For the best experience use full HD.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Universe Sandbox ²

Universe Sandbox ²
I recently picked up another early access "game" from Steam: Universe Sandbox ². I've had my eye on this one for awhile as I love all things space. I just wanted it to mature a little before I tested the waters. It's all well and good to have lofty goals, but my high expectations require more than just lofty goals. So I waited for Universe Sandbox ² to replace Universe Sandbox, for the product to basically come out of alpha testing.

Universe Sandbox ² uses the Unity 3D engine, similar to what Kerbal Space Program uses. As both programs deal with gravity and other physics phenomena, this comes as no surprise to me. Evidently the Unity engine lends itself to real world physics modeling. Or is it easy/cheap? I'm not a developer and am ignorant of what makes one engine better than another. Anyone who knows better want to clue me in about it?

"So what is it," I hear some of you asking. Well, Universe Sandbox ² does what it's name implies. It is a sandbox in which you can run simulations of the universe. You can do this from the simple the the incredibly complex. For example, here is a screenshot of just the Earth and our moon simulated without any other solar bodies, including the sun, present.
Earth and Moon
Or you can simulate the collision of two galaxies over a timescale measured in millions of years.
The program is truly a thing of beauty. The soundtrack is relaxing. However, it isn't very long so if you get tired of listening to it over and over you can turn it off in the settings panel. The user interface (UI) is easy to learn. There is a start up tutorial that gets you up to speed on the UI in less than five minutes. There are other tutorials available as well covering both the program and the science within the program.
Tutorials Screen
Even with these tutorials the program can still be daunting. The UI may be well designed, but the universe is vast and simply being dropped into the middle of it and told "Go!" is a tad overwhelming. Fortunately Universe Sandbox ² comes with many, many built in scenarios from the mundane like the Earth and moon simulation above to the fantastical.
Included Simulations
Another thing I really like about the program is the attention to detail given to it. There is no doubt the program is beautiful as seen in closeups of Jupiter and Io below. But the program is also accurate and up to date as seen in the picture of Pluto. Yes, it is skinned in the images returned from the New Horizon's probe last summer.
Jupiter
Io
Pluto
And in case you are wondering how much computer you have to have in order to run this program, the answer is not much. All of the media I've used in this post, including the YouTube video, were captured on my Surface Pro 4. Here are its hardware stats.

The program is CPU intensive, not GPU intensive. It runs just fine on the built in GPU of the Surface Pro 4. And having an i5 does not prevent me from running simulations, though it does prevent me from running some simulations quickly. The more objects in the simulation, and therefore the more calculations per second needed, the slower the program runs. My gaming rig i7-6700k running 8 cores at 4.2 GHz can handle a lot more than the i5-6300U in this Surface Pro. Nonetheless, the YouTube video above was run on this PC without any alteration to the built in parameters of the simulation. That rather impresses me. Also impressive is the program runs not only on PC, but also OS X and Linux.

Now, this program isn't really a game. The company plans on having Steam Achievements sometime this year, but there is no traditional game in this code. This is a program for those with an intense interest in how Newton's universe works. It can model not only asteroid impacts, but also climate change from a global perspective. The Earth's surface map is dynamic and allows for that. The same can be done for Mars, and the programmers plan to add more. One of the features that got me really excited is the ability to visualize the so called Goldilocks Zone around any star. Here's Kepler-186 for example.
Kepler-186f in the Goldilocks Zone
And yes, the data is current and up to date. I wasn't able to find out if updates happen at program revisions, or if it's done on a continuous basis, though I did discover this concerning Universe Sandbox ² while looking for an answer:
"It is no longer a one-person project; the new team has added a dedicated physics programmer, astrophysicist, climate scientist, graphics programmer, code architect, and technical artist to bring all of the pieces together."
And they have some fairly ambitious plans for their product going forward. The one thing I'm a touch disappointed about is the absence of relativity. This is newton's universe, not Einsteins. There is an awesome answer as to why this must be in the FAQ.
"General relativity requires simulating the spacetime itself. That is, taking your simulation space, discretizing it to a hi-res 3-D grid and checking the effect that each and every point in that grid has on all neighboring points at every timestep. Instead of simulating N number of bodies, you are simulating a huge number of points. You start with some initial data of the shape of your spacetime and then see how it evolves according to the Einstein equations, which are 10 highly non-linear partial differential equations."
Well, maybe Intel (or someone else) will eventually get their act together and provide a home processor that can handle all those data points. Until thin, we have what is a beautiful and perfectly acceptable simulation. After all, practically everything that all the space agencies around the globe do is done using only Newtonian physics. Seriously. You don't need to use General Relativity to fly a probe to Pluto. You just don't. The same goes for Universe Sandbox ². It's great just the way it is. Just never forget, this isn't a game. It won't entertain you like a game. I will quench your curiosity and stoke your imagination, which you may then be able to quench with your own simulation, but smashing planets into each other is not pew-pew. That's just fine with me. Now, I wonder if I can set up The Three-body Problem as outlined by Liu Cixin in the book of the same title?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sunday Highlight #30: Kagero Gameplay

