Pixar’s Graphics Library

A friend just linked me Pixar’s library of technical papers on computer graphics concepts. As they created the Renderman rendering engine, they often have some of the best insight into how to make the best use of it. Just wanted to link it here to augment my Current State of Rendering Hair article I posted a while ago.

Pixar Graphics Library

A Data-Driven Light Scattering Model for Hair

A Data-Driven Light Scattering Model for Hair

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Reverse Engineering

One topic which comes up OFTEN in the Crew Skills forums on SW:TOR is people complaining about how long it takes to get the schematics they want. We’ll often see “I’ve reverse engineered 30 of these things and haven’t gotten a schematic! It must be broken!” Unfortunately, the real answer is that they are simply the victims of bad luck (or bad record keeping … but we won’t go there).

Chance of RE Success

Each time a crafter reverse engineers an object, they have a 20% chance of finding the schematic (there are a few exceptions where it is 10%, but let’s stick with 20% for now). This means that there is an 80% chance that RE’ing an item does NOT produce the desired result.

Sidebar – 1 in 5?

Unless one has studied mathematics (or more properly statistics), it is easy to see 20% meaning that I have a 1 in 5 chance of getting a schematic as a result. Logically, one may think “Then if I RE 5 implants, I’ll get one for sure, right?” But that doesn’t weigh out in the end. To see why, it may be easier to think of a coin flip.

Each time you flip a coin, there is a 50% (1 in 2) chance that it will land on heads. That means that if you flip the coin twice you’ll definitely have at least one ‘head’ result, right? No, unfortunately, that’s not right. If we think of the possible results from flipping a coin twice, we have the following…

Flip 1 Flip 2
Heads Tails
Heads Heads
Tails Heads
Tails Tails

So, with our coin flip example, there is a 1 in 4 chance that by flipping twice, you’ll get no head result at all. In statistics, this sort of phenomenon is commonly calculated by using what is called a binomial distribution function.

Likelihood of a Schematic

If we’re answering the question “What is the likelihood that I’ll get at least 1 schematic by reverse engineering a certain number of items?”, it is somewhat counter-intuitive but we actually get the answer by asking the reverse question “What is the chance that we will FAIL to get ANY schematics by RE’ing a certain number of items?”

Using a binomial distribution function, we can calculate the chances that we fail to receive a schematic depending on how many items we RE. See the spreadsheet attached to this article for more info, but for now some samples at various points are good enough:

Attempts Failure% Success%
1 80% 20%
5 33% 67%
10 11% 89%
15 4% 96%
20 1% 99%

First point to mention is that while we might have thought logically that by RE’ing 5 items, our “1 in 5” chance should work out to 100%, it’s actually only 67% likely to produce a schematic. We’ll have to go higher to be more confident of our results.

We can see that by this chart, that there is a 96% chance that once we’ve RE’d 15 items we will have received a schematic. The chances never quite get to 100%, however by the time you get over 20 attempts, you’re only going to fail to receive a schematic less than 1% of the time. Even at 50 attempts, there is still a 0.0014% chance that you won’t find a schematic; so it CAN happen!

I tend to use the 96% threshold as my target that I’m comfortable with. Much higher and I’m likely to be wasting too much time / resources.

But I Don’t Want Just ANY Schematic!

The reality is that most players don’t just want to be able to craft ANY item, they want a SPECIFIC schematic. At times there can be as many as 3 new schematics to learn from a given item. Since I’m working on some of my Tier 11 implant schematics, I’ll use those as an example.

An Anodyne Might Package MK-1 can be reverse engineered into 3 variants (Expert, Fervor, or Veracity). If what I want is the Expert schematic, then the fact that I can feel confident of getting at least one of the 3 by RE’ing 15 items isn’t enough. Sure, it could work out that the first schematic I get is the one I want, but Murphy seems to love Random Number Generators; so let’s assume I need to find more than one to be SURE that I have what I want.

The good news is that this time math is in our favor. :) I won’t have to do 3 times 15 (45) items to RE to get my Expert schematic.

Finding 2 Schematics

Again using the binomial distribution function we can calculate what the chances are that we find less than 2 schematics. Inverting this number gives us the chance of finding 2 schematics in our RE’ing attempts.

Attempts Failure% Success%
2 96% 4%
5 74% 26%
10 38% 62%
15 17% 83%
20 7% 93%
25 3% 97%
30 1% 99%

This means that we can reasonably expect that 97% of the time, if we RE 25 items, we’ll have discovered 2 schematics. Since we’re assuming there are 3 total schematics to be learned, there is a 66% chance that at this point we have found the schematic we need.

