Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dragon Disciple

Just because.  I'm rather underwhelmed with the Magus class, so I thought I'd test out a spellcasting fighter from another angle.  I guess the term they use is "Gish".

Sorc 3 / Fighter 2 / Dragon Disciple 4 (Heading towards S3/F2/DD8 then filling with EK)

Str: 24 (14 +2 level +2 human +4 dragon +2 item) (5)
Dex: 16 (14 +2 item) (5)
Con:  16 (14 +2 item) (5)
Int: 10 (0)
Wis: 10 (0)
Cha: 18 (16 +2 item) (10)

Feats: 13 (5 level + 1 human + 3 E6 + 2 fighter + 1 Dragon + eschew materials)
H1: Dodge
L1: Arcane Strike (+2)
S1: Eschew Materials
F1: Cleave
F2: Weapon Focus: Falchion
L3: Cornugon Smash
L5: Arcane Armor Training
E6: Dazzling Display
E6: Furious Focus (delayed 1 level)
E6: Intimidating Prowess
D2: Power Attack
L7: Great Cleave
L9: Pushing Assault

Spells known:
0: 7
1: 4+1 (Mage Armor, Shield, Ray of Enfeeblement, Magic Missile)
2: 2+1 (Resist Energy, Scorching Ray, Mirror Image)
3: 1+1 (Fly, Heroism)

Spells per day:
1: 7
2: 6
3: 4

Gear (46000):
Mithril Breastplate +2 (8000)
Falchion +2 (8000)
Belt of Physical Perfection +2 (16000)
Headband of Alluring Charisma +2 (4000)
Amulet of Natural Armor +1 (2000)
Ring of Protection +2 (8000)

HP: 3d6 + 2d10 +4d12 + 27
SP:  30
Intimidate check: +23

AC: 33 = 10 base + 6 armor + 2 armor enhancement + 3 dex + 1 dodge + 3 natural armor (2 DD, 1 sorc bloodline) + 1 natural armor enhancement + 2 deflection + 1 dodge + 4 shield (buff)

7 str
1 WF
2 enhancement
2 morale (heroism)
(occasionally -2 power attack)
= +18/+13 (+16/+11)

10 str
6 power attack
2 arcane strike
2 enhancement
= 2d4 + 20

Other abilities:
-Grow claws + bite for 7 rounds a day, natural attacks
-Resist energy (fire): 5
-Breath weapon 1/day , 7d6 fire in 30' cone, reflex DC 17
-+1 damage per die on fire spells

This build took a few days to chew through.  Unlike, say, the gimmicky monk build, I didn't have a particular feat chain in mind when I started walking down this road.  It took some time to consider the DD's role on the battlefield, and his strengths and weaknesses, and some amount of agonizing over individual feat choices.  But I think I've arrived at a good place.

Offensively, he has a decent attack line (maybe slightly lacking on the +hit side compared to his barbarian or fighter brethren, but his damage is still good, and I think he'd scale up rather well in more levels once he has more buff spells and improved crit) with a sprinkling of ranged attack spells.  He can spellcast in melee with only a 5% failure rate, and that disappears with one more feat.  His AC is great for an arcane caster, and with mirror image and a decent pool of HP he's not at terrible risk on the front lines.

He's also got some debuff utility.  Whenever he hits somebody with power attack (which will be perma-active) he gets an intimidate check as a free action.  As a high-strength high-charisma class combination, this means his check will be extremely high, generally guaranteeing success.  It imbues the shaken condition (-2 attacks, saves, checks) for one or more rounds.  A free -2 isn't bad!  When he's not attacking an enemy, he can use a full round action to do it to everything within 30 feet.

I'd originally wanted to go down the whirlwind attack chain, but there were too many feats to invest in.  I think cleave makes up for most of it.  In combination with that I'd wanted to go with a reach weapon, but I think the defensive abilities of Pushing Assault against adjacent foes (then moving away) may be necessary with this kind of caster build, and it required a normal weapon that didn't require a 5-foot step against adjacent enemies.

