Blaugust Day 5: A Day in the Life of

Today is idea drought day.

It’s 11.32 pm and I’m cutting it super close.

It’s like I’m hoping the sheer time pressure of having to hit the post button before 11.59pm will shake something loose.

Well, it’s not.

In fact, I’m a little grumpy about it because I’m paused in the middle of a Dota 2 International match replay, having to put entertainment on hold to write this post.

The International, by the way, seems to be full of a number of surprises and upsets this year. I haven’t watched every game, but it seems like famous favorites like Na’Vi or Newbee (with good track records behind them) have been eliminated from the tournament early.

Tonight, I was busy watching Team Secret vs EHome – Team Secret being a strong favorite since they were apparently a sort of dream team put together by long time players previously from strong teams like Na’Vi and so on, and EHome being a strong Chinese team as well.

Since I don’t know enough Dota 2 to appreciate deep nuances or skilled technique, I tend to gravitate towards matches that last a long time. Why? Because I like to see the swings and the struggle that you almost never see in a PUG game.

In a PUG, the moment one team gets an upper hand, the whole thing starts to snowball. The losing players start blaming each other (never themselves, of course), morale evaporates faster than water in a desert, and basically one side crumbles because they don’t see any hope of a comeback.

But Dota 2 is a little more elegant than that and it -is- possible, if not terribly likely, that a good draft pick, good movement/positioning, the other team’s overconfidence or small mistake or -something- will trip them up and cause a swing in the other direction. The only time I really get to see it is when pro players duke it out in clutch matches.

The matches mentioned above were definitely some of those. I really enjoy seeing a team stay calm and claw their way back from what looks like utter disaster.

As for why I’m out of blog post ideas, here’s what I’ve done for the rest of the gaming day (night):

  • Finished the daily in GW2 by visiting one vista, chopping some wood, and beating on the Svanir Shaman. I could have played a PvP match to complete the daily too, but I just couldn’t muster the energy or interest.
  • Finished the daily in Trove by running around fairly easy Uber-2 lairs and dungeons, and essentially autoattacking, while Dota 2 matches were playing in the other screen.
  • Tried to level Gardening in Trove, and got about 100 skill points in, before realising that further progress would require ingredients from earlier tiers to grow and be harvested – taking anywhere from 1 – 4 hours to be fully mature and ready to go.

Yeah. Nothing exciting. No pretty screenshots. Nuthing.

Oh here, I found an old screenshot of quaggans in the new Lion’s Arch fountain / quaggan pool. Guess that will have to tide you over till tomorrow.

quaggans

This post was brought to you by the letter B for Belghast and Blaugust, the letter D for Drought, Dry and Desperate, and (only) the number 5. (Darn.)

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Dota 2: Noob Learning Journal #1

It’s hard to know where to begin with this post.

I’m slowly realizing that it’s difficult for me to blog about a subject that:

a) is very big and overwhelming

and b) that I know very little about and distinctly not an expert about

The only thing I do know is that perseverance is one of the key factors of success, so one may as well keep going and chip away at the big problem with small bites, ie. figuring out how to blog about learning Dota 2, and figuring out how to even -play- Dota 2.

The first thing that immediately became clear to me after an experimental game or two was the importance of customizing controls and keybinds.

Controls are probably the first obstacle any newbie to a game encounters, and that regular players often take for granted.

My camera and character control was awful and I knew it. (The perils of not-entirely-newbie-to-games-hood.)

I initially tried the MMO default keybind and was more than a little disoriented using WASD to move the camera, nor was I entirely keen on losing some important keys in that region for skills and so on.

So I ended up using edge pan to move the screen around like most RTSes and trying to adjust to the Dota 2 default, minus one or two keybinds that seemed more convenient. I’m sure there’s still a lot of tweaking to be done on this front.

A week or two later, I’m still struggling with basic controls about 30% of the time. I lose track of my character after having shifted the camera around to look at other stuff and so on.

