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No gods, no kings, only NOPE - or divining the future with options flows. [Part 2: A Random Walk and Price Decoherence]
tl;dr - 1) Stock prices move continuously because different market participants end up having different ideas of the future value of a stock. 2) This difference in valuations is part of the reason we have volatility. 3) IV crush happens as a consequence of future possibilities being extinguished at a binary catalyst like earnings very rapidly, as opposed to the normal slow way. I promise I'm getting to the good parts, but I'm also writing these as a guidebook which I can use later so people never have to talk to me again. In this part I'm going to start veering a bit into the speculation territory (e.g. ideas I believe or have investigated, but aren't necessary well known) but I'm going to make sure those sections are properly marked as speculative (and you can feel free to ignore/dismiss them). Marked as [Lily's Speculation]. As some commenters have pointed out in prior posts, I do not have formal training in mathematical finance/finance (my background is computer science, discrete math, and biology), so often times I may use terms that I've invented which have analogous/existing terms (e.g. the law of surprise is actually the first law of asset pricing applied to derivatives under risk neutral measure, but I didn't know that until I read the papers later). If I mention something wrong, please do feel free to either PM me (not chat) or post a comment, and we can discuss/I can correct it! As always, buyer beware. This is the first section also where you do need to be familiar with the topics I've previously discussed, which I'll add links to shortly (my previous posts: 1) https://www.reddit.com/thecorporation/comments/jck2q6/no_gods_no_kings_only_nope_or_divining_the_future/ 2) https://www.reddit.com/thecorporation/comments/jbzzq4/why_options_trading_sucks_or_the_law_of_surprise/ --- A Random Walk Down Bankruptcy A lot of us have probably seen the term random walk, maybe in the context of A Random Walk Down Wall Street, which seems like a great book I'll add to my list of things to read once I figure out how to control my ADD. It seems obvious, then, what a random walk means - when something is moving, it basically means that the next move is random. So if my stock price is $1 and I can move in $0.01 increments, if the stock price is truly randomly walking, there should be roughly a 50% chance it moves up in the next second (to $1.01) or down (to $0.99). If you've traded for more than a hot minute, this concept should seem obvious, because especially on the intraday, it usually isn't clear why price moves the way it does (despite what chartists want to believe, and I'm sure a ton of people in the comments will tell me why fettucini lines and Batman doji tell them things). For a simple example, we can look at SPY's chart from Friday, Oct 16, 2020: https://preview.redd.it/jgg3kup9dpt51.png?width=1368&format=png&auto=webp&s=bf8e08402ccef20832c96203126b60c23277ccc2 I'm sure again 7 different people can tell me 7 different things about why the chart shape looks the way it does, or how if I delve deeply enough into it I can find out which man I'm going to marry in 2024, but to a rationalist it isn't exactly apparent at why SPY's price declined from 349 to ~348.5 at around 12:30 PM, or why it picked up until about 3 PM and then went into precipitous decline (although I do have theories why it declined EOD, but that's for another post). An extremely clever or bored reader from my previous posts could say, "Is this the price formation you mentioned in the law of surprise post?" and the answer is yes. If we relate it back to the individual buyer or seller, we can explain the concept of a stock price's random walk as such:
Most market participants have an idea of an asset's truevalue (an idealized concept of what an asset is actually worth), which they can derive using models or possibly enough brain damage. However, an asset's value at any given time is not worth one value (usually*), but a spectrum of possible values, usually representing what the asset should be worth in the future. A naive way we can represent this without delving into to much math (because let's face it, most of us fucking hate math) is: Current value of an asset = sum over all (future possible value multiplied by the likelihood of that value)
In actuality, most models aren't that simple, but it does generalize to a ton of more complicated models which you need more than 7th grade math to understand (Black-Scholes, DCF, blah blah blah). While in many cases the first term - future possible value - is well defined (Tesla is worth exactly $420.69 billion in 2021, and maybe we all can agree on that by looking at car sales and Musk tweets), where it gets more interesting is the second term - the likelihood of that value occurring. [In actuality, the price of a stock for instance is way more complicated, because a stock can be sold at any point in the future (versus in my example, just the value in 2021), and needs to account for all values of Tesla at any given point in the future.] How do we estimate the second term - the likelihood of that value occurring? For this class, it actually doesn't matter, because the key concept is this idea: even with all market participants having the same information, we do anticipate that every participant will have a slightly different view of future likelihoods. Why is that? There's many reasons. Some participants may undervalue risk (aka WSB FD/yolos) and therefore weight probabilities of gaining lots of money much more heavily than going bankrupt. Some participants may have alternative data which improves their understanding of what the future values should be, therefore letting them see opportunity. Some participants might overvalue liquidity, and just want to GTFO and thereby accept a haircut on their asset's value to quickly unload it (especially in markets with low liquidity). Some participants may just be yoloing and not even know what Fastly does before putting their account all in weekly puts (god bless you). In the end, it doesn't matter either the why, but the what: because of these diverging interpretations, over time, we can expect the price of an asset to drift from the current value even with no new information added. In most cases, the calculations that market participants use (which I will, as a Lily-ism, call the future expected payoff function, or FEPF) ends up being quite similar in aggregate, and this is why asset prices likely tend to move slightly up and down for no reason (or rather, this is one interpretation of why). At this point, I expect the 20% of you who know what I'm talking about or have a finance background to say, "Oh but blah blah efficient market hypothesis contradicts random walk blah blah blah" and you're correct, but it also legitimately doesn't matter here. In the long run, stock prices are clearly not a random walk, because a stock's value is obviously tied to the company's fundamentals (knock on wood I don't regret saying this in the 2020s). However, intraday, in the absence of new, public information, it becomes a close enough approximation. Also, some of you might wonder what happens when the future expected payoff function (FEPF) I mentioned before ends up wildly diverging for a stock between participants. This could happen because all of us try to short Nikola because it's quite obviously a joke (so our FEPF for Nikola could, let's say, be 0), while the 20 or so remaining bagholders at NikolaCorporation decide that their FEPF of Nikola is $10,000,000 a share). One of the interesting things which intuitively makes sense, is for nearly all stocks, the amount of divergence among market participants in their FEPF increases substantially as you get farther into the future. This intuitively makes sense, even if you've already quit trying to understand what I'm saying. It's quite easy to say, if at 12:51 PM SPY is worth 350.21 that likely at 12:52 PM SPY will be worth 350.10 or 350.30 in all likelihood. Obviously there are cases this doesn't hold, but more likely than not, prices tend to follow each other, and don't gap up/down hard intraday. However, what if I asked you - given SPY is worth 350.21 at 12:51 PM today, what will it be worth in 2022? Many people will then try to half ass some DD about interest rates and Trump fleeing to Ecuador to value SPY at 150, while others will assume bull markets will continue indefinitely and SPY will obviously be 7000 by then. The truth is -- no one actually knows, because if you did, you wouldn't be reading a reddit post on this at 2 AM in your jammies. In fact, if you could somehow figure out the FEPF of all market participants at any given time, assuming no new information occurs, you should be able to roughly predict the true value of an asset infinitely far into the future (hint: this doesn't exactly hold, but again don't @ me). Now if you do have a finance background, I expect gears will have clicked for some of you, and you may see strong analogies between the FEPF divergence I mentioned, and a concept we're all at least partially familiar with - volatility. Volatility and Price Decoherence ("IV Crush") Volatility, just like the Greeks, isn't exactly a real thing. Most of us have some familiarity with implied volatility on options, mostly when we get IV crushed the first time and realize we just lost $3000 on Tesla calls. If we assume that the current price should represent the weighted likelihoods of all future prices (the random walk), volatility implies the following two things:
Volatility reflects the uncertainty of the current price
Volatility reflects the uncertainty of the future price for every point in the future where the asset has value (up to expiry for options)
[Ignore this section if you aren't pedantic] There's obviously more complex mathematics, because I'm sure some of you will argue in the comments that IV doesn't go up monotonically as option expiry date goes longer and longer into the future, and you're correct (this is because asset pricing reflects drift rate and other factors, as well as certain assets like the VIX end up having cost of carry). Volatility in options is interesting as well, because in actuality, it isn't something that can be exactly computed -- it arises as a plug between the idealized value of an option (the modeled price) and the real, market value of an option (the spot price). Additionally, because the makeup of market participants in an asset's market changes over time, and new information also comes in (thereby increasing likelihood of some possibilities and reducing it for others), volatility does not remain constant over time, either. Conceptually, volatility also is pretty easy to understand. But what about our friend, IV crush? I'm sure some of you have bought options to play events, the most common one being earnings reports, which happen quarterly for every company due to regulations. For the more savvy, you might know of expected move, which is a calculation that uses the volatility (and therefore price) increase of at-the-money options about a month out to calculate how much the options market forecasts the underlying stock price to move as a response to ER. Binary Catalyst Events and Price Decoherence Remember what I said about price formation being a gradual, continuous process? In the face of special circumstances, in particularly binary catalyst events - events where the outcome is one of two choices, good (1) or bad (0) - the gradual part gets thrown out the window. Earnings in particular is a common and notable case of a binary event, because the price will go down (assuming the company did not meet the market's expectations) or up (assuming the company exceeded the market's expectations) (it will rarely stay flat, so I'm not going to address that case). Earnings especially is interesting, because unlike other catalytic events, they're pre-scheduled (so the whole market expects them at a certain date/time) and usually have publicly released pre-estimations (guidance, analyst predictions). This separates them from other binary catalysts (e.g. FSLY dipping 30% on guidance update) because the market has ample time to anticipate the event, and participants therefore have time to speculate and hedge on the event. In most binary catalyst events, we see rapid fluctuations in price, usually called a gap up or gap down, which is caused by participants rapidly intaking new information and changing their FEPF accordingly. This is for the most part an anticipated adjustment to the FEPF based on the expectation that earnings is a Very Big Deal (TM), and is the reason why volatility and therefore option premiums increase so dramatically before earnings. What makes earnings so interesting in particular is the dramatic effect it can have on all market participants FEPF, as opposed to let's say a Trump tweet, or more people dying of coronavirus. In lots of cases, especially the FEPF of the short term (3-6 months) rapidly changes in response to updated guidance about a company, causing large portions of the future possibility spectrum to rapidly and spectacularly go to zero. In an instant, your Tesla 10/30 800Cs go from "some value" to "not worth the electrons they're printed on". [Lily's Speculation] This phenomena, I like to call price decoherence, mostly as an analogy to quantum mechanical processes which produce similar results (the collapse of a wavefunction on observation). Price decoherence occurs at a widespread but minor scale continuously, which we normally call price formation (and explains portions of the random walk derivation explained above), but hits a special limit in the face of binary catalyst events, as in an instant rapid portions of the future expected payoff function are extinguished, versus a more gradual process which occurs over time (as an option nears expiration). Price decoherence, mathematically, ends up being a more generalizable case of the phenomenon we all love to hate - IV crush. Price decoherence during earnings collapses the future expected payoff function of a ticker, leading large portions of the option chain to be effectively worthless (IV crush). It has interesting implications, especially in the case of hedged option sellers, our dear Market Makers. This is because given the expectation that they maintain delta-gamma neutral, and now many of the options they have written are now worthless and have 0 delta, what do they now have to do? They have to unwind. [/Lily's Speculation] - Lily
It's that time of year again, and we've got a new version of macOS on our hands! This year we've finally jumped off the 10.xx naming scheme and now going to 11! And with that, a lot has changed under the hood in macOS. As with previous years, we'll be going over what's changed in macOS and what you should be aware of as a macOS and Hackintosh enthusiast.
Has Nvidia Support finally arrived?
What has changed on the surface
A whole new iOS-like UI
Broken Kexts in Big Sur
What has changed under the hood
New Kernel cache system: KernelCollections!
New Kernel Requirements
Secure Boot Changes
No more symbols required
Broken Kexts in Big Sur
MSI Navi installer Bug Resolved
New AMD OS X Kernel Patches
Other notable Hackintosh issues
Several SMBIOS have been dropped
Extra long install process
X79 and X99 Boot issues
New RTC requirements
Legacy GPU Patches currently unavailable
What’s new in the Hackintosh scene?
Dortania: a new organization has appeared
Dortania's Build Repo
True legacy macOS Support!
Intel Wireless: More native than ever!
Clover's revival? A frankenstein of a bootloader
Death of x86 and the future of Hackintoshing
Getting ready for macOS 11, Big Sur
Has Nvidia Support finally arrived?
Sadly every year I have to answer the obligatory question, no there is no new Nvidia support. Currently Nvidia's Kepler line is the only natively supported gen. However macOS 11 makes some interesting changes to the boot process, specifically moving GPU drivers into stage 2 of booting. Why this is relevant is due to Apple's initial reason for killing off Web Drivers: Secure boot. What I mean is that secure boot cannot work with Nvidia's Web Drivers due to how early Nvidia's drivers have to initialize at, and thus Apple refused to sign the binaries. With Big Sur, there could be 3rd party GPUs however the chances are still super slim but slightly higher than with 10.14 and 10.15.
What has changed on the surface
A whole new iOS-like UI
Love it or hate it, we've got a new UI more reminiscent of iOS 14 with hints of skeuomorphism(A somewhat subtle call back to previous mac UIs which have neat details in the icons) You can check out Apple's site to get a better idea:
A feature initially baked into APFS back in 2017 with the release of macOS 10.13, High Sierra, now macOS's main System volume has become both read-only and snapshotted. What this means is:
3rd parties have a much more difficult time modifying the system volume, allowing for greater security
OS updates can now be installed while you're using the OS, similar to how iOS handles updates
Time Machine can now more easily perform backups, without file inconsistencies with HFS Plus while you were using the machines
However there are a few things to note with this new enforcement of snapshotting:
OS snapshots are not calculated as used space, instead being labeled as purgeable space
Disabling macOS snapshots for the root volume with break software updates, and can corrupt data if one is applied
What has changed under the hood
Quite a few things actually! Both in good and bad ways unfortunately.
New Kernel Cache system: KernelCollections!
