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Tuesday, March 07, 2017
Observing the Swiss
Posted: 2:29:00 PM 0 comments
Running The Observatory is super fun. Being a self-proclaimed 6 degrees of freedom junkie, watching pilots pull off incredible moves just to avoid taking an extra 10 points of damage here or there is fascinating.

The format of The Observatory is largely inspired by CoNDOR, the racing league for the game Crypt of the NecroDancer. Over there, they have their main commentator and several referees who work in the background to ensure that everything goes smoothly. However, on The Observatory, I am afforded no such luxury.

Therefore, I've tried to automate as much as I can to ensure that I can spend time focusing on the action rather than on administering of the tournament. To this end, drawing on my experience from making SixBotGG for Six Gaming, I created FusionBot for The Observatory.

This bot takes care of a number of fun (and not so fun) admin tasks, but the one thing I wanted to highlight was the algorithm I created to create a Swiss pairing system for the qualifier tournaments. In a Swiss tournament, everyone plays a round every game, with the idea being that as the tournament progresses you will play opponents who are closer and closer to your skill range.

A manually-ran Swiss tournament often will have the tournament director throwing players who have the same number of wins in a pile, and randomly determining from that pile who plays who. There are ways to ensure people don't play each other twice, and even ways to govern who gets a bye round.

For The Observatory, I had added constraints that required some custom programming. For instance, players can't play each other if neither of them can host a multiplayer game. But as a general algorithm, here's how I managed to get a working Swiss algorithm in node.js.

1) Get a sorted list of players


This part's pretty easy. You want a list of players sorted by their performance.

var eventPlayers = Object.getOwnPropertyNames(event.players).filter((id) => !event.players[id].withdrawn).map((id) => {
    return {
        id: id,
        eventPlayer: event.players[id],
        ratedPlayer: ratedPlayers.find((p) => p.DiscordID === id) || {
            Name: obsDiscord.members.get(id).displayName,
            DiscordID: id,
            Rating: 1500,
            RatingDeviation: 200,
            Volatility: 0.06
        },
        points: event.matches.filter((m) => !m.cancelled && m.winner === id).length,
        matches: event.matches.filter((m) => !m.cancelled && m.players.indexOf(id) !== -1).length
    };
}).sort((a, b) => b.points - a.points || b.ratedPlayer.Rating - a.ratedPlayer.Rating || b.matches - a.matches || (Math.random() < 0.5 ? 1 : -1));

Here, I get all of the players in the tournament that haven't withdrawn and return an array that includes the player's ID (which for a Discord bot is simply their Discord ID), their player information for the tournament, their ELO, the number of wins they have in the match, and the number of matches they play. We then sort this so that the people with the most points are on top, and break ties on ELO, least number of matches played, and in the case that everything is even we just flip a coin.

2) For each player, match them to a potential opponent


Here, we create a recursive function that attempts to match players based on a set of criteria. In that function, we get the players that have yet to be matched up, and find potential opponents for the first player in that list.

var remainingPlayers = eventPlayers.filter((p) => matches.filter((m) => m.indexOf(p.id) !== -1).length === 0),
    firstPlayer = remainingPlayers[0],
    potentialOpponents = remainingPlayers.filter(
        (p) =>
            p.id !== firstPlayer.id &&
            event.matches.filter((m) => !m.cancelled && m.players.indexOf(p.id) !== -1 && m.players.indexOf(firstPlayer.id) !== -1).length === 0 &&
            (firstPlayer.eventPlayer.canHost || p.eventPlayer.canHost)
    );

You see here that the list of remaining players can't exist in my "matches" array. We get the first player and a list of potential opponents. Opponents cannot be yourself, cannot have been already played, and as is a special case either you or your opponent must be able to host a game. Inside the recursive function, if there is only one player in "remainingPlayers", we check to make sure that the player hasn't had a bye before. That is, if they've played as many matches as there have been rounds in the tournament, the bye is okay. If not, we fail attempt at making a matchup. Failed attempts get interesting, and we'll get to that in a moment.

if (remainingPlayers.length === 1) {
    if (firstPlayer.matches >= event.round) {
        return true;
    } else {
        return false;
    }
}

Now we start a loop through potential opponents. As long as there is a potential opponent available, we will try to assign them the match until we run out of opponents. How we determine who to match an opponent up is where the fun math comes in:

let index = Math.floor(potentialOpponents.length / Math.pow(2, event.round + 1));

