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Archive for October, 2010

Obviously, every competitive game has a metagame to it.  Certain dominant strategies rise to the fore, granting an advantage to the innovators who developed them, leading to a period of scrambling where other players seek to implement this new strategy, while looking for counters.

But I’ve never really paid any attention to them, prior to playing League of Legends.  Since LoL is effectively a purely competitive game, it’s impossible to avoid the metagame.  Even if you aren’t actually paying attention to the community, you begin to notice effective champions/teams as you play.  You will attempt to emulate or counter these strats as you continue to play, either finding a viable counter or simply finding you choose to go with the flow because, well, it’s easier.

Quick primer: League of Legends is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), patterned after the venerable DOTA mod for Warcraft 3 (though DOTA was not the first of its kind, it was the most popular).  It’s a game where opposing teams of players control a character, attempting to destroy some objective while keeping their opponents from destroying their objective.  Pretty standard fare.  What makes DOTA-style games interesting are the characters you can choose from, and the teams created from their synergies.

In LoL, just before I started playing in earnest, the metagame in ranked play revolved, apparently, around the “poke” game.  This metagame, as near as I can tell, favored hit-and-run attacks spread across the map, with high mobility characters rising to prominence.  In this way, pressure could be applied to multiple points of the opposing team’s territory, while offering minimal opportunities for them to come to grips with you.  Effectively, this would be an attrition war, because pokers would tend to be less effective in an out-and-out team battle royale.  To counter this, a healing metagame developed.  The few healers/damage mitigator classes allowed attrition to be nullified, while allowing your own pokers to keep up pressure.  It also meant that out and out team battles became a bit more common, as the healers could keep the squishies up while they focused down targets.

From there, a tanky-dps metagame grew to the fore.  If healers can keep a team of squishies alive, then they can keep a team of damage sponges alive even longer.  Because certain damage sponges can offer a lot of burst damage or AOE damage (or CC, or a number of other benefits), they could burst down a squishy faster than the healer could keep them up (I’m looking at you, Garen).  Eventually, healing became an unnecessary part of this: if you could bring their team to bear through continuous, landsliding pressure, then annihilate them before healing could have an impact, you didn’t need healers of your own.  Support switched over to CC and a few, game changing moves (Morgana’s Black Shield).  Burst fighter tanks or heavy support tanks moved to the fore.

That held until recently, where that game evolved into an AoE/CC game.  Games came down to the team fight.  You roamed as a team, pushing when you could, and moving to bring your power to bear on them.  The goal was to catch someone out of position and annihilate them before they could respond.  Running around by yourself was a sure way to die, when they might have sight on the entire map, so you ran as a team…meaning clumped up team fights became the norm.  Once that moved into place, tank dps became less important, because now you just wanted to make sure you could lock down the entire team long enough to kill them, before they did that to you.  Thus massive AOE+CC became the defining metagame. Here’s the picture:

Your team is pushing into their base, they can either attempt to split up and push your base while poking you, or try to bring you into a team  fight.  If you split, and they catch you, you lose, and they’ve got the ability to do that.  Instead, you want to bring them to bear.  You find them under your tower (a dangerous spot for them, but not unmanageable).  You initiate.  In this case, maybe one of your AOE tanks teleports into the middle of them and hits their ult (amumu mashes r, everyone is stunned for 2.5 seconds).  Your entire team unloads their aoe into the other team.  The stun breaks, but your Galio has flown into the middle of them and hits HIS ult, once again locking them down for 2.5 seconds.  They all die.  Now you can push with impunity for 30-60 seconds.  That might be game over.

That right there is the current metagame.  What’s interesting is to analyze where things will go from here.  First, we can see that a high-mobility game really has some advantages against that team.  By refusing to commit to a team fight, while applying pressure across the map, you blunt a lot of the effectiveness of the AOE game.  However, skirmishing in this way is dangerous…unless you can out maneuver them.  I would expect anyone with high mobility AOE to be really potent here: Zilean and Ezrael (particularly if he gets his ability damage buffed).  Teemo, of course.  Twitch probably has a big place here.  A carry of some kind with Sona can probably wreak havoc (I’d lean towards Miss Fortune here…shed be an absolute beast in a mobility game, even moreso than her current laning dominance).  Amumu would fade here, as an initiator, but Galio probably would retain a top place.

Heimerdinger might actually gain relevance in a poking game, due to his lane presence, particularly late game. He can punish a pushing team with minimal risk.  I’d also expect teams to begin picking assassins to counter this; the best in-game bust killers tend to be melee dps like Xin or Yi.  Twitch is obviously another fantastic pick, as he can add potent AOE damage while still working to burst down solos.