Finding 3 Schematics

If we’re curious about what it would take to feel certain that we find our target schematic, then we’d need to figure out the chances that we find all 3 possible outcomes. The table for this is as follows:

Attempts Failure% Success%
3 99% 1%
5 94% 6%
10 68% 32%
15 40% 60%
20 21% 79%
25 10% 90%
30 4% 96%
35 2% 98%
40 1% 99%

This means that if we’re looking for that 96% confidence factor, we need to plan to RE 30 items. Note, however, that after 15 attempts, we are at 60% (better than a coin flip). So the extra 15 attempts only really add 36% to our confidence that we’ll find what we want.

It’s All About Artifacts

So, to have a 96% confidence that I’ll find the desired Prototype (blue) schematic, I re-engineered 30 items. However, the end-goal is really to create a Hawkeye version of the implant. The Prototype Expert implant can yield 3 different Artifact schematics (Expert, Hawkeye, and Vehemence). So I am basically duplicating what I did to get the Prototype Expert in order to get my Artifact Hawkeye implant. I’ll have to plan on making 30 Expert Anodyne Might Package MK-1 implants in order to find the schematic for Hawkeye.

Throwing Away Resources

My personal belief is that the frustration people have with the Re-Engineering process is not the success rate per-se. It’s more because they are creating 15, 20, 30, or more items that they DON’T want in order to get the schematic for the item they DO want to create. This represents a “waste” of resources in many people’s minds. Whether those are the credits used to buy materials, the materials themselves, or the time to craft “junk” items.

Resource 1 – Time

It takes approximately 5 minutes for one of my characters to create a single Anodyne Might Package MK-1 implant. I need to plan on making 30 of them. Since at level 56+ you can have 6 crew members crafting at any one time, and each can queue up 5 items each, I’ll need to plan on one full cycle of my crew to get my Expert schematic. That’s 5 times 5 minutes = 25 minutes.

Then, I have to do it all over again with the Expert to get the Hawkeye. Expert implants take longer, though. They require 28 minutes in fact; so a total of 140 minutes (2 hours, 20 minutes). Which brings my total time (assuming I’m perfectly efficient) to 2 hours and 45 minutes to find the schematic I want. And remember there’s still about a 4% chance that either of those steps failed.

Resource 2 – Materials

The other factor involved in the dissatisfaction is that you “waste” a lot of materials just to get your desired schematic. In my example, I created 60 implants whose sole purpose was to discover the schematic for the one I really wanted to create.

Anodyne Implants require 2 Synth-Net Implant Processors, 2 Metamorphic Cell Cultures, and 2 Anodyne Extracts per implant. The Expert Implants add 4 Hemostatic Gels to the above. That means I used a total of 120 Processors, 120 Cell Cultures, 120 Extracts, and 120 Gels. All “wasted” in pursuit of a schematic.

Sidebar: I know that the reverse-engineering process can also return some of those materials. However my experience has been (at least at the Tier 11 level where I have tracked it) that the amount returned is too small to factor into the calculations of required resources.

Psychological / Emotional Impact

Interestingly enough, our brains are made to enjoy the risk/reward cycle. Studies have shown that when a gambler is playing the slots, their endorphin levels (the chemicals that make you feel happy) peak just BEFORE the dials stop spinning. Even if they win, the peak chemical enjoyment of the process is the anticipation of getting what you want.

However, the problem we see in this dissatisfaction is that over time you stop believing that you could win. As you reverse engineer item after item, eventually you stop believing that you’ll get the schematic. It stops being exciting to see if the schematic drops or not, you’re just frustrated with having to keep clicking.

Too Much Success?

So here is an interesting twist. As I mentioned, if I want a 96% chance that I’ll find the schematic I want, then I’m going to produce 60 implants (30 Premium (green) implants and 30 Prototype (blue) implants). However, if Lady Luck were to smile on me, I might only have to create 2 (1 of each). I could hit my 20% chance on each one and then the 33% chance that the schematic which procs is the one I’m trying to find. I wouldn’t bet on it, but it could happen. (Btw, if it ever does, I’m running out right away to buy a lottery ticket!) Regardless of the likelihood, the lucky happening ends up creating another issue.

Basically if I made 30 items and only actually NEED 2 or 3 to get the schematic I was looking for, then the other 27+ of them feel like a huge waste of effort. That might be ok once. But when you figure there are 17 different Tier 11 implant lines to make for a biochemist, if it happens more than a couple of times, it actually starts feeling like a negative.

