TvT – Me vs ‘Hercules’

Yes, the other player was actually called Hercules. And he was a comedian. Something about being funnier than me (which is highly likely – my sense of humor is quite dry) was a conversation we had at the start. This game ended in a loss for me. Why? A couple of reasons – 1. I didn’t impliment my 1/1/1 build very well at all. I didn’t even get a Starport till after my opponent had made a successful drop into MY base. When will I learn?

I had good game sense though. I felt like it was probably coming, so I had marines in a good position and didn’t lose too many SCVs (point to Ben). But from then on I was on the backfoot. A later cloaked banshee attack again cost me momentum, taking out a tank and a bunch of units, and precious mining time. But no, even with all that it was my inability to harass and push out, letting map control and his superior mech-heavy build run un-checked that made me lose. He felt so confident that he even pushed out into the gold expand. (That’s very bad for me).

Seen above: me, losing.


And yet I still didn’t push out… I just turtled and waited (again, playing as if I’m vs. a Zerg player – my TvZ is good, but it’s ruining my other matchups!). I grabbed a third base and even maxed out with a huge marine/marauder ball…. which I then promptly tried to stim into sieged up tanks, taking out… two of them.

I tried a late transition into ghosts but it was too late. I did get off a handfull of really nice nukes, two of which I was exceptionally proud of.

Goodbye tanks.
Goodbye Battlecruisers.

So what did I learn? That my 1/1/1 needs refining. That my TvT needs more agression. And that my late game ghost work is a little lacklustre, but given how little practise I’ve had at using them, I’m not so fussed.

Addendum: And hey, what happens the very next game but a TvT. I went aggro at around 10mins, with 3 tanks a nice MM mix and 1 dropship — look where it got me!

Above: Me, winning. Look at the difference high-ground vision makes. This is what the 1/1/1 build it about.

Posted in SC2


So I’ve totally messed up my early #pomodorojerk momentum by catching tonsilitis two weeks in a row. I think I’ve done my daily writing allotment maybe one or twice in the whole of the past two weeks. But now that I’m on the mend, I should really start it up again – but the piece I’m writing (a chapter, expanded from a paper I wrote for the Oxford conference last July)  is at the stage where it doesn’t really need any more writing. At least, not any more of the kind of writing that the pomodoro brings out – new, alternative perspectives and angles and connections. Rather, it needs edits and connections and prunings – like what happens to the brain as it goes from being highly connected as a child, to greatly refined with fewer, more deliberate connections as the brain matures.

Supposedly one can do a pomodoro edit too – just stick to the clock and see how much you can get done, but that hasn’t really worked super well for me so far. I’ll give it another go, however.

But for the moment – I need something new to be writing to get back into my usual pomodorojerk routine. On my pomodoro list are two things – my review of Chris Bateman’s ‘Imaginary Games’ about which I have quite a bit to say (but my reading isn’t quite finished), and an essay for Robert Yang’s Territory initiative. The latter I’ve done a number of drafts of, none of which I’ve been particularly pleased with. They all ended up in rambly, confused territory as it’s hard to explain Latour’s ‘Never Modern’ in a short space, and without trying to explain all of it at once…

Blog attractions

I received an email today in the generically formatted mass-email configuration, and normally when I get one of these I just bin it straight away because it’s inevitably from someone on the payroll of just looking for a leg-up in SEO. We get these emails all the time at Crit-Dist, and I have gotten a few for but the one I got today… seemed reasonably legitimate.

So now I’m in a quandry – should I mention this site that seems to be doing at least superficially interesting things with playing games in Ironmode in order to raise money for charity? There can’t be much harm in it, surely.

Iron Man Mode: The Blog is apparently trying to raise money for the Child’s Play charity by playing classic games with Permadeath on, and then writing about it. Have a look.

In the interests of pushing this micro-blogging cart up the hill…

Jesus Christ I wish I could stop itching – I’ve had tonsillitis on-and-off for the better part of two weeks now, and I’m on my second course of penicillin and I think it’s giving me hives, or whatever these itchy little red bumps on my skin are. They’re driving me insane – and I’ve supposedly got another week-or-so’s worth of them to keep taking!

If you believe in a divine entity, please pray for me to find some relief. At least I can’t scratch them when I’m playing Starcraft.