With this formula, in an 8-person tournament, the top player will play the 5th seed in round 1, the 3rd seed in round 2, and the 2nd seed every round thereafter (assuming all other conditions for being a potential opponent have been met). This is far better than throwing names into a pile and drawing randomly. Since it uses math, it makes later round matches more meaningful, and allows for earlier matches to be scheduled fairly. Here's the loop in its entirety:

while (potentialOpponents.length > 0) {
    let index = Math.floor(potentialOpponents.length / Math.pow(2, event.round + 1));
    matches.push([firstPlayer.id, potentialOpponents[index].id]);
    if (remainingPlayers.length <= 2) {
        return true;
    }
    if (matchPlayers()) {
        return true;
    }

    matches.pop();
    potentialOpponents.splice(index, 1);
}
return false;

We push the match onto the matches array, but if we don't ever return true because we run out of remaining players or we can't match future players, we basically back the match out of the matches array and try again until we run out of matches to try. The "matchPlayers" function is our recursive function this resides in.

3) Determine who's home


In chess, there's a concept of determining who gets the white pieces. In Descent, it's about whose home level you're playing in. Here in The Observatory, we don't want people playing home or away too many times in a row, so we have a way to make sure that happens as infrequently as possible:

match.sort((a, b) => (
    (event.matches.filter((m) => !m.cancelled && m.home === a).length - event.matches.filter((m) => !m.cancelled && m.home === b).length) ||
    (event.matches.filter((m) => !m.cancelled && m.players.indexOf(b) !== -1 && m.home !== b).length - event.matches.filter((m) => !m.cancelled && m.players.indexOf(a) !== -1 && m.home !== a).length) ||
    (Math.random() < 0.5 ? 1 : -1)
));
eventMatch.home = match[0];

The "match" is the array of players, and we sort the array in a way that makes it so that the player who has played home the least gets it next. In the case they've both played home and away identically, we flip a coin.

Summary


Putting together a Swiss algorithm for pairings wasn't too hard, and in fact was more about getting all of the nuances of a Swiss tournament just right. A lot of trial and error was had, and the first two seasons of the Observatory resulted in some pretty spectacular failures. But the code is pretty solid now, and you can find the whole function under "generateround" in fusion.js. I would like to break this algorithm out of the bot and into its own NPM module at some point, perhaps that's something for a future CodeShare episode!

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Sunday, November 06, 2016
BlizzCon franchise roundup
Posted: 11:16:00 PM 0 comments
BlizzCon was as amazing this year as it has ever been. From the Sombra announcement to Weird Al closing out the show, there was more than enough to do this year. What I wanted to do with this post is roundup the six game franchises and give some commentary on their current state, going from best to worst.

Overwatch


Everyone was expecting the release of the new champion Sombra, and sometimes when you're expecting something you really don't get too hype for it. Sombra's reveal was definitely NOT one of those times, because the hype was real. They started the opening ceremony with a retrospective video of Overwatch's release. I thought it was pretty fake, with a ridiculously setup war room, some equally ridiculous lines, and in general a lot of small things that tipped off "this was not real". Sure enough, the video started glitching out, and eventually blacked out entirely before playing the reveal video. Everyone loved it, and it was as amazing as I had hoped it to be.

Overwatch has taken off in popularity since its release, and the main reason is that it makes a genre that was previously associated with hardcore gamers accessible to casual gamers, while at the same time making sure not to lose the hardcore crowd. The Overwatch World Cup was played at BlizzCon, complete with their own mini-stadium built inside of one of the halls. Overwatch is turning into a juggernaut that is continuing to gain momentum with things like arcade mode, new maps, and new game modes. They are constantly tweaking their matchmaking algorithms, improving their server technology to make the game smoother, and listening to fan feedback.

World of Warcraft


While Overwatch has all the hype, World of Warcraft is an established brand that has endured for over 10 years. However, their last expansion, Warlords of Draenor, hmm... sucked. No really, it was awful. They lost a ton of players, released very little content, and seemed to have no plan for the future.

Legion, on the other hand, has been an amazing expansion, with the new artifact weapons, a world quest system to replace the daily quests, other systems inspired by Diablo III, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm, and a ton of content. So, it was pretty telling when on the first day, Ion Hazzikostas took the main stage and spent an hour talking about what was coming to future patches, and did so by himself. He went over the next two patches, 7.1.5 and 7.2, the raid content we'd see in it, and even gave a teaser for a 7.3 patch. This expansion is simply blowing the last one out of the water - not that it would be too hard to do so - and it's clear there isn't going to be any kind of content drought for the foreseeable future. Right now, WoW is pressing all the right buttons, and backing up their words with new content. If you've been wondering whether to get back into WoW after the failure of Warlords of Draenor, the answer is clearly yes.