This build opens up fairly well in coming levels.  He gets most of his spellcaster progression through DD and then eventually Eldritch Knight, goes a fair way along his bloodline power progression (he'll get multiple breaths at 11d6).  Plus this combination of classes has a lot of flavor that I just don't get from Magus.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Playing with grapple rules

An interesting character build quirk popped up while I was making this monk.  What are the ethics of delaying a feat choice for one or multiple levels to satisfy prerequisites?  In the middle of a campaign, the rewards are somewhat mitigated by the costs of having to play down an effective feat for X levels, but during character creation you can handwaive away that inconvenience.  4th edition allowed feat retraining to avoid this complication entirely, but Pathfinder still plays by the 3.5 rules.

As a DM I'm not sure I'd allow, say, a new 12th level character to come in with all his feats selected AT 12th level.  As a player it remains an alluring option, especially here with a wealth of good feats being available at BAB +6, which only occurs for monks at level 8.  For the sake of testing out maneuver builds I'll go with a limited feat-delay strategy, but only two of twelve.

Str: 23 (17 +2 human +2 levels +2 item) (13)
Dex: 16 (14 +2 item) (5)
Con: 12 (2)
Int: 10
Wis: 16 (14 +2 item) (5)
Cha: 10

Class: Monk 9 (Maneuver Master)
HP: 9d8 + 9
SP: 36

Feats: 14 (5 level + 1 human + 3 E6 + 3 monk + improved unarmed strike + stunning fist)
H1: Combat Reflexes (up to 4 opportunity attacks per round)
L1: Stunning Pin (Stunning Fist as swift action after pinning foe)
M1: Improved Unarmed Strike
M1: Stunning Fist (DC 17 fort on melee hit, make enemy stunned, fatigued, or sickened)
M1: Improved Grapple (+2 grapple CM, no AoO)
M2: Improved Trip (+2 trip CM, no AoO)
L3: Dodge (+1 dodge AC)
L5: Snake Style (+2 SM, use SM check as immediate action to replace AC for one attack)
M6: Greater Trip (+2 trip CMB, tripped enemy provokes AoOs)
E6: Mobility (+4 dodge AC against AoO from movement)
E6: Snake Sidewind (+4 CMD trip, use SM check to confirm criticals, 5 foot step as immediate action after crit)
E6: Snake Fang (delayed to 9) (AoO against enemy that misses attack against you, if AoO hits spend immediate action to make another attack)
L7: Greater Grapple (delayed to 8) (+2 grapple CMB, maintaining grapple is move-action)
L9: Rapid Grappler (after maintaining grapple, may take swift action to make another grapple maneuver check)

Class features:
-Bonus monk/wisdom AC
-Flurry of Maneuvers: Make 2 extra combat maneuver actions of any type during full round attack action, at -2 and -5.
-Maneuver defense: Make AoO against foe making trip/grapple actions regardless of improved feats
-Reliable maneuver: Spend swift action, spend 1 ki point, roll twice for next maneuver
-Meditative maneuver: Spend swift action, add +3 to next maneuver roll
-Movement: 60'
-Improved Evasion
-Ki pool: 7 (swift action to use)
-High jump (+9 jump checks, swift action to spend ki point for +20 on acrobatics)

Gear: (46000)
Amulet of Mighty Fists (fire) [5000]
Bracers of Armor +3 [9000]
Belt of Physical Might +2 [10000]
Amulet of Natural Armor +1 [2000]
Ring of Protection +1 [2000]
Headband of Inspired Wisdom +2 [4000]
Monk's Robe [13000]
Cloak of Resistance +1 [1000]

CMB:  9 base + 6 str = 15 (+4 on grapple and trip)
CMD: 19 base + 6 str + 3 dex +1 deflection +1 dodge +3 monk +3 monk-wis = 36 (38 vs grapple, 42 vs trip)
AC: 10 + 3 dex + 1 deflection + 1 dodge + 3 monk + 3 wisdom + 3 armor +1 nat = 25
Sense motive check: +17 = 9 ranks + 3 class + 3 wis +2 snake