First game on the Tears of the Desert map in my new Kagero, and it was a decent game even if most of my points came from capturing and defense rather than sinking ships. The Kagero is a capture and harass ship. Use her to encourage the opposition to go where you want them to, and not where you don't. Don't count on her to carry the battle. However, that does not mean you should take her lightly. Her eight fast torpedoes have more than enough punch to sink any ship including the Yamato.

Friday, March 25, 2016

To Be A Good Gaming Corporate Citizen

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I am at Norwescon this weekend. One of the things I get to do here is play tabletop games rather than just virtual games. Last night I was talking about non-virtual games with a lady friend of mine, and she relayed to me a very interesting story from her youth. This happened about 25 or 30 years ago in Tennessee. It involved a group of young men, seal clubbing (in the online game sense,) and extremely bad behavior towards other players and especially the young woman in the story.

At the time of this story, Laser Tag was a big thing in many parts of the country. Paintball had not yet made it onto the scene, and the entry into a Laser Tag maze was affordable enough young teens could afford a Saturday night of fun running mock engagements against each other. All matches were domination style.

As my friend described the setup, I could not help but remark on how similar it was to the maps used in games like World of Warships and Armored Warfare. The arena had a set area, and certain aspects of the map were unchangeable. Metas developed on how to win matches within the arena, and through practise and observation my friend had become pretty good at the game.

There was also a league, and league players would win awards for playing well. These awards were point based and very, very similar to Team Battles in World of Warships. There was even a grinding mechanism by which league players could earn points by playing against the the general player base in the random matches. And if they did so, they got a few perks the general players did not, like getting to choose when and against whom they played.

The problem with this system was obvious. One particular league team of young men just out of High School gamed this system of preferential matchmaking to only play "weak" teams whom they could easily dominate by large margins thus gaining more league points faster. This is like a combination of farming and seal clubbing.

The incident my friend relayed to me concerned a group of very young teens who'd been singled out by the "veteran" team for clubbing. They were understandable distraught at their prospects of having the floor wiped with them. This is understandable as everyone plays games to have fun and it's no fun being seal clubbed by players who should be playing several ranks above you, but for lulz or whatever they choose to pick on the inexperienced. So my much more experienced lady friend decided to help.

She drew the inexperienced team together, and instructed them on how to counter the more experienced team using their smaller stature and better agility. This worked very well. And no, the inexperienced team did not win, but they made such a match of it that it actually hurt the league teams standings as well as making them objects of ridicule by other league teams. They were very unhappy about the outcome, became verbally abusive to my female friend and the younger team, and were banned for the night because of their aggressive behaviour and use of racist and misogynistic slurs. Sound familiar?

But wait, it gets better. A few weekends later a few of these league players, not all of them, showed up and started working themselves into a match against my lady friend. During the first match, she handily dispatched one of these 'l33t' players because he tended to do the same thing over and over and was utterly predictable in him play. After his dead light started blinking and his laser gun was disabled, she moved past him looking to leverage her momentary position of advantage over the other team. She didn't pay the guy any more attention because the rules were clear. He could do anything else and must move to the nearest exit and wait for the end of the match.

And of course that's not what he did. With an epitaph starting with "no woman," he grabbed her harness from behind, lifted her feet off the floor and threw her down the ramp. Did I mention my lady friend at the time weighed all of 100 pounds soaking wet? Well, fortunately she was well trained. She tucked, rolled and came up on her feet to face the bully. Two of the referees saw what he did as did many of the players both in the maze and in the gallery above. It was the last straw. Physical contact was forbidden. He, and his league team, were permanently banned from that facility and all other facilities owned by that company on the spot.

Did any of this sound familiar? How many times have you been on a team in World of Warships and run into "that guy" who just has to tell everyone how badly they suck? Were you a victim of seal clubbing when you first started to play? Have you ever been threatened with rape or murder and then doxed?