Heroes of the Storm


Heroes is an oddity in the Blizzard world. It draws upon all of their franchises to take on giants such as League of Legends and DotA2. And to be fair, it does a good job. Again, it's another case of bringing a genre of gaming that is more associated with the hardcore gamers to casual gamers. They announced adding Varian Wrynn and Ragnaros to the game at BlizzCon, and continue to add more variety to the way you can play the game.

What I find odd, though, is that unlike a first person shooter, having all these different ways to play Heroes of the Storm just doesn't appeal to me as much as it could. It lacks player progression, and compared to Overwatch is significantly more difficult to pick up the cosmetics. Not to mention that with as many heroes as there are in the game, the learning curve is really huge when it comes to trying to figure out what each hero does, and how to successfully play against them. Having multi-class heroes like Varian is only going to make the curve grow. On the flip side, there is a plethora of things to do in Heroes of the Storm, so if you enjoy the game you're going to continually have more to do.

Hearthstone


Hearthstone is a fun, lighthearted game that tries not to take itself too seriously. However, I personally find that the game tends to move too fast, with multiple expansions per year and a constantly changing meta game. The speed of the meta changing is not a new complaint, but with the new expansion announced at this BlizzCon, that speed doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon.

To me, Hearthstone is an incredible time sink if you choose to play it. Not only do you have to stay current on the meta, but you spend time analyzing your cards and assemble decks with hopes that you will put together something that will be useful. Not to mention the investment - either time or money - required to get the cards you need to be competitive. Hearthstone can be amazing fun, but to remain competitive you really have to be ready to make the commitment.

Starcraft


Starcraft II is definitely waning in terms of new things happening. Sure, the modding scene is pretty active, but there were no announcements related to Starcraft II, if you don't count the DeepMind announcement. They have completed the story with the 3 chapters of the game but do occasionally add new mission packs to the game which are fairly popular. However, this won't sustain the game forever, and unless they're thinking about moving along to the next chapter in the Starcraft series, there isn't going to be much to talk about when it comes to Starcraft any time soon. At least their e-sports scene is thriving.

Diablo


Where there is little to talk about for Starcraft, there is much to talk about with Diablo, and it's not very good. Diablo III has become a stale game, with the meta being exactly the same for the past 4 seasons. While they are adding some nice feel good elements such as the annual Diablo I event or the Necromancer, it really isn't clear what they have planned to allow the game to remain relevant. Challenge Rifts were a good thought, but even that will become stale after some time.

Diablo III almost seems like the red-headed stepchild of Blizzard. They have no e-sports scene, the content that gets added to the game tends to pale in comparison to other games, the meta has become stale, and they're even losing some of their top players to boredom. Are they doing enough to keep fans of the game playing it?

On the flip side, this sure feels awfully familiar. It's a long content drought, like those we'd get at the end of an expansion for World of Warcraft. Blizzard isn't dumb, they know when a game they've made is losing its appeal, and they tend to do something about it. They already did it with Reaper of Souls. Perhaps the next expansion or game is just around the corner?

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Attention - Gullibility
Posted: 10:05:00 AM 0 comments
Back in 2000, I used to have this completely silly thing on this site called "Letting Off Steam". Back then, I was a programmer and admin with Trax in Space, and I used to field a wide variety of absolutely ridiculous email. You can probably still find some of these out there on the Wayback Machine if you look hard enough. Mind the color contrast if you do.

And color contrast happens to segue perfectly into this email I received at around 3:30 this morning from, apparently, someone named Lily from The Humanity Campaign. It was so good (and by good I mean bad), I pretty much went all "Letting Off Steam" on it. The email should be rather self-explanatory. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016
AMD 16.5.2 error "Qt5Core.dll is missing from your computer"
Posted: 11:58:00 PM 14 comments
Sometimes software pisses me off. I mean, really. How hard is it to copy a file to a location on your hard drive?

Apparently, it's too much for AMD. I spent an hour tonight trying to fix an issue with my wife's laptop, and decided getting the latest video drivers would be the best way to do it. After wrestling with AMD's installer, which was stuck at "Analyzing System" until I ran their cleanup utility, I finally got everything installed. On reboot, when trying to run AMD Settings, the laptop got the error "Qt5Core.dll is missing from your computer".

Turns out, the installer fails to install most of the required files, and no one on the Internet knew how to properly resolve this. I went looking for the file myself in the package AMD provides, when I came across this gem:

C:\AMD\Non-WHQL-64Bit-Radeon-Software-Crimson-16.5.2-Win10-Win8.1-Win7-May11\Packages\Apps\CN\CNext\cnext64\ccc-next64.exe

This is the actual executable file that AMD uses to install AMD Settings. Simply double clicking on this executable and repairing the installation fixed the problem.