Completionists Beware

If you have the unfortunate luck to be like me, and you want to find ALL of the Tier 11 schematics, be prepared. If you look at my Gap Analysis spreadsheet, you’ll see there are 51 Prototype and 153 Artifact implant schematics which can be learned for Tier 11. A total of 204 learned schematics to discover. If I’m making 30 “throwaway” schematics each, that means I have to make over 6000 implants that (technically) I don’t need. I’ll spend a bit over 12,000 of each resource in pursuit of this silly goal. Not to mention almost 16 DAYS of active crafting time.

Side note: It IS silly. I realize that. But I’m having fun; so I don’t care about the waste of time/credits.

The only positive? 6000 Tier 11 enhancement slot pieces (which currently retail for an average of 5500 credits each); so at least I’ll make about 3 million credits selling that junk. My balance seems to mostly be stable as I buy resources from the GTN and sell enhancement components.

Solution?

Barring a change in the RE process (which I wouldn’t count on if I were you), there isn’t a very good solution to the “problem”. In fact, from a game system design point of view, it isn’t really a “problem” in that it is working as designed. However, there are a couple of things that you might do in order to reduce the frustration levels.

Multiple Targets

I have a slight advantage in that I can have each of my 6 crew members working on a different Implant line. It makes me feel like I’m making more progress because I have more targets than only wanting to get 1 Artifact schematic. You might consider pursuing more than one final schematic at a time. It may take more time to get any specific schematic, but at least it will feel a bit better as you’ll make progress on almost every crafting pass.

Reduce the Investment

If you’re willing to trade time for resources, you could build the “junk” items in smaller batches. This would likely reduce the overall waste since by my tables the first 15 items give you a 60% chance of success. That means that the second 15 in my plan are only giving me another 36% confidence. If you did things in batches of 5, you could stop as soon as you find the schematic you’re looking for. Overall time investment would be higher (as you’d need to micro-manage your crew a bit to accomplish this), but it would require fewer resources.

Stop Worrying?

Ok, I know this sounds like a “Life isn’t fair, get over it” argument. But it might help you out to simply accept that the system does work in the way it is designed. I think (as a rule) much frustration in life comes from the fact that reality doesn’t match how we wish things would be. Sometimes you can be the change that you want there to be. In this case, there isn’t much we (as players) can do to influence this system. So accepting that it is the way it is may be the best approach in the end.

Attachment

The spreadsheet that I used for the stats in this article is attached. It includes some data beyond my summary here. Also, as a “bonus”, I include one sheet from the workbook I use for tracking the recipes my crafting characters have discovered. I used the Tier 11 Implants sheet. It can be adapted fairly easily to other crafts as well.

SWTOR Crew Skills – Reverse Engineering

The Five Whys

Introduction

I’ve been helping a friend of mine add some depth to his roleplaying character in SWTOR. I thought it might be nice for others who follow my gaming stuff if I shared a technique that I’ve found to be very helpful when I’m trying to flesh out what is behind my characters.

I call it “The 5 Why’s”. The goal of the exercise is to explore the psyche and motivations of your character. Along the way you may define some events that occurred that may (or may not) be fleshed out as part of their backstory.

While, technically, you can do this yourself, sometimes it helps to have someone else asking the questions. The reason being that we tend to focus our efforts on things we know how to answer. When someone else is asking the questions, it can force us to go down a path we hadn’t considered.

I first started doing stuff like this with my main characters in stories after I read an interview with Anne Mcafferry. The interviewer asked her why her characters seemed so “alive”, she answered (paraphrasing…)

Because I know them so well. I spend a lot of time exploring things like the motivation for my characters. If you ask me what Masterharper Robinton has in the 3rd drawer of his desk, I can tell you. Not because I’ve written down all the notes about how he stocks his office. But because I know him so well that I know what he would keep in his desk.

This is how I tend to roleplay in MMOs. I don’t necessarily write down all the details about the backstory for my characters. But I know who they are well enough that if someone asks, I can tell you what their parents did for a living, etc. I don’t have to wonder how they would react in a situation, I know them well enough that whatever reaction I come up with is likely to fit within their personality.

The Approach

Start with a particular topic or personality aspect. Say your character wants to protect the innocent. Or wants to rise to power with the Sith Empire. Or is striving to be the best long rifle shot in the galaxy.

Then ask “Why do they want to do this?”

When you have the answer, pick a part of that answer and ask “Why do they…” and keep going until you’ve hit 5 “Why’s” or until you decide there isn’t anything more, it is a core attribute.

An Example

For example, I have an Twi’lek Assassin named Claressa. She is one of the most stone cold killers I’ve ever played. She scares me a little. But what if someone were to ask Claressa:

1) Why are you so casual about killing?
A: Because if you aren’t strong enough to beat me, then you’re not worthy of life.

