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Updated: 2 hours 14 min ago

Sunday - July 20, 2014

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 15:13
Well then, it has been awhile!

Time to get this rolling again.

Quite a lot has happened with the Campaign Series and Middle East lately. A new UPDATE for the Campaign Series bringing it up the 2.01 UPDATE standard is available here: UPDATE DOWNLOADS

That and the 2.00 UPDATE are HUGE UPDATES for the Campaign Series, incorporating many new features and User Interface improvements. A huge thank you to the new programmer on the team, Berto. Here is a link to the changelog:


With the active support for the game, we will also be releasing a 2.02 UPDATE in the next few weeks.

With his capabilities, a lot of Wish List items are now becoming a reality. Middle East is getting a thorough work over and incorporating many new features. I'll share more as we get closer to the planned Q1 2015 release. In the meantime, the playtesting continues and the remodeling of the various OOBs for the initial set of countries continues diligently. There are about 50 scenarios of varying size included at the moment, with a couple of Linked Campaign Games. I'm presently focusing on a number of solo scenarios that will boost the initial release total up to 70 scenarios or so.

Hope you're all well.
Take care and good luck
Jason Petho
Categories: Blogs

Summer Games: Battlefield 4

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 02:24

Lately, I've been pretty harsh on the world of PC gaming, even to the point of labeling the industry as being downright disreputable. I still stand behind those sentiments. And little, if anything, has changed in the intervening months. Things are still pretty rotten around these here parts, perhaps more so as we now can add disreputable indie developers to the mix. It's all enough to make a man want to take up chess again.... ;)

Be that as it may, there is one aspect of the shameful record of modern gaming that I do feel I need to revisit in the interest of fairness, and that would be EA/DICE's Battlefield 4. As I have gleefully pointed out time and again over the last few months (most notably here & here, amongst other threads :D), BF4 was a good poster child for everything that is ailing the modern games industry: a sequel for the sake of sequel cash, bug-ridden and incomplete code being sold for full price, and months and months of patching before the player gets what he paid for.

Shameful. Inexcusable. Reprehensible.

But having said all of that, I do have to give EA/DICE a hard to swallow "kudos" for, finally, releasing a game worthy of the Battlefield name. Battlefield 4 has finally arrived - granted, some seven months post release - but arrived nonetheless. :rolleyes:

It all makes for some good summer gaming. Why summer, you ask? Because Battlefield 4 has so much swimming and boating in it, that they should have called it Battlefield 4: Extreme Water Sports. :D

Would be a great spot for some sunbathing...but for the fighter jets dogfighting overhead
This is perfectly acceptable and appropriate, though, as this version of the Battlefield franchise deals with a theme long overlooked by a world of combat games obsessed by a 1980's-styled World War III setting that deals with Americans and Russians going at it. Blessedly, not here. Instead, this is a game tailored for the Obama administration's pivot to Asia (one of the scant areas where I completely agree with this administration - like with BF4, credit where credit is due :)). With the exception of the map pack that revisits some of the favs from Battlefield 3 - mostly Persian Gulf / Caucuses settings - most of the maps in Battlefield 4 all seem appropriately set in believable PTO settings, such as island-hopping campaigns, sub pen and carrier assaults, jungle fights, and Asian-themed city sieges. Really, DICE has outdone itself in the thematics department based on what I have experienced so far. it is all convincing and on target (unlike Treyarch's Black Ops 2, a game that initially visited the same geopolitical theme, but later got distracted by wacky DLC that featured such incongruities as skateboard parks, rock concerts, and other WTF oddities).

With that in mind, be prepared to get wet! I hope you like to swim because you will be diving into the refreshing waters of the Pacific quite a bit!

The sea turned turbulent on me!
You will also be doing your share of recreational boating:

One if by land, two if by sea....

Now, DICE has made much of the "Level-ution" thing in the lead up to the release of this game, but I have to say that, by and large, "level-ution" is more often than not missing from most maps. This is a shame as where it is present, it can really add some nice additional atmospheric effects (I am less impressed by the gameplay implications, though). There really is no describing how thrilling it can be to be assaulting an island when a tropical storm blows in, something that causes the sea to become suddenly frightful, especially when you need to cross it on a boat. Likewise, it is pretty darn cool to be fighting your way through a Pacific Rim city when a rainstorm blows in and begins flooding the streets.