I don't know what AMD is doing with their installer, but the person who put it together should probably QA their stuff more, and save me from much frustration.

Grr!

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Thursday, February 11, 2016
The Observatory
Posted: 11:41:00 AM 0 comments


I'm starting a new Twitch show tomorrow, February 12th at 7 PM Eastern, called "The Observatory". This will feature the original Descent game, with 1v1 DCL matches being played. I will be observing the game using a brand new observer mode, and will be commentating the matches along with co-casters Entropy and Morfod.

Not sure what to expect? Check this out for a visual of observer mode, along with the neat custom HUD that will be used for the event.




Want to learn more? Check out my information page on The Observatory.

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Six Degrees of Confusion
Posted: 12:10:00 AM 0 comments
Note: I come down pretty harshly on a few titles here that probably don't deserve it. Every title listed here is a good title in their own right, and deserves to at least be played through. The point is, nothing, yet, compares to Descent.

As you may know, I'm a pretty big Descent fan. I would even go as far as to say I'm a pretty big fan of the whole Six Degrees of Freedom genre. Really, if you want me to buy your game, make it a first person, Six Degrees of Freedom shooter. I'll buy it.

With that said, I have been a bit confused by the rash of 6DoF titles that have come out claiming they want to be as close to Descent as possible, and yet are doing things that... well, aren't very Descenty.

The Pretenders


There's Descent: Underground. This title seems to be doomed with poor net code that micro-repositions your ship just enough to throw your aim off, and a confusing scoring system that they are stubbornly sticking to. They have the name, but in my opinion they seem to be making their own 6DoF game.

There's Geocore, which I can best describe as a project lacking direction. Its single player mode has changed up literally half a dozen times since I've seen I started paying attention to it, and lacks the polish of other titles. It has a slogan of "competition grade", which is shown in its well-done net code, but honestly the original Descent has much better-looking weapons, and the game taxes my GPU like no other.

There's Sol Contingency, the game that originally was going to be Descent but got yanked from under them. While it has a very polished look, there are definitely some contrast issues that make it difficult to see what kind of action is happening in the game. I am also not a fan of the slow startup on its vulcan-like weapon.

There's Overload, the game made by the original Descent developers, who want to give us a modern version of Descent. Except, they have no initial plans for multiplayer, which is very much a core part of the Descent experience to me.

There's Retrovirus, a Descent-like game with a beautiful single player story, but horribly bad multiplayer play. The MOBA game mode was poorly done, and the spaces feel so large that it feels like it's impossible to properly aim. Not to mention the tech trees that let the king of the hill continue to be the king by granting well-performing players extra powers. Descent was a game that already had a wide skill gap, why make it wider?

While each of these titles are very good in their own right, as a fan of the Descent series, all of these titles miss the mark in one way or another. I am beginning to wonder if the experience of Descent can actually be recreated at all. Did Parallax happen upon some kind of magic formula for success that made the original game still the best game of the genre, even 21 years later? Is this 6DoF revival period just a bunch of pretenders trying to recreate the perfect Descent experience?

Or maybe am I overshooting my expectations?

The New Originals


Take Sublevel Zero. I had no expectations that this would be Descent, or anything like it. However, it is probably my favorite of the modern 6DoF games because of its rogue-like replayability, its crafting system that allows you to play the game the way you want to, and some AI that, while it could be smarter, does just enough to be dangerous if you're not paying attention. It has no multiplayer, but it never claimed to be Descent, so I don't expect it.

Take NeonXSZ. One of the few 6DoF games without inertial dampening (in English: your ship continues to move in the direction you moved it even after you stop moving in that direction), this game takes elements from puzzle games, action RPGs, and of course the 6DoF genre and brings it into an engaging environment where, again, you can play the game the way you want to. I didn't expect this to be Descent-like, and therefore was pleased with the polish of the game, as well as the action that came out of it.

And how about little-talked about Kromaia, the 6DoF bullet hell? This is about as far from the original Descent gameplay as you can get, because you want to kill as LITTLE as possible, or else the difficulty ramps up FAST. It's a different way to play a 6DoF, but it was still a fun game.

It seems the games that I have the LEAST expectation of being Descent are the ones I have the MOST fun playing.

Maybe I should cut my expectations short with these new games and take them for what they are, rather than having them try to be the old experience in new clothes, but I tell you what, that can be really hard to do.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Report Card: 2015
Posted: 12:38:00 AM 0 comments
I often do a "Year in Review", but this year I thought I'd change it up a bit. Last year, in addition to reviewing what happened the previous year, I added some goals for 2015. This year, instead of just reviewing what happened last year and adding the goals, I figured I would also add in a kind of "report card", where I grade myself on how I did towards those goals from the previous year.

