gaming August 29, 2014 Jack No comments

More D3 – The Fanbase from Hell

I really didn’t intend for this blog to be entirely based on gaming, but considering I keep most of my software updates here, and most of my work and life private, that’s what it’s turned in to.

Diablo 3 fans suck.

There, I said it.

2.1 came out on Tuesday with the usual myriad of buffs and nerfs and new mechanics, etc. Chief among them, in my mind, is the introduction of “seasons” which is basically a ladder system with a leaderboard, some exclusive items and achievements.

Once again, a major patch has been released and a significant part of the Diablo community is totally butt hurt.

The Blizzard forums, and the comment sections for their releases are just a complete clusterfuck, so let me hash a few things out for such luminaries as cremdelacrem for his brilliant comments on the 2.1 Season Preview.

1. D3 ain’t D2

This ship has sailed, folks. D3 was not, is not, and will never be D2. You will never have skillpoints and attributes to allocate, you’re never going to have chat spam trading, you’re not going to be fifteen again and you’ll never be able to wile away summer nights doing Mephisto runs while your mom interrupts you with the laundry. It’s time to get over it.

This game is different. It’s streamlined, and I say this as a hardcore D2 and D3 fan, I’m cool with it. Yes, I have nostalgic thoughts for D2 sometimes. I wish they’d delivered on PvP. I remember trying to turn a dime into a dollar on [Trade], but Blizzard controls Diablo and they decided none of that was worth it. PvP means class competitive balance which is a total nightmare with all of the possible builds, especially when even in D2 it was pointless and achieved nothing. Trading got removed for the same reason the (RM)AH was a thing: the corrupting influence of botters and auction sites. It’s hard to argue now that it’s easy to self-find upgrades that we’d be better off with it even if it would make compiling sets and niche legendaries easier.

It’s easy to think of D2 with rose colored glasses, but I remember a lot of it being a tedious bore punctuated with finding a good item. It’s not possible to argue that killing Mephisto or Baal ten million times to find a Windforce is more fun than running a random dungeon filled with random monsters and a random boss, on a selected difficulty. Blizzard has chosen its direction with the franchise and it’s focused on the one core, inviolable tenet of Diablo:

2. Diablo is a fighting game

This isn’t a trading game, it isn’t a slot machine, or a hoarder simulator, or even really a classical RPG for that matter (ugh the story is still awful). D3 is a fucking fighting game. The core mechanic of Diablo is fighting, finding better shit to fight harder. That’s it, and D3 accomplishes this handily. There are many ways to fight, many places to fight, many enemies to fight, but Diablo, at its heart is a fighting game. In a fighting game, you fight. You fight until you get bored of fighting, and then you stop and play something else. Nobody is forcing you to grind. Yes, there are lots of super rare items, but you don’t have to find them. There are unabashed grinds like the Infernal Machine rewards, but nobody’s forcing you to do those either. I’ve had fun with D3 since launch and I’ve never once crafted a Hellfire anything because fuck it, that’s not fun for me.

Yet all I read is bitching about grinding and PvP and “who wants to play seasons, you lose all ur shit!” and “DHs are too strong” and “my class sucks!” and “waah, they nerfed my set!”

Which brings me to my next point:

3. Blizzard doesn’t owe you shit

All of this reads to me like spoiled children. Keeping in mind that this is a fighting game, the logic for you to play D3 should look something like this:

It shouldn’t look like:

Look, if you don’t want to grind the answer is simple: don’t. I find it funny that our friend cremdelacrem is paragon level 400+. Considering most of his criticisms were just as valid day one, it’s interesting that someone so vehemently against D3 has probably dumped more than 1000 hours into it. If you’re not having fun then stop. Or level the other classes that you still haven’t touched. Or try manning up to play hardcore.

There is no out of game reward for this shit. You fight, you find better stuff, you fight harder. In short, you play D3 to get better at playing D3. This is especially true now that the RMAH failed. None of this translates into the real world. You’re not going to get a job based on your paragon levels. It doesn’t teach you anything. It doesn’t make you think. You don’t win anything for being first or best or toughest.

This is why I find this community so frustrating. Any amount of difficulty, any amount of grind is fine, as long as it’s not mandatory. Hellfire jewelry, putting together ultra-rare sets, finding all the gear for your niche build – these are all tasks that take a lot of time but aren’t necessary to enjoy the base game. You can beat the whole campaign, you can Rift and Grift, do bounties, and find great items all without grinding.

For example, I’ve played on an off since launch (and more on since the 2.0 patch and RoS made everything so much better). I’ve easily put a 1000 hours into the game, probably half on Softcore and half on Hardcore (I’m P90 SC, P75 HC or so). The character that I created day one, my softcore main, is facerolling Torment III solo and doing Torment IV in pubs. I’m not bragging, and if you’ve ever been in a game with a P600 you’ll know this. My point is that he’s still not endgame. He’s still not being limited by gear such that I’m trying to get vanishingly rare legendary items, or that I need a Hellfire Whatever to progress to the higher difficulty and this is with more hours of play time on this character than I’ve put into some other entire games total.

Here’s the rub. It’s bullshit that the Diablo community will complain about the grind and in the same breath demand a practically never ending endgame. You can throw weeks of your life into this game before you have to grind to get better, and after that point Blizzard has provided us with ways to keep improving even when our gear is basically perfect. They have stretched this game as far as they can without entering the realm of the absurd.

So next time you think about complaining about drop rates, or grinding, remind yourself that it’s just a game and there are ten thousand others you haven’t played. If you’re not having fun, then stop and play one of them. Making optional endgame stuff easier to get defeats the purpose and after getting thousands of hours of play for a game you paid (at most) $120 for, Blizzard doesn’t owe you shit.

gaming March 1, 2014 Jack One comment

Diablo Revisited

I last talked about Diablo 3 here.

In short, it was a disappointment. I particularly lamented the lack of social features, because without the ability to compete or show off, or even the incentive to team up due to lack of coordination, the end game becomes a grind for items that will let you grind for items faster. I also briefly mentioned the poor itemization, and the fact that the auction house robbed the game of the rewarding feeling of finding upgrades.

This Tuesday, Blizzard released patch 2.0.1 for the game and it’s a great return to form for Diablo. It introduces a modicum of social features – clans and communities and, more importantly to the actual game, completely revamps the loot and difficulty systems.

Social

The social features are surprisingly effective despite being minimal. They’ve added clans with up to 120 tagged members, and communities with indefinite members both do wonders. Both of these amount to adding channels to the chat window. I’ve joined the /r/diablo ‘reddit’ and ‘redditHC’ communities and it’s amazing how just seeing the same names show up in chat makes you feel like you’re part of a group. I haven’t joined a clan (not my style), but even through the community chats there are a lot of people looking for groups. I do still miss the D2 style lobby with all of the characters lined up at the bottom, but I’ll take the communities as a good start.

There are also rumors of a D3 ladder with the expansion, which would be excellent, but I’m counting those as unconfirmed.

Loot

The more important thing is that they fixed loot. With the AH shutting down, it’s important that characters be able to support themselves. Find upgrades, find legendaries that work for them without converting them into gold on the AH. I’ve played some hours on the new patch and I’ve already found more legendaries than I had in ~250 hours before the patch, and most of them (but not all) have been upgrades for my current character. It’s so nice to play Diablo without the AH meta-game. This patch has fundamentally fixed the core incentive – to find cool shit.

