36 Chambers – The Legendary Journeys: Execution to the max!

June 25, 2014

Board games vs. video games: which are better?

Filed under: Beautiful and Sublime, Gaming — Tony Demchak @ 6:42 pm

The correct answer would be, of course, “both are equally awesome, you fool.” I would agree, naturally (maybe even with the “you fool” part), but there is a certain level of discussion to be had here, and since Kevin is suspiciously absent from the blog (I’ve never seen him and B.J. Blackowicz in the same room before — that doesn’t mean he’s killing Nazis and Mecha-Hitler, but that doesn’t mean he’s not killing them either), why not have it here?

To begin with: my answer to this question, like the answers to all of life’s most important questions, is “it depends.” There are genres of video games — first person shooters come to mind — that generally make for lousy board games. I owned, at one point, DOOM the board game. It was an attempt to make a Dragon Strike/HeroQuest sort of RPG out of DOOM. It failed, sadly. (Nostalgia note: Dragon Strike was my first, albeit indirect, introduction to tabletop RPGs. The Dragon piece alone was massive and badass.)

Here are a couple of other genres that work better as video games than board games:

Sports games. My father, who retired in February, loves the shit out of Strat-o-Matic. Calling it his life’s all-consuming passion, I think, is not a stretch. But we are in the era of Out of the Park Baseball and, in 2015, Beyond the Sidelines Football. There are so many more variables a computer game can take into account that a board game can’t that it’s absurd.

– Platformers. Has anybody actually tried to make this work on a board game? I’m assuming they wouldn’t bother, but you never know.

– Rhythm games. Again, has anybody bothered to make a Guitar Hero: The Board Game? Is it actually just a guitar?

For any other genre I can think of, execution matters more than format. RPGs can be awesome tabletop and as video games. It depends on your DM or the story, respectively. If you don’t actually like people, maybe tabletop isn’t your bag. That’s fine. Here are some specific examples that show what I mean:

– Magic: The Gathering vs. Magic: The Gathering. I very slightly prefer the real life version over the current electronic versions simply because there’s no deck builder in the Steam versions. What makes Magic brilliant is the whole, y’know, customizable aspect. And the present Steam versions don’t allow you to customize very much. There was a PC version many years ago which had you fighting wizards for cards around the countryside. That was awesome. It had a fully functional deck editor, and I spent many an hour designing insta-win decks that would cost me thousands of real life dollars to buy if I did so in real life.

– Axis and Allies vs. Hearts of Iron III. I enjoy both games. I really do. We’ll leave setting up aside, since that’s the worst part of many a game, and go straight to the heart of the issue: Axis and Allies, if played consistently with the same group, comes down to dice rolls. That’s awful. In my experience, the team format does not encourage experimentation — hey, why can’t I spend my IC on carriers as the USSR? — because people are jerks and like winning. If your teammate does something stupid, you lose. Unfortunately, the dominant strategies (the Soviet meatgrinder, for one) are fairly obvious and once you establish them, it’s about dice rolls.

hate games based entirely on dice rolls. I refuse to play Risk because, 99% of the time, that’s all that matters. Unless you have six complete n00bs, strategy is all but meaningless. Let’s contrast this with Hearts of Iron III. Yes, there are elements of randomness — but, by and large, whether you play singleplayer or multiplayer, luck will not determine who wins. You can add complexities — supply is a big one — that most board games don’t handle well, if at all. This doesn’t make Axis and Allies bad: it just makes it inferior.

– EU: Rome vs. Republic of Rome. Here’s the thing. I vastly prefer Republic of Rome, as an idea, to EU: Rome. EU: Rome is not without its charms: it’s one of the few games I’ve played that gets civil wars right, makes them dynamic and interesting. But Republic of Rome is about stabbing people in the back, about competing for dominance through sheer wits and your ability to bullshit people. That’s awesome. I love games like that. The problem is, the rules were written by a homicidal, drunken, ferret. Why is the ferret homicidal? Maybe it’s drunk on terrible booze. I am not a ferret expert.

I’m not complaining about the grammar — I’m complaining about the entire concept of the manual, how the rules are laid out, etc. The attempt to provide a 2 player game is an admirable one, but it lacks in execution. If I have a question about a specific situation, where do I go? Fuck if I know.  The learning curve, thanks to this awful piece of shit rulebook, isn’t even a vertical line — it’s slightly inclining at the top to the left, indicating it actually gets harder as you get through it. The number of times you need to stop play to check the rules, especially with two people — it’s not good.