So for the past 15 years, macOS has been using the Prelinked Kernel as a form of Kernel and Kext caching. And with macOS Big Sur's new Read-only, snapshot based system volume, a new version of caching has be developed: KernelCollections! How this differs to previous OSes:
Kexts can no longer be hot-loaded, instead requiring a reboot to load with kmutil
OS Snapshots are now verified on each boot to ensure no system volume modifications occurred
apfs.kext and AppleImage4.kext verify the integrity of these snapshots
While technically these security features are optional and can be disabled after installation, many features including OS updates will no longer work reliably once disabled. This is due to the heavy reliance of snapshots for OS updates, as mentioned above and so we highly encourage all users to ensure at minimum SecureBootModel is set to Default or higher.
Note: ApECID is not required for functionality, and can be skipped if so desired.
Note 2: OpenCore 0.6.3 or newer is required for Secure Boot in Big Sur.
No more symbols required
This point is the most important part, as this is what we use for kext injection in OpenCore. Currently Apple has left symbols in place seemingly for debugging purposes however this is a bit worrying as Apple could outright remove symbols in later versions of macOS. But for Big Sur's cycle, we'll be good on that end however we'll be keeping an eye on future releases of macOS.
New Kernel Requirements
With this update, the AvoidRuntimeDefrag Booter quirk in OpenCore broke. Because of this, the macOS kernel will fall flat when trying to boot. Reason for this is due to cpu_count_enabled_logical_processors requiring the MADT (APIC) table, and so OpenCore will now ensure this table is made accessible to the kernel. Users will however need a build of OpenCore 0.6.0 with commit bb12f5for newer to resolve this issue. Additionally, both Kernel Allocation requirements and Secure Boot have also broken with Big Sur due to the new caching system discussed above. Thankfully these have also been resolved in OpenCore 0.6.3. To check your OpenCore version, run the following in terminal: nvram 4D1FDA02-38C7-4A6A-9CC6-4BCCA8B30102:opencore-version If you're not up-to-date and running OpenCore 0.6.3+, see here on how to upgrade OpenCore: Updating OpenCore, Kexts and macOS
Broken Kexts in Big Sur
Unfortunately with the aforementioned KernelCollections, some kexts have unfortunately broken or have been hindered in some way. The main kexts that currently have issues are anything relying on Lilu's userspace patching functionality:
Big Sur dropped a few Ivy Bridge and Haswell based SMBIOS from macOS, so see below that yours wasn't dropped:
iMac14,3 and older
Note iMac14,4 is still supported
MacPro5,1 and older
MacMini6,x and older
MacBook7,1 and older
MacBookAir5,x and older
MacBookPro10,x and older
If your SMBIOS was supported in Catalina and isn't included above, you're good to go! We also have a more in-depth page here: Choosing the right SMBIOS For those wanting a simple translation for their Ivy and Haswell Machines:
iMac13,1 should transition over to using iMac14,4
iMac13,2 should transition over to using iMac15,1
iMac14,2 and iMac14,3 should transition over to using iMac15,1
Note: AMD CPUs users should transition over to MacPro7,1
iMac14,1 should transition over to iMac14,4
Currently only certain hardware has been officially dropped:
"Official" Consumer Ivy Bridge Support(U, H and S series)
These CPUs will still boot without much issue, but note that no Macs are supported with consumer Ivy Bridge in Big Sur.
Ivy Bridge-E CPUs are still supported thanks to being in MacPro6,1
Ivy Bridge iGPUs slated for removal
HD 4000 and HD 2500, however currently these drivers are still present in 11.0.1
Similar to Mojave and Nvidia's Tesla drivers, we expect Apple to forget about them and only remove them in the next major OS update next year
Due to the new snapshot-based OS, installation now takes some extra time with sealing. If you get stuck at Forcing CS_RUNTIME for entitlement, do not shutdown. This will corrupt your install and break the sealing process, so please be patient.
X79 and X99 Boot issues
With Big Sur, IOPCIFamily went through a decent rewriting causing many X79 and X99 boards to fail to boot as well as panic on IOPCIFamily. To resolve this issue, you'll need to disable the unused uncore bridge:
With macOS Big Sur, AppleRTC has become much more picky on making sure your OEM correctly mapped the RTC regions in your ACPI tables. This is mainly relevant on Intel's HEDT series boards, I documented how to patch said RTC regions in OpenCorePkg:
For those having boot issues on X99 and X299, this section is super important; you'll likely get stuck at PCI Configuration Begin. You can also find prebuilts here for those who do not wish to compile the file themselves:
For some reason, Apple removed the AppleIntelPchSeriesAHCI class from AppleAHCIPort.kext. Due to the outright removal of the class, trying to spoof to another ID (generally done by SATA-unsupported.kext) can fail for many and create instability for others. * A partial fix is to block Big Sur's AppleAHCIPort.kext and inject Catalina's version with any conflicting symbols being patched. You can find a sample kext here: Catalina's patched AppleAHCIPort.kext * This will work in both Catalina and Big Sur so you can remove SATA-unsupported if you want. However we recommend setting the MinKernel value to 20.0.0 to avoid any potential issues.
Legacy GPU Patches currently unavailable
Due to major changes in many frameworks around GPUs, those using ASentientBot's legacy GPU patches are currently out of luck. We either recommend users with these older GPUs stay on Catalina until further developments arise or buy an officially supported GPU
What’s new in the Hackintosh scene?
Dortania: a new organization has appeared
As many of you have probably noticed, a new organization focusing on documenting the hackintoshing process has appeared. Originally under my alias, Khronokernel, I started to transition my guides over to this new family as a way to concentrate the vast amount of information around Hackintoshes to both ease users and give a single trusted source for information. We work quite closely with the community and developers to ensure information's correct, up-to-date and of the best standards. While not perfect in every way, we hope to be the go-to resource for reliable Hackintosh information. And for the times our information is either outdated, missing context or generally needs improving, we have our bug tracker to allow the community to more easily bring attention to issues and speak directly with the authors:
Kexts here are built right after commit, and currently supports most of Acidanthera's kexts and some 3rd party devs as well. If you'd like to add support for more kexts, feel free to PR: Build Repo source
True legacy macOS Support!
As of OpenCore's latest versioning, 0.6.2, you can now boot every version of x86-based builds of OS X/macOS! A huge achievement on @Goldfish64's part, we now support every major version of kernel cache both 32 and 64-bit wise. This means machines like Yonah and newer should work great with OpenCore and you can even relive the old days of OS X like OS X 10.4! And Dortania guides have been updated accordingly to accommodate for builds of those eras, we hope you get as much enjoyment going back as we did working on this project!
Intel Wireless: More native than ever!
Another amazing step forward in the Hackintosh community, near-native Intel Wifi support! Thanks to the endless work on many contributors of the OpenIntelWireless project, we can now use Apple's built-in IO80211 framework to have near identical support to those of Broadcom wireless cards including features like network access in recovery and control center support. For more info on the developments, please see the itlwm project on GitHub: itlwm
Note, native support requires the AirportItlwm.kext and SecureBootModel enabled on OpenCore. Alternatively you can force IO80211Family.kext to ensure AirportItlwm works correctly.
Airdrop support currently is also not implemented, however is actively being worked on.
Clover's revival? A frankestien of a bootloader
As many in the community have seen, a new bootloader popped up back in April of 2019 called OpenCore. This bootloader was made by the same people behind projects such as Lilu, WhateverGreen, AppleALC and many other extremely important utilities for both the Mac and Hackintosh community. OpenCore's design had been properly thought out with security auditing and proper road mapping laid down, it was clear that this was to be the next stage of hackintoshing for the years we have left with x86. And now lets bring this back to the old crowd favorite, Clover. Clover has been having a rough time of recent both with the community and stability wise, with many devs jumping ship to OpenCore and Clover's stability breaking more and more with C++ rewrites, it was clear Clover was on its last legs. Interestingly enough, the community didn't want Clover to die, similarly to how Chameleon lived on through Enoch. And thus, we now have the Clover OpenCore integration project(Now merged into Master with r5123+). The goal is to combine OpenCore into Clover allowing the project to live a bit longer, as Clover's current state can no longer boot macOS Big Sur or older versions of OS X such as 10.6. As of writing, this project seems to be a bit confusing as there seems to be little reason to actually support Clover. Many of Clover's properties have feature-parity in OpenCore and trying to combine both C++ and C ruins many of the features and benefits either languages provide. The main feature OpenCore does not support is macOS-only ACPI injection, however the reasoning is covered here: Does OpenCore always inject SMBIOS and ACPI data into other OSes?
Death of x86 and the future of Hackintoshing
With macOS Big Sur, a big turning point is about to happen with Apple and their Macs. As we know it, Apple will be shifting to in-house designed Apple Silicon Macs(Really just ARM) and thus x86 machines will slowly be phased out of their lineup within 2 years. What does this mean for both x86 based Macs and Hackintoshing in general? Well we can expect about 5 years of proper OS support for the iMac20,x series which released earlier this year with an extra 2 years of security updates. After this, Apple will most likely stop shipping x86 builds of macOS and hackintoshing as we know it will have passed away. For those still in denial and hope something like ARM Hackintoshes will arrive, please consider the following:
We have yet to see a true iPhone "Hackintosh" and thus the likely hood of an ARM Hackintosh is unlikely as well
There have been successful attempts to get the iOS kernel running in virtual machines, however much work is still to be done
Apple's use of "Apple Silicon" hints that ARM is not actually what future Macs will be running, instead we'll see highly customized chips based off ARM
For example, Apple will be heavily relying on hardware features such as WX, kernel memory protection, Pointer Auth, etc for security and thus both macOS and Applications will be dependant on it. This means hackintoshing on bare-metal(without a VM) will become extremely difficult without copious amounts of work
Also keep in mind Apple Silicon will no longer be UEFI-based like Intel Macs currently are, meaning a huge amount of work would also be required on this end as well
So while we may be heart broken the journey is coming to a stop in the somewhat near future, hackintoshing will still be a time piece in Apple's history. So enjoy it now while we still can, and we here at Dortania will still continue supporting the community with our guides till the very end!
Getting ready for macOS 11, Big Sur
This will be your short run down if you skipped the above:
Lilu's userspace patcher is broken
Due to this many kexts will break:
WhateverGreen's DRM and -cdfon patches
Many Ivy Bridge and Haswell SMBIOS were dropped
See above for what SMBIOS to choose
Ivy Bridge iGPUs are to be dropped
Currently in 11.0.1, these drivers are still present
For the last 2, see here on how to update: Updating OpenCore, Kexts and macOS In regards to downloading Big Sur, currently gibMacOS in macOS or Apple's own software updater are the most reliable methods for grabbing the installer. Windows and Linux support is still unknown so please stand by as we continue to look into this situation, macrecovery.py may be more reliable if you require the recovery package. And as with every year, the first few weeks to months of a new OS release are painful in the community. We highly advise users to stay away from Big Sur for first time installers. The reason is that we cannot determine whether issues are Apple related or with your specific machine, so it's best to install and debug a machine on a known working OS before testing out the new and shiny. For more in-depth troubleshooting with Big Sur, see here: OpenCore and macOS 11: Big Sur
WotV PvP Tactics & Mentality - Six Months of Mediena Bombs & how the Meta Evolves in PvP
*** Registration is Now Open until 9/15 for the latest Live PvP tournament, organized by u/LongTimeGaming. There is no entry fee and everyone is guaranteed at least five rounds of combat! Please PM him or myself for details on how to register! *** For today's entry I want to discuss one of the stronger live PvP strategies currently floating around the meta, particularly at the higher player ranks or with whales smurfing at lower ranks: The Medi (Mediena) Bomb.
The Medi bomb, as it currently exists, comprises three major components: a Shukuchi Mediena, Agility, and as much Magic/Magic Attack equipment and VCs as can be mustered together. If you take away any of these components the win probability of the strategy plummets. Let's examine each in turn:
Shukuchi (and forward deployment) - Without Shukuchi and pushing Medi as far forward as you can you leave a lot of squares open where the enemy team can be hiding. No highly competitive team in live PvP is sticking to the default 'three across' formation!
Agility - Medi's main weakness is her fragility. If Medi doesn't go first there's the chance that the opponent will have a high speed unit in place to OHKO Medi (i.e., Frederika) or will at least be able to reposition their faster units out of Medi's threat range. Shadow Runner on a Medi is a must of course, but VCs that yield AGI are crucial as well.
Magic Attack - Being able to OHKO at least one enemy unit is essential - a unit with 1 HP is as dangerous as a unit with 4000 HP. A Platinum Rod +5, and a high level Trousseau are the most important elements. Mag from Ramuh is useful. You won't have Medi's own mag passive available due to needing Speed + Movement.
Responses to the Medi Bomb - Sample Formations
So here are some sample formations I whipped up - note the screenshots are composites from my main account so levels and etc. are not going to be optimal. There are many variations possible, these are just starting points! Option 1 - Go Faster than Medi Gunner Girls that are faster than a Medi Bomb are close to a guaranteed win! The hardest counter to Medi bomb is a Fred that's faster than her - A properly kitted Fred can OHKO a Medi with sharpshoot off the bat without any external buffs. Because Medi + AGI VC is always faster then a Fred without, you will need to put AGI cards of your own on top of your Fred to ensure you go before the enemy Medi does. Option 2 - Be able to survive the Plume This is the second picture here - the first one had an impossible setup for Rain due to my photoshopping (I don't own Rain). There are of course characters that can survive a plume, even a plume from a super whaled out Medi. Rain is one of these - he's a magic tank off the bat and he has elemental advantage to Medi. Ayaka can stand your viktora back up post plume while Rain can OHKO the Medi. Option 3 - Be able to Evade the Plume Miranda is a super useful utility placeholder for these formations Vinera is pretty popular in live pvp these days due to her combination of speed, power, and high evade. She is essentially unhittable to teams that haven't geared with guaranteed hit options or stacked as much ACC as they can. I don't have a leveled up Vinera to test the above combination for exact hit percentages but an unbuffed Vinera should have about 150-200 evade depending on cards. Not exactly easy to hit with a plume!
