Dota 2 and the length of seconds

So I have been playing Dota 2 a bit recently.  For those that don’t know, Dota 2 is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), or a place where people go up against each other and fight with digital heroes.

I tried playing a while ago, and it is really not that friendly to new players.  There are over 100 heroes which is a bit of a daunting list to pick from.  The tutorial tells you the basics of the game, but only really teaches you the how to click buttons, not any of the strategy of the game, or how team fights play out, as it is presented as a top down RPG in style, rather than a battle game.

Against bots, you can fairly easily press buttons to select your abilities with the mouse, but against real people, fights are over in seconds, and you can go from full health to death in a couple of seconds.

Since most abilities only last a few seconds, timing is critical, leading to a steep learning curve, and if you don’t know your abilities or the key bindings, you will have big problems.

I have started playing with a friend online and he has taught me enough to get started, and actually be competent with several heroes (Even getting MVP a few times!).

DOTA 2 in comparison with other games

I have played a fair number of games, including RPGs so I was familiar with the idea of cooldowns on powers and selecting powers on heroes, but looking through these powers, what seemed odd to me was the idea that they are all measured in seconds.  Like, the ultimate power of a character lasted perhaps 6 seconds on an enemy hero.

What can you do in 6 seconds?

My favourite hero is a character by the name of Riki.  His ultimate power is permanent invisibility, and his main powers are of jumping on people and stabbing them in the back.

With equal equipment and levelling, that 6 seconds is enough to take a hero down from about 1000 health, to death.  It really happens so fast.  Several times I was ganking a hero who was trying to cast a spell.  I get the feeling that they were distracted and searching for a button.

That pause is all it took.

Other heroes have all kinds of powers, which cause damage, and have other effects like silencing which disables your abilities for a few seconds.  Team fights between all the heroes are bloody affairs which don’t last long, but have a huge impact on the game.  When your hero dies, you have to wait to respawn.  At higher levels, this can be around a minute.

Given that the game only lasts for about 45 minutes, that is a huge amount of time.

So, just think about it.  6 seconds; enough to win or lose a combat.  Not a lot of time to think, but enough time to make a mistake.

I guess that is a bit like real life in stressful situations.  Racing drivers have to react in a fraction of a second, if a pilot makes a sudden mistake during landing, that can be the death of a flight.

6 seconds.  What will you do with yours?

The coolness of tiny USB flash drives

So, following on from last week’s post about amateur radio operating, I was in Maplins drooling over all the shiny electronic things. I was initially interested in the different gear that they had available for radio operating (They didn’t have much, some hand held walkie-talkies, and CB radios, but lots of cables and electronics tools).

I then got distracted by other bits. Most notably a flash drive.

A really, really tiny one.
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Vampire the Masquerade – rat problem

So, I have been playing Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines on the PC. I will write other things about it at some point, but I just had this going through my mind.

One of the things that Vampires can do is to eat rats. now these come from the sewer, but going in there isn’t alway convenient. What if you are a vampire and need to have a drink. How about visiting a local pet shop – that opens late.

Yeah. Can you imagine how many rats you would go through a month.

“Hi, um… Could I buy a rat please?”
“What another one? You’ve had like 12 this month. What do you do, eat them?”
*Nervous laughter* “Um, no, I, er, just have like, er a snake which keeps breaking out of it’s cage and attacking them”
“A snake?”
“That breaks out of it’s cage and eats rats?”
“What kind of snake?”
“Um… An Anaconda?”
“An Anaconda. Really? Do you have any idea how big they are?”
“Well they certainly eat a lot of rats”
*Sigh* “Fine, I’ll get you another rat”
“Great, could you get one that has been fed on whole foods?”
“Because it tastes better”
“Oh, nothing…”


Since drinking from a rat might not actually kill it, I wonder whether they would be willing to let you ‘borrow’ a rat?

Probably not.


The world kind of breaks down when you add Vampires into the modern life.  There is only so far that belief can be suspended.

In the game, Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines, there are some people who recognise that Vampires are about.  For example there is someone in a blood bank who will sell you blood bags. I would imagine that something similar would happen with other sources of blood and vamipre friendly items like really, REALLY good window blinds.

Comments on comments – the medium is the message

So, I noticed that I have a lot of spam comments which are being blocked (Thanks Askimet!). A lot of these seem to take the form of:

“Your site is AWEASOMEE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Come chek out mys site [random link to spammy site].”

I guess that a real person it less likely to delete a comment that says that they are great, than one which is just a promotion.

Even bots get smart. Looking through the list of comments, some of them have pseudo-real sentences. Things which might pass an automated logic check, but not a human being. Some of them are odd, but this one in particular amused me:
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Choosing a role play game system

[Welcome to the final 2007 recap post of stuff what was on the site before I started messing about with it.  I am writing this about a month before this post is due to go out, so hopefully I will have some kind of rhythm set up of posting so something else will fill these Wednesday slots.]