"Water water everywhere" is definitely the theme of BF4....

The streets of this city are awash after a storm

To be honest, I am not really surprised that water is everywhere in BF4 as the new theme in the world of video game design is clearly the art of creating believable moisture effects. I noticed this trend beginning with the unveiling of Watch_Dogs at last year's E3 - was there ever more ink spilt in transcribing all the "oohs" and "ahhs" that were heard when that's game's rain-slicked streets were first unveiled? So, yeah, expect a lot of moisture in your gaming for the foreseeable future because high fidelity rain effects are clearly the "hot, new thang" in gaming. As a lover of rainy skies, consider me enthusiastic for this trend.

Dawn, after a brutal, rainy night of combat
I will say that DICE has also amped up the destruction engine in this game. While I still think it might be a bit behind where the classic Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was, it is a definite improvement over the surprisingly limited destruction in BF3.

Destruction 3.0! Or is it 4.0 now?

As fans have come to expect, all sorts of things can be smashed, from vehicles, to buildings and even the landscaping.

I am literally hiding under a table as an enemy gunboat demolishes the bungalow across the way, and part of mine, too!

I am also glad to see the return of totally collapsible buildings, something that has been missing from the BF since we left the glory days of Bad Company 2.

I also have to give credit to DICE for providing many more cosmetic options in this iteration of the series. BF3 was a paltry Call of Duty rip-off in this regard, what with its minor handful of cosmetics. Not so in BF4. At last, the BF4 community has a very nice selection of custom camo for both our soldiers and our weapons, as well as the ability to design our own logos and have them appear in game:

My custom logo can be seen on the side of my jeep, as well as on my weapon (near the bottom of the magazine). It also appears as a patch on my uniform!
Finally, I am happy to say that DICE has finally addressed the "Hollywood sound stage" map design issues found in BF3 (you can read about it here). Now buildings actually seem inhabited with furniture and stuff!

I like to think maybe I had a bit to do with this change. :whist:

Even though DICE has clearly upped the graphic ante from the Battlefield 3 days, I am still impressed by how well this game runs on even a dated stock GPU like mine. While it is true that I have had to step down my BF3 high-ultra settings to medium-high for BF4 for a good framerate (roughtly 45-50 fps), I will say that I hardly notice a real distinction as the game still looks mighty fine while running great. Here, DICE deserves a definite pat on the back from PC gamers for taking the time to see that this game didn't become a resource hog. For example, compare the great graphics and solid performance of the Frostbite engine as used here to the highly modded Source engine(!) being used in another EA title called Titanfall - that game looks nowhere near as good, but runs like a fat pig (I am actually forced to play that game on all low settings! :(). Nicely done, DICE.

What about the infamous netcode that plagued the early months of this game? I can say that I have encountered few issues of rubber banding and/or delayed hit detection. Now, I said "few" issues for I have encountered such issues very occasionally - say, a dozen or two times out of roughly 50 hours of gameplay to date - and that is with the most recent patch's latency setting set to "medium" (if I set it to high, I probably could cut back on such issues even more). While a competitive player might have a better eye for such issues, this casual player is more than satisfied with the netcode at this point.

Keeping my powder dry
Final Thoughts

It's hard to stay mad at DICE when despite all the initial hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth, they still managed to deliver another excellent entry in the Battlefield series. Granted, their behavior (along with EA's, of course) was disreputable and reprehensible at the outset. This is something that must not be forgotten. However, they ultimately did right by their fans in delivering the product we all hoped we would have had last October.

Now, having said that, I still believe DICE and EA need to be held accountable. With that in mind, I made it a point to refuse to pay full price for either the base game or the premium add-on. By doing so, I not saved myself money (roughly 60% discount in total off the original purchase price for the base game plus premium by waiting for sales), but hopefully also sent a message to EA that I will not reward their egregious behavior by paying full price. And, needless to say, I also waited over half a year to jump into the game. I am sure that if other gamers likewise delay their purchases, and also refuse to pay full price, EA will quickly get the message loud and clear (and perhaps already have).

