Thursday, February 23, 2012

AWDS Battle Reports - Episode 3

Welcome once again folks. As usual, Biggabertha has decided on what matches to play. This time, however, I asked for a change of scenery, and he has obliged me. Behold, Anatolia:

Match #1
Koal - Slam Guard, Road Rage, APC Boost, Slam Shield
Adder - Ranger, Star Power, Prairie Dog, Pathfinder

The match opened with Adder having a hefty fund advantage thanks to the FTA-counter city. An early Copter saw Koal having some trouble expanding in the far south. Koal, however, managed to use his extra transport speed to hit three of the four silos and hinder Adder's expansion severely. By the time their forces met, Koal was already ahead in both funding and unit count. Adder briefly had land superiority with Recons speeding across the map, but in the end Koal had two things on his side: he could tech up faster, and he could take a hit better than Adder could. Adder could use the terrain to his advantage and launch COP about 3 times more often than Koal got SCOP, but at the end of the day Koal proved to be a juggernaut that Adder couldn't overcome.

Match #2

Kindle - Combat Pay, Invader, Gearhead, Conquerer
Von Bolt -Slam Guard, Luck, Star Power, Slam Shield

(At this point I switched back to "The Coast" due to FTA issues on Anatolia.)

This matchup surprised me a bit. Kindle completely dominated the first half of the game, mercilessly pounding Von Bolt with her COP while her repair and capture abilities let her expand unchallenged. The first Ex Machina didn't do much to solve this, either. The problems arose when Vonny began producing Tanks and Copters regularly. His high defense meant that there was no competing with him on even day-to-day terms, so Kindle had to tech up. Kindle only had an income advantage of 4k at that point, and had to tech up to a unit costing more than twice as much as a Tank just to counter them effectively. Even with Combat Pay, she couldn't make up that difference effectively due to Vonny's sheer resistance factor. Von Bolt's infrequent SCOP also created problems for Kindle as it was drawn to her high-cost clusters like a moth to flame, and shut down the battlefront in ways Kindle's COP couldn't compete with. It didn't help that Vonny was getting very good luck rolls in his Tank vs Md Tank fights. Vonny's only real setback happened when Kindle started spamming AAs to counter a Copter rush in the north, but this was eventually put down by Mechs, and the southern Tank spam continued.

The lessen learned here is that, even souped up, Kindle isn't equipped to deal with defense this high on a daily basis. This Von Bolt build performed well enough that I actually fancy its chances against Kanbei. We may have to try that one day.

Match #3

Kanbei - Sale Price, Gold Rush, Fire Sale, Soul of Hachi

This one also surprised me. Even with this skill set, Kanbei isn't exactly what you'd call a mass production specialist, so I didn't expect him to perform well against Sensei. What actually happened was that on SCOP Kanbei could spam nearly invincible Mechs on forward cities and built a Tank/Copter or two in the back. He dominated Sensei day-to-day actually taking a tech lead, and Sensei had to gear up to SCOP to keep up in the tech race which gave Kanbei the edge on the end.

I really need to stop underestimating this skill set...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How to "Beat" Minecraft Quickly

A lot of folks doing Let's Plays on Youtube play in a way that makes you think a trip to The End takes a long time to set up. In fact you can do it in just a few Minecraft days. This process is sped up if your seed has natural coal near the spawn point and a stronghold fairly close by, but otherwise your results may vary.

Spend the entirety of the first day knocking down trees and do nothing else. When the sun begins setting, tunnel underground or into a mountain and set up shop. Use coal if possible, charcoal if necessary, and makes torches. Exhaust your wooden pick tunneling down to bedrock, then replace it with a stone pick. Upgrade to iron at the earliest opportunity. Once you hit level 12, begin strip-mining for diamond and try to find lava. Get a bucket of water, freeze the lava, and get a diamond pickaxe to harvest 10 obsidian to make an eco-portal to the Nether.

Go to the Nether, find a fortress, and kill a bunch of Blazes. Try and get 30-40 blaze rods and then head back to the surface world.

The next part is a little harder, because for each blaze rod you now need an ender pearl. The quickest, though not necessarily easiest way to do this is to just go hunting. Make a diamond sword and go do it.

Transmute everything into eye of ender, and make two piles: a pile of 12 to activate the portal, and the other pile to find the stronghold. Find it, then find the portal. Kill the silverfish spawner, seal off the area, and make a Nether portal. Build a road to your home portal. Go home, and get materials to make a bow. Make a wheat farm and start raising chickens; this serves the dual purpose of gathering meat and feathers. Do this until you're good on both, then go whack some gravel to get a bunch of flint. Make a crap ton of arrows. (If you aren't going for the record, find a skeleton spawner and make a gravity trap, and then harvest the arrows.)

