My favourite portable console

IMG_3658I picked up Zero Time Dilemma last week on the PS Vita, and it’s really reminded me why the PS Vita is my favourite console. While Nintendo’s 3DS lineup may edge out the Vita in terms of social integrations (StreetPass is a hell of a thing), the PS Vita remains the more “serious”, the more mature console. Not because it doesn’t have a cutesy interface like the 3DS, but because it lacks the simplifications of the 3DS that make it the more appealing to a younger audience.

Like a lot of 90’s kids, I grew up on Nintendo. My friends had the Nintendo 64, I eventually got a GameCube, and there were various portables interspersed throughout all that. The Game Boy Color introduced me to portable gaming, and by the time the Game Boy Advance SP rolled around, I was hooked. (I borrowed a friend’s Game Boy Advance for a few weeks, which was pretty cool, but I never had one of my own.) I picked up the original 3DS when it came out, but by that time I had more or less outgrown portable gaming, eschewing it in favour of these new-fangled “computers”.

Fast forward a few years. I haven’t played Pokémon for far too long, but I get the chance to acquire some 3DS hardware for cheap. I jump at the opportunity, with the intention of sating my desire to catch pocket monsters for another decade or so, publishing a series of posts about the fun I was going to have. Unfortunately, whether it was due to Poké-fatigue or something else, I never ended up finishing Pokémon Y.

Somehow, I ended up buying a PS Vita in the middle of that. I imported it from the US due to Sony being much more lenient with their region-locking than Nintendo was, and I spent a good chunk of time in Persona 4 Golden which I later wrote about.

By the same token, the growing library of titles on the 3DS meant that it was now a compelling purchase. I remember reading about Fire Emblem Awakening somewhere, and feeling it was a good a time as any to jump in, I imported a 3DS XL from the US along with a physical copy of Fire Emblem Awakening.

The 3DS XL was pretty great, despite Nintendo’s insistence on region-locking its titles. My imported 3DS meant I was never going to be able to walk into my local EB and pick up a 3DS game on a whim, but I was OK with that, thanks to increased digital availability of titles. I took my 3DS XL to PAX Aus the first and second times, and StreetPass really came into its own as the ultimate social drawcard, even if it meant walking around holding the right shoulder button and giving A a solid workout.

But for all of the 3DS’s many compelling titles and social integrations, there’s always been something off about Nintendo’s portable console. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it feels as though the 3DS is still a console for kids — maybe because it is — but it means that there’s this feeling of something missing. As in, why isn’t there any easy way to take screenshots on the device to save moments in-game? In a world of super-high resolution displays, why are the screens on the 3DS still the same low-res that we were seeing five, ten years ago? And that’s not even talking about the seldom-used 3D feature — although it’s cool that Nintendo has come up with a way for glasses-free 3D to work in a portable console, the fact that 3D cuts the resolution in half should mean Nintendo would want to be cramming the highest quality display possible into the 3DS, at least for the upper display.

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Which platform do I play this on?

It's been two and half years since I last played my Vita. Bonus points if you can name the games.

It’s been two and half years since I last played my Vita. Bonus points if you can name the games.

One of the best things about modern gaming is being able to choose what platform to play something on. Console exclusives have more or less died out apart from a few titles that I’m not really that interested in anyway, and I can probably count the number of games that I want to play that aren’t on a platform I own on one hand, so life is pretty good when it comes to choosing which platform I want to play something on.

Nine of out ten times, I’ll choose to play something on PC. I have a reasonably powerful gaming PC that’s purpose-built for the task, so putting all that graphics power to the task of pushing some pixels around is more productive than having it just sit around, looking pretty. Playing on PC means I get all the extra goodies that come with PC gaming: ShadowPlay to record in-game footage I want to watch later, and Steam integration for screenshots and for when I feel like being social and playing with friends (or to see what my friends are playing).

Note that I don’t have a current-gen console at the moment, either. I used to have an Xbox 360 and a PS3, but I left those behind in Hobart when I moved to Brisbane in 2015. Some times I miss those consoles — there’s still a few PS3 games I’d like to play through — but for the most part, I haven’t felt like I’m missing out on anything by not having a console. Besides, these days I’m playing way too much Dota to get stuck into anything else.