But let us put all that ugliness behind us. Battlefield 4 is finally here, and I am having a blast yet again. DICE likes to use the "only in Battlefield" slogan as a selling point, but the truth is that there really is nothing like Battlefield when it comes to combined arms action in a highly destructible and immersive environment. Only in Battlefield do I find myself holding my breath and ducking my head as my in-game avatar hunkers behind a car as rounds from an enemy MG spang off the body. Only in Battlefield do I dive under a table as a gunboat tears the walls down around me. And only in Battlefield do I relish the opportunity to belly crawl into some shrubbery and set up the perfect ambush.

Only in Battlefield indeed....

Categories: Blogs

Balance and Playability

Sat, 06/07/2014 - 07:09
HAYSEED: 'That's the fifth black card you've drawn in a row.'

SUNDANCE: Yeah, lucky...'

HAYSEED: 'I think there's more to it than luck.'

SUNDANCE: 'What are you sayin'? Are you saying that I'm cheating?' '

HAYSEED: I'm sayin' nobody draws five black cards out of a Russian pile without drawing a single red card.'

BUTCH: 'Soviet.'

HAYSEED: 'OK, Soviet then. It can't be done. Take that last FFE off the board or I'm gonna fill ya full of holes.'

BUTCH: 'C'mon, Sundance, it ain't worth it.'

SUNDANCE: 'I wasn't cheating.'

HAYSEED: ' the famous Sundance Kid outta Laramie?'

BUTCH: 'Look mister, just apologize and you can go back home to your carrot farm.''

HAYSEED: 'If I'da known he was the Kid, I wouldn'a said anything.'

SUNDANCE: 'I wasn't cheating.'

BUTCH: OK, Kid, just let turnip-boy here go home to his mare. There ain't gotta be no killin.'

SUNDANCE: 'Butch, tell him I wasn't cheating.'

BUTCH: 'Look, sodbuster, the Kid don't cheat at draw piles. Oh, sure, he may knock over a few concealment stacks or forget which StuG is outta smoke, but who doesn't?'

SUNDANCE: 'Thanks, Butch.'

BUTCH: "Don't mention it. Now, be a good dirt farmer and apologize so we don't have to spend four good dollars on a casket.'

HAYSEED: 'Sorry, Kid. I hope ya didn't take me wrong. I know you wouldn't cheat.' BLAM!

SUNDANCE: He didn't say it with enough conviction. I even gave that son-of-a-bitch the balance.'

BUTCH: 'I know, Kid, I know. I heard the face to face is a lot better down in Bolivia."

As we go into ASLOK weekend (or, in my case NotASLOK), I become curious about play balance. Here in SoBo, we play according to a loose Gentlemen's Agreement. It is always kept in mind that we do not play for wagers--not large ones anyway. Even among the wider expanses of the Centennial State, comradeship is the norm and I have only once had a firearm drawn against me.

However, in a tournament setting the stakes can often be as high as a $30 module that you won't even have to pay shipping for. The idea of a $10 trophy to set prominently in one's man cave is a unholy, beckoning lure that turns an otherwise affable fellow into a HIP-swapping swine of the lowest order. Cheating? Yes, but there is sharking as well. Some dude lays up and gives you the old, "I've always wanted to play Grinding Mill as the Russians."

Scenario balance is generally considered a function of playtesting. A well-playtested scenario should be relatively balanced. While ASL is not generally played for money, fame or sexual favors, people generally like to believe that they have a chance of winning a scenario they are about to play. Hence, the term "unbalanced dog" is a term which all scenario designers run in fear from lest they fall prey to the pumpkin headed horseman.

Using data from ROAR, the Remote On-line Automated Record, I compiled a list of scenarios to see what the data say about ASL scenarios. Now, as TEDMS will certainly point out, ROAR is not perfect. It does not take into consideration the levels of the players, in many cases the balance used and of course randomness which is inherent in the game. However, once a critical mass of playings is reached, there are no reasons to think these random effects would not balance out. ROAR is self-reporting and (while I'm not accusing anyone of doing this) it is susceptible to manipulation by third party marketers that wish to show their scenario packs as balanced and getting a lot of play. However, especially in the case of large numbers of playings, we can assume that the data here are a pretty dependable source of inference about the balance of a scenario.

This involves analysis of 4141 scenarios, although only 3477 have a recorded playing.