Difficulty

I was surprised to see that they removed the D2 style Normal/Nightmare/Hell/Inferno difficulties. Everything is now dynamically scaled to your level and your difficulty setting measures how much harder than that baseline the game becomes. Just like with the pre-patch Monster Power system, you get bonuses to XP/magic find the higher your difficulty.

I can’t overstate how much smoother this makes the game. I’ve started a handful of characters since Tuesday, and it’s fun immediately. Even in D2 the first playthrough (Normal difficulty) was mind numbingly easy and it wasn’t until you hit Nightmare or Hell that you really had to sweat it. With the new system, you can set the difficulty to maximum (Torment VI) from level 1. Suddenly leveling isn’t a mindless chore and you can level quickly based on your skill and the items you have prepped for you character. For example, my hardcore Wizard playing on “Master” difficulty (made easier by having gems and gold from my level 60 Demon Hunter) is already level 20 and just beat the Skeleton King. Before the patch, characters beating the Skeleton King were, at most, level 9 or so. Sure, it’s probably taken me twice as long, but I’ve been challenged and I’ve had fun instead of breezing through it. It also means that you don’t have to play the game three or four times all the way through to get to the endgame content. I can easily see my Wizard being 60 long before I face Diablo for the first time.

As a side effect, it does make hardcore a little less nerve-wracking by allowing you to start an easier game to progress the story. The next time I face Belial (the Act II boss), I’ll start a game on “Normal” difficulty and breathe easy.

Trade – The Downside

I see a lot of bitching on the Blizzard forums. What’s new, right? People have complained about D3 since release and it’s no surprise. However, a lot of the chatter I see now is complaining that trading is broken. It’s true, legendary items are BoA (bind on account, so legendary items are tradeable to your other characters, but not between accounts except to other people in the game when it dropped and within two hours).

I am in agreement on this to some extent. In some ways, Blizzard is damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. One of the primary reasons they implemented the AH in the first place was that trading in D2 was a pain in the ass. The RMAH (real money auction house) was implemented because in D2 there was a thriving and shady business trading dollars for in game items. By making both of these official, they brought the whole practice out into the sunlight and made it safe and easy. It was a good idea. Theoretically. In practice it was the reason the loot was so warped in the first place. If selling a legendary on the AH can net real money or gold then the most powerful items need to be tightly controlled to keep from flooding the market and thus keep supply low. You also want to encourage people to buy in to the AHs to keep demand high. Basic capitalism with a twist in that Blizzard finely controls the availability of the items.

Removing the AH removes the pressure to maintain that balance and has allowed them to fix the game. This also moves the real money item market back underground (like in D2) and into the hands of shady dealers. Currently, they’ve solved this problem with BoA legendaries. It’s now literally impossible to transfer ownership of legendaries (except in the specific circumstances I mentioned before) and thus impossible to sell them out of game for real money.

The problem is that D2 trading was fun. It was time consuming, it was scammy, it was open to exploit from outside websites, but it was fun. I can see why a lot of people miss it. Honestly, I can’t say that I miss it more than I missed getting decent loot, but to each their own. The core difference between D2 trading and the AH was that it was more a barter relationship. Even though Stones of Jordan became the defacto currency, you were mostly trading items and gems and runes that were mutually beneficial. There was also a huge amount of luck involved because the ‘bidding’ was limited to people in the trade channel at the time. This means that it was possible to make out like a bandit by taking advantage of people’s specific needs or their ignorance of what an item was worth, or just the timeframe of the trade (i.e. what an item is worth at Tuesday 2AM when there’s no demand, versus Friday at 10PM when everyone’s just getting started on the weekend). The AH was so standardized and easy to use that there was never any ignorance of value, and the timeframe of a ‘trade’ could be days long. It just didn’t have the same luck factor and thus lacked the same exhilaration of making a good (for you at least) trade.

I feel for Blizzard because they’ve failed to find a balance between these two extremes (totally regulated and totally unregulated) in the current patch. Personally, I believe they should return to the D2 model. Don’t provide any assistance outside of making a trade channel and don’t regulate anything. I understand their need to shutdown people making money from their work (fucking item farmers are the scum of the earth) and there is value in keeping people from getting scammed, but it worked in D2 for two reasons.

  • There was a natural barrier to buying items for money and that was having to go to an external site and trust them with your credit card. “Reputable” auction sites showed up, but for the people that just want to play the game and have fun, that’s not on their radar. The only people wanting to spend money on digital items are idiots people that are desperate for an edge. It’s sad, really.
  • In-game scamming is avoidable (sans patchable exploits). There were all manner of tricks to get people to commit to trades that were slanted against them. From the old trade window switcheroo to the just plain out bad trading done by the naive. That’s life though. Some people are scammy bastards, some people aren’t and it’s a valuable skill to be alert and on your toes when dealing with other people.

Especially now that it’s possible to play D3 with only found items (and thus there’s no pressure to trade), a return to this laissez-faire policy makes a lot of sense.

Overall

Overall the patch is a gigantic improvement to the core game. Loot feels good, playing is rewarded with juicy items frequently, and you spend no time on the AH (which will officially close on the 18th). The difficulty system is a great improvement to not just D3 but the franchise itself. The trading is a hopefully temporary setback but if Blizzard is insistent that nobody gets screwed trading then so be it. I’d rather have a fun fighting game with great loot you can’t trade than a fighting game with shitty loot you have to trade to afford upgrades.

In some ways, I view the patch as a commitment from Blizzard to get the game right. You can see their thought process with the creation of D3 vanilla, and you can also see the thought process that went into this patch.

They created the AH for noble reasons and then designed the game around it. Coming from D2 it made perfect sense to absorb the underground market that grew up around the game and make everyone’s lives safer and easier. It was controversial, but it was a bold choice to not just put out a clone. Two years later, the AH experiment has failed and Blizzard had the balls to not only remove it, but also to redesign the rest of the game’s systems around the new AH free game.

The difficulty system was also taken directly from D2 (with the addition of the fourth difficulty, Inferno) but it was and always has been repetitive. First, they merged in Monster Power to layer dynamic difficulty on top of the set difficulty but that was clunky and still meant you had to play through the game four times. Now this patch has eschewed the set difficulty and gone entirely dynamic. You can see the evolution of D3’s difficulty and how it incrementally improved on D2’s.

It’s funny because the AH and the difficulty settings were the two major places that D3 tried to learn or borrow from D2. Everything else, the skill system, the attribute system, the game mechanics, and the classes were all solid (eventually) and all original to D3. Even the enemies, items and locations were, for the most part original (barring the mandatory appearance of Tristram and Diablo and legendaries like Windforce). It’s almost as if Blizzard designed the game with 2.0 in mind as a radical departure from D2 but then got cold feet and bolted on the AH trading, warped the loot table, and took D2’s difficulty system wholesale to seem like it was a proper sequel instead of a similar game with Diablo in the title. Now that D3 is free of these, it’s a much better game.

In some fantasy world, D3 borrowed D2’s understated story and community PvP/ladder features instead of its repetitive difficulty scheme and ‘fixing’ its unregulated trading. That world has a perfect D3. But our world’s D3 has now unlearned some of the bad lessons of D2 and become a much better game. Who’s to say that D3 can’t learn some new lessons along the way. After all, D2 had some really great features patched in years after release too (patch 1.10 brought skill synergies and uber-Diablo more than three years after release).