When Zero Time Dilemma came out at the start of July this year, I faced a dilemma: which platform should I be playing this on? I immediately purchased it on Steam due to the fact that it was the first title in the series that was available on PC. I didn’t have much of a choice with 999. Although you can play 999 on iOS these days, it lacks the puzzles of the 3DS version which I played through a few years ago. For Zero Time Escape, I went with the Vita version for something a little different.

I tried playing Zero Time Dilemma on the PC, I really did. But the advantages of the PC platform just weren’t there. It’s not a bad port, per se, but using a mouse and keyboard for what is generally a pretty hands-off game/visual novel interspersed with puzzle sections felt wrong somehow, like I was doing more work than just playing the game.

I could have gone with Zero Time Dilemma on the 3DS, too. I generally like the cutesy nature of the New 3DS, and Nintendo’s insistence on keeping games on their own platform forces my hand more often than I’d like. But here, the lack of an actual screenshot function would have let me down if I ever wanted to do a little write up — if I can’t go back and review the screenshots of the game I’ve played, did I ever really play it?

So it was settled. I asked my sister to ship me my PS Vita that I bought back in March 2012, and as soon as I arranged for some US PSN credit and downloaded Zero Time Dilemma, I knew I had made the right choice.

The Four Shifts

I’m trying to write about stuff not related to Dota 2, so here’s something short and sweet about work.

It’s not uncommon for help/service desks to have different shifts based on who they support. Since all of our customers are based in Australia, we’re lucky that only means supporting people on AEST and whatever timezone Perth uses. Due to the retail nature of the majority of our customers, that also means supporting late-night trade and weekends.

Normal — 8:30 AM to 5 PM

Everyone likes the normal shift. “Normals”, as they’re referred to, are you run-of-the-mill, standard working day. You start work when everyone else in the office does, and depending on what season it is, might even get to go home when it’s still light. Not particularly special, but I guess that’s why we call them normal.

Early — 7:30 AM to 4 PM (7 AM to 3:30 PM during daylight savings)

Everyone seems to like the early shift, but I’m not so sure. It means a super early start in the morning, and while going home earlier than everyone else is cool and all, by the time dinner rolls around it’s hard not to face-plant your bed and sleep until whenever you have to get up and do it all over again, let alone make dinner and attempt to be productive with your evening. Getting to work before everyone seems good, until you realise that you can’t fix the super-broken stuff because you’re the only one in the IT department. Similarly, being on “earlies” means first lunch break privileges, which is great until you realise this means you’re going to lunch before noon and consequently feel hungrier before whatever your usual dinner time is. Brisbane not having daylight savings means a half-hour earlier start, which just exacerbate the issues I just outlined.

Lates — 9:30 AM to 6 PM (10:30 AM to 7 PM on Thursdays/Fridays)

Now we’re talking. Being on lates means you get a minor sleep-in in the morning, and the later finishing time isn’t a big deal as you get to stay up late anyway. This shift mostly exists because of people in WA needing support after regular Brisbane office hours, as well as stores who have late-night trading. The constantly-changing times irks me a little — I’d prefer it if the shift was either always 9:30 AM to 6 PM, or always 10:30 AM to 7 PM, but that’s a discussion that’s probably a little above my pay grade.

There’s also a shift that isn’t really a shift, except when it is, which brings us to…

Weekends — Saturday and Sunday

Thanks to the wonders of retail, weekend support is a necessary evil. Once upon a time we had a third-party company doing our weekend support (or so I’m told), but now we just rotate the weekend shift between ourselves. It’s not all bad, as it means you get a day off during the week (usually the Monday before you work the weekend shift), and while you have to be in the office on Saturday, Sunday you can be on-call from the comfort of your own home, or whatever you may be doing at the time. Being on-call on the Sunday means on-call rates, which are about the only upside to sacrificing your weekend. I make it sound pretty awful, but the weekend shift is fine.

Hope you enjoyed this insight into the different shifts I work!

Toxic, Part II

Picture this: it’s the eve of the Dota 2 Manilla Major. Pro players from all the world will soon be converging in the Philippines to decide who the best team is of the current patch. I, a slightly-below-average skill player, queue for a game of Dota 2 on a Saturday night with four of my other friends, only to find that we’ve been matched up the most toxic team of Filipinos I’ve ever played against.