There’s not much for it but more regular practice and being patient with myself and just actively remembering to try and keep track of where I am moving all the time, but yeah, just thought it worth mentioning for those who interact with newbies – be patient and aware of the fact that they’re probably fighting an uphill battle with unfamiliar controls.

The other thing that I’ve been trying to utilize in my learning is the principle of spaced repetition.

Now technically speaking, this requires increasing intervals of review to be considered “spaced” but since Dota 2 games take so long to play out anyway, I try to get just one game in every day or skip a day or two and then play again.

Presumably I am still learning from this irregularly spaced play, as opposed to “cramming” it all in by trying to play 10 games on the weekends or something.

Anyhow, I find that one game is a reasonably sized concept in my mind that I don’t end up procrastinating over it too much.

So what have I learned from just jumping in and doing it?

One, your imagined fears are sometimes a lot worse than the real thing. I had this image in my head of a hostile, toxic community that would spout abuse by the bucketload.

To get over the initial hesitance, the first thing I decided to learn was to read up how to mute another player (turned out to be pretty easy, bring up the score screen and click on a certain icon.)

Through most of my tutorial games with limited heroes, I found that the matchmaking mostly put me in with similar noobs at my level (or worse, which sounds incredible, but hey, take heart, no matter how noob or expert you are, there’s always someone better or worse off than you at any time.)

This created mostly silent games for a sizeable majority of them, especially if I played in the SEA timezone (it seems we just don’t talk much), with a few notable exceptions.

There were one or two garbled microphone users that either produced high-pitched noises or just were saying something I could barely make out – eventually muted for peace of mind. There was an amusing game where I was fairly sure a great deal of abuse was probably being thrown around… except it was either in Indonesian or Tagalog, so it was a moot point since I understood neither language.

And even when I finally encountered a perfect English-speaking specimen who decided to take a specific and distinct dislike to my display of noob-level lack-of-skill and seemed to enjoy calling it out at every opportunity, I found it pretty much water off a duck’s back. I could have muted him for peace of mind, but didn’t really see the need. I mostly ended up finding it pretty funny that his expectations were set so high in a PUG who had already picked a lousy complement of heroes to begin with.

The only sad thing was that I generally find it rather difficult to cooperate as a team with someone who evidently has a problem with another team member. Plus it’s a morale drain for everyone else, so a loss is almost guaranteed at that point and there’s nothing for it but to work on personal improvement for the rest of the match. 

(Note to self: Playing in the EU timezone is probably not a good idea. From prior observations in GW2, EU culture seems to be more elitist. Also, I was probably playing with NA schoolkids who are not working in the afternoons.)

The other thing that really helps is realizing that the MOBA playing audience is SO huge, one is likely to never see any of the same names again. Ever.

So all the other players can essentially be treated as more unpredictable (and more characterful) bot AI, especially at my particular stage of learning where I have no investment in becoming part of a community around this game.

One will worry about communicating for teamwork purposes -after- mastering individual basic principles and concepts first.

Two, there’s really a LOT to learn that vets probably take for granted.

I realized I barely recognized any hero from their portraits, let alone what they looked like in-game, even while playing Limited Heroes mode, which only has 20 or so.

As suggested by a guide I skimmed, it was something I found that needed to be addressed by focused attention and intentional review. I ended up “testing” my recall every match, intentionally asking myself “Ok, look at that picture. Which hero is that?” then mousing over to check after answering.

I’m not perfect yet, but definitely a little better with this now.

Even the map paths and where all the shops are or what mobs are in which part of the jungle are unfamiliar concepts that I’m still working on, let alone all the items that can be bought or built.

Three, it’s easy to fall into comfortable ruts that produce an illusion of competence.

Since there was so much to take in at once, I ended up picking a hero recommended for beginners, Lich, who functions as ranged support and played it over several matches to get comfortable with other aspects of the game.