I never thought I’d say this after the vanilla game and taking more than a year off from the game, but I’m really looking forward to the expansion, Reaper of Souls, on the 25th. Its feature set is compelling, but only in the light of the new fixed game. In the meantime, I’ve got a few weeks to enjoy finding decent loot, playing D3 the way that two years of hindsight tells us it should have been at release.

baseball January 8, 2014 Jack No comments

The Hall of Fame is Crap

I’ve mentioned before that this last season I really put my heart into baseball. True, adult fandom instead of the sort of child nostalgia of the Cardinals in the ’90s. This offseason I tried to care about football and basketball and even the laughably elitist Winter Olympics but since those failed to create the same undefinable spark, here I am focused on the Baseball Hall of Fame which today inducted three new members, up from zero last year. Frank Thomas (of whom I was a fan), Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. All of them deserve to be recognized for being great baseball players.

But here’s the thing. So does Barry Bonds. And so does Roger Clemens.

The Problem with Performance Enhancing Drugs

They should be disqualified for steroids, right? After all, would Bonds have hit 73 homeruns in 2003 without bulking up on steroids? Would Roger Clemens get the Cy Young seven times between 1986 and 2004? Maybe not. It’s undeniable that they were cheating and their stats got boosted by it. As such, I understand the impulse to punish them retroactively for it.

The problem is that you don’t know who did what in any era of baseball. There are so many ways to increase your performance chemically and they’ve all been around since early in the 20th century. Anabolic steroids first crop up in sports in the 1950s, and in football by the ’60s. Why is it inconceivable that baseball legends were also guilty in an age before drug testing? Roger Maris broke the homerun record too, right? Hank Aaron had more homers than anyone until a ‘roided up Barry Bonds broke his record. Do we ignore the possibility they cheated because we didn’t hear rumors about it? No managers and teammates testified against them for behavior that wasn’t illegal by the letter of the law? Or was it because we never saw hitters show up with a suspicious amount of extra muscle one year? Certainly we have to acknowledge that it wasn’t impossible in their day and age.

What about drugs for attentiveness and energy, like amphetamines? Bob Gibson and his ilk pitched complete games with razor sharp focus and a disconcerting intensity, how do we know that he wasn’t dosing with uppers?

Now, to be clear, I’m not accusing any of these players. I don’t believe that they did anything illegal or immoral, but the question is how would we know? Anabolic steroids weren’t even illegal until 1990 and it was only then that the MLB made it clear that it was against policy. Random drug testing didn’t start until 2001, long after the problem came onto the radar.

There’s very little hard proof the players used steroids outside of testimony of others. I can believe the testimony, but it’s going to be necessarily incomplete. No one person knew every other person using PEDs and as such there are likely players that got away with using PEDs. They might not be Hall of Fame caliber players, but nonetheless their stats will be recorded in the Annals of Baseball without asterisks or footnotes.

In addition, how do we punish a player like Barry Bonds who had a hall of fame career for a decade before anyone accuses him of starting to use steroids? If we take the common wisdom that Bonds started juicing in 1999 and ignore his entire career from that season on, the man would still have 3 MVPs, 7 Gold Gloves, and 7 Silver Sluggers as well as league high records in a lot of stats like homeruns, RBIs, and OBP. He consistently put up 9 WAR seasons without PEDs. If he had been permanently injured after 1998 and never played baseball again, he would still be a hall of fame caliber player clocking in with a cumulative 95 WAR. So how do we classify him? Does his later steroid use wipe out his phenomenal playing before that? How do we take into account that he looked at McGwire and Sosa and suspected they were juicing and it went totally unpunished while they shattered the homerun record and made headlines across the country?

The bottom line is that we can’t disqualify only PED seasons, we can’t even be sure we know a comprehensive list of PED users since the beginning of baseball, and we can’t even enumerate every possible PED and show that they were against the MLB drug policy. In fact, a lot of the drugs, like McGwire’s Androstenedione weren’t. This is why we have to take a more pragmatic approach and look at the stats and the stats alone. We can’t base who gets to be enshrined in the Hall on what rumors the BBWAA believes and which it doesn’t believe.

Stats are Inherently Unfair

The argument against this, of course, is that PEDs boost these stats and could take a good player and make them great. This is true, but so can a lot of other changes to the game over the years. Science has revolutionized the game in legal ways as much as it has the world around it.

Babe Ruth didn’t have a nutritionist. He didn’t have a physical therapist and a personal trainer and video archives of pitchers and hitters to examine. The pitchers and hitters he faced didn’t have those advantages either, but that doesn’t make it an even exchange.

Sandy Koufax didn’t have the advantage of modern medicines and surgeries that could have persuaded him to continue pitching instead of saving his arm.

Teams of yesterday didn’t have the ability to scout every high school and college in the country, or import players from the Caribbean and Japan.

There’s a generation of negro league players that never even got to have their stats recorded consistently and will consequently never have the numbers they should have.

Hall of Famers like Stan Musial, Joe Dimaggio, Yogi Berra, and Ted Williams lost seasons at a time to military service, how is that fair compared to the players that came before and after the war and didn’t have seasons taken from them in their primes?

What about hitters in the dead ball era? And what about all the other equipment changes like sunglasses and batting helmets and pitching machines? And what about the “traditional” kind of cheating that doesn’t show up on drug tests like corked bats or pitchers junking up the ball?

The fact is, it isn’t fair. Stats don’t tell the whole story. They don’t account for the changes in the game, they don’t account for better training, medicine, or equipment and they don’t account for cheating in any form. Stats are already useless for comparing players of different eras in any truly meaningful way. You can say Ty Cobb was a better hitter than Ted Williams because of their lifetime batting averages but it’s not true unless you couch it with ‘in their own eras’. It certainly doesn’t mean that Ty Cobb in his prime would’ve had nearly the same numbers facing teams that Williams did 20 years after he retired.

Because of this, I believe players like Clemens and Bonds should be inducted to the hall based on the strength of their numbers. No matter what, in their own eras, they were the best at what they did. Inducting them doesn’t take away from the players of yesterday or from the players of tomorrow (that hopefully won’t be juiced up) because they’ll be competing against a whole new crop of talent with all new advances in science and medicine and changes to the game (like instant replay coming next season).

The Popularity Contest is Stupid

The way the BBWAA votes on the Hall is absolutely ridiculous and divorced from stats. The Writers are likely to vote for players that, while good, aren’t Hall of Fame material. This year Kevin Gurnick voted for one player out of a possible ten. Jack Morris. Now Morris isn’t a bad pitcher but he’s not a hall of famer. He accumulated 43 WAR over 18 seasons. He was an all star a few times, but never got a gold glove, Cy Young Award or an MVP.

Gurnick’s reasoning, which is braindead, is that Morris didn’t play in the steroid era. Fair enough, except that he played until 1994 which is well into the steroid era. Not to mention that the three automatic slam dunk inductees this year were all not connected to PED use whatsoever. I could understand not voting for Bonds or Clemens, but to not cast a single vote for anyone but Morris is a total joke. Gurnick was using his ballot as a political statement and that’s a really fucking dumb reason to keep someone like Craig Biggio (who was two votes away) out of the Hall.