Completely unprovoked, they begin with slurs in their own language, then move on to abuse in English and then graduating to straight-out racism. Perhaps it’s the fact that as Australians we’re always going to give as good as we get it, but I’m still disappointed to admit some of us stooped to their level and trash-talked whenever we won teamfights or got a pick off, but I can safely say that I have never played against (or with) a more toxic team. I ended up muting them about 20 minutes into our 82-minute game, but you can read their full comments thanks to the wonders of Yasp and full-replay parsing.

And I get it. You’re doing well in a game, so you decide to throw out some trash-talking in order to tilt your opponents even more. You chuck in a few taunts here and there whenever a teamfight goes your way, hoping that your opposition will doubt themselves and lose confidence, leading to poorly-executed teamfights and their eventual loss. As Australians we’re no stranger to a few sledges thrown either way during competitive matches of any kind, but there are boundaries, and there’s such a thing as taking it too far. I’m all for calling other people “noobs” — I’ve seen it so many times the word has lost all meaning for me now anyway — but there’s no reason to be racist, sexist, or generally an awful human being to other people.

I keep coming back to this tweet from SEA player Meracle. “you can suck at dota it’s not a sin but just at the very least be a decent human being.”

Everyone sucks at Dota, it’s true. I only sometimes remember to use Midnight Pulse before dropping Black Hole. My micro skills are almost non-existent, and my decision-making as a carry is questionable at best. But I’ve learned a lot about myself playing Dota, and it’s that if I can’t be good at Dota, then I might as well be an OK person.

So, why am I writing about this? It’s because that the internet these days, Twitter especially, has become a cacophony of negativity. So much vitriol, so much toxicity. There’s endless sarcasm, complaining, and outrage. It’s awful, and I hate it. I can hardly say I play video games for fun anymore, seeing as that’s about all I do outside of work these days, but when your games are filled with such awful people it makes me wonder whether it’s all worth it.

And then you win against the most toxic team of Filipinos in a game of Dota 2 that lasts 82 minutes that more closely resembles a 5v5 game of chess than any other game you’ve ever played, and you conclude that yes, it is all worth it.

Don’t pick a support

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 4.26.29 pmThere are a few mechanics that work in the sub-3K or normal skill bracket of Dota 2 that don’t at 4K and above, and today we’re talking about how you shouldn’t be picking a support.

Dota 2 has well-defined roles. If you look at the players on any pro-level team, you’ll see that each one has their own position based on farm priority, which is most commonly denoted by a number from one to five, where one is the player with the most farm, and five is the player with the last farm. Most of the time, these farm priorities match up to the role within the team, whether they’re playing the carry or one position role, the mid or two position, the offlane or three position, or one of the two supports, four and five.

Seeing as I am neither a pro or playing a position within a serious team, I can say with some confidence that supports are overrated in the sub-3K MMR skill bracket. Due to the nature of the skill bracket, no-one plays the support position effectively enough for any given support pick to be worth it.

In sub-3K, most of the time you’ll be more or less even on kills. Even if you’re more than ten kills up, a couple of teamfights later you could be even again. But as I’ve said before, kills don’t matter. Objectives do. Even if you’re crushing the early and mid game with as many kills as you team can accumulate, it means nothing if you can’t close the game out while you still have the advantage.

Check out this recent game, for example. I had a pretty awful time in the laning stage as Spectre — for some reason Bristleback wanted to share the lane with me, which worked out as well as you can probably imagine. But it was sweet, because the Timbersaw, Pudge, and Necrophos were doing a fantastic job of ganking, picking up a few kills here and there. And when the Bristleback left the lane and started to join them, they just ran at heroes and got kills that way.

Meanwhile, I was farming. Every now and again I’d press R to haunt in to join a teamfight, but as the game got later and later, the TA and Lifestealer started doing actual damage. The Phoenix and Lifestealer actually picked up Midas’ pretty early, which probably explains why three heroes had a higher networth than the most farmed hero on our team (me as Spectre). At about the 35 minute mark, we stopped getting kills, got picked off every time we tried, and it was mostly down hill from there. We lost the game not because we were ahead early, but because I couldn’t keep up with the enemy team, and no-one on my team had enough of an impact later on for it to matter.

Why am I so against picking supports? Because generally speaking, they have too little late-game impact. Once the enemy starts getting BKBs, your Crystal Maiden becomes good for an aura only, and even that may be negated by the items the carries on her team have already picked up. Your Venomancer ult now does less damage thanks to the pipe picked up by the Enigma that was free-farming in the jungle, and so on. You can do everything right early-game, you can get assists on enemy kills, you can put down wards and use scan to stop ganks, but come late game, you might as well be a ward.

