong, yet they can still beat the game. I know I have imposed many a challenge run on myself for the game, including using only a whip, only a fist, uppercutting bosses to death, only using a crossbow to kill bosses, and outside of that I have used a vast majority of the weapons during a normal playthrough. The only weapon I don’t think would be relatively easy to beat the game with is the broken sword. After the first sword you pick up, anything can take you from T to G. Taurus….to Gwyn….it sounded cooler in my head, OK? The reason for this is because Dark Souls isn’t about how good your character is, its about how good your player is. Everything is about how you play.
Think about what made Blighttown hard on your first playthrough. Assholes with poisoned clubs. Assholes with poison darts. Assholes that jump on to you. Assholes that shoot fire at you. A single asshole with tentacles. Also, the fact that you don’t know where you are going, and a single misstep can send you back twenty minutes of progress. And at the bottom of Blighttown, what do you find? Some asshole poisoned the entire bloody swamp, and you have to crawl through it. So now you have to wander by assholes with teeth, assholes with rocks, assholes with clubs, while on a timer, searching for a bonfire (assuming you thought it was there...you could just try and rush the boss). So what does your super awesome weapon do? Let you stab the swamp? Slash the poison out of your system? Just like you will slash the boulder trap in Sen’s? All in all, the design, the placement, and the war of attrition will bring down an idiot with a good sword in no time flat.
Finally, the bosses. I spent a run just trying to build the highest damage I could. The strongest weapon, crystal magic weapon, and power within. There was a lot of sequence breaking and grinding to get that going. And yeah, it helps a lot to have a weapon that can do 900 damage in a single hit to a boss. But do you know what I knew? Every single bosses animation, the relative timing to swing my weapon, and how long I have before they will counter. The strength would do me nothing fighting against a tough boss. A lesson I learned my tenth time fighting Kalameet.
2. Weapons Are (kind of) Balanced
Quick, name the best weapon in Dark Souls! Is it the low durability lightning katana? The long animation Avelyn? Slow as balls Dragon Tooth? The ‘30 seconds is all I need’ Ricard’s Rapier? As I mentioned above, every weapon is viable. In order for this to be possible, they all have to be within the same power curve, offering the same DPS, plus or minus a few. Why do I say ‘kind of’ above? Novelty weapons. The whip sucks something fierce. The shotel is cute. The bleed on the LIfehunt Scythe is symmetrical.
3. Invaders Will Always be Dicks
I saw a lot of people say things along the lines of ‘but then people who pre ordered will have better gear to invade people with’. Have you never played Dark Souls online? So many times I would make it to the Parish to be invaded by a player in full dragon form with a +5 lightning weapon. The only time where this is a valid argument is if you played the game on the midnight release for the first four hours. After that, you are going to have low level players with high level gear griefing those who know less about the game. The speculation is that the pre order weapons will have less scalability into the mid game, which means that you should replace them after maybe four or five hours. The good weapons will probably be maybe twelve hours in before someone figures it out? After a week, there will be a guide on how to rush to the most overpowered weapon at level one, just to invade people at the start of the game. There will be videos. There will be indictments. There will be Dark Souls.
4.Accessibility Doesn’t Suck and There is Some Custom Difficulty
I’ll go ahead and say it. I believe it. The first Dark Souls could have used some improvement. Especially to make it more accessible. You can’t play at the highest level until you understand equipment burdens, poise, and stability. It could have stood to teach you more about kindling and reinforcing weapons. Trying to beat the gargoyles with a +0 halberd and 5 estus was not fun for me. The game was torture. But it was pretty, and it was different, so I wanted to keep going with it. If items like the pre order ones let people get a little bit further in than they would otherwise, if it lets them get hooked into the game, then so much the better. On top of that, this in no way affects how you get to play the game. If you want to start with a slightly worse weapon and impose some more strict guidelines, you have that ability! I have been doing it since about playthrough 3, because otherwise the game is too easy, and too much the same. Or you could go Diablo on it and beat the ‘too easy’ version and go straight to NG+. Or run and get yourself cursed early. Turn off the HUD. The game doesn’t hurt for challenge if you look for it.