A Brief History of the Medi Bomb
Finally, the changes in popularity to the Medi Bomb through time exemplifies the essential elements that define the 'meta' in live PvP: the outcome to nearly every match is a binary win or loss. Any team that is slightly better than another will win almost all the time holding all over elements equal. Medi's evolution in live pvp shows this perfectly. In the first weeks of WotV, Medi bombs were one of the most common formations available. Medi was I think the fastest launch character and once she hit level 40 she could OHKO most other units common at the time that were also at level 40 (Mont, Sterne, etc.). This meant that Medi could just run up and drop the other team. Lots and lots of Medi v Medi engagements were happening and Medi's dominance in PvE and PvP was often remarked on by jokes or commentary here and elsewhere. Flash forward to the FFT event or so and Medi bombs disappeared from competitive play. Two things happened: Frederika and increasing toughness of teams. Fred, as I said before, is a hard counter to Medi as long as she goes first and at this stage in the game almost no one had high AGI VCs so Freds melted Medis off the live PvP scene. A secondary effect was that everyone was getting to level 99 on their mains and starting to amass TMRs - Medi stopped being able to OHKO units. Medi Bombs stayed quiet for the months following FFT until Platinum Rod came out, then whales with +15% AGI off the House Beolve card could go first in most engagements and do enough damage to OHKO broad swaths of units. Now with FFT2 almost done plenty of dolphins or even minnows/f2p willing to proc 5-6 whimseys per day can have their 15% AGI cards so Medi bombs are more accessible. Essentially, the meta is an unstable equilibrium defined by a complex set of inputs and that binary output of winning/losing. As soon as Medi is one AGI slower then her hard counter *and that hard counter is common* she becomes worthless. Same with the tipping point between OHKO and survival. Right now medi bombs are fast and powerful - therefore viable against many team comps. Well that wraps up today's post - this one turned out to be longer than I was expecting. Let me know if its too long in the comments and if you have any suggestions for future topics that you'd like a detailed breakdown on please let me know! ------------------------------------------------ WotV PvP Tactics & Mentality is an irregularly updated series of posts about the most neglected aspect of WotV: Live PvP If you liked this post, feel read to my previous entries in the series:
Dice & Card Randomizers for combat (PvP/Dungeon Crawls/etc.) - Your favorite?
I'm trying to figure out what kind of mechanic is the most engaging to players when it comes to simulating combat and/or adventure, independent of how it ties in to the rest of the game. There are many different options, and I think they all have some advantages and disadvantages, but I thought to ask you fellow designers what you have enjoyed. Examples are top of mind, let me know if you have any other prominent examples. Some examples: Beat Target Number (Multiple examples) Once your attacks and targets have been chosen, roll (usually) one die to see if you match or beat the target number. If you do, you score a hit. This method is probably the most simple, as it can be reduced down to one die. It's also very quick, and provides the randomness we're looking for. It becomes easy to determine if you hit. It also becomes easy to modify the attack power and/or target number in a number of ways, such as adding extra dice or modifying the input number or the target number by +/- a few steps. This method is used in D&D using a D20 die, but can be used in a much simpler way. A clear disadvantage is that it is extremely random - the probability distribution is quite static, and the result is binary: Fail or succeed. You could use the success rate to create a non-binary output ("by how much you beat the score"), but it becomes very swingy. Beat Target Number w. Pool (Mansion of Madness) Before (or after) the target number is known, roll a pool of dice and count the number of successes. You may optionally expend resources to reroll or to modify your results to improve your success score. Compare this score to a target number. In comparison to the previous method, it gives that player more control of the number. It also becomes easy to stepwise increase your odds of success (by adding more dice or expending resources). The result is not as binary as in the previous method. Opposed Success (Descent, Warhammer Quest, etc.) Roll a number of dice to determine success. Opponent rolls a number of dice to determine the target number. Either a success is gained if your numbers beat/exceed the target number, or a ranked success happens (count the excess). Good for determining damage. Requires more dice rolls. This type of randomizer is commonly used to compare "attack damage" vs "defense". It's good when the defender is also a player, to give some sensation of "active defense", even if it's just done through a die roll. This type of mechanic seems common in dice-based dungeon crawlers. Sequential Dice Pool Success (Warhammer) Roll a high number of dice towards target number (opposed or not). Count successes for this category of success, and resolve results. Optionally, roll the results again to determine damage (hit -> damage) or perform another operation. The difference between this type and "Beat Target Number w. Pool" is that the pools tend to be larger, the target tends to be variable, the success score tends to be non-binary, and the pools tend to be sequential. It's a very time-consuming exercise, but provides great level of detail in multiple dimensions. If these dimensions can be used to generate "playability" or "depth", it can be a successful implementation. This type of mechanic is probably most common in wargame scenarios with large armies battling. Multi-Category Dice Pool Success (World of Warcraft Board Game) Simultaneously roll one or more dice pools (colored dice, f.ex.) to determine success (on a scale, eventually beating a target number) on different parts of the combat operation, add eventual modifiers then resolve successes for the different dice pools. In the WoW example, the dice pools are "ranged/spell attack", "melee attack" and "defense" (blue, red, green), and they resolve differently based on their success rates. Melee attacks happen after retaliation, and ranged/spell attack happen before retaliation. Yahtzee Output (King of Tokyo) Roll five dice. Reroll any number of dice. Reroll any number of dice. Check results for effect(s). This has the advantage of providing some level of player control. King of Tokyo uses it well because you can not only score damage this way, but gain score and currency. There are always "things to do" and to aim for. It easily becomes the center of the game. Yahtzee Input (Dice Throne) Roll five dice. Reroll any number. Reroll any number. Check results for resources available. Use these resources to perform various abilities (or combos). Again, this provides player control. It also makes it easy to diversify the output possibilities, and create even more unique characters than in a Yahtzee output kind of game. You can trigger special abilities with different combinations of input. I guess it becomes a little bit more frustrating with the chance to miss important abilities, and it can create situations where each turn is relatively similar or relatively "swingy". Deck of Modifiers (Gloomhaven) Once your attacks (or abilities) have been chosen, flip over the top card of a deck to randomly modify the end result. You need a main input for your combat in this example - in Gloomhaven it comes from your hand of cards. It makes it easy to evolve the modifier deck over time (if it is individual) and gives some level of control over the randomness, as the distribution evens out before the deck gets reshuffled. It also has a bit of "fun" factor to it (flipping the card is fast and exciting). A disadvantage to me is that it seems to limit the output to one variable (f.ex. damage), especially once you add specialised cards. Command Decks (Game of Thrones) Each player has a deck of cards with varying numbers. For each combat encounter, a card (per player) is selected, and combined with other input factors determines the non-random but unknown total output to compare for output. Command Decks are great for PvP games, but lose some meaning in PvE. One advantage is that the command cards can contain additional bonuses, not only target numbers. For example "If you win this combat, defeat an additional enemy unit", or "Retreat safely from this combat encounter". QUESTION: What's your favorite mechanic out of these (or others) for "fun" and strategic impact? Do you have any fun stories about what happens? EDIT: Some categories have been added.
I am not a top-100 player, as given the inevitable RNG of effects, matchups and draws in card games, and the lack of rewards for ranking up in LoR, I simply don't see the point in painstakingly grinding up to such a level. The highest I've climbed is low Diamond, but considering the above knowledge, I believe that at a certain skill level (perhaps at around Platinum), it's more about how much time one can put in than how skilled they are. HOWEVER, considering all this, I have the absolute conviction that this deck is a top-100 worthy deck.
This is the only deck that I've played since Day 1 of Call of the Mountain, with various modifications, and I believe that it is a completely undiscovered meta unicorn. I've never faced a similar deck on ladder, and my deckbuilding experiments with any other archtypes have left me completely unsatisfied with the lack of interaction and agency, as well as the sheer counterability of the vast majority of tools currently out there. A lot of people are frustrated with the current meta - a lot of points of which are covered by BruisedByGod in his recent video critique. To summarize his main points:
Most answers are completely outclassed by threats
Sheer lack of healing options locks out deckbuilding choices
Most top-tier strategies prey on lack of interactivity (Pirate Burn, Lee Sin OTK, Star Spring)
This is a Control deck which, while originally devised to prey on the inevitably popular Aurelion Sol and Troll Chant and abuse the broken, flexible toolbox of Invoke on Day 1, also manages to both answer all 3 of these problems efficiently.
Lunari Duskbringer x 3
Spacey Sketcher x 3
Lunari Shadestalker x1
Pale Cascade x 3
Unspeakable Horror x 2
Vile Feast x 3
Simply the best available early-game that an Invoke Targon deck could hope to muster - Diana functioning as both early game and late-game removal (we have just enough Nightfall Synergy) for practically no investment, Pale Cascade being legitimately one of the most broken cards currently in the game, and the ping cards also serving a modicum of uses at all stages of a match. Spacey Sketcher has been severely underrated so far - providing critical tools for certain matchups and/or providing early game minions without needing to actually run them (a fundamental weakness of faster decks top-decking late). Its 'discard-replace' synergy with our late-game, as well as Duskpetal Dust and meta-call flex cards is just icing on the cake. Finally, note how every early game card I've chosen scales well and still plays a role as the game goes later; as removal, Elusive blocking, tool-building, Burst-speed Nightfall, pings and cantrip Combat Tricks. This is an often overlooked but fundamental difference between Control early-drops, and aggro early-drops (such as Precious Pet). ~
Sunburst x 3
Vengeance x 3
These two cards, combined with any generated Obliterates, form the only proper removal this deck has - and were the catalyst for me creating this deck in the first place. All three of these removal types leave almost NO room for the opponent to interact with them, and I believe that is the sole condition for a high-cost removal spell to be playable in the current game state. NOTE: Ruination is easily and always played around at a high-level of play - and leaves the opponent with ALL of the agency/choice to play around it/bait it exactly how they wish, instead of you (whose only options are to play the card too early and get out-tempo'd afterward, use more than 3 mana elsewhere to catch-up at which point it becomes unplayable, or lose the game to a sudden-attack completely at your opponent's discretion) - the ultimate NO-NO for this deck: I never even considered putting it in. ~
Meta Call Flex Spots
Divergent Paths x 2
At times I feel as if this card could be cut to 1 copy, but right now 2 feels great against the current meta, and drawing into at least one is almost necessary in order to compete with Star Spring (Obliterate is conditional and too great a tempo loss early on). In other metas previously, I've experimented with 1 copy of Passage Unearned, as well as 2 extra copies of Lunari Shadestalker. ~
Literally Everything Else One Could Ever Hope to Need
Lunari Priestess x 2
Solari Priestess x 3
Mountain Scryer x 3
Moondreamer x 3
Starshaping x 3
I still believe that Invoke is one of the most broken mechanics currently in the game. This is one of the heaviest late-game decks I can possibly imaginable, yet the only cards above 5-mana we run are removal, and our mid-game minions and healing straight up provide whatever early OR late-game tools we might possibly need in any matchup - it's simply overly flexible (flexilibity in card games being a MUCH bigger deal than most people give it credit for) and not enough of a tempo/stat sacrifice IMO. I think that Invoke as a mechanic is even stronger when ran in bulk, and especially in a Control deck - as the game goes on slowly you generate a toolbox that can handle just about any dynamic situation that meta decks can throw your way. The spell-mana nerf to Living Legends has balanced it out quite a bit, however the same-nerf to Cosmic Inspiration still hasn't convinced me that it isn't in the top 5 least healthy effects that a game based on carefully stat-balanced of minion trading could ever have (hit me up with your Cosmic Inspiration hate!) - a large proportion our games are won by this disgusting effect. Solari Priestess and Starshaping need no introduction as some of the most popular, utilitarian Invoke cards, however Mountain Scryer and Moondreamer (not so much Lunari Priestess) really put in the work, and I've never seen anyone else play these cards. The former provides crazy mana-advantage as the game goes on given our huge focus on Celestials (it's a shame we can't afford to push its Invoke chances even higher), and the latter has juuussst the right stat distribution at 3/5 to blockade most midgame tempo plays out opponent might go for. NOTE: Aurelion Sol is straight up unnecessary to compete late-game, is always burdensome and clunky draw, ruins our surprise factor (though that doesn't exist anymore with this post being made), and we often outvalue decks running him anyway (don't forget that the original premise of this deck was 'How can I best remove Aurelion?'). ~
Matchups/Strategy (Order Based on Mobalytics Tier List)
Lee Sin (60/40)
A somewhat favored matchup - although more recent lists that have cut Bastion in favor of Nopify may be a bit more in their favor (a proper Ping Counter). Hard mulligan for Spacey Sketcher, Sunburst and our pings. Generating Silence (Equinox) for Mentor of the Stones/Zenith Blade is our main early game goal. Our Mid-to-Late game goal is removing all 3 Lee Sin's at the expense of practically everything else (the rest of their deck is pretty much completely irrelevant, but rushing them down is also pretty much impossible) - after which our win is basically guaranteed.
This matchup is sadly the most binary thing: Sunburst/Vengeance/Ping's VS Lee Sin/Spell Denial/Zenith Blade
The rest of both decks are basically irrelevant other than to slow down the level up/speed up the level up/Draw into above cards
Draw Draw Draw + Always save enough mana to Removal Spell + Ping if the opponent has 4 mana up late game
I believe that we are very, very heavily favored if played properly (although it's a VERY nuanced matchup to play right), and most of our losses come from bricking our early-game draws and/or not drawing/generating a single Starshaping/Golden Sister as their burn damage inevitably builds up. Hard mulligan for all 1/2 cost cards (only keep 1 Pale Cascade with a 1/2 cost minion).
