Final Fantasy Bowl 2

This post is a follow up to Final Fantasy Bowl, so if you haven’t given that one a read, I suggest you do so.

Since the last post, I spent an entire open studio from 1pm to 6pm doing the underglazing and glazing on my bowl as well as some of my class time to do touch up to the glazing around the rim, bringing the total time spent on this bowl up well above 15 hours.  Needless to say, after spending so much time on this project, I was pretty invested in the outcome, but sadly there’s only so much you can do before you just have to put the piece in the kiln and hope for the best.  That being said, I’m pretty happy with how the whole project came out.

Without further ado, here are pictures of the sprites on the side of the finished bowl.

Finished Fighter

Finished Fighter

Fighter came out the cloudiest.  The celadon glaze ran a bit thick around the rim and as such, it ran down over the top of the spites a little bit.  That being said, I still think he looks pretty awesome.

Finished Thief

Finished Thief

Thief came out super great.  No complaints here.

Finished Red Mage

Finished Red Mage

Red Mage also came out super well.

Finished Black Belt

Finished Black Belt

Black Belt’s the biggest case of the underglaze running along with the glaze.  You can see the black up above his headband that ran down from the outline of his head and the little drip by the outline of his hand.  He’s still awesome though.

Finished White Mage

Finished White Mage

White Mage was a ton of work because of all the corners in the pattern on her robes and I was really worried about how she’d come out.  That being said, I think she looks the best of any of them and I think all the time spent on doing the sprite justice really paid off.

Finished Black Mage

Finished Black Mage

Black mage also looks really good, but I think his hat looks a little weird since I couldn’t perfectly match the colors.

All tolled, this was a pretty great success and I’m super stoked that my new fruit bowl looks so damn cool and nerdy at the same time!  Huzzah!

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Posted in Art | 3 Comments

In Defense of LoL

Today I want to talk about something that’s been bothering me a lot recently.  I spend a lot of time on Team Liquid, particularly in the League of Legends sub forum.  For anyone who doesn’t know, teamliquid.net is a forum that was made for competitive Starcraft Broodwar players and is one of the most highly regarded forums for Starcraft outside of Korea.  In the past couple years, the focus has shifted on the site from Broodwar towards Starcraft 2 and in the same timespan, a fairly large LoL community popped up on the forums and has grown to the point where we have our own LoL sub forum on teamliquid.  While I love the TL LoL community, there have been some issues between some members of the SC2 community and the LoL community.  Essentially any time a professional LoL event is going on, there are dismayed Starcraft players who come into the live report threads to trash talk LoL as a competitive game.  Their gripes are always the same, namely that MOBAs are less skillful games than Starcraft and that of all the mainstream MOBAs, LoL has the lowest skill ceiling.  They think that by promoting a less difficult game, the competitive LoL community is hurting the future of eSports by encouraging casual games as opposed to competitive games.  My goal with this post is to prove them wrong.

I want to start by refuting the point that MOBAs are less skillful games than RTSs.  I cannot argue that the mechanical difficulty of a game like Starcraft 2 is considerably higher than LoL.  You simply need to do more actions per minute to compete at a high level in a game of SC2 than you do in a game of LoL.  But with that being said, I want to ask why it is that some people place such a high value on mechanical skills in an eSport.  Since when do we attribute skill merely to games with mechanical barriers that require countless hours to overcome?  I say that you would be hard pressed to find someone who would argue that Chess has a low skill ceiling, but yet, Chess has infinitely less mechanics involved in playing it than even LoL.  So why is it that when this discussion comes up between two video games, players become so fixated on mechanics?  The beauty of high level MOBA play rarely comes from individual execution, and rather it comes from the flawless executions of teamwork.  Watching a team of five players execute a single strategy perfectly in LoL is impressive on a completely separate level than watching a professional Broodwar player systematically destroy an inferior opponent.  It’s just a straightforward case of comparing apples and oranges.  MOBAs test a different skillset than RTSs, and while it’s perfectly acceptable to be more impressed by one than another, it’s foolish to act like one’s preferences are objective fact.

