Friday, January 21, 2011

Choosing not to Parachain

This is a repost about the game Warlocks, and the spell paralysis in general, which I've posted about before.

I was talking to a friend of mine recently about Warlocks and he asked me an interesting question: Do I think that the fact that I won the annual championship in spite of my decision to restrict my own use of paralysis is evidence that it's not a broken spell?

I think a lot of warlocks are aware of my feelings on paralysis, and some probably noticed that on my profile I declare my "personal rules", which include the fact that I won't gesture F more than 5 times consecutively (meaning 3 paras). Not only does this prevent me from abusing paralysis, I know for a fact that some of my opponents are aware of the restriction, and play on the assumption I won't parachain, so it also limits my ability to threaten with F's.

So am I providing evidence that parachains aren't needed to compete at a high level? Yes. Am I providing evidence that it's not an extremely imbalanced spell? I don't think so.

In order to explain why, I'll start with why I self-imposed this rule in the first place. When I started out, around the time I first approached elo 1600, I started to realize how powerful paralysis was, and though I never thought of myself as a paramancer, there was a time when I found myself using paralysis extensively. What would invariably happen is that in the middle of a match I would cast paralysis at some point, and then think "alright, I'll break the chain and do something else now" just before noticing that my opponent had some kind of spell he was threatening in two turns, and that if I kept up the para just a little longer, I could stop it. After I stopped that threat, I'd say "oh, but now if I para just one more turn, I can also respond to a second threat", and this would continue ad infinitum. I would end up using massive parachains even though by this point I had already begun to feel that parachains made games less dynamic and interesting. I remember Succat (a self-declared "paraholic") once saying that he pleased to see that I had a nice "para trigger", or something to that effect.

However, I felt like paralysis wasn't one of many useful strategies at my disposal, it felt like a crutch. I realized that if I left it up to how I happened to feel during a match I would always find an excuse to continue parachaining, so the only way to force myself to be more creative was to make a rule out of it, and by making it public I would feel pressure to keep at it. I was also hoping, I think, that other people would follow suite and I would see fewer long parachains coming at me, but that part never happened.

After I stopped parachaining (and charming hands to "-", and opening "D/P"), I found I really did explore a lot of different options, and was pleased with this decision for a time. Then when I got to around elo 1800 for the first time, over a year ago, I started to realize that I was going to be playing more often against the very best players in the game, and that they all used parachains and parafod extensively (some of them more than others, but every single one of them used parafod to kill me at one time or another). I felt like my own refusal to use parachains might be an insurmountable barrier that would keep me from being able to compete with them, and I honestly got to a point where I started playing very few friendly and ladder matches, and mostly just played in the League because the monthly rules were one surefire source of continued variation in play, which is what I wanted.

At some point I noticed that the players in the league, even ones who normally used parafod often, were less likely to use paralysis when a monthly rule was in play even if the rule didn't have to do with paralysis. In other words, the fact that we were playing in an unranked space where new strategies were encouraged made people drop their paraholic ways and try new things, and the results were sometimes brilliant. However, when they returned to ranked games, most players would stop thinking outside the box and play safe.

This encouraged me to try more seriously to take on the good players head on with my personal rules in play, and I could almost tangibly feel myself gradually getting the hang of beating paralysis. It's also worth noting, when I say something like "beating paralysis", that I actually used paralysis a lot myself. In fact, when I went on the warlocks archives recently, I was surprised to find that I apparently cast paralysis, per game, more often than average. The difference is that I don't cast long chains - I'll cast paralysis once or twice (or maybe thrice) and then break off into something else, and then come back and cast paralysis again a little later. It's a good spell that I like using, but forbidding myself from relying on it made my weaves more dynamic and forced me to be more creative, so I felt like I was getting the best of both worlds. In fact, in my final match against Xade in the tournament, I opened with paralysis on my left hand.

I really wasn't expecting to do as well as I did in the tournament, but if it's a sign of anything, I think it's a sign of how much I gained specifically by avoiding using paralysis as a crutch and trying to be just a little strange (Bio went so far as to call one of my moves in the final match "insane", which made me smile). That said, being the only player who doesn't use parachains has still been a serious restriction, and I've had a number of games where I believe I would have definitely won had I allowed myself to use a parachain. One of the other noteworthy aspects of the tournament was the appearance of a number of new players around the same time, some of whom experienced players found "shockingly good." The shock, I think, stems from the fact that these players haven't yet learned what the popular weaves are, and so make plays that are unexpected and hard to predict - experienced players would do well to try and learn a little from their games with these new players.