In addition, there are some players that are in the Hall for poor reasons too. Look at Bill Mazerowski. Had 8 Gold Gloves, but only accumulated 36 WAR over 17 seasons, averaging about 2 WAR a season. That’s good, but not great. His lifetime batting average was a meager .260 and he never once led the league in anything of consequence. Certainly not enough to be in the Hall. The only reason he made it was that he got a Game 7 walk-off home run for the Pirates. That’s all. One lucky at bat and a slightly above average career.

The point is that the writers that are in charge of the Hall aren’t doing a good job. They’re casting ballots against players in protest or for players that just don’t belong when all the Hall should be concerned with his a player’s accomplishments on the field, encapsulated nicely in their recorded stats.

What I’d Like To See

I’d like to see a milestone based Hall that is unconcerned with PEDs. It’s not the Hall’s duty to punish PED players on admittance, it’s the MLB’s duty to catch and punish them harshly enough that it’s not worth it in the first place – which will hopefully be reflected in their stats. Reaching a particular milestone, like 3000 hits, 500 home runs, etc. is an automatic ticket to the Hall. This means players like Bonds, Clemens, and Pete Rose would be immediately inducted regardless of their conduct off the field.

I don’t believe that it should be entirely objective either. If the Writers want to argue for a player, perhaps one with a value that’s hard to quantify, they should be able to rally support for them despite not reaching any of the hard milestones. Yeah, maybe players like Mazerowski still get in for a single at bat, but I’d rather have some false positives than false negatives.

As for PEDs, I think the MLB should still attempt to keep players from using them with stricter testing and more severe monetary and gametime punishments. Jhonny Peralta, then a Tiger now a Cardinal, only had a 50 game suspension last year for getting caught in the Biogenesis scandal. That’s 1/3 of a season, barely a slap on the wrist in terms of statistics. You want to get players to stop using PEDs to blow up their contracts and extend their careers for millions of dollars? Hit them where it hurts, in the wallet. Drop ’em back to the league minimum for a season or let their teams get out of contracts scot-free. Yeah, someone might have to sell a mansion and scale back to half a million a year, but I’m sorry if I can’t cry about them only making 10x the median household income in the US when they get caught cheating. I’ll guarantee you one thing: if getting caught using steroids ended up costing you $15 million instead of making $15 million more, players at all levels would rethink it.

Anyway, this is my line of thinking now. I realize that the PED issue isn’t as clear cut as I’d like it to be, and that players are flawed human beings like us all and that shouldn’t keep them from being put in the Hall of Fame regardless of what a bunch of snobby baseball writers think because they let politics and anecdotes get in the way of honoring the best baseball players of a generation.

hardware, linux, software December 29, 2013 Jack No comments

Biostar z87x 3D on Linux

UPDATE: This has been fixed with a BIOS microcode update..

I’ve been having trouble with a system that I built a month or two ago. Up until this winter break I’d been using it mostly like a Wintendo, only booting into Windows to play Steam games. Seeing as I’m spending a little more time at home, I decided to finally get comfortable in the Arch install which – to my surprise – began to hard lock every time I turned around.

The Short Version

If you’ve got a Biostar z87x 3D that crashes in Linux all the time, add the following to your kernel commandline:

nolapic

Please note the l, it’s nolapic, not another option, noapic (although they’re related).

You can usually add these flags in your grub configuration, either through /etc/default/grub with GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX or, failing that, in the /boot/grub/grub.cfg directly.

For reference, and in case I’m wrong, I also have clocksource=hpet in there because TSC worries me a bit, but I don’t think that’s relevant to the bug.

The Long Version

The symptoms of this crash were varied. It mostly just hard locked the system, no input, no output, not responsive to SSH/ping. It actually only crashed occasionally, and usually after I finished running a Minecraft server or playing Dwarf Fortress.

First things first, I built a kernel from git and started to use it. My hardware is relatively new (this year’s Haswell + z87 chipset) so it’s not out of the question that there would be some kernel patches in flight between Arch’s 3.12 and 3.13-rc5 in git. No dice though, the problem was just as prevalent on git so I moved on to narrowing down the malfunctioning devices.

I eliminated the USB wireless device that I only suspected because it was throwing warnings all over my dmesg output. It’s a WiPi device that I had laying around with the rt2800usb driver that was complaining about transmission timeouts. Surprisingly, with the nolapic fix, this driver has shut up so it was likely a symptom of the same problem.

Then I eliminated the video card by running in a nouveau console without ever starting X. I would have reverted to the board’s internal Intel device but running from the hardware console and provoking the crash actually let me get a glimpse of the kernel debug output and running MOC seemed to agitate it enough that I could reproduce in about half an hour. With the messages the kernel was dumping to the hardware console I was able to find the pattern in the crashes.

They were all in an interrupt context, which is serious bad news for the kernel. They were all in different interrupt contexts as well, meaning that – unless there’s multiple, board wide failures – then something with interrupts is wrong. So, clearly, I began to tweak knobs with the APIC (the Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controller). noapic, noapictimer, and nolapic_timer were all insufficient to fix it, but nolapic did the trick.

Why Did This Work?

This is definitely a question going forward and one that I’ll give more attention in the future when I’m not on winter break. However, my first theory is that there’s a problem with the Intel idle driver expecting the LAPIC timer to be reliable when it actually isn’t so when the core is idle, and the processor has been put into a low(er) power state, the lapic wakeup either comes late or doesn’t come at all. This would explain why the scheduler craps itself (I don’t think it responds well to starvation or bad timing) in an interrupt context, as well as why I could use the system for literally hours with no problem and then it would fail shortly after I was done.

I also think this is true because Googling some LAPIC quirks I discovered a handful of Intel Atom chips that have to be similarly gimped in the intel_idle driver because of unreliable LAPICs. The associated bugs were about random hangs.

What this theory doesn’t explain is why running MOC would agitate it, although the sound drivers likely make use of precision timing as well and it seems likely that MOC wouldn’t have to keep the process too busy just to keep the audio buffer full.

Anyway, there might be a quirk patch in here if I can get around to pinning it down.

gaming December 2, 2013 Jack No comments

On EVE

The holiday season is MMO season for me it seems. Last year I dusted off a six-year dormant World of Warcraft account to see what was up. I played for two months and got bored.

A week or so ago, I got an Elder Scrolls Online beta invite, and that was interesting but obviously beta so it’s hard to judge. It seemed to be very much in the WoW vein and as such I can’t say I’m really interested (although I would definitely play another round of the beta to give it a fair shake).

Then I played EVE.

EVE is a ten year old MMO and every time I heard of it I thought “Wow, that sounds pretty neat,” and went about my business. I did a similar shuffle with Dwarf Fortress and Minecraft, hearing bits and pieces of neat stuff until I eventually took the hint and started to play them. Now they’re two of my favorite games ever. When I caught wind of CCP’s 14 day free trial of EVE and just so happened to have most of the week off for Thanksgiving, I decided to give it a whirl.

Once again, I’m glad I did.

EVE has discovered a core feature of MMOs that I think is starting to catch on: being low maintenance. Warcraft and its many clones have done all they could to make the game easy and less time consuming, but when you play these games you’re still actively clicking around, grouping up, fighting monsters. While playing they require not only a time commitment but also an attention commitment.