First, I develop a percentage of playings where the attacker wins the scenario. Not surprisingly, but noted with some comfort, the mean (average) probability of wins by the attacker is 49.8%--very near the 50% we would expect if we chose the winner at random.

The percentage of wins by attacker is then plotted with number of playings. The hypothesis is, of course, that more balanced scenarios are more likely to receive regular play. Thus, the more playings recorded by a scenario, the more likely it is to be balanced. However, we need to be very careful about this inference because statistics and probability always suggests that the more often you observe something, the less likely you are to observe a mean which deviates from the expected pattern. Nevertheless, here is the plot:

On the right hand (vertical) axis is scenario balance. This is calculated by taking the absolute value of the difference between the percentage of wins by the attacker and .5 (the expected random result.) The formula for this is:

B = |(a/p) - .5|
Where B is the balance, a is the number of attacker wins and p is the number of playings.

While in general, there is sufficient evidence to support the hypothesis (that is, the data suggest that scenarios with greater balance are more likely to get more play), there are a number of curious deviations.
The n, or total population of playings, is 71567. The standard deviation from the expectation of scenario balance (50%) is 95.1, meaning that we can be confident to almost 1 chance in 1000 that the overall balance of scenarios is nearly 50%.

This, of course, leads to a wealth of new questions. Which are the most balanced scenarios? That I can answer! The top ten scenarios by statistical confidence measures are not much of a surprise to the grognards:

A pretty wide variety of publishers--an far fewer than I would have thought for "official" publications.

On the other hand, here are the most unbalanced scenarios with more than 50 playings:

Note that nearly all are official TAHGC/MMP scenarios. And all of them are pretty well known. Since many people consider balance to be crucial to scenario selection and (at least among reporters) everyone has access to ROAR, why are these scenarios getting played?

Clearly, these are some good scenarios with a great deal of prima facae attraction.

According to ROAR, the most played, least balanced scenario in the archive is ASL14 Silence that Gun from Paratrooper. While tipping 30% pro-German, StG has 320 recorded playings. What is the attraction?

First, a synopsis: A half a company of American paratroopers complete the “Longest Day” by attempting to seize the board 3 village and/or a hidden AT gun. The Germans defend with the usual collections of Sad Sacks and Hiwis which, for some inexplicable reason, were stationed in Normandy to clear the good troops for the Eastern Front. The board is the classic 2-3-4 arrangement, meaning that this is, largely, playable with SL components.

What makes it a favorite? Well, it’s D-Day and Paratroopers. It’s one of the first scenarios and has components practically everyone has. In all, this seems like a classic scenario waiting to happen. It’s a scene straight out of a John Wayne movie.

What makes this scenario unbalanced? Well, first off, it is a half-company attacking a company. While there is a HUGE qualitative difference, the Americans enjoy a firepower advantage but only a marginal morale advantage. Leadership is equal. Germans enjoy a rather large advantage in SW—the HMG and the MMG. The VC do not force the Germans to spread out and, it seems, the best strategy is to have the fortified building and HIP gun covering each other or to move the HIP gun completely out of the way and never, ever use it. With six squads and six turns, it’s simply impossible for the Americans to find it in time except by sheer luck or by a really bad strategy on the German’s part.

Destroying the HIP gun seems to me to be a hopeless task for the Americans. It involves deploying and doing lots of searches—which will still take time. There are 450 hexes in the German setup area. Probably around 100 have concealment terrain. Six American squads, six turns. Do the math.

So, the Americans have to “solely occupy” the fortified building in the board 3 village. Logic dictates that this will be building N1. It’s tallest. It’s biggest. It’s stone. This kind of takes the guesswork out of it, but can anyone really justify any other building? Perhaps M5, if you were adventurous. While it is wood, it has a first level. It is more difficult to approach—but the Amis have lots of smoke. You could cover it from N1. Still, it has less than half the locations of N1, making things a lot easier on the Americans.

Therefore, it looks like this one devolves into an “Americans assault 3N1 building” scenario. It is do-able. Perhaps not all that fun.

The balance fix is to remove the second level from N1. That doesn’t seem like much, but an examination of the board shows precisely why it is extremely important. N1 suddenly doesn’t cover the approach from the east, allowing paratroopers to deal with a few covering squads and then run up next to the building.