– Twilight Struggle vs. every computer game and video game known to man and put together (possibly including the Twilight Struggle computer game). If I have one friend over, and we have time for one game, I will pull out Twilight Struggle every. damn. time. It is genius in a box.  It perfectly captures the spirit of the Cold War. The sides are not equal, but they weren’t equal in real life either. You can win by tricking or manipulating your opponent into nuking the planet. Twilight Struggle is sublime. You need another human being to play, which is mildly troublesome, but you can always lure them with food and/or alcohol. Once they play, they won’t want to leave. EVER.

June 20, 2014

I am a true American — suck it, everyone else!

Filed under: Politics, U-S-A! U-S-A! — Tony Demchak @ 4:17 pm

Ever wondered if you’re secretly (or not so secretly) a fascist? I know I always have! That’s why I was eager to see this post on io9. It references the F-scale, developed in 1947. Here’s the quiz itself. I scored a 3.4. The quiz called me “disciplined but tolerant; a true American.” It’s about time somebody else recognized how awesome I am!

June 18, 2014

Diplomacy: WWI gaming at its finest

Filed under: Gaming — Tony Demchak @ 2:35 pm

I owned a copy of Diplomacy for three years. I never once played it. Apparently, games by e-mail are the way to go now. But, this article on Grantland stirred my interest in it again.

World War I has a problem. That problem is not enough Americans. Because America’s part in the war was minor, Hollywood doesn’t care about it. Because Hollywood doesn’t care about it, this creates the impression that there is no demand for entertainment — even edutainment — based on it.

This applies to video games as well. You can probably name a dozen World War II games without even thinking. World War I? … Well, there’s Diplomacy! One of the rare misfires by Paradox was turning Diplomacy into a PC game. The AI was stupid, there were glitches… it was bad. Darkest Hour, another PDS game, has a WWI scenario that’s well regarded, but it’s fairly inflexible and Darkest Hour is pretty old at this point. (WWI always happens, and at least the original parties don’t change sides).

For board games, the news is a bit better. Paths of Glory is, while a bit complex (certainly more so than Diplomacy), very well regarded. It’s a Eurogame, like Twilight Struggle or Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, which is primarily card driven, as opposed to dice.

Still, there’s room for more. In video games, in particular. Verdun gives the impression, to pick a battle, that everything was a hard fought slog that lasted for months. The Eastern Front wasn’t that way. Even the Western Front, at times, was more dynamic. You have the whole Lawrence of Arabia idea in the Middle and Near East. Even Japan got involved.

It’s an untapped market, even a gaping void, that could use a quality game or thirty to fill it.

June 16, 2014

This is better foreign policy, but not by much

Filed under: Politics — Tony Demchak @ 1:33 pm

The Economist, on Monday, wrote about a proposed plan for the US in Iraq. Happily, it’s better than the administration’s present policy of doing nothing. It’s excessively sanguine about the Iraqi army’s chances — yes, it’s much larger than ISIS, but the US Army was much larger than the NVA and Viet Cong too — but, it does make sense. A limited intensity campaign of air strikes and naval power (which the article does not mention, but this story from RIA Novosti does), coupled with special forces and aid to the Iraqi army, might help. But the article is probably right that Iran will continue to dominate Iraq because a) they want to, b) it’s beneficial for them to do so, and c) they’re neighbors and co-religionists (the Sunni-Shi’ia split notwithstanding).

The American people have already shown they won’t tolerate additional and more persistent use of force in order to prop up the Iraqi regime. I think the US is focusing on pursuing what I’d call a “blackjack foreign policy” — unlike poker, which can be for high stakes, blackjack is the kind of game that’s relatively easy to break even on. You won’t win a lot, but you won’t lose a lot either unless you’re incredibly bad. Limited involvement is better than pure isolationism, 1920s style, which is what I think a goodly portion of the GOP wants. The Democrats hoped that rainbows and ponies and magic would fix the Middle East and seem surprised it didn’t work.

I have little hope of seeing any sort of positive results out of the present administration’s foreign policy. If Iraq is signaling a shift, that’s good news. I would be delighted to see one President with a clear, logical, foreign policy agenda during my adult years.

So long, Vince Young and Tony Gwynn

Filed under: Sports — Tony Demchak @ 1:00 pm

Tony Gwynn and Vince Young played completely different positions for completely different teams in completely different sports. They are almost polar opposites for each other, in the public mind: Tony Gwynn was the kind of player that everyone loved, gave “110%,” a Hall of Famer. A tremendous all around player (although dWAR doesn’t like his defense), with a couple of MVP caliber seasons, some very good seasons, and a great many solid seasons. It’s not fair to call him strictly a singles hitter — he certainly had some pop in his bat, with 3 years of slugging percentages over .500 — but he was not a prototypical corner outfielder.