EVE, on the other hand, is all about long term planning. Its skill system operates in real time, taking minutes, hours, or even days of real time to train a skill but you don’t have to be logged on or active in that time. You also don’t need to do content to train them, there is no XP, you have no level, you just buy a book from the market. Of course, that requires money you have to earn but you can do that in a million different ways from mining, which can be safe and hands off for almost an hour but has little return, to piracy which requires your full attention but can be most lucrative.

Initially, when I heard that people usually surf Reddit or watch Netflix while playing EVE, I thought it was a criticism. Now I realize it’s genius. In WoW to advance you have to kill mobs and get loot. That’s the entire game. Sometimes, like the first time through an area, that’s fun but a lot of the time that descends into repetitive and boring gameplay. There’s a reason that it’s called “grinding” when a player is out killing an endless stream of boars for their leather. EVE has repetition too (mining is basically the same thing over and over), but it doesn’t require you to participate in it, only to set it up and then go do something else for awhile. In short, EVE is perfectly happy to let you automate the grindy parts, where WoW and ilk force you to manually slaughter a thousand boar in shifts of ten even if it’s the last thing in the game you’d like to be doing.

I believe that this core difference, high vs. low maintenance, is why WoW has started to hemorrhage subscribers (7.7 million in 2013 down from a peak of 12 million in 2010 – Source) where EVE has been on a steady uptick for a decade. To be fair EVE only has 500k subscribers, but considering that pretty much all new MMO titles are falling back on some form of free to play, having half a million subs is still impressive. Being high maintenance, requiring the player’s full attention, makes it very easy to get bored with repetitive content. WoW has released many expansion packs (although not even half as many as EVE) that add lots of content and streamline the gameplay but fundamentally it’s the same game. If you’re bored with killing mobs for loot then more levels, zones, skills, gear, race, and class options all focused on killing mobs for loot aren’t going to make you any less bored.

EVE takes a more organic approach to the problem of player fatigue by not forcing you to do anything but when you do decide on what you want to do, EVE lets you take it to its logical conclusion. For example, crafting. In WoW you can craft a very select set of items, you craft enough of them, you skill up and get more items you can craft. 99% of your gear, however, is all from mob drops or quest/dungeon/PvP system rewards. In EVE not only can you craft manufacture every single useful item in the game from battleships to ammo, you can also jump in at any point in the process as long as you have the skill (again, leveled in real time rather than by grinding) and the blueprint. WoW lets you craft trinkets to enhance your ability to craft trinkets. EVE lets you become a one man monopoly, a wealthy industrialist with factory capacity and long chains of players supplying them and distributing from them.

EVE’s PvP interaction is also a natural extension of the game. WoW lets you grief other players in zones, or face off in structured arenas for sport but it’s all consequence free fun. The WoW community would be up in arms if PvPers could destroy each other’s gear or really cause anything but the mildest of setbacks. In EVE this is a matter of course. You can be part of a roving band of pirates (or just one really opportunistic businessman) preying on other players or you can be the victim and lose your ship, its fittings, its cargo, your implants and even your skills (if you’re not careful) while those that attack you make a profit on your corpse. Death hurts in EVE because it has real consequences, which seems to be a unique feature among MMOs.

Importantly, player interaction isn’t limited to co-op or opposing combat. EVE deaths and ship losses hurt, but they also benefit the game because they make a lot of other industries work. Battle and piracy means a lot of dead ships for salvage and a lot of people that need to buy ships and gear to replace their losses. In this way, EVE is much closer to being a real ecosystem than any other game I’ve played. Each trade hub has buyers and sellers and manufacturers. Supply and demand fluctuate based on reality rather than artificial drop chances. Playing as a trader buying and selling goods, there’s a fair chance that the commodities you’re ferrying around were produced by players with resources gathered by players, were sold by players, and will be bought by real human players. External factors, like warfare in a region, jump prices not because of some algorithm but because real people there need replacements and are willing to pay higher prices rather than having to travel for ten minutes round trip to get them marginally cheaper. Instead, you can do that for them and make a tidy profit in the meantime. Low security systems have higher prices because the dangerous space surrounding them is teeming with pirates. High security, well positioned starbases naturally become trading posts. When you simulate a world at a high level, details like this just sort of shake out of the system.

Now, of course, EVE is still a game. There’s a progression to it that the developer enforces. Ships, modules, skills all form a distinct hierarchy. The asteroids you mine still magically respawn. NPC corporations and enemies still go about their routine. Nobody’s ever going to independently develop a ship that didn’t already exist (yet). Within the limitations and bare requirements of the MMO genre, EVE does quite a lot by sketching the universe and letting players fill in the details.

Which leads me to another facet of the game I find fascinating: it is surprisingly fertile ground for immersion. The EVE universe is undoubtedly minimalistic. After all, most systems are just open space with a pretty backdrop and some landmarks strewn about. Yet this doesn’t alter that fact the setting is immaculately well realized. Space is beautiful and empty and space travel is long. You find yourself existing in the world very easily. There is nothing you would wish to do, within the context of a spaceship game, that you can’t do. There are no doors that can’t be opened, there are no ships you can’t control or destroy, no products you can’t produce. When you trade commodities that other players have put up and other players are buying, you are no longer roleplaying a trader, you are a trader. You’re not shipping things back and forth for some AIs that really couldn’t care less, you’re helping another player achieve his goals and making a buck in the meantime, just like a real trader. When you decide to attack another player’s ship or ransom it, you’re no longer roleplaying a pirate, you are a pirate. Even when you’ve backgrounded EVE to mine and you’re watching Netflix… what do you think the captain of an automated mining ship is going to be doing while his ore hold is being filled up? That’s right, you’re no longer roleplaying a miner, you are a miner. Nothing is symbolic. You don’t do just do pirate missions to be a pirate. You don’t get a pirate costume or a class designation or a special ship or title. You just are a pirate, just like a moment later you could just be an explorer or even a powerful CEO. You roleplay in the universe by virtue of existing in the universe.

Compare this to WoW. The universe is baroque and well articulated, but it’s still false. You can’t live in Stormwind, you just log out. You can’t open all the doors. You can’t produce items that match up with the best epic gear. You can’t even really affect other players except to give them a hard time for awhile or defeat them in consequence free PvP. Everything is merely symbolic. One player “killed” another, nevermind he’s respawned and is going about his business without missing a beat, buying new gear, or even giving it a second thought. The players rise up and fight the big boss, but the tide is never turned, the war is never won, the story never moves on until Blizzard releases another expansion pack.

I can’t say that I’m going to be a long term EVE subscriber. I’ll get busy, get distracted by other games, etc. I’ve never played an MMO for more than a couple of months before moving on. However, between having the capability to queue up days of real time skill training in less than a minute and being able to play the game in short bursts of interaction, I don’t feel obligated to spend hours actively playing the game to get my money’s worth. If you keep your skill queue going, whenever you have time to actually sit and play for awhile you’ll still have gained as many skill points as someone that logged on every day. Combine this with the fact that CCP releases two expansions a year that are free to current owners instead of a biennial shake down for the price of a full game and there’s really no reason to unsubscribe unless you’re confident you don’t want to ever play again. Even being broke isn’t an excuse since you can buy game time with in game currency (although I’m betting it takes awhile to be able to general almost a billion ISK in a month and not get wiped out).