NEVER, EVER play early minions proactively (e.g. NO turn 1 Lunari Duskbringer unless they play something) - only ever match however many minions the opponent has AND trade right away to minimise Make it Rain/TF value (For instance, if you proactively play a minion with nothing to trade it into, and then find yourself needing to play, say, Diana/Solari Priestess later - the opponent is basically guaranteed free additional AOE value: make EVERY chump blocker count)
ALWAYS open attack into Powder Keg's (usually with our single developed minion)
Take ANY trade you can get (even if somewhat unfavorable) to clear both sides of the board going into turn 8 - one of the ways we can lose is if Riptide Rex clears our heavy board and we only have time to develop one chump blocker before the onslaught - especially because Riptide is MUCH stronger against minions than the nexus > Late game, try to keep both sides of the board as empty as possible
If you find yourself with priority against their activated Plunder past turn 8, play small minions to bait out Rex without having to pass the turn OR play larger minions, especially with uneven health like Moondreamer to protect the rest of your board from potential cannons
ALWAYS try to find a NON-Rex'able position late game to develop Golden Sister, and save Pale Cascade if possible to protect her from Noxian Fervor and recover 6 previous health
ALWAYS have enough mana to remove Leviathan if the opponent has more than 8 mana on any given turn (prioritise Leviathan over Swain himself)
Sacrifice minions to TF attacks and remove Zap Sprayfin ASAP to minimise chip damage (which really builds up)
Be careful and make sure you always have a way to prevent Swain connecting with the Nexus (even if they develop him this turn and open attack the next); Pale Cascade is a good tool here
Pirate Aggro (55/45)
We are much more prone to bricking on draws here than Swain/TF, as we need quite a specific hand to deal with their onslaught - This is probably our most draw-dependent, low-agency matchup by far - as face-deck matchups tend to be. In addition - Captain Farron is much more effective against our removal strategy than the likes of Leviathan. Nonetheless, from my experience I think that we're still every-slightly-so favored in this matchup - often winning by the skin of our teeth. Starshaping/Golden Sister are mandatory late-game, and not bricking by not drawing/generating either is also basically a loss. Hard mulligan for all 1/2 drops, and keep a single Sunburst for Gangplank if your hand is already looking great.
There's nothing much to say here given the nature of their deck - pray your draws are good and take the obvious trades
A very unfavored and binary matchup (see below as to why) that has luckily become rarer recently. Mulligan for Removal/Invoke cards.
Save Starshaping for when you can actually make use of the heal (don't just play it on turn 3 because they're 'starting off slowly' - it's very important to maximise your leeway to survive Atrocity later on)
Try to remove Trundle on curve with Sunburst/Vengeance
Generate/Stockpile removal throughout the midgame
Sadly, none of these choices really matter in the end and the match comes down to luck - if Warmother's pulls a Level 1 Tryndamere on their attacking turn, the obvious open attack followed by a loss is all but guaranteed (Vengeance doesn't stop Atrocity in this case - leading to too great a health/tempo loss, and my previous Passage Unearned tech to deal with specifically this scenario simply wasn't worth the dead card in other matchups). We can also lose to a big levelled Trundle, or simply not generating/drawing into enough removal. Sadly these cases happen more often than not. Warmother's generated too much tempo if left unchecked by hard removal for even a single turn so there is little leeway for bad luck.
If Warmothers' timing and Invoke/draws are on our side, the matchup becomes pretty simple - Smartly use about a removal spell on their big guys for about 8 turns, play around Ruination and Atrocity, then cruise to victory.
This deck was basically created on Day 1 specifically to destroy Trundle/Asol. Sadly though, even at 75/25 the matchup is worse than it should be due to the nature of Invoke RNG - if one player draws into Cosmic Inspiration and the other didn't the match is over, full stop + the occasional shenanigans involving The Great Beyond uninteractibly going face and non-stop Living Legends value. Mulligan for Sunburst, Vengeance and pings.
Remove Trundle ASAP with Sunburst (Vengeance/Obliterates are best saved for Asol so getting Sunburst value while Trundle is still unleveled and 6 health is a big deal in terms of removal distribution)
Always try to remove Asol on the first turn he's played with Vengeance chaining into a ping to minimise the opponent's chance of getting game-winning Invoke RNG/matching your late-game value with free Celestials
If you still haven't drawn a ping late game, try to fish for Crescent Strike with Spacey Sketcher
Play around 7-mana Asol (Augur of the Old Ones) as much as possible
Pray you draw Cosmic Inspiration and the opponent doesn't
Discard Aggro (80/20)
I don't know why this deck is considered competitive - maybe because our matchup here is basically as favored as TF/Swain except without any gameplay nuance required on our part. Mulligan for 1-2 drops. Keep Solari Priestess/Sunburst if hand is good. Only necessary statistical losses to bad early draws against an aggro archtype.
Make obvious trades. Play around Mystic Shot on Diana. Chump block Draven/Jinx. Remove Draven/Jinx. Profit.
Another draw dependent, but quite favored matchup. Quite difficult to play though - you need to balance maintaining some modicum of tempo whilst also being able to deal with their crucial threats. Mulligan for 1-2 drops ESPECIALLY Pale Cascade/Pings, and Removal.
DON'T play ANY minion with less than 3 attack from turns 1-4 UNLESS you're getting tempo'd into the ground OR you have Pale Cascade (otherwise Fiora gets a free trade and the opponent gets to use their buffs reactively rather than proactively - giving you less leeway to remove her)
Save ping's for Fiora Barrier's, NOT Fleetfeather Tracker UNLESS you're getting tempo'd into the ground
Save a removal spell and mana for turn 3 Fiora, turn 4 Shen, turn 6 Genevieve and turn 9 Brightsteel UNLESS you're getting tempo'd into the ground
Basically the Pirate Aggro matchup but a tad bit slower and with no burn - giving you more leeway to make up for bad draws both early and late.
Make the obvious trades, pray to draw well and don't to let Genevieve get 2 attacks off
Basically the Trundle/Asol matchup except with no 'must remove ASAP' threats giving you more leeway to make up for bad draws. Celestial RNG and especially Cosmic Inspiration still give them a chance to win as usual. ~
Shyvana Dragons (50/50?)
I surprisingly, haven't faced too much of this deck yet personally, but looking at it's cards compared to ours, I think the matchup would be about 50/50 (an otherwise favourable looking matchup affected a bit by their high tempo removal and guaranteed Cosmic Inspiration in the form of Kadregrin). ~
This matchup is dependent on whether we draw removal for Ashe somewhat on curve, how much tempo they manage to build early on and whether we draw good enough to afford to play around Reckoning. Mulligan for Sunburst, Solari Priestess, Pings and Diana (only if you've already drawn support) as our other standard early drops are all pretty ineffective against theirs.
Remove Ashe ASAP
Try to Vengeance Sejuani on the attack if she directly attacks your Frostbitten minion in order to prevent the free value trade and maintain tempo on board.
Play around Reckoning as much as possible, especially if it wouldn't affect their own board too much compared to yours - maximise your 5+ attack minions to theirs if Reckoning begins to look more likely
Try to bait out an invested attack/Frostbite support for Trifarian Gloryseeker before pinging her - especially because Elixir of Iron is a bit rarer nowadays
Probably our most favored meta-deck matchup, and unfortunately rarer recently. Their win conditions - Kalista, Blighted Caretaker tempo, Neverglade Collector and They Who Endure simply don't stand a chance against our toolbox. Most losses come from unanswered Blighted Caretaker tempo. Mulligan for Spacey Sketcher, Sunburst and Pale Cascade.
ALWAYS pick Silence (For They Who Endure) or Stun (For Blighted Caretaker) off Spacey Sketcher
Try to hold a minion to play on turn 3/4 to kill an attacking Kalista with Pale Cascade AND get the Nightfall card draw
Play as reactively as possible with your pings - playing them proactively will almost always be answered by Glimpse Beyond, and when they run out of gas later on they will be forced to play their Glipmse proactively - your chance to strike!
Silence/Sunburst Blighted Caretaker as it comes down
SAVE Vengeance for They Who Endure - going into the late game, stockpile Silence/Sunburst and Vengeance and maintain enough mana (usually open-attacking) if necessary (IF can still afford to play They Who Endure that turn) to use one of the former followed by Vengeance to counter into their Atrocity: with this line of play, it's basically impossible to lose the combo
The biggest downside and sheer impossible matchup of this archtype. Maokai manages to pack even less interactivity/inevitability than we do, and the nature of our deck gives us no chance of out-tempoing Deep early OR late. Auto-concede. ~
A simpler aggro matchup than the others. Mulligan for 1-2 drops - especially Spacey Sketcher and Diana, as well as Sunburst.
ALWAYS pick the Stun spell off Spacey Sketcher, and save it for Diana, or of lesser priority, Nocturne/Ephemerals off Stalking Shadows
Removing Nocturne ASAP with either Sunburst or Vengeance is a HUGE priority
ALWAYS play around Pale Cascade
Play around Atrocity and Doombeast damage later on in the match
Another matchup that I haven't faced too much of just yet. Mulligan hard for Divergent Paths and Solari Priestess - Once we remove their uninteractive element trump-card in the Landmark win-condition, if we can survive their early tempo, the rest of the match should be a cinch given our heal/health-ignoring conditionless removal for their Champions. ~
Thanks for reading up to this point, and pardon my formatting, the ridiculous length and the sheer pomposity of it all. I still think Invoke is flexible to the point of being broken and the only reason the matchup spread is so good. I also think that with the release of this guide - more people will come to recognise this archtype and the element of surprise affecting enemy mulligans against an assumed more aggro, Nightfall-focused Diana archtype will be lost. People will also know to play around less common cards such as Sunburst, and I expect winrates to fall somewhat across the board. To conclude this guide, I'd like to say that this is this is not a healthy deck. At the deepest level, this deck is fundamentally about removing agency from your opponent and giving it to yourself, as well as securing the critical boon of having inevitability over your opponent in a game with the nature of LoR. If all decks were like this, LoR would completely cease to be fun. What else do I think is unhealthy right now? - Simple: anything removing interactivity from your opponent - ESPECIALLY as a win condition; Maokai, Star Spring, Cosmic Inspiration, Lee Sin. The avenues through which these cards can be interacted with are way too limited right now. A lot of the metagame nowadays is about having an uninteractable win condition, or focusing damage to face so fast the opponent has no chance to react - another form of non-interactivity. Here's hoping that the meta in the near future heads back in the direction of the close but fair midrange board battles we all came to love back in vanilla LoR. ~ (slinx4)
Modern Serialization and Star Trek: Re-imagining TNG to put Discovery and modern Trek in context
This is going to be one of those shower thought posts that exploded to be far larger than I originally hoped, so my apologies in advance. It's no secret or unspoken thing that Star Trek: Discovery differs largely in terms of presentation from previous Trek series, and that is due in large part to it being a 14-episode, serialized series, versus the majority of Trek, which has been almost entirely episodic. DS9 sort of bucks this trend with major serialized arcs, and continuity between episodes (characters actually change!), as does Voyager. Enterprise, too, takes a bigger step towards serialization, as events from past episodes frequently shape those of later episodes, and characters change both in relationship and attitude over the series (to the extent that the writing allowed). However, for Trek's 2017 return, DIS was brought to the screen in a radically different way-- instead of episodic seasons punctuated with serialized arcs and minor continuity threads sprinkled throughout, it was a tightly-woven story (insofar as it could be, given its original showrunner left midway through the development of the series) concentrated on one, continuing arc, following the trend of other prestige television shows that define the Golden Age of TV. This is attributable to a few likely things: preference by the writers, the demands of CBS, and wanting to use the show to launch All Access, which necessarily demanded a "Game of Thrones-style" flagship. The smaller episode count, too, enables more budget per episode-- in 1988, an episode of TNG cost ~$1.3 million USD, which, with inflation, equaled about $2 million USD in 2016, when Discovery was being developed; Discovery's first season ran a reported $8.5 million per episode. Even at only 14 episodes versus TNG's first 24 episode season, DIS S1 cost more than double the amount to produce. This level of cost and detail means playing it safer, but also, means reusing props, prosthetics, and CGI assets to make sure that bang-for-your-buck is ensured. Thus, a series with a relatively consistent setting. Season 1 of DIS tells a specific story, with distinct acts, a beginning, a middle, a climax, and a conclusion, and sets up plot points that are raised and resolved (along with others left dangling for future seasons). In terms of structure, it looks something like this:
"The Vulcan Hello" (beginning)
"Battle at the Binary Stars" (Act 1 concludes)
"Context Is for Kings"
"The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry"
"Choose Your Pain"
"Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad"
"Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum"
"Into the Forest I Go" (middle) (Act 2 concludes)
"The Wolf Inside"
"What's Past is Prologue" (Act 3 concludes)
"The War Without, The War Within"
"Will You Take My Hand?" (Act 4 concludes, thematic climax)
And it follows a few core plot threads:
Burnham's coming to terms with her role in the war and losing Georgiou, proving herself as a Starfleet officer worthy of trust/redemption from her role in the war, and re-centering her relationship with her adoptive father (Sarek).
Saru learning to trust Burnham, and growing as an officer to eventually be a Captain.
Tilly growing into her role as an officer and a professional.
Stamets growing past his issues with people, and opening up to go beyond his work to see his with his friends.
Ash...uh...finding out he's a Klingon?
Lorca just kinda being a dick the whole time and just dying I guess?
Sarek learning that he can show the necessary affection to have a good relationship with his daughter, and recognizing how his dispassionate Vulcan attitude may cause issues for his family.
