Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tilting in League of Legends, I

I had a very short run-in with Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ) near the end of summer 2014. I had just finished a very intense 17-week fitness program, and I wanted to take my newfound agility, strength, flexibility, and endurance for a spin. I reasoned that there was no better way to prove my body's capabilities than to sweat and grunt as I tried to kick the ass of someone who was trying to do the same to me. I signed up, bought my gi, and attended class every day. That last part turned out to be a bad idea, especially since I didn't let up on my rigorous gym training. I got hurt, and I haven't gone back to BJJ. Maybe I will some day, but I'm not planning on it. One broken rib was enough for me. 

I learned a lot about myself until I got hurt, though. If you're not familiar with BJJ, it's basically a sport where you try to snuggle your opponent to death. Grappling with your partner in BJJ (and, I suspect, any grappling based martial art) is high reflex chess. It is geometry class with teeth and rapidly depleting oxygen. In my class, the instructor demonstrated a technique, a defense against that technique, then set us against each other. It was then, pitted against other beginners who had just been taught a new way to strangle me, that I learned how I respond when I am a.) being choked by someone who can capably defeat me and b.) how I respond when I am trying to choke someone who can capably resist me. Essentially, I become a feral animal. 

Half-guard?! Full-guard?! HOW ABOUT I JUST LOSE MY DAMNED MIND!

I would start the practice matches using the techniques I had just been taught, but as my opponents' superior defenses thwarted my every effort at strangulation, I would resort to overpowering them. While I am and was a weakling if you compare me to powerlifters or many competitive athletes, I was easily the strongest person in that room of beginners. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't. The newer the person was to BJJ, the more quickly they would tap out when I would invoke my secret technique of pretending I was a bear. That same loss of control is also how I got choked to near unconsciousness by two girls in the same week. Not in a fun way. 

Unfortunately, I got hurt before I ever learned to master myself as an opponent was trying to choke the life out of me. But I think often about the red-tinted vision that overtook me last summer whenever I can feel my emotions and anger driving me out of control, especially when I am click-click-clicking on the polygons of Summoner's Rift and losing yet another game of League of Legends.

If you're not familiar with the term, "tilt" comes from the world of poker players. It's when a bad run causes a player to get upset and to make mistakes. I love the word because it helps to distinguish between screwing up when you're bad and screwing up when u mad, bro. 

In the real world, I've seen people who can draw on their anger to achieve great results. One of the reasons I don't talk as much trash as I used to is because one of my main Street Fighter adversaries seems to draw from a secret well of skill the angrier he gets. I can be winning 4-0, but if I click the taunt command, he suddenly can't be blocked or stopped until he rights the wrong. He also is a poker whiz. I asked if he had the same reverse tilt effect when he was playing poker, and his answer surprised me: 

Can't. That doesn't work in poker. Usually I get better when I'm angry. It's never worked in poker. It just makes me play worse. Much worse. So I just can't get angry. I've never seen anyone play poker well when angry. To me, SF4 and Halo and many sports are mostly about execution. Poker (and probably LoL) are about judgment more than execution. Anger improves my execution, not my judgment. 

Heck, I don't know if he's right. I keep thinking about my brief time in a BJJ gi. Anger damned sure didn't seem to help my execution there, but it's hard to gauge since I was facing the equivalent of beginner bots. At some point, maybe my execution would have been flawless enough to be fueled by anger. More likely, I would have been more easily goaded into making a mistake. 

Really, self-mastery and self-knowledge seem to be key components to winning any kind of serious competition, whether it's trying to strangle someone in BJJ or whether it's counterganking some stupid Shaco you just saw in your jungle. If you let your opponent get to you, you lose control. If you have lost control, a clever opponent can exploit that and control you. This is how you get baited at tri-bush. No, dude, that Sona wasn't just wandering around bot by herself. She has two friends waiting for you. 

Maybe some people play better when they're angry. I'm definitely not one of them, a fact I've been able to revisit because League makes me angry all the freaking time. 

Time hasn't made it better, either. For years, I would never lash out at my allies when I played League of Legends. It makes no sense, right? If they're acting like turds, I should just ignore them as inferior beings. If they're playing badly, I should just do my best for myself or, f I type anything at all, encourage their successes. If they're being harsh to me for playing badly (or just blaming me for not playing in a way that offsets their poor playing), I can say nothing or mute them. 

When I'm at my best, I do any or all of these. I'm downright trigger happy with the /mute command. 

Lately, though, I've let them get to me. I've lit into players, typed shrill replies in all caps, and otherwise, well, tilted. Sometimes it's caused me to lose, and sometimes some quiet badass just carried us all in spite of my bleating outrage. I've managed to end up with a broken rib for letting my anger get the better of me in a game of skill. One of these days you'd think I'd learn. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Matt Evans Photography

While searching for some techniques to put finishing touches on my Sydney pictures below, I stumbled on Matt Evans's work. Yet another lens hero for my books.



