Thursday, July 19, 2012


X-Com is one of the great PC strategy games that has never been truly replicated. It had a few spiritual successors, such as the Jagged Alliance series, but it's such a unique formula that it's hard to re-create in another format.

You are X-Com, the newly formed inter-governmental agency created to fight off a quickly escalating alien threat. Your basic goals in the game are to: Protect the world from alien infiltration (which in turn increases your funding from the nations you protect) and gain alien technology to research (providing you with better weapons and information about the alien threat - including how to destroy them). Everything else in the game is in support of these goals.

The game's scope is massive. You have base creation: A sim-city type minigame which can come into play should they aliens figure out where your base is. An admittedly weak minigame around intercepting UFOs. Your soldiers have RPG-type skills that improve with use. Research, engineering and purchasing decisions are often difficult due to money problems.

X-Com's main focus (and main draw) is the tactical turn-based combat system. Each soldier has "action points" (AP) which determine how much they can do in a turn. Shooting takes a percentage of your AP based on the kind of shot you're taking (An Aimed shot, giving the highest chance to hit takes 60% of a soldier's total AP for the turn). And movement costs a set 4AP per block traveled.

You might be thinking: "Turn based combat? That sounds archaic!" But moving your troops can draw the fire of waiting enemies (You can store AP that your soldiers will try to use to shoot at enemy movement as well) and the brief time between the shot being fired and the realization that it hit/missed your soldier is tension-filled. Similarly, clicking "End Turn" when you're almost positive you got the last alien can be harrowing.

Using cover in combat is essential and the environments are nearly 100% destructible. (Keep in mind, this game was made in 1993. How ridiculous is that?) Buildings, space-ships, fences and walls can all have holes blown in them if you use a large enough gun or grenade.

There are a few different types of missions as well, and the terror missions involving civilians can get downright nasty. The aliens will shoot and kill civilians and you have to try to keep as many alive as you can while wiping out the aliens.

The only complaints I have with the original game, are these:
1: The only way to open a door is to walk through it which opens your brave soldier up to being fired upon before being able to see his assailant (Fixed in later games).
2: The research stuff can get a little wonky (You have to capture specific alien leaders that are only available on certain ships/missions, and occasionally, you interrogate high-level prisoners out of order resulting in the need to capture another).
3: Psychic attack/defense is annoying as hell.

The game feels complete in a way that few games through the years have. Things tend to work the way you expect them to, and the world feels like a living, breathing place full of people. When you first reach a milestone - like successfully invading an alien base - you really feel accomplished and well rewarded with new technologies and equipment to research.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A new barometer?

I've been thinking of a new way to knee-jerk react to a trade or signing. The opposing fanbase's view. This probably only works with known entities (prospects and lesser-known players are an iffier proposition).

I remember when we traded for Craig Rivet. It seemed like a decent trade, but MTL fans mocked the fact that we made him captain. I remember clearly thinking that they were too far removed from his career to judge, but in the end Rivet was shown to not even be a good captain, was often a healthy scratch and was eventually given up for nothing.

If you look at the guys we've liked who've been traded, our assessments have been accurate: Kotalik(good riddance, gonna miss the shootout wins), Campbell (the money was stupid, but he's a damn fine player), Paille (no room for him here, but he's a fine 3-4th liner), Novotny (lol), Biron (Love the personality, best backup in the league).

Our record isn't perfect: Briere/Drury/Tim Kennedy being prime examples. We had the Briere/Drury equation flipped. Briere we thought would be injured often due to his size, but would be productive when healthy. We were half-right.'s hard to pinpoint what went wrong, but injuries and lack of production were a bit of a surprise. Tim Kennedy can be explained away by acknowledging that we had a blind-spot for the local kid.

I'm sure I've got some confirmation bias going on here, and I'm interested to see how this works out now that I'm keeping an eye on it. You may have noticed I'm focused on post-lockout. That's mostly because fan-bases (including our own) weren't as easily tracked before the arrival of Twitter and the post-lockout-era explosion of NHL presence online.

There are also some flaws in this system. Opinions on prospect/low-tier players are not as well formed as those of NHL regulars. Our opinions on Butler and Byron aren't fully fleshed out. Phoenix's fan base was probably glad to get anything for a slow-developing Briere.