This is all a pretty large departure from previous Trek, where some character threads are sprinkled throughout the series, like Riker maturing as an officer, or Sisko growing into his role as the Emissary as well as a Captain. Some things are more contained, like Picard dealing with the trauma of his assimilation and being used to murder 15,000 people by fighting in the mud with his brother on their vineyard. This new structure has been received with mixed results by the Trek community (though the consensus seems to be it's working, considering we're at three seasons with two more on the books and two spinoffs on the way), and I think a large part of that is that, while serialization lets the writers tell longer, more detailed, and more complex stories, episodic shows enable writers to tell more varied, unique, and "special" shows. With DIS, we're not going to have a "Measure of a Man", unless the season is set up to support it. However, with the TNG model, we're not going to have characters change much over time, and the reset button is going to come into play at the end of every season (if not every episode...looking at you, Voyager). This leads me to the original shower thought that prompted this post: while rewatching The Neutral Zone in TNG S1, it made me wonder what TNG would've looked like had it adopted a similar model, where, presumably, the Borg would have been central to the plot, as would Q. So, I present to you below, my model for TNG S1, were it made in 2020 in an episodic, DIS-style, and leave it there for your consideration as to the future of the franchise, and what possibilities may come from coming series like Strange New Worlds, which may see a come-back of the episodic style. My presumption for this new S1 is that it would borrow elements from S2 and S3 of TNG, as it would, generally, have tighter writing (given far fewer hours of film). TNG Re-Imagined Season 1
S1E1 - The Trial: On its maiden voyage, the newly commissioned USS Enterprise sets out for Farpoint Station to pick up some of its senior staff, and investigate the mysteries of the station. Along the way, the crew is accosted by Q, an omnipotent entity that seeks to put humanity on trial, and ascertain its readiness to explore deeper into the galaxy. Captain Jean-Luc Picard, commander of the Enterprise, adapts to his new role as captain of a ship with families onboard-- including that of his old friend, lover, and Chief Medical Officer, Commander Beverly Crusher, and her son Wesley, fathered by Picard's deceased best friend and former XO, Jack. Meanwhile, Commander Will Riker, the maverick, young executive officer of the Enterprise, works to settle into his position alongside the generally thoughtful composed Captain Picard. Also introduced are: Lt. Commander Data, the Enterprise's operations officer, and an android who dreams of being human; Lt. Worf, the tactical officer, Starfleet's "first" Klingon officer who was raised by humans after being orphaned in a Romulan attack on his planet of birth; Lt. Commander Natasha Yar, the Enterprise's Chief of Security, raised on a former Federation colony world inhabited by humans that failed and fell into lawlessness and violence; Lt. Commander Geordi LaForge, a gifted warp physicist and Deputy Chief Engineer of the Enterprise; and Guinan, bartender and operator of the ship's lounge, who may or may not have superpowers. This episode follows the same general plot as Encounter at Farpoint, Part 1.
S1E2 - Encounter at Farpoint: The Enterprise uncovers the secrets of Farpoint station, and frees the space-dwelling jellyfish creatures of the station from slavery. Events occur much like Encounter at Farpoint, Part 2.
S1E3 - The Naked Now: The Enterprise is afflicted by a virus that causes crew members to lose their shit, as its predecessor was almost 100 years prior. Picard and Crusher are stuck together in sick-bay trying to figure out the situation, where, in their drunken state, they try to avoid their feelings for each other becoming apparent. Riker and Worf butt heads while under the influence of the virus, but come to a nice equilibrium. Yar and Data bone, which leaves Data wondering if he's actually more human than he thought. A cure is found, but before it is, the Enterprise's Chief Engineer, the man, the myth, the legend, Jim Shimoda, passes away while doing some dumb shit (RSVP Shimoda), and Picard asks LaForge to take over the Chief Engineer position. Picard goes to Guinan to inquire about Q, as it seems she and him have some prior relationship-- though dodgy, she warns that he is potentially dangerous, but likely would have gotten them killed by now had he truly wanted to mess with them. Notably, O'Brien gets to have fun.
S1E4 - The Battle: The Enterprise is confronted by a Ferengi marauder, whose commander is seeking revenge for the "murder" of his son by Picard as Captain of the Stargazer. Picard must overcome his guilt over the loss of the Stargazer, and defuse tensions with the Ferengi before the Enterprise suffers as similar fate. He and Crusher have a moment, and she convinces him to sit down with Wesley, finally, and have a talk with him as the only father figure in his life. Meanwhile, Geordi settles into his role as Chief Engineer, and learns to balance his new professional relationship with Commander Riker against their preexisting friendship from their days at the Academy. Worf and Data bond over their shared lack of a relationship with their parents. The episode ends with Q appearing to Guinan, and pestering her about her thoughts on humanity. She defends the species, and demands Q leave the Enterprise alone. Q fucks off doing his whole asshole thing, ominously saying we'll see about that. No racist shit in this one!
S1E5 - Empowered: Akin to Hide-and-Q, Q decides to test Guinan's defense of humanity by giving Riker the powers of a Q, and seeing what he does with them. Episode plays out fairly similarly to the original one, just with less dumb shit going down. Picard counsels Riker to be restrained, but he does the whole "giving everyone what they want" thing. Riker is settled down by Troi, who he realizes he still has feelings for (and, now able to read her mind, is able to see that she does, for him). Q removes Riker's powers, and concedes that Riker was harmless, and that of all the things he could have done, he chose to try to make his people happy, concluding that maybe Guinan is right. He appears to Guinan again, and gives an ominous message: "Maybe they are ready for what's coming."
S1E6 - Datalore: Data's twin brother Lore, another Soong android, is discovered, and is a dick. Data realizes that, though having the same architecture as Lore, he grew to be someone different. Picard, happily remarks to him that maybe he is more than just the machine he thinks himself to be. Worf and Riker get up to holodeck shenanigans, and introduce Badgey, an experimental training program that is not evil at all. Riker decides that Badgey is annoying, and puts the program on ice. This will never appear again, surely.
S1E7 - Skin of Evil: While exploring an anomalous planet on the fringes of Federation space, the Enterprise encounters a malevolent entity that takes down an Away Team shuttle, stranding Yar, Worf, Troi, and Data on the surface. Troi figures out how to defeat this entity, which is not a black puddle of evil, but not before Yar is severely wounded. Worf rescues her, and she is beamed back to the Enterprise, where Crusher is able to stabilize her, but she may be disabled her wounds, and will require a long recovery period. Data, in a fit of what seems to be rage, exploits the weakness identified by Troi, and kills Armus or whatever the bad-guy that's no longer a black puddle of evil is. Worf is promoted to Lt. Commander for his bravery, and named Acting Chief of Security and Tactical Operations while Yar is recovering. Q appears to Picard, and toys with him about the lengths to which the crew goes to save a single officer and avoid taking life, and that Data is perhaps the best of them, as he understood what needed to be done. Picard notes that Data was wrong for killing Armus when other options may have been available, but the circumstances called for aggressive actions. He counters, further, that the killing of Armus and the saving of Yar were two sides of the same coin - it's not Starfleet's mission to kill, but they're not just going into things blindly, and suicidally. Q smirks, noting that maybe the ship stands a chance. Before Picard can ask what that means, he blinks out. As the episode ends, Riker is sitting in Ten Forward, discussing with Geordi, Worf, and Data another loss of contact with a Federation outpost on the Neutral Zone, with the four wondering what this may mean.
S1E8 - The Neutral Zone: Picard is contacted by Starfleet Command, and is directed to take the Enterprise to the Romulan Neutral Zone. The episode plays out very similarly to the original, including with the presence of the 21st century cryo-folks: only, in this version, Q appears and insists that modern humanity is much the same as those of the 24th century. In dealing with the Romulans peacefully, and finding out that they, too, have lost colonies, Q is shocked to find that it's true that humanity has grown, and leaves. In the B-plot, Worf struggles with dealing with the Romulans, as his anger over their dishonor and murder of his parents overwhelms him. Yar, in recovery, begins doing exercises with Worf on the holodeck, and he learns from her how to deal with his anger and trauma by hearing of her experience with her homeworld.
S1E9 - Conspiracy: No nubbin bugs here, we're going straight to the Borg, so this failed attempt to introduce an adversary is being replaced! Great episode, though, so we're learning from it. Following the Neutral Zone incident, the Enterprise returns to Earth. On the way, the ship is intercepted by the USS Horatio, and two other Starfleet ships, who request an in-person meeting with Picard. They reveal to Picard that there is a group of Starfleet officers that do not trust the Romulans, and think they are behind the destruction of the colonies. They plan on striking Romulan colonies in retaliation, in order to force the Federation into a war, and end the century of tensions. Picard is disturbed, but cannot believe Starfleet officers would go to such an extent. As the Enterprise continues towards Earth, they receive a notice that the Horatio suffered a warp core breach, killing all aboard. Picard acknowledges the likelihood of a conspiracy, and reads in the senior staff, all of whom are in disbelief, save for Worf, who sympathizes with the conspirators, but believes they are simply misguided by fear. The crew comes up with a plan: they will have Worf stand out to be approached by the conspirators so they can be confronted. During the senior staff's testimony to Starfleet Command, Worf states his belief that regardless of what the Romulans say, they cannot be trusted, and are almost certainly responsible. Worf is then approached by the conspirators, headed by Commander Remmick, who reveals that their group is small, but positioned to take command of several ships throughout the fleet, including two other Galaxy-class ships. Worf tells them that Captain Picard will never go for this plan, and Remmick suggests Commander Riker. Worf returns to the ship, and informs Riker, and only Riker, and they meet with Remmick and the conspirators in San Francisco. Remmick reveals he knew they were investigating them, and takes the two prisoner. The episode ends on a cliffhanger.
S1E10 - Conspiracy, Part 2: Worf and Riker have been missing for a day, which puts Starfleet Security on alert. Picard suspects the conspirators. Remmick issues a directive via Starfleet Intelligence that the Romulans have begun making moves on senior Starfleet staff, including destroying the Horatio and kidnapping/interrogating Riker and Worf. Troi is able to sense Riker's presence in captivity, and pinpoints their location, where they are able to be rescued. Yar contacts friends at Starfleet Command, and is able to get access to communication logs, which Data can use to identify every conspirator in the fleet. Meanwhile, a conspirator onboard the Enterprise attempts to plant a tricobalt explosive on the warp core, and is stopped by LaForge, who identifies it as a Romulan design, but an older one, from the Tomed Incident-- not matching the energy signature of the Warbird they encountered only a few days prior. Picard and Riker beam down to Earth to apprehend Remmick, a firefight breaks out, Remmick is killed, and the conspiracy unravels. The crew presents the evidence to Starfleet Command, and tensions are defused. Starfleet assembles a task force to investigate the situation in the Neutral Zone, headed by newly-introduced Commander Shelby. Lt. Yar is offered a position with the task force, and she joins it, hoping to stay on Earth and still contribute while she recovers from her injury. The Enterprise heads back out.
S1E11 - Captain's Holiday: Literally the same episode from Season 3. Picard does Indiana Jones stuff. Lots of talk about jamaharon. Deanna and Beverly get drunk and talk about the men in charge. Data and Geordi fuck around on the holodeck, and ask Badgey to make a mystery challenging enough for Data. Badgey, being evil, makes Moriarty. Data and Geordi have a splendid time almost dying on the holodeck. Nice and light-hearted.
S1E12 - 11001001: Continuing on from Picard's shoreleave, the Enterprise is still in drydock for refit and repair. The ship is hijacked by the Binars, who it turns out, want to take advantage of the ship's empty space to rescue their colony, that is facing environmental destruction. Riker, Geordi, and Troi are the only two senior staff still onboard, and try to take the ship back with some lower decks officers, but when Troi realizes the point of the mission, they offer their help. Geordi, during the taking back of the ship, gets to do some John McClane stuff in the Jeffries tubes. The Binars say they were afraid to simply ask, because they had been rejected by others before. The Enterprise returns to spacedock, is repaired, and the colony is saved. Riker and Troi confess their affections Another light-ish episode.
S1E13 - Haven: There is no escape from Lwaxana Troi. Before the Enterprise leaves spacedock, Troi's mom boards the ship to warn her that her arranged marriage is still on. The episode is basically the same, except without the sick species. Instead, Troi's arranged husband realizes that she's truly in love with Riker, and doesn't wanna get stuck in a marriage with someone that can't love him. Lwaxana harasses Picard, and we watch him die inside. Geordi and Data shoot the shit in Ten Forward with Guinan, and Data reveals his tryst with Tasha to comedic/heartwarming effect.
S1E14 - Where No One Has Gone Before: Similar to the original plot, but without the Traveler and without going outside the galaxy. An experimental engineering team comes aboard the ship to conduct modifications that should allow the ship to maintain Warp 9 for longer periods of time. Geordi and O'Brien clash with the team, as they seem to be fairly careless with the systems. Wesley, now interning in engineering, becomes close with one of the engineers on the team (a stand-in for the Traveler), who encourages him to become more involved in the upgrade process. An engine malfunction happens and the ship warps into a stellar cluster, then loses maneuvering power. Wesley, Not-Traveler, and Geordi are able to restore power, and get the ship to sustain Warp 9.6 for up to two days, a huge improvement over previous designs which allowed only a few hours. Picard, impressed with Wesley's bravery and ingenuity in engineering, offers him to join the bridge crew as a cadet, and to apply to the Academy. Picard and Wesley actually hug, which, you know. Aww. The episode ends with Guinan cleaning up in Ten Forward after-hours, and sensing something unusual.
S1E15 - The Borg: The episode begins with the Enterprise doing its usual exploration thing, charting nebulae and such, when Q appears on the bridge. Simultaneously, Guinan gets out of the turbolift, and threatens him if he doesn't leave. Picard intervenes, but Q makes a statement: he and the crew have proven themselves ready for the trial to enter its next stage, and to see if they're really ready for what's out there. He snaps his fingers, and the Enterprise is flung 7,000ly deep into the Beta Quadrant, far outside of charted space. The events of "Q Who?" follow, basically, but the episode ends a bit differently. The Enterprise is able to hang in there longer because of the engine modifications in the last episode. Q sends the Enterprise back to the Alpha Quadrant and snaps Picard down to Ten Forward, and everyone but Guinan out, revealing that Guinan is immune to Q's powers. Q tells Picard that the Enterprise and her crew, along with the conduct of other Starfleet officers and Federation citizens that he has observed interacting with Picard and co. since the start of the "trial" at Farpoint, have demonstrated that they're on the path to readiness, but that they need to be prepared for what is coming. Guinan curses him, saying he knows what he has done, and that he's endangered the lives of trillions by introducing the Federation to the Borg. Q simply says: "What makes you think they weren't coming either way?", then leaves. Guinan explains her history with Q (the El-Aurians underwent a similar "trial"), how she came to be in the Alpha Quadrant, and offers her line: "Now that they know you're here..." - "...they will be coming", Picard finishes. The season ends with the prospect looming over their heads, and the Enterprise, battered from its near-death experience, returning to its mission.