Hit: +12/+7 = 6 BAB + 6 str
Dam: 2d6 base + 6 str +1d6 fire

Example combat round, assuming Snake Style has already been activated:

Round 1:
  1. 5 foot step to nearest enemy, full attack flurry:
  2. Trip attack at +17 (+19 - 2) or more (assume hits)
  3. Trip provokes AoO at +12 (defender has -4 AC from prone)
  4. Melee attack +12
  5. Melee attack +7
  6. Grapple check at +14 (+19 - 5) (defender has -4 CMD from prone) (assume success)
  7. Opponent attempts to and fails to break grapple on his turn.  +5 circumstance bonus on future grapple maneuver checks. 

Round 2:
  1. Move action: Maintain grapple at +24 (defender has -4 AC/CMD from prone and  -4 dex from grappled condition).  Force enemy into pinned status.  (no dex bonus and -4 AC/CMD) [assume pinned replaces prone]
  2. Swift action trigger: Damage maneuver +24, 3d6+6 damage
  3. Standard action: Damage maneuver +24, 3d6+6 damage

  1. Move action: Maintain grapple at +24 (defender has -4 AC/CMD from prone and  -4 dex from grappled condition).  Force enemy into pinned status.  (no dex bonus and -4 AC/CMD)
  2. Swift action trigger: Tie up maneuver check at +24 (helpless: dex set to 0 [-5], all attacks at +4 [functionally the same as the -4 AC/CMD, surprised Pathfinder hasn't fixed this quirk])
  3. Standard: Enjoy a refreshing beverage as you wait for next round to coup de grace, or Damage check (auto-success) 3d6+6, or retry the tie-up.

  1. Move action: Maintain grapple at +24 (defender has -4 AC/CMD from prone and  -4 dex from grappled condition).  Force enemy into pinned status.  (no dex bonus and -4 AC/CMD)
  2. Swift action trigger: Stunning Fist +12, 3d6+6 and DC 17 fort save
  3. Standard: Damage or tie-up.
This build relies on getting AoO and swift action triggers for bonus actions, which can then be used on maneuvers (instead of normal attacks) for a better bonus and the opportunity to trigger even more actions.  It can actually get somewhat complex.  For example:

-Walk past enemy
-Enemy attacks vs 29 AC.  If miss:
-Miss triggers AoO (Snake Fang).  Use trip.
-Trip triggers AoO (Greater Trip).  Attack at +4.
-Trip attack triggers another AoO as immediate action from Snake Fang resolution.  Attack at +4.

That's basically three actions (two normal attacks and a maneuver) on someone else's turn.  And then you get to your own flurry of grapples and punches on your own turn, including at least one more AoO opportunity and perhaps four, depending on whether a new round comes along.  There's also some nice emergency defense by using a sense motive check as your AC once a round, which offers a range (with traits) somewhere between 19-38, which can apply to touch AC.  Other fun combos:

-Enemy tries to trip you
-Trip maneuver Provokes AoO (Maneuver defense)
-Use trip back at enemy
-Your trip provokes AoO (Greater Trip)
-Make attack +4
-Enemy's trip resolves (at 3d6+6 penalty if your second AoO hit)
-It probably misses, triggering AoO attack +4 (Snake Fang)
-Snake Fang hit triggers another AoO attack +4 as immediate action

That's four opportunity attacks (3 melee attacks and 1 trip) on an enemy's turn, and I'm pretty sure this is legit since each trigger is different.
1) Incoming trip maneuver
2) Enemy falling prone
3) Missed incoming attack
4) Snake Fang initial hit

You run into trouble when you start blowing immediate actions off-turn, since that means you don't get your swift action again until effectively two turns later, but you still have enough bonus actions on-turn to get your grapple on.  Or you can just opt to not make the second Snake Fang attack, leaving you the immediate/swift for Rapid Grappler or a Snake Style defense.