One “fix” is to not allow the gun to set up HIP. That’s a pretty big balance and changes the scenario substantially. It provides the Americans a real alternative to assaulting 3N1. Perhaps more importantly, it makes the Germans set up differently, making them bring the gun into the safety of the N1 MG nest cover.

Funny, but I don’t ever remember having played this one. My view of “Silence that Gun” is that it is a pretty simple scenario and one that is good for teaching first timers (give them the Germans.) It’s kind of a classic, but it’s hard to imagine how many plays it would have if it were more balanced. And it’s not really that far off. I would be interested to hear what others have to say about this one.
Categories: Blogs

Bring the HEAT...

Sat, 06/07/2014 - 06:46
ME: Thinking, thinking...

TEDMS: Time's up.

ME: I'll fire APCR. A "7", I haven't got it. Firing AP. A "9," miss.

Earlier I talked about various to kill effects of Soviet APCR rounds. These range from the moderately effective 45mm APCR round to the why-bother 76L round. Range is a key factor on whether APCR is worth firing. APCR is most effective at close range. Which means that good tankers save APCR when you need to kill a monster at close range.

However, good tankers also know that APCR can increase your hit chances. Because depletion numbers are low numbers and therefore, you are more likely to not have it (and, therefore, no shot takes effect), you get a second shot--a "do-over" or a "mulligan." As a result, the probability of getting a hit usually increases.

But there is a lot of math behind this. A lot of math. As demonstrated above, it is possible to attempt special ammo and have your non-shot be a hit and then miss on the do-over. For this reason, it is a bad move to use the APCR to-hit strategy when you have a low depletion and a high to hit unless you need the TK bonus.

These figures are, approximately, the modification to your to-hit probability based on your depletion number if you first try APCR. The horizontal axis is your FINAL to hit number. As you probably guessed, this strategy generally works best if your depletion number is high and your to hit number is somewhere in the middle. The easier a target is to hit, the less it makes sense to attempt an APCR shot--if you are simply seeking to increase your hit probability.

Why do the lines drop to the negative? Because of the likelihood that you will deplete your ammo but hit with the first shot and miss with the second. Keep in mind also that you are effectively doubling your chances of malfunctioning your weapon. APCR may also increase the risk of creating smoke where you don't want it.

A good tanker also assesses the risk of depletion when firing APCR, because you don't want to use a shell to increase your likelihood of hitting a softer target if you have a monster to deal with. Even depletion numbers as high as a 7 make it extremely likely you will only get one shot. The WORST case scenario for you is firing and missing with your last APCR round.

So here are your probabilities for each depletion number for each shot taken:

In fact, these numbers are good for HEAT as well (although I think some of the Soviet heavy guns have higher depletion numbers and if you throw low ammo into the mix it changes everything.)

All of this boils down to a rule of thumb: If you face something that you need the APCR for later, you probably don't want to fire it simply to increase the likelihood of hitting. If you are firing it to increase you chances of hitting, don't fire it if your final to hit number is greater than your depletion number, because the benefits drop off very quickly.

I find this tactic kind of gamey and unwholesome and it is a bit silly for the rules to provide an advantage simply as a mechanism for determining rarer ammunition availability. As an alternative, I might suggest treating APCR, HEAT and even SMOKE more like panzerfausts. When the player announces the shot, he makes a dr based on his depletion number:

Rolling less than or equal to the availability number means that gun has the special ammo and is in a position to fire it for that shot. To preserve balance, I would also suggest the following modifiers:
+x for each previous shot with that type of ammo by that gun.
+1 for low ammo
-1 for attempting (and failing) to fire special ammo with the previous shot
-1 for target's best AF > or = the gun's TK number
+2 for a deliberate immobilization shot

Gunners rarely unloaded their AP shells to replace them with HEAT or APCR. Standard practice was to fire the round in the gun and then load the desired ammunition for the follow up shot. So the alternate system provides a degree of realism by increasing the likelihood of a second shot being special ammo.
Categories: Blogs

LOADER! Um...surprise me.

Sat, 06/07/2014 - 05:13
Armor Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) ammo is made from a nickle alloy. In fact, the hunger for nickle drove many campaigns, many in the most inhospitable conditions (e.g. Narvik, Petsamo). Nickle was so valuable, in fact that the US stopped using nickle to make nickles and used them instead to make shells. You can still find some 1943-1945 nickles out there in circulation with an "S" stamped on them for the steel they were made from.

