Diecast #376: Hyper Terra Ghost

By Shamus Posted Monday Mar 28, 2022

Filed under: Diecast 100 comments

I intended to mention it on the show, but it slipped my mind: I actually have a new video coming out this week. Look for it tomorrow. It’s about boomer shooters. Or baby boomers. Or something like that.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Link (YouTube)

00:00 Terra Nil

Link (YouTube)

01:28 Stories that use Judeo-Christian ideas as worldbuilding details.

Oh no. Demons from a vaguely Biblical hell have entered our world. Again. Luckily, they seem to be vulnerable to swords / shotguns.

04:57 Ghostwire Tokyo

It’s not often that I get to say this, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like this before.

09:26:48 Hyperbolica

It’s not brilliant in terms of gameplay, but the non-Euclidian space really tickles my brain.

15:55 So many games!

Elden Ring, Tina’s Wonderland, Ghostwire Tokyo, Gran Turismo 7… a lot of big stuff came out this month!Ignoring the fact that GT7 turned out to be a grasping microtransaction-filled abomination.

18:26 The Witcher: Enhanced Edition

20:32 IXION & Startopia

What if we took an inherently fun and silly premise and took it super-seriously:

Link (YouTube)

23:18 The Next Major RTS Will Fail. This Is Why.

Brilliant analysis.

Link (YouTube)

31:11 MFA Redux: Updating Autopay

Why do they do this when there are better systems available?

33:56 OOP and PHP 8

I realize that the show notes this week are just a bunch of YouTube links, but here is one more:

CppCon 2014: Mike Acton “Data-Oriented Design and C++”

40:55 Mailbag: Protagonist Agency

Dear Diecast,

There was a lot of discussion on the blog over the past week about Protagonist vs. Main Character, and who is what, etc, Isn’t there an inherent problem with Video Games compared to other media in that the “Author” often doesn’t want the Main Character to have agency?

Although it doesn’t *have* to be this way, video game designers often choose to assign agency to other characters who tell the Main Character what to do. Shamus spoke of the player in NWN 2 as roleplaying the world’s biggest doormat. Gordon Freeman is constantly dictated to and doesn’t have an arc. The PC in WarCraft/StarCraft/C&C etc. is likewise a silent figure ordered around. MMOs are notorious for PCs barely being characters in the stories being told.

What would be the best games you can think of that *didn’t* go this route, and actually allow the player character to have agency in the game by not having an NPC order them around and that still told a good story at the end?

I guess mine would be Planescape -Torment.

44:55 Mailbag: The Game Theorists on Acti-Blizz Acquisition

Dear Diecast,

I hope you’re doing well! I remember Shamus talking about how he’s working on a piece about Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision-Blizzard. I recently saw this video that he could use as part of his research – it brings up some good points I see a lot of people overlooking – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt1utYXzKqM

Fair warning – it’s by Game Theory, which means it’s excessively aggressively annoying. But as much as I despise MattPatt’s style, he’s been in the consulting gig for quite a while, and in these sorts of topics he usually has something interesting to say (his recent piece about TwitchTV is also interesting).

As far as turning this into a question for the show… I guess this isn’t really a question. Maybe I should rename this email. Oh, no, wait – I do have a question: What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?!

Keep Being Awesome,

47:32 Mailbag: Presenting probabilities

Dear Diecast,

High-profile tactics games like XCOM and Civilization have found that if you tell players they are 80% to win something, then they will feel like they should win basically all of the time and complain that the numbers are off if they lose one out of five times. To solve this issue the games lie: if your actual chance is 80% the game reports it as 70% and this feels about right to people. Similarly if you’ve lost several times in a row the game will cheat and give you a bonus to break your losing streak because perfectly normal runs of bad luck make players complain that the dice are loaded against them.

How do you feel about this practice? Is there a better way to convey information, and if players are persistently bad at probability, should designers give them fake numbers that line up with their intuitions?

Ninety-Three percent to hit

Is there a term for when the GM has you roll for stupid stuff?

Player: (Half-joking) Okay, while these guys are talking my character is going to go outside and take a piss.

GM: (Not joking) Roll.

Player: I got a 1.

GM: You slipped and pissed all over yourself.

I’ve never encountered it personally, but I hear about this often enough in anecdotes that I wonder if there’s a term for it.



[1] Ignoring the fact that GT7 turned out to be a grasping microtransaction-filled abomination.

From The Archives:

100 thoughts on “Diecast #376: Hyper Terra Ghost

  1. Lino says:

    Great episode! With Ghostwire: Tokyo, I know exactly what kind of experience Shamus is talking about. I had it when I played Beautiful Desolation some time ago. It’s post-apocalyptic Africa crossed with cyberpunk… sort of.

    See, the devs are from South Africa, and their sensibilities show in every single aspect of the world and story. As a result, the cultures that inhabit this post-apocalypse feel completely alien to me.
    I mean, most of them definitely take inspiration from real-world tribes and factions (I think?). But they’re so different from the Western sci-fi and fantasies we’re used to, that I definitely haven’t seen anything like it before or since. I gushed about the game some time ago, and I definitely recommend checking it out (especially now that it’s on sale on GOG).

    Too bad that almost nobody played it. I guess this is why most devs just regurgitate the same stories over and over again – most people just aren’t that interested in themes that are so different from what they’re used to.

    Also, thanks for reading my email! I think it’s one of the great injustices of the world that people like Game Theory are mainstream, while people like Shamus aren’t. I guess being first really does count for a lot. I remember years ago when the only non-review video content for video games was AVGN and ScrewAttack (which for me came at a time when the video game TV shows I watched stopped airing). Game Theory was the one of the few that tried to have “”deeper”” “””analysis”””. I guess their popularity just stuck around.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Just picked up BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION so we’ll probably talk about it on next week’s episode. First impressions are 15GB had better include a bunch of pre-rendered assets, video, etc.

      1. Lino says:

        I don’t remember many pre-rendered cutscenes. But I DO remember that there are many, many things that are quite inappropriate for kids – nudity, disturbing imagery and themes :/

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Good thing the family is out of town for a month!

          1. tmtvl says:

            Time to play video games with drugs. And hookers. In fact, forget the video games.

            1. Paul Spooner says:

              Hah! Hey now, let’s not get into a religious discussion!

  2. Lino says:

    Sorry for double posting, it’s just too late to edit :D

    Regarding that RTS video, it’s definitely a great analysis! The only part I’m skeptical of is his final argument, which seems to claim that an RTS with great creator tools can replace Roblox and Minecraft as the new creativity toy. I really don’t see how that can happen.

    First off, RTS players are older. Which means they don’t have as much time to play games anymore, let alone create content for them. So, you’re left with appealing to the younger demographic. But nowadays, if kids want to get creative, they’re playing Roblox or Minecraft. Where the main draw is being able to create something quickly and easily.

    What would they rather play – Roblox/Minecraft which are dedicated to creativity and making a fun community – or some new game that has a creative mode attached to it? Bear in mind, most of these kids haven’t even heard of the word “RTS”. And if they’re so used to first and third person perspectives, it might be hard to get them to try out the top-down perspective of an RTS.

    Another big problem RTS have is their main platform – PC. As we all probably know, only 25% of the gaming market is on the PC. And if you want to have the next Roblox or Minecraft, then you need to target mobile gamers. Which means that your game needs to be simple. And that means compromising on one of the main draws of RTS games – spectacle, and the plethora of options.

    Something else he overlooks is that all those old RTS games were made in the time before engines like Unity. Back then, if you were a hobbyist game designer, you had no choice but to make a mod or custom map for an existing game. Now, you can use engines like Unity for free, release your own game, and even make money from it.

    He glanced over this, but a big reason so many people make games in Roblox is the ability to sell them for money. How easy it is to make money doing so is a different matter. But the fantasy of selling your own Roblox game is definitely an important part of the success and popularity of Roblox.

  3. kikito says:

    Deus Ex did a good job with the Protagonist agency thing. People would tell JC to do stuff, but then the player could decide to do a lot of different things, and the game “copes” with the player’s decisions, which define how DC ends up being.

  4. Dreadjaws says:

    The whole thing about using existent mythology as the basis for your story is a double-edged sword. On the one hand you get immediate access to a large library of “pre-made assets”, so to speak, so you don’t really have to come up with characters, locations or even situations. On the other hand, it will stifle your creativity if you just do things exactly as they’re written in the source material. And people who are familiar with that source material might get upset at seeing things treated differently.

    Popular as the Harry Potter movies are, there’s quite a large subset of book fans who rage whenever the smallest change is made to the story or characters, even when it’s unavoidable. It’s not as common for superhero movies, but it happens too. I don’t think I’ve personally ever had a problem with this sort of thing. I will get upset when a change is made to a direct adaptation that results in an inferior product (see: every one of the latest DC animated adaptations of graphic novels), but not just because a change exists, and certainly not when they take familiar characters and put them in new situations.

    The other day I ran into a YouTube video titled “Everything Disney’s Hercules gets wrong about greek mythology”, and I refused to click on it because the title implies all the deviations from the source material are a mistake and not an artistic choice. You might not like how that movie (or something like God of War) adapts the myths, but they aren’t getting things wrong, they’re deliberately making changes for (mostly) good reasons.

    Of course, I understand if people still would prefer if works stuck closer to the source material but I personally value creativity and good writing over faithfulness. Provided you still follow the source material in spirit, at least. No sense using an established franchise if you’re going to make it unrecognizable.