What I can say is that, for someone completely bored with WoW-alike theme park MMOs, playing EVE over the last week has been refreshing.

books October 28, 2013 Jack No comments

On ‘The Road’

Spoilers Ahead

I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in two days. Tears were shed.

I started reading The Road because I have a new policy where I shift regularly between high fantasy / sci-fi / comedy type books and more serious fare, literary fiction, non-fiction, etc. I just finished reading all five books of A Song of Ice and Fire, which was about 5 kilopages of complete plot driven fluff. The Road weighs in at not even 300 pages, and yet packs such a hard punch that I feel like every scene has imprinted itself on my memory.

I read McCarthy’s Blood Meridian a year or so ago and I’ll admit that even though his prose was impressive, the story didn’t really capture my imagination. It was a violent, brutal, beautiful journey but in the end I put it down and didn’t think too hard about it. I’ve read analysis of that book that dealt with symbolism, but I’m a firm believer that symbolism only serves literature if it’s woven into the fabric of the story such that the reader gains knowledge of it by reading rather than dissecting. Good fiction is entertainment wrapped around enlightenment, not the other way around.

After reading The Road, I feel indefinably changed. The novel was an easy read. Simple, but brilliant. McCarthy’s prose is, again, taut with meaning. Not one word is wasted. He breathes an ashen, hostile, and frightening life into the world of the post-apocalypse and still makes you feel the loving connection of the main characters, a father and his son. Their story grips you from page one. McCarthy takes you from desperation to delight, from famine to feast, and all the while there is the undertow of ever present danger. There is something here that resonates for every father, son, mother, or daughter.

The internet warns that The Road is a sad, depressing novel. Despite the dark past and the hellish setting, I don’t think I can agree. The boy’s mother commits suicide years into their ordeal because her will has been crushed. The world is a wasteland, where the only animals are cannibal scavengers, and it rains down ash as often as water or snow onto fields of dead grass and forests of dead trees. Any novel of the post-apocalypse forces you to question its end game but McCarthy’s vision is particularly bleak. There are no heroes to save the day, there are no glimmers of hope or restoration. The father himself, upon finding food, questions whether it is a blessing or whether it would be better to just die and be done with it. Yet he persists. He will not be crushed. They will not submit. The world has turned into cold, dark place but they carry the fire as old as civilization itself.

In the final encounter, the boy and the shotgun wielding man that takes him under his protection, the man claims to carry the fire as well. If we take him at his word, and we have no reason not to thanks to the fulfilled promise of covering the boy’s dead father, there is a family that still remains. The good in the world has not burned out, and the father has achieved his ancient goal of ensuring that his son did not perish. Where once there were three, and then two, and then one, now there are five bearers of the torch of civilization.

The final paragraph of the novel is a disconnected scene and, in a fine tradition of literary fiction, is open to wide interpretation.

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

One might interpret this as saying that the world is over and cannot be set right again, the fish being some forgotten treasure of earth that we squandered in our destruction. Others might interpret just the very existence of this passage being a hopeful indication that these fish live on someplace. I find that unlikely considering even brook trout need the sun to live.

Perhaps being contrary, I believe that the final line is the most important. These fish are from a time before man, they hummed of mystery, yet they are being discovered by a man. They are seen, they are grasped in the hand, touched, they are smelled and – soon, I imagine – tasted. The mystery of the fish, and the greater world, has started to unravel. I believe this negates the message of the fish’s appearance since it was generated in a time before we had understanding of the the mystery it represents. Now, with that understanding – or perhaps with greater understanding – we can indeed make the world right again.

My wife, Juliette, had an interesting – and positive – take on it as well, even if it was a little far afield from my usual thought pattern. She hasn’t read the book, but the last paragraph was just too good for me not to share and, again, it’s disconnected from the rest of the story. She interpreted the fish as the world itself. In terms of literary symbolism I think that’s a valid first step (that map of a thing representing the thing itself), and it has some interesting implications. First, the world is in the hand of a man but it is dying (indicated the fact that it feels torsional, as if it’s trying to escape the hand holding it out of water). Second, the implied existence of multiple fish which in this interpretation would be multiple worlds. So, perhaps we have broken the world and perhaps it can’t be set right, but there are other worlds. The glen where the fish all live, then, is the universe humming with mystery. A neat thought, if it gets a little science fiction-y on expansion.

I greatly enjoyed The Road. It’s hard to distill such a great and potent brew of imagery. McCarthy is a master, and The Road is a masterpiece.

television September 30, 2013 Jack No comments

On Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad ended last night. Spoilers ahead, naturally.

With last night’s episode, Breaking Bad is basically neck and neck with The Sopranos in the easy list of Best Television of All Time. The only reason that I can’t give Breaking Bad the crown alone is that the two series were trying to accomplish very different things. Both of them are violent, rise and fall type shows, but where The Sopranos attempted to juxtapose Tony’s criminality with the very common issues and problems of American life, Breaking Bad was purely about pushing Walter White to the limit.

This was the genius of Breaking Bad. At every turn there was escalation, but it was also believable, and there were dire consequences for every one of Walt’s actions. We’ve seen a lot of the new wave of dramatic TV shows end poorly because the writers find themselves incapable of providing a believable progression and then wrapping things up. Lost is a canonical example of a show that promised the world and failed to deliver. Every season was wilder and more mysterious than the last, but the end was ultimately a complete cop out. Dexter, which just ended a week ago was, was such a show as well. The first few seasons were great TV but it ran off the rails and the finale was gutless in its failure generate suspense as well as its failure to make its protagonist come to his end. I could elaborate on quite a few others like Battlestar Galactica, Weeds, or Heroes. Even the laudable Sopranos had an ending that was, for all intents and purposes, a disappointment – although you can applaud David Chase’s artsy execution of blue balls by failing to explicitly show us Tony’s death.

But it was not so with Breaking Bad. The ending wrapped up the entire story. It gave us everything we wanted. It touched on every character still breathing. It provided the long awaited payoff and, in the end, Walter White wins. The show could have ended in any number of ways, and in some ways Breaking Bad chose the most predictable (i.e. Walt achieves his goal of providing for his kids after his death and dies on his own terms), but just the fact that there were options other than the foregone conclusion indicates how well the show was written. Speculation was rampant. Some thought he’d be brought to justice. Some thought there would be the anti-ending where he’d die of cancer before his work was complete. Some thought he’d finish his work and ride off into the sunset with a couple million in tow. Some even thought that he’d go on a rampage to kill everyone that had ever wronged him (I guess the ricin and the machine gun really worked them up). All were possible in the first minutes of last night’s finale.

Best of all, despite the fact that the “predictable” conclusion was reached, each scene still offered suspense. When he showed up in Gretchen and Elliot’s house the viewer has no idea whether he’s there to brutally murder them, get something off his chest, surreptitiously poison their food or what. Same thing when it’s revealed that he’s standing in the kitchen with Skyler. We don’t know why he’s there. If he’s there to threaten or cajole her into playing some part in his plans, if he’s there asking forgiveness, offering money, telling more lies, or if – as it turns out – he’s there to come clean, to admit that the whole thing was ego and avarice, and to catch one last glimpse of the kids. Even in the final scenes of confrontation Jesse and Walt’s relationship, frayed to the point of enmity, evoked the same level of intensity as being intimidated by the gang of neo-nazis just moments before.