At first, there was the expected struggle with learning his skills, learning what items needed to be bought and what they even did, and later, over several games, I started to get just that bit better with the hero and began enjoying the ability to pull back the creeps to a point of advantage for my lane with his sacrifice skill, conveniently getting mana off it to boot, and how to wield the other spells at my disposal.

Then I realized all I wanted to do was play Lich all the time because he was now familiar and everything else was so unknown and threatening.

However, that’s not exactly going to help me learn what all the other heroes do, which is probably a requisite concept in my overall goal of understanding Dota 2 enough to appreciate an International game.

Hence my new goal, after having managed to struggle through the extremely lengthy tutorial and complete that, is to give all 20 of the Limited Heroes a try at least, before picking a couple of favorites to get better at and possibly move on to All-Pick mode.

I expect there to be a fair amount of carnage and name-calling in the attempt, and a bunch of lost games, but hey, failure is a part of learning.

P.S. I apologize for those easily enraged by semantical misuse of the words “newb” vs “noob.”

I am well aware that in certain circles, some people find it important enough to distinguish the two, one who is still learning as opposed to one who plainly has no interest in getting better while playing badly.

Except that it’s really all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? Who decides? It’s a little judgmental on someone’s part if they’ve decided so-and-so has no capability to learn further and thus deserves the ‘noob’ moniker in an abusive sense.

So anyhow, I like the word ‘noob,’ and will quite fondly reclaim it. Friends (or at least, a group that I run with) call each other that all the time and it’s not expressed in a hateful way, more in a joking manner.

Noob, and happy to be one, until one gets enough practice and learning in.

“Is It Too Late to Learn X?” aka a Newbie’s Decision to Start Playing DOTA 2

So I have to confess I only reliably recognize Juggernaut in this picture... (I had to go look up Crystal Maiden and Rubrick there.)

In the last couple of days, I’ve decided that I wanted to devote a little time to gradually (very gradually) learn a game that I’ve always felt was too enormously deep, time-consuming and overwhelming for a complete newbie to grasp.

In part, this was born out of reading the umpteenth post on the GW2 reddit of someone asking “Is it too late to join in / learn this game / pick this up now?” or “Help, I’m overwhelmed, I don’t know what to do!” or “I have no motivation / talk me into continuing with this game / etc.”

  • No, for heaven’s sakes, it’s never too late to learn to play a game (or learn anything, in fact) until the servers shut down (or your mind’s server shuts down.)
  • Yes, it’s a big game (or topic), overwhelm is natural, you’re not going to be an expert after fifteen minutes of reading about something, be patient with yourself and take it slow and learn bits and pieces at a time!
  • *spreads hands helplessly at the last* Ultimately, your motivation is your own business. We can certainly help to encourage or inspire you (in general) or advise or coach you (on specifics), if you’re open to that kind of thing. But if you’ve decided that something else is more attractive and worth focusing your attention on at this time, go do that thing first, no point hanging on to this thing like a sinking ship when your interest or motivation isn’t there.

(And for the Newbie Blogger Initiates, this totally applies to you too, re: joining in or learning to write and blog regularly.)

I decided that I want to have a sort of solidarity of experience with these unknown newbies or irregularly returning players, a bit more of a shared understanding of what they’re going through, and to try and record that beginner state for myself and for others on this here blog.

I’ve played GW2 for 1000 days, apparently.

I vaguely recall that there was a time where I fumbled around with putting weapon skills together to effectively do damage, where I had to stop and read all the tooltips and actively figure out “which button should I press first? then the next? and the next?” and then proceed to test out this chain on the next 100 karka or so (hey, solo karka shell farming is a thing, ok?)

I took this screenshot today. I just turned off the UI and killed two karka without dying.

I took this screenshot today. I just turned off the UI and killed two karka without worry that I might die. I was busy adjusting the camera with my right hand to get a nice angle and then lifting it to press PrintScreen repeatedly, the left hand was running on automatic.