Moving on to the comparison of how skillful LoL is compared to other MOBAs, again, I think the issue largely comes from computer game players fixating on mechanics.  The mechanical ceiling in all MOBAs is relatively low compared to other genres of competitive games, but as I stated earlier, this isn’t the focal point of these games.  It doesn’t make sense to say that DotA is an innately more competitive game due to the fact that a DotA player has to do a few more actions per minute to deny and manage a courier.  Ultimately, these mechanical differences aren’t what make the games interesting to watch.  The facets of these games that captivate viewers are things like champion and build synergies, roaming and map control and impressively executed teamfights.  And frankly, I don’t see how these higher level facets of the MOBA genre are so much easier in LoL than they are in DotA.  Traditional MOBA players like to complain that stronger towers, summoner spells, lack of denying and lack of loss of gold on death make LoL an easier game, but that really begs the question, “why aren’t old DotA pros flocking to LoL for free money?”  The fact of the matter is that there is more money in LoL than there is in DotA right now, and looking at the popularity trends, this disparity is only going to get more extreme.  If succeeding at LoL were really so much easier, wouldn’t we see DotA teams transitioning to LoL for easy money?  We’ve seen instances of DotA/HoN pros switching to LoL (Vigoss, Chu8 for example), and while they’ve proven quite capable of doing well at LoL in the Solo Queue environment, the lack of crossover success at the tournament level speaks volumes to the relative depth of LoL.  As I see it, the differences that DotA players like to cling to as examples of LoL being easier are all really just design decisions made by Riot.  And while I can understand and accept that some might not like the way they drive the gameplay, I don’t actually think there’s a good argument out there to say that they have created a game that requires less skill or has less depth than DotA.  The games feel different, but to call one better and one worse based on highly debated gameplay mechanics just feels wrong.

The overarching point I’m trying to make here is most of the criticism that people throw at LoL is unfounded.  It seems that some people want to cry that the sky is falling and that the next step is the Mario Party 13 Pro Circuit, but in reality Riot has actually made a great game that’s worthy of our respect as competitive gamers.  The game has been out for years and the tournament scene has fostered great innovation that has driven the metagame to new and exciting heights.  Professional players routinely show that they’re more skilled than casual players and that the real skill ceiling of the game is nowhere near being reached.  Regardless of your personal feelings about LoL, you can’t deny its merits as a competitive game, let alone the advancement it brings to the state of eSports by bringing new viewers and players to the table.

Posted in Gaming, League of Legends | 49 Comments

Final Fantasy Bowl

When I’m not gaming, one of my favorite ways to unwind is to do ceramics.  I just love working with clay, it’s a great creative outlet for me.  Recently in my ceramics class, we were tasked with making a 10-pound bowl, which is probably twice as big as any other piece I’ve ever made.  When I finished it up on the wheel, I was totally stoked with how well it came out.  Here it is after trimming:

The 10-pound bowl, with a pint glass for scale.

Since I’m totally in love with this bowl, I decided I would go nuts and turn it into a tribute to my own nerdiness.  After putting some thought into it, I decided that I wanted to engrave the cast of Final Fantasy 1 on the side of it.  Since I’m a terrible free-hand artist I wanted to find a way to neatly transcribe precise versions of the sprites onto the bowl..  I decided that I would go about doing this by printing out some graph paper with properly scaled squares and then copying the sprites, pixel by pixel.  Here they are after I cut them out:

The cut out sprites

From here, I held them up onto the bowl, one at a time, like so:

Fighter on the bowl

After that, I traced them with my pin tool to get an outline.  Once I had the outline, I poked my pin tool through each and every corner of the color outlines:

Fighter outline + pin marks

From here, all I had to do was connect the dots and voila, Final Fantasy 1 sprite engravings:

Finished Fighter

Finished Thief

Finished Red Mage

Finished Black Belt

Finished White Mage

Finished Black Mage

All tolled, the sprite creation took about 3 hours, and the engraving took about 6 hours.  I really didn’t expect this to take 9 hours, but I’m incredibly happy with how it’s come along thus far.  From here, the plan is to underglaze these sprites their original colors, and then do the bowl as a whole in celadon, a translucent green glaze.  It should be another couple weeks before the bowl is done, but I can’t wait and I’ll be sure to post the finished product here as soon as I can.