So don’t pick a support. Notice I’m not saying that people shouldn’t play like a support, but pick a hero that has some utility outside of getting killed when planting wards. Instead, pick a hero that can have some kind of impact late game, because you’ll be getting to the late game a hell of a lot in sub-3K. Bane can use Fiend’s Grip on an enemy carry with BKB activated. Beastmaster can use Primal Roar an enemy and waste their BKB duration. Ancient Apparition might be a great counter to the current strength/sustain meta of 6.87, but that’s only if you’re hitting perfect Ice Blasts every time it matters.

Share the support workload. Everyone can buy wards, everyone can buy smoke or dust, and everyone can carry a TP scroll. Put out wards when it’s safe to do so, don’t get caught out, and help support your way to your team’s victory.

Just don’t actually pick a support.

Alcatraz

IMG_3148I haven’t written much about the time I spent in the United States, and I’m not really sure why. Waiting for the right time, perhaps, or just happy to let that time stay as a memory instead of being written down and recorded. But it’s been a few weeks since I last wrote something on this here blog, and in the absence of anything else interesting to write about, here goes.

It was an incredibly warm evening in Portland when I realised we still hadn’t figured out what we were going to do in San Francisco. With The International 5 behind us and our time in Oregon rapidly coming to an end, I began flicking through the pages of my Lonely Planet guide, looking for interesting things to do. I began reading up about Alcatraz, site of the notorious prison and also the location of one of my favourite films of all time, The Rock.

There was just one problem: the Lonely Planet guide recommended Alcatraz bookings weeks in advance, as the site was a tourist magnet. I quickly jumped on the laptop of my primary school friend Martin to check on booking dates, only to be disappointed at the rather sparse selection of dates available for tours. The only really suitable tour available was one a few hours after we were due to arrive in San Francisco, which would give us just enough time to get settled into our AirBnB and then make the trek over to the area of the bay where the tour began. With our options limited and us not wanting to miss out on one of the quintessential San Francisco tourist experiences, we booked tickets, and that was that.

We arrived in San Francisco on the 13th August 2015, and according to the sign posted at the Alcatraz tours information booth, the next available tour was on the 31st of August.

I’ve never been on an audio tour before, and while Port Arthur is a pretty cool prison experience, Alcatraz is an entirely different experience. While the audio tour was good enough, I kind of felt as though I was there simply to find places I recognised by their scene in The Rock. As I walked through the cell blocks and outside I kept having these flashbacks to different scenes from the film: the cell blocks that the soldiers walk through at the very start, the older cell blocks that Connery and Cage escape from later in the movie, and the outside courtyard scene where Connery confronts Harris. Granted, the last one is at night, but the shape of the building in the background and the steps in the foreground are unmistakable.

Right down to the grates on the windows that Cage and Connery hang off to observe a missile launch, there were so many recognisable details that all I could think about were scenes from The Rock. My only disappointment is that, as tourists, we weren’t given completely free reign of the facility. Understandable, but finding the shower room where things go to hell in a handcart would have been the holy grail. Or even the operations room where the bad guys setup their command post would have been cool. Or the morgue, if it actually looks like how it did in the film.

So yeah, Alcatraz was pretty cool. Remembering scenes from one of my all-time favourite movies and being where the scenes played out was even cooler, though.

The Mac Pro Performance Question

Through some fortutious mechanism I'm not entirely sure I'm allowed to disclose, one of my worldly possessions just happens to be a pristine Mac Pro case, to suit the 2007/2008 model Mac Pro

Through some fortutious mechanism I’m not entirely sure I’m allowed to disclose, one of my worldly possessions just happens to be a pristine Mac Pro case, to suit the 2007/2008 model Mac Pro

Note: this all makes a little more sense if you read this post first.

Hypothetically, if I were looking at switching to a single or dual-CPU Mac Pro as my daily driver and gaming rig two-in-one, I’d want to make sure it performs up to the standard of my current PC. At the very least, it would have to be close enough to make me feel somewhat OK about buying into a 6-year old platform.