I’ve been playing a lot of Starcraft

In fact, it’s something of a resolution of mine (new years or otherwise) to get pretty good at Starcraft 2. It started around the time of the Blizzard Cup, back in December ’11 but it had been nurtured by the When Cheese Fails series which I’d become  slightly obsessed with earlier in the year. If you’re new to the series start here, give it a few episodes, then see if you don’t feel compelled to keep watching all the way up to the end of the fifth (!) season.

But I heard about the Blizzard Cup via my brother, and as December is a pretty slow time, I watched the majority of the games live through the week, with growing interest. The games were really watchable, in no small part due to the stellar commentary combo of Tasteless/Artosis (aka Tastosis), and the players themselves were phenomenal. The last game of the final was utterly unforgettable. I’d never really had an entry point into pro gaming/SC2, so the Blizzard Cup was my reefer that got me hooked on heroin.

So I started playing Starcrtaft 2 again and I was seriously rusty. But it started to come back, and I more or less arbitrarily resolved to play a lot and get better. And that’s all it really takes, which funnily enough is pretty much the same sentiment Frank Lantz  tweeted a couple of weeks later:

So with that goal in mind I started to take my playing a little more seriously, and I also started to educate myself a bit. I watched a bunch of Day[9]’s newbie tuesday daily videos that go over a host of newbie friendly topics, from the very basics of where/how/why you should be looking, clicking, moving, etc to a few encouragingly simple strategies. The key so far seems to be a combination of practise and planning. Which is all pretty neat.

I’ll be honest, I still get mad nervous about playing online and at the end of a match the adrenaline is always making me shaky (like, literally shaky) but at least now I’ve trained down some of that panic response, so I screw up less from panicking now. It’s probably only been… a month? About a month of pretty beyond-casual play. I haven’t really played a lot of other games in that time, but that’s okay, this is kind of what I’ve always done anyway –  I like playing only one or two games at a time for a long time, and I sincerely hope SC2 keeps my attention for much, much longer. I can certainly forsee it doing so, with the combination of the GSL (which I bought a year-long ticket to – that was one of my tricks to forcing myself into playing SC2 more, I at least have to watch the GSL now to get my money’s worth!), Day-9’s daily growing number of excellent teaching resources (Start here, if you’re interested – the one on ‘the basics’ is just terrific) and a reasonably committed 2v2 partner (Hey Alex!) and an kind of unstated goal of wanting to get into Gold league by the end of the year… and yeah, I can see myself playing a lot of SC2 this year.

Which is great, because I am really enjoying it. I might talk a little more about the specific delights a bit more later, when I write about some games I’ve played. I’m hoping to do a little bit of post-game research blogging about my own playing, and do some of Day-9’s refinement tips. Watching replays is good but it’s better if you know what you’re looking for and what to do about it. One of Day-9’s videos went into how to do that, checking timing s of when your build macro slipped, making notes of timings, etc, etc. I want to do that, and talk about some games after I’ve played them but while they’re still fresh in my mind.

Perma… nence?

Ken Levine on the “1999 mode” in Bioshock Infinite:

So recently I talked at my old college and feeling like Mr Successful, then this guy says “I’ve got a bone to pick with you, Levine!” He’s giving me a hard time, he says “the problem was none of the decisions I made had any permanence to them. I didn’t have to commit to any decisions.” And I was like “oh!” The clouds parted for me. Except for the Little Sisters, there’s no permanence in your choices. It hadn’t really crystallised for me before, the difference between games we had made before, like System Shock 2, and BioShock.

Presented without comment #30

Nick Srnicek‘ interviewed at Figure/Ground Communication.

By a large margin, most of my academic colleagues are people I first met online, whether through blogging or emailing or tweeting. I’ve since gone on to meet a number of them in the physical world, but the initial connections have almost invariably been via the internet. There’s a pragmatic benefit to this, which commonly goes under the label of ‘networking’ – simply put: the more people you know, the more opportunities arise. Yet on a much deeper and more important level, these connections have truly shaped and developed every one of “my” thoughts. The beauty of the internet – the beauty of philosophical and political communities online – is that one is forced to face up to a simple fact: cognition is collective, extended and embodied. Who “I” am as a scholar – my own process of individuation – has been undertaken and produced only through the medium of online collective thought.

At the same time, in enmeshing oneself in these networks one quickly comes to realize how often you are wrong. Writing on the internet will tend to attract experts on the smallest aspects, and you will inevitably have your claims being torn apart by people who are more knowledgeable in a particular academic corner than you are. As a result, one is forced to take a healthy scientific stance towards your own claims: “I tentatively take this claim X to be true insofar as I believe Y and Z.” Given our own cognitive defects and biases this is the only justifiable stance towards one’s own claims, and the internet effectively mandates that one take such a stance. Again, thought is collective and extended: recognizing our own errors is part of a much larger project of knowledge production.