And that's TNG S1! S2's theme would be more regular exploration with hints of Borg, and probably another plot or plot(s), and S3 would, of course, culminate in BoBW. Now, I could be way off the mark, but given how Trek is written now, and what it was back then, that's how I'd see something playing out in 2020. Note, though, that even in this format, one finds places to put in some semi-episodic episodes, not unlike Discovery S3 thus far. Hopefully, that means we get the chance for some truly unique, almost-standalone moments in the coming years.
What is up Depthians! We are back with another monstrous update as this one incorporates five beta test builds, so we have a lot to cover. If you want to dive straight into the massive changelog/dissertation Click We should probably start with the biggest change to From The Depths in this update and that is the change of fuel and ammo storage. Quoting Nick, our lead developer
The change is quite simple: "remove ammo and fuel as separate resources. Weapons will consume materials directly, fuel engines and CJEs will burn materials directly". Before I dig into why I think this is the right thing for FtD, I'd like to explain a few details. Energy, fuel and ammo are still needed for your constructs. We have changed the "ammo barrels (etc)" and "fuel tanks" so they are just alternative material storage containers, but with the following properties: --"ammo barrels" now increase the maximum possible rate of usage of materials as "ammo" for reloading guns. They still explode. --"fuel tanks" increase the maximum possible rate of use of materials as "fuel" for fuel engines and CJEs, with the future stretch goal of fuel tanks being flammable. --So ammo racking is going to remain a feature of the game- vehicles that need to reload a large amount of materials may need additional ammo barrels Ammo and oil processors are replaced ship-wide with existing material storage containers of the same size. They'll be made decorative blocks so you can still use them decoratively in future if you want to. The oil refinery will be repurposed (described later in the patch notes) There are two main reasons why I think this is the right move. Why it's right for the business and why it's right for the player. Let's start with why I think it's right for the player: Ammo and fuel containers are currently purchasable as either "empty or full". This is confusing when considered in the context of the campaign, story missions, custom battles, multiplayer matches...how do empty and full tanks behave in these modes? I'd need an hour to study the code and a small essay to explain it. That's not good game design. Localised resources, when considering just the moving of material (and energy, if you want), becomes infinitely more manageable. The supply group system and the transit fleet system are not intuitive and for a lot of situations, their usage becomes fiddly and too complicated. We've replaced these systems with a new supply system that is much more intuitive for moving materials and energy around. The UI is less cluttered now that ammo and fuel bars are not shown. This is not a minor point...it'll reduce the amount of data on screen by about 40% in a lot of the different views. It'll be so much easier to know at a glance if a particular fleet is running low on "materials" or doing fine. Is a transport ready to leave, or does it need to pick up more materials? Will a set of vehicles have enough materials for the next fight...this is so much easier with just one main resource type per vehicle. When you or an enemy run out of ammo or fuel in a battle it's just frustrating. By combining fuel, ammo and materials for repairing you can guarantee that if someone runs out, the fight is going to be over quickly. I imagine that deep down the majority of players would rather not have to create, stock and resupply fuel and ammo. I know that personally, the requirement to do this puts me off playing the campaign. By using a single material it still focuses the game on making efficient war machines, maintaining supply lines and growing your economy, but without the extra confusion of mat->ammo and mat-> fuel conversion. Being able to assess weapons, engines and vehicles in terms of material cost and running cost is elegant. Most grand strategy games and RTS games don't have localised resources, and many don't have more than 2 resource types to handle. Very few combine localised materials with multiple types. Why it's right for the business: The ammo and oil processors were created about 8 years ago. Boring single blocks that don't add much to the game. It's been our intention to add something similar to the oil refinery but for ammo creation. That's a lot of work and adds to the complexity of the logistical part of the game, which we feel is already a burden. Making the localised resource supply system more user friendly to make it easy/natural/pleasant to move ammo, fuel and material around the map would require a lot of effort and, quite frankly, I'm not sure we'd ever manage it. The complexity of the UI scares off a lot of our customers. The barriers to getting a gun firing or a boat moving will be lowered if a single material container can theoretically get everything working. Running out of ammo/fuel in combat is a problem for our players. We want to find a solution to that, but it would take a lot of effort to do so. We also want the strategic AI to always enter a battle with enough ammo and fuel for the fight- that's another massive bunch of work. The campaign's strategic AI has to work hard to get materials where it wants them. It's a bundle of work and added complexity to get NPC fleets to restock ammo and fuel as well. We had proposed work to make resource dumps (from dead ships) contain ammo and fuel...again, that's more work, more bugs, more testing. Certain game modes such as story missions, tournament mode, and multiplayer maps should theoretically allow the player to choose the amount of ammo or fuel stocked into their vehicles before the match begins. That's another bundle of work and added complexity we'd like to avoid. Currently out of play units on the map can run out of fuel and will still continue to move "for free". It's exploitable and we don't have a solution to that...but if all the different out of play movement calculations are burning material, there will be no avoiding the cost. The development effort can be much better spent polishing up other features that I actually believe in, rather than flogging the dead horse of logistical complexity in an attempt to make it interesting, approachable and fun for everyone (which I fundamentally don't think it would ever be). Fundamentally I think that by winding back this feature we tie up a large number of loose ends and it results in a far more finished and enjoyable product. And what's-more everyone on the development team agrees that we enjoy the game for fighting, looting and creating...not staring blankly at dozens of resource bars trying to figure out who needs to head back for more fuel and how long we need to wait for ammunition to process. We've also simplified the resource transfer system. "Supply groups" and "Transit Fleets" have been replaced with a simple but comprehensive three-tier system. You can mark a vehicle as a "Creator", a "Cargo" or a "User". Creators fill up Cargos (and Users), Cargos give to Users (up to procurement levels). Users equalise their material with their neighbours, so do Creators, and there are a few handy transfers from Users back to Cargo and Creator to make sure they maintain their procurement levels as well. This system covers 95% of the way people were using the resource system and does it all semi-automatically. This simplification is much more possible now that materials are the only resource, as they invariably just need to flow from the resource zones to the front line, with everyone (Creators and Cargo) keeping what they need and passing the rest on. This new resource system also facilitates the long-range transport of materials from refinery to refinery, which is neat. The system also has an option, for Creator and Cargo types, to set their "supply chain index", so if you want to relay materials from output to output in order to accumulate them at a central location you can set the supply chain index to determine which way along the chain the materials will flow. It's all explained in the game.
After spending a lot of time with this new system from adventure to campaign and designer mode, the gameplay feels a little faster to get going and a little simpler for fleet management. As if you didn’t already know, you can shift+right click (with your supply construct selected) on the target construct / flagship of a fleet to keep supplied, keep holding down shift and right-click where you want to pick the resources up from and once again while not letting go of shift, shift+right click on the target construct/flag ship to finish the loop. This would be done of course after setting up the settings Creator, Cargo and User. Creator as an example is the harvesting construct, Cargo which would be the supply ship, User which would be a single target construct that uses the mats. This will keep the supply ship target waypoint updated and therefore your supply ship will always head to the target construct no matter where it has moved to after setting up the loop. You still need ammo and fuel boxes on your constructs, as these are governing the transfer rate / the speed that stock your turrets and fuel engine with the materials needed for them to run. You can run a construct without fuel or ammo boxes, however, once your APS clips are empty you will see a drop in your rate of fire as the material is not being transferred fast enough, this is the same for fuel engines and CJE. Another change that goes hand in hand with resource management is the changes to fuel refineries. In short:
Refineries on a force with greater than 1 million materials on it will begin refining the material into 'commodities' that are stored centrally. Commodities (AKA centralised materials) can be added by the player to any vehicle in allied territory, at any time.
Steam was previously totally unbalanced and arbitrary. For example, 9 small boilers with 1 small piston was the optimal steam setup, which was more efficient and denser than almost all other engines; and turbine power generation only depended on its pressure, so compact turbines were always optimal.
It lacked many critical info in its UI.
It was hard to control the usage of steam
What's good with new steam:
A bit more of realism and complexity
Larger steam now generally have better efficiency and density than equivalent smaller steam
More useful info such as total power production, performance over time
Possibility to regulate steam usage with valves
Pros of steam compared to injector fuel:
Denser and more efficient
Even denser with turbines
Easier to fit into irregular space
Provides a buffer with flywheels or steam tanks
More efficient when used for propellers
Doesn't require fuel containers, uses material directly from any type of storage
Computationally less intensive
Cons of steam compared to fuel:
Still hard to regulate, so it's only useful when the power usage is constant or there's a buffer energy storage
Turbines waste energy when batteries are full
Crankshafts waste energy when reaching speed limit
More susceptible to damage (injector engines can often still run fine even when half of it is gone, steam can stop working when a single pipe is destroyed)
Why cost of parts is hilariously high: Steam engines have better efficiency and density (many players seem to forget that one) than injector engines. So a higher initial costs makes it less overpowered. (In my opinion, the potential waste of energy is a major drawback of steam and justifies for its high potential power. But iirc Draba said that injector engines would be useless on designs that require a lot of power if steam doesn't have higher initial cost, which also makes sense.) Problem with new steam that can't be fixed:
Many old designs are broken due to low power output
Problems that can probably be fixed but I don't have a solution:
Inefficient steam engines are ridiculously bad (a bad steam engine is like 30 PPM and 50 PPV, while a good one is around 600 PPM and 110 PPV) (I tried to fix this and spent like 40 hours on that, but I only managed to make it easier to build a mediocre engine)
Cannot be simulated to calculate a stable power output, like fuel engines do (actually it's easy but would take a lot of time to do and I don't think it's necessary)
Another massive change is the detection rework which I also left a few questions for Ian AKA Blothorn to explain the system and how it works. Why a change was warranted:
Different types of detection weren't well balanced--for instance, visual components had better accuracy than IR and vastly better range.
Detection autoadjust used an incorrect formula, so optimizing adjustment was both mechanical and tedious.
Trackers having much better detection ranges than search sensors meant that detection was very binary--if you could see something at all you could usually get a precise lock (barring ECM, which was only counterable by large numbers of components).
Needing both sensors and munitions warners made reactive missile defence difficult on small vehicles.
There were a number of other inconsistencies/imbalances, e.g. some visual/IR sensors working through water, steam engines producing no heat, etc.
Overview of the new system: On the offensive side, each sensor type now has a role in which it is optimal, and large vehicles are best using a variety to cover their weaknesses. Visual probably remains the default for above-water detection--it remains impossible to reduce visual signature other than reducing size. IR is better against fast vehicles, as they have trouble avoiding high IR signatures from thrust and drag. Both visual and IR are weak in rangefinding (although coincidence rangefinders are adequate for most purposes); radar is correspondingly strong in range and weak in bearing, although it often offers better detection chances against vehicles that don't pay attention to radar stealth. On the defensive side, there are two approaches. Most obvious is signature reduction--while it is deliberately difficult to avoid detection entirely, reducing signature reduces detection chances and thus degrades opposing accuracy. At short ranges, however, this doesn't work well--detection chances are likely high regardless, and low errors at short range mean even sparse detections can give a good fix. Smoke and chaff can be useful here: they increase detection chance while adding a distance-independent error to opponent's visual and radar sensors, respectively. ECM, buoys, and radar guidance have also been reworked. Buoys are more powerful, becoming more accurate as they get closer to the target. While their base error is high, at long ranges a buoy at close range can beat the accuracy of any onboard sensor. If you worry about opponents’ buoys, ECM can now intermittently jam them--except if they are connected to their parent vehicle by a harpoon cable, in which case they don't need the vulnerable wireless connection. Most blueprints should need no modifications under the new system, although a few may want a few more or less GPP cards. The one exception is water interactions--IR cameras, laser rangefinders, and retroreflection sensors can no longer work through water, so submarines that used them underwater or vehicles that used them to detect submarines will need to replace them (likely with buoys). Vehicles that predominantly used visual detection should also consider adding a greater variety of sensors--in particular, visual camera trackers tied to AA mainframes should likely be replaced with IR cameras. Also, radars and cameras can take over missile and projectile detection (radar is required for projectile detection), so munitions warners can be removed/replaced with additional sensors. Last but not least a sweet little addition to our build menu prefabs. https://preview.redd.it/iqw1ymabu9t51.png?width=1920&format=png&auto=webp&s=aa1e3cdba6e1d62e07aef83caf0acad2a39249ed Please do make sure you go through the changelog as a hell of a lot has changed!
The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill, Part 3
Okay, Wendy’s or Walgreens or whoever, I don’t care who you are, you’re listening to the rest.
Introduction to Part 3
Welcome back one last time to “The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill,” a series where we discuss all aspects of skill design and development. In Part 1, we talked about OSRS’s history with skills, and started the lengthy conversation on Skill Design Philosophy, including the concepts of Core, Expansion, and Integration. This latter topic consumed the entirety of Part 2 as well, which covered Rewards and Motivations, Progression, Buyables, as well as Unconstructive Arguments. Which brings us to today, the final part of our discussion. In this Part 3, we’ll finish up Section 3 – Skill Design Philosophy, then move on to chat about the design and blog process. One last time, this discussion was intended to be a single post, but its length outgrew the post character limit twice. Therefore, it may be important to look at the previous two parts for clarity and context with certain terms. The final product, in its purest, aesthetic, and unbroken form, can be found here.
3-C – Skill Design Philosophy, Continued
3-12 - Balancing
What follows from the discussion about XP and costs, of course, is balancing: the bane of every developer. A company like Riot knows better than anyone that having too many factors to account for makes good balance impossible. Balancing new ideas appropriately is extremely challenging and requires a great respect for current content as discussed in Section 3-5 – Integration. Thankfully, in OSRS we only have three major balancing factors: Profit, XP Rate, and Intensity, and two minor factors: Risk and Leniency. These metrics must amount to some sense of balance (besides Leniency, which as we’ll see is the definition of anti-balance) in order for a piece of content to feel like it’s not breaking the system or rendering all your previous efforts meaningless. It’s also worthy to note that there is usually a skill-specific limit to the numerical values of these metrics. For example, Runecrafting will never receive a training method that grants 200k xp/hr, while for Construction that’s easily on the lower end of the scale. A basic model works better than words to describe these factors, and therefore, being the phenomenal artist that I am, I have constructed one, which I’ve dubbed “The Guthix Scale.” But I’ll be cruel and use words anyway.