Yeah, I'm starting a blog with Fiddler on the Roof. Don't like it? There's the door.
A lot of my previous chart ons have focused on mechanics found inside of games, but today, I decided to go into something else behind the scenes in games, but not directly used in the game while playing: Matchmaking. There are actually a lot of different ways to match players of similar skill together, and man, do they ever get complicated. I’m not going to say that the subject matter is over my head, but the way it is presented anywhere else is what I call “pumpernickel”: it is very dry, and very dense. There’s a lot of greek, and just mathematical grossness. And when its me saying that? You know its bad. But with that, I wanted to talk about 3 methods.
This isn't relevant to anything here. Or anywhere. This is garbled math of use to no one, from one of the sources I was looking at. Scary stuff.
I just came to say "Elo"
The first method is the Elo method, often pronounced “E. L. O”, and not to be confused with the guys who sang Mr Blue Sky. Can we talk about music instead? No? Math? Balls. So Elo ranking comes from a guy who really, really liked chess with the last name of Elo. The system has you starting with an arbitrary amount of pointsl. When you play against someone else, the difference between your scores is the system’s prediction of who will win.
Getting a bit more complicated with this, each player’s skill level is on a bell curve, which is you have been reading these for a while means you know where this is going. The reason why you are on a bell curve is because the ranking isn’t completely precise: You are expected to perform at your skill, but maybe that day you are just on fire, or possibly hung over. And no, I don’t care to elaborate if that condition is supposed to aid or impede your performance. Basically, there can be exceptions to your skill, otherwise, there would never be upsets.
So sick of googling "bell Curve" for these
When talking specifically about Chess and the system that Mr. Blue Skies set up, the bell curve that was used was very specific. The intention was that if two players were separated by 200 points of skill, that the more advanced player should win 76% of the time. In my research I read 76% and found that to be quite odd...it doesn’t say if they figured out the math first and backed into 76, or started with ¾ and backed into the curve, but either way isn’t clean, as it returns a standard deviation of 283 units. How does it do this? Any normal curve shares some characteristics, which can be solved forwards to get the cumulative distribution for a given “X”, or backwards, to get an X value for a given percentage. This is what a z table actually provides, but fortunately I had Excel to back into my number! This 283 tells us that at a difference of 0 in skill, the game should end up in a draw, at 283 the better player is favored by 34%, at 566 the odds increase (or decrease depending on which side of a one sided ass beating you are on) to 47.7, and at 849 your fate is sealed at 49.7. Now, if you were curious how to figure this out yourself, you just need to create an imaginary bell curve, and place yourself at the mean, or center. Then, find your opponent's skill and draw a line straight up from that point on the curve. Any area under the curve to the right is your odds of winning, and any area under the left is your opponent’s chance of winning. In this example, a 50 point difference represents about a 7% chance for a player to win, so it is probably a close game. 25 would obviously be better, but you would be looking for people in a similar population.
The last piece of this puzzle is how your rank changes as you win or lose. The system that ELO uses is called a “K Factor”, and it is important to note that this number is debated to absolute death by people who are bad at the sport. Hah! Burn! But seriously, there are many ways to come up with a K Factor, but they all revolve around some key ideas. The first is that there is a floor and a ceiling to how many points you can gain or lose. For instance, chess sets this value to 24 per game. The next important step is how to distribute these points, and this is generally accepted (in my research) as your chance of winning minus the outcome, multiplied by the K Factor. The outcome is binary, so 0 is a loss and 1 is a win. If you are favored 10% and win, you get 10 percent of the K. If you are a supreme underdog (or not properly rated) you can get the full value. Some other systems have the K factor change as you play on. For instance, chess has a larger K factor for newer players, but as you play more games, the K factor decreases.