Once you're armed and stocked with ammo and food, you have the bare essentials to win this fight. Take a bucket of water as well if you want to repel Endermen.

Go back to The End portal, activate it, and head on in. Use arrows to blow up the ender crystals when the Enderdragon is healing off of them to do some free damage. Use your sword to hit the Enderdragon when he makes a flyby. If you have trouble hitting the crystals, kill some Endermen and use the ender pearls to teleport to a higher position, and then to get back down.

You can kill the dragon fairly easily through attrition. Just act like a matador  and sidestep the dragon's passes and whack it. Lather, rinse, repeat. He's not really as hard to kill as it seems, it just takes awhile.

Once he's dead, collect his experience orbs and hop into the portal home. The insanely long credit reel will appear; just hit ESC and it will go away.

And there you have it. This can be accomplished in two Minecraft weeks, less if you picked a favorable seed. What has this accomplished? Well, the Enderdragon gives you a shitload of experience, so you'll be able to enchant for awhile without resorting to experience grinders that require splash healing potions for maximum effectiveness. You can also go back to The End at any time, which is a free source of obsidian and ender stone to Enderman-proof your home and mob grinders, and also a good source of ender pearls for teleportation purposes.

A Weekend Game and Why Hachi is Utterly Irredeemable

As you may or may not know, I have a brother named Dylan who also plays Advance Wars. While I have admitted to playing by myself now and then, some people have taken this to mean that I always play by myself. Folks, out of the last couple hundred sessions I've played, maybe 10 to 20 were me playing myself because I was bored or wanted to check something quickly. When you see my PvP Youtube videos, though, Dylan is the one controlling the other team. We have to do it that way because, as I'm sure GipFace knows fully well, that's the only way to PvP on a ROM! I mention this because, as I describe the following game, I don't want accusations flying around that I played this session by myself.

Dylan came over this past weekend, and we played a game of Grit vs Hachi with my standard Force Rank build for Grit. We played on The Coast, Dylan as red Grit and me as blue Hachi.

The game started with Grit taking an early lead due to the three money skills; remember, you're a mini-Colin with those. Grit was using his early advantage in purchases to shuttle over Infantry from his HQ while he pumped out Arties and AAs closer to the front. All Hachi was producing were Recons up front while Infantry got shuttled up from the back, though not in quite the same copious amounts. Grit pulled ahead with a unit count advantage while Hachi kept afloat with superior funding; though he didn't use that funding except when Merchant Union fired off.

Grit was killing Hachi day-to-day with these Force Ranks (remember, I'm playing bland), and with the Soul of Hachi Force Grit could easily keep up with Hachi in the production department. It became a question of whether Hachi's bartering skills could pull ahead of Grit's sniping while also compensating for the d2d disadvantage. That question was very much in doubt for awhile; Hachi held both center bases for awhile, but on the second SCOP Grit overwhelmed the northen front with sheer force of persistence. (It is amazing what 8 Arties can do on Super Snipe.) After that a stalemate erupted, in which Hachi banked like crazy to pump out two B-Bombs on every SCOP while still having enough for a bunch of Tanks. Grit was making the occasional B-Bomb and Bomber, but otherwise was concentrating on AAs to kill Copters and Arties to kill ground units. The southern front broke and the northern front was stabilized by the B-Bombs. Dylan avoided a mistake I consistently make, though, and decided to consolidate all his units in the south, since in mountains like that it's harder to get past a single 10HP unit than two 5HP ones. This gave him enough time to devise a new problem for Hachi: on the next Super Snipe he started dumping Mechs into the cities west and north of those mountains, which really bogged things down until after the next Merchant Union. The northern front finally broke by simple necessity as Grit had to divert resources to defending the home front, but once that southern expansion was captured we decided to call it good.

So you might be wondering why this post is titled the way it is. It's because there are portions of the match missing from the above paragraph. This was a game to test new tactics, and there were portions of the match where I, as Hachi, shut down the game with a stalemate while I cycled through every possible tactic I could think to try with Merchant Union. When the northern front fell, it was only because my attempt at a Md Tank rush failed spectacularly; you'd think after years of spouting the Gospel of Grit I'd have remembered that was something the Grit Wall was intended to counter in the first place, especially when assisted by Soul of Hachi. カ_カ Yet in spite of this massive, I mean 5-properties-lost massive setback, falling behind in both income and unit count, I was still able to pull this B-Bomb gambit out of my ass and win the game.