So if I had one piece of advice for younger students, it would be to get involved in the online communities. It’s been the best intellectual and professional step I’ve taken.

new laptop tonight?‘ by Graham Harman at Object-Oriented Philosophy.

The fourth one, on which I am typing this blog post, was purchased in Cairo in late September 2010. It’s still perfectly workable. However, the keys are starting to stick just a little bit due to all the typing of the past year. 15+ months. That’s probably the reasonable lifespan for my laptop these days, given the amount of writing I do. This time I will probably keep this one rather than give it away. It will be nice to carry a beater around to cafés, not worry about spilling tea on it or being robbed while carrying it, and so forth.

Also, writing is my job. It’s what I do. It hardly seems extravagant to have two of these machines.

“Law and Order” as cultural artifact‘ by Mark Stewart at Television FTW.

What has struck me, 3-ish seasons in, is the way that L&O operates as an artefact, as a cultural historical record. Early seasons are filled with references to AIDS, to DNA, to mobile phones. Incident reports are being completed on type-writers, a foot cop runs to a pay-phone to call in a crime. Sexual harrassment seems to become a common trope as the series progresses. Females serving in the police force and the military becomes a theme. Homosexuality becomes more and more in the public eye, as does racism. I’m struck by the number of derogatory terms used in the show’s early seasons, especially n***er, which seems to be used in every second episode.

Determinism (mostly for Jenn Frank (but you might be interested also?))

So Jenn Frank wrote an astonishingly great piece ‘On games of chance, cheating, and religion’ and JP Grant added some thoughts of his own about the notion of ‘fairness’ in games, in an equally excellent response, ‘Fair Play’. Go read both of them now if you haven’t yet.

But I wanted to add a little something about the notion of determinism, the spectre of which Jenn mentioned in relation to things like the location of gold veins, being able to win at jeopardy or the scratch lottery, the notion of a ‘solved game‘, and the Christian theological tradition following Calvin.

In essence, if anything is ‘solved’ or ‘fated’ or ‘pre-destined’ what we’re saying is that it is determined in advance, usually by some set of rules which may or may not be discoverable. That’s kind of fine – there are some things which can always be determined in advance, like 8 plus 9 or that a (non-contradictory) square will always have four sides, but all these things only happen in the realm of ideas, as abstractions, or in artificially (arbitrarily?) closed systems. Determinism as a philosophy, ideology or religious doctrine concerns the nature of everything. Whether it’s Calvinism, Newtonian physics, belief in the Roman god Fortuna, or a new age sense of fate, they’re really all saying much the same thing – that everything is predestined, predetermined. Why? Because if any part of the universe is ‘out of control’ for whichever force does the determining (even the laws of physics) then the whole thing becomes irredeemable corrupted. One atom left beyond the powerful reach of our Calvinist God’s control could – no, would – undermine the whole basis of determinism. Even if this Calvinist deity is omnipotent and knows what this ‘out of control’ (hello free will) atom will do, the deity reduces the real agency of the free atom utterly and we’re now splitting semantic hairs over our definition of determinism (“If I have ‘free will’ but nothing I do could possibly ever change anything from it’s set course… how is that free again?”). And if it’s left up to “chance”… well, who’s omnipotent now? The point about a philosophy of a determinist universe is that it is so utterly totalising – it’s all or nothing, otherwise it’s not determinism.

But maybe you’re not convinced – after all, how do we know that it’s not deterministic? Well here’s where it get a bit tricky, because we really come to this question with a lot of baggage. Like Jenn says, we worry about the answers to these kinds of questions, and that makes us want to stay away from them, or at least makes us anxious about asking them. It’s also difficult because we’re already treading on the toes of philosophers, who all come with their own historically specific baggage, which in turn is already affecting how we’re even talking about this issue right now…

So if we’ve got all this baggage, where do we start? One way is to start by pinching the best idea that Science ever had, which is to say that we begin from a position of utter, naïve openness to revision – no problem is ever permanently closed to inquiry; no question is beyond asking; no contrary evidence is ever ignored for the sake of preserving our current (even working!) answers. This kind of attitude has actually gotten a bit of a bad rap lately because it’s been perverted and selectively deployed to spectacular effect by people with an agenda other than inquiry-for-inquiry’s-sake. As an aside, in Australia in 2007 over half the population polled in the affirmative when asked whether or not they believed in human influenced climate change. Since then that number has plummeted as tabloid media and right-wingers colluded together to cast unreasonable doubt on issue. We used to believe, but now it’s “not a settled science” once more. That’s not what I’m talking about – these people are no more presenting real challenges to climate science than Ron Paul is really going to take a libertarian position on women’s reproductive rights.