Posted in Art | 6 Comments

Using Deprivation as a Training Technique

Deprivation is an extremely powerful teaching tool.  In High School Health class, we had to do a 4 week deprivation experiment, where everyone in class had to give up something that they did/used/ate/drank on a regular basis for 4 weeks and write entries on the effects that this deprivation had on them and what they were learning from it.  As an avid soda drinker in High School, I gave up caffeine, and the subsequent experience was a bit of an eye opener.  For instance, I learned that at that point in time, I was horribly addicted to caffeine and that after about three days without it, I started having pounding headaches.  I also learned that caffeine, as a stimulant, along with the sugar in soda, keeps you awake for awhile and suddenly I learned that I could fall asleep before 2 AM if I wasn’t loading myself up with sugar and caffeine at 9 or 10 PM.  Shocking, I know, but it’s amazing how bad we are at connecting the dots when you get into routines.

Fast forward to college, when I was trying really hard to get better at Smash Brothers Melee.  At a smashfest in Philadelphia, I was routinely getting my ass handed to me by Cactuar’s Falco in the Falco vs. Falco matchup.  After awhile, I started to notice that Cactuar barely shot any lasers at all with Falco, which stood in direct contrast to my own style where my whole neutral game strategy was to use lasers to control space.  Noticing this, talking to Cactuar, and remembering my High School exercise led me to conduct a little experiment.  Following this smashfest, for the next month, while practicing, I was going to try to completely deprive myself of lasers.  For the first few days I found myself losing practice games more frequently, but after making a few adjustments, it seemed like I could be nearly as effective without lasers as I could with them.  Once I lifted my self imposed laser ban, I actually found that my laser usage was much smarter and the net effect on my overarching approach to playing Falco was a large positive.

What I’m getting at here with this story is that when you identify yourself using something as a crutch in your gameplay, there’s a lot to be gained from depriving yourself of it.  You may be asking what I mean when I say a crutch, and that’s a fair question, so let’s get into what a crutch is, and how to go about identifying crutches.  A “crutch,” as I’m using the term, is a behavior in a game that you lean upon when you don’t know what else to do.  In my example above, I had no idea what I was doing from the neutral position with Falco, and rather than taking an analytical approach to figuring out what I should be doing, I just fell back on shooting lasers.  Other examples of crutches in other games would be opening 12 hatch every game in Starcraft Broodwar or rushing two doran’s rings, sorcerer’s shoes, and deathcap on every AP Carry in League of Legends.  The point isn’t that falling back on your crutch is always the wrong play, but rather that always falling back on your crutch isn’t necessarily the right play.

Identifying a crutch is sometimes very easy, and other times very hard.  Occasionally, you’ll notice yourself doing something extremely frequently and yielding poor results from it, and if that’s the case, congratulations, you’ve found a crutch!  Other times, you need to take a step back and watch replays of yourself playing the game to pick up on your habits when they’re not working out for you.  And other times still, you’ll discover a crutch from watching someone else play your character/race/deck differently from how you do.  The point is that you just need to keep thinking about your play to pick up on your own habits to nail down when you’re falling back on a crutch.

Once you’ve zeroed in on a crutch, before going into full-blown deprivation mode, take some time to think about your alternatives.  Maybe it’s time to try cutting the doran’s rings out of your build and instead opt for a Catalyst opening into Rod of Ages.  Perhaps instead of opening 12 hatch every game, you can open 9 pool and experiment with early pressure vs. your opponents.  Once you have a decent idea of how you’re going to fill the void, yank that crutch out from under you during practice.  When your alternatives are falling short, it teaches you situations where your crutch isn’t actually impeding your play and is worth using.  However, chances are that you’ll run into situations where your alternatives feel equally strong or stronger.  In these cases, the deprivation teaches you how to diversify or even flat out improve your play.  Regardless of whether you discover better options from this exercise, it will give you insight into what your options are, and the hows and whys behind the decisions you make, which is always preferable to blindly sticking to your guns without exploring the alternatives.

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Breaking Out of a Rut

Last week was pretty brutal for me in solo queue LoL.  On Monday, I was sitting comfortably around 2030 elo, but by Friday, I had managed to drop all the way down to 1864.   Early in my loss streak, I chalked it up to just a bad streak.  My teammates had been underperforming in lane, and it just seemed like a few unfortunate games.  Around 1970, I was feeling pretty damn unlucky, but I was also unphased by my downward swing.   It seemed like game after game my teammates were getting picked off lategame and just throwing games that were in our favor or somewhat even and that the streak would just pass.  By 1910, I felt like the unluckiest guy in the world.  When I finally bottomed out at 1864, I finally stopped and started reflecting on what happened over the course of the previous week.