Before we get into this: for the purposes of all discussion below, none of this is very scientific, but in an attempt to at least have a level playing field I’m using Geekbench as the benchmarking tool of choice. I would’ve like to have seen the CPU comparison from Anandtech, alas their Xeon benchmarks don’t go very far back. While they have the Xeons available in the current model of Mac Pro, we’re not really looking for a comparison between a quad-core CPU and one that has four times as many cores.

This is the Geekbench of my current PC. Comparing it using Geekbench’s Benchmark Charts tells an interesting story. The i7 6700K scores higher than any available Mac on the 32-bit single and equivalent (i.e. quad-core) multi-core benchmarks, even beating out some early-2009 Mac Pros which have double the number of cores. Predictably, the quad-core 6700K loses to the 8 and 12-core variants of the Mac Pro in the 32-bit multi-core benchmark.

So then the question becomes, what kind of Mac Pro configuration would I have to have in order to equal or beat my current Geekbench score? The bad news is, there’s no Xeon chip currently on the market that beats the 6700K in terms of raw, single-core performance. And if we’re looking at multi-core, we really have to jump up to a dual-Xeon configuration before we get to the same ballpark figures, and if we’re looking at eight or twelve cores, we’re also looking at the kind of power consumption that brings.

Good thing we’re well past the point where CPU performance matters for day-to-day tasks, right? A single-CPU Xeon X5690, a six-core, 3.47GHz unit, scores a paltry 2423 on Geekbench’s 32-bit single-core test. That’s not a whole lot higher than the i7-930 that I upgraded from, which scores somewhere in the mid 1900s. The X5690’s 32-bit multi-core test is a little more respectable, bringing home a Geekbench score of 16627, which is at least within striking distance of the four-core 6700K, but still short.

The fact of the matter is, no matter which way you try and slice it, no CPU configuration you can put into a 2009 or 2010-era Mac Pro will measure up to Intel’s latest and greatest, at least not without incurring an extra power or heat cost. I’d expect those 130W Xeons to get mighty toasty on occasion.

But what about current-generation Xeons? Hypothetically, what if I built my own Hackintosh, put the fastest Xeons I could in it, installed OS X on that thing and called it a day? Then I’d be poor, because top-of-the-line Xeons are not cheap, and the whole reason we’re doing this is so I can technically have a Mac as my daily driver and all-in-one gaming rig on the cheap.

Further reading:

  • Wikipedia’s list of Intel Xeon processors — comes in handy if you’re trying to look up, say, all the Socket LGA 1151 Xeons, or what the launch price of a particular Xeon CPU was. Intel’s Ark is OK, but doesn’t have every available Xeon or their specs on the one page for easy searching (and you’ll want to search, because the Xeon CPU family is more convoluted than some voting systems). I particularly like how towards the bottom of the page, when we get up to single-processors with more than 12 cores, the possible Turbo Boost configurations are just question marks.
  • Anthony’s write-up of everything you wanted to know about upgrading a Mac Pro but were afraid to ask
  • Some dude’s on the internet’s 25-part Mac Pro upgrading epic, which covers every possible aspect of upgrading your non-cylindrical Mac Pro. In particular, Part XIII has some specific information on the minor differences between different Mac Pro models, which may help when you’re looking for the dream machine to come along for you to upgrade
  • Geekbench’s Mac Benchmarks — only really useful when compared to either their general CPU benchmarks or your own, in order to put those numbers in some sort of perspective compared to what an off-the-shelf Mac scores

Secondhand Mac Pro Pricing Is Ridiculous Now

IMG_3038If money was no object, my dream Mac would be the Mac Pro. Back in high school, we’d have these impromptu competitions to find the most expensive computer possible. And since the Mac Pro was both insanely expensive and able to be configured to an eye-watering level of performance, ticking all the boxes meant you could get your Mac Pro configuration towards the $30,000 mark without breaking a sweat.

I’ve never actually owned a desktop Mac before. No desktop Mac has really appealed to me, and as someone who’s had a separate PC for gaming for years, having two desktop machines means I lose out on any potential portability I wish to partake in. So every time I’ve had to decide on a new Mac, the only real decision that makes sense is a MacBook Pro, upgraded as much as I can afford it to be.