There was not a single flagging scene in the Breaking Bad finale, just as there was never a flagging episode in the show overall. It showed the same brilliant writing and imaginative cinematography we’d come to expect from the show and, in the end, provided us with a great contrary example to the failures of modern TV drama. It ended when it needed to end, it ended how it needed to end, and it ended with such sweet resolution that it will go down in TV history as one of the most iconic shows of a generation.

baseball, books August 2, 2013 Jack No comments

On “The Art of Fielding”

Last night I finished Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding.” It’s a literary fiction book that’s ostensibly about a rising baseball star competing in a small college to get drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. You can see my obvious attraction, being a Cards baseball fan, but I’m also an avid reader and it had been awhile since I’d read something that takes place in our universe – even if it is fictionalized.

I found the book to be quite well written. There are the physical descriptions of Henry, the main character, playing baseball evoking images of the sort of otherworldly perfection that gets you low draft numbers but the well-crafted adjectives used for the game are matched by the great sort of introspection, motive and doubt that make the characters seem real. The whole story fits together with interlocking pieces so tightly coupled that you can range from baseball to Melville to rising homosexuality to setting description without it ever feeling unnatural. No topic is disconnected, no metaphor unnecessary, no simile unpolished. It was a joy to read pretty much from cover to cover.

As I stated, I’m a baseball fan and there is a certain romanticism about the game that’s soaked into this book. I’m curious as to how a non-fan would take to the use of the games as a cornerstone of the book because baseball is one of the primary methods of creating tension and driving the plot. There are a lot of other factors running in the story, and with some work (or a different sport) the book could stand alone, but those other factors are much more subtle and much less likely to create the kind of grip that makes you reluctant to put a book down. In addition, I was pleased that – and I’m not giving up much of a spoiler here – there is no cliched bottom of the 9th go-ahead home run syrupy ending that one might expect from the structure of the story. It only takes a few chapters before you realize that this book is a lot more than just fantasy wish fulfillment.

In short, “The Art of Fielding” is a great piece of fiction and it’s quite evident that Chad Harbach is both a baseball fan and an excellent writer. It’s clear that this novel was an epic undertaking for him – having spent nine years crafting its immaculate prose. I’m looking forward to seeing if he creates another masterpiece or if this is the sort of one-off story that’s born of intimate personal knowledge that is impossible to reproduce twice in a lifetime.

baseball June 28, 2013 Jack No comments

On Round Rock Express

A week ago I went to my first AAA ballgame between the Round Rock Express and the Memphis Redbirds. Round Rock is a wealthy suburb of Austin, so the park is only 20-30 minutes away and with my recent baseball obsession I decided to check them out.

The Dell Diamond

The Round Rock Express’ home field is the Dell Diamond, which is a relatively recent facility built in 2000 with ample help from the city of Round Rock. Now, I’ve never been in a AAA park, but I’ve visited the old (90s style) Busch Stadium back in St. Louis so I feel like I have a basis for comparison between the leagues at least.

I have to say, the stadium is very nice. It was clean. It was small. Plenty of parking. Looks like there were a lot of very nice skyboxes up top. I was floored by how close I was able to get to the action for a paltry $7 (half-price) admission. Considering in a major league park the nosebleeds easily run $25 a pop, that’s a bargain. Here’s where I sat:

Pretty sweet for $7. I got to see a few Cardinals prospects (playing for the farm team Redbirds) right up close and personal. Kolten Wong, Oscar Taveras, and Michael Wacha were all within spitting distance. The Redbirds didn’t play so well, but who can blame them? AAA is full of MLB hopefuls and washouts. The composition of their teams is constantly shifting, and they don’t get the same sort of support or consistency they would receive in the MLB. A single star, or even three future stars, don’t make a great team by themselves.

Anyway, I was very surprised when I got there because there really weren’t any bad seats in the house. In an MLB stadium that seats almost 50000, that isn’t and can’t possibly be true. At the Dell Diamond, which has a maximum capacity of 8700, even the outfield seats are pretty good. I was happy that I brought my glove because taking a foul ball to the face was one of my chief fears sitting through the game. They were dropping around me on all sides. It was a far cry from the second deck level seats I remember from old Busch.

There are also a number of other amenities I found interesting, including the kid’s play area. Apparently there’s a pool as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my daughter with me (I bought three tickets, but my wife and daughter were both called back to St. Louis for a family emergency) so I can’t comment on their quality, but I did see them in outfield. If your kid is the impatient type, or just bored of mediocre baseball, then I’m sure it’s a godsend.

Unfortunately there is one place that the Dell Diamond and Busch are identical: the concessions are where they really make their money. I brought some cash, and I foolishly planned to eat there but when slices are $5 and beers are $7 (or $9 if you don’t want swill) I made a meal in the first inning and didn’t go back. I brought my own water bottle and contented myself with that afterwards. I know that I paid half price and parking was $5, but even so the night’s entertainment ended up costing a little over $30. Not too terrible, but do yourself a favor and have a nice meal out before hand. You don’t have to stand in line, sit in a plastic seat, watch your beer and for $19 a person you could do way better. As some Yelp users pointed out, the ballpark shares a parking lot with a Salt Lick satellite location so if you’re a fan of BBQ you don’t even need to get in your car.

The staff of the Dell Diamond also seemed to be rather surly. The ticket guy got annoyed when he couldn’t find my tickets and I had to bring out my phone to lookup the reservation number. Look man, it’s not my problem your shitty software can’t figure out my name. People don’t always sign up for things with their proper ID full name (I go by Jack, my ID says John and there are ten thousand variations of the same problem Pat/Patrick/Patricia Liz/Beth/Elizabeth they’re all the same effing name). Since the Minor League ticketing is all handled by the same firm, they should make it clearer that your profile name needs to be what’s on your ID or the staff should stop being so rigid. Look me up by last name and figure it out. I have a common last name but there are maybe 2-3000 people with tickets. How many Millers can there be? Anyway, on the way in with my backpack (containing my glove, a water bottle, my sunglasses etc.) the guy seemed pissed off when it took me a second to realize that his gruff pig voice had said “Open it.” Contrary to what the online reviews said, the only time these folks were friendly to me was when I was on my way out the door.

The fans were assholes as well, but I guess that’s what I get for rooting against the home team. Still, some of the shit that came out of the drunken pricks behind home base in the last third of the game were just totally inappropriate. There was some good natured razzing, of course (like “maybe you’re actually a lefty!” to a right handed batter) but there were also some blue streaks in the language and I was glad I hadn’t brought any little ears. Less because of the cursing and more because they were just so goddam negative. Dude, you’re at a AAA game, these guys don’t need you to remind them they don’t measure up and they sure don’t need to hear you talk shit on their mothers. I’d like to see some of the drunken white trash get out of the stands and play some baseball – if they could do better there’d probably be a contract in it for them.

To sum up my visit: The stadium was clean, the tickets were cheap, the food was expensive, the staff was hit and miss, and the home fans were dicks. Most importantly the baseball just wasn’t that good. I won’t say that I’ll never go again, but if I do I’ll eat beforehand and I won’t feel like I should stick around for the whole game because, frankly, it’s not MLB and it shows painfully. The caliber of play just isn’t there.