I'll be honest. These goals stayed with me all year long. When I thought about what I want to do, I compared that to my goals. Having goals I actually thought about has made me learn a bit more about myself than I knew before.

So, without further ado, here's the 2015 report card!

Music


2015 Goal: Complete and release full versions of "All In My Head" and "Paper"

There's no beating around the bush here, neither of these goals happened. In fact, I was musically silent for the first half of the year. I did, however, come out with three different pieces of music, but none of them were original works.

In 2015, I started a podcast with Dr. Zing and Morfod called the Self-Destruct Sequence Podcast, which is a podcast all about Descent. Dr. Zing kind of dropped off the face of the Internet a few months ago, but Morfod and I picked it back up late last year, and have been having fun with the episodes this year. I mention this in the music section because when we were putting the first episode together, we wanted to have some Descenty music, and I delivered in a big way.

Our title music, Self Destruct Sequence, is a remake of the level 1 music, while our outro, Mars Processing Sequence, is a remake of the level 8 music. Both had electronic elements, and two guitar tracks each that I performed myself. This is the first time I've actually been happy with guitar tracks that I've created, especially the lead guitar parts. Hopefully I can take my experience from this and translate that into better guitar tracks in my music in the future.

The third piece was something I couldn't get out of my head, a piano cover of the song "The Wight to Remain" by Danny Baranowsky, which is best known as the music to Zone 4 Level 3 in the game Crypt of the NecroDancer. This has always been a beautiful track to me, and could be the launching point of a piano-only soundtrack to the game, if I get so inspired to complete some day. I even put the song's score up on flat.io if you so desire to try to play it yourself.

So while I kept the dust off of my music, I didn't do what I set out to do. At all. I tried to work on "Paper" once, but couldn't get any inspiration for the one part I still don't have a working idea for. Maybe that will change in 2016, but unfortunately, this gets poor marks this year.

2015 Grade: D

2016 Goal: Complete and release full versions of "All In My Head" and "Paper". For real this time.

Coding


2015 Goal: Finish the updated roncli.com site

Well, you're looking at it, baby. I'm still quite proud of this accomplishment, and it really took a load off my shoulders last year when I completed it. It's even gotten a few updates since that fixed some bugs and added (and, sadly, removed) some features.

So with the main 2015 goal accomplished, what else have I done in 2015? A quick glance at my GitHub profile shows I've contributed to Descent's DXX-Retro source port (this was the mouse fix), and started a series of Descent 3 tools written in node.js, including the rebirth of Descent DSN. However, in recent months, coding's not exactly been a priority to me.

The main project I have going right now is getting Six Gaming's official website off the ground. It is going to be started pretty much directly from roncli.com with a Six Gaming theme. At first it's just going to be a static page with links pointing to most of our presence on social media. Later, it will include episode-specific links for the Six Gaming Podcast, and the final version will be a full fledged social site where people can come to find other people with whom to play games they enjoy.

So 2015 was good, and 2016 has a clear goal. Looks good to me!

2015 Grade: A

2016 Goal: Finish the Six Gaming site

Gaming


2015 Goal: Grow Six Gaming into a bigger and more general gaming community

So at the beginning of 2015, I had this great idea to make Six Gaming a big community, not just for World of Warcraft, but for all the games we play. Over the years, we found that many of the gamers in Six Minutes To Release enjoyed other games as well, so it made sense to want to cater to that while keeping the close-knit community we've created from the core members of the guild over the previous 7 years.

Two major events accelerated this goal to fruition. First, Showsan got the jump on me. When he returned from his service in the military, he came in and lit a fire under everyone. He basically rebooted the Six Gaming Podcast, gave it a new format and new life. Since then, we've added a ton of cohosts that bring their own unique perspective on the games that we are playing. The Podcast has stayed fresh and has been enjoyable because of it, and we recently completed our 100th episode, which we call... Episode 48. Don't ask.

Second, Warlords of Draenor happened. What a bad expansion! I would rehash what I've already written, but suffice to say that not much has changed, and on top of it we're looking at another 6-8 months until Legion, which will make a 12-14 month content drought, similar to the one at the end of Mists of Pandaria, and exactly what the devs previously said they didn't want to do. Add in their stance on flying, and I honestly couldn't tell you if I trust Blizzard to get WoW right anymore. Legion is their last chance to get it right for me, and until then I am probably going to be doing some different things.