Not surprisingly, when I stopped to really look at my streak, I realized that there were some flaws in my own gameplay that were contributing to my decline.  Most notable of these flaws was my lack of map awareness, which I believe was the product of a few outside factors.  Namely, my sleep schedule was terrible during this week, which was leaving me exhausted, and I was going out of my way to make sure I streamed my games since becoming a featured streamer on teamliquid.net, and as a result, I was distracted by getting my stream settings just right and interacting with my viewers.  While I wasn’t doing terribly poorly in my lane or in standard 5v5 teamfights, I was frequently playing sub-optimally in the skirmish-level fights in the earlygame and midgame.  Although I don’t think this was 100% to blame for my loss streak, it certainly wasn’t helping my cause and discovering it gave me something about my own gameplay to fixate on for improvement.

In order to solve this issue in my play, I made two conscious decisions regarding my gameplay.  Firstly, I was going to stop playing top lane so much, as this is the easiest lane to get tunnel vision in, and instead try to favor jungling to force myself to pay attention to the whole map.  And secondly, I was going to cut back on my playing hours, put more time into other hobbies and make sure that I got my sleep schedule back on track.  Since taking these steps, I’ve put together a nice little win streak of 4 games and gotten my elo back up to 1914, but, more importantly, I feel better about the games I’m playing and the decisions I make in them.

This is hardly the first time I’ve had a rut in a competitive game and will certainly not be the last, so I’d like to get into generalizing what the issue usually is and how to recognize it and fix it as soon as possible.  From my experience, the best way to describe the typical run of the mill gaming rut is a regression to auto-pilot.  What I mean by this is that instead of approaching your games with an active and adaptive mind, you approach games by shutting your brain off and letting your raw experience and muscle memory dictate your actions.  We all do this from time to time, especially when gaming isn’t the core focus of what you’re doing.  If I get together with my friends and we just happen to bust out a gamecube to play some Smash Brothers Melee, chances are I’ll just be auto-piloting and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with doing this.  But when your goal is to get better at a game, you can’t approach games with your mind turned off and expect to see results.

With that being said, let’s get into the ways I’ve found effective at breaking out of a rut.  The first and most frequently successful method in my gaming career is simply taking a break.  It’s amazing the sort of clarity you get from simply putting down the controller for a week.  I’ve found that after taking a break, I always come back to games with a simpler, and often more effective, approach.  When you’re putting a lot of time into a game and things aren’t working, you’ll frequently find yourself agonizing over details and getting bogged down in little problems rather than seeing broader issues that become incredibly apparent when you just step away from the game for a short bit.

Another consistent method for breaking out of a rut that I’ve found is to switch things up in game.  This varies from game to game, but for instance, taking a break from playing top lane to focus on another role in LoL, taking a break from playing Falco to try playing Fox in Melee, and changing the deck that you’re running in constructed Magic: the Gathering, are all good examples of shaking up your in-game behavior.  Anything that knocks you out of your comfort zone is a good way to gain insight into yourself as a player, as it forces you to deal with new situations that will force you to think about what you’re doing rather than auto-piloting.

The last thing that I really want to touch on for fixing a bad streak in gaming is focusing on other aspects of your life.  This sort of goes along with taking a break from the game, but it’s more than that.  When you take a game very seriously, you start to get very invested in it and doing well in it.  This in turn puts a lot of pressure on yourself to do well, and when things aren’t going well, this starts to drag you down and generally makes you feel unsatisfied with the whole gaming experience.  While you’re taking a break, it’s good to give yourself some perspective and take the pressure of playing the game off.  That way, when you get back into playing the game, the focus will be less about seeing results (wins, elo, etc) from working so hard at it, and instead will be shifted to actual individual improvement, regardless of the results of the isolated games.