Notes

Here are a few things that I couldn’t find on the internet and wish I could.

  1. Parking is cash only. I should’ve known better, but from all the hype about the stadium online I thought it was going to be a chick in a booth with a little fan and a credit card reader. Instead, it was just a friendly old man with a wad of cash and some paper tickets. Also, Lexus drivers get in free thanks to some dealership in Round Rock. There is an ATM across the street, but it’s in a convenience store so I hope you get the $2.50 convenience fee refunded by your bank (I love my credit union, Amplify, for this reason).
  2. Wear your affiliate team gear. At first I thought that wearing a Cardinals hat to the game might be a tool move. After all, it’s not the Cardinals that were playing. I was glad to see that nobody else thought that way and there was a lot of Cardinals gear in the stands. Surprisingly, there was quite a bit of Round Rock Express gear there too.
  3. Bring sunglasses. Especially on the first base line in the evening, the sun was really a pain in the ass. I only used mine for the first inning or two but I was glad to have them.
  4. Prepare for awkwardness. I didn’t mind so much that there were between inning games for the kids, or that we all sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” together at the stretch, but at some point they started trying to get us to do the Chicken Dance and I drew the line. This white boy doesn’t dance. The stadium is just so tiny that you’re bound to get a camera pointed at you or have a face to face encounter with a mascot. If my seven year old had been there, she would’ve loved it, but there by myself it was just weird.
gaming June 23, 2013 Jack No comments

Quick Notes: Crusader Kings 2

Here’s a set of things that I’ve found out about CK2 that I don’t think were covered well enough elsewhere. It’s mostly nitshit, but I thought it’d be worth writing down.

Ruler Designer Pros and Cons

I bought the big DLC pack on Steam and it came with the Ruler Designer which allows you to alter your starting leader. It sounds great on one hand – you get to change you appearance, your coat of arms, and (most importantly) your various traits, but it does have a harsh downside.

Pros

Again, you get to customize your initial leader so you can have traits that favor your situation. Be a genius, or a brilliant strategist. Be young, be old. Have a wife and kids when you enter the game. It does a decent job of forcing you to choose a combination of good and bad traits because they’re all tied to your age. So, for example, you could be a genius level master strategist but you’ll start the game in your late 40s. Add some gluttony and lust, maybe some physical disfigurement and you can still be a genius strategist in your 20s. Important traits can then be passed to children that you educate because you get expanded options when situations arise during their upbringing.

Cons

I can’t stress this enough. When you’re using the Ruler Designer you are not editing your leader, you are replacing him. In fact, the leader you replace even shows up in your court. This is an extremely important distinction. When you use the default leader, you start without taking penalties for short reigns, you probably have high relationships with your vassals, you don’t start over your demesne size and you may even have powerful family in the area. For example, starting in Sweden with the Old Gods DLC, you have brothers and sisters all over with alliances. Or in Ireland 1066, starting in Dublin as the Earl, you are already the heir to Leinster and will inherit it shortly after your elderly father dies. Without that relationship you’ll have to take it by force or intrigue.

Summary

Don’t use the Ruler Designer if you’re going to take over a large kingdom. Or, at least consider the relationships you already have in place and expect to spend awhile smoothing out relations with your vassals. Instead, take the leader that’s in place and try to mold the heirs (if they’re kids) into the sort of person you want to be next. This approach will take until your death, or even your first heir’s death, but it’ll be easier along the way.

I’d use the Ruler Designer if you are going to start as a vassal, or as the ruler of a very small area, like a count with no inheritance and no worthwhile allies.

Watch your Heirs’ Traits

Even if you’re able to hand over all of your titles on death to a single heir (which can be rough to accomplish) do yourself a favor and make sure your heir is someone worth playing as.

I just recently had a play through where I was trying to reform the Norse Pagan religion. I had already united almost all of Sweden under my banner as King and I was working on getting a claim to the third Holy Site that I’d need to reform my religion. I had a truckload of piety and prestige when I died. Dying wasn’t too big an ordeal … at first. I lost a few titles to my half brother but I was expecting that (and had no choice, being unreformed pagan). What I wasn’t expecting was that – oops – my heir was arbitrary, cruel, cynical, and gluttonous. His prestige was negative from day one. He was a brilliant strategist, but every single vassal hated him for his bad traits. This, in addition to the usual trouble with succession, was lethal to my plans and my game. The first year after this heir took over there were three dangerous factions, a civil war that cut my kingdom into tiny pieces and … well, I didn’t stick around too much after that. I wanted to assassinate myself.

So, it’s not enough to be cognizant of having an heir, getting him married, and determining how titles are going to split on your death. You have to make sure that your heir isn’t an asshole too. If I had been watching I could’ve plotted his destruction or just had him assassinated. If I had been paying closer attention when he was born, and raised him myself, I could’ve made sure he didn’t grow up with these crappy traits in the first place.

Know your Long Term Casus Bellis

One thing that wasn’t clear to me when I started was that your Chancellor’s “Fabricate Claims” is really a specialized tool rather than a central mechanic as the tutorial sort of implied.

There are a lot of CBs that are a lot more useful and give you a lot more scale and freedom to fight than Fabricate Claims. Fighting on grounds of religion, pushing de jure claims, inheriting or pushing claims on behalf of others you’ve brought into your court – these all give you a lot more leverage and are a lot less trouble to procure than waiting for your Chancellor. Especially if you’re non-pagan and can’t raid in the meantime.

You Don’t Control all Holdings in your Counties

This is something that took me too long to understand. You already know that you’re not in direct control over every county in your kingdom (unless it’s a very small kingdom or you’re a great steward). However, even in counties you do directly control, the holdings there are controlled by barons (landless property owners) who are vassals as well.

I knew all that, but what wasn’t clear was that when you make improvements, say, to a city that’s controlled by a baron level mayor that’s still just improving his lot in life and not yours (directly).

Look at this window (screenshot from lparchive.org):

countywindow

Thomond has a castle, the big picture to the right of the player’s face. That’s your holding in the area, that’s where you click to make improvements. The city and bishopric are just like any other vassal holdings, even though they’re on your land.

Money vs. Timescale

Money is extremely important in this game. Improvements are expensive, as are new holdings, and titles (which, as mentioned above are useful for persistent de jure claims). Mercenaries can get you out of a jam, but they’re costly. Money is even useful as a political tool for manipulating the opinions of greedy vassals.

The thing that sets CK2 apart from other games though is that you have to think on an epic timescale for this stuff to pay off. The buildings themselves take years to construct and upgrade and each step of the way only adds a tiny fraction to the payoff. It’s very similar to calculating the payoff for city improvements in Civ, you have to factor in how long you’ll be able to reap these small benefits to determine if it’s worth it.

In addition, you have to take quick advantage of any mechanics that work in your favor monetarily. Being a Norse pagan, for example, means that you can pillage coastal counties. Early on in the game you should basically be constantly raiding. In fact, as a Viking you get a penalty if you’re at peace for too long which encourages you to raid just so you don’t take the prestige hit. By raiding you can easily make enough money to create some big titles for those later de jure claims, or to build up some infrastructure that later you’ll use to consolidate power. In the later game, however, you’re much more likely to get tossed back into your longboats by a sizable force you don’t want to face (after all, you’re just raiding not conquering).