Sydney, a set on Flickr.
Didn't spend much time shooting during my recent trip to Sydney, but I'm pretty happy with what images I did take.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Pathfinder, Session 7(ish)

Day 23 for our intrepid party.

We had a discussion about doing something a bit more sandboxy and away from Golarion-- I am vibrating with excitement at the chance to tell a really interesting story in this medium, but for the time being we're sticking with Jade Regent. It makes sense since we're all just getting our sea legs. I haven't run anything since 2003, and these guys are all new RPers, so we may even end up finishing JR.

Last session was simultaneously amazing and a complete clusterfuck. The PCs explored the abandoned town of Brinewall and managed to find a secret entrance into the large castle in the town's northwest corner. The secret entrance led to none other than the BOSS OF THE ENTIRE MODULE. They were really not prepared, and I tried to tell them so, but they trudged on despite my warnings. (For those wondering, I had the druid's bear animal companion, Jojo, express deep concern, and I told the paladin, "You have a really awful feeling about this.")

This was their toughest fight. The half-fiend capophus (or whatever) was a good bit about their ACL, and a couple of the PCs nearly died. Yet they prevailed, largely due to the boss rolling abysmally on his Will save vs. the wizard's color spray. This is the fourth time color spray has saved the party's collective ass. After a beastly color spray against the boss, the wizard delivered a coup de grace for a little more than half the creature's HP. After that point it was only a matter of time before it fell, but not before putting a serious hurt on everyone but the party's rogue.

Anyone who's run a game knows to expect anything from the PCs. They are just there to have fun, and they don't give a fuck about your carefully laid plans. They give so little fucks they don't know what fucks are. I've encountered the situation where PCs mock my adventure preparation with their standard issue intrepidity, but I've never seen them a.) sneak to the final boss of an encounter and proceed to b.) utterly destroy said boss.

One thing I'm enjoying is that everyone's getting a chance to shine. The rogue gets to be shady, the arms classes break things' faces, and the wizard and druid have been laying down long-distance hurt in every game. It's exactly how a group like this should run. I feel like I need to give more love to the druid and the rogue sometimes, but I'm also loathe to venture too far from the Adventure Path for fear of throwing too much at the PCs. Of course, this last situation proved that very little is too much for my guys. I should just have the tarrasque show up next game and see what happens.

I think my favorite part of the game was when the druid used bull's strength on the wizard (before the coup de grace) and said the command words in fucking elven he'd looked up online. I love my players.

Fantasy Grounds is Badass

Last week I had to visit Sydney for my double life, but my landing on Thursday morning corresponded exactly with our standard Wednesday night game time. I wasted no time racing to a cheap hotel that had Wi-Fi and setting up Fantasy Grounds and joining the group's Google Hangout. For about 20 minutes, we were the future. I was in Sydney, the druid was in Pittsburgh, the magus was at her apartment, and the other three party members were in a single apartment. We had Hamachi Logmein serve up a VLAN, and we were off... for about 20 minutes. It turns out data in Australia sucks it hard, and the data at the Cambridge Hotel is Surry Hill is designed with the intent of shoving your credit card down your throat. Nonetheless, for those 20 minutes, I was all tingly with the fact of what we were doing. I'll probably be heading to Asia in January, and I'm excited to keep my appointments with the group on networks not designed by sadistic, doughnut devouring networking fuck sticks.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pathfinder, Session 5. Possibly 6

During the session prior to last night's, the the group dragged their winnings from the skeletal samurai back to the town of Sandpoint to figure out the next step of the campaign. A note on the skeletal samurai suggested one of the character's family secrets was in the town of Brinewall, so they made preparations to make the 500 mile, 16 day journey.

This brought the players to a somewhat odd section of the campaign, where the players have to travel in a caravan with four major NPCs, and the caravan has experience- and gold-granting encounters that are all determined by single d20 rolls. These rolls determine some of the caravan's survival along with adding and subtracting food and trade stuffs from the caravan wagons' supply. Maybe you're the type of gamer who thinks that sort of adding and subtracting is a cause for pure, steamy, unmitigated joy. I am not. I play for exciting dice-based combat and character interactions restrained by the rules and the stats as listed. Fortunately, the player behind the halfling rogue, Kasham, finds it pleasurable, and he seems to be handling all the numbers scrupulously.

Normally I'd just make the caravan their wandering village (which is the point of the caravan) and send them packing, except the PCs are supposed to all be "well into Level 3" by the time they explore part 3 of the the Jade Regent's first chapter, The Brinewall Legacy. They need XP, and that means they need to caravan it up.