I don’t think this leads into a healing game yet.  Healing is still too impotent to help sustain a poker without other aspects added.  I think Lux will actually gain some prominence if a mobility, poking game comes into play.  She provides the right support for escapes, while packing some serious high-range firepower.

Many other casters are probably too short range here.  Annie is simply not as good a poker mage as a veigar.  Karthus has a solid role here, as might Malzahar.  Swain and Fiddle will remain on the outskirts…their range just isn’t up to snuff, I think.

Anyway, I find this sort of thing fascinating.

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That is all.

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Peter Boockvar posted on The Big Picture a note about inflation:

It puts into context why some scratch their heads about the big fears of deflation that is causing the Fed to act as they are in terms of money printing. As can be seen, the cost of living, aka CPI, is down just .7% from its all time record high.

The reason is the Fed went on the largest binge of monetary stimulus in history, as a percentage of GDP, on top of a massive fiscal stimulus and financial capital injection.  The US government poured money into the economy in mind-boggling quantities…and yet prices still declined.  If you look at that little curve up near the top of his chart, you’ll note that the rate of change is declining.  So despite the massive efforts of the Fed to reign in the job destruction and wage pressure price declines bring with them, they had a minimal impact and that impact is tapering off.

On top of this, the economies of the world teeter.  Perhaps it doesn’t look like it, but events keep shocking the system, with no sign of respite.  The sovereign debt crisis in Europe, the potential over-heating of China, the potential recession in China.  Now we are faced with the mortgage/foreclosure debacle here in the US.  The consequences of this mess are potentially pretty damned big.  And our economy remains fragile.  For all the efforts to shore it up, it continues to limp along, looking like it might fall at any moment.  While no double dip has occured, at best the recovery continues to look faltering and sick.  If that continues, American consumers will continue to retrench and banks will continue to write off, which drives down available credit (write downs reduce available bank capital for lending, and retrenching consumers take time to free up income for purchasing).

This pressure on the economy is slowly growing.  That is why the Fed is looking at QE 2 and fears deflation so enormously: because after all that effort, all that money spent to battle it back, it’s still coming.  It is a sign of desperation.

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Gold has been pimped by a portion of the investment community for ages.  Gold is a strange substance, culturally.  It inhabits very little of the production for most goods, yet is classically one of the highest demand “rare” substance.  Now I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gold bug not pimp gold.  Seriously, never.  No matter the economic conditions, no matter the macro perspective or the state of investor psychology, gold is a good buy.  It hedges against the stock market, except when it totally correlates well with it.  It goes up when the dollar, weighted against foreign currencies drops, it goes up when there’s inflation, it goes up when there’s deflation, it always goes up!

I heard much the same thing about house prices.

Business stock investment in the classic sense follows a very simple assumption: prices movements track business success (or failure) on average.  So, if you locate a business where you have a good idea of how well it will perform, and see that it will succeed, then you buy that stock, hoping to trade it capital for a chance to cash in on the stock’s future price increases.  Maybe you’ll even pull dividends, so you can share in the business income stream.

This also applies to broad market indices, like the DJIA or S&P 500 (or Russell 5000, or whatever floats your boat).  The prices of broad market indices are presumed to track the success of portions of the ecnomy.  Generally, the DJIA and S&P 500 will grow as the US economy does, so if you think the US economy will do well, investing in index funds tracking these will allow you to cash in on that.

Gold, however, is not a business.  Gold is strictly a psychological trade: you are attempting to understand where gold fits in the psychological profile of the investing public and where it fits in their broader decision making.  It doesn’t feel like a strict macro trade.  In some cases, gold will correlate with one macro-level property and at other times it will follow another.  It’s value seems to be a sort of stop-gap, though what exactly it’s hedging varies from trader to trader and depends strictly on their particular portfolio.

All of which says that I don’t know what the fuck gold is doing.  If gold is strictly an inflation hedge, I don’t see why you couldn’t equally well buy TIPS, which guarantee returns over inflation.  There exist other safe investments besides gold, other uncorrelated assets.  What I’m saying is that gold lacks a way to value it fundamentally.  You’re guessing on the basis of other investors; it is investment gambling in its purest form.

Actually, I’m inclined to say the fundamental value of gold is, well, constant.  That’s the argument for it being an inflation hedge…but TIPS works as well for that.  Heck, if you think the US will default on its bonds, go ahead and buy TIPS denominated in Euros or Australian $ or Canadian $ or whatever.  You can, you know.  And those will return above inflation, and may even net you a carry trade bonus on top of that.

But back to gold.  If its fundamental value is constant, its price is set strictly by supply and demand.  Supply is a relatively measurable and static thing.  Demand, then, would account for price fluctuations.  So what drives demand for gold?  Obviously, jewelry demand.  I think I can safely guess that jewelry demand is not growing, as that would only grow with incomes…and incomes have been a bit…um, stagnant.  Unless it’s all the lavish spending for ostenatious jewelry out of emerging markets?  Maybe, I guess.  Demand for gold in manufacturing seems like it’d be similar.

