Two Ryujos and a rigged matchmaker

Northgard update: I got closer to my ultimate “win domination on Huge while the 7 AIs can win any way” quest:
closer

Once again I ranked out in the sprint with my Ryujo. I don’t like the strafing gameplay at all, but as a carrier I had the biggest effect on the game, so I play carrier.

Thanks to that, now I have definitive evidence that the random game matchmaker is rigged and balances teams according to player skill. Let’s compare the same ship in ranked and random:

ryjuos

As you can see I have more plane kills, higher winrate and much more XP when playing ranked. As I’ve ranked out and played most of my games in the top bracket, speeding trough the lower bracket(s), I played against the best players. Yet, against the best players I did better – and much better in the stat that matters most for a carrier player: plane kills.

How can the random trash be more challenging than the best of the best? Because the matchmaker in ranked is fair. Or at least I assume so (fairness needs no proof, rigging does). This means that it places players who are in the same bracket randomly to the two sides, making sure only that the ship types match (2 cruisers vs 2 cruisers). In such setting, if I’m better than the bracket average, my team wins more often than loses.

Since the top ranked bracket players are better than randoms, I’m even more above the randoms, so should win more and have better stats. Yet, I don’t. The only explanation is that the matchmaker arranges the players by skill, practically giving the morons and slackers to me to counter for my rank 1 skills. This way both teams are equally strong, allowing me to win near 50% of the games. The only reason why they can’t push me down to 50% with Ryujo and Bogue is that carriers are overpowered and rare. If the only other carrier in the queue is a total newbie, I’ll get him as opponent and probably win, even if the rest of my team is useless, because a carrier can win practically alone.

The latter problem will be solved with the carrier re-balance soon. But the random matchmaker will remain a damn cheat.

Northgard: UI design fail

All RTS games have some form of resource management. Northgrad has a very unique, engaging and “realistic” system: in winter your food generation ability is limited, while your firewood usage increases. So you must stock up for the winter. Just like the real life vikings had to. There was a reason why raids happened in wintertime: they didn’t have to attend their crops. “Winter is coming” was real back then.

I play a lot with this game and here is my closest defeat in the “defeat 7 AI on Hard with Domination Win only while they are allowed to win other ways”:
close

I really believe that Northgrad has something to rise it over the flock of RTS-es and make it a success. However the horrible UI ruined this mechanic and made it a frustrating nonsense. To explain my point, I restarded the game until I got a food-rich starting pocket and set up a testing colony:
ngui1

I checked its summer (March – November) and winter (December – February) productions and consumption:
ngui2

  • Simple villagers: 4-3
  • Farmers: 5-3
  • Fishermen: 4-4
  • Hunters: 4.5-3

So far, so good, the specialists are actually better than this due to upgrades and silo bonuses. But 4-3 what?! It’s clear that 4 is bigger than 3 and the total production – consumption went from +18 to +8 due to the winter. But what the hell these numbers mean? To figure out, I stopped the game right when winter hit and when ended and wrote down the total number of food and wood:

  • Food went from 232 to 359, so I collected 127 units during the winter, while my net increase (the number in the top line) was +8
  • Wood went from 579 to 651, so I collected 72 units, while my net increase was 5

If we divide these numbers, we get 15.9 and 14.4, which are close enough to be rounding errors. Now that I know that I have to multiply the consumption minus the winter production with approximately 15 and have to stockpile that to make it trough the winter.

So a villager produces approximately 20 food per month. But for some weird reason the UI doesn’t tell us that. It tells us “4” which is a meaningless number. Without doing this test, all I can do is wish and hope that I stockpiled enough, making it frustrating instead of challenging. All they had to do is use the monthly value instead of this whatever internal unit they are displaying.

Genocide in video games

World of Warships note: I’ve played 2 games with Ryujo, dominated both and got into the first bracket with 5-0. This is getting ridiculous.

I finally figured out the winning strategy in Northgard and won with both the Goat and the Stag clan. I’m currently playing with the Wolf clan and have no doubt that I’ll win. The strategy is that I can still turtle up and slowly build up an economy in a relatively confined space and when I can support a 10+ sized army, I push forward in a straight line towards the nearest enemy capital, then to the next and the next. You can see the game time indicator on the bottom of these pictures, showing how little time passed between the elimination of the first enemy clan and the last one:
ng2ng3

I also learned to bypass the increasing capture costs with clans different from the wolf whose leader can capture for free on cooldown: utilizing enemies and neutral monsters: if a province is threatened which isn’t vital for the economy (typically: food resource) or needed for connection with the other provinces, I evacuate my people and demolish the buildings. If the enemy takes it, it’s no longer in my province count, so the capture cost goes down.