Or not.

Whenever I read through Pathfinder/D&D source material, I find my brain exploding with adventure hooks, and while I've been shoveling effort into preparation for the Jade Adventure sessions, I've been a little sad from the lack of my own personal touch during the sessions. Last night, I fixed it.

And boy did it work.

I sent the party away from the caravan-- it was a bit hamfisted, but they got the idea and left the safety of their mobile village-- and into a town I'd made up called Whisperden. In Whisperden, a mad fighter named Soldekai was slaughtering non-human villagers because his elf wife had taken up with a halfling. It was a grisly scene, with elves, half-orcs, and halflings crucified around the village, some of them decapitated, some disemboweled. Soldekai and his sympathizers had struck in the night, and they'd been fast and effective. Guards outside Whisperden tried to shoo the PCs away, but combat started when the PCs heard a blood-curdling scream from within the village. They questioned one of the racist guards and got the gist of what was happening inside. They set off after tying the guard to a tree-- the paladin wasn't okay with murdering an unarmed captive.

Inside the village, the party was in for a fight. They dispatched the armed men easily-- color spray is their go-to spell of ass kicking-- but Soldekai himself was incredibly tough to kill, even though he only had 1/3 HP from fighting that had gone on before the PCs arrived. The PCs were whiffing most attacks, but they had numbers. It's a good thing I took his HP down because every time he hit with one of his dual katanas it was like the end of the world. Both the 2nd and 3rd level arms characters (magus and paladin) took more than 1/3 of their overall health.

In the end, he tried to escape with a potion of invisibility, but the halfling rogue stabbed Soldekai in the neck despite his minus to Strength and Soldekai's invisibility.

After untying the survivors-- humans who had sided against Soldekai-- they saw two odd things. First, Soldekai's armor made anyone good recognize it was an evil item. Second, he bore an enchanted tattoo that seemed to leer at the wizard who identified it as strongly necromantic before it disappeared from Soldekai's body.

After deciding to let the remaining sympathizers flee into the woods, the party left Whisperden to its own devices. When they returned to the tied up guard, his throat had been slit. Although the party didn't know it, this was the reason the halfling had arrived late to the brawl: he and the half-orc wizard resolved not to let the racist live.

It was a powerful session. Everyone was pretty uncomfortable with Soldekai's monstrous actions, and the non-humans in the group played their anger to the hilt.

I made a decision I'm still not entire sure of, though, which was that I decided Soldekai wasn't evil... yet. The way I see it, he was on the way, and this would have surely put him over, but he hadn't made the leap to an official alignment switch yet. It was sort of like Alan Moore's Killing Joke, where this was his particularly bad day.

Any adult who's played D&D can see the seams in the alignment system. There are major ontological issues at play in a world where you can "detect good/law/chaos/evil" or where the gods themselves grant their followers power. The paladin's attempt to detect evil came up nil because the guards were following orders and as angry as their commander, and the man himself was enraged with the grief and disappointment of infidelity. Obviously his actions were evil, but if we are not all capable of evil why does anyone need redemption?

It was such a morally grey session that the paladin's player e-mail the group and told us he'd been up all night worrying about the consequences of his character's actions or inactions. It was a major turning point for the paladin, Lady Magthyra, who had never had to wade through suck morally murky waters before.

PCs nearly died, a powerful enemy was laid to rest, and everyone got uncomfortable for the precise reason I had designed for them to get uncomfortable.

I fucking love Pathfinder/D&D.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pathfinder, Jade Regent: Session 3 and 4

"I activate my smite evil."

"Okay," I said. Both Lady Magthyra's player and I fussed over our screens to account for his new bonuses.

"What's your AC?" I asked.

"17," the player said.

"Okay. The skeletal samurai snarls something in Tien, but it's incoherent to you. His sword is a beautiful blue steel blur that arcs through the air and slashes into your stomach. You take 12 points of damage."

A collective gasp ran through the players. This was the hardest hit any of them had taken.

"Wait, wait, wait," said the Magthyra's player. "I forgot to add in the Charisma bonus to my AC from smite evil. My AC is 21."

I sighed. The skeletal samurai had rolled to hit an AC of 19. "Then the beautiful blue blade arcs over your head and misses entirely," I said. I didn't even have the creative spirit left to change the description such that the blade was subtly warded off by the holy aura pressing against the blade. This was their ninth opponent of the night. They had chewed through eight other skeletons, three dire rats, and a skitterling-- a rat with a human face. While the skitterling had given them some difficulty by casting two ugly fear spells on their heavy hitters, the party still made short, quick work of the little bastard.