    1. Gautsu says:

      Wow, in my own experience it is the other way around with Harry Potter and Superheroes. Potter only had 7 books (mainline) and what, 20 years or so, while certain Superheroes are coming up on a century of stories and canon. Maybe it’s because I am one of the only voracious readers I know in my social group

    2. Kathryn says:

      I think when you are representing an existing work in a different medium (for me it’s usually books being made into movies), you need to decide up front whether you are trying to faithfully represent the story in a different medium or whether you are creating your own story. Pick one, and stick to it.

      For example, the Firth/Ehle Pride and Prejudice does make changes to the book, yes (e.g., Mr. Collins visits in person to give his opinion on Lydia’s marriage rather than sending a letter), but the overall intent was still to capture the book as faithfully as possible, and they did a beautiful job.

      Jaws is a case where Spielberg did not attempt to be particularly faithful to the book (a typical summer action novel that no one would remember if not for the movie) and instead made his own creation, and it is brilliant. If he had tried to be faithful to the book, many of the best moments of the movie wouldn’t be there, and a lot of dumb stuff would have to have been shoehorned in (like Brody’s wife sleeping with Hooper).

      The Princess Bride is an interesting case in that the book and the movie are both excellent and are, while very similar, still different works with different messages. (And written by the same guy, go figure.)

      My theory is that poor book-to-movie conversions (Prisoner of Azkaban comes to mind) are usually cases where the “creator” has not thought about what they are doing. So sometimes they’re faithful (long stretches of dialogue straight from the book even when it could have been tweaked with advantage for the different medium) and sometimes they go off the rails completely (shrunken heads, action hero Hermione).

      Edit: regarding your last sentence, Disney’s Hercules absolutely is unrecognizable if you know the source. It’s even worse than their Jungle Book.

    3. Joshua says:

      It tends to vary for me. I don’t mind the Harry Potter stuff, because I was only a modest fan (and read the books after watching all the movies) except where the changes add confusion or are demonstrably worse (the events during the Quidditch World Cup in Goblet of Fire made no sense to me when I watched the film, but clicked when I read the book).

      Also, how do the themes of the books compare to the film/show? I liked ASOIAF much better than GoT for the more sophisticated themes alone, and really didn’t like when characters storylines took an opposite view on some plotlines than the books. Conversely, Starship Troopers the film is pretty much a deliberate middle finger to the book (Verhoeven thought the book was abhorrent), which resulted in mixed feelings for me because I enjoyed the film but disliked how it deliberately satired the book it was licensed from.

      Wheel of Time is also kind of a mixed bag for me. I actually do respect a lot of the changes because I think certain aspects of the book would be a lot more “difficult” (YMMV) to adapt due to controversial themes/storylines, budgetary issues (cast of thousands, very obvious displays of magic), or even just pacing, and I wasn’t keen on some of them to begin with. On the other hand, the show itself, after divesting itself of some of these things just ends up being a little watered-down and generic, entertaining but not memorable in the same way that LotR or GoT.

  5. Lars says:

    RTSs aren’t dead. They are not the million sellers anymore but they still keep being developed. Total War releases a game like every year. There is a Dune 4X-RTS on the finish line and in 2020 Iron Harvest, an RTS in the 1920+ universe, got released. None of them will get to Starcraft 2 fame but which Blizzard High Time Contestor does?
    Every Mmorpg still tries to beat WoW, every hero shooter is competing with Overwatch, every Hack and Slash RNG is compaired to Diablo. If Blizzard of old would have done a racing game Codemasters and Nintendo would have a realy hard time getting to speed.

    1. Lars says:

      1920 plus universe. The Plus character gets butchered in WordPress.

    2. John says:

      I don’t think that real time strategy is dead either. In addition to the games you’ve mentioned, I’ll name-drop Circle Empires, Tooth and Tail, and Northgard. But it’s quite clear that the heyday of the RTS is long over. Twenty years ago, they were big and they were everywhere. Today they’re mostly small and relatively rare. When Shamus makes pronouncements about the games industry he’s usually talking about AAA games. Assuming that’s what he meant this time too, I think he’s right. The AAA RTS is definitely dead, at least for the foreseeable future.

    3. Randy M says:

      Age of Empires IV came out last year, but maybe they consider basically an AoE II remake.

      1. Moridin says:

        From what I’ve seen, AoE IV is not doing very well at all. It’s certainly not going to be another AoE II, let alone Starcraft 2.

        1. pseudonym says:

          More people are playing Age of Empires 2 definitive edition than AoE IV. And rightfully so. 250+ single player missions! (Accrued over 20+ years.) Hours upon hours upon hours of gameplay. And then there is a map editor and random (proc-gen) maps too.

          1. Amstrad says:

            AOE 2 seems to have a pretty active multiplayer community as well. I’ve been watching Youtube videos and commentary streams by T90Official and it’s at least as entertaining as watching any given Starcraft match, possibly more so when he’s showing lower experience level players doing weird/funny things.

    4. Thomas says:

      The Total War games barely count. Removing all real time ‘macro’ management from the gameplay is a tremendous simplification, that transforms the gameplay completely.

      My experience when trying to introduce friends to RTS’ (and my own experience) is that the multitasking between macro and micro feels almost impossible until you’ve spent a lot of time learning it, and it’s the biggest barrier to entry.

      I’d like more games to follow the Total War model. The battles are a lot more visually impressive, there’s less waiting in the battles and a much larger focus on tactics.

      1. Geebs says:

        I played the Myth games before Starcraft, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why Starcraft units couldn’t move in formation or stand where they were told to stand. RTS micro is 99% pointless busywork.

    5. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Unrelated but Shamus might want to look into a weird case of timetravel here, for me this comment (and this one only), is dated as “Tuesday Dec 28, 2021 at 8:34 am”.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        That was my bad. I was trying to add the “+” (plus) symbol to the comment as was the original intent, and somehow managed to mangle the posting date.

  6. Dreadjaws says:

    I’ve been interested in Ghostwire Tokyo ever since its first trailer, but there’s no way my PC will run it, upgrading is prohibitive right now (and damn, how things are going with graphic cards, it might be the case for years) and getting a PS5 is nearly impossible.

    You don’t want to throw shades at your betters

    More popular doesn’t equal better, though. MattPatt’s fast, colorful and loud style is very appealing to the younger crowd. It means that people will more often than not outgrow him. As newer people come and older go he’ll likely keep a steady amount of viewers, but very few will be loyal.

    Also, MattPatt is an entertainer first and an informant second. You should take what he says with a grain of salt. He more often than not makes unwarranted assumptions, misinterprets information and reaches unjustified conclusions. He can easily get away with this by pointing out that his videos are titled “theories”, but this doesn’t stop some people from taking what he says as incontrovertible evidence.

    I understand that games cheat quite a bit to let the player feel better (like: first enemy gunshots always miss, the last bit of your life bar lasts twice as much as it shows, sometimes you get an experience boost to quickly level up if you’re in a though spot, etc.), but this sort of thing should not be so obvious in games that are not action based, especially if they show you numbers. I think the major problem with games like X-Com is that the visual feedback doesn’t fit the randomness of the results. If my shotgun is one inch from an alien’s face then screw you, any chance below 100% is bullshit.

    Oh, what’s this? Oh, look at that: yet another chance for me to recommend Steamworld Heist, a 2D X-Com style game that actually relies on skill rather than chance.

    1. John says:

      I dunno. Steamworld Heist has a certain amount of aim-wobble and thus, I feel, a certain amount of chance. There’s less chance, certainly, and it’s less obvious than in XCOM, but it’s there. The real beauty of the system is not that it eliminates randomness, but that it gets the player to blame himself for failure instead of blaming the game.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        I’d say that the aim wobble is precisely why it takes skill to take a perfect shot rather than chance. There is no randomness because the wobble is consistent.

    2. Tuck says:

      It is currently possible to pick up a Geforce RTX 3050, brand new, for a reasonable price! You might have to shop around a bit to get the best prices, but they are available.

    3. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I seem to have a vague recollection of this argument coming up before but I do feel the need to point out that the turn based X-Com is an abstraction of actual combat. In “real combat” the sectoid is not moving 10 feet then politely waiting for your dude to trot up to it, put the shotgun to its face and pull the trigger. Obviously this is a case of varying mileage so I’m not saying you’re wrong for this being annoying to you.

  7. Henson says:

    Disco Elysium has a whole bunch of ridiculous critical failures written into the game. Many of them are because your character is a bit of a screw-up, but “die in the first five minutes because you were hung over and failed to react to the sudden brightness from turning on the light in the morning” is still absurd.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      I’m still mad about “jump through the air flipping someone off in slow motion before crashing into a wheelchair lady” as a failure (not even a critical failure, just the normal thing that happens if you make a mediocre roll) on “try to walk away discretely”. The tone of that game was all over the place.

      1. Fizban says:

        I’ve only watched the first several hours, but that sort of thing didn’t bug me (admittedly, it probably would a lot more if I was playing). Since you play as a character who’s damanged themselves so much with drugs that they can barely function, and the game has like 20? skills each of which corresponds to their own personality and which will chime in even when not appropriate, it follows that sometimes you’ll lose control of yourself and do something stupid. And I think it’s presented consistently as a danger even from the beginning. It’s the difference between the DM of a DnD game suddenly telling you your hyper-competent adventurer face plants in their own piss because the DM felt like it, and joining a game that specifically uses a narrative engine where almost everything requires a roll and those rolls have ridiculous critical failures built in. The former is pretty explicitly not how you’re supposed to run DnD, and the latter is a specific type of game.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      This sort of thing is why despite all the recommendations I haven’t played this game. I know some people think it’s clever when a game just outright kills you for BS reasons, requiring you to reload a save, but I find it obnoxious.