APCR can really seem like a difference maker when taking on tanks you really have no business taking on. But is it? Here I am going to examine the real to-kill effects when using APCR for common Soviet gun types against different levels of armor protection.

Because dice probabilities are not linear, we would assume that APCR has different effectiveness against different targets. APCR is limited in its quantity, so knowing when to use it can be a crucial decision. First, we look at the effectiveness of APCR and AP ammo at medium range:

To-Kill Probabilities at Ranges 7-12

From this graph you can see that the to-kill chances tend to be much better for 45mm APCR than 45mm AP. This is not so true for 76L ammo, which game designers again hamstring and shortchange proletarian production models. However, we can see the difference is particularly crucial for 45L's looking to crack those 6AF PzKwIII's and T-34/85's taking on Tigers.

These differences look meek when compared to close up shots:

To-Kill Probabilities at Ranges 0 or 1

Here we see huge gaps in performance of nickle ammo compared with their regular counterparts. Particularly, we can see the value in the T34/85's APCR when confronting Tigers and Panthers head on. But the very large across the board differences between the solid lines and dotted lines make it clear that firing at close range gives your gun a much greater punch.

Later, I will look at the differences in penetration of the most common Soviet guns at each range and on the effects of special ammo on a to-hit roll. In the meantime, keep in mind this crucial lesson: APCR is most useful for dangerous situations when you suddenly find yourself face to face with a monster and is somewhat less useful at range, where, in any case, you may have more maneuverability to get in a side shot which makes APCR less crucial. While you are using the nickle mined by Fascist dogs in Siberia, remember to use it wisely to kill their co-conspirators.

Also remember that Soviet workers turned out 5 times as many T34/85's as Panthers and more than 25 times as many as Tigers
Categories: Blogs

MINIs UPDATE: 2014 Texas Team Tournament, Austin, TX June 19-22

Sat, 04/19/2014 - 11:27
If you were present at last years' tournament you saw the setup of CH's Omaha East/West and I announced then that I would have it set up for not only Thursday this year, but for play over the entire weekend. This is truly monumental ASL and is your chance to play the full blown invasion scenario for up to 4 days straight. Even if you are interested in participating for only a day, let me know and I can get you scheduled in and get all information to you ahead of time. We need folks to take advantage of this opportunity! We have a couple of folks who have already signed up to play it for all 4 days. So if you want to play it for 1, 2, 3 days or the whole enchilada, let me know so I can get the materials to you.

This year we'll also be featuring ASL miniatures play on 3 3D boards that Matt Zajac has constructed. One will feature a scenario from the Kansas City March Madness 2012 Double Blind pack - which will be revealed at the tourney to avoid potential players from gaining an advantage by seeing their opponent's mission and forces. Americans and Germans in Normandy in 1944 played out on two boards with each side receiving their mission and forces - and some intel on the opposing force. Both sides have armor, and the Americans have at least one culin hedgerow device. This is a chance for players to both experience the fog of war that the Double Blind pack integrates so well and see the difficulty of battling thru hedgerow country in 3D.

Another will be a two board scenario from the as-yet unreleased Deluxe Pack being developed by Dave Ramsey, and likely available by the time of the tourney. This pack has been discussed at length on the GameSquad forum, and this is a chance for players to get a peek at what it offers. The scenario is an early war German vs Polish fight with Polish tankettes and supporting infantry conducting a spoiling attack against a German supply convoy escorted by Pz IIs and recon PSWs. Small unit density should allow for rapid play of this one - and the boards are neither city nor bocage terrain.

If there is interest, Matt will also have KE14 Another Day, Another Field available which is played out on a single Deluxe bocage board, and pits 16 first line US squads and supporting armor against 10 German first line squads and a 75L AT gun. Very compressed area for this size of force. This can not be played simultaneously with the Double Blind scenario due to terrain / unit shortages.

Matt is willing to run both scenarios simultaneously if there is interest, and at any time over the weekend - not just Thursday. Matt has all of the boards and miniatures material that will allow you to play these, and it should make for fun experience
Categories: Blogs