Posted in Gaming | 2 Comments

Developing the Right Mentality for Solo Queue in League of Legends

Ever since I managed to hit 2000 solo queue elo in Season 1, I’ve occasionally received random messages from acquaintances on my friends list, asking me how I can stand playing solo queue.  These messages are always surrounded by horror stories of their terrible luck with teammates and are really just instances of these people using me as a venting outlet.   Be that as it may, I decided that it was worthwhile to think about what exactly it is about my solo queue mentality that allows me to tolerate my bad beats better than the average Joe on my friends list.  The best answer I’ve been able to come up with is that most of the people on my friends list come from either a Smash Brothers or a Starcraft background, and as such are used to minimal random components in the games they play, whereas I come from a pretty diverse gaming background that, among other things, includes competitively playing a fair number of card games.

It might not be completely apparent what the connection between tolerance for solo queue and playing cards is, so let’s talk about that a bit.  In card games (and other games that rely on random mechanics, such as any game that uses dice) there is the inherent possibility to outplay your opponent and still lose simply due to bad luck.  Similarly, when you queue up to play LoL alone, there’s the inherent possibility that you’ll simply end up with the worse team.  What playing cards teaches you is to focus on that which you have control over and do the best you can with it, rather than fixating on how the things outside your control are conspiring against you.  In this regard, growing up on card games conditioned me perfectly to play solo queue League of Legends.  Sure, I still get mad at my bad luck, everyone does, but I’m used to an element of luck in my games, so I’m a bit thicker skinned about my misfortunes than someone who grew up on say, standard fighting games, which lack these random elements.

Extrapolating this comparison leads to my view that everyone else’s actions in Solo Queue are essentially random.  The people you end up with and their subsequent decisions throughout the game are the hand you’ve been dealt and it’s your job to figure out how to best play this hand to drive your team towards victory.  The great thing about this mindset is that it lets you narrow your analysis of the game and its outcome down to just your own play.  Ultimately, it might paint an inaccurate picture of what exactly went wrong with the game, but in the interest of improving your own solo queue win rate, it places responsibility on you, which is what you should be doing if you really want to improve.  After all, you can only control your own actions, and thus the road to self-improvement in the random game that is League of Legends solo queue is simply to analyze the game outside of the random factors and figure out exactly what you could have done better to increase your team’s chances of winning.  I honestly believe that this is the main reason I’m as good as I am at solo queue in LoL.  This mindset lets you strive for perfection regardless of whether you went 15/2/10 with Vayne and still lost because your Wukong fed an Irelia top lane.  The trick is simply to think about what you could’ve done differently.  Could you have talked to your team and convinced mid and top to switch?  Could you have gone top and let Wukong catch back up bot with your support?  Could you have focused differently, say on the Irelia first, in teamfights?  Don’t think about what Wukong did wrong, that was the luck of the draw, you simply need to deal with it and figure out how you could’ve played the hand you were dealt differently such that the loss could have been a win.  If you honestly answer, “nothing, I played perfectly, it was all Wukong’s fault,” then just queue again and win, as perfect play is going to lead to a win almost always.  But chances are you’re not being honest with yourself if you think there’s nothing you could have done better to lead to a win.  Then just focus on whatever you find wrong with your play and strive for personal perfection with the understanding that even if you get there, sometimes you’ll lose to luck of the draw.

There was a great anecdote that I remember reading in Jon Finkel’s Ask Me Anything reddit thread, that I’ll just try to paraphrase here.  A great card player will be faced with the same scenario 9 times in a row.  Each of these 9 times, he’ll make the right play.  Every single 1 of these 9 times, he’ll get unlucky and lose.  When faced with the same situation a 10th time, without second guessing, he’ll make the right play again.  That same play that lost him the last 9 times.  And if it causes him to lose for a 10th time, he won’t lose any sleep over it because he’ll still know that the right play is the right play, regardless of the ultimate outcome.  This is the sort of mental fortitude that everyone needs to take into solo queue games of LoL.  Strive to do the best you can with what you can control and don’t fret over the things that you can’t.  If you can manage to do this, I firmly believe that you’ll be able to find the holes in your own play and improve as an individual player via playing solo queue games.  Even though there’s tons of randomness in Poker and MtG, you still see the same guys at the championship tables and on the pro tours time after time for a reason.  Likewise, the same players excel over time on the LoL solo queue ladder.  This isn’t the product of consistent luck, as “consistent luck” is an oxymoron.  Keep that in mind, ignore the things outside of your control, and focus on yourself and your play and you will find yourself improving or at least identifying your weaknesses in no time.

Posted in Gaming, League of Legends | 9 Comments