      1. kincajou says:

        To be charitable to the game:
        – the instant death scenarios are rare enough that the only one that got me was the aforementioned light + hangover roll which happens so early in the game that the lost progress is essentially negligible.

        Beyond that point there may be other kill states but i ca vouch that with a health of 2 i was still surviving them all because you can heal as you take the damage and the game more or less loads you with health and morale potions.

        None of this is to say that your opinions are wring or that “people play it wrong”. Just to throw in my experience as a half counterpoint. Yes those elements are in the game and are pretty obnoxious, they are also (in my experience) relativley harmless after the first one.

        1. Syal says:

          I had to restart the game with a higher Morale stat, because all sorts of failures will lower Morale. Definitely recommend high Endurance and high Volition.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        The randomness killed Disco Elysium for me. I deliberately created an intelligent, thinky character, and he just so happened to fail at the intelligent, thinky things. So then I more-or-less wasted a skill point upon levelling up gaining MORE proficiency in an ability, just so I could retake a skill check…
        …and he failed again. I then had to use a healing item, because apparently failing to make sense of footprints is lethal.

        “Oh, you wanted to play a smart character, did you? Well fuck you, player. I rolled some dice, and they said No.”

        I always liken it to playing a tabletop RPG with a bad DM. With a good DM, you can either re-try a skill challenge (within reason), or try a different way to do the same thing, or adapt to the situation – it’s a two-way dialogue.
        But a bad DM will take your failures and railroad you into doing something stupid, or something similar.

        Just like ‘you jump through the air and land on a woman in a wheelchair’. No, no I didn’t, game. That’s just stupid.

        1. Fizban says:

          Heh, this comes back around to the point of games cheating while making the odds better/breaking the player out of losing streaks. As far as I know, Disco Elysium reports its rolls accurately and has no such mechanics (not that I’ve done any reading on it, if there’s a wiki that disagrees then by all means).

          If you want to play thinky characters, really the only “good” DM is one who isn’t actually following any mechanics at all other than “this character is designated as thinky, therefore they will always eventually think it out regardless of player ability or other game mechanics.” Skill rolls are never appropriate for “knowledge” skills, because knowledge is something you already have, not an unobserved quantum state. And if you allow game mechanics to suggest a player should be given information, anyone who understands knowledge is power (knowing all enemy attacks/weaknesses/plot points/etc) will take as much of that mechanic as is feasible.

          The bad DM part is where the DM has decided that some bit of information or progress *requires* a mechanical roll*. “Knowledge” skills should only ever be hints or bonus bits, specifically because the whole mechanical point of rolls is that they can be failed, and any player at any time could decide they want to be a “thinky” character for the day because all humans can think. Yes, making engaging games where the players feel like they’re being challenged and working to progress while not actually being blocked in any meaningful way is difficult, congratulations, welcome to Game Design 101 all prospective DMs.
          *Unless of course this is made clear as a fundamental part of the system/game that your character is partially out of your control, which I think it is early on in Disco Elysium.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            If you want to play thinky characters, really the only “good” DM is one who isn’t actually following any mechanics at all other than “this character is designated as thinky, therefore they will always eventually think it out regardless of player ability or other game mechanics.” Skill rolls are never appropriate for “knowledge” skills, because knowledge is something you already have

            Not necessarily. The DM can say ‘this guy’s a wizard, he’s spent his life doing this. For him, a roll of 10 for him will get more information than a roll of 10 from the barbarian who knows nothig about magic’. Like the wizard doesn’t KNOW, but he gets a hint about where he might find more.
            Or doezens of other things, adapted on the fly because the DM is a person.

            I get that you can’t be as flexible in computer games. That’s fair enough. But I recently reinstalled Fallout New Vegas, and it has a different take: each skill has a simple threshold. You need 75 Medicine to help this wounded person: any less, and you simply fail do it. But 75 or higher, and you succeed, no questions asked.
            While you can validly argue that it’s not perfect, I’ve never, ever, though it was unfair or that the game was being needlessly aggrivating

            Contrast with a good example from Pathfinder: Kingmaker – I wanted to sneak into a fortified camp, so I try to pull apart a corner of the wall with brute strength. I fail a 70% chance.
            The game informs me that I spent 4 hours doggedly pulling apart the wall, and the guards spotted me as I did.

            What? No I didn’t. I spent a minute trying to get in, failed, and then sneaked off to try something else, clearly, you utter jackass of a game.

            1. Fizban says:

              Not necessarily. The DM can say ‘this guy’s a wizard, he’s spent his life doing this. For him, a roll of 10 for him will get more information than a roll of 10 from the barbarian who knows nothig about magic’. Like the wizard doesn’t KNOW, but he gets a hint about where he might find more.

              That is. . . . literally what I just said, either ignoring mechanics entirely (these two characters with the same bonus get different info because I said so), or following the mechanics precisely (this wizard who spent their life doing this has a higher bonus, which works until oh no they rolled low so the barbarian knows more than them). The latter can be further fixed with things like the inability to roll without a certain amount of bonus (so it’s only scholars vs scholars, but that sort of trained-only skill is something people have been whining about since 3.x or earlier, and it still doesn’t fix the fact that two scholars with bonuses less than say 15 apart are still heavily governed by the whims of say a d20.

              Skill thresholds are fine (I did say mechanics first, but specified rolls being the problem further on)- they’re not random checks, and indeed are the superior system, if it must be mechanized. The problem then is tuning them, particularly in level-based games where many stats go up automatically, so that they’re not just level barriers (and further in the concept of items giving you bonuses that can be taken on and off, etc). The mostly point-based system used in FO3/New Vegas allows you to rocket up the skills of your choice early, quickly attaining the background knowledge to beat whatever skill thresholds you desire. Even then, it’s not so much a 100 “point” system as it is at most a 20 degree system, with the minimum being 2-3 and each gap costing 5 skill points or other bonuses, since all the major skill checks are at intervals of 5. Functionally, anything more than half a dozen true thresholds is just too many divisions to be useful, particularly when the players are still allowed to, ya know, learn things from playing the game.

              As for that final example- yeah, that’s a bad DM (or designer of this encounter), because they’ve taken more from your declaration of actions than you intended (were unclear in the choices given) and immediately imposed results. In the tabletop game, that would be a single strength check- the DC of which would be nearly impossible, the time factor immediate (and the potential noise/attraction of nearby/random foes undefined but ought to be askable from the DM first). In the computer game, they apparently decided that “stength check” meant a multiple-hours long excavation (which should not be a simple pass/fail for this sort of work in the first place, though there are governing mechanics which have little to do with d20 rolls), and that doing so would attract attention without the potential to evade it, all without telling you. Yeah that’s bogus.

              1. BlueHorus says:

                it still doesn’t fix the fact that two scholars with bonuses less than say 15 apart are still heavily governed by the whims of say a d20.

                Well, you can’t really ‘fix’ that. d20 rolls are what the system is based on; without scrapping them entirely, you will always have an element of randomness. But I’m not sure it’s ‘ignoring the mechanics’ to change the parameters of a skill check based on a character’s class.

                I agree with you on Fallout’s system. One of the DLCs ends with a skill check requiring a maxed-out (100) Speech skill. Why? Well, I’d say it’s because it’s a high-level DLC and 100 Speech is the only way to ensure a level 18 (or so) is continuing to invest in Speech. Again, I don’t think it’s perfect, but it doesn’t irritate me in the same way as a random system would.
                (One thing I find really amusing about Fallout is the ability to gain temporary bonuses to an ability ahead of checks. “Oh, you need convincing of something? Wait, let me excuse myself from this conversation, read a kids’ cartoon, take a mentat and down this bottle of whisky.”
                *glug glug glug*
                “…right, where were we!?”)

          2. Syal says:

            Skill rolls are never appropriate for “knowledge” skills, because knowledge is something you already have, not an unobserved quantum state.

            I spent about ten minutes today trying to remember the word “overreaction”. I don’t think knowledge rolls are that farfetched.

        2. kincajou says:

          As a DM I would be less inclined to call those two different examples as “Good” and “Bad” DM-ing.

          Now, by all means you may find one of the two more fun to play with than the other and that is perfectly fine.
          All i’m aiming to do here is to take advantage of what you wrote as a jumping off point to express some thoughts on different DM’ing styles and how my changing approach to roleplaying has also coloured my approach to DM’ing.

          But to stick back to the point. I feel that what you describe as “good” and “bad” DM’ing may just be a difference in approach. Speaking broadly:

          – On one hand we have a “mechanics” focused system where the die rolls are used as a “Pass/fail” system with maybe bonus events tacked on in each case corresponding to what works well ( “roll to negotiate with the kobold to convince him not to throw himself in the slave pit!”).
          In this approach, the rules are usually made abundantly clear, as are the consequences (as a player you understand the elements coming into play and should have at least a minimum of agency to affect them). This of course doesn’t exclude hidden rolls by the DM or even being asked to roll without knowing what you’re rolling for or the difficulty of the roll.