Like Descent. Descent: Underground made it known that Descent still exists for a lot of people, and despite the issues they are having (a topic for a future blog post), I am genuinely excited for a release of a new Descent game, even if it's not by the same people who gave us the first three. Naturally, a new Descent game has raised interest in the original games, and Descent 1, 2, and 3 have all seen an uptick in activity.

Case in point is the Descent Champions Ladder. It went from 1,408 games played in the fall 2013 season, down to 938 games in spring 2014, and down further to only 504 games in fall 2014. At the end of that season, Descent: Underground was announced, and the spring 2015 season saw a massive ressurgance with 2,218 games played. The late 2015 season, which was only 3 months, had 1,416 games played, and not even 3 weeks into early 2016 we have 510 games played.

Playing Descent again has been awesome, and has inspired me to learn a new control scheme. I used to be all keyboard, and now I do mouse and keyboard. I play at the high bronze/low silver level on the DCL currently, but I feel I have a lot to learn about the game both mechanically and philosophically.

I've also been involved with the Crypt of the NecroDancer community, racing most recently in CoNDUIT 7, and will be playing again on CoNDUIT 8 on the 29th. I'm not that great, which is why I'm in the "junior" league, but it's still a whole lot of fun getting some competition in. I still need to complete story mode and an all characters run to unlock Coda (I have no false impressions that I will BEAT Coda, mind you), so there's still plenty of room for improvement. I'm mainly known for having the Bard Deathless world record at 112 wins, and have performed fairly well at deathless mode with a few other characters as well.

I've also done a ton of streaming on Twitch. While I've stopped playing League of Legends, I still stream things such as my DCL games, Crypt of the NecroDancer runs, and even some Sublevel Zero speedruns. Basically, if I play it, it ends up on Twitch at some point.

Gaming has become a central part of what I do. I play a wide variety of games, involve myself in the Six Gaming, Descent, and Crypt of the NecroDancer communities, do two weekly podcasts involving games, and stream many times a week. I don't see this slowing down in the near future, so the only thing to do in 2016 is embrace it.

I have plans to start a regular Descent-themed competition show on Twitch, and am most interested in growing my stream large enough to get partnered. I don't think partnering will happen this year, but I at least want to get started. I've played with some ideas for growing my YouTube channel as well, but nothing's really stuck, but I'll keep trying.

2015 Grade: A+

2016 Goal: Substantially increase my streaming presence on Twitch

Life


2015 Goal: Get back to the Bay Area at least once

I think I nailed this one, at least in text. However, my experience thus far has been... less than ideal.

So instead of taking a trip to the Bay Area, I actually MOVED out here. In October, I packed my things, drove West a few days, and settled into the Belmont area. Central to everything, I've done... nearly nothing since I've gotten here. Sure, I've ventured to Pier 39 in the city, finally ate some Iguanas down in San Jose, and have occasionally taken in some of the area's scenic routes, I've yet to really do something... defining when it comes to the Bay Area. Seriously, I've seen more of the Bay Area the last time Kathy and I came out here in February 2013.

This is compounded by the fact that many of the people I knew and hung out with here are gone. One of the reasons I gave for moving out here was to be close to people I knew and give myself opportunities to "get out" every so often. I have done that a grand total of zero times since I got here.

There have been several reasons why I haven't really capitalized on my new living situation. The first is that I work remotely, yet am wanting to work locally. My job in Houston allowed me to work remotely when I told them I was moving and giving what I thought was going to be my two weeks. While the remote working part of the job has been going okay, I know through my experience with Sift that this isn't something I want to do forever. I have been really slow on advancing this agenda, however.

Second is that I've found myself in somewhat of a funk recently. I can't really put my finger on why, just that I find that I don't have the energy to do a whole lot since just before Christmas. My focus has been poor in coding-related projects, and I don't really feel that I've "settled in" very well. I don't at all regret making this move, in fact I think it's the best thing I've done for myself in a long time. However, I need to really break out of whatever it is that's causing me to, for lack of a better description, lose time doing nothing.

So, yeah, I made it out here, but... what next? Well, the first thing is going to be transitioning to a local job. Even before then, though, I need to find a way to get more active again. I have a plan, it's just acting on it - or more accurately getting over what's preventing me from acting on it - is proving challenging.

I hate these lethargic, stagnant days. I've had them before and have gotten past them, and have no doubt I will again. But the time until that happens can be downright depressing some days.

Oh, and there's this house thing. Yeah, we want a house. Soon.