One of the first things that you must do when setting up a role play group, is to choose your role play game system. So, what is involved in this? The first major decision that you have to make is the timing zone that you want to set your game in. Here are some of the major themes that characterise most of the main games:

  • Sword and sorcery: based in the realms of Lord of the Rings style mythology, with humans, Demi humans, and other miscellaneous races. This is a fairly popular genre of role play games, and was the first one to be started by Dungeons and Dragons, and has remained popular ever since.
  • Modern-day role play game: many people, acting like James Bond is something they would really really like to do. Having the rules to be a higher power human being is pretty cool and so of course there are the rules for it. There are also modern-day role play games, such as Call of Cthulhu which is a horror role play game set in the 1920s.
  • Near future/cyberpunk: imagine a world not dissimilar to ours, but with technologies that has advanced over the past 60 or so years, possibly with insurgents of magic and definitely with a rise of corporations. This is the cyberpunk genre, and it popular with games like Shadowrun. My personal favourite.
  • Far-future settings: games like some of the GURPS settings, Star Trek the role play game, and Rogue Trader which are set in the far future, and encompass many of the science-fiction genres to make them interactive by groups of friends to play these games.

Once you have chosen one of the settings you have to choose your game. It could be a very long article here if I listed every single game, so take a look at some of the games that I have mentioned, and see if they tickle your fancy, as these are ones that I mainly have played and enjoyed.

Your local comic book store, or role play game emporium is also an excellent place to start, as you can talk to people who actually know about the stock they have, and can talk about the different games on offer and show you something suitable.

At the end of the day, when choosing a role play game, the answer lies between yourself and the group you want to play with. If you dream about slaying dragons with the might of magic and feats of arms, something in the fantasy genre of sword and sorcery is probably for you. What I tend to do, is have two, three, or even four different games that we rotate on a regular basis, and play these different games, as we feel like it. This means that we can choose the best from all the genres, and players alike.

Shadowrun overview

[This is the penultimate post from my past persona.  Shadowrun is probably my favourite RPG ever.  This was written in the time of SR3.  I think we are on version 4 now.  In any case, there is a new Shadowrun Returns computer game coming out from a game company called Harebrained Schemes, which I happened to of helped kickstart.]

Imagine a world about fifty years head of now. The whole world has been turned upside down, with magic resurfacing, the races of Tolkien becoming real, with people going through goblinisation, and humans giving birth to trolls, elves, dwarves, and orks.

This is the world of Shadowrun. In a place where corporations rule the economies and governments for profit, while attacking each other to get hold of the latest ‘bleeding edge’ technology and products. The shadows – the place outside the law – are where shadowrunners rule. As a role play game, you are a shadowrunner, living outside the law, doing the dirty work of the corporations and breaking and entering, doing various missions, all for the cash to get the latest technology.

Oh, did I mention that magic had become real? This role play game really does have a lot going for it. It has futuristic sci-fi ideas, in an almost recognisable setting, with fantasy races, magic, and big guns!
One of these role play games, you take the role of a shadowrunner, and there are no ‘careers’ as such, but several archetypes. For example:

  • Street samurai – High on honour, martial skill, tough, with sheer destructive power, this is the fighter of the future. Using cyberware (Mechanical parts implanted directly into the body to ‘upgrade’ parts), guns, and awesome skills, a street sam is just the thing that a shadowrun group needs to uneven the odds in favour of them, and against the corpers.
  • Decker – a hacker of the future. No boring typing for this guy, deckers have computers wired directly into their brain. Using 3d topography, in the Internet version 2 – the Matrix. A 3d environment where thoughts are actions, and computers take on a persona. Deckers are great to get the information you need to get the job done.
  • Investigator – In the dark and dirty streets of shadowrun, there needs to be someone to dig up the dirt. The investigator is the guy to do it. Knowing the streets and having the contacts to get the information needed, this shadowrunner is a person who can find out anything. Not really a fighter, armed with trusty equipment, and a string of contacts, still a worthy member.
  • Rigger – either with an army of drones at your command, or the ability to drive any vehicle that moves, with the repair skills to get it moving, a rigger is the addition for any role play game group that needs to get moving. More trusting of machines, than people, any shadowrunning team will need the backup that this member provides.
  • Mages – there are several types of mages, but they are all powerful. There are hermetic mages which are academic wizards, who learn spells by rote, and shamans, similar to the native American shamen. Then there are aspected mages, who study one part of magic in depth, but lack the wider perceptions that having magic bestows.
  • Adepts – one of my favourite forms of shadowrunner. These channel the power of magic through their body to become awesome. Gaining many of the abilities that street sams get, but with none of the disadvantages, plus access to many other levels of ability. The comfort of knowing that you can only ever get more powerful is one of the things I like, with sams limited by their meatbod.

The differences between MMORPG and pen-and paper RPGs

Ok, another post from my 2007 past self.  For the record, I haven’t played that many online RPGs, I understand that they have got better.  In case you don’t realise it, my 2007 self is trying to come across as ‘journalistically balanced’ whilst really disliking MMORPGs.  I don’t have this problem any more: I don’t play MMORPGs, and if I dislike something, I say so.