2) Why aren’t they worthy?
A: Life is a gift which must be defended.

3) Why should someone be able to defend themselves?
A: If they can’t defend their self, then they won’t be able to defend others.

4) Why should they defend others?
A: Someone might be relying on them for protection.

5) Why does it matter if someone is relying on them?
A: When they fail, they betray that trust. By culling those too weak, I save those poor fools from the betrayal I felt when my parents failed me!

To me, Claressa is much more interesting as a character when one understands that she is willing to kill whomever she needs to because she believes she is protecting the innocents around that person who might be trusting them for protection. It also exposes a core issue for Claressa. The death of her parents affected her in a very foundational way.

Trying it Out

Find someone you think can help you. I really think you get the most out of this by having someone else ask you the questions. Give them an overview of who your character is. And let them start asking. You can do this exercise multiple times if you’d like as the questions can vary.

If you’re the one asking the questions, don’t ask the obvious ones. :) In my example above, the better Why #3 would have been about life being a gift. The path that was chosen was one that I knew pretty well already.

Remember that the goal is to understand your character’s personality and world view. Not to write a lot of backstory. If you’re doing this via email or chat, try to keep answers short. The hope will be that at the end you’ll have discovered something about your character’s motivation and (perhaps) have some new area to write about when crafting their backstory.

TSW Builds : To Elite or Not?

After posting my Auxiliary Weapons extension to my TSW build analysis, in my How many builds are there? thread on the TSW forums, Novarind brought up the point that my analysis assumes everyone will want to use an Elite skill in both their Active and Passive selections. This may or may not be the case; so the question was raised how choosing NOT to select an Elite Ability affects the number of build choices.

I’ve updated my spreadsheet to allow you to choose not to select an Elite ability then ran the numbers for four scenarios.

Here is how things breakdown…

No Elites: 2,508,577,928 “viable” builds
Passive Only: 2,164,937,116 “viable” builds
Active Only: 4,476,090,029 “viable” builds
Active & Passive: 3,862,927,011 “viable” build

I guess what you can infer from this is that choosing a Passive Elite actually limits the different ways to build your character (by 14%), however Unlocking and adding in the Active Elites actually increases your choices by 78%. Choosing to do both still adds 54% more build options; so the positive addition vis-a-vis the Active Elites outweighs the limiting factor of the Passive Elites.

Also keep in mind that this is purely math / statistical analysis. The specific effects of the abilities drastically changes how viable each build combination would be.

Updated Spreadsheet: tsw-skillbuilds-auxiliary

TSW Builds Update – Auxiliary Weapons

So a LONG time ago now, I posted my “final” review of TSW Builds

However, since that time, Funcom introduced Auxiliary Weapons. Someone the other day pinged me about how my numbers were way off since auxiliary weapons (of which there are current 5 to choose from) multiply the build diversity. So, factoring in Auxiliary Weapons, there would be a theoretical build diversity of…

4,549,195,450,800

Passive Combinations

x 16,982,901,936

Active Combinations

x 5

Auxiliary Weapons

= 386,292,701,143,169,000,000,000

Theoretical Builds

x 0.00000000000001

1 millionth of 1 percent

= 3,862,927,011

Potential Viable Builds

And an update to my spreadsheet as well: tsw-skillbuilds-auxiliary

SWTOR: Confessions of an altaholic

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Just for background info: SW:TOR has been my game of choice (again) lately. I played for a few months right around the launch time, but lost interest as I burned out on alts (my fault) and the guild I was part of exploded in nasty ways. I wasn’t there for the “Free to Play” choice, and I don’t play “free” now either. I play on The Ebon Hawk server and I consider myself primarily a roleplayer, although I have enjoyed PvE and PvP content in the game as well. My main characters this go around have been on the Imperial side.

What I wanted to talk about here is how I approach alternate characters. I consider SWTOR to be an alt friendly game (to an extent). The main storylines are interesting and playing through at least all 8 of the main stories can be fun. Considering advanced classes (16) and that you could choose both male/female and light/dark side potentially you could play 64 times, although you get less and less variety with each choice. Advanced classes don’t matter to the stories, just to the playing style. Male/Female change romantic options, but not anything major about the main storyline. And playing Light or Dark makes some dialog choices different, but the end results of the story missions are largely the same.