Gwynn passed away today. Gwynn was the first athlete I ever really liked; I’ve always been true to the Indians, but the first player who captured my attention was him. His rookie year was the year I was born. We’re both named Tony, left handed, and in Little League, I also played right field and hit a lot of singles. I don’t remember ever hitting a homer in Little League, but I do remember a couple of triples. Then Ken Griffey Jr. debuted, and while I still liked Gwynn, Griffey sort of took over.

RIP, Tony Gwynn. You were my first love, in a strictly baseball sense.

In contrast, I don’t have the same emotional attachment to Vince Young. Young retired today, and in this Sports on Earth article, his legacy is evaluated, and it’s very different from Gwynn’s.

Young is one of those players who should have been fantastic. I enjoyed watching him in college, and he was fun to watch in the pros, too. When the Browns signed him, I was in favor of it. Yet, for whatever reason, he never put it all together. That article reminds me a lot of Zach Greinke, except Greinke got back in the game and Young never did.

I feel a little sad for Young too, because he could have been so much more. Vince Young is not Tim Tebow; Tebowmania is among the stupidest trends the NFL has produced in the last ten years. Tebow was a B+ college QB who got recognition for scrambling in a great system. He was never a great passer. Young, at least, was a good passer, although the same comments could apply him regarding scrambling and system.

The NFL chews up and spits out QBs entirely too quickly. Too many QBs are victims of small sample size.  I hope Vince Young can find a career that suits him, because apart from weird habits like spending $5000 a week at the Cheesecake Factory (seriously), he seems like a nice guy. Maybe he’ll have a career renaissance in a year or two, or play in the Arena Football League. I still think the Browns shouldn’t have cut him. Maybe he can prove to be a cautionary tale to Johnny Manziel.

June 13, 2014

Too much Coolidge, Obama

Filed under: Keeping Cool With Coolidge, Politics — Tony Demchak @ 1:22 pm

I am all for doing nothing. I personally live up to the Second Foundation maxim of “Never act  unless you must. And then — hesitate.”

Then a friend sent me this article. It’s a Jonah Goldberg piece, incidentally. I actually hope we never get that time machine. I shudder to think what would happen if Obama went back in time to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Look, I can understand why you might not want to go toe-to-toe with Russia. But you won’t even act when hordes of Islamic terrorists retake Iraq with barely a struggle? When Iran is the fucking voice of reason?

You got your second term. People already increasingly dislike you. What on earth do you have to lose? Are you so terrified of appearing to be George W. Bush for even one tenth of a second that you will only do the exact opposite of what he did? Worry less about your damn legacy and worry more about your damn country.

June 12, 2014

Elon Musk: World’s greatest pro wrestler? Or greatest human being?

Filed under: Economics, Science!, Technology — Tony Demchak @ 6:21 pm

Sadly, he is not a pro wrestler. But he is the CEO of Tesla Motors, and he just did something so awesome that he may qualify for greatest human being in the world. Let’s set the brilliant title of his post aside for a moment. (Okay, giggle for a moment or two at the title.)

Tesla renouncing all of their patents is more than just whipping it out and laying it on the table. Well, okay, whipping out their patents and laying them on the the table is exactly what they did. It is, however, a gauntlet thrown down at the feet of every major motor vehicle manufacturing in the world. This is Tesla saying, to be bluntly, “our product is so awesome, that we will tell you how to make it, and you still won’t succeed.” It is also Tesla saying, “Yeah, we’re already super rich, but we think that better, safer, more reliable cars is good for everybody and good for the planet.”

Maybe you believe human caused global warming isn’t a thing. Maybe you think that fossil fuel dependency isn’t a big deal. I’m not judging you. I’m not sure either. However, let me share a story for a moment.

As long time readers know, I have been in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the past ten months. Russia has been in the news quite a bit in those ten months for violence both inside the country and outside. I’ve even had my wallet stolen. Yet the one time I felt most in danger was when I was in the car going from the airport to the hostel. Why? Because the air quality was so absolutely putrid (and I’m an asthmatic) that for a few moments here and there, I literally could not breathe.

That’s not good. While I’m generally a misanthrope, I would prefer that human beings not die for stupid reasons. I share DNA with them. So, auto companies: pick up the gauntlet. Mass produce the ever loving shit out of these fuckers. Bring the cost down to a level where the average citizen can afford one. You will make shit tons of money — humans like moving around. I’m pretty sure you like money. There is no downside.