So here’s the deal: I use a Mac as my primary machine, and at the moment, it’s a Late 2013, 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. It does everything, from composing blog posts late at night, to writing the daily new summaries in the morning. General web surfing, media playing, and, on occasion, I’ve played the odd game of Dota 2. Although it’s a portable machine, it almost never leaves the spot on my desk where it’s hooked up to my 4K external display, Thunderbolt dock, and all the other peripherals you’d expect to be plugged into your daily driver.

Which brings us to the other side of the equation, my gaming PC. I recently put together an almost-entirely new gaming rig for the purposes of upgrading to a more modern platform, but it’s been pretty lacklustre as far as upgrades go. For what I’m using it for (i.e. gaming), there hasn’t been any real noticeable difference in performance, which is kind of disappointing, and kind of makes me feel like I upgraded in order to keep up with platform changes, instead of upgrading because my old PC was getting a little long in the tooth.

PC performance (Mac or otherwise) has long passed the point where CPU performance makes a difference, which goes to explain why buying a machine from 2010 doesn’t faze me. In terms of general, day-to-day PC performance, the number one thing that matters these days is a fast SSD. Even then, you’re going to be hard-pressed to notice the difference between any modern SATA-based model or the newfangled PCIe-based ones, despite PCIe SSDs have much higher throughput. Again, it all depends on the kind of workload you’re throwing at them, and for gaming, the only thing that matters is GPU and to a lesser extent, CPU performance.

Which is just about where my dilemma begins. The portability on my MacBook Pro is nice and all, but I almost never use it that way. And having such a highly-specced PC that I only use for gaming seems like a bit of a waste. What if I could combine the two? I’d go from two separate computers to one, and I’d have the best of both worlds — a machine that runs OS X for my day-to-day, then reboots into Windows when I want to play some video games.

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Less Plays, More Good Clean Dota

I can unequivocally say that this was not the play required. Even though I had uphill vision of the Lion, there was an Invoker there which did his usual combo and destroyed me, and my team that followed me in.

I can unequivocally say that this was not the play required. Even though I had uphill vision of the Lion, there was an Invoker there which did his usual combo and destroyed me, and my team that followed me in.

Every now and again, when I find myself with more losses than wins in my latest matches list on Dotabuff, I’ll ask myself what I’m doing wrong. Or doing differently, as the case may be. And every now and again, usually during a particularly depressing six or seven game losing streak, I’ll contemplate giving up Dota altogether.

Seeing as we both know that isn’t an option, I’ve determined that the only way to get better at Dota is not only to play games, but also to lose them, learn what I’m doing wrong, and then improve. Sounds crazy, I know. Sometimes, part of the learning process involves looking back at replays to see what happened in a game that led to a loss, or recording a snippet of Shadowplay footage to celebrate a bad engagement turned into an eventual win.

Recently, I’ve been asking myself what I’ve been doing differently that leads to losses. And this time, I came to the conclusion that I’ve watched too much pro-level Dota, to the point where it’s influenced my own play that I no longer go for the safe kills, but go for the low-percentage, only-possible-with-perfect-execution plays that don’t work out because I only have mediocre skill.

Don’t get me wrong, watching pro-Dota is a great learning experience when you’re starting out, especially if you have no idea what’s going on and what you’re supposed to be doing during the game. But as much as you can learn from the pros, you also have to recognise, that pro-level Dota is an entirely different world from the trench.

When all your games are classed as “Normal skill”, stuff that happens in pro-level Dota are the hopes and dreams of us mere mortals. Besides most people having a tiny hero pool, we farm slower, last-hit less efficiently, frequently miss combos, take bad engagements, and perhaps the most heinous of all, are incredibly inconsistent at all of the above, which means that even without the variety of heroes and item combinations, game-to-game we can play entirely differently, as evidenced by these two recent Bounty Hunter games (the Witch Doctor was the same in both games).

So instead of trying to make “the big play”, the idea is that I play it safe, taking less risks and carefully calculating about what I’m doing. Less flashy plays, more good clean dota.

Which is all harder than it sounds, because everyone likes being the flashy player, the one that dodges skillshots with a well-timed Euls, smokes at the last second to avoid a sniper ult, or uses Aphotic Shield to avoid most of the damage from some burst ability. Pulling off an X-mark into Sacred Arrow combo might look good, but if you can only do it once the entire game, what’s the point? Might as well try and get arrow without the X-mark.