And that is why I say Hachi is not just broken, but irredeemable. For pretty much any other CO you can come up with a "no tiers" scenario without getting any more extreme than eliminating cities for Sensei. The only way to apply the same to Hachi is if you either give the other guy every neutral property on the map, or play a pre-deployed map with no cities. If Colin is the Advance Wars Zerg, Hachi is the Advance Wars Tyranids: sheer force of "fuck you" will hold an opponent at bay until he can produce something to counter them in epic fashion.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Some Wisdom from Zeltrax (a.k.a. Hawke on BHHQ)

I used to have a lot of conversations with Zeltrax before a lack of internet access saw him vanishing from the worldwide web. Among the topics we got into was his belief that there is no such thing as "tiers" in video games. Most of his reasoning applied to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but we also touched on Advance Wars a few times as well. Considering all the shit I've done with tiers in the meantime (we last spoke in early 2011) I obviously don't agree with him, but some of his arguments are relevant to tier discussion.

The first part of the argument is simply about how tier lists are built off of certain assumptions. For a long time Grit was considered a powerful CO in AWDS, partly for certain assumptions about game mechanics, but we must also consider the builds in use at the time. I personally don't recall much talk about Recons as a viable defense until Gipface actually came up with it, and most of the games I spectated on in AWBW centered around Tank builds anyway. These AWBW players may have applied the same logic to AWDS; their conclusion is reasonable, since if you mostly neglect Recons in AWDS Grit will dominate. The other simple fact was that most people assumed air and sea units didn't count as valid arguments since they are optional rather than required portions of the game. At the very least, folks would downplay the importance of these units.

The second part comes in when certain rules are applied. Kanbei, when I last checked, is considered by WWN to be a broken CO. However on the map "The Coast" seen on the Tag Tier page, he actually suffers quite a bit. Any other CO on that map can gain quite a numerical and funding advantage on the guy, and Kanbei can't deliver the usual curbstomp (he might still win, but winning=/=curbstomping). Samurai Spirit is all well and good when the odds are fairly even, but Kanbei was designed with inferior numbers in mind; this map actually balances him quite well. I have gotten comments from WWNers on my map choices saying, "Well that map doesn't count because [blah]." I'm not necessarily disputing this; the point is that when rules are tacked on, objectivity is lost. Whether or not the map really is unbalanced, you have a case where only one CO out of 27 seems to be disadvantaged. It is not seen to bear considering because of tacked-on rules, though.

The final portion of the argument ties together the other two. Rules and assumptions can both be turned on their heads by simply... well, creating a situation where they don't apply. The serious incorporation of airports in metagaming by Gipface basically invalidated the basic Grit tactic by default; even ignoring anything else he supposedly had going for him, Grit's wall tactic was always intended for ground units, and anti-aircraft countermeasures took funding away from maintaining it. Now that the inclusion of airports has become a rule, however, any tactics specifically relying on them can be overturned by simply not including them. Similarly, naval units are under both an assumption and a rule: they are assumed to be subject to rock-paper-scissors mechanics and thus subject to the "first navy wins," and so as a rule are not metagamed in. This in spite of the fact that several COs clearly benefit the navy in ways that tip the balance in either side's favor; which, frankly, isn't terribly different from any other aspect of the game. Thus, when confronted with an actual naval scenario, any results garnered from the match will be played down to conforming with the assumption, and therefore be viewed as justification of the rule. Any other conclusion is seen as a sign of n00bishness and a general refusal to accept things that are seen as being obvious to anyone with a functioning brain.

The argument was primarily motivated by an old Super Smash Bros. Melee tier list, in which whole stages were deemed unplayable because one character could exploit the position of a particular platform and thus guarantee a win. I have to give some credit to the AW community that Zeltrax didn't: we, at least, will agree to ban a character rather than a map. Zeltrax contended that for every situation that community came up with where a particular character was overpowered, he could find another situation where they were underpowered; he claimed the same about Advance Wars games, and hence the above argument.

The relevance to tier discussion is that anyone who tries to go against the above three points is immediately dismissed. Now again this is coming from my own experience since I haven't bothered checking any AW forums in many months, but when GipFace tried convincing the AWBW community that their assumptions about AWDS, like Grit being broken, were completely wrong, he was dismissed out of hand for going against long-held assumption. Similarly, anyone going against GipFace's rules is dismissed out of hand for "not understanding how competitive play works." The thing is, these rules and assumptions are created by map-making norms, and map-making norms are determined by those who make the maps. If maps favoring, say, Grimm were the norm, Grimm would be considered an upper-tier CO. Sensei is considered good because of his relationship with cities, but what if a map has more bases than cities? If we decide that something is a competitive norm, it is only because of our ideas of what a makes a good map.

Now unlike Zeltrax, I'm not going to stand here and say that tiers are invalid. What I will say is that the preference for particular map-making styles has left open unresolved questions that bear considering. Yes, six paragraphs and that's all I really wanted to get across.