          – On the other hand we have an approach where rolls are used more as a “narrative creation device” where the elements coming into play aren’t necessarily clear and the consequences may often exceed expectations or proceed in unusual directions. ( a good example of a system that promotes this style is “ten candles” an exceptional little gem)
          In this system dice don’t only hit the table when there is risk of faliure but more when there are unknown events. The consequences may be as simple as “you fail” or “you succeed” but usually the idea would be “you fail AND the situation escalates” or “you succeed AND the narrative is brought forward”. In my experience this system does also involve more back/forth with the player (Ok you’ve failed at convincing the kobold he jumps off and enters the slave pit. How do the slaves react? How do you react? Does he survive?) and whilst it takes away some agency for the character (“you pass your roll and spend the afternoon talking the kobold out of jumping into the slave pit, as the evening comes in you find yourselves sharing some tea and looking down at the slaves in the pit”) i find it can give them some power on building the narrative (“Well i think that my character would probably look in shock as the kobold lands safely in the pit” “And i think that the slaves in the pit are actually all his friends, so they help hip escape from us”).

          Of course one approach does not exclude the other and they are just facets of the whole DM’ing schtick. Personally i favour towards the latter as it gives the DM less weight (although one does have to be careful not to completley lose narrative control on the broad strokes) and allows the players to contribute to the construction of the world in their own terms, making the games more of a “cooperative storytelling” experience rather than traditional RPG’ing.

          But as i said, both are facets of the same element and i do pick and mix as i need. In my recent games a failed roll has resulted in a character chosing to shoot himself across space out of a torpedo tube (with “i reckon you’d do this because you are a space adventurer” …”Yeah, you know? that does sound right, my character would probably do that!”) whilst an ongoing series of rolls is establishing that goblins are a subclass of pretentious little asses that are looked down upon by all other elements of society but also despise all things non goblin (all this is purely defined by the goblin player to failed or succesful interaction rolls with the world and people around him… with the rest of the players and DM chosing to play along).

          So all this to say, as usual “Horses for courses” there are many different styles and what we may not necessarily enjoy or find ourselves confortable with may not actually be “Bad GM’ing” but rather just a different approach.
          (not that bad GM’ing doesnt exist in my opinion, boy do i have stories about that … many of which are a lineup of my personal mistakes, but that what you described isn’t so much that as just simply being different styles)

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Well, that’s the problem with a term like ‘bad DM’; there’s always going to be an element of opinion to it. And people like different things, so…
            I just know that I’ve played a couple of games with an, ‘Oho, you fail the skill check and piss on yourself!’ kind of DM and found it Not Fun. It felt like being the DM’s punchbag.

            If someone else likes that kind of thing – good for them, I guess. I might question how and why that’s fun for them, but whatever; it’s their choice.

            1. kincajou says:

              Oh yeah, don’t get me wrong. I think you’re right, that sort of set up where the PC is the but of the joke for the DM’s personal fun… is probably not fun for the player and should not be for the DM either.

              That of PC agency and how it interacts with the DM is a complicated one, usually i find it best to steer as clear of it as possible (your character’s actions and reactions are your own) but, depending on the context, room, and players it can end up being a grey area (“you failed the roll you are now completley drunk” – the player then choses what that actually means in terms of the scene) where it adds to the scene.

              But as i think we’re both saying (you more succinctly and me with more words than is ever reasonable!): to each their own and in all cases if one is to interact with player agency, they should make sure that everyone is on board with it and that it is not just for the DM’s personal amusement but that it serves the ejoyment of the *whole* table.

  8. John says:

    Good news, Paul! You don’t need to install the GOG Galaxy client in order to play GOG games on your Linux PC. In fact, I recommend against it. You can download individual, game-specific installers directly from the GOG website. This is actually my single favorite thing about GOG and the reason it’s my preferred digital games store. The installers for games with Linux versions are packaged as shell scripts but work just like the software installers you’re used to on Windows. The installers for games without Linux versions also work just like the software installers you’re used to on Windows, because that’s what they are. You will, however, need a compatibility layer like Wine or Proton to run them and, subsequently, the game.

    None of which is to say that you should actually go play The Witcher, of course. I certainly wouldn’t.

    1. tmtvl says:

      If you really want a GOG client, there is minigalaxy (or lgogdownloader if like me you’re fond of CLI applications).
      I also think Lutris supports GOG, though I don’t like it very much due to it client-side decorations so it doesn’t fit in all that well with other applications I use.

  9. Ninety-Three says:

    Regarding accuracy, there was a tactics game I liked (Pathway, I think) that had an interesting approach. Rather than having a complicated formula where accuracy drops off over range, they made it so that your default hit chance against someone in the open was 100%, targets in cover get 50% defense, and as you level your units up or find special gear they might get plus 10 or 20% accuracy to help with shooting targets in cover. Putting guaranteed hits into the mix lets you do a lot more advanced planning in terms of “I’ll have him go here and shoot that guy, which will kill him, then I can have this other guy go there…”

    My favorite thing about XCOM misses is that the way the animation engine handles a missed shot seems to be something like “pick a random spot ten feet away from the alien and have the soldier shoot that instead”. It does this even when you’re close enough to give the alien a hug so point blank shots don’t merely miss, they usually involve the soldier pointing his weapon 90 degrees away from the target and firing wildly. The reason it was impossible to miss a point-blank shot in the original X-COM was that the game handled misses by taking your intended shot trajectory and adding a few degrees of random scatter onto it: if your rifle butt was up against the alien’s ribs then five degrees to the right still took your bullet through the alien’s body and it hit anyway.

    1. ContribuTor says:

      Yeah. I think the animation issue compounds the plausibility issue when it comes to misses.

      My badass Colonel close range combat specialist who is standing 5 feet from an alien doing a double fire shot simply will not miss twice. Or even once. There are times when the shot accuracy does hit 100, but it’s too rare (and mostly in my recollection is for scoped up snipers who are a considerable distance away but still in “can’t miss” range apparently.

      I don’t hate them having wierd miss animations – it would be hard to have plausible ones. I hate that they let you miss in these situations.

    2. John says:

      Missed shots in XCOM don’t bother me too much. Sure, I’m unhappy when I miss a shot and something bad happens as a result, but I guess I just don’t feel cheated when a rookie misses a point-blank shot. (I admit that it looks very silly on the screen.) I think the real question is why a supposedly elite anti-alien task force funded by many of the wealthiest nations on earth starts off with such a small number of completely green soldiers and can somehow never manage to acquire a second transport aircraft. I have a few issues with XCOM 2, but the fact that it’s about a scrappy improvised resistance movement rather than a notionally well-funded professional military operation eliminates a lot of the ludo-narrative dissonance.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        I’m bothered by it mostly because I was already used to the original X-COM and it was grating for XCOM to do everything worse than a game twenty years its senior. Start off with so few soldiers? Hire ’em by the dozen on day one (I like to recruit up to 40 or so then immediately dismiss everyone but the top percentage elites with excellent stat rolls). Extra transports are available as soon as you build more launch bays for them, which you can do within the first month.

        1. John says:

          Start off with so few soldiers? Hire ’em by the dozen on day one (I like to recruit up to 40 or so then immediately dismiss everyone but the top percentage elites with excellent stat rolls).

          That doesn’t seem any better to me. It’s just game-y in a different way.

          The thing about XCOM, as opposed to the original game by Julian Gollop, is that it’s secretly a board game rather than some kind of simulation. This is especially true of the strategic layer. If objects and concepts in the game were presented more abstractly–e.g., as tokens on a board–certain things in the game would immediately seem a lot less weird. Now I personally happen to think that XCOM is an excellent board game, but I can see how people who were hoping for more of a simulation might be disappointed.

    3. Th30n says:

      Another excellent example of handling shots I’ve seen is Invisible Inc.

      In that game, each shot (or action for that matter) done by you or the enemy has 100% to succeed. The randomness only comes from the terrain and item generation.

      If someone hasn’t played Invisible Inc, I recommend it. It throws a completely different spin on turn based tactics, as it focuses on stealth and cyberpunk spy stuff. The game now shares the top spot with original UFO: Enemy Unknown (aka X-Com: UFO Defense) for my favourite turn based tactical game.

      1. Zekiel says:

        +1 to this, Invisible Inc is fantastic. Best implementation I’ve seen of stealth in any game, ever, bar none.

  10. ContribuTor says:

    While I know it’s an overused example of a Paragon Of All Good Things in Games, but I really like The Original Fallout for creating a character with agency.

    You’re dumped out of your home with a mission that only sort of connects to the game’s real plot, and a timer to accomplish it, and from that point onward told “good luck” and are left to discover the plot and decide what sides to take on your own. You don’t have to rescue Tandi. You don’t have to stop or join any gangs or factions. Don’t have to free any slaves or help anyone in any town. I’m pretty sure (it’s been awhile) you could give the BoS a complete miss.

    All you need to do are find the chip, deal with The Master, and deal with FEV. Everything else (which is probably 90%of the game) you’re in control of.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Forget the Brotherhood, if you know exactly where to go and exactly where to put your skill points you can beat Fallout in about ten minutes by simply sprinting between a few key locations then nailing some skill checks at the final encounter. It’s great.

      1. ContribuTor says:

        Sure. The ability to speed run is part of it – you can skip a lot of content.