Admittedly, plays are required some of the time in order to bring your team back into the game. But it’s better to take them early game, rather than throw the game later on, and if you can’t make the play, then it’s probably better to play to your strengths at that point in time – avoiding teamfights until your carries get more farmed, or baiting out skills/items in order to secure a favourable engagement later on.

“Toxic”

570_20160409141155_1When you’ve played as much Dota 2 as I have, or even if you’ve lurked the Dota 2 subreddit, you’ve probably heard of them. They’re referred to as toxic players, people who constantly flame their team mates, both due to the competitive nature of the game, the need for five individuals to work together towards the common goal of winning the game, and because everyone thinks they’re better at Dota than you are.

I’ve been there. Everyone has. When you carry has no items and it’s 30 minutes into the game, you can point this out as nicely as you want, but chances are you’re going to get an unfavourable response from someone who thought his supports should have warded better, fed less, or executed combos like your team was playing at The International.

And I get it, I do. Dota is all about winning, and there’s a chain of events that need to occur before that can happen. Your team gets ahead in farm, they take teamfights, objectives (although perhaps not in that order), and eventually, when you take the enemy’s ancient, you’ve won. But when any mis-step puts you behind and makes the game harder until the next engagement or objective, emotions run rampant and often, the response is to take it out on your teammates instead of what you should be focusing on: good, clean, Dota to get you back into the game.

I’ve been told before I have a poor attitude when playing. I’ve been told I take the game too seriously, and that I’m always angry when playing. I’ve flamed team mates — both people that I know and those that I don’t, and I’m no afraid to admit that. But it makes me ashamed of myself, to think that I could say those things when “it’s just a game”, even if that game is the only thing I play with any kind of regularity, and will probably be so for the foreseeable future.

People think memes about winning via friendship and teamwork are all a joke, when in fact they’re the key to success. I had a game recently where three of us picked three different heroes at random, then proceeded to eventually win the game due to not taking losses too hard, sticking it out as a team, and coming back to win the game on the back of some good strategy and play. Obviously, not every game is going to turn out like that. Chances are you’ll lose as many games as you win, but what’s the big deal?

So before you decide to flame your team mates, puffing yourself up about how you just went toe-to-toe with the enemy carry and came out on top, maybe recognise that it was your support that put the enemy carry out of position in the first place, your offlaner that took most of the damage, and one of their supports which stuffed up before recognising that you’re the best carry in the world. And even if you where, why would you need to prove that to your team mates? We know dude, we know.

As for myself, I’m working on it. I suggest things to my team mates instead of telling them what to do, based on what the enemy team has been doing so far. I say “it’s fine” when it feels like we’re behind, and I try not to give up so easily when I know we are — after all, everyone likes a good comeback.

Display thoughts

For this photo, I tried to mirror the image quality of the display as closely as possible.

For this photo, I tried to mirror the image quality of the display as closely as possible.

I’ve been thinking about pulling the trigger on a new display. Not because there’s anything wrong with my current one, but after the kerfuffle that was made by Dota 2 players at the Shanghai Majors over not having 120Hz monitors to compete on, I figured I wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

(There’s also the vain hope that it will somehow improve my game by a few percentage points, but that’s a story for another time.)

A little back story: since December 2014 I’ve been running with a Dell P2715Q, a 27-inch, 60Hz, 3840×2160 IPS display that was a substantial upgrade from the U2711 display I had previously. It’s pretty nice, with a few caveats: since my primary usage is with the display attached to my MacBook Pro, running it a native res means things get pretty unreadable unless I’m pumping up the size of everything. It’s fantastic when using a scaled resolution (I use a tool called EasyRes to switch between resolutions quickly), as it gives the quality of a “Retina” 2560×1440 display (3840×2160 downscaled to half that), making everything as crisp as the freshest iceberg lettuce.

But I don’t usually use it at native res, because things tend to slow down a bit, and the fans are audible all the time. I bought the best graphics card that Apple offered at the time, so maybe the Oculus CEO has a point when he says he’ll offer VR on the Mac when Apple decide to put a powerful enough GPU in their machines. (Stringent heat and power requirements mean that probably won’t happen in the MacBook Pro lineup anytime soon, as much as it pains me to say that.)

So I run my wonderful series of pixels at a non-Retina 2560×1440 when plugged into my Mac, even though text looks worse that way, and I have no more screen real-estate than I did with my previous screen.