Profit: how much you gain from a task, or how much you lose. Gain or loss can include resources, cosmetics, specialized currencies, good old gold pieces, or anything on that line.
XP Rate: how fast you gain XP.
Intensity: how much effort (click intensity), attention (reaction intensity), and thought (planning intensity) you need to put into the activity to perform it well.
Risk: how likely is the loss of your revenue and/or resource investment into the activity. Note that one must be careful with risk, as players are very good at abusing systems intended to encourage higher risk levels to minimize how much they’re actually risking.
Leniency: a measure for how imbalanced a piece of content can be before the public and/or Jagex nerfs it. Leniency serves as a simple modulator to help comprehend when the model breaks or bends in unnatural ways, and is usually determined by how enjoyable and abusable an activity is, such that players don’t want to cause an outrage over it. For example, Slayer has a high level of Leniency; people don’t mind that some Slayer tasks grant amazing XP Rates, great Profits, have middling Intensity, and low Risk. On the other hand, Runecrafting has low levels of Leniency; despite low Risk, many Runecrafting activities demand high Intensity for poor XP Rates and middling Profits.
In the end, don’t worry about applying specific numbers during the conceptual phase of your skill design. However, when describing an activity to your reader, it’s always useful if you give approximations, such as “high intensity” or “low risk,” so that they get an idea of the activity’s design goals as well as to guide the actual development of that activity. Don’t comment on the activity’s Leniency though, as that would be pretty pretentious and isn’t for you to determine anyway.
3-13 - Skill Bloat
What do the arts of weaving, tanning, sowing, spinning, pottery, glassmaking, jewellery, engraving, carving, chiselling, carpentry, and even painting have in common? In real life, there’s only so much crossover between these arts, but in Runescape they’re all simply Crafting. The distinction between what deserves to be its own skill or instead tagged along to a current skill is often arbitrary; this is the great challenge of skill bloat. The fundamental question for many skill concepts is: does this skill have enough depth to stand on its own? The developers of 2006 felt that there was sufficient depth in Construction to make it something separate from Crafting, even if the latter could have covered the former. While there’s often no clean cut between these skills (why does making birdhouses use Crafting instead of Construction?), it is easy to see that Construction has found its own solid niche that would’ve been much too big to act as yet another Expansion of Crafting. On the other hand, a skill with extremely limited scope and value perhaps should be thrown under the umbrella of a larger skill. Take Firemaking: it’s often asked why it deserves to be its own skill given how limited its uses are. This is one of those ideas that probably should have just been thrown under Crafting or even Woodcutting. But again, the developers who made early Runescape did not battle with the same ideas as the modern player; they simply felt like Firemaking was a good idea for a skill. Similarly, the number of topics that the Magic skill covers is so often broken down in other games, like Morrowind’s separation between Illusion, Conjuration, Alteration, Destruction, Mysticism, Restoration, Enchant, Alchemy (closer to Herblore), and Unarmored (closer to Strength and Defense). Why does Runescape not break Magic into more skills? The answer is simple: Magic was created with a much more limited scope in Runescape, and there has not been enough content in any specific magical category to justify another skill being born. But perhaps your skill concept seeks to address this; maybe your Enchantment skill takes the enchanting aspects of Magic away, expands the idea to include current imbues and newer content, and fully fleshes the idea out such that the Magic skill alone cannot contain it. Somewhat ironically, Magic used to be separated into Good and Evil Magic skills in Runescape Classic, but that is another topic. So instead of arguments about what could be thrown under another skill’s umbrella, perhaps we should be asking: is there enough substance to this skill concept for it to stand on its own, outside of its current skill categorization? Of course, this leads to a whole other debate about how much content is enough for a skill idea to deserve individuality, but that would get too deep into specifics and is outside the scope of this discussion.
3-14 - Skill Endgame
Runescape has always been a sandbox MMO, but the original Runescape experience was built more or less with a specific endgame in mind: killing players and monsters. Take the Runescape Classic of 2001: you had all your regular combat skills, but even every other skill had an endgame whose goal was helping combat out. Fishing, Firemaking, and Cooking would provide necessary healing. Smithing and Crafting, along with their associated Gathering skill partners, served to gear you up. Combat was the simple endgame and most mechanics existed to serve that end. However, since those first days, the changing endgame goals of players have promoted a vast expansion of the endgame goals of new content. For example, hitting a 99 in any non-combat skill is an endgame goal in itself for many players, completely separate from that skill’s combat relationship (if any). These goals have increased to aspects like cosmetic collections, pets, maxed stats, all quests completed, all diaries completed, all music tracks unlocked, a wealthy bank, the collection log, boss killcounts, and more. Whereas skills used to have a distinct part of a system that ultimately served combat, we now have a vast variety of endgame goals that a skill can be directed towards. You can even see a growth in this perspective as new skills were released up to 2007: Thieving mainly nets you valuable (or once valuable) items which have extremely flexible uses, and Construction has a strong emphasis on cosmetics for your POH. So when designing your new skill, contemplate what the endgame of your skill looks like. For example, if you are proposing a Gathering skill, what is the Production skill tie-in, and what is the endgame goal of that Production skill? Maybe your new skill Spelunking has an endgame in gathering rare collectibles that can be shown off in your POH. Maybe your new skill Necromancy functions like a Support skill, giving you followers that help speed along resource gathering, and letting you move faster to the endgame goal of the respective Production skill. Whatever it is, a proper, clear, and unified view of an endgame goal helps a skill feel like it serves a distinct and valuable purpose. Note that this could mean that you require multiple skills to be released simultaneously for each to feed into each other and form an appropriate endgame. In that case, go for it – don’t make it a repeat of RS3’s Divination, a Gathering skill left hanging without the appropriate Production skill partner of Invention for over 2 years. A good example of a skill with a direct endgame is… most of them. Combat is a well-accepted endgame, and traditionally, most skills are intended to lend a hand in combat whether by supplies or gear. A skill with a poor endgame would be Hunter: Hunter is so scattered in its ultimate endgame goals, trying to touch on small aspects of everything like combat gear, weight reduction, production, niche skilling tools, and food. There’s a very poor sense of identity to Hunter’s endgame, and it doesn’t help that very few of these rewards are actually viable or interesting in the current day. Similarly, while Slayer has a strong endgame goal it is terrible in its methodology, overshadowing other Production skills in their explicit purpose. A better design for Slayer’s endgame would have been to treat it as a secondary Gathering skill, to work almost like a catalyst for other Gathering-Production skill relationships. In this mindset, Slayer is where you gather valuable monster drops, combine it with traditional Gathering resources like ores from Mining, then use a Production skill like Smithing to meld them into the powerful gear that is present today. This would have kept other Gathering and Production skills at the forefront of their specialities, in contrast to today’s situation where Slayer will give fully assembled gear that’s better than anything you could receive from the appropriate skills (barring a few items that need a Production skill to piece together).
3-15 - Alternate Goals
From a game design perspective, skills are so far reaching that it can be tempting to use them to shift major game mechanics to a more favourable position. Construction is an example of this idea in action: Construction was very intentionally designed to be a massive gold sink to help a hyperinflating economy. Everything about it takes gold out of the game, whether through using a sawmill, buying expensive supplies from stores, adding rooms, or a shameless piece of furniture costing 100m that is skinned as, well, 100m on a shameless piece of furniture. If you’re clever about it, skills are a legitimately good opportunity for such change. Sure, the gold sink is definitely a controversial feature of Construction, but for the most part it’s organic and makes sense; fancy houses and fancy cosmetics are justifiably expensive. It is notable that the controversy over Construction’s gold sink mechanism is probably levied more against the cost of training, rather than the cost of all its wonderful aesthetics. Perhaps that should have been better accounted for in its design phase, but now it is quite set in stone. To emphasize that previous point: making large scale changes to the game through a new skill can work, but it must feel organic and secondary to the skill’s main purpose. Some people really disliked Warding because they felt it tried too hard to fix real, underlying game issues with mechanics that didn’t thematically fit or were overshadowing the skill’s Core. While this may or may not be true, if your new skill can improve the game’s integrity without sacrificing its own identity, you could avoid this argument entirely. If your skill Regency has a Core of managing global politics, but also happens to serve as a resource sink to help your failing citizens, then you’ve created a strong Core design while simultaneously improving the profitability of Gathering skills.
3-16 - The Combat No-Touch Rule
So, let’s take a moment to examine the great benefits and rationale of RS2’s Evolution of Combat: This space has been reserved for unintelligible squabbling. With that over, it’s obvious that the OSRS playerbase is not a big fan of making major changes to the combat system. If there’s anything that defines the OSRS experience, it has to be the janky and abusable combat system that we love. So, in the past 7 years of OSRS, how many times have you heard someone pitch a new combat skill? Practically no one ever has; a new combat skill, no matter how miniscule, would feel obtrusive to most players, and likely would not even receive 25% of votes in a poll. This goes right back to Section 3-5 – Integration, and the importance of preserving the fundamentals of OSRS’s design. I know that my intention with this discussion was to be as definitive about skill design as possible, and in that spirit I should be delving into the design philosophy specifically behind combat skills, but I simply don’t see the benefit of me trying, and the conversation really doesn’t interest me that much. It goes without saying that as expansive as this discussion is, it does not cover every facet of skill design, which is a limitation both of my capabilities and desire to do so.
3-17 - Aesthetics
I don’t do aesthetics well. I like them, I want them, but I do not understand them; there are others much better equipped to discuss this topic than I. Nonetheless, here we go. Since the dawn of OSRS, debates over art style and aesthetics have raged across Gielinor. After all, the OSRS Team is filled with modern day artists while OSRS is an ancient game. What were they supposed to do? Keep making dated graphics? Make content with a modernized and easily digestible style? Something in-between? While many players shouted for more dated graphics, they were approached by an interesting predicament: which dated graphics did they want? We had a great selection present right from the start of OSRS: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. People hungry for nostalgia chose the era that they grew up in, leading to frequent requests for older models like the dragon or imp, most of which were denied by Jagex (except the old Mining rock models). But which era was OSRS supposed to follow? Jagex elected to carve their own path, but not without heavy criticism especially closer to OSRS’s conception. However, they adapted to player requests and have since gone back and fixed many of the blatant early offenders (like the Kingdom of Kourend) and adopted a more consistent flavour, one that generally respects the art style of 2007. Even though it doesn’t always hit the mark, one has to appreciate the OSRS artists for making their best attempt and listening to feedback, and here’s to hoping that their art style examination mentioned in June 2020’s Gazette bears fruit. But what exactly is the old school art style? There are simple systems by which most players judge it in OSRS, usually by asking questions like, “Would you believe if this existed in 2007?” More informed artists will start pointing out distinct features that permeated most content from back in the day, such as low quality textures, low poly models, low FPS animations, a “low fantasy” or grounded profile that appeals somewhat to realism, reducing cartoonish exaggerations, and keeping within the lore. Compiled with this, music and sound design help that art style come to life; it can be very hard on immersion when these don’t fit. An AGS would sound jarring if its special attack sounded like a weak dagger stab, and having to endure Country Jig while roaming Hosidius suddenly sweeps you off into a different universe. But coming back to skill design, the art, models, and sound design tend to be some of the last features, mostly because the design phase doesn’t demand such a complete picture of a skill. However, simple concept art and models can vastly improve how a skill concept is communicated and comfort players who are concerned about maintaining that “old school feel.” This will be touched on again later in this discussion under Section 5-2 – Presentation and Beta Testing.
3-18 - Afterword
Now we’ve set down the modern standards for a new skill, but the statements that started this section bear repeating: the formula we’ve established does not automatically make a good or interesting skill, as hard as we might have tried. Once again, harken back to the First Great Irony: that we are trying to inject the modern interpretation of what defines a skill upon a game that was not necessarily built to contain it. Therefore, one could just as easily deny each of the components described above, as popular or unpopular as the act might be, and their opinion could be equally valid and all this effort meaningless. Don’t take these guidelines with such stringency as to disregard all other views.
5-0 - The OSRS Team and the Design Process
If you’ve followed me all the way here, you’re likely A) exhausted and fed up of any conversation concerning new skills, or B) excited, because you’ve just struck an incredible skill idea (or perhaps one that’s always hung around your head) that happens to tick off all the above checkboxes. But unfortunately for you B types, it’s about to get pretty grim, because we’re going to go through every aspect of skill design that’s exterior to the game itself. We’ll be touching on larger topics like democracy, presentation, player mindsets, effort, and resource consumption. It’ll induce a fantastic bout of depression, so don’t get left behind.