I know people, almost all women BTW, who have been. It's not a joke. It's not funny. And unfortunately, many of the gaming companies don't see it as a real problem - only a marketing issue. But as you can see from this story, the behavior predates online gaming. Without making excuses for it, it is likely inherent to the male psyche. That in no way should be interpreted as acceptance of the behavior. We are human beings. We have a large frontal lobe that makes our species uniquely able to override our base behaviors and to act in a socially acceptable manner. Should we fail to do so, society has mechanisms to deal with the bad behavior just as the Laser Tag company dealt with it.

Now every gaming company will tell you such behavior is not tolerated and that they do not condone it. That's nice. Words are cheap. What is lacking from many of them is a will to do anything about it. They are not keeping the social contract which says all members must be protected. When gaming companies do not pursue racist or misogynistic behavior in the manner exhibited in the story above, they fail the social contract. They are bad citizens. And with history as my guide, when any organization fails their social contracts and allows unacceptable social behavior from even a few undesirables, societies can and do rebel. It's called civil war and it is devastating for all involved.

Is that hyperbole? Perhaps. But I have this nagging doubt in the back of my mind about it. Online gaming as a culturally accepted practise is new. It's happened within my lifetime. And already I see cracks in the foundation of it threatening to separate it from the rest of society.  I do not want to go back to the days when terms like geek and nerd were slurs as bad a nigger and chink. We as gamers can only point out the bad behavior. Only the gaming companies can do something about it. Isn't it about time they did so consistently and without fail, regardless of the difficulties in doing so? It's the price of being good corporate citizens. Sooner or later society will ask for that payment. It would be far better on this growing gamer culture of they did it without being forced to do so by the older, more mature segments of society. That's the difference between being the master of your own ship, and having it sailed for you. Or put another way, taking responsibility for one's actions, or lack of actions, is the first sign of adulthood. It's the first time you're taken seriously by your parents. It's the moment when everything changes for the better.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

So Many Games; So Little Time

As I write this, the sun is an hour from setting on the second full day of spring (Monday for those who need closure.) By the time you read this though, I will be on my way to Norwescon39. It's the start of my convention season, and I wouldn't miss it if I can help it. And because of the convention, I won't be playing any online games until I return next Monday, though I do intend on keeping my posting schedule. I already have Sunday's highlight video prepared and ready to go. I'll come up with something to write about on Friday. I'm certain. It's not like there isn't a con to write about or anything.

But that's not what the subject of today's post is about. Today's post is about my current first world problem: having enough time in the week to play all the games I find myself wanting to play, and making the progress I want to make in them.
Merry Christmas you filthy animal.
I am only level 11 in the Division. It's been somewhat slow going for me over the last week or so. That's for a few of reasons: some related to The Division itself and some not. What's slowed me down about the game itself is my own CDO. That's like OCD, but the letters are alphabetical AS THEY SHOULD BE. Yeah, I circled back around through the starter zones to finish every little mission and pick up every little piece of information. That and I absolutely love stalking the streets and head shooting filthy animals, or clearing out an apartment complex full of filthy animals. It wasn't until last Friday that I got back on track to progressing by moving into the next area more appropriate to my level. And even at that, I decided to do side missions, etc., rather than take on the storyline mission there. I just didn't feel like taking on the Cleaner's leader. I hate those damn flamethrowers. That is unless I can hit them with my marksman rifle first and blow up the filthy animals. It's always very satisfying to see them panic when I puncture the tank and it's starts to cook off. I will eventually tire of that and continue on with the story line. But unlike some players, I am in no rush to get to the end game no matter when they release the first update.
Flawless Victory! ...wait, wrong game.
Another reason I've advanced so slowly in The Division is XCOM 2. I haven't even finished my first playthrough of XCOM 2. In fact, I hadn't played it in over two weeks! It isn't like I'm not doing well at it - or well enough. Here's the mission complete screen from my last retaliation mission. It's practically impossible to not lose a civilian on these missions, but I felt pretty good only losing two on a mission that took  a dozen turns to complete. That and no one was wounded!
Promotions all around!
It was a bonus when half my squad earned promotions, including the first earned to Colonel! As you can see from the screen capture, I am currently running a squad with two rangers, two grenadiers, a sniper and a specialist. I really don't have anyone else trained, and I know that will bite me in the butt later if not sooner. But this is still my first playthrough, so I'm still learning. The biggest hold up in the game is that I lack Elerium Cores so cannot build anything that uses them, and I don't have enough supplies for power armor AND plasma weapon upgrades. Operating on the principle you don't need armor if you kill them first, I will upgrade my cannons and then go for the plasma lance. But that will likely take two months, and then possibly a third to get power armor. And the clock is ticking, for the second time. I'm going to have to assault an Advent site in just over 20 days, and I won't get my resupply for another 17 days. You know, I don't know if the stress of this game's deadlines makes up for the fun of it's tactical play. The deadlines are too much like my RL job to be thoroughly enjoyable. Yes, it gives me a sense of accomplishment when I make a deadline and therefore do not lose the game. But hell, I get the same thing at work all the time. I don't want my games being stressful in that same way. You know what I mean? Still, I do enjoy the rest of XCOM 2. It's a game I'll be playing again and again I'm certain.
75% win rate!
And speaking of games I play again and again... and again... and again... there is World of Warships. I had a really good weekend for the most part. I played Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which is more than I can say for The Division or XCOM 2. WoWS has really become my go to game for enjoyment. I feel little stress when I play, and even losing doesn't bother me that much unless I lose four or five matches in a row - which happens. But not this weekend. This weekend I was on a tear. Even the one match we lost last night I had a blast because I got to stuff a bunch of Russian torpedoes down a Nagato's throat for a devastating strike award. And it was a nearly full health Nagato too! Of course, he was nearly full health at our base because our western effort on The Land of Fire was so inept, but I've come to understand the nature of random battles and that losses are inevitable because even if I was the most skilled player in the game that won't offset the unwise play of others - or their desire to earn a ramming badge when the loss of their nearly full health ship was the difference between winning and losing. I didn't hold it against my fellow DD player for ramming their carrier instead of using torpedoes. It was actually quite funny. And yes, I was already sank at that point and was being a spectator. But even though we lost, my Wickes was top gun. I stuffed a boat load of U.S. torpedoes down a South Carolina's throat for a devastating strike. Unfortunately his last salvo took out most of my health and made me easy pickings for the N├╝rnberg right behind him.