This monk's defensive qualities are still very wanting, however.  That AC is awful, and there's not quite enough money to blow it on more deflection/armor/natural.  Your AC also goes down when you're grappling (maybe Body Shield makes sense later, but that's another immediate action sink) so you'll probably get torn apart by other melee enemies.  You also probably cannot reliably grapple large supernatural creatures who probably have CMDs in the high 30s, meaning you'd need a 18-20 to initiate anything.  And forget effectiveness against huge creatures.

Would benefit greatly from Enlarge Person buffs.  Stunning Pin might not make sense since it eats a swift action, and that might be better served just doing damage within a grapple.  Not sure what that could best be replaced with.  There's no weapon focus for unarmed attacks, and no other ways to boost CMB.

It would, however, ve a very tactically interesting character to play.  At least until we start fighting dragons.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gunslinger experiment

It's time to revise my ridiculous list of emergency backup Pathfinder characters, given how we've temporarily lifted the level cap.  This is also a good opportunity to play around with something I haven't investigated too deeply:  Gunslingers and firearm mechanics.  Not that gunslingers necessarily fit into Chris's game world, but I'd like to see what I can do with nine levels.

Str: 10 [0]
Dex: 25 (17+2 human +2 levels +4 item) [13]
Con: 14 [5]
Int: 12 [2]
Wis: 14 [5]
Cha: 10 [0]

Levels: Gunslinger 6 / Rogue 3
Skill points: 10*3 + 7*6
HP: 3d6 + 6d10 + 18
Feats:  (5 level + 3 E6 bonus + 1 human + 1 gunslinger bonus + 1 rogue talent)

H1: Point Blank Shot
L1: Rapid Shot
R2: Dodge
L3: Weapon Focus: Rifle
L5: Gang Up
G4: Rapid Reload
E6: Precise Shot
E6: Clustered Shots
E6: Deadly Aim
L7: Mobility
L9: Improved Critical: Rifle

Class features:
Sneak attack +2d6
Trapfinding and Trapsense +1
Grit powers (2 starting grit)
+2 dodge bonus to AC
+dex on damage rolls with rifle

Equipment: (46000)
Buckler +2 (4000)
Rifle +1 fiery (13000)
Mithral Chain shirt +3 (13000)
Belt of Incredible Dexterity +4 (16000)

7 dex
1 weapon focus
1 rifle enhancement
(1 point blank, 2 flank)
-3 deadly aim
-2 rapid shot =
+12/+12/+7 (+1-3)

1d10 base
1d6 fire
(2d6 sneak)
+1 enhancement
+7 dex
+6 deadly aim
(+1 point blank) =
1d10 + 1d6 + 14 (+2d6 +1)

10 base
6 dex
4 armor
3 armor enhancement
1 shield
2 shield enhancement
1 dodge
2 nimble (dodge)
= 29

I added some rogue levels since I'm operating under the nominal requirements of the party (even though this character wouldn't be allowed into the game) which lacks trapfinding and other rogue skills.  It also provides some offensive oompm when you start getting into ranged sneak attack territory (though Gang Up).  What's also interesting about firearms is that they target touch ACs, which means you can generally sacrifice to-hit bonuses for bonus damage without worrying.  Even an unbuffed +12 on main attacks is still very accurate when common touch ACs at that level range are, what, 15?

He also comes out with a surprisingly decent AC, though I did focus more on defensive than offensive capacity in his item build.  He runs into problems when his massive dex bonus outpaces most common light armors.  Mathematically the mithral chain shirt works out better for overall AC than even padded armor at +8 dex.

In terms of expected DPR, I'm not sure where exactly to pin touch ACs for CR9 creatures since they can vary wildly between armor-based and dex-based enemies.  23 is the stated average overall AC, which would include a mix of armor, natural armor, a bit of dex, maybe some deflection for supernatural foes.  +4 dex and +1 deflection feels about right for factoring in an average, at least for medium creatures (tiny/small balances against larger ones).  Here are full round DPR calculations for sneak and no-sneak, and I'll assume point blank.