But back to the issue of determinism. What are the odds that the universe is deterministic? Okay, odds is a not a good way to phrase it. How about, ‘What are the possibilities with respect to whether or not the universe is deterministic?’ That’s a much better frame for the question, because now we can see that, actually there’s only two options – either it is, or it isn’t.

Well, actually we’ve already seen a bit of a third option, and that is that derminism is ‘unevenly distributed’ around the cosmos, or occasionally pops up in localised regions of time or space. But as we said at the outset, that’s not determinism – it’s all or nothing baby! Either there’s an actual, real chance that an atomic spec influences the fate of the rest of the cosmos, or there’s not. Implicit within our culturally-overburdened notion of ‘determinism’ is the assumption that all of the universe is consistently deterministic, otherwise… it’s not really determinism! Ta da! So we’re back to two options. The universe and everything in it is either deterministic or it isn’t.

From here we can go in a number of directions – perhaps we can draw on some fancy modern science and apply what we know about popular theories in advanced theoretical physics like string theory, ‘M-theory’ and other quantum mechanical frameworks. Or alternatively we could take the Pratchette-esque route and say that it’s ‘turtles all the way down’, and that rather than having a ‘bottom’, the universe just… keeps on going, all the way down, down, down into the depths of Hades and beyond. It’s hard to imagine such a thing, but it’s really quite difficult to say that it’s beyond the realm of plausibility. Still, it’s just as hard to imagine that this never-ending, fractal-esque universe behaved in anything resembling a determinist manner. Part of the appeal of determinism stems from it’s finitude, in the sense that something starts a chain that is predictable and utterly determined from the very outset.

So whether the universe contains an infinite regress of ‘things’ of increasingly ultra-tiny bits of stuff also impacts our assessment of the question of a determinist universe. If the very bottom level (let’s just say it’s quantum strings) is all irreducibly small and made of the same ‘stuff’ then how that ‘stuff’ behaves makes a difference to the nature of the universe. In fact, all the universe is is that stuff, and if that ‘stuff’ really is strings current thinking (as I understand) is that rather than being deterministic, stings are so weird that they behave based on probability. So whether or not you get out of bed and brush your teeth in the morning is underpinned by strange stringy bits with 26 dimensions all behaving in a probabilistic manner… and by that stage we’re not living in a determinist universe.

But before we go home with our new found suspicion that we’re probably (ah! ahahahahaha!) not living in a determinist universe, we should make one small detour back up to the realm of medium sized-object and remind ourselves where a limited kind of determinism does exist – and that is in abstractions, ideas and in arbitrariness.

And this is where we come back to games, because most games are exactly that – abstractions, rules, ideas, and arbitrariness incarnate. In their ‘pure’ (think platonic) form, every game probably could be deterministic, but games don’t exist as pure thought or rules because games are done, or they are played. Where are they played? In the universe. What is the universe? Probably not deterministic. And despite our best efforts, our lucky or careful organisation, there really is no predicting when the indeterminacy of the universe will intrude. Even these machines – these localised realms of determinacy we call ‘computers’ – depend on other things like the continued operation of the laws of electro-conductance, as well as on the manufacturing standards at Xbox HQ. And while it might even look as though certain ‘universal laws’ like electron conductivity are themselves ‘deterministic’ from the point of view of an engineer or software developer, we would do well to remember that these laws themselves are contingent. That is, at a certain point in the far, far, far, far distant future, at the end of the universe even, according to physicists these laws are going to themselves break down. If they’re  right then the universe will eventually have expanded enough to rip apart even atoms themselves. Try running your Xbox in that kind of an environment.

But hey, these predictions could be wrong – remember we’re not allowing ourselves the option of shutting down necessary revisions early. But at the same time, that’s also kind of appropriate. If we do live in a probabilistic universe, we may never really, truly and necessarily be able to prove it. That’s makes sense, I think, and it seems like a beautiful kind of symmetry, wouldn’t you say?