Of Spectator Sports and Trinities

My television watching habits are supremely irregular.

That is, I don’t watch much TV at all.

All those crucial 45 minute blocks of time are spent gaming, rather than passively experiencing a story that goes absolutely nowhere except into yet-another-episodic-arc-designed-to-keep-you-glued-to-the-screen.

Nor am I a big sports fan.

Competition and me are not pals, having been bitten once too many times by an obsessive personality that would fixate too much on winning at all costs, if I gave it free reign. I’m mellower when I tell myself winning is not the goal, but having moment-to-moment fun is.

Still, there was a time when I was enraptured by the NFL and American football. It just seemed so much more complex and intricate than the football the rest of the world plays – lots more clear cut roles, different strategies every pass designed to get the ball the next 10 yards and beyond.

Until I took note of how many hours a night I was spending watching one game (3-4 easily) and how much gaming time I was losing out on as a result. Fell out of the habit shortly after.

It’s funny then that even I can get caught up in the zeitgeist of the moment. I just spent the last couple of midnights staying up till 3am to watch the semi-finals and finals of the FIFA World Cup.

Not as a rabid soccer or football fan, staunchly loyal to one team, but out of a pigheaded determination to discover an appreciation of a game that I mostly always viewed as “kicking a ball around a grass patch for 90 minutes and falling down with an agonized look on one’s face the moment the faintest contact is made, hoping for a favorable referee call.”

The internet helped.

Googled up “soccer strategies” and “why do people like football so much” and devoted some time to reading other people’s thoughts.

Apparently, it’s the continuous flow of action rather than the typical start and stop of American football that some find compelling, a constant adrenaline high for one and a half hours punctuated with more extreme buzzes whenever the ball gets close to the goal posts.

I’m somehow not wired that way. I don’t get adrenaline deliveries on cue, which may suggest a reason why competition isn’t that exciting for me. Instead, I enjoy watching the interlocked intricacies of each team member in American football performing their specialized role well, with the result that the football either gets passed or gets stopped, depending on which team outsmarted or outplayed the other.

Still…

…Surely, soccer has -some- strategies of this ilk? Just less obvious, perhaps?

More reading. More eye-glazing over various “formations” with hypenated player numbers. More beginner tips on how to appreciate soccer via watching how one player may outsmart another by looking in one direction while kicking in another, or using their body to block an opponent’s view of the ball, or players that criss-cross and cut in at various locations to become open for the ball and so on.

I guess there were -some- things that I could find vaguely interesting, after all.

So I watched the World Cup and admired Germany’s efficient teamwork and appreciated on a distant theoretical level why defensive football is so important by observing Brazil’s total defensive meltdown.

Still didn’t like the extreme boring nature of a super-defensive football game with zero goals scored in two hours (with extra time) – effective, I’ll grant you, but boring as heck to watch – and repeatedly rolled one’s eyes at the more unspoken sides of football – ie. sneakily damage your opponent as much as you can get away with, dramatically telegraph all contact in the hopes of a free kick or yellow/red cards, and apparently biased referees.

Seriously, if things are going to get that physical, then put on some padding and go to town like the Americans do.

It’s with some irony though that I find a parallel with MMOs and that I’m on the opposite side when it comes to computer gaming.

American football reminds me of the holy trinity.

Everyone has a specialized role, everyone works in unison and it’s beautiful when everything synchronizes.

Rest-of-the-world football is a non-holy trinity game. Perhaps, dare I say it,  even like GW2.

There’s one primary role everyone performs, do damage or get the ball as close you can to the goal/stop ball getting close to yours, while still paying attention to the team and working in sync with them and supporting them as needed. There may be different “classes” or “soccer positions” with some variants in playstyle. There’s probably more going on under the hood than is obvious to the casual observer.

Soccer is said to be one of the most unpredictable sports. A weaker team has a good chance of upsetting a stronger team because the scores are so low. If opportunities fall their way, and are capitalized on, that may be it for the more unlucky team.

Some find this a reason why soccer is so exciting to watch.

Me, I personally find it about as thrilling as trying to predict heads or tails on a coin toss, and just as pointless. I guess I prefer to watch a good team demonstrate -why- they’re a good team.