These days, the muscle memory is just -there-. Shift+E triggers my F1 skill, providing 3 stacks of might, and lighting the next thing I hit on fire. 2 sends me Flashing Blade teleporting into whatever I’m targeting, conveniently blinding its next attack. I let the auto-attack of sword take over, only controlling my positioning via strafing to make sure I hit, while avoiding getting hit as best I can. I trigger 3 if I want a projectile burst and a shield to absorb.

In a split second I decide if I need to use my defensive focus skills or utility skills to protect myself (which are on longer cooldown and usually only triggered for harder stuff, not regular open world mobs), if not, I may weapon swap to land a smite, immobilize and head back out of range with scepter autoattacking, throw a spike burst with torch for a little more dps or cone AoE a group as appropriate, or just be lazy and let sword finish it off via autoattacks.

I don’t even have to think about it. I just do it.

Conversely, a newbie (or someone unfamiliar to the game) may be squinting their way through those couple of paragraphs, going “WTF? I didn’t understand a word of that? Well, no, I understand each word of English, but put together, those sentences contained zero meaning to me.”

So I’ve decided that I want to start at that total ground zero on a game that I’ve always admired and enjoyed watching the pros go at it, but never felt I had sufficient time to learn and do it any justice, DOTA 2.

League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth or Smite fans may be all “:(” over this decision, but I can’t learn four different games as a newbie, I gotta start with one first, and dammit, I want to learn the big granddaddy of them all.

(Also, I had about a weeks’ worth of exposure playing the first DOTA with some friends, so a few hero names are not completely alien to me.

And I love the pomp and shininess around the International, and the slickness of the whole client that turns messing around with cosmetics in the store, reading up for more information and spectating into a mini-game or sport itself – it’s nuts, you can spend money on DOTA 2 without even having played a single match yourself and still feel like you had fun, following your celebrity heroes or doing all the other stuff spectators do for other sports, like speculate/discuss/bet on match results or what not.)

My vague goal is to gradually learn enough about the game that I can watch the International streams (sometime in July or August, apparently, so that’s a loose deadline) and appreciate more of what’s going on, without having to rely on the newbie announcers to hold my hand each step of the way.

I’d like to be competent enough at the game that I can meet a random friend or colleague and go “Oh, you play DOTA 2 too? Cool, let’s play a friendly game together” and not look like a colossal ineffectual flailing idiot, ie. attain average to good levels.

To be frank, I see this as very much a process that will never end.

I have no illusions about becoming some top-ranked player on the global stage, nor any aspirations towards that end. I don’t need a high MMR or some platinum diamond super-black definitely-not-copper-or-bronze trophy rank (or whatever they’re using to depict high-level play.)

I generally don’t seem to get noticeable adrenaline or dopamine boosts from winning and am thus not attracted by nature to competitive play. I’m fully aware that I’m going to drop in and out of this like all the other games I’m fond of. (eg. Minecraft, Path of Exile, Don’t Starve Together are all out of the immediate loop right now. Still enjoy ’em, just not ready to dip back into them yet.)

What does draw me like a beacon is an intense curiosity about the learning process – I kinda want to observe the progression from n00b to decently competent – “just how do people learn things?” and the thrill of having something new to explore, new concepts to understand and practice and slowly attempt to master (if ever. Work-in-progress.)

It turns out that the topic of learning is a big thing in education circles, as well as games, and I’ve been going down one rabbit hole and another of reading and watching videos about this fascinating meta aspect while trying to get at least one game of DOTA 2 finished each day, so that I can -eventually- complete this massive tutorial chapter that requests you play 5 games vs bots, and 10 games vs humans, each game probably lasting 45 minutes on average, give or take 15 minutes.

I’m discovering a lot of interesting stuff. Now I just need sufficient time to synthesize concepts and put it all together in short enough coherent blog posts.

It’s gonna take a while.

But that’s what I’ve been up to in the last few days, so do expect topics along that vein in the next month or so, once I finish up with CoH nostalgia and the NBI.

(Not to mention, GW2 will probably throw a spanner in the works with some mindblowing expansion-related revelation or other, just when I think I’ve got it all sorted out.)