The Problem

The main problem with playing multiple characters in SWTOR is that it can be a bit repetitive. Although the main story missions change, those don’t make up the bulk of what you do on each planet. Most of your missions on a planet will be so-called “side missions”. So if you play a Bounty Hunter and go to Balmorra, then play a Sith Warrior, you’ll also go to Balmorra, and 90% of the content there will the exact same as the last time you ran through that world. Maybe that is ok for 2 characters, but get to 4 (or more) and you’ll start to be like the vets who whine “Oh, I can’t WAIT to get OFF of this planet!”

My Solutions

I have a couple of ways that I approach this “burnout” issue. The point of this blog article is to describe what I do. Hopefully 1 or more of them may resonate with you and help you enjoy your journey in the “Galaxy Far Far Away” more.

Focus First

First let me encourage you to focus on getting one character all the way through the game (at least through the main storyline if not all the way through to level 55). You are going to help yourself SO much if you do this. By focusing on one character, then the next time you have to go back and do missions on Dromund Kaas or Coruscant you won’t feel as much like “Wasn’t I just here?”

Playing for Both Teams

Second let me encourage you to experience the quests and playing experience from both sides of the galactic conflict. By alternating characters between Imperial and Republic factions, you’ll cut WAY back on how much you feel like you’re repeating things. I started my original run at SWTOR thinking I was going to play all 8 Republic Advanced Classes. Big mistake. This was a major part of my burnout. It also didn’t let me see the awesome stories on the “Evil Empire” side of the game either. You may feel drawn to one side or the other, but trust me that an altaholic like me will be well served by swapping back and forth.

Just keep in mind that in some cases, the character classes aren’t THAT different in playing style. A Sith Warrior plays very much like a Jedi Knight. There are differences, and the true masters at the classes can point those out. But in many cases the Republic and Imperial classes mirror each other. So if you want to maximize your differences, don’t follow leveling your Sith Juggernaut with a Jedi Guardian. On the other hand, if you wanted to experience the story without needing to relearn how to play, using the mirrored classes would work to your advantage.

Mapping the Journey

The primary way that I’ve found to avoid burnout is by mapping which planets each of my characters will focus on. For instance, I might say “This character is going to do everything they can on Coruscant, but I’m going to blitz through Balmorra.” There are some exceptions that I make for this. For instance, I really enjoy the Imperial missions on Taris, but I can’t stand Tatooine. So I tend to make Taris a “must see” and always tend to blitz Tatooine. Don’t even get me started on Belsavis. Too big, too many walls/chokepoints, too many tunnels, not enough fast travel locations.

Space Mission Grinding

One way that the above planet mapping works for me is by using the Space Missions (not talking about Galactic Starfighter, but the old style “space combat on rails” missions). I like to use those to gain additional XP so that I can overlevel the planets that I want to skip through. I’m not someone who needs every encounter in the game to be challenging to the point of frustration. So by ensuring that I’m about 2-3 levels above the minimum recommendation for each planet I give myself more flexibility as to which missions I want to complete.

Growing Through PvP

I wanted to put out a quick “shout out” to the option of using PvP as an alternative leveling mechanism. It is (theoretically) possible to level to 55 doing nothing but PvP activities. It will be a LONG grind, but it is possible. As an alternative, you could use the PvP system in place of what I said above about Space Mission Grinding. Gaining a few levels via PvP would also help break up some of the monotony of the planet side missions. Although depending on your playing style/preferences, it could be a case of replacing one grind with another. :)

Kuat Drive Yards (KDY)

If all you are really interested in is playing a different style of play, and don’t care as much about the story missions, then the Kuat Drive Yards (KDY) may be a good choice for you. You have to first reach level 15 on your own, however once you do that, you can join the flashpoint. In KDY, you are automatically bolstered to level 55 / rating 186 gear as far as your stats go. You’ll still only have access to level appropriate skills and skill tree of course. KDY is often used in conjunction with double XP weekends / weeks to quickly level alts to the level cap. You can then go back and do the story missions on each planet to advance the story, get your full complement of companions.

I have done a few KDY runs, but on the whole I would only recommend them for people who are leveling an alt where they don’t care about the character’s story. Veterans with several level 55 characters find KDY to be a nice alternative to re-running plantside missions that they’ve already done dozens of times.

Summary

SWTOR can feed the cravings of an altaholic. However, without careful thought and planning, it is easy to get burned out on the leveling grind and become bored with the game. I hope the above tips and ideas I’ve provided help some of you as you plan out your Star Wars journey. Please feel free to comment / ask questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.

Wrong blog

If anyone got a weird update on their subscription notice … I posted to the wrong blog. :( That was intended for Daeyong’s blog instead of this one.