So my general point is this - once you've played warlocks for a long time it can become very comfortable to fall into regular patterns - go for charms and ogres as often as possible, and then when you have enough initiative advantage go for parafod or bolt an opponent to death. However, any time that a strategy becomes common wisdom, it starts to get stale, and forcing yourself to play in ways that are less comfortable is the best possible way to continue learning new things. To return to my original question, paralysis is an extremely powerful spell, one that I think is imbalanced, which is precisely why it, more than anything else, prevents players from developing creative strategies. If paralysis weren't so strong, my decision not to use it wouldn't have had as big an effect on my playing style.

In short, choosing not to parachain can be good for you.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rise of Magus - The Duel Video

I made a video showing one of the new sections of The Rise of Magus. Apologies for the quality, etc.

The Rise of Magus Version 1.5

Well it's been a while since I posted about the game, but The Rise of Magus is back! The new version 1.5 of the game includes a huge number of fixes and improvements, as well as unlockable content that extends the game. The truth is, this is the game that I envisioned releasing when I first started working on the project, but after almost a year of work I decided to wrap things up and release The Rise of Magus at the conclusion of the main story arc.

I included, however, a hidden item, the Hero's Medal, which when found displayed the following message: "You've found the Hero's Medal! This unlocks something the designer hasn't added yet, but will." I assumed no one would get quite into the game enough to ever find this thing. I was wrong. I got emails and saw forum discussions postulating theories about about what it was the item might unlock, and wondering when the update would be released. So I went and added "one more thing" that gets unlocked by the Hero's Medal. Then I added one more thing. Then another thing got added somehow. Before I knew it I was revamping the entire game and adding a second game on top of it. This process was disrupted for a long time by distractions from the real world, but now I've finally added all of the "one more" things I ever intended to, and I think the game is ready to be played.

I feel like I should have a brief list of changes somewhere, and my blog is as good a place as any, so here's the short version:

  • The game is now built in Game Maker 8. The good news is that this means the game loads and runs much faster than before, even though there are more things to be loaded. It still takes up a fair amount of memory, though, and GM8 doesn't give me many options for reducing memory usage, aside from simply making the game smaller. The other downside with GM8 is that it broke all kinds of random things in the game, which took a while to fix. But I guess that was only a downside for me.
  • Nifty icon! It was always a little sad to have the game represented by a featureless red sphere, so now it shows a statue of Magus. You can take pride in having this on your desktop.
  • The menu now has music. This seems to have a bigger psychological effect than I expected.
  • There is now a level cap (30), with a nice extra health boost acquired when this level is reached. This provides something against which to balance to hardest, optional parts of the game.
  • Enemy behavior is improved. For instance, they are much better at walking up and down stairs and around obstacles. The new content also features whole new levels of enemy AI.
  • The attack collision system has been completely redone. This has eliminated a slew of (admittedly rare) glitches involving hitting enemies. Most notably, from time to time enemies used to take damage from an attack without getting "hit" by it, meaning they wouldn't stagger and could survive at negative health. This doesn't happen anymore.
  • Level layouts have been subtly altered, in particular to make jumping about more forgiving at the beginning of the game before players have any idea what they're doing.
  • The save system has been updated. Now all bosses offer a "retry" option on death, circumventing the need to reload from the last save point and helping avoid the "oh crap I forgot to save" problem. The downside is that save files from the original version aren't compatible with version 1.5, but you wanted to start from the beginning anyway, right? Actually, this downside was kind of intentional, because allowing players to load the previous version's save files would produce all manner of strange glitches.
  • An option to return to Bekkler's Castle has been added after the Bekkler fight, so that players have the opportunity to go back and purchase upgrades and prepare for the Epilogue battle.
  • Volume controls have been added, and are controlled with Page Up and Page Down. The volumes are High, Low, and Mute (High is the default volume). I guess this makes the game easier to play surreptitiously at work...hypothetically.
  • Hints have been added to a couple places where players often got confused. These hints take the form of a sparkly blue light that appears if the player passes the same room multiple times without finding the intended exit or is unable to figure out how to progress from a room for a long time. Experienced players might not ever run into them.
  • Pedants will be pleased to know that the Ruby Sword is now the only sword that any knight wields that appears red-colored.
  • It is no longer possible anywhere to jump out of the game through the ceiling unless the ceiling is an intended exit.
  • The Hero's Medal, rather than doing nothing, now unlocks new content called "The Duel" from the Extras menu. The picture at the top of this post offers a hint as to what "The Duel" is.
  • Completion of The Duel unlocks additional playable content, which in turn unlocks more, but I don't want to give away the surprise as to what this content consists of.
  • Many, many changes were made to make the controls smoother, sprites and text cleaner looking, glitches unglitched, and enemies and attacks more balanced.
The short, short version is that the game is more epic and more immersive, and it's hard to put into words how I feel about it now, so you should really just go download it from here:

-Silent Ellipsis