        What I like more is that, for all the situations you DO encounter, the game doesn’t moralize about what you should do, or demand that you resolve this at all. You can leave Junktown and it’s weird sheriff problem alone and say “Hey, good luck guys!” If you get involved, it’s because you want to get involved – because you find the problem interesting. Or because you’ve decided you’re mercenary enough that someone’s made it worth your while to take part. Or because you want to watch the world burn.

        Which on reflection, is a sort of interesting idea of “agency” within a game – agency is the ability to say “no” to the game itself.

    2. Chad+Miller says:

      One thing Fallout got really right that its sequels really don’t is that you’re given a high-level goal and the game is that other than the Overseer handing you the high-level goals of the game (of which there are really only 2-3), there really isn’t any other point where anyone else orders you around, and even when you’re pursuing said high level goals it’s framed as you looking for clues rather than other people telling you what you should do.

      One comparison I particularly like to make is the Water Merchant Boss in 1 vs. Mama Murphy in 4. The Water Merchant hears you need water and tells you that she’s not really sure, but it’s really suspicious that the Ghouls don’t buy her water as they’re the only major source in the region, and maybe that’s worth checking out. It turns out she’s 100% right and that’s where you’re supposed to go but doesn’t belabor the point. You can argue that this was a bit too subtle for people frustrated by the time limit, but I’d rather see more “quest arrows” pointed to leads like this or simply have more questlines drop the critical clue to increase the probability that a player stumbles into one of them.

      Meanwhile, in Fallout 4, during the tutorial, you meet a psychic. Said psychic tells you “oh, I had a vision and the next step to finding your kidnapped kid is Diamond City.” This in a game that most people agree is best treated as an excuse to explore. This despite the fact that there are, like, two real towns in the entire game map and how hard would it be to just say “Diamond City and Goodneighbor are the biggest settlements around, maybe you should check that out.” Then they have one character express skepticism in Murphy’s abilities, and it’s Marcy Long, one of the least sympathetic characters in the entire game. And the thing she questions is the existence of Sanctuary, the place you just traveled from, so she’s not just immediately but preemptively proven wrong. Can’t risk the tiniest chance of the player having any doubt whatsoever for thinking for themselves, game; gotta plonk down that quest arrow and grab the player by the shoulders and yell in their face to go follow it!

  11. tmtvl says:

    For probabilities, Tim Cain mentioned it in his talk at Reboot Develop, around 26 minutes in.

    So what happened was that there were 5 songs and someone wanted those five to be played randomly.

    First Tim just picked a random number and played the song with that number.
    The guy heard song 1 twice in a row and he said that was wrong, songs shouldn’t repeat.

    So Tim made it so the same number couldn’t be picked twice.
    The guy heard songs 1, 2, and then 1 again and wasn’t happy. He wanted every separate song to be played once per cycle.

    So Tim shuffled the array.
    The guy wasn’t happy, he heard songs 1, 4, 5, 2, and 3; followed by 3, 5, 4, 2, 1. So he heard song 3 twice in a row.

    So Tim shuffled the array in such a way that the number at the end of one shuffle couldn’t be the first number in the next shuffle.
    And the audio guy was happy.

    And the penultimate solution, shuffling an array of numbers, is how I prefer to implement “random number rolling”; it helps avoid the user to get the same result multiple times in a row so it keeps up the appearance of random chance.

    Also, on a tabletop forum (RPGs, wargaming, boardgames, et cetera) I used to frequent we called DMs who insisted on rolling for everything as people who want to play Game of the Goose (Ganzenbord in Dutch).

    Seeing OOP on the docket reminds me of my favourite Lisp library, Coalton. It’s basically the Haskell object system (maybe a mite more anaemic) ported to Lisp, because of course you’d do that. It even has monads, because everything is better with monads.

    Yeah, GOG didn’t bring Galaxy to GNU/Linux, it’s been not a thing for nigh on a decade now.

    Way back when I started getting games on GOG they once had an action going on where they forced The Witcher: Enhanced Edition on you when you bought a game.
    I didn’t know at the time that GOG is run by the same company that made The Witcher and I sent them an email asking them to remove the game from my account, which they couldn’t oblige me with.

    I know it’s bad form to complain about games I haven’t played and bad form to look gift horses in their mouths, but still, I wasn’t happy with it.

  12. Chris says:

    I agree with the video that focussing on top tier competition isnt good for RTS, but I think there are a few things he didnt mention that I think also affect RTS. A lot of new players didnt grow up with RTS, so they arent too interested in getting into the genre now. AAA games nowadays have to be multiplatform, RTS sucks on a controller. Recent RTS also didnt do so well, AOE4 is at the same amount of players as AOE2, grey goo came and went, planetary annihilation came and went, act of aggression came and went. SC2 was supposed to be this epic 3 part game where blizzard would make 2 huge expansions to milk fans like crazy. By the end legacy came out they were giving away WOL for free. If I would be rich and ready to invest in a game studio, I would rather have them make an RPG than an RTS. I think thats the call both EA and actiblizz made.

    But he is right that a focus on competitive PvP is a mistake. In team games I see people complain nonstop that they are really 90000 elo/mmr triple platinum superstar players, held back by their teammates. But in 1v1 games like RTS and fighting games I see people with ladder anxiety because they are afraid of losing points. I also see a lot of people complain about forced 50% winrate. Because they all expect to be the players that end up with a >50% winrate. So I think investing more in AI, co-op and campaigns is better than making a hardcore PVP game. In SC1 8 player FFA big game hunters (the map) was what a lot of people played, instead of 1v1 on lost temple.
    I also remember back when WOL was just released one guy made a pretty good analysis of the faults of the game. One part being that in SC1 the first thing you see when you go online is a chatbox and which friends are online, while in SC2 you see a leaderboard and your personal stats. The guy that made the video also got sick of playing ladder and started doing challenge runs instead.
    I dont know about user tools though. Modern games are a lot more complex than games in the past. I dont know if single users can still make cool stuff. I remember SC2 having a solid editor, but it was so powerful it was too complex for most people to use. Tower defense was older than WC3 though. I remember playing a bunch of those in SC1. There was also aeon of strife in SC1. Although in both cases WC3 really took it to the next level thanks for heroes that could level.

    1. Fizban says:

      I also see a lot of people complain about forced 50% winrate. Because they all expect to be the players that end up with a >50% winrate.

      Ah yes, the culture of winning, where you must always be winning, else you suck and should feel bad because you’re a loser. One thing about pvp games and ladder ranked matches in particular, is that they *should* be able to really drive home the fact that you are not special, that every win/lose competition has a loser and that means you *half* the time. That (obviously useful evolutionary psychological) drive to Always Be Winning is hugely toxic in the numerous and highly connected population of modern life, and it would be great to have a way to teach people to get over themselves.

      Unfortunately what it seem to do instead is just shift people’s ego to whatever tier of ranking they’re sorted into, with enough tiers that the lower ones are probably full of just the constantly rotating churn of new players, allowing anyone familiar with the game to pat themselves on the back for not being on the bottom, while those at the top brag about being at the top even if/when they still objectively lose half the time because there are plenty of people just as skilled as they are.

      As for level editors- yeah, the tradeoff of complexity/usability is a core problem. Even the WC3 editor was far too strong for me to handle back in the day (and it didn’t help that all those cool RPG maps were designed for multiplayer, even when they weren’t literally arenas, and just didn’t function run by yourself). But then you get one trying to be excessively user-friendly like Popup Dungeon, and it can’t do the thing you want (I spent like two weeks trying to force it to make persistent procgen dungeons and burned out without actually testing the framework once I thought it might work). Neverwinter Nights is DnD yet the most basic of DnD additions, feats and spells, are an arcane pain in the ass. I’m currently looking at doing some simple item mods for ARK: Survival Evolved, but since its dev kit is apparently just a modified UE4 engine, it’s entirely likely even that will go too far over my head.

      But making editors with multiple tiers of interation to cater to tinkerers of all skill levels would of course be a huge, presumably non-profitable project all on its own. Unless it’s a system specifically designed for that (isn’t Roblox all user-made content or something?), but that’s not what modders want to mod, not the sort of fanfic/same game new everything else that people want to built out of games they already like.

      1. John says:

        As a fighting game player, I rather like my 50% win rate, not least because it’s so much better than I expected to do when I started playing online. I honestly surprised myself with how well I did when I started out and it’s one of the things that has kept me playing. I may not be good, not when compared to a top player, but from my usual position in the middle of the middle I can see that I am in some objective sense also not bad. I love skill-based matchmaking. I would hate to get matched against people better than me all the time because losing all the time feels awful, but I would also hate to get matched against people worse than me all the time because then I would feel like a bully.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          The only decent alternative I’ve seen to ranked-based matchmaking is unfortunately only possible in even more cutthroat environments; playing for money where the players choose the stakes. There, there’s natural pressure to honestly find the level of stakes you’re most profitable at which will generally be the most difficult game that isn’t clearly out of your league. I miss the golden age of online poker.

          1. Thomas says:

            I’m someone who is also happy accepting a 50% win rate. I rarely play multiplayer, when I do it’s because I enjoy the game itself and 50% win rate makes for competitive matches.

            I also find it freeing to realise nothing I can do will ever effect my win rate. I can challenge myself to increase my rank, but other than that there’s no need to stress. The matching will find my level.