This system is also used by League of Legends, incidentally, and does also use games played as an adjustment for the K Factor, although I couldn’t find the explicit formula. What are the advantages or disadvantages? Well in theory new players will find their skill bracket quicker, for better or worse. Many people feel it is unfair at the early stage because it is more random, so pushing you into a lower bracket doesn’t really represent your skill. These people are also sore losers. Another concern is “ELO Hell” or being in “The Trench”. This effect is where you are ranked, and the system is confident, so you cannot escape your rank because each game doesn’t contribute enough points to get you out of your rank. That being said, the system is what it is, and has been good for chess for quite some time, with minimal in fighting.
I wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about Magic The Gathering, as it also used an ELO system in the past, with a K Factor of 8, if memory serves. However, the designers felt that the system was putting too many constraints on the players and wanted to change it. The main problems they wanted to solve were 1. players would sit idly at high ELO rankings to avoid losing precious points, 2. players would become nervous while playing, which would cause them to spend less money on cardboard crack, and finally 3. geographical concerns. If I play Magic every week against the same people, I don’t have an opportunity to change my bracket significantly. As a quick aside, League does solve for #1 by having an ELO decay, forcing you to play a certain amount of matches or else you lose your ranking. Surely, no one would sit idly just to get a 10 game winning streak though, right? Right?
Back to Magic, they actually switched over to Planeswalker Points, their proprietary system. How do those work? If you lose you get 0 points. Tie, you get 1. Win, you get 3. And that’s it.
This, in my opinion, is a terrible system for anything more than ego stroking. Let me explain: First of all, this assumes that games played equals an increase in skill which is completely incorrect. One of my DOTA loving co workers has a friend who refuses to learn from his defeats. He refuses to update his skill builds. He doesn’t counter pick. He doesn’t learn. His playing skill has capped out, and his learning skill refuses to grow. If he nurtured those while playing, his skill might increase, but as it is, he has been complaining about being stuck in “The Trenches” for a while. Anecdotally, I have played 80 games and found myself playing with people who have played anywhere from 150 to 400 to 1200 games. The biggest problem with this system is that a newcomer doesn’t get accurately ranked. You could be a strategic mastermind, but unless you play harder than people who have been playing their whole lives, your ranking will never ever reflect this, which goes against the idea of matchmaking entirely. It does breed a friendlier format, and also encourage people to play more (thus, spending more and more money on 100 dollar Planeswalkers).
By far, the most interesting thing I found in my research though was TrueSkill. Have you heard of True Skill? It is a matchmaking system designed in 2006 by Microsoft, specifically for XBox Live. Usually when people compare the PS3 to the 360 it is price against the stability against the community, but I think it really says something about Microsoft where they researched a new system for their matchmaking. I thought it was pretty cool. The XB1 has also seen some improvements of the online area, which they really brought up in marketing, so it is clear that they care about this kind of stuff. And just so I don’t lose people who hate Microsoft, this system is also used (in some ways) by DOTA.
So how does this system work? It still has the same bell curve system for your skill, but it adjusts the bell curve’s standard deviation by another factor: certainty. If you are a new player, you are assigned a rating of say 25, and an uncertainty of 8.3. Why 8.3? It assumes your skill is anywhere between your skill +/- the uncertainty times 3. So your skill is between 0 and 50. (Note: remember how the difference in ELO was 200? A significant difference here is actually 6, judging by one of my sources. Like I said, it varies a lot). There is a super fancy term for this uncertainty called Bayesian_analysis. As you play more games, the certainty factor changes. So if you are an 80/20 to win, and you win, your ranking goes up and the system is more confident in your skill, and vice versa (losing decreases certainty and ranking). There are some interesting interactions with all of this. The first is that if you play against a game with 7 other people at your same rank and certainty and you come out in first, the system figures increases the amount it distrusts your skill level. Why? You haven’t met your match yet! You never hit your skill ceiling this game. Unfortunately, that also applies to whoever was unlucky enough to get the biggest beatdown that game. The people who are in the middle are the people whose certainty moves the least.