Strangely enough, I find unpredictability a bonus if you’re the one actually participating in the moment.

Because it’s suddenly you that can become the hero with a well-placed rez, or good dodging or even indulge in a star solo moment, by catching the right opportunities.

To me, soccer or GW2 is a tide more individualistic, whereas American football or a holy trinity game seems a bit more skewed towards subsuming the self to make a team work like clockwork.

Not really sure where I’m going with this, but I guess the moral of the story is that people like different things, which may differ again if they’re spectating or doing.

And that we can all learn to appreciate (if only at a theoretical distance) stuff we thought we didn’t like before, if we try to look for its redeeming features.

After the World Cup, I’ll be going on one more spectator sports binge.

The International is slated from July 18-21.

DOTA 2 and I have a curious relationship.

I was super-thrilled to win a beta key in one of Steam’s sales contests when it was in development. I installed it gleefully, remembering my very amateur DOTA games-with-real-life-friends, and tinkered around with a few bot games.

Then never quite got back to it again.

Every now and then, I log in, admiring its whole elaborate free-to-play structure of level unlocks, vanity costume skins that cost money, numerous beginner tutorials/build guidance/encyclopedias that are linked to community knowledgebases, on and on through an intricate ladder of intermediate to expert commitment.

Then I back out without having gained a single experience point.

Sorta like LOL, except LOL did seem a little simpler and I did get to around level 4 or so.

I want desperately to play them and learn how deep both rabbit holes go, but the truth is, I just can’t envision investing all that time into MOBAs.

A single match takes like 30-45 minutes or more. You have to play a lot of them to get familiar with the game. You have to play a number of heroes to get familiar with the heroes and gain some flexibility in what you can play. Getting skillful takes even longer.

It’s easier to just watch a couple hours’ worth of professional teams go at it, for a couple of days, and get the entertainment experience without having to personally grind your way up.

Maybe some day, I’ll give them another go, but not today.

XCOM: The Blogger Edition – Part 8b

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21 April, 2015

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning

Chongqing, China

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When we last left off, Sgt. Syl was in drooling distance of a four-legged terror.

As fortune would have it, the alien had just spent its entire turn getting into melee range and did not attack.

Yet.

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Naturally, the first thing on everyone’s mind is “Kill it! Kill it dead!”

Sgt. Syl has a 100% chance to hit with a shotgun that luckily still has some rounds loaded.

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The pellets slam into the alien for 4 damage.

The tough armored thing is -still- standing.

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Not if the rest of the team can help Sgt. Syl out though.

Lt. Izlain takes aim with a 100% chance to hit.

(After some research, the Chinese character on the tombstone appears to be “終” or “zhōng,” which means “end” or “death.” Rather apt.)

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“Izlain – for when you absolutely positively need to kill every motherfucker in the room.”

The strange alien goes down without getting a chance to attack.

Just the way we like it, thanks. The scientists can carve into its corpse and figure out how it works later.

Since a number of the team has already taken action, the squad stays put for a quick breather while the rest keep an alert Overwatch.

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The aliens really seem to want that suitcase.

Another Thin Man drops in…

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…and is taken out by Sq. Skyrim for 5 damage on Overwatch.

The squad inches up through one more row of graves, and yet another Thin Man shows up.

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Along with one of the original aliens with an expanded cranium. This one seems to be alone though, no Mind Merge for it.

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They trigger a hail of Overwatch fire…

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…which all misses.

Those Thin Men can be annoyingly slippery when in cover.

Wanting to end it quickly, Sgt. Syl runs up to flank the Thin Man, which draws a reaction shot from it.

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Lightning reflexes negates any damage though.

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The Commander did fail to take into account the second alien, who was also in Overwatch, and it hits her for 4 damage with its plasma pistol.

On the bright side, that’s a successfully flanked Thin Man.

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100% chance to hit, 70% chance to critical.

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Shotgun style.

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Meanwhile, Lt. Izlain moves up to take care of the remaining alien.

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With the place temporarily cleared out, Zhang makes a run for it to the evacuation point.

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The squad boards the transport, with Zhang and the alien device in the briefcase.

He mentions a little more about how he came across it:

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Apparently, he was hired to do a delivery of this package to a predetermined location, but got unnerved when he actually saw what was inside it.