+13 [1d10+1d6+15]:  .85*(24) + .10*(.95*(85.5) + .05*(24)) = 28.6425
+13 [1d10+1d6+15]:  .85*(24) + .10*(.95*(85.5) + .05*(24)) = 28.6425
+8 [1d10+1d6+15]:  .60*(24) + .10*(.70*(85.5) + .30*(24)) = 21.105 == 78.39 DPR

+15 [1d10+3d6+15]: .85*(31) + .10(.95*(92.5) + .05*(31)) = 35.2925
+15 [1d10+3d6+15]: .85*(31) + .10(.95*(92.5) + .05*(31)) = 35.2925
+10 [1d10+3d6+15]: .70*(31) + .10(.80*(92.5) + .20(31)) = 29.72 == 100.305 DPR

I don't know if this would beat Rob's archer, unsure how his eventual build with manyshot would stack up against touch attacks.  I do know that has enough skill utility and defensive powers to justify the loss of DPR, though.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


With Fall comes certain inevitabilities: Fallen leaves, Joe Buck, and truckloads of new Apple products at your local retailer.  Today I've decided to review the 2011 New York Jonagold, which is a modern spin on the retro Macintosh.  I first spotted it by the annual Apple Gala here in Yorktown, and got my hands on a model fresh from the box (some of the previous floor models seemed worse for wear).  At first glance you might not even be able to tell the difference between the two, but trust me, the interior has been jazzed up with stylistic taste.  It comes only in classic Apple white (with optional red skin) and features the same even, rounded contours as most contemporary Apple offerings, eschewing the more top-heavy designs of older models.

I'm happy to report that the Jonagold is a star ready for consumption by savvy consumers in the Empire state.  Its performance profile is similar to its Macintosh roots, but with slightly more bite in its output.  The single-core design lends itself to consumers looking to take their Apple on the go (perhaps to Rome or Mt. Fuji!)

Contrary to recent Apple pricing trends, this Jonagold was manufactured here in NY, so there's a steep retail discount locally compared to its competitors' products.  I recommend heading down to the Apple store and trying one out today.

Monday, October 10, 2011

BF3 UI notes

This is what greets you the moment you load into Operation: Metro on defense.  (Please click through to each screenshot.  The narrow blog column clipped and rescaled the thumbnails.)
  And here it is again slightly later when you've picked a bush to squat in.

Primary gripe:  The translucent blue minimap.  Given the rich environmental textures of BF3, it must be a real surprise to DICE that making the minimap translucent renders its visibility to essentially zero.  I feel that this was just one of a dozen design decisions made at middle-management level to deliver an "awesome!" image without really thinking through the usability.  Also relevant to these images, you can see the tiny blue triangles of my teammates off in the distance.  If you squint really hard.  And press your face to the screen.  And if you're not looking at something in the blue-green spectrum in the background.  I would describe them more as slivers than triangles.  Enemy spotting is accomplished with an orange shade of the same small cluster of pixels, easily missed while scanning a horizon full of bushes.  For comparative purposes, I'm going to show you the BC2 UI:

I had limited BC2 screenshots, so please forgive the smoke grenade in the middle of the image.  Note the solid, opaque minimap with far more visibility and terrain detail.  Note the fatter triangles off in the distance.  Note that I even see my squad's green icons with kit indicators instead of triangles.  Note how not every square inch of screen is covered by obstacles or bushes.