            But it’s interesting watching the Magic community where a lot of the online people _are_ used to having a better than 50% win rate. Because in their small real life game stores, the most enfranchised do generally beat the other players showing up. So a lot of them find it really hard adjusting to the fact that they only win 50% of the time online, because they’re not actually that special.

            The only way I could think of to recreate that experience would be to have small private leagues where all the entrants to that league are fully randomised, or true non-ranked matched making. But it would be a miserable experience for the weaker players.

            1. Chad+Miller says:

              Funnily enough, Magic used to be one of those games that tried to follow the “offer different stakes to different players” model but MtG: Arena made some half-steps toward the “ranked matchmaking model” that were poorly implemented enough that they drove me away from the game.

              You see, it used to be that the Pro Tour and the rest of the tournament circuit (as well as different forms of competitive play online) meant that there was a ladder of different games with differing entry fees and payoffs. This was its own crude version of the poker effect where you had low-level casual tournaments that would barely or not at all be worth a pro’s time, all the way up to pro level events that a 20-something may be able to subsist on but where the competition was so fierce you had to be among the best of the best.

              The clash between the two philosophies came when MtG: Arena added ranked matchmaking to draft games, but still kept the old system of entry fees for a tournament + payouts based on winrate. So to be clear, this meant the game was now:

              * Pay to play
              * Offering payouts based on winrate
              * Using ranked matchmaking to force winrates to 50%

              (when I said as much in their official forums, they tried to tell me that last bullet point was false but without any attempt to justify that assertion)

              Anyway, I think all of those three points are debatable in isolation but if you’re doing all three you’re running a scam, so that killed the last trace of interest I had in M:tG.

              1. Syal says:

                Is ranked matchmaking where winners play winners and losers play losers? Those aren’t 50% for everybody; the top player will usually be undefeated, and the bottom guy will usually lose every match. It’s a system that makes the extremes more extreme, which you probably want in a tournament.

                1. Chad+Miller says:

                  Those aren’t 50% for everybody; the top player will usually be undefeated, and the bottom guy will usually lose every match.

                  Outliers do exist but don’t really counter my complaint in the general case; in the general population ranked matchmaking pushes W/L ratio to 50/50 which is incompatible with a reward system that rewards winrate and only winrate.

                  If Arena let me just buy the game and draft as much as I want, I wouldn’t complain. If they did like M:tG online where I effectively pay per draft but can break even by being an above average player for whichever draft format I choose to play, I’d…well, I’d complain less. But instead what Arena drafts do is keep the pay-to-play business model, turn it into effectively pure gambling, using a competitive-looking structure as a smokescreen. It actually makes me madder the more I think about it.

                  It’s a system that makes the extremes more extreme, which you probably want in a tournament.

                  No, it’s the diametric opposite of what you want in a tournament.

                  If each game is considered in isolation and the goal of a ranking system is to keep games evenly matched, then you do want to funnel skilled players into games with other skilled players. This is specifically because you don’t consider winrate an end in itself, and because rankings are taken over a very large sample size (either “lifetime” or “length of the current season” or similar). In a tournament, you specifically avoid pairing the most skilled players against each other because if you’re only considering performance in that specific tournament (which you are, because that’s the entire point of a tournament), it’s unfair to the two best players if they play each other early while less skilled players end up against easier opposition and have a lower bar to clear. This understanding predates the existence of M:tG by, oh, about 100 years:


                  1. Syal says:

                    in the general population ranked matchmaking pushes W/L ratio to 50/50 which is incompatible with a reward system that rewards winrate and only winrate.

                    I think I’m not understanding what the structure is here. In a tournament, you don’t want to reward the general population, you want to disproportionately reward the top players. But if this is not just a tournament thing, and is the only way for the general population to get new cards, it sounds like a problem.

                    In a tournament, you specifically avoid pairing the most skilled players against each other

                    That’s in an elimination tournament, and that’s mostly to keep the audience invested in later rounds; in a ranked ladder tournament, where all the players play the next round win or lose, it’s not important to keep the best players apart early.

                    1. Chad+Miller says:

                      I think I’m not understanding what the structure is here.

                      Yeah, it’s actually so absurd that I’ve never seen anything like it in any other game.

                      Most Magic: The Gathering events use a swiss-style tournament system. For smaller events (8 people or less) you have to be undefeated to get the best results. Arena actually outright bars you from playing a draft deck after a certain number of losses. Then after you’ve either hit the max number of losses or max number of total games, you get prizes based on your final W/L record.

                      But, despite having this tournament-like incentive structure, Arena drafts aren’t really a tournament; they actually just put you in a game with other players who happen to be online based on their ranked matchmaking system (for those familiar with Magic drafting, you don’t even draft against other players; you draft against bots so the card pool you saw is completely unrelated to the players you’re playing against)

                      The end result is that it’s using a prize payout structure for tournaments based on W/L record while setting up matches using a system designed to flatten W/L record.

                      But if this is not just a tournament thing, and is the only way for the general population to get new cards, it sounds like a problem.

                      I mean, M:tG is infamous for the fact that you can always spend enough money to get all the cards. Drafting is traditionally one of the ways to blunt the cost because people who care enough to “git gud” could win online drafts and use the proceeds to play more online drafts. Now, maybe that doesn’t actually sound like a good thing to you, and that’s fine, but if we’re declaring everybody should just buy cards then just make everybody buy cards instead of hiding the need to buy cards behind a fake tournament system.

                    2. Syal says:

                      That sounds like Hearthstone’s system (from… seven years ago now?); three losses kicks you out, or twelve total games. Hearthstone’s system would let the player break even around 3 wins (so 50/50), and the more wins you managed the more profit you gained. You got one card no matter what*, so it was all about whether you could get enough wins to make it a better deal than buying a card directly at 1/3 the entry fee**.

                      I liked it. If Magic has the same layout where 50/50 is equivalent to buying a card I’d say it’s fine.

                      *(Which they apparently decided was too good a deal, and changed it so you could only win DLC cards from the tournament, making it much less worthwhile.)

                      **(You could pay the fee with in-game currency, which you could get for free in small quantities every day. About 1 1/4 days got enough to buy a card, about 4 days got enough for a tournament run, which could pay for itself.)

                    3. Chad+Miller says:

                      That sounds like Hearthstone’s system (from… seven years ago now?); three losses kicks you out, or twelve total games. Hearthstone’s system would let the player break even around 3 wins (so 50/50), and the more wins you managed the more profit you gained.

                      Have to reply to my own post since we’re too deep in the comment thread, but the difference is that Hearthstone matchmakes based on winrate with that particular draft deck, not a lifetime ladder ranking. The Hearthstone way means that if you’re winning you can expect tougher opposition on the way to the end, but Arena’s matchmaking means that your opposition is tougher by virtue of having performed well in past events, meaning that you can’t increase your expectation by becoming more skilled at the game outside of the very narrow band of outliers at the very top.

                    4. Chad+Miller says:

                      Welp, I think my last one may have been spam filtered lol. If it doesn’t make it back out, the main bullet is that Hearthstone’s is critically different because it matchmakes based on W/L rate of your current draft deck and not a lifetime ladder ranking, which neatly avoids the problem of “becoming more skilled doesn’t actually increase your prize expectation” that Arena has.

                  2. RFS-81 says:

                    If Arena let me just buy the game and draft as much as I want, I wouldn’t complain.

                    That would be so great! I’m fresh out of gems on Arena and I decided that I’m done throwing money into the infinite money pit. Not interested in playing constructed to grind for drafts either. It’s a shame. The latest set is really interesting, but interesting means more difficult, so it means I run out of gems.

                    FWIW, they added human drafts in early 2020. You’re not going to play the people you drafted with, though. (Well, the probability is negligible.)

                    There’s also Traditional Draft which doesn’t use ladder-based matchmaking and has best-of-3 matches.

      2. Steve C says:

        One thing about pvp games and ladder ranked matches in particular, is that they *should* be able to really drive home the fact that you are not special, that every win/lose competition has a loser and that means you *half* the time.

        I don’t like online ladders and don’t play online ladders. Part of your point I agree with but mostly I don’t.

        I don’t care about my ranking in comparison to other people. I just want to have fun. Part of that fun is making progress. Except I don’t consider going up ladder rankings as progress. I don’t give a shit so it doesn’t count. A elo system that puts me at a 50% win/loss ratio means that I could be amazing or terrible, and it just won’t matter either way. I can be terrible and win. Or be amazing and still lose.

        It is exactly the same to me as an auto scaling system in single player games. Everything I hate about that fully applies to a ladder system. Except it is worse. Instead of tipping the scales so you win, it tips the scales so you are completely average.

        In a ladder system, am I winning because I’m legit better than my mathematically determined rank? Or am I winning because the algorithm has matched me against someone who is NOT equal to their mathematically determined rank? Or am I losing because I was on a run and have been matched with someone far above my skill level to knock me down towards 50% again? It is the same as the X-COM guy who can’t shoot a guy 5ft in front with a shotgun because the algorithm has determined the next one should be a miss. With a large enough player base, I’m really playing against the algorithm, not a person.