And that's the nature of my first world gaming issue. I've so many games to play, the limited time I have gets divided up between them diluting my progression rate to something less than everyone else. That doesn't actually bother me, but I need to apologize to any friends out there who'd like me to already be level 30 in The Division so we can Incursion together. I'll get there my friend, sooner or later. Until then, have fun in all you do. The same goes for the rest of you. Thanks for reading and catch you all later.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Highlight #29: Destroyers Carry Hard

In a game full of big gun battleships and fast firing cruisers, it falls to the destroyers to carry the match and win victory on the Land of Fire map. Enjoy!


Friday, March 18, 2016

Damn You Ubisoft


My first Ubisoft game ever was Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag. And what a title with which to start! I loved that game, right up until the bitter end. And I mean that quite literally. I put 137 hours into Black Flag. It was just plain old unadulterated fun. I did practically everything.







I accomplished everything, even the smallest of tasks. I did assassinate Roberts in the end, but the tragedy in Jamaica took the heart out of me. It wasn't the same sailing the Jackdaw with her gone. So I retired.

Still, I was so enamored of the game I could not wait until Assassin's Creed V Unity came out. Except it turned out to be a real turd by any measure you use to determine if you should shell out that much money on a premium game. It really soured me to Ubisoft as a publisher. The game was so unready, and so badly ported to the PC. I pretty much game up in Ubisoft at that point.

So I was not looking at Tom Clancy's The Division at all. The first clue I got about how could it might be was in this post by Mr. Luvva Luvva. I thought it was nothing more than a first person shooter. So I went to one of my friends who is heavy into first person shooters. Now, he had not taken part in the betas, but he was really looking forward to the game. We talked about it and that convinced my I should give it a try.


Holy cow, Tom Clancy's The Division is awesome. From the, "I've just got to get that one upgrade" to "I've just got to get me a new hat to wear," it is an MMO lover's WOOT dream. And yet it is a first person shooter - or more accurately a third person shooter unless you go into scope view. It reminds me a lot of Unreal Tournament, a first person shooter I just loved in the days of LAN parties. Who remembers those? Who remembers, "HEAD SHOT!" Yeah, you better believe my second weapon is a marksman's rifle with a 12 power scope! Why use a clip of 30 rounds to accomplish what can be done with one well aimed shot? Not to mention it makes the looting process a lot faster.


Okay, there are times when spraying lead will save your butt. However, you'll never take down a Cleaner boss if you can't hit his tanks. Know what I mean? Ha Ha. You would if you played the game. And yeah, there are boss fights in this game just like in any MMO. You can run them alone, or you can team up with others. There's a decent random match making system in the game that will choose them for you. Or you can team up with friends. Either alone or together, they ate fun and challenging even on normal difficulty, which is as low as you can go. Of course, there are only two levels. That last and the difficult level. I find normal to be more than challenging enough.