League of Angels – Overview

League of Angels is a free-to-play browser based MMO(RPG). While far from perfect, I find it to be more enjoyable than some games I’ve paid to play. The following are some of my general observations about the game as a whole.

General Gist

The game is set in a fantasy world where the guardian angels of various lands have been imprisoned. Your job as the hero in the story is to free these angels who then promise to aid you as you help their sisters. Honestly, most LoA players would probably be hard pressed to tell you anything about the story. It just isn’t that important.

In addition to the angels, you are able to recruit other party members to round out your party. They have fairly traditional roles based on their primary skills. Tanks, Melee DPS, Ranged DPS and Support characters are available. Depending on which Angel you’re using, and what level she has obtained, you can have up to 6 members in your part (including your main character).

Game play mostly consists of a string of “mini-games” which range from fun to frustrating. The main storyline and main side quests are run via a pretty simple point-and-click system. There isn’t anything to the combat once the battle starts. The decisions you make before that (see below) have a lot more to do with how the battle ends than anything else.

A list of the ways in which you play League of Angels:

  • Main Storyline Quest – the main story that moves you through various areas in the LoA world. Something you have to do, but it won’t be enough on its own to progress your characters.
  • Side Quests – there are a few side quests in each area, but once you’re done with them they don’t come back; so similar to the main quest, they are worth doing for money / xp but not enough on their own.
  • Aegis Quests – Angels don’t really have “gear”. Instead, they have Aegis which give them different abilities. Unlocking those abilities and then gathering Aegis shards which are used to upgrade the abilities are an important part of managing your angels
  • Blitzing – One thing that I do like (see The Good below) is blitzing missions. Blitzing allows you to automate the process of grinding for xp. You basically say “I want to run this dungeon 30 times” and the game starts doing it. Useful for xp/gold farming.
  • Gemology – A little ‘match 3′ game (think Bejeweled) that rewards you with gems which are used to upgrade your equipment. It’s not too awful, but wouldn’t rival Candy Crush for fun or anything. :)
  • Arena – In the Arena, players are divided into different groups, in each group you compete in 1 : 1 duels to get enough ranking points to move to the top of the leaderboard. Because of how combat works (see The Bad below), your opponent doesn’t have to be online. You’re also awarded Arena Badges which can be used to buy gear and skill upgrades.
  • Clash of Might – similar to the Arena, the Clash pits you against your fellow players. However in this case the only way you rank up is by beating someone higher than you. And you can be ranked down if you get defeated. Also, the pool of participants is everyone on the server. So Clash is more representative of the relative strength of your party.
  • Tidal Pool – By far my least favorite mini-game. You shoot nets into a “tidal pool” to capture fish. These fish reward you with random loot ranging from gold to Gems to Herosouls (used to upgrade your NPC member’s skills). The problem is that it seems very random as to whether you catch the fish you’re aiming the net at.
  • Team Arena – You and two friends (or strangers who may become friends?) fight against another team of 3. One difference here is that the opponents are from other servers.
  • Team Dungeons – Another team game where you join 2 other players. In this case, you fight through a dungeon together (similar to how the Main and Side quest dungeons work). The dungeons are tiered by level and reward your team for finishing them quickly.
  • Guild Games – Games like Gauntlet where you try to keep 15 waves of monsters from killing the angel you’re protecting and Twilight Clash where you have a “capture the flag” fight against another guild. They are nice for the rewards they give and to give you and your guildmates something to do together.

The Good

Beyond the “Gotta catch them all!” collector aspect, probably the best part of the game is the level at which you can customize the attributes of your characters, NPCs, and angels.

Main Character

Your main character starts with a base class (familiar to any RPG player). However, from there you can specialize (my fighter became a Paladin – Tank, but could have been a Beserker – Damage). Your character also has skills which can be upgraded. Some are passive (like a boost to your HP) some are active like special attacks which can trigger during fights. Part of the customization is picking which triggered skills your character is going to use.

NPCs

For your NPCs, they also have skills that can be upgraded (using a different resource than the Main character). However in their case you can’t select different triggered skills, they use their best skills on their own. They also have “partner” skills. In this case each NPC is partnered with another one. When you have both of them in your party at once, they will provide benefits to each other during the battle.

Angels

Your angel’s biggest way to grow is through her level. Leveling your angel is vital as the higher level, more powerful angels enable you to bring more NPC characters with you. Also, I mentioned the Aegis up above. The Aegis is how you can change what special attack your angel uses in battle. Leveling the Aegis makes it stronger and provides additional passive buffs to your angel’s abilities as well.