        Then there’s the time played losing. In team games it is even worse. Like in League of Legends it wasn’t losing that was the problem. It was the fact that I couldn’t lose quickly enough. A 4v5 match. And my side is losing because we are the 4. Losing is exactly what *should* happen if the algorithm is working properly. I have to spend the next 15mins losing an unwinnable game because…. ?? what? I’m playing this to have fun. I was screwed straight out of the gate. I don’t care about any of the rest of it. And I’m not having fun. Which was true when I was the 5 too. I just roflstomp them… yay. How *boring.*

        Looking it as “losers hate to lose” etc is a limited way of looking at it. It is the algorithmic nature of it that I hate. It’s why I liked Battleground PVP in World of Warcraft and did it a lot. While loathing Arena ranking PVP in World of Warcraft and refused to do it.

  13. Rariow says:

    One of my favorite examples of fudged probability is in Fire Emblem Three Houses, (and presumably other Fire Emblem games) because it pulls an “I technically never lied to you” trick.

    It displays your hit chance as “Hit: X”, where X is a number from 0 to 100. At no point does it say that Hit is a percentage, nor that it’s your actual chance to hit, but everything about the UI makes it seem like that’s what it is. In reality, Hit is just a stat (albeit one that’s calculated from other stats) that is used in a roll that determines whether you miss (and that’s rigged in the usual way where high values of Hit miss less often than if it were a straight percentage and low values miss more often – I think it rolls two random numbers and takes their average so you’re less likely to get extreme values, but don’t quote me on that). You can get skills like Hit 20 that increase your Hit by 20, which is similar to but slightly different than increasing you hit chance by 20%, and so on.

    It’s incredibly unimportant, since it’s still intended to be understood to work in a way it doesn’t, but I actually really appreciate that the game doesn’t actually explicitly lie to you. It absolutely misdirects you as much as possible, but it doesn’t straight-up lie like some other games in the genre. It helps people who know about these types of shenanigans notice it while never straight-up giving the trick away.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      If a game must lie I like Fire Emblem’s approach of lying according to a simple and consistent formula. I still don’t remember how to find real hit chance in X-COM but Fire Emblem I can tell instantly.

    2. Chris says:

      I know the GBA games just do a single diceroll and the hit chance is % chance. So if you have a 86 chance to hit, the game will roll a die (actually it uses a semirandom system, I think it was something like taking a random number on startup, and then adding a number to it, rolling over every time it goes over 99). If you roll 0 to 85, it is a hit, if it is 86 to 99, it is a miss. Same with critical hits and levelups stat growth (if you have 60% chance to level up health, 0-59 gives you +1hp, 60+ gives you nothing). Funniest part of the system is that the game actually uses the RNG to calculate how to move diagonally. If you want to move down/right it can first move you down, then right, or first right, then down. And Which it goes down or right first depends on whether you rolled a 0-49 or 50-99. So if you use an emulator with save states, you can flush the seeding number by moving diagonally and wiggling around your cursor to make the game recalculate the pathing (and burning through seeded numbers)

      1. Fizban says:

        It depends on which game- googling fire emblem true hit brings up the Serenes Forest article (a fire emblem wiki) I remember, which says that this started in FE6 and presumably has continued since. The game takes two rolls and averages them before comparing to the final hit chance, so you get a curve where the extremes are extremely unlikely, but does indeed result in around -/+ 10% on the 30/70 hit ranges that people usually except to be far more reliable than they are, and turns high 80+ into nearly guaranteed.

        However, the GBA games are 7-8. I expect they’re still using the same pre-determined iterative RNG seed, though they may or may not have fixed the ability to influence it via cursor movement. Some of the expectations might also muddled by crit chances, which might be run accurately (leading to situations where the actual chance of a character hitting is near/entirely overlapped with their crit range).

        1. Fizban says:

          *Clarification: I expect the newer games are still using a pre-determined iterative RNG seed, etc.

          1. Rariow says:

            This is definitely the case with Three Houses – it’s got a rewind mechanic useable a few times per battle, but the RNG for each sequential action is fixed. It generates at the beginning and then the first action in the battle always rolls a 75, no matter how many times you rewind to the start , the second one always rolls a 12 and so on.

    3. Chad+Miller says:

      This does sound a lot better. I think it’s fine to obfuscate chances (people can be wrong about probability, but they can’t be wrong about whether they’re having fun or not), but if you’re going to give probabilities and percentages then give the real ones. People who want the real probabilities will go look them up, and the casuals won’t be paying enough attention to check.

  14. RamblePak64 says:

    What grinds my gears regarding the mishandling of the Judeo-Christian mythos is how Nephilim are always interpreted as something like Half-Angel Half-Demon, when the Bible explicitly states it was “the sons of God went in to the daughters of Man”, though “sons of God” does not explicitly mean it was Angels coming down and getting it on with human women. In addition, while the Hebrew word naphal indicates “to fall”, it doesn’t necessarily relate to one falling from Heaven. More closely related is the Hebrew translation to mean “Giants”, which is in line with a verse in Numbers. They were also warriors of Renown, so… at least Darksiders is accurate in that regard even if everything else is way, way off?

    If you want an interesting Japanese interpretation of Judeo-Christian myth and can tolerate the jank, I recommend El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. I can’t promise you’ll like it – I don’t think it’s possible to recommend this game on the basis someone will enjoy it – but it’s certainly different in every sense of the word. It’s based on the Book of Enoch, which itself is considered apocrypha.

    I was already planning on snagging Ghostwire Tokyo, but I think I’ll do that sooner than later now. Was thinking I might stream it, but dunno if my system would be able to handle the game and Streamlabs at the same time. Alas!

    All I’ll say on Elden Ring (as I’m working on my own blog draft for it) is I think it made some changes you’d like, but on the whole you’d still find it frustrating. It is likely to be for you what Kingdom Hearts is for me: far more interesting to watch other people discuss on YouTube than it is for me to play it myself.

    And yes, March was absolutely nuts. We saw the release of: Elden Ring (technically end of February), Babylon’s Fall (big-oof it turns out), Triangle Strategy (big yay!), Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin, Tunic, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Shadow Warrior 3, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, and Ghost Wire Tokyo. There’s a couple of other items, like Rune Factory 5, that aren’t exactly going to be bringing in lots of attention, but even so, there’s just tons of stuff fighting to get out the door at the end of the fiscal year.

    April, comparatively, has… um… well, all I have in my spreadsheet is Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers edition, so, uh… basically March catch-up time, eh?

  15. The Nick says:

    GM: You slipped and pissed all over yourself.

    I’ve never encountered it personally, but I hear about this often enough in anecdotes that I wonder if there’s a term for it.

    The word is Justification for your trial.

  16. Syal says:

    For a linear game where the main character has agency, I’ll say Tales of Berseria does it well. Velvet is the clear decision maker, even when most of the decisions are “Let’s grasp at this straw over here.” There’s sections where you’re doing what an NPC tells you, but that’s because Velvet wants something from that NPC and decides it’s worth the busywork.

  17. droid says:

    The term I would use for rolling for pointless stuff is “Roll to failure” from the Alexandrian. The archetypal example is rolling stealth checks when infiltrating a place, if the DM requires new checks every room and every action and any failure will summon the whole army then party is going to inevitably fail.

  18. Grimwear says:

    In regards to rts games I’ve been yelling about it for literal years. In fact I even posted the very arguments that are presented in Giant Grant Games’ AoE4 review including providing steam achievements as proof. I also posted them to the Dawn of War 3 steam forums and even mentioned it to a friend I had working for Relic on said game. Unfortunately she was too low rung for any changes (and what a surprise they shunted her to the campaign which next to no one was working on) and we all know how DoW 3 turned out (the game flopped and the series is dead). Relic moved on to AoE4 and…made the same mistakes. The one thing I disagree with are having community/mod support as essential. It can be good but again from the statistics 80% of players (I could never find that Starcraft interview) do not touch online. And all those fun community mods are multiplayer. The 2 prominent AOE2 youtubers/streamers, TheViper and Spirit of the Law, play/cast a lot of mods and they’re super fun to watch and a great addition but they still count as multiplayer matches which most people won’t touch because they’re too complex for AI to run and they don’t want to play with other humans.

    The one problem in addition that was mentioned was that aside from asking the pros for advice on what they want, the most vocal group in the rts community are multiplayer players. 80% of people will play campaign then move on/replay the game. That multiplayer group will yell and moan and cry about balance and nerfs/buffs/changes and the vast majority of people do not care in the least. So long as they can have fun in campaign and do cool things they will never open their mouths. My favourite argument is Dawn of War: Dark Crusade. You can build a max population Necron army, kill it, make a second max pop army, then resurrection orb your first army to bypass the pop cap. Chaos has their main unit, the Chaos Space Marine, have permanent invisibility. Super broken but fun things. Are they OP in multiplayer? I wouldn’t know I’ve never played a match.

    Your average player does not care about build orders or APM or competing. They want to build cool bases, build giant unique armies, and complete goals in campaign and the fact that game devs can’t figure that out upsets me to an insane degree.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Absolutely. I mean, anecdata but while campaigns for Dark Crusade and Soulstorm are basically almost the same for all the factions and contain a number of generic missions in addition to the scripted special maps and faction fortresses I’ve still played every single faction and even replayed the games on high difficulty precisely because it was fun. I have tried a little of multiplayer but I don’t think I’ve played more than a dozen of matches. Similar deal with the Disciples series though that’s not realtime and I haven’t even touched the multiplayer.

      Now obviously both subsets of RTS gamers exist and there’s nothing wrong with catering to either but I think a big part of the problem is that devs/publishers will often market games to appeal to the singleplayers while designing them primarily in hopes of striking that Starcraft gold with the multiplayers.