Superficially, MMORPG’s and other roleplaying games are quite similar. If you play a combat heavy role play game than the differences become smaller still. I would say that the main difference between to, is that pen and paper role play games are limited only by the imagination of the person writing the adventure. Online role play games, are limited by the technology, and the need to create something for millions of different people. The opportunities for roleplaying somewhat limited, most online role play games have some form of quest system, but sees, with very few exceptions, revolve around doing certain actions in a certain order. There lacks any real challenge to you, beyond slaughtering monsters.

Pen and paper role play games have the flexibility to perform any action, or be in any situation. The only way you are limited is by what you can convince GM to allow you to do. As you can probably guess, I am more in favour of traditional role play games, than online ones. Having said this, I have played Runescape and have quite a high-level warrior.

Another major difference between these two styles of game, is the way that characters advance. Online, character advancement is very precise based on numbers of creatures killed, crafting levels, fishing, and experienced points gained from quests. In a paper role play game, advancement is based on all kinds of things, including how will you role-play situations, and other subjective of the things which makes roleplaying worthwhile.

Attack of the killer fungus zombie ants!

Sounds like a B-film title doesn’t it? This is in fact a real thing.

So, I was flying through the blogosphere and I happened upon a biology blog called Beatrice the Biologist and her post on zombie ant fungus. You should totally check that blog out. It only took me about 4.5 hours to read the whole thing. While I am usually more into physics / maths than biology, this blog is worth checking out for the cartoons alone.

Anyway, the important thing: zombie ants.

It turns out that there really is a type of fungus which causes an alteration in the behaviours of ants. Here watch the video:

  • So this is a fungus which infects a creature.
  • That creature has different from normal behaviour.
  • The creature ignores basic survival instincts, and instead uses uncoordinated movement to start climbing, even to the extent of gripping the branch with its mandibles using its last energy before dying.
  • Then the ant becomes a propagator for the fungus to attack other ants.

Holy extremely-specific-set-of-circumstances, Batman!

Zombie films and realism

For me, while I quite like some parts of zombie films, the idea that they are actually dangerous is difficult to swallow because if your brain is rotting, fine motor control is really quite difficult.

I had an idea about a virus which was spread through the air, causing everyone but a small percentage of people with a certain genetic mutation to zombify, but that lacks a certain something. While it kind of has the deployment vector down, one of the scariest things about a zombie film is the idea that any scratch or bite can turn infected and that person joins the walking dead.

This fungus idea is kind of a hybrid. Some people might be immune to it, others not. Who knows whether they are or not? A rotting corpse is a hazard. Getting bitten by one of the taken is not helpful whether you are immune to the plague or not.

Given that the undead in this scenario still have partial control over their faculties, just a bit unwieldy, perhaps they can still use basic tools like an axe, or other weapons, and open doors etc.

This could present a conundrum. If you take out a zombie, it will just hasten the process of fungification , but if you don’t it will bite your face off.

Get me a Hollywood producer: we have the premise for the next zombie flick.

So, I imagined zombie apocalypse and feasted on the flesh of the living – well I ate a raw carrot. What did you do today?

Playing a game-the Games Masters’ perspective

[While I prefer to be a player rather than a games master, I have also games mastered quite a bit.  This is another post that I wrote back in 2007.]

Congratulations on stepping up to the breach and being a member of your group who is willing to run a role play game. You are now part of the elite caste of people known as Games Masters.

Games Mastering a role play game can be one of the most nerve wracking experiences of a player’s life. Depending on the age group, the games master, sometimes called Dungeon Master, has to act as storyteller, scribe, actor, director, personal assistant, mathematician, and childminder. These many roles all have to be melded together seamlessly for a story to be enjoyable for all players.

That said, it is also a highly enjoyable as watching players come across your fiendish plans is quite satisfying, as is knowing something that they don’t. One of the most important aspects of creating a game for your players is to make sure you tailor your game to the players. If your players once a role play game which is high on combat, it makes sense to fulfil this otherwise players will quickly get bored. Hardcore role players will also get bored if they games consist entirely of combat.

Finding a balance in your game

Let us face it, you are going to be roleplaying with your friends most likely so you will have a good knowledge of their likes and dislikes. Add to this knowledge by having a talk before you start choosing, or writing the first role play adventure. Ask direct questions about what they want, particularly in the character generation stage, as, with most games takes a full night. During character generation, if your players or create characters based on ninjas and Samurai, it is a fair bet that your players want a combat heavy adventure, likewise if you end up the party of apprentice mages, magic will most likely have a large impact on your games.

When running an adventure, either a published version, or one that you written yourself you should make sure that it is one that contains all the aspects that your players are looking for. This really is the subject of another article, but when running your adventure you should make sure that you do not stick to rigidly to the part to the detriment of the fun of your players. As with any game, first role should be fun for you and friends. This is after all a role play game.

Overall, running a game should be fun, and so anything from you, all the other players, which is not fun should be stomped on. Anything which is fun, such as layers doing things that are not strictly in the rules but are very funny should most definitely be encouraged.

This is the tight rope that Games Masters must balance on to ensure fun for everyone and a game where there are no losers, well, unless you are players are really bad. Have fun, and remember: if you get really annoyed at your players, you have dragons to throw at them.