This year will be very interesting as the fan bases of Vancouver, Philly, and Calgary all seemed to think very highly of the additions that the Sabres made this summer. The only issue they seem to have is the money paid out for Erhoff and Leino. As we've seen with guys like Briere and Campbell, that criticism can be put to be quickly through performance (though in Briere's case, it took a year). Let's just hope those fan-bases are more right than we were about Drury.

I'll be keeping a close eye on Connolly this year. Our opinion on him as a fan base seems to be that he needs a change of scenery, and even then won't be able to stay healthy. Given 82 games, I think 55-60 points is what the Leafs are paying him for. However, I think we all know that 60 games and 35-40 points is much more likely.

Another player to watch is Jagr, the vitriol out of Pittsburgh may be sour grapes, but a radio host called him a "selfish captain who only cares about himself" this morning.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sabres Tickets for Sale. Now Public.

After seeing Kate over at the Willful Caboose present her tickets for sale on her blog, I decided to do the same. It's easier to track what's sold and what's available and will provide a better way to get info to those who need it.

The only fair way to do it is first come, first serve.

The tickets are in section 311, Row 7, Seats 1 & 2. (listed prices are for the pair)

Sold tickets will be struck-through and I will keep this list as up-to-date as possible.

Twitter folks can DM me at @RITBeast if interested.


Team Date Price
Philadelphia FlyersWed NOV 2, 7:30$80
Ottawa SenatorsFri NOV 11, 7:30$80
New Jersey DevilsWed NOV 16, 7:30$80
Washington CapitalsSat NOV 26, 7:00$90
New York IslandersTues NOV 29, 7:00$80


Team Date Price
Florida PanthersFri DEC 9, 7:30$80
New York RangersSat DEC 10, 7:00$90
Toronto Maple LeafsFri DEC 16, 7:30$90
Ottawa SenatorsSat DEC 31, 7:00$80

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Finding the willpower to write about Minecraft is difficult, because in order to do so, you have to stop playing Minecraft. This was intended to be a much longer, more in-depth review, but I think it cuts to the chase effectively.

You find yourself in a strange world which renders around you as arrive. The sun is out and it's a beautiful day. The graphics are blocky, but adequate. You take a moment to gather yourself and examine your surroundings.... but the clock is ticking. The sun is still rising, but when it sets... The monsters come.

When first dropped into Minecraft, this is what you know: "In 10 minutes, the sun is going to set and I will be set upon by monsters which will kill me. I need wood, I need coal, and I need it now." It's such a primitive concept, but executed beautifully. It's a virtual commentary on the theory of Human Motivation.

First: shelter, survival and safety - just the basic needs.
Second: Comfort, expansion of your safety and the accumulation of wealth and materials.
Third: Creating and sharing with friends, socializing etc.

The game comes together so organically, it's hard not to be impressed. The panic that sets in as night falls and you are still exposed; When you discover a new cavern deep in the earth and the zombie you've been hearing groan is suddenly RIGHT THERE. The mile-stones to mark your progress are plentiful and enjoyable, but almost all self-generated.

There's so much to explore and do, that it's easy to be overwhelmed by your options.
You can create a tree/wheat/sugar farm, develop a complex system of mining, create a portal to the hell world to gather rare materials, build elaborate traps to catch and kill monsters or just wander the world taking in the interesting sights and struggling to survive.

Should you decide to try the game, you will definitely want to view this video:

and you'll probably want to check out the information here:
Minecraft wiki beginner's guide

These will help you with the absolute basics. If you're worried about spoilers or developing your own strategies, you should still watch the video and view the basics page in order to get to a point where you'll understand how the game works.

Just remember: In 10 minutes, the monsters come.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some mining to do. And a farm to attend to. And I want to build a road to connect our various bases. Oh! And I want to explore that cavern! And I still need to figure out how to use mine-carts... We should open a portal to the Nether.... AH CREEPER! RUUUUUN.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

GM for a day. Now with 100% less Bucky.