I think the ultimate challenge in Northgard (besides PvP, which has a pretty dead ladder system, due to low player count) is to allow all victory conditions for the AIs, but restrict yourself to domination, on a huge map (the pictures are from a large one). This way you must attack fast, to prevent enemy clans win with science, trade or fame. This is one where I was on the way for a domination win, when I’ve lost due to science:
ng4

However, this is just a pretext for today’s main point: genocide. On the picture you can see the enemy capital. All those units are civilians, as the enemy military is already defeated and they are probably unable to hire more, due to gold shortage. At the bottom you can see my army. When I invaded that province, all of the civilians tried to defend it and they died to the last man:

north6

This bothers me. It’s both evil in the XXI century sense and dumb in the contemporary sense. Back then people weren’t slaughtered for no reason, they were made vassals or slaves, especially women. While it probably wasn’t fun, it was better than being slain. Games should respect that and allow some form of defeat for the factions that isn’t being wiped out. I wouldn’t even mind some government action that limits genocidal games to 18+.

There is a similar bad mechanic: rewarding killing your wounded citizens. If a citizen has less than 100% HP, he’ll work with 80% efficiency and having more than 3 of them causes -1 happiness, which is a precious resource at the beginning of the game. So it’s better to just send these citizens to a suicide mission and let the town hall replace them, as healing is extremely ineffective early game. This is both evil and unnatural. Wounded people either die without healing or recuperate on their own. So the HP should slowly go up or down without intervention naturally.

Northgard and victory conditions

Short note: the next ranked sprint started in World of Warships and I care little right now. I played 3 games with my Ryujo, obliterated the enemy carrier all 3 times, winning, completing the first daily quest and getting 2 containers for 12K XP. That’s enough WoWs for today, I’ll rank out in the weekend. Playing Northgard is much more fun.

A random battle in Northgard (I wrote about the game yesterday) has multiple victory conditions, similarly to Civilization games, beside the obvious: kill them all! You can turn them off at the start except the mentioned domination. You can constantly monitor the progress of other players or AIs:
north3

The AI of Northgard is very good. It’s not your usual cheater AI that creates units out of thin air, it seems to be bound by the game rules (I’ve seen them starve on a long cold winter). On the other hand it’s pretty smart, it waits for a good opportunity to attack.

You might have guessed that my favorite win condition is trade, which is kind of easy-mode, because the game wasn’t balanced for it, probably just assuming that if the players don’t like it, they will just turn it off in their own single player game or multiplayer with friends. It just needs you to turtle up and generate gold, loading it into the “lighthouse” which turns gold into points and you win by reaching 2000.

It’s easy to defend yourself if you aren’t leaving your starting pocket. You start in a corner and have a few zones that are easy to conquer (undefended or defended only by a few wolves) and surrounded by mountains, making them safe. Then on one side you face lands owned by the undead who are much harder to defeat and those central zones are accessible to all players. You can see this in these series of map screenshots from the victory replay, all taken in Novembers of the consecutive game years:
north4

For a trade or science victory all you need is the ability to adopt to the unique qualities of the map to start up fast, conquer your pocket, take maybe a few undead lands before anyone else does, then the towers will do the rest. One piece of good early-game advice: you don’t need a standing army. You can raise a pair of warriors, use them to defeat some wolves and then convert the injured warriors back to civilians. They’ll still be injured, but they won’t stand around uselessly, but for example heal themselves after turning them into healers.

Any enemy trying to take you out needs overwhelming force, not only because of your towers and the bonuses of the “guardian” military path, but because if he enters your pocket, his army will be away from defending his own holdings, making him easy to backstab. The AI is pretty good in backstabbing and “relations” you’ve risen with trading means nothing to him.

I tend to believe that to fully master the challenges of the game, you must win a domination victory, by disallowing every other victory type at start. To explain the difficulty of the task, I’ve played 40 hours before winning my first of those on hard mode. I find this game extremely fun, because it’s challenging. This game has the best anti-snowballing mechanics I’ve ever seen:

  • To conquer a land, you must first kill its defenders (other faction or wolves or undead), then pay food (or gold for one clan) to make it your own. Capturing the first land takes 20 units of food, but the price goes up fast, so you can’t just conquer and chain-capture. Even if the enemy can put up zero resistance, you must either wait between captures or leave zones uncaptured. Attacking a land not adjacent to yours is hard, because you can’t just retreat to heal and your soldiers get a penalty for distances. Also, the compressed enemy can cheaply recapture the empty lands and set up towers.
  • The military unit costs go up. Buying your first warrior takes 20 gold. The second costs 25. So if you have 10 warriors, you’ll be paying 65 gold for replacement, every time one dies.
  • You don’t just “buy” soldiers. You turn civilians into soldiers for money and civilians arrive to the town hall in time. The time is depending on how much happiness you have (you don’t get anyone if you have negative) and how many citizens you have. So replacing the lost 50th person takes much more time than replacing the lost 10th.