Equipment

Both Main and NPC characters wear 6 units of equipment (weapon, helmet, chest, ring, legs, boots). Equipment has both vertical and horizontal advancement. Vertically, equipment levels up providing more benefits to your character’s abilities. Horizontally, equipment can carry up to 5 gems. These gems provide additional benefits to your character. There are 12 different types of gems, and each piece of equipment can only carry a single gem of each type. So picking and choosing your gem types can have a significant effect on battle effectiveness. Gems can also be leveled up, improving their buffs.

More Depth to Come

I’ve only scratched the surface here in regards to what levels of detail you can add to your characters. And they do make a HUGE difference. Your party is given a battle rating (BR)  based on the levels of the characters, gear, and gems. But choosing how those complement each other is also important. My current BR is around 155,000. However I have lost battles to people with as low a BR as 115,000 and have beaten others who were as high as 180,000. This depth is the primary thing that I like about League of Angels.

The Bad

Ok, there are definitely some things that I don’t like.

Combat

The combat system could use some significant attention. Right now, once the battle starts, the player is an observer. There isn’t anything you can do to affect the outcome. That makes doing some of the things like the quests and even arena battles a great deal less interesting.

Pay-to-Win

You can play LoA for free. And never have to pay a single cent, and you can still accomplish everything in the game. That is my definition of a true “free to play” game. However, paying money does help. In some cases quite a bit. Rather than taking time to gather all the resources you need to improve your characters, you can buy packages of them for real money. In most cases, all this does is to reduce the time that you would need to spend gathering the resources yourself. If that player spends $100 now and never spends another dime, I will eventually catch up to him.

The one case where someone can legitimately pay to win is in the large scale PvP battles. For instance in the capture the flag game (Twilight Clash), players can pay 50 diamonds ($0.50) to resurrect right away instead of waiting out the 30 second resurrection timer. That can be a significant advantage. it won’t make a small, low powered guild the top dawg or anything. But in an evenly matched battle, it can make a lot of difference.

The Ugly

Ok, maybe not “ugly”, but LoA has followed in the footsteps of some other similar games when it comes to how they advertise. I actually saw a side-banner video ad the other day where this is this girl walking toward a bathtub. Her robe drops off suggestively (without really showing anything) and then it ends with the League of Angels logo and a link to the game. That has ZERO to do with the game and is clearly just intended to get young male players to click on the link.

Is it Fun?

That’s the only real question that matters when we’re talking about a game, right?

Yes, I think it is. I have had a good time playing so far and now that I’m getting into the details of systems like the Gem slotting system, it is also interesting to find ways to optimize my builds. Will it continue to hold my attention now that I’m getting to the steeper part of the levelling curve? Maybe. There are so many areas to improve that I can see having goals for quite some time. It may be a couple of days to get a new level on my main character, but other smaller progression is taking place.

Hair Rendering – Current State

I’ve been doing quite a bit of research lately about how to render hair in a Renderman compliant rendering engine. As I’ve gathered data from several sources, I thought I’d create a post that summarized what I’ve found so far. Hopefully anyone else who decides to research this crazy topic can benefit by not needing to find everything on their own.

Stephen Marschner

While there are other predecessors to the idea about how to render hair in computer graphics (most notably Kajiya and Kay in 1989), most serious work begins with the paper by Stephen Marschner, et. al. titled “Light scattering from human hair fibers” published in 2003.

Marschner noted that light interacting with hair is actually a very complicated model. When light strikes the surface of a strand of hair, it does 3 different things. Part of it is reflected back into the environment, part of it is refracted and transmitted to objects behind the hair, and part of it reflects within the hair strand, re-exiting the hair at another point further down the strand.

Marschner's model showing the interaction between light and hair

Marschner’s model showing the interaction between light and hair

Side Note: It may be interesting to notice that Marschner is also the primary author on the Subsurface Scattering paper that I linked over in my Additional SSS Information article.

Intermediate Works

Following Marschner’s article, several other researchers worked on refining his model. Which, in academic terms, really means trying to show what’s wrong with that model. Improvements were made to reduce some of the computational complexity as well as to fix issues common to shading models such as energy conservation.

Side Note: Energy conservation in computer graphics terms means that an object should not reflect / transmit more light energy than strikes it. Some shaders can be very bad about this and it can result in unintended effects.

One of the best papers in this category (in my opinion) is “Dual Scattering Approximation for Fast Multiple Scattering in Hair” by Arno Zinke, et. al. in 2008. In this paper, they note that to be fully implemented, Marschner’s model requires that all light striking the hair needs to be fully calculated. It also does not account for an effect in curly hair where the angle of the light striking the curl has a significant factor in how the light is transmitted or refracted. Instead, they use a sampling model for the scattering that allows you to only consider the effect at the shading point. Also, the eccentricity of the hair fiber (i.e. the tightness of the curl) is taken into effect.