Sorry, Mike Trout: should have gotten an economics degree

Filed under: Economics, Sports — Tony Demchak @ 6:14 am

Regression is quickly becoming the most interesting site in the Deadspin network (if the least funny). A recent article actually quantifies a superstar General Manager as more valuable than the best player in the game.  You can get his actual paper here.

I’ve skimmed the paper — the writing itself could use some improvements, I would argue, but that’s a stylistic question — and it seems solid to me. Undervaluing things that should be overvalued and vice versa is a skill, perhaps a tradition, in MLB. (Hi RBI and Saves! We love you! Don’t change!)

Yet, while I agree with his conclusions, I raise a further point. Consider that an MLB roster consists of 25 players. Ideally, if all else is equal and nobody gets hurt, you will have 8 or 9 regular players, and five starting pitchers. So, the “meat” of an MLB roster should be 13 to 14 players (depending on league). The rest are injury replacements, situational players, and relievers. Okay. Ignoring the minor leagues for the sake of simplicity (although one could argue that a GM’s influence on the minors is as important, or more so, than the majors), that means he has 13 or 14 critical decisions to make where he can make an immediate, direct impact.

Now let’s look at the NFL. You have 53 players on a roster, and no minor leagues, so this comparatively easier to make sense of. You, nominally, have 22 starters in the NFL. However, unlike MLB, the depth chart doesn’t stay static because, especially on defense, players move around and formations shift. So, out of that 22 starters, I’d offer the following players as “true starters”, in the sense that they’d play every snap in a perfect world where injuries aren’t an issue.

– The quarterback

– The offensive line

– The #1 and #2 WR

– The #1 and #2 CB

– The safeties

– The middle linebacker (or two)

– The nose tackle

That means that an NFL team should reasonably expect these 14 or 15 players to play every snap. The other positions are situational (your defensive front seven will shift positions quite frequently and take plays off) or based purely on formation (absence or presence of a TE or FB or nickelback). That’s… about the same as MLB. You can even argue it’s fewer, because there are nose tackles who don’t play every snap (although few of them). According to Bleacher Report, the average NFL GM makes about $2 million a year. We could argue NFL GMs are undervalued, and I think that’s accurate, but given the number of impact decisions they have to make, but with a much larger roster (and therefore with more margin for error), they should be undervalued relative to MLB GMs.

Consider, finally, the missing element: player development. When you hire a GM in any sport, but particularly MLB and the NFL, the public thinks their job is to make the team better now. It’s actually to make the team better tomorrow. To do this, MLB has, at minimum, six teams (considering one AAA, one AA, High A, A, and two rookie league teams) are devoted to each major league team for this very purpose. In the NFL, you have the 53 man roster. That’s it. If you want to argue that the NCAA is the minors for football, I can’t argue on the whole, but recall that there’s no former affiliation and that talent is much more randomized in this sense.

When we add the player development aspect back into the equation, I would actually consider the NFL executive to have the more difficult job, strictly based on having fewer options to work with. Therefore, I think that if MLB executives are undervalued (and they are), NFL executives are more so, and also deserve some more cash for their trouble.

Women in gaming

Filed under: The Truth about The Penguatroll, Video Games — Tony Demchak @ 5:14 am

Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the version of AC coming to PS4, XBOX One, and PC next year, does not have any female characters in co-op because “they don’t have enough time.” The idea of women in gaming is not a new one. There is a dearth of games with dominant female protagonists (excluding games like Mass Effect that let you choose your character’s gender). Bayonetta, Lara Croft, ironically the AC IV DLC, an AC portable game, the various Metroids, and a handful of others I’m sure I’m forgetting. At least, I hope that isn’t it. (Bioshock Infinite, depending on how you consider Elizabeth, would also count.)

Now, on the whole, this doesn’t bother me. I am, shockingly, a white male, and most of the games are about me or people like me. I am okay with this. I would rather have well developed female characters than female characters tacked on for no reason. But for something as simple as character models? For a AAA game with nine studios working on it? “We don’t have the resources” is bullshit. I have to call you out on that one, Ubisoft.

Prontra Kevin: more on tuition costs

Filed under: Politics, Schooled!, Science! — Tony Demchak @ 4:54 am

Yes, prontra is a portmanteau of pro and contra, as I am both in favor of and against some of Kevin’s propositions.

The subsidies I described are going to the universities, not to the students, in exchange for a reduction in tuition. More like agricultural subsidies in this sense. I think his cause #3 is responding to the system, not to me, but I wanted to emphasize that part of my solution.