Unanswered questions abound. Were there more packages? Were they successfully delivered by others?

And what on Earth do the devices do?

Well, if the XCOM base later explodes, I guess we’ll know then.

In the meantime, that’s it for Operation Fading Thunder.

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8 aliens killed.

0 XCOM operatives lost.

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The after-action report is full of promotions. Sgt. J3w3l is now a Lieutenant, ditto Sgt. Syl.

Sq. Skyrim is now a Corporal.

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The scientists and engineers back at the base confirm that the device is of genuine alien origin, and have a number of theories as to its purpose, but it’ll take them time to figure it all out.

The Commander’s a lot more happy about the influx of cash from the Council.

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The Genetics Lab is finally set up.

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The satellite that the Commander was also eagerly awaiting is launched.

Completing satellite coverage of South America unlocks a bonus.

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Presumably they sent a skilled contingent of scientist-interrogators our way.

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All the alien bodies in cold storage were pulled out of freezers and lined up in rows in the biohazard morgue for the specialists.

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The original humanoid alien has been termed a “Sectoid” and have been found to be perfect genetic copies of each other, with organs that show signs of genetic manipulation.

They have a sizeable brain to body ratio, and were fitted with cybernetic implants that appear to boost some manner of telepathic ability.

The implications are not reassuring. Surely there must be some manner of progenitor alien, to produce these augmented identical clones? And for what purpose?

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The Floater corpses also reveal extensive biomedical and cybernetic implants, turning them into a blend of organic matter and machinery.

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The Thin Man has been intentionally designed and genetically modified to appear human, which suggests a capability beyond our own, though our scientists are fast catching up by reverse engineering some of the captured technology.

The eyes, poison glands and internal bone structure of the Thin Man still remain distinctly reptilian – giving it a remarkable flexibility through segmented bones, possibly accounting for its slippery nature.

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The Seeker turns out to be entirely machine. No living tissue is found within.

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The new alien the squad just encountered has been termed a “Chryssalid.”

The autospy reveals some rather disturbing facts about the way it reproduces. They appear somewhat similar to our earthly parasitic wasps, that lay their eggs into a living larva host, allowing their young to eat their way out when grown. Except that the Chryssalids seem to have adapted just fine to using humans as hosts for their offspring.

The cash from Operation Fading Thunder has been used for constructing suits of new carapace armor, developed from alloys retrieved from the crashed UFOs:

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Lt. Izlain is our first model. Or guinea pig.

So far so good, it didn’t crush him or anything.

So the rest of the squad is kitted out too.

Just in time, as a new Alien Abduction alert sings out through the base.

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We will see our newly armored XCOM team next post in Operation Morbid Thorn!

XCOM: The Blogger Edition – Part 8a

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21 April, 2015

12.39am

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Operation Fading Thunder is on its way to make contact with a member of the Triad, who has come into possession of a device of allegedly alien origin.

If true, alien activity is expected at the site as they may make an effort to recover the device.

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From left to right, the team going in will be Lt. Izlain, Sgt. J3w3l, Sq. Skyrim and Sgt. Syl.

Chongqing, China

The transport lands and the squad disembarks at the rendezvous point.

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The contact is already there and waiting.

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On first glance, he’s the splitting image of every unsavory stereotype of a Chinese Triad mobster.

A scar runs down one eye, and he’s got the dead stare of a hitman that won’t blink twice before gunning down someone in cold blood.

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Except that now he’s on the run from said criminal organization, with a very special briefcase in his possession.

This “thing” as he shows the team, appears to be some kind of alien signaling device.

Certainly, the materials that make up the device don’t look to be of any terrestrial origin, with lights blinking on and off again at strange intervals, emitting electromagnetic pulses at strange wavelengths.

Viewing through the cameras mounted in the squad’s helmets, Dr Shen suggests it might be a transponder of some kind, and that it’s best brought back to the XCOM base for further study.

The contact, who introduces himself as Zhang Shaojie, is unwilling to be separated from the briefcase, so that means extracting him along with the device.

Either that, or it’s an alien bomb.

Guess the team will find out one way or the other.

Just as the squad gestures for Zhang to come along with them, he whips out a pistol:

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Taking out an alien that just showed up on the scene.