Operation: Metro's interior sections somehow manage to make the UI visibility problems even worse.  I don't think there's a shade of blue left for them to integrate into the metro tunnels.
This is a pretty typical metro screenshot, with blue lighting and shadows, cover everywhere and yet probably about to get sniped through that doorway just ahead.  Unfortunately I didn't think to get some shots of the central platforms, but it's mostly just this in lighter shades of blue (and even some white!).  Needless to say, it's hard to spot targets.
Cyan on cyan!  I also failed to get a picture of the chatbox, which would normally appear below the kill register on the upper-right.  It's an opaque black box with microscopic arial narrow white text.  It's virtually unreadable without literally stopping your gameplay and trying to parse it.  Contrast with BC2's chatbox, which is color-coded with a readable text AND has convenient easily-read tags for server vs. team chat.
It's not clear to me why I took this shot, but it's the only one I had showing red and blue text.  I also want to point out here that that red diamond on the minimap is an MCOM, the main objective of the rush mode.  There are always two per base, A and B.  You can see that the BC2 version has its MCOM clearly labeled on the minimap.  When your squadmate shouts "I'm arming A!" you can immediately discern where you need to place yourself to cover it.  Scroll back up and see how much more confusing it is in BF3 when the minimap has no such labels.

The menu and other non-gameplay screens are perhaps even worse, in terms of design disasters.  We'll start with the end-of-round score screens.
This is BF3.  Compare with BC2:
How high up the management chain do you think "Guys, let's make it smoke on a black background, because that looks awesome!" came from?  I think BC2 captured a lot of the flavor of the game by including those panoramic vistas in the load, end of round, and respawn screens.  BF3 eschews all of that for...black.  I also like BC2's text more, and the rank insignias.  And, most importantly, there's that EXIT GAME button in BC2 that BF3 lacks.  That's right, your stats don't save and you can't exit until you spawn into the next game, which means 35 seconds of staring at particle smoke effects and another 10 seconds of loading and another 5 seconds of pre-game countdown.

You can't even edit your game options in BF3 unless you're spawned into a game, by the way.  There's no main menu screen per se, because you join a game via a browser-based server menu.  There's no main executable.  I think even the single player mode is launched from your browser.  So you can't dick around with options until you're in the middle of a game.

Once you are in a game, you have the option to deploy or pick your "class" and equipment load.  You do so from the following screen.
That sure is a lot of empty space on the right, so it's a good thing we have lots of smoke to fill it with useful graphical detail.  Now you might think "Ok, this is a PC game, so surely I can just click on the weapons to change them."  You would also then be operating under the assumption that anything in this game makes sense from a usability standpoint.  Not only are you not even given text hints about what those equipment icons actually are, you have to enter a wholly different screen to swap them around.  Click the LOADOUT button and we're brought to:
 Couldn't this have just been on the right side of the previous screen?  And why do we have to navigate weapons and gear via scroll arrows?  This is a fucking PC game.  I have 1680x1050 pixels to render a goddamn grid.  I have a mouse to click boxes.  Each category should be expanded automatically upon opening this screen if you're dedicated to having this customization screen separated from the kit selection screen before it.  And this isn't even the extent of the customization.  This screen doesn't address weapon accessories.  Click another button, and:

What the flying fuck is this shit?  I need three different screens to pick my gear?  Look at all the empty space.  This could easily be condensed to one screen.  There's a hundred different ways to have made this more usable.  But apparently there's only one way to MOAR SMOAK.  The whole time you're navigating this clusterfuck and deciding whether you want the 4x scope or the 3.8x scope, you're receiving no game information, no ticket scores, no scoreboard, no maps, no squad status, no chat window.  It's mindbogglingly poor design.

The beta closes today so this is it for screenshots.  In closing, I want to show you two images, from BF3 and BC2, that neatly summarize the design differences between the two games.  You can figure out which represents which game rather easily on your own, if you've paid attention.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The beta version of a BF3 beta review

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was my first significant experience in the genre of competitive online multiplayer shooters, so it's destined forever to color how I feel about my future experiences with FPS games.  Having established that, here are some quick thoughts on the BF3 beta.