2015 Grade: C

2016 Goal: Get more active, find local employment, and begin planning moving into a house

Overall


I've had an up and down year for sure. I recognize that my strongest point currently is with gaming, and recently that has been the outlet I go to in order to unwind and have a good time. I also find enjoyment in coding, but need to find a way to motivate myself to finish projects like I did with roncli.com. While my music still remains on the back burner, I am doing my best to keep sharp and avoid going flat... okay, I'll stop with the music puns! I recognize that I need to make some changes in order to improve my quality of life in my new surroundings, and am hoping that I can get those taken care of quickly.

2015 Overall Grade: B

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Monday, September 21, 2015
Crypt of the NecroDancer Bard Deathless record
Posted: 2:13:00 PM 0 comments
If you haven't been following my Twitch stream, one of the games I've picked up recently is Crypt of the NecroDancer. It's a rougelike game where normally you have to move your character to the beat of the music, all the while avoiding deadly traps and attacks and killing all the baddies.

I say "normally" because there's one character that's different.

Bard is special in that you control the speed the game moves at. I call it NetHack Mode, because you get time to think about your next move without having to worry about your enemies moving. While it would seem like it's the easiest mode possible, I find that it's the classic case of trying to not beat yourself. You could easily spend 30 minutes or longer per game not only trying to get the best gear in the game and make sure that you never take even a single hit, but man that's boring and this makes it real easy to just go light speed and open the door and *BAM* you're black skeleton'd.

I've streamed some Bard Deathless, which requires you to win as many games as possible in a row without dying, but only to limited success. Prior to last week, my previous best was 27 consecutive wins. While this sounds like a lot, the record as of last week was 60 wins.

Today, the record stands at 112.

I spent four days of playing about 16 minutes per win to set the new Bard Deathless record. It was tiring, as I'd spend 9 hours per day playing, with one day going all the way to 5 in the morning to hit the 100th win. My final death ended as it always does on Bard, a preventable tragedy. I had a fireball and didn't use it against a red dragon, and ended up not having enough room to kill it without it killing me. In short, I beat myself. But not before I crushed the record.

I put up a playlist on YouTube of all 112 wins, but this isn't something you're going to want to go through from beginning to end... that's 30 hours of video. Not a whole lot of highlights to be had (I did highlight one moment of stupidity early in the run), but if you're interested in seeing how a deep Bard Deathless run works, pick one of the videos and watch one or two of the games. I'm usually pretty good at verbally documenting what I'm doing and bringing up any unusual events as they happen.

Up next: actually beating Aria.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015
Windows 10 public "beta"
Posted: 12:20:00 PM 0 comments
If you've at all been keeping up with the news, you've undoubtedly read that Windows 10 is a godsend, a vast improvement over previous versions of Windows, and that you should upgrade to the latest version and you'll have absolutely no regrets.

One thing that Windows 8 had over Windows 10, however, is that it worked.

Don't get me wrong, Microsoft got a lot of things in Windows 10 right. They took the god awful start screen in Windows 8 and managed to blend it with the typical Windows 7 start menu in an appealing way. They added an action center for your notifications. They even made speech recognition a thing with Cortana, which is a pretty decent addition even if I'm not going to use it much.

But there is SO MUCH wrong with Windows 10 right now that I say that casual users should not bother upgrading until they fix the major issues. Keep in mind that I spent much of yesterday upgrading all my drivers and software in an effort to eliminate these issues, to no avail.

Perhaps the biggest issue I have with Windows 10 is items missing in the start menu and from Cortana's search. Sure, Voicemeeter may not be a common application. Skype is. No matter how I install Skype, through the "Get Skype" application they added in Windows 10, or through Chocolatey, Skype simply does not appear on my start menu at all. Even if I find Skype.exe and make a shortcut to it and throw it in c:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs, I still end up without access to it unless I pin it to my taskbar. What the hell, Microsoft? Having items in the start menu has been a basic Windows feature for TWENTY YEARS. You couldn't get that right?

Now, I think this might be due to the fact that Windows 10 hasn't finished indexing my computer (it was about 40% done last night when I went to bed), but still, you shouldn't have to index the start menu. If it's there, let me use it! Ugh.

Another pretty noticeable issue is the fact that sometimes you can't right click on a tile in the taskbar. If you try it, you might get a context menu, or it might do nothing. Annoying when you're trying to close windows. The workaround for me was to hover over the tile to bring up the preview, right click THAT, and close the application that way. Or you can Alt+F4, but I have so much running at any one time that often right clicking the taskbar is simpler.