You can also just explore a dystopian New York City. Not long after I established my base of operations I was walking down the streets trying to make them safe again. I'd just finished a fire fight with some rioters, and finally had a chance to look around. That's when I realized I was standing in Time Square. Incredible. You've got the freedom to go where ever you like, even if it's way over your level. I look for loot. I look for evidence of what happened. I look for looters and criminals to shoot in the head. It's a complete three dimensional environment too which makes it much larger than it seems. You can explore the streets, take to the roofs or the underground, and also go into some buildings. So it's got left-right, up-down and in-out. What else could you want?


To date I've got 15 hours invested and I'm a third of the way through the story line. I am at level 10 of a level 30 cap. I'm taking my time. The friend whom I consulted about the game a few weeks ago has already capped out. He rampaged through the game! I'm not so quick, nor so good at it I think. And that doesn't matter. It's self paced.

The game isn't perfect of course. No game is. And there were a lot of people out there who are so jaded they'll down vote anything that doesn't match their expectations 100% - even if their expectations were idiotic. Even if it's fun. As for me, I may play this as much as Black Flag. If I had to give it one personal detractor it's there are aren't as many side mission  and play options as was in Black Flag. The only thing I can hunt for are rioters. The Dark Zone sounds a lot better than the multiplayer in Black Flag though. I suppose that's a good offset even if it doesn't match my play style as well as the hunting things did. All in all, I'm pretty sure I'll get $60 worth out of this title. I'd also like to see more of dystopian New York city. That'll likely come with DLCs, which I'll have to purchase as I wasn't going to shell that much money out until I knew I'd enjoy it. If you're part of The Division and want to watch out for me, I'm agent Mabrick1986. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Updraft: Bone Universe #1 by Fran Wilde

Let's start this review with the publisher's summary:

"In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage. 

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother's side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city's secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever - if it isn't destroyed outright."

The Bone Universe world built by Fran Wilde is truly unique and intriguing. At first one might assume it is somewhat like the cinder towers in The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher. This would be easy to assume if one believed all towers are created equal. They are not, and Updraft is as different from The Aeronaut's Windlass as her living bone towers are different from the towers built of ancient materials in Jim Butcher's world.

In The Bone Universe, people fly from tower to tower on wings that are part hang glider and part da Vinci inspiration. Made from bone and spider silk, the people of the city learn to use them from the age they can walk - perhaps even a bit earlier. It is as natural to them as getting into a car is to us. I do not believe acrophobia exists in the city. Such weaklings would be cast down rather than tolerated I think. The city has an oral history, sung by everyone lest people forget, to decide such things.

The characters are also far different than Butcher's. This story revolves around a 17 year old girl who impatiently waits for her chance to prove to society she is an adult, fully capable and qualified to take her rightful place at her mother's side in the family business. Her mother is one of the most respected traders in the entire city, known to all the towers of the city, and even to the Spire which protects them all.

Kirit and her mother are well respected citizens who enjoy an elite status within their home tower of Densira. Kirit knows of no reason why she won't be at her mother's wing tip on her next trade mission, after her mother finishes an important mission to obtain needed medical supplies for a distant tower, and after Kirit passes the flying tests the city requires her to master before allowing her outside her local "neighborhood."

But when are things ever that simple? Yep, you guessed it. Everything goes sideways on Kirit the moment her mother leaves on her trade mission. And what's worse, I saw it coming from the very first paragraph. In fact, there were no real surprises in this story for me. The plot was not simplistic though. The situation was complicated by many things of which Kirit was not aware. It was merely very straight and easy to follow. Someone with a lot of experience in the genre might not find it a challenging plot, but they would find the story enjoyable.

Here's what you need to remember about Updraft. It is a young adult fantasy. If your idea of really good characters are those in Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation, you will be disappointed by this book. In my opinion, the characters in this book are kept simple so a teenager can relate to them. There is the eager young man who wants to join the guard and be a hunter. There is the privileged rich girl who treats Kirit as some sort of upstart peasant. There is the privileged girl's hang-on "yes" girlfriend. It's like a page right out of my high school days - at first.

Things change as the circumstances of Kirit's life change. Things become more complicated as the plot evolves and Kirit has to become a young woman and overcome the obstacles to her future success if not her very existence. But the book never got past simple characters operating in simple geometries lacking any real depth or complication. The bad people were bad. The good people were good. You were either with them or against them. There was a lot of external conflict coming out of these characters, but little internal conflict other than coming of adulthood crisis the protagonist faced. This made all the characters just a little less real than they could have been.

That said, they were absolutely appropriate characters for the book's intended audience. Characters to which most teenagers can relate. In that regard Fran Wilde knows her audience. Of course, you've only the opinion of a man whose oldest child is nearly a decade older than the protagonist on that, so YMMV.