Let's try this again (blogger lost my first draft). Here's my goal in this post: I want to get a look at what we can spend in free agency on a center after we re-sign our players. I'm assuming we can't get Connolly on the cheap (He probably wants out with the level of disdain fans here have for him). I tried to trend the numbers towards a "worst case scenario", so that if it seems like I'm overpaying, that's a bit by design.

Here's how I treated our NHL Unrestricted Free Agents:
Cody McCormick: $400k raise to $900k. While he seemed to fade down the strech, he's a goony guy with the ability to play hockey. Worth keeping around at a reasonable price.

Connolly: I'd give him a cursory 1 Million/yr offer with the expectation that he leaves.

Montador: We don't have the room on the blue line for the price he'll fetch.

Grier: If he's good to go, a $800k offer to play. Otherwise, I'd offer him a video-analyst position of some sort where he can work with the young guys.

Neidermayer: Epic playoff performer, but just doesn't have a full-season in him any more, unexpectedly sad to see him go.

Lalime: Some organizational role seems like a good idea for one of the better team-first guys we had last year.

Here's how I treated our NHL Restricted Free Agents:

Stafford: $2.1 Million raise to $4M. The big fish. More than doubled his salary for 1 or 2 years and that gets him to UFA status. Seems fair to both sides. It might take 5 Million a year to get this done. Either way, I think you pay it. (A 3.5 Million longer term would be acceptable as well).
Grabner at 3 Million is comparable stats-wise, but with only one season under his belt and a lower Point-per-game pace than Stafford I think a higher price should be expected.

Gerbe: $350k raise to $1.2M. Such a lovable little guy, but has to prove he can do it year-round. Very young, still a RFA - 1.2 Million seems pretty reasonable.

Sekera: $1 Million raise to $2M. Good, young defenseman who's still learning and growing as a player. 100% raise is justified.

Butler: $650k raise to $1.5M. Perhaps a bit much, but with the TOI he had during the playoffs, I think he's earned a solid bump in salary.

Weber: $1 Million raise to $1.55M. I have a heterosexual man-crush on Mike Weber and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I've paid him accordingly.

Gragnani: $1 Million raise to $1.5M. His Playoff and World Championship performances provide a lot of support for a big raise.

Enroth: $1 Million raise to $1.566M. He's going to get a raise, probably not that much - but he will be seeing some more ice time next year.

This ends up being a little under 1 Million LESS than the Sabres spent last year.

In all, with the 15% increase in salary that Ted Black mentioned (~7-8 Million extra), the Sabres have about 8 million to spend on a new center. (A little less with a 13th forward on the roster, a little more without). Seems like a good spot to be in to compete for Richards or make a trade for a big name and replace a traded piece. Here's an approximation of the final roster:


Thomas Vanek ($7.142m) / [Insert New Guy Here] ($7.500m) / Jason Pominville ($5.300m)
Brad Boyes ($4.000m) / Derek Roy ($4.000m) / Drew Stafford ($4.000m)
Patrick Kaleta ($0.907m) / Tyler Ennis ($0.875m) / Jochen Hecht ($3.525m)
Nathan Gerbe ($1.200m) / Paul Gaustad ($2.300m) / Cody McCormick ($0.900m)
[Zach Kassian ($0.900m) as first call-up, not included in calculations]

Jordan Leopold ($3.000m) / Marc-Andre Gragnani ($1.500m)
Tyler Myers ($1.300m) / Andrej Sekera ($2.000m)
Mike Weber ($1.550m) / Chris Butler ($1.500m)
/ Shaone Morrisonn ($2.075m)

Ryan Miller ($6.250m) / Jhonas Enroth ($1.566m)

BUYOUTS: Tim Kennedy ($0.166m)

CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $59,400,000; CAP PAYROLL: $55,058,690; BONUSES: $425,000
CAP SPACE (20-man roster): $4,341,310

Edit: To clarify why Kassian wasn't included in my calculations.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

So I've been playing this one for a while (24hrs+ multiplayer ~level 12 and over half-way through single player campaign) and it is a fun and competitive game. The single-player campaign has been covered to death in reviews everywhere so I'll skip over that portion apart from saying: It's very cinematic and can be very frustrating (some missions are almost too unique).