The other thing that separates this system from the ELO ranking is that it can compare more than 2 teams. From what I have gathered, in ELO two teams of five are grouped together into a single ranking which is used to determine points allotted after the match. TrueSkill compares each player and each team against each other to determine how many points they should receive. Kind of neat that way. This also means that when you place you are ranked against each other player. In an 8 player game, your rating actually changes 7 times to its final results, depending on who you outperformed and underperformed against. In this way, the rating is much more a result of your actions in the game as opposed to the teams action, and your individual contributions to the result can be taken into consideration for your overall ranking. Sadly, I don’t have any hard math on this, because I honestly don’t follow a lot of the numbers because I am doing this at home with the comforts of Reptilia and Laphroaig. So sue me.
The drink of all statisticians
There were a few things specific to XBox that were rather interesting in there as well. If a game only has 2 players, it adjusts to a system similar to ELO. If there are outside factors, such as lag, it can update your skill based on partial results. That one had a URL labeled “math paper” behind it so I was not touching that bad boy. I clicked on it and saw “Bernoulli” and “Gaussian” and just about crapped my pants. OH GOD. I FOUND THE CALCULUS. No. Thanks. Finally, just because everyone loves a circlejerk, this same method is applied to Bing to figure out how best to deliver ads to people.
Last Note on Matchmaking
Now here is something that is really rather curious: in both Chess and Magic the rating isn’t as important as in TF2, DOTA, LoL, and Halo. Why? Geography. The best players in the world rarely get a chance to test their skills against the other best players, with rare exceptions of large tournaments. Because of this, ratings aren’t as important in the actual matchmaking process. But when you connect people to the internet? Both systems can search for matches they they feel are close. Matches where either side has a chance to win. On the DOTA side of things, they often try to even out teams across 500 points (the K factor is something like 32, if that helps you visualize how much 500 is). In addition, the matchmaking tries to match stacks of players (preformed teams) in an even way, as communication is often critical in games like these.
Below is further research if you are interested. And as a warning, you aren’t. This stuff is not written in a friendly format, except maybe the last one, but that links out to the real math. There are integrals, and sigmas, and I think I even saw some calculus hanging out there. I did my best to sum up.
I was going to ask a friend of mine if he thought that today’s topic would be interesting, then I remembered that interesting is highly subjective. Many people couldn’t care less about how and why a game works than if a game is fun or not. I am not one of those people. Once I get hooked into a game, I want to get an understanding of each of the systems behind it, and today I decided to indulge that curiosity as it applies to Psuedo Random Distribution, or PRD for short.
So what is PRD? If you are diagnosed with PRD, how can you still behave like a normal human being? Many times in games, the game will make a check on whether an attack hits, an effect ‘procs’ (activates or happens...get with the lingo!), you dodge, all sorts of neat stuff. Now if you were playing a pen and paper game, this would be done with an evenly weighted die, and would be subject to random chance. If you observed 100 coin flips 100 times, you would see that you expect to have 50 heads and 50 tails, but some of those trials would be 60/40 in either direction. Given enough observations, you could see it being 30 heads out of 100. Now consider the effect of this on a highly competitive game - if you have an ability with a 10 percent chance of activating, it can happen 10 times in a row, or it can not happen 29 times in a row. Why 29 specifically? Because I have the numbers, of course! The odds of missing a 10 percent chance 29 times in a row with random distribution are about 5%. Ouch. Obviously, either example is going to produce a bad time for someone, and isn’t refined for a competitive environment.
So what can be done? Remove random chance? That’s one avenue. The other is to introduce PRD into your game! So what exactly is it? It is any system that replaces a random event with a new system that works similarly to a random event, but has controls build around it, preventing it from being truly random. Instead it is kind of random. Semi random. The diet coke of random. Not quite random enough.