The Graphics

I enjoy coffee.  I drink it a great deal; at minimum one or two cups per day, and generally more on the weekends.  Some years back when I was temporarily living with my grandmother, she would routinely make me coffee in the mornings and after dinner.  That was great, thanks nonna.  However, she didn't really make coffee so much as coffee-like quantities of espresso, brewed in batches just big enough to eventually give me either an ulcer or enough acid reflux to debilitate me for a solid week.  Similarly, whenever she asked if I'd like "a pretzel" and I stupidly mumble "sure", this resulted in six hours of dough-kneading, baking, and fifteen pounds of fennel pretzels that I'd be forced to grudgingly consume in quantity with every meal and drink for the next five years.

I like graphics.  Well-designed environments are pretty.  Rendered autumn leaves are nice to look at while I'm crawling through a bush trying not to get sniped by Commander_Fartcupper.  The dynamic lighting and raw fidelity of the Frostbyte 2 engine are very impressive.  This is the first game I've played where there's no visual or operational difference between interactable objects/environments and static background scenery.  Even with the graphics dialed down for the beta client, it's truly awesome to behold.  The shadows casted by an RPG rocket flying down a darkened subway tunnel are beyond textual representation.  This is the best looking thing I've ever seen on my PC.

And I absolutely hate it.

It's too pretty.  It's too distracting.  Fleshing out bushes means I can't see Corporal McBallsinyourface squatting in them.  Every meticulously detailed branch and leaf and locker and scaffold is just another thing to look at and shoot when you're trying to shoot bad guys.  I'm hopelessly lost in the scenery whenever I play.  I can't find enemies.  They're just giant amorphous shadows with assault rifles.  It's even worse in the outdoor settings, where snipers set up from seventeen miles away and still headshot you after you've spent ten minutes crawling from your spawn camp, where you somehow avoided being killed before the screen finished loading.  When you try to find those snipers later, it's just explosions and rubble and individual motes of dust and eventually the killcam when he puts another bullet through your face while you were scanning the horizon for a quarter of a second.

The interior of the Operation: Metro map isn't much better, since with the crazy lighting engine comes crazy-ass darkness that I under no circumstances can see though, but that doesn't seem to prevent the other team from pinpoint accuracy.  Bad Company 2's lighting is mostly static outdoor settings with shaded but even interiors.  BF3 interiors are cones of light piercing a vast evil void where I might as well not even bother moving through because I'm going to get punished by somebody who I can only assume is physically wearing night vision goggles inside his home, at his computer.  Enemies in BC2 are always dark on a light background.  When they stand up in the middle of a field, you see them.  In BF3, they're (to my eyes) indistinguishable from the minute details of the objects and scenery behind them.

The Sound

I have a sense that the sound engine is only half-finished, given that it seems to default to mono in the game settings.  Certain sounds like sniper fire breaking off flecks of stone cover are amazing, with full 3D direction.  Footsteps, however, are woefully static and non-directional.  And you only hear your own (where BC2 sometimes gave you enemy foot traffic when they walked through branches or on wooden floorboards).  I've only played with two or three weapons, so I can't report on the diversity of weapon pitches.  I'm just going to assume the final product will be a marginal increase from the previous BF game.

The Gameplay

In comparison to BC2, I hate almost everything about it.  Almost every change has been to the detriment of what I liked about the previous game.  It takes fewer bullets to die, so engagements for most normal players seem to just be games of peekaboo while laying on the floor.  For me, it usually means moving two feet from my spawn location and being the subject of an impromptu Top Shot competition by the opposing team.  Rockets and grenades seem to be abused just as much as before since even a glancing blow by either explosion can still kill you.

Medic revive timers are nearly half the duration of BC2's.  If a teammate dies and he wasn't standing immediately next to you, it's virtually impossible to run over to a different location, kneel down (because paddles and standing miss 90% of the time), and electrocute his balls in the scant few seconds you're permitted to make the attempt.  On the flip side, if you're the one that died, the killcam timer has increased, and so has the respawn timer.  So you're out of the game longer, and you're forced to watch xXxDeezButzxXx teabag you for long enough to actually physically leave the computer, enter the kitchen, make actual tea, and return with your beverage without missing much action.