As with previous battlefield games, multi-player is where the main game lies. Supporting up to 32 players at a time (pretty easily I might add), and with interesting and varied maps, there is a lot of interesting firefight to be had. There's also a wonderful leveling component to the game (both overall and in individual classes + vehicles in general).

Explanation of the basics
Leveling in each class will give you access to essential class equipment (repair tool for engineer, health kit for medic, etc.), and access to different and better weapons. Overall leveling is much slower, but the rewards can be used by all classes (shotguns, pistols and equipment upgrades). The equipment upgrades seem very powerful, particularly body armor and magnum ammo which are not available until you've reached higher levels. They allow you to kill faster or be killed slower - both of which are pretty nice.

Leveling is primarily accomplished by killing other players and by completing objectives (destroying/defending M-Coms in Rush Mode, capturing/defending flags). You can also score small points in bunches by doing team-friendly support operations (dropping ammo boxes, health kits, sensors and spotting players for your teammates to kill).

There's an interesting learning curve to the game and several different skills essential to your survival and ability to compete.
1. The basics: How to use cover, and shoot effectively to kill. What are the goals and how are they accomplished? How to use the map and spot players/vehicles?

2. The general strategy: How to survive and use different weapons in different situations. Figuring out how to help your team accomplish goals, and prevent the opposite team from achieving theirs.

3. The Maps: Figuring out how to achieve surprise by flanking or just being where the enemy doesn't expect. Where are the kill zones on each map and how do I get around them. Where will the enemy come from?

4. The finer points: Swapping out weapons while in a firefight rather than reloading. Reloading between skirmishes. When to use grenades. Destroying important cover without destroying your own. Using smoke to disrupt snipers.

Then comes mastering all of these different skills and blending them together to make a killing machine.

How does it play?

The good
The detail in the game is amazing. Whether you are dealing with being temporarily deafened by a nearby explosion or you are pumping RPGs into a tank and ducking into cover for reloads, you'll be immersed. The gunshots echo indoors, the snipers shot echoes through the hills a half-second after firing and the bullets whizzing by sound very, very real.

The destructible environment can be breathtaking and challenging to deal with and effective teamwork is rewarded above all. Sneaking a squad behind the enemy's front line can often cause game-winning disruptions, particularly if they're working together and of varied classes.

The bad
It's a wild game, but can be very frustrating. Along with being more knowledgeable due to longer play-time (both about maps and strategy, and having honed important skills), higher levels also get equipment bonuses. Emptying a clip into a level 50 who's returning the favor is often a losing proposition for the first 15 levels or so. That isn't to downplay what an advantage experience is. Coming from unexpected angles on targets they aren't expected to attack, often in a pack, good, high level players can single-handedly alter the complexion of a match.

Inexperienced and less skilled players can influence your team in the same way that experienced and excellent players can. It's a team game and being on a weak or strong team often influences your score as much as any actions you normally take. Nothing in the world is more annoying than being revived by a medic who hasn't made sure the area's been cleared after your death and being gunned down by the same guy, from the same place before you can get your bearings. Unless it's the low-level newbie jumping into a tank and driving it behind enemy lines where he hops out and leaves it for the enemy to take.

Lopsided wins and losses happen a lot due to dominant high-level (and high-skill) players. Headsets and teamwork are king, and if you don't use them regularly (as it seems 90% of the PC population does not), you will be at a significant and severe disadvantage against those who do.

It's a game that sometimes rewards spawn camping and some other aspects of cheap play that might be discouraged in other games, but is still fun and challenging in spite of that. Sometimes you'll be frustrated when you go 2-10 in K/D ratio because of that bastard in the tank who keeps hopping out and repairing. Other times, you'll be thrilled when you go 12-3 because you're that bastard dominating and frustrating the other team with your tank. It's definitely one of the most intense and cinematic experiences you'll get for under $20.

Games games and games

I have a few thoughts I'm planning on putting down in a bit. I'd like to do a brief review of Irondale (card game), 7 wonders (board/card game), and discuss Battlefield Bad Company 2 (PC). There's a lot to like about all of them and a lot to dislike as well. I haven't touched Monday Night Combat in weeks and I tried to load up Team Fortress this morning only to exit after a brief fling with "Medieval mode".