For Kevin’s causes, 1 and 1a I obviously agree with. Item 2 I agree to with reservations. Item 3 makes sense, but again, reservations.

I like the free market as much as anyone else. Probably a bit less than Kevin, but much more than the average guy. I do not like the idea of kicking accreditation out of the process entirely because not all degrees are created equally. If you can get a medical degree anywhere, you get hordes of Dr. Nicks flooding the streets. Yes, hospitals wouldn’t hire them (but what if they were really, really cheap?), but clinics? Maybe they would. The process could use fine tuning, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater. A private institution for accreditation could work, but I’d have to see more evidence before I’d agree to it.

The argument with subsidies I would buy entirely if the student was making the buying decision. In some cases, he is (this applies to Kevin and I), but in many cases, he is not. This feeds into your other points — parents think college = more $ (which is true, on the average), college = more educated people (which is… sort of true — throw enough knowledge at somebody and some of it is bound to stick), and that college = better people (complete bullshit). I don’t think the problem is that students are overvaluing certain degrees, but that parents are.

I like Kevin’s solutions, but I see them as long term decisions. The culture needs to change. This will not happen overnight. However, among Kevin’s continued references to elementary education majors (I’ll take a liberty here and say he is railing not against the institution, but the absurdly low requirements and ease of graduations) lies a problem. How many people, gainfully employed in this profession, who may have done so out of a desire to be blacked out for the better part of four years, are going to tell our next generation that they made a mistake? If we are employing teachers who do not want to teach but just need a paycheck (the Miss Hoovers), all we do is see the cycle repeat.

Fewer high school graduates means fewer college entrants. Agreed, and it’s a direct solution to the problem, and we all know people who graduated high school who had no business doing so. Yet, if they’re bombarded by media that tells them blue collar work is worthless, regardless of pay, parents will scream and holler that their child’s future is being destroyed when those evil teachers flunk the little moron. So, before we make high school harder, the culture needs to change first.

So, set changing the culture aside as a long term ideal solution, but one we can’t fix right now. I’ve already talked about accreditation and subsidies. My solutions, as presented earlier, were focused on reducing debt burdens to students, but Kevin’s right that we absolutely need to address the roots of the cost. As Kevin correctly pointed out, the problem is one of demand. I’ll give you a concrete example. The largest university in the Russian Federation, Moscow State University, has about 40,000 students — and about 22,000 are undergraduates. (Note: the English version of the site incorrectly claims there are 7000 undergraduates; this is a typo.) The rest are graduate students or students pursuing “refresher courses,” or short term learning. The number of graduate students in Russia is slightly inflated because they have two doctorates, as in the British system: the second doctorate is roughly the equivalent of tenure in the United States. There are a couple of other universities with about that level of enrollment — St. Petersburg State is close, with around 35,000 students — but most tend to be quite small.

Compare this with the US. Kevin and I went to a university of around 10,000 students. About 80% are undergraduates, but again, consider the inflation rate of Russian graduate students. We also have to consider that the US has roughly double the population of Russia. Still, contrast this to the largest universities in the US. There are multiple universities with more undergraduates — just undergraduates — than Moscow State has students.

So, the best way to cut costs, as Kevin suggested, is to cut demand. As we can see, there is a lot of demand. How can we do this effectively and realistically?

1) Make it harder to get into college. The United States is the only country I know of that does not have entrance exams to pass to get into a university. Even a private university like the University of Dayton only required an application, an application fee, my scores from high school, and an essay. The ACT and SAT are not entrance exams and have their own problems: I’m talking about mandated exams to get into a university, determined by that university and the department they’re applying for. This should replace the entire entry system as it exists now. You pass the exam, you’re in. You don’t, try again next year. No other criteria for entry, apart from a high school diploma.

2) Force students to choose a major. The longer you go without a major in a university, the worse off you are. I can buy using year one to figure out what you want to do — I’d even argue for a relatively standardized sample of courses freshman year — but after that, you need to decide. No open option bullshit that lasts until the junior or even senior year. Changing the major is fine — go nuts — but pick one and stick with it.

3) Eliminate generic majors. This includes “General Studies” and “Liberal Arts.” Interdisciplinary is fine, but generic is not.

4) Promote associate’s degrees. This is a good compromise for making getting into college harder. An associate’s degree for a specific skill is a much better solution than a bachelor’s degree in “general studies.”

All of these, I think, would reduce demand in the short term, and if we work to change the culture too, we end up with a better education system at more affordable rates, which leads to a better America. Fuck yeah.

 

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