But all that aside, if you want the best reason to read this book it should be for the world Fran Wilde has created: a flying, singing, law-bound world of survivors. Listening to the story left me with many questions about why things were the way they were. And like any good story teller, Fran Wilde did not give out all the answers. Perhaps they will come as the series continues. The only downside to that thought is whether I'll want to invest the time to find out. That's not a slam against the book. I quite enjoyed the story, and I came to care about the characters and what happened to them a great deal. It's just I'm not a young adult, and I'm much more keen in on the The Cinder Spires than The Bone Universe. That's just me though. I encourage you to give the story a read and a listen. Then decide for yourself.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Highlight #28: Fubuki Rear Guard Action

When faced with overwhelming opposition, your best tactic is to execute a rear guard action to harass and delay the enemy while the rest of the fleet secures the victory. If their effort is too slow or unsuccessful, be prepared to risk it all for victory. This was the sort of battle I faced on the Two Brothers map at the end of February. Myself, another Japanese destroyer and two cruisers attempted to capture point D, but came up against an enemy fleet of three destroyers, two cruisers and two North Carolina class battleships. We sank their three destroyers at the cost of one of ours and a Cleveland cruiser. Outgunned, we had no choice but to fall back and fight a rear guard action, while hoping the rest of the team had better success.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Fleet Friday: My First Tier IX Ship

I haven't mentioned this yet, but I finally had enough credits and experience last Friday to research and purchase the tier IX Japanese destroyer Kagero. tl:dr - I really like this ship. This is my first tier IX ship. It's expensive to even leave port and I was afraid it'd be a money loser like the New Orleans was for me months ago. But I've had really good luck in her so far. I've fought five matches in her and been victorious in four. I've not lost any credits, even in the defeat, and that's a goodness.
 I have taken a premium smoke generator for which I pay doubloons rather than credits. 
Otherwise it's what you'd expect to see on a Japanese destroyer: decreased chance of torpedo tube incapacitation, faster torpedo reload, decreased chance of flood and fire, faster rudder shift and concealment. The one upgrade I've not yet purchased is Torpedo Tubes Modification 3, which reduces the torpedo reload time by 15% but increases the chance of incapacitation by 50%. That basically means don't get hit. And per my personal meta I've purchased all components except the C hull. That trades a main gun turret for more AA and frankly that's not going to happen with me. I'd rather have the extra turret when I need it. The C hull AA is still so bad it's not going to make the planes less accurate anyway at this tier. If I see planes coming I'll go hide next to a cruiser or something.
My captain only had 14 skill points. I am working on the magic number 15 so I can take concealment. I've put four points into placeholder skills I can easily relinquish using doubloons again. The only choice that's going to hurt is giving up one of the level two skills. Last Stand is a must, but Japanese destroyers are most effective when they don't have to wait forever on a reload. So far I've easily survived all five games, so it's tempting to let Last Stand go. But I'm certain the game after I do that will show me the stupidity of that decision. Harrumph. Of all those skills though, there is one I can point at that makes this ship very effective. That's the new level 3 skill Torpedo Acceleration. The Type 93 mod. 1 torpedoes have a range of 20 kilometers. This skill reduces that to 16 kilometers. What you get for that range decrease is a torpedo that races to its target at 72 knots! It makes a big difference. The less time the torpedo is in route the less chance the target has to change speed and/or direction. And if the ship has no advanced warning of the torpedoes from a plane or an ally, they have significantly less time to react. The effect is more than the 5 knots would seem to allow, as the speed and distance algorithms in World of Warships are not real work accurate. One knot is about 2.6 meters per second in game from what I've read, so those five knots equate to 13 meters per second. The normal detection range for the Kagero is 2100 meters and it takes the type 93 mod. 1 torpedoes 12.1 seconds to reach a stationary target in game. Increasing the speed of the torpedo those 13 meters per second shave an entire second off that reaction time. It may not seem like much, but it's the difference between avoiding the entire spread and getting nailed by at least one of the little beasts.

Anyway, that's probably enough for this post. Leave me a comment if you have any questions about the ship or what I've done with her. I'd like to say I'll be playing lots of matches in her this weekend, but I've also got the U.S. destroyer line to work through and at the lower tiers it's a guaranteed credit earning endeavor! Besides, I am having just too much fun in the Wickes even though I've already researched the Clemson. I've had 14 battles on the Wickes and I'm running just over a 78% win rate! 