This was our fourth session. Our third session was really short but especially so because the party's half-orc wizard, Jarek, had successfully color sprayed the entire final encounter in the goblin village the party had been commissioned to exterminate. I am always mindful of my players' good time, and even though everyone likes becoming a raging badass in Pathfinder/DnD, no one likes feeling like they didn't earn that badassery. I had no special attachment to this skeletal samurai, but I was pretty upset that none of the monster encounters as written could effectively challenge the PCs.

Searching on the Paizo forums, people advocate giving creatures different feats or using advanced monster templayes, but there's not a lot a CR 3 creature can be given that will overcome a +4 bonus to a character's Armor Class. Sure, I could toss creatures and NPCs more powerful than CR 3 at my people, but they only just got to level 2! Death is only a die roll away in D&D/Pathfinder's low levels, and while I'm not opposed to PCs dying, it would really suck if they died because I sent in a monster who was too powerful. Yes, I can kill the party if I send them against a graveknight. Or a pit fiend. Or Asmodeus. Who has fun then?

I think I have two more sessions of the PCs mowing down my monsters before I just boost the CR for all encounters by 1 or 2.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day, Creeper!

A few months ago I purchased a spy camera for my Love Systems work. It's been an interesting piece of gear, although the video fidelity is not as crisp as the $50 price tag might lead you to believe. In case you didn't click on that first link, I picked up said camera from a reputable vendor called Dyna Spy ("The Ultimate Spy Shop"). A man can never know when he's going to need another clandestine camera, so of course I opted in to their sales letters. "More spam!" I have been known to shout, even in my sleep. 

So I had to share the latest comedy gem Dyna Spy handed me on a platter:
For that special lady who has everything but healthy boundaries.
Yep. Dyna Spy's having a Mother's Day sale. She gave you life, so give her the reassurance that your dad hasn't grown tired of her yet. I'm just sad they didn't really run with this. 

Alright. That's enough reading. Go call your mom and thank her for doing what she did to get you here. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Big, Wide, Beautiful World of Model Photography: Tardy

From Lollapalooza, August 2011
I've been snapping a few dozen to a few hundred pictures a week with my Nikon D7000 since I purchased it late last year. The catalyst for my picking up such an extravgant camera was discovering Trey Ratcliff's work, so it makes sense that almost all the pictures I've poured my energy and effort into have been landscape shots.

Stuck in Customs

It's only been recently that I've been tiptoeing into the world of model photography.

It's an intimidating world because there are a lot more moving parts, and some of those parts attached to other human beings. When you're trying to capture a landmark or vista, you either get the shot or you don't. You set up the tripod, aim the lens, and trust in your machine. The photographer's taste is the catalyst for a beautiful shot in all matters of photography-- that's why it's an art-- but within about ten seconds of taking serious pictures it became rapidly apparent that there is considerably more agency involved in producing the kinds of pictures you see in fashion or girly magazines. Getting images like Rey Trajano's is hard.

Rey Trajano takes seriously beautiful pictures

There's a fusion of craft, social fluidity, and artistic flair on display in the best model or glamour photography that is a lot more interesting and a considerably higher hurdle than ever occurred to me before 2011. My enthusiasm for pictures of gorgeous women is not a new thing, of course. But before falling in love with photography my interest was considerably, shall we say, utilitarian. That my enthusiasm for photography took it took me three years after graduating my fancy film school is a sad and expensive truth, but better late than never I suppose.

Oh, and some people will look at an image like that stunner of Nicolette Lacson above and make snide comments about Photoshop or whatever. Yeah. Fine. Whatever. I mean, a.) you don't know what you're talking about and b.) there's a lot to be said for skill at artful, slick, seamless photo retouching.

After just a few shoots, though, I've discovered a pleasant truth about shooting landscapes over trying to ensnare the essence of concupiscence with an image sensor: the Capitol building will never be late.

"I'm so sorry! I couldn't find my shoes, and my dog ate my metro card!"

I've dated a bit, so I'm no stranger to young women's punctuality challenges, but I've now started planning other work concurrently for any time I ask a model to come over for a shoot. Some or all of this is, of course, because I'm free and they're free, and we're only adding to each other's portfolios in the hopes of one day getting paid. Since one of the hallmarks of professionalism is whether you can get somewhere on time there's just no way these sorts of shenanigans would fly if money was riding on these girls making it to a place on time. Is there? I mean, do fashion shoots always have to happen at 3pm? That seems unlikely.

Nonetheless, it's all part of the journey. There's a girl I'm waiting on right now who inspired this little screed, and no matter what's happening to my precious light outside, I hope the resulting shots are worth the extra time I waited for her to get here.