In DOTA (of course) the PRD system has a ‘seed’ value for the odds. That value is what gets used the first time you attack. The second time you attack, the seed is added to your current odds. If the seed was 5%, by 20 attacks, you would be guaranteed to see the ability happen. So lets get some concrete examples of what the system would do. If you wanted to emulate a 10 percent chance using this PRD method, you would need a seed of ~1.48%. By the 68th attack, you are guaranteed to activate the ability - although we will later see that you expect it to happen by the 23rd attack. Here’s how the math works (I think)....
Your first attack has a 1.48% chance of hitting. Your second attack has a 2.96% chance of hitting, but that only is relevant 98.52 percent of the time - when you miss the first attack. Taking the 1.48 plus the 2.96 x 98.52 gives your cumulative odds of the attack procing by that point. Using the 2.96 x 95.52 x 2 (the second observation) gives what I’m calling the EV for the observation. When you do this across 68 records, you finally reach a 100% chance to proc, given cumulative percentage of 100% and an EV of 10 - which is what we want for a 1 in 10 chance. Using this same logic for the random distribution means that we start with 10% instead of 1.28, but do not tick it up each observation, and also we never ever stop. If you were truly unlucky, you could miss 1,000 times in a row. But thats in ‘killed by a feral gerbil while being struck by lightning on the way to claim your winning lotto ticket’ territory. Theoretically possible. When you take the total EV for the random numbers, you get close to 10 as well, meaning the two systems are just about equal. Neat, huh? So what are the major differences? Lets look at our first chart:
This chart is showing the odds of the ability activating on the Nth hit. So the random attack has a 10 percent chance to happen on hit one, then a 9 percent chance to be on hit number two - you miss ninety percent of the first hits, then you have a ten percent chance. If I were to show the chart all the way out, the random distribution would never actually hit zero. It has an asymptote! (Ok, you got me, that word is just fun to say). Because we are messing with the percentages for the PRD, it actually forms a curve instead of just declining. This curve actually does reach zero by the 68th point, but as I mentioned before, it is practically zero after 36, so I cut off the scale there.
So now that we know what the chart means, what is it telling us? There are 2 places where the lines intersect, so lets talk about what that means. Before the first intersection at the 5th observation, Random has a significantly higher chance to proc over PRD. You are giving up 8% odds on the first attack, which is pretty crazy, actually. After the 5th observation though, PRD is significantly more likely to proc, up until the 20th attack. After that, random is more likely to activate - however, that is actually not desirable in this case, as you don’t want your 1 in 10 chance ability to hit on the 70th attack. So basically, the PRD set up makes it so that your attack is more likely to activate between the 5th and 20th attack than it would randomly. This is enough of a range where it still feels random, but is less likely to happen repeatedly. Imagine a randomized stun hitting three times in a row!
Now for a different view on the same data:
This chart shows the cumulative chance to proc by the Nth attack (instead of on the Nth attack), and is mostly included because I thought it looked cool. Here the inflection point is at about the 12th observation. Up until that point, your odds are actually better of procing the ability with random distribution, but after that, the PRD is better.
Now with all the numbers out of the way, it all becomes a question of philosophy. From the perspective of a designer, I think it is a really cool idea that makes it so that chance has less to do with the game than it would otherwise. As a player though? I don’t think I like it anymore. It feels like it negates the effect until the item has ‘warmed up’ a bit. After I see the ability, I know I have a much longer wait than I should to see it again, even though it is for the intention of being fair.
Finally, this is just one method of creating a psuedo random distribution. The numbers can be changed in pretty much any way that you want to as long as you create a system that has the same EV score. For instance, 100% of activating on the10th attack would produce the same results, but is obviously less desirable in a competitive scene, as you can prime it with 9 previous attacks. You could even weight it so it is more likely to happen between attacks 1 through 5, then through attacks 15-20 if you really wanted to. Is that a good idea? No. But its the same outcome, and that’s what really matters. So what are your thoughts? Totally lost? Intrigued? Angry? Suspiciously aroused?