Oh, and there's also the little issue with my having purchased The Division today. *eyes ceiling* Man, I've really done it now. I've got World of Warships, Armored Warfare, XCOM 2, Master of Orion and now The Division all demanding play time. It's a good thing spring had sprung and someone left the sky spigot on. At least I've a convenient excuse for never leaving the house. Have a great weekend and I'll have a Sunday Highlight for you at the end of it. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A New Ship Line (for me) in World of Warships

Monday night I finally decided I had enough credits to start the U.S. Destroyer line. I jumped straight into a Wickes for reasons given below, and man did I have some fun! I fought six random battles in my Wickes and my team was victorious in five of them. That's the best start I've had in a new ship in quite some time. And the history of the Wickes is an interesting one. I did not realize it was a Lend Lease destroyer. During World War II it was actually the HMS Montgomery, the only ship in the Royal Navy to ever have that name.
I find the Wickes in World of Warships to be an agile and capable ship. Its guns do not have a great deal of damage potential, but they fire quickly and you can always get three of your four guns on target. The two guns amid ship are on either side so one or the other can't always fire. It's a bit like the Omaha cruiser in that regard. It does do fairly well with the circle and fire maneuver once your captain is trained in Basic Firing Training and Expert Marksman. However, you'll have to fight a dozen battles or so before you can get those skills because you must start with Situational Awareness and Last Stand. The only real protection the Wickes has is her speed of 34 knots, and you don't want to be dead in the water, That's a big "sink me" sign. YMMV concerning those choices, but don't blame me if you don't take last stand and learn what the term "sitting duck" truly means.

The torpedoes are not as short range as Russian destroyers, but they still have a far shorter range than your detectability. Us them in ambush maneuvers. Conceal yourself behind islands and let the enemy come to you. When they are in range, race out, launch your torpedoes and then smoke up if you have to. Don't overextend while doing this and you'll likely have someone to spot your target for you and then you can do what U.S. destroyers excel at: fire many, many shells at your target from the smoke. U.S. smoke lasts longer than any other nation's smoke. I personally recommend you purchase Smoke Generator IIs so you get an extra charge and a shorter cool down. You can pay for this with credits. This maximizes your ship's effectiveness.

As for credits earned, the one game we were defeated I was also sank early. I still made about 20,000 credits. So long as you land a few shells, I don't think you can lose credits in this ship. I plan to use it until my captain gets six skill points which I will cover all the skills I've mentioned so far: Situational Awareness, Last Stand, Expert Marksman, and Basic Firing Training in that order. Then I will move to the Clemson and work on Superintendent.

Those are my short range plans with the U.S. destroyer line. My mid range plan is to get to the Mahan or possibly the Farragut and then use that ship to make credits over and extended period before moving to higher tier U.S. destroyers. If anyone reading this has played those two ships, I'd be interested to know when one you think would be better for doing this. And who knows, I may keep the Wickes if it keeps being victorious. It's helped me to finally get my win average over 50%!
On a related matter, When I purchase a new ship within World of Warships, there are a few things I make certain I can accomplish before I do so. If the new ship is also a new ship line, there is an additional rule by which I play. Here are my rules on acquiring a new ship.

  1. Getting a new hull is not enough. I always save up experience and credits to purchase at least the B hull line if upgrades before I actually buy the ship. I research it, thus making the old ship elite, and continue to play it until I've gotten enough experience and credits to not have to fight a stock ship. The stock ships in World of Warships typically suck bilge water. What makes most ships good ships, or at least playable ships, are the B and C hulls, the longer range torpedoes, the better guns if available and the better fire control systems. These systems are the World War II configurations of ships built before the war but after the end of the various restrictive naval treaties of the early 20th century. In World of Warship terms, these are ships of tier I through tier VII or VIII depending on the line. It isn't necessarily that cut and dry, but you can generally rely on the upgrades being better - in most cases. As with everything there are exceptions. For example, some C hulls trade main guns for more antiaircraft guns. If you are in a Japanese destroyer you may not want to do this. You role is not anti-aircraft. Leave that to the cruisers. There is one drawback to this rule. You must use doubloons purchased with real money to convert the experience from your old elite status ship to free experience you can use on the new ship.
  2. I always transfer my old captain to the new ship. I only purchase one captain per line. This is how you build up a highly skilled captain quickly. This is no secret. However, I always pay the 500 doubloons to immediately train the captain for the new line. I do this for the same reason I don't fight stock hulls: so it's a bit more fun. A no skill captain is also a no fun captain. For destroyers I want at least Situational Awareness and Last Stand. Playing without those skills is a lesson in pwn, and not from the giving side.
  3. And lastly, if I am starting a new line, I always pay for a 3 skill point captain with which to start. This allows me to skip the first two tiers, which are bad no matter what you purchase for upgrades, and start with a tier III ship. This works fairly well, and I save a few credits by not buying upgraded components for the ships I'm not interested in grinding through. However, don't go too far up the new ship tree this way or you will end up with a captain at higher tiers missing some crucial high tier skills like concealment. Never forget that in any ship line you are grinding two things: new ships and captain skills.
As you can see above, those three rules are all predicated on the use of doubloons. I don't mind. Wargaming.net has expenses and I surely don't want to see them fail financially. I do try and limit my spending to a "subscription" rate each month. I don't always succeed. I do own a Tirpitz after all. Otherwise I am fairly successful in budgeting my World of Warship spend while still feeling like I am maximizing the fun I have. How do you go about maximizing your fun in World of Warships? And last but not least, thank you for reading the blog.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sunday Highlight #27: Fubuki Gap Ambush