A huge problem for me is the case of the disappearing USB display. I run a three monitor setup, with two standard 1080p monitors side-by-side and a DoubleSight 1024x600 touchscreen below the main display. It's wonderful when it works, and had no problems in Windows 8.1. And to be fair, it works most of the time in Windows 10... up until the point that I run Crypt of the NecroDancer full screen. And even then the screen will continue to work while the game is running. The moment I alt-tab out of the game, the display freezes up, EXCEPT for the mouse. Then I'll go back into the game and the display will be fine. When I quit the game, though, that's when the display freezes up for good, and is entirely useless.

The worst part about this is that it so far seems to only happen with Crypt of the NecroDancer. Not Descent. Not Portal. Not World of Warcraft. Not other full screen games. It's something Crypt is doing when it's full screen that is killing that display. I thought it might be drivers, but I have the latest Windows 10 drivers for both the DoubleSight display and my AMD card. This is seriously messed up.

The list of annoyances continues:

  • Occasionally when you hit the Windows key, you can't type to search, and remains this way until you reboot. (Workaround is to use the Win+S combination to search via Cortana, which is the same thing, really).
  • The location finder is way off. I live in southeast Houston, and it shows my location up around The Woodlands. Within a 14 mile radius, of course. Oh, The Woodlands is 50 miles away.
  • You have to be an absolute power user to figure out how to get separate images as backgrounds on different monitors and NOT have Windows try to do a slideshow of those images. Basically, highlight the icons you want as your 3 background images and left click Set as Background Image. Then go into c:\Users\\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Themes and delete the slideshow.ini file. If your images are not on the desired screens, flip the numbers on the filenames in this directory and REBOOT after changing them to see the updates.
  • The action center will refuse to open sometimes, and behave that way until you reboot. See a theme here?
  • Some live tiles don't work. The calendar application used to display today's date, now it just display's the application's icon.
  • PC Meter for my 8GadgetPack gadgets is not being detected by those gadgets, resulting in some of them not displaying information, such as CPU or GPU temperatures.

This is just an example of the beta-ness of Windows 10. Many of these issues would cause the average user so much frustration. Do yourself a favor and stay away for now, unless you are a power user, or have very basic PC needs. Hopefully Microsoft gets on the ball and fixes these soon. Without pushing a broken update.

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Monday, July 13, 2015
Descent's Potential Ascent
Posted: 3:20:00 AM 0 comments
On a recent episode of the Six Gaming Podcast, we had a lengthy discussion about our futures in gaming. I mentioned on this episode that I felt I was at the point where one game that I was spending a large chunk of time was ending, and that another game would take its place, but I didn't yet know what game that was. With World of Warcraft sucking as of late, I've been trying to find out what the next game was that was going to grab my attention.

My wife has dove into Final Fantasy XIV Online. I personally have little interest in the Final Fantasy series, and watching her play hasn't done much to pique my interest.

League of Legends isn't it. For the first half of the year I did a segment called Ron's Bronze Plays that tracked my League of Legends play in the bronze tier. While I enjoy playing the game, I find I don't enjoy playing with random people. Despite Riot Games' testimony to the contrary, toxicity in the game is a very real thing. I don't like dealing with people that aren't cooperating in a game that requires cooperation. Sadly, my skill level doesn't allow me to rise above these players enough for me to enjoy the game. I still follow LCS and all, but I'm hardly playing the game any more.

Occasionally I dive into some indie games, and Crypt of the NecroDancer is one I've fallen for pretty hard. I use my XBox One controller for the game, and I am really enjoying challenging myself to do better. But this isn't a game I can play for hours on end every day, there's just not enough to it.

Much of my gaming time has involved me competing on the Descent Champions Ladder. Of course, Descent is old as hell, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. I've played this game on and off since it came out, but the coming resurgence of Descent via Descent: Underground has me captivated again. I'm still far off of my level of skill I had when I played back in the day, but I'm relearning the moves and the levels, trying to get back into the rhythm I had when I played the first time around. But Descent: Underground doesn't come out until next year, and the active Descent community is so small right now, it's hard to find games. Fortunately, there's things like the 20th Anniversary LAN coming up, but these events are few and far in between these days. I'm really hoping that Descent: Underground is "it", but we'll have to see.

Until then, I'm thinking of ways I can further the Descent community. I've restarted my old Descent dedicated server network project, in node.js of course, and am far enough along that I should have something usable for the LAN. With talk about there being a competitive scene in the new game, I've considered doing a podcast-like show centered around competitive Descent. I've even inquired with the Descendent Studios team to see if they have use for a JavaScript guy like me on their team. (Sadly, they don't yet!) I feel like I want to get involved, but the size of the community makes me wonder if this is worth my time. I do have other projects floating around, you know!

So for now, I continue playing more Descent and working on my Descent DSN project. Nothing else has really stood out and screamed "PLAY ME!".

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