Looks like our contact can take care of himself.

(Though it would have been nicer if the game -did- give him a pistol to fight with. He looks all competent in the cutscene, and then is reduced to a civilian with a briefcase in the actual mission.)

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Guess that device is genuine and the aliens really want it back – or it’s a very elaborate ruse.

Well, either way, the team won’t find out by standing there all night.

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The site is some kind of Chinese cemetery or temple or a cross between the two.

There’s ample stone walls for cover.

Sgt. J3w3l takes up a slightly elevated position behind a stone pillar that should give her a clear line of sight through the path we’re intending to use.

Sq. Skyrim moves out to the other flank as our Heavy, just in case.

Lt. Izlain will be traveling with our contact as additional protective insurance, and our Assault Sgt. Syl gets to be the squad’s vanguard.

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Almost immediately, Central Command picks up alien activity headed the team’s way.

They’re literally dropping in – some kind of phasing technology or stealthed UFO dropship that our technology is unable to detect so far?

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One Thin Man shows up like a bad penny on the cemetery grounds just a little in front and below the team, and then another turns up right on the team’s left flank, a spitting distance away.

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That invites a slew of reaction shots from Sq. Skyrim, Sgt. Syl and Lt. Izlain…

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…on the first alien that popped into view. Two miss, but one hits for 5 damage and that Thin Man is no more.

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This one flanking us is still a problem though.

Sgt. J3w3l tries to hit it, but sniper rifles can be inaccurate at close range and she misses.

Lt. Izlain probably wouldn’t miss at this range, but the Commander was hoping to inch Zhang and him a little closer to the pickup point.

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Our long distance Heavy gets a shot at it.

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Sq. Skyrim most satisfactorily fills it full of bullets for 5 damage and converts the Thin Man into an expanding cloud of green gas, just a hair uncomfortably close to Sgt. J3w3l.

Doesn’t look like she needs to move out of the way though. Which is good. Snipers that need to move make me sad.

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The rest of the squad moves up methodically, from cover to cover.

Sgt. Syl in front, Zhang in the middle, Lt. Izlain behind him.

In the midst of our slow midnight crawl through a Chinese cemetary, Sgt. J3w3l shows off why snipers in a good position are awesome.

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Another Thin Man shows its face and tries to move. She’s in overwatch…

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…Bang. 5 damage, no more Thin Man.

Also a pending promotion.

Assuming everyone gets out alive, that is.

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Central alerts the XCOM team. It’s detected an alien, entirely different from the others.

We catch a glimpse of it before it scurries out of sight, obscured by obstacles – large, scaly, moving on four legs that look more like lethal bone spikes.

Like something out of Alien or Starship Troopers, one gets the feeling that one really shouldn’t get up close and personal with this species.

But that’s not the only thing to worry about.

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Another Thin Man drops in, at the very heart of the cemetery, very close to flanking our squad, and -definitely- in poison spit range.

Two reaction shots, and both miss.

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The four legged alien is out of sight, and the team has to deal with the more immediate threat.

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Surely Lt. “Bad Luck” Izlain will be able to take this Thin Man out, with 81% chance to hit, and let our shotgunner go into Overwatch to lie in wait for the other alien?

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He hits! For 2 damage…

It’s still alive.

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So now it’s down to Sgt. Syl.

88% chance to hit, 20% chance to critical, just one more bar of damage.

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Goodbye Thin Man, but now no more Overwatch for Sgt. Syl.

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Sq. Skyrim, bringing up the rearguard, is the only one of the moving squad who can.

Along with our “eye in the sky” sniper, of course.

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The four-legged creature shows itself, moving at a phenomenally fast clip.

Dr. Vahlen laments over the comm link that this alien species appears to be nothing like the others, and that any patterns or theories the scientists were previously entertaining may have to be rethought.

The team has more important things on the mind.

Like not getting eaten.

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Sgt. J3w3l and Sq. Skyrim take their reaction shots.

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The hail of heavy weapons fire goes wide, but the sniper’s bullet is on target.

For only 3 damage though, and it doesn’t look the least bit fazed, with 5 more bars of health left.

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The slavering creature positions itself right next to Sgt. Syl…

(So, how was that dead pool coming along?)

…the action continues next post!