The Fubuki isn't a gun boat. It's role in a fleet is scouting, harassment and area denial. In this it excels. A smart captain though will maximize the effectiveness of these tactics by utilizing available terrain to mask attacks. The east side of Hot Spot is perfect for this. Going inside the islands is a death trap for a Fubuki, but the numerous small islands with gaps in between are just right for an ambush!


Friday, March 4, 2016

Fleet Friday: Ognevoi Takes Them All

Today's blog post is about the last game I played in my Russian Ognevoi tier VI destroyer, or at least near enough he last game. It took place on January 23, 2016. In the voice over, I give you my thoughts on how to play the Ognevoi. I hope watching how I played it will give you ideas to improve your game. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Barsk: The Elephant's Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen

Guess what. It's Nebula Award season! That means I am hard at the Sci-fi/Fantasy review job again. I have been saving up my Audible.com credits all winter just for this. I have a surplus of credits in my account and I'm itching to use them. When the list of nominees was announced by The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, I immediately went out and scoped it. I primarily concern myself with the novel category. I want to make certain I listen/read every single one of them prior to the actual awards ceremony. This year I sort of lucked out. I've already listened to two of the nominated books! Here's the list, and I've linked my previous reviews to the two I've already covered.
  • Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
  • The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
  • Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
  • Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
  • Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)
This leaves me with five novels to listen to by May 14, 2016. And I've already finished one! Here's the publisher's summary for Barsk: The Elephant's Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen.

A historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds. 

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity's genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets. To break the Fant's control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. 

Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend's son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

Sounds intriguing doesn't it? That's why I picked it first. 

All in all, this was a very satisfying story. It was well written, logically followed chapter to chapter without any need for gimmicks or writer's tricks to make the story work. The characters were memorable and some became real people to me: namely Jorl, Arlo and Pizlo. 

The universe Lawrence Schoen creates is both believable, insomuch as fantasy can be believable, and engaging. Those parts of the story requiring a suspension of disbelief were well aided by plausible causality. To say much more would be to possibly provide spoilers, which I won't do. Let's just say the author leverages modern particle physics in a way I've actually thought of myself, so suspending disbelief was relatively easy. To anyone who considers themselves a student of sci-fi, the vehicle he creates should work well. As for those cases where science and fantasy traditionally collide, such as in trying to explain faster than light travel, the author simply doesn't explain it.

This lack of explanation is not a problem. The protagonist in the story is a historian, not a scientist. It would completely break from the third person narrative to have him discuss things he knows nothing about - such as the mechanical workings of spaceships. He does lend a lot of valuable information on historical figures in the world, and helps solidify the universe the story resides in quite well. The technical is frankly unimportant to the story. Not needing to explain certain things was as it would be. It is the Fant way.

And that is what endeared this story to me most of all. Many authors who write sci-fi/fantasy struggle to come up with alien races. Many of them fail. The big problem is we are all captives of our experience. We are humans, living on earth, and trying to imagine anything outside that experience will always fail to one degree or another. We can't actually imagine the unimaginable. To do so would mean it isn't unimaginable. Unimaginable is outside our experience - always. So rather than struggle with this, Lawrence Schoen side steps it deftly and convincingly. These aliens are not really aliens. Their antecedents were Earth bound mammals, just like us. Their social structure is derived from humanity. Their behavior is derived from their ancient ancestors before they were uplifted by humans. Cans, which came from dogs, are steadfast and loyal but never allowed to be in charge. Fant, uplifted from elephants, are matriarchal and for the most part males live a bachelor life as wild elephants do today. Lutr are descended from Otters, and the one we get to know acts pretty much how you'd expect an otter to act. As do all the other "aliens" in this book. In every one of them I could see the roots they came from, the behaviors that define them as a species. It's like Lawrence Schoen channeled Pierre Boulle with David Brin's assistance. That's just cool.