      I’m keeping my eye on the next Homeworld because those were atmospheric games with neat stories and pretty space battles, but I’m definitely waiting to see if the reviews say that the campaign is any good.

  19. Amstrad says:

    Shamus experience with Ghostwire Tokyo is why many of us are so into anime/manga and Japanese culture in general. While there are plenty of examples of Japanese fictional works using Gnostic elements there’s even more examples where the cultural differences are so wide that you don’t know what to expect. So a good deal of your time as a consumer of this foreign entertainment is all about learning things about this foreign culture, or seeing how certain familiar elements from your own culture are transformed when adapted by a foreign perspective. Eventually you start to become familiar with some of the more common tropes employed, but in my opinion the magic of discovery never quite fades away.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Final Fantasy VII on PC in a nutshell.

  20. Alberek says:

    I remember back when they were making Pillars of Eternity, they talked about their “dice roll” mechanic which has some sort of “soft miss” (in the case of the game, that attack would do minimum damage). And I think it’s a pretty good solution to a problem. it’s not something you would like to have in a TTRPG, but a computer? it can handle the math instantly.
    I think it had:
    Critical Hit – max damage (or maybe even more?)
    Normal Hit
    Soft HIt – min damage
    Miss – no damage

    Here is a link to the wiki, but somewhere on the web you can find the developers article

    1. Philadelphus says:

      I think I’d like to see a system where hits always happen, but the range of damage is wider. Let’s face it: if you miss your attack(s) in a turn-based game, you’ve just wasted your turn. There’s no way to sugarcoat that fact. That may be realistic (especially in modern warfare), but I’d argue it’s not particularly fun. (It’s maybe less of an issue in, say, XCOM 2 where you’ve got multiple guys who all get shots each turn compared to having to wait for everyone else in your tabletop group to resolve their turns, but still.)

      What I think I’d prefer, instead, is a system where all attacks have 100% accuracy by default, and just have a wider spread of damage. The equivalent of missing your shot is rolling low on the damage table, but at least you’ve done something rather than nothing, and have contributed, however minimally, to the fight. I think I’d be fine with abilities that decrease attack percentages below 100% in this hypothetical combat system, like popping a smoke grenade or something, as long as they were active abilities with opportunity cost attached (“is it better to reduce the enemy’s aim, or just try to take out another enemy with this action?”, etc.).

      Another possibility: in XCOM 1 & 2, an enemy’s defense is subtracted from the shooter’s aim, with the remainder being their percent chance of hitting (leaving out the RNG massaging that goes on, and capped at 0 and 100, of course). But as Ninety-Three said, once your percentage reaches ~80%+ it stops feeling risky and starts to feel like a sure thing: missing a 95% shot feels ridiculous, instead of something that happens, on average, every 20 times. So maybe instead of a random chance to hit, it becomes deterministic: if the difference between your aim and your target’s defense is >50, you hit, otherwise, you miss (and just wouldn’t be able to take a shot in the first place). I’m not saying XCOM should adopt this, necessarily, because it’d certainly have a very different feel to it mechanically; just that it would be interesting to see a game use a system like that. It could still have random damage rolls, because those somehow never seem as unfair as missing a 98% shot (maybe because they don’t show chances explicitly? I don’t know), and for such a system to work it might need a lot of modifiers to aim/defense all tied into the combat state, to represent the flow of probabilities throughout the fight and keep things interesting. (Is your opponent above or below you? Are they facing you, or do they have their back turned? Are they recovering from an extra-strong blow, etc., etc.)

      1. Syal says:

        It could still have random damage rolls, because those somehow never seem as unfair as missing a 98% shot

        Not true. If you’re doing 1d8 damage against something with 7 hp, and you roll four times and get two 1s and two 2s and that thing’s STILL not dead, it’s going to feel like cheating crap.

        Most games get around it by having fairly negligible damage variance. If you’re only varying between 3 and 5, two low rolls will equal one high one, and that’s nothing to get worked up over.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          But does that feel better than rolling one 7 and missing three times? At least you accomplished something all four turns. But I do get what you’re saying about high variance damage rolls, that doesn’t sound too fun. It’s a hard problem to crack. Maybe part of it would be adopting a Gaussian distribution rather than a flat one, so you roll on average 3-6 damage 68% of the time, 2-7 damage 97% of the time, that sort of thing. I dunno.

          1. Syal says:

            At least you accomplished something all four turns.

            We could add armor in so the bottom tiers will do zero damage.

            The problem is the spread more than the mechanic. The wider the spread, the more room for hitting well below average. Hit percentage is usually out of one hundred, so much higher variance than almost any damage roll someone would put in a game.

            If you absolutely have to have spread, I like the Final Fantasy 1 through 3 route of making multiple attacks per action; 75% chance to hit with each of your four swings works out to essentially being damage variance. Otherwise, I’d like a pool mechanic where you’re guaranteed 7 out of 8 shots, so once you miss one you’re assured the others land*. Or the way games seem to have gone, make the “correct” scenario give 100% odds, and now your 85% chance to hit feels like a gamble rather than an optimization.

            *(This one gets complicated by taking actions with different success chances; should you save them in separate pools, by percentage or by action, how does that work out?)

            1. Philadelphus says:

              We could add armor in so the bottom tiers will do zero damage.

              But why would we? Then we’re right back to the problem I’m trying to solve, that of your turn mattering as much as if you’d just skipped it entirely. Does anyone out there enjoy getting their turn, taking their one attack action, and whiffing it?

              The wider the spread, the more room for hitting well below average.

              But…also the more room for hitting well above average, no? Assuming some sort of flat (or more generally, symmetrical) probability distribution.

              Maybe the problem goes deeper, to the fact that, as humans, we weight negative events more strongly than positive ones? So even given a perfectly fair random distribution, we’ll more strongly remember the low rolls than the high ones, i.e., a perfectly fair random distribution where you had exactly as many below-average as above-average results would still actually feel unfair in memory. Maybe the solution is a non-symmetrical (skewed) probability distribution, that’s skewed somewhat towards the higher end of the scale? (Known to the player, of course, I’m not suggesting hiding it behind the scenes.)

              Multiple attacks per action essentially works out to having a Gaussian distribution rather than a simple flat one, as I mentioned in my previous post, so perhaps we’re more on than same page than it seems. I’m not sure how I feel about guaranteed shots out of a pool, but it’s an intriguing idea; I could see there being all kinds of modifiers to increase or decrease your number of guaranteed shots, but if each one rolls for damage separately you could still get a good range of outcomes.

              1. Syal says:

                Maybe the problem goes deeper, to the fact that, as humans, we weight negative events more strongly than positive ones?

                Dont’ think so; someone mentioned a Hail Mary shot in FFT where if it didn’t critical, they would lose, and it hit critical so they survived. That’s above-average and quite memorable: I know because I did the same thing once. :)

                But the trick to that is; for an above-average roll to be memorable, the average roll must be losing.

                The biggest tipping point is player prediction: the player is not rolling to see what happens, they’re rolling to win, and will only take the shots they think will win on average. Which means you can’t get very far above average: if the average roll wouldn’t win, the player will avoid rolling it at all. And if average is winning and you get above average, you… win a little faster? Not very impressive. But if average is winning and you get below average, suddenly you’re at risk of losing a won position. That’s infuriating.

                so perhaps we’re more on than same page than it seems

                Almost certainly; I hate percent-to-hit systems, and am mainly just pointing out that wide damage spread is just as bad.

      2. Steve C says:

        Philadelphus you are effectively describing “Hard West” and its mechanics. Not technically true, but practically for the purposes of how it played out round to round. IMO it did not work all that well.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          Hard West? Thanks, I’ll check it out.

        2. Syal says:

          I liked the combat in Hard West, but wasn’t enamored with the story (or the game chugging on my computer). Didn’t make it very far. (Though long enough to see the harmonica gun, or accordion gun, or whichever musical instrument that stupid thing looked like. More games need guns that are, like, entire pianos.)

  21. Philadelphus says:

    Oh, wow. I hadn’t heard of Startopia before, but you’re right, it looks a lot like IXION (I played the demo of it when it was available in the last Next Fest. I’ve seen it described as “Frostpunk in Space!”, but not having played Frostpunk I can’t comment on the accuracy.)

  22. Rick says:

    Paul, if the PHP keeps giving you too much grief then I’m happy to take a look at it (or a subsection you’re happy to share).

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      The problems are isolated in the photo Gallery software that I’m using: http://peripheralarbor.com/gallery/main.php
      Development stalled over two years ago: http://galleryproject.org/
      I’ve managed to upgrade to version 2.3.2, and was considering porting to V3, but I’m holding off on that since it’s going to go out of date eventually anyway and I don’t need any of the new features so what’s the point? I think I’ve fixed all the outdated code that would prevent it from working in PHP8, which is to say that I’ve gotten it to stop emitting warnings. However, now (I think) the problem is located in the database module AODB, which is still under development here: https://github.com/ADOdb/ADOdb
      But when I upgrade to the latest AODB release there I get database timestamp errors. I suspect the API has changed over the years, but I haven’t rolled up my sleeves yet to sort all that out.

      Not sure how you could be helpful short of sending you a code and database dump, or setting up a clone in a sandbox for you to tinker with. Suggestions are welcome though! Feel free to contact me directly if you want. You’ll find a good way here, if you look hard enough: peripheralarbor.com/butterfly/

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