I plan to win the game with all clans with domination, we’ll see if I can make it. Please note that I can’t remember when did I say “if I can make it” in a game. The games of today became so easy that only the speed or optimized minimum effort to win is in question, not winning itself.

Northgard is a game I can really recommend if you don’t hate the RTS genre.

Northgard and story mode

Christmas is a great celebration of family. For example, I visited my parents and after dinner, with my brother we went to his old room and played video games like we were kids. The game he showed me was Northard. It’s a not too popular single player RTS, but with lots of planning and very few fast clicking. However, I’d still love to be able to give out orders while the game is paused.

The map uses hexagonal grid, but the contours are twisted enough that it doesn’t look artificial. Here is one game map in the post-victory replay, I was the little green on the bottom:
north1

This is the standard game screen, after clicking “keep playing” after the victory (click):

But the specifics of the game are not the topic of the post today, but “story mode”. This is playing a series of handmade maps, connected by cinematics. I hate it. Why? Because it forces me to play one way. I’m locked to one clan (each can s different, go goats!) and one way of winning. The map is scripted and I must find the one way to win. It’s a fixed puzzle to solve. I quit on the 4th map and would have probably abandoned the game if my introduction to the game wasn’t my brother playing random map.

There are various ways to win (see tomorrow) and the map is machine generated. Sure, there are basic designs, like mountains creating protected backyards and the starting zone is relatively safe (you don’t get undead next door who kills you in the 5th minute). However every map is different and you must adapt. I like that much better.

This is one thing that always bothered me in MMOs, RTS-es, MOBA-s and FPS-es: fixed maps that you can learn. I hated to restart the story map after a defeat, just to win by knowing what will happen and preparing before I could know it in-game. I hate fixed build orders and lanes and everything. I want to adapt. I want to improvise.

It really feels like every decision in Northgard is a meaningful choice. I lose most games I start, because it’s hard. And it keeps it interesting. I have 38 hours already and I’m not going to stop.

I really think that games should use more randomized content. However I also think that the morons and slackers would hate if they couldn’t just watch a youtube video and repeat its steps to win.

Retsep appreciation post

Between the holidays I’d like to write about someone who helps me a lot with this blog. He comments on practically every post, but you rarely see his comments. Why? Because most of them look like this:
retsep

While spell checker helps with simple mistypes and spelling errors, it can’t help with do – does, then – than and similar grammar mistakes that can annoy readers or even make the text unreadable.

Also, remember my “favorite” mistake that comes from the fact that a sentence “This apple worths $10.” makes complete sense in my native Hungarian. In English, it should be “This apple is worth $10.” and I always mess it up.

Anyway, in this last blogpost of 2018, I’d like to show my appreciation of Retsep who helps keeping it clean.

Scarab and Ryujo missions accomplished

I wrote how I was torpedoing invulnerable Scarabs for the competition to get into the top 100 torpedo hits. Well, the results are out and I made it to the #10 position with 454 torpedo hits. The #100 player had 144 hits, so I did much better than that. This is a nice example that if someone focuses on a task and ignore other aspects of the game … like winning or doing damage to the enemy, he can get to any silly-task toplist.

I’ve also completed the T6 ranked sprint with my fighter deck Ryujo:
ryujo

The fighter Ryujo is a pretty effective, but frustrating ship. It can completely dominate the skies, the only counter to it is itself, with a player who can strafe. Bomber Ryujos and Independences don’t have a chance to win the air.

It’s frustrating though, because it lacks the torpedoes and bombs to significantly damage surfaces ships, ergo there is not much it can do after winning the sky than spotting. If the teammates are complete morons, it can’t carry the game, like the Bogue did. After I permaspotted a destroyer all game and it still finished on 80% HP and 2 kills, I switched to the Independence, which is much more fun, but less effective. So I switched back. Let me clarify: all ships can lose because some moron teammate who sails broadside to enemy ships or a slacker doesn’t have the 10pt talent. But other ships can still fight and attempt to win. I made some crazy comebacks with Shima or Bogue. More importantly I could work on the crazy comeback every time until the counter ran out or my ship sank. The Ryujo can just watch the game with nothing to do while 2 or 3 friendlies are chasing the empty enemy carrier into the corner.

There are 2 things to keep in mind with the Ryujo: if the enemy can strafe, it’s better to just protect the friendly ships and wait until he makes a stupid mistake or simply runs out of bullets with his stupid strafes. Engaging a strafe contest leads to 50-50 results, which are never desired.

The second is to preserve the torpedo bombers and bombers. I use to send them to the edges of the map to alert me if the enemy CV sends a blob around the map. There is no point losing them, focus on the sky! After you won and the enemy is thinned out, you can start finishing lonely ships. This way you at least save your star if you can’t win.

I expect much better results in the next half of the sprint (also in Ryujo), now that I embraced the fact that if my teammates are morons, I can only save my star and there is nothing I can do to win.