Side Note: The researchers at the University of Bonn have done a lot of very interesting work in the area of computer graphics and the modeling / rendering of hair.

Artist Friendly

In 2010, 3D artists from Disney Studios (Iman Sadeghi and Heather Pritchett) and a couple of professors from the University of California at San Diego (Henrik Wann Jensen and Rasmus Tamstorf) brought forward the idea that while these mathematical models are quite interesting, they aren’t very friendly for artists to work with. Most of them require a deep understanding of the math involved in order to provide inputs that produce predictable results.

Disney in particular was finding that often they spent more time testing lights and such than they did actually working on the scenes they were creating. Therefore in 2010 they proposed what they termed an “An Artist Friendly Hair Shading System”.

In this system, the parameters provided to the artist are more familiar terms such as the curliness and coarseness of the hair being rendered rather than details such as eccentricity, cuticle angles and cross-section measurements.

Also, since the goal for Disney Studios is not to create the most physically accurate model of human hair, they take some liberties with the math so that the result is artistically more pleasing, if not quite as mathematically perfect.

This Is My State

So, this is where I stand on the research. I’m working on a shader for hair in DAZ Studio which uses this Artist friendly approach to create a shader model which will produce better results. My goal is to make it friendly for transparency mapped hair. Most of the models reference above expect the objects they are rendering to be cylinders. So I am working on a modification to the model with works with planes, but simulates many small cylinders for the hair.

I’ve finally gotten to the point where I understand enough of the math to begin working on the implementation. Further updates as situations warrant.

Acknowledgement

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a thesis paper from a graduate student at Bournemouth University. Sarah Invernizzi wrote “On Physically Based Hair Rendering” for her Master of Science degree in Computer Animation and Visual Effects. Her paper did a lot for me in terms of providing the history of this topic and does a good job of making things a little be clearer for those of us who aren’t as versed in the mathematics.

Additional points about SSS

Since I opened the discussion about subsurface scattering (SSS) with my Light and SSS and SSS – Why Should I Care? posts, I’ve received some good feedback / additional information. I wanted to capture those here.

Other Uses

First, the point has been made that although we think of SSS as adding realism to surfaces which don’t reflect 100% of the light that strikes them, the effect of SSS can be used for other purposes. It can add some depth to the surfaces for toon style rendering, and can even completely change the look of an object. For some examples, see the following product pages at the DAZ 3D store.

Note: I don’t get any commission if you choose to buy any of these products. :) I’m actually referencing them because they have example images that show the effects.

DAZ Studio – SSS Shader

We’ve had a couple of good discussions about the Subsurface Shader Base that is available for free for DAZ Studio. These discussions have largely been about how the shader works. It was actually one of these discussions which spawned my initial blog posts. I wanted to capture a couple of important points here.

Pre or Post?

The first point was asking for some clarification about how the selection of either Pre or Post processing of the SSS effect changes the resulting calculations. Age of Armour (Will) was kind enough to provide us with some information in this thread on the DAZ 3D forums.

The choice to Pre or Post application of the SSS effect has to do with how the surface values are calculated. For the Pre option, the calculation is:

(
(Diffuse map * Diffuse Color * Diffuse strength)
* Lighting
) +
(Subsurface Calculation * Lighting)

This basically means that the Diffuse surface color is calculated, then the SSS effect is added to the result.

When chosing the Post option for the SSS effect, the calculation looks significantly different.

(
(Subsurface Calculation * Lighting)
* (Diffuse map * Diffuse Color)
) +
(
(Diffuse Map * Diffuse Color * Diffuse strength)
* Lighting
)

In this case, there are two calculations that use the Diffuse surface settings. In the first part, the SSS effect is multiplied by the diffuse color. Note that the diffuse strength is not factored in at this point, it is simply creates a version of the diffuse color which is tinted by the subsurface effect. The second part of that equation is a standard diffuse surface calculation. The two diffuse colors are then added together to arrive at the final color for the surface.

The Origins of SSS

The ideas and concepts around subsurface scattering for the purpose of computer graphics were first described in a paper titled “A Practical Model for Subsurface Light Transport” presented to the ACM Siggraph conference by Henrik Wann Jensen, Stephen R. Marschner, Marc Levoy, and Pat Hanrahan. Warning for those who seek to understand SSS at that level, this is NOT trivial mathematics by any stretch. I cannot be held responsible for any damage to your brain from trying to read the paper.

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