5-1 - Designing a Skill
Thus far, Jagex has offered three potential skills to OSRS, each of which has been denied. This gives us the advantage of understanding how the skill design process works behind the scenes and lets us examine some of the issues Jagex has faced with presenting a skill to the players. The first problem is the “one strike and you’re out” phenomenon. Simply put, players don’t like applying much effort into reading and learning. They’ll look at a developer blog highlighting a new skill idea, and if you’re lucky they’ll even read the whole thing, but how about the second developer blog? The third? Fourth? Even I find it hard to get that far. In general, people don’t like long detail-heavy essays or blogs, which is why I can invoke the ancient proverb “Ban Emily” into this post and it’ll go (almost) completely unnoticed. No matter how many improvements you make between developer blogs, you will quickly lose players with each new iteration. Similarly, developer blogs don’t have the time to talk about skill design philosophy or meta-analyse their ideas – players would get lost far too fast. This is the Second Great Irony of skill design: the more iterations you have of a lengthy idea, the less players will keep up with you. This was particularly prominent with Warding: Battle Wards were offered in an early developer blog but were quickly cut when Jagex realized how bad the idea was. Yet people would still cite Battle Wards as the reason they voted against Warding, despite the idea having been dropped several blogs before. Similarly, people would often comment that they hated that Warding was being polled multiple times; it felt to them like Jagex was trying to brute-force it into the game. But Warding was only ever polled once, and only after the fourth developer blog - the confusion was drawn from how many times the skill was reiterated and from the length of the public design process. Sure, there are people for whom this runs the opposite way; they keep a close eye on updates and judge a piece of content on the merits of the latest iteration, but this is much less common. You could argue that one should simply disregard the ignorant people as blind comments don't contribute to the overall discussion, but you should remember that these players are also the ones voting for the respective piece of content. You could also suggest re-educating them, which is exactly what Jagex attempts with each developer blog, and still people won’t get the memo. And when it comes to the players themselves, can the playerbase really be relied on to re-educate itself? Overall, the Second Great irony really hurts the development process and is practically an unavoidable issue. What’s the alternative? To remove the developer-player interface that leads to valuable reiterations, or does you simply have to get the skill perfect in the first developer blog? It’s not an optimal idea, but it could help: have a small team of “delegates” – larger names that players can trust, or player influencers – come in to review a new, unannounced skill idea under NDA. If they like it, chances are that other players will too. If they don’t, reiterate or toss out the skill before it’s public. That way, you’ve had a board of experienced players who are willing to share their opinions to the public helping to determine the meat and potatoes of the skill before it is introduced to the casual eye. Now, a more polished and well-accepted product can be presented on the first run of selling a skill to the public, resulting in less reiterations being required, and demanding less effort from the average player to be fully informed over the skill’s final design.
5-2 - Presentation and Beta Testing
So you’ve got a great idea, but how are you going to sell it to the public? Looking at how the OSRS Team has handled it throughout the years, there’s a very obvious learning curve occurring. Artisan had almost nothing but text blogs being thrown to the players, Sailing started introducing some concept art and even a trailer with terrible audio recording, and Warding had concept art, in game models, gifs, and a much fancier trailer with in-game animations. A picture or video is worth a thousand words, and often the only words that players will take out of a developer blog. You might say that presentation is everything, and that would be more true in OSRS than most games. Most activities in OSRS are extremely basic, involve minimal thought, and are incredibly grindy. Take Fishing: you click every 20 seconds on a fishing spot that is randomly placed along a section of water, get rid of your fish, then keep clicking those fishing spots. Boiling it down further, you click several arbitrary parts of your computer screen every 20 seconds. It’s hardly considered engaging, so why do some people enjoy it? Simply put: presentation. You’re given a peaceful riverside environment to chill in, you’re collecting a bunch of pixels shaped like fish, and a number tracking your xp keeps ticking up and telling you that it matters. Now imagine coming to the players with a radical new skill idea: Mining. You describe that Mining is where you gather ores that will feed into Smithing and help create gear for players to use. The audience ponders momentarily, but they’re not quite sure it feels right and ask for a demonstration. You show them some gameplay, but your development resources were thin and instead of rocks, you put trees as placeholders. Instead of ores in your inventory, you put logs as placeholders. Instead of a pickaxe, your character is swinging a woodcutting axe as a placeholder. Sure, the mechanics might act like mining instead of woodcutting, but how well is the skill going to sell if you haven’t presented it correctly or respected it contextually? Again, presentation is everything. Players need to be able to see the task they are to perform, see the tools they’ll use, and see the expected outcomes; otherwise, whatever you’re trying to sell will feel bland and unoriginal. And this leads to the next level of skill presentation that has yet to be employed: Beta Worlds. Part of getting the feel of an activity is not just watching, it but acting it out as well - you’ll never understand the thrill of skydiving unless you’ve actually been skydiving. Beta Worlds are that chance for players to act out a concept without risking the real game’s health. A successful Beta can inspire confidence in players that the skill has a solid Core and interesting Expansions, while a failed Beta will make them glad that they got to try it and be fully informed before putting the skill to a poll (although that might be a little too optimistic for rage culture). Unfortunately, Betas are not without major disadvantages, the most prominent of which we shall investigate next.
5-3 - Development Effort
If you thought that the previous section on Skill Design Philosophy was lengthy and exhausting, imagine having to know all that information and then put it into practice.Mentally designing a skill in your head can be fun, but putting all that down on paper and making it actually work together, feel fully fleshed out, and following all the modern standards that players expect is extremely heavy work, especially when it’s not guaranteed to pay off in the polls like Quest or Slayer content. That’s not even taking into account the potentially immense cost of developing a new skill should it pass a poll. Whenever people complain that Jagex is wasting their resources trying to make that specific skill work, Jagex has been very explicit about the costs to pull together a design blog being pretty minimal. Looking at the previous blogs, Jagex is probably telling the truth. It’s all just a bunch of words, a couple art sketches, and maybe a basic in-game model or gif. Not to downplay the time it takes to write well, design good models, or generate concept art, but it’s nothing like the scale of resources that some players make it out to be. Of course, if a Beta was attempted as suggested last section, this conversation would take a completely new turn, and the level of risk to invested resources would exponentially increase. But this conversation calls to mind an important question: how much effort and resources do skills require to feel complete? Once upon a time, you could release a skill which was more or less unfinished. Take Slayer: it was released in 2005 with a pretty barebones structure. The fundamentals were all there, but the endgame was essentially a couple cool best-in-slot weapons and that was it. Since then, OSRS has updated the skill to include a huge Reward Shop system, feature 50% more monsters to slay, and to become an extremely competitive money-maker. Skills naturally undergo development over time, but it so often comes up during the designing of an OSRS skill that it "doesn't have enough to justify its existence." This was touched on deeply in Section 3-13 – Skill Bloat, but deserves reiterating here. While people recognize that skills continually evolve, the modern standard expects a new skill, upon release, to be fully preassembled before purchase. Whereas once you could get away with releasing just a skill's Core and working on Expansions down the line, that is no longer the case. But perhaps a skill might stand a better chance now than it did last year, given that the OSRS Team has doubled in number since that time. However, judging from the skill design phases that have previously been attempted (as we’ve yet to see a skill development phase), the heaviest cost has been paid in developer mentality and motivational loss. When a developer is passionate about an idea, they spend their every waking hour pouring their mind into how that idea is going to function,especially while they’re not at work. And then they’re obligated to take player feedback and adapt their ideas, sometimes starting from scratch, particularly over something as controversial as a skill. Even if they have tough enough skin to take the heavy criticism that comes with skill design, having to write and rewrite repeatedly over the same idea to make it “perfect” is mentally exhausting. Eventually, their motivation drains as their labour bears little fruit with the audience, and they simply want to push it to the poll and be done with it. Even once all their cards are down, there’s still no guarantee that their efforts will be rewarded, even less so when it comes to skills. With such a high mental cost with a low rate of success, you have to ask, “Was it worth it?” And that’s why new skill proposals are far and few between. A new skill used to be exciting for the development team in the actual days of 2007, as they had the developmental freedom to do whatever they wanted, but in the modern day that is not so much the case.
5-4 - The Problems of Democracy
Ever since the conceptualization of democracy in the real world, people have been very aware of its disadvantages. And while I don’t have the talent, knowledge, or time to discuss every one of these factors, there are a few that are very relevant when it comes to the OSRS Team and the polling process. But first we should recognize the OSRS Team’s relationship with the players. More and more, the Team acts like a government to its citizens, the players, and although this situation was intentionally instated with OSRS’s release, it’s even more prominent now. The Team decides the type of content that gets to go into a poll, and the players get their input over whether that particular piece makes it in. Similarly, players make suggestions to the Team that, in many cases, the Team hadn’t thought of themselves. This synergy is phenomenal and almost unheard of among video games, but the polling system changes the mechanics of this relationship. Polls were introduced to the burned and scarred population of players at OSRS’s release in 2013. Many of these players had just freshly come off RS2 after a series of disastrous updates or had quit long before from other controversies. The Squeal of Fortune, the Evolution of Combat, even the original Wilderness Removal had forced numerous players out and murdered their trust in Jagex. To try and get players to recommit to Runescape, Jagex offered OSRS a polling system by which the players would determine what went into the game, where the players got to hold all the cards. They also asked the players what threshold should be required for polled items to pass, and among the odd 50% or 55% being shouted out, the vast majority of players wanted 70%, 75%, 80%, or even 85%. There was a massive population in favour of a conservative game that would mostly remain untouched, and therefore kept pure from the corruption RS2 had previously endured. Right from the start, players started noticing holes in this system. After all, the OSRS Team was still the sole decider of what would actually be polled in the first place. Long-requested changes took forever to be polled (if ever polled at all) if the OSRS Team didn’t want to deal with that particular problem or didn’t like that idea. Similarly, the Team essentially had desk jobs with a noose kept around their neck – they could perform almost nothing without the players, their slave masters, seeing, criticizing, and tearing out every inch of developmental or visionary freedom they had. Ever hear about the controversy of Erin the duck? Take a look at the wiki or do a search through the subreddit history. It’s pretty fantastic, and a good window into the minds of the early OSRS playerbase. But as the years have gone on, the perspective of the players has shifted. There is now a much healthier and more trusting relationship between them and the Team, much more flexibility in what the players allow the Team to handle, and a much greater tolerance and even love of change. But the challenges of democracy haven’t just fallen away. Everyone having the right to vote is a fundamental tenet of the democratic system, but unfortunately that also means that everyone has the right to vote. For OSRS, that means that every member, whether it’s their first day in game, their ten thousandth hour played, those who have no idea about what the poll’s about, those who haven’t read a single quest (the worst group), those who RWT and bot, those who scam and lure, and every professional armchair developer like myself get to vote. In short, no one will ever be perfectly informed on every aspect of the game, or at least know when to skip when they should. Similarly, people will almost never vote in favour of making their game harder, even at the cost of game integrity, or at least not enough people would vote in such a fashion to reach a 75% majority. These issues are well recognized. The adoption of the controversial “integrity updates” was Jagex’s solution to these problems. In this way, Jagex has become even more like a government to the players. The average citizen of a democratic country cannot and will not make major decisions that favour everyone around themselves if it comes at a personal cost. Rather, that’s one of the major roles of a government: to make decisions for changes for the common good that an individual can’t or won’t make on their own. No one’s going to willingly hand over cash to help repave a road on the opposite side of the city – that’s why taxes are a necessary evil. It’s easy to see that the players don’t always know what’s best for their game and sometimes need to rely on that parent to decide for them, even if it results in some personal loss. But players still generally like the polls, and Jagex still appears to respect them for the most part. Being the government of the game, Jagex could very well choose to ignore them, but would risk the loss of their citizens to other lands. And there are some very strong reasons to keep them: the players still like having at least one hand on the wheel when it comes to new content or ideas. Also, it acts as a nice veto card should Jagex try to push RS3’s abusive tactics on OSRS and therefore prevent such potential damage. But now we come to the topic of today: the introduction of a new skill. Essentially, a new skill must pass a poll in order to enter the game. While it’s easy to say, “If a skill idea is good enough, it’ll pass the threshold,” that’s not entirely true. The only skill that could really pass the 75% mark is not necessarily a well-designed skill, but rather a crowd-pleasing skill. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, the latter is far easier to make than the former. Take Dungeoneering: if you were to poll it today as an exact replica of RS2’s version, it would likely be the highest scoring skill yet, perhaps even passing, despite every criticism that’s been previously emphasized describing why it has no respect for the current definition of “skill.” Furthermore, a crowd-pleasing skill can easily fall prey to deindividualization of vision and result in a bland “studio skill” (in the same vein as a “studio film”), one that feels manufactured by a board of soulless machines rather than a director’s unique creation. This draws straight back to the afore-mentioned issues with democracy: that people A) don’t always understand what they’re voting for or against, and B) people will never vote for something that makes their game tougher or results in no benefit to oneself. Again, these were not issues in the old days of RS2, but are the problems we face with our modern standards and decision making systems. The reality that must be faced is that the polling system is not an engine of creation nor is it a means of constructive feedback – it’s a system of judgement, binary and oversimplified in its methodology. It’s easy to interact with and requires no more than 10 seconds of a player’s time, a mere mindless moment, to decide the fate of an idea made by an individual or team, regardless of their deep or shallow knowledge of game mechanics, strong or weak vision of design philosophy, great or terrible understanding of the game’s history, and their awareness of blindness towards the modern community. It’s a system which disproportionately boils down the quality of discussion that is necessitated by a skill, which gives it the same significance as the question “Should we allow players to recolour the Rocky pet by feeding it berries?” with the only available answers being a dualistic “This idea is perfect and should be implemented exactly as outlined” or “This idea is terrible and should never be spoken of again.” So what do you do? Let Jagex throw in whatever they want? Reduce the threshold, or reduce it just for skills? Make a poll that lists a bunch of skills and forces the players to choose one of them to enter the game? Simply poll the question, “Should we have a new skill?” then let Jagex decide what it is? Put more options on the scale of “yes” to “no” and weigh each appropriately? All these options sound distasteful because there are obvious weaknesses to each. But that is the Third Great Irony we face: an immense desire for a new skill, but no realistic means to ever get one.
6-0 - Conclusion
I can only imagine that if you’ve truly read everything up to this point, it’s taken you through quite the rollercoaster. We’ve walked through the history of OSRS skill attempts, unconstructive arguments, various aspects of modern skill design philosophy, and the OSRS Team and skill design process. When you take it all together, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the thought that needs to go into a modern skill and all the issues that might prevent its success. Complexity, naming conventions, categorizations, integration, rewards and motivations, bankstanding and buyables, the difficulties of skill bloat, balancing, and skill endgames, aesthetics, the design process, public presentation, development effort, democracy and polling - these are the challenges of designing and introducing modern skills. To have to cope with it all is draining and maybe even impossible, and therefore it begs the question: is trying to get a new skill even worth it? Maybe. Thanks for reading. Tl;dr: Designing a modern skill requires acknowledging the vast history of Runescape, understanding why players make certain criticisms and what exactly they’re saying in terms of game mechanics, before finally developing solutions. Only then can you subject your ideas to a polling system that is built to oversimplify them.
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