There are these things called "tactical lights" which in effect are broad-beam lasers of death.  You can put them on your guns and flip them on and off, flashing them in the eyes of your foes.  The effect is to whitewash 50% of your screen with searing would-burn-your-plasma-display white, so you can't see anything in that direction of the map.  The effective range is measured in parsecs.  A flashlight is the deadliest weapon in the game.

There are "mobile spawn points" which can be placed down anywhere on the map and serve as the name would indicate.  They're roughly the size of a small packet of mustard, and black so you can't see them against most floors, and certainly not in the depths of the metro tunnel.  One recon can sneak behind the defensive spawn, put one of those down in the tracks, and suddenly have an endless spawn point aimed directly at your back at all times.  Last night one of our own recons inadvertently put down a defensive mobile spawn adjacent to an offensive one, and I spent five or six lives fruitlessly exchanging close-range deaths with a full squad of dudes while hunting a tiny black box nestled in the darkness.

Attacker spawns are vulnerable to defensive fire and camping at all times.  In BC2 the attacking team was usually awarded a slightly shielded spawn point so you couldn't die immediately upon loading.  This is now gone, and snipers can and will kill you within 5 seconds, if the engineer who's sitting behind your spawn zone doesn't get you first.

I'm making myself angry just typing about it.  I'll have more to say later.  I want to address some display and HUD issues with screenshots.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Today's Good Read

There's no part of this story that isn't fantastic.

On Friday, the [Waffle House] mobile command center—an RV named EM-50 after Bill Murray's urban-assault vehicle in the 1981 movie "Stripes"—headed north from the Norcross, Ga., headquarters.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Absent anything to do for the next 38 minutes, I'm going to type a little bit about my Borderlands siren.  I spent the entirety of PT1 and most of PT2 in perpetual ammo scavenger mode, since my SMGs (especially the double anarchy) chew through whatever I can carry.  Having gone through two playthroughs and 2 DLC runs without seeing a single ammo regen mod, I instead shifted to a less bullet-intensive build the moment I got my hands on a Maliwan Hellfire.

I'm using a slightly scaled down version of this.  The basic strategy is to throw up as many DoT effects on as many enemies as possible while shooting only as much as necessary to spread the Hellfire DoT.  A corrosive artifact handles acid, the Hellfire for fire, Radiance for electricity, and Phoenix for a bonus stackable fire DoT.  With four damage effects on every enemy in the encounter, stuff dies.  Everytime something dies, with my mod, I get a 11% shield regen boost over five seconds (Girl Power).  Between that and 70% damage resistance for a few seconds coming out of phasewalk (Silent Resolve), I'm mostly immune to damage once I'm into the attack sequence.

This becomes more powerful in a few more levels since I'll be able to flesh out Blackout, which is a phasewalk cooldown reduction every time I kill something.  Once that's 5/5 I'll pretty much constantly be popping phasewalk and will always either be totally immune or effectively immune to bullets.

On top of all that, being effectively 9 ranks into Phoenix also gives me a 45% chance to not consume SMG bullets.  So ammo's no longer a problem when I'm rocking this Firefly build.

Its major weakness is any boss fight, since they can't be ignited (or have any DoT effects), and my Lilith isn't optimized for single-target non-elemental damage.  It's not a build that works for Crawmerax, and it makes me only a half-contributor to Knoxx fights (though it'd be great for the run up to Knoxx).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On the recline.

Living without internet for three days has been a revelatory experience, in that I've learned a lot about my entertainment consumption habits and existing in a space not defined by its proximity to my keyboard.  For example, I am powerless against the narcotic lure of a television while laying down on a couch.  When I'd normally be awake until 2am on a computer, that TV makes me pass out by 10:30.  I just physically can't resist.

Also, to whoever sees this in Buzz or something, I'm not answering e-mails because I can't check e-mails.  Cablevision has no timetable for restoring service to my area.