So we’re left with investment demand for gold.  Investment demand for gold distorts the gold market, by the way.  since investors do not return gold to the market, but instead pull it out, it effectively pulls forward gold demand.  None of the gold purchased to be held by investors is removed from the gold supply, rather, it is simply saved away to be resold later…which means the future supply of gold will increase relative to the present supply, negatively impacting price.

And that inevitable event is why I shy away from gold, because it will come, I suspect it will be disorderly, and I’m fucking clueless about when.  I’m content to miss the gravy train, and admit I have been wrong about it for a while, because I just don’t like gambling in a complete unknown.

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With Cataclysm hitting in less than 2 months, I’m probably going to head back into Azeroth on a more consistent basis.  In addition to making sure I have a server to land on, this means making sure I understand the healing model properly.  Math will be forthcoming on this.  In the meantime, what does everyone think of the class changes, now that they’re live?

Balance Druids should find that the eclipse mechanic is relatively simple to manage.  The rotation will basically run as such: spam wrath into a lunar eclipse, apply moonfire and spam starfire until you hit a solar eclipse, then reapply moonfire (now in its nature form), apply insect swarm, and spam wrath.  Cast starsurge whenever it is available.  The prime glyphs tend to affect the damage of one part of eclipse or another.

I’ll do some testing to see whether the damage on DoTs drops when eclipse falls off (i.e. you hit equilibrium again).  If it does, that reduces the efficacy of the starfire glyph.  If it doesn’t, then you’ll need to make sure to reapply DoTs just before pushing past equilibrium.

As I said, I’ll do more testing and math later.

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I was reading this article about a suggestion to the US government on how to reduce domestic spending significantly through various efficiency enhancing moves, such as IT infrastructure improvement, and was amused by the article referring to “the cash-strapped U.S. government”.

This is a bit like calling Chase or, more appropriately, the Fed cash-strapped.  Seriously, if Chase needs cash, it just takes out and overnight from the Fed, and – BOOM! – magic cash.  Created from thin air.  The government can do this.  In fact, we have had a budget deficit since the Great Depression, and never once has the government failed to pay for anything.

Now, sovereign debt crises can occur, but they mean something a little different from what it means for you or I to go into unpayable debt.  Even the Greeks had a different experience from you or I, and they don’t get to issue their own currency.  But when you get to offer to sell people debt and say its payable in this made-up denomination, then it really doesn’t matter how much debt you issue, you’re only constrained by the supply of paper (or digits).  Not a very tight constraint, when you get right down to it.

Governments face fundamentally different issues, economically.  Paying debt is relatively simple for a bank.  It’s getting capital that’s the tough part.  Inflation isn’t even an issue, as long as capital is being developed and deployed.  Look, if aggregate incomes rise, there should be inflation.  However, if there exists an increase in capital, then we expect an increase in the number of goods produced, and thus an increase in the number of options.  That can offset the inflationary pressure of growing wages.  So governments (and banks) aren’t cash-strapped like you or I.  They’re constrained by their ability to find real, tangible things to back their debt.

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Apparently, we get Cataclysm in December.  You likely know this.

I wish I could say I was thrilled and excited.  For whatever reason, this time, I’m not.  The quest stuff really is cool.  The new zones are lovely and well-crafted, and the redone old zones simply sparkle from polish.

But meh.  Don’t care right now.

Not that I give a rat’s left butt cheek for any other MMOs at the moment.  Final Fantasy XIV looked pretty, but simply couldn’t arouse my interest like Civ V.  I’ve played more Magic: the Gathering and League of Legends i nthe past 2 months than I’ve touched WoW.  In fact, I think I’ve actually played more DS than WoW.

I simply can’t rally any major interest in TOR.  I’m not a Bioware fanboi, certainly not since they left me so crushingly disappointed with Dragon Age (Obsidian captured the spirit of NWN far better than Bioware, IMHO).  As far as I can tell, TOR is a replica of WoW gameplay, with dialog trees and VO grafted on top.  I’m just not thrilled.

Ah well, a new Magic expansion hit, and LoL keeps pouring out new champs, so I think I’ll be kept busy.  If any of you care about Magic, what would you suggest for an Infect deck, adhering to the current Standard (so Zendikar block, M11, and SoM)?  Right now, the number of Infect critters is pretty slim.  They’re all relatively weak (except the dragon) and expensive, which means you have to know their going to have the blockers to halt you.  From what I can tell, it behooves you to come up with as many ways to sneak creature damage past their defenders as you can.  Suggestions?  I already have some sneaky combos planned, but I’m open to ideas.

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