My PC is a different story entirely. I like to think I have a pretty great graphics card in the GTX 980, which lets me run whatever resolution I like a a near-constant 60 FPS. And because I hardly play anything other than Dota, which runs on the Source 2 engine, it means I can run that game at the native res of my monitor without getting any noticeable frame-rate drops. Newer games like Dragon Age Inquisition, Fallout 4, or The Division are more of a toss up – I can either choose between maxing all the settings at a lower resolution, or turning down the fanciness for more resolution, and what’s “better” mostly depends on the game.

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The Division Open Beta

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This is going to be hard to believe, but sometimes I play other games other than Dota 21. Crazy, I know. But last weekend I played The Division, I title I’ve been looking forward to ever since it brought the hype at E3 2013, at PAX Aus 2013, and then again at PAX Aus 2014. I’m not even sure why I was looking forward to it — the snippets of information that had been given away by Ubisoft/Massive haven’t been much to go on, but the way that everyone else has been talking about the game has gotten me excited. Even after the beta has come and gone, I’m still not sure what the game is about or what the end-game is, so I guess you can say I’m well and truly riding on the hype-train.

At first I wasn’t sure about the concept of a third-person cover-based shooter on the PC. Then I realised one of my favourite games of all time was a third-person cover-based shooter: Mass Effect. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw similarities between the two games: both are cover-based shooters. Both are futuristic. Both have RPG-like elements in terms of gear and skills. While Mass Effect undoubtedly has the far stronger storyline, I’m hoping The Division’s Dark Zone, PvP multiplayer will make up for the complete lack of late-game content we’ve seen thus far and give it at least a little longevity after the main story is done and dusted.

I almost gave up on The Division. After finishing the initial intro and browsing same-ish city blocks, I wandered towards the first objective, cranked the difficulty to high, and dove in. After ten deaths in the same spot, I gave up and was ready to hang in the towel on the whole thing — and I would have, if it hadn’t been for a friend that wanted to co-op with me.

We actually ended up making it through that mission, even though we died a few times in the exact same spot, but having a friend turns out to make all the difference in the world (or at least in that particular instance of mission).

With both of the two storyline missions under our belt (for an estimated 10% story completion of the entire game) in one sitting, we did what two guys would do next and passed into the Dark Zone.

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In the Dark Zone, not only are you fighting up much tougher AI for better loot, you’re also competing with other players for the same. Loot is instanced so you can never “steal” someone else’s loot by landing the killing blow on a big boss, but what you can steal is their loot when they go to extract the loot so it becomes available for use. Dark Zone loot isn’t usable until it’s “extracted”, which is dicey process of calling in a helicopter, waiting around for it to arrive, and then not getting killed while your character is going through the motions of attaching the loot to the zipline dropped by the helicopter. It’s all very Metal Gear Solid, only with the added threat of someone lobbing a few grenades on you as you’re going for the extract, and then raining bullets on you from the high ground.

Which is to say, the Dark Zone is pretty fun. If you’re playing solo, it’s the thill of being a lone wolf — not necessarily taking out groups of the strong AI by yourself, but contributing enough lead to share in the spoils, then either taking advantage of someone else’s extraction helicopter or calling in your own and hoping like hell someone doesn’t decide you’re a good target.

Ars Technica played through the closed beta on Xbox One a few weeks earlier, and while they say The Division is a repetitive shooter that has neither the cover-based shooting mechanics of Gears of War or the looting and gear-based aspects of Fallout or Borderlands, I disagree. The Division is different enough from all those to set it apart, and what people have to realise is that it isn’t a cover-based shooter with RPG elements, it’s an RPG with cover-based shooter elements.

Playing through the open beta taught me that the pursuit of better gear came above all else, and with the amount of weapon customisation and all the other RPG-type elements that were hinted at in the game but not actually present in the open beta (including food and managing hunger levels in a desolate, virus-ridden New York landscape, the various skills granted by unique weapons, the focus on cosmetic appearance, and more), my guess is there’s going to be playing of role-playing in The Division, whether that means going Rogue in the Dark Zone or just sticking to the streets of New York, trying to do… whatever the hell the main protagonist is trying to do. Seriously, what is this game about?

Seeing as I’ve pre-ordered the game, I guess I’ll find out soon enough.


  1. Which reminds me, I should probably write something about that again